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Edward Barry - South Sea Pearler
by Louis Becke
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"I think, sir, that after dinner I had better take one of the whaleboats with four or five hands and two days' provisions, run down to the big island, and see what it is like."

All these matters being arranged, Rawlings invited his officers to drink success to the future.

Immediately after dinner Barry picked five men to accompany him. Each man took with him a Snider rifle and a dozen cartridges, in case of their being attacked by the natives. At two o'clock they left the ship, hoisted the sail, and stood away for the island, which was just visible from the deck.

* * * * * *

Soon after Barry had left Captain Rawlings and Warner entered the main cabin with Barradas, and told the steward to send the boatswain down.

For nearly half an hour they spoke together, now in low, now in excited and angry voices, and Mr. Edward Barry would have been deeply interested in their conversation could he have but heard it, inasmuch as he was the chief subject.

"I tell you," said Rawlings, in a cold, sneering tone, as he leant over the table with his chin resting on his hands, and looking at Barradas—"I tell you that it will have to be done before we can take this ship into port again."

"Mother of God!" said Barradas passionately, "he is a good fellow, and I won't do it. No more such bloody work for me, Rawlings."

Rawlings picked up his half-smoked cigar from the table, and puffed at it in silence for a few seconds. Then he laid it down again, and his black eyes gleamed with suppressed fury as he looked at the Spaniard. But he spoke calmly.

"And I tell you again that no one of us will ever be safe. If he lives, something will come out some day—it always does, my brave and tender-hearted Manuel. You and I have been lucky so far in smaller matters, but this is a big thing, and we have to look to ourselves."

"Yes," said the Greek, with savage emphasis. "Mus' we all tree be hung like dogga, because you, Manuel, have no pluck? Bah! you coward!"

"Don't you call me a coward, you dirty, ear-ringed Levantine thief!" and Barradas sprang to his feet. "Take it back, you mongrel-bred swine, or I'll ram my fist down your greasy throat!"

"You fools—you cursed fools!" said Rawlings with a mocking laugh, as, rising to his feet, he pushed Barradas back into his seat, and then turned furiously upon the Greek. "What the do you mean by insulting Manuel like that? you must take it back," and, unperceived by the Spaniard, he gave the man a deep, meaning glance.

The Greek, who had drawn his sheath knife, dashed it down upon the cabin floor and extended his hand to the second mate.

"I take it back, Barradas. You are no coward, you are brave man. We are all good comrada. I never mean to insult you."

Barradas took his hand sullenly. "Well, there you are, Paul. But I say again, I want no more of this bloody work;" and then looking first at Rawlings, then at the Greek, and then at Warner, his dark; lowering face quivered, "come, let us understand each other. I swear to you both, by the Holy Virgin, that I will be true to you, but this man must not be hurt. Sometimes in the night I see the face of that girl, and I see the face of Tracey, and I see and feel myself in hell——"

Warner laughed hoarsely, but Rawlings' foot pressed that of the Greek.

"There, that will do, Manuel; let us say no more about it. I yield to you. We must take our chances."

Barradas sighed with relief, and held out his hand to Rawlings.

"You won't play me false?" he inquired.

"I swear it," said Rawlings, first pressing the Greek's foot again, and then standing up and grasping his officer's hand.

"And I too," said the Greek, extending his own dirty, ring-covered paw; "as you say, he is a good man, and perhaps he can do us no harm. And we mus' all be good comrada—eh? Come, Mr. Warner, let us all joina the hand."

Then, after drinking together in amity, they separated.

* * * * * *

But whilst Barradas was for'ard, and Rawlings was pacing the poop, the ear-ringed Greek came along with some of the hands to spread the after awning. As the seamen carried the heavy canvas up the starboard poop ladder the Greek walked up near to Captain Rawlings, who was on the port side, and said quickly, as he pretended to busy himself with the port boat falls—

"Both of them will have to go—eh?"

"Yes," answered Rawlings savagely, "both of them. But Barradas must go first. We will want the other to take us to Singapore. If I could navigate we could get rid of them both before we leave here. As for that drunken, red-bearded pig, we'll keep him with us. Those niggers of his will be useful to us later on—they will wipe out these cursed Gilbert Islanders for us when the time comes. And wiped out they must be, especially that fellow Velo and the four white men as well. They are altogether too fond of my intelligent ass of a chief officer, and must be got rid of."

The Greek grinned. "And I shall be the first to put my knife into the throat of that kanaka dog, Billy Onotoa."



CHAPTER VII.

ALICE TRACEY.

The whaleboat, with Barry and five hands, skimmed fleetly over the smooth waters of the lagoon before the lusty breeze, and three hours after leaving the brig she was within a quarter of a mile of the shore of a narrow little bay, embowered amidst a luxuriant grove of coco and pandanus palms. Presently Velo, the Samoan, who was standing up in the bows keeping a lookout, called out that he could see the houses of a native village showing through the trees, about two or three miles away to the right.

"And I can see three people coming along the beach, sir," he added presently, pointing to a spot midway between the village and the little bay for which the boat was heading.

"Well, three people can't do us any harm, Velo, so we will run into the beach and wait for them," said Barry. "Is it clear water ahead?"

"All clear, sir—not a bit of coral to be seen anywhere, deep water right into the beach. Fine place, sir. And look at all those breadfruit trees—just in back a little from the coconuts."

In another five minutes the boat ploughed her stem into the hard white sand, and the men jumped out.

"Three of you stay in the boat and keep her afloat," said Barry. "You, Velo, and you, Joe, come with me. We'll have a look around here and then walk along the beach and meet those three natives."

Taking their rifles with them, the mate, with Velo and the white sailor Joe following him closely, walked up the beach and entered the forest of coco-palms. Every tree was laden with fruit in all stages of growth, and at Barry's request Velo at once climbed one and threw down a score or so of young drinking-nuts.

Throwing some to the men in the boat, Barry and his companions drank one each, and then set out to look about them. Although the island was of great length, it was in no part more than a mile in width from the lagoon shore to the outer ocean beach, and the thunder of the surf on the reef could be heard every now and then amid the rustle and soughing of the palm-trees.

"It's nice to smell this 'ere hearthy smell, sir, ain't it?" said Joe to the officer. "It seems to fill yer up inside with its flavorance."

Barry smiled. "It does indeed, Joe. I love the smell of these low-lying coral islands."

Apparently encouraged by his officer's polite reply to his remark, Joe (who was in the second mate's watch) began afresh.

"I hope; sir, you won't mind my loosenin' my jaw tackle a bit; but I'd be mighty glad, sir, if you could let me come with you in the boats when we begins the divin'."

"I'll mention it to the captain, Joe. I'm quite agreeable."

"Thank you, sir," said the sailor respectfully.

This Joe was the man whom Rawlings had felled with the belaying-pin, and although when he first came on board Barry had conceived an unfavourable impression of him and his three companions, subsequent observation of the four had made him feel that he had done Joe at least an injustice, for the man, despite his sullenness and a rather quarrelsome disposition, was a good sailor and no shirker of work. During the voyage from Sydney, Barry had scarcely had occasion to speak to this man more than half a dozen times, but whenever he had done so Joe had answered him with a cheerful "Aye, aye, sir," and obeyed his orders promptly, whereas a command from Rawlings, Barradas, or the Greek was received in sullen silence and carried out with a muttered curse. The reason for this was not far to seek. Barry was a rigid disciplinarian, but never laid his hand on a man unless provoked beyond endurance, whilst the captain, Barradas, and the Greek boatswain were chary of neither abuse nor blows—too often without the slightest reason. Consequently Joe and his three shipmates—who recognised him as their leader—had developed a silent though bitter hatred of all the officers except Barry—a hatred that only awaited an opportunity to take vengeance for past brutalities. All four of them, so Velo told Barry one night, had served a sentence of three months' imprisonment in Sydney for broaching cargo, and had been picked up in a low boozing den by Rawlings just after their release, and brought on board the Mahina without the knowledge of the shipping authorities. To Barry, who had had a long experience of deep-sea ships, this type of men was familiar. He knew their good points as well as the bad, and knew how to manage them without resorting to either threats or force, and consequently the four "gaol birds," as Rawlings persistently called them, had conceived a strong liking for the quiet-mannered, yet determined chief officer—a liking that was not confined to themselves alone, but was shared by the native crew as well.

For some little time the three men pursued their way in silence, and then Joe again spoke.

"I don't want to shove myself into other people's business, sir; but I'd like to tell you something now I has the chance to do it."

"Go ahead, Joe," replied his officer good-naturedly. "What is it?"

"Well, sir, it mightn't mean nothin' at all, and it might mean a good deal; but it's struck me and my mates that there's something wrong about the skipper, and from what we has seen and heard we believe they means some sort of mischief to you."

Barry stopped. "What makes you think that, Joe?"

"Lots o' things, sir. Why, lots o' times Sam Button and Sharkey has seen him talkin' quietly with the Greek when you were below asleep, and I've seen him confaberlatin on the quiet with the second mate and the bo'sun—all three together—and if you chanced to come up they'd either quit talkin' or pretend to just be having a yarn about nothin' in partikler. I believe, sir—and so does my mates and Velo—that they means mischief o' some sort to you."

Barry mused. "I can't make things out at all, Joe. To tell you the truth there is something mysterious about this ship—something that does not satisfy me; but what it is I cannot tell."

"Aye, aye, sir; that's it. There is something fishy goin' on, I'm certain. And now here's somethin' else you ought to know—somethin' about this red-bearded, nigger-drivin' swab of a Warner. I know the cove, though he doesn't know me."

"Ah!" said Barry with quickened interest, "what do you know of him, Joe?"

Taking his pipe out of his mouth and speaking very slowly the seaman repeated his last words.

"I know him, sir, now, though I didn't when he first came aboard with his crowd o' bloody cannibals. But when you give him that knock-out lift under the jaw the other day, me and Sam Button, you will remember, helped him down into the cabin and laid him in his bunk, hopin' the swab was dead. The skipper told us to open his shirt at the neck, as he was a-breathin' so bad, and when we opens his shirt I sees a ship tattooed across his chest—then I knew where I'd seen that there chap with the red beard and that partikler tattooing before. It was the picture of a Yankee man-o'-war with her name over it—The Franklin, and I reckerlected when I'd seen it last—about nine year ago in Fiji."

"Go on, Joe," said the officer, as the man hesitated.

"Right, sir; but now I might as well tell you how I did come to see it. I was bummin' around in Levuka lookin' for a ship, havin' just done four months' hard, when I meets a petty officer belonging to a gunboat, who asked me if I wanted a week's job. He was scourin' all round the place to pick up sailor men, so me and about half a dozen more chaps was taken off on board the gunboat. She had been cruising in the Solomon Islands, and a lot of her men died from fever. Then when she was coming back to Fiji she got caught in a hurricane and dismasted, and sailed into Levuka under jury-masts, and us chaps were set to work to help refit her for the voyage to Sydney. And the first thing I saw when I got aboard was this here chap Warner, who was washing himself up for'ard with a sentry standing over him and his leg irons lying on the deck ready to be shackled on again as soon as he had finished washing. I noticed his big beard, and partikler noticed the ship on his breast. I asked one of the bluejackets who the chap was. 'Bloomin' slaver and cut-throat,' says he. 'We collared him off Bougainville in his cutter. He's the chap that shot over thirty niggers on San Christoval in cold blood two year ago, and we're taking him to Sydney to try and sheet it home to him.' So that's what I knows about Mr. Warner, sir. And he's hand and glove with the other chaps."

"Thank you very much for your confidence, Joe," said Barry. "I believe the man is an out-and-out villain, but I shall be on my guard now, more than ever."

Then once more they turned their attention to their quest.

* * * * * *

A very brief inspection of the land in the vicinity of the little bay satisfied Barry that it would answer admirably for a station. All around were thousands upon thousands of coco-palms, and further back were some hundreds of huge jack fruit trees—a species of breadfruit bearing fruit of irregular shape, and containing large seeds. The brig could be moored within fifty yards of the beach so deep was the water, and fresh water for the ship's use could easily be had, Velo assured him, by sinking in the rich soil among the bread-fruit grove.

Just as they emerged out into the open again, and came in sight of the boat, one of the men in her called out to Velo that the three natives they had seen were women, and that one was dressed like a white woman!

"A white woman!" cried Barry, and running down to the boat he looked along the beach at the three advancing figures. One of them certainly was dressed in European clothing.

"That is very queer," said Barry to Joe. "Hallo, they've stopped."

The women had ceased walking, and were now standing close together, evidently talking. Then the two brown-skinned, half-nude figures sat down on the sand, and the third came on alone towards the boat; she was walking slowly, and apparently with difficulty.

"Let us go and meet them," said Barry.

Putting their rifles into the boat, he, Velo, and Joe at once started, and the moment the woman saw them coming she waved her hand to them; then toiling wearily up to the top of the beach, she sat down and leaned her back against the bole of a coconut tree, but still continued to beckon with her hand.

"She's done up, sir," cried Joe, as they broke into a run.

In less than ten minutes the three men were close up to her, Barry leading. Then she rose to her feet again, and with outstretched hands came to meet him, and Barry saw that she was a young woman of about five-and-twenty, and her features, though tanned by a tropic sun, undoubtedly those of an European.

"I am so tired," she panted excitedly, as Barry took her hand, "and I have hurt my foot running to meet you. I was afraid you——"

She ceased, and would have fallen had not Barry caught her. Then, overcome by excitement and physical pain, she began to sob.

Barry lifted her up in his arms and carried her back to the tree again. "There, sit down again, and don't try to talk now," he said kindly; "why, what is this—your foot is covered with blood." Kneeling beside her he lifted her bare left foot, and saw that the blood was welling from a fearful gaping cut, right under the arch.

"I trod upon the edge of a foli which was buried in the sand," she managed to say, and then almost fainted with pain.

Hastily binding his handkerchief around the wounded foot, to stay further loss of blood, Barry again lifted her in his arms, and carried her down to the boat, which had pulled up, and was now abreast of them.

"I must get your foot washed and bound up," he said, as he laid her down in the stern, and made a pillow of his coat.

Unable to speak from the intense pain she was enduring, the woman only moaned in reply, as Barry and Velo washed her foot with fresh water, and cleansed the cut carefully—making sure by probing it with a pocket knife that no piece of foli[1] shell or stone was left in the wound. Satisfied that all was right, Barry bound up the foot again with Velo's cotton shirt, which he tore into strips.

The woman thanked him feebly, but as she again seemed inclined to faint, he gave her some strong brandy and water. She drank it eagerly, and then laid her head on the pillowed coat again, but quickly raised it when she heard Velo calling to her two companions, who, overcoming their fear, had now approached nearer to the boat, and presently they both came up, trembling in every limb.

"They want to know if she is dead, sir," said Velo, who could understand a few words of what they said.

Barry made a kindly gesture to the strange, wild-looking creatures, who were young and handsome, to come and look. They did so, and the moment they saw their mistress they jumped into the boat and crouched beside her, patting her hands and smiling at her affectionately.

It was now nearly sunset, and time to decide upon quarters for the night, and as there was an abandoned native house within a few hundred yards of where the boat lay, it was at once taken possession of.

"I cannot take you on board the ship to-night," said Barry to the women, "and I don't want you to talk too much when you are so weak, but tell me this—will there be any danger if we sleep on shore here in that old house?"

"None whatever; there are but two hundred natives here, and you need have no fear of them—all the rest were carried away by an Hawaiian labour ship two months ago," she replied faintly.

"Then we shall try and make you comfortable for to-night. We have plenty of sleeping mats in the boat. Now I must lift you out again."

By this time fires had been lit by the men, and supper was being prepared by Joe; the two native women and Velo had made a comfortable bed for the injured woman, a quantity of young coconuts husked by another sailor lay on the ground, and when Barry laid his charge down upon her bed of mats the scene was quite cheerful as the blazing fires sent out streams of light across the waters of the sleeping lagoon.

"Now you must try and sit up and eat something and drink some coffee," said Barry as he placed some biscuit and meat and a tin mug of coffee beside the woman. "There, lean your back against the water-breaker. Are you in much pain now?"

"Not so much, thank you," and as she tried to smile Barry could not but observe that she was a remarkably handsome woman, with clearly cut, refined features. Her speech, too, showed that she was a person of education.

Barry seated himself near her, and began to eat; the two wild-looking native women sat near by munching the biscuits given them by Joe; and Joe himself, with the rest of the crew, were grouped together at the other end of the hut.

"Will you have some more coffee?" said Barry presently.

"No, thank you, but I feel much better now. You have been very good to me."

Seeing that she was much recovered, although her face was still drawn and pale, Barry put his first question to her.

"You are in great distress, and are not yet strong enough to talk very much; but will you tell me how you came to be living here, and how I can help you?"

She clasped her hands together tightly, and tried to speak calmly. "My story is a very strange one indeed. I was landed here by an American whaleship five months ago. She brought me from Ocean Island. I came here in the hope that my husband—if he is alive—would come here. But I fear he is dead—murdered;" and the tears began to steal down her cheeks.

"Murdered! Is he a trader in this group?"

"No; he was captain and owner of a trading vessel, a small brig. I was with him. One night, when I was on deck, I overheard two of the officers and a man who was a passenger plotting to seize the ship and get rid of us both. They discovered me, and one of them threw me overboard to drown."

"Good Heavens! What was the ship's name?"

"The Mahina."

Barry's heart thumped so violently that for a moment or two he could not speak; then he said hoarsely—

"My God! Who are you? What was your husband's name?"

"John Tracey! And you, who are you? Why do you look like that? Ah, you know something. Quick, tell me. Is he dead?"

There was a pause before Barry could bring himself to reply. The woman, with pale face and quivering lips, waited for his answer.

"Yes. He is dead."

Mrs. Tracey bent her head and covered her face with her hands.

"I knew it," she said, after one sob. "I knew I should never see him again—that they would murder him as they tried to murder me. Will you tell me how you knew it?"

"I saw him lying dead in Sydney. I was told that he shot himself in a fit of melancholy. He was lying on board the Mahina—and the Mahina is here at anchor in this lagoon. I am the chief officer."

"And the captain?"

"His name is Rawlings."

"Ah!—he is one of them, he was the passenger; and who are the other officers?"

"Barradas, a Spaniard, and a Greek."

"Paul, the boatswain! He it was who threw me overboard. Now tell me all you know about my husband. See, I am not crying. My grief is done. I will live now to take vengeance on these cruel murderers."

Barry was about to send his boat's crew out of hearing, but Mrs. Tracey begged him not to do so.

"Let them stay. It can do no harm; and if they are men, they will help me."

"I think you are right, Mrs. Tracey. And here is my hand and solemn promise to do all in my power to retake the Mahina, for now I begin to suspect that your husband did indeed meet with foul play."



[1] A foli is a huge mussel, with an edge as keen as that of a razor.



CHAPTER VIII.

MRS. TRACEY TELLS HER STRANGE STORY.

Mrs. Tracey listened with the most intense interest to Barry's account of his first meeting with Captain Rawlings, of the strange, mysterious midnight sailing of the Mahina from Sydney Harbour, and of the story of her husband's suicide as related by the captain to his newly-engaged chief mate on the following day, when he came on deck and said that Tracey was dead.

"It may be that my poor husband did indeed take his own life," she said, "but I do not believe it."

"Yet why should they—Rawlings and the others—have spared him so long?" inquired Barry.

"Neither Barradas nor Rawlings were navigators," replied Mrs. Tracey quickly.

"Ah, I see," and the chief officer stroked his beard thoughtfully; "but yet, you see, Rawlings would have sailed without a navigator on board had he not met me on the wharf that night."

"Perhaps so—yet I do not think it. He has the cunning of Satan himself."

"Indeed he has, ma'am," broke in Joe. "Why, sir," turning to Barry, "the night we sailed he drugged the Custom House officer and flung him into the dinghy. Then when you was for'ard heavin' up anchor the Greek and two of the native chaps took him ashore, and chucked him down on the wharf."

"The scoundrel!" exclaimed Barry, thinking of the letter he had written to Rose Maynard that night. "But how do you know this?"

"I been tell Joe jus' now," said one of the native seamen; "de captain give me an' Billy Onotoa ten shilling to take that man ashore with the bos'un. An' he say if we tell any one he kill us by an' by."

"The ruffian!" muttered Barry.

"Now that you have told me your own story, Mr. Barry," said Mrs. Tracey excitedly, "let me tell you mine from the beginning, and show you how this heartless wretch has imposed upon you from the very first. The tale he has given you is a tissue of lies, interwoven with a thread of truth."

"I can well believe it now. Many things which have hitherto puzzled me are now clear enough."

"Nearly two years ago," began Mrs. Tracey, "my husband owned and sailed a small cutter of thirty tons, trading among the Marshall and Caroline Islands. His headquarters were at Jaluit, in the Marshall Islands, where he had a store, and where I lived whilst he was away on his cruises. During the seven years we spent among these islands I would often accompany him, for it was very lonely on Jaluit—only natives to talk to—and he would sometimes be away many months at a time.

"On our last voyage in the cutter we called in at Port Lele on Strong's Island. Old Gurden, the trader there, and my husband had had business dealings with each other for many years. He was a good-hearted but very intemperate man, and several times we had taken him away with us in the cutter, when he was in a deplorable condition from the effects of drink, and nursed him back to health and reason again. On this occasion we were pleased to find him well, though rather despondent, for he had, he said, an idea that his last carouse had 'done for' him, and that he would not live much longer.

"That evening the old man told us the story of his life. It was a truly strange and chequered one. When quite a young man he had been flogged, and then deserted from H.M.S. Blossom, Captain Beechy, in 1825, and ever since then had remained in the South Seas, living sometimes the idle and dissolute life of the beach-comber, sometimes that of the industrious and adventurous trader. My husband was interested, for he liked the old fellow, who, in spite of his drunken habits, had many excellent qualities. For myself he always professed the greatest regard, and that evening he proved it.

"After he had finished his story he turned to my husband, and said—

"'You and your wife have always been true friends to drunken old Jack Gurden. Now, tell me, did you ever know me to tell a lie except when I wanted to get a drink and hadn't any excuse?'

"We both laughed, and said we knew he was a truthful man.

"'Did you ever hear me talking about a lagoon full of pearl shell—when I was mad with drink?' he inquired.

"We laughed again, and said that he had done so very often.

"'Ah,' he said, 'but it is true. There is such a place, and now that my time is coming near, I'll tell you where it is, and you, Mrs. Tracey, who have nursed the old drunken, blackguard beachcomber, and asked him to seek strength from God to keep off the cursed grog, will be one of the richest women in the world. I wrote it all down four or five months ago, in case when you came back here you found I was dead.'

"Thereupon he handed my husband a number of sheets of paper, on one of which was drawn a rough plan of Arrecifos Island, or, as he called it, Ujilong. The rest contained clear and perfectly written details of the position of the pearl-shell beds."

Barry nodded. "He had lived there, I suppose."

"For quite a number of years—from 1840 to 1846. He married one of the native women there. There were then over seven hundred natives living on these thirteen islands, and Gurden said he could quite understand why the richness of the pearl beds were never discovered by white men, for no ship had ever entered the lagoon within the memory of any living native of the place, and not once in ten years did the people even see a passing ship send a boat ashore."

(That this was true, Barry knew, for he had often heard trading captains speak of Arrecifos and Eniwetok as great chains of palm-clad islets, enclosing lagoons through which there was no passage for ships.)

"The natives themselves had no idea of the value to white men of the beds of pearl shell, and as a matter of fact Gurden himself at that time did not think them of much value. Later on, after he left the Island and visited China, he spoke to several merchants and traders there, and tried to induce them to send him back to the lagoon with a crew of divers, but as he was usually drunk when he called on them, no one would listen to him. His story was merely regarded as the fiction of a drunken sailor.

"My husband did not so regard it. He had never been to Arrecifos, but knew something of it by its native name of Ujilong and its chart name of Providence as a place of very few inhabitants—the group takes its name from the island off which you are anchored—living on a number of low islands covered with coconuts.

"'Let us go there and you can pilot me in,' he said to Gurden.

"The old man agreed with alacrity. Taking him on board, we sailed the following morning, and reached this place five days later. He took us in safely through the south-east passage, and the moment we landed he was recognised and welcomed by the people as one returned from the dead.

"We remained in the lagoon for three months, and during that time Gurden and my husband, aided by the willing natives, obtained ten tons of magnificent shell, and more than a thousand pounds' worth of pearls. Those which Rawlings showed you were some of them; I suppose he found them in my husband's cabin after he was murdered. He had often shown them to both Rawlings and Barradas on board the Mahina, for he was, as I will show you later on, the most unsuspicious and confiding of men.

"Convinced that there was indeed at least some hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of pearl shell to be obtained if he could secure experienced native divers from the equatorial islands—for these people here are not good divers—my husband decided to go to Honolulu, sell the cutter and the pearl shell we had obtained, and then with the money he had in hand, which amounted to about 1,100 pounds, buy a larger vessel, secure a number of good divers, and return to the lagoon, on one of the islands of which he intended to make his home for perhaps many years. Arrecifos, he knew, did not belong to any nation, and both he and old Gurden thought that the British Consul at Honolulu would give us what is, I think, called a 'letter of protection,' whereby a British subject hoisting the English flag upon one of the Pacific Islands can, with the approval of a naval officer, and the concurrence of the native inhabitants, purchase it, and get protection from the English Government.

"He wished Gurden to remain until we returned, but the old man said it would be too lonely for him, but that if we took him back to Strong's Island he would be content to await our return there. The long voyage to Honolulu, he thought, would be too much for him, and beside that he wished to return to Strong's Island, if only to say farewell to its people with whom he had lived for so many years. After that he would be content to end his days with us on Arrecifos.

"Returning to Strong's Island, we landed Gurden, and after a long and wearisome voyage reached Honolulu; my husband sold the pearl shell for a thousand pounds—about half its value—and the cutter and the rest of the cargo for 600 pounds, bought the Mahina, and at once began to fit her out and ship an entirely new crew, for the nine men we had with us on the cutter wanted to remain in Honolulu and spend their wages. Undoubtedly some of these men talked about the lagoon and discovery of the pearl shell, and were the primary cause of the misfortunes which were to befall us.

"One morning Manuel Barradas came on board, and asked my husband if he was in want of a chief mate. He was, and being satisfied with the man's appearance and qualifications, at once engaged him, and then Barradas said he knew of a very good man as second mate. This was Paul, the Greek.

"A few days before we sailed, Barradas told my husband that he had met a former acquaintance of his, who would like to take passage in the brig for the entire cruise, merely for the pleasure of visiting these little-known islands, and that he was prepared to pay liberally. In the evening Barradas brought his friend on board, and introduced him as Mr. Rawlings. My husband and he had quite a long talk. Rawlings was himself a sailor, and had made, he said, a good deal of money as recruiter in the kanaka labour trade between Fiji and the Solomon Islands; but was tired of idling away his time in Honolulu, and thought that among the Caroline or Marshall Group he might find an island whereon he could settle as a trader.

"My poor husband fell into the trap devised for him by these three men; Rawlings came on board as passenger, and we sailed direct for Strong's Island to pick up Gurden. To our great sorrow we found that the old man was dead and buried—had died a week previously. He had made a will leaving all of his share and interest in the venture to me.

"To a certain extent Barradas had my husband's confidence, but neither he nor Rawlings knew either the name or position of this place—whatever other information they had gained from our former crew. They had, however, thoroughly ingratiated themselves with him, and though he had not actually revealed to them the name or position of Arrecifos, they knew pretty well everything else concerning it.

"After leaving Port Lele, we steered south-west for the Ellice Islands, where my husband knew he could obtain a crew of divers (we could get none in Honolulu), and then, besides divers, he also intended to engage about ten or a dozen families of Ellice Islanders to settle down here permanently, for the British Consul had given him a temporary 'letter of protection,' and authorised him to hoist the English flag on Arrecifos Lagoon, but had yet strongly advised him to proceed to Sydney and lay his case before the commodore of the Australian squadron, who, he said, would no doubt send a warship to Arrecifos and take formal possession of the place as British territory. This advice my husband decided to follow. He also meant to buy some diving suits and pumping gear, for Gurden had said that he believed the best shell in the lagoon was to be obtained at a depth of eighteen fathoms—too deep for the ordinary native method of diving. You can imagine my delight when he told me that we should be going to Sydney, for that town is my native place, and it was there that we were married seven years ago. And we would often talk of what a beautiful home we would make here in the course of a few years."

Here her fast-falling tears choked her utterance, and Barry bade her rest awhile. She obeyed him, and for some ten minutes or so no sound broke the silence but the ever restless clamour of the surf upon the outer reef, and now and then a whispered word, exchanged between the native seamen, who, seated at the other end of the house, regarded her with their dark eyes full of sympathy.

"We made a direct course for the Ellice Islands," resumed Mrs. Tracey, "and met with light winds till we were near Pleasant Island, when it began to blow steadily from the north-west. We sighted Pleasant Island just before dark, and at half-past eight we could see the lights of the native villages on the shore. That evening my husband had turned in early, for he was not feeling well, and complained of a severe headache. I remained with him till half-past nine o'clock, and then, seeing that he had fallen asleep, I went on deck for some fresh air, for the cabin was very hot and stuffy.

"No one was on the poop but the man at the wheel—an Hawaiian native. Barradas was somewhere on the main deck, for I heard his voice talking to some of the men.

"I had brought on deck a rug and my pillow, and telling the man at the wheel to call me at four bells, if I were asleep, I lay down at the back of the wheel-house, so as to be out of the way of the officer of the watch and out of sight. I had been lying down for about ten minutes, and was wide awake, when Paul, the Greek, came aft and told the helmsman to go for'ard and stay there till he was wanted.

"In a lazy sort of a way I wondered why the second mate should do this, as it was not his watch on deck; but in another minute or so I heard Rawlings' voice.

"'Where is Manuel, Paul?'

"'He's coming in a minute,' replied the Greek; 'are you sure the skipper is asleep?'

"'Yes,' answered Rawlings, 'and she is with him. There's no fear of her coming on deck—damn her!'

"What did they mean? I thought. Why should Rawlings, who always was most horribly polite and sweet to me, mean by using such an expression about me? I had not long to wait, for presently Barradas joined them, and the three began talking together.

"'Can't we make an end of the thing at once, and settle them both together?' said the Greek in his vile jargon.

"'Don't be a fool, Paul,' answered Rawlings savagely; 'we don't want to run our necks into a noose needlessly. We want something more than the ship. We want to find out the name of the island and where it is before we can do anything like that. And if we found it out to-night, and settled him and his wife, how are we to get to the lagoon without a navigator?'

"'True,' said Barradas; 'but have you had a good look through his cabin for the plan old Gurden gave him?'

"'Yes, several times,' he answered.

"'Perhaps she has it,' said Barradas.

"'Not she,' said Rawlings impatiently; 'he doesn't suspect us; why should he give it to her? No; he has put it away somewhere where only a careful search would find it, and that search can't be made just now. And we don't want it now. When we do want it, I can find it. Now listen to me, and I'll show you how we can do the thing properly.'

"A wild impulse to rush past them, rouse my husband, and tell him of the murderous plot that was brewing against his life and mine for a moment or two held possession of me, Mr. Barry; but I resisted it only through fear of their seeing me; would to God I had acted upon that impulse, for I believe the crew would have stood by us. . . . But I lay perfectly quiet, and listened while that smiling fiend Rawlings unfolded his dreadful scheme of treachery and murder to his fellow villains.

"They could do nothing, he said, until the brig arrived at Sydney. Then after my husband (whom he called a 'silly, unsuspecting ass') had seen the commodore, bought all the stores and trade goods needed for the native divers, and also the diving suits and pumping gear, he (Rawlings) would find a man capable of navigating the vessel, and then, he said, with a laugh that sent a thrill of terror through me, 'we can get rid of him and his wife with little trouble, once we are at sea again. They will, I think, both fall overboard soon after we leave Sydney—eh, Paul? And then, my friends, we shall find Gurden's chart and written description of the lagoon easily enough, and with a navigator on board we shall continue the voyage, and sail to the fortune awaiting us.'

"'How can you get such a man without exciting wonder in the captain's mind?' said Barradas.

"'Leave it to me, my dear, doubting Manuel,' replied Rawlings in his mocking voice.

"At that moment four bells struck, and another native sailor came aft to take the wheel, and I, after waiting for a minute or two, and hearing no further talk, concluded that Rawlings and the Greek had left the poop, and only Barradas remained.

"I rose and peered cautiously around the corner of the wheel-house, to see if I could escape below without being observed, and then the Greek suddenly sprang on me from behind, grasped me by the waist, and carrying me to the rail, flung me overboard.

"When I came to the surface the brig was quite a hundred yards or more away from me, and I could only dimly discern her through the darkness. I raised my voice and screamed and screamed again, but in a few minutes she had disappeared into the night; and then I tried to give my soul to God, for I knew that the cruel wretches—one of whom had thrown me overboard—would not try to save me.

"How long I continued swimming I cannot tell you—it might have been only a few minutes, it might have been an hour or more, for I am a good swimmer—but suddenly I saw a light quite near, and I cried out, so I was told afterward, 'For God's sake, save me!'

"When I regained consciousness I found myself on board a little cutter bound from Pleasant Island to Ocean Island, a hundred and twenty miles away. The master and owner of the cutter was a German trader living on Pleasant Island. He treated me most kindly, and when we arrived at Ocean Island, and I lost my reason for many weeks, nursed me like a mother, and delayed his return to Pleasant Island till I recovered, so that I could go back there with him, and live with his wife and family till some whaling vessel called there, and I could get a passage to some port in China or Japan.

"But I had no desire to go there. I knew that if my husband had escaped the murderous designs of Rawlings and his fellow criminals that he would return to Arrecifos, and to Arrecifos I determined to go, even if only to die. Whaleships, so my rescuer told me, frequently called at Ocean and Pleasant Islands on their way to the North-West Carolines and Japan, and I decided to remain on the lonely little spot and wait for one.

"Six weeks after I landed on Ocean Island the Golden City, of New Bedford, called there. I went on board, and told the captain so much of my story as I thought necessary, and asked him to land me in Arrecifos. He did so, and gave me a stock of food and clothing materials. God bless that man with long, narrow leather-hued American face, and his kindly grey eyes; I shall never forget him.

"He landed me here five months ago. The people knew me at once, and made me very welcome. I told them that I did not know if my husband were alive or dead, but had come here to wait. The affection they cherished for old Gurden was very strongly shown when I told them of his death, and I am now living with the relatives of the woman he married here so many years ago.

"When your boat was seen sailing down the lagoon this afternoon the natives were very frightened, fearing that another 'man-stealing ship,' as they call the Hawaiian labour vessels, was making a second raid upon them, for the village on the little island where you are anchored was surprised by the crew of one of these vessels in the night, and every adult person, male and female, seized, handcuffed, and carried on board. It is now deserted. The people, as well as myself, knew that if my husband had returned that he would have sailed his ship right down here to this end of the lagoon where he had anchored previously, instead of lying under the south-east islet. Most of them, therefore, at once took to the bush to hide themselves, and begged me to come with them. But I was determined to come and meet the boat, for I had a hope that I might possibly hear some news of the Mahina, and I feared that perhaps the boat would only remain a short time, and return to the ship before I could get to her. I did not even stay to put on my one pair of boots, but set off at a run; these two young women coming with me, poor creatures, although they were dreadfully frightened. When within half a mile of where you landed I stepped upon a hidden foli, and gave myself this terrible cut."

Barry took her hand between both his and pressed it sympathetically. "Poor lady. You have indeed suffered. Now listen to me, and I will tell you what I propose doing to outwit these infernal ruffians and restore to you your husband's ship. The heartless scoundrels, pirates, and murderers! They shall themselves work for your good. Joe, and you, Velo, come closer. These men, Mrs. Tracey, will stand to us, and so I think will every other man on board."

"Indeed we will, sir," said Joe.

"Now this is my plan," said Barry.

* * * * * *

It did not take him long to explain it, and then one by one each man of his boat's crew took his hand and that of Mrs. Tracey, and swore to be true to them both.



CHAPTER IX.

"ALLA GOODA COMRADE."

Just before breakfast on the following morning, and when a thick tropic mist lay low and heavy upon the waters of the lagoon, Barradas, who was walking the poop, heard the sound of oars, and called the captain.

Rawlings came up from below just as the boat came alongside, and Barry jumped on deck.

"Well, Mr. Barry?" he said pleasantly. "You are back sooner than I expected. What news?"

"Bad, sir, yet not so bad as it might have been. We were attacked by the natives, who seem to be well armed, for they kept up a constant fire on the boat till we were out of range. She was struck in a dozen places, but fortunately none of us were hit."

"Curse them!" said Rawlings, with a savage oath; "are they going to stop us from diving?"

"Oh no, I don't think they will trouble us in that way. If they do we can easily beat them off. But there's not much chance of their letting us land on the big island and making that our headquarters."

"Then what shall we do?" asked Rawlings, chewing his cigar, and angrily pacing the deck.

"Stay where we are and work the lagoon from this end," replied the mate; "we have three months' work here, within as many miles of us, and I believe we can fill the ship about here, without going near the lee side of the lagoon. Yesterday afternoon we could see the shell lying on the bottom anywhere in from four to six fathoms." (This part of Barry's story was quite true.) "And," he added, "that low, sandy island astern of us will do splendidly for a rotting-out station. Our boys will soon put up some coconut leaf houses. It's handy too—almost within hailing distance."

Rawlings' equanimity was at once restored. "Ah, that is good news about the shell anyway. Ready for breakfast, Mr. Barry?"

During breakfast Barry, with a secret delight at the fiction, gave Rawlings, Barradas, and the Greek an account of the manner in which he and his men were attacked. The Greek, who had been examining the boat, and who would have the job of repairing the damage done by the bullets of the savages (fired at the boat when she was empty by Joe and Velo), suggested to Rawlings that later on the whole crew should make a night attack on the native village, and, as he expressed it, "wipa outa the whole lota of the —— niggers."

"What's the use of our doing that?" said Barradas gloomily; "as long as they don't interfere with us again, we might as well leave them alone."

The Greek snapped his jaws together like a shark, and then grinned.

"I tella you the God's trutha. I would as soona shoota a kanaka as I would shoota a rat."

"So would I, mister," broke in Warner; "and if the skipper gives the word, I guess these niggers of mine can jest wipe out the whole hell-fired lot of crawlers that beat you off. Give my crowd fifteen Sniders and a hundred rounds each and you see and smell more dead and stinkin' kanakas lyin' around on these here beaches in forty-eight hours than you ever saw in your life. I'm right in for this sort of work."

Barry looked at him, trying to veil his contempt and disgust for the ruffian under the guise of indifference.

"There'll be no need, I think, Captain Rawlings, for you to employ Mr. Warner's fifteen——"

"Sixteen there would be, mister, if you hadn't booted my best man and broke his ribs when he was sitting down peaceable and filling my pipe."

Barry put the curb upon his rising temper, and ignoring Warner's remark was again addressing himself to the captain, when the Greek again interfered.

"By Goda! what Mr. Warn' say quita true. I agree wis him; I say that if any dam kanaka interfera with your business the besta thing to do is to puta the bullet into him."

"Then you had better keep that to yourself," said Barry pointedly; "if these kanaka sailors of ours heard you say that, they would turn rusty on us, and cause a lot of trouble."

"Quite true, Mr. Barry," said Rawlings suavely; "but Paul doesn't mean altogether what he says."

The Greek was about to make an angry protest when he met a glance from the captain's eye—vicious, angry, and warning.

But Barry was making his points, and was keenly observant. "I may as well tell you all," he said with apparent bluntness, looking at each of the four in turn, "that if I am to have these men turned over to me, when we begin diving, that I won't have any interference. If you, bos'un, and you, Barradas, begin to knock them about when I'm boss of them—as you have done hitherto—they'll bolt, every man jack of them. And besides that I won't have it."

"I'll see that you have no interference, Mr. Barry," said Rawlings quickly; "and I'm sure that Mr. Barradas and Paul will bear in mind what you say."

"I won't meddle with the men under your charge, Mr. Barry," said Barradas. "I know my duty, and don't want to be told about it." He spoke sullenly, but more at the captain than to Barry.

"Of coursa nota," broke in the Greek with an amiable smile—"of coursa we will nota meddle with the men; we are alla gooda comrade, thanka the gooda Goda."

For a moment or two a wild desire to seize the treacherous scoundrel by the throat possessed Barry, but fearful of betraying himself he rose and went on deck.

In the afternoon the brig was brought in close under the islet, sails unbent, and some of the deserted houses occupied by the native divers. At Barry's request Joe was appointed overseer, and was to live on shore with them. The islet itself was not more than two miles in length, and was connected with the next one by a reef which was dry at low water; and in fact the whole chain of the thirteen islands were joined to each other except where the deep-water passage into the lagoon broke the continuity. It was therefore possible, at low water, to walk from the south-east islet, which the natives called Ujilong, to the big island visited the previous day by Barry, and which, so Mrs. Tracey told him, was named Tebuan. The intervening islands were, like Ujilong, uninhabited, though on all of them houses were standing—they had all been deserted after the raid made on Ujilong village, and the inhabitants had fled to the security afforded them by the dense jungle on Tebuan.

Warner and his savage followers, much to the satisfaction of the chief mate and the rest of the crew, were not to take part in the work. In the first place none of them were able to dive; in the second there was still a smouldering animosity between them and the native crew, and only Barry's strong influence prevented them from settling old scores by a sudden attack upon the kai-tagata, (man-eaters), as they termed the Solomon Islanders.

Within an hour's distance from the north end of the south-east islet was another of larger dimensions, upon which Warner's natives took up their quarters, their amiable master remaining on board the Mahina, ostensibly to assist Rawlings but really to keep himself comfortably drunk and enjoy the society of the Greek, who was a man after his own heart, and, like himself, capable of any unheard-of atrocity.

Work was begun on the following morning by Barry with the two boats, each carrying a crew of six men, all eager for the enterprise, and rejoicing in being under the command of the one white man on board for whom they felt a respectful attachment and admiration.

Before sunset, so plentiful was the pearl shell, and so easily obtainable—for the depth of water ran but from four to six fathoms—that more than half a ton was brought on board and placed on the main deck ready for Rawlings and Barradas in the morning.

Day after day the work continued, the native divers exerting themselves to the utmost to obtain as much shell as possible, while Rawlings, the second mate, and the boatswain, opened it, searched every bivalve for pearls, and then after it was "rotted out" packed the shell into boxes and stowed it into the hold.

At the end of the first week six tons were in the hold of the Mahina; and although no pearls of any great size had been found, many thousands, ranging in value from 10 pounds downwards, and a vast number of "seed" pearls as well, were shown to Barry by Rawlings as the result of the week's work.

"Of course, Barry," said Rawlings genially, "I intend, as I said before, to let you stand in with me. I quite recognise that you are something more to me than a mere chief officer at 15 pounds a month. You are doing all the hard work and are entitled to share in my good luck."

"And I, as I have told you, Captain Rawlings, do not want anything more than that to which I am entitled," replied Barry quietly; "I am anxious—most anxious—to see the Mahina with a full cargo under her hatches."

"And that will be accomplished within four months, at the rate we are going on at now," said Rawlings, with his usual sweet smile; "the men seem to be working uncommonly well under your supervision."

"They are working very hard indeed. And I think I can get them to continue at it until the brig is filled. But now and then we must give them a few days' liberty."

"Certainly, Mr. Barry," replied the captain affably. And then motioning his chief officer to a seat, and calling the steward to bring the spirit stand, he offered his cigar case to his officer.

"Let us take a quiet little drink and a smoke, Mr. Barry. Now, tell me; what do you think the past week's work amounts to? You are an experienced man in the pearling business; I know nothing about the matter practically."

"I think that the shell we have obtained so far will bring over a thousand to fifteen hundred pounds in Singapore or Hongkong. And the pearls you have shown me will certainly bring another thousand—in London you would get fifteen hundred for them."

Rawlings' eyes sparkled. "Then in fact, as we are going on now, we are getting shell and pearls to the value of, say, 2,000 pounds a week at least?"

"Yes, about that," answered Barry carelessly; "but I daresay that when we get on to the big six fathom bed in the middle of the lagoon—which I am leaving until we have worked out those near by—that we can count on getting about three thousand pounds' worth of shell and pearls every week for three or four or five months at the very least. I have never seen such rich patches in all my experience; and I shall not be surprised if we get some very fine pearls. For instance, I can point you out two or three shells now in the boats, all of which, I think by their appearance, will contain big pearls." Stepping to the rail, he called out to Velo—

"Pass up those three big shells, Velo."

Barradas, Warner, and the Greek joined them, and watched the shells being opened. The first contained two very large pearls, but their value was greatly discounted by their irregular shape, but even these were worth 30 pounds or 35 pounds each; the remaining two were then opened, and an eager "Ah—ah!" of delight burst from Rawlings when there was revealed in each a pearl of exquisite beauty and shape, and of great size.

"In Tahiti a local buyer would offer you a hundred pounds each for pearls such as these," said Barry, as after wiping them with his handkerchief he handed them over to the captain; "in Auckland or Singapore you would be offered more." Then, apparently no further interested in the subject, he went to his cabin to change his clothes for supper.

On the following Saturday—ten days after diving operations had commenced—the men, at Barry's request, were given three full days' liberty. Some of them wanted to make a fishing excursion, others to hunt for robber crabs at night-time on the adjoining islets, others to attend to the puraka[1] plantations of the deserted village. And as Barry himself thought, he said, that he might shoot a wild pig or two, he decided to remain on shore until the following Monday with the men.

Rawlings, whose whole soul was in the work of searching for the pearls, did not offer to accompany him, much to Barry's satisfaction, for he had a certain object in view. He had himself taken possession of the best of the native houses in the deserted village, and Joe and Velo had put it in good order, and were to share it with him at night.

At sunset Barry and his men left the brig and rowed ashore, and as soon as they landed, the natives, at a word from Velo, lopped off the lateral branches of a tall pandanus palm, and collecting numbers of fallen and dried coco-palm branches built them into a pyramidal shape from the foot of the tree to its top.

"Light it," said Barry.

Velo struck a match, and applied it to the base of the pyramid. In an instant it flared up, and in a few minutes a great pillar of fire was roaring and crackling, sending showers of sparks high in air, and lighting up the shore and lagoon for a mile around.

Rawlings and the others, who were examining pearls under cover of the poop awning, by the aid of half a dozen lanterns, took but little notice.

"They mean to enjoy themselves to-night," said Rawlings. "Well, they deserve to, they are working well."

"Yes, sir," said the native steward respectfully, as he placed a bottle of brandy and glasses on the skylight; "those men they tell me to-day that they would make a big fire to-night, because they have liberty. That is native fashion, sir."

"Ah, I see," said Rawlings carelessly, dropping another pearl into a cigar-box which was placed between himself and the others.

* * * * * *

As soon as the fire had burnt out, and only the faintly glowing bole of the pandanus palm remained, Barry, accompanied by Velo and Joe, set out along the beach towards the chain of islets trending north and westward. Both Velo and Joe carried bundles on their shoulders, in addition to their rifles and ammunition, and as they walked they talked freely with their officer.

"You are sure that Mrs. Tracey would see that ere fire, sir?" inquired Joe.

"Certain, Joe. The reflection could be seen forty miles away, and Tebuan is only twenty. The island at which we are to meet is only fifteen miles from here along the beach and reefs, and if she started as soon as we did, we should meet her there long before midnight."

The seaman chuckled. "The poor lady will be mighty pleased to see us again, sir, won't she? I do 'ope, sir, as how it won't be long before we settles up with them bloody-minded pirates."

"Not until the brig is full of pearl shell, Joe. Then we shall act—swiftly and suddenly. You have been careful not to let your three mates know anything, I hope."

"Not I, sir," answered the seaman earnestly; "not a word will I say until you give me the word to do so. And they will stand to us, sir, never fear, for they all likes you; and Sam Button and Sharkey want very bad to be let come in the boats with us."

"We must be careful as yet, Joe," replied Barry. "I have no doubt that Sam and Sharkey and Peter will help us when the time comes, but I don't want to raise any suspicion. And we must keep this business dark from them until the time does come for us to act."

"Aye, aye, sir," assented the sailor; "and even if they sided with the skipper, we needn't have no cause to fear. The natives is with you to a man, sir. I can see that easy enough—they just follows you with their eyes like a dog does its master."

Barry nodded and smiled contentedly. The native crew were, he knew, devoted to him, and could be relied on to preserve the secrecy so essential to the fulfilment of the plans he had in view.

The tide was falling fast, and the connecting reef between the islands was dry, so that Barry and his two companions had no trouble in crossing from one to the other, carefully avoiding the islet on which Warner's natives were living. For nearly three hours they marched on in silence—sometimes along the hard, white sand of the inner lagoon beaches, sometimes by narrow paths running parallel with the outer iron-bound coast, where the slow, sweeping billows curled themselves, to break with a sound like muffled thunder upon the black wall of reef fringing the silent shore. At midnight they reached a little island of not more than a mile in length and half a mile in width. In the clear starlight night they saw the figures of six persons coming towards them on the beach.

Barry struck a match, held it aloft for an instant, and then called out—

"Are you there, Mrs. Tracey?"

"I am here, Mr. Barry," and followed by three stalwart men and the two young women who had formerly accompanied her at their first meeting, Mrs. Tracey, although still slightly lame, ran to him and shook his hand warmly.

"We started immediately we saw your fire," she said, "but came across the lagoon in canoes, instead of walking. Now come with me. There are several empty houses here, just over the brow of the beach, and in one of them there is a midnight supper for us all—crayfish, baked fish, pork, and chickens, and young coconuts to drink."

The two native women leading the way, the whole party soon gained the houses, which stood in a thick grove of giant jack-fruit trees. A bright fire was blazing out in the open, and spread out on the matted floor of the best of the houses was the midnight supper.

"We are quite safe here," said Mrs. Tracey as she bade Barry be seated; "this fire cannot be seen from the ship, can it?"

"No," answered the mate; "and I took care to let Rawlings know that I would let some of the men come down as far as the middle island to hunt and fish, so even if he does see the fire he will conclude it has been lit by them. Now tell me, are you well?"

"Well, indeed. And happier, far happier, than I have been for long, long months. I was overjoyed to see your signal, and to know that all was going well, and that I should see you to-night. Now let me bring my native friends to shake hands with you; the two girls, Pani and Toea, you have seen before; the men are my bodyguard."

"And a fine bodyguard they are," said Barry as he shook bands with the three men, who then, with smiling and interested faces, sat down at the farther end of the house with Velo, Joe, and the two women.

"I have brought you some things which will be useful. In one bundle are provisions—all the best delicacies that the steward and I could find, and tea, coffee, sugar, and condensed milk. And I did not even forget a teapot."

"How kind of you!" she said. "The little provisions the captain of the Golden City gave me are quite exhausted. I am an Australian born and can't exist without tea, so do let me make some tea now. There is a native well here among the jack-fruit trees, with good water."

"The other bundle contains calicoes, prints, and all that sort of gear, with two pairs of canvas shoes—the smallest I could get—you mustn't cut your feet again, you know."

"How thoughtful you are!" she said, touching his hand gently; and then she asked artlessly, "Are you married, Mr. Barry?"

"No; but I hope to be when we return to Sydney. I'll tell you the story by and by, Mrs. Tracey, if you care to hear it."

"Of course I shall," she said brightly, "and I shall see her too, shan't I?"

"I hope so," answered Barry, with a smile. "But we may have a long spell here yet before we can settle up matters with Rawlings and the others and get possession of the Mahina."

"I will wait patiently. Now let me see about the tea, and then we'll have a long talk. You'll stay all night, won't you?"

"And all to-morrow as well. The men have three days' liberty, and Rawlings thinks I am going pig-hunting to-morrow."

As they ate their supper Barry told her all that had happened since he had seen her: of the richness of the pearl beds then being worked, and of the suspicions of Joe and Velo that Rawlings and his fellow conspirators intended some mischief against him. Then when he mentioned Warner and described his appearance and Joe's recognition of him, she started—

"Warner! His name is not Warner. He is Billy Chase, an American. I know all about him, and that which Joe has told you is perfectly true. He was brought to Sydney for trial in the Alacrity, surveying sloop, about ten years ago, and I have often heard my husband speak of him as one of the most blood-stained ruffians in the Pacific. We heard that he had, through want of evidence against him, escaped hanging with a sentence of seven years' imprisonment; and then about a year and a half ago some one in Honolulu told us that a man supposed to be the infamous Billy Chase had turned up in the Carolines with fifteen or twenty 'niggers'—as they call the Melanesian natives in these parts—and settled down as a trader. It must be the same man, and no doubt he is an old acquaintance of Rawlings'."

"No doubt whatever, Mrs. Tracey. No doubt but that the whole precious quartette are steeped in villainies, and there is no doubt that they have now reached the end of their tether, and that with God's help we shall bring them to a reckoning. But we shall have to act with caution, for this man Warner, or Chase, with his crew of bloodthirsty savages will certainly fight for the cold-blooded villains who murdered your husband and tried to murder you."

"I cannot say—I am not Christian enough to say—that vengeance is God's. If the power of vengeance lay in my hand now I would use it," she said, excitedly.

Barry remained silent for awhile, until her emotion had subsided. Then he said gravely—

"There is no fear of Rawlings coming to Tebuan. That idea of mine of firing at our boat was a happy one, and although Joe here is the only white sailor in the secret, the other three on board will stand to us when the time arrives. As for the native crew, they have sworn to help us, and when I am out with them in the boats they often laugh at the way we are fooling the captain. I have promised them, on your behalf, a hundred dollars each as a bonus, when we reach either Sydney or Singapore."

"You think of everything, Mr. Barry," she said gratefully. "Now let me tell you that I too have been working. Every day since I saw you the Tebuan people have been diving for me, and I think we must have quite two or three tons of shell. The pearls we have found I brought with me to show you. There is a coconut-shell nearly half full—some are simply lovely. . . . And, now I think of it, I won't show them to you—I shall keep them for your future wife."

* * * * * *

That was indeed a happy night for Barry, Mrs. Tracey, and their native friends. No one cared to sleep, for there was much to be talked of, and plans arranged for future meetings. Once every week Mrs. Tracey was to await Barry and Velo at the little island, and each were to report progress.

Early in the morning Velo, Joe, and Barry set out on a pig hunt, accompanied by the three male natives from Tebuan, leaving Mrs. Tracey to "keep house," as she called it, on the little island, and look over the treasures brought to her from the ship.

Late in the afternoon the hunters returned with their spoil—three gaunt, fierce-looking wild pigs; and then after a meal had been cooked and eaten, the white man and woman bade each other good-bye for another week.



[1] A gigantic species of the tuber called "taro" by the Polynesians (Arum esculentum).



CHAPTER X.

A REPENTANCE.

More than three months had passed away, and the shapely hull of the Mahina was eighteen inches deeper in the water than when she first anchored in the lagoon. During all this time fine weather had prevailed, and the boats had been constantly at work, the crew, however, being given plenty of liberty to rest and refresh themselves, by wandering about the nearer islands—fishing, pig-hunting, and bird-catching, or lying about, smoking or sleeping day or night, upon the matted floors of the houses of the little native village nestling under the grove of breadfruit-trees.

But whilst matters in regard to the pearling operations had gone on without interruption, there had been several collisions between Warner's Solomon Islanders and Barry's men, and worse followed.

One day a diver named Harry, a fine, stalwart young man, belonging to Arorai, one of the Gilbert Islands, was found lying dead on the inner reef of the lagoon. He had gone out crayfishing the previous night, and should have returned long before daylight, but his absence was not noticed until Barry called to his men to turn to and man the boats for the day's work.

Billy Onotoa—the native who had been stabbed by the Greek—at once asserted that Harry had been killed by Warner's men.

"Choose well thy words, Tiban of Onotoa," said Barry sternly, addressing Billy by his native name and in his native tongue; "how dost thou know that this man hath been slain by the man-eaters?"

"Come and see," replied Billy quietly.

The dead man lay upon his back on a mat in one of the houses, and turning the body over, Billy Onotoa beckoned to the white man to draw near.

"Place thy hand here and feel his backbone," he said; "see, it is broken in the middle. And it hath been broken by a club such as the 'man-eaters' use, for there is the mark of the blow on the skin, and the bruised flesh. This man was stooping, and an unseen enemy sprang upon him from behind and broke his back with a blow from a club; then was he cast into a deep pool to drown amid the surf. How else could such a strong man die?"

Barry examined the man's body and was quickly satisfied that his backbone had been broken by a violent blow.

"Justice shall be done upon the slayer of this man," he said, turning to his boat's crew who stood around with vengeful faces; "but not yet is the time for it. So make no loud complaint, and make no quarrel with the 'man-eaters.' When the time comes, it will come suddenly."

"E rai rai! E rai rai!" ("It is good!") answered the natives, smiling grimly and patting Barry on the hands and shoulders; "we will wait for the word to strike."

That morning when he reported the death of Harry to Rawlings he watched Warner's coarse, bloated face.

"It's a most mysterious affair. He was picked up on the reef quite dead. The poor fellow's back was broken—the bone was crushed to a pulp," he said.

"Guess a crayfish nipped him by the big toe, and he kinder turned a back somersault and landed on his spinal collums," said Warner, with a brutal laugh.

Barry made no reply. How did Warner know that the man had been out crayfishing when not a word had been said about it? He rose from the table without further remark and went on deck, for the boats were awaiting him alongside. As he passed the main-hatch he caught sight of the hideous face of the savage Togaro, the man whose ribs he had broken. He was squatting on the hatch, and gave the officer a malevolent glance.

"Ah!" thought Barry, "that explains how that fellow Warner knew that poor Harry was out crayfishing. I suppose that black brute himself is the murderer and came off on board early this morning with the news."

Later in the day he found his surmise to be correct. Two or three of his own men always remained on board at night to keep anchor watch, and one of them told him that that morning at daylight Togaro had paddled off in a canoe and had at once gone below to Warner's cabin and remained there for nearly half an hour, emerging on deck with a bottle of gin—a present doubtless for his murderous work in the night.

That day's fishing was particularly successful, for the divers began work upon a new bed of shell, most of which were of great size and contained some magnificent pearls. Five especially huge oysters were opened by Barry himself in the presence of his men, and from them were taken seven pearls, each one larger than any yet previously obtained.

Knowing that his men were as true as steel to him, the officer showed them to each man in turn, and then handed them to Velo.

"These seven pearls are worth much money," he said, speaking in the native tongue to the men, "and shall not be handled by the man who slew the white woman's husband, for they are hers, and Velo shall himself give them to her. But cast the shells overboard."

As the days went by, and the waters of the broad lagoon shone and sparkled under a cloudless vault of blue, the work went steadily on, and in the hold of the brig, tier upon tier of cases, packed tightly with shell, were firmly stowed for the voyage to Singapore—shell worth over eight thousand pounds, and night after night Rawlings would turn out the pearls upon the scarlet cloth, and discuss their value with Barry and the other two officers.

"Six thousand pounds, you say, Mr. Barry," said the captain, rolling the gleaming, iridescent things softly to and fro with his small, shapely brown hand, whilst the Greek drew deep sighs of pleasure as he watched.

"At least that, sir," answered Barry, puffing at his pipe; "I have given you the lowest estimate of their value. If they bring nine thousand I shall not be surprised. As for the little box of seed pearls, they don't amount to much; the whole lot will not sell for more than two hundred and fifty pounds."

"Poor Tracey!" said Rawlings thoughtfully; "I must endeavour to find out by advertising in the London and colonial newspapers if he has any relatives. I should like to acquaint them with his death, and send them all of what would have been the poor fellow's share had he lived."

Barry's face never moved, but his right band clenched tightly under his jumper; for Mrs. Tracey had told him that her husband had told Rawlings all about his family, and about a quiet little village called East Dene on the coast of Sussex, where he had been born.

"It is very generous of you," said Barry stolidly; "and if you can't find out anything about his people, you may about those of his wife."

"I shall do my very best in both cases," replied Rawlings. "It will give me infinite pleasure to discover either his or his wife's relatives."

"Did he leave no letters or papers of any kind which would give you a clue?" asked Barry carelessly.

"Absolutely nothing. And, although we were on the most intimate of terms, he never spoke of his family—neither did his wife, poor little woman."

The mate rose slowly from his seat. "Good-night all. I'm going ashore and turning in. I think another fortnight will see us a full ship."

Just as Barry had taken his seat in the dinghy and the crew were about to push her off Barradas came to the gangway.

"I'd like to go ashore with you, Mr. Barry, if you don't mind, and stretch my legs along the beach."

"Certainly," answered the mate coldly, as he hauled the boat alongside the ladder again. Barradas descended and took his seat beside him in silence.

For many weeks past Barry had noticed that the second mate had sought every opportunity possible to talk to him, but he had, while being perfectly polite to him, repulsed the man's overtures. On several occasions the Spaniard, when Barry was sleeping on board, had come into his superior officer's cabin under the plea of talking about matters connected with either the ship or the boats, and each time Barry had let him see that he was not anxious for his company. In fact, he had had a hard struggle to conceal his abhorrence for the man, but for the sake of the great interests at stake he endured his visits, but gave him no encouragement to talk about anything else but the ship's business, and then with a curt "good-night" the men would part, and Barradas would walk the main deck muttering and communing to himself till dawn. Then he would resume his daily work with a sullen face and in moody silence.

The night was ablaze with the light of a glorious moon, floating in a sky of cloudless blue, as the two men stepped out of the boat and walked up to Barry's native house. Barradas was breathing quickly and heavily, and every now and then he would take a quick glance at the mate's grave, impassable face.

"Will you come in and sit down for a few minutes?" said Barry with cold civility.

"No, thank you," and as the Spaniard struck a match to light his pipe Barry saw that his swarthy face showed pale in the moonlight and that his hand trembled; "I don't want to keep you from your sleep. You have had a hard day's work in the boats, and I have done nothing."

He waited for a moment or two, but Barry did not repeat his invitation. With his hands in his pockets he was gazing out upon the moonlit lagoon, apparently oblivious of his subordinate's presence.

"I think I shall take a walk on the path running along the outer beach," said Barradas presently in an awkward, constrained manner.

Barry nodded. "Just so. But there's nothing much to see except the graves of two of the crew of a whaleship who were buried at the end of this island about four or five years ago. If you follow that path you'll come to the place in about half an hour. Don't lose your way when you're coming back. I'll keep the boat ready for you to take you aboard again."

Again Barradas looked at him as if he would like to say something more, but Barry's cold, set, and repellent face forbade it.

"Well, I think I'll go that far, anyway," said the Spaniard, and then he added nervously, with a half-appealing look to the chief officer, "I suppose you're too tired for a yarn and a smoke?"

"I am," replied Barry with studied coolness and without moving his face.

The second mate raised his dark and gloomy eyes and looked at him furtively; then, with something like a sigh, he turned quickly away, and walked along the winding path that, through the jack-fruit grove, led to the next island.

Barry turned and watched him, and presently Velo, stripped to the waist, came out of the hut and stood beside his officer.

"Shall I follow him?" he asked in the Samoan language.

"Yes," replied Barry quickly in the same tongue, "follow him and see where he goeth. There may be some mischief doing, for this man hath for many days tried to thrust himself upon me. It may be that we have been betrayed . . . But, stay, Velo, I will come with thee."

Entering the house, he threw off his canvas shoes, belted his Colt's revolver around his waist, and in a few minutes he and Velo were following in the track of the Spaniard.

Every now and then they caught a glimpse of him in the bright and dazzling moonlight as he trudged steadily along the white sandy path. Once he sat down on the bole of a fallen coco-palm, leant his chin upon his hands, and seemed lost in thought. Then he rose again and set off at a rapid walk.

At the north end of the little island he came to a stop, for further progress was barred by the wide channel separating Ujilong from the next island; the tide was flowing, and the connecting reef was covered by three feet of water. He stood awhile, looking about him, and then turned toward a cleared space among the coco-palms, where a low, square enclosure formed of loosely piled blocks of coral stood clearly out in the moonlight; in the centre of the square were two graves, one of which had at its head a cross roughly hewn from a slab of coral stone.

The Spaniard leant with folded arms upon the wall, and for some minutes intently regarded the emblem of Christianity; then, stepping over the wall, he walked up to the graves, took off his cap, and knelt beside the cross, bending his head reverently before it.

Hidden behind the boles of the coco-palms Barry and Velo watched and listened, for now and then a sob would escape the man as he prayed and made the sign of the cross. Suddenly he laid himself down upon the grave, placed his outspread hands upon the foot of the stone, and the listeners heard him weeping.

"Mother of Christ, and Jesus Most Merciful, forgive me my sins," he cried, rising to his knees and clasping his hands. "Here, before Thy cross, I plead for mercy. Holy and Blessed Virgin, help and save me, for no longer can I bear the guilt which is on my soul."

Again he bent his head and prayed silently; then he rose, put on his cap, stepped over the low wall, and set off almost at a run towards the village.

Barry and Velo followed him till he reached their house. Here for a moment or two he stood before the entrance as if in doubt. Then he went inside and called—

"Where are you, Mr. Barry?"

"Here," said Barry, stepping forward. "What is the matter, Barradas? You look ill. Sit down."

"Yes, I will sit down, for I have something to tell you—something that I should have told you long ago. I will make a clean breast of it all—before I go mad. Mr. Barry, your life is in danger. Rawlings and the Greek mean to murder you before the brig reaches Singapore."

Barry drew an empty case up to the rude table and sat down.

"I don't doubt it," he said quietly. "Now tell me, before you go any further, the true story of Tracey's death."

"As God is my witness, I will tell you all—all. Tracey was not mate; he was captain and owner."

"I know all that—have known it for some time, but I want to know how he died."

"Rawlings shot him. One day in Sydney Tracey came on board unexpectedly and found him in his cabin making a tracing of a chart of this lagoon. I heard them quarrelling, and then heard a shot. When I ran below Tracey was dead—Rawlings had shot him through the head. That was two days before you came on board. But let me tell you all—from the very beginning."

* * * * * *

"You had better go on board now," Barry said to Barradas half an hour later. "I will trust you to help me to undo some of the wrong you have done," and he held out his hand.

The Spaniard bared his head. "And I swear to you that I will be true to you and Mrs. Tracey, body and soul. When will you let me see her?"

"Very soon now, Barradas. But, as I have just said, we will have to so plan everything that nothing must go wrong. All the white seamen will stand to us to a man, but as yet Joe is the only one who knows of the existence of Mrs. Tracey and the true story of the Mahina. As for the native crew, they are simply burning with anxiety to help me take possession of the brig. But that cut-throat Warner and his natives have to be considered. You say that they are coming on board to stay as soon as the ship is ready for sea?"

"Yes, that was the decision come to by Rawlings and Warner the other evening."

"How many of them have rifles?"

"Only about half a dozen, but all of them have fantail tomahawks and clubs."

Barry mused. "I wonder what is Rawlings' object in taking Warner and his cannibal savages away? He doesn't like Warner—in fact, I'm sure he's afraid of him."

"I believe this"—and Barradas held up his clenched hand—"I believe that Rawlings' plan is this: After you—and myself too, most likely—have been disposed of, Warner and his men will surprise and murder all the native hands and the four white sailors. None of the Solomon Islanders can speak one single word of English, and therefore could not possibly prove a source of danger to Rawlings, Warner, and the Greek when the ship reached Singapore."

"We shall get to windward of them all, Barradas, before we are clear of this lagoon."

"May the blessed Saints help us!" said the repentant Spaniard piously, as once more he shook bands with his superior.



CHAPTER XI.

CAPTAIN RAWLINGS PROPOSES "A LITTLE CELEBRATION."

Day after day the work of gathering its hidden wealth from the bottom of the lagoon went on. Once at least in every week Barry managed to communicate with Mrs. Tracey, personally or by letter, telling her how matters were progressing, and asking her to be patient.

"In a week or two," he wrote, "we shall have possession of the brig—without bloodshed, I hope. Now that Barradas is with us I feel less anxiety. Whether they suspect him or not we cannot tell, but the steward said that they (Rawlings and the Greek) certainly have a secret understanding of some sort concerning Barradas. He (as well as Barradas himself) believes they have planned to murder him as they first planned to dispose of me. But they are closely watched, not only by the steward, but by Barradas himself, who plays his part of 'the good comrade' well. Heaven forgive the man for his past crimes, for he is, I know, deeply penitent. Your supposed death weighed heavily on his mind. When he came to my house that evening and unburthened himself to me, and I told him that you were alive and living on this very island, he sobbed like a child and besought me to bring him to you. In the intensity of his excitement he wanted to set off and walk round the lagoon to Tebuan to meet you, and I had some little difficulty in restraining him. He left me to go on board, looking like another man. He is of an impassioned, excitable nature, but we can count absolutely upon his discretion not to do anything which would imperil our plans. Now, good-bye. I trust you are well, and that it will not be long before we meet again. We are all working hard for you, and hope to soon see you in possession of your ship, and the Mahina's white wings spread for Sydney."

This letter was brought to Mrs. Tracey by a Tebuan native, who had received it from one of Barry's men at the usual rendezvous. She opened it with an exclamation of pleasure and read it through. Then, with her hands lying upon her lap, she gave herself up to thought. Her two attendants, the girls Pani and Toea, watched her with their full, lustrous eyes as they sat on a mat in the centre of the house smoking their cigarettes of strong, black tobacco. Without all was silent, save now and then when an occasional footfall would sound on the path in front of the quiet dwelling as some native returned to the village from the beach, carrying a string of fish or a basket of sea-birds' eggs for the evening meal. Straight from the open door the lagoon lay shining under the light of myriad stars, its placid waters undisturbed by even the faintest ripple, for the trade wind had died away with the setting of the sun, and the fronds of the long belt of palms fringing the inner beach hung as still as if they had been carven out of stone.

Presently the white woman raised her face, and a smile parted her lips when she saw how intently the two girls were regarding her, and they too responded to her glance with smiles, for to them "Alisi," as Mrs. Tracey was called by the people of Tebuan, was not only a mistress but a friend—a friend who spoke their own harsh, guttural language as well as one of themselves, a friend whose dead husband had been the friend of old Gurden, whose memory was still cherished by every grown person in Arrecifos as the white man, the white man who had lived so long among them, and who had married one of their own people. And because of this, and for her own sake, the people loved Alice Tracey, and not a man of the now scanty population but would have given up his life for her.

"Alisi," said Pani, the younger of the two girls, coming over to her mistress, sitting down beside her, and placing her shapely little brown hand on the white woman's knee as she gazed into her face, "is it well with thy friend the white man, Parri (Barry)?"

"It is well, little one," answered Mrs. Tracey, putting her arm round the girl's naked waist; "all is well with him, and here, in this writing which he hath sent me, he sayeth that the time is drawing near when the evil captain of the ship and those with him shall be crushed and broken."

Pani's eyes glistened. "Oh, would that I could be there to see it all, for there will be a great fight! He is a great man this Parri, and hath kind eyes and a strong, handsome body. . . . Alisi?" and the girl turned her pretty brown face on one side and looked inquiringly into Mrs. Tracey's eyes.

"Pani?"

"Alisi, dost love Parri? Will he be thy man[1] when thou leavest us?"

"Nay, how can that be, little one? Did I not tell thee and Toea long ago that he loveth a woman who dwells in my own land, and who awaiteth his return from the sea?"

Toea threw away her cigarette and swiftly settled herself on the other side of Mrs. Tracey, pushing aside Pani in mock jealousy, and, taking her mistress's hand, hugged it to her full and rounded bosom.

"Alisi? tell me. Will Parri be thy man?"

"Gao!" and Mrs. Tracey flicked Toea's ear. "Be not so silly ye two. Have I not said that Parri is bound to another woman? He careth nought for me, and it is not the fashion in my country for strangers to wed."

"Hath he told thee that he cares not for thee?" enquired Pani.

"Foolish child. He is my friend—not a lover. And my husband is but dead a little time."

"How can he be thy friend and not thy lover?" persisted Pani. "Thou art a fair, good woman and he a strong, fine man. Surely he will be thy man and think no more of this woman who liveth so far away. Hast ever borne a child, Alisi?"

Mrs. Tracey sighed, and then smiled again. "Never."

"Ah, that was because of some witchcraft, for thy husband who is dead was a strong, thick man, and thou art one who should bear many children. Some evil person hath practised witchcraft on thee. But thou wilt be wife to this man Parri and bear him children. Old Tuna—she who was mother to Gurden's wife—hath told us that this Parri will be thy man."

A vivid flush dyed Alice Tracey's cheeks. "Tuna talks foolishly. I tell thee both that there is a girl fair to look upon to whom this man is bound, and that he careth nought for me but as a friend."

Pani shook her head gravely. "Tuna is a wise old woman, she can do many things. She can foretell when death cometh, and can see many things in the night; she can make the barren woman fruitful and can bring the rain. And she hath said that this man Parri will be thy husband, and——"

Mrs. Tracey rose quickly. "Tell me not such foolish things! Come, let us walk upon the beach a little time ere we sleep."

* * * * * *

Barry received an answer from her the following evening.

"I am so glad to know," she wrote, "that all is going well, for at times I cannot help a feeling of dread taking possession of me, especially if I am alone for any length of time, and sometimes I am afraid to sleep, for I have such dreadful dreams about these men, Chase, the Greek, and Rawlings. The two girls, Pani and Toea, are, however, a great comfort to me, and if all goes well I shall ask you a favour. I want to take one of them away with me in the Mahina. . . . Do you know how I spend my time, or most of it? Very much as you do during the day, watching the natives bringing in the shell and trying to imagine how many go to a ton. Then at night-time I am the grand dame of Tebuan. I light up my mansion of thatch, and all the women of the village come in and gossip for an hour or two with me, the men sitting outside in a circle. Last night I divided two hundred sticks of the tobacco you sent me among them, and in return they honoured me with a dance. Am I not very childish? I am sure you will think so, but then I feel so much happier every day now in spite of the horrible dreams which sometimes torment and make me miserable.

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