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Title: Short Stories Volume 3 Author: John Arthur Barry * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1305211h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2013 Most recent update: September 2013 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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A Bird of Prey
The Two Men from Garuda
The Cruise of the Dancing Jane
In the Boat of the Sarah Bligh
The Rollo and the Cat and Kittens
The Pursuing of Shand
Six of One and Seven of the Other
A Vain Salvage
Settled Out of Court
The Fads of David Dadd
When Kindly Winds Befriended Her
A Mild Mutiny
The Case of Jeffrey Watson
To everyone concerned it was admitted that Mr. James Hunter, or the "Toff Bird"—which latter was the most popular of his many aliases—stood at the very head of his mixed profession. I use the adjective advisedly; for, in addition to being an accomplished burglar, he was—and the blend is most uncommon—a very competent and successful chevalier d'industrie. Forgery was a speciality of his; so was the "confidence trick" in all its varied branches; "faked" cards and dice, too, had received much attention at his hands. But so clever were his disguises, so consummate his impudence and skill in conducting his operations, that, although at times the Australian police laid hold of him, he invariably slipped through their fingers, owing generally to some defective link in the question of identity. Burglary the "Toff Bird" looked upon as an inferior and demoralizing form of excitement: one to be seldom practised, and then only when the booty was well worth the risk. "Stones" were the only things that appealed to him; and the melting-pot was rarely the richer by any contribution from his hands. This matter was probably another factor in his long immunity. Newspapers were, of course, his principal sources of information. No person in Mr. Hunter's line of business can have better or more reliable ones in these days. Thus when he noticed a reporter's glowing eulogy anent a parcel of fine gems—diamonds and sapphires—just received from London by Messrs Bezil and Carat, the big jewellers of Pitt Street, Sydney, New South Wales, he felt the time had arrived for one of his rare debauches—an irresistible craving sensation much the same as at intervals seizes upon the reformed dipsomaniac for spirits. So, hurriedly winding up his affairs in Adelaide, where he had been doing uncommonly well amongst returned miners from Coolgardie, he journeyed to the New South Wales capital. And then, after inspecting the jewels in the character of a lucky Westralian digger, and finding them well worthy of his attention, he at once went to work.
First adopting a precaution that more than once had served him in good stead, he booked a steerage passage by the outgoing mail steamer for San Francisco and sent a certain amount of luggage on board.
The steamer sailed on the fourth day from his arrival in the Eastern capital; and at midnight on the third the "Toff Bird" was taking the measure of the great safe in Messrs. Bezil and Carat's show-room, out of which he had on his previous visit seen the precious stones produced. Two hours later, before the combined forces of drill and jemmy, the door swung open. But it had been a tough contract even for that master of scientific entry, and the floor was wet with perspiration as his trembling hands wandered over the shelves, seeking the box whose shape and contents he had taken such strict cognizance of only a few days ago. But it was gone. In vain he flashed his lantern here and there. Nothing met his eager eyes except watches, bracelets, rings—all very well in their way, doubtless, but nothing to him. The parcel had vanished! Sold, perhaps. Not a loose stone could he see as he ransacked the safe, pulling its glittering contents out on to the floor beside him. In his deep disappointment he swore aloud. Then, presently, a very beautiful opal and diamond ring catching his eye, he absently put it on the index finger of his right hand and, leaning back, watched the iridescent gleaming of the big central stone—a Queensland opal of most exceptional lustre and size.
All the interest of his venture had departed. Five thousand pounds' worth of mixed jewellery lay around him, as he squatted there, gleaming in the light of his open bull's-eye. But he had missed his shot and cared little for aught besides. Still, after all, there were some stones that might be worth troubling about. And choosing from amongst his array of tools a peculiarly-shaped pair of pincers, he took up a bracelet set with two large rubies, and deftly—snip, snip—cut them out of their setting and let them drop on the floor beside him. As the last one fell he heard a noise at his back and screwed his head round. In a second he was on his feet, a short, thin, wiry, dark-faced, clean-shaven man confronting another—a burly, tall one, whose shadow ran huge and black along the shop as, waving his lantern, he exclaimed, in a harsh, ropy voice:—
"Aha, got yer, 'ave I? Nice little game this, ain't it? Well, yer'd better come along o' me. No larks now, 'cause I'm big enough and strong enough to eat yer. So——"
That was the last word he ever spoke, for the next instant a steel bar crashed full on his head, and he fell like a pithed bullock, shaking the whole place with the fall of him—fell right across the heap of jewellery, a thick stream of blood running slowly from the cleft skull amidst the scattered gold and silver. Almost unconsciously the "Toff Bird" stooped to rescue the rubies; but he was too late. Already the dark pool had surrounded them, and he drew his hand back with a gesture of repulsion and disgust as his fingers nearly came in contact with it.
"Hang the luck!" he muttered, clicking tongue and teeth together irritably. "What a cursed mess! Snuffed out, I suppose, in one act!" And he bent down to listen at the prostrate figure. The man had fallen forward on his face, and all that could be seen by the strong light from the "Toff Bird's" lantern, resting on one of the safe shelves, was a mass of dark, curly hair, with a raw and gaping wound across it, from which blood oozed. The body gave no sign of life. Evidently the heavy "slice"—in shape something like a great paper-knife, and used for inserting and prising—had cut right through into the brain.
"What rotten luck!" exclaimed the "Toff Bird" again, as he began to gather his tools up. "Who'd ha' thought a tap like that would ha' spread him out in such fashion? It was not finding what I came for, I expect, that made me hit so hard—that and his cheek. A nice row there'll be to-morrow. There's a few stones here worth having," he continued, taking out his pliers. "But, no, I'll touch nothing. They can have the bag, too. It might work mischief outside." Then, after carefully examining his clothes, and giving a last glance of distaste and anger at the motionless form, he extinguished the light and made his way into the narrow alley from which he had effected an entrance.
It was an advantage that the police would never dream of suspecting him as the author of such a clumsy, half-completed piece of work. And as he let himself into his lodgings he doubted whether there would be any necessity for him to leave the Colony. Lighting the gas, his eye fell upon the ring—until now completely forgotten. With a curse he took it off and put it into his waistcoat-pocket.
Suddenly he started, hurriedly searched his other pockets, and turned out the contents of a small hand-bag. And then he remembered; and knew that the sooner he got away the better. Already, indeed, he seemed to feel the fatal rope tightening about his neck. Yesterday he had bought a knife at a shop in George Street—a small, expensive, tortoise-shell-handled one with six blades. He had intended to leave this in his room when setting out on his expedition, but had neglected to do so. And now he distinctly recollected making use of it whilst busy at the safe. A blade had snapped, and he threw the knife into the bag. It was there at this minute—a damning bit of evidence indeed! And, worse than all, he had in an idle moment scratched on the little silver plate, in sign of ownership, the figure of a bird. As he thought on this he hurriedly put on his cap and drew up the blinds. Alas, the dawn was breaking and noises came to his ears from the main thoroughfares! Too late to return!
The Alaska did not sail before midday, and would, of course, be watched. That fact, however, gave him little trouble. He had deceived the "D's" so many times with success that he held them cheap. All the same, murder was murder; and the change, he felt, would be healthier for him.
Never a great believer in the common mode of disguise by wigs, false whiskers, and such things—giving their wearer no end of trouble with a minimum of satisfaction—he had elaborated notions of his own, helped by much reading up on the subject. So now, going to the glass, he took out three front teeth in the upper jaw and replaced them by others so made that when the plate was in position they gave to his mouth the shape known as "overshot," and completely altered the expression of the face. From many experiments he had come to the conclusion that, with concealment of identity in view, the mouth was, perhaps of all, the most susceptible feature to work upon. Having fixed the upper jaw to his liking and extracted the middle tooth in the lower one, he grinned with satisfaction as he realized the wonderful transformation brought about by such simple means. Sixty guineas was the sum a clever American dentist had charged for the "fake." And as he stared in the glass the "Toff Bird" told himself that it was cheap at the price. His clear-cut features were naturally dark, but with a touch or two of some liquid on the cheek-bones and over the forehead as high as the hat-mark he gave to the skin a capital imitation of long exposure to sun and weather. By similar means his thick brown hair presently changed to jet black and took a curl in it. Finally adjusting a pair of blue spectacles and putting on a wide-brimmed felt hat, he looked to the life the character he was making up for—an Australian bushman from the hot Queensland interior, on his way to try the wonderful new diggings at Klondike, British Columbia. And it was with the utmost confidence that he presently appeared in the streets and entered a restaurant for an early breakfast.
Another hour, and he was calmly sitting smoking on the Alaska's rail, whilst within a few feet of him two detectives he knew well chatted together, and kept a perfunctory watch on the passengers until the last bell rang, and the cry arose of "All for the shore!"
The murder at Bezil and Carat's came to light exactly twenty-four hours after the Alaska left the wharf. And it made a sensation. But the police were puzzled in spite of the clue of the new knife found in the bag of tools. They could not believe that the renowned "Toff Bird " would "give himself away" in such fashion. Nor was the job at all like one of his. Thus a fortnight went by before it was suspected that the murderer must really have got off in the Alaska, and the cable began to talk to the 'Frisco authorities. Then the arrival of the steamer was reported, and word flashed under the ocean that no person in the slightest degree resembling the criminal had been found amongst her passengers.
"Couldn't expect anything else," remarked Detective Barnes. "He was there, though, all the same. Good Lord! the beggar's a reg'lar genius! It ain't to be expected that those chaps yonder could twig him when he's done us times and again. Why, I saw the boat start, and I wouldn't like to swear that he didn't ask me for a light for his pipe. The only thing that might lag him is the ring. But I never knew the 'Toff to collar set stones before. And the chances are that he's chucked the gold over the side long ago."
Great was the surprise, then, of those interested to receive word, a month or two afterwards, that the San Francisco police had actually arrested the man with the ring in his possession. And about the latter there could be no possible mistake as, besides its high value and striking appearance, it had not been the property of the firm—simply held by them for initial lettering around the inside of the circlet. This was just finished when the burglar slipped it on his finger. Now it seemed likely enough to be the means of slipping a rope around his neck.
Barnes, armed with full powers, was dispatched viâ London, where he was to procure extradition papers, the Australian Colonies not being considered able as yet to stand alone in that respect.
"I'm blessed if I think I'll be able to swear to him, sir," remarked the officer to the Inspector-General of Police as he started. "I don't know whether I ever saw his natural features. Once, I remember, he shaved himself bald; another time his hair'd be thick and woolly as a nigger's. His features and person he fakes, too, in such a way as to completely and permanently alter his appearance."
"Pooh, nonsense, Barnes," replied the I.-G.P., testily, "I'd pick the fellow out myself anywhere. Didn't we all see him for days together whilst his case against the Advertiser was going on?"
"We did, sir," answered Barnes, triumphantly, "and a week after he swindled a bushman out of £500 by the confidence dodge. I knew at once by the cut of the trick that it was the 'Toff's' doing. Still, the countryman swore hard and fast he'd been robbed by a very stout man with fat cheeks and thick lips, who walked lame and had a cast in the right eye. Can you conceive, sir, of anybody more unlike the plaintiff in Hunter versus the Advertiser? And, doubtless, whilst we were taking notes for future use, he was all made up."
"Well, well, Barnes," replied his superior, "you must bring somebody. These confounded newspapers keep on nagging me about the case at every opportunity. Bring the man who had the ring, and you can't go very far wrong. Remember that, Barnes—bring the man who had the ring!"
"I will, sir," replied the detective, rejoiced at finding his instructions compressed into a single explicit sentence, and happily ignorant of all that sentence held for him in the future.
Barnes's first introduction to his prisoner at San Francisco somewhat staggered him. He found him in a comfortable room, surrounded by flowers, boxes of cigars, and sweatmeats—a dark-complexioned, clean-shaven, rather handsome, middle-aged man, who seemed in the best of spirits, to be heartily enjoying himself, and who, despite a resemblance to the accepted official description, might or might not be the "Toff Bird" for all the detective could say.
"Well," remarked the prisoner, as he puffed a cloud of fragrant smoke into Barnes's amazed face, "I suppose the fun's all over now, eh? And I can tell you I've had a good time of it. Now you'd better set to work and find the real Simon Pure."
"Oh," said Barnes, "what do you call yourself, then? And what does all this funny business mean? Gad, it looks like a scene in a bloomin' burlesque!"
"It is—exactly—my friend," replied the other, as he lit a fresh cigar, "but you don't mean to say that you're going to carry it any farther?"
"You bet, Mr. James Hunter, that I am," replied the detective; "or, rather, I'm going to carry you on to Sydney, there to stand your trial for murder and robbery."
For a minute or two the other looked grave. Then, leaning back in his chair, he burst into shout after shout of laughter.
"Well," said he at last, growing calmer, "I've had some curious things happen to me in my time! But this bangs 'em all! Jove! What will Jack D'Arcy say? Yes, I'll see it through —dashed if I don't! I wonder if there's any damages hanging to the business?"
"It's no use gagging, 'Toff Bird,'" replied the detective, grimly. "We're pretty well up to your moves by this time. And I'm blest if I think much of this one—mistaken identity, of course. Why don't you say you're a bloomin' lord at once, and ha' done with it?"
But at this the prisoner nearly choked in an excess of merriment.
"So I am, you fool," he gasped at length. "I've told 'em so here over and over again. And now I tell you. I only took my family name of Brown so as to have a little peace amongst these democrats. I bought the ring you're making so much fuss about from a chap up yonder in Seattle. Go and find him. He might be your murderer."
"Too thin," replied Barnes, shaking his head. "You're the 'Toff Bird' right enough; and you're cornered at last. Still, I'd have expected you to strike out a better line than this. You were found with the ring in your possession, weren't you?"
"Wearing it at the 'Astor,'" said the other, promptly.
"Then back you come with me to Sydney," said Barnes, stolidly.
"All right," laughed the other. "I should probably have gone there in any case. Got a cousin over yonder I'd like to see. Ever hear of him—Captain D'Arcy, aide-de-camp, or something of the sort, to the Governor?"
But Barnes only smiled knowingly and winked at the chief gaoler, who just then entered to ask if the prisoner wished for anything in the shape of refreshments.
"Let me see," replied the latter, consulting a diary, "I have to receive a deputation of the Daughters of Zion at 3.15. At 3.30 Maroni, the photographer, is due; at 4 I'm to sit for my bust to Jenkins; at 5 I promised the sub-editor of the Hawk an interview. Then, till after dinner, I shall be busy writing autographs—the demand is increasing, and I've risen the price to a dollar each. So I'm sure, Mr.—ah—yes—Barnes, now you know how fully my time is occupied, that you'll excuse me, will you not? May I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you again to-morrow?"
"Well, I'm blowed!" was all the reply the flabbergasted detective could make as the chief led the way out of the room.
"Yes," remarked the latter, admiringly, "he's real grit, ain't he? And good as gold. Not a darned mite of trouble does he give either. Fourteen offers of marriage sence he's been here to my own knowledge. Guess you ain't got many o' the sort at the Antip-podes?"
"No," replied Barnes, sourly, "nor, apparently, by the fuss you're making over the fellow, are they too plentiful on this side."
"That's so every time," said the other, good-humouredly. "I can't call to mind just at the pree-cise moment anyone that's been as sandy and chipper as 'His Lordship' yonder."
"But his luggage?" asked the detective. "Any clues in it? Of course, you overhauled everything?"
"I should smile!" replied the other. "However, as a matter of fact, a big old gripsack about filled the bill. And there wasn't no clues worth betting on. Say, you're sure you ain't barkin' up the wrong tree?"
"He had the ring?" asked Barnes.
"You can gamble your bottom dollar right through on that," replied the chief. "I'm takin' you to see it and the rest o' the outfit."
"Then back he goes," replied Barnes, doggedly. "It's him right enough; and this is only one of his deep games. But I'll let him know that he can't act the goat with Bill Barnes the same as he seems to be doing here."
"You haven't got him yet," replied the chief, with a grin. "I reckon there's formalities to eventuate fust."
These took exactly a week of hard worry on Barnes's part to put through, working sixteen hours a day. And all the time the prisoner enjoyed himself mightily, and was made much of by crowds of visitors who flocked full-handed to view "The Great Australian Murderer," concerning whom the "snappy" papers manufactured columns of matter, whilst their stenographers hung eagerly on every word the prisoner uttered, ready to work up a few sentences into a "story."
But at last poor Barnes had the satisfaction of seeing "John Brown" safely lodged in the cabin specially prepared for him on the Humboldt. It not being "the season," there were few people travelling by the Humboldt, and most of these, even, left at Honolulu; so that, practically, Barnes and his prisoner had the ship to themselves after she left the Sandwich Islands and commenced to thread her way through Micronesia.
The Humboldt was a good sea-boat, and so far, from a weather point of view, the trip had been enjoyable. But on getting fairly amongst islet-dotted Micronesia the humours of the hurricane season began to make themselves felt in earnest, and gale after gale howled and tore at the big mail-cargo carrier as if trying to lift her clean out of the water. She was rigged as a barquentine, and the main and mizzen masts were each in one piece of steel. But for'ard everything above the foreyard was wood. Thus, in case of accident, she carried some spare spars lashed to ringbolts along the main deck. Naturally the blows, short-lived in their tropical intensity though they were, had by their quick succession raised a heavy sea, in which the Humboldt floundered at quarter-speed, and with her engines, as often as not, wildly racing. The last three or four squalls had caught her dead on end, sending tons of water over her fo'c's'le-head until the main deck was afloat. And one evening Brown and the detective, coming up for a breath of fresh air, perched themselves on the spare spars so as to be out of the way of the swirling seas that rolled along the deck.
"What's the matter with the chief?" asked Brown, suddenly pointing towards the bridge where the first officer was waving his arms towards them, and apparently trying to make his voice heard through the deafening turmoil.
"Wants us to get out o' this, I fancy," replied Barnes, as the steamer's stern sunk down till it seemed as if she was trying to sit upright on it, whilst the great, sharp bows towered up and quivered in the dusky light like some huge fan clutched and shaken by giant hands below. Then, almost as he spoke, with a thundering roar they crashed in their turn down, down, until bridges and funnels and boats appeared about to topple over on the pair. Then, as they turned in dismay to run, a tremendous sea, high as the shearpole of the fore-rigging, came rushing irresistibly aft, and tore them away like feathers and whirled them overboard.
As he struck out blindly amidst the smother Brown, choking and exhausted, presently felt his hands strike something, to which he clung with all the tenacity of a drowning man. Exerting his strength, he dragged himself astride of what he at once knew for one of the big spars on which he and Barnes had been standing. And as it was tossed hither and thither like a chip amongst the boiling, foaming seas he caught a glimpse of a grey mass far ahead, now seen for a second, then hidden altogether, that he knew must be the Humboldt.
Clinging to a round spar in a heavy sea is all very well to read about, but only when it comes to practice can the difficulty of the feat be fully realized. A score of times Brown thought he must let go and drown as the seas broke over and hid him, stifling, for minutes together. Luckily the spar was long and heavy—intended, indeed, to make a new foreyard of—and therefore, although not as buoyant as a lighter one might have been, it did not toss about so much. And he knew that the furious squall would presently clear off, also that land could not be far away—several small islets having been visible at sundown. The knowledge of these things sustained him as he lay along the spar full length, with legs and arms clasped around it.
Sure enough, at midnight the weather cleared and the sea began to fall as suddenly as it had risen, enabling him to sit up and gaze around. There was a second-quarter moon shining placidly in the now blue sky, and the castaway thought that perhaps the Humboldt might have hove to and be still somewhere in sight. He saw nothing of the ship. Seemingly quite close at hand, however, was a group of dark objects that looked like a fleet of canoes under sail, but which he knew were coco palms springing from some atoll; and whose very crests the waves appeared to wash, so low was the land. He could hear, too, quite distinctly the long roll of surf on a reef, and soon became certain that his spar was travelling towards it. As the hours wore slowly by and dawn showed he saw, about a mile off, a large atoll against whose encircling barrier the sea looked like a wall of scoured wool. The wind was blowing fair for the island, and to his dismay he realized that in a few hours he would be in the breakers. All at once, turning his head, he caught sight of something white rising and falling between himself and the red round sun, just dipping its lower limb in the water. Something white, crowned by a black spot, that the next minute stood upright, straddling in forked human shape, with arms outspread and wildly waving, whilst a loud "Halloa!" came down the wind. Then the figure, evidently losing its balance, abruptly vanished in a splash of white water. But it soon re-appeared, and, squatting on top of what Brown made out to be a hencoop, desperately paddled with a long flat bar until near enough to disclose to the other's astounded view Detective Barnes, hatless, half-naked, and salt-incrusted, but otherwise apparently safe and sound.
"Better come on to my craft," panted Barnes, as he paddled alongside. "But what a night it's been, eh? Good Lord, I never expected to see you again. This is a bit of luck, if you like! We ain't out o' the wood yet, though. Look how the sea's boilin' over yonder."
"Well, you're a sticker, and no mistake," replied Brown, the grim humour of the thing appealing to him, as with a few strokes he gained the big double coop and drew himself on to it. "There no escaping you! I suppose I may consider myself in custody again, eh?"
"Why, yes, of course," replied the other, as the pair shook hands heartily. "But you bet your boots I didn't come after you of my own free will. Well, of all the rummy things I think this one takes the cake! Nobody livin' yonder, I suppose?"
"I'm afraid not," said Brown, as he wrenched off a bar and began to paddle. "I expect we'd better make round to the other side and see if there's any entrance. There generally is."
Sure enough, as they dropped to leeward they saw a fairly wide gap in the reef, and steering for it were presently paddling between six-foot walls of roaring surf where the next minute an inrushing sea, hitting their craft broadside on, sent them head over heels into calm water, whence they easily swam to the shelving beach.
The first thing to catch their eyes as they dragged themselves up the shelving bank of white coral was a neat hut standing in a clump of palms.
"Thank the Lord!" exclaimed Barnes, devoutly, "there's somebody here. I'm fairly starving." And breaking into a trot he made for the hut and threw open the door, only to spring back the next minute with a look of horror on his still ruddy face. "A dead man!" he whispered, as Brown came up. "White, too!"
Looking in, his companion saw the body of a man stretched full length across the threshold. It was clothed in moleskin trousers and blue shirt, and lay staring upwards with the hands clasped across the breast. The features were those of an elderly man; the long brown hair and beard plentifully flecked with grey; and the pale face composed and calm. Near by stood a small blue phial which Barnes professionally pounced upon and put to his nose. "Chlorodyne!" he muttered. "Overdose, perhaps. Or got tired and pegged out purposely. Not so very long gone either. He gave me a start, though, at first. Lots o' tucker," continued the detective, pointing to strings of dried fish, an open cask of biscuits, and some tins of preserved meat. "Poor chap! Well, it must ha' been lonely. Wonder what his game was—hermetizing, eh?"
"Copra gatherer, I should say," replied the other. "And a lucky thing for us; as, sooner or later, a ship is bound to call here."
They buried the dead man before breaking their fast, soon digging a grave in the crumbly coral with a spade they found outside the house. Then, presently exploring, they found, farther towards the heart of the grove, a long, low building, roofed with iron and containing a few tons of coco-nut cut into pieces and dried in the sun—copra, in fact.
Buoyed up by the certain hope of ultimate rescue the castaways bore their lot patiently. Of food they had abundance, for there were pigs and fowls on the island: and in the sea turtle and fish. There was no fresh spring water; but an underground tank at one end of the copra-house contained enough to last them for years—replenished from the iron roofing as it was by every thunderstorm.
From papers in an old pocket-book they found that the man they had buried was a sailor who had figured in many ships' discharges, now by one name, now by another. There was also a memorandum of agreement between himself and a person in Honolulu in which for a certain wage the former agreed to stay on the island as caretaker, and to make copra, also look after the plantation of young coco trees. Thus, without doubt, the place was private property; and the pair, recognising the fact, and that they were bound to make some return for their keep, took upon themselves the dead man's duties as best they might, hoeing and weeding round the plants and maintaining the fences in pig-proof order. They, too, became experts at copra-making, a process that Brown had often seen before. And he even taught Barnes how to climb the trees and select the fittest nuts for the purpose. Thus the latter, to his immense delight, what with constant exercise and absence of "nips," found himself losing fat and gaining muscle. Inclined to corpulence, his greatest bugbear had long been what he called his "bingie," and to see not only this subsiding, but to find that he could do a mile run after a pig without getting winded, made the detective feel as if the days of his youth had been renewed.
Two months passed, and one morning at sunrise Brown sighted the first sail that had approached in all that time. It was a topsail schooner, evidently arrived during the night, and now lying nearly becalmed not more than half a mile away.
The two men made a fire on the beach, and running round to the nearest point and waving the remnants of their shirts, soon had the satisfaction of seeing the vessel lower a boat, which at once pulled through the entrance in the reef.
"Well," asked a man in the stern-sheets, as she lay off some score of yards. "What do you want? And where's Ruggy Jim?"
"What do we want!" exclaimed Barnes, indignantly. "Why, to be taken away from this place, o' course. What d'ye think? Haven't we been Robinson Crusoeing long enough to please you? And as for 'Ruggy,' why, I expect that's the gent we buried some time ago. Come along and let's get on board."
The five Kanakas who composed the boat's crew showed all their teeth at this, whilst the white man laughed and shook his head, saying, "No, thanks, we've got no use for beach-combers aboard the Lass o' Gowrie. That island belongs to a fellow 'way up north in Oahu. His boat comes round regularly, and you'll be able to explain your business to him."
"But I tell you," shouted Barnes, "that I want to get away. I'm a detective officer in the service of the New South Wales Government. I see 'Sydney' on your boat's stern. And by Heaven, if you don't take us, I'll make it hot for you when I do get home!" And in his excitement he capered wildly along the beach, an extraordinary figure of flapping rags held together by coir-sennit, and wearing slippers made of the same material, whilst his hat was formed of native mat after the fashion of a sou'-wester.
"And who's the other chap?" suddenly asked the man, pointing to Brown, who sat silently awaiting events.
"Why, that's the—er—er—person I went to 'Frisco for, and was bringing home in the Humboldt when she washed us overboard," replied Barnes. "And now I call upon you in the Queen's name to assist me. If you don't, I'll bet you'll be sorry for it if I ever catch you in Sydney."
"The deuce!" exclaimed the other, staring open-eyed and mouthed. "If you're Barnes and the other cove's the 'Toff Bird' I reckon that alters things. You've been given up this long time. Why, I do believe we've got some papers aboard with your lives and pictures in 'em."
"No doubt," replied Barnes, grimly; "packs o' lies and libels! However, here I am, and here's the—er—'Toff Bird.' Now, in the Queen's name, once more, are you going to take us or are you not?"
"Well, I must ask the skipper," said the other, gazing in respectful admiration at Brown. "Give way, boys!" and, the Kanakas bending to their oars, off went the boat back to the schooner.
Its stay there, however, was short. And this time the captain himself came ashore. He was a quiet, elderly Sydney native, who already had their story at his fingers' ends, and at once recognised Barnes and agreed to give them a passage.
As Chinese Jimmie, one of the bedroom stewards of the mail steamer Alaska, concisely put it, there was "melly hell play up topside this boat." She was crowded with passengers, all, to again quote Jimmie, "first chop 'cep' one fellow—no gammon": and all bound for "Home" viâ Australia and New Zealand. To mention only a few of the distinguished tourists in charge of Captain Roberts on this especial trip, there were the Duke and Duchess of Plinlimmon (née Chitter of Chicago), Lord John Wardour, an elderly aristocrat on his travels; the Grenfell H. Joneses (oil); the Stoep van Boers (New York Six Hundred); the Pullman J. Boggses (railways); together with the whole of the celebrated Crystal Palace Opera Company.
Try and imagine the commotion, then, amongst these fine people when, a couple of days after leaving Honolulu, it was discovered that all, or, at any rate, the best portion, of their jewellery was missing!
As usual on each trip, the Alaska's passengers had been directed to place their valuables in the ship's strong room, otherwise her owners would accept no responsibility. So the Plinlimmon family diamonds, the celebrated Grenfell H. Joneses pearls, the priceless Boggses emeralds and rubies, the historic opal necklace of the Van Boers, in addition to many other less celebrated gems, including those owned by the ladies of the opera company, were given over to the care of the purser for safe keeping.
Contrary to the usual custom in most British mail-boats, the captain of the American-Colonial Alaska held the only key to the strong room. Nor was there any duplicate. And every Saturday afternoon it was his custom to visit the big steel chamber with the purser, and see that all was secure. On the very first occasion of carrying out this duty after leaving Honolulu it was discovered that the shelves were swept as bare as a tooth of every article except a garnet necklace belonging to Madame Francesca Perdita (soprano), which the thief had apparently declined to accept at its owner's description of "ruby."
Poor Captain Roberts nearly had an apoplectic fit when he realized the terrible thing that had happened to him. And there was nobody with whom to share the responsibility. Nor, if any purpose could have been served by so doing, was there any possibility of keeping the matter secret, as some of the passengers had made application for their jewels to appear with at a fancy ball that very night. So that, presently, the scene in the Alaska's saloon fully justified Chinese Jimmie's archaic criticism.
As for the men, they took refuge in the smoke-room whilst the captain was being baited below. And the only soul to take his part was the young and pretty newly-made duchess—also one of the heaviest losers.
"Oh," said she, to the clamouring crowd, "give the man a rest, can't you? What's the use of your all making such a song about the things? That won't bring 'em back, will it? Let up awhile, and try get the hang of the contract before you drive the Cap. clean off his chump. Here, Duke,'' she cried to her husband, who was in their state-room, "you go with the captain and get that old Wardour and a couple of others and try and thrash out who's the smarty. You can bet there's some swell snide amongst us; and we'll have to fix him. Take it from me, I ain't going to lose those stones if I can help; but it's no use raising a bobbery and doing nothing, only break the skipper up worse'n he is already."
The Duke, a pale, anæmic-looking, young-old man, to whom the Chitter millions had come just in the nick of time to keep him out of the Bankruptcy Court, obediently stepped forward, and taking the captain's arm led him away from the raging babel of reproachings, sobbings, and wailings of which he had formed the objective centre.
At the council presently held in the chartroom Lord Wardour was the first to propose offering a reward, putting his name down at once for fifty pounds. As he very truly observed, it was of little use attempting more radical methods until all others had failed. A search, for instance, amongst some four hundred people would pretty surely be futile; might also only have the effect of frightening the thief into dropping his booty overboard. The reward, he thought, should be offered unconditionally. Probably the thief would be found amongst the stewards or other saloon servants; and he would be but too glad to get rid of the plunder for a round sum.
Pullman J. Boggs, on the contrary, was all for drastic measures—threats and a thorough searching—first of all the three classes, then the quarters of the crew and firemen. But, after a lot of talk, the majority came round to Lord Wardour's views, and it was determined to offer a reward of £500, which was subscribed on the spot—the Duke giving half the sum. Then the key of the strong room was handed round for inspection, the captain explaining that, to the best of his belief, it had never been out of his possession—at least, he had not missed it. And as those gentlemen present were aware—having often seen him doing so when they honoured his state-room with their presence o' nights for a quiet game of euchre—it was his invariable custom to take the key out of his desk and place it beneath his pillow, always locking it up again in the morning.
"That," remarked Lord Wardour, amidst laughter, "seems to me to narrow down the inquiry somewhat."
His lordship was a man apparently well past middle age, whose thick brown hair looked as if it had been sprinkled with flour, some of which had stuck on in patches; his heavy moustache, too, was much greyer on one side than the other, whilst out of a yellow, bilious face a pair of dark eyes peered through gold-rimmed spectacles. He walked with a slight limp, and it was rumoured that, although in sole possession of a deck cabin, he was comparatively a poor man. Also that he had passed much of his time in the East, which fact was held to be accountable for the way in which he treated his bedroom steward, Chinese Jimmie, whom he swore at incessantly, and had once or twice even struck for some alleged carelessness. Naturally, Jimmie resented this sort of thing and complained to the purser. But as the "darned Chow" was only working his passage he got no redress. And to someone who had, out of mere curiosity, inquired the reason for his lordship's harsh treatment of the "boy," he explained succinctly and satisfactorily, "Because I do hate a dam Chinky!" Which statement, voicing that of all the Americans on board, met with especial approval as emanating from a member of the effete and prejudiced British aristocracy.
But, of course, all those minor incidents that bulk so big in daily shipboard life completely lost their interest in face of this last disaster, and people spoke of nothing else whatever during their waking moments. Even the firemen, coming off duty, wet and grimy, mockingly flourished their sweat-rags, and with much grimacing roared hoarsely to each other:—
"Hi, Bill, what did yer do with them jools?" "Now, Tom, fork out them dimons I seen yer tryin' on t'other night!"
The seamen, too, especially the quartermasters, whose duty called them amongst the passengers, grew excited over the business, and could be heard discussing it at every opportunity. Then when the notice of the reward appeared the excitement became intensified, and to each man's mind, fore and aft, it seemed as though his neighbour watched him.
"You can bet all you're worth, Duke," remarked his little wife, shrewdly, "that this is a put-up job, and that the smarty who worked at it ain't such a wonderful ways off rubbin' elbows against us every time we sit down to feed. Who used to go to the captain's room card-playin' o' nights 'sides yourself?"
"Well," replied the Duke, rather maliciously, "pretty well half-a-dozen of us, I think, and amongst them certainly all the gilt-edged American crowd."
"And your aristocratic friend, Lord Wardour, I reckon," added his wife, sharply. "I can't size up that chap nohow. Only I fancy that anyone who took him on face value'd get most almightily left."
"Pooh, Mattie," said the Duke, kissing her—he had not married altogether for the bacon-curing dollars—"Wardour's all right. There's a whole clan of 'em in Shropshire where he come's from. Besides, my dear, if this is the work of a practised hand, as you seem to think, might he not be found amongst the officers as likely as amongst the passengers? You must remember they all more or less have access to the captain's room through the night."
"Well," replied the Duchess, "I'm game to stake heavy that the joker, if he ever turns up, will be one of your especial clique."
"There's a schooner on the port bow, sir," said the mate of the Alaska, entering the captain's cabin one forenoon with the signalbook in his hand. "Reckon she wants us to stop. Made her number—Lass o' Gowrie—of Sydney—and hoisted the 'urgent' signal."
"All right," replied the captain, who looked weary and out of sorts, "you can go quarter-speed up to her; I'll be on deck in a minute." But before the Alaska approached near enough to speak her the schooner had a boat in the water making rapidly for the steamer.
And presently, on board the latter, when the news got about as to the identity of the two fresh passengers, the story of whose supposed loss and all that had gone before was, of course, familiar to everyone, even the great jewel robbery had to take a back seat for a while as a topic of argument and wonder.
Captain Roberts at once had a large berth in the second saloon allotted to the pair; also, before the Lass o' Gowrie filled on her course again, the skipper had given Barnes a full history of his loss and implored him to use all his skill in discovering the thief.
But at the end of a week's questioning, cross-examination, and general ferreting, all the detective could do was to advise doubling the reward.
"It's a rum go altogether!" he remarked, irritably, to Brown, who, with the moustache and beard he had allowed to grow whilst on the island, looked a very different man to the one who had left San Francisco. "Somebody's got the things planted all right," continued the detective, "and I've a good mind to try a thorough personal search."
"You'll most likely lose them if you do," replied the other. "What will you give me if I tell you who was the thief?"
Barnes stared at this, and remarked, meaningly, "Well, at least it can't be the 'Toff Bird' this time, although it certainly is clean and clever enough for his work."
"All the same," replied Brown, laughing, "I fancy, somehow, that gentleman has had a finger in the pie; and also that I can help you to put your hand upon him, if I please."
Such was the anxiety and scrambling on board to interview and gaze upon the supposed notorious murderer and burglar, that Brown, who appeared nothing loth to satisfy public curiosity, had been kept very busy almost from the moment of his arrival.
The detective, by this time, concerned himself little about his prisoner. They had been so long together and fallen so well into each other's ways, that for days Barnes appeared quite to forget their respective relations as warder and criminal. Occasionally, as just now, he allowed a reference to the fact to escape him. But Brown only laughed and continued, "Well, old man, I want to do you a good turn, and I think you won't be far wrong if you mark down this person as the one you want to get hold of," and he pointed to Lord Wardour's name on the list of passengers he had been consulting.
"Why, you've never even seen him," protested Barnes, contemptuously; "he's about the only man on the ship that hasn't been near you. I know that much, at any rate. And he's given me every possible help in this business during the last week."
"Shouldn't wonder," replied the other, drily. "However, there's my tip. Take it or leave it, as you please. I might tell you more, but then, you know, neither you nor anybody else would believe me."
Meanwhile, Chinese Jimmie was sorely puzzled. One morning, brushing the carpet of Lord Wardour's cabin, he had picked up a minute fragment of torn gold—an incident which, under the circumstances, to his comprehension, quickened by a very lively feeling of hate, seemed more than suspicious. Still, it would not do to make any mistake. His first idea had been to show the thing to the detective. On second thoughts he resolved to play detective himself, helped in his determination by the doing of a little sum that turned £500 sterling into dollars, and represented to him a huge fortune. But it was a big risk, and Jimmie took it, quite understanding such to be the case. The cabin Wardour had secured was a large one, containing two berths, of which he occupied the lower, whilst the upper was filled with a miscellaneous collection of clothes, dirty linen, etc. Under this Jimmie late that same night burrowed till only an eye was visible. His lordship never retired before twelve o'clock; and he trusted to chance to make good his retreat towards morning. Something seemed to tell him that if discovered his days were numbered. Still, he knew the occupant of the cabin rarely disturbed the pile of odds and ends accumulated during the passage, and covered by which he could see everything that took place. Also he knew that a meeting was even now being held in the smoke-room to determine whether or not—the reward having failed—a search of all passengers' effects should be instituted. Therefore he chose this special night.
Untroubled with nerves, Jimmie's heart nevertheless beat a little quicker as the man he hated and suspected at last entered, locked the door behind him, and turned on the electric light. Then drawing a solid leather portmanteau from under the lower bunk he opened it with a Chubb key attached to a steel chain that he took from his pocket. From between the folds of an old mackintosh and some soiled sheets a long, black, opaque eye glared hungrily. Many a time since the discovery of that bit of ragged gold the eye's owner had itched to ransack the inside of that heavy flat box. At last! Sitting on the couch that ran along one side of the cabin, his lordship threw the lid back and drew forth a small, round, metal box. The eye winked with excitement. Then, throwing off his coat, the man took up his position in front of the looking-glass—the eye noticing as he walked that all sign of limp had vanished. Opening the box a pungent odour spread over the berth, tickling Jimmie's nostrils and forcing him to cram a lump of dirty sheet in his mouth to prevent a sneeze. Then the man dabbed his hair here and there with a sort of ointment from the box, paying careful attention, the watcher noticed, to the grey patches, after which he sponged it thoroughly in water. He then, taking off his glasses, critically inspected his face. Then, uncorking a bottle of yellowish liquid, he applied the contents carefully with a brush to his cheeks, forehead, and chin, muttering as he worked.
"Curse the luck!" the by this time disgusted Jimmie, understanding nothing, heard him say. "To think that, after all, they should have turned up again in such a fashion. It was worth a fortune to me to have got rid of the 'Toff Bird ' and t'other fellow in one act. Hard lines, that's what I call it. However," and he grinned as he spoke, "old Barnes was duty bound to catch somebody, I suppose. The chap that bought the ring, of course—Brown, he gammoned his name was. As if I didn't know! Well, I don't think he'll recognise the seller in 'his lordship!' But what a mug he must have been to let Barnes lumber him like that! Won't there be a row when they find out they've made such a bloomin' mull?" And the speaker chuckled heartily at his own reflection in the mirror.
By now Jimmie's vision of the £500 had vanished. His only thought was to get away unperceived and kick himself. He also wanted to sneeze worse than ever. The pungent, penetrating, chemical odour still titillated his nose, and repression was causing him to suffer acutely. He had shut the watching eye, when a sharp clicking made him re-open it. And what he saw put new power of endurance into his nerves.
His lordship held in his hands a diamond bracelet, and plying a pair of nippers was with practised skill extracting the stones, flashing as he turned them in the electric light. Close to him lay a broad belt of stout flannel that he had just taken off. It contained many small pockets that bulged. And Jimmie needed no information as to their contents. Very rapidly the worker cut and snipped until the diamonds, six in all, were freed from their setting. Then, dropping them into one of the compartments of the belt, he took a needle and thread and stitched the mouth up. Then muttering, "They may search as much as they like now!" he made as though to fasten it around his waist again. But his eye falling on the torn and cut gold, he laid the belt on the couch, gathered up all the pieces, wrapped them in paper, and putting the parcel in the pocket of his pyjama coat, lit a cigar, opened the door, and stepped on deck.
Hardly waiting for him to disappear, Jimmie leaped like a flash from his lair and snatched the precious parcel. But at that moment the long-repressed sneeze burst forth with a dreadful piercing sound that echoed high above the wash of water and thump of the engines. He darted at the door, threw it wide, and was actually over the sill when a pair of strong hands, gripping his throat, forced him back into the cabin, and a voice hoarse with rage muttered in his ear:—
"Oh, you clever beggar! Now, I'll kill you quietly and chuck you overboard, too!"
The yellow face grew black, and the narrow black sunken eyes came out of their sockets in an appalling fashion as the man, tightening his clutch, and intent only on finishing his work, jammed the Chinese silently, grimly, on to the settee. Then all at once Jimmie remembered.
And ceasing to claw futilely at the rigid arms that throttled, he dropped his hand under his loose jumper, and, drawing his knife, struck with all his remaining strength deep between rib and hip. Instantly a change came over the flushed, dark face and the fierce eyes staring into his own; the iron grip relaxed, and Jimmie, tearing himself loose, drew a long, choking breath as the other, groaning, and coughing up blood, sank to his knees on the floor.
For a few minutes Jimmie could do nothing but pant; then, recovering somewhat, he snatched up the belt, already in part stained crimson, and, without another glance at the figure bowed against the couch, he rushed on deck and along it and up the steps of the bridge, whence, eluding the grip of the officer of the watch, he darted into the captain's room and shook him as he lay in his cot and flourished his treasure, crying aloud, "All li, sah, me catchee! He try chokee me. No can do! Me stickee allee same pig. You savee me catchee dollar all li, sah?"
The wounded man lived for nearly two days, during most of which time he alternately jeered at the unhappy Barnes and cursed Jimmie for spoiling what he averred was one of his finest efforts.
"And what made you take my title?" asked Brown on one occasion. "Wasn't it enough to land me in all this trouble without adding to the obligation?"
"Well," replied the other, with a grin, "it was just a matter of chance. I saw you once a long time ago in Auckland, when you were staying at Government House there. Then when I sold you the ring up in Seattle, although you gammoned plain Brown, I recognised you at once. Well, then, I heard you were nabbed; then, after a while, came the news that you and good old Barnsey there were drowned. So, why, as I meant to work this Yankee boat for all she was worth, I thought I couldn't do better than do it as a lord—especially when the chances were that very few people except myself knew what had become of the said lord. See? But you've got a rattling good action against the Government for damages; and as for Barnes, he'll probably get the sack. That was a messed up job at Bezil and Carat's. So long! I don't feel, somehow, as if I could do any more talk."
No case of Brown or Wardour v. the Crown, however, came into any Colonial court of law. The matter was settled quietly by arbitration. And nobody for certain appeared to be aware of the exact amount awarded. Still, the hole made in the Treasury account with the Bank of Carpentaria must have been very considerable. "Heaven knows, Jack," remarked his lordship afterwards to his cousin, Captain D'Arcy, "that although I wanted money badly enough, I didn't, as some people kindly hint, lay myself out to take advantage of the mistake. I told the beggars the truth, and that I was merely a poor devil of a titled Englishman travelling around under his family name. But when I saw how cursedly cocksure they were, the notion entered my mind to make them pay pretty dearly for the tune they danced me to. I have done so. And presently I'll give up wandering and go home and settle at Mount Wardour. I'm able to raise the mortgage now, and then have money to spare. Barnes comes with me. They made a scapegoat of him, but I can find him something better to do over yonder."
Harry Richards and Bob, his brother, had just finished a good year on Garuda Station, good, that is to say, in a financial sense. Working like horses and living like blacks, they had put up over thirty miles of fencing, besides getting through a few blocks of ring-barking. Thus, just before Christmas, they had earned a very respectable cheque, and on the strength of it the pair determined to put into execution a long-talked-of, long-thought-of plan—nothing less, in fact, than a visit to the capital. Both of them bred and brought up in the outer bush, completely ignorant of the world that lay beyond the little township thirty miles distant from the station upon which they had worked for so long, the undertaking seemed to them one of no small moment and consequence.
Primarily, they had resolved to go "as they were," their only preparations consisting of washing an extra pair of "moles" and a couple of cotton shirts, and rolling the lot up in a blue blanket. But on the station storekeeper representing to them that in such guise they would probably be arrested by the first policeman as vagrants, they allowed themselves to be persuaded into buying—at station rates—a slop suit of tweed each and two little hard black hats. The former bore many vestiges of "silver fish;" the latter were hopelessly out of date—and all were palpable misfits. Stiff colored shirts, and elastic-side boots three sizes too small completed their misery. But the store keeper pronounced them "regular toffs, and fit to do the block;" and though only dimly guessing what he meant, they took some comfort from his verdict. In their working clothes Bob and Harry were a strapping pair of young natives, broad-chested, and lean-flanked, all bone, muscle, and sinew, sharp-featured, keen-eyed; ignorant of most things; suspicious; without any pronounced vices or virtues; orphans—the product of a Scotch shepherd and a native-born bushwoman. They could neither read nor write; but they possessed a certain inheriter paternal shrewdness, of which the Garuda storekeeper had many times vainly endeavored to get the better when measuring up their work. Only in the last deal had he ever been able to score. Also, he had transformed them into a pair of scarecrows.
In common with the majority of Australian natives, the brothers were endowed with more than an average share of stolidity. It took, indeed, all that was presently to happen to them to make them show visible astonishment. Thus, when at the terminus the engine came shrieking and panting into the station, they merely swore, and nudged each, other, although it was their first sight of a locomotive. The sum demanded for their fares appeared an enormous extortion. A quarter of a mile of fencing would hardly cover it. To the dismay of the other passengers, the first thing they did was to take off their boots, and with long sighs of relief expose their naked feet. They had, perhaps fortunately, withstood all persuasion as to socks; and in their new footgear was no room for the "Prince Alberts," or bandages of old cottons shirts, they usually wore inside their huge No. 10 bluchers.
Some wag had told them that if they once lost sight of their carriage before it arrived at its destination they, would infallibly be left behind. By the same joker's advice they had laid in a big stock of provisions—bread and cheese, and beer—contained in an immense old carpet bag that had belonged to the storekeeper's grandfather, and that now served as larder and wardrobe for the pair. By other travellers their proceedings were watched with eager, subdued interest; subdued, because doubtful how far chaff or protest would be safe with the owners of those great bony, scarred, hairy hands and muscular arms already causing seams to burst and gape in the ancient coats.
But at last the long five-hundred mile journey was at an end, and, stiff and bewildered, Harry and Bob were deposited upon the Redfern platform. Presently, following a stream of people, they found themselves in a tram, out of which they never thought of stirring till it reached its journey's end at Bent-street.
"Jack the Sailor," bullock-driver at Garuda, had told them of an "A1 tip-top place to stop at" in Kent-street..
"Say, mate," asked Bob of the guard, as they alighted, "is this Kent-street?"
"No, it ain't," replied the guard, grinning delightedly, as he took the pair in at a glance, "but if you keeps on to the Quay an' then turns to the left, an' keeps on agyne, you'll come to it in time. What 'otel might you be puttin' up at?"
"Number 399," replied Bob, slowly, consulting a grimy slip of paper upon which the figures were very legibly printed.
"Grosvenor, that is," said the guard. "All right, you cawn't mike a mistake. Keep to the left till you sees it in front o' ye;" and, jumping on to his tram, off he went.
"Rum languidge these blokes 'ave down, 'ere," remarked Harry.
"D—rum," replied his brother, "I'd two minds to punch that feller in the jaw fer grinnin' like 'e did. What's them things in the lagoon yonder? steamhers an' ships, I s'pose, same as I heard Jack tell on oncest or twice!"
They had by this time come out on to Circular Quay, and stood there open-mouthed and eyed, staring at the scene, impressed, but lacking words, bar an oath or two, to register its effect upon them.
"You'll find the Three Nines a all right shop to camp in," had said Jack the Sailor, "I've stopped there often, years ago, when I uster ship outer Sydney. Ole Mother Ruckles kep' it in them days. P'raps she's pegged out now. The 'ouse 'll be there all the same, though. It ain't a swell place, o' course. But there's better tucker an' less bugs than in any o' the rest o' the shops 'roun' that district. Cheap too; an' lively. You bet! You'll see life there, my sons, an' won't 'ave no time to grow blue-mouldy. You ask any sailor-man where the Three Nines is—one less'n a thousan', you savee. 'Owever, I'll put it down, so's you shan't make any mistake; an', if so be's the old woman's kickin' yet, just you tell 'er as I sent you."
But when, after much wandering and questioning, the pair at length reached the grimy door of No. 999, they found no hostess, but were received by a low-set, black-browed customer, who curtly informed them that Mother Ruckles had long ago ceased to kick; but that if they wanted board and lodging, and could pay for it, why they would be made welcome to the best of everything in Sydney. Not sailors, o' course. That was easy seen. Oh, bushmen, were they? Why, then, they'd come to the right place for comfort. That house made a specialty of the class. Did be know "Jack the Sailor?" Well, he should smile.
Actually, he did more, he laughed outright and loudly. So, too, did three or four other squalid looking individuals sitting on dirty benches in the dirty verandah. Everybody, it seemed, knew Jack, and loved him, and wanted to know all about him, and were willing to drink his health as soon as the newcomers felt inclined to pay their footing. Which, in due course, they did, but grudgingly, because, according to bush ethics, a dozen drinks was "coming it too strong for one shout."
However, Tom Caine, "Black Tom," as he was generally called about the shipping, made much of his new and curious guests, and that very night gave a "shivoo" in their honor attended by many Kent-street nymphs, the like of whom never in their wildest dreams could they have conceived. An American darkey played the concertina, whilst , a Dane beat an old piano, and a Greek tootled on the flute, and the fun was fast and furious. And Bob and Harry, each with a nymph on his knee and a glass at his elbow, realised that, indeed, as Jack the Sailor had prophesied, they were seeing life in Sydney. But the pair were not popular. They took their fun without abandon. Even in the most unrestrained flights of the jovial Company to which they had been admitted they preserved a saturnine gravity that jarred on the happy-go-lucky outward and homeward bounders that frequently Black Tom's. Perhaps this was due to some faint strain of Calvinism inherited from the Scotch shepherd. Nor were they at all free with the money that it was now known Bob carried in the double waistband of his trousers, and that the nymphs were for ever trying openly and secretly, but vainly, to get at. Nor did they drink as one should when on pleasure bent; kept their heads, too, when their friends were stretched out "paralytic;" more than once had been heard to say in their peculiar language that "no man who couldn't chew tacks would ever get upsides" with them, and altogether disgusted Black Tom, who had promised himself, as he put it, "a real soft snap with the busbies." And they bulked so tall and lithe and strong that nobody felt inclined to meddle with them. Nor ever had Tom, even on the hungriest homeward bounder, seen such, appetites as the twain possessed. They stuck together, too, like the Siamese twins. When ever you saw Harry, Bob was alongside him or within call.
"Ain't gettin' very much change out er us, are they, Bob?" chuckled Harry, "if we are chummies down 'ere."
"Poor, muchy lot, these city blokes," assented the younger brother, with a grin. "An' them sailors don't know enough to keep warm. An' Black Tom's as soft as any of 'em. I took im down for three quid at euchre last night. Bust me if I don't believe we cud soon live 'ere on our earnin's! An' them chaps at Garuda blowin' 'bout spielers an' forties, and all sorts of fairy tales! Yah, let 'em try to gammon us!"
But alas for the pride that goeth before a fall!
* * * * * *
"Bob!" groaned Harry, miserably, as he lifted an aching head, and stared around him with bulging, amazed eyes. "I'm 'ere, Harry," moaned Bob, from the opposite side, "least ways my 'ead is! Where are we? In hell, or where." But Bob made no reply. He was busy taking in his surroundings. He lay in a bunk, one of a double tier that ran round a place something like the Garuda men's hut, only much smaller. On the walls hung clothes that swung and rustled; chests were lashed to the floor at intervals; In the dim light he could see his brother's white face peering at him over the side of the bunk opposite. But the motion—the horrible, puzzling, sickening motion—now a slow roll sideways, then an abrupt jerk into the air, followed immediately by a downward plunge! And the noises—the creaking and groaning—all awed him; mingled as they were with other sounds of wind and water roaring and swirling not far away! Harry had suggested hell. But hell was hot. He knew that much. But this place was cold, if anything. Suddenly his eye caught sight of, under his head, the big carpet bag. When he saw it last in their room at the Three Nines it had been stuffed full of purchases picked up at street stalls and in "Paddy's Market." Now it was collapsed and empty. With a sharp spasm of recollection, he felt the double waistband of his trousers. The patch he had so laboriously sewn on to plant their money in had been cut away, and the forty odd £1-notes had disappeared. With a howl he sprang up, only to be knocked back again by a severe blow from a sharp iron beam.
"Now, then, you——loafers!" all at once exclaimed a sharp, stern voice. "How long are you going to lie back, eh? Don't ye think it's about a fair thing? Come along, now; show a leg!" And, so saying, a tall, broad, black bearded man grabbed Bob's leg and fairly hauled him out of his bunk on to a chest, thence on to the floor and along through an open door into the air. Returning, he performed the same operation for Harry. "There now," remarked the man threateningly, as the pair staggered to their feet, and stared around them, dumb with amazement, "None o' your shammin'! Turn to and do your duty, and you'll be all right. But by G—d, if you don't you'll be darn wrong! Bosun," he shouted, "lead the hose along this way!"
On every side, as far as the eye could reach, stretched more water than the brothers had deemed it possible the world contained. It was early morning, a bright breezy morning in the Southern Ocean, and the white horses flung their manes merrily to a strong, cool westerly. Overhead towered pile upon pile of bellying canvas to heights that made their aching eyes reel to follow it. At every turn strange sights met their gaze; objects they had no names for; articles whose uses they could not even guess at. Under foot the heavy planks seemed striving incessantly to throw them, as they staggered helplessly, and clutched at ropes, and slipped and slid on trembling legs, like two newly-born calves. All at once men appeared; much the same kind of men as they had mated with at the "Three Nines;" they dragged something along with them; another minute, and a great stream of cold salt water played remorselessly upon their bodies as, breathless and drenched, they slipped into the lee-scuppers. Such was the brothers' introduction to the ship British Empire, from Newcastle to Valparaiso, coal laden, which, having put into Sydney for a new topmast, had there lost a couple of her hands. These Black Tom had undertaken to supply, and had done so in thoroughly traditional style.
For a long time the officers of the Empire would not believe but that Bob and Harry were "shamming green." And during this period of incredulity their lot was a hard one indeed, and kicks far more plentiful than halfpence, both fore and aft. In the natural course of things they would have retaliated savagely, but their novel and bewildering surroundings dazed and cowed them; whilst their stupendous inferiority to the smallest and weakest of the men whom ashore they had regarded as "soft," put any attempt at self-assertion out of the question. Even the very ship's boys abused, them with impunity as they scrubbed and scoured, waited upon the inmates of the fo'c'sle, day and night were obliged to hold themselves ready at everybody's beck and call, thankful for the few rags that could be spared them from the seamen's own scanty outfits. One desire animated both their souls, was almost the only subject upon which, they conversed—revenge upon Black Tom should they ever be lucky enough to return to their native land again. What shape this should take there was no uncertainty about in their minds. They would kill him. And how their half savage hearts yearned with inarticulate yearnings for the wild freedom of the bush again; once more to have the scent of the flowering scrub in their nostrils, to hear the screaming of the crimson-breasted galahs feeding on the nardoo flats; feel the grip of the western soil underfoot, the western sun overhead, and know that they were slaves no longer! No longer despised and bullied "bushies," at the mercy of all hands on this most grotesque and restless fabric, condemned, apparently, to wander for ever the merest sport of the elements, and of whose complicated working they had been unable to master the simplest detail! But, free once again, free to wreak vengeance upon their betrayer, and then, if needs be, suffer the penalty. Thus they thought their bitter thoughts and cursed their luck, and sulked with a sour, dour sulkiness that kept their noses to the grindstone more than otherwise might have been the case. And what the end of their story would have been it is hard to say, but that the Fates intervened, and in their usual high-handed manner took part in the game.
Thus, one night, when nearly half-way across the South Pacific, the Empire was run into by a big cargo boat bound to New Zealand from South American ports.
Bob and Harry, hearing the smash, ran up, thinking that perhaps at last they had reached the longed for land. But all they could see was a dark mass grinding and cutting into their ship amidst a babel of cries, oaths, groans, and escaping steam, whilst from aloft yards and masts were falling and crashing with a dreadful noise of rending steel and timber. Above their heads, and apparently belonging to the thing that was doing all the terrible mischief, hung a tangle of iron ropes and spars.
Shouting "She's sinking!" a man rushed past them and began to furiously clamber and drag himself up these. Without well knowing why, the brothers followed him.
They were dazed, stunned, and appalled by the fear of the unknown and the dreadful noises of the night as they swung and swarmed up the wire stays shouting and yelling, and helping and pulling each other with the passion of despair. Then, all at once, they felt strong hands grasp them and lug them inboard, and heard a voice ask, "How many?" and another reply, "Only three, sir, off our head-gear. And she's gone down. But the boats may pick up more."
But the boats did not. Of all the Empire's company two seamen and the despised "bushies" alone were saved. On board the Monmouth Castle they were well treated. And two of the firemen being ill their places in the stokehole were offered to Bob and Harry as far as Auckland, and thence, if they wished, to the next port of call, Sydney. They accepted joyfully, and worked with the fierce energy born of long repression and endurance. They also took the opportunity of half-killing their rescued mates—who on the Empire had reduced tormenting them to a science. If they could have served all those others likewise they would have been pleased. However, they were drowned, and so now beyond their reach. As for Black Tom—!
It was a lovely morning as the Castle turned in between the Heads of Port Jackson and threaded her way slowly up the harbor. The brothers had just come off their last shift, and were watching the scene with a sharp, eager, anticipatory stare. Nearer inshore a coasting steamer, up by the nose and down by the stern, was making for her wharf. Nearly abreast of the Castle a big topsail schooner was coming along with wind and tide; just behind her raced a fore-and-after, both of them apparently homeward bound. As the Castle overtook the schooner an oath from Harry drew his brother's attention, and following the direction of his gaze he saw Black Tom on the first vessel's fo'c's'le-head. And that he had seen and recognised them there could be no doubt, for, as the Castle passed, he waved his hand, and so close was he that they almost thought they could catch the derisive grin on his dark face.
"We've got 'im now!" exclaimed Bob grimly. "An' when we've finished with 'im he won't put away no more 'bushies!'"
But even as he spoke the schooner came up in the wind and went about on the other tack. She was outward bound!
Also, when they got ashore they found that the Three Nines had long changed hands.
* * * * * *
"My word!" exclaimed the Garuda storekeeper.
"You fellows must have had a high old time of it! Five months of town on a bit of a cheque like that! I wish to goodness you'd tell the secret of how you did it."
But the brothers kept their mouths stubbornly shut. And they took a long contract of fencing. Also, at every chance they got they quarrelled and fought with Jack the Sailor until they made Garuda too hot for him, and he left. And it was noticed that, henceforth, on whatever station they might be they devoted all their energies to serving any seafarers they could discover in similar fashion.
When old Captain Bob Freeman, at the age of 55, "gave the sea best," and retired to a small cottage in one of the marine suburbs of Port Endeavour, he thought that his career was ended, and that Providence would allow him to spend the remainder of his days in peace. But Providence was, like "Brer Rabbit," only "lying low" for the ancient mariner. In the meantime, however, "Cap'en Bob," as he was locally known along the special harbor fringe on which he had made his home, enjoyed amazingly the first spell of shore life that had been his for over forty years.
The marine suburb was not exactly a St. Kilda, or a Glenelg, or a Sandgate; not a pleasure or a health resort, but a busy collection of shipyards, factories, and ''works" of every description bordering a stretch of water never empty of vessels; redolent of familiar smells of tar and paint, noisy with the incessant clamor of wrights and smiths, and alive with steam and canvas moving to and fro athwart its surface. And here the old sea-hawk, foregathering with others of his kind—retired skippers and mates of small craft—formed a bowling club, known presently as the "Port Watch." The "green" adjoined an hotel; and here, clad in an outlandish, flappy hat and wonderously-hued blazer, on any bright afternoon you might see Cap'en Bob and his fellows waddling along the rinks—a hard-faced, white-bearded, round-backed old crowd, solemnly taking their exercise, interspersed with many adjournments to the bar of "The Man at the Wheel."
And their game finished, they would sit about on benches overlooking the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of the busy bay and talk ships; criticise the points of the various craft entering or departing, their rig, their build, their cargo, the passage; differing in many points of argument, but unanimous, the whole of them, in damning steam heartily and without reserve. Most of the old shellbacks had, like Cap'en Bob, made what little money they possessed in the "island trade." And to judge from the yarns they told of those days, the South Seas must have been veritable Tom Tiddler's Ground for those who knew their business—which business, apparently from many a hint let drop with wink and chuckle, was not always of the most legitimate description.
O' nights the "Port Watch" assembled in their special room at the hotel, whose owner, himself an old sailor, took care they should not, be disturbed whilst they smoked, drank, and played euchre til closing-up time.
Now, and very suddenly, Luck or Fate or Providence—call it what you like—began to get in its fine work on Cap'en Bob. First, a bill backed for an old friend was dishonored; a couple of vessels in which he had shares were wrecked, and presently, when the old skipper had "cleared up the raffle," as he put it, and settled with his creditors, he found himself with just £100 in the world And to realise even that small sum he had been obliged to part with the apple of his eye—his little four-roomed cottage on Fig Tree Point, and send his old housekeeper away.
The news demoralised the Port Watch. Cap'en Bob had been its founder, and by precept and example had brought the institution up to its present state of efficiency, and made it flourish like the green bay tree. Domineering, quick-tempered, and masterful though he was, his heart, as everybody knew, was in the right place; and no one, especially a seafarer, had ever appealed in vain to his ever-open sympathy—manifested not by words, but by purse.
And presently the Port Watch pulled itself together and rose to the occasion, and called a special meeting, whilst Cap'en Bob was away round the owners' offices looking for a billet. He had intimated his intention of "goin' fishin" again the night before at the club. "It'll be a nice change," he had said, screwing up his furrowed, gnarled, old mahogany face. "I've been too long ashore. Gettin' fat and lazy now for want o' exercise. Bowls ain't sufficient graft for a young 'un like me."
"No, in course not," assented Cap'en Stagcross gravely; "I've noticed myself lately as you're runnin' to flesh a bit. An', as you says, the change 'll be good for you. An' some o' them fellers over in town 'll be only too glad to git a man o' your eggsperience to run some sort o' a ship for 'em; you bet!" But at the meeting Stagcross spoke quite otherwise. He was Cap'en Bob's senior in age, if not in service—a tall, thin, bald man with one eye and a face like a horse, who whinnied when he laughed, and who, it was rumored, had made money by "blackbirding" when "times was good down in the Islands." And he was supposed to be very well to do, owning, as those present were well aware, two or three snug bits of foreshore along the bay.
Always Cap'en Bob and he were more or less at loggerheads, both on the "green" and in the club-room. Indeed, the pair were popularly supposed to have "a down" upon each other, being able to agree on no single subject from the proper "bias" of a bowl to the best way of heaving-to a fore-and-aft rigged vessel.
"Hem," said Stagcross, suddenly clearing his throat for silence, "Cap'en Bob's gone to look for a ship. But he won't git one in a blue moon. We all know that. Billets aint picked up like they was years agone. But I got a ship for him. You knows the Dancin' Jane, well, I've a goodish big say in her—in fact, I may say the biggest say. She's bin laid up this last few months. Now, Brown and Company's goin' to send her down to the Island for nig—leastways, copra, or anythin'. An' Cap'en Bob Freeman's goin' to take charge of her. D'ye see?"
Apparently they did, for tumblers rattled on the tables, and hoarse roars of applause shook the room.
"Now," continued the speaker, "he musn't know I'm in it, or likely bein', so to say, a bit uppish an' stubborn, now as this stroke o' cruel bad luck's overtook him—he mightn't ' take the thing as it's meant. That's why I said Brown and Company—or any other company—I'll fix that up. An' I'll dock the Jane, an' I'll put six months' stores aboard of her. But that aint enough; an' I'll want a bit of help for trade an' wages an' such. So, perhaps—I don't s'pose I'll 'ave to more than mention it—a sort o' tarpaulin muster now wouldn't come amiss," and the skipper, taking his hat off its peg, placed it in the middle of the table.
In a minute cheque books were produced, pen and ink called for, and colored slips began to flutter into the hat. The Port Watch was on its mettle; those who had no cheques just wrote the amount they wished to give on bits of paper. When all were finished, Stagcross counted up the sum total. It came to nearly £200—an average of something over, £12 for each member.
"This is good," said he, as he whinnied loudly with gratification, "but knowin' ye as I do, not more'n I expected. Now, leave the rest to me. I'll manage so's he'll be thinkin' he's workin' for owners 'stead o' on his own hook; an' beholden to any of us. Cap'en Bob 'ud worrit his 'eart out on them terms. It's his own show, though, all the time. An' I believe, for a man as knows his way about the Islands is as good now almost as ever they was. Gen'elmen, let's drink Cap'en Bob's health and success to his trip."
And they did so to such purpose that Cap'en Bob, returning nearly heartbroken from a round of shipowners' offices—at all of which he had been told either that he was too old, or that only foreigners were wanted—found at least half the Port Watch, unable to take a correct departure for their homes, had been put to bed by "The Man at the Wheel."
In due course Cap'en Bob, to his intense delight, for he had begun to think such an appointment out of the question, received the offer of the Dancing Jane from the firm of Brown and Company. And as he read the letter to the Port Watch, he stopped suddenly, and remarked, with an accent of suspicion, "By the way, Cap'en Stagcross" (they were always particular as to each other's titles), "didn't you used to have some say in the Jane? I fancy I've heard so."
"Mebbe, mebbe," replied the other stolidly, "I've had shares in so many on 'em. But, if I had, that's all finished an' done with now. She's as fine a little brigantine as sails out o' Endeavour anyway, and I wish you luck, cap'en. I'd take plenty o' square gin an Turkey red in the trade room, if I was you; an'—"
"Cap'en Stagcross," returned the other severely, "it aint my first visit to them parts—no, not by scores. An' if I didn't know what the niggers wants, nobody does; thankin' you all the same." And Stagcross, contrary to his wont, forbore to talk back.
Never were such owners as Brown and Company. They gave their new skipper a free hand in everything, and the old man was so pleased that he quite forgot his misfortunes in the excitement of getting the Dancing Jane ready for sea. It had been arranged by the club that he was to try and get a load of copra. Freight outwards there was none offering. Steamers had taken it all. And although the fossils of the Port Watch knew it not, it would have been almost as easy to get a cargo of gold in Oceania as one of copra. For the past year or so a terrible drought had smitten Polynesia, and nuts were things of the past. Copra of any kind was worth £30 per ton at Port Endeavour, and the better nuts £10 more.
So Cap'en Bob sailed away in the Dancing Jane, eager and confident, with a full trade-house and carte blanche as to route from his most obliging owners.
The first place he made for, having done much trade there aforetime, was the Gilbert Group. Finding, to his dismay, that there was scarcely a nut amongst all the many Islands, he came back, touching at many places en route, to Samoa. There folk only laughed at him, and told him to go home and wait for the rain. In the Marquesas he found a few traders who, as their own vessels had not arrived, offered to sell him a ton or so of copra for its weight in square gin. But Cap'en Bob couldn't see it, and advised them to wait for their own company's vessels.
And he began to worry and fret, and to wonder what was the best thing to do; wishing, too, that he had gone elsewhere for these were not the islands that he knew of old. Then all at once he remembered Sawara, the Ambrym chief.
Years ago, when Sawara's village had been attacked by one of the fierce bush tribes, eager for heads, Cap'en Bob, then in command of a trading schooner, had practically saved the chief and his people by interfering with Sniders on their behalf, and to such purpose that hardly a single bushmen returned to the mountains to tell the story of the luckless foray.
In his gratitude, Sawara had sworn that if the chance ever occurred to do Cap'en Bob a good turn he would not forget it. But shortly afterwards the old skipper had given up the sea, and had not since visited Ambrym.
Now in his trouble he thought of Sawara and his promise. Of course the chief might be long dead—and eaten; or, if alive, he might be more inclined to make "long pig" of Cap'n Bob than to keep his promise.
However, the skipper, although fully recognising that it was a forlorn hope, determined to try his luck; and thus headed the Dancing Jane north about again, until, one night, a roseate flush in the sky told of the ever active Ambrym volcanoes.
Carefully avoiding the mission station, Cap'en Bob coasted along till he came to the little bay on whose shores, hidden in a tangle of undergrowth, lay Sawara's village. And presently the chief himself came off, delighted apparently at recognising his old friend who, in "sandalwood talk," soon made known his troubles, and called upon the savage too, if he could, fulfil the pledge made in his time of need.
But at first Sawara shook his head. Times were bad; the drought had been long and disastrous; there was scarcely any crop in his plantation; what few nuts there were on the trees were "tabu," and untouchable. Still he would like to help his old friend, if possible. And there was a way only it depended on others as well as himself. A council meeting should be called that night and then, well, it all depended. Meanwhile, here were pigs, fowls, and yams for Cap'en Bob's acceptance.
Next morning Sawara came on board, evidently highly pleased, and announced that the chiefs had consented to the proposal laid before them; and, in consideration of bygone services, would let Cap'en Bob have—of course for a fair equivalent in trade—two seasons' crops of nuts, which they had stowed away as a standby in time of need. Many traders, added the chief, had attempted to get this treasure, but they had been refused. Now there were no traders left on Ambrym at all. The last, a man-a-wee-wee visited the village in an endeavor to discover the "plant." But—, and here Sawara stopped suddenly and turned the subject.
Later, Cap'en Bob and three of his men armed to the teeth, and very doubtful, were led by devious paths to a big cave, which as they entered and glanced around by the light of torches, seemed to be full of stacked cocoanuts. This was the treasury of the tribe, when in a rare fit of prudence they had garnered their one valuable asset.
Such an abnormal instance of foresight, opposed as it was to every native tradition, astonished Cap'en Bob not a little, even whilst blessing the notion that entered their savage heads, and secured such a windfall for him. Without a doubt Sawara had turned up trumps.
And presently the whole village became a copra factory, as the population, seemingly eager to show its appreciation of that great service years ago, set to work husking, splitting, and drying. Luckily the weather kept fine, and the sun hot. Even so, it was a long job, made longer by the smaller lots that the indefatigable Sawara hunted up from other villages, and that kept coming in until Cap'en Bob began to think that he would have nearly a full ship. But of what such a haul actually meant to the apocryphal Brown, and Company he possessed a very remote idea, never dreaming that the gratitude of the savage was his own salvation. Indeed, he, as time passed, waxed impartial, and hurried his departure to the extent of leaving some partially-cured nuts behinds him.
But at last the Dancing Jane's anchors came up, and with an empty trade-house and some 200 and odd tons of the finest sun-dried copra under hatches, Cap'en Bob got away, followed for some miles at sea by Sawara and a flotilla of farewelling canoes.
During the whole of the trip he had seen scarcely any vessels at all, with the exception of a few steamers. The Pacific, so far as canvas went, seemed to be deserted.
But now, half-way down to New Caledonia, the Jane fell in with the Naulahka, labor schooner, of Waratah, and Cap'en Bob, going in board for a yarn, was astonished to find that the other skipper—old acquaintance though he was—frankly refused to credit the nature of the Jane's cargo.
"Why," said he, "there ain't no copra in the bloomin' Pacific; nor hasn't been this two years or more; an' I should know, seein' as I was at the game till what with drought an' tabu together the bottom fell clean out o' the trade. Last trip I made I couldn't git more'n a couple of hundred weight. An', mind you, Larsen an' company had a dozen stations from Tonga to the Solomons. An' yet you goes quietly away an' gets a full ship—by the look of her. Too thin, Cap'en Bob! But never mind. I ain't a pryin'; an' it's no business o' mine what you're a-carryin' of. Only don't be passin' it off as copra."
And not until Cap'en Bob explained in full could his brother skipper be induced to credit the fact. Waratah and Endeavour, it might be mentioned, were opposition ports; and, as he put it, the captain of the Naulahka was "a bit narked" to think that an Endeavour vessel should have succeeded where all the Waratah traders had failed.
"But what a roarin', tearin' fluke!" continued the captain of the schooner, as, having made the amende honorable, he opened a fresh bottle of "square." "Brown and Company—I thought they'd sold all their boats a year ago—should make you a fine fat bonus for fixin' up that nigger the way ye did."
"Ay, ay," replied Cap'en Bob, unconcernedly, "it was a bit o' luck, right enough, dropping acrost Sawara again. Only for that, I'd ha' to come home' with a clean hold. But as for any bonus, well, they're good owners an' liberal, an' I daresay 'll do the right thing, as far as a fiver or so goes."
"A fiver!" repeated the other, scornfully, "they was mugs to start ye off on such a hexpedition in the first place, knowin' as it was perfectly hopeless; but, as by that there almighty fluke, you got the stuff, why, I should say £500 'd be nearer the mark, seein' as they stand to clear somewhere like £8000 or £9000."
It was now Cap'en Bob's turn to be astonished. Copra in his day was never worth more than £10 to £15; and although he might have guessed from what he had learned of late that it's value would increase, he had no mind for such a figure as the £40 per ton which his friend told him was the present market value, delivered in Endeavour, and practically unprocurable at the price.
Meanwhile, the Port Watch was getting some what uneasy. The Jane was long overdue. Also, having condescended to ask the outside world for particulars, the club was annoyed to discover upon what a useless errand it had dispatched its protege. It also remonstrated through Stagcross with Brown and Company, who, however, only laughed and produced Stagcross's written instructions, which, in brief, amounted to a free hand, and no remarks. "All the same," observed the one-eyed skipper, with a touching faith, "Cap'en Bob 'll turn up all right, you'll see! A better sailor-man don't stand! An' if there's anythin' to be had down in them Islands he'll have it. And always, now, on the beaches at Pig Tree Point commanding a view of the inner harbor and the signal staff, might be seen sitting three or four old shellbacks, with long telescopes, keeping a lookout. But the first news was that the Jane had made her number to Nobbies.
"Comin' down the coast with a spankin' fair wind!" exclaimed Stagcross, casting a weatherly eye aloft to the smoke of a factory chimney. "He'll be here by evening'!"
But the Dancing Jane was in early, and before the anchor was down Stagcross and six others of the port watch had boarded her, and were bringing her to an unofficial berth of their own fronting the "Man at the Wheel."
"I must get ashore as quick as I can afore the office closes," said Cap'en Bob.
"What office?" asked Stagcross, signing to the mate to let go the anchor.
"Why, Brown and Company's, of course," replied Cap'en Bob, who had been telling his story in brief snatches.
"D—n Brown and Company," roared Stagcross, throwing his hat overboard for joy. "We're Brown and Company; come along! No more sea for you, old chap! Come along, and we'll tell you all about it. Silly old goat to think we was goin' to let you sail a ship for any company, 'ceptin' ourselves." So the bewildered old skipper was put into the boat and thence lugged into the club room, where things were explained in such fashion as left him a much amazed man, also a much touched and affected one.
There was no difficulty in disposing of the copra; and it brought such a price as made people stare, and long to charter ships for the South Seas. But the story of Sawara got wind, and it seemed doubtful whether there were any more grateful chiefs to be met with down there.
"What are you goin' to do with all your money, Cap'en Bob?" asked a member of the Port Watch as, a few days afterwards, they stood and watched the Dancing Jane unloading her precious cargo into a great deep-water ship.
But Cap'en Bob's reply can best be seen to-day in the fine structure that, standing in its own beautiful grounds, overlooks the Harbor, and is celebrated far and wide throughout Australasia, as the Port Endeavour Home for Indigent Merchant Seamen; and under its wing, as it were, stands the bowling-green of the Port Watch, where still the old skippers and mates slowly pace the rinks, and at intervals saunter aimlessly into the bar of the "Man at the Wheel."
"A fine lot of boats we carry," I remarked to the bo'sun of the R.M.S. Olympia, one fine Sunday morning, just as "drill" was over.
"Ay, ay," replied the bo'sun with a gesture of disgust; "the boats is right enough for them as likes 'em, but for my part I wouldn't care a pen worth o' snuff if she hadn't a boat to her name. Enough o' deepwater boatin' I've 'ad to last me my time! An' if 'the 'Lympia was a-sinkin' this blessed minute, them as wanted the boats could 'ave 'em, for all I cared."
"Bo'sun," I replied insinuatingly, "after that heavy drill business I should think it's about a fair thing to freshen the nip. And I see the 2d saloon bar is open. What d'you think?" "Ay, ay, sir," he grinned, smacking his lips anticipatingly, "that there boat drill does take a lot out of us. So, if you're agreeable—"
Gently, whilst the old Jamaica was still in circulation, I led back the talk to the boats; and then, sitting on the lee-side of the dispensary that bright Sunday forenoon, whilst for'ar'd the deck officers flirted with the lady passengers, and aft a few pallid engineers sported their Sunday uniforms amongst the fair one's of the second saloon, the bo'sun told me this story:
"You know," he began, "that most o' my time's been spent in wind jammmers, and it's only lately that I've took to steam. Thirty-five years I have been under canvas, and an awful fool to stop as long at it as I done. Then I was nothin' better nor a slave, at the beck an' call o' all hands. Now, in comparison, I've got the life of a gentleman. No, I wouldn't go back to canvas again for twenty pounds a month. Well, it's some ten years or so now since I sailed out o' London in a big lump of a wooden barque—one o' Bligh's 'pea soupers' as we used to call 'em, from the dirty yaller color they was painted. We was bound to the Mauritius for sugar. It was my third trip as bo'sun; and, take her all round, and spite o' the skipper's havin' brought his wife with him, she was about the cumfablest lime-juicer as ever I was in. The wife was a fine lump of a woman, pretty young, too, compared with the Old Man, as was quite grey and bald. However that might be, she seemed fond enough of him, and we did hear as how she was the widow of another skipper left destitute by her husband being lost at sea, and that but for the Old Man she would have had to go on the parish. But, you know, yarns of the sort will get about amongst men afloat just the same as they does ashore. Anyhow, she was a good woman, and always used her word with the skipper to make things as easy as possible for the men. Many's the tot o' grog and bit o' cabin stuff she used to send into me and Chips and Sails in the deckhouse where we berthed. The old Sarah Bligh, like 'all the rest of her tribe, wasn't a clipper by no means; but, so long as he's fairly done by, there's no sailorman what doesn't like a good slow ship and a good pay-day better than a flash flyer, that most of her time's no better'n a 'arf-tide rock, a doin' of her thirteen an' fourteen. You bet, it ain't Jack that blows about what his ship can do—leastways, not till he gets out of her! More days, more dollars 'is his motter, when there's full and plenty, and watch and watch a-goin'.
"Well, we jogged along through the trades; all right enough. Then after calling at Capetown, where we had a bit of cargo to put out, we bore away for Port Louis. Then, one night, standing on the main hatch, watching a bright star that looked as it rose like the white light of a steamer, I suddenly seen a blue curl o' something rise up between me and it in the clear blueness of the might. At first I only rubbed my eyes, thinkin', p'raps, as it were a sort o' scum come acrost 'em, But it didn't go away, seemed, in fact, to get thicker. So I walks for'ard till I gets to the big ventilator just before the foremast. The star was clear then, and, turning back, I puts the fault on my eyes. Then I gives another look, and, hang me, if there it wasn't again, just a blue, thin haze, curling up into the starshine plain'r ever. We was braced sharp up on the starboard tack. It was almost a dead calm, courses hauled up and head sails down; but just then a faint puff came from the nor'ard, and I saw the streak of blue waver and bend to'rds me, and next minute I sniffed smoke, and dropped to the business in a jiffy. Runnin' for'ard again, I shins up the topsail sheets and on to the ventilator—it was a great big stack, as tall as a Thames penny steamer's—and hops off it again like a bird, so hot it was, and the smoke curling thicker'n ever out from under the hood of it. The ship was on fire. How it happened, o' course, was only, as it mostly is in them cases, a matter o' 'guessment. But, probably, it was through some of those cursed lumpers in Table Bay a-smokin' among the cargo. But, however it was done, it was done thorough. Been a-smoulderin' I reckon ever since we left there. Anyhow, when we took the forehatches off smoke and red tongues o' flame come dartin' up, so as it give us all we knew to get 'em on again.
"Well, we did everything we could think of—cut holes in the deck and had the hose along, and pumped and pumped the water into her till she got deep as a sand barge. But, lor, it seemed as ye might so well ha' sprinkled a volcaner with a waterin' pot. Fore an' aft the fire spread, until saloon and deck-houses was like ovens, and that thick with smoke as would stifle you to put your head in them.
"And through it all the old skipper, aye, and his wife, too, worked like niggers-him carry in' buckets and her bringin' us tucker and drink along the hot, smokin' decks, as each minute we'd expec' to see cave in.
"But it was all to no good; and when the Old Man sees that it warn't, and that the Sarah was past savin', he calls us off, and sets us to gettin' the boats out.
"Unfornitly he'd left it just a little too late, so that, although we got 'em into the water all right, we'd time to put mighty little into 'em afore we has to jump for our lives. 'Jump, did I say?' exclaimed the bo'sun, reflectively, stroking the grizzled stubble on his chin. 'Crawled,' it should ha' been, considering that the smoke was by now that thick you couldn't see your hand afore your face. From royal truck to deck the Sarah was just a mass o' thick black smoke, that got into our eyes and down our throats, and nigh suffocated us afore we managed to shove clear of her in the three, boats. We left her at eight bells in the afternoon watch, and then she looked just one solid heap o' smoke. Ten minutes more, and all o' a suddent, she busted out in flames, as shot up and set the sails and riggin' afire; then the masts went all ways at oncest, and presen'ly the hull itself sunk in a roarin', bubblin', fizzle o' steam leavin' us a-starin' at each other there on the wide and lovely ocean, a thousand miles from Port Louis, and about four hundred from the nearest land, which was Cape St. Mary, at the southern end o' Maddygascar. But there's the lunch bugle, sir," broke off the bo'sun, "and the rest of this long-winded yarn will keep till some other time."
"Never mind my lunch, bo'sun," I replied, "I'm getting interested; and I fancy the marrow of the story's yet to come. Let's pay our respects to the steward once more. It's dry work all this talking, and you've got another hour before your dinner."
Re-seating ourselves, and lighting our pipes—in the Line to which the Olympic belongs the bos'un sleeps in all night, and is on deck throughout the day—my friend continued:
"In my boat was the skipper and his wife, four A.Bs., an ordinary seaman, and precious little else. You see, sir, the general run o' merchant vessels keeps their boats more for show than use—fixtures, as takes a mighty deal o' shiftin'. And the Sarah's wasn't no exception, all fastened down with gripes and covered up with canvas; on the skids, too, the three of em, so that if the weather hadn't been fine not a single one would we have had a show of puttin' over the side. As it was, we were lucky—if luck you could call it—to have got away at all. But we had no sails or mast, only three oars, and no rudder. A keg of stinkin' water that had never been changed since we left London was lashed aft, and somebody had thrown in a few pieces of salt beef and pork out of the harness casks; there was also a small keg of bread, and in the skipper's pockets were a few tins of sardines. Nor, as we soon discovered, were the others much better off. Indeed, none had mast or sail, and the gig was without rowlocks. A pretty little picnic, wasn't it, for any time o' the year in the Ingian Ocean? No wonder the Old Man was flabbergasted, and didn't seem to know which way to turn or what to do! Says he, at last, as we all lies alongside each other, says he, 'Well, lads, it's bad job; but we shouldn't be far out o' the track o' steamers from Durban to Mauritius; and I don't think we can do better than pull away about due north and keep a good lookout.'
"Cold comfort this, as you may well believe," continued the bo'sun, with a faraway look in his keen grey eyes, as if mentally recalling the picture. "And that the Old Man felt it to be so you could see by his face, as he sat there with one arm round his wife, who, though pale as death, never let a whimper or a tear out of her. "By Jinkies" he exclaimed, suddenly and emphatically, "she were what the story books calls a 'era-wine, if ever there was one in this world. Well " continued the bo'sun, "we pulled to the nor'ard for the best part of the night; but there was no heart in us, tired and hungry, and weak with fighting the fire for the past three days. And when to'ards mornin' the wind and sea rose, we just gave up and tumbled in a heap in the bottom o' the boat and went to sleep, clean worn out.
"Next day it fell calm, and hot as blazes. The water in the keg was fair thick and slimy, but we wouldn't have minded that so much could we only ha' got enough of it. A quarter of a sardine tin full all round, however, was what the skipper whacked out; and it seemed to regularly sizzle on our tongues. The sardines we all allowed was to be kept for the missis. But she wouldn't hear of no such thing, and said if we didn't go whack and whack she'd not touch a bite herself. So we had half o' one o' them potty mis'able fish each on a knob o' biscuit. This feast was topped up by a few drops of the oil in the missis's thimble to each of us. By jinkies, sir, arter that r'yal repast we felt as if we could ha' eaten a raw pig apiece! As for the salt horse and pork, we had sense enough then to know that to touch it was nearly the same as sudden death.
"I forgot to tell you that durin' the night we'd lost sight o' the other boats. Nor we never see 'em again. Nor, so far as I ever heard, did anyone else.
"Of course there was no shelter from the blazin' sun as beat down on us, eatin' into our brains all day long; and after that first night there was no talk of pullin', so we just hysted one o' the oars where the mast should ha' been, and tied the missis's shawl to the top of it for a signal.
About the fourth day, I should think it was, we come to the end of our tucker and water. I remember the skipper's wife served out, the last bite and sup all around, and then she knee's down and prays that we might be soon delivered out of our misery. And, presently, some took their own way out of it. A couple o' the chaps, Swedes or some other sort o' Dutchmen, had been gnawing on the salt meat and washing it down with the salter sea. When suddenly one croaks out, 'Oh, Yesu Crist!' and overboard he goes, followed in a brace of shakes by his mate. They sank like stones.
"Then the young ordinary seaman starts babblin' an' ravin' about his mother and his sisters; and he crawls into the stern-sheets and catches hold o' the missis's hand, meanin' to say goodbye, and she, weak as she is, puts her arms around his neck and begs and prays of him to wait. But he's too strong for her, and see'n' as she can't stop him, she just kisses him, and over he goes. All this time I'm lying right for'ard, too weak to move hand or foot, and the other two chaps, is lying under the 'midship thwarts without a stir in 'em. As for the Old Man, he's sitting aft there, mutterin' to himself, with his head on his breast.
"Well," continued the bo'sun, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and taking a generous bite off a lump of twist, "I don't remember anythin' else; till I woke up, as it were, to find the boat tossin' about like a cork in a heavy sea. It had been raining, too, for I was soaked, and there was water in the bottom of her. At my feet lay the skipper's wife, aft squatted the Old Man with his head against the rail. The other two had gone. Sittin' up, I drew the woman's head in to my knees and felt her heart. But it was quite still. She was stiff and cold, too, and must ha' been dead some time; but her face was calm and peaceful, and did me good to look at it. As for the skipper, I could see that he was gone by the way his head went nid-noddin' with every lurch the boat gave. And I reckoned that, bein' in good company where I was, I couldn't do better than join 'em. So, takin' a big drink o' water, I just lay down again alongside the dead woman.
"But it wasn't to be, not just then, anyhow," concluded the bo'sun, after a long pause, "for when I came to again I was in Durban Hospital, where I'd been brought three weeks afore by a coastin' steamer that had sighted the boat, and whose people was near givin' me a passidge to Davy Jones with the other two, when some feller, seein' as I 'peared sort o' fresh; thought o' putting a lookin' glass to my mouth to see if I breathed. So that's the yarn, sir. And now you know why, sooner than take the risk o' goin' through such a bit again in a open boat. I'd put my hands over my eyes like a monkey does, and go straight down. There's the mess boy signallin' fer dinner, so I'll just go and interview the 'Lympia's good roast beef and potatoes, and plum duff, and soft bread and butter, and think, as I often does; of them days in the boat as made a old man o' me afore my time." And the bo'sun moved away aft, a stout, brown-faced man, with almost white hair, though still in his prime, leaving me to regard the great liner's boats with a new interest in the light of the terrible experience I had just been listening to.
William Barden, Esq., J.P., of Carpentaria, and shipowner of Port Endeavor, better known as "Old Billy Barden," was not the pleasantest man in the world to work for, and had it not been for his only daughter, Jessie, I should have left his service long ago. So would Frank Hassall, mate of the old Mary Barden, barque, and of which ancient tub, I, Henry Curtis, was second officer—as they say in the big deep water packets, where the term mate is now well-nigh obsolete. We, Frank and I, had been In old Barden's ships three or four years, and were very good friends until, and, indeed, for some time after, the pair of us began courting pretty Jessie. And at first he played fair; many a night he could have ordered me to stay on board instead of allowing me ashore, when he knew that, some time through the evening, he was certain to meet me at the old shipowner's house, where, whilst Barden was busy over his accounts in a little den off the parlor, Frank and I sat with Jessie who, sly, sweet, little minx that she was, managed with great skill to keep both of us in a state of dire uncertainty.
Old Barden was reputed wealthy; was a widower; and might have been supposed to object with reason to any of his servants making love to his daughter. But he never did. His mind seemed entirely bound up in the half-dozen old rattle traps that he called the "Barden Line," and whose bottoms only a merciful providence prevented falling out of them at each successive trip they made. They were all named after some Barden or other, male and female, varying in size from a topsail schooner to a barque; and the Mary Barden—so-called in memory of his late wife—was the "Commodore" of the fleet. And, in spite of her prettiness, the young sparks of Endeavor didn't seem to run after Jess much. Perhaps they fought shy of "old Billy," who, on more than one occasian, had let it be understood that he wanted "no useless whelps of bank clerks or counterjumpers sneaking around his house—fellers that didn't know one end of a ship from t'o'her, nor a marlinspike from a jib-downhaul."
Needless to remark that old Barden had been a sailor himself.
But, as most people can imagine, the tolerant state of affairs between Frank and myself could not last. And the time arrived when one of us either sat and glared at the other in sulky silence or rose abruptly and left his rival in possession of the room and of Jess. Nor, at sea, was it any pleasanter to be in constant touch with a superior officer who, in place of fraternising as of old, gave one nothing but curt orders and gloomy looks. Thus, when at the end of one well-nigh unendurable trip, the Mary returned from Kalpara, timber-laden, and old Barden offered me the command of the smallest and oldest of the "Line"—a schooner called the "Jessie"—I jumped at the chance, notwithstanding the fact that my wages were the same as on the Mary, and the work, dodging in and out of coastal harbors for produce of all sorts, very much harder.
"I have to congratulate you, Mr. Curtis," said Jessie, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "on having at last, achieved an independent command. But I'm afraid Mr. Hassall will miss his old friend very much." Whereat her father chuckled grimly, and called her a "little cat," and I looked as foolish as she had intended me to. Frank and the Mary were away just at this time, on a long trip, for "the Bardens," to Noumea with cattle. Thus, having a fair field, I naturally made all the play I could. But Jess, although she captained me to the top of my bent, and a lot more than that, defied all my efforts to bring her to book.
"Take the greatest care of my namesake," said she, in one of her saucy humors, for she knew full well what an old fraud that namesake was. "You know what great store I set by her. If anything happened to the little beauty, I should never get over it, I'm afraid."
Then, as I pressed my suit, in detail scarcely worth setting down here, she said: "Now, don't you think, Captain, that one responsibility of the kind is enough for any man? Every sailor's ship should be his sweetheart, you know."
Then, upon my making the only obvious reply—that I was fully prepared to take the risk of another, and still more important, responsibility, to wit, herself, she only laughed provokingly, and remarked that in her opinion sailors should never marry before they left the sea for good. Still, I went away not so very ill-satisfied, and with a glimmering hope, engendered by a fleeting glance as I said goodbye, that Jess was not altogether glad to get rid of me.
Then, presently, Frank returned, and was welcomed with a warmth that sent my hopes down to zero. He and I were barely civil to each other, and perhaps it was lucky we were not shipmates, for at times he used to fall into sullen dour fits of rage, silent, but none the less visible in the blazing eye, compressed lips, and heaving chest. He rarely, however, showed his temper in Jess's presence, but only when we two met about the port, or on the wharves.
You are not to imagine from what you have read about Jess that she was a flirt, or a coquette even. But she was honestly puzzled as she has since told me, liking us both as well as she did, how to choose between us; and thus employed her woman's wit to help her from committing herself definitely with either. In appearance she was small and graceful, brown-haired and blue-eyed, dark complexioned, and with the most enticing pair of rosy, arched lips that ever tempted a poor sailor man. She was an admirable housekeeper, and, with a couple of servants, managed to make her father's home very comfortable!
Matters were in this unsatisfactory condition between the three of us, when, returning from a trip to the Manning with a load of maize, I was amazed to find that old Barden and Jess had sailed in the Mary for Adelaide, whither she had gone coal-laden. Her father, it appeared, had taken it into his head that he wanted a change of air, and Jess had insisted on accompanying him. Much to the amusement of the port, old Barden had taken care to first dock the Mary, and have her thoroughly overhauled, a most unusual experience with any of his vessels.
It will be guessed that when I heard the news I felt far from comfortable, knowing Frank too well to hope that he would not make the most of such a glorious opportunity. How I envied him! Still, of late, something had seemed to tell me that Jess, although perhaps unconsciously, was inclining to my side. Frank's temper had been getting worse than ever, and, once, coming through the garden and finding us sitting rather close together upon the creeper-covered verandah of the old cottage, he had scowled and glowered, and finally departed speechless, but banging the gate behind him with an energy that nearly sent it off its hinges, and frightened Jess, sending her still closer to my side. But she had left no note or sign of any kind behind her for me, either at house or office, that I could hear of.
Two days of light winds on our return passage to the Manning, and then it came on to blow vilely from the south'ard and east, and sending the Jess, flying light as she was, well out to sea, and making her pitch and toss and tumble as the waves smacked her about, until her straining seams leaked like a sieve, and kept us going at the pumps from morning until night, and all night through, hove-to though we were under a storm-staysail for'ard, and a corner of mainsail aft. The sea got up higher and higher, and almost as a matter of form I gave orders to get ready the old longboat, which, with a dinghy, was all we carried. But the hands looked glum enough, for boat and ship were well met—equally old and rotten, and with so little to choose between them that, as one of the men put it, "Better stay on the old cow and drown cumfatable, 'stead o' pullin' out ter sea ter do it."
"There's another feller in trouble out yonder," said the mate, suddenly pointing over the port bow, between, one of our spells at the pumps. "Looks as if he was goin' to make a bloomin' finish of it, pretty quick, don't he?" Sure enough, about a mile to seaward of us, we could make out a barque minus her fore and main topmasts, her courses in rags; and at times nearly hidden by the seas that broke over her. She looked to be shockingly deep in the water; indeed, from where we stood, we could distinguish hardly any side at all; whereas, although wet enough below, the Jess carried her decks almost dry.
Getting, the telescope, I, with not a little trouble, got her into the object-glass, and as we rose high on the crest of a comber, I nearly dropped the instrument, for, although I caught only a momentary glance, it was enough for me to make out the square stern and bluff bows of the Mary Barden.
Looking again, with a miserable sinking of the heart, I distinctly saw a group of people on the poop, with, I was almost sure, among them, the flutter of a dress. Infinitely dreary and sad a spectacle did the poor old barque present, wrecked, ragged, almost, as it seemed, on the point ot foundering, and with reversed ensign blowing in shreds from the peak halliards. "Yes," I exclaimed, "it's the Mary Barden right enough." The mate heard me, and replied, with a grin: "Well, the old man'll know now what it means to he on one of his ships in rough weather. An' him a-overhaulin' of her so careful before he'd wenture! Was he thinkin' that pitch an' oakum can plug dry rot? Well, so help me, if this ain't a go! Here's the owner a-sinkin' in one of his own baskets, with another of 'em pretty nigh as badly off! Shall we run down an' see how the old chap's a-takin' it?"
"Miss Jessie's on board, you should remember, Williams," I said sternly. "And whatever you may have against her father's ships, you've nothing against his daughter."
"No, by gum," replied the mate, heartily, "She's all right, you bet, skipper! I was forgettin 'bout her."
"Well," I said, "get the lower topsail on the schooner. She'll stand it now, for—if I'm not mistaken, the gale's nearly blown out—and we'll run down and see if we can't be of some use."
The mate shook his head as he moved away; and I, too, felt that there was not much hope. The barque's boats were all gone. Our large one might have lived in the sea, heavy as it was; but, in places, you could almost put your finger through it, so decayed was the planking. As we neared the derelict, I saw that there were only six people on the poop—old Barden and Jess, Frank, and Mason, the captain, and two seamen. Obviously, the rest must have been either washed overboard, or carried away when the masts went. The survivors had lashed themselves to life-lines, and now waved their hands and shouted to us; but the wind carried their voices to leeward, and we could not understand what they said. But, judging from their gestures, they were words of farewell.
Very bitter must old Barden's thoughts have been just then, as the reflection came to him that but for his foolish parsimony there could have been, although a dangerous enough job, little question about the eventual saving of himself and his companions.
As it was, I was at my wits' ends what to do. You might almost as well have put a colander into the water as the long boat, while the dinghy, though in somewhat better condition, was a mere one man, smooth water, cockleshell. The Jessie herself had now four feet of water in her, through our neglecting to pump since the barque had been sighted. And the barque herself was obviously sinking. It was now 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and that she could last the night out was useless to hope.
To my mind there was only one last slight chance left, and that was to get a line between the barque and the schooner, rig a travelling buoy, and drag the people on board of us one by one. And, looking at the sea they would have to pass through, it seemed the very faintest of chances. However, with the dinghy and some spare spars we had on the Jessie, we made a sea-anchor, and thus stopped much of our drift. And then, despite, the remonstrances of the mate and crew, stripping to drawers and singlet, I tied a light line around my waist, slipped into the water, and struck out for the Mary, towards which I had allowed the schooner to drift until she was 200 yards away, before getting our sea-anchor overboard.
Although a powerful swimmer, I found the task a tougher one than I had expected. The seas were not regular, but broke over me in a cross tumble, and the line I dragged caused me to swim so low that at times I was near being smothered. Thus, short as the distance looked, I was nearly exhausted by the time I reached the Mary, and, catching the rope they threw me, was, with much care and caution, hauled on board, amidships, where now she was almost awash.
Our greetings were brief. Frank sneered at my scheme. The rest stared blankly at the foaming smother through which I had battled, but agreed to try it. Already the men had hauled a small hawser aboard; then followed the buoy, and all was ready.
Mason volunteered to go first, and, after a terrible buffeting got safely to the schooner. Seeing the hawser was too low, I signed to the Jessie's men to raise it, and old Barden—his daughter insisting—made the passage in comparative safety. It was Jess we were afraid for; but she gave no sign, except by a sudden pallor, as we secured her in the buoy, and gave the signal to heave away. The next minute she was in the water, and I turned my head away until the cheering told me she was safe.
The next to cross—a seaman—lost his head, let go of the hawser, capsized, and was swept away and drowned.
As the best swimmer, I insisted on being the last to leave, although Frank argued the point hotly. But it would have been sheer madness as he was no good in the water. So at last he gave in, and got through all right. And, having no one to pay away at the barque's end, I nearly lost the number of my mess, through their dragging too eagerly. However, I got on board somehow, but so thoroughly done that I had to be carried to my bunk.
It was all a sheer miracle, and no one was readier to confess the fact than old Barden. He looked ten years an older man when he came into my berth to tell me that the Mary had gone down not twenty minutes after we had left her; also, that the wind had shifted sufficiently to enable us to stand up for Port Endeavor. Afore time he used to be a brusque, somewhat stern old man, but now he was curiously quiet and subdued, both in voice and manner, And Williams, visiting me later, remarked with a twinkle in his eye, "Skipper, I guess I'll stick to this employ, and see how things go. The boss has had a lesson; an' I shouldn't wonder if it don't turn out real A1 presently."
But Jess did me more good than any of them. Somehow, I had injured my shoulder, and was unable to move without suffering much pain; and Jess brought some liniment and rubbed it in until I groaned with sheer delight and swore that I felt better every minute the operation lasted. So much so, indeed, that the evening we made Cape Flyaway, at the entrance to Endeavor Bay, the arm was so wonderfully improved as to be able to curl around Jessie's waist whilst I once again asked the question that some instinct told me Frank had already asked in vain. And, this time, the arm stayed there, and the question was answered and put over and over again after the eternal fashion, and the more it was put and answered the more satisfactory did the whole business seem to the pair of us.
Later on, Captain Mason told me that Frank had messed things up properly on board the Mary Barden. It was in his watch, and whilst engrossed in talk with Jess, that the barque had lost her sticks during a squall be ought to have seen a mile away. Then, when reprimanded, he had flown into a rage with both captain and owner, and said things that could never be mended. This, Mason thinks, was after Jess had definitely refused to have anything more to say to him. But I never inquired of her concerning that particular point.
Almost before we were made fast to the wharf, Frank disappeared, and I never saw him again; although we heard, afterwards, that he had got a billet on some coasting steamer. Within six weeks Jess and I were quietly married, and for a wedding present, old Barden bought a fine barquentine, nearly new, and gave it to us to take our honeymoon trip in. Also he began to quietly get rid of the "Line," breaking up some and selling others for hulks. He said "he was going out of the business; that really there was nothing in it; no use trying to compete with steam, etc., etc." However, there was a start for us in the "Dolphin," and if a few pounds were wanted now and again for upkeep, etc., why, he'd see about it."
* * * * * *
Twelve months passed, and Jess and I and the baby were coming back in the Dolphin after a fairly good trip around the islands. Off the Cat and Kittens we had picked up the tug and made our number to the signal station there, when I saw a big lump of an outward-bound steamer suddenly swerve off the course, which should have taken her clear of us, and come thundering down full speed ahead upon the Dolphin.
In vain we waved and yelled at her; in vain the tug's syren blared; on rushed the steamer, her sharp, knife-like bows towering a score of feet over the Dolphin. Luckily for us, the skipper of the tug, with great presence of mind, seeing there was nothing else for it, went astern and slewed us bow on to the steamer, with the result that instead of cutting us clean through fore and aft, as was apparently intended, we only lost our bowsprit, jibboom, and head-gear, whilst the tug escaped scot free.
Without checking her speed for an instant the steamer kept straight ahead, and in about three more minutes dashed on to the ugly Cat and Kittens reef with a shock that could be heard for miles. To our astonished vision the whole fore-part of her appeared to crumple up as she slid back from the almost perpendicular pinnacle of rock, and suddenly sank in 25 fathoms of water.
For a minute we stood appalled at the awful and unaccountable catastrophe. Then we got our boats into the water and did what we could, saving altogether a dozen lives out of some forty who made up her complement.
To the general public the loss of the Rollo has for long appeared but the outcome of an irresponsible meaningless fit of madness on the part of one of her officers. To a few of us, reading between the lines of the quartermaster's evidence, the motive was only too evident. Here is an extract from the newspaper report of the inquiry, as held by the Port Endeavor Marine Board: William Johnson, quartermaster of the B.S. Rollo, deposed: "I was at the wheel during the second mate's-watch. Was steering the usual course to clear the Cat and Kittens. To port, and past the reef, although nearly in a line with it, was a white-painted barquentine, inward bound. The second officer, Mr. Hassall, had his glasses on her, and presently he says, 'Johnson, isn't, that the Dolphin? You're an Endeavor man, and should know her' 'That's her, sir,' I says; for I'd made her out long ago, havin' been a trip in her with Captain Curtis. Then says the second officer, 'Same skipper got her yet, Johnson?' 'Why, o' course, sir,' I says, 'Captain Curtis owns her. There he is now, with Mrs., Curtis, standin' aft. Then says the second, 'Johnson,' says he, 'just run down into my berth, and bring me up a nip o' whisky. You'll find a bottle under the pillow. There's a corkscrew on the table. I ain't feelin' very well. I'll take the wheel.' Well, I stared a bit; but, all the same, I goes and finds the bottle all right. Looking round for the corkscrew, I hears the bell going for 'full speed ahead,' 'an thinks it curious, knowin' the port regulations. However, I pours a good nip into a tumbler, and gets up on the bridge just in time to see us ramming into the reef, with the second standing as calm and contented at the wheel as if he'd had the whole wide ocean in front of him. Then I remembers nothing more till I finds myself on board o' the Dolphin. Nor, to my knowledge, no one ever saw the second officer again."
There are plenty of people still among us who remember the smash-up of the "Middle Age Pension Company," and the levanting of Secretary Shand with nearly £40,000 in scrip, bonds, cash, and private documents, the property of the shareholders; but just how that big sum was recovered is not generally known, inasmuch as those interested held their tongues, only too thankful to be recouped to some extent for their losses, and on that account, and on others even more personally important, inclined to be careless as to the punishment of the arch-offender. There were a great many rogues in the "M.A.P." Company, and, perhaps, some of them were quite as bad as Shand, although they stayed ashore, and howled after him at the top of their voices, "Stop thief!" Be this as it may, there were not many people who knew what a close shave M'Crimmon had of losing the spoil, nor why he so soon got a sub-inspectorship, and Captain Burgess a fine new steamer in place of the old Speewah.
"Mac" had not long joined the Endeavour detective force when he was placed in charge of the "M.A.P." case with absolute carte blanche, both from the Government and the representatives of the shareholders. Most folk were of opinion that Shand had left the country and shown everybody a clean pair of heels; but M'Crimmon, "from information received," was pretty certain that the ex-secretary was still in Australia.
Still, do his uttermost, he could get no absolute clue to his whereabouts and at the end of a fortnight's hard work he was fain to acknowledge that, so far, Shand had been too much for him. Presently, however, came a wire from Melbourne:
"Have a man here answers description all over. Denies everything. Come at once or send."
In those days there was a big gap in the railway communication with the southern city, involving a long and weary journey by coach. M'Crimmon hesitated. The Speewah, he saw by the paper, sailed that very afternoon. The train did not leave till late the next morning, and he wanted to be travelling at once; so he booked a berth in the steamer, and was thankful to Providence ever afterwards that he did so.
Ships leaving Endeavour keep close inshore until clear of Cape Waratah; and, of course, the Speewah followed the usual rule. It was nearly sundown; there was a rather good-sized sea running, and as the steamer came round with Waratah on her starboard hand the detective, standing aft, was surprised to see, almost in her wake, a small boat pulling across the Speewah's stern. Evidently, it had come out of a little bay some two hundred yards away, where were a few private residences belonging to the wealthy class of citizens. And at first he imagined that it was one of these who, having missed his passage, wished to board the steamer. Then, in the falling light, turning his gaze seaward, he saw the lofty spars of a barquentine hove-to under a fore topsail and main trysail. A string of signals flew from her halliards, as she rolled slowly to the heavy swell. And for her the boat was evidently making. So, then, after all, it was merely her skipper being pulled on board! Still, it was surely a curious place, and time! And with the ever dormant detective instinct strong within him he took his glasses from where they hung on the rail, and focussed them upon the boat, now nearly alongside the vessel. For a minute the man at the steer-oar shielded the figure sitting aft from his gaze; then a heave of the sea brought him full in the field of the glass, and helped by an expiring gleam or sunshine, M'Crimmon recognised the clean-shaven, clear-cut features of Shand, For a minute he stood there astonished and incredulous, staring with all his soul in his eyes. But the gloom had deepened so as to render objects indistinct and shadowy even through the powerful "Voigtlander" glass. And all he could make out was that the boat was already being run up to the davits of the barquentine, whilst, as if by magic, she all at once clothed herself in canvas, shimmering a dull white across the nightfall, and heeling over to a fair quarterly wind bore away to the eastward. The detective paused irresolutely. Was it possible that he had been deceived? Scarcely; he knew Shand too well for that, had talked and drank with him many a time. Still, as no one was better aware than himself, questions of identity were among the most puzzling and illusive that his profession were called upon to deal with. And the message from Melbourne? If it was Shand in the boat, then the wire was forged by a confederate for the express purpose of drawing him off the trail, and leaving the coast clear for the defaulter. As he stared at the fast lessening blur in the gloom that was now only visible through his glasses, M'Crimmon finally made up his mind, and, ascending the bridge, in a few words told the captain his story, and asked him to alter his course and go in pursuit of the barquentine.
But this the skipper at first absolutely refused to do. "Why, man," said he, "it's madness pure and simple. The company would not only sack me. but gaol me into the bargain."
"No, they wouldn't," replied the detective; "they'd reward and promote you. And remember, the Queen's warrant runs by sea as well as by land. Therefore, I call upon you to assist me by every means in your power."
"Well, but suppose," replied the captain, weakening a little, "that it shouldn't be the right man, after all. How should I look then, eh?"
"All the responsibility will be mine," said the detective confidently, "and I will see you through the business. On the other hand, if it should turn out to be the man, and through your refusal to aid the interests of justice he escapes, why, then, I wouldn't care about being in your shoes."
The old captain pulled his grizzled hair impatiently, swore hoarsely to himself, squinted astern at the Waratah light, and, turning to M'Crimmon, whose gaze was concentrated on the seaward darkness, made his last objection:
"What about my passengers?" he asked.
"There's only myself aft," replied M'Crimmon patiently, "and five in the steerage. Three out of the five are hard-ups, going on a chance of getting a job on the northern harvest fields; the other two are spielers, whom I myself warned out of Endeavor last week. An easily dealt with crowd, you see. Besides, they'll be little the wiser. The name of the law will be enough; none of them are in a hurry, and they'll be rather pleased than otherwise at any delay, so long as they get plenty to eat and to drink. Now, can you think of anything else that will make us lose more time?"
But the skipper could not; and, presently, to the astonishment of the mate on watch, the course was altered in such wise as to bring the old Speewah's head pointing to San Francisco, rather than for Melbourne.
"We ought to be up with her about midnight, I suppose," remarked M'Crimmon, glancing at the chartroom clock, "in spite of all our lost time?"
The captain grinned. Here, at least, he was on his own ground, and knew exactly what he was talking about.
"We might," he replied, "if it fell a dead calm; otherwise, if this breeze keeps up, it's doubtful when we'll ever overhaul her."
"Eh, what," said M'Crimmon, "isn't the Speewah a steamer?"
"That's so," replied the skipper, enjoyably; "but eight's her top, and six or seven she prefers. If we rush her to eight there's generally trouble in the engine-room. Now, from what I could see of her, that barquentine's a flyer—twelve to thirteen with the wind as it is—and you know the proverb about a stern chase, Mr. M'Crimmon, the Queen's warrant notwithstanding."
The detective was amazed, and it was only when he noticed the deliberate way in which the old tub forged ahead, and listened to the querulous coughing of her engines, that he realised the truth of the captain's words.
"However," broke in the skipper, "I daresay we shall be in sight of her at daybreak, if we're on the right course; and especially if the wind, as it looks like doing, hauls to the east'ard a bit more."
All night the detective dozed in the chartroom, waking at short intervals to the clink-clank-thump of the engines, and to take a look at the compass, and make sure that the "Speewah's course had not been altered to south."
But he need have had no fear on that head. Old Burgess's motto was "in for a penny, in for a pound"—although he was pretty certain that, in this case, his share would be the penny.
Daylight showed nothing; but sunrise showed a gleam of silver pinions on the ocean's north-eastern, rim. "By gum," exclaimed Burgess, "we've done better'n I expected! Good old Speewah! Still, if the wind hadn't hauled a bit she'd been out of sight."
But M'Crimmon was chagrined and angry at not having done better, and in his heart of hearts was just a little doubtful as to the extent of his responsibility in the matter. It was all very fine to say that he would take it. Nevertheless, if the chase turned out to be a wild-goose one, he was not so clear as he wished respecting the way matters would pan out with his superiors and the steamship company.
All that day the pursuit lasted; the steamer going at about six, or a little over; the sailer, bothered by a brisk nor'-easter, making much the same rate. That night, however, it came on to blow a furious gale from the same quarter, and M'Crimmon, as he lay and listened to the roaring masses of water that broke over the boat's bows and rushed through the alleyways, to the muffled clank of the engines, with every now and then an angry clatter as the propeller fiercely raced in air, together with the howling of the wind and the rattling of the volleyed spindrift against the funnel, felt anything but comfortable.
Burgess would, in ordinary circumstances, have hove his ship to; but by now that hunger of the chase—no matter what the quarry—inherent to all animals, man among them, had entered into his soul, and his orders to the engineers—"Bang the old—at it!"—were as decided and laconic as if he had been M'Crimmon himself.
For a while a stormy dawn disclosed nothing but an empty sea of grey washing a greyer sky. But close scrutiny disclosed, broad on the port bow, two slender spars, that waved wildly to and fro amid the raging waste of waters, and at the foot of one there showed a narrow streak of canvas.
"It's the barquentine, right enough," decided the skipper, after a long look. "She's lost her foremast, and is hove to under a close-reefed topsail. Well, I daresay we'll be able to get near her now—unless she repairs damages afore we get up, in which case we'll perhaps be able to keep her in sight while our coal lasts."
As the Speewah approached, it could be seen that a crowd of men were busy for'ard on the stranger at rigging a jury foremast. The steamer hoisted her ensign, and ran up the signal, "Do you want any help?" to which the other replied by hoisting the Stars and Stripes, with "No thank you" on the code.
"I thought she was a Yank," remarked old Burgess. "Can you take your man off her s'pose they don't want to let him go? I should rather think not."
"She may not really be an American," said Burgess anxiously, for he knew something of International law as applied to salt water in such cases.
"Don't know who rightly owns her now," replied Burgess, "but I'll bet a year's pay that she was built not 100 miles from Mirimichi, U.S.A."
Meanwhile the Speewah was bucketting around, sometimes within hailing distance, at others a mile away. M'Crimmon, although keeping his glasses persistently on the cripple, could see nothing of the man he sought, and felt nonplussed and uncertain what was the best course to pursue. At last he determined to try and get on board the barquentine. The sea was still high, but for a guinea each four of the steamer's crew agreed to do their best in one of the two lifeboats that she carried.
It was a rough trip, although the Speewah had come very close to the vessel, which towered up, now, high as a castle over those in the boat, now sunk nearly level with the gunwale in the trough of the big round-backed rollers. One man stood looking at them over the rail. Presently he was joined by another. Both were smoking cigars.
"Why, Mac!" cried the last comer, "what are you doing there? This is Captain Kennedy," he went on, as their faces came almost upon a level, and the ship nearly smashed the boat to atoms.
Acknowledging the introduction by a wave of his arm, the captain said, "Come aboard, sir; come aboard. I guess I can give you a drop o' stuff that'll make your hair curl."
"'Mr. Shand," shouted M'Crimmon desperately, "tell them to put a ladder over, or a rope or something; I want to see you particularly."
"So do other people, lots of 'em," laughed Shand. "However, you've heard the captain's invitation. Please yourself." Just then, as the vessel swung towards the boat, M'Crimmon made a mighty spring, and, clutching the rail, rolled over it, right to the feet of the astonished pair. Not for nothing had he gained a reputation as an athlete in that home of athletics, Endeavor.
"Now, Mr. Shand," said the detective, picking himself up, and unconcernedly brushing some dirt off his clothes, "let's have a talk. I fancy we can come to some agreement. If you don't feel willing, there's my steamer coaled for a 3000-mile trip, and though, perhaps, I can't take you off this vessel by force, I'll follow you wherever you go, stick to you like a leech, and collar you in the long run, whether at 'Frisco or at the other side of the Horn—it's all one to one, so long as I get you."
The confirmation of his hopes respecting the identity of Shand had put heart into him, and his voice rang with the confidence born of success.
Shand reflected, stroking a smooth-shaven check and upper lip. "Well?" he said.
"All the paper stuff," replied M'Crimmon, "and £4000 out of the £10,000 hard cash."
"Can't be done," replied the other decidedly, "even if I had the ten thou, which I haven't. One doesn't go yachting in this style, single-handed, for a song, my boy. Tell you what, though—give me a free discharge, signed by yourself and other more responsible personages—of course you have something of the kind in your pocket—and you can have all the papers and £2000. I am a fool to give so much. But I hate worry; and I know, Mac, you'd hate to let me rest. You've got my last word. Come along and have a drink on it, and then go in peace. Say no, and we'll give you a trip you'll remember to the day of your death—even if you ever see us again once we get our jury-mast fixed. I know the old Speewah—a worm on business is a sprinter to her."
M'Crimmon hesitated, but only for a minute. He knew the steamer's coal would last perhaps three or four days at the outside; but she was not provisioned for more than a week; then there were the passengers to consider—steerage though they were.
"Done," said he at last; and followed Shand below. It was actually more than he had looked for. There were men in Endeavour, he knew, would willingly and joyfully give great sums for certain hideously compromising documents held by Shand. He was in great luck; but his face showed nothing.
Having read this far you will understand why M'Crimmon wears a braided uniform, and why Burgess gets £30 a month instead of £12. As for Shand, he is now one of the American oil kings, and bids fair to die a millionaire several times over—and not in dollars.
"Well, good-bye, old chap," said Captain Harry Jackson, of the great grey frozen meat steamer, to his brother, Captain Frank, of the clipper ship, whose nose, even then, the impatiently snorting tug was laying hold on, "Good-bye, you've got the start of me, and we're bound the same way. But I s'pose I'll be back here again before you're up the London River. We might pass you next week sometime. You wind-jammers have had your day." And the skipper of the Pakaweera finished his glass and rose from his seat at the table of the Ocean Queen's saloon.
"Maybe, maybe," replied his brother, as the pair went on deck. "But if we're slow at times, we're pretty sure. And when we do have a smash we're not beaten altogether. When you smash, there you are, and the Lord help you!"
"Ay, ay," laughed the other, motioning for his boat to pull up to the gangway, "but only think of it, Harry! To England and back again, and you, just as likely as not, only half way there! Give up canvas, old man, and come into steam. You'll never be sorry for it?"
"Damn steam!" replied the other pleasantly, "It stinks! And such a trade! Butcher's shop! Get a blue apron and a chopper at once! Sailors! Bah!" '
But the younger man only laughed at the well worn gibe, as he waved his hat from the stern sheets of the boat. Then the tug snorted and puffed viciously, and the beautiful steel liner, her head pointed seaward, moved slowly off down Otago Harbor, the sun shining brightly below on polished brass work and twinkling glass, aloft on masses of snowy canvas hanging in folds from the great square yards ready presently to cover her from jibboom to spanker-boom end in piles of softly rounded whiteness—a most beautiful and stately fabric even now, and as yet only in the first stage of her sea-toilette! And so thought the steam-bred man as he was pulled back to his own mass of grey iron with her two pole masts and great yellow funnel, straight, knife-like stem, and uncompromising rigidity of line.
"Well!" he muttered, "there's no denying that Frank takes the cake as far as looks go. That's certain. But ninety, an hundred, perhaps more, days home! Oh, Lord! Give me something with a screw in the end of it, and take the good looks."
Always when the brothers met here and there about the world, one with canvas, the other with steam, they chaffed each other thus, half in jest, half in earnest.
But this was the first time they had ever left a port so nearly together, and for the same destination. Spreading her many wings to a fierce westerly as soon as she got outside, the Ocean Queen, with her lively cargo of wool, made such running as caused her skipper to rub his hands gleefully each time the log came in, and say to himself, "Catch me next week, will he? If this breeze holds it'll be a month o' Sundays before he sees me! I'd give something considerable to beat him home!" Then he sighed as he thought of the Pakaweera's short cut through Magellan, and the Doldrums, and the, perhaps, light trades round the corner, through which, night and day, she would throb regardless, whilst he rolled idle, whistling for a breeze, and watching the little catspaws on the oily surface. Nevertheless, he cracked on all he knew, and carried three lower top-gallants'ls when his upper tops'ls should have been furled, making a wet ship of the Queen. If he could not beat steam, at least he might set up a record in the way of passages.
So he did, too, but not quite in the way he had intended.
Finding that the breeze lightened, he kept more to the southward, got the wind, stronger, and edged away just a little more, until he found himself suddenly beset with ice that seemed to have sprung up in a single night and hemmed him in. At sunset the horizon had been clear; but all through the dark hours came the cries from the look-out men; and, as day broke, the Queen, under short canvas, was groping her way amongst great bergs, into what appeared to be the only open water—due southward. But that proved simply a cul-de-sac; and the night found her so closely pressed that, sending down her topgallant masts, taking every stitch of sail off, and cock-billing her yards to prevent them from being snapped short off, Captain Frank made her fast to a big berg, and for the first time in his life envied steam.
* * * * *
Just four days after the Ocean Queen, the Pakaweera left Port Chalmers, her hold full of thousands of carcasses of frozen beef and mutton, and her saloon and second class of passengers, fares being lowered by reason of a certain great exhibition, to whose opening many of the travellers were bound. But they missed that ceremony, being destined to other experiences.
As the "frozen-meater" steadily churned along, Captain Harry kept a good lookout for his brother, as for the time their courses lay on the same parallel, and the wind was so strong and fair he judged that there would be no necessity for the Queen to make much southing whilst it lasted.
But, as we know, Captain Frank had cracked on during the first week, and sent his ship along at a higher average speed than that of any cargo boat. So the Pakaweera saw nothing of the sailer; and kept her course straight for the entrance to the Straits of Magellan.
And, one night, the weather mild for these latitudes, and the sea calm, with some people dancing on the broad promenade deck to the sounds of piano and violin, whilst others were having a last pipe and a nightcap in the smoke-rooms, all at once there came a startling, rushing, clattering clamor of iron, steel, and brass gone mad from the engine-room that shook the ship in her every plate and screw and stringer.
It lasted perhaps for two minutes at the outside, and was succeeded by a silence that seemed eerie—a silence broken only by the lip-lap of the little waves along the ship's sides as she glided steadily through them without the so-familiar throb of the engines or muffled plunging of the propeller. And, as everyone stood in their places intently listening, the ship's way gradually grew less and less, and presently ceasing altogether, she lay quietly at rest in a sort of curiously-emphatic manner, that forced instantaneous conviction on her people's minds that she had done all that she ever meant to do, at any rate in the old fashion.
"Shaft and propeller both clean gone" was presently the chief engineer's report. This is a matter there is no getting the better of on the average ocean cargo-carrier, or, indeed, in any other steamers. Certainly they set a couple of rags of trysails, with about the same effect as two pocket handkerchiefs might have on the cathedral of St. Paul in London city. And, helpless as a haystack, the big ship drifted, first back the track she had come, then westward again; then, at the end of a month, she got into the same current that had taken hold on the Queen, and sagged steadily southward towards the land of everlasting ice. Through the day a string of colors fluttered at her gaff, bright in the clear frosty air. Through the night long dismal blasts from her syren wailed an appeal to the stars for the help that never came. Steamers, as a rule, are not provisioned against the unforseen, and such matters as table luxuries soon gave out. Of course they could hardly starve—at least for some years—although a diet of frozen mutton and beef would be apt to pall in the course of time. Still, meat they were certain of. Also, there was, somewhere below, 500 tons of flour. Thus their daily bread was assured. But the bewildered, wind-driven people took little solace from these reflections; and as time passed with hideous monotony of drifting, both crew and passengers grew morose and hopeless, realising more strongly every day that about their ultimate fate, should there be no change, was very little uncertainty. And, both fore and aft, they used to wake o' nights for a long time to the thump, thump of the refrigerating engine, and imagine for a minute that all the past weary weeks were but a dream. More than once, too, bad weather came upon them—gales of wind and heavy seas, in which the ship was tossed and rolled and pitched about in what seemed a very paroxysm of elemental scorn. To keep her head to the wind and sea was almost an impossibility. With her huge bulk she was like a whale with his tail cut off—able to float, but no more. How often in these dark days did Captain Harry envy the man who could look aloft to decent masts and yards with a fair spread of canvas. But she won through the bad weather, and it was actually almost with a sense of relief that her people, one day, after entering the ice-pack that guards the southern continent, found themselves frozen hard and fast in one of its moving masses.
So, like a great ghost, the Pakaweera drifted powerless, forlorn, wailing mournfully at intervals through the Antarctic nights. Some ships, they thought, might have kept too far to the south.
And one had.
Nigh on three months had gone by since the accident to the propeller. It was bitterly cold; but as yet death had not visited them. Black despair was in their hearts. Escape from their prison seemed further off than ever.
On the foremast an improvised "crow's nest" had been rigged, and one cold dawning came therefrom a loud cry. Those of the watch on deck, following an outstretched arm, saw a line of tall bergs very different to the pack-ice that had surrounded them for so long.
But the wonderful thing was that between the double peaks of one of the bergs sat, broadside, facing them, a ship—a full-rigged ship, with topgallant-masts down, awnings spread, and, apparently, all ataunto, although quite a hundred feet above their own level. In a minute the Pakaweera's decks were full of shivering watchers. Presently the sun rose, a great red disc behind the ship, and against the orb every spar, with all its tracery of rigging, stood out clear and distinct, as if cut out of black cardboard.
As the people stared open-mouthed, the sun cleared the ice mountains, and slowly to the ship's peak ascended the red Ensign of Britain, blowing out against the snow like a patch of flame, whilst the sound of cheering came down to those below. The syren had been silent for many days with the silence of hopelessness. But there was always steam kept in one boiler; and, as the Pakaweera's house flag and Ensign went up, the syren roared and blared a salute that woke the echoes across those dreary seas, whilst the people cheered themselves hoarse; not because of help, for that seemed as far out as ever, but for the utter relief and joyousness of meeting with their kind when they had deemed themselves alone, deserted to dree their weird in those wild and savage regions of eternal ice and snow. Presently Captain Harry, standing on the bridge with a glass glued to his eye, exclaimed in tones of emphatic astonishment, "Well, if that isn't the Ocean Queen, call me a Dutchman!"
"There goes her number, anyhow," replied the chief engineer, who, with his four subordinates and the deck officers stood close by. "Book, there, quartermaster! Ay, here it is—JKPQS. It's the Queen, right enough!"
Was ever before in the varied history of the sea such a meeting? Surely never!
"And look at her!" exclaimed the second mate, who, two voyages ago, had "found salvation" at the hands of the Dunedin "Army;" a note of awe in his voice, "placed there by the Lord's own hand, perhaps as a sign and a warning to those who, like so many miserable sinners, have ceased to believe in His works." Then, with an abrupt degeneration into the very bathos of simile, "Ay, look at her, stuck up there for all the world like a full model in a glass case over a public house. Har!"
When first sighted the bergs and the ship were quite a mile distant from the Pakaweera, with a strip of clear water between. But, attracted perhaps by the great mass ahead, the drift became stronger; and about midday the outer edge of the pack reached the ice-hills. The shock of the impact was strong enough to shake the Pakaweera violently, although it seemed to take no effect on the massive chain of linked bergs. Those watching, however, saw the edges of the pack curl up like soil under a plough-share, up, up, ridge upon ridge, until what had been an inaccessible precipice was now a gently sloping mound of ice reaching right up to the Ocean Queen. But, long before this, the Code had been at work, and something learned on both sides.
Now, down the road so providentially formed, people were seen sliding and running from the Ocean Queen. The distance between the two ships had been lessened to not much over a quarter of a mile, and their respective companies met each other half way. The brothers were the first to shake hands, and the few broken words of greeting over, Captain Frank, who looked haggard and carewarn; pointing to the Pakaweera, said "What about steam now, Harry? The other glanced toward the sailing ship, but made no answer.
"Aye," said Frank, following his eye, "it's six of one and seven of the other, this time, anyhow."
"How seven, old chap?" queried his brother, as they walked along.
"Lots of time," replied Frank, with a smile. "I'll show you, bye-and-bye, why I claim the odd trick."
"You're all there, didn't you signal?" asked Captain Harry presently.
"All there, thank God!" answered Frank. "And the same with you, you say? But, if you hadn't shown up, we couldn't have held out more than another week, at the uttermost. Precious low diet, I can tell you, this last month—less than half rations. How on earth did we get up there? Simply enough. After first meeting the ice, we never had a show at all—not a ghost of a chance of getting clear. We were in big stuff, and so thick that all we could do was to out fenders and fasten on. Then it was drift, drift, drift, until one night our berg sidled gently up against another big one. If there'd been much way on, we should have been crushed to smithereens; as it was, they pressed us steadily up, up, up, until we came out on top; not as high as we are now, of course; we've grown a lot since. I reckon we must have looked to you something like that tin ship on the spire of Shadwell Church. Before you came along we were right up and down—could spit 150ft sheer all round. Is she hurt, d'ye say? Why, man, she hasn't a sound plate in her hull. She's like an egg, hard-boiled, that's been bashed all over with a spoon."
A rather pallid, scraggy lot looked the crew of the Queen, rescued from their aerial prison by what seemed to them an almost miraculous chance. But there was no sickness amongst them, only a ravening for tobacco and "a fresh feed!" They got both; there was plenty of the weed on board the Pakaweera. And the steamer's cooks had been busy all the morning, so that the sailer's men were soon hard at work upon great buckets of soup and junks of boiled beef and mutton.
"Now," asked Captain Harry of his brother, as, after a meal, the pair sat and smoked and sipped their hot grog alongside the stove, that had been placed in the former's room on the bridge. "Now, explain your riddle of six of one and seven of the other. I don't see it."
"I do." laughed the other, puffing away at a huge briar with the complete enjoyment of the long-deprived. "S'pose the poor old Queen up yonder was another steamer, where would we be?"
"Where we are now, I should imagine," replied Captain Harry.
"More so," answered his brother; "and we'd probably leave our bones here when we'd finished your cargo. But now we've got a chance, and a good one."
But the other only stared uncomprehendingly.
"Oh! Harry, Harry!" exclaimed Captain Frank, in affected sorrow. "See what it is to be only a steamboat sailor. Don't you understand what I'm driving at? No; I see you don't, poor chap. Well, when I've got this old tank of yours brig-rigged with a couple of the Queen's masts stuck in her and a few acres of the Queen's sails spread from the Queen's yards to drive her along, you'll begin to get a glimpse of my plan, won't you, and the reason why I think I'm entitled to the extra number?"
"But the height—," began his brother.
"Height me no heights!" exclaimed Captain Frank: "I've got the whole thing cut and dried. "Turn every soul to—passengers and all—and I'll show you what a sailorman bred to canvas can do when he's cornered like we are."
In a few more minutes, so convincing were Captain Frank's arguments, the boatswain's whistle chirped and twittered "All hands!" and to the two crews gathered on the steamer's quarter deck was explained the one chance that remained of extrication from their present position. Captain Frank's little speech was received with cheers both by seamen and passengers, all demanding to be set to work at once, lest, as the captain had hinted, the ice might break, and their plight be rendered worse than ever. So, almost without intermission, the crews toiled at dismantling the Ocean Queen, whilst the crowd of passengers, gentle and simple alike, worked at levelling the ascent which was encumbered with great blocks of ice and deep holes and ravines, left after the collision with the outer fringe of the pack. As for the 'bergs themselves they appeared to reach to the horizon, innumerable, massive, and immovable.
So, day and night, with short spells for meals and drinks of hot soup and coffee, every soul, except the cooks, labored. Even the women, on the second day, came out and insisted on carrying things from the Queen down the now nearly finished roadway. And a curious spectacle it was to hear in that dreary scene of white desolation the clank and whirr of the Queen's donkey engine, the shouts of the men aloft to those on deck; the steady chipping and delving of picks and shovels and fire-bars upon the icy track leading up the breast of the 'berg. Curious, too, of nights, when the Pakaweera's searchlight lit up the scene, to see the black figures ascending and descending laden with all sorts of small articles that could not be safely entrusted to the sledges that, attached to wire ropes, were presently made to run from the Queen to the foot of the slope, lowered, and hauled up by her engine. That vessel herself was now stripped to her lower-masts, and to get these out without crane or derrick seemed an impossibility; but Captain Frank had made his plans. And, presently breaking cargo, out came the bales of wool, only to be sent flying down the breast of levelled snow and ice in tens and twenties, bounding in the air like huge footballs, many whose bands remained in tact nearly reaching the Pakaweera's side.
Very considerably lightened, the ice was now cut away from under the Queen's keel, wire ropes taken from her mastheads to the steamer's powerful engines, the ship hove slowly on to her beam ends, and the masts dragged out of her like so many teeth—out and down and across the well tramped ice to the Pakaweera, whose big derricks thereupon took hold of them and swung them safely into the places prepared for them by the engineers and carpenters. Another week, and Captain Frank professed himself satisfied. The Pakaweera was transformed into a brig, all a-taut from royal-yards down; from her straight, sharp stem protruded the Queen's bowsprit and jibboom, looking as if they didn't belong certainly, but for all that effective. A curious, transformation it seemed to the Pakaweera's crew as they stared up at the maze of rigging and running gear in place of the couple of naked poles to which they had been so long accustomed. But Captain Frank was jubilant. "I'd have made a full-rigged ship out of her," said he, "only our mizzen wasn't sound—always had a flaw, and strained badly in the ice.
"We'll do, though, nicely now. The ice can break when it likes!" But there was no sign of its ever breaking any more. Of course, a great amount of the Pakaweera's cargo was consumed; and there was considerable room in her holds—so much, indeed, that, for want of something better to do, the crew stowed in them nearly 300 bales of wool, besides carrying away pretty well everything of any value from the poor old carcass up there on the ice hill. And at last the ice gave signs of breaking, and there began a time of peril by night and by day, for the big chain of 'bergs also broke from their moorings, and before a strong south-west wind insisted on keeping them far too close company. Especially was it remarked that the double peaked one upon which lay the dead body of the Queen, time after time seemed bent upon fouling and destroying them. Thus it was somewhat of a relief to see finally another and a bigger berg collide with and smash Mount Misery, as the sailors called it, into fragments amongst which disappeared and sank the battered and shattered corpse of the once smart and beautiful clipper.
A week of imminent danger, and the Pakaweera reached the open sea, and, with a fair wind sailed along, averaging about six knots, and having undoubtedly made the best of a very bad job. There was talk of putting into Rio and trying to refit. But, eventually, it was decided to keep going, it being doubtful whether such repairs as they wanted could be effected there. Long ago given up for lost, it came as a surprise indeed to the owners when, one day, the telegraph announced "Passed up channel S.S. Pakaweera from Port Chalmers. Under sail only."
At first they thought it was a mistake. But it was not altogether a mistake—not altogether, because, if the Pakaweera's body was there so was the soul of the Ocean Queen.
Of course there was litigation. And a very pretty thing it was for the lawyers. The owners of the Queen claimed salvage, inasmuch as, without her assistance, evidently the Pakaweera would never have got out of the ice. Admitted by counsel without demur. "But where," asked my learned friend, "would the 3000 bales and the stores, etc.. of the Queen have been without the Pakaweera's help?" There was no mention of human lives in the matter at all. Eventually the court decided that it really was a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other, and dismissed the case, each side paying its own costs.
But Captain Frank was very wrath, and argued, many people thought successfully, that he was entitled to the extra number.
No sailor-man likes railway iron, any more than he likes bricks or coal or guano. But, on the other hand, very few sailors indeed know the nature of the cargo they are to be shipmates with until they have been at least a week at sea perhaps not even then. But in our case it was different. Most of us had boarded the Staffa at Gravesend late one evening, in no mood to criticise the ship or much else. When, however, we were roused out at daylight, and found ourself committed to a voyage to Australia on a craft with such a small show of freeboard that we could stand in her old-fashioned chains and dip a bucket of water without much of a stoop, a certain curiosity as to what she was carrying took hold upon us. Some suggested lead, others stone; then the boatswain told us that she was three parts steel rails and the rest tin plates. It was before the days of Plimsoll marks, and ships often left British ports outrageously deep without exciting comment. Still we imagined, as we towed down the river, that other folk on passing crafts stared at us wonderingly. Also the skipper of a hay barge, with his cargo almost awash, instituted insulting comparisons between the Staffa and the Susan, and asked us why we didn't pump the water out of our hold before going to sea. This didn't make us for'ard any the more comfortable, and, penniless as we were, we would have all been glad enough to find ourselves back again in the Weds-street boarding house, cold and inhospitable as we knew our reception there would be. As for the afterguard they contented themselves with flinging a few curses after the saucy master of the Susan.
In Humbug Reach we met a Geordie collier under sail, and deep enough in all conscience but still able to look well down on our decks. And her men asked impertinent questions, as we slid slowly past, as to our cargo and destination suggesting that we should call at Shields to fill up; hinting that we should all be web-footed in a week, and that, eventually, our port would be Davy Jones's locker. Off the South Foreland the tug left us, and making sail in the Staffa we wallowed down Channel already with decks wet from the break of the poop to the foc'sle doors. But for her trim we found the ship comfortable enough. It was before the day of mixed crews, and both sides of Staffa's foc'sle were British. And if we were never dry at least we were never hungry. Nor were we overworked. Indeed, work about the decks, except in a calm, was wellnigh impossible. During a blow in the Bay of Biscay we, for two days, were kneedeep in water fore and aft. As to washing down, such a thing was never thought of. Instead, we threw sand about, and at times tried to scrub off the slime that gradually accumulated on the planking. The Staffa was a very old vessel, and portions of her hull and spars were absolutely crumbling with dry rot. Her running and standing gear was also in such a state as kept us almost constantly attending to it. And the executive was old, too. The skipper was not far short of 70, perfectly bald, wearing a long grey beard, but still hale, hearty, and active; then the chief and second, also bald and bearded, were well on in the sixties. The youngest of them all was the boatswain, an old sea dog of about 50, looking quite youthful when seen in company with his superiors, whom the crew irreverently named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A second mate, with no hair on his head and a long grey beard, which in heavy weather he used to snarl down with spun yarn to keep it from blowing about, seemed to us a specially abnormal species of "greaser." But, old though they were, they were all fine seamen, and worthy of a better ship than the overladen and decrepit Staffa. Among the most pathetic sights in the world is a seaman standing on the narrow borderland that separates action from incapacity. Of course this holds true of all men; but more particularly as regards the old sailor, who, after a lifetime of activity, finds the time at hand when he must confess to having outlived his usefulness, or be told so by others. And perhaps the three old men aft felt that for them such a time was fast approaching, for they were ever grave and silent, scanning the sea with weary, tired eyes. At first we thought they might be brothers, so like were they in looks and bearing. But later we discovered that they had met for the first time on board the Staffa, foregathered doubtless in obedience to the unswerving law that to indigent age there is no choice except of the worst. Probably old, worn-out, and overladen as she was, the Staffa, but for the three patriarchs, driven by their need, might have waited long enough for officers.
For'ard we were young and thoughtless, and had at first been inclined to make merry at the expense of the old tub and her officers. But gradually, as time wore on and we rolled and splashed through the N.E. trades, fried on the Line, with the first dry decks since leaving London, then squattered up to our knees again across the South Atlantic, our environments began to tell upon us. And what with the everlasting wet, the sad and silent afterguard, the interminable passage—we were three months out ere we reached the latitude of the Cape—our spirits were effectually quenched, and we went about our business in as sober and thoughtful a mood as the aged trio themselves.
The boatswain, who was also sailmaker and carpenter, shared a small house amidships with the cook and steward. The last-named was a jovial little Cockney, and he had a concertina, which, during the first part of the voyage, he used to perform on during the dog watches. But in time his surroundings proved too much for him, and he buried the instrument at the bottom of his chest, and took to reading the Bible late and early, to the deterioration of his work.
About this time both provisions and water began to run short; and, seeing that even with luck it would take us another three months to reach Adelaide, the captain bore up for Capetown to revictual. But the Fates decreed otherwise, for they sent a succession of nor'-west gales down upon us that battered the old Staffa so sorely as to force us to square away before them. But she was too deep to run with safety; so we hove her to, and she lay like a half-tide rook, at intervals filling her decks from rail to rail.
Then, one night, the cargo shifted, and the rails fought furiously among themselves, making such a noise as could be heard loud above the din of the storm, whilst every moment we expected some of them would go clean through her sides, and thus drown us out of hand. In the morning, the gale eased off, and we got sail on the Staffa and drove before the wind due east, with a biscuit apiece, in the bread barge, and two ounces of preserved meat per man for breakfast. With the wind as far aft as it could get, the Staffa rolled rail under, and to take the hatches off and attempt to square up matters below would have been suicide. Bump, smash, crash, we could hear them as they flung from one side to the other, looking for a soft spot in her skin. And still the well was dry. So, while the great combers rolled astern and overhung the lifeless ship by a good twenty feet, we rolled along, standing by the boats, and ready to lower away at a minute's notice out of the fryingpan into the fire. By noon we were all living aft. The t'gallant foc's'le had long been under water; the saloon was still fairly dry, although at times the sea rippled up over the washboards at the doors, and flooded the interior. One would have imagined that the Staffa was too deep to roll after the insane fashion she did, and with the list to port, that was rapidly getting more apparent and more uncomfortable. Suddenly the end came. One morning, at four bells (10 o'clock), the boatswain brought up his sounding rod with four feet of wet showing on it. After pumping for an hour, the rod showed six feet. Evidently it was time to leave. But the ancient executive appeared to be in no hurry. The captain, calling all hands into the saloon, and first serving out a generous tot of rum, put the question to the vote. There was, he said, perhaps a week's quarter rations per man left. The boats were nearly as old as the ship. We were 2000 miles from the nearest inhabited land. The water remaining would allow just one pint per day for a week all round. We were quite out of the track of ships. Probably there lay before us much misery, torture of mind and body, and, in the end, the same fate, only more cruel and prolonged, than if we went down with the ship. But he added: "Although myself and my two officers think that no good can come, but probably much suffering, of taking to the boats, still in such an extremity we are willing to be ruled by the opinion of the majority. We are all three old men to whom life has proved more or less a disappointment, and who feel little inclination to prolong what promises to be a useless and painful struggle, with a bitter ending. But, then, most of you are young men, to whom life is sweet; and, after all, there may be a chance. I have thought it my duty to put before you how slight that chance is. Now those who are in favor of the boats will hold up their hands,"
It was a curious speech for any shipmaster to make; but in response to it the hands of both watches showed unanimously that their owners were not yet tired of life. The only ones who gave no sign were the captain and his two mates, and, to our surprise, the cook. The boatswain was with us.
"May the Lord have mercy upon us," said the captain, in a low voice, as he led the way on deck. And as we gazed on the dreary, grey southern sea lifting its foam-flecked rollers to the grey sky that ringed in the empty horizon, and then glanced at the three rusty scarred old boats in which we were to commit ourselves to that desolate waste of waters we to a man felt the necessity of the captain's prayer.
There was no trouble in launching them, because the Staffa's lee-rail was under water when she rolled, so that we had only to watch our chance. Hardly had the last boat shoved off when the end unexpectedly came, and the Staffa, leaning slowly over towards us, deliberately capsized, her masts breaking like carrots as they struck the water, whilst from at least a dozen spots along her port topsides protruded rails that had pierced her poor old body. For a minute or two she floated, showing us a keel strained and warped, and sides and bottom almost dismantled of copper, but rich with weed and barnacles. Then without much ado she sank slowly out of sight.
Already in each of the boats the balers were at work on the water that poured through the leaky seams, and it appeared truly as if that huge grave of ocean in which we swam was ready to receive us sooner than the old skipper had predicted. All at once the boatswain shouted to the second mate, in whose boat he was, "Isn't that a sail away to leu'ard, sir?" The second rose, and adjusted his binocular, looking, as he stood with one arm round the mast, and his marled queue of a beard sticking straight and stiff from his chin, like some strange, hornless old billy-goat. After a few minutes' scrutiny, he announced, "A barque, under close-reefed fore and main tawps'ls;" and, with a cheer, the three boats bore down upon her. She must have swung into sight whilst we were watching the dying Staffa, and a watery gleam of sunshine resting on her sails had caught the sharp eye of the boatswain.
As we approached, we could see that the stranger was a large iron barque of some 1200 tons or so, showing a tall side out of the water, and with the Spanish flag flying reversed from her signal halliards. There seemed to be nobody on board, and with some little difficulty we climbed up the davit falls that hung empty to the water, and so on deck. Here the first object to meet our eyes was a dead man rolling to and fro with the motion of the ship—a swarthy, desperate-looking customer, with a sheath knife still sticking between his ribs, For'ard, two more of much the same kidney were lying; but these had been killed by shooting. The cabin into which we all crowded, treading on each other's heels, was a fine and spacious apartment, but filled with such a dreadful odor as almost forced us to retire, and compared with which that from the bodies on deck was absolutely inoffensive. The smell here proceeded from the body of a tall old man, lashed to a chain at the head of the cabin table, and evidently shot as he sat, for he was riddled with bullets. The atmosphere was unnaturaly warm, and some of us glanced round inquiringly for a stove or grate, in which a fire might be still smouldering. But there was nothing of the kind.
Every berth had been overhauled, and all sorts of dunnage lay in disorder around us. Not a scrap of paper was to be found anywhere. But on the after-bell the name was "Cervantes." An ocean tragedy of the worst kind evidently. One, however, that seemed to put fresh life into our ancient officers. The magic virtue of salvage had gotten hold upon them, and they hustled around after a fashion that amazed us. Then, in a few hours we had the deck cleared, the dead men overboard to a few words of prayer from our skipper, sail made, and the barque heading for Australia.
Provisions and water there was an abundance of, and soon the cook had the best meal ready that we had eaten for weeks. Amidships was a fine deck-house, littered with empty chests, worn-out sailors' clothes, sea boots, and similar jetsam that one sees in deserted forecastles, or in those whose inmates have had to leave in a hurry. And of this we took possession, helped by many oddments of bedding, etc., from aft.
As may be imagined, we were all in great glee and thankfulness at our most unlooked-for escape from almost certain death, not to mention possible share of salvage money looming up ahead. That first night the captain and the mates complained much of the heat, and at last were forced to come on deck and camp there, although we were in 40deg south. This, to say the least of it, was curious. There was also a pungent smell of burning rags that puzzled everybody.
But when in the morning the after hatches were taken off the riddle was solved. The ship was on fire. She was laden with cotton, possibly from the Philippines, and before leaving her the mutineers, or whatever they might have been, had set the cargo alight. As yet, as far as we could judge, the fire did not appear to have got a great hold. There were no flames visible, and by the absence of heat for'ard we hoped it was confined to the after part of the ship. So, clapping on the hatches again, we got the deck pump to work through a hole cut in them, and poured tons of water on the smouldering cargo.
For a time this seemed to have the desired effect. But for a time only. The fire had evidently got a grip; for, presently, a fine acrid smoke was discovered issuing from the 'midship ventilator. Then the pumps brought up lumps of charred cotton. Meanwhile, our skipper carried on with everything he dared show to the roaring westerlies. Never, probably, in all his career had he driven a ship as he drove the Cervantes, and she with her fine lines responded readily, so that we made good runs day by day towards Sirius—our nearest port in the great South Land. Whole topsails and courses, and fore and aft and main t'gnllant sails the old man treated her to, when under ordinary circumstances she would have been "snugged down." But we were running a race with death, and we knew it. Day by day the ship got hotter, day by day thicker and more menacing grew the smoke wreaths from the ventilators. All the water we pumped seemed to take no effect; and our sole comfort was that the fire appeared to work forward very slowly. Still, on the morning we made the land snakes of black smoke were curling out of the ventilator just be-aft the foremast, and blowing away to leeward. Aft the heat was almost unbearable, amd the helmsmen simply sweltered at their post. In a very short time a pilot steamer came alongside. "What's the matter?" hailed her skipper. "We're on fire," replied ours.
"I should smile," said the colonial, as he started his steam pumps going against our iron sides, off which the paint had peeled in great patches. And at that minute the long expected happened, and with a cannon-like report the fore hatches blew off, whilst a pillar of smoke and flame shot skyward. To starboard a tug hovered irresolutely. Before she could make up her mind flames broke out amidships, and it became evident that the Cervantes was doomed. The pilot steamer took us all off, and the last man had scarcely left the barque when she blew up and sank in thirty fathoms of water, whilst three old men with grimy faces and beards stared with haggard eyes at the grave of the vain salvage, knowing that their last chance had gone, and that for them was little left except the workhouse.
"If the Lord sends the tucker, the devil sends the cooks!" exclaimed a sailor as he stood at the galley door of the Mary (brigantine), and eyed with disgust a mess-kid full of "duff" that the cook had just handed to him.
"Hu!" replied the other, indignantly. "What yo' know 'bout cookin'. I cook in big ship 'fore now—ship dat take lil trash like dis for long boat. Yo' be tankful, yo' sailor man, yo' got B'bados gen'elman o' colour what understans the circumambiation o' the collinary purfesshin' to cook for yo."
The sailor grinned sourly, and, muttering something about a "blurry nigger," moved away towards his mates of the watch, impatiently waiting on the fo'c's'le-head for the second course of their dinner.
The Mary was from "The Islands," meaning, in her case, the Samoan and the Gilbert Groups, bound to Sydney with a cargo of copra. At present she lay becalmed almost exactly on the Tropic of Capricorn, with the southern extremity of New Caledonia bearing north-east some sixty miles distant. She was a smart craft of 300 tons, painted white, and looking particularly lofty by reason of her tall fore and main royal poles; her larger canvas for'ard was clewed up, and her fore and aft sails brailed in or hauled down; big bunches of green bananas hung ripening on her forestay, swinging to the gentle roll of her; whilst everywhere about her, pervading all things, was the rank, rich odour of the sun dried cocoanuts that formed her cargo. Aft, the skipper and his two mates swung in hammocks under the awning; for'ard the watch below chewed on their salt pork, stringy yams, and sodden duff, which last they presently amused themselves by kneading into big three-cornered pellets that, as they threw them at the galley, rebounded as if made of india rubber, and went hopping about the decks.
Presently a huge black foot appeared over the sill of the galley door, planted itself upon the deck, and was followed by another; then there stepped out the owner of the pair, a stout woolly-haired negro as black as the ace of spades, and, making a very emphatic blotch of colour against the white bulwarks and the dazzling sunshine that played upon them. His thick wool glistened with perfumed cocoanut oil, his face with sweat, which he wiped off on a dingy apron he wore tucked around his waist.
"Mind yer heye, Doctor!" shouted one of the men, and a dough pellet whizzed past his broad, squat nose.
"Hu! de white trash!" he snorted, an ugly look coming into his eyes. "S'pose I have yo' in B'bados now I give yo' hell! Yo're too mighty perticlar to lib! S'pose you bin on the bucko Murkin ship I bin, yo' git scoffed an' chawed in de one act!" Which was probable enough, for, unlike most of his compatriots Naaman Elisha Baffin was a fair seaman, although as a cook beneath contempt.
The regular "doctor" of the Mary having levanted in Samoa, Naaman, who, whilst in the fo'c'sle, had been growler-in-chief and cook worrier, and was continually boasting of what he could do if he had the chance given him, was at once promoted to fill the billet. Proving a sorry failure, retribution was now overtaking him, and he didn't at all like the sauce that he had been so officious in serving out to his predecessor. But his conceit was sublime; and he felt much as a Soyer or Brillat-Savarin might have done if their creations had been found fault with by a sans culotte. Indeed, he honestly believed that he was an artist, and put down all the strong hints to the contrary that he received from both fo'c's'le and cabin as so many signs of jealousy and envy.
"What was that stuff you gave us for dinner, Doctor?" asked the second mate presently, as he strolled along the deck and paused opposite to where Naaman sat smoking on the rail.
"Dat, sah," replied the cook, proudly, "war an inventation all out ob my own 'ead, sah. Make it often long time gone in B'bados. De coloured gen'elman dere cognomonize it 'Baffin's Best Supe'iau Curry.'"
"Um," remarked the Second, doubtfully, as he drew a dipper of water from the scuttlebutt and drank thirstily. "I'm glad you told me because I should have taken it for mashed yams and pea soup, with a touch of supe'iau hell in it."
"Lil chili, sah, green chili, dat all," replied Naaman, "wid jest a 'spicion o' kyehan, which am good ting, sah, for de disgestion ob de gestrical juices."
"Skipper don't seem to think so, anyhow, Doctor," retorted the Second, grimly. "He's swearin' he's got eternal punishment workin' away in his innards since he swallowed the 'Supe'iau.' You stand by for squalls if a fair wind don't soon spring up."
"Hu!" muttered Naaman, as the other walked away,"dey'm all alike. So 'elp me, Gahdamighty, dere ain't no pleasin' 'em for' no' aft on dis cussed hooker! Dey don't know a supe'iau cook when they get 'im. No use any fellah doin' his bes' and tryin' to demonstrake his ca'bilities when he ain't 'prees'hiated by de bosses. Hu! an ornery lot, yo'!" he continued, turning aft; "but an ornerier lot, yo'," turning for'ard, "an' fit for nawthen but to lib on stewed copra, de two lots ob you!"
"Boat on the port bo-o-w!" suddenly shouted one of the men who had gone out on the flying jibboom, to whistle for wind. And as at his cry all hands rushed to the side, sure enough, they saw, about half a mile away, a small, crazy-looking dingey, in which stood a man, sculling with a single oar astern. It was terribly hot, but he never paused a minute until he sheared his craft alongside, and, giving her a shove astern, at the same time, agile as a cat, leapt into the chains, and scrambled over the rail on to the Mary's deck. A tall, thin, brown man, with sharp, quick eyes, and bristling moustache that jutted straight and aggressive on each side of his nose.
"Ah, ha," he exclaimed briskly, after one comprehensive glance around, "Engleesh sheep! Ver' goot! Me matelot—you savee—sailor. Wreck; all sink but me. I sweem catch a boat, ver' ongree. Only two fecsh one wick. You taka me. Me vor-r-rk, ah ciel! like von o' de clock. You see! Me cook, me matelot; me anything. A1, fust chop! You see."
All this was delivered with breathless volubility and wonderful wealth of gesture, as he turned his gaze from stolid face to face around him.
"All right, Johnny," said, the skipper, laughing. "Don't be scared. We ain't goin' to turn ye adrift same as you did that dug-out o' yours. But you keep that yarn to tell to the Sydney Marines—if needs be. Not that any of us is like to blow the gaff on you. But you mustn't take us altogether for new chums, Johnny, La Nouvelle's still too close aboard for that, eh?"
And at that dread name all the man's vivacity and life went out of him like wind out of a pricked bladder, and down he flopped on his knees, and with uplifted hands and streaming eyes began a long appeal which the old skipper ruthlessly cut short with "There, there Johnny, keep your head shut. You've had the pluck to do it that's certain. But we don't want to hear how you did it. Now you go for'ard and get some tucker, If you can find anythin' fit to eat. And you, Naaman, you black son of a gun, you vamose that galley, and let Johnny there have a show afore you kills the whole crowd. My belly's a-burning like hot coals, yet, after that last mess o' yours."
"I no son ob a gun, sah!" exclaimed the deeply offended Naaman; "I coloured. B'bados gen'elman, sah, an' British subjec', sah, all same as yo'. Likewise extrah superfine supe'iau cook, sah. I begs to arbitrate to yo', sah, dat yo' not accordating I de umbrageous satisfaction, sah—"
"There, there, less slack jaw," broke in the Old Man; "damn it, you'd talk the fifth wheel off a coach." And seeing there was no help for it, Naaman sulkily shifted his belongings out of the little berth next the galley, girding all the while at "de Frens trash," who already was making himself at home amongst the pots and pans, after a fashion that made Naaman hate him. And he hated him more than ever when, for tea, the mysteriously arrived cook gave the men of the Mary such a feast as they had never dreamt of before—delicious scones; a pie whose crust melted in the mouth; dough-nuts like brown balls of sweetness; and a superb treacle roley-poley.
"That chap's a cook, Naaman, not a blurry himpostor like you," said a man, licking his fingers in huge good humour. You blurry nigh' killed us, you woolly heathen, you know you did! You'd 'best give Johnny Crappo that swell Sunday suit o' yourn, an' go an' get lessons from 'im afore you puts yourself hup for a cook agen."
"Yo' call I 'eathen, Joe Bunce, an' I make yo' sorry," replied Naaman, his grasp tightening around the handle of the sheath knife he was using for his food. "I baptised an' regenerative Chrischun, wid godfadder an' godmuddur jes' like anny oder British subjec', an' I let yo' know it am a fac'; an' I knock de stuffin' out o' yo'. Dat so." And the other, glancing furtively at the scowling black face, and fierce rolling eyes, decided to drop the argument. Collectively baiting the ex-cook was good enough fun. But no one cared about undertaking the contract single-handed. Also, he had been heard to mutter mysterious hints as to his possession of occult powers, that only his deep religious convictions prevented him from using. But there was an uncomfortable feeling amongst the crew that this safeguard might give way if pressed too hard; and that in such a case he would be as bad to deal with as any "Blurry Russian Finn." The calm still held; but during that middle watch Naaman was very busy. And next morning, when "Johnny" was sweeping out his galley, he picked up an object that excited his curiosity—a rough model of a human figure, about three inches long, stained brown, and covered with oakum, that looked as if it had been burned; round its neck a rope yarn was knotted tightly; into its abdomen stiff bristles of a coir broom were stuck spearwise. After a look, the cook flung it overboard, merely giving a passing thought to the childishness of the English sailor man.
He had not seen Naaman in the darkness under the top-gallant fo'c's'le, in the character of a former disciple of Obi, muttering incantations as he worked, calling down plagues and tortures and deadly sicknesses upon the usurper of his place; and finishing all by first setting fire to the image (so might the Frenchman's body burn in agony), and then driving his teeth into his arm till the blood shot out, and drenched the figure (so might the blood of his supplanter be spilled).
Naaman had known such "wangas," bought from his own father, at home in the squalid alley at the back of the Government Buildings in Bridgetown, to work curious and dire results on all sorts of people—white, yellow, and black. And it would, he thought, be hard indeed if the son of such a noted Oboah man had no inheritance of his power. Therefore, for the first time in many years, since leaving his native land, he tried his hand at the game. But, apparently, that hand had lost its cunning for all the harm its spells were able to do the object of its owner's hate. And "Johnny," alias Alexandre Deschamps, put forth all his skill, and charmed men's stomachs after a fashion that caused them to sing his praises incessantly. A good cook on a ship is, as in many other places, like the wife of Scripture, above rubies. And Captain Newnes was so pleased that, when the wind at last came, he called his prize aft, and put him on the Articles, pro tem, at a liberal wage per month. And "Johnny" snapped his fingers, and danced, and sung, and cooked more deliciously than ever. About La Nouvelle he was not communicative. He had been there some years; exiled from his beloved France, under a cruel misconception. Such cases were continually happening. But what would you? Some men were born unlucky. As to the life there—la bas? Then he would shake his head, and look solemn for a minute, and remark: "But it was, 'ow you call 'im, a dog of a life. Ah ciel', Mais c'est fini, maintenant! Et:
Mon pere est a Paris,
Ma mere est a Versailles,
Et moi je suis ici.
Which was about all the information any of the "Mary's" ever got out of Johnny.
As it happened, on this trip, the Mary's articles were up, and the crew were paid off with a six months' cheque.
"Johnny," said the skipper to the cook, "don't you leave. You stay by her. We'll be ready again in a fortnight, as soon as she comes out of dock. And"—with a knowing wink—"you'll be a dashed sight safer here than you would be ashore; not that any of the chaps 'ud give you away after the style you lined their binjies for 'em. Still, there's always folk messin' about—you savee? Here's a fiver to buy some togs. Only don't go too far; and don't get tanked. You don't want to see the Consul, eh?" And the captain grinned. So did Alexandre. So did Naaman, who was listening, his heart as black as his skin with rage and envy at being neither paid a cook's wages in place of a seaman's—nor, like all the rest, asked to presently return. Throughout the trip he had tried to make matters unpleasant for his successor; but without avail, because the whole ship's company was on Johnny's side.
The Australian authorities are very susceptible with regard to persons known to the Department of Justice as "New Caledonian escapees." Thus, when Naaman, apparelled in black broadcloth, with shiny top hat, huge patent leather shoes, and fairly glistening with pomatum and Abyssinian jewellery, told his story at the General Police Court, a couple of detectives were at once sent to arrest the luckless Alexandre. Also, rather against his will, they took the informer with them.
At the time the cook and the mate were the only ones on board the Mary where she lay alongside the wharf at Miller's Point.
"Dat 'im, gen'elmens," exclaimed Naaman, standing at the gangway and pointing. "Dat de Frens convic' what done run away from New Caledoniah, an' protruberate hisself into my position, an' take the bread out o' my mouf. Hu! his goose cooked now for suah!"
The mate swore wrathfully as he listened, for he knew that the Mary's rara avis was a lost bird. No more delicious and tempting "feeds" now! Why, even the one whose aroma he had just been inhaling with such satisfaction, as it came wafted from the galley, would be probably spoiled and ruined! Meanwhile, Alexandre, grasping the situation, had seized a long knife and rushed towards Naaman. But the officers were too smart for him, and the next minute he was lying on the deck handcuffed and helpless.
Then, after the mate, with a very bad grace, had shown them the entry in the official log relating to the picking up of the escaped one, the pair bundled their prisoner into a cab, and drove away. But not before the cook had shaken his manacled fists at Naaman, and spat at him, and shouted, "Ah, cochon noir! We meet ourselves encore. Et alore, I keel you, keel you! Sacre nom, I cut you on de troat all same ze peeg!" And Naaman grinned uncomfortably as he met the fierce, vengeful glare in the eyes of the man he had betrayed. Moreover, that same night, at his boarding-house, drink spurring his tongue, he began to boast of his exploit. Whereupon some of the Mary's crowd happening to drop in, and hearing, took hold of him and handled him after such a fashion as left him naked and temporarily crippled. An achievement, however, that next day cost them "six weeks' hard" in Darlinghurst Gaol.
So the Mary lost both her cook and her crew. And shortly afterwards the "Evening News" had a paragraph reading:—
"Yesterday, by the Tanais, a warder arrived from the French convict settlement at Noumea, New Caledonia, and promptly recognised an escapee named Alexandre Deschamps, alias Jules Leroux, lately picked up at sea by the Island trader Mary, and brought to this port. Deschamps, it appeared, had escaped from the work-shops at Central Camp, on Ile Nou, and put to sea in a crazy craft, belonging to a libere, that had drifted over from the mainland. On arrival, however, information was given by one of the crew, and an arrest was at once made of the undesirable addition to our population. We gather that Deschampes crime was a peculiarly aggravated case of forgery; his sentence, life. Prisoner and warder, extradition forms having been satisfactorily fulfilled, return to-morrow by the Ville de la Ciotat."
On his arrival the authorities sent Alexandre to work in the nickel mines at Tchio. There, after a while, he purposely broke his leg with a pick-handle, and was sent to the hospital, the acme of every prisoner's ambition, at La Nouvelle. He could, on payment of a certain sum, have had his eyes put out by an expert—a fellow prisoner, who thrived on the business—and so been saved all future bother as to "travaux forces," or hard labour. And, in despair, he would have done so, only that he was a pauper, and in these transactions credit was an unknown quantity. The breakage cost him nothing except a permanent limp. After some terrible years, during which he grew grey and wizened, yet never for one instant forgot Naaman and the debt he owed him, and yearned to some day discharge, he was awarded the blue ribbon of La Nouvelle, and remanded to the North Farm at Non, where the pets of the System grow maize and try to breed cattle. And then he escaped again. Stole one of the meat boats that bring the fresh meat from the main island, and, before dawn, was clear of New Caledonia, and steering into the heart of Micronesia. He had had enough of Australia, and would rather trust himself to the tender mercies of a cannibal than to these of a colonial constable.
But, on this occasion, luck favoured Alexandre; and, half way to the Fijis, a rusty old tramp, flying the Hawaiian flag, and bound with coal from Bulli to San Francisco, picked him up. Nor did the Norwegian skipper ask any questions; but he hoisted the boat—a good and nearly new one—inboard; and the next day set Alexandre to give it a fresh coat of paint. The ex-prisoner had long ago amused himself by scraping off the name of the colony and the insignia of the French Republic from bows and stern.
From 'Frisco he shipped as cook on a big three-masted fore-and-aft Yankee schooner, which was to load timber at Vancouver for Rio Janeiro. Heavy weather and the loss of a couple of top-masts off the Horn, however, compelled the John H. Barrett to put into Monte Video. And there three of the crew, tired of American sea-faring humour, as defined by belaying pins and knuckle-dusters, deserted.
Alexandre, however, was as much a persona grata as he had been years ago on the Mary. Like the rest of humankind, the rowdiest "bucko" Yankee officer that ever booted a Dago has a stomach to be tickled.
Alexandre ("Frenchy" was his nickname now) sat on the top of the dockland at midnight, and smoked his pipe, and sniffed the harbour smells longingly, and wished he could get ashore, knowing that he might just as well wish for the South American moon that was looking so calmly down on the John H. Barrett as she lay at anchor, once more ready for sea, with steam up in the donkey engine, and only waiting for her two new hands. All at once there was a hail, a boat grated alongside, and drunken voices were heard abusing the boarding-house runners. Then, with many oaths, two men scrambled up the great stack of timber that reached to the shear-poles of the rigging. One man fell, his head hitting the planks with a resounding thwack.
"Vat you vos do, you blurry black nigger! You vant to zink de schip, eh?" asked his companion, lurching unsteadily to and fro.
"Hu!" replied an angry voice, that made Alexandre drop his pipe. "Yo' call I niggah I mash yo'! I gen'elman—supe-iau gen'elman—sallah from B'bados. By Gawd! sah, I giv yo' hell, s'pose I cotch yo', yo' stinkin' Dutchman!" And picking himself up, the speaker staggered towards the other. But the mate just then coming from aft, knocked both men down, and kicked them impartially and vigorously with his heavy sea-boots in welcome to the John H. Barrett. Then, after a while, the engine in its house f'or'ard puffed and spouted white steam into the moonlight as it ground the chain cable in. The schooner spread her great wings of snowy cotton, and presently glided out of the harbour, bulking high as a haystack, and casting huge dark shadows across the shining water.
It was dark in the galley when, towards morning, a black head appeared at the door, and a black arm held out a pannikin for the "gravy eye" coffee. But Alexandre could see, although the other could not, and he noted that his enemy had run to fat, and was now pot-bellied; also his wool was decked with grey patches, and his broad nose seemed flatter than ever.
But, in spite of all, there was no mistaking Naaman; and Alexandre's heart grew hot, and his eye glittered in the dim galley as he glared thirstily at the man who had sent him back to hell.
"Hu!" grunted Naaman, peering, "I guess, I turnin' blue a ready where dat flas' mate kick I lawst night." As he spoke the schooner pitched, the weather door of the galley flew open, and the rising sun poured in, flooding everything with light. Naaman started as he met the vengeful eyes so steadily fixed on his own. "Hi-yah!" he exclaimed, suddenly, in scared recognition, letting his pannikin drop on the deck. "Dat yo', Johnny? Well, I 'clar ter Gahd dis de curousest coensodence I ebber seen!" Then, taking courage from the other's silence, he said, in bullying tones, "Come 'long, now, fill dat cawfee up agin as yo' made me capsize. Look s'arp—." But here Alexandre emptied a ladle full of the scalding fluid on Naaman's naked arm, and with a shriek of rage, echoed by one of pain from the negro, he flew at the other's throat, and the pair rolled biting, and scratching, and clawing into the lee scuppers.
"There'll be blood lettin' over this, Silas Gunn," remarked the skipper aside to his mate, after he had listened in silence to Alexandre's furious denunciations, and had managed to disentangle the story and straighten it out. "Best let 'em fight and have done with it. Ye see there's no doubt the nigger served Frenchy a darned nasty trick, an' Frenchy'll never rest till he's got square with him somehow. Let 'em fight anyways they choose, only mind, I won't have Frenchy pegged-out, or even hurt bad. He's a cook, he is, as can't be spared. When you fancy he's gettin' beat, you take a hand, an' down the nigger—kill him, if you like. But there's no fear o' Frenchy, I kin see business in his eye every time. An' there's no sand in any blasted nigger that I ever had to do with."
Thus it happened that, after breakfast, the Frenchman and the negro confronted each other on the even floor of pine planks, each with the same brand of sheath-knife in his hand. Naaman had proposed sticks. But Alexandre had laughed him to scorn. And as the aggrieved party, and the one carrying the whole sympathy of the ship, the Frenchman had been allowed to choose the weapons, and had at once declared for knives. One doesn't condone five years of La Nouvelle Caledonie with broom-handles!
The wind was right aft, the sails set "wing and wing," and the schooner, on a level keel, as steady as a church. Sitting around on coigns of vantage were the crew, all stolid Scandinavians with the exception of a couple of Irish-Americans who acted as seconds. Near by stood the mate, with one hand in the pocket of his pea-jacket grasping a slung shot, ready for Naaman's thick head, if necessary. The skipper walked to and fro the poop-house, and the second mate sat smoking on the for'ard one; the man at the wheel chewed on his quid, and stared upwards, screwing his head to get out of line with the mizzen mast, which somewhat obstructed his view. The blue water streamed merrily by in delicate foam-laced patterns. Out of a blue sky the sun shone down with pleasant warmth; on each quarter swum a big shark.
Both men had stripped to the waist, Alexandre showing prominent ribs and hollow chest: Naaman rolls of fat that overflowed his belt; upon his scalded left arm was a great patch of white where he had dusted flour over it. The Frenchman, in spite of his limp, danced and skipped, and jumped, and sung for very joy of his near revenge; the black crouched scowling, sullen, with a greyish tinge on his flabby cheeks.
"Buck up!" cried the seconds, and the men rushed at each other. The uplifted knives flashed and descended as all over the deck-load the pair tramped, thrusting and cutting viciously, whilst here and there the yellow Oregon pine grew scarlet patches.
"Time!" and as the panting fighters returned to their chalk marks, it could be seen that Naaman was bleeding freely from ugly gashes on chest and arms, whilst Alexandre, save for a cut across the shoulder, seemed untouched.
"Another go?" asked the seconds of the mate "Ay! ay," replied he, "they've neither of 'em had enough to cool their courage, eh, Frenchy?"
"By gar, non!" screamed Alexandre, flourishing his arms, "Von, doux, tree more time an' I keel 'eem, de black cochon."
"Full o' grit," commented the mate, admiringly. "But mind the nigger, I expec' he's gettin' savage, too. And you know we'll want our dinners all the same. So be keerful. I guess this round'll have to do—heads or tails. Buck up?"
But Naaman's bolt was sped, his courage gone; and without waiting to receive the eager Frenchman's rush, he deftly flung his knife at him. It missed the other's neck by half an inch and whizzed into the for'ard house, and stuck there quivering, with its blade buried in the soft timber, whilst Naaman, leaping into the main rigging, clambered aloft, dripping blood as the ratlines sagged under his heavy tread. Gripping his knife between his teeth, Alexandre sprang after him. Ninety feet to the topmast crosstrees and Alexandre at his heels!
But the negro got there first and dragged himself up, meaning, perhaps, to descend on the other side. The cook, however, was too quick for him, and was there before he could get clear. Then they grappled, squatting on the two thin outriggers, hardly the thickness of a man's wrist. Suddenly the onlookers saw a flash of light rise and fall, then arose a scream of mortal agony; a pair of black arms appeared wound round a white waist; then head over heels down the rigging rebounded the locked bodies, and fell with a great splash into the sea, whilst the helmsman, fascinated by the dreadful spectacle, let the vessel come up into the wind, and the long, heavy booms swung madly over as she jibed to the thunder of her huge cloths, and the whole fabric shook and trembled as if a torpedo had exploded underneath it.
"Gott in Himmel!" roared a man, all at once pointing to where, close to them on the quarter, could be seen a skirling mass of red-tinged foam from amidst which rose the ominous black fins of sharks darting furiously hither and thither.
There was a long silence as they stared hopelessly. Then, exclaimed the captain, choking a little as he spoke, "By thunder, settled outer court after all! But Silas Gunn, you've lost me the best cook as ever browned a doughnut."
"An' I'm a hand short in my watch," replied the mate sourly, as he proceeded to "deal it out" to the "Dutchman" at the wheel.
A sixteen-foot, centre-board, open boat, built of the best picked cedar, copper-fastened throughout, lined inside with cork bolsters, in case of a capsize, such was "The Brothers." She carried a mainsail, set with a gaff, and a foresail. This for ordinary weather. But when her owners felt like "putting on frills" they set a topsail, a square-sail, and any other sail that their inventive genius could find room for in the somewhat limited space at their command. And the little craft, bright with varnish, and resplendent with a narrow gold band around her, was the pride and joy of their hearts. The owners, the brothers, were four in number—Hal, the eldest, George, Frank, and Tom, in ages ranging from 18 to 11. Incessant practice in and familiarity with all the tricky ways and fashions of "The Brothers" had made her so familiar to them in her every mood that they had at length come to regard her as an almost sentient being, reciprocal to their behests; amenable to their every wish. In her they had explored every nook and corner of the beautiful harbour of Port Endeavour. Winter and summer were alike to them; southerly "busters" or cold and marrow freezing westerlies; fair winds or foul, storm or calm, mattered little to the four boys. Beating home in the teeth of a "dead muzzler" under storm-sails, spray and spindrift rattling on their "oilies," or running free in the pleasant sunshine with flapping jib and dipping main-sheet, at all seasons, and at all hours, "The Brothers" and her owners were to be met with both in the upper bays and coves, as well as in the bolder waters of the great fairway that rose and swelled to the waters of the wide Pacific. Every bluff and head land and sheltered combe, too, along the many miles of foreshores the lads knew, where landing, they would boil their billy, make tea and grill chops or steaks for the midday meal; or during the long Christmas holidays pitch a tent, build a fireplace of stones, and form a standing camp, to return to after a day spent on the water. Not a steamer or a sailer that entered Port Endeavour that they were not, if coasters, familiar with her name and history; if a stranger that they did not very soon discover all that was to be known of her; her tonnage, the length of passage, her cargo, mishaps (if any). At times, too, they met and fought Homeric battles on the water with other boats manned by larrikins, who, jealous of the speedy Brothers, taunted her crew as aristocrats, and assailed them with road metal and shingle laid in of set purpose. Explorers, too, were these young folk, taking much joy in perilous climbings along sheer cliffs; in travel through the thick and unfrequented scrub that in spots grew down to the water's edge. Caves were a specialty with them, and a new one was among their most cherished discoveries for winter use; and in these they stored vast deposits of firewood—honeysuckle, and oak and gum—against the bleak, sunless days of winter, and the cold, biting westerlies. Then, turning Troglodytes, they lit great fires, and cooked, and ate, and slept, sheltered and warm, what time "The Brothers" rocked at her anchor, a hundred feet below, outside the sullen wash of the seas that rolled in to the feet of the sandstone cliffs.
An ideal life for boys; and small wonder that they throve and grew strong and lithe and hardy, and indifferent to any kind of weather.
Sometimes, but rarely, they ventured through the portals of the harbour, those great pillars that form its giant gateway, and looked back on the long and broken coastline of their native land, precipitous, frowning; in places bare and forbidding; in others glowing with the russet and green and purple of lichen, moss, blossom, and grass, while ever "the long wash of Australasian seas" curled in snowy whiteness at its base.
* * * * * *
It was a beautiful day in the now waning Autumn, and "The Brothers," close hauled to a brisk north-easter, had passed the "Cat and Kittens" Lightship and opened up the broad ocean beyond the Heads. Away almost on the horizon gleamed pearl-like in the bright sunshine the sails of some inward-bound ship, towards which a smart tug was swiftly steaming, while the pilot vessel had slipped her moorings, and was making out in the same direction.
"How about a trip outside, boys?" said Frank, the third brother, a bright-faced, brown-eyed, sturdy lad of 14. "We can have a look at the ship, and then run back before dark."
The proposition was carried unanimously, and the boat headed for the entrance across the mild roll from the outside ocean. Past the grim cliffs and the lighthouses, and the forts sped the weatherly little craft, out into the wide Pacific, with for objective the distant ship now hove-to and waiting for tug and pilot.
It was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon when the weather suddenly changed. The wind freshened considerably, and came round to south, bringing up with it a lot of thick stuff that at times seemed almost to blot out both land and water. A nasty beam sea, too, got up, and more than once, spite of Hal's skilful steering, the little ship took a "big drink" that kept them busy with the baler. There was no doubt that "The Brothers" was carrying too much canvas for comfort, even for safety. Nor was there any shelter to be had, except by a long run to the northward. The boys shortened sail, and then went about, in an endeavour to make for home. But the wind had now increased to half a gale, and "The Brothers" made such bad weather that there seemed no alternative but to run for it. The sun was low by this time; darkness would not be long in coming: they were five or six miles out, and they all saw the impossibility of attempting to get inside again for many hours. So they 'bouted ship once more, and ran before the wind with a big following sea after them, throwing as they went somewhat disconsolate glances to where they could dimly discern, through the smother to windward, the outlines of three tall spars, naked new, and a plume of smoke as the tug took hold and valiantly strove to bring the ship into her haven.
It was the tightest corner the lads had ever been in. But they took it well; although the youngest sniffed a little as the night settled down, and, wet and cold, began to do their work. Astern they could see the beams of the great electric light, on the southern headland of their home, flung across the black waters, as their boat rose and sank between the roaring combers, one of which would now and again inquisitively peer over the low stern, and send showers of foam into their frail craft; grown frailer and smaller now than in all their previous experience of her. Hal, still steering, encouraged his brothers with the certainty of reaching Encounter Bay by daylight; and thence a telegram would assure their parents of their welfare. The boys were wet to the skin, and chilled to the marrow, hungry into the bargain; but they sang cheerily enough as, baling with might and main, they swept past the stern, grim cliffs, distant about a mile, from whose foot came to their ears the deep, hoarse menace of the breaking surf.
But the brave singing ceased, as near midnight they realised that the wind was hauling round to the westward, early in the season though it was, and that there could be no sheltered Encounter Bay for them, or indeed, shelter anywhere at all. It seemed as they were forced almost at right angles to their course, to blow harder than ever; and at last their hearts almost failed them, as they realised that they were being driven out to sea in a little open boat, with water and provisions for but a few meals. They knew their danger, none better. Nevertheless, they tried to comfort each other as best they might.
'"Father'll be out in the morning, and pick us up all right," said George, a quiet, thoughtful lad, as he took his little brother in his arms, and strove to keep him warm, while the others crouched together in the bottom of the boat, in their sodden oilskins, and stared at the last lessening ray from the great lighthouse, as it shone at regular intervals across the foam-tipped waste of waters. Hal, unwilling to trust the tiller to weaker hands, still stuck to his post, and "The Brothers," with the wind now almost dead aft, kept valiantly ahead of the big following seas that threatened each moment to overwhelm and sink her. Indeed, she now shipped so much water that almost incessant baling was requisite to keep her from filling.
At last the morning broke, broke on a vast expanse of foam-tipped grayness, hidden by a grey sky in which was no rift. There was nothing whatever in sight, not even the land. The wind and sea, however, had both moderated, and the forlorn lads at once got their little ship on a wind, and steered for where they thought Australia must surely be. In their basket there remained from the provisions of the day before, some sodden bread, a bottle of jam, part of a round of corned beef, some butter and a tin of preserved milk. And upon these bedraggled remnants they fell with all the healthy fury engendered by an eighteen hours' fast. Not until the last salty morsel had vanished did Hal realize with consternation that he ought to have dealt the food out sparingly, and husbanded it to the utmost. It was, he remembered, always managed so in the story books.
The sky was still overcast and gloomy, rendering it almost impossible for them to steer a course with any certainty. And as Frank, who had relieved Hal after his long spoil at the tiller, put it: "I say, boys, it's about even chances, so far as I can see, that we'll miss hitting our country altogether. There's more southing coming into the wind now; freshening up, too! And we must lie a jolly long way off the land."
"Yes," said Hal. "I know we ran like the very mischief through the best part of the night. Now, against this wind and sea we're making scarcely any headway at all. Well, chaps, I'd sooner be back at school with a dozen lost Saturdays; but let's keep our upper lips stiff, I daresay we'll come out on top yet."
"And, anyhow," remarked George, bravely seconding his brother's effort at cheerfulness, "we'll have something to talk about when we do get home."
"I could eat ten grilled chops," suddenly exclaimed the lad at the tiller, with solemn and hungry emphasis, "washed down with two quarts of hot tea!"
At that Hal and George laughed ruefully. As for poor little Tom, he was fast asleep on a heap of oilskins, all his troubles forgotten for the moment. "Isn't that a sail?" exclaimed George, all at once, pointing away on the starboard quarter. And there, sure enough, showed up a glint of white again the gloom, right on the rim of the horizon. For some time the boys watched, silently, longingly. Then Frank said, with something of a choke in his throat, for strong as a boy's courage may be, it, like a man's, has its limit; "Yes, but she's passing us. I think she must be coming up from the south. We might cut across, and catch her, Hal."
Without replying, Hal went forward, and stood with one arm round the mast, and took a long look. Nothing met his gaze but the grey sea, and the dull, grey sky, broken only by that flickering patch of canvas. But the boy had made up his mind: "We can't be much worse off," said he, "and, perhaps, we have a chance to at least get within signalling distance before she passes. She's about lying her course, I think, for her yards don't seem braced sharp up. Round we go, boys; at any rate, we'll have a run for our money. And where there's one ship there's likely to be more."
So now "The Brothers," with wind and sea on her quarter, made an oblique course to that of the ship, steering ahead of her, and with perhaps half a dozen miles to the good in favour of her reaching the spot in time to be heard or seen.
The next two or three hours were a period of alternating hope and suspense. And the young eyes grew dim and aching as they stared out of the haggard young faces; and the hushed tones discussed the chance of success or failure. For it must be well understood that they thoroughly realized what failure meant for them.
And that, it would be a failure was presently only too apparent. Despite their utmost endeavours, the ship was too fast for them. She would cross ahead of their course, at a distance of a good mile and a-half. And two miles in dull weather; and with night not far away! For a minute, as they gazed with salt-sore, weary eyes at the big four-master passing them majestically, unseeing, unheeding, the three boys felt the cold breath of a lingering and dreadful death strike them to their souls. It was a bitter, moment—a moment to dream of in long after days, and to awake to the unreality of in a cold and shivering sweat. And Tom was awake, cold and hungry, and moaning for home and his mother.
But the youthful native-born are, on an average, built of sturdy stuff—stuff that, like its forbears, never knows when it is beaten. And Hal, giving short sharp orders, the other rushed to the sprit, unshipped it, and, working like furies, lashed it to the mast in such wise that it showed fully 10ft above that spar, while from its top the flag of the Royal Port Endeavour Yacht Club, of which their father is a member, blew out, Union down. And now ensued a period of dreadful suspense. They felt themselves too infinitesimally small, the merest speck amid the waste of waters and the gloomy weather. The ship seemed so distant; the chances against her seeing them too many. "She's passing!" exclaimed Hall at length, with a groan. "We're done, boys!" and he sank down in the stern, and for the first time in all their troubles seemed about to lose heart. Slowly the vessel drew ahead past the intercepting point. The other two boys had apparently given up all hope, and now sat with their heads on their knees. Frank, however, still stuck to the tiller, and kept his eyes on the receding shape of their only salvation. Presently he stood up, and shouted, "Hal, Hal, I do believe she's seen us! Hooray, lads!"
"Rubbish!" replied Hal, nevertheless jumping to his feet, and staring hard at the ship, which now, without a doubt, had braced sharp up on the starboard tack, and was heading on a course that must bring her within a few hundred yards of "The Brothers."
"By jingo, Frank, old chap, I believe you're right!" exclaimed Hal. "Keep away, right away. Stir yourself, Tom, you're the lightest, and shin up the topmast. That'll make something else for 'em to look at. It strikes me we have a show yet."
And they had. In half an hour, or so, they were alongside a great four-masted barque, their boat towing astern; and between mouthfuls of hot soup and biscuit were telling their story to the captain and officers of the Andromeda, of London; last from Melbourne, in ballast, to load nickel ore at Tchio, in New Caledonia.
"No, my boys, I can't go back to Port Endeavour," said the skipper, one of the best types of his kind. "It's a good 70 miles E.N.E. from here, and the passage is taking too much time as it is. But the chances are we'll sight something by-and-bye, bound the way you want to go. Now, just make yourselves at home on the Andromeda. It was a warm squeak, though, only the second officer happened to be having a look round through his glasses. But for that you'd have had another night out, and—well, all's well that ends well," he abruptly concluded.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile a beautiful steam yacht, with on board her a despairing father and mother and a host of relatives, was quartering the Endeavour Harbour in every direction in search of any remnant of "The Brothers;" in and out of every secluded bay and inlet she went, while her boats hallowly searched the rocks and beaches. Also a host of seekers ranged the foreshores, stimulated by the great reward offered for any trace of the missing boys. The signalmen at the South Head had noticed no boat putting out to sea on the day the lads disappeared. Thus all efforts were confined to the harbour itself and its hundreds of miles of water frontage.
* * * * * *
In the meantime the Andromeda, meeting with a fair wind a few hours after picking "The Brothers" up, had journeyed many miles towards her destination. The boys, although grieving at the distress they knew must prevail at home, had thriven on their friendly ship. The good-natured skipper, too, had hove their boat on board, and stowed her snugly amidships. Nothing, however, had been sighted bound towards Australia. And the brothers thought that they were, as Frank put it, "booked for the whole trip," when one morning a trail of smoke was seen on the horizon, which in an hour or so resolved itself into a tug, with a ship in tow.
"We'll speak her," said the skipper of the Andromeda. "That's a lame duck from somewhere, boys, going down your way."
"Why, it's the Wanderer!" exclaimed Hal, as the tug, with a large Iron barque, her topgallant masts struck, drew near, towing with a very long line. "She belongs to the Port, captain. They'll take us home all right. Hooray!" and the four boys raised a hearty cheer at the prospect, not of leaving the Andromeda—for they were perfectly at home in every part of her, both below and aloft; prime favourites, too, both fore and aft—but of assuring their parents of their safety. They had been absent over a week, and well they knew that hope must ere this be nearly dead in the hearts of almost everybody at Endeavour. Presently, in response to their signals, the tug slowed down, while a boat put off from the Andromeda, with her chief officer and Hal, to try and come to some arrangement. And when the master of the Wanderer heard the story of the brothers, they found him thoroughly willing, not only to carry them to Port Endeavour, but to take their little boat into the bargain.
"Get your dingey over the side," said he to Hal," and we'll put her on the davits of the Glenore yonder (indicating the barque, with a wave of his hand). We pulled her off a reef on the north side of New Caledonia, patched her up, and are taking her down to Endeavour to dock. We ought to be there in four days from now. You and your brothers had better stay on board the Glenore. More room there; plenty of tucker, too." So the boys presently had "The Brothers" once more in the water, and, after a grateful farewell to all hands on board the Andromeda, all of whom they had come to look upon as old friends, they pulled off to their new ship, followed by three hearty cheers from the four-master, as she filled on her course again, and dipped her ensign in parting salute.
* * * * * *
The boys had been given up at last, and half a dozen families were mourning their loss, when, one morning, just as business people were making their way across the harbour in the crowded ferry boats, a wild blowing of steam whistles and syrens from a few of their number lower down the bay denoted something unusual to be happening. Presently, the Wanderer hove in sight, coming up the fairway, decked with bunting from stem to stern, while all round her other tugs and the small steam fry of the port took up the chorus, and made the shores echo again with wild screams of rejoicing.
When directly opposite a large residence with a water frontage, the Wanderer slackened speed, and drawing up as close as she could she came to a full stop while her powerful siren blared forth triumphant and joyous crowings, in front of the boys' once happy home, now a house of grief and desolation.
"By heavens," exclaimed a passenger, quick to divine the meaning of the thing, "the Wanderer's picked those lost lads up!" And as the watchers presently saw the flag that for the last few days had flown half-mast from its staff in front of the house, slowly rise to the summit, and stand out in flapping folds, as if exultant in the morning breeze, bursts of cheering arose from all the crowded boats as their occupants realised that those mourned as dead were alive and well.
* * * * * *
"It's all right to be at home again, you chaps!" said Hal, later on. "My word," said Frank, "only I suppose we'll have to go to school again, just as if nothing had happened." "Not for a fortnight," said George. "Father says that fellows who've been through what we have, must want a spell."
"That'll be bosker," chimed in little Tom, from the encircling shelter of his mother's arms.
The Dadds had been married twelve months, and lived very happily together, until Mr. Dadd began to develop fads. He was a Civil servant, a post-office employee, with a salary of £250 per annum. While staying at a farm near Goulburn, on the occasion of his yearly holiday, he had met his wife—a hearty, jolly, sensible, young countrywoman, who, when the smart clerk asked her to share his fortunes with her, could hardly bring herself to believe that he was in earnest. They lived now in a comfortable cottage in one of the remoter marine suburbs of Sydney; and until David commenced his course of fads his wife was accustomed to think herself a very lucky woman.
Mr. Dadd, although scarcely thirty years of age, was a person who took himself very seriously. Still, on the whole, he was what his acquaintances called him—"a very decent chap;" and one who, while not liable to astonish the world by any outbursts of exceptional ability, could, it might be imagined, be depended upon to abjure all experiments of the kind he presently began to make a trial of. "There's a nice bit of fillet for dinner to-night, dear," remarked his wife, as David, having got himself into his house clothes, came into the dining room. "I'm afraid you'll have to eat it yourself, then, Georgie" (Mrs. Dadd had been christened Georgina), replied her husband. "No more meat for me. I'm convinced that it's the source of half the social mischief in this country. I've been reading the subject up lately, and I find that vegetarianism is the one thing needful for the betterment of both mind and body. Will you see, dear, that there always are plenty of them on the table,"
"But surely, Dave," asked Mrs. Dadd, in amazement, "not at every meal?"
"Certainly," replied, her husband. "I don't expect to ever touch meat again, in any shape or form. Some more peas and potatoes, please."
"Just a spoonful of gravy, then," implored his wife, almost in tears.
"Not even a suspicion," said David, as he heroically munched his vegetables. "And, presently, dear, when you see how well the new diet agrees with me, I hope you will follow my example."
But, somehow, as time passed, David, neither in health nor temper, showed the expected advantage to be derived from the new departure. His wife, being a sensible woman, made no remarks. On the contrary, she tried to vary his diet as much as possible, and learned to cook no less than a dozen different sorts of vegetables, each in as many fashions. Even when Mr. Dadd allowed his hair to grow longer than is usual with the majority of sane citizens, she forbore to remonstrate. She, however, firmly resisted all David's persuasion to join him in his obsession, and contented herself with preparing appetising little dishes for herself, careless, apparently, that, the savour of these reaching her husband—as he sat forcing his appetite to a compote of carrots, a fraudulent imitation of a mutton chop, constructed out of peas, cauliflowers, and potatoes; or a beefsteak whose foundation consisted mainly of turnips and tomatoes—seemed to make him unhappy, not to say morose.
Always spare of body, David presently began to get so fine that his friends nicknamed him "Radish." Thereupon he added apples and nuts to his dietary, consuming enormous quantities of those fruits. But to no purpose. David was of all men one adapted by Nature for a generous diet; and daily he grew visibly more miserable, while the grateful fumes from Georgie's side of the table at times tried his self-control almost beyond the limits of endurance. And at last came the psychological moment, not entirely unexpected by the wife. Before her was a dish of stewed tripe, cooked as few women but herself could cook it. Aforetime David's favourite dish, the appetising odour titillated his tortured nostrils with a very frenzy of desire. All at once there sprang up in his stomach an irresistible loathing towards the mess before him; and, suddenly, in angry, almost savage, accents, he shouted, "For heaven's sake, Georgie, give a man something fit to eat!"
* * * * * *
For a few months David, having cut his hair and abjured vegetarianism, put on flesh, and leavened his somewhat didactic temperament with a cheeriness born of good living, let well alone, and essayed no new experiments or divagations.
Presently, however, he took to studying "the effect of clothing on the human frame in connection with climatic environment;" at least, that is how he put it to Georgie. It was then about the middle of summer, and as a result of his cogitations he took to "white," and bore with equanimity the salutes of the small boys who yelled "Hokey-pokey!" after him, as well as with the notable increase in the laundry bills.
"There cannot be a doubt," remarked David, "that in a semi-tropical climate such as ours is drill or some equally suitable material is the rational dress for men. The only wonder is that the garb has not long ere now become universal. All through this torrid weather I am enabled to keep my body cool and my brain in good working order, while my colleagues at the office, in their heavy tweeds, perspire and indulge in irritable growlings."
Presently he left off wearing woollen underclothing and took to cotton, having become thoroughly convinced that cotton was not only lighter but warmer, to say nothing of the question of economy. To all his wife's suggestions that colds and chills would probably be the outcome of the business, David turned a deaf ear. The weather continued fine and hot, and he marvelled that nobody else followed his example. Then, one day, happening to be working overtime, he was caught on his way home by a bitter "southerly," and chilled to the very marrow of his bones. A sharp attack of pneumonia followed, which the doctor brutally told him served him right, and when David was able to get about again—although never tired of inveighing against "the treachery of the climate"—he gave up "rational dress" once and for all.
But to an inquiring mind like his inaction was impossible. And one evening he arrived at his home carrying an electric battery under his arm. He had been "reading up" certain medical treatises recommending electricity as a cure for most human ailments, and he now proceeded to fill himself up with what he called the "vital spark." He attempted to induce his wife to join him in the experiment; but after the first shock, Mrs. Dadd said she believed it did not agree with her, and she left him to pursue his latest fad alone. He would sit for hours at a time holding the handles of the machine, and declaring that he was being gradually permeated with the current, and that it was making "a new man of him." His wife, however, could discover no difference, and the eternal buzz became a decided nuisance.
Presently, however, he came across a book strongly recommending all people, whether well or ill, to live us much as possible in the open air. Doors and windows were to be kept open winter and summer, night and day, and thorough ventilation encouraged in every possible manner. The promised results were a practical immunity from every description of disease. The scheme tickled David's fancy mightily. But Georgie was strong in protest. "It's like offering a premium to burglars," she said. "Besides, you know how susceptible to colds you are, and living in draughts will only mean another big doctor's bill." "That's exactly the reason, dear," replied David, eagerly. "We ought to give the thing a trial. Dr. Smith, the great scientist, says that a course of such treatment, if persevered in, will so harden and improve our constitutions as to render them practically impenetrable to the attacks of hostile bacteria or bacilli. And, as for burglars, the last house they would dream of entering would be one thrown wide open. In such cases, they always suspect a trap." By dint of much argument, David at last gained an unwilling assent to the new venture. The result could scarcely be called encouraging. Georgie was unable to sleep for fear of thieves; her husband was never free from coughs and colds. It was winter, and "Burleigh Cottage," standing on rather high ground, was simply enfiladed by the winds; the westerlies especially holding high revel along the passages, and in the rooms.
But David bore it all with the stoicism of a martyr. In spite of colds in the head and colds in the throat, of sneezings and hawkings and catarrhs, he declared that he felt himself perceptibly benefited. They had of late employed a "general;" but the fresh air supply was too plentiful for her, and she left, after calling David a raging lunatic, and prophesying that some night they would awake with their throats cut. So far as Mrs. Dadd was concerned, the position was becoming intolerable, and her husband seemed deaf to remonstrance or ridicule. She, therefore, determined, by hook or by crook, to end this worst fad of all; and presently she hit upon a scheme that she thought might answer.
"Burleigh Cottage" was in a very isolated position, and at the back of the garden was a clump of rocks, among which, in a sort of cave, lived an old Troglodyte, who now and again was called in to "do up" the paths, and cut the grass on the small lawn. The only name by which the Dadds knew the man was "Bill." And to "Bill" Mrs. Dadd applied for help in her extremity.
"Yes, lydy, I unnerstan's," he replied, as Georgie unfolded her plan, and a sly grin curled his thick lips as he repeated her instructions: "Everythin' o' the bosses—hats, boots, socks, all his wearin' togs—an' a few o' your dresses an' nickernacks. Yus, lydy, cert'nly. An' you a-goin' to stay the night at a fren's 'ouse? An', then, I'm to bring the swag to my camp, yonder, an' plant it. Then, bimeby, when the hue an' cry's all hover I'm to bring 'em back agen an' say as how I found 'em all stowed away in a cave where the burgellers hid 'em in, thinkin' as 'ow they was pursood."
"That's quite correct, Bill," replied poor Georgie, strong in her faith in the honesty of the Troglodyte, dirty of person and unprepossessing of feature though he might be, and little guessing that all the time he was hard put to it to keep from sniggering at the transparent simplicity of her scheme to give her husband a lesson; and to teach him for the future to keep a closed house o' nights.
"And you won't make a noise, Bill?" continued Georgie.
"Not me, lydy," said Bill with a scornful sniff; "I've been too long at—I means as I'm that light-footed a feller, you wouldn't believe. There ain't nothin' locked in the crib, is there, lydy?" he suddenly asked. "No," replied Georgie. "But, of course, everything you'll want will be in the wardrobe." "In coorse, lydy, in coorse," agreed Bill emphatically; "you may tyke yer sollum davy as nothin' else won't be touched."
* * * * * *
On the appointed night, as luck would have it, David, by way of enlarging his experiment, had determined to sleep on the verandah. The house, however; remained open as ever. Thus the Troglodyte's task was an absurdly easy one; and when Georgie arrived in time to get David's breakfast she found that her instructions had been exceeded to a preposterous extent. David greeted her in his sleeping suit; having been able to discover nothing else. That was all right, so far. But when she discovered, in addition, that she herself possessed only what clothes she carried on her back; that her jewellery as well as George's was missing, together with any of the wedding presents worth taking away, Mrs. Dadd simply collapsed, and hysterically wept. Simple as she might have been in her estimate of the Troglodyte's character, she was quick enough to perceive that here was catastrophe and not pretence. David, who was hoarse to voicelessness from his night's sojourn on the verandah, gesticulated wildly, and made husky, grating sounds which were unintelligible, but none the less smacked of "language," as known in police courts.
The nearest neighbour was a mile away; to the nearest police station was three miles. Leaving poor Georgie to her own devices, David set off to the neighbour's house. In the tramp through the bush his slippers came off repeatedly; he cut his feet among the rocks; he also stubbed his toes. When at last he arrived, with a keen westerly playing all sorts of pranks among his pyjamas, two women—the only people at home—slammed the door in his face and shrieked at the top of their voices. In vain he waved his hands, and pointed, and shook his head, and tried by gestures to interpret his woes—there was a lunatic asylum not very far away. And presently a shotgun, wavering, but otherwise fairly direct, covered him from one of the windows. At this hint David departed, looking more like a maniac than ever. Later on he arrived, in a rainstorm, at a suburban railway station, and appearing on the crowded platform, was quickly hustled into a cloak-room, and there secured, pending the arrival of a constable. Having to some extent recovered his voice, he, tried to explain and expostulate. And in return the officials soothed him with promises; said they quite believed in his sanity; were sure that he could prove that he had not escaped from the asylum over yonder; was, indeed, a responsible Civil servant; and that they were only detaining him because he was wet, and might catch a dangerous cold if allowed to go any further in such violent weather. They also gave him a blanket and a cup of hot coffee. Presently the police arrived, and haled poor protesting, shivering David off to the local lockup, where eventually he was detained on a magistrate's order for medical examination, and while inquiries were being made. And the various newspapers came out with announcements to the effect that an alleged escaped lunatic, calling himself the Postmaster-General, had been apprehended. It was added that, although exhibiting violent symptoms at first, the maniac appeared to be on the whole of a mild description.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile, at "Burleigh Cottage," Georgie had pulled herself together a little, and was endeavouring to make a more detailed inventory of their losses than had been possible in the first rush of despair. She never doubted that David would presently return with the police, to whom she had determined to make a clean breast of the whole business. A letter that the afternoon post brought, however, completely altered this resolution. It contained news of a legacy, no great sum, certainly, but more than enough to cover the value of all the Troglodyte's plunder a hundred times over. Thus, when later on, David arrived in a cart escorted by two constables, they heard only a curtailed story. But to David—after imparting to him the tidings of good fortune following fast on the heels of evil hap—to a limp, bedraggled, disgrunted, and ashamed David—his wife made full confession. And David, somewhat rehabilitated thereby in his own esteem, but still suffering from successive shocks to both his self-conceit and to his physical system, rose to the occasion with all the magnanimity of the injured male, and said: "There, there, dear. Don't say a word more about the wretched business. I freely forgive you for it all." But there have been no more fads in the Dadds household since. And these matters were history years ago.
"She's a beauty, isn't she?" asked Captain Watson of his companion, Captain Kane. "Just look at those bows and the run of her sheering away, aft like a fish's belly!"
"Aye, aye," replied the other, as they stood in the South-West India Dock alongside the clipper ship 'Amyomene. "She's all right. Still, you know, Watson," he continued, his eye wandering to a big cargo steamer that lay next to the sailer, "where does canvas come in when steam's about? Now here's your flash clipper with her dozens of sticks and her acres of sailcloth. And here I am with the Balkan yonder, and a set of engines and a propeller. London to Melbourne, Port Endeavor, Waratah, anywhere, in forty odd days; whilst you've got to take your chance—may be eighty or ninety, or one hundred and ninety, or by gum, one thousand and ninety, for all you can tell! No; I won't deny you're prettier. But, good Lord, it takes a lot o' beauty to make up for such passages."
"Tell you what, Kane," exclaimed the other impetuously. "If I could only be sure of getting through the Doldrums, and with fair luck afterwards, I'd beat you out to Australia."
The Balkan's skipper smiled indulgently, which his friend (for they were very old friends) noticing, became rather warm. "And why not?" he asked. "What can that old tank of yours do at her top? Eleven! And, I've seen the Amy there do her sixteen, over and over again, running her easting down."
"Aye, aye, Mark," replied the other quietly. "but then, you see, the 'old tank's' doing her eleven, eleven night and day."
"Well," said Watson, after a pause, "that's true." And then, moved by some sudden impulse, he continued. "But in spite of it, I'll bet you £50 that I'll beat you this trip from here to Port Endeavor; we're both bound the same road, and starting the same day. You'll of course, give me the odds of your call at the Cane. Come, now, what d'ye say?"
"Only that I won't rob you, old chap," replied Kane, after a long stare of astonishment. "But," he added, laughing, "if you're so dead bent on a bet, I'll tell you what I'll do. If you get there first I'll make you a present of a new sextant I've just invested in. If I sight the Heads first, you'll give me the best hat to be bought in the port. I know," he concluded diplomatically, "the Amy's one of the fastest clippers out of London; but to back sail against steam's not fair to her nor to you. Still, just for the fun of the thing I don't mind. Now come on board and try a drop of that special Scotch I got down from Glasgow the other day."
Mark Watson was a grizzled, red-cheeked old seaman of 60, and he bore the now empty title of "Commodore" of the once famous Red Lion Line, of which the Amyomene was the very last survival, all the rest having been "sold foreign," owing to their late owners having gone in for steam. And, although he was not aware of the fact, it was the old clipper's last trip before, in her turn, falling to Norwegian or German buyers.
The partners, Bayliss and Gower, of the great, almost historical, shipping firm, had refrained from letting the old skipper know, because, as the senior put it, "It's bound to cut him up a bit; he thinks more of her than many men do of their wives. So better let him have his last trip in peace." They were considerate and liberal people, these, and had long settled on a good sum for the retiring pension of the old sea captain who had served them so faithfully, boy and man, for nearly forty years.
So highly, indeed, did they think of him, that when Agatha Bayliss, who was going to Cooksland to join her betrothed, young Captain St. John, of the Grenadier Guards, but at present aide-de-camp to H.E. the Governor of that colony, suddenly made up her mind to travel in the Amyomene, instead of by the mail boat, her father assented at once. Old Mark Watson had carried her about the ship many a time when not as high as his knee. Now she had grown taller than he, a beautiful girl with hair the color of ripe maize, and eyes as blue as the sea she loved so well.
Captain Mark was intensely pleased when he heard the news; and, suddenly remembering his bet, rubbed his hands, and in confidence told "Miss Aggie" all about it, and swore that she would bring him and the ship luck. And she, entering into the spirit of the thing, yet scarcely esteeming it possible, laughed and said, "You know I'm to be married almost at once, Captain Mark, when we arrive. Well, I promise, if we win the race, that you shall give me away. The Governor was to have done it. But you shall take his place. And I'll be your mascotte, and the dear old ship shall put her best foot forward this trip if ever she did. But don't say anything about it to father, Captain Mark. He might object."
A day or two afterwards as they lay at the buoy, off Gravesend, taking in some explosives for the new six-inch guns at Port Endeavor, the Balkan came slowly down the river.
And then as the 5000 tons of her solemnly slid past—showing tall, black, wall-sides with patches of red about her forefoot, her huge, rod topped funnel, raking aft in line with the two slim pole-masts, and her lofty bridge glistening with polished brasswork—Capt. Kane took off his cap to Agatha, standing with her father on the poop of the Amyomene, and the quartermaster at the ensign-staff lowered the flag three times in salute to the clipper, returned from the latter's gaff in like manner by Captain Mark himself.
"Good man, Kane," remarked old Bayliss. "I'm sorry after all. Aggie, you're not going out in the Balkan, as you object to mail steamers. He's got fine accommodation for a few in the salon. And he'll be at Endeavour, very likely, weeks in front of you. Stupid business, this whim of yours. It never struck me so strongly until I saw Kane slipping past us for the same port."
"Don't worry, dad, replied his daughter, laughing. "Captain Mark and I are going to send the old Amy this trip. She shall make a record, and bring glory on the last of the Red Lions. Perhaps, even, we'll be in before the Balkan, big a start as she is getting."
"Tut, tut," said the old gentleman, testily; "don't talk nonsense. And don't you be edging Mark to put his spars or his ship, in danger. This isn't yachting, in the Solent, remember, with a lot of boats to pick you up if you capsize."
"I was only joking dear." replied Agatha, putting her arm in his; "and now come below and have a look at my rooms—not the cupboards they give you, even on the best of steamers—four beautiful big ones between myself and Mary Macintosh. Plenty of space, dad, the whole ship to ourselves, and no horrid people to bother with at table or on deck. Remember our trip to the Cape, dad, and how you felt like a chicken in a coop with servants crying out all day, "Chook, chook, come and be fed."
In the Downs, next morning, with a beautiful north-easterly blowing, Mr. Bayliss left them. And before this wind the Amyomene, setting every stitch of canvas from royals down, drove gallantly along, a most beautiful object as she surged through the short, choppy seas, with yards nearly square, her smooth, bright green sides, with their gilt band gleaming wet to the wash of the dull, green water, whilst the great white figure head pointed with outstretched arm ever forward. Presently the wind hauled more to the northward, blowing stronger; and checking her yards and boarding her, tacks, and hauling her sheets aft, the outward bounder lay over to it with a sudden snowy, curling of foam around her shapely bows showing her wide white spaces of deck, broken only by the galley and a couple of long houses of polished hardwood, out of which twinkled brass-rimmed eyes of glass; showing too, the whole width of her grand poop—the longest of any ship's afloat—all a-glow in the frosty sunshine, with the sparkle of it leaning like points of flame from binnacle and wheel and skylight, as the last of the famous ocean flyers of the sixties set forth on her last voyage under the Red Lion.
Aloft the sails sat like huge white shells stacked high by some cunning hand in fitting size and progression, each above each straining immovable from their milk-white yards, whilst the brisk wind sung in their hollows, and amongst the rigging a shrill song of farewell to the good old ship they had known so long.
"Such luck!!" said the pilot, as he and Captain Mark stood to windward of the wheel and watched her. "Three solid weeks of westerly; and now, when you start, why, it shifts at once. Got a horseshoe aboard, captain; or what is it?"
"Something better than that," replied old Mark, as he nodded towards where Agatha and her maid sat together on the skylight, "One of the sweetest and best girls in the world. Bayliss' only one. I'm taking her out to get married. And I'm in a hurry this trip, Brown. What can I do it in?"
"Steamer time if the old beauty keeps on like this," replied the other with a grin. "Still you know, you'll have a job to beat your record. Sixty-five, wasn't it? Ay, ay, I remember, we took two days to the start that passage. Now if this breeze holds we'll be there in 18 hours. A good beginning, Cap'en! By Jiminy, if the old girl got the wind I believe she'd beat most things afloat, dashed if I don't!"
"Ay." sighed Captain Mark, thinking of the Balkan, then probably off Ushant, "the wind it is that makes the passage, although the men and the ship get all the credit for it."
* * * * * *
Every fifth year there is a certain day upon which the South-east Trade, coming—much to their indignation, for they hate to be disturbed—right across the Doldrums, meets his brother of the North-east and has a long reminiscent talk with him. Sometimes this happens as far as 4deg north, but, more generally, right on the Equator. And thrice fortunate the ship that happens to strike that particular day and get handed on without delay by one trade to the other, and carried across that calm and windless belt so dreaded of mariners. Of such lucky ones were the vessels who made the wonderful passages to Australia of which we read in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies.
On one of these so rare days the Trades had met, and were having a long yarn, mainly about old times and old ships; the terrible falling-off in sailers, and the degeneracy of those still afloat; bewailing, too, the amazing increase of steam, that, now left them practically little to do.
"Ah, brother," said the North-Easter, "I can recollect when I used to bring down a whole fleet of noble clippers, from as high up as 3deg, but now I haven't been as far for years. What's the use of bothering about nasty smoky steamers, who take no notice whatever of you, and lumbering tramps of sailers, who can't do no more at their top than eight, or lie nearer the wind than a whole handful of points."
"True, brother, most true," sighed the South Easter. "It's a dismal change, indeed from the days when coming up to the very edge of the Doldrums, I'd steal in and bring a gallant clipper out, and rush her away south, chipping off a stuns'l boom now and again, just for fun. I remember getting the Thermopylae in about 2deg the time she made that wonderful run. I liked her so well, and she always did me so much credit, that I used to look out for her afterwards, and help her all I could. And then there were the Salamis, and the Cimba, and the Cutty Sark, and the Patriarch, and the Torridon, and the Brilliant—all ships it was a pleasure to have business with. But now I watch for them in vain."
"In vain," sadly echoed the North-Easter, who was lying full stretch with his visitor on a bank of dark clouds just level with the horizon. ''We have seen curious things in our day, brother, you and I," he continued, "from the tiny cockle-shells that the young world tempted us on in fear and trembling, and with many-prayers, to the steam giants, with which in these days they attempt to rule us. And ever in the past have sailormen praised us for our constancy to them in their time of need. A race of ingrates, these of to-day, brother, who in return for centuries of honest service are trying their best to rob us of our occupation!" and the angry Trade spat in disgust, raising a huge waterspout.
"Hallo!" exclaimed the South-Easter, suddenly rising and looking round, "you've brought one down with you, I see. What is she?"
"I had quite forgotten her in the pleasure of this, meeting," replied the other, glancing to where on the tumble left by the sudden loss of the Trade, there helplessly rolled a stately vessel, with her light sails and courses clewed up. "An old friend, too," he continued, "and one of the best of them, the Amyomene. I found her off the Western Islands, and hustled her down here in great style. Ah, what a treat it is to feel that you've got something worth blowing for in these miserable times."
"I remember her well," said the Southeaster, who seemed inclined to brag a little. "Indeed, it was chiefly through me that she made that big run a few years ago. Found her in the Doldrums, and sent in some Catspaws, who, after a lot of trouble, brought her out to me. Then I came from E.S.E., fairly strong, so that she could make a fair wind of it. And then—"
"Just so," interrupted his brother wind good humoredly. "Well, suppose now, that her great chance in life has come at last, you do the same again, and help her to make a better passage still. I heard some talk on board about her trying to beat a steamer, and I think it's our bounden duty to assist her all we can. Besides, there's as passenger, the prettiest girl I've seen for many a long day."
"Bless my heart!" exclaimed the other eagerly. "You don't say so? And trying to race a beastly steamer! Now, upon my word, this is quite interesting! "Why, of course, I'll do my very best for her. I'll even strain a point and take her down till she meets our cousin Old Westerly, and although he's rather by way of being a bully, still he's right enough at bottom, and I'll recommend her to his care. But the trouble with these clippers is that, do you what you will for them, they always come to grief when they get off the Australian coast amongst the mongrel nameless winds, that blow in those latitudes. I was over that way last summer, just for a trip—nothing doing in my domain but steamers—and I can honestly say that none of the stupid things seem to know their own minds for an hour together. However, let us go and see the pretty girl. Gently, now!"
"By jingo, Miss Aggie," said Captain Mark, slapping his thigh, as suddenly wetting his finger he held it aloft, whilst soft airs came hovering round where they stood, cooling their hot faces, and tenderly lifting stray tresses of hair that escaped from under the girl's sunbonnet, "if it were possible, I could almost believe that this was the South-East trade coming for us. Look at that bank of cloud to the east'ard. But such luck was never heard of—hardly to lose the noble North-Easter an hour and then pick up his brother! I'm afraid we're in the Doldrums, right enough. And still—"
Stronger grew the breaths of wind. A royal flapped with a sharp report; men stared aloft, and uncapped to meet a cool gust. The ship shook herself, and rattled sheet and tack blocks fore and aft; the clewed-up crossjacks bellied out, and fell flat again; jibs and staysails, half-hauled down, jerked their hanks impatiently along the stays; the vane at the mizzen-royal pole fluttered and fell, whirled all round the compass, then streamed steadily out to the east of south.
"Sheet home royals and t'gallants'ls!" bawled the smart young chief officer. "Down fore and main tacks! Starboard braces here, some of you! There now, belay all that! Well the foreyard; well the main!" And in another few minutes the South-Easter, waiting till all was ready, with a shout of delight swooped down upon the Amyomene, filling every sail to bursting, and making the stout old ship lean over till the water ran hissing and sparkling along the lee rail. Then, recovering herself, she darted forward like a spurred steed, her sharp, curved bows raising a mound of white water on each side as they shred through it, and tore it and scattered it in acres of glistening foam.
"Was there ever such luck?" exclaimed the delighted skipper. "Only 14 days out and to catch the South-Easter like this! Lying her course, too, if you please! Truly, Miss Aggie, you've proved something like a mascotte."
"Farewell, brother,'' exclaimed the North-Easter as he turned homewards in a rain squall. "Deal gently with her. The last of the good old ships."
"My word," assented the South-Easter in colonial slang picked up on many a fo'c's'le-head, and with an energy that made the Amy clew up her royals and mizzen-top gallants'l all in a hurry.
* * * * * *
The seamen, however, in the comfortable house, on deck for'ard, were by no means so jubilant as their superiors aft. They had, for the most part, come out of cargo tubs that required a gale of wind to kick them along—great 2000-ton modern tanks of steel and iron, with neither "make nor shape" about them, and built only for extra stowage. Thus the Amyomene was a revelation to them; also one they did not altogether appreciate.
"Well, I never seen the like of this," remarked a man as the watch on deck came below; "it beats my time holler. Sixteen, then fifteen, then sixteen again, as reg'lar as clockwork. Might as well ha' shipped in a steam-jack, mates, for all the pay-day we'll see! Why, send I may live, if we shan't be sighting the light on the Cat and Kittens at Endeavor in another week or two, 'stead o' joggin' along fair and go easy for three months or so!"
"My Gawd, Bill, yer about right," said another, taking off his wet oilskins; "she is a flyer, an' no error. If she's goin' to do the round like this, it'll be a Chinaman's pay-day—bunch o' bananers an' a drink of water—all right. Still, mates, she's miles afore the common run o' lime-juicers. Good tucker we gits, an' plenty of it, an' watch an' watch, an' a dry fo'c's'le, an' not worked up worth mentioning."
Yah, dat is so," chimed in a German; " 'er is ein goot schip. But, mein Gott, she vly like von pig pird."
"A feller wouldn't growl," remarked a little Cockney dolorously, "If 'e were 'omeward bound, with three years' money comin' to' im, an 'nothin' to do but to watch 'er scootin', an' 'im a thinking o' the gals in the 'Ighway an' down in Farmer's Folly. But this 'ere game is a dead give-away, so 'elp me, if it ain't! Nex' boat as I, signs on I'll make a few henquiries respectin' 'er, les' she might turn hout to be another o' these flyin' 'ole smarties. 'Owever, it ain't all hover yet. One v'yge I was slambangin' aroun' fer close on six weeks arter roundin' Tasmania—calms an' 'ed winds all the time. I ain't a believer in this bloomin' carryin' on till yer bust business, I ain't! More days more dollars, is my motter; an' I wouldn't swear that fer hall 'er flashness she don'a make a 'undred days of it yet."
* * * * * *
Better than his promise, the South-Easter took the Amyomene to 32deg South, and then left her for awhile to go and look for the Westerly—away just then on business round Cape Horn. This interval, short as it was, was taken advantage of by a wandering Monsoon that had strayed out of the Indian Ocean, and for pure spite, to make the Amy brace sharp up for the first time since leaving home. And the faces aft lengthened, whilst those for'ard grew cheerful as the ship fell off her course, and the quartermasters passed the word to their reliefs, "Full and by."
But presently back came the Westerly, roaring with indignation, and at sight of him the foolish Monsoon ran away with his tall between his legs.
"All right, cousin," had said the Old Westerly; "since you make a point of it, I'll see her through, although just now I'm a bit tired with having tried to drive a big beast of a tramp alone at the other corner. Thought she could run! Clumsy as an elephant! Had to poop her at last, and clear her decks. Left her hove-to repairing damages? Know this one? Should say I do! It was through me she made that great passage three seasons ago. Something like a ship she is. What's that you say—only 28 days to here? My colonial! She's worth helping. Does us credit. Oh, running some steamer, is she? All right; let those steamers look out for themselves as I'm coming back. Well, so long! Remember me to North-Easter when you see him again. Now, stand clear!"
* * * * * *
"It's early days to catch a Westerly," remarked Captain Mark; "and we've carried a fair wind further than I've ever done before. I'd give a fiver to know where the Balkan is. Such a run as we're making—hardly a day under the 300! If it were only possible to keep at it right through! Why, then, Miss Aggie," he continued to the girl, who, well wrapped up, stood beside him, her beautiful face aglow with health and her blue eyes with pleasure, "if we could have only have kept it up, I say, you'd not have gained much by taking steam, and the old Amy would have been the talk of the world. But I fear this head wind's dished us." (This was just when the stupid Monsoon took charge.) "It may not last, though," concluded the skipper, hopefully glancing Westward. Nor, as we have seen, did it. Whilst at dinner, the men were heard at the braces, and the Captain, squinting up at the tell-tale, jumped to his feet exclaiming. "By Jingo, we've got 'em!" and ran on deck followed by his passenger and her maid.
Here already, the Westerly, heading just then from N.N.W. was muttering and rumbling in the bellies of the courses and topsails, and calling through the straining gear with an infinity of wild voices, all saying at once, "Get along, good old ship! I'm the Westerly, the King of the Roaring Forties. I mean you well, but don't trifle with me. Get along now, because I mean business; it's all for your own good, you know."
To which the Amy replied by calling all hands to shorten sail to the lower topsails and the forecourse. Then, as by degrees, the Westerly worked himself nearly, but not too far, aft, Captain Mark, to the old wind's delight, mast-headed the upper topsail yards, and set the fore and main topgallant sails. Then with the Westerly blowing a living gale behind her, and huge green seas foaming at the taffrail thirty feet above the helmsman's head, the good ship settled down to work to the tune of 310 knots, 312, 314, 320, 336, and on one never-to-be-forgotten day, 360—equal to nearly 16 statute miles per hour.
"What did I tell you?" roared the Westerly as he watched four men straining at the logline, and noted the marks as they came in. "That's a record for you, old ship, and it will never be beaten, because before you strike the Meeting of the Trades again they'll sell you foreign to people that don't understand us, you and me. Drive along, old beauty, you've got your chance. Make the most of it."
And so excited did the Westerly become that he took the foretop-gallant sail clean out of the boltropes and whirled it away to leeward like a cloud of smoke. And the great wind laughed as he saw it go, and shouted, "Never mind, old friend. It's out of my beat; but I'll put you through Bass Strait for that. And more, I'll tell a young Sou'-Wester I know who lives round Cape Pillar, and is steadier than the general run of those flighty Australians, to keep an eye on you for the run up the coast. Come along, now! Got that new t'gan's'l bent? Then off we go again."
* * * * * *
Meanwhile, the Balkan had steadily thumped and clanked down the African coast in hot sunshine and smooth water, and, as became a 5000 ton trlple-expansion-engined boat, heedless, as long as her tail shaft held, of trades, or, with a few exceptions, much else in the shape of wind.
As to his bet, it was doubtful whether her skipper ever thought twice about it; or, if he did, it was but to smile at his old friend's conceit. At Capetown he had stayed for two days, discharging some cargo, and coaling. Then, steering to the southward for a while, he shaped a course along the 40th parallel, little dreaming that the Amyomene, favored of all the winds, was even then running her easting down far ahead of him at a rate his engines could never hope to equal. An average eleven he knew would bring him to Port Endeavour in between 40 and 50 day's—quite fast enough for his owners' interests.
But presently he began to realise that he was in for a treat. In place of the usual westerly wind he had come to look upon as inevitable and unchangeable, and of which, having only two small rags of fore and aft canvas, he had hitherto taken little notice, he found himself confronted with a roaring, tearing, vicious easterly, dead in the big boat's teeth, and accompanied by a tremendous sea. In vain he went further south, then hauled north about. It was ever the same, and the Balkan plunged and rolled, and the great combers crashed on board her for'ard in tons; whilst aft her screw, lifting clean out of the water, let the engines race until all thought the shaft must go. So at last they hove her to. And when a five thousand ton mass of steel like the Balkan turns sulky, no wind can hurt her much so long as she has plenty of sea room. All this was, of course, the Westerly on his return performing the promise to the Amy. And inasmuch as he knew of no particular steamer, he treated them all alike—Union boats, and White Stars, and Shaw, Saville's frozen-meater's. Most of us who were interested can well recollect the stories these overdue vessels brought to the Antipodes of the heavy weather, and its abnormal conditions, in the Southern Ocean during June-July of 189—.
* * * * * *
"Good bye, good old ship," said the Westerly, after seeing her safe through Bass Strait, out of which he had blown some nasty thick weather and head winds, and leaving her in care of the young Southerly at Cape Pillar. "You're all right now; but if I were you, I'd never come this way any more. You'll never beat this record. Of course I'll always do my best for an old friend like you. Still, you know, this'll place you at the top of the tree, and it'll be hard to have to climb down again. So long, then, old beauty, you can put all your clothes on now! The youngster's got no vice in him, and he'll run you up in a couple of days comfortably. I'm off now to heave the Southern Ocean ships to for you." So the Amyomene covered her stately spars with canvas from truck to hounds, and surged along up the coast at a modest twelve. She might have gone faster, but the young Southerly was so proud of the charge given him by the great and influential Westerly, and was so determined to be careful of it, that, although sorely tempted to show off, he refrained, and only blew a beautiful steady breeze and held his tongue.
At Wilson's Promontory the Amyomene had made her number. But the signalman, certain there must be an error, had contented himself with the message, "Green-painted, full rigged ship passed this morning. Made her number 44678." And the shipping people of Port Endeavor, when this was posted at the Exchange that same afternoon and they turned up the register and saw what vessel owned it, laughed heartily, and remarked that the age of miracles, was over; and that ships, no matter how fast they may be, don't come into port a month before even their consignees begin to think of them as nearing Australian shores.
But late next day a tug, sauntering rather further down the coast than usual, ran across the Amyomene, who, on sighting her, promptly shortened sail and hove to.
On the bridge stood the master, who, knowing her as well as his own boat, still refused to believe his eyes.
"Now, cap'en,' he shouted, as he came alongside, "don't tell me you're from home! Why, it seems only last week I pulled you out. Forty-five days from Gravesend. Good Jerusalem! Is it possible?"
"Looks like it, Roberts, don't it?" replied Captain Mark, striving hard to keep an unmoved face. "Is the Balkan in yet?"
"Not a sight of her," said the other, still deep in amazement; "There ain't no room for steamers when you're about, sir. Next thing I'll hear'll be that you and the old beauty has took the contrack to carry the mails 'stead o' the Arcadia an' Ormuz an' that lot. Oh, my country! What a passidge! We thought a lot o' the sixty-five. But this—! Give him a cheer, boys!" he shouted to his crew, who, only half-convinced, were staring open-mouthed at the Amy as if there were something uncanny about her. But they cheered with a right good will; and hooking on to the tall clipper the sturdy tug dragged her swiftly through the falling lights towards her haven, while the young Southerly, his mission finished, shrilled his farewell through the now naked spars and rigging, and then departed, leaving the sea like a millpond.
* * * * * *
The Port was thunderstruck when, the next day up the harbor came the Amy, flying all her bunting and the blue ensign at the gaff. Alongside her affectionately cuddled the stout Heroine, decked out in the code and shrieking triumphant cock-a-doodle doos through her syren as she dragged the clipper into a berth at the Quay, crowded with citizens who cheered and cheered till they were hoarse. The news had got abroad with amazing rapidity. And Sailor Town had come out in thousands to catch a sight of the fastest ship in the world.
And presently a carriage drove slowly through the crowd, escorted by four mounted policemen, whilst no less a personage than the Governor of Cooksland himself, accompanied by his aide de-camp, got out and waited impatiently for the Amyomene to haul in.
* * * * * *
There was no time lost with regard to the wedding; and in just a week the papers—which had been occupied with the Amyomene and her wonderful passage, and accounts of the presentation of a great, richly-embroided silk burgee to her commander from the Chamber of Commerce—were chronicling the marriage of Miss Agatha Bayliss and Captain Herbert St. John, A.D.C.
The bride, it was stated, was given away by "Captain Mark Watson, R.N.R., of the ship Amyomene, whose name will be still fresh in the recollection of the public from her late phenomenal passage to our shores. And a week later, the Balkan, very rusty, and very overdue, and with a very much astonished commander, came up the harbor.
As for the Amyomene, just as she finished discharging, the Cable brought the news that she had been bought by a Norwegian firm with agents in Endeavor, and that she was to proceed direct to Waratah, there to load coal for Manila.
And Captain Mark, as he read the message, which also contained an intimation that he was to return at his own convenience by mail steamer at his owners' expense, said to his friend, the master of the Balkan, "Perhaps it's just as well. We're both of us—the Amy and me pretty equally played out, man and ship. All the same, if she was mine and I had the money, I'd put her in a glass case. The world will never see her like again. Thank God, I shan't see her with Stavanger or Bergen on her stern, all black, and grimy, and forlorn! It would break my heart, I do believe. And if ships have hearts it will break hers!
Whether this was so or not, it certainly happened that on her way up the coast to Waratah, and when the new executive could have sworn that the Amy was well out at sea, she, one foggy night, put herself gently but irretrievably ashore in Oyster Bay.
The crew had just time to get comfortably landed when one of the Southerly Busters (no relations to the young Southerly of Cape Pillar) coming up took her off her shelving beach and sunk her in deep water. Thus was she spared alike the smothering of her noble record with hideous coal dust, and the breaking up of her by the merciless hammers of the ship knacker. And to this day, in very calm weather, looking down through many fathoms, you may still catch glimpses of tangled spars and gear to show where sleeps the last of the once great fleet of fast and stately clippers, beautiful and graceful fabrics, whose like we shall never more cast eyes upon, and whose disappearance the winds who so well befriended her never cease lamenting.
If I had known when I signed articles as chief mate of the Lynette that her master, Jonah Scrumley, was also her owner, I would have backed out of her without any fuss, badly off for a billet though I was. But when he engaged me in the South West India Dock, Captain Jonah didn't even hint at it, and the ship being ready for sea when I joined, there wasn't much time for me to pry into details.
The skipper was a short, stout, red-faced man, with a shifty pale blue eye; he wore a full grey beard, tinged here and there by patches of original yellow, but his upper lip was clean shaven. He was quite bald, save for a fringe of rusty hair.
During my time in the British Mercantile Marine I had served mainly with the modern shipmaster, but I could see at a glance that Scrumley was one of the old school, and, as far as my experience went, not a very favorable specimen either.
The Lynette was a vessel of Govan built, and up-to-date so far as double topgallant and topsail yards, steel lower and topmasts in one, bowsprit and jibboom the same, yardarm clewlines, etc., went. Although not a clipper, she looked good for twelve, if driven. We were bound to Adelaide, in South Australia, with a mixed sort of cargo, and, taking things all round, I considered myself lucky at getting a show that I knew dozens of men in Wells Street Home and "Green's" would have given a finger joint for—so bad were times just then.
"This is Mr. Hart, my second mate," remarked the Captain, as we towed down the river to Gravesend, presenting me to a man who had only arrived as we cast off from the dummy. "I hope," continued the skipper, "that you'll get on well together; Mr. Hart is my son-in-law, Mr. Curtin."
"The dickens he is!" I was nearly exclaiming, for if there is one thing I hate it's to get amongst a skipper's relations in a ship's afterguard. Either above or below you it's equally bad. However, I luckily kept myself in hand, and took the grimy paw the newcomer extended.
"Oh, yes," went on Captain Jonah, "we're quite a little happy family party this voyage The steward's a cousin of my wife and the bo'sun is my nephew. Both very good men indeed," he added, vainly trying to smooth out the grin in time as I turned and faced him with, I am certain, anything but a pleasant expression.
To my surprise, at Gravesend, whilst we hung on to a buoy, some passengers came off. There were five altogether, consisting of a very stout woman and her lath of a husband, who turned out to be a Mr. and Mrs. Paynter, on a voyage for the benefit of Mr. Paynter's health; a Roman Catholic priest, clean-faced and rosy; and two other women—one, by her dress, a widow, and the other, a tall, elderly, grim, horse-faced and moustached person, who, as she swung up the gangway, cast a hard-a-weather eye aloft, and glanced ominously at the skipper, who was trying after a clumsy enough fashion to do the amiable at the break of the poop. She carried a walking-stick, and, instead of diving below as the others did, she rolled aft to the wheel, and presently cried "Captain!"
"Ay, ay, ma'am," he replied, slowly making his way towards her.
"Call yourself a sailor?" replied Mrs. Craggs (this was her name I found later) scowling from under a pair of beetling brows.
"I hope so, ma'am," replied the skipper, getting a fine beetroot color, and choking a little as he spoke.
"Then," says she, sharp and raspy, "what d'ye mean by going to sea with your to'gallant clewlines foul o' the royal backstay? A nice mess we'll be in if everything's in a like state all over, eh?"
And, as I live, following the skipper's dumfounded gaze aloft, I saw that she had spotted a fact! Those infernal, careless riggers had rove the clewlines with no less than a couple of turns round the royal backstay.
"It's my chief officer's—" the Old Man was beginning, darting a malevolent glance at me, when she brought him up all standing with: "Your chief granny, sir. What's the use of a master's eye if it isn't everywhere? I'm only a frail woman, but I sailed the sea for twenty years with my poor husband when he was alive, and I know what's what. Ah! he was a sailor-man, not a Dutchman" (with a disparaging look at the skipper). "And, Captain, I'd like you to know that you can't come the old sojer over me. I've paid for my passage, and I want to get to the other side safely. But by what I've seen already of carelessness as would disgrace a Dago, I'm doubtful of ever reaching there." With this parting salute she shook her head threateningly at us, struck the deck smartly with her stick, and stumped down the companion steps, leaving the pair of us staring at each other in a sort of mutual bewilderment. Then the ludicrous side of the business striking me, I burst into a fit of laughter. But it didn't catch the Old Man that way; and, throwing a sour and sullen look at me, he walked for'ard.
The Lynette carried fourteen hands before the mast, and, much to my surprise, I presently found not only that they were all British, but that they were all "shilling a month men," i.e., just working their passages out. And when, after letting go our tug at Deal, and sheeting home the topsails to a fair down-channel wind, Peter Hart and I tossed for choice, and picked our watches, I thought I'd never seen a finer lot of young fellows. So A1 were they, indeed, at least the majority of them, and so much above the general run of Merchant Jack, both in speech and bearing, that I was puzzled. However, it was a pleasure to handle such a crowd; and, as I had been taught to consider myself a smart officer, I rattled them around at the first chance in a way that made Hart and the skipper stare.
It was an all hands job in the chops of the channel. A westerly caught us with more kites on than we had a right to carry. The second had been trying to show off before the passengers, and in consequence we nearly lost our sticks. But the port watch coming on deck we soon got things ship-shape again, and out of the corner of my eye I observed Mrs. Craggs, as she held on to a backstay, nod her long head approvingly.
She wore a big sou'-wester, and was wrapped from head to foot in a yellow oilskin coat tied round the middle with spun-yarn. And as she stood there in the height of the fierce squalls, with her feet well apart, upright, but swaying easily to every heave of the ship, her dark rugged features chock full of appreciative interest in the wild scene, I declare to you that she looked fifty times more a captain than did Scrumley, who, close at hand, alternately shot at her glances of aversion and fear, and bitterly abused Hart for jeopardising his masts.
I was very satisfied with the way both ship and crew had behaved, and as the weather was wet and cold, when we got her under three lower topsails and a little fore and aft canvas, I asked the Captain's permission to give the hands a tot of grog all round. Shilling a month men are, as a rule, pretty independent, and I was surprised to find how well ours worked. It was a risky thing, too, I thought, to ship a whole crew of them, and for policy's sake, if nothing else, it would be wise to appear liberal—even if at a cost of, perhaps, a half-penny per head.
But the skipper thought otherwise.
"Mind your own business, sir," he roared. "When I want your advice I'll ask it! Spirits to the crew! What next, I wonder! D'ye want to ruin me? Why don't you ask me to kill all the fowls in the coops for 'em, eh? An' a couple o' pigs! Oh, confound it, what's the sea a-comin' to? I'll let you know I'm owner and master here, young man!"
Mrs. Craggs and the man at the wheel could hear every word of this, and whilst I watched a wide grin of enjoyment ripple over the fellow's face as he took it in, she strode across and said in her deep voice: "Mister Mate, you're in the right. My poor dear husband always gave his men a nip after a job like this. I am afraid this is a mean sort of a ship and captain, to say nothing of the owner, we've got. Dearie me! Oh, if my poor dear husband was only here! However, I'm thankful to see that we've at least one sailor-man on board," and making me an odd little bow she took off her great coat, and with a last glance aloft went below, where as the steward told me, she waited "hand and foot" on the rest of the passengers who were all sea-sick.
Running through the Bay and into warm weather off the Western Islands without incident worth noting, except that some rumbles of dissatisfaction about the food reached my ears, we soon had the other four saloon folk on deck. As for Mrs. Craggs, no weather had been able to daunt her, and she seemed to be about as much by night as by day. Her continually reiterated phrase: "Oh, if my poor dear husband was only here," had caught on, and it was inexpressibly ludicrous to hear far aloft, in the daylight and in the darkness, yard-arm calling to yard-arm: "Oh, if my poor dear husband was only here!"
The skipper was sullen and reserved, and passed a good deal of his time mending and patching at the fine weather suit of sails we were presently to bend, or doing odd jobs of carpentering about the decks, thus saving the wages of a sailmaker and a carpenter—men whose services are not to be obtained for a shilling a month. Nor did he ever, except on Sundays, have his meals with the passengers, the Roman Catholic priest, Father O'Sullivan, taking the head of the table, and making a pleasant substitute with his jokes and laughter, his jolly, red, fat face, and his broad brogue.
Father O'Sullivan, and indeed all the others, it transpired presently, had chosen to voyage by the Lynette not only for reasons of health, but because of the low fares as compared to those charged by the few liners who now offered accommodation to passengers.
And in spite of Mrs. Craggs' forebodings, they seemed pretty certain of having, if a long passage, at least a safe one. For, much to that lady's indignation, openly expressed, every night the skipper, if the weather did not seem to his mind, would take in all the light sails, and as like as not let the Lynette jog along under her lower topgallant sails, making a miserable six or so out of a fine fair wind when she ought to have been reeling off twelve.
Never was a man more careful of his own property. Never, too, had I seen such continual scrubbing of paint and chipping of iron rust, and coal-tarring of anchors and cables and wire as went on in the Lynette.
Watch and watch apparently did not give time enough for this work, and in about 15 degrees N. Captain Jonah informed us that there was to be no more afternoon watch below, i.e., that, with an interval for dinner, all hands would remain on deck to scrape and scrub and polish.
Now if there is one thing more than another that galls the sailor, it is thus to be done out of his four hours' rest from twelve o'clock till four.
He will put up with bad food and abuse and hardships of every description—only don't rob him of his afternoon watch below. And directly I received the order I felt ill must come of it—especially with a crew such as ours, who apparently cared nothing for wages or bad discharges, and were only anxious to reach Australia.
Long ere this I had discovered that every man jack of them was bound for the land of gold—that Coolgardie, wondrous stories of which could be heard, and whose nuggets were to be seen in London's Sailor Town long before we left.
You can imagine, then, that to men like ours, burning with desire of speed, the Lynette was about the least desirable ship in the world they could have chosen for their purpose, and that they chafed bitterly at the frequent and useless shortening sail by the over-cautious captain. Add to this the bad food, and now the loss of the afternoon watch, and it will be understood that our crowd began to feel like mischief.
Three month's monotonous plodding and we were only just to the southward of Good Hope, when we ought to have been making Kangaroo Island; and everybody was complaining. But a change was at hand.
One morning I heard Captain Jonah giving the bo'sun orders to get some fresh casks of pork out of the after hatch. That day, happening to come on deck about eight bells, I saw one of the men, named Topham, march aft carrying a kid full of steaming meat, and followed by a long string of his shipmates, some bearing tin plates, hook-pots, and more kids, or small wooden tubs. Instinctively I guessed that a crisis had arrived. The second mate was on the poop; the Captain busy roping a sail; the passengers sitting round as usual; the widow, Mrs. Lundy, working an antimacassar; Mrs. Craggs stumping to and fro to leeward; the priest reading; Mrs. Paynter playing checkers for Avax matches with her husband.
Mounting the poop ladder, Topham dumped his burden down on the skylight, imitated by each of his fellows in turn, until all in a row there stood a mass of evil-smelling pork, a heaped up barge of weevilly biscuits, a big lump of something that looked like mahogany, but was meant for beef, a few plates full of black sugar, and a kid of pea soup that smelt nearly as strongly as the pork with which it had been boiled.
"There," remarked Topham, a quiet, smart, good-looking young fellow, as he touched his cap to the passengers, "we've brought some curiosities aft to show you, ladies and gentlemen. Three months on this stuff we've put up with. The passage appears likely to last another three months. By that time, if we don't get a change, we'll be all dead men. We don't want to die. Therefore we must have a change. Be so kind, ladies and gentlemen, as to inspect this museum."
"What! what! what!" exclaimed the skipper, dropping his palm and needle and coming up to the men. "Growling at good food! Go for'ard, you villains, and eat your dinners! There's not a better found ship out o' London," and he shook a threatening finger at the crowd. "Where are my officers?" he continued, his pale eyes gleaming. "Mr. Curtin! Mr. Hart! Mr. Alexander! Send these people to their fo'c's'le again. Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Paynter, I must ask your assistance to quell this mutiny."
But neither the priest nor Paynter stirred. As for the men they merely grinned. And they were not all of the same polite kidney as Topham; for one of them suddenly seizing the pork kid thrust it under poor Mrs. Lundy's nose, saying: "There, marm, you just draw up a sniff o' that 'good food,' an' see 'ow you'd like to be fed on it."
"Lor a mussy, my man, take it away, do," squealed the old lady. "Why it smells wuss than a glue factory!"
There was a great laugh at this, albeit with a note of menace in it, as the men turned their eyes on the skipper. With a little tactful handling perhaps, even now, and in face of their demonstration, matters might have been tided over. But that silly ass, Hart, with the view of pleasing his father-in- law, must needs come along with a spoon, and dipping it in the soup take a big mouthful and pronounce it excellent. Still, there was no outburst as I expected there would be.
"You like it, Mr. Hart?" queried Topham suavely.
"Capital soup," grunted the second, striving hard to keep his face from showing the disgust he felt. "Could live on it all the voyage."
"Would the Captain, I wonder, mind tasting the pork—a small piece, now, on a biscuit?" asked Topham almost pleadingly.
"Why, of course," replied the skipper in a more conciliatory tone than he had yet used, "what's good enough for my men's good enough for me, although I am master and owner." And, sure enough, calling for a knife and fork the Old Man took a slice of corrupt pig and vermin-infested bread and tried to look as if it agreed with him.
I thought my turn was to come next, and had fully made up my mind not to perjure my immortal soul in such a cause, when down swooped that old stormy petrel of a Mrs Craggs who had been watching the proceedings with the liveliest interest.
"And now, my men," the skipper was saying in pompous self-satisfied tones, " as you have seen that the food is good enough for your officers. I trust there will be no more complaints during the voyage. Now go away for'ard and—"
"Stuff and nonsense!" interrupted the old woman, shaking her stick at him. Then turning to Topham, she inquired: "What's your little game, my man? You don't expect to pull my leg in such a simple fashion, do you? You don't think you can gammon me like you can these sojers, do you? I was at sea when you were a baby, my lad. You know well enough you have made up your minds not to eat stinking rubbish any longer, no matter who else does. What? Eh? Going to cut our throats, are you? Come, now, out with it."
For a minute or two Topham was fairly taken aback. Then he said politely enough: "I should be very sorry to do anything of the kind, ma'am. We are not bloodthirsty pirates. In fact, it appears that we have no cause of complaint, even about the food, as the Captain and the afterguard seem to relish it so well. So I suppose, boys," he concluded, turning to the rest, "all we can do is to apologise and go."
"Gammon again!" retorted the old woman. "You're too polished for my money. There's something at the back of all this. Oh, if my poor dear husband was only here!"
At the familiar formula there was a general snigger, under cover of which, on a word or two from Topham, the men caught up their traps and marched off, leaving the skipper to congratulate himself on an easily won victory.
But instinctively I felt that all was not over yet, and Mrs. Craggs had diagnosed the position correctly. Not a word had the men said respecting the great grievance of all—the loss of the afternoon watch. The more I thought it over the more was I certain that the demonstration just concluded had been a mere farce, and that their minds were already made up to some sort of concerted action.
Contrary to his usual custom, the Captain, that evening, appeared at the dinner-table and laid down the law to us on the management of sailors. "All you've got to do," said he, "is to show 'em a firm front. Give in to 'em and you're done. Food, indeed! Why, if you let'em have the best in the ship they'll growl all the more."
"I wouldn't feed pigs on any of the stuff I saw to-day!" exclaimed Mrs. Craggs viciously, "I know what ship's stores are as well as you do. And if them ain't old Navy condemned's, call me a Dutchman! You and your 'firm front' 'll land us all in trouble yet, or I'm much mistaken!"
"I wish to goodness, ma'am," replied Captain Scrumley, livid with anger, "that you'd mind your own business and leave me and mine alone. I don't want your advice, and your constant nagging is disagreeable to listen to, besides being mischievous in the extreme. Why," he cried in a sudden access of passion, "if I ever saw such a woman, or conceived of one! It was a bad day for me when I took your passage-money, Mrs. Craggs."
"Same to you, sir," replied the old lady with spirit. " If I'd only chanced on a decent ship and master I'd ha' been in Adelaide long enough ago. More than three months out, and only just beginning to run our easting down! Why," she shrilled, addressing the company generally, "we'll be all blue-mouldy before this trip's over! Did one ever hear the like? Already you can see for yourselves the food's nothing as good as it used to be. By the time we're half-way across the Southern Ocean we'll be eatin' just the same stuff as you saw the men with to-day. And glad to get it."
This was in the second dog watch; and at five bells (seven o'clock), as usual, both watches were called to shorten sail. It was a lovely evening, with a fine nor'-westerly breeze to which all that day we had been showing only three lower topgallant sails in place of six. And now the Old Man must needs take in even these, leaving the Lynette under topsails only. Still dissatisfied, he had the upper mizzen topsail furled, top-mast staysails hauled down, and, lastly, the crossjack stowed. It was truly heart-rending to be obliged to give such orders—well accustomed by this time as I was to the business. The men, however, seemed unusually lively and full of go this night, flying about like lamplighters, crowing aloft like roosters, and passing along the old gag as they worked: "Oh, if my poor dear husband was only here!" with more than their accustomed vigor.
The skipper had been very busy all day painting and patching, with spells of blacksmith and carpenter work, and he had turned in early—just as soon, in fact, as he was sure that his ship was, from his point of view, safe against any surprise the weather might hold for her. Hart had the deck from eight till twelve, at which latter hour I should have been called. But when I did wake, it was to see broad daylight streaming through my bullseye, and to hear the sounds of washing decks going on above me. Also the Lynette was lying over at quite an unaccustomed angle, and, to judge from the look of the seas as they swished past, travelling at a quite unaccustomed rate.
And as I lay there, trying to get the hang of matters, I felt finely bothered. Surely I couldn't have kept the middle watch without remembering anything about it! On the other hand, I must have had all night in—a clear impossibility. For a few minutes I argued the question, only getting worse fogged in the attempt. Then, turning out, I dressed and went on deck.
The hands had just finished washing down the poop. The wind had freshened from the same quarter as on the previous night. But in place of the shortened canvas I had left on her, the ship was roaring along under a main-royal, taking spray in showers over her weather rail, leaning over to the seas as if she loved them, and tearing through their white crests and hurling them behind her with such a fine, breezy fury, and such a shrilling music of tautened gear and canvas aloft as if proud to show what she could do when called upon.
I glanced round for Hart but could see nothing of him.
"This is better sort of work, Mr. Curtin," suddenly said a voice behind me. And, turning, I saw Topham dressed in a blue serge suit, with regatta shirt and collar, necktie, spick and span, in fact, and looking quite the officer. I suppose he must have seen the amazement in my face for he laughed, saying: "It's all right. I wouldn't have you called. Fact is we've taken possession of the ship. Nobody's hurt, and I've explained things to the passengers, who are quite satisfied. I'm skipper, McIntyre's chief (unless you'd prefer to keep your billet), and Barton's second. We don't want luxuries, so will manage without any third."
"But, I say, you know!" I exclaimed feebly enough, finding my tongue at last, "this is a serious matter, Topham! Mutiny on the high seas! Do you mean to say that you actually intend to stick to the ship?"
"Till we've done with her," replied Topham. "And as for the mutiny business, why we'll just have to chance that. And let me tell you, Mr. Curtin, that it might have been much worse—very much. But, fortunately, nobody was hurt. Only the men insisted that the skipper and the steward, and Hart, and that fool-bo'sun should be kept in the 'tween decks aft for the rest of the passage, and fed on the fo'c's'le tucker they seemed to take to so eagerly yesterday."
And such was the relief with which I heard this that, notwithstanding my surprise and anxiety, to say nothing of the resentment I naturally felt at being so curtly spoken to by one of my watch, I could not help smiling at the idea.
"And the navigation of the ship?" I asked.
"Oh, that's all right," laughed Topham. "Both Mac and I are passed masters, and have sailed better craft than the Lynette in our time. Barton's got a chief mate's ticket, and at least three of the rest are seconds. Too many jolly navigators, if anything, amongst us. And we mean to send the boat for all she's worth. Flesh and blood wouldn't stand any longer what we've stood for the past twelve weeks. Actually, as I said before, if you knew as much as I do, you'd be thankful matters hadn't turned out any worse. They were very nearly doing so once or twice,'' he added significantly.
At that moment up came Mrs. Craggs, who of late had dispensed altogether with her stick. For a minute or two she squinted aloft appreciatively, then over the side, then into the binnacle. Then rolling along to where we stood, she growled, after a long stare at Topham: "So, young man, you've put your foot in it nicely. I knew yesterday you were up to mischief. I saw it in your eye, sir. You'll get at least seven years, I should say. With hard labor. Do you know what my poor dear husband would have done if you'd treated him like this?"
"No, ma'am, I do not," replied Topham, capping her. "But I am quite sure that Captain Craggs was too good a man to drive his crew to such extremities by giving them bad food and robbing them of their lawful rest."
"Indeed, that's Gospel truth!" said the mollified old woman. "And let me tell you that I hope you'll get clear of the mess somehow. You've promised to take us to Australia as quickly as you can. And that's one comfort. I see, too, that you know how to go about it. Which is more than the old idiot down below did. Well, Mr. Curtin," she continued, turning to me, "I hope you had a good nap. How does it feel being a passenger, eh? Shouldn't wonder if Captain Jonah doesn't blame the whole thing on you." And she chuckled as she gave words to the very idea that was passing through my own mind.
"Never fear," said Topham reassuringly, "I've thought of all that. If he doesn't sign a paper confessing that it was all his own fault, and that Mr. Curtin had nothing at all to do with the business, and also call the passengers to witness it, he'll be neither master nor owner any more, for after I've seen you safe ashore, I'll scuttle his ship and sink her."
"But where are you making for?" I asked. "What port is there that under such conditions you dare put into?"
"That," replied Topham, "is a question which, without wishing to seem uncivil, I can discuss neither with you nor any one else.''
Never had there been a quieter or less eventful mutiny. Just before midnight, it appeared, Hart had been seized, bound, gagged and shoved into his berth; the Captain, bo'sun, and steward were then served in a similar fashion. Then Barton was sent to call the passengers into the saloon, where Topham made them a little speech, assuring them that no harm should befall them, and that they should be safely landed, if not actually at their destination, still at some place whence they could easily reach it.
The ringleader also pointed out that, at their present rate of sailing, it must take months to get to Australia, whereas he would convey them there in a few weeks. He plainly hinted, too, his impression that the Captain was a little cracked, and might even keep them jogging about the ocean until all the provisions aft were finished, which, he remarked incidentally, would be a serious state of things for people in delicate health. Indeed, as Mrs. Craggs told me with a comical look, the fellow made out such a plausible case, that the passengers almost believed his proceedings had been dictated principally by anxiety for their welfare. Thus there was no trouble, and he sent them all back to bed, pacified and even thankful.
And presently they came on deck, and after a curious stare around as if they expected to see something radically altered in the shape of the ship or the color of the sea, the morning being chilly, they took to pacing the poop, evidently quite oblivious, with the exception of Mrs. Craggs, and, perhaps, Father O'Sullivan, of the gravity of recent events.
Nor, as far as I could see, did anybody appear to concern themselves much about the missing officers. Topham's assurance that they were quite comfortable seemed amply sufficient. McIntyre and Barton, too, were evidently no strangers to saloon and quarterdeck etiquette, and they backed up Topham, as did, in fact, all hands, in a most surprising and effectual manner. Work was carried on much as aforetime, only with less scrubbing and scraping, and more attention to sail trimming. Afternoon watch below, of course, became the rule, and I saw liberal supplies of cabin stores going from lazarette to galley. Otherwise matters went on as usual.
The new executive took up its quarters aft, and the old one was relegated to the after 'tween decks, where was plenty of space. One of the men, who was a carpenter, built bunks; and the prisoners—for such they were—were allowed their personal effects and anything else they chose to ask for, except better food than the former fo'c's'le rations.
Besides the Captain, the second mate, and the bo'sun, there was, as already mentioned, the former's wife's cousin—the steward—who had made himself in many ways most obnoxious to the men. So that there was a regular family party below. Some of the after hatches had been taken off, and a sort of companion rigged up in such fashion as to give plenty of light and air. A seaman was always stationed here, and without permission no one was allowed to visit his charges. By Topham's advice it was three days before I went down. "They'll have been brought to their bearings a bit by then," said he. "Just now they're only abusive. However, if their present diet doesn't calm the wild blood in them I'm much mistaken."
And so I found it had. The Captain, certainly, was sulky enough; but the others begged me to intercede for them, and induce the mutineers to give them better food. "It's awful," said Hart, producing some weevilly, mouldy biscuits. "Look at them, Mr. Curtin, and say how you'd like to be fed on such stuff."
"And the pork! and the beef! and the soup!" put in the steward lugubriously. "I can't touch nothin'. I'll swear it's wuss nor ever I served out to the men."
Now I knew it was exactly the same, but I didn't see any use of arguing the question, so simply promised to do my best with Topham. "And what's goin' to be the end of it all?" asked the Old Man, at last finding his voice, speaking very sulkily. "You've taken my ship from me and stuck me down here to starve. What's the next thing, I say? I'll tell you what's the next thing!" he shouted, in a sudden burst of fury; "jail, jail, years of jail for the lot o' ye! What! Did you ever hear the like o' such a thing in these days? An officer conspiring with the men to mutiny, and seize the ship, and imprison the captain and feed him on offal."
"At any rate, you didn't call it offal quite lately," I retorted, stung to anger by his words. "Don't you remember saying what's good enough for my men's good enough for me? Well, they are giving you a chance to prove it, that's all; and I think you're getting off very lightly. And you know very well that I have nothing whatever to do with the business. Had you taken my advice long ago, all this would never have come to pass. As it is," I concluded, rather maliciously, "the worst that can happen to you is the loss of the ship."
At this his temper instantly changed, and he almost wailed: "They're straining her to pieces now; carrying on like madmen! She's not a new vessel, and she'll never stand such usage. Look how careful I was of her. I'll put up with the food, tell them, if they'll only spare my ship. She's all I've got in the world."
"Don't be frightened, sir," I said, touched at the appeal, "the men in charge are too good sailors to do any damage. Why, there's a couple of passed masters and a mate, and Heaven knows how many second mates amongst 'em, and I haven't the least doubt they'll give us back the Lynette safe and sound as ever again presently."
Just then a seaman descended the ladder with the prisoners' dinner in a couple of kids—pea-soup and pork, as I could tell by the terrific odor—and I bolted to escape the humiliating sight of their endeavors to eat it.
Meanwhile, Topham and his mates sent the Lynette foaming and roaring east-about in great style, keeping well along the 40th parallel. And I must admit that better men never sailed a ship; even Mrs. Craggs was satisfied and pleased. Still, it was, as you may think, weary enough work for me to sit idly by with folded arms, for there wasn't much society to be got out of the passengers.
As time passed the prisoners were allowed to take exercise on the main deck, and it was almost pathetic to watch the old skipper's bewildered stare aloft and around on the first occasion, as he heard the strange voices giving orders and saw the ordinary routine of the ship being carried on without the slightest reference to her rightful "master and owner."
But the end was at hand, as mild and uneventful, yet as strange and unusual as the whole affair had been.
"I'm going to bear up for Fremantle, Mr. Curtin," said Topham to me, one night when I knew the Australian coast could not be far away. "My first intentions were quite otherwise. But the Captain seems so reasonable, and so anxious to get his ship back, and be rid of us, that he is agreeable to almost anything. I never," continued Topham, with a grin, "imagined there could be such virtue in condemned stores. I had a long talk with him to-day. Just at first he was certainly inclined to be a bit nasty. But when I swore I'd wreck his ship somewhere on the coast he caved in at once.
"Well, then, briefly, he is going to give us all our discharges, a proceeding which, as we are only working our passage, need cause no surprise. We are running very short of water, too, so that will be another excuse for making the port. And, of course, Fremantle suits us down to the ground. Further, he has agreed to sign the statement I mentioned once before, taking all the blame of the business upon his own shoulders, confessing that the food was utterly unfit for human consumption (and he ought to know by this time), and admitting, amongst other matters, that no blame whatever attaches to you. I can assure you the Old Man is thoroughly changed. Nor do I think he will ever try such a game on again with any crew.
"Fancy the high time he'd have had with some full crews of shilling-a-monthers! Good Lord! Why, Mrs. Craggs is worth fifty of the old bounder! She is a seawoman if you like! Well, Rottenest will be in sight at midday on Wednesday. To-day's Monday. Perhaps you may as well come on in the next act to-morrow?"
Sure enough, during the morning, Captain Scrumley, having signed everything he was asked to—each document witnessed by the passengers—resumed command of the Lynette, whilst the executive pro tem. retired to their original quarters.
I thought it a hazardous experiment on Topham's part. And so, judging from their uneasy looks, did many of his followers.
Everything, however, went off quietly. At daybreak we got a pilot; at midday we dropped anchor in Fremantle Harbor; an hour afterwards the Lynette's fo'c's'le was deserted.
Luckily the place was full of sailors returning disappointed from Coolgardie; and these were only too pleased at the chance of working their passage East. And the skipper, profiting by experience, laid in a fresh supply of stores, which were at least fairly decent. Nor, whilst we were running round, was there any question of the afternoon watch being stopped. Indeed, the "family party" altogether were in an exceedingly subdued state, and polite and civil to a degree that rather puzzled the new hands.
However, in Adelaide, the Captain hinting, that, if I pleased, my wages for the full trip were at my disposal, I gladly took the chance and left.
Mrs. Craggs' farewell to the skipper was characteristic: "Good-bye," said she, "I never thought to see what I've seen on this ship. It's only by the mercy of the Lord that we're here now; and no thanks to you. Take my advice and give up the sea and buy a farm. You're too old in the horn, and grow too many barnacles on your back for these times. Master and owner together's too much for you. The pair of 'em 'll get you down and worry you some o' these days. Besides, the story's sure to get about, and you'll have your men always playing hanky panky with you. Go home to your wife. And stay there. Now, when my poor dear husband—"
"Any more for the shore?" shouted the master of the tug (we were lying at anchor at the Semaphore). And the old woman, waving her hand in farewell, nimbly descended the gangway. And the last we saw of her was her tall form as she stood aft, with her face upturned critically inspecting the Lynette, whilst the tug puffed and snorted away towards the mouth of the river.
"Now what the deuce can it be!" exclaimed Jeffrey Watson, as he sat on his verandah and curiously examined some irregularly-shaped dark brown, almost black, and scaly spots, that within the last few weeks had made their appearance on the backs of both hands, defying every sort of ointment known to the bush to remove them. For awhile Jeffrey continued to inspect the things, and then, forgetting all about them, turned his thoughts towards Freda Bech, whose clear, young voice could be heard singing, as she brought the cows home from the river paddock to the homestead, separated from his own little patch by a post-and-rail fence. Three years ago Jeffrey, tired of the sea and having saved some money whilst mate of the labor schooner Aoba, had selected this vacant eighty-acre block adjoining Herman Bech's on the upper reaches of the Lillypilly. And, there, day and night, almost, he had toiled clearing, fencing, ploughing, and coaxing the land to make him a better return than the sea had done for his twelve years using of it. Nor was he dissatisfied with the result, as, this calm and pleasant Sunday afternoon, his eyes roved over his little domain where the tall corn, crowned with cobs, rustled gently in the breeze; whilst scattered amongst their whitening stems gleamed the dark purple green of the great pie melons, and the paler hued pumpkins nestling in their straggling vines. Further down, towards the water-frontage, grew straight and strong, and, young as they were, loaded with fruit, quinces, plums, peaches, and apricot trees, whilst gorgeous persimmons flamed from a score of bushes. The four-roomed cottage shadowed by a fine currajong, and from shingled roof to ground-plate the work of its owner, was only just finished, and was still odorous of fresh pine. In front gleamed the noble breadth of water into which great headlands deeply pushed their tree-covered knees. Behind, and on each side of the little settlement, the primeval forest out of which it had been hewn rose tier above tier to the summit of the Altiora hills. And Jeffrey, as he gazed, felt well satisfied with the result of his toil; nor, now that the nest was ready for his mate, had he any of that indefinable yearning for the old life that had at times visited him during his earlier experience as a farmer.
A smart-looking, brown-faced fellow this seaman-farmer, well on the right side of 30, with frank, open features and the sharp alert gaze that a shore life had not yet dulled. Suddenly, catching sight of a sail rounding one of the headlands, his brow contracted. Then he laughed and muttering, "All right, Jason Bott, come along. You're just in time to discover that you never had a show;" he vaulted over the dividing fence and hurried to where, behind the red quarters of half a dozen milking cows, he saw a flapping of white sun bonnet.
"There's the Alert coming, Freda," said he, as, kissing the tall, fair-haired, rosy cheeked girl, he walked behind the "milkers" and their calves on their way to the yard.
"I saw her, Jeff," replied Freda, smiling and blushing, whilst heartily returning the caress, "we'll go down to the jetty and meet her as soon as the calves are put up."
"And tell Bott the day is fixed and invite him to the wedding. Can't do less for an old shipmate, eh?" asked Jeffrey merrily.
"If you like." said the girl, "although I'm sure neither of us want him. Dad says he's pretty certain he did him badly on that last lot of pumpkins he sent down. He ain't too particular, I do believe, isn't Jason Bott. However, if corn rises much higher we'll soon be able to have our own boat, and dad says he'll help us to get one.
Bott was the owner and skipper of the ketch Alert, trading up and down the river for produce. He had also been one trip to the islands as second mate with Jeffrey in the Aoba. He bore, however, an indifferent name for honesty amongst the fanners when stuff was, as often happened, entrusted to him "to do the best he could with."
For some time, too, he had been pestering Freda with his attentions, and, although, as Jeffrey put it, "without the least bit of a show," he seemed unable or unwilling to realise the fact. And as the pair, after fixing matters at the milking yard, strolled towards the little wooden wharf known as "Bech's," just in time to see the ketch made fast, they met Bott himself, square-set, shifty-eyed, middle-aged, rolling up the path towards the Danish settler's home. His greeting of the lovers was curt almost to rudeness, whilst his small eyes glanced inquisitively from one to the other.
"Yes, Jason," said Jeffrey laughing, "Thursday week next is the day we've fixed on. And of course you'll be there. Parson's to come at 3 o'clock. Then, after we're hitched, there'll be a bit of a shivoo—plenty of drinkin' and eatin', and dancin'. Freda and me are going to have a week's spell, at Port Endeavor afore startin' house-keepin'."
To this Bott muttered something into his beard that might have been thanks and congratulations, or the reverse.
Come up to the house and have a cup of tea?" said Freda hospitably, "mam and dad and the boys are away across the river to Hansen's."
So the two men sat in the broad passion-vine covered verandah and filled their pipes, whilst the girl bustled about inside. Bott was taciturn, not to say sulky; Jeffrey full of talk and spirit. Suddenly Bott remarked, as he accepted a light from Jeffrey's match:—
You ain't got rid o' them spots yet, I see. More of 'em than ever, ain't there."
"I believe there are," replied the other carelessly. But they'll go away, I suppose, in time. They don't hurt."
"Um!" grunted Jason doubtfully, scrutinising the eruption. And, as he gazed, a sudden idea flashed into his brain that made him thrill all over. Thursday week was it, they had said? Well, he would see all about that, if he could only successfully work out the scheme that had so suddenly struck him. And as he thought it over, and it seemed more and more feasible—no risk to himself, and the possible loss of a hated rival—he became quite chatty and sociable over the "cup of tea."
So, presently, ascertaining that there was no freight for the port this trip, and the wind being fair down river, he managed to wish the lovers good-bye and good luck, with a fair semblance of cheerful earnestness, promising also to be punctually on hand for the approaching ceremony.
"Rough, but I don't think there's much wrong with him," remarked Jeffrey, as they watched the ketch's mainsail being hoisted. "Surly he always was," continued he, "and no hand with the men for'ard. Still, I'd be vexed to think he wasn't honest."
"Take it from me," replied Freda, with fuller insight and the emphatic idiom of the bush-born; "that fellow's no chop. I've given him "brusher" often enough, and still he keeps hangin' around like a flyin' fox after the last figs. I don't like a hair in his head, nor the look in his eyes. Kiss me, Jeff." And Jeffrey laughed and kissed her under the starry blossoms of the passion vines.
A few days after this a steam launch, all spick and span with brass funnel and man in uniform, and the blue ensign trailing from its staff, made fast to Bech's wharf, whilst a grey-headed man, stepping ashore, enquired for "Watson's selection" and its owner.
"It may not be what we fear," said the visitor when, after a long examination, he finally came to a decision, and Jeffrey, all white and trembling, and with great beads of sweat standing on his forehead, put on his shirt again. "But I'm afraid, my poor lad, I must take you with me. The board will hold a consultation when we reach town, and we'll know for certain then. Still, I'm sure by the cut of you that you'll face the music like a man and help me to do my most disagreeable duty. And the old Government medical inspector, inured to suffering as he was, turned aside as he saw the agony in his companion's face.
Then, suddenly, for the hideous word "leper" had already been flying abroad, there was a rush of flying feet up the garden path and a tall, pale-faced girl, her long fair hair flying and her blue eyes flashing with anger and dismay, darted into the room, and throwing her arms around her lover's neck turned, and with the spirit of her Viking ancestry stirring strongly in her soul, confronted the amazed inspector.
"Who dare say it?" she gasped. "My Jeff a leper? Who's been putting him away and telling lies on him? Those spots, is it?" And she laughed as she took the hard toil-worn hands and kissed the fatal marks. "Do you hear, father, mother, Axel, Julius?" as the whole Bech family now came upon the scene. "Will you stand there and see them take him away? Oh my God, the lies of people! And our wedding day to-morrow. Axel! Julius! Can't you do nothing but stare?"
The great loose-limbed young men, thus adjured, growled threateningly and moved towards the inspector, who, stepping outside, blew a shrill call that brought four or five men at a run up from the launch. But ere they reached the house Jeffrey had pulled himself together and assured the inspector of his willingness to go with him quietly.
"I know," said he, "it's all a mistake. Don't worry; I'll be home again tomorrow like enough. I can feel there's nothing the matter with me. Cheer up, Freda, my girl; you know it's no use bucking against Government."
But the girl refused to be comforted and wept bitterly in her mother's arms, whilst old Herman swore deep guttural oaths in Danish, and his sons still scowled threateningly around.
Cooksland, just at this time, was in the full swing of a leprosy scare, and with the help of a recently-constituted board of health was rapidly and indiscriminately filling a lazaret with suspected as well as unmistakable cases. The older southern colonies had sneered at their younger sister and said nasty things about colored labor and a Contagious Diseases Act; called her "leper land," and threatened to cut her out of federation unless she reformed and swept her house clean.
Thus it happened that, in the very nick of time, opportunity had come to Jason Bott to play the role of secret informer; and Jeffrey Watson, travelling cityward to Endeavour, well knew that, leper or no leper, the chances were that he was doomed to the hideous lazaret. The medical examination was long and critical, for the board was humane, if somewhat uncertain in its pathology. Eventually, by a unanimous vote, the half a dozen or so of medical men who composed the Government Department, deeply impressed of the gravity of the (vide southern newspapers) "horror hanging over our northern colony," and determined to take no risks, declared the symptoms to be those of leprosy. And so, with all kindness and sympathy, mingled with much secret individual doubt, of which, however, he did not get the benefit, Jeffrey Watson was consigned to a living grave, leaving his judges arguing about hyperæmic congestion, melasmic and leucasmic blotches, pigmentary maculæ, and similar jargon of the disease. As a matter of fact, they had failed to find any of the premonitory symptoms of leprosy in Jeffrey that their books taught them should have been present, such as undue sensibility of the spinal nerves, bodily debility, or any abnormal redness of face and neck. But, on the other hand, here and there about the trunk they had discovered more of those irregular blotches for which they could in no wise account or diagnose as belonging to any skin disease known to them. So they sent the man, all full of health and vigor of life, as he was, to the dreadful place appointed for, perhaps, the most terribly afflicted of all God's creatures,
Half way down a hill covered with stunted scrub a clump of houses faced the Pacific Ocean. Built of sun-bleached weather-boards, roofed with galvanized iron, enclosed on three sides by a tall fence of the same material topped with barbed wire, such was the leper lazaret of Cooksland. Sitting there bare, silent, cheerless, listening to the ceaseless moan of the waves that, in foul weather or fair, smote the league-long cliffs to right and left of the little beach. And here, amidst a more terrible congregation than ever Dante could have pictured, Jeffrey presently found himself. Dumb from very horror, he wandered midst the rotting remnants of humanity that surrounded him. Black and yellow, white and brown, all shades of color, and of nationalities only guessable. Hideously masked and muffled, speechless and helpless, some were evidently in the last stages of the fell disease; others, to all appearances as strong as Jeffrey himself, until a closer inspection revealed the knotted joints or ulcer-covered flesh: others, again, seemed to have shed all their limbs and become mere animate trunks; a few were gnarled and twisted out of all semblance to humanity.
And Jeffrey's blood ran cold and his scalp bristled as he stared and vowed to himself that he would never suffer long enough to make one of these. The medical and nursing staff were kind and humane, but they had seen so much of sadness and misery that Jeffrey's case was regarded simply as one more added to the long list, and not by any means the worst. As for the man himself, during his waking hours he fretted his heart out with thoughts of all that he had lost, and of the fate that seemed in store for him; whilst in his dreams the sights of the day tortured sleep with awful nightmares. There was an old and crazy boat belonging to the establishment, and in this, in very fine weather, a few of the patients were allowed to pull out and fish in Apollo Bay, so called by some hideously ironic mischance of nomenclature.
One afternoon Jeffrey was asked by the resident medical officer, with three others, to try to catch some fish. It was a lovely summer's day, and lying in the stern-sheets Jeffrey allowed the boat to drift towards the mouth of the bay, whilst his companions, Ah Lee, Cubby, an aboriginal, and Billy Tanna, an Islander from one of the northern plantations, tended the lines. As the boat gradually travelled seaward Jeffrey, for the first time since entering that sad settlement on the hillside, felt a sense of relief and rest. His companions were silent, with the exception of Billy, who chatted vigorously. But for a row of large malignant knots right across where the eyebrows should have been, and which gave to his features a peculiar fierce and truculent expression, he showed little sign of disease. The Chinese, however, wore the significant mask concealing ravages better left even unguessed at; and a mere shred of an arm showed a clean stump at the elbow. Cubby, the black fellow, had lost his hair, the fingers of one hand were knotted and twisted, and his lips were hideously protuberant with large tumors. Bad as they were, the trio were almost the pick of the lazaret. As for Jeffrey himself, except for the dark blotches on his hands and a patch that had recently made its appearance on his right cheek, he was, albeit thin and haggard, in as good bodily health as ever, a matter that rather puzzled the authorities.
Billy had ceased his talk and everything was very quiet except for the lap, lap of the water against the boat's sides, or a hoarse exclamation when bream or "leather-jacket" was swung inboard. The sky was cloudless, and the warmth of the sun tempered by a pleasant breeze. Presently Jeffrey, worn by restless nights and the horrors of the last few days, fell asleep. When he awoke it was with the sound of cannon in his ears; the boat had drifted far out and was tossing on the ocean swell, whilst to right and left there was nothing visible but the long stretch of grey rock bound coast fringed with white foam and broken by the one small gap that marked Apollo Bay. Looking forward he saw that his companions slept in a confused group of limbs and bodies.
Half a mile to seaward the smoke of a gun still curled around the bows of a great warship, coming from the northward, and showing a string of colors at her signal halliards. Further out still was a big four masted sailer, with everything set from sky-sails to courses. All at once, as Jeffrey gazed, he saw her yards coming down by the run and her canvas being clewed up in frantic haste. Then the cruiser, satisfied that her warning had been taken by the unsuspecting stranger, steamed away into the heart of the haze that her experienced officers knew betokened the near approach of a "southerly buster." So near, indeed, that, almost ere Jeffrey had time to awaken his companions and get the boat's head round, a mingled fury of rain and wind was howling about them, lashing the sea into foam and sending their frail craft flying before it like a straw. Luckily it had been an old whaleboat, double ended, and with a long steer oar; thus Jeffrey managed to keep it from broaching to, whilst the others, their first dismay and bewilderment over, baled with might and main to empty the water that flew over them in sheets.
Like an arrow they shot past the merchantman, lying over to the fierce squalls with her topsailyards on their caps and some of her kites in ribbons; yet, thanks to the watchful warship, saved from further disaster.
For two hours they sped along over a yeasty, milk-white sea, kept comparatively calm by the terrific force of the wind, and then, just as the sun set, the "buster" blew itself out, and the sea got up in such wise that Jeffrey expected each moment to feel the boat fill and sink. But he experienced no fear, rather joy, indeed, at the prospect of thus having an end put to his misery through no effort of his own. And as the salt spray blew in his face, and the racing combers hove the boat up and tossed it from one to another, he felt only fierce exultation in that wild play of wind and wave to which he had for years been a stranger.
Ah Lee and Cubby, however, their burst of startled energy passed, crouched moaning in the bottom of the boat, as scared and trembling at the approach of Death as if they had not been for long well within his gates. But Billy Tanna, with his fierce leonine face and great gleaming teeth shining in an ecstatic grin, seemed, like Jeffrey, perfectly to exult in the situation; and he it was who, when the wind suddenly shifted to the westward, helped to rig the long steer-oar as a mast, with which and a piece of ragged tarpaulin for a sail, they drove out into the wide Pacific.
"May as well keep going as long as we can, I suppose, Billy?" said Jeffrey.
"You bet, Boss," replied Tanna, showing his teeth still more. "Go down, Davy Jones; go to hell, but no go back to that—hole yonder," which, rudely translated, were Jeffrey's own sentiments.
And presently, Billy, relieving his companion at the steer-oar, struck up one of his island chants:—
Singi anga, singi anga,
Ra mula mula
Na malare ea
Lee ah lay ah.
Which Jeffrey, recognising the well-known chorus, joined in heartily as he baled, whilst the boat tossed along, now deep down between cavernous walls of water, now tumbling on sparkling moonlit crests.
The colonial barque "Omeo," bound from Raipara (N.Z.) to Waratah (N.C.), lay becalmed some 80 miles off the land. She was laden deep with hardwood logs and sawn stuff, so deep, indeed, as to show hardly more side than a Thames barge coming up awash with hay from Kentish farms. It was, however, summer time and a run of 1,000 miles or so across the top of the Tasman Sea had been a mere picnic. But the calm was aggravating, and the skipper, glancing at the listless canvas, audibly cursed the weather, and then went below and turned in, leaving the mate on deck. It was well on in the middle watch and still no sign of a change. The mate dosed uneasily on the skylight; the man at the wheel sat on the spindle and nodded. The crew snored around in shadowy comers out of the moonlight, and the "Omeo," swaying drowsily with a soft rustling of cloths, seemed herself to be falling asleep. Presently a black spot appeared on the moonlit water; gradually it approached the slumbering vessel, resolving itself as it did so into a boat, with a man sculling softly, and the figures of others intently gazing at the barque. Noiselessly gliding alongside, one of the men caught the old-fashioned main chains and sprung into them, followed by another and another, and, more slowly, by a fourth. There was plenty of room for them all. Then the man who held the painter let it slide into the water, and, reaching down, gave the boat a vigorous shove with his foot that sent it into the shadows astern. Then, as the barque awoke for a minute and banged her canvas and rattled all her blocks and gear, the four climbed slowly over the rail and made as by instinct to where stood a scuttle-butt full of water, from whose dipper they drank greedily and thirstily, passing it from hand to hand in rotation.
"That's good!" exclaimed Jeffrey at last. "Two days on raw fish and a thunder storm's none too satisfying."
"Now, then, you chaps!" suddenly remarked a sleepy voice. "Go easy on that water. One'd think by the way you're swilling it that a No. 1 condenser was kept goin' all day long for the benefit of shellbacks," and the speaker, walking up to the group, standing in the full light of the moon, the next instant started back with a loud shout of horror and amazement as his gaze took in the wild, fierce features of Tanna; the black visage of Cubby, who had lost his hat and whose leprous lips showed monstrous in the salt-encrusted face running back to the scarred and hairless skull, whilst Ah Lee's naked stump quivered with excitement, and through his mask gleamed eyes beady and black as a snake's.
No wonder the man, appalled, ran aft in terror, and awoke the ship with yell upon yell, mingled with calls down the companion to the captain that devils had come on board and taken possession of the vessel.
By this time the crew were on the scene and proved every bit as scared as the mate, rushing back upon each other when one of the unfortunates made the slightest move towards them, whilst one, a Spaniard, fervently called upon all the saints he could think of and invoked them in a loud voice to exorcise these evil spirits. Luckily the captain was a shrewd, hard-headed Scot; and after a few words with Jeffrey explained matters to his men. But, if possible, with the result of only making bad worse. Superstition departed, bodily fear came in. Nor, in this respect of contagion, was the captain altogether easy in his mind. Still, he was humane, and ordered the cook to at once prepare a meal for his unwelcome guests, which that official, however, as promptly refused to do. Where upon the skipper fed the four from his private stores, the crew looking on at a safe distance. Nothing could convince them that the terrible disease was not communicable by the slightest contact; and they one and all resolutely refused to work the ship whilst such terrific object lessons remained on board.
"This'll never do, captain," said Jeffrey at last. "Give us a boat and let us go. Our own was leaking and rotten, or we wouldn't have sent her adrift. Nor we wouldn't have served you the trick we did, only we knew that if you saw us it 'ud be all up with any chance of getting taken off."
"I fancy you're no' far wrong there," replied the skipper grimly, as he glanced at his terrified crew, perched, some of them, in the rigging, others as far forward as they could get. Then he began to consider. His long boat was old; he had, indeed, meant to replace her by a "new secondhand" one last voyage. Now was an off-chance of obtaining a first-class article at Government expense, in addition to a bill for rations with 50 per cent added. True, the Cooksland Government might repudiate all responsibility; or Jeffrey's story might be a fabrication. But, judging from his face, he thought not. And, in any case, he did not stand to lose very much—perhaps £5 at the outside. And there was, of course, always—if the worst happened—the credit account in the next world to be considered.
So the skipper cogitated. And, presently, making up his mind, the long boat was joyfully swung out by the crew. Provisions, the water cask, out of which the lepers had already drunk, and, in addition to the boat's furniture of masts, sail, &c., a compass was put in her. Then Jeffrey signed a document setting forth in detail the facts of the case, and intimating that through the generosity of Captain Mackenzie he and his companions were now in a state to make their way back again.
And now everything being ready, the Chinese and Cubby resolutely refused to stir a peg. They had had enough of the ocean wave. "Mine no go along damn feller canoe no more," remarked Cubby firmly, whilst Ah Lee whimpered and moaned and made lamentable outcries, when, having at last, after a hard struggle, got Cubby into the boat, and left him there guarded by Jeffrey, Tanna dragged the Chinese to the rail, lowered him over, and then jumping in himself shoved off.
There were a few airs wandering about on the water and the sun was just rising as Jeffrey and his mate hoisted their sail. All at once they heard shouts from the barque. Looking back, they saw a line of pale, threatening faces and pointing hands along her bulwarks; saw also two spots, black on the purple water, swimming deeply towards the Omeo—now a couple of hundred yards distant. Ah Lee and Cubby, taking advantage of the bustle and sail-setting, were making a desperate endeavor to regain the barque, heedless of the curses and warnings of her crew to keep away.
"Ah—h—h!" grunted Tanna suddenly, pointing to a big fin that passed them cutting the water like a knife and raising a miniature bow wave as it dashed along. Another minute and it seemed to the horrified spectators that at least a dozen sharks were tearing and plunging at their victims in a swirl of foam and blood. Jeffrey sank back sick at heart and even the big Islander turned green as he stared; whilst the barque, swinging her yards to the freshening breeze and setting her light sails, made off on her course as if impatient to leave such an ill-omened spot.
It seemed lonely at first without the sufferers, useless as they were; then succeeded in both the survivors' minds a feeling of relief at being spared the constant sight of the poor cripples, passively suffering an existence of coma diversified only by intervals of acute pain: Tanna, at least had the unimpaired use of his limbs and his great bodily strength bid fair to resist the progress of the disease for years. Moreover, as an old whaler, he was a good sailorman.
Jeffrey's heart as the days passed, and they kept still sailing north-about, ached for a sight of Freda and that patch of fruity greenness on the slope of the Altioras that he had once called home. But he knew that, barring almost a miracle, he would never see either of them again. Only too acutely he realised that he had become absolutely a hopeless pariah and an outcast once putting on the suit of coarse drill stencilled with the fatal letters, "A.B.L.C.," standing for "Apollo Bay Lazaret, Cooksland." And at times he groaned in agony of spirit as he thought on the long loveless life he was doomed to lead, perhaps on some savage island. Nor did he derive much comfort from Tanna's diagnosis. "You not got 'im, Boss. Doctors fools. I got 'im all right, 'cos mother and father had 'im afore I born. But where we go, along my country, people not care. Don't you be 'fraid catch 'im. All gammon those doctors." So they sailed along towards Oceana, favored by light breezes and pleasant seas; Jeffrey with evergreen grief at his heart; Tanna jubilant at thoughts of the island life once more.
Then one calm, starless night, abreast, but well away from the Great Barrier, Tanna snoring forward and Jeffrey dreaming aft, a horrid nightmare of leper sharks with rotting tails and jaws, their bodies covered with great sores that glowed in the darkness as they tried to get into the boat, there was a sudden rending shock, and both men were flung headlong into the water. Rising, they saw a great mass close to them, heard bells ringing, steam hissing and roaring, some hoarse foreign words of command, and in a few minutes more were being hauled into a boat and presently handed without any ceremony on board the vessel that had run into them.
She proved to be the German cruiser "Kaiserin," from Port Solander, for a trip around the Islands to see if she could pick up any unconsidered trifles in the way of bits of land not as yet colored British red on the map. Hitting their boat amidships with her sharp curved stem, the warship had cut it clean in two and abruptly ended their cruise.
The stolid Germans stared curiously at Tanna, but showed none of the fear and repulsion that the "Omeo's" men had done. Nay, there was one on board who welcomed him with every demonstration of interest, almost of affection.
"Never haf I zeen," said Dr. von Rosbach, the world-renowned pathologist and guest for the time being of his brother, the captain of the "Kaiserin," "such a berfect sbecimen of ze elephandiasis leondina, no nod even in Molokai idself. Id is sblendid!" he exclaimed enthusiastically; for he had made leprosy in its every stage, and form the special study of a lifetime, and in connection with the disease his verdict was the accepted law regarded by the profession as final.
"I vill keep him under observation," he continued, rubbing his hands joyfully, "und gomblete my monograph on dat sbecial variedy."
So Tanna, rigged out in a petty officer's uniform, resplendent with silver buttons, lived on the fat of the ship, swallowed more or less nauseous drugs as a set off, and was continually under the eye of the great scientist, who, at first, so absorbed was he with his prize, took no notice of Jeffrey.
But one day an officer repeating his story circumstantially to von Rosbach, the doctor sent for and examined him, hoping, perhaps, to find still a new variety. Presently he exclaimed in a disappointed tone—
"You a lebber! you never vos und never vill be. Put your clothes on, my good mans, und go your vays. Dem sbods," he continued in a kinder voice, seeing the great and joyful light that leapt shining to his hearer's eyes, "dem sbods. Bah! your doctor-volk over yonder are tam fools if dey gall you lebber! Ach gott! dey know nod ze mild pzoriazis ven dey zee id! Gome to me bresendly und I vill dake your sbods avay like vinkin-von—no, dwo veeks you vas glean as a liddle babee."
And there was such utter certainty in the disdainful words of this old man with the great mane of grey hair and the keen, hard, blue eyes, that Jeffrey, convinced, left his presence with the feeling that he had been born anew into the world and with a look on his face that made the German sailors turn and stare at him as he passed them.
After a visit to the Bismarcks the "Kaiserin" came down to Tanna, by which time the doctor had made good his promise to Jeffrey and given him some simple directions that should keep him clean for the rest of his life. But at Port Resolution, much to von Rosbach's disgust, his other patient vanished, evading all pursuit. One day, however, Jeffrey, being ashore and walking through some thick scrub, met a tall native as naked, but for a well-filled cartridge-belt, as the day he was born. His face was fantastically painted red-and-yellow, whilst his hair most elaborately dressed and plaited chignon fashion supported a great plume of cock's feathers. He carried a Snider rifle and stood grinning hugely. And not till Jeffrey looked close did he recognise Tanna.
"You all right now, boss?" asked his friend, the first greetings over.
"So the doctor says," replied the other.
"Ugh," said Tanna, making a wry face, "smart feller, ole doctor; you bet he know. Not like other damn feller, back yonder. But med'cin' rotten—make belly sick. Well, so long, boss. I hear sailorman comin' along track." And Tanna with a farewell grasp of the hand dived into the thick scrub and disappeared forever, so far as Jeffrey was concerned, just as one of the doctor's search parties came up.
Presently the "Kaiserin" sailed for Port Endeavor to be docked. And there von Rosbach—who had taken a fancy to Jeffrey and much interest in the tragedy that through no fault of his had come into his life—went with him to the board of health and treated its members to something very like a severe scolding. And he concluded by forcibly pointing out that, but for the merest accident, with them would have lain the responsibility of causelessly and cruelly ruining the life of a perfectly sound and healthy man. The doctors squirmed as they listened. But von Rosbach's reputation was too big to stand argument; and, besides, they were all desperately afraid of the affair getting into the newspapers and becoming public property. So they took their gruelling quietly. They were nearly all young men, products of the local university, with nothing much above an M.B.Ch.M. amongst them. But they had sense enough to know that they had good Government billets; and, from the president down, where desirous of still keeping in touch with the Cooksland Treasury—just then overflowing from sales of Crown lands.
Thus, presently, on Jeffrey's promise that, so far as he was concerned, the matter should remain a secret, the president handed him a cheque for £150 as some reparation for the error by which he had suffered. It was mentioned, too, that a certain Captain Mackenzie had been paid £60 from the board's funds for having furnished a party of castaway lepers with a nearly new boat and much provision. As to the fate of poor Cubby and Ah Lee, however, the worthy captain had, it seemed, observed a discreet silence.
An anonymous letter, it appeared, had been the means of setting the authorities on Jeffrey's track. And Jeffrey's hands, as he listened, itched to get a good grip of Jason Bott. Once more the natty steam launch, with her bright brass funnel and blue ensign trailing astern, went up the Lillypilly taking Jeffrey to his home; but this time in some sort of triumph. With him went the German doctor, two members of the board of health, and some of the officers of the Kaiserin. And, presently, there was such a meeting between the lovers as almost made amends for that sad parting so many dreary weeks ago. One of Jeffrey's first enquiries was for Jason Bott. But he had disappeared from the river after a heavy thrashing received at the hands of Julius and Axel Bech for annoying their sister with his attentions. The wedding of Jeffrey and Freda took place the next day, under, so to speak, Imperial and governmental auspices. And the old doctor, as he pledged the bride and bridegroom in a foaming tankard of lager, said, turning to Jeffrey, "Mein young vriend, you haf zome bad eggsberience bassed troo. Let zen go as a vicket dream, und look only vorwarts, vorwarts, und dink of your good lok to gome back again to your beautiful frau. Prosit!"
Nevertheless, it was long ere Jeffrey ceased to a wake suddenly in the silent night watches, trembling and wet from ghastly dreams of muffled and mutilated creatures sailing with him on lonely seas through shoals of expectant sharks.
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