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Title: Sea Yarns
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302931.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Sea Yarns
Author: John Arthur Barry


*


CONTENTS:

The Last Voyage of Martin Vallance
The Sultan's Egg
Ormon the Gulfer
The Looting of the Ly-Chee
My Kaffir
At Mat Aris Light
The Birthday Pearl
Six Seamen and a Menagerie
In Care of the Captain
The Branch Bank at Mooroobin


*


The Last Voyage of Martin Vallance.

CHAPTER I.
OVERBOARD

I had been at sea eight years. As a boy, innate love of romance and
Marryat's novels had sent me there. Otherwise, there was no particular
necessity for such a step. My father held the living of Compton-on-Tor
in South Devon, and was rich enough to have given me a choice of
professions. Nor in all those eight years did I once encounter the
romance I had fondly imagined was the inevitable lot of the seafarer--the
romance of incident. Indeed, a more humdrum, matter-of-fact life
could scarcely be conceived, with its inevitable recurrence of
headwinds and fair, gales and calms, long passages and short. Actually,
so far as my memory serves me, throughout those years the most exciting
matter that happened was the carrying away of an upper foretopsail-yard.
Still, if I was not altogether satisfied with the regular routine
of the hard monotonous profession I had so wilfully chosen, I loved the
sea itself beyond anything, and was never tired of studying its myriad
moods, and attempting to interpret the language of many tongues with
which it spoke to the wanderers upon its mighty breast.

Although 'a passed master,' I had not yet been lucky enough to get a
much better billet than a second mate's. Ships, comparatively, were
few, and officers as plentiful as blackberries in a good season; and I
was considered fortunate when a berth as second mate, and £5 per month,
was offered on board the Antelope, a 1000 ton ship bound from London to
Freemantle in Western Australia. I hardly took the same view of things,
and had quite made up my mind, as it was rather late in the day for
choosing another path in life, to do as so many others were doing, and
'change into steam.'

Five-and-twenty shillings per week, after eight years' servitude given
to the mastering of an arduous and fatiguing profession, and one in
which the disparity between remuneration and responsibility was so
vast, appeared, even to my mind, to leave something to be desired. As
for romance, that had all been pretty well knocked out of me, and I had
ceased to look for or expect anything of the kind. The ocean, clearly,
had altered, and been modernised to suit the times--brought, so to
speak, sternly 'up to date,' and had, save for a few rare outbreaks,
taught itself to recognise that fact, and behave as an everyday,
commonplace piece of water should. This, at least, is what I thought
whilst I paced the Antelope's deck as she went roaring down the Channel
with a fair wind behind her, her Plimsoll mark just awash, and the
three lower topgallant-sails standing out against the clear sky like
concaves of sculptured marble. About the ship and my shipmates there
was nothing more particularly noticeable than there had been in
half-a-dozen similar ships and ships' companies I had sailed with.
Of course, in detail, they varied; but, take them full and by,
skipper, officers, crew, routine, rig, and provisions, there was the
usual family likeness. Merchant captains commanding vessels like the
Antelope are as often as not, in these modern times, gentlemen. Captain
Craigie was one; and the chief mate, Mr Thomas, was another. Both were
scientific and skilful navigators, and both officers in the Royal Naval
Reserve. The ship herself was a flying clipper, steel built; crew
mixed; provisions fairly good; every prospect of the usual dull and
eventless voyage to 'Down Under' and back again. It was my last at any
rate, and it has given me quite enough to talk about for the rest of
my life, and especially when any one happens to remark in mine or my
wife's hearing that there is no romance in the sea nowadays.

I am not going to say anything more about the Antelope just now,
because this story doesn't concern her very much, and after I left her
so suddenly, Captain Craigie and three of her men were the only
recognisable members I ever saw of the ship's company.

And now, having cleared the way a little, I will heave ahead with my
yarn, by reading which you will see that, even in the present prosaic
age, curious things may happen to those who do business in great
waters; and may also realise that Mother Ocean has lost nothing of her
old-time power, when she chooses to exert it, of staging romantic
scenes, and incidents grotesque and tragic and mysterious.

* * * * * *

We had called at Capetown, after a fairly quick run from the Lizard, to
land a few passengers and take in a little cargo; and, in place of
keeping away to the southward, the captain stood away along the 26th
parallel. In doing this he ran a risk of meeting with light and
unfavourable winds. But that was purely his business. We were just now
in that sort of No Man's Water between the Indian and South Atlantic
Oceans shunned by sailors, and used only by a few steamers. Our
position at noon had been 45° 15' east longitude, 36° 13' south
latitude, or about 1300 miles from Capetown. The night was dark and
squally when I came on deck to keep the middle watch, and as I stumped
the poop, listening to the wind, that seemed every now and then to
shrill with a deeper note in the roar of it aloft among the canvas,
there came a cry of 'Light on the lee bow, sir!' from the man on the
forecastle-head, an ordinary seaman. But peer as I might, I could see
no light. So, descending the poop-ladder, I walked along the main-deck,
and jumped on to the rail just before the fore-rigging, and leaned
out-board in order to get a better view. The seaman stood on the break of
the forecastle, a dark figure rising and falling with the vessel's head
against the patchy sky. 'Where away, my lad?' I asked. 'There, sir,'
answered he, pointing.

I was only holding on, carelessly enough, to some of the running
gear--jib-halyards probably, and not to the standing rigging, as I
should have done. I stared and leaned over further still. 'A star, you
mutton-head!' I exclaimed, as my eye caught what he was after--the
yellow glint of Antares, just on the extreme rim of the horizon.
The words were scarce out of my mouth when I felt something 'give'
aloft, and in a second I was in the boiling, foaming backwash of surge
alongside.

As, gasping and choking, I came to the surface again, the first thought
that flashed across my brain was that the ship was still reeling off
her thirteen knots, and that I, Martin Vallance, was no better than a
dead man. Swimming with one hand I squeezed the brine out of my eyes
with the other, but so dazed and stunned was I by the amazing
suddenness of the affair that I could see nothing, looking, possibly,
in quite the wrong direction. There was a nasty, short, choppy sea on,
too, and I found it took me all my time to keep afloat. Then I raised
my head and shouted, but with poor heart. I knew so well the almost
utter uselessness of it. What merchant seaman under like conditions
ever gets picked up? And I mentally followed the course of events on
board. The lookout--a lad on his first voyage--after a minute's gasping
astonishment, roars, 'Man overboard!' The watch on deck, skulking in
snug corners, rush sleepy-eyed to the rail and stare. In my case as
officer of the watch, it was worse than any one else's. Most likely the
mate would have to be called before any measures were taken. Certainly
the fellow at the wheel might put it hard over, but that would do no
good. And by this time the ship would be a full three miles away.
Probably after some twenty minutes' hard work with covers and gripes, a
boat would be lowered, pull about aimlessly for an hour, and then get
aboard again. In the morning the log-book would show my epitaph: 'On
such-and-such a date, longitude and latitude so-and-so, a gloom was
cast over the ship,' &c.

All this worked in my mind as, turning my back to wind and sea, I swam
slowly and mechanically along, thinking whether it might not be as well
to throw up my hands at once and go down instead of lingering. But I
was young and strong; and, heavens! how passionately the love of life
runs in such a body when there seems to be a chance of losing it! And
surely, I thought, there must be a buoy or two somewhere. So I kept on.
Fortunately I had only light shoes in place of sea-boots, but my
peajacket felt as if it were made of sheet-lead. The first sudden shock
and surprise over, my thoughts turned to, and worked collectedly
enough, even to the extent of arguing, pro and con, whether or not it
was worth while to go to the trouble of taking my coat off, as I could
have done, for I was at home in the water. Presently, standing up, I
strained my eyes in another long look around. But I could hear nothing
except the moaning of the wind, see nothing except the white tops of
the short waves as they came, snarling and hissing around me; these,
and, overhead, the vast concavity of ragged darkness, lit here and
there by a few stars. I stared in the direction I now knew the ship
should be. But there was no sign. A man's vision in a tumble of a sea
has not time to settle itself to reach very far. Still, I thought I
might have seen a light had they shown one. As I turned, with a short
prayer on my lips, determined that I should swim till I should sink
from pure exhaustion, I heard something come down on the wind like the
cry of a child--'Ma-ma-ma a-a!' changing into a long querulous bleat
that seemed very familiar. Staring intently in the direction, after a
while I made out some dark object, now looming as big as a boat on the
crest of a wave, now hidden altogether in a water-valley. A few minutes
more and I was alongside it, clutching the wet and slippery sides,
whilst from its interior proceeded a volley of plaintive callings. I
recognised the thing now; and as I caught hold of one of its stumpy
legs and dragged myself on top, and lay at full length, panting and
nearly spent, I blessed the sailor-man who had made such good use of
his opportunity.

Whilst in Capetown the captain, who was ailing, had been prescribed a
diet of goat's milk and rum, or, at least, frequent doses of the
mixture. The rum we had plenty of aboard; and the skipper soon got a
fine goat, newly kidded from one of the farms round about. He also
bought from an Indian trader, then in harbor, a four-legged massive
animal-pen, iron-barred, strong as a house, and almost big enough for a
man to live in. This structure, its supports 'razzed' by our carpenter,
and at first placed aft, was presently, because of Nanny's wailings
when, every night, her kid was taken from her, shifted forward and
lashed on the pigpens close to the door of the topgallant forecastle,
in which the sailors lived. Now what annoyed us aft annoyed Jack
forward just as much, and there were consequently growls, deep and
long, from the watch below. And I saw what had happened as clearly as
if I had been there. In the rush and hurry consequent upon my tumble
things had been thrown overboard at random; and a sailor seeing his
chance, slashed through the lashings of Nan's pen, waited for a weather
roll, and with a push, gave it a free passage. Flush with the rail, as
it was, its own weight almost would have taken it over. Thus in one act
did the ship lose an officer from aft and a nuisance from forward. And
even whilst lying across the bars that formed the front of the cage or
pen, dripping like a wet swab on to Nan, who, silent now, was trying to
nibble my toes, I could well picture the skipper's rage when he missed
his goat. Of course he would be sorry for me too. We had always been
good friends. But then I would be replaced at once (there were in the
Antelope at least three mates before, the mast), the goat not at all.

Luckily for Nan and myself, too, the pen had fallen on its back, and
rode face to the sky, so high and dry except for a swish of spray now
and again, that I had no need to loose the canvas curtains which were
made to fasten over the bars in bad weather. Putting my hand down, I
felt her skin, warm through the wet hair, and you wouldn't believe how
grateful that touch was to my chilled and sodden body; ay, and how
comforting, also, in my heart, just now so utterly devoid of hope, was
the sense of that dumb companionship. And though I knew that, barring
something very like a miracle, my hours were numbered; still, compared
with my condition so lately, here was at least a reprieve. I have
already said that the Antelope, in place of stretching away to the
southward for a westerly wind, as most vessels would have done, had
kept well up towards the Indian Ocean, making in fact, a nearly
straight line for her port. This was in one way a gain for me, in
another a distinct loss--the former by assuring me of warm and most
likely fairly fine weather; the latter by taking me quite out of the
track of outward or homeward bound shipping. Had I gone overboard
amongst the huge, ice-cold combers of the South Atlantic in forty-five
degrees or thereabout, I should have been food for the fishes long ere
now. All these matters I turned over in my mind as I lay at full
length, with room to spare, and gave Nanny a hand to suck, and heartily
longed for daylight.

As the night slowly passed, the jump of a sea that had been shaking the
soul out of me went down perceptibly; the wind, too, blew warmer and
more lightly. Of seeing the Antelope any more I had no hopes. By the
stars I could tell I was drifting to the northwards, and quite away
from her course. Still, the captain might stand by through the night,
and a lookout at the royal mast-head might possibly sight me. A forlorn
chance! And, indeed, when at last the sun rose gorgeous out of a great
bank of opal and purple, and balancing myself like a circus man, I
stood up and took in the horizon, and the sea that ran to it, foot by
foot with my smarting eyes, I could see nothing. Nanny and I were alone
on the wide and empty ocean, and evidently travelling in the set of
some current. And it was owing to this, probably, that I was not
sighted in the morning; for the ship had actually shortened sail and
stood by the whole night through, tacking at intervals, so as to keep
as near the spot as possible. So they told me afterwards. It was more
than many a captain would have done, goat or no goat. And I was the
better pleased on a certain very momentous occasion, of which you will
hear in due course, to be able to make my acknowledgements to my old
captain and thank him for his humanity; also to help him a little in
his own time of need, in a different fashion. However this last is an
affair that concerns not the story.

Of Nan, previously, I had never taken much notice. Now, as I looked
down, I saw that she was a great strapping lump of an animal, in fine
condition, with a well-bred, good-tempered head, bearing a short, sharp
pair of horns; and a queer squab of a tail that she carried in a jaunty
sort of curve over her backbone. She was mostly black in colour, with a
big white patch here and there, and she kept her legs straddled to the
heave of the sea like an old sailor, and stared up at me, with a pair
of big, black, bewildered eyes as who should say: "Where's my child?
And what's become of the steward? And what's this row all about?' And,
sad and sore as I was, I couldn't for the life of me help grinning as I
looked at my shipmate. All at once, under-neath her, I caught sight of
three circular brown objects; and suddenly I felt hungry. All day long
the skipper used to stuff Nan with white cabin bread, lumps of sugar,
fancy biscuits and such like, for she'd eat anything. And at times the
men, perhaps by way of contrast, would throw her a bad biscuit out of
their own barge. At the present moment there were three of these under
Nan's feet. I stretched an arm down, but could not reach them by a full
six inches. Nor could I open the door, forming as it did half of the
front of the pen, without the risk of Nan jumping out. At last, after
many vain efforts to finger them, taking the kerchief off my neck, I
tore it into strips, joined them, and bending my knife to the end,
managed to harpoon one. It was soft; and sodden with sea water, and
full of dead weevils; but it tasted delicious. I offered a bit to the
goat, but she only studied at it and stamped her foot, snorting
indignantly.

'All right, my lady,' I said; 'perhaps your stomach won't be so proud
as time passes!' And I secured the others in the same fashion, and
stowed them carefully away in my pocket.

It was a real comfort to have something to talk to, although it could
only answer me with impatient coughings and cryings as it scuttled to
and fro, standing up now and then to nibble and pull at my clothes
through the bars. Even that took away the dismal sense of loneliness
and desolation induced by the look of an empty ocean all round running
to an empty sky.



CHAPTER II.
THE CUTTER.

And now the weather took a thoroughly settled sort of look--blue sea,
blue sky, and the sun just hot enough to be grateful. A light but
steady breeze blew from the southwest; and in place of the short choppy
waves of the previous night was a long, oily, unbroken swell, over
which we rode fairly dry, and showing two feet of a side, with, clear
of the surface, a couple of stumpy outriggers, where the carpenter had
cut down the tall legs of the pen when it came on board the Antelope.
The two lower ones were of course, under water.

Since meeting with Nanny I had felt quite hopeful, almost cheerful,
indeed. Twenty-four, strong as a young horse, sound as a new bell, with
eye of a gull and digestion of an ostrich, doesn't stop in the dumps
very long under any circumstances; and I sat in the sun, and stared
round the horizon, and talked to Nan, whilst our ungainly craft tubbed
about, yawning, and slueing, and lolloping over the regular seas.
Still, the salt biscuit had made me thirsty, and my throat was like an
overboiled potato, when, towards midday, clouds began to rise in the
west, slowly at first, then with such rapidity that all the sky in that
quarter soon became as black as an ink-pot. I had just taken a dip
overboard, and was munching a finger's-breadth of biscuit to still the
inward grinding, when, as I glared thirstily at the huge darkness that
was creeping gradually over all, black and dense, as if it meant to
blot out sea and sky for evermore, my eye caught a glimpse, on the edge
of the storm curtain, of something showing white against the gloomy
background. Standing up, I saw it more plainly. It looked like a ship's
royal or a boat's sail. That it was no flicker of sea bird's wing or
breaking crest of a wave I was certain; although even as I told myself
so, it was gone--engulfed in that profound blackness, beginning now to
enfold me and spread to the farther horizon, whilst streaks of vivid
lightning and low mutterings of thunder heralded the approaching storm.

The wind had died entirely away, and the gloom was so thick that I
could hardly see to cast adrift the curtains of the pen and fix them
snugly over the bars. But for these things--made to protect Nan from the
spray on the Antelope in heavy weather--we should have been done, for I
was certain that enough water was going to fall in the next few minutes
to sink the cage. As it was, I felt nervous about the result. I had
thought there was no wind in the storm. But I was wrong, for presently
a low, white mound showed itself advancing from the edge of the
horizon, quite discernible with the play of the lightning upon it, and
travelling swiftly towards me, roaring with a mighty noise of wind and
water as it came. Thunder pealed and crashed as if the foundations of
the ocean were breaking up, whilst the heavens glowed with such
continuous flames of electricity as made the eye wither to look upon. I
had never in all my experience seen anything like this. And I pretty
well gave myself up for lost--feeling in that moment neither hunger nor
thirst--as the wall of wind-swept water roared upon us and took the pen
up and threw it in the air, and whirled it round and round, and hither
and thither in a cloud of spume and hissing pelting foam, till, as I
lay, my hands gripping the legs of the pen and my toes stuck through
the canvas cover, I grew sick and dizzy with the motion and turmoil,
and expected each minute to feel the cage capsize, fill, and go down.
But with that first great wave the worst was over, and Nan and I were
still rightside up.

And now, at last, down came the rain, not in drops, but in solid sheets
as fairly bore me flat, beating the breath out of me as I stretched
face downwards and listened to the water pouring off me like a
cataract. But I was glad, for I knew the fall would quiet that
venomously hissing sea that seethed and raged so close to my soaked and
battered body. As the first weight passed I opened a corner of the
tarpaulin and peered at Nan. She was crouching in one corner, and there
was far more water washing about than I fancied the look of,
considering I had nothing I could use as a bailer. Also, the pen had
sunk appreciably under the added weight of fresh water and salt.

In an hour the storm had gone, the sun shone out, and a nasty tumble of
a sea got up, one of these criss-cross seas that seem to come from all
quarters at once--a sea that speedily made a half-tide rock of my
refuge, and threatened to fill it completely in another hour or two
more. As to wind, there was none to bother much about; and I was
getting the benefit of the released sea, held so long under by its iron
hand. Presently, to avoid being swept off, I had to change my position,
and now I stood on the bottom leg up to my waist in water, and hung on
to the top one--a precarious business, to say nothing of sharks, Every
few minutes a couple of chopping seas would make a rendezvous of the
pen, and, meeting, would break clean over it, half smothering me, and,
as I could plainly feel, each time putting more water inside. At this
rate of going, I considered that less than an hour would finish
matters, unless the wretchedly wild sea went down.

I had been straining my gaze to the horizon, when, gradually bringing
it round, I saw something over my shoulder that made me actually yell
with the surprise and delight of it. There, not two hundred yards away,
nodding and dancing to the chop, was a fine big lump of a cutter-rigged
boat, her foresail hauled down and partly hanging in the water over her
bows, the mainsail and gaff heaped along the boom. Over the latter spar
leaned a couple of men clad in blue cotton dungaree, looking straight
at me but giving no sign. Their features were dark, and as their arms
hung over the sail the sunshine glittered on some bright objects,
apparently held in their grasp. Climbing on to the pen, I shouted at
the top of my voice and waved my arms. But they never stirred, and I
thought I could make out, even at that distance, a sneering expression
on their livid faces. Again I yelled; ay, and cursed them, and shook my
fist at them, for the boat was passing me, blown along before the
wind--passing me at right angles, a beautiful model of a craft, her white
side with its narrow gold beading, glistening wet to each heave of the
straight stern. A regular dandy of a boat, never built, it struck me
even at that moment, to be carried on shipboard. My God, how swiftly
she was getting away from me! Evidently there was only one thing to be
done, but I hesitated. The stolid cruelty of those dark faces scared
me. Would not such villains be apt to take pleasure in repulsing a
drowning man who has come to them for rescue? Then I laughed aloud.

What could it matter how the end came, when come it must if I stayed
where I was? And without further thought I stripped, plunged, in and
swam for the boat. I was weaker than I thought; and the cross sea took
a lot of getting through. Also, the boat was further away than I
supposed her to be, and had it not been for the sail acting in great
measure as a drag, I doubt whether I should ever have done the swim. As
it was, when at last I grasped the sodden canvas, all I could do was to
hang on to it, panting convulsively, and not knowing when boathook or
hand-spike might descend on my head. A minute or so's rest, and then,
painfully crawling over the bows mother naked as I was, I staggered
aft. The pair still stood in the same position, close to each other,
staring steadfastly seaward, their backs towards me, in the natural,
easy posture of men resting. Were they drunk, or blind, or deaf and
dumb? I wondered as I stood there, on the break of the little half
deck, staring down at them. And then, my eyes travelling along their
bodies, a great hot sweat broke out, tingling like prickly heat all
over me, and I reeled back in dismay as I saw that from the hips
downwards, they were the color of saplings charred by a bush fire!

Black as ink, without a stitch of clothing, ran four straddling,
shapeless stumps that had once been thighs and legs--black as ink they
ran into the foul rain water that washed between them in the boat's
bottom. A truly desperate and awful sight, and one that made me feel
sick and ill as I gazed alternately at the burnt supports and the
fleshy trunks above them. The horrible spectacle took all the stomach
out of me, perhaps because that organ was so miserably empty just at
the moment. Anyhow, it was some minutes before I mustered courage to
step across and face that grisly pair. God only knows what colour their
skin had originally been, but now it was a horrid purplish blue. They
had stiff, scrubby black hair and beards, and were so much alike they
might have been brothers.

In more than one place on breast and arm I caught sight, through the
slashed dungaree, of scarce-healed wounds, telling of wild work not
long since. On each hip lay, in its curved sheath, a murderous-looking
knife; and from a steel cuff on each of their wrists hung a small
chain--some of the links fused and melted as if in a furnace. These were
the bright objects I had noticed. And they doubtless formed a key to
the tragedy, or at least to part of it. Snugging their boat in the
terrible storm of the morning, the pair had been struck by lightning
and instantly shattered and withered as I now beheld them. But before
that? I could not give a guess even--mutineers, pirates, convicts? Well,
here was romance at last, of a sort, good measure, heaped up, more than
enough to satisfy me for those humdrum years that had passed! The boat
was larger than I imagined. Decked better than half way her length,
giving her a cabin with handsome doors, facing a space aft--a sort of
well, wherein was a small binnacle, and around which ran lockers--I
should have taken her for a pleasure boat, built for use and rough
weather; or one belonging to some Government official who had to run
out to sea, or down a harbor to meet ships. Certainly no sort of vessel
that I was acquainted with carried such a craft on her deck. But,
wherever she hailed from, she looked a sound, fast, wholesome boat, and
more than a handful for any one man to manage; also, decidedly not the
property of those two silent ones. All these thoughts passed through my
brain in less time than it takes me to put them down. Indeed, whilst
thinking, I was busy hauling the foresail on deck, not without, I must
confess, more than one or two nervous glances over my shoulder. Then
stepping gingerly aft, I looked around for the pen, having no idea of
deserting a shipmate in distress. For some minutes I could not see it;
and when at length I picked it up, I was astonished to find what a
distance away it was, and what a mere speck it appeared on the sea.
Taking its bearings by the compass, I paused, reluctant with disgust,
at the next job on hand. But it had to be done. I wanted that mainsail,
and yet I hated to touch those forbidding figures gazing silently over
the sea with lowering, hideous faces.

Easing off the mainsheet, I thrust the boom to leeward. But they were
not to be got rid of in that fashion, and they hung on with a terrible
tenacity that dismayed me. As I stood watching, in half-hearted
fashion, the boat gave a sudden swerve, bringing the boom back again,
and causing the bodies to hit the side of the cutter violently; and,
to my horror, the lower parts of each of them snapped short off
carrot-wise, whilst the trunks swayed to and fro like pendulums on
the spar. This sort of thing was not to be borne, and, with desperate
energy, I picked up the halves--they were as light as corks--and hove
them overboard. Then, grasping the body nearest me, I dragged at it,
having to exert all my strength to make it let go its hold, and served
it the same way, the belt and sheath slipping over the exposed hip
bones, as I did so. Tackling the other one, I pulled too hard, and it
came away with a swing, and, turning, flew to me resting on my bare
breast.

Shaking myself free with a shout of terror, I pitched it overboard. I
was trembling all over and the sweat ran down my body in streams Never,
in my worst nightmare, could I have imagined such a gruesome contract
as the one I had just finished. With a feverish eagerness to be gone,
I cast the gaskets loose, hoisted the mainsail, rattled the foresail
up, got the cutter before the wind, and kept away for Nan and the
pen--bearing a good couple of miles ahead.

She steered like a clock; and though the breeze had dwindled to a
mere light air, she slipped through the easing tumble at a rate that
soon brought me alongside my first refuge. 'Hurrah, Nan, old woman!'
I shouted, whilst I quickly got into my clothes; 'here we are again;
never say die; for neither of us were born to be drowned!' 'Ma-a-a-a,'
bleated poor Nan as I rolled back the tarpaulins and, with some trouble
threw open the big barred door. On my calling her she was out on the
top of the cage in a second, and after just one sailor-like stare
around, watching her chance, she hopped into the boat as clean as a
whistle, although it stood full four feet above the cage, and bad
footing both ways. A rather dilapidated-looking goat she was, too, with
chafing sores on hips and shoulders, and her coat all brine-roughened
and matted. But there were lots of life in her still, and she made the
deck rattle as she scampered fore and aft, bleating at the top of her
voice.

Dowsing the sails, I made fast to the pen for a time whilst I did a
little exploring with a view to food and drink, which, Heaven knows, we
both needed badly.

First, with a bucket, I baled the water out, not liking the feel of the
greasy splashing between my legs, any more than the suggestive dark
color of it. Then, opening the door of the little cabin, I crouched
in, closely followed by Nan. The interior was low, and dimly lit by
a couple of glass bull's-eyes in the deck. There were no bunks, but
all around ran a cushioned seat, covering, as I soon found, lockers
full of odds and ends. On the floor were some rugs and blankets;
an empty demijohn, smelling of rum; some tin pannikins and plates;
mats of Indian manufacture; long black Trichinopoli cigars; woven
bags of grass, containing betelnut and withered areca leaves for
chewing, together with many more signs of dirty native occupation. But
everything was scattered about in the wildest confusion. A handsome
little lamp swung from a bracket, and lighting it with a match from
a big tin boxful in one of the lockers, I was enabled to see more
clearly. And now I noticed ominous black patches on the brown leather
of the cushions, and the floor was simply piebald with them. Also, I
picked up a couple of great sheath knives covered with rusty-brown
stains from haft to point. Undoubtedly there had been murderous work
done in that little sea-room. Opening some of the lockers, I found
preserved meats, a few bottles of rum, a great bag of cabin biscuits,
a lump of cold salt junk on a tin dish, a jar of some sort of wine,
another of molasses, more cigars, a whole cheese, a string of onions,
and one locker was nearly full of sweet potatoes, at which Nan sniffed
approvingly. Perhaps what pleased me most of all was, lashed right in
the eyes, a big cask of water, which, on sounding, I found over half
full.

Carrying an armful of provisions, I went out, glad to breathe the fresh
air after that of the cabin, which smelled stifling with an odour of
rum, stale cigar-smoke, murder, and sudden death.

But Nan seemed uneasy, and in place of eating the potatoes and biscuit
covered with molasses (one of her special weaknesses) she started to
butt me and sing out complainingly. At last, losing patience, I was
about to tie her up, when my eye fell on her udders, swollen near
to bursting: and, sailor though I was, I felt that something wanted
easing. So, taking a basin, I set to work, awkwardly enough I dare say,
but effectually; and Nan, relieved, presently made great play with her
food.

And what a meal that was! Never have I eaten one like it since! Nor, I
suppose, shall I ever eat such another--I mean with the same, relish
and appetite. For twenty-four hours nothing had passed my lips but a
nugget or two of brine sodden, weevily biscuit. And now, cold junk,
potted ox-tongue, while Peak and Frean's best ship's bread, raw onions,
and cheese, all washed down by copious draught's of Nan's milk, mixed
with a little rum! I had never drunk such a brew before, but I argued
that what was good for the skipper couldn't very well hurt a second
mate. And very capital tack, too, I found it. After stowing, tier upon
tier, such a feed as one never gets the chance of eating in the same
style in a lifetime, I cleared away the things; moored afresh on a
bight, ready to let go at a moment's notice; and fetching the cleanest
cushion I could find out of the cabin, and placing it on a grating
close to the tiller, I lay down, first drawing the mainsail over the
boom, to form a sort of awning. But for a while, tired as I was, I
couldn't sleep. I was young and thoughtless, and, like most seamen,
although far from irreligious, still extraordinarily shy of making any
show of devotion, openly or otherwise.

As I lay there, however, and there passed through my mind the wonderful
series of what one might almost fairly call miracles by which I had
been preserved and brought to my present hopeful and comfortable
position, when destruction seemed so inevitable, and so near, I all at
once felt impelled to get up on my knees and thank God heartily in as
suitable words as I could muster, for the mercies I had experienced
at His hands since plunging overboard in that dark middle watch. I
am sorry to say that, notwithstanding the stock I came of, it was an
unwonted exercise. But I felt all the better for it, and lying down
again, went off at once into a sound but not altogether dreamless sleep.



CHAPTER III.
BIG GAME IN MID-OCEAN.

I had slept long indeed, for when I awoke, mightily refreshed, the
stars were paling before the approach of a new dawn creeping up the
eastern sky. A cool and gentle breeze was blowing from the south, and I
put on my coat and vest that I had hung up to dry. After attending to
Nan I had a biscuit and a cupful of warm milk, which ever since, by the
way, I have infinitely preferred to cow's. As yet I was undecided what
to do, although now with a good boat under my feet. Southward lay the
ships. But there, also, lay the bitter weather and the high seas,
necessitating such constant vigilance as, with so scant a crew, must
end in mishap dire and complete unless very speedily some vessel were
sighted. The boat, too, was rather large for one man to manage with
comfort in anything like a sea-way; and the lighter the wind and warmer
the weather, the better, I judged, would be the chance of eventual
escape.

Of my position I was, of course, uncertain; nor, though I overhauled
the cabin again more carefully, could I find an instrument that might
enable me to take an observation. My one chance, it seemed to me, was
to get far enough north so as to cross the track of Australian
steamers. I would have given my little finger for a sextant. But the
boat evidently had carried a purely native crew, wherever they had come
from, and I must think myself lucky to have a compass even. And in any
case, I could hardly keep going night and day; so, actually, as long as
I made lots of northing, it mattered little about a degree of drift one
way or the other.

As the sun rose I cast off my moorings and made sail on the boat,
waving my cap to the pen, heaving gently on the swell, a black spot in
the red pathway of the orb, never doubting I should see it no more. It
had served me well, and I felt like parting from an old friend as we
headed away nearly due north, with a flowing sheet, the cutter leaning
over to it like a dog to a bone, and Nan standing under the foot of the
foresail--a fine figure of a goat, now with filled-out sides and glossy
hair, chewing her cud and keeping a sharp lookout to windward. Without
a doubt I owed my life to her, as but for the sound of her calling to
me from the sea I had never seen the pen, swimming away from it as I
was, and nearly at my last gasp. Once, when the water began to come in
so rapidly, just after the storm, the thought had crossed my mind of
how much lighter the pen would float if Nan were out of it. But the
notion was no sooner conceived than put aside, with the conviction that
no good fortune could ever attend such a miserably ungrateful action,
either in this world or the next.

In my rummaging I had come across a couple of short clay pipes, quite
new, also a stick or two of ship's tobacco, far more to my mind than
the rank cigars. And now, as I sat at the tiller and smoked, whilst the
boat ripped through the blue water, I felt pervade me a joyous sense of
hope and exhilaration indescribable, setting me to sing and whistle to
the mere thrilling of it. Nor did my imagination play me any tricks
concerning those two grim and blasted ones. If I had not, by any
reason, been able to get rid of them, it might have been otherwise.
But, then yards away, glistening wet with spray, was the boom to which
the fiery bolt had fastened them, the good Kauri pine of it buckling to
the tug of the sail, and all around the warm steady breeze and the blue
sky, and the water and the life in it. You see, I was young and
healthy, with a perfect digestion; and I had company, also good food
and drink. All the same, I shunned the darksome little den of a cabin,
close and vile smelling. Nor was there any need for its shelter, the
weather keeping gloriously fine; the wind through the day steady but
light, dying away at sundown, and giving place to soft airs, which
scarce rippled the water heaving gently to the dark blue overhead
studded with great constellations that glowed and burned and palpitated
with a nearness and brilliancy I had never seen equalled.

What puzzled me was that, search as I might, I could find no clue to
ownership about the boat or her belongings. Nowhere aboard of her was
as much as a printed letter. On her stern she carried, in place of a
name, a gilded device of a rising sun and the same, in smaller size,
was on each bow. She was copper-fastened throughout, and the tiller, of
solid brass, was a fine piece of work running in a graceful curve to a
dolphin's head. The sails were of light but very strong cotton; her
spars of that grand wood, the Kauri pine of New Zealand. From a few
indications about her, legible only to the eye of a seafarer, I judged
her of French build. And in that at least the sequel proved me right.

A week passed without my sighting anything, the weather fine, but the
winds growing perceptibly lighter, when one morning, taking my
customary look around before casting off, I spied a gleam of canvas in
the north-east. But I could make nothing more of it till noon, by which
time I had risen the object sufficiently to see that it was a small
painted-port brig under topgallant-sails, topsails, and foresail; and
judging from the way her head fell off and came to, with a seeking sort
of motion that reminded me of a dog nosing after a lost scent, steering
any way. And as I neared her I saw she was as sailors say, 'all
anyhow.' Only one small dingey hung at her davits; no smoke poured from
her galley funnel; no faces looked over her high bulwarks. A pretty
creature of a brig, too, of some 300 tons, with a yacht-like bow, and
clean run aft to a square stern; masts painted a buff colour tapering
away up to gilded trucks; lofty and squarely rigged--too much so for my
fancy--her copper glistening in the sun like a new kettle at each lazy
roll, and all about her, to a sailor's mind, a touching air of
loneliness and desertion, accentuated rather than relieved by the
outstretched arm of a white female figurehead.

'A derelict, for a dollar, Nanny,' said I, luffing up as we got closer.
'Anyhow, I'll hail her;' and I shouted out, 'Brig ahoy!'

Listening, I imagined I heard some sort of reply, sounding muffled and
dull.

'Brig ahoy!' I roared again. 'Is there anybody on board?' And as I sat
and stared, all at once, over the rail, for'ard of the main-rigging,
came a head and stared back at me--a great round black-and-yellow head
with eyes that glowed like balls of fire, and a big, open, red cavern
of a mouth, showing white teeth, long, sharp, and cruel, and that
answered my hail by such a deep savage roar, as made me jump to my feet
and exclaim, 'The devil, Nan! If that's a specimen of her crew, I think
we'll clear!' And Nan seemed to be of the same opinion; for, meeting
those fierce green eyes, she gave a lamentable bleat and scuttled aft,
and crouched between my legs as I hurriedly put the helm up and, very
slowly, for the wind had nearly died away, drove astern. As I passed
the brig's quarter I observed a rope's-end towing overboard, and having
some desire to see more of this strange business, I caught hold, and
finding it came handsomely off the deck, veered away until brought up,
when I took a turn round the iron traveller of the foresail. Jumping to
let go the gaff-halyards, I was startled by a voice overhead, and
looking up, I saw a man's face poking out of one of the two little
stern windows--a furiously red, choleric face, fringed with bristling
white whiskers; a stiff grey moustache sprang from under a big hooked
nose; and from the shelter of shaggy eyebrows gleamed a pair of deep-set,
light blue eyes.

'Hi, hi, you, sir!' roared the voice. 'Confound it, are you deaf? Why,
by gad, he's got my boat! What are you doing with my boat, eh, eh?'

Too much taken aback by this second surprise to answer at once, all I
did was to stare at the astonishing apparition, as it returned the
compliment with interest, framed like a picture in the small port which
it almost filled. Was the vessel bewitched? Tiger amidships and madman
aft; or both together? Or were they one and the same being? I protest
that something of this kind went to make up the notions that floated
through my brain at the moment, mingled with memories of sea stories I
had heard--strange weird stories of haunted vessels wandering on unknown
seas, manned by evil spirits, able to change their shapes at will.

And I must have shown it in my face, too, for the other one grinned as
it shouted: 'Well, when you're done looking frightened, perhaps you'll
come aboard and let us out. How much longer are we to be boxed up in
this hole, eh, eh?'

'Can't say, I'm sure,' I retorted, finding my voice at last; 'you've
got a deck passenger I don't much relish the cut of.'

'Why, confound it, sir! I crippled'--the face was beginning, when
suddenly, at the other window, appeared another face--a girl's face,
pale but beautiful, lit by great dark-brown eyes; a perfect nose, lips
arched like a Cupid's bow over double rows of pearl, and a voice that
rang sweet and firm and true as she interrupted the other.

'No,' said she eagerly as I gaped in amazement, looking, I dare say,
foolish enough, 'don't come on board--at least not yet. Tippoo is only
lame. He'd hurt you--he's become so savage since'--and here I saw her
face blanch and a sort of shiver pass over it as she continued, more
hurriedly, seeing, I suppose, the utter bewilderment impressed on my
features as I stood holding on to the forestay and gaping up at her:
'There's no one here except my father--Major Fortescue--and myself. Our
crew left us in that very boat, after shutting us up in here, trying to
set fire to the brig, and letting Tippoo--that's the tiger--loose. My
father shot some of the men, and afterwards smashed Tippoo's leg. But
where,' she suddenly broke off, 'did you come from?' eyeing Nan with a
swift look of surprise as the animal came and took up her place
alongside me and bleated loudly at the strange faces.

'I was second mate of a ship,' I replied shortly, for I was all athirst
to hear more; 'I fell overboard; and after drifting about with Nan
here, I found the boat and two dead men in her.'

'The infernal scoundrels!' shouted the other head from its window;
'the murdering thieves!--There, there, Helen, you are so impatient!
Can't you let the man tell his story without constantly interrupting
him!--Yes, sir,' he went on, his face turning so purple with rage
at the remembrance of his troubles that I thought he'd choke every
minute--'yes, sir; nothing but misfortunes since we left Colombo! First
the captain died, then the mate. Then I look charge (she's my own ship,
sir, cargo and all). Then the brutes of niggers mutinied' (I hardly
wondered at it), 'and wanted to leave, saying the ship was doomed. I
put two of 'em--the ringleaders--in irons with my own hands. Then, sir,
one night they locked us up here and got the boat overboard, but not
before I'd shot four or five of 'em. Gad, sir, if they hadn't cleared
I'd ha' potted the lot at short range! They tried to set us afire, too.
But it rained; and I kept 'em jumping with my big express; so they
didn't do much at the fire business. And they let Tippoo loose--as
quiet a cub as you ever saw--until, well, he's a man-eater now, and I
daresay you'd better kill him before you come on board. No trouble; I
broke his leg the other day. I'm glad my boat's proved of service to
you, sir; and, eh, eh'--putting a glass to his eye--'gad, yes, your
goat also.' All this he paid out as fast as he could reel it off,
bringing up with a sudden sort of a gasp, quite plain to hear.

As he finished speaking, with a loud roar, there sprang on to the
brig's taffrail a three-parts grown tiger, lashing his tail in fury
and swaying unsteadily on three legs to the motion of the vessel! His
near front leg he kept bent upwards, with all that part between the
knee and claws hanging loose. His regard was fixed on Nan, who shivered
and bleated in terror. Fearing that he was about to spring, I slipped
my line, and seeing that presently there would be some manoeuvring, I
hoisted the mainsail and foresail, put the helm up, and a light air
filling the canvas, the cutter began to draw ahead.

'Don't desert us!' exclaimed the girl appealingly.

'No,' I said. 'I will not. But I don't quite see how I'm to get on
board whilst that brute's there.'

'Can you shoot?' she asked.

'I'll try,' I said, 'although I haven't had much practice at big game.
However, if you'll lower me down a rifle and some cartridges I may hit
him.'

At this both heads withdrew, and in a minute or two the Major--to call
him as I always did henceforth--had a stout line out of the window with
some kind of firearm dangling from it. Giving the boat a sheer, I took
her right across the brig's stern, not without some apprehension of the
tiger's making a flying leap; but, owing to his broken leg, perhaps, he
only growled in a menacing, low, throaty note. Clutching the gun and a
bag of cartridges attached thereto, I drew out again from the Hebe--the
brig's name in gilt letters on a blue scroll athwart her stern--and
loaded. As luck would have it, I was not only something of a shot, but
understood how to handle a rifle, and I heard the old Major grunt in a
disappointed sort of a manner as I shoved the cartridges in.

Jibbing, I got the cutter round with her stern to the Hebe's, and
taking careful aim, fired--and missed. The motion of the boat had been
too much for me, and I saw the bullet knock chips off the rail a full
foot to port of the brute, who at once disappeared.

'Never mind!' shouted the Major as I told him. 'Follow him up! He's
cunning after my hitting him. Make the goat bleat--that'll fetch him!'
That I could do at any time by simply ma-a-ing to Nan; and drawing
ahead, I presently got another shot as the tiger, unable to resist
the sound of the bleating, came to the rail amidships where I had
first seen him. This time I was sure of a hit, for I heard the thud
of the heavy bullet and the fierce growl as the brute fell back. It
was getting late in the afternoon, and quite tired of this game of
hide-and-seek on the high seas, I determined, in the face of this last
successful shot, to try and end it. So, making the long painter fast
to the brig's main-chains, I scrambled into them, rifle in hand, and
cautiously peered over the rail. There lay the tiger biting savagely at
a wound in his shoulder, from which blood oozed in a thick stream. With
a good rest for my rifle, I made no mistake this time, but sending the
bullet into his head just below the eye, had the satisfaction of seeing
him roll over and stretch out dead.



CHAPTER IV.
ON BOARD THE 'HEBE.'

Stepping on to the brig's deck, I looked around with not a little
curiosity--after making quite sure that the tiger was dead. Almost the
first thing to catch my eye was a great heap of oakum, old canvas, all
well tarred and half consumed, lying on the main hatch, between a big
pair of wooden chocks, evidently formed for the reception of just such
a boat as lay alongside. The fire had burnt through the tarpaulins and
charred the hatches but had been extinguished before doing further
damage--a very narrow squeak though. Close to the forward end of the
hatch was a little galley; farther along, a good-sized deck house,
painted white; and the after-ends of both these structures were fairly
riddled with bullet-holes. And everywhere about the deck lay scattered
bodies--fragments of human skulls, vertebrae, arms, and thighs, many of
them crunched and broken, but all clean picked and dried by the hot
sun. Still, the planking thereabouts looked like the floor of a
slaughter house, and the smell was an equal proportion of dissecting
room and menagerie combined.

There was no poop to the brig. The space was taken up by a house
running right aft to the wheel, with a narrow alley-way on each side
between it and the bulwarks. A handsome brass railing ran round the top
of this sort of poop, to which there was no entrance from the quarter
deck. But I noticed a couple of small windows in its front with the
glass in them smashed. Houses and fittings were immensely strong and
built with great solidity. Heavy semicircular double doors, fronting
the wheel and binnacle, gave access by a few steps to the cabin; and
these doors had been secured by a kedge anchor and a couple of spare
chain topsail-sheets in such a fashion that, opening outwards as they
did, it would be an utter impossibility for any one within to move
them. Indeed, it was fully a quarter of an hour before I was able to
open them myself. But at last I flung them wide and pushed back the
hood of the companion, and stepped aside, waiting with some curiosity
the appearance of the prisoners.

First to emerge was the old gentleman whose features I already knew
so well--a tall, rigid figure, dressed in a long frock-coat of some
thin, dark material, immaculate linen with large diamond studs and
sleeve links, polished tan shoes, and a solar-topee as big as a
bee-hive--altogether a most amazing spectacle under the circumstances.

Introducing himself as Major Fortescue, late of the 14th Bengal Native
Infantry, he shook hands and, stepping to the taffrail, sniffed and
snorted, and drew great breaths of air into his lungs, saying: 'Killed
the beggar, hey? Well done! By gad, it's a treat to get out again!'
Then, catching a whiff from the maindeck: 'Piff, pah! how those brutes
smell yonder! Must get them cleared away presently.'

'How long have you been locked up down below?' I asked as we ascended
the little ladder to the top of the deck-house, I meanwhile keeping an
eye lifting for a sight of the girl, and wondering what was delaying
her.

'Eight days,' said the Major, answering my question. 'Eight
interminable days! Luckily we had plenty to eat and drink. But the heat
was infernal! I've been coffee-planting in Ceylon. Gave it up, after a
year or so. Doctors advised a sea voyage for my daughter, who had been
ailing for some time. So I bought the Hebe here, and loaded her with
coffee for the Cape. Meant to sell ship and cargo there, and go home in
the mailboat. Nice mess it's turned out to be! Nothing, sir, but bad
luck! Third week out the Captain took ill, lingered another week, and
died. That was bad enough! Then the mate fell from aloft and broke his
thigh; mortification set in and he died. Light winds, mostly ahead,
and calms all the time. Then, sir, the colored crew--ten of 'em--got
rusty--swore the ship was accursed, and what not. But I know the
nigger, sir; and I bounced 'em up to their work. You see, there wasn't
another white on board now. But the serang, or boatswain, as you'd call
him, knew how to sail the Hebe; and as I was a bit of a navigator, I
thought we might pull through. But the brutes jibbed; and I had to
knock the serang and the tindal--his mate--down, and put irons on them
for drawing their knives on me. I dragged the pair into the bathroom
there'--pointing to a little sentry box of a shop on the port side
of the quarter-deck--'and locked them in. But that night, Helen and
myself being both below, the beggars rushed aft, let the two out, and
fastened us up in the cabin. Then the brutes started to get the boat
overboard, cockbiling the main yard, as you see, and putting a tackle
on it, whilst I was making good practice at them with my heavy express
through those front windows. Gad, sir, it reminded me of the old Mutiny
days! I drove 'em into the deckhouse and out again. I had lots of
ammunition, and didn't spare it. Four, I know, I accounted for. But
then night came, dark as a dog's mouth, and it was only guess-work; and
they got the boat over in spite of me. And before they went they lit a
roaring fire on the hatch there, and loosed Tippoo, whom I was taking
to a friend in Capetown. Helen and I did all we could to get out; but
the house was too solid, and you can't cut teak with a table-knife. And
all the time the fire was flaming and blazing in such a fashion that
it seemed as if nothing would save us from being roasted--not alive; I
would have taken care of that--when down came a perfect deluge of rain
and extinguished it. By then the boat must have been out of sight, or,
surely, they had returned and finished their work. Helen couldn't bear
to think of the tiger eating those bodies whose remains you see there;
so to please her, I tried to shoot him--an ungrateful act, as but for
his scavengering they might have bred a pestilence. But after getting
hit he went into his cage, and only came out o'nights. He was a quiet
tractable creature enough--we had him from the time he was a cub--but
after his first taste of human flesh, of course, blood-thirsty as the
rest of his tribe. And the niggers reckoned on this when they let him
go, well knowing what an excellent sentry he'd make over us. Well, sir,
I think that's all for the present;' and the Major turned and looked
at me, a fine, well set up, soldierly figure of a man, but one you'd
sooner expect to meet in a military club than on the deck of a derelict
brig in the Indian Ocean.

I was going to make some remark, but just then I became aware of a
graceful figure that had stepped up alongside us, and was holding out
her hand to me, and looking at me scrutinisingly with those wonderful
deep-brown eyes of hers.

A very gracious presence indeed was Helen Fortescue as she stood there,
clad in a close-fitting dress of some soft gray stuff, with narrow
white cuffs fastened by silver buttons at the wrists. Under her collar
was knotted a blue silk kerchief, and on her head she wore a round
straw hat trimmed with ribbon of the same colour. And she looked as
dainty and fresh and spick-and-span as her father; indeed, the pair
might have gone as they were to the swellest of garden-parties. Neither
beauty nor age in distress was there a sign of! And still, they must
have had a pretty trying experience.

All this time Nanny had been bleating loudly from the boat, missing
me: and as we three walked on to the main deck, the girl--she was only
about twenty--picking her way repugnantly, I jumped over, and placing
Nan in the chains, which in the Hebe were large and roomy, I easily
lifted her thence on board.

'Poor Tippoo, a bad ending for you!' the girl said as we passed the
tiger. 'I had him when he was not much bigger than a kitten,' she
explained to me. 'And until this awful voyage'--and she looked around
shuddering--'he was quite a pet, fond of me, and very quiet.'

'Perhaps, Mr Vallance' (I had told him my name when he introduced
himself), here put in the Major very politely, 'you would not mind
helping me to clear up these decks a little whilst Helen gets us
something to eat? I am sorry to have seemed inhospitable. But, really,
all we had to offer below was some cold preserved stuffs and bitter
beer. Our water gave out yesterday, and we had no means of cooking
anything in the cabin. It was a great oversight on my part forgetting
to bring a spirit-lamp. By the way, I once knew a Colonel Vallance--old
crony of mine--Somersetshire man, I think. Any relative of yours?'

I replied that I thought he most likely was, as I had heard my father
talking of a militant branch of the family settled near Taunton. This
seemed to please the old boy excessively and he rather dropped the
curt, somewhat high and mighty style he had hitherto affected. But the
question almost made me laugh, so ludicrously inapposite did it appear
to our surroundings. However, we turned to with a will, triced open a
big port there was amidships, dragged Tippoo over and through, and sent
his collection of bones after him.

'That,' said the Major as he kicked a skull into the water, 'was Lal
Mohammed the cook's, and a better hand at a curry never lived.'

'Where are the other boats, Major?' I asked presently as I bent on a
bucket, and the Major stood ready, broom in hand and sleeves rolled up
to scrub whilst I drew water.

'There never were any more,' replied he. 'When I bought the Hebe she
had lost all her boats in a storm, and none were procurable in Colombo,
except the dingey yonder. So, acting on my agent's advice, I purchased
the one you picked up from a French builder in Point de Galle. I always
kept her well stocked with provisions, ready for an emergency. You
found, I think you told me, plenty left?'

I said I had, and as we worked described the state of the boat more
particularly than I had hitherto done.

'Aha!' said he, chuckling. 'Like Tippoo, the lot made a bad end. There
must have been five or six in her; one or two, probably, wounded in the
dark, for I kept at 'em, There was a nice breeze springing up as they
left, I remember, because of their fanning the fire. By-and-by they
became hungry and thirsty, and they tackled the rum. Then the Nagapatam
and the Tanjore men got drunk; knives were drawn, and they went for
each other. Presently the serang and the tindal found themselves the
only survivors of the fight. Those were the two fellows you found on
the boom--the ringleaders, the ones I put in irons. I can see the whole
affair as plainly as possible. And I am pleased, sir, for they are an
uncommon bad crowd. Fancy a nigger drawing his knife on me!'

'I think I'll pass the boat astern,' I said. 'Perhaps we may get her up
later on. But I doubt it. She's too heavy.'

'Very well,' he replied; 'I don't want to lose her. Still, if we can't
lift her, she must go. Can't tow a boat like that if heavy weather
comes.'

'No,' I thought to myself as I took the painter aft; 'there'll be other
matters we shall lose if it comes on to blow!' and I glanced at the
spread of canvas aloft, flattening itself into the masts and then
suddenly banging out again. The painter was too short to give her drift
enough, I found; so, for the present, I hauled in and bent on to it the
rope's end I had hung on to before I boarded the brig, which happened
to be the sheet of the main trysail boom.

When I came for'ard again matters looked more ship shape. The decks,
though far from clean, were at least clear; there was also a cheering
sound of dishes rattling in the galley. And as I peeped in with an
offer of help, I saw Miss Fortescue, busy in front of the stove, with a
big white apron on.

'No, thank you,' said she, smiling, when I volunteered. 'I'm a
soldier's daughter; and I'm glad to say that he brought me up to be
useful as well as ornamental.'

'That's so, Vallance,' said the old chap, at work alongside with a
basin of soap and water. 'Helen's not quite a ti-tum-tiddedly girl, as
I call 'em--only able to strum on the piano, talk nonsense, and be more
or less saucy to their elders.--And' (to his daughter), 'my dear, I
think, as you and I at least have had enough of the cabin, and the
night's fine, we'll take tea on the deck house.'

'Very well, then,' I put in; 'and while it's preparing, don't you
think, Major, I might as well clew up and furl those topgallant sails?
It won't take me long, and we can't be too snug.'

'Certainly, if you think it necessary,' replied he. 'Sorry I can't go
aloft; but at all events I can pull and haul as well as any two
Lascars.'

So pretty soon I was perched aloft on the fore top-gallant yard, and
quickly had the sail snugged. Then down I came and clewed up the main,
helped by the Major, who well justified his boast, for he was a
muscular, hearty old man. When I reached the deck again it was still
light, and I found that the others had set out quite an appetising
repast on the roof of the after-house. Camp-stools and a table appeared
from somewhere; and as I took my place I felt rather ashamed of my sun
and salt stained attire, compared with these well-dressed people, and
the appurtenances of civilisation surrounding them; unable either, at
times, to realise that the brig had lately been the scene of a terrible
tragedy, and that the calm, scrupulously-dressed old gentleman sitting
opposite me had been one of the chief actors in it, shooting down his
fellow creatures like rabbits. A tight hand the Major, without a doubt;
and perhaps, I thought to myself, it wasn't such a wonder, considering
that his 'niggers' should have preferred his room to his company and
his 'bossing'! All the same, I couldn't forgive them for trying to
roast his daughter, whose soft eyes, as I now told my story in a more
connected form, rested on me, I thought, with looks of sympathy and
interest.

'By gad, sir,' commented the Major as I finished, 'as narrow an escape
as I ever heard of in my life! And the goat--why, she saved you!'

'How glad I am, after all, that they did take the boat!' said the girl
gently; and the tone in which she spoke made my heart jump. Then the
talk drifted.

'Yes,' said the Major, 'I gave £700 for the Hebe, and the cargo's worth
another £1200. But I would gladly take her price now for the lot, and
cry quits. I'm afraid, as a speculation, it's going to turn out
unsatisfactory. We're nearly seven weeks out to-day. Where we are I
don't know. My last observation made us longitude 77° 39', latitude 15°
20'. But Heaven only knows where we've wandered to since then! We'll
see to-morrow, anyhow. Helen, my love, this curry is not up to Lal
Mohammed's. He was an artist; and I'm half sorry now I potted him.'

I stared; but I soon realised that the Major was quite in earnest.
Glancing at the girl, I saw her smile faintly as I caught her eye; and
I blushed, feeling that she read my thoughts in my face. Honestly, I
was inclined to be vexed at the self-absorbed particularly about
trifles shown by a man who had just narrowly escaped from a very
unpleasant adventure, to put it mildly, and who was probably on the eve
of others. Also, with my sodden clothes and bare feet, I was ill at
ease in such fine company. You will remember that I was young, and that
I had seen little of the world beyond my ships and my father's
vicarage. Thus the Major's pernicketness (I can find no better word)
half amazed, half disgusted me; and I think, I repeat, that his
daughter saw it, and also intuitively guessed how I felt respecting
that matter of outward seeming; for she said presently: 'Mr Vallance, I
have taken the liberty of making poor Captain Davis's berth ready for
you. I'm almost sure his clothes will fit you. I found some, nearly
new, and put them out. You have had a much harder time than we two, so
will you please go and try the things on, and then take, a rest.'

This was thoughtful indeed, and I said as much, adding that, not
knowing the moment the long spell of fine weather might break, I meant
to sleep on deck. Even now there was a light air sneaking about that it
might pay to trim the yards to.

But my ideas jumped well to that notion of a clean rig-out, and I made
my way down (for the cabin was really below the level of the deck) into
a very handsome, little sea-parlour, lit by a swinging lamp; for it was
by this dark under hatches, although a nearly full moon had risen, and
on deck it was almost as bright as day. I found the berth and the
clothes--a good suit of light tweeds; and not only these but a full
equipment of underclothing and a pair of canvas shoes. And everything
fitted fairly well. There were razors too, and being able, as most
sailors are, to shave by touch alone, I soon had a week's stubble off
my chin. There was a glass, but the berth-lamp was too dim. However, I
made a fair job of it, and what with that and the clean shift, felt a
new man all over.

When I went on deck again the pair were still sitting in the moonlight.
Miss Fortescue, as I stood before them, just stared as at a stranger,
then smiled; and the Major, putting up his glass, remarked: 'Well, by
gad, here's a sea-change, eh, eh? Why, now, that's something like, eh,
Helen?'

Then for an hour longer, all the wind having died away, we sat
discussing our chances of finding help to work the brig; and the Major
dozing off after his last glass of wine, we two others talked together
like very old friends--she telling me about the dismally dreary time
they had of it below after the mutineers left the brig, together with
something of their former life, from which I gathered that the Major
must be fairly well to do. She herself had left England to join him at
her mother's death, being then a mere child. Three years ago her father
had retired on half-pay; but in place of settling down comfortably, he
had chosen to roam all over the East, carrying his daughter with him;
speculating a little, and, until this last venture, apparently making
money.

And presently she drew me on to talk about the dear old people at home,
and the quiet parsonage, and the village buried amongst apple-orchards,
and the deep lanes of hazel and hawthorn, far from the sound of the
sea. And she listened, it seemed to me, with something of eager longing
in her eyes, as of one who asked nothing better than such restful life
in such a land. Everywhere was almost absolute stillness. Not a sail
stirred. The water was like glass, without a ripple. Over the royal
mast-head swam the moon, making of the brig a silver model swimming in
a silver sea. Opposite to us the Major breathed heavily; between us Nan
chewed her cud, stopping at times to nose the delicate white hand that
played amongst her hair.

For long the silence reigned unbroken, the girl gazing out to sea with
fixed, unconscious eyes; myself watching the perfect features thrown
into full relief, as her hat, tilted back and allowing a few stray
curls to wander down the broad, white forehead, brought the sweet face
out of its shadow. Our mutual reverie was interrupted prosaically by
the Major choking with a horrible sound that made us start. And then we
found out how late it was; and the Major called for hot water, and
insisted on brewing a night-cap. So Helen and I went to the galley
together and revived the dying fire, and filled the kettle and brought
it aft. Then I bundled a mattress and some rugs up from the skipper's
berth; whilst the others with many good-nights, went below to their
own--the Major sleepily asking to be called if a change came. 'Helen can
steer, mind you,' said he; 'and so can I. We'll keep watch and watch
when the wind comes, Vallance.'

And I replied formally and obediently, 'Ay, ay, sir!' smiling to myself
at such a soldier-like formula, and thinking that it would be very long
before I got tired of at least one of my watch-mates. Ay, verily, this
last trip of mine was making up abundantly for all the eight years'
dullness of seafaring I had been wont to wonder and grumble at!

Alongside the little bathroom was a snug corner, sheltered from the dew
by the over-hanging edge of the deck-house. There I spread my mattress,
and stretching out, lit one of the Major's cigars and thought of many
things, but mostly of the fairest girl I had ever seen--his daughter
Helen.

Then, dozing, I heard the clip, clip, of Nan's hoofs along the deck as
she searched for me, and presently snugged down like a dog at my feet.
I had many dreams that night; but all were pleasant, and athwart them
all moved a woman's face--the face I had watched so long in the
moonlight. Yes, I was indeed far gone in my first love!



CHAPTER V.
WE LOSE THE MAJOR.

I awoke at daylight, after a very sound and pleasant night's sleep. No
one else was stirring, and I had a good wash, lit the galley fire and
a pipe, milked Nan, and went on the forecastle-head. The weather was
still the same, and the brig had not steerage-way on her. Running out
to the jib-boom-end I got a good view of the vessel, and thought that
the Major had bought her a bargain--for a prettier model of a little
ship I had never clapped eyes on. Coming inboard, I looked into the
forecastle--the large house on deck. But there was nothing to be seen
save the usual array of bunks, a few bags, one chest, and any number of
native mats, pipes, &c. The after bulkhead was full of bullet-holes,
evidently made by heavy metal (four ounce, as I found later on), for
many of the balls had gone clean through the galley first and then
into the forecastle. No wonder the poor devils left hurriedly under
such a bombardment. And except Tippoo's great cage--larger than Nan's
even--there was absolutely no shelter about the decks for a crowd of
men.

That mainyard all askew offended my eye, and setting to work, I
presently squared it by the lift and braces, and running aloft, sent
the tackle down knowing it was quite useless for three of us to attempt
to heave-in a two-ton boat, even with the help of the winch. By the
time I had arranged these little matters the sun rose red and very
angry-looking, with the whole eastern sky aflame--promise of a regular
scorcher of a day. There was a small furled awning aft, and I cast it
adrift and was spreading it, when Helen Fortescue came on deck.

'Oh,' she said, glancing forward and aloft as she shook hands, 'how
busy you have been, Mr Vallance! I feel quite a sluggard. My father is
not awake yet. The excitement of yesterday has tired him, I think. Now
I will go into the galley and see about breakfast.'

I noticed that she had a pair of rough gloves and her apron ready to
put on; and it struck me forcibly as she walked forward, with her fine
lithe figure adapting itself unconsciously to the light roll of the
brig, that there, indeed, was a girl with no thought of shirking work
about her, good blood showing in every feature and trait--ready, with
the man she loved, to meet any hap the world might hold for them.

Presently up came the Major, looking brisk and lively, and cocking a
sort of soldier-sailor eye knowingly aloft and around.

'Hot day, sir,' he said; 'hot as blazes;' and without further ado he
hopped on to the rail and began tying the awning-points. Then we stood
aft looking at the boat.

'Yes,' said the Major, 'she must go as you say. It would take all the
hands that are away to hoist her in. Oh, well, some poor devil, even as
you did, may drift across her. But we'll let her hang on for a while
anyhow. Help may come.'

'Shall I take anything out of her?' I asked.

'Not a thing,' replied the Major. 'You know what somebody--I forget who
said about casting bread upon the waters. By gad, sir, when you came
across our stern yesterday, I was flabbergasted to see my boat again,
with such a big loaf in it. I wonder whether the thing could possibly
happen twice?' and the old chap laughed, not being able to see into the
future. And in view of his Christian-like behaviour in the matter of
her stores, I refrained from pointing out that his parallel wouldn't
stand good, for in the former instance boat and bread had been sent
adrift without any consent of his.

It was very awkward having no door in front of the deck-house, as
everything had to be brought aft by the narrow alley-way between it and
the bulwarks. So, while the fine weather lasted, we decided to take our
meals under the awning. Thus we breakfasted, with much talk of our
position, not at all uncheerful. I was pleased to find that there were
two sextants on board; also that the Major, with some foresight, had
kept the chronometer going. After the meal I suggested that we should
clew up the foresail, and the Major assenting, we had a half-hour's
heavy pulling, after which I went aloft and in some sort managed to
stow it--a regular hard weather stow--frapping a lump of canvas to the
yard wherever I could get a hold. It was a big sail, and took me a long
time to handle, even in such a fashion. But I managed it at last. And
when I came down, although pretty well knocked up, it was in much
better humor with the brig under a couple of topsails and fore-topmast
staysail; and for after canvas I could set the mizzen, close reefed.

Miss Fortescue was at work in the cabin, and the Major sat at the
galley door peeling sweet potatoes, making things look a bit homelike,
although the white shirt, solar-topee, yellow boots, and diamonds put a
touch of incongruity into the scene that made me nearly laugh outright.

'I'm an old campaigner, Mr Vallance,' said he as I approached, 'and
I've seen some ups and downs in the world. But I can assure you, sir,
that I don't think I ever felt so glad as I did when you appeared under
the Hebe's stern and came to the rescue. Let me tell you, sir, it was
a plucky thing in you to board the brig, as you did; with a wounded
man-eater at large on her decks; and if I haven't, Mr Vallance,' he
went on, much to my discomposure, 'thanked you as I ought to have
done, I sincerely apologise, and in my own and my daughter's name
do so now;' and rising, he made me a most genteel bow, whilst all
the potato-parings: went out of his apron, greatly to Nan's delight.
Returning the Major's salutation to the best of my ability, we shook
hands, and I felt that last night I had done the old man an injustice
in thinking him either selfish or unfeeling.

At six bells (11 A.M.) a gentle breeze sprang up and sent us through
the water at a three-knot rate and presently the Major, sending Helen
to the wheel to relieve me, brought up the sextants and, with no little
show of pride, began to screw the sun down.

'You take the other one, Mr Vallance,' said he, 'and check me. I'm not
a professional, you know,' he went on squinting through the glasses,
'but I don't think I'll be far out.'

But it was all I could do to take my eyes off that most graceful form
of a helmswoman, swaying her lissome shape to the working of the spokes
as if to the manner born, glancing at me now and again, with a sort of
shy smile that seemed to my sanguine heart already to hold affection in
it as well as friendship.

'Eight bells! Eight bells!' simultaneously from each of us and away we
went below to work out our reckoning. As luck would have it, and to the
Major's extreme delight, there was only about a mile difference between
us. Our longitude was 66° 5' east, latitude 29° 10' south, by which it
will be seen that the brig's progress since the Major's last
observation had been mostly all westing, which was so much the better
for us. Getting out a chart, I found our position on it, making us on a
west-by-south course, 1500 miles from Cape Agulhas, and only 120 miles
east of the island of Rodriguez. But there was nothing to call there
for. And these at least; if my memory serves me aright, were the
results of my first sights taken on board the Hebe.

The wind was westerly, with a little northing in it; and bracing the
yards in, we found the brig would easily lie her course with a few
points to spare and that, even under such short canvas, when we managed
to get a cast of the log--Helen at the wheel, holding the glass--she was
sailing no less than six knots. This was truly wonderful; and I
realised that I was on a clipper, and the fastest one I had ever been
shipmates with.

'She steers beautifully,' said Helen, when I offered to relieve her,
'and I like being here. Of course the boat bothers her a little; and I
suppose, if it comes on to blow, it must go.'

'I'm afraid it must go in any case,' I replied. 'But there's no
particular hurry; and any minute something may heave in sight.'

Opening a little signal-locker, I took from amongst the flags a small
British merchant ensign, and asked the Major if I might hoist it as a
distress signal (I had done nothing whatever hitherto on the Hebe
without first consulting him).

'Do exactly what you think proper, Mr Vallance.' he replied, setting
down a great round of boiled beef that he had brought from the galley.
'You're our practical man, although, as you see, you're not going to
have the navigation part of the business all to yourself;' and he
chuckled, and stood watching as I bent the flag on, union down, and
hoisted it half-way up the signal-halyards, rove at the end of the
mizzen-gaff.

'There,' said I, 'if any ship sights that, she'll know that we want
something, even if our canvas isn't enough to tell her.

'My father thinks navigation is his strong point,' remarked Helen, with
a smile, as the Major tramped back to the galley. 'This is not his
first trip to sea, you must know. Once he owned a share in a Calcutta
steamer, and made a voyage in her. He took up the science then; and
when poor Captain Davis and Mr Skinner, the mate were alive, he always
used to help them in their observations.'

'You must have had a very anxious time with so much sickness on board,'
I said.

'It was indeed a terribly anxious time,' replied Helen. 'The captain
died quietly one night, without anyone knowing it at the moment. But Mr
Skinner was delirious for some days, and kept constantly calling for
me, never seeming easy unless I was with him.'

'Was he a young man?' I asked, with a sort of empty feeling somewhere
inside me. 'No, poor dear, he was not,' answered she, smiling. 'Old
enough to be my grandfather, and quite gray. But,' she added, perhaps
on seeing how my face lightened, 'I was very fond of him, and of the
captain too--who leaves a wife and child at Point de Galle.'

After dinner, finding that the brig steered a bit wild without any
canvas aft, I set the mizzen--a mere rag with its close reef, but quite
enough. Then whilst the Major took the wheel, I slung a pair of
binoculars across my shoulders and went on to the main royal yard in
order to get a good look round. I have said, I think, that the Hebe was
lofty--over-sparred, indeed, in my opinion--and from the elevation I had
attained she seemed a mere toy of a vessel underneath me. To set the
mizzen I had been obliged to remove the awning, and thus had a clear
view of her decks, looking solitary enough; for Helen had gone below,
and the only person visible was the old Major, making a very different
picture to his daughter, as he stood bolt upright like a sentry on
duty, one eye on the compass, the other on the weather-leach of the
main-topsail. As, presently, I swept the sea-line, some low, black
object jumped into the field of the glass. For a time I worked away at
it, but without avail. It might be a capsized boat, or a buoy, or a
lump of wreckage--more likely the last--for anything I could make of it.
It was broad on the weather bow; and hailing the deck, I motioned the
Major to keep the brig off a few points until she pointed straight for
the thing. Then making sure there was nothing else in sight, I
descended and told the Major, who became quite excited and called his
daughter. But we had not risen it from the deck yet. Indeed, from the
smallness of the object, I did not expect we should until close upon
it. Helen and I went on to the forecastle-head, there to get a better
view; and all at once, she cried: 'I see it; it's a bit of a ship!'
But, using the glass, the thing looked strangely familiar to me.

'By heavens!' I exclaimed suddenly, 'if that's not mine and Nan's old
pen, call me a Dutchman! I ought to know it!'

And so it proved to be; and as it came washing and bobbing heavily by,
we went aft again, and had a good view. It was just as I left it,
floating face upwards; and it took very little imagination on my part
to stretch me on it drenched and gasping and to feel once more the
comfort of touch that Nan's warm flesh gave to my chilled body.

'By gad!' exclaimed the Major after a long stare through his glass,
luffing to his course, 'fancy a man on that thing, wallowing about in
mid-ocean with a goat for his crew, and a lump of sodden biscuit in the
lazaretto! Why, Vallance, you must have thought our boat the outcome of
a miracle! What did you do?'

'Well, Major,' I answered after some hesitation, 'I went down on my
knees and thanked God for sending her to me, as well as I could manage
it.'

'The very best thing, too, you could have done,' replied the Major
heartily, and rather to my relief. 'It's only on some such occasion
that we sailors and soldiers ever think of Him.'

Towards evening the breeze freshened a bit, and we held a council. My
opinion was that through the night we should heave-to, as the mere
keeping of any sort of watch was, with our numbers, out of the
question. It would, I argued, only entail an amount of fatigue
rendering us useless and knocked up in case we should be called upon
suddenly to make some supreme effort.

But the Major was opposed to this view completely. 'We are three,' said
he. 'Four hours each. Constant lookout, night and day. Helen can do her
share as well as any of us. We must keep going.'

I was about to expostulate, when a glance from Helen decided me to
remain silent. Besides, was not the Major owner and skipper too? And
anyhow, what business had a poor devil of a second mate, whose clothes
even didn't belong to him, to interfere in the matter? But it angered
me to think of a girl like Helen Fortescue having to stand at the wheel
until she was ready to drop. However, I thought it wise to lie low and
let the Major see how the thing would work, especially as he would take
the first watch from eight o'clock till twelve; and I had an idea from
the look of the sky, that ere then there might be a change. And
presently, after getting a spare line and bending it on to the boat's
painter, in place of the boom-sheet, so as to give her a fair drift, I
relieved the Major to go and get his tea below. It was already nearly
eight bells, and he was soon on deck again. 'I shall let her go,
Vallance,' said he, pointing to the boat, 'if the wind freshens any
more. We can't have her tailing on to us. It will mean another
half-knot. Besides, it'll make a difference in the steering.'

In the cabin I found Helen waiting tea for me. For the size of the
brig, it was really a large apartment, running her full width, but for
two state-rooms aft, two forward for the officers, and a box of a
pantry. Handsomely panelled and carpeted, well lit, with plenty of
glass and silver-ware on a broad sideboard, it looked especially snug
and cosy; fairly cool, too, with the bull's-eye windows along the upper
part of the house all open. But the principal attraction to me,
although noting these details with a careless glance, was the girl, her
hair gathered into a mass of dark, shining coils around the small and
shapely head--the first time I had had a good view of it without a hat
on--who smiled a welcome to me across the well-spread tea-table.

'My father,' said she after we talked a while, 'thinks it possible,
apparently, that we three can carry the Hebe to Capetown; and although
I did not like to tell him so, I hardly think it likely. Do you?'

'Not unless we get a fair wind, and one of about the strength of this,
all the way there,' I replied, laughing; 'and even then, keeping
regular watch and watch night and day, only our skeletons would be left
by the time we sighted Agulhas. It sounds feasible enough
theoretically, but practically, even with the small canvas we carry
now, there would be constant callings for all hands. The brig is
heavily sparred, and even to trim the yards in any sort of a breeze
would take the three of us all we could do. In fact, watch and watch,
as we are now means night and day work for all of us.'

'I thought as much,' said she, 'and saw you were going to protest. But
when my father has set his mind on a thing, it is better to let him try
it. When he sees that it will not act, then he will be the first to
acknowledge it.'

'I have the next watch--the middle one,' I said presently. 'That leaves
me to call you. How shall I manage?'

'If you will stamp on the deck,' she replied; 'my berth is there, you
see, exactly under the wheel. I am a sound sleeper, but I think I shall
be able to hear you. If I do not--well, you might run down and knock at
the door. It really does seem absurd? All of us ought to sleep on deck
within easy call. But father does not care about the open air at
nights; nor, to tell the truth, do I. What a crew!' and she laughed
merrily.

'Yes, even were we three tough and seasoned sailors,' I said, 'it would
be as much or more than we could manage to work the Hebe to Capetown.
But now!'

'I loved the sea,' said Helen, 'and I love it still. But I do not
think, if we get safely to any port, that after this experience, I
should care about trusting myself to its tender mercies again. It has
not used me too well. And, as you know the voyage was planned
especially for my benefit. Doubtless my health is as good as ever now;
but at what a terrible cost!' and she shuddered as at evil memories,
and I saw tears rise to her eyes.

'It was all the fault of those rascally Lascars,' I remarked after a
pause, 'You would have done well enough with white seamen. Think of the
brutes leaving you to roast alive!'

'Yes, it was cruel,' she answered. 'Still, Mr Vallance, my father,
though generally the soul of gentleness with his own colour, like many
old Indians has no patience with the native; and when the captain and
the mate died'--

'Yes,' I said quickly, for I had thoroughly imagined, long ere this,
the sight of the Major bossing his 'niggers.' 'But why, I wonder, did
they not put yourself and the Major into the boat, and themselves stick
to the brig?'

'Doubtless they would have done so,' said Helen; 'but, as I heard them
say over and over again, they imagined that a curse lay upon the Hebe,
that a fearful plague was stowed away amongst the coffee, and that we
were doomed to wander about the sea until all died.'

'A prophecy pretty well fulfilled in their case, anyhow,' said I. 'And
now I think I will go on deck and turn in, or my watch will be out.'

For a few minutes I stood talking to the Major at the wheel. The wind
was steady, the brig lying her course and going through the water in
good style, although, as I judged, bothered by the swing of the boat
behind her. Getting the side lights out, I retrimmed them and put fresh
oil in; then going on to the forecastle, I lit my pipe, and after
having a long look round, carried my mattress from the quarter-deck and
sat down and smoked, Nan, as usual, lying at my feet. The night seemed
fine enough for anything, and the barometer, as I had glanced at it
before leaving the cabin, was, if moving at all, on the rise. Still,
instinct at times, if rarely, is more to be depended upon than any mere
instrument, and I felt somehow that a change was pending--of what nature
I could not be sure. However, pretty certain that not much harm could
come to us aloft, although a reef in each topsail would have added to
my sense of security, I lay down.

Finding presently that there was rather too much wind for comfort
rushing out of the fore-topmast staysail, I shifted my quarters on to
the maindeck, and took shelter under the lee of the forecastle. Here I
spread my mattress afresh, and pulling a rug over my head to keep off
the moonbeams, I dozed off to sleep, my last waking thoughts being that
the wind had taken a shriller note up there in the rigging, causing the
Hebe, hitherto as upright as a factory chimney, to have a slight list,
so that before midnight it was just possible I might find myself in the
lee-scuppers. But I was too nearly asleep to go to the trouble of
another shift. And I dreamt--naturally enough perhaps--that I was once
again on the pen with Nan, only this time the water kept pouring in in
such volume that I could plainly hear it above all the raging of the
storm; and I lay listening to the noise of it, and of Nan's wailings as
she vainly strove to free herself. I awoke suddenly, bewildered, to
find myself and the decks a-wash, Nan bleating on the spare spars to
leeward: the brig flat a-back and nearly on her beam-ends and a full
gale of wind roaring and yelling aloft.

Staggering to windward, I ran aft. There was no one at the wheel.
Putting it hard up and slipping the becket over a spoke to keep it
there, I raced forward, and flattening in the staysail sheet, had
presently the satisfaction to feel the Hebe paying off and the sails
filling again. Back to the wheel, and in a few minutes I had her again
on her course. Lucky it was that we had no more canvas set, or it would
have been 'Good-bye, Hebe!'

But where was the Major? Not forward, I was nearly certain; and surely
he would not have gone below without first calling me! I had left a
clear sky, when I fell asleep, beginning to fill with moonlight. Now it
was covered with dark clouds and there was, too, quite a tumble of a
sea on. And where was the Major?

All at once, glancing astern, I, notwithstanding the gloom, saw that
the boat was gone, and I started as if I had received a galvanic shock
with the premonition of evil that suddenly struck me. Then I stamped
violently on the deck. But my shoes were too light; so, catching up the
grating, I rammed away with it until a tall figure rose through the
companion. At first I thought it was the Major's. But a voice,
singularly unlike his, with the suspicion of a laugh in it, said. 'It
is only 2 o'clock yet, Mr Vallance!' And then I saw that it was his
daughter.

'Will you please see if the Major is in his berth?' I said. 'I have
only just come to the wheel. Waking, I found the ship a-back and the
boat gone.'

Without a word she sped below again.

'No,' she said, reappearing presently, and speaking with a sort of
despairing quiver in her voice, 'he is not in the cabin. Can he be
forward, do you think, Mr Vallance?'

'If you will take the wheel, I'll search the vessel,' I replied.
And as she came to me and grasped the spokes I could hear her
bravely attempting to choke back a sob. Longing to take her in my
arms and comfort her--for, instinctively, I felt that the worst had
happened--but without trusting myself to speak, I raced to the galley.
Empty! So was the forecastle! So was every corner about the decks!
The Major and the Hebe had parted company. Certain of this, I let go
the maintopsail-halyards and hauled on the clew-lines until I got the
yard as far down as I could. Then backing the fore-topsail yard, I
practically had the brig hove-to, Next taking out the port side-light,
I carried it aft, and bending it on to the signal-halyards, ran it up
to the gaff-end. Then going below, in a minute I returned with the
big express rifle and all the cartridges I could find, and loading,
began to fire rapidly. All this I did with such desperate energy as
left me breathless. Nor all the time did the dim figure at the wheel
move or speak. But now, as I stood beside her, she exclaimed in an
indiscribable accent of misery and distress: 'Oh, my father! my dear
father!'

'Let us hope for the best, Miss Fortescue,' I said. 'I believe myself
he is in the boat, and that if it was light he would still be in sight.
Evidently finding that it interfered with his steering, he was leaning
over--having hauled up the boat--and had just cast adrift the end of the
painter when he overbalanced and fell. Look;' and I pulled in the rope
that I had myself bent on the night before--a piece of stout, new line,
its end still retaining the half shape of the carrick-bend I had used
to fasten it. So I tried to cheer and comfort her, although, God knows,
my own hopes were of the slightest. The Major may have hit the boat in
falling (and this was my chief fear), or she might have slipped away
too rapidly for him to swim to her. And he was far from a young-man;
also, I supposed, short-sighted. But as I took her away from the wheel
and secured it amidships, and made her sit down on the raised grating,
I did my best to appear hopeful--nay, certain of seeing the boat
with the Major in her again at daylight; pointing out, too, that the
squall--for it was nothing else, although a precious heavy one--was now
over, and that we could not be very far from the spot, with the Hebe
making no progress.

And talking thus, firing at intervals out of the big rifle--the same
that had done such dire execution amongst the crew--I gradually drew her
to think more hopefully; although, as I sat close beside her, I could
feel a shudder pass through her frame every now and again, and the
sight of the set, pale face, staring always astern, made my very heart
sore.

Thinking, from her frequent shivering, that she might feel cold,
although the night was a warm enough one, I ran down and got a wrap and
placed it over her shoulders where she sat; and, as she thanked me, I
could hear that she had been crying quietly to herself. And presently
she rose and asked me if she couldn't be of some use; and I, knowing
that occupation of any kind would be good for her, asked her to get
more cartridges, if she could find them, also to trim the red light,
which I now hauled down, as it was burning dimly. Then, dark though it
was, for the moon was hidden behind a heavy cloud-bank, I slung on the
binoculars and went aloft, more for the sake of doing something than
because I thought it of any avail. What I wanted to know was, how soon
after I left him did the Major go overboard? It was a question no one
could answer. But I was afraid not very long; and in that case it must
have happened some hours--hours during which the brig, before the
shifting squall struck her, was probably coming to and falling off, but
still making headway.

And stare as I might, all that the glass gave me was a heaving field of
black water. After that fierce and sudden burst the wind had fallen
quite light, although I fancied there was more to follow before very
long.

By the time I readied the deck Helen had fixed up the lamp and got it
ready to hoist. She also handed me a few cartridges, saying that these
were the last. But beyond one swift glance at my face in the red glow
of the lamp as we stood facing each other, she asked no questions.
Truly it was a brave heart! I only hoped it would not break with the
long, miserable waiting for a dawn that seemed as if it never meant to
come again.

But it came at last, as most things must, and once the first faint
streaks showed, it seemed only a minute until the whole eastern sky was
alight with color. Swinging into the rigging, I was soon perched in the
main-royal yard, sweeping the horizon with my glasses.

All around, except where that gloomy cloud-bank still kept its position
to the north, the ocean was clear--too clear, alas! Free from the least
speck. But I waited for the sun to fully show himself before
descending. And even then, when there was no excuse for remaining
longer, I hung aloft, dreading to go down and face those eyes,
following my every motion so hungrily from the deck.

I need not have been frightened. Helen Fortescue was of the wrong
material to make a scene, young as she was. But when I saw what that
night's waiting had done for her, I protest I felt ready to set her an
example, and cry out and shed tears myself. And I think she must have
seen something of the sort in my face, for as she came forward she put
her hand in mine and said: 'No hope? No; I feared there could not be!'
And when I, being unable to speak with the sight of the great sorrow in
that haggard, woe-begone face, could only point to the dark and
threatening cloud-bank, as much as to say, 'He might be there,' she but
shook her head sadly, saying: 'I fear not. Heaven help me, I have lost
my father, the only friend I had in the world!'

But at that I found my tongue, albeit just then an unsteady member, and
said: 'Not the only one as long as I am alive, Miss Fortescue;' and,
moved by strong emotion, I carried the hand I still held to my lips. I
saw a faint tinge of colour came into her face as she slowly withdrew
from my grasp. But she simply said: 'Thank you, Mr Vallance. I am sure
of it.' And seeing that she looked at the companion with a sort of
longing in her eyes, I gently supported her trembling footsteps to it,
and closed the doors behind her as she went down the little stairway
thinking that she would wish, as much as possible, to be alone with her
sorrow. And, I can tell you, my own heart was heavy enough that morning
as I went forward to light the fire and feed Nan. I had begun to like
the Major, spite of his crotchety ways, and I missed his rather
imposing presence about the deck. Nor had I much hope of his safety.
Yet often his speech about the boat, and his refusing to let any of the
things be taken out of her, recurred to me with a kind of insistent
idea that, although unconsciously, he must have had some kind of
provision of what was to happen, and that ergo he should be in her at
that moment.

'Bad and unsatisfactory logic, Nan,' I said, going back to my old
habits. 'God help him! I'm afraid we shall never see the poor Major any
more.'



CHAPTER VI.
MY SWEET SHIPMATE

Helen did not stay below very long; and when she reappeared, although
still haggard and tear-worn, she looked more composed and resigned. But
although she spoke little, she insisted on getting the breakfast ready
and busying herself about galley and pantry as usual.

Seeing this, and that it would not take much to start the tears going
again, I once more went aloft with the glass to get a lookout; and
presently away on the port bow, I saw the white glimpse of canvas--just
enough to swear to, but no more. When I was on the royal yard a
faint breeze came along, and descending, I clapped a jigger on the
fore-topsail-halyards and started to mast-head the heavy yard. Helen
hearing me, came out to help, putting all her weight into the pull when
I gave the word. But as I might have known, it was too much for us.
So, procuring a notched-block, I led the jigger-fall to the winch, and
with Helen holding on, I managed to in some sort get the yard nearly
up. We served the main one the same way; and presently Helen brought my
breakfast to the wheel, eating as I noticed, nothing herself. During
the morning the vessel I had caught sight of turned out to be a small
barque coming directly for us. And indeed the spectacle of the Hebe in
such weather, under her too badly set bulging topsails, to say nothing
of the reversed ensign blowing out from the halyards, and general
all-round look of forlornness, would have been enough to attract a
ship's attention and make her alter her course in any seas. As the two
vessels neared each other the stranger backed his mainyards and lay-to
within a couple of hundred yards of us--a pretty enough picture of a
modern iron clipper, wedge-shaped, wire rigged, and steel-strapped,
as she rolled lightly, showing her bright-red composition-painted
bottom glistening wet to the meeting of the black topsides, whilst
her snow-white canvas billowed tremblingly from lofty royal, double
topgallant and double topsail yards down to her great courses, as if in
protest of delay. She swam light, with her Flimsoil mark well out of
the water, and looked to be in ballast, or very nearly so. Two persons
stood on the poop; and one of them, a red-whiskered, red-faced, stout
man, after a long stare at the Hebe and her fair helmswoman--for I had
been busy about our yards--hailed.

'What brig's that,' he shouted, 'an' what's the matter wi' ye?'

In as few words as possible I told him, asked if he had seen anything
of a boat adrift, and wound up--almost hopeless as I knew it must be--by
asking him if he could spare us a couple of hands.

I cared nothing about his name or whither he was going; but he replied:
'This is the Aurora o' Glasco; five-an' forty days out; bound to
Calcutta. Nae, I hae na seen your boat? An', mon, I can tell ye that
there's nae mair cats aboord here nor there's mice to catch. I've only
aucht for'ard, a' told. Ye can count 'em for yoursel'.'

And truly, there were exactly eight bearded faces gaping at us, all in
a row, over her rail.

'That's a gey queer story o' yours, mon,' he continued; 'an' if ye've
nae objections, I'll just come aboord o' ye, an' hear it mair to
richts.' And I saw him cast another searching glance at the Hebe as he
spoke.

'You're welcome,' I replied shortly; and in a minute or two a gig with
a couple of men and the speaker in her was pulled alongside the Hebe.
Coming up the light ladder I had thrown over, he gave a quick, rather
suspicious glance around the decks, but made his best shore-bow as I
introduced him to Helen. Presently the three of us went into the cabin,
where, producing decanters and glasses, I told my story more fully,
interrupted by exclamations of astonishment in very broad Scotch--the
broadest Aberdeen could produce, I think.

'Weel,' said he, 'I'll be keepin' a smatrt lookoot for your boatie. I
wish I could do mair; but ye'll ken yoursef--nane better--that merchant
ships are na muckle ower-manned thae times; an' I'm afraid ye'll no
be gettin' help unless it's frae ane o' thae passenger steamers or a
mon-o'-war. An' it'll mebbe be a month afore ye sicht ane or ither o'
'em; but if the leddy' (another bow to Helen) 'wad accept o' a passage
to Calcutta, she's welcome, vera welcome, an' Peter Macalister o'
Newburgh--that's me--will be pleased mon to hae her. An', he went on,
turning to me, 'if ye like, Maister Vallance, ye can come wi' us. But
ye see, ye're a sailor-mon, an' can mak' shift weel aneuch wi' a soond
ship and twal months proveesions until help comes. Nor can the leddy's
bein' awa frae ye mak' any possible differ in the result, ae way or
t'ither. An'--an'--weel ye ken'--and the skipper suddenly stopped as if
he had been shot, whilst Helen, divining what was coming, and what I
never dreamt of, albeit my heart was in my boots, rose, her cheeks all
aflame, and replied:

'Thank you very much, Captain Macalister, for your kind offer; but I
could not think of leaving the Hebe as my friend, Mr Vallance, stays by
her. Besides, would you advise me to desert my poor father's property
when, perhaps, I may possibly be of use to Mr Vallance in helping to
save it?'

'Vera true, my dear young leddy,' replied the worthy skipper, getting
redder than ever, but obviously impressed by the latter view of the
case; 'it was just my ain bairns at hame that I was thinkin' on when I
spoke, an' how I wadna muckle relish the notion o' ane o' them driftin'
aboot the sea wi'--But there, there,' he broke off, feeling himself
probably on perilous ground again, 'it's nae business o' mine to
intefere wi'. A' I can do is to keep a gude lookoot for the Major, an'
that I will wi' pleasure. An' now I think on it, when we left Capetown
they were expectin' Her Majesty's ship Alexandra in every day, a'most,
frae the colonies--Australia, ye ken. If ye could but speak her ye'd be
richt. Ye hae Greenich time aboord, ye say. Weel, I'll stand by ye ti'l
noon, an' we can compare oor observations. An' i' the meantime, if ye
like, I'll hae my men help ye pit a reef in thae big tops'ls o' yours,
an' snug yon foresail. Ye'll be a' the easier, gin it comes on a bit o'
a blaw, ye ken.'

Thankfully accepting his kind offer, the four of us, reinforced by
another two from the Aurora, put a single reef in each of the Hebe's
topsails, and restowed the fore-course. By that time it was close on
noon, and the captain, bidding us a hearty farewell, went aboard; and
presently, discovering that our chronometers and position were exactly
alike, he braced his yards up, dipped his ensign three times in token
of farewell, whilst a hoarse roar of a cheer arose from the men in the
barque's fore-rigging, as she stood across our stern with her port
tacks aboard, and gradually faded away to a white speck on the horizon.

I think we felt lonely as we watched her, each probably fancying that
it might perhaps be long before we saw the faces of our kind or heard
familiar speech.

'How glad I am you did not accept the captain's offer!' I remarked
presently to Helen, as she left the wheel for a minute to give me a
pull on a brace. 'I don't know what I should have done, all alone on
the Hebe--gone mad, I expect.'

She blushed as her eyes met mine, and replied, smiling faintly,
'Captain Macalister evidently thought it would be a correct thing for
me to do, and was within an ace of plainly saying so. You see, Mrs
Grundy's influence extends even into the Indian Ocean. Perhaps the
Captain was right; but I could not bear the thought of leaving the
Hebe. It seemed almost like an act of treachery to my poor father to
desert her at the very first opportunity.'

This time, you will observe, there was nothing about me; but I was
satisfied, nevertheless; possessing my soul in patience until the right
place and moment should arrive, as arrive I felt, by now, they surely
must.

Four days went by uneventfully, and I found we were making southing
rapidly, so much so that I reckoned another twenty-four hours would
bring the Hebe well within the parallel of Cape Agullhas, and actually
not many miles from the spot of ocean in which I had fallen overboard
from the Antelope. During the nights our drift was inconsiderable, and
always to the westward. Since the Aurora left us there had been heavy
rain-squals. To avoid these--although Helen wished me to come into the
cabin--I had cleared out the deck-house forward, and in it on wet nights
I pitched my camp. Lonely as it might be aft for the girl, I wished
above all to refrain from anything that could bear the faintest
resemblance to intrusion. And I think I did right; although Helen
seemed just the least bit offended with me. However, the weather
generally kept so fine that I was able to stay on deck aft most nights.
Wet or dry I would have done so, but that, once coming up, and finding
me there in the rain, she very decidedly expressed her intention of
staying in it also, unless I either took shelter below with her or
forward with Nan.

Although subject to intervals of brooding sadness, the girl had
regained much of her cheery, hopeful nature, and used to keep me sweet
and pleasant company whilst we sailed the brig, sometimes into the
small hours. Then, she went below, after giving me a hand to swing the
yards, and as I lay down for a brief rest with Nan at my feet I would
go over our talk together, treasuring up every kind word, every deep
and moving glance of my sweetheart's--for that such she was I more than
hoped, although neither time nor place served to put the matter to the
test. Of seeing the Major again I had quite given up all expectation.
Helen, as she told me, had not another relative in the world. Clearly,
at the very first opportunity I must marry her, and take her home to
the vicarage. What should we do for a living? (I never in this
connection thought of anything the Major might have left.) Well, there
was a farm that I was to have worked, had I not chosen to seek a
livelihood instead on 'these barren fields of wandering foam.' The
lease would shortly be up, and I could resume it for myself and Helen;
and it would be hard indeed if I couldn't knock some kind of support
out of it without having to come to the old people for help. What! Why,
the cider alone from the big orchard at Birch Grove ought to keep us!

And so I dreamed, building my castles in the air. Romance! Why, air and
ocean in these days were filled with the glamour of it--and of my new
love!

We were very much together during this time. How could it be otherwise?
And the more I saw of her the more I discovered what a fine character
it was; what a noble soul and a stainless mind gave grace and light and
dignity to the beautiful being that I felt myself gradually gaining
possession of.

But always--although in talking to you of her I have called her
'Helen'--it was, between us, Miss Fortescue and Mr Vallance. Most
punctiliously did we keep up appearances; and if our eyes now and
then spoke a language unmistakeable, they were quickly lowered.
Still, often, when her soft white hands met mine as we pulled on a
rope together, and the breeze brushed a stray curl of hair across my
cheek--often, I say, did I feel the need of self-control merge into a
very torture of refraining from taking that graceful, yielding form
into my arms and there and then declaring my love. But ever I fiercely
fought against such temptation and beat my heart back into subjection,
gaining the victory, looking at the last to my reward.

About this time it was that, being becalmed one evening, I sighted on
our starboard beam a boat about three-quarters of a mile away. The Hebe
herself was motionless, or nearly so; but the boat seemed drifting
astern pretty quickly, probably in the set of some small current. In
Helen's eyes, as she gazed, there was a perfect fever of sympathy and
pity. And I could see that she yearned, as it were, to the sight of the
helpless, tossing thing, and presently she spoke, almost to herself,
but not so low as to prevent me catching her exclamation: 'If there
should be any one sick and helpless--nigh dead in her!' And I knew by
the sob she gave as she turned her eyes away that she was thinking of
her father.

It was a mad thing for me to do, but I could not stand idly by and
witness her distress, so I said: 'If you will help me to lower the
dingey, I'll pull over and see if there is anybody in her.' In a moment
she jumped to the davit-falls; in another four or five I was pulling
across the calm water. And then it seemed to dawn on her what a fatally
foolish action her silent urging had led me into; and I saw her wave
her hat, and heard her voice coming to me in recall. But already I was
half-way; and, determined to allow no room for after self-accusings or
regrets, I kept steadily on until I was alongside the little derelict.
Looking over into her, I saw something that made me start back with
fear and loathing; for there, prone in the bottom, lay four bodies,
their features undistinguishable from decay; and, worse than all,
scattered about there were terrible signs that, before their own
deaths, they had been driven to the last dread resort of the castaway,
But for these ghastly, mutilated fragments, there was not a thing in
the boat with the corpses save the oars. Two of the men lay under the
midship thwarts, nearly doubled up, as if their last moments had been
spasms of a agony; a third was right in the bows, eyeless from the
attacks of sea-birds--a shocking and heart-rending spectacle--with
features run together and discolored until the face seemed a hideous
and putrid mask, mocking all semblance of humanity. The fourth corpse
lay right aft on the grating, in much similar case to the other, only
that in his hand he grasped a bare sheaf knife. All four, from their
clothes, were men before the mast. There must, I could too easily see,
have been others. Ugh! it was a gruesome sight; and giving the boat a
shove off, I had slipped my oars to return, when, sloping to my push,
she came round, stern towards me, and, to my unutterable horror, I read
on it the words, 'Antelope--London.'

I think, without using any extravagant figure of speech, I may say
that, as my eyes caught the above inscription, my very soul shook
within me at the new and terrible interest raised by it. But what could
I do? There was the boat and its burden floating softly away! If I had
possessed an axe, or any tool whatever fitted for the work, I would
have pursued it, and driven a hole through its bottom, and let those
rotting corpses sink to the depths below rather than wander the ocean
in such terrific guise. But I had nothing; and the idea of groping for
her plug beneath that festering mass repulsed my imagination to the
verge of retching. And now glancing towards the Hebe, I noticed with a
thrill of alarm, how distant she appeared to be, looming indistinctly,
a pale smudge, the very phantom of a ship, athwart a mist that was fast
rising off the hot, oily water. Even as I stared there came to my ears
the faint report of a gun, then another, and another, bearing something
in the sound of them to my ears of quick impatience and distress.

Rapidly the smother thickened as, forgetting aught else, I pulled madly
towards the noise of the shots--all the guide I had, for the brig was by
this time invisible and but for those dull echoes out of the mist I
should have been quite bewildered as likely as not making away from, in
place of to, the Hebe. And how I blessed the presence of mind in my
darling that had induced her to think of the only possible mode of
indicating her whereabouts! Even when actually close alongside, almost
hitting her, so thick was the fog, but for the report overhead I must
have missed the vessel.

As I clambered on deck a dim figure came swiftly towards me, making
with wide-open arms as if to embrace me then all at once, with a quick
cry, it seized both my hands, exclaiming: 'Oh, I thought I had lost
you, and it nearly killed me!' Then, still holding my hands and
laughing and sobbing hysterically, she led me aft, and brought food and
drink to me, all the while, by turns, upbraiding herself for sending me
on such an errand, and giving thanks to God for my safe return. And,
secretly, it made me proud and happy to see such depths of emotion
stirred for my sake in one usually so calm and self-possessed. But not
until I found her at last, soothed and tranquil would I tell her the
result of my trip, and then not in full although I think I need not
have feared, had I so wished, seeing that for a time all things seemed
swallowed up in deep thankfulness for my rescue and unharmed presence
beside her.

But what of the Antelope? What awful misfortune could it be that had
overtaken her, to send that ghastly boat-load of corpses to roam the
sea unburied? Whatever it was, it must have been disaster, sudden and
pitiless. For a moment it struck me as just possible that this very
boat might have been lowered for me when I fell overboard, and that the
ship had failed to pick her up. But on going back and thinking over the
state of the weather at the time, I saw it was well-nigh incredible
such a thing could happen. And surely I must have seen something of
them next day! No, I felt certain in my own mind that the Antelope had
come to grief in some terribly complete manner--a foreboding, as you
will see later, fully realised.

A day or two after this incident, whilst at work in the galley, I heard
Helen, at the wheel, cry out and point away on the port bow.

Jumping on to the forecastle-head, I saw a vessel which, like the
Aurora, had altered her course to speak us. This one, however, had
crept up during the night, unperceived until now. We still kept our
distress signal flying--not so much with the hope of speaking ships and
borrowing men as to obtain information respecting the long-boat. Truth
to tell, I think we were getting a little careless as regarded the
keeping a strict lookout, especially after our experience with the
Aurora. Evidently, to get the loan of men from any ordinary vessel was
well-nigh hopeless and, unaided, I began to think that our chances of
arriving at Capetown, or anywhere else, were quite problematical, even
if the weather held as fair as it had done for so long, which was quite
too much to expect.

Within the last few days we had, too, struck an easterly current, and
the Hebe's drift o' nights was pretty considerable. Clipper as she was,
the brig, under her present canvas, was heavily handicapped. Nor, even
with Helen for a relief at the wheel, could I sail her day and night.
In fact, I never seriously attempted to do so.

From aloft I could now see the stranger plainly--a huge mass of canvas
that at first it rather puzzled me to define, so bizarre did it look.
But presently, as she swam more plainly into view, I made her out to
be a four-masted barquentine, with enormously square fore-yards and
towering main, mizzen, and jigger masts clothed in great stretches of
fore and aft canvas, whilst from between them, and off her bowsprit and
jib-boom, sprang regular flights of staysails and jibs--on the whole a
very remarkable figure of a ship. I had, however, seen the rig before,
mainly in timber-vessels hailing from Puget Sound or Vancouver, and had
never felt any inclination to be shipmates with three forty-foot booms
on a craft that a jib might shake all the sticks out of her at once. As
I watched her she bluffed till her widespread wings fluttered and shook
like those of some monstrous sea-fowl preening itself then jibbing, she
hoisted British colors and headed straight for the Hebe, although on
the other tack she would have passed quite close enough to speak us.

Scanning the eastern horizon, I saw athwart the sky a faint stain of
smoke, evidently from a steamer, but too far away to tell just yet in
what direction she was travelling.

For the last couple of days we had been steering a south-west course,
the wind allowing us to look up no higher and that morning, for the
first time, I had noticed such a marked fall in the barometer as set me
seriously thinking of obtaining help to put an extra reef or two in our
topsails, and also get the dingey on board, for we had let it tow
astern ever since my mad trip after the derelict boat. At the best ours
was only higgledy-piggledy sort of navigation; and although far from
tired of it in such company as my beautiful shipmate's, I would have
been heartily pleased to see four or five strapping A.B.s dumping down
their round-bottomed bags in the Hebe's forecastle, swarming up her
ratlines, and putting all she could carry on her. However, the vessel
and cargo I had by this time got to look upon as a kind of trust
committed to my care for Helen and myself, and I was determined to take
no risks. Help, I argued, must come at last, if only by means of
vessels reporting me at their destination and meanwhile I would do the
best I could, without killing myself by unnecessary labour and worry.
Truly, I had seen enough of ocean's awful work lately to make me
careful; and that last experience! Why, even still, o' nights, I awoke
wet with cold sweat, after dreaming that I was in the dingey, lashed
alongside the other boat, with her dreadful, gruesome crew of dead and
rotting men, whilst through the haze afar off came to me Helen's voice
crying faintly and more faintly as we drifted away from each other.



CHAPTER VII.
A FIRST-CLASS CRUISER.

As the Barquentine drew closer, she let go the sheets of her three fore
and aft topsails, letting them hang to the crosstrees in great bunches
of canvas. Then, squaring her fore-yards and hauling her tremendous
booms amidships, she lay stationary, or nearly so, not a hundred yards
away. Big and heavy as she was, her crew handled her like a top. Of
fully 1200 tons burden, she was down the water aft, with a sheer in her
from the elliptic stern to well forward of the fore-rigging, curving to
a fine, free, gamecock-headed, graceful bow, which, added to her
immensely lofty, raking masts and spreading breadths of canvas, gave
her in some measure, to my eye, in spite of the red ensign streaming
from her halyards, the air of a great bird of prey about to pounce on
the naked, defenceless Hebe.

All at once, amidships on her decks, I caught sight of something that
made my heart jump half-way to my mouth. The object was the stern of a
boat, with on it a large gilt rising sun--an emblem the memory of which
I was not likely to forget.

I said nothing to Helen, who, having helped me to back our
main-topsail, was now standing near me; but taking the glasses, tried
to make the thing out more plainly. Yes, there was no doubt about the
device; but then other boats besides the one might carry such a mark.
And, owing to the deep shadow cast by the main-boom and part of the
sail, I could observe only a portion of the stern; the rest lay almost
in darkness.

The barquentine was strongly manned, for fully five-and-twenty faces
peered at us over her bulwarks. And such faces were they that, as I
glanced at them, I made up my mind at once, in this case at least, to
forego my usual application for assistance. There was not a single
white man amongst them--American negroes, Kanakas, Malays, and
half-castes of varying grades of yellow, from that of a new saddle
to the deeper tint of a roasted coffeebean. No, no, I wanted no such
cattle as those on board the Hebe!

On a small monkey-poop, but for which she was flush fore and aft, stood
a group of three men, all whites, who devoured the Hebe with their
eyes, staring aloft and around in a gaze that came always back and
settled on Helen and myself and Nan, who, as was her custom now when
anything was to be seen, stood near us, her two fore-feet cocked up on
the brig's rail, and by the expression of her knowing face, criticising
the stranger with might and main.

'Hello!' shouted one of the men in response to my hail of 'Barquentine,
ahoy!' 'What's the matter with the brig? Where's your crowd got to? And
what do you want?'

The speaker was a tall, sunburned, not ill-looking man, with black
moustache and whiskers, clad in a sack suit of gray tweed, wearing a
Cape 'smasher' hat of soft felt, and puffing leisurely at a big cigar.
He might have been an American or an Englishman from his speech; as a
matter of fact, he was, as we learned later, an Afrikander--father and
mother Dutch--Algoa Bay born.

Very shortly I gave them the headlines of our story; asked the usual
question about the boat; and explained that I'd be obliged for as much
help as would shove another reef in our topsails.

As I finished, the man, without giving me any answer, turned to the
others; and the three conversed apparently with some little excitement,
to judge from their animated gestures. Then the tall one shouted: 'No;
I haven't seen any boat like the one you describe; but we'll keep a
good lookout. Who did you say was in her when she went adrift?'

Now, I had not mentioned that any one at all was in her. And my eye
wandering, whilst he spoke, over the barquentine, I noticed that the
main-gaff had been quietly lowered until the sail completely hid the
boat; and this rendered me more than ever suspicious that there was
something wrong. However, I replied that it was just possible that
Major Fortescue, the owner of the brig, might have been in the
longboat.

'You ain't sure about the matter, then, eh?' asked the tall man.

'Well, no,' I said; 'we can't be sure, as nobody saw him go overboard.
Still, there's every chance he did manage to pick her up and get into
her.'

At this they had another confab, two of them apparently urging the
speaker to do something that went against his grain. As they spoke they
pointed to the brig repeatedly. It was all very curious; and I would
have given much for a clear view of her decks, beginning to suspect, as
I did, that they had the boat, and were simply arguing as to the
advisableness, or otherwise, of sticking to it.

The vessels had by this drifted another hundred yards away from each
other; and I was keeping an eye to the group aft, when all at once a
startled exclamation from Helen drew my attention to a scuffle on the
forepart of the barquentine. Then in another moment I saw a man, clad
in a suit of bright blue dungaree, shake himself clear of the crowd,
knock a couple of them head over heels, and jumping on to the
stranger's rail, plunge overboard and swim for the Hebe.

'Martin! Martin!' suddenly screamed Helen, grasping my arm with both
hands, 'it's my father!'

For a second I was thrown all aback with disbelief, for I had not seen
the man's face, so quickly had the occurrence taken place. And how
Helen could be so sure of the thing bothered me. But she kept
repeating, 'It's my father! my father!' with a very insistence of
certainty that there was no resisting. Glancing at the head of the
swimmer, bobbing up and down in the little waves, my first notion was
to jump for the dingey's painter, slip down it into the boat, and scull
to the man's assistance. But just then I noticed the barquentine
lowering her quarter boat, and by the shouts and commands, plainly
audible at that short distance, I made out that, at all risks, the
escaped one was to be captured and brought back again. So, pausing
right at the taffrail, I bent another line to the one already fastened
to the painter, and telling Helen to run below and bring up the big
express rifle, I let the dingey drift down towards the swimmer, who, I
could see, was going well and strong. And now that I had a good view of
his face coming towards me, I saw that it really was the old Major
himself.

The barquentine's gig was, with three hands in her, pulling for the
man, who had already covered half the distance between the vessel and
the Hebe's dingey, but who, of course, stood no show against such odds,
and was being rapidly overhauled. Asking Helen to tend the line and
keep veering it out, I caught up the rifle, and taking careful aim, so
as to injure none of the men, I sent a bullet clean through the bottom
of the pursuing boat making the white chips fly where it struck.

At the sound of the report the men ceased rowing and stared about them
in astonishment, one of the fellows dropping his oar overboard in his
flurry. By this time I saw that the dingey had drifted almost on to the
Major, and that, bar accidents, he was safe. I, however, stood by for
another shot. But the men in the boat had evidently had enough. One
fellow was trying to stop the leak with his cap, whilst the others
pulled back to the barquentine. Satisfied, I turned to watch the Major,
and presently saw him clutch the side of the dingey, drag himself over
it, and fall into her bottom, whilst Helen and I pulled like mad people
on our line till we got him alongside. Then in a jiffy I was into the
boat, helped the Major thence into the chains, and so on deck. He was
well enough, apparently; and although blown by his swim and panting
with the excitement of the chase, he found strength and breath to shake
his fist at the barquentine--now hurriedly making sail--and swear
terribly at her, even with Helen's arms around his neck and her sweet
face pressed close to his purple unshaven cheeks. And what a figure of
a Major it was, with the thin, blue cotton suit, a world too short for
him in all ways, clinging tight to his dripping body; his thick gray
hair and long moustaches all ruffled and unkempt; hatless, shirtless,
bootless, glassless! All at once catching sight of the rifle, he made a
grab at it, aimed, and pulled the trigger; but it was empty; and with a
growl of disgust, he flung it down again.

Happening just at this moment to look forward, I saw something that
made me shout with surprise and delight. There, on the starboard bow,
not more than a mile away, and steaming straight for us, was a great
ironclad cruiser all aglitter in the sunlight with polished steel and
brass and winking eyes of glass, a big mound of white water rising
on each side of her lofty stem, volumes of smoke pouring from her
cream-coloured 'thwartship funnels, spiteful little guns peering over
her military tops, and from her halyards--held straight out like a
painted card by the wind of her speed--flew the red cross flag of the
British navy: altogether a most majestic and convincing sea-picture.

As I gazed an inspiration came to me, and turning to where the Major
stood, alternately raving at the barquentine and caressing his
daughter, I touched him on the shoulder, saying: 'Look, Major! We shall
have her alongside directly. Had you not better go below and dress to
receive her officers? She'll fix those friends of yours up presently.'

Slueing round, he stared for a minute in a bewildered sort of manner at
the war-ship, as though hardly able to believe his eyes. Then, with a
comprehensive glance at himself, he bolted down the companion like a
rabbit into a burrow, followed almost at once by Helen.

In twenty minutes the ironclad was close abreast of us, the wash from
the enormous mass making the Hebe roll to it as if in a sea-way. And as
I looked up at the grim gun-studded sides, the crowds of hearty,
wholesome English faces gazing at us over her rail forward; her
uniformed officers quietly pacing the quarterdeck; the scarlet-coated
sentry, rifle on shoulder, doing his march to and fro the bridge before
the conning-tower; listened to the short word of command, the shrill
pipe of the boatswain, and the hoarse roar of his mate's leathern
lungs--as I took all this in, I say, I felt my heart swell with such
mingled feelings of pride of country and security of knowledge that at
last our troubles were over, that scarcely could I find voice enough to
answer the hail of the whiteheaded captain as he leaned over the bridge
towards me.

Before, however, I had a chance to explain things very fully, up came
the Major, spick-and-span once more even to his glass, such good time
had he made below--so far at least as concerned his outward appearance.
But his temper seemed very little improved, nor was his eye impressed
by the spectacle of the sea-dragon and her great crowd of faces all
with their regards bent on him. Catching sight of the captain, he
shouted in a voice hoarse with passion, whilst Nan, in her usual
position, chewed her cud contemplatively at his side: 'I appeal to you,
sir, as a British officer, to stop that ship from escaping,' making a
wild flourish of his arm towards the barquentine as he spoke. 'They're
pirates, sir! They've stolen my boat, and my diamond links and studs--a
present sir, from the Viceroy of India himself when I cut down
the nigger who tried to stab him at Rawal Pindi. Why, damme! it's
robbery--barefaced robbery on the high seas. Stop 'em, sir! And if they
won't stop, sink 'em! Why, by gad, sir, they put me in the fok'sle
with a lot of infernal niggers, and made me--me--John Fortescue--after
holding Her Most Gracious Majesty's commission for twenty years--wash
their blasted plates and dishes for 'em!'

At this I saw a great, wide, silent grin ripple across the Jacks' faces
forward, like the sudden wash of a short sea over a moored buoy. But
aft no one so much as smiled. And suddenly it struck me that amongst
those brown and bearded figures crowding the forward deck were one or
two who--as they made curious grimaces, slapped their bare and mossy
chests, and, as it were, itched all over to attract my attention
without trenching on discipline--seemed wonderfully familiar. But before
I could place them in my memory the captain of the cruiser spoke. 'Be
sure, sir,' he replied courteously, 'that you shall have every
satisfaction, as soon as I learn your story. Meanwhile we will signal
the barquentine to heave-to;' and turning, he said something to another
officer beside him.

In a minute a boat-full of men dropped into the water, whilst a string
of bright flags fluttered up the warship's halyards; in another two or
three it was alongside, and there clambered on board the Hebe a young
lieutenant--a typical British navy man, clean-shaven, bright-eyed,
alert.

Stepping aft, he saluted us, saying: 'Captain Murray's compliments,
gentlemen, and will you both come on board Her Majesty's ship
Alexandra?'

As he spoke Helen rose through the companion beside him, radiant and
smiling, her soft brown eyes, sparkling with joy and affection. And
though palpably astonished at the lovely apparition, the young fellow
rose to the occasion, as the Major introduced him, and said something
nice about such an unexpected honor and pleasure; adding that, as his
instructions were to presently return and hold the brig until things
were settled, Helen had better accompany us to the Alexandra. At that
moment there was a loud report from the cruiser, and a long curl of
smoke went eddying from her side.

'Ah!' exclaimed the lieutenant, 'the barquentine won't pay any
attention to our signals apparently. That will help her to understand
what we want. Have you a gangway for the lady, sir?' he asked. 'If you
have, my men shall soon put it over.'

There was one lashed on the forward house, a very comfortable one; and
at a word some of the men tumbled up and had it over the side,
themselves remaining to see that the brig didn't run away during our
absence. Then, offering his arm to Helen, he helped her down the step
with a grace and ease, and skill born, I doubted not, of long and
constant practice at Sydney, Auckland, Hobart, and other stations whose
fair ones love everything able to sport the sign of the crown and the
foul anchor, from the captain to the last-joined midshipman, with an
energy and thoroughness that make those ports, par excellence, the
happy hunting grounds of the service.

The Major--still grumbling, but in a lower, quieter note now that the
first blow-off of angry steam had escaped--and myself followed; and the
boat was about to push off, when Nan, thinking we meant to desert her,
gave a dismal bleat and clattered down the steps, landing neatly on the
knees of one of the Jacks.

'Let her come!' said the Major to the lieutenant. 'Let her come! You'll
have the whole of the Hebe's crew together then.'

The lieutenant sat next Helen, and was evidently making the most of the
short time at his disposal. But you mustn't think that I was the least
bit jealous of his good-looking face and spruce uniform. Not I! Too
often had I seen the love-light in my girl's eyes for that; and even
now I caught a look in them, as they momentarily met mine, that assured
me of my being able to laugh to scorn the wiles of the whole British
navy if necessary.

On the quarter-deck of the Alexandra we were met by the captain
himself, who conducted us to his private cabin, whence, presently, we
could hear the thumping of the twin screws as the war-ship forged ahead
again. Refreshments were placed on the table; and, by the captain's
wish, I began our story, telling it shortly and with few details, to
the time of the Major's losing us, when he took it up.

His tumble had happened, it appeared, exactly as I guessed. In the very
act of unbending the painter, overbalancing himself, down he went. He
shouted on coming to the surface, but, of course, in vain. Then, giving
up all hopes of regaining the brig, he swam after the boat, already
some considerable distance away, and at last reached her, but too
exhausted to do anything more even if he had known how. When daylight
broke he could see nothing of the Hebe. She must have been, he thought,
sailing for some time after he fell overboard, for then there was no
sign of any squall rising. Nor did he ever once hear the report of a
gun. But in any case, without his glass, even by day, he would probably
have been unable to discern the brig at a distance.

Quite ignorant of how to manage the cutter, he appeared to have sailed
eratically hither and thither until picked up by the barquentine. And
then, to his rage and disgust, the captain affecting altogether to
disbelieve his story, and remarking that he was probably an escaped
convict from the Andamans or some other penal settlement, confiscated
his boat, jewellery, and clothes--which latter he had taken off and
dried, putting on instead one of the dungaree suits left by the
mutineers--and sent him forward into the forecastle. But there--and the
old Major turned a rich purple, whilst every hair in his moustache
visibly quivered and bristled with rage as he told it--the men, finding
him useless for practical purposes, made a 'Jimmy Ducks' of him,
forcing him to scrub, wash up, sweep decks, and generally wait on them.
At first he had indignantly refused; but after the 'niggers' had
manhandled him pretty severely, and, as one might guess, put him in
actual fear for his life, he had thought it best to submit, until at
last came the chance of escape from the Oceana Smith, late of
Vancouver, B.C., but now the property of a Dutch-English firm in
Capetown.

'From beginning to end of both your experiences, interest and romance
run each other close,' remarked the captain as the old gentleman
finished; 'and I can, in one detail, cap yours, Mr Vallance, with
regard to the Antelope. About half way between here and Cape Leeuwin,
we picked up one of her boats with Captain Craigie and three seamen in
her, all nearly spent. Originally there had been 10 in her. These were
the survivors. And I am afraid after what you tell us about the other
boat that the four with us are the only ones who have escaped out of
the whole ship's company. The Antelope caught fire, the flames
spreading so rapidly that any preparations as regards provisions, &c.,
were out of the question. All that could be done was to pull clear
of her as soon as possible. A terribly sad and sudden affair! The
men recovered, and have joined the Alexandra; but their captain is
still under the doctor's care. Now shall we go on deck and see what
Major Fortescue's friends are doing? I think,' continued the fine,
hearty-looking old officer as he offered his arm to Helen, 'that I
heard my first lieutenant say our shot seemed to have done what our
flags could not.'

Nearly a mile away lay the Oceana Smith, her three after-masts naked
but for the topsails hanging in lumps at their heads; her foresail,
fore-topgallant-sail, and royal were all clewed up; topsail-yard on the
cap--everything about her betokening surrender, unconditional and
complete. At quarter speed only the Alexandra steamed alongside and
hailed. The same tall, dark-whiskered fellow (pointed out by the Major
as her captain) replied, staring hard at his late captive standing near
the first lieutenant.

'Come on board, sir,' said the latter, when his question relating to
the barquentine's name and port had been answered, 'and bring this
gentleman's property with you; also your ship's papers.'

'I'm a British subject' (his name was Van Beers), replied the other
sulkily, without stirring; 'and I'll see what Hofmeyr and a few of them
have to say in the House about my being shot at, first by him'
(pointing at me), 'and then by you, in this free-and-easy fashion.'

'Come on board, sir, at once,' repeated the lieutenant sternly. 'Or do
you wish me to send a file of marines for you?'

Seeing that there was no help for it, the other got into his gig, and
in a few minutes was conducted by a sub-lieutenant to us on the
quarter-deck, carrying with him the Major's clothes and fallals all
intact.

During the sort of informal courtmartial now held upon him by the
captain and two of his lieutenants, the fellow protested,
notwithstanding the indignant snorts of the angry Major, his belief
that, when he picked him up, the latter was no better than an escaped
convict who had stolen both boat and jewellery. If, he argued, making a
decided point, there had been any ship's name, even, on the boat, he
might have believed the story. But what with the quantity of provisions
in her, the traces of occupation by several men, and the improbability
of any vessel carrying such a craft upon her decks as asserted by the
Major, why, he acted, he submitted, as most captains would have done in
his place. As it was, his quarter-boat had been ruined by a shot from
the brig; his voyage delayed by the action of the cruiser; and, taking
things all round, he hoped, when he got back to Capetown, to receive
thumping damages against both the owner of the brig and the government.
And actually, when things came to be dissected coolly, it seemed,
somehow, that Captain Van Beers' defence was not wholly without reason,
nor his threats without possible foundation; nay, that, in one way of
putting it, he held the big end of the stick. Captain Murray evidently
thought so; for, after an aside with the Major, and another with Van
Beers, the latter came forward and apologised handsomely to the Major
for his unfortunate mistake. And when the Major, accepting his excuses,
asked the captain to keep the cutter as some return, not only for
picking him up, but for the injury sustained by the Oceana's
quarter-boat, I think every one felt relieved.

'A very palpable scamp!' remarked Captain Murray as he watched the
'British subject' pulling off to his ship. 'And if we had not come up,
Major, you'd have lost both boat and diamonds. I have heard of this
firm as being anything but particular. The chances are, he would have
seized the brig and claimed salvage but for us. How quickly he took to
his heels! You see, Major, it's only in sea novels that the British
navy man romps over the merchantman's decks and bullies him half out of
his life. If that fellow had not been placated, very probably some
Capetown attorney would have presently given H.M.S. Alexandra more
trouble than enough; ay, and quite likely they'd have brought an action
against our young friend here yourself, as responsible owner of the
brig, for an unprovoked and murderous attack on a boat's crew. Really,
the affair has ended in the best way it could.'

The Major acquiesced, not very cheerfully, though. He badly wanted to
teach those 'confounded' niggers manners. And he never, to his dying
day, forgot the indignities put upon him in the Oceana's forcastle;
always, when spinning the yarn in after-days, omitting any mention of
the scrubbing and plate-washing.

'I think, Major,' said the commander of the war-ship as we steamed back
to the Hebe, 'that we are going to have some heavy weather, or I
wouldn't mind giving the brig a tow for a day or two. But if I put five
hands and a bo'sn's mate aboard of her under Mr Vallance here, as
skipper, that number should be ample to take her to Capetown. Of
course, you and Miss Fortescue must be my guests as far as there, at
any rate. Both of you have had quite enough of adventures for a spell,
I am sure.--I am sorry to say, Mr Vallance,' he continued after the
Major had thank-fully accepted the invitation, 'that Captain Craigie is
still too low to see any one. He, however, sends his regards, and says
how rejoiced he is to hear of your safety, and that he hopes to meet
you at the Cape.'

This was all very well; but the losing of Helen's company was some what
of a facer. However, what could I do except acquiesce with as good a
grace as possible! Also, had she not called me 'Martin' twice! And when
at last the luggage having been put into the man-o'-war's boat, and the
time came for saying farewell, had she not said, her hand close grasped
in mine: 'Come to us quickly. I shall feel each day a month until I see
the Hebe again. Although you are losing your shipmate, do not believe
but that she will hold you fast in her memory!'

I had something particular to say in reply but just then the Major's
voice broke in upon us with, 'Now then, Vallance, my boy, time's up! A
fast and pleasant trip to ye. Don't call me a deserter; but I've had
enough of the Hebe. We'll sell her at the Cape, and all go home
together. Gad, sir, no more sea! I'll buy a farm first!' And so on, and
so on, until he was in the boat. Still, I was very well satisfied; for
even his parting words sounded not without promise as regarded the
future.

Thus it was in good spirits that I mustered my new crew--and yet not all
new, for the three 'Antelopes' made part of it--and roused them round
with a 'Cheerily, lads! let's shove the canvas on her--everything she
can carry! Those kites up there, are getting blue-mouldy for want of
loosing!'

With a rush to the sound of my voice they jumped into her rigging, cast
adrift, sheeted home, and hoisted, till under every rag she had, the
Hebe lay over to a light breeze as she had not done since I knew her.

The cruiser had stood by us. And now, after watching our start, her
great screws began to thrash the water into foam once more; once more
the bow wave rolled up till its salt spray wetted the royal arms
blazoned in blue and gold at her head; the red cross flag dipped; the
Major and his daughter standing on the lower bridge, waved to us; from
somewhere in her vast interior a band struck up 'Home, Sweet Home;' and
my eyes grew a little dim as I hauled our ensign down for the last
time, and the big battle ship drew majestically ahead after playing her
part, to us, of ocean Providence.

Nan stood with her feet on the rail chewing her cud serenely; and to
add some slight favour of the comic to it all, the burly, bearded
'Antelope' at the wheel, pointing with his great forefinger to the
goat, grinned, and said: 'Her looks A1, Mr Vallance, sir. It were me as
give the old gal a free passidge; an', by what I hears, I never done a
better night's work.'

'No, Johnson, you never did,' I replied. 'I'm in your debt, and won't
forget it; although, remember, it wasn't altogether for my sake you
gave Nan a roving commission.'

* * * * * *

I don't think, dear reader, that I have very much more to tell you; and
if I wind up in the orthodox fashion--getting old fashioned now for a
story of to-day--it's because I see no way, even did I so desire, of
escaping such ending. I am not altogether a convert to the new style of
story beginning abruptly with 'Smith was sick,' and ending quite as
abruptly with 'Smith died.' Therefore, I shall work this one out right
to the pealing of those wedding-bells with the sound of which I
finished my last voyage as a sailor.

At Capetown we found Helen and her father, together with my old
skipper, all staying at the house of a hospitable friend of the Major's
(the same to whom Tippoo had been on his way when fate overtook him).
Our adventures had naturally got noised abroad somewhat; and when we
made our number to Green Point, our entering into the harbour was a
sort of triumphant procession of small boats and steamers.

Happening, as we luckily did, to hit an empty market, the Hebe's cargo
sold very well. And the brig brought more than the Major gave for her;
thus I found the old gentleman in the best of tempers. Nor, in all
ways, ever did course of true love run smoother than mine and Helen's.
The Major, after satisfying himself respecting that little matter of
kinship with the Somersetshire Vallances, gave his consent at once.
Helen's I won one moonlit night, under a clump of pink and white
oleanders in our host's garden, finding that I had made no mistake, and
her heart had long been mine. All I had to press for was an early day.
And we were married at old St. George's the very next day, all Capetown
coming to the wedding, together with the captain and officers of H.M.S.
Alexandra. Captain Craigie acted as my best man--weak still, for their
privations in the boat had been awful. 'Vallance,' said he as we
parted, 'I shall never forget your kindness.' (I had been, curiously
enough, through influence exercised by one of those other Vallances,
then resident at Port Elizabeth, instrumental in procuring the captain
a billet, in the South African 'Harbours and Rivers') 'But give the sea
best, my lad. It's used you well on the whole. Don't tempt it any more.
It's not to be trusted; see how it's served me!'

I don't know whether Nan can be reckoned as a bridesmaid, or rather
matron; but certainly she was present at the ceremony. And besides
wearing a silver collar, a present from the Major, some of the Capetown
lasses had taken her in hand and gilded her horns from truck to
keelson, making a very gorgeous goat of her.

The Major's gift to us was a cheque on the Standard Bank of South
Africa for the whole value of the brig and her cargo, running into four
figures whose initial number exceeded 'one'!

And taking Captain Craigie's advice, my own notions tending that way,
to say nothing of Helen's I gave up the sea. For a twelvemonth we
stayed at Compton-on-Tor with the old folk. Then the Major, buying a
great turreted straggling place he called the 'Bungalow,' at Combe
Moham, facing Torbay would have us to live with him and make his home
ours. He is still hale and hearty and spends much of his time at a
certain club over in Torquay affected by the old Anglo Indians who
abound in that beautiful health-resort; and there, amongst these
companions, he spins his tales of the Mutiny and the incident of saving
the Viceroy's life. But the favourite with his military hearers is the
story of his cruise in the Hebe, which, by dint of time, much
embroidery, and frequent telling, has assumed dimensions and aspect
unrecognisable by any of the other actors therein. Nan, too, is well
and thriving demeaning herself as a goat with a history should do;
looked up to by the Bungalow dogs, whom she keeps in order, and greatly
respected by the domestic animals of Combe Moham.

And o' nights, sometimes I lie awake and listen to the sea calling at
the tall red cliff, feeling a faint thrill of the wild longing that
ever, now and again, comes to the land-dweller whose way aforetime has
been upon the great deep. But at such moments I turn to Helen, lying at
my side, or put my hand down towards the cot of my year-old son. And
the sea calls still!

But not for me, not for me! I have made my last voyage.


* * *



The Sulltan's Egg.

People thought it very strange that Roland Haynes should go to sea
again, it seemed such an absurd thing for the owner of one of the
finest farms in the county of Salop so to do. But when his wife died,
Roland became restless, and his life grew a burden to him. He felt
stifled and oppressed, and the sight even of the laurels and
laurustinus bushes around the house became hateful. He strove against
the feeling with all his might; but do what he would, his thoughts and
desires wandered away back to the old days of tall ships, and stormy
winds, and wild waters, and all the majesty and beauty of the great
ocean on which his early life had been passed. He heard calling to him
'the moanings of the homeless sea,' and went to it.

'Jim,' he said to his reformed scapegrace of a brother, 'I'm off to sea
again. I can't stand this place, now Alice has gone. Do your best to
look after it. I know I can trust you as myself to take good care of
Nora. I'll be back again in a twelvemonth.'

So Roland left the diamond-latticed, black-joisted, rambling old
Clayhorns, as the place was called, where generations upon generations
of stalwart yeomen had lived and died, satisfied with their lot, and
innocent of the wandergeist, and went off to see if salt water could
allay his perturbed spirit. In most households, but perhaps not for
very many years, a wanderer will make his appearance. Roland had been
the first of his race, and the simple inlanders deemed him as in some
sort possessed.

One morning, rising a boy, he had left the old Clayhorns, and the
little village of Hampton-Kirby, nestling amongst its chestnuts and
elms, only to reappear a bearded man, grave and bronzed, bringing with
him a sweet young girl-wife. He had thrown himself headlong into life's
battle, emerging chastened and successful. Therefore, he was received
back into his inheritance with open arms, and all people, except his
brother James, rejoiced.

So the wanderer settled down, as he thought, to pass the remainder of
his days quietly on the broad pasture-lands of Clayhorns. But they were
all dead now, all except James and little Nora, his one child, who was
just twelve when her father left. And every time he returned she was a
year older. He sailed his own ship, and could afford to choose his
freights and measure his absences.

A year to a day, almost, and Nora, at school in Shrewsbury town, would
be driven to the station, sure of seeing there the bold, handsome face
she loved so well and missed so bitterly, and of being folded to the
broad breast of the wanderer before all the sympathising crowd, who
would remark one to the other: 'It be Capt'in Roly a-comed whoam from
zee to 'is little gel.'

Then came the run home for a brief two or three months' holiday, a time
in which Captain Roly and his daughter were all in all to each other
and inseparable. These were the epochs that in those days she measured
her life by.

When Nora was sixteen, her father, departing as usual, said: 'I'm
getting tired, my darling. This shall be my last voyage. I'll come home
and stay there, see my pet married--not to a sailor, though, I hope--and,
in God's good time, have my bones laid alongside those others in the
old churchyard over yonder.'

So he sailed away on his last voyage, as he promised it should be. But
he never came home any more; and neither of Captain Roly nor of his
good ship the Wrekin could any tidings be heard. Money was not spared
in the endeavour; but the only scrap of news gained was that the Wrekin
had been spoken in such and such a latitude and longitude on her
passage to China, 'All well.'

A year went by--a year of mourning and broken-hearted wretchedness for
poor Nora, and then James Haynes--pretty certain, this time, that his
brother was not above-ground--came out in quite a different character.
He who had always been so quiet and unassuming, as befitted a man who
has had his chances in the world, and tried, and failed miserably again
and again, suddenly grew big and blustered, boasting of what might have
been, and what yet should be. Briefly, there was no will discovered;
and presently, scoundrel James laid claim to the whole estate, on the
ground of Nora's illegitimacy. Proceedings were at once taken by both
sides, for Squire Melton and the Vicar, and a few other of Captain
Roly's old friends at Hampton-Kirby, were quick to espouse the orphan's
cause and compass the downfall of the usurper. No marriage certificate
could be found at the Clayhorns. All we knew vaguely, and as dropped by
themselves, was that Nora's parents had been married in Ireland;
therefore, in that country a search was carried on.

Meanwhile, Nora left Clayhorns and came to live with us in the
adjoining hamlet of Wrockwardine. My mother was a far-off cousin of
Captain Roly's, as everybody around called him; and I had sailed two
voyages in the Wrekin myself, and but for an accident, should have gone
the last as chief-officer of her.

It may perhaps be imagined, then, how we petted and condoled with
pretty Nora when she came to us for refuge from the harsh unkindness of
her uncle, and one of the farmwomen he had installed as housekeeper at
Clayhorns. From both her parents James had received nothing but
benefits; yet he never seemed to tire of taunting the girl about the
mystery surrounding their union, a diversion in which his creature
joined con arnore. So, as I have said, Nora came to us in our little
cottage at Wrockwardine.

Many a time she would exclaim: 'I know there was a will! My father told
me so. He even told me where he kept it--in the "Sultan's Egg," which no
one but himself could open. But the egg has gone. He must have taken it
to sea with him. But oh,' she would say, 'never mind the will! Let
everything go, if we can but find the other paper. Where were they
married?' And the poor child would cry as if her heart was breaking.

But look as they might, search where they would, they seemed never able
to discover where Captain Roly had found the beautiful, dark-haired,
blue-eyed girl that he had brought home with him after those long years
of absence, what time the May flowers and violets were blowing at
Clayhorns, and all the land was quick with spring.

Never a very communicative man, he appeared to have confided the story
of his wooing to nobody. His wife had been equally reticent, whether of
design, or of pure unconcern at what people might say or think, was
difficult now to guess. The only thing that came to light during these
investigations was actual proof of a will having been in existence,
thus confirming Nora's story. Agents unearthed a firm of lawyers in
Chancery Lane who remembered drawing up such an instrument for Roland
Haynes just about the time he returned to the old life. But they
positively refused to commit themselves to any statement as to its
contents. They could or would remember nothing. Captain Haynes had
applied to them as a stranger, not a client. They had obliged him; and
he had gone his way, taking the duly witnessed document with him. Nora
had seen him place it in the Sultan's Egg--a curious piece of Eastern
workmanship, of which more anon. Probably, so the gossips said, the
captain had put his marriage lines there also--always supposing them to
have had existence--and James had made away with the lot.

Meanwhile, I, having my living to get, went off to sea, leaving Nora,
then a tall slip of a girl, all legs and wings, so to speak, at home
with my mother and a spinster aunt, both doing their best to spoil her.
On my return, eighteen months later, I found the case 'Haynes v.
Haynes' still unsettled, and Nora, by some magic process, transformed
into a very beautiful and stately young woman, whom I was actually
afraid to offer to kiss until she took the initiative.

Injunctions and all sorts of other things had been served upon James
Haynes, who, however, still held possession, and, to all appearance,
was master at Clayhorns. The lawyers, so far as I could understand, had
taken the case from court to court, had dropped it in a certain one,
and now wanted more money to begin over afresh with. Nora's friends had
already spent a large sum in defending her rights without any prospect
of repayment, and they were beginning to get dubious. Also, there was
some talk of James's marrying his housekeeper, the ex-farm labourer
before spoken of.

So the years went by quietly and uneventfully enough at our little
cottage. Nora seemed fairly happy, and was the joy and delight of the
two old people. I had succeeded well in my profession, and was now
master and part owner of a smart barque sailing out of Bristol.

Squire Melton was dead, and the Vicar had left the district. 'Haynes v.
Haynes' had stopped for good, apparently, in whichever of those courts
the lawyers had left it last when funds fell short. James still held
the property, was married, and had a son. It seemed a poor lookout
indeed for Nora's ever returning to Clayhorns as its mistress. People,
generally, when they thought of the affair at all, accepted the state
of things as settled. And willing enough though many undoubtedly were
to help to remove the slur cast on her parents' memory, no one in that
community was rich enough to start the case again.

That Nora at times still felt it acutely, we at Elm Cottage knew only
too well. Her faith in and love for her lost father were strong as
ever. At each return her questioning eyes would meet mine, but always
in vain. Beyond that last brief message from the sea, I could hear
nothing of the fate of the vessel whose rigged namesake we could see
from our windows.

At last my mother died. The old home was broken up; and in pursuance of
a scheme long looked forward to and prepared for, I asked Nora to be my
wife. We had, in the good old-fashioned sense of the word, been
courting ever since I came back from that West Indian voyage to find
her shot up and moulded into the prettiest girl for fifty miles around
the Wrekin. So, without any backing and filling, she just said 'Yes;'
and a week afterwards I took her on board the Daphne and sailed for
Hong-kong, via Singapore, as a honeymoon trip. Having now got things a
little clear and shipshape, I am going to tell you by what curious
chance the fate of Captain Roly and his good ship, and the fair fame of
his wife and daughter, were, after all these years, made manifest.

We had passed Anjer, and were lying becalmed in the island-dotted
Strait of Banca, when, one morning, the cook suddenly discovered
that he was out of coal. Ordering the boat to be lowered, I told the
second-mate to take three hands and pull to the nearest island for
a load of wood, either drift or from the bush. On their return, and
whilst they were handing up their cargo just abreast of the galley,
Nora, walking forward and looking curiously at the assortment of
planks, trunks of trees, and such-like rubbish that they had collected,
suddenly cried out to me, standing at the break of the poop: 'Oh Harry,
Harry, my father's ship!'

Thinking the sun had been too much for her, I ran to where she was
pulling away at a bit of plank which stuck up from the heap. It was one
of the head-boards of a ship that her eye had happened to light on, and
on which, in large black letters, was printed 'Wrekin. Lon.' The rest
was broken off. But that it was a portion of Captain Roly's old ship
there could be no doubt whatever. In the first place, the name was a
peculiar one; then it was not, in those days, very often that a vessel
carried her name on her head-boards; the beading had once also been
gilded, as was that of the lost ship's. No one amongst the boat's crew
seemed to be certain as to the precise spot it had been picked up in.
But presently a boy who had accompanied them remembered pulling it out
of the sand on the little beach where they landed. He had noticed the
lettering, which indeed looked remarkably fresh, but had thought no
more than that the plank would make 'fine kindling chips for the
doctor.'

We then set to and overhauled every splinter of the stuff; but, with
the exception of a bit of spar and a fragment of a grating, there was
no sign of any more ship's furniture. However, I was quickly in the
boat, and, with Nora, who wished to come, heading for the island. I
eyed it curiously as we approached. It was only a rock, hardly more
than a quarter of a mile round, but fully a hundred feet high, and
covered everywhere, except at the little white beach, with tropical
vegetation. Stepping ashore, we examined every nook and cranny, but
without making any further discovery.

For my own part, I did not think that the Wrekin could have been
wrecked either here or in the vicinity without some one hearing of it.
Besides, these narrow seas were, as a rule, too well charted for
skippers to run against any unknown danger. As I pointed out to Nora,
who was unreasoningly certain that we stood near the very spot, if not
actually on it, the board might have floated in hundreds of miles from
either the Indian Ocean or the China Sea, to its last resting-place on
this little islet. Also, most vessels passing Anjer were noted, and
their destination ascertained. Inquiries, I recollected, had been
specially made of the Dutch authorities, and they replied that nothing
had been seen or heard of the Wrekin.

But Nora was not to be convinced. 'My poor father's bones are lying
with his ship somewhere near this rock, Harry,' she said, wiping away
the tears. 'Providence led me to see that piece of wood. It was no
chance. Surely we can find out by some means. And, oh Harry,' she
whispered, 'perhaps the secret of his marriage and the will!'

'Even so, Nora,' I replied. 'The papers were pulp long ago, and
digested in fishes' bellies. Nothing of that sort could stand such a
soaking.'

'All the salt water in the ocean would never destroy the contents
of the Sultan's Egg, Harry,' said she. '"Air-tight, damp-tight, and
dust-tight," I once heard father say, when he was showing it to the
Squire.'

'But how on earth are we to find out, Nora?' I asked, perhaps a little
vexed at her insistence, and knowing, as I did full well, that Captain
Roly would never run his ship slap into a place like this.

'If it isn't too deep,' said she, 'couldn't some one dive? Or stay; we
might drag with hooks, as I once saw people doing in the Severn.'

'And then?' I asked.

'Well, then, if we find that the ship really is there, go to Singapore
and hire a professional diver, and let him go down.'

I confess this rather staggered me. Nora appeared to have the affair
quite taken for granted, besides developing suddenly a fund of resource
I had never given her credit for. All the business I had in Singapore
would only take a couple of days at the most to transact, and here was
my lady playing Old Harry with the voyage. 'Well, well, dear, we'll
see,' I answered. 'Meanwhile, I fancy there's a breeze coming off the
Sumatra coast.--Pull back sharp, Mr Brown, and get the deep-sea lead. We
may as well find out what water we've got here.'

Twenty-five fathoms--twenty--eighteen--sandy bottom. Then, as we pulled
round to the Banca side, it deepened again to twenty-five; and, before
another cast could be taken, the boat's keel scraped over a reef
running out, as we saw, for a considerable distance.

'By jingo!' exclaimed the second-mate as he picked himself up--for he
had been standing with the lead in his hand, and the shock had capsized
him--'there's a pretty customer for a ship on a dark night and
everything set.--Is it charted, sir?'

'Sure to be,' I answered shortly, seeing Nora's eyes fixed on my face.
'I don't remember it, though. Let's get on board. Here's the breeze at
last.'

Hastily taking its bearings, I ran down into the saloon to find the
islet on the chart. Sure enough, there was the black dot--Pulo something
or other--and soundings given as 'deep water' all around it. Not a
vestige of a reef for miles. Looking at the date of the chart, which
was an Admiralty one, I saw that it was not yet twelve months old.

'Can it be possible,' I thought, 'that Nora is right after all? No
reason why, because the Daphne's on the safe side, with twenty fathoms
under her, that the Wrekin shouldn't have been on the wrong one, with a
stiff breeze, a dark night, all plain sail, and a poor lookout for
white water. Besides, perhaps, then, it wasn't to within feet of its
present height. A ship hitting it would go down like a stone, with
everything standing.'

Communing thus with myself, and staring at the chart in no very
satisfied frame of mind, in comes Nora, and putting her arms round my
neck and kissing me, asks, 'Well, Harry?'

'I'll do it, dear,' I made answer. 'We'll leave the Daphne in
Singapore, and hire a diver, if there's one to be had, and come back
and see what we can find. The firm will be vexed at the delay, I
expect; but I fancy my share in the old hooker's enough to carry me
through.'

'I shall sleep easier to-night, Harry,' she replied, 'than I thought I
should.'

Not much relishing such discoveries in a main ocean thoroughfare, until
our arrival at Singapore I kept a man with his eyes skinned on the
foreyard in the daytime, and the lead going pretty constantly both
night and day right along.

I had imagined that there would have been no trouble about getting a
diver amongst the natives, who are almost born in the water. But I was
mistaken. When they heard the depth and the position, not one of them
volunteered, although I offered an exorbitant price. Finally, tired of
arguing with them, I did what I ought to have thought of before--I went
to the captain of the Cordelia sloop-of-war, to whom, amongst others, I
had reported the discovery of the reef. To him I told the whole story,
and he became interested. 'I can't go with you,' he said; 'I wish I
could. But we've been ordered up to Canton on special duty. The natives
would have been useless at such a depth, even if you had persuaded them
to go. Can't do anything, you see, without the dress in that water.
However, I'll lend you a capital diver and all the paraphernalia. We
have a couple of turn-outs here, as it happens. In return, you can buoy
the reef for me. I shall go and have a look at it directly I come back.
Word has already been sent to Anjer, so that there is no present danger
to the incoming shipping.--You say you have a boat. Well, get her
alongside in the morning, and we'll fix the pumps and things for you.'

Had there been only ourselves, I should have made shift with the
Daphne's long-boat; but, knowing that it would be useless to think
of leaving Nora behind when bound on such an expedition, I hired a
good-sized cutter with a comfortable cabin, which I was lucky enough to
drop across laid up in the harbour.

I took with me the second-mate and four A.B.s, in addition to diver
Williams of the Cordelia, whose kind captain wished us all sorts of
good fortune as, next morning, she steamed away from us round Cape
Romania into the China Sea. We had a quick run down to the Strait, and,
on the second night, were all camped comfortably on the sandy beach,
with the cutter moored snugly alongside a little natural pier of rock.
Next morning, a most unlucky accident happened. Williams, espying a
couple of wild pigs, and, sailor-like, starting full tear after them,
slipped and fell on the rocks, breaking his arm just above the wrist.
Fortunately, the second-mate was a capital bone-setter, and soon had
the limb fixed up again. But, apparently, we might as well have stayed
in Singapore as be where we were with our crippled diver. Of course his
advice would still be very valuable; but in diving--as some of us
presently discovered--an ounce of practice below is worth tons of advice
given from above. However, under Williams's instructions, we commenced
to sweep for the wreck out of the cutter's boat.

We tried the reef-side of the islet first, and worked the whole day,
Nora following us on foot along its rocky shore. We had no success; and
as this was the part in which we might reasonably have expected to find
some traces, I retired that night pretty certain that ours was a
wildgoose chase. But Williams, who--barring that propensity to race
after things--turned out a most intelligent fellow, was not a bit
discouraged. He took no more notice of the pain he must have suffered
than of a mosquito bite, and insisted on using his sound limb at every
opportunity.

'Lor bless you, sir,' said he, 'I've been down to wrecks--ships as 'ave
been seen to sink--an' not found 'em within half a mile of the spot.
There's all sorts o' strong currents an' rips below there, as keeps
movin' 'em bodily in course o' time. Why, she might be half-ways across
the Strait by this.'

But on the morrow, still sweeping near the reef, only farther out, our
drag suddenly held fast--caught so tightly that all our strength barely
sufficed to bring it up. With it came a broken spar--a piece of a
royal-yard, to which hung a lump of rotten canvas.

'That is her!' cries Williams.--'What water? Twenty-five fathom--it's
deepish! She's upright, I reckon, or near it, an' if her top spars 'ud
been standin', their trucks wouldn't be so very far off this boat's
bottom.'

Now, getting the cutter out, we dropped a grapnel, and, after some
fishing, it hooked firmly, so that we couldn't move it even with the
winch. This was the line that, but for the accident, Williams would
have descended by.

The question now was, who would take his place? Not a soul of us had
the least experience, and we eyed the dress, boots, helmet, back and
front weights, pipe, and all the rest of the outfit, doubtfully.
Everything was ready. But, notwithstanding Williams's earnest
explanations and assurances, there were no volunteers. It takes pretty
strong nerves to imagine one's self pottering about at the bottom of
one hundred and fifty feet of salt water amongst dead men's bones,
sharks, devil-fish, and all sorts of outlandish things, in such a
grotesque rig. Nor does it increase one's confidence to know that, if
something goes wrong with the pipe amongst rocks or splintered
wreckage, one's time in this life is strictly limited to a minute and a
half, with perhaps a few odd seconds thrown in.

Nora stood by, pale and anxious, but saying nothing.

At last, the second-mate, a very plucky, strong, young fellow, said
that he would try. We got him dressed, put the helmet on; the men at
the pumps started the air, then the face-glass was screwed up, and down
the ladder he stepped very cautiously. When the water rose to his neck,
he stopped, still grasping the ladder and guide-rope; then he signalled
to be pulled up. We thought he was ill; but it was only fright. He was
pale as a sheet and trembling all over. Nor would he venture more.
There was nothing for it, I saw, but to try myself. I didn't like it;
but the sight of poor Nora's disappointment gave me courage. For a few
minutes I hung on to the ladder irresolutely, more than half-minded to
give the signal; then, happening to look up, I caught a glimpse of a
white, anxious face gazing eagerly over the rail, and I let go.
Physical pain was the first sensation, on recovering from my fright at
feeling myself swooping so swiftly down through the thick, opaque
greenness. My ears felt as if they were being pierced by redhot
needles, and my head as if it would burst. I was dropping at a good
rate, clutching the guide-rope, but it seemed an age before my feet
touched bottom.

I fell on my knees, and then scrambling up again, gazed curiously
around. All pain was gone, and had it not been so, the scene around
me was strange enough to banish all thoughts of any. I stood on the
poop-deck of a large vessel, but for a slight list to port, nearly
upright. Our grapnel had hooked firmly around the spindles of the
wheel, which latter was sound and intact as on the day it was placed
there. Her main and mizzen, lower and top masts were still in their
places, with their yards hanging at all angles. Giant seaweeds, whose
tendrils and flags drooped in thick masses, grew luxuriantly everywhere
aloft, whilst amidst these submarine groves flitted thousands of
rainbow-hued fishes. A dim, green light--in which, for a limited
distance, I could see distinctly enough--pervaded everything. Suddenly
I felt a sharp twitch on the life-line; this was Williams signalling to
know if I was safe. Duly replying, as agreed upon, I walked to the side
and looked over into a clump of huge sponges growing almost to a level
with the rail. Putting out my hands to a white object that caught my
eye amongst them, I grasped a human skull. Ugh! I had had quite enough
for a first attempt, and giving a couple of tugs on the line, was soon
at the surface again.

Heavens! what a relief it was to have that face-glass unscrewed and
drink in great draughts of pure air! Nora screamed when she saw the
blood oozing plentifully from nose and ears as they removed the helmet,
and prayed me to abandon all thoughts of returning. But Williams
explained that this was invariably one of the effects of a first
descent, and congratulated me upon my success.

I found that whilst I had been below, some of them had been busy
getting an anchor out to wind'ard, and so steadying the cutter that she
was, what with the grapnel and it, practically immovable.

'Be careful, sir,' whispered Williams, as I prepared for another
expedition, 'if you're agoin' into the cabins, as you doesn't get the
pipe jammed amongst luggage or such-like. If the life-line's foul an'
you can't clear it, cut, an' we'll send down another.'

So, presently, down I went again, but not so straightly this time. For
some reason or other, the guide-line sagged, and I hit first the gaff,
then the spanker-boom, but, rebounding like a cork, was soon upon deck.
Williams was 'tending,' as he called it; and answering his signal, I
walked to the break of the poop and tried to take in the scene. But my
range of vision was too short to see for'ard of the main-mast.

I could see the wreathed masts rising through the dull green into
masses of rotting wreckage above; but not until I got on to the main
deck, nearly waist-high in ocean foliage, could I recognise the outline
of the long-boat on the main-hatchway, the galley, and the two other
houses. Everything above the foretop was gone, and hanging in a lump.
Close on my starboard had risen a great gray wall, which at first
puzzled me, until I remembered the reef. Doubtless, the ship had struck
it first end-on, and then gradually shifted into her present position.
As yet, although tolerably certain that this lost vessel really was the
Wrekin, I wished to make quite sure, so turned to the front of the
poop, where, I knew, should be inscribed in raised letters, 'The Sea is
His, and He made it.' Like all the rest of her, this part was covered
with trailing seaweeds and star and jelly fish; but after working away
for a while, I felt the first two words, and was quite satisfied.

I stood against the quarter-deck capstan some considerable time,
calling up all my courage, for I hated to enter into the blackness of
the saloon opposite me. But it had to be done if I wanted to get what I
came for. It was like plunging into a tunnel. There was no more seeing
than there is in a pitch-dark room. Touch was the only guide, and lucky
it was for me that presently returned to my memory the bearings of the
place and every berth and locker in it. Keeping one hand on the slimy
backs of the table seats, I groped slowly along, pausing often, past
the passenger berths towards Captain Roly's stateroom, right aft.

In the saloon there was no vegetation to speak of; but cold, slippery
shapes seemed to touch my hands now and then, and strange lithe bodies
to twine about my arms and legs. Horrid fancies, too, came into my mind
that the pipe would presently get foul of some of these creatures, and
that they would eat it through, and leave me to join the dead people
around with the ninety seconds of life I carried in my dress. The fact
of the matter was that I had fallen into a state of deadly terror. My
nerves were failing fast, and I actually screamed inside the helmet. I
felt that in another minute I should faint, when, like the grateful
recovery from some frightful nightmare, came the tug at the life-line
from above, asking for news.

Replying with three pulls, which told them I was in the cabin, and
reassured, I groped my way into the dead captain's berth. The door was
wide open, and it seemed to me like entering a tomb. Then summoning up
heart of grace, I felt about for the swinging cot I knew should be
there. It was empty, and so rotten that it fell to pieces under my
touch. With a sigh of relief I turned to where the captain's desk was
fixed against the bulkhead. It also was empty and dilapidated.

As I paused irresolute, some long heavy body slid slowly across my
shoulder. Involuntarily raising my hand, it encountered a rough, cold
skin. I imagined I saw weird forms circling about me, and fierce eyes
glaring in at mine out of the suffocating darkness. My fit of fright
was returning, and I felt the perspiration bursting forth at every
pore. But I was loth to depart without making a thorough search,
doubting much whether I should have sufficient courage left to make
another descent. So, pulling myself together, I went down on my knees
and groped carefully about on the port side, to which, as I have
already said, the Wrekin had a slight list. The first thing I dropped
across was a sextant, easily identified by its shape. Then my searching
fingers closed upon a skeleton hand lying alone. Then, as I worked
farther along, my heart beating violently, and every nerve strung to
its intensest pitch, I found more bones, some loose, others taking the
form of still connected ribs and vertebras. Without a doubt, these were
the remains of my old friend and captain, whose daughter was waiting
expectant above in the daylight.

Still on, until, in the extreme corner, I touched something smooth and
oval, that slipped from my grasp and rolled away. Securing it, and
feeling the polished surface with the delicate fingers of one blind, I
found at each extremity a small knob not much larger than a pin's head.
Then, satisfied that this was indeed the famous Egg, so often and so
minutely described to me, I rose, and, with what speed I might,
prepared to leave that sad abode of sudden death. I had reached the
door, when, moved by a sudden impulse, and almost as feeling the grasp
of those poor skeleton fingers around mine, and drawing me back, I
returned, and repeated aloud the office for the burial of the dead at
sea.

Coming on to the main-deck out of that gloomy sepulchre, where,
doubtless, in their berths lay many more dead men's bones, was like
emerging into some beautiful garden, and as I ascended with my precious
freight, I felt like one who has had a weight lifted off his soul.

If Nora had so wished, I would have returned and brought up her
father's remains. But she would not hear of it. 'Let him rest,' she
said. 'It would have been his own desire. Let him rest until the sea
give up her dead. Then will they all rise together, and not leaderless
on that awful day. Are we not told that "out of the darkness and out of
the Shadow of Death" He will bring them in His own good time.'

Vainly, on the return trip, did we attempt to explore the secret of
that great oval box of silver, over a foot in length, and the
translation of whose name in Javanese is 'The Sultan's Egg.' Once, out
hunting at Solo--a city and district far inland in Java--Captain Roly had
the good fortune to render service to the native Sultan by stopping his
runaway horse, and thereby probably saving his rider's neck. Amongst
many other curios presented by the grateful potentate, the Egg was
chief. That the trick of its opening was connected, somehow, with those
two little projections at each extremity of the thing, seemed probable.
But pull and press as we might, we made no impression on the lustrous
surface, hardly stained by its long immersion, and on which not the
slightest hint of seam or join was apparent. Certainly its contents,
whatever they might prove to be, would be found intact.

Unwilling, though sorely tempted, to deal violently with it, we put it
on one side until our arrival at Singapore. There, taking it to a
celebrated Malay dealer in curios, I asked him to open it if he could.
Looking at it appreciatively, he said that he could. Then he tried,
with just the same amount of success as ourselves. Thereupon, he
affirmed that the spring was broken, and that the only way of obtaining
the contents was to cut it in twain. Having no time to spare, I told
him to do the best he could with it. Possibly, I thought, knowing the
skill of Eastern workmen with such things, and perhaps unable himself
to open it, Captain Roly, on that last fatal trip, had brought the Egg
with him for repairs. But this was of course merely a guess.

In it we found, besides the long missing will and the marriage
certificate, together with many other valuable papers, a number of
uncut precious stones, and a collection of jewelled ornaments, worth a
considerable sum. The will left everything to Nora, with the exception
of two hundred pounds per year to be paid to James Haynes out of
Clayhorns. But the great prize of all for Nora was the piece of rough
blue paper, legal testimony of the marriage of Roland Haynes with Alice
M'Carthy at the parish church of the island of Innishboffin, off the
west coast of Ireland. No wonder that all search had been in vain!

On opening our mail at Hong-kong, a great surprise met us: James Haynes
had drunk himself to death. By his will, a copy of which was addressed
to Nora, Clayhorns and everything appertaining thereto was left to her,
except, curiously enough, a legacy of two hundred pounds per annum to
his wife.

Also came a letter, written almost at the last, repenting him of the
evil he had wrought her, and solemnly declaring his innocence of any
destruction of the will. He added, too, that, so far as he knew, his
brother's marriage had been perfectly legal; all that he had stated and
upheld in contradiction thereof being merely the effect of malice and
envy, for which he prayed most heartily to be forgiven, as he hoped to
find forgiveness elsewhere. It was a tardy atonement, and we were
almost miraculously, as it happened, independent of it.

We found, on our return home, that the widow had already left the old
farm. She has long since married again, on the strength of her legacy,
which is as regularly paid as if lawfully due.

Visitors to Clayhorns always ask inquisitively respecting two objects
in the little museum there. The first of these is a diving suit,
complete in all its parts, that hangs upon the wall, and which was
acquired as a memento from the captain of the Cordelia. The other is a
great egg-shaped vessel of silver, that has evidently been cut in two
and the parts reattached by hinges. Even our youngest children know and
can tell the story of the Sultan's Egg.


* * *



Ormon The Gulfer.

Chapter I
On Wild Horse Creek

'Well, I reckon the claim's about worked out. Only a patch after all.
What do you think? Not that that matters much.'

'Maybe another few weights left in the cracks; we can clear up in the
morning,' I replied, answering my mate Amos Ormon's ungracious speech
as we sat outside our tents and smoked in the moonlight after supper.

In front of us, a quarter of a mile away, loomed a high range of
scrubby hills, at whose foot, over shingly bars, ran Wild Horse Creek,
a tributary of the Georgina.

Prospecting in half-hearted fashion, after many disappointments,
here at last we had struck promising colours, pegged out a claim,
sunk many shafts without much luck; and then, in the very last one
that our rations would run to, bottomed on a patch worth the having.
Our camp was in as secluded and solitary a spot as could be found
in North-western Queensland; for, although the country was known to
be auriferous, so few and far between had any finds been made that
gradually prospectors had given it up in disgust, and moved on to the
Cloncurry and other fields towards the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Amos Ormon was an old 'Gulfer'--a name by which the settlers and bushmen
around the shores of the Carpentarian Gulf are locally known--I had met
and worked with for a short time as mate on the Gilbert diggings,
whither I had drifted from a coasting brig that her skipper had managed
to stick securely on the Horseshoe Reef, off Tribulation Island. I was
mate of her; and the Cooktown Marine Board--although I had not been on
deck at the time of the accident--having suspended my ticket for six
months, I determined to try my luck ashore for at least that period.

Of my present mate I knew little. People in the bush work alongside
each other for years in ignorance of the slightest personal detail.
About forty, stout and 'nuggety' of build, with a flaming shock of red
hair, thick fleshy nose, face burnt to a permanent brick colour, mouth
hidden under a heavy moustache that lay almost white against the brown
skin, and a pair of small, light-blue eyes, Amos hailed for an
Australian native. But I always doubted this, because at odd times he
rolled his 'r's and burred them in a way that few men do unless to the
manner born--between, say, Tweed and Tees. His temper for the most part
was a cold and saturnine one, and there was no cordiality between us,
although I strove by working my hardest to keep my end of the log up,
and atone as much as possible for the lack of that practical experience
as a miner that my companion possessed in a very high degree. A
peculiarity of Ormon's was to look as if he was always brooding over
something--always turning some project over and over in his mind with a
ponderous secretiveness that feared discovery. Only a mannerism, likely
enough, but an unpleasant one. Had there been any chance of getting a
better mate, I would have long ago left him. But the majority of the
Gulfers on these tucker diggings--for they were little else--were as
rowdy and drunken a lot of scoundrels at the time I write of as
Australasia could produce. Though peculiar and often disagreeable, Amos
was a big cut above any of the alleged diggers I had as yet come
across, who, the greater part of them, struck me as in search of most
things except gold.

My mate made no reply to my last remark, only smoked and pondered,
whilst the moon rose higher, turning from yellow to white, and pouring
floods of light over the flat at our feet, showing the red heaps of
mullock from many 'duffers' stretching up from the creek-bank to the
last shaft just in front of us--our 'golden hole.'

It had been a good season; grass was plentiful, and the steady
klop-klop-klup of our knocking horse-bells came pleasantly to the ear
in token of steady feeding; whilst the warm air was laden with the
thick, heavy perfume of many species of beautiful flowering scrub. Our
tents were pitched in the shade of a clump of bloodwoods and Moreton
Bay ashes, and just in front of them was a rough erection of four forks
and rafters, bark-roofed to form a sort of cooking-place. Underneath
this was the always smouldering fire, the camp oven, billies, pan,
and other utensils. Another similar structure, only covered in with
bushes and furnished with table and seats of split slabs, served
as dining-room. In all these matters Ormon was most methodical and
painstaking. Remnants of food bring ants about a place, and one, even,
of those insects in his tent made him restless and uncomfortable. As to
his personal habits, they were those of a cat. He would wash himself
a dozen times a day, always preferring to get away out of sight to a
water-hole in the creek; the least smudge from pot or billy on his
fingers made him palpably uneasy until it was off; and he spent all
Sunday combing and brushing, clipping and cleaning about his body, in
an excess of fastidiousness that would have been remarkable even in
civilised places, but that a thousand miles from them, in the heart of
the wild bush, was simply wonderful.

Under the rude table in the dining-shed was 'planted' our most
unexpected find, some thirty pounds' weight of nearly pure gold. I had
sent up the first greenhide bucket full the preceding morning from a
depth of fifty feet, seeing nothing out of the way in the usual mass of
clay and water-worn gravel through which I had worked in one corner of
the shaft until I struck bed-rock of granite from which the pickpoint
bounded with the solid-sounding, unmistakable jar that echoes 'true
bottom' to the miner's ear. But, as I was saying, I had shovelled the
dirt into the bucket and sung out to 'Heave up!' possessing not the
slightest suspicion that the stuff was thick with gold. So little had
we seen of the noble metal for many a day that I simply worked away
mechanically and without interest; having resolved, too, that, now my
'suspension' was expired, I would at once be off to sea again. Digging,
I presumed, was all very well where one was getting something, if only
tucker. But for weeks we had not made an ounce, and into the bargain
worked like niggers and lived like Chinamen--principally on tough
kangaroo meat, birds, and rice. My clothes were patched with
gunny-bags, my boots all uppers, and, taking it full and by, I was
about satisfied that I was not meant for a bush life.

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when, as my shift finished and
Ormon hove me up, the first thing to catch my eye was a big panning-off
dish half-full of dull yellow lumps and specks in all imaginable shapes
and sizes.

Characteristically enough, my mate had said not a word to me, toiling
below, of the riches he was washing out of each bucket I sent up; and
even now, as I stared in wonder at the pretty show, there was no
answering gleam in his cold eye, no smile under the white thatch of his
lips.

'Lower away,' was all he curtly said, after we had poured the gold into
a stout sugar-bag and covered it with mullock. 'I expect it's only a
patch. Don't try to wash anything till my shift's over. If anybody
passes, tell 'em we're scarce makin' tucker.'

The foot or so of wash-dirt on the bottom was soon cleaned up. Then we
put in a drive, but there was nothing but heavy clay and rock. On every
side it was the same; and by sundown my mate had quite satisfied
himself that our find was but one of those rare pockets dropped upon
now and then, but for the presence of which there seems nothing to
account, and that led no farther.

'What's about the value of the gold we've got?' I asked presently.

'Nearly £1400,' he replied, 'taking it at £3, 17s. 6d. per ounce. Your
share'll be, at that rate, close on £700. Not bad for a new chum like
you, is it?'

'Capital!' I exclaimed buoyantly. 'I was thinking of making off to sea
again; but if we can keep going in such fashion I'll stick to you a bit
longer. Shall we try another shaft to-morrow?'

'Clean up the one we're at first,' said he; 'we might ha' missed a
little on the bottom. And as for sticking to me, why, as regards that,
you can clear out as soon as you like. I don't want you, I'm sure.'

'Nor,' I replied hotly, 'do I want to force my company upon any man.
We'll settle matters in the morning, then, and I'll get my horses, and
leave.'

He was silent at this, apparently rather surprised to be taken so
shortly at his word. Perhaps, now, it was the sense of having money in
view that prompted me to so sharp an answer after often in times past
letting similar remarks go unnoticed; but, in any case, I was very
tired of the self-absorbed, taciturn, unsociable fellow, and, gold or
no gold, had made up my mind to stand no more of his company and the
hard, squalid life I had led of late.

'Well,' said he at last, turning towards me with a sullen note in his
voice, 'I expect we'd better clean up first. There may be more there 'n
we think for. Then we can divide the lot. I'm goin' to stay on a bit
longer yet; but I can work single-handed as well's with a mate.'

'All right,' I replied lightly. 'For my part, I'm off somewhere to get
a square feed and some decent togs to wear--Brisbane, most likely. And
now, as there's about as much flour left as'll make a small damper,
I'll mix one up and put it in the ashes.'

'Right,' said he, but still in surly accents; 'and I'll take a rifle
and see if I can't pot a kangaroo along the creek.'

I baked my damper, and setting it on its edge to cool, presently turned
in. But Ormon had not come back when the Cross told me, through the
open door of my tent, that it was midnight. Towards morning, however,
waking, I could hear the incessant grinding of teeth that always marked
his sleep--a horrid noise resembling nothing so much as the sharpening
of a cross-cut saw.

I didn't turn in any more, but lit a pipe and strolled away over the
ridges, thinking what I should do with all that money--pleasurable
thoughts, accentuated mightily by the feel of my rags and nearly naked
feet, not to mention a stomach that looked forward doubtingly to its
breakfast.



Chapter II
In a Tight Place

Ormon had shot nothing, and our breakfast of damper, rice, and sinewy
kangaroo meat, some days old, made me in no way regret the resolution I
had come to.

My companion was morose and preoccupied as ever. But so pleased was I
at the notion of being able to get away, with a pocketful of money into
the bargain, that I took little notice of him, and felt intent only on
finishing work and making a start for fresh and livelier scenes.

I descended first, and sent up some score of buckets full of dirt that
had been left from the last drive we had put in. Then, carefully
cleaning the bottom, even to picking out the wash from crevices with my
fingers, until the rock was bare as a new-swept oven, I sang out to
heave up the bucket, which was only about three-parts full.

'Better put the tools in,' said Amos, his head hanging over the
shaft; 'they won't be wanted there any more.' So, hitching shovel and
driving-pick to the rope, I watched the lot go swinging aloft, feeling
glad and pleased that our partnership was ended, nor experiencing the
slightest inclination to stay and search for more gold.

Presently, to my utter bewilderment, I became aware that Amos was
taking the rope off the windlass.

'Hello!' I shouted. 'Have you forgotten that I'm here yet?'

Without making any reply, he kept on at his work, whilst strange
suspicions and surmises flashed through my mind. In a minute or two
more I saw him come to the edge of the logging and look down. Somehow,
I felt I was putting a most useless question even as the words left my
mouth and I asked, 'Why don't you lower the bucket?'

'Because I'm not going to pull you up,' he replied calmly. 'Did you
think I was such a fool as to go halves with a new chum like you? All
I took you as mate for was to get your luck. No men is luckier than
new-chum sailors on a diggin's. Well, the luck's come, and I'm goin'
somewhere' (mimicking my words) 'to find a square meal and decent togs.
You'll stop there till somebody comes along or the shaft caves in.
The chances are that you'll stop there altogether. You've always been
growlin'--growlin' about your belly--since I knowed you. Well, you'll
have somethin' to growl about now in real earnest.'

'Well, but, Amos,' I cried, now thoroughly scared, 'it's murder. A man
might as well be in his grave as here. Better take your rifle and shoot
me at once as leave me to linger miserably. Hang it, man! lower the
rope, and quit fooling in such a fashion.' These last words I spoke
with a degree of assurance I was very far from feeling.

'I ain't foolin',' he replied promptly. 'I wasn't built that way. But I
should be a fool to pull you up and make you a present of £700.'

'I'll take five,' I cried desperately, feeling that the brute was in
deadly earnest.

'Four--three!' I shouted after a pause, as I saw the black dot of his
head shaking in dissent. 'There,' I continued, 'for God's sake pull me
up, and you can take the lot!'

But still his head wagged to and fro decidedly. 'No,' he said, rising
and looking down at me over the empty windlass barrel; 'it ain't good
enough. Once begin a contrack, and you've got to go through with it.
But,' he continued, speaking slowly and deliberately as ever, 'there's
one thing I'll do for you if you really wants it.'

'Well,' I asked hurriedly and a little hopefully.

'Well,' he continued, 'you asked me to shoot you just now. If you asks
me again, and you'll stick the candle on the wall, back o' your head,
I'll put a bullet through you clean as a whistle.'

For a minute I was too astounded at the coldbloodedness of such a
proposition to utter a word. All I could do was to stare up at him
stupidly as he stood there, his features clearly outlined now against
the patch of blue sunlit sky, with his heavy moustache looking like a
curved chalk-line drawn across his face under the thick-spreading nose.

'Very well,' I shouted all at once in a sudden access of fury; 'shoot
and be d--d to you, you murderer!' Almost as I spoke he disappeared, and
I guessed he had gone to fetch his rifle from the camp. All the same, I
had not the remotest intention of being made a target of, hopeless as
my case seemed. And I was perfectly convinced that shoot he would, and
with as little compunction as at a kangaroo. I was but five-and-twenty,
and at that age life still feels sweet, even when things look most
gloomy. So, without more ado, I crawled backwards into one of the
drives, and lay there with my head just inside of it, and screwed up
towards the top of the shaft. Presently I saw a shadow cross the light,
and heard the rattle of a riflebutt.

'Hello!' he hailed. 'Where's that candle? I can't see. Changed your
mind, eh?' he continued, as his sight, becoming accustomed to the
darkness, made out that the bottom was empty. 'Well, so long; I can't
wait here all day. I'll put the money to good use--better 'n you'd ha'
done. Sailors never have much sense, anyway. You've got your chance,
and we may meet again bimebye.'

'I'll live to see you hanged yet!' I shouted.

'I can't spare the time just now, as I've got to pack up,' he replied;
'but if you say another word I'll fill you in.' And, as if to emphasise
the threat, some great lumps of mullock came tumbling down the shaft. I
burst into a cold sweat at the notion; for there was plenty of loose
earth above that a strong man like Ormon could perhaps have buried me
under in an hour or two. And, anyhow, if I came out of my tunnel, he
might shoot me easily. Therefore I held my peace, and heard him walk
away without taking other risk than cursing him most heartily under my
breath. After a while I heard the sound of horse-bells, and knew that
he was catching the animals--two of mine, two of his own--preparatory to
packing up and making a start.

He came near me no more; but for some time I stayed under cover,
thinking perhaps he might change his mind and empty a rifle down the
shaft before leaving. Presently, however, I smelt smoke, and, looking
up, could see a cloud of it blowing across overhead. Evidently he had
fired the camp, together with such articles as he found he could not
conveniently carry. Coming out of my burrow, I stood in the middle of
the hole and stared about me in a dazed sort of way, as if I had never
seen the place. Indeed, I was utterly taken aback and dumfounded at the
extraordinary turn things had taken with me during the last hour. Even
now I was almost incredulous, and would not have been surprised to see
Ormon appear with the saturnine grin his face sometimes wore, and busy
himself fixing the rope again.

But as the day wore on any such vague hopes left me, and I felt there
was nothing for it but to meet my doom with what courage I might. No
more hopeless case could well be conceived. The hole, nearly fifty feet
in depth, was untimbered (being fair standing-ground in dry weather)
and composed of stiff red clay and small gravel. It was, for a
prospecting shaft, rather large--some five feet by four--oval in shape,
and with sides almost perfectly plumb. Any attempt at climbing them was
quite out of the question. Even with tools to make footholes it would
have been a risky, if not impossible, business. Also, if it came on to
rain--a heavy thunderstorm would suffice--most probably the whole shaft
would cave in and bury me alive. I had never been in a really tight
place before. But still, I could not for a time think of anything but
the amazing treachery of my mate, nor quite recover from the stunning
sensation that overpowered me when certain that I was deserted and left
to perish miserably in that dark hole; and as I squatted on the rock
floor I swore that if ever a day of reckoning came between us two, it
should be a hard one for Amos Ormon. Human help, I knew too well, was
almost out of the question in that secluded corner. Even if travellers
came up Wild Horse Creek, only a quarter of a mile away, I should be
none the wiser. I might yell myself hoarse without being heard, or at
most be put down for a howling dingo. Besides, the main track to
Birdsville--a slight and unfrequented one--ran along between the Creek
and the Georgina, miles off. All these facts had been coursing athwart
my mind mechanically as I sat and stared at the patch of sky that
capped my prison, barred black against the blue by the barrel of the
windlass. I had a pipe, some tobacco, a small knife, and a box of
wax-vestas in my pocket. On a ledge over one of the drives was a piece
of candle about eight inches long. Terribly hungry, I bit a small chunk
off. It tasted more of resin than anything else, and I put it aside
for future use, just then preferring a pipe. As I carefully shredded
tobacco, four crows came and perched on the windlass barrel, and,
peering down with ghastly white eyes--one variety of the Australian
crow has white eyes--and heads cocked to one side, quark-quarked
interrogatively, and then muttered to each other quite plainly, 'Wonder
how long he'll last.' 'Not very long.' 'We'll pick his eyes and tongue
out by-and-by, when he gets weak enough.' At least that's the sense I
made of their low mumblings and mutterings as they stared ghoulishly
into the shaft. High aloft an eagle-hawk poised on stirless pinions,
as if he knew that he too had an approaching feast in view. But the
crows worried me with their continuous low rumbling palaver, broken
occasionally by an impatient croak, and I shouted at them till they
flew away. They soon, however, returned; and, as I sat quite still, one
of them dropped a stick straight upon me to see if I was yet a fair
subject to operate on. As I gave no sign he fluttered down a few feet,
but flew back with a harsh croak of disappointment when I raised my
head. More than once or twice as the afternoon slowly passed, during
long spells of quietness, did the cunning black watchers let fall their
test-sticks in similar fashion.

The tobacco soothed and calmed me, besides easing the gnawing pangs of
hunger. As to thirst, I was secure from that. In one corner of the
shaft, at minute intervals, a solitary drop of water fell and soaked
away through a crevice in the rocky bottom. By kneading some of the
tough clay into the shape of a basin, I had already caught enough for a
drink. But I was not thirsty. It was damp and cool enough down there. I
was desperately hungry, though, and would have tackled even a crow
could I have laid hands upon him. Instead, I chewed another inch of my
candle-end. It tasted more palatable at this second essay, and I wished
there had been a larger supply.

Do my best, I could not make up my mind to die. The thing seemed quite
unreasonable whilst my body felt so active with life and freedom smiled
so near. In vain did I try and compose myself to meet the inevitable
becomingly, renounce all worldly thoughts, and turn my mind to
preparation and prayer. Instead, wild schemes of vengeance upon Amos
Ormon flashed across my brain, mingled with acute agonies of regret for
pleasant possibilities lost in the treasure he had robbed me of.

And so the daylight passed; the gloom grew thicker; the black watchers,
with a parting growl and a muttered promise to return early, flew off
to their roosts; tock-tock-tock-tock, measuring the minutes, fell the
drop of water; the moaning howl of a dingo came from the deserted camp,
followed presently by an outburst of yells and cries betokening a full
pack. And I sat there in the darkness and sucked gingerly at my remnant
of candle, and watched the stars come out, and tried hard, but as yet
in vain, to realise that my doom was indeed upon me, racking my brain
instead to find some means of escape. But I could think of nothing that
would enable me to scale those smooth prison walls my own hands had
helped to fashion; and presently, aided by hunger, solitude, and
darkness, cold Despair laid her chill fingers upon my heart as the
long-kept-at-bay conviction that I must surely die tore its way into my
soul. A most shockingly incredible and awful thing seemed my fate to
me, and one that all the strong life and nature within me rose in wild
protest against. And I raved and shrieked until the howling wild dogs
ceased their concert in a fright; beat head and hands upon the rough,
pick-grooved walls; kicked at them in insensate fury; and for a time
became to all intents a raving, foaming maniac, maddened not so much by
the fear of death as by the dreadful impotence to gain the life that
lay visible within the few feet a child might almost hurl a stone to
the summit of.



Chapter III.
Shahbaz Khan.

I suppose that at last I must have fallen faint and insensible from
exhaustion, and remained so for hours, as when I came to myself again
the moon was shining almost directly down the shaft. Lying on my back,
feeling stiff and sore, I was staring hopelessly up at the great white
orb, when all of a sudden she was blotted out by something that nearly
filled the mouth of the shaft, whilst upon me fell showers of clay and
gravel. Jumping to my feet in alarm, I snugged into a corner and stared
wonderingly aloft to where, as well as I could make out, the hindlegs
of some large and powerful animal were playing a tattoo on the sides of
the shaft as they hung down it, accompanied by the most hideous
bellowings and screamings. That a horse or a bullock had slipped into
the hole was my first notion. But neither of those animals could by any
possibility, I fancied, make such extraordinary and barbarous noises as
the brute above me was doing.

As, scared and wondering, I was about to retreat into a drive, thinking
that presently the thing would come down by the run, there fell on my
ears a chatter of human voices sounding sharp and shrill above the din
of roarings and gurglings. Then, all at once, came a great noise of
pulling and shouting, and little by little I saw the animal, still
complaining bitterly, pulled to the surface amidst much vociferous talk
and laughter.

Now, thinking it my turn, I yelled at the top of a voice made strong by
hope of succour. For a minute there was dead silence; then I saw
several black and turbaned faces poked cautiously over the edge of the
shaft where the moon made things light as day to my eyes.

'Hi, yah?' asked a voice. 'Who dar?'

'Me! me!' I replied hysterically. 'For God's sake send a rope down and
pull me up!'

At this there was another outbreak of clamorous strange language, not a
word of which could I understand as I listened with my heart beating my
ribs black and blue, and the sweat rolling off me in fear of being left
to perish. And never voice of mistress to lover sounded sweeter than
when, after a minute, some one shouted:

'Ar ri! you wait--mendee windeelas.' And I heard a knocking and
hammering, and saw men raising the windlass standards and replacing the
barrel that the beast had knocked over in his struggles.

And presently down came a line of different-sized ropes knotted
together, into which hastily putting a bowline and seating myself
therein, I was, with much grunting and heaving, at last safely landed.
As I stood up, weak and trembling, the dark-faced men who surrounded me
fell back to right and left in something like dismay. And, as I
afterwards discovered, not altogether without cause, for--hatless,
shoeless, my clothes in ribbons, head and hands and feet bleeding from
many self-inflicted cuts and bruises--I must have made a wild and
forbidding spectacle. But food and a nip of good whisky that some kind
soul produced, together with a wash in the creek, soon revived me
sufficiently to tell my story to Shahbaz Khan, a great, handsome
Afghan, owner of the camel-train, to whom I owed my rescue, who
listened, stroking a long black beard with many expressions of sympathy
and disgust.

By the merest chance, it appeared, they had that night camped on Wild
Horse, intending to proceed after an hour or two's spell. Then one of
the camels, straying, had slipped into the shaft, and so saved me from
a most miserable fate. The train consisted of forty animals not long
landed from a British India steamer at Cooktown, and was bound to
Eucla, in South Australia, thence to the new goldfields in the West.
The men who had arrived with the camels from Aden were a wild enough
looking lot; but the rest were old hands in the country; some of them
even had been digging on the Palmer, and were well able to appreciate
the treachery to which I had so nearly fallen a victim. Nor ever could
I have conceived such friendly goodwill, help, and sympathy as I met
with among these kindly people, upon whom Australians generally look
with aversion and dislike. Before I had finished my meal new clothes
were being got ready for me out of Shahbaz Khan's stores, so that I was
speedily rigged anew from head to foot; and not that alone, but rugs
and blankets and provisions were brought and packed; each of these dark
Samaritans vying with each other in being of service. And as at dawn
the long train moved off, headed by the big bull whose curiosity had
been the cause of my rescue--angry still, with much throaty gurgling and
grinding of teeth--the chief, before mounting his riding camel, shook me
by the hand and put into it two one-pound notes, listening the while
silently to my heartfelt thanks. Then said he, speaking very slowly,
but in good English:

'Fare thee well, my brother! Evilly hast thou been entreated. Maybe in
days to come thou shalt meet thine enemy and repay him with usury the
ill he hath worked upon thee. Then--what saith thine own Scripture--eye
for eye, tooth for tooth? And as for thanks, thou owest me none.
"Succour the afflicted and distressed, whether by reason of hunger or
by reason of thirst or of wounds; those that fall into the hands of
robbers and are left empty by the wayside, the poor and the friendless.
So shall it be with thee hereafter." Thus commandeth our Prophet. In
his name--the name of Allah the All-Merciful--fare thee well!'

And so saying, that Christian and gentleman--as I understand the meaning
of these words--swung on to his camel and made off after his people,
leaving me full of gratitude and wonder for such charity as assuredly
few, if any, of my own colour would have shown me.

Feeling still sore and weak, I walked up to the site of our old camp,
where a big heap of stuff yet smouldered amongst the poles and boughs
of the dining-place. In it I recognised portions of my tent and
blankets; also the shaft-rope, burnt nearly to tinder. With gratuitous
cruelty and meanness, Ormon had evidently thrown all my little
possessions on the fire--the pocket-book containing the few treasured
home-letters and photographs; the tin case with certificates and
discharges; comb and brush, towels, &c. And I swore as I poked about
the pile that, if ever I got the chance, I would not forget my friend
Shahbaz Khan's injunction respecting repayment with usury.

On the spot where my tent had been pitched I found, however, a small
folding looking-glass and a copy of Monte Christo that had been amongst
my belongings. Opening the former, I started back in dismay at what I
saw. The peaked beard I wore was flecked with white spots here and
there, whilst one side of my moustache was altogether white, the other
gray; and dabs of white showed on my thick black hair like patches of
paint. It was long before I mustered courage to look again; and I
really believe that this wound to my vanity touched me more nearly than
the murderous treachery of my mate and the loss of the gold. You see, I
was young, and generally thought good-looking; and to suddenly know
myself disfigured--spotted like a native cat--gave me a sore shock.
Perhaps this matter accounted partly for the compassionate gaze I had
noticed in the dark eyes of my friends, the camel-people yonder; for no
man seeing me but might well guess that the bleaching had been sudden
and recent, inasmuch as no person in his senses would grow hair in such
piebald fashion on lip and chin. Without a doubt, now must I go clean
shaven for the rest of my days--a prospect that was far from pleasing to
me. But now to find the author of all this misfortune, or at least to
raise the hue-and-cry after him over the whole of Northern Queensland!
So, stiff and sore though I was, I set forth on my sixty-mile tramp to
Jubilee, the nearest township. But, what with new boots, cut feet, and
the heat and reaction consequent on my mad fit in the shaft, I made but
a very poor stage that day; nor, unaccustomed to walking, did I do much
better on the next one. And it was quite a week before I entered
Jubilee. Here my first proceeding was to report in full to the police,
of whom there were a sergeant, three troopers, and a black tracker.
Then I bought a razor, and nearly cut my throat during my first essay
at shaving.

The police were confident of soon laying their hands on Ormon; and they
scoured the country far and wide, besides setting the wires to work
wherever possible. But a fortnight passed and no news could be heard of
him.

'He's gone out back,' said the sergeant; 'right away across into the
Territory. But I've sent word to the S.A. police, and they're all on
the watch for the beggar. You'll see him swing yet, my lad, if you'll
only have a little patience.'

All very fine; but my money was done, and I must get work or
starve--there being no Shahbaz Khans amongst the Jubilees that I
could see. So I started off for the coast, stone-broke, but hopeful
of finding a job somewhere on the road. But it seemed that Amos Ormon
had taken all my luck as well as my gold with him. Always I was just
too late or a considerable time too soon. And everywhere, as I passed,
I made vain inquiries respecting a stout, red-headed, fair-moustached
man, with three or four horses. Nobody had heard of or seen him; and
it was almost as if the earth had swallowed him the day he rode away
from the burning camp on Wild Horse Creek. Everywhere, to those of
the police who had not already received particulars--and they were
few and far between, at isolated outposts--I told my story. Thus,
swagging along from station to station, township to township, I had
at least the poor satisfaction of knowing, when I finally reached
the sea at Cardwell, that I had made Queensland too hot to hold any
ordinary man answering to the description of my late mate. In my
own mind, however, I was pretty well convinced that, long ere this,
he was in one of the southern colonies, if not out of the country
altogether. A most excellent bushman, with four horses, all good of
their kind, arms, ammunition, and money, he could, in that lost week,
have crossed by back tracks and unobserved to any point of the compass
he wished. He neither drank nor gambled; also I knew, from stray words
let fall in his less dour moments, that he was a man who, like many
professional miners, had travelled far and wide in the practice of
his calling, deeming no spot too distant, no hardship too great, when
once the magic voice of gold reached him across seas and deserts,
fever-stricken lands, and hostile tribes. And still, in spite of all, I
thought we might yet meet again. Meanwhile the first fierce desire of
vengeance had calmed down to a steady glow, burning always brightly and
enduringly, but yet not absorbing my mmd to the exclusion of aught else.

And ever as the years went by in varying fortune, mostly poor, some
sudden turn or look about a man passed in a crowd, the sight of a red
shock of hair, the sound of a deep, slow-speaking voice, now and again
enabled me to feel in quickening pulse and thickened breath that if
ever the moment of reckoning arrived the payment would be heavy, the
creditor pitiless.



Chapter IV.
Mr Sinclair and His Servant.

As I said before, since the day, now seven years ago, that my mate had
left me to die at the bottom of the shaft on Wild Horse Creek, Fortune
had been far from kind to me. For a time I had followed the sea; then,
leaving it, I went on to the diggings again--west to Coolgardie, outside
to New Guinea and Sud Est; but never more than making a living, and not
too good a one at that.

And at last, stranded in Brisbane, I had shipped as quartermaster on a
small London barque called the Ulundi that had put in for some repairs
on a passage from Foo-Chow to Melbourne, with tea. From the latter we
went to Colombo, thence to Port Elizabeth in South Africa, taking a
cargo of coffee; loaded wool at the port; and had now come round to
Capetown to fill up for home. As we lay in the bay, under the shadow of
the mighty rock, our topsails loose, and cable up-and down, the captain
was growling to the mate about the non-appearance of a passenger.

'Why the deuce,' the old man was saying, 'can't he go home,
like any other decent body, in one of the mail-boats! I hate
passengers--'specially in a ship that ain't meant for 'em. He's
bringin' his servant, too, the agents tell me--as big a swell as his
master, I suppose.'

'Ay,' replied the mate, taking his cue; 'and the saloon's chock-a-block
with luggage, and the lazarette with private stores--cases o' wine and
provisions till further orders. Must be well in, whoever he is. Do you
know anything about him, sir?'

'Party the name o' Sinclair,' replied the captain testily. 'One o'
those gold and diamond fellows, like Brown and Healy and that lot.
Gammons he wants a long sea-trip for his health. One comfort--the agents
made him pay through the nose. I'd take his passage-money cheerfully
for two years' wages.'

As he finished speaking a small steam-launch left the shore and was
soon alongside. There were only two men in her, and as they came up the
gangway I had a good view of them. The first was a stout, portly,
clean-shaven, dark-haired customer, dressed all in white, wearing a
diamond ring on his finger and diamond studs in the stiff shirt that
ran into the blue silk cummerbund around his waist; tanned shoes, cut
low, showing red silk socks, Panama hat, and a big cigar completed the
outfit. The other carried a portmanteau, and was a youngish-looking
Malay--evidently the servant.

'Stinkin' nigger!' muttered the skipper, sighting the latter, as he
walked to the break of the poop and bawled, 'Heave away there, for'ard!
Sheet home as soon 's the anchor's off the bottom. Steward, show Mr
Sinclair to his berth.'

Meanwhile the latter leaned against the quarterdeck capstan, puffing at
his cigar, and shaking his hands--which had become soiled by the
manropes--as a cat does wet paws. But now the steward advanced, all
deferential smiles and inquiries, as befitted one with handsome tips in
view, and the three left the deck as I went to the wheel; whilst under
jib and staysail the ship's head fell off, topsails were sheeted home,
fore and main tacks boarded, and sheets brought aft, and the Ulundi,
with the wind no more than free, stood out of Table Bay into the great
Atlantic.

Very few vessels of the Ulundi's size can afford to carry
quartermasters. But then, very few vessels steered as atrociously
as she did. Time after time her owners had attempted to remedy the
defect, but to no purpose. Whether, amongst a dozen other assigned
causes, there was something wrong with her lines; whether the foremast
was too far for'ard, or the mizzen too far aft, mattered little; the
fact remained that she steered like a driven turkey after sundown. In
heavy wintry weather off the Horn it took two men sweating in their
shirt-sleeves to keep her within a handful of points each way. In light
and moderate winds she was all her time trying to slip off or up in the
most aggravating fashion. No matter how closely you watched her, she'd
best you sooner or later. Going along quiet and steady at half-a-spoke
or so each way, you'd think that at last you'd found out her soft side
and could afford to let your eye leave the card for a moment. Then all
at once you'd feel her swing away from under you as her head fell off
three or four points or came rushing up into the wind; and then the
fun was only beginning. Gentle helm she took no more notice of than a
bolting horse with the bit broken. Hard up, hard down, and her head
spinning as if on a swivel in wild dartings to one side and the other
for five and ten minutes, was the rule before she could be induced to
come to her course again. The officers swore, and so did the helmsman;
but, unless new to the vessel, the former never volunteered an
exhibition of their steering. There are few things at sea more perilous
or heart-breaking than a thoroughly bad-steering ship. Thus the Ulundi
seldom kept her company, fore or aft, two successive voyages.

Naturally, being at the wheel so much, I saw a good deal of Mr
Sinclair. For hours he would lie in his deck-chair alongside the
binnacle, sometimes reading a trashy 'yellow-back,' but oftener
pondering, with brooding, light-blue eyes fixed on vacancy, and a long,
thin-lipped line of mouth tight shut. Early in the passage he and the
captain had concluded not to suit each other, and now seldom spoke. To
the officers a curt nod was his only greeting. He smoked incessantly
the most expensive cigars, but I never saw him offer anybody one.
Waited upon hand and foot by his Malay, Ali, his slightest wish seemed
to be forestalled, his least want understood.

Of course, the Ulundi being the daisy she was to steer, I had little
time to study faces, or anything else besides my helm. Still, as day
after day that wrinkled, naked, impassive countenance met my eye, there
seemed a curious, uncomfortable familiarity in it that grew upon and
puzzled me mightily, in addition to spoiling my steering as much as was
possible. Thus, being preoccupied, and letting the barque go off on
her capers much more than usual, I one day, for almost the only time,
lost all control over her. Mr Sinclair, as he watched the wheel and
the ship's head alternately, seemed interested in the play, and stared
hard at me as I swore under my breath, whilst the skipper stood grimly
and silently by, until, after an exciting ten minutes, I brought the
beast to her course again. Then, turning to me, the old man remarked
sorrowfully, 'Well, Davies, it's the first time I ever knew her to get
away so badly with you.'

At the mention of my name I saw our passenger start slightly and give
me a steady, searching glance from his cold blue eyes as he half-rose
from the chair that, taken up with the struggle between ship and helm,
he had turned round facing the wheel. As I met his gaze a strange
notion took hold on me; and over those thin, cruel lips I drew, in my
mind's eye, a heavy curve of flaxen moustache; in lieu of the black
hair I placed a coarse, red shock; took furrows out of the forehead,
seams out of the full cheeks, crow's-feet away from the temples, and
Ormon the Gulfer stood before me. The next moment I laughed the idea to
scorn as I watched him lie back in his chair and motion to Ali to come
with cigars and soda and whisky. To my astonishment, as the Malay mixed
the drink, his master pointed to me, saying in his deep voice, 'Take
it, quartermaster. It'll do you good after that tussle. She's as bad to
hold as a buckin' brumby.'

As he spoke an undefinable something in the manner and tone of him, no
less than the bush allusion, thrilled me through and through, making
suspicion leap hot to my heart again as I waved the proffered glass
aside and bent eyes I felt growing fierce and eager upon the compass.

'Against the rules, eh?' said Mr Sinclair indifferently, as the mate
explained. 'Oh, all right. Only it's such a picnic steerin' this bitch
of a ship that I thought you might make an allowance.'

The mate--a quiet, elderly man--frowned and moved away without reply;
whilst, my relief appearing, I gave up the wheel and went for'ard for a
think and a smoke.

But I could come to no solid conclusion except that a fancied
resemblance might, if I was not careful, get me into trouble. Still,
with it all, there was a persistent, haunting feeling at my heart that
my quest was ended, my quarry marked down; and, to strengthen this
almost certainty, I noticed, to my secret joy, that, when my wheel came
round again, Sinclair, whilst pretending to be absorbed in a book,
was furtively studying me, feature by feature. I managed, however, to
look as stolidly unconcerned as any other man might have done; nor
did the doubting frown escape me with which he at last finished his
scrutiny and turned to his reading in earnest. Something, I supposed,
in voice or feature--called up by the name, perhaps--must have struck
him for a moment as familiar. His doubts, however, were, I fancied,
only partially set at rest. Still, it would have been strange if in the
gaunt, brownfaced, middle-aged man, with hair almost white, he should
have recognised anything of the bearded, fresh-coloured, new-chum
sailor he had robbed and left to die so miserably in the Australian
bush. Not could he have been expecting any resurrection of the kind;
and here I, of course, held the advantage over him, being ever on
the watch. Nor did I trouble my mind as to his motives in disguising
himself--if such had really been his idea. Men, especially as they grow
older, often shave clean; and as for the hair, when I remembered how
Ormon the Gulfer used to dress it, and soap it, and endeavour vainly
to darken and force it into some kind of shape, I was not surprised
that when able to afford a wig he should have done so. And, indeed, as
a matter of fact, he was now a far better-looking man than he had been
seven years ago, to say nothing of the added consequence given to his
bearing by the wealth that he evidently possessed. Still, could that
glossy, black headpiece, consorting none too well with the light brows
and pale-blue eyes, be a wig? By no stretch of imagination, however,
could I conceive of that flaming, turbulent, crimson shock submitting
to any dye, no matter how powerful. However, I thought I should soon be
able finally to solve that puzzle. Meanwhile a fact accidentally came
to my knowledge that helped not a little towards converting belief into
stubborn certainty.

Being at the wheel one night when the second mate was relieving the
chief, and the former appearing almost before the bell had ceased
striking, the mate remarked jokingly, 'Now, that's the smartest relief
I believe I ever had! What's the matter? Killed anybody in your time,
and can't sleep for thinking about it, eh?'

'No; but I believe that infernal passenger's conscience is troubling
him. The beggar's grinding his teeth all night long,' replied the
second mate wrathfully. 'I never heard such a row in my life. I'm going
to ask the old man to let me change into another berth. Ugh! You listen
to him as you go by. It's just like a fellow chewing gravel.'

And as he spoke I seemed myself to hear the horrible grating noise
again, as many a night I had heard it proceeding from the tent on
the banks of Wild Horse Creek. The very next day I was present at an
altercation between the steward and Ali.

'Allus water, water, water he's a-wantin', quartermaster,' said the
former, appealing to me'. 'Sez his boss can't do without lots o' water.
Well, all I knows is, I've been wi' passengers afore this--swells an'
toffs among 'em, too; but I've never seed 'em forced to wash their 'ead
an' 'ands an' face a dozen times a day, to say nothin' o' baths without
number. Why, the condenser's kep' agoin' for nothin' else.'

Here was another trait retained by the Amos Ormon I remembered. Still,
there were probably more people than one in the world who ground
their teeth in sleep and cultivated an inordinate fancy for washing
themselves.

Ali was Capetown bred and born, and had, I found, been not long in
his present employ. He was a smart young fellow of about twenty, and
particularly expert at grooming his master, an operation that took up
a good deal of his time through the day. For me, as it happened, he
had a particular regard, because more than once at the beginning of
the passage I had interfered--remembering my obligations to men of
colour--between him and certain of the crew who, after the manner of
their kind, thought that anything black was made to be knocked about.
Thus Ali was grateful, and would, I thought, answer a simple question I
meant presently to put to him.

During the day all hands had been busy scraping paint off the front of
the poop, and giving it a priming coat of red, preliminary to a final
dressing of white.

And when, as, in the first dog-watch, I sat smoking on the
after-hatchway, and Ali came hurrying past bearing a great can of
hot water, I stopped him and abruptly said, 'Ali, what's the colour
of the boss's head when his wig's off?' he first gasped in surprise,
then showed all his white teeth in an appreciative grin, and silently
pointed to the paint glowing with a fine flare of red in the sun. I was
thoroughly satisfied.



Chapter V.
The Wreck of the 'Ulundi.'

All this time the Ulundi had been making more or less erratic headway,
mostly with light south-east winds, until she got well over towards the
South American coast. Apart from the steering trouble, she was a good
little ship enough to be in; officers and crew worked well together,
and the provisions were above the average. Perhaps out of the whole
ship's company I was the only really unhappy man, pondering as I did
night and day on some means of paying Amos Ormon what I owed him, and
seeing no chance.

I don't think I wanted to kill him; but I certainly did want to get a
bit level--make him feel something of the pain and agony he had caused
me, and--yes, decidedly--force him to disgorge my seven hundred pounds,
with liberal interest added.

But for all the prospect I could see of doing anything of the kind, I
might as well never have discovered him. All day long, with intervals
for meals and groomings, he would lie in his chair thinking, reading,
and speaking to no one but Ali. Such an unsocial customer had he proved
himself, together with a tendency to insult coarsely both captain and
officers, that they had practically sent him to Coventry--rather, it
would seem, to his satisfaction. He smoked incessantly, drank a good
deal of light wine, but never sufficient to be overcome by it; and at
times, leaving his chair, he would pace the deck for an hour or two,
pausing now and again to thoughtfully finger his upper lip, as I had on
many an occasion seen him do in camp when a moustache grew there. And
often, watching him, I noted several little familiar mannerisms that,
had I needed additional proof, would have been of value. But I was long
ago satisfied. Once or twice I fancied, when his eyes met mine, that I
detected something like speculation in their cold, shallow depths, as
of one struggling with some half-formed, elusive memory of feature that
perhaps, as I had thought before, the similar name and avocation of his
victim had called into existence. In vain I racked my brains for some
feasible project that should bring us face to face and alone, with no
one to interfere when the row began. I could think of nothing. And then
Providence took a hand in the game.

In making this remark it must be understood that I mean nothing
irreverent. I am getting an old man now, and doubtless some of the
loose sailor speech of earlier days still hangs about me--at least, so
the friends and relations who found me out when my luck turned are
always telling me; but so far as His name is concerned I have in my
wildest talk been more careful than most seamen.

In about twenty degrees south, then, one day it came on to blow heavily
from the southwest, with a sea gradually getting up of a size one might
expect perhaps off the Cape or across the Southern Ocean, but hardly in
the Trades, or what ought to have been the Trades. Presently, with an
ever-falling glass, the wind hauled astern, and, under a couple of
lower topsails and a foresail, her captain ran the Ulundi before it
when she ought to have been hove to. But he had left that too late, and
was now frightened to attempt it. So, with two men at the wheel,
bareheaded, the sweat raining off them, and every muscle strained to
the thrusting spokes, the barque raged along, nosing wildly a couple
and three points to each side of her course, and kept at that only by
dint of downright hard bullocking.

Early in the afternoon the gale increased almost to a hurricane, and it
became evident that the foresail would have to come off, keeping her
bows down as it was, and doing far more harm than good. It was a big
sail, and for a long time all hands fought at it without avail. Even
the cook and the steward had volunteered and were on the yard. One
minute, watching from the weather helm where I stood, it would appear
to be conquered; then, all of a sudden, the great breadths of hard, wet
canvas would thunder out from under the men's grasping fmgers and shake
the barque in every timber of her. Nor did we dare to luff and touch
her up, and thus spill the sail, or keep away, as one might do in a
decent-steering ship. Give the Ulundi a point, and one never knew when
she'd stop; and with such a sea as rolled its mountainous crests astern
of us, all our efforts went to keep her stern to it.

Close to the wheel, anxiously glancing now at the compass, now at the
great spar dotted thick with clawing, straining bodies, stood the
captain and the mate. The second mate was already aloft. Of Sinclair
nothing was to be seen; but, poking above the half-closed hood of the
companion, I caught a glimpse of Ali's face quite green with fear. And
still the foresail flapped and thundered, whilst the Ulundi shot up one
big comber and rushed down another all a-smother with foam and water up
to the coamings of her hatches, and lying over so heavily at times as
to dip her port foreyardarm.

'They want more beef up there!' shouted the captain suddenly.
'Quartermaster, you and Hendricks had better run along and give 'em a
hand, or that cursed sail'll never come in;' and so saying, he stepped
to the weather side of the wheel, whilst the mate gripped the lee
spokes.

Hendricks--an ordinary seaman picked up at Capetown, and my lee
helmsman--ran for'ard, very glad to get away, for the sight of those
roaring walls of water towering over his head had been making him sick
with fear, and during the last hour his eyes had been constantly turned
over his shoulder.

If I could help doing so I never went aloft in oilskins; thus, as I
clawed along the weather deck, I paused for a minute in front of the
house that we quartermasters shared with the carpenter and the
sailmaker, to take off coat and overalls and throw them inside.
Hendricks was already in the fore-rigging. Suddenly I heard a terrible
cry, and, looking up through the blinding spray and foam that arched
over the ship from wind'ard, I saw a most shocking sight. Once more the
foresail had escaped and was thundering and bellying with cannon-like
explosions from a yard that tossed crazily to and fro, held only by the
lifts and braces. The great iron truss or crane securing it to the mast
had carried away; and even as I stared the big sail and its yard swung
round to the wind, lifts and braces snapped like threads under the
tremendous pressure, and the next moment the spar and its human freight
were blown away like an insect-covered twig into the seething cauldron
to leeward.

Probably the yard snapped the forestay; for, whilst I gazed, there was
a dreadful crashing of timber, as the foremast with all its spars and
yards fell fair over the forecastle-head in one great heap of ruin.
Instinctively turning aft, as I felt the ship stop almost dead, I saw a
huge black-green water-mountain hanging over the stern, and under its
shadow the captain and the mate, still at the wheel, with their faces
turned back and upwards as if fascinated. Then, just as the avalanche
descended, I bolted into the little house, closed the door, and
throwing myself into a lower bunk, clung to the stanchions with might
and main. Another second, and I heard the thunder of the great comber
aft, mingled with the crashing of more spars; then, with a burst, the
water was upon me, and I was choking and stifling under, it seemed,
tons of it. Thinking I must be overboard, I let go my grip, rose, and
grabbing something else, presently found my head clear, and that I was
hanging on to one of the iron girders forming the framework of the
house roof. The water had made a clean sweep right through it, in at
one end, out at the other; and as I drew myself up, panting and
exhausted, I saw that the Ulundi was a hulk. Main and mizzen masts had
snapped off just below top and topmast crosstrees respectively, and
gone clear of the hull. Big seas broke inboard amidships and for'ard,
for she had slewed round to the wind, and her after-part was
comparatively clear of water. Clinging as I was to the iron frame of
the roof, my situation was precarious, and, watching my chance, I
dropped down and crawled aft amongst an indescribable mess of gear and
ship's furniture, which, washing about fiercely, gave me no end of
trouble to get through. The poop ladders were gone, of course, but I
managed to clamber up there without them. To my surprise, I found the
skylight and companion intact; but wheel, binnacle, boats, and all else
were swept away, the davits of the latter being twisted like
corkscrews. The port mizzen rigging lay across the deck; but the
shrouds had gone in the eyes on each side of the mast-head and let all
the spars float clear off. The same thing, apparently, had happened at
the main, for the big barrel of it stood up naked to the splintered
summit, whilst its rigging swam in long black trails empty to leeward.
To my delight, I saw that the gale had blown itself out, for the
lowering sun was trying to peer through ragged drifts of wrack, and
eyes of blue dotted the sky here and there. The wreck, too, rode high;
and, though a big sea still ran, I fancied she was tight. For'ard there
was a tremendous raffle of spars and gear now washing along on each
bow, but I could hear no bumping.

So occupied had my mind been with the dreadful catastrophe and the
suddenness of it that I had completely forgotten all about Sinclair and
Ali. Indeed, I had taken it for granted that I was the sole survivor on
the Ulundi. But now I recollected that the others were probably below,
and that if they had stayed there they might still be alive. Finding
the hood of the companion jammed, I was forced to get on to the
quarterdeck before I could enter the saloon.

The ship had a heavy list, making me think some of her dead-weight
below had shifted. The light was dim as I stepped over the washboards,
up to my knees in water, and groped my way carefully along, holding on
to the table, and with all sorts of stuff washing against my legs in
response to the sharp, jerky motion of the hull.

Seeing that the decanters were still in the swinging tray, I took a
long drink out of the first one to hand. It proved to be brandy, and
did me good. Then I shouted aloud; but, save the creaking and
complaining of the barque's timbers that filled the whole place, I
could hear nothing. Suddenly, as she gave a heavy lurch, some soft
object washed up from leeward and was blocked against me by the
backward roll. Stooping, I caught hold of it, and up popped poor Ali's
black face--a nasty sight. But the spirit had put heart into me, and I
made shift to drag the body on to the table, the head, meanwhile,
lolling unnaturally, as if hung on hinges--a thing that made me sure the
neck was broken. Had his master met a similar fate? I wondered, as I
looked anxiously about me. But the dusk had come; and, for all I could
see, there might be another body washing about to leeward or stuck
amongst the furniture. So, making back to the pantry, I got a box of
matches, and after a lot of trouble lit the big lamp that hung from the
deck over the saloon table. Then, seeing nothing, I tried the door of
the berth I knew to be Sinclair's. But it would not open, feeling not
as if locked, but rather as if some heavy mass were against it. In the
pantry I had noticed a nearly new tomahawk used by the steward for
opening cases. Getting this, I attacked the upper panels of the door,
and soon had a hole big enough to put my head in. It was too dark,
however, to make out anything. But imagining I heard a groan, I went to
work again, and after a while had a space chopped down right to the
obstruction, that I now felt to be a great, heavy chest, which,
fetching 'way, had effectually blocked the door from the inside. By the
light of the saloon lamp I could see, as I stepped through the breach
on to the box, a spacious, well-furnished cabin, with, right in front
of me, an empty swinging-cot; a handsome wardrobe stood along one side,
its doors wide open, displaying much clothing that shaped out
fantastically to the list of the ship. As I stared around, a groan,
apparently under my feet, made me jump. It was dark just there, and
striking one of my long wax-vestas and looking down, I beheld a ghastly
face glaring full at me out of senseless eyes whose whites, showing
horribly, sent my memory flashing away to the fixed regard of the crows
on the windlass barrel at Wild Horse Creek, what time they gloated over
me in anticipation. The body lay on its back, with both legs jammed
between the big chest and the door. The head, I saw, as I gazed till
the match burned my fingers, was covered with a crop of vivid red hair
cut close to the skull, whilst along the upper lip grew a curve of
white bristles--testimony to the lack of Ali's razor. All the colour had
gone from the face, leaving it pallid and shrunken, and for a minute I
thought the man was dead. But as I struck another match and lit the
cabin lamp he groaned and beat his one free hand on the floor; the
other hand and arm seemed doubled up beneath him. There, then, at last,
was my enemy, brought to book through no effort of mine, and apparently
in a very sorry plight. And, strange to say, as I stood there and
looked down at him, crippled, helpless, almost dead, all that desire of
vengeance nursed so carefully through the years vanished, leaving in
its stead merely a weak sensation of pity. This struck me as curious
and disappointing. But without pausing to analyse my emotions, I threw
all my strength into the endeavour to pull the chest away from the
sufferer's legs. I might as well have tried to move the ship. In vain I
tugged and pulled; the thing never budged an inch. Resting after one of
these attempts, I was startled by a voice saving, 'You'll never do it,
Frank, without a lever.'

Looking round, I saw that life had come into Ormon's eyes and a little
colour into his face; saw also that he knew me for his old mate.

'Both my legs are broken, I think,' he went on presently. 'I was trying
to get out when I heard the row on deck, and that cursed box broke its
lashings and pinned me here. Where's Ali? And what's happened?'

As I lifted his head and gave him to drink of brandy and water, I
answered him briefly, and then made my way on deck for something to
help me to move the chest. Both wind and sea, I found, had gone down a
lot. The night was clear, with stars; and as I threw a swift glance
round the horizon, my eye caught the loom of a dark mass on the port
quarter that looked uncommonly like land. But I was in a hurry; and
luckily coming across one of the long handspikes that used to stand in
a rack around the mizzenmast, I returned, and by aid of it and
strenuous effort, at last prised the box away sufficiently to allow of
my drawing Ormon from between it and the door, shocked to perceive as I
did so that not only were splintered bones projecting through the skin
just above one knee, but that the other leg also seemed terribly
injured. He fainted as I pulled the mattress out of the cot and got him
on it the best way I could. Some more brandy revived him; but he was
evidently suffering intense agony. Still, he insisted on my telling him
how I had escaped from the shaft. And then, in words broken by gasps of
pain, he said:

'I've had nothin' but good luck since. Don't think I'm sorry, because I
ain't. It was my chance, and I took it. I'd do the same again to-morrow
if it had to be done. Didn't I tell you I'd make better use o' the
money than you could? I'm worth twenty thousand pounds to-day. Hard
lines, though--ain't it?--gettin' jammed by that infernal chest. It's
only quartz specimens from different claims I'm interested in, and that
I was taking home to float a few companies with. I told the fools to
stow it in the hold, and they put it here instead. I knowed you some
time ago; at least I had a good notion it was you, and of late was
almost certain of it. Cursed if I don't think I'm goin' to croak this
trip! I can feel cold creepin' up me inside. Put your hand under my
shirt and take out what you find there.'

Obeying him, I drew forth a small bag of wash-leather fastened to a
gold chain he wore around his neck. It seemed to the touch full of
different-sized pebbles.

'There's between ten and twelve thousand pounds' worth o' diamonds
there,' he said faintly. 'Take 'em; they're yours. And they're honestly
come by. Now open that desk and you'll find pen and ink and paper.
Write that I, William Sinclair, of Johannesburg and Kimberley, leave
you, Frank Davies, all shares, stock, and mining scrip, &c., that I'm
possessed of. You might as well have it as any one else. Now let me try
and sign it.' And by a great effort he guided the pen along the letters
of his name, and then fell back in another faint.

The motion of the vessel was now much easier, owing not only to the sea
having gone down, but because most of the forward wreckage had cleared
itself, and thus allowed the bows to rise and fall freely. But still
she rolled heavily enough to send the water and debris splashing up
from leeward almost into the berth; and from where I sat wiping the
cold sweat off the dying man's forehead I could see through the hacked
and battered door dead Ali moving restlessly on the table under the
lamplight.

Suddenly Ormon opened his eyes and ceased his stertorous breathing.
Looking fixedly at me, he grinned and said slowly, 'Well, after all,
I'm glad you got out o' that hole. Such a chump as you was, to be sure!
And what wouldn't you do to me when you caught me, eh? And now you've
got me proper--and I've made you! You'll be all right,' he continued
faintly, as a tremor convulsed his limbs; 'I can hear 'em comin' now.'
Raising his hand to his head, he felt the coarse bristly hair with a
petulant frown on his face; and I turned to get the black wig I had
noticed in an open case. But when I looked again the eyes were fixed
and staring, the jaw fallen, the end arrived.

Even as I covered his face I heard the sound of voices hailing, and,
going on deck, found that the dawn had broken, and that close alongside
lay a small steamer; whilst not two miles away was a thickly-wooded
island, with high up its sides a cluster of white houses.

This turned out to be Fernando Noronha, the penal settlement of Brazil;
and the steamer was the one that brought the convicts and soldiers
their monthly supplies from the mainland.

The Santa Anna towed the Ulundi into Pernambuco, whence, taking passage
to London, I soon discovered that Ormon's estimate as to the value of
the diamonds was, if anything, under the mark. Realising on them, I
proceeded to the Cape, and there also found that Mr William Sinclair's
name was well known as a lucky mining speculator on the Rand, where,
although not a popular man, he was looked upon as a fair and capable
one. And his investments were all genuine, solid, and realisable. Thus,
after all, it will be seen that my mate atoned fully enough, after a
fashion, for the theft of my luck and my gold, and without any
necessity on my part for application of the lex talionis, as laid down
by my good friend Shahbaz Khan--may his shadow never grow less!


* * *



The Looting of the Ly-chee.


'Mastah, mastah, you no lemember me?'

'No,' I replied, peering out of my bunk at the yellow, slant-eyed face
that looked down at me and then to the door as if fearful of something
behind.

'No lemember Cabbagee Jimmy, eh? Long time ago, Austlalia.
Mellyong--station--dlought--eh. Now lemember, eh?'

And while the man spoke there came to mind memories of a far-away land,
of torrid heat, of dead and dying sheep and cattle, of all the horror
of an Australian drought, with amongst them one grateful recollection
of a patch of verdure, sole thing, almost, that made life endurable at
desiccated, God-forsaken, hateful Merryong. Why, of course, I remember
'Cabbagee' now, and how patiently during all those long rainless months
he strove to keep the station in 'green stuff,' carrying water to the
ash-heap called garden, morning, noon, and night, in his struggle
against nature in that drear western wilderness.

And now, as I sat in my pyjamas on the edge of my bunk and looked at
the bullet-headed ugly beggar, I felt quite pleased at the unexpected
meeting, little thinking that it would turn out so badly for poor
Jimmy. I suppose my face showed my thoughts, for he grinned, exhibiting
all his discoloured fangs of teeth as he said 'All-li! Me cook's mate.
S'pose steward catch me here he givee me hell! No gammon! Me see you
come on board. You look out! Bad lot sailah fellah. All Amoy men. You
no tell I say,' and, drawing a long finger suggestively across his
throat, Jimmy disappeared.

Talk about the world being wide! Why, it was about ten years ago since,
giving up squatting in disgust, I had gone back to my old profession,
medicine, and practised mostly ever since in Sydney and Melbourne. Now,
taking my first holiday in the East, I must needs stumble across
'Cabbagee Jimmy,' transformed into cook's mate of the Ly-chee, a
coasting steamer in which I was making a trip from Singapore to Swatow.
And as I sat there, through my mind ran thoughts of these long-gone
dreary days of hopeless struggle with drought and disaster on ever-dry
back-creeks; of the sultry stifling weather with never a break for
months whilst ruin was spelling itself slowly out, and the stink of
rotting carcasses mingled with that of the gidyea. Merryong, yes, I
'lemembered' all right now! But what did Jimmy mean by his warning? It
might be serious, and perhaps I had better tell the skipper at once.
So, getting on deck, I ascended to the bridge. It was a beautiful
morning, and the Ly-chee was punching along with the coast well in
sight on the port hand, and a whole crowd of Chinese trying to put some
kind of order into the cargo which lumbered the craft fore and aft.

I was the only white passenger; but occupying a large deck cabin next
to me were three Chinese gentlemen who I had heard were going to
start business in Swatow as bankers. And, to judge from the pile of
iron-bound boxes that filled a spare berth, they seemed to have brought
lots of stock in the shape of dollars with them. They were quiet folk,
well-mannered after their fashion, courteous and polite, but unable to
speak a word of English, even the vile 'pidgin' universally in vogue,
therefore our intercourse was limited.

Nothing was farther from my mind than to pose as an alarmist. Moreover,
I had my doubts as to how the skipper, who was inclined to be bumptious
and to fancy that he and his little iron tank owned the ocean, would
take any warning from a stranger and a new chum. Also, I knew that
times were quiet, gunboats plentiful, and pirates fast becoming an
anomaly. Still, the ex-gardener of Merryong's words, few and slight
as they were, had carried conviction with them. I had seen, too, that
Jimmy was badly frightened. Therefore, considering all this, I felt it
my duty to tell the captain our conversation word for word. He received
it very much as I expected he would, perhaps rather more so.

'Pooh,' said he with a supercilious laugh, 'the fellow was only taking
a rise out of you. Of course, some years back, we all had to go
armed and keep a bright lookout. But now--why, I don't think there's
a pistol amongst us! It's only raw passengers that get scared. My
crowd's all right. They were especially recommended by Liuchang, the
company's compradore. Nor, in any case, would they be game to play any
hanky-panky on me; I'm too well known. The other passengers, yonder,
have got about thirty thousand taels on board, and you bet they
wouldn't have shipped with me if they'd had any doubts. 'Bliged to you,
mister, all the same. But don't be alarmed, nor raise a scare amongst
the others if you can help it. You'll see Swatow, and the Ly-chee too,
safe enough.' Which, after results considered, has always struck me as
a good example of one of those random remarks that, after the event,
one thinks a most perverse and unkind fate must have put into the
speaker's mouth.

Besides the captain and myself, the only other Europeans on the Ly-chee
were the two mates and the chief engineer, the second being a Malay of
peculiarly villainous aspect.

Of course, my story being thus made light of by the captain, I could
not very well, even if I had wished to do so, have gone with it to
his subordinates--all the more so as their personalities were in no
way inviting; the two deck officers being merely Straits Settlement
beach-combers, hunted by the police into so much activity as would
earn them a few dollars for a spree before the next bout of loafing.
This much a friend in Singapore had told me; adding, however, for my
comfort, that they would serve as well as the best for a short passage.
The engineer was of a different stamp--a big Aberdonian, and a decent
man enough; but one who I felt would be little inclined to trouble
himself with anything out of his own beaten routine.

I, however, determined to have another talk with Jimmy, and see whether
I couldn't get something a little more definite from him. But he fought
very shy of me; and it was late that night before I succeeded in
cornering him alone in the bit of a sentry-box they called the pantry.

'Now, Jimmy,' I said without preamble, 'let's hear all about this
business. You know!' and I took up a knife that lay handy and put it to
my throat. 'Come on; fire away. I'll see that nobody does you any harm.
What are your Amoy friends up to--a bit of piracy, eh?'

'No savee; no savee,' replied Jimmy, turning actually green with fear,
whilst showing the whites of his eyes in a horrible manner as he stared
over my shoulder. 'What you wantee? Me cook's mate. No savee,' he
continued as, turning, I found myself face to face with the steward, a
tall Chinaman with a long, broad, red scar running down the side of his
left cheek from ear to chin, giving him a very truculent look.

'Me steward, sah,' said he, darting a most malignant glance at Jimmy.
'Sheef steward. You wantee watah; me blingee you. Sodah-wattah,
blandee, leemon quash, whissakkee; all bling s'pose you wantee.'

Just at this moment up came the second engineer with a badly-torn
finger; and, realising that I had somehow got Jimmy into trouble with
my evidently-overheard question, I took the evil-faced Malay into
my berth and dressed the wound. 'Are there many Amoy men on board the
Ly-chee?' I asked presently.

'None at all, that I know of,' he replied. 'Why do you wish to find
out?'

'Curiosity only,' I said carelessly; 'I'm studying the different types
of Chinese. That's all.' He grinned and said: 'Well, you'll probably
have a good chance if you're going in for that sort of thing. Can't say
I'm fond of them myself. I'm Batavia-born, and that's a cut above a
Chinaman, isn't it?'

'Very much so indeed,' I replied politely, although the man was uglier
even than poor Cabbagee Jimmy. 'Then you can't give me any information
about the men we have with us now?'

'None,' said he; 'and perhaps it would be as well,' he added, with a
nasty look in his snakelike eyes, 'if you were not too inquisitive.
There's a hint worth all you've done for my finger,' and off he went to
his engine-room again, leaving me with a firmer opinion than ever that
there was mischief brewing on board.

That same night, sitting on the deck enjoying the cool breeze blowing
off the land, I was startled by seeing what appeared to be a big fire
right ahead, which burnt for a minute or two and then went out.

'It's a junk showing a flare,' I heard the second mate say to the
captain on the bridge immediately above me.

'Blast 'em,' growled the skipper; 'the brutes are always getting in the
road! I've run a few down in my time, an 'll serve this fellow the same
if he doesn't clear out,' and seizing the siren-wire, he loosed a blast
that made me start.

It was dark, but away in the east astern a lightening of the sky showed
where the moon would soon rise. 'Port your helm!' shouted the skipper
presently to the Chinese quartermaster.

'Portee!' replied the man from where he stood at the wheel, right aft;
for the Ly-chee was an old-fashioned tank, built before the days of
'midship' steerage.

All at once, looking up, I saw that the bridge was crowded with men,
their dark forms outlined against the sky. There was a scuffle; the
report of a pistol; then another; then the sound of bodies crashing on
to the cargo fifteen feet below.

As I jumped to my feet the Ly-chee slowed, and I heard a shot in the
engine-room. Before I could decide on anything, there was a rush
of men against me, and I was forced back in my chair, and tied so
thoroughly, hand and foot, that I lay like a log. Then the steamer
stopped altogether, and lay gently heaving to the swell. I called to
the captain, but there was no reply. Also, I saw the bridge was empty.
Astern, the moon had risen like a globe of palest, purest silver. A
little way from me the Chinese passengers were screaming. I had never
heard men scream before, and it made me shiver. It was exactly the
long-drawn screaming of a pig when he first feels the knife. And, as
yet, nobody had touched them. But the crew, headed by the Malay and
the steward, were breaking out the boxes of dollars and piling them on
deck. Upon these their owners now flung themselves, heedless of the
kicks and knocks which presently left two of them senseless alongside
their treasure.

Meanwhile, the steward, as I shouted again for the captain, came to
me, and remarking blandly, 'You makee too muchee low,' he coolly bent
my head back over the chair, and already had the edge of his long,
sharp knife against the skin of my throat when the Malay, noticing him,
crossed over and pulled him away from me, saying something to which the
other assented, but with evident reluctance.

'He wants to study,' said the brute with a grin, 'wants to pry into the
formation of your trachea and jugular (he had, I was told afterwards,
been a pet pupil of the Raffles Institute in Singapore), but there's
lots of time. And you'd better keep your tongue between your teeth.'

The decks aft were now nearly as light as day; and as the steward
walked towards the group busy about the boxes, I saw the one Chinese
passenger who was still conscious, though badly bruised was bleeding
from several wounds, rush forward and clasp him round the legs with
both arms. As he squatted there, quite silent at last, and with a
laughable look of pleading misery on his upturned features, the
steward, after gazing at him for a moment, suddenly forced his head
back and plunged the knife into his throat. Rolling over and over
in his death agony, the unfortunate wretch brought up against my
chair, where he lay with a horrible gurgling and bubbling that made
my very heart sick to listen to. The other two, his companions, still
lay senseless. As I gazed, fascinated, at the horrid spectacle at
my feet, with a great creaking of mat-sails and bamboo spars a junk
drew alongside and made fast to the Ly-chee. Evidently this was the
one whose signal-light we had seen. Hurried greetings seemed to be
exchanged, and all hands began to transfer the silver on board the
new-comer to the sound of a grunting hi-ya song. The thing beside me
had ceased gurgling and gasping, and the moonlight fell on a corpse
lying in a thick, black pool that slowly spread about my feet. Although
unable to stir, I could view all that passed, and looked anxiously for
'Cabbagee,' but he was nowhere to be seen.

The Malay engineer and the long steward were undoubtedly the leaders in
this bloody tragedy; and a feeling akin to despair took hold on me when
I reflected that, from what I had seen of their tender mercies,
probably my own time was near at hand. And, but for the mulish
obstinacy of the captain, all might have been prevented! I had no less
than three Colt's revolvers with ammunition in my cabin trunk, two of
them presents from friends in Singapore to others in Swatow. What might
we not have done by a timely display! And now; oh, the pity of it! I
wondered whether they intended to kill me where I sat. I wondered, too,
I remember, whether it would be of any use telling them that as a
doctor I could make myself useful to them if they would spare my life.
Not very heroic this, perhaps; but then, again, there's nothing heroic
either in having your throat cut like a ration sheep's. I was prepared
to go great lengths in the way of eating humble-pie to avoid any such a
fate at such hands. Having finished transshipping the silver, together
with some of the casks and cases off the maindeck, the pirates, rather
to my surprise, dragged along the two as yet unconscious passengers,
and threw them heavily on to the junk. Then at last, from somewhere or
other, suddenly appeared Jimmy. Fumbling about, apparently to see that
my bonds were secure, I heard a zip as one of the strained coil strands
flew asunder to the touch of a keen knife. Then came an imperative
call, and he fled swiftly into the shadow's cast by the junk's great
sails just as the steward and the Malay walked up to me. The moon was
under a cloud; but they carried a lantern, by whose light they viewed
me all over, soon discovering the knife and the cut rope. I saw the
steward examine the knife closely whilst the Malay knotted me up
afresh, and more tightly than ever. Then the steward, taking a thick
silk kerchief from around my throat, proceeded to effectually gag me.
And, seeing that I was not to be done to instant death, I said never a
word.

'Good-night, doctor,' remarked the Malay. 'Personally I don't wish
you any harm; but you've seen too much. According to my calculations,
the Ly-chee will blow up in about a couple of hours. And, anyhow,
you'll make a better ending than if Kwa Fung here had his way with you.
Good-bye,' and the pair turned and went. A few minutes later I saw the
dark sails of the junk swaying to the wind like the wings of some great
night-bird, as she glided past the Ly-chee's stern, leaving me alone
and helpless with the dead. Save for the ripple of the little waves
against the bows, and the grind of chains as the sea twisted rudder and
wheel alternately to port and starboard, the ship was silent. In vain I
strained my gaze down on to the maindeck, where, amongst the dark
hollows and crannies of the cargo, I knew the captain and second mate
must be lying, dead or desperately wounded. I could see nothing. For a
while I sat there, swathed in ropes, helpless as any mummy, staring
over the moonlit sea. Then all at once, as I caught sight of a dark
speck far astern, knowing it for the junk, I remembered the Malay's
last words, and my thoughts fled to the engine-room; and in fancy I saw
the big Scotsman lying there dead, and the fires roaring fiercely under
the newly-filled boilers, fast generating steam for whose force there
was no outlet but a general burst-up. About another hour and the
explosion would take place! And, whilst the cold sweat burst from every
pore, I strained and heaved at my bonds until they cut deep into my
flesh and I was near choking. Alas! they never slackened an inch. Even
the chair was immovable--lashed to the vessel's rail. Before leaving,
the pirates had run up the trysail and jib; and these filling all the
starboard tack, the steamer was drifting rapidly away seaward from that
low, dark line under the moon that I knew must be the coast between
Hong-kong and Swatow.

How long had the junk been gone, I wondered. Was my time nearly up for
saying good-bye to this world? I must try and pray. But, do what I
might, I could not keep my attention fixed. All my soul seemed in my
ears; and to the sound of a louder creak amongst the cargo, or a
shriller note of the wind in the rigging, my nerves leapt and thrilled
expectant of the last dread moment. Truly the sorrows of death
compassed me, and the pains of hell came about me, and yet I could not,
as I felt I ought to do, make my peace with this world and prepare my
soul for the next one. From where I sat, the glass skylight of the
engine-room was all aglitter in the pale sheen, and on this my eyes
became fixed with a dreadful intensity, until at last the gleam of the
glass seemed to burn them like an incandescent fire. The breeze was
cold, but my clothes were wet through with sweat, and I could see it
dripping from my finger-tips like water on to the deck. Brave men are
said to have waited for death with indifference, fearing nothing. But I
think that, in most cases, they had company. And, believe me, it is a
very terrible thing to sit bound, helpless, dumb, alone, expecting
eternity with each passing moment, and with the agony of a great fear
in full possession of both soul and body. I think that if I could have
cried aloud, have cursed, or wept, or prayed with an audible voice the
strain had lightened. But the gag, although soft and not hurting much,
allowed me only the making of inarticulate groans, as I panted for
breath and stared with eyes that felt like hot coals, ever fixed
fascinated on the moonlit glass of the engine-room. Presently I somehow
fell to thinking of a favourite collie-dog I had once owned at
Merryong, who, every time he wished to attract my attention, used to
beat my legs with his long tail. I fancied that he was doing it now.
With an absolutely physical wrench I tore my hot eyes away from the
skylight and looked down.

The breeze had freshened considerably, making the Ly-chee tumble about
a bit. And with the increased motion the dead Chinaman was rolling
slowly to and fro, and bumping his head against my bound ankles. And
the shock of meeting those upturned, staring eyes, and the terrible
face with its lips curled, grinning back from the stained teeth, and
the great gash in the throat opening and closing in ghastly protesting
fashion, saved me, I verily believe, by the consideration of a fresh
horror, from becoming a raving lunatic.

I do not know what period of time went by while, the awful anguish of
expectancy broken, I dreamily and with senses in some sort numbed,
stared back at the staring dead man. But I remember wishing I could
speak to him, and ask him to lie quietly and leave me alone, wishing
too that I could move my feet out of his way and out of the black pool
that was gathering around and over the toes of my canvas shoes and
spoiling them. But, all at once, there fell on my ears a sound that
made me raise my head, and sent a wave of life and hope pulsing through
every artery in my body in response to the regular thump, thump of a
steamer's screw. Twisting my head round, I saw both her lights coming
right down upon the Ly-chee, and distant a bare mile. As she approached
I could distinctly make her out to be a long, low, double-funnelled
boat going through the water at a great rate. Suddenly I lost the green
light. She was keeping away! Then the red one disappeared. She was
passing. Thump! thump! thump! hammers beating on my heart; and the
stream of sparks from her funnels flying into my brain. Impotently, as
I realised the full misery of the thing, I groaned and panted forth
hoarse noise, audible, perhaps, a yard away. Impotently I writhed and
struggled till the taughtened ropes reached the bone on legs and
wrists. But ever fainter and fainter came the thump of the screw. And
as despair, utter and complete, settled once more into my soul, my head
fell on my breast, and once more I entered the dark valley of the
shadow, from which I had emerged only to partake of the bitterness of a
new death.

Sitting there, scarcely conscious, and with my eyes shut, I suddenly
felt that some strong, strange light was beating on their lids. Looking
up, I saw that the whole ship and the sea round about it were enveloped
in a bright white glare that seemed to dart into and rest on every part
of the Ly-chee. In my first surprise I imagined that this perhaps was
but a blaze preparatory to the explosion I had been so long expecting,
a notion as instantly dismissed, as I heard, almost alongside now, the
loud thumping of a screw, and saw the steamer, not two hundred yards
away, playing on the Ly-chee with her searchlight. Then, as if
thoroughly to bear into me the blessed truth, a voice hailed, 'Steamer
ahoy!' But I could give them no signal. And during a few minutes of
such agonised suspense as I know I shall never be permitted to pass
through again--God being too merciful for that--I heard the sweetest
music the world then held for me, the swift cheep through their blocks
of a boat's davitfalls. Then it seemed but a second or two until
hearty, wholesome English faces were looking into mine, and ready hands
cutting away at my bonds and removing the gag, whilst there came to my
ears, as if from a very far distance across the sea, expressions of
wonder, execration, and pity. They told me afterwards that before I
swooned, as I did directly they assisted me to my feet, I muttered the
one word, 'Boilers!'

When I came to myself again it was sunrise, and I was lying on a
mattress spread on the after skylight of H.M. gunboat Psyche, my wrists
and ankles swathed in bandages, and the taste of strong brandy in my
mouth.

'The infernal villains!' exclaimed the captain, as to him and his
officers I told my story, brokenly, and with long pauses, for I was
weak and feverish. 'But, if we have any luck, we may punish them yet;
the wind's been against them all night. Where'll they be, Mr
Courtenay?'

'Off Tin-ko Point, sir,' replied the first lieutenant, 'by my
reckoning.'

'Exactly the place I had in my mind,' said the captain. 'We can fix
them up yet, I do hope and believe. Now,' he went on, addressing me,
'don't exert yourself. The doctor, here, says you'll be all right in a
day or two. There's the Ly-chee just astern of us. Her captain and one
of his mates we found dead, stabbed and shot, thrown off the bridge, as
you told us, amongst the deck cargo. Another white man lay in his bunk
with his head smashed to pieces. The engineer was lying across one of
his cylinders, shot through the heart. As for the boilers, well, my
chief tells me that as they were worn to the thinness of brown paper,
and liable to go at any minute, it was simply a miracle how they stood
the extra pressure, and with the valves wired down into the bargain. We
buried all the dead at daylight. And I hope,' continued he--looking very
grim as he gave the order 'Full speed ahead!'--'that we'll be able to do
more burying, but of another sort, before night.'

By breakfast time it fell dead calm, and our hopes rose as, keeping so
close inshore that we at times could almost have thrown a biscuit on
the rocks, we flew along the coast, leaving the Ly-chee with her
salvage crew to come on at her leisure.

The Psyche was one of the new torpedo gunboats, with engines of
nearly 5000 horse-power, drawing only ten feet of water, armed with
quick-firing guns and five-barrelled Nordenfelts. And as I looked
ahead and saw the mounds of white water rising from her bow, and felt
the decks quivering underneath me, and knew she must be doing a good
eighteen knots, there filled my soul, for the first time, a savage
longing for vengeance on the bloody and murderous authors of all my
sufferings throughout that past but never-to-be-forgotten night.

Late that afternoon a large junk with all her sweeps out was sighted
just winding a thickly-timbered cape which they told me was Tin-ko.

If, indeed, this was the craft we were after, then our luck was
undoubtedly in. But, of course, I could not recognise her again. All
hesitation, however, on that point was soon set at rest, for, when we
rounded Tin-ko, we found the chase had anchored, and that a big boat
full of men was hurriedly pulling for the shore. Getting his glass to
bear, the captain sang out to me, 'Is there a half-caste or Malay
amongst the crowd?'

'Yes,' I replied, 'he was the assistant-engineer.'

'And a Chinaman with a scar like a broad burn across his face?'

'The steward,' I said, 'and, with the other, the ringleaders of the
whole affair. Can you see the two prisoners?'

'No,' said the captain. 'But they may be in the bottom of the boat.
Ready with the port Nordenfelt, for'ard there, and fire when you're
loaded. I think they're in range.' Rising on my elbow as the gun
crashed, I saw the bullets splashing white water all around the boat,
between which and ourselves every moment decreased the distance, at the
tremendous rate we were going, shoaling our depth, too, as I could hear
every minute by the cries of 'And a half-eight!--quarter-less-seven--six
fathoms!' that reached me from the chains.

All at once I saw the captain touch the telegraph and motion to the
helmsman. The Psyche slowed, then came round on her heel, broadside on
almost to the boat, which, by now, was close in to the rocks. Crash!
crash! crash! pealed the whole port battery; and when the smoke cleared
away only a couple of black heads were visible, bobbing up and down
amongst the wreck of the boat, smashed literally into matchwood, while
from the leadsman came a short, quick cry of 'By the mark, twain!' It
was a splendid piece of work, and we had just two feet to spare between
our bottom and the rocks of Cape Tin-ko.

'Only just in the nick of time,' said the captain, walking along from
his bridge to where I lay. 'Now, doctor, I think you can cry quits. As
for the silver, probably that's gone, although there may be just a
chance that when they saw our smoke they left it on board the junk.
We'll see, presently, when the boat returns. Yes, of course, I'm sorry
for your man and the two passengers. But we couldn't stop to
discriminate, you know. Another three minutes and they would have been
in the bush yonder. Let us hope that fortune has been kind, and that
"Jimmy" at least may be one of the survivors.'

But, strangely enough, the pair turned out to be the Malay and the
steward, and both so badly wounded that they only lived a very short
time after being put on board the Psyche.

Meanwhile, the gunboat had steamed alongside the junk, only to find
her, with the exception of a few odds and ends of the stolen cargo,
quite empty. Already, the cutter was under the davitfalls, and being
hooked on, when a shout of surprise from the men in her caused me to
follow their pointing fingers towards the bows of the junk, where,
apparently just come to the surface, floated a dead body.

'By Jove, sir,' suddenly exclaimed the first lieutenant to the captain,
'both her anchors are on deck. What can she be riding to? There's
something curious about that.'

'Get on board,' ordered the captain to the young sub. in charge of the
boat, 'and haul up her cable. Pick that body up as you go, and bring it
back with you.'

After some trouble, the men hove up the stout coir hawser, at the end
of which they found securely lashed not only the boxes of dollars but
two more bodies--those of poor Cabbagee Jimmy and one of the Chinese
passengers. Of the latter also was the corpse that had slipped its
moorings and risen to tell us, it almost seemed, what had become of the
money. On none of the bodies was any mark of mortal wound; and, without
a doubt, the three unfortunates had been bound alive to the rope and
thrown overboard, thus not only making more room in the boat, but
enabling the steward to punish Jimmy for his attempts to befriend me.

Some years have gone by since I found myself the sole survivor of the
looting of the Ly-chee. But, even now, at long intervals, I wake from
my sleep o' nights with a start and a shudder, as, in my dreams, bloody
memories flit across my brain. Nor, somehow, can I ever bring myself to
sit in a lounge chair, or tolerate the sight of white canvas shoes. I
have heard people, noting these peculiarities, remark that I am
affected. Perhaps you, who know, may agree with me that there is some
little reason for such affectation.


*



MY KAFFIR

CHAPTER I.

An ideal night in the Indian Ocean, with the stars looking as big as
saucers, throbbing away up there in the blue from one horizon to the
other; and the sea, a wondrous mass of iridescence through which the
sharp fore-foot of the Cape Liner shears, sometimes with a noise like
the tinkling of numberless little glass bells, at others with a hoarse
rush that casts great blobs and flakes of living light into the air, to
fall again in radiant showers of opalescent beauty into the creaming
mass that glows and seethes under the bows.

The wind was right aft, and the fore-staysail, hauled down, made a
comfortable nest on the fok'sle-head. In the folds of this I lay back
and smoked, gazing now on the wonderful spectacle outboard, now up at
the big lamp that hung from the fore-topmast-stay, looking mean and
yellow, by contrast, under the pure starlight, and wondered mightily
the while whether I should ever find my Kaffir.

In vain I had attempted to raise a loan upon him in Melbourne, where,
after a series of mischances, I had, one winter, found myself
remarkably hard up.

What people I knew--very few--who had any money laughed cheerfully
at my proffered security, and refused to invest. Even those who had
no money--the great majority--laughed also. With one exception; he
was a newspaper-man--at least he wasn't permanently on any staff--but
was what is vaguely known as a 'literary contributor.' And he paid
my passage in that White Star boat and gave me a few shillings over,
leaving himself and his wife and family pretty well cleaned out until
pay-night.

But Osborne had the spice of romance, accentuated in his case by
dabbling in psychomancy, odic forces, and such stuff. Also, just then,
he had constant employment, along the wharves, lumping cargo at one
shilling per hour, and sixpence overtime. And he was, into the bargain,
expecting a boom in the literary-contributor business. Evidently that
was the only thing that made him uneasy at leaving Australia. He was
afraid the boom might commence during his absence, and when he would be
unable to take advantage of it.

'Anyhow, there's "copy" in the business, old man, if there's nothing
else,' said he, as he ran over from the 'Loch Lee,' alongside which
famous clipper he was slinging bales of wool, to say good-bye. 'Still,
if I were you, in spite of the odic premonitions you have told me so
much about, I wouldn't be too sanguine with regard to dropping across
that nigger. Five years, you know, is a good time to have neglected
him. Still, I have hopes. So long! And good luck!' Yes, it was almost
five years to the day since, weary and disheartened by a run of bad
fortune, I had come in with a prospecting party from Bechuanaland,
and, perforce, taken a job with a Dutch farmer not far from where
Johannesburg was, even then, growing into a city on the Rand of White
Water.

My boss wasn't a bad sort of fellow--for a Boer. But if I had not
been able to speak a little Dutch, I should never have stood a show
of getting work from him. After a few months, it happened that he and
some others made a long trek down to the Bay (Port Elizabeth). I went,
too, and was glad of the chance, for I was getting tired of life on
the grass veldt; tired of scabby mutton and square gin, and of having
nobody to talk to but 'Aunts' and 'Uncles,' and big-headed young Dutch
bucks full of gas and blow at the expense of 'Britishers.'

Camping one night on the Vaal River, a Kaffir, old and evidently very
ill, came up and begged for something to eat.

But the Boers only swore at him for a black schepsel; and one of them
gave the poor wretch a cut over the legs with his bullock-whip that
made him jump again. Then he went away and lay down under a great,
shady, broad-leaved tree some three hundred yards from our camp. After
supper I carried him a quart of tea and something to eat.

But he was too far gone to do anything but sip the warm sweet stuff;
eat he could not. He, however, was very grateful.

'You are a good man, Bass,' said he. 'Not like those Dutch aasvoyels
(vultures) over yonder. I am a Swazi, and thought to die in my own
land, and lo, I die where I lie. But before I go I will make you rich.
Never mouthfuls of drink shall be paid for like these. Listen, my son!
Two moons ago I worked in the Company's Kraal, and dug for the white
stones that shine in the dark when the white man polishes them, and are
worth many cattle and many guns.

It came to pass that on a day I found four--four, mark you--all at
once. Two were big as the biggest mealie-ears, and two were bigger
again. Close beside each other they lay in the nest that they were born
in at the making of the world, and there, my son, I found them, even I,
old Goza, whom the Pale Man (death) hath gripped. And as I picked them
up, so, one after the other, I swallowed them. And now they light up,
may be, the darkness of my belly. But they are sharp and cold, I feel
them even now!' And a grin passed like a sudden flicker of firelight
into a dark corner across the wrinkled leathery old face as he patted
his naked stomach.

'Ay,' he continued, as I stared at him, then gave him another mouthful
of tea, 'I swallowed them. And high though the fence and watchful the
guards, I escaped from the big Kraal. Take them, my son. Would that I
had never seen them; very heavy they be in the new nest that they have
made for themselves. Hearken! when I go, which will happen when the
first light shines across the veldt behind yonder koppie,' motioning
towards a peculiar flat-topped hill some quarter of a mile away,
'and the aasvoyels have laagered-up and gone, turn back from them,
and come here, and cut into me quickly, and take out the four white
stones--stay, you may feel them even now!' And he seized my hand and
pressed it hard against his stomach, and peered into my face with eyes
fast losing their life and fire.

But I could feel nothing, and I said so.

'I can!' replied he, smiling grimly.

'Bury me where I lie, white man,' he continued. 'See, I chose the spot
clear of roots, so that water may not follow them into the grave and
give the jackals food before their time. Bury me as I sit, and facing
the sun, so that my spirit may walk straight to its own land. Promise
me this thing, my son, and on a day, not too distant, it shall be very
well with thee.'

I promised the poor old chap of course, and he seemed as pleased as
Punch; and as I left him he started humming a strange sort of chant.
Listening for awhile, I went on, and turned into my hammock swung under
the disselboom of our wagon.

Knowing, as I did, that almost all Kaffirs are liars of high degree,
I didn't feel inclined to put much faith in the diamond business.
Moreover, I had no wish to lose my passage, as assuredly would be the
case if I lagged behind to dissect my friend. Also, he had chosen the
most awkward possible time in which to die--just as everybody was on
the alert to inspan and prepare for the day's trek.

But perhaps the heaviest argument of all against the likelihood of
the thing consisted in the fact of my having seen the fence he said
he had climbed--the big barrier that the illicit diamond buyers had
forced the De Beers Company to erect around their shoal of amalgamated
mines--fourteen feet of galvanised iron with three barbed wires
strained along the top of it. Why, a lizard couldn't have scaled it,
much less a worn-out old Kaffir!--we call them all Kaffirs there,
Pondos, Baautos, Bechuanas, Griqnas, and the rest. However, as I
turned over and fell asleep, I determined to at least go across in the
morning, and if he had pegged out, as he said he would, bury him as I
promised, diamonds or no diamonds.

I slept late, and was only awakened by old Oom Hendricks shaking me.
'Almachte!' he growled, 'Arise, and don't let the blessed sun of the
Lord God roast you alive!'

Until after breakfast there was no chance to slip away; for, like the
others, I had my share of camp duty to perform.

But at last I managed to get over to the tree. Sure enough, there lay
my Kaffir, already stiffening, with the flies beginning to swarm in
black clouds about him.

However, going to the wagon, I got a spade and a pick, and despite the
jeers and laughter of the Boers, when they saw what my intentions were,
I planted the poor old beggar pretty deep, huddled up, and with his
face towards Swaziland. Just at that time I didn't feel inclined to do
any more towards proving my legacy.

Perhaps, as I trampled the earth upon him, some faint notion possessed
me of returning in the future; for I took bearings from the big tree,
noticing especially, as I did so, a curious triangular patch of white
stone near the summit of the koppie.

But in Algoa Bay I got a ship and came across to Australia, and as
the years passed the remembrance of the incident grew weaker; still,
strange to say, at long intervals a sort of feeling would momentarily
seize upon me, taking full possession of my mind, and urging me
vehemently to go and dig up what was waiting for me under the old tree.

It was a haunting sort of sensation, quite too vague to define, a kind
of small pressing inward voice that kept on telling me that I was a
fool for neglecting such a chance of fortune. But as I noticed that
the phenomenon generally occurred when I was hard up, I put it down to
natural causes. Osborne, however, was otherwise impressed, ascribed it
to 'a reaction of psychic will-matter,' and wrote a paper on it.

Indeed, if it had not been for that kindly enthusiast I hardly think
I should ever have been bound Africa-ward to look for a five-year-old
dead Kaffir.

And as I lay on the fok'sle-head and smoked, and thought of what an
awfully forlorn sort of hope it was, growing more forlorn and more
doubtful with every gliding heave of the big steamer that brought the
testing of it nearer. I got up, and, knocking the ashes out of my pipe
on the capstan, called myself a fool and several other things. It was
the purpose with which I had started away that appeared so much more
idiotic here, within eight hundred miles of Cape Agulhas, than it had
done on Sandridge pier.

Amongst the saloon passengers was a Mr Johnston, formerly a
free-selector in New South Wales. He had emigrated many years ago to
South Africa; and there, after some time spent in hunting and digging,
he finally settled on a large farm in the Transvaal, where in those
early days good land was to be had for half-a-crown an acre.

He was a big, jolly, frank, outspoken man of about fifty-eight, a
widower, with one child, a pretty girl of eighteen, who accompanied
him. And he was now returning to his adopted country with a fine
selection of stud rams and ewes for his flocks up there on the high
veldt of the African tableland. In my former wanderings I had often
heard his name mentioned as a 'suspect,' and an object of dislike to
the Boer government at Pretoria. Indeed during the war he was more than
once nearly shot out of hand, not only for his opposition to being
'commandeered,' but for the remarkably free way in which he aired his
opinions on the subject of Boer and Basuto--Dutch liege though he
nominally was.

Happening once to attract his notice by something I said respecting the
sheep, whilst I watched him feeding them, we used often after that to
have a yarn together.

With pretty Mary Johnston I also exchanged at odd times a word or two
when she brought for'ard dainties for her pet-ewe. And one day, in
very rough weather, the vessel, diving, took a tremendous sea over her
fok'sle-head, and Mary, venturing alone along the deck, was caught by
the rushing torrent, and swept like a feather into the main-rigging.
Luckily, to escape a wetting, I had jumped upon one of the main-hatch
sheep-pens. It was a long bound from there into the rigging; but in
those days I was young and smart, and I managed it just as the weight
of water was proving too much for her. Another minute and she would
have let go and been carried overboard. It really was a narrow shave,
so narrow that the skipper, watching from the bridge, grew pale and
trembled, thinking that all was over, as his fingers pushed the
telegraph to 'Stop.'

Old Johnston didn't say much. But I felt that if I should want a friend
in Africa, I had one ready-made--perhaps a couple.

'Come up and see us, and stay with us,' said he, some days afterwards.
'I've got two places, you know, now. But I'm mostly at the old one,
near Ermelo. Come whenever it suits you, and I'll promise you shan't
be sorry; I've got to take these jumbucks right round by Durban in the
coasting steamer, or I'd say come at once. But there's only Kaffirs at
home. However, remember you're expected sooner or later, and the sooner
the better.'

And when Mary shook hands with me, and timidly seconded her father's
invitation, there was a look of shy pleasure and earnestness in her
brown eyes that sent a curious thrill to my heart.

And presently, whilst we rounded the Green Cape Light, and glided
slowly into full view of the white houses lying cuddled up under the
shadow of the mighty rock, old Johnston came for'ard again, and asked
me point-blank if fifty pounds would be of any use, just as a loan, for
a few months, or a year or so. Because, if that should happen to be the
case, I had 'only to say the word, my boy.'

Of course they knew I wasn't quite a Rothschild, travelling steerage.
But I had no intention of allowing anybody to discover how really hard
up I was, least of all the Johnstons. So I merely thanked him for his
kind offer, and said that I had enough for present purposes; which was
strictly true--only the present was limited.

Curiously enough, when once ashore, I didn't seem to be in any hurry to
seek the spot where lay my fortune. And, in spite of several
recurrences of the impalpable sensation before alluded to, I stayed
pottering about the town.

At last, in that snug hostel, the 'George,' I one day met an old mate
who was just returning to the diggings after the inevitable spree. He
knew, so he said, of some alluvial up Rustenburg way, and pressed me to
accompany him.

So I went. The place turned out bare tucker. But, after a lot of
knocking about, we did happen to drop on a patch that gave us a hundred
pounds each by the time it was worked out.

Then Jack Williams, my companion, got a bad touch of fever, and we both
cleared off to Johannesburg for a spell.

Being in funds again, I had quite forgotten my mouldering Kaffir, lying
all the while not very far away, just on the edge of shade, and clear
of root-channels, waiting patiently with his face towards Swaziland.

Then, one afternoon, returning from the hospital, where I had been to
see how Williams was getting on, whom should I run against but
Johnston.

The first salutations over. 'Come along,' said he, 'I'm off home
to-morrow to the new place near Klerksdorp. Mary's there; and she'll
be glad to see you. Come you must!'

For a while I hesitated. Williams I knew was going back to Capetown
directly he got better; so that really there was nothing to keep me.
Then I thought of Mary, and consented.

Early next morning we started in a buggy drawn by two capital horses.

During the second day's journey the country began to look changed,
although it was faintly familiar; and I presently realised that we had
struck very nearly into the old track over which I travelled with the
Boers more than five years ago.

But so great were the alterations in the landscape, that for some time
I was doubtful. Everywhere the ground had been rooted up by
prospectors; then, after a bit, the mullock heaps disappeared, giving
way to farms and fences dotted over the level grass veldt, with here
and there plantations of blue gum saplings.

'Lots of colonials round these parts,' said my companion, pointing to
the snug homesteads with a smile of satisfaction. 'We've secured
amongst us most of this district--bought it from the shiftless Boers
with their scabby flocks and lazy, dirty ways. No (in answer to my
question), there's no gold been found, so far. These old shafts, back
yonder, are where they've been looking for a lost lead from one of the
big mines at the Rand--the Geldenhuis. But apparently it didn't come
this way.'



CHAPTER II.

It was dark on the third day when we drove up to a comfortable-looking
stone house, and received a warm welcome from Mary, who, I fancied,
seemed more than merely pleased to see me.

When I rose in the morning and went out for an early smoke, the first
object to catch my eye, just outside the garden fence of smart,
white-painted palings, was the koppie--the identical stony, flat-topped
hill of that long-ago trek.

It, as well as its surroundings, was changed. Many gaps and cuttings in
its sides showed where the materials for the snug buildings around me
had been procured. But for the white, three-cornered patch, plain, if
not plainer than ever, I doubt whether I should have recognised it
again. As it was, I knew that I could not be mistaken. I looked for the
big tree, but saw no signs of it. Only the long veldt grass, and the
so-familiar gum leaves on many saplings shimmering in the morning sun.

After a time, and with some effort of memory, I decided that, as nearly
as possible, the spot on which the tree had stood was now occupied by a
rustic summer-house, built in what was evidently the middle of Mary's
flower-garden.

And then, as I caught the flutter of a white dress through a leafy
alley-way of vines, I started in pursuit, and, for the nonce, once more
consigned my Kaffir to oblivion.

Each day I stayed on at Draakenspruit the more deeply I felt that I
must either win Mary Johnston or die a bachelor. And, as time passed, I
flattered myself that, as the phrase goes, I was not wholly indifferent
to her.

But I was afraid to speak. Her father was, I knew, one of the richest
settlers in the Transvaal; owning, besides a couple of fine farms, many
shares in some of the best mines on the Rand.

No, I must go away at once; and, somehow, by hook or by crook, do what
so many were doing just then--find gold, and plenty of it. Then I might,
without misgiving, return and claim Mary.

Forty pounds out of the one hundred had gone to Osborne in Melbourne,
leaving a remainder in hand of about an equal amount. Clearly, I must
depart before I made a fool of myself. And that I had sternly resolved
on not doing. But when a pretty girl is one of the factors in a
resolution, it is an utter impossibility to forecast events.

And, one evening, sitting in the summerhouse, exactly over the spot
where I reckoned my Kaffir's bones should be; the odour of orange
blossoms heavy on the warm air, and the great white lilies outside
looking like cups of frosted silver in the moonlight; things, somehow,
fell out as I intended them not to do.

I had been telling Mary of my intention to trek to the new diggings in
Manicaland; and when I saw the sudden pallor steal over her face, and
the look of pain and sorrow that crept into her dear eyes as she turned
them upon me, I forgot all my self-imposed caution, and, there and
then, awkwardly enough, I daresay, when I come to think of it, blurted
out that I loved her, and her only of all women in the wide world.

And presently, she nestled closer to me and shyly confessed, in reply
to much questioning, that, ever since that stormy day on board the
steamer, when for a minute she lay faint and trembling in my arms, she
had thought of no one else--nor, indeed, ever before.

And then I kissed her again, and told her that now, more than ever, I
must leave her to search for fortune, knowing, as I did, that her
father would never consent; and that what I was doing was altogether
wrong; and that I ought to have known better. But she was so happy she
only laughed, and said that her father could refuse her nothing--not
even a hard-up digger-man.

I, however, was very doubtful; and when I heard the old man's voice
calling us in to supper, I jumped like a fellow at the first touch of a
cold shower on a day with the glass at one hundred and ten degrees.

That night I plucked up courage and told him I loved his daughter; and
that there was nothing I wouldn't do to win her.

He listened smoking, and not interrupting. Then as I finished, he shook
his head, and said, not unkindly, 'I'm afraid it won't do, lad. By your
own account you've been wandering about the world, come-day go-day
fashion, with sometimes a few pounds in pocket, and more times nothing.
Now, s'pose I let you have Mary, how am I to know that, as soon as I am
gone, that wild strain won't show up again, and make you shift your
hurdles till everything's frittered away? No, you're only a stranger
yet--great as the service you've done us--and Mary's all I've got, and I
mean to take care of her. But,' he continued, after a pause, during
which I kept silence and strove to hide my chagrin at the exact
justness of his remarks, 'if you honestly think you can steady
down--why, I must admit that I like what I've seen of you very
well--and there's the place over at Ermelo, you can manage that for
me. I can't always be running back'ards and for'ards. I'll give you
a hundred a year and found, and after a bit, why, we'll see. I don't
think I can say fairer just now.'

This was, in reality, more, in every way, than I had any right to
expect--was, in fact, a very handsome offer. But I was in a terrible
hurry to make Mary my own at once, and the very idea of such a humdrum
sort of waiting vexed my inmost soul.

Still I had the grace to thank him. But I'm afraid not very heartily;
for he said, with a twinkle in his eye, 'Ay, lad, I was young once
myself, and as hot-blooded, and strong, and impatient, but, at long and
last I had to calm down. And a man can't rush his pile. You might trek
away--(I had mentioned my notion of trying the new field)--t' other side
of Mashonyland and prospeck for years and years, and return, if you
ever returned, a lot poorer 'n you started. The steady, constant
worker's the one that gets home first, after all's said and done. I've
found that out.'

All at once, as he finished, there flashed through me, like a mild
shock from an electric battery, the old warning feeling that now or
never was the time to look up my Kaffir. And, taking the risk of being
laughed at, I told Johnston the whole story.

'Terrible romancers, Kaffirs,' commented he as I finished. 'And some of
them would play a practical joke like that with their last breath. And
there's one tribe that makes a practice of always cutting their dead
open after death to let the spirit escape. Your friend may have had
that notion in his cunning old head. Of course he possibly was telling
the truth. But I doubt it. Ay, there was a big tree, I recollect,
growing right in front of the house. I grubbed it to make more room in
the garden. About three or four hundred yards from the koppie? Why,
that'll be slap in the middle of Mary's flower-beds. You'll have to
talk that matter over with her.' And he laughed, as he added, 'Never
mind your Kaffir. Think over the offer I have made you just now. Take
your time. And you'll get more by Ermelo farm than ever you will by
rooting up poor Mary's flowers.' And the old man laughed again as he
went off to his room.

Next morning at breakfast the subject cropped up again. Old Johnston
had been thinking, and had made up his mind that the outermost branches
of the tree would have just covered the lily plot, Mary's especial
pride.

This, I believe, was meant purely as a joke on his side.

But Mary, who had been eagerly listening, at once insisted on a
thorough search being made. Much more wonderful things, she vowed, had
happened. Did we think that because the poor Kaffir was black he was
therefore devoid of all gratitude? And dig I must. And if I didn't,
she would. Lilies! What were they compared to diamonds the size of
mealie-ears--and bigger! And she thought, too, that I was right and
her father mistaken; for she remembered seeing a great stump once,
where the summer-house now stood, when she came over from Ermelo,
quite a little girl, shortly after old Johann Weenen sold the farm.
So, partly to please my mistress, and partly to set at rest for ever
that indescribable monitor, spoken of many times in this history, I dug
in the bed of great lilies--dug them all up till they lay in rows of
bruised and shattered loveliness on each side of the deep wide trench I
made in the soft mould--with my trouble for my pains.

Fain would I then have desisted, but Mary would have me explore the
floor of the little summer-house in which only last night we had talked
of love.

So, to please her this time wholly, I dug in a half-hearted fashion,
and old Johnston, laughing at the madness of the thing, went inside,
followed presently by Mary to get a can of beer for her workman.

Three feet down in the stiff blue clay I came across something that
made me ply pick and shovel frantically. And by the time Mary and her
father returned I was almost out of sight in a deep hole that nearly
took in the whole floor.

'Good Lord!' laughed Johnston, 'you surely never planted him as deep as
that.'

'No, I answered, popping up. 'I can't find him, unless, indeed,
his bones have turned into this stuff,' handing him, as I spoke,
half-a-dozen specimens in which one had to look very closely to see the
quartz--so thick was the gold. The old man whistled loud and long, as
he fingered them lovingly, and as scarcely able to believe his eyesight.

'So it's here,' he exclaimed at last, 'the lost lead runs they've been
trying to trace from the Rand. Well, who'd have dreamt of such a thing!
No farming now, I suppose. Eh, lad? Why, it's a regular jeweller's
shop! And looks like dipping into the horse-paddock, too! No mistake
about its being the true reef. My boy, I shouldn't wonder if you've
dropped on to one of the best things in the district. And that's saying
a good deal, let me tell you. Good old Kaffir! He did mean business,
after all then, in a way! And so did we! For before we finished the
work begun that morning, Johnston and I took £25,000 each out of the
claim, and then sold our interest for as much again. People over there
still talk with respect of the rich Geldeuberg Mine, although there
have been heavier finds since, but nothing like at such shallow
sinking.

Of my Kaffir not the remotest trace was ever found in all the
turning-up the country presently got. Nor did I ever experience a
recurrence of that strange feeling impelling me to go and look for him.

But, as Osborne says, who can doubt for an instant that his was the
psychic force exerted in some extraordinary and persistent manner to
bring to pass that dying promise of his: 'And on a day, not too far
distant, it shall be very well with thee.' And, as Osborne puts it
again, who can doubt that my Kaffir made his reward take the form it
did; because he presently discovered that, in the matter of the
diamonds, I should be simply standing in the position of a receiver of
stolen property. And we all agreed that it was very curious that this
aspect of the case had never struck any of us before.

But I will scoff no more. For I am not quite sure that in this story I
have rendered my Kaffir full justice. The question is really such a
perplexing one that I have decided to leave it open.

Mary and I were married in Durban, and we took our honeymoon trip to
Australia. We chose it for various reasons; but chiefly to bring the
Osbornes back with us. They were to have the Ermelo farm as a gift from
me. Also I was taking Osborne a convert. One evening, coming on deck, I
found my wife watching the splendour of the swirling fire in the wake
of the screw, boiling like a huge cauldron of liquescent opals, and
with a light by the glory of which one could see to read the smallest
print.

For a while we silently gazed together. I was thinking, for my part, of
another night not so very long ago, when, from the other rail of this
same ship I sat and watched the jewelled water and called myself names
for having ventured on a wild-goose chase.

Presently Mary slipped her hand into mine, and said, 'Jack, dear, I've
been thinking.'

'Yes, my love?' I replied, with the due deference becoming a
fortnight-married man.

'Yes, Jack,' she answered earnestly, 'and I've made up my mind to agree
with your friend, Mr Osborne, that we owe all our luck and all our
happiness to your poor old Kaffir.'

'But what is "psychic force," Jack?'

'My dear,' I said authoritatively, 'there goes four bells--time for you
to go below, out of the night air, and turn in.'


*



At Mat Aris Light.


My friend Harding was head-keeper of one of the finest lighthouses in
the world, and I was free of it at all hours. But it was o' nights that
I loved best to join the old man on his watch, and sit on the balcony
and gaze out at the great ocean illumined at minute intervals by the
flood of white radiance that seemed to pour forth a greeting to the
silent ships as they passed and repassed, or came straight for the
harbour-mouth.

Harding was a square-built, gray-haired man with a strong, determined
face, all browned and wrinkled by sun and storm, and eyes that burned
like live coals under shaggy white brows.

At odd times, athwart the concentrated beams that seemed to hit the far
horizon, would sail ships, glorified momentarily as they passed
through, with every spar and sail and rope sharply outlined by the
sudden brilliance; but more often they slid along between light and
water, ill-defined phantasmal blobs of smudge, out of which, when the
fancy took them to make their numbers, would spout forth many-coloured
fires, all incomprehensible to the untutored eye as the dim fabrics
they proceeded from.

But Harding and his assistant signalmen read off ships and numbers as
easily, apparently, as if it was broad daylight; and the telegraph
would repeat at intervals: 'Large square-rigged ship with painted
ports, steering E. by N. Made her number 23,745.' Or, it might be,
'Steamer, black funnel with white band, brig-rigged, deep, bound south,
showed no number.' But nothing large or small ever escaped the eagle
lookout kept from that eyrie on the great cliff, where the only sounds
that broke the long night silences were the wash of the waves on the
rugged kelp-grown rocks four hundred sheer feet beneath and the subdued
hum of the big dynamo in the basement.

This, you will see, was no isolated light stuck forlornly hundreds of
miles from any where. It was an establishment over which Harding
presided--quite a little settlement of government offices connected with
the important department of harbours, rivers, and trade. His salary was
high; so was the efficiency of the service he headed. And he was not
averse to a little judicious praise now and again. On one of these
occasions I had said something respecting the speedy identification of
a foreign cruiser, and the prompt wiring of details to the capital
whilst yet the war-ship crept quietly in as if desirous of escaping
attention, and little guessing that, long ere she reached the port, a
score of nine-inch guns, to say nothing of submarine mines and Brennan
torpedoes, would have blown her to atoms had she disregarded the
challenge of the warned guardship at Inner Point. Well, I had
complimented him on the ceaseless vigilance maintained, and he
chuckled, well pleased, and hemmed, and remarked, 'Now that reminds
me!'

Usually a taciturn man, and one engrossed in his business, he was
difficult to 'draw.' Often enough he had said as much before with no
result; often matters had followed well worth the hearing. In any case
I knew silence was best.

It was a wild night, with a 'southerly' blowing great guns, keeping the
sea flattened into a vast milky-white expanse of foam, that kept up a
long-drawn, continuous roar at the foot of the cliffs in fitting
accompaniment to the shrieking blasts that wrestled and tore around the
great tower, as if striving to shake it from its foundations deep down
in the solid rock.

'Come along to my room,' said Harding at last, after a good look
around, 'and we'll have a pipe and a glass of grog whilst I tell you
about another lighthouse I ran, and another man o' war that I watched
some twenty-five years ago now.'

Descending into his private snuggery beside a bright fire, I took
one of the big arm-chairs whilst Harding operated with hot water,
case-bottle, lemons, and sugar, and, after fixing matters to his
satisfaction, filled his pipe and said:

'Ay, it must be about five-and-twenty years now since the day I sat on
the steps of the Sailors' Home in Singapore stone-broke. I'd been
first-mate of a ship called the Star of Africa that the skipper'd
managed to run slap on to a rock in the Straits of Sunda. It wasn't my
fault, nor did I lose my ticket like the captain. All the same, I found
it precious hard to get another ship.

'Owners as well as masters have fads and prejudices in this respect--not
perhaps as regards a first time. But this happened to be my second
wreck running. So my luck, you see, was dead out. Actually but for
bananas I might have starved. Bananas and water fill up and satisfy
right enough, only it takes you all your time to keep the supply going.
Presently, as I sat there, digesting my second or third breakfast, out
came the Master-intendant, and said he: "Harding, if you stay here till
the moon turns blue you'll never get a ship. But a billet's turned up
that, perhaps, is better than nothing. The Dutch," he went on, "have
built a lighthouse somewhere down yonder on the Bornean coast, and a
second keeper is wanted, wages eighty guilders a month and rations.
It's the merest fluke that I happened to hear of it. Will you take it?"

'"Would a duck swim?"

'"All right, then, come along to Van Veldt & Co.'s office; they'll take
you on my recommendation." The Dutch agents did so without question.
More, they paid me a month's wages in advance, and sent me in one of
their steamers round to Batavia, where I was to get fresh orders.
Arrived there, I was kept waiting a month. But as I had good quarters
and plenty to eat and drink, I didn't mind a bit spending my "dead
horse" in this way. One day, however, I was told to get my belongings
on board a little fore-and-aft schooner which had been loading stores
for the newly-built lighthouse.

'We were ten days on the passage; and when we brought up at our
destination, and I saw what I'd come to, I'd have taken ten days on
bananas and water to get away again.

'From a thickly-wooded point a reef ran nearly three-quarters of a mile
out into the Macassar Straits. At the extreme end of Mat Aris--as the
point was called--stood the lighthouse. You'd ha' laughed! Imagine a
sort of shed, shaped like one of those oval-topped meat-safes, built on
a platform resting on piles forty feet high. That was all. From the
shed there ran a corduroy bridge with a handrail, some thirty feet back
shoreward, to another and a larger platform where, in a large hut, we
were to live. The only way to get down to terra firma was by ladders.
At low water all you could see was mud, and dozens of alligators that
used to come down a river close to for salt-water bathing. Everywhere,
almost down to the sea, stood great trees one hundred and fifty feet
high, growing close together, elbowing each other so to speak; and, as
if that wasn't enough, creepers, ferns, and undergrowth of all
descriptions filled up every vacant chink between them. On this
impenetrable face of woodland the efforts of the workmen and builders
had merely left a slight scratch--even by this rapidly greening over.
Nature heals her scars in that country almost as soon as received. The
light itself was merely a big lantern carrying eight wicks, kerosene
fed, and hung to the roof of the meat-safe. That it had been badly
wanted, primitive as it was, the remains of several vessels
emphatically witnessed.

'My boss was there already, a cross-bred, surly-looking customer--father
Dutch, mother Malay. She kept house for us--a skinny old hag, with a
nose like an eagle's, and a bigger moustache than I could boast of in
those days. Her son's name was Peter--Peter Klopp.

'Presently the schooner went away and left us. And what a life it was!
Nothing to do after trimming the lights of a morning and sweeping
bucketsful of moths out of the round-house, except sit and smoke and
look out across the Straits to Celebes--just a blue line of high
mountains in the distance--sleep, eat, watch the ships coming and going,
or pull faces at the monkeys up amongst the tall trees that waved their
heads seventy feet above ours.

'At times the traffic was pretty thick; it was always peculiar. Junks
from Swatow, bound for Amboyna and Ceram for sandalwood, swallows'
nests, and bêche de mer; "country wallahs" from Penang and Singapore,
going round to Banjermassin for coffee and rice; steam tramps from
Australian ports loaded up to their gunwales with coal for Manila; and
smart little topsail schooners flying any flag that took their fancy,
and ready to pick up anything that wasn't too hot or too heavy for
them, from a bushel of nutmegs to a holdful of "blackbirds." But, with
the exception of a Dutch gunboat, the Bliksem, acting as a sort of
sea-patrol, which called on us at long intervals, we had no visitors
at Mat Aris Point.

'Peter and his old mother I soon discovered were confirmed
opium-smokers, and when they went in for a regular spree, and began to
suffer a recovery, they made things hum in "Monkey Island," as I called
it. Once I was fool enough to interfere and stop Peter from choking
the life out of her. For thanks, the pair turned on me; but I managed
to dress them down, although Peter nearly got his knife into me. And
I can tell you,' laughed Harding, pausing in his story, and rising to
conjure again with the kettle and other adjuncts, 'that two to one,
with precious little room, and a break-neck fall if you're not careful,
isn't as funny as it might be.'

Having replenished the glasses and refilled and lit his pipe, Harding
proceeded:

'Well, after this I could see that the two had taken a down upon me;
and as I, on my part, was heartily sick of the whole contract, I told,
the officer who commanded the Bliksem, next time she called, that I
wanted to leave; and that the sooner he found a substitute the better I
should be pleased. For answer he called me an English schelm, which
means rascal, and told me that I had agreed for two years, which was a
lie, and that there I should stay. Also, that he'd make it his business
to see that I didn't get away.

'Seeing that escape, for that's what it really came to, by water was
not to be thought of, except by swimming, and the sharks pretty well
put that out of the question, I determined to see what the land side
was like. A muddy-banked river emptied itself just below the
lighthouse, and this one day I started to follow up. But I didn't
follow long. I don't believe I got a mile before I was mother-naked,
and nearly bitten and stung to death. Every bush and shrub, nay, the
very flowers seemed to carry a thorn. And what with fire-ants,
mosquitoes, leeches, centipedes, stinging flies, and, worse than all, a
blamed caterpillar that drops on to you off the leaves and sticks hairs
into you that break off in your flesh and fester, I can assure you it
was the roughest picnic I ever had. Why, I almost thought I could hear
the alligators chuckling as I made home again. Certainly Peter laughed
for the first time since we'd been mates on Monkey Island when he saw
the plight I was in.

'A day or so after this the gunboat sent her gig ashore again, and,
from the hammock I had slung in my portion of the big hut, I could hear
much laughter amongst the Dutchmen as Peter detailed my adventure. I
heard also allusions to some other verdomde Engelander; and a long talk
about the light and bearings, the gist of which, for want of a more
intimate knowledge of the language, escaped me. Next morning I saw
Peter marching off along the narrow strip of bank that separated bush
from sea with a tail-block over his shoulder, and though wondering
mightily what he could be up to, I wasn't going to show any curiosity.
A tail-block, by the way, I ought to tell you, is the common block
that you reeve a rope through, only to one end of it is attached a
long "tail" of plaited stuff, usually by which it can be made fast to
a spar or bolt, a-low or aloft. Very little gave me food for thought
in those days, and I puzzled over this till Peter came back, and,
rummaging amongst the stores, walked off once more with a coil of new
ratline-line, and in the same direction.

'He did not appear at dinner, and as I finished my mess of rice, salt
fish, and pickled mangoes, I said to the woman, "What's become of
Peter?" "He's gone to set a trap for an orang-outang whose tracks he
saw at the foot of the ladders yesterday," she replied, grinning and
leering. "And," added she sarcastically, "if you don't believe me, go
and look, only leave your clothes behind, most misbegotten of English
fools."

'Peter came home that evening, and in the interest created by a new
visitor in those waters, and whose acquaintance I at once sought some
means of making, the incident of the tail-block was completely
forgotten.

'Dutch soundings, it appeared, having been found so unreliable as to
bring a good few British vessels to grief, that government,
characteristically enough, had despatched a vessel to correct them
without giving the Dutch notice, or saying by your leave, or anything
else.

'And although we, or rather I, was unaware of it, H.M.S. Badger had for
some time been thus engaged at the upper portion of the Straits. Now
she appeared off Mat Aris busy, in sporting parlance, wiping the
Bliksem's eye, very much to the disgust of the latter's officers, whose
specialty, if they possessed one, was supposed to be surveying.

'The Badger was a paddle-wheeled, brig-rigged old tub, sure enough. But
she was British; and as I stared and stared through the glasses at the
white ensign and the good red cross flying from her peak, I was often
tempted to swim off to her as she puffed and churned away, fussing
around after her boats like an old hen after her chicks.

'But when I looked at the black three-sided fins sticking up at
high-water right alongside our piles, I felt my toes tingle, and
thought better of it, trusting that some day she'd send a boat to give
us a call, when I determined that go I would if all the Dutch in the
East Indies were to try and stop me.

'That Peter guessed my thoughts and notions I could see from the mean,
yellow-brown, grinning face of him. And I'd try to get his dander
up sometimes. "Look at that, Peter," I'd say. "That's my country
flag. There's no slaves underneath its folds, sweating and toiling,
half-starved and taxed to death's doors like there is under yours.
Hip! hip! hooray! Rule Britannia and God save the Queen! and confusion
to all half-breds." He didn't understand all of it, of course, but he
used to shake his fist at the Badger, and look as nasty as a hatful of
snakes.

'Twice whilst I was on watch--as we used to call the intermittent,
sleepy lookout we kept at Mat Aris--the Bliksem boat came ashore, and
I could hear the officer and Peter each time having a long confab
together. During the night the old wife always used to have coffee
ground and hot water on the fire, so that we could make our own if we
wished for a drink.

'One night, shortly after the Dutch officer's last visit, coming in
and rousing Peter to take his watch, I brewed myself a cup before
turning in. It tasted very bitter, and I didn't finish it, but almost
before I'd time to undress I was dead to the world. I woke in a fright,
dripping with sweat, and shaking all over. Now, in the lighthouse was
a bottle of lime-juice I'd brewed myself; my throat was as dry as the
lubricators of a collier's engines, and the thought of that drink
tantalised me till I made shift to crawl out of my hammock and stagger
along the bridge to the little house, where also was a "chatty" of cold
water.

'To my utter astonishment, on looking up, I saw that the light was
out. Opening the door, I entered, and, half-choking, felt for the
water-bottle. It was empty. Striking a match, I saw that the floor was
soaking wet. Putting up my hand to the wicks, they only frizzed and
spluttered at contact with the flame. Also the spare lantern that we
always kept ready trimmed had disappeared.

Stepping outside on to the platform, I stared around, headachy and very
shaky still. The night was black as pitch--one of those nights you
often get out there, that feel almost like black velvet, and as thick.
And there wasn't a star to be seen, as sometimes happens at the change
of the monsoons. The jungle, too, was still as death--there was no
sound on land or on the sea. The whole world seemed fast bound in sleep
and darkness. Presently my eye, roving along shore, came to the gleam
of a light some half-mile away, about on a level with where ours should
have been, only much farther inland--a big light I saw it was, as my
eyes got the sleep out of them, and burning steadily.

'As I stared, puzzled beyond expression, I all at once heard the sound
of muffled snorting and churning faint in the distance--a noise as if a
shoal of grampuses were coming down the Straits.

'Listening and staring, there suddenly rose to mind fragments of the
first talk I'd heard between Peter and the Dutchman about lights
and bearings. Then, somehow, came a connection between that and the
tail-block and the coil of ratline stuff. Then, I don't know how it
happened, but in a second--perhaps you've experienced something of the
kind--my brain seemed cleared of cobwebs, as if a broom inside had been
swept across it sharply, and the whole plan lay before me plain as mud
in a wine-glass. And I laughed; yes, sir, I assure you, I did, for I
saw my time had come at last. The puff, puff, and wheezy panting was
sounding nearer; and, looking steadily and hard into the distance, I
could see a long way up the Straits a shower of sparks like a swarm
of fireflies, but which I knew marked the whereabouts of the Badger,
burning Nagasaki coal.

She was approaching obliquely, over from the Celebes side, heading
about west-sou'-west to pick up Mat Aris light; then, according to the
sailing directions, she would straighten up west-by-sou, keeping the
light four points on her starboard bow to clear the reef. Now, with
the light in its present position, she would, if unsuspicious--and it
was the merest chance that anybody on board observed the change--crash
right on to the outermost edge of the reef, and go down in deep water,
as others had done before her. It was a trap conceived with perfectly
diabolical cunning and ingenuity, the site of the false light having
evidently been determined most carefully and scientifically, not
too far to excite the lookout's distrust, and yet near enough to
half-a-point to prove effectual. Puff-puff, churn-churn, pant-pant.
Another twenty minutes, and it would be all up with H.M.S. Badger.
But, knowing exactly what to do--holding two honours and the ace, so
to speak--I was as cool as a cucumber, and, except for that trembling
about the legs, my own man again. That I had been drugged or poisoned
by an insufficient dose I more than suspected. Just then, however, I
didn't bother my head about that. I wanted to renew the light on Mat
Aris. Round the caboose in which the lantern used to hang, as I've told
you, for all the world like a leg of mutton in a meat-safe, ran lockers
filled with tins of kerosene, waste, rope, oakum, and such matters.
Knocking the heads of a couple of the tins in, I poured the oil over
all liberally, saturating everything. After this, a match was all that
was needed, and before I was half-way along the bridge the flames were
six feet high. Just looking in her den to see that the old lady wasn't
there, I went down the ladders like a lamp-lighter, and ran along the
bank towards where I knew the false beacon must be, swung high aloft in
some tree.

'Over logs and stumps I stumbled, looking back now and again at the
big, tall glare till, rounding a point, the dense forest shut it from
sight. Getting along somehow, I stopped at last and listened. But I
could hear nothing of the Badger. Inland, however, high overhead, hung
the light. Pulling out my sheath-knife, I made for it, headlong through
bush and briar. As I guessed, it was hung to a tree; and, feeling all
round, I soon found the rope belayed to a root, and before you could
say "Jack Robinson" I'd slashed it through, and was watching the
lantern coming down by the run when a fellow jumped out of the dark,
and muzzled me round the throat. "Hello, Peter," I said, as I returned
the compliment, "you see the coffee wasn't strong enough." I hadn't
time to say much, being very busy, for the brute, in spite of the
opium, was stronger than I thought, and I weaker. Down we went, rolling
over and over, whilst, to make things warmer, the lantern capsized,
and setting fire to the coarse grass, it blazed up all about us. Also
the woman, with a big club in her fist, was dancing around screeching
blue murder, but frightened to hit, so closely entangled were we. I
still grasped my knife. I could see Peter's also gleam as we turned
and writhed. Presently I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder, and knew I
was stabbed. That made me real mad; and as we rolled away a bit from
the fire, the hag made a smack at me, but missing, caught Peter on the
point of the shoulder, causing him to drop the knife. He stretched out
to recover it, and I got home on him till I felt the wooden haft jar
against his ribs.

'He went limp all in a minute, exactly like one of those bladders the
children play with if you shove a pin into it. Well, we'd rolled down a
bank into a bit of a swamp, and when the hag saw what had happened she
gave one yell, and jumped fairly on top of me, and got her stick to
work in great style. As you may imagine, I was by this pretty well
knocked out, and I don't know how matters would have gone, only that a
boat's crew of Badgers just then came on the scene, and dragged the hag
off me, swearing, kicking, and striking right and left until one of the
men gave her a poke with a bayonet, when she suddenly calmed down, and
started to raise the Malay death-wail.

'And she had cause too, for Peter pegged out before we got him on
board. Mine turned out to be nothing much worse than a flesh-wound,
although I'd lost a lot of blood from it.

'As you may guess, the skipper of the Badger was in a pelter when he'd
heard my story. Certainly I had no witness, and the hag kept her mouth
as close as a rat-trap. But we got over that. There was a Malay
interpreter on board, and he gave the captain a hint. So, when the
woman heard that she was to be taken back to Perak, her native place,
and there handed over to the tender mercies of the Sultan--at that time
our very good friend--she made a clean breast of everything, including
the attempt to poison me with the juice of the klang-klang berries.
Four hundred guilders was the price of Peter's connivance, and
promotion to one of the Java lights if the plan succeeded.

'This confession of the hag's was a bit of luck for me, and Captain
Cardigan complimented me in presence of the ship's company on the way
I'd behaved, having undoubtedly saved the Badger, whose officer of the
watch was steering by the false light when it suddenly disappeared. The
captain also said that he would represent my conduct to the Admiralty.
And that he kept his word,' said Harding, as he rose to 'go on deck'
for a minute, 'my presence here proves. If you'll refill the kettle,
I'll be back again in a very short thus.'

'Ay,' replied Harding as he reseated himself, in reply to a remark of
mine, 'I was lucky. But you mustn't think that I came here straight
away. This--the prize of the service amongst the lights--is my sixth.
So, you see, to some extent I've worked my way up, helped, of course,
by the little matter I've been telling you, and together with what in
my young days was called a very fair education. Well, the captain of
the Badger--he's a rear-admiral now--wasn't the man to sit quietly down
and let the Dutchman go scot-free. But not a stick of the Bliksem was
to be seen throughout the Straits of Macassar. Still we kept on
searching till, at last, the skipper of a country wallah told us he'd
seen her off Breton, an island round in the Banda Sea. Sure enough, one
morning, there we found her, at anchor off a native town. Now she was
both faster, carried more men, and was more heavily armed than we were.
But Captain Cardigan had made up his mind that there was to be no
international row over the matter. It had to be settled as privately as
possible, and strictly between the two ships.

'So, with the men at their quarters, guns run out, and the old Badger
stripped for light, we ranged up to the Dutchman in great style, with
the hag in full view on the quarter-deck, and ordered--ay, ordered--the
Bliksem's captain to come on board. And whether it was the sight of the
hag, or that they were unprepared, I don't know, but, sir, he came, he
and his first-lieutenant, and they were received at the gangway as if
they'd been princes of the blood.

'Then our skipper and the first-lieutenant and the Dutchman all went
below. What passed there I don't know; but presently they came up
again--the Dutchman looking very sour. Then our gig was piped away,
and the whole party got into her. I managed to slip in too, and off we
went to a little lump of an island "pigeon-shooting," as I heard the
first-luff whisper to the doctor.

'Well, the two skippers and their lieutenants put their hands in their
pockets, and strolled away into the bush. Presently our second-luff and
the doctor, each carrying a hand-bag, strolled after them. Nobody else
left the boat. In about ten minutes we heard a couple of shots, then
two more. "Sport's good!" said one of the middies. But the master, who
was in charge of the boat, never winked.

'After a while the party came strolling back again. But Van Helder, the
Dutch captain, walked lame, and had his arm in a sling. And there was
blood on the doctor's hands as he washed them in the sea. Also, as we
pulled on board again, I noticed from where I sat that our skipper had
a neat round hole through his cocked hat, and that the gold lace on his
right shoulder epaulet was badly damaged. As they were getting aboard
their own boat, I looked at the Dutch lieutenant--he was the same fellow
who'd called me an English rascal at Mat Aris--and I said in the best
of his lingo that I could manage, "At any rate that's one Dutch rascal
who'll think twice before he sets traps for a British man-o'-war
again."

'His hand went to his sword like a flash. But our second-luff, who
understood, tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the boat, and,
with a black scowl, he got in.

'Also the hag was politely escorted down the gangway and transhipped.
We had those Dutchmen fairly cowed, bluffed by our audacity and their
own bad conscience.

'No, I never heard a word about the affair afterwards. I stayed with
Captain Cardigan until he was promoted to the Polyphemus corvette, and
I dare say I might have stuck to the service, only my shoulder was
always a bit stiff, and got rather worse, if anything, as time went on.
So I left, and, through the Captain's influence, got a light, and then
others, and so on here. Now, it's a wild night, and you'd better turn
in here till morning. No use trying to get back to town. I'm going to
the telephone to talk to the pilot station.'

So I went to bed, and dreamed of Mat Aris and the hag, for whom I took
Harding when he woke me for morning coffee.


*



The Birthday Pearl.

It's my birthday,' said Bob Panton, master and owner of the pearl-shell
lugger Daisy, then lying at anchor off Somerset on her return from a
trip about Torres Straits. 'It's my birthday,' repeated he, bringing
out a 'square-face' of Hollands. 'We'll have a nip all round, and then
we'll open a shell each, just for fun, and to see what sort of luck I'm
to have this next year.'

The five blacks and the one other white man that constituted the
Daisy's crew duly drank the skipper's health in half-pints; and then,
laughing, each man chose the biggest oyster he could find--all about the
size of soup-plates.

Four were blanks, and they all watched Abdallah, the new hand, as he
slowly opened the great bivalve. Then came a shout as he presently held
up a pearl, pear-shaped and almost as big as a hazel-nut, the finest
gem on record yet found in those seas.

'Good luck indeed!' quoth Bob Panton as the chorus of admiration
subsided, and, pulling out a bundle of ten dirty one-pound notes, he
handed them over to Abdallah, saying, 'Take these for yourself, lad.
I'll double it if this turns out as A1 as it looks.'

'And now I'll get up another square-face, and we'll wet the little
stranger properly, and christen it the "Birthday Pearl." And they did
so to such purpose that, bar Abdallah, there was no sober man on the
Daisy by eight bells that night.

In the morning, when Captain Bob Panton came on deck, Abdallah was
missing. So, as presently discovered, was the big pearl that Panton had
left in a small wooden box in his berth. So was the Daisy's dingy that
had been towing astern.

Bob Panton sold his shell, and offered a reward of £50 for the thief.
But, though all the southern police were put on the qui vive, nothing
could be heard of the Birthday Pearl nor of Abdallah. And at last there
were people found who did not scruple to hint at birthday
hallucinations, born of 'square gin,' on the part of Captain Bob and
his crew.

But Panton took the matter to heart, and got on the spree; spent his
shell-money, and more; sold his boat, pulled himself together, and
started off in pursuit of Abdallah, with ever before his vision the
virgin sheen of the great pearl, his for a few hours only, convinced
that until he recovered it luck for him, either in this world or the
next, was out of the question.

* * * * * *

When old widower Wilhelm Itzig, the watchmaker and jeweller at Port
Leichardt, died, his native-born son, Hermann, came home from a
wandering life of droving and working upon stations, and, returning to
the trade he had been taught, mended the Leichardt clocks and watches
with an indifferent measure of success, being at best but a botch.

The little shanty, dignified with the title of shop, stood apart from
the rest of the township, and quite close to the beach. And but for an
old tin sign, with upon it 'Hermann Itzig, working jeweller,' and an
old clock and three empty watch-cases in the window, there was nothing
to distinguish it from any of the other straggling 'humpies' that went
to make up the nearly deserted Queensland seaport.

'How much, John?' Hermann was asking of a half-starved, unkempt-looking
black man, a fortnight after the finding and losing of the Birthday
Pearl, shining mildly now in the gloom of the stuffy little inner room
of the shop by the beach.

'Won 'undreed, two 'undreed-feefeetee, sar,' replied Abdallah, eyeing
the gem as Hermann rolled it to and fro in the palm of his hand.

'Don't you wish you may get it, my boy,' replied Hermann, laughing.
'Ask a thousand whilst you're about it, John. Why don't you?'

'Ver' fine pul, sar,' replied Abdallah, cringing. 'Some day get mooch
more dan t'ousan' for 'im.'

And young Hermann, although knowing little of such matters, thought, as
he noted its soft lustre and flawless shape, that possibly his customer
might be right.

His hand closed on the pearl. Said he, 'I'll give you twenty. Haven't
got another cent anyhow'--which was the truth.

But Abdallah raised his eyes and hands to heaven in mute appeal at such
an offer.

'You'll either take that or nothing,' said Hermann, suddenly producing
a revolver and pointing it straight at the other's head. 'You stole it,
you beggar; you know you did, up the coast somewhere--Thursday Island or
Somerset, likely. Here, think yourself lucky to get so much.' And
Hermann handed over four five-pound notes.

'Take them,' said he, seeing that the other made no motion, 'or I'll
have you up to the police barracks in a quarter less than no time!'

There was murder in Abdallah's eye. But he put out his hand.

'Now clear straight out,' said Hermann. 'There's the Barcoo alongside
the wharf. If you take my advice you'll get away in her. So long, old
man!'

As he turned away, putting down the pistol, Abdallah sprang on him like
a tiger, drawing his sheath-knife as he did so--for he was clad like any
coasting sailor, in a suit of belted dungaree. Hermann reeled and fell,
the knife descended again and again as Abdallah struck in his blind
rage, and presently the body underneath him grew limp and motionless.

Rising and striking a match--for night was coming on, and the small room
was nearly in darkness--Abdallah searched until he saw the Birthday
Pearl lying near the bed, gleaming up at him out of a little pool of
blood.

Wiping it on the blankets, also his knife, he turned and fled towards
the long jetty where lay the s.s. Barcoo, already clanging her second
bell, a better man by twenty pounds than when he entered Leichardt that
night, with a useless fortune in his pocket.

Next morning, somebody coming into the shop with a Waterbury to mend
found Hermann lying senseless and nearly dead from loss of blood. None
of the wounds, however, had touched any vital part; and a month in
the local hospital restored him to health again. For reasons of his
own, he had professed himself unable to give any description of the
assassin. Illicit pearl-buyers on that coast were looked upon with
great disfavour, for the reason that every inhabitant who could afford
it had shares in some venture connected with the fishery--that is, the
pearl-shell fleet. The pearls themselves were but a by-blow of the
industry--conspicuous more by their rarity, except in the shape of
almost worthless 'seed,' than anything else.

But the glamour of the big gem had entered into Hermann's soul, as it
had into Panton's and into Abdallah's; and presently, selling out his
stock for a few pounds, he too moved on in pursuit, impelled, to boot,
by a sharp feeling of revenge for loss of blood and money.

Meanwhile Abdallah, journeying southward, made no more attempts to
dispose of his treasure. But, sewing it in a little bag of black
calico, he hid it away artistically in the meshes of his thick hair,
where with a touch he could assure himself of its safety. He was a man
who had travelled far, and knew many things--knew more than Panton or
Itzig; but travel had not shut out inherent superstition. And he began
to look upon the big pearl as a charm, an amulet, that, worn always,
would protect him and bring him much good fortune. At various times, in
the absence of any distinguishing marks of caste or dress, he had been
taken for a Malay, a Hindu, and a Kanaka.

But Abdallah was none of these. He was an Arab from Muscat, who had in
his time worked amongst the rotting oyster-heaps of El Bouruk on the
shores of the Persian Gulf, had seen big pearls, and possessed a fair
notion of their value. Hence he was well aware that he had a prize that
would make a sensation in the world, and one whose owner would be
unable to hide his light under a bushel--so far as the police, at least,
were concerned.

Nor did he imagine for a moment that Panton would sit down quietly
under his loss. Of Hermann he thought no more--dead men tell no tales.

So he travelled round to Adelaide, thence by sea up Spencer's Gulf to
Port Augusta, where he joined the camel-trains of Hafiz Khan, the rich
Afghan who brought the wool down from the arid interior to the tall
ships lying in the river.

* * * * * *

Into Sydney shortly came Hermann Itzig, with the desire for vengeance
still hot, but purse low. His guarded inquiries soon let him into the
knowledge that the police were on the watch, and had at least twenty
men shadowed on suspicion, and waiting the arrival of Panton.

Seeing that so far as his own claim was concerned the case was
hopeless, he gave it up. But not until he had satisfied himself that
Abdallah was not in the city did he for a time relinquish the hope of
getting even with him for that little matter of the knifing in the hut
by the Leichardt beach.

Later, falling in with two of his countrymen bound for the West
Australian goldfields, he joined them. The trio were lucky, and made
each a fair pile. After a hurried visit to the Fatherland, which he
left also hurriedly, convinced that for the Australian-born a military
despotism was a most unsuitable form of government, Hermann Itzig,
returning, bought a station 'up north' in South Australia, and after a
while began to prosper considerably. But often to him came dreams of
the big pearl, shining with its mild and tender light as he had last
seen it--an episode in his life that, but for certain pains of frosty
mornings, he might have almost come to regard as apocryphal. A stern,
resolute man, he was incapable of forgetting an injury; and ever and
anon, principally in the winter, he sent agents to work to hunt up
Abdallah, meaning, when found, to deal with him after his own fashion.

But when a black man, or a yellow, chooses to hide himself amongst
others of his colour, the search is apt to linger and become
monotonous.

* * * * * *

And so Bob Panton found it.

Received by the police with open arms and a whole tribe of dusky
nomads--Manila-men, Kanakas, Javanese, men from the spurs of the Hindu
Kush, others from the palm-groves of Kandy and the plains of Central
India--he could identify none of them. The police had done their best,
stimulated by the reward. But the vagueness of the description baffled
them. There were so many black men with sharp aquiline features and
good teeth, who spoke very little English, and usually wore European
clothes. And at last they gave it up as a bad job. So also did the
authorities in Melbourne and Adelaide, whither Bob Panton journeyed on
his quest, with hopes growing weaker and weaker.

Superstitious in his way as Abdallah, he had quite made up his mind
that unless he recovered his Birthday Pearl, no luck would ever again
cross his path in this world nor, possibly, in the next; and, strong in
his belief, he spent every penny he possessed in the fruitless search,
finding himself at last 'on the wallaby' with a swag upon his back--he,
Bob Panton, once master and owner of the smartest little lugger around
Torres Straits.

Fain would he have returned once more to his old haunts on the
Queensland coast; but he well knew how useless that would be, penniless
as he was. And he had seen enough of beachcombing in his day, so had no
stomach for that game.

And he worked about from station to station under an assumed name, with
the splendid memory of his loss abiding ever upon him, until what
preachers call the 'finger of Providence,' and lesser men 'luck,'
brought him to Weetah, which was the name of Itzig's station, far to
northward of the Burra.

Here there was a drought prevailing, and men were sinking wells. Panton
knew little about the business; but, falling in with a mate who did, he
took a contract to put a well down on an out-of-the-way part of the run
known as the Sandalwood Ridge.

They struck water at a shallow depth, much to Itzig's delight. Then
they built a hut for a shepherd and yards for the sheep, laid
troughing, and made everything ready. And, just as they finished, there
came a rainfall measurable in feet.

But Panton, in place of leaving, took other work on the run; whilst at
Sandalwood the water stood undisturbed, and tall grass grew about hut
and troughs, and the yards fell to decay, for nobody ever went that way
now feed and water were so plentiful elsewhere.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile Abdallah, earning good wages as a first-class driver, made
money on the camel-train; and presently, leaving Hafiz Khan, he bought
a tilted cart and two horses, and took out a hawker's license, and
began life on his own account, secure in the strength and continuance
of his luck.

He wore the pearl, now in a little leather bag, hung round his neck by
a silver chain. And he worshipped it as his god. Nothing but good
fortune had been his since the night he had sneaked into the Daisy's
cabin whilst the drunken snores of her crew broke the still air, and
taken the gem--his own: had he not found it?--from off the cabin table.

And ever since then had he not thriven--thriven until his outlandish
signature was beginning to be known at the big bank in King William
Street almost as well as that of Hafiz Khan?

And when at rare intervals he allowed his eyes to feast on the soft,
lucent iridescence of the wonderful talisman, his belief grew stronger
than ever that his Kismet was bound up therein; and that, compared to
the power and magic of his treasure, Allah and all his works were as
naught. And, indeed, Abdallah had long ago abjured the teachings of his
Prophet, conforming to the demands of Australian inland civilisation in
the matters of drinking rum, smoking, swearing, and eating flesh, both
clean and unclean, with the utmost indifference--exactly the same as any
Christian.

So utter was his faith in the efficacy of the gem that if any slight
mishap befell, such as the losing of his horses or the breaking of a
spoke, he ascribed it to his inconsiderate attempt at Leichardt to get
rid of it to the young man whose body had made a sheath for his knife.
It was a punishment meted out to him by his divinity.

Many months passed away; he made money, and travelled far and wide.
Then, in an evil hour for himself, he travelled still farther, and fell
into a trap set, all unwittingly, for him by two men whom he had
injured, and from which all the power of the Birthday Pearl was unable
to save him. One hot summer day, making for Weetah head-station, he
lost his bearings, and at sundown, he and his horses being parched with
thirst, was very pleased to strike the Sandalwood Ridge, with its
covered well of still water, sheltering hut, and abundance of feed.

* * * * * *

'I think,' remarked Hermann Itzig to his overseer a month or two
afterwards, 'that we may as well, perhaps, put a flock at the
Sandalwood.'

'Very well, sir,' replied the overseer. 'I'll send Bray here out to do
up the hut and yards.'

'I'll drive him out,' said Hermann. 'He's one of the men who worked
there, isn't he? I want to have a look round. See that the big
water-bag's on the buggy. I don't suppose the stuff in the well's any
too good by this time.'

'What's that?' asked Itzig of Bray, alias Panton, as, at the end of
their twenty-mile drive, they caught sight of something white and round
close to the well.

'Tilted cart, I should say,' replied the other, peering under the flat
of his hand.

As they drove up, two big eagle-hawks and some crows flew off the
carcasses of a couple of dead horses.

Close to the door lay another corpse--that of a man--a man with strips of
dry black flesh hanging from his bones.

'Great heaven!' exclaimed Itzig, 'what's the matter here?' But Panton
made no answer. He was staring intently at the shrivelled features of
the dead man. As he gazed he saw something shine from between the
skeleton fingers of one clenched hand. Stooping, he drew it out with a
cry of astonishment--the great pearl, Abdallah's god, appealed to in
vain during his last agony.

'My pearl!' exclaimed Hermann.

'No--mine!' said Panton. 'My Birthday Pearl that Abdallah here stole
from me!'

'Are you Panton, then?' asked Hermann.

'Yes,' replied Bob, 'I am. But what do you know about the matter?'

Then Hermann told his story, waiving all rights, if any belonged by
reason of the wounds that ached yet in the winter mornings. He could
afford to. But what had killed man and horses?

There was a little water left in the bottom of the well-bucket. Hermann
tasted it, shook his head, and spat it out. Alongside the bucket lay a
native cat, dead. At the troughs, dry now, were others; also crows, all
dead.

'I prefer our own water,' said he. 'Empty the whisky out of that bottle
in the buggy, and fill it from the well. I'll fix this stuff up when we
get home. That pearl's worth a lot of money. A good day's work for you.
And for me too, perhaps, if my notion turns out correct. Copper's not
so low as it was.'

Analysis disclosed the secret. The well had been bottomed on a very
rich vein of copper ore. The water had become so impregnated with the
mineral as to become highly poisonous. A thirsty man and thirsty horses
might as well have drunk a strong decoction of arsenic.

It required a deal of persuasion to make Panton part with his pearl.
Even as Abdallah, he was minded to make a fetish of the thing--it was so
pure-looking, and shone with such a mild graciousness, that it seemed
very hard to relinquish possession of it. Also, it was his birthday
gift, and was bound to bring him luck.

But at last wiser counsels prevailed. Messrs Storr & Mortimer gave
£2500 for it, and with this money Panton bought a partnership in
Weetah. The lode at 'Poison Well' may be worked yet. At present prices
it might pay. And what eventually became of the Birthday Pearl I know
not. I note, however, that at the last London wool sales Messrs Itzig &
Panton's clip averaged the top price of the season.



*



Six Seamen And A Menagerie.

Some of us had been working along the Overland Telegraph Line, others
of us prospecting for gold about the Northern Territory. Then the six
of us forgathered at old Jack Hanley's boarding-house in Port Adelaide,
and talked over what we'd do next. A couple were for going up to try
our luck on the Echunga diggings; but that notion was overruled by a
majority. Lots of schemes were mooted. At last Tommy Cubitt said,
'Well, boys, what d' ye say to another trip on the briny? We're all
sailors; we're all mates; all strapping, able-bodied hearties, and fit
for any chance. I've had two years o' damper and mutton, blacks, Barcoo
rot, and the rest of the general cussedness of the Australian Bush, and
I think three or four months of salt sea-breeze won't harm me, or any
of us, for that matter.'

'Second the motion!' said Jimmy Lascelles laconically.

'Third it!' said Jack Meredith, who was Lascelles' particular chum, a
big, loose-limbed giant of a man, whose style and speech, in common
with some of the rest, smacked unmistakably of English public school
and London Clubland.

'Fourth and fifth it!' said the brothers Reggie and Alf Sheldon, as
they hummed the first verse of the latest popular ditty heard at the
'White Horse Cellars' the night before.

'Carried nem. con.,' concluded the reader's very humble servant, the
writer. 'And what part of the world would your Royal Highnesses of the
sea be pleased to choose for this pleasure-trip?'

'As it happens,' said Cubitt, 'it's Hobson's choice. There's only one
vessel in port wanting hands. She's a barque of about eight hundred
tons, named the Atlanta, bound for 'Frisco. She wants six A.B.s. I saw
a German chap out of the house here had just signed on board.'

'She's a Yank, then,' remarked Lascelles. 'But what's the odds?--Well,
boys, shall we see what fortune's got in store for us on the banks of
the Sacramento?'

'Jack--Jack Hanley--you black-a-vised old Shylock!' roared Cubitt, as the
proposal was unanimously assented to, 'bring a bottle of beer for each
of us, and one over to drink yourself thirsty again in wishing us luck
and a long passage. Come now, step out! No advance-notes in this crowd,
you know.'

'No,' said Hanley, a dark, burly Irishman and ex-sailor, as he came in
laden with bottles; 'an', begorra! afore ye've done wid the Atylanta
ye'll be sorry ye didn't shtop wid ould Jack and trusht him to git ye a
dacent ship.'

'Why, how now, you bow-bellied and be-whiskered prophet of evil!'
exclaimed Meredith, 'what's the matter with the packet? Have you been
trying to Shanghai some greenhorns aboard, eh, and got rousted by the
Yankee skipper?'

'Not me, captain'--lots of people got brevet rank at Jack's as long
as their money lasted--'but I know what them Yanks is, wid their
knuckle-dusters an' revolvers an' belayin'-pins, an' what-not. You must
remimber I'm an ould packet-rat meself. Sure, I was wid Bully Barton
three toimes acrosht the Western Ocean in the Black Ball Line. An',
anyhow, the Atylanta's got a bad name. Dreckly she brings up at the
semaphore her crew, ivery man-Jack on 'em, swims ashore an' up the Bush
for their mortial lives.' And as he finished speaking Hanley grinned in
sympathy with us; for well we knew that if he so wished he could put
his hands on them, and that probably as soon as the barque sailed the
missing men would be gathered under his wing.

'Well,' said Meredith, 'I'd like to see 'Frisco again. I haven't been
there since the sixties. Had a good time there, too. Know lots of
people up and down the coast, from San Diego to Vancouver. What do
you say, boys: shall we go across to the semaphore and aboard this
man-eating ship of old Jack's, and see what we can do with her?'

'Yes,' replied Captain John H. Snaggs to Meredith's question anent
wanting hands. 'I kin do with a half-dozen. But they must be rale grit.
Loafers ain't no account on board o' the Atlanta.'

'Well, sir, I think we all know our work,' said Lascelles, 'and
therefore ought to be able to worry through anywhere. So, if you're
agreeable, captain, we'd better sign on.'

'All right,' replied the captain, leading the way into the saloon.
'Only, mind, if you ain't all A1 you'll find I'm a bit of a horse
myself; an' as for the mate, he's a reg'lar tiger; second's got a
lot o' the alligator about him; "Sails" an' "Chips," too, are fair
cautions; in fact, the whole of the afterguard can bite.'

'Yes, yes,' remarked Cubitt blandly, with his natural drawl
intensified, 'we understand, captain; quite a menagerie, so to speak,
and with all due respect.'

At this the skipper looked black, but only gave a grunt that might have
meant anything.

As we left to get our traps a boatload of men came on board, and the
skipper, looking over the rail, sang out to them, 'Now then, there!
hop along quick an' lively, ef you wants to keep a clean skin. Man the
windlass an' heave short on the stabboard chain!'

'Doesn't look very promising for a quiet life that hooker,' remarked
Reggie Sheldon, laughing, 'what with a tiger, an alligator, a horse,
and a couple of unclassed specimens warranted to bite.'

'Oh, that's only Yankee blow,' replied Cubitt. 'I've heard that sort
of thing before. All the same, there may be some fun, and it's just as
well, perhaps, that we should all bring along our "guns," as Captain
Snaggs'd call 'em.'

It was sundown ere we returned to the Atlanta, getting the rough side
of the skipper's tongue as we dragged our dunnage for'ard, and, in
obedience to orders, proceeded to heave up our anchors, we six manning
the port brakes of the old-fashioned windlass. Our shipmates appeared
to be all foreigners--Germans, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes. Presently
one of us struck up a chanty; but a tall, lanky, hatchet-faced man,
with a long curved nose and watery eyes, who turned out to be the mate,
shouted out, 'Naow then, drop that! Keep your wind to cool yer soup.
Yer'll want it all afore we're done with yer.'

'That's the tiger,' whispered Meredith.

'A blue-nosed one, by his growl,' replied Cubitt, alluding to the Nova
Scotian twang in the mate's speech.

Another hour, and under all plain sail we were dropping down St
Vincent's Gulf. And at eight bells we mustered aft to be drafted into
watches. By an exceptional piece of luck the whole six of us got into
the same watch--the mate's. Man for man, the foreigners were a bigger
lot than we were; and the second-mate, who had been ashore and was more
than slightly muddled, chose them all.

We of the port watch got the first four hours on deck, and as I went to
the wheel I heard the second-mate, who had just come from rounding up
his crowd and getting their names, complaining to the mate. 'Blarmed,'
said he, 'ef I don't think I've picked all the dashed Dagoes in the
ship. Say, Mr Hanks, will ye swap dogs? Ef there's one thing I do hate,
it's a Dutchman; an' so fur's I kin make out, every one o' my crowd 'll
say yah sooner 'n yes.'

'No, I won't swap, Mr Maggett,' replied the mate, 'although I don't
doubt your lot's as good's mine, which is all bullock-drivers instid o'
sailor-men. A nice contract I'll have to lick 'em into shape, I reckon.
I'll just be about makin' use of 'em by the time we get to 'Frisco. But
I allow to be able for the job, eh, Maggett?'

'None better, sir,' replied the latter obsequiously. 'There ain't many
atween here an' Cape Cod knows more 'n Hiram Hanks how to roust a
loafer up to the mark. Bet your life on that!'

The pair were standing near the wheel, and evidently talking at me.
None of the three figureheads of the Atlanta's executive were in any
way prepossessing. But that of this man Maggett was positively hideous,
so covered was his face with a mat of vivid red hair, out of which
peered, either side of a snub bulb of a nose, two cold, blue slits
of eyes. He was a type of a certain class--the Irish-American--and I
pitied his watch.

Presently he went below, and the captain coming on deck, he and the
mate stood talking to the pilot. I noticed that the carpenter was
keeping watch with us. Probably the sail-maker would do the same by the
starboard one. Both these men were sullen and sulky Down-Easters from
about Martha's Vineyard or Salem, and could be thoroughly depended upon
to back up captain and mates through thick and thin.

At twelve o'clock the second-mate, without giving the watch below
a chance to appear, went into the fo'c'sle, and we could hear him
raging and storming at the foreigners to an accompaniment of kicks
and thumps that showed Mr Maggett was losing no time. Our side of the
topgallant-fo'c'sle was separated from theirs by a bulkhead, and when
I got below I found Meredith and the others overhauling their chests
for cartridges and seeing that their pistols were clean and ready for
action.

'Just in case of need, you know,' Cubitt remarked. 'I see that all our
friends aft carry a "gun;" and although there's no necessity for us to
let them discover that we do the same, still it's as well to be
prepared for accidents. I was going to sell mine to Jack Hanley. Glad I
didn't now. You chaps all got one?'

We had--some of us a pair, and plenty of ammunition to boot.

Very evidently we had fallen in with a real bad ship, and it behoved us
to walk warily, just as much so, indeed, as if we were being shadowed
by Blacks on 'The Overland,' or tramping through 'snake-country' by
night. Perhaps some of us had been bullock-driving: but we also knew
our work as seamen too well to allow ourselves to be worried by tiger,
alligator, or horse. Our spells of Bush-life had given us broader,
wider views of men's obligations with regard to each other, a portion,
certainly, of which was to put up with no such nonsense as our
shipmates were evidently resigned to.

'The chap who relieved me at the wheel,' remarked the younger Sheldon,
'was only half-dressed, and his nose was bleeding from a smack of the
alligator's fist. I gave him the course--sou'-sou'-west. But he was too
scared to speak; so the skipper walked over and pulled what was left of
his nose till he squealed again. A nice packet this is! I wonder what
the pilot thinks of it all?'

But whatever may have been Mr Jones's thoughts, he kept them strictly
to himself, and stepped into his cutter next day with as hearty a
farewell as if the Atlanta had been one of his favourite Orient
clippers instead of the 'hell afloat' she was so unmistakably to
become. Cubitt, who knew the pilot slightly, shook hands with him as he
was going over the side, and said, 'Tell old Jack Hanley that we've got
into a regular blooming menagerie here, but that we think we can hold
our own till we get to 'Frisco.'

Mr Jones grinned, nodded, and winked, conveying fully that he quite
understood the position of affairs, and wished us all sorts of luck.

'Now then, you there!' suddenly shouted the skipper, 'can't you find
anythin' better to do than yarn on the quarterdeck? You're too far aft,
my man.--Mr Hanks, you'll have your watch gittin' a top-dog if you don't
mind, sir.'

'Very sorry, captain,' replied Cubitt, who was a powerful, athletic
fellow, grim-visaged from the slash of a Peruvian cutlass received
whilst serving as a lieutenant in the Chilian navy; 'but, you see, I'm
not used to big ship style.'

'Well,' returned the skipper, somewhat mollified by the compliment to
his old tub--for she was little better--'I guess me an' Mr Hanks 'll take
ye in hand an' larn ye sea-politeness. As a rule, we can't abide
greenhorns: but in your case we'll make an exception;' and he stroked
his goatee and chuckled at his own wit, yet not without a sharp glance
of suspicion at its object. Nor was he unjustified in his doubt; for
Cubitt had been chief mate of ships that would have almost taken the
square-sterned, bluff-bowed Atlanta for a long-boat. Indeed, the whole
six of us were 'passed men,' holding either masters' or mates'
certificates in the British merchant service. Not that we gave
ourselves airs on that account; we had all been before the mast as well
as on the quarterdeck ere this when necessity--or, in at least the case
of two amongst us, sheer caprice--pressed. But, on the other hand, we
were determined to put up with no nonsense in the matter of being
knocked about by Messrs Snaggs, Hanks, and Maggett.

On the second day out we cleared the land; and that evening, with Cape
Borda light like a little star astern, it came on to blow so heavily
that all hands had to be called to snug the Atlanta down. And now the
two mates, for no reason that I could see except that the captain
encouraged and approved, condescending once or twice even to take part
in the performance, began to cut capers amongst the starboard watch to
a tune none of us had ever heard before. How the men stood it puzzled
us. But they did, and, chewing stolidly on their quids, pulled and
hauled to the accompaniment of kicks from the mate's heavy sea-boots or
punchings from the almost as heavy fists of the second.

I went up with one of the sufferers to furl the foretop-gallants'l; and
as we lay out on the yard I said, noticing that his eye was swelling,
'A pretty rough sort of hooker this we've got into, mate.'

'Yah,' replied Hans, tenderly feeling the damaged optic, 'dot
segond-mate hit like von kig vrom a 'orse--mit not?'

'Don't know,' I replied, 'and don't mean to let him try. We're not
going to allow any of them to play with us as they 're doing with you.
Englishmen don't like getting black eyes and bloody noses for nothing.
Apparently you people don't mind it so much, eh?'

'Dese Yanks all de same,' replied he. 'Often I schwear I never go in
anoder von of dem. Ach Gott, nein! Bresently, by-und-by, it goms your
durn. You see!'

'Not much,' I answered, laughing, 'or there'll be wigs on the green!'

But Hans, or Wilhelm, or Carl, or whatever his name was, only grinned,
and soon, as we afterwards discovered, went straight to the mate and
told him what I had said, in a vain attempt to curry favour with his
persecutors.

Presently, though he never lifted his hand to us, Mr Hanks began to
work us up in great style, stopping our afternoon watch below, and
giving us all the dirty, disagreeable jobs he could think of, whilst
the skipper looked on and grinned approvingly; and the sail-maker and
carpenter lazied about, ever on the watch to report any growling to
their superiors. However, wanting no rows, we stood it all quietly
enough. The food was good and plentiful of its kind, so on that score
we had nothing to complain of. And one day Mr Hanks, seeing us
submissive and quiet, and thinking, perhaps, that the foreigners had
for the time received their share of hard knocks, in an ill-advised
moment made the mistake of rapping Meredith sharply over the knuckles
with a belaying-pin to hasten him in some job he was at, treating him
at the same time to a choice assortment of the best Bowery. Without a
moment's hesitation Meredith hit out from the shoulder, and sent the
mate sprawling along the deck. Rising, Hanks made a rush at him, only
to receive another and a heavier dose of the same medicine. Waiting for
him to rise again, Cubitt, intently watching, saw the mate's hand
sneaking round to his hip-pocket. A warning shout to Meredith, and the
latter in a second had his knee on the prostrate man and the half-drawn
revolver flying overboard. Slowly Hanks got to his feet, wiped the
blood from his face, and glared at Meredith. Then he made a sudden run
aft, but Meredith stopped him.

'Wait a bit,' said he; 'don't be in such a hurry. You know, Mr Hanks,
you mustn't break English knuckles like you do those made in Germany.
The English article won't stand such usage even by a "reg'lar tiger."
There's six of us here, Mr Hanks; and if you play tricks on one of the
six you've got to reckon with the half-dozen. Remember that, Mr Hanks,
and go and tell the skipper all about it if you like.--Have I put the
matter straight, lads?'

'Quite right, old man!' he answered, as, with eyes darting murder at us
in every glance, Hanks walked slowly aft, whither the sail-maker and
the carpenter had already run and roused out the captain and the
second-mate. A minute later the whole gang were in deep consultation
upon the poop.

By this time each one of us had secured our pistols, ready for the
shooting-match that we felt was almost inevitable. Indeed, so certain
was the starboard watch that presently bullets would be flying that
they had drawn off in a body and taken shelter in the fo'c'sle.

But, to our intense astonishment, there was no row. To us this
quietude, knowing the men with whom we had to deal, seemed unnatural.
It scared us much worse than a volley would have done. However, we
went on with our work, albeit keeping a remarkably sharp eye lifting
aft. But nothing remarkable happened. Certainly, the skipper and the
second-mate made a rush amongst the cowering foreigners and kicked and
punched them on deck again. But that was a mere everyday incident. The
second-mate--Mr Hanks had gone below to repair damages--walked about
amongst us scowling vindictively but saying nothing.

'Now, what is their little game?' exclaimed Meredith as eight bells
struck and we went below for the first dog-watch.

'Can't understand it at all,' replied Cubitt; 'but you may bet
your life there's something not too brilliant a-brewing. Why, in a
well-ordered packet the decks fore and aft ought an hour ago to have
been full of corpses. But, oh, Jack! those were two lovely smacks. The
tiger won't be able to see a hole through a ladder for a blue moon.'

'By Jove!' chimed in Lascelles enthusiastically, 'what a sweet and
happy accident it is that we can sport a "gun" each! Shouldn't wonder
if there's wild work on this hooker before the trip's over.'

'Wish it would come,' said young Sheldon. 'I hate waiting for the
expected. I'd like to see the five of 'em show up and have it out with
us straight away.'

'That they never will, now, I'm convinced,' remarked his brother. 'But
look out for tricks, boys. Nothing'll be too nasty for the afterguard
after this evening. The whole menagerie 'll bite and scratch, but
strictly on the sly. We must keep our pistols on us, and always handy
for a pull.'

'True for you, Reggie,' said Lascelles. 'Semper paratus must be our
little motto from this out, or some of us 'll be losing the number of
their mess. It ain't pleasant. But what can we do?'

That point was soon to be decided; for that night in the middle-watch,
a stiff head-breeze blowing, and the Atlanta foaming along full and
by, she suddenly, with a great flapping and slatting of canvas, came
up in the wind, whilst to our ears, as we lay snatching forty winks in
sheltered nooks about the deck, came the sharp report of a pistol-shot
from the poop.

Cubitt should have been at the wheel; but, rushing aft, we found him
and the second-mate--who was keeping the first's watch for him by
reason of the latter's sore head--rolling over and over across the
gratings in front of the wheel. Seeing at a glance that our man wanted
no assistance, for he was uppermost, and knocking Maggett's head in a
steady, business-like way first against the skylight, and then against
the sharp curved tails of the big brazen dolphins that supported the
binnacle, I put the wheel hard over, bringing the ship to the wind, and
picking up as I did so a revolver lying close to the spokes.

'The beggar drew and fired point-blank at me,' said Cubitt, rising and
leaving the alligator quietly lying there. 'Look here,' he continued,
taking off his sou'wester and showing us a hole through the crown, into
which he stuck his finger. 'We had a few words about the row yesterday,
and then, without a moment's warning, he pulled on me. But I guess his
head 'll ache worse than mine, close call as it was for my brains.'

'I'm just wondering,' remarked Lascelles as he dragged the second-mate
to his legs and seated him against the skylight, 'whether the very best
thing we can do isn't to take charge of this old dugout before she gets
too hot for us altogether.'

'Waal,' drawled a voice behind us, 'is that so? Naw, I guess you've got
this chicken to reckon with fust. Stand clear, for I'm agoin' to kick!'

It was the skipper in his drawers, and with in each hand a heavy 'navy'
presented at our group.

'Kick away, old horse!' exclaimed Meredith, suddenly whipping out his
own pistol and putting it to the captain's head. 'Do you think no one's
got a gun but you? You're the Horse, ain't you? Well, Mr Horse, kick
away. The Tiger and the Alligator have had a turn. It's yours now.
If you and the rest of your cursed menagerie let us alone we'll do
our duty as sailor-men should. But if you interfere again with one of
the port watch, by the Lord! we'll fill you all as full of lead as a
first-class swell coffin.'

It was a clear night, with a young moon peeping over the leech of the
main topsail, and shedding a mild light on the patch of deck just right
aft where we stood; and by this it was easy to see the dazed stare
of baffled fury mixed with astonishment that came into the skipper's
eyes as, involuntarily lowering his arms, he glared around, meeting
everywhere the levelled muzzle of a revolver. In the silence you could
hear the passionate grating of his teeth as he tried to control the
fury of resentment that raged within him. Close to sat the second-mate,
conscious now, but very sick, with his head resting on his hands, and
red drops dripping from nose and mouth on to the white paint of the
skylight.

'It's mutiny--rank mutiny!' exclaimed the captain at last in a hoarse
whisper, as, shifting his pistols into one hand, he with the back of
the other wiped some flakes of foam off his long goatee. 'A put-up
job!' he continued. 'And, by the livin' Jehoshaphat, if ever you live
to git to 'Frisco you'll swing!'

'See where that murdering animal put a bullet, skipper,' said Cubitt,
showing his hat. 'And don't talk rubbish about mutiny. D'ye think
that men like us are going to be made targets and chopping-blocks
of like those Dagoes yonder? Not much, we ain't! You and your lot
behave yourselves, and you'll find us the whitest crowd you ever
sailed with. But if you keep on hanky-panky, why, then you'll have to
suffer accordingly. Peace or war, captain?' But the latter's passion
was too great for words. For years his reign of terror had probably
been so undisputed that he at last had thought himself a sort of
sea-omnipotence. The shock of this rude awakening nearly killed him,
and all he could do was to wave his arm for'ard as a signal to us
to clear. But as he stood there, his thin, sallow face working and
twitching wickedly in little pulses, and a line of white foam showing
between his parted lips, he looked such a dangerous customer that, when
surrendering the wheel to Cubitt again, I took the lee side, each of us
keeping one hand on a pistol whilst steering with the other. It was, I
saw, very close on eight-bells, and presently, striking it, a German
came yawning, and surprised to find two men at the wheel. 'Vat is de
madder' he was beginning, when Cubitt stopped him with 'Full and by--as
she goes!' and we walked for'ard, keeping a wary eye on the skipper and
the secondmate, who were muttering together at the break of the poop,
Mr Maggett carrying a bandage on his head the size of a turban.

'Well,' remarked Meredith as we sat on our chests discussing the
situation, 'things are developing, boys. I really think Lascelles'
notion that we should take charge altogether and sail the Atlanta to
'Frisco on our own hook not half a bad one.'

'If we don't do something of the sort,' said Cubitt, 'we'll go to
leeward flying, for the old man and his lot'll never rest easy till
they've squared yards with us. Couldn't you see it in his face
to-night? Still, you chaps know there's precious little law for a
sailor in 'Frisco--or, rather, there's plenty of law but very little
justice. And, in any case, it's rather a serious thing this seizing a
ship at sea. Our words won't count a straw against the afterguards'.
And remember, lads, that every sneaking Dutchman in the starboard watch
'll back the brutes up through thick and thin.'

'I'm not sure of that matter of sailor law, at least in our case,'
said Meredith. 'If we had always been plain A.B.s and nothing more I
wouldn't give a fig for our chances. Ten years hard 'd be the least
I should expect. But you've all got your papers to show. Besides,
although I don't want to brag, I really have some influence in 'Frisco,
especially amongst the large merchants, also with the better class
of journalists. I don't particularly want it known that I've been
masquerading before the mast in the Atlanta, and should prefer to
get quietly away; but if the worst comes to the worst, why, really,
I believe I can pull the six of us out of a pretty bad scrape, and
perhaps cook the skipper's goose and that of his mates so effectually
as to prevent them from ever getting another ship.'

Now, this seemed pretty tall talk to us. Of all our crowd, Meredith
and his chum Lascelles were the only ones who were at all reticent
as to their past. The rest of us talked and yarned of our homes, our
people, and our lives unreservedly enough. But with the other two there
were limitations which no one cared to try and get over; and, all
through, it seemed to us that the pair were not quite like ourselves,
adventurers of necessity. They had met the four of us at Alice
Springs, whither they had come from Port Darwin with an overlanding
party in search of new country. The Sheldons, myself, and Cubitt had
been prospecting in the Macdonnell Ranges. Meredith and his friend
seemingly took a fancy to our company, and left their own for it. We
were together some weeks. Then they left, promising to look us up again
in Adelaide, and form an expedition of any kind anywhere. And a pretty
little expedition it promised to become, so far as, at present, I could
see!

However, Meredith's promises, unsupported as they were by more than
his bare word, cheered us somewhat. There was a distinct and powerful
personality about the big man that made one feel he never spoke without
ample security; and although nobody asked any questions, I think we all
felt that here was a sort of background providence that would see us
safely through our troubles.

That day the Atlanta was very quiet; the decks were redolent of friars'
balsam; and the sight of the two mates, one with thickly bandaged head,
the other peering out of black-and-blue lumps of flesh where his eyes
should have been, made even the stolid foreigners grin secretly. The
skipper paced the poop, apparently deep in thought, and I noticed that,
in place of smoking his cigar, he was viciously chewing it. This I took
to portend squalls. We of the port watch went about our work as usual,
only with glancing, restless eyes, and hands ever ready to the butts of
our pistols. Altogether it was a curious turn-out; also an unpleasant
one.

A week passed in comparative quiet, varied only by little, mean
attempts at assassination, such as letting go braces o' dark nights
whilst some of us were aloft on the higher yards; and once Lascelles
and myself, furling the main-topgallant-s'l in a heavy squall, and
being nearly jerked overboard by such a trick, drew our pistols, and
by common consent fired towards the spot where the braces led. Next
morning we noticed that the sail-maker carried his arm in a sling.
But we made no inquiry; nor, curiously enough, did any one aft ask
what strange impulse had seized upon us to practise shooting in the
dark and from aloft. Henceforward we were less troubled in respect of
such trecherous contrivings. Of all these little incidents, however,
Meredith kept a faithful log, omitting nothing. But the state of
continual tension was beginning to tell upon our nerves badly. Below,
we moved in constant watchful dread of some cunning trap being baited
for us; aloft, ere lying out on a yard, it behoved us to look well to
seizings of lifts and foot-ropes, and to keep our grip tenacious as
fish-hooks lest the stay we trusted to should suddenly play us false.
Only once had we actually disobeyed orders, and that was when they told
us to get over the side on stages and scrape paintwork. The vessel was
going a full eight knots, and we absolutely declined to commit suicide
in any such stupid fashion. However, they did not persist in the
attempt; but we saw the skipper grin, well satisfied, as he retired to
add another to the doubtless already numerous entries in the log-book
dealing with our crimes.

'All the belaying-pins in the Atlanta couldn't have held those
stage-ropes from slipping if we'd gone,' remarked Meredith; and we knew
that he was perfectly correct in his judgment.

It is hard to say how matters would have ended, or how the general
flare-up we were prepared for would have come to pass, as, after all,
it arose out of a business that we need not have meddled with, and
certainly got no thanks for doing so.

Truly, if our lines were at this time cast in troubled waters, surely
were those of our next-door neighbours--the starboard watch--in raging
seas. What the people aft failed to inflict upon us they took out
of these unfortunates. But at last it appeared that, submissive and
long-suffering as they had thoroughly proved themselves, still there
was an unguessed-at limit, crossing which meant danger. And one day,
the watch being a few minutes late in showing up, the second-mate
thought fit to do as he had often done before, and, entering the
fo'c'sle, proceeded to perform upon them tooth and nail in his
character of alligator. This time, however, whether it was that Maggett
exceeded, in their opinion, all fair bounds, or that the psychological
moment had arrived, he, after a minute or two, was cast out upon the
deck bleeding from half-a-dozen knife-stabs. Rising, he had just
strength left to stagger aft and tell a story which sent the skipper,
mate, sail-maker, and carpenter racing for'ard, where presently some
very murderous work began on that side of the fo'c'sle. For a while
we stood listening to the groans, curses, and pistol-shots. Then
said Meredith, 'Why, they're slaughtering those fellows like so many
pigs. I think we'd better take a deal. I fancy I see a way by which
this may be made to lead straight into our hands. Come along!' So in
we dashed. The four from aft had got the foreigners penned up in and
under bunks, and were serving it out to the faint hearts in great
style with belaying-pins. Evidently the watch had at first shown
fight, for a couple with knives in their hands lay dead on the floor,
which was slippery with blood. The remainder, seeing us with firearms,
took courage and rallied, whilst the afterguard, caught between the
two parties, fought like fiends. Luckily for us, the smoke and the
inherent gloom of the place spoiled any attempt at aim, that Cubitt got
a bullet through his arm, young Sheldon was shot through both cheeks,
and there were some minor wounds. Lascelles--who was at the wheel, and
who, on hearing the fray, had made the Chinese cook take his place,
and presently joined us in the rush which finished the business--was
also unlucky enough to be stabbed by the carpenter, but it was little
more than a flesh-wound, and as we bound our prisoners we saw that
they had not by any means escaped scathless. The skipper had a bullet
in his shoulder, besides a couple of broken ribs. One of the mate's
arms was hanging loose at his side, and Chip's face had been battered
by a German till it looked like pulp. In addition to the two dead men
on the floor, we found another mortally wounded, lying in his bunk as
he had been shot. Taken all round, it had turned out a very bloody
little fight; and it struck me once or twice that we had done wrong by
interfering. However, it was too late now to say anything. Fortunately
the elder Sheldon was rather more than a botch of a surgeon, and by
Meredith's orders--for he took charge at once, and quite naturally--we
brought all the wounded into the saloon for Sheldon to attend to.

'Thank the good God,' said the skipper piously, as Sheldon, after some
rather spiteful probing with a pair of carpenter's calipers, at last
discovered the bullet--' thank the good God the whole posse of ye'll
most undoubtedly swing now! Why, ye'll be lucky if you ain't lynched!'

After their wounds were dressed we locked our prisoners into their
berths, and with Meredith as skipper, Lascelles first-mate, and myself
second, made a fresh start, so short-handed that even the wounded had
to steer and take a lookout. Of these the second-mate's case was the
only critical one; his carving had been done with a will. Naturally
we were apprehensive regarding the outcome of all this business. At
least four of us were. As to Meredith and Lascelles, they seemed quite
unconcerned, and scouted utterly a proposal made by us that we should
presently leave the ship and make for some of the islands of the
Hawaiian group, passed nearly a week ago.

'It would be madness, nothing less!' protested Meredith. 'Just as we
are beginning to get along so nicely, too! Why, it would amount to a
full confession of guilt, and we'd be hunted down with a price on our
heads! Can't you see, we're on top now--have got a good grip of the
situation. Besides, look at the novelty of the thing! In place of doing
what you fellows suggest--exactly what your average crew would think
of--we carefully sail the ship to her destination, and call the law in
to decide between us.'

'And against us, most likely,' put in Cubitt. 'I've heard that owners
and underwriters in most of the States can get any verdict they wish
recorded against the fo'c'sle seamen.'

'Well, yes, at one time,' admitted Meredith, 'but it's rather different
now. The press is only too glad to get hold of such a story as I'm
preparing, ready for the first reporter who steps on board. Now,
you fellows had better trust to me. It's a stiffer contract than I
bargained for, but I can pull you through. And Lascelles 'll help
me.--Won't you, Jimmy?'

'Why, of course, old man. What d' ye take me for?' replied his chum.
'But I think you'll be able to state a very good case single-handed.'

So we gave in to these two, but not without some inward qualms when we
thought of what sort of a reception might await us at that destination
now approaching very close.

Next morning we buried the three foreigners. Meredith, attired in the
uniform of a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, read the burial
service in a most impressive manner, whilst Lascelles and myself,
dressed up in serge suits with anchor buttons in honour of our new
ranks, stood by. Also, Meredith had the wounded prisoners, with the
exception of the second-mate, who was not fit to be moved, brought on
deck to witness the ceremony.

The skipper and the mate, as they were assisted to seats close to
the gangway, whispered together and looked curiously about them. The
pair seemed rather broken up, and were very quiet and subdued. The
carpenter, with his bandaged face, was at the wheel; the sail-maker
we had also made turn-to. It really appeared as if we had reduced the
menagerie to subjection.

It was a beautiful day, bright with sunshine; a gentle breeze rippled
the water musically against the barque's bluff bows as she lay nearly
stationary, with her fore-topsail aback and the Stars-and-stripes at
half-mast The ship was very quiet, and Meredith's voice sounded loud
and clear as he read the solemn words of the service. As the grating
tilted, and its threefold burden plunged heavily into the sea, I looked
at Snaggs' face; but, save a sneering grin, it showed no sign of
emotion. But when, presently, the carpenter left the wheel, and Snaggs
asked the course and found it still NE. by E., I heard him swear, and
noticed a puzzled expression come over his face. He was doubtless
surprised to find her still heading for 'Frisco, after making certain
that we had intended to run away with her and try to sell or wreck
her. I saw him, too, staring suspiciously at Meredith's uniform as he
was taken below again. And, for that matter, we also were surprised at
our skipper's turn-out; knowing, however, that he was the last man to
wear anything to which he had no right. Nor did any of us think fit
to ask questions. Only our confidence in our captain seemed increased
by the incident. The following day we sighted a steamer, which proved
to be a big tramp bound from Samoa to the same port as ourselves,
which she would reach a week at least before us. By her Meredith sent
on a formidable heap of letters and a copy of his private log duly
attested by all hands, which writings doubtless had much to do with our
reception when at last we brought up inside the Golden Gate.

The first man to step on board was the editor of one of the big 'Frisco
dailies, who shook Meredith warmly by the hand, greeting him as an old
acquaintance, at the same time picking up a paper from a pile he had
placed on the skylight, and laughingly pointing to an article with
headlines in such huge type that from where I stood I could easily
read, 'Six Sailors and a Menagerie! How the Six Tamed the Wild Beasts
of the Atlanta!! A Floating Hell Hailing from 'Frisco!!! The Shambles
of the Atlanta!!!! Wild Work with Snaggs, Hanks, and Maggett!!!!' and
then column after column of what proved to be in the very best style of
lucidly descriptive Western journalism.

'It's all right, gentlemen,' said the editor as Meredith introduced
us; 'you've got the voice of the city with you to a man. It's been a
reg'lar snap for the Herald, too. And to make sure, I've engaged the
very best counsel to be had for money. We're not taking any risks.
No more,' he added significantly, 'are the owners. They mean fight.
Got the police flag up, I see! That's right. You're all real grit
every time. Ah! here they come.' He alluded to the police, who, with
an inspector at their head, now took charge of the ship, which was
surrounded by steam-launches and rowing-boats filled with curious
people. But these, with the exception of many of the leading men in
'Frisco, who came to see Meredith and ask if they could be of use, the
police kept at a respectable distance. As it was, when our prisoners
were produced the Atlanta's saloon was crammed so full of reporters
and eager busybodies that there was scarce room to move. Snaggs still
wore his arm in a sling; but the others had made a quick recovery,
especially Maggett, who for the last few days had been so violent as to
compel us to put irons on him. Snaggs, of course, gave us in charge for
mutiny on the high seas. But both he and the others were far from easy
in their minds, if one could judge from their hang-dog looks. About the
last thing they expected was to have the tables turned upon them in
this curious fashion.

Ashore, bail to any amount was offered for us by Meredith's friends,
amongst whom we presently found ourselves billeted in most hospitable
fashion. Meanwhile, in the matter of bail at any rate, the skipper and
the mates' party had done as much for them, and they also were at
large, but unable to show their faces on the streets for fear of
violence, so high did public feeling run against them. On the other
hand, we were mobbed enthusiastically, and made popular idols of--a
process also not without its disadvantages.

At last we found ourselves in a police court. And I must say that
although, with the rest of us, I was not very much surprised--the fact
having of late become common property--to hear Meredith sworn as 'Sir
John Meredith, a Baronet of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Ireland,' yet I opened my eyes widely enough to hear his chum answer to
the style of James Henry Churchill Lascelles, Baron Ulleswater, a Peer
of the United Kingdom.'

The official mouthed out the titles with a democratic relish, and
'Jimmy' turned lobster-red as he replied in the affirmative to the
indictment, whilst the crowd fairly gasped with delight as it suddenly
realised the comical incongruity of the whole tiling.

'The lawyers insisted on it, y' see,' said the editor of the Herald,
who sat close to me. 'His lordship bucked like a young steer when
he knew about it. No, Meredith didn't give him away, you bet. Some
globe-trotting tenderfoot recognised him, and it came to Coke & Dixon's
ears, and they played the thing off for all it was worth. And that's a
Jew's eye, my boy. And they 're right. See what a fight the other side
made before Meredith and his friend had a say. Now, look at 'em! Why,
sonny, if you'd ha' all been plain Jack-tars I wouldn't have given a
rotten fig for your necks. Not much! But Sir John could ha' pulled you
through. He's got a fine record amongst us here in 'Frisco. And when
it comes to a British peer! Why, consider the menagerie euchred hands
down.'

And so it proved; although the sentences, to our thinking, were
ridiculously light. Snaggs got three years' imprisonment, and was
fined one thousand dollars; Hanks two years, and five hundred dollars;
Maggett eighteen months, and five hundred dollars; the sail-maker
and carpenter twelve months each. And at the same time the judge
administered to us such a sharp reprimand anent taking the law into our
own hands, and seizing the ship vi et armis, all by reason of other
people's misdemeanours and the punishment thereof by the properly
constituted authorities--to wit, the captain and his officers--that I
fully believed, before he had finished, everything that my friend the
editor had told me, and that we really had need of all the influence
that could be brought to bear for us. However, we won, very much to the
disgust and surprise of other menageries whose masters, even at the
present day, taking warning by Snaggs & Co., fight shy of the British
sailor-man, fearing lest they may ship a party of 'blasted aristocrats'
to turn the tables on them as we did on the afterguard of the Atlanta.


*



In Care of the Captain.

Amongst the saloon passengers of the Illimani, ere she was a fortnight
out, little Miss Agnew had become quite a pet. 'She was such a dear--so
natural, so really chic!' said the ladies; while the men enjoyed to
the full her utter or assumed lack of conventionality. She was a
fresh-coloured girl of about eighteen, handsome enough, after a robust,
dairy-maid fashion, with full red lips, white teeth, and black eyes,
under a shock of curly hair, that shrank from no man's gaze.

Miss Agnew had come on board at the very last moment, with an uncle
and aunt to see her off; also a note from the owners, commending her
to the captain's care. Popularly it was known that she was a rich
squatter's daughter, returning home after a long visit to England. Her
sole occupation of one of the best berths in the ship, as well as the
possession of plenty of spare cash, gave some reason to the rumour of
wealth. It was also whispered that she had been expelled from more than
one fashionable school. But nobody seemed to think much the worse of
her for that.

This trip the Illimani happened to have a rather aristocratic passenger
list for Australia. Besides poor young Badegge, who was nobody's enemy
but his own, there were an incoming governor and his countess; another
couple of stray peers and peeresses; a rich baronet and his wife, and
several gentlemen, middle-aged and elderly, making the round voyage
for their health's sake--that is, the sake of a long and uninterrupted
steady drinking. And with these, at times, nothing loth, 'Dolly,' as
she was called tout court, would smoke a cigarette and toss off a glass
of champagne; looked upon with a lenient eye by her female friends,
not only on the plea of her being an 'Australian tomboy,' but for the
sake of the little scandalous tit-bits she was able to retail to them
afterwards in the privacy of their cabins.

At Naples among others, there came on board for the second saloon
a young Frenchman, apparently pretty ill with asthma; so much so,
indeed, that he seemed able to do nothing else but lie in his deck
chair all day long, covered up with rugs. Quite a curiosity, too, was
this deck-chair, massive but light, folding up into a compact compass,
curiously carved, and made of neither cane nor canvas, but of stout
olive wood, with big bulging arms and a thick curved back. And Monsieur
Deschamps seemed to set great store by it, for always, when the day was
over and he walked feebly to his berth, the quartermaster carefully
folded up the chair and carried it to its owner. At first people
laughed. But 'cranks' and 'eccentrics' are so plentiful on such ships
as the Illimani that far more outré things ceased to attract attention,
and Deschamps and his chair soon became part and parcel of the daily
and weekly monotony.

Curiously enough, among all the passengers, there was no one with a
sufficient knowledge of French to interpret between the sick passenger
and the Illimani's doctor, or the stewards, or anybody. And this was
awkward; for Monsieur Deschamps was unable to speak a word of any
language but his own. This matter presently coming to Dolly's ears, she
volunteered to 'have a go.' 'I was,' she said, 'a couple of years at
school at Rouen, and if I can't patter their lingo, I reckon I'm due
for the leatheriest medal on board this canoe.' So tripping across the
bridge that separated the two classes, Dolly went up to the invalid
and began--much to everybody's admiration,--to discourse with eloquent
volubility and gesture. Listening a minute, the Frenchman, appearing
to recognise the real thing at last, sat up and waved his hands and
shrugged his shoulders, and smiled with a delight and gratification
beautiful to witness. And after this, nearly every day, Dolly went
along and cheered the poor fellow up, interpreting his symptoms to the
doctor and his wants to the stewards.

In most ocean liners there is posted up somewhere a notice advising
passengers to deposit their valuables with the purser for safety during
the voyage, a small percentage being charged for the accommodation.
Many people object to paying this; others are too lazy to go to any
trouble; others too careless. So that very often until something is
missing, the caution is a dead letter. It was so on the Illimani.
But one morning Dolly, returning from her usual visit to her French
friend, found the saloon a scene of utmost confusion--ladies running
about with empty jewel-cases, stewards protesting, purser threatening,
and the chief stewardess in hysterics. The Countess of Trebizond had
lost a diamond necklace and a set of priceless pearls; Lady Trotter
de Globe was minus her family jewels, sapphires, opals, and diamonds
valued at £3000; the Honorable Mrs. Monopole's diamond earrings (they
were fashionable then), tiara, and necklet, were gone. In fact, it
appears that nearly everything worth having was gone. There was a lot
of paste and Palais Royal imitations--beautifully done--but all such
had been rejected with the nice appreciation of an expert, or at least
an intimate. And, to complicate matters, nothing was forced--every
lock intact and the keys in their owners' pockets. The excitement and
commotion were intense. The captain alone kept calm; and when the male
relatives of the victims talked about suing the company, he suavely
drew their attention to the notice afore-mentioned. Dolly was demurely
sad, and condoled, even wept, with her aristocratic friends. Her own
things, a set of pearls and a few diamond ornaments, she explained, had
been in the purser's big safe from the commencement of the voyage. Her
uncle had insisted on it.

But who was the thief?

Public opinion pointed to someone among the stewards. And the first
thing done was to ransack the 'glory hole,' as their quarters were
called. Nothing was found. Then 'search law' was proclaimed throughout
the ship, much to the indignation of the second and third classes.
It took some considerable time to overhaul the effects of nearly 400
people. Nor was it a pleasant matter, as the purser, the chief steward,
and their assistants discovered. Not a trace of the lost jewellry was
to be found. But the captain grew anxious. He had been quite certain
that the things would be found. Although he was not liable, the ship's
reputation would be ruined so far as carrying passengers was concerned.
And this was a serious consideration. Still, what more could he do?
Then suddenly he remembered that Watson was waiting at Colombo to go on
with him to Melbourne. If anybody could help it was Watson. Wherefore
those who troubled about the daily runs, noticed that the Illimani
was being driven at almost top speed across the Arabian sea. In these
days she was a decidedly uncomfortable ship within--suspicion writ
large on every face of all her great company, each one doubtful of
his neighbour, and all secretly watching, and, so it seemed, thinking
about the reward offered by the victims and the executive of the
Illimani--£500--contributed to by captain and ship's boy alike, and
very, willingly. Dolly Agnew gave £10 to the fund; and her friend,
Monsieur Deschamps, when made aware of what was going on, insisted on
putting down his name for £5. But nothing came of it.

At Colombo--reached after a record run--there was indignation when it
was found that the captain had stopped all shore-going, and also barred
the usual crowd of dealers, jugglers, &c. from coming near the ship.

Only one passenger came on board at Colombo--an old, grey-haired,
grey-bearded man who walked with a stoop, and peered dimly at people
through tinted spectacles. He was accepted as a tea-planter, an old
friend of the captain's going to Australia on business. Speaking little
himself, Mr Johnson was, neverless, a perfect godsend to the ship at
large; and into his ears was dinned by the passengers again and again
the story of their losses and wrongs.

'Well,' asked the skipper, a few days later, as Mr Johnson strolled
into the former's state-room, 'any news yet?'

'Not much,' was the reply, 'only that you've got at least one artist on
board--one of the most skilful cracks men in London--which is saying a
good deal.'

'Which is he?' asked the captain. 'Some fellow in the steerage, I
suppose?'

'Not much,' replied the other, laughing. 'The only wonder is that he is
not in the saloon here. It's the fellow in the second who gammons sick,
and sits in the big chair all day.'

'Ha, ha!' laughed the captain, 'you're out of it this time, old man.
That poor chap's a Frenchman--can't speak a word of anything else!'

'Is that so?' replied the other calmly. 'Well, in any case, he's the
man who can tell you where the stolen stuff is.'

'Nonsense,' said the captain. 'He's never been for'ard the whole
passage. Why, if it hadn't been for Miss Agnew talking to him, he'd
have had to stay dumb altogether.'

'Fine-loolking, fresh-complexioned rather Jewessy, culy-haired
girl--lots of side and sauce--No. 27, port side?'

'Right,' replied the skipper. 'Australian native. She's in my charge.
Knows her way about, though, too well to want any looking after.'

'H'm!' grunted his companion, lighting a fresh cigar. 'You told me, I
think, that you had searched the ship?'

'Every corner and every soul on board,' replied the captain proudly.

'Tchk, tchk!' said the other between tongue and teeth. 'What a pity!
Tony Jenkins is a genius, though! A commoner would have chucked the
things overboard. Not Tony; he's too much of an artist to stand
any waste of that sort. Yes, I should say there was a chance.
When you first broached the matter I thought it was only a bit of
amateur aristocratic kleptomania. I see now that it's thorough
business--business sweet and hot; a well-considered, long thought-out,
cleverly put-up job. Thank your stars, my boy, that I happened to be
where I was, or you'd have lost your billet to a certainty!'

'Well, Watson--yes, of course, Johnson,' said the captain, changing
colour as he thought of the fix he was in, and saw no way out of,
'there's the reward, you know. And--'

'Don't want a penny,' replied the detective. 'This is purely a little
private affair between ourselves. I'm on official business, and
shouldn't have meddled but for old acquaintance' sake. You did me a
good turn once. I'll return it now--if I can.'

Next morning Mr Johnson managed, casually, to have a talk with Dolly,
who came up to where he sat in the sun, looking very old and feeble, to
ask his opinion on the quality of the saloon tea, which, she averred,
'wasn't fit for pigs to drink.' Later she confided to her friends that
he wasn't a bad old josser, and that she rather thought he'd been a gay
sort of a chappie in his day; whilst on his part, Mr Johnson, removing
the powerful magnifying glasses he had worn throughout the interview,
smiled in his beard, and muttered, 'The scar's there all right, but
fainter than when I saw it last. Clever! Clever's no name for it! No
use looking through their berths, I suppose. However, I may as well
have a try. I'll bet the stuff's neither there nor on their persons.
If not, where then? A sum in induction à la Sherlock Holmes!' And
'Mr Johnson,' generally supposed to be the cleverest and keenest of
Scotland Yard, puckered his brows over the problem. During dinner he
managed to slip into, and with practised hands ransack, Dolly's berth.
But he found nothing at all incriminating in the single-cabin trunk,
unless a bottle of hair depilatory and another of dye could be deemed
so. The clothing was all of good make and quality, and as the intruder
noted the carefully worked initials 'D.A.' on everything, he shook his
head doubtfully. Under the circumstances a mistake was a very serious
matter. And the Illimani was rapidly nearing the Australian coast.
If he was to make a coup, he had no time to lose. Monsieur Deschamps
occupied a deck chair aft; and while its occupant was at lunch in the
second saloon on the following day, Mr Johnson made as free with his
belongings as he had done with Dolly's. And with a little more success.
In the pockets of a pair of old trousers he found a tiny key with only
one ward, at sight of which his eyes glistened. 'M-m,' he muttered,
as he stepped out on to the empty deck, 'the rest of the bunch are
overboard, I suppose. Over looked this one, evidently. Didn't think
Tony was so careless. But what's he done with the stuff? Sent it after
the keys? No, I can't believe that, after going to so much trouble.'

One morning, listlessly observing the little procession emerging from
the invalid Frenchman's cabin as usual--first, Monsieur Deschamps,
walking very slowly and holding on tight to things in his path; then
the quartermaster, laden with chair and rugs, mounting up to the second
promenade deck--an idea flashed across the watching detective's brain,
and ere night he managed to have a chat with the quartermaster.

'Yessir,' said the latter, in answer to a question. 'Poor chap, 'e
thinks a lot o' that cheer. I've got to put it in 'is berth every
night, so keerful as if it were med o' glass. You see, it ain't no
common chair, that one.'

'Well, I'm ready,' said Johnson to the captain shortly after this.
'You've been very good, and haven't bothered me much. Now, I want
your help. You must get the doctor to send for the Frenchman to the
dispensary on some pretence or other. Then Miss Agnew must be called
to interpret. Presently we two will drop in; and then, well, if I'm
right, you'll see some fun. If I'm not, there'll be wigs on the green.
But I can't put it off any longer, although not as sure as I'd like to
be. Once we get to Albany, the fat's in the fire; for I cannot wait to
shadow people; nor can you very well prevent the Westralian passengers
from landing.'

As the captain and Mr Johnson strolled into the dispensary that
evening, Monsieur Deschamps was speaking. 'Mais oui, Monsieur la
docteur,' said he, 'je crois bien que, depuis que j'ai pris votre
dernière mixture, je me fais plus de santé.'

'He says,' translated Dolly, 'that since he took that last medicine he
feels much better.'

'Hello, Tony, old man!' suddenly exclaimed the detective, who had been
standing in one corner of the rather dim room. 'I'm sorry to hear of
your--your being ill. How do you like the sea?'

'Jim Watson!' shouted the sham Frenchman, as he stared from the
clean-shaved, hawk-eyed, massive-jawed man before him to the gray wig,
beard, and spectacles on the deck.

'And how's my little friend, the Kid?' continued Watson, stepping to
the door and noting, with a breath of relief, the colour fade out of
Dolly's cheeks and the familiar, hunted look he knew so well steal over
both their faces. 'No, you don't!' he continued, suddenly whiping out
a revolver and presenting it at Tony, whose hand was quietly stealing
around to his hip pocket. The other laughed carelessly, and, taking a
cigar out of his case, lit it; whilst Watson, turning to the astonished
skipper and doctor, said: 'Allow me, gentlemen, to present to you Mr
Anthony Green, alias Jenkins, alias Deschamps, and a dozen others; and
Master William Dawson, better known as the Kid, the Dinah, Young Dutch,
&c.--the former gentleman leading artist of his profession, the latter
the best female impersonator of the day. Now, Tony, where's the swag?'

'Curse you, Watson!' replied the elder of the pair calmly, but with an
ugly look in his shifty grey eyes. 'Find it if you can! I won't help
you!'

'Same here!' exclaimed the ci-devant Dolly, with a laugh. 'And if any
of those old cats in the saloon make a row, Tony, I'll tell some funny
little stories I've picked up amongst 'em that will make 'em glad to
leave Australia by the next boat.'

'Good boy,' said Tony, approvingly. 'Kept eyes and ears open, eh?'

'You bet!' replied the lad, defiantly, sitting back, crossing his legs,
and puffing away at a cigarette; regarded by the poor captain with a
fascinated stare of amazement.

'Well, Jenkins, come now--the swag!' exclaimed Watson impatiently.

'Find it,' replied the other laconically.

'All right,' said Watson, playing his doubtful trump. 'Captain, will
you kindly have Monsieur Deschamps's chair brought in here?'

'The devil!' shouted Jenkins. 'Never mind troubling. How did you find
it out? All right; I pass. Watson, you've spoiled one of the best
things of the century! Well, I suppose we can go now. I don't fancy
anybody, will bother either of us, from what the Kid's told me off and
on.' And he chuckled. 'I suppose,' he went on, 'that we may as well
keep up the fiction till we get to Albany, eh, Watson? But think of all
my time and trouble and ingenuity wasted. Think of that lovely chair
and its secret hiding-places. Hang it! I could almost cry over the
thing, Watson.'

'Or shoot me,' replied the latter, laughing grimly, as he replaced his
disguise.

'Well, yes, at the moment,' admitted the other. 'But it's all over now.
I never bother about spilt milk. You know that, Watson. All the
sparklers shall be back before eight bells to-night, parole d'honneur.
Doctor, I feel so much better that I don't think I'll require any more
medicine. Miss Agnew, I know I can trust you to smooth matters over
with our aristocratic friends là bas. Have you finished with us,
Watson?'

'Provisionally,' replied the detective. 'I don't suppose the captain
here wants more fuss made over the matter than can be helped. And the
doctor will keep silent for the ship's sake. I'm of Miss Agnew's
opinion, that the ladies for'ard will be only too pleased to get their
jewellry again. Of course, if we had long to wait it would be
different. But we shall be at Albany to-morrow; and that young scamp's
presence among them won't matter much for one night more.'

'Look here, Watson,' put in 'the Kid,' 'if you're not civil I'll tell
tales before I go yet.'

'But,' stammered the captain, speaking for the first time, 'I
say, Watson, where's our guarantee? Of course you may trust
Mr--um--Jenkins--er--Green, there, and--this er--young man, or girl, or
what ever it is, and take their words. But I'd like something'--

'That's all right,' interrupted Watson, cheerfully. 'I know my mark.
I'd trust Tony up to any sum, once he's given his word. Believe me, it
will be all serene. And neither of them will blab. They've been fairly
beaten for once at least.'

'Thank you, Mr Watson, for your good opinion of me,' said Tony, pausing
at the door and bowing politely. 'You will see, I hope, that it is
deserved. Au revoir!'

And sure enough, some time and somehow, before next morning, each of
the despoiled ones found her property returned intact. Explanations, of
course, were demanded; but all at once the thirst for them dropped; and
'Dolly' laughed mockingly at the glances of fear and abhorrence darted
at her by whilom friends and confidantes. On all sides it was agreed
'that for the sake of the ship and the captain' the affair should be
hushed up. It was difficult; but Watson, with the aid of a stowaway,
who was working his passage as deputy assistant fourteenth steward, and
for a consideration acted as scapegrace, managed it.

'Keep the chair, Watson,' said Monsieur Deschamps, as he went over the
side at Albany, 'It will remind you of the prettiest bit of work you
ever did.'


*



The Branch Bank At Mooroobin.

CHAPTER I.

'The man at Mooroobin's shot himself, Chesney; and you have to take
charge. For goodness' sake do the best you can for us, and see if you
can't change the luck!'

In such words did I receive my promotion as manager of a branch of the
Bank of New Carpentaria at a far-inland Australian township. Some
people might have been proud of the chance. But I was not particularly
so. Indeed, I would much rather have stayed at headquarters in
Brisbane. Mooroobin had a shocking reputation amongst us. In the two
years since the opening, four managers had come to grief there. One
poisoned himself with strychnine; one died in delirium tremens; one
wandered away into the bush, to be found dead and almost naked weeks
afterwards. And now, to finish up in sympathy with them, Mostyn must go
and blow his brains out! No wonder that I did not show much elation as
the chief spoke, or that my fellow officials took as solemn a farewell
of me as if it were for the last time.

When I eventually reached Mooroobin I did not altogether wonder at the
way those other fellows had carried on, for a more hopeless place you
never saw in your life. In the heart of the back-blocks, nearly two
hundred miles from the nearest railway, dumped down on a bit of dusty
plain fair in the sun's eye, stood the couple of score or so of
shanties that constituted the township.

To every point of the compass, far as the eye could reach from the
highest elevation attainable, stretched a sea of brigalow and mulga
scrub interspersed with great swamps of polygonum, or, as the local
term went, lignum. A deep crack in the earth, running in tortuous bends
no one knew whither, was called the Mooroo River. At times there was
water in its bed--perhaps once in three years; at others it was merely a
dusty, burr-lined furrow, with sides rounded by the trampling of stock
passing through in hundreds of thousands, both sheep and cattle, on
their way to southern markets. And indescribably dreary and mean as the
place seemed, in reality, so far as our business went, it was of
importance, as being not only the centre of a vast pastoral district,
but including within its boundaries a new and promising goldfield. The
bank itself, like many of the others, was a 'frame structure'--that is,
one formed of boards brought up by teams from the railway terminus, and
each piece marked ready to put into position; the roof was of
galvanised iron; and there were, in addition to the business
apartment--furnished with a broad counter, a few desks, and a
second-hand safe--a couple of small bedrooms. Both my accountant and
myself slept in the house, but had our meals at the hotel across the
road--a nondescript building of iron, weather-boards, round saplings,
and calico. There were other three 'hotels,' varying little in style
of architecture, but all giving the pas for fashion to the 'Imperial;'
in which the bank manager took his meals in the 'parlour,' mostly in
solitary state, except for the company of a million flies, unless a
'boss drover,' the ubiquitous 'commercial,' or a stray squatter or two
should happen to drop in.

Rolleston, my assistant, was a nice lad of about nineteen, drafted out
of the head office to gain experience. A native, and an uncommonly
good-looking one--blessed, too, with a huge fund of animal spirits that
enabled him to cheerfully swallow flies, and treat fleas, ants,
mosquitoes, dust, heat, and the general abomination of the place in a
Micawber-like spirit that made me envious--he speedily explored the
resources of the surrounding country as regarded social pleasures.

'Mostly bachelor stations,' he declared after a few Saturdays and
Sundays of conscientious riding in every direction. 'Awfully slow
shops, where they can talk nothing but stock, stock, stock; live like
hermits; up at daylight, to bed at dark; no music, no singing, no
nothing.'

'No girls anywhere, Charlie?' I asked.

'Only at Flett's,' he replied, the quick blood crimsoning in his fair
checks. 'My word, Esth--Miss Flett--is a beauty, if you like. Better come
out and see her for yourself,' he added, noticing my rather incredulous
smile.

'I've seen her brother,' I answered, 'and don't think much of him at
any rate. You know, of course, he is a customer of ours, and a precious
bad one at that. From what I can make out, Mostyn advanced him more
than his whole place and stock are worth; and now he wants more money
still. He certainly won't get it from me until I can be sure of how
matters really are at Koortani. I expect I shall have to visit the
station presently, but not altogether to see Miss Flett. And, Charlie,'
I continued, 'if I were you I wouldn't get so thick with them. It will
be rather awkward--won't it?--if the bank has presently to take
possession. I have no objection to an occasional visit; but I don't
care about this Saturday till Monday morning business you are going in
for of late.'

Perhaps I spoke rather sharply, but I disliked William Flett intensely,
even from the little I had seen of him at our first interview, in which
he had, when refused an advance on a block of freehold already held by
us at what I had ascertained was more than its value, asserted that
'the bank was robbing him.' Charlie made no reply, but I could see that
for the rest of the evening he was thoughtful--a rather unusual mood
for him.

To my surprise, the next morning Miss Flett herself turned up, and
attempted to succeed where her brother had failed. It being a slack
time, Charlie had gone over to Bundarubba, a township of much the same
size and quality as our own. Thus I was quite alone when I saw a woman
ride up to the door, and, springing lightly off a bay horse, tie him to
the rail, gather her habit over her arm, and enter the bank. About
twenty-two or twenty-three years of age; tall, with an almost perfect
figure; dark oval face, out of which flashed a pair of great black
eyes; a large but well-formed mouth full of fine teeth, now showing in
a pleasant smile as she met my, doubtless, inquiring gaze. Esther Flett
was, as Rolleston had said, a beautiful girl, and quite unlike anything
I had pictured to myself from my knowledge of her uncouth brother.

'I have come,' she began at once in a clear, loud voice, 'Mr Chesney,
to apologise for William's behaviour the other day. I'm afraid he must
have been too long at the bar of the "Imperial" yonder. Anyhow, he's
sorry now for what he said. And he made me promise to ride in and tell
you as much. And, Mr Chesney,' she continued, leaning both arms on the
counter and smiling most bewitchingly, whilst making great play with
those wonderful eyes of hers, 'you really must let us have that five
hundred pounds on the Wilga block. Surely you couldn't refuse such old
customers as we are?'

Although only a few years older than herself, I was born a long way
north of the Tweed, also was rather unimpressionable as regarded the
sex--with one exception. And the latter fact it was, perhaps, that
enabled me, having recovered my first surprise, to answer coolly
enough, 'Thank you for the apology, Miss Flett. I should have thought
more of your brother, however, if he could have seen his way to bring
it himself. As to the advance, I regret to say that the utmost I can
promise is to lay your proposal before my directors.'

I suppose the tone I spoke in sounded final--I know I tried to make it
so--for, as I finished, the full voluptuous lips tightened gradually,
whilst in the middle of the broad, low brow appeared a deep vertical
furrow, and the big eyes simply blazed with fury as her gauntleted hand
pressed the silver hammer of her whip deep into the soft pine barrier
between us.

For perhaps a minute she stood staring intently at me. Then all at once
the great threatening frown relaxed and smoothed out, the fierce light
in her velvety eyes smouldered down, the scarlet curve of her lips
showed again, and, with a laugh, she said saucily, 'Well, Mr Chesney,
you're a hard man. I suppose we'll have to go over to Mr Mayhew at
Bundarubba--the opposition pawnbroking establishment, you know--and see
what he'll do for us. Poor Harry Mostyn wouldn't have served me so
meanly.'

'And where is poor Harry Mostyn now, I wonder?' I asked grimly, and
perhaps pitilessly, as she lowered her veil and turned away.

'At rest, I hope and trust,' she replied in a low voice, facing me and
crossing herself devoutly. And for just one moment I felt myself a
brute. Then, mindful of the look, by turns cajoling, languishing,
tempting, then almost tiger-like in its intense fierceness, that I had
seen in those eyes of hers, I turned impatiently to my ledgers as she
sprang into her saddle and cantered away down the street in a cloud of
dust. But I could not fix my attention on the work, as ever between my
gaze and the long columns of figures rose that beautiful face, one
minute distorted by passion, the next shining in careless smiles. Truly
an extraordinary creature to find in such a place!

Just then an old hawker came in with a bundle of dirty cheques on
half-a-dozen different banks that he wished to place to his credit.

'I met that Flett gal,' he presently remarked, with bush freedom, as I
carefully scanned his paper. 'She was goin' like thunder down the road
yonder. 'Speck,' he continued, chuckling, 'she'd been tryin' to work
the horacle off on you same's she used to try it on afore with the
others. You bet she's a smart un is Esther! So was her dad. I knowed
him thirty year ago--ole Flett--when he was carryin' on the roads. Made a
bit o' money them days wi' loadin' at five pounds a ton. Then he took
up Koortani, an' got switched to Susie Penton as kep' the "Bushman's
Joy" over at Pine Ridge. Ay, ay, I mind him well. Hard ole nut he was.
But, from all I can hear, it's close up a cooey with the station.'

'Cheques are all right, Dickson,' I said presently, 'except this one of
William Flett's. Account's overdrawn here. However, it's on the New
Guinea branch at Bundarubba. There may be enough to meet it. Better
take it to Mr Mayhew and see. I can't touch it.'

'Well, blow my Moses!' exclaimed the old man, in huge disgust. 'Now, I
wonder who rung that thing in to me, knowin' my eyes is gettin' cronk?
Well, well! it's only thirty bob, so it won't make nor break me. Catch
me takin' paper o' Bill Flett's if I'd knowed it. Not much! Why, even
in his bes' days you couldn't trust ole Pablo, an' his son's a dashed
sight slipperier!'

'Pablo!' I exclaimed. 'Why, that's a foreign name--Spanish or
Portuguese?'

'Well,' replied old Dickson grumpily as I handed him his deposit
receipt, 'wasn't ole Flett a furriner? A Spanisher, or a Maltee, or a
Carthelic, or somethin' I forgits what now. An' his proper name wasn't
Flett neither, but Valetto. Then in time they shortens it same as it is
now. Can't ye see the furrin blood in the children? That there Bill's
mean enough to skin a flea for the sake o' the taller. But the gal
ain't bad-'earted. There's no traveller ever leaves the station wantin'
a bit o' ration when Miss Esther's about. Well, I mus' be gittin'. Got
to push on to Cubby to-night. So long, mister.'



CHAPTER II.

'Yes,' the sergeant said, 'I expect it's safe enough. The district's a
quiet one; and even if anybody knew, they wouldn't be likely to meddle.
Still, if I were you, I'd feel more comfortable if somebody was in
charge--say Mr Rolleston, now? Of course Cat-eyed Jim's right as rain.
So are all the drivers on the line. And'--

'I've got to obey orders, sergeant,' I replied, 'exactly the same as
yourself. Only my bosses are stricter, if anything, than yours. I
confess I'd be easier in my mind if there was a man with the money. But
the people below say expressly to book as ordinary merchandise through
Cobb & Co.'s agent. So there you are! I'll just put the stuff in a
couple of boxes--two thousand five hundred pounds in each--and send them
away. As it came safely, so it may return.'

Some weeks after Esther Flett's visit the sum of five thousand pounds
had arrived from the capital in anticipation of a contingency that
never came off. I am writing of the time of the '93 banking troubles.
During these a run was fully expected by the parent bank and its
country branches--fortunately very few in number compared with some of
the others. Therefore, all precautions had been taken to provide
against such an event. But although the public rushed other and larger
banks, they never once troubled that of New Carpentaria. Now, so much
specie being unnecessary, in addition to the rather large sum in hand
for gold buying, I was about returning my share of the defence fund to
headquarters. Hence my talk with Sergeant Devine on the veranda of the
'Imperial.' Besides myself, the sergeant, of course Rolleston, and, at
the last minute, Cobb & Co.'s agent, I was perfectly certain that no
one knew the gold was to be despatched. On the boxes were merely the
letters 'B.N.C.' in black paint; and in the way-bill was an item, 'Bank
of New Carpentaria, Brisbane; two packages.'

As at ten o'clock one dark night the coach stopped opposite our shanty,
and Rolleston and I carried the boxes out and stowed them away in the
body of the vehicle under a mass of mail-bags and parcels, Cat-eyed
Jim--so called from his supposed ability to see in the dark--chuckled,
and remarked from the box-seat that he'd 'take 'em for his year's
little cheque, strike him bandy if he wouldn't;' whilst a Chinese, the
only passenger inside, grunted and swore as the corner of one dropped
on his toe.

In another minute the whip cracked and the four fresh horses plunged
away with the mass of steel springs, hickory, and leather that went to
make up the Royal Mail, as if it were a feather-weight behind them.

Of Miss Flett I had of late seen nothing, for she seldom came into the
township. Her brother, however, had often been at the 'Imperial'--a
tall, awkward, knock-kneed fellow, swarthy as a gipsy, and even in his
cups dour and sullen. But with it all there was a look of his sister
about him, especially in eyes and scowl. I never spoke to him, and on
his part he seemed anxious, if anything, to avoid me. Nor was ever any
reference made to that errand of his sister's. Rolleston, I was sorry
to notice, continued his visits to Koortani. But of course, beyond a
certain limit, my authority carried no weight with him. In his own time
he was able to do as he pleased. And I was grieved to perceive that
every minute he could spare was passed at the station which, only a
couple of miles from the township, was so easy of access, well supplied
as he was with horseflesh by the Fletts. Of late Charlie had changed
from the light-hearted, cheerful lad of former days into a morose,
gloomy-tempered one, whose rare laughter sounded forced and unreal. He
grew thin, too, and all the bright colour forsook his cheeks; he lost
his appetite, and, as I could plainly hear, moaned and babbled in his
sleep.

'The first calf-love,' said Devine, one of the few men with whom I
enjoyed a chat. 'Takes 'em all so. It's like prickly heat--throw cold
water on it and it'll itch the more. Best way to let it run its course.
The young woman up there's only playing with him. It's her nature to.
Last time she had the manager. No go this shot--eh? So took second
best.' And the sergeant laughed and darted a quizzical glance at me as
we sat smoking in his quarters.

The third morning after the departure of the mail I was awakened by
some one pounding heavily on the door of the bank. Rising and unlocking
it, I saw the sergeant, his eyes sparkling with excitement as he
exclaimed, 'Mr Chesney, the coach has been bailed up and all the money
stolen!'

For a minute I thought he was joking. But a second look at his earnest
face undeceived me. Hurriedly dressing, I followed Devine over to the
'Imperial,' where at a table sat Cat-eyed Jim, very pale and worn,
eating ravenously; whilst about the room and doors, early as it was,
clustered Mooroobin--man, woman, and child--black, white, and yellow.

'Now,' said the sergeant as at last Jim, with a sigh of repletion,
leant back in his chair, 'let's hear all about it.'

'Well,' said Jim, leisurely shredding tobacco into his palm as he
spoke, 'you know since the company shifted the stage it's a good thirty
mile from 'ere to Deep Crick. Howsomever, I gits to the Crick about
'arf-past three. It were a fine night enough; an' I whips my 'orses up
the steep bank outer the dry gully, when, jest as I gits to the top an'
stands for a spell on the cleared line, a 'orseman comes outer the
scrub to the right 'and an' shouts, "Bail up, or I'll blow a 'ole
through ye!"

'"Oh," sez I, larfin', an' thinkin' it was one o' the blokes from the
stage lookin' fer 'orses, "shut yer silly mouth; do, an' don't go
actin' the goat at this time o' night." Well, I 'adn't 'ardly spoke
when bang goes a pistol, an' ping goes a bullet jest parst my ear'ole.
Well, a joke's a joke; but yer knows, sargint, as there's a meejum.'

Pausing at this, the cat-eyed one commenced to deliberately fill an old
briar pipe whose bowl bore signs, in charred and ragged edges, of many
a windy night. I was writhing with impatience.

But the sergeant, touching me on the shoulder, said, 'Give the beggar
rope or he'll turn dog on us and sulk like a Jew lizard. I know him.
He's had a pretty tough length to split, too, these last twenty-four
hours. Patience!'

Amongst the crowd at the door I could see Rolleston's white face
peering with eager, haggard eyes. Over all their heads the flaming sun
rested on the top of a clump of silvery brigalows somewhat higher than
their fellows, and shot hot beams across on the iron roofs; the hum of
early legions of flies filled the room, foul with overnight fumes of
rum and tobacco; on the veranda squatted a dozen black fellows with
their gins, stolid and speechless except for an occasional grunt of
'Gib it bacca?' 'Gib it chillin'?' It was only 5 A.M., but I knew that
the mercury was rapidly climbing up the nineties, for already the crowd
was sweating freely, and glasses were beginning to chink and clatter in
the adjoining bar. But at last Jim got his pipe in going order, and
resumed:

'Well, as I sez, there's a meejum. An' two quid a week don't run to
bullet-'oles. So when I sees another 'orseman ride outer the scrub an'
collar the leaders, I chucks it, an' ups with my 'ands. Inside I hears
John Chinaman screechin' like a bloomin' 'possum as the fust feller
hauls 'im out an' ties 'im up like a killin' wether. Meantimes, t'other
feller's got the 'arness off o' them 'orses quick an' lively, an turned
'em loose inter the scrub.

'"Come down outer that, driver!" is the nex' performance. Down I
comes. It's dark o' course. But it ain't so dark but what I kin see
they've got thick black veils on, an' that one o' their 'orses 'as four
big white stockin's. John's a-grumblin' an' cursin' like billy-ho,
an' one o' the chaps fetches 'im a wipe over the nut that quietens
'im. Then they ties my 'ands--soaked green 'ide strips, all nice an'
ready--marches me away inter the scrub, an' lashes me up 'ard an' fast
to a saplin'.

'"If it's the mails yer after," I sez, "take what yer want, but don't
destroy nothin'. That'll make it all the easier fer ye bimebye when ye
gits yer fifteen stretch fer rob'ry hunder harms."

'"Shut up, ye cat-eyed cow!" sez one perlitely, "or Cobb & Co. 'll 'ave
a drivin' vacancy."

'So I shuts up. Then they marches John off inter the scrub on t'other
side o' the road, drags the coach outer sight, an' presently I 'ears
'em go tramplin' off down the bed o' the crick.

'Well,' continued Jim after tossing off a tumbler of rum and water,
'arter a bit I starts cooeein' like anythin', an' John he answers from
t'other side. An' I thinks, "Surely somebody mus' come along presen'ly
an' 'ear the shivoo the pair of us is makin'." But you knows traffic is
scarce this time o' the year, an' I got that 'oarse I 'ad to give in at
last. Likewise the greenhide ties begins to dry and shrink an' cut like
blazes. All that night an' nex' day till sundown we was there till Bill
an' Joe from the changin'-stage, gettin' scared at no mail a-comin',
started out to look fer 'er, an' picks up 'er tracks; an', a bit arter,
'ears John a-singin', off his 'ead. Presen'ly they 'ears me likewise
a-ravin', bein' pretty bad with the 'eat an' the cuttin' o' them 'ide
strips. 'Owever, arter a drink o' water an' a mouthful o' johnnycake, I
soon bucks up to the mark, an' leavin' John to go on to the change-hut,
I gits Bill's 'orse 'an comes along 'ere like thunder. The mails ain't
touched, ne'er a bag of 'em. All that was took is Mr Chesney's two
boxes. Enuff, too, I 'speck!'

'Evidently they knew you, Jim,' remarked the sergeant, motioning for
silence as a babble of comments and guesses broke out amongst the crowd
when those inside retired and related what they had heard. 'Are you
sure you didn't recognise either of the fellows--their voices, now?'

'Couldn't swear to neither of 'em,' replied the driver. 'An' as fer
their voices, why, they didn't talk much, an' then they mumbled and
muttered like as they 'ad the toothache awful bad.'

Half-an-hour after listening to Jim's story, the sergeant, myself, and
Boney the black tracker were cantering along towards Deep Creek.

'What's the weight of five thousand sovereigns, Mr Chesney?' asked the
sergeant as we sped through the bush, following Boney, in short cuts
that took miles and miles off the distance.

'About as much as one man could carry, and give him all he knew how,' I
replied.

'Umph!' said the sergeant, relapsing into silence, and evidently
thinking hard.

Landscape there is none in far-western Queensland--only a monotony in
greens, differing in shade from the silvery-sage of the brigalow to
the deep, dull hue of yarran and mulga, with an occasional brighter
glimpse of drooping wilga or lightwood. At times across the track
taken by Boney on his old flea-bitten grey, a mob of kangaroos would
go thud-thudding, or a flock of emus waddle swiftly with outstretched
necks and quivering bodies; whilst now and again a score of white tags
would flash out of sight as we disturbed a colony of rabbits feeding
on some sandhill. At times we travelled over miles of lignum swamps,
rough and honeycombed with holes out of which grew thick clumps of
wiry polygonum, whose tender tops, when green, stock are fond of; then
for miles again our course lay through scrub. Umbrella-mulga and the
evil-smelling gidyea, with its yellow blossoms; feathery brigalow; an
occasional leopard-tree; emu, cotton, and budda bushes with leaves
of deep green, shining as if newly lacquered; willow-like wilgas and
spiny needle-woods, together with dozens of minutely-flowered shrubs,
mostly bearing blossoms of a white and lilac colour, that no botanist
has yet named. Squatter pigeons whirred like rockets from the seeding
brigalows; thousands of pink-breasted galahs rose from the nardoo
patches to the sound of our horses' hoofs thumping on the sandy soil.
And always above us the hot sun and blue sky; ever to right and left,
ahead and behind, the monotony of greens.

'You're certain, Mr Chesney,' asked the sergeant, breaking
silence after his long spell of thinking, 'that nobody except us
three--yourself, I, and Mr Rolleston--knew that the gold was to leave
at any particular time--say a day or so before it was actually put in
the coach?'

'Positively certain,' I replied.

'Umph!' muttered the sergeant once more.

All at once with a quick wheel Boney bore to the left through a clump
of hop-bush, and, before we knew it, we cantered out into the main
road. Then, descending and ascending the banks of a dry creek, in
another minute or so we were at the scene of the 'sticking up,' with
the black fellow off his horse and nosing about like a hound at fault.
At fault, decidedly; for though he could show us where the bushrangers
had waited on their horses till they heard the mail coming, he could do
no more. There were tracks in every direction around where the released
coach-horses had fed on the scanty tussocks and then wandered down the
creek-bed, probably looking for water after their heavy stage.

'Baal mine tink it find that pfeller,' said Boney after circling about
for an hour or so. 'Too much yarraman tinna [horses' feet] alonga this
country.'

Certainly Boney was not the black tracker of fiction, able to run
a lizard's trail over a mile of rocks at a full canter! At the
changing-place--merely a rough log hut, rougher stable, and a small
paddock--whither we presently rode, we found only the Chinese and Bill,
one of the grooms, whose mate, Joe, had gone on with the coach.

The former was quite recovered, and showed us with pride and exultation
a ten-pound note, half-chewed, which at the first alarm he had stuffed
into his mouth. But to all Devine's inquiries as to his having
recognised the men it was simply, 'No savee.'

And yet it was from 'John' that the sergeant obtained the clue that
led to the final discovery and its accompanying tragedy. As, after a
rough meal, we were about to depart, I saw him beckon the sergeant,
and, with a grin on his lemon-coloured visage, whisper something in his
ear, to which Devine only answered severely, 'Rot, John! You've been
dreaming. D'ye take me for a new chum?' At which John only grinned the
more, and blandly remarked, 'All li! You no b'lieve me. You tink Ah Kee
fool--eh?'

And I noticed that the sergeant bothered about no more tracking, but
whistled and talked and chatted in a way that bothered me not a little,
full of concern as I was, and anxious to be doing something towards
finding the lost money. Half-way to Mooroobin, Devine and the tracker
struck off across country towards a mining township lately sprung up
some forty miles distant, leaving me to jog home alone and in a very
bad temper.

Of course I was not to blame, for I had executed my instructions to
the letter. And amongst bank servants, as with seamen, it is a pretty
safe maxim to 'obey orders if you break owners.' Still, I knew--none
better--that, although my superiors said never a word, the business was
very far from conducive to promotion, and the consequent possession of
the only girl in the world.

Since the days of the 'Kelly Gang' it was the most important haul of
the kind--indeed, almost the only one--and therefore made some noise
in the colony. The Bank of New Carpentaria offered one hundred pounds
reward; the Government followed suit with a similar amount. But the
robbers had disappeared utterly. Nor in the whole district could any
horse be found carrying four white stockings. And if Devine suspected
anything, he kept his own counsel very closely.



CHAPTER III.

Matters presently became more complicated. Mayhew, the manager of the
New Guinea branch at Bundarubba, rode across one Saturday to condole
with me on my ill fortune. At least that was his ostensible mission;
but in reality he was only too pleased to get a chance of crowing
over one of the opposition men, and one, too, who had diverted a lot
of business from his bank to the Bank of New Carpentaria. However, I
received him hospitably, and listened with the best patience I could
whilst he laid down the law as to the safe conveyance of specie, and
remarked that in the course of a similar New Guinea transaction such a
loss would have been impossible, all its officers being allowed a free
hand in taking any precaution they might think fit.

'Why,' said he, 'I've got three thousand pounds in gold now at home
that I am going to send down next week. But, you bet! M'Grath and a
loaded "colt" rides with it in the coach. Indeed, I don't know that,
now, after your affair, Chesney, I won't apply for an escort.'

When, however, poor Mayhew reached Bundarubba next day he found his
accountant, M'Grath, strapped to his bed, blindfolded and nearly dead
from suffocation by gagging with a towel. Also, the safe had been
opened and looted bare of every coin it contained.

*

Late on Saturday night, it appeared, Mr M'Grath, while reading in
bed, heard a horse stamping outside on the veranda, as at times stray
ones would do, seeking refuge from mosquitoes. As he opened the door
to drive the intruder away, two masked men had rushed in, and in five
minutes had him fixed up very snugly. The building stood well back from
the street, and was nearly hidden by trees, so there was no fear of
the robbers being disturbed by the occupants of any of the straggling
residences around.

As to the men, M'Grath could give positively no information whatever.
The whole affair was so sudden that, as he expressed it, 'Be jakers! it
was all over in a flash--so it was. An' me lyin' trussed up nate loike
a turkey at Christmas-toime.'

Then for a while the district fairly swarmed with police and trackers,
who scoured the scrub for miles around. But they found nothing except
the visionary 'clues to the perpetrators of the daring outrage' that
the metropolitan papers credited them with.

About this time I received a second visit from Esther Flett. Of late we
had been buying a fair quantity of gold; and even as she entered the
bank young Rolleston was busy weighing a parcel that had just come in.
He looked up as she walked over to the counter, and I caught the swift,
alluring, passionate glance she shot at him out of her splendid eyes,
and noticed how the lad's colour came and went, and heard the delicate
scales chink in his trembling hands. But the woman was a born actress,
and the next minute she was speaking to me in the quiet, subdued voice
of a client aware of being deeply on the wrong side of the ledger.

'My brother is unwell, Mr Chesney,' she said, with a deprecating little
smile and downcast eyes, 'and as we are thinking of putting Koortani in
the market and leaving the district, he asked me to call and ascertain
the total amount of our liabilities with your bank. Of course,' she
added hurriedly, 'we should be quite unable to redeem the whole of
the original mortgage. Still, the sale ought to enable us to pay the
greater part of it, together with the interest up to date.'

Now, I was very angry at the manner in which she had snared, and, as
I was only too certain, was playing with Charlie, solely, I thought,
for her own amusement, and nothing more serious. Thus there was
perhaps a spice of exultation in my voice as I replied, 'I am afraid,
Miss Flett, that, with respect to Koortani, the time for entertaining
terms from its owners has long gone by. Indeed, I have quite lately
received advices from headquarters intimating the directors' intention
of presently taking over the station and installing a manager of their
own.'

I had expected, and perhaps rather wished, to provoke an outburst
with this bit of information. But, to my surprise, she only laughed
carelessly, and looking me full in the face, replied quietly, 'Dear me!
How kind of them! Well, then, I suppose the sooner we start for Western
Australia the better, if you are going to put a bailiff in. Nor need
we trouble about liabilities now. Many thanks, Mr Chesney. I was sorry
to hear of your misfortune. I hope you haven't debited that to the
Koortani account! Good-morning to you.--Au revoir, Mr Rolleston,' she
continued, crossing over and shaking hands with Charlie. 'Will would
like to see you at the station to-morrow, and will send a horse in.
You know we may not have many more chances of meeting if the bailiff
is so soon to arrive.' And, giving me a parting nod of indifference,
she glided out, followed by Charlie, who put her on her horse and stood
talking for a few minutes.

'Was that a fact about the bank taking over the station?' he asked as
he returned.

'Of course it was,' I replied gruffly. 'Do you think I would be likely
to joke on such matters?'

'I'm sick and tired of this business,' he replied irrelevantly. 'I'm
going to sling it. I'll send in my resignation next week.'

'Yes, do,' I said angrily, 'and follow the family to Western Australia.
Don't be so silly, Charlie,' I continued in a softer voice, for the
sight of the boy's face drawn with grief distressed me more than I
cared to show. 'Are you going to ruin yourself utterly for the sake of
a woman like that?'

'I won't hear a word against her, Mr Chesney!' he exclaimed, stiffening
defiantly. 'She's an angel, and I'd follow her all over the world. What
I've done has been for her sake, and of my own free will.'

'Well, I don't see that you've done very much except make a fool of
yourself,' I replied dryly. 'Better go back to your work.'

The next evening Devine strolled in.

'I suppose,' he remarked after some talk, 'that you'll be sending gold
away soon. I've noticed you've been buying pretty freely of late. And
if so, I wish you'd do me a favour.'

'Yes,' I replied, 'I have a parcel ready now, as far as that goes. And
this time I'll see that it gets to the railway in safety, anyhow. But
what's the favour?'

'Well,' replied the sergeant, 'I wish you not to let a soul know about
the matter except myself and--oh yes, of course, Mr Rolleston. Fact
is,' continued Devine, 'I've got an idea, and perhaps if you'll help me
to work it out, between us we may chance to recover that five thousand
pounds. You'd not object to that, would you?'

'Indeed I wouldn't,' I replied. 'But this idea, now?'

'Well,' he went on, slowly puffing at his cigar, 'I'd rather not tell
you the whole theory I'm building on, if you don't mind. It's a sort
of trap, in fact. Probably it may fail. Still, you can help me to bait
it. The coach comes through on Saturday night, under the altered table.
Well, we can put the gold on board, and you'd better come yourself.
Oh yes, and Mr Rolleston also. There might be some fun. Steele, my
trooper, is back from Trycutta, and we'll leave him in charge of the
bank. So that'll be safe enough. I've been waiting patiently for this
chance, and meanwhile allowing others to try their luck. I don't
promise, mind, to restore the lost money, but if you'll follow my lead
I think there'll be a bit of a show.'

'Very well,' I replied after a few minutes' thought. 'It's a
responsibility on my part--leaving the bank, I mean. But I'll chance
it. It can't hurt me more than the first mull. But why bring Rolleston?'

'Well, you see,' said Devine in a preoccupied sort of way, slowly, and
as if searching for a reason, 'he's young, and the experience may be of
use to him in the future.'

'Oh, very well,' I made answer; 'please yourself.' All the same,
I couldn't just then see the force of his reasoning as regarded
Charlie. And Devine pressed the point, too. 'The youngster,' said he
as he turned to leave, 'may not be willing to come. But, remember, I
depend on you to see that he does. You need not say that I shall be
with you; indeed, I don't mean to show up till the coach reaches the
bridge. Bring your pistol. Of course I'll see that there are no other
passengers. However, don't forget it's only an experiment.'

Next day, as Charlie and I packed the gold--nearly five hundred
ounces--I mentioned that I had decided not only to go myself, but to
take him also; and, far from showing any unwillingness, I thought from
his manner that he rather enjoyed the idea of the trip. In the evening
he asked and obtained permission to ride out to Koortani, as he would
be unable to go there on the following Saturday.

'I hope we shan't be stopped this time, anyhow,' he remarked as we
drove the last nails and painted the 'B.N.C.' on the cover of the box.
'I expect I had better bring my sixshooter, though, in case of an
accident.'

The driver of the mails this night was a stranger, Cat-eye being on a
fine and long-sustained spree at Bundarubba and various bush 'pubs.',
where callers 'shouted' willingly and often for the hero of the
'sticking-up at Deep Creek.'

At the approach to the long, white, wooden bridge that crosses the
Mooroo, and that nobody ever uses except in those infrequent years
when, fed by flood-waters from the wide flats, the dry gully assumes
for a brief while the size and rolling volume of a great river, the
mail drew up, and, with a word to the driver, Devine sprang to the
box-seat, whilst the coach, turning off, lumbered down the steep bank
and up the other side. Almost any bush whip prefers earth under his
horses' feet to planking.

'Another passenger,' remarked Rolleston, peering out into the darkness,
dimly lit by a second-quarter moon.

'Good-night!' called the sergeant from under the leathern hood. 'I'm
going a bit of the way with you--just for company.'

'Police protection,' laughed Charlie back again. 'No need this time.
I'll bet you a new hat on it!'

'Are you certain?' asked the sergeant sharply, turning to where the
pair of us sprawled amongst a litter of mail-bags, boxes, and parcels.

'How could I be?' replied Rolleston, with, I thought, a defiant note
in his voice. 'And, anyhow, it's nice to have you, you know, sergeant.'

'Umph!' grunted Devine discontentedly, and said no more. The coach
lamps shed a splash of yellow on either side, falling now on some
wheel-grazing tree-trunk, now on a bare patch; then for miles together
thrusting vainly into solid masses of black scrub that seemed to stand
up in the night like built walls. The leather curtains were looped up
all around, for the air was full of heat, as, in spite of the nest of
springs underneath us, we banged and jolted and bumped over ruts and
ridgy swamps hard as road metal with twelve months of drought. At times
we plunged into soft sand, and then the noise of our progress deadened;
you could hear how still and calm the night was, broken only by the
driver's hiss and cluck of encouragement, or the sharp crack of his
whip and the admonition to 'Git up, Jerry! Whitefoot, up! Star! Plover!
Git hup!'

Bump, bump, swing, swing, jerk; sixteen ironshod hoofs beating out a
rough tune to an accompaniment of wild lurches and swayings, and
slipping of stiff limbs braced against slippery cushions. Then suddenly
I awoke from a restless, comfortless doze to the sound of the grating,
hissing brakes as the coach took an almost perpendicular position, and
the horses, backed into their breechings, slowed down to a walk.

'Deep Creek at last, thank goodness!' I muttered.--'We'll have a snack
and a stretch presently, Charlie.'

'I'm ready for both,' he replied sleepily, gathering himself up from
the bottom of the coach.

Looking out, I saw that the little moon must have long set; but the
stars gave a faint light. Panting and straining, the horses were
breasting the thirty-foot bank at the top of which, according to
custom, was their five minutes' resting-place.

'S-s-s-s! Plover! Star! Tchk! tchk! Jerry! Together now, my beauties!'
and with one mighty drag the coach stood on level ground again.

'Come along, sergeant,' I called to his back on the box-seat. 'I think
it's a fair thing for a taste of "John Walker."'

Following on my words like an echo came a sharp, stern order from ahead
of 'Bail up, there! Up with your hands! Quick!'

Then, on top of the driver's oath of dismay and astonishment as he
raised his whip, I saw a streak of flame spurt out of the scrub and
heard the report of a shot, followed instantly by two more from the box
that made the startled horses plunge and rear all of a heap in their
traces. Then Charlie, with a cry that came to my ears like a death-wail
from the intense misery of it, leapt clean over the half-door. Across
this I also scrambled the next minute to find him supporting a body in
his arms, covering its face with kisses, and moaning, 'Oh Hetty! Hetty!
And you promised you wouldn't--you promised you wouldn't!'

Close by stood the sergeant silently surveying the scene, his smoking
revolver in one hand and his left arm hanging down in a curiously limp
fashion.

'Will you please bring me one of the lamps, Mr Chesney?' he said,
striving, as I could hear, to speak calmly. 'My arm is broken, and I
wish to see who did it.'

'Oh Charlie!' exclaimed a voice that made me jump again as the light
fell full on a beautiful pain-racked face and great staring black eyes,
'Oh Charlie, I'm dying! It serves me right, too! But you--poor lad! No,
never mind; it's no use,' as with frantic fingers he strove to unbutton
the vest at a spot that showed already a big purple stain. 'Poor lad!
poor lad!' she repeated as, putting up a hand, she gently stroked his
cheek; 'I've ruined you, Charlie dear, and broken my promise--and I
die.'

Her broad felt hat with a fringe of crape attached had fallen off, and
a great mass of hair flowed in black waves over the lad's knees as he
knelt supporting her head and shoulders, a world of agony in his smooth
young face finding expression only in little inarticulate moans and
choking noises--a spectacle that stirred my soul to tears as I turned
aside.

Presently the sergeant spoke for the first time.

'Ask her where the money is, Mr Rolleston,' he said in low, cold tones,
'before it's too late.'

But Charlie never heeded. Esther, however, heard him, and, opening her
eyes, made an effort to raise herself, saying as she glanced around,
and with a faint return of her old manner, 'Why, it's Sergeant Devine!
And the obliging Mr Chesney too! I never thought, sergeant, you could
shoot so straight. Have you done for my brother also?'

'I think he got my second bullet,' replied Devine calmly. 'But he's not
in sight just now. I'm sorry I shot you, Miss Flett. Still, you know,
men and women dressed alike are much the same in the dark. If you are
badly hurt--which I hope isn't the case--wouldn't it be as well to tell
Mr Chesney where the money you stole last month is planted?'

For answer she looked up into the sergeant's hard set face with a
mocking little smile on her own, from which, every now and then,
Charlie so tenderly wiped the death-sweat. Then, as she half-turned and
saw me kneeling, gazing at her with God knows what emotions of sorrow
and pity and regret at work within me, and showing in my eyes, her hand
feebly sought mine; and, obedient to a look, I knelt still lower and
put my ear to her mouth, just catching a faint whisper of 'Under the
big stone in the Koortani dining-room fireplace. Good-bye! Be good to
poor Charlie.'

Then a convulsive tremor shook her frame, her head sank back again in
the lad's arms, and a wild and wayward soul fluttered forth into the
warm, close night.

'She's gone, Charlie, poor old chap!' I said as I spread a handkerchief
over the calm white features and took the weight of the body out of his
arms.

'Gone!' he replied vacantly as, without resistance, he gave way to me
and rose to his feet. 'Gone!' he repeated. 'Then I'll follow her.'

As he spoke he snatched the sergeant's revolver from his hand, clapped
it to his head, and the next minute fell dead across the corpse of
Esther Flett.

As the sergeant and I stood there, stunned at this fresh tragedy, the
driver, who had sat all the time like a statue, uttering a cry of
horror, brought the whip down on his horses and galloped away from us,
never halting till he covered the five miles to the changing-stage,
where he told such a tale as sent the two grooms racing thence along
the road to look for us. And, that nothing should be wanting to
complete the sad business, on the next morning the trackers found
William Flett lying wounded to death a mile or two down the creek-bed,
his horse feeding near him, and another one caught in a bush by his
bridle not far away. This last was Esther's favourite, Nero; and around
his legs were sewn four stockings of white stuff so neatly and closely
as at night to simulate well enough such natural markings.

Under the great hearthstone at Koortani we found not only the money
belonging to my own bank, but also that of the New Guinea people--every
sovereign of it.

Since that time, however, the B.N.C. has never had a branch at
Mooroobin. Not a man in the service but would sooner leave at a
minute's notice than attempt to take charge of one.

I went there once after I was married; and before I left I visited the
three graves that stand side by side in the open at the back of the
township, fenced from straying goats and sheltered from the scorching
heat by a clump of drooping wilgas that Devine, with much care and
trouble, planted and fostered.

He is an inspector now, and long ago transferred to the capital; and
frequently when I meet him we have a chat over old times. But of that
midnight tragedy at Deep Creek we never speak. Once only I asked him a
question.

'You remember the Chinaman?' he replied. 'Yes? Well, when he
whispered to me that day at the thirty-five-mile stage he said, "One
feller no man. One allee same girlee. Me feel the ling on fingah while
she tie lope." The rest, of course, was simple guess-work. God knows I
was sorry enough that it turned out so badly! I'd ha' cheerfully gone
without a braided jacket if some other body had done the shooting.
Still--well, you know,' he concluded after a long pause, 'perhaps it was
better so for the three of them.'

And perhaps it was.


THE END


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