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The Ebbing Of The Tide - South Sea Stories - 1896
by Louis Becke
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*****

"The white man was sitting on the sand, with his face clasped in his hands. At his feet lay another man, with his white face turned up to the sky, and those that watched saw that he was dead. He who sat over the dead man was tall and thin, and his hands were like the talons of the great fish eagle, so thin and bony were they. His garments were ragged and old, and his feet were bare; and as my father looked at him his heart became pitiful, and he whispered to Uluvao, 'Let us call out. He is but weak, and I can master him if he springs upon me. Let us speak.'?

"But Uluvao held him back. 'Nay,' she said, 'he may have a gun and shoot.'

"So they waited till the sun rose.

*****

"The white man stood and looked about. Then he walked down to the beach, and my father and the girl saw lying on the rocks a little boat. The man went to the side, and put in his hand and brought out something in his hand, and came back and sat down again by the face of the dead. He had gone to the boat for food, and my father saw him place a biscuit to his mouth and commence to eat. But ere he swallowed any it fell from his hand upon the sand and he threw himself upon the body of the dead man and wept, and his tears ran down over the face that was cold and were drank up by the sand.

"Then Uluvao began to weep, and my father stood up and called out to the white man Talofa!

"He gazed at them and spoke not, but let them come close to him, and pointing to him who lay on the sand, he covered his face with his hands and bowed his head. Then Lauati ran and climbed a cocoanut tree and brought him two young nuts and made him drink, and Uluvao got broad leaves and covered over the face of the dead from the hot sun. Not one word of our tongue could he speak, but yet from signs that he made Lauati and the girl knew that he wished to bury the dead man. So they two dug a deep grave in the sand, far up on the bank, where it lay soft and deep and covered with vines. When it was finished they lifted the dead white man and laid him beside it. And as they looked upon him the other came and knelt beside it and spoke many words into the ear that heard not, and Uluvao wept again to see his grief. At last they laid him in the grave and all three threw in the sand and filled it up.

"Then these two took the strange white man by the hand and led him away into a little hut that was sometimes used by those who came to the island to fish. They made him eat and then sleep, and while he slept they carried up the things out of the boat and put them in the house beside him.

*****

"When the sun was high in the heavens, the white man awoke, and my father took his hand and pointed to the boat, and then to the houses across the sea. He bent his head and followed, and they all got into the boat, and hoisted the sail. When the boat came close to the passage of Aleipata, the people ran from out their houses, and stood upon the beach and wondered. And Lauati and Uluvao laughed and sang, and called out: 'Ho, ho, people! we have brought a great gift—a white man from over the sea. Send word quickly to Tuialo that he may return and see this our white man,' and, as the boat touched the sand, the old woman, the sister of Tuialo, came up, and said to Lauati, 'Well hast thou done, O lucky one! Better is this gift of a white man than many turtle.'

"Then she took the stranger to her house, and pigs and fowls were killed, and yams and taro cooked, and a messenger sent to Tuialo to hasten back quickly, and see this gift from the gods. For they were quick to see that in the boat were muskets and powder and bullets, and all the people rejoiced, for they thought that this white man could mend for them many guns that were broken and useless, and help them to fight against the men or Falifa.

*****

"In two days Tuialo came back, and he made much of the white man, and Uluvao he gave to my father for wife. And for the white man were the softest mats and the best pieces of siapo and he lived for nearly the space of two years in the chief's house. And all this time he worked at making boats and mending the broken guns and muskets, and little by little the words of our tongue came to him, and he learned to tell us many things. Yet at night-time he would always come to my father's house and sit with him and talk, and sometimes Uluvao would make kava for him and my father.

"At about the end of the second year, there came a whaleship, and Tuialo, and the white man, whom we called Tui-fana, 'the gun-mender,' went out to her, and took with them many pigs and yams to exchange for guns and powder. When the buying and selling was over, the captain of the ship gave Tui-fana a gun with two barrels—bright was it and new, and Tuialo, the chief, was eaten up with envy, and begged his white man for the gun, but he said: 'Nay, not now; when we are in the house we will talk.'

*****

"Like as a swarm of flies, the people gathered round the council-house to see the guns and the powder and the swords that had been brought from the ship. And in the middle of the house sat Tui-fana with the gun with two barrels in his hand.

"When all the chiefs had come in and sat down Tuialo came. His face was smiles, but his heart was full of bitterness towards Tui-fana, and as he spoke to the people and told them of the words that had been spoken by the captain of the ship, he said, 'And see this white man, this Tui-fana, who hath grown rich among us, is as greedy as a Tongan, and keepeth for himself a new gun with two barrels.'

"The white stood up and spoke: 'Nay, not greedy am I. Take, O chief, all I have; my house, my mats, my land, and the wife thou gavest me, but yet would I say, "Let me keep this gun with the two barrels."'

"Tuialo was eaten up with greed, yet was his mind set on the gun, so he answered, 'Nay, that were to make thee as poor as when thou comest to us. Give me the gun, 'tis all I ask.'

"'It is not mine to give,' he answered. Then he rose and spoke to the people. 'See,' said he, 'Tuialo, the chief, desires this gun, and I say it is not mine to give, for to Lauati did I promise such a gun a year gone by. This, then, will I do. Unto Tuialo will I give my land, my house, and all that is mine, but to Lauati I give the gun, for so I promised.'

*****

"Then fierce looks passed between the chief and the white man, and the people surged together to and fro, for they were divided, some for the fear of the chief, and some for the love of the white man. But most were for that Lauati should keep the gun. And so Tuialo, seeing that the people's hearts were against him, put on a smooth face, and came to the white man and said—

"'Thou art as a son to me. Lauati shall keep the gun, and thou shalt keep thy house and lands. I will take nothing from thee. Let us be for ever friends.'

"Then the white said to the chief, 'O chief, gladly will I give thee all I have, but this man, Lauati, is as my brother, and I promised———'

"But Tuialo put his hand on the white man's mouth, and said, 'Say no more, my son; I was but angered.'

*****

"Yet see now his wickedness. For that night, when my father and Uluvao, my mother, were sitting with the white man and his wife, and drinking kava, there suddenly sprang in upon them ten men, who stood over them with clubs poised. They were the body-men of Tuialo.

"'Drink thy kava,' said one to the white man, 'and then come out to die.'

*****

"Ah, he was a man! He took the cup of kava from the hands of his wife's sister, and said—

"'It is well. All men must die. But yet would I see Tuialo before the club fells.'

"The chief but waited outside, and he came.

"'Must I die?' said the white man.

"'Ay,' said Tuialo. 'Two such as thee and I cannot live at the same time. Thou art almost as great a man as I.'

"The white man bent his head. Then he put out his hand to my father and said, 'Farewell, O my friend.'

"Lauati, my father, fell at the chief's feet. 'Take thou the gun, O chief, but spare his life.'

"Tuialo laughed. 'The gun will I take, Lauati, but his life I must have also.'

"'My life for his,' said my father.

"'And mine,' said Uluvao, my mother.

"'And mine also,' said Manini, the white man's wife; and both she and Taulaga, her sister, bent their knees to the chief.

"The white man tried to spring up, but four strong men held him.

"Then Tuialo looked at the pair who knelt before him. He stroked his club, and spoke to his body-men.

"'Bring them all outside.' They went together to the beach. 'Brave talkers ye be,' said he; 'who now will say "I die for the white man"?'

"'Nay, heed them not, Tuialo,' said the white man. 'On me alone let the club fell.'

"But the chief gave him no answer, looking only at my father and the three women."

*****

"'My life,' said Taulaga, the girl; and she knelt on the sand.

"The club swung round and struck her on the side of her head, and it beat it in. She fell, and died quickly.

"'Oho,' mocked Tuialo, 'is there but one life offered for so great a man as Tiufana?'

"Lauati fell before him. 'Spare me not, O chief, if my life but saves his.'

"And again the club swung, and Lauati, my Either, died too, and as he fell his blood mixed with that of Taulaga.

"And then Uluvao and Manini, placing some little faith in his mocking words, knelt, and their blood too poured out on the ground, and the three women and my father lay in a heap together.

"Now I, Felipe, was but a child, and when my mother had gone to kneel under the club she had placed me under a fetan tree near by. The chiefs eye fell on me, and a man took me up and carried me to him.

"Then the white man said, 'Hurt not the child, O chief, or I curse thee before I die, and thou wastest away.'

"So Tuialo spared me.

"Then the chief came to the white man, and the two who held his hands pulled them well apart, and Tuialo once more swung his blood-dyed club. It fell, and the white man's head fell upon his breast."



MRS. LIARDET: A SOUTH SEA TRADING EPISODE

Captain Dave Liardet, of the trading schooner Motutakea, of Sydney, was sitting propped up in his bunk smoking his last pipe. His very last. He knew that, for the Belgian doctor-naturalist, his passenger, had just said so; and besides, one look at the gaping hole in his right side, that he had got two days before at La Vandola, in the Admiralties, from the broad-bladed obsidian native knife, had told him he had made his last voyage. The knife-blade lay on the cabin table before him, and his eye rested on it for a moment with a transient gleam of satisfaction as he remembered how well Tommy, the Tonga boy, who pulled the bow oar, had sent a Snider bullet through the body of the yellow-skinned buck from whom the knife-thrust had come. From the blade of obsidian on the table his eye turned to the portrait of a woman in porcelain that hung just over the clock. It was a face fair enough to look at, and Liardet, with a muttered curse of physical agony, leant his body forward to get a closer view of it, and said, "Poor little woman; it'll be darned rough on her." Then Russell, the mate, came down.

*****

"Joe," said Liardet, in his practical way, which even the words of the doctor and the face of the clock before him could not change, "cock your ears and listen, for I haven't got much time, and you have the ship to look to. I want you to tell the owners that this affair at La Vandola wasn't my fault. We was doing fair and square trading when a buck drives his knife into me for no apparent reason beyond the simple damned fun of the thing. Well, he's done for me, and Tommy Tonga for him, and that's all you've got to say about that. Next thing is to ask 'em to sling Tommy a fiver over and above his wages—for saving of the boat and trade, mind, Joe. Don't say for potting the nigger, Joe; boat and trade, boat and trade, that's the tack to go on with owners, Joe. Well, let's see now.... My old woman. See she gets fair play, wages up to date of death, eh, Joe? By God, old man, she won't get much of a cheque—only four months out now from Sydney. Look here, Joe, the Belgian's all right. He won't go telling tales. So don't you log me dead for another month, and make as bad a passage as you can. There's only us three white men aboard, and the native boys will take their Bible oath I didn't die until the ship was off Lord Howe Island if you give 'em a box of tobacco. You see, Joe? That's the dodge. More days, more dollars, and the longer you keep the ship at sea the more money comes to all hands. And I know I can trust you, Joe, to lend a hand in making the old woman's cheque a little bigger. Right.... We've been two years together now, Joe, and this is the only thing I've ever asked you to do or done myself that wasn't square and aboveboard. But look here"—here, for some half-minute, Captain Dave Liardet launched into profanity—"I tell you that the owners of this ship wouldn't care a single curse if you and I and every living soul aboard had had our livers cut out at La Vandola as long as they didn't lose money over it, and haven't to pay our wages to our wives and children."

*****

Liardet gasped and choked, and the little Belgian naturalist tripped down and wiped away the dark stream that began to trickle down the grizzled beard, and then he and Russell, the mate, laid him down again.

"Don't go," whispered the Belgian to the other, "he sink ver' fast now." The closed eyelids opened a little and looked up through the skylight at the brown face of Tommy the Tongan, and then Russell gave the dying skipper brandy and water. Then, with fast-fading eyes on the picture in porcelain, he asked Russell what course he was keeping.

"As near south as can be," said the mate, "but with this breeze we could soon make the Great Barrier, and there's always hope, cap'n. Let me keep her away to the westward a bit, and who knows but you may——"

For answer the grizzled Liardet held out his hand, shook his head faintly, and muttering, "I hope to God it'll come on a Hell of a Calm for a Month of Sundays," he turned his face to the port and went over his Great Barrier.

***** Every one was "so sorry for poor little Mrs. Liardet." She was so young to be a widow, "and having no children, my dear, the poor creature must have felt the shock the more keenly." Thus the local gabble of the acquaintances and friends of the pretty widow. And she laughed softly to herself that she couldn't feel overwhelmed with grief at her widowhood. "He hadn't a thought above making money," she said to herself—oh, Nell Liardet, for whom did he desire to make it!—"and yet never could make it." And then she thought of Russell, and smiled again. His hand had trembled when it held hers. Surely he did not come so often to see her merely to talk of rough, old Dave Liardet. A man whom she had only tolerated—never loved. And then, Russell was a big, handsome man; and she liked big, handsome men. Also, he was captain now. And, of course, when he had told her of that rich patch of pearl-shell, that he alone knew of at Caille Harbour, in which was a small fortune, and had looked so intently into her blue eyes, he had meant that it was for her. "Yes," and she smiled again, "I'm sure he loves me. But he's terribly slow; and although I do believe that blonde young widows look 'fetching' in black, I'm getting sick of it, and wish he'd marry me to-morrow."

Russell had stood to his compact with the dead skipper. The owners had given her L150, and Russell, making up a plausible story to his dead captain's wife of Liardet having in bygone days lent him "fifty pounds," had added that sum to the other. And he meant, for the sake of old Dave, never to let his pretty little widow run short as long as he had a shot in the locker. The patch of shell at Caille he meant to work, and if Dave had lived they would have "gone whacks." But as he was dead, he wouldn't do any mean thing. She should have half of whatever he got—"go whacks" just the same. But as for love, it never entered his honest brain, and had any one told him that Nell Liardet was fond of him, he would have called him a liar and "plugged" him for insulting a lady.

*****

"Going away! Mr. Russell—Joe! Surely you won't go and leave me without a friend in the world? I thought you cared for me more than that?"

The big man reddened up to his temples.

"Don't say that, Mrs. Liardet. If you'll allow me, I'll always be a friend. And, as I thought it would be hard for you to have to spend the little that Liardet left you, I have made arrangements for you to draw a few pounds whenever you need it from the agents. And as long as ever I have a pound in the world, Dave Liardet's wife——"

"Wife!" and the blue eyes flashed angrily. "He is dead and I am free. Why do you always talk of him? I hate the name. I hated him—a coarse, money-loving——"

"Stop!"

Russell stepped forward. "Good-bye, Mrs. Liardet. I hold to what I have said. But the man that you call coarse and money-loving died in trying to make it for you. And he was a good, honest man, and I can't stay here and hear his memory abused by the woman he loved better than life." And then he turned to go, but stopped, and, with a scarlet face, said, "Of course you're a lady and wouldn't do anything not right and straight, so I know that if you intend to marry again you'll send me word; but if you don't, why, of course, I'll be proud and glad to stand by you in money matters. I'm sure poor Dave would have done the same for my wife if I had got that knife into me instead of him."

Nell Liardet, sitting with clenched hands and set teeth, said, in a hoarse voice, "Your wife! Are you married?"

"Well—er—yes, oh, yes. I have a—er—native wife at the Anchorites. Poor old Dave stood godfather to one of my little girls. God knows how anxious I am to get back to her."

"Good bye, Mr. Russell!"



KENNEDY THE BOATSTEERER

Steering north-west from Samoa for six or seven hundred miles you will sight the Ellice Group—low-lying, palm-clad coral atolls fringed on the lee with shimmering sandy beaches. On the weather-side, exposed to the long sweep of the ocean-rollers, there are but short, black-looking reefs backed by irregular piles of loose, flat, sea-worn coral, thrown up and accumulating till its surface is brushed by the pendant leaves of the cocoanuts, only to be washed and swirled back seawards when the wind comes from the westward and sends a fierce sweeping current along the white beaches and black coral rocks alike.

*****

Twenty-three years ago these islands were almost unknown to any one save a few wandering traders and the ubiquitous New Bedford whaler. But now, long ere you can see from the ship's deck the snowy tumble of the surf on the reef, a huge white mass, grim, square, and ugly, will meet your eye—whitewashed walls of a distressful ghastliness accentuated by doors and windows of the deadliest black. This cheerful excrescence on the face of suffering nature is a native church.

The people have mostly assimilated themselves, in their manners and mode of life generally, to the new order of things represented by the fearful-looking structure aforementioned. That is to say, even as the Tongan and Fijian, they have degenerated from a fierce, hardy, warlike race into white-shirted, black-coated saints, whose ideal of a lovely existence is to have public prayer twice a day on week-days and all day on Sundays. To them it is a good thing to get half a dollar from the white trader for a sick fowl—which, when bought, will be claimed by another native, who will have the white man fined two dollars for buying stolen property. Had the white man paid a dollar he had done wisely—that coin sometimes goes far in the Tokelaus. For instance, the truly unctuous native Christian may ask a dollar for two fowls, but he will also lease out his wife for a similar amount. Time was, in the Ellices, when the undue complaisance of a married woman meant a sudden and inartistic compression of the jugular, or a swift blow from the heavy, ebony-wood club of the wronged man. Nowadays, since the smug-faced native teacher hath shown them the Right Way, such domestic troubles are condoned by—a dollar. That is, if it be a genuine American dollar or two British florins; for outraged honour would not accept the cast-iron Bolivian money or the poor silver of Chili and Peru. And for a dollar the native "Christian" can all but pay for a nicely-bound Bible, printed in the Samoan tongue, and thus, no doubt, out of evil would come good; for he could, by means of his newly-acquired purchase, picture to his dusky mate the terrors that await those who look upon strange men and tupe fa'apupula (bright and shining money).

*****

But I want to tell about Kennedy. Kennedy the Boatsteerer he was called; although twenty years had passed and gone since that day at Wallis Island when he, a bright-eyed, bronze-faced lad—with the fighting-blood of the old Puritan Endicotts running like fire through his veins despite his New England bringing-up—ran his knife into a shipmate's heart and fled for ever from all white associations. Over a woman it was, and only a copper-coloured one at that; but then she was young and beautiful, with dreamy, glistening eyes, and black, wavy hair, ornamented with a wreath of orange-flowers and coil upon coil of bright-hued sea sea berries strung together, hanging from her neck and resting upon her dainty bosom.

*****

Standing at the doorway of his house, looking over the placid waters at the rising sun, Kennedy folds his brawny arms across his bare, sun-tanned chest and mutters to himself, in his almost forgotten mother-tongue: "Twenty years, twenty years ago! Who would know me there now? Even if I placarded my name on my back and what I did, 'taint likely I'd have to face a grand jury for running a knife into a mongrel Portuguee, way out in the South Seas a score of years ago.... Poor little Talamalu! I paid a big price for her—twenty years of wandering from Wallis Island to the Bonins; and wherever I go that infernal story follows me up. Well, I'll risk it anyhow, and the first chance that comes along I'll cut Kanaka life and drinking ship's rum and go see old dad and mum to home. Here, Tikena, you Tokelau devil, bring me my toddy."

A native, clad in his grass titi, takes from a wooden peg in the house wall two shells of toddy, and the white wanderer takes one and drinks. He is about to return the other to the man when two girls come up from the beach with their arms around each other's waists, Tahiti fashion, and one calls out with a laugh to "leave some in the shell." This is Laumanu, and if there is one thing in the world that Jake Kennedy cares for above himself it is this tall girl with the soft eyes and lithe figure. And he dreams of her pretty often, and curses fluently to think that she is beyond his reach and is never likely to fill the place of Talamalu and her many successors. For Laumanu is tabu to a Nuitao chief—that is, she has been betrothed, but the Nuitao man is sixty miles away at his own island, and no one knows when he will claim his avaga. Then the girl gives him back the empty toddy-shell, and, slyly pinching his hand, sails away with her mate, whereupon the susceptible Kennedy, furious with long disappointment, flings himself down on his bed of mats, curses his luck and his unsuspecting rival at Nuitao, and finally decides not to spring a surprise on "dad and mum" by going "hum" for a considerable number of years to come.

*****

Mr. Jake Kennedy at this time was again a widower—in the widest sense of the word. The last native girl who had occupied the proud position of Te avaga te papalagi (the white man's wife) was a native of the island of Maraki—a dark-skinned, passionately jealous creature, who had followed his fortunes for three years to his present location, and then developed mal-du-pays to such an extent that the local priest and devil-catcher, one Pare-vaka, was sent for by her female attendants. Pare-vaka was not long in making his diagnosis. A little devil in the shape of an octopus was in Tene-napa's brain. And he gave instructions how to get the fiend out, and also further instructions to one of the girl attendants to fix, point-upwards, in the sick woman's mat the foto, or barb of the sting-ray. So when Kennedy, who, in his rough, careless way, had some feint fondness for the woman who three years ago he went mad over, heard a loud cry in the night and was told that Tenenapa was dead, he did not know that as the sick woman lay on her side the watchers had quietly turned her with her face to the roof, and with the needle pointed foto pierced her to the heart. And old Pare-vaka rejoiced, for he had a daughter who, in his opinion, should be avaga to the wealthy and clever white man, who could tori nui and sisi atu (pull cocoanuts and catch bonito) like any native; and this Tenenapa—who was she but a dog-eating stranger from Maraki only fit for shark's meat? So the people came and brought Kennedy the "gifts of affliction" to show their sympathy, and asked him to take a wife from their own people. And he asked for Laumanu.

*****

There was a dead silence awhile, and then a wild-looking creature with long white hair falling around his shoulders like a cloak, dreading to shame the papalagi before so many, rose to his feet and motioned them away. Then he spoke: "Forget the words you have said, and take for a wife the girl from the house of Pare-vaka. Laumanu is tabu and death walks behind her." But Kennedy sulked and wanted Laumanu or none.

And this is why he feels so bad to-day, and the rum-keg gives him no consolation. For the sweet-voiced Laumanu always runs away from him when he steps out from his dark little trade-room into the light, with unsteady steps and a peculiar gleam in his black eye, that means mischief—rude love to a woman and challenge to fight to a man.

Lying there on his mat, plotting how to get possession of the girl, there comes to him a faint cry, gradually swelling in volume until every voice in the village, from the full, sonorous tones of the men to the shrill treble of the children, blend together: "Te vaka motul! Te vaka motu!" (a ship! a ship!). Springing up, he strides out, and there, slowly lumbering round the south-west end of the little island, under cruising canvas only, he sees her. One quick glance shows her to be a whaler.

In ten minutes Kennedy is in a canoe, flying over the reef, and in as many more alongside and on deck. The captain is an old acquaintance, and while the boats are sent ashore to buy pigs and poultry, Kennedy and he have a long talk in the cabin. Then the skipper says, as he rises, "Well, it's risky, but it's a smart way of earning five hundred dollars, and I'll land you and the creature somewhere in the Carolines."

The whaler was to lie off and on all night, or until such time as Kennedy and the girl came aboard in a canoe. To avert suspicion, the captain was to remain ashore with his boat's crew to witness a dance, and, if all went well, the white man was to be aboard before him with Laumanu and stow her away, in case any canoes came off with the boat.

*****

The dance was in full swing when Kennedy, stripped to the waist, with a heavy bag of money in his left hand and a knife in his right, took a long farewell of his house and stepped out into the silent groves of coco-palms. A short walk brought him to a salt lagoon. On the brink he stood and waited, until a trembling, voiceless figure joined him from out the depths of the thick mangroves. Hand-in-hand they fled along the narrow, sandy path till they reached the beach, just where a few untenanted thatched huts stood on the shingle. Between these, covered over with cocoanut branches, lay a canoe. Deftly the two raised the light craft and carried it down to the water that broke in tender, rippling murmurs on the white sand. And with Laumanu seated for'ard, gazing out beyond into the blackness before them, he urged the canoe seawards with quick, nervous strokes. Far away to the westward he could see the dull glimmer of the whaleship's lights.

*****

The mate of the Essex was leaning over the rail, drowsily watching the phosphorescence in the water as the ship rolled gently to the ocean swell, when a cry came from for'ard: "A heavy squall coming down, sir, from the land!" And it did come, with a swift, fierce rush, and so strong that it nearly threw the old whaler over on her beam-ends. In the midst of the hum and roar of the squall some one in the waist of the ship called out something about a canoe being alongside. The mate's comment was brief but vigorous, and the matter was speedily forgotten. Then the rain fell in torrents, and as the ship was made snug the watch got under shelter and the mate went below to get a drink of rum, and curse his captain for loafing ashore, watching naked women dancing.

***** Three miles further out a canoe was drifting and tossing about with outrigger carried away. Now and then, as a big sea lifted her, the stern would rise high out of the water and the sharp-nosed whaleback for'ard go down as if weighted heavily. And it was—with a bag of dollars lashed underneath. When in the early morning the whaleship sighted the drifting speck, floating on the bosom of a now placid sea, the thoughtful Down-East skipper—observant of the canoe's bows being under water—lowered a boat and pulled over to it. He took the bag of dollars and muttering something about "rather thinking he was kinder acquainted with the poor man's people," went back to the ship and stood away on his course in pursuit of his greasy vocation.

*****

And Kennedy and the girl! Go some night and watch the dark-skinned people catching flying-fish by the light of au lama torches. Look over the side of the canoe and see those swarms of grim, grey devils of the tropic seas that ever and anon dart to the surface as the paddlers' hands come perilously near the water, and wonder no longer as to the fete of Kennedy the Boatsteerer and his Laumanu.



A DEAD LOSS

Denison, the supercargo of the Indiana, was sent by his "owners" to an island in the S.W. Pacific where they had a trading business, the man in charge or which had, it was believed, got into trouble by shooting a native. His instructions were to investigate the rumour, and, if the business was suffering in any way, to take away the trader and put another man in his place. The incident here related is well within the memory of some very worthy men who still dwell under the roofs of thatch in the Western Pacific.

*****

The name of the island was—well, say Nukupapau.

The Indiana sailed from Auckland in December, and made a smart run till the blue peaks of Tutuila were sighted, when the trades foiled and heavy weather came on from the westward. Up to this time Denison's duties as supercargo had kept him busy in the trade-room, and he had had no time to study his new captain, for, although they met at table three times a day, beyond a few civilities they had done no talking. Captain Chaplin was young—about thirty—and one of the most taciturn persons Denison had ever met. The mate, who, having served the owners for about twenty years, felt himself privileged, one night at supper asked him point-blank, in his Irish fashion apropos of nothing: "An' phwat part av the wurruld may yez come from, captain?"

There were but the five of them present—the skipper, two mates, boatswain, and Denison. Laying down his knife and fork and stirring his tea, he fixed his eyes coldly on the inquisitive sub's face.

"From the same God-forsaken hole as you do, sir—Ireland. My name isn't Chaplin, but as I'm the captain of this rotten old hooker I want you to understand that if you ask me another such d———d impertinent question you'll find it a risky business for you—or any one else!"

The quick blood mounted up to the old mate's forehead, and it looked like as if a fight was coming, but the captain had resumed his supper and the matter ended. But it showed us that he meant to keep to himself.

*****

The Indiana made the low-lying atoll at last and lay-to outside. Those on board could see the trader's house close to, but instead of being surrounded by a swarm of eager and excited natives there was not one to be seen. Nor could they even see a canoe coming off. Denison pointed this out to the captain. Although of an evidently savage and morose temperament he was always pleasant enough to Denison in his capacity of supercargo, and inquired of him if he thought the trader had been killed.

"No," Denison said, "I don't think the people here would ever kill Martin; but something is wrong. He has not hoisted his flag, and that is very queer. I can see no natives about his place—which also is curious; and the village just there seems to be deserted. If you will lower the boat I'll soon see what's wrong."

*****

The skipper called out to lower the whaleboat, put four Rotumah boys in her, and then offered to accompany the supercargo. As he was a new man, Denison naturally was surprised at his wanting to leave his ship at a strange place.

"Glad enough," he said, "the landing here is beastly—lucky if we escape getting stove-in going over the reef. Martin knows the passage well and tackles it in any surf—wish he were here now!"

Captain Chaplin soon took that off his mind. Unconsciously Denison gave him the steer-oar, and in a few minutes they were flying over the reef at a half-tide, and never touched anywhere.

"Why," said Denison, "you seem to know the place."

"I do," he answered, quietly, "know it well, and know Martin, too. You'll find him drunk."

They walked up the white path of broken coral and stood in the doorway of the big front room. At the far end, on a native sofa, lay Martin; by his side sat a young native girl fanning him. No one else.

The gaunt black-whiskered trader tried to rise, but with a varied string of oaths lashed together he fell back, waving his hand to Denison in recognition. The girl was not a native of the island—that could be seen at a glance. She was as handsome as a picture, and after giving the two white men a dignified greeting, in the Yap (Caroline Islands) dialect, she resumed her fanning and smoking her cigarette.

"Martin," said the supercargo, "shake yourself together. What is the matter? Are you sick, or is it only the usual drunk?"

"Both," came in tones that sounded as if his inside were lined with cotton wool; "got a knife in my ribs six months back; never got well; and I've been drinking all the time "—and then, with a silly smile of childish vanity, "all over her. She's my new girl—wot d'ye think of her? Ain't she a star?"

*****

All this time Chaplin stood back until Denison called him up and said to the trader, "Our new captain, Martin!"

"By God," said the trader, slowly, "if he ain't the image of that ——— nigger-catching skipper that was here from Honolulu four years ago."

"That's me!" said Chaplin, coolly puffing away at his cigar, and taking a seat near the sofa, with one swift glance of admiration at the face of the girl.

In a few minutes Martin told his troubles. Some seven months previously a ship had called at the island. He boarded her. She was a whaler making south to the Kermadecs "sperming." The captain told Martin he had come through the Pelews and picked up a big canoe with a chiefs retinue on board, nearly dead from starvation. Many of them did die on board. Among those left were two women, the wife and daughter of the chief—who was the first to die. Making a long story short, Martin gave the captain trade and cash to the tune of five hundred dollars for the two women, and came ashore. Pensioning off his other wife, he took the young girl himself and sold the mother to the local chief for a ton of copra.

A week afterwards a young native came outside his house, cutlass in hand. He was a brother of the dismissed wife and meant fighting. Martin darted out, his new love standing calmly in the doorway, smoking. There was a shot, and the native fell with a bullet through his chest, but raising his voice he called to others and flung them his cutlass; and then Martin found himself struggling with two or three more and got a fearful stab. That night the head men of the village came to him and said that as he had always been a good man to them they would not kill him, but they then and there tabooed him till he either killed his new wife or sent her away. And when he looked out in the morning he saw the whole village going away in canoes to the other side of the lagoon. For six months neither he nor the girl—Lunumala was her name—had spoken to a native. And Martin gave himself up to love and drink, and, since the fracas had not done a cent's worth of trading.

Denison told Martin his instructions. He only nodded, and said something to the girl, who rose and brought the supercargo his books. A few minutes' looking through them, and then at his well-filled trade-room, showed Denison that everything was right, except that all the liquor was gone.

"Martin," the supercargo said, "this won't do. I've got another man aboard, and I'll put him here and take you to Rotumah."

But he swore violently. He couldn't go anywhere else. This island was his home. The natives would give in some day. He'd rather cut his throat than leave.

"Well," said Denison, calmly, "it's one of two things. You know as well as I do that a tabu like this is a serious business. I know you are the best man for the place; but, if you won't leave, why not send the girl away?"

No, he wouldn't send her away. She should stay too.

"All serene," said the man of business. "Then I'll take stock at once, and we'll square up and I'll land the other man."

This was a crusher for poor Martin. Denison felt sorry for him, and had a hard duty to carry through.

Presently the sick man with a ten-ton oath groaned, "——— you, Mister Skipper, wot are you a-doin' of there, squeezin' my wife's hand?"

*****

"Well, now," said the captain, quietly, "look here, Martin. Just put this in your thick head and think it out in five minutes. You've either got to give up this girl or get away from the island. Now, I don't want to make any man feel mean, but she don't particularly care about you, and——"

The graceful creature nodded her approval or Chaplin's remarks, and Martin glared at her. Then he took a drink of gin and meditated.

Two minutes passed. Then Martin turned.

"How much?" he said.

"Fifty pounds, sonny. Two hundred and fifty dollars."

"Easy to see you've been in the business," mumbled Martin; "why, her mother's worth that. 'Tain't no deal."

"Well, then, how much do you want?"

"A hundred."

"Haven't got it on board, sonny. Take eighty sovereigns and the rest in trade or liquor?"

"It's a deal," said Martin; "are you game to part ten sovereigns for the girl's mother, and I'll get her back from the natives!"

"No," said Chaplin, rising "the girl's enough for me."

She had risen and was looking at Martin with a pallid face and set teeth, and then without a word of farewell on either side she picked up a Panama hat and, fan in hand, walked down to the boat and got in, waiting for Chaplin.

*****

Presently he came down, and said, "Well, Mr. Denison, I suppose, as matters are arranged, you'll want to land Martin some trade?"

"Oh, no," said Denison, "he's got plenty. This tabu on his own business will teach him a lesson. But I want to send him some provisions on shore. By the way, captain, that girl's likely to prove expensive to you. I hope you'll put her ashore at Rotumah till the voyage is nearly over."

"No," said he, "I won't. Of course, I know our godly owners would raise a deuce of a row about my buying the girl if I couldn't pay for her keep while she's on board, but I've got a couple of hundred pounds in Auckland, as they know, besides some cash on board. After I've paid that thundering blackguard I've still some left, and I mean to put her ashore at Levuka to live until I can take her to her destination."

"Why," Denison queried, "what are you going to do with her?"

"Just this: there's a friend of mine in Honolulu always willing to give a few thousand dollars for a really handsome girl. And I believe that girl will bring me nearly about three thousand dollars."

*****

For three months the girl remained on board, grave, dignified, and always self-possessed. Chaplin treated her kindly, and it was evident to all on board that the girl had given him such affection as she was capable of, and little knew his intentions regarding her future. With both Chaplin and Denison she would now converse freely in the Pelew Island dialect. And often pointing to the sinking sun she would sigh—"There is my land over there behind the sun. When will we get there?" Laying her hand on Chaplin's she would seek for an answer. And he would answer—nothing.

*****

After the Indiana had cruised through the Line Islands she headed back for Rotumah and Fiji. The girl came up on deck after supper. It was blowing freshly and the barque was slipping through the water fast. Lunumala walked to the binnacle and looked at the compass, pointing to S.S.W. She gazed steadily at it awhile and then said to the Rotumah boy in his own tongue—"Why is the ship going to the South?"

Tom, the Rotuman, grinned—"To Fiji, my white tropic bird."

Just then Chaplin came on deck, cigar in mouth. The girl and he looked at each other. He knew by her white, set face that mischief was brewing.

Pointing, with her left hand, to the compass, she said, in a low voice—

"To Fiji?"

"Yes," said Chaplin, coolly, "to Fiji, where you must remain awhile, Lunumala."

"And you?"

"That is my business. Question me no more now. Go below and turn in."

Standing there before him, she looked again in his hard, unrelenting face. Then she slowly walked forward.

"Sulky," said Chaplin to Denison.

Steadily she walked along the deck, and then mounted to the to'gallant fo'c's'le and stood a second or two by the cathead. Her white dress flapped and clung to her slender figure as she turned and looked aft at us, and her long, black hair streamed out like a pall of death. Suddenly she sprang over.

With a curse Chaplin rushed to the wheel, and in double-quick time the whaleboat was lowered and search was made. In half an hour Chaplin returned, and gaining the deck said, in his usual cool way, to the mate: "Hoist in the boat and fill away again as quick as possible." Then he went below.

A few minutes afterwards he was at his accustomed amusement, making tortoise-shell ornaments with a fret-saw.

"A sad end to the poor girl's life," said the supercargo.

"Yes," said the methodical ex-Honolulu black-birder, "and a sad end to my lovely five hundred dollars."



HICKSON: A HALF-CASTE

"Mauki" Hickson and I were coming across from the big native town at Mulinu'u Point to Apia one afternoon when we met a dainty little white woman, garmented in spotless white. Hickson, touching his hat, walked on across the narrow bridge that crosses the creek by the French Mission, and waited for me on the other side.

This tiny lady in white was a lovable little creature. There was not a man in Samoa but felt proud and pleased if she stopped and spoke to him. And she could go anywhere on the beach, from respectable Matautu right down to riotous, dissolute Matafele, and make her purchases at the big store of Der Deutsche Handels Plantagen und Sud See Inseln Gesellschaft without even a drunken native daring to look at her. That was because every one, dissolute native and licentious white, knew she was a good woman. Perhaps, had she been married, and had she had a yellow, tallowy skin and the generally acidulated appearance peculiar to white women long resident in the South Seas, we wouldn't have thought so much of her, and felt mean and contemptible when she taxed us in her open, innocent fashion with doing those things that we ought not have done. But she had a sweet, merry little face, set about with dimples, and soft cheeks hued like the first flush of a ripening peach; and when she spoke to us she brought back memories of other faces like hers—far-away faces that most of us would have liked to have seen again.

*****

Just by the low stone wall, that in those days came close down to the creek, the little lady stood under the shade of some cocoanuts, and spoke to me.

"Who is that horrible, sulky-looking half-caste?" she said, jerking her sunshade towards my late companion.

"That is Hickson, Miss Milly," I said—a very decent, steady fellow, with a white man's heart.

"Decent! steady! and with a white man's heart!" and Miss Milly's pink-and-white cheeks reddened angrily. "How I hate that expression! No wonder all sorts of horrible things happen in these dreadful islands when white men will walk down the road with a cruel, remorseless wretch like Hickson—the man that murdered his sister."

"You should not say that, Miss Milly," I said. "Of course that is the common report, spread about by the captain of the German brig——. But that is because Hickson nearly killed him for calling him a nigger. And you must remember, Miss Milly, that I was there at the time. Hickson was our second mate. His sister was killed, but it is a cruel thing to accuse him of murdering her; he was very fond of her."

"Oh dear! I am so glad to hear some one say it isn't true," and the bright eyes filled. "They say, too, she was such a pretty little thing. How ever did she get to such a terrible place as Ponape? Come up and see uncle and me before you go away again. Good-bye now, I'm going to buy a water-bag at Goddeffroy's."

*****

I think that Hickson must have guessed that he had formed the subject of the conversation between the little lady and myself, for after we had walked on a bit he said, suddenly—

"I think I'll go aboard the Menchikoff and ship; she wants some hands, and I would like to clear out of this. Except two or three that have known me for a long time, like yourself, every one looks crooked at me."

"I think you are right, Hickson, in going away. Samoa is a bad place for an idle man. But won't you come another trip with us The old man{*} thinks a lot of you, and there's always a second mate's berth for you with him."

* The "old man," i.e., the captain.

Hickson's eyes flashed fire. "No! I'd as lief go to hell as ship again with a man that once put me in irons, and disgraced me before a lot of Kanakas. I've got White Blood enough in me to make me remember that. Good-bye," and he shook hands with me; "I'll wait here till the Menchikoff's boat comes ashore and go off and see Bannister."

Poor Hickson. He was proud of his White Blood, and the incident he alluded to was a bitter memory to him. Could he ever forget it? I never could, and thought of it as I was being pulled off on board.

*****

It was at Jakoits Harbour—in Ponape—that it happened. Hickson and I were going ashore in the long boat to buy a load of yams for our native crew, when he began to tell me something of his former life.

His had been a strange and chequered career, and in his wanderings as a trader and as a boatsteerer in a Hobart Town whaler, he had traversed every league of the wide Pacific. With his father and two sisters he had, till a few years or so before he joined us, been trading at Yap, in the Western Carolines. Here the wandering old white man had died. Of his two sisters, one, the eldest, had perished with her sailor husband by the capsizing of a schooner which he commanded. The youngest, then about nine years old, was taken care of by the captain of a whaler that touched at Yap, until he placed her in charge of the then newly-founded American Mission at Ponape, and in the same ship, Hickson went on his wanderings again, joining us at Tahiti. And I could see as he talked to me that he had a deep affection for her.

"What part of Ponape is she living on?" I asked.

"I don't know, I'm sure. Here, I suppose; and if you don't mind, while you're weighing the yams, I'll go up to the mission-house and inquire."

"Right you are, Hickson," I said, "but don't forget to get back early, it's a beastly risky pull out to the ship in the dark."

We went into a little bay, and found the natives waiting for us with the yams, and Hickson, after inquiring the way to the Mission, left me.

*****

Ponape in those days was a rough place. It was the rendezvous of the American whaling fleet, that came there for wood and water and "other supplies," before they sailed northward along the grim coasts of Japan and Tchantar Bay to the whale grounds of the Arctic Seas.

And sometimes there would be trouble over the "other supplies" among the savagely licentious crews of mixed men of all nations, and knives would flash, and the white sand of the beaches be stuck together in places with patches and clots of dull red. It was the whalers' paradise—a paradise of the loveliest tropical beauty, of palm-shaded beach and verdure-clad mountain imaginable; a paradise of wonderfully beautiful and utterly, hopelessly immoral native women; and, lastly, a paradise of cheap native grog, as potent and fiery as if Hell had been boiled down and concentrated into a small half-pint.

It was dark, and the yams had all been brought and stored in the boat before Hickson returned. By the flickering light of a native fire in a house close by I could see that something was the matter with him. His face was drawn, and his black eyes gleamed out like dully burning coals from the thick wavy hair that fell about his temples.

"I'm sorry I'm late," he said, and the moment he had spoken I knew by the dangerous huskiness of his voice that he had been drinking the native grog.

Staggering into the boat, he sat down beside me and took the tiller.

"Give way, fanau seoli (children o hell)," he growled to our crew of Samoans and Rotumah boys, "let us get these yams aboard, and then I'm coming back to burn the ——— mission-house down."

Slowly the heavily-laden boat got way on her, and we slid away from the light of the native fire out into the inky blackness of night. Beyond a muttered curse at the crew, and keeping up that horrible grinding of the teeth common enough to men of violent passions when under great excitement, Hickson said nothing further till I asked—

"Hickson, what's the matter? Couldn't you find your sister?"

He sat up straight, and gripping my knee in his left hand till I winced, said, with an awful preliminary burst of blasphemy—

"By God, sir, she's gone to hell; I'll never see poor little Katia again. I'm not drunk, don't you think it. I did have a stiff pull of grog up in the village there, but I'm not drunk; but there's something running round and round in my head that's drivin' me mad."

"Where is she?" I asked.

"God knows. I went to the mission-house and asked for the white missionary. The ——— dog wasn't there. He and his wife are away in Honolulu, on a dollar-cadging trip. There was about three or four of them cursed native teachers in the house, and all I could get out of them was that Katia wasn't there now; went away a year ago. 'Where to?' I said to one fat pig, with a white shirt and no pants on him. 'Don't know,' says he, in the Ponape lingo; 'she's a bad girl now, and has left us holy ones of God and gone to the whaleships.'"

Coming from any other man but Hickson I could have laughed at this, so truly characteristic of the repellent, canting native missionary of Micronesia, but the quick, gasping breath of Hickson and his trembling hand showed me how he suffered.

"I grabbed him and choked him till he was near dead, and chucked him in a heap outside. Then I went all round to the other houses, but every one ran away from me. I got a swig of grog from a native house and came right back." Then he was silent, and fixed his eyes on the ship's lights seaward.

I could not offer him any sympathy, so said nothing. Lighting our pipes we gazed out ahead. Far away, nearest the reef, lay our brig, her riding light just discernible. A mile or two further away were three or four American whalers, whose black hulls we could just make out through the darkness. Within five hundred yards of us lay a dismantled and condemned brig, the Kamehameha IV. from whose stern ports came a flood of light and the sounds of women's voices.

We were just about abeam of her when Hickson suddenly exclaimed—

"Why, sir, the boat is sinking. Pull hard, boys, pull for the brig. The water's coming in wholesale over the gunwale. Hadn't you fellows enough sense to leave a place to bale from?" and he slewed the boat's head for the brig.

She had two boats astern. We were just in time to get alongside one and pitch about two tons of yams into her, or we would have sunk.

The noise we made was heard on the brig, and a head was put out of one of the ports, and a voice hailed us. This was the brig's owner and captain, W———.

"Come on board and have a cigar!" he called out.

Leaving the crew to bale out and re-ship the yams, we clambered on deck.

Now, this brig and her captain had a curious history. She was, two years before, as well-found a whaleship as ever sailed the Pacific, but by some extraordinary ill-luck she had never taken a fish during a cruise of seven months, although in the company of others that were doing well. The master, one of those fanatically religious New Englanders that by some strange irony of fate may be often met with commanding vilely licentious crews of whaleships, was a skilled and hitherto lucky man. On reaching Ponape the whole of his officers and crew deserted en masse and went off in other ships. Utterly helpless, W——— was left by himself. There were, of course, plenty of men to be had in Ponape, but the ship's reputation for bad luck damned his hopes of getting a fresh crew.

Whether the man's brain was affected by his troubles I know not, but after living like a hermit for a year, alone on the brig, a sudden change took place in his character and conduct. Sculling ashore in one of his boats—she was a four-boat ship—he had an interview with Nanakin, the chief of the Jakoit's district, and returned on board with five or six young girls, to whom he gave permanent quarters on board, selling from time to time his sails, whaling gear, and trade to keep his harem in luxury. At the end of a year the brig was pretty well stripped of all of any value; and W——— went utterly, hopelessly mad.

*****

The brig's cabin was large and roomy. The table that had once nearly filled it had been taken away, and the floor covered with those peculiarly made Ponape mats which, by rolling up one-half of either end, forms a combined couch and pillow. As Hickson and I, following the crazy little captain, made our appearance, some four young girls, who were lolling about on the mats, started up, and looked at us with big, wondering eyes, ablaze with curiosity.

Both Hickson and myself—and he had roved throughout Polynesia from his boyhood—were struck by the extraordinary beauty of these four young creatures; so young and innocent in looks; in sin, as old as Ninon d'Enclos.

Placing one hand on the shoulder of the girl nearest to him, and fixing his big, blue, deep-set eyes on us, W———waved the other towards the girls, and said—

"Welcome, gentlemen, welcome. Behold these little devils, who in the guise of sunburnt angels are the solace of a man forgotten by his God, and the father of a family residing in Martha's Vineyard, United States of America."

Then he gave us each a cigar and told us to be seated while he got us a glass of New England rum.

*****

Hickson, with a contemptuous smile, sat with folded arms on a short, heavy stool. One of the girls, unshipping one of the two lights from the hook on which it hung, followed W———into a state-room to get the rum. Presently we heard them coming out, W——— carrying a wickerwork-covered five-gallon jar; but two girls came out instead of one. The stranger kept close to W———, one hand holding the sleeve of his shirt.

Stooping as he set the jar on the floor, I had a good view of the new-comer, and a deadly fear seized me. I knew at once that she was Hickson's sister! He was coarse and rough-looking, but yet a handsome man, and this girl's likeness to him was very striking. Just then Hickson, not even noticing her, rose and said he was going on deck to see if the boat was ready, when the strange quavering tones of W——— arrested him.

"Be seated, sir, for another minute. Nijilon, get some glasses. You see here, gentlemen, the fairest and choicest or all my devil-vestals, one that———"

Hickson looked at her, and with a terrified wail the girl clutched W———'s arm, and placed her face against his breast. With lips drawn back from his white teeth the half-caste sprang up, and his two clenched hands pawed the air. Then from his throat there came a sound like a laugh strangled into a groan.

Scarce knowing what I did I got in front of him, He dashed me aside as if I were a child, and seized the stool. And as he swung it round above his head the girl raised a face like the hue of death to his; then the blow fell, and she and W——— went down together.

******

Hickson rushed on deck and tried to spring overboard. I think he must have struck the main boom, for one of our crew who was on deck heard him fall. We got a light, and found him lying senseless. Two of the "vestals" held him up while I went below for some rum and water. W——— was lying where he had fallen, breathing heavily, but not seriously injured as far as I could see. But one look at the closed eyes of the girl told me she was past all help. The heavy stool had struck her on the temple.

Placing Hickson in the boat with two men to mind mm, I took the other two with me into the cabin of the brig. W——— was seated on the floor, held up by two of his harem, and muttering unintelligibly to himself. The other two were bending over the figure on the floor, and placing their hands on her bosom.

"Come away from here, L———," said Harry, one of our Rotumah boys, to me; "if the Ponape men come off, they will kill us all."

We could do nothing, so we got back into the boat, and with the still senseless body of Hickson lying at our feet, pulled out to the ship.

******

When he came to he was a madman, and for his own safety our captain put him in irons. We put to sea next day, our skipper, like a wise man, saying it would go hard with us if W——— died, and four Yankee whalers in port.

The day after we got away Hickson was set at liberty, and went about his duties as usual. At nightfall I went into his deck cabin. He was lying in his bunk, in the dark, smoking. He put out his hand, and drew me close up to him.

"Harry says she is dead?"

"Yes," I whispered.

"Poor little Katia; I never meant to hurt her But I am glad she is dead."

And he smoked his pipe in silence.



A BOATING PARTY OF TWO



I.

The prison gate opened, and Number 73 for a minute or so leaned against the wall to steady himself. The strange clamour of the streets smote upon his ear like dagger strokes into his heart, and his breath came in quick, short gasps.

Some one was speaking to him—a little, pale-faced, red-whiskered man with watery eyes—and Challoner, once "Number 73," staring stupidly at him, tried to understand, but foiled. Then, sidling up to him, the little man took one of Challoner's gaunt and long hands between his own, and a stout, masculine female in a blue dress and poke bonnet and spectacles clasped the other and called him "brother."

A dull gleam shone in his sullen eyes at last, and drawing his hands away from them, he asked—

"Who are you?"

The stout woman's sharp tongue clattered, and Challoner listened stolidly. Sometimes a word or two in the volley she fired would cause him to shake his head wearily—"happiness in the life heternal," "washed in the blood of the Lamb," and "cast yer sins away an' come an' be saved without money an' without price."

Then he remembered who he was and who they were—the warders had told him of the Prison Gate Brigade. He turned to the man and muttered—

"I want to get away from here," and stepped past them, but the woman laid her fat, coarse hand on his sleeve.

"Come 'ome with us, brother. P'r'aps yer 'ave a mother or a wife waitin' to 'ear from yer, an' we——"

He dashed her hand aside savagely—"Blast you, no; let me go!"

Then with awkward, shambling gait he pushed through the curious crowd at the prison gate, crossed the street, and entered the nearest public-house.

"Another soul escaped us, Sister Hannah," squeaked the little man; "but we'll try and rescue him when he comes out from the house of wickedness and abomination."

"Better leave him alone," said a warder in plain clothes, who just then came through the gate, "he won't be saved at no price, I can tell yer."

"Who is the poor man?" asked Sister Hannah, in a plaintive, injured voice.

"Sh! Mustn't ask them questions," said the little man.

But he knew, all the same, that the tall, gaunt man with the sallow face and close-cropped white hair was Harvey Challoner, once chief officer of the ship Victory, sentenced in Melbourne to imprisonment for life for manslaughter, but released at the end of ten years.

*****

The Victory murder trial had not attracted much public attention, and the prisoner had been defended at the public expense. On the voyage from London to Australia the crew had become discontented. They had reason for their discontent. Captain Cressingham, for all his suave, gentlemanly shore manners, was an adept at "hazing," and was proud of the distinction of making every ship he commanded a hell to the fo'c's'le hands. Sometimes, with sneering, mocking tongue, he would compliment Challoner upon the courteous manner in which he "addressed the gentlemen for'ard." As for the other two mates, they were equally as brutal as their captain, but lacked his savage, methodical vindictiveness.

When only a few weeks out, Harman, the second mate, one day accused one of the men of "soldiering," and striking him in the face, broke his nose, and as the man lay on the deck he kicked him brutally. Challoner, who was on deck at the time, jumped down off the poop, and seizing Harman by the arm, called him a cowardly hound.

"And you're a d———d old woman," was the retort.

Challoner's passion overpowered him, and at the end of five minutes Harman was carried below badly knocked about, and a stormy scene ensued between Challoner and the captain.

"You have all but killed Mr. Harman. I could, and should, put you in irons for the rest of the voyage," the captain had said.

There was a steely glitter in the mate's dark eyes as he answered—

"In dealing with ruffians such as Harman and yourself one doesn't stop at an extra blow or two."

From that time Cressingham was his bitter enemy; but Challoner did his duty as chief officer too faithfully to give the captain a chance against him.

Day after day had passed. The sullen discontent of the crew had changed into outspoken hatred and a thirst for revenge upon the captain and Harman and Barton—the latter the third mate—and Challoner, who knew what was brewing, dared not open his mouth to any one of the three upon the subject. Between himself and Cressingham and the other two there had now sprung up a silent yet fierce antagonism, which the crew were quick to perceive, and from which they augured favourably for themselves.

One night, just as Challoner had relieved the second mate, some of the hands from both watches marched boldly aft and asked him if he would take command of the ship. He had only to say the word, they said. They were tired of being "bashed" and starved to death by the skipper and two mates, and if he would navigate the ship to Melbourne they would keep him free from interference, and take the consequences, &c.

"Go for'ard, you fools," said Challoner, with assumed harshness, "don't talk mutiny to me."

A step sounded on the deck behind him, and Cressingham's sneering tones were heard.

"Discussing mutiny, are you, Mr. Challoner? By God, sir, I've suspected you long enough. Go below, sir; or go for'ard with these fellows. You'll do no more mate's duty aboard of this ship. Ah, Colliss, you're one of the ringleaders, are you?" And in an instant he seized a seaman by the throat, and called loudly for Barton and Harman to help him.

Before they could respond to his call the poop was black with struggling men. Cressingham, mad with passion, had Colliss down trying to strangle him, and Challoner, fearing murder would be done, had thrown himself upon the captain and tried to make him release his grip of the man's throat. At that moment a sailor called out—

"Stand by, chaps, for Barton and Harman, and drop 'em the moment they shows up. Mr. Challoner's got the old man safe."

But Messrs. Harman and Barton were tough customers. The loud cries on deck and heavy tramping of feet told them that a crisis had occurred, and they dashed up, each with a revolver in hand—only to be felled from behind ere they could fire a shot. Challoner, letting the captain free, sprang to their aid. But he came too late, for before, with blows, kicks, and curses, he could force his way through the swaying, surging mass of men that hid the fallen officers from his view, he heard a sound—the sound of a man's skull as it was smashed in by a heavy blow.

"He's done for," said a voice, with a savage laugh, "scoot, chaps, scoot. This shindy will keep the old man quiet a bit, now one of his fightin' cocks is gone," and the men tumbled down off the poop as quick as their legs could carry them, leaving Challoner and the two prone figures behind them. Cressingham had gone below for his revolver.

"Steward," called Challoner, "bring a light here, quick, and see where the captain is," and, stooping down, he tried to raise Harman, then laid him down with a shudder—his brains were scattered on the deck. Barton was alive, but unconscious.

As Challoner was about to rise, Captain Cressingham stood over him and raised his arm, and dealt him a crashing blow with a belaying pin. When he regained consciousness he was in irons.

*****

A month later and he stood in the dock charged with murder. The principal witnesses against him were his captain and Barton, the third mate. The crew, who, of course, were also witnesses in the case, didn't worry much about him. It wasn't likely they would run their necks into a noose if it could be placed round any one else's. And in this instance—superinduced by a vision of the gallows—fo'c's'le hands stuck to one another and lied manfully together. None of them "had hurt Mr. Harman."

But it was upon Cressingham's evidence that his fate hung; and Cressingham, suave, handsome, and well-dressed, told the court how Challoner had once attempted to murder Harman in the earlier part of the voyage. Barton, with his arm in a sling, corroborated the lie with blunt cheerfulness.

His Honour summed up dead against the prisoner, and the jury, impressed by the calm, gentlemanly appearance of Captain Cressingham, and the haggard, unshaven, and guilty look of the man whose life they held in their hands, were not long in considering their verdict.

The prisoner was found guilty, but with a recommendation to mercy.

And then the judge, who was cross and tired, made a brief but affecting speech, and sentenced him to imprisonment for life.

He went into his prison cell with hair as black as night, and came out again as white as a man of seventy.

******

In a back room of the public-house he sat and waited till he had courage and strength enough to face the streets again. And as he waited, he gave himself up to visions of the future—to the day when, with his hand on Cressingham's lying throat, he would see his face blacken and hear the rattling agonies of his gasps for breath. He leaned back in his chair and laughed hoarsely. The unearthly, hideous sound startled him, and he glanced round nervously as if he feared to betray his secret. Then he drank another glass of brandy, and with twenty-six shillings of prison money in his pocket and ten years of the blackest hatred in his heart, he went out again into the world to begin his search—for Cressingham and revenge.



II.

The people of Port ———, on the east coast of New Zealand, were charmed with the handsome commander of the biggest ocean steamer that had yet visited the port, and on the eve of his departure gave Captain Cressingham the usual banquet. Banquets to captains of new lines of steamers are good things to boom the interests of a budding seaport town, and so a few score of the "warmest" men in the place cheerfully planked down their guinea each for the occasion.

The Belted Will had hauled out from the wharf and lay a mile or so from the shore ready for sea, and the captain had told his chief officer to send a boat ashore for him at twelve o'clock.

Among the crowd that lounged about the entrance to the town hall and watched for the arrival of the guest of the evening was a tall, dark, rough-looking man with white curly hair. One or two of those present seemed to know him, and presently some one addressed him.

"Hallo, Harry! come to have a look at the swells? 'Taint often you come out o' nights."

The white-haired man nodded without speaking, and then moved away again. Presently the man he was looking for was driven up, and the loungers drew aside to let him pass up the steps into the blaze of light under the vestibule of the hall, where he was welcomed by half a dozen effusive citizens. For a moment he stood and chatted, and the man who watched clenched his brawny hands and ground his teeth. Then Captain Cressingham disappeared, and the tall man walked slowly away again in the direction of the wharves.

*****

At eleven o'clock Cressingham's boat came ashore, and the crew as they made her fast grumbled and cursed in true sailor fashion.

"Are you the chaps from the Belted Will?" said a man, who was leaning against one of the wharf sheds.

"Yes; who are you, mister?" said one of them.

"I'm Harry—one of the hands that was stowing wool aboard. I heard you was coming ashore for the captain, and as you won't see him for the next couple of hours, I thought I'd come down and ask you to come up and have a couple of nips. It's cold loafing about here. I live pretty close."

"You're one o' the right sort. What say, Peter?" Peter was only too glad. The prospect of getting into a warm house was enough inducement, even without the further bliss of a couple of nips.

In half an hour the two men were helplessly drunk in Harry's room, and their generous host carefully placing another bottle (not doctored this time) of rum on the table for them when they awoke, quietly went out and locked the door behind him. Then he walked quickly back to where the Belted Will boat lay, and descending the steps, got into her and seemed to busy himself for a while. He soon found what he was looking for, and then came the sound of inrushing water. Then he drew the boat up again to the steps, got out, and casting off the painter, slung it aboard, and shoved her into the darkness.

For another hour he waited patiently, and then came the rattle of wheels, and loud voices and laughter, as a vehicle drew up at the deserted wharf.

"Why not stay ashore to-night, captain," said one of the guest's champagne-laden companions, "and tell your man to go back?"

"No, no," laughed Cressingham. "I don't like the look of the weather, and must get aboard right away. Boat ahoy! Where are you, men?"

"Your boat isn't here, sir," said a gruff voice, and a tall man advanced from the darkness of the sheds. "I saw the men up town, both pretty full, and heard them laughing and say they meant to have a night ashore. It's my belief they turned her adrift purposely."

Cressingham cursed them savagely, and then turned to the tall man.

"Can you get me a boat?"

"Well, sir, there's a big heavy boat belonging to my boss that I can get, and I don't mind putting you aboard. We can sail out with this breeze in no time. She's lying under the coal-wharf."

"That'll do. Good-bye, gentlemen. I trust we shall all meet again in another eight months or so."

The big man led the way, and in a few minutes they reached the coal wharf, under which the boat was moored. She was a heavy, clumsily-built craft, and Cressingham, on getting aboard and striking a match, cursed her filthy state. The tall man stepped to the mast and hoisted the lug-sail, and Cressingham, taking the tiller, kept her out towards the Belted Will whose riding light was discernible right ahead.

"We must look out for the buoys, sir," said the gruff-voiced man, as the breeze freshened up and the heavy boat quickened her speed.

"All right," said Cressingham, and pulling out a cigar from his overcoat he bent his head and struck a light.

Ere he raised it the white-haired man had sprung upon him like a tiger, and seized his throat in his brawny hands. For a minute or so Cressingham struggled in that deadly grip, and then lay limp and insensible in the bottom of the boat.

Challoner, with malignant joy, leaned over him with a world of hate in his black eyes, and then proceeded to business.

Lifting the unconscious man he carried him for'ard, and, placing him upon a thwart, gagged and bound him securely. Then he went aft and, taking the tiller, hauled the sheet in and kept the boat away again upon her course for the Belted Will.

He passed within a quarter of a mile of the huge, black mass with the bright riding light shining upon the fore-stay, and the look-out from the steamer took no notice of the boat as she swept past toward the open sea.

*****

Daylight at last. For six hours the boat had swept before the strong northerly wind, and the land lay nearly thirty miles astern, lost in a sombre bank of heavy clouds and mist. Challoner had taken off his rough overcoat and thrown it over the figure of his enemy. He did not want him to perish of cold. And as he steered he fixed his eyes, lighted up with an unholy joy, upon the bent and crushed figure before him.

Cressingham was conscious now, and stared with horror-filled eyes at the grim creature in the craft before him—a gaunt, dark-faced man, clad in a striped guernsey and thin cotton pants, with a worn and ragged woollen cap stuck upon his thick masses of white curly hair. Who was he? A madman.

Challoner seemed to take no notice of him, and looked out upon the threatening aspect of sea and sky with an unconcerned face. Presently he hauled aft the sheet a bit, and kept the boat on a more westerly course, and the bound and wondering man on the for'ard thwart watched his movements intently.

The boat had made a little water, and the white-headed man stooped and baled it out carefully; then he looked up and caught his prisoner's eye.

"Ha, ha, Cressingham, how are you? Isn't it delightful that we should meet again?"

A strange inarticulate cry broke from Cressingham.

"Who are you?"

"What! is it possible that you don't remember me? I am afraid that that banquet champagne has affected you a little. Try back, my dear fellow. Don't you remember the Victory?"

Ah! he remembered now, and a terrible fear chilled his life-blood and froze his once sneering tongue into silence.

"Ah! I see you do," and Challoner laughed with Satanic passion. "And so we meet again—with our positions reversed. Once, unless my memory fails me, you put me in irons. Now, Captain Cressingham, I have you seized up, and we can have a quiet little chat—all to ourselves."

No answer came from Cressingham. With dilated, horror-stricken eyes and panting breath he was turned into stone. The wretched man's silence at last broke up the depths of his maddened tormentor's hatred, and with a bound he sprang to his feet and raised his hand on high.

"Ah! God is good to me at last, Cressingham. For ten years I hungered and thirsted for the day that would set me free, free to search the world over for the lying, murderous dog that consigned me, an innocent man, to a lifelong death. And when the day came, sooner than I thought or you thought—for I suffered for ten years instead of for life—I waited, a free man till I got you into my power."

His hand fell to his side again, and then he leaned forward and laughed.

Cressingham, with death creeping into his heart, at last found his voice.

"Are you going to murder me?" he said.

"Yes," said Challoner, slowly, "I am going to murder you. But not quickly. There would be no joy in that. I want you to taste some of my hideous past—some little space, if only for a day or two, of that ten long years of agony I spent in Pentridge."

Then he sat down again, and opening the locker in the stern sheets, took out food and water, and placing it beside him, ate and drank. But he gave none to Cressingham.

He finished his meal, and then looked again at his prisoner, and spoke calmly again.

"You are comfortable, I trust, Captain Cressingham? Not cold, I am certain, for you have my overcoat in addition to your own. Do you know why I gave it to you? Just to keep you nice and warm during the night, and—alive. But, as I feel chilly myself now, I'll take it from you. Thanks," and he laughed mockingly as he leaned over and snatched it away.

"You see, sir, we are going on a long cruise—down to the Snares, perhaps—and I must keep warm myself, or else how can I talk to you to break the monotony of the voyage?... It is no use looking astern, my friend. There's only one tug in port, and she is not in sea-going trim, so we've got a good start of any search party. And as I don't want to die myself, we won't run away from the land altogether."

And so the day passed, agony and deadly fear blanching the face of one, and cruel, murderous joy filling the heart of the other. Once, as the last dying gleams of the wintry sun for a few brief moments shone over the blackened waters, Challoner saw a long stream of steamer's smoke between the boat and the misty line of coast, and he lowered the sail and let the boat drift till darkness enwrapped them again.

Once more he took out food and water, and ate and drank, and then lit his pipe and smoked, and watched with eyes that glared with the lust of murder and revenge the motionless being before him.

Only once in all that night of horror to Cressingham did he speak, and his voice shook and quivered, and came in choking gasps.

"Challoner, for the love of Christ, kill me and end my misery."

"Ha! still alive, Captain Cressingham! That is very satisfactory—to me only, of course. Kill you, did you say?" and again his wild demoniac laugh pealed out through the black loneliness of the night. "No, I don't intend to kill you. I want to see you suffer and die by inches. I want you to call upon God to help you, so that I can mock at you, and defy Him to rob me of my vengeance."

A shuddering moan, and then silence again.

Again the day broke, and as the ocean mists cleared and rolled away, and the grey morning light fell upon the chilled and stiffening form of his enemy, Challoner came up and looked into his face, and spoke to him.

No answer came from his pallid lips, and Challoner thrust his hand under Cressingham's coat and felt his heart. He was still alive, and presently the closed and swollen eyelids opened, and as he met the glance of the man who leaned over him an anguished groan burst from his heart.

Challoner looked at him intently for awhile; then he hoisted the sail again, and, taking the tiller, headed the boat in for the land. The wind had hauled round during the night, and although the boat made a lot of leeway there was no danger now of being blown away from the land altogether.

As the sun mounted higher, and the grey outlines of the shores darkened, he glanced carefully over the sea to the north-west. Nothing in sight there. But as the boat lifted to a sea he saw about five miles to leeward that a big steamer was coming up. In half an hour, unless she changed her course, she would be up to the boat and could not fail to see her.

In five minutes more Cressingham lay in the bottom of the boat unbound, but dying fast, and Challoner was speaking to him.

"Cressingham, you are dying. You know that, don't you? And you know that I am not lying when I tell you that there is a steamer within five miles of us. In less than half an hour she will be up to us."

One black, swollen hand was raised feebly, and then fell back, and a hoarse sound came from his throat.

"Well, now listen. I said I wanted to see you die—die as you are dying now—with my face over yours, watching you die. And you die and I live. I can live now, Cressingham, and perhaps the memory of those ten years of death in life that I suffered through you will be easier to bear. And yet there is one thing more that you must know—something that will make it harder for you to meet your Maker, but easier for me.... Listen." He knelt beside him and almost shrieked it: "I had no one in the whole world to care for me when I was tried for my life but my wife—and you, you fiend, you murderer—you killed her. She died six years ago—starved and died."

Cressingham, with closed eyes, lay with his head supported on Challoner's left arm. Presently a tremor shook his frame, a fleck of foam bubbled from between his lips, and then the end.

With cold, merciless eyes the other regarded him, with clenched hands and set teeth. Then he went for'ard and unbent the boat's kedge, and with the same lashings that had bound the living man to the thwart he lashed the kedge across the dead man's chest.

He stood up and looked at the approaching steamer, and then he raised the body in his arms and dropped it over the side.

*****

A few days later the papers said that the steamer Maungatapu had picked up a man named Harry, who with Captain Cressingham, of the Belted Will had been blown out to sea from Port ———. It appeared from the survivor's statement that during a heavy squall the same night Captain Cressingham had fallen overboard, and his companion was unable to rescue him.



"THE BEST ASSET IN A FOOL'S ESTATE"

A slight smile lit up the clear-cut, sombre face of Lawson from Safune, as looking up from his boat at Etheridge's house he saw the glint of many lights shining through the walls of the roughly-built store. It was well on towards midnight when he had left Safune and sailed round to Etheridge's, a distance of twelve or fifteen miles, and as his boat touched the sand the first streaks of dawn were changing the dead whiteness of the beach into a dull grey—soon to brighten into a creamy yellow as the sun pierced the heavy land-mist.

A native or two, wrapped from head to foot in the long lava lava of white calico, passed him as he followed the windings of the track to Etheridge's, but gave him no sign of greeting. Had he been any one of the few other white men living on Savaii the dark men would have stopped him and, native-like, inquired the reason of his early visit to their town. But they knew Lawson too well. Mataaitu they called him—devil-faced. And in this they were not far wrong, for Lawson, with his dark olive skin, jet black beard, and eyes that belied the ever-smiling lips, was not a man whom people would be unanimous in trusting.

The natives knew him better than did his few white acquaintances in Samoa, for here, among them, the mask that hid his inner nature from his compeers was sometimes put aside, though never thrown away. But Etheridge, the hot-blooded young Englishman and friend of six months' standing, thought and spoke of him as "the best fellow in the world."

Etheridge had been taking stock, and the wearisome work had paled his usually florid features. His face flushed with pleasure at Lawson's quiet voice:—

"Hard at it, Etheridge? I don't know which looks the paler—you or Lalia. Why on earth didn't you send for me sooner? Any one would think you were some poor devil of a fellow trading for the Dutchmen instead of being an independent man. Now, I'm hungry and want breakfast—that is, if Lalia isn't too tired to get it," and he looked compassionately at Etheridge's young half-caste wife, sister to his own.

"I'm not tired," said the girl, quietly. "I've had easy tasks—counting packets of fish-hooks, grosses of cotton, and things like that. Billy wouldn't let me help him with the prints and heavy things," and with the faintest shadow of a smile on her lips she passed through into the sitting-room and thence outside to the little thatched cook-house a few yards away. With ardent infatuation Etheridge rested his blue eyes on the white-robed, slender figure as she stood at the door and watched the Niue cook light his fire for an early cup of coffee—the first overture to breakfast at Etheridge's.

"By Jove, Lawson, I'm the luckiest man in Samoa to get such a wife as Lalia—and I only a new-chum to the Islands. I believe she'd work night and day if I'd allow it. And if it hadn't been for you I'd never have met her at all, but would have married some fast creature who'd have gone through me in a month and left me a dead-broken beachcomber."

"Yes," said Lawson, "she is a good girl, and, except her sister, about the only half-caste I ever knew whom I would trust implicitly. Their mother was a Hervey Island woman, as I told you, and Lalia has been with Terere and me all over Polynesia, and I think I know her nature. She's fond of you, Etheridge, in her quiet, undemonstrative way, but she's a bit shy yet. You see, you don't speak either Rarotongan or Samoan, and half-caste wives hate talking English. Now, tell me, what is it worrying you? You haven't had another attack?"

"Yes," said the younger man, "I have—and a bad one, too, and that's why I sent for you. The stocktaking is nothing; but I was afraid I might get another that would stiffen me properly. Look here, Lawson, you've been a true friend to me. You picked me up six months ago a drunken, half-maddened beast in Apia and saved my life, reason, and money, and——"

"Bosh!" said Lawson, taking his coffee from the hand of Etheridge's wife; "don't think of it, my boy. Every man goes a bit crooked sometimes; so don't thank me too much."

Etheridge waited till his wife was gone and then resumed: "I've been horribly scared, Lawson, over this," and he placed his hand over his heart, "I was lifting a case of biscuits when I dropped like a pithed bullock. When I came to, Lalia was bathing my face.... I feel pretty shaky still. The doctor at Goddeffroy's warned me, too—said I'd go off suddenly if I wasn't careful. My father and one brother died like that. And I want to talk things over with you in case, you know." Lawson nodded.

"Everything I have is for her, Lawson—land, house, trade, and money. You're pretty sure there's no irregularity in that will of mine, aren't you?"

"Sure. It's very simply written. It's properly witnessed, and would hold in any court of law if contested. And perhaps your people in Australia might do that."

Etheridge reddened. "No; I cut adrift from 'em long ago. Grog, you know. Beyond yourself and Lalia, I haven't a soul who'll bother about me. I think, Lawson, I'll take a run up to Apia and see the Dutch doctor again. Fearful cur, am I not?"

"Come, Etheridge," and Lawson laid his smooth, shapely hand—how dishonest are shapely hands!—on the other's arm. "You're a little down. Anything wrong with one's heart always gives a man a bad shaking. There's Lalia calling us to breakfast, so I won't say any more but this: Even if Lalia wasn't my wife's sister, and anything happened to you, there's always a home for her in my house. I'd do that for your sake alone, old man, putting aside the principle I go on of showing respect to any white man's wife, even if she were a Oahu girl and had rickety ideas of morality."

When Lawson had first met him and had carried him down to his station on Savaii, nursed him through his illness, and treated him like a brother, Etheridge, with the impulsive confidence of his simple nature, poured out his thanks and told his history, and eagerly accepted Lawson's suggestion to try his hand at trading, instead of continuing his erratic wanderings—wanderings which could only end in his "going broke" at Tahiti or Honolulu, Fifteen miles or so away, Lawson said, there was a village with a good opening for a trader. How much could he put into it? Well, he had L500 with him, and there was another thousand in Sydney—the last of five. Ample, said his host. So one day the land was bought, a house and store put up, and Etheridge commenced life as a trader.

The strange tropic beauty of the place and the ways of the people soon cast their spell over Etheridge's imaginative nature, and he was as happy as a man possibly could be—with a knowledge that his life hung by a thread. How slender that thread was Lawson knew, perhaps, better than he. The German doctor had said, "You must dell him to be gareful, Mr. Lawson. Any excidemend, any zooden drouble mit anydings; or too much visky midout any excidemends, and he drop dead. I dell you."

*****

A month or so after he had settled, Etheridge paid his weekly visit to Lawson, and met Lalia.

"This is my wife's sister," said Lawson; "she has been on a visit to some friends in Tutuila, and came back in the Iserbrook?"

The clear-cut, refined, and beautiful features of the girl did their work all too quickly on Etheridge. He was not a sensualist, only a man keenly susceptible to female beauty, and this girl was. beautiful—perhaps not so beautiful as her sister, Terere, Lawson's wife, but with a softer and more tender light in her full, dark eyes. And Lawson smiled to himself when Etheridge asked him to come outside and smoke when his wife and her sister had said good-night. A student of human nature, he had long ago read the simple mind of Etheridge as he would an open book, and knew what was coming. They went outside and talked—that is, Etheridge did. Lawson listened and smoked. Then he put a question to the other man.

*****

"Of course I will, Lawson; do you think I'm scoundrel enough to dream of anything else? We'll go up to Apia and get married by the white missionary."

Lawson laughed in his quiet way. "I wouldn't think you a scoundrel at all, Etheridge. I may as well tell you that I'm not married to her sister. We neglected doing that when I lived in the eastward groups, and no one in Samoa is any the wiser, and wouldn't think anything of it if they were. But although I'm only a poor devil of a trader, I'm a man of principle in some things. Lalia is but a child, so to speak, and I'm her natural protector. Now, you're a fellow of some means, and if anything did happen to you she wouldn't get a dollar if she wasn't legally your wife. The consul would claim everything until he heard from your relatives. And she's very young, Etheridge, and you've told me often enough that your heart's pretty dicky. Don't think me a brute."

Etheridge grasped his hand and wrung it. "No, no—a thousand times no. You're the best-hearted fellow in the world, and I honour you all the more, Lawson. Will you ask her to-morrow?"

Perhaps if he had heard the manner of Lawson's asking it would have puzzled his simple brain. And the subdued merriment of the two sisters might have caused him to wonder still more.

A week or so after, Etheridge and the two sisters went up to Apia. Lawson was unable to go. Copra was coming in freely, he had said with a smile, and he was too poor to run away from business—even to the wedding of his own wife's sister.

*****

As Etheridge and his young wife came out of the mission church some natives and white loafers stood around and watched them.

"Ho, Magalo," said one, "is not that teine, the sister of the wife of Mataaitu the black-visaged papalagi?"

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