Still Herrick was silent.
"Do you 'ear me speak?" asked Huish sharply. "You're pleasant, ain't you?"
"Stand away from that binnacle," said Herrick.
The clerk looked at him long and straight and black; his figure seemed to writhe like that of a snake about to strike; then he turned on his heel, went back to the cabin and opened a bottle of champagne. When eight bells were cried he slept on the floor beside the captain on the locker; and of the whole starboard watch only Sally Day appeared upon the summons. The mate proposed to stand the watch with him, and let Uncle Ned lie down; it would make twelve hours on deck, and probably sixteen, but in this fair-weather sailing he might safely sleep between his tricks of wheel, leaving orders to be called on any sign of squalls. So far he could trust the men, between whom and himself a close relation had sprung up. With Uncle Ned he held long nocturnal conversations, and the old man told him his simple and hard story of exile, suffering, and injustice among cruel whites. The cook, when he found Herrick messed alone, produced for him unexpected and sometimes unpalatable dainties, of which he forced himself to eat. And one day, when he was forward, he was surprised to feel a caressing hand run down his shoulder, and to hear the voice of Sally Day crooning in his ear: "You gootch man!" He turned, and, choking down a sob, shook hands with the negrito. They were kindly, cheery, childish souls. Upon the Sunday each brought forth his separate Bible—for they were all men of alien speech, even to each other, and Sally Day communicated with his mates in English only; each read or made-believe to read his chapter, Uncle Ned with spectacles on his nose; and they would all join together in the singing of missionary hymns. It was thus a cutting reproof to compare the islanders and the whites aboard the Farallone. Shame ran in Herrick's blood to remember what employment he was on, and to see these poor souls—and even Sally Day, the child of cannibals, in all likelihood a cannibal himself—so faithful to what they knew of good. The fact that he was held in grateful favour by these innocents served like blinders to his conscience, and there were times when he was inclined, with Sally Day, to call himself a good man. But the height of his favour was only now to appear. With one voice, the crew protested; ere Herrick knew what they were doing, the cook was aroused and came a willing volunteer; all hands clustered about their mate with expostulations and caresses; and he was bidden to lie down and take his customary rest without alarm.
"He tell you tlue," said Uncle Ned. "You sleep. Evely man hea he do all light. Evely man he like you too much."
Herrick struggled, and gave way; choked upon some trivial words of gratitude; and walked to the side of the house, against which he leaned, struggling with emotion.
Uncle Ned presently followed him and begged him to lie down.
"It's no use, Uncle Ned," he replied. "I couldn't sleep. I'm knocked over with all your goodness."
"Ah, no call me Uncle Ned no mo'!" cried the old man. "No my name! My name Taveeta, all-e-same Taveeta King of Islael. Wat for he call that Hawaii? I think no savvy nothing—all-e-same Wise-a-mana."
It was the first time the name of the late captain had been mentioned, and Herrick grasped the occasion. The reader shall be spared Uncle Ned's unwieldy dialect, and learn in less embarrassing English the sum of what he now communicated. The ship had scarce cleared the Golden Gates before the captain and mate had entered on a career of drunkenness, which was scarcely interrupted by their malady and only closed by death. For days and weeks they had encountered neither land nor ship; and seeing themselves lost on the huge deep with their insane conductors, the natives had drunk deep of terror.
At length they made a low island and went in; and Wiseman and Wishart landed in the boat.
There was a great village, a very fine village, and plenty Kanakas in that place; but all mighty serious; and from every here and there in the back parts of the settlement, Taveeta heard the sounds of island lamentation. "I no savvy talk that island," said he. "I savvy hear um cly. I think, Hum! too many people die here!" But upon Wiseman and Wishart the significance of that barbaric keening was lost. Full of bread and drink, they rollicked along unconcerned, embraced the girls, who had scarce energy to repel them, took up and joined (with drunken voices) in the death-wail, and at last (on what they took to be an invitation) entered under the roof of a house in which was a considerable concourse of people sitting silent. They stooped below the eaves, flushed and laughing; within a minute they came forth again with changed faces and silent tongues; and as the press severed to make way for them, Taveeta was able to perceive, in the deep shadow of the house, the sick man raising from his mat a head already defeatured by disease. The two tragic triflers fled without hesitation for their boat, screaming on Taveeta to make haste; they came aboard with all speed of oars, raised anchor and crowded sail upon the ship with blows and curses, and were at sea again—and again drunk—before sunset. A week after, and the last of the two had been committed to the deep. Herrick asked Taveeta where that island was, and he replied that, by what he gathered of folks' talk as they went up together from the beach, he supposed it must be one of the Paumotus. This was in itself probable enough, for the Dangerous Archipelago had been swept that year from east to west by devastating small-pox; but Herrick thought it a strange course to lie from Sydney. Then he remembered the drink.
"Were they not surprised when they made the island?" he asked.
"Wise-a-mana he say, 'damn! what this?'" was the reply.
"O, that's it, then," said Herrick. "I don't believe they knew where they were."
"I think so too," said Uncle Ned. "I think no savvy. This one mo' betta," he added, pointing to the house, where the drunken captain slumbered: "Take-a-sun all-e-time."
The implied last touch completed Herrick's picture of the life and death of his two predecessors; of their prolonged, sordid, sodden sensuality as they sailed, they knew not whither, on their last cruise. He held but a twinkling and unsure belief in any future state; the thought of one of punishment he derided; yet for him (as for all) there dwelt a horror about the end of the brutish man. Sickness fell upon him at the image thus called up; and when he compared it with the scene in which he himself was acting, and considered the doom that seemed to brood upon the schooner, a horror that was almost superstitious fell upon him. And yet the strange thing was, he did not falter. He who had proved his incapacity in so many fields, being now falsely placed amid duties which he did not understand, without help, and it might be said without countenance, had hitherto surpassed expectation; and even the shameful misconduct and shocking disclosures of that night seemed but to nerve and strengthen him. He had sold his honour; he vowed it should not be in vain; "it shall be no fault of mine if this miscarry," he repeated. And in his heart he wondered at himself. Living rage no doubt supported him; no doubt also, the sense of the last cast, of the ships burned, of all doors closed but one, which is so strong a tonic to the merely weak, and so deadly a depressent to the merely cowardly.
For some time the voyage went otherwise well. They weathered Fakarava with one board; and the wind holding well to the southward, and blowing fresh, they passed between Ranaka and Ratiu, and ran some days north-east by east-half-east under the lee of Takume and Honden, neither of which they made. In about 14 deg. south, and between 134 deg. and 135 deg. west, it fell a dead calm, with rather a heavy sea. The captain refused to take in sail, the helm was lashed, no watch was set, and the Farallone rolled and banged for three days, according to observation, in almost the same place. The fourth morning, a little before day, a breeze sprang up and rapidly freshened. The captain had drunk hard the night before; he was far from sober when he was roused; and when he came on deck for the first time at half-past eight, it was plain he had already drunk deep again at breakfast. Herrick avoided his eye; and resigned the deck with indignation to a man more than half-seas-over.
By the loud commands of the captain and the singing out of fellows at the ropes, he could judge from the house that sail was being crowded on the ship; relinquished his half-eaten breakfast; and came on deck again, to find the main and the jib topsails set, and both watches and the cook turned out to hand the staysail. The Farallone lay already far over; the sky was obscured with misty scud; and from the windward an ominous squall came flying up, broadening and blackening as it rose.
Fear thrilled in Herrick's vitals. He saw death hard by; and if not death, sure ruin. For if the Farallone lived through the coming squall, she must surely be dismasted. With that their enterprise was at an end, and they themselves bound prisoners to the very evidence of their crime. The greatness of the peril and his own alarm sufficed to silence him. Pride, wrath, and shame raged without issue in his mind; and he shut his teeth and folded his arms close.
The captain sat in the boat to windward, bellowing orders and insults, his eyes glazed, his face deeply congested; a bottle set between his knees, a glass in his hand half empty. His back was to the squall, and he was at first intent upon the setting of the sail. When that was done, and the great trapezium of canvas had begun to draw and to trail the lee-rail of the Farallone level with the foam, he laughed out an empty laugh, drained his glass, sprawled back among the lumber in the boat, and fetched out a crumpled novel.
Herrick watched him, and his indignation glowed red-hot. He glanced to windward where the squall already whitened the near sea and heralded its coming with a singular and dismal sound. He glanced at the steersman, and saw him clinging to the spokes with a face of a sickly blue. He saw the crew were running to their stations without orders. And it seemed as if something broke in his brain; and the passion of anger, so long restrained, so long eaten in secret, burst suddenly loose and shook him like a sail. He stepped across to the captain, and smote his hand heavily on the drunkard's shoulder.
"You brute," he said, in a voice that tottered, "look behind you!"
"Wha's that?" cried Davis, bounding in the boat and upsetting the champagne.
"You lost the Sea Ranger because you were a drunken sot," said Herrick. "Now you're going to lose the Farallone. You're going to drown here the same way as you drowned others, and be damned. And your daughter shall walk the streets, and your sons be thieves like their father."
For the moment the words struck the captain white and foolish. "My God!" he cried, looking at Herrick as upon a ghost; "my God, Herrick!"
"Look behind you, then!" reiterated the assailant.
The wretched man, already partly sobered, did as he was told, and in the same breath of time leaped to his feet. "Down staysail!" he trumpeted. The hands were thrilling for the order, and the great sail came with a run, and fell half overboard among the racing foam. "Jib top-sail halyards! Let the stays'l be," he said again.
But before it was well uttered, the squall shouted aloud and fell, in a solid mass of wind and rain commingled, on the Farallone; and she stooped under the blow, and lay like a thing dead. From the mind of Herrick reason fled; he clung in the weather rigging, exulting; he was done with life, and he gloried in the release; he gloried in the wild noises of the wind and the choking onslaught of the rain; he gloried to die so, and now, amid this coil of the elements. And meanwhile, in the waist, up to his knees in water—so low the schooner lay—the captain was hacking at the fore-sheet with a pocket-knife. It was a question of seconds, for the Farallone drank deep of the encroaching seas. But the hand of the captain had the advance; the foresail boom tore apart the last strands of the sheet and crashed to lee-ward; the Farallone leaped up into the wind and righted; and the peak and throat halyards, which had long been let go, began to run at the same instant.
For some ten minutes more she careered under the impulse of the squall; but the captain was now master of himself and of his ship, and all danger at an end. And then, sudden as a trick-change upon the stage, the squall blew by, the wind dropped into light airs, the sun beamed forth again upon the tattered schooner; and the captain, having secured the foresail boom and set a couple of hands to the pump, walked aft, sober, a little pale, and with the sodden end of a cigar still stuck between his teeth even as the squall had found it. Herrick followed him; he could scarce recall the violence of his late emotions, but he felt there was a scene to go through, and he was anxious and even eager to go through with it.
The captain, turning at the house-end, met him face to face, and averted his eyes. "We've lost the two tops'ls, and the stays'l," he gabbled. "Good business we didn't lose any sticks. I guess you think we're all the better without the kites."
"That's not what I'm thinking," said Herrick, in a voice strangely quiet, that yet echoed confusion in the captain's mind.
"I know that," he cried, holding up his hand. "I know what you're thinking. No use to say it now. I'm sober."
"I have to say it, though," returned Herrick.
"Hold on, Herrick; you've said enough," said Davis. "You've said what I would take from no man breathing but yourself; only I know it's true."
"I have to tell you, Captain Brown," pursued Herrick, "that I resign my position as mate. You can put me in irons or shoot me, as you please; I will make no resistance—only, I decline in any way to help or to obey you; and I suggest you should put Mr. Huish in my place. He will make a worthy first officer to your captain, sir." He smiled, bowed, and turned to walk forward.
"Where are you going, Herrick?" cried the captain, detaining him by the shoulder.
"To berth forward with the men, sir," replied Herrick, with the same hateful smile. "I've been long enough aft here with you—gentlemen."
"You're wrong there," said Davis. "Don't you be too quick with me; there ain't nothing wrong but the drink—it's the old story, man! Let me get sober once and then you'll see," he pleaded.
"Excuse me, I desire to see no more of you," said Herrick.
The captain groaned aloud. "You know what you said about my children?" he broke out.
"By rote. In case you wish me to say it to you again?" asked Herrick.
"Don't!" cried the captain clapping his hands to his ears. "Don't make me kill a man I care for! Herrick, if you see me put a glass to my lips again till we're ashore, I give you leave to put a bullet through me; I beg you to do it! You're the only man aboard whose carcase is worth losing; do you think I don't know that? do you think I ever went back on you? I always knew you were in the right of it—drunk or sober, I knew that. What do you want?—an oath? Man, you're clever enough to see that this is sure-enough earnest."
"Do you mean there shall be no more drinking?" asked Herrick, "neither by you nor Huish? that you won't go on stealing my profits and drinking my champagne that I gave my honour for? and that you'll attend to your duties, and stand watch and watch, and bear your proper share of the ship's work, instead of leaving it all on the shoulders of a landsman, and making yourself the butt and scoff of native seamen? Is that what you mean? If it is, be so good as to say it categorically."
"You put these things in a way hard for a gentleman to swallow," said the captain. "You wouldn't have me say I was ashamed of myself? Trust me this once; I'll do the square thing, and there's my hand on it."
"Well, I'll try it once," said Herrick. "Fail me again...."
"No more now!" interrupted Davis. "No more, old man! Enough said. You've a riling tongue when your back's up, Herrick. Just be glad we're friends again, the same as what I am; and go tender on the raws; I'll see as you don't repent it. We've been mighty near death this day—don't say whose fault it was!—pretty near hell, too, I guess. We're in a mighty bad line of life, us two, and ought to go easy with each other."
He was maundering; yet it seemed as if he were maundering with some design, beating about the bush of some communication that he feared to make, or perhaps only talking against time in terror of what Herrick might say next. But Herrick had now spat his venom; his was a kindly nature, and, content with his triumph, he had now begun to pity. With a few soothing words he sought to conclude the interview, and proposed that they should change their clothes.
"Not right yet," said Davis. "There's another thing I want to tell you first. You know what you said about my children? I want to tell you why it hit me so hard; I kind of think you'll feel bad about it too. It's about my little Adar. You hadn't ought to have quite said that—but of course I know you didn't know. She—she's dead, you see."
"Why, Davis!" cried Herrick. "You've told me a dozen times she was alive! Clear your head, man! This must be the drink."
"No, sir," said Davis. "She's dead. Died of a bowel complaint. That was when I was away in the brig Oregon. She lies in Portland, Maine. 'Adar, only daughter of Captain John Davis and Mariar his wife, aged five.' I had a doll for her on board. I never took the paper off'n that doll, Herrick; it went down the way it was with the Sea Ranger, that day I was damned."
The captain's eyes were fixed on the horizon; he talked with an extraordinary softness, but a complete composure; and Herrick looked upon him with something that was almost terror.
"Don't think I'm crazy neither," resumed Davis. "I've all the cold sense that I know what to do with. But I guess a man that's unhappy's like a child; and this is a kind of a child's game of mine. I never could act up to the plain-cut truth, you see; so I pretend. And I warn you square; as soon as we're through with this talk, I'll start in again with the pretending. Only, you see, she can't walk no streets," added the captain, "couldn't even make out to live and get that doll!"
Herrick laid a tremulous hand upon the captain's shoulder.
"Don't do that!" cried Davis, recoiling from the touch. "Can't you see I'm all broken up the way it is? Come along, then; come along, old man; you can put your trust in me right through; come along and get dry clothes."
They entered the cabin, and there was Huish on his knees prizing open a case of champagne.
"'Vast there!" cried the captain. "No more of that. No more drinking on this ship."
"Turned teetotal, 'ave you?" inquired Huish. "I'm agreeable. About time, eh? Bloomin' nearly lost another ship, I fancy." He took out a bottle and began calmly to burst the wire with the spike of a corkscrew.
"Do you hear me speak?" cried Davis.
"I suppose I do. You speak loud enough," said Huish. "The trouble is that I don't care."
Herrick plucked the captain's sleeve. "Let him free now," he said. "We've had all we want this morning."
"Let him have it, then," said the captain. "It's his last."
By this time the wire was open, the string was cut, the head of gilded paper was torn away; and Huish waited, mug in hand, expecting the usual explosion. It did not follow. He eased the cork with his thumb; still there was no result. At last he took the screw and drew it. It came out very easy and with scarce a sound.
"'Illo!" said Huish. "'Ere's a bad bottle."
He poured some of the wine into the mug; it was colourless and still. He smelt and tasted it.
"W'y, wot's this?" he said. "It's water!"
If the voice of trumpets had suddenly sounded about the ship in the midst of the sea, the three men in the house could scarcely have been more stunned than by this incident. The mug passed round; each sipped, each smelt of it; each stared at the bottle in its glory of gold paper as Crusoe may have stared at the footprint; and their minds were swift to fix upon a common apprehension. The difference between a bottle of champagne and a bottle of water is not great; between a shipload of one or of the other lay the whole scale from riches to ruin.
A second bottle was broached. There were two cases standing ready in a state-room; these two were brought out, broken open, and tested. Still with the same result: the contents were still colourless and tasteless, and dead as the rain in a beached fishing-boat.
"Crikey!" said Huish.
"Here, let's sample the hold," said the captain, mopping his brow with a back-handed sweep; and the three stalked out of the house, grim and heavy-footed.
All hands were turned out; two Kanakas were sent below, another stationed at a purchase; and Davis, axe in hand, took his place beside the coamings.
"Are you going to let the men know?" whispered Herrick.
"Damn the men!" said Davis. "It's beyond that. We've got to know ourselves."
Three cases were sent on deck and sampled in turn; from each bottle, as the captain smashed it with the axe, the champagne ran bubbling and creaming.
"Go deeper, can't you?" cried Davis to the Kanakas in the hold.
The command gave the signal for a disastrous change. Case after case came up, bottle after bottle was burst, and bled mere water. Deeper yet, and they came upon a layer where there was scarcely so much as the intention to deceive; where the cases were no longer branded, the bottles no longer wired or papered, where the fraud was manifest and stared them in the face.
"Here's about enough of this foolery!" said Davis. "Stow back the cases in the hold, Uncle, and get the broken crockery overboard. Come with me," he added to his co-adventurers, and led the way back into the cabin.
Each took a side of the fixed table; it was the first time they had sat down at it together; but now all sense of incongruity, all memory of differences, was quite swept away by the presence of the common ruin.
"Gentlemen," said the captain, after a pause, and with very much the air of a chairman opening a board meeting, "we're sold."
Huish broke out in laughter. "Well, if this ain't the 'ighest old rig!" he cried. "And Dyvis 'ere, who thought he had got up so bloomin' early in the mornin'! We've stolen a cargo of spring water! O, my crikey!" and he squirmed with mirth.
The captain managed to screw out a phantom smile.
"Here's Old Man Destiny again," said he to Herrick, "but this time I guess he's kicked the door right in."
Herrick only shook his head.
"O Lord, it's rich!" laughed Huish. "It would really be a scrumptious lark if it 'ad 'appened to somebody else! And what are we to do next? O, my eye! with this bloomin' schooner, too?"
"That's the trouble," said Davis. "There's only one thing certain: it's no use carting this old glass and ballast to Peru. No, sir, we're in a hole."
"O my, and the merchant!" cried Huish; "the man that made this shipment! He'll get the news by the mail brigantine; and he'll think of course we're making straight for Sydney."
"Yes, he'll be a sick merchant," said the captain. "One thing: this explains the Kanaka crew. If you're going to lose a ship, I would ask no better myself than a Kanaka crew. But there's one thing it don't explain; it don't explain why she came down Tahitiways."
"W'y, to lose her, you byby!" said Huish.
"A lot you know," said the captain. "Nobody wants to lose a schooner; they want to lose her on her course, you skeericks! You seem to think underwriters haven't got enough sense to come in out of the rain."
"Well," said Herrick, "I can tell you (I am afraid) why she came so far to the eastward. I had it of Uncle Ned. It seems these two unhappy devils, Wiseman and Wishart, were drunk on the champagne from the beginning—and died drunk at the end."
The captain looked on the table.
"They lay in their two bunks, or sat here in this damned house," he pursued, with rising agitation, "filling their skins with the accursed stuff, till sickness took them. As they sickened and the fever rose, they drank the more. They lay here howling and groaning, drunk and dying, all in one. They didn't know where they were; they didn't care. They didn't even take the sun, it seems."
"Not take the sun?" cried the captain, looking up. "Sacred Billy! what a crowd!"
"Well, it don't matter to Joe!" said Huish. "Wot are Wiseman and t'other buffer to us?"
"A good deal, too," said the captain. "We're their heirs, I guess."
"It is a great inheritance," said Herrick.
"Well, I don't know about that," returned Davis. "Appears to me as if it might be worse. 'Tain't worth what the cargo would have been, of course, at least not money down. But I'll tell you what it appears to figure up to. Appears to me as if it amounted to about the bottom dollar of the man in 'Frisco."
"'Old on," said Huish. "Give a fellow time; 'ow's this, umpire?"
"Well, my sons," pursued the captain, who seemed to have recovered his assurance, "Wiseman and Wishart were to be paid for casting away this old schooner and its cargo. We're going to cast away the schooner right enough; and I'll make it my private business to see that we get paid. What were W. and W. to get? That's more'n I can tell. But W. and W. went into this business themselves, they were on the crook. Now we're on the square, we only stumbled into it; and that merchant has just got to squeal, and I'm the man to see that he squeals good. No, sir! there's some stuffing to this Farallone racket after all."
"Go it, cap'!" cried Huish. "Yoicks! Forrard! 'Old 'ard! There's your style for the money! Blow me if I don't prefer this to the hother."
"I do not understand," said Herrick. "I have to ask you to excuse me; I do not understand."
"Well, now, see here, Herrick," said Davis. "I'm going to have a word with you anyway upon a different matter, and it's good that Huish should hear it too. We're done with this boozing business, and we ask your pardon for it right here and now. We have to thank you for all you did for us while we were making hogs of ourselves; you'll find me turn-to all right in future; and as for the wine, which I grant we stole from you, I'll take stock and see you paid for it. That's good enough, I believe. But what I want to point out to you is this. The old game was a risky game. The new game's as safe as running a Vienna bakery. We just put this Farallone before the wind, and run till we're well to looard of our port of departure, and reasonably well up with some other place where they have an American consul. Down goes the Farallone, and good-bye to her! A day or so in the boat; the consul packs us home, at Uncle Sam's expense, to 'Frisco; and if that merchant don't put the dollars down, you come to me!"
"But I thought—" began Herrick; and then broke out: "O, let's get on to Peru!"
"Well, if you're going to Peru for your health, I won't say no!" replied the captain. "But for what other blame shadow of a reason you should want to go there gets me clear. We don't want to go there with this cargo; I don't know as old bottles is a lively article anywheres; leastways, I'll go my bottom cent, it ain't Peru. It was always a doubt if we could sell the schooner; I never rightly hoped to, and now I'm sure she ain't worth a hill of beans; what's wrong with her I don't know; I only know it's something, or she wouldn't be here with this truck in her inside. Then again, if we lose her, and land in Peru, where are we? We can't declare the loss, or how did we get to Peru? In that case the merchant can't touch the insurance; most likely he'll go bust; and don't you think you see the three of us on the beach of Callao?"
"There's no extradition there," said Herrick.
"Well, my son, and we want to be extraded," said the captain. "What's our point? We want to have a consul extrade us as far as San Francisco and that merchant's office door. My idea is that Samoa would be found an eligible business centre. It's dead before the wind; the States have a consul there, and 'Frisco steamers call, so's we could skip right back and interview the merchant."
"Samoa?" said Herrick. "It will take us for ever to get there."
"O, with a fair wind!" said the captain.
"No trouble about the log, eh?" asked Huish.
"No, sir," said Davis. "Light airs and baffling winds. Squalls and calms. D.R.: five miles. No obs. Pumps attended. And fill in the barometer and thermometer off of last year's trip. 'Never saw such a voyage,' says you to the consul. 'Thought I was going to run short...'" He stopped in mid career. "'Say," he began again, and once more stopped. "Beg your pardon, Herrick," he added with undisguised humility, "but did you keep the run of the stores?"
"Had I been told to do so it should have been done, as the rest was done, to the best of my little ability," said Herrick. "As it was, the cook helped himself to what he pleased."
Davis looked at the table.
"I drew it rather fine, you see," he said at last. "The great thing was to clear right out of Papeete before the consul could think better of it. Tell you what: I guess I'll take stock."
And he rose from the table and disappeared with a lamp in the lazarette.
"'Ere's another screw loose," observed Huish.
"My man," said Herrick, with a sudden gleam of animosity, "it is still your watch on deck, and surely your wheel also?"
"You come the 'eavy swell, don't you, ducky?" said Huish. "Stand away from that binnacle. Surely your w'eel, my man. Yah."
He lit a cigar ostentatiously, and strolled into the waist with his hands in his pockets.
In a surprisingly short time the captain reappeared; he did not look at Herrick, but called Huish back and sat down.
"Well," he began, "I've taken stock—roughly." He paused as if for somebody to help him out; and none doing so, both gazing on him instead with manifest anxiety, he yet more heavily resumed: "Well, it won't fight. We can't do it; that's the bed-rock. I'm as sorry as what you can be, and sorrier. But the game's up. We can't look near Samoa. I don't know as we could get to Peru."
"Wot-ju mean?" asked Huish brutally.
"I can't 'most tell myself," replied the captain. "I drew it fine; I said I did; but what's been going on here gets me! Appears as if the devil had been around. That cook must be the holiest kind of fraud. Only twelve days too! Seems like craziness. I'll own up square to one thing: I seem to have figured too fine upon the flour. But the rest—my land! I'll never understand it! There's been more waste on this twopenny ship than what there is to an Atlantic Liner." He stole a glance at his companions: nothing good was to be gleaned from their dark faces; and he had recourse to rage. "You wait till I interview that cook!" he roared, and smote the table with his fist. "I'll interview the son of a gun so's he's never been spoken to before. I'll put a bead upon the—!"
"You will not lay a finger on the man," said Herrick. "The fault is yours, and you know it. If you turn a savage loose in your storeroom, you know what to expect. I will not allow the man to be molested."
It is hard to say how Davis might have taken this defiance; but he was diverted to a fresh assailant.
"Well," drawled Huish, "you're a plummy captain, ain't you? You're a blooming captain! Don't you set up any of your chat to me, John Dyvis: I know you now; you ain't any more use than a blooming dawl! O, you 'don't know,' don't you? O, it 'gets you,' do it? O, I dessay! W'y, weren't you 'owling for fresh tins every blessed day? 'Ow often 'ave I 'eard you send the 'ole bloomin' dinner off and tell the man to chuck it in the swill-tub? And breakfast? O, my crikey! breakfast for ten, and you 'ollerin' for more! And now you 'can't 'most tell'! Blow me if it ain't enough to make a man write an insultin' letter to Gawd! You dror it mild, John Dyvis: don't 'andle me; I'm dyngerous."
Davis sat like one bemused; it might even have been doubted if he heard, but the voice of the clerk rang about the cabin like that of a cormorant among the ledges of the cliff.
"That will do, Huish," said Herrick.
"O, so you tyke his part, do you? you stuck-up, sneerin' snob. Tyke it then. Come on, the pair of you. But as for John Dyvis, let him look out! He struck me the first night aboard, and I never took a blow yet but wot I gave as good. Let him knuckle down on his marrow-bones and beg my pardon. That's my last word."
"I stand by the captain," said Herrick. "That makes us two to one, both good men; and the crew will all follow me. I hope I shall die very soon; but I have not the least objection to killing you before I go. I should prefer it so; I should do it with no more remorse than winking. Take care—take care—you little cad!"
The animosity with which these words were uttered was so marked in itself, and so remarkable in the man who uttered them, that Huish stared, and even the humiliated Davis reared up his head and gazed at his defender. As for Herrick, the successive agitations and disappointments of the day had left him wholly reckless; he was conscious of a pleasant glow, an agreeable excitement; his head seemed empty, his eyeballs burned as he turned them, his throat was dry as a biscuit; the least dangerous man by nature, except in so far as the weak are always dangerous, at that moment he was ready to slay or to be slain with equal unconcern.
Here at least was the gage thrown down, and battle offered; he who should speak next would bring the matter to an issue there and then; all knew it to be so and hung back; and for many seconds by the cabin clock the trio sat motionless and silent.
Then came an interruption, welcome as the flowers in May.
"Land ho!" sang out a voice on deck. "Land a weatha bow!"
"Land!" cried Davis, springing to his feet. "What's this? There ain't no land here."
And as men may run from the chamber of a murdered corpse, the three ran forth out of the house and left their quarrel behind them undecided.
The sky shaded down at the sea-level to the white of opals; the sea itself, insolently, inkily blue, drew all about them the uncompromising wheel of the horizon. Search it as they pleased, not even the practised eye of Captain Davis could descry the smallest interruption. A few filmy clouds were slowly melting overhead; and about the schooner, as around the only point of interest, a tropic bird, white as a snow-flake, hung, and circled, and displayed, as it turned, the long vermilion feather of its tail. Save the sea and the heaven, that was all.
"Who sang out land?" asked Davis. "If there's any boy playing funny-dog with me, I'll teach him skylarking!"
But Uncle Ned contentedly pointed to a part of the horizon where a greenish, filmy iridescence could be discerned floating like smoke on the pale heavens.
Davis applied his glass to it, and then looked at the Kanaka. "Call that land?" said he. "Well, it's more than I do."
"One time long ago," said Uncle Ned, "I see Anaa all-e-same that, four five hours befo' we come up. Capena he say sun go down, sun go up again; he say lagoon all-e-same milla."
"All-e-same what?" asked Davis.
"Milla, sah," said Uncle Ned.
"O, ah! mirror," said Davis. "I see; reflection from the lagoon. Well, you know, it is just possible, though it's strange I never heard of it. Here, let's look at the chart."
They went back to the cabin, and found the position of the schooner well to windward of the archipelago in the midst of a white field of paper.
"There! you see for yourselves," said Davis.
"And yet I don't know," said Herrick; "I somehow think there's something in it. I'll tell you one thing too, captain: that's all right about the reflection; I heard it in Papeete."
"Fetch up that Findlay, then!" said Davis. "I'll try it all ways. An island wouldn't come amiss the way we're fixed."
The bulky volume was handed up to him, broken-backed as is the way with Findlay; and he turned to the place and began to run over the text, muttering to himself and turning over the pages with a wetted finger.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "How's this?" And he read aloud: "'New Island. According to M. Delille this island, which from private interests would remain unknown, lies, it is said, in lat. 12 deg. 49' 10'' S., long. 133 deg. 6' W. In addition to the position above given, Commander Matthews, H.M.S. Scorpion, states that an island exists in lat. 12 deg. 0' S., long. 133 deg. 16' W. This must be the same, if such an island exists, which is very doubtful, and totally disbelieved in by South Sea traders.'"
"Golly!" said Huish.
"It's rather in the conditional mood," said Herrick.
"It's anything you please," cried Davis, "only there it is! That's our place, and don't you make any mistake."
"'Which from private interests would remain unknown,'" read Herrick, over his shoulder. "What may that mean?"
"It should mean pearls," said Davis. "A pearling island the Government don't know about. That sounds like real estate. Or suppose it don't mean anything. Suppose it's just an island; I guess we could fill up with fish, and cocoa-nuts, and native stuff, and carry out the Samoa scheme hand over fist. How long did he say it was before they raised Anaa? Five hours, I think?"
"Four or five," said Herrick.
Davis stepped to the door. "What breeze had you that time you made Anaa, Uncle Ned?" said he.
"Six or seven knots," was the reply.
"Thirty or thirty-five miles," said Davis. "High time we were shortening sail, then. If it is an island, we don't want to be butting our head against it in the dark; and if it isn't an island, we can get through it just as well by daylight. Ready about!" he roared.
And the schooner's head was laid for that elusive glimmer in the sky, which began already to pale in lustre and diminish in size, as the stain of breath vanishes from a window pane. At the same time she was reefed close down.
About four in the morning, as the captain and Herrick sat together on the rail, there arose from the midst of the night in front of them the voice of breakers. Each sprang to his feet and stared and listened. The sound was continuous, like the passing of a train; no rise or fall could be distinguished; minute by minute the ocean heaved with an equal potency against the invisible isle; and as time passed, and Herrick waited in vain for any vicissitude in the volume of that roaring, a sense of the eternal weighed upon his mind. To the expert eye the isle itself was to be inferred from a certain string of blots along the starry heaven. And the schooner was laid to and anxiously observed till daylight.
There was little or no morning bank. A brightening came in the east; then a wash of some ineffable, faint, nameless hue between crimson and silver; and then coals of fire. These glimmered a while on the sea-line, and seemed to brighten and darken and spread out, and still the night and the stars reigned undisturbed; it was as though a spark should catch and glow and creep along the foot of some heavy and almost incombustible wall-hanging, and the room itself be scarce menaced. Yet a little after, and the whole east glowed with gold and scarlet, and the hollow of heaven was filled with the daylight.
The isle—the undiscovered, the scarce-believed in—now lay before them and close aboard; and Herrick thought that never in his dreams had he beheld anything more strange and delicate. The beach was excellently white, the continuous barrier of trees inimitably green; the land perhaps ten feet high, the trees thirty more. Every here and there, as the schooner coasted northward, the wood was intermitted; and he could see clear over the inconsiderable strip of land (as a man looks over a wall) to the lagoon within—and clear over that again to where the far side of the atoll prolonged its pencilling of trees against the morning sky. He tortured himself to find analogies. The isle was like the rim of a great vessel sunken in the waters; it was like the embankment of an annular railway grown upon with wood: so slender it seemed amidst the outrageous breakers, so frail and pretty, he would scarce have wondered to see it sink and disappear without a sound, and the waves close smoothly over its descent.
Meanwhile the captain was in the four cross-trees, glass in hand, his eyes in every quarter, spying for an entrance, spying for signs of tenancy. But the isle continued to unfold itself in joints, and to run out in indeterminate capes, and still there was neither house nor man, nor the smoke of fire. Here a multitude of sea-birds soared and twinkled, and fished in the blue waters; and there, and for miles together, the fringe of coco-palm and pandanus extended desolate, and made desirable green bowers for nobody to visit, and the silence of death was only broken by the throbbing of the sea.
The airs were very light, their speed was small; the heat intense. The decks were scorching underfoot, the sun flamed overhead, brazen, out of a brazen sky; the pitch bubbled in the seams, and the brains in the brain-pan. And all the while the excitement of the three adventurers glowed about their bones like a fever. They whispered, and nodded, and pointed, and put mouth to ear, with a singular instinct of secrecy, approaching that island underhand like eavesdroppers and thieves; and even Davis from the cross-trees gave his orders mostly by gestures. The hands shared in this mute strain, like dogs, without comprehending it; and through the roar of so many miles of breakers, it was a silent ship that approached an empty island.
At last they drew near to the break in that interminable gangway. A spur of coral sand stood forth on the one hand; on the other a high and thick tuft of trees cut off the view; between was the mouth of the huge laver. Twice a day the ocean crowded in that narrow entrance and was heaped between these frail walls; twice a day, with the return of the ebb, the mighty surplusage of water must struggle to escape. The hour in which the Farallone came there was the hour of the flood. The sea turned (as with the instinct of the homing pigeon) for the vast receptacle, swept eddying through the gates, was transmuted, as it did so, into a wonder of watery and silken hues, and brimmed into the inland sea beyond. The schooner looked up close-hauled, and was caught and carried away by the influx like a toy. She skimmed; she flew; a momentary shadow touched her decks from the shoreside trees; the bottom of the channel showed up for a moment and was in a moment gone; the next, she floated on the bosom of the lagoon, and below, in the transparent chamber of waters, a myriad of many-coloured fishes were sporting, a myriad pale flowers of coral diversified the floor.
Herrick stood transported. In the gratified lust of his eye he forgot the past and the present; forgot that he was menaced by a prison on the one hand and starvation on the other; forgot that he was come to that island, desperately foraging, clutching at expedients. A drove of fishes, painted like the rainbow and billed like parrots, hovered up in the shadow of the schooner, and passed clear of it, and glinted in the submarine sun. They were beautiful, like birds, and their silent passage impressed him like a strain of song.
Meanwhile, to the eye of Davis in the cross-trees, the lagoon continued to expand its empty waters, and the long succession of the shoreside trees to be paid out like fishing-line off a reel. And still there was no mark of habitation. The schooner, immediately on entering, had been kept away to the nor'ard where the water seemed to be the most deep; and she was now skimming past the tall grove of trees, which stood on that side of the channel and denied further view. Of the whole of the low shores of the island only this bight remained to be revealed. And suddenly the curtain was raised; they began to open out a haven, snugly elbowed there, and beheld, with an astonishment beyond words, the roofs of men.
The appearance, thus "instantaneously disclosed" to those on the deck of the Farallone, was not that of a city, rather of a substantial country farm with its attendant hamlet: a long line of sheds and store-houses; apart, upon the one side, a deep-verandah'd dwelling-house; on the other, perhaps a dozen native huts; a building with a belfry and some rude offer at architectural features that might be thought to mark it out for a chapel; on the beach in front some heavy boats drawn up, and a pile of timber running forth into the burning shallows of the lagoon. From a flagstaff at the pierhead the red ensign of England was displayed. Behind, about, and over, the same tall grove of palms, which had masked the settlement in the beginning, prolonged its roof of tumultuous green fans, and turned and ruffled overhead, and sang its silver song all day in the wind. The place had the indescribable but unmistakable appearance of being in commission; yet there breathed from it a sense of desertion that was almost poignant, no human figure was to be observed going to and fro about the houses, and there was no sound of human industry or enjoyment. Only, on the top of the beach, and hard by the flagstaff, a woman of exorbitant stature and as white as snow was to be seen beckoning with uplifted arm. The second glance identified her as a piece of naval sculpture, the flgure-head of a ship that had long hovered and plunged into so many running billows, and was now brought ashore to be the ensign and presiding genius of that empty town.
The Farallone made a soldier's breeze of it; the wind, besides, was stronger inside than without under the lee of the land; and the stolen schooner opened out successive objects with the swiftness of a panorama, so that the adventurers stood speechless. The flag spoke for itself; it was no frayed and weathered trophy that had beaten itself to pieces on the post, flying over desolation; and to make assurance stronger, there was to be descried in the deep shade of the verandah a glitter of crystal and the fluttering of white napery. If the figure-head at the pier-end, with its perpetual gesture and its leprous whiteness, reigned alone in that hamlet as it seemed to do, it would not have reigned long. Men's hands had been busy, men's feet stirring there, within the circuit of the clock. The Farallones were sure of it; their eyes dug in the deep shadow of the palms for some one hiding; if intensity of looking might have prevailed, they would have pierced the walls of houses; and there came to them, in these pregnant seconds, a sense of being watched and played with, and of a blow impending, that was hardly bearable.
The extreme point of palms they had just passed enclosed a creek, which was thus hidden up to the last moment from the eyes of those on board; and from this a boat put suddenly and briskly out, and a voice hailed.
"Schooner ahoy!" it cried. "Stand in for the pier! In two cables' lengths you'll have twenty fathoms water and good holding-ground."
The boat was manned with a couple of brown oarsmen in scanty kilts of blue. The speaker, who was steering, wore white clothes, the full dress of the tropics; a wide hat shaded his face; but it could be seen that he was of stalwart size, and his voice sounded like a gentleman's. So much could be made out. It was plain, besides, that the Farallone had been descried some time before at sea, and the inhabitants were prepared for its reception.
Mechanically the orders were obeyed, and the ship berthed; and the three adventurers gathered aft beside the house and waited, with galloping pulses and a perfect vacancy of mind, the coming of the stranger who might mean so much to them. They had no plan, no story prepared; there was no time to make one; they were caught red-handed and must stand their chance. Yet this anxiety was chequered with hope. The island being undeclared, it was not possible the man could hold any office or be in a position to demand their papers. And beyond that, if there was any truth in Findlay, as it now seemed there should be, he was the representative of the "private reasons," he must see their coming with a profound disappointment; and perhaps (hope whispered) he would be willing and able to purchase their silence.
The boat was by that time forging alongside, and they were able at last to see what manner of man they had to do with. He was a huge fellow, six feet four in height, and of a build proportionately strong, but his sinews seemed to be dissolved in a listlessness that was more than languor. It was only the eye that corrected this impression; an eye of an unusual mingled brilliancy and softness, sombre as coal and with lights that outshone the topaz; an eye of unimpaired health and virility; an eye that bid you beware of the man's devastating anger. A complexion, naturally dark, had been tanned in the island to a hue hardly distinguishable from that of a Tahitian; only his manners and movements, and the living force that dwelt in him, like fire in flint, betrayed the European. He was dressed in white drill, exquisitely made; his scarf and tie were of tender-coloured silks; on the thwart beside him there leaned a Winchester rifle.
"Is the doctor on board?" he cried as he came up. "Dr. Symonds, I mean? You never heard of him? Nor yet of the Trinity Hall? Ah!"
He did not look surprised, seemed rather to affect it in politeness; but his eye rested on each of the three white men in succession with a sudden weight of curiosity that was almost savage. "Ah, then!" said he, "there is some small mistake, no doubt, and I must ask you to what I am indebted for this pleasure?"
He was by this time on the deck, but he had the art to be quite unapproachable; the friendliest vulgarian, three parts drunk, would have known better than take liberties; and not one of the adventurers so much as offered to shake hands.
"Well," said Davis, "I suppose you may call it an accident. We had heard of your island, and read that thing in the Directory about the private reasons, you see; so when we saw the lagoon reflected in the sky, we put her head for it at once, and so here we are."
"'Ope we don't intrude!" said Huish.
The stranger looked at Huish with an air of faint surprise, and looked pointedly away again. It was hard to be more offensive in dumb show.
"It may suit me, your coming here," he said. "My own schooner is overdue, and I may put something in your way in the meantime. Are you open to a charter?"
"Well, I guess so," said Davis; "it depends."
"My name is Attwater," continued the stranger. "You, I presume, are the captain?"
"Yes, sir. I am the captain of this ship: Captain Brown," was the reply.
"Well, see 'ere!" said Huish; "better begin fair! 'E's skipper on deck right enough, but not below. Below, we're all equal, all got a lay in the adventure; when it comes to business I'm as good as 'e; and what I say is, let's go into the 'ouse and have a lush, and talk it over among pals. We've some prime fizz," he said, and winked.
The presence of the gentleman lighted up like a candle the vulgarity of the clerk; and Herrick instinctively, as one shields himself from pain, made haste to interrupt.
"My name is Hay," said he, "since introductions are going. We shall be very glad if you will step inside."
Attwater leaned to him swiftly. "University man?" said he.
"Yes, Merton," said Herrick, and the next moment blushed scarlet at his indiscretion.
"I am of the other lot," said Attwater: "Trinity Hall, Cambridge. I called my schooner after the old shop. Well! this is a queer place and company for us to meet in, Mr. Hay," he pursued, with easy incivility to the others. "But do you bear out ... I beg this gentleman's pardon, I really did not catch his name."
"My name is 'Uish, sir," returned the clerk, and blushed in turn.
"Ah!" said Attwater. And then turning again to Herrick, "Do you bear out Mr. Whish's description of your vintage? or was it only the unaffected poetry of his own nature bubbling up?"
Herrick was embarrassed; the silken brutality of their visitor made him blush; that he should be accepted as an equal, and the others thus pointedly ignored, pleased him in spite of himself, and then ran through his veins in a recoil of anger.
"I don't know," he said. "It's only California; it's good enough, I believe."
Attwater seemed to make up his mind. "Well, then, I'll tell you what: you three gentlemen come ashore this evening and bring a basket of wine with you; I'll try and find the food," he said. "And by the by, here is a question I should have asked you when I came on board: have you had small-pox?"
"Personally, no," said Herrick. "But the schooner had it."
"Deaths?" from Attwater.
"Two," said Herrick.
"Well, it is a dreadful sickness," said Attwater.
"'Ad you any deaths?" asked Huish, "'ere on the island?"
"Twenty-nine," said Attwater. "Twenty-nine deaths and thirty-one cases, out of thirty-three souls upon the island.—That's a strange way to calculate, Mr. Hay, is it not? Souls! I never say it but it startles me."
"O, so that's why everything's deserted?" said Huish.
"That is why, Mr. Whish," said Attwater; "that is why the house is empty and the graveyard full."
"Twenty-nine out of thirty-three!" exclaimed Herrick. "Why, when it came to burying—or did you bother burying?"
"Scarcely," said Attwater; "or there was one day at least when we gave up. There were five of the dead that morning, and thirteen of the dying, and no one able to go about except the sexton and myself. We held a council of war, took the ... empty bottles ... into the lagoon, and ... buried them." He looked over his shoulder, back at the bright water. "Well, so you'll come to dinner, then? Shall we say half-past six? So good of you!"
His voice, in uttering these conventional phrases, fell at once into the false measure of society; and Herrick unconsciously followed the example.
"I am sure we shall be very glad," he said. "At half-past six? Thank you so very much."
"'For my voice has been tuned to the note of the gun That startles the deep when the combat's begun,'"
quoted Attwater, with a smile, which instantly gave way to an air of funereal solemnity. "I shall particularly expect Mr. Whish," he continued.—"Mr. Whish, I trust you understand the invitation?"
"I believe you, my boy!" replied the genial Huish.
"That is right, then; and quite understood, is it not?" said Attwater. "Mr. Whish and Captain Brown at six-thirty without fault—and you, Hay, at four sharp."
And he called his boat.
During all this talk a load of thought or anxiety had weighed upon the captain. There was no part for which nature had so liberally endowed him as that of the genial ship-captain. But to-day he was silent and abstracted. Those who knew him could see that he hearkened close to every syllable, and seemed to ponder and try it in balances. It would have been hard to say what look there was, cold, attentive, and sinister, as of a man maturing plans, which still brooded over the unconscious guest; it was here, it was there, it was nowhere; it was now so little that Herrick chid himself for an idle fancy; and anon it was so gross and palpable that you could say every hair on the man's head talked mischief.
He woke up now, as with a start. "You were talking of a charter," said he.
"Was I?" said Attwater. "Well, let's talk of it no more at present."
"Your own schooner is overdue, I understand?" continued the captain.
"You understand perfectly, Captain Brown," said Attwater; "thirty-three days overdue at noon to-day."
"She comes and goes, eh? plies between here and ...?" hinted the captain.
"Exactly; every four months; three trips in the year," said Attwater.
"You go in her ever?" asked Davis.
"No; one stops here," said Attwater; "one has plenty to attend to."
"Stop here, do you?" cried Davis. "Say, how long?"
"How long, O Lord," said Attwater, with perfect, stern gravity. "But it does not seem so," he added, with a smile.
"No, I daresay not," said Davis. "No, I suppose not. Not with all your gods about you, and in as snug a berth as this. For it is a pretty snug berth," said he, with a sweeping look.
"The spot, as you are good enough to indicate, is not entirely intolerable," was the reply.
"Shell, I suppose?" said Davis.
"Yes, there was shell," said Attwater.
"This is a considerable big beast of a lagoon, sir," said the captain. "Was there a—was the fishing—would you call the fishing anyways good?"
"I don't know that I would call it anyways anything," said Attwater, "if you put it to me direct."
"There were pearls, too?" said Davis.
"Pearls too," said Attwater.
"Well, I give out!" laughed Davis, and his laughter rang cracked like a false piece. "If you're not going to tell, you're not going to tell, and there's an end to it."
"There can be no reason why I should affect the least degree of secrecy about my island," returned Attwater; "that came wholly to an end with your arrival; and I am sure, at any rate, that gentlemen like you and Mr. Whish I should have always been charmed to make perfectly at home. The point on which we are now differing—if you can call it a difference—is one of times and seasons. I have some information which you think I might impart, and I think not. Well, we'll see to-night! By-by, Whish!" He stepped into his boat and shoved off. "All understood, then?" said he. "The captain and Mr. Whish at six-thirty, and you, Hay, at four precise. You understand that, Hay? Mind, I take no denial. If you're not there by the time named, there will be no banquet; no song, no supper, Mr. Whish!"
White birds whisked in the air above, a shoal of parti-coloured fishes in the scarce denser medium below; between, like Mahomet's coffin, the boat drew away briskly on the surface, and its shadow followed it over the glittering floor of the lagoon. Attwater looked steadily back over his shoulders as he sat; he did not once remove his eyes from the Farallone and the group on her quarter-deck beside the house, till his boat ground upon the pier. Thence, with an agile pace, he hurried ashore, and they saw his white clothes shining in the chequered dusk of the grove until the house received him.
The captain, with a gesture and a speaking countenance, called the adventurers into the cabin.
"Well," he said to Herrick, when they were seated, "there's one good job at least. He's taken to you in earnest."
"Why should that be a good job?" said Herrick.
"O, you'll see how it pans out presently," returned Davis. "You go ashore and stand in with him, that's all! You'll get lots of pointers; you can find out what he has, and what the charter is, and who's the fourth man—for there's four of them, and we're only three."
"And suppose I do, what next?" cried Herrick. "Answer me that!"
"So I will, Robert Herrick," said the captain. "But first, let's see all clear. I guess you know," he said, with imperious solemnity, "I guess you know the bottom is out of this Farallone speculation? I guess you know it's right out? and if this old island hadn't been turned up right when it did, I guess you know where you and I and Huish would have been?"
"Yes, I know that," said Herrick. "No matter who's to blame, I know it. And what next?"
"No matter who's to blame, you know it, right enough," said the captain, "and I'm obliged to you for the reminder. Now, here's this Attwater: what do you think of him?"
"I do not know," said Herrick. "I am attracted and repelled. He was insufferably rude to you."
"And you, Huish?" said the captain.
Huish sat cleaning a favourite briar-root; he scarce looked up from that engrossing task. "Don't ast me what I think of him!" he said. "There's a day comin', I pray Gawd, when I can tell it him myself."
"Huish means the same as what I do," said Davis. "When that man came stepping around, and saying, 'Look here, I'm Attwater'—and you knew it was so, by God!—I sized him right straight up. He's the real article, I said, and I don't like it; here's the real, first-rate, copper-bottomed aristocrat. 'Aw! don't know ye, do I? God damn ye, did God make ye?' No, that couldn't be nothing but genuine; a man's got to be born to that; and notice! smart as champagne and hard as nails; no kind of a fool; no, sir! not a pound of him! Well, what's he here upon this beastly island for? I said. He's not here collecting eggs. He's a palace at home, and powdered flunkeys; and if he don't stay there, you bet he knows the reason why! Follow?"
"O yes, I 'ear you," said Huish.
"He's been doing good business here, then," continued the captain. "For ten years he's been doing a great business. It's pearl and shell, of course; there couldn't be nothing else in such a place, and no doubt the shell goes off regularly by this Trinity Hall, and the money for it straight into the bank, so that's no use to us. But what else is there? Is there nothing else he would be likely to keep here? Is there nothing else he would be bound to keep here? Yes, sir; the pearls! First, because they're too valuable to trust out of his hands. Second, because pearls want a lot of handling and matching; and the man who sells his pearls as they come in one here, one there, instead of hanging back and holding up—well, that man's a fool, and it's not Attwater."
"Likely," said Huish, "that's w'at it is; not proved, but likely."
"It's proved," said Davis bluntly.
"Suppose it was?" said Herrick. "Suppose that was all so, and he had these pearls—a ten years' collection of them?—Suppose he had? There's my question."
The captain drummed with his thick hands on the board in front of him; he looked steadily in Herrick's face, and Herrick as steadily looked upon the table and the pattering fingers; there was a gentle oscillation of the anchored ship, and a big patch of sunlight travelled to and fro between the one and the other.
"Hear me!" Herrick burst out suddenly.
"No, you better hear me first," said Davis. "Hear me and understand me. We've got no use for that fellow, whatever you may have. He's your kind, he's not ours; he's took to you, and he's wiped his boots on me and Huish. Save him if you can!"
"Save him?" repeated Herrick.
"Save him, if you're able!" reiterated Davis, with a blow of his clenched fist. "Go ashore, and talk him smooth; and if you get him and his pearls aboard, I'll spare him. If you don't, there's going to be a funeral. Is that so, Huish? does that suit you?"
"I ain't a forgiving man," said Huish, "but I'm not the sort to spoil business neither. Bring the bloke on board and bring his pearls along with him, and you can have it your own way; maroon him where you like,—I'm agreeable."
"Well, and if I can't?" cried Herrick, while the sweat streamed upon his face. "You talk to me as if I was God Almighty, to do this and that! But if I can't?"
"My son," said the captain, "you better do your level best, or you'll see sights!"
"O yes," said Huish. "O crikey, yes!" He looked across at Herrick with a toothless smile that was shocking in its savagery; and, his ear caught apparently by the trivial expression he had used, broke into a piece of the chorus of a comic song which he must have heard twenty years before in London: meaningless gibberish that, in that hour and place, seemed hateful as a blasphemy: "Hikey, pikey, crikey, fikey, chillingawallaba dory."
The captain suffered him to finish; his face was unchanged.
"The way things are, there's many a man that wouldn't let you go ashore," he resumed. "But I'm not that kind. I know you'd never go back on me, Herrick! Or if you choose to,—go, and do it, and be damned!" he cried, and rose abruptly from the table.
He walked out of the house; and as he reached the door turned and called Huish, suddenly and violently, like the barking of a dog. Huish followed, and Herrick remained alone in the cabin.
"Now, see here!" whispered Davis. "I know that man. If you open your mouth to him again, you'll ruin all."
The boat was gone again, and already half-way to the Farallone, before Herrick turned and went unwillingly up the pier. From the crown of the beach, the figure-head confronted him with what seemed irony, her helmeted head tossed back, her formidable arm apparently hurling something, whether shell or missile, in the direction of the anchored schooner. She seemed a defiant deity from the island, coming forth to its threshold with a rush as of one about to fly, and perpetuated in that dashing attitude. Herrick looked up at her, where she towered above him head and shoulders, with singular feelings of curiosity and romance, and suffered his mind to travel to and fro in her life-history. So long she had been the blind conductress of a ship among the waves; so long she had stood here idle in the violent sun, that yet did not avail to blister her; and was even this the end of so many adventures? he wondered, or was more behind? And he could have found it in his heart to regret that she was not a goddess, nor yet he a pagan, that he might have bowed down before her in that hour of difficulty.
When he now went forward, it was cool with the shadow of many well-grown palms; draughts of the dying breeze swung them together overhead; and on all sides, with a swiftness beyond dragon-flies or swallows, the spots of sunshine flitted, and hovered, and returned. Underfoot, the sand was fairly solid and quite level, and Herrick's steps fell there noiseless as in new-fallen snow. It bore the marks of having been once weeded like a garden alley at home; but the pestilence had done its work, and the weeds were returning. The buildings of the settlement showed here and there through the stems of the colonnade, fresh painted, trim and dandy, and all silent as the grave. Only here and there in the crypt, there was a rustle and scurry and some crowing of poultry; and from behind the house with the verandahs he saw smoke arise and heard the crackling of a fire.
The stone houses were nearest him upon his right. The first was locked; in the second he could dimly perceive, through a window, a certain accumulation of pearl-shell piled in the far end; the third, which stood gaping open on the afternoon, seized on the mind of Herrick with its multiplicity and disorder of romantic things. Therein were cables, windlasses, and blocks of every size and capacity; cabin-windows and ladders; rusty tanks, a companion hutch; a binnacle with its brass mountings and its compass idly pointing, in the confusion and dusk of that shed, to a forgotten pole; ropes, anchors, harpoons: a blubber-dipper of copper, green with years; a steering-wheel, a tool-chest with the vessel's name upon the top, the Asia: a whole curiosity-shop of sea-curios, gross and solid, heavy to lift, ill to break, bound with brass and shod with iron. Two wrecks at the least must have contributed to this random heap of lumber; and as Herrick looked upon it, it seemed to him as if the two ships' companies were there on guard, and he heard the tread of feet and whisperings, and saw with the tail of his eye the commonplace ghosts of sailor men.
This was not merely the work of an aroused imagination, but had something sensible to go upon; sounds of a stealthy approach were no doubt audible; and while he still stood staring at the lumber, the voice of his host sounded suddenly, and with even more than the customary softness of enunciation, from behind.
"Junk," it said, "only old junk! And does Mr. Hay find a parable?"
"I find at least a strong impression," replied Herrick, turning quickly, lest he might be able to catch, on the face of the speaker, some commentary on the words.
Attwater stood in the doorway, which he almost wholly filled; his hands stretched above his head and grasping the architrave. He smiled when their eyes met, but the expression was inscrutable.
"Yes, a powerful impression. You are like me; nothing so affecting as ships!" said he. "The ruins of an empire would leave me frigid, when a bit of an old rail that an old shellback leaned on in the middle watch, would bring me up all standing. But come, let's see some more of the island. It's all sand and coral and palm-trees; but there's a kind of a quaintness in the place."
"I find it heavenly," said Herrick, breathing deep, with head bared in the shadow.
"Ah, that's because you're new from sea," said Attwater. "I daresay, too, you can appreciate what one calls it. It's a lovely name. It has a flavour, it has a colour, it has a ring and fall to it; it's like its author—it's half Christian! Remember your first view of the island, and how it's only woods and woods and water; and suppose you had asked somebody for the name, and he had answered—nemorosa Zacynthos."
"Jam medio apparet fluctu!" exclaimed Herrick. "Ye gods, yes, how good!"
"If it gets upon the chart, the skippers will make nice work of it," said Attwater. "But here, come and see the diving-shed."
He opened a door, and Herrick saw a large display of apparatus neatly ordered: pumps and pipes, and the leaded boots, and the huge snouted helmets shining in rows along the wall; ten complete outfits.
"The whole eastern half of my lagoon is shallow, you must understand," said Attwater; "so we were able to get in the dress to great advantage. It paid beyond belief, and was a queer sight when they were at it, and these marine monsters"—tapping the nearest of the helmets—"kept appearing and reappearing in the midst of the lagoon. Fond of parables?" he asked abruptly.
"O yes!" said Herrick.
"Well, I saw these machines come up dripping and go down again, and come up dripping and go down again, and all the while the fellow inside as dry as toast!" said Attwater; "and I thought we all wanted a dress to go down into the world in, and come up scatheless. What do you think the name was?" he inquired.
"Self-conceit," said Herrick.
"Ah, but I mean seriously!" said Attwater.
"Call it self-respect, then!" corrected Herrick, with a laugh.
"And why not Grace? Why not God's Grace, Hay?" asked Attwater. "Why not the grace of your Maker and Redeemer, He who died for you, He who upholds you, He whom you daily crucify afresh? There is nothing here"—striking on his bosom,—"nothing there"—smiting the wall,—"and nothing there,"—stamping—"nothing but God's Grace! We walk upon it, we breathe it; we live and die by it; it makes the nails and axles of the universe; and a puppy in pyjamas prefers self-conceit!" The huge dark man stood over against Herrick by the line of the divers' helmets, and seemed to swell and glow; and the next moment the life had gone from him—"I beg your pardon," said he; "I see you don't believe in God?"
"Not in your sense, I am afraid," said Herrick.
"I never argue with young atheists or habitual drunkards," said Attwater flippantly.—"Let us go across the island to the outer beach."
It was but a little way, the greatest width of that island scarce exceeding a furlong, and they walked gently. Herrick was like one in a dream. He had come there with a mind divided; come prepared to study that ambiguous and sneering mask, drag out the essential man from underneath, and act accordingly; decision being till then postponed. Iron cruelty, an iron insensibility to the suffering of others, the uncompromising pursuit of his own interests, cold culture, manners without humanity: these he had looked for, these he still thought he saw. But to find the whole machine thus glow with the reverberation of religious zeal surprised him beyond words; and he laboured in vain, as he walked, to piece together into any kind of whole his odds and ends of knowledge—to adjust again into any kind of focus with itself his picture of the man beside him.
"What brought you here to the South Seas?" he asked presently.
"Many things," said Attwater. "Youth, curiosity, romance, the love of the sea, and (it will surprise you to hear) an interest in missions. That has a good deal declined, which will surprise you less. They go the wrong way to work; they are too parsonish, too much of the old wife, and even the old apple-wife. Clothes, clothes, are their idea; but clothes are not Christianity, any more than they are the sun in heaven, or could take the place of it! They think a parsonage with roses, and church bells, and nice old women bobbing in the lanes, are part and parcel of religion. But religion is a savage thing, like the universe it illuminates; savage, cold, and bare, but infinitely strong."
"And you found this island by an accident?" said Herrick.
"As you did!" said Attwater. "And since then I have had a business, and a colony, and a mission of my own. I was a man of the world before I was a Christian; I'm a man of the world still, and I made my mission pay. No good ever came of coddling. A man has to stand up in God's sight and work up to his weight avoirdupois: then I'll talk to him, but not before. I gave these beggars what they wanted: a judge in Israel, the bearer of the sword and scourge; I was making a new people here; and behold, the angel of the Lord smote them and they were not!"
With the very uttering of the words, which were accompanied by a gesture, they came forth out of the porch of the palm wood by the margin of the sea and full in front of the sun, which was near setting. Before them the surf broke slowly. All around, with an air of imperfect wooden things inspired with wicked activity, the crabs trundled and scuttled into holes. On the right, whither Attwater pointed and abruptly turned, was the cemetery of the island, a field of broken stones from the bigness of a child's hand to that of his head, diversified by many mounds of the same material, and walled by a rude rectangular enclosure. Nothing grew there but a shrub or two with some white flowers; nothing but the number of the mounds, and their disquieting shape, indicated the presence of the dead.
"The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep!"
quoted Attwater, as he entered by the open gateway into that unholy close. "Coral to coral, pebbles to pebbles," he said; "this has been the main scene of my activity in the South Pacific. Some were good, and some bad, and the majority (of course and always) null. Here was a fellow, now, that used to frisk like a dog; if you had called him he came like an arrow from a bow; if you had not, and he came unbidden, you should have seen the deprecating eye and the little intricate dancing step. Well, his trouble is over now, he has lain down with kings and councillors; the rest of his acts, are they not written in the book of the chronicles? That fellow was from Penrhyn; like all the Penrhyn islanders he was ill to manage; heady, jealous, violent: the man with the nose! He lies here quiet enough. And so they all lie.
'And darkness was the burier of the dead!'"
He stood, in the strong glow of the sunset, with bowed head; his voice sounded now sweet and now bitter with the varying sense.
"You loved these people?" cried Herrick, strangely touched.
"I?" said Attwater. "Dear no! Don't think me a philanthropist. I dislike men, and hate women. If I like the islanders at all, it is because you see them here plucked of their lendings, their dead birds and cocked hats, their petticoats and coloured hose. Here was one I liked though," and he set his foot upon a mound. "He was a fine savage fellow; he had a dark soul; yes, I liked this one. I am fanciful," he added, looking hard at Herrick, "and I take fads. I like you."
Herrick turned swiftly and looked far away to where the clouds were beginning to troop together and amass themselves round the obsequies of day. "No one can like me," he said.
"You are wrong there," said the other, "as a man usually is about himself. You are attractive, very attractive."
"It is not me," said Herrick; "no one can like me. If you knew how I despised myself—and why!" His voice rang out in the quiet graveyard.
"I knew that you despised yourself," said Attwater. "I saw the blood come into your face to-day when you remembered Oxford. And I could have blushed for you myself, to see a man, a gentleman, with these two vulgar wolves."
Herrick faced him with a thrill. "Wolves?" he repeated.
"I said wolves, and vulgar wolves," said Attwater. "Do you know that to-day, when I came on board, I trembled?"
"You concealed it well," stammered Herrick.
"A habit of mine," said Attwater. "But I was afraid, for all that: I was afraid of the two wolves." He raised his hand slowly. "And now, Hay, you poor lost puppy, what do you do with the two wolves?"
"What do I do? I don't do anything," said Herrick. "There is nothing wrong; all is above-board; Captain Brown is a good soul; he is a ... he is...." The phantom voice of Davis called in his ear: "There's going to be a funeral"; and the sweat burst forth and streamed on his brow. "He is a family man," he resumed again, swallowing; "he has children at home and a wife."
"And a very nice man?" said Attwater. "And so is Mr. Whish, no doubt?"
"I won't go so far as that," said Herrick. "I do not like Huish. And yet ... he has his merits too."
"And, in short, take them for all in all, as good a ship's company as one would ask?" said Attwater.
"O yes," said Herrick, "quite."
"So then we approach the other point of why you despise yourself?" said Attwater.
"Do we not all despise ourselves?" cried Herrick. "Do not you?"
"Oh, I say I do. But do I?" said Attwater. "One thing I know at least: I never gave a cry like yours. Hay! it came from a bad conscience! Ah, man, that poor diving-dress of self-conceit is sadly tattered! To-day, if ye will hear my voice. To-day, now, while the sun sets, and here in this burying-place of brown innocents, fall on your knees and cast your sins and sorrows on the Redeemer. Hay——"
"Not Hay!" interrupted the other, strangling. "Don't call me that! I mean.... For God's sake, can't you see I'm on the rack?"
"I see it, I know it, I put and keep you there; my fingers are on the screws!" said Attwater. "Please God, I will bring a penitent this night before His throne. Come, come to the mercy-seat! He waits to be gracious, man—waits to be gracious!"
He spread out his arms like a crucifix; his face shone with the brightness of a seraph's; in his voice, as it rose to the last word, the tears seemed ready.
Herrick made a vigorous call upon himself. "Attwater," he said, "you push me beyond bearing. What am I to do? I do not believe. It is living truth to you: to me, upon my conscience, only folk-lore. I do not believe there is any form of words under heaven by which I can lift the burthen from my shoulders. I must stagger on to the end with the pack of my responsibility; I cannot shift it; do you suppose I would not if I thought I could? I cannot—cannot—cannot—and let that suffice."
The rapture was all gone from Attwater's countenance; the dark apostle had disappeared; and in his place there stood an easy, sneering gentleman, who took off his hat and bowed. It was pertly done, and the blood burned in Herrick's face.
"What do you mean by that?" he cried.
"Well, shall we go back to the house?" said Attwater. "Our guests will soon be due."
Herrick stood his ground a moment with clenched fists and teeth; and as he so stood, the fact of his errand there slowly swung clear in front of him, like the moon out of clouds. He had come to lure that man on board; he was failing, even if it could be said that he had tried; he was sure to fail now, and knew it, and knew it was better so. And what was to be next?
With a groan he turned to follow his host, who was standing with polite smile, and instantly and somewhat obsequiously led the way in the now darkened colonnade of palms. There they went in silence, the earth gave up richly of her perfume, the air tasted warm and aromatic in the nostrils; and from a great way forward in the wood, the brightness of lights and fire marked out the house of Attwater.
Herrick meanwhile resolved and resisted an immense temptation to go up, to touch him on the arm and breathe a word in his ear: "Beware, they are going to murder you." There would be one life saved; but what of the two others? The three lives went up and down before him like buckets in a well, or like the scales of balances. It had come to a choice, and one that must be speedy. For certain invaluable minutes, the wheels of life ran before him, and he could still divert them with a touch to the one side or the other, still choose who was to live and who was to die. He considered the men. Attwater intrigued, puzzled, dazzled, enchanted and revolted him; alive, he seemed but a doubtful good; and the thought of him lying dead was so unwelcome that it pursued him, like a vision, with every circumstance of colour and sound. Incessantly he had before him the image of that great mass of man stricken down in varying attitudes and with varying wounds; fallen prone, fallen supine, fallen on his side; or clinging to a doorpost with the changing face and the relaxing fingers of the death-agony. He heard the click of the trigger, the thud of the ball, the cry of the victim; he saw the blood flow. And this building up of circumstance was like a consecration of the man, till he seemed to walk in sacrificial fillets. Next he considered Davis, with his thick-fingered, coarse-grained, oat-bread commonness of nature, his indomitable valour and mirth in the old days of their starvation, the endearing blend of his faults and virtues, the sudden shining forth of a tenderness that lay too deep for tears; his children, Ada and her bowel complaint, and Ada's doll. No, death could not be suffered to approach that head even in fancy; with a general heat and a bracing of his muscles, it was borne in on Herrick that Ada's father would find in him a son to the death. And even Huish showed a little in that sacredness; by the tacit adoption of daily life they were become brothers; there was an implied bond of loyalty in their cohabitation of the ship and their past miseries; to which Herrick must be a little true or wholly dishonoured. Horror of sudden death for horror of sudden death, there was here no hesitation possible: it must be Attwater. And no sooner was the thought formed (which was a sentence) than his whole mind of man ran in a panic to the other side: and when he looked within himself, he was aware only of turbulence and inarticulate outcry.
In all this there was no thought of Robert Herrick. He had complied with the ebb-tide in man's affairs, and the tide had carried him away; he heard already the roaring of the maelstrom that must hurry him under. And in his bedevilled and dishonoured soul there was no thought of self.
For how long he walked silent by his companion Herrick had no guess. The clouds rolled suddenly away; the orgasm was over; he found himself placid with the placidity of despair; there returned to him the power of commonplace speech; and he heard with surprise his own voice say: "What a lovely evening!"
"Is it not?" said Attwater. "Yes, the evenings here would be very pleasant if one had anything to do. By day, of course, one can shoot."
"You shoot?" asked Herrick.
"Yes, I am what you would call a fine shot," said Attwater. "It is faith; I believe my balls will go true; if I were to miss once, it would spoil me for nine months."
"You never miss, then?" said Herrick.
"Not unless I mean to," said Attwater. "But to miss nicely is the art. There was an old king one knew in the western islands, who used to empty a Winchester all round a man, and stir his hair or nick a rag out of his clothes with every ball except the last; and that went plump between the eyes. It was pretty practice."
"You could do that?" asked Herrick, with a sudden chill.
"O, I can do anything," returned the other. "You do not understand: what must be, must."
They were now come near to the back part of the house. One of the men was engaged about the cooking-fire, which burned with the clear, fierce, essential radiance of cocoa-nut shells. A fragrance of strange meats was in the air. All round in the verandahs lamps were lighted, so that the place shone abroad in the dusk of the trees with many complicated patterns of shadow.
"Come and wash your hands," said Attwater, and led the way into a clean, matted room with a cot bed, a safe, a shelf or two of books in a glazed case, and an iron washing-stand. Presently he cried in the native, and there appeared for a moment in the doorway a plump and pretty young woman with a clean towel.
"Hullo!" cried Herrick, who now saw for the first time the fourth survivor of the pestilence, and was startled by the recollection of the captain's orders.
"Yes," said Attwater, "the whole colony lives about the house, what's left of it. We are all afraid of devils, if you please! and Taniera and she sleep in the front parlour, and the other boy on the verandah."
"She is pretty," said Herrick.
"Too pretty," said Attwater. "That was why I had her married. A man never knows when he may be inclined to be a fool about women; so when we were left alone I had the pair of them to the chapel and performed the ceremony. She made a lot of fuss. I do not take at all the romantic view of marriage," he explained.
"And that strikes you as a safeguard?" asked Herrick with amazement.
"Certainly. I am a plain man and very literal. Whom God hath joined together are the words, I fancy. So one married them, and respects the marriage," said Attwater.
"Ah!" said Herrick.
"You see, I may look to make an excellent marriage when I go home," began Attwater confidentially. "I am rich. This safe alone"—laying his hand upon it—"will be a moderate fortune, when I have the time to place the pearls upon the market. Here are ten years' accumulation from a lagoon, where I have had as many as ten divers going all day long; and I went further than people usually do in these waters, for I rotted a lot of shell and did splendidly. Would you like to see them?"
This confirmation of the captain's guess hit Herrick hard, and he contained himself with difficulty. "No, thank you, I think not," said he. "I do not care for pearls. I am very indifferent to all these...."
"Gewgaws?" suggested Attwater. "And yet I believe you ought to cast an eye on my collection, which is really unique, and which—O! it is the case with all of us and everything about us!—hangs by a hair. To-day it groweth up and flourisheth; to-morrow it is cut down and cast into the oven. To-day it is here and together in this safe; to-morrow—to-night!—it may be scattered. Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee."