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Title: Red Lion and Blue Star
       With Other Stories
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1304171.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: July 2013
Date most recently updated: July 2013

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

Title: Red Lion and Blue Star
       With Other Stories
Author: John Arthur Barry


*


1902

CONTENTS:

[stories enclosed in brackets were not available for this ebook]

Red Lion and Blue Star
The Red Warder Of The Reef
A British Resident
Missing
[La Pucelle]
[How The "Spindrift" Lost Her Starboard Watch]
Stopped On The Long Stretch
A Deal With Spain
[In The "Endymion's" Galley]
How We Ran Contraband Of War
The "Lady Macquarie"
Veneer
[Uncharted]
The Biter Bitten
Caoutchouc

*

Red Lion and Blue Star.
A Story of Two House-Flags


CHAPTER I.
A SEAMAN OF THE OLD SCHOOL.

"Yah! Don't talk to me about your new-fangled ships with their new-fangled
patents!" exclaimed a stout-set, red-faced, grizzled man as he
munched his cheese and biscuit and washed it down with copious draughts
of rum and water. "Wood's good enough for me," he continued, in a
rumbling, husky tone of voice. "I'm sick o' the sight o' your flash
steel clippers with their double-barrelled yards and double-barrelled
skippers."

"Meaning me and my ship, I suppose, Captain Bolger?" asked a tall,
fair, gentlemanly-looking man dressed in a fashionably cut suit of
tweed, tan shoes, and straw hat with broad blue riband.

"If you like to take the application to yourself you're welcome,
Captain Wayland-Ferrars," retorted the other, with a snort, and a
marked pause at the hyphen. "But there's lots more dandy sailors and
dandy ships besides yours. Still, the Turpsansicahurry's a case in
point. What is she but a cursed iron tank built out o' plates that a
shark could shove his snout through? An' she's neither wholesome to
look at nor good to sail, except by a fluke. Paint over iron-rust,
steel an' iron and soft timber. London mixture--neither fish, fowl, nor
red herrin'! Donkey engine amidships, an' monkey poop aft. Sheer like a
Chinee junk; stiff as a bandbox and tender as a rotten tooth;
broom-handles for yards, and marlinspike for bowsprit. Yah! Fair stinks,
too, o' science all over. An' with it all, a poor thing; cheap and nasty.
Why, I wouldn't swap the Mary Johnson for a baker's dozen of such."

"You're very insulting, sir," said the other man, flushing hotly, "and
but that your age renders you privileged, and the liquor you've drunk
has probably affected your brain, I should certainly call you to
account for your words."

"Haw! haw!" roared the other, turning his fiery face round to the crowd
in the bar. "D'ye hear him? Coffee an' pistols for two in the Botanic
Gardens to-morrow morning. Five-an'-forty year, boy and man, I've used
the sea. And now to be told that I'm drunk by a new-fangled
whipper-snapper like that, whose scientific head can't stand nothing
stronger than 'Haw, lemon squash, if you please, Susan.'"

"Oh, go on board your old tub, do," said the captain of the
Terpsichore, angrily, "and don't come here to pick quarrels with your
betters."

Flop, as he finished speaking, came the rum and water into his face,
whilst the old sea-dog, struggling in the grasp of a dozen hands, was
vainly endeavouring to get at the other, on his part going through the
same performance.

And this was how the historic feud commenced between the two ships in
the bar of the Custom House Hotel on the Circular Quay of Sydney, New
South Wales.

Here, as the sun travelled over the foreyard arm, sundry masters of
craft lying near were accustomed to meet for a drink and a snack before
the one o'clock gun called them to dinner. Men of the new seamanship,
mostly, but with a sprinkling of others who, like Bolger, swore by
their wooden clippers, had been with difficulty induced to give double
topsails a trial, but drew the line at two topgallant yards; and to
whom the sight of a patent log, or a lead, or a Thompson compass, was
like that of a red rag to a bull.

And where amongst other places the show pinched was in the fact that
the Terpsichore had now, for the first time, beaten the Mary Johnson on
the outward passage. They were both regular traders to Port Jackson;
and, hitherto, luck had been on the side of the Mary--a fine specimen of
the Aberdeen-built clipper, now nearly extinct under the Red Ensign,
and as great a contrast to the Terpsichore as could be well imagined.
The former belonged to a line known from the device on its house-flag
as the "Red Lion." The steel ship was one of a fleet of cargo-carriers
familiar to seafarers for a similar reason by the name of "Blue Star."
But Captain Bolger's employers were in a very small way of business
compared to their rivals of the Blue Star, who, in addition to sailers,
owned a dozen big ocean tramp steamers.

Hence they could afford to underbid the Red Lions in the matter of
freights. Through their Sydney agents they had, indeed, just done so;
and that fact, added to the slow passage, had been chiefly responsible
for old Bolger's outbreak of temper towards Wayland-Ferrars--a
representative of that new school of shipmasters he so thoroughly
disliked--apart from all considerations of rivalry between their
respective employers. And, into the bargain, he regarded the captain of
the Terpsichore as a mere fine weather sailor, one of those products of
a training-ship and high-class Board of Trade examinations who know
more theoretically about cyclone centres, ocean currents, hydrography,
and kindred subjects than the practical part of their profession.

And something of all this he muttered and growled as friends held him
back whilst Wayland-Ferrars got away. The latter, although hurt and
indignant at the insult put thus publicly upon him, knew that nothing
was to be gained by fighting the old fellow, either there or at law.
And, anyhow, stalwart six-and-twenty cannot with any grace punch the
head of sixty, no matter how hot, rash, and abusive the latter may be.
So, actually, there seemed nothing to be done but grin and bear it, and
keep as clear of the captain of the Mary Johnson as possible.

Not that Bolger had the reputation of being a quarrelsome man, even in
his cups. On the contrary, he was respected and liked by most of those
who had relations with him, and whose verdict amounted to "honest and
good-hearted--if a bit rough." The fact of the matter was that Bolger
was behind his time--a very sad situation for most men to be placed in,
and a sailor perhaps more than all. And the old man was bewildered at
the changes taking place around him. Visiting another ship, the chances
were that things about the deck would catch his eye of whose uses, and
very names even, he was totally ignorant--and preferred to remain so.
Also men were masters now at ages that in his day would have been
thought preposterous.

Of course, as was to be expected in "Sailor Town," the news of the row
in the bar of the Custom House Hotel spread amongst the sea-folk living
in their ships stuck about in the sequestered wharves and jetties that
poke out into the harbour from Woolloomooloo Bay to Pyrmont Bridge. But
inasmuch as there were very few men of the old order in port just then,
the captain of the Terpsichore came in for much of the sympathy he
undoubtedly deserved, with the result that old Bolger was practically
sent to Coventry by the other skippers.

As it happened, the two vessels were lying at the north-west corner of
the quay, and no distance apart. Also, mirabile dictu, the majority of
their crews were British. And as was only natural, these men presently
took sides, showing their partisanship in the only way possible to
them, viz., assaulting each other at every decent opportunity. Not very
often through the week did such chances offer, but on Saturday nights
when the crews met, coming back in the small hours from "up town," the
din of battle woke the whole quay, and brought men to see the fun from
all the great English, French, and German mail steamers lying around.

The captain of the Mary Johnson, one imagines, was rather pleased than
otherwise at this state of affairs. He had a more powerful crew than
the Terpsichore--losing men, this latter ship, on account of her patent
labour-saving appliances, for some of which she ought really to have
been allowed extra hands. As for Captain Wayland-Ferrars, he seldom
slept on board between Friday night and the beginning of the week; so
he never saw his gangway nettings on the quiet Sabbath mornings full of
incapable, and sometimes sorely pummelled, Terpsichores. Perhaps his
officers should have reported the facts. But they refrained from doing
so. And if the captain wondered how his usually quiet and peaceable
chief mate appeared at times with black eyes; and noticed that the
second mate and the boatswain, too, bore similar pugilistic marks and
contusions, he asked no questions. All his spare thoughts and moments
were occupied with the courtship he was carrying on at Springwood, in
the mountains. Next trip they were to be married; and there was nothing
particularly requiring his presence on board.

Presently the two vessels finished discharging, and hauling out into
the stream began to preen themselves for the homeward flight.

The Terpsichore was a well-found ship, with no lack of white and red
lead, oil, turps, and varnish in her paint-lockers. So that, with her
pink composition bends running to topsides of a delicate grey, broken
by a line of eighteen black and white ports, she soon began to look a
fine spot of colour. All her spars with the exception of topgallant and
royal masts, boom and gaff, were painted a deep buff. And land-people
crossing Johnstone's Bay in the ferry-boats invariably exclaimed, "Oh,
what a pretty ship!" taking no notice of the Mary Johnson. But
seafarers seldom gave the Terpsichore a second glance, keeping their
regards on the fine old clipper with her beautiful yacht-like lines,
clean run, bright, tapering spars, and spacious poop and topgallant
forecastle. By scraping and tarring and scrubbing and polishing, poor
old Bolger did all he could. But even then she looked worn and
weather-beaten for lack of that paint his employers had not thought
themselves able to afford. Unable at length to stand it any longer,
the old man bought the stuff out of his own pocket. And presently,
as his vessel swung to her anchors, all dark, glistening green, with
just a narrow gilt beading running around it, stem and stern, lower
masts and yards of spotless white, her other spars scraped and oiled
till the Oregon pine shone like mahogany, he felt easier in his mind.
And looking up at the Red Lion blowing from the main royal pole, and
then at the Blue Star yonder, showing black out of its white ground
over the shimmering metal gimcrack with the outrageous name, he swore
to make such a run home as would let people know the difference
between newfangled ships commanded by new-fangled skippers with
double-barrelled names and a skipper and ship of the good old-fashioned
sort.

At last Bolger's agents had got him freight, and it seemed that both
vessels would be starting for home about the same time. Fortunately
they were loading at far apart wharves. But, still, whenever a Lion and
a Star met, singly or in company, there would be ructions. Thus amongst
the sea-folk along the foreshores the interest was kept alive, and not
a few bets were made and taken on the possible race. Bolger, it
appeared, had announced his intention to his few cronies at the midday
lunch either to beat the Terpsichore home or lose his spars.

As for the latter's captain, he only laughed when told of this, taking
no heed. He had other fish to fry up Springwood way. Since the day of
the quarrel he had never set eyes on Bolger. Nor did he wish to.
Neither for the Mary Johnson nor her skipper did he mean to bother
himself; and he declined all wagers with respect to a race, saying,
what was perfectly true, that he didn't care which ship got home first.
All the same, he had privately made up his mind to break the record.
But not on account of Bolger and his bragging; only because the quicker
he was home and back again the sooner would the Springwood episode find
fitting close.

CHAPTER II.
THE CAPTURE OF THE RED LION.

"It's the darkest night I ever remember seeing in my whole life,"
remarked Mr. Hopkins, the mate of the Mary Johnson.

"Same here," replied Captain Bolger; "it feels that thick, one could
almost take a knife and cut chunks off it and throw 'em about."

The Mary had rounded Cape Horn, and was making good progress
northabout, when, all of a sudden, she had, at eight bells that night,
run into a wind-less patch of blackness the calmness and intensity of
which were such as none on board remembered experiencing.

So thick was the darkness that captain and mate, standing almost
touching, were utterly invisible to each other. Nor could any part of
the ship be discerned, as she lay motionless without creak of truss or
parrel or slightest lift of sail. Even the rudder was still, and the
wheel-chains gave never a rattle. The only point of light came from the
binnacle, a yellow blot that itself seemed choked by the woolly
blackness surrounding it.

Presently, a man getting a drink at the scuttle-butt let the tin dipper
rattle, and the noise made men jump and stare aloft, thinking that a
yard had carried away.

"Phew!" exclaimed Bolger, "dashed if it don't smell black! An' you can
feel it in your throat, can't you, Hopkins?"

"Aye, sir," replied the latter, his voice sounding muffled and dull,
"this beats my time. It's onnatural, to my way of thinking. A regular
phenomener, that's what it is."

"Umph," grunted the other, crustily, "that's what
whippersnapper-double-barrel 'ud call it, no doubt, if he were here.
An' he'd put a name to it as long as his ship's. Well, I s'pose," he
continued, and you could almost hear the grin of the old chap, "that
he's flyin' along somewhere in the Nor'-east Trades afore this."

He had scarcely spoken when from away abeam came a noise sounding like
the bark of a dog.

"Eh?" said Bolger.

"Seal!" said Hopkins.

"Your grandmother!" said the skipper. "What 'ud one be doing in twenty
degrees south? It's a dog. There he is again. It's a ship run into this
stinkin' patch o' black fog an' pitch."

Indistinct and dull though the sounds were, there presently seemed
little doubt that they really proceeded from a dog.

"Skipper's bow-wow on the Terpsic-curry," hazarded the mate. "That big
black-an'-white brute that collared the bo'sun the night we had the
rumpus--"

"Aye, aye, like enough," interrupted Bolger, impatiently. "Anyhow, it's
a long way off by the sound. If double-barrel's in here, all his dashed
science won't get him out of it any faster than us."

"Isn't that a light, or the reflection of one?" asked the mate,
sharply. "Why, it's aboard of us! Con--," but he had time for no more,
when, with a dull, grating, rumbling sound, accompanied by one of
snapping and crackling aloft, a great mass snugged up, as it were,
alongside the Mary Johnson and remained there, whilst arose from many
throats a wild chorus of shouts, threats, and curses, mingled with the
furious barking of a dog.

"What on earth is it?" roared Bolger, dancing frantically along his
poop, and peering with useless eyes, now aloft, now outboard, at the
faint splash of yellow light alone visible. "Ship ahoy!" he hailed.
"What the blazes are you doin' runnin' into me like that?"

"Ahoy, ahoy!" retorted a muffled voice, as more dull yellow blotches
became visible through the black mist. "Isn't the sea wide enough for
you, but that you must come blundering into people in such a fashion?
Who the deuce are you?"

"Mary Johnson, of London, homeward bound from Sydney. Get your boats
over and pull yourself out of our road afore you do more mischief. What
sort of confounded sogers are you, anyhow? Clear off, now! What's your
name?"

"Don't be in such a hurry," was what the reply sounded like. "Get your
own boats out if you want to," followed by something suspiciously
resembling laughter from the stranger.

"Terpsic-curry, or I'm a dago!" exclaimed Mr. Hopkins, as the carpenter
came aft and reported a tight ship. "Chips," he continued, "serve out
all the tomahawks you can find." Then, turning to the captain, he
continued, "I think, sir, we'd better send some hands aloft to cut
away. We're evidently fast up there."

"Do as you like," replied Bolger, wrathfully. "But they'll only chop
their fingers off! Why, man," he exclaimed, in furious tones, "we might
ha' well been born blind, like puppies an' kittens, for all the use our
eyesight is to us!"

However, the mate had his way; and presently in the blackness could be
heard voices and the noise of chopping as the men lay out on the yards
and cut at intertwisted stays, lifts, and braces. Also it soon became
evident that the other ship had its crew similarly employed. And in a
while it seemed from the sounds of shouting and swearing up there in
the smother that at several points, the two parties had met.

The hulls, after the first impact, had separated, some dozen or so of
feet now lying between them. But their yards and rigging being still
foul, gave them a heavy list towards each other. Lights there were in
plenty, but so feebly did they show through the thick, woolly darkness,
dank now with heavy dew, that they were quite useless.

Still, there was no doubt whatever that the vessel was the Terpsichore,
thus strangely hugging her rival in mid-ocean and midnight. And it was
passing curious to hear the hailing of the hands for'ard from
respective forecastleheads and yards.

"Is that bricky-headed Shetlander aboard?"

"Aye, an' he'll be punchin' your heid if he got a chance agen, same as
he done afore."

"Where's that farmer with the game leg?"

"'Ere, an' ready to use it on your ugly karkuss, whoever you is."

"Let's 'ear from the Irish soger as I give the father ov a thrashin' to
that Saturday night on the quay. Or 'as 'e lost 'is voice through
fright?"

"Arrah thin, me foine bhoy, if Oi had yez aboard here its singing an
entoirely different kind av a song ye'd be--so ut wud."

Aft, old Bolger hurled defiance with a rough tongue and a vocabulary
that never failed. But there was no response from the Terpsichore's
poop. Which contemptuous silence made him more furious than ever.

And although no verbal answer was returned to his taunts and invective,
that somebody appreciated them was evident; for, presently, he was hit
in the face by a lump of canvas, dipped in tar, and rolled and tied
into ball-shape.

At this, rushing to his cabin, he seized a gun, but luckily was unable
to find any ammunition for it; so was fain to cool down and let the
steward get the tar (which was of the variety known as "coal," and
therefore burnt savagely) off his face. Meanwhile, the night wore on,
black, breathless, damp. And inasmuch as nothing is ever perfectly
motionless at sea, the ships drifted with their hulls still held apart
by interlocking spars and gear. Finding the men aloft could neither see
nor feel to do anything but further mischief, they had been recalled,
and both vessels waited impatiently for dawn--if another one there was
to be. For, as to this last matter, amongst the men was some doubt,
none of them having ever in their using of the sea experienced anything
like it.

But at last the darkness lifted, leaving, however, a thick fog behind
it. At sunrise that also rose, disclosing an extraordinary spectacle,
at least to a seafarer's eye.

Almost exactly abreast, the ships leaned over to each other with a
considerable list, whilst all their top-hamper was intertwisted and
commingled. The Mary Johnson had been lying with her yards braced well
up on to the port tack, when the Terpsichore had floated so gently down
and hugged her with her own yards nearly square. The result was almost
indescribable. The Terpsichore's upper fore and main topgallant yards
had jammed in the corresponding rigging of the Mary; whilst the
latter's lower topsail yardarm was driven through the Terpsichore's
topmast rigging, and so on, and so on. All the lower yards were free.

It was exactly as if the two ships had been a couple of angry fighting
women, and had seized each other by the hair, whilst keeping their
bodies clear of each other. But so gently had the thing been done that,
bar a few backstays, brace-pennants, and lifts carried away, no damage
of much importance had taken place. Certainly, the least draught of
air, a cat's-paw almost, just to fill the light sails, would result in
ruin instant and wide-spread to both ships, all of whose topgallant and
royal masts would go--if not some of the greater spars into the bargain.

Seeing this, there was little need to issue orders; and already men
were pushing, pulling, and, in unavoidable cases, cutting, lanyards and
seizings until, at last, and after a work of no little difficulty and
danger, the clearing was effected, and with trailing gear each vessel,
released, sprang back to an even keel again.

And whilst busy at repairs--rigging preventer backstays, splicing,
fitting, and setting-up--the Homeric war of tongues between the crews
commenced afresh.

Wayland-Ferrars was walking his poop whilst Bolger stumped the Mary's,
pausing every now and then to roar out what he thought of the
Terpsichore, her officers, crew, and owners. But of these compliments
the other skipper took no notice, only anxiously looking up at the sky
or overside at the water. The former, however, was cloudless, the
latter like paint. And the ships were evidently coming together again.
Never perhaps had there been a situation quite like it, even at sea,
the home of curious happenings.

It would have been simple enough to have got a couple of boats over and
towed the ships a fair distance apart. But, apparently, neither of
their captains cared about being the first to start. Instead, fenders
were placed in position and yards braced sharp up on opposite tacks, so
as to do as little mischief as possible.

Bolger had hoisted the Red Lion, the other his Blue Star, and both
house-flags hung from their halliards like dead fish in the stirless
air.

Presently, having exhausted all the sea taunts he could think of, one
of the Mary Johnson's men picked up a piece of coal from a bucket the
cook was carrying, and threw it at a group on the Terpsichore's
forecastle-head. It hit a man, drawing blood; and with a roar of anger
a storm of missiles were sent hurling aboard the Mary. Now, it is not
easy to procure things throwable on board of a ship, but the captain of
the Terpsichore had before leaving, as it happened, laid in a big stock
of Sydney sandstone to scour his decks with; and this, being presently
broken up, made splendid ammunition. Volleys of these sharp-edged
fragments were now poured on the men of the Mary Johnson, who could
only retort expensively with lumps of coal, hanks, or such odd bits of
scrap-iron as they might lay hands on.

Nor, as perhaps might have been expected, did Captain Wayland-Ferrars
interfere. Although neither allowing himself nor his officers to reply
to the abuse lavished on them by Bolger, Hopkins, and the other of the
Mary Johnson's afterguard, he was actually very angry. Thus, when he
saw his men possessed an immeasurable advantage over their opponents,
he tacitly permitted them to go ahead. Which they did; for presently
finding that the Mary Johnson's bulwarks afforded her crew too much
shelter, they took ammunition into their tops and cross-trees, and
thence pelted with effect.

As for Bolger, he simply foamed with impotent rage. Had there been
firearms to be used, he undoubtedly would have used them. But there was
neither powder nor shot to be found.

A lump of sandstone hit him on the shins, another bit broke in pieces
against his shoulders. Every moment missiles struck the poop--the
binnacle was badly dented, and some of the glass in the skylights
cracked. Cursing bitterly, he picked up pieces and hurled them at his
enemy standing on the Terpsichore's poop, calm and unconcerned,
smoking, with his hands in his pockets. But the rain of stones grew so
fierce that he had at length to seek shelter in the companion along
with Hopkins, only emerging now and again to heave an empty bottle at
the foe. Superiority in numbers on this occasion availed his crew
nothing. And the Terpsichores were simply wild with delight, not only
at the fun and excitement of the thing, but the chance that offered of
paying off some old Sydney scores.

The Mary Johnson's cook ran aft to protest. There was none too much
coal in the fore-peak. A ton already must have been hurled on board the
other ship. Supplies must be stopped, or there would be no more cooking
done. Nor could the missiles of the enemy be used with any effect by
their recipients, as, generally, the sandstone thrown from such a
height smashed to atoms.

And presently the Terpsichore's topmen and those in her cross-trees had
the Mary Johnson's decks fairly cleared, so sharp and true were their
volleys.

"Haul down that rag!" roared the boatswain of the Terpsichore, standing
on the rail and pointing to the house-flag, "or we'll come aboard and
haul it down for ye!"

At which insult Bolger rushed from his shelter, and with a deftly
thrown lemonade bottle--the last of a few dozen that the after guard had
been using--very neatly knocked the boatswain off his perch. And all the
time the ships had drawn closer until almost in the same position as
the night before.

The Mary Johnson's deck was deserted, and looked like a coal and
sandstone quarry. Her galley funnel was bent and twisted, and all the
glass bulls'-eyes of her deckhouses on one side were starred and
fractured, whilst her paint and brass-work was scratched and bruised.
If a man only showed his head now it was a signal for a shower of
well-aimed stones; so everyone kept under shelter. Suddenly a man jumped
on to her main yardarm from the Terpsichore's--braced round to meet it--and,
unperceived, ran along the spar and into the Mary Johnson's top. From
here, reaching out, he cut the signal halliards, and hauling down the
house-flag, tied it round his waist and regained his own ship, saluted
by a burst of cheering that puzzled the others mightily.

Hardly had the Red Lion been hoisted at the Terpsichore's main
skysail-pole under the Blue Star, when a faint air came blowing little
ripples along the water. The light sails flapped and filled and fell,
then rose and filled again. Growing stronger, the wind next caught the
topsails and enabled the Terpsichore to make a stern-board, taking away
a couple of the Mary Johnson's backstays as she went.

Cheer upon cheer arose as she cleared the Mary, whose men were now on
deck gazing stupidly and unbelievingly at their house-flag standing out
stiff to the breeze under that of their enemy.

Bolger nearly had a fit when he fully realized what had happened,
raving about the littered decks like a madman, whilst Wayland-Ferrars
waved him an ironical salute, and his men sent a last volley rattling
about his ears.


CHAPTER III.
OIL UPON TROUBLED WATERS.

It is not putting it too strongly to say that the abduction of his
house-flag cast not only a gloom over Captain Bolger's spirits, but
over those of the ship's company as well. Any sailor worth his salt
believes in his ship, and the Mary Johnson's crowd felt their defeat
and disgrace more keenly than the bruises and cuts which smarted so
sorely on their bodies.

"We'll never have any luck," said Bolger, despondently, to his mate,
"after letting a scowbank of a turnpike-sailor like that get to win'ard
of us in such fashion. Why, cuss it, we'll be the laughin'-stock o'
the Port o' London if the yarn gets about!"

"Well, we licked 'em ashore, anyhow," replied Hopkins, resignedly, "and
if we'd only thought of laying in a ton or two o' holystones, we'd have
done it again at sea. And, anyhow, sir, perhaps they won't be inclined
to blow about their victory much, seein' as it's a police-court matter.
Why, damme, it's piracy on the high seas--comin' aboard and stealing the
company's flag that way!"

But Bolger refused to be comforted. Nor did it improve his temper when
one day they met a big cargo steamer, with a blue star on her white
funnel, whose skipper as she slipped by hailed from her bridge, amidst
loud laughter from the crew:--

"There's a chap ahead, yonder, who wants an owner for a house-flag he's
picked up somewhere. It's got a red lion on it, and they're using it
for a tablecloth in the fok'sle, just at present, till the owner comes
along."

Very poor wit, doubtless. But Bolger had no heart to retaliate
otherwise than by shaking his fist at the steamer's men, grinning over
weather cloths aft and rail for'ard.

"I'm done with the sea," he said to his chief mate. "This is my last
trip. Thank the Lord, I've been able to put a bit aside, an' I've got a
cottage an' an acre or two o' ground just outside o' Marget. An',
anyhow, they were talkin', last time I was home, o' sellin' the Mary to
the Norwegians. So let em. I don't want no more sea. It's got beyond my
days an' ways."

"Old man's got his lemon down bad," remarked Mr. Hopkins to the second
mate; "and I didn't want to trouble him by saying so; but if we'd
stopped alongside o' the Terpsic-curry much longer she'd ha' curried us
properly. When I took a squint, just before the breeze came, I saw 'em
getting up steam in the donkey, and leading hose along the deck. You
may bet they meant to try and wash us down with boiling water, or some
treat like that. I couldn't stop to fairly make sure what their little
game was, for I got a clout with a stone that knocked all the wind out
of me."

After a while, it really seemed as if the captain of the Mary Johnson's
presentiment of ill-luck was only too well founded; for one night, when
running heavily off the Western Islands, she was brought by the lee,
taken aback, and all three masts had to be cut away before she righted,
a hopeless wreck in the most dreadful accident that can befall a ship.
There was a tremendous sea on that constantly swept her decks and gave
her crew a terrible night's work to clear the mess of spars and gear
that threatened every moment to knock a hole in her sides. By a miracle
almost, no one had been killed or carried overboard. But their case
seemed hopeless when morning dawned and showed them the naked hull with
only three jagged fangs--the tallest not 6ft. high--where so lately had
appeared the stately grove of spars. Not a sound boat was left; and, to
make matters worse, the carpenter presently reported 3ft. of water in
the well.

The skipper setting an example, they went to the pumps, but the big
seas that came aboard nearly washed them away from the brakes,
rendering their efforts doubly severe and fatiguing. Still they worked
on doggedly as only British seamen could have done, and the clank of
the pumps sounded incessantly all that long morning watch, whilst the
workers' ears eagerly listened for the "suck" that should tell of a dry
ship below foot, whatever she might be above. With her naked bows
lifted one moment in streaming protest to the shrieking sky, the next
buried fathoms deep, the hull lurched and pitched, and rolled in such a
shocking fashion as made the oldest sailor sick, and the hearts of all
grow faint within them as they marked the wild straining plunges and
frantic wallowings, seemingly enough to divorce any timbers ever put
together by human hands.

"Three foot ten," said the carpenter, sounding as well as he was able
at the end of the last long spell. "I'm afeared she'll never suck no
more." And the captain, seeing no use in killing his men for nothing,
ordered everybody aft into such shelter as could be found. The saloon
was as yet comparatively dry. But nobody cared about staying there,
what with the terrific hurly-burly, intensified below, and the
knowledge that the ship was sinking. So life-lines being rigged fore
and aft the poop, all hands secured themselves and stolidly watched the
huge combers that burst across the fore-part of the doomed vessel, at
times even sweeping over the poop itself and hurling the men together
in half-drowned heaps as the lines slackened under the tremendous
pressure.


So the gloomy day wore on, the captain and his mates, at the risk of
being swept overboard, twice bringing provisions and drink from the
saloon and serving them out to the men.

"We'll drown better full-bellied than fasting," said the old skipper,
grimly.

The water was over a man's knees in the saloon now; and the hull no
longer tossed and tumbled like a cork, but sagged and floundered
heavily and lifelessly amongst the topping seas that encompassed it,
rising with difficulty, and seeming glad to sink wearily down between
their green slopes.

Late in the afternoon, quite near them, hove up all of a sudden on the
awful sea-mountains, they saw a ship; saw her for a minute and then
lost her again, then saw her again. She was a big, painted port vessel
running under her two lower topsails and a staysail for'ard. And she
evidently saw them, for she kept away three or four points and came
straight towards the wreck. But the castaways rose no cheer, no hope
came into their salt-incrusted faces. Human help in such a sea could
avail naught.

The dusk of the evening was at hand, making objects indistinct. But
some sailors know a ship they have even only once seen, as Australian
bushmen do a horse; and a murmur rose from the crew of the Mary
Johnson, lashed to their life-lines, as the stranger, thrown up on the
brow of a great comber, leant over held by some invisible hand, as it
seemed, a hundred feet above them, and they recognised the Terpsichore.

For a minute she hung there, then disappeared, hidden on the far side
of the wall of water that rolled on and broke over the wreck in one
great mass of spray and foam from stem to stern. Once more they saw
her, topping another and a smaller roller, and noted that from her peak
the red ensign now blew out rigid as if made of painted steel. Then a
rain-squall hid her, and when it cleared the darkness had fallen.

"A cussed Rooshian or a Turk couldn't ha' done less," growled a sailor.

"Blow it, man," retorted another, bitterly, "what more cud he do only
give us a last look at the old flag?"

"He might have stood by us," remarked Hopkins to the captain, close to
whom he was lashed, "although, come to think of it, there wouldn't be
much use in that, for I don't believe the poor old Mary 'll last the
night. I wonder if he knew us."

"Aye, aye," growled Bolger. "He'd reco'nise us, right enough. But give
the devil his due an' fair play. This weather takes a man all he can do
to look out for his own ship without actin' hidey-go-seek around a
sinkin' hull. You knows as well as I do that the Channel Squadron an'
the Admiral to boot couldn't do us any good by stoppin' to stare at us
now. For my part, the sooner it's over the better."

As he spoke, a rocket cleft the murky sky astern of them, succeeded
quickly by another and another. A stifled cheer that was half a groan
broke from the men as they saw that, after all, they were not deserted.
For although no one had acknowledged it, the sight of that vessel
apparently leaving them had intensified the bitterness of the death
they looked upon as inevitable.

"Why, damme, if he ain't wearin' ship to get to wind'ard of us!"
shouted old Bolger. "Well, who'd ha' thought he'd had grit and nous
enough to do that in such a sea? Come up all I have ever said agen the
chap. See, there goes another rocket! Well, I don't know what good he
can do us, even if we last till daylight. Still, it's company, an' puts
heart into a man, anyhow. Let's have a drink round--to his health!"

They drank, handing the demijohn of rum from one to the other. And
then, with new life in their souls, they made out to find and light a
riding-lamp, which they lashed to the stump of the mizzenmast, all with
infinite pain and difficulty. But they were rewarded when they saw red,
blue, and green stars rise dead to windward, taking it as a sign their
signal was understood. And, oh, the comfort through the dreary, dark
hours of those other lofty harbingers of hope ascending now here, now
there, as the Terpsichore manoeuvred so skilfully in that terrible
Atlantic weather to keep the weather-gauge. Sometimes she came so close
that, but for the roar of the water and yell of the wind, they might
have hailed each other; anon she would seem miles away. But always she
returned, appearing almost at the same spot--a most noble exhibition of
seamanship, that repeatedly brought praise to the lips of those who
watched--sore though their plight was.

"Damme," remarked old Bolger, actually with a note of contrition in his
hoarse voice, "the feller's a sailor after all, spite o' his haw-haw
ways an' dandy togs! Well, who'd ha' thought it? Cuss me, if I ain't
sorry that we had that bit of a shine in Sydney--time I give him free
rum! However, he's got square for that since--an' boot. Gettin' lower,
ain't she, Hopkins, this last hour or so?"

"Feet," answered the first officer, laconically. "She's like a Thames
billyboy 'midships and for'ard."

"An' the win's as strong as ever," added the boatswain. "But hang me if
I don't think the sea's gone down a bit!"

And, indeed, the great billows, in place of breaking as formerly, now
came in upon them with rounded tops like rolling downs of darkness,
lazily, and as if bereft of all their late spite and vigour.

"If she'd had a full freight o' wool she'd ha' floated for days yet,
maybe," said the mate, throwing off his bowline. "But it's that
infernal dead-weight o' copper ore an' lead an' antimony, an' the Lord
knows what, that the water's got amongst, and is forcing its way
through. However, sir, here's one who's going to have a swim for it in
that smooth stuff. There's just a chance."

"Not me," replied old Bolger, "I'd sooner go down all standin'. But
please yourself; it's a free ship now. Halloa, what's the illoomination
for?" As he spoke a huge flare lit up the sea, showing the Terpsichore
so close to that some of the men mechanically shouted at her whilst she
hung on top of one of the sluggish rounded billows, a wondrous figure
of a ship standing out silhouetted in yellow flame against the black
background of inky sky.

"Why," shouted a man, "sink me, if 'e ain't got his fore-tawp'sl to the
mast!"

"Dunder!" bellowed one of the only two foreigners of the crew, jumping
in excitement. "He vos lower de boat! Ach Gott, der prave mans as ve
vos fight mit!"

But before one could make quite certain, the ship was hidden again,
just a yellow flush in the thick air showing where she lay.

When she rose again, however, it could be plainly seen that not one but
two boats were in the water, whilst a fresh flare cast its light almost
across the intervening stretch of sea, so close had the Terpsichore
approached.

"Well, may I be drowned!" exclaimed Bolger, as he eyed with amazement
the boats, looking like white flakes on hills of shining ink as they
toiled up one huge slope, hidden from sight, then shot like arrows
adown the next in full view of the watchers, who swore and cheered in
their excitement.

"Heaving lines ready for the brave hearties!" shouted the mate;
"they'll be smashed to splinters if they come alongside."

"Why, darn my rags!" exclaimed the boatswain, "if that ain't the
skipper o' the Terpsick-hurry hisself at the steer oar o' the first
boat." And with that a roaring cheer went up from those on the wreck,
Bolger leading, as the skilfully-handled boats swept almost level with
the lee poop-rail, and the bow oar in each, catching the lines flung to
them, lay off from the heaving, crashing roll of the rising stern, to
approach which meant instant destruction.

It was a twenty-foot jump--but there was nothing else for it, as the
combers by this time were marching in procession clean over the vessel
amidships, whilst where they lay the boats were in some sort sheltered.
Still burning tar-barrels and oakum soaked in oil, the Terpsichore had
drifted so near that one could see, each time she hove up, white faces
eagerly gazing over her rail at the weird scene made almost as light as
day--the wreck submerged almost to the break of the poop on which a
crowd of men were gathered, the boats rising and falling on the
smooth-topped billows moaning in sullen, checked ferocity as they rolled
away into the darkness.

The first to jump was a little boy, under whose arms Bolger himself
fastened the two lines, one from a boat and the other from the ship,
and bade him be of good cheer, for that there was no danger.

"Aye, aye, sir," replied the lad, boldly, and without pause leapt off
the rail into the top of a comber, whilst those on board paid out and
the boat's crew hauled in. It was ticklish work: but for the light
would have been dreadful, and but for the tamed seas impossible.

Half-smothered, the youngster was dragged safely on board. Then another
forecastle lad jumped. And then the men went in quick succession as
both boats came into use. And most fortunate was it that the captain of
the Terpsichore had brought his second life-boat, for, as Bolger, the
last man to leave, was hauled in spluttering, gasping, and snorting,
the Mary Johnson rose her stern perpendicularly, stayed in that
position a minute, and then disappeared.

"Crumbs and scissors!" growled Bolger, as he found his breath. "What's
come to the sea? Ugh! it's turned into a cursed oil-tank. I've
swallowed quarts of it."

"And no wonder, after all we've used," replied somebody, laughing. "I
expect the ship'll be on short allowance of paint from this to home."

"So that's the wrinkle, is it?" said Hopkins. "I've heard of it, but
never saw it used before. Anyhow, it's saved a crowd from feeding the
fishes this good night of our Lord."

The getting on board the Terpsichore was a difficult business. But it
was over at last; and, as the davit-falls were made fast, old Bolger,
bareheaded and dripping, pushed his way through the men to where her
captain was standing, and, catching the other's hand in a great, hard
grip, he shook it heartily, saying:--

"Captain Wayland-Ferrars, I've got to do afore all hands what I never
thought could happen. An' that is to apologize fully to ye for
everythin' I've done and said about ye and your ship. You're a
gentleman, an', sir, you're what's more--an' that's a sailor--man. I'm
only a rough old shellback myself, sir, as has lost his ship an' had
his day; and I'll ask ye to make allowances. Sir, I'm proud to shake a
man's hand who's proved himself able an' willin' to do what you've done
this night for me an' mine, an' which there's very few others afloat,
as I believe, could ha' done. Now, then, you Mary's," he continued, "a
cheer for the Terspic-curry an' her skipper, an' all hands belongin' to
her. Crack your throats, my bullies!" And thus ended the feud between
the Red Lion and the Blue Star--not yet by any means an old story upon
the high seas.


THE RED WARDER OF THE REEF


CHAPTER I.
The Building of the "Warder"

The Marine Board of Port Endeavor, the capital and chief harbor of
Cooksland, had for a long time turned a deaf ear to petitions presented
by many shipmasters, coasting and foreign, that the Cat and Kittens
reef should be either bell-buoyed or lit from a stationary vessel. The
Board's contention was that, as the Point Mangrove Light, in addition
to its chief duty, also threw a green ray between the bearings of S. ¾
W. and S.S.E., four cables east of the reef, such was ample warning to
enable vessels to clear the dangerous Cat and her family.

Two brigs, and a coasting schooner had already come to grief on the
just awash rocks. Skippers and mates had lost their certificates, and
some their lives; and all the survivors swore to the absence of "the
green ray." But as the Board knew it must have been there, the excuse
availed nothing.

One night, however, the President of the Board himself, coming up from
the south in dirty weather on the Palmetto, all at once was awakened
from sleep by a nasty thumping and bumping that nearly shook him out of
his bunk.

Rushing up on to the bridge in his pyjamas, he shouted to the
skipper--old Jack Haynes--"What's the matter now? Where the duce have you
got the ship?"

"Hard and fast on the Cat and Kittens," replied old Jack calmly. "And
now where's your cussed green ray, eh?"

As a matter of fact, nothing at all was visible except a smother of
white foam leaping with joyful crashings on the forepart of the little
steamer, and Point Mangrove Light bearing exactly as it should have
done to enable the Palmetto to clear the reef.

"But I've seen the green light myself, many a time!" exclaimed the
President, as he hung on and shivered to windward, whilst the engines
rattled and clattered full-speed astern for all they were worth in a
vain attempt to get out of the Cat's claws.

"So've I," replied Haynes, placidly, "in clear weather. But not in a
southerly smother like this. Just such another night it was that my
brother Jim ran on to 'em in the Star of Judah. And you broke him for
it; and told him he was no sailor because he couldn't see your cussed
green ray. Now, when you get to kingdom-come and meet those other poor
chaps there you'll have to admit that even Marine Boards don't know
everything." And with a short laugh the old captain turned away.

But eventually, the lifeboat coming out to them, they all escaped just
by the skin of their teeth, leaving the old Palmetto to be crushed to
pieces by rocky fangs and claws.

And the President being, when convinced, as he was that night, on the
whole a just man, not only caused the captain's certificate to be
returned to him, but saw, too, that he got another ship. Still, to the
end of his life he swore that old Jack Haynes had shoved his vessel on
to the reef simply because the President of the Marine Board happened
to be a passenger.

However, this was the little incident that caused tenders to be called
for the construction, locally, of a bell-buoy. And inasmuch as all
young countries like big things, this buoy was to be very big--a record
buoy, in fact, carrying a bell as big as a drum.

Sam Johnson, of the Vulcan Foundry, was the man who got the contract,
not because he was the lowest tenderer, but because he was the only
one.

Other artificers fought shy of the business. Doubtless they could
construct the buoy; but the bell bothered them. And by the terms of the
contract everything was to be made within the colony. However, nothing
daunted, Sam and his men and his one apprentice went to work, with the
result that, in a few weeks, a huge cone of riveted sheet-iron lay in
his yard. Each apex of the cone was flat. To the bottom one was bolted
a great staple for the mooring chain; on the top one, hung from a
cross-head supported by two uprights; an oblong-shaped fabric of
Muntz-metal with, inside it, a tongue as big as a very big water-bottle.
This was the bell. And if swung any way to the lightest touch, giving forth
a dull boom; that Johnson swore could be heard at Flat Island Light, 20
miles down the coast.

Take one of those Australian bullock bells their owners set such store
by, and which resemble in shape nothing so much as an oval-sided jug,
long and narrow, and whose hollow knock can be heard a tremendous
distance; then multiply it indefinitely, and you will have a faint
conception of what this great bell was like. As for the buoy, it was
bigger than any of its family to be seen in Portsmouth Dockyard. And
there are some very big ones there.

And as it lay on its side, with its third coat of bright red paint just
dry, and its gaping man-hole waiting to be hermetically sealed, the
Marine Board and the harbormaster, and all the seafarers of the port,
came and inspected it, and pronounced it "a good job," and
congratulated its builder, and prophesied that now the Cat and Kittens
should claim no more victims.

Of course, there was a lightship clique who growled. But they were in a
minority, and unpopular because the magic word "retrenchment" was just
at that time in the air. And a lightship would be a very expensive
matter. Besides, the buoy was a local article manufactured neither in
Great Britain nor Germany, but in Cooksland, and probably the first, as
it certainly was the biggest, in the colonies to be thus made.
Therefore prior to placing it in position there assuredly must be the
usual Greater-British feeding and drinking to mark the event, and show
those jealous Southern States what Cooksland could do at a pinch when
called upon. And the pretty daughter of the Governor of the great,
grim, stone gaol, up there on the hill, was presently asked to give the
buoy a name, and break a bottle of wine over its steep sides, up and
down and across which rows of round-headed rivets ran like buttons on a
coster's Sunday coat.

Perhaps a touch of her own peculiar environment lent itself to the
suggestion as, after a moment's thought, the Governor's blushing
daughter pulled the string, and in clear tones said, as the bottle
smashed: "I name you the Red Warder. And may you ever keep faithful
watch and ward; warning with loud voice through storm and darkness the
ships to avoid the cruel rocks we put you in charge of."

Without any preparation, it was prettily said--and the cheers that
greeted the little speech echoed loud and long from many a lusty throat
whose owner used the sea.


CHAPTER II.
The Condemned Cell.

Meanwhile, above them in the prison over which her father reigned
supreme, a man sat in the condemned cell waiting for death. From far
inland they had brought him, captured by the Black Police, after much
hunting of that wild land where the Big Lignum Swamp runs up nearly to
the spurs of the Basalt Ranges.

"Combo" Carter, so called because of his habit of at times associating
with the blacks, and for long spells living as one of a tribe, was
still quite a young man--not yet three-and-twenty. Born at one of the
border townships of the hinterland, even as a boy he had begun his
career by gaining the reputation of an expert horse thief. Moving
farther out, he and a gang of other rogues had "lived on the game," as
they termed it, i.e., stealing stock and taking them South for sale.
But this business proving too tame for a born desperado like Carter,
he, one day, made his appearance in his birthplace bent on bigger
mischief. Quite alone, mounted on a splendid horse, and with a couple
of revolvers stuck in his belt; cabbage-tree hat at the back of his
head; blue-shirt, riding-breeches and boots, he rode down the dusty
single street of the little township that lay roasting in the fierce
western sun. Halting in front of the weather-board branch bank of
Cooksland, he swaggered inside, and at once covering the manager with
his pistol, ordered him to "bail up."

But the other, instead of doing so, made a dash for a drawer in which
was a revolver. Even as he moved, Combo shot him dead. Just then the
eldest son, a boy of fifteen, entering, and boldly rushing at the
murderer, fell over his father with a bullet through his shoulder. But
now some of the townspeople, aroused by the shooting, were making for
the bank; and Combo, seizing a packet of notes from the open safe, ran
out and, keeping the people at bay with his pistols, mounted and rode
away in safety.

The very next day he robbed and killed a travelling hawker, throwing
his body into the tilted cart containing the latter's stock of goods,
and setting the lot on fire. Then, driving the unfortunate man's horses
before him, he had made back into the wild fastnesses of the Basalt
Ranges, to live there a solitary outlaw, until, after months of weary
tracking and trap-setting, at last the troopers, white and black, had
made a surround and a capture.

Such was the man who sat in the condemned cell at Endeavor Goal--a human
tiger, whose face, with its long, straight, thin-lipped mouth, high
cheekbones, slits of restless black eyes that seemed always trying to
see each other over the flat, fleshy nose, formed a fit index to the
cruel, brutal character of its owner. A fair type, "Combo," of the
back-blocks Bush-native, who fears neither God, man, devil, nor any
living thing.

The condemned cell at Port Endeavor is merely a stone cage with the
fourth side--the one that opens on to the broad corridor--formed of stout
iron bars, in which is a wicket gate, just large enough to admit of one
man passing through. And here on the night after the christening of the
"Red Warder," sat Combo Carter, in the full glare of the electric
light, watching with tigerish eyes the prison guard as he patrolled,
rifle on shoulder, the length of the corridor, pausing each time he
came opposite the bars to glance at the silent figure within.

The man, doomed to die three days hence, was not handcuffed. But a pair
of strong though light irons, with a two foot chain between them,
confined his legs. Since his conviction the prisoner had altered
nothing from the same sulky indifference that had characterised his
manner throughout. Rejecting with scorn the ministration of the
chaplain, he either lay in his hammock dozing, or sat, as now, on the
little wooden shelf fixed to the wall, and with that evil-looking,
hairless, pallid face resting on his hands, watched in a crouching
attitude through half-closed eyes the ceaseless pacing of the warder.

The latter, a young Englishman not long joined the force, had, when
occasion offered, been able to do several little kindnesses to the
convict, whose position, as one for whom life was getting so terribly
short, appealed, in spite of his crimes, to a heart yet unhardened by
much experience of prison sights and scenes. For the past few days he
had suffered much from toothache, and even now his jaw was bound with a
flannel bandage. Also, when he had relieved the last guard he had
casually mentioned to him the fact of his having procured leave to go
into the town that night and have the tooth drawn. His watch was nearly
over--only another half-hour or so more--when passing the condemned cell,
he saw something that drove all other thoughts out of his mind.

With a gurgling, choking sound, his legs apparently drawn up clear of
the floor, Combo was hanging by a saddle strap he used as a belt from
one of the iron hooks of his hammock. An older hand might have paused
for a moment; for never, until now, had the prisoner shown the least
inclination towards suicide, mouthing, indeed, with many oaths, his
determination to "die game." But Ashton, laying aside his rifle,
hurriedly pushed back the patent spring of the wicket, and in his
eagerness almost tumbled into the cell. He had better have entered a
tiger's. In a second the murderer was upon him with the whole weight of
his long, lithe body bearing him down, and the sinewy hands gripping
his neck like a vice, and throttling the life out of him even before
they fell.

At last relaxing his fierce grasp, the prisoner rose and kicked heavily
at the motionless thing that, with wide-open mouth and protruding eyes
and tongue, stared blankly up at him. Then, giving a grunt of
satisfaction as he saw that his work was complete, he searched the dead
man's pockets, and soon finding what he sought, unlocked his leg irons.
Then, peering into the corridor, he listened intently. But not a sound
broke the silence except the purring of a distant dynamo. He, long ago,
had heard the report of the nine o'clock gun from the battery on
Flagstaff Hill, and knew that he had, therefore, not much time to
spare. Rapidly and thoroughly he went about his business; until, once
again, a sentry with muffled face and shouldered, rifle paced slowly up
and down, pausing every now and then to glance into the cell where,
over one of the straining hammock, a glimpse could be gained of a
manacled leg. Suddenly his eye was caught by a white, square object on
the floor of the cell; and, re-entering, he carelessly picked up a card
and threw it into the hammock. If he had but known!


CHAPTER III.
A Harbour of Refuge

"Och, be jabers, me poor man, an' is ut so bad agin, thin? Ay, shure, I
see the brute's there all roight. Bedad, an' the suner his neck's
stretched the suner we'll be at pace agin. Now aff wid ye, an' git the
rotten thing out."

Thus Relief-Constable Sullivan to the man with his swathed face in No.
4 corridor who, peaked cap drawn over his brows, and handkerchief to
his mouth, seemed able to do nothing but shake his head and groan,
whilst pointing to the cell in token that all was well with his charge.

Along the passage and down some stairs, and through another passage,
all brilliantly lit, went the sham constable, one hand to his face,
grasping his rifle with the other. At the end of the last passage was a
covered yard, at the farther side of which he could see the great iron
entrance-gate of the gaol, through whose bars a big, round, white moon
seemed to glare inquisitively, so close she looked. And now the road to
freedom appeared clear and, by instinct, depositing his rifle in the
arm-rack on the left hand of the hall-way, he turned towards the little
open gate to the right of the main entrance, always barred, this
latter, except to admit the prison van--"Black Maria."

But one does not get out of Port Endeavor gaol so easily--bound or free!
The Governor, an old army colonel--martinet, and therefore; in the
regard of his men, faddist--saw to that. Thus as the escaping felon
stepped to the wicket, coolly exultant, and sniffing the fresh night
air with all the eagerness of one long confined, a man issuing from the
lighted guard-house said "Halloa, Ashton! Off to have it out? Well,
it's the only cure. Give me your pass till I clock you," and he
extended his hand.

The cold sweat started in beads from the other's forehead as, to gain
time he mumbled indistinctly, and groped with one hand in his pockets
for the thing that now flashed into his mind with fatal certainty was
not there. Idiot, ass, that he was! The card, doubtless, that he had
pulled out of the fellow's pocket with the key of the irons, and,
neglecting to even glance at, had thrown into the hammock!

"Left it in your room, eh?" queried the other jokingly. "Well, my son,
you'll have to find it, tooth or no tooth. It's worth my jacket to let
you out without it. Now, then, off you go and get your ticket."

That, however, was more than even he dare do; although, for a moment,
the thought occurred to him to return and kill Sullivan and then
possess himself of the pass lying on the dead body of the hammock. But
he was now unarmed. Sullivan was a big powerful man. No, plainly, there
was nothing for it but a dash.

Where he stood was somewhat in shadow. Even now, Sullivan might have
taken it into his head to have a look at his prisoner. He could hear
steps approaching. The constable on duty was, too, he thought, eyeing
him suspiciously. In a second his resolution was taken. From the shadow
of the porch he might still have made a dart, preserving his incognito,
his escapade set down to pain, and the knowledge that he had lost his
pass. All these alternatives flitted across his brain in a space of
time measurable by a dozen heart-beats. Realising that his case was
desperate indeed, all the old murderous bravado rose strong and fierce
within him. He began to see red. Armed, he would have killed the man
who stood there in his path, as he had so lately killed the other one.
Suddenly, tearing off his bandages and pushing his cap away from his
eyes, he thrust a distorted, furious face into the light. The guard
stepped back appalled, and the next minute a crashing blow from the
other's fist sent him reeling to the ground. Another minute, and the
murderer was through the gate and speeding along the road to the town,
ankle-deep in powdery dust that rose in white clouds into the white
moonlight.

Zip, zip, ping, ping, came the bullets as the men on the watch-towers
fired at the flying form, whilst the great bell rang out sharp and
quick; and hurrying, half-dressed warders snatched up their Martinis
and ran, firing as they went at the pillar of dust ahead.

Ping, ping, szz, sszz! How the bullets hissed and whistled past him
down the hill, kicking up little splotches of dust far in front! And
how that infernal bell rang! He hated bells! Always had done so, since
the old days at Arawatta homestead, when a boy, at the call of one, he
rose at dawn to tramp through the wet grass after the station
saddle-horses. If ever he owned a station, he'd take good care to have a
night-horse kept in. Ah! that was a hit! He could feel the blood
running down his leg into his boot. If he only had hold of the fellow
that fired the shot.

He did not in the least know where he was making for, never having been
at the port before, nor, indeed, anywhere except "Out Back"; but still
he kept going, and still the bullets sang past him and pecked at the
dust in front. The way lay all down hill. In front of him he could see
the harbor, and the masts of the shipping, clear in the moonlight.
Behind him he could hear the muffled tramp of many steps. He felt weak,
and staggered once or twice. All at once he became aware of shouts
coming towards him. But by this time he was at the foot of the steep
descent on the brow of which was placed the gaol. To the right the road
wound towards the heart of the town. To the left, close to the sea
beach, were some sheds and yards, stacks of timber, jetties, and a
small coaster or two.

Dust was rising ahead, evidently from police or townspeople aroused by
the firing and bell-ringing, and hastening towards the gaol. It was
worse than useless to go on. The rifles were quiet now. Where he
crouched, in the shadow of a paling fence, his pursuers could not see
him. A storm, too, was coming up, and black clouds were already
throwing their reflection on the white ground. Rising, he crept along
the fence, till, finding a broken paling, he tore it out and squeezed
through. He was in a yard; a long shed from which rose a chimney took
up one side. There was a smell of hot iron and fresh paint in the air;
his feet crunched cinders. Right against him loomed a big,
curiously-shaped mass, whose possible use puzzled him as he limped into
the shadow of it, and gave it a moment's vague speculation, whilst heavy
rain-drops splashed hollowly on its iron skin. At the height of his
shoulder was an aperture big enough for him to get through, and so into
the belly of the thing. He could hear his pursuers cursing the gloom at
the other side of the fence. Just as well in there as anywhere else!
And putting all his strength into the effort, he drew himself up by his
wrists until he got his head in; and then, holding on by a cross-stay,
he wriggled his whole body through.

He was a tall man; but swinging from the stay he could touch no bottom.
Deciding to let go, he, however, only had to drop some three feet. And
wherever he sat he sat on a slope, a matter that seemed so funny to him
that he laughed aloud, whilst the lightning flashed and the thunder
roared, and the tropical rain fell in streaming sheets over his
refuge--kept dry by reason of the entrance being on the under side. The
incessant lightning illumined his cavern continuously, enabling him to
discover that his wound was not serious--a bullet had passed through the
fleshy part of his thigh; and, tearing up a kerchief he found in the
pocket of the constabulary tunic, he soon extemporized an efficient
bandage. In another pocket he came across a plug of tobacco, of which,
taking a good chew, he lay back and stolidly awaited what fortune might
have further in store for him.


CHAPTER IV.
The Mooring of "The Warder"

In spite of his wound, which smarted, Combo Carter slept until awakened
by voices at the mouth of his shelter, where Sam Johnson and a group of
his men were conversing.

"It's the most extraordinary thing I ever heard of!" remarked Johnson.
"He's disappeared as if he was a ghost."

"The storm did it," said another. "He got away under cover of that,
with the traps close at his heels."

"But where to?" asked a boyish voice. "The police swear they were close
to him when the storm broke--just near our fence here. I wouldn't have
him escape for the worth of my right hand! I can't help fancying, yet,
that he's planted somewhere about the waterside. If you don't mind, Mr.
Johnson, I'll just have one more look?"

"Look and welcome, Master Stratton," replied the owner of the foundry.
"But every corner's been turned upside down, and no sign. I believe,
myself, he's collared a boat, and is out at sea by this time."

At the name of Stratton the hidden listener had pricked up his ears.
Could this be the son of the bank manager that he had shot, after
killing his father? It was funny if such should be the case. And he was
not left long in doubt.

"Poor young chap," remarked one of the men. "I knew his father well,
afore that brute Combo did for 'im. Plugged the kiddy, too, didn't he,
boss?"

"Wounded him badly," replied Johnson. "His mother wanted him to take a
billet in the bank after he came out of the hospital. They offered him
one at once, but he couldn't bear the notion. So they apprenticed him
to me. Smart and handy he's turned out, too. Did most of the work on
the 'Red Warder' here, besides drawin' the plans for him. Now, lads,
some of you go up to the Marine Storeyard and get the trolly to put the
'Warder' on. They're going to take him out in the afternoon, as soon as
poor Ashton's buried."

"Yes, decidedly," thought the murderer, hardly able to repress a
chuckle, as he crouched away from the circular globe of light, "it was
funny that the son of the man he had shot because he wouldn't put up
his hands when ordered should have been the one to have the biggest
share in building this splendid hiding place. No one would ever dream
of searching there. That was evident. At nightfall he would come out,
and, if he could but steal a horse, he might yet be able to snap his
fingers at them all. And they were, apparently, going to take the thing
he was in away somewhere. Up country; perhaps on the railway. Likely
enough it was a sort of new-fangled tank for use on a station; maybe to
dip sheep in. If they'd only drop a bit of tucker in, he'd be fixed
right up to the knocker. But, failing that, the bacca'd have to stand
to him." So ran the villain's thoughts, as already in his minds eye he
saw himself once more free, and back again in his old haunts, or even
farther out--right across to the Territory.

By-and-by, he heard a voice close to the hole say: "No news?"

"None," was the reply, in the same youthful tones he recognised as
young Stratton's. "Port Endeavor's been searched from top to bottom
without success. Now a party has gone inland, and another one down the
harbor shore. I came back because I thought the 'Warder's' lid was a
trifle big for the slot, and I knew the Board people wouldn't care
about being kept waiting now they've got their moorings ready at the
reef."

There was a sound of chipping as of a cold chisel upon iron, and,
presently, something was clapped into the man hole, fitting so closely
as to show not the faintest gleam of light. Suddenly the buoy was
rolled over, shaking and bruising its occupant considerably, and
causing him to mutter deep curses as he picked himself up and sought
vainly for something to hold on to. The darkness was intense, and the
heat, engendered by the sun beating on the iron plates all the morning,
grew almost unbearable now that the only opening was closed. In
desperation, the wretch stripped off his clothes and lay naked upon
them with the hot iron burning his skin wherever it touched. All at
once he felt that his shelter had been lifted up bodily, and was
moving. The heat grew fiercer, and the sweat poured off him like rain.
But he set his teeth and suffered it. Presently he felt the thing he
was in moving with a new motion. Swinging through the air, this time;
whilst a dim rattle came to his ears. This was when the "Warder" was
being hoisted on to the Marine Board tender Thetis, Captain Haynes; and
the rattle was the noise of her steam winch.

It grew somewhat cooler now. But presently, another and an altogether
novel motion puzzled him. He had certainly never experienced anything
like it before. It was not that of a railway. And what could be making
him pant so distressfully, and draw his breath with such difficulty?
Air! air, in Heaven's name! He fumbled vainly about in the inky
blackness for the lid he had seen them put on, bruising his fingers and
tearing his nails against clenched rivets. But he had lost all sense of
locality, and kept groping upwards for the manhole when it was, in
fact, under his feet. Nor would it have availed him any could he have
found it--cunningly turned and slotted, and caulked with red lead and
okum, already as hard as adamant. Denser and denser grew the
atmosphere; his breath came and went in wheezy pantings. There was a
weight as of tons pressing on his chest, and his heart hit his ribs
like a hammer.

For, perhaps the first time in his life terror came upon him. Where was
he? What was being done to him? And as he staggered here and there,
bruised and bleeding, against the hot sides of his prison, gasping for
breath, all at once his feet touched the murdered Constable's handcuffs
that, together with his belt, he had put on years ago--it seemed--in the
gaol. Picking them up he battered with all his feeble, sobbing might
against the iron plates of the dreadful trap in which he had been
snared.

Suddenly the thing changed its position to an upright one and he fell
headlong down to the bottom of it and lay there doubled up, the burning
heat of his body turned in a moment to chilling cold; his chest felt as
if it were bursting, and strange, flaming shapes rushed hither and
thither before his staring eyes. The dismal tolling of a bell, too, in
his ears! Ah, how he hated bells! . . . . Ding-dong-dong-ding! . . .
Now he knew. . . . They had hanged him at last. . . . That was the
prison bell. . . . He wasn't quite dead yet, though. . . . Swinging at
the end of the rope. . . . . Curse them all!

"Didn't you fancy you heard something rattling and knocking when we
lowered the 'Warder' over the side, Haynes?" asked the President of the
Marine Board as the Thetis steamed homewards from the Cat and Kittens.

"Rivet heads and an odd bolt or two," replied the old skipper, shortly,
casting a look back to where the great red buoy swung well out of the
water, rocking and nodding to a westerly cross-swell, whilst to their
ears came very distinctly the sullen booming of the bell.


A BRITISH RESIDENT.

Illustrated by G. Montbard.

God save our gracious Queen.
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen.

As the full-throated chorus burst on their ears, the fierce-looking
islanders surrounding the hollow square of marines and bluejackets
moved uneasily in their places and seemed half inclined to bolt. But
curiosity kept them steady to the end of the verse. Then the captain of
the Cassowary, drawing his sword, gave it a flourish, and the seaman at
the flagstaff halliards with a jerk broke the ball on the summit of the
tall pole, loosing the Union Jack to the soft land breeze. Then, as a
royal salute thundered from the man-o'-war just inside the reef,
answered by three hearty cheers ashore, the natives took to their heels
in earnest, and the annexation of Mahmee to the British Empire was an
established fact.

"That's all right," remarked the captain of the Cassowary to his first
lieutenant. "Got the notices posted up, Mr. Brown?"

"On four trees along the beach, sir," replied the other.

"Must be a brave lot, those fellows," continued the captain, laughing,
as at the word of command the men formed up and marched towards the
boats. "They stood our singing like bricks; but the guns were too much
for 'em."

"They didn't go far," said the lieutenant, pointing to where out of the
scrub emerged a crowd of natives hideously painted in red and black,
whole tails of cocks' feathers waving from their reddened mope of hair,
and armed with spears and bows and arrows, which they shook
threateningly at the strangers.

"Into the boats. Smart, my lads!" exclaimed the captain. "They're
British subjects now, and I don't want any rows." And as they pulled
away they could see the islanders, some assembling around the
flagstaff, gesticulating violently, whilst others ran down to the white
strip of beach and danced wildly along it, making a savage picture in
their paint and feathers against the sylvan background of gently
sloping terraced hills covered with breadfruit, pandanus, bananas, and
cocoa palms.

"Three more to do?" asked the captain, in a business tone, as he lit a
cigar.

"Three more, sir, to finish the Group," replied the first, as if he
were speaking of coats of paint for the Cassowary. "Take us till day
after to-morrow to fix 'em up properly."

So, presently, at the other smaller islands the same proceedings were
gone through, varying in no particular from those at Mahmee; and then
the third-class cruiser steamed away back to Australia, whence the
cable flashed the news across the world, causing certain foreign
editors to tear their hair and write scathing leaders about Britain's
greed, and the necessity of, by some means (unspecified), putting a
stop to her grasping earth-hunger.

* * * * **

"John," said the Reverend William Bryden, "I want you to do something
for Montague."

"William," replied the Right Honourable John Bryden, "ask me to make
you a bishop. It will be easier."

The two sat in a room in Whitehall. One brother was a cabinet minister,
the other a clergyman in a manufacturing town in the North of England.
Time after time preferment had been offered to the latter through his
brother's influence; but always in vain, notwithstanding that his
stipend was barely adequate to his needs, he being that sort of
churchman who imagined it his mission to sacrifice all thoughts of self
in ministering to the spiritual and bodily wants of perhaps the poorest
and most miserable set of operatives in the world. He was a widower
with one son, Montague, a young man of twenty-three, who, so far, had
not ranged himself. Nor, to all appearance, would he ever be able to do
so. Law and medicine had each in turn received his best attention, and
each with the same result--dire failure. Not that he had any lack of
brains. So far as they went, he seemed to have at least a fair share.
But they never carried him far enough in the right direction: and the
hours spent in mastering a difficult cannon at billiards, the
intricacies of solo whist, or ensuring proficiency in similar minor
social accomplishments, would, if passed over his books, have probably
seen him safely through his "finals."

Thus, at last, quite in despair, his father had gone to London to
consult his brother, and ask that of him he never could have been
induced to take for himself. But the Right Honourable was obdurate.

"If I could only get him out of the country in some settled post,
needing not much application and plenty of outdoor exercise," pleaded
the clergyman, "I'm almost sure Montague would do well. There's no vice
in him."

"No; and not much else," grumbled his brother, walking down the long
room and pulling at his clean-shaven upper lip. "Shame he certainly
hasn't, or he wouldn't be content to live here and sponge on you whilst
doing the man about town. I passed him the other morning in the
vestibule of the Epicurean, chattering and laughing with some other
boobies; and because, I suppose, I had on an old coat and an ill-brushed
hat, the cub scarcely deigned to recognise me."

"But, surely, John," replied the other deprecatingly, "there must be
some mistake. He always speaks in the most respectful terms of you.
Probably he was ashamed of being seen in such company as he was
keeping." The minister grinned as he answered, "Well, well, let us hope
so, William. But you know--or perhaps you don't; for, Heaven help you!
you know nothing except how to assist people and let them impose upon
you--that positions are not made to order for incapables in these days
as they were fifty years ago. Nepotism of the kind you are asking me to
exercise is quite out of the question. Actually, I couldn't appoint a
tide waiter without having to answer a dozen questions as to the why
and wherefore! And one of my own name, too! No, William, I'm afraid I
can do nothing."

"If he could only get a chance somewhere away from his present
associates," murmured the other. "It would be hard for me to let him
leave the country. But I'm so convinced it would be for his good that I
could see him go almost cheerfully. You have often offered me
preferment, John. Couldn't you make it appear that I refused in favour
of Montague?"

"And offer Montague the See of Wroxeter?" replied the other, his face
softening, even as he smiled, at sight of his brother's distress.
"Well, well, I'll say nothing. If he had only ordinary perseverance, or
even a decent record! Well, well, go home to your poverty-stricken
operatives and pensioners, William. I know it's of no use trying to
persuade you to spend your life otherwise."

And the white-haired, careworn-looking old clergyman had to remain
satisfied, with, one would think, scant hope. But he knew his brother;
and in that last speech of his had detected more than another might
have done.

And that he was justified in his hopes the following letter presently
showed:--

"My dear William,--I was speaking to Eglinton about Montague to-day. He
wants a private secretary, and for your sake will take M. on trial for
a time. This may lead to something abroad if he behaves himself. The
salary is merely nominal and the work hard. But if, as you seem to
think, there is really something in him, he will jump at this chance of
showing us what it is.--Your affectionate brother,

"JOHN BRYDEN."

"P. S.--I enclose a note to Eglinton, at the Treasury, which M. had
better deliver forthwith.--J. B."

II.

Lord Eglinton was not impressed by his new private secretary.

"There's no life in the fellow, Bryden," he complained; "and a boy of
twelve could write a better letter. Seems always half asleep, too.
However, I'm not going to deprive him of his chance. Dundas was asking
me yesterday if I knew of a man who'd do to send out as Resident of a
group of islands we've been annexing somewhere. He wants a fellow
who'll just take things easy, and not go making mischief with France
and Germany, who also own other islands not far away. Between
ourselves, I think it's been offered to every likely person in the
Colonial Office and refused. It's £250 a year, board and residence, and
a steamer, or something of the kind, to go fishing in. Well, I at once
thought of your nephew. He certainly won't make mischief, and he'll
maybe develop unsuspected powers in a new sphere"--and the Junior Lord
smiled as he made the suggestion, adding, "Perhaps he'd better see
Dundas at once, if he's willing to go. I must manage to rub along, in
any case; with the two men I have."

This was conclusive, and the very next morning his uncle, with a few
biting words that the young man listened to in silence, sent him off to
Mr. Dundas, the Colonial Under Secretary, carrying Lord Eglinton's
recommendation.

Montague Bryden was tall and thin, slow in speech, and with a wearied
expression on his rather good-looking face; he wore an eyeglass, and a
light moustache drooped from his upper lip, hiding the mouth. He was
faultlessly dressed and groomed, showed breeding, and, spite of the
sleepy blue eyes and generally listless air, it was hard to believe he
could be the dead failure his friends affirmed him to be; and this
faint suggestion of possibilities it was that perhaps made him all the
more disappointing. But the Under Secretary, who was a rare judge of
men, after studying his visitor for a moment, became suddenly doubtful.

"I hope you have well considered this matter, Mr. Bryden," said he
blandly. "The place is a long way off, and I'm afraid there's no
society to speak of. We might--er--in time be able to do something better
for you. But still, of course, if you think it would--er--suit--"

"Thank you, sir," replied Montague, smiling pleasantly. "Yes, I have
thought it over; and, from what people tell me, it doesn't seem as if I
should ever be able to do any better. Lord Eglinton says there's not
much required of the Governor of the place; and the steamer and the
fishing are a consideration. One rather enjoys the notion, too, of
ruling over tribes of savages, and--er--doing one's best for them."

And the young man smiled again, and fixed the secretary with his
monocle, whilst the latter thought to himself, "He is a fool, then,
after all. At first I had an idea he might be one of those wandering
pegs looking for a hole to fit 'em, and who, when they find it, begin
to play old Harry generally. Had enough of that sort of firebrand
lately."

"Very well," he replied aloud; "we may, in that case, consider your
appointment settled as British Resident--not Governor--of the--er--er--I
really forget the name. But Mr. Jardine, my secretary, will give you
every information. Good morning, and a pleasant voyage to you."

Mr. Jardine, however, seemed very little wiser than his chief. Also he
appeared too much astonished at the prospect of any sane man accepting
such a billet to do much more than twirl his eye-glass and stare
curiously at the new Resident.

"Oh," he explained at last, consulting a memorandum, "the place is
called the Mahmee Group, four islands, lying between 8° 24' south
latitude and 159° 14' east longitude. That's most likely in the Pacific
somewhere, y' know. But it doesn't matter much, because you'll find out
all about 'em in Sydney, Australia, where you land first. Then you'll
learn the best way to get to 'em. Should go by the P. and 0., if I were
you. Had a brother once who went to India in one of their boats. Wait a
bit: there's the chief's bell."

When he returned, he held in his hand a note for Montague, requesting
the latter to make the best of his way to Sydney, and there await
further instructions.

And thus, in due course, Montague Bryden landed in the capital of New
South Wales, and commenced to hunt round after his instructions--and
found none. Of course, a few people had heard of the Mahmees and their
annexation. But none of these seemed inclined to take Montague on his
unsupported statement as the future Resident of that or any other
group. Certainly, both at Admiralty as well as Government House, they
were civil to him; but no more. Their Excellencies (the Admiral in
command on the Australian Station claims that title equally with a
Governor) had, unfortunately for the young man, been quite lately taken
in--one by a sham Italian nobleman, the other by a sham English baronet.
Thus, in the absence of credentials, mere civility, and cool civility
at that, fell to young Bryden's share.

Also his money was done, except as much as would pay his hotel bill. He
had been told that where he was going money would be of little use.
Nor, in any case, could he have had more than fifty pounds on leaving
England. Despite his uncle's unkind sneer, he hated taking the money
that his father at times pressed upon him. And almost before he knew
where he was, what with a little "Nap." on the outward passage,
together with "incidentals" of one sort and another ashore, a very
short time after landing he, to his utter astonishment, found his
pockets empty. Then his watch went and the rest of his jewellery, and
then clothes and portmanteaus, etc., etc.

He might have cabled, although to do so meant for him a small fortune
just then. But he never thought of it; and it is doubtful whether, in
any case, he would have sent a message. His back was up, perhaps for
the first time in his life. They had forgotten him--careless of
everything but getting him out of the way. Very well, then, they could
all go to the deuce, together with the incredulous ones on this side
who had refused to take his word.

For some nights he slept out of doors in the big wooded space called
the Domain, existing on very little indeed. He was, however, not the
only one by a great many; and from his bedfellows under the trees he
heard strange stories, also he saw strange sights, during the soft warm
hours of darkness. Then, one day, he found himself at a place known as
"The Government Labour Bureau," and was presently chosen by ballot
member of a gang of men engaged on some relief works established to aid
the unemployed.

And here for a month, with aching back and blistered hands, he plied
pick and shovel and barrow, sleeping as he had never slept before,
eating as he would have thought it impossible to eat.

But at last his and his gang's time was up, and they had to give way to
others. So, with a pound or two of the first money he had ever earned
in his moleskins, tanned, fit, and actually exultant, he went back to
his old quarters under the Moreton Bay fig trees preparatory to going
"up country," whither the Bureau was presently sending many men to cut
scrub and clear land.

His particular tree was in the outer Domain, opposite the drinking
fountain, near the side gate of the Botanic Gardens. Lying on the bench
there one night, smoking and thinking, without any regret, of the old
life, he suddenly heard a cry for help. Another moment, and he was
scattering a quartette of night-hawks, who already had their man down
and half choked, and were "running the rule over him" in most approved
Domain fashion. Picking up their victim as the thieves fled, and
assisting him to a seat, Montague soon found that he was neither very
much hurt, nor that, luckily, had he lost anything.

"Holy Moses!" exclaimed the man, tenderly feeling his throat. "If it
hadn't been for you I was done! Twenty pounds in gold an' as much more
in notes I've got on me. Phew--a narrer squeak! I was comin' across from
Rushcutter's, an' took what I thought was the shortest track. Here,
sonny, here's five notes for your whack o' the fun. No? Why? Are ye
settin' here at two o'clock in the mornin' for a lark, then?" And the
elderly, grizzled, mahogany-faced man turned and scrutinised his
companion by the light of the moon.

"Well," he continued, in an apologetic tone, "sorry I spoke, but I
thought ye was hard up, an', by the talk o' ye, a swell. Lot's of 'em
comes down alongside the Dancin' Jane, poor chaps, to beg a feed. I'm
off to the Islands in the mornin', and if ye won't take any money, by
gosh! you'll have to come aboard straightway an' have a drink with old
Tom Stone. She's my own, every timber of her, an' as pritty a bit o'
stuff as sails out o' Port Jackson."

III.

"What islands are you going to?" asked Montague, as, after some more
persuasion, he decided to accompany the sailor.

"South Sea, o' course," replied the other, "an' more particularly a
clump of 'em called the Mahmees, which I suppose you never heard on.
An' let me tell you--" But here, to his surprise, the young man burst
into such a shout of laughter as made the flying foxes flap away scared
from their feast of wild figs overhead.

"Well, now what's bit you?" asked the captain and owner of the Dancin'
Jane testily. "Is it the name, or d'ye think I can't find my road
there, eh?"

"No, no," replied Montague, still quivering with suppressed merriment;
"I can assure you it's nothing of the kind. Certainly, the name did
strike me curiously, but--"

"Pish!" exclaimed the other. "That's nothin' to some o' the names down
yonder. But, as I was goin' to tell ye, it's the finest private copra
patch in the Islands, an' it's me, Tom Stone, as is the only man that's
got the workin' of it. They're talkin' 'bout sendin' out a feller from
home to act as Res'dent Gov'nor or somethin' o' the kind; but if he
interferes with me, the nigs there'll give him a rough time of it, you
bet!"

At this Montague laughed more than ever, but, seeing his companion
becoming offended, he apologised; then, acting on a sudden
determination, told his story in full as they walked along deserted
Circular Quay and round to Milson's Point, where the vessel lay.

Only by a muttered oath or expression of wonder did the old skipper
interrupt the story, until, as Montague ended, he gave a long whistle
and exclaimed with unquestioning faith--

"Well, may I be shot! No wonder ye laughed! Of all the rum goes! Why,
only yesterday I meets Mr. Brown, first lieutenant o' the Cassowary,
and says he, 'Hello, Stone!' he says, pokin' fun like; 'I hear you've
taken possession o' that group we 'nexed the other day. Be careful, you
know, 'cause there's a Res'dent--a reg'lar tight hand--comin' out
presen'ly. You an' the Dancin' Jane had best be careful. Somebody told
me you took down a cargo o' square gin an' second-hand sniders last
trip.' O' course," continued the captain, as they crossed the gangway
of a fine two-hundred-ton topsail schooner and descended into a snug
little sea-parlour, "that was gammon--mostly. All the same, those nigs
on Big Mahmee won't do a hand's turn for any trader only Tom Stone. An'
ho! ho! ho! here's the real, genuin', bony-fidy Res'dent ackshally in
the cabin o' the Dancin' Jane. Well, dash my buttons, if I don't take
ye to your country an' interdooce ye to your subjecks myself. An' look
here, Mr.--er--Bryden," went on the captain, as he placed glasses and a
decanter of whisky on the table, "you accept a loan from me of as much
as'll get all your togs an' luggage an' stuff out o' uncle's
paws--twenty, thirty notes if you wants it. An', instead o' sailin' this
mornin', I'll just haul into the Stream an' get away on the evenin'
tide. How'll that do?"

"But," replied Montague, "how do you know that I'm not the impostor
those other people evidently considered me?"

"See it in your face," said the skipper promptly. "Them big bugs
yonder's too suspicions to live. Now, you take this stuff; I'd ha' lost
it last night on'y for you. An' after breakfast cut along to the Monter
Pity,* or wherever uncle lives, an' come back aboard the Dancin' Jane
as slap-up Res'dent British Commissioner o' the Mahmee Group. Bah! d'ye
think I don't know an honest man when I sees him?"

*Mont de Piété

And Captain Stone felt thoroughly justified in his opinion when, later,
Montague Bryden came on board the Dancing Jane looking a very different
man to the one in whom Mr. Dundas had so nearly detected the hidden
seed of that energy and purpose which, but for the experiences of the
last month or two, might never have quickened. The process of getting
his back up, no less than that of having had to stiffen it by manual
labour, added to hunger, the key of the street, and hard beds in the
open, had proved the salvation of the peg now making towards its
appointed hole in the world's cribbage-board, and of whose material the
shrewd Secretary had for just a minute been so doubtful.

"What's the matter with old Stone?" asked the captain of the Cassowary
of his first lieutenant that evening, as they watched the graceful
Dancing Jane moving past the warship and down the Harbour, gay with
bunting from the end of her tapering jib-boom right over her lofty
masts to the main boom end.

"Old chap's birthday, I expect, sir," replied Mr. Brown. "I suppose
he's off to the Mahmees again!"

"Shouldn't wonder if we have to follow shortly," replied the captain,
"when the Resident arrives. We're sure to have the job of taking him
down."

IV.

"Hello!" exclaimed Captain Stone, as, after a quick run, the Dancing
Jane came in sight of the anchorage at Big Mahmee. "Here's a go!
There's Johnny France wipin' John Bull's eye! Now, Mr. Bryden, you've
got to go to work, sir, an' tell 'em it can't be done at no price."

And, indeed, just within the reef lay a white warship, the Tricolour
floating from her gaff, as it also did from a staff ashore on nearly
the same spot as that on which the Cassowary had hoisted the British
flag at the annexation.

Without a moment's hesitation, Bryden, almost before the schooner's
anchor was down, boarded L'Amiral Villeneuve, and in excellent and
fluent French explained priority of occupation and demanded the removal
of the Republic's flag.

Very politely the French commander declined doing any such thing. He
had heard of no British occupation, he affirmed. Returning from a
prolonged cruise, he had, by the merest inspiration, thought it might
be as well to secure this unclaimed group for his Government. He was in
despair, desolated and distressed beyond expression. But monsieur would
understand that it was finally impossible to do as he requested.
Whereupon, without any delay, Bryden went ashore with all the Dancing
Jane's hands armed with revolvers and Winchesters that old Stone
produced from odd corners, hauled down the French flag, and in its
place hoisted the Union Jack, before the warship guessed what they were
about. Then there was sapristi-ing and sacré-ing, and the Amiral's
boats pulled ashore full of armed soldiers and sailors, whilst the
little knot of the Jane's men, encouraged by Bryden and Stone, mustered
under the flag, and everything seemed ripe for a very pretty row.

Suddenly Stone, catching sight of a dark face in the scrub, shouted
something in the native language, and an Islander came cautiously out--a
big fellow with one arm hanging useless at his side and dripping blood.
Running to the Captain, whom he evidently recognised, he chattered
rapidly. Then, at a cry from him, two others emerged, also wounded.
Around the neck of one was coiled a Union Jack, whilst on the back of
the other was stuck a square of calico once covered with print, but on
which now, by stress of wear, the only words visible were "God save the
Queen" in big black letters.

"There y'are, Mr. Bryden!" shouted Stone, as he unwound the flag and
waved it in the face of France; "there's proof for the Wee Wees!* The
beggars! they've been shootin' at the nigs, too, to celebrate the
occasion. Make it hot, sir, for 'em. British subjects, y'know. Pitch it
into 'em, sir. An' see, yonder there's the stump o' the Cassowary's
staff as the nigs chopped down. Slap war--bloody war--at 'em, sir."

*Native apellation for the French in most of the S. S. Islands.

And Bryden, nothing loth, marched up to the French captain and, showing
him the native to whose back the calico stuck like a porous
plaster--showing him too the Union Jack and the site upon which it had
been hoisted--gave him very forcibly to understand that not only would his
Government have to pay the British piper a high price for his dance,
but that his own commission was worth at that very moment no more than
so much waste paper.

Calling off his men, the officer, looking very uncomfortable as he
realised that he had most likely made a big mistake, came forward and
began to explain. The shooting, he said, had been occasioned by the
natives themselves, who interrupted the annexation proceedings. But,
save for a few wounded, no damage was done. No doubt it was a serious
matter, as Monsieur le Gouverneur represented, this firing upon the
subjects of Britain; still, considering it was done in complete
ignorance! Nor could anything be more repulsive to his feelings or to
those of the gallant men he commanded, than the remotest idea of
insulting the British flag. Therefore, if Monsieur would accept an
apology for this most unfortunate contretemps, his marines should fire
a volley in salute. After which, it might be as well if all adjourned
aboard the Amiral and drank each other's healths, and those of the
great and friendly countries they represented.

And upon the whole, considering that he had no credentials to produce
warranting his interference, Bryden thought he might do worse, although
he doubted extremely Capitaine de frégate Lenormand's so
strongly-professed ignorance of former occupation. However, both parties
presently fraternised, and had a good time on board the Amiral, whose
commander served out many gifts for the wounded natives, to be
presented through Stone.

And that the latter had not overrated his influence with the Islanders
was evident by the manner in which they crowded to the beach with
offerings for the Dancing Jane as soon as the news of her arrival
spread. All the same, the old captain warned Montague always to carry
his revolvers.

"There's worse nigs than these," said Stone. "Still I wouldn't trust
'em further'n I could chuck the Dancin' Jane with my two hands. Round
t'other side, where I used mostly to lie, I've got a lot of 'em makin'
copra. That'll be the best place for Gover'ment House. As soon as
Frenchy clears, we'll go there. Better anchorage, better water, better
everythin'."

So, hardly was the big white ship hull down than the Dancing Jane got
her anchor; and with half-a-dozen chiefs on board--all by this time
thoroughly convinced of the superiority of the original flag and its
owners--sailed into a beautiful little bay on the eastern or lee side of
Mahmee, where Stone had established his headquarters.

And here, setting natives and his own men to work, the Captain soon had
a house up and ground cleared for the new Resident, who, on his part,
applied himself assiduously to gain the confidence of the Islanders and
understand their ways. And he succeeded so well that old Stone swore he
was a born administrator, and that no better man could have been chosen
for the post.

V.

Meanwhile, in certain official Sydney circles, there was dismay. Just
as Montague Bryden started on his journey, the usual unexpected war
scare had set in, obscuring completely for a time all recollection of
the Mahmees and their unauthorised Resident.

Then, when the scare blew over, by some blunder the papers accrediting
Bryden had found their way to Brisbane, remained there for a mouth or
two, and then at last been forwarded to their proper destination.
Exactly six months had elapsed since the first appearance of Montague
in Sydney, and the consternation of the authorities when they realised
that they had coldly rejected the bona-fide Resident and sent him empty
away, instead of to the Mahmees, was almost ludicrous.

And the worst of it was that he could be found nowhere. Detectives were
set to work, and consternation turned to horror when presently his name
was discovered on the books of the Labour Bureau. The nephew of a
Cabinet Minister working with the unemployed! The Very Uppermost
Official Circle, to whose members letters of introduction were
enclosed, and by whom Montague had been received more than
suspiciously, were at their wits' ends.

After some time and much trouble, it was, however, made pretty certain
that a person answering to Bryden's description had long ago sailed in
the Dancing Jane for the South Sea Islands. And thereupon the Admiral
himself, forsaking the flagship, shifted his pennant to the Cassowary
and went to look for the Dancing Jane, meeting her laden to the hatches
with copra just this side of New Caledonia.

"What have you done with the passenger you had when leaving Sydney?"
asked the captain of the Cassowary, as old Stone stepped on to the
quarterdeck out of his boat.

"You mean Montague Bryden, Esquire, British Res'dent o' the Mahmee
Group?" replied Stone pompously.

"Yes, of course, of course!" hastily put in the Admiral, who was
standing by. "But how did it come about that he went there with you, if
he really is there?"

"Oh, he's there right enough," replied the other, "an' a good job he
got there when he did! Just in time to stop Johnny France 'nexin' the
lot. Nearly had a row as it was. You bet the Res'dent's head's screwed
on all right. An' as to why I took him down, well, Sir James, you ought
to know the reason as well as I do," continued the old man with a
chuckle. "Anyhow, you'll find him at Port Eglinton, if he ain't away at
the other Islands."

"Take a glass of wine, Captain Stone," remarked the Admiral with a sigh
of relief, "before you go back to your ship. I should like to hear
about that French episode."

"Well," replied old Stone as he went below, "I don't know that there
was any episode, Sir James, but I never seen a thing better done than
when the young feller gets us all ashore--hardly waitin' for the Jane to
let go--an', calm an' cool as you like, pulls down the French flag hand
over hand an' hystes the Jack. Then, o' course, the Wee Wees comes at
us spittin' like cats. But Mr. Bryden could pay out parley-vous as fast
as them. An' when presen'ly I finds the Cassowary's Jack round one
nig's neck, an' 'God save the Queen' at the end o' another's back--why,
things calmed down a bit."

"But how and where did you meet Mr. Bryden first, Captain?" asked the
Admiral insinuatingly; "that's what's puzzling me."

"An' that, Sir James," replied old Stone as he finished his wine, "is a
question I must leave the Res'dent himself to answer when you see him."

Ere this, however, Montague Bryden's immediate chief--the High
Commissioner of Poly-, Micro-, and Melanesia, together with all other
spots and dots coloured pink on the map of the South Seas, and bearing
underneath them the bracketed legend "Br."--had looked up the new
Occupation and found its Resident. Found him quite alone amongst his
subjects, too. Also with them perfectly in hand, and--so long as he
neglected no ordinary precautions--devoted to him.

When the High Commissioner appeared at Port Eglinton, Montague and his
troops had just successfully repulsed a raid of headhunters, killed
some and lodged others in the calaboose, or gaol, which, together with
a council house, were amongst recent improvements.

To the Commissioner Montague told his story, having to repeat it when
in a few days the Cassowary appeared with the Admiral.

"I always was a duffer at home," he wound up simply, "and even in
Australia, you see, I couldn't get on. But amongst these chaps here I'm
all right. We agree first class together. Of course, they kick over the
traces at times; but a word or so from me's generally enough to bring
'em to reason. Doesn't require any brains, this sort of business, I
suppose; that's why it suits me."

And the Admiral smiled at the High Commissioner, who smiled back again
in sympathy.

And, very certainly, no one was more dumbfounded than Montague Bryden
when, not long afterwards, in a list of Birthday Honours he saw his
name, with the letters C.M.G. following. Nor, at least so it is
rumoured, will it be a great while till another letter--a K.--may be
placed before them. For--so at any rate has been heard to say the Right
Honourable John Bryden--"we have, sir, very few more promising young men
of action than my nephew, Montague, in the service abroad."

And, curiously enough, when all the rest of the South Seamen are
growling about the scarcity of copra--worth £7 per ton in these bad
seasons--never has the Dancing Jane been known to return without a full
cargo, even should the Resident of the Mahmees have to make a special
requisition for the purpose.


MISSING.

A STORY OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC.

I.

"What's become of the Linnet?" asked somebody, suddenly, one fine
morning at the Admiralty some fifty years ago. And nobody knew. Some
said China, others the West Coast, others again the West Indies. But
there was no finality in the guessing. And not until an old clerk in
the Under Secretary's room happened to mention that his son was the
Linnet's midshipman, that he had not been heard of for three years, and
that his last letter was from Australia, was the clue found.

Then, presently, despatches, voluminous and complete, were forwarded to
the colonial authorities at 'Sydney, Victoria,' asking for information
respecting Her Majesty's ship Linnet, one gun, 300 tons,
Lieutenant-Commander Morrissey, &c., &c., supposed to be on duty
somewhere on that station.

And in due course, which was a long course, because the overland
telegraph was still an adventure to scoff at, came the reply to the
effect that, a very long time ago, 'H.M, Schooner Linnet, 1, 300, &c.
&c., Lieutenant-Commander Morrissey,' had, in obedience to orders from
the Post Captain in charge of the station, and since deceased, sailed
away on patrol duty amongst the South Sea Islands.

Of late nothing had been heard of the schooner. But the authorities had
every reason to believe that she was still at her post. They also took
the liberty of pointing out that, in view of the recent grave Russian
complications, and the fact of the only warship having recently sailed
for Home, the Linnet was quite inadequate to the task of protecting
British interests in the South Pacific.

The Home Naval authorities were satisfied with this. They had placed
the missing vessel. Also they promised that, 'in the spring,' two new
ships should be stationed in Australian waters.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, in a snug harbour of Suvaila, the largest island of a group
of four known as 'The Padrones,' lay H.M.S. Linnet. But you would never
have taken her for what she was. Her sides were worn and weather-beaten;
long tears of iron rust trickled down them, and everywhere
showed unsightly patches of the first priming-coat of lead-coloured
paint in place of the original delicate creamy white.

Instead of 'Europe' rope, half her running rigging was coir, brown and
frizzy, and the standing gear showed grievously for lack of tar. Many
of her rattlines were gone, and their places filled by strips of
bamboo. Her sails, loosed to dry and half-sheeted home, showed great
patches, fitter for a North Country collier than a British ship o' war,
be she ever so small. Everywhere about her hung a curious look of decay
and drought, and barbarism accentuated instead of relieved by a festoon
of shells and sharks' teeth hanging round the neck of the once smartly
gilded figurehead. Looking over the side, deep down through the clear
water, you saw, in place of bright copper, barnacles and weeds.

Her crew were well in keeping; for, if the ship's stores had run out,
so evidently had the slop chest. For'ard, the men were in every variety
of rig; and with their broad-leafed palm hats, made to the individual
wearer's fancy, their trousers and jumpers of cheap and gaudy 'trade'
prints, and shark-skin belts ornamented with native work, they looked
far more like pirates than the regulation British Jack.

Nor did the presence amongst them of many flower-decked brown maidens,
who evidently had the run of the ship, lessen the resemblance.

Aft, in hammocks under the sun-blanched awning, swung Morrissey and his
lieutenant, whilst a couple of native belles sat on the skylight
chattering to a small midshipman who, in an undress uniform of brown
calico and grass-woven hat, lay on a rug smoking a huge cigar of his
own manufacture.

To seaward gleamed, white as snow, the long round of surf as it broke
with subdued murmur on the circling reef; above, the sky was like
sapphire, and all around the water gleamed still and placid, and in
colour of the tender blue of the forget-me-not; in the background, the
rounded mountains of the island, clothed in vivid greenery, sloped
softly to the edge of the long stretch of dazzling white beach. From
somewhere in the hills came the sound of falling waters; the air was
full of the fragrance of flowers. It was Lotos land, and everything
about ship and crew seemed eloquently to say--

Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid ocean, wind and wave and oar;
Oh, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

Presently, from a boat which had pulled off from the beach, stepped a
tall, bronzed, clean-shaven man, dressed in spotless duck from head to
foot. This vas Silas B. Kegg, the owner of the white coral-built
trading station which flashed out of the great clump of purple hibiscus
that little Thompson, the midshipman, had once fancifully compared to a
stain of blood on the even greenery of palm and breadfruit trees.

'I reckon, now, Cap,' said the visitor without any ceremony, as he
leaned against the clews of Morrissey's hammock, 'as we'll have trouble
direckly. I don't like the free an' easy way these niggers is carrin'
on lately. That's a fact. You'd think the store yonder belongs to 'em.
Likewise this ship o' yourn. You don't burn powder enough. Look at 'em
now.'

The Commander turned his head slowly till, under the dip of the awning,
he could see right for'ard. A whole crowd of natives, male and female,
had so closed in the Linnet's seamen that nothing was to be seen of
them. Another mob was sitting in a row all along the forty-two pounder
that lay, its white paint peeled off in patches, on its turntable just
for'ard of the foremast These, flower-decked, laughed and screamed in
childish gaiety as they pushed each other off the muzzle of the gun.
Others, again, were aloft in the fore-rigging, apparently playing at
follow-my-leader. A harmless race, surely, and one full of mirth!

But the trader shook his head as he gazed. His dealings with the Linnet
and her people had been profitable. And be hoped for more profit still.
Also, he was afraid for his own skin, and wished to inoculate the
others. Also, he knew the islands, and had seen curious matters happen
in them.

'Bah!' said Morrissey, after a long look, 'they know we can bite if we
like. It's only the mice larking with the lion. Although, to tell the
truth, Kegg, we're getting so mouldy and worn that I'm almost afraid to
fire the gun. Last practice over at Mallicobo brought showers of
dry-rotten stuff from aloft about our ears. None of our spars would stand
a heavy blow. Besides, our ammunition is giving out both for small arms
and the gun. And as for provisions--well your little bill will tell its
own tale when it comes to pay day. Our commission's up over a year now.
They've clean forgotten us, and we'll be left here till we become
niggers ourselves, and live on cassava and pork!' And the Commander
yawned and turned in his hammock.

'No, no, Cap,' replied Kegg, with a twinkle in his eye. 'Not so bad as
that. I've got a boat under charter, nearly due from Yap, in the
Carolines. Bottled ale, champagne, the chycest o' tinned stuffs, an'
the whitest o' flour, not to mention a few barrels o' gunpowder. She
ought to show up pretty slick with this southerly.'

'More promissory notes!' groaned the Commander.

'John Bull's name's good enough for me,' replied Silas. 'You kin take
the hull cargo on them terms. But,' he continued, as he stepped towards
the gangway, 'mind a fool's advice. Cap, an' keep your eye liftin' on
them niggers, an' specially on Mister Tuifalu. He's watchin' on us now
as sharp as a shark arter a piccaninny. Send a roun' shot or two
ashore. Cap, just for fun like--knock over a few o' their cocoa-palms,
and pay for 'em. Them nigs is just bustin' full o' pure cussedness,
spite o' their larfin', an' flowers, an' singin'. Well, so long! I
ain't none too comfortable myself; an' copra's a thing o' the past.
But, you see, I allus keep my guns handy.' And he patted a couple of
holsters, one on each hip, from which protruded the butts of two
enormous 'Colts.'

'Anything in it, d'ye think. Bramble?' asked Morrissey, after a long
pause, turning languidly to his lieutenant. For answer the latter sent
little Thompson to call the boatswain, who presently appeared, with
flowers in his rough grey hair, remnants of a hurriedly discarded
garland.

'Danger from them niggers, sir!' said he, in reply to his superior's
questions. 'Why, they're for all the world like a lot o' kids, an' as
much 'arm in 'em! If 't were Tanna, now, or San Christoval, it might be
different. But we been here a solid month an' never seen nothin' wrong.
Besides, it ain't likely, sir, as a scum o' black niggers ud tackle a
British man o' war!'

Morrissey laughed, so did Bramble, so did the solitary midshipman who
was lying back eating bananas almost as fast as the two brown girls
could skin them and put them into his mouth.

As Hicks (which was the boatswain's name) finished sniggering in
respectful sympathy, a sound of shooting reached them from shoreward.
Abreast of the white house, backed by the patch of scarlet, in the
bright sunlight stood a man from whose extended arms flashed forth fire
and smoke into a dense crowd of natives, between whom and the trader
(for it was he) so thickly flew the spears that they seemed but one
continuous mass. Suddenly they saw him fall to his knees, the firing
ceased, and it was as if a brown wave had rolled over the spot.

With a roar the boatswain sprang for'ard, only to be met at the break
of the little poop by Tuifalu and cleft so cleanly; by a single blow
from a nine-pound American axe that a half of his head fell sideways on
to each shoulder. For full a minute he stood upright, then, slowly, his
legs gave way and he doubled up all in a heap over the port
harness-cask--the one the salt pork was kept in.

Almost simultaneously the thirty men who composed the crew, and who
were almost all on deck, were butchered. Those below speedily shared
the same fate. The scuppers ran blood.

In the words of Tuifalu (much later on): 'The sea was red, and the ship
was red. Red was everything in our sight, yea, even the very air we
breathed was red. A great slaughter, a very great slaughter of white
men, the like of which was never known in the world before.'

Meanwhile, after the first, long wild stare of despairing incredulity,
and one solitary exclamation of 'My God!' from Morrissey, the three
turned to fly down the companion-way. But the doom of the unprepared in
those lands, even to the present day, was upon them. At the sound of
the first shot the two native women had sprung on to the awning and
rapidly cut the stops and earrings; so that, before the three officers
could reach the door, down came the big heavy spread of stout canvas
right on the top of them. Yelling like fiends, the Children of
Treachery rushed aft, stabbing frantically with their spears, and
beating with their shark-toothed swords at the sharply outlined bodies
beneath until the bleached canvas began to show great patches of red,
and all movement ceased.

II.

To the Westward, beyond the ever-sounding circle of the surf glowing
rosy in the rays of the lowering sun, that same evening there hove in
sight a small schooner making direct for the entrance in the reef.

Then Tuifalu's brains went to work again in savage-wise; and, very
quickly, the awning was re-spread, all signs of confusion cleared away,
and sundry bodies placed in position about the decks, some apparently
watching the approaching vessel as they leant over the bulwarks, one
sitting on the rail with a fishing-line between his fingers; and, aft,
they propped poor Morrissey against the hood of the companion, and put
his telescope under his arm, as they had seen him stand many a time.

Not ashore were they idle; whilst some beat welcoming tom-toms, others
ran the Stars and Stripes up to the top of the flagstaff that stood
before the dead trader's house. Ruddier than ever in the sunset glowed
the scarlet hibiscus. And as the Yap schooner drew slowly in and let go
her anchor, they set off with songs and flowers and boarded her.
Rendered totally unsuspicious by the presence of the Linnet, they found
the little fore-and-after an easy conquest. The Upolu men who comprised
the crew at once took to the water and were killed there. The two
whites, skipper and mate, were cut down on the quarterdeck.

Here, indeed, was an embarrassment of riches, and the whole Group was
in a ferment of pleasurable excitement. Two ships full of untold
treasure and as much 'long pig' as would furnish quite a week of
ceaseless feasting!

But old Tuifalu was not altogether easy in his mind. Once, when only a
stripling, he remembered the people had killed and eaten a white
trader--a man like this last one--and thought no more about it. Then, one
fine morning, a big, a very big, canoe appeared and vomited fire and
smoke, and things that screamed as they flew, and when they burst
smashed huts and canoes and plantations.

Certainly, only a few very old people were killed, because the whole
tribe fell inland. But it was not pleasant, on returning, to find their
village in ashes, canoes in splinters, and the whole of the season's
crops ruined.

There was, he recollected, much argument over the matter. 'The anger of
the gods,' at last said the priests who lived in the temple where, row
upon row, shone the long array of polished boar's tusks. But even then
Tuifalu had doubts.

He doubted more when he saw the Linnet, and heard the big gun fired.
Weeks of close communion with the whites had taught him a great deal.
As we have seen, he profited--and the big gun had been dumb so long!

Also, where was the other big canoe--the one of many moons agone? Might
it not return at any minute with guns that were not dumb? Therefore
Tuifalu stopped the feasting and prepared to get rid of the two
vessels, casting uneasy glances the while seaward.

The Yap schooner, after taking out most of her cargo, he ran ashore and
set fire to. And as the people watched her burning she blew to atoms,
and a few were killed and many grievously wounded.

Kegg's powder had, in some sort, worked a revenge. 'The anger of the
gods,' said the wise men again. But Tuifalu knew better. It, however,
effectually stopped him from serving the Linnet in the same fashion.
Otherwise he would have burnt her where she lay. As it was, he
concluded to tow her round to a secluded inlet that he knew of, and
there gradually break her up.

One matter puzzled him. It was, how to weigh her anchor. The Yap
schooner's ground tackle had been merely a coir hawser. One can cut the
like easily; but not a heavy chain cable.

So Tuifalu had to work his brains once more. First he tried fair
pulling: but the whole strength of the Group, or of as many as could
get hold, was unable to move the anchor. He and his had twice seen the
sailors--those men now dead and digested--walking round a flat-topped
thing to the sound of music until the big iron hook came up from the
sea-bottom. Was it the music or the walking round and round? Tuifalu
pondered the matter deeply. And the result was that, one day, shipping
the bars, and seating himself on top of the capstan with an instrument
made out of one of Morrissey's thigh bones, he struck up, whilst his
naked cannibals ran merrily round and round to the clank of the pawls
and the barbarous squeaking of the savage flute.

But alas! the great hook, fast in its coral bed below there, gave no
sign of ascending. The necessity of taking the cable to the capstan
before commencing operations had never been explained to the untutored
ones.

But the old chief was bad to beat; and, presently, seeing the futility
of the thing, he began to pay out chain instead of trying to get it in,
with the result that the man-o'-war schooner nearly drifted into the
surf with the set of the ebb-tide. So crowded were her decks and
rigging and yards with curious spectators that she looked more like a
huge mass of bees blown out to sea at swarming time than a ship.

And as this great floating mass lay just in front of the gap in the
reef, with 100 fathoms of chain surging and grating behind her over
sea-bottom hills and gullies, suddenly came on to blow the Nor'wester
as it always blows at Suvaila--first a few premonitory puffs roaring
hollow down the green declivities of the island, and then a wild swoop
of wind that bends the palms and shakes their stately heads like plumes
on a jolting hearse.

It caught the Linnet and filled her topsail and topgallantsail,
bellying them out to the full slack of their loose sheets; it filled
the big foresail, making it strain and tear and jerk aloft tack and
sheet blocks, and bring them crashing and rattling down on the natives'
heads, and heeling the Linnet over till the water foamed across the
main hatch, slewing her head round till it pointed straight for the
entrance in the reef, against which the surf now broke in thunder.

Then, somewhere in the great length of chain dragging across the coral,
the inevitable weakest link snapped, the yards braced themselves to the
wind, and, like a racer, the Linnet, black with her swarms of yelling
cannibals, darted through the gap and reeled away into the fiery heat
of the sun. And as the sun set, the wind blew stronger and more
strongly, and the Linnet, with all her canvas for'ard, struggled and
staggered through the fast-rising sea and the darkness, her shaky spars
creaking and working, spray and spindrift hissing over her decks,
where, to make standing room even, so crowded they were, the stronger
fought with the weak and hurled them overboard--women and children
first. And on top of the combatants came down those who had been aloft,
so that, as soon as ever a little space was made, the struggle
commenced again--'this time,' as Tuifalu remarked later, 'truly the
anger of the gods!'

* * * * * *

In due course--which meant, in this case, twelve months--a big man-o-war,
with many men and guns, came along with Admiralty orders to find the
Linnet, and pay her men off, and lay her up. But she was already laid
up, and for weeks the newcomer searched for her missing sister,
learning no tidings--only vague lies and legends, out of which nothing
could be made, sending her hither and thither on wild-goose chases. So
at last the big ship relinquished her quest and left, her captain
wishing to spend the hot months in Hobart Town.

Twice twelve months; and one day a labour vessel, cruising
speculatively, happened to visit a certain islet which stands quite
solitary amidst a thousand leagues of ocean, and almost exactly on the
Line. On the Admiralty charts you may now see it marked as 'Lonely
Island.' From only a few miles away so low is it as to appear merely a
clump of tall greenery growing out of the water, and there is no
encircling reef.

Presently, as the boat's crew of the black-birder landed, straggling
about, all at once, in the midst of the thick bush, they came on a sort
of natural dry dock, formed by a deep depression in the rock. And in
it, nearly upright, lay the wreck of a vessel with only her lower masts
standing. Flakes of rotten timber had fallen from her sides, and out of
the rents grew great purple fungi and tall coarse grasses. Through the
upper deck planking a young palm had thrust its way, growing until the
tender green fronds shaded a mass of rusty iron that, only prevented
from falling into the hold by the stout stringers of her turntable,
gaped all awry at the graceful arch overhead.

As the seamen moved about, full of curiosity, they became aware of many
skeletons scattered around amidst a store of native weapons.

And one, venturing on to the quaking deck, and wrenching off the bell
from its woodwork, and bringing it away, discovered thereon, after some
cleansing, the inscription, 'H.M.S. Linnet,' with the date of her
building, a year which no man there could look back to, for she was a
very old ship.

And as they marvelled amongst themselves, having by this, like most
wanderers about the Pacific Islands, heard of the mystery of the total
disappearance of the Queen's ship, out from the thick bush, on all
fours, crawled, mother-naked, an old man, very feeble, and whose hair
and beard were snow white. It was Tuifalu. And after they got him on
board he lived just long enough to tell the story that I have set down;
and of how at last, after being driven during four days and nights
before a raging hurricane, the Linnet was cast high and dry by a big
wave upon the little island with only thirty survivors of the great
crowd she had borne away with her; of how, her boats being all gone,
these had made a raft and three times attempted in vain to leave the
island, a storm arising each time and blowing them back again; and of
how they fought, and killed, and fed on one another; and of how, after
many moons, by reason of his greater cunning, Tuifalu was left alone,
existing since, as best be might, on fruit and fish.


* * * * * *

'Missing,' tersely says the 'Navy List' of that day opposite the
Linnet's name--'Missing. No information.'

'This time, truly, by the anger of the gods!' said Tuifalu, with his
last breath, having finished his story.


Stopped on the Long Stretch


CHAPTER I.
TWO NEWSPAPER PARAGRAPHS.

"No, Frank, I've quite made up my mind! No more of these pettifogging
little affairs! We've over £5,000 to our credit now. Let us turn it
into £100,000. And the ridiculous simplicity of the thing! Why, as they
say over yonder, it's as easy as falling off a log. The only wonder is
that it's never been tackled before!"

And the speaker, a tall, dark, handsome man, looked inquiringly at his
companion and brother. Frank Maitland, also tall, but not so dark as
Charles, who was almost swarthy, for a minute or two puffed slowly at
his cigar without answering.

"Yes," said he, at last, "it seems feasible enough. But it'll want a
lot of thinking out. And, by the way, it has been done before, only not
in the manner that I think you have in mind. Also, the sum was small.
And the fellows were nabbed. However, old man, count me in, although I
know little of the scheme, except that you've had it simmering in that
restless brain of yours for the last few years."

The room in which the two Maitlands sat was one forming part of a flat
in a large building in Kensington, known as Holland Chambers. It was
well, even luxuriously, furnished, and around the walls hung an array
of curios, ranging from a Zulu kaross to an Australian boomerang;
whilst on the polished floor were strewn many skins of big game--mostly
African felidae. Gun and rifle cases of all descriptions were packed in
one corner; over the fireplace was a handsomely framed picture in oils,
painted by Frank, and representing an incident in one of the Boer-Zulu
wars, during which he and his brother had been "commandeered" by the
former. Other sketches brightened the walls, all of more than average
merit. A violin and a piano formed portion of the furniture. It was an
ideal bachelor's "den." Adjoining it, but connected by a glass-roofed
conservatory, were the four or five other rooms that made the Maitland
ménage, and which at times were untenanted for a year or two.

Frank and Charles were the sons of a once rather well-known figure in
London Clubland--old General Maitland ("Inkerman Maitland," "Maitland
Pasha"), whose adventurous and stormy career as a military free lance,
after the gambling scandal that caused his resignation from the
Imperial Army, often provided a sensational paragraph for the
journalists of his day.

At last, decrepit and worn out by excesses, seamed with wounds and
utterly penniless, the old soldier of fortune died in Monte Video,
where he had been fighting for the Dictator Rivas, leaving his two boys
at Haileybury quite destitute and altogether friendless. At that time
Frank was sixteen, and Charles a couple of years older. Almost directly
after the news of their father's death the pair disappeared, and were
unseen and unheard-of for years. Then all at once someone discovered
that they were living in Holland Chambers and were making a living as
hunters of big game, a statement that received verification from there
being, now and again, on-view in Roland Ward's windows a giant pair of
antlers or a stuffed specimen of some great leopard or similar beast of
prey, bearing a legend to the effect that it had been killed in some of
the world's wilder parts by one or other of the brothers.

For the rest, although society nodded to them, they had few friends.
Reserved, grave, and self-contained men, they seemed to prefer a quiet
life of almost complete isolation when in town.

Besides the usual service of the flat servants, the Maitlands had a
private man of their own, a stony-faced, elderly henchman who answered
to the name of Snell, and who accompanied the pair in their travels.

"Well, Charles," his brother continued, after a long and thoughtful
pause, during which the former closely scanned a chart of the main
steamship routes, "this will be the biggest thing we ever tackled. What
put it into your head at this special moment?"

"This and this," replied Charles, handing his brother two newspaper
cuttings. The first ran:--

By the incoming Australian P. & O. steamer, Empress, there arrived a
consignment of specie of the value of £80,000. The Colonies would
appear to be now getting rid of the heavy amounts shipped to them
during and immediately after the late lamentable banking crisis. Thus,
presently, we may expect the return of much heavier sums, whose effect
will be to cheapen money, already too cheap.

This was from the "money column" of the Times. The other, from the same
newspaper, read:--

For sale, or hire, the steam clipper yacht Basilisk, 300 tons, 500
horse-power, which has just returned from a two years' cruise round the
world. She is in first-class order, and has been re-surveyed and
overhauled. She is all teak built and copper fastened; her engines are
on the triple expansion principle, and she is fitted throughout with
electric light and all the latest scientific improvements. For further
particulars, apply to Messrs. Hatchard and Jones, Fenchurch Avenue,
City.

"I see the connection," said Frank, smiling as he finished. "But
wouldn't something smaller and less elaborate suit? Why, she's big
enough for a man-o'-war. I remember her well. Saw her in Singapore, and
again at the Cape. Three-masted; schooner-rigged; painted all white."

His brother shook his head. "A man-o'war's exactly what I want,
Franky," said he. "Your mail steamers won't pull up for much less. And
although I wouldn't hurt anybody, I want something able, if necessary,
to say, 'Stop!' to the biggest liner afloat."

"Piracy rank and unmistakable!" laughed Frank.

"Call it what you please," replied Charles, imperturbably.' "If it
comes off, we need have no fears for the future so far as money is
concerned. And just look at the chance," he continued. "Here we are
with actually a crew ready to our hands! All our old men of the
Albacore are waiting about, idle. Valverde wants us to take another
trip with arms and ammunition to Cuba. But I'm sick of that. So, I
know, are you. Certainly, we made money this last time, but it's too
precarious a business; to say nothing of Spanish rifle bullets. My arm
is stiff yet. Look here, Frank, I'll write to Hatchard and Jones and
make an offer of £200 per month for the Basilisk as she stands, whilst
you take a turn round the homes and tell any Albacores you may see not
to ship till they hear from us. I told them, when we paid off, to let
me know before they signed fresh articles. And you can give them a
pound or so if you find they want it. Almost to a man, I'll bet they'll
jump at this new game. Why, we can promise them £200 each."

"All right, old chap," replied Frank Maitland, cheerily. "It's your
picnic this time. Count me in at any rating you like. But oughtn't we
to have a friend at the other end?"

"I've thought of that," replied his brother. "As you said before, the
thing's been simmering; and, long ago, I made out a cable code to meet
the case. Do you remember Maggie Hamilton?"

"What, the pretty little woman at the Varieties, in Sydney, who helped
to get Bell and Brown, the bank crooks, away in the Wanderer so
pluckily? Yes, of course, I remember her," replied Frank. "And how she
made up those two scamps, till the very police asked them for
information about themselves! Well?"

"Well, she's our agent," replied Charles. "Sharp as a needle,
thoroughly unscrupulous, but fond of me so far as she can be fond of
anybody but her wicked little self. Nowhere could a better be found.
Already we have been in communication with each other; and when the
time comes she knows exactly what to do. I am going to write to her
now, and send her a couple of hundred pounds for 'exes.'"

"It'll be a deuced expensive business, this filibustering," remarked
Frank.

"It'll take nearly every penny of our savings, old chap," replied the
other. "You don't mind?"

"Not a scrap," answered his brother. "In for a penny in for a pound."

"A hundred thousand of them!" replied the other, emphatically, as he
settled to his writing, whilst his brother, going to his room, threw
off his fashionably-cut tweeds, and presently appearing in blue pilot
cloth--a superior sort of seafarer--signalled to Snell to call a cab. As
the latter watched his master drive off, a smile wrinkled his grim
visage, and he muttered, in satisfied tones, "A job's brewin'! An' a
good thing too! 'Untin's not too bad for a change when there ain't
nothin' else. Sealin's the payin'est game o' the lot. But, for choice,
give me trips like that last 'un to Cuby."

CHAPTER II.
THE SAILING OF THE "BASILISK."

Hatchard And Jones accepted Charles Maitland's offer, asked for three
months' charter-money in advance, and eventually took two, thinking
they might wait a long time and not do as well. Also, Frank found
nearly all the old crowd of the Albacore ready and willing for another
enterprise, even to run contraband of war to Cuban insurgents again, if
necessary; although, on that trip, bullets had been cheaper than
cigars. Of course, Frank told them nothing; only let drop hints of
sealing in closed waters, at which sport, as at so many others of a
more or less lawless flavour, the Maitlands were no novices.

"Well, we've got the Basilisk," said Charles, as the brothers met next
morning at breakfast. "And that's the main thing; although there's some
ticklish business to fix up yet. Good girl!" he suddenly exclaimed,
opening a long, yellow envelope. "She's evidently on the qui vive.
Let's see what she says."

After working away with his key cipher for awhile, he read aloud: "I
will advise you at once directly a boat starts with a full cargo of
sugar. At present rates are low. No shipments above £20,000. Probably
freights will rise soon. Why not come on to Colombo and wait for a high
market? Shall I travel with her myself?"

"Of course!" commented Charles. "That's exactly what I mean to do.
Colombo will be our point de vue. Resourceful little creature, isn't
it? Yes, she may as well travel by the boat, 'with a full cargo of
sugar,' i.e., a treasure-room containing a good heap of specie-boxes.
I'll bet that when we meet on the Long Stretch, Maggie will have all
particulars ready for us, and so save a lot of hunting about and waste
of time. But if my latest plan answers, Frank, they'll actually beg us
to relieve them of their responsibility."

Rapidly, then, Charles unfolded his scheme; and as he listened, Frank's
smile grew broader, until he threw back his head and laughed long and
silently, his whole body shaking with suppressed merriment, as he
exclaimed: "No, Charley, you're a clever beggar. But it won't wash! It
really won't. Still, I don't know. It all depends on the fellow who's
skipper. But it's a grand and gracious inspiration, nevertheless." And
here the pair fell to laughing in concert with no more sound between
them than would have scared a mouse.

"There's no use in waiting, Frank," said the other, presently. "And
there's such a heap to be done! However, thank Heaven, we've got the
cash--a fact that makes matters comparatively easy! I think you may as
well get the men on board as quietly as possible. No articles to be
signed. We don't want their names in any shipping office. We can manage
without that. And they feel safer when they know what they're in for.
Let the yacht tow down to that little wharf of Brown's, just this side
of Greenwich, where the Albacore used to lie. There's a gridiron there,
too. You may as well put her on it and have a look at her bottom. In
one tide and out the next. I daresay Hatchard's are genuine. All the
same, it's as well to 'mak' siccar,' as Scotty says. Then get your
bunkers filled--best Welsh. By that time I'll have the stores down.
Also, I'll get the men's clothes and our own uniforms under way. Snell
can see to that part of the performance. As an old Johnny War, he'll
know to a T what's wanted. Meanwhile I'll cable to Hamilton. We'll be
at Colombo, let's see--ten--ten--eighteen. She's a twelve-knot boat, they
affirm. Take off two for imagination. Say, roughly, four thousand
miles. Oh, we'll put it at three weeks, which will give us a good
margin in case of contingencies."


The elder Maitland spoke in a tone of sharp decision that showed how
thoroughly his heart was in this latest scheme of his, and how
completely his mind was made up to see it through. And Frank, who knew
his brother's moods so intimately, was quite content, in this case, to
unquestioningly follow the other's lead, certain that if success was to
be won by vigilance, forethought, pluck, and cunning, then was it
already assured. Sometimes it was his turn. This, however, was
"Charlie's picnic." When it was Frank's, the other loyally backed him
up with all the resources at his command.

"It's a big thing, old man," was his only comment, as he rang for
Snell.

"The biggest thing of its kind on record," replied Charles, solemnly,
whilst a gleam of exultation lit up his dark face, "if it comes off."

"Et apres?" asked Frank, as he heard Snell whistling for cabs.

"Let afterwards look out for itself," replied his brother, sharply.
"No man ever did anything really big who had it all cut and dried."

During the next week the pair spent money like water, with the
consequence that, at its end, the Basilisk was ready for sea. And this
meant much more than met the eye on board of her. A score of the
Albacore's A.B.'s had volunteered, together with all her deck officers
and engineers, men upon whom the Maitlands knew they could depend in
almost any emergency. Indeed, they were pretty sure of the whole crowd.
And as Charles had said, it was a huge pull for success, this having
their old crew to choose from--men with whom they had worked for weeks
with a Spanish halter round their necks pottering about from Matanzas
to Manzanilla, gunrunning for Cuban insurgents. As to this trip, no one
except the brothers had the remotest inkling of its object. And his
subordinates knew Captain Maitland better than to ask questions. Snell,
even, was in as complete ignorance as the others. Generally he knew a
little. But he evinced no curiosity. His duty was to exercise a general
supervision over affairs below in both saloon and forecastle. And if he
wondered at some of the commissions he had been intrusted with of late,
he said nothing. There was, he felt instinctively, important and
illegal business toward. Therefore, his hard old face and cold grey
eyes showed just a slight anticipatory softening, and that was all.

"You've got a fine boat, sir," remarked the Channel pilot to Charles
Maitland, as he left them at Plymouth, "and, what's more, you know how
to handle her. You're the first gent I ever see as did, though, bar
Lord Brassey. And the Sunbeam hasn't the heels o' this one. A regular
little man-o'-war, that's what yours is." And the old fellow cast his
eye aloft in unqualified approval at the tall, tapering spars, with the
topsails stowed in show-white covers on the crosstrees, and brought it
down to the wide sweep of spotless deck, arched by the handsome bridge,
gleaming with brass work, and dotted with groups of sturdy, uniformed
seamen.

"Private yacht!" he muttered to himself, as he presently descended the
side into his boat and was pulled to his cutter. "Private granny!
Opium; or seals; or war stores; or somethin' contraband. Why, there
ain't an amatoor sailor-man aboard her! They're the real, genuine
article fore an' aft that hooker! Well, it's none o' my business. But
ain't she a picture?" And he walked along the cutter's deck and gazed
long at the Basilisk as, the wind freshening, she all at once set her
three big fore-and-aft wings, mastheaded her topsails, and with smoke
pouring from her buff-painted funnel, tore across Channel towards the
French coast.

"She's just the least bit oversparred, sir," remarked the first mate,
Mr. Jopling, to Charles Maitland, as the pair stood watching her from
the bridge. "Three feet, now, off those topmasts, and she'd be far
easier in a sea-way. And, anyhow, I don't like the rig. She ought to be
square for'ard for steam."

"I'm quite of your opinion, Mr. Jopling," replied the other. "What's
the canvas giving us extra now?"

"Just two knots," answered the other, looking at the log dial. "We're
making a little over twelve. Square-rigged for'ard would mean another
knot. There's too much fore-and-aft stuff on her altogether."

"Well, we're in no particular hurry, sir," replied Maitland. "I only
wanted to know how she'd stand up to such a show of canvas. You can
take it off her in the first dog-watch, by which time Ushant Light
should be in sight."

Frank, who was in charge of the engines, was greatly pleased with the
way they did their work; and altogether the start seemed as auspicious
a one as the adventurers could have wished for--a fine, fast ship, good
weather, and a first-rate crowd of men forward.

"Jopling's on pins and needles, Frank," said his brother, that night.
"But I won't say a word till I'm certain. How are the engineers?"

"Curious, naturally," replied his brother.

"Sheldon says seals, up the Japan Sea, or thereabouts. Indeed, that's
the general notion on board, I think. Of course they don't ask me, and
if they did it would be all the same."

"Leave it at that," answered the other. "Encourage the idea, if
anything. The pear's not ripe yet. When it is, will be plenty of time
for explanations. At the beginning of the Long Stretch, for choice--just
as we're off from Colombo to meet our treasure-ship. I wonder how
they'll take it, Frank?"

"Like a cat does cream, I think," said Frank. "It's a tempting morsel.
The afterguard will be expensive, though, won't it?"

"It may run to a thousand all round for engine-room and deck. Say,
roughly, ten thousand for the crowd. But, of course, we can't calculate
till we know the size of the pile. Yes, Frank, that's our weak point--and
the only one. They may cut up rough and insist on shares pro rata.
And there's only the three of us, counting Snell. But we must chance
it. I fancy myself they'll take what I'm willing to give them. Nor need
anybody but ourselves and the Hamilton know the exact amount. However,
as I said in London, 'afterwards' generally adjusts itself. Time to
talk when the spoil is in my state-room, with Snell on guard."

As the Basilisk entered the Bay of Naples, her first port of call, the
brothers gazed hungrily at a great homeward-bound mail steamer just
coming out.

There was a cable waiting from Sydney. "Nothing worth troubling about
yet. Ormuz only took £25,000. Better luck, perhaps, by the time you
reach Colombo."

Throughout the trip the hands had been kept at work by Jopling
painting, tarring, and polishing, until the schooner, from gilt-trucks
to mast-hounds, from flying-jibboom-end to taffrail, simply gleamed
again. Moreover, now, to a practised eye, all the minutiae of rig and
lead, to the very passing of a gasket or the reeving of a topping-lift,
spoke of "navy fash."

The crew, too, looked, in their new suits, exactly like men-of-war's
men, the only thing lacking being the "H.M.S." on their caps.

Captain Charles, after getting clear of the Canal, drove the Basilisk
down the Red Sea as hard as he dared. He was becoming a little
impatient, not so much to actually grasp his prey, but to set matters
on a firm and understood footing between himself and the ship's
company. Halfway across the Arabian Sea they caught southwest monsoon
weather dead in their teeth, making the Basilisk feel the leverage of
those long spars of hers so much that it was thought advisable to house
the topmasts. But on the whole the schooner made good work of it,
keeping her decks as dry as those of the big liner which they presently
met swooping along at sixteen knots an hour, running to time like an
express train, and bulking out of the water like a church.

"There goes her number," said Jopling, referring to the Signal Book.
"Ormuz! I was pretty well certain of her! Hoist the answering pennant,
quarter-master, and D.B.J.K. underneath it. By Jove, she is going!"

"And £25,000 along with her," muttered Frank to his brother.

"Pooh!" remarked the latter, "a mere fleabite! I wouldn't bother
stopping her for it. Ours must be a pile, Frank. Enough to last us the
rest of our lives. It's not a game to be played twice. A hundred
thousand at the very least. Not a red cent under. I'd sooner hang about
the coast for six months, if I must, rather than take anything less.
That's the beauty of yachting--one can poke around in all sorts of holes
and corners without exciting notice or comment."

But, as it turned out, they had not long to wait. The very next day
after the one on which the Basilisk brought up in Colombo Harbour,
Charles, who had been staying at the Calle Face Hotel, came on board,
and, telling Jopling to heave up at once, took Frank into his state-room
and handed him something written in pencil on the back of an
envelope.

"It came at breakfast time viâ Madras," said he, as the other read.

"Good little woman! It will suit us down to the ground. And we've got
no time to lose. An old boat, too, and slow. We'll just meet her
halfway across the Long Stretch!"

Maitland's eyes were shining, and his dark face was flushed as he
watched his brother read the translated cablegram. "R.M.S. Chirimoya
sails 17th with thirty boxes of sovereigns, value £120,000, shipped by
the Bank of Carpentaria. Also three boxes of sovereigns, value £15,000,
shipped by the French Bank for India. Few passengers. Lascar crew.
Should be a very soft thing. Am coming home by her for a holiday, and
will be pleased to meet you."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Frank. "And she's coming herself! Who would have
thought that she'd be so eager and prompt on the thing?"

"Her share will be considerable," replied Charles, with a smile. "And
she's a mercenary little creature. Don't you remember how she fleeced
Bell and Brown for the part she took in getting them away? It was in
the Wanderer's cabin, by-the-bye, that I first broached this scheme to
her, and asked her if, when the day arrived, she would help us through
with it. She simply jumped at the notion; and if she'd happened to have
had the cash, would, I verily believe, have advanced it at once. But
there's the anchor up, Frank. Send those triple expansions of yours now
for all they're worth. I want to meet our fortune in about 15° S. 92°
E.--as lonely a bit of water as there is on the world's surface."


CHAPTER III.
THE "CHIRIMOYA," R.M.S.

To his great relief, Captain Maitland found, when a day or two
afterwards he told his officers of the scheme, that not a man objected.
For a few minutes, certainly, Sheldon, the second engineer, hung in the
wind. But it all seemed so sure and so devoid of all risk, that his
hesitation did not last long. As for Jopling and the other two deck
officers, sailors of fortune, young men who had never possessed in
their lives a quarter of the sum promised them now by their commander,
they presently grew actually enthusiastic over the matter. There was a
mixture of dash and bravado about the project that, as put by Charles
Maitland's enticing tongue, apart from all mere money reward, took
their fancy. Nor did any man ask for details. They knew the Maitlands,
and were amply content to do nothing but obey orders.

And with the men for'ard it proved the same.

"Well, lads," said Captain Charles, when they were all assembled aft,
"I expect you've been wondering what our little game is this trip?"

"Seals!" said a voice.

"Not seals," continued Maitland. "Something much better than seals.
Better, too, than running powder and shot through Spanish rifle fire.
We're after sovereigns! Hard, yellow, coined shiners--thousands of 'em.
Fact is, there's a treasure-ship coming across the sea from Australia
loaded with 'em. And I'm going to bail her up. There's absolutely no
risk. Remember, you're on no articles. But there's £300 in hard cash
for each man. My plans are all laid. You have nothing to do with these.
My officers here are quite satisfied with what I have told them. But I
want to force no man into a game like this against his will. And if
there's any one of you would rather cry off, why, then, so he can, and
I'll think none the worse of him. Don't imagine I'm going to start
pirating, because I'm not. Just the one ship'll be enough. Then every
man for himself with his share of the booty, landed on the Australian
coast, most likely, and the Basilisk sunk in twenty fathoms. The Bush
is wide. Most of you have been in it, and will have ample time to
scatter before the thing gets known. Now, any man that jibs at the
contract walk over to starboard!"

Not a man moved.

"Well," said Charles, "there's no hurry. Go for'ard and talk it over.
In half an hour I'll ask you again. Three hundred pounds per man,
remember, in hard coin! That'll do."

"They're all right," remarked Frank Maitland, "and I dare say that
extra hundred helped."

"Aye," said Jopling, "they won't take the half-hour. I could see it in
their faces. And when you think of what such a sum means to a sailor,
where's the wonder? They're almost all steady fellows, too. You
couldn't have got a better crowd for your purpose if you'd picked East
London over."

Meanwhile, in the dandy forecastle of the Basilisk--where the men slept
in roomy, curtained berths, and had their meals spread on a table for
them; the electric light installed, and were treated like Christians
generally, instead of pigs--there was some argument going on.

"It'll mean life if any of us is nabbed," said one.

"Seven years at the outside," corrected another. "But, anyhow, they
won't bother about us small fry. It's the afterguard with the main lump
o' the stuff they'll be chasin'. Them's the coves as'll get it socked
on to 'em--if they catch 'em."

"Well," said a third, "it's the most howdacious game I ever heerd on!
An' that simple, too, when you comes to think it over--if the mail-boat
(for, o' course, that's what it is) 'll only stop for us! If she won't,
I don't exactly see how we're to make her."

"Hor! hor! hor!" laughed another. "Ain't you bin wi' the skipper long
enough to know that when he sez he'll do a thing he'll do it in spite
o' the very deuce? I reckon that three 'underd quid's good's in my kick
this minit."

"Well, lads, eggs or young 'uns?" exclaimed one, impatiently. "The Old
Man'll think we're goin' back on him if we don't liven up. An' here's
one as is satisfied! Three 'underd quid ain't to be sneezed at. It's
more money than I ever seen in once. I can't rightly imagine the look
o' such a lump. Besides, boys, the fun o' the whole thing counts. Hands
up all them as is o' my way o' thinkin'."

A grove of brawny paws arose. There was not a seceder among the crew of
the Basilisk.

"Very well, bo'sun," said Charles Maitland, as the former came aft with
the men's decision of unanimous support. "Get those cases out of the
hold, then, and let's give the Basilisk a few teeth, if only to make a
show, for I don't expect to have to use them."

The contents of the great cases proved to be, in addition to a couple
of 4m. quick-firing guns, half-a-dozen Nordenfeldts and the same number
of 12-pounders.

The big guns were mounted on turn-tables ahead and astern; the smaller
ones here and there on each broadside, in which ports with swinging
shutters already existed, having been put in by some former owner
apparently to supplement the scupper-holes.

Presently, too, a store of stowed hammocks were triced along her rails;
and by the time all was finished the Basilisk looked the exact picture
of one of those obsolete, handsome, armed boats kept in Colonial waters
by the British Government, and used mainly for surveying purposes.

As the men worked, some inkling of their captain's intentions seem to
dawn upon them.

"We're a-goin' to take charge for the Gov'ment," chuckled one. "All
fair, square, and above-board."

"Aye," remarked another, "cunnin' ain't no name for our Old Man! D'ye
see, mates, the mail steamer'll heave-to for Johnny War--'Er Majesty's
Ship Basilisk--when she mightn't for anythin' else. Cunnin'! Oh, lor!"
And when Snell served out new caps with the "H.M.S." upon them, much
chaff was exchanged and many jokes were cracked about the latest and
unauthorized addition to the British Navy.

The Albacore had carried almost precisely the same armament as now
ornamented the Basilisk, for Valverde and Co.'s instructions were to
fight if cornered, for which arrangement the firm paid accordingly.
Thus there was no necessity for gun drill, the men knowing how to use
the 4.7's and others. And both Charles and his brother, as the Basilisk
foamed across the Indian Ocean on the "Long Stretch" from Colombo to
Cape Leuwin, felt satisfied they had done all in their power to insure
the success of their audacious plan.

Meanwhile, the Royal Mail steamer Chirimoya approached from the
opposite direction. She was one of the company's oldest boats, and it
took all the chief engineer could get out of his engines to make her
run up to contract time. Nevertheless, she was a fine, roomy craft,
preferred by many to the more modern and faster cramped conglomeration
of little cells, tier upon tier of which the up-to-date liner seems
mainly composed of.

But the season was over, and there were not more than a score of
passengers in each saloon. Amongst these Miss Maggie Hamilton, late of
the Varieties Music Hall, Sydney, shone like the "star" the bills
called her when appearing nightly in her special character songs, "The
Little Larrikiness," "'Er Golden 'Air was 'Anging Down 'Er Back," "Oh,
See His Dirty Pocket-handkercher," and similar ditties of which her
rendering had long established her as a prime favourite with the
"pushes," who whistled and shrieked themselves hoarse from the gallery
of the popular "Hall."

And if a few of the other saloon passengers gave themselves airs, and
kept the variety actress at a distance, the Chirimoya's officers simply
worshipped her as the life and central attraction of the ship. For them
she danced her inimitable fire-skirt dance, said to be unequalled even
by La Loie Fuller. For them she sang all her best and most fetching
songs. And she danced and flirted so impartially with both engine-room,
deck, and the Presence that lives on a liner's lower bridge, that even
the latter--in this case, gruff old Captain Black--was captivated and
rendered almost amiable by her witcheries. In appearance she was a
small, lithe, well-shaped, quick-silvery personage whose age no man
might tell to within a dozen of years. Undeniably pretty, with a good
complexion and a fine wealth of bronze-coloured hair, both her very
own; deep brown eyes and perfect teeth; brisk and "jolly." It was hard,
indeed, to find anything denoting the conspirator in such an ensemble,
unless the close observer might consider those sparkling eyes rather
furtive at times in their regard, or the firmly rounded chin too
massive to be in accord with the airy, insouciant manners of its owner.

As is generally the case on the older vessels of a line, most of the
Chirimoya's senior officers had a pet grievance.

The captain himself ought to have had the Catamaran in place of Phelps,
"a confounded sailing-ship man come from no one knows where, and
promoted right over people's heads who had seen more years in the
company's service than he (Phelps) had hairs on his upper lip."

The chief engineer complained bitterly of the way his requisition for
stores was systematically ignored, whilst the new "swell" ship's
engine-rooms were just palaces teeming with every expensive luxury that
could be thought of. This trip, for instance, he was short of oil, and
yet they'd expect the average 13.7! Well, if he wasn't up to time
because of heated bearings he'd let them know fair an' square whose
fault it was! Three times now, too, he'd spoken about a new starboard
eccentric strap. All to no purpose. And so on, and so on.

Then the chief mate, although long a passed master, had been snubbed by
the "Board," and his application for promotion passed over in favour of
a younger man. And with all these, and others, Maggie Hamilton
sympathized and condoled in such fashion as completely won their
hearts, and made her free of every corner in the ship, from the
captain's state cabin to the specie-room, to which latter spot, under
the guidance of Mr. Simmonds, the chief officer, she had paid more than
one visit.

It made her "feel thrills," she said, to only look on the pile of
treasure-boxes and think of the potentialities of pleasure that lay
stowed away in that little space. And she would enter the room and sit
down and gaze thoughtfully at the precious cases, whilst the mate would
explain again and again the impossibility of anyone abstracting
anything whilst only the captain and himself held the keys respectively
of the little door she had come through and of the strong-room.
Certainly (in reply to a question) he was most careful of his key. It
hung alongside the portrait of his late wife that Miss Hamilton might
have noticed at the head of his bed. And as to the captain's key, when
he (the mate) wanted it, he took it off its nail over the old man's
washstand. Yes, this was about the heaviest lot they had ever had in
the Chirimoya. Somewhere close to £140,000, he thought. What did those
red letters mean--"L.B.C."--on the boxes? They stood for London Bank of
Carpentaria. Yes, it was all very curious and interesting. Yes, he had
drawn up his new application to the "Board." She would like to see it?
That was kind indeed! And so Mr. Simmonds--an elderly, weak-eyed,
grey-headed, amorous man, whose usefulness as a seaman was nearly
expired--would shut and lock the ponderous strong-room door, and escort
Miss Maggie into upper airs, there to read to her his last "application,"
in the framing of which by the dozen he spent a large portion of his watch
below.

As the days passed Miss Hamilton seemed to lose all interest in the
treasure-room, which had, apparently, lost its power to thrill, and
spent much of her time on the bridge complaining about the lack of
shipping. As a matter of fact, they had not sighted anything since
leaving Albany. One morning, however, they overtook a big cruiser
steaming leisurely at a ten-knot rate.

"The Alcides!" said the captain. "She brought relief crews for the
Australian Squadron. Left a week before we did."

"She's very slow," remarked Miss Hamilton; "see how quickly we're
passing her. They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

"Oh," replied the old skipper, "they're always dawdling along like
that. They're not bound to time, you know. If he liked, that fellow
could leave us as if we were at anchor. She's a first-class cruiser--a
21-knot boat."

As they slipped past the great mass of the fighter like a greyhound
past an elephant, Miss Hamilton watched her curiously through the
glasses, and with an expression on her face compounded of interest and
apprehension, which gave way to one of palpable relief when the big
hull of the warship fell rapidly astern.

The day after this, coming on the bridge towards evening, she found Mr.
Simmonds ogling through his glass a vessel that appeared nearly
stationary, about three miles distant, and right in the mail-boat's
track.

"I can't make her out," said the chief mate, querulously. "Looks as if
she were waiting for us to come up. She seems to have signals flying,
too."

Using her own glasses, Miss Hamilton's heart gave a jump, as into their
field swam a graceful, three-masted schooner that something told her
was the vessel she had been expecting to see. And her hand trembled a
little as the captain, ascending from his stateroom, took the glass
from Mr. Simmonds.

It was a lovely evening, with hardly a ripple on the water. Save for a
few cloud-islands lying low on the sea, and so wonderfully like the
real thing as to bid even the practised eye pause, there was not a
visible speck in the sky. The sun was about an hour or so high, and
almost directly behind the vessel at which the Chirimoya's passengers
were gazing.

The stranger lay broadside on, showing a gleam of white hammocks over
her bulwarks; her sails were furled, leaving the three tall and
tapering masts, unbroken in their outlines, to rest like black bars
against the burning, coppery orb behind them. From her funnel rose a
thin whiff of grey smoke; from her mizzen-topmast-head in the soft
breeze fluttered a couple of flags, one--the uppermost--the white ensign
and blood-red cross of the British Navy, the other the code pennant of
the British Merchant Service.

"Another man-o'-war," said the old skipper. "But only a little one this
time, Miss Hamilton. Wants a talk, too. Looks as if he'd been waiting
for us. Some swell, perhaps, seeking a passage home. Hoist the
answering pennant, Mr. Simmonds; and let her go to half speed."

A quarter-master moved the telegraph handle along the dial, a chime of
bells jangled below, and the mail-boat's pace sensibly decreased. She
was now within less than a mile of the stranger, who, as soon as she
saw the answering pennant, hoisted another signal and began to edge
slowly down to the Chirimoya.

"Three-letter signal," muttered old Black, "that's 'Urgent.' Now, Mr.
Gale" (to the second mate), "look sharp with that book, if you please."

"'J. N. P.,'" spelled the officer. "'Heave-to,' it says, sir."

"All right," replied the skipper. "Down with the pennant. Now, what
does he say?" as another string of flags went up to the stranger's
masthead.

"Important news. Will send a boat," were the next readings. And,
indeed, ere the words were well out of the second's mouth, a large
galley filled with men could be seen in the water pulling for the
Chirimoya.

Miss Hamilton's heart beat more rapidly than usual as she turned to
leave the bridge.

"Aye, aye!" called the old skipper after her, "better go and put on
your war-paint to receive these Navy swells. Won't look at us poor
liners after this, I s'pose?"

But it was not to adorn herself that "the Hamilton" went to her berth,
where she only stayed long enough to unlock a desk, snatch an envelope
from it, and hurry on deck again.

By this time it was dusk, the lamps were lit, and, as she ascended to
the bridge, she heard the Lascars' chant from the forecastlehead, "Hum
dekty hai!" ("I'm on the watch!"), and she smiled queerly to herself as
it fell on her ear. Someone was in her way. He made room for her, and
begged her pardon. With a start she looked up at the sound of the voice
into the grim, passionless features of Snell--Snell in the uniform of a
Navy warrant-officer. Another man in uniform was, she saw, talking to
the captain. The electric light from the chart-room made things fairly
distinct out there.

With a swift motion she passed the envelope from her hand to Snell's,
and moved forward towards the central group, where also, by this time,
were other passengers.

The captain of the mail-boat was speaking in loud, angry tones to a
tall, dark, handsome man in the uniform of a commander in the Royal
Navy.

"I don't care, sir," old Black was saying; "if, as you state, war has
broken out between England and France, and the Canal is blocked, still,
why should I give up my gold to your keeping? Basilisk or any other
cursed isk? No, I won't! And that's flat! It's just as safe with me as
in yonder cockleshell of yours. And, in any case, if needs must, I
prefer to wait till the Alcides comes up, and travel under her
protection."

"Well, sir," replied the other, in calm, level tones, "I am only
obeying my orders, which, as I have told you, were to relieve you of
your specie, giving you a receipt in the Admiral's name for it. French
cruisers are known to be on the look-out for your boats, and more
especially for the slow tubs like the Chirimoya. But, of course, if you
refuse--"

"Which I do," shouted the old captain, very angry now, "most
decidedly."

"Then," went on the other, "I regret to say that it becomes my
unpleasant duty to enforce my instructions." And taking a whistle from
his pocket he blew shrilly on it, at the same time whipping out a
revolver and putting it to the captain's head.

"Hunt dekty hai!" droned the Lascar look-out again from far away
forward.

Meanwhile, Miss Hamilton had seen Snell coolly step into the chart-room,
draw a card from the envelope she had given him, read it, and
silently disappear. Then there seemed to take place a rush of men in
naval dress armed with shining cutlasses and revolvers, before which
passengers and crew alike bolted below.

CHAPTER IV.
'Twixt Cup And Lip.

As she fled with the rest, a brilliant, blinding sheet of white flame
lit up the steamer, making things as bright as day. The strange vessel
had turned her searchlight on, and by its aid Miss Hamilton could see
the engineers being escorted from the engine-room and locked in their
berths, whilst another guard was forcing the white quarter-masters into
the house containing the steam steering gear. On the bridge were
several figures; but all was quiet there. Presently a cheer of
exultation from below attracted her; and, passing the two sentries at
the saloon doors, she flitted along the alley-way to where Snell and
half-a-dozen men were hard at work lifting the boxes of sovereigns up
the hatch.

Slipping into an empty berth, she presently saw the Maitlands coming
through the saloon. Close to her they paused, watching the men handing
the cases along. The brothers were laughing heartily in their peculiar,
noiseless fashion.

"Engines all right, Frank?" asked the elder.

"Safe as houses," replied the other. "She won't stir for a month,
unless her engineers are cleverer men than I give them credit for
being. But where's 'the Hamilton'?"

"Oh, keeping close, I expect," replied Charles. "There are eyes about,
and it wouldn't pay her to be seen in communication with us. Clever
little beggar! Look at the card she gave Snell. Saved us heaps of
trouble and time."

"Key of strong-room in captain's cabin over the washstand. Key of hatch
in mate's berth (No. 3, port side) close to large framed photo.," read
Frank to himself. "Hatch, or door, of compartment in which strong-room
is situated is on starboard side of ship. Go down main saloon entrance,
turn to left; descend open hatchway; turn to right till you come to a
bulkhead. Door in bulkhead opens with mate's key. Inside is the
strongroom. Please place £5,000 to my account in B. of N.S.W. Avec mes
compliments."

"She shall have it, every penny!" muttered Charles. "I'd like to see
her and congratulate her on the acquisition of a new virtue, to wit,
moderation. But it's too risky. She only looks on this as a mere
interlude, you know. Strict business. Pity we couldn't pull Black's
leg, wasn't it? Cantankerous old brute. However, it's as well as it is.
How many, Snell?"

"Thirty-three altogether, sir," replied Snell. "There's fourteen in the
boat already."

"Right," said Charles.

"There's a lot of other stuff in the strongroom, sir," continued Snell,
tentatively. "Jewellery and cash, apparently belonging to the
passengers."

"Not a solitary farthing's worth," replied Charles, peremptorily, "or
there'll be wigs on the green! Do you hear me, Snell?"

Snell saluted; but one could see that submission went hard against the
old filibuster's grain.

As the brothers re-entered the long and spacious saloon, some of the
passengers, taking heart of grace, and re-assured by the sight of the
uniform, approached, anxious and eager to hear particulars of the war
outbreak. But the Maitlands, saying that their own information was of
the scantiest, and that their time was limited, speedily withdrew to
the deck. Then, seeing that both men and treasure were in the boat and
waiting, they descended the gangway, and were pulled off to the
Basilisk. So far the coup could not have been more complete. And whilst
the liner's crew were still busy setting their officers at liberty, the
thump of the Basilisk's engines could be heard, and the churning of her
screw as she headed away into the darkness with all her lights out,
leaving the despoiled mail-boat rocking idly, helpless, and crippled on
the soft, lazy swell.

Suddenly those on board the Basilisk were startled by the loud,
prolonged blare of a syren as the Chirimoya trumpeted like an enraged
elephant, whilst, in another minute, rockets soared high in the air,
and blue lights cast a weird radiance across the sea.

"They've just discovered the loss of their valve-gear, flanges, and
bolts," remarked Frank. "I brought them with me in place of throwing
them overboard, as I intended to. It would take ten fitters, fitting
for a week, to replace them. I suppose they think that the Alcides
isn't very far off."

"Curse her and her fireworks!" replied the other, savagely. "If the
cruiser comes up it will be a tight fit for us! D'ye know, Frank, that,
in obedience to the first law of Nature, we ought to go back and sink
the noisy brute?"

But before his brother could answer, away from the eastward came to
their ears the faint report of a big gun, then another, and another.

"Damnation!" exclaimed the elder Maitland. "Get below, Frank, and send
her for all she's carrying! Mr. Jopling, down with those topmasts, they
only stop her way. Pity, almost, that those lower ones weren't out of
her, too!"

And, presently, the Basilisk shook and quivered in every plank as her
engines worked at their highest pressure, raising a three-foot wave
that fell away in showers of liquid splendour on each bow. But it soon
became apparent that the cruiser was coming like a racehorse towards
the Chirimoya, for already her big, white, mast-head light, looking as
if set on a hill, so lofty was it, was plainly discernible from the
Basilisk's deck.

The latter, however, was fast increasing her distance, and her captain
reckoned that in another half an hour he would be out of sight,
steering due south as he was doing.

And, sure enough, in a little over the time, even from the Basilisk's
lower masthead, no lights were visible. Still, her captain was not at
ease. He had not been seal-stealing and blockade-running for nothing.
And when Jopling exclaimed, as he came down the mizzen rigging,
"Nothing in sight all round, sir. I think we've slipped her, after
all," he made no reply, only gazed anxiously astern.

Frank, leaving the engines to Sheldon, had come on deck again, and he,
too, was straining his eyes and ears in the same direction.

"Do you know who's got the Alcides?" asked his brother, presently.
"No," replied the other. "Well, it's Menzies. You remember him? He was
at Haileybury with us."

"Marion Menzies!" exclaimed Frank. "'Molly' Menzies, as we used to call
him. I recollect him quite well. He was in our House. Left the term
before we did to join the Britannia as a cadet."

"Turned out a deuced smart fellow," replied his brother. "Was at
Alexandria, and handled his ship like a workman. He chased me once
before right down the China Sea, when I was doing a bit of opium
dodging. But I had the heels of him then. Curiously enough, on that
occasion, he was in a gunboat called the Basilisk. He's the youngest
Post in the Navy now. And I'm afraid that this time he's got the heels
of me."

"Unless he's dowsed all his lights," replied Frank, "he's out of sight
by now. And--ah--h-h!"

His exclamation was echoed by many throats as a great, broad spear of
whiteness was seen to reach across the blackness of the night to the
further horizon. At first it rested for a minute in a directly opposite
quarter to that in which the Basilisk snored along under every ounce of
steam the boilers could stand. But presently the light began to move
steadily round and round in contracting circles, until, all at once, it
struck the Basilisk, enveloping her in a blinding radiance, and
following her with a merciless persistence, as in her endeavours to
evade it she turned and doubled like a chased hare.

"It's all up!" exclaimed Charles, bitterly. "One can't get away from
that, you know. He's been coming along with his lights out at a
twenty-knot speed, and had the luck to run pretty straight too."

"I wish he'd turn his cursed search off!" replied Frank. "It gives me a
headache, and I can't see any distance."

"Here he comes!" exclaimed Jopling, moodily, pointing, as the light was
turned aside for a moment, and they saw the outline of the cruiser, and
heard her twin screws beating as she overhauled them, going two to
their one.

"We could give him another couple of hours' run for his money," said
Charles. "He wouldn't fire on us. But what's the use? It's a wise man
that knows when he's cornered. Half-speed, Mr. Jopling, please, and
then slow her gently to 'stop.' All the same, it's cursed hard luck!"

"And hard labour, I expect," replied Jopling, with a laugh that had no
mirth in it, as he moved the telegraph.

"Not a bit of it," said Charles. "It only means seals after all, if
you're willing. Still, it's a great come-down from stealing a fortune
to stealing fur! Snell, take some men and get all the gold on the
bridge here. Bring a couple of the main hatches along with you, too!"

And when, presently, the big battleship steadied abreast of the
Basilisk, her people saw a man amidships on her bridge, smoking a
cigar, whilst at each end stood two others apparently keeping guard
over two little piles of boxes stacked on a piece of broad planking
pushed out so as to overhang the water.

At the Alcide's gangway looking down at the scene stood a group of
officers plainly visible by the light of their own search, which was
now turned inboard so as to embrace nearly the whole of each vessel in
its rays.

"What ship's that?" hailed someone, with a rough note of suspicion in
his voice.

"My yacht--the Basilisk!" returned Charles Maitland, removing his cigar
from his mouth and touching his cap (he had doffed his naval uniform).

"What's that you've got there?" suddenly asked a short, red-faced,
youngish-looking man, pointing to the boxes.

"That's our ransom, Captain Menzies," replied the other--"one hundred
and thirty-five thousand pounds, or thereabouts. Take it, and pass us
your word as an officer and a gentleman not to follow us or to proceed
further against anyone concerned, and it's yours. Refuse, and the
minute I pull this siren wire, that you will notice I hold, away it
goes to the bottom of the sea. Actually, I don't care much myself how
the thing turns out. You and your cursed cruiser have spoilt the finest
haul ever made since Drake captured the plate galleon. But I want
immunity for those with me. And that's the price."

It was rather a curious mid-ocean tableau. Not more than a few yards
away towered the black walls of the battleship, broken here and there
by ports and casemates, out of which peered gun muzzles. Splashes of
light from arc lamps shone through many bull's-eyes in her sides,
looking yellow by contrast with the steady white flare of the great
search amidships. Her double funnels and pole masts sprang aloft and
disappeared into the darkness as if suddenly cut off halfway up. Over
her rail for'ard gaped hundreds of white, eager faces. Others, in their
excitement, had climbed into the rigging, and hanging by one hand leant
outward the better to hear.

The depth of her masts below her, the Basilisk rolled uneasily in the
cruiser's wash. Her decks, except for those five illuminated figures on
her bridge, seemed deserted, although now and again heads would peer
from the house amidships. Charles Maitland had resumed his cigar, and,
with the siren wire in one hand ready to release the blast at a
second's notice, leaned against the rail of the bridge, whilst Snell
and Frank at one end, and Sheldon and Jopling at the other, stood on
their respective hatches, alert and wary for the signal to tilt the
treasure into the sea. There was a long pause, broken only by the
lapping of the little waves between the ships.

If ever a man was on the horns of a dilemma, Captain Menzies was that
one. Also he had recognised Maitland, and knew enough of him to know
that he would do as he said. Perhaps, too, certain old-time memories of
long-gone days, when a strong boy--cock of his House at the big
school--had more than once interfered to save him a thrashing, worked
within him, helping him to a decision. However this may have been, he
said, at last:--

"Very well, sir, I promise, provided you give me your word of honour to
abandon all further attempts at--er--intercepting other mail-boats. Of
course, you understand that I must report this occurrence to my senior
officer at Cape Town?"

As he finished, something resembling a great sigh of relief went up
from the cruiser's men. Had they dared, perhaps it would have been a
cheer.

"Thank you, sir," was all that Charles Maitland said. "I can promise
you that. And whatever else he may have done, a Maitland never yet
broke his word. I will come closer alongside, and if you'll send us
your derrick chain down, we'll sling the boxes for you. There are
thirty-three of them. And, into the bargain, we'll give you with her
gold the Chirimoya's missing engine-gear."

In another twenty minutes the regained loot was transferred and the
ships parted, the big one swooping off with the silent disdain of an
eagle that has robbed a kite of its prey.

Very little outside certain circles was ever known of the daring
attempt at looting the mail steamer, the company, wisely, perhaps,
judging that the less said about their terribly narrow escape the
better.

Nor, as regards the Basilisk and her crew, was anything definite ever
heard again. In Vladivostock, many months afterwards, there certainly
were rumours of a desperate fight between a heavily-armed seal-poaching
steamer and some Russian gunboats off the Island of Saghalien, in which
the former was sunk, with nearly all her crew. Also was it whispered
that the survivors had been sent to the mines at Tomsk. But curious
matters happen at times in those foggy waters that wash Siberian
shores, and the world at large none the wiser.

As for the enterprising, but deeply disappointed, Miss Maggie Hamilton,
after her trip "home" and return to Australia, she became a greater
favourite than ever with her audiences, her new song, "Paradise Alley,"
"fetching them by the hair," as she herself puts it. And, at times,
during a nice little supper at the "Australia" or "Paris House," she
will tell the story of how the R.M.S. Chirimoya was once bailed up by
pirates in mid-ocean, and drop mysterious hints that over the
transaction she was the loser to the extent of thousands of pounds. But
when pressed to explain she only shakes her head sadly, and calls the
waiter's attention to her empty glass.


A Deal With Spain


"The Maria 'll have to go into dock this trip, Mr. Baxter," remarked
Captain Jarvis to his owners; "her seams are openin', knees loose from
her ribs, an' strained a goodish bit, too. By rights, the copper ought
to come off her."

"Tut, tut!" exclaimed the elder of a pair of stout, clean-shaven,
moon-faced men who sat in a grimy office fronting the wharves of Port
Waratah, in New South Wales; "d'ye want to ruin the firm? You skippers
seem to think that Baxter Brothers is only another name for Rothchilds.
Dock be hanged! She'll run another couple o' years yet. An' look here,
Jarvis, you came down this time nearly 100 ton short. Don't let that
happen again, please. You're a single man, you know, and when our agent
up yonder, who's got his instructions, says 'Let it rip,' don't you
interfere, but just keep her under them shoots till he says it's a fair
thing. An', meanwhile, you keep on thinkin' o' this big pile o'
letters," and Uriah Baxter, taking a handful of docketed papers out of
a pigeonhole, thrust them rudely under Jarvis's nose. "There," he
continued, "those are applications for billets from men with wives and
families that'd jump at the chance. Likewise, you might as well bear in
mind, when a deck load's mentioned, that you're still workin' a dead
horse. Roomatic fever's a lugsury for coastin' skippers to be indulgin'
in." And Uriah and his brother James chuckled heartily at the former's
little joke.

Captain Jarvis was a thick-set, middle-aged man, with a rugged, bearded
face, upon whose bronze sat here and there patches of coal dust from
the just discharged cargo. Some months ago, during a severe attack of
illness, he had borrowed money from his employers, at heavy interest,
in advance of wages, with which to pay the doctor's bill. And now his
eyes flashed angrily as he retorted, "Aye, and if it weren't for that
same dead horse I'd see you and your old coffin at the bottom afore I'd
sail her any more! Nice pair you are, to talk about puttin' a married
man into a rotten tub like her! For two pins I'd set Lloyd's surveyor
on to the Maria and the rest o' the precious fleet. Yah!"

"Seventy-five pounds ten shillings and sixpence first, captain,"
remarked the junior partner, who had been consulting a ledger, "and
then you can do as you please about that. We only want our advance--and
interest--back again, eh, Uriah?"

"That's all," snarled his brother. "Now get away, do, and to sea as
fast as you like! An' don't let's have any shortage next trip. An'
don't you be worryin' about docks and surveyors and such like rubbish."

"Seventy-five pounds!" muttered the captain in a tone of angry dismay
as he stepped out on to the wharf. "Good God! at seven pounds a month
I'll never get out of their claws. It wouldn't take much--only for the
other chap--to make me sink the old barge. An' that'd be no loss to
Baxters'. You bet she's fully covered. Cargo! By Heaven! I'll cargo her
this time. Catch me stopping 'em. Let 'em pile it into her up to the
crosstrees if they like, the cussed sailor-killing brutes."

Thus it happened that when, in a week or so, the Maria Baxter drew from
under the Newcastle shoots she was not only stowed full to the hatches
with some 1,800 tons of coal, but in addition carried a deck load of
three or four hundred tons in bags. Also, she showed so little
freeboard as to be hardly worth mentioning. Then the mate protested.

"We vos schwamp," said he, "like a dinky-boat dis trip if we get any
vedder."

"Oh, go and be hanged!" said Captain Jarvis, in a state of chronic
irritation and anger; "if you want your discharge, why don't you say so
at once?" and the submissive foreigner protested no more.

As for the four men in the fo'c's'le who, together with the cook, made
up the Maria's company, if they caste dubious glances over what side
there was left, they kept their thoughts to themselves. Seamen were
more than plentiful, and spare bunks very scarce.

And, anyhow, it was only a short run. And the weather looked like
keeping fine.

"A record load, skipper," remarked the boss of the trimming gang,
grinning. "Hang me if I'd go with ye if ye paid me! Hope your life's
insured."

"'Tain't, then," replied the captain shortly. "But Maria's is, eh, Mr.
Snape?"

"S'pose so," replied the agent carelessly.

"Don't forget I told you you could have ten tons less on deck if you
pleased."

"Ten tons!" exclaimed Jarvis, laughing sarcastically. "Wouldn't you
like a passage round? It'll do your liver good."

"No, thanks," replied the other, casting a disparaging glance at the
poor old brig, "I prefer to travel by rail, not in 'Black Maria,'" and
with a laugh at his sally he closed his book and sauntered off.

Of her companions, the Uriah, Rachel, and James Baxter, all old worn-out
brigs engaged in the coal trade between Port Waratah and Newcastle,
the Maria was, perhaps, the oldest, most unseaworthy, grimiest and
worst found. Eight-and-thirty years ago, in her comparative youth, and
before there were any plantations to speak of in Queensland, or on the
Clarence, she had been in the sugar trade between Mauritius and the
Australian Colonies. Since then many owners had taken her in hand, and
from her birth there had always been applied to her the opprobrious
name of "slug." Then, as the toilsome years went by, developing a
decided partiality for letting salt water in on the property entrusted
to her care, she fell lower and lower in the social shipping scale,
until at last, long "off the letter" at Lloyd's, strained, decayed,
poverty-stricken, she had been purchased by the Baxters for a song, and
set to the inevitable destiny of the pauper vessel--"colliering."

Look at her now, as she clears "Nobby's" on her sixty mile trip down
the coast, her patched and blackened sails set to a fair wind, her rail
almost awash in the slight swell. Above the rail are piled bags of
coal, four tiers high; the crew have to crawl over and between them to
get to their den down for'ard. The cook simply reaches out of the
galley door when he wants fuel. Undermanned and overloaded, she
squatters lifelessly along, with the creaking of ungreased parrals and
rusty sheaves aloft, and on deck a continuous grinding murmur as the
coal is shaken into place.

On the fo'c's'le-head four apparent negroes are having their evening
meal. The tea carries on its surface a film of black dust, and the
white loaf shows black stencillings of broad fingers and thumbs. It's
of no use washing in that trade. Besides, it's said that coal dust is
not altogether unhealthy.

"The ole bark 'as got 'er bellyful this time, right enough," remarks
one thoughtfully, spitting out some grains of coal.

"Loaded up on 'er back as well," replies another, nodding towards the
pile of cargo. "Be 'ell to pay if a southerly buster catches us! Ole
man stacked it into 'er proper, didn't 'e?"

"'E's got 'is rag out this trip 'bout somethin'," continues the first
speaker. "'E's been doin' nothin' but swearin' an' cussin' since we
left. Dashed if I ever seen 'im so bad afore! Now, Bill, your turn to
relieve that Dutch mate ov ours, soon's ye've finished stuffin'!"

And so they talked as they mumbled their soaked crusts and wagged dusky
beards that would otherwise have shown grey. Ancient men who, unable
any longer to stand the hard fare of the "limejuicers," or deepwater
British ships they had most of their lives been accustomed to, had
perforce taken to the last resource of the nearly played-out sailor--a
coasting collier. Meanwhile, the old "sixty miler" flopped along, a
black blot against the purple glory that the dying sun flung across the
sky.

* * * * * *

"I s'pose she's a goner?" remarked Uriah Baxter to his brother a week
later.

"'Spec' so," replied James. "Strange, though, ain't it, that nothin's
come ashore from her? They've got lots of stuff out of the others.
Can't have weathered it, eh?"

"Would your grandmother have weathered it in a basket?" asked Uriah
contemptuously. "Still, it's unfortunate there's no wreckage. The
offices won't pay for awhile. Seem to fancy she's got blown away out to
sea, an' may turn up yet," and he grinned at the notion.

"However," he continued solemnly, "they'll have to settle in full
sooner or later. That poor Jarvis! An' we parted almost in anger!"

"Not on our side, Uriah," remarked James feelingly.

"The Lord be praised for that!" replied Uriah with fervour. "A good
man, too! Snape said he never saw such a pile of stuff as the Maria
took. An' the captain all the time singing out for more against Snape's
wishes. Very evidently the poor fellow wanted to make up for his
rudeness by a record cargo. Well, well, at least there were no married
men amongst 'em. An' that's a cut above what any of the others can
say."

"I suppose we must write off Jarvis's debt?" asked James, turning to
his ledger.

"Just let it appear as a debit balance, James," sighed Uriah.

"Progress payment on wages account. Actually we're in pocket by the
poor man. But it is as well to be business-like. One never knows what
inquisitive people may turn up. Let's be thankful there's no widows and
orphans howling for subscriptions around our office."

But there were plenty elsewhere about the town; for a furious hurricane
had suddenly swept up from the south, then, veering all at once to the
east, had piled half a dozen coasters and a score of their hands in
dismal wrecks and corpses upon many beaches between Cape Byron and the
Heads of Port Waratah. And every one of the lost vessels was identified
except the Maria, of which not a solitary chip could be found.

"Bottom fell out and she went down like a stone," "Opened out like a
wool bale when the hoops break," was what the general opinion of those
who knew the "poor old slug" amounted to. And presently all doubts were
set at rest by the discovery on Cronulla Beach of the battered and
grimy dolphin that had served as a figurehead ever since she was first
launched under that name; also there washed ashore part of the stern of
a decayed longboat with "Maria Bax--"still visible upon it. So the
insurance people paid up, and with a portion of the money Baxter
Brothers bought an old Norwegian brig at auction, and after cleaning
her bottom and spending a fiver on putty and paint and oakum, installed
her in place of the lost Maria, whose very name was forgotten by the
public in a week, because of far more stirring happenings than the
foundering of a "sixty miler" and a few sailors.

* * * * * *

"Jansen," remarked Captain Jarvis to his mate, as, abreast of Bungaree,
North Head, looming big to starboard, they braced the Maria's yards to
a light Sou'-wester; "Jansen, it's going to blow like blazes afore
mornin'! An' I believe it'll come from the east'ard presen'ly in a
regular snorter. If it does, Jansen, an' catches us here, you'll never
see that fat Dutch sweetheart o' yours at the fish shop in Erskine
Street any more. We'll go ashore and break up in a quarter less no
time! I've got a touch o' them roomatics again to-night; an' I notice,
ever since I was down with 'em, that an easterly's bound to come with
the pains. Square away, Jansen, an' let's get out to sea. It's the
safest place for us. If we were near enough to Broken Bay, I'd run in;
but we haven't a show with the wind as it is."

So the Maria, turning her square stern to the land, surged out into the
Pacific, making such an offing that, ere the sun rose, Australia had
vanished from sight; and before another watch passed the correctness of
the skipper's barometer (the only one on board) was proved by their
meeting that same easterly gale that was presently to work such woe
along the distant coast.

Hove to under her lower foretopsail, the Maria sagged wearily to
leeward, taking lots of water on board, but otherwise behaving herself
quite decently and as if pleased that no exertion was required of her.
Every watch she had to be pumped, and then the black streams from her
well, mingling with the black streams that poured away from her deck
cargo, gushed through the scuppers till the big combers upon which she
listlessly rose and fell were of the hue of ink.

The weather was dull and gloomy, with a low-lying heavy sky. The wheel
was lashed and the decks deserted, save for the cook, who in his galley
kept warm and snug. In the fo'c's'le the men lay in their bunks, and by
turns dozed uneasily, and smoked, and swore at the black tricklings
that came through the working seams overhead and were flung from side
to side in showers with each uneasy roll of the brig. A double-spouted
kerosene lamp, with naked wicks, swung and sputtered amidships. Great
cockroaches, disturbed by the water, came out of their refuges and
crawled heavily about the bulkheads and over the black, damp, and
frowsy bedding.

Suddenly the scuttle was thrust aside, and the mate's voice bawled,
"Now, den, eight bells! Pomp chip!" And with surly groans of "Aye,
aye," the four crawled slowly and deliberately out of their bunks, got
into their dirty, ragged oilskins, and crawled up the greasy ladder
into the night of wind and water, and felt their tedious way to the
pumps. Aft, near the wheel, stood the skipper, sparks from his pipe
streaming over the rail, listening to the monotonous clink-clank of the
iron brakes working to the accompaniment of a chanty crooned by one of
the old men and joined in by the others in a half-hearted way when it
came to the chorus of--

Oh, wake her; oh, shake her!
Oh, wake her up from down below!
Do, my Johnnie, do!

"Do, mein Yonnie, do," grunted the mate, putting his weight impartially
on each brake till the long-drawn throaty gurgle at last proclaimed
that the pumps "sucked"--i.e., that there was not enough water in the
well for them to get hold of.

"Grog ho!" shouted the skipper, grasping a square bottle of hollands,
out of which he poured each man a tumbler three parts full, swallowed
by its recipient with a gasp of satisfaction.

"There'll be ships' bones along the beaches to-night, Jansen," said
Jarvis, helping himself and passing the bottle to the mate; "but we've
saved the old barge, and a lot of thanks we'll get for it. The worst of
the blow's over. My pains is going with it. By Heaven! if it hadn't
been for those poor old chaps for'ard, an', well yes, you too, and that
there gal o' yours, I'd just as soon she'd been piled up like those
others is bound to be. Let her lie as she is till daylight, and then
we'll run in for the land."

Sunrise found wind and sea going down rapidly; showed also to those on
the brig, a mile or so away, a great white war steamer coming very
slowly towards them from the eastward. Smoke was issuing from only one
of her triple funnels; she carried two masts with military tops, and a
great gun poked half its length out of a sort of semi-circular fort
for'ard, whilst her tall sides bristled with smaller cannon.

"She ain't one of our lot from Farm Cove."* said the skipper, ogling
her through an old pair of binoculars; "foreigner o' some sort, I
s'pose. Aye, aye, Jansen, both tawps'ls an' the main t'g'ans'l. Let's
get home, out of this. We'll have Uriah and James sacking the crowd
unless we hurry. Now, what flag's that? and what does he want hoisting
the whole code at us that way. He might have savey enough to know that
collier brigs don't carry more bunting than'll make their number. An',
anyhow, we can't stop."

* The bay in Sydney Harbour where the Auxiliary and Imperial Squadrons
always lie.

By this time the Maria's sails had been sheeted home, and the stranger,
seeing no notice taken of her signals, and the brig actually drawing
away from her, fired a gun to leeward, hauled down the bright string of
flags, and lowering the first one she had hoisted to half mast, lay
with her way stopped and all the huge mass of her rolling solemnly to
the swell of the long seas.

"Now, what the dickens does she mean by that?" asked the bewildered
skipper of the Maria. "What sort of distress can she be in, anyhow?
Well, well, back your foreyards there, Jansen. Fancy a great thumpin'
man o' war wantin' help from a poor rotten sieve of a collier!"

As Jarvis bent on and ran up to the peak a grimy old British Ensign
with its fly all in tatters, the man at the wheel, who had been eyeing
the warship very intently, all at once said, "That there's the Spanish
flag, captin'--the navy flag. I seen it afore in Manila when I was goin'
deep water. Red, yaller, red agin, an' a rampin' lion sparrin' at a
cassle. I kin see it quite plain now."

"Well, what about it, Sam?" replied the skipper, belaying the signal
halliards.

"Why, you know the Yanks an' the Dagoes is at war," said Sam, "an' this
might be what they calls a roose to get 'old on us. Evident 'er's run
outer coal--not as much left as ud carry 'er another foot to save 'er
bloomin' life. An'--"

"By jingo, I'd clean forgot all about any war!" exclaimed the skipper
rather gloomily, as he caught sight of a large boat full of men rowing
towards the brig with the deliberate stroke of Southern Europe--pull and
pause--pause and pull. "But there," he continued, squinting up at the
torn, dirty Ensign flapping overhead, "that's the British Flag, and
we're British subjects sailin' to and from British ports. An', anyhow,
what harm can they do us? Like enough they'll buy our deck load. Chuck
over the ladder there for 'em, one of you."

Out of the boat, as she swung alongside, there presently nimbly
clambered an officer in blue and gold uniform, moustached and dark.
Gaining the deck, he paused a moment to inspect his white gloves, the
palms of which were smothered in coal dust from the ladder-ropes. Then,
with a smile, as if well satisfied, he cast a comprehensive glance
around at the prevailing darkness, and aloft at the tattered Ensign,
and, removing his peaked and gold-braided cap, bowed politely to
Jarvis, standing close to it with his hands in the pockets of his pilot
jacket.

"Coal?" he remarked, waving his arms and showing a set of perfect teeth
as he smiled conciliatingly.

"Aye, aye, moonsheer," replied Jarvis, "lots of it. Newcastle to
Waratah. D'ye want to buy a few ton? Of course the figure 'll be higher
than if ye was gettin' it straight from the mine. But--"

"Yes, yes!" interrupted the other eagerly. "We buy all--all! I
understand. Cas' pay. You come 'longside. All buy. Plenty money.
Englis' sov'ren--no silver. Big price. You sell quick? Spanis' ship."

For a minute Jarvis stared thoughtfully at the speaker, whilst he
revolved in his mind the one chance of a lifetime. At present the
advantage was all his. There lay the great war-dragon pathetically
powerless, unable, without his help, to ensure a single turn of her
screw--at the mercy of the winds and waves. Certainly, if he squared
away she could sink him. But that would be hardly likely. On the other
hand, once alongside, he and his vessel were wholly in the power of the
Spaniards. Still, he fancied having heard or read somewhere that they
were honourable people and thought a lot of their word. And that
seventy-two pounds odd! Never, he knew well, would he be allowed to
work that off. If he left the firm without asking leave, they would
give him a "bad discharge," and that meant a return to the fo'c's'le
again. Aft was squalid enough. But for'ard! His soul sickened at the
thought of going through it all again. Yes, he'd chance it! He had
nothing much to lose. However, he'd have some agreement in black and
white to show for the business if it turned out "cronk." If otherwise,
why, there would be no necessity for anything.

Thus it happened that in a few minutes Jarvis was possessed of a piece
of paper signed by Don Miguel y Santos de Zarate, first lieutenant of
the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XIV., agreeing to take not only her cargo,
but the Maria also, at a lump sum that came to something over £5 per
ton for ship and coal together.

Jarvis's heart had sunk when he noted the pleased alacrity with which
the lieutenant agreed to his terms. No protest, no bargaining! Just a
scrape and a flourish of the pen on the smudgy sheet of notepaper!
Could it be possible that any people in their senses would pay such an
amount of money for what seemed to him of so little worth? Had he known
that twice the sum would have been cheerfully given, also that a week
ago the Alfonso had stopped the American mail-boat and taken over
half-a-million of specie out of her, the skipper would probably have had
no such misgivings as now assailed him. Actually he had been the salvation
of the warship, whose bunkers were scraped clean, and who, having
coaled three months before in Singapore, was, even had she been able to
get there, barred from Australian ports.

Very quickly a few bags of coal were bundled over into the boat. Then
she went off to the cruiser; whence, presently, a steam-launch
arriving, took the Maria in tow and pulled her alongside the Alfonso to
the sound of much Spanish cheering.

Previous to this, however, Jarvis called Jansen and the crew into the
cabin.

"Look here," said he, speaking quick and sharp, "I've sold the whole
turn-out to the Dagoes yonder. If they act square, and cash up, I'll
give you four chaps an' the cook £200 each. Jansen, you'll get £300.
Never mind what I get. That's my business. If they don't act square,
why, you'll just have to take your chance, same as me. Are you
satisfied?"

They were. Each grimy man of them would almost have sold what remained
to him of life for such wealth as heretofore they had only dreamt of.
And they added their names as witnesses to the agreement signed by
Jarvis and the lieutenant.

"There, now," said the former grimly, "you're as deep in the mud as I
am in the mire. This bit of paper may help you to keep quiet tongues.
An', anyhow, if you know when you're well off you'll not be goin' back
to Australia to spend your money. An' remember, if anyone asks you, I'm
master an' owner."

Like hawks the Spaniards swooped upon the Maria with bags, baskets, and
tubs, working all three hatches at once, until in forty-eight hours she
was an empty ship, swept and scraped clean to the last ounce of
precious sodden coal around her timbers. Meanwhile, the captain of the
Alfonso had in his own state-room paid Jarvis with bags of gold,
seeming to think his bargain cheap at the price, and cheerfully
consenting to put the skipper and his crew as rescued castaway sailors
on board the first British homeward bound ship they should meet.

Thrusting the bruised and battered old Maria from her steel sides, the
warship, once more a power, steamed off a couple of miles and began to
use her six-inch guns in the port battery. The first shell flew wide;
the second burst just astern, throwing a great mound of water on her
decks that made her reel and stagger and show the green copper nearly
to her keel as she went over; at the third discharge the shell plumped
square into her; there was a sullen roar as it exploded; the Maria
seemed to leap bodily up and then collapse in one universal flattened
ruin of spars and timbers, black to the last as it lay for a few
minutes on the surface of the sunlit sea.

"And a good riddance, too!" muttered Jarvis as he watched the smoke and
heard the Spaniards cheering. "But I'm glad I fetched the Flag away."


HOW WE RAN CONTRABAND OF WAR.

ILLUSTRATED BY H. A. HOGG.

I.

TOWARDS the latter end of 1896, I, Harry Wood, and my mate, Philip
Scott, owned a smart cutter and £200 cash. By the time Australian bells
were ringing in the New Year we owned the cutter only.

"What shall we do with all this money, Phil?" I asked, one day, about a
week after returning from the cruise that had nearly ended in such a
disastrous fashion, and which has already been described elsewhere.
"Invest it," replied Phil, promptly. "Now's the time. There's a big
boom in the W. A. mines. Only this morning I was given the straight tip
for 'Cataracts!' They're at 4 now, and young Flurrier--fellow I know in
the Exchange--says nothing can stop them from going up to 10 in a week
or two. Let's make a spoon or spoil a horn, and collar fifty shares."

We did so. And almost at once Cataracts began to fall, like their
watery namesakes; fell and fell until, by the 1st of January, their
scrip was hardly worth more than 100 pence. Phil was in despair, and
found only partial relief by thumping Flurrier as some slight return
for the missing tip. As Phil said, it's well enough to advise a fellow,
but quite another matter when your mentor, who has bought in at par,
unloads in a hurry at 3¾, and forgets to mention the fact in time to
save a friend.

So we retired to the Darthea, then lying at anchor off Camp Cove, in
Sydney Harbour, and began to consider the outlook for a freight to the
Islands or, failing that, even a trip to the Hawkesbury River for
fire-wood or oysters--both, adventures at which it would take us a month
o' Sundays to raise the amount of money just lost.

"We'll never make a punch like that again, Harry!" said Phil,
continually reproaching himself, and indeed quite broken up at the
result of his disastrous speculation. "If it had only been my whack I
wouldn't care so much. But to go and gamble yours, too!"

"Never mind," I replied. "It's gone now. Something may turn up
presently. Fibre & Co. asked me to call, to-day, about some stuff they
want taken round to the Clarence."

Fibre & Co., however, wanted the job done for next to nothing: and
returning that evening rather disgusted, I found Phil busy talking to a
small, very dark man who was eyeing the cutter appreciatively, and who
might have been anything from a Spaniard to a West Indian Creole, a
Maltese to a Malay, so far as appearance went.

My mate, in a state of repressed excitement, introduced Senor Garcias
as a gentleman wishing to charter the Darthea at a handsome figure for
a trip to the Philippines. The Senor spoke very fair English, and in a
few minutes briefly explained his wishes. We were first to take the
cutter to a little inlet on the coast between Broken Bay and Newcastle,
load our cargo there, and then sail away to an island called Ilovo, on
the eastern side of Luzon, where we should find persons ready to take
delivery. In consideration of the engagement being fulfilled to the
charterer's satisfaction, we were to receive the sum of £400, of which
£150 was to be paid at once, the balance on delivery of cargo. "So
semple, so verra semple!" concluded the Senor, rolling a cigarette and
flashing white teeth at us from under his heavy black moustache. "Vy,
it is better zan a gole mine!"

Phil started and coloured, whilst I grinned at this chance thrust.

"And the cargo?" I enquired curiously, for I knew next to nothing about
the Philippines or their social conditions, except that they belonged
to Spain.

"Contrabanda of var," replied our visitor placidly, "Rivles and
ammunizion. Ve fight like 'ell there against the Spanish. You vould not
tink ve pay you so 'igh for coal, eh? Of course," he continued, "ve
might take steamer. But steamer alvays suspich. Nobody suspich leetle
ting so alamost like feesh boat. Guarda costa zay, 'Hey, vat you do
'ere! Hey, you stop, I vant look.' 'All-a-right,' you say, 'look away
my fren's--notting's 'ere. Ve British trader come roun' Sulu Sea, Zebu,
all roun' for trepang, spice, shell, curio--anytings ve peck up. Aha,
look away!' So semple as nevaire vas," he concluded, airily producing a
roll of notes as if the matter was settled beyond further argument.

"Stop a bit," I said, "I don't want to know anything about the merits
of the business. Apparently, the Spaniards are at war with some other
fellows, and we're to help these other fellows against the Spaniards."
He nodded. "All right," I said. "Now what I want to know is, suppose we
are caught smuggling your rifles and stuff, how will the Spaniards
treat us?" But the Senor was frankness itself, and replied at once,
"P'raps shoot. Mos' like chuck in prison vere you cats fever and starve
all-a-same dam coyote--vat you call 'im--volf. Dat, fren's, is vat ve pay
you 'igh for."

Phil whistled as he heard this; whilst I stared, rather taken aback,
too; and the Senor quietly rolled a fresh cigarette.

"Well," remarked Phil, shakily, after a long pause, "I'm game, Harry,
if you are. And, at any rate, we're British subjects and can claim the
protection of the Flag, if the worst comes to the worst. Don't let's
forget to take a new Ensign with us. The old one's all fagged at the
fly. Indeed, we might invest in a couple to make sure. I don't suppose
the Australian one would be of any use."

The Senor stared at Phil's speech and his pale face; and I said, "You
shouldn't have scared us so suddenly. You see, we are not used to that
kind of thing and it gets on our nerves."

"Ah, yes," replied he comprehendingly, with a chuckle; "I see; you 'ave
not yet recovaired effek of your last leetle experence."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" asked Phil.

"Yase," drawled the Senor, "dat is it. And now to beezness." And he
started to count his notes, seeing by our looks that we had quite made
up our minds.

"Your faith in human nature's pretty firm, Senor," remarked Phil, as
the other presently pushed over fifteen bits of paper, value ten pounds
each. "What's to stop us clearing out now with all the money."

"Nottings," replied our employer, showing his teeth; "nottings vatefer.
Only, in dat case, no Flack on de eart's surface could save you alife.
But I shance dat," he concluded, with a bow and a smile to each of us.
"I know vat I know. And I am sure sar-tain that in tree-four day we
meet again at the 'Crick of de Turtle,' as I 'ave said."

"Well," remarked Phil, as our visitor got into his skiff and sculled
himself ashore, "it's curious how things turn out. Evidently that chap
read the newspaper account of our trip with Benton, and made inquiries,
and looked us up to run the chance of being shot, or hanged, or left to
rot in prison. However, it's all in a life-time! And, anyhow, it's
better than droghing wood or oysters. What's the fighting about,
yonder, Harry?"

"Haven't the remotest idea," I replied, "except that, now he's
mentioned it, I do remember seeing bits of cables in the newspapers
lately about some rebellion in the Philippines. However, that don't
concern us. If you'll turn to and bend the mainsail, I'll run up to
town and buy a chart of the Spanish East Indies and the surrounding
seas, and order tucker and stuff. With luck we should be back in three
months."

* * * * * *

The evening of the fourth day saw the Darthea moored head and stern to
trees at the top of that remote and unfrequented inlet known as Turtle
Creek. Before leaving, we had shipped three hands--two brothers named
Brown--both experienced coasting seamen, and a youngster called Danby, a
fisherman.

We found our friend, Senor Garcias, encamped at the water's edge with a
dozen others, most of them even darker than himself; and as soon as our
gangway was in place these men began to carry and drag on board cases
and packages that had been contained in the big tents pitched close by,
and some of which were so heavy as to need the use of tackle and winch
to swing them inboard. Others, again, were comparatively light, and
these were handled with suggestive care and delicacy under the Senor's
special supervision.

"'Igh exploseeves," he remarked, casually, as he watched his men
"chocking off" and "dunnaging" with a skill and celerity that showed
them practiced stevedores. Indeed, so snugly and quickly did they stow
the things that, long ere morning, anyone descending into the Darthea's
hold would only have seen a level surface of sand ballast. And on this,
presently, they placed a few tiers of bags containing trepang and
copra; some bales of raw Manila fibre, a couple of hundred coco-nuts,
bundles of fancy matting, and a case or two of native curios, giving to
the hold exactly the aspect of that of a harmless trader, pottering
about the Eastern Pacific for anything he could pick up. And yet, in
the centre of the bales and bags were cunningly hidden hundreds of
packages of Martini-Henry ammunition for the weapons under the sand.

It struck me as making a curious picture that night, as I looked around
the scene--the narrow strip of water surrounded with high, scrub-covered
hills, over whose summits rode a small moon, the cutter snugged up
amidst the trees, the flitting lights about the deck, and the low hum
of voices mingling with the whine of sheaves, the rattle of the winch,
and the tramp of the men bearing the big cases that looked like
coffins, out of the white tents. Decidedly, an outsider--especially an
official one--would have considered the sight peculiar.

But of that there was little danger. For many miles on either hand
stretched some of the roughest country in New South Wales--deep gullies
and craggy ravines alternating with precipitous walls of sandstone and
forests of thick, dark scrub--the abode, these last, only of ticks,
leeches, and snakes. Never was a spot better chosen for such a purpose.
How our cargo got there I never knew, probably in the steam-launch
that, as the sun rose, we saw tied to the bank further up stream.

Garcias had hardly moved, the whole night long, from where he stood at
the hatchway, smoking incessantly and strewing the deck with cigarette
stubs. But now, beckoning me and Phil ashore, he led the way to his
tent, and there, broaching a magnum of champagne, asked us to drink
success to the enterprise, hinting, at the same time, that the sooner
we were away, the sooner we should get to Ilovo. Also, he remarked that
if we had luck on this trip, there was another one on similar terms at
our service when we returned.

Already his silent, swarthy crew were striking the tents and packing
for a shift; whither, we did not stay to see for a fair wind blowing
down the inlet, the cutter, turning a bend, was soon out of sight;
Garcias watching us to the last, every now and again waving yellow
fingers of farewell.

Almost from the day we left Australian shores behind us and struck off
round the tail end of the Great Barrier and through the Louisiades and
Bismarcks across the Equator, luck attended us in the shape of moderate
winds and fine weather. Here and there amongst the islands we put in
for water and provisions, having altogether a pleasant cruise. For a
time, certainly, we couldn't get the ticklish nature of our cargo off
our minds. Aft as well as for'ard matches were extinguished with
religious precision: and for days people preferred taking their smoke
on deck; whilst the proper banking o' nights of the galley fire became
an object of solicitude to all hands. In one or two calms also that we
experienced, when the ironwork grew hot enough to burn, and the pitch
seethed hot and bubbling from the seams, awkward recollections of those
'"igh exploseeves" sweating below us would often arise, mingled with
visions of the cutter and ourselves travelling skyward in fragments.
But gradually, as time wore on, all apprehension vanished, and we
ceased to think about the dangerous stuff stowed under our feet.

II.

We could have done, perhaps, with another man to help handle the
heavily-sparred cutter. Still the ones we had were fine fellows; and we
were paying such high wages that each addition meant a good lump of
gilt off our own gingerbread. Indeed Phil overheard Brown senior remark
to his brother one night that, at the price, he'd be willing "to picnic
with a cargo of dynamite all his bloomin' life." He had reason to
change his opinion before the picnic was finished.

Obeying instructions, and favoured by light but steady South West
Monsoons, I kept nearly up to the twenty-first parallel before hauling
my wind and standing in to make that particular one out of the two
thousand and odd islands I was bound for.

It was seven weeks to a day when, at last, Ilovo rose, a tall mound of
greenery between us and the high mountains of northern Luzon--the latter
visible for many hours past. Late that evening, we stood in towards the
point whereon, we had been told, people watched for us. Then, as
darkness fell, we hoisted the signal--two green lights with a red one on
top, displayed triangle-wise.

Hardly had this been shown, when out from the cape blazed a flash,
repeated thrice in quick succession. There was no mistake. Our errand
was nearly accomplished, and Phil and I shook hands with satisfaction
and drank to each other from one of the two great bottles of champagne
that Garcias had given us at parting for that very purpose.

With the lead going we crept on under our square foresail until, all at
once a torch flared up just ahead of us and a voice hailed us, to our
great surprise, in English--albeit with a brogue.

"Now the Saints be wid ye!" exclaimed its owner as, a few minutes
later, he stepped on board--a brown-faced, square-set man in a much
worn, epauletted, scarlet coat, green trousers laced at the seams with
tarnished bullion, and a cocked hat plumed with bird of paradise
feathers. Round his waist he wore a broad belt from which hung a sword
in a rusty steel scabbard, whilst on each hip rested a big navy
revolver.

"It's our eyes is sore wid the watching," he continued. "However; long
looked for comes at lasht. Have ye a dhrop o' the cratur aboard? Me
throttle is loike a cat's back, so it is. Oi'm Gin'ral O'Brien, at your
sarvis. We'll have to look slippy," he went on, pulling at a pair of
huge, drooping, black moustaches, as we led him into the cabin and
attempted to quench a thirst that seemed eternal, "bekase thim dirty
spalpeens o' Spanishers is messin' around, up an' down and betwixt an'
betune, wid a gunboat. Ah, here's the bhoys. Now we'll relave ye o' yer
throuble in the twisht av an eel's tail. No, ye'll not nade to bring
up. There's nothin' undher thirty fathom 'tween here an' Lobo Point
yander. Jist down sail and let her drift. The current's settin' ye
clare."

The "bhoys" turned out to be the wildest-looking, most mixed lot
imaginable. There were Malays; and apparently full-blooded negroes;
tawny Mestizos, and coffee-berry hued men like Garcias; and bright
yellow men, and half-castes and quarter-castes. And they swarmed
alongside in a regular flotilla of canoes, and crowded our decks and
tore off the hatches, with strange mutterings and triumphant guttural
noises, tumbled below, and, in a minute it seemed, were handing over
the heaviest cases and bales by sheer weight of muscle. Then very soon,
there was an endless procession of boats going and coming between ship
and shore, whilst the General stood at the gangway and encouraged them
in, it appeared to us, a dozen different languages.

"Thirsty work," he remarked at last. "Come along below and Oi'll be
afther squarin' up wid yez over another dhrop of the cratur. Divil a
sup have Oi tasted this noine weeks, barrin' coco-nut woine, which is a
poor deluderin' dhrink. Begob, but we'll mek Jack Spaniard hop wid them
Martinis! Chokatch!"

At the name, a wild, half-naked cut-throat of a Mestizo, who had been
keeping close to the General, came forward and accompanied us into the
cabin.

"There y'are," said the latter, taking a bag from his side, "Two
hundred an' sivinty av 'em, all bran' new from the Hong Kong mint.
Garcias towld us to put in an extra score for luck. Loikewise there's
plinty more where they comes from, if ye'd attimpt another trip. Ye'd
best count 'em an' make sure."

"Oh, they'll be right enough," I replied, placing the bag on the table.
"You took our cargo on trust; and--"

My words were suddenly cut short by a tremendous rattling roar, mingled
with cries and shouts, whilst a dazzling light shone through the
deck-house ports on to us.

"Begob, there's that blashted Carmen!" exclaimed the General, coolly
draining his glass and adjusting his moustaches. "But, glory be, we've
got most of the shtuff ashore! Ye'll see some fun prisintly, Oi'm
thinkin'. Come along wid yez."

Not a quarter of a mile away, we saw, as we stepped on deck, a white
warship from whose sides leapt incessant sheets of flame, whilst her
searchlight played to and fro between shore and cutter along the line
of boats, and a storm of shot and shell literally thrashed the water
into foam. About the cutter, not a soul was visible except our own men
staring in amazement at the scene.

"A divil of a mess!" exclaimed the General, shouting some order to
Chokatch who, for answer, went and looked over the quarter where their
boat had lain; and then, returning without a word, pulled an old and
rusty bayonet out of his waist-cloth and took up a position at the side
of his commander.

"Take our dinghy, General!" I cried.

"Thank ye koindly," says he, drawing both revolvers; "but it's too late
to run. Into the deck-house wid ye, now, or be me'sowl ye'll
swing--British flag an' all!"

Looking up as he spoke, I saw Phil, in the glare of the light turned
full upon us, busy hoisting the Ensign. Then, all at once, the cutter
seemed to fill with dark-bearded men in uniform; the General's pistols
crackled and spouted fire from each hand: Chokatch bounded hither and
thither like an enraged tiger, plunging his dripping weapon again and
again into the white jumpers of the Spanish sailors, who, for a minute,
with oaths and shouts, actually gave way before the pair. The last I
saw of the General he had flung his empty pistols into the faces of the
foe, and, drawing his sword and giving a great shout, followed after
them, cutting and slashing at the crowd: a heroic, desperate figure
with the waving feathers, and the big, black moustaches and the glitter
of faded bullion all very vivid and intense under the unswerving flood
of electricity that poured from the gunboat's projector.

I don't know how much longer I should have stood there gaping, only
just then a hand seized me by the coat and dragged me through the
deckhouse door and I heard Phil's voice expostulating, "Don't you know
enough yet, to come out of the wet?" says he. "Let 'em fight. We've got
enough on our shoulders. Take all the Flag can do to save our skins, I
expect!"

Both the Browns and Danby, I found, were in the cabin--all three, though
free from funk, with their opinion as to picnicing already materially
altered.

Presently, the row on deck ceased. But, in a minute or two, the door
flew open, and in rushed a crowd of seamen, all armed with revolvers
and cutlasses, and headed by a couple of officers. I don't know what
they had expected to meet, but, when they saw the five of us sitting
round the table, smoking calmly, they stopped dead. Then one of the
officers made a speech to which Phil simply replied, "No savvee," and
pointed to the spare Ensign which he had tacked up to the after
bulk-head. But the officer only grinned, as much as to say, "That game is
altogether too thin," at the same time motioning us to get on deck. To
our surprise, we found the dawn was just breaking. Nearly alongside lay
the gunboat, with wicked, quick-firing guns and Nordenfeldts peering
venomously down at us from behind their shields. She was a long,
business-like sort of craft, with a pair of thwartship funnels and two
pole masts, carrying each a yard for signalling; and from one of these,
in the morning breeze, fluttered the gaudy red and yellow Spanish flag.
Dark brown splashes flecked the Darthea's decks, and her white scuppers
still held little, thick, red pools. One of the remaining cases had
been brought up out of the hold and broken up, exposing its contents to
view--some dozens of Smith and Wesson's revolvers.

But what interested us more than anything was the sight of a file of
marines drawn up across the deck. They wore peaked caps, red tunics,
and dirty white trousers. They were lounging and smoking as they stood
at ease, and seemed, from the expression of their faces, dead tired of
life. All at once, at the word of command, they chucked away their
cigarettes, got as upright as possible, and brought their rifles to the
"present," pointed toward us.

"My God!" exclaimed Phil, "the brutes are going to shoot us!" and,
jumping out of our little group, he waved his hand to the Flag overhead
at the gaff-end and shouted, wild with passion, "Mind what you're
about, you fools! Can't you see we're Englishmen--English! English! And
if you kill us, England'll make you and your dirty country sweat more'n
ever old Bony did!"

Probably the officer didn't understand a word, but he shook his head
and grinned, and pointed with his drawn sword at the yard arms of the
gunboat to which, as we stared, two pinioned figures rose slowly,
twisting and twirling. One was black and mother-naked, with horribly
distorted features and legs drawn up in agony. Over the second one's
face had fallen a cocked hat, whose gay feathers took the morning sun,
and from under which drooped the ends of a long, black moustache. With
one accord we five uncovered and remained so till the dangling figures
hung limp and motionless and the world, whatever their faults may have
been, lacked two brave men. Then the marines, forming up on each side,
marched us to the gangway, and so on board the Carmen, where we were at
once leg-ironed to a stout bar, apparently placed for that very
purpose, across her 'tween decks.

Two days of this, and we were brought up to find the Carmen, not at
Manila, as we had expected, but anchored at a little place called Sama.
Here we were put on board the Darthea which had been in tow of the
gunboat, taken ashore, and clapped into a dirty, evil-smelling,
insect-infected prison.

A little rice and a few sweet potatoes with, now and then, a suspicion
of stale fish twice a day, formed our meals. As for sleep, we got none.
The fleas and "things" took good care of that. Our prison was close to
the sea, and from the barred window we could, by standing on one
another's shoulders, catch a glimpse of a wooden pier with, at times, a
small coaster or two moored alongside it. For exercise, we were allowed
to walk about a courtyard, surrounded by high walls and watched by
slovenly soldiers who squatted around smoking cigarettes and hunting
for vermin.

With the exception of our personal attendant, a soldier named Pedro, no
one molested or meddled with us. One or two would even give us a little
tobacco. But the man, Pedro, seemed to take a delight in making our
hard case harder. "Dam Inglees" was his invariable salutation as he
brought in our miserable ration, all cooked in one mess, and threw it
on the dirty floor for us to pick up and eat with our fingers. And he
had lots of petty, monkeyish tricks he was continually working off on
us, such as putting salt in our tub of drinking water; peppering our
rice with cayenne pepper till it burned like fire, etc., etc. And,
alas, we couldn't swear at him in any other language than our own! In
that, however, we did our very best. But he seemed rather to like it.
If it had not been for the gleaming bayonets that we could see through
the open door in attendance on him, Master Pedro would have come to
grief long before he did.

Of course we had no light. But we amused ourselves by catching the
fire-flies that found their way in through the solitary window and
using them as lamps to hunt tarantulas with. These venomous and
repulsive brutes swarmed in the cell, and were some of them as big as a
five-shilling piece. It was of no use trying to sleep. So that was the
way we spent our nights. The walls were of sun-baked bricks, of immense
thickness, and lined and seamed with deep cracks in which lived all
sorts of reptiles and insects that used to emerge just after sun-down,
what time, too, clouds of mosquitoes appeared. There were no beds or
stretchers. When worn out, we just dumped down on the roughly paved
floor. Our clothes were in rags, and our flesh, one mass of sores from
head to toe. There were no other prisoners that we could see. But, one
day, hearing an unusual commotion in the yard, Phil climbed up on
Danby's shoulders and looked out. Presently we heard a fusillade, and
Phil, looking very sick, came down by the run. "They're shooting
people," he gasped. "Got 'em stuck against a wall. Ugh! it's awful."

Then I had a look. Sure enough, there were five men lying on the
ground--wild, long-haired, nearly naked fellows--their dark brown skins
streaked with blood. About ten paces away stood a squad of soldiers,
the smoke curling from the muzzles of their rifles. Two of the men
still kicked convulsively, and an officer, going up, put his revolver
close to one's head and fired. Then he moved towards the other.
However, I did not wait to see the result, but descended, feeling very
white and shaky. Nevertheless, the rest must have a peep. Horrible
though the thing was, it broke the monotony. When young Danby's turn
came and we had let him down again, he said, in unsteady tones, "Them's
some of the poor devils as was on the cutter that night. I'd know 'em
anywhere. An', as I live, the Darthea's alongside the jetty at this
very minute."

And so it proved. And the sight of the little dear seemed to put fresh
life into our maltreated bodies and courage into hearts depressed by
the recent spectacle. Plan after plan was made, only to be rejected as
impossible. As often happens in such cases, chance did what our united
brains could not effect. Some time during the afternoon, there was a
sort of religious procession passing. We could see the flags over the
tops of the outer wall, and hear solemn music and singing. In the yard,
the five bodies still lay stark in their blood, and hardly visible for
the myriads of flies that encircled them like a black cloud. At dusk,
Pedro entered, more than half drunk, and brought us some putrid fish
and almost uncooked rice. Then, contrary to his usual custom, he
lurched right in and began, as we guessed, to tell us about the event
of the morning, and, by the aid of much gesture, to prophesy that "Dam
Inglees" would soon meet a similar fate.

"Knock the brute down!" whispered Phil, from the door, "There's not a
soldier about! I believe they're all on the spree. It's our only show."

At this the elder Brown gave Pedro a tremendous buffet under the ear,
which rolled him over like a shot. Then we took his belt off and tied
his legs; one of our own straps serving to pinion his arms in similar
fashion. Opening his clenched teeth with his sword-bayonet, we rammed
the rotten fish and peppered rice into his mouth. And the pleasure
these light reprisals gave us was great and genuine. Next, Phil
securing his revolver, we rolled Pedro into a dark corner in no very
gentle style. Then taking the naked bayonet, I led the way out into the
courtyard, dark now, and smelling of the day's tragedy.

Not a soul was in sight. But rockets were soaring into the night from
the town, bands playing, bells ringing, and guns going off. With
beating hearts we crept towards the gate, expecting to find there at
least one sentinel. There was nobody. The blood ran in our veins like
quicksilver at the thought of liberty; only the next minute to curdle
with disappointment as we found both great gate and massive postern
fast locked. For awhile, we stood helpless. In front of us the walls
rose smooth as glass. Behind us loomed the dark, square, low building
in which we had passed so many days and nights of weary torment.

"We'll have to go back again and untie Pedro!"” almost sobbed young
Danby.

"Idiots! Asses!”" I exclaimed, suddenly. “"The keys! He left the bunch in
our door! I saw it! Perhaps he's got those of the gates for to-night.”
And almost before I'd finished speaking, I was hurrying across the
yard."

Sure enough, there they were; and, locking the door of our cell on the
gurgling, choking gaoler, I scurried back and, with trembling, eager
fingers, tried key after key in the postern, whilst the rest held their
breath, letting it escape in one great gasp as, at last, after many
failures, the bolt shot back and I swung the gate open--making no
mistake about re-locking it this time.

Very cautiously we stole along on our naked feet (our boots had been
taken from us on the Carmen) towards the wharf. The great tropic stars
gave a faint light; big bats flapped past us; fire-flies and
queen-beetles flew about in the scent-laden air; a small, sighing breeze
blew faintly, rustling among the mango leaves and the broad fronds of giant
plantains that grew along the track. With many a glance to where, on
our right hand, the lights of the little town flared and the clamour
never ceased, we crept noiselessly, stealthily, until at last, we
emerged on the beach and heard the lip-lap of the waves babbling to us
of freedom, and making such music as never before had fallen on our
ears when with a jerk, I hove the heavy bunch of keys far out into the
waves. Another few minutes and we were close to the cutter. Not a light
on board! Deserted apparently, and only made fast by a couple of
hawsers!

"Oh, the luck, the dam luck!" swore one of the Browns, gleefully making
for the rigging, and the next moment falling head over heels with an
appalling clatter across some object lying in the shadow of the mast.
The thing turned out to be a Spanish sentry, paralytically drunk; so
drunk indeed that, as Brown picked himself up, he only grunted.
Half-a-dozen empty bottles encircled him. And the Darthea was deserted!
Oh, the joy of it! And the freshening breeze! Leaving the soldier
unmolested--he might have given us a smoke once--we scuttled about like
madmen. Were the sails bent? Thank God, they were! Cast off; and up
foresail to slew her head! Now, the peak halliards! So; not too high!
Were those shouts along the beach? No; only the pleasant breakings of
water against the shapely bows. See how the lights recede! Good-bye,
most accursed place, where, in the usual order of things, we should now
be hunting tarantulas! Right up with the gaff, and haul out the main
sheet! Set the square foresail and gaff topsail! How we laughed and
shook hands all round as we watched the land grow dim and felt
ourselves at home--five poor, half-naked, vermin-infested, emaciated,
raw-skinned creatures though we were! That very night we caught the
North East monsoon (it was in October), and all night the cutter ran
before it like a thing possessed, until, when morning dawned, nothing
met our straining gaze save league upon league of foaming furrows.

Evidently the Darthea had been used as a Government boat--probably for
the carrying of dispatches. All our little belongings were gone. But
there were others in their stead. Some naval officers' uniforms hung in
the cabin. A fine dinner service of plate was in the pantry. Wines,
cigars, and provisions of every description abounded. A couple of
silver dressing-cases, well furnished and valuable; two gold repeating
watches; some diamond rings and studs; dress suits, etc., etc., etc.,
were amongst the articles we found in our berths--the lot almost, if not
more than, equal in value, I reckoned, to the amount of money we had
lost, although nothing like sufficient compensation for what we had
suffered.

As I was putting the stuff together, and thinking with regret of the
bag of sovereigns and the poor General, I noticed Phil working away at
one of the lining boards that formed the "skin" between his old bunk
and the side of the cutter. Presently, wrenching it off, he plunged his
arm in as far as he could reach, withdrawing it in a minute or two,
whilst over his features spread a look of blank disappointment.

"The brutes have found it, after all!" he muttered. "Wait though, it
may have slipped further down," and running on deck, he returned with a
chain-hook. Fossicking about for awhile, he suddenly gave a yell and a
pull, and up came the identical article just then in my thoughts--the
missing bag and its contents--and fell on deck with a melodious metallic
crash.

"You see," explained Phil, as I stared in wonder, "when I ran down for
the Ensign that time, whilst you were on deck watching the scrimmage, I
noticed the stuff lying on our table; and, remembering the loose board
at the side of my bunk, I just dropped the bag in and hammered the
plank back with the heel of a seaboot. It was one of those impulses
that take a fellow sometimes. But I never said anything about it for
fear of disappointing you. Indeed, I never expected to see it again.
But Luck's a fortune, isn't it? And I think we're about square with
Jack Spaniard, after all. Able to pay our chaps, too, and then be as
good, or better men than we were before Cataracts slumped. All the
same, no more risky little games of the kind for this child."

"You're right, Phil," I replied. "Oysters and firewood may be prosaic,
and not too profitable as a business; still, there's peace and
quietness with it. For my part, I have had enough of adventures
lately."

"'Umph," said Phil, doubtfully, "but they seem to come right at us.
whether we want 'em or not. Shouldn't wonder if we ain't running
another one presently."

"Well," I replied, "it may be so. But I fancy it won't be contraband of
war!"


THE "LADY MACQUARIE."
A STORY OF A VERY CURIOUS CRUISE.

I.

"I say, boys," exclaimed Mowbray, looking up from his newspaper, "we
ought to have a try for this new rush up there in the North-West.
Listen: 'One man in two days won thirty ounces of almost pure gold
obtained at the bottom of a shaft twenty feet deep in moderately easy
sinking. As yet there are very few diggers on the field, but as
steamers are being put on from the southern colonies . . . um . . . um.
Men are warned against . . . (oh, yes, of course) . . Bids fair to be
the biggest alluvial find seen in Australia for many years. King's
Sound is the nearest point to make for by water to the new field, which
is situated at the foot of the Leopold Ranges in the Kimberley District
of Western Australia.'

"Boys," continued Mowbray conclusively, as he put down his paper, "we
should even now be on our way to this new El Dorado. We've been long
enough waiting for a show. Let's clear. I'm full to the brim of loafing
around here."

Paxton laughed ironically as he dug his bare feet into the warm sand
upon which the three of us were lying after our bath, "It's two
thousand miles," said he. "But of course that's nothing. And the fare's
at least £30--steerage. Not to mention such trifles as tucker and tools.
Oh, yes, let's go right away. What's the use of putting it off and
shilly-shallying about here."

"Paxton," retorted Mowbray, "you're an ass. How much money have you
got?"

"Three pounds and some small stuff," replied Paxton, grinning. "Call it
three ten altogether. About enough to shout a decent dinner on."

"And you, Iredale?" said Mowbray, turning to me.

"A fiver," I replied, "at the outside."

"Well, I daresay I can muster as much as both of you put together,"
said Mowbray. "And we'll start as soon as we can fix things up;" and
jumping to his feet he executed a pas de seul along the beach, whilst
we looked on, wondering whether the sun had not been too much for him.

"But," I remonstrated, as presently he calmed down a bit, "Paxton's
right enough, old man. It's a deuce of a distance. And fares at the
start are sure to be high. You know how the companies slap it on in a
case of this kind."

"Fare me no fares," exclaimed Mowbray. "And let the company keep their
iron screw-pots. We'll sail our own ship. There she is. Slow perhaps,
but sure. Likewise coffee in the morning and no fore-royal! Look at
her! There lies the Argo that shall bear us to the Golden Fleece
of--er--Thingumbob."

And as we followed the pointing finger across the water and our minds
fell into line with his, we fairly yelled with laughter and rolled on
the sand in ecstasies of it. Ah, me! we were young in those days and
cared little how the world went, looking on it simply as a great
playground in which to cut our capers, sometimes at other people's
expense, more generally at our own.

Just now we were "camping" on the shores of one of the many picturesque
coves and sea-arms that scallop the great main harbour of Port Jackson.
Whilst the New South Wales summer heats are at their height this
camping business is a favourite one with even rich people, who, taking
servants, tents, and boats, choose some favourite spot and spend a
Bohemian time, almost always either on or in the water. Also there are
impecunious people who, attracted by the free life and the cheapness of
living, quit the city and make their home in some secluded nook. This
latter was our case.

We had no servant, and only one tent, and a crazy old boat, and no
money worth mentioning; our combined stock of clothes could have been
carried in a sugar bag, and so we had left the stuffy boarding-house
and hot dusty streets to become "campers." And for many weeks we had
led a savage sort of free-and-easy life down here at little Blue
Pointer Bay, with a bag of potatoes, another of flour, half a chest of
tea, and lots of sugar and tobacco as the main-stays of our
commissariat. Fish we could always catch; and on one or two occasions
they--in the shape of sharks--nearly caught us. Now, however, the trio,
especially Mowbray, were getting restless and dissatisfied, as was only
proper. No thoroughly healthy young fellow can put up with the
lotus-eating business for an indefinite time.

Blue Pointer, so called as being a favourite haunt of the shark known
by that name, was really a small cove with a narrow entrance, through
which a view of the main harbour was just obtainable. Steep sides
clothed thickly with straggling gums, stringybarks, and other
eucalypti, ran down to a single sandy beach and big rocks on which
oysters grew in thousands. On the opposite side to where our tent was
pitched--some hundred yards across--was a dilapidated wharf, and moored
to this was the object Mowbray had apostrophised.

Imagine a broad, ungainly old tub of a paddle-wheel steamer, raw and
rusty for lack of shelter from the sun; her funnel red with rust, and
the Muntz metal on her bottom showing the colour of verdigris. And this
was the craft that Mowbray proposed we should take the sea in. Was it
any wonder we laughed?

Two or three years ago a company had endeavoured to form a "sanatorium"
on the opposite rocks; had cleared some scrub, built a jetty, and
purchased a boat to carry visitors about the harbour. But alas! the
project languished for lack of funds, and at last the promoters faced
the Insolvency Court, and the creditors tried to realise on their
assets. But no one wanted either land or wharf, or steamer. And there
they lay unkempt, untended, uncared for.

We, as long as we had been there, had never been on board of her. But
now, finding that Mowbray was in most determined earnest, we got our
boat and sculled across and examined the Lady Macquarie. Still on our
two parts with little or no severity of purpose.

"Ladies' Cabin. No Smoking," was the first thing that caught our eyes
as we stepped on the lower-deck. This cabin was simply a portion of the
deck, around and up the centre of which ran benches, whose sides were
formed by windows of pretty thick glass which could he opened or shut
at pleasure like those of a railway carriage. At one end were doors.
The other end, the men's cabin, was exactly the same, only there were
no doors. In the centre stood the steam chest, funnel, etc., and down a
square open hatchway surrounded by a sort of iron fence were the
engines. Above this deck was another, reached by steps on the outside
of each paddle-box, furnished with seats down the middle and along the
sides; also with two little windowed hutches for the helmsman, one at
each end; and above all was a roof of galvanised iron, through which
the smoke-stack protruded some six feet or so. Dust and dirt were
everywhere. Spiders had spun their webs in long festoons about the
ladies cabin; and as flying foxes could not enter there by reason of
the doors being closed, they had taken up their abode in the men's
part, where they could fly in and out at will. And here the brutes hung
in clusters from the battened ceiling, sleeping until the time came for
their nightly forays amongst the gardens and orchards of the upper
harbour.

"A regular jolly menagerie, by jingo!" exclaimed Paxton in disgust, as
he made a kick at a big rat that came out of an open locker and leaped
on to the wharf. "And how those infernal foxes stink! A nice crowd to
go to sea with-eh, Mowbray?"

But Mowbray was all over the shop, poking and prying into every corner,
sticking his knife into planks and chipping iron rust off stanchions.

"Sound as a bell," said he at last, "so far as I can see. Dive down
below, like a good fellow, Paxton, and have a look at the old girl's
engines."

"But surely you don't mean it?" asked the other with a laugh. "And,
anyhow, old as she is and poverty stricken as she looks, all our
available capital wouldn't buy her."

"Don't intend to buy her," replied Mowbray decisively. "We'll borrow
her and pay for her out of the pile that we are going to make at
Kimberley. Got enough to get coals and tucker with, haven't we? What
more do you want? I'll slam her round in a fortnight, even if we can
only knock six out of her. And it'll be fine and calm inside the
Barrier. Safe as a house! I don't know that I'd tackle the Leeuwin in
her. But t'other way'll be a picnic."

"You're a genius," muttered Paxton. "All the same, you'll have us in
Darlinghurst gaol if you don't mind."

"Exactly what I was thinking," I put in. "I don't quite know what a
ferry boat would run into. But, making all allowance, I should say
nothing under five years hard."

"Oh, rats!" retorted Mowbray, appropriate enough. "She's got no owner
anyhow to prosecute. She's an unrealisable asset, to be divided
probably amongst fifty people. And what's everybody's business is
nobody's, as we all know. They'll never miss her. Why, she's been here
for at least four years. However, have it your own way, boys; it shall
never be said that I led you into mischief."

And when Mowbray thus affirmed, we knew that if we didn't go he'd go
alone rather than knuckle down, even if he got no further than the
Heads. So we saw nothing for it but to humour him, for we were mates
who never went back on one another. So Paxton dived into the dark and
grimy hole where the engines lived, and I, under Mowbray's direction,
punted along her sides in our boat and peered into the boxes to see
whether the floats were all there, and prodded a knife into her at the
water line to feel if she was rotten, whilst Mowbray took out his
pocket-book and made notes.

"Engines are all aright," reported Paxton presently. "High pressure and
obsolete, but strong--Davidson of Glasgow. Take a couple of gallons of
oil and a day's work, though, before they'll move. Main shaft's an inch
thick in rust, and the cylinders want packing."

"Well, you can fix 'em up and drive 'em, can't you?" asked Mowbray.

"Oh yes" replied Paxton resignedly, "although by profession I'm only a
mining engineer, I can do that much. Likewise I'm not too old to learn
the stone-breaking or oakum-picking trades."

"Great Jerusalem!" exclaimed Mowbray, laughing gleefully. "Were there
ever such ingrates? Here am I putting you in a way to make your
fortunes, and you only gibe at me. Don't you see, stupids, that we must
do something? And that soon. I'm rusting, same as the Lady here. So are
the pair of you. Now I'll bet you the best dinner in Australia--which
isn't, after all, up to very much--that I pull this contract off safe
and sound."

"Wager," exclaimed the pair of us simultaneously. "And let us hope," I
added, "that it won't turn out one of hominy."

We were all three young in those days!

II

No more secluded and quiet spot could have been found in the whole
harbour than Blue Pointer. Very few people ever came there, and,
because we had taken possession of the only sandy beach, campers never.
At most a few men gathering flannel flowers in the scrub for sale in
the city, or a party of boys snake-hunting, were the sole visitors to
our retreat. That was the reason we had stuck to it for so long.

And now we messed about the old Lady Macquarie all night without
interruption. Mowbray got some two-inch planks and set me to fix up a
sort of hatch over the engine room. An architect, he said, ought to be
able to build anything. After that he brought bricks and galvanised
iron with which to make a bit of a cooking place. And all the time, he
himself was busy bringing in coal, that he got in bags under pretence
of wanting it for a steam yacht--beef, pork, and biscuits.

He worked like a horse, and by the mere force of his irresistible
personality, presently, as he always contrived to do, made us as
cocksure of success as he was himself. And not only that, but he
managed to gradually persuade us that, instead of committing a felony,
we were actually benefiting the unknown owners of the Lady by cleaning
their boat, taking her for a cruise, and thus stopping her from going
to rack and ruin.

Of course, you will think we were a very weak-minded pair of young men.
But then, you never knew Mowbray, with his handsome face, laughing
eyes, and tongue that would coax flies off a tin of jam. A
gentleman-adventurer, pure and simple, Frank Mowbray! And when Paxton,
with his first-class certificates from the Technical College and the
School of Mines, and I, with my six years' experience in old Plaistow's
office, could find neither machinery nor town halls to erect, and met
Mowbray one day out shooting at a station we were visiting, we took
such a fancy to him that we had been a great deal together ever since.

Four years ago that was; and except when we two were at work--for we did
get a job now and then--or Frank was away digging, droving,
"sailorising," or exploring in the Back Blocks, we were inseparable.
Paxton had "people" in New Zealand. But Mowbray and myself were pretty
well alone in the world.

Never shall I forget the night on which, everything being ready for as
mad and reckless an expedition as even Mowbray could have invented, we
made a start. Of course we had routed out all the foxes and cleared the
old girl down as well as we could. But the men's cabin was stacked up
with coal, and the ladies' with a most curious mixture of provisions.
Being double-ended, her bow for the time was of course the way she was
heading. Mowbray was at one of the wheels, Paxton in the engine room,
and I was standing by as deck hand, fireman, and general rouseabout.
Steam was up, and smoke was pouring from the long-empty funnel into the
midnight-air.

"All ready," shouted Mowbray down the voice tube to Paxton.

"Ay, ay," replied the other.

"Let her go, then." And the old thing, trembling in every fibre of her,
answered the thump of her engines with a loud chuff-chuff, chuff-chuff,
that made the hills echo again as she moved slowly and unwillingly into
the stream.

"Merciful heavens! what's that row?" shouted Mowbray. "Stop it, Paxton.
Do you want to rouse Australasia?"

Chuff-chuff, chuff-chuff, snorted the Lady deliberately, and with
emphasis. Clickety-clack-thump went the engines, whilst the paddles hit
the water and smashed it into foam with a noise like big cataracts
rushing over a thousand feet of rocks.

Mowbray was still yelling to stop the row; and at length Paxton came
up, black as a sweep, and completely, helpless from laughter.

"What's the matter now?" he managed to get out at last, addressing me,
startled just as much as Mowbray by the infernal din. "They all do it
these old high pressure tubs. I thought you knew. Why, of course
they'll hear us right down the harbour and far out to sea. Go and tell
Frank I can't stop her coughing. Indeed, she's rather out of practice
from being laid up so long. She'll do better yet."

Mowbray swore when I told him. "Old beast!" said he, "she's nearly made
me jump overboard, thinking the boiler was going. No fear of collision,
if that's any comfort! All right Pax, old man, throw her wide open and
let her rip!"

But there was no "rip" about the old Lady. All the steam in the world
couldn't have knocked more than six out of her. And even at that her
ancient frame quivered and expanded and rattled, whilst bolts and
stanchions, loosened by the long drought, asserted themselves in every
note of metallic clangour. Sometimes the hoarse throaty cough died away
into a half-throttled asthmatic wheeze, sounding as if she were at her
last gasp; then she'd pant violently, and having thus, as it were,
cleared her throat and chest, she'd presently rise into the loud,
deliberate, sonorous chuff-chuff by which she seemed to beat slow time
to her slow progress through the water.

"Well," exclaimed Paxton, "If she isn't making a fine show of us I
wouldn't say so! I've got sixty-five pounds on, and it strikes me
that's quite enough for the boiler. It'd be almost a mercy if Mowbray
would pile her up on the Sow and Pigs yonder."

We were just passing that lightship, guarding its pinnacle of rock and
reef, and so close that we could plainly see its crew of two as they
came up and stared curiously at us. Abreast of Watson's a steam collier
stole silently along showing a monstrous height of bow and a stern
nearly a-wash. A moon had risen and was giving a faint light. Presently
the coal-man shifted his helm and ran over. "Hi," he hailed, "where are
you off to? This ain't the way to Parramatta or the North Shore. You'll
get lost."

"Shan't ask you to show us the road, anyhow," replied Mowbray.

"Oh, all right," replied the other, "don't get your shirt out! And give
her some balsam of aniseed--a pint every half-hour to begin with. So
long." And amidst much laughter she forged ahead.

Above us I could hear Mowbray muttering to himself his opinion of all
coal tramps, qualified by references to our late visitor the reverse of
flattering.

By this time we were lurching about in the strong swell that rolls in
between the mile-wide gap of Sydney Heads; and as for the first time in
her life the Lady gained the open ocean, she squatted and bobbed and
ducked to the short seas as if begging them to deal gently with a poor
old recluse dragged very unwillingly from her retreat on the calm and
placid waters of the inner harbour. With us she remonstrated by panting
and groaning worse than ever as she flopped along, leaving a foaming
wake behind her as broad as the Thames Embankment.

For side-light we had an odd pair that Mowbray had picked up for a
song; and for a white one we had hoisted a large hurricane lamp to the
pick-staff that rose from the end we'd made her bow. Indeed, it was
wonderful how Mowbray had spun out the £16 or £17 of which our whole
capital consisted. Of course we were dead broke now. Also pirates of a
sort. But we had a ship under our feet, such as she was. And if, as an
inscription on the upper deck told us, she was "licensed to carry
passengers only within the harbour waters of Port Jackson and its
tributaries," then perhaps, as Paxton remarked, we were entitled to a
certain amount of credit for proving that she really was capable of
better things.

Mowbray, who had been, in coasting vessels, in many capacities, knew
the accepted courses by heart as far as Somerset, which port, however,
was his limit. He knew, too, the lie of the land and its marks right
along, and by the help of a second-hand compass and an old chart he'd
picked up in a pawn-shop, had not the remotest doubt of being able to
get through without accident.

Towards morning Paxton brought the Lady to quarter speed, which
practically meant just holding her own, and we had a good feed of
corned beef, potatoes, tea, and bread and butter. Far astern we could
see the reflection of the South Head light; on our port hand, quite
close, hung the bold loom of the coast to the northward of Narrabeen.

"My word," said Mowbray, as, lighting our pipes, we made ourselves
comfortable on our camp mattresses spread over the seats, "we've come
like a house a-fire. She's a clipper and no mistake! But the row the
old daisy kicks up, Paxton! We must keep out to sea or we'll rouse the
coast. There's a whaling station somewhere further on, or used to be,
and, by Jupiter, if they hear us they'll sharpen their harpoons and
have their boats in pursuit all right!"

"How about keeping watches?" asked, Paxton, after we'd laughed our fill
at Mowbray's notion.

"Oh, one man four hours," replied Mowbray, "in fine weather. Just give
me and Iredale a wrinkle or two down in the engine-room and one can
steer her and feed the furnace. She'll keep it up chinkety-chunk-bang,
chinkety-chunk bang, till we get to Somerset, and thence across the
Arafura and Timor Seas--all fine-weather water. Then into the Indian
ocean--just a corner of it to cross--and there you are at King's Sound."

"And then?" I asked.

"Oh, why, trust in providence, of course," replied Mowbray. "See how it
has stuck to us so far. Well, if one of you chaps'll take the wheel,
we'll start the waggon again. N. by E. ½ E. will be the course till we
get abreast of Port Stephens, anyhow, although I hae ma doots' about
this compass of ours. She don't seem to agree with any bearings that I
know. So we'll keep clear of all the corners for fear of cutting into
them."

III

Soon after daylight we were met by a man-o'-war painted white and
rigged as a bargue--one of the old, obsolete Australian Squadron. But
very pretty to look at for all that. She was making for the Heads under
easy steam, and crowds of men were doing something about her decks to
the lively music of drums and fifes. We passed close to her; but she
took no notice whatever of us as we went chuffing along, doubtless a
most dirty, disreputable object.

After breakfast, Mowbray and Paxton fell fast asleep, and myself in the
little box on the upper deck steering, I noticed a full rigged ship
coming straight for us. All at once she let go her upper-t'gallant and
top-sail yards and began to clew up her courses and haul down her
staysails, whilst at her peak fluttered a flag of some sort. However,
considering it was no business of mine, I kept on our course, thus
presently bringing her close abeam.

A short, stout man, brown-faced and grey-whiskered, was standing aft,
and seeing that I meant passing, he roared out, "Hi! hi, tug ahoy,
where the devil are you going to? Back her head and stand by for our
line!" Seeing that he was labouring under a mistake, I came out of my
box and waved my hand to him as we slowly chuffed away.

But he beckoned and stamped and got so excited that I ran down and
slowed the engines and woke Mowbray, thinking that perhaps something
was wrong. "Now then," roared the man, hanging over the stern of his
ship, "aren't you going to hook on? D'ye think I want to ballyrag about
the coast for a week in these light winds?"

"Can't you see that we are not a tug, stupid?" replied Mowbray, who had
ascended to the upper deck. "Some people can't tell the difference
between a P. & O. boat and a canvas dinghy."

"What the blazes are you, then? And what are you doing messing about
here and answering my signals, if you aren't a tug?" stormed the other.

"We're-er-a first-class excursion steamer," replied Mowbray gravely;
"and we're going round to Newcastle on special service to bring the
Governor home. And we're bound to time. So long!"

At this a snigger of laughter arose from the fore part of the ship,
where the crew had congregated, whilst their captain, evidently for the
first time--so eager had he been to get a towline fast--took a
comprehensive stare at our poverty-stricken, woe-begone appearance, and
with a gesture of disgust roared some orders to his men.

"Full speed ahead!" shouted Mowbray down the tube as well as he could
for laughing. And as the ship's yards began to rise off their caps, and
sheets and tacks to be hauled aft again, we splashed solemnly off,
hiding ourselves in a cloud of noisome black smoke, through which we
dimly heard a volley of deep-sea blessings.

"If we go on as we're doing," remarked Mowbray, "we'll make a sensation
and excite public curiosity. Good job there's some extraordinary and
ancient arks on this coast. Nothing, though, reckon them all round, fit
to hold a candle to us. However let's lie as low as we can, or we may
yet again have to submit to the indignity of being taken for a tug."

Fine weather prevailing, we flopped along, sometimes pretty close in,
but mostly quite away from the steam track, content to see the blue
loom of the land, and put in now and again to pick up a mark--a
mountain, a promontory, a group of islands, a lighthouse. By day,
inside of us, we could sight the trailing smoke of the intercolonial
steamers; o' nights their lights came and went.

And we began to get quite fond of the old Lady, and forebore to abuse
her, or to feel ashamed of her rusty iron and blistered woodwork,
ungainly shape, and grotesque puffings and pantings. Nor did she give
us any trouble. She steered like a boat in smooth water; start the
engines, and she'd potter away with the wheel amidships and keep her
course within a point or two each side, even if there was no one to
watch her for awhile. For a change, at times, we used to slew her round
and try her with the other end foremost. But she never minded a bit.
Deliberation--stubbornness, Mowbray called it--was her chief
characteristic. And nothing we could do would put her out of her
stride. One day Paxton worked her up to ninety pounds of steam, but
though she trembled and lamented, and at last fairly roared in protest,
she never moved a foot the faster. Hitherto we had no chances of
judging our craft's qualities as a sea boat. Right from the start--and
now Moreton island, which meant Brisbane, lay just in sight on the port
bow--both sea and wind had been scarcely stronger than under the
sheltering hills of Blue Pointer.

On the evening, however, that we passed Sandy Cape it came on to blow
from the eastward with every appearance of a dirty night. Of course we
could have run into the bay and sought shelter, as we saw many other
vessels doing--steamers, ketches, and schooners. But there was one fatal
objection. We had no anchors. Nor apparently had the Lady ever carried
any, as there was no provision on board in the shape of a windlass or
capstan for ground tackle. Paxton suggested tying her up to a tree
somewhere inside. But Mowbray said there were no trees anywhere near
the water. Only mangroves, which were bad things to moor to. Actually,
therefore, the best thing we could do would be to keep at sea.

In another hour or so we had no option, for the gale hit us and blew us
before it like a cork, faster than our engines could ever have sent us.
You see, the top-hamper of upper and sun deck caught the wind in great
style, and we went sailing away into the Pacific Ocean at a full eight.
But presently the sun deck, which was only of galvanised iron, left in
a fierce squall that, broad as she was, put the Lady's rail three feet
under water. Also a heavy following sea began to rise, travelling as
fast and faster than we did. And matters began to look uncomfortable,
not to say serious.

Once we changed ends and tried steaming slowly head to wind, not
wishing to make South America. But a few minutes of that was quite
enough, and, we turned tail again. Luckily, no matter how much water
came on board there was nothing to keep it there. The great open
gangways, made for landing stages, and the iron railings all around her
deck allowed free egress. The only dry spot was the ladies' cabin with
the sliding doors and the thick glass windows, themselves protected by
canvas blinds.

In the men's cabin our remaining precious coal was all washing to and
fro in the darkness. Nor could we save it, for as the sea got higher
the old girl commenced to wallow and tumble and roll in a fashion that
made it as much as a man's life was worth to do anything but hold on
grimly up above.

Sometimes one paddle wheel would be racing almost out of the water,
then the other would lift, then she'd give a yaw, and a comber catching
her a resounding slap she'd nearly stop as if to consider the matter,
and then with a stifled indignant sort of choking grunt, she'd chunk
away again. Mowbray was at the wheel, and doing his best to keep her
before the sea. But good steering was a thing of the past. Her rudders
had never been intended, any more than herself, for such weather, and
it was as much as she'd do to answer either of them, although we tried
them both.

Paxton, of course, had left his grimy hole, or he'd have been drowned
with the hatch off, whilst with it on he'd have been smothered. But at
intervals the pair of us would, at the risk of our lives, grope our way
below, at times up to our waists in foaming water, and, opening the
little scuttle that led to the bunkers and furnace, one watching his
chance, would slip down and stoke.

Speaking for myself, I must say that as I hung on to one of the
stanchions watching the great seas rolling up astern and flinging
themselves in roaring fury over the boat, I never expected to see the
light of another day. And each time we sank, smothered in spray that
flew clear over us down into one of the big creaming gullies, I held my
breath and strained my eyes through the hurly-burly, to watch whether
or not we began to wearily climb the opposite hill. In very derision
the waves seemed to roar "Go faster! go faster!" as they hit the Lady
with great shocks and clashes that I believed must soon inevitably
sweep the whole superstructure away.

In the little round house, close to which Paxton and I stood, we could
see Mowbray's pale face under the wildly swinging lamp as he ground at
the wheel and tried to steady her somewhat whilst the gale shrieked
past us, tearing the smoke from the funnel and hurling it in black
patches to leeward. Once as she got clear away from her helm and we
rolled heavily between two tall combers that met each other and broke
just beneath our feet, covering the boat in a mass of foam, showing
pale through the gloom, I heard Paxton shout in my ear, "So long, old
man She's going!" But the next minute the Lady rose in a blind groping
kind of way, as a drowning man rises and fights for breath, and,
shaking herself, panted stertorously ahead with the old
clickerty-clack-thump.

"A tight squeak--that one!" yelled Mowbray. "But we'll get through all
right. You couldn't kill her with dynamite!"

And indeed the man who built her had made faithful work, for many a big
ship would have found it hard to take the punishment meted out to the
despised old ferry-boat that night.

Towards morning the blow seemed to abate somewhat of its fierce
vindictiveness, and by sunrise the worst of it was evidently over. All
the same, we were still forced to run before or rather with the sea.
Nor had we more than a vague notion of our position. Steering a course
had been quite out of the question during the night. As Mowbray said,
he'd had enough to do trying to keep the wind at the back of his head
without bothering about the compass. That we were well out in the
Pacific seemed a certainty. Also, that unless we could procure coal
from somebody we were likely to stay there. To add to our plight, we
presently found that, although the ladies' cabin had withstood the
heavy blows of following seas, some of the windows, breaking, had let
the water in and considerably damaged our stock of provisions.
Decidedly it behoved us to keep a bright lookout for assistance in some
shape or form before we began, as Paxton said, "to do a perish!"

That evening, however, the weather moderated, and we cleaned and dried
our compass, which was badly damaged by salt water getting through the
front of the binnacle, whence the glass had long disappeared. Nor, as I
have remarked, had we much faith in the instrument itself, for which
Mowbray had paid five shillings at an old marine store. However, we
headed the Lady due west in the hope of finding at least some part of
the continent between Thursday Island and Cape Howe. We had sustained,
all things considered, wonderfully trifling damage. Actually our
sun-deck, some seats, and some floats off the starboard paddle, together
with a few panes of glass, made up the sum total. But I think we were
all pretty sick of the experience, to say nothing of having to go on
less than half rations, and losing every scrap of coal except the
little that remained in the bunker.

IV

The next morning at sunrise Mowbray sighted an object that puzzled us;
for though it was undoubtedly a ship, she looked to be ashore in mid
ocean. At first we could only make out her three royals leaning towards
us at a sharp angle, exactly as if a sudden squall had caught her
before there was time to let fly the halliards. But gradually we rose
all her other canvas, and through a pair of old binoculars belonging to
Paxton we saw that she was lying over with a heavy list, and that she
was quite motionless, although a smart breeze was blowing, and the sky
gave promise of more to come, from the east'ard this time. Nearer
still, and we could distinguish that she had four boats out astern.

"On a reef, by Jingo!" exclaimed Mowbray; "must be a part of the Great
Barrier. Look, there's a patch of broken water beyond her again. And
she's got a flag at half-mast! Red, white, blue. French, by Jupiter!
Fire up, Pax., old man, and don't spare the coal now! I've got a notion
there's money in this. Oh, the luck of it!--the luck of it!"

Our leader's excitement was contagious; and as we chuffed and snorted
towards the ship we were all agog with expectation, for as might be
easily seen, neither by aid of canvas nor of boats could the vessel be
got to move an inch.

"Now," said Mowbray, "if the old Lady can pull John Crapaud out of that
mess we're made merchants. Can she pull, Pax.?"

"Better than she can steam," replied the engineer, with a grin. "She's
about thirty-five horse-power, I should say, and I'll make her do all I
know or shift something. Can you speak French, Mowbray?"

"Not a syllable," replied the other. "Can't you or Iredale No? Well,
never mind. Trust me with the contract, and I'll do my best to put it
through. Spare me enough steam to let her know we mean biz," and he
jerked the syren string, causing the Lady to utter a long, wild shriek,
that rang out across the sea like the despairing wail of some mammoth
curlew.

As we ranged alongside a smart-looking, white-painted iron ship of
about eight or nine hundred tons, a crowd of faces peered at us over
the lee rail, and we were greeted by a perfect babel of voices. Her
yards were trimmed against the wind, and every sail was flat aback; but
her nose was stuck hard and fast, although she was evidently afloat
aft.

"Ship ahoy!" hailed Mowbray. "You've got into a nice fix there? What'll
you give us to pull you off?"

"Yaze, yaze," shouted a man, vehemently throwing up his arms and
staring at us with a face full of wonder, as well he might. "Pull off,
pull off," and he signed to some of the raving lunatics, six of whom
immediately scuttled around, and by their united endeavours threw us a
small heaving line.

"For heaven's sake," yelled Mowbray, "keep those men quiet, can't you?
I can't hear myself speak. Look here, we'll drag you out of that for
five hundred pounds."

But if the din had been great before, it was now simply outrageous.
Every-one on board seemed to be shouting, cursing, protesting, dancing,
and making all kinds of extraordinary gestures in their excitement.
"They understand all right," said Mowbray, grimly. "And by heaven's
they'd better look sharp. See, she's beginning to bump pretty heavily
to this easterly swell. There'll be plates to mend presently."

The man who had first replied to our hail was at the gangway--a dark
whiskered, scrubby-haired, bullet-headed customer--and he wrung his
hands and screamed, "Sacre nom! Oh-h-h! Voleur! Cochon anglais!"

"What's that?" asked Mowbray, pricking up his ears. "Cochon's pig,
ain't it? All right, Mounseer! Stern easy, Pax., and we'll gammon to
clear."

But as the paddles revolved the fellow roared: "Vate! Von leedle vile"
and rushed away returning in a few minutes with a tall, very thin man,
whose feeble steps and pallid features spoke of recent severe illness.
There was silence as he came to the side and said to Mowbray in very
good English, "I am part owner of this unfortunate vessel, sir. In
addition to being sick with fever, I was up all last night and had
fallen so fast asleep that I did not hear of your approach. My captain
here (pointing to the dark man) tells me that you ask five hundred
pounds for pulling us off the reef. He thinks, too, that is a
prodigious sum--far too much in fact."

"Your captain makes a mistake sir," replied Mowbray, politely lifting
his cap, "Seven hundred pounds is the sum. It was five originally. But
he called me an English pig just now. Presently I shall go away
altogether, and you will lose your ship. By the look of things she will
break up tonight."

The man stared up at the sky and around for awhile, and spoke a few
angry, words to the skipper. Then he said--"I suppose you know ships
don't usually carry any quantity of cash. How am I to pay you, even if
you do succeed."

"Where are you from and bound to?" asked Mowbray.

"Saigon to Melbourne," replied the other, "with tea and part of
original cargo from Marseilles."

"And your agents?" asked Mowbray.

"Meteyer & Sons," replied the other, "Melbourne and Noumea."

"That'll do admirably," said Mowbray; "I know the firm well, and the
head of it personally. Now look here! You give me your order, payable
at sight and duly witnessed on Meteyer and Sons, for seven hundred
pounds, and I'll save your ship and cargo--worth at the least, I should
say, ten thousand pounds. Why, you're getting off cheaply. The
Admiralty Court would award us a couple of thousand. But we don't want
to go to law over the business. We've come a long way from home on the
chance of a job, and had a pretty rough time of it, as you can see. And
we're in a hurry to get back again. Now, is it a bargain, or shall we
leave you to yourselves?"

"It's a bargain," replied the other. "Pull us off and you shall have
your order." Then, seeing perhaps some doubt in Mowbray's face, he
added. "On the honour of a Frenchman!" and bowed quite grandly.
Whereupon Frank did the same, and sang out like thunder for a hawser.

"What water have you got for'ard?" he asked the captain. But the other
only shook his head.

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Mowbray. "And he calls himself a sailor! Made
him pay for his pig though--eh, lads? Teach him manners next time. But
Paxton, make the old cow scratch gravel!" he whispered hoarsely. "I can
see he don't think we can do it. Let's show him his mistake. Take the
axe and break up the seats, Iredale, they're varnished and'll burn like
kerosene. We'll have that money or rip the soul bolts of the Lady."

Very fortunate for us there were two pairs of big iron bollards on each
side amidships, that had been used in making her fast to wharves and
landing-places. And from each pair we now led a steel hawser running
from the Ville de Nantes' quarters. And fastening them with a half-hitch
and the ends seized back, Paxton sent his engines slowly ahead
till the wire ropes grew rigid as fiddle strings.

"Oh ye gods and little fishes!" exclaimed Mowbray as the tethered Lady
strained and panted and snorted and lashed the water into swirling
mounds of froth, and I chopped up seats and handed them down to Paxton.
"Send her boys! She's not at her top yet surely? Seven--hun--dred pounds!
That'll be £233 each and a pound over for the skipper!"

The engines rattled and crashed in a mad fashion we'd never heard
before, whilst the boat trembled and groaned in every plank of her.
Evidently something had to go or come presently.

"There!" said Paxton, coming up wiping his wet black face. "She's got
more steam on than the blooming gauge will register, anyhow. Better get
out of the way, because, in the nature of things that boiler can't
stand much more. The last coal's in too. By heavens, look at that wire!
It was never made in Germany. Bet your life on that!" And indeed, under
the tremendous strain, the big steel rope was slowly being stretched
till the "lay" of it was straightening, and the strands beginning to
stick up broken ends like bristles on a worn out brush. "Heavenly
sailor!" groaned Mowbray suddenly, "It's all up with us! Look at those
cursed bollards drawing. And there's nothing else that could begin to
hold her!"

And, as we watched with blank faces we saw that all four of them were
slowly but surely bending over and ripping the deck planking as they
bent and drew by inches at a time..

At that moment a shrill cheer came from the ship, repeated again and
again like the crowing of a farmyard full of roosters, and with a
sudden rush the Ville came at us full pelt, and would have destroyed us
there and then, only that, released from the terrible strain, the Lady
tore wildly ahead, actually for a few minutes whirling the big vessel
after her like a straw. Then the port hawser parted and, watching my
chance, I knocked the other off the now nearly horizontal bollard,
while Paxton, rushing, below, blew off the steam with a noise like the
roaring of hungry tigers.

"God bless you, old girl!" exclaimed Mowbray as soon as he could make
his voice heard, patting her salt-encrusted side affectionately, "I
knew it would take something better than a Frenchman to stop you, once
you got properly on your tail."

But the Frenchmen had completely changed their attitude. Nothing now
was too good for us. Provisions, coal, water--anything we wished for we
were welcome to. Champagne was opened in the saloon for Mowbray, and
bottled beer and whisky was handed over to us. And yet, would you
believe it, they never, until Mowbray enquired, thought of sounding
their pumps to ascertain whether, after nearly twenty-four hours of
sticking on a reef, she was making water or not! Fortunately she turned
out to be as tight as a drum.

Before we left her we corrected our compass by swinging the Lady and
comparing it with one borrowed from the Ville. We tried three times,
and the difference between us was always three points. Therefore we
resolved to take that as a permanent variation, and thankfully
remembered we had given the coast a wide berth. We discovered too, that
we were over a hundred miles W. by S or S.W. by our compass from that
same coast, and that the nearest land was still Sandy Cape. Armed with
this fact we left quite assured, more especially as we had resolved to
return to Sydney and thence journey to the diggings in the legitimate
manner we could now well afford. Besides, as men of substance, the rape
of the Lady Macquarie began to hang uncomfortably on our consciences.
And presently, as the Ville bore up on a due S. course, we chunked off,
to the sound of much crowing and the waving of many caps, at nearly an
acute angle for that land out of sight of which we felt by no means
comfortable. We made Cape Byron in safety; and, thence a fortnight saw
the Lady at her old moorings again in Blue Pointer, and as no one had
jumped our camp we set up our tent once more on the little beach. Nor
do I believe that anybody ever missed the Lady during the eventful
month in which she took the outer ocean. Or, if they missed her there
were no complaints.

Truth to tell, each of us three had our doubts about that order of the
French owner's--doubts, however, that we hid securely in our own
breasts. And I think that one of our greatest surprises was when
Mowbray returned from Melbourne (whither he worked his way as third
assistant second class steward of the Burrumbeet) with a banking
account and a pocket-book full of money. There had been no trouble at
all, Meteyer and Sons paying promptly when they read the Frenchman's
letter accompanying his order.

And we stood him that dinner that we had never dreamed of being called
on to pay for.

Also, in deference to some scruples about borrowing of the Lady, we
made careful inquires as to her owners. But finding that at least one
hundred and fifty people claimed an interest in her, we decided not to
disturb them. Nor did we go to Kimberley, out of which the bottom fell
shortly afterwards. Nor has anyone molested the old paddle-wheeler
since. She still lies mouldering in the quiet haven between the steep
hills thickly wooded, that keep all rude winds and waters from her. And
at intervals I run down from the busy city and sit on her sides and
fish for bream and mullet, and think of the high old times we had on
that hare-brained cruise of ours that ended in so much better fashion
than we deserved.


Veneer.

"Do you want a pet, Jackson?" asked Brown, the white officer in charge
of the squad of native police, as he rode up to my camp and took
something off the front of his saddle something that squealed and gave
little sharp shrieks.

"What have you there, Brown?" I asked. "Is it a monkey or a bunyip?
or--oh, I see, a nigger pickanniny."

"Well," laughed Brown, apologetically, as he dismounted, "it is such a
funny little devil, and it made such rum faces when Wongan yonder was
going to shoot it that I stopped him. It's that Murronga mob. They
speared Devine's cattle last week, and burned the station. So, of
course they had to be taught manners. This is the only one left--a
little gin--and I thought perhaps you would like to have it for company.
Should be close on three years old now. The little beggar can walk." He
put her on her legs where she stood, swaying unsteadily, and glared at
us from under a mop of hair.

I scanned her with interest, but forbore to ask details respecting the
affair. Besides, on the upper Marianna, the niggers had long been in
need of a lesson like the one just administered, for they were becoming
a lot too cheeky. But further than expressing sympathy with Brown and
his incubus, I didn't feel like going. Also my mate was away at
Yamstick for tucker; and even had I been willing, I knew he'd have
objected very strongly. He was, in fact, nigger mad, since they'd
speared one of his best horses, and he had taken to "sniping" at the
least glimpse of a black skin. However, being a shockingly bad shot,
all he did was to waste Winchester ammunition, costing something like
4d a cartridge up there.

"No, Brown," I said finally, "I'm sure I'm much obliged for your offer.
But this camp's not on. It smells aloud; also look at the corners of
its eyes. We have flies enough here already. And neither water nor
tucker to spare. I really think your kind heart has led you into a
mistake. You know you can't civilise 'em. Veneer's the only thing you
can put on, and that cracks all over sooner or later. Like the dog of
Scripture, they're bound to return to it in time--their primeval
dirtiness and nasty ways, I mean. No, old man, we can't adopt your
daughter of the desert."

"All right," replied Brown. "No harm done. I'll stick to the little
beast. The missus'll teach her to keep her nose clean, and I'll put the
fear of the Lord in her heart; so between the pair of us we'll lay the
veneer, as you call it, on thick, and make a lady of her. You see.
we've got no kids, and perhaps the old woman'll take to this thing. Hi,
Topay, what d'ye think of that arrangement, eh?" and as he spoke Brown
reached out his hand and tickled her under the chin. Like lightning she
snapped, and in a second had a finger between her strong white teeth,
shaking her head over it as a terrier does over a rat.

"You little black imp!" roared Brown, catching her. "Let her go, will
you? D'ye think it's a 'possum you're wolfing?"

But not until half-choked did the little creature release its hold,
leaving some pretty marks on Brown's finger.

"By jingo!" he exclaimed, "she's game if she's nothing else! See. Two
of her confounded teeth have gone right through the skin."

"Perhaps it's more hunger than vice," I said. "Has she had anything to
eat since you killed her mamma? Here, Sis, try your teeth on a lump of
wallaby." Taking a steak out of the frying-pan, I held it towards her.

Springing at the hot meat, she clutched it and bolted it whole, her
eyes returning hungrily to the pan.

"I thought so," I remarked, repeating the dose. "A nice daddy you'll
make for the orphan. The sooner she gets to the barracks, and Mrs.
Brown, the better for her."

"That's so," laughed Brown. "I'll take her in as soon an it gets a bit
cool. And we'll lay the veneer on so thick that it will never come off.
And she shall be the belle of Yamstick, and marry a swell half-caste
digger with plenty of money."

Now, Brown was a gentleman, and a Trin. Col. Cam. man, with, so far as
I knew, nothing against him except lack of opportunity and money. Of
course, he'd messed himself up by marrying the daughter of old Betts,
who was shepherding on Cordovan Downs. Yet he might have done worse,
for Susie made him a rattling good wife, and looked after him hand and
foot, fairly worshipping the ground he trod on. And he was fond of
Susie in his way, although she didn't know B from a bull, and could
talk nothing but horses and cattle and sheep. She was a born cook, and
fed her husband as no other woman in the territory could. And a kinder
little woman never lived. Therefore, when I saw Brown ride away at the
head of his troop, with the pickaninny in front of him, wrapped up in a
three bushel bag I'd given him, I was pretty certain that if all went
well she was in for a good time.

* * * * * *

Years passed. Vague rumours reached me from time to time about Brown,
and how he'd left the force; then that he was keeping a store on the
Barrier; then a pub. at Townsville; then that he was dead. Lastly,
whilst I was working at Stockyard Creek, in Gippsland, some body said
he'd made a big fortune out of Mount Blackall and gone back to the Old
Country. As the years dipped by, I almost forgot the fact of his coming
into my life at all.

At the Rocky River I dropped on to the decent claim I had been
searching for during twenty years or so. And, taking a modest thousand
out of it, I thought that in place of melting it in any of the capitals
I'd go "home." I saw London, and found it less changed than I expected.
There were Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's, and the Tower and Newgate,
and the river, just where they had ever been. And there, too, were the
ever-wonderful streets and their millions, which sight, as viewed from
the top of an omnibus, is one of the modern wonders of the world.
Presently, tiring of the hoarse and ceaseless roar, I went to look for
primroses.

After some trouble I found the spot I had known of old in a sequestered
lane, shadowed by over-arching hedges of hazel, sweetbriar, and
hawthorn, springing from mossy banks, whereon grow violets and wild
strawberries and pimpernel, and where the robin and the wren built, and
reared their broods. About half-way down, at one particular spot,
blazed a patch of primroses, perfuming the air.

As I gazed there met my eye, in place of the lane, a row of bright-red
brick cottages--I was told built on sanitary principle--and where my
primroses should, I reckoned, have been was an open space, with on it a
huge blue board bearing the legend "Barker's Liver Pills. Try Them."
You may wonder what primroses have to do with the story. But if I
hadn't gone to look for that vanished glory I should probably never
have met Brown. Like most strangers, I must needs travel first-class,
although the English themselves always go third. And as I popped into a
carriage I found only one other passenger there--a stout,
gray-moustached, gray-haired man, who looked up from his paper as I
entered, and glared in regular British style. But at the first glance I
spotted him for an Australian of some kind. Your Briton born and bred
doesn't wear Wellington boots under his trousers, nor does he use black
"Victory" in cakes three to a pound, and shred it up in the palm of his
hand with a broken-bladed knife; nor does he then produce an old burnt
and blackened "G.B.D." briar, and carefully fill it, and light it with
a wax vesta taken from a round tin box, old and worn, and sufficient
alone to have given the whole show away. Gradually, as I eyed the man
who did these things, his features grew familiar, though I couldn't for
the life of me place him.

"'Ject to smokin'?" he asked, filling the carriage with strong fumes
that for a minute took me back to the gums and the box trees and the
still, cloudless nights and the white tents, and the heaps of fresh
earth and the hum of mosquitoes, and the odour of fires. "Always travel
first," he continued, "because I mostly get the carriage to myself that
way. These old country people gammon they can't stand my tobacco at any
price. They smoke 'Bird's-Eye!'" and he laughed. The moment he laughed
I had him. No two men in the world could laugh like Brown.

"Glad to meet you, old man," I said as he slowed down. "You're grayer,
and you'll never ride 12st again over the Cordovan ridges after cattle
spearers. But still you're the same old Brown, or I'm a Dutchman."

"Jackson, by Jingo!" he exclaimed, after a long, steady stare. "Hang me
if that wart on your nose didn't remind me of Yamstick. I'm living not
far from here. Two stations. Out you get, and stay a month. Won't the
missis be glad to see you? And the girl? The talks we'll have! Wish I
was back again sometimes. No luggage? Well wire for your swag if you
can't do without it. But we're not swells, and I've got every mortal
thing you can possibly want."

There was no escaping from such hospitality, and at the second station
we found a neat dogcart waiting to drive us three miles to "Bando," as
Brown had called his place, after an out-station of Cordovan Downs. It
was a comfortable, straggling old house, and surrounded by fruit and
flower gardens, guarded from prying eyes by high brick walls.

"Ah," I remarked, "the gentleman-farmer, Brown?"

"Not at all," replied Brown, "I bought this shop from one, minus the
farm. Poor beggar, he couldn't give that away."

Mrs. Brown knew me at once and was glad to see me.

"Where's Alice?" Brown asked.

"She'll be down presently," replied his wife as she busied herself with
decanters and things.

"A girl? And only one?" I asked, choosing a cigar.

"Exactly," replied Brown. "She'll be here directly." Then he began to
tell me that he had just returned from Wales, where he had invested
money in gold mines--was, in fact, principal shareholder in a big
company formed to work them after the Australian fashion.

While he talked there was a rustle of skirts, and as I looked round
Brown said, chuckling, "Mr. Jackson, my adopted daughter, Alice. You
don't remember Mr. Jackson, Alice," he continued, "but he knew you in
the good old days. You had dinner with him once if I don't mistake."

For a minute or two I was taken aback. Then, in a flash, I remembered,
rose to the situation, and returned the girl's bow. Black she was as
the ace of spades, yet shapely, and pleasant featured, and ladylike. In
well chosen words, uttered with melodious voice, she expressed the
pleasure it was to her to meet one who had known her as a child. This
was funny. When I recalled--for the affair had clean gone out of my head
and herself with it--the naked black imp gnawing at Brown's fingers, and
then bolting my wallaby steaks, I had a hard job to keep my face in
decent order. "Well," remarked Brown, as the girl went out of the room,
"What d'ye think of that? Didn't I tell you I would put the veneer on
thick? And I did. And I think it's got right down to the bone. She's as
good as gold is Alice Murronga Brown--can make a batch of bread and
housekeep as well as Molly yonder. Also, she can play the piano like a
Halle, and sing like a nightingale. Went to Newnham and came out top.
She's now studying medicine. When I brought her and Molly home my
people called. But when they saw the pair they fled as if we'd fetched
the plague with us. Sisters and cousins and aunts and nephews, and all
the rest of 'em." Brown laughed, albeit bitterly. I stayed a week at
Bando, and the more I saw of Alice the more I was impressed with the
wonderful transformation. Her dresses were simple, but, as even I might
notice at a glance, expensive; her bearing modest and unaffected, and
her manners irreproachable. Her singing and playing were a treat to
listen to. And the Browns were as fond of her as if she really was
their own daughter. Still, with it all, I questioned if their protege
were really happy, for I caught a look in those eyes of hers at times,
a look half melancholy, half wild, that seemed pregnant with
possibilities at the back of all that costly veneer. Brown was
perfectly satisfied. "Catch 'em young, and spare no expense," said he,
"and you can mould 'em as you like Alice there--she was at the piano
singing 'Ave Maria'--shall take a doctor's degree. And, perhaps, who
knows, some day go out and practise in Australia."

* * * * * *

Twelve or eighteen months went by, and I had returned to Australia.
Knowing where there was still a bit of gold left up North, I travelled
slowly towards Yamstick. To my surprise when I got there I found a big
rush on towards the head of the Upper Mariauna--alluvial, and a couple
of pennyweights to the dish. The township was full of men, some coming
down for a spree, others going up to try their luck. Two pubs were
doing a roaring trade, and crowds of tame niggers were hanging around
on the chance of odd drinks. As I passed one shanty I noticed a mob of
men and blacks collected around some object, and applauding with much
laughter and shouting. Forcing my way in, I saw that the attraction was
a gin, clad in a dirty petticoat, and dancing to the music of a fiddle
played by a digger. She could dance--dancing that had never been learned
in native corrobboree! As I gazed, something familiar struck me.
Presently, catching my eye, she stopped abruptly, stared, and then,
executing a pirouette that brought her close to my side, she said, in a
voice unsteady with drink, "Helo Missa Jack-e-son, you gib it ole
frien' Alice tchillin', eh?"

"My God," I exclaimed, "is it possible? Miss Brown--Alice?"

"Oh, Miss Brown be d--d," she shouted. "Doctor Brown, if you please, you
old scallywag, M.D., M.R.C.P., and all sorts of things. Didn't dad
always say I'd make 'em sit up? And ain't I doing it? That's my husband
pro tem., with the fiddle. Good husband but a bad musician. I've got
another one down at the camp to fall back on in case of emergency--Jimmie
Wongan, son of old trooper Wongan, who pegged my mother and
father out, and came near killing me too." With a wild laugh she
whirled away.

Seeing a man I knew, I said, "How, in heaven's name did she get here,
Stanley?"

"Simply enough," said he. "Poor old Brown came a cropper over some
mining specs at home. The wife died. Then he and the girl came out to
Australia again, and for a while things gee'd along pretty right. They
lived in the town here, and Alice kept house for him. Then one day a
charge of dynamite went off in the claim while he was tamping it, and
blew him to smithereens. All up with the girl then! Blacks got at her.
White too, for the matter of that. Went nigger again in an hour: and
'll stop wors'n nigger now all her days. But she can talk like a book
when she is sober; and what she doesn't know ain't worth learning. Poor
old Brown must have wasted a fortune over her."

So he had. The veneer, thickly as it had been laid on, not only cracked
but came off suddenly--all in a piece.


THE BITER BITTEN

I.

'That's the Jeanne d'Arc,' remarked the captain to me as the ensign
fluttered for the third time down the signal halliards in salute to a
big white steamer with a yellow funnel, and showing the French
tricolor, that was passing us about half a mile away. 'She made her
number,' he continued,' but there was no necessity. I'd know her as far
as I could see her. In fact, for a very short time I commanded her.'

'Why,' I replied, 'I thought you disliked steam, and would never have
anything to do with it?'

'Hate the whole business,' said the skipper,' but I had to take charge
of the Jeanne. Nor was she, so to speak, a steamer when I found her.
You see she's brig rigged, and shows quite a decent lot of canvas. I
was only second then, and if the Lord hadn't put it into my head to do
what I did, I expect I'd be second still, or even before the stick
again, instead of a master at four-and-twenty.' And Captain Hammond
glanced with evident pride at his fine clipper, the Carisbrook Castle,
as she tore along before the strong North-East Trades, a tall mass of
shining white cloths, beginning at the great courses and towering aloft
to where the skysails reeled like little clouds against the deep blue
of the tropic heavens.

'Few things would please me better than to hear that yarn,' I said
presently, 'and the more so because the steamer's name seems curiously
familiar to me. Wasn't she seized and sold by the British Government
for smuggling, or something of the kind--I forget now?'

'Not quite that,' replied the captain smiling, 'it was worse than
smuggling. Evidently you've read about the affair and forgotten it.
Yes, I'll tell you the story, such as it is. It'll pass the time away
till lunch.'

'Appropriately enough,' he went on, drawing a deck chair alongside
mine, 'we're not far off the spot where the affair happened. I was
second of a fine lump of a ship called the Princess Royal at the time.
We'd caught the Trades light; hardly enough of 'em, in fact, to keep
the sails full and the ship with steerage way on her. The night was
black as a dog's mouth, and when I turned out to take the middle watch
I had to feel each step like a blind man. In the Princess we used to
call the roll at each change of watch, and as I stood at the break of
the poop I could hear one of the apprentices singing out the names, and
the men answering "Here, sir." Then the usual formula, "Who's at the
wheel?" "Brown, sir." "And on the look-out?" "Jones, sir." "That'll do,
stand by the watch." As I say, I could hear all this, but devil a thing
could I see, alow or aloft. The Old Man had turned in; apparently, we
had all the black world of sea to ourselves. Four bells had just
struck. The wind had died completely away, and the sails were knocking
and banging sixpences out of the owner's pocket as the ship rolled to
the heavy swell, whilst sheets and tacks swung and rattled, kicking up
a pretty tune. "Lie aft here the watch!" I shouted, glad of something
to do, "and clew up the cro'jack and mainsail!" Then, groping about, I
found the mizzen-staysail halliards and let them go. I could hear the
men all around me swearing softly as they fumbled at the rail amongst
the gear. Suddenly, as I felt for the sheet to cast it off the bitts,
an awful shock sent me flying across the poop. There was a cruel noise
of crashing and rending and tearing, mingled with loud shouts and
oaths, filling the darkness full of terror and dismay, whilst the
Princess reeled and went over nearly on to her beam ends.

'"My good God! Mr. Hammond, what's this?" I heard the captain shout as
I rose bewildered to my feet. The next moment he and all of us were
answered with a completeness that turned us into staring statues, as a
blue light burst out for'ard and showed us a great white painted
steamer with her jibboom broken short off, and hanging over a pair of
tall sharp clipper bows that stuck halfway through the unfortunate
Princess just abaft the break of the forecastle. She was brig rigged,
but with no sail set. A single lofty funnel rose straight out of her
amidships, and the faces of her men looked ghastly in the flare, as
with frantic gestures they shrieked and chattered at us in a very babel
of discord. Then all at once the flare was extinguished, leaving the
darkness blacker than ever.

'"Ready with the boats there!" shouted our captain, "she'll stand by us
as soon as she gets clear. Mr. Hammond, lower away the port life-boat
at once, whilst the mate and myself see to provisioning the others.
Hail the steamer, somebody, and ask if they're much damaged. Damn them,
I don't believe they've got a light showing anywhere!' To our hail no
answer was returned. There was a silence broken only by the thumping of
her screw going full speed astern, and a loud rushing noise for'ard as
of water falling over a rock.

'By this time lights were flashing about our decks, and a couple of
boats--the life-boat and a large thirty-foot whaler off the skids--were
over the side. Not till then did we pause to draw breath. During our
work we had felt the steamer go free of us. But now, as we stared
around, we could see no sign of her. Not a voice was to be heard, no
glimmer of friendly light caught our straining gaze.

'"Surely the brute hasn't left us!" exclaimed the captain as we stood
on the edge of the chasm made by her bows and watched the sea pouring
like a mill race into the watertight compartment that alone had saved
us from instant destruction.

'"The bloody Dago's cleared safe enough, sir," replied a seaman
standing near the skipper; "I heard the thump o' her screw far away to
port yonder," and he spat in disgust as he swung his lamp over the
black water swirling and foaming into the ship's belly. Already she was
down by the head to such a degree as made a steeply inclined plane from
for'ard aft, and it was very evident that at any moment the
partition--only a thin one of two-inch planking--might succumb to the
enormous pressure and flood the body of the hold. Indeed, it was probably only
the fact of the cargo being stowed against it that had kept it in its
place so long and given us a chance to save our lives. There were
thirty-five of us all told when the roll was called for the last time.
And one man, an ordinary seaman named Barlow, was missing. Not to be
found anywhere. The mate took one of the life-boats with ten, the
skipper another with the same number, and I took the whaler with
fifteen. It was about eight bells (four o'clock) in the morning watch,
and darker than ever as we got into the boats and lay off from the
ship, on a rounding smooth-backed swell that looked mighty big to us
now. And we amused ourselves by firing rockets in case the steamer
might still be hanging about. Of course, as a few argued, she possibly
was desperately hurt herself, or even sunk. But the general idea
favoured deliberate desertion. Some said she was French, some German;
but nearly everybody agreed she was a foreigner, a fact in itself
sufficient to account for her dastardly conduct in leaving us, for all
they knew, to perish miserably.

'At last came the dawn, showing us our ship bows-under to the foot of
the foremast. As yet the bulkhead was holding. Aloft the only damage
done was the carrying away of the three royal masts, which, with the
skysail-masts and their sails and yards and gear, hung down like broken
wings. Not a sign of the destroying steamer was to be seen anywhere
around the horizon.

'"She may live for hours yet," remarked the skipper. "Some of us had
better get on board and send over more provisions. We can carry them
easily."

'Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than the Princess rose her
already lofty stern still higher, until, indeed, it was almost up and
down, hung there for about ten minutes, and then disappeared head
first, leaving hardly a thing except a few buckets floating about to
show for an 1,800 ton ship and some 60,000l. worth of cargo.

'"May the Lord send the same luck to the cussed Dago afore he's time to
get his boats out!" exclaimed a sailor.

'And that was the requiem of the poor Princess Royal.

'The Cape Verdes being the nearest land, it was determined to make for
them, keeping the while in company if possible. But that night it came
up thick and squally, and the other two boats, being both faster and
lighter than mine, were out of sight when morning broke, with the
squalls settled into a stormy north-west gale. Finding it impossible to
make way against this, I decided to run for the South American coast.
But our whaler soon let us know about that; her sails were rods too
small for her heavy body, and repeatedly the waves overtook and swamped
us. So, seeing nothing else for it, I presently hove her to with a
sea-anchor made out of gratings and oars. And to this she rode fairly
well. But most of our provisions were soaked, and one keg of water spoiled.
Believe me, there's nothing in open boats, and I can quite conceive
some men who have been through the mill preferring to go down with
their ship rather than chance the business over again. Not that we
were, as yet, so very badly off but that it mightn't have been worse.
Still, you can imagine fifteen of us all pigged together under a bit of
canvas, only keeping the water out by incessant bailing with caps,
boots, pannikins, anything. Most of my crowd were British, I'm happy to
say, and amongst them were two little nippers of apprentices, who ought
to have been in their beds at school that night, instead of in a
howling gale in the North Atlantic. They were perhaps about thirteen,
certainly no older, but plucky! Why, those kids--brothers they were--were
worth a Jew's eye to me all through that bad time. There were some
Germans amongst the crowd who, after a while, lost their backbones and
for very little would have chucked up the sponge and sulked like a
Kanaka when he's made up his mind to peg out. And you know what a mess
an example like that makes of a lot of men, no matter where they hail
from. But the nippers simply wouldn't let 'em jib, for they got amongst
'em and chaffed and joked, ay, and once or twice swore at 'em, till for
very shame's sake the chaps stiffened up. Then the youngsters started
singing; and they could sing, too!--songs with a rattling good chorus,
like "John Brown," and "Marching through Georgia," and the men joined
in whilst they bailed. To make things livelier, about midnight the gale
rose nearly to hurricane strength, and away went the mainsail and
foresail we'd rigged up as weather-cloths, leaving us quite exposed to
the water that drove across in blinding sheets and half filled the
boat. Of course there was a lump of a sea on, and there in the midst of
it we tossed and drifted and sung and baled, only knocking off for a
nip of rum now and then, and a chew of sodden biscuit.

'However, in these latitudes weather like that doesn't last as a rule,
and by midday we were flopping about on a big greasy swell in a hot sun
and without wind enough to fill a silk glove. And a curious lot we
looked, I'll swear--salt-encrusted, blear-eyed, haggard, and
stiff-jointed. Some of the men were in a heap, fast asleep like the
youngsters, who, dead beat at last, and no wonder, had snugged into
each other's arms and lay against my legs where I sat in the stern
sheets. Putting a coat under the poor little beggars, I got up and with
the help of those yet awake hauled in our anchor, finding, to our great
delight, that our mainsail had caught against it. This we set to a bit
of a breeze springing up late in the afternoon.

'Still--

'At this moment the wind all at once took one of those strengthenings
so common at sea, squealing viciously through the upper rigging and
sending the Castle over till her lee rail showed like a black streak
through the roaring foam, whilst over the weather one bucketfuls of
water splashed, making great wet blotches here and there along the
length of the white main deck as it ran down into the gurgling
scuppers.

'I think, Mr. Cargill,' remarked the captain to the very youthful
second officer, who, for some minutes, I had noticed staring doubtfully
aloft, 'that we'll take those skysails off her. The wind seems to be
breezing up a bit.'

And, presently, the three pallid little breadths a hundred and fifty
feet over our heads crumpled into graceful curving breasts and hollows,
as bunt and clew-lines did their work, whilst up each of the long
stretches of rigging trotted a small boy who, as the bell rang and the
skipper and his only passenger went down to lunch, looked from the deck
something as might a crow on a broomstick.

II.

'Well,' continued the captain, as we lingered over our coffee, 'that
evening we saw a steamer coming straight for us, and you may judge that
the sight was a pleasant one, and with what joyous feelings we watched
the grey trail of smoke pouring away from her funnel. As she drew
nearer we made her out a white-painted, brig-rigged boat, with a great
tall yellow stack amidships. She had only her fore and aft canvas set,
and was making about ten knots.

'All at once one of the nippers squeaked, "Mr. Hammond, sir, isn't that
the steamer that ran us down?"

'"If it ain't," growled a seaman, staring hard, "it's 'er bloomin'
double!"

'"Looks to me, too," said another, "as if that there jibboom o' hers
wasn't never the spar as was meant to fit that bowsprit. An', see,
she's got a bran' new stick of a fore t'gallan' mast. Oh, it's 'er as
sure as the Lord made little happles!"

'"If I cud only get a glimp o' 'er bows I'd be certainter," remarked
yet another, "for I seen the name o' the d--d sweep for a second."

'"What was it, my man?" I asked as I watched the vessel, pretty sure in
my own mind that the men were correct.

'"Jennie, sir," replied he, "only I fancy there was somethin' more
arter it, as I didn't get time to catch afore the light was dowsed."

'Another quarter of an hour and the steamer was abreast of where we lay
tumbling about with our sail down, and the small ensign with which each
of the Princess's boats was provided fluttering from the halliards,
Union reversed--a signal of distress and appeal to men that use the sea
in every one of their languages. Also, though it seemed unnecessary, we
stood up and shouted strongly and all together. But she hoisted no
colours; took not the least notice; although now only three hundred
yards away, and with a crowd of men staring over the rail at us. From
the lofty bridge came a glitter of gold-laced uniforms. A bell was
ringing somewhere about her--probably for dinner. Suddenly one of my men
sat down heavily and laughed and swore in a breath, "What did I tell
yer?" said he, pointing. "Twig the murderin' cow's bow!"

'And as we stared we saw, sure enough, that a piece of canvas had been
spread over the spot where her name should have been; whilst,
presently, as she stolidly thumped ahead, giving no sign whatever, we
perceived a similar curtain hanging over her stern. Evidently it was no
use making any further appeals, just as well to save our breath. All
the same, it was bitter to watch her going off like that and leaving us
to our fate, because of the fear of recognition, and being made to pay
for damage done; also held up to execration in all the seas and ports
of the world for dastardly and cold-blooded desertion of her victims
after crashing into them without one warning light to herald her
approach. For a time the miserable business took the stiffening out of
all of us, and we did nothing but stare incredulously after the brute
as she made off, half expecting to see her suddenly back her engines
and round on her heel towards us; deeming it impossible that human
beings, and those beings sailors, should commit such an action;
especially as they could, at the most, only guess that we had belonged
to the ship they had run down.

'But when thoroughly satisfied that there was no hope, the men
recovered themselves and swore viciously, cursing all foreigners under
the general names of Dutchmen and Dagoes. Some maintained she was
French, others that she was German. The man who said her name was
Jennie, with more to follow, got into trouble by giving an opinion that
after all she might be English.

'"I suppose now, my lad," I said, "you couldn't remember how it was
spelled?"

'"The fust letter was J," says he, thinking hard; "the second was a He,
an' then comes an A, an' then a Hen, an' then a He or a Hen again--I
ain't sure. Big brass uns they was, a foot long a'most, but I only
caught 'em like in the corner o' my heye. And there was a He to hend
hup with. An' if that don't spell "Jennie," I'd like to know what
does?" he concluded triumphantly.

'However, I had no time to argue the matter, even if I'd wished, for
the German theorists had begun to thump the four representatives of
that nation we had with us, and the struggle threatening to capsize the
boat, I was forced to pull out my revolver and swear I'd shoot the
first man who started rowing.

'That night it fell calm, and being very tired I had dropped off to
sleep when one of the nippers awoke me. "There's a funny noise out
there, Mr. Hammond," says he, pointing into the darkness, "and I fancy
I saw lights a minute ago."

'Listening intently, I heard the sounds too--curious knocking noises as
if there was an iron ship in dry dock somewhere in the ocean with a lot
of riveters busy about her plates.

'Presently some of the men also noticed it, and I could hear them
muttering to each other. Others were certain they caught a glimpse of
lights now and again.

'Getting four oars out we pulled slowly in the direction, until after a
couple of hours we were encouraged by both lights and noises becoming
quite distinct and plain to sight and hearing. A ship, without a doubt!
And in another hour we could make out the loom of her hull and sails,
so close we got to her as she rolled with a great noise of flapping
canvas and rattling blocks, above all of which rose the incessant
metallic hammering.

'Strangely enough, no one of us shouted. There seemed something uncanny
in the business. Then, all at once, a voice muttered, "It's a steamer!
See them lights up on the bridge! An' I can make out her smoke stack
now."

'"It's the steamer, by G--d!" exclaimed another, voicing the possibility
that had already occurred to me, as soon as I'd made out the rig, along
with a wild scheme that at the same moment flashed through my brain.
"Steady, lads, steady," I whispered! "It's her all right. Some of the
machinery's gone wrong and they're trying to mend it. What d'ye say,
all of you? Are you game to try and seize her? She'll never take us on
board. Suppose we take her and sail her to England and let an English
jury judge between us."

'At this there ran through the boat a sort of stifled hum there was no
mistaking the meaning of.

'Well,' continued Hammond, laughing a little, 'it was a mad scheme, of
course. But after you've been four days and nights in an open boat
burnt and salted, half-starved, and, into the bargain, horribly riled,
you're apt to take risks that otherwise you wouldn't give a second
thought to. There were no plans. We were to stick together as much as
possible, the men arming themselves with belaying pins, and I putting
my revolver much in evidence. But what we chiefly trusted to was the
hope of being able to catch most of the hands below and keep them
there, for by this time I knew enough to be sure that she'd lost her
propeller, and that her people, having a spare one on board, were busy
shifting cargo from aft for'ard, so as to raise the stern sufficiently
to get it fitted. Indeed, already, she was down by the head like a pig,
and as we swung noiselessly under her bows the martingale gear was
within easy reach.

'"Let me go first, sir," whispered one of the blessed youngsters--that's
the chap walking the poop now, his brother 's second of the Compton
Castle--"and I'll sneak around and see how matters are, and come back
and tell you." And almost without waiting for an answer the little imp
had swung himself up and disappeared in the darkness. Presently we felt
a rope's end drop into the boat, and we knew he must have, at any rate,
found the fo'c's'le-head clear. But it seemed weeks before he slipped
into the midst of us as suddenly as he'd gone. "Splendid, sir," he
gasped, "I wasn't on the bridge; but there's not a soul on deck--all
busy below.' They're French, I know, because I learned it at school,
and they're talking and gabbling like anything. There's two alleyways,
one on each side of the engine-room. The fore and main hatches are off,
and they're dragging cargo for'ard. I peeped into the fo'c's'le, but
it's empty. So was the other side, where the firemen live."

'"Good boy!" I said; "if this lark doesn't turn out a linnet, you've
done yourself a fine turn."

'Ten minutes afterwards the whole lot of us stood on the fo'c's'le. And
to show the lads that business was meant, I asked the last one as he
came up for his knife, and cutting the rope'send we had used for a
painter I threw it overboard and told them what I had done.

'Four to each hatchway and the rest to the engine-room, were the only
orders. Quite sufficient; for by this time the men knew exactly what
they had to do. Knew, too, that there was no backing out.

'Dropping some at each hatch, I took my gang noiselessly into the
alleyway. There I gave a long shrill note on my whistle--the signal
agreed upon. Then, in a trice, we had the engine-room skylights down
and bolted, and the doors secured with handspikes we had taken from a
rack full close by on the quarterdeck. But below they never heeded,
hammering and talking away with a great noise of tongues and iron.
"Fore and main hatches on, sir," reported one of the kids, dancing
along the alleyway. "Bars fast, and a man at each! The Frenchies are
singing out blue murder down below, sir. Oh, Mr. Hammond, look out!"
Turning as the youngster shrieked sharp and clear I saw a stout,
middle-aged man in gold-braided coat and cap covering me with a pistol.
He was well within the light from the engine-room, and I noticed how
pale his fat round cheeks were, and how the grey imperial on his chin
kept wagging time to his shaking hand. In a second I whipped out my
revolver and pointing it at him roared fiercely, "Puttez up votre mangs
or vous etes dead man!" And at that, without more ado, he threw his
arms out straight and held them there till the youngster, now choking
with laughter, took his pistol from him and found it empty. He proved
to be the captain. And his bewilderment and wonder as my wild-looking
crowd gathered around us was almost pitiful. He thought we were bonâ
fide pirates, till young Cargill, in a lingo that sounded not much
better than my own, undeceived him. Actually he was the only person on
deck. Even the wheel was deserted--the helmsman, as we learned later,
being in the hold giving a hand with the cargo. Curious people the
French! All along the alleyways were small cabins, and from one of
these for some time I had noticed a persistent knocking and thumping.
Finding it locked, one of the fellows mounted a box and looked over the
grating and hailed the occupant, "By the Lord, sir!" he exclaimed
presently, "if it ain't Jimmy Barlow" (the missing ordinary seaman)!
Well, we'd no sooner got him out and heard his story of how he had made
a jump into the Frenchman's rigging from the fo'c's'le head of the
Princess, where he had been on the look out, than another surprise was
sprung on us. "Some boats not very far off hailing of us, sir," a man
reported, "an' blessed if I don't believe as it's the skipper an'
mate's lot!" he added jubilantly.

'The dawn was just breaking as I ran for'ard and stared away to port
towards the dim shapes just discernible on the nearly calm sea. "Ship
ahoy! a-h-o-o-y!" they shouted as their oars took the water
frantically, yet seeming to get no closer. All at once, happening to
glance aloft, I saw that our light sails were ramp full to the small
airs up there, and that the steamer, despite her bulk and trim, was
moving faster than the boats. But "let go t'gallant and royal halliards
and a pull on the port fore braces" soon remedied that, and, presently,
with heartfelt delight, I was welcoming my astonished shipmates on
board the captured French cargo boat Jeanne d'Arc, of Marseilles,
homeward bound from Colombo and Bahia, to the sound of a hearty British
cheer.

'Like ourselves, they had had a bad time in the boats, and were only
too glad to get out of them. Still we were in a predicament. Below the
Frenchmen were thundering with might and main at hatches and skylights.
We didn't want to smother them, unfeeling brutes though they'd proved
themselves. Then, again, if we let them up, they'd be almost certain to
try and get their ship back.

'"Hanged if I know what to do," exclaimed my old skipper, half
laughing, and cocking his eye at the bridge where the French captain
stood staring at us very sulkily. "But, by God, Hammond, now we've got
her we must stick to her somehow! I'd almost give a hand to have her
safe in Falmouth Harbour! We can't tie 'em all up, can we? But we
mustn't kill any of 'em, or that would spoil the whole game. Well,
well, we'll hit on a plan presently. Cook, forage about meanwhile, and
find us something to eat. Masthead those yards again, boys, and get the
boats inboard, and as I can talk the lingo a bit I'll go up yonder and
have a yarn with the President of this noisy Republic, and give him my
opinion of him and his ship."

'I don't know what passed between the pair, but after a while they came
down together, the Frenchman very silent and subdued, and our skipper
looking pleased and determined. "Search the ship for arms, Hammond,"
said the latter as he passed me, "and then off hatches and let the
beggars up. There's a couple of rifles and some revolvers in this
fellow's cabin. There may be more in the officers' berths."

'We found enough to arm half a dozen of our chaps. And then we stood by
whilst the Frenchmen swarmed up through the fore hatchway, an
exhausted, perspiring, dirty, astonished crowd that we drove into the
fo'c's'le and locked there with a sentry at the door. The engineers and
deck officers were shut up in a sort of big mess-room aft. Idlers--cooks,
stewards, &c.--we kept to their duties. Then, turning-to, we
worked like niggers at trimming cargo to get her on an even keel again.
They'd got their spare propeller out, but we had no use for that kind
of thing. She was square and lofty, and, although we knew nothing about
steam, we did about canvas. And, presently, catching a strong
southerly, we made the "Jennie," as all hands called her, snort after a
fashion that caused Johnny France to turn up the whites of his eyes.
Mind you, though, it was an anxious time all round. In the first place
we didn't quite know how the law would look at the business; and then
we had to watch our prisoners pretty closely. Only one of them, the
chief mate, could speak a little English. He wasn't a bad sort either,
and, after a bit, we gave him and some of the other officers their
liberty through the day, and they'd strut about and scowl at us, and
sacré, and shrug their shoulders and talk fifteen to the dozen.

'Barlow was our sheet anchor though. He could swear that when he
boarded the "Jennie" she hadn't a solitary light showing; could swear,
also, to the way in which, directly she got clear, she steamed off at
full speed. Then, when the Frenchmen, having to stop shortly afterwards
for twenty-four hours because of heated bearings--which delay accounted
for our meeting her so strangely when she should have been miles
away--sighted our boat they hustled him below into a spare berth, but not
before he had recognised us, and seen them placing the canvas blinds
over her name. You may imagine what care we took of Jimmy till the
day--three weeks in all--we dropped anchor in Mount's Bay and ran up the
police flag.

'Then the fun began in earnest. I've heard since that we were nearly
being the cause of war between Great Britain and France. But I hardly
believe that. Luckily for us, perhaps, ours was a very rich firm, with
a couple of members of Parliament at the head of it, and they backed us
for all they were worth in the battle between French and English
Lloyds, their respective Governments, and the insurance offices. And at
last we won. And it took the "Jennie's" cargo--3,000 tons of tea,
cinchona, cocoa-nut oil, cinnamon, and plumbago--to pay the piper. A
year afterwards I got my ship and a present of 500l. from the firm.

'That's the yarn.'

'Mr. Cargill, I think you may as well take the fore and mizen royals
off her. It's looking a bit black to wind'ard.'


CAOUTCHOUC.

CHAPTER I.

INVESTING A "TENNER."

"WONDER what's become of Mowbray," remarked Paxton, looking up at the
big clock for the twentieth time. "He said he'd be here at six, didn't
he? And under the fishes? Is that right?"

"Quite correct," I replied. "Well, it's only five past now. He'll be
here presently. I only hope he's got some show in sight to raise the
wind on when he does come."

Paxton was a mining engineer just returned from Westralia, whither he
had journeyed in the sure and certain hope of a rapid and lucrative
engagement on some of the mining centres. But finding on arrival that
his professional brethren were plentiful enough to timber all the
shafts on Coolgardie and Hannan's with, he had returned in disgust, and
nearly stone-broke into the bargain. A New Zealand native of Scotch
parentage, he was a pushing, energetic, red-headed, black-eyed little
man; had travelled far and wide, and been a partner ere now with
Mowbray and myself in many speculations, profitable and
otherwise--generally the latter. He and I had met, after a long
separation, the day before, in King Street, Sydney, whither I had
returned after a vain trip to Johannesburg to discover if any
architects were wanted there. But I was too late. The supply had
arrived from the other end; and all the benefit I reaped from my
venture was the satisfaction of working my way back to the Colonies in
a sailing vessel.

Not twenty minutes after foregathering with Paxton, and mutually
condoling, the pair of us had met Mowbray, who, not being a
professional man, but a mere adventurer, had been of late years better
off than any of us. He had, it appeared, recently arrived with a mob of
fat cattle from the Georgina River--way up in North-Western Queensland.
Also, he was wearing one of Holle's ten-guinea walking suits, and
smoking "Henry Clay" cigars out of a big alligator-skin case.
Therefore, we two lime-burners felt moderately hopeful when he
"shouted" right royally, and asked us to meet him under the great glass
tank, surrounded by soft seats and full of gold and silver fishes, in
the vestibule of the Australia Hotel.

I say "moderately," because it struck us as curious that our old mate,
when apprised of the state of our respective purses, had not at once
offered to replenish them. You see, between us three existed a brutal
but well-understood outspokenness in money matters, the result of much
tooth-and-nail scratching together through a good many years. Sometimes
Paxton, when he had his Sydney office, used to drop in for a paying
contract during the mining booms; similarly, I did the same in
Melbourne when the land ones were on. And until the '93 smashes played
Old Harry with the pair of us, we did fairly well. In those days
Mowbray was usually roaming about in his cutter, the Ruby, sometimes
pearling; at others droving; at others away at some new rush. But
always, if one was out of funds and the two others in, or vice versâ,
the luckless pair or unit well knew where to apply for help. Very
rarely were all three cornered at once. It was different now.

"Dinner tickets," muttered Paxton, judicially as, presently, Mowbray
entered, and, recognising us with a nod and a smile, walked to the
office.

"That looks well. All the same, he ought to have anted up yesterday,
and I won't forget to tell him of it, by-and-by, either."

It was pleasant to find ourselves once more in the fine dining-room,
and our spirits rose as the Heidsieck lowered in its second magnum, and
the good dinner progressed amidst talk that travelled between
Coolgardie, Kimberley, and North-Western Queensland.

"Now, I know you chaps are wondering what's the matter," said Mowbray,
as, downstairs, we settled ourselves to cigars and coffee.

We others frankly admitted that such was the case.

"Of course," replied Mowbray--a tall, clean-shaven, handsome man of
about forty. "But, you see, just now we're all in the same box. I don't
think I've got ten shillings in the world. Still, I reckoned we might
as well have a decent feed, so I left my watch over the way, at
uncle's. That cut out the dinner money. Yesterday, however," he
continued, "I had a tenner. Just before I met you I invested it, and I
hope the spec. will turn up trumps. I have bought a wreck."

"Bought a what?" we laughed, simultaneously, for the generous fare and
wine had taken due effect, and neither Paxton nor myself felt inclined
to show disappointment. And, in any case, we were better off by a
capital dinner.

"A wreck," repeated Mowbray, calmly, as he pushed the bell at the back
of his chair for more cigars. "She's a German brig. Went ashore a few
days ago, close to Sugar Loaf Point, not more than about 100 miles or
so up the coast. I happened to drop into the rooms when she was
offered, and she was knocked down to me for my last tenner."

"A pig in a poke, if ever there was one," remarked Paxton. "Why, she
might be going to pieces at the present moment."

"And she might not," replied Mowbray, passing the cigars. "Anyhow, if
you like, we'll get aboard the Ruby, straight away, and see what sort
of a prize packet the Putzig 'll turn up."

"Oh, you've got the cutter yet, then?" I asked.

"Sooner part with a leg," said Mowbray. "She's lying down at Watson
Bay, ready at a minute's notice. Sent some stores aboard this morning,
and only got back from her at six. That's what kept me. Better go to
your diggings, pack a bundle, and come along. Meet me at the Circular
Quay Ferry in an hour. That do?"

Yes, it would do, that or anything else promising money to empty
pockets.

Thus, in a very short time, Paxton and I had returned to the third-rate
hotel, where we had, after our meeting, promptly shared a room; doffed
each his one passable suit, put on others, and in a couple of hours
were on board the Ruby and getting under way. As we were shorthanded
for a craft of fifty tons, and heavily rigged at that, Mowbray took
with him the fisherman who, during his absence, had given an eye to the
cutter. It was a lovely night as we stood out through the Heads and up
the coast under the light of a full moon, carrying just enough of a
fair wind to keep everything drawing. Mowbray was at the tiller, and
the great boom, eased off to twenty feet of sheet, seemed almost to
skim the little waves as with a musical ripple at her bows the old Ruby
lay comfortably over to it--pleased, as it were, to feel once more deep
water laving her breasts after the long spell of idleness.

In the galley the man had lit the fire to make some coffee, and the
smoke from the funnel streamed cheerfully away to leeward; every half
minute, behind us, the great South Head Light plunged a shaft of
dazzling electricity athwart the night; abeam towered the tall brown
cliffs, scarred and honeycombed, at whose base, even in the calmest
weather, old ocean roars in hollow murmurings; to seaward shone the red
side and white masthead lights of some coasting steamer coming in end
on; whilst ahead, and closer, three lofty pryamids of silver showed a
sailer with her yards braced sharp up making to the southward. A
change, indeed, this scene from the life and bustle of the big hotel,
the hot and stuffy streets of the city!

The Putzig, Mowbray told us, was on her way from the Moluccas,
Philippines, and South Seas, with copra and an omnium gatherum of other
island produce, when her captain had run in and made the land so
fatally. The master had blamed the mate; but as both were on deck at
the time, fine weather prevailing, and the Sugar Loaf Light in plain
sight, the Marine Board had no option left but to permanently cancel
both their certificates. The brig, it seemed, was owned in Melbourne,
by a German firm there; was 200 tons burden, wooden built, and lay just
as she had been left when she took the reef.

Mowbray, who spoke two or three languages, had, after his purchase,
interviewed both captain and mate. The former was a Hamburger; but the
other, of all people, a Frenchman who had shipped on the brig at
Macassar, where his predecessor had died of fever.


"They were still raving at each other," said Mowbray, "when I found
them. But they both knocked off passing compliments, ranging from
matters of seamanship to those of the '70-'71 war, to jeer at me for
buying her. Marine surveyors and underwriter's agent alike, they swore,
had given her up at sight. Long ere this she must have bumped herself
to pieces. Well," continued Mowbray, "I might have believed them, and
let the thing rip, only for a glance--just one glance--I intercepted
between the pair. What it meant I haven't the remotest notion. But it
was a look of mutual understanding. And it struck me as curious under
the circumstances, added to the overmuch protestation concerning the
utter futility of my spec. Another thing: later, happening to be at
Redfern, I saw my friends board the Newcastle train, still wrangling
fiercely. Of course, there may be nothing in their travelling up the
coast. Still, it's the way to the wreck of their ship, about which same
wreck I can't get it out of my head there's something fishy."

"Shouldn't wonder!" murmured Paxton, abstractedly. "If she's where her
people seem to think she is." Upon which, Mowbray, exercising his
prerogative as captain, immediately called him to the tiller.

CHAPTER II.

CIGARS AND OPIUM.

Towards midnight the wind freshened very considerably, and putting a
reef in main and foresail, and stowing our gaff topsail, we raced along
like a little steamer, passing Newcastle Nobbys at breakfast-time next
morning. Then the wind drew more ahead, raising a choppy sea, and it
was well on in the afternoon before we covered the next sixty miles,
and, rounding the Cape, saw in a small cove the German brig, her nose
jammed between two rocks, bowsprit snapped short off, her foretopmast
lying in a heap of wreckage over the forecastle, the main one hanging
and swinging up and down the lower mast, whilst from half-way up the
gaff halliards the black, red, and white flag of Germany streamed
forlornly. Evidently the Putzig was bumping to the swell; and although
her stern had slewed end on, and rose apparently pretty dry, from
amidships right for'ard the short seas broke clean over the vessel.

"Umph!" said Mowbray, doubtfully, "if this breeze freshens much more my
tenner'll go all to pieces before morning. Still, there's no sea to
speak of. I think we'd better run close in, drop our anchor, and then
out dinghy and see what's aboard that will return the quickest value
for a very risky investment."

Leaving the Ruby sheltered under the lee of the headland, with Jim the
fisherman to look out for her, we three got into the dinghy and pulled
for the brig. To our surprise, as we came round her heavy, square stern
we saw that a boat lay alongside.

"Confounded beach-combers looting, I expect!" exclaimed Mowbray,
angrily. "I'll soon stop their capers. But, by jingo, look at her bows!
Why, she must be half full of water for'ard!"

And, indeed, we could see on her port bow a big hole where it met the
jagged rock, whose forks seemed alone to support the hull. And down
this, at every jerking heave she gave, tons of water poured.
Wonderfully strong she must have been to stand such a knocking about as
she was getting! To look at her, almost on even keel, with her squat,
broad body rolling and heaving painfully to the short swell that came
washing up from seaward, reminded me irresistibly of a big, fat rat
caught by the nose in a trap and making desperate but fruitless efforts
to free itself. Watching our chance, Mowbray and myself jumped into her
old-fashioned chains and gained the deck, leaving Paxton to tend the
boat, a very necessary precaution judging from the fashion the one
already there had been served by the sheering hull.

"Some farmers, I suppose," remarked Mowbray, pointing to the crushed
gunwale of the boat. "Who else would be so careless?"

But on board was no sign of life. Her short poop was all taken up by a
sort of rounded structure, evidently made to give height to her cabin
below. Around it ran a railing; its sides were pierced by bull's-eyes;
aft, in a sort of well, stood wheel and binnacle, and fronting these
was an open pair of double doors with steps leading down.

"That's a handsome binnacle-stand," remarked Mowbray. "Worth a fiver, I
should say. However, we've no time to bother about unshipping it. Hang
me if I don't think the sea's getting up more! Once the rocks let go
their hold, and she'll sink like a stone. Let's make below. There might
be something there that'll pay us for shifting."

The little cabin was well lit, the steps broad enough to allow of our
descending two abreast. Thus the sight awaiting us met our eyes at the
same time, and caused us both to start back together, and together
swear in affright at the horror of it.

At our feet almost, and lying on their backs in a great pool of blood,
lay the bodies of two men, half naked. One still grasped a long sheath
knife; near the other lay a weapon. The light from the companion fell
full on their upturned faces, horribly contorted with pain and passion,
whilst the staring, filmy eyes and fallen jaws lent additional
repulsiveness to features naturally the reverse of comely.

"That's the skipper," said Mowbray, pointing to a very stout man, with
long, fair beard and moustaches, and whose clothes, nearly torn away
from the upper portion of his body, disclosed many gaping, savage stabs
against the white flesh. "And that's the mate (the Frenchman I told you
of)," he continued, indicating the other body--that of a tall, thin,
very dark man, clean-shaven.

And there was blood everywhere. Blood and cigars--thousands of
them--together with scores of small, square, flat tins.

And as the evening sun streamed over our heads into the place we could
see more plainly where these came from. In the side of one of the
berths, two of which gave on to the main apartment, a sliding-panel had
been opened--a cunningly enough constructed hiding-place of about the
length of an old-fashioned eight-day clock case. This had been tightly
packed with cigars over a bottom tier of tins. Strips of bamboo,
thickly cased in silk and reaching from top to bottom of the locker,
had been used to keep the pile in position. These in the struggle had
been pulled out, and now lay strewn about the cabin, making streaks of
brilliant colour in the sunshine that lit up the death hole.

"Hundreds and hundreds of pounds' worth of cigars and opium," remarked
Mowbray, at last. "That's what brought the pair back again. Then they
quarrelled and fought a la mort. But what an awful mess!" Picking his
way very carefully, he stepped inside.

The table was littered with cigars, most of them wrapped in bright
tin-foil, and all fine and large.

"Partegas--not Manilas," remarked Mowbray, as, taking one up and
stripping it of no less than three coverings, he put it to his nose,
"and of the very finest brand, too! These fellows were connoisseurs
indeed. And the opium--there must be forty or fifty pounds' weight of
it! A haul, if you like, my boy."

I had gingerly followed Mowbray, and was now standing alongside the
table. The Putzig, in one of her lurches, had caused a small, tin
cylinder to roll against my hand from amongst the litter. Almost
unconsciously I held the thing and stopped it from returning across the
table. Mowbray was busy at the secret locker amongst the cigars and
opium tins still remaining there.

"Well," said he, presently, "I suppose we might as well be getting
some, at least, of this stuff away. If you will find a bucket on deck
and bend on a rope's end, I'll fill and you can lower it to Paxton."

But even as he spoke a wild cry reached us from the latter; the brig
ceased her short, lurching roll, whilst her stern went up until almost
perpendicular, presenting so high an incline that even the dead men on
the floor rolled over and over and under the table. Again came that
shrill yell, and Mowbray, exclaiming, "My God, Dean (my name), she's
going down!" clawed his way to the companion-steps, now almost
overhead, and up which, having already gained the deck, I gave him a
hand. Nor were we a second too soon. One glance showed us that the brig
had at last worked and ground her way out of the rocky prongs that held
her, and was now sinking head first. Indeed, the water was up to the
break of the poop, and the nearly upright stern sticking a good 30ft.
above the sea.

"Jump!" yelled Paxton, who had cast off his painter and stood ready to
scull away. "Jump! She's only got another minute!"

And jump we did, far out and towards the boat, reaching her and being
pulled inboard just in time to see the brig disappear; whilst,
strangest sight of all, at the last moment, three crows--that had
perched on the gaff--flew landward with harsh croaks of disappointment.

"There goes my tenner!" exclaimed Mowbray, as he wiped the salt out of
his eyes, and the boat whirled violently round and round in the eddies
caused by the sinking vessel. "And a jolly close shave it was, into the
bargain. Ugh! those dead men have taken all the stiffening out of me!
Let's get aboard the Ruby and have a nip of something. Lord, those were
fine smokes, though! Well, it's no use crying over spilled milk. But if
she'd only hung another couple of hours we should have made money out
of her right enough."

For my part I was only too glad to get away. As we were changing our
clothes on board the Ruby I all at once felt some hard, round substance
in the pocket of my coat. Pulling it out, I saw the tin cylinder I had
taken off the brig's table, and must have pocketed when Paxton gave the
alarm. It was about eight inches in length by four across--a short,
stout tube with close-fitting lid, somewhat similar to those that
schoolboys use to keep their pencils in.

"Halloa, what have you got there, Dean?" asked Mowbray, who had
finished changing and was sipping coffee-royal. "A little spoil from
the wreck? I didn't even bring a cigar myself."

"I should never have had stomach enough to smoke one if we'd secured
the lot," I replied, with a shiver, as I tossed the tin case--it was
quite light--across to him.

"Tut," said he, twisting away at the lid of the thing, "you're too
squeamish. So's Paxton, who swears he feels unwell yet from a mere
description. What have we here--'mh--'mh--certificates of discharge,
etc., etc.? Part of the skipper's belongings, I suppose. Poor fellow,
he's got his final discharge now all right! Halloa, what's this mean?"
he continued, reading aloud slowly, and evidently translating as he
went, from a thin sheet of letter-paper:--

"My Dear Brother Carl,--I have of late been sick to death with the fever
of this coast. I am all but gone now, nor do I think I can live another
week. Therefore, as we are the only ones of the family, I leave you my
three years' treasure. Come as soon as you can and take it away. And if
I lie unburied when you come--as will probably be the case, for I have
seen no whites for many months save those on the Bussard when she put
in--bury me deep. You will find the stuff--which is pure, of good weight,
and all gathered by my own hands--in a cave behind a great tree that
grows over my house on the eastern side of Kaiser Wilhelm Bay. But I
inclose a sketch. There is a fortune for you. I had hoped to have
enjoyed it with you. It is not so to be. Farewell. I send this viâ
Samarai, and by the hands of my friend, the chief Boiwadaba, who
journeys thither. Once more, farewell.

"Your loving brother,

"EBERHARDT BECH."

"Now," said Mowbray, of whose reading, which was broken by much hunting
to and fro in search of missing verbs, I give a free translation, "what
may this mean? What's this New Guinea recluse dropped on to--a gold
mine? And is he dead yet, like his brother Carl? Or alive and only mad?
He speaks of treasure-schaltz. But, then, the word means many sorts of
valuables. Letter dated two months back. No, certainly, the Putzig,
coming as she did from the East Indian Islands via Torres Straits,
hasn't been round to German New Guinea. No time. This letter has been
forwarded back from Melbourne to Sydney, and obtained there by the
unfortunate Carl."

The sketch was a crude affair enough, but minute to a degree, showing a
thatched hut, built on piles, and overshadowed by a great, broad-leafed
tree, immediately behind which rose a high, steep ridge. A dotted line
was drawn from the centre pile past the tree-trunk, to a cross in the
cliff with, written alongside it, words that Mowbray said meant,
"Measure one hundred and fifty full feet to mouth of cave." In front
lay a broad beach and an apparently open roadstead.

"Upon my word," remarked Paxton, who had entered the little cabin in
time to hear the letter read, "all this smacks wonderfully of hidden
treasure and boys' story-books. However, there may be something in it,
and I vote we take the chance. We can't be much worse off than we are."

"True," acquiesced Mowbray, laughing. "I suppose a pound in cash would
pull us all up. And we should want at least a couple of months'
provisions in place of the few tins of potted stuff we have on board.
No, although I look upon myself as residuary legatee, I don't see my
way to proving the will."

CHAPTER III.

"CRANKY JACK THE GERMAN."

All that night we lay at anchor. And once, awaking, I saw that Mowbray
had risen, lit the lamp, and was lying in his bunk conning over the
letter again. Evidently he was loth to let the matter rest; and I was
not surprised when at breakfast time he all at once broke out with:--

"There's something there worth having, I shouldn't wonder. What it is I
can't tell from the letter. It may be gold; but I doubt it. 'Pure and
of good weight.' Hang it! It might be coal, or iron, or anything, by
the way he talks about it. And yet he says it's a fortune! Still, you
know, a German's idea of a fortune and ours differ considerably. 'Three
years' treasure' 's been haunting my rest the whole night. What the
deuce can it be?"

"Let's go and see," said Paxton. "Run back to Newcastle. I know a
decent sort of fellow there who'll perhaps let us have some tucker if
we bring him into the spec. How much money do we want, Mowbray?"

"Twenty pounds at the very least," replied the other, "and then there's
Jim--he must have something on account, if he'll come."

"My ticker's no good," remarked Paxton, getting to the point, as usual,
concisely and laconically. "American rolled-gold--or I shouldn't have it
now. Chain's at old Isaacstein's. Two ten."

My jewellery had gone long ago, so I did not feel called upon to make
any remark.

"No," said Mowbray, at length, "we won't take anybody into our
confidence. But I'll tell you what: you say your friend's a
ship-chandler, Paxton. Well, there's a spare suit of sails, nearly new,
the kedge anchor, and one or two other trifles he might lend us the money
on. The sails alone cost thirty-five. We'll do it somehow. Man the
windlass, lads, and let's make for Nobbys!"

We said nothing. But we knew the pang he must have felt at parting with
any portion of the Ruby's furniture. Time after time when his fortunes
were at low ebb he had been offered a fancy price for the fine little
cutter, and always steadfastly refused to sell.

That night we lay inside Newcastle Harbour; and Paxton's acquaintance
proving a liberal dealer, we presently hauled up to the wharf and
victualled the Ruby from his stores for an extended cruise. Also, Jim
the fisherman sent five pounds to his wife, with a letter saying that
he was not sure when he would return; and then declared himself ready
to go anywhere.

Mowbray already possessed Admiralty charts of Melanesia and the New
Guinea coast, upon which latter Kaiser Wilhelm Bay was clearly marked
as a slight indentation on the north-eastern side of the great island,
giving poor shelter, but with good holding ground close in-shore. We
could have done, perhaps, with another hand. Still, Paxton was a
capital yachtsman, and took to the cutter like a bird; as for me, well,
by virtue of that three months' training from the Cape to Melbourne, I
looked upon myself as a regular hardened old salt; Jim, of course, was
with the rig that suited him; thus, altogether, we made up a pretty
efficient crew, and one certainly free from any anxiety as to its
personal belongings. The third day out we met a big white warship
steaming leisurely down the coast.

"H.I.M.S. Bussard," remarked Mowbray. "Now, we might get reliable
information as to our friend Eberhardt Bech. But I think we'll leave
well alone. They're apt to be inquisitive, and deuced peremptory too,
at times, with people who go a-visiting in their territory. They know
Bech; probably also know his brother Carl and the Putzig; and might
feel disinclined to believe our story of what happened. No, this little
spec, must be strictly private. If it turns up trumps, it must still be
private; if wild-goose, still more so."

Jim knew nothing of our errand. Nor did he care. A good-natured, stolid
soul, aware that he had received a month's advance; that the Ruby was a
fine sea-boat; with plenty to eat and drink and little to do, he was
perfectly satisfied.

As day by day we got closer to our destination we left off making the
wild guesses hitherto indulged in as to the nature of the "three years'
treasure," and spoke scarcely at all about the affair. Nor, curiously
enough, did it seem to strike any of us that the man whose hypothetical
hoard we were after might still be alive and well, and what fools we
should feel and look if that actually turned out to be the case.

But as, at last, after an uneventful lightwind passage, the Ruby
rounded South Cape and stood along the nearly straight coast line
backed by the lofty mountains of the Owen Stanley ranges, then I think
that, judging by the faces of my friends and my own feelings, we were
all more than dubious as to any tangible result of our expedition. Nor
were our hearts lightened when, presently, some fifty miles from Kaiser
Wilhelm Bay, meeting a small lugger manned by a white skipper and five
Kanakas, we thought it safe to ask a question.

"Bech? Bech?" replied the captain, a tall, brown, grey-haired
Englishman, who had been trepang hunting around New Mecklenburg. "No, I
don't know the name. Lives at Wilhelm Bay? Why, that must be 'Cranky
Jack the German,' as he's called. I never saw him. But I've heard some
prospectors as was warned off the territ'ry last summer yarnin' 'bout
him. Seems he's always roamin' around the bush, tappin' trees and
plantin' out young 'uns, an' what-not. Oh, mad, mad as a bloomin'
hatter! An', let me tell you, lads, if you don't want to lose that nice
boat o' yours, you'd best give this part o' the country a wide berth.
Kaisers is dead protectionists--no free trade about them jokers. They
hunted me off the islands yonder in quick style. No man as don't say
yah for yes is wanted in their territ'ry. You bet! Could you let us
have a couple o' days' tucker to take me round to Samarai? I'm clean
run out."

We could and did provision him; and in return he tried to force some
sea-slugs upon us. But he had only a very few, and we refused to take
them, feeling in no humour just then to cater for Chinese.

"Well," remarked Mowbray, as we slackened off the main-sheet again and
put our helm up, whilst the captain waved his hat and stood away on his
course, "I suppose we may as well see the thing out now we've come so
far. As legatee I must execute the provisions of the will--treasure or
no treasure--and bury the fellow, if he's dead. But by heavens, if he
should be alive, and sane enough to appreciate a joke, this one ought
to amuse him sufficiently!"

CHAPTER IV.

"THREE YEARS' TREASURE."

On the fourth day after this meeting we turned into Kaiser Wilhelm Bay,
with the lead constantly going until we brought up in ten fathoms
opposite a dirty, muddy beach, lined with mangroves and dotted with
clumps of driftwood. Towering skyward, but far inland, was a lofty
range of tree-clad mountains, and between them and the sea seemed one
great unbroken expanse of forest country. Leaving Jim on board, the
three of us got into the dinghy and pulled off, armed with the only
weapon on the Ruby, a small bulldog revolver, the property of Mowbray.

For awhile, as we lay aground on a bank of stinking mud, which was the
nearest approach we could make to the shore, we saw nothing of any
building where, according to the plan, one should have been. But at
length Paxton detected the shape of a house perched on a little bluff
and nearly hidden in greenery.

Jumping out over our knees in black ooze, we hauled the dinghy up and
floundered ashore--some two hundred yards of hard struggling, to say
nothing of the mosquitoes that came at us in savage clouds.

"A picnic!" gasped Mowbray, as at last we reached the shingle and put
our boots on. "And a fit ending to the expedition!"

"Wait a bit," replied Paxton, slapping himself furiously. "At all
events, we'll call on the madman and congratulate him on his choice of
a country residence. And, I say, isn't that the German flag over
yonder?"

"Remains of it," said Mowbray, staring to where, on our right, over
some low tree-tops, waved a few red, white, and black tatters.

After a rest we made off along the beach--three dilapidated-looking
customers enough, mud-incrusted, clad in clothes the poorest beggar in
Sydney would have turned his nose up at; and each surrounded by his own
particular swarm of big, grey blood-suckers.

Presently, climbing the little bank and forcing our way through a lot
of thick bushes and young undergrowth, we stood in front of a house--a
two-roomed ruin, built on six-foot piles, and shadowed by a noble great
tree with broad and glossy leaves--exactly as in the sketch. Mounting
the ladder, we found ourselves on a veranda full of holes and gaps. The
thatch of sago-palm leaves, too, had fallen in several places, and in
others was only kept from doing so by bamboos with a flat board nailed
to their tops. A stretcher of sacking, some cooking utensils, a
quantity of gourds, calabashes, and clay pots, evidently of native
manufacture; a few German newspapers a year old, a rusty double-barrelled
gun, and dirt, dirt, everywhere, completed the inventory.

Originally the house had been well enough, but neglect as much as the
climate had wrecked it.

"Nobody at home," remarked Paxton, hurriedly turning up his trousers,
"except fleas. Imported, I presume. And a credit to the Fatherland! Any
more luxuries, I wonder?"

"The Germans," replied Mowbray, as we shook and scratched ourselves
outside again, "who named such a God-forsaken, pest-infested hole after
their Emperor must have had a queer sense of appropriateness."

"Come along," I said, having turned my clothes and put them on again
inside out as the speediest way of routing the jumping hordes, "I'm
getting tired. Let us have a look for the cave. Perhaps the tenant has
shifted his quarters to that."

"Not a bit of it," growled Mowbray, "he's eaten--eaten skin and bone
by his infernal compatriots--a fate that will be ours unless we hurry!"

Taking a line from the centre pile, we fought our way through the
underbrush past a cooking shed with a great heap of ashes underneath
it, and dozens of shallow clay pans, some round, some oval, and about
the size of a common milk-dish. Then, all at once, Mowbray, leading,
shouted: "The cave! the cave!" and in a minute or two we stood before a
black hole in a limestone ridge quite plain to see. All around grew the
dense jungle, steaming in the midday heat. Ants, big, red, and black,
moved up in battalions to inspect us; mosquitoes and flies buzzed and
hummed and bit; a red and green parrot sat on a bough and screamed at
us. There was no attempt at concealing the mouth of the cave. Indeed,
we presently hit upon a regular path running from it to the hut, but
now green with rank weeds and grass.

"The poorest hidden treasure-puzzle I've ever heard of," commented
Mowbray, striking a match and entering, followed by Paxton and myself.
"Wouldn't pass muster on a small boy. Talk about an anti-climax."

But here he started back with an oath, exclaiming that he had trodden
on a dead body. In a minute we were all three outside again.

"Tut, tut," said Mowbray, irritably and unjustly. "What are you running
away for? It's only a dead man. But I wish we had a candle or
something. Didn't we see a lamp in the hut? Will somebody fetch it?"

In a few minutes I returned with an earthenware bowl full of cocoanut
oil in which swam a wick. Lighting this, we entered once more.

Sure enough, not far inside the cave lay a man, his head pillowed on a
folded rug. A great white beard almost covered his face, reaching from
the cheek-bones over mouth and chin and falling in a tangled mat on his
chest. His head was quite bald. He lay straight, his hands crossed on
his breast, his lips parted in a quiet smile. A natural death,
evidently. And everywhere around him, and far away back of him, were
piled stacks and heaps of whitish-grey looking objects, each somewhat
the shape of a Dutch cheese, but differing widely in size. The cavern
was broad and lofty, and its further end, so far as could be discerned
in the dim light, was filled with the things whose mass reached nearly
to the roof.

"Eberhardt Bech, I presume," muttered Mowbray, holding the light to the
quiet face, "alias Cranky Jack the German. But what in the name of all
that's curious are those things? The maniac's hidden treasure?"

"A treasure, indeed!" suddenly exclaimed Paxton, who had picked up one
of the lumps and was closely scrutinizing it. "Do you know what this
is? It's india-rubber, and, as far as I can judge, of the very finest
quality--equal to anything I ever saw in Brazil, and twenty times the
size they make the raw stuff into there."

"Well," said Mowbray, indifferently, "it's of no use to us, that I know
of. We don't own a factory for making garden-hose and goloshes. Come
along, let's plant the old chap and clear out o' this."

"But, man alive!" almost shouted Paxton, becoming excited for once in
his life. "You don't understand. See! there's tons and tons of the
stuff here! And it's worth five shillings a pound at the least, and
constantly rising in price! Look at this lump I'm holding! It can't
weigh less than twenty pounds, and must be worth five or six sterling.
Now look around you at the big heaps of similar ones there are, and of
larger size, too! Directly I noticed all those clay pans and
calabashes, and the great fig over the hut, and remembered what the
fellow in the lugger said about tapping trees, I began to tumble to the
secret. The tree was one of the finest specimens of ficus elastica I
ever saw. That dead man discovered a forest of them, perhaps, not far
away. Discovered, evidently, also a very perfect form of coagulation--far
before the ones in common use. Three years' treasure? I should say
so! Perhaps twenty or thirty tons! Think of it! And I know what I'm
talking about! Pure? I should smile! Look!" and Paxton bounced the big
lump till it flew off the ground like a football.

This was probably the longest speech Paxton had ever made in his life;
and certainly it was to some purpose. Vaguely, Mowbray and myself knew
that india-rubber was a vegetable product; that it was used in many
ways, from erasing pencil-marks to riding upon. But before Paxton
explained we did not know that the world's supply of caoutchouc was
running short, and the price consequently running up in such fashion
that a stock such as lay around us actually meant a small fortune.

Still, there wasn't enough glitter about the thing to induce
enthusiasm; and though Paxton convinced us, we took our luck soberly
enough. Underneath the great tree we buried the old man, deep as he
could have wished. And then we set to and loaded the Ruby, working
night and day, with much anxious watching lest a German gunboat should
suddenly appear and confiscate the whole outfit.

But we got the lot safely on board and away. Nor was Paxton mistaken in
any of his assertions except in the matter of price. There were
twenty-five tons of caoutchouc, and it brought six shillings a pound; a
figure that, after paying all expenses, left us with considerably over £5,000
as each man's share of the dead gatherer's hoard.

We are now, thanks to the "rise" thus made, all three of us
comparatively wealthy men. And when we meet "under the fishes," which
is pretty often, we never part without drinking to each other,
muttering, meanwhile, a shibboleth of which people around can make
nothing--"Caoutchouc!"

THE END


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