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Adventures in Southern Seas - A Tale of the Sixteenth Century
by George Forbes
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I had no pity for the man whom we had come to call to account, for, to my mind, treachery is the worst of crimes. An open enemy may be fairly encountered, but a snake in the grass can only be met by the same serpent tricks as he plays upon others, and when I thought of the welcome Thedori had given us at our first interview with him, when he had exhorted us to land in safety so that we might enjoy the comforts of life and recruit our strength, in order, as it subsequently transpired, that he might betray us, I felt that no reprisals could be too severe against one guilty of such roguish deception.

The city of Porne appeared unchanged from when I had last seen it. There were a few new houses close to the beach, but otherwise the city itself, with its low-built cabins and regular streets, was the same.

I was greatly surprised, however, upon entering the harbour to see the Spanish frigate, upon which Donna Isabel Barreto had decamped with the gold taken front the island of Armenio, at anchor close to the shore. What could have brought the frigate here, and kept her here for so long a time since I had last seen her at Sumatra, I was at a loss to understand. The unexpected appearance of this vessel seemed likely to complicate our plans, and I determined to elucidate the mystery before proceeding with the matter in hand.

It was late in the afternoon when we cast anchor in Porne Harbour, and that night the same wonderful display of glow-worms showed itself among the woods on shore. It was then also that I knew that the black bats would be abroad, so as to make it unlikely our movements would be observed, since the inhabitants of Porne would be shut up in their houses.

So, when all was still, I took the smallest of the ship's boats, and was rowed in the direction of the frigate.



CHAPTER LI

GETTING BACK OUR OWN

We took no lantern with us in the boat upon our expedition to board the Spanish frigate, trusting to the light of the stars, and that given by the glow-worms on shore, to guide us, and as we approached the frigate we observed her also to be in darkness, with no sign of life on board.

When we came alongside I climbed to the deck by the anchor-chain, when I found the ship to be deserted, with hatches on, and the doors to the cabins securely locked. So, judging we had nothing to fear from the Spaniards, we returned to the "Speedwell" as silently as we had come. I did not tell Captain Smuts of the treasure which I believed to be still upon the frigate, as I desired, in the first place, to consult with Hartog as to the course to be adopted regarding it. Captain Smuts, on receiving my report that the Spanish ship was apparently out of commission, concluded that no change need be made in our original plan, the preparations for the carrying out of which were accordingly proceeded with.

Next morning, after breakfast, the captain of the "Speedwell" and his officers, in their best uniforms, and with a picked boat's crew, set out for the shore, taking with them presents for King Thedori and his chiefs, with a view to establishing friendly relations with them. In the course of an hour they returned, when, the captain repeated to me the greeting given him by the King of the Moluccas, which was almost word for word that extended to Hartog at the time of his visit in the "Golden Seahorse". Evidently King Thedori had a set speech wherewith to welcome his guests whom he afterwards intended to plunder. Captain Smuts was so impressed by the amiable bearing and fair words of the King that he found it hard to believe so much treachery could lurk behind such a frank and open exterior. Thedori, he said, had promised to come on board the "Speedwell" next day to inspect the furs, and arrange about the price to be paid for them. On my asking if any Spaniards had been met with ashore, Captain Smuts replied that he had not seen any, so we had no means of ascertaining what had become of Donna Isabel and her people, as well as the captain and crew of the frigate.

Next morning King Thedori came on board the "Speedwell" in the captain's boat, which had been sent for him. He did not bring with him any of his guards or attendants, not having the least suspicion of the trap we had laid. It was only when he came into the cabin that his suspicions were aroused, and it was then too late for him to retreat. I was sitting at the table when Smuts brought him in, and was presented to him as part owner of the furs. I saw him start when our eyes met, but otherwise he gave no sign that he knew me. There was wine and other refreshment upon the table, of which he was invited to partake, but declined, and then, after some further conversation between us, Captain Smuts, according to arrangement, made excuse to go on deck, leaving Thedori and I alone together.

Thedori was the first to speak, and I could see that his small black eyes glittered dangerously when he looked at me.

"We have met before, senor," he said, addressing me, as he had done at our first meeting, as though I was a Spaniard.

"Yes," I answered; "I was once the King's guest, welcomed with fair words, and offered the hospitality of his kingdom. Yet, had not chance intervened, I doubt I had been here to-day to welcome the King as a guest, in my turn, aboard this vessel."

Thedori rose, and went to the cabin door. It was locked, but he showed no surprise at finding himself a prisoner. He had probably heard the captain turn the key on the other side of the door when he went out.

"What is it you want of me?" he asked, coming back to the table and resuming his seat. He spoke with assumed carelessness, but I could see that his face was livid. I pushed the wine-jar toward him.

"Drink," I said. "You will need it. The wine is not poisoned."

With the ghost of a smile he filled a goblet which stood at his elbow, but his hand shook when he raised it to his lips.

And now the noise of the anchor being hove aboard, and the usual commotion on deck preparatory to setting sail, arrested his attention.

"Come," said he, "I would make terms with you. What is it you want."

But at this I shook my head.

"Promises and fair words once broken cannot be repeated," I answered. "Besides, I am not alone in this business. There are others who must be consulted. But you will soon learn the terms of your ransom."

At this I thought he appeared relieved. He probably expected that we intended to murder him.

I had given instructions for a prize crew to be put on board the frigate, so that both vessels might leave the harbour together and presently I felt, by the motion of the ship, that the "Speedwell" was at sea.

During our passage to the place where Hartog awaited us, King Thedori and I continued to sit, one on each side of the cabin table, without speaking, and when we had cast anchor, and Hartog joined us, Thedori, who had made up his mind to the inevitable, calmly awaited our terms, which, stated briefly, were that he should pay for his ransom, to each ship, one hundred pearls of the size of dove's eggs, and that the cargo of the frigate was to be transferred to the "Golden Seahorse". To the first part of our demand the King made some demur, but when we threatened to take him away with us on our voyage home, he promised to send some of the big-eared men for his ransom if we would give him speech with their chief. To the latter part of our demand Thedori readily agreed.

"You will find nothing on board the frigate," he said, "but some bags of stone ballast in the hold. Everything else of value has long since been taken on shore, and is being made use of by my people."

While the messengers were away procuring the King's ransom, we questioned Thedori as to how the Spanish frigate came to fall into his hands, when we learnt that some time since, during a calm, the frigate, caught by one of the strong currents which prevail among these islands, had drifted into the harbour of Porne, where an attack had been made upon her, and she, being short of ammunition, has been taken as a lawful prize. The Spaniards had been allowed to depart in their boats. So, for the second time, Donna Isabel and her people were probably castaways upon some unknown shore.

Thus does Providence reward treachery.

When, in the course of three days, the messengers returned with the King's ransom, we sent his Majesty ashore, to find his way back to his own kingdom as best he could. A more splendid lot of pearls than those paid to us I had never seen, and these we divided equally between the "Golden Seahorse" and the "Speedwell", to be allotted among the officers and crews of both vessels in such proportions as might be decided upon on our return to Amsterdam. The stone ballast, which, as we expected, turned out to be the gold-bearing quartz we had obtained from the island of Armenio, we transferred to our own ship.

And now, with a cargo which for richness had surely never been surpassed, we once more set sail for home.



CHAPTER LII

CONCLUSION

As we neared Amsterdam I began to think, with some trepidation, of my inevitable meeting with Pauline. It was now three years since I had set out upon my second voyage in the "Golden Seahorse", compelled to this course by reason of the incompatibility of temper which existed between my wife and me, making a happy union between us impossible. Yet when I took myself to task I could not but blame myself for much that had occurred. Pauline was vain, but so are most women, and most men too for that matter, for while a woman seeks admiration for her personal charms a man is equally proud of his achievements, and he is never so happy as when he is being praised for what he has done. So, on reviewing the matter of our matrimonial squabbles calmly and dispassionately, I came to the conclusion that there had been faults on both sides, and I made up my mind to be more conciliatory and less exacting in my conduct toward Pauline in the future, hoping by these means to effect a reconciliation so that I might live with some degree of comfort in my own house. To this end also I resolved to give Pauline my share of the pearls aid as ransom by King Thedori, in order that she might possess a necklace unequalled at Amsterdam. Besides which I had my rubies.

Hartog also had become graver and more reserved than was his habit before we had set out upon this voyage. He seemed to regret the well-deserved fate which had overtaken Donna Isabel Barreto, and he would have asked nothing better than to set off on a voyage of discovery in search of her.

So it was with subdued and chastened spirits that Hartog and I arrived at Amsterdam, where it was arranged that Hartog should dispose of our rich cargo and apportion the profits of the venture. As a peace offering to Pauline I took with me twenty splendid pearls and six silver fox-skins, and, thus provided, I presented myself at my house at Amsterdam, to which I was at first denied admittance by the man-servant, who opened the door to me, and who had no knowledge of my identity.

While we were arguing the matter; however, Pauline appeared in the hall, into which I advanced to meet her. She was changed, I thought, and her face had wonderfully softened. I held out my arms to her, and she came to me, nestling into my embrace as though she indeed belonged to me. Then she rested her head upon my shoulder, and gave way to tears. I was touched by this kindly greeting, and had begun to mentally upbraid myself for my former conduct, and to promise amendment in the future, when the cause of my wife's changed disposition was suddenly, in a flash, revealed to me by a series of yells from a room upstairs, accompanied by a low voice of pleading in remonstrance, and what sounded like the, throwing about of some hard substance on the floor.

I looked into my wife's eyes, and read in them the secret of the great happiness which had come to me.

"He is quarrelling with his nurse," she said, smiling up at me through her tears. "He is such a masterful baby."

Next moment I was bounding up the stairs, and on entering the nursery I saw my boy seated on the floor, his face red with passion, while with his chubby little hands he was tearing the sails off a toy ship that had been given him to play with. The clever lad, even in his infancy, must have noticed that the wretched apology for a ship which they offered him was not rigged in seaman-like fashion. Well, I promised myself that I would make him a model of the "Golden Seahorse", perfect in every detail, and big enough for him to sail in. When I came into the nursery he stopped crying and looked at me, but the nurse kept on saying, "Oh, Master Peter, Master Peter, you must not be naughty like that," as though she were repeating a formula.

I ran to Master Peter and picked him up, when he tried to bite my hard hand with his little pearly teeth. Ah, what a lad of spirit he was! He was not a bit afraid of me or of anyone. A boy after my own heart. Then he looked at me, and the passion in his rosy face melted into a dimpled smile. He knew me, I am certain of it, and putting his little arms round my neck, he seemed to ask pardon for his wilfulness. We were comrades from that moment, he and I, and although not a word was spoken we understood each other thoroughly.

Pauline and the nurse watched us. Both women were weeping, as is the way with women when they seek to relieve their feelings. But the tears they shed were tears of joy.

When we were more composed, Pauline and I and young Peter went together to look at the presents I had brought back with me. Pauline was delighted with the pearls and the fox-skins, but she at once decided that the skins would make a warm winter coat for baby, and a splendid rug for his little carriage. I believe she would have given Master Peter the pearls to play with had he shown a fancy for them, but fortunately he did not notice them, so taken up was he in burying his face in the thick fur of the silver fox-skins.

What a home-coming this was for me after so much tossing upon the ocean, and so many wanderings into unknown lands, and how I trembled when I thought on the dangers I had passed, and how easily I might have lost my life, and thus forfeited the happiness that I knew was in store for me!

Well, my voyages were over now. Never again would I leave my wife and child for the hazards of the sea.

When I told Hartog of my great good fortune he was warm in his congratulations. I took my boy on board the "Golden Seahorse", and presented him to Hartog.

"We must make a sailor of him," said Hartog, when he had sat Master Peter upon the table between us in the cabin. "He is a sturdy lad, and has the look in his eyes that seeks for space—the look of the sailor, whose natural home is the sea."

Could it be? Who can tell? Little Peter had a steadfast, far-off look in his eyes. I had not noticed it until Hartog directed my attention to it. Was it the call of the ocean? The call to the Dutch, and the English—seeking for space?

THE END

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