"Make Westing" and other stories by Jack London
Saturday 16 January 2021, by
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. The Misogynist (1897) A confirmed bachelor wakes up one morning to find that all females have suddenly disappeared and the world is now a purely masculine one! Things start rapidly going to pot as everyone, including our hero, desperately tries to survive. (8,600 words)
2. Their Alcove (1900) A man watches all the letters and mementos of the woman he had loved burn in his fireplace as he muses over the impact that their break-up has made on his life, and tries to picture his new life without her. (2,300 words)
3. Dutch Courage (1900) Two boys on a mountain-climbing expedition in Yosemite Park find that someone has managed to climb the treacherous Half Dome Rock for the first time that very same day. But then they realize that their predecessor is in difficulty and that they have to find a way to bring him down. (3,500 words)
4. Bald-Face (1901) A short and rather funny tall tale about bears that just has to be read to be (not) believed. (1,250 words)
5. The Lost Poacher (1901) An American seal-hunting sailing vessel in waters caught in a thick fog-bank north of Japan has been carried by strong currents into forbidden Russian waters, where they risk confiscation and imprisonment if captured by patrolling Russian warships. Their worst fears are realized and a Russian war cruiser takes them in tow. (3,700 words)
6. Chris Farrington, Able Seaman (1901) A 17-year-old on a seal-hunting sailing ship has to prove his mettle and his seamanship, which he does with flying colours when raging storms and a totally incompetent captain menace the very existence of the ship and its men. (2,850 words)
7. The Master of Mystery (1902) A set of very precious blankets have disappeared from a poor remote Indian fishing village in northern Alaska and two shamans do their best to resolve the mystery with their traditionally mystic methods, despite the scornful quips of a cynical young tribesman. (4,050 words)
8. Demetrios Contos (1905) Demetrios has built the fastest boat in the San Francisco Bay area and he openly dares the Fish Patrol to try to catch him illegally netting salmon on Sundays right at the harbour-front. The young narrator and his partner have to find a way to outwit this over-confident fish pirate and bring him to justice. (4,700 words)
9. Make Westing (1908) The Mary Rogers is a three-master that has been trying for seven weeks to round Cape Horn in the face of impossibly-contrary winds. When at long last a favourable wind comes up and they are finally on their way to “make westing” successfully, a man falls overboard. (3,000 words)
10. The Madness of John Harned (1909) A detailed account of the cruelty of bull-fighting in one of the third-class arenas that abound in Latin America, and of the increasingly-animated conversation between the local afficionados and a visiting Yankee spectator. (6,200 words)
11. South of the Slot (1909) A professor has worked in the great labour-ghetto in the south side of the city for so long while gaining material for his books that he has developed two different personalities, one a militant union man and the other a ratiocinating professor. But things come to a boil when both sides of his personality get swept up in a violent city-wide strike. (6,600 words)
12. The Sheriff of Kona (1909) There is always calm weather in Koona thanks to its geography that shelters it from the violent winds that perpetually rage around the other Hawaiian islands nearby. Yet the Sheriff of Kona has to leave this island paradise because of leprosy, that curse of Hawaii. (5,400 words)
13. The Proud Goat of Aloysius Pankburn (1911) South Seas |A wealthy but broken-down young fellow totally addicted to alcohol has no choice but to shape up on the long trip across the Pacific on a treasure hunt. (6,750 words)
14. The Tears of Ah Kim (1916) Ah Kim is a wealthy merchant in Honolulu’s Chinatown who submits uncomplainingly to the beatings that are regularly meted out to him in public by his aged mother for having been seen talking to a certain lady who seems to have her sights set on him. (6,000 words)
15. The Princess (1916) Three very down-and-out one-armed tramps talk about their once-glorious past in the South Seas around a roadside campfire, and with the help of a large number of sips of drugstore alcohol tell in turn the stories of how they lost their arms and their respective Princesses. (10,100 words)
An e-book of these stories is available for downloading below.
1. The Misogynist
"CONFOUND it all! But these minds of ours are curious fabrics!"
I had awakened, and remembering my dream, burst into the exclamation just recorded. It was a curious dream, seemingly without meaning, yet striking from a psychological standpoint, through the vividness of its realism and the fantastic juxtaposition of thoughts and scenes I previously experienced. The first part of it was a medley of incoherency and misty vagueness, too dim to recollect, but the conclusion was pictured in my mind’s eye so perfectly that it seemed as though the original were still before me: a little maid singing the same little song upon some metropolitan vaudeville stage. And these were the words she sang, with great seeming significance, to me in my dream:
"Reuben, Reuben, I’ve been thinking what a good thing it would be, If the women were transported, far beyond the northern sea."
She sang it over and over again-more like a vocal fugue-ever discovering new charms of melody, new graces of expression. As she sang, strange foreboding impressions came to me, and her roguish face, enticing it is true, exasperated me.
"Begone!" I had cried. "Go to your far northern sea and leave me in peace!"
As I thus abjured her, her face became sad, compassionate; she held out her arms, beseechingly; then vanished from my dream. But in her place there was—ah! God!—the personification of one of my wildest dreams, the one woman who in all history had interested me. Grand, imperial, the mistress of kings, the friend of philosophy and art, she stood there—before me—so close I could have touched her—and just as I had always imaged her. She smiled upon me with careless abandon; then her beautiful face grew solemn and thoughtful, as, superbly tragic and with infinite pathos, she murmured, "After me, the deluge."
She too had gone: I was awake. Deeply I pondered on the incident. As an active member of our psychological society, I kept a terse record of my dreams, in fact, had made such a modest study of them that never was I at loss for the clew to their causation. But the present one baffled me. True, years ago I had seen and heard the little Quakeress in a vaudeville show: and as truly, had I, in my student days, romanticised upon that wondrous, divinely-feminine figure, whose powerful personality had left its impress so strongly on the pages of history. But I had not recollected either in years; I had not deviated from my regular habits; I had gone to bed at my usual hour; and I could think of nothing outside my customary bill of fare which I had partaken of. In short, the little occurrence was inexplicable.
Soon, however, other sensations came over me as I acknowledged the futility of my efforts, tossed the covers back, and sprang out of bed. Something was wrong, evidently out of place—I unconsciously recognized this, but no effort of analytical reasoning could substantiate the verdict of my intuition. Bright rays of sunlight danced hither and thither; through the partially raised window, the perfume of flowers was wafted to me; the bustling life of the awakening city saluted my ears—"Ah! I have it now! Where are the sparrows?" I cried.
They were silent. No squabbling on the walks, no fierce battles on my window ledge, no chattering and scolding and noise incessant, nothing to tell me of their presence. Yet the spring was but fairly dawning and it was in the hey-day of mating time. How often, of late, had they wakened me with their mimic warfare, their martial contests, their boisterous wooing of their females! And how often had I prodigally burned a quarter-hour, watching and studying, this, the most important epoch of their lives! But they were gone: this trite demonstration of the laws of natural and sexual selection had seemingly been withdrawn from nature’s bill-boards. With an unusual feeling of strangeness, I completed my dressing, only to discover new cause for thought, new whys and wherefores. I had asked to be called at six sharp, and here it was seven-thirty. It was evident that I had missed my train, so canceling the engagement with a slight manifestation of irritation, I whistled down the speaking-tube for my customary kettle of hot water. No reply. I listened: the house was as silent as a tomb: apparently, no one was stirring. Strange thoughts flashed to my mind. Visions of bloody horrors, burglars, thugs, hidden mysteries, murder, and what not, rose before me. This was a very strange, an unprecedented occurrence. I decided to investigate.
But first, a word for myself. I am a young fellow of twenty-eight or thirty; comfortably, though not more than so, endowed with the world’s goods; and alone upon the face of the earth, save for some distant, very distant relatives. The further to satisfy my modest but somewhat expensive tastes, I devote an occasional hour to literary drudgery—but a drudgery which permits me to be wholly my own master, little caring whether school keeps or not. It is now some two years or more that I have resided at my present quarters, which, for various reasons, are very satisfactory. The house, a cosy, two-story suburban residence, is the possession of a nice widow-lady, who, with her three spinster daughters, manages to eke out a comfortable livelihood from a small annuity and the sums they receive from me every quarter. I am the sole lodger, in fact, boarder too, though I more often dine down town or at the club. My feminine friends unite in calling me the "crusty young bachelor" and my jovial, bohemian comrades, "the misogynist." Why I have been given these respective apellations, I can readily understand; but how I have earned them I cannot conceive. I am not a woman-hater, as you may by this time have supposed me to be, far from it. Still, I must confess, I am not a woman-lover. Yet in this case I see no reason why the absence of the positive should imply the presence of the negative. I have never loved nor loved in vain, have never experienced anything which should condition me as I am—perhaps I was born that way. In short, while I do not like woman, I do not dislike her; but with such an object of neutral tints, I neither go out of my way to cultivate nor to avoid. "Confound it! How that quaint, little song rings in my ears!"
"If the women were transported, far beyond the northern sea."
Mentally cursing the composer, I descended the stairs. No sign of life: the kitchen just as it was left last evening. It was evident that they were still a-bed. Filled with gloomy forebodings, I first knocked, then successively forced the doors to the three chambers. Each was deserted. The beds had all been slept in; but I noted with surprise, the presence of the garments, shoes, etc., which had been discarded on disrobing the previous evening. So accustomed was I to every dress in the household, that I ransacked the wardrobes, closets, and chests of drawers. Nothing was missing and I smiled to myself as I pictured their flight, clad in nothing but their sleeping robes. Imagine my consternation when I discovered in each bed, the night-dresses of their respective occupants. "Shameful!" I thought; but at the same time, I found myself entertaining a malicious desire to have been a witness of the event, to have beheld the three attenuated spinsters and their mother, fleeing like veritable Eves—whither, I knew not.
A myriad hypotheses suggested themselves but I could entertain none of them. I had never suspected my sedate landlady nor her sober daughters of any wildness, and this very unconventional procedure took me quite a back. Perhaps something serious had occurred? I would lock up the house and inform the chief of police.
On the front steps I found the morning paper, still as tightly rolled up as when it left the carrier’s hand. "What’s this? Phew!" These were the staring headlines which met my astonished eye:
A world catastrophe!!!
The scientific world astounded!!!
The femininity of the earth is no more!!!
All peoples have felt the heavy hand of horror!!!
The confutation of all religion, science and philosophy!!!
A universal wail of sorrow!!! Special session of congress!!!
And much more which I dashed through to get to the pith of the matter. Impossible as it seemed and more like a gigantic hoax, here it is, in substance:
Some time last night, it had been generally agreed upon as midnight, in some mysterious, unaccountable way, every woman, the whole world over, had suddenly disappeared. There had been no warning: there had been no remains. It was total annihilation or total translation. Very graphic was the description of a great state ball in Berlin. A thousand couples were whirling in giddy waltz when twelve o’clock struck. A shudder, like the flapping of a great sail, was heard, and a thousand astonished men were rooted to the floor, speechless, each clasping the empty costume of his partner of the previous moment. Thus it had happened everywhere: none were spared, not even the female babes in the cradle. Nor had the shock been less severe among the rest of the animal kingdom. The male gender of all species remained, but the female had vanished. ("Ah," I mused, "that accounts for the sparrows.")
I hastily skimmed the account. This dreadful holocaust had put all the world aghast. Science was speechless as was also philosophy. Religion, while, on the whole, dumbfounded, among several sects there was whispering of the fulfillment of prophecy. There was no accounting for it. The immutability of natural law, the towering fabric of philosophic speculation, the dizzy atheistical negation of all supernaturalism, the adamantine division, between the knowable and the unknowable, of agnosticism; these, all these, and every system of thought and mode of action, had been overthrown, confuted by this one fell blow. A blow, so light, that the sleeper awakened not in the passing.
I could hardly trust my senses. Was I dreaming? Had the editors or the printers gone mad? Or was it nothing but a gigantic American sell? With my mind awhirl, I was just preparing for the acceptation of the latter when I suddenly paused at the gate, remembering my deserted house and the sparrows. Hardly daring to think, I hurried down the street. At the corner, I stumbled into an excited group, evidently discussing the situation.
They were local acquaintances so I did not hesitate to join them. I was amused, however, at their appearance. Their attires indicated hasty and indiscriminate dressing. Shoes were dirty, cravats missing or all awry, clothes unbrushed—in short, a general air of seediness was the most conspicuous feature. And there, I could have sworn to it, was old Dottlyboy, the precisest and neatest man of the neighborhood, without his face washed.
"Oh! It’s terrible! I can hardly collect myself. What’s going to become of us? The cook has gone, too, and I haven’t had my breakfast. I don’t see why she couldn’t have stayed. O my! O my! And at my time of life too!" Thus chattered the old gentleman who lived across the way from me, mumbling and chewing his words as though his mouth were full of hot mush—he had forgotten his false teeth.
"Is it true," I asked, "that woman is no more?"
"It is true," they gasped in solemn chorus.
"Hurrah! Hurrah!" I shouted. But evincing no sign of jubilancy, I looked at them, then asked "Why don’t you rejoice? Come, give a hearty three times three and a tiger with me. Now-hip-hip-"
But just then I was so violently kicked from behind that other emotions claimed my attention. I whirled about with the intention of planting my deadly right in the most vulnerable portion of my assailant’s anatomy, when—thwack!—old Dottlyboy’s cane descended on my pericranium with periculous energy. I had a hazy impression of being suffocated in a cloud of invective, buffets, kicks and blows; of being tossed about in the bowels of a gregarious maelstrom; and of being vomited forth, a disintegrated mass, to recline in the contumely of the gutter.
"It is a very evident fact," I murmured as I retired to the house to change my garments, "that they feel their loss deeply. I wonder what this most reminds me of—a freshman rush, a bargain counter crush, or a scrimmage on the gridiron?"
As I prepared myself anew to sally forth, I pondered deeply upon the perversity of human nature. Day after day, I had been the companion of one or more of the group, which had so viciously assailed me, in the rides to and from the city; hour after hour, I had listened to these suburbanites’ complaints against womankind; yet here—and here and here (I was feeling my bruises) are the convincing proofs of their inconsistency. Resolving to be more prudent in my demeanor and to hide my joy beneath a show of deepest melancholy, I was soon aboard a down-town car.
So ingrained was the habit, that I found myself glancing up with an air of guilty apprehension every time the car stopped to take on ladies. Each time, I resumed my paper, breathing a sigh of relief, for among them there were never any ladies. I think it was the first time I had ever come down on such a late car without injuring my personal feelings, by relinquishing my seat, in order to satisfy the highly impersonal one which conventionality demanded of me and designated as courtesy. There were no charming creatures to hang pathetically onto the straps or to gaze beseechingly at me in a usually successful endeavor to soften my marble heart.
The streets were full of people, all discussing the one topic, while in front of the great papers, thousands were grouped, awaiting with bated breaths, the advent of every bulletin. One thing surprised me greatly: without exception, every window contained cards which informed the public that men or boys were wanted. For once, labor was at a premium and jobs at a discount. It was remarkable, the airs which the laborers now put on. It had not taken them long to grasp the situation. Proud disdain and stony indifference had taken the place of their whining and begging. "What an expansion of the currency," I thought.
Especially were the employment agencies crowded—not by applicants for positions but by prospective employers. The celerity with which wages rose was startling, particularly in those branches of labor hitherto wholly carried on by women. By mid day the almost utter futility of endeavoring to obtain men willing to cook, make beds and wash dishes, for anything less than fabulous salaries was manifest. As a result, everybody decided to patronize the restaurants. The crush, everywhere, for meals, was frightful—so terrible that I resolved to do my own cooking at home. Of course, not for long, for so many would now enter upon this lucrative business, that a few days would see everything on its original footing.
A week soon passed, during which the newspapers were filled with fierce controversies and the whole industrial system pulsating with unprecedented vigor. Never had there been such a boom before. Everything was running full blast. A reduction of the population by one-half was equal to a doubling of the currency. There was one point in this stimulus, however, which the world had evidently forgotten to reckon on. That, while the productive facilities had all been revived, the consumptive facilities had been reduced fifty per cent. Thus, there would be extraordinary activity in trade, and, since there was a greater demand than supply of labor, wages would rise; but following the wages, there would come a rise in all prices. At first, labor, being in the ascendancy, would buy liberally of all necessaries and many of the luxuries which it had hitherto been denied; but when prices reached their proportionate ratio with wages, labor would be unable to buy a bit more than in the days before the great catastrophe. The outcome was obvious to any dabbler in the "dismal science," though neither I nor the world realized or comprehended that outcome.
One day, about two weeks after the occurrence of the wonderful event, I went down to call on Charley Eggleston, a young artist friend of mine. On the way, I dropped into my barber’s for a shave. Imagine my surprise on finding a shopful of customers and an alarming dearth of barbers. While waiting his appearance, I looked over my companions and was astonished at the general picture of slouchiness which they presented. Horrors! I glanced in the mirror and beheld myself with soiled shirt, collars and cuffs, two waistcoat buttons missing, four day’s growth of beard, a dirty handkerchief in my hand, the knees of my trousers bagged and the creases of the same most conspicuous by their absence, my—but why relate it all—I was as slouchy as any of them. Just then the barber arrived on the scene. I had always looked upon him as a sober, industrious man, devoted to the welfare of his family; but in he came, as drunk as a boiled owl, and ordered us all out of his shop. I remonstrated with him, though to no effect, for he informed us that he was going to close up shop. His assistants were all drunk or lost and it was impossible for him to do the work single handed.
"And besides," he concluded, "What’s the good of working anyway? What can I do with my money after I’ve earned it?"
So he turned us out, bag and baggage, forgot to lock the door, and returned to finish his carousal.
Though Charley was a very neat fellow, careful of his appearance and a ladies’ man, I knew him too well to be ashamed to visit him in my present guise. At the same time I decided to postpone contemplated visits on my lawyer and publisher. My journey, drawing me thither, I happened to pass by the publishing house. The place was closed and there was a sign informing the public that Walker & Sons had retired from business. Glancing curiously about me, I was surprised at the number of "To Let" signs on every hand. Across the street, two men were putting up the shutters to their shops and on looking down the street, I observed several others occupied in like manner. At this juncture I unexpectedly met my lawyer. He was in a hurry, but paused long enough to tell me he had given up his practice and was going out of town, and that he had placed my papers and everything relating to me in his possession, in a safe-deposit vault at my banker’s. He explained his course by informing me that he had enough to live on, so there was no use in earning more. Continuing my journey, I finally arrived at Eggleston’s rooms, marveling, as I did so, at the amount of drunkenness I had witnessed on the streets.
As I entered the hallway I met Charley. He was dressed so carelessly that I felt quite relieved on the score of my own appearance.
"Hello, old man!" he cried. "Haven’t seen you for an age. I was just going out, but—"
"Going out!" I stood aghast. Charley Eggleston, the immaculate, the ladies’ man, the dressiest man about town, going out on the street in such a guise!
Understanding my surprise, he said "O what’s the difference. No one to see me anyway, you know. But come in—it was nothing pressing—and have a chat."
His apartments were just as bad: the confusion and disorder was indescribable. It was also evident that he had been neglecting his painting, and on chiding him about it, he said "What’s the use? I can’t go on with it. First my model and then my muse deserted me. Besides, what does it matter whether-by the way, how are you getting along with that new poem of yours? You read me the first four stanzas—have you it finished?"
"I—1—but—"I looked at him in dismay. Those four stanzas, lonely in their solitude, still lay upon my desk—since they were not self-procreative, they had neither multiplied nor replenished my thought. "But you see, Charley, I must acknowledge that-that—"
Here we both burst into laughter, confessed our sins, and agreed that in some unaccountable way we had lost incentive. Having become aware of our own condition, we hit upon the idea of visiting our different chums to note how they were progressing, and we promised ourselves a very enjoyable evening.
Finding it impossible to obtain a cab, we resolved to walk. What a different scene the streets presented to that of a few short weeks ago! Everybody was disconsolate and gloomy, the stores nearly all closed, and the theatres deserted. Everything seemed going the wrong way. I noticed particularly, from a study of their faces, that everybody was suffering from dyspepsia. The absence of good cooking was beginning to tell. There was no laughter nor manifestations of good nature; but wrangling and fighting had become the order of the day, due, I surmised, among other things, to the loss of their stomachs. While excessive drinking had become quite common among all classes, it was especially noticeable among the workingmen. Nor was that all. Their demeanor was greatly changed. Dissatisfaction was the prevailing expression of their faces, while they carried themselves with an air of independence and were insolent and insulting to those of the upper classes they chanced to encounter. After some strolling I became aware that the little courtesy, previously to be found on our thoroughfares, had entirely disappeared. Selfishness had become the ruling passion. As I scrutinized the faces of all I met, I was surprised at the hardness and bullishness of their expression: all the higher, nobler attributes seemed lo have been eliminated. Not only were the sidewalks thronged by the natives, but the rural population had evidently deserted the country to come to town. With an old farmer, enquiring his way, we had quite a chat. He seemed to mourn, above all, the loss of "Maria," who had worked shoulder to shoulder with him for "well-nigh thirty year." First his hired men had quit work; then his boys had gone off to the city; and, since there was no one dependent upon him, he could not see why he was not entitled to a vacation too. So here he was, out to have a good time, spending his savings of years in pursuance thereof. But above all, in the crowds that surged about me, the most prominent feature was the woeful absence of buttons.
An hour later found us seated at the hospitable board of Trombley, "the connoiseur" (not in art, however, but in gourmandizing) his chums called him. His chef, whom he had been paying an extravagant salary, had left him; but he was an adept in cookery, conversant with all the mysteries of the chafing dish. Many were the lamentations he made as i he served us, and many the apologies, too. At our earnest solicitation he had made some of his charming butter-cakes, and as we "fell to," with haunting recollections of our own cuisine, he watched us with an anxious air.
"There, there, man!" he suddenly exclaimed.
Charley was thunderstruck. He was in the act of helping himself to a liberal supply of honey when thus admonished. Trombley saw that our mutual surprise demanded an explanation, so he gave it.
"Do you know that that is most likely the last honey which will ever pass your lips? It cost me just exactly twenty dollars and it was the last pint in the market. Haven’t you heard that the honey-bees have ceased producing?"
"Ceased producing!" in chorus.
"Yes, alas! It is true. In every hive, when the queen was found to be missing, confusion and anarchy ensued. They first turned to and ate all the honey, then separated, and are now scattered from Dan to BerSheba. In the absence of authority and a guiding hand, each bee shifted for itself, and it is said that the country is almost uninhabitable, so ferocious have they become. It is certain that none can survive the winter."
The next person we visited was Prescott, an old college chum, whom we had never lost sight of and who had devoted himself to the cause of temperance. Repeated ringings of his bell having elicited no response, and hearing the sound of singing, we ventured within. Tracing the voice, we arrived at the kitchen. There, surrounded by a startling array of bottles, in a slatternly dressing-gown and singing with maudlin gravity a temperance hymn, was Prescott, terrifically drunk. He evidently did not recognize us, though our reception was a warm one, for he took pot shots at us with a Smith & Wesson, as we tumbled over each other in the haste of our exit.
Curtis, a bright young fellow, with a future before him we were certain. As his place was some distance away, we took the shortest cuts possible. Just as we were emerging from a very dark street we heard a voice, subdued but with great dramatic intensity, soliloquizing," "To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether to—’ But at that moment our footsteps aroused the person, who whirled about, pointed a pistol at us and cried "Hands up!"
We hastily complied. As the man stepped closer to rob us, Charley exclaimed "Good God! It’s Haskins!"
Haskins was a well-known and quite successful actor and an oldtime bohemian crony of ours. The recognition was mutual and explanations followed. Haskins had always lived up to the last cent of his salary, and when the great catastrophe had burst, was playing, but penniless. His forte being in comedy and extravaganza, the chief attraction of which lay in the feminine charms displayed, he was at once thrown out of employment. Since then he had done nothing and now he was famishing. To night he had resolved to carve his way to at least a full stomach.
"Why didn’t you seek work?" I asked. "Do I look like a laborer?" was his Yankee reply. "But good gracious! Think of the disgrace!"
"There is no disgrace," he rejoined. "My father’s dead: my mother, sisters, wife, all gone. I am disgraced in nobody’s eyes I care for, and as for yourselves, you’ll be doing as bad before the month is out.“
"But business is business," he concluded. "I have resolved to become a shining light in my new profession. So hands up! It’s best to get the hand in by beginning on one’s friends."
And he began with such vigor that when he bid us good night, every valuable we had with us had been transferred to his possession. Several times we were thus halted before we arrived at Curtis’ house. It seemed as though everybody was taking to the highway as a means of obtaining an easy livelihood. If it went on at this rate, we soon would be reduced to the condition of the Scilly Islanders, who lived comfortably by taking in each other’s washing.
If Curtis were at home, he was certainly in oblivion—drunk or otherwise for our repeated knocks availed nothing. Remembering our experience with Prescott, we were very cautious this time, keeping a sharp lookout for spring-guns and man- traps. We ransacked the first floor and were thoroughly overhauling the second when we discovered him. Unseen, through an open door, we gazed upon the peculiar scene presented to us. In immaculate evening dress, patent leathers, gloves, etc., complete, attired as though for a wedding, he stood before a large table, contemplatively regarding a strange assortment of articles. There was a case of champagne, one of port, another of bourbon, several bottles of absinthe, a hypodermic syringe, a complete opium-smoker’s outfit, and many other drugs and paraphernalia for like purposes. George himself was terribly changed. His naturally slender face was quite attenuated and of extreme pallor; his eyes were dilated and intensely bright; while beneath them lay great, concentric circles of scarlet and black. He seemed lost in the depths of a thought which embraced the articles before him. We crept silently away and down the stairs, then returned, noisily stumbling over every third one, swearing like troopers, and making the greatest possible racket. He turned to greet us, shook hands cordially and gayly plunged into the thought which was uppermost in his mind.
"Just in time for my wedding! No (as we glanced at the general miscellany), don’t think I’m starting a harem—I’m only deliberating on my choice. I’m a monogamous man, you know. But now that you fellows are here, I want you to stand up with me—but, I had forgotten, I must first indicate my preference. Come, help me to choose. Now what do you say to this?" As he raised a bottle of bourbon aloft and sang:
"Here’s to the good old whiskey, drink it down!
Here’s to the good old whiskey, drink it down!
Here’s to the good old whiskey,
For it makes you feel so frisky,
Drink it down! Drink it down! Drink it down!"
"Horrible!" I cried.
"Ah, perhaps you don’t like it. We’ll pass on to the next. Here we have absinthe, the genuine extrait d’absinthe of happy France. It is composed, I am informed, of the flowering tops of wormwood, of angelica and sweet flag-root, the dittany leaves of Crete, of star-anise fruit and many other aromatics, macerated in the purest of alcohol. What a charming bride! What an exquisite, emerald light flashes forth from its translucent depths! What joys unutterable to the fond lover who satiates desire, discovers bliss in the circumambiency of such a mistress! Think of the pleas—"
"George, you must stop this! At once! Be a man!" I commanded. But he rattled gayly on.
"Truly, comrade, I agree with you. It is not wholly to my taste. Surely, a more charming bride awaits me. Perhaps this is she. Hasheesh, the simplest and most enticing of maidens—the leaves and the flowers of the hemp plant, graciously mingled in due proportion with butterfat. How simple, but how fascinating! Yet she is but an immature child when compared with this, a glorious woman. One kiss, and she fills your veins with liquid fire, which through your being, boils and bubbles, sizzles, froths and foams, effervescing with tremendous throbs of maddening pleasure. One kiss, and she takes your hand, leads you up inaccessible heights, away from the world and its sorrows—-up—uptill you walk with the immortals, sip golden nectar from chalices all divine, till in the arms of Morpheus, sweet child of Somnus, you dream, and dream, and dream-a bliss ineffable!
"Yet," he seemed to pause and reflect, "such graces are too vigorous for me. More calm and peaceful must my mistress be. One, to lead me to that Lethean plunge through enervating, placid, drowsy joys; one, to steal away my senses with insidious stealth; one, to love me so that I loose my thought unaware, to kiss me from dull, brooding care into sweet forgetfulness. And here I find her—the soul of the poppy, the radiant spirit of mercy, the ministering angel of man. Sweet, sweet, the soft embrace of thine arms! Sweet, sweet—far more than sweet—divine the wondrous pleasure of communion with thee! Two mistresses have I wooed, and won, and lost. Wooing and winning, on thy soft bosom wilt I slumber through the lapse of ages, through countless cycles of time, through all eternity. Though virgin still, hast thou three daughters divine fruition of an immaculate conception. Thus, as on thy chaste breast I sleep, forgetful, wilt these three graces—Morphia, Codeia, Narcotin—watch over us; thus, deep in somnolent languor, wilt they guard our dreams and lull us to soft melancholy; thus, as we journey down the shadowy slopes of time, wilt they shroud us in oblivion’s winding sheet. Come, dear maiden of the Orient, forget thy mountain home of Akkisar, and in forgetting, bring forgetfulness to me. One caress, and my troubles flee me; one kiss from thy pale-red lips, and my senses sway and leave me; one benediction, and in thy mercy I cease to be; once mine, I am no more. O ye gods!—No more—No more—No more."
His voice died slowly away. We were silent. What could we do? As we stood helplessly by, his mood changed, he was himself again.
"Dear friends, bear with me: my affliction, as you know, is great. What may seem the raving of a madman is but the dreary monody of a soul, crying out from amid the ashes of dead joys, lost hopes, vanished ideals. As you well know, I have wooed, won and lost two mistresses, why not a third? First, the fair daughter of Mnemosyne; my success, barely inchoate, was brought to a glorious dawn by my second; the third, which I wed tonight, becomes their requeiscat in pace. You remember my music; how I devoted myself to it; how well I mastered it; my successes, small though they were; the beginnings of recognition, of homage: but you will remember that there was a something lacking, a something to stir hearts of adamant; to kindle as with fire the emotions; to wring the heart-strings; to tear the gasping soul from its habitation of clay; to send it hurtling through the glories of empyreal bliss. My technique was superb—the equal of the greatest masters—but the power of soul-stirring, of soul-translation lay not there. In a dimly conscious way I understood the vacancy, the absence of the inspiration, and I awaited it, trusting faithfully in my intuitive foresight. The moment came; the time was ripe; I had mastered all save that; and that I awaited to master me. The dawn burst; an angel’s hand swept with responsive touch the harmonies of my genius. As yet strangers, did my talent and my genius meet. I burst into song-and why not?—the void was filled—I loved—before high Heaven, aye, and the utter-most depths of Hell, I loved. The world embraced me; her riches, her glory, her every treasure were cast at my feet; and sublimer still, the sublimest of all, I was loved. Then did I soar to higher and yet higher levels; my power became absolute; my genius, transcendant. But amid the dizzy thunders of a world’s applause, I essayed grander and still grander flights, ever beholding with bated breath my guiding light, my polestar, my Alice. O Alice! It was all for you, all through you, all by you! Then came the marriage—but a night intervened a few short hours before the great consummation of my life. O God! The morning never broke! — Unending night in a vale of sorrow and tears! As a fiery meteor dashing athwart the sky, for a moment dazzling the dreamer before it is gone, so flashed she across my life, and in passing, struck the grandest symphonies of my soul. But the hand is wanting, the singer dumb, the strings broken. Think of it; conjure it; give rein to the wildest flights of fantastic imagination from out the ghastly, unknown wastes of space, of the universe, some supreme force, some hell-bound, conscious power, seized and drew my Alice from me; forsooth! To glut the idle whim or empty vagary of some celestial monster. They say that thus was lost all women: to me, there was lost but Alice: but to the world was lost incentive. Woman, the one great inciting force of man is gone. The one gauge of man’s morality, of man’s ideality, of man’s nobility, is gone. O mourn, ye sons of earth! Cry out in blackest despair! The past is dead: there is no future. Ye fall—down—down—down—to brutishness, to corruption, to death. Yield to your prurient desires; satiate your passions in wild debauchery; forget that ye are men. It is the panacea, the only one, to remove you from your miseries. Sin! Sin! Sin! Sin and be unexcelled by Hell itself! Heed me, ye sons of woman! The afflatus of inspiration is upon me. Steep thyselves in the ephemeral somnolency of vice. To morrow you are no more. There is no future—woman is gone. Thy tremendous civilization, thy knowledge, thy culture of ten times ten thousand years is crumbling on the verge—disintegration, primeval chaos awaits it, and you, and all. I see brute struggling with brute, and these brutes are men. Down into the oblivion of night I behold the towering fabric of man’s achievements, the giddy pinnacles of his creation, the miraculous productions of his finite will, sink in a sea of blood. Evanescent are the glories of his enterprise. Loose the dogs of war! Tear the throat and rend the flesh! Kill! Maim! Destroy! Tumult, anarchy and chaos shall reign, and amid the horrors of such reign, shall vanish the modicum of man’s nobility—the remnant of that which was lost with womankind. A space of internecine strife, then all is over. The earth will traverse the heavens as of yore; the sun, moon, stars and constellations will go their accustomed rounds; the universe will seem not susceptible to the change: but on the earth, man, bird, beast and insect; all sentient and insensate life; all organic structure and superstructure; will cease to be!"
We were dumbfounded, awed to quiescence. Apparently unconscious of our presence, he lighted a tiny alcohol lamp and prepared his opium and pipe. When the sickening smoke had well filled the apartment, we glided out, unwelcome guests from the marriage feast. We were moody, weighed down, not only with the horror of what had been, but with a horror of what was to be. We had seen enough so parted at the corner. The cars had ceased running and I was forced to wearily tramp home through the silent city—silent, save for the many deeds of violence and cries for help which came to my eyes and saluted my ears. Murder and robbery stalked abroad, and I was thankful when my home was reached. But I could not sleep: a weird phantasmagoria of anticipatory events haunted me as I tossed restlessly about. The impression left by Curtis was not too easily forgotten. Somewhere towards morning, the house was invaded by burglars; but I was indifferent and told them to help themselves. I began to feel, though not clearly, that in some way, both my position and the position of all men, were analogous with that of Curtis.
The sun was slipping from view in the west; the air was balmy and gracious; all nature seemed at peace: but silently, exhausted and in the extreme throes of hunger, my comrade and I trudged along the deserted road.
Hush! We heard a fall of hoofs and sprang into the bushes. Grasping our bludgeons firmly, desperation nerving us to action, we awaited the traveler’s approach. Round a turn in the road he came, leading a heavily loaded horse. He was an aged man, with a fringe of white hair crowning the once oval but now fearfully emaciated face, the nose of which too distinctly proclaimed the Semitic type. Nearer and nearer he came; but for his gray hairs I felt no veneration, no mercy.
Suddenly, just as he came opposite our place of concealment, we sprang upon him. He made as though to draw a pistol, but I struck him sharply on the head, stretching him in the dust. Then we unloaded the horse. The burden was heavy and our hearts rejoiced as with trembling fingers we drew our knives and cut the many wrappings. O the bitter disappointment! Out rolled rubies, pearls, diamonds, the choicest of gems, and gold without end. In our rage we kicked the prostrate form and trampled the treasure into the dust. Recovering consciousness, the old man scrambled to his feet and on beholding the wanton dissipation of his wealth, burst into wild lamentations, calling upon the Father of Israel to smite the Gentile and repossess him of his goods. At first, in half-insane jocosity, I joined him, shrieking that portion of the Merchant of Venice where Shylock bewails the loss of his ducats and his daughter. But the old scoundrel’s howling transcended mine, so I struck him roughly on the mouth and bade him cease his racket.
We asked him if he had any food, but swearing by all the prophets that he had none, he resumed the (to him) pleasant task of tearing his hair and his soul in his anguish. However we were hungry and heeded him not. A few minutes sufficed to build a fire, kill the animal and enable us to partake of a succulent repast of roast-horse. The Jew, heartbroken, refusing to join us, busied himself in rescuing his scattered treasures. Once, in the failing light, he uttered an exclamation of joy and hurried to the fire, the better to examine a handful of gems he had just resurrected. As he bent to the flame, his eyes glowing with the fierce fire of avarice, I glanced into his hand and beheld the cause of his joy. Among twenty jewels of more than ordinary value, reposed a brilliant of superbest lustre. Paugh! It was disgusting. I struck his hand maladroitly and scattered the diamonds to the four winds. The result was unexpected and sanguinary. Uttering an unearthly cry of blended rage and sorrow, he sprang upon me, seemingly endowed with supernatural vigor; but I blanketed him before he could use his revolver. My comrade hastened to my aid and as the three of us struggled together, received a ball through the brain. A minute and all was over, however, and even after the Jew was dead, I struck him again and again with in human delight. But as I stood gloatingly over the corpse, a revulsion of feeling overcame me: I staggered, fell by the fire, and in thought journeyed over the past several weeks.
And what weeks they had been! Most truly had the vaticinations of Curtis been fulfilled! And why not? Though I had discovered it, alas! Too late, woman, the one incentive, was lost. The world had not been prone to realize it at first; but now, moribund, in the last stages of extinction, the truth was all-apparent.
At first, as I have described, interest lagged and man had begun to titillate his desires with liquor; but the spirit grew and things went from bad to worse. Labor, after the first kiss of prosperity, finding itself reduced to its previous state of hand-to-mouth existence, rebelled. There were no longer any ties of wives and little ones, so the men became insulting and riotous in their demands for more wages and less hours. The toiling capitalists, discovering that they also had no families to labor for, became indifferent and replied to the strikes of their employees with lockouts. Life nor property were no longer held sacred and a reign of pillage and slaughter ensued. To intensify the horror of such conditions, the degraded criminal classes, emerging from their slums, holes and dens, flew at the throat of the society which had so often and so bitterly given them the lash. And even the convicts in all the penitentiaries, revolted; succeeding often in gaining their liberty. The police forces became paralyzed and finally dissolved. However, for a space, the regular army (the National Guard having long since disbanded) checked the inevitable tide of events. The people, having degenerated to all the brutishness of primitive man, drank and fought with equal ferocity. In consequence, the great centers of trade, and even all cities and towns, became stagnated, and the country no longer sent it products thither.
With starvation in the metropolises, a wild stampede followed, and the country was inundated with starving, frantic hordes, by whom, the agriculturists were despoiled and destroyed. All production ceased and anarchy was inaugurated. The complex superstructure of government was shattered, and the gregarious manifestation of the genus homo descended to the tribal unit-a unit, of course, in which the tie of family played no part. The men collected about their more valiant comrades, whose great physical and mental brutality enabled them to predominate. By these bands, the world was ravaged, plundered and destroyed. Art, science, culture, religion, tottered and fell into complete dissolution. In short, the reign of Hell on Earth had been instituted.
Borne away on the crest of a human tidal wave, I had been carried into the suburban districts, where I had since eked out a miserable and perilous existence. My sufferings and terrors had been frightful. I felt myself rapidly descending to the brute, but in my chaotic environment could do nothing to stay my fall. My treatment of the old Jew tonight clearly illustrates the completeness with which all my higher attributes had been annihilated. There lay no nuance between me and a hungry lion in an African wilderness. And yet, such was the inevitable result of the loss of womankind.
Death, in its most horrible forms, had become my constant companion. And strange were the struggles of the departing spirits! Worn out by suffering and hardship, men saw mirages—not of banquets, but of women. I remember one brute, with whom I had fought over the possession of half a measure of corn, and whom I was forced to kill. As I ate hurriedly, for fear of being discovered and dispossessed, he rose to his feet, crying aloud the name of his wife. With the death-sweat on his brow and the rattle in his throat, he thought he beheld her. He tried to grasp the phantom of his distorted vision: it evaded, retreated: he advanced. Though dying, the vision gave him strength and he pursued it across the dry stubble, to throw up his arms and fall a corpse in the center of the field.
And of late, I found a similar hallucination overcoming my reason. It came upon me at the most unexpected moments and places. It darted across my line of vision; danced on the path before me; and in my dreams, overwhelmed me with caresses or soothed my weary soul with the ineffable calm of a woman’s presence. In the battle of Norfolk, where ten thousand starving men captured the last commissariat of the expiring government, it well-nigh caused my death. The victory was virtually ours, for the besieged, in an endeavor to save themselves, had begun to cast the provisions amongst us. In the wild scramble I captured a great ham and escaped to the adjacent woods. Here I was overtaken by a marauder, who, quarreling with me over the booty, precipitated a terrible struggle. Just as I had him at my mercy and was about to give him the quietus, the apparition intervened. Dazzled, bewildered, I suspended the blow. The next I knew, I came to consciousness, grievously wounded, to discover the absence of both my antagonist and the ham. That was the first manifestation but since then they have grown more frequent. Ah! There she is now—O Laura, Laura, my lost—like a flash she is gone again. How strange it is that I should be thus haunted!—I, the "crusty bachelor," the "misogynist"! And as for Laura: before she was taken from the earth she was no more to me than any of my chums or boon companions. We liked each other—a sort of Platonic affection, I thought. But now, too late, I discover that I loved her—O Laura, my heart’s desire, fill thou this aching void! Summon me, draw me to you! Release me these bonds of clay that I may escape my degradation, and with you find peace and joy! Kill—!"
Hark! Voices: the footsteps of men. A band of hungry beasts of prey are upon me. I must escape them. Seizing a leg of the butchered horse, the greatest possible treasure to me, I sprang into the bushes and fled through the night, followed by the frantic shouts of joy which heralded the discovery of my commissary.
What a dreary solitude I had ventured into! So lately seething with the hurly burly of metropolitan life, how deserted had it become! Leaving aside the mere absence of its inhabitants, the city was the shadow of its former self. Fire had so ravaged it that for blocks at a time, I walked amid nothing except chimneys, which, springing from blackened ruins, towered heavenward-ghastly indices of the wrath of God. The streets were filled with trucks, wagons, carriages, baggage, all the debris of a universal and panic-stricken flight. Everywhere, putrid corpses obstructed the way, filling the air with noisome stenches, and rendering my progress all but unendurable. Still I staggered on, in the last stages of physical and mental exhaustion. I was so weak that I had frequently to pause and rest; while my mind seemed wavering on its foundations; all things appearing to me as in a half dream. At times I mumbled and chattered aloud like a mad man: at others, I seemed to realize my condition and endeavored to rein in my fleeting senses. How or why I had wandered thither, I could not tell, for the past few days were blurred and confused to my recollection—more like a hideous nightmare than actual events.
At last I reached my home, and to my surprise found the house, untouched by fire, still standing. Upon the piazza I encountered a great dog—the first life since entering the city. How my stomach stirred at the sight! My hunter’s instinct rose paramount: I had found my supper. I discovered my task to be the easier, for he had evidently narrowly escaped becoming some one else’s supper. As he faced me, his hair bristling and his teeth showing, I saw that his back was broken and that he dragged his hind quarters on the ground. I drew my knife and opened the attack. But just as I closed in, my weakness asserted itself: nearly, swooning, I grasped at the pillars for support and at this moment he darted past. Making a vain effort to intercept him, I was sent sprawling down the stairs. Crying weak tears of disappointment as I saw my supper disappear around the corner, I entered the house and laboriously ascended to my room. Falling into a chair by the window, I dozed off to sleep, attended by the beatific vision of Laura.
Hush! What was that? Clasping in my arms that radiant angel, I was awakened by a furious noise at my window. The sparrows! Impossible ! I looked about me: the night was gone, and there, on my window ledge, a miniature battle for the possession of a twittering female was going on. Beyond a slight feeling of bewilderment, I was my old self again. A second’s thought convinced me of the whole truth. Seized by a mighty resolve, I snatched my hat, cane and gloves, and went down the stairs three at a time. In the lower hallway I ran against my landlady. Such unwonted conduct for a person as dignified as I, so astonished her that she did something she had never done before—asked me what the matter was and where I was going.
"Going?’ I cried. "Why I’m off to propose to Laura." And I threw my arms about the good, old soul and kissed her square on the mouth.
2. Their Alcove
HE crumpled each dainty note with a steadfastness of purpose that surprised him. He had not thought it would be so easy. In fact, he felt a sort of passive elation as he laid them carefully upon the hearth, side by side and in intermingled tiers. He began to take a curious pleasure in the task, and his habitual neatness asserted itself till the pile began to assume architectural proportions. How like a pedestal, he mused. He regarded it critically. One little missive—her latest and last—protested with the lusty strength of youth at such untimely incineration. It bulged forth distressingly, ruining the lines of the parallelogram. A few gentle pokes and it subsided among its fellows.
How like a shrine, an altar, it was; and he, apostate to the gentle Hymen, officiating as high priest. The fancy pleased him; there was a hint of poesy about it. After all, this was the better way. He was glad she had been so sensible about it. Paugh! this giddy return of trinkets and tokens! What right had she to her letters, or he to his? A senseless custom at best. And how readily she had acquiesced when he mentioned it! He confessed to a momentary pang at this; he had expected some show of sentiment, of womanly weakness; but no, she had merely nodded her head and smiled. Why, it was very plain that she had grown tired. Of course, she had not said as much to him, but it was clear, even clearer now that it was over. And it was to be admitted he had behaved splendidly; even she must acknowledge that. If aught were said it was he who must bear it. How the fellows would cod him! And at teas and numerous other feminine functions sly whispers and little giggles and significant nods—well, he was a man, and he could bear it.
He was glad that he had done this, for in no way could there be reproach, while there was much to admire about his conduct. In after years it would endear him to her, and her memory of him could not but be sweet. Certainly she would marry, and perhaps the thought of all this would come to her some day and she would know what she had lost. He would take up his work with new vigor, and with the ripening years his name would be respected, admired and often on the lips of men; and then he would go to her and they should be friends, merely friends; she would see all that was best in him—those sterling qualities he knew she did not now appreciate—and she would perhaps feel sorrow that things had not been different. The thought of the regret that would be hers when she saw into what manner of man time and his efforts had wrought him bore to him a sweet satisfaction. But as in his reverie he saw himself in the days to come, when time should have white-lined his hair and brought him fame, looking down upon her and speaking calmly, he knew that he would not have had his life shaped otherwise. Yet, withal, it was sweet to feel that perhaps the years that would give to her another for husband would leave with her also regret.
He made little journeys between the fireplace and various portions of the room. How vacant the wall seemed! He must get something to replace it, he thought, as he knelt before the alter he had reared and placed up it a photograph—her photograph. And before it he laid a glove, once white, but now soiled with much carriage in coat breast pocket. How foolish he had been! Then he added a lock of hair, nut-brown and curly, to the sacrifice; and beside it a withered bunch of violets. Why, once he would have staked his hopes of heaven on those fragile tokens; and now—and now he touched a vesta to the altar’s base, humming as he did so, "Love like ours can never die."
He drew up his lounging-chair and settled back comfortably. He felt a boyish curiousness as to the behavior of the different articles, and which would succumb first to the destroyer. The tiny flame mounted and spread till a diminutive conflagration roared at his feet. The violets burst into brilliant evanescence, their stems lingering like fine-spun filaments of steel, tense and quivering with heat. The glove glowed somberly against the bright background of flaming paper; while the photograph, like the tower of a lordly castle, sent aloft black columns of smoke, then tottered, swayed for a moment indecisively, and crashed into the fiery embers beneath. Slowly the glow of life went out of the sunken pyre as light leaves a drying eye; soon the little nothings yesterday they were everythings—that to him had been pledges upon the future for his happiness were only a dead heap of black and gray ash shivering on the hearth.
It was all over. He was free now, free as the wind. A short month past he would have deemed it impossible to break the gyves so easily. Yet emancipation—he would have called it banishment then—had come without effort, without that strange orgasm of the blood, that fiery tumult of the emotions one would so naturally expect.
Over the charred fetters he could sit there and think of her calmly; there was not an extra beat to his pulse; he was perfectly normal. Well, it showed on the face of how transitory had been the fancy.
Yes, it was fancy; mere fancy—that was the word. It could not have been genuine love, else the separation of their paths of life could have brought to him but one emotion—a sense of agonizing loss. But he felt no loss; he was as easy in mind now that she had gone out of his life as he had been in the old days before she had made entry into it. And now he was free; free to go back to the old life, the old ways. It was early yet. The several little arrangements attendant on departure had been seen to, and the train was not scheduled till midnight. He would dine down town and look up some of the fellows for old sake’s sake.
Free, free as the wind! There was an exhilaration to the phrase. It obtruded itself among his thoughts like some pleasant refrain. He had never been in sympathy with the simple little word, he thought, as he came down the steps, never understood its strength before. And she? No doubt she was pleased at the termination, and could already look back pleasantly upon the episode. That was all it was, an episode. And she would marry, as a matter of course, and be happy ever after.
He wondered what the husband might be like, and tried to pick him from all the eligibles he could think of. But he could conjure no harmonious union; now their tastes ran counter, now their temperaments; perhaps the lucky fellow still lay in the lap of the future. Yes, lucky fellow! There was no denying she was a nice girl; and yet "nice" did not rightfully convey the sense of her choiceness. It told but half the tale. Certainly there was room for improvement in the vernacular.
He followed his many-mirrored fancy though endless turnings, and before he knew it came to himself at the entrance of the "Grotto." He pulled out his watch. It was absurd to eat at such an hour, but he was hungry and went in. He fell to planning for his new life; but the waiter, pausing for his order, reminded him of the day they had dined there—the day when the volunteers marched through the streets and the city went dizzy with enthusiastic patriotism. He realized the trend of his mind with a start. He must put her away. That was past and done with. It was an episode. He must concern himself with the days to come, and in them she had no place. But a woman’s laughter floated across from the other side and wove itself into his fancy as her laughter. How happy they had been that day! What silly nonsense they had prattled in the burlesque seriousness; and then how they had laughed at the graver things, the austerities of life! What a thoroughly wholesome creature she was, meeting mood with mood in a way which was not given to man women!
He remembered a thousand and one little incidents—trivial events, so unimportant at the time, but now fair milestones to look back upon. It began to dawn upon him how large a place she had filled in his life. For the time he had lived his days in here, and now—to-morrow? The future loomed before him like a blank wall. He had no wish to contemplate it. There were the fellows—but the fellows would not understand. The old equality could never be the same. He felt so much broader, stronger than they. She had led his feet in paths they little dreamed of, and, through her, life had taken upon itself a significance which they might never come to know. The secret of woman! He had caught glimmerings of it, he knew there was yet more for him to learn; but they, they were deep in outer darkness. Could he go back to them, and forget all this? What would he do to-morrow, and the next day, and the next?
The emptiness of the immediate future pressed against him. He must remodel his life, look about him, get some new interest into it.
After all, he did not care to eat. It was too early. He strayed up the street in an absent fashion. A sudden distaste for the fellows came upon him. He would not look them up. He wished it were train-time, and knew already the promised dullness of the night. He felt strangely solitary among the shop-people hurrying home from their work. Any other evening he would have gone to her. What was she doing now? The vision of the tea-table came to him vividly, and with it her sweet face and her mother’s, and the paneled roses which hung opposite his accustomed seat just over her head. He remembered the smallest details; even the napkin-rings were in his mind as perfectly as had he designed them himself. And there were to be no more such evenings! Well, he was a man; she would see that he could stand it. He glanced up to the library clock. Yes, it was just tea-time. Now, he was not sentimental; he drew back from such nonsense and thanked his gods frequently that he had escaped such affectation of exquisite feeling. It was only that he was going away, and the familiar atmosphere of the books appealed to him. He entered the library. At this hour, save for the noiseless attendants and certain weird creatures that infest such places, it was deserted. He passed by the shelves, whose transient occupants came and went unceasingly. In the upper galleries they rarely left their peaceful abode, and were consulted at infrequent periods by musty antiquarians and eager, hungry-looking collectors of worthless facts and figures. In those alcoves pale-faced students were wont to study, and, it must be confessed, sometimes to doze over the weary text.
Turn after turn he ascended the spiral staircase, fine-ribbed, of steel, like a gigantic cork-screw. At last he came to "their" alcove, and drew a stool to its farthest recess. The lights had not yet been turned on and the day was growing dim. Yes, "their" alcove! He remembered the days when he had coached her there through the Elizabethan period, and the time they lost themselves among the metaphysical subtleties of "Alastor." "Their" alcove—why, all the habitues of the library acknowledged their ownership; and he smiled at the recollection of the young student they had found there one day, and his embarrassment, conscious of having trespassed, and his apologetic manner has he glided away. And their post-office, too! And parcels delivery! He nodded knowingly at a short, fat volume sandwiched between two ponderous tomes on an upper shelf. Come to think of it, the letter, the last letter, must be there yet. He had left it there that morning before—before it all happened. Of course, she would never come for it now. Should he take it? He had his own ideas on such things, but this was an unlooked-for contingency. Was it his or hers? Should it lie there until resurrected on some problematic cleaning-day by an attendant, who perhaps would remember the romance of the alcove when it was "theirs?" He debated the question with great seriousness. No, he was not sentimental.
Somebody paused on the gallery-a woman—then entered. He felt irritated at the intrusion. He barely noticed her. She would go away soon, he hoped, and leave him alone. She reached hesitatingly toward the short, fat volume. This was desecration, he thought; and how had others come to know the secret of "their" alcove? She turned in his direction, kissing the letter as she did so. In the failing light he noticed in her sweet eyes a moistness he had never seen before. He cried her name softly and sprang toward her.
The soft-footed attendant forgot to turn on the light before "their" alcove. Later, when a long-haired, elderly gentleman asked for Mechan’s Mirror of Alchemy he informed him that it was out. The "Mirror of Alchemy" was the short, fat volume.
3. Dutch Courage
"Just our luck!"
Gus Lafee finished wiping his hands and sullenly threw the towel upon the rocks. His attitude was one of deep dejection. The light seemed gone out of the day and the glory from the golden sun. Even the keen mountain air was devoid of relish, and the early morning no longer yielded its customary zest.
"Just our luck!" Gus repeated, this time avowedly for the edification of another young fellow who was busily engaged in sousing his head in the water of the lake.
"What are you grumbling about, anyway?" Hazard Van Dorn lifted a soap-rimmed face questioningly. His eyes were shut. "What’s our luck?"
"Look there!" Gus threw a moody glance skyward. "Some duffer’s got ahead of us. We’ve been scooped, that’s all!"
Hazard opened his eyes, and caught a fleeting glimpse of a white flag waving arrogantly on the edge of a wall of rock nearly a mile above his head. Then his eyes closed with a snap, and his face wrinkled spasmodically. Gus threw him the towel, and uncommiseratingly watched him wipe out the offending soap. He felt too blue himself to take stock in trivialities.
"Does it hurt—much?" Gus queried, coldly, without interest, as if it were no more than his duty to ask after the welfare of his comrade.
"I guess it does," responded the suffering one.
"Soap’s pretty strong, eh?—Noticed it myself."
"’Tisn’t the soap. It’s—it’s that!" He opened his reddened eyes and pointed toward the innocent white little flag. "That’s what hurts."
Gus Lafee did not reply, but turned away to start the fire and begin cooking breakfast. His disappointment and grief were too deep for anything but silence, and Hazard, who felt likewise, never opened his mouth as he fed the horses, nor once laid his head against their arching necks or passed caressing fingers through their manes. The two boys were blind, also, to the manifold glories of Mirror Lake which reposed at their very feet. Nine times, had they chosen to move along its margin the short distance of a hundred yards, could they have seen the sunrise repeated; nine times, from behind as many successive peaks, could they have seen the great orb rear his blazing rim; and nine times, had they but looked into the waters of the lake, could they have seen the phenomena reflected faithfully and vividly. But all the Titanic grandeur of the scene was lost to them. They had been robbed of the chief pleasure of their trip to Yosemite Valley. They had been frustrated in their long-cherished design upon Half Dome, and hence were rendered disconsolate and blind to the beauties and the wonders of the place.
Half Dome rears its ice-scarred head fully five thousand feet above the level floor of Yosemite Valley. In the name itself of this great rock lies an accurate and complete description. Nothing more nor less is it than a cyclopean, rounded dome, split in half as cleanly as an apple that is divided by a knife. It is, perhaps, quite needless to state that but one-half remains, hence its name, the other half having been carried away by the great ice-river in the stormy time of the Glacial Period. In that dim day one of those frigid rivers gouged a mighty channel from out the solid rock. This channel to-day is Yosemite Valley. But to return to the Half Dome. On its northeastern side, by circuitous trails and stiff climbing, one may gain the Saddle. Against the slope of the Dome the Saddle leans like a gigantic slab, and from the top of this slab, one thousand feet in length, curves the great circle to the summit of the Dome. A few degrees too steep for unaided climbing, these one thousand feet defied for years the adventurous spirits who fixed yearning eyes upon the crest above.
One day, a couple of clear-headed mountaineers had proceeded to insert iron eye-bolts into holes which they drilled into the rock every few feet apart. But when they found themselves three hundred feet above the Saddle, clinging like flies to the precarious wall with on either hand a yawning abyss, their nerves failed them and they abandoned the enterprise. So it remained for an indomitable Scotchman, one George Anderson, finally to achieve the feat. Beginning where they had left off, drilling and climbing for a week, he had at last set foot upon that awful summit and gazed down into the depths where Mirror Lake reposed, nearly a mile beneath.
In the years which followed, many bold men took advantage of the huge rope ladder which he had put in place; but one winter ladder, cables and all were carried away by the snow and ice. True, most of the eye-bolts, twisted and bent, remained. But few men had since essayed the hazardous undertaking, and of those few more than one gave up his life on the treacherous heights, and not one succeeded.
But Gus Lafee and Hazard Van Dorn had left the smiling valley-land of California and journeyed into the high Sierras, intent on the great adventure. And thus it was that their disappointment was deep and grievous when they awoke on this morning to receive the forestalling message of the little white flag.
"Camped at the foot of the Saddle last night and went up at the first peep of day," Hazard ventured, long after the silent breakfast had been tucked away and the dishes washed.
Gus nodded. It was not in the nature of things that a youth’s spirits should long remain at low ebb, and his tongue was beginning to loosen.
"Guess he’s down by now, lying in camp and feeling as big as Alexander," the other went on. "And I don’t blame him, either; only I wish it were we."
"You can be sure he’s down," Gus spoke up at last. "It’s mighty warm on that naked rock with the sun beating down on it at this time of year. That was our plan, you know, to go up early and come down early. And any man, sensible enough to get to the top, is bound to have sense enough to do it before the rock gets hot and his hands sweaty."
"And you can be sure he didn’t take his shoes with, him." Hazard rolled over on his back and lazily regarded the speck of flag fluttering briskly on the sheer edge of the precipice. "Say!" He sat up with a start. "What’s that?"
A metallic ray of light flashed out from the summit of Half Dome, then a second and a third. The heads of both boys were craned backward on the instant, agog with excitement.
"What a duffer!" Gus cried. "Why didn’t he come down when it was cool?"
Hazard shook his head slowly, as if the question were too deep for immediate answer and they had better defer judgment.
The flashes continued, and as the boys soon noted, at irregular intervals of duration and disappearance. Now they were long, now short; and again they came and went with great rapidity, or ceased altogether for several moments at a time.
"I have it!" Hazard’s face lighted up with the coming of understanding. "I have it! That fellow up there is trying to talk to us. He’s flashing the sunlight down to us on a pocket-mirror—dot, dash; dot, dash; don’t you see?"
The light also began to break in Gus’s face. "Ah, I know! It’s what they do in war-time—signaling. They call it heliographing, don’t they? Same thing as telegraphing, only it’s done without wires. And they use the same dots and dashes, too."
"Yes, the Morse alphabet. Wish I knew it."
"Same here. He surely must have something to say to us, or he wouldn’t be kicking up all that rumpus."
Still the flashes came and went persistently, till Gus exclaimed: "That chap’s in trouble, that’s what’s the matter with him! Most likely he’s hurt himself or something or other."
"Go on!" Hazard scouted.
Gus got out the shotgun and fired both barrels three times in rapid succession. A perfect flutter of flashes came back before the echoes had ceased their antics. So unmistakable was the message that even doubting Hazard was convinced that the man who had forestalled them stood in some grave danger.
"Quick, Gus," he cried, "and pack! I’ll see to the horses. Our trip hasn’t come to nothing, after all. We’ve got to go right up Half Dome and rescue him. Where’s the map? How do we get to the Saddle?"
"’Taking the horse-trail below the Vernal Falls,’" Gus read from the guide-book, "’one mile of brisk traveling brings the tourist to the world-famed Nevada Fall. Close by, rising up in all its pomp and glory, the Cap of Liberty stands guard——"
"Skip all that!" Hazard impatiently interrupted. "The trail’s what we want."
"Oh, here it is! ’Following the trail up the side of the fall will bring you to the forks. The left one leads to Little Yosemite Valley, Cloud’s Rest, and other points.’"
"Hold on; that’ll do! I’ve got it on the map now," again interrupted Hazard. "From the Cloud’s Rest trail a dotted line leads off to Half Dome. That shows the trail’s abandoned. We’ll have to look sharp to find it. It’s a day’s journey."
"And to think of all that traveling, when right here we’re at the bottom of the Dome!" Gus complained, staring up wistfully at the goal.
"That’s because this is Yosemite, and all the more reason for us to hurry. Come on! Be lively, now!"
Well used as they were to trail life, but few minutes sufficed to see the camp equipage on the backs of the packhorses and the boys in the saddle. In the late twilight of that evening they hobbled their animals in a tiny mountain meadow, and cooked coffee and bacon for themselves at the very base of the Saddle. Here, also, before they turned into their blankets, they found the camp of the unlucky stranger who was destined to spend the night on the naked roof of the Dome.
Dawn was brightening into day when the panting lads threw themselves down at the summit of the Saddle and began taking off their shoes. Looking down from the great height, they seemed perched upon the ridgepole of the world, and even the snow-crowned Sierra peaks seemed beneath them. Directly below, on the one hand, lay Little Yosemite Valley, half a mile deep; on the other hand, Big Yosemite, a mile. Already the sun’s rays were striking about the adventurers, but the darkness of night still shrouded the two great gulfs into which they peered. And above them, bathed in the full day, rose only the majestic curve of the Dome.
"What’s that for?" Gus asked, pointing to a leather-shielded flask which Hazard was securely fastening in his shirt pocket.
"Dutch courage, of course," was the reply. "We’ll need all our nerve in this undertaking, and a little bit more, and," he tapped the flask significantly, "here’s the little bit more."
"Good idea," Gus commented.
How they had ever come possessed of this erroneous idea, it would be hard to discover; but they were young yet, and there remained for them many uncut pages of life. Believers, also, in the efficacy of whisky as a remedy for snake-bite, they had brought with them a fair supply of medicine-chest liquor. As yet they had not touched it.
"Have some before we start?" Hazard asked.
Gus looked into the gulf and shook his head. "Better wait till we get up higher and the climbing is more ticklish."
Some seventy feet above them projected the first eye-bolt. The winter accumulations of ice had twisted and bent it down till it did not stand more than a bare inch and a half above the rock—a most difficult object to lasso as such a distance. Time and again Hazard coiled his lariat in true cowboy fashion and made the cast, and time and again was he baffled by the elusive peg. Nor could Gus do better. Taking advantage of inequalities in the surface, they scrambled twenty feet up the Dome and found they could rest in a shallow crevice. The cleft side of the Dome was so near that they could look over its edge from the crevice and gaze down the smooth, vertical wall for nearly two thousand feet. It was yet too dark down below for them to see farther.
The peg was now fifty feet away, but the path they must cover to get to it was quite smooth, and ran at an inclination of nearly fifty degrees. It seemed impossible, in that intervening space, to find a resting-place. Either the climber must keep going up, or he must slide down; he could not stop. But just here rose the danger. The Dome was sphere-shaped, and if he should begin to slide, his course would be, not to the point from which he had started and where the Saddle would catch him, but off to the south toward Little Yosemite. This meant a plunge of half a mile.
"I’ll try it," Gus said simply.
They knotted the two lariats together, so that they had over a hundred feet of rope between them; and then each boy tied an end to his waist.
"If I slide," Gus cautioned, "come in on the slack and brace yourself. If you don’t, you’ll follow me, that’s all!"
"Ay, ay!" was the confident response. "Better take a nip before you start?"
Gus glanced at the proffered bottle. He knew himself and of what he was capable. "Wait till I make the peg and you join me. All ready?"
He struck out like a cat, on all fours, clawing energetically as he urged his upward progress, his comrade paying out the rope carefully. At first his speed was good, but gradually it dwindled. Now he was fifteen feet from the peg, now ten, now eight—but going, oh, so slowly! Hazard, looking up from his crevice, felt a contempt for him and disappointment in him. It did look easy. Now Gus was five feet away, and after a painful effort, four feet. But when only a yard intervened, he came to a standstill—not exactly a standstill, for, like a squirrel in a wheel, he maintained his position on the face of the Dome by the most desperate clawing.
He had failed, that was evident. The question now was, how to save himself. With a sudden, catlike movement he whirled over on his back, caught his heel in a tiny, saucer-shaped depression and sat up. Then his courage failed him. Day had at last penetrated to the floor of the valley, and he was appalled at the frightful distance.
"Go ahead and make it!" Hazard ordered; but Gus merely shook his head.
"Then come down!"
Again he shook his head. This was his ordeal, to sit, nerveless and insecure, on the brink of the precipice. But Hazard, lying safely in his crevice, now had to face his own ordeal, but one of a different nature. When Gus began to slide—as he soon must—would he, Hazard, be able to take in the slack and then meet the shock as the other tautened the rope and darted toward the plunge? It seemed doubtful. And there he lay, apparently safe, but in reality harnessed to death. Then rose the temptation. Why not cast off the rope about his waist? He would be safe at all events. It was a simple way out of the difficulty. There was no need that two should perish. But it was impossible for such temptation to overcome his pride of race, and his own pride in himself and in his honor. So the rope remained about him.
"Come down!" he ordered; but Gus seemed to have become petrified.
"Come down," he threatened, "or I’ll drag you down!" He pulled on the rope to show he was in earnest.
"Don’t you dare!" Gus articulated through his clenched teeth.
"Sure, I will, if you don’t come!" Again he jerked the rope.
With a despairing gurgle Gus started, doing his best to work sideways from the plunge. Hazard, every sense on the alert, almost exulting in his perfect coolness, took in the slack with deft rapidity. Then, as the rope began to tighten, he braced himself. The shock drew him half out of the crevice; but he held firm and served as the center of the circle, while Gus, with the rope as a radius, described the circumference and ended up on the extreme southern edge of the Saddle. A few moments later Hazard was offering him the flask.
"Take some yourself," Gus said.
"No; you. I don’t need it."
"And I’m past needing it." Evidently Gus was dubious of the bottle and its contents.
Hazard put it away in his pocket. "Are you game," he asked, "or are you going to give it up?"
"Never!" Gus protested. "I am game. No Lafee ever showed the white feather yet. And if I did lose my grit up there, it was only for the moment—sort of like seasickness. I’m all right now, and I’m going to the top."
"Good!" encouraged Hazard. "You lie in the crevice this time, and I’ll show you how easy it is."
But Gus refused. He held that it was easier and safer for him to try again, arguing that it was less difficult for his one hundred and sixteen pounds to cling to the smooth rock than for Hazard’s one hundred and sixty-five; also that it was easier for one hundred and sixty-five pounds to bring a sliding one hundred and sixteen to a stop than vice versa. And further, that he had the benefit of his previous experience. Hazard saw the justice of this, although it was with great reluctance that he gave in.
Success vindicated Gus’s contention. The second time, just as it seemed as if his slide would be repeated, he made a last supreme effort and gripped the coveted peg. By means of the rope, Hazard quickly joined him. The next peg was nearly sixty feet away; but for nearly half that distance the base of some glacier in the forgotten past had ground a shallow furrow. Taking advantage of this, it was easy for Gus to lasso the eye-bolt. And it seemed, as was really the case, that the hardest part of the task was over. True, the curve steepened to nearly sixty degrees above them, but a comparatively unbroken line of eye-bolts, six feet apart, awaited the lads. They no longer had even to use the lasso. Standing on one peg it was child’s play to throw the bight of the rope over the next and to draw themselves up to it.
A bronzed and bearded man met them at the top and gripped their hands in hearty fellowship.
"Talk about your Mont Blancs!" he exclaimed, pausing in the midst of greeting them to survey the mighty panorama. "But there’s nothing on all the earth, nor over it, nor under it, to compare with this!" Then he recollected himself and thanked them for coming to his aid. No, he was not hurt or injured in any way. Simply because of his own carelessness, just as he had arrived at the top the previous day, he had dropped his climbing rope. Of course it was impossible to descend without it. Did they understand heliographing? No? That was strange! How did they—"
"Oh, we knew something was the matter," Gus interrupted, "from the way you flashed when we fired off the shotgun."
"Find it pretty cold last night without blankets?" Hazard queried.
"I should say so. I’ve hardly thawed out yet."
"Have some of this." Hazard shoved the flask over to him.
The stranger regarded him quite seriously for a moment, then said, "My dear fellow, do you see that row of pegs? Since it is my honest intention to climb down them very shortly, I am forced to decline. No, I don’t think I’ll have any, though I thank you just the same."
Hazard glanced at Gus and then put the flask back in his pocket. But when they pulled the doubled rope through the last eye-bolt and set foot on the Saddle, he again drew out the bottle.
"Now that we’re down, we don’t need it," he remarked, pithily. "And I’ve about come to the conclusion that there isn’t very much in Dutch courage, after all." He gazed up the great curve of the Dome. "Look at what we’ve done without it!"
Several seconds thereafter a party of tourists, gathered at the margin of Mirror Lake, were astounded at the unwonted phenomenon of a whisky flask descending upon them like a comet out of a clear sky; and all the way back to the hotel they marveled greatly at the wonders of nature, especially meteorites.
"Talkin’ of bear——"
The Klondike King paused meditatively, and the group on the hotel porch hitched their chairs up closer.
"Talkin’ of bear," he went on, "now up in the Northern Country there are various kinds. On the Little Pelly, for instance, they come down that thick in the summer to feed on the salmon that you can’t get an Indian or white man to go nigher than a day’s journey to the place. And up in the Rampart Mountains there’s a curious kind of bear called the ’side-hill grizzly.’ That’s because he’s traveled on the side-hills ever since the Flood, and the two legs on the down-hill side are twice as long as the two on the up-hill. And he can out-run a jack rabbit when he gets steam up. Dangerous? Catch you! Bless you, no. All a man has to do is to circle down the hill and run the other way. You see, that throws mister bear’s long legs up the hill and the short ones down. Yes, he’s a mighty peculiar creature, but that wasn’t what I started in to tell about.
"They’ve got another kind of bear up on the Yukon, and his legs are all right, too. He’s called the bald-face grizzly, and he’s jest as big as he is bad. It’s only the fool white men that think of hunting him. Indians got too much sense. But there’s one thing about the bald-face that a man has to learn: he never gives the trail to mortal creature. If you see him comin’, and you value your skin, you get out of his path. If you don’t, there’s bound to be trouble. If the bald-face met Jehovah Himself on the trail, he’d not give him an inch. O, he’s a selfish beggar, take my word for it. But I had to learn all this. Didn’t know anything about bear when I went into the country, exceptin’ when I was a youngster I’d seen a heap of cinnamons and that little black kind. And they was nothin’ to be scared at.
"Well, after we’d got settled down on our claim, I went up on the hill lookin’ for a likely piece of birch to make an ax-handle out of. But it was pretty hard to find the right kind, and I kept a-goin’ and kept a-goin’ for nigh on two hours. Wasn’t in no hurry to make my choice, you see, for I was headin’ down to the Forks, where I was goin’ to borrow a log-bit from Old Joe Gee. When I started, I’d put a couple of sour-dough biscuits and some sowbelly in my pocket in case I might get hungry. And I’m tellin’ you that lunch came in right handy before I was done with it.
"Bime-by I hit upon the likeliest little birch saplin’, right in the middle of a clump of jack pine. Jest as I raised my hand-ax I happened to cast my eyes down the hill. There was a big bear comin’ up, swingin’ along on all fours, right in my direction. It was a bald-face, but little I knew then about such kind.
"’Jest watch me scare him,’ I says to myself, and I stayed out of sight in the trees.
"Well, I waited till he was about a hundred feet off, then out I runs into the open.
"’Oof! oof!’ I hollered at him, expectin’ to see him turn tail like chain lightning.
"Turn tail? He jest throwed up his head for one good look and came a comin’.
"’Oof! oof!’ I hollered, louder’n ever. But he jest came a comin’.
"’Consarn you!’ I says to myself, gettin’ mad. ’I’ll make you jump the trail.’
"So I grabs my hat, and wavin’ and hollerin’ starts down the trail to meet him. A big sugar pine had gone down in a windfall and lay about breast high. I stops jest behind it, old bald-face comin’ all the time. It was jest then that fear came to me. I yelled like a Comanche Indian as he raised up to come over the log, and fired my hat full in his face. Then I lit out.
"Say! I rounded the end of that log and put down the hill at a two-twenty clip, old bald-face reachin’ for me at every jump. At the bottom was a broad, open flat, quarter of a mile to timber and full of niggerheads. I knew if ever I slipped I was a goner, but I hit only the high places till you couldn’t a-seen my trail for smoke. And the old devil snortin’ along hot after me. Midway across, he reached for me, jest strikin’ the heel of my moccasin with his claw. Tell you I was doin’ some tall thinkin’ jest then. I knew he had the wind of me and I could never make the brush, so I pulled my little lunch out of my pocket and dropped it on the fly.
"Never looked back till I hit the timber, and then he was mouthing the biscuits in a way which wasn’t nice to see, considerin’ how close he’d been to me. I never slacked up. No, sir! Jest kept hittin’ the trail for all there was in me. But jest as I came around a bend, heelin’ it right lively I tell you, what’d I see in middle of the trail before me, and comin’ my way, but another bald-face!
"’Whoof!’ he says when he spotted me, and he came a-runnin.’
"Instanter I was about and hittin’ the back trail twice as fast as I’d come. The way this one was puffin’ after me, I’d clean forgot all about the other bald-face. First thing I knew I seen him mosying along kind of easy, wonderin’ most likely what had become of me, and if I tasted as good as my lunch. Say! when he seen me he looked real pleased. And then he came a-jumpin’ for me.
"’Whoof!’ he says.
"’Whoof!’ says the one behind me.
"Bang I goes, slap off the trail sideways, a-plungin’ and a-clawin’ through the brush like a wild man. By this time I was clean crazed; thought the whole country was full of bald-faces. Next thing I knows—whop, I comes up against something in a tangle of wild blackberry bushes. Then that something hits me a slap and closes in on me. Another bald-face! And then and there I knew I was gone for sure. But I made up to die game, and of all the rampin’ and roarin’ and rippin’ and tearin’ you ever see, that was the worst.
"’My God! O my wife!’ it says. And I looked and it was a man I was hammering into kingdom come.
"’Thought you was a bear,’ says I.
"He kind of caught his breath and looked at me. Then he says, ’Same here.’
"Seemed as though he’d been chased by a bald-face, too, and had hid in the blackberries. So that’s how we mistook each other.
"But by that time the racket on the trail was something terrible, and we didn’t wait to explain matters. That afternoon we got Joe Gee and some rifles and came back loaded for bear. Mebbe you won’t believe me, but when we got to the spot, there was the two bald-faces lyin’ dead. You see, when I jumped out, they came together, and each refused to give trail to the other. So they fought it out. Talkin’ of bear. As I was sayin’——"
5. The Lost Poacher
"But they won’t take excuses. You’re across the line, and that’s enough. They’ll take you. In you go, Siberia and the salt-mines. And as for Uncle Sam, why, what’s he to know about it? Never a word will get back to the States. ’The Mary Thomas,’ the papers will say, ’the Mary Thomas lost with all hands. Probably in a typhoon in the Japanese seas.’ That’s what the papers will say, and people, too. In you go, Siberia and the salt-mines. Dead to the world and kith and kin, though you live fifty years."
In such manner John Lewis, commonly known as the "sea-lawyer," settled the matter out of hand.
It was a serious moment in the forecastle of the Mary Thomas. No sooner had the watch below begun to talk the trouble over, than the watch on deck came down and joined them. As there was no wind, every hand could be spared with the exception of the man at the wheel, and he remained only for the sake of discipline. Even "Bub" Russell, the cabin-boy, had crept forward to hear what was going on.
However, it was a serious moment, as the grave faces of the sailors bore witness. For the three preceding months the Mary Thomas sealing schooner, had hunted the seal pack along the coast of Japan and north to Bering Sea. Here, on the Asiatic side of the sea, they were forced to give over the chase, or rather, to go no farther; for beyond, the Russian cruisers patrolled forbidden ground, where the seals might breed in peace.
A week before she had fallen into a heavy fog accompanied by calm. Since then the fog-bank had not lifted, and the only wind had been light airs and catspaws. This in itself was not so bad, for the sealing schooners are never in a hurry so long as they are in the midst of the seals; but the trouble lay in the fact that the current at this point bore heavily to the north. Thus the Mary Thomas had unwittingly drifted across the line, and every hour she was penetrating, unwillingly, farther and farther into the dangerous waters where the Russian bear kept guard.
How far she had drifted no man knew. The sun had not been visible for a week, nor the stars, and the captain had been unable to take observations in order to determine his position. At any moment a cruiser might swoop down and hale the crew away to Siberia. The fate of other poaching seal-hunters was too well known to the men of the Mary Thomas, and there was cause for grave faces.
"Mine friends," spoke up a German boat-steerer, "it vas a pad piziness. Shust as ve make a big catch, und all honest, somedings go wrong, und der Russians nab us, dake our skins and our schooner, und send us mit der anarchists to Siberia. Ach! a pretty pad piziness!"
"Yes, that’s where it hurts," the sea lawyer went on. "Fifteen hundred skins in the salt piles, and all honest, a big pay-day coming to every man Jack of us, and then to be captured and lose it all! It’d be different if we’d been poaching, but it’s all honest work in open water."
"But if we haven’t done anything wrong, they can’t do anything to us, can they?" Bub queried.
"It strikes me as ’ow it ain’t the proper thing for a boy o’ your age shovin’ in when ’is elders is talkin’," protested an English sailor, from over the edge of his bunk.
"Oh, that’s all right, Jack," answered the sea-lawyer. "He’s a perfect right to. Ain’t he just as liable to lose his wages as the rest of us?"
"Wouldn’t give thruppence for them!" Jack sniffed back. He had been planning to go home and see his family in Chelsea when he was paid off, and he was now feeling rather blue over the highly possible loss, not only of his pay, but of his liberty.
"How are they to know?" the sea-lawyer asked in answer to Bub’s previous question. "Here we are in forbidden water. How do they know but what we came here of our own accord? Here we are, fifteen hundred skins in the hold. How do they, know whether we got them in open water or in the closed sea? Don’t you see, Bub, the evidence is all against us. If you caught a man with his pockets full of apples like those which grow on your tree, and if you caught him in your tree besides, what’d you think if he told you he couldn’t help it, and had just been sort of blown there, and that anyway those apples came from some other tree—what’d you think, eh?"
Bub saw it clearly when put in that light, and shook his head despondently.
"You’d rather be dead than go to Siberia," one of the boat-pullers said. "They put you into the salt-mines and work you till you die. Never see daylight again. Why, I’ve heard tell of one fellow that was chained to his mate, and that mate died. And they were both chained together! And if they send you to the quicksilver mines you get salivated. I’d rather be hung than salivated."
"Wot’s salivated?" Jack asked, suddenly sitting up in his bunk at the hint of fresh misfortunes.
"Why, the quicksilver gets into your blood; I think that’s the way. And your gums all swell like you had the scurvy, only worse, and your teeth get loose in your jaws. And big ulcers form, and then you die horrible. The strongest man can’t last long a-mining quicksilver."
"A pad piziness," the boat-steerer reiterated, dolorously, in the silence which followed. "A pad piziness. I vish I was in Yokohama. Eh? Vot vas dot?"
The vessel had suddenly heeled over. The decks were aslant. A tin pannikin rolled down the inclined plane, rattling and banging. From above came the slapping of canvas and the quivering rat-tat-tat of the after leech of the loosely stretched foresail. Then the mate’s voice sang down the hatch, "All hands on deck and make sail!"
Never had such summons been answered with more enthusiasm. The calm had broken. The wind had come which was to carry them south into safety. With a wild cheer all sprang on deck. Working with mad haste, they flung out topsails, flying jibs and stay-sails. As they worked, the fog-bank lifted and the black vault of heaven, bespangled with the old familiar stars, rushed into view. When all was ship-shape, the Mary Thomas was lying gallantly over on her side to a beam wind and plunging ahead due south.
"Steamer’s lights ahead on the port bow, sir!" cried the lookout from his station on the forecastle-head. There was excitement in the man’s voice.
The captain sent Bub below for his night-glasses. Everybody crowded to the lee-rail to gaze at the suspicious stranger, which already began to loom up vague and indistinct. In those unfrequented waters the chance was one in a thousand that it could be anything else than a Russian patrol. The captain was still anxiously gazing through the glasses, when a flash of flame left the stranger’s side, followed by the loud report of a cannon. The worst fears were confirmed. It was a patrol, evidently firing across the bows of the Mary Thomas in order to make her heave to.
"Hard down with your helm!" the captain commanded the steers-man, all the life gone out of his voice. Then to the crew, "Back over the jib and foresail! Run down the flying jib! Clew up the foretopsail! And aft here and swing on to the main-sheet!"
The Mary Thomas ran into the eye of the wind, lost headway, and fell to courtesying gravely to the long seas rolling up from the west.
The cruiser steamed a little nearer and lowered a boat. The sealers watched in heartbroken silence. They could see the white bulk of the boat as it was slacked away to the water, and its crew sliding aboard. They could hear the creaking of the davits and the commands of the officers. Then the boat sprang away under the impulse of the oars, and came toward them. The wind had been rising, and already the sea was too rough to permit the frail craft to lie alongside the tossing schooner; but watching their chance, and taking advantage of the boarding ropes thrown to them, an officer and a couple of men clambered aboard. The boat then sheered off into safety and lay to its oars, a young midshipman, sitting in the stern and holding the yoke-lines, in charge.
The officer, whose uniform disclosed his rank as that of second lieutenant in the Russian navy, went below with the captain of the Mary Thomas to look at the ship’s papers. A few minutes later he emerged, and upon his sailors removing the hatch-covers, passed down into the hold with a lantern to inspect the salt piles. It was a goodly heap which confronted him—fifteen hundred fresh skins, the season’s catch; and under the circumstances he could have had but one conclusion.
"I am very sorry," he said, in broken English to the sealing captain, when he again came on deck, "but it is my duty, in the name of the tsar, to seize your vessel as a poacher caught with fresh skins in the closed sea. The penalty, as you may know, is confiscation and imprisonment."
The captain of the Mary Thomas shrugged his shoulders in seeming indifference, and turned away. Although they may restrain all outward show, strong men, under unmerited misfortune, are sometimes very close to tears. Just then the vision of his little California home, and of the wife and two yellow-haired boys, was strong upon him, and there was a strange, choking sensation in his throat, which made him afraid that if he attempted to speak he would sob instead.
And also there was upon him the duty he owed his men. No weakness before them, for he must be a tower of strength to sustain them in misfortune. He had already explained to the second lieutenant, and knew the hopelessness of the situation. As the sea-lawyer had said, the evidence was all against him. So he turned aft, and fell to pacing up and down the poop of the vessel over which he was no longer commander.
The Russian officer now took temporary charge. He ordered more of his men aboard, and had all the canvas clewed up and furled snugly away. While this was being done, the boat plied back and forth between the two vessels, passing a heavy hawser, which was made fast to the great towing-bitts on the schooner’s forecastle-head. During all this work the sealers stood about in sullen groups. It was madness to think of resisting, with the guns of a man-of-war not a biscuit-toss away; but they refused to lend a hand, preferring instead to maintain a gloomy silence.
Having accomplished his task, the lieutenant ordered all but four of his men back into the boat. Then the midshipman, a lad of sixteen, looking strangely mature and dignified in his uniform and sword, came aboard to take command of the captured sealer. Just as the lieutenant prepared to depart, his eyes chanced to alight upon Bub. Without a word of warning, he seized him by the arm and dropped him over the rail into the waiting boat; and then, with a parting wave of his hand, he followed him.
It was only natural that Bub should be frightened at this unexpected happening. All the terrible stories he had heard of the Russians served to make him fear them, and now returned to his mind with double force. To be captured by them was bad enough, but to be carried off by them, away from his comrades, was a fate of which he had not dreamed.
"Be a good boy, Bub," the captain called to him, as the boat drew away from the Mary Thomas’s side, "and tell the truth!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" he answered, bravely enough, by all outward appearance. He felt a certain pride of race, and was ashamed to be a coward before these strange enemies, these wild Russian bears.
"Und be politeful!" the German boat-steerer added, his rough voice lifting across the water like a fog-horn.
Bub waved his hand in farewell, and his mates clustered along the rail as they answered with a cheering shout. He found room in the stern-sheets, where he fell to regarding the lieutenant. He didn’t look so wild or bearish, after all—very much like other men, Bub concluded, and the sailors were much the same as all other man-of-war’s men he had ever known. Nevertheless, as his feet struck the steel deck of the cruiser, he felt as if he had entered the portals of a prison.
For a few minutes he was left unheeded. The sailors hoisted the boat up, and swung it in on the davits. Then great clouds of black smoke poured out of the funnels, and they were under way—to Siberia, Bub could not help but think. He saw the Mary Thomas swing abruptly into line as she took the pressure from the hawser, and her side-lights, red and green, rose and fell as she was towed through the sea.
Bub’s eyes dimmed at the melancholy sight, but—but just then the lieutenant came to take him down to the commander, and he straightened up and set his lips firmly, as if this were a very commonplace affair and he were used to being sent to Siberia every day in the week. The cabin in which the commander sat was like a palace compared to the humble fittings of the Mary Thomas, and the commander himself, in gold lace and dignity, was a most august personage, quite unlike the simple man who navigated his schooner on the trail of the seal pack.
Bub now quickly learned why he had been brought aboard, and in the prolonged questioning which followed, told nothing but the plain truth. The truth was harmless; only a lie could have injured his cause. He did not know much, except that they had been sealing far to the south in open water, and that when the calm and fog came down upon them, being close to the line, they had drifted across. Again and again he insisted that they had not lowered a boat or shot a seal in the week they had been drifting about in the forbidden sea; but the commander chose to consider all that he said to be a tissue of falsehoods, and adopted a bullying tone in an effort to frighten the boy. He threatened and cajoled by turns, but failed in the slightest to shake Bub’s statements, and at last ordered him out of his presence.
By some oversight, Bub was not put in anybody’s charge, and wandered up on deck unobserved. Sometimes the sailors, in passing, bent curious glances upon him, but otherwise he was left strictly alone. Nor could he have attracted much attention, for he was small, the night dark, and the watch on deck intent on its own business. Stumbling over the strange decks, he made his way aft where he could look upon the side-lights of the Mary Thomas, following steadily in the rear.
For a long while he watched, and then lay down in the darkness close to where the hawser passed over the stern to the captured schooner. Once an officer came up and examined the straining rope to see if it were chafing, but Bub cowered away in the shadow undiscovered. This, however, gave him an idea which concerned the lives and liberties of twenty-two men, and which was to avert crushing sorrow from more than one happy home many thousand miles away.
In the first place, he reasoned, the crew were all guiltless of any crime, and yet were being carried relentlessly away to imprisonment in Siberia—a living death, he had heard, and he believed it implicitly. In the second place, he was a prisoner, hard and fast, with no chance of escape. In the third, it was possible for the twenty-two men on the Mary Thomas to escape. The only thing which bound them was a four-inch hawser. They dared not cut it at their end, for a watch was sure to be maintained upon it by their Russian captors; but at this end, ah! at his end——
Bub did not stop to reason further. Wriggling close to the hawser, he opened his jack-knife and went to work, The blade was not very sharp, and he sawed away, rope-yarn by rope-yarn, the awful picture of the solitary Siberian exile he must endure growing clearer and more terrible at every stroke. Such a fate was bad enough to undergo with one’s comrades, but to face it alone seemed frightful. And besides, the very act he was performing was sure to bring greater punishment upon him.
In the midst of such somber thoughts, he heard footsteps approaching. He wriggled away into the shadow. An officer stopped where he had been working, half-stooped to examine the hawser, then changed his mind and straightened up. For a few minutes he stood there, gazing at the lights of the captured schooner, and then went forward again.
Now was the time! Bub crept back and went on sawing. Now two parts were severed. Now three. But one remained. The tension upon this was so great that it readily yielded. Splash! The freed end went overboard. He lay quietly, his heart in his mouth, listening. No one on the cruiser but himself had heard.
He saw the red and green lights of the Mary Thomas grow dimmer and dimmer. Then a faint hallo came over the water from the Russian prize crew. Still nobody heard. The smoke continued to pour out of the cruiser’s funnels, and her propellers throbbed as mightily as ever.
What was happening on the Mary Thomas? Bub could only surmise; but of one thing he was certain: his comrades would assert themselves and overpower the four sailors and the midshipman. A few minutes later he saw a small flash, and straining his ears heard the very faint report of a pistol. Then, oh joy! both the red and green lights suddenly disappeared. The Mary Thomas was retaken!
Just as an officer came aft, Bub crept forward, and hid away in one of the boats. Not an instant too soon. The alarm was given. Loud voices rose in command. The cruiser altered her course. An electric search-light began to throw its white rays across the sea, here, there, everywhere; but in its flashing path no tossing schooner was revealed.
Bub went to sleep soon after that, nor did he wake till the gray of dawn. The engines were pulsing monotonously, and the water, splashing noisily, told him the decks were being washed down. One sweeping glance, and he saw that they were alone on the expanse of ocean. The Mary Thomas had escaped. As he lifted his head, a roar of laughter went up from the sailors. Even the officer, who ordered him taken below and locked up, could not quite conceal the laughter in his eyes. Bub thought often in the days of confinement which followed, that they were not very angry with him for what he had done.
He was not far from right. There is a certain innate nobility deep down in the hearts of all men, which forces them to admire a brave act, even if it is performed by an enemy. The Russians were in nowise different from other men. True, a boy had outwitted them; but they could not blame him, and they were sore puzzled as to what to do with him. It would never do to take a little mite like him in to represent all that remained of the lost poacher.
So, two weeks later, a United States man-of-war, steaming out of the Russian port of Vladivostok, was signaled by a Russian cruiser. A boat passed between the two ships, and a small boy dropped over the rail upon the deck of the American vessel. A week later he was put ashore at Hakodate, and after some telegraphing, his fare was paid on the railroad to Yokohama.
From the depot he hurried through the quaint Japanese streets to the harbor, and hired a sampan boatman to put him aboard a certain vessel whose familiar rigging had quickly caught his eye. Her gaskets were off, her sails unfurled; she was just starting back to the United States. As he came closer, a crowd of sailors sprang upon the forecastle head, and the windlass-bars rose and fell as the anchor was torn from its muddy bottom.
"’Yankee ship come down the ribber!’" the sea-lawyer’s voice rolled out as he led the anchor song.
"’Pull, my bully boys, pull!’" roared back the old familiar chorus, the men’s bodies lifting and bending to the rhythm.
Bub Russell paid the boatman and stepped on deck. The anchor was forgotten. A mighty cheer went up from the men, and almost before he could catch his breath he was on the shoulders of the captain, surrounded by his mates, and endeavoring to answer twenty questions to the second.
The next day a schooner hove to off a Japanese fishing village, sent ashore four sailors and a little midshipman, and sailed away. These men did not talk English, but they had money and quickly made their way to Yokohama. From that day the Japanese village folk never heard anything more about them, and they are still a much-talked-of mystery. As the Russian government never said anything about the incident, the United States is still ignorant of the whereabouts of the lost poacher, nor has she ever heard, officially, of the way in which some of her citizens "shanghaied" five subjects of the tsar. Even nations have secrets sometimes.
6. Chris Farrington, Able Seaman
"If you vas in der old country ships, a liddle shaver like you vood pe only der boy, und you vood wait on der able seamen. Und ven der able seaman sing out, ’Boy, der water-jug!’ you vood jump quick, like a shot, und bring der water-jug. Und ven der able seaman sing out, ’Boy, my boots!’ you vood get der boots. Und you vood pe politeful, und say ’Yessir’ und ’No sir.’ But you pe in der American ship, und you t’ink you are so good as der able seamen. Chris, mine boy, I haf ben a sailorman for twenty-two years, und do you t’ink you are so good as me? I vas a sailorman pefore you vas borned, und I knot und reef und splice ven you play mit topstrings und fly kites."
"But you are unfair, Emil!" cried Chris Farrington, his sensitive face flushed and hurt. He was a slender though strongly built young fellow of seventeen, with Yankee ancestry writ large all over him.
"Dere you go vonce again!" the Swedish sailor exploded. "My name is Mister Johansen, und a kid of a boy like you call me ’Emil!’ It vas insulting, und comes pecause of der American ship!"
"But you call me ’Chris!’" the boy expostulated, reproachfully.
"But you vas a boy."
"Who does a man’s work," Chris retorted. "And because I do a man’s work I have as much right to call you by your first name as you me. We are all equals in this fo’castle, and you know it. When we signed for the voyage in San Francisco, we signed as sailors on the Sophie Sutherland and there was no difference made with any of us. Haven’t I always done my work? Did I ever shirk? Did you or any other man ever have to take a wheel for me? Or a lookout? Or go aloft?"
"Chris is right," interrupted a young English sailor. "No man has had to do a tap of his work yet. He signed as good as any of us, and he’s shown himself as good—"
"Better!" broke in a Nova Scotia man. "Better than some of us! When we struck the sealing-grounds he turned out to be next to the best boat-steerer aboard. Only French Louis, who’d been at it for years, could beat him. I’m only a boat-puller, and you’re only a boat-puller, too, Emil Johansen, for all your twenty-two years at sea. Why don’t you become a boat-steerer?"
"Too clumsy," laughed the Englishman, "and too slow."
"Little that counts, one way or the other," joined in Dane Jurgensen, coming to the aid of his Scandinavian brother. "Emil is a man grown and an able seaman; the boy is neither."
And so the argument raged back and forth, the Swedes, Norwegians and Danes, because of race kinship, taking the part of Johansen, and the English, Canadians and Americans taking the part of Chris. From an unprejudiced point of view, the right was on the side of Chris. As he had truly said, he did a man’s work, and the same work that any of them did. But they were prejudiced, and badly so, and out of the words which passed rose a standing quarrel which divided the forecastle into two parties.
The Sophie Sutherland was a seal-hunter, registered out of San Francisco, and engaged in hunting the furry sea-animals along the Japanese coast north to Bering Sea. The other vessels were two-masted schooners, but she was a three-master and the largest in the fleet. In fact, she was a full-rigged, three-topmast schooner, newly built.
Although Chris Farrington knew that justice was with him, and that he performed all his work faithfully and well, many a time, in secret thought, he longed for some pressing emergency to arise whereby he could demonstrate to the Scandinavian seamen that he also was an able seaman.
But one stormy night, by an accident for which he was in nowise accountable, in overhauling a spare anchor-chain he had all the fingers of his left hand badly crushed. And his hopes were likewise crushed, for it was impossible for him to continue hunting with the boats, and he was forced to stay idly aboard until his fingers should heal. Yet, although he little dreamed it, this very accident was to give him the long-looked-for opportunity.
One afternoon in the latter part of May the Sophie Sutherland rolled sluggishly in a breathless calm. The seals were abundant, the hunting good, and the boats were all away and out of sight. And with them was almost every man of the crew. Besides Chris, there remained only the captain, the sailing-master and the Chinese cook.
The captain was captain only by courtesy. He was an old man, past eighty, and blissfully ignorant of the sea and its ways; but he was the owner of the vessel, and hence the honorable title. Of course the sailing-master, who was really captain, was a thorough-going seaman. The mate, whose post was aboard, was out with the boats, having temporarily taken Chris’s place as boat-steerer.
When good weather and good sport came together, the boats were accustomed to range far and wide, and often did not return to the schooner until long after dark. But for all that it was a perfect hunting day, Chris noted a growing anxiety on the part of the sailing-master. He paced the deck nervously, and was constantly sweeping the horizon with his marine glasses. Not a boat was in sight. As sunset arrived, he even sent Chris aloft to the mizzen-topmast-head, but with no better luck. The boats could not possibly be back before midnight.
Since noon the barometer had been falling with startling rapidity, and all the signs were ripe for a great storm—how great, not even the sailing-master anticipated. He and Chris set to work to prepare for it. They put storm gaskets on the furled topsails, lowered and stowed the foresail and spanker and took in the two inner jibs. In the one remaining jib they put a single reef, and a single reef in the mainsail.
Night had fallen before they finished, and with the darkness came the storm. A low moan swept over the sea, and the wind struck the Sophie Sutherland flat. But she righted quickly, and with the sailing-master at the wheel, sheered her bow into within five points of the wind. Working as well as he could with his bandaged hand, and with the feeble aid of the Chinese cook, Chris went forward and backed the jib over to the weather side. This with the flat mainsail, left the schooner hove to.
"God help the boats! It’s no gale! It’s a typhoon!" the sailing-master shouted to Chris at eleven o’clock. "Too much canvas! Got to get two more reefs into that mainsail, and got to do it right away!" He glanced at the old captain, shivering in oilskins at the binnacle and holding on for dear life. "There’s only you and I, Chris—and the cook; but he’s next to worthless!"
In order to make the reef, it was necessary to lower the mainsail, and the removal of this after pressure was bound to make the schooner fall off before the wind and sea because of the forward pressure of the jib.
"Take the wheel!" the sailing-master directed. "And when I give the word, hard up with it! And when she’s square before it, steady her! And keep her there! We’ll heave to again as soon as I get the reefs in!"
Gripping the kicking spokes, Chris watched him and the reluctant cook go forward into the howling darkness. The Sophie Sutherland was plunging into the huge head-seas and wallowing tremendously, the tense steel stays and taut rigging humming like harp-strings to the wind. A buffeted cry came to his ears, and he felt the schooner’s bow paying off of its own accord. The mainsail was down!
He ran the wheel hard-over and kept anxious track of the changing direction of the wind on his face and of the heave of the vessel. This was the crucial moment. In performing the evolution she would have to pass broadside to the surge before she could get before it. The wind was blowing directly on his right cheek, when he felt the Sophie Sutherland lean over and begin to rise toward the sky—up—up—an infinite distance! Would she clear the crest of the gigantic wave?
Again by the feel of it, for he could see nothing, he knew that a wall of water was rearing and curving far above him along the whole weather side. There was an instant’s calm as the liquid wall intervened and shut off the wind. The schooner righted, and for that instant seemed at perfect rest. Then she rolled to meet the descending rush.
Chris shouted to the captain to hold tight, and prepared himself for the shock. But the man did not live who could face it. An ocean of water smote Chris’s back and his clutch on the spokes was loosened as if it were a baby’s. Stunned, powerless, like a straw on the face of a torrent, he was swept onward he knew not whither. Missing the corner of the cabin, he was dashed forward along the poop runway a hundred feet or more, striking violently against the foot of the foremast. A second wave, crushing inboard, hurled him back the way he had come, and left him half-drowned where the poop steps should have been.
Bruised and bleeding, dimly conscious, he felt for the rail and dragged himself to his feet. Unless something could be done, he knew the last moment had come. As he faced the poop, the wind drove into his mouth with suffocating force. This brought him back to his senses with a start. The wind was blowing from dead aft! The schooner was out of the trough and before it! But the send of the sea was bound to breach her to again. Crawling up the runway, he managed to get to the wheel just in time to prevent this. The binnacle light was still burning. They were safe!
That is, he and the schooner were safe. As to the welfare of his three companions he could not say. Nor did he dare leave the wheel in order to find out, for it took every second of his undivided attention to keep the vessel to her course. The least fraction of carelessness and the heave of the sea under the quarter was liable to thrust her into the trough. So, a boy of one hundred and forty pounds, he clung to his herculean task of guiding the two hundred straining tons of fabric amid the chaos of the great storm forces.
Half an hour later, groaning and sobbing, the captain crawled to Chris’s feet. All was lost, he whimpered. He was smitten unto death. The galley had gone by the board, the mainsail and running-gear, the cook, everything!
"Where’s the sailing-master?" Chris demanded when he had caught his breath after steadying a wild lurch of the schooner. It was no child’s play to steer a vessel under single-reefed jib before a typhoon.
"Clean up for’ard," the old man replied. "Jammed under the fo’c’sle-head, but still breathing. Both his arms are broken, he says, and he doesn’t know how many ribs. He’s hurt bad."
"Well, he’ll drown there the way she’s shipping water through the hawse-pipes. Go for’ard!" Chris commanded, taking charge of things as a matter of course. "Tell him not to worry; that I’m at the wheel. Help him as much as you can, and make him help"—he stopped and ran the spokes to starboard as a tremendous billow rose under the stern and yawed the schooner to port—"and make him help himself for the rest. Unship the fo’castle hatch and get him down into a bunk. Then ship the hatch again."
The captain turned his aged face forward and wavered pitifully. The waist of the ship was full of water to the bulwarks. He had just come through it, and knew death lurked every inch of the way.
"Go!" Chris shouted, fiercely. And as the fear-stricken man started, "And take another look for the cook!"
Two hours later, almost dead from suffering, the captain returned. He had obeyed orders. The sailing-master was helpless, although safe in a bunk; the cook was gone. Chris sent the captain below to the cabin to change his clothes.
After interminable hours of toil, day broke cold and gray. Chris looked about him. The Sophie Sutherland was racing before the typhoon like a thing possessed. There was no rain, but the wind whipped the spray of the sea mast-high, obscuring everything except in the immediate neighborhood.
Two waves only could Chris see at a time—the one before and the one behind. So small and insignificant the schooner seemed on the long Pacific roll! Rushing up a maddening mountain, she would poise like a cockle-shell on the giddy summit, breathless and rolling, leap outward and down into the yawning chasm beneath, and bury herself in the smother of foam at the bottom. Then the recovery, another mountain, another sickening upward rush, another poise, and the downward crash. Abreast of him, to starboard, like a ghost of the storm, Chris saw the cook dashing apace with the schooner. Evidently, when washed overboard, he had grasped and become entangled in a trailing halyard.
For three hours more, alone with this gruesome companion, Chris held the Sophie Sutherland before the wind and sea. He had long since forgotten his mangled fingers. The bandages had been torn away, and the cold, salt spray had eaten into the half-healed wounds until they were numb and no longer pained. But he was not cold. The terrific labor of steering forced the perspiration from every pore. Yet he was faint and weak with hunger and exhaustion, and hailed with delight the advent on deck of the captain, who fed him all of a pound of cake-chocolate. It strengthened him at once.
He ordered the captain to cut the halyard by which the cook’s body was towing, and also to go forward and cut loose the jib-halyard and sheet. When he had done so, the jib fluttered a couple of moments like a handkerchief, then tore out of the bolt-ropes and vanished. The Sophie Sutherland was running under bare poles.
By noon the storm had spent itself, and by six in the evening the waves had died down sufficiently to let Chris leave the helm. It was almost hopeless to dream of the small boats weathering the typhoon, but there is always the chance in saving human life, and Chris at once applied himself to going back over the course along which he had fled. He managed to get a reef in one of the inner jibs and two reefs in the spanker, and then, with the aid of the watch-tackle, to hoist them to the stiff breeze that yet blew. And all through the night, tacking back and forth on the back track, he shook out canvas as fast as the wind would permit.
The injured sailing-master had turned delirious and between tending him and lending a hand with the ship, Chris kept the captain busy. "Taught me more seamanship," as he afterward said, "than I’d learned on the whole voyage." But by daybreak the old man’s feeble frame succumbed, and he fell off into exhausted sleep on the weather poop.
Chris, who could now lash the wheel, covered the tired man with blankets from below, and went fishing in the lazaretto for something to eat. But by the day following he found himself forced to give in, drowsing fitfully by the wheel and waking ever and anon to take a look at things.
On the afternoon of the third day he picked up a schooner, dismasted and battered. As he approached, close-hauled on the wind, he saw her decks crowded by an unusually large crew, and on sailing in closer, made out among others the faces of his missing comrades. And he was just in the nick of time, for they were fighting a losing fight at the pumps. An hour later they, with the crew of the sinking craft, were aboard the Sophie Sutherland.
Having wandered so far from their own vessel, they had taken refuge on the strange schooner just before the storm broke. She was a Canadian sealer on her first voyage, and as was now apparent, her last.
The captain of the Sophie Sutherland had a story to tell, also, and he told it well—so well, in fact, that when all hands were gathered together on deck during the dog-watch, Emil Johansen strode over to Chris and gripped him by the hand.
"Chris," he said, so loudly that all could hear, "Chris, I gif in. You vas yoost so good a sailorman as I. You vas a bully boy, und able seaman, und I pe proud for you!
"Und Chris!" He turned as if he had forgotten something, and called back, "From dis time always you call me ’Emil’ mitout der ’Mister!’"
7. The Master of Mystery
There was complaint in the village. The women chattered together with shrill, high-pitched voices. The men were glum and doubtful of aspect, and the very dogs wandered dubiously about, alarmed in vague ways by the unrest of the camp, and ready to take to the woods on the first outbreak of trouble. The air was filled with suspicion. No man was sure of his neighbor, and each was conscious that he stood in like unsureness with his fellows. Even the children were oppressed and solemn, and little Di Ya, the cause of it all, had been soundly thrashed, first by Hooniah, his mother, and then by his father, Bawn, and was now whimpering and looking pessimistically out upon the world from the shelter of the big overturned canoe on the beach.
And to make the matter worse, Scundoo, the shaman, was in disgrace, and his known magic could not be called upon to seek out the evil-doer. Forsooth, a month gone, he had promised a fair south wind so that the tribe might journey to the potlatch at Tonkin, where Taku Jim was giving away the savings of twenty years; and when the day came, lo, a grievous north wind blew, and of the first three canoes to venture forth, one was swamped in the big seas, and two were pounded to pieces on the rocks, and a child was drowned. He had pulled the string of the wrong bag, he explained,—a mistake. But the people refused to listen; the offerings of meat and fish and fur ceased to come to his door; and he sulked within—so they thought, fasting in bitter penance; in reality, eating generously from his well-stored cache and meditating upon the fickleness of the mob.
The blankets of Hooniah were missing. They were good blankets, of most marvellous thickness and warmth, and her pride in them was greatened in that they had been come by so cheaply. Ty-Kwan, of the next village but one, was a fool to have so easily parted with them. But then, she did not know they were the blankets of the murdered Englishman, because of whose take-off the United States cutter nosed along the coast for a time, while its launches puffed and snorted among the secret inlets. And not knowing that Ty-Kwan had disposed of them in haste so that his own people might not have to render account to the Government, Hooniah’s pride was unshaken. And because the women envied her, her pride was without end and boundless, till it filled the village and spilled over along the Alaskan shore from Dutch Harbor to St. Mary’s. Her totem had become justly celebrated, and her name known on the lips of men wherever men fished and feasted, what of the blankets and their marvellous thickness and warmth. It was a most mysterious happening, the manner of their going.
"I but stretched them up in the sun by the side-wall of the house," Hooniah disclaimed for the thousandth time to her Thlinket sisters. "I but stretched them up and turned my back; for Di Ya, dough-thief and eater of raw flour that he is, with head into the big iron pot, overturned and stuck there, his legs waving like the branches of a forest tree in the wind. And I did but drag him out and twice knock his head against the door for riper understanding, and behold, the blankets were not!"
"The blankets were not!" the women repeated in awed whispers.
"A great loss," one added. A second, "Never were there such blankets." And a third, "We be sorry, Hooniah, for thy loss." Yet each woman of them was glad in her heart that the odious, dissension-breeding blankets were gone. "I but stretched them up in the sun," Hooniah began for the thousand and first time.
"Yea, yea," Bawn spoke up, wearied. "But there were no gossips in the village from other places. Wherefore it be plain that some of our own tribespeople have laid unlawful hand upon the blankets."
"How can that be, O Bawn?" the women chorussed indignantly. "Who should there be?"
"Then has there been witchcraft," Bawn continued stolidly enough, though he stole a sly glance at their faces.
"Witchcraft!" And at the dread word their voices hushed and each looked fearfully at each.
"Ay," Hooniah affirmed, the latent malignancy of her nature flashing into a moment’s exultation. "And word has been sent to Klok-No-Ton, and strong paddles. Truly shall he be here with the afternoon tide."
The little groups broke up, and fear descended upon the village. Of all misfortune, witchcraft was the most appalling. With the intangible and unseen things only the shamans could cope, and neither man, woman, nor child could know, until the moment of ordeal, whether devils possessed their souls or not. And of all shamans, Klok-No-Ton, who dwelt in the next village, was the most terrible. None found more evil spirits than he, none visited his victims with more frightful tortures. Even had he found, once, a devil residing within the body of a three-months babe—a most obstinate devil which could only be driven out when the babe had lain for a week on thorns and briers. The body was thrown into the sea after that, but the waves tossed it back again and again as a curse upon the village, nor did it finally go away till two strong men were staked out at low tide and drowned.
And Hooniah had sent for this Klok-No-Ton. Better had it been if Scundoo, their own shaman, were undisgraced. For he had ever a gentler way, and he had been known to drive forth two devils from a man who afterward begat seven healthy children. But Klok-No-Ton! They shuddered with dire foreboding at thought of him, and each one felt himself the centre of accusing eyes, and looked accusingly upon his fellows—each one and all, save Sime, and Sime was a scoffer whose evil end was destined with a certitude his successes could not shake.
"Hoh! Hoh!" he laughed. "Devils and Klok-No-Ton!—than whom no greater devil can be found in Thlinket Land."
"Thou fool! Even now he cometh with witcheries and sorceries; so beware thy tongue, lest evil befall thee and thy days be short in the land!"
So spoke La-lah, otherwise the Cheater, and Sime laughed scornfully.
"I am Sime, unused to fear, unafraid of the dark. I am a strong man, as my father before me, and my head is clear. Nor you nor I have seen with our eyes the unseen evil things—"
"But Scundoo hath," La-lah made answer. "And likewise Klok-No-Ton. This we know."
"How dost thou know, son of a fool?" Sime thundered, the choleric blood darkening his thick bull neck.
"By the word of their mouths—even so."
Sime snorted. "A shaman is only a man. May not his words be crooked, even as thine and mine? Bah! Bah! And once more, bah! And this for thy shamans and thy shamans’ devils! and this! and this!"
And snapping his fingers to right and left, Sime strode through the on-lookers, who made over-zealous and fearsome way for him.
"A good fisher and strong hunter, but an evil man," said one.
"Yet does he flourish," speculated another.
"Wherefore be thou evil and flourish," Sime retorted over his shoulder. "And were all evil, there would be no need for shamans. Bah! You children-afraid-of-the-dark!"
And when Klok-No-Ton arrived on the afternoon tide, Sime’s defiant laugh was unabated; nor did he forbear to make a joke when the shaman tripped on the sand in the landing. Klok-No-Ton looked at him sourly, and without greeting stalked straight through their midst to the house of Scundoo.
Of the meeting with Scundoo none of the tribespeople might know, for they clustered reverently in the distance and spoke in whispers while the masters of mystery were together.
"Greeting, O Scundoo!" Klok-No-Ton rumbled, wavering perceptibly from doubt of his reception.
He was a giant in stature, and towered massively above little Scundoo, whose thin voice floated upward like the faint far rasping of a cricket.
"Greeting, Klok-No-Ton," he returned. "The day is fair with thy coming."
"Yet it would seem ..." Klok-No-Ton hesitated.
"Yea, yea," the little shaman put in impatiently, "that I have fallen on ill days, else would I not stand in gratitude to you in that you do my work."
"It grieves me, friend Scundoo ..."
"Nay, I am made glad, Klok-No-Ton."
"But will I give thee half of that which be given me."
"Not so, good Klok-No-Ton," murmured Scundoo, with a deprecatory wave of the hand. "It is I who am thy slave, and my days shall be filled with desire to befriend thee."
"As thou now befriendest me."
"That being so, it is then a bad business, these blankets of the woman Hooniah?"
The big shaman blundered tentatively in his quest, and Scundoo smiled a wan, gray smile, for he was used to reading men, and all men seemed very small to him.
"Ever hast thou dealt in strong medicine," he said. "Doubtless the evil-doer will be briefly known to thee."
"Ay, briefly known when I set eyes upon him." Again Klok-No-Ton hesitated. "Have there been gossips from other places?" he asked.
Scundoo shook his head. "Behold! Is this not a most excellent mucluc?"
He held up the foot-covering of sealskin and walrus hide, and his visitor examined it with secret interest.
"It did come to me by a close-driven bargain."
Klok-No-Ton nodded attentively.
"I got it from the man La-lah. He is a remarkable man, and often have I thought ..."
"So?" Klok-No-Ton ventured impatiently.
"Often have I thought," Scundoo concluded, his voice falling as he came to a full pause. "It is a fair day, and thy medicine be strong, Klok-No-Ton."
Klok-No-Ton’s face brightened. "Thou art a great man, Scundoo, a shaman of shamans. I go now. I shall remember thee always. And the man La-lah, as you say, is a remarkable man."
Scundoo smiled yet more wan and gray, closed the door on the heels of his departing visitor, and barred and double-barred it.
Sime was mending his canoe when Klok-No-Ton came down the beach, and he broke off from his work only long enough to ostentatiously load his rifle and place it near him.
The shaman noted the action and called out: "Let all the people come together on this spot! It is the word of Klok-No-Ton, devil-seeker and driver of devils!"
He had been minded to assemble them at Hooniah’s house, but it was necessary that all should be present, and he was doubtful of Sime’s obedience and did not wish trouble. Sime was a good man to let alone, his judgment ran, and withal, a bad one for the health of any shaman.
"Let the woman Hooniah be brought," Klok-No-Ton commanded, glaring ferociously about the circle and sending chills up and down the spines of those he looked upon.
Hooniah waddled forward, head bent and gaze averted.
"Where be thy blankets?"
"I but stretched them up in the sun, and behold, they were not!" she whined.
"It was because of Di Ya."
"Him have I beaten sore, and he shall yet be beaten, for that he brought trouble upon us who be poor people."
"The blankets!" Klok-No-Ton bellowed hoarsely, foreseeing her desire to lower the price to be paid. "The blankets, woman! Thy wealth is known."
"I but stretched them up in the sun," she sniffled, "and we be poor people and have nothing."
He stiffened suddenly, with a hideous distortion of the face, and Hooniah shrank back. But so swiftly did he spring forward, with in-turned eyeballs and loosened jaw, that she stumbled and fell down grovelling at his feet. He waved his arms about, wildly flagellating the air, his body writhing and twisting in torment. An epilepsy seemed to come upon him. A white froth flecked his lips, and his body was convulsed with shiverings and tremblings.
The women broke into a wailing chant, swaying backward and forward in abandonment, while one by one the men succumbed to the excitement till only Sime remained. He, perched upon his canoe, looked on in mockery; yet the ancestors whose seed he bore pressed heavily upon him, and he swore his strongest oaths that his courage might be cheered. Klok-No-Ton was horrible to behold. He had cast off his blanket and torn his clothes from him, so that he was quite naked, save for a girdle of eagle-claws about his thighs. Shrieking and yelling, his long black hair flying like a blot of night, he leaped frantically about the circle. A certain rude rhythm characterized his frenzy, and when all were under its sway, swinging their bodies in accord with his and venting their cries in unison, he sat bolt upright, with arm outstretched and long, talon-like finger extended. A low moaning, as of the dead, greeted this, and the people cowered with shaking knees as the dread finger passed them slowly by. For death went with it, and life remained with those who watched it go; and being rejected, they watched with eager intentness.
Finally, with a tremendous cry, the fateful finger rested upon La-lah. He shook like an aspen, seeing himself already dead, his household goods divided, and his widow married to his brother. He strove to speak, to deny, but his tongue clove to his mouth and his throat was sanded with an intolerable thirst. Klok-No-Ton seemed to half swoon away, now that his work was done; but he waited, with closed eyes, listening for the great blood-cry to go up—the great blood-cry, familiar to his ear from a thousand conjurations, when the tribespeople flung themselves like wolves upon the trembling victim. But only was there silence, then a low tittering, from nowhere in particular, which spread and spread until a vast laughter welled up to the sky.
"Wherefore?" he cried.
"Na! Na!" the people laughed. "Thy medicine be ill, O Klok-No-Ton!"
"It be known to all," La-lah stuttered. "For eight weary months have I been gone afar with the Siwash sealers, and but this day am I come back to find the blankets of Hooniah gone ere I came!"
"It be true!" they cried with one accord. "The blankets of Hooniah were gone ere he came!"
"And thou shalt be paid nothing for thy medicine which is of no avail," announced Hooniah, on her feet once more and smarting from a sense of ridiculousness.
But Klok-No-Ton saw only the face of Scundoo and its wan, gray smile, heard only the faint far cricket’s rasping. "I got it from the man La-lah, and often have I thought," and, "It is a fair day and thy medicine be strong."
He brushed by Hooniah, and the circle instinctively gave way for him to pass. Sime flung a jeer from the top of the canoe, the women snickered in his face, cries of derision rose in his wake, but he took no notice, pressing onward to the house of Scundoo. He hammered on the door, beat it with his fists, and howled vile imprecations. Yet there was no response, save that in the lulls Scundoo’s voice rose eerily in incantation. Klok-No-Ton raged about like a madman, but when he attempted to break in the door with a huge stone, murmurs arose from the men and women. And he, Klok-No-Ton, knew that he stood shorn of his strength and authority before an alien people. He saw a man stoop for a stone, and a second, and a bodily fear ran through him.
"Harm not Scundoo, who is a master!" a woman cried out.
"Better you return to your own village," a man advised menacingly.
Klok-No-Ton turned on his heel and went down among them to the beach, a bitter rage at his heart, and in his head a just apprehension for his defenceless back. But no stones were cast. The children swarmed mockingly about his feet, and the air was wild with laughter and derision, but that was all. Yet he did not breathe freely until the canoe was well out upon the water, when he rose up and laid a futile curse upon the village and its people, not forgetting to particularly specify Scundoo who had made a mock of him.
Ashore there was a clamor for Scundoo, and the whole population crowded his door, entreating and imploring in confused babel till he came forth and raised his hand.
"In that ye are my children I pardon freely," he said. "But never again. For the last time thy foolishness goes unpunished. That which ye wish shall be granted, and it be already known to me. This night, when the moon has gone behind the world to look upon the mighty dead, let all the people gather in the blackness before the house of Hooniah. Then shall the evil-doer stand forth and take his merited reward. I have spoken."
"It shall be death!" Bawn vociferated, "for that it hath brought worry upon us, and shame."
"So be it," Scundoo replied, and shut his door.
"Now shall all be made clear and plain, and content rest upon us once again," La-lah declaimed oracularly.
"Because of Scundoo, the little man," Sime sneered.
"Because of the medicine of Scundoo, the little man," La-lah corrected.
"Children of foolishness, these Thlinket people!" Sime smote his thigh a resounding blow. "It passeth understanding that grown women and strong men should get down in the dirt to dream-things and wonder tales."
"I am a travelled man," La-lah answered. "I have journeyed on the deep seas and seen signs and wonders, and I know that these things be so. I am La-lah—"
"So called, but the Far-Journeyer right-named."
"I am not so great a traveller—" Sime began.
"Then hold thy tongue," Bawn cut in, and they separated in anger.
When the last silver moonlight had vanished beyond the world, Scundoo came among the people huddled about the house of Hooniah. He walked with a quick, alert step, and those who saw him in the light of Hooniah’s slush-lamp noticed that he came empty-handed, without rattles, masks, or shaman’s paraphernalia, save for a great sleepy raven carried under one arm.
"Is there wood gathered for a fire, so that all may see when the work be done?" he demanded.
"Yea," Bawn answered. "There be wood in plenty."
"Then let all listen, for my words be few. With me have I brought Jelchs, the Raven, diviner of mystery and seer of things. Him, in his blackness, shall I place under the big black pot of Hooniah, in the blackest corner of her house. The slush-lamp shall cease to burn, and all remain in outer darkness. It is very simple. One by one shall ye go into the house, lay hand upon the pot for the space of one long intake of the breath, and withdraw again. Doubtless Jelchs will make outcry when the hand of the evil-doer is nigh him. Or who knows but otherwise he may manifest his wisdom. Are ye ready?"
"We be ready," came the multi-voiced response.
"Then will I call the name aloud, each in his turn and hers, till all are called."
Thereat La-lah was first chosen, and he passed in at once. Every ear strained, and through the silence they could hear his footsteps creaking across the rickety floor. But that was all. Jelchs made no outcry, gave no sign. Bawn was next chosen, for it well might be that a man should steal his own blankets with intent to cast shame upon his neighbors. Hooniah followed, and other women and children, but without result.
"Sime!" Scundoo called out.
"Sime!" he repeated.
But Sime did not stir.
"Art thou afraid of the dark?" La-lah, his own integrity being proved, demanded fiercely.
Sime chuckled. "I laugh at it all, for it is a great foolishness. Yet will I go in, not in belief in wonders, but in token that I am unafraid."
And he passed in boldly, and came out still mocking.
"Some day shalt thou die with great suddenness," La-lah whispered, righteously indignant.
"I doubt not," the scoffer answered airily. "Few men of us die in our beds, what of the shamans and the deep sea."
When half the villagers had safely undergone the ordeal, the excitement, because of its repression, was painfully intense. When two-thirds had gone through, a young woman, close on her first child-bed, broke down and in nervous shrieks and laughter gave form to her terror.
Finally the turn came for the last of all to go in, and nothing had happened. And Di Ya was the last of all. It must surely be he. Hooniah let out a lament to the stars, while the rest drew back from the luckless lad. He was half-dead from fright, and his legs gave under him so that he staggered on the threshold and nearly fell. Scundoo shoved him inside and closed the door. A long time went by, during which could be heard only the boy’s weeping. Then, very slowly, came the creak of his steps to the far corner, a pause, and the creaking of his return. The door opened and he came forth. Nothing had happened, and he was the last.
"Let the fire be lighted," Scundoo commanded.
The bright flames rushed upward, revealing faces yet marked with vanishing fear, but also clouded with doubt.
"Surely the thing has failed," Hooniah whispered hoarsely.
"Yea," Bawn answered complacently. "Scundoo groweth old, and we stand in need of a new shaman."
"Where now is the wisdom of Jelchs?" Sime snickered in La-lah’s ear.
La-lah brushed his brow in a puzzled manner and said nothing.
Sime threw his chest out arrogantly and strutted up to the little shaman. "Hoh! Hoh! As I said, nothing has come of it!"
"So it would seem, so it would seem," Scundoo answered meekly. "And it would seem strange to those unskilled in the affairs of mystery."
"As thou?" Sime queried audaciously.
"Mayhap even as I." Scundoo spoke quite softly, his eyelids drooping, slowly drooping, down, down, till his eyes were all but hidden. "So I am minded of another test. Let every man, woman, and child, now and at once, hold their hands well up above their heads!"
So unexpected was the order, and so imperatively was it given, that it was obeyed without question. Every hand was in the air.
"Let each look on the other’s hands, and let all look," Scundoo commanded, "so that—"
But a noise of laughter, which was more of wrath, drowned his voice. All eyes had come to rest upon Sime. Every hand but his was black with soot, and his was guiltless of the smirch of Hooniah’s pot.
A stone hurtled through the air and struck him on the cheek.
"It is a lie!" he yelled. "A lie! I know naught of Hooniah’s blankets!"
A second stone gashed his brow, a third whistled past his head, the great blood-cry went up, and everywhere were people groping on the ground for missiles. He staggered and half sank down.
"It was a joke! Only a joke!" he shrieked. "I but took them for a joke!"
"Where hast thou hidden them?" Scundoo’s shrill, sharp voice cut through the tumult like a knife.
"In the large skin-bale in my house, the one slung by the ridge-pole," came the answer. "But it was a joke, I say, only—"
Scundoo nodded his head, and the air went thick with flying stones. Sime’s wife was crying silently, her head upon her knees; but his little boy, with shrieks and laughter, was flinging stones with the rest.
Hooniah came waddling back with the precious blankets. Scundoo stopped her.
"We be poor people and have little," she whimpered. "So be not hard upon us, O Scundoo."
The people ceased from the quivering stone-pile they had builded, and looked on.
"Nay, it was never my way, good Hooniah," Scundoo made answer, reaching for the blankets. "In token that I am not hard, these only shall I take."
"Am I not wise, my children?" he demanded.
"Thou art indeed wise, O Scundoo!" they cried in one voice.
And he went away into the darkness, the blankets around him, and Jelchs nodding sleepily under his arm.
8. Demetrios Contos
It must not be thought, from what I have told of the Greek fishermen, that they were altogether bad. Far from it. But they were rough men, gathered together in isolated communities and fighting with the elements for a livelihood. They lived far away from the law and its workings, did not understand it, and thought it tyranny. Especially did the fish laws seem tyrannical. And because of this, they looked upon the men of the fish patrol as their natural enemies.
We menaced their lives, or their living, which is the same thing, in many ways. We confiscated illegal traps and nets, the materials of which had cost them considerable sums and the making of which required weeks of labor. We prevented them from catching fish at many times and seasons, which was equivalent to preventing them from making as good a living as they might have made had we not been in existence. And when we captured them, they were brought into the courts of law, where heavy cash fines were collected from them. As a result, they hated us vindictively. As the dog is the natural enemy of the cat, the snake of man, so were we of the fish patrol the natural enemies of the fishermen.
But it is to show that they could act generously as well as hate bitterly that this story of Demetrios Contos is told. Demetrios Contos lived in Vallejo. Next to Big Alec, he was the largest, bravest, and most influential man among the Greeks. He had given us no trouble, and I doubt if he would ever have clashed with us had he not invested in a new salmon boat. This boat was the cause of all the trouble. He had had it built upon his own model, in which the lines of the general salmon boat were somewhat modified.
To his high elation he found his new boat very fast—in fact, faster than any otherFf boat on the bay or rivers. Forthwith he grew proud and boastful: and, our raid with the Mary Rebecca on the Sunday salmon fishers having wrought fear in their hearts, he sent a challenge up to Benicia. One of the local fishermen conveyed it to us; it was to the effect that Demetrios Contos would sail up from Vallejo on the following Sunday, and in the plain sight of Benicia set his net and catch salmon, and that Charley Le Grant, patrolman, might come and get him if he could. Of course Charley and I had heard nothing of the new boat. Our own boat was pretty fast, and we were not afraid to have a brush with any other that happened along.
Sunday came. The challenge had been bruited abroad, and the fishermen and seafaring folk of Benicia turned out to a man, crowding Steamboat Wharf till it looked like the grand stand at a football match. Charley and I had been sceptical, but the fact of the crowd convinced us that there was something in Demetrios Contos’s dare.
In the afternoon, when the sea-breeze had picked up in strength, his sail hove into view as he bowled along before the wind. He tacked a score of feet from the wharf, waved his hand theatrically, like a knight about to enter the lists, received a hearty cheer in return, and stood away into the Straits for a couple of hundred yards. Then he lowered sail, and, drifting the boat sidewise by means of the wind, proceeded to set his net. He did not set much of it, possibly fifty feet; yet Charley and I were thunderstruck at the man’s effrontery. We did not know at the time, but we learned afterward, that the net he used was old and worthless. It could catch fish, true; but a catch of any size would have torn it to pieces.
Charley shook his head and said:
"I confess, it puzzles me. What if he has out only fifty feet? He could never get it in if we once started for him. And why does he come here anyway, flaunting his law—breaking in our faces? Right in our home town, too."
Charley’s voice took on an aggrieved tone, and he continued for some minutes to inveigh against the brazenness of Demetrios Contos.
In the meantime, the man in question was lolling in the stern of his boat and watching the net floats. When a large fish is meshed in a gill-net, the floats by their agitation advertise the fact. And they evidently advertised it to Demetrios, for he pulled in about a dozen feet of net, and held aloft for a moment, before he flung it into the bottom of the boat, a big, glistening salmon. It was greeted by the audience on the wharf with round after round of cheers. This was more than Charley could stand.
"Come on, lad," he called to me; and we lost no time jumping into our salmon boat and getting up sail.
The crowd shouted warning to Demetrios, and as we darted out from the wharf we saw him slash his worthless net clear with a long knife. His sail was all ready to go up, and a moment later it fluttered in the sunshine. He ran aft, drew in the sheet, and filled on the long tack toward the Contra Costa Hills.
By this time we were not more than thirty feet astern. Charley was jubilant. He knew our boat was fast, and he knew, further, that in fine sailing few men were his equals. He was confident that we should surely catch Demetrios, and I shared his confidence. But somehow we did not seem to gain.
It was a pretty sailing breeze. We were gliding sleekly through the water, but Demetrios was slowly sliding away from us. And not only was he going faster, but he was eating into the wind a fraction of a point closer than we. This was sharply impressed upon us when he went about under the Contra Costa Hills and passed us on the other tack fully one hundred feet dead to windward.
"Whew!" Charley exclaimed. "Either that boat is a daisy, or we’ve got a five-gallon coal-oil can fast to our keel!"
It certainly looked it one way or the other. And by the time Demetrios made the Sonoma Hills, on the other side of the Straits, we were so hopelessly outdistanced that Charley told me to slack off the sheet, and we squared away for Benicia. The fishermen on Steamboat Wharf showered us with ridicule when we returned and tied up. Charley and I got out and walked away, feeling rather sheepish, for it is a sore stroke to one’s pride when he thinks he has a good boat and knows how to sail it, and another man comes along and beats him.
Charley mooned over it for a couple of days; then word was brought to us, as before, that on the next Sunday Demetrios Contos would repeat his performance. Charley roused himself. He had our boat out of the water, cleaned and repainted its bottom, made a trifling alteration about the centre-board, overhauled the running gear, and sat up nearly all of Saturday night sewing on a new and much larger sail. So large did he make it, in fact, that additional ballast was imperative, and we stowed away nearly five hundred extra pounds of old railroad iron in the bottom of the boat.
Sunday came, and with it came Demetrios Contos, to break the law defiantly in open day. Again we had the afternoon sea-breeze, and again Demetrios cut loose some forty or more feet of his rotten net, and got up sail and under way under our very noses. But he had anticipated Charley’s move, and his own sail peaked higher than ever, while a whole extra cloth had been added to the after leech.
It was nip and tuck across to the Contra Costa Hills, neither of us seeming to gain or to lose. But by the time we had made the return tack to the Sonoma Hills, we could see that, while we footed it at about equal speed, Demetrios had eaten into the wind the least bit more than we. Yet Charley was sailing our boat as finely and delicately as it was possible to sail it, and getting more out of it than he ever had before.
Of course, he could have drawn his revolver and fired at Demetrios; but we had long since found it contrary to our natures to shoot at a fleeing man guilty of only a petty offence. Also a sort of tacit agreement seemed to have been reached between the patrolmen and the fishermen. If we did not shoot while they ran away, they, in turn, did not fight if we once laid hands on them. Thus Demetrios Contos ran away from us, and we did no more than try our best to overtake him; and, in turn, if our boat proved faster than his, or was sailed better, he would, we knew, make no resistance when we caught up with him.
With our large sails and the healthy breeze romping up the Carquinez Straits, we found that our sailing was what is called "ticklish." We had to be constantly on the alert to avoid a capsize, and while Charley steered I held the main-sheet in my hand with but a single turn round a pin, ready to let go at any moment. Demetrios, we could see, sailing his boat alone, had his hands full.
But it was a vain undertaking for us to attempt to catch him. Out of his inner consciousness he had evolved a boat that was better than ours. And though Charley sailed fully as well, if not the least bit better, the boat he sailed was not so good as the Greek’s.
"Slack away the sheet," Charley commanded; and as our boat fell off before the wind, Demetrios’s mocking laugh floated down to us.
Charley shook his head, saying, "It’s no use. Demetrios has the better boat. If he tries his performance again, we must meet it with some new scheme."
This time it was my imagination that came to the rescue.
"What’s the matter," I suggested, on the Wednesday following, "with my chasing Demetrios in the boat next Sunday, while you wait for him on the wharf at Vallejo when he arrives?"
Charley considered it a moment and slapped his knee.
"A good idea! You’re beginning to use that head of yours. A credit to your teacher, I must say."
"But you mustn’t chase him too far," he went on, the next moment, "or he’ll head out into San Pablo Bay instead of running home to Vallejo, and there I’ll be, standing lonely on the wharf and waiting in vain for him to arrive."
On Thursday Charley registered an objection to my plan.
"Everybody’ll know I’ve gone to Vallejo, and you can depend upon it that Demetrios will know, too. I’m afraid we’ll have to give up the idea."
This objection was only too valid, and for the rest of the day I struggled under my disappointment. But that night a new way seemed to open to me, and in my eagerness I awoke Charley from a sound sleep.
"Well," he grunted, "what’s the matter? House afire?"
"No," I replied, "but my head is. Listen to this. On Sunday you and I will be around Benicia up to the very moment Demetrios’s sail heaves into sight. This will lull everybody’s suspicions. Then, when Demetrios’s sail does heave in sight, do you stroll leisurely away and up-town. All the fishermen will think you’re beaten and that you know you’re beaten."
"So far, so good," Charley commented, while I paused to catch breath.
"And very good indeed," I continued proudly. "You stroll carelessly up-town, but when you’re once out of sight you leg it for all you’re worth for Dan Maloney’s. Take the little mare of his, and strike out on the county road for Vallejo. The road’s in fine condition, and you can make it in quicker time than Demetrios can beat all the way down against the wind."
"And I’ll arrange right away for the mare, first thing in the morning," Charley said, accepting the modified plan without hesitation.
"But, I say," he said, a little later, this time waking me out of a sound sleep.
I could hear him chuckling in the dark.
"I say, lad, isn’t it rather a novelty for the fish patrol to be taking to horseback?"
"Imagination," I answered. "It’s what you’re always preaching—’keep thinking one thought ahead of the other fellow, and you’re bound to win out.’"
"He! he!" he chuckled. "And if one thought ahead, including a mare, doesn’t take the other fellow’s breath away this time, I’m not your humble servant, Charley Le Grant."
"But can you manage the boat alone?" he asked, on Friday. "Remember, we’ve a ripping big sail on her."
I argued my proficiency so well that he did not refer to the matter again till Saturday, when he suggested removing one whole cloth from the after leech. I guess it was the disappointment written on my face that made him desist; for I, also, had a pride in my boat-sailing abilities, and I was almost wild to get out alone with the big sail and go tearing down the Carquinez Straits in the wake of the flying Greek.
As usual, Sunday and Demetrios Contos arrived together. It had become the regular thing for the fishermen to assemble on Steamboat Wharf to greet his arrival and to laugh at our discomfiture. He lowered sail a couple of hundred yards out and set his customary fifty feet of rotten net.
"I suppose this nonsense will keep up as long as his old net holds out," Charley grumbled, with intention, in the hearing of several of the Greeks.
"Den I give-a heem my old-a net-a," one of them spoke up, promptly and maliciously.
"I don’t care," Charley answered. "I’ve got some old net myself he can have—if he’ll come around and ask for it."
They all laughed at this, for they could afford to be sweet-tempered with a man so badly outwitted as Charley was.
"Well, so long, lad," Charley called to me a moment later. "I think I’ll go up-town to Maloney’s."
"Let me take the boat out?" I asked.
"If you want to," was his answer, as he turned on his heel and walked slowly away.
Demetrios pulled two large salmon out of his net, and I jumped into the boat. The fishermen crowded around in a spirit of fun, and when I started to get up sail overwhelmed me with all sorts of jocular advice. They even offered extravagant bets to one another that I would surely catch Demetrios, and two of them, styling themselves the committee of judges, gravely asked permission to come along with me to see how I did it.
But I was in no hurry. I waited to give Charley all the time I could, and I pretended dissatisfaction with the stretch of the sail and slightly shifted the small tackle by which the huge sprit forces up the peak. It was not until I was sure that Charley had reached Dan Maloney’s and was on the little mare’s back, that I cast off from the wharf and gave the big sail to the wind. A stout puff filled it and suddenly pressed the lee gunwale down till a couple of buckets of water came inboard. A little thing like this will happen to the best small-boat sailors, and yet, though I instantly let go the sheet and righted, I was cheered sarcastically, as though I had been guilty of a very awkward blunder.
When Demetrios saw only one person in the fish patrol boat, and that one a boy, he proceeded to play with me. Making a short tack out, with me not thirty feet behind, he returned, with his sheet a little free, to Steamboat Wharf. And there he made short tacks, and turned and twisted and ducked around, to the great delight of his sympathetic audience. I was right behind him all the time, and I dared to do whatever he did, even when he squared away before the wind and jibed his big sail over—a most dangerous trick with such a sail in such a wind.
He depended upon the brisk sea breeze and the strong ebb tide, which together kicked up a nasty sea, to bring me to grief. But I was on my mettle, and never in all my life did I sail a boat better than on that day. I was keyed up to concert pitch, my brain was working smoothly and quickly, my hands never fumbled once, and it seemed that I almost divined the thousand little things which a small-boat sailor must be taking into consideration every second.
It was Demetrios who came to grief instead. Something went wrong with his centre-board, so that it jammed in the case and would not go all the way down. In a moment’s breathing space, which he had gained from me by a clever trick, I saw him working impatiently with the centre-board, trying to force it down. I gave him little time, and he was compelled quickly to return to the tiller and sheet.
The centre-board made him anxious. He gave over playing with me, and started on the long beat to Vallejo. To my joy, on the first long tack across, I found that I could eat into the wind just a little bit closer than he. Here was where another man in the boat would have been of value to him; for, with me but a few feet astern, he did not dare let go the tiller and run amidships to try to force down the centre-board.
Unable to hang on as close in the eye of the wind as formerly, he proceeded to slack his sheet a trifle and to ease off a bit, in order to outfoot me. This I permitted him to do till I had worked to windward, when I bore down upon him. As I drew close, he feinted at coming about. This led me to shoot into the wind to forestall him. But it was only a feint, cleverly executed, and he held back to his course while I hurried to make up lost ground.
He was undeniably smarter than I when it came to maneuvering. Time after time I all but had him, and each time he tricked me and escaped. Besides, the wind was freshening constantly, and each of us had his hands full to avoid capsizing. As for my boat, it could not have been kept afloat but for the extra ballast. I sat cocked over the weather gunwale, tiller in one hand and sheet in the other; and the sheet, with a single turn around a pin, I was very often forced to let go in the severer puffs. This allowed the sail to spill the wind, which was equivalent to taking off so much driving power, and of course I lost ground. My consolation was that Demetrios was as often compelled to do the same thing.
The strong ebb-tide, racing down the Straits in the teeth of the wind, caused an unusually heavy and spiteful sea, which dashed aboard continually. I was dripping wet, and even the sail was wet half-way up the after leech. Once I did succeed in outmaneuvering Demetrios, so that my bow bumped into him amidships. Here was where I should have had another man. Before I could run forward and leap aboard, he shoved the boats apart with an oar, laughing mockingly in my face as he did so.
We were now at the mouth of the Straits, in a bad stretch of water. Here the Vallejo Straits and the Carquinez Straits rushed directly at each other. Through the first flowed all the water of Napa River and the great tide-lands; through the second flowed all the water of Suisun Bay and the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. And where such immense bodies of water, flowing swiftly, clashed together, a terrible tide-rip was produced. To make it worse, the wind howled up San Pablo Bay for fifteen miles and drove in a tremendous sea upon the tide-rip.
Conflicting currents tore about in all directions, colliding, forming whirlpools, sucks, and boils, and shooting up spitefully into hollow waves which fell aboard as often from leeward as from windward. And through it all, confused, driven into a madness of motion, thundered the great smoking seas from San Pablo Bay.
I was as wildly excited as the water. The boat was behaving splendidly, leaping and lurching through the welter like a race-horse. I could hardly contain myself with the joy of it. The huge sail, the howling wind, the driving seas, the plunging boat—I, a pygmy, a mere speck in the midst of it, was mastering the elemental strife, flying through it and over it, triumphant and victorious.
And just then, as I roared along like a conquering hero, the boat received a frightful smash and came instantly to a dead stop. I was flung forward and into the bottom. As I sprang up I caught a fleeting glimpse of a greenish, barnacle-covered object, and knew it at once for what it was, that terror of navigation, a sunken pile. No man may guard against such a thing. Water-logged and floating just beneath the surface, it was impossible to sight it in the troubled water in time to escape.
The whole bow of the boat must have been crushed in, for in a few seconds the boat was half full. Then a couple of seas filled it, and it sank straight down, dragged to bottom by the heavy ballast. So quickly did it all happen that I was entangled in the sail and drawn under. When I fought my way to the surface, suffocating, my lungs almost bursting, I could see nothing of the oars. They must have been swept away by the chaotic currents. I saw Demetrios Contos looking back from his boat, and heard the vindictive and mocking tones of his voice as he shouted exultantly. He held steadily on his course, leaving me to perish.
There was nothing to do but to swim for it, which, in that wild confusion, was at the best a matter of but a few moments. Holding my breath and working with my hands, I managed to get off my heavy sea-boots and my jacket. Yet there was very little breath I could catch to hold, and I swiftly discovered that it was not so much a matter of swimming as of breathing.
I was beaten and buffeted, smashed under by the great San Pablo whitecaps, and strangled by the hollow tide-rip waves which flung themselves into my eyes, nose, and mouth. Then the strange sucks would grip my legs and drag me under, to spout me up in some fierce boiling, where, even as I tried to catch my breath, a great whitecap would crash down upon my head.
It was impossible to survive any length of time. I was breathing more water than air, and drowning all the time. My senses began to leave me, my head to whirl around. I struggled on, spasmodically, instinctively, and was barely half conscious when I felt myself caught by the shoulders and hauled over the gunwale of a boat.
For some time I lay across a seat where I had been flung, face downward, and with the water running out of my mouth. After a while, still weak and faint, I turned around to see who was my rescuer. And there, in the stern, sheet in one hand and tiller in the other, grinning and nodding good-naturedly, sat Demetrios Contos. He had intended to leave me to drown,—he said so afterward,—but his better self had fought the battle, conquered, and sent him back to me.
"You all-a right?" he asked.
I managed to shape a "yes" on my lips, though I could not yet speak.
"You sail-a de boat verr-a good-a," he said. "So good-a as a man."
A compliment from Demetrios Contos was a compliment indeed, and I keenly appreciated it, though I could only nod my head in acknowledgment.
We held no more conversation, for I was busy recovering and he was busy with the boat. He ran in to the wharf at Vallejo, made the boat fast, and helped me out. Then it was, as we both stood on the wharf, that Charley stepped out from behind a net-rack and put his hand on Demetrios Contos’s arm.
"He saved my life, Charley," I protested; "and I don’t think he ought to be arrested."
A puzzled expression came into Charley’s face, which cleared immediately after, in a way it had when he made up his mind.
"I can’t help it, lad," he said kindly. "I can’t go back on my duty, and it’s plain duty to arrest him. To-day is Sunday; there are two salmon in his boat which he caught to-day. What else can I do?"
"But he saved my life," I persisted, unable to make any other argument.
Demetrios Contos’s face went black with rage when he learned Charley’s judgment. He had a sense of being unfairly treated. The better part of his nature had triumphed, he had performed a generous act and saved a helpless enemy, and in return the enemy was taking him to jail.
Charley and I were out of sorts with each other when we went back to Benicia. I stood for the spirit of the law and not the letter; but by the letter Charley made his stand. As far as he could see, there was nothing else for him to do. The law said distinctly that no salmon should be caught on Sunday. He was a patrolman, and it was his duty to enforce that law. That was all there was to it. He had done his duty, and his conscience was clear. Nevertheless, the whole thing seemed unjust to me, and I felt very sorry for Demetrios Contos.
Two days later we went down to Vallejo to the trial. I had to go along as a witness, and it was the most hateful task that I ever performed in my life when I testified on the witness stand to seeing Demetrios catch the two salmon Charley had captured him with.
Demetrios had engaged a lawyer, but his case was hopeless. The jury was out only fifteen minutes, and returned a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced Demetrios to pay a fine of one hundred dollars or go to jail for fifty days.
Charley stepped up to the clerk of the court. "I want to pay that fine," he said, at the same time placing five twenty-dollar gold pieces on the desk. "It—it was the only way out of it, lad," he stammered, turning to me.
The moisture rushed into my eyes as I seized his hand. "I want to pay—" I began.
"To pay your half?" he interrupted. "I certainly shall expect you to pay it."
In the meantime Demetrios had been informed by his lawyer that his fee likewise had been paid by Charley.
Demetrios came over to shake Charley’s hand, and all his warm Southern blood flamed in his face. Then, not to be outdone in generosity, he insisted on paying his fine and lawyer’s fee himself, and flew half-way into a passion because Charley refused to let him.
More than anything else we ever did, I think, this action of Charley’s impressed upon the fishermen the deeper significance of the law. Also Charley was raised high in their esteem, while I came in for a little share of praise as a boy who knew how to sail a boat. Demetrios Contos not only never broke the law again, but he became a very good friend of ours, and on more than one occasion he ran up to Benicia to have a gossip with us.
9. Make Westing
Whatever you do, make westing! make westing!
— Sailing directions for Cape Horn.
For seven weeks the Mary Rogers had been between 50 degrees south in the Atlantic and 50 degrees south in the Pacific, which meant that for seven weeks she had been struggling to round Cape Horn. For seven weeks she had been either in dirt, or close to dirt, save once, and then, following upon six days of excessive dirt, which she had ridden out under the shelter of the redoubtable Terra del Fuego coast, she had almost gone ashore during a heavy swell in the dead calm that had suddenly fallen. For seven weeks she had wrestled with the Cape Horn graybeards, and in return been buffeted and smashed by them. She was a wooden ship, and her ceaseless straining had opened her seams, so that twice a day the watch took its turn at the pumps.
The Mary Rogers was strained, the crew was strained, and big Dan Cullen, master, was likewise strained. Perhaps he was strained most of all, for upon him rested the responsibility of that titanic struggle. He slept most of the time in his clothes, though he rarely slept. He haunted the deck at night, a great, burly, robust ghost, black with the sunburn of thirty years of sea and hairy as an orang-outang. He, in turn, was haunted by one thought of action, a sailing direction for the Horn: Whatever you do, make westing! make westing! It was an obsession. He thought of nothing else, except, at times, to blaspheme God for sending such bitter weather.
Make westing! He hugged the Horn, and a dozen times lay hove to with the iron Cape bearing east-by-north, or north-north-east, a score of miles away. And each time the eternal west wind smote him back and he made easting. He fought gale after gale, south to 64 degrees, inside the antarctic drift-ice, and pledged his immortal soul to the Powers of Darkness for a bit of westing, for a slant to take him around. And he made easting. In despair, he had tried to make the passage through the Straits of Le Maire. Halfway through, the wind hauled to the north’ard of north-west, the glass dropped to 28.88, and he turned and ran before a gale of cyclonic fury, missing, by a hair’s-breadth, piling up the Mary Rogers on the black-toothed rocks. Twice he had made west to the Diego Ramirez Rocks, one of the times saved between two snow-squalls by sighting the gravestones of ships a quarter of a mile dead ahead.
Blow! Captain Dan Cullen instanced all his thirty years at sea to prove that never had it blown so before. The Mary Rogers was hove to at the time he gave the evidence, and, to clinch it, inside half an hour the Mary Rogers was hove down to the hatches. Her new maintopsail and brand new spencer were blown away like tissue paper; and five sails, furled and fast under double gaskets, were blown loose and stripped from the yards. And before morning the Mary Rogers was hove down twice again, and holes were knocked in her bulwarks to ease her decks from the weight of ocean that pressed her down.
On an average of once a week Captain Dan Cullen caught glimpses of the sun. Once, for ten minutes, the sun shone at midday, and ten minutes afterward a new gale was piping up, both watches were shortening sail, and all was buried in the obscurity of a driving snow-squall. For a fortnight, once, Captain Dan Cullen was without a meridian or a chronometer sight. Rarely did he know his position within half of a degree, except when in sight of land; for sun and stars remained hidden behind the sky, and it was so gloomy that even at the best the horizons were poor for accurate observations. A gray gloom shrouded the world. The clouds were gray; the great driving seas were leaden gray; the smoking crests were a gray churning; even the occasional albatrosses were gray, while the snow-flurries were not white, but gray, under the sombre pall of the heavens.
Life on board the Mary Rogers was gray—gray and gloomy. The faces of the sailors were blue-gray; they were afflicted with sea-cuts and sea-boils, and suffered exquisitely. They were shadows of men. For seven weeks, in the forecastle or on deck, they had not known what it was to be dry. They had forgotten what it was to sleep out a watch, and all watches it was, “All hands on deck!” They caught snatches of agonized sleep, and they slept in their oilskins ready for the everlasting call. So weak and worn were they that it took both watches to do the work of one. That was why both watches were on deck so much of the time. And no shadow of a man could shirk duty. Nothing less than a broken leg could enable a man to knock off work; and there were two such, who had been mauled and pulped by the seas that broke aboard.
One other man who was the shadow of a man was George Dorety. He was the only passenger on board, a friend of the firm, and he had elected to make the voyage for his health. But seven weeks of Cape Horn had not bettered his health. He gasped and panted in his bunk through the long, heaving nights; and when on deck he was so bundled up for warmth that he resembled a peripatetic old-clothes shop. At midday, eating at the cabin table in a gloom so deep that the swinging sea-lamps burned always, he looked as blue-gray as the sickest, saddest man for’ard. Nor did gazing across the table at Captain Dan Cullen have any cheering effect upon him. Captain Cullen chewed and scowled and kept silent. The scowls were for God, and with every chew he reiterated the sole thought of his existence, which was make westing. He was a big, hairy brute, and the sight of him was not stimulating to the other’s appetite. He looked upon George Dorety as a Jonah, and told him so, once each meal, savagely transferring the scowl from God to the passenger and back again.
Nor did the mate prove a first aid to a languid appetite. Joshua Higgins by name, a seaman by profession and pull, but a pot-wolloper by capacity, he was a loose-jointed, sniffling creature, heartless and selfish and cowardly, without a soul, in fear of his life of Dan Cullen, and a bully over the sailors, who knew that behind the mate was Captain Cullen, the law-giver and compeller, the driver and the destroyer, the incarnation of a dozen bucko mates. In that wild weather at the southern end of the earth, Joshua Higgins ceased washing. His grimy face usually robbed George Dorety of what little appetite he managed to accumulate. Ordinarily this lavatorial dereliction would have caught Captain Cullen’s eye and vocabulary, but in the present his mind was filled with making westing, to the exclusion of all other things not contributory thereto. Whether the mate’s face was clean or dirty had no bearing upon westing. Later on, when 50 degrees south in the Pacific had been reached, Joshua Higgins would wash his face very abruptly. In the meantime, at the cabin table, where gray twilight alternated with lamplight while the lamps were being filled, George Dorety sat between the two men, one a tiger and the other a hyena, and wondered why God had made them. The second mate, Matthew Turner, was a true sailor and a man, but George Dorety did not have the solace of his company, for he ate by himself, solitary, when they had finished.
On Saturday morning, July 24, George Dorety awoke to a feeling of life and headlong movement. On deck he found the Mary Rogers running off before a howling south-easter. Nothing was set but the lower topsails and the foresail. It was all she could stand, yet she was making fourteen knots, as Mr. Turner shouted in Dorety’s ear when he came on deck. And it was all westing. She was going around the Horn at last... if the wind held. Mr. Turner looked happy. The end of the struggle was in sight. But Captain Cullen did not look happy. He scowled at Dorety in passing. Captain Cullen did not want God to know that he was pleased with that wind. He had a conception of a malicious God, and believed in his secret soul that if God knew it was a desirable wind, God would promptly efface it and send a snorter from the west. So he walked softly before God, smothering his joy down under scowls and muttered curses, and, so, fooling God, for God was the only thing in the universe of which Dan Cullen was afraid.
All Saturday and Saturday night the Mary Rogers raced her westing. Persistently she logged her fourteen knots, so that by Sunday morning she had covered three hundred and fifty miles. If the wind held, she would make around. If it failed, and the snorter came from anywhere between south-west and north, back the Mary Rogers would be hurled and be no better off than she had been seven weeks before. And on Sunday morning the wind was failing. The big sea was going down and running smooth. Both watches were on deck setting sail after sail as fast as the ship could stand it. And now Captain Cullen went around brazenly before God, smoking a big cigar, smiling jubilantly, as if the failing wind delighted him, while down underneath he was raging against God for taking the life out of the blessed wind. Make westing! So he would, if God would only leave him alone. Secretly, he pledged himself anew to the Powers of Darkness, if they would let him make westing. He pledged himself so easily because he did not believe in the Powers of Darkness. He really believed only in God, though he did not know it. And in his inverted theology God was really the Prince of Darkness. Captain Cullen was a devil-worshipper, but he called the devil by another name, that was all.
At midday, after calling eight bells, Captain Cullen ordered the royals on. The men went aloft faster than they had gone in weeks. Not alone were they nimble because of the westing, but a benignant sun was shining down and limbering their stiff bodies. George Dorety stood aft, near Captain Cullen, less bundled in clothes than usual, soaking in the grateful warmth as he watched the scene. Swiftly and abruptly the incident occurred. There was a cry from the foreroyal-yard of “Man overboard!” Somebody threw a life-buoy over the side, and at the same instant the second mate’s voice came aft, ringing and peremptory—
“Hard down your helm!”
The man at the wheel never moved a spoke. He knew better, for Captain Dan Cullen was standing alongside of him. He wanted to move a spoke, to move all the spokes, to grind the wheel down, hard down, for his comrade drowning in the sea. He glanced at Captain Dan Cullen, and Captain Dan Cullen gave no sign.
“Down! Hard down!” the second mate roared, as he sprang aft.
But he ceased springing and commanding, and stood still, when he saw Dan Cullen by the wheel. And big Dan Cullen puffed at his cigar and said nothing. Astern, and going astern fast, could be seen the sailor. He had caught the life-buoy and was clinging to it. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. The men aloft clung to the royal yards and watched with terror-stricken faces. And the Mary Rogers raced on, making her westing. A long, silent minute passed.
“Who was it?” Captain Cullen demanded.
“Mops, sir,” eagerly answered the sailor at the wheel.
Mops topped a wave astern and disappeared temporarily in the trough. It was a large wave, but it was no graybeard. A small boat could live easily in such a sea, and in such a sea the Mary Rogers could easily come to. But she could not come to and make westing at the same time.
For the first time in all his years, George Dorety was seeing a real drama of life and death—a sordid little drama in which the scales balanced an unknown sailor named Mops against a few miles of longitude. At first he had watched the man astern, but now he watched big Dan Cullen, hairy and black, vested with power of life and death, smoking a cigar.
Captain Dan Cullen smoked another long, silent minute. Then he removed the cigar from his mouth. He glanced aloft at the spars of the Mary Rogers, and overside at the sea.
“Sheet home the royals!” he cried.
Fifteen minutes later they sat at table, in the cabin, with food served before them. On one side of George Dorety sat Dan Cullen, the tiger, on the other side, Joshua Higgins, the hyena. Nobody spoke. On deck the men were sheeting home the skysails. George Dorety could hear their cries, while a persistent vision haunted him of a man called Mops, alive and well, clinging to a life-buoy miles astern in that lonely ocean. He glanced at Captain Cullen, and experienced a feeling of nausea, for the man was eating his food with relish, almost bolting it.
“Captain Cullen,” Dorety said, “you are in command of this ship, and it is not proper for me to comment now upon what you do. But I wish to say one thing. There is a hereafter, and yours will be a hot one.”
Captain Cullen did not even scowl. In his voice was regret as he said—
“It was blowing a living gale. It was impossible to save the man.”
“He fell from the royal-yard,” Dorety cried hotly. “You were setting the royals at the time. Fifteen minutes afterward you were setting the skysails.”
“It was a living gale, wasn’t it, Mr. Higgins?” Captain Cullen said, turning to the mate.
“If you’d brought her to, it’d have taken the sticks out of her,” was the mate’s answer. “You did the proper thing, Captain Cullen. The man hadn’t a ghost of a show.”
George Dorety made no answer, and to the meal’s end no one spoke. After that, Dorety had his meals served in his state-room. Captain Cullen scowled at him no longer, though no speech was exchanged between them, while the Mary Rogers sped north toward warmer latitudes. At the end of the week, Dan Cullen cornered Dorety on deck.
“What are you going to do when we get to ’Frisco?” he demanded bluntly.
“I am going to swear out a warrant for your arrest,” Dorety answered quietly. “I am going to charge you with murder, and I am going to see you hanged for it.”
“You’re almighty sure of yourself,” Captain Cullen sneered, turning on his heel.
A second week passed, and one morning found George Dorety standing in the coach-house companionway at the for’ard end of the long poop, taking his first gaze around the deck. The Mary Rogers was reaching full-and-by, in a stiff breeze. Every sail was set and drawing, including the staysails. Captain Cullen strolled for’ard along the poop. He strolled carelessly, glancing at the passenger out of the corner of his eye. Dorety was looking the other way, standing with head and shoulders outside the companionway, and only the back of his head was to be seen. Captain Cullen, with swift eye, embraced the mainstay-sail-block and the head and estimated the distance. He glanced about him. Nobody was looking. Aft, Joshua Higgins, pacing up and down, had just turned his back and was going the other way. Captain Cullen bent over suddenly and cast the staysail-sheet off from its pin. The heavy block hurtled through the air, smashing Dorety’s head like an egg-shell and hurtling on and back and forth as the staysail whipped and slatted in the wind. Joshua Higgins turned around to see what had carried away, and met the full blast of the vilest portion of Captain Cullen’s profanity.
“I made the sheet fast myself,” whimpered the mate in the first lull, “with an extra turn to make sure. I remember it distinctly.”
“Made fast?” the Captain snarled back, for the benefit of the watch as it struggled to capture the flying sail before it tore to ribbons. “You couldn’t make your grandmother fast, you useless hell’s scullion. If you made that sheet fast with an extra turn, why in hell didn’t it stay fast? That’s what I want to know. Why in hell didn’t it stay fast?”
The mate whined inarticulately.
“Oh, shut up!” was the final word of Captain Cullen.
Half an hour later he was as surprised as any when the body of George Dorety was found inside the companionway on the floor. In the afternoon, alone in his room, he doctored up the log.
“Ordinary seaman, Karl Brun,” he wrote, “lost overboard from foreroyal-yard in a gale of wind. Was running at the time, and for the safety of the ship did not dare come up to the wind. Nor could a boat have lived in the sea that was running.”
On another page, he wrote
“Had often warned Mr. Dorety about the danger he ran because of his carelessness on deck. I told him, once, that some day he would get his head knocked off by a block. A carelessly fastened mainstaysail sheet was the cause of the accident, which was deeply to be regretted because Mr. Dorety was a favourite with all of us.”
Captain Dan Cullen read over his literary effort with admiration, blotted the page, and closed the log. He lighted a cigar and stared before him. He felt the Mary Rogers lift, and heel, and surge along, and knew that she was making nine knots. A smile of satisfaction slowly dawned on his black and hairy face. Well, anyway, he had made his westing and fooled God.
10. The Madness of John Harned
I TELL this for a fact. It happened in the bull-ring at Quito. I sat in the box with John Harned, and with Maria Valenzuela, and with Luis Cervallos. I saw it happen. I saw it all from first to last. I was on the steamer Ecuadore from Panama to Guayaquil. Maria Valenzuela is my cousin. I have known her always. She is very beautiful. I am a Spaniard—an Ecuadoriano, true, but I am descended from Pedro Patino, who was one of Pizarro’s captains. They were brave men. They were heroes. Did not Pizarro lead three hundred and fifty Spanish cavaliers and four thousand Indians into the far Cordilleras in search of treasure? And did not all the four thousand Indians and three hundred of the brave cavaliers die on that vain quest? But Pedro Patino did not die. He it was that lived to found the family of the Patino. I am Ecuadoriano, true, but I am Spanish. I am Manuel de Jesus Patino. I own many haciendas, and ten thousand Indians are my slaves, though the law says they are free men who work by freedom of contract. The law is a funny thing. We Ecuadorianos laugh at it. It is our law. We make it for ourselves. I am Manuel de Jesus Patino. Remember that name. It will be written some day in history. There are revolutions in Ecuador. We call them elections. It is a good joke is it not?—what you call a pun?
John Harned was an American. I met him first at the Tivoli hotel in Panama. He had much money—this I have heard. He was going to Lima, but he met Maria Valenzuela in the Tivoli hotel. Maria Valenzuela is my cousin, and she is beautiful. It is true, she is the most beautiful woman in Ecuador. But also is she most beautiful in every country—in Paris, in Madrid, in New York, in Vienna. Always do all men look at her, and John Harned looked long at her at Panama. He loved her, that I know for a fact. She was Ecuadoriano, true—but she was of all countries; she was of all the world. She spoke many languages. She sang—ah! like an artiste. Her smile—wonderful, divine. Her eyes—ah! have I not seen men look in her eyes? They were what you English call amazing. They were promises of paradise. Men drowned themselves in her eyes.
Maria Valenzuela was rich—richer than I, who am accounted very rich in Ecuador. But John Harned did not care for her money. He had a heart—a funny heart. He was a fool. He did not go to Lima. He left the steamer at Guayaquil and followed her to Quito. She was coming home from Europe and other places. I do not see what she found in him, but she liked him. This I know for a fact, else he would not have followed her to Quito. She asked him to come. Well do I remember the occasion. She said:
“Come to Quito and I will show you the bullfight—brave, clever, magnificent!”
But he said: “I go to Lima, not Quito. Such is my passage engaged on the steamer.”
“You travel for pleasure—no?” said Maria Valenzuela; and she looked at him as only Maria Valenzuela could look, her eyes warm with the promise.
And he came. No; he did not come for the bull-fight. He came because of what he had seen in her eyes. Women like Maria Valenzuela are born once in a hundred years. They are of no country and no time. They are what you call goddesses. Men fall down at their feet. They play with men and run them through their pretty fingers like sand. Cleopatra was such a woman they say; and so was Circe. She turned men into swine. Ha! ha! It is true—no?
It all came about because Maria Valenzuela said:
“You English people are—what shall I say?—savage—no? You prize-fight. Two men each hit the other with their fists till their eyes are blinded and their noses are broken. Hideous! And the other men who look on cry out loudly and are made glad. It is barbarous—no?”
“But they are men,” said John Harned; “and they prize-fight out of desire. No one makes them prize-fight. They do it because they desire it more than anything else in the world.”
Maria Valenzuela—there was scorn in her smile as she said: “They kill each other often—is it not so? I have read it in the papers.”
“But the bull,” said John Harned.
“The bull is killed many times in the bull-fight, and the bull does not come into the the ring out of desire. It is not fair to the bull. He is compelled to fight. But the man in the prize-fight—no; he is not compelled.”
“He is the more brute therefore,” said Maria Valenzuela.
“He is savage. He is primitive. He is animal. He strikes with his paws like a bear from a cave, and he is ferocious. But the bull-fight—ah! You have not seen the bullfight—no? The toreador is clever. He must have skill. He is modern. He is romantic. He is only a man, soft and tender, and he faces the wild bull in conflict. And he kills with a sword, a slender sword, with one thrust, so, to the heart of the great beast. It is delicious. It makes the heart beat to behold—the small man, the great beast, the wide level sand, the thousands that look on without breath; the great beast rushes to the attack, the small man stands like a statue; he does not move, he is unafraid, and in his hand is the slender sword flashing like silver in the sun; nearer and nearer rushes the great beast with its sharp horns, the man does not move, and then—so—the sword flashes, the thrust is made, to the heart, to the hilt, the bull falls to the sand and is dead, and the man is unhurt. It is brave. It is magnificent! Ah!—I could love the toreador. But the man of the prize-fight—he is the brute, the human beast, the savage primitive, the maniac that receives many blows in his stupid face and rejoices. Come to Quito and I will show you the brave sport of men, the toreador and the bull.”
But John Harned did not go to Quito for the bull-fight. He went because of Maria Valenzuela. He was a large man, more broad of shoulder than we Ecuadorianos, more tall, more heavy of limb and bone. True, he was larger of his own race. His eyes were blue, though I have seen them gray, and, sometimes, like cold steel. His features were large, too—not delicate like ours, and his jaw was very strong to look at. Also, his face was smooth-shaven like a priest’s. Why should a man feel shame for the hair on his face? Did not God put it there? Yes, I believe in God—I am not a pagan like many of you English. God is good. He made me an Ecuadoriano with ten thousand slaves. And when I die I shall go to God. Yes, the priests are right.
But John Harned. He was a quiet man. He talked always in a low voice, and he never moved his hands when he talked. One would have thought his heart was a piece of ice; yet did he have a streak of warm in his blood, for he followed Maria Valenzuela to Quito. Also, and for all that he talked low without moving his hands, he was an animal, as you shall see—the beast primitive, the stupid, ferocious savage of the long ago that dressed in wild skins and lived in the caves along with the bears and wolves.
Luis Cervallos is my friend, the best of Ecuadorianos. He owns three cacao plantations at Naranjito and Chobo. At Milagro is his big sugar plantation. He has large haciendas at Ambato and Latacunga, and down the coast is he interested in oil-wells. Also has he spent much money in planting rubber along the Guayas. He is modern, like the Yankee; and, like the Yankee, full of business. He has much money, but it is in many ventures, and ever he needs more money for new ventures and for the old ones. He has been everywhere and seen everything. When he was a very young man he was in the Yankee military academy what you call West Point. There was trouble. He was made to resign. He does not like Americans. But he did like Maria Valenzuela, who was of his own country. Also, he needed her money for his ventures and for his gold mine in Eastern Ecuador where the painted Indians live. I was his friend. It was my desire that he should marry Maria Valenzuela. Further, much of my money had I invested in his ventures, more so in his gold mine which was very rich but which first required the expense of much money before it would yield forth its riches. If Luis Cervallos married Maria Valenzuela I should have more money very immediately.
But John Harned followed Maria Valenzuela to Quito, and it was quickly clear to us—to Luis Cervallos and me that she looked upon John Harned with great kindness. It is said that a woman will have her will, but this is a case not in point, for Maria Valenzuela did not have her will—at least not with John Harned. Perhaps it would all have happened as it did, even if Luis Cervallos and I had not sat in the box that day at the bull-ring in Quito. But this I know: we DID sit in the box that day. And I shall tell you what happened.
The four of us were in the one box, guests of Luis Cervallos. I was next to the Presidente’s box. On the other side was the box of General Jose Eliceo Salazar. With him were Joaquin Endara and Urcisino Castillo, both generals, and Colonel Jacinto Fierro and Captain Baltazar de Echeverria. Only Luis Cervallos had the position and the influence to get that box next to the Presidente. I know for a fact that the Presidente himself expressed the desire to the management that Luis Cervallos should have that box.
The band finished playing the national hymn of Ecuador. The procession of the toreadors was over. The Presidente nodded to begin. The bugles blew, and the bull dashed in—you know the way, excited, bewildered, the darts in its shoulder burning like fire, itself seeking madly whatever enemy to destroy. The toreadors hid behind their shelters and waited. Suddenly they appeared forth, the capadores, five of them, from every side, their colored capes flinging wide. The bull paused at sight of such a generosity of enemies, unable in his own mind to know which to attack. Then advanced one of the capadors alone to meet the bull. The bull was very angry. With its fore-legs it pawed the sand of the arena till the dust rose all about it. Then it charged, with lowered head, straight for the lone capador.
It is always of interest, the first charge of the first bull. After a time it is natural that one should grow tired, trifle, that the keenness should lose its edge. But that first charge of the first bull! John Harned was seeing it for the first time, and he could not escape the excitement—the sight of the man, armed only with a piece of cloth, and of the bull rushing upon him across the sand with sharp horns, wide-spreading.
“See!” cried Maria Valenzuela. “Is it not superb?”
John Harned nodded, but did not look at her. His eyes were sparkling, and they were only for the bull-ring. The capador stepped to the side, with a twirl of the cape eluding the bull and spreading the cape on his own shoulders.
“What do you think?” asked Maria Venzuela. “Is it not a—what-you-call—sporting proposition—no?”
“It is certainly,” said John Harned. “It is very clever.”
She clapped her hands with delight. They were little hands. The audience applauded. The bull turned and came back. Again the capadore eluded him, throwing the cape on his shoulders, and again the audience applauded. Three times did this happen. The capadore was very excellent. Then he retired, and the other capadore played with the bull. After that they placed the banderillos in the bull, in the shoulders, on each side of the back-bone, two at a time. Then stepped forward Ordonez, the chief matador, with the long sword and the scarlet cape. The bugles blew for the death. He is not so good as Matestini. Still he is good, and with one thrust he drove the sword to the heart, and the bull doubled his legs under him and lay down and died. It was a pretty thrust, clean and sure; and there was much applause, and many of the common people threw their hats into the ring. Maria Valenzuela clapped her hands with the rest, and John Harned, whose cold heart was not touched by the event, looked at her with curiosity.
“You like it?” he asked.
“Always,” she said, still clapping her hands.
“From a little girl,” said Luis Cervallos. “I remember her first fight. She was four years old. She sat with her mother, and just like now she clapped her hands. She is a proper Spanish woman.
“You have seen it,” said Maria Valenzuela to John Harned, as they fastened the mules to the dead bull and dragged it out. “You have seen the bull-fight and you like it—no? What do you think?
“I think the bull had no chance,” he said. “The bull was doomed from the first. The issue was not in doubt. Every one knew, before the bull entered the ring, that it was to die. To be a sporting proposition, the issue must be in doubt. It was one stupid bull who had never fought a man against five wise men who had fought many bulls. It would be possibly a little bit fair if it were one man against one bull.”
“Or one man against five bulls,” said Maria Valenzuela; and we all laughed, and Luis Cervallos laughed loudest.
“Yes,” said John Harned, “against five bulls, and the man, like the bulls, never in the bull ring before—a man like yourself, Senor Cervallos.”
“Yet we Spanish like the bull-fight,” said Luis Cervallos; and I swear the devil was whispering then in his ear, telling him to do that which I shall relate.
“Then must it be a cultivated taste,” John Harned made answer. “We kill bulls by the thousand every day in Chicago, yet no one cares to pay admittance to see.”
“That is butchery,” said I; “but this—ah, this is an art. It is delicate. It is fine. It is rare.”
“Not always,” said Luis Cervallos. “I have seen clumsy matadors, and I tell you it is not nice.”
He shuddered, and his face betrayed such what-you-call disgust, that I knew, then, that the devil was whispering and that he was beginning to play a part.
“Senor Harned may be right,” said Luis Cervallos. “It may not be fair to the bull. For is it not known to all of us that for twenty-four hours the bull is given no water, and that immediately before the fight he is permitted to drink his fill?”
“And he comes into the ring heavy with water?” said John Harned quickly; and I saw that his eyes were very gray and very sharp and very cold.
“It is necessary for the sport,” said Luis Cervallos. “Would you have the bull so strong that he would kill the toreadors?”
“I would that he had a fighting chance,” said John Harned, facing the ring to see the second bull come in.
It was not a good bull. It was frightened. It ran around the ring in search of a way to get out. The capadors stepped forth and flared their capes, but he refused to charge upon them.
“It is a stupid bull,” said Maria Valenzuela.
“I beg pardon,” said John Harned; “but it would seem to me a wise bull. He knows he must not fight man. See! He smells death there in the ring.”
True. The bull, pausing where the last one had died, was smelling the wet sand and snorting. Again he ran around the ring, with raised head, looking at the faces of the thousands that hissed him, that threw orange-peel at him and called him names. But the smell of blood decided him, and he charged a capador, so without warning that the man just escaped. He dropped his cape and dodged into the shelter. The bull struck the wall of the ring with a crash. And John Harned said, in a quiet voice, as though he talked to himself:
“I will give one thousand sucres to the lazar-house of Quito if a bull kills a man this day.”
“You like bulls?” said Maria Valenzuela with a smile.
“I like such men less,” said John Harned. “A toreador is not a brave man. He surely cannot be a brave man. See, the bull’s tongue is already out. He is tired and he has not yet begun.”
“It is the water,” said Luis Cervallos.
“Yes, it is the water,” said John Harned. “Would it not be safer to hamstring the bull before he comes on?”
Maria Valenzuela was made angry by this sneer in John Harned’s words. But Luis Cervallos smiled so that only I could see him, and then it broke upon my mind surely the game he was playing. He and I were to be banderilleros. The big American bull was there in the box with us. We were to stick the darts in him till he became angry, and then there might be no marriage with Maria Valenzuela. It was a good sport. And the spirit of bull-fighters was in our blood.
The bull was now angry and excited. The capadors had great game with him. He was very quick, and sometimes he turned with such sharpness that his hind legs lost their footing and he plowed the sand with his quarter. But he charged always the flung capes and committed no harm.
“He has no chance,” said John Harned. “He is fighting wind.”
“He thinks the cape is his enemy,” explained Maria Valenzuela. “See how cleverly the capador deceives him.”
“It is his nature to be deceived,” said John Harned. “Wherefore he is doomed to fight wind. The toreadors know it, you know it, I know it—we all know from the first that he will fight wind. He only does not know it. It is his stupid beast-nature. He has no chance.”
“It is very simple,” said Luis Cervallos. “The bull shuts his eyes when he charges. Therefore—”
“The man steps, out of the way and the bull rushes by,” Harned interrupted.
“Yes,” said Luis Cervallos; “that is it. The bull shuts his eyes, and the man knows it.”
“But cows do not shut their eyes,” said John Harned. “I know a cow at home that is a Jersey and gives milk, that would whip the whole gang of them.”
“But the toreadors do not fight cows,” said I.
“They are afraid to fight cows,” said John Harned.
“Yes,” said Luis Cervallos, “they are afraid to fight cows. There would be no sport in killing toreadors.”
“There would be some sport,” said John Harned, “if a toreador were killed once in a while. When I become an old man, and mayhap a cripple, and should I need to make a living and be unable to do hard work, then would I become a bull-fighter. It is a light vocation for elderly gentlemen and pensioners.”
“But see!” said Maria Valenzuela, as the bull charged bravely and the capador eluded it with a fling of his cape. “It requires skill so to avoid the beast.”
“True,” said John Harned. “But believe me, it requires a thousand times more skill to avoid the many and quick punches of a prize-fighter who keeps his eyes open and strikes with intelligence. Furthermore, this bull does not want to fight. Behold, he runs away.”
It was not a good bull, for again it ran around the ring, seeking to find a way out.
“Yet these bulls are sometimes the most dangerous,” said Luis Cervallos. “It can never be known what they will do next. They are wise. They are half cow. The bull-fighters never like them.—See! He has turned!”
Once again, baffled and made angry by the walls of the ring that would not let him out, the bull was attacking his enemies valiantly.
“His tongue is hanging out,” said John Harned. “First, they fill him with water. Then they tire him out, one man and then another, persuading him to exhaust himself by fighting wind. While some tire him, others rest. But the bull they never let rest. Afterward, when he is quite tired and no longer quick, the matador sticks the sword into him.”
The time had now come for the banderillos. Three times one of the fighters endeavored to place the darts, and three times did he fail. He but stung the bull and maddened it. The banderillos must go in, you know, two at a time, into the shoulders, on each side the backbone and close to it. If but one be placed, it is a failure. The crowd hissed and called for Ordonez. And then Ordonez did a great thing. Four times he stood forth, and four times, at the first attempt, he stuck in the banderillos, so that eight of them, well placed, stood out of the back of the bull at one time. The crowd went mad, and a rain of hats and money fell on the sand of the ring.
And just then the bull charged unexpectedly one of the capadors. The man slipped and lost his head. The bull caught him—fortunately, between his wide horns. And while the audience watched, breathless and silent, John Harned stood up and yelled with gladness. Alone, in that hush of all of us, John Harned yelled. And he yelled for the bull. As you see yourself, John Harned wanted the man killed. His was a brutal heart. This bad conduct made those angry that sat in the box of General Salazar, and they cried out against John Harned. And Urcisino Castillo told him to his face that he was a dog of a Gringo and other things. Only it was in Spanish, and John Harned did not understand. He stood and yelled, perhaps for the time of ten seconds, when the bull was enticed into charging the other capadors and the man arose unhurt.
“The bull has no chance,” John Harned said with sadness as he sat down. “The man was uninjured. They fooled the bull away from him.” Then he turned to Maria Valenzuela and said: “I beg your pardon. I was excited.”
She smiled and in reproof tapped his arm with her fan.
“It is your first bull-fight,” she said. “After you have seen more you will not cry for the death of the man. You Americans, you see, are more brutal than we. It is because of your prize-fighting. We come only to see the bull killed.”
“But I would the bull had some chance,” he answered. “Doubtless, in time, I shall cease to be annoyed by the men who take advantage of the bull.”
The bugles blew for the death of the bull. Ordonez stood forth with the sword and the scarlet cloth. But the bull had changed again, and did not want to fight. Ordonez stamped his foot in the sand, and cried out, and waved the scarlet cloth. Then the bull charged, but without heart. There was no weight to the charge. It was a poor thrust. The sword struck a bone and bent. Ordonez took a fresh sword. The bull, again stung to fight, charged once more. Five times Ordonez essayed the thrust, and each time the sword went but part way in or struck bone. The sixth time, the sword went in to the hilt. But it was a bad thrust. The sword missed the heart and stuck out half a yard through the ribs on the opposite side. The audience hissed the matador. I glanced at John Harned. He sat silent, without movement; but I could see his teeth were set, and his hands were clenched tight on the railing of the box.
All fight was now out of the bull, and, though it was no vital thrust, he trotted lamely what of the sword that stuck through him, in one side and out the other. He ran away from the matador and the capadors, and circled the edge of the ring, looking up at the many faces.
“He is saying: ’For God’s sake let me out of this; I don’t want to fight,’” said John Harned.
That was all. He said no more, but sat and watched, though sometimes he looked sideways at Maria Valenzuela to see how she took it. She was angry with the matador. He was awkward, and she had desired a clever exhibition.
The bull was now very tired, and weak from loss of blood, though far from dying. He walked slowly around the wall of the ring, seeking a way out. He would not charge. He had had enough. But he must be killed. There is a place, in the neck of a bull behind the horns, where the cord of the spine is unprotected and where a short stab will immediately kill. Ordonez stepped in front of the bull and lowered his scarlet cloth to the ground. The bull would not charge. He stood still and smelled the cloth, lowering his head to do so. Ordonez stabbed between the horns at the spot in the neck. The bull jerked his head up. The stab had missed. Then the bull watched the sword. When Ordonez moved the cloth on the ground, the bull forgot the sword and lowered his head to smell the cloth. Again Ordonez stabbed, and again he failed. He tried many times. It was stupid. And John Harned said nothing. At last a stab went home, and the bull fell to the sand, dead immediately, and the mules were made fast and he was dragged out.
“The Gringos say it is a cruel sport—no?” said Luis Cervallos. “That it is not humane. That it is bad for the bull. No?”
“No,” said John Harned. “The bull does not count for much. It is bad for those that look on. It is degrading to those that look on. It teaches them to delight in animal suffering. It is cowardly for five men to fight one stupid bull. Therefore those that look on learn to be cowards. The bull dies, but those that look on live and the lesson is learned. The bravery of men is not nourished by scenes of cowardice.”
Maria Valenzuela said nothing. Neither did she look at him. But she heard every word and her cheeks were white with anger. She looked out across the ring and fanned herself, but I saw that her hand trembled. Nor did John Harned look at her. He went on as though she were not there. He, too, was angry, coldly angry.
“It is the cowardly sport of a cowardly people,” he said.
“Ah,” said Luis Cervallos softly, “you think you understand us.”
“I understand now the Spanish Inquisition,” said John Harned. “It must have been more delightful than bull-fighting.”
Luis Cervallos smiled but said nothing. He glanced at Maria Valenzuela, and knew that the bull-fight in the box was won. Never would she have further to do with the Gringo who spoke such words. But neither Luis Cervallos nor I was prepared for the outcome of the day. I fear we do not understand the Gringos. How were we to know that John Harned, who was so coldly angry, should go suddenly mad! But mad he did go, as you shall see. The bull did not count for much—he said so himself. Then why should the horse count for so much? That I cannot understand. The mind of John Harned lacked logic. That is the only explanation.
“It is not usual to have horses in the bull-ring at Quito,” said Luis Cervallos, looking up from the program. “In Spain they always have them. But to-day, by special permission we shall have them. When the next bull comes on there will be horses and picadors-you know, the men who carry lances and ride the horses.”
“The bull is doomed from the first,” said John Harned. “Are the horses then likewise doomed!”
“They are blindfolded so that they may not see the bull,” said Luis Cervallos. “I have seen many horses killed. It is a brave sight.”
“I have seen the bull slaughtered,” said John Harned “I will now see the horse slaughtered, so that I may understand more fully the fine points of this noble sport.”
“They are old horses,” said Luis Cervallos, “that are not good for anything else.”
“I see,” said John Harned.
The third bull came on, and soon against it were both capadors and picadors. One picador took his stand directly below us. I agree, it was a thin and aged horse he rode, a bag of bones covered with mangy hide.
“It is a marvel that the poor brute can hold up the weight of the rider,” said John Harned. “And now that the horse fights the bull, what weapons has it?”
“The horse does not fight the bull,” said Luis Cervallos.
“Oh,” said John Harned, “then is the horse there to be gored? That must be why it is blindfolded, so that it shall not see the bull coming to gore it.”
“Not quite so,” said I. “The lance of the picador is to keep the bull from goring the horse.”
“Then are horses rarely gored?” asked John Harned.
“No,” said Luis Cervallos. “I have seen, at Seville, eighteen horses killed in one day, and the people clamored for more horses.”
“Were they blindfolded like this horse?” asked John Harned.
“Yes,” said Luis Cervallos.
After that we talked no more, but watched the fight. And John Harned was going mad all the time, and we did not know. The bull refused to charge the horse. And the horse stood still, and because it could not see it did not know that the capadors were trying to make the bull charge upon it. The capadors teased the bull their capes, and when it charged them they ran toward the horse and into their shelters. At last the bull was angry, and it saw the horse before it.
“The horse does not know, the horse does not know,” John Harned whispered to himself, unaware that he voiced his thought aloud.
The bull charged, and of course the horse knew nothing till the picador failed and the horse found himself impaled on the bull’s horns from beneath. The bull was magnificently strong. The sight of its strength was splendid to see. It lifted the horse clear into the air; and as the horse fell to its side on on the ground the picador landed on his feet and escaped, while the capadors lured the bull away. The horse was emptied of its essential organs. Yet did it rise to its feet screaming. It was the scream of the horse that did it, that made John Harned completely mad; for he, too, started to rise to his feet, I heard him curse low and deep. He never took his eyes from the horse, which, screaming, strove to run, but fell down instead and rolled on its back so that all its four legs were kicking in the air. Then the bull charged it and gored it again and again until it was dead.
John Harned was now on his feet. His eyes were no longer cold like steel. They were blue flames. He looked at Maria Valenzuela, and she looked at him, and in his face was a great loathing. The moment of his madness was upon him. Everybody was looking, now that the horse was dead; and John Harned was a large man and easy to be seen.
“Sit down,” said Luis Cervallos, “or you will make a fool of yourself.”
John Harned replied nothing. He struck out his fist. He smote Luis Cervallos in the face so that he fell like a dead man across the chairs and did not rise again. He saw nothing of what followed. But I saw much. Urcisino Castillo, leaning forward from the next box, with his cane struck John Harned full across the face. And John Harned smote him with his fist so that in falling he overthrew General Salazar. John Harned was now in what-you-call Berserker rage—no? The beast primitive in him was loose and roaring—the beast primitive of the holes and caves of the long ago.
“You came for a bull-fight,” I heard him say, “And by God I’ll show you a man-fight!”
It was a fight. The soldiers guarding the Presidente’s box leaped across, but from one of them he took a rifle and beat them on their heads with it. From the other box Colonel Jacinto Fierro was shooting at him with a revolver. The first shot killed a soldier. This I know for a fact. I saw it. But the second shot struck John Harned in the side. Whereupon he swore, and with a lunge drove the bayonet of his rifle into Colonel Jacinto Fierro’s body. It was horrible to behold. The Americans and the English are a brutal race. They sneer at our bull-fighting, yet do they delight in the shedding of blood. More men were killed that day because of John Harned than were ever killed in all the history of the bull-ring of Quito, yes, and of Guayaquil and all Ecuador.
It was the scream of the horse that did it, yet why did not John Harned go mad when the bull was killed? A beast is a beast, be it bull or horse. John Harned was mad. There is no other explanation. He was blood-mad, a beast himself. I leave it to your judgment. Which is worse—the goring of the horse by the bull, or the goring of Colonel Jacinto Fierro by the bayonet in the hands of John Harned! And John Harned gored others with that bayonet. He was full of devils. He fought with many bullets in him, and he was hard to kill. And Maria Valenzuela was a brave woman. Unlike the other women, she did not cry out nor faint. She sat still in her box, gazing out across the bull-ring. Her face was white and she fanned herself, but she never looked around.
From all sides came the soldiers and officers and the common people bravely to subdue the mad Gringo. It is true—the cry went up from the crowd to kill all the Gringos. It is an old cry in Latin-American countries, what of the dislike for the Gringos and their uncouth ways. It is true, the cry went up. But the brave Ecuadorianos killed only John Harned, and first he killed seven of them. Besides, there were many hurt. I have seen many bull-fights, but never have I seen anything so abominable as the scene in the boxes when the fight was over. It was like a field of battle. The dead lay around everywhere, while the wounded sobbed and groaned and some of them died. One man, whom John Harned had thrust through the belly with the bayonet, clutched at himself with both his hands and screamed. I tell you for a fact it was more terrible than the screaming of a thousand horses.
No, Maria Valenzuela did not marry Luis Cervallos. I am sorry for that. He was my friend, and much of my money was invested in his ventures. It was five weeks before the surgeons took the bandages from his face. And there is a scar there to this day, on the cheek, under the eye. Yet John Harned struck him but once and struck him only with his naked fist. Maria Valenzuela is in Austria now. It is said she is to marry an Arch-Duke or some high nobleman. I do not know. I think she liked John Harned before he followed her to Quito to see the bull-fight. But why the horse? That is what I desire to know. Why should he watch the bull and say that it did not count, and then go immediately and most horribly mad because a horse screamed? There is no understanding the Gringos. They are barbarians.
11. South of the Slot
Old San Francisco, which is the San Francisco of only the other day, the day before the Earthquake, was divided midway by the Slot. The Slot was an iron crack that ran along the centre of Market Street, and from the Slot arose the burr of the ceaseless, endless cable that was hitched at will to the cars it dragged up and down. In truth, there were two slots, but in the quick grammar of the West time was saved by calling them, and much more that they stood for, “The Slot.” North of the Slot were the theatres, hotels, and shopping district, the banks and the staid, respectable business houses. South of the Slot were the factories, slums, laundries, machine-shops, boiler works, and the abodes of the working class.
The Slot was the metaphor that expressed the class cleavage of Society, and no man crossed this metaphor, back and forth, more successfully than Freddie Drummond. He made a practice of living in both worlds, and in both worlds he lived signally well. Freddie Drummond was a professor in the Sociology Department of the University of California, and it was as a professor of sociology that he first crossed over the Slot, lived for six mouths in the great labour-ghetto, and wrote The Unskilled Labourer—a book that was hailed everywhere as an able contribution to the literature of progress, and as a splendid reply to the literature of discontent. Politically and economically it was nothing if not orthodox. Presidents of great railway systems bought whole editions of it to give to their employees. The Manufacturers’ Association alone distributed fifty thousand copies of it. In a way, it was almost as immoral as the far-famed and notorious Message to Garcia, while in its pernicious preachment of thrift and content it ran Mr. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch a close second.
At first, Freddie Drummond found it monstrously difficult to get along among the working people. He was not used to their ways, and they certainly were not used to his. They were suspicious. He had no antecedents. He could talk of no previous jobs. His hands were soft. His extraordinary politeness was ominous. His first idea of the rôle he would play was that of a free and independent American who chose to work with his hands and no explanations given. But it wouldn’t do, as he quickly discovered. At the beginning they accepted him, very provisionally, as a freak. A little later, as he began to know his way about better, he insensibly drifted into the rôle that would work—namely, he was a man who had seen better days, very much better days, but who was down on his luck, though, to be sure, only temporarily.
He learned many things, and generalized much and often erroneously, all of which can be found in the pages of The Unskilled Labourer. He saved himself, however, after the sane and conservative manner of his kind, by labelling his generalizations as “tentative.” One of his first experiences was in the great Wilmax Cannery, where he was put on piece-work making small packing cases. A box factory supplied the parts, and all Freddie Drummond had to do was to fit the parts into a form and drive in the wire nails with a light hammer.
It was not skilled labour, but it was piece-work. The ordinary labourers in the cannery got a dollar and a half per day. Freddie Drummond found the other men on the same job with him jogging along and earning a dollar and seventy-five cents a day. By the third day he was able to earn the same. But he was ambitious. He did not care to jog along and, being unusually able and fit, on the fourth day earned two dollars.
The next day, having keyed himself up to an exhausting high-tension, he earned two dollars and a half. His fellow workers favoured him with scowls and black looks, and made remarks, slangily witty and which he did not understand, about sucking up to the boss and pace-making and holding her down, when the rains set in. He was astonished at their malingering on piece-work, generalized about the inherent laziness of the unskilled labourer, and proceeded next day to hammer out three dollars’ worth of boxes.
And that night, coming out of the cannery, he was interviewed by his fellow workmen, who were very angry and incoherently slangy. He failed to comprehend the motive behind their action. The action itself was strenuous. When he refused to ease down his pace and bleated about freedom of contract, independent Americanism, and the dignity of toil, they proceeded to spoil his pace-making ability. It was a fierce battle, for Drummond was a large man and an athlete, but the crowd finally jumped on his ribs, walked on his face, and stamped on his fingers, so that it was only after lying in bed for a week that he was able to get up and look for another job. All of which is duly narrated in that first book of his, in the chapter entitled “The Tyranny of Labour.”
A little later, in another department of the Wilmax Cannery, lumping as a fruit-distributor among the women, he essayed to carry two boxes of fruit at a time, and was promptly reproached by the other fruit-lumpers. It was palpable malingering; but he was there, he decided, not to change conditions, but to observe. So he lumped one box thereafter, and so well did he study the art of shirking that he wrote a special chapter on it, with the last several paragraphs devoted to tentative generalizations.
In those six months he worked at many jobs and developed into a very good imitation of a genuine worker. He was a natural linguist, and he kept notebooks, making a scientific study of the workers’ slang or argot, until he could talk quite intelligibly. This language also enabled him more intimately to follow their mental processes, and thereby to gather much data for a projected chapter in some future book which he planned to entitle Synthesis of Working-Class Psychology.
Before he arose to the surface from that first plunge into the underworld he discovered that he was a good actor and demonstrated the plasticity of his nature. He was himself astonished at his own fluidity. Once having mastered the language and conquered numerous fastidious qualms, he found that he could flow into any nook of working-class life and fit it so snugly as to feel comfortably at home. As he said, in the preface to his second book, The Toiler, he endeavoured really to know the working people, and the only possible way to achieve this was to work beside them, eat their food, sleep in their beds, be amused with their amusements, think their thoughts, and feel their feeling.
He was not a deep thinker. He had no faith in new theories. All his norms and criteria were conventional. His Thesis on the French Revolution was noteworthy in college annals, not merely for its painstaking and voluminous accuracy, but for the fact that it was the driest, deadest, most formal, and most orthodox screed ever written on the subject. He was a very reserved man, and his natural inhibition was large in quantity and steel-like in quality. He had but few friends. He was too undemonstrative, too frigid. He had no vices, nor had any one ever discovered any temptations. Tobacco he detested, beer he abhorred, and he was never known to drink anything stronger than an occasional light wine at dinner.
When a freshman he had been baptized “Ice-Box” by his warmer-blooded fellows. As a member of the faculty he was known as “Cold-Storage.” He had but one grief, and that was “Freddie.” He had earned it when he played full-back in the ‘Varsity eleven, and his formal soul had never succeeded in living it down. “Freddie” he would ever be, except officially, and through nightmare vistas he looked into a future when his world would speak of him as “Old Freddie.”
For he was very young to be a doctor of sociology, only twenty-seven, and he looked younger. In appearance and atmosphere he was a strapping big college man, smooth-faced and easy-mannered, clean and simple and wholesome, with a known record of being a splendid athlete and an implied vast possession of cold culture of the inhibited sort. He never talked shop out of class and committee rooms, except later on, when his books showered him with distasteful public notice and he yielded to the extent of reading occasional papers before certain literary and economic societies.
He did everything right—too right; and in dress and comportment was inevitably correct. Not that he was a dandy. Far from it. He was a college man, in dress and carriage as like as a pea to the type that of late years is being so generously turned out of our institutions of higher learning. His handshake was satisfyingly strong and stiff. His blue eyes were coldly blue and convincingly sincere. His voice, firm and masculine, clean and crisp of enunciation, was pleasant to the ear. The one drawback to Freddie Drummond was his inhibition. He never unbent. In his football days, the higher the tension of the game, the cooler he grew. He was noted as a boxer, but he was regarded as an automaton, with the inhuman precision of a machine judging distance and timing blows, guarding, blocking, and stalling. He was rarely punished himself, while he rarely punished an opponent. He was too clever and too controlled to permit himself to put a pound more weight into a punch than he intended. With him it was a matter of exercise. It kept him fit.
As time went by, Freddie Drummond found himself more frequently crossing the Slot and losing himself in South of Market. His summer and winter holidays were spent there, and, whether it was a week or a week-end, he found the time spent there to be valuable and enjoyable. And there was so much material to be gathered. His third book, Mass and Master, became a text-book in the American universities; and almost before he knew it, he was at work on a fourth one, The Fallacy of the Inefficient.
Somewhere in his make-up there was a strange twist or quirk. Perhaps it was a recoil from his environment and training, or from the tempered seed of his ancestors, who had been book-men generation preceding generation; but at any rate, he found enjoyment in being down in the working-class world. In his own world he was “Cold-Storage,” but down below he was “Big” Bill Totts, who could drink and smoke, and slang and fight, and be an all-round favourite. Everybody liked Bill, and more than one working girl made love to him. At first he had been merely a good actor, but as time went on, simulation became second nature. He no longer played a part, and he loved sausages, sausages and bacon, than which, in his own proper sphere, there was nothing more loathsome in the way of food.
From doing the thing for the need’s sake, he came to doing the thing for the thing’s sake. He found himself regretting as the time drew near for him to go back to his lecture-room and his inhibition. And he often found himself waiting with anticipation for the dreamy time to pass when he could cross the Slot and cut loose and play the devil. He was not wicked, but as “Big” Bill Totts he did a myriad things that Freddie Drummond would never have been permitted to do. Moreover, Freddie Drummond never would have wanted to do them. That was the strangest part of his discovery. Freddie Drummond and Bill Totts were two totally different creatures. The desires and tastes and impulses of each ran counter to the other’s. Bill Totts could shirk at a job with clear conscience, while Freddie Drummond condemned shirking as vicious, criminal, and un-American, and devoted whole chapters to condemnation of the vice. Freddie Drummond did not care for dancing, but Bill Totts never missed the nights at the various dancing clubs, such as The Magnolia, The Western Star, and The Elite; while he won a massive silver cup, standing thirty inches high, for being the best-sustained character at the Butchers and Meat Workers’ annual grand masked ball. And Bill Totts liked the girls and the girls liked him, while Freddie Drummond enjoyed playing the ascetic in this particular, was open in his opposition to equal suffrage, and cynically bitter in his secret condemnation of coeducation.
Freddie Drummond changed his manners with his dress, and without effort. When he entered the obscure little room used for his transformation scenes, he carried himself just a bit too stiffly. He was too erect, his shoulders were an inch too far back, while his face was grave, almost harsh, and practically expressionless. But when he emerged in Bill Totts’ clothes he was another creature. Bill Totts did not slouch, but somehow his whole form limbered up and became graceful. The very sound of the voice was changed, and the laugh was loud and hearty, while loose speech and an occasional oath were as a matter of course on his lips. Also, Bill Totts was a trifle inclined to late hours, and at times, in saloons, to be good-naturedly bellicose with other workmen. Then, too, at Sunday picnics or when coming home from the show, either arm betrayed a practised familiarity in stealing around girls’ waists, while he displayed a wit keen and delightful in the flirtatious badinage that was expected of a good fellow in his class.
So thoroughly was Bill Totts himself, so thoroughly a workman, a genuine denizen of South of the Slot, that he was as class-conscious as the average of his kind, and his hatred for a scab even exceeded that of the average loyal union man. During the Water Front Strike, Freddie Drummond was somehow able to stand apart from the unique combination, and, coldly critical, watch Bill Totts hilariously slug scab longshoremen. For Bill Totts was a dues-paying member of the Longshoremen Union and had a right to be indignant with the usurpers of his job. “Big” Bill Totts was so very big, and so very able, that it was “Big” Bill to the front when trouble was brewing. From acting outraged feelings, Freddie Drummond, in the rôle of his other self, came to experience genuine outrage, and it was only when he returned to the classic atmosphere of the university that he was able, sanely and conservatively, to generalize upon his underworld experiences and put them down on paper as a trained sociologist should. That Bill Totts lacked the perspective to raise him above class-consciousness Freddie Drummond clearly saw. But Bill Totts could not see it. When he saw a scab taking his job away, he saw red at the same time, and little else did he see. It was Freddie Drummond, irreproachably clothed and comported, seated at his study desk or facing his class in Sociology 17, who saw Bill Totts, and all around Bill Totts, and all around the whole scab and union-labour problem and its relation to the economic welfare of the United States in the struggle for the world market. Bill Totts really wasn’t able to see beyond the next meal and the prize-fight the following night at the Gaiety Athletic Club.
It was while gathering material for Women and Work that Freddie received his first warning of the danger he was in. He was too successful at living in both worlds. This strange dualism he had developed was after all very unstable, and, as he sat in his study and meditated, he saw that it could not endure. It was really a transition stage, and if he persisted he saw that he would inevitably have to drop one world or the other. He could not continue in both. And as he looked at the row of volumes that graced the upper shelf of his revolving book-case, his volumes, beginning with his Thesis and ending with Women and Work, he decided that that was the world he would hold to and stick by. Bill Totts had served his purpose, but he had become a too dangerous accomplice. Bill Totts would have to cease.
Freddie Drummond’s fright was due to Mary Condon, President of the International Glove Workers’ Union No. 974. He had seen her, first, from the spectators’ gallery, at the annual convention of the Northwest Federation of Labour, and he had seen her through Bill Totts’ eyes, and that individual had been most favourably impressed by her. She was not Freddie Drummond’s sort at all. What if she were a royal-bodied woman, graceful and sinewy as a panther, with amazing black eyes that could fill with fire or laughter-love, as the mood might dictate? He detested women with a too exuberant vitality and a lack of . . . well, of inhibition. Freddie Drummond accepted the doctrine of evolution because it was quite universally accepted by college men, and he flatly believed that man had climbed up the ladder of life out of the weltering muck and mess of lower and monstrous organic things. But he was a trifle ashamed of this genealogy, and preferred not to think of it. Wherefore, probably, he practised his iron inhibition and preached it to others, and preferred women of his own type, who could shake free of this bestial and regrettable ancestral line and by discipline and control emphasize the wideness of the gulf that separated them from what their dim forbears had been.
Bill Totts had none of these considerations. He had liked Mary Condon from the moment his eyes first rested on her in the convention hall, and he had made it a point, then and there, to find out who she was. The next time he met her, and quite by accident, was when he was driving an express waggon for Pat Morrissey. It was in a lodging-house in Mission Street, where he had been called to take a trunk into storage. The landlady’s daughter had called him and led him to the little bedroom, the occupant of which, a glove-maker, had just been removed to hospital. But Bill did not know this. He stooped, up-ended the trunk, which was a large one, got it on his shoulder, and struggled to his feet with his back toward the open door. At that moment he heard a woman’s voice.
“Belong to the union?” was the question asked.
“Aw, what’s it to you?” he retorted. “Run along now, an’ git outa my way. I wanta turn round.”
The next he know, big as he was, he was whirled half around and sent reeling backward, the trunk overbalancing him, till he fetched up with a crash against the wall. He started to swear, but at the same instant found himself looking into Mary Condon’s flashing, angry eyes.
“Of course I b’long to the union,” he said. “I was only kiddin’ you.”
“Where’s your card?” she demanded in businesslike tones.
“In my pocket. But I can’t git it out now. This trunk’s too damn heavy. Come on down to the waggon an’ I’ll show it to you.”
“Put that trunk down,” was the command.
“What for? I got a card, I’m tellin’ you.”
“Put it down, that’s all. No scab’s going to handle that trunk. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you big coward, scabbing on honest men. Why don’t you join the union and be a man?”
Mary Condon’s colour had left her face, and it was apparent that she was in a rage.
“To think of a big man like you turning traitor to his class. I suppose you’re aching to join the militia for a chance to shoot down union drivers the next strike. You may belong to the militia already, for that matter. You’re the sort—”
“Hold on, now, that’s too much!” Bill dropped the trunk to the floor with a bang, straightened up, and thrust his hand into his inside coat pocket. “I told you I was only kiddin’. There, look at that.”
It was a union card properly enough.
“All right, take it along,” Mary Condon said. “And the next time don’t kid.”
Her face relaxed as she noticed the ease with which he got the big trunk to his shoulder, and her eyes glowed as they glanced over the graceful massiveness of the man. But Bill did not see that. He was too busy with the trunk.
The next time he saw Mary Condon was during the Laundry Strike. The Laundry Workers, but recently organized, were green at the business, and had petitioned Mary Condon to engineer the strike. Freddie Drummond had had an inkling of what was coming, and had sent Bill Totts to join the union and investigate. Bill’s job was in the wash-room, and the men had been called out first, that morning, in order to stiffen the courage of the girls; and Bill chanced to be near the door to the mangle-room when Mary Condon started to enter. The superintendent, who was both large and stout, barred her way. He wasn’t going to have his girls called out, and he’d teach her a lesson to mind her own business. And as Mary tried to squeeze past him he thrust her back with a fat hand on her shoulder. She glanced around and saw Bill.
“Here you, Mr. Totts,” she called. “Lend a hand. I want to get in.”
Bill experienced a startle of warm surprise. She had remembered his name from his union card. The next moment the superintendent had been plucked from the doorway raving about rights under the law, and the girls were deserting their machines. During the rest of that short and successful strike, Bill constituted himself Mary Condon’s henchman and messenger, and when it was over returned to the University to be Freddie Drummond and to wonder what Bill Totts could see in such a woman.
Freddie Drummond was entirely safe, but Bill had fallen in love. There was no getting away from the fact of it, and it was this fact that had given Freddie Drummond his warning. Well, he had done his work, and his adventures could cease. There was no need for him to cross the Slot again. All but the last three chapters of his latest, Labour Tactics and Strategy, was finished, and he had sufficient material on hand adequately to supply those chapters.
Another conclusion he arrived at, was that in order to sheet-anchor himself as Freddie Drummond, closer ties and relations in his own social nook were necessary. It was time that he was married, anyway, and he was fully aware that if Freddie Drummond didn’t get married, Bill Totts assuredly would, and the complications were too awful to contemplate. And so, enters Catherine Van Vorst. She was a college woman herself, and her father, the one wealthy member of the faculty, was the head of the Philosophy Department as well. It would be a wise marriage from every standpoint, Freddie Drummond concluded when the engagement was consummated and announced. In appearance cold and reserved, aristocratic and wholesomely conservative, Catherine Van Vorst, though warm in her way, possessed an inhibition equal to Drummond’s.
All seemed well with him, but Freddie Drummond could not quite shake off the call of the underworld, the lure of the free and open, of the unhampered, irresponsible life South of the Slot. As the time of his marriage approached, he felt that he had indeed sowed wild oats, and he felt, moreover, what a good thing it would be if he could have but one wild fling more, play the good fellow and the wastrel one last time, ere he settled down to grey lecture-rooms and sober matrimony. And, further to tempt him, the very last chapter of Labour Tactics and Strategy remained unwritten for lack of a trifle more of essential data which he had neglected to gather.
So Freddie Drummond went down for the last time as Bill Totts, got his data, and, unfortunately, encountered Mary Condon. Once more installed in his study, it was not a pleasant thing to look back upon. It made his warning doubly imperative. Bill Totts had behaved abominably. Not only had he met Mary Condon at the Central Labour Council, but he had stopped at a chop-house with her, on the way home, and treated her to oysters. And before they parted at her door, his arms had been about her, and he had kissed her on the lips and kissed her repeatedly. And her last words in his ear, words uttered softly with a catchy sob in the throat that was nothing more nor less than a love cry, were “Bill . . . dear, dear Bill.”
Freddie Drummond shuddered at the recollection. He saw the pit yawning for him. He was not by nature a polygamist, and he was appalled at the possibilities of the situation. It would have to be put an end to, and it would end in one only of two ways: either he must become wholly Bill Totts and be married to Mary Condon, or he must remain wholly Freddie Drummond and be married to Catherine Van Vorst. Otherwise, his conduct would be beneath contempt and horrible.
In the several months that followed, San Francisco was torn with labour strife. The unions and the employers’ associations had locked horns with a determination that looked as if they intended to settle the matter, one way or the other, for all time. But Freddie Drummond corrected proofs, lectured classes, and did not budge. He devoted himself to Catherine Van Vorst, and day by day found more to respect and admire in her—nay, even to love in her. The Street Car Strike tempted him, but not so severely as he would have expected; and the great Meat Strike came on and left him cold. The ghost of Bill Totts had been successfully laid, and Freddie Drummond with rejuvenescent zeal tackled a brochure, long-planned, on the topic of “diminishing returns.”
The wedding was two weeks off, when, one afternoon, in San Francisco, Catherine Van Vorst picked him up and whisked him away to see a Boys’ Club, recently instituted by the settlement workers in whom she was interested. It was her brother’s machine, but they were alone with the exception of the chauffeur. At the junction with Kearny Street, Market and Geary Streets intersect like the sides of a sharp-angled letter “V.” They, in the auto, were coming down Market with the intention of negotiating the sharp apex and going up Geary. But they did not know what was coming down Geary, timed by fate to meet them at the apex. While aware from the papers that the Meat Strike was on and that it was an exceedingly bitter one, all thought of it at that moment was farthest from Freddie Drummond’s mind. Was he not seated beside Catherine? And besides, he was carefully expositing to her his views on settlement work—views that Bill Totts’ adventures had played a part in formulating.
Coming down Geary Street were six meat waggons. Beside each scab driver sat a policeman. Front and rear, and along each side of this procession, marched a protecting escort of one hundred police. Behind the police rearguard, at a respectful distance, was an orderly but vociferous mob, several blocks in length, that congested the street from sidewalk to sidewalk. The Beef Trust was making an effort to supply the hotels, and, incidentally, to begin the breaking of the strike. The St. Francis had already been supplied, at a cost of many broken windows and broken heads, and the expedition was marching to the relief of the Palace Hotel.
All unwitting, Drummond sat beside Catherine, talking settlement work, as the auto, honking methodically and dodging traffic, swung in a wide curve to get around the apex. A big coal waggon, loaded with lump coal and drawn by four huge horses, just debouching from Kearny Street as though to turn down Market, blocked their way. The driver of the waggon seemed undecided, and the chauffeur, running slow but disregarding some shouted warning from the crossing policemen, swerved the auto to the left, violating the traffic rules, in order to pass in front of the waggon.
At that moment Freddie Drummond discontinued his conversation. Nor did he resume it again, for the situation was developing with the rapidity of a transformation scene. He heard the roar of the mob at the rear, and caught a glimpse of the helmeted police and the lurching meat waggons. At the same moment, laying on his whip, and standing up to his task, the coal driver rushed horses and waggon squarely in front of the advancing procession, pulled the horses up sharply, and put on the big brake. Then he made his lines fast to the brake-handle and sat down with the air of one who had stopped to stay. The auto had been brought to a stop, too, by his big panting leaders which had jammed against it.
Before the chauffeur could back clear, an old Irishman, driving a rickety express waggon and lashing his one horse to a gallop, had locked wheels with the auto. Drummond recognized both horse and waggon, for he had driven them often himself. The Irishman was Pat Morrissey. On the other side a brewery waggon was locking with the coal waggon, and an east-bound Kearny Street car, wildly clanging its gong, the motorman shouting defiance at the crossing policeman, was dashing forward to complete the blockade. And waggon after waggon was locking and blocking and adding to the confusion. The meat waggons halted. The police were trapped. The roar at the rear increased as the mob came on to the attack, while the vanguard of the police charged the obstructing waggons.
“We’re in for it,” Drummond remarked coolly to Catherine.
“Yes,” she nodded, with equal coolness. “What savages they are.”
His admiration for her doubled on itself. She was indeed his sort. He would have been satisfied with her even if she had screamed, and clung to him, but this—this was magnificent. She sat in that storm centre as calmly as if it had been no more than a block of carriages at the opera.
The police were struggling to clear a passage. The driver of the coal waggon, a big man in shirt sleeves, lighted a pipe and sat smoking. He glanced down complacently at a captain of police who was raving and cursing at him, and his only acknowledgment was a shrug of the shoulders. From the rear arose the rat-rat-tat of clubs on heads and a pandemonium of cursing, yelling, and shouting. A violent accession of noise proclaimed that the mob had broken through and was dragging a scab from a waggon. The police captain reinforced from his vanguard, and the mob at the rear was repelled. Meanwhile, window after window in the high office building on the right had been opened, and the class-conscious clerks were raining a shower of office furniture down on the heads of police and scabs. Waste-baskets, ink-bottles, paper-weights, type-writers—anything and everything that came to hand was filling the air.
A policeman, under orders from his captain, clambered to the lofty seat of the coal waggon to arrest the driver. And the driver, rising leisurely and peacefully to meet him, suddenly crumpled him in his arms and threw him down on top of the captain. The driver was a young giant, and when he climbed on his load and poised a lump of coal in both hands, a policeman, who was just scaling the waggon from the side, let go and dropped back to earth. The captain ordered half-a-dozen of his men to take the waggon. The teamster, scrambling over the load from side to side, beat them down with huge lumps of coal.
The crowd on the sidewalks and the teamsters on the locked waggons roared encouragement and their own delight. The motorman, smashing helmets with his controller bar, was beaten into insensibility and dragged from his platform. The captain of police, beside himself at the repulse of his men, led the next assault on the coal waggon. A score of police were swarming up the tall-sided fortress. But the teamster multiplied himself. At times there were six or eight policemen rolling on the pavement and under the waggon. Engaged in repulsing an attack on the rear end of his fortress, the teamster turned about to see the captain just in the act of stepping on to the seat from the front end. He was still in the air and in most unstable equilibrium, when the teamster hurled a thirty-pound lump of coal. It caught the captain fairly on the chest, and he went over backward, striking on a wheeler’s back, tumbling on to the ground, and jamming against the rear wheel of the auto.
Catherine thought he was dead, but he picked himself up and charged back. She reached out her gloved hand and patted the flank of the snorting, quivering horse. But Drummond did not notice the action. He had eyes for nothing save the battle of the coal waggon, while somewhere in his complicated psychology, one Bill Totts was heaving and straining in an effort to come to life. Drummond believed in law and order and the maintenance of the established, but this riotous savage within him would have none of it. Then, if ever, did Freddie Drummond call upon his iron inhibition to save him. But it is written that the house divided against itself must fall. And Freddie Drummond found that he had divided all the will and force of him with Bill Totts, and between them the entity that constituted the pair of them was being wrenched in twain.
Freddie Drummond sat in the auto, quite composed, alongside Catherine Van Vorst; but looking out of Freddie Drummond’s eyes was Bill Totts, and somewhere behind those eyes, battling for the control of their mutual body, were Freddie Drummond the sane and conservative sociologist, and Bill Totts, the class-conscious and bellicose union working man. It was Bill Totts, looking out of those eyes, who saw the inevitable end of the battle on the coal waggon. He saw a policeman gain the top of the load, a second, and a third. They lurched clumsily on the loose footing, but their long riot-clubs were out and swinging. One blow caught the teamster on the head. A second he dodged, receiving it on the shoulder. For him the game was plainly up. He dashed in suddenly, clutched two policemen in his arms, and hurled himself a prisoner to the pavement, his hold never relaxing on his two captors.
Catherine Van Vorst was sick and faint at sight of the blood and brutal fighting. But her qualms were vanquished by the sensational and most unexpected happening that followed. The man beside her emitted an unearthly and uncultured yell and rose to his feet. She saw him spring over the front seat, leap to the broad rump of the wheeler, and from there gain the waggon. His onslaught was like a whirlwind. Before the bewildered officer on the load could guess the errand of this conventionally clad but excited-seeming gentleman, he was the recipient of a punch that arched him back through the air to the pavement. A kick in the face led an ascending policeman to follow his example. A rush of three more gained the top and locked with Bill Totts in a gigantic clinch, during which his scalp was opened up by a club, and coat, vest, and half his starched shirt were torn from him. But the three policemen were flung far and wide, and Bill Totts, raining down lumps of coal, held the fort.
The captain led gallantly to the attack, but was bowled over by a chunk of coal that burst on his head in black baptism. The need of the police was to break the blockade in front before the mob could break in at the rear, and Bill Totts’ need was to hold the waggon till the mob did break through. So the battle of the coal went on.
The crowd had recognized its champion. “Big” Bill, as usual, had come to the front, and Catherine Van Vorst was bewildered by the cries of “Bill! O you Bill!” that arose on every hand. Pat Morrissey, on his waggon seat, was jumping and screaming in an ecstasy, “Eat ’em, Bill! Eat ’em! Eat ’em alive!” From the sidewalk she heard a woman’s voice cry out, “Look out, Bill—front end!” Bill took the warning and with well-directed coal cleared the front end of the waggon of assailants. Catherine Van Vorst turned her head and saw on the curb of the sidewalk a woman with vivid colouring and flashing black eyes who was staring with all her soul at the man who had been Freddie Drummond a few minutes before.
The windows of the office building became vociferous with applause. A fresh shower of office chairs and filing cabinets descended. The mob had broken through on one side the line of waggons, and was advancing, each segregated policeman the centre of a fighting group. The scabs were torn from their seats, the traces of the horses cut, and the frightened animals put in flight. Many policemen crawled under the coal waggon for safety, while the loose horses, with here and there a policeman on their backs or struggling at their heads to hold them, surged across the sidewalk opposite the jam and broke into Market Street.
Catherine Van Vorst heard the woman’s voice calling in warning. She was back on the curb again, and crying out—
“Beat it, Bill! Now’s your time! Beat it!”
The police for the moment had been swept away. Bill Totts leaped to the pavement and made his way to the woman on the sidewalk. Catherine Van Vorst saw her throw her arms around him and kiss him on the lips; and Catherine Van Vorst watched him curiously as he went on down the sidewalk, one arm around the woman, both talking and laughing, and he with a volubility and abandon she could never have dreamed possible.
The police were back again and clearing the jam while waiting for reinforcements and new drivers and horses. The mob had done its work and was scattering, and Catherine Van Vorst, still watching, could see the man she had known as Freddie Drummond. He towered a head above the crowd. His arm was still about the woman. And she in the motor-car, watching, saw the pair cross Market Street, cross the Slot, and disappear down Third Street into the labour ghetto.
In the years that followed no more lectures were given in the University of California by one Freddie Drummond, and no more books on economics and the labour question appeared over the name of Frederick A. Drummond. On the other hand there arose a new labour leader, William Totts by name. He it was who married Mary Condon, President of the International Glove Workers’ Union No. 974; and he it was who called the notorious Cooks and Waiters’ Strike, which, before its successful termination, brought out with it scores of other unions, among which, of the more remotely allied, were the Chicken Pickers and the Undertakers.
12. The Sheriff of Kona
“You cannot escape liking the climate,” Cudworth said, in reply to my panegyric on the Kona coast. “I was a young fellow, just out of college, when I came here eighteen years ago. I never went back, except, of course, to visit. And I warn you, if you have some spot dear to you on earth, not to linger here too long, else you will find this dearer.”
We had finished dinner, which had been served on the big lanai, the one with a northerly exposure, though exposure is indeed a misnomer in so delectable a climate.
The candles had been put out, and a slim, white-clad Japanese slipped like a ghost through the silvery moonlight, presented us with cigars, and faded away into the darkness of the bungalow. I looked through a screen of banana and lehua trees, and down across the guava scrub to the quiet sea a thousand feet beneath. For a week, ever since I had landed from the tiny coasting-steamer, I had been stopping with Cudworth, and during that time no wind had ruffled that unvexed sea. True, there had been breezes, but they were the gentlest zephyrs that ever blew through summer isles. They were not winds; they were sighs—long, balmy sighs of a world at rest.
“A lotus land,” I said.
“Where each day is like every day, and every day is a paradise of days,” he answered. “Nothing ever happens. It is not too hot. It is not too cold. It is always just right. Have you noticed how the land and the sea breathe turn and turn about?”
Indeed, I had noticed that delicious rhythmic, breathing. Each morning I had watched the sea-breeze begin at the shore and slowly extend seaward as it blew the mildest, softest whiff of ozone to the land. It played over the sea, just faintly darkening its surface, with here and there and everywhere long lanes of calm, shifting, changing, drifting, according to the capricious kisses of the breeze. And each evening I had watched the sea breath die away to heavenly calm, and heard the land breath softly make its way through the coffee trees and monkey-pods.
“It is a land of perpetual calm,” I said. “Does it ever blow here?—ever really blow? You know what I mean.”
Cudworth shook his head and pointed eastward.
“How can it blow, with a barrier like that to stop it?”
Far above towered the huge bulks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, seeming to blot out half the starry sky. Two miles and a half above our heads they reared their own heads, white with snow that the tropic sun had failed to melt.
“Thirty miles away, right now, I’ll wager, it is blowing forty miles an hour.”
I smiled incredulously.
Cudworth stepped to the lanai telephone. He called up, in succession, Waimea, Kohala, and Hamakua. Snatches of his conversation told me that the wind was blowing: “Rip-snorting and back-jumping, eh? . . . How long? . . . Only a week? . . . Hello, Abe, is that you? . . . Yes, yes . . . You will plant coffee on the Hamakua coast . . . Hang your wind-breaks! You should see my trees.”
“Blowing a gale,” he said to me, turning from hanging up the receiver. “I always have to joke Abe on his coffee. He has five hundred acres, and he’s done marvels in wind-breaking, but how he keeps the roots in the ground is beyond me. Blow? It always blows on the Hamakua side. Kohala reports a schooner under double reefs beating up the channel between Hawaii and Maui, and making heavy weather of it.”
“It is hard to realize,” I said lamely. “Doesn’t a little whiff of it ever eddy around somehow, and get down here?”
“Not a whiff. Our land-breeze is absolutely of no kin, for it begins this side of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. You see, the land radiates its heat quicker than the sea, and so, at night, the land breathes over the sea. In the day the land becomes warmer than the sea, and the sea breathes over the land . . . Listen! Here comes the land-breath now, the mountain wind.”
I could hear it coming, rustling softly through the coffee trees, stirring the monkey-pods, and sighing through the sugar-cane. On the lanai the hush still reigned. Then it came, the first feel of the mountain wind, faintly balmy, fragrant and spicy, and cool, deliciously cool, a silken coolness, a wine-like coolness—cool as only the mountain wind of Kona can be cool.
“Do you wonder that I lost my heart to Kona eighteen years ago?” he demanded. “I could never leave it now. I think I should die. It would be terrible. There was another man who loved it, even as I. I think he loved it more, for he was born here on the Kona coast. He was a great man, my best friend, my more than brother. But he left it, and he did not die.”
“Love?” I queried. “A woman?”
Cudworth shook his head.
“Nor will he ever come back, though his heart will be here until he dies.”
He paused and gazed down upon the beachlights of Kailua. I smoked silently and waited.
“He was already in love . . . with his wife. Also, he had three children, and he loved them. They are in Honolulu now. The boy is going to college.”
“Some rash act?” I questioned, after a time, impatiently.
He shook his head. “Neither guilty of anything criminal, nor charged with anything criminal. He was the Sheriff of Kona.”
“You choose to be paradoxical,” I said.
“I suppose it does sound that way,” he admitted, “and that is the perfect hell of it.”
He looked at me searchingly for a moment, and then abruptly took up the tale.
“He was a leper. No, he was not born with it—no one is born with it; it came upon him. This man—what does it matter? Lyte Gregory was his name. Every kamaina knows the story. He was straight American stock, but he was built like the chieftains of old Hawaii. He stood six feet three. His stripped weight was two hundred and twenty pounds, not an ounce of which was not clean muscle or bone. He was the strongest man I have ever seen. He was an athlete and a giant. He was a god. He was my friend. And his heart and his soul were as big and as fine as his body.
“I wonder what you would do if you saw your friend, your brother, on the slippery lip of a precipice, slipping, slipping, and you were able to do nothing. That was just it. I could do nothing. I saw it coming, and I could do nothing. My God, man, what could I do? There it was, malignant and incontestable, the mark of the thing on his brow. No one else saw it. It was because I loved him so, I do believe, that I alone saw it. I could not credit the testimony of my senses. It was too incredibly horrible. Yet there it was, on his brow, on his ears. I had seen it, the slight puff of the earlobes—oh, so imperceptibly slight. I watched it for months. Then, next, hoping against hope, the darkening of the skin above both eyebrows—oh, so faint, just like the dimmest touch of sunburn. I should have thought it sunburn but that there was a shine to it, such an invisible shine, like a little highlight seen for a moment and gone the next. I tried to believe it was sunburn, only I could not. I knew better. No one noticed it but me. No one ever noticed it except Stephen Kaluna, and I did not know that till afterward. But I saw it coming, the whole damnable, unnamable awfulness of it; but I refused to think about the future. I was afraid. I could not. And of nights I cried over it.
“He was my friend. We fished sharks on Niihau together. We hunted wild cattle on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We broke horses and branded steers on the Carter Ranch. We hunted goats through Haleakala. He taught me diving and surfing until I was nearly as clever as he, and he was cleverer than the average Kanaka. I have seen him dive in fifteen fathoms, and he could stay down two minutes. He was an amphibian and a mountaineer. He could climb wherever a goat dared climb. He was afraid of nothing. He was on the wrecked Luga, and he swam thirty miles in thirty-six hours in a heavy sea. He could fight his way out through breaking combers that would batter you and me to a jelly. He was a great, glorious man-god. We went through the Revolution together. We were both romantic loyalists. He was shot twice and sentenced to death. But he was too great a man for the republicans to kill. He laughed at them. Later, they gave him honour and made him Sheriff of Kona. He was a simple man, a boy that never grew up. His was no intricate brain pattern. He had no twists nor quirks in his mental processes. He went straight to the point, and his points were always simple.
“And he was sanguine. Never have I known so confident a man, nor a man so satisfied and happy. He did not ask anything from life. There was nothing left to be desired. For him life had no arrears. He had been paid in full, cash down, and in advance. What more could he possibly desire than that magnificent body, that iron constitution, that immunity from all ordinary ills, and that lowly wholesomeness of soul? Physically he was perfect. He had never been sick in his life. He did not know what a headache was. When I was so afflicted he used to look at me in wonder, and make me laugh with his clumsy attempts at sympathy. He did not understand such a thing as a headache. He could not understand. Sanguine? No wonder. How could he be otherwise with that tremendous vitality and incredible health?
“Just to show you what faith he had in his glorious star, and, also, what sanction he had for that faith. He was a youngster at the time—I had just met him—when he went into a poker game at Wailuku. There was a big German in it, Schultz his name was, and he played a brutal, domineering game. He had had a run of luck as well, and he was quite insufferable, when Lyte Gregory dropped in and took a hand. The very first hand it was Schultz’s blind. Lyte came in, as well as the others, and Schultz raised them out—all except Lyte. He did not like the German’s tone, and he raised him back. Schultz raised in turn, and in turn Lyte raised Schultz. So they went, back and forth. The stakes were big. And do you know what Lyte held? A pair of kings and three little clubs. It wasn’t poker. Lyte wasn’t playing poker. He was playing his optimism. He didn’t know what Schultz held, but he raised and raised until he made Schultz squeal, and Schultz held three aces all the time. Think of it! A man with a pair of kings compelling three aces to see before the draw!
“Well, Schultz called for two cards. Another German was dealing, Schultz’s friend at that. Lyte knew then that he was up against three of a kind. Now what did he do? What would you have done? Drawn three cards and held up the kings, of course. Not Lyte. He was playing optimism. He threw the kings away, held up the three little clubs, and drew two cards. He never looked at them. He looked across at Schultz to bet, and Schultz did bet, big. Since he himself held three aces he knew he had Lyte, because he played Lyte for threes, and, necessarily, they would have to be smaller threes. Poor Schultz! He was perfectly correct under the premises. His mistake was that he thought Lyte was playing poker. They bet back and forth for five minutes, until Schultz’s certainty began to ooze out. And all the time Lyte had never looked at his two cards, and Schultz knew it. I could see Schultz think, and revive, and splurge with his bets again. But the strain was too much for him.”
“‘Hold on, Gregory,’ he said at last. ‘I’ve got you beaten from the start. I don’t want any of your money. I’ve got—’”
“‘Never mind what you’ve got,’ Lyte interrupted. ‘You don’t know what I’ve got. I guess I’ll take a look.’”
“He looked, and raised the German a hundred dollars. Then they went at it again, back and forth and back and forth, until Schultz weakened and called, and laid down his three aces. Lyte faced his five cards. They were all black. He had drawn two more clubs. Do you know, he just about broke Schultz’s nerve as a poker player. He never played in the same form again. He lacked confidence after that, and was a bit wobbly.”
“‘But how could you do it?’ I asked Lyte afterwards. ‘You knew he had you beaten when he drew two cards. Besides, you never looked at your own draw.’”
“‘I didn’t have to look,’ was Lyte’s answer. ‘I knew they were two clubs all the time. They just had to be two clubs. Do you think I was going to let that big Dutchman beat me? It was impossible that he should beat me. It is not my way to be beaten. I just have to win. Why, I’d have been the most surprised man in this world if they hadn’t been all clubs.’”
“That was Lyte’s way, and maybe it will help you to appreciate his colossal optimism. As he put it he just had to succeed, to fare well, to prosper. And in that same incident, as in ten thousand others, he found his sanction. The thing was that he did succeed, did prosper. That was why he was afraid of nothing. Nothing could ever happen to him. He knew it, because nothing had ever happened to him. That time the Luga was lost and he swam thirty miles, he was in the water two whole nights and a day. And during all that terrible stretch of time he never lost hope once, never once doubted the outcome. He just knew he was going to make the land. He told me so himself, and I know it was the truth.
“Well, that is the kind of a man Lyte Gregory was. He was of a different race from ordinary, ailing mortals. He was a lordly being, untouched by common ills and misfortunes. Whatever he wanted he got. He won his wife—one of the Caruthers, a little beauty—from a dozen rivals. And she settled down and made him the finest wife in the world. He wanted a boy. He got it. He wanted a girl and another boy. He got them. And they were just right, without spot or blemish, with chests like little barrels, and with all the inheritance of his own health and strength.
“And then it happened. The mark of the beast was laid upon him. I watched it for a year. It broke my heart. But he did not know it, nor did anybody else guess it except that cursed hapa-haole, Stephen Kaluna. He knew it, but I did not know that he did. And—yes—Doc Strowbridge knew it. He was the federal physician, and he had developed the leper eye. You see, part of his business was to examine suspects and order them to the receiving station at Honolulu. And Stephen Kaluna had developed the leper eye. The disease ran strong in his family, and four or five of his relatives were already on Molokai.
“The trouble arose over Stephen Kaluna’s sister. When she became suspect, and before Doc Strowbridge could get hold of her, her brother spirited her away to some hiding-place. Lyte was Sheriff of Kona, and it was his business to find her.
“We were all over at Hilo that night, in Ned Austin’s. Stephen Kaluna was there when we came in, by himself, in his cups, and quarrelsome. Lyte was laughing over some joke—that huge, happy laugh of a giant boy. Kaluna spat contemptuously on the floor. Lyte noticed, so did everybody; but he ignored the fellow. Kaluna was looking for trouble. He took it as a personal grudge that Lyte was trying to apprehend his sister. In half a dozen ways he advertised his displeasure at Lyte’s presence, but Lyte ignored him. I imagined Lyte was a bit sorry for him, for the hardest duty of his office was the apprehension of lepers. It is not a nice thing to go in to a man’s house and tear away a father, mother, or child, who has done no wrong, and to send such a one to perpetual banishment on Molokai. Of course, it is necessary as a protection to society, and Lyte, I do believe, would have been the first to apprehend his own father did he become suspect.
“Finally, Kaluna blurted out: ‘Look here, Gregory, you think you’re going to find Kalaniweo, but you’re not.’
“Kalaniweo was his sister. Lyte glanced at him when his name was called, but he made no answer. Kaluna was furious. He was working himself up all the time.
“‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ he shouted. ‘You’ll be on Molokai yourself before ever you get Kalaniweo there. I’ll tell you what you are. You’ve no right to be in the company of honest men. You’ve made a terrible fuss talking about your duty, haven’t you? You’ve sent many lepers to Molokai, and knowing all the time you belonged there yourself.’
“I’d seen Lyte angry more than once, but never quite so angry as at that moment. Leprosy with us, you know, is not a thing to jest about. He made one leap across the floor, dragging Kaluna out of his chair with a clutch on his neck. He shook him back and forth savagely, till you could hear the half-caste’s teeth rattling.
“‘What do you mean?’ Lyte was demanding. ‘Spit it out, man, or I’ll choke it out of you!’
“You know, in the West there is a certain phrase that a man must smile while uttering. So with us of the islands, only our phrase is related to leprosy. No matter what Kaluna was, he was no coward. As soon as Lyte eased the grip on his throat he answered:—
“‘I’ll tell you what I mean. You are a leper yourself.’
“Lyte suddenly flung the half-caste sideways into a chair, letting him down easily enough. Then Lyte broke out into honest, hearty laughter. But he laughed alone, and when he discovered it he looked around at our faces. I had reached his side and was trying to get him to come away, but he took no notice of me. He was gazing, fascinated, at Kaluna, who was brushing at his own throat in a flurried, nervous way, as if to brush off the contamination of the fingers that had clutched him. The action was unreasoned, genuine.
“Lyte looked around at us, slowly passing from face to face.
“‘My God, fellows! My God!’ he said.
“He did not speak it. It was more a hoarse whisper of fright and horror. It was fear that fluttered in his throat, and I don’t think that ever in his life before he had known fear.
“Then his colossal optimism asserted itself, and he laughed again.
“‘A good joke—whoever put it up,’ he said. ‘The drinks are on me. I had a scare for a moment. But, fellows, don’t do it again, to anybody. It’s too serious. I tell you I died a thousand deaths in that moment. I thought of my wife and the kids, and . . . ’
“His voice broke, and the half-caste, still throat-brushing, drew his eyes. He was puzzled and worried.
“‘John,’ he said, turning toward me.
“His jovial, rotund voice rang in my ears. But I could not answer. I was swallowing hard at that moment, and besides, I knew my face didn’t look just right.
“‘John,’ he called again, taking a step nearer.
“He called timidly, and of all nightmares of horrors the most frightful was to hear timidity in Lyte Gregory’s voice.
“‘John, John, what does it mean?’ he went on, still more timidly. ‘It’s a joke, isn’t it? John, here’s my hand. If I were a leper would I offer you my hand? Am I a leper, John?’
“He held out his hand, and what in high heaven or hell did I care? He was my friend. I took his hand, though it cut me to the heart to see the way his face brightened.
“‘It was only a joke, Lyte,’ I said. ‘We fixed it up on you. But you’re right. It’s too serious. We won’t do it again.’
“He did not laugh this time. He smiled, as a man awakened from a bad dream and still oppressed by the substance of the dream.
“‘All right, then,’ he said. ‘Don’t do it again, and I’ll stand for the drinks. But I may as well confess that you fellows had me going south for a moment. Look at the way I’ve been sweating.’
“He sighed and wiped the sweat from his forehead as he started to step toward the bar.
“‘It is no joke,’ Kaluna said abruptly. I looked murder at him, and I felt murder, too. But I dared not speak or strike. That would have precipitated the catastrophe which I somehow had a mad hope of still averting.
“‘It is no joke,’ Kaluna repeated. ‘You are a leper, Lyte Gregory, and you’ve no right putting your hands on honest men’s flesh—on the clean flesh of honest men.’
“Then Gregory flared up.
“‘The joke has gone far enough! Quit it! Quit it, I say, Kaluna, or I’ll give you a beating!’
“‘You undergo a bacteriological examination,’ Kaluna answered, ‘and then you can beat me—to death, if you want to. Why, man, look at yourself there in the glass. You can see it. Anybody can see it. You’re developing the lion face. See where the skin is darkened there over your eyes.
“Lyte peered and peered, and I saw his hands trembling.
“‘I can see nothing,’ he said finally, then turned on the hapa-haole. ‘You have a black heart, Kaluna. And I am not ashamed to say that you have given me a scare that no man has a right to give another. I take you at your word. I am going to settle this thing now. I am going straight to Doc Strowbridge. And when I come back, watch out.’
“He never looked at us, but started for the door.
“‘You wait here, John,’ he said, waving me back from accompanying him.
“We stood around like a group of ghosts.
“‘It is the truth,’ Kaluna said. ‘You could see it for yourselves.’
“They looked at me, and I nodded. Harry Burnley lifted his glass to his lips, but lowered it untasted. He spilled half of it over the bar. His lips were trembling like a child that is about to cry. Ned Austin made a clatter in the ice-chest. He wasn’t looking for anything. I don’t think he knew what he was doing. Nobody spoke. Harry Burnley’s lips were trembling harder than ever. Suddenly, with a most horrible, malignant expression he drove his fist into Kaluna’s face. He followed it up. We made no attempt to separate them. We didn’t care if he killed the half-caste. It was a terrible beating. We weren’t interested. I don’t even remember when Burnley ceased and let the poor devil crawl away. We were all too dazed.
“Doc Strowbridge told me about it afterward. He was working late over a report when Lyte came into his office. Lyte had already recovered his optimism, and came swinging in, a trifle angry with Kaluna to be sure, but very certain of himself. ‘What could I do?’ Doc asked me. ‘I knew he had it. I had seen it coming on for months. I couldn’t answer him. I couldn’t say yes. I don’t mind telling you I broke down and cried. He pleaded for the bacteriological test. ‘Snip out a piece, Doc,’ he said, over and over. ‘Snip out a piece of skin and make the test.’”
“The way Doc Strowbridge cried must have convinced Lyte. The Claudine was leaving next morning for Honolulu. We caught him when he was going aboard. You see, he was headed for Honolulu to give himself up to the Board of Health. We could do nothing with him. He had sent too many to Molokai to hang back himself. We argued for Japan. But he wouldn’t hear of it. ‘I’ve got to take my medicine, fellows,’ was all he would say, and he said it over and over. He was obsessed with the idea.
“He wound up all his affairs from the Receiving Station at Honolulu, and went down to Molokai. He didn’t get on well there. The resident physician wrote us that he was a shadow of his old self. You see he was grieving about his wife and the kids. He knew we were taking care of them, but it hurt him just the same. After six months or so I went down to Molokai. I sat on one side a plate-glass window, and he on the other. We looked at each other through the glass and talked through what might be called a speaking tube. But it was hopeless. He had made up his mind to remain. Four mortal hours I argued. I was exhausted at the end. My steamer was whistling for me, too.
“But we couldn’t stand for it. Three months later we chartered the schooner Halcyon. She was an opium smuggler, and she sailed like a witch. Her master was a squarehead who would do anything for money, and we made a charter to China worth his while. He sailed from San Francisco, and a few days later we took out Landhouse’s sloop for a cruise. She was only a five-ton yacht, but we slammed her fifty miles to windward into the north-east trade. Seasick? I never suffered so in my life. Out of sight of land we picked up the Halcyon, and Burnley and I went aboard.
“We ran down to Molokai, arriving about eleven at night. The schooner hove to and we landed through the surf in a whale-boat at Kalawao—the place, you know, where Father Damien died. That squarehead was game. With a couple of revolvers strapped on him he came right along. The three of us crossed the peninsula to Kalaupapa, something like two miles. Just imagine hunting in the dead of night for a man in a settlement of over a thousand lepers. You see, if the alarm was given, it was all off with us. It was strange ground, and pitch dark. The leper’s dogs came out and bayed at us, and we stumbled around till we got lost.
“The squarehead solved it. He led the way into the first detached house. We shut the door after us and struck a light. There were six lepers. We routed them up, and I talked in native. What I wanted was a kokua. A kokua is, literally, a helper, a native who is clean that lives in the settlement and is paid by the Board of Health to nurse the lepers, dress their sores, and such things. We stayed in the house to keep track of the inmates, while the squarehead led one of them off to find a kokua. He got him, and he brought him along at the point of his revolver. But the kokua was all right. While the squarehead guarded the house, Burnley and I were guided by the kokua to Lyte’s house. He was all alone.
“‘I thought you fellows would come,’ Lyte said. ‘Don’t touch me, John. How’s Ned, and Charley, and all the crowd? Never mind, tell me afterward. I am ready to go now. I’ve had nine months of it. Where’s the boat?’
“We started back for the other house to pick up the squarehead. But the alarm had got out. Lights were showing in the houses, and doors were slamming. We had agreed that there was to be no shooting unless absolutely necessary, and when we were halted we went at it with our fists and the butts of our revolvers. I found myself tangled up with a big man. I couldn’t keep him off me, though twice I smashed him fairly in the face with my fist. He grappled with me, and we went down, rolling and scrambling and struggling for grips. He was getting away with me, when some one came running up with a lantern. Then I saw his face. How shall I describe the horror of it. It was not a face—only wasted or wasting features—a living ravage, noseless, lipless, with one ear swollen and distorted, hanging down to the shoulder. I was frantic. In a clinch he hugged me close to him until that ear flapped in my face. Then I guess I went insane. It was too terrible. I began striking him with my revolver. How it happened I don’t know, but just as I was getting clear he fastened upon me with his teeth. The whole side of my hand was in that lipless mouth. Then I struck him with the revolver butt squarely between the eyes, and his teeth relaxed.”
Cudworth held his hand to me in the moonlight, and I could see the scars. It looked as if it had been mangled by a dog.
“Weren’t you afraid?” I asked.
“I was. Seven years I waited. You know, it takes that long for the disease to incubate. Here in Kona I waited, and it did not come. But there was never a day of those seven years, and never a night, that I did not look out on . . . on all this . . . ” His voice broke as he swept his eyes from the moon-bathed sea beneath to the snowy summits above. “I could not bear to think of losing it, of never again beholding Kona. Seven years! I stayed clean. But that is why I am single. I was engaged. I could not dare to marry while I was in doubt. She did not understand. She went away to the States and married. I have never seen her since.
“Just at the moment I got clear of the leper policeman there was a rush and clatter of hoofs like a cavalry charge. It was the squarehead. He had been afraid of a rumpus and he had improved his time by making those blessed lepers he was guarding saddle up four horses. We were ready for him. Lyte had accounted for three kokuas, and between us we untangled Burnley from a couple more. The whole settlement was in an uproar by that time, and as we dashed away somebody opened upon us with a Winchester. It must have been Jack McVeigh, the superintendent of Molokai.
“That was a ride! Leper horses, leper saddles, leper bridles, pitch-black darkness, whistling bullets, and a road none of the best. And the squarehead’s horse was a mule, and he didn’t know how to ride, either. But we made the whaleboat, and as we shoved off through the surf we could hear the horses coming down the hill from Kalaupapa.
“You’re going to Shanghai. You look Lyte Gregory up. He is employed in a German firm there. Take him out to dinner. Open up wine. Give him everything of the best, but don’t let him pay for anything. Send the bill to me. His wife and the kids are in Honolulu, and he needs the money for them. I know. He sends most of his salary, and lives like an anchorite. And tell him about Kona. There’s where his heart is. Tell him all you can about Kona.”
13. The Proud Goat of Aloysius Pankburn
Quick eye that he had for the promise of adventure, prepared always for the unexpected to leap out at him from behind the nearest cocoanut tree, nevertheless David Grief received no warning when he laid eyes on Aloysius Pankburn. It was on the little steamer Berthe. Leaving his schooner to follow, Grief had taken passage for the short run across from Raiatea to Papeete. When he first saw Aloysius Pankburn, that somewhat fuddled gentleman was drinking a lonely cocktail at the tiny bar between decks next to the barber shop. And when Grief left the barber’s hands half an hour later Aloysius Pankburn was still hanging over the bar still drinking by himself.
Now it is not good for man to drink alone, and Grief threw sharp scrutiny into his passing glance. He saw a well-built young man of thirty, well-featured, well-dressed, and evidently, in the world’s catalogue, a gentleman. But in the faint hint of slovenliness, in the shaking, eager hand that spilled the liquor, and in the nervous, vacillating eyes, Grief read the unmistakable marks of the chronic alcoholic.
After dinner he chanced upon Pankburn again. This time it was on deck, and the young man, clinging to the rail and peering into the distance at the dim forms of a man and woman in two steamer chairs drawn closely together, was crying, drunkenly. Grief noted that the man’s arm was around the woman’s waist. Aloysius Pankburn looked on and cried.
“Nothing to weep about,” Grief said genially.
Pankburn looked at him, and gushed tears of profound self-pity.
“It’s hard,” he sobbed. “Hard. Hard. That man’s my business manager. I employ him. I pay him a good screw. And that’s how he earns it.”
“In that case, why don’t you put a stop to it?” Grief advised.
“I can’t. She’d shut off my whiskey. She’s my trained nurse.”
“Fire her, then, and drink your head off.”
“I can’t. He’s got all my money. If I did, he wouldn’t give me sixpence to buy a drink with.”
This woful possibility brought a fresh wash of tears. Grief was interested. Of all unique situations he could never have imagined such a one as this.
“They were engaged to take care of me,” Pankburn was blubbering, “to keep me away from the drink. And that’s the way they do it, lollygagging all about the ship and letting me drink myself to death. It isn’t right, I tell you. It isn’t right. They were sent along with me for the express purpose of not letting me drink, and they let me drink to swinishness as long as I leave them alone. If I complain they threaten not to let me have another drop. What can a poor devil do? My death will be on their heads, that’s all. Come on down and join me.”
He released his clutch on the rail, and would have fallen had Grief not caught his arm. He seemed to undergo a transformation, to stiffen physically, to thrust his chin forward aggressively, and to glint harshly in his eyes.
“I won’t let them kill me. And they’ll be sorry. I’ve offered them fifty thousand—later on, of course. They laughed. They don’t know. But I know.” He fumbled in his coat pocket and drew forth an object that flashed in the faint light. “They don’t know the meaning of that. But I do.” He looked at Grief with abrupt suspicion. “What do you make out of it, eh? What do you make out of it?”
David Grief caught a swift vision of an alcoholic degenerate putting a very loving young couple to death with a copper spike, for a copper spike was what he held in his hand, an evident old-fashioned ship-fastening.
“My mother thinks I’m up here to get cured of the booze habit. She doesn’t know. I bribed the doctor to prescribe a voyage. When we get to Papeete my manager is going to charter a schooner and away we’ll sail. But they don’t dream. They think it’s the booze. I know. I only know. Good night, sir. I’m going to bed—unless—er—you’ll join me in a night cap. One last drink, you know.”
In the week that followed at Papeete Grief caught numerous and bizarre glimpses of Aloysius Pankburn. So did everybody else in the little island capital; for neither the beach nor Lavina’s boarding house had been so scandalized in years. In midday, bareheaded, clad only in swimming trunks, Aloysius Pankburn ran down the main street from Lavina’s to the water front. He put on the gloves with a fireman from the Berthe in a scheduled four-round bout at the Folies Bergères, and was knocked out in the second round. He tried insanely to drown himself in a two-foot pool of water, dived drunkenly and splendidly from fifty feet up in the rigging of the Mariposa lying at the wharf, and chartered the cutter Toerau at more than her purchase price and was only saved by his manager’s refusal financially to ratify the agreement. He bought out the old blind leper at the market, and sold breadfruit, plantains, and sweet potatoes at such cut-rates that the gendarmes were called out to break the rush of bargain-hunting natives. For that matter, three times the gendarmes arrested him for riotous behaviour, and three times his manager ceased from love-making long enough to pay the fines imposed by a needy colonial administration.
Then the Mariposa sailed for San Francisco, and in the bridal suite were the manager and the trained nurse, fresh-married. Before departing, the manager had thoughtfully bestowed eight five-pound banknotes on Aloysius, with the foreseen result that Aloysius awoke several days later to find himself broke and perilously near to delirium tremens. Lavina, famed for her good heart even among the driftage of South Pacific rogues and scamps, nursed him around and never let it filter into his returning intelligence that there was neither manager nor money to pay his board.
It was several evenings after this that David Grief, lounging under the after deck awning of the Kittiwake and idly scanning the meagre columns of the Papeete Avant-Coureur, sat suddenly up and almost rubbed his eyes. It was unbelievable, but there it was. The old South Seas Romance was not dead. He read:
WANTED—To exchange a half interest in buried treasure,
worth five million francs, for transportation for one to an
unknown island in the Pacific and facilities for carrying
away the loot. Ask for FOLLY, at Lavina’s.
Grief looked at his watch. It was early yet, only eight o’clock.
“Mr. Carlsen,” he called in the direction of a glowing pipe. “Get the crew for the whale-boat. I’m going ashore.”
The husky voice of the Norwegian mate was raised for’ard, and half a dozen strapping Rapa Islanders ceased their singing and manned the boat.
“I came to see Folly, Mr. Folly, I imagine,” David Grief told Lavina.
He noted the quick interest in her eyes as she turned her head and flung a command in native across two open rooms to the outstanding kitchen. A few minutes later a barefooted native girl padded in and shook her head.
Lavina’s disappointment was evident.
“You’re stopping aboard the Kittiwake, aren’t you?” she said. “I’ll tell him you called.”
“Then it is a he?” Grief queried.
“I hope you can do something for him, Captain Grief. I’m only a good-natured woman. I don’t know. But he’s a likeable man, and he may be telling the truth; I don’t know. You’ll know. You’re not a soft-hearted fool like me. Can’t I mix you a cocktail?”
Back on board his schooner and dozing in a deck chair under a three-months-old magazine, David Grief was aroused by a sobbing, slubbering noise from overside. He opened his eyes. From the Chilian cruiser, a quarter of a mile away, came the stroke of eight bells. It was midnight. From overside came a splash and another slubbering noise. To him it seemed half amphibian, half the sounds of a man crying to himself and querulously chanting his sorrows to the general universe.
A jump took David Grief to the low rail. Beneath, centred about the slubbering noise, was an area of agitated phosphorescence. Leaning over, he locked his hand under the armpit of a man, and, with pull and heave and quick-changing grips, he drew on deck the naked form of Aloysius Pankburn.
“I didn’t have a sou-markee,” he complained. “I had to swim it, and I couldn’t find your gangway. It was very miserable. Pardon me. If you have a towel to put about my middle, and a good stiff drink, I’ll be more myself. I’m Mr. Folly, and you’re the Captain Grief, I presume, who called on me when I was out. No, I’m not drunk. Nor am I cold. This isn’t shivering. Lavina allowed me only two drinks to-day. I’m on the edge of the horrors, that’s all, and I was beginning to see things when I couldn’t find the gangway. If you’ll take me below I’ll be very grateful. You are the only one that answered my advertisement.”
He was shaking pitiably in the warm night, and down in the cabin, before he got his towel, Grief saw to it that a half-tumbler of whiskey was in his hand.
“Now fire ahead,” Grief said, when he had got his guest into a shirt and a pair of duck trousers. “What’s this advertisement of yours? I’m listening.”
Pankburn looked at the whiskey bottle, but Grief shook his head.
“All right, Captain, though I tell you on whatever is left of my honour that I am not drunk—not in the least. Also, what I shall tell you is true, and I shall tell it briefly, for it is clear to me that you are a man of affairs and action. Likewise, your chemistry is good. To you alcohol has never been a million maggots gnawing at every cell of you. You’ve never been to hell. I am there now. I am scorching. Now listen.
“My mother is alive. She is English. I was born in Australia. I was educated at York and Yale. I am a master of arts, a doctor of philosophy, and I am no good. Furthermore, I am an alcoholic. I have been an athlete. I used to swan-dive a hundred and ten feet in the clear. I hold several amateur records. I am a fish. I learned the crawl-stroke from the first of the Cavilles. I have done thirty miles in a rough sea. I have another record. I have punished more whiskey than any man of my years. I will steal sixpence from you for the price of a drink. Finally, I will tell you the truth.
“My father was an American—an Annapolis man. He was a midshipman in the War of the Rebellion. In ’66 he was a lieutenant on the Suwanee. Her captain was Paul Shirley. In ’66 the Suwanee coaled at an island in the Pacific which I do not care to mention, under a protectorate which did not exist then and which shall be nameless. Ashore, behind the bar of a public house, my father saw three copper spikes—ship’s spikes.”
David Grief smiled quietly.
“And now I can tell you the name of the coaling station and of the protectorate that came afterward,” he said.
“And of the three spikes?” Pankburn asked with equal quietness. “Go ahead, for they are in my possession now.”
“Certainly. They were behind German Oscar’s bar at Peenoo-Peenee. Johnny Black brought them there from off his schooner the night he died. He was just back from a long cruise to the westward, fishing beche-de-mer and sandalwood trading. All the beach knows the tale.”
Pankburn shook his head.
“Go on,” he urged.
“It was before my time, of course,” Grief explained. “I only tell what I’ve heard. Next came the Ecuadoran cruiser, of all directions, in from the westward, and bound home. Her officers recognized the spikes. Johnny Black was dead. They got hold of his mate and logbook. Away to the westward went she. Six months after, again bound home, she dropped in at Peenoo-Peenee. She had failed, and the tale leaked out.”
“When the revolutionists were marching on Guayaquil,” Pankburn took it up, “the federal officers, believing a defence of the city hopeless, salted down the government treasure chest, something like a million dollars gold, but all in English coinage, and put it on board the American schooner Flirt. They were going to run at daylight. The American captain skinned out in the middle of the night. Go on.”
“It’s an old story,” Grief resumed. “There was no other vessel in the harbour. The federal leaders couldn’t run. They put their backs to the wall and held the city. Rohjas Salced, making a forced march from Quito, raised the siege. The revolution was broken, and the one ancient steamer that constituted the Ecuadoran navy was sent in pursuit of the Flirt. They caught her, between the Banks Group and the New Hebrides, hove to and flying distress signals. The captain had died the day before—blackwater fever.”
“And the mate?” Pankburn challenged.
“The mate had been killed a week earlier by the natives on one of the Banks, when they sent a boat in for water. There were no navigators left. The men were put to the torture. It was beyond international law. They wanted to confess, but couldn’t. They told of the three spikes in the trees on the beach, but where the island was they did not know. To the westward, far to the westward, was all they knew. The tale now goes two ways. One is that they all died under the torture. The other is that the survivors were swung at the yardarm. At any rate, the Ecuadoran cruiser went home without the treasure. Johnny Black brought the three spikes to Peenoo-Peenee, and left them at German Oscar’s, but how and where he found them he never told.”
Pankburn looked hard at the whiskey bottle.
“Just two fingers,” he whimpered.
Grief considered, and poured a meagre drink. Pankburn’s eyes sparkled, and he took new lease of life.
“And this is where I come in with the missing details,” he said. “Johnny Black did tell. He told my father. Wrote him from Levuka, before he came on to die at Peenoo-Peenee. My father had saved his life one rough-house night in Valparaiso. A Chink pearler, out of Thursday Island, prospecting for new grounds to the north of New Guinea, traded for the three spikes with a nigger. Johnny Black bought them for copper weight. He didn’t dream any more than the Chink, but coming back he stopped for hawksbill turtle at the very beach where you say the mate of the Flirt was killed. Only he wasn’t killed. The Banks Islanders held him prisoner, and he was dying of necrosis of the jawbone, caused by an arrow wound in the fight on the beach. Before he died he told the yarn to Johnny Black. Johnny Black wrote my father from Levuka. He was at the end of his rope—cancer. My father, ten years afterward, when captain of the Perry, got the spikes from German Oscar. And from my father, last will and testament, you know, came the spikes and the data. I have the island, the latitude and longitude of the beach where the three spikes were nailed in the trees. The spikes are up at Lavina’s now. The latitude and longitude are in my head. Now what do you think?”
“Fishy,” was Grief’s instant judgment. “Why didn’t your father go and get it himself?”
“Didn’t need it. An uncle died and left him a fortune. He retired from the navy, ran foul of an epidemic of trained nurses in Boston, and my mother got a divorce. Also, she fell heir to an income of something like thirty thousand dollars, and went to live in New Zealand. I was divided between them, half-time New Zealand, half-time United States, until my father’s death last year. Now my mother has me altogether. He left me his money—oh, a couple of millions—but my mother has had guardians appointed on account of the drink. I’m worth all kinds of money, but I can’t touch a penny save what is doled out to me. But the old man, who had got the tip on my drinking, left me the three spikes and the data thereunto pertaining. Did it through his lawyers, unknown to my mother; said it beat life insurance, and that if I had the backbone to go and get it I could drink my back teeth awash until I died. Millions in the hands of my guardians, slathers of shekels of my mother’s that’ll be mine if she beats me to the crematory, another million waiting to be dug up, and in the meantime I’m cadging on Lavina for two drinks a day. It’s hell, isn’t it?—when you consider my thirst.”
“Where’s the island?”
“It’s a long way from here.”
“Not on your life, Captain Grief. You’re making an easy half-million out of this. You will sail under my directions, and when we’re well to sea and on our way I’ll tell you and not before.”
Grief shrugged his shoulders, dismissing the subject.
“When I’ve given you another drink I’ll send the boat ashore with you,” he said.
Pankburn was taken aback. For at least five minutes he debated with himself, then licked his lips and surrendered.
“If you promise to go, I’ll tell you now.”
“Of course I’m willing to go. That’s why I asked you. Name the island.”
Pankburn looked at the bottle.
“I’ll take that drink now, Captain.”
“No you won’t. That drink was for you if you went ashore. If you are going to tell me the island, you must do it in your sober senses.”
“Francis Island, if you will have it. Bougainville named it Barbour Island.”
“Off there all by its lonely in the Little Coral Sea,” Grief said. “I know it. Lies between New Ireland and New Guinea. A rotten hole now, though it was all right when the Flirt drove in the spikes and the Chink pearler traded for them. The steamship Castor, recruiting labour for the Upolu plantations, was cut off there with all hands two years ago. I knew her captain well. The Germans sent a cruiser, shelled the bush, burned half a dozen villages, killed a couple of niggers and a lot of pigs, and—and that was all. The niggers always were bad there, but they turned really bad forty years ago. That was when they cut off a whaler. Let me see? What was her name?”
He stepped to the bookshelf, drew out the bulky “South Pacific Directory,” and ran through its pages.
“Yes. Here it is. Francis, or Barbour,” he skimmed. “Natives warlike and treacherous—Melanesian—cannibals. Whale ship Western cut off—that was her name. Shoals—points—anchorages—ah, Redscar, Owen Bay, Likikili Bay, that’s more like it; deep indentation, mangrove swamps, good holding in nine fathoms when white scar in bluff bears west-southwest.” Grief looked up. “That’s your beach, Pankburn, I’ll swear.”
“Will you go?” the other demanded eagerly.
“It sounds good to me. Now if the story had been of a hundred millions, or some such crazy sum, I wouldn’t look at it for a moment. We’ll sail to-morrow, but under one consideration. You are to be absolutely under my orders.”
His visitor nodded emphatically and joyously.
“And that means no drink.”
“That’s pretty hard,” Pankburn whined.
“It’s my terms. I’m enough of a doctor to see you don’t come to harm. And you are to work—hard work, sailor’s work. You’ll stand regular watches and everything, though you eat and sleep aft with us.”
“It’s a go.” Pankburn put out his hand to ratify the agreement. “If it doesn’t kill me,” he added.
David Grief poured a generous three-fingers into the tumbler and extended it.
“Then here’s your last drink. Take it.”
Pankburn’s hand went halfway out. With a sudden spasm of resolution, he hesitated, threw back his shoulders, and straightened up his head.
“I guess I won’t,” he began, then, feebly surrendering to the gnaw of desire, he reached hastily for the glass, as if in fear that it would be withdrawn.
It is a long traverse from Papeete in the Societies to the Little Coral Sea—from 100 west longitude to 150 east longitude—as the crow flies the equivalent to a voyage across the Atlantic. But the Kittiwake did not go as the crow flies. David Grief’s numerous interests diverted her course many times. He stopped to take a look-in at uninhabited Rose Island with an eye to colonizing and planting cocoa-nuts. Next, he paid his respects to Tui Manua, of Eastern Samoa, and opened an intrigue for a share of the trade monopoly of that dying king’s three islands. From Apia he carried several relief agents and a load of trade goods to the Gilberts. He peeped in at Ontong-Java Atoll, inspected his plantations on Ysabel, and purchased lands from the salt-water chiefs of northwestern Malaita. And all along this devious way he made a man of Aloysius Pankburn.
That thirster, though he lived aft, was compelled to do the work of a common sailor. And not only did he take his wheel and lookout, and heave on sheets and tackles, but the dirtiest and most arduous tasks were appointed him. Swung aloft in a bosun’s chair, he scraped the masts and slushed down. Holystoning the deck or scrubbing it with fresh limes made his back ache and developed the wasted, flabby muscles. When the Kittiwake lay at anchor and her copper bottom was scrubbed with cocoa-nut husks by the native crew, who dived and did it under water, Pankburn was sent down on his shift and as many times as any on the shift.
“Look at yourself,” Grief said. “You are twice the man you were when you came on board. You haven’t had one drink, you didn’t die, and the poison is pretty well worked out of you. It’s the work. It beats trained nurses and business managers. Here, if you’re thirsty. Clap your lips to this.”
With several deft strokes of his heavy-backed sheath-knife, Grief clipped a triangular piece of shell from the end of a husked drinking-cocoa-nut. The thin, cool liquid, slightly milky and effervescent, bubbled to the brim. With a bow, Pankburn took the natural cup, threw his head back, and held it back till the shell was empty. He drank many of these nuts each day. The black steward, a New Hebrides boy sixty years of age, and his assistant, a Lark Islander of eleven, saw to it that he was continually supplied.
Pankburn did not object to the hard work. He devoured work, never shirking and always beating the native sailors in jumping to obey a command. But his sufferings during the period of driving the alcohol out of his system were truly heroic. Even when the last shred of the poison was exuded, the desire, as an obsession, remained in his head. So it was, when, on his honour, he went ashore at Apia, that he attempted to put the public houses out of business by drinking up their stocks in trade. And so it was, at two in the morning, that David Grief found him in front of the Tivoli, out of which he had been disorderly thrown by Charley Roberts. Aloysius, as of old, was chanting his sorrows to the stars. Also, and more concretely, he was punctuating the rhythm with cobbles of coral stone, which he flung with amazing accuracy through Charley Roberts’s windows.
David Grief took him away, but not till next morning did he take him in hand. It was on the deck of the Kittiwake, and there was nothing kindergarten about it. Grief struck him, with bare knuckles, punched him and punished him—gave him the worst thrashing he had ever received.
“For the good of your soul, Pankburn,” was the way he emphasized his blows. “For the good of your mother. For the progeny that will come after. For the good of the world, and the universe, and the whole race of man yet to be. And now, to hammer the lesson home, we’ll do it all over again. That, for the good of your soul; and that, for your mother’s sake; and that, for the little children, undreamed of and unborn, whose mother you’ll love for their sakes, and for love’s sake, in the lease of manhood that will be yours when I am done with you. Come on and take your medicine. I’m not done with you yet. I’ve only begun. There are many other reasons which I shall now proceed to expound.” The brown sailors and the black stewards and cook looked on and grinned. Far from them was the questioning of any of the mysterious and incomprehensible ways of white men. As for Carlsen, the mate, he was grimly in accord with the treatment his employer was administering; while Albright, the supercargo, merely played with his mustache and smiled. They were men of the sea. They lived life in the rough. And alcohol, in themselves as well as in other men, was a problem they had learned to handle in ways not taught in doctors’ schools.
“Boy! A bucket of fresh water and a towel,” Grief ordered, when he had finished. “Two buckets and two towels,” he added, as he surveyed his own hands.
“You’re a pretty one,” he said to Pankburn. “You’ve spoiled everything. I had the poison completely out of you. And now you are fairly reeking with it. We’ve got to begin all over again. Mr. Albright! You know that pile of old chain on the beach at the boat-landing. Find the owner, buy it, and fetch it on board. There must be a hundred and fifty fathoms of it. Pankburn! To-morrow morning you start in pounding the rust off of it. When you’ve done that, you’ll sandpaper it. Then you’ll paint it. And nothing else will you do till that chain is as smooth as new.”
Aloysius Pankburn shook his head.
“I quit. Francis Island can go to hell for all of me. I’m done with your slave-driving. Kindly put me ashore at once. I’m a white man. You can’t treat me this way.”
“Mr. Carlsen, you will see that Mr. Pankburn remains on board.”
“I’ll have you broken for this!” Aloysius screamed. “You can’t stop me.”
“I can give you another licking,” Grief answered. “And let me tell you one thing, you besotted whelp, I’ll keep on licking you as long as my knuckles hold out or until you yearn to hammer chain rust. I’ve taken you in hand, and I’m going to make a man out of you if I have to kill you to do it. Now go below and change your clothes. Be ready to turn to with a hammer this afternoon. Mr. Albright, get that chain aboard pronto. Mr. Carlsen, send the boats ashore after it. Also, keep your eye on Pankburn. If he shows signs of keeling over or going into the shakes, give him a nip—a small one. He may need it after last night.”
For the rest of the time the Kittiwake lay in Apia Aloysius Pankburn pounded chain rust. Ten hours a day he pounded. And on the long stretch across to the Gilberts he still pounded.
Then came the sandpapering. One hundred and fifty fathoms is nine hundred feet, and every link of all that length was smoothed and polished as no link ever was before. And when the last link had received its second coat of black paint, he declared himself.
“Come on with more dirty work,” he told Grief. “I’ll overhaul the other chains if you say so. And you needn’t worry about me any more. I’m not going to take another drop. I’m going to train up. You got my proud goat when you beat me, but let me tell you, you only got it temporarily. Train! I’m going to train till I’m as hard all the way through, and clean all the way through, as that chain is. And some day, Mister David Grief, somewhere, somehow, I’m going to be in such shape that I’ll lick you as you licked me. I’m going to pulp your face till your own niggers won’t know you.”
Grief was jubilant.
“Now you’re talking like a man,” he cried. “The only way you’ll ever lick me is to become a man. And then, maybe—”
He paused in the hope that the other would catch the suggestion. Aloysius groped for it, and, abruptly, something akin to illumination shone in his eyes.
“And then I won’t want to, you mean?”
“And that’s the curse of it,” Aloysius lamented. “I really believe I won’t want to. I see the point. But I’m going to go right on and shape myself up just the same.”
The warm, sunburn glow in Grief’s face seemed to grow warmer. His hand went out.
“Pankburn, I love you right now for that.”
Aloysius grasped the hand, and shook his head in sad sincerity.
“Grief,” he mourned, “you’ve got my goat, you’ve got my proud goat, and you’ve got it permanently, I’m afraid.”
On a sultry tropic day, when the last flicker of the far southeast trade was fading out and the seasonal change for the northwest monsoon was coming on, the Kittiwake lifted above the sea-rim the jungle-clad coast of Francis Island.
Grief, with compass bearings and binoculars, identified the volcano that marked Redscar, ran past Owen Bay, and lost the last of the breeze at the entrance to Likikili Bay. With the two whaleboats out and towing, and with Carl-sen heaving the lead, the Kittiwake sluggishly entered a deep and narrow indentation. There were no beaches. The mangroves began at the water’s edge, and behind them rose steep jungle, broken here and there by jagged peaks of rock. At the end of a mile, when the white scar on the bluff bore west-southwest, the lead vindicated the “Directory,” and the anchor rumbled down in nine fathoms.
For the rest of that day and until the afternoon of the day following they remained on the Kittiwake and waited. No canoes appeared. There were no signs of human life. Save for the occasional splash of a fish or the screaming of cockatoos, there seemed no other life. Once, however, a huge butterfly, twelve inches from tip to tip, fluttered high over their mastheads and drifted across to the opposing jungle.
“There’s no use in sending a boat in to be cut up,” Grief said.
Pankburn was incredulous, and volunteered to go in alone, to swim it if he couldn’t borrow the dingy.
“They haven’t forgotten the German cruiser,” Grief explained. “And I’ll wager that bush is alive with men right now. What do you think, Mr. Carlsen?”
That veteran adventurer of the islands was emphatic in his agreement.
In the late afternoon of the second day Grief ordered a whaleboat into the water. He took his place in the bow, a live cigarette in his mouth and a short-fused stick of dynamite in his hand, for he was bent on shooting a mess of fish. Along the thwarts half a dozen Winchesters were placed. Albright, who took the steering-sweep, had a Mauser within reach of hand. They pulled in and along the green wall of vegetation. At times they rested on the oars in the midst of a profound silence.
“Two to one the bush is swarming with them—in quids,” Albright whispered.
Pankburn listened a moment longer and took the bet. Five minutes later they sighted a school of mullet. The brown rowers held their oars. Grief touched the short fuse to his cigarette and threw the stick. So short was the fuse that the stick exploded in the instant after it struck the water. And in that same instant the bush exploded into life. There were wild yells of defiance, and black and naked bodies leaped forward like apes through the mangroves.
In the whaleboat every rifle was lifted. Then came the wait. A hundred blacks, some few armed with ancient Sniders, but the greater portion armed with tomahawks, fire-hardened spears, and bone-tipped arrows, clustered on the roots that rose out of the bay. No word was spoken. Each party watched the other across twenty feet of water. An old, one-eyed black, with a bristly face, rested a Snider on his hip, the muzzle directed at Albright, who, in turn, covered him back with the Mauser. A couple of minutes of this tableau endured. The stricken fish rose to the surface or struggled half-stunned in the clear depths.
“It’s all right, boys,” Grief said quietly. “Put down your guns and over the side with you. Mr. Albright, toss the tobacco to that one-eyed brute.”
While the Rapa men dived for the fish, Albright threw a bundle of trade tobacco ashore. The one-eyed man nodded his head and writhed his features in an attempt at amiability. Weapons were lowered, bows unbent, and arrows put back in their quivers.
“They know tobacco,” Grief announced, as they rowed back aboard. “We’ll have visitors. You’ll break out a case of tobacco, Mr. Albright, and a few trade-knives. There’s a canoe now.”
Old One-Eye, as befitted a chief and leader, paddled out alone, facing peril for the rest of the tribe. As Carlsen leaned over the rail to help the visitor up, he turned his head and remarked casually:
“They’ve dug up the money, Mr. Grief. The old beggar’s loaded with it.”
One-Eye floundered down on deck, grinning appeasingly and failing to hide the fear he had overcome but which still possessed him. He was lame of one leg, and this was accounted for by a terrible scar, inches deep, which ran down the thigh from hip to knee. No clothes he wore whatever, not even a string, but his nose, perforated in a dozen places and each perforation the setting for a carved spine of bone, bristled like a porcupine. Around his neck and hanging down on his dirty chest was a string of gold sovereigns. His ears were hung with silver half-crowns, and from the cartilage separating his nostrils depended a big English penny, tarnished and green, but unmistakable.
“Hold on, Grief,” Pankburn said, with perfectly assumed carelessness. “You say they know only beads and tobacco. Very well. You follow my lead. They’ve found the treasure, and we’ve got to trade them out of it. Get the whole crew aside and lecture them that they are to be interested only in the pennies. Savve? Gold coins must be beneath contempt, and silver coins merely tolerated. Pennies are to be the only desirable things.”
Pankburn took charge of the trading. For the penny in One-Eye’s nose he gave ten sticks of tobacco. Since each stick cost David Grief a cent, the bargain was manifestly unfair. But for the half-crowns Pankburn gave only one stick each. The string of sovereigns he refused to consider. The more he refused, the more One-Eye insisted on a trade. At last, with an appearance of irritation and anger, and as a palpable concession, Pankburn gave two sticks for the string, which was composed of ten sovereigns.
“I take my hat off to you,” Grief said to Pankburn that night at dinner. “The situation is patent. You’ve reversed the scale of value. They’ll figure the pennies as priceless possessions and the sovereigns as beneath price. Result: they’ll hang on to the pennies and force us to trade for sovereigns. Pankburn, I drink your health! Boy!—another cup of tea for Mr. Pankburn.”
Followed a golden week. From dawn till dark a row of canoes rested on their paddles two hundred feet away. This was the deadline. Rapa sailors, armed with rifles, maintained it. But one canoe at a time was permitted alongside, and but one black at a time was permitted to come over the rail. Here, under the awning, relieving one another in hourly shifts, the four white men carried on the trade. The rate of exchange was that established by Pankburn with One-Eye. Five sovereigns fetched a stick of tobacco; a hundred sovereigns, twenty sticks. Thus, a crafty-eyed cannibal would deposit on the table a thousand dollars in gold, and go back over the rail, hugely-satisfied, with forty cents’ worth of tobacco in his hand.
“Hope we’ve got enough tobacco to hold out,” Carlsen muttered dubiously, as another case was sawed in half.
“We’ve got fifty cases below,” he said, “and as I figure it, three cases buy a hundred thousand dollars. There was only a million dollars buried, so thirty cases ought to get it. Though, of course, we’ve got to allow a margin for the silver and the pennies. That Ecuadoran bunch must have salted down all the coin in sight.”
Very few pennies and shillings appeared, though Pankburn continually and anxiously inquired for them. Pennies were the one thing he seemed to desire, and he made his eyes flash covetously whenever one was produced. True to his theory, the savages concluded that the gold, being of slight value, must be disposed of first. A penny, worth fifty times as much as a sovereign, was something to retain and treasure. Doubtless, in their jungle-lairs, the wise old gray-beards put their heads together and agreed to raise the price on pennies when the worthless gold was all worked off. Who could tell? Mayhap the strange white men could be made to give even twenty sticks for a priceless copper.
By the end of the week the trade went slack. There was only the slightest dribble of gold. An occasional penny was reluctantly disposed of for ten sticks, while several thousand dollars in silver came in.
On the morning of the eighth day no trading was done. The gray-beards had matured their plan and were demanding twenty sticks for a penny, One-Eye delivered the new rate of exchange. The white men appeared to take it with great seriousness, for they stood together debating in low voices. Had One-Eye understood English he would have been enlightened.
“We’ve got just a little over eight hundred thousand, not counting the silver,” Grief said. “And that’s about all there is. The bush tribes behind have most probably got the other two hundred thousand. Return in three months, and the salt-water crowd will have traded back for it; also they will be out of tobacco by that time.”
“It would be a sin to buy pennies,” Albright grinned. “It goes against the thrifty grain of my trader’s soul.”
“There’s a whiff of land-breeze stirring,” Grief said, looking at Pankburn. “What do you say?”
“Very well.” Grief measured the faintness and irregularity of the wind against his cheek.
“Mr. Carlsen, heave short, and get off the gaskets. And stand by with the whaleboats to tow. This breeze is not dependable.”
He picked up a part case of tobacco, containing six or seven hundred sticks, put it in One-Eye’s hands, and helped that bewildered savage over the rail. As the foresail went up the mast, a wail of consternation arose from the canoes lying along the dead-line. And as the anchor broke out and the Kittiwake’s head paid off in the light breeze, old One-Eye, daring the rifles levelled on him, paddled alongside and made frantic signs of his tribe’s willingness to trade pennies for ten sticks.
“Boy!—a drinking nut,” Pankburn called.
“It’s Sydney Heads for you,” Grief said. “And then what?”
“I’m coming back with you for that two hundred thousand,” Pankburn answered. “In the meantime I’m going to build an island schooner. Also, I’m going to call those guardians of mine before the court to show cause why my father’s money should not be turned over to me. Show cause? I’ll show them cause why it should.”
He swelled his biceps proudly under the thin sleeve, reached for the two black stewards, and put them above his head like a pair of dumbbells.
“Come on! Swing out on that fore-boom-tackle!” Carlsen shouted from aft, where the mainsail was being winged out.
Pankburn dropped the stewards and raced for it, beating a Rapa sailor by two jumps to the hauling part.
14. The Tears of Ah Kim
There was a great noise and racket, but no scandal, in Honolulu’s Chinatown. Those within hearing distance merely shrugged their shoulders and smiled tolerantly at the disturbance as an affair of accustomed usualness. "What is it?" asked Chin Mo, down with a sharp pleurisy, of his wife, who had paused for a second at the open window to listen.
"Only Ah Kim," was her reply. "His mother is beating him again."
The fracas was taking place in the garden, behind the living rooms that were at the back of the store that fronted on the street with the proud sign above: AH KIM COMPANY, GENERAL MERCHANDISE. The garden was a miniature domain, twenty feet square, that somehow cunningly seduced the eye into a sense and seeming of illimitable vastness. There were forests of dwarf pines and oaks, centuries old yet two or three feet in height, and imported at enormous care and expense. A tiny bridge, a pace across, arched over a miniature river that flowed with rapids and cataracts from a miniature lake stocked with myriad-finned, orange-miracled goldfish that in proportion to the lake and landscape were whales. On every side the many windows of the several-storied shack-buildings looked down. In the centre of the garden, on the narrow gravelled walk close beside the lake Ah Kim was noisily receiving his beating.
No Chinese lad of tender and beatable years was Ah Kim. His was the store of Ah Kim Company, and his was the achievement of building it up through the long years from the shoestring of savings of a contract coolie labourer to a bank account in four figures and a credit that was gilt edged. An even half-century of summers and winters had passed over his head, and, in the passing, fattened him comfortably and snugly. Short of stature, his full front was as rotund as a watermelon seed. His face was moon-faced. His garb was dignified and silken, and his black-silk skull-cap with the red button atop, now, alas! fallen on the ground, was the skull-cap worn by the successful and dignified merchants of his race.
But his appearance, in this moment of the present, was anything but dignified. Dodging and ducking under a rain of blows from a bamboo cane, he was crouched over in a half-doubled posture. When he was rapped on the knuckles and elbows, with which he shielded his face and head, his winces were genuine and involuntary. From the many surrounding windows the neighbourhood looked down with placid enjoyment.
And she who wielded the stick so shrewdly from long practice! Seventy-four years old, she looked every minute of her time. Her thin legs were encased in straight-lined pants of linen stiff- textured and shiny-black. Her scraggly grey hair was drawn unrelentingly and flatly back from a narrow, unrelenting forehead. Eyebrows she had none, having long since shed them. Her eyes, of pin-hole tininess, were blackest black. She was shockingly cadaverous. Her shrivelled forearm, exposed by the loose sleeve, possessed no more of muscle than several taut bowstrings stretched across meagre bone under yellow, parchmentlike skin. Along this mummy arm jade bracelets shot up and down and clashed with every blow.
"Ah!" she cried out, rhythmically accenting her blows in series of three to each shrill observation. "I forbade you to talk to Li Faa. To-day you stopped on the street with her. Not an hour ago. Half an hour by the clock you talked.—What is that?"
"It was the thrice-accursed telephone," Ah Kim muttered, while she suspended the stick to catch what he said. "Mrs. Chang Lucy told you. I know she did. I saw her see me. I shall have the telephone taken out. It is of the devil."
"It is a device of all the devils," Mrs. Tai Fu agreed, taking a fresh grip on the stick. "Yet shall the telephone remain. I like to talk with Mrs. Chang Lucy over the telephone."
"She has the eyes of ten thousand cats," quoth Ah Kim, ducking and receiving the stick stinging on his knuckles. "And the tongues of ten thousand toads," he supplemented ere his next duck.
"She is an impudent-faced and evil-mannered hussy," Mrs. Tai Fu accented.
"Mrs. Chang Lucy was ever that," Ah Kim murmured like the dutiful son he was.
"I speak of Li Faa," his mother corrected with stick emphasis. "She is only half Chinese, as you know. Her mother was a shameless kanaka. She wears skirts like the degraded haole women—also corsets, as I have seen for myself. Where are her children? Yet has she buried two husbands."
"The one was drowned, the other kicked by a horse," Ah Kim qualified.
"A year of her, unworthy son of a noble father, and you would gladly be going out to get drowned or be kicked by a horse."
Subdued chucklings and laughter from the window audience applauded her point.
"You buried two husbands yourself, revered mother," Ah Kim was stung to retort.
"I had the good taste not to marry a third. Besides, my two husbands died honourably in their beds. They were not kicked by horses nor drowned at sea. What business is it of our neighbours that you should inform them I have had two husbands, or ten, or none? You have made a scandal of me, before all our neighbours, and for that I shall now give you a real beating."
Ah Kim endured the staccato rain of blows, and said when his mother paused, breathless and weary:
"Always have I insisted and pleaded, honourable mother, that you beat me in the house, with the windows and doors closed tight, and not in the open street or the garden open behind the house.
"You have called this unthinkable Li Faa the Silvery Moon Blossom," Mrs. Tai Fu rejoined, quite illogically and femininely, but with utmost success in so far as she deflected her son from continuance of the thrust he had so swiftly driven home.
"Mrs. Chang Lucy told you," he charged.
"I was told over the telephone," his mother evaded. "I do not know all voices that speak to me over that contrivance of all the devils."
Strangely, Ah Kim made no effort to run away from his mother, which he could easily have done. She, on the other hand, found fresh cause for more stick blows.
"Ah! Stubborn one! Why do you not cry? Mule that shameth its ancestors! Never have I made you cry. From the time you were a little boy I have never made you cry. Answer me! Why do you not cry?"
Weak and breathless from her exertions, she dropped the stick and panted and shook as if with a nervous palsy.
"I do not know, except that it is my way," Ah Kim replied, gazing solicitously at his mother. "I shall bring you a chair now, and you will sit down and rest and feel better."
But she flung away from him with a snort and tottered agedly across the garden into the house. Meanwhile recovering his skull-cap and smoothing his disordered attire, Ah Kim rubbed his hurts and gazed after her with eyes of devotion. He even smiled, and almost might it appear that he had enjoyed the beating.
Ah Kim had been so beaten ever since he was a boy, when he lived on the high banks of the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse river. Here his father had been born and toiled all his days from young manhood as a towing coolie. When he died, Ah Kim, in his own young manhood, took up the same honourable profession. Farther back than all remembered annals of the family, had the males of it been towing coolies. At the time of Christ his direct ancestors had been doing the same thing, meeting the precisely similarly modelled junks below the white water at the foot of the canyon, bending the half-mile of rope to each junk, and, according to size, tailing on from a hundred to two hundred coolies of them and by sheer, two-legged man-power, bowed forward and down till their hands touched the ground and their faces were sometimes within a foot of it, dragging the junk up through the white water to the head of the canyon.
Apparently, down all the intervening centuries, the payment of the trade had not picked up. His father, his father’s father, and himself, Ah Kim, had received the same invariable remuneration—per junk one-fourteenth of a cent, at the rate he had since learned money was valued in Hawaii. On long lucky summer days when the waters were easy, the junks many, the hours of daylight sixteen, sixteen hours of such heroic toil would earn over a cent. But in a whole year a towing coolie did not earn more than a dollar and a half. People could and did live on such an income. There were women servants who received a yearly wage of a dollar. The net-makers of Ti Wi earned between a dollar and two dollars a year. They lived on such wages, or, at least, they did not die on them. But for the towing coolies there were pickings, which were what made the profession honourable and the guild a close and hereditary corporation or labour union. One junk in five that was dragged up through the rapids or lowered down was wrecked. One junk in every ten was a total loss. The coolies of the towing guild knew the freaks and whims of the currents, and grappled, and raked, and netted a wet harvest from the river. They of the guild were looked up to by lesser coolies, for they could afford to drink brick tea and eat number four rice every day.
And Ah Kim had been contented and proud, until, one bitter spring day of driving sleet and hail, he dragged ashore a drowning Cantonese sailor. It was this wanderer, thawing out by his fire, who first named the magic name Hawaii to him. He had himself never been to that labourer’s paradise, said the sailor; but many Chinese had gone there from Canton, and he had heard the talk of their letters written back. In Hawaii was never frost nor famine. The very pigs, never fed, were ever fat of the generous offal disdained by man. A Cantonese or Yangtse family could live on the waste of an Hawaii coolie. And wages! In gold dollars, ten a month, or, in trade dollars, two a month, was what the contract Chinese coolie received from the white-devil sugar kings.
In a year the coolie received the prodigious sum of two hundred and forty trade dollars—more than a hundred times what a coolie, toiling ten times as hard, received on the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse. In short, all things considered, an Hawaii coolie was one hundred times better off, and, when the amount of labour was estimated, a thousand times better off. In addition was the wonderful climate.
When Ah Kim was twenty-four, despite his mother’s pleadings and beatings, he resigned from the ancient and honourable guild of the eleventh cataract towing coolies, left his mother to go into a boss coolie’s household as a servant for a dollar a year, and an annual dress to cost not less than thirty cents, and himself departed down the Yangtse to the great sea. Many were his adventures and severe his toils and hardships ere, as a salt-sea junk-sailor, he won to Canton. When he was twenty-six he signed five years of his life and labour away to the Hawaii sugar kings and departed, one of eight hundred contract coolies, for that far island land, on a festering steamer run by a crazy captain and drunken officers and rejected of Lloyds.
Honourable, among labourers, had Ah Kim’s rating been as a towing coolie. In Hawaii, receiving a hundred times more pay, he found himself looked down upon as the lowest of the low—a plantation coolie, than which could be nothing lower. But a coolie whose ancestors had towed junks up the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse since before the birth of Christ inevitably inherits one character in large degree, namely, the character of patience. This patience was Ah Kim’s. At the end of five years, his compulsory servitude over, thin as ever in body, in bank account he lacked just ten trade dollars of possessing a thousand trade dollars.
On this sum he could have gone back to the Yangtse and retired for life a really wealthy man. He would have possessed a larger sum, had he not, on occasion, conservatively played che fa and fan tan, and had he not, for a twelve-month, toiled among the centipedes and scorpions of the stifling cane-fields in the semi-dream of a continuous opium debauch. Why he had not toiled the whole five years under the spell of opium was the expensiveness of the habit. He had had no moral scruples. The drug had cost too much.
But Ah Kim did not return to China. He had observed the business life of Hawaii and developed a vaulting ambition. For six months, in order to learn business and English at the bottom, he clerked in the plantation store. At the end of this time he knew more about that particular store than did ever plantation manager know about any plantation store. When he resigned his position he was receiving forty gold a month, or eighty trade, and he was beginning to put on flesh. Also, his attitude toward mere contract coolies had become distinctively aristocratic. The manager offered to raise him to sixty fold, which, by the year, would constitute a fabulous fourteen hundred and forty trade, or seven hundred times his annual earning on the Yangtse as a two-legged horse at one-fourteenth of a gold cent per junk.
Instead of accepting, Ah Kim departed to Honolulu, and in the big general merchandise store of Fong & Chow Fong began at the bottom for fifteen gold per month. He worked a year and a half, and resigned when he was thirty-three, despite the seventy-five gold per month his Chinese employers were paying him. Then it was that he put up his own sign: AH KIM COMPANY, GENERAL MERCHANDISE. Also, better fed, there was about his less meagre figure a foreshadowing of the melon-seed rotundity that was to attach to him in future years.
With the years he prospered increasingly, so that, when he was thirty-six, the promise of his figure was fulfilling rapidly, and, himself a member of the exclusive and powerful Hai Gum Tong, and of the Chinese Merchants’ Association, he was accustomed to sitting as host at dinners that cost him as much as thirty years of towing on the eleventh cataract would have earned him. Two things he missed: a wife, and his mother to lay the stick on him as of yore.
When he was thirty-seven he consulted his bank balance. It stood him three thousand gold. For twenty-five hundred down and an easy mortgage he could buy the three-story shack-building, and the ground in fee simple on which it stood. But to do this, left only five hundred for a wife. Fu Yee Po had a marriageable, properly small-footed daughter whom he was willing to import from China, and sell to him for eight hundred gold, plus the costs of importation. Further, Fu Yee Po was even willing to take five hundred down and the remainder on note at 6 per cent.
Ah Kim, thirty-seven years of age, fat and a bachelor, really did want a wife, especially a small-footed wife; for, China born and reared, the immemorial small-footed female had been deeply impressed into his fantasy of woman. But more, even more and far more than a small-footed wife, did he want his mother and his mother’s delectable beatings. So he declined Fu Yee Po’s easy terms, and at much less cost imported his own mother from servant in a boss coolie’s house at a yearly wage of a dollar and a thirty-cent dress to be mistress of his Honolulu three-story shack building with two household servants, three clerks, and a porter of all work under her, to say nothing of ten thousand dollars’ worth of dress goods on the shelves that ranged from the cheapest cotton crepes to the most expensive hand-embroidered silks. For be it known that even in that early day Ah Kim’s emporium was beginning to cater to the tourist trade from the States.
For thirteen years Ah Kim had lived tolerably happily with his mother, and by her been methodically beaten for causes just or unjust, real or fancied; and at the end of it all he knew as strongly as ever the ache of his heart and head for a wife, and of his loins for sons to live after him, and carry on the dynasty of Ah Kim Company. Such the dream that has ever vexed men, from those early ones who first usurped a hunting right, monopolized a sandbar for a fish-trap, or stormed a village and put the males thereof to the sword. Kings, millionaires, and Chinese merchants of Honolulu have this in common, despite that they may praise God for having made them differently and in self-likeable images.
And the ideal of woman that Ah Kim at fifty ached for had changed from his ideal at thirty-seven. No small-footed wife did he want now, but a free, natural, out-stepping normal-footed woman that, somehow, appeared to him in his day dreams and haunted his night visions in the form of Li Faa, the Silvery Moon Blossom. What if she were twice widowed, the daughter of a kanaka mother, the wearer of white-devil skirts and corsets and high-heeled slippers! He wanted her. It seemed it was written that she should be joint ancestor with him of the line that would continue the ownership and management through the generations, of Ah Kim Company, General Merchandise.
"I will have no half paké daughter-in-law," his mother often reiterated to Ah Kim, paké being the Hawaiian word for Chinese. "All paké must my daughter-in-law be, even as you, my son, and as I, your mother. And she must wear trousers, my son, as all the women of our family before her. No woman, in she-devil skirts and corsets, can pay due reverence to our ancestors. Corsets and reverence do not go together. Such a one is this shameless Li Faa. She is impudent and independent, and will be neither obedient to her husband nor her husband’s mother. This brazen-faced Li Faa would believe herself the source of life and the first ancestor, recognizing no ancestors before her. She laughs at our joss-sticks, and paper prayers, and family gods, as I have been well told"
"Mrs. Chang Lucy," Ah Kim groaned.
"Not alone Mrs. Chang Lucy, O son. I have inquired. At least a dozen have heard her say of our joss house that it is all monkey foolishness. The words are hers—she, who eats raw fish, raw squid, and baked dog. Ours is the foolishness of monkeys. Yet would she marry you, a monkey, because of your store that is a palace and of the wealth that makes you a great man. And she would put shame on me, and on your father before you long honourably dead."
And there was no discussing the matter. As things were, Ah Kim knew his mother was right. Not for nothing had Li Faa been born forty years before of a Chinese father, renegade to all tradition, and of a kanaka mother whose immediate forebears had broken the taboos, cast down their own Polynesian gods, and weak-heartedly listened to the preaching about the remote and unimageable god of the Christian missionaries. Li Faa, educated, who could read and write English and Hawaiian and a fair measure of Chinese, claimed to believe in nothing, although in her secret heart she feared the kahunas (Hawaiian witchdoctors), who she was certain could charm away ill luck or pray one to death. Li Faa would never come into Ah Kim’s house, as he thoroughly knew, and kow-tow to his mother and be slave to her in the immemorial Chinese way. Li Faa, from the Chinese angle, was a new woman, a feminist, who rode horseback astride, disported immodestly garbed at Waikiki on the surf-boards, and at more than one luau (feast) had been known to dance the hula with the worst and in excess of the worst, to the scandalous delight of all.
Ah Kim himself, a generation younger than his mother, had been bitten by the acid of modernity. The old order held, in so far as he still felt in his subtlest crypts of being the dusty hand of the past resting on him, residing in him; yet he subscribed to heavy policies of fire and life insurance, acted as treasurer for the local Chinese revolutionises that were for turning the Celestial Empire into a republic, contributed to the funds of the Hawaii-born Chinese baseball nine that excelled the Yankee nines at their own game, talked theosophy with Katso Suguri, the Japanese Buddhist and silk importer, fell for police graft, played and paid his insidious share in the democratic politics of annexed Hawaii, and was thinking of buying an automobile. Ah Kim never dared bare himself to himself and thrash out and winnow out how much of the old he had ceased to believe in. His mother was of the old, yet he revered her and was happy under her bamboo stick. Li Faa, the Silvery Moon Blossom, was of the new, yet he could never be quite completely happy without her.
For he loved Li Faa. Moon-faced, rotund as a water-melon seed, canny business man, wise with half a century of living, nevertheless Ah Kim became an artist when he thought of her. He thought of her in poems of names, as woman transmuted into flower-terms of beauty and philosophic abstractions of achievement and easement. She was, to him, and alone to him of all men in the world, his Plum Blossom, his Tranquillity of Woman, his Flower of Serenity, his Moon Lily, and his Perfect Rest. And as he murmured these love endearments of namings, it seemed to him that in them were the ripplings of running waters, the tinklings of silver wind-bells, and the scents of the oleander and the jasmine. She was his poem of woman, a lyric delight, a three-dimensions of flesh and spirit delicious, a fate and a good fortune written, ere the first man and woman were, by the gods whose whim had been to make all men and women for sorrow and for joy.
But his mother put into his hand the ink-brush and placed under it, on the table, the writing tablet.
"Paint," said she, "the ideograph of to marry."
He obeyed, scarcely wondering, with the deft artistry of his race and training painting the symbolic hieroglyphic.
"Resolve it," commanded his mother.
Ah Kim looked at her, curious, willing to please, unaware of the drift of her intent.
"Of what is it composed?" she persisted. "What are the three originals, the sum of which is it: to marry, marriage, the coming together and wedding of a man and a woman? Paint them, paint them apart, the three originals, unrelated, so that we may know how the wise men of old wisely built up the ideograph of to marry."
And Ah Kim, obeying and painting, saw that what he had painted were three picture-signs—the picture-signs of a hand, an ear, and a woman.
"Name them," said his mother; and he named them.
"It is true," said she. "It is a great tale. It is the stuff of the painted pictures of marriage. Such marriage was in the beginning; such shall it always be in my house. The hand of the man takes the woman’s ear, and by it leads her away to his house, where she is to be obedient to him and to his mother. I was taken by the ear, so, by your long honourably dead father. I have looked at your hand. It is not like his hand. Also have I looked at the ear of Li Faa. Never will you lead her by the ear. She has not that kind of an ear. I shall live a long time yet, and I will be mistress in my son’s house, after our ancient way, until I die."
"But she is my revered ancestress," Ah Kim explained to Li Faa.
He was timidly unhappy; for Li Faa, having ascertained that Mrs. Tai Fu was at the temple of the Chinese Aesculapian making a food offering of dried duck and prayers for her declining health, had taken advantage of the opportunity to call upon him in his store.
Li Faa pursed her insolent, unpainted lips into the form of a half-opened rosebud, and replied:
"That will do for China. I do not know China. This is Hawaii, and in Hawaii the customs of all foreigners change."
"She is nevertheless my ancestress," Ah Kim protested, "the mother who gave me birth, whether I am in China or Hawaii, o Silvery Moon Blossom that I want for wife."
"I have had two husbands," Li Faa stated placidly. "One was a paké, one was a Portuguese. I learned much from both. Also am I educated. I have been to High School, and I have played the piano in public. And I learned from my two husbands much. The paké makes the best husband. Never again will I marry anything but a paké. But he must not take me by the ear—"
"How do you know of that?" he broke in suspiciously.
"Mrs. Chang Lucy," was the reply. "Mrs. Chang Lucy tells me everything that your mother tells her, and your mother tells her much. So let me tell you that mine is not that kind of an ear."
"Which is what my honoured mother has told me," Ah Kim groaned.
"Which is what your honoured mother told Mrs. Chang Lucy, which is what Mrs. Chang Lucy told me," Li Faa completed equably. "And I now tell you, O Third Husband To Be, that the man is not born who will lead me by the ear. It is not the way in Hawaii. I will go only hand in hand with my man, side by side, fifty-fifty as is the haole slang just now. My Portuguese husband thought different. He tried to beat me. I landed him three times in the police court and each time he worked out his sentence on the reef. After that he got drowned."
"My mother has been my mother for fifty years," Ah Kim declared stoutly.
"And for fifty years has she beaten you," Li Faa giggled. "How my father used to laugh at Yap Ten Shin! Like you, Yap Ten Shin had been born in China, and had brought the China customs with him. His old father was for ever beating him with a stick. He loved his father. But his father beat him harder than ever when he became a missionary paké. Every time he went to the missionary services, his father beat him. And every time the missionary heard of it he was harsh in his language to Yap Ten Shin for allowing his father to beat him. And my father laughed and laughed, for my father was a very liberal paké, who had changed his customs quicker than most foreigners. And all the trouble was because Yap Ten Shin had a loving heart. He loved his honourable father. He loved the God of Love of the Christian missionary. But in the end, in me, he found the greatest love of all, which is the love of woman. In me he forgot his love for his father and his love for the loving Christ.
"And he offered my father six hundred gold, for me—the price was small because my feet were not small. But I was half kanaka. I said that I was not a slave-woman, and that I would be sold to no man. My high-school teacher was a haole old maid who said love of woman was so beyond price that it must never be sold. Perhaps that is why she was an old maid. She was not beautiful. She could not give herself away. My kanaka mother said it was not the kanaka way to sell their daughters for a money price. They gave their daughters for love, and she would listen to reason if Yap Ten Shin provided luaus in quantity and quality. My paké father, as I have told you, was liberal. He asked me if I wanted Yap Ten Shin for my husband. And I said yes; and freely, of myself, I went to him. He it was who was kicked by a horse; but he was a very good husband before he was kicked by the horse.
"As for you, Ah Kim, you shall always be honourable and lovable for me, and some day, when it is not necessary for you to take me by the ear, I shall marry you and come here and be with you always, and you will be the happiest paké in all Hawaii; for I have had two husbands, and gone to high school, and am most wise in making a husband happy. But that will be when your mother has ceased to beat you. Mrs. Chang Lucy tells me that she beats you very hard."
"She does," Ah Kim affirmed. "Behold! He thrust back his loose sleeves, exposing to the elbow his smooth and cherubic forearms. They were mantled with black and blue marks that advertised the weight and number of blows so shielded from his head and face.
"But she has never made me cry," Ah Kim disclaimed hastily. "Never, from the time I was a little boy, has she made me cry."
"So Mrs. Chang Lucy says," Li Faa observed. "She says that your honourable mother often complains to her that she has never made you cry."
A sibilant warning from one of his clerks was too late. Having regained the house by way of the back alley, Mrs. Tai Fu emerged right upon them from out of the living apartments. Never had Ah Kim seen his mother’s eyes so blazing furious. She ignored Li Faa, as she screamed at him:
"Now will I make you cry. As never before shall I beat you until you do cry."
"Then let us go into the back rooms, honourable mother," Ah Kim suggested. "We will close the windows and the doors, and there may you beat me."
"No. Here shall you be beaten before all the world and this shameless woman who would, with her own hand, take you by the ear and call such sacrilege marriage! Stay, shameless woman."
"I am going to stay anyway," said Li Faa. She favoured the clerks with a truculent stare. "And I’d like to see anything less than the police put me out of here."
"You will never be my daughter-in-law," Mrs. Tai Fu snapped.
Li Faa nodded her head in agreement.
"But just the same," she added, "shall your son be my third husband."
"You mean when I am dead?" the old mother screamed.
"The sun rises each morning," Li Faa said enigmatically. "All my life have I seen it rise—"
"You are forty, and you wear corsets."
"But I do not dye my hair—that will come later," Li Faa calmly retorted. "As to my age, you are right. I shall be forty-one next Kamehameha Day. For forty years I have seen the sun rise. My father was an old man. Before he died he told me that he had observed no difference in the rising of the sun since when he was a little boy. The world is round. Confucius did not know that, but you will find it in all the geography books. The world is round. Ever it turns over on itself, over and over and around and around. And the times and seasons of weather and life turn with it. What is, has been before. What has been, will be again. The time of the breadfruit and the mango ever recurs, and man and woman repeat themselves. The robins nest, and in the springtime the plovers come from the north. Every spring is followed by another spring. The coconut palm rises into the air, ripens its fruit, and departs. But always are there more coconut palms. This is not all my own smart talk. Much of it my father told me. Proceed, honourable Mrs. Tai Fu, and beat your son who is my Third Husband To Be. But I shall laugh. I warn you I shall laugh."
Ah Kim dropped down on his knees so as to give his mother every advantage. And while she rained blows upon him with the bamboo stick, Li Faa smiled and giggled, and finally burst into laughter.
"Harder, O honourable Mrs. Tai Fu!" Li Faa urged between paroxysms of mirth.
Mrs. Tai Fu did her best, which was notably weak, until she observed what made her drop the stick by her side in amazement. Ah Kim was crying. Down both cheeks great round tears were coursing. Li Faa was amazed. So were the gaping clerks. Most amazed of all was Ah Kim, yet he could not help himself; and, although no further blows fell, he cried steadily on.
"But why did you cry?" Li Faa demanded often of Ah Kim. "It was so perfectly foolish a thing to do. She was not even hurting you."
"Wait until we are married," was Ah Kim’s invariable reply, "and then, O Moon Lily, will I tell you."
Two years later, one afternoon, more like a water-melon seed in configuration than ever, Ah Kim returned home from a meeting of the Chinese Protective Association, to find his mother dead on her couch. Narrower and more unrelenting than ever were the forehead and the brushed-back hair. But on her face was a withered smile. The gods had been kind. She had passed without pain.
He telephoned first of all to Li Faa’s number but did not find her until he called up Mrs. Chang Lucy. The news given, the marriage was dated ahead with ten times the brevity of the old-line Chinese custom. And if there be anything analogous to a bridesmaid in a Chinese wedding, Mrs. Chang Lucy was just that.
"Why," Li Faa asked Ah Kim when alone with him on their wedding night, "why did you cry when your mother beat you that day in the store? You were so foolish. She was not even hurting you."
"That is why I cried," answered Ah Kim. Li Faa looked up at him without understanding.
"I cried," he explained, "because I suddenly knew that my mother was nearing her end. There was no weight, no hurt, in her blows. I cried because I knew she no longer had the strength to hurt me. That is why I cried, my Flower of Serenity, my Perfect Rest. That is the only reason why I cried."
15. The Princess
A fire burned cheerfully in the jungle camp, and beside the fire lolled a cheerful-seeming though horrible-appearing man. This was a hobo jungle, pitched in a thin strip of woods that lay between a railroad embankment and the bank of a river. But no hobo was the man. So deep-sunk was he in the social abyss that a proper hobo would not sit by the same fire with him. A gay-cat, who is an ignorant new-comer on the “Road,” might sit with such as he, but only long enough to learn better. Even low down bindle-stiffs and stew-bums, after a once-over, would have passed this man by. A genuine hobo, a couple of punks, or a bunch of tender-yeared road-kids might have gone through his rags for any stray pennies or nickels and kicked him out into the darkness. Even an alki-stiff would have reckoned himself immeasurably superior.
For this man was that hybrid of tramp-land, an alki-stiff that has degenerated into a stew-bum, with so little self-respect that he will never “boil-up,” and with so little pride that he will eat out of a garbage can. He was truly horrible-appearing. He might have been sixty years of age; he might have been ninety. His garments might have been discarded by a rag-picker. Beside him, an unrolled bundle showed itself as consisting of a ragged overcoat and containing an empty and smoke-blackened tomato can, an empty and battered condensed milk can, some dog-meat partly wrapped in brown paper and evidently begged from some butcher-shop, a carrot that had been run over in the street by a wagon-wheel, three greenish-cankered and decayed potatoes, and a sugar-bun with a mouthful bitten from it and rescued from the gutter, as was made patent by the gutter-filth that still encrusted it.
A prodigious growth of whiskers, greyish-dirty and untrimmed for years, sprouted from his face. This hirsute growth should have been white, but the season was summer and it had not been exposed to a rain-shower for some time. What was visible of the face looked as if at some period it had stopped a hand-grenade. The nose was so variously malformed in its healed brokenness that there was no bridge, while one nostril, the size of a pea, opened downward, and the other, the size of a robin’s egg, tilted upward to the sky. One eye, of normal size, dim-brown and misty, bulged to the verge of popping out, and as if from senility wept copiously and continuously. The other eye, scarcely larger than a squirrel’s and as uncannily bright, twisted up obliquely into the hairy scar of a bone-crushed eyebrow. And he had but one arm.
Yet was he cheerful. On his face, in mild degree, was depicted sensuous pleasure as he lethargically scratched his ribs with his one hand. He pawed over his food-scraps, debated, then drew a twelve-ounce druggist bottle from his inside coat-pocket. The bottle was full of a colourless liquid, the contemplation of which made his little eye burn brighter and quickened his movements. Picking up the tomato can, he arose, went down the short path to the river, and returned with the can filled with not-nice river water. In the condensed milk can he mixed one part of water with two parts of fluid from the bottle. This colourless fluid was druggist’s alcohol, and as such is known in tramp-land as “alki.”
Slow footsteps, coming down the side of the railroad embankment, alarmed him ere he could drink. Placing the can carefully upon the ground between his legs, he covered it with his hat and waited anxiously whatever impended.
Out of the darkness emerged a man as filthy ragged as he. The new-comer, who might have been fifty, and might have been sixty, was grotesquely fat. He bulged everywhere. He was composed of bulges. His bulbous nose was the size and shape of a turnip. His eyelids bulged and his blue eyes bulged in competition with them. In many places the seams of his garments had parted across the bulges of body. His calves grew into his feet, for the broken elastic sides of his Congress gaiters were swelled full with the fat of him. One arm only he sported, from the shoulder of which was suspended a small and tattered bundle with the mud caked dry on the outer covering from the last place he had pitched his doss. He advanced with tentative caution, made sure of the harmlessness of the man beside the fire, and joined him.
“Hello, grandpa,” the new-comer greeted, then paused to stare at the other’s flaring, sky-open nostril. “Say, Whiskers, how’d ye keep the night dew out of that nose o’ yourn?”
Whiskers growled an incoherence deep in his throat and spat into the fire in token that he was not pleased by the question.
“For the love of Mike,” the fat man chuckled, “if you got caught out in a rainstorm without an umbrella you’d sure drown, wouldn’t you?”
“Can it, Fatty, can it,” Whiskers muttered wearily. “They ain’t nothin’ new in that line of chatter. Even the bulls hand it out to me.”
“But you can still drink, I hope”; Fatty at the same time mollified and invited, with his one hand deftly pulling the slip-knots that fastened his bundle.
From within the bundle he brought to light a twelve-ounce bottle of alki. Footsteps coming down the embankment alarmed him, and he hid the bottle under his hat on the ground between his legs.
But the next comer proved to be not merely one of their own ilk, but likewise to have only one arm. So forbidding of aspect was he that greetings consisted of no more than grunts. Huge-boned, tall, gaunt to cadaverousness, his face a dirty death’s head, he was as repellent a nightmare of old age as ever Doré imagined. His toothless, thin-lipped mouth was a cruel and bitter slash under a great curved nose that almost met the chin and that was like a buzzard’s beak. His one hand, lean and crooked, was a talon. The beady grey eyes, unblinking and unwavering, were bitter as death, as bleak as absolute zero and as merciless. His presence was a chill, and Whiskers and Fatty instinctively drew together for protection against the unguessed threat of him. Watching his chance, privily, Whiskers snuggled a chunk of rock several pounds in weigh close to his hand if need for action should arise. Fatty duplicated the performance.
Then both sat licking their lips, guiltily embarrassed, while the unblinking eyes of the terrible one bored into them, now into one, now into another, and then down at the rock-chunks of their preparedness.
“Huh!” sneered the terrible one, with such dreadfulness of menace as to cause Whiskers and Fatty involuntarily to close their hands down on their cave-man’s weapons.
“Huh!” the other repeated, reaching his one talon into his side coat pocket with swift definiteness. “A hell of a chance you two cheap bums ’d have with me.”
The talon emerged, clutching ready for action a six-pound iron quoit.
“We ain’t lookin’ for trouble, Slim,” Fatty quavered.
“Who in hell are you to call me ‘Slim’?” came the snarling answer.
“Me? I’m just Fatty, an’ seein’ ’s I never seen you before—”
“An’ I suppose that’s Whiskers, there, with the gay an’ festive lamp tan-going into his eyebrow an’ the God-forgive-us nose joy-riding all over his mug?”
“It’ll do, it’ll do,” Whiskers muttered uncomfortably. “One monica’s as good as another, I find, at my time of life. And everybody hands it out to me anyway. And I need an umbrella when it rains to keep from getting drowned, an’ all the rest of it.”
“I ain’t used to company—don’t like it,” Slim growled. “So if you guys want to stick around, mind your step, that’s all, mind your step.”
He fished from his pocket a cigar stump, self-evidently shot from the gutter, and prepared to put it in his mouth to chew. Then he changed his mind, glared at his companions savagely, and unrolled his bundle. Appeared in his hand a druggist’s bottle of alki.
“Well,” he snarled, “I suppose I gotta give you cheap skates a drink when I ain’t got more’n enough for a good petrification for myself.”
Almost a softening flicker of light was imminent in his withered face as he beheld the others proudly lift their hats and exhibit their own supplies.
“Here’s some water for the mixin’s,” Whiskers said, proffering his tomato-can of river slush. “Stockyards just above,” he added apologetically. “But they say—”
“Huh!” Slim snapped short, mixing the drink. “I’ve drunk worse’n stockyards in my time.”
Yet when all was ready, cans of alki in their solitary hands, the three things that had once been men hesitated, as if of old habit, and next betrayed shame as if at self-exposure.
Whiskers was the first to brazen it.
“I’ve sat in at many a finer drinking,” he bragged.
“With the pewter,” Slim sneered.
“With the silver,” Whiskers corrected.
Slim turned a scorching eye-interrogation on Fatty.
“Beneath the salt,” said Slim.
“Above it,” came Fatty’s correction. “I was born above it, and I’ve never travelled second class. First or steerage, but no intermediate in mine.”
“Yourself?” Whiskers queried of Slim.
“In broken glass to the Queen, God bless her,” Slim answered, solemnly, without snarl or sneer.
“In the pantry?” Fatty insinuated.
Simultaneously Slim reached for his quoit, and Whiskers and Fatty for their rocks.
“Now don’t let’s get feverish,” Fatty said, dropping his own weapon. “We aren’t scum. We’re gentlemen. Let’s drink like gentlemen.”
“Let it be a real drinking,” Whiskers approved.
“Let’s get petrified,” Slim agreed. “Many a distillery’s flowed under the bridge since we were gentlemen; but let’s forget the long road we’ve travelled since, and hit our doss in the good old fashion in which every gentleman went to bed when we were young.”
“My father done it—did it,” Fatty concurred and corrected, as old recollections exploded long-sealed brain-cells of connotation and correct usage.
The other two nodded a descent from similar fathers, and elevated their tin cans of alcohol.
By the time each had finished his own bottle and from his rags fished forth a second one, their brains were well-mellowed and a-glow, although they had not got around to telling their real names. But their English had improved. They spoke it correctly, while the argo of tramp-land ceased from their lips.
“It’s my constitution,” Whiskers was explaining. “Very few men could go through what I have and live to tell the tale. And I never took any care of myself. If what the moralists and the physiologists say were true, I’d have been dead long ago. And it’s the same with you two. Look at us, at our advanced years, carousing as the young ones don’t dare, sleeping out in the open on the ground, never sheltered from frost nor rain nor storm, never afraid of pneumonia or rheumatism that would put half the young ones on their backs in hospital.”
He broke off to mix another drink, and Fatty took up the tale.
“And we’ve had our fun,” he boasted, “and speaking of sweethearts and all,” he cribbed from Kipling, “‘We’ve rogued and we’ve ranged—’”
“‘In our time,’” Slim completed the crib for him.
“I should say so, I should say so,” Fatty confirmed. “And been loved by princesses—at least I have.”
“Go on and tell us about it,” Whiskers urged. “The night’s young, and why shouldn’t we remember back to the roofs of kings?”
Nothing loth, Fatty cleared his throat for the recital and cast about in his mind for the best way to begin.
“It must be known that I came of good family. Percival Delaney, let us say, yes, let us say Percival Delaney, was not unknown at Oxford once upon a time—not for scholarship, I am frank to admit; but the gay young dogs of that day, if any be yet alive, would remember him—”
“My people came over with the Conqueror,” Whiskers interrupted, extending his hand to Fatty’s in acknowledgment of the introduction.
“What name?” Fatty queried. “I did not seem quite to catch it.”
“Delarouse, Chauncey Delarouse. The name will serve as well as any.”
Both completed the handshake and glanced to Slim.
“Oh, well, while we’re about it . . . ” Fatty urged.
“Bruce Cadogan Cavendish,” Slim growled morosely. “Go on, Percival, with your princesses and the roofs of kings.”
“Oh, I was a rare young devil,” Percival obliged, “after I played ducks and drakes at home and sported out over the world. And I was some figure of a man before I lost my shape—polo, steeple-chasing, boxing. I won medals at buckjumping in Australia, and I held more than several swimming records from the quarter of a mile up. Women turned their heads to look when I went by. The women! God bless them!”
And Fatty, alias Percival Delaney, a grotesque of manhood, put his bulgy hand to his puffed lips and kissed audibly into the starry vault of the sky.
“And the Princess!” he resumed, with another kiss to the stars. “She was as fine a figure of a woman as I was a man, as high-spirited and courageous, as reckless and dare-devilish. Lord, Lord, in the water she was a mermaid, a sea-goddess. And when it came to blood, beside her I was parvenu. Her royal line traced back into the mists of antiquity.
“She was not a daughter of a fair-skinned folk. Tawny golden was she, with golden-brown eyes, and her hair that fell to her knees was blue-black and straight, with just the curly tendrilly tendency that gives to woman’s hair its charm. Oh, there were no kinks in it, any more than were there kinks in the hair of her entire genealogy. For she was Polynesian, glowing, golden, lovely and lovable, royal Polynesian.”
Again he paused to kiss his hand to the memory of her, and Slim, alias Bruce Cadogan Cavendish, took advantage to interject:
“Huh! Maybe you didn’t shine in scholarship, but at least you gleaned a vocabulary out of Oxford.”
“And in the South Seas garnered a better vocabulary from the lexicon of Love,” Percival was quick on the uptake.
“It was the island of Talofa,” he went on, “meaning love, the Isle of Love, and it was her island. Her father, the king, an old man, sat on his mats with paralysed knees and drank square-face gin all day and most of the night, out of grief, sheer grief. She, my princess, was the only issue, her brother having been lost in their double canoe in a hurricane while coming up from a voyage to Samoa. And among the Polynesians the royal women have equal right with the men to rule. In fact, they trace their genealogies always by the female line.”
To this both Chauncey Delarouse and Bruce Cadogan Cavendish nodded prompt affirmation.
“Ah,” said Percival, “I perceive you both know the South Seas, wherefore, without undue expenditure of verbiage on my part, I am assured that you will appreciate the charm of my princess, the Princess Tui-nui of Talofa, the Princess of the Isle of Love.”
He kissed his hand to her, sipped from his condensed milk can a man-size drink of druggist’s alcohol, and to her again kissed her hand.
“But she was coy, and ever she fluttered near to me but never near enough. When my arm went out to her to girdle her, presto, she was not there. I knew, as never before, nor since, the thousand dear and delightful anguishes of love frustrated but ever resilient and beckoned on by the very goddess of love.”
“Some vocabulary,” Bruce Cadogan Cavendish muttered in aside to Chauncey Delarouse. But Percival Delaney was not to be deterred. He kissed his pudgy hand aloft into the night and held warmly on.
“No fond agonies of rapture deferred that were not lavished upon me by my dear Princess, herself ever a luring delight of promise flitting just beyond my reach. Every sweet lover’s inferno unguessed of by Dante she led me through. Ah! Those swooning tropic nights, under our palm trees, the distant surf a langourous murmur as from some vast sea shell of mystery, when she, my Princess, all but melted to my yearning, and with her laughter, that was as silver strings by buds and blossoms smitten, all but made lunacy of my lover’s ardency.
“It was by my wrestling with the champions of Talofa that I first interested her. It was by my prowess at swimming that I awoke her. And it was by a certain swimming deed that I won from her more than coquettish smiles and shy timidities of feigned retreat.
“We were squidding that day, out on the reef—you know how, undoubtedly, diving down the face of the wall of the reef, five fathoms, ten fathoms, any depth within reason, and shoving our squid-sticks into the likely holes and crannies of the coral where squid might be lairing. With the squid-stick, bluntly sharp at both ends, perhaps a foot long, and held crosswise in the hand, the trick was to gouge any lazying squid until he closed his tentacles around fist, stick and arm.—Then you had him, and came to the surface with him, and hit him in the head which is in the centre of him, and peeled him off into the waiting canoe. . . . And to think I used to do that!”
Percival Delaney paused a moment, a glimmer of awe on his rotund face, as he contemplated the mighty picture of his youth.
“Why, I’ve pulled out a squid with tentacles eight feet long, and done it under fifty feet of water. I could stay down four minutes. I’ve gone down, with a coral-rock to sink me, in a hundred and ten feet to clear a fouled anchor. And I could back-dive with a once-over and go in feet-first from eighty feet above the surface—”
“Quit it, delete it, cease it,” Chauncey Delarouse admonished testily. “Tell of the Princess. That’s what makes old blood leap again. Almost can I see her. Was she wonderful?”
Percival Delaney kissed unutterable affirmation.
“I have said she was a mermaid. She was. I know she swam thirty-six hours before being rescued, after her schooner was capsized in a double-squall. I have seen her do ninety feet and bring up pearl shell in each hand. She was wonderful. As a woman she was ravishing, sublime. I have said she was a sea-goddess. She was. Oh, for a Phidias or a Praxiteles to have made the wonder of her body immortal!
“And that day, out for squid on the reef, I was almost sick for her. Mad—I know I was mad for her. We would step over the side from the big canoe, and swim down, side by side, into the delicious depths of cool and colour, and she would look at me, as we swam, and with her eyes tantalize me to further madness. And at last, down, far down, I lost myself and reached for her. She eluded me like the mermaid she was, and I saw the laughter on her face as she fled. She fled deeper, and I knew I had her for I was between her and the surface; but in the muck coral sand of the bottom she made a churning with her squid stick. It was the old trick to escape a shark. And she worked it on me, rolling the water so that I could not see her. And when I came up, she was there ahead of me, clinging to the side of the canoe and laughing.
“Almost I would not be denied. But not for nothing was she a princess. She rested her hand on my arm and compelled me to listen. We should play a game, she said, enter into a competition for which should get the more squid, the biggest squid, and the smallest squid. Since the wagers were kisses, you can well imagine I went down on the first next dive with soul aflame.
“I got no squid. Never again in all my life have I dived for squid. Perhaps we were five fathoms down and exploring the face of the reef-wall for lurking places of our prey, when it happened. I had found a likely lair and just proved it empty, when I felt or sensed the nearness of something inimical. I turned. There it was, alongside of me, and no mere fish-shark. Fully a dozen feet in length, with the unmistakable phosphorescent cat’s eye gleaming like a drowning star, I knew it for what it was, a tiger shark.
“Not ten feet to the right, probing a coral fissure with her squid stick, was the Princess, and the tiger shark was heading directly for her. My totality of thought was precipitated to consciousness in a single all-embracing flash. The man-eater must be deflected from her, and what was I, except a mad lover who would gladly fight and die, or more gladly fight and live, for his beloved? Remember, she was the woman wonderful, and I was aflame for her.
“Knowing fully the peril of my act, I thrust the blunt-sharp end of my squid-stick into the side of the shark, much as one would attract a passing acquaintance with a thumb-nudge in the ribs. And the man-eater turned on me. You know the South Seas, and you know that the tiger shark, like the bald-face grizzly of Alaska, never gives trail. The combat, fathoms deep under the sea, was on—if by combat may be named such a one-sided struggle.
“The Princess unaware, caught her squid and rose to the surface. The man-eater rushed me. I fended him off with both hands on his nose above his thousand-toothed open mouth, so that he backed me against the sharp coral. The scars are there to this day. Whenever I tried to rise, he rushed me, and I could not remain down there indefinitely without air. Whenever he rushed me, I fended him off with my hands on his nose. And I would have escaped unharmed, except for the slip of my right hand. Into his mouth it went to the elbow. His jaws closed, just below the elbow. You know how a shark’s teeth are. Once in they cannot be released. They must go through to complete the bite, but they cannot go through heavy bone. So, from just below the elbow he stripped the bone clean to the articulation of the wrist-joint, where his teeth met and my good right hand became his for an appetizer.
“But while he was doing this, I drove the thumb of my left hand, to the hilt into his eye-orifice and popped out his eye. This did not stop him. The meat had maddened him. He pursued the gushing stump of my wrist. Half a dozen times I fended with my intact arm. Then he got the poor mangled arm again, closed down, and stripped the meat off the bone from the shoulder down to the elbow-joint, where his teeth met and he was free of his second mouthful of me. But, at the same time, with my good arm, I thumbed out his remaining eye.”
Percival Delaney shrugged his shoulders, ere he resumed.
“From above, those in the canoe had beheld the entire happening and were loud in praise of my deed. To this day they still sing the song of me, and tell the tale of me. And the Princess.” His pause was brief but significant. “The Princess married me. . . . Oh, well-a-day and lack-a-day, the whirligig of time and fortune, the topsy-turviness of luck, the wooden shoe going up and the polished heel descending a French gunboat, a conquered island kingdom of Oceania, to-day ruled over by a peasant-born, unlettered, colonial gendarme, and . . . ”
He completed the sentence and the tale by burying his face in the down-tilted mouth of the condensed milk can and by gurgling the corrosive drink down his throat in thirsty gulps.
After an appropriate pause, Chauncey Delarouse, otherwise Whiskers, took up the tale.
“Far be it from me to boast of no matter what place of birth I have descended from to sit here by this fire with such as . . . as chance along. I may say, however, that I, too, was once a considerable figure of a man. I may add that it was horses, plus parents too indulgent, that exiled me out over the world. I may still wonder to query: ‘Are Dover’s cliffs still white?’”
“Huh!” Bruce Cadogan Cavendish sneered. “Next you’ll be asking: ‘How fares the old Lord Warden?’”
“And I took every liberty, and vainly, with a constitution that was iron,” Whiskers hurried on. “Here I am with my three score and ten behind me, and back on that long road have I buried many a youngster that was as rare and devilish as I, but who could not stand the pace. I knew the worst too young. And now I know the worst too old. But there was a time, alas all too short, when I knew, the best.
“I, too, kiss my hand to the Princess of my heart. She was truly a princess, Polynesian, a thousand miles and more away to the eastward and the south from Delaney’s Isle of Love. The natives of all around that part of the South Seas called it the Jolly Island. Their own name, the name of the people who dwelt thereon, translates delicately and justly into ‘The Island of Tranquil Laughter.’ On the chart you will find the erroneous name given to it by the old navigators to be Manatomana. The seafaring gentry the round ocean around called it the Adamless Eden. And the missionaries for a time called it God’s Witness—so great had been their success at converting the inhabitants. As for me, it was, and ever shall be, Paradise.
“It was my Paradise, for it was there my Princess lived. John Asibeli Tungi was king. He was full-blooded native, descended out of the oldest and highest chief-stock that traced back to Manua which was the primeval sea home of the race. Also was he known as John the Apostate. He lived a long life and apostasized frequently. First converted by the Catholics, he threw down the idols, broke the tabus, cleaned out the native priests, executed a few of the recalcitrant ones, and sent all his subjects to church.
“Next he fell for the traders, who developed in him a champagne thirst, and he shipped off the Catholic priests to New Zealand. The great majority of his subjects always followed his lead, and, having no religion at all, ensued the time of the Great Licentiousness, when by all South Seas missionaries his island, in sermons, was spoken of as Babylon.
“But the traders ruined his digestion with too much champagne, and after several years he fell for the Gospel according to the Methodists, sent his people to church, and cleaned up the beach and the trading crowd so spick and span that he would not permit them to smoke a pipe out of doors on Sunday, and, fined one of the chief traders one hundred gold sovereigns for washing his schooner’s decks on the Sabbath morn.
“That was the time of the Blue Laws, but perhaps it was too rigorous for King John. Off he packed the Methodists, one fine day, exiled several hundred of his people to Samoa for sticking to Methodism, and, of all things, invented a religion of his own, with himself the figure-head of worship. In this he was aided and abetted by a renegade Fijian. This lasted five years. Maybe he grew tired of being God, or maybe it was because the Fijian decamped with the six thousand pounds in the royal treasury; but at any rate the Second Reformed Wesleyans got him, and his entire kingdom went Wesleyan. The pioneer Wesleyan missionary he actually made prime minister, and what he did to the trading crowd was a caution. Why, in the end, King John’s kingdom was blacklisted and boycotted by the traders till the revenues diminished to zero, the people went bankrupt, and King John couldn’t borrow a shilling from his most powerful chief.
“By this time he was getting old, and philosophic, and tolerant, and spiritually atavistic. He fired out the Second Reformed Wesleyans, called back the exiles from Samoa, invited in the traders, held a general love-feast, took the lid off, proclaimed religious liberty and high tariff, and as for himself went back to the worship of his ancestors, dug up the idols, reinstated a few octogenarian priests, and observed the tabus. All of which was lovely for the traders, and prosperity reigned. Of course, most of his subjects followed him back into heathen worship. Yet quite a sprinkling of Catholics, Methodists and Wesleyans remained true to their beliefs and managed to maintain a few squalid, one-horse churches. But King John didn’t mind, any more than did he the high times of the traders along the beach. Everything went, so long as the taxes were paid. Even when his wife, Queen Mamare, elected to become a Baptist, and invited in a little, weazened, sweet-spirited, club-footed Baptist missionary, King John did not object. All he insisted on was that these wandering religions should be self-supporting and not feed a pennyworth’s out of the royal coffers.
“And now the threads of my recital draw together in the paragon of female exquisiteness—my Princess.”
Whiskers paused, placed carefully on the ground his half-full condensed milk can with which he had been absently toying, and kissed the fingers of his one hand audibly aloft.
“She was the daughter of Queen Mamare. She was the woman wonderful. Unlike the Diana type of Polynesian, she was almost ethereal. She was ethereal, sublimated by purity, as shy and modest as a violet, as fragile-slender as a lily, and her eyes, luminous and shrinking tender, were as asphodels on the sward of heaven. She was all flower, and fire, and dew. Hers was the sweetness of the mountain rose, the gentleness of the dove. And she was all of good as well as all of beauty, devout in her belief in her mother’s worship, which was the worship introduced by Ebenezer Naismith, the Baptist missionary. But make no mistake. She was no mere sweet spirit ripe for the bosom of Abraham. All of exquisite deliciousness of woman was she. She was woman, all woman, to the last sensitive quivering atom of her—
“And I? I was a wastrel of the beach. The wildest was not so wild as I, the keenest not so keen, of all that wild, keen trading crowd. It was esteemed I played the stiffest hand of poker. I was the only living man, white, brown, or black, who dared run the Kuni-kuni Passage in the dark. And on a black night I have done it under reefs in a gale of wind. Well, anyway, I had a bad reputation on a beach where there were no good reputations. I was reckless, dangerous, stopped at nothing in fight or frolic; and the trading captains used to bring boiler-sheeted prodigies from the vilest holes of the South Pacific to try and drink me under the table. I remember one, a calcined Scotchman from the New Hebrides. It was a great drinking. He died of it, and we laded him aboard ship, pickled in a cask of trade rum, and sent him back to his own place. A sample, a fair sample, of the antic tricks we cut up on the beach of Manatomana.
“And of all unthinkable things, what did I up and do, one day, but look upon the Princess to find her good and to fall in love with her. It was the real thing. I was as mad as a March hare, and after that I got only madder. I reformed. Think of that! Think of what a slip of a woman can do to a busy, roving man!—By the Lord Harry, it’s true. I reformed. I went to church. Hear me! I became converted. I cleared my soul before God and kept my hands—I had two then—off the ribald crew of the beach when it laughed at this, my latest antic, and wanted to know what was my game.
“I tell you I reformed, and gave myself in passion and sincerity to a religious experience that has made me tolerant of all religion ever since. I discharged my best captain for immorality. So did I my cook, and a better never boiled water in Manatomana. For the same reason I discharged my chief clerk. And for the first time in the history of trading my schooners to the westward carried Bibles in their stock. I built a little anchorite bungalow up town on a mango-lined street squarely alongside the little house occupied by Ebenezer Naismith. And I made him my pal and comrade, and found him a veritable honey pot of sweetnesses and goodnesses. And he was a man, through and through a man. And he died long after like a man, which I would like to tell you about, were the tale of it not so deservedly long.
“It was the Princess, more than the missionary, who was responsible for my expressing my faith in works, and especially in that crowning work, the New Church, Our Church, the Queen-mother’s church.
“‘Our poor church,’ she said to me, one night after prayer-meeting. I had been converted only a fortnight. ‘It is so small its congregation can never grow. And the roof leaks. And King John, my hard-hearted father, will not contribute a penny. Yet he has a big balance in the treasury. And Manatomana is not poor. Much money is made and squandered, I know. I hear the gossip of the wild ways of the beach. Less than a month ago you lost more in one night, gambling at cards, than the cost of the upkeep of our poor church for a year.’
“And I told her it was true, but that it was before I had seen the light. (I’d had an infernal run of bad luck.) I told her I had not tasted liquor since, nor turned a card. I told her that the roof would be repaired at once, by Christian carpenters selected by her from the congregation. But she was filled with the thought of a great revival that Ebenezer Naismith could preach—she was a dear saint—and she spoke of a great church, saying:
“‘You are rich. You have many schooners, and traders in far islands, and I have heard of a great contract you have signed to recruit labour for the German plantations of Upolu. They say, next to Sweitzer, you are the richest trader here. I should love to see some use of all this money placed to the glory of God. It would be a noble thing to do, and I should be proud to know the man who would do it.’
“I told her that Ebenezer Naismith would preach the revival, and that I would build a church great enough in which to house it.
“‘As big as the Catholic church?’ she asked.
“This was the ruined cathedral, built at the time when the entire population was converted, and it was a large order; but I was afire with love, and I told her that the church I would build would be even bigger.
“‘But it will take money,’ I explained. ‘And it takes time to make money.’
“‘You have much,’ she said. ‘Some say you have more money than my father, the King.
“‘I have more credit,’ I explained. ‘But you do not understand money. It takes money to have credit. So, with the money I have, and the credit I have, I will work to make more money and credit, and the church shall be built.’
“Work! I was a surprise to myself. It is an amazement, the amount of time a man finds on his hands after he’s given up carousing, and gambling, and all the time-eating diversions of the beach. And I didn’t waste a second of all my new-found time. Instead I worked it overtime. I did the work of half a dozen men. I became a driver. My captains made faster runs than ever and earned bigger bonuses, as did my supercargoes, who saw to it that my schooners did not loaf and dawdle along the way. And I saw to it that my supercargoes did see to it.
“And good! By the Lord Harry I was so good it hurt. My conscience got so expansive and fine-strung it lamed me across the shoulders to carry it around with me. Why, I even went back over my accounts and paid Sweitzer fifty quid I’d jiggered him out of in a deal in Fiji three years before. And I compounded the interest as well.
“Work! I planted sugar cane—the first commercial planting on Manatomana. I ran in cargoes of kinky-heads from Malaita, which is in the Solomons, till I had twelve hundred of the blackbirds putting in cane. And I sent a schooner clear to Hawaii to bring back a dismantled sugar mill and a German who said he knew the field-end of cane. And he did, and he charged me three hundred dollars screw a month, and I took hold of the mill-end. I installed the mill myself, with the help of several mechanics I brought up from Queensland.
“Of course there was a rival. His name was Motomoe. He was the very highest chief blood next to King John’s. He was full native, a strapping, handsome man, with a glowering way of showing his dislikes. He certainly glowered at me when I began hanging around the palace. He went back in my history and circulated the blackest tales about me. The worst of it was that most of them were true. He even made a voyage to Apia to find things out—as if he couldn’t find a plenty right there on the beach of Manatomana! And he sneered at my failing for religion, and at my going to prayer-meeting, and, most of all, at my sugar-planting. He challenged me to fight, and I kept off of him. He threatened me, and I learned in the nick of time of his plan to have me knocked on the head. You see, he wanted the Princess just as much as I did, and I wanted her more.
“She used to play the piano. So did I, once. But I never let her know after I’d heard her play the first time. And she thought her playing was wonderful, the dear, fond girl! You know the sort, the mechanical one-two-three tum-tum-tum school-girl stuff. And now I’ll tell you something funnier. Her playing was wonderful to me. The gates of heaven opened to me when she played. I can see myself now, worn out and dog-tired after the long day, lying on the mats of the palace veranda and gazing upon her at the piano, myself in a perfect idiocy of bliss. Why, this idea she had of her fine playing was the one flaw in her deliciousness of perfection, and I loved her for it. It kind of brought her within my human reach. Why, when she played her one-two-three, tum-tum-tum, I was in the seventh heaven of bliss. My weariness fell from me. I loved her, and my love for her was clean as flame, clean as my love for God. And do you know, into my fond lover’s fancy continually intruded the thought that God in most ways must look like her.
“—That’s right, Bruce Cadogan Cavendish, sneer as you like. But I tell you that’s love that I’ve been describing. That’s all. It’s love. It’s the realest, purest, finest thing that can happen to a man. And I know what I’m talking about. It happened to me.”
Whiskers, his beady squirrel’s eye glittering from out his ruined eyebrow like a live coal in a jungle ambush, broke off long enough to down a sedative draught from his condensed milk can and to mix another.
“The cane,” he resumed, wiping his prodigious mat of face hair with the back of his hand. “It matured in sixteen months in that climate, and I was ready, just ready and no more, with the mill for the grinding. Naturally, it did not all mature at once, but I had planted in such succession that I could grind for nine months steadily, while more was being planted and the ratoons were springing up.
“I had my troubles the first several days. If it wasn’t one thing the matter with the mill, it was another. On the fourth day, Ferguson, my engineer, had to shut down several hours in order to remedy his own troubles. I was bothered by the feeder. After having the niggers (who had been feeding the cane) pour cream of lime on the rollers to keep everything sweet, I sent them out to join the cane-cutting squads. So I was all alone at that end, just as Ferguson started up the mill, just as I discovered what was the matter with the feed-rollers, and just as Motomoe strolled up.
“He stood there, in Norfolk jacket, pigskin puttees, and all the rest of the fashionable get-up out of a bandbox, sneering at me covered with filth and grease to the eyebrows and looking like a navvy. And, the rollers now white from the lime, I’d just seen what was wrong. The rollers were not in plumb. One side crushed the cane well, but the other side was too open. I shoved my fingers in on that side. The big, toothed cogs on the rollers did not touch my fingers. And yet, suddenly, they did. With the grip of ten thousand devils, my finger-tips were caught, drawn in, and pulped to—well, just pulp. And, like a slick of cane, I had started on my way. There was no stopping me. Ten thousand horses could not have pulled me back. There was nothing to stop me. Hand, arm, shoulder, head, and chest, down to the toes of me, I was doomed to feed through.
“It did hurt. It hurt so much it did not hurt me at all. Quite detached, almost may I say, I looked on my hand being ground up, knuckle by knuckle, joint by joint, the back of the hand, the wrist, the forearm, all in order slowly and inevitably feeding in. O engineer hoist by thine own petard! O sugar-maker crushed by thine own cane-crusher!
“Motomoe sprang forward involuntarily, and the sneer was chased from his face by an expression of solicitude. Then the beauty of the situation dawned on him, and he chuckled and grinned. No, I didn’t expect anything of him. Hadn’t he tried to knock me on the head? What could he do anyway? He didn’t know anything about engines.
“I yelled at the top of my lungs to Ferguson to shut off the engine, but the roar of the machinery drowned my voice. And there I stood, up to the elbow and feeding right on in. Yes, it did hurt. There were some astonishing twinges when special nerves were shredded and dragged out by the roots. But I remember that I was surprised at the time that it did not hurt worse.
“Motomoe made a movement that attracted my attention. At the same time he growled out loud, as if he hated himself, ‘I’m a fool.’ What he had done was to pick up a cane-knife—you know the kind, as big as a machete and as heavy. And I was grateful to him in advance for putting me out of my misery. There wasn’t any sense in slowly feeding in till my head was crushed, and already my arm was pulped half way from elbow to shoulder, and the pulping was going right on. So I was grateful, as I bent my head to the blow.
“‘Get your head out of the way, you idiot!’ he barked at me.
“And then I understood and obeyed. I was a big man, and he took two hacks to do it; but he hacked my arm off just outside the shoulder and dragged me back and laid me down on the cane.
“Yes, the sugar paid—enormously; and I built for the Princess the church of her saintly dream, and . . . she married me.”
He partly assuaged his thirst, and uttered his final word.
“Alackaday! Shuttlecock and battle-dore. And this at, the end of it all, lined with boilerplate that even alcohol will not corrode and that only alcohol will tickle. Yet have I lived, and I kiss my hand to the dear dust of my Princess long asleep in the great mausoleum of King John that looks across the Vale of Manona to the alien flag that floats over the bungalow of the British Government House. . . ”
Fatty pledged him sympathetically, and sympathetically drank out of his own small can. Bruce Cadogan Cavendish glared into the fire with implacable bitterness. He was a man who preferred to drink by himself. Across the thin lips that composed the cruel slash of his mouth played twitches of mockery that caught Fatty’s eye. And Fatty, making sure first that his rock-chunk was within reach, challenged.
“Well, how about yourself, Bruce Cadogan Cavendish? It’s your turn.”
The other lifted bleak eyes that bored into Fatty’s until he physically betrayed uncomfortableness.
“I’ve lived a hard life,” Slim grated harshly. “What do I know about love passages?”
“No man of your build and make-up could have escaped them,” Fatty wheedled.
“And what of it?” Slim snarled. “It’s no reason for a gentleman to boast of amorous triumphs.”
“Oh, go on, be a good fellow,” Fatty urged. “The night’s still young. We’ve still some drink left. Delarouse and I have contributed our share. It isn’t often that three real ones like us get together for a telling. Surely you’ve got at least one adventure in love you aren’t ashamed to tell about—”
Bruce Cadogan Cavendish pulled forth his iron quoit and seemed to debate whether or not he should brain the other. He sighed, and put back the quoit.
“Very well, if you will have it,” he surrendered with manifest reluctance. “Like you two, I have had a remarkable constitution. And right now, speaking of armour-plate lining, I could drink the both of you down when you were at your prime. Like you two, my beginnings were far distant and different. That I am marked with the hall-mark of gentlehood there is no discussion . . . unless either of you care to discuss the matter now . . . ”
His one hand slipped into his pocket and clutched the quoit. Neither of his auditors spoke nor betrayed any awareness of his menace.
“It occurred a thousand miles to the westward of Manatomana, on the island of Tagalag,” he continued abruptly, with an air of saturnine disappointment in that there had been no discussion. “But first I must tell you of how I got to Tagalag. For reasons I shall not mention, by paths of descent I shall not describe, in the crown of my manhood and the prime of my devilishness in which Oxford renegades and racing younger sons had nothing on me, I found myself master and owner of a schooner so well known that she shall remain historically nameless. I was running blackbird labour from the west South Pacific and the Coral Sea to the plantations of Hawaii and the nitrate mines of Chili—”
“It was you who cleaned out the entire population of—” Fatty exploded, ere he could check his speech.
The one hand of Bruce Cadogan Cavendish flashed pocketward and flashed back with the quoit balanced ripe for business.
“Proceed,” Fatty sighed. “I . . . I have quite forgotten what I was going to say.”
“Beastly funny country over that way,” the narrator drawled with perfect casualness. “You’ve read this Sea Wolf stuff—”
“You weren’t the Sea Wolf,” Whiskers broke in with involuntary positiveness.
“No, sir,” was the snarling answer. “The Sea Wolf’s dead, isn’t he? And I’m still alive, aren’t I?”
“Of course, of course,” Whiskers conceded. “He suffocated head-first in the mud off a wharf in Victoria a couple of years back.”
“As I was saying—and I don’t like interruptions,” Bruce Cadogan Cavendish proceeded, “it’s a beastly funny country over that way. I was at Taki-Tiki, a low island that politically belongs to the Solomons, but that geologically doesn’t at all, for the Solomons are high islands. Ethnographically it belongs to Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, because all the breeds of the South Pacific have gravitated to it by canoe-drift and intricately, degeneratively, and amazingly interbred. The scum of the scrapings of the bottom of the human pit, biologically speaking, resides in Taka-Tiki. And I know the bottom and whereof I speak.
“It was a beastly funny time of it I had, diving out shell, fishing beche-de-mer, trading hoop-iron and hatchets for copra and ivory-nuts, running niggers and all the rest of it. Why, even in Fiji the Lotu was having a hard time of it and the chiefs still eating long-pig. To the westward it was fierce—funny little black kinky-heads, man-eaters the last Jack of them, and the jackpot fat and spilling over with wealth—”
“Jack-pots?” Fatty queried. At sight of an irritable movement, he added: “You see, I never got over to the West like Delarouse and you.”
“They’re all head-hunters. Heads are valuable, especially a white man’s head. They decorate the canoe-houses and devil-devil houses with them. Each village runs a jack-pot, and everybody antes. Whoever brings in a white man’s head takes the pot. If there aren’t openers for a long time, the pot grows to tremendous proportions. Beastly funny, isn’t it?
“I know. Didn’t a Holland mate die on me of blackwater? And didn’t I win a pot myself? It was this way. We were lying at Lango-lui at the time. I never let on, and arranged the affair with Johnny, my boat-steerer. He was a kinky-head himself from Port Moresby. He cut the dead mate’s head off and sneaked ashore in the night, while I whanged away with my rifle as if I were trying to get him. He opened the pot with the mate’s head, and got it, too. Of course, next day I sent in a landing boat, with two covering boats, and fetched him off with the loot.”
“How big was the pot?” Whiskers asked. “I heard of a pot at Orla worth eighty quid.”
“To commence with,” Slim answered, “there were forty fat pigs, each worth a fathom of prime shell-money, and shell-money worth a quid a fathom. That was two hundred dollars right there. There were ninety-eight fathoms of shell-money, which is pretty close to five hundred in itself. And there were twenty-two gold sovereigns. I split it four ways: one-fourth to Johnny, one-fourth to the ship, one-fourth to me as owner, and one-fourth to me as skipper. Johnny never complained. He’d never had so much wealth all at one time in his life. Besides, I gave him a couple of the mate’s old shirts. And I fancy the mate’s head is still there decorating the canoe-house.”
“Not exactly Christian burial of a Christian,” Whiskers observed.
“But a lucrative burial,” Slim retorted. “I had to feed the rest of the mate over-side to the sharks for nothing. Think of feeding an eight-hundred-dollar head along with it. It would have been criminal waste and stark lunacy.
“Well, anyway, it was all beastly funny, over there to the westward. And, without telling you the scrape I got into at Taki-Tiki, except that I sailed away with two hundred kinky-heads for Queensland labour, and for my manner of collecting them had two British ships of war combing the Pacific for me, I changed my course and ran to the westward thinking to dispose of the lot to the Spanish plantations on Bangar.
“Typhoon season. We caught it. The Merry Mist was my schooner’s name, and I had thought she was stoutly built until she hit that typhoon. I never saw such seas. They pounded that stout craft to pieces, literally so. The sticks were jerked out of her, deckhouses splintered to match-wood, rails ripped off, and, after the worst had passed, the covering boards began to go. We just managed to repair what was left of one boat and keep the schooner afloat only till the sea went down barely enough to get away. And we outfitted that boat in a hurry. The carpenter and I were the last, and we had to jump for it as he went down. There were only four of us—”
“Lost all the niggers?” Whiskers inquired.
“Some of them swam for some time,” Slim replied. “But I don’t fancy they made the land. We were ten days’ in doing it. And we had a spanking breeze most of the way. And what do you think we had in the boat with us? Cases of square-face gin and cases of dynamite. Funny, wasn’t it? Well, it got funnier later on. Oh, there was a small beaker of water, a little salt horse, and some salt-water-soaked sea biscuit—enough to keep us alive to Tagalag.
“Now Tagalag is the disappointingest island I’ve ever beheld. It shows up out of the sea so as you can make its fall twenty miles off. It is a volcano cone thrust up out of deep sea, with a segment of the crater wall broken out. This gives sea entrance to the crater itself, and makes a fine sheltered harbour. And that’s all. Nothing lives there. The outside and the inside of the crater are too steep. At one place, inside, is a patch of about a thousand coconut palms. And that’s all, as I said, saving a few insects. No four-legged thing, even a rat, inhabits the place. And it’s funny, most awful funny, with all those coconuts, not even a coconut crab. The only meat-food living was schools of mullet in the harbour—fattest, finest, biggest mullet I ever laid eyes on.
“And the four of us landed on the little beach and set up housekeeping among the coconuts with a larder full of dynamite and square-face. Why don’t you laugh? It’s funny, I tell you. Try it some time.—Holland gin and straight coconut diet. I’ve never been able to look a confectioner’s window in the face since. Now I’m not strong on religion like Chauncey Delarouse there, but I have some primitive ideas; and my concept of hell is an illimitable coconut plantation, stocked with cases of square-face and populated by ship-wrecked mariners. Funny? It must make the devil scream.
“You know, straight coconut is what the agriculturists call an unbalanced ration. It certainly unbalanced our digestions. We got so that whenever hunger took an extra bite at us, we took another drink of gin. After a couple of weeks of it, Olaf, a squarehead sailor, got an idea. It came when he was full of gin, and we, being in the same fix, just watched him shove a cap and short fuse into a stick of dynamite and stroll down toward the boat.
“It dawned on me that he was going to shoot fish if there were any about; but the sun was beastly hot, and I just reclined there and hoped he’d have luck.
“About half an hour after he disappeared we heard the explosion. But he didn’t come back. We waited till the cool of sunset, and down on the beach found what had become of him. The boat was there all right, grounded by the prevailing breeze, but there was no Olaf. He would never have to eat coconut again. We went back, shakier than ever, and cracked another square-face.
“The next day the cook announced that he would rather take his chance with dynamite than continue trying to exist on coconut, and that, though he didn’t know anything about dynamite, he knew a sight too much about coconut. So we bit the detonator down for him, shoved in a fuse, and picked him a good fire-stick, while he jolted up with a couple more stiff ones of gin.
“It was the same programme as the day before. After a while we heard the explosion and at twilight went down to the boat, from which we scraped enough of the cook for a funeral.
“The carpenter and I stuck it out two days more, then we drew straws for it and it was his turn. We parted with harsh words; for he wanted to take a square-face along to refresh himself by the way, while I was set against running any chance of wasting the gin. Besides, he had more than he could carry then, and he wobbled and staggered as he walked.
“Same thing, only there was a whole lot of him left for me to bury, because he’d prepared only half a stick. I managed to last it out till next day, when, after duly fortifying myself, I got sufficient courage to tackle the dynamite. I used only a third of a stick—you know, short fuse, with the end split so as to hold the head of a safety match. That’s where I mended my predecessors’ methods. Not using the match-head, they’d too-long fuses. Therefore, when they spotted a school of mullet; and lighted the fuse, they had to hold the dynamite till the fuse burned short before they threw it. If they threw it too soon, it wouldn’t go off the instant it hit the water, while the splash of it would frighten the mullet away. Funny stuff dynamite. At any rate, I still maintain mine was the safer method.
“I picked up a school of mullet before I’d been rowing five minutes. Fine big fat ones they were, and I could smell them over the fire. When I stood up, fire-stick in one hand, dynamite stick in the other, my knees were knocking together. Maybe it was the gin, or the anxiousness, or the weakness and the hunger, and maybe it was the result of all of them, but at any rate I was all of a shake. Twice I failed to touch the fire-stick to the dynamite. Then I did, heard the match-head splutter, and let her go.
“Now I don’t know what happened to the others, but I know what I did. I got turned about. Did you ever stem a strawberry and throw the strawberry away and pop the stem into your mouth? That’s what I did. I threw the fire-stick into the water after the mullet and held on to the dynamite. And my arm went off with the stick when it went off. . . . ”
Slim investigated the tomato-can for water to mix himself a drink, but found it empty. He stood up.
“Heigh ho,” he yawned, and started down the path to the river.
In several minutes he was back. He mixed the due quantity of river slush with the alcohol, took a long, solitary drink, and stared with bitter moodiness into the fire.
“Yes, but . . . ” Fatty suggested. “What happened then?”
“Oh,” sad Slim. “Then the princess married me, of course.”
“But you were the only person left, and there wasn’t any princess . . . ” Whiskers cried out abruptly, and then let his voice trail away to embarrassed silence.
Slim stared unblinkingly into the fire.
Percival Delaney and Chauncey Delarouse looked at each other. Quietly, in solemn silence, each with his one arm aided the one arm of the other in rolling and tying his bundle. And in silence, bundles slung on shoulders, they went away out of the circle of firelight. Not until they reached the top of the railroad embankment did they speak.
“No gentleman would have done it,” said Whiskers.
“No gentleman would have done it,” Fatty agreed.