an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: Bully Hayes: Buccaneer
Author: Louis Becke
eBook No.: 2300691h.html
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
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George Louis Becke (the “George” was never used) was born on the 17th June, 1857, at Port Macquarie, on the north coast of N.S.W. His father was police magistrate of the town, then a sleepy little place, but an ideal home for an adventurous boy, who loved the sports of the bush and the sea as young Becke did. He spent thirteen happy years there, and then removed with his family to Sydney. Whenever he could steal away from school, he wandered round the wharves to look at the ships or talk with sailormen. Such a boy was bound to go to sea, and at the age of fourteen Louis got a berth on the Rotumah and sailed with one of his brothers for Samoa. The two lads afterwards went on to San Francisco and were employed in that city for a while; but Louis was soon anxious to get back to sea, and shipped again as supercargo on a boat trading in the Pacific.
For the next twenty years he was either sailing about the Pacific or living on one of the islands. Sometimes whaling or shark fishing; sometimes in charge of a recruiting vessel or a trading station, he came to know nearly everything of interest in island life. He had a happy knack of getting into friendly relations with the natives and acquired a considerable knowledge of their customs and languages.
He also became closely acquainted with one of the most remarkable men who ever sailed the South Seas —the redoubtable “Bully” Hayes, whose story is told in this book.
Becke was arrested on a charge of piracy on account of his association with Hayes; but the charge fell to the ground. He then came to Sydney; worked for a time in a bank, and afterwards in a newspaper office in North Queensland before he was induced by the late Ernest Favenc to write some of his experiences of Island life for The Bulletin. He proved to be a born story-teller, and his first book, By Reef and Palm, met with immediate success when published in London in 1894.
Volume after volume of South Sea stories followed, and in collaboration with Walter Jeffery he also published a number of books about early Australian history.
No other writer has described island life so well as Becke. He had an excellent memory, and the ability to re-create in words the people and their surroundings which he knew so well. The men and women of his stories are alive.
Becke went to London in 1896, and the next fourteen years were spent in England, Ireland or the Continent. He returned to Australia in 1910, died in Sydney on the 18th February, 1913, and is buried at Waverley.
When I first met Hayes I was a mere lad in San Francisco. I had been in the service of the North Pacific Transportation Company, whose steamers then had the monopoly of the traffic between San Francisco and Panama. I had saved a little money, and was heartily tired of the hard and unceasing work.
I left the service of the steamship company, and, after spending a few days in idleness, went down to the wharves to look at a vessel that was advertised to sail for Tahiti. She was a disreputable-looking, hogged-back barquentine of one hundred and fifty tons. Her skipper was as dirty and as disreputable-looking as his ship, and a greedy shark to boot, and I quickly decided not to have anything to do with him. The mate appeared to be a decent sort of a man, and, during dinner-time, he took me to a saloon in Front-street, where we had something to eat and drink.
As the mate and I were talking, I heard the landlord’s voice: “How are you, Captain Hayes? I am glad to see you.”
I could not help turning in my chair and gazing at the famous alleged “buccaneer,” “freebooter,” “pirate,” etc., and saw a tremendously powerful man, with a heavy and carefully trimmed beard. He was dressed in white ducks, and wore a panama hat. He shook hands warmly with the landlord, and presently the two came over to the table next to that at which the Yankee mate and I were sitting.
In a few minutes Hayes and the landlord asked us to join them at their table. We did so, and were introduced to “Bully,” and then I noticed that he had wonderfully bright blue eyes, that seemed full of fun and laughter.
He seemed interested in my wish to proceed to the Islands and start as a trader, saying that it was a money-making game, and adding that there would be other vessels on the Islands berth in a month or so. But Tahiti he did not recommend as a suitable place; there were too many white men there as it was; and, in addition to that, all traders not of French nationality had to pay a heavy annual trading license to the French Protectorate Government of the Society Islands.
“I would give you a passage and a trader’s berth as well, if I were going that way,” he added, “but I am bound elsewhere.” (He did not say where, and I did not like to ask, for the landlord gave me a warning look.) “However,’’ he continued, “I have to go on my annual round next year, and you are sure to come across me either in the Friendly Islands, Samoa, the Line Islands or the Carolines, and I’ll give you a trader’s berth on a good island. Can you fight?”
I answered that I was trying to learn, at which he laughed and said that no one was too young to learn. Then he shook hands with me and said goodbye, and went off with mine host to a private sitting-room to discuss business. I did not see him again for about five years, and in the meantime, I had done a good deal of wandering in various parts of Polynesia.
At Apia I engaged as supercargo with the firm of Macfarlane and Williams, and was appointed to a wretched little ketch of sixty tons—the E. A. Williams. The big bungalow of Mrs. Macfarlane (who was the leading spirit of the firm and a very charming lady) was within a few hundred yards of that of Hayes, and there was daily communication between the two families, for Mrs. Macfarlane had several young children, and Mrs. Hayes two little twin daughters— Leonora and Laurina.
Hayes had been absent from Apia nearly twelve months, and his return was daily expected. He had sailed for the Caroline Islands, but on the way there had fallen in with an American whale-ship bound westward from the Gilbert and Kingsmill Groups. Her captain informed Hayes that the white traders there were in imminent danger of being massacred by the natives, and were most anxious to make their escape to either Fiji or Samoa, although their storehouses were full of copra and oil. Hayes and a big German trading firm had long been bad friends, and it had come to Hayes’s knowledge that their land-buyer had, at their instigation, written to the American Secretary for State, informing him that Hayes was the chief fomenter of the war in Samoa, and that he had sold the natives of both parties cannon, small arms and ammunition. Furthermore, the land-buyer advised the Secretary for State to dispatch a United States warship to Samoa, have Hayes arrested and placed on his trial for piracy. Specified “instances” being concocted, the document was witnessed by some fifteen or twenty beachcombers—both American and British—who in a sink of iniquity like Apia could always be found hanging about the low drinking saloons, and ready to swear anything for the sake of ten dollars.
That Hayes did furnish the rebel party and the Government forces as well with munition of war was quite true. He did not conceal the fact; but the big German firm was doing the same thing. So also were half a dozen independent storekeepers.
Now, it so happened that this report to the American authorities was drawn up in the land-buyer’s own house by two of the leading German merchants and himself. During the course of a long discussion considerable liquid refreshment was consumed, and the conversation was carried on in the German language. The girl who was attending to their wants was an intelligent Samoan half-caste, much attached to the Hayes household, although she was related to the land-buyer’s Samoan wife. She understood German well, although not one of the three white men were aware of this fact. She kept her ears open, saw the report completed, and handed to one of the Germans, to be placed on board the American schooner Ada May, sailing next day for San Francisco. The schooner left —but without the report. It was never heard of again, though one can easily guess what became of it.
Early one morning a cry was raised along the beach, and repeated from house to house that Hayes’s brig was in sight, and was beating up from the westward against the lusty south-east trade wind. In a couple of hours she came careening through the passage like a racehorse, and tossing the foam aside from her sharp-cut bows. She certainly made a brave picture as, with all canvas set, she passed between the roaring lines of reef, and then shortening sails as smart as a man-o’-war, brought-to opposite Hayes’s house, and let go anchor.
It was at once noticed that not only was she deeply laden, but that, in addition to her own crew, her decks were crowded with passengers—white and brown, and the wildest surmises were indulged in as to who the strangers could be; but all doubts were quickly at an end when several of the white men were recognised as well-known traders from the Kingsmill and Gilbert Islands. They were, in fact, the refugees—a rough lot of fellows, but with a sprinkling of some very decent men amongst them.
I was one of the first to board the Leonora, and found the commander on the after deck, giving his orders in a very quiet voice, and evidently very pleased with himself for some reason or another. He was glad to learn from me that his wife and twin daughters were well, and then I gave him the local news as quickly and concisely as possible. He was delighted when I informed him that both copra and cocoanut oil had gone up in price nearly a hundred per cent., and that there were then in port three large German vessels waiting to load for Hamburg; but that the war in Samoa had practically brought business to a standstill, and that the big German firm were paying fancy prices for all kinds of island produce in order to get their ships away to Germany.
He laughed, and remarked: “Well. I have the beggars by the wool, and I mean to squeeze them until they howl. I have two hundred tons of their copra on board, and they will have to pay me two cents a pound freight on it; then they will have to compensate me for saving the lives of their traders and giving them and their wives and families a passage to Samoa. The fun will begin to-morrow.”
Hayes spent the next morning visiting friends and acquaintances in Apia and Matantu townships. He had determined that the German firm should come to him—not he go to them. In the meantime, to guard against accidents, he was having a strict watch kept on board the Leonora, and although no demonstration on board could be observed from the shore by prying eyes, the brig was well prepared to beat off any attempt to capture her by boats from the shore. Her guns were loaded, and her motley crew of white and brown men were ready to use their small arms upon any attacking party, for Hayes had promised to give them money for a big spree as soon as he had finished his business with the German firm. The ship’s cook and the carpenter—the latter an immensely tall and saturnine Chinaman and one of Hayes’s most trusted men—had the galley coppers filled with boiling water ready for possible assailants; whilst the mate, a lanky Southerner, paced the after deck chewing at a green cigar, and awaited the return of the captain.
Soon after two o’clock in the afternoon a messenger from the manager of the German firm called upon Hayes, and asked him to call at the German Consulate as early as possible. Hayes was too old a bird to be led into a trap. He politely declined, and said that he would be pleased to meet the Consul on board his brig at four o’clock. Then he went off to the ship.
At the appointed hour the Consul (who was also the manager of the firm) appeared alongside the brig in his handsome gig, manned by a native crew. Hayes met him on deck, and conducted him to the splendid, roomy cabin of the Leonora. The Consul, a man of almost the same physique as Hayes, and very good-natured and hospitable, shook hands, but seemed somewhat ill at ease as he sat down while the Chinese steward brought refreshments. The skylight was open, and Hussey (the chief mate) and I, as we paced the deck, could not help overhearing most of the conversation that followed. After a long talk, very diplomatic on the Consul’s part, very firm so far as Hayes was concerned, Hayes got his own terms. These terms were stiff enough to satisfy his desire for revenge.
One day I was sent for by my employer (Mrs. Mary Macfarlane). I found her in her office, engaged talking to “Bully,” whose brig was then ready for sea again. Addressing me, she said that she had decided to sell the ketch and buy a better vessel, and that Captain Hayes could dispose of her for a good price to the King of Arnhu, one of the Marshall Islands. She then asked me if I was willing to take charge of the ketch, with the little Dutch captain as navigator, and hand her over to Hayes at Milla Lagoon, another island near Arnhu. Afterwards I was to make my way back to Samoa by the first vessel that came along. Hayes then asked me if I would come with him as supercargo in the Leonora, as soon as the sale of the ancient ketch was completed. I at once consented, and it was arranged that I was to meet Hayes by a certain date, eight weeks ahead, at Milla Lagoon.
The voyage down to Milla Lagoon was a long and tedious one. The ketch leaked in nearly every seam of her miserable hull, and the skipper and I were heartily glad when we sighted the long line of cocoa-palms fringing the lagoon, and beyond them the spars of the Leonora, lying in smooth water within.
Hayes came off in his boat, and piloted us to an anchorage. He was in a terrible rage at the condition of the ketch, and I quite agreed with him that it was time she was sunk.
“Well, I’m not going to waste time in patching the old thing up just now. We can put her on the beach to keep her from sinking, and leave her here in charge of the little Dutchman for a few months. I am most anxious to be off to Providence Atoll, and see how things are going on there. Are you ready to come on board the Leonora right away? And we shall sail before it gets dark.”
I was only too glad to get on board the brig, for so tired out was I that as soon as I entered the big, roomy cabin, and the steward had brought me a long lemon drink, I fell sound asleep, and, undisturbed by the noises on deck, did not waken till daylight, when Hayes called to me to come on deck for coffee.
With “Bully” my duties as “recruiter” and “supercargo” were multifarious—very much so—but I shall always look back upon those days when he and I sailed together throughout the North and South Pacific as the halcyon time of my life. Sometimes, indeed, I had a desire to give up the wild, restless dream—for I cannot call it by any other name—and at least return to see my people in Australia and my friends in Southern California. Hayes treated me well and paid me liberally, reposing the greatest confidence in me; but when I even as much as threw out a hint that I would like a “spell” for six or twelve months, he would either give way to a burst of passion and terrify the whole ship’s company, or, what was worse to me, become silent, moody, and keep to himself. “Bully” certainly had a temper. At the best of times no one on board would have dared to remonstrate with “Bully” about that which he might propose to or would do. Only one man had ever stood up to him on the Leonora—the bos’n. He went down in the second round with a fractured jaw. Hayes, in his usual manner, picked him up, shook hands with him, and then passed him on to me for surgical attendance.
After some eighteen months of cruising in the Marshalls, Carolines and Pelew Islands, we one day entered the little harbour of Roankiti, on the island of Ponapé. Here we found an American barque, which had made a very unsuccessful trading voyage, and her captain offered Hayes a good price for the whole of our cargo. This left us free to make another trip to the Gilbert Islands, to recruit labourers for some planters on the Pelew Islands who had just begun operations, and Hayes was particularly anxious to get away again as soon as possible whilst the westerly winds lasted. But there was some very necessary repairs to be done to the brig, so we remained at Roankiti for another ten days.
After leaving Ponapé—that was our fourth visit there—we sailed for a group of small islands named Pákin, where we expected to obtain a considerable quantity of valuable hawk-bill turtle shell.
We anchored in ten fathoms off the principal village, which was situated in a lovely bay, lined with lofty cocoa-palms. The houses were well built, and the whole village beautifully clean.
Early in the morning Hayes came on shore with the dollars for the turtle shell, and we all three went for a stroll about the island. When we returned, we saw a small cutter entering the bay, and old Hewlett, the trader, scowled when he saw her.
“It is that low-down blackguard, Buck Dawson,” he said. “He’s most likely seen your brig last night, and has come over to buy a case of gin. The last time he was here I sold him a few bottles of Hollands, but wouldn’t give him so much as a smell of my rum. That made him savage, and he cursed me up hill and down dale for a mean old skunk. Now, I am no match for a fighting man like him, but my boy Tom took it up, and told him to get. (We had given him a good square meal an hour before this.) He wouldn’t budge, and when Tom tackled him he knocked the poor lad out in half a minute. Then a lot of natives came in, and although he is as strong as a horse, they soon had him down, and carried him on board his cutter. But he has the Devil’s own ‘front,’ and we are sure to have him here as soon as he gets half a bottle of square-face inside him. ”
I had often heard of this Buck Dawson, who lived on the Ants Islands, a small group of coral islets, about thirty miles from the Pákins. He was a notorious ruffian, an ex-pugilist and burglar in San Francisco, and during his career in the islands he had deliberately murdered several natives, one of whom was his wife’s sister. The people were so afraid of the man that he was allowed to go unpunished for his crimes.
We had just finished breakfast, when we saw the cutter heading in for the village. As Hewlett had said, he had boarded the brig to get a case of gin. In my absence, the steward declined to let him have a case, but sold him a bottle. This he had more than half finished when he left the brig. Lowering a dinghy after he had anchored the cutter, he was pulled on shore by a couple of natives, landed on the beach, and marched up to Hewlett’s house. He was certainly a ruffianly-looking brute, considerably over six feet in height, and evidently a tremendously powerful man. His age was about forty, and his ragged unkempt beard nearly reached his waist; he was clad in a red shirt, dungaree pants, and heavy sea boots, and carried a brace of revolvers in open pouches— American plainsman fashion. Altogether, he was an ugly-looking creature, even for that part of the South Seas, where there were many noted toughs and desperadoes.
He came into the room, gave us a “good-morning,” and sat down unasked.
“Hev you had a good cruise, Captain?” he asked, in a rough, snarling voice, and he spat out a plug of tobacco he was chewing.
“Yes,” was the captain’s curt reply.
“Just been aboard your brig ter buy a case of square-face, but that darned Chow stooard wouldn’t let me have it. Wot’s your soopercargo a-doin’ thet he ain’t aboard attendin’ ter his business?”
Hayes merely looked at him, but made no answer. I could see that trouble was brewing for Mr. Buck Dawson; who now turned to me.
“Wot’s yer name, young feller? Air yew the soopercargo?”
“Perhaps I am,” I replied.
He was silent—after favouring me with a scowl— and then turned his attention to the old trader.
“Arsk yer old woman ter bring me suthin’ to eat, will yer, Hewlett?”
“No, I won’t,” was the prompt answer,
“Well, then, give me some rum and nannygoat juice. I’ve got a thirst.”
“I’ve no rum for you.”
“Wot! Yew mean old cow! Jest becos I give yer boy a lickin’, yer won’t give a white man a drink.”
Suddenly a voice cried out: “Hands up, Buck Dawson, or you’re a dead man!”
Standing in the doorway that opened into the bedroom were two of Hewlett’s stalwart sons, covering the “tough” with their Winchester carbines. He saw that they meant business, and with an oath he held up his hands.
“Take his guns away, Dad,” said one of the young men.
The old man obeyed, whipped the pistols out of their pouches, and placed them at the other end of the room on a small table.
“Wot’s the game now?” growled Dawson, glaring defiantly at each of the Hewletts in turn.
A deep, hearty laugh answered him. It came from Hayes, whose blue eyes were twinkling.
“You’re in a tight place, Buck Dawson,” he said, “and will have to fight.”
“Fight!” Dawson snorted contemptuously. ‘‘I guess there ain’t no man here who kin stand up to me. Guess I could take the hull three of ’em, one after another, and send ’em to sleep. ’ ’
“Then you can take me on instead,” Hayes quietly remarked.
Dawson looked at him uneasily at first. Then he tried bluff. Sticking his hands in the pockets of his dirty pants, he rose and faced “Bully.”
“Lookee here, captain. This ain’t any of your business, an’ I guess thet yew hev no call ter put yewr oar in.”
“Oh, yes, I have! You will have to take someone on, if only to save your good name as a fighting man. You will get fair play, and if you come out on top you’ll get your guns back from the boys, and I’ll make you a present of a case of gin.”
Seeing no way out of it, Dawson gave in sullenly, stripped to the waist, tightened his belt, and said he was ready. Hayes took off his pyjama coat, and we all went outside, where, by this time, a number of natives had gathered. There was little difference between the men. Dawson was the taller of the two and Hayes the stouter. Dawson tried to rush matters from the first, depending upon his longer reach, but it was easy to see that “Bully” was the more scientific man, and that he was simply playing with his opponent. Dawson’s deep-set, savage eyes were a lurid red; Hayes was as cool as a cucumber. At last the “tough” got in a smashing blow with his left on Hayes’s ribs, but before he could follow it up with his right, Hayes dealt him a crasher on the point of the chin, following it up by one landed fair between the eyes. Dawson staggered backwards, but quickly recovered himself, and again tried his rushing tactics, but Hayes was as active on his feet as a cat.
So far the assembled natives and the Hewletts had watched the proceedings in dead silence, but presently a loud “Geek! Guk!” of approval burst from them, as Dawson made a straight-out for “Bully’s” head; he ducked like a flash, and caught Dawson a terrific smack on the right ear, and sent him down like a log.
For nearly a minute he lay quiet, and we noticed now that his right eye was badly cut.
“Ask him if he would like a nip of rum, Tom,” said Hayes, to young Hewlett.
Dawson rose slowly, and a stiff nip of rum was handed to him. He drank it, and quickly pulled himself together again; then a bucket of water and a cloth were brought to wipe away the blood streaming from his eye. It was easy to see that the jeers of the natives had worked him into a fury, and that he was fast losing his judgment and self-control. But he was game.
Right off in the second round he succeeded in getting a right and left on to Hayes’s body, but they were ineffective. For some reason “Bully” did not attempt to ward them, though he might easily have done so. He merely laughed, and then spoke for the first time.
“Those were a couple of nasty jars, Dawson, but I think you are a bit out of practice. Try for my head—it is big enough!”
Dawson made no answer, and the next moment launched a savage right for “Bully’s” head; again he missed, and this time Hayes caught him just over the left eyebrow, and laid it open; then, before he recovered himself, “Bully’s” right caught him fair on the chin. Down he went again, but in a few moments sat up, with blood streaming down his cheeks and drenching his long beard.
Hayes stepped up to him, and asked him if he had had enough.
With a torrent of blasphemy, he staggered to his feet and began fighting wildly, never touching Hayes once. Then he tried to clinch.
This was the end, for his opponent had too much science to be caught, and he caught his man on the left jaw and sent him down again. He lay on the ground, and made no attempt to rise. Old Hewlett went up to him and spoke. Dawson only groaned, or rather mumbled, that his jaw was broken. And broken it was.
He was carried by his two men into an open native cooking-shed, amid the jeers of the Pákin people. Later on Hayes attended to his fractured jaw, and he was left to himself for an hour or so. Then his pistols were given to his men, who carried him to his boat and took him on board the cutter.
Hayes showed his good nature by sending off a note to Mr. Hussey, asking him to give Dawson’s natives six bottles of Hollands, a bottle of arnica and some sticking-plaster. The former was for their master’s stomach, the latter for his injuries.
“Well, captain,” said old Hewlett, as we were having some rum and milk, “there is no need for us to ask you how you feel, eh?”
“Fit as a fiddle, Hewlett. And I think that you have seen the last of Mister Buck Dawson. ’’
Next morning we sailed for Strong’s Island, in the Caroline Group. First we hove to off Port Lêle, usually called “the King’s Harbour,” for here resided his Majesty King Toqusa and her Majesty Queen Sa. Going on shore we called upon their Majesties, who received “Bully” most effusively, and had the usual feast prepared. The king was a wizened, dried-up old man of about sixty years of age, dressed in a frock-coat and pants, white shirt, collar, etc.; the queen was young and handsome, and an atrocious little flirt to boot.
After arranging with the king to supply us with fifty casks of oil when we called at Lêle, we bade him adieu, and bore away for another harbour named Utive (or South Harbour), six or eight miles down the coast, where the natives were making oil for us. We ran in and anchored in fourteen fathoms abreast of the inner reef, and found lying there three American whalers—the St. George, Europa and Josephine. They had come for wood and water.
Hayes quickly came to an arrangement with them to trade for us—some on Providence Atoll, and the others on Ponapé and Yap, in the Carolines, giving them two days to get ready.
Just about sunset the trade wind dropped, and a dead calm followed. This was unusual enough, but what was really alarming was that the glass began to fall rapidly, and a heavy lumpy swell came up from the southward and tumbled in through the narrow passage. It increased very rapidly, and all four ships began to roll heavily. So far not a breath of wind had disturbed the calm, but that was to come sooner than we expected. Had there been sufficient daylight and no swell coming in, Hayes would have slipped the cable and towed out, for we had plenty of boats and a big crew. The whalers were in good positions, and had plenty of room to swing, if the wind did come away from the southward. We were in a bad position, with no room to swing, and it was impossible to heave short our cable, for the swell was now so heavy that it would have soon parted. However, he did all that a good seaman could do.
Suddenly, as if belched from the mouth of a cannon, a hot gust of wind came from the south, followed by a longer and more powerful blast. The whalers at once swung to their anchors, and rode easily to the heavy swell, for they had plenty of cable out. Hardly had the second gust passed away when the full strength of the gale was upon us with a droning hum, and we knew that unless our stern hawsers held there was no hope for the ship. In less than twenty minutes the wind had increased to hurricane force, and the brig was thrown almost on her beam ends for some minutes, and then the stern hawsers parted one after the other; the brig spun round like a top, and came head to wind on her short length of cable, with the roaring breakers on the reef less than fifty yards from her stern. She held on for a time.
The noise of the wind almost drowned the sound of Hayes’s voice as he thundered out his orders.
“There is no hope for us,” he shouted in my ear; “go below and secure the ship’s papers, chronometers, and cash.”
I hurried below into the well-lit cabin, and with the help of the steward and a half-caste girl named Làlia, the wife of a trader, got everything together, and had them passed up on deck in time to be placed in one of the boats. Just as I got on deck the cable parted, and the brig struck stern first with a crash on the reef, tearing away her rudder and smashing the stern post.
The crew kept good discipline, although the decks were crowded with our native passengers, who preferred jumping overboard into the boiling surf and swimming through it to the shore to taking their chances in the boats. Some few of them were drowned —and it is pretty hard to drown a Polynesian—or so badly injured by being flashed against the terrible, jagged coral that they were washed ashore dead.
It was soon over with the Leonora. For a little while she hung stern on, with her bows buried in the surf ahead, but, short as was the time, several of the boats got away in safety over the reef and landed in the mangroves on the north side of the harbour; and, dark and dangerous as it was, two of them, gallantly manned, actually came back again to render further help.
Presently a tremendous sea lifted the ship high up and hove her broadside on to the reef—a few feet from the edge—where she lay on her port side for a few minutes, giving those on board barely time to get into the longboat, which, in charge of the second mate, was breasting the surf in deep water. Hayes, the mate, steward, two of the traders, six seamen and myself tumbled into her when she backed in, and before we could realise it we were lifted up by a sea and swept over the inner reef into comparative safety, as a mountainous roller buried the Leonora up to her tops. As the backwash swept seaward again it carried her with it, and, rolling off the reef, she sank under its very ledge.
Thus ended the good ship Leonora. Of what befell us afterwards on Strong’s Island during our eight months’ stay there is too long a story to tell here—a story of many tragedies and grim doings.
Then came the time when Hayes and I parted, very sorrowfully. He, with one companion, left the island in a small boat for Guam, in the Ladrone Islands, one thousand eight hundred miles away. They reached their destination in safety, but “Bully” and I never met again. Peace to his bones, which have lain for years a thousand fathoms deep at the bottom of the blue Pacific.
I have spoken of Hayes as I found him—a big, brave man; passionate and moody at times, but more often merry and talkative (he was an excellent raconteur; good hearted and generous in one hour, hard and grasping in the next. He was as suave, as courteous and as clever as the trained diplomatist when occasion demanded the arts of civilisation. He would “haze” a malingerer unmercifully; but he never omitted a nod of approval or a word of praise to a sailor who did his work well. With women his manner was captivating, and no one entered more heartily into a romp with little native children, whom he allowed to do anything they liked with him.
To supplement my own impressions, I will quote a few of the second-hand, more or less true stories about Hayes, which have got into print. Here is a passage from Stonehewer Cooper’s The Islands of the Pacific (1888) :—
“Hayes, accompanied by his wife, left Honolulu in the early part of 1859 for San Francisco, and some two months afterwards he appeared at Kahului, on Maui, in command of a brig, bound for New Caledonia; and while negotiating for a load of cattle, he was taken in charge by the late Mr. Treadway, then Sheriff of Maui, for violating the revenue laws in entering a closed port. The captain was highly indignant with his first officer for telling him that it was not necessary to enter at the Lahaina Custom House, and treated the sheriff with distinguished consideration, invited him to dinner, and requested him to pilot the vessel to Lahaina. Mr. Treadway blandly consented; the brig was got under way, but when clear of the land, the captain, dropping his suavity, informed him that his destination was New Caledonia, and that he could have a passage there for a consideration, or he could go ashore in his boat, which was alongside. The sheriff had no alternative; and he was compelled to leave, and witness his late prisoner triumphantly shaping his course for the setting sun.
“The next mail from the coast brought the necessary papers to the United States Consul, authorising him to arrest Captain Hayes and seize the brig. It appears that he had landed in San Francisco with a capital of fifty dollars, which he had borrowed when in Honolulu of the Rev. Dr. Damon. With this money for a basis of credit he bought the brig, fitted her for sea, shipped a crew, and set sail, paying for nothing but his water. This vessel was sunk off Wallace’s Island, where a part of the crew landed by means of a raft, while Hayes, with his passengers, made their way in the boat to the Navigators’ Islands.
“He then disappeared for some time, but finally was heard of at Batavia in charge of a barque chartered for Europe with a load of coffee. The Dutch East India Company, however, becoming acquainted with some of his past history, was glad to pay him the charter-money and get the coffee ashore again.
“His next voyage was from Hongkong to Melbourne, with a load of Chinese passengers. After being out for some time, he was informed by a ship which he spoke that he would have to pay fifty dollars per head on the Chinamen before he could land them. He kept on the even tenor of his way, however, until he arrived at Melbourne, when he choked both his pumps, started all his fresh water, and set his colours half-mast, union down, as if in sore distress. Two steamers soon came to his assistance and offered to tow him into port; but the captain’s humanity overcame all selfish feelings, and he replied: ‘Save these people, and let the ship sink. If she is afloat when you return we will try and get her in.’ The Chinamen were landed, the steamers paying the head money according to the laws of Victoria; but when they returned for Hayes, he was not to be found.
“ ‘Bully’ Hayes was then lost sight of again, no one being able to learn anything of his doings or whereabouts, except that he occasionally dawned upon Tahiti like a comet, and disappeared as mysteriously as he came. Presently he commenced his career as a trader among the South Sea Islands, and, after raiding and robbing stations for a couple of years, he was found under arrest at Upolu, in charge of the British Consul. Just then the renowned Captain Ben Pease arrived in the brig Leonora. Captain Hayes’s chronometers required rating, and he obtained permission to take them on board the Leonora for that purpose. Next morning the brig was gone, with Hayes as a passenger, and shortly after turned up at Shanghai. Before she had been ten days in port Pease was in prison, and Hayes was owner of the brig. He fitted her for sea, as usual only paying one bill, which, in this case was for a spare mainyard, and set off down the China coast, levying blackmail on its villages for means to carry out his speculations in the Pacific.
“Captain Hayes was a handsome man of above the middle height, with a long brown beard always in perfect order. He had a charming manner, dressed always in perfection of taste, and could cut a confiding friend’s throat or scuttle his ship with a grace, which, at any rate in the Pacific, was unequalled.
And this is part of what Frederick Moss says of Hayes in his book, Through Atolls and Islands in the Great South Sea (1889) :—
“ ‘Hayes was a great, big-hearted, bald-headed man,’ said one of my Ponapé informants, ‘weighing two hundred and thirty-six pounds, with a soft voice and persuading ways.’ He was an American, and must have been of what Americans call the magnetic type. ‘Mad as a hatter at times,’ said one of the men who had sailed with him. For example, he had two favourites of whom he was very fond, the one a little wiry terrier he called ‘Barney,’ the other a big water-dog, ‘Dash.’ Pig-hunting one day, poor little Barney made some blunder. Hayes called him to his side, and as the little dog looked up into his face shot him dead at his feet. Stung with immediate remorse, he threw the gun into the sea, went on board his little craft, smashed to pieces every article of furniture in the cabin, and wandered about moodily, speaking to no one for nearly three days after.”
“Hayes made his first colonial appearance about twenty-five years ago at Invercargill, in South New Zealand, as a member of a small travelling musical company. Afterwards, as captain of a collier, he traded between Newcastle in New South Wales and New Zealand. During the Maori war he was strongly suspected of suppling the natives with powder and lead, landed at out-of-the-way places on the coast. His practice, it is now known, was to stow the powder under the cabin and carelessly litter the floor with straw. No official visitor would dream that powder would be stored in so dangerous a place, while Hayes’s request to be careful with fire was accounted for by the litter which there had been no time to clear away.
. . . ‘What an infernal scoundrel!’ I could not help interjecting, as the narrative proceeded. ‘No doubt of it,’ said one of the party present, ‘but look at me.’ Hayes left me for five years on the little island of Ujilan to get copra for him. There was only a few natives, and we made what copra we could, but he never came near me again. I was nearly dead, living on fish and cocoanuts and tormented with anxiety to get away. At last, by great good luck, a vessel called and rescued us. I never saw Hayes afterwards, but if he were to come here now and slap me on the back with one of his jovial laughs, and begin chaffing me about Ujilan, I won’t say you mightn’t see me shaking hands with him in less than ten minutes and ashamed to talk about being left at Ujilan any more.’
“ ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘there is no accounting for these things, but in your case I would certainly have with him a very different settlement.’ ‘Ah,’ said my friend, ‘you didn’t know Hayes, or you wouldn’t talk in that way.’ ”
At Korror Harbour, in the beautiful Pelew Islands, a trader named “Frankie” came on board, accompanied by his wife. She was a half-bred Bonin Islander Portuguese, about twenty-two years of age, with a face like a Madonna. Her husband was an American from the State of Virginia. He was a good-looking, muscular fellow, and wore a brace of heavy revolvers. He sold me (I was supercargo to the brig Leonora, Captain “Bully” Hayes) some pearl-shell, and I sold him some trade goods to the value of three hundred dollars, his wife selecting some silks, etc. She took the goods on shore in “Frankie’s” whaleboat. “Frankie” remained on board to get drunk. In the morning he sobered up and went off. In an hour he returned with a white face and shaking with excitement.
“What is wrong?” asked Hayes. As soon as he could speak coherently he told us a not unusual story of South Sea life. On his way to his house he met a young native chief, who, with his armed followers, was on a visit to Korror. In the midst of them walked the trader’s wife—a prisoner. Unable to speak through astonishment, he gazed at the party open-mouthed. And the young buck of a native chief jeered and mocked at him, saying he had not stolen anything else but the woman. Then, pushing him aside, the party, amid ironical laughter, passed down the path, reached the chief’s proa, put the girl on board, hoisted the great mat sail, and away for the abductor’s village on the island of Babelthouap.
Hayes eyed “Frankie” up and down in grave silence, then he spoke.
“And what did you do?”
“Nothing. What could I do? There were twenty of them, all armed. I would have been shot down like a dog.”
Hayes pointed to the pistols at the trader’s hips.
“What do you carry those for? Ornament?”
“You damned miserable cur! You deserve to be shot like a dog! Could you not even put up a fight for your woman! You could have shot the flash young buck, anyway. Take off that belt.” The man obeyed slowly. Hayes took the weapons and laid them on the skylight. Then he called to his Chinese steward, Ah Sue (now living in S.E. New Guinea).
“Steward, go to my cabin and bring me two twenty dollar pieces. You’ll find my cash-box open.”
The steward brought the coins.
“Here, ‘Frankie,’ ” said Hayes, pleasantly, “I am buying your pistols. They are dangerous things for a man like you. Is your boat alongside?”
“Frankie” made a dumb assent and took the coins in his shaking hand and mechanically placed them in his pants pocket.
“Right about face now, ‘Frankie,’ ” The trader turned to go, and Hayes, raising his right foot, gave him a savage kick, which sent him staggering along the flush deck. In another minute he was in his boat, making for the shore.
“Now for breakfast.” said Hayes.
“I’m not funking, Mac—not over the schooner, anyway, although I know it means ten years for us both if we are collared. Piracy is an ugly word; Lauerman didn’t have a long run when he ran away with the Florence from Auckland and was caught at Samoa six weeks later. And he got his ten years, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did. It served him darned well right, too. No one but a glaring blithering idiot would clear out with a ship and make for Samoa. Why, half of the business houses there were brandies of New Zealand firms, and he and the Florence were well known to them. He might as well have tried to sell the schooner and her cargo at Hobart or Sydney as at Apia. South America ought to have been his dart—as it is going to be ours. Come, Tom, buck up and make up your mind. Don’t be the two ends and bight of a fool! The schooner is new and will bring three thousand pounds anywhere on the South or Central American coast, and with a general cargo such as we will have under hatches in a week, will be worth another three thousand pounds. And there will be no questions asked.”
“I’m not funking at that part of the business, Mac; I’m in with you there, heart and hand. But I don’t like the women coming into the matter. Piracy is a hot enough game, but abduction added to piracy —it’s too bally risky, I tell you!”
“There’s no abduction in your case, Tom. Grace is willing enough—she’d go to hell or the South Pole with you. That you know well enough.”
Tom nodded. “But there will be in yours. Greye Forster is married now and has a youngster. That will make it all the worse. And I shall be in the same boat with you. Let the two women stand out of this jig—they are not the only ones in the world.”
Macarthy’s dark Irish face flushed deeply.
“I tell you, Tom Brancker, that there never can be any other woman in the world to me but Greye Forster. And,” he added, slowly, looking away from his companion, “and her baby is dead.”
“How do you know?”
“I had a letter from someone living down that way, telling me that the brat had pegged out,” replied Macarthy, abruptly. “Come, finish up that drink, Tom; then we’ll have another and get on board out of this stuffy pub.”
“But are you dead sure that she will be willing to leave her husband and father and make a bolt with you? Are you sure?”
Macarthy’s black eyebrows contracted, and an evil look passed quickly over his handsome, sallow face, as he stroked his pointed, carefully-trimmed beard. Then he laughed.
“Sure. She never really cared for that fellow Trenton. It was only his money and her swine of a father that made her throw me over. She told me that if I kept straight and got my master’s ticket she would marry me. And I got my master’s ticket, and I’ll get her, too.”
“And you nearly lost your ticket six months later, didn’t you, when you lost the Baringa. The insurance people nearly got their knife into you then, Mac.”
“I know it,” assented his companion, with an oath, “and now I’ll get my knife into them, for old Macnaughton has the Glory of the Gale insured for two thousand pounds. The only thing that galls me is that he, and not we, will get it. However, as we shall have the ship and cargo, we shall be able to cry quits. Touch that bell.”
A flashily-dressed barmaid brought a bottle of whisky into the dingy parlour and quickly retired, for Captain Fergus Macarthy had told her that he and his mate had some business to talk over, and did not want to be disturbed by any other visitors, and as the dark-faced, handsome captain was liberal with both his money and temper, she had allowed no one else in the room.
Leaning forward across the table, the skipper placed his hand upon that of the mate, and, for a few moments looked steadily into his face. Both were young men —under thirty years of age, the mate a year or so the elder—and both were justly considered by their many lady friends as “splendid looking fellows.” Brancker was as fair as his comrade was dark, and that they were sailor men it was easy for the most casual observer to see. Both were better dressed than the usual run of seamen in the coastal trade. They had been shipmates now for over a year, and in that time the strong master mind of Macarthy had gained the ascendancy over Brancker. Both were daring, reckless and dissipated when on shore, spending their money freely, but old Macnaughton—himself a retired master mariner—knew their capabilities as seamen, although he was aware of the fact that there were once ugly rumours about Macarthy and the loss of the barque Baringa, on Middleton Reef. However, as all the vessels he owned were well insured, and the Glory of the Gale was a profitable ship to him since he had given the command to Macarthy, the matter did not now trouble him. Of their past he knew but little, except that Macarthy had had many years’ experience as mate in the West Coast of South American trade, and Brancker was considered as good a man for the Australian coast as could be found anywhere, owing to his local knowledge. Therefore Macnaughton was well satisfied, and had every confidence in them.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Tom,” said Macarthy, presently, “can you trust Grace not to talk?”
“Absolutely. She is as straight as a die.”
“Good. Does, she know anything about Greye Forster?”
“Only what you have said to her in my hearing when you were sprung once or twice—that she threw you over for a darned country lout because he was better off than you were. That’s all. I don’t talk about affairs that don’t concern me.”
“Well, that’s all right. We must tell her everything now—at least you must do so to-morrow. You’re sure she will come with us!”
“As sure as I can be of any woman. I’ve never known her to lie to me since I met her, six months ago, and when I told her about a month ago that it would be best for her to leave a waster like me and go back to her friends in England, and that I would give her the money, she refused. ‘If you don’t want me any longer I will go away, and we shall not meet again,’ she said in her quiet way, ‘but as long as you wish me to be with you I will be with you’ ” (Brancker did not say that the girl had added, “and, Tom, as for your marrying me, ‘No.’ That shall never be, except .... except that a time might come when I .... I should have to ask you, or end my life.”)
“Now” resumed Macarthy, lighting a cigar, and handing one to Brancker, “here is how matters stand. In a week we shall be ready for sea, and cleared at the Customs for Nukualofa, in Tonga, with a general cargo. To-morrow I shall tell Macnaughton that I want to pay off our present crew of five hands and ship five Kanakas instead of them. My excuse will be that white men are too expensive and Kanakas are better than they are in boat work down among the Islands; besides that they are cheaper, and that in itself will fetch old Mac. See?”
“Well, we’ll stretch out to the eastward until we are a good distance off the land, and abreast of Gabo. Then we’ll haul in to the land and make the Inlet at night-fall and bring to and anchor with a rope cable a mile or so from the lighthouse. Greye’s husband is away in Queensland, looking out for cattle country, and won’t be back for a couple of months yet. Her house is more than two miles away from that of her father and is just at the back of the lighthouse, and quite near the beach, but behind a timbered ridge. There will only be one other person with her—the servant, who is a young half-caste girl, and there will be no trouble with her. She has been squared by a friend of mine.”
“Does Mr. Trenton know of this!”
“Oh, yes, pretty well,” replied Macarthy impatiently, for he was lying as regarded Greye Trenton, though speaking truly about the half-caste who had been “squared” by Macarthy’s agent—a low shanty keeper in a little township near old man Forster’s station and who had been the captain’s partner in many a bit of smuggling work when Macarthy was running a cutter on the coast some years before. He was a man who would do anything for money, and Macarthy had promised him £50 for his aid.
“Perhaps,” went on Macarthy, “You’ll let Grace come with me if it is necessary. Anyway, if she doesn’t come to Trenton’s house she can await Greye and me at the boat. We won’t be away long, and then we’ll scoot off. You know that we are taking down a couple of new whaleboats for Trood, the trader, at Nukualofa, as well as a lot of building timber all marked. Well, when we are midway between the Inlet and the coast of New Zealand, our own boat, with the ship’s name on it, and the marked timber is going over the side, together with the harness cask, and other stuff, not all at once, but at intervals. The wreckage is sure to be sighted and overhauled by some craft or another and duly reported as belonging to the Glory, and then we’ll head away E.N.E. till we strike the S.E. trades, or rather what there will be of them at this time of the year. Then our next dart is Callao, or, if we can’t fetch there easily, away up north to San Jose de Guatamala, where I have good friends.
What? Oh, our papers. I’ll fix those up, in case there may be need for it.”
Leaving the hotel they walked down to the wharf and went on board the schooner. A slight, slenderly built girl was seated on deck reading by the light of a lantern slung under the awning. A smile lit up her pale face as Brancker placed his hand caressingly on her shoulder.
“Been lonely, Grace?”
“Just a little, Tom,” she replied softly, as he sat down beside her, leaving Macarthy to go below. “It’s not very late, Grace; let us walk along to the end of the wharf, there is a seat there and I have something to tell you —something that concerns us both very closely,” and, drawing her to him, he kissed her.
* * * * * * * * *
“I will go with you, Tom, to the world’s end— I will give my life for you. You knew what I had been driven to when you first met me. I was afraid to die, and knew what semi-starvation meant. And you have been good—oh, so good to me … Perhaps, when we get to South America, and you still care for such a wretched being as I am, I will marry you, if you again ask me. I want to be always with you, Tom.”
“I will marry you to-morrow, Grace, my girl. I, like you, am alone in the world—that is to say, I do not wish to see any of my people again.”
“Is there no other woman, Tom, who waits?”
He shook his head, “No, none that I ever cared for as I care for you. Of course I have had my fling like most men, but the memories of other women died away when I met you, Grace.”
Something like a sob escaped her. “Why didn’t I meet you, Tom, long ago—before I became mad with poverty, and—”
He placed his hand gently over her lips. “Forget all that which has passed.”
She kissed the restraining hand passionately. Then, as she rose to return to the schooner, she said, “Tom, I will help you all I can in this matter. If you have faith in Macarthy, I must have faith in him, too. But, Tom, I don’t like him. I always think that he is treacherous. He cannot do without you, but you are pledged to him and cannot now turn back.”
“Aye, Grace, I am pledged to him, and cannot turn back.”
“And I am pledged to you, Tom, and shall not turn back even if I could.”
A few days after, the schooner, manned by a Kanaka crew, cleared for the Friendly Islands, and stood to the eastward, then, when well out of the track of coasting vessels by whom she would have been recognised, she bore away to the south for the Inlet. Thick, rainy weather prevailed—just what was wanted for their purpose, and the two men congratulated themselves on their luck; and Grace, too, was well content, and busied herself in adding feminine touches to Macarthy’s cabin, and wondering what this young wife, Greye Trenton was like, and if they would become friends. Surely, she thought, she must have loved Fergus Macarthy, or she would never leave her husband and home for such a wild, dissipated and fierce-tempered man. Then, one evening, when it was raining steadily, Macarthy steered the Glory of the Gale into a quiet, land-locked little bay, near the Inlet, and two miles from the lighthouse on the north head. An hour later the boat was lowered, and Macarthy, Brancker, Grace and one Kanaka seaman took their places in her, and, bidding the four remaining sailors to keep a good lookout, the boat pushed off in the soft, steady rain.
* * * * * * * * * *
In the lightkeeper’s cottage two women were seated in the cheerful dining room. Both were busily engaged in sewing. Between them was a baby’s cot, in which reposed an infant, sound asleep. One of the two was old and grey, the other young and pretty.
The elder woman was the lighthouse keeper’s wife, the younger, Greye Trenton, who had come to spend a few days at the cottage with old Mrs. Collier, bringing her infant with her. Greye’s father had gone to the township for a few days on business, and Greye, her husband being away as well, decided to pay a visit to her old friend Mrs. Collier, and await her father’s return. He was expected that evening.
“It is good of you, Miss Greye,” (to the old woman Greye was always ‘Miss Greye’ or ‘Miss Forster’) “to come here and keep an old woman company. And it must be a bit lonely for you at home with Mr. Trenton and your father away, and only that half-caste girl Mary with you. I don’t like her; she’s no good. Dear me, how the rain keeps up.”
Peering under the bottom of the window blind Macarthy looked into the quiet room, motioning to the mate and Grace to keep back a little. Then satisfied with what he saw, he turned to Brancker.
“It’s all right, Tom; let us go round to the door. I’ll go in first, and you and Grace can follow when I give you a call.” Softly they went round, and Macarthy knocked loudly.
“That is father!” cried Greye, springing to her feet, and, with a smile on her face, she threw the door wide open. Then she staggered back in terror, her face blanching a deathly white, as she met the dark, passionate eyes of her former lover. He put out his hand to her—she shrank back in undisguised terror.
“Why have you come here, Captain Macarthy?” she asked quaveringly.
“I have come for you, Greye,” was the man’s cool response. “I told you that I would come, and I have come. Let us waste no words. Here, put on this oilskin coat, and—”
“Are you mad, Captain Macarthy? You know I am married, and you know that I never wished to see you again. Go away, I beg of you. See, my baby is there asleep. For God’s sake, go!”
Macarthy stepped over to her and placed his hand on her shrinking shoulder; the word “baby” maddened him.
“You must come with me,” he said hoarsely; “there is no time to lose. My mate and his wife are here with me. She will attend to you. Say good-bye to Trenton’s brat, and leave it to old Mother Collier here; she has none of her own, and will be glad of it. Come, put on this coat—ah! none of that, old woman, or I’ll blow your darned head off!” and with murder in his eyes he pointed his revolver at Mrs. Collier, who was making a rush for the door (which he had closed behind him) to call the lightkeeper and his assistant. Then seizing the almost fainting Greye by her arm, and still covering the old woman with his pistol, he savagely bade her take the infant into the bedroom, close the door, and remain there with it, threatening her instant death if she was not quick. Knowing the man’s determined character, the trembling old woman obeyed, and as she lifted up the cot, the child awoke and cried out; then the distracted mother sank to the floor.
Macarthy lifted her to the sofa, and quickly wrapped her in the oilskin coat. Then opening the door he called to Brancker and Grace to light the lantern. “Look sharp, Tom,” he added; “Greye has fainted, and I’ll have to carry her. Don’t come inside.” (He was fearful that the child might again cry and that they would hear it.)
As the lantern was being lit, he picked up the unconscious woman and made for the door. Just as he emerged from it, the mate noticed the glimmer of two moving lanterns on the path leading from the lighthouse to the cottage. They were carried by old Forster (Greye’s father) and the lightkeeper. He whispered to Macarthy.
“Douse our light,” said Macarthy, with an oath.
But it was too late. The flood of light from the open doorway had revealed their figures to the newcomers, who came on at a run, despite Brancker’s warning cry for them to stand back or he would fire. On they came, Forster, a tall, white-bearded man of sixty, leading. Brancker fired over their heads. Macarthy set down his burden and drew his pistol.
“What’s all this!” cried the old man, when within a few yards of Macarthy; “Ah, you blackguard, Macarthy; I know you,” and advancing to the abductor, he dropped his lantern and made a rush at him, and Macarthy, raising his pistol, shot him through the heart; without a cry he fell dead beside the prostrate figure of his daughter, and a moment later the plucky lightkeeper, swinging round his heavy lantern, smote the murderer a terrific blow across the face, and felled him to the ground, receiving himself, almost at the same time, a crashing blow on the chin from Brancker’s fist; it sent him reeling backwards over a boulder in the rocky path, where he fell and lay unconscious for half-an-hour.
“Quick, Grace, help me carry this woman back to the house,” cried Brancker; “the game is up!”
Between them they carried Greye Trenton inside, just as Mrs. Collier had succeeded in bursting open the bedroom door, and confronted them.
“Oh! you villain!” she wailed; “have you murdered her?”
“No, no,” answered Grace, “she is not hurt. She has fainted, but is coming to,” and she and her lover laid Mrs. Trenton on the couch, and then left the house, the old woman calling out that she would know Brancker as well as Macarthy when she saw them again.
“You cruel beasts!” she added, “have you no pity in your wicked hearts, that you could tear a young mother away from her only child!”
Picking up Macarthy, who was still in a dazed state, and placing him over his shoulder, Brancker, with Grace leading with the lantern, made his way to the boat, and before Macarthy was fully conscious the schooner was at sea with all sail set. At dawn the land was out of sight.
For many hours Macarthy remained in the cabin and spoke to no one, for all hell was raging in his heart: He heard Brancker’s story in silence, but made no comment. Then, after drinking half-a-tumblerful of neat brandy, he came on deck, and told the mate to steer a course for Pylstaart Island, in the Tongan Group.
“We’ll put these Kanakas into one of the boats and let them go ashore there. Then we’ll think of what is best to be done.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Six weeks had passed, and the Glory of the Gale within less than sixty miles of the northern coast of New South Wales, with her upper spars and rudder gone, and driving before a savage easterly gale, steered by a jury rudder. Evil fortune had befallen her since the day that Macarthy had landed his native crew at Pylstaart Island. He would have kept them on board to work the schooner to South America had he dared to do so; but he knew that their own knowledge of navigation would tell them that, when islands to the eastward of Tonga were sighted, he was going elsewhere to some distant land, and that they would be sure to mutiny, capture the vessel, and sail her back to Tonga. So he kept on to the eastward, although both he and his mate knew the toil and hardships that would befall two men in working a vessel to the distant coast of South America. During all this time he drank incessantly, never getting drunk, he was never quite sober. And in his heart was burning a deadly hatred of Brancker for taking Greye back to the cottage. For a week after leaving Pylstaart they made no progress, light head winds and a westerly current being the adverse factors. Then, with bitter curses bursting from him, he told Brancker that he had changed his mind about South America, and if he (the mate) was willing, they would adopt another course of action. Brancker replied that he would fall in with his views, whatever they were.
“Well, Tom, it will take us months to make the west coast, I can see that, and I propose that we make for the Dutch East Indies. We can sell the ship and cargo there, and will be safe enough ourselves. We can go south about New Caledonia, and then stretch along to the northwest. Ternate or Amboya will do us, and we shall be there in six weeks.”
Brancker agreed, and the schooner stood upon her new course. Fair weather carried them to the Isle of Pines, off the south end of New Caledonia; then followed a succession of northerly gales, which carried the schooner hundreds of miles to the south and west for over a week. All this time the girl, Grace, never failed to help the two men, and never repined. She cooked for them, and learnt to steer, and for her lover there was ever a smile on the pale, clear-cut face. But she mistrusted Macarthy deeply.
“Tom,” she said to him one night, when Macarthy had turned in, “don’t trust him. He hates you, hates you because you told him that he lied to you about Greye Trenton’s child being dead, and hates you because you carried her back, forgetting what you did to save him. Sometimes, Tom, I have seen him looking at you, and there was murder in his eyes. For God’s sake, Tom,” she added, vehemently, as she clasped her arms around his neck and wept, “don’t trust him; he will prove a cruel traitor if he can do so with safety.”
“I never have trusted him after that night, Grace. He told me distinctly that the child was dead, and that Greye Forster would be only too glad to leave her husband and come with him. Had I known that the child was alive I would have had no hand in the business. And I’ll be on my guard now.”
The wind had now hauled to the eastward, and soon increased to a gale, and with all the canvas she could stagger under, the little craft was clawing to windward off the land, making all the northing possible, which was but little on account of the heavy sea. Two hours before dawn on the following day, when Brancker was sound asleep, he was aroused by a sudden crash, then a second one, and a loud call from Macarthy. Rushing on deck, he found that the schooner had been taken aback, and whilst driving furiously astern, had struck something, which had carried her rudder away. Then the fore and main topmasts went, and she recovered herself, and with great difficulty, the man wore her round and made a hasty jury rudder by paying out the two ends of the stoutest hawser on board; then, paying out and hauling in to keep the vessel from broaching to and being smothered. When daylight came a number of huge logs of timber were observed in all directions, evidently washed out to sea by a flood in some coastal river, and it was no doubt one of these that had carried away the rudder when the schooner made her “stern board.”
“Tom,” said Macarthy, “where do you make out we are now? You know the coast hereabout well, and there is not much chance of our getting a sight this morning, unless it clears up.”
“Somewhere between Smoky Cape and the Bellinger River Heads. Anyhow, as we must go on, we’ll soon know, for we’ll sight the land in a few hours.”
“Any quiet place that we can run into and be out of sight for a few days to give us time to make and ship a new rudder?”
“Yes; I know of two or three places—one near Smoky Cape where we cannot be seen from seaward. It is a place hidden from view behind a number of lofty rocks; and, so far as I know, there are no settlers for many miles, the land being thick scrub from the shore almost up to the ranges. But it is pretty bad holding ground in easterly weather.”
“Can we beach her?”
“Yes; there is a steep, shelving beach abreast of the rocks.”
“Can we do it before to-night? We don’t want to be spotted by any passing steamer.”
“Yes; I know the way in between the rocks quite well, and we can run her in as soon as ever you like—the sooner the better. We can’t try it in the dark, the passages between the rocks are too narrow, and with this kind of steering gear we would come to grief. We can anchor for the night and risk the bad holding ground, and pick out a soft spot on the beach in the morning. And as long as this easterly weather lasts, both steamers and sailing craft will give the coast a wide berth, and we are not likely to be seen, so let us give her all the canvas we can. She steers easier now that the sea is going down. Grace, will you make us some coffee, and give us something to eat as well?”
An hour before sundown the Glory of the Gale dropped anchor behind the rocks in twenty-five fathoms of unbroken water, though there was a fairly heavy swell, and the two men insisted upon Grace turning in. After a stiff glass of grog they discussed plans for the future, and then followed her example.
* * * * * * * * * *
When daylight came, the men put together a raft from the hatches, and went on shore to examine the beach, leaving Grace on board. They soon decided upon a spot on which to beach the schooner, and then, ascending the bank, to see if there were any signs of settlement in the vicinity, they found an old cattle track running parallel with the coast. After walking a mile or so, the track turned off into the scrub, and Brancker, who was leading, came to a sudden stop, for there, a few hundred yards in front of them, was a cleared space of an acre, on which stood a ruinous-looking, bark-roofed house. For some minutes they regarded it in silence. There was no sign of life about—human or animal. It had evidently been abandoned for years, so, without hesitation, they crossed the open space and entered by the open door. The earthen floor of anthill clay was littered over with rubbish, tins, rotting harness, and dirty newspapers, but the first thing that attracted the mate’s notice was the big, open fireplace. It had evidently been recently used, for there was a pile of ashes in it, and on top were some empty beef tins, the labels of which were untarnished.
“Someone has been here lately,” said Brancker, as, sitting down, he turned to examine the newspapers one by one. They were not three weeks old. Handing one to Macarthy, he took one himself. In a minute he was on his feet.
“Mac,” he said quietly, “we’ll have to clear out of this as soon as ever we can in the schooner or take to the ranges; read this.”
Macarthy seized the paper, and read aloud:
THE GLORY OF THE GALE TRAGEDY
THE MURDERERS BELIEVED TO BE MAKING FOR THE N. S. WALES COAST
The authorities have reason to believe that the two men Macarthy and Brancker who pirated the Glory of the Gale, tried to abduct Mrs. Trenton of the Inlet, and cruelly murdered her aged father nearly two months ago, are making either for the N.S. Wales or Queensland coast. The captain of the S.S. Katoomba reports having sighted a vessel, square rigged for’ard and with her topmasts gone, beating northward, in heavy weather. Two days later the barque Iris from Noumea sighted what was apparently the same vessel running due west for the coast. It is known that the mate Thomas Brancker is very familiar with this coast. The mounted police are keeping a keen look out all along the coast from Point banger to Crescent Head, as between these two spots there are many little nooks into which the desperadoes could run the vessel and then escape into the country. It is assumed that the girl, Grace, is still with them as well as the five native sailors. The police have several trackers with them.
Macarthy sat down, and filled his pipe, his dark features distorted with passion.
“How long will it take us to make and ship a new rudder?” he asked.
“Four days at least, and we can’t heave her down by the head to ship it unless we have dead smooth water.”
“What do you advise!”
“That we sink her, and get away into the scrub, and then separate. We are bound to be caught within a week if we stay here, and bad weather may come on at any time. The sooner it does the better for us, as the rain will blot out our tracks, and put the black trackers off the scent. This is a tremendously big scrub; we can hide in it for a month in safety if rain falls, and rain is going to fall before to-night.”
By sunset that night they had landed two months’ provisions, arms, ammunition, liquor, and clothing, together with six hundred pounds in gold (ship’s trading money), and carried them to a temporary hiding place in the scrub. Then, after lighting a lantern for Grace, they returned to the schooner, scuttled her fore and aft, battened down the hatches, closed the fore-peak scuttle and companion, and then swam on shore. Heavily laden as she was, the vessel filled in a few hours, and plunged head down in twenty-five fathoms of water.
All that night and for the three following days it rained unceasingly, but the two men, with Grace aiding them, carried everything six miles further inland, and formed a new camp in an almost impenetrable jungle, and proceeded to fortify it.
Four days after a couple of mounted policemen and a black tracker passed the rocks, but saw nothing.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Don’t shoot him, Tom. There has been enough bloodshed as it is. I knew that he would prove a traitor, and he is ready to turn informer, and swear that you and not he shot old Forster. But don’t kill him. Let us leave him.”
Brancker set his jaw and looked at Grace steadily. “To please you, I won’t kill him. But when did this happen!”
“Three days ago. You had gone to get water, and I was mending my skirt when he came in; he had been drinking all the previous night and that morning, but was nearly sober when he spoke to me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me at once?”
“Because I knew that you would shoot him down like the dog he is. And he still thinks that I am ‘considering the matter.’ ”
“Tell me again what the damned hound said.”
“He came and sat down beside me, and tried to take my hand. At first I drew it away from him, but then let him take it. I did so with a purpose. ‘Grace,’ he said, ‘this sort of thing can’t last. You’re too pretty a girl to be cooped up here, and Tom is not the right sort of man for you. Give him up and come with me. I’ll fix him all right. I’ve got the money, and I’ll give you all you want to take you to Sydney, where you can wait for me. There’s a mail coach passes along the main road, eleven miles from here, every second night, as you know. It stops to change horses at a place called The Sawpit. There is a little settlement eight miles from there, and sometimes the coach picks up a passenger waiting for it at The Sawpit. It gets there at 9 o’clock at night, and only stops ten minutes to change. Just tell the driver that you are going to Port Macquarie. He’ll be in too much of a hurry to ask you any questions, and there are seldom any other passengers from about there. Give him a sovereign or two or whatever the fare is. You’ll get to Port Macquarie at daylight. Stay there until the steamer leaves for Sydney. When you get there, go to the end house in Port Street and wait there for me. I’ll pull through all right by travelling at night time only. I’ll see you to The Sawpit, and you can have fifty pounds to carry you on. We can’t travel together, you see—it would be too risky for me.’
“ ‘Are you going to kill Tom?’ I asked, trying to steady my voice.
“ ‘Maybe, maybe not. I don’t want to if I can help it. I can tie him up for a while until you are safe away in the coach, then I’ll come back and set him free again.’
“ ‘I’ll consider the matter,’ I said, ‘give me a few days to think it over. ’ Then he wanted to kiss me, but I told him it was too early to begin that sort of thing.”
Brancker thought deeply for a few minutes, and a grim smile moved his lips. “He has given us the cue for your escape, anyway, Grace. Now, listen to me, and I’ll tell you what to do to-morrow.”
* * * * * * * * *
The three were seated at the rude table having dinner, when Brancker rose to get something from his bunk. Macarthy’s back was turned to him. Brancker got the “something,” and held it up for Grace to see—it was a rope lashing.
In another instant Grace pointed at Macarthy’s head and his arms were seized from behind.
“Shoot him dead if he moves, Grace,” and in two minutes Macarthy had his hands lashed tightly behind his back, and Brancker ordered him to stand up. With deadly hatred in his bloodshot eyes, he obeyed.
First taking his revolver away and laying it upon the table, Brancker seized him by the collar, pushed to the door, and then lashed him around his waist to the heavy door post. Then backing slowly away from his prisoner, Brancker drew his own pistol.
“Are you going to murder me, Tom?” asked the ruffian, in a hoarse voice scarcely above a whisper.
“Maybe he is, maybe he is not,” said Grace, with bitter mockery, “he’s ‘considering the matter,’ Captain Macarthy.”
Brancker lowered his pistol. “Where is the money?” he asked.
“Under that big log at the back, a foot or two underground,” was the low, muttered reply.
“Treacherous dog! It was here a week ago. Go and get it, Grace.”
There was a dead silence for a few minutes, then Macarthy spoke.
Brancker spun round on his heel, his face a deathly white.
“Silence, you dog, silence. Another word and I’ll scatter your brains against that post.”
Macarthy sullenly bent his head.
The girl returned with a small round canvas-covered package, and handed it to Brancker. He cut the string and took out a bag; this he opened and turned out the contents—six hundred sovereigns and a few pounds’ worth of silver. Counting out five hundred sovereigns he placed them back in the bag with some silver and tied it up, leaving the rest on the table. Then he turned to Macarthy, who was watching him from beneath his lowered eyeilds.
“Fergus Macarthy, you meant to murder me and get the woman I love to link her fortune with yours —you, with the shadow of the gallows over you as it is over me. We have been comrades in crime, but I trusted you as I would have trusted my own brother. You see that money there—the money we have stolen. I am leaving you one hundred pounds of it. If I had dealt out justice to you you would now be a dead man. You may thank her”—he pointed to Grace— “that I did not shoot you four hours ago, when she told me of your treachery. Now, I am going away and will not be back till long past midnight, and you will have to stay as you are until then. Then you and I will part for ever—unless we meet again on the gallows.”
“For God’s sake, Tom,” said the man huskily, “give me a drink of water before you go.”
Brancker motioned to Grace to bring a pannikin of water, he poured half of it away, and then filled it up with brandy, and held it to Macarthy’s lips. He drank it greedily, and then his captor loosened the lashing around his body, and let him slide to a sitting posture on the ground.
“I’ll give you another drink before I go, Macarthy.”
Then he beckoned to Grace to come outside.
“Get some of your best clothing tied up, Grace, and we shall leave here in an hour for The Sawpit. I am not coming back here. In half-an-hour I’ll have him in a drunken sleep, and then unfasten him. I’ll leave the brandy on the table beside the money, and when he awakes he will find us gone.”
“You are a good man, Tom.”
He laughed bitterly, “I might have been once, Grace—if I had met you.”
She trembled in his arms for a few moments, then dried her eyes and went back into the hut to pack her bag, though she could scarce see for the tears that flashed down her pale cheeks. For her whole soul had gone out to this man whom she so loved, and from whom she was so soon to part.
Brancker stepped up to his prisoner and asked him if he would like another drink. Yes, he would, and his former comrade gave him half a pint of brandy and water—two parts brandy to one of water. In a quarter of an hour his head fell on one side, his captor unbound him, and let him lie upon the earthen floor in a drunken sleep.
“Come, Grace, let us be going, but first bring me your bag before you lock it.”
The girl was so white-faced and trembling that when she caught sight of Macarthy’s prone figure she almost fainted, imagining that her lover had killed him, but he soon reassured her, and then insisted upon her drinking some brandy and water.
Then taking the chamois bag of sovereigns from his pocket, he took out ten, and placed the remaining four hundred and fifty in Grace’s bag, and gave her some loose silver.
“You, dear one, will reach Sydney in safety, and the money in your bag will be your best friend, if we are fated not to meet again. I have taken all I want—as much as I dare carry in case I am caught. I know the ways of the Australian bush people, and now that I have grown a beard I may escape the police and get to Brisbane or Sydney; but Brisbane is the safer place for me. You have the address of the people there; and if all goes well, we shall meet before many months. I mean to work my way up north as a swagman, getting work at the sawmills on the rivers. As you know, I can turn my hand to most kinds of manual labour, and then, Grace, you will marry me, and I will live honestly with the strength of your love to back me up and keep me from sagging to leeward again. Come, dear, we have to walk eleven miles to The Sawpit, and meet the coach.”
She raised her dark eyes to his and tried to smile, and then with one shuddering glance at the prostrate form of Macarthy, she followed him along a cattle track that took them on to an old, long-disused road leading to The Sawpit.
* * * * * * * * * * *
In the darkness they awaited the mail coach, and all too soon for them both they heard the sound of wheels and the cracking of the driver’s whip as he rounded the mountain spur.
She held out her arms to him once more; a silent, passionate embrace, and she walked slowly over to the stables with her bag, and sat down on a bench outside, trying to catch one last glimpse of the man who was watching from behind the bole of a giant gum tree.
“Hallo, missus,” said the driver, cheerfully; “are you going to Port Macquarie? Right you are. Get inside and make yourself comfy; there ain’t no other passengers to-night, and there ain’t no one here to help me change horses either; but the fresh ones is in the paddock, and I won’t be long changing.”
Brancker waited till the driver was out of sight, then called out:
“Good-bye, dear; don’t forget!”
“I shall never forget; good-bye!” and then, with a choking sob, she got into the empty coach and sank down.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Sergeant Cassidy, of the New South Wales Mounted Police, with two troopers and a black tracker, were riding slowly along the beach near the rocks, when he made a discovery—or rather “Jimmy,” the tracker, who was riding ahead, did. A number of cases of kerosene, planking, barrels of ship biscuit, and other articles lined the beach at high water mark, half buried in the sand.
Quickly dismounting, the sergeant made an inspection, and the first thing he noticed was that the barrels of biscuit were stencil-plate marked “Torod, Nukualofa, Tonga,” and he at once knew that the wreckage came from the Glory of the Gale. He was right, for the schooner’s hatches had burst, and much of her cargo strewed the beach for several miles.
Then began the search. Up and down for many miles the coastline was carefully examined, but no traces of the persons they sought could the patrol find. Then they struck into the dense and gloomy scrub, into which no sunlight penetrated, until further progress with the horses was barred by the immense llianas which everywhere grew, coiling their snaky lines around the boles of the giant trees, hanging and swaying loosely from boughs, and crossing and crisscrossing on the moist leaf-strewn ground. The horses were unsaddled and tethered, and with Jimmy leading, they struck deeper in to the scrub. No sound disturbed the silence except the hum of the pounding surf three miles away, and the occasional note of a bell-bird or the sharp, far-echoing scream of a cockatoo. All that day they searched till nearly sundown, and they were hastening to return to the horses before utter darkness encompassed them, when suddenly the tracker stopped and sniffed the air with his widely-expanded nostrils.
“What is it, Jimmy?” asked the sergeant.
“I smell him something dead,” and again he sniffed, then, turning to Cassidy and the troopers, he said:
“You feller sit down here little bit. I soon find out what that something stink.”
He disappeared among the llianas, and in ten minutes returned, showing his white teeth in a broad grin, and carrying a dead scrub wallaby by the tail. He threw it down, and told the sergeant to look at it. The body of the animal was swollen, and smelt offensively. The sergeant’s untrained eye failed to see anything unusual about the creature.
“Look!” said the blackfellow, and turning the wallaby on its side, he pointed out a dark patch on the thick fur. It was dried blood.
“Some feller bin shoot him this wallaby,” he said, “but no kill him. Wallaby run away and die. Look!” He made a cross incision through the fur deep into the flesh, and felt about with his fingers, then he withdrew them and dropped something into the palm of his other hand, and silently held it out to the sergeant. On it were a number of No. 3 shot. Cassidy’s eyes sparkled.
“How long ago this wallaby die, Jimmy,” he asked.
“Three—four day, I thinkit.”
“Too late to-day for us to look for tracks, Jimmy, eh!” Jimmy nodded; yes, it would soon be dark; they must wait until morning, so they returned to the horses to await the dawn near the beach, where there was grass for the animals.
At daylight they were afoot, and for three hours followed the tracker, who scanned the leaf-strewn ground as he went on ahead. Then he came to a stop, and bade them lie down and await his return. He was away an hour, making no sound as he stepped leisurely over the thick carpet of soddened leaves.
He filled his pipe, lit it, and squatted down beside the sergeant.
“I bin find him one feller white man,” he said quietly. “My word! that feller bin build him humpy, got sharp fellow stick all round it like cellar.” Then he told the sergeant an exciting story.
He had soon picked up the tracks of booted feet, and followed them to a small water hole; from there they led through the scrub into a deep hollow hidden by the dense growth of scrub and llianas, in the centre of it was a humpy, the walls of which were stout saplings closely set together, and the roof of canvas and tarpaulin. All round the structure was a cheveaux-de-frise of sharp-pointed timber, each piece a foot apart. Lying down, he watched the place for half-an-hour; then, seeing no sign of life nor hearing any sound, he crawled on his stomach to the back of the humpy, softly clambered over the barrier, and found a narrow opening in the wall of logs, through which he obtained a view of the darkened interior. Lying asleep on a bunk of sacking was a man, beside him a revolver; a Winchester carbine was near to his hand at the head of the bunk; another was on the rough table, together with a tin plate heaped up with cartridges, and on the stool by the table was a five gallon wicker-work covered demijohn and a mug. The door which was strongly barred by two pieces of stout four by four scantling, was, Jimmy noticed, loopholed in several places. For some ten minutes or more the tracker watched the sleeping man, who then arose, awakened, buckled on his pistol and belt, and poured some of the contents of the demijohn into the mug, and added some water from a ship’s wooden bucket, which, Jimmy added, had but little water in it. Then, lighting his pipe, the man sat down and began to mend a pair of boots. Satisfied with what he had seen, the tracker slipped noiselessly away.
The sergeant pondered over the situation. That the man was either Macarthy or his comrade went without saying, and that he would fight hard for his life was also evident. Then he had plenty of arms and ammunition, and the cheveaux-de-frise would prevent the humpy from being rushed even by four men. He and his troopers were armed with the regulation revolvers and old-time Snider carbines, no match for a man with two quick-firing Winchesters, and who would be practically safe from attack as long as he had food and water. But the sergeant was a determined character, an old soldier, and an ex-Royal Irish Constabulary man. It was his duty not to let his troopers be shot down needlessly. What should he do? Send one of his men to the nearest township to telegraph to the inspector of the district for instructions and more police? No, that would be a reflection on his own ability and courage. He and his party must get the man at all costs. So he talked the matter over with the troopers and Jimmy. The tracker thought that the man in the fort would come out for water during the day, though, had he known anything of the bush around him, he need not have gone to the waterhole for a supply, for all the thick llianas growing within a few yards of the humpy were heavily charged with water, and he had but to cut off short lengths of one of the vines and clear, fresh water would come forth from its thousands of cellular pores.
Making a long detour, the officer placed one of his men in hiding near the waterhole, another behind the big log where Macarthy had hidden the bag of sovereigns, whilst he and the tracker took up a position from where they could just discern the top of the door showing behind the cheveaux-de-frise. He meant, as soon as the door opened, to rush his man and take him single-handed.
For an hour they waited, and the trooper at the water hole heard the sound of steady footsteps, and Macarthy came out from the tangle of llianas carrying a bucket. Too impulsive to await a more favourable opportunity to spring upon the man whilst be was filling his bucket, the trooper sprang to his feet, and, covering Macarthy with his revolver, called upon him to surrender. Quick as lightning the murderer fired and the policeman fell with a bullet through his shoulder. Then the outlaw made a dash towards the back of the “fort,” to a cunningly concealed underground passage beneath the cheveaux-de-frise. But he was too late, for as the shot had rang out, the sergeant rushed towards the water hole, and Macarthy came full butt against him. Both men fell, but Macarthy, strong and supple as he was, was no match for the stalwart officer, though he seemed imbued with the strength of three men. Choked into insensibility, he was soon handcuffed and carried into his refuge.
No word escaped his lips, but from his dark eyes there glowed the red fire of deadly, implacable hate. “It was enough,” said one of the troopers, “to give a fellow the creeps down his spine, and make his spurs fall off his boots. ”
The prisoner was placed on the tracker’s horse, with his manacled hands behind him and his feet secured beneath. Then he was taken to the township, and lodged in gaol. That was his last day of freedom.
* * * * * * * * * *
The wide waters of the tidal river flowing between banks heavily timbered, with lofty grey gums and giant tallow woods gently tapped the shelving beaches of dark sand as the sleeping birds awoke to greet the first arrowy shafts of sunrise, and gave forth their first sweet morning call, a flock of black swans slid out from behind a sedgy bank and drifted lazily down upon the seaward current, and the bush awoke to life,
A heavy dew had fallen during the night, and mounted trooper Harry Leigh, as he threw off his blanket and rose to rekindle his camp fire, shivered slightly with the cold. Then, filling his blackened billy can from his water bag, he lit his pipe, and sat down on his swag to watch the river mist slowly wane under the fast broadening sunlight and reveal the opposite bank of the river, half-a-mile distant. There, moored to the bank, lay the cumbersome river punt, connected with his own side of the stream by a heavy wire hawser, the end of which was made fast around the butt of a huge grey gum tree. As he watched, a thin curl of smoke rose upward into the clear air from the punt keeper’s bark humpy, and presently that official appeared at his doorway and sauntered down to the water’s edge to see if the night line that he had laid the previous evening had provided him with a jew fish for breakfast. Leigh watched him with lazy interest as he hauled in the line with a good-sized fish at the end of it, and carry it up to his dwelling.
“Well, he’s all right for a fish breakfast, anyway,” soliloquised the young trooper, as he took up his tucker bag and produced a piece of damper and some corned beef, and dropped some tea into the now boiling water. “If I had had the sense to have brought a fishing line with me, I would be doing likewise.” Then he poured out some steaming tea into his tin pint pot, and proceeded to eat his breakfast alone, as he had done for the past four days, although there was a road-mending gang camped within a few hundred yards of him, who would have given him a cheerful welcome to share their meal had he chosen to stroll over to them. But, as he explained to them one night when he sought the shelter of their tent from a downpour of rain, his own having collapsed, he always liked getting his own breakfast, at any rate. Still, he would join them in a game of cards in the evenings, and listen in a good-natured, uninterested manner to the local gossip. Where was he going, they asked. Well, he didn’t exactly know just yet. Some former mates of his who were timber-getters on the Nambucca River had written to him, saying that they were making south, Port Stephens way, and asked him to meet them here at the punt and make one of their party. So he would hang it out here for a few days until they turned up, etc. He was, they said among themselves, “a decent young chap,” though his hands didn’t show much signs of hard work, but still he could handle an axe, and what he didn’t know about horses wasn’t worth knowing, and he was a good all-round bushman to boot. He was born, he told them, on the South Coast, in the Twofold Bay district, and didn’t know much about the North Coast.
The young man’s story was true enough, except that about the former mates he was expecting from the Nambucca River. It was simply a lie in the course of duty. No one, to look at Trooper Harry Leigh, would have guessed his real vocation in life. His former long blonde, carefully trimmed moustache had given place to a six weeks’ grubby stubble on upper lip and chin; his high cavalry boots and brightly polished steel sabre and spurs to a mud-soiled pair of hobnailed bluchers, and a common sheath knife in an execrably dirty leather sheath; and smart, peaked uniform cap, tunic, and spotlessly white moleskins to a battered old felt hat that a Paris chiffonier would not have picked up out of the gutter, a much soiled blue flannel shirt, under a venerable coat, and a pair of bushman’s moleskins that had once been white, but were now of various colours, indicating the different hues and sticky consistency of the soil of the districts through which he had passed.
“Joe Smith”—that being his name—was much interested when the road-mending party received a Sydney newspaper twice a week by the coach and always came over to their camp to read the news. He already knew that Macarthy had been captured and was lodged in Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney; that an energetic search was being prosecuted for the girl, “Grace,” who had been traced to Sydney from the time of her leaving The Sawpit, but all efforts to find her so far had been futile. But that Brancker was still somewhere about on the northern rivers the authorities were certain, unless, as some people surmised, he had either committed suicide or lost himself in the bush and perished of starvation.
And Trooper Leigh, disguised as a swagman, had been detailed to watch this particular river crossing, where he was now camped. Although so young a man, he had already a record for his smartness, reliability and courage, and had distinguished himself by capturing, single-handed, after a desperate struggle, two of the most notorious and dangerous horse-stealers in the colony.
“Tell you what I think, mate,” said Jerry Wilson, the foreman of the road party to him one evening as they were discussing the Glory of the Gale affair. “It’s my belief that that young chap, the mate of the schooner, has got away north into the big Dorrigo Scrub, and it’ll take all the police and a dozen black trackers a month o’ Sundays to collar him. And if he’s got a shot gun, he won’t starve, for there’s any amount of game in the Big Scrub; and then, all along the coast there’s any amount of places, from the Nambucca way up to Woogoolga, where he could hide for months, and live like a fightin’ cock on wild duck, pigeons, fish, an’ crayfish an’ oysters galore, and then he could always steal a bit of tea an’ sugar an’ flour from some of the cocky settlers thereabouts, or maybe he’ll pal in with ’em. They mostly supports by stealin’ each other’s cattle, and this chap Brancker would be a real handy man to ’em. Anyway, he’s likely to put up a fight before he’s taken. He’s bound to hear sometime or another that that old lighthouse keeper has pegged out from a fractured skull, and, although he said afore he died that Brancker fired at him, the bullet didn’t hit him, it was the crack on the jaw that he got that sent him over the rocks and cracked his skull. So if Brancker gets caught he’ll swing with the other chap, you can bet your life on that. But I’m blessed if I would put the poor beggar away if I come across him. I’d rather give him a bit o’ tucker.”
There was a chorus of approval from the foreman’s mates, which Mr. Joe Smith mentally noticed. He quite understood the feelings of these rough bush-men, honest fellows enough themselves, but with strong sympathies for a man, who, not an actual murderer, would be accounted by the law as one, and this sympathy was largely fostered by that dislike and distrust of the law peculiar to nine bushmen out of ten, especially if a constable or mounted trooper happens to be native born. They regard him as a spy and a sneak, ready to “run in” any innocent person on a groundless charge, and fabricate evidence against him for the sake of promotion or even laudatory mention in some obscure country newspaper.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The coach came rattling down the steep bank to the punt, and went on board. The road men gathered on their side of the river to await its arrival, and have their usual short gossip with the driver. “Joe” pressed forward with the rest.
“Pass any men on the road, boss?” he asked the driver. “I’m expecting some old mates of mine to come along.”
“Only one swaggie, about a mile back ’t’other side of the river. He’s coming this way.”
“Joe” looked disappointed, and strolled off to his camp. Then he watched the coach disappear along the winding bush road, packed up his swag, examined the revolver he carried inside his shirt, and followed the vehicle at a leisurely pace. When a mile or so from the road party’s camp he sat down and waited. If the coming swagman was the man he wanted it was hardly likely that he would stay long at their camp, but push along to the coast, where he would find many small sailing craft loading timber for Sydney. If he did stay at the camp for the night, he (Trooper Leigh) would get him all the same in the morning; but he did not want to reveal his identity to the road party.
He had not to wait more than an hour before the swagman came along, his swag rolled up and carried in orthodox bushman fashion over his shoulder, but he had not a bushman’s walk, and Leigh felt certain that he had got the right man. He waited till the traveller was within a few yards of him, and then, rising to his feet, covered him with his revolver.
“Surrender in the Queen’s name. I am an officer of police and arrest you, Thomas Brancker, on a charge of wilful murder,” and then, putting his left hand in his coat pocket, he drew out a pair of handcuffs.
“I surrender,” said the man quietly, “and will not attempt any resistance. I have a revolver in my pocket which you can take—here it is,” and he handed it over to the trooper. “But you need not handcuff me. I made up my mind days ago not to make any resistance, although I meant to escape if I could, and get away to the other side of the world. There are some cartridges in my swag and some money. You can handcuff me whilst you get them, but if you will liberate me afterwards I will walk ahead of you, and if you think I mean to play you false you can easily drop me with a shot.”
Something in the man’s clear, steady eyes told the trooper that he was speaking the truth.
“Well, I’ll see about it later on. Hold out your hands, however, for the present.” Then he gave his prisoner the usual caution, and told him to step off the road into the bush so that they would not be observed by any travellers who might be coming towards or after them. He obeyed; the trooper unrolled the swag, took out the money and cartridges, placed them in his pocket, and then, being a humane as well as a courageous man, asked Brancker if he was hungry.
“Yes, I am rather hungry. I have eaten nothing since noon of yesterday; I had no appetite. I could have bought some beef and damper from the punt-man, but I didn’t really think of it, and I have tea and sugar in my swag.” He spoke in a quiet, listless monotone.
“Well, then, move on ahead further into the bush. There’s a bit of a creek a little way in where we can get good fresh water. We have a tramp of fifteen miles to go before I—”
“I know—before you have me off your hands for the night.”
“Just so. And I can eat something myself.” They made a meal of beef, damper and tea, the prisoner eating with his manacled hands. Presently he broke the silence.
“Trooper, I want to ask you something; in return for your answer I will give you a truthful reply to every question that you care to put to me—no matter what it may be—except one.”
“What is it?” asked Leigh curiously.
“Will you tell me if . . . if the girl Grace reached Sydney, and, if so, has she been arrested? I will not betray your confidence.”
Leigh hesitated, but the appealing look in the man’s eyes was too much for him.
“Yes, she did reach Sydney, and disappeared, no one knows where.”
Brancker bent his head, and murmured, “Thank God,” and two big tears dropped down upon his sun-tanned cheeks.
“Thank you,” he said, “you have lifted a heavy load from my heart. Now you can ask me anything you choose.”
“But I warn you that whatever you tell me may be used against you.”
“I know that,” was the calm response; “perhaps I had better tell you the story of what happened at the Inlet myself. The poor girl is innocent. I certainly did knock the old lightkeeper down after firing over his head. I have heard that he has since died. I am the cause of his death—his life is upon my soul, and I know the fate that awaits me. It is Death.”
Then he told the story of the Inlet, and the fate of the Glory of the Gale, but he said nothing about Macarthy’s intended treachery. He finished, and then added quietly, with a faint smile, “I knew who you were some time before I saw you. And I saw you before you saw me, for I was expecting to meet you every minute.”
Leigh looked at him somewhat incredulously. “How did you know who I was?”
He stood up. “Put your hand in my hip pocket; then you can guess. I can’t get at the thing myself.”
“The thing” was the trooper’s official note book. He gave a whistle of astonishment, and could not conceal his mortification. “Where did you get it?” he asked.
“At your camp on the river; I went there to spell a bit, and get out of the way of the road party. It was lying on the grass. I only glanced at its contents, and saw your name on the inside of the cover. Then I slipped it in my pocket, and sat down to think. At first I thought of going down the river bank for a few miles and then swimming across it and making for the ranges. But I knew what that would mean in the end.”
He paused a few moments and looked steadily into Leigh’s eyes and then asked, “Did you notice that my revolver was not loaded?”
“Well, I thought hard for a bit; then I unloaded it, and slung the cartridges into the river. I made up my mind never to use it. I could have shot you easily when you came towards me. Now, Mr. Trooper Harry Leigh, may I have a smoke?”
The trooper’s face flushed scarlet, “By God you shall! Here, hold your hands up and I’ll take these damned things off, and I won’t put them on again until we get to the township. And you won’t be stared at by anyone, for I’ll take care that we don’t get there until late to-night.”
He unlocked the handcuffs. Brancker sat down, cut up some tobacco and filled his pipe. Then he said to Leigh, “Would you like a nip? There is a big flask of brandy in my swag.”
Again the young man’s face flushed.
“Yes, I will have a drink with a man like you.”
They set off, side by side, along the dusty road, and as they walked the trooper asked suddenly:
“Do you know where the girl Grace is? She can do much towards your defence, you know.”
“That is the one question I did not want you to ask me. She has suffered enough as it is, and will come of her own free will.”
The trooper bent his head in assent, and they went on in silence.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Two weeks had gone by. The Inspector-General of Police was busy writing in his office when a clerk tapped at the door, and was told to enter.
“A young lady wishes to see you, sir, on what she says is important business. She has no card and declined to give her name to anyone but yourself.
“Tell her to come in.”
A tall girl, clad in a grey costume, entered the room. She lifted her veil, and the Inspector-General saw a pale, oval face, with violet eyes. He rose, bowed, and asked her to be seated. Her gloved hands were trembling, but when she spoke her voice, though low, was calm and clear.
“I am Grace Fanning, and have come to place myself in your hands. I was present at the murder of Mr. Forster at the Inlet some months ago. In this”—she placed a small morocco bag on the table —“are four hundred and twenty-one sovereigns. They belong to the owner of the Glory of the Gale, and were given to me by Thomas Brancker, who was brought to Sydney yesterday. I know that it will be his wish for me to act as I am doing.”
With unmoved features, the Inspector-General counted the money. Then he turned to his visitor, and said gravely, but kindly:
“I am sorry, but I must have you arrested as an accessory to the murder of both men.”
She bent her head, but made no reply, as the officer touched his bell. The clerk entered.
“Tell Sub-Inspector Levison I want him immediately.”
Levison came in. His superior drew him aside.
“This is Grace Fanning. Call a cab, and take her away to Darlinghurst. Tell the matron not to search her, and to treat her with all the consideration possible. Then return here.” Then he turned to the girl.
“Go with this officer, please.” She bowed her head and followed the Sub-Inspector down the stairs.
* * * * * * * * * *
The trial was finished, the Judge had addressed the jury, and the hushed Court awaited their verdict.
The two men stood unmoved. They had expected nothing else, and then when the Judge slowly took up the black cap, and they heard the words, “with no hope of mercy,” they made no sign. Two policemen carried an unconscious woman into an inner room, and consigned her to the care of a woman attendant to recover and be set free. Then they went out into the street for a glass of beer.
“By God, Sam,” said one of them as he drank, “I’m damned glad that the poor girl got off clear. She fought bravely for Brancker, poor devil. That soft, clear voice of hers made me feel rotten heartsick.”
Twice only did Grace Fanning see the man she loved again, and when she took her last farewell a wedding ring showed on her finger. They were married in the prison.
For half-an-hour they were left together, their arms entwined around each other, and speaking in low, low whispers, broken now and then by a choking sob from the broken-hearted wife. The warder touched her gently on the arm.
“You must go now, please.”
She raised her eyes with mute agony to those of the man she loved; their lips met in one long last kiss, and then the warder led her away.
* * * * * * * * * *
The R.M.S. Garonne was fighting her way through a savage gale and roaring seas off the Leeuwin, when a woman came up from the second saloon and made her way to the stern of the ship. The night was dark and fierce, stinging rain smote her face as she steadied herself for a few moments at the rail. Then with her last strength she drew herself up, and, unseen, dropped down into the seething cauldron of the wake.
The steamer ploughed on through the storm.
The brig Airola was one day slipping merrily over the smooth sea between Tahiti and Manga Reva, when Captain Scott entered the trade-room, where Tom Denison, the supercargo, was busy at work with two brown-skinned native sailors, stacking a number of heavy cases together at one end of the room. “What are you doing, Tom?”
“Getting ready my trade for Manga Reva,” replied the young man, as he wiped his heated face. “Do you know, Scotty, that I expect to make quite a bit of money out of those twenty cases of soap before we get to Manga Reva?”
Scott laughed. “You’re clean crazy on that soap, Tom. I believe that you dream about it.”
The supercargo nodded.
“Perhaps I do; but you can chaff away as much as you like, Scotty; the fact remains that in the last twelve months I have sold just twelve hundred and sixteen bars of that soap for twelve hundred and sixteen dollars in good English and American money. None of your castiron Bolivian and Chilian dollars, worth less than half their face value. There are now only twenty cases left, of fifty bars each; and when I get to the Gambier Group I am going to put the price up to two dollars a bar.”
“You are a daylight robber, Tom Denison!”
“Go ahead! Say what you like! I am doing fair and legitimate trading. There never was such soap since the world began, and the natives know it, and cheerfully dump down their dollars. Why, it’s known from Fiji to the Marshall Islands, and, in a way that has made me famous, too. Don’t all the natives call it ‘Moli Tenisoni’—‘Denison’s soap?’ ”
The skipper admitted that they did.
“Well, you’ll find the Gambier Islands and Paumotu Group natives will be mad to get some. But I won’t sell it all. I have put one case aside for myself. Some day, when I become respectable and marry a nice girl, I’ll give it to her as a wedding present. Do you know, Scotty, I am so fond of that soap that I hate parting with a bar, now that I am down to twenty cases. Here, just look at some of it again.”
He opened a case, and as he did so the contents rattled loosely like wooden blocks or billiard balls. He held out a bar to the skipper. It was about a foot in length, and three inches square, but curved like a boomerang. Externally, it was a dirty grey, and coated with a thin incrustation as hard as glass; interiorly, it was of a bright yellow colour. Scott balanced it meditatively in one hand.
“I only wish I knew—be careful, Scotty, that you don’t drop it—what is the chemical in it that has transformed ordinary, cheap, common, and greasy London-made soap into the really beautiful substance it is now. Perhaps,” here he sat down on a case of rifles, crossed his legs, and re-lit his pipe, “perhaps it may be accounted for by the action of salt water on the fatty substances? As you know, Scotty—for Heaven’s sake put it down!—those hundred cases of soap were under water in the hold of the Flying Venus for three months before we started salving her, and the subsequent six months’ drying of every bar in the open air under a shed on Penrhyn’s Island has resulted in the abnormal shrinkage, the curvature of each bar, the formation of the external incrustation, the steel-like hardness of the soap itself, and the marvellous lather-producing, power it now exhibits. Hang it, Scotty, put it down! I can’t talk if you go on tossing it up and down like that. Now, I am no chemist—”
“But you can rob like one.”
“The fact remains, that these bars of soap, shrunken from their original dimensions of twenty-four inches in length, by four and a half inches in width square, are now barely one foot long, and just three inches across; and that the weight has decreased from the original four pounds to less than two pounds. The hardness of it is something extraordinary. One Samoan woman told me that one bar of it outlasts ten of ordinary soap, and—”
“It certainly is the hardest stuff I ever used in the way of soap,” observed the skipper; and then, either by accident or design, he let the bar fall. It smashed on the trade-room deck like glass.
“Damn you, you great, clumsy ass!!” shouted Denison. “Get out of this trade-room!” And the irate young man began to gather up the bright yellow fragments. The skipper went off chuckling.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The Airola had been cruising for four years in the Pacific, and had had an eventful career. Her owners received information that there were two valuable wrecks on certain islands in the South Pacific, and had fitted her out as a salvage vessel, with all necessary gear, spare anchors and chains, extra suits of sails and diving gear.
Sailing from Sydney, in three months one of the vessels—a large French barque—was refloated and sent to Sydney; then much of value was saved from the second—an English brig, that had been wrecked on Penrhyn’s Islands. The natives had salved and stored much of her general cargo, amongst which were a hundred boxes of soap, and Denison bought the lot from them very cheaply.
For the next year or so the Airola searched the many isolated islands and atolls of the North and South Pacific for wrecks, and found several. Captain Teddy Scott seemed to have a nose for a wreck like that of a mongoose for a fat duck.
Twice, in two years she took mysterious cargoes to San Francisco, and the stolid face of the senior partner of the firm in Liverpool expanded into a vast smile when, on each occasion, he received a draft for over four thousand pounds. Then, in consequence of certain letters written to him by Denison, he cabled out instructions to him and Scott to give up the wrecking business, and established trading stations throughout the Pacific Islands generally. “Run the Germans hard,” he wrote subsequently; “our firm will spend fifty thousand pounds in developing the Pacific Islands trade.”
Then two vessels, fully loaded with trade goods, were despatched to Samoa, and Denison was appointed managing supercargo. His “instructions” were a typewritten volume of over one hundred thousand words, which he never read, as he knew they were foolish and impracticable. But he and Scott set to work, scoured the Islands for good traders, and then began to “run” the great trading firm of Goddeffroy & Sohn, of Hamburg, very hard indeed.
Then Denison went to Tahiti, and saw the French Governor, and obtained a license to establish trading-stations on any of the islands under the Tri-colour, and was jubilant. He was a good, energetic young man, and much liked by the natives of Polynesia generally, as well as by most of the white traders, although when he was excited, he used language that could not be found in most dictionaries, except they were very, very old.
And during all those three years those cases of soap had lain in the lower hold of the Airola, the bars getting harder and harder day by day. Then Denison, when the Airola was being fumigated with sulphur to destroy the cockroaches, opened one of the cases, and found that the bars were as hard as mahogany.
He presented two bars to a nice-looking Samoan blanchisseuse who did the brig’s, washing, and the next morning over fifty native women came clamouring to him for bars of soap. They said it was wonderful soap; they had never seen anything like it before; it made a tremendous lather, and didn’t seem to wear away like most other soaps.
Denison had begun selling it at half-a-dollar a bar, and felt guilty of robbing at that, but he at once raised the price to a dollar, and sent five bars as a present to the wife of the white missionary. She was the boss of the native school.
This act made him feel good and moral, for, as a rule, Denison did not avail himself of the opportunities afforded him of meeting missionaries and attending church anywhere in the South Seas. But this was not his fault, for he was by nature a quiet, gentle young man; but circumstances had made him a supercargo, and somehow he had an abrupt way of speaking to most missionaries, especially native missionaries. But at the same time he liked Mrs. O’Reilly, and the Reverend Patrick O’Reilly, who were stationed at Samoa.
Mrs. O’Reilly was young and pretty, and the Reverend Patrick was also young and jolly, and used to laugh when Denison said things about missionaries; and he and his wife called Denison “Tom,” and Denison addressed them in a most irreverent manner as “Paddy” and “Kitty,” and the other missionaries heard of it through their native servants, and said it was shocking.
And then Denison gave Mrs. Paddy another special present of five bars of soap as a parting gift before the brig sailed for the Gambier Islands, and all this time the mouth of the Vaisigago River, where the native women did their washing, was like a Highland spate, for the waters were covered with piles of swirling white suds—all from Denison’s wonderful soap.
Then the Airola sailed away from Samoa, for Denison was to settle at Manga River for three months, and establish trading-stations throughout that cluster of islands. On the voyage thither he and Bill Hicks, the Maori half-caste boatswain of the brig, made many beautiful ornaments out of some of the bars of soap —brooches, ear-rings, picture frames, and serviette rings; and Denison was especially proud of a large photograph of Sarah Bernhardt when she was fairly young, which she had given him when he was sent to Paris to learn French and got into disgrace and had to return to Australia. It was something about a concierge, and a black eye and some midinettes and a fight, and Denison was always reticent about it. But, anyway, he was extra mighty proud of Bernhardt’s photo after he had framed it in polished soap, and hung it over his cabin table.
* * * * * * * * * *
Theodor Rasch, the German trader and shipmaster at Manga Reva, walked across from his own trading-station one morning and passed Denison’s house. He was a striking-looking man—tall, well-built, and handsome, with fair, golden hair and long, flowing beard, and somewhat aggressively staring blue eyes.
As he walked along the path under the lofty coco-palms, clad in his snow-white duck suit, and languidly fanned himself with his wide panama hat, the natives stepped aside to let him pass, but none gave him the usual polite greeting of “Ioarana,” neither did he take notice of their presence. He knew that most of them disliked him as much as they feared him; and he liked to think that he was feared.
For five years he had been the boss trader and bully of the Paumotu Group, and the most trusted emissary of the great German firm in Samoa, and had lorded it over the few English and American traders in the group, who were poorer men. He would have lorded it over the French traders as well, had he dared, but was too cautious and crafty a man to get himself into trouble with the French authorities, who would liked to have rid themselves of him; but the former Governor of Tahiti had given his firm a ten years’ trading license. And Rasch had prospered. His schooner, the Anna Goddeffroy sailed through the group the most of the year, and traded for cocoanut oil and pearlshell; and he, when on shore, lived in his handsome European-built bungalow on the hills above the deep, calm waters of Manga Reva lagoon.
Denison, from the verandah of his newly-built house, saw him passing, and so, too, did his Samoan servant Mana, who eyed him with a look of hatred.
“Master,” he said grimly, “what a fair, fine mark the hog would make for a bullet! Much would I like to send one through him—at the middle pearl-shell button of his white coat.”
Denison laughed. “Thou bloodthirsty fellow! If thou wouldst go German-killing, haste back to Samoa, and pot some of their bluejackets in fair fight!”
“Would that I could! Much would I have given to have been at Vailele last year when we fought and overcame the two full boats’ crews from the man-of-war!”
Leisurely the German strolled across the gravelled village square; and Denison, as he watched him, could not but admire his fine, stalwart figure and handsome presence, though he disliked and mistrusted the man, for he knew him to be his enemy.
The very first week of his arrival at Manga Reva, and when he and Scott were having a farewell evening together before the Airola sailed, they had received a visit from Rasch, who had just arrived from Raratonga in his schooner. He came to Denison with the intention of playing his usual game of bluff and intimidation upon a new and opposition trader. But after a very brief conversation he chose a different line—that of the genial, good-natured man, glad to welcome another white man, even though a business rival.
After he had gone, old Pere Pelletier, one of the Marist missionaries stationed at Manga Reva, also came in to bid Scott good-bye; and he had given Denison a few emphatic words of caution:
“Do not trust Monsieur Theodor Rasch. He is not to be trusted. I know the man. He is most dangerous when he is most oily and effusive.”
Denison nodded, said nothing, but was on his guard forthwith.
* * * * * * * * *
For some weeks after the Airola had sailed, the suave German frequently visited the newcomer, talked, apparently, most frankly about his own business, though Denison knew he told more lies than truth, and tried hard to find out what were his intentions regarding his future operations in the Paumotu Group. But Tom Denison was too old a trader to be caught.
Then Rasch tried a bribe on Mana, who cheerfully took it and told him a story of his master being in treaty with the Governor of Tahiti for the lease of Marutea Island for five years to dive for pearlshell; but, said Mana, the Governor wanted one thousand dollars a year, and Denison could only offer seven hundred dollars; also he (Mana) further mendaciously added, the lagoon at Marutea was full of magnificent pearlshell, and only Denison and Scott knew of it.
Off went Rasch in the Anna Goddeffroy to Tahiti, and applied for a five years’ lease at a thousand dollars per annum; and his Excellency amiably granted the lease, and gave the necessary permit for pearlshell diving, being quite aware that there were not a hundred dollars worth of shell in the whole lagoon. Then the clever Captain Rasch sailed for Auckland, and engaged two divers to work in deep water, and wrote jubilantly to his general manager at Samoa of having done Denison in the eye.
But when, after a fortnight’s work of careful searching, the divers reported that there was nothing but a few hundredweight of old, dead and worthless shell in the lagoon, Rasch went crazy with rage, knew that he had been “sold,” and that his firm were saddled with a lot of salt water enclosed in a coral reef, for which they would have to pay five thousand dollars.
So, with black hatred in his heart, he came back to Manga Reva, and when Denison calmly asked him if he had enjoyed eating the big robber-crabs on Mavutea, he gave a ghastly smile. Then he lost his temper and showed his hand.
“Ach! you think you are very smart, Mr. Denison! I can tell you this: I will work you damned English out of these islands if it costs my firm ten thousand pounds! I swear it!” And his voice became choked with rage.
“Well, you’ve made a start with a thousand over Marutoa,” remarked Denison placidly. Then he rose from his seat, and looked the German in the face.
“Now, just listen to me, Captain Rasch. You have used very plain language to me, and I shall do the same to you. I know all that you have been doing to injure me and my firm’s business, ever since I landed on Manga Reva. That is why I have stayed here for six months instead of three, as I intended. ”
“You, to find out what I was doing, bribed my man with fifty dollars, didn’t you? Well, I knew that you would try to destroy his honesty, and I told him what to say to fool you; and when you sailed off the next day to try and ‘do’ me, as you thought, over the lease of Marutea, you no doubt laughed. So did I—and Mana.
“Then you watched and tried to corrupt my native traders on the outlying islands; you tried to poison the priests’ minds against me by telling them that Mana and I were trying to get the Protestant missionaries in Samoa to send a native teacher here— that was an especially low-down, dirty Dutchman’s trick. Then, when I began selling my soap at two dollars a bar ”
“Curse you and your blarsted soap!” said Rasch huskily, as he glared at Denison with his eyes aflame.
“Began selling it at two dollars a bar, you sent a sneaking ‘confidential’ letter to the Governor, saying that I was openly robbing the natives. But that did you no good. And now I’ll tell you something that will interest you. I had just twenty cases of my soap left when I came here, containing a thousand bars—fifty in each. One case I put aside for myself. I sold every single bar of the nine hundred and fifty for two dollars each—cash, or its value in pearlshell. Then I let the other case go, too, only keeping one bar. Do you know why I sold right out, with the exception of that one bar?”
A volley of oaths burst from the German. Denison waited unmovedly.
“I sold the last case because I have discovered the secret of its wonderful, marvellous hardness. I discovered it in a paragraph in an old German newspaper. It will make me a rich man, Herr Rasch; it will make my firm rich. When my relieving ship comes here to take me away, I take with me to Auckland that recipe, and that bar of soap as a sample.
“At Auckland I take that recipe and that bar of soap to the leading soapmakers, and make a contract with them for a thousand cases of soap. In three months all our traders and trading-vessels will be selling the new soap all over the North and South Pacific. Your firm won’t be able to sell a single bar of their soap, for no one will buy any other than mine. And there are four thousand cases sold every year in the Pacific Islands. You see, Herr Rasch, that although I am only a ‘dunder-headed Englander,’ I know how to—”
Wordless, and with a look of fury, the German strode out of the house; and then for two months neither of them spoke when they met. And all this time Rasch was plotting to get possession of Denison’s bar of soap and the recipe. The thing took possession of him, and made his life a curse. The folly of it all never entered his fevered brain; and in his heart there was now a deadly hatred of the man who, he considered, had ruined his business and exposed him to the ridicule of the whites and natives over the Marutea incident. And then, too, he knew that his firm would hold him responsible for that affair, and the five thousand dollars’ rent would probably have to come out of his own pocket, for he had acted without consulting his superiors, who never forgave a blunder.
Of his own treachery to Denison he thought nothing. Had he succeeded, all would have gone well, and he would have been commended for his smartness. But he had failed. Ruin stared him in the face; he would lose both his berth as manager and as master of the schooner. At night he talked in his sleep—talked and muttered curses on Denison.
One day Tiaro, his gentle-voiced Tahitian wife, went, heavy-eyed, sorrowful to the Mission House, and spoke to the fathers:
“Let the Englishman be warned. My husband is mad with hatred of him; his heart is black with murder. For ever now he starts in his sleep, and talks of his lost money, and the hidden bar of soap, and the written secret of its making; he eateth no food, but drinks brandy all day, and his eyes are strange, and fill me with great fear. And last night, in his bad dreams, he seized me by the throat, thinking I was the English trader. So I pray you warn the young man. My husband is wicked — and treacherous.”
Denison was warned. And when he went out at night he carried his pistol in his hip-pocket. Mana watched over him, too, day and night. He would have shot Rasch at sight if Denison had even hinted it.
One afternoon there came a cry of “Sail ho!” from the village. A brigantine was in sight, sailing slowly down the coast, but evidently not intending to touch at the island.
She was a stranger, and flew the Stars and Stripes from her gaff. Denison thought that possibly she might be bound for Auckland, and decided to board her. If she was going to that port he determined to commit his precious bar of soap, together with the recipe and a letter to his firm’s agents there, for he knew not how much longer he might have to wait for his own relieving ship. He had a duplicate of the recipe and some loose fragments of soap as well, so he felt quite safe. He had his whaleboat launched, and Rasch, with savage eyes, saw him leave the house, carrying a small brown-paper parcel and placing some letters in his coat pocket. The German ground his teeth, and gripped the butt of his pistol. The brigantine hove to, and waited for the boat, and Denison went on board. He was disappointed to find that she was bound to Melbourne; so, of course, he could not send his parcel and letters by her. However, as the skipper was a pleasant fellow and disposed to chat, he remained on board till past dark, and then said good-bye.
The wind had fallen very light, and he and Mana were many hours in reaching the passage into the harbour. Hardly a light was visible, for all the natives were asleep; and, as the boat glided gently over the starlit water, she made no sound. Mana was sitting amidships, smoking a cigarette. Denison, half asleep, was steering.
Suddenly, when the boat was within fifty yards of a low, sparsely, wooded point, a flash, followed by a second, came from under a tree on the point, and a bullet struck the haft of the steer oar and splintered it in Denison’s hand. It was intended for his heart. Quick as lightning, he ducked, and the second bullet lodged in the stern sheets, as a woman’s cry of terror resounded over the waters.
“Look! look!” cried Mana, and he sprang to his feet on the thwart, and pointed to the shore. There, struggling madly together, were Rasch and his wife. Their figures stood clearly revealed in the bright starlight; and Denison could hear the low, panting sobs of the woman as she sought to wrest a six-shot Winchester carbine from her husband’s grasp. She was a fine, tall woman, and strong, and held on to the weapon with such determination that the man was unable to shake her off, though he swung her round and round, and began to kick her savagely about the knees.
With Mana now pulling one oar amidships, and Denison sculling madly with the steer-oar aft, the light whaleboat touched the beach just as Rasch, tearing the carbine from Tiaro, wheeled round and pointed it at Denison’s breast—not ten yards away—and at the same moment something spun through the air, and struck the German full in the face with terrific force.
He fell backwards, and in an instant Tiaro again flung herself upon him, as Mana and Denison leapt to her aid. Ere they could reach her, the carbine cracked again, and Rasch, who was now on his hands and knees, with Tiaro’s bare arms around his waist, sank upon the sand without a sound.
The carbine, which had been at full cock, had gone off, and the bullet entering below the chin, had passed upward through the brain.
Tiaro, trembling from head to foot, put her brown hand on Denison’s arm.
“Is he hurt?” she asked.
“He is dead!”
Forgetting all the past, she bent her head over her husband’s face, and her long black hair covered it and the yellow beard like a funeral pall.
Mana stooped, and picked up something that lay near the man’s head, so near that the woman’s hair partly hid it. He held it up to Denison. It was the bar of soap.
“It hath done thee good service, master,” he said grimly, “for in another moment his bullet would have gone through thy heart. It came to my hand before I knew it, and when I threw, it struck him on the temple.”
Denison looked at it and shuddered. It was wet and stained with blood.
“Give it to me!” he said.
Mana handed it to him, and, taking it by one end, he cast it far out upon the waters of the starlit lagoon.
Darkness had encompassed Nanomea Island, and Watson, the trader from Nanomaga, was gazing dreamily at the curving lines of phosphorescent breakers as they tumbled over the barrier reef, and sent smooth, even sheets of snow-white foam across the flat table of reef into the placid waters of the shallow lagoon.
For three weeks he had been the guest of the native teacher, and now he was anxious to return to Nanomaga, where he had been buying copra, and for three months had been awaiting the arrival of his firm’s schooner to take away his produce; then, weary of waiting, he had taken passage in a passing German vessel to Nanomea, knowing that the schooner he was expecting would call there on her way to Nanomaga. He took up his quarters in the teacher’s house, much to the anger and disgust of the one white man on the island — a trader named Winchcombly—a drink-besotted, unclean creature, illiterate and violent-tempered.
Watson had paid Winchcombly a brief visit, according to Island traders’ etiquette. The result was a quick quarrel.
“So you are Watson, are you?” he had said rudely, with a snarling grin of contempt. “A nice sorter white man you are to put up with a — Kanaka missionary when there’s a white man liv’n’ here. It’s the likes o’ you as makes these rotten natives so damned saucy to white men.”
Watson eyed the man up and down, from his bare, dirty feet to his unkempt head and ragged, tousled beard.
“You may call yourself a white man,” he said; “I don’t. I daresay, though, that if you used a bar or two of soap you might get to resemble one, you dirty, beastly ruffian.”
Winchcombly glared at him savagely, and then began to roll up his shirt sleeves—but very slowly.
“Oh, I’m ready for you, Mr. Winchcombly, after you have had a wash. You know where to find me.” Then he walked away.
* * * * * * * *
As he sat smoking, he was joined by the burly, good-natured native teacher, who was also fond of his pipe. For some minutes they puffed away at their pipes in contented laziness, listening to the murmur of the surf and the soft soughing of the trade wind through the gently swaying plumes of the lofty cocoa-palms. Then suddenly there came a chorus of women’s voices from the back of the mission house.
“E mu afi i Nanomaga! E mu afi i Nanomaga!” (“There are fires on Nanomaga!”)
The two men sprang up and ran to where a group of women were standing on a little knoll from where a clear view of the ocean to windward could be obtained, and there, plainly visible, was the glow of five fires.
“What does it mean, Viliamu?” asked Watson.
“Trouble, I fear,” the teacher replied.
“Aye, but what trouble?”
“Three fires mean, ‘We are coming to visit you, and leave here to-morrow night,” replied the burly man. “Four fires mean, ‘We shall visit you in a month from to-night.’ Five fires is a call to us of Nanomea for help, for they say, ‘We are attacked.’ And I fear that it is a war party from Nuitao.”
Nuitao was sixty miles from Nanomaga, and there had always been bad blood between the people of the two islands, and Watson knew the workings of the native mind and its proneness to yield to sudden anger for some fancied insult or injury.
He turned quickly to the teacher.
“Your people will go to their help, Viliamu?”
The teacher looked distressed.
“They dare not, though their hearts go out across the sea to their friends, but the people of Nanomaga, as thou knowest, have the mai lafa (measles) and no one of this island dare venture there. Is it not but two years since the mai lafa came to Viti (Fiji), and did not forty and two thousand people die within one month and a half?”
“That is true, Viliamu, that is true.” Then he paced to and fro for a few minutes, and thought.
“Viliamu, good friend,” (he spoke to the teacher in Viliamu’s own beloved Samoan tongue) “I must go to them. Get me a canoe, with food and water. I shall go alone. ’Tis but twelve leagues.”
“Nay, good friend, be not hasty, ’tis a dangerous thing for one man to attempt, for the cross currents are many and strong.”
Watson clapped him on the shoulder, and with mock anger, said, “Viliamu, get me that canoe, or no longer shall we be friends.”
* * * * * * * * *
By the time the canoe was ready he was on the beach, talking to the teacher. Presently the surrounding crowd of excited brown-skinned natives opened out and made way for a stalwart, darker-skinned man, clothed only with an airüri, a girdle of grass which hung from waist to knees. His long black hair, save where it was cut squarely across the broad forehead, fell like a mantle down his cheeks and upon his brawny shoulders. In the hugely distended right ear lobe were twisted a clasp knife, a stick of tobacco, and a blackened clay pipe. Stuck in the girdle of grass the haft of a heavy knife showed itself.
Striding up to the white man he greeted him in the Tokelan dialect.
“White man, I am Tarria, of Onotoa. I will go with thee to Nanomaga. I fear no man” (he made a contemptuous gesture towards the surrounding natives). “For six years have I been here. I work for these people. They pay me in food, yet they will give me no wife, because I am not lotu” (Christianized), “and so I have been fined many times for woman-stealing. I am a fine man, and many women like me.”
Watson smiled. “Thou wilt help me, then, to paddle the canoe to Nanomaga? ’Tis twelve leagues. And for thy services I will give thee five dollars in good English money, and a home in my house.”
“Did I ask for money, white man?” he asked, in the rude, straightforward manner of the Gilbert Islanders. “Give me a mat to sleep on in thy house, food and tobacco, and I am content.”
“Good, 0 Tarria, of Onotoa. Now, let us away quickly.”
“The natives carried the canoe to the water’s edge, and in ten minutes, with Tarria paddling and steering, and Watson in the bow, it passed through the seething lines of humming surf, gained the open sea, and headed for Nanomaga.
* * * * * * * *
When daylight broke Nanomaga was sixteen miles distant, and not visible from the canoe, it being so low. A sharp, stinging rain squall came away from the westward; it passed, and then the wind began to blow with some force from the northwest—an unusual thing at that time of the year, and in their favour. After a drink and a smoke, white man and brown lit their pipes and set to work with the paddles again, knowing that they would sight the low dark line of the oocoa-palms of Nanomaga in another two hours.
The drink they had taken was Holland’s gin— “square face”—two bottles of which Watson had hurriedly sent for to Winchcombly by a native with half-a-sovereign in payment, though the traders’ price between themselves was but half a dollar. Ten minutes after they had had the drink, Watson was seized with great pains. He was a strong man of five and thirty years of age, and hoped that the attack would soon pass away. But the pains increased. He ceased paddling, and a groan of agony escaped his twitching lips.
“Art thou ill, white man?” asked Tarria.
“Aye, friend, I suffer great pain,” and the native saw that his bronzed face was white and drawn.
“I, too, have strange pains within my bowels, like unto those which people suffer when they eat poisonous fish. But there are no poisonous fish on Nanomaga.”
“Give me more grog, friend Tarria. My head swims, and my skin burns as with fire.”
The native poured him out a drink from the square-faced bottle into the half shell of cocoanut. Watson drank it neat. Tarria took none, and bent to his paddle again. The white man essayed to do the same, but his twitching fingers would not close around the haft of the paddle. For a minute or so he swayed to and fro on the narrow seat; then, without a cry, toppled backwards into the bottom of the canoe and lay there unconscious.
For some minutes Tarria waited for him to recover, but Watson lay apparently lifeless, except for his twitching lips and fingers. Then the native, himself suffering acutely, pillowed Watson’s head on a basket of food, and took to his paddle again.
Another two hours passed, and Tarria had made good progress towards the island. Watson was now partly conscious, and raised a feeble hand for water. The wind had died away, and the canoe made less headway, owing to the strong adverse current. On the eastern sea-rim a low, black line of cloud was slowly rising, and Tarria knew that it meant rain and wind—the wind dead ahead. He paddled vigorously, calling upon his family god, Te Bakwa, the Shark, to give him strength to save the white man.
The black cloud turned to grey, and then to white as it rose, and then the squall was upon them—fierce, tumultuous rain, and a savage hum in the wind. For a quarter of an hour Tarria had all he could do to keep the canoe from broaching to. The squall passed; the hot sun came out, and the native, after bailing out the half-swamped canoe, filled his pipe, and covering Watson’s face with his handkerchief, resumed paddling. Another two miles and the line of cocoa-palms stood clear out against the horizon. But every now and then short, sharp rain-squalls compelled him to bring to and keep the slender craft’s head to the wind.
Gradually Watson regained consciousness, and tried to sit up; but his legs refused duty, and he sank back with a groan. Tarria’s black, deep-set eyes looked at him pityingly as he plunged his paddle blade into the water, only ceasing when the white man called for water.
Then, as the canoe topped a long ocean swell, Tarria caught sight of the white beach of Nanomaga—six miles distant. Then came a mishap. Tarria’s paddle snapped clean across at the head of the blade. He took up the one used by Watson and examined it critically. It was made of light “pua” wood, and he uttered an exclamation of disgust when he saw that the haft had been broken and bound loosely with coir cinnet.
For some time a cow blackfish and her calf had been keeping company with the canoe, sometimes coming within a few yards of it, and then sportively up-ending flukes, sounding and making off again. Suddenly a smother of foam burst upward, right ahead of the fragile craft, and Tarria, backing water with all his strength to avoid running on to the monster cow broke the second paddle. He tried to repair it, but without success, for this time it was the blade that went on both sides. Watson heard his muttered curses, and asked feebly what was wrong.
“Friend, I have broken both paddles. Yet it matters not. The shore is but a little distance, and I can swim there and get help!”
“How far is it?”
“Less than half a league. Nay, try not to rise and look! Dost doubt my word? What is half a league or five leagues to us men of Onotoa! Rest thee quietly till I return with some of thy people of Nanomaga”; and as he spoke he untied his thick grass girdle and dropped it in the bottom of the canoe.
“But,” protested Watson, speaking with laboured breath, “the bakwa” (the sharks). Tarria laughed. “Fear not for me, friend—never yet hath a shark harmed me. And thou art in great pain, and—”
He stopped suddenly, for he was about to add that the canoe was still so far from the island that the people might not notice it.”
“And what, Tarria?”
“And the old women doctors of these motu (islands) have great skill, and will soon cure thee. Now, friend, I go.”
“Stay; first take a strong drink of grog, and give me some, too. I shall drink it by-and-bye, when thou art gone, good Tarria.”
The man poured out a stiff nip, and took a mouthful himself before he passed it to Watson; then he spat it out.
“What manner of ‘rom’ (grog) is this? It is sweet, and yet bitter to the tongue. It is bad ‘rom.’ ”
“Let me taste,” said Watson, who now remembered that the Hollands had struck him as having an unusual “twang.”
Tarria passed him the cocoanut shell; he sipped a little. It certainly was both bitter and yet sweet, and a quick suspicion entered his mind.
“Pour it back into the bottle, Tarria, and press in the cork tightly. As thou sayest, it hath a strange taste.”
Then Tarria took the two hafts of the canoe paddles, laid them athwartships over Watson’s head, and spread his grass girdle over them to protect the white man from the sun. Then he pressed Watson’s hand. “Be of good heart, friend. I shall return soon. Art sleepy?”
“Aye, Tarria, I am drowsy.”
“That is well. Tiakopo” (Good-bye). And slipping over the side of the canoe the strong swimmer struck out swiftly for the shore.
* * * * * * * * *
At noon, Watson was aroused from his slumber by the sound of voices, and two canoes came alongside. He was lifted out, placed amidships in the larger of the canoes, and given a young cocoanut to drink.
“Where is the man from Onotoa?” he asked.
“In my house,” replied Akapu, the chief of the island.
“Is he well?”
“It is well with him.”
“And there, and thy people? Are there many sick?”
“Very many; for that did we light the five fires to call thee back to us, for thou hath good medicine, and the people cry for thee.”
Too weak to ask any more questions, Watson closed his eyes. An hour later he was in his own house. Akapu brought him half a tumblerful of brandy. He drank it eagerly, and in a few minutes later was able to sit up.
“Where is the man from Onotoa?” he again asked. Akapu placed one hand on Watson’s knee, and then spoke slowly.
“He is dead.”
“Aye, he is dead. When he left thee to swim to the shore no one saw him till he was close to the reef. A little girl who was fishing with a rod was the first to see him. And, as he placed his right hand on a knob of coral to draw himself out of the water, a great tanifa shark same up from beneath, and bit a great piece out of his side—so great that the bowels came out. But yet so strong a man was he, that he dragged himself on to the ledge of the reef, and said to the child, ‘Hasten, little one, to the shore and tell thy people that their white man is adrift in a canoe a league and a half away over there to the west. Bid them hurry, for he is sick and helpless! And then he asked the child to bring him water and a pipe and tobacco. And so we came to him, and he drank the water, but, as we put a lighted pipe to his mouth, he lifted his hand and pointed seaward. Then he died there on the reef.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Three and a half years had passed, and Watson found himself in San Francisco. Standing at the corner of Sansome and California Streets, talking to an acquaintance, he gave a sudden start as a big, burly man passed them. It was Winchcombly. Watson followed his man, who entered a low drinking saloon, one of the most notorious in San Francisco, and then went upstairs. Watson ordered a drink, and soon found out that Winchcombly was boarding at the place, and was “having a good time,” also, that he was “a bad man,” and worth leaving alone. Returning to his lodgings, he opened his trunk and took out a square bottle wrapped in brown paper. Half-an-hour later he was back in the saloon, which was crowded with “toughs,” of the usual ’Frisco wharves type. He scanned them closely, but the man he sought was not amongst them. At last he heard his voice, and discovered him in a corner, seated with two other men at a small round table, drinking.
He went outside, and then re-entered by another door. Approaching Winchcombly from behind, he gave him a heavy slap on his broad back.
“How are you, Mr. Winchcombly?” he said quietly. Then, ere the man could utter a word, he slipped round to the other side, took a chair directly opposite him, and, quickly uncovering the black bottle, placed it upon the table. Winchcombly half rose from his seat, and then sat down again. The two toughs started at Watson, then at the bottle, but said nothing.
Watson addressed himself to them in the most affable manner. “Gentlemen, glad to meet you. Don’t know your names, but that doesn’t matter. Let us have some drinks.” He called a bar attendant, and the drinks were brought.
“What are you having, Mr. Winchcombly?” he said with studied politeness.
“Carn’t yer see it’s whisky?” was the surly answer. “Anyway, what does it matter to you?”
Watson stretched out his arm, and quietly drew Winchcombly’s glass away, and placed it beside his own.
“It matters a good deal, Mr. Winchcombly. I don’t want you to drink bad Bourbon whisky when I can give you some of the excellent Hollands gin, which you sold me on Nanomea, three and a half years ago. You remember, eh? I only had two drinks out of the bottle, the rest I have kept for you.” He threw out the whisky in Winchcombly’s glass, and then half filled it with liquor from the square bottle, just as Winchcombly’s right hand was sliding slowly down to his hip pocket.
Watson was too quick for him. “None of that. Put your hands on the table, sharp! ’ ’
And Winchcombly promptly obeyed, for the muzzle of Watson’s pistol was within a foot of his bloodshot eyes.
“Drink,” said Watson.
“What for? I never did like square-face.’’
“Drink,” reiterated Watson grimly. Winchcombly looked at the two toughs, but found no sympathy in their callous faces. Slowly he stretched out his hand to take the glass, and then, with a sudden, upward jerk of his right knee, upset the table and drew his revovler—a second too late, for Watson’s bullet took him in the forehead. He dropped on the sawdusted floor.
Watson looked at him for a moment, then turned to the crowd of toughs that now surrounded him.
“Try a nip of that Hollands, you fellows, if any one of you wants to die in ten minutes. That man lying there poisoned it for my benefit. Now I’m quits.”
Within the barrier reef that almost—save for the passage—encompasses Jakoits Harbour, on Ponapé, in the Caroline Group, is a small island of less than two hundred acres in extent. On the western side, but for a narrow ledge, visible at low tide only, it rises steep, too, from the deep, placid water—a stark, grim cliff of grey and white upheaved coral.
Eastward it slopes considerably, but even in the lowest part the wild wall of rock is not less than fifty feet in height from the wooded summit to base. From the harbour, in those days, only two or three native houses were visible on the narrow sea ledge near the western face; above was a strongly fortified village held by some four hundred of savage, intractable people, whose ruler, Tal, was the terror of the main island of Ponapé. Cruel, crafty, and as vindictive as he was courageous in warfare, his mana (prestige) was great from one end of the Caroline Archipplago to the other.
* * * * * * * *
Towards sunset one afternoon in November, when the westerly winds began to replace the steady, languorous northeast trades, a yellow-painted brigantine, showing the Stars and Stripes from her gaff, sailed leisurely in through the passage to Jakoits Harbour and cast anchor within a cable length of Tal’s island; and as the savage old, wrinkle-faced chief looked down upon her from his house, a grim smile of pleasure lit up his features. For Mason, the skipper of the Virginia, and he were old friends and comrades in many a bloody crime. Mason, whilst always willing to buy or sell from white man or native on orthodox trading terms, was also quite ready to steal or murder, if he thought that the latter course would be the more profitable, and save unnecessary “palaver.” And all his officers and crew, save one man, were like unto himself. They were black, brown, yellow-skinned, puce-coloured cut-throats from all parts of the East Indies. The one exception was his chief mate, a middle-aged man named Grace, a French-Canadian, of the town of Trois Rivieres, in the province of Quebec. He had shipped as mate with Mason at the island of Sangir, and before two weeks had passed, the captain and he were at enmity. Grace was a strong man, mentally and physically. He would knock a man down with his fist if the man was insolent, but would not kick him when down. Mason, whether drunk or sober, always kicked after he had hit. Hence the motley, mongrel crew of the Virginia greatly respected Captain Lucas Mason, and, by the time that the disreputable-looking old brigantine arrived at Ponapé, correspondingly despised the stalwart slow-speaking Hervé Grace.
In the face of the grim cliff, on the western side of Tal’s fortified island, were two caves, reaching far back into the rock, and situated some twenty-five or thirty feet above the sea level. In each of these caves was a whaleboat, ready to be lowered at any moment when Tal signified his intention of setting out on one of his frequent and bloody maritime raids on the islands lying to leeward of Ponapé, or, as the old Spanish navigators called it, Ascension Island, it being discovered on Ascension Day, when the pious discoverers, raising the Holy Cross on Tal’s island to thank the virgin for giving them a haven of rest on their weary sea-worn way to Manilla, were “disturbed” by the appearance of “many painted savage Indios, who profaned the Holy Cross by casting it down, whereupon our commander opened fire upon them with arquebuses, and killed nine of these benighted and heathen creatures.”
As the brigantine came to an anchor, the old chief and a party of his best fighting-men descended by ropes of twisted cane to the caves, and lowered , the boats into the water. The brigantine’s eight six-pounder guns thundered out a salute; for Lucas Mason was a business man, and did not mind expending a few pounds of powder and greasing the mouths of his guns for six inches down to increase the “bang,” in order to delight the cruelly, childish heart and unconquerable vanity of his savage and merciless ally.
Mason greeted Tal effusively, and the old man’s eyes, black and scintillating, looking enviously at the brigantine’s eight six-pounder guns, with their round shot piled beside them, and now being “housed,” with their canvas coverings to prevent their polish being marred by the nightly rains, turned to the brutal-faced skipper. If only he had enough to buy the ship, and Mason and his crew and sail westward to Yap, and bring back a hundred, or two hundred or more slaves! Then would his mana be exceedingly greater than it was now, and, when he died, his finger bones and locks of his hair wonld be fought for as those of a Great Man.
Tal and the captain sat in deck-chairs, the steward brought them liquor, and they began to talk business. Mason wanted hawk-bill turtleshell, trepang and cocoa-nut oil; Tal wanted arms and ammunition, rum and tobacco.
* * * * * * * * *
Seated on the skylight, and engaged in plaiting a fine mat of bleached pandanus leaves, was a handsome young, red-brown-skinned girl of Semitic features, and though she knew and spoke the English language as well as her own father’s Portuguese, had taken no heed of the conversation between Captain Lucas Mason and the savage old chief. She was dressed in semi-European costume, and as Hervé Grace passed her on his way to speak to the captain, he placed his hand playfully on her head on thickly coiled-up masses of jetty-black hair. She smiled back at him and went on plaiting.
Suddenly old Tal saw her.
“Who is that girl, Masoni, my good friend, and whence comes she?”
“She belongs to my chief mate, and comes from Sangir, an island that thou, oh, sevené of Ponapé, hast never heard of.”
“She is good to look upon. I shall buy her. Tell this mate of thine to come to me quickly, and name his price for her.”
Mason shook his shaggy head, “Nay, Tal, he will not sell. He is a fool and loves her. Thou dost not understand the foolish things that creep into the heart of us white men when we love a woman, not for her beauty alone, but for something that wise men say lies beyond the black gates of death, and the woman who loves and the man who loves shall yet meet again. So turn not thy eyes upon this woman from Sangir.”
The old man laughed sardonically, then fixed his cruel eyes on Mason.
“It is in my mind to buy her, this woman from Sangir. Call the man to me. I am in no mood to waste words. I am Tal.”
Mason moved uneasily in his seat. He dared not offend Tal, nor did he wish another quarrel with Grace. He thought a few moments, and then spoke.
“Why ask me this, friend Tal? This woman is a stranger, and your wives will surely kill her because of that alone; and my mate is a strong man and of great courage. Neither you nor I can force him to sell this woman. And what is one woman more or less to you?”
A fierce gleam came into the crafty eyes. “I shall buy her. Her eyes have eaten my heart. Neither her husband nor you shall refuse me.”
Again Mason considered. “We can but try him. If he refuses—then there are other ways.”
Tal nodded. “Good, I understand. Now send the man to me.”
Hervé Grace came and stood before the old chief. “White man, I would buy that woman of thine. Four hundred plates of good hawkbill turtleshell. ’Tis a big price.”
“I will not sell. I need no hawkbill shell.” He motioned to the girl to go to his quarters in the deckhouse; and then, after a curt nod to Tal, went fo’ard again. He was not a sentimental man, but as the girl had fallen in love with him, and was willing to follow his fortunes, he was averse to selling her, as if she were a musket or a keg of powder.
That evening Mason went on shore with Tal, and the two had a further’ talk. Tal was to have the girl from Sangir, and Mason was to have six hundred plates of turtleshell. As they sat and talked, Tal’s youngest and favourite wife played with her infant son at the further end of the chief’s house.
In the morning Grace set out with two boats for Metalanien Harbour, ten miles down the coast, where he was to collect some casks of cocoanut oil belonging to Tal, who was selling it to Mason. He was away two days. Mason met him as he stepped on deck.
“What has gone wrong between you and Siara, Mr. Grace?” he asked. “She cleared out last night. Must have swum ashore. Thought she had gone after you. Have you seen anything of her?”
“No,’’ said Grace, indifferently; “I have not. There are thirty casks of oil in the boats.”
Mason gave an inward sigh of relief. Grace wasn’t going to make a fuss after all. “Thirty casks, eh! Well, old Tal is a man of his word. He said thirty. Come below and have a drink.”
Grace took half a glass of Bourbon, tossed it off with a “Here’s luck,” lit his pipe, and rose to go on deck again.
“Darned queer about that girl of yours clearing out like that, ain’t it? Glad you ain’t worryin’ about it.” Then he added, with a grin. “I guess you won’t go inter mournin’. There’s no place like Ponapé fur pickin’ up a noo and handsome wife at a low figger.”
Grace nodded. “That is so. Guess I’ll get that oil stowed right away.”
* * * * * * * * *
A week had passed. Grace went about his work as usual, going from point to point along the coast, collecting oil and trepang, apparently oblivious of Siara. But he knew that she was in Tal’s stronghold. He had known it from the morning following her disappearance, and knew that Lucas Mason was at the bottom of the matter. Juan, the steward, after Grace had slipped a twenty dollar gold piece into his hand, had told him. The girl had been surprised in her sleep by some of the crew, her head muffled, she had been placed quietly in a canoe, and taken on shore. He (Juan) had twice been to Tal’s village to see the native girls dancing, but had seen nothing of Siara. Yet he knew that she was there, and was the cause of much discussion. The people murmured greatly at the old chief placing such a slight upon his youngest and most favourite wife, who was daughter of a chief second only in power to Tal himself, for the sake of a strange girl whom he loaded with presents. That the girl was unwilling, scornful, and fretting to escape, did not matter to them. Had they dared, they would have speared, shot, or poisoned her, but the fear of Tal was an ever-present terror. Yet the feeling of resentment grew, and then Tal gave orders for a great feast in honour of the girl from Sangir.
The copper-coloured people assembled before the house of the chief, which stood almost on the verge of the cliff, two hundred feet above the sea. On the cane-work platform of the house sat Tal, his wives and his leading chiefs. Within the dwelling was Siara of Sangir, waiting to be summoned. From where she sat she watched Nait, the old chief’s favourite wife, and her two-year-old son. The child was pulling the ears of a small white mongrel dog, and, laughing as the animal pretended to bite the little brown hands. Suddenly old Tal spoke:
“Siara, woman of Sangir, come hither, and sit thee beside me.”
A dead silence followed. The girl, with bent head and trembling limbs obeyed.
Then Tal, whose anger was ablaze at the silence of his people, took a cooked fish and a piece of taro, placed them on a wooden platter such as was used by chiefs only, and motioned to his young wife, Nait, to approach.
“Come hither,” he commanded, “and serve this Siara of Sangir with food, and see well that thou pickest out every bone of the fish. It is my will— the will of Tal.”
The insult was deadly to Nait; but slowly she rose, and with the red spark of danger in her sullen eyes, sat herself in front of Siara, with the platter between them. Taking up the fish she opened it lengthways with steady hands. Then, quick as lightning and with flashing eyes of hate and scorn, she struck Siara with it in the face, and bravely raising her head, looked defiantly at her savage lord.
Tal gave a grim laugh, and his cruel lips turned down. For some moments he gazed steadily at the silent people before him, then at those of his chiefs sitting near him. Nait’s child was still playing with the dog.
“Bring me the dog,” he said, as his cruel eyes sought his young wife’s now averted face. A trembling-kneed old woman brought him the animal.
“Rise,” he said to Nait; “take this dog—the pet of thy child—and cast it over the cliff.”
The woman obeyed. Taking the dog in her shapely arms, she walked to the edge of the cliff, and let it drop — two hundred feet down upon the ledge of rock that jutted out from its base.
The light of bloody murder was in the eyes of old Tal.
“Good,” he said, “thou are an obedient wife, and of good blood, worthy to be favoured by Tal. Now take the child.”
The child was carried to her.
“Take thou the child, Nait, my wife, and let it follow the dog, then cast thyself over after it. I am Tal.”
A moan of agony escaped her lips. She took the child to her bosom and held it tightly. Siara leapt beside her.
“Nay, Nait, thou shalt not die. No hate have I for thee, for I have been dragged here by thy cruel husband against my will, and I will die with thee if thou diest.”
Clear, cold and cruel, old Tal’s voice rang out: “Take the woman from Sangir away.”
Two men seized her by the arms, and led her away. Then Tal, with the murder lust in his savage eyes, spoke to Nait.
“Do as I bid thee.”
One choking sob escaped her lips, then, still clasping her child to her heaving bosom, she walked to the edge of the terrible cliff and sprang over.
Not a sound came from the people. Tal had covered his evil, wrinkled face with a mat.
The silence was broken by the sound of voices from the brigantine.
Tal uncovered his face, and, stretching out his arm to Siara, spoke:
“O, woman of Sangir, thou hast brought an evil day on me; go back to thy white man. Thou hast cost me too much, and art like to cost me more if thou stayest.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Grace said but little, when, on entering the deckhouse, he found Siara. “’Twas not thy fault, little one.” That was all. He had food brought to her, watched her eat, filled and lit his pipe, and thought of Lucas Mason—and revenge.
On the following evening Mason gave the crew liberty, and he and the second mate went on shore with them, leaving Grace, the steward, and one Manilla man on board. When all was quiet, Grace took a length of fuse and busied himself with the powder barrels in the lazarette. That done, he bored a hole through the bulkhead into the main hold, and passed one end of the fuse through. Siara sat on the skylight, keeping watch.
At midnight came the sound of oars. On the port side was the ship’s dinghy, with provisions and water, and Grace’s chart sextant and Mason’s chronometer. For’ard lay the Manilla man with a knife thrust through his heart. Juan, the steward, had, as he told Grace, “attended’’ to him.
The boat drew near, and Grace’s heart leapt within him as he heard Tal’s voice, and Siara placed one hand on her panting bosom. She, too, would have her revenge. Mason, followed by Tal, clambered on deck.
“Old Tal and I are going to see daylight in, Mr. Grace,” said Mason, who was in a semi-drunken state. “He’s got a fit of the dumps, owin’ ter a recent bereavement he has just sustained. He wants lifting up a bit.”
“Just so,” said the mate cheerfully. “I’ll give him a lift up presently,” as he watched them descend into the cabin.
Silently Siara and the steward slipped over the side into the dinghy, and waited. Grace had gone into the hold. In five minutes he joined them, and he and Juan cast off, took to the oars, and made for the passage. At a safe distance they ceased pulling, and waited.
Then came a sheet of flame and a thundering roar, and the Virginia blew up and sank beneath the calm waters of the harbour.
Siara turned to Hervé Grace and smiled. “ ’Tis well done, my Hervé,” she said.
Korror Harbour, in the Palao (Pelew) Islands, in the North Pacific, is one of the most beautiful spots in that ocean. From 1830 to 1866 the group was much favoured by the American whaling fleet, hundreds of ships calling there to wood and water on their way from the sperm whaling grounds of the Equitorial Islands to the “lowhead” fisheries of the coast of Japan and the Yellow Sea. The natives, though continually fighting amongst themselves, were always friendly to their white visitors, even as they had been to the captain, officers and crew of the Honourable East India Company’s ship Antelope, which was totally wrecked on one of the islands in (I think) 1788. The romantic story of the young Prince Lee Boo will doubtless be rememered by those who in their boyhood days have read Keate’s “Narrative of the Wreck of the H.E.I.C. Ship Antelope ” The King of the group, Abba Thulle, extended the warmest hospitality to Captain Wilson and his people, and assisted him to build a small craft out of the wreck, and entrusted the young prince to his care for a year’s sojourn in England. The lad, who was possessed of a most lovable nature, became quite “the rage” in London, and was the guest not only of the learned societies of the day, but also of his Majesty King George himself. Alas for poor Lee Boo! (Le bu.) He contracted small-pox, and died within a year, and his dust lies in Rotherhithe Churchyard, under a tombstone setting forth in verse his amiability of character, and bemoaning his sad fate.
During 1878-1879 the small vessel—a brig of one hundred and fifty tons—in which I was supercargo, called at the Palaos to be put on the beach for repairs, we having struck on a reef, badly damaged the keel, and stripped off a number of sheets of copper.
With the aid of the natives we got the brig snugly beached on Babelthuap Island just before sunrise, when there was not a ripple on the surface of the starlit waters and the fronds of the coco and pandanus palms hung pendant and motionless, awaiting their call to life and song with the rising of the sun. A mile distant, on the starboard hand, where stood the native village embowered in an orange grove, the light of a fire gleamed among the dark trees, then another and another—the women were lighting the fires to cook the “fishing meal” (kai-ro-ika), i.e., the meal taken by the men ere proceeding out in the proas for the morning’s fishing. And then, through the serried boles of the lofty coco palms the skipper and I watched the red, arrowy shafts of sunlight steal swiftly through and pierce the soft grey land mist that had lain beneath their plumed crowns through the quiet night. As the great red ball rose well clear of the eastern sky-rim there came the sound of many thousand wings, and low, but not unpleasant, croakings, as flock after flock of two species of terns—one dark-brown, the other a bluish-grey—sped swiftly seaward from their rookeries in the big Barringtonia trees a mile or two inland in the quiet, sleeping forest.
Before the crew began to cant the brig over on her port side all hands had coffee, and then I, having nothing to keep me on board, took my gun, game bag and thirty or forty sticks of twist tobacco, and started off for a day’s shooting, for pigeons were in abundance and I knew the ground. Making my way to the village to get a native or two to come with me to carry the birds, I found it somewhat difficult to get away again, the headman begging me to remain and have something to eat before I started.
“Stay,” he urged; “the ovens shall be opened by the time the heavy dew is off the undergrowth; if you go now you will be wet from head to foot ere you have walked two hundred fathoms, for the paths are very narrow, and the dew on the bushes is cold —very cold.”
They gave me an excellent hot breakfast of baked fish, crabs and bread fruit, and the two young men who were coming with me filled a basket of food to be eaten when we felt inclined. One of them carried an old fashioned single barrelled twenty-bore shot gun, of French make. With this ancient weapon later on he did very good shooting.
Leaving the main cluster of houses, we passed several isolated dwellings, and, seated outside these, engaged in scraping a yam before putting it into the ground oven in front of him, was a very old man. He was clad in a pair of blue dungaree pants only, and I felt sure, by the lightness of his skin, that he was either a white man or a half-caste. As I passed he stood up and gave me a pleasant “good-morning” in English, remarking that we would not have to go far before we were among the pigeons. He had a pleasant, cheerful face, which was, however, marred by a terrific scar from the left temple down to the snowy white right eyebrow. He asked me if he could make me a cup of coffee, but I had to decline, as I was anxious to get along. However, I said we would stop on our way back and have a smoke and a chat.
“Thank you, sir. Meanwhile I’ll go down on board your ship and talk to some of the men.”
“Yes, do. Go on board and have breakfast with them.”
“That I will, sir. I’ll dress right away.”
We struck off into the forest, and as we marched along I inquired of Butan, one of my native friends, where the old white man came from.
“We know not,” he replied. “He landed here from an American whale ship about a year ago, with a box of clothing, a box of trade goods, and a half tierce of tobacco, and had that house built for him. He does not trade for cocoanut oil nor turtle shell, only using his trade goods to buy food. He lives quite alone, and is very quiet. Sometimes he comes down to the village and talks and smokes with our head man, who can speak English, and, although so old, yet is he strong and active. He can speak many tongues, and already he hath learned much of ours.”
We had a great day’s shooting, and brought in as many fat pigeons as we could carry. Stopping at the old man’s house, we found him at home engaged in cutting out a jumper from a piece of dungaree. I gave him half a dozen pigeons, whereupon the ancient invited me to come and have supper with him. I accepted the invitation, and promised to be with him at 8 o’clock that evening. The house was externally not different from those of the Palao natives, but the interior was furnished in semi-European fashion. There was a table, covered with a fine mat as a cloth, a range of shelves, on which were arranged plates, cups and saucers, etc., and on the cane walls were hanging a couple of Springfield rifles, native fishing nets, etc., and generally the place was neat and tidy. One end of the single compartment was screened by curtains of navy blue calico. This was his bedroom, furnished with a neatly made table, on which stood a kerosene lamp and some much worn books; the floor throughout was of closely tied bamboo strips, covered with mats, and altogether it was a cosy little habitation.
Bidding him good-bye for the present, I went on to the village.
The brig being canted over on her beam ends, in order to effect repairs, the captain and all hands had taken up their quarters in the chief’s roomy house, where they were very comfortable.
Eight o’clock found me in the old man’s hut, And, after giving me an excellent supper of stewed pigeons, baked crabs and very good coffee, we lit our pipes, and my newly-made friend told me the story of his life, which was a strange and eventful one.
“Yes, sir,” said the old fellow, “I’ve been a pirate right enough. It isn’t a long step from privateering to pirating. I suppose it was in the blood in my case, for although my father nor his father before him were either, yet they were both born smugglers, and the last I saw of my father was in Lewes Gaol, where he was awaiting his trial. Long years afterwards, when I was a grown man, I learned that he had been transported to Botany Bay, as New South Wales was then called.
“I was born in the little fishing village of Kingsdown, near Deal, in Kent, in 1795, or thereabouts, and am now about eighty-four or eighty-five years of age. I had one brother two years older than me, a stout, sturdy chap like most Kentish lads. My mother died when I was eleven years of age, and from the time of her death my father grew more and more reckless in his smuggling exploits. My brother and I took part in them, and certainly we benefited, for we were now better fed and clothed than we were during my poor mother’s lifetime, when we mainly depended upon fishing for our living. Many and many a bitter night did we spend in our little galley punt beating up to Deal to land our cargo of codfish and whiting, then, after placing our take on shore, haul the galley punt up on the shingle and make our way home past Walmer Castle to Kingsdown.
“When I was thirteen years of age—that was in 1808—several men came to see my father one night. They were all smugglers from Deal and Sandwich, and had important business to discuss. A French vessel was expected to land a hundred kegs of brandy at a place called Birling Gap, on the western side of Beachy Head, and every preparation had been made to run the cargo on shore and convey it inland. In those days the underground passages beneath the old parish church at Eastbourne were used as a smuggler’s hiding place, but the Preventive Service men had got to know it, and the church grounds were pretty well watched. So my father and his friends decided to run the keggers of brandy to a village called Darcombe, where it could be quickly disposed of to the local gentry.
“My father would not allow my brother Samuel and me to accompany him on this occasion, as it would be a risky undertaking, and they were afraid that the Preventive Service men had got wind of what was afoot.
“Well, to make a long story short, the keggers were landed safely enough, and put into carts with muffled wheels, when suddenly a force of thirty Preventives, who had been ambushed in the gorse, rushed out and made the whole party prisoners after a desperate resistance. They were tried at the Lewes assizes, and all six of them were sent to Botany Bay. Samuel and I were allowed to see our father once only before he was taken to the hulks at Portsmouth, and we never saw him again.
“A week after this Sam and I were cod fishing off the South Goodwin, when a seventy gun ship passed us, and dropped anchor in the Downs. Being afraid of the press, we, as soon as it was dark, hoisted our lug sail, and stood for the shore; but we were too late—a boat from the man-of-war overhauled us, and we were taken on board and pressed into the King’s Service. There were a number of other pressed men on the ship who told us to make the best of it, and a few days later we sailed for Monte Video, taking several French prizes on the way. One of these, a ten-gun brig, was ordered to Port Royal with a prize crew, among whom was my brother Sam. Both he and I appealed earnestly to our captain not to part us, but he would not listen. He had taken a fancy to me, and the lieutenant who was placed in charge of the prize had an equal fancy for poor Sam, and so we had to part.
“From Monte Video we went into the Pacific, and I saw a good deal of fighting, and we took a good many prizes, and then sailed for the Galapagos Islands. A lot of the men were suffering from some kind of fever, and tents were put up on shore for them to live in. I was one of a party of three who had to attend upon them, and as I had long since determined to escape from the battleship, I thought this was my opportunity. Some of my shipmates had told me that although the Galapagos were uninhabited, they were frequently visited by whale-ships, letters of marque and buccaneers, and it would be easy for a man to hide himself in the mountainous country, and wait till one of these craft came —that is, if he had food, as there was nothing to be had to eat except wild goats and monstrous tortoises. There were, however, plenty of fish and crayfish.
“In my mess was a young fellow named Martin Keeshan—a pressed man—who, like me, had made up his mind to desert. He and I had long talks on the matter, and he managed to get sent on shore to help tend the sick men. Part of our work was to hunt for tortoises amongst the hills, and every time we went out we smuggled biscuits and any other provisions we could safely take without their being missed. These we hid in one of the many hundreds of dry caves in the mountains or among the cactus plants on which the giant tortoises fed.
“Some of the sick men died, but the rest soon recovered sufficiently to be able to return to the ship, and one day the first lieutenant came on shore and told us to strike the tents at daylight, and be ready for the boat at eight o’clock. Keeshan and I said all should be ready.
“About midnight, when all the others were sound asleep, my mate and I went to the store tent and, first of all, took a five-gallon keg, three-parts full, of rum, and buried it in the sand, some distance away, with all the tobacco and biscuits we could carry; then, returning, we took our muskets and cutlasses and powder and ball, and stole quietly away, getting far into the mountains by daylight, which, when it broke, showed us the ship far below. A few hours later we saw the boat come on shore and take off the sick men in great haste, and then another landing party left the ship to look for us, but about noon they gave up the search, and the ship weighed anchor, and we were left to ourselves, to our great joy.
“For ten weeks or more we led a happy life. We had plenty of food, such as biscuit, sugar, a bag of coffee beans, some tsazjo (dried beef), all of which we had stolen from the sick bay tent, and the wild goats were so plentiful that we were never in want of fresh meat. Keeshan had managed to secure about a stone weight of salt from the ship, and this came in extremely useful. Then, besides the goats, we had the giant tortoises to fall back upon, and fish and crayfish abounded. We had fixed our camp on the same spot as the former ‘sick bay,’ for that was the harbour most frequented by the whaleships and letters of marque. There were a lot of privateers and letters of marque out in those days. There were the Port-au-Prince of London, Captain Duck, and her consort, the Lucy. They harried the South American coast, and took a lot of Spanish prizes, captured some towns, and got heavy ransoms from the merchants. The Port-au-Prince came to the Galapagos to wood and water and Captain Duck died there. Then she went to Tonga, where she was cut off by the natives, and nearly every one of the ship’s company were murdered, but they made much of one young chap, named Mariner. They kept him in a sort of honourable captivity for about four years, and I believe he wrote a book about it. Perhaps you may have heard of him?”
“Yes. I have read his book.”
“Well, about ten weeks after we deserted we sighted a vessel bearing down on the island. She made right for our bay, and dropped anchor about two cable lengths from the shore. She was a brigantine, and from where we stood we saw that she carried eleven guns—five on each side and a long twenty-four amidships.
“We hurried down to the beach, and in a few minutes a boat put off, and the captain came on shore. He was an Englishman, and told us that his ship was the Doughty, of Bristol, and a letter of marque. He was a quiet-spoken, middle-aged man, and dressed much like the merchant skippers of those days, except that he carried a brace of pistols and a sword. All his boat’s crew, too, who seemed a mixture of all nations, were armed with muskets and cutlasses. He asked us if we wanted to join his ship, and of course we said ‘yes.’ Then we took him to our cave, and we all three had a drink of rum together. Then he sent all but two of his boat’s crew to look for tortoises, and we went off to the ship.
“Calling the mate to him he said, ‘Henry, here are two young fellows who have run away from an English man-of-war. Put them in your watch, and let them have something to eat and drink right away if they want it.’ Then, turning to us, he said, ‘Now, lads, all you have got to do is to obey orders and keep your mouths’ shut, and you’ll lead a jolly life; but if you show funk at anything you may see you’ll be slung overboard for sharks’ meat.’
“One of the crew, a Chileno, took us for’ard, and we were given food and a jar of wine, and told to help ourselves. They had scores of jars of wine of aguardiente in the foc’sclc, and what struck us was the quantity of beautiful silk and velvet hangings that hung about the dirty place. However, they treated us very well, and kept plying us with drink. Most of them were foreigners—Chilenos, Peruvians, Portuguese, and other breeds of Dagoes—but there were four or five Englishmen, and three of these we soon found out to be deserters from the King’s navy like ourselves. Every man Jack of them sported a lot of jewellery—rings and gold chains, and many had gold watches.
“About four in the afternoon the men who were sent to catch tortoises appeared on the beach. They had evidently got at our rum keg, for they could hardly stand up, and had only caught three tortoises. The captain’s face turned livid with passion. He called Martin Keeshan and me aft and asked us if we could guide a party to the best place for tortoises. Although we were only half sober we said that we could get fifty in an hour if he sent enough men to carry them down to the boats.
“ ‘All right,’ he said, ‘come with me in my boat.’
“Three boats left the brigantine, and as soon as we landed the captain jumped out and began cursing the drunken men, one of whom, a big, burly Azores negro, told him to go and look for tortoises himself. Quick as lightning the captain drew a pistol from his belt and shot the man dead. Then, turning to the others, he threatened them with the same fate if they played any more ‘tricks’ upon him. No one troubled about the dead negro—he was left to lie on the sand.
“We got thirty tortoises by sunset, and more on the following day, together with a great number of goats, and, after setting up the standing rigging, we set sail for the South American coast. Keeshan and I had not been on board more than four days when we learned from the English sailors that the Doughty was not a letter of marque at all, but an out and out pirate, and that during the past two years had captured over thirty vessels, some of which had fought hard, and there had been great loss of life. The practice of the captain of the Doughty was to get the weather gauge of a ship and knock her spars to pieces with the long twenty-four, then run alongside and board. All told, there were fifty-two men on board, and five Spanish women, the so-called wives of the captain and officers.
“Soon after we made the South American coast we sighted a brig close in shore, and there was great excitement on board our craft. The decks were cleared for action, and every stitch of canvas we could carry was set, and then Spanish colours were hoisted. The Doughty was a fast sailer, and in three hours we were within gunshot of her and sent a shot across her bows to heave to. She took no heed, but pressed on, and then our captain brought the long gun to bear on her, and in half an hour her spars were pretty well in pieces. She carried fourteen guns, and made a brave fight of it, and gave us two or three broadsides; only the last one did us any harm—two eighteen-pound shot struck us in the waist and killed three men who were working one of the guns. We then put the helm up and ran down to her, and our captain—I never learnt his name—hailed her captain in Spanish to surrender or he would sink her. She answered by firing all the guns she could bring to bear on us, and a heavy fire of musketry. Then for the first time in my life I saw the black flag. Down came the Spanish colours we had hoisted, and up went the Jolly Roger, amid the savage yells of our crew. Keeshan and I, knowing that the brig was a Spaniard, didn’t hesitate to lend a hand in working the long twenty-four-pound gun, which did fearful execution. She had boarding nettings up, and her decks were crowded with men. Every now and then our captain would roar out to the men working the guns not to aim below the water line.
“In a few minutes we ran alongside and made fast with grappling irons, and the captain and mate each headed a boarding party. Keeshan and I were with the mate, who had scarcely placed his foot on the Spaniard’s deck, when he fell mortally wounded. For ten minutes or a quarter of an hour there was a bloody encounter, and the decks were like shambles. Many of the Spaniards threw down their arms and begged for quarter, but none was given. The Spanish captain fought to the last, but was cut down by one of the pirates, and the surviving members of the crew bolted below, but they were followed and ruthlessly slaughtered. We on our side lost six men killed, and had many wounded in the boarding parties. The dead men—Spaniards and pirates—were hove overboard, and our wounded sent on board the Doughty.
“Calling Keeshan and myself to follow him, the captain descended into the cabin and broke open the strong chest, and got the brig’s papers. She was the Cid Campeador, a man-of-war, and was bound from Callao to Panama. She proved a rich prize, for, in addition to two hundred thousand dollars in gold coin, she had over five thousand ingots of silver. All this was passed on board the brigantine, and then the captain called all hands and told them to help themselves to whatever else they liked before he set fire to the brig. Martin and I, on hearing this, at once returned to the cabin, and helped ourselves liberally to clothing. We did not look for money or jewellery, for we were not, I suppose, quite hardened enough then. Later on we had no scruples. But we needed the clothing badly, and we each also took a brace of silver-mounted pistols.
“Before setting fire to the brig our crew transferred all her powder, round and chain shot, and the best of her small arms, to the Doughty, and then she was set fire to fore and aft, and we stood away along the coast to the northward. Although our ship was called the Doughty by the captain and the Englishmen on board, she had no name on her stern, and I think Doughty was of their own invention, for on one of the ’tween deck beams the words St. Malo were cut in the wood. But now the captain gave her a new name—Hernandez de Soto—which he had painted on her stern under the Spanish coat of arms, which he had taken from the Cid Campeador. We cruised along the coast right up as far as Acapulco, taking a good many prizes, only one of which made any resistance—a big Spanish ship, bound to Malaga, but she surrendered after losing some of her men. Our captain, who seemed to have a great hatred of the Spaniards, did not harm the survivors who surrendered, but let them go on shore in their own boats. Then he set fire to the ship after looting everything of use or value.
“We often fell in with English and American whalers, but they were too poor to trouble with. After being two and a half years in the Pacific the captain called his officers and crew together, and told them that it was his intention to round Cape Horn, and make for a Mediterranean port, where he intended to sell the ship to any power that would buy her. Three months later we encountered a big East Indiaman, and tried to take her, but she was too hard a nut to crack, for not only was she heavily armed, but she had two companies or more of troops on board, and we were beaten off.
“We succeeded in getting to Genoa all right. Before reaching there a division of the plunder was made. Martin Keeshan went home to Ireland a rich man, and I had over one thousand one hundred pounds as my share. This I pretty well ran through in the course of a year or so in London, to where I made my way in a privateer named the Sussex Maid. From London I went out to New South Wales in a convict transport as able seaman.
“I wanted to see my father, but on reaching Sydney and making enquiries found that he was dead. There was a good deal of trade done in the islands in sandalwood by Sydney ships in those days, and I soon joined a brig bound to the New Hebrides, and ever since then I’ve been wandering about the North and South Pacific—trading, ‘black birding,’ and other things, and living fairly honestly. I first came to the Palao Group twenty years ago, and I then made up my mind to return here some time or another, and end my days here. And I have done so. I am happy enough, and can pass away quietly, and no parson will drone out anything over my grave.”
Some years ago I read in an American magazine a most interesting and romantic story of the Canadian Northwest, where, during one bitter winter, a young trapper, who imagines that he has no neighbours within fifty miles, one day discovers a number of traps set within a league of his lonely dwelling. By careful watching he finds that the intruder is a young girl, who, with her aged father, have their camp on the other side of the frozen lake. The old man, a once prosperous merchant, has been ruined, and, with his only daughter, buries himself in the solitudes of the Northwest. The girl, who is but a poor trapper, toils bravely to earn a living for her parent and herself, but often when she comes to her empty traps, sits down on the snow and weeps. Filled with pity for her, the young trapper, who is most successful, supplies her empty traps with his own catches, and with keen delight hears her laughing joyously and talking to herself, as she takes the prizes, and wends her way across the frozen river. The trapper worships her in silence—of course she is beautiful—and at nighttime crosses the river, and, in hiding, hears the conversation between father and daughter, and learns their history. But he never lets them even guess that they have a neighbour. Then a fierce blizzard sets in, and the hut of the old man and his daughter is buried deeply under the snow. The trapper rescues them at the risk of his life, and all ends happily. It was, as I have said, a romantic story, and had the atmosphere of convincing truth about it. Anyway, I am sure it was written by a man who knew the Northwest, and knew how to write.
The present writer—at the time of reading the story—was in Nouméa, New Caledonia, and lent the magazine to an acquaintance who was staying at the same hotel. His name was Carey, and he had been sent out by an English syndicate to report upon some nickel and other mining properties in New Caledonia.
I did not see him again for quite a week, for he had left Nouméa to inspect some mining concessions in another part of the island. Then, one evening after dinner, just as I was about to turn in, he appeared, bringing with him a big, bronze-faced man of about forty years of age, whom he introduced to me as “Mr. Sam Chambers, one of our managers at Tchio.”
“I lent Mr. Chambers that magazine you lent me —by the way, here it is—and he read that particular yarn about the trapper and the girl in the Northwest, and has a story so analogous to it to tell that I have brought him along with me. Aren’t you going to offer us a drink, you sinful ex-blackbirder?”
“Come to my room, or rather outside my room on the balcony, and I’ll try and do you well.”
Carey, who was, like Chambers, a big, stalwart fellow, stretched himself out on a cane lounge, and the latter and I did likewise. Then, after we had comforted ourselves with something to drink and lit our pipes—oblivious of the shrugs of some French officers who were seated at the other end of the verandah smoking cigarettes and drinking a horrible decoction of bad whisky, soda-water, and cube sugar—Chambers began his story.
* * * * * * * * * *
“When I read that story in that Yankee magazine which you lent Carey, I passed it on to my wife —she is English, you see, not a brown woman—and . . . well, she cried, and said, ‘Sam, is not the story very much like ours, except that the Canadian girl was single and I was married?’
“I had been leader of a prospecting party in the Gulf country, on the eastern watershed, and we had done fairly well, when we all got fever. There were four of us, with a blackboy—one of the Cape Bowling Green tribe of blacks in the Cleveland Bay district. He was one of the most trustworthy and pluckiest niggers that ever lived, and during our illness was as good as a trained hospital nurse— better, perhaps, as he was a man, and could not entrap any one of us into a marriage.
“Two of my mates died, and I and Sandy MacDougall were pulling through all right, when at daylight our camp was rushed by a mob of niggers. We, and Combo, the blackboy, were all awake, and had time to use our Winchesters, but poor Sandy got a spear through his stomach and back, and died in a few hours. The niggers speared all our horses, and then went off.
“Combo and I made for the Coen River on foot, through country swarming with myall blacks, so we never lit a fire at night, and took good care not to be rushed again. One day we came to the head waters of a creek leading into the Coen, and camped there, for we were both fairly well done up. I had no boots, but had made a makeshift with strips of bark, and these, being all to pieces, I set about to make another pair. Whilst I was doing this Combo came to me, his black eyes all aglow.
“ ‘Plenty feller gold in this creek,’ he said, and he showed me a half-handful of water-worn nuggets, ranging from two pennyweights up to half an ounce, and added that there was the outcrop of a reef, carrying visible gold about fifty feet above the creek. Combo had the gold-miner’s instinct and perception of auriferous country, for he had been with many prospecting parties before he joined mine.
“You know what the word ‘gold’ means to a digger, miner, or prospector. I slung aside the bark shoes I was making, and, with Combo, first tried some rocky pot holes in the creek, which was very low, owing to a long drought. We got four to five ounces of good, clean gold, in bits of from three to ten pennyweights. The outcrop of the reef from which this gold had come, literally overhung the creek, then dipped and appeared on the other side.
“We could do nothing with the reef beyond picking out lumps of gold-bearing quartz and pounding them up with stones in the creek, and freeing the gold. We were, after getting a hundred and sixty ounces of gold free of quartz, at starvation point, when a mob of wild cattle came to the creek to drink, and Combo and I, firing together, dropped a fat heifer. Combo made a fire—a big fire—for we knew that there were no niggers about, as the cattle had come to the creek so quietly. From a swamp near by, we got plenty of nardoo lily roots, which we baked in a ground oven. This did us for bread, and we each made a big meal of grilled steak and nardoo. The next day we tackled the creek again, and washed out fifteen ounces between us. The gold was coarse, and we got a two ounce nugget shaped exactly like a walnut. Here it is. I brought it to show you.”
It was a beautiful specimen, and anyone would imagine that it had been shaped by the hand of man instead of Nature.
“Well,” resumed Chambers, “the next thing we did was to peg out a prospector’s claim, taking care to drive the pegs in flush with the ground; then I took the bearings of the place, and we removed every trace of our camp, especially covering up the ashes of the fire with dead leaves, and dragging the carcase of the heifer to the edge of a deep gully, into which we threw it. I took all these precautions for fear that some wandering prospecting party might drop across the place, although it was very unlikely, as the rainy season was near, and every creek would be in flood. The pot holes which we had worked in the bed of the creek we filled up with big, heavy stones then covered up the outcrop of the reef with dead timber.
“Early next morning we started for the coast, intending to work our way down south to a bêche-de-mer station about fifty miles distant. After doing a few miles, I was about to begin making a blazed tree line, which was foolish of me; Combo strongly objected, pointing out that if any prospecting party discovered it they would be pretty sure to follow it up, adding that he could find his way to our former camp in the dark. We had brought plenty of meat and nardoo roots with us, and always camped for a few hours at midday, for the heat was terrific, and the country the roughest I have ever struck, except New Guinea.
“Three days later we reached the coast, emerging from the thick bush at the bottom of a sloping spur which ran down to a long beach of yellow sand, and there, to our delight, we saw lying aground a cutter of about fifteen tons. There did not appear to be anyone on board, but on the beach was a dinghy. The vessel was less than a quarter of a mile away, and we hurried towards her as fast as our weary feet could carry us. Just as we gained the beach we saw a white man — an old fellow with a long grey beard—carrying a bundle of firewood to the dinghy, and at the same time Combo gave a loud shout, as seven or eight niggers burst out from the scrub and rushed after the old man, who at once turned as a shower of spears spun around him. Dropping his burden, he drew a revolver, but it evidently missed fire, for no report followed. We were only just in time, for in another minute he would have been slaughtered. Combo had a Snider carbine, and I a Winchester. The niggers were all in a clump and we fired into the midst of them. One dropped, and the rest at once cleared back into the scrub at lightning speed.
“I ran to the old man, and Combo to the fallen blackfellow, who had a broken thigh. Slipping another cartridge into the breach of his Snider, Combo shot him through the head, and then rejoined us, smiling grimly.
“The old man thanked us most heartily, and asked us to come on board the cutter. His name was Johanses, and he told us that he was engaged in dugong catching and curing the meat, and that a week previously, whilst fishing further north along the coast, his crew of seven blacks from the Cape Grafton tribe, for some unknown reason, suddenly attacked him and his mate, a young Jersey man, named Le Brun, whose head was split open by a tomahawk. Johanses, old as he was, was possessed of enormous strength, and at the time of the attack was mending a sail, and, lying beside him, was a dugong spear. With this he killed one of the mutineers by impaling him through the body, and, unable to withdraw the weapon, seized another black-fellow by the throat and literally dashed out his brains against the cutter’s rail. The only man except himself who escaped death was a Manila man named Saru, who was badly cut about with tomahawks, but managed to get below into the little cabin. The niggers—five in all—then jumped overboard, and swam to the shore.
“ ‘Then,’ added Johanses, ‘I lifted anchor and ran down the coast, intending to get in the track of the steamers going north to Torres Straits or south to Brisbane, and getting assistance; but, two days ago I struck on a coral patch, and the rudder carried away. So I ran ashore here.’ Then he asked me to look at the Manila man, who was lying for’ard under an extemporised awning. The poor beggar was in an awful state. He had over half a dozen tomahawk wounds, yet in a week’s time he was quite recovered, and at duty again.
“I agreed with Johanses to help him work the cutter to Trinity Bay in return for the passages of Combo and myself, and after making a new rudder, we set sail, and arrived safely at our destination. Here I left Combo, who was to await my return from Sydney a couple of months later, for I wanted to pull myself together in a cooler climate, and get rid of the malarial poison in my veins. There is always a humorous side to everything, and whilst I was at Cairns, not wishing to part with any of my gold, I went to the local bank, just then opened in a tent. In my pouch I had two five pound notes on the Bank of New South Wales, which, months before, I had rolled up tightly, and put right at the bottom of the pouch. When I took them out they were like pieces of wood, had been wet through time after time, had dried again, and got wet again. It was impossible to unroll them, but the bank manager got some hot water, and we put them in soak, and after careful manipulation, managed to spread them out to dry.
“I left for Sydney in a beastly old tub of a steamer named the Corea, and, arriving in Sydney, sold part of my gold to a bank, bought some clothes, and put up at the Pfahlert’s Hotel in Wynyard Square.”
“There was a number of mining men staying at Pfahlert’s Hotel, and I heard constant mention of the ‘Raub’ and ‘Bob Sefton.’ Now Bob Sefton was a man well known to me by repute as a famous Queensland prospector, and I soon learned that he was staying in the same hotel, and had just returned from the Malay Peninsula, where he had discovered an extraordinary rich reef known as the ‘Raub.’ The gold was in a formation of soft slate, like that found at Teetulpa in South Australia, and the specimens which I saw were astonishingly rich. Shares in the ‘Raub’ reached a very high figure, and Sefton’s reputation as an experienced ‘straight’ miner brought him a stream of mining speculators eager to invest capital. I soon made his acquaintance, and found him to be a rather short, squarely-built man, with pleasant grey eyes, which denoted resolution and character. I spoke to him confidentially about my find in the Far North, and showed him all my specimens. He listened with interest, and then said abruptly:
“ ‘Well, what do you want?’
“ ‘I want someone to back me to work that creek and the reef. The country, as you know, is very rough, but a light five stamper battery, boiler and engine could be brought there in three weeks after being landed on the coast, and in two months everything will be ready for the first crushing. But it will cost a good deal of money, and I have nothing but this gold, and a few hundred pounds in the bank here.’
“ ‘Where could you land your machinery?’ he asked, eyeing me keenly; ‘there is no port on that part of the coast.’
“ ‘I know that, but there is a place four miles south from where my blackboy and I struck the coast. It is at the mouth of a creek, with deep water at high tide.’
“ ‘How much do you want?’
“I named the amount, which included everything —freight, land carriage, bullock team and dray-provisions for six months, mining tools, arms, etc., etc.
“ ‘What are the terms—how will I stand?’
“ ‘Half share.’
“He thought awhile, then asked, ‘Have you tried Kelly, of the Merchants’ Exchange? He is a richer man than I am.’
“ ‘Don’t know him, but I do know you very well by hearsay.’
“ ‘Well, it ought to be a good thing, and I’ll take it on. I’ll give you a cheque this evening, and we’ll have everything fixed up. You can get pretty well everything you will want in Brisbane, eh?’
“ ‘Yes, everything. I only want a week in Sydney to pull up a bit, then I’ll start.’
“ ‘Right. Look me up this evening.’
“Highly elated at my good luck I at once sent a wire to the bank manager at Cairns, asking him to look up Combo, and tell him that I was returning much sooner than I had expected, and a week later left for Brisbane, where I lost no time in getting to work, and shipped the machinery, stores, etc., to Cairns by the first steamer. At Cairns I found Combo awaiting me, doing the swell on the last of ten pounds I had left for him in the care of the bank manager. I chartered a small schooner, got everything on board, and we made a start. Half way to our destination we stopped off a cattle station on the coast, and I bought a team of working bullocks, a dray, and four horses from the owner, who charged me a stiff price, but agreed to send them up to the place I indicated, under the care of a bullock driver, and one of his stockmen. Here I had another stroke of luck. As I was talking to the squatter, I noticed a couple of sturdy fellows sawing timber. They were evidently not bushmen, and I asked who they were.
“ ‘Two of the crew of a Danish barque wrecked on the Great Barrier a month ago. Nine of them landed here, seven went on in their boat to Trinity Bay, but these two chaps asked me to give them work. They are good men, but I shall have no further use for them. They might be of use to you.’
“I spoke to them, and offered them one pound a week each with rations, on a four months’ engagement. They jumped at the offer, and at once went on board the schooner. Later on, when we landed the machinery at the creek, they proved themselves good men, and, owing to their sailormen’s skill, we got everything on shore without a hitch. Both of them were as strong as working bullocks, as simple-minded as children, but terribly afraid of ‘dem black mens,’ i.e., the niggers, either tame or myall, but in due time they became great friends with Combo.
“When the bullock team, dray and horses arrived, we had made a fairly passable road to our old camp, which we found just as Combo and I had left it. No rains had yet fallen, and there was every signs of a drought. For this I was not sorry, for there was plenty of water lower down in the creek, in deep pools covered with the broad leaves of water-lilies, which prevented evaporation. There was very little game about, except wild cattle and cassowaries, and a week after the bullock team had reached us, Combo and I had shot several head of wild cattle, and salted down the meat.
“We first pitched our tents, and then set to work to build a shed for the battery, which we roofed in with corrugated iron, for there was no bark-carrying timber available. We then got the boiler, engine and crushing plant set up, the copper plate tables laid down and quick-silvered, and one Saturday morning at daylight we started on three tons of quartz taken from the outcrop of the reef. The copper plates on the tables being new did not save much of the finer gold from the stamper boxes, but I was well satisfied when we knocked off at two o’clock to clean up, for the boxes were fairly clogged with amalgam. The two Danes worked like Trojans, and that night we had a bit of a jollification. On Sunday we got the retort to work, and from the three tons of stone we got a hundred and twenty ounces of good, free gold. That satisfied me for the time, and during the following week we worked at various things — overhauling the battery, building a humpy for a blacksmith’s forge, and laying a pipe into the creek for the battery water supply. It was glorious work, and we never tired, although the heat was intense, and the sky like brass. One day Combo came to me, and asked me to come with him to the reef, which we followed along for about two hundred yards, for it outcropped every now and then, where the heavy rains of years past had washed away the soil, and left it exposed to the action of the sun and air. Gold was visible everywhere, and the upper layer of quartz was so crumbly and disintegrated that it could be pounded with a stone, and the gold freed. But Combo made another discovery. A mile or so from where our reef ceased to be visible, there was another reef running almost directly across. It quite upset all my theories about the trend of reefs, and when we pounded up a few lumps of quartz and dry blew them, and got two ounces, I wondered what my friend Bob Sefton would say when I wrote and told him about it.”
“All went well with us for the following six weeks; the rains did not come, there was scarcely any feed for the bullocks and horses, and the poor beasts began to look pretty mean, for there was but little grass country in the ranges, and finally we had to send them down to the swamps on the coast, where they fared better, though at the risk of being speared by the niggers. During this time the battery was idle, and we gave all our time to getting wash-dirt from the creek, which was now so low that our labours were easy. We piled it up under cover, intending to put it through the battery as soon as the rain came, and there was enough water in the creek to start the machinery again.
“And at last the rain did come, opening with a violent thunderstorm, which in two hours turned the creek into a raging torrent; then it descended in a steady downfall, which continued throughout the night, and it was delightful to me to hear it rattling on the corrugated iron roof over the little battery, and the swirr and gurgling of the creek below. At dawn, three days later, Combo and I set off to the coast, carrying our bridles only, to look after the bullocks and horses, and found them all safe. We drove them back to the camp, and then to the swamp at the back, on the margin of which the green grass had already sprung up as if by magic. Then once more, amidst the still falling rain, the cheerful thump and clatter of the battery stampers was heard once more.”
* * * * * * * * *
“At the end of four months the two Danes renewed their engagement, at which I was well pleased, and very thankful for later on. I had sent Combo off to the cattle station with some letters for Sydney, and wondered what had delayed his return, for he was a day overdue. The next morning at daylight, just as we were about to start the battery (we had no night shift, and always drew the fire and hung up the stampers at sunset) the blackboy’s horse appeared outside the sliprails of the little paddock. Wondering what had kept Combo, I hurried over to the animal—it was a light roan—and was startled to find the saddle and the horse’s right shoulder caked with dry blood, but the horse itself showed no sign of injury. In the saddle pouch were some letters for me from the cattle station owner. Whilst the Danes saddled my own horse, I hurriedly filled my brandy flask, and put up some beef and damper, and started off in search of the missing man. I soon picked up the roan’s returning tracks, and followed them up for about four miles, when, to my joy, I came across Combo sitting on the ground with his back against a boulder, beside a small rocky water-hole. He waved his hand to me, and showed his white teeth in a grin of welcome as I cantered up, dismounted, and before asking him any questions, gave him a big dose of brandy neat. He seemed very weak, and his moleskin riding pants were deeply bloodstained.
“ ‘Don’t talk just yet, Combo,’ I said. ‘Would you like a smoke? ’
“He grinned again. ‘By — yes,’ he said eagerly.
Then he asked if his horse had come back. After he had had his smoke, eaten something, and taken another stiff nip, he told me his story, which thoroughly mystified me.
“About twenty miles from where we were then sitting, he came across a wild cattle track, which neither he nor I had previously noticed, and he determined to follow it up until he found their camp. He had to go eight or nine miles out of his way, but knowing a supply of fresh beef was important to us now that the cattle seldom came near our camp since the battery started, he kept on, and found that the camp was in a patch of sandalwood scrub near a small creek, running between high banks. Knowing that it was a tributary of our own creek, he followed it down for some miles, when, to his astonishment, he saw a white woman getting wash dirt, carrying it up the bank, and dumping it down beside a cradle. She did not see him, and he, upon reflection, decided not to attract her attention, but return to our camp and report to me. A quarter of a mile further on he came suddenly across a small bark humpy, outside of which a horse was feeding. Combo’s roan whinnied, and a man appeared at the door with a gun, which he pointed at the blackboy and fired. Combo was hit, and nearly fell from his saddle, but turning his horse’s head, he made for the timber just as a bullet whizzed past. Although he had both a Snider carbine and a revolver, he did not attempt to return fire. As soon as he was well within the shelter of the thick timber, he realised that was badly hurt, and losing a lot of blood. The bullet had struck him on the right shoulder, breaking his collarbone and coming out at the back below the shoulder blades, leaving a great hole at its exit, which was only a few inches from where it entered. Dismounting, he tore his red cotton handkerchief in strips, and plugged up both holes as best he could. He rode on for another eight or ten miles; then, taking the bridle off his horse, let the animal go, knowing that it would make for the camp.
“The man, Combo added, was a big fellow with a very bushy brown beard, and, as he appeared at the door, two kangaroo dogs rushed out, but did not pursue the blackboy,
“It was a strange story. Why should any white man shoot a blackboy who was dressed as the usual white stockman dresses? I determined to go into the matter as soon as Combo had recovered, which was in two weeks’ time. Then we set out, and stopped for the night, when within a couple of miles of the strangers’ camp. Here we hobbled out our horses, and about two hours before dawn Combo stripped and set off on foot, taking with him half a dozen poisoned baits for the dogs, and his revolver. In an hour he returned, and told me that he had succeeded in getting right up to the hut without being heard by the dogs, which were sleeping inside. He placed the baits round about the hut, after rolling them over on the dusty ground, so that they would not attract the man’s attention. The dogs, however, would soon smell them out.
“As it would not do to light a fire and make a billy of tea, our breakfast consisted of beef and damper, and a pull from my spirit flask. Then, taking off the horses’ hobbles, we long-tethered them in a spot where there was some grass, and then, soon after daylight, started off to watch the hut and its occupants. We worked round to the back till we got within a hundred yards, and hid among some big boulders. There were no signs of the dogs. About seven o’clock the woman came out and lit a fire. She was followed by the man, who began calling for the dogs. He went round to the front of the hut, still calling out. In ten minutes he returned, cursing and blaspheming. The air was so still and rarefied that we could hear every word he said.
“ ‘I’ve found Lanky dead, but can’t see anything of the other. Snakebite, I suppose.’
“ The woman looked up from her cooking, and made some reply, inaudible to us.
“ ‘Well, hurry up, blarst you, and get me something to eat, and I’ll go and look for him,’ he growled, as he lit his pipe. After he had eaten something and had some tea, he went off again. He soon returned. By this time we had crept still nearer, and could hear what was said perfectly. He had found the other dog dead in the creek, and the language he used was enough to make one’s hair stand on end. He then saddled his horse, and came back to the woman, saying that he was going up to the head of the creek, and would not be back until pretty late in the afternoon. He took with him a prospecting dish and a Snider Carbine like that belonging to Combo, and after cursing her for her slowness, went off, walking his horse.
“Combo slipped after him, leaving me to watch, and I saw the poor woman sit down and weep. In an hour the blackboy returned, and said that the man had struck across a spur of the range, and made for the headwaters of the creek. Meanwhile the woman, after a drink of tea, had gone off to her work in the creek. Then Combo and I entered the humpy and examined it. It contained no furniture except two beds made of flour sacks, a rough table, and some cooking utensils, camp oven, tin mugs, etc.
“Bidding Combo to follow me, but to keep out of sight, I went down to the creek.
“I approached her very quietly, coughed, and called out, ‘Good-morning, ma’am.’
“She turned, dropped her shovel, and looked at me with affrighted eyes, and her face went white to her lips. I asked her not to be alarmed, and added that, having seen her working, I had taken the liberty of coming to ask her if she could give my blackboy and myself a drink of tea and a bit to eat.’
“ ‘A blackboy,’ she said in a faint voice; ‘where is he?’
“ ‘Quite near. Are you frightened of blackfellows?’
“ ‘Oh, no, not at all.’ Then she said quietly, ‘you are welcome to such food as I can offer you. Will you be staying here long?’ She asked this question with a strange, nervous inflection in her voice.
“ ‘Only for half an hour, then we must push along. ’
“She gave a sigh of relief, and led the way to the humpy. Without actually indicating the locality of our camp I told her that it was over twenty miles away. I asked her if she was getting any gold.
“ ‘Very little. This morning my husband started off to inspect the upper part of the creek. During this last week we have only washed out two ounces.’
“A plan came into my head. I told her that I knew of a place a mile or so lower down the creek where she would do much better, and that she ought to go there in the morning. She thanked me, and as I rose to go, looked with interest at Combo.
“ ‘Will you be passing this way again?’ she inquired quaveringly.
“I hardly knew what to say. Her dark eyes were filled with fear, and her hands were trembling.
“ ‘Perhaps so—if I can be of any assistance to you and your husband.’
“ ‘Oh, no, thank you. I … we have all we want.’ Then she burst out into hysterical sobs. I waited until she had composed herself. Then she placed her hand on my arm.
“ ‘For God’s sake avoid this place. My husband is a dangerous man. He would certainly shoot your blackboy, and you, too, perhaps. Will you promise me?’
“ ‘I promise you. I will not come here unless you ask me to come—if you want help at any time. I will now tell you who I am, and where you can find me if ever you need assistance. Are you used to the bush?”
“ ‘Yes, I have lived many years in the Far North.’ Then she took me wholly into her confidence, and told me her unhappy story. Her husband was formerly a manager of a small cattle station in the Cardwell district, but gave way to intemperate habits, and began to treat her badly. The blacks harried the cattle, which bolted to the ranges, and matters went from bad to worse. The bank took possession of the station, and Hurst—that was his name—had to leave. From that day he vowed vengeance against the blacks, and whenever he came across one—wild or tame—shot him down remorselessly. At last the story of his atrocities aroused such indignation amongst the white settlers that he was given forty-eight hours to leave the district.
“ ‘After months and months of misery we made our way here to this lonely spot. He promised me that as soon as we had won enough gold, we should go to New South Wales, but every now and then he goes off to the coast with a pack-horse, and comes back with a load of liquor, which he buys from a Chinaman’s store at some place where there is a big dugong fishing and bêche-de-mer station.’
“ ‘Leaving you alone?’
“She bent her head. ‘Yes, leaving me alone; for a week at a time. And not more than two weeks ago he boasted to me that he had shot a black stockman within half a mile of where we now are. Oh, it is terrible!’
“ ‘He spoke truly. He shot this blackboy here,’ and I pointed to Combo; ‘now, Mrs. Hurst, why don’t you leave the brute? I will provide you with a horse and Combo as guide to the nearest cattle station. The owner is a married man, and his wife a good woman. From there you can get a passage down the coast to Cairns.’
“She shook her head. ‘I have no money, and he takes all the gold we get. Sometimes I feel inclined to hide part of it away.’
“ ‘Will you take some from me?’
“ ‘No, I thank you, but … I cannot. I must bear my fate,’ she said sadly.
“ ‘Well, then, will you at least promise me this— that you will put aside half of the gold you will be sure to get lower down the creek and hide it from him.’
“ ‘Yes, I promise you that.’
“ ‘To-morrow, Mrs. Hurst, or the day after, make your way down to the creek till you come to a place where there is a dead tree lying across it; below that you will find that the water disappears under coarse quartz sand about a foot thick. The bottom is rocky —in fact, it is a flat surface of rock full of little deep pot-holes. In those holes I know—in fact, I am sure, you will get good gold.’ This was half a truth and half a lie. I knew that the pot-holes were there, but whether there was any gold in them or not I did not know.
“I bade her good-bye, and we rode off. There was something about her that attracted me strongly, and I wished that a kindly Providence would remove Mr. Joe Hurst from this world as speedily as possible, and give me a chance. That she had no affection for him was all too evident, for whenever she mentioned his name she had shuddered. We made quick time back to the camp, and, telling Combo to get fresh horses, I took about twenty ounces of coarse gold, tied it up in a chamois leather bag, and put it in my pocket. Then, after an hour’s rest, we started off again for the pot-holes, in which I distributed the gold, feeling sure that very little of it would be lost, for the bottom of each hole was composed of small water-worn pebbles. Three days later I again visited the place, and saw both husband and wife at work— getting my gold. A week passed before I went there again with a few more ounces of gold, and placed it in some holes still further down the creek. It was about ten o’clock in the morning, and there were no signs of the Hursts, so I sent Combo to reconnoitre. When he returned he told me that Mrs. Hurst was alone, and was engaged in sewing, and had told him that Hurst was away, and would not be back till the evening, also that she would come down to the creek in a few minutes.
“She came to me with outstretched hand, and a faint smile on her pretty face. Her husband, she said, had gone off three days previously to get his usual supply of liquor. The brute, when leaving, had told her to make good use of her time during his absence, or he would make her suffer for it. If, said he, she did not have at least three ounces on his return, he would tie her to a tree on a diet of damper and water.
“ ‘I think you can manage it, Mrs. Hurst,’ I said, ‘ Combo and I will lend a hand. How have you done so far?”
“ ‘Oh, splendidly! For most of the time I worked alone, for he stayed in the humpy, drinking. I put away eight ounces out of the fourteen ounces we got altogether. It is hidden in the boulders at the back of the humpy.’
“We all three set to work, and I saw a twinkle in Combo’s black eyes as we began to work the potholes, getting two or three pennyweights of my own gold to every dish; indeed, I found it hard to keep from smiling myself. At dinner time Mrs. Hurst brought down some beef and damper and a billy of tea, and we all made a good meal. Combo, always a cautious nigger, leant his Snider and my Winchester against the bole of the big Leichhardt tree under which we sat. There was a strong wind—almost a gale— blowing, and the trees were making a great noise.
“I had risen, and was filling my pipe, Mrs. Hurst was standing near me, fastening up her hair, which had become loose, and her face was turned towards the opposite bank of the creek, about twenty yards away. Suddenly she uttered a shriek, sprang at me, and gave me a violent push with both hands. A second later came the report of a gun, and I went down with a bullet in my right side, and at the same time Combo fired, and then giving a loud yell of triumph, dashed across the creek, and a minute or two later I heard a second shot. Taking off my shirt, Mrs. Hurst looked at my wound
“ ‘Thank God he has not killed you!’ she cried.
“The bullet had struck a rib, glanced off, travelled down towards the small of my back, and lodged just under the skin. I sat up against the tree, and Mrs. Hurst gave me a stiff peg from my flask, and I can assure you, Carey, and you, sir, that I never enjoyed a drink more in all my life. Presently Combo returned.
“ ‘Has he gone away, Combo?’ asked Mrs. Hurst.
“Combo grinned, as he laid down his Snider.
“ ‘No, missus. I been fix him up all right, you bet.’
“ ‘Is he dead?’
“The blackboy nodded nonchalantly, and then came to me to examine my wound. Going to the creek he brought back some nardoo lily leaves, pounded them into a pulp, and plugged up the bullet hole. It stung like blazes at first, but proved to be a grand antiseptic. All this time Aline—I mean Mrs. Hurst, as she was then to me—sat beside me holding my hand. She had taken off her skirt and made a pillow for me, and I felt as happy as a sandboy.
“Presently I asked her if she wanted to see Hurst. She shuddered. ‘Oh, no, no! It would kill me to see him again.’ So I induced her to go to the humpy, and wait there for Combo and me, adding that we would stay there for the night, and take her away with us in the morning. As soon as she had gone, I rose, and, with Combo’s aid, went and looked at the dead man. The blackboy’s first shot passed through his chest, and when Combo came to him he was lying on his back, but had enough life in him to try and draw his revolver, his Sharp’s rifle having fallen out of his reach when he fell. Combo finished him off with a bullet through the head. Getting a shovel, Combo, after removing the blackguard’s cartridge pouch and revolver, dug a grave in the undergrowth, dumped him in sans ceremony, and covered him up. Then, after helping me up to the humpy, he went for our horses, which we hobbled out for the night. Hurst’s pack-horse, with saddle-bags filled with bottles of liquor, was quietly grazing near by, and my flask being exhausted, I took the liberty of telling Combo to open one of the bottles for our mutual benefit. Then Combo nicked out the bullet from my back with my penknife.
“Silently, as she went about preparing our supper, I could see that Aline Hurst was a happier woman than she had been a few hours previously; though in the night, when the wind had died away, Combo and I heard her sobbing. At daylight, whilst we were sleeping the sleep of the just, she was up, and baking a damper in the camp oven. With half opened eyes, I watched her graceful figure moving noiselessly to and fro. When the damper was cooked, she took it out, stood it on end to cool, and then, moved by some sudden impulse, born of years of agony, mental and perhaps physical, took up a miner’s pick and smashed the oven to pieces. No doubt she hated it for its associations.
“A fortnight after this I placed her in the care of the wife of the manager of the cattle station, where she remained a year. Long before this she had promised herself to me, and when at the end of two years the reef was worked out and the tables and boxes had been cleaned up for the last time, the two Danes, Combo and I left the battery and camp to the silence of the ever-encroaching bush, disturbed only by the wailing howl of the dingo, and the sighing of the wind through the she-oaks on the banks of the creek.
“Aline and I were married at Brisbane. Then we went on to Sydney, taking Combo with us. The poor fellow had contracted consumption, and died in Sydney Hospital. I was with him at the time, together with a kindly-hearted young clergyman, who had preceded me by a few minutes. He asked Combo if he had made his peace with God.
“ ‘You bet your b—— life,’ was the faint reply; then, turning to me, he said, ‘Boss, I want a smoke,’
“Disregarding the hospital rules, I filled and lit my pipe, and passed it to him. He took a few whiffs, then put out his black hand to me, laid back and passed quietly away.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Come, you fellows,” said Carey, “let us have a bottle of Pommery, and then go for a stroll through the poncianas, for ’tis near daylight.”
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