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The Ebbing Of The Tide - South Sea Stories - 1896
by Louis Becke
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"Come back!" yelled the skipper, jamming the helm hard up, as the schooner flew up into the wind. "Leggo peak halyards. By G—d! we are running ashore. Leggo throat halyards, too!"

The mate flew to the halyards, and let go first the peak and then the throat halyards, but it was too late, and, with a swarm of natives packed together for'ard from the galley to the end of the jib-boom, she stuck her nose down, and, with stern high out of the water, like a duck chasing flies, she crashed into the reef—ran ashore dead to windward.

*****

No one was drowned. The natives took good care of the captain, mate, and supercargo, and helped them to save all they could. But Lannigan had a heavy loss—the bag of copper bolts had gone to the bottom.



THE COOK OF THE "SPREETOO SANTOO"—A STUDY IN BEACHCOMBERS

We were in Kitti Harbour, at Ponape, in the Carolines, when, at breakfast, a bleary-eyed, undersized, more-or-less-white man in a dirty pink shirt and dungaree pants, came below, and, slinging his filthy old hat over to the transoms, shoved himself into a seat between the mate and Jim Garstang, the trader.

"Mornin', captin," said he, without looking at the skipper, and helping himself to about two pounds of curry.

"Morning to you. Who the deuce are you, anyway? Are you the old bummer they call 'Espiritu Santo'?" said Garstang.

"That's me. I'm the man. But I ain't no bummer, don't you b'lieve it. I wos tradin' round here in these (lurid) islands afore you coves knowed where Ponape was."

"Are you the skunk that Wardell kicked off the Shenandoah for stealing a bottle of wine?" said the mate.

"That's me. There was goin' ter be trouble over that on'y that the Shennydor got properly well sunk by the Allybarmer (history wasn't his forte), and that ——— Wardell got d———d well drownded. Hingland haint a-goin' to let no Yankee insult nobody for nuthin'—an' I'm a blessed Englishman. I didn't steal the wine. Yer see, Wardell arst me off to dinner, and then we gets talkin' about polertics, an' I tells 'im 'e wos a lyin' pirut. Then he started foolin' around my woman, an' I up with a bottle of wine an'——"

"Why, you thundering liar," said Garstang, "you stole it out of the ward-room."

"I wouldn't call no man a liar if I was you, Mister—by G——, that Chinaman cook knows how to make curry."

He ate like a starving shark, and between mouthfuls kept up a running fire of lies and blasphemy. When he had eaten three platefuls of curry and drunk enough coffee to scald a pig, the skipper, who was gettin' tired of him, asked him if he had had enough.

Yes, he had had enough breakfast to last him a whole (Australian adjective) week.

"Then clear out on deck and swab the curry off your face, you beast!"

"That's always the way with you tradin' skippers. A stranger don't get no civility unless he comes aboard in a (red-painted) gig with a (crimson) umbrella and a (gory) 'elmet 'at, like a (vermilion) Consul."

The mate seized him, and, running him up the companion way, slung him out on deck.

*****

"What do you think of him?" asked the skipper, a man fond of a joke—it was Bully Hayes. "I thought I'd let you all make his acquaintance. He's been bumming around the Ladrones and Pelews since '50; used to be cook on a Manilla trading brig, the Espiritu Santo."

Then he told us how this wandering mass of blasphemy got his name of "Spreetoo Santoo." While in the brig he had been caught smuggling at Guam by the guarda costas, and had spent a year or two in the old prison fort at San Juan de 'Apra. (I don't know how he got out: perhaps his inherently alcoholic breath and lurid blasphemy made the old brick wall tumble down.)

After that he was always welcome in sailors' fo'c's'les by reason of his smuggling story, which would commence with—"When I was cook on the Espiritu Santo" (only he used the English instead of the Spanish name) "I got jugged by the gory gardy costers," &c, &c.

*****

When we came on deck he was sitting on the main-hatch with the Chinese carpenter—whose pipe he was smoking—and telling him that he ought to get rid of his native wife, who was a Gilbert Island girl, and buy a Ponape girl.

"I can git yer the pick o' the (crimson) island, an' it won't cost yer more'n a few (unprintable) dollars. I'm a (bad word) big man 'ere among the (adjective) natives."

Hung looked up at him stolidly with half-closed eyes. Then he took the pipe out of his mouth and said in a deadly cold voice—

"You palally liar, Spleetoo."

*****

He slouched aft again presently, and asked the mate, in an amiable tone of voice, if he had "any (ruddy) noospapers from Sydney."

"What the devil do you want newspapers for?" inquired Hayes, turning round suddenly in his deck-chair, "you can't read, Spreetoo."

"Can't read, eh?" and his red-rimmed, lashless eyes simulated intense indignation. "Wot about that 'ere (red) bishop at Manilla, as wanted me to chuck up me (scarlet) billet on the Spreetoo S antoo and travel through the (carnaged) Carryline Grewp as 's (sanguinary) sekketerry? 'Cos why? 'Cos there ain't any (blank) man atween 'ere an' 'ell as can talk the warious lingoes like me."

"Here," said the mate, giving him two or three old Maoriland newspapers—"here's some Auckland papers. Know anybody there?"

"No," he answered, promptly, "not a soul, but he knowed Sydney well. Larst time I wos there I sold old Bobby Towns L6,000 worth of oil—a bloomin' shipful. I got drunk, an' a (blank) policeman went through me in the cell and took the whole blessed lot outer me (scarlet) pocket." (Nine bad words omitted.)

"Bank notes?" queried Bully.

"No, sov'reigns—(gory) sov'reigns."

*****

He asked us if we had seen any men-o'-war about lately, and said that the captain of H.M.S. ———— had wanted to marry his daughter, but he wouldn't let her marry no man-o'-war cove after the way that ——— Wardell had treated him. He thought he would go back to Sydney again for a spell. His brother had a flaming fine billet there.

The Cook of the "Spreetoo Santoo" 243

"What is he?" asked Hayes.

"'E's a (blessed) Soopreme Court Judge, wears a (gory) wig big enough to make chafin' gear for a (crimson) fleet o' ships; 'e lives at Guvment 'Ouse, and Vs rollin' in money an' drinks like a (carmine) fish. I thought I might see somethin' about the ——— in a (blank) Sydney noospaper. I'll come in for all his (ensanguined) money when 'e dies."

Bully gave him a bottle of gin after a while. Then he hurriedly bade us farewell and went ashore.



LUPTON'S GUEST: A MEMORY OF THE EASTERN PACIFIC

A long sweeping curve of coast, fringed with tall plumed palms casting wavering shadows on the yellow sand as they sway and swish softly to the breath of the brave trade-wind that whistles through the thickly-verdured hummocks on the weather side of the island, to die away into a soft breath as, after passing through the belt of cocoanuts, it faintly ripples the transparent depths of the lagoon—a broad sheet of blue and silver stretching away from the far distant western line of reef to the smooth, yellow beach at the foot of the palms on the easternmost islet. And here, beneath their lofty crowns, are the brown thatched huts of the people and the home of Lupton the trader.

*****

This is Mururea. And, if it be possible, Mururea surpasses in beauty any other of the "cloud of islands" which, lying on the blue bosom of the Eastern Pacific like the islands of a dream, are called by their people the Paumotu. And these people—it is not of very long ago I speak—are a people unto themselves. Shy and suspicious of strangers, white or brown, and endued with that quick instinct of fear which impels untutored minds to slay, and which we, in our civilised ignorance, call savage treachery, they are yet kind-hearted and hospitable to those who learn their ways and regard their customs. A tall, light-skinned, muscular people, the men with long, straight, black hair, coiled up in a knot at the back, and the women—the descendants of those who sailed with broken Fletcher Christian and his comrades of the Bounty in quest of a place where to die—soft-voiced, and with big, timorous eyes.

*****

'Twas here that Ben Peese, the handsome, savagely humorous, and voluble colleague of Captain "Bully" Hayes, the modern rover of the South Seas, one day appeared. Lupton, with his son and two natives, were out searching the beach of a little islet for turtles' eggs, when the boy, who had been sent to obtain a few young drinking cocoanuts from a tree some little distance away, called out, "Te Pahi!" (a ship). A few minutes passed, and then, outlined against the narrow strip of cocoanuts that grew on the north end of the main islet of the lagoon, Lupton saw the sails of a schooner making for the only opening—a narrow passage on the eastern side.

Now vessels came but rarely to Mururea, for Du Petit Thouars, the French Admiral of the Pacific fleet, had long since closed the group to the Sydney trading ships that once came there for pearl-shell, and Lupton felt uneasy. The vessel belonging to the Tahitian firm for whom he traded was not due for many months. Could the stranger be that wandering Ishmael of the sea—Peese? Only he—or his equally daring and dreaded colleague, Bully Hayes—would dare to sail a vessel of any size in among the coral "mushrooms" that studded the current-swept waters of the dangerous passage.

What did he want? And honest Frank Lupton, a quiet and industrious trader, thought of his store of pearl-shell and felt still more doubtful. And he knew Peese so well, the dapper, handsome little Englishman with the pleasant voice that had in it always a ripple of laughter—the voice and laugh that concealed his tigerish heart and savage vindictiveness. Lupton had children too—sons and daughters—and Peese, who looked upon women as mere articles of merchandise, would have thought no more of carrying off the trader's two pretty daughters than he would of "taking" a cask of oil or a basket of pearl-shell.

*****

His anxious face, paling beneath the tropic bronze of twenty years' ocean wanderings, betrayed his feelings to the two natives who were now pulling the boat with all their strength to gain the village, and one—Maora, his wife's brother, a big, light-skinned man, with that keen, hawk-like visage peculiar to the people of the eastern islands of Polynesia, said—

"'Tis an evil day, Farani! No ship but that of the Little Man with the Beard hath ever passed into the lagoon since the great English fighting ship came inside" (he spoke of 1863), "for the reef hath grown and spread out and nearly closed it. Only the Little Bearded Devil would dare it, for he hath been here twice with the Man of the Strong Hand" (Hayes). "And, Farani, listen! 'The hand to the club!'"

They ceased pulling. From the village came the sound of an almost forgotten cry—a signal of danger to the dwellers under the palms—"The hand to the club!"—meaning for the men to arm.

*****

Lupton hesitated. The natives would, he knew, stand to him to a man if violence to or robbery of him were attempted. But to gain the village he must needs pass close the vessel, and to pass on and not board her would savour of cowardice—and Lupton was an Englishman, and his twenty years' wanderings among the dangerous people of some of the islands of the Paumotu Group had steeled his nerves to meet any danger or emergency. So, without altering the course of the boat, he ran alongside of the vessel—which was a brigantine—just as she was bringing to, and looking up, he saw the face he expected.

"How are you, Lupton, my dear fellow?" said Peese, as the trader gained the deck, wringing his hand effusively, as if he were a long-lost brother. "By Heavens! I'm glad to meet a countryman again, and that countryman Frank Lupton. Don't like letting your hand go." And still grasping the trader's rough hand in his, delicate and smooth as a woman's, he beamed upon him with an air of infantile pleasure.

*****

This was one of Peese's peculiarities—an affectation of absolute affection for any Englishman he met, from the captain of a man-of-war (these, however, he avoided as much as possible), to a poor beachcomber with but a grass girdle round his loins.

"What brings you here, Captain Peese?" said Lupton, bluntly, as his eye sought the village, and saw the half-naked figures of his native following leaving his house in pairs, each carrying between them a square box, and disappearing into the puka scrub. It was his pearl-shell. Mameri, his wife, had scented danger, and the shell at least was safe, however it befell. Peese's glance followed his, and the handsome little captain laughed, and slapped the gloomy-faced and suspicious trader on the back with an air of camaraderie.

"My dear fellow, what an excessively suspicious woman your good Mameri is! But do not be alarmed. I have not come here to do any business this time, but to land a passenger, and as soon as his traps are on the beach I'm off again to Maga Reva. Such are the exigencies, my dear Lupton, of a trading captain's life in the South Seas, I cannot even spare the time to go on shore with you and enjoy the hospitality of the good Mameri and your two fair daughters. But come below with me and see my passenger." And he led the way to his cabin.

*****

The passenger's appearance, so Lupton told me, "was enough to make a man's blood curdle," so ghastly pale and emaciated was he. He rose as Lupton entered and extended his hand.

"My friend here," said the worthy little Ishmael, bowing and caressing his long silky beard, "is, ah, hum, Mr. Brown. He is, as you will observe, my dear Lupton, in a somewhat weak state of health, and is in search of some retired spot where he may recuperate sufficiently——"

"Don't lie unnecessarily, sir."

Peese bowed affably and smiled, and the stranger addressed Lupton.

"My name is not Brown—'tis of no consequence what it is; but I am, indeed, as you see, in a bad way, with but a few months at most to live. Captain Peese, at my request, put into this lagoon. He has told me that the place is seldom visited by ships, and that the people do not care about strangers. Yet, have you, Mr. Lupton, any objections to my coming ashore here, and living out the rest of my life? I have trade goods sufficient for all requirements, and will in no way interfere with or become a charge upon you."

Lupton considered. His influence with the people of Mururea was such that he could easily overcome their objections to another white man landing; but he had lived so long apart from all white associations that he did not care about having the even monotony of his life disturbed. And then, he thought, it might be some queer game concocted between the sick man and the chattering little sea-hawk that sat beside him stroking and fondling his flowing beard. He was about to refuse when the sunken, eager eyes of "Mr. Brown" met his in an almost appealing look that disarmed him of all further suspicion.

"Very well, sir. The island is as free to you as to me. But, still, I could stop any one else from living here if I wished to do so. But you do look very ill, no mistake about that. And, then, you ain't going to trade against me! And I suppose you'll pass me your word that there isn't any dodge between you and the captain here to bone my shell and clear out?"

For answer the sick man opened a despatch-box that lay on the cabin table, and took from it a bag of money.

*****

"This," he said, "is the sum I agreed to pay Captain Peese to land me on any island of my choice in the Paumotu Archipelago, and this unsigned order here is in his favour on the Maison Brander of Tahiti for a similar sum."

Signing the paper he pushed it with the money over to Peese, and then went on:—

"I assure you, Mr. Lupton, that this is the only transaction I have ever had with Captain Peese. I came to him in Tahiti, hearing he was bound to the Paumotu Group. I had never heard of him before, and after to-day I will not, in all human probability, see him again."

"Perfectly correct, my dear sir," said Peese. "And now, as our business is finished, perhaps our dear friend, Lupton, will save me the trouble of lowering a boat by taking you ashore in his own, which is alongside."

Five minutes later and Lupton and the stranger were seated in the boat.

"Good-bye, my dear Lupton, and adios my dear Mr. Brown. I shall ever remember our pleasant relations on board my humble little trading vessel," cried the renowned Peese, who, from former associations, had a way of drifting into the Spanish tongue—and prisons and fetters—which latter he once wore for many a weary day on the cruiser Hernandez Pizarro on his way to the gloomy prison of Manilla.

The boat had barely traversed half the distance to the shore ere the brigantine's anchor was hove-up and at her bows, and then Peese, with his usual cool assurance, beat her through the intricate passage and stood out into the long roll of the Pacific.

*****

When Lupton, with his "walking bone bag," as he mentally called the stranger, entered his house, Mameri, his bulky native wife, uttered an exclamation of pity, and placing a chair before him uttered the simple word of welcome Iorana! and the daughters, with wonder-lit star-like eyes, knelt beside their father's chair and whispered, "Who is he, Farani?"

And Lupton could only answer, "I don't know, and won't ask. Look to him well."

He never did ask. One afternoon nearly a year afterwards, as Lupton and Trenton, the supercargo of the Marama sat on an old native marae at Arupahi, the Village of Four Houses, he told the strange story of his sick guest.

*****

The stranger had at first wished to have a house built for himself, but Lupton's quiet place and the shy and reserved natures of his children made him change his intention and ask Lupton for a part of his house. It was given freely—where are there more generous-hearted men than these world-forgotten, isolated traders?—and here the Silent Man, as the people of Mururea called him, lived out the few months of his life. That last deceptive stage of his insidious disease had given him a fictitious strength. On many occasions, accompanied by the trader's children, he would walk to the north point of the low-lying island, where the cloudy spume of the surge was thickest and where the hollow and resonant crust of the black reef was perforated with countless air-holes, through which the water hissed and roared, and shot high in air, to fall again in misty spray.

And here, with dreamy eyes, he would sit under the shade of a clump of young cocoanuts, and watch the boil and tumble of the surf, whilst the children played with and chased each other about the clinking sand. Sometimes he would call them to him—Farani the boy, and Teremai and Lorani, the sweet-voiced and tender-eyed girls—and ask them to sing to him; and in their soft semi-Tahitian dialect they would sing the old songs that echoed in the ears of the desperate men of the Bounty that fatal dawn when, with bare-headed, defiant Bligh drifting astern in his boat, they headed back for Tahiti and death. *****

Four months had passed when one day the strange white man, with Lupton's children, returned to the village. As they passed in through the doorway with some merry chant upon their lips, they saw a native seated on the matted floor. He was a young man, with straight, handsome features, such as one may see any day in Eastern Polynesia, but the children, with terrified faces, shrank aside as they passed him and went to their father.

The pale face of the Silent Man turned inquiringly to Lupton, who smiled.

"'Tis Mameri's teaching, you know. She is a Catholic from Magareva, and prays and tells her beads enough to work a whaleship's crew into heaven. But this man is a 'Soul Catcher,' and if any one of us here got sick, Mameri would let the faith she was reared in go to the wall and send for the 'Soul Catcher.' He's a kind of an all-round prophet, wizard, and general wisdom merchant. Took over the soul-catching business from his father—runs in the family, you know."

"Ah!" said the Silent Man in his low, languid tones, looking at the native, who, the moment he had entered, had bent his eyes to the ground, "and in which of his manifold capacities has he come to see you, Lupton?"

Lupton hesitated a moment, then laughed.

"Well, sir, he says he wants to speak to you. Wants to pahihi (talk rot), I suppose. It's his trade, you know. I'd sling him out only that he isn't a bad sort of a fellow—and a bit mad—and Mameri says he'll quit as soon as he has had his say."

"Let him talk," said the calm, quiet voice; "I like these people, and like to hear them talk—better than I would most white men."

*****

Then, with his dark, dilated eyes moving from the pale face of the white man to that of Lupton, the native wizard and Seer of Unseen Things spoke. Then again his eyes sought the ground.

"What does he say?" queried Lupton's guest.

"D———rot," replied the trader, angrily.

"Tell me exactly, if you please. I feel interested."

"Well, he says that he was asleep in his house when his 'spirit voice' awoke him and said"—here Lupton paused and looked at his guest, and then, seeing the faint smile of amused interest on his melancholy features, resumed, in his rough, jocular way—"and said—the 'spirit voice,' you know—that your soul was struggling to get loose, and is going away from you to-night. And the long and short of it is that this young fellow here wants to know if you'll let him save it—keep you from dying, you know. Says he'll do the job for nothing, because you're a good man, and a friend to all the people of Mururea."

"Mr. Brown" put his thin hand across his mouth, and his eyes smiled at Lupton. Then some sudden, violent emotion stirred him, and he spoke with such quick and bitter energy that Lupton half rose from his seat in vague alarm.

"Tell him," he said—"that is, if the language expresses it—that my soul has been in hell these ten years, and its place filled with ruined hopes and black despair," and then he sank back on his couch of mats, and turned his face to the wall.

The Seer of Unseen Things, at a sign from the now angry Lupton, rose to his feet. As he passed the trader he whispered—

"Be not angry with me, Farani; art not thou and all thy house dear to me, the Snarer of Souls and Keeper Away of Evil Things? And I can truly make a snare to save the soul of the Silent Man, if he so wishes it." The low, impassioned tones of the wizard's voice showed him to be under strong emotion, and Lupton, with smoothened brow, placed his hand on the native's chest in token of amity.

"Farani," said the wizard, "see'st thou these?" and he pointed to where, in the open doorway, two large white butterflies hovered and fluttered. They were a species but rarely seen in Mururea, and the natives had many curious superstitions regarding them.

"Aye," said the trader, "what of them?"

"Lo, they are the spirits that await the soul of him who sitteth in thy house. One is the soul of a woman, the other of a man; and their bodies are long ago dust in a far-off land. See, Farani, they hover and wait, wait, wait. To-morrow they will be gone, but then another may be with them."

Stopping at the doorway the tall native turned, and again his strange, full black eyes fixed upon the figure of Lupton's guest. Then slowly he untied from a circlet of polished pieces of pearl-shell strung together round his sinewy neck a little round leaf-wrapped bundle. And with quiet assured step he came and stood before the strange white man and extended his hand.

"Take it, O man, with the swift hand and the strong heart, for it is thine."

And then he passed slowly out.

Lupton could only see that as the outside wrappings of fala leaves fell off they revealed a black substance, when Mr. Brown quickly placed it in the bosom of his shirt.

*****

"And sure enough," continued Lupton, knocking the ashes from his pipe out upon the crumbling stones of the old marae, and speaking in, for him, strangely softened tones, "the poor chap did die that night, leastways at kalaga moa (cockcrow), and then he refilled his pipe in silence, gazing the while away out to the North-West Point."

*****

"What a curious story!" began the supercargo, after an interval of some minutes, when he saw that Lupton, usually one of the merriest-hearted wanderers that rove to and fro in Polynesia, seemed strangely silent and affected, and had turned his face from him.

He waited in silence till the trader chose to speak again. Away to the westward, made purple by the sunset haze of the tropics, lay the ever-hovering spume-cloud of the reef of North-West Point—the loved haunt of Lupton's guest—and the muffled boom of the ceaseless surf deepened now and then as some mighty roller tumbled and crashed upon the flat ledges of blackened reef.

*****

At last the trader turned again to the supercargo, almost restored to his usual equanimity. "I'm a pretty rough case, Mr.———, and not much given to any kind of sentiment or squirming, but I would give half I'm worth to have him back again. He sort of got a pull on my feelin's the first time he ever spoke to me, and as the days went on, I took to him that much that if he'd a wanted to marry my little Teremai I'd have given her to him cheerful. Not that we ever done much talkin', but he'd sit night after night and make me talk, and when I'd spun a good hour's yarn he'd only say, 'Thank you, Lupton, good-night,' and give a smile all round to us, from old Mameri to the youngest tama, and go to bed. And yet he did a thing that'll go hard agin' him, I fear."

"Ah," said Trenton, "and so he told you at the last—I mean his reason for coming to die at Mururea."

"No, he didn't. He only told me something; Peese told me the rest. And he laughed when he told me," and the dark-faced trader struck his hand on his knee. "Peese would laugh if he saw his mother crucified."

"Was Peese back here again, then?" inquired Trenton.

"Yes, two months ago. He hove-to outside, and came ashore in a canoe. Said he wanted to hear how his dear friend Brown was. He only stayed an hour, and then cleared out again.9'

"Did he die suddenly?" the supercargo asked, his mind still bent on Lupton's strange visitor.

"No. Just before daylight he called me to him—with my boy. He took the boy's hand and said he'd have been glad to have lived after all. He had been happy in a way with me and the children here in Mururea. Then he asked to see Teremai and Lorani. They both cried when they saw he was a goin'—all native-blooded people do that if they cares anything at all about a white man, and sees him dyin'."

"Have you any message, or anything to say in writin', sir?" I says to him.

He didn't answer at once, only took the girls' hands in his, and kisses each of 'em on the face, then he says, "No, Lupton, neither. But send the children away now. I want you to stay with me to the last—which will be soon."

Then he put his hand under his pillow, and took out a tiny little parcel, and held it in his closed hand. *****

"Mr. Lupton, I ask you before God to speak honestly. Have you, or have you not, ever heard of me, and why I came here to die, away from the eyes of men?"

"No, sir," I said. "Before God I know no more of you now than the day I first saw you."

"Can you, then, tell me if the native soul-doctor who came here last night is a friend of Captain Peese? Did he see Peese when I landed here? Has he talked with him?"

"No. When you came here with Peese, the soul-seer was away at another island. And as for talking with him, how could he? Peese can't speak two words of Paumotu."

He closed his eyes a minute. Then he reached out his hand to me and said, "Look at that; what is it?"

It was the little black thing that the Man Who Sees Beyond gave him, and was a curious affair altogether. "You know what an aitu taliga is?" asked Lupton.

"Yes; a 'devil's ear'—that's what the natives call fungus."

*****

"Well," continued Lupton, "this was a piece of dried fungus, and yet it wasn't a piece of fungus. It was the exact shape of a human heart—just as I've seen a model of it made of wax. That hadn't been its natural shape, but the sides had been brought together and stitched with human hair—by the soul-doctor, of course. I looked at it curiously enough, and gave it back to him. His fingers closed round it again."

"What is it?" he says again.

"It's a model of a human heart," says I, "made of fungus."

"My God!" he says, "how could he know?" Then he didn't say any more, and in another half-hour or so he dies, quiet and gentlemanly like. I looked for the heart with Mameri in the morning—it was gone.

"Well, we buried him. And now look here, Mr. ———, as sure as I believe there's a God over us, I believe that that native soul-catcher has dealings with the Devil. I had just stowed the poor chap in his coffin and was going to nail it down when the kanaka wizard came in, walks up to me, and says he wants to see the dead man's hand. Just to humour him I lifted off the sheet. The soul-catcher lifted the dead man's hands carefully, and then I'm d———d if he didn't lay that dried heart on his chest and press the hands down over it."

"What's that for?" says I.

"'Tis the heart of the woman he slew in her sleep. Let it lie with him, so that there may be peace between them at last," and then he glides away without another word.

*****

"I let it stay, not thinking much of it at the time. Well, as I was tellin' you, Peese came again. Seeing that I had all my people armed, I treated him well and we had a chat, and then I told him all about 'Mr. Brown's' death and the soul-saver and the dried heart. And then Peese laughs and gives me this newspaper cutting. I brought it with me to show you."

Trenton took the piece of paper and read.

*****

"'Lester Mornington made his escape from the State prison at San Quentin (Cal.) last week, and is stated to be now on his way either to Honolulu or Tahiti. It has been ascertained that a vast sum of money has been disbursed in a very systematic manner during the last few weeks to effect his release. Although nearly eight years have elapsed since he committed his terrible crime, the atrocious nature of it will long be remembered. Young, wealthy, respected, and talented, he had been married but half a year when the whole of the Pacific Slope was startled with the intelligence that he had murdered his beautiful young wife, who had, he found, been disloyal to him.

"'Entering the bedroom he shot his sleeping wife through the temples, and then with a keen-edged knife had cut out her still-beating heart. This, enclosed in a small box, he took to the house of the man who had wronged him, and desired him to open it and look at the contents. He did so, and Mornington, barely giving him time to realise the tragedy, and that his perfidy was known, shot him twice, the wounds proving fatal next day. The murderer made good his escape to Mexico, only returning to California a month ago, when he was recognised (although disguised) and captured, and at the time of his escape was within two days of the time of his trial before Judge Crittenden.'"

*****

"There's always a woman in these things," said Lupton, as the supercargo gave him back the slip. "Come on." And he got down from his seat on the wall. "There's Mameri calling us to kaikai—stewed pigeons. She's a bully old cook; worth her weight in Chile dollars."



IN NOUMEA

Chester was listening to those charming musicians, the convict band, playing in Noumea, and saw in the crowd a man he knew—more, an old friend, S———. The recognition was mutual and pleasing to both. They had not met for six years. He was then chief officer of a China steamer; now he was captain of a big tramp steamer that had called in to load nickel ore. "Who," exclaimed Chester, "would ever have thought of meeting you here?"

He laughed and replied: "I came with a purpose. You remember Miss ———, to whom I was engaged in Sydney?"

Chester nodded, expecting from the sparkle in S———'s dark brown eye that he was going to hear a little gush about her many wifely qualities.

"Well, I was in Sydney three times after I saw you. We were to be married as soon as I got a command. Two years ago I was there last. She had got married. Wrote me a letter saying she knew my calmer judgment would finally triumph over my anger—she had accepted a good offer, and although I might be nettled, perhaps, at first, yet she was sure my good sense would applaud her decision in marrying a man who, although she could never love him as she loved me, was very rich. But she would always look forward to meeting me again. That was all."

"Hard lines," said Chester.

"My dear boy, I thought that at first, when her letter knocked me flat aback. But I got over it, and I swore I would pay her out. And I came to this den of convicts to do it, and I did it—yesterday. She is here."

"Here?" said Chester.

And then he learnt the rest of Captain S———'s story. A year after his lady-love had jilted him he received a letter from her in England. She was in sad trouble, she said. Her husband, a Victorian official, was serving five years for embezzlement. Her letter was suggestive of a desire to hasten to the "protection" of her sailor lover. She wished, she said, that her husband were dead. But dead or alive she would always hate him.

S——— merely acknowledged her letter and sent her L25. In another six months he got a letter from Fiji. She was a governess there, she said, at L75 a year. Much contrition and love, also, in this letter.

S——— sent another L25, and remarked that he would see her soon. Fate one day sent him to take command of a steamer in Calcutta bound to Fiji with coolies, thence to Noumea to load nickel ore. And all the way out across the tropics S———'s heart was leaping at the thought of seeing his lost love—and telling her that he hated her for her black frozen treachery.

As soon as he had landed his coolies he cautiously set about discovering the family with whom she lived. No one could help him, but a planter explained matters: "I know the lady for whom you inquire, but she doesn't go by that name. Ask any one about Miss ———, the barmaid. She has gone to New Caledonia."

He asked, and learned that she was well known; and S——— wondered why she had brought her beauty to such a climate as that of Fiji when it would have paid her so much better to parade it in Melbourne.

The evening of the day on which his steamer arrived at Noumea a man brought him a letter. He showed it to Chester.

My darling Will,—Thank God you have come, for surely you have come for me—my heart tells me so. For God's sake wait on board for me. I will come at eight. To live in this place is breaking my heart. Ever yours, ———

She came. He stood her kisses passively, but gave none in return, until she asked him to kiss her. "When you are my wife," he said, evasively. And then—she must have loved him—she burst out into passionate sobs and fell at his feet in the quiet cabin and told him of her debased life in Fiji. "But, as God hears me, Will, that is all past since your last letter. I was mad. I loved money and did not care how I got it. I left Fiji to come here, intending to return to Australia. But, Will, dear Will, if it is only to throw me overboard, take me away from this hell upon earth. For your sake, Will, I have resisted them here, although I suffer daily, hourly, torture and insult. I have no money, and I am afraid to die and end my sufferings."

Captain S———, speaking calmly and slowly, placed money in her hand and said, "You must not see me again till the day I am ready for sea. Then bring your luggage and come on board."

With a smothered sob bursting from her, despite the joy in her heart, the woman turned and left him.

Then S——— went up to the Cafe Palais and played billiards with a steady hand.

*****

There was a great number of people on board to see Captain S——— away. Presently a boat came alongside, and a young lady with sweet red lips and shiny hair ascended to the deck.

"Helas!" said a French officer to S———, "and so you are taking away the fair one who won't look at us poor exiles of Nouvelle."

With a timid smile and fast-beating heart the woman gained the quarter-deck. In front of her stood the broad-shouldered, well-groomed Captain S———, cold, impassive, and deadly pale, with a cruel joy in his breast.

The woman stood still. There was something so appalling in that set white face before her, that her slight frame quivered with an unknown dread. And then the captain spoke, in slow, measured words that cut her to her inmost soul.

"Madam, I do not take passengers!"

No answer. Only short, gasping breaths as she steadied her hand on the rail.

And then, turning to one of the Frenchmen: "M. ———, will you request this—this lady to go on shore? She is known to me as a woman of infamous reputation in Fiji. I cannot for a moment entertain the idea of having such a person on board my ship."

Before the shuddering creature fell a man caught her, and then she was placed in the boat and taken ashore. Of course some of the Frenchmen thought it right to demand an explanation from S———, who said—

"I've none to give, gentlemen. If any of you want to fight me, well and good, although I don't like quarrelling over a pavement-woman. Besides, I rather think you'll find that the lady will now be quite an acquisition to you."

But S———'s revenge was not complete. He had previously arranged matters with his engineer, who presently came along and announced an accident to the machinery—the steamer would be delayed a couple of days. He wanted to see her again—so he told Chester.

"It was a cruel thing," said his friend.

"Bah!" said S———, "come with me."

In the crowded bar of the cafe a woman was laughing and talking gaily. Something made her look up. She put her hand to her eyes and walked slowly from the room.

As the two Englishmen walked slowly down to the wharf the handsome Captain S——— whistled cheerily, and asked Chester on board to hear him and his steward play violin and piccolo. "By God, S———," said Chester, "you have no heart!"

"Right you are, my lad. She made it into stone. But it won't hurt her as it did me. You see, these Frenchmen here pay well for new beauty; and women love money—which is a lucky thing for many men."



THE FEAST AT PENTECOST

There was a row in the fo'c's'le of the Queen Caroline, barque, of Sydney, and the hands were discussing ways and means upon two subjects—making the skipper give them their usual allowance of rum, or killing him, burning the ship, and clearing out and living among the natives.

Half of the crew were white, the others were Maories, Line Islanders, and Hawaiians. The white men wanted the coloured ones to knock the skipper and two mates on the head, while they slept. The natives declined—but they were quite agreeable to run away on shore with their messmates.

*****

The barque was at anchor at one of the New Hebrides. She was a "sandalwooder," and the captain, Fordham, was, if possible, a greater rascal than any one else on board. He had bargained with the chief of the island for leave to send his crew ashore and cut sandalwood, and on the first day four boatloads were brought off, whereupon Fordham cursed their laziness. One, an ex-Hobart Town convict, having "talked back," Fordham and the mate tied him up to the pumps and gave him three dozen.

Next day he started the boats away during fierce rain-squalls, and told the men that if they didn't bring plenty of wood he would "haze" them properly.

At dusk they returned and brought word that they had a lot of wood cut, but had left it ashore as the natives would lend them no assistance to load the boats.

The spokesman on this occasion was a big Maori from the Bay of Islands. Fordham gave him three dozen and put him in irons. Then he told the men they would get no supper till the wood was in the barque's hold—and he also stopped their grog.

"Well," said the captain, eyeing them savagely, "what is it going to be? Are you going to get that wood off or not?"

"It's too dark," said one; "and, anyway, we want our supper and grog first."

Fordham made a step towards him, when the whole lot bolted below.

"They'll turn-to early enough to-morrow," said he, grimly, "when they find there's no breakfast for 'em until that wood's on deck." Then he went below to drink rum with his two mates, remarking to his first officer: "You mark my words, Colliss, we're going to have a roasting hot time of it with them fellows here at Pentecost!"

*****

At daylight next morning the mate, who was less of a brute than the skipper, managed to get some rum and biscuit down into the fo'c's'le; then they turned-to and manned the boats. At noon the second mate, who was in charge of the cutting party, signalled from the shore that something was wrong.

On Fordham reaching the shore the second mate told him that all the native crew had run off into the bush.

The chief of the island was sent for, and Fordham told him to catch the runaways—fourteen in number—promising seven muskets in return. The white crew were working close by in sullen silence. They grinned when they heard the chief say it would be difficult to capture the men; they were natives, he remarked—if they were white men it would be easy enough. But he would try if the captain helped him.

*****

An hour afterwards the chief was in the bush, talking to the deserters, and taking in an account of the vast amount of trade lying on board the barque.

"See," said he, to the only man among them who spoke his dialect—a Fijian half-caste from Loma-loma—"this is my scheme. The captain of the ship and those that come with him will I entice into the bush and kill them one by one, for the path is narrow——"

"Good," said Sam the half-caste, "and then ten of us, with our hands loosely tied, will be taken off to the ship by two score of your men, who will tell the mate that the captain has caught ten of us, and has gone to seek the other four. Then will the ship be ours."

*****

"Halloa!" said the mate of the barque to the carpenter, "here's a thundering big crowd of niggers coming off in our two boats, and none of our white chaps with 'em. Stand by, you chaps, with your muskets. I ain't going to let all that crowd aboard with only six men in the ship."

The men left on board watched the progress of the two boats as they were pulled quickly towards the ship. They hardly apprehended any attempt at cutting-off, as from the ship they could discern the figures of some of their shipmates on shore stacking the sandalwood on a ledge of rock, handy for shipping in the boats.

"It's all right," called out the mate presently, "the niggers have collared some of our native chaps. I can see that yaller-hided Fiji Sam sitting aft with his hands lashed behind him. Let 'em come alongside."

*****

"Cap'en been catch him ten men," said the native in charge to the mate, "he go look now find him other fellow four men. He tell me you give me two bottle rum, some tobacco, some biscuit."

"Right you are, you man-catching old' cannibal," said the mate, jocosely, "come below." As the mate went below with the native at his heels, the latter made a quick sign by a backward move of his arm. In an instant the ten apparently-bound men had sprung to their feet, and with their pseudo-captors, flung themselves upon the five men. The wild cry of alarm reached the mate in the cabin. He darted up, and as he reached the deck a tomahawk crashed into his brain.

No need to tell the tale of the savage butchery on deck in all its details. Not one of the men had time to even fire a shot—they went down so quickly under the knives and tomahawks of the fifty men who struggled and strove with one another to strike the first blow. One man, indeed, succeeeded in reaching the main rigging, but ere he had gained ten feet he was stabbed and chopped in half-a-dozen places.

*****

And then, as the remaining members of the crew sat "spelling" in the jungle, and waiting for the skipper's return, there came a sudden, swift rush of dark, naked forms upon them. Then gasping groans and silence.

There were many oven-fires lit that night and the following day; and although the former shipmates of the "long, baked pigs" were present by the invitation of the chief, their uncultivated tastes were satisfied with such simple things as breadfruit and yams.

That was the "wiping-out" of the Queen Caroline at Pentecost, and the fulfilment of the unconscious prophecy of Captain Fordham to his mate.



AN HONOUR TO THE SERVICE

The Honourable Captain Stanley W——— believed in flogging, and during the three years' cruise of the frigate in the South Pacific he had taken several opportunities of expressing this belief upon the bluejackets of his ship by practical illustrations of his hobby. He was, however—in his own opinion—a most humane man, and was always ready to give a dozen less if Dr. Cartwright suggested, for instance, that Jenkins or Jones hadn't quite got over his last tricing up, and could hardly stand another dozen so soon. And the chaplain of the frigate, when dining with the Honourable Stanley, would often sigh and shake his head and agree with the captain that the proposed abolition of flogging in the British Navy would do much to destroy its discipline and loosen the feelings of personal attachment between officers and men, and then murmur something complimentary about his Majesty's ship Pleiades being one of the very few ships in the Service whose captain still maintained so ancient and honoured a custom, the discontinuance of which could only be advocated by common, illiterate persons—such as the blue-jackets themselves.

*****

The frigate was on her way from Valparaiso to Sydney—it was in the days of Governor Bligh—and for nearly three weeks had been passing amongst the low-lying coral islands of the Paumotu or Low Archipelago, when one afternoon in May, 182- she lay becalmed off the little island of Vairaatea. The sea was as smooth as glass, and only the gentlest ocean swell rose and fell over the flat surface of the coral reef. In those days almost nothing was known of the people of the Paumotu Group except that they were a fierce and warlike race and excessively shy of white strangers. Standing on his quarter-deck Captain W——— could with his glass see that there were but a few houses on the island—perhaps ten—and as the frigate had been nearly six weeks out from Valparaiso, and officers in the navy did not live as luxuriously then as now, he decided to send a boat ashore and buy some turtle from the natives.

"If you can buy a few thousand cocoanuts as well, do so, Mr. T.," said the captain, "and I'll send another boat later on."

*****

The boat's crew was well armed, and in command of the second lieutenant. Among them was a man named Hallam, a boatswain's mate, a dark-faced, surly brute of about fifty. He was hated by nearly every one on board, but as he was a splendid seaman and rigidly exact in the performance of his duties, he was an especial favourite of the captain's, who was never tired of extolling his abilities and sobriety, and holding him up as an example of a British seaman: and Hallam, like his captain, was a firm believer in the cat.

On pulling in to the beach about a dozen light-skinned natives met them. They were all armed with clubs and spears, but at a sign from one who seemed to be their chief they laid them down All—the chief as well—were naked, save for a girdle of long grass round their loins.

Their leader advanced to Lieutenant T——— as he stepped out of the boat, and holding out his hand said, "Good mornin' What you want?"

Pleased at finding a man who spoke English, the lieutenant told him he had come to buy some turtle and get a boatload of young cocoanuts, and showed him the tobacco and knives intended for payment.

The chiefs eyes glistened at the tobacco; the others, who did not know its use, turned away in indifference, but eagerly handled the knives.

*****

All this time the chiefs eyes kept wandering to the face of Hallam, the boatswain's mate, whose every movement he followed with a curious, wistful expression. Suddenly he turned to the lieutenant and said, in curious broken English, that cocoanuts were easily to be obtained, but turtle were more difficult; yet if the ship would wait he would promise to get them as many as were wanted by daylight next morning.

"All right," said Lieutenant T———, "bear a hand with the cocoanuts now, and I'll tell the captain what you say;" and then to Hallam, "If this calm keeps up, Hallam, I'm afraid the ship will either have to anchor or tow off the land—she's drifting in fast."

In an hour the boat was filled with cocoanuts, and Lieutenant T——— sent her off to the ship with a note to the captain, remaining himself with Hallam, another leading seaman named Lacy, and five bluejackets. Presently the chief, in his strange, halting English, asked the officer to come to his house and sit down and rest while his wife prepared food for him. And as they walked the native's eyes still sought the face of Hallam the boatswain.

His wife was a slender, graceful girl, and her modest, gentle demeanour as she waited upon her husband himself impressed the lieutenant considerably.

"Where did you learn to speak English?" the officer asked his host after they had finished.

He answered slowly, "I been sailor man American whaleship two year;" and then, pointing to a roll of soft mats, said, "You like sleep, you sleep. Me like go talk your sailor man."

*****

Hallam, morose and gloomy, had left the others, and was sitting under the shade of a toa-tree, when he heard the sound of a footstep, and looking up saw the dark-brown, muscular figure of the native chief beside him.

"Well," he said, surlily, "what the h—— do you want?"

The man made him no answer—only looked at him with a strange, eager light of expectancy in his eyes, and his lips twitched nervously, but no sound issued from them. For a moment the rude, scowling face of the old seaman seemed to daunt him. Then, with a curious choking sound in his throat, he sprang forward and touched the other man on the arm.

"Father! Don't you know me?"

With trembling hands and blanched face the old man rose to his feet, and in a hoarse whisper there escaped from his lips a name that he had long years ago cursed and forgotten. His hands opened and shut again convulsively, and then his savage, vindictive nature asserted itself again as he found his voice, and with the rasping accents of passion poured out curses upon the brown, half-naked man that stood before him. Then he turned to go. But the other man put out a detaining hand.

*****

"It is as you say. I am a disgraced man. But you haven't heard why I deserted from the Tagus. Listen while I tell you. I was flogged. I was only a boy, and it broke my heart."

"Curse you, you chicken-hearted sweep! I've laid the cat on the back of many a better man than myself, and none of 'em ever disgraced themselves by runnin' away and turnin' into a nigger, like you!"

The man heard the sneer with unmoved face, then resumed—

"It broke my heart. And when I was hiding in Dover, and my mother used to come and dress my wounds, do you remember what happened?"

"Aye, you naked swab, I do: your father kicked you out!"

"And I got caught again, and put in irons, and got more cat. Two years afterwards I cleared again in Sydney, from the Sirius.... And I came here to live and die among savages. That's nigh on eight years ago."

There was a brief silence. The old man, with fierce, scornful eyes, looked sneeringly at the wild figure of the broken wanderer, and then said—

"What's to stop me from telling our lieutenant you're a deserter? I would, too, by God, only I don't want my shipmates to know I've got a nigger for a son."

The gibe passed unheeded, save for a sudden light that leapt into the eyes of the younger man, then quickly died away.

"Let us part in peace," he said. "We will never meet again. Only tell me one thing—is my mother dead?"

"Yes."

"Thank God for that," he murmured. Then without another word the outcast turned away and disappeared among the cocoa-palms.

*****

The second boat from the Pleiades brought the captain, and as he and the lieutenant stood and talked they watched the natives carrying down the cocoa-nuts.

"Hurry them up, Hallam," said Lieutenant T———; "the tide is falling fast. By the by, where is that fellow Lacy; I don't see him about?"

As he spoke a woman's shriek came from the chiefs house, which stood some distance apart from the other houses, and a tall brown man sprang out from among the other natives about the boats and dashed up the pathway to the village.

"Quick, Hallam, and some of you fellows," said Captain W———, "run and see what's the matter. That scoundrel, Lacy, I suppose, among the women," he added, with a laugh, to the lieutenant.

The two officers followed the men. In a few minutes they came upon a curious scene. Held in the strong arms of two stout seamen was the native chief, whose heaving chest and working features showed him to be under some violent emotion. On the ground, with his head supported by a shipmate, lay Lacy, with blackened and distorted face, and breathing stertorously. Shaking with fear and weeping passionately as she pressed her child to her bosom, the young native wife looked beseechingly into the faces of the men who held her husband.

"What is the meaning of this?" said Captain W———'s clear, sharp voice, addressing the men who held the chief.

"That hound there"—the men who held their prisoner nearly let him go in their astonishment—"came in here. She was alone. Do you want to know more? I tried to kill him."

"Let him loose, men," and Captain W——— stepped up to the prisoner and looked closely into his dark face. "Ah! I thought so—a white man. What is your name?"

The wanderer bent his head, then raised it, and looked for an instant at the sullen face of Hallam.

*****

"I have no name," he said.

"Humph," muttered Captain W——— to his lieutenant, "a runaway convict, most likely. He can't be blamed, though, for this affair. He's a perfect brute, that fellow Lacy." Then to the strange white man he turned contemptuously:

"I'm sorry this man assaulted your wife. He shall suffer for it to-morrow. At the same time I'm sorry I can't tie you up and flog you, as a disgrace to your colour and country, you naked savage."

The outcast took two strides, a red gleam shone in his eyes, and his voice shook with mad passion.

"'A naked savage'; and you would like to flog me. It was a brute such as you made me what I am," and he struck the captain of the Pleiades in the face with his clenched hand.

*****

"We'll have to punish the fellow, T———," said Captain W———, as with his handkerchief to his lips he staunched the flow of blood. "If I let a thing like this pass his native friends would imagine all sorts of things and probably murder any unfortunate merchant captain that may touch here in the future. But, as Heaven is my witness, I do so on that ground only—deserter as he admits himself to be. Hurry up that fellow, T———."

*****

"That fellow" was Hallam, who had been sent to the boat for a bit of line suitable for the purpose in view. His florid face paled somewhat when the coxswain jeeringly asked him if he didn't miss his green bag, and flung him an old pair of yoke-lines.

*****

The business of flogging was not, on the whole, unduly hurried. Although "All Hands to Witness Punishment" was not piped, every native on the island, some seventy or so all told, gathered round the cocoanut-tree to which the man was lashed, and at every stroke of the heavy yoke-lines they shuddered. One, a woman with a child sitting beside her, lay face to the ground, and as each cruel swish and thud fell on her ear the savage creature wept.

*****

"That's enough, Hallam," said Captain W———, somewhat moved by the tears and bursting sobs of the pitying natives, who, when they saw the great blue weals on the brown back swell and black drops burst out, sought to break in through the cordon of blue jackets.

***** Clustering around him, the brown people sought to lift him in their arms and carry him to his house; but his strength was not all gone, and he thrust them aside. Then he spoke, and even the cold, passionless Captain W——— felt his face flush at the burning words:

"For seven years, lads, I've lived here, a naked savage, as your captain called me. I had a heavy disgrace once, an' it just broke my heart like—I was flogged—and I wanted to hide myself out of the world. Seven years it is since I saw a white man, an' I've almost forgotten I was a white man once; an' now because I tried to choke a hound that wanted to injure the only being in the world I have to love, I'm tied up and lashed like a dog—by my own father!"

*****

The island was just sinking below the horizon when the burly figure of boatswain's mate Hallam was seen to disappear suddenly over the bows, where he had been standing.

*****

"A very regrettable occurrence," said Captain W———, pompously, to the chaplain when the boats returned from the search. "No doubt the horror of seeing his only son a disgraced fugitive and severed from all decent associations preyed upon his mind and led him to commit suicide. Such men as Hallam, humble as was his position, are an Honour to the Service. I shall always remember him as a very zealous seaman."

"Particularly with the cat," murmured Lieutenant T———.

THE END

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