"How'd they get the noos?" said the man, mockingly.
"In the same way that you did: the blacks would hear it."
"Let 'em," said the man, fiercely. "A black fellow's life aren't worth much, but they think too much of it to care about chucking it away."
"The report would certainly reach headquarters, and, like the black fellows, sir, you care too much for your life to care about chucking it away, as you call it. Now, look here, I am not frightened by your threats, neither do I want to quarrel."
"Same here, sonny, so let's forget what's passed and be friends," said the man, replacing his little revolver.
"Hear me out first," said the doctor. "I am in command here, and I mean to retain it, but I do not wish to be grasping or unfair to an Englishman in want of necessaries out in this wild place. I will let you have what things you require in the morning."
"Thankye," said the man, drily. "Now then, we've only just got here after a long paddling against the currents, and the wind against us. I want something to eat, and my boys are pretty sharp set. Where do you keep your prog?"
"Call the men off, and tell them to camp down forward on the deck," said the doctor. "They can have a sail for tent, and they shall have such rations as we have ready. You would like a cabin, I suppose?"
"Well, rather," said the man, with a peculiar smile.
"We shall have a kind of supper ready soon; so call off your men at once."
"All right; only no games."
"Treachery?" said the doctor; "I had no thought of anything of the kind."
"Here, Black Jack, let go, and take the boys forward. No mumkull, baal, spear, baal, nulla-nulla. Plenty much eat soon. Get out."
The man grunted, said a few words to his fellows, and they all trooped forward and squatted on the deck.
"Beg pardon, sir," growled Bostock; "give 'em some 'bacco; there's plenty."
"All right," said their leader; "give 'em plenty of 'bacco. That'll keep 'em quiet for the night. Only I say, just a word of advice. Don't try to play no tricks, for they're about as nasty as a bag o' snakes. Rile 'em or rile me, and they'll bite. If they bite they kill, and if they kill you three there'll be no work got out of 'em for a week. Understand?"
"No," said the doctor, quietly.
"Then I'll tell you: they'll take you ashore, and make a fire, and cook you."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Carey, derisively.
The next moment the man's hand closed tight upon the boy's shoulder, holding him fast.
"You don't believe it, eh?"
"No," said Carey, boldly; "not a word of it, and don't grip my shoulder like that—it hurts."
"Meant it to, puppy," growled the man, menacingly. "D'ye hear? Cook you and eat you, and they'll begin on you, because you're young and tender; and they'll go on eating you till they're as dizzy as drunken men. Then they'll go to sleep, and wake up again, and go on cooking and eating till they can't see, and keep on till they've finished you all."
"Find me pretty tough," growled Bostock.
"Not they," cried the man. "You'd be tender by the time they got to you. They don't mind how long it is first. Don't believe it, eh?"
"No," said Carey, setting his teeth hard to master the pain he felt. "It's a silly story about cannibalism to frighten me."
"Think so?" said the man. "All right. Here, Black Jack!" he roared.
The leading black snatched up spear and club and bounded to the speaker with wonderful alacrity, his eyes flashing, and he looked from one to the other as if expecting orders to slay.
"Ask him," growled his leader.
Carey was turning faint with pain, and the doctor saw it and stepped forward.
"Take hold of his arm," he said to their captor; "the boy has had his collar-bone broken."
As he spoke he removed the great coarse hand to the boy's fore-arm, and Carey uttered a sigh of relief. Then, turning to the fierce-looking savage, he said quickly, "Here, you blackie."
"Not Blackie; Black Jack."
"Well, Black Jack, what do you do with your prisoners?"
The fierce look died into a broad grin, and he showed his white teeth.
"Make fire; eatum," he said, promptly. "Make big feast."
"Go back!" growled the so-called king.
"No. Mumkull; kill, eatum."
"Not now. Be off."
The black darted back to his companions, and the beachcomber turned to Carey.
"Want some more proof?" he said.
Carey was silent.
"Here, you," said the man, turning to Bostock. "Been in these parts before?"
"Lots o' times," said the old sailor.
"Tell him, then."
"Is it true, Bob?"
"Yes, my lad, it's true enough," said Bostock. "They eat their prisoners, their old folks, and the babies and wives, too, when starvation times come."
"What, do you mean to tell me that such things go on out here in Australia and the islands—now?"
"It's true enough, Carey," said the doctor, gravely. "I've seen the bones at one of their camps after a feast."
The beachcomber laughed hoarsely.
"Now you know what you've got to expect, youngster; so behave yourself," he said. "Now, doctor, you know. Be civil, and I daresay we shall be very good friends; be nasty, and I shan't keep my black pack quiet, but let 'em do as they like. Hi! Black Jack!"
The savage bounded once more to his side.
"See that the canoe and boat are fast, and then you shall have a feast."
"All fast. Tie rope," said the black, pointing to the farther side of the steamer deck. Then, to Carey's horror, he made a peculiar gesture and pointed at him.
"No. Salt beef. 'Bacco," growled his leader, and the man once more bounded away.
"Come below," continued the man, hoarsely, "and get those brutes something to keep 'em quiet; and I want a big drink. You three go first."
Carey glanced at the doctor and then at Bostock, both of whom avoided his eye and went to the cabin entrance, leaving the boy to follow, feeling half-stunned and wondering whether they ought not to make some effort to drive the intruders overboard.
Note: Beachcomber. A white man who settles down in one of the South Sea Islands and lives by trading with the natives for copra—the dried kernels of cocoanuts—pearl shells, and the sea slug Beche de mer; often living by wrecking, kidnapping the natives, or any nefarious scheme. Many of them have been drunken, unprincipled scoundrels, their ranks in the old days having been recruited from the convicts escaped from Botany Bay or Norfolk Island.
To Carey's rage and discomfiture he found that their captor treated him as the ship's boy, following Bostock to the store-room and ordering him to carry the most solid of the provisions to the blacks.
"They won't want any knives and forks and plates, young 'un. Wait a moment. Where's the tobacco?"
This was produced in its tub, and in obedience to his orders Carey took out twenty of the long square compressed cakes.
"That's right. Twenty of 'em, and don't let either of the warmint snatch two."
"How am I to stop them?" said Carey, bitterly.
"Got a fist, haven't you?"
Carey nodded shortly.
"Hit the first as does in the mouth."
"To be knocked down with a club," said the boy, bitterly.
"No one dare touch you, my lad, unless I give 'em leave. I'm king here, I tell you, and the black dogs know it. Be off."
"You hideous, red-eyed brute!" said the boy to himself, as he took his load and turned to go. "How I should like to—"
He did not mentally say what, for he was brought up short by the word "Stop!" roared in a bullying tone.
"Here, you," cried the man to Bostock, "light a lanthorn; it's dark on deck. Follow him, and hold it till he's done. And look here, bring it away again, or they'll be setting the ship afire. They can see in the dark like cats. They want no light."
Bostock fetched a lanthorn, lit it in a surly way, and then went first, closely followed by Carey, who just caught sight of their captor pouring himself out a tumbler of rum from a half-emptied bottle; but there was no water near.
"Bob," panted the boy, as they reached the deck, "are we going to put up with this?"
"Dunno yet, my lad," growled the old sailor. "Not for long, I hope. Seems to me like me knocking that there red and white savage's head off, and then blowing up the ship."
"But why doesn't the doctor do something?"
"Aren't made up his mind yet what to do, my lad, seemingly. He's hatching. That's what I think he's a-doing of. I s'pose we'd better wait."
"I can't wait," whispered Carey, "I feel in such a rage, I must do something."
"Take the prog to them black beasts then, sir, now. They aren't much better than annymiles."
"Look sharp, you two, and come back to the cabin," came in a fierce, hoarse voice from the cabin stairs, proving that they were watched.
"Come on, and get the dirty job done, Master Carey," whispered Bostock. "I shall 'ave to kill somebody over this before I've done."
Carey said nothing, but walked forward with his load, hearing the savages, who were chattering loudly, suddenly cease as if listening, and the next moment Black Jack came bounding to their side, looking eagerly from one to the other.
"Why can't you walk?" growled Bostock. "Can't you get over the deck, and not come hopping like a hingy-rubber ball, or one of your kangaroos?"
"Kangaroo? Wallaby?" said the black. "Over there. Lots."
"Go and join 'em then, you sable son of a three-legged pitch-pot."
"Yes," said Carey, and he served out the big lumps cut ready, while Bostock held the light, the blacks taking it steadily enough till all were served, and Carey stood looking at them.
Then a murmur arose, Black Jack shouting the one word "'bacco," and his fellows all joining.
"Can't you wait a minute, you set o' undressed nigger minstrels?" growled Bostock. "There, give 'em the cakes o' 'bacco, sir, and I wish it would make 'em sick."
Carey had placed the oblong squares of compressed leaf in his pocket, and he now took out half-a-dozen, the light being cast upon his hands and giving the boy a glimpse of one of the party in the act of making a snatch.
Carey recalled his orders, and he was in the right humour for taking advantage of it, for his blood was up, and he jumped at the opportunity of getting a little satisfaction out of his enemies.
The black was quick, but the boy was equally so, and as the savage made a snatch, Carey's disengaged fist flew out in good school-boy fashion. There was the sound of a heavy blow, a yell, and the black bounded off the deck, to come down again club in hand and grinning ferociously as he raised it as if to strike.
Carey did not pause to think.
"Ah, would you?" he cried, and he struck out again quick as lightning, striking the black on the right cheek and drawing back quickly, expecting a general attack for his pugnacity.
But to his great surprise and satisfaction there was a yell of laughter, and the party danced round him, shouldering their fellow away, as in a series of strange antics they displayed their delight at his discomfiture.
"'Bacco, 'bacco!" they kept on shouting, as they pressed round, each taking his portion eagerly enough, but there was no snatching, till all had received a cake save the one who had been made to give way.
"There you are," cried Carey, holding out the last, but standing on his guard so as to avoid an expected blow.
But it did not come. The black took his cake and joined the others, to go back chattering to partake of their meal, while Carey and Bostock turned to go back to the cabin.
"Now, I call that there plucky," said the old sailor, gruffly.
"What?" said Carey, wondering.
"You hitting that walking blacking bottle twice over in the mouth. I don't know as I should ha' dared."
"Plucky!" said Carey, wonderingly. "You don't know what a fright I felt in when I did it; but I was in such a passion that I was obliged to hit something."
"And so you did, sir, a regular smeller. I don't believe a French or a Jarman boy would ha' done it."
"Oh, no, it aren't, my lad; it's some sense, and it's taught me a deal."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, it's give me a feeling as we're going to get out o' this job without being cooked and eaten. You see how they go down on their knees like to old Bottle-nose yonder?"
"Well, it's because he's a white man and not a bit afraid of 'em."
"Yes, of course; but we—I mean, I am."
"Not you, sir. Didn't look like it just now. Well, you're a white un. I won't call you a white man; that would be gammoning you, because man you aren't yet. But you're a plucked un, and they was all delighted to see you hit their mate. Well, you go on like that, and they'll be afraid of you. There's something in a white skin as is too much for them, and you've only got to let 'em see that you don't care a quid o' 'bacco for their blunt wood sticks and knob clubs, to keep 'em where they ought to be, down—right down. For they're only good enough to make door-mats to wipe your shoes on. Eat us? I should like to ketch 'em at it!"
"I shouldn't, Bob."
"Ah, well, I didn't quite mean that, sir; it was only a way o' speaking."
"Are you two chaps going to be all night?" came in a fierce voice from the cabin stairs.
Carey stepped up to the speaker directly.
"My black pack haven't worried you, then?" said the man, with a grin which showed two or three yellow teeth. "I began to think they'd eaten you raw, as you didn't come back. There, I don't want to starve you; get below and have your supper along with your mate. I've half done mine."
They went into the saloon, to find the doctor waiting for them with some food ready at one end of the table, while at the other the beachcomber's stood, consisting of a ship's biscuit and about half of the bottle of rum, which he had taken possession of before they came back.
"Get your prog, my lads, and then go to sleep. And look here, don't you either of you try any games, or maybe you won't see daylight again."
As may be supposed, the trio had not much appetite for their suppers, but they made pretence of eating, and saw that their captor was watching them all the time, sipping his neat rum and nibbling a little of the hard biscuit, which he softened a little at times by dipping it in his rum glass.
"Now then," he said at last, "is that your cabin?"
"It is mine," said the doctor.
"All right. Go in then, all three of you."
"I don't sleep here," growled Bostock. "I've got a bunk below."
"You'll go in there," said the man, fiercely.
"But there aren't room."
"Sleep on the floor then."
Bostock turned to the doctor, but the latter's eye was averted, and he made no sign, nor spoke.
"All right," growled the old sailor, and he turned to Carey. "I won't snore more'n I can help, sir," he said. "It aren't my fault."
"In with you all," said the beachcomber, roughly; "and look here, I'm going to sit here a bit to finish my physic, so don't come out and disturb me. My black pack used to come prowling round sometimes of a night, but they never do now."
As he spoke he took out a revolver and cocked it, before laying it down beside his tumbler of spirits with a meaning look.
"Are we to consider ourselves prisoners, sir?" said the doctor, speaking at last.
"Dunno," was the reply, shortly given. "All depends. If you ride the high horse I may tell my pack to set you ashore somewhere else, but if you're civil—well, we shall see. Only just recollect this, and don't argue. These are my islands all round here, and all that comes ashore's mine. Now go to bed."
He threw himself back in his chair and raised the glass to his lips, and without a word the three prisoners filed into the state-room, and the door swung to and clicked behind them.
They were in total darkness, but Bostock took out his match-box and struck a light to apply to the lamp, which he coolly proceeded to regulate, and then turned to wait for the doctor to speak.
Doctor Kingsmead was standing with the veins in his forehead swollen, his teeth set, and his hands clenched.
"The dog—the brutal ruffian!" he said, as if talking to himself. "So helpless. Quite at his mercy. Seemed like a coward and a cur."
"No, you didn't," said Carey, shortly. "We were taken by surprise, and they're seven to one, and all armed."
The doctor turned to him sharply.
"Seven to one?" he said.
"Yes, I counted them; twenty black fellows and him."
"And threes into twenty-one goes seven times," growled Bostock.
"Yes, yes, seven to one," said the doctor, drawing a deep breath, "and the ruffian has us at his mercy, for those black fellows would rush at us at a word, like the black pack he calls them. It's plain enough they have been within sight in a canoe, and reported to him what they saw. The scoundrel has, no doubt, played the part of wrecker for years and taken possession of every unfortunate vessel that has come ashore, plundered and burnt it."
"Humph!" growled Bostock.
"What do you say?"
"On'y grunted, sir. That's it. I've heard tell of chaps like him here and there in the South Seas. They knocks a few of the black fellows or coffee-coloured ones down, and makes 'em afraid, and then they do as they like, sir."
"But is it true about their eating people?" said Carey, in a low voice, and he glanced at the door as if half-expecting to be overheard.
"Oh, yes, sir, that's true enough. Our captain once said, when we had a report of a ship going ashore and the crew being massacred, that these chaps in some of the islands get such a little chance to have anything but fruit and fish that they're as rav'nous as wild beasts for flesh."
"Yes, yes, true enough," said the doctor. "So unfortunate for them to come when we were away. We could have defended the vessel easily."
"That means fighting, sir," growled Bostock.
"Yes; wouldn't you have struck a blow to defend the vessel?"
"Well, you see, sir, I'm only a sailor and not a fighting man," said Bostock, slowly.
"You coward!" cried Carey, indignantly. "Why, boy as I am, I'd have tried to do something, if it was only reloading the guns."
"Course you would, sir; I know that," said the old sailor, quietly. "Didn't you give that there nigger a smeller just now?"
"What!" cried the doctor, sharply.
"Got in a temper with one of 'em for trying to steal more'n his share o' 'bacco, sir, and give him two, one in the mouth and one in the cheek. Stop a moment; let's tell the truth if I die for it. Warn't one o' them cracks on the nose, sir?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Carey, hurriedly. "But I did think at a time like this, you'd have been ready to fight, Bostock."
"Bob, if it's all same to you, Master Carey, and I didn't say I warn't ready to fight. Why, o' course I will at the proper time."
"Then I beg your pardon, Bos—"
"Well, Bob then, for we can't sit down quietly like this."
"That's what I think, sir, but I aren't the skipper, and it's what the doctor says as'll have to be done."
"Yes, of course, Bostock," said the doctor, hastily; "but I was so absolutely stunned by this surprise."
"Yes, sir, reg'lar took aback, I know."
"I have not known what to do or say. I must have time to think."
"That's it, sir. I know you've got to make your plans. Bit o' scheming, because we none on us want one o' them dirty black warmint's skewers run through us. You make up your mind what to do, and tell me which rope I'm to pull, and I'll spit on my hands and haul like a man."
"Yes, yes, I know you will," said the doctor. "As to that old beachcomber, sir, shooting aren't in my way, but 'volvers or no 'volvers, you give the word when you're ready and I'll chuck him overboard to get some water to mix with his rum; and I believe that'd be doing a good action."
"Yes," said the doctor. "Look here. That man can't go on drinking strong spirit as he does without soon being quite prostrate."
Bostock looked at the speaker with an expression of disgust and contempt upon his face.
"I What, sir? Do you think that old rough would ever drink enough rum to make him stupid?"
"Never, sir. He just about lives on it. Bound to say he's gone on for a score o' years. Didn't you see as he only nibbled a biscuit?"
"Yes, I noticed that," said Carey, quickly.
"Yes, sir. Rum won't have no more effect on him than tea would on you and me. You try another idea, sir. What do you say to frightening them black fellows overboard? They're a rum lot; just like a pack o' children. Frightened o' bogies. Show 'em a good scarecrow or tatty dooly, as the Scotch folk call it, and they'd think it was what they call a bunyip."
"What's a bunyip?"
"What they calls a debble-debble, sir. They're awful babies in anything they can't understand. You must give 'em some red fire, or blue fire, or 'lectricity."
"Wait, wait, wait," said the doctor, impatiently. "We must temporise. It is no use to try and do anything in haste. The first thing we have to find out is whether that ruffian goes off to sleep or keeps watch."
Carey pointed to the ventilator over the door.
"I could see through that," he whispered, "if you could take me on your shoulders."
Bostock nodded, and placed his hands firmly on the sides of the door, bending down his head and standing as firm as a rock, while Carey's first instinct was to take a run and a jump; but he did not, for one reason, there was not room, another, that it would have been folly; but he placed his hand upon the man's shoulders and steadily climbed up till he could stand stooping upon his back, and then he cautiously peered through a little crack, and the first thing he saw was the beachcomber sitting back fast asleep.
This sent a thrill of satisfaction through him, and he turned his eyes towards the saloon door, and a chill of horror ran through him, for he caught sight of something bright and flashing, and it was a few moments before he grasped the fact that it was the lamp reflected from the eyes of one of the blacks close to the floor.
Nearly a minute elapsed before he could make out the black figure of their owner, and then he saw it move.
It was plain enough now as it crept in and nearer to the shaded rays of the lamp. Carey could even see that the black had his club and the curved knife-like blade of his boomerang stuck behind in the coarse hair girdle he wore about his waist.
"Why, he's creeping in to kill his master," was the boy's first thought, and a chill of horror ran through him.
The black crept slowly and silently over the floor of the saloon, and Carey would have uttered words of warning to his companions, but he could not speak, every faculty seeming frozen, save that he could see; and he stared wildly as he saw now two more pairs of eyes and a couple of the blacks creep in silently, but only to stop at the door, squatting on their heels, as if watching their leader.
The latter took up Carey's whole attention now, and he waited to see him take out his club before he uttered a warning shout to the sleeping man, for he felt that he could not stand and see him murdered in cold blood.
The black crept on till he was quite close to the sleeper, and then he rose, squatted like his companions, and at last raised his hand.
The warning cry rose to Carey's lips, but it did not leave them, for the black did not bring out his club, but softly took down the empty glass, smelt it and then thrust in a long black finger, passed it round and sucked it, repeating the action several times, till he could get no more suggestion of the taste of the spirit, when he replaced the glass, to sit staring at the bottle; but he did not touch it, only squatted there like a great dog watching over his master, while his two companions remained silent as a couple of black statues at the door.
That was enough, and Carey softly dropped down and whispered what he had seen to his companions.
"And they could brain the old scoundrel at any moment with their clubs," said the doctor. "It is astonishing."
"Yes, sir," said Bostock, softly; "but aren't it a bit like big savage dogs as I've seen? They could take a man by the throat and shake the life out of him in a minute, but they don't. They sits and watches over him, and it'd be an ugly business for any one as attempted to touch him. He's got hold of the black fellows, sir, and can do just what he likes with 'em. That's how it is there."
"That makes our position more difficult," said the doctor.
"Well, it do, sir; but if I might make so bold, I should like to propose something."
"Yes, by all means, Bostock. What is it?"
"You sleep on it, sir, and see how you feel in the morning—both on you, and I'll take the watch."
"It is impossible to sleep to-night," said the doctor, with a sigh.
"Yes; suppose those blacks were to take it into their heads to come and finish us."
"Nay, they won't do that, sir. Besides, I shall be on the watch."
"No," said the doctor; "you and Carey will lie down and sleep if you can. I will take the watch. Do as I tell you at once."
"But it isn't fair, sir," said Carey, protesting.
"I must be obeyed in this time of emergency," said the doctor, sternly. "Lie down and sleep if you can, and I will try and think out some way of proceeding. Good-night."
Ten minutes later the doctor was sitting with his back to the door, and in spite of all that had gone by and the belief that he could not sleep a wink in the midst of the peril, Carey dropped off fast, and Bostock's loud breathing told that he had followed suit, while the three blacks squatted there hour after hour, watching their master and tyrant like so many faithful hounds.
Carey opened his eyes just at sunrise, feeling, as a healthy lad should, light-hearted and happy; for he was perfectly unconscious of all that had taken place overnight till he turned his head a little and saw Doctor Kingsmead with his arm resting against the side, gazing out of the open port.
Then it all came to him, and he felt horribly selfish and miserable.
"Oh, doctor!" he cried.
"Ah, Carey, lad!" said the doctor, starting and turning to him. "Morning. You've had a capital sleep."
"Yes, and you watching there. Why didn't you rouse me up to take my turn?"
"I've not been watching all the night. I sat thinking till I felt that it was of no use to worry any longer, and then I dropped asleep. I've not been awake now for more than half an hour."
"Ah, that's better," said Carey, raising himself a little to look towards the door, to see Bostock lying across it, turning himself into a human bar to prevent any one from entering without waking him up. He was now on his back, sleeping heavily, with his mouth open.
The doctor looked at him too and then smiled sadly at Carey.
"I say," said the latter, "it seems rum, doesn't it, for us three prisoners to go off to sleep like that without minding a bit?"
"Nature will have her own way," said the doctor.
"Eh? Right, sir! I—well, look at that now! It's a rum 'un."
Bostock had suddenly awakened, and he now rose quickly and stared at Carey.
"I say, I aren't been asleep all night, have I?"
"Yes, Bob. There, it's all right."
"Well, they haven't killed and eaten us, sir; but I don't like this. You ought to ha' wakened me, doctor."
"I was not awake myself, Bostock."
"Oh! That was it, was it?" said the old sailor, shaking his head and looking very serious. "Then about work, sir; what's the first thing? Shall I see about breakfast?"
The doctor was silent for a few moments.
"Yes," he said at last. "I have thought over our position again this morning, and it seems to me that the best thing to do, if we are allowed, is to go on quietly and submit, until a good opportunity occurs—say of the blacks going ashore in their canoe."
"And then seize the vessel again?" said Carey, eagerly.
"And chuck Mr King Beachcomber overboard, sir," whispered Bostock.
"Or make him prisoner till we can hand him over to the authorities," said the doctor.
"But there are no authorities to hand him over to, sir," said Carey.
"Have patience, my lad; we never know what may happen. We had a piece of bad luck last night; to-day we may have a bit of good. Yes, we'll go on as usual. See to the breakfast."
"Right, sir," cried the old sailor, and he turned the handle of the door without effect.
"Locked?" said Carey, in a hoarse whisper.
"Can't say, sir, but it's made fast somehow."
To the surprise of all, though, the door was opened the next moment, and their captor stood before them, looking from one to the other, while at a glance Carey saw that the blacks had disappeared.
"Come out of that," growled the ruffian, sourly. "I want some breakfast; and you, sailor chap, get out rations of beef or pork for my pack. They'll be hungry again by this time. Light the fire first, and let's have some tea soon."
Carey involuntarily glanced at the bottle on the table, and saw that it was empty. He saw, too, that his glance was noticed, for the beachcomber said with a hoarse laugh:
"Oh, yes, I drink tea too. But put another bottle of that stuff on the table as well."
They passed out into the saloon, and Carey made at once for the door.
"Where are you going, boy?" cried the beachcomber.
"To get a bucket of fresh water and have a sluice," replied Carey, sulkily, for he objected to be called "boy."
"Humph! You look clean enough," growled the man. "Be off then, and make haste back to get breakfast."
Carey stepped back to catch up a towel, and then went to the saloon doorway and out on deck.
"Yes, I'll come back soon, and I'll help," muttered the boy through his teeth; "but only wait till I get my chance. Brrrr!" he snarled, "how it all makes me feel as if I should like to do something to somebody."
He walked sharply to where the bucket he used every morning stood ready, with a line attached to the handle; but before he reached it, there was the soft pattering of feet, and the pack of black fellows came running to meet him, headed by Black Jack, who stopped short close upon the boy to strike an attitude, making a hideous grimace, and poising his spear with one hand while he rested it upon the fingers of the other as if to steady it for hurling, while his companions snatched melon-headed clubs or boomerangs from out of the cord-like girdles which supported a broad shell hanging in front.
Carey had not had his breakfast, a fact which added fuel to the hot temper he was already in, consequent upon his treatment in the saloon.
Feeling perfectly reckless and irritated by the action of the naked blacks, and the most utter contempt for their childish attempt to frighten him, Carey's temper boiled over.
"Out of the way, you black monkey," he cried, and, treating the threatening spear with the most perfect contempt, he made a dash at the black and flicked at him sharply with the towel, catching him with a smart crack on the thigh and making him utter a yell, as he bounded back, dropping his spear and stooping to rub the place.
As soon as Carey had delivered the flick so dexterously, one often practised on bathing excursions when at school, he repented, fully expecting that the others would rush upon him with their clubs.
But to his utter astonishment and relief, they uttered a shout of delight on seeing their leader's discomfiture, and some broke into a triumphal dance, chattering and laughing, while three of the party threw themselves on deck and rolled about in convulsions of mirth.
"I don't care," muttered Carey; "I'll let them see I'm not afraid of them," and, without pausing now, he walked to the side, caught up the bucket, and twisting one end of the line round his left hand, went to the open gangway of that side of the vessel to throw down the bucket into the clear, cool water.
But he paused, for just beneath him, fastened by ropes, were a small whale-boat and an outrigger canoe.
He walked farther, and as soon as he was clear of the two craft, he sent the bucket down topsy-turvy so that it filled; hauled it up and turned to find himself hemmed in by a semi-circle of blacks.
Again acting on the impulse of the moment, Carey placed a second hand to the bucket and gave it a quick swing round, discharging its contents in an arc, with the intention of dowsing the savages; but they were too quick for him, bounding back, grinning with delight at their cleverness, but coming forward again, laughing like a pack of mischievous boys to tempt him to throw again.
"Oh, I'm not going to keep on at that," muttered Carey, as he raised the bucket again and threw it overboard for a fresh supply; and as soon as he had it up, he knelt down by it, had a good sluice, and rose to begin towelling, while the grinning blacks looked on.
As he finished, with the towel now well damped, he made believe to throw the water over his audience, and as they bounded away, he hurled the contents over the side, put down the bucket under the bulwarks and turned to go back to the cabin, making the wet towel snap like a whip as he flicked at first one and then at another of the naked bodies so temptingly displayed, the blacks roaring with laughter as they leaped and bounded about to avoid the cuts; but far from showing any resentment against the boy, evidently treating it all as a magnificent piece of fun.
The boy left them chattering and laughing, Black Jack as merry as the rest, while the object of their mirth began to wonder at the power he seemed to have exercised over the pack of childlike savages, and to ask himself whether there was anything in these people to mind.
"But dogs will bite if they are set at any one by their master," the boy said to himself in conclusion, and found himself face to face with the man of whom he had been thinking.
"Oh, there you are," he said, sourly. "Go and help them with the rations, and then go and feed the black dogs."
Carey nodded, and from some half-conceived and misty notion that he could not even analyse to himself, more than that it had something to do with trying to make himself as much master of the black fellows as the beachcomber seemed to be, he went about the work with alacrity, finding Bostock with his jacket off and sleeves rolled up, fast filling a basket with ship's biscuit.
"I s'pose I shall have to boil up a lot of the men's pork, Master Carey," he said. "The black beggars must be satisfied with biscuit this morning."
"I'll take it to them, Bob," said Carey. "I say, though, can you find a jar of molasses?"
"Ay, there's plenty, my lad. Going to give 'em that?"
"Yes, look sharp."
In another minute or so, the jar was brought out of the store, and Carey provided himself with a big iron cooking spoon, and thus armed and with basket and jar, he made his way towards the deck, to be met directly by the blacks, ready to chatter, grin, and dance about him, as he brusquely walked right through them till well forward, where he seated himself on a ship's fender and set the basket and jar before him.
Black Jack did not seem to display the slightest animosity as he pressed forward, grinning and showing a set of the whitest teeth.
"Whar bull cow meat?" he cried. "Baal beef."
"None cooked yet," said Carey, shortly.
"What dat?" he cried, and his hand darted at the treacle jar.
Carey was as quick, bringing the iron spoon down heavily on the black's hand, making him utter a sharp cry as he snatched it away, sending his companions into an ecstasy of delight, and making them dance about and twist and writhe.
Black Jack clapped the back of his hand to his mouth, and then, as if the injury were not of the slightest consequence, he pointed now at the jar, in which the boy was inserting the big spoon.
"Dat not good," he shouted. "Dat mumkull, kill a fellar. Chuck um— chuck um away."
"Ah, you thick-headed, tar-faced idiot!" cried Carey. "Not good, indeed! I suppose you want raspberry jam." And he brought out the spoon covered with the stringy treacle, turned it a few times and placed a great dab on one of the biscuits.
"Baal good!" cried Black Jack, angrily. "Mumkull. Black fellow. Chuck um 'way."
He made a snatch at the biscuit, but down came the spoon on his black hand.
"Yah!" he yelled, and clapped the treacly place to his mouth, tasted the molasses, and the fierce look died out, his countenance expanding into a grin as he sucked, and then in good animal fashion began to lick, holding out his other hand for the biscuit.
The next minute he was munching away in a high state of delight, while the others crowded round with hands extended, and were served as fast as the boy could place dabs of the sticky syrup on the hard biscuits.
They crowded him so that several times over he whisked the spoon round, giving one a dab on the hand, another on the cheek, while one had a topper on his thick, black-haired head—all these rebuffs being received with shouts of laughter, the recipients setting to work at once to prevent the saccharine mess from being wasted.
But at last all were supplied, and the boy rested for half a minute, looking at the merry, delighted crowd with good-humoured contempt.
"Well, you are a set of savages," he said.
"More—gib more," cried Black Jack, who had just finished.
"You look a pretty sticky beauty," said Carey.
"Berry 'ticky good," said Black Jack. "Gib more; plenty 'ticky."
Carey took another biscuit from the basket and put a very small dab of treacle upon it, to the black's great disgust.
"No, no, no!" he yelled, with childlike annoyance. "Plenty 'ticky— plenty 'ticky."
"Not good," said Carey, mockingly. "Kill a black fellow."
Black Jack's face expanded again into a tremendous grin.
"Yah!" he cried; "baal mumkull. Good—good—good!"
"There you are, then," said Carey, giving the spoon a twirl and dabbing a goodly portion on the biscuit. "That do?"
"Good, plenty 'ticky," cried the savage, gumming his face gloriously and grinding up the biscuit as easily as if it were a cracknel.
By this time the others were finishing, and for another quarter of an hour the boy was kept busy at work, to find in the very thick of it that he had an addition to his audience in the shape of the coarse-faced beachcomber, who looked less ferocious now, with his countenance softened by a good-humoured grin.
"Feeding 'em up then," he said. "Mind they don't finish up by eating you."
"I'm not afraid of that," said Carey, shortly.
"Aren't you? Well, perhaps we shall see. But it's your turn now: breakfast. Come on."
Carey followed him without a word, and, like his companions in adversity, ate the meal in silence.
The doctor made no opposition and showed no sign of resentment, for he was biding his time. The beachcomber asked questions and he answered them, about the lading of the vessel; but both Carey and Bostock noticed that he carefully avoided all reference to the bullion that was on board.
Later on in the morning the invader announced his intention of inspecting the stores, and made his prisoners march before him and show him all they could; it was hot and stifling between-decks, and he was soon tired and ordered all on deck, where he had a long look round, and at last caught sight of something on shore.
"Hullo, here!" he cried, turning his fists into a binocular glass without lenses; "who's been meddling with my pearl-oyster grounds?"
The doctor, being referred to in this question, turned to the man and laughed bitterly.
"Your pearl-oyster grounds!" he said, in a tone full of the contempt he felt.
The man thrust his unpleasant-looking face close to the doctor's.
"Yes," he said, with an ugly smile; "mine. Didn't I tell you before that all the reefs and islands here, and all that's on them or comes ashore on them's mine? Someone's been meddling over yonder and collecting and stacking shells; someone's been sinking tubs and rotting the oysters to get my pearls. It's been done by your orders, eh?"
"Yes," said the doctor, quietly; "I suppose I am to blame for it."
"Ho! Well, I suppose you did it for me, so I won't complain. Here, bring out the box."
"What box?" said the doctor.
"What box?" roared the man, fiercely; "why, the box o' pearls you've got put away. Now don't you put me out, young fellow, because when I'm put out I'm ugly. Ask Black Jack what I can do when I'm ugly. He can understand and talk English enough to tell you."
"I tell you this," began the doctor, but he was stopped by a growl that might have emanated from some savage beast.
"You wait till I've done. Coo-ee!"
"Coo-ee!" came in answer, and Black Jack rushed forward in a series of bounds, nulla-nulla in one hand, boomerang in the other.
"Here, Jack, what do I do when I'm ugly?"
"Mumkull—killa fellar," said the black, grinning as if it were a fine joke. "Mumkull now?" he continued, with his eyes beginning to look wild, as he turned them questioningly on one after the other.
"Not yet. Get out."
The black darted away again as quickly as he had come.
"That chap's a child o' nature, young fellow," said the beachcomber, scowling; "so I say to you, don't you try to gammon me. Fetch out that box."
"How can he," cried Carey, boldly, "when he hasn't got one?"
"What?" roared the man, clapping his hand upon his revolver, and turning fiercely upon the boy. "What's that?"
"You heard what I said," cried Carey, in no way daunted. "Why, we haven't tried one of the tubs yet."
"Good job for you," growled the man, fiercely, as he tried to look Carey down; but the boy did not for a moment wince. "You're a nice imprunt young cock bantam, though. But you're shivering in your shoes all the same—aren't you?"
He made a snatch at the boy's shoulder, but quick as thought Carey struck at the coming hand, catching it heavily with his fist and eluding the touch.
"Don't do that," he cried, fiercely, "you know I've got a bad shoulder."
"Why, you insolent young cock-sparrow, I've a good mind to—No, I won't—I'll let them do it by-and-by."
He jerked his head sidewise in the direction of the blacks, who were eagerly watching and seeing everything, the sight of the boy striking at their white king sending a thrill of excitement through them; however, they did not advance, but stood watching and noting that the beachcomber was laughing heartily.
"I like pluck in a boy," he growled. "Hi, coo-ee."
Black Jack darted to his side, with eyes flashing and nostrils distended.
"Boat," said the man, abruptly.
Black Jack shouted something incomprehensible, and three of the black fellows bounded to the side and disappeared into the whale-boat with their leader.
"Now then," said the beachcomber, "you stop aboard, cookey, and get something ready for dinner. Hi, Black Jack. Fish. Tell 'em."
"Tell boys kedgee fis'?"
The beachcomber nodded, and the black shouted again, with the result that six more of the blacks came running to the side and dropped over into the canoe.
"Hi, Jack, tell the others, if cookey here—"
"Dis cookey?" asked the black, touching Carey on the head.
"No, stupid. That one."
"Iss. Dat cookey," and he nodded and grinned at Bostock.
"Tell 'em if cookey tries to get away, mumkull."
"Iss. Mumkull," and the black darted forward, to return with the remaining ten, all grinning, to seat themselves in a row, spear in hand, upon the starboard bulwarks, staring hard at Bostock, who tried to appear perfectly calm and composed; but his face twitched a little.
"They'd better not try to mumkull me," he whispered to Carey. "Two can play at that game. But what's he going to do?"
"Now then," cried the beachcomber, "into the boat with you. I'm going to have those casks tapped and see what the stuff's like. Hi! Jack, take some buckets in the boat."
The black darted about and secured three buckets, which he tossed over the side into the boat.
"Now then, down with you," growled the beachcomber, and Carey and the doctor had to go, leaving Bostock with his eyes far more wide open than usual.
"I wish the doctor would talk to me," said Carey to himself as he took his seat in the well-formed whale-boat, which he rightly supposed must have come ashore somewhere on this ocean king's dominions. "He is so horribly quiet."
Then the boy looked at Black Jack and his three companions, who as soon as their ruler was in his place, gun in hand, thrust out their oars and began rowing with the skill and jerk of men-o'-war's men.
A minute later he was watching the outrigger canoe being paddled along quickly, its occupants trailing mother-o'-pearl baits behind, and soon after he saw them hook and drag in a fish.
Then Carey turned to gaze at the shore they were approaching with a bitter feeling of resentment arising as he thought of all their labour in the hot sunshine, collecting and piling up the great pearl shells, and more bitterly still as he dwelt upon the tubs of liquid and liquefying oysters which would, he did not doubt, now have quite a thick deposit of pearls at their bottoms.
"Oh, it does seem so hard for that ruffian to get them!" he said to himself, and he sat there with his teeth set, gazing straight before him, till he caught Black Jack's eyes twinkling laughingly at him as that individual shone like a well-polished pair of boots, and glistened in the sun, while he lustily pulled stroke.
As soon as he caught Carey's eye he laughed loudly, and in the most perfectly good-humoured way, as if they were the very best of friends, and when the beachcomber was looking another way he raised one hand to go through the pantomime of licking treacle off his fingers and rubbing his front, to the delight of his toiling companions.
It did Carey good, and he smiled back, and nodded.
"I don't believe they'd hurt me," he said to himself. "They're just like a lot of schoolboys, only so much uglier."
The beachcomber made a movement, and the blacks' faces were in a flash like so much carved ebony, and they rowed on, choosing as if from old habit the way into the canal-like passage among the rocks, and leaping out at the home-made wharf. Here they held the boat steady in a regular naval style, while their chief and his companions stepped out, the former using the black backs for support, for big and strong as he was his obese state made him far from active.
"That's the way I taught 'em," he said, with a grim smile at Carey, who nodded back, said nothing, but thought very deeply, his fancies taking the direction of wondering whether the wretched tyrant would ever go too far with his followers, and they would kill and eat him.
His thoughts took a fresh current directly, for the subject of them shouted the one word, "Buckets!" and after making the boat fast the crew came running with the buckets to where the beachcomber was now standing examining the first tub, which happened to be the last filled, and he growled, moved to the next, and then on and on to the last.
"Here you are, Jack; this first."
The black fellow nodded, looked in the tub, and then as if quite at home at the work, picked up the great bamboo lying ready for the purpose and set two of his followers to give all the other tubs a good stir-up, the result being a most horrible odour of such extent that, but for the breeze blowing and their getting on the windward side, it would have been unbearable.
But it had not the slightest effect upon the beachcomber, who stood looking on while Black Jack and a companion heaved together and tried to overturn the oldest tub, but without result.
A yell to the other two brought them up, and with their aid the tub of malodorous thick water was gradually overturned, and the foul water poured off, to sink at once into the thirsty sand.
"Hold hard," cried the beachcomber, when the bottom was nearly reached. "Water."
Three black fellows ran off with a bucket each and returned to Jack, who poured one in and gave it a swirl round, handed the bucket to be refilled, allowed the contents of the tub to settle, and then began to pour out the top very gently.
Carey was so intensely interested that for the time being he forgot his painful position.
"I say," he cried, "these black chaps have done this sort of thing before."
"Hundreds of times," growled their chief, and then he was silent, while even the doctor began to feel that his eagerness to see the contents of the tub was mastering his misery and disappointment that the pearls should fall into such hands.
So they watched till half a dozen buckets had been severally poured in and emptied out, and then there was a hoarse chuckle from the beachcomber.
"I'll forgive yer," he growled. "You aren't done so badly for me. That's a nice take o' pearls, and there's some fine big uns among 'em. Up higher, Jack, and let the sun dry them a bit. Next one."
The tub was tilted so that the last drops of water could run out while the next was being emptied.
Carey's eyes met the doctor's, and the boy ground his teeth softly as he gazed in at the soft lustrous pearls drying rapidly from the heat of the air.
There they lay along the side of the great cask, seed pearls, pearls of fair size, and here and there great almond-shaped ones, while fewest of all were the softly rounded perfectly shaped gems, running from the size of goodly peas to here and there that of small marbles, lustrous, soft, and of that delicate creamy tint that made them appear like solidified drops of molten moonlight, fallen to earth in the silence of some tropical night.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders and turned away to watch the emptying of the next tub, which ended with even better result than the first.
"Bucket," said the beachcomber, when this second watering had come to an end, and Jack, who knew what was expected of him, took a bunch of grass to make a brush, crept into the first tub, and while one of his fellows held the bucket ready, the pearls, worth scores, perhaps hundred of pounds, were swept into it.
The next tub was served the same, and then after the other tubs had had a final stir the beachcomber cried abruptly:
"On board. That's enough for to-day. I'm dying for a drink."
"Oh," muttered Carey to himself, "I wish I could stop you drinking."
The party which had been out with the canoe reached the vessel with a goodly supply of beautiful fish just at the same time as the whale-boat with the treasured-up pearls, over which Mallam had sat chuckling all the way back, pointing out to Carey the beauties of the large ones, and glancing furtively the while at the doctor in his delight over that gentleman's discomfiture.
Carey was bitterly annoyed, but he took it all pretty coolly.
"All right, old gentleman," he said to himself. "You've only set your slaves to work and washed and cleaned them for us; we'll have them all back again when you've cleaned the rest."
But Carey had not been without his anxious feelings, though, all the time, regarding Bostock; and his first glance as he ascended the side of the stranded steamer was directed to the spot where he had last seen the old sailor with the row of black fellows watching him.
But a chill ran through the boy, for there was no sign of Bostock, and the ten blacks, his guards, were all forward in a cluster.
Carey sighed with relief the next minute, for, hearing them on deck, he thrust his head out of the cook's galley, and the boy grasped the fact that Bostock was busy preparing dinner, and the blacks were attracted there by the smell.
Directly after the old sailor had an addition to his work in the shape of fish to fry, and Carey seized the opportunity the examination of the fish afforded to whisper to the old sailor.
"Well," he said, "you're all right."
"Yes, I'm all right, my lad, but I were a bit mouldy when I saw you go, and went and got ready for action."
"Yes? What did you do?"
"Went and shoved the poker in the oven stove, sir; for I says to myself they tames lions and tigers in wild beast shows with red-hot irons, and if these here wild, black fellows tries on any of their games with me, I'll try if I can't tame them."
"Capital!" said Carey, eagerly.
"I calls that an out-and-out good idee, Master Carey, and look here, sir, when it comes for a strike for liberty, I'll undertake to tackle the black uns with a couple o' hot pokers and a few kettles o' boiling water, and if I don't clear the deck I'm a Dutchman, which can't be, for I was born in Bromley-by-Bow."
"We'll win yet, Bob," whispered Carey, eagerly.
"Course we will, my lad, only take it coolly, and go about as if your comb were reg'larly cut and your spurs took off. I say."
"I shall expect you and the doctor to tackle Old King Cole."
"Yes, yes, but we must have arms."
"Course you must. You wait."
"Yes. Were the blacks civil to you?"
"Yes, but they sat and gloated over me as if they were picking out tit-bits, sir, till I felt all cold down the back, and as it didn't seem the ripe time for the hot poker, for they didn't begin to show fight, I thought I'd try a bit o' civility."
"Yes, what did you do?"
"Give 'em a civiliser."
"I don't understand you, Bob. Oh, you mean you gave them some spirits."
"Tchah! Think I'm off my head, sir? Sperrits? Why, ever so little drives those black chaps mad as hatters. No," whispered the old sailor, with a low chuckle, "I beckoned to one of 'em, and he come down off the rail where he'd been sitting in a row like a tame monkey with his mates, and he followed me, club in hand, to the stooard's place, where I got a big jar and a table fork, and brought it back on deck to where his mates were waiting, and down they hopped as soon as they saw the jar, and began to dance round, singing, ''ticky! 'ticky!' in a regular chorus."
"Ah," cried Carey, "they heard Black Jack call the molasses sticky."
"Soon, though, as I cut the string and pulled off the bladder cover, and they saw it was all yaller, they began to show their teeth and snarl. ''Ticky! 'Ticky!' they says again, but 'all right, my lads,' I says, and I sticks the fork into an onion, winks at 'em, and pops it into my mouth. Then I does the same with a gherkin, and, my word, didn't they all change their tune! Everyone wanted a taste, so I gives the fork to the chap as come with me, makes him squat down, and claps the big brown jar between his legs."
"Mixed pickles!" cried Carey, eagerly.
"Piccadilly, sir," said the old sailor, correctively. "Then I makes all the rest sit round him in what you calls a silly circle."
"Silly circle!" cried Carey, laughing. "I should think it was!"
"That's right, sir—a black silly circle. 'There you are, grinning idgits,' I says; 'now amuse yourselves with that, and while you're busy I'll go and cook the dinner and see if I can't get hold o' something for the Guvnors to cook Old King Cole's goose.'"
"And did they eat the pickles?" said Carey, eagerly.
"Eat 'em, sir? That they did, very slow and careful too as soon as they found what they were like. They played fair too, each chap taking his bit in turn like young birds in a nest, beak wide open, bit o' cauliflower or a couple o' French beans popped in, beak shut, and then each chap shut his eyes, jumped up, and danced."
"Just like children," said Carey.
"They seemed to think the beans was some kind o' worms or grubs, sir, and when it come to the capsicums, the chaps as got 'em rolled themselves on the deck with delight, and all the rest wanted 'em too. But I didn't stop long; I was off, and they took no more notice o' me till I began cooking, when they stood about to grin and smell. I got 'em, though," said Bostock, mysteriously.
"Three double guns, three revolvers, and a box o' cartridges."
"Oh!" whispered Carey, excitedly. "Where are they?"
"Rolled up in what's left o' the mains'l, and I folded it up and twisted a rope round it. Yonder it is, amidships."
"Hi! You! Come along here," came in the beachcomber's harsh voice, and Carey had to hurry to him. "Come and help with these," and he pointed to the bucket of glistening pearls. "Get me something to put them in."
Carey thought for a moment, and then went below, to return with the first things he thought suitable, and Mallam nodded his satisfaction.
"They'll do," he said. "'Bout dry now. Your back's easier than mine. Pour 'em in. No smugging—"
The pearls were carefully emptied into a couple of cigar boxes, and placed under lock and key in a small closet in the captain's cabin, of which Mallam now took possession, while that evening his followers, who quite scorned the forecastle below deck, camped above it, close up to the bulwarks, starboard or port, according to which way the wind blew, these seeming to remind them of their humpies or wind-screens, which some of the most savage used instead of huts.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
Carey was not long in communicating to the doctor all he had heard from Bostock, and his words revived his companion wonderfully.
"Capital!" he said. "The fact of our being unarmed and this scoundrel keeping all the weapons out of our reach half maddened me."
"Yes, wasn't it horrid?" said Carey. "I felt better directly, and, do you know, I don't think we have half so much to fear now from the blacks. I don't feel a bit afraid of them. I can make them do just as I like; so can Bob."
"Perhaps so, and if we were alone we could make them our obedient servants. They look up to the whites as superior beings, but they are not to be trusted, my boy. This Mallam has had them under his thumb for years, and as you must have seen, a few sharp orders from him bring out their savage instincts, their faces change, their eyes look full of ferocity, and if their white chief wished it they would kill us all without compunction."
"And cook and eat us afterwards without salt?" said the boy, merrily.
"You laugh," replied the doctor, "but it is a horrible fact, my boy; and if we knew all that has taken place in connection with this man's rule over them, we should have some blood-curdling things to dwell upon."
"I don't feel afraid," said Carey, coolly. "Of course, I should if it came to such a state of affairs as you hint at. But if it came to the worst, I should jump overboard and try to swim ashore."
"To be taken by a shark or a crocodile?"
"Well, that would be a more natural way of coming to one's end, sir. But, pooh! we're not going to be beaten, doctor. We must get Mr Dan Mallam—Old King Cole, Bob calls him—shut up below somewhere and out of sight of the blacks. They'd obey us then, and we should be all right. Why, we're not going to be afraid of one man."
"One man?" said the doctor.
"Yes, one man. He's only one man when he's alone. I felt yesterday that we had twenty-one enemies. Now I feel that we've only one. Bob says we must wait."
"Yes, it is good advice," replied the doctor, "and we will wait. Carey, my lad, we must bend to circumstances till our chance comes. There, I have been behaving in a poor, cowardly way."
"Oh, nonsense, sir!"
"I have, Carey, and there is no disguising it; but I am going to pluck up now. Let the scoundrel go on thinking we are submitting and are as much his servant as the blacks are."
"Till the right time comes, sir, and he wakes up to the fact that he's our prisoner. I say, if a ship came in sight and saw us we could hand him over and he'd be taken right off and treated as a criminal."
"Exactly. It seemed very galling to see him seize the pearls."
"Yes," said Carey, "but let him think they're his, and the ship, and all below. We know better."
This was a trifling bit of conversation, but from that hour hope grew stronger in the breasts of the three oddly made prisoners and slaves of such a king. Their semi-captivity seemed more bearable, and it showed in their looks and actions, the beachcomber noting it and showing a grim kind of satisfaction.
"That's right," he said. "Glad to see you are all settling down and making the best of it. It's no use to go kicking against stone walls or rocks. Be good boys, and I won't be very hard on you. You'll eat and drink your food better, and instead o' grizzling you'll enjoy yourselves and get nice and fat. My pack, too, will like you all the better. I don't think I shall let 'em have that ugly chap Bostock, though; he cooks too well."
But Carey took matters, according to the doctor's ideas, too easily—too freely. He did not shrink from speaking out and taking liberties with his position. It was as if he had forgotten that he was a prisoner, and he pretty well did as he liked.
"Here, what are you after, youngster? Where are you going?"
"Along with the pack to get cocoanuts," said Carey, coolly.
"I never told you," growled the old fellow, fiercely.
"No, but I want to see them get the nuts down," said Carey, nonchalantly, and he went.
It was the same when a party of the blacks went fishing, which was nearly every day, so that there was always an ample supply, and the boy returned flushed and brown, full of the adventures he had had.
Black Jack now took to heading the fishing expeditions, and always looked after Carey at starting time, grinning and making signs suggestive of hauling up the fish and hitting them over the heads with a nulla-nulla, while the crew of the outrigger canoe always greeted the boy with a grin of satisfaction.
"They are all awfully civil to me now," said Carey to Bostock, "but I think it's a good deal due to the ticky-ticky. I say, Bob, how long will the molasses last?"
"Oh, some time yet, sir."
"But when the last jar's eaten?"
"Then you must try the pickles, sir. And when that's done, as it used to say on a big picture on the walls in London, 'If you like the pickles, try the sauce.' There's no end o' bottles o' sauce."
"Are there? Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir. There's a big consignment, as they call it, sent from London to Brisbane. One part o' the hold's chock full o' cases. Why, there's a lot o' sugar things too. Oh, we shall find enough to keep them beggars going for a long time yet."
Meantime the great tubs had all been emptied with more or less satisfactory results, and re-filling began with the accompanying stacking of the shells. The pearls were stowed away in cigar boxes, which were emptied for the purpose, the beachcomber now taking to smoking some of those turned out, and giving an abundance to Carey, who took them eagerly, always carrying several in his pocket.
"Surely you are not going to smoke those, my boy?" said the doctor, who looked quite aghast. "Wait a few years before you try anything of that kind."
"Why?" said the boy, with an arch look. "Because if you begin now you will most likely be laying up a store of trouble for the future in the shape of a disordered digestion, which may hang about you all your life."
"I'm not going to smoke them," said Carey, laughing. "Look here, I roll each one up tight in a bit of paper, and then cut it with a sharp knife into six, ready to give the black fellows if they behave themselves. They'll do anything for me for a bit of tobacco."
"But don't they ever try to take it away from you?"
"Not now. They tried snatching once or twice, but I gave the one who did a good sharp crack, and they left it off, for I'm always fair to them."
"A dangerous game to play."
"Oh, no. The others always laugh at the one who's hit. They don't seem to mind taking a crack from me."
Those fishing trips were an intense pleasure to Carey, for there was so much that was novel. Now fish with scales as brilliant as the feathers of humming-birds would be caught; now the blacks would be warning their companions to beware of the black and yellow or yellow snakes.
"Mumkull—kill a fellow," Black Jack said, and to emphasise his meaning he put out a hand in the water towards one of the basking serpents, snatched it back as if bitten, and went through a regular pantomime indicative of his sufferings. First he drew up one leg, then the other, threw himself on his back in the bottom of the canoe, kicked out, threw his arms in the air, straightened himself out, rolled over, and then, with a wonderful display of strength, curved his spine and sprang over back again, repeating the performance, which was wonderfully like the flopping of a freshly caught roach in a punt, even to the beating of the tail, which was here represented by the man's legs. By degrees this grew more slow; then there was a flap at intervals, finishing with one heavy rap, and he lay quite still as if dead.
"Dat a way," he cried, raising his head and grinning hugely. "Mumkull— kill a fellow."
But Carey's greatest treats were upon the hunting expeditions made by the beachcomber's blacks ashore to obtain fresh meat in the way of a delicacy or two for their chief and something substantial for themselves.
One day Carey was gazing rather disconsolately at the shore and wondering when the time would come for him and his companions to be free again, when Black Jack bounded to his side, making the boy start round, to find the man in a menacing attitude, his teeth bare, eyes wide open displaying scarcely anything but the whites, for he was squinting so horribly that his pupils had disappeared behind his thick nose, while the club he held was quivering as if he were about to strike. The suddenness of the approach startled Carey for the moment, and he leaped back, but the reaction came as quickly, and with doubled fist he rushed at the black; but the latter was too quick, leaping aside, and Carey's second attack, which took the form of a flying kick, was also unsuccessful.
Black Jack's face was now covered with a series of good-tempered wrinkles.
"Come 'long," he cried. "Kedge bird—wallaby. Be ticky-ticky, up a tree."
"Be ticky-ticky?" said the boy, wonderingly.
"Ess. Come 'long; be ticky-ticky. Buzz-zz-uzz," he went, with a wonderfully good imitation of the whirr of an insect's wings, while he made his hand describe the dartings to and fro.
"Big fly so," he cried, and drawing his boomerang from the hair girdle, he took a few steps, whirled it a moment or two, and then hurled it towards the shore. "Buzz—hum!" he cried, and then he stood grinning with delight at the boy's admiration of the gyrations made by the curious implement.
At the first throw it seemed to Carey that it would drop as soon as the force was exhausted into the sea, where the hard wood must cause it to sink. But nothing of the kind; it went skimming over the water like some gigantic insect, and at last made a graceful curve, rose up on high quivering and fluttering, and came back till it was over the deck, and then came twirling down.
"Big tree, ticky-ticky, fly dat how."
"Oh, I see; fly ticky-ticky," cried Carey. "Honey?"
"Good ticky-ticky," said the black, licking his fingers and smacking his lips. "Come 'long."
"Yes, I'll come," cried the boy, and the next minute he was over the side and in the boat, where half-a-dozen more of the blacks were waiting and received him with a frantic shout of delight, flourishing their paddles, which they plunged into the smooth water of the lagoon as soon as Black Jack had dropped to his place; and away they went, with the latter standing up beside Carey.
As they were passing round the bows, Bostock's head suddenly appeared over the side, and at a sign from the boy the blacks ceased rowing.
"Where away, lad?" said the old sailor.
"Ashore, hunting wallabies or something."
"I say, young gentleman, is it safe to go alone with those chaps?"
"Oh, yes; there's nothing to mind. Haven't I been fishing with 'em lots of times?"
"Yes, but that was on the water, my lad," said Bostock, shaking his head.
"Bob—Bob, come along; kedge wallaby—snakum—ticky-ticky."
"Who's to do the cooking if I do?" growled Bostock.
"Cookie, come kedge ticky-ticky."
"No. I say, my lad, keep your weather eye open."
"Both of them, Bob. I'll take care."
The paddles were plunged in again, and the boat glided onward.
"I don't half like it," muttered Bostock. "That there boy's too wentersome. S'pose they got hungry—they most always are—and took it into their heads to make a fire. Ugh! They aren't to be trusted, but I b'leeve they all like him and would be precious sorry when they got back and Old King Cole asked where he was. There'd be a row and a bit o' shooting, I dessay, for it's amazing, that it is, amazing, the way the old vagabone has took to our lad. But I don't like his going off with 'em, and with nothing better than a bit of a toothpick of a knife. Wouldn't be long before he got hold of a club, though, I know."
Bostock went back to his galley shaking his head, and at the same time Carey was mentally shaking his own.
"An old stupid," he said. "I wish he hadn't said that. Just as if it was likely that Black Jack or either of the others would hurt me without Old King Cole was there to say 'Css!' to them and hound them on. Wouldn't hurt me, would you, Black Jack?" he said aloud.
"Hey? Wood hurt um?" cried the man, and he pulled the boy on one side, dropped on his knees, and began to feel about the bottom of the canoe with his hand. "No hurt."
"No; all right now," said Carey, smiling. "Here, Jackum, I want to learn to throw the boomerang. Give me hold."
The boy made a snatch at the crescent-moon-like weapon, and got hold; but the black seized it too, shouting, "No, no, no!" and his companions began to shout what sounded like a protest.
"No, no throw. Go bottom."
"I should make it come back."
The black grinned knowingly.
"Jackum show soon. Jackum fro."
He sent the strange weapon flying on before them, and cleverly caught it as it returned; but then he stuck it in his girdle again, shaking his head.
"Go bottom," he said.
Carey was disappointed, but his attention was taken up directly by something more exciting, for as the canoe glided along, with the outrigger literally skipping over the water, the boy suddenly became conscious of what seemed for the moment like another canoe of nearly the same size, sunk beneath the surface and gliding along at the same speed.
For the moment he thought it must be the canoe's shadow somehow cast beside them, but the next moment he grasped the fact that it was a great fish, probably a shark, which had come in through the opening with the last high tide, and was now on the prowl.
There was no doubt about it, for the blacks had seen it, and they laughed as they saw their passenger shrink to the other side and lean over towards the outrigger.
The next moment Jackum drew his attention with a touch, and began making hideous grimaces at the creature, while the others began to shout and were apparently calling it every opprobrious name that their limited vocabulary supplied.
But the monster, which must have been some fourteen feet long, only rose a little so that his black triangular fin appeared above the surface.
Jackum grinned, stooped, and picked up one of a bundle of spears which lay along at the side, and handed it to the boy, signing to him to stand up in the boat.
It was not much of a weapon, being only a straight bamboo sapling with an ill-made point hardened in the fire.
"Gib big poke," cried the black.
"If I don't they'll think I'm afraid," thought Carey; so he seized the spear, feeling not the slightest inclination for his task, and drove the point down on the shark's back.
It was an unlucky stroke, for, instead of penetrating as intended, it glided over the slimy skin, while, overbalancing himself in consequence of meeting with no resistance, Carey to his horror found himself following his stroke, and he would have plunged overboard had not a muscular black arm darted like a great snake about his waist and plucked him back. For a moment or two the boy gasped, but he recovered himself directly.
"Shake hands, Jackum. Thankye."
The black grinned, and took the extended hand for a few seconds.
"Let's try again," said Carey; but the shark had sunk down out of sight.
"Ticklum," said the black, grinning. "Come soon."
Carey was disappointed, for he wanted to redeem his character, though it was not an easy task to try and emulate the blacks with their own weapons. But Jackum was right; it was not long before the great fish re-appeared, now on the other side of the canoe, rising slowly till its fin was above water, its intention being apparently to pick one of the paddlers out for a meal.
His appearance there, however, was not approved of, the blacks by their actions showing that they considered it highly probable that their visitor would get entangled with the bamboos of the outrigger and capsize the boat.
Jackum took the lead by snatching the spear from Carey, evidently considering that the position required skilled instead of amateur manipulation; and, as his fellows turned their paddles into choppers and struck heavily at the shark's back, Jackum drove his spear down with all his might.
It went home in spite of its clumsy make and miserable point, for in a moment it was twitched out of the strong hands that held it, the water came flying in a shower over Carey, consequent upon a tremendous blow delivered by the fish's tail; then there was a violent eddy at the boat's side, a great shovel-shaped head rose, and the monster shot out of the water, rising several feet and falling with a crash across the main boom of the outrigger, taking it down lower and lower, while Carey clung to the other side of the boat. The water came creeping in over the lower side, and they would, he felt, be taken down and lie at the mercy of the enemy the blacks had tried to destroy.
In rushed the water faster and faster, and Carey looked towards the shore to see how far it was to swim, when all at once the weight glided off the great bamboo, which rose quickly, the boat was level again, but half full of water, and the blacks chattered and grinned with delight, as they began shovelling the water out on both sides with their paddles.
Jackum used his hands, but stopped short directly after to point.
"Tickum, tickum. Mumkull," he cried, and Carey made out the spear-shaft performing some strange gyrations some twenty yards away, before it once more disappeared.
As Carey owned afterwards to the doctor and Bostock, he still felt a little white, and his heart was beating heavily. But it calmed down rapidly as he felt that the worst that was to happen to him was to feel his legs wet until the sun had dried his trousers and boots, while the blacks chattered away, taking it as an every-day occurrence, rapidly emptying the boat, and once more in high glee paddling hard for the shore, where the great enjoyments of the day were to begin.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
As Carey landed he glanced at the now enormous stack of pearl shells and at the tubs once more well filled with oysters, for the beachcomber had not let his men be idle. But the sight of the treasures of which they had been robbed only irritated the boy, and he turned away to forget it in encountering the grinning face of Black Jack close by.
"Come, fro boomerang," he said, handing the wooden scimitar-like blade, and pointing along the sands.
"Ah," cried the boy, eagerly, "give me hold."
As he caught the boomerang, the other blacks started off along the sands as if they were going to field for a ball, and Carey laughed as he prepared to throw.
"It will begin to sail up before it gets to them," he thought to himself, laughingly, and he rather enjoyed the idea of the big, lithe fellows running through the hot sand in vain.
Then, imitating, as he thought, the black's action exactly, Carey sent the weapon spinning along about a yard above the sand; but it did not begin to rise, and before it dropped one of the men caught it cleverly and sent it back with such accuracy that Jackum caught it in turn and handed it to the boy.
Carey threw again half-a-dozen times, for the curved blade to be caught by one or the other, no matter how wildly diverse were the casts, and sent back to Jackum, who never missed a catch, standing perfectly calm and at the proper moment darting out his right or left hand, when flip, he had it safely and handed it back, grinning with delight.
"White boy no fro boomerang," he said.
"No," cried Carey, who was hot and irritable with the failure attending his exertions. "You're cheating me; this one won't go."
"No make um go," cried Jackum, slapping his thighs and dancing with glee.
"No; it's a bad one; it won't fly back."
"Yes, fly bird come back."
"But it doesn't when I throw it."
"No, won't come back."
"And it won't when those black fellows throw."
Black Jackum understood him perfectly and threw himself down on the hot sand to roll himself over in the exuberance of his delight.
"Look here," cried Carey, growing more irritated; "you're a cheat. You knew that thing wouldn't go when you gave it to me. Get up, or I'll kick you."
He made a rush to put his threat in execution, but the black rolled over and sprang up laughing.
"White boy get wild likum big Dan. No fro boomerang. Look, see."
"It's too bad, you're a cheat. Bad one. Bah!" cried Carey, throwing the wooden blade down. "You've changed it."
"Look, see," cried the black, catching it up; and in the most effortless way he sent it skimming along the sand right away, full fifty yards beyond the farthest fielder, before it began to mount high in the air, executing a peculiar series of twirls and flutterings as it came back, till the momentum died out as it dropped not half-a-dozen yards from Carey's feet.
"Ah!" cried the boy, excitedly, "I see how you do it now. Here, let me try."
"Jackum fro makum come back ebry war."
"Yes, but let me try."
Bang, bang, came softened by the distance, and, looking sharply in the direction of the stranded vessel, two faint puffs of white smoke were visible.
"What does that mean?" cried Carey, as he saw the fielders come running towards him.
"Big Dan shoot, shoot. Say go hunt, get bird to cookie, cookie. Come, run fas'."
He set the example and plunged at once into the great cocoanut grove, followed by Carey and his companions.
"Big Dan no see now," cried Jackum, and he grinned and pointed up at the nuts overhead. "Good, good?"
"Yes," cried Carey; "let's have some."
The black said something to his companions, two of whom took off their plaited hair girdles, joined them together, and then the band was passed round a likely tree, knotted round one of the wearers' loins, and the next minute he was apparently walking like a monkey up the tree, shifting the band dexterously and going on and on till he reached the crown of leaves and the fruit, which he began screwing off and pitching down into the sand, where they were caught up, the pointed end of a club-handle inserted, and the great husk wrenched off. Then a few chops with a stone axe made a hole in the not yet hardened shell, and a nut with its delicious contents of sweet, sub-acid milk and pulp was handed to the boy, the giver grinning with satisfaction as he saw how it was enjoyed.
The blacks were soon similarly occupied, each finishing a nut, and then Jackum led the way inland.
"Are you going to the river?" asked Carey.
"No, walk, kedge fis'," said Jackum, shaking his head. "Bully-woolly dar."
"Bully-woolly?" said Carey, wonderingly.
Jackum threw himself on the ground, with his legs stiffened out behind, and his hands close to his sides. Then with wonderful accuracy he went through the movements of a crocodile creeping over the sand, and then made a snap at the boy's leg with his teeth, making believe to have caught him, and to be dragging his imaginary prey down to the water, ending by wagging his legs from side to side like a tail.
"I see," cried Carey. "Crocodiles. Yes, I know."
"Big, big. Mumkull black fellow, white boy. Come 'long."
Jackum started off, followed by Carey and the rest in single file, their leader with his head down and eyes reading the ground from right to left as if in search of something lost. He made straight for the forest, but selected the more open parts where the undergrowth was scarce, so as to get quickly over the ground, stopping suddenly by a great decayed tree, about which his companions set to work with the sharp ends of their club-handles, and in a very short time they had dug out of the decayed wood some three double handfuls of thick white grubs as big as a man's fingers, and these were triumphantly transferred to the grass bag one man had hanging to his girdle.
Starting once more, Jackum suddenly caught sight of traces on the ground which made him begin to proceed cautiously, his companions closing up, club, spear, or boomerang in hand, and then all at once there was a rush and a spring, then another, and a couple of little animals bounded away, kangaroo fashion, in a series of leaps through the open, park-like forest, till as they were crossing a widish patch Carey saw the use of the boomerang, one of which weapons skimmed after the retreating animals, struck it, and knocked it over, to lie kicking, till one of the men ran swiftly up and put it out of its misery with one blow of his club.
The other was missed, the boomerang hurled just going over its back and returning to the thrower after the fashion of a disappointed dog, while the little animal took refuge in a tree, leaping from bough to bough till brought down by one of a little shower of melon-headed clubs.
Jackum held up the two trophies with a grin of delight, tied their legs together, and hung them on a stump.
"Back, come fetchum," he said, nodding.
The hunt continued till a couple of brush turkeys sprang up and began to run and flutter among the bushes, but only to be brought down by the unerring boomerangs; and these were also hung against a tree ready for picking up as the hunting party returned.
The traces on a sandy patch, showing that a snake had crossed and left its zigzag groove, were next spied, and a little tracking showed the maker of the marks coiled up on an ant-heap basking in the sun.
The reptile was on the alert, though, and raised its spade-shaped head high above its coils, displaying a pair of tiny diamond-bright eyes for a few moments, before a blow from the end of a spear dashed it down, broken and quivering.
"Mumkull—bite a fellow," said Jackum. "Makum swellum. Brrr!"
Carey grasped the fact that the snake was of a poisonous tendency, and it was left writhing on the ant-heap, with the little creatures swarming in an army out of their holes to commence the task of picking its bones into skeleton whiteness.
A couple more large turkey-like birds were brought down and hung up in the shady forest they were now passing, the spreading branches of the huge trees being most grateful interposed between Carey's head and the sun. Here the blacks proceeded with the greatest care, starting no less than three snakes, which were allowed to scuffle off. At last one of the blacks uttered a faint cry, and he took the lead, following the trail of something quickly, till he stopped short beneath a huge fig-tree whose boughs spread far and wide.
The black here turned to Carey and pointed upward with his spear to where, half hidden by the dense foliage, a clump of knots and folds upon some interlacing horizontal boughs revealed the presence of a carpet snake, whose soft warm brown and chocolate markings of various shades were strikingly beautiful.
"Ugh! the monster!" exclaimed Carey, shrinking back. "Are you going to kill it?"
"Mumkull, eatum. Good, good," cried Jackum, and the noise made below roused the sleeping serpent, whose head rose up, showing the mark where the mouth opened, and Carey could see the glistening forked tongue darting in and out through the orifice at the apices of the jaws. And now the creature seemed all in motion, fold gliding over fold, and one great loop hanging down from the bough some fifteen feet above their heads.
"I mustn't run off," thought Carey; "but it looks a dangerous brute."
He stood fast then, and the attack began, the blacks hurling their clubs up at the reptile with such accuracy and force that in less than a minute the creature had been struck in several places, and was striking out with its jaws and lashing its tail furiously.
Another blow from a whizzing boomerang made the creature cease its attempts to get to a safer part of the tree and writhe so violently in a horrible knot of convolutions that it lost its hold upon the branch and came down through the interlacing boughs with a rush and a thud upon the ground.
Here it seemed to see its aggressors for the first time, and, gathering itself up, its head rose with the jaws distended, and it struck at the nearest black.
But his enemy was beforehand. Holding his spear with both hands he used it as a British yeoman of old handled a quarter-staff, and a whistling blow caught the reptile a couple of feet below the head, which dropped inert, the vertebrae being broken, and a series of blows from other spears, one aimed at the tail, finished the business.
The danger was over, and the serpent began to untwine itself, till it lay out, a long heaving mass of muscles, completely disabled and dying after the slow fashion of its kind.
"Why, it must be sixteen or eighteen feet long," thought Carey, and then he stood looking on while the delighted blacks, who looked upon their prize as a delicacy that would be exclusively their own, cut a few canes, twined them into a loose rope, made a noose round the writhing creature's neck, and after one of the party had passed this rope over a convenient bough the reptile was hauled up so that the tail was clear of the ground and safe from the attacks of marauding ants.
Then the hunt was continued. Several splendid birds were knocked over, and they were now high up in the river valley, where the great monitor lizards haunted the sun-baked volcanic stones.
"Knock one of those down, Jackum," said Carey, who was anxious to see how the blacks would deal with the tail-lashing creatures.
"Plenty, plenty," said the black, grinning; but he obeyed directly after, sending his boomerang whizzing at one, which suddenly bounded on to a rock and turned defiantly with open jaws upon those who had interrupted his noon-tide sleep.
Carey had ocular proof that the nude blacks were cautious enough to keep their skins clear of the fearful lash formed by the steel-wire-like tails. For the boomerang struck the distended jaws with a sharp crack, and the next moment the reptile was down, with its silvery-grey scales flashing in the sun like oxidised silver, as it lashed its tail about like a coil-whip. It was not round Jackum's legs, however, when he ran up to recover his boomerang, but round and round the spear-shaft which he held ready for the purpose.
A few minutes later the great lizard was dead. "Plenty cookie now," said Jackum, and they began to return, picking up their trophies as they went back exactly over their trail.
"They'll only cut a piece out of the carpet snake," thought Carey. "It's too big to take back."
But he was mistaken. That serpent was too fat and juicy, and promised too many pleasant cookings, to be left behind, and it was soon lowered down, to be dragged after the party by two of the blacks, who harnessed themselves to the canes about the reptile's neck, the smooth hard scales making the elongated body glide easily enough over the grass and sandy earth.
"But I'm not going to ride in the canoe with that horrid beast," muttered Carey. "It's alive and moving still."
But he did, for, when all their game had been successively picked up and they reached the edge of the lagoon, the great serpent was dragged in and fitted itself in the bottom of the canoe, and the rest was thrown fore and aft. Carey set his teeth, for he dared not let the blacks see him shrink, and stepped calmly in, to sit down with his knees to his chin and the thickest part of the serpent passing round behind his heels, the head and tail lying forward, with the paddlers sitting inside the loop it formed.
They had cargo enough to make the slight vessel seem heavily-laden, but it was sent rapidly across the lagoon, the blacks eager and triumphant to display their successful efforts to their companions, who were all perched up on the bulwarks on either side of the gangway, face outward, waiting to see the portion that would come to their share.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
The proximity of the evil-smelling serpent to Carey's legs doubtless had something to do with the speed of his movements in quitting the canoe and climbing the side; and on reaching the gangway he looked round in vain for the doctor and Bostock, for they were not visible, neither was Mallam on the deck.
"Where's the doctor?" he said to one of the blacks, but the man merely stared at him blankly. "Cookie?" cried Carey, and the man grinned and pointed towards the galley.
But Carey did not go in that direction, turning aft towards the saloon entrance, where on reaching the top of the brass-bound stairs he stopped in alarm, for a hoarse groan ascended to his ears.
A shiver of dread ran through the lad, for it was evident that something terrible had happened during his absence, and for a few moments he stood listening.
Then, mastering the coward dread, he took a few steps down.
"What's the matter?" he cried, excitedly, but there was only another groan, and he leaped down the remaining stairs to the saloon door, but only to find that it was shut and fastened, and that the startling sounds had not come from there, but from the lower cabin.
The boy did not stop to question, but began to descend. He had not taken two steps, however, before there was the sharp report of a pistol, and a bullet whistled by his ear. Then there was another shot, which was better aimed, striking him in the chest, and he fell back against the bulkhead, to slide down in a half-sitting, half-lying position upon the stairs, struggling to get his breath, while a deathly feeling of sickness made his head swim and everything seemed to be turning black.
It was some minutes before he came sufficiently to himself to realise that he was lying back there upon the stairs, unable to move, and a greater time elapsed before he fully recalled the cause and clearly knew that he had been shot at, the second shot having caused the dull, heavy pain in his breast, with the accompanying oppression.
His first movement was to clap his hand to his chest, the act dislodging a bullet, which flew off and went rattling loudly down the brass-bound stairs.
The next moment another shot was fired, and struck the wood-work above his head, while before a puff of evil-smelling smoke had risen far there was another shot, with the shivering of plate glass, which fell jangling down.
There was a feeling as if a tiny hand were passing among the roots of Carey's hair and he tried to crouch lower, but it was impossible. Feeling though, that his life—if he were not already fatally injured— depended upon his getting beyond reach of the person firing, he gave himself intense pain by trying to ascend the stairs. But at the first movement he could not restrain a sharp cry, and immediately there followed two more shots, which crashed into the wood-work overhead.
Not daring to stir now, Carey clapped his hand once more to his breast, where the pain was most acute, shuddering meanwhile at the thought that his breast must be wet with blood.
But no; his flannel felt dry enough, and plucking up courage as he recalled the fact that the first two shots stung by his head and breast, while the last four had flown high, he felt pretty sure that by crawling to the top he might reach there in safety. Besides, a revolver contained only six shots, and that number had been fired.
Acting upon this, he turned quickly over upon his breast, and in spite of the sickening pain he felt, began to crawl up; but his hope that the last shot had been fired was damped on the instant, for the firing once more began, and he felt certain that his assailant must be Dan Mallam, since he always carried two revolvers.
Carey was desperate now, and he kept on breathlessly, hearing three more shots fired, nine in all, before he sank down on the landing now by the saloon door, to faint dead away.
How long he lay he could not tell, but it could not have been any great space of time before in a sickened drowsy way he found himself listening to the distant chattering of the blacks on deck.
Carey's hand went to his breast again, where the heavy dull pain continued; but there was no trace of blood, and, satisfied on this point, he crouched there listening to a dull, moaning sound coming from the bottom of the stairs.
What did it all mean, and where was Doctor Kingsmead? He knew that Bostock was forward in the galley, for the black had pointed there when he asked, and the thing to do now was to go and find him to hear the worst.
Just then, like a flash, came the recollection of the two reports he had heard that morning when he was on the sands, and he began to wonder whether that was in any way connected with what had happened.
And now he tried to rise and get up on deck, but at the first movement the sick feeling came back, and he leaned back to let it pass off.
As he sat there, there was a burst of laughing from the blacks—a sound so full of careless, boyish merriment that it cheered him with the thought that perhaps, after all, nothing very serious was the matter.
He made another effort, and stood up to take a step or two, with the sick feeling passing off as he once more listened to the laughter of the blacks.
And now a fresh thought came to him; he must not let the blacks see that he was suffering, or they might look down upon him with contempt, so that he would perhaps lose the high position he had won in their estimation.
This seemed to give him strength, and, setting his teeth hard he put on an air of stoical indifference as he stepped out on deck, feeling that he was growing firmer each moment.
There was a strange sight before him as he walked aft, for the blacks were gathered round four of their party, who had evidently begun in the middle and worked away from thence towards head and tail, in pairs, skinning the great snake, to the great defilement of the clean deck.
Black Jackum made way for the boy to see as he came up, grinning as was his wont.
"Good eatum," he said, eagerly. "Cookum, good."
"Yes," said Carey, quietly. "Where is Cookie?"
"Cookie?" repeated the black, half-wonderingly, and he turned to one of the party who had stopped on board.
"Baal. Cookie he."
The man made some reply, and ran towards the forecastle to squat upon the deck and thump upon the hatch with his fists, saying something with great rapidity of speech, the only words Carey could grasp being Dan and mumkull.
Black Jackum turned to the boy as soon as his companion had finished.
"Cookie," cried Jackum, pointing down at the closed and fastened hatch. "Big Dan mumkull everybody open dat."
"Big Dan says he'll kill everyone who opens that hatch?" cried Carey.
"Issum," said the black, nodding a good deal, looking sharply from Carey towards the cabin entry and back.
"Mumkull ebberbody. Shoot, bang."
"Let him shoot me then if he dares," cried Carey, in a fit of desperation, and the two blacks looked at him with horror and admiration as the boy bent down over the hatch, pulled out an iron bolt thrust through the staple, and threw open the heavy lid of wood; but all was still below.