Jerry of the Islands
Part 2 out of 4
coming to take him out of the stinging, biting sea that blinded his
eyes and hurt him to breathe. Skipper was truly a god, his god,
with a god's power to save.
Soon he heard the rhythmic clack of the oars on the thole-pins, and
the joy in his own yelp was duplicated by the joy in Skipper's
voice, which kept up a running encouragement, broken by objurgations
to the rowers.
"All right, Jerry, old man. All right, Jerry. All right.--Washee-
washee, you fella boy!--Coming, Jerry, coming. Stick it out, old
man. Stay with it.--Washee-washee like hell!--Here we are, Jerry.
Stay with it. Hang on, old boy, we'll get you.--Easy . . . easy.
And then, with amazing abruptness, Jerry saw the whaleboat dimly
emerge from the gloom close upon him, was blinded by the stab of the
torch full in his eyes, and, even as he yelped his joy, felt and
recognized Skipper's hand clutching him by the slack of the neck and
lifting him into the air.
He landed wet and soppily against Skipper's rain-wet chest, his tail
bobbing frantically against Skipper's containing arm, his body
wriggling, his tongue dabbing madly all over Skipper's chin and
mouth and cheeks and nose. And Skipper did not know that he was
himself wet, and that he was in the first shock of recurrent malaria
precipitated by the wet and the excitement. He knew only that the
puppy-dog, given him only the previous morning, was safe back in his
While the boat's crew bent to the oars, he steered with the sweep
between his arm and his side in order that he might hold Jerry with
the other arm.
"You little son of a gun," he crooned, and continued to croon, over
and over. "You little son of a gun."
And Jerry responded with tongue-kisses, whimpering and crying as is
the way of lost children immediately after they are found. Also, he
shivered violently. But it was not from the cold. Rather was it
due to his over-strung, sensitive nerves.
Again on board, Van Horn stated his reasoning to the mate.
"The pup didn't just calmly walk overboard. Nor was he washed
overboard. I had him fast and triced in the blanket with a rope
He walked over, the centre of the boat's crew and of the three-score
return boys who were all on deck, and flashed his torch on the
blanket still lying on the yams.
"That proves it. The rope-yarn's cut. The knot's still in it. Now
what nigger is responsible?"
He looked about at the circle of dark faces, flashing the light on
them, and such was the accusation and anger in his eyes, that all
eyes fell before his or looked away.
"If only the pup could speak," he complained. "He'd tell who it
He bent suddenly down to Jerry, who was standing as close against
his legs as he could, so close that his wet forepaws rested on
Skipper's bare feet.
"You know 'm, Jerry, you known the black fella boy," he said, his
words quick and exciting, his hand moving in questing circles toward
Jerry was all alive on the instant, jumping about, barking with
short yelps of eagerness.
"I do believe the dog could lead me to him," Van Horn confided to
the mate. "Come on, Jerry, find 'm, sick 'm, shake 'm down. Where
is he, Jerry? Find 'm. Find 'm."
All that Jerry knew was that Skipper wanted something. He must find
something that Skipper wanted, and he was eager to serve. He
pranced about aimlessly and willingly for a space, while Skipper's
urging cries increased his excitement. Then he was struck by an
idea, and a most definite idea it was. The circle of boys broke to
let him through as he raced for'ard along the starboard side to the
tight-lashed heap of trade-boxes. He put his nose into the opening
where the wild-dog laired, and sniffed. Yes, the wild-dog was
inside. Not only did he smell him, but he heard the menace of his
He looked up to Skipper questioningly. Was it that Skipper wanted
him to go in after the wild-dog? But Skipper laughed and waved his
hand to show that he wanted him to search in other places for
He leaped away, sniffing in likely places where experience had
taught him cockroaches and rats might be. Yet it quickly dawned on
him that it was not such things Skipper was after. His heart was
wild with desire to serve, and, without clear purpose, he began
sniffing legs of black boys.
This brought livelier urgings and encouragements from Skipper, and
made him almost frantic. That was it. He must identify the boat's
crew and the return boys by their legs. He hurried the task,
passing swiftly from boy to boy, until he came to Lerumie.
And then he forgot that Skipper wanted him to do something. All he
knew was that it was Lerumie who had broken the taboo of his sacred
person by laying hands on him, and that it was Lerumie who had
thrown him overboard.
With a cry of rage, a flash of white teeth, and a bristle of short
neck-hair, he sprang for the black. Lerumie fled down the deck, and
Jerry pursued amid the laughter of all the blacks. Several times,
in making the circuit of the deck, he managed to scratch the flying
calves with his teeth. Then Lerumie took to the main rigging,
leaving Jerry impotently to rage on the deck beneath him.
About this point the blacks grouped in a semi-circle at a respectful
distance, with Van Horn to the fore beside Jerry. Van Horn centred
his electric torch on the black in the rigging, and saw the long
parallel scratches on the fingers of the hand that had invaded
Jerry's blanket. He pointed them out significantly to Borckman, who
stood outside the circle so that no black should be able to come at
Skipper picked Jerry up and soothed his anger with:
"Good boy, Jerry. You marked and sealed him. Some dog, you, some
He turned back to Lerumie, illuminating him as he clung in the
rigging, and his voice was harsh and cold as he addressed him.
"What name belong along you fella boy?" he demanded.
"Me fella Lerumie," came the chirping, quavering answer.
"You come along Pennduffryn?"
"Me come along Meringe."
Captain Van Horn debated the while he fondled the puppy in his arms.
After all, it was a return boy. In a day, in two days at most, he
would have him landed and be quit of him.
"My word," he harangued, "me angry along you. Me angry big fella
too much along you. Me angry along you any amount. What name you
fella boy make 'm pickaninny dog belong along me walk about along
Lerumie was unable to answer. He rolled his eyes helplessly,
resigned to receive a whipping such as he had long since bitterly
learned white masters were wont to administer.
Captain Van Horn repeated the question, and the black repeated the
helpless rolling of his eyes.
"For two sticks tobacco I knock 'm seven bells outa you," the
skipper bullied. "Now me give you strong fella talk too much. You
look 'm eye belong you one time along this fella dog belong me, I
knock 'm seven bells and whole starboard watch outa you. Savve?"
"Me savve," Lerumie, plaintively replied; and the episode was
The return boys went below to sleep in the cabin. Borckman and the
boat's crew hoisted the mainsail and put the Arangi on her course.
And Skipper, under a dry blanket from below, lay down to sleep with
Jerry, head on his shoulder, in the hollow of his arm.
At seven in the morning, when Skipper rolled him out of the blanket
and got up, Jerry celebrated the new day by chasing the wild-dog
back into his hole and by drawing a snicker from the blacks on deck,
when, with a growl and a flash of teeth, he made Lerumie side-step
half a dozen feet and yield the deck to him.
He shared breakfast with Skipper, who, instead of eating, washed
down with a cup of coffee fifty grains of quinine wrapped in a
cigarette paper, and who complained to the mate that he would have
to get under the blankets and sweat out the fever that was attacking
him. Despite his chill, and despite his teeth that were already
beginning to chatter while the burning sun extracted the moisture in
curling mist-wreaths from the deck planking, Van Horn cuddled Jerry
in his arms and called him princeling, and prince, and a king, and a
son of kings.
For Van Horn had often listened to the recitals of Jerry's pedigree
by Tom Haggin, over Scotch-and-sodas, when it was too pestilentially
hot to go to bed. And the pedigree was as royal-blooded as was
possible for an Irish terrier to possess, whose breed, beginning
with the ancient Irish wolf-hound, had been moulded and established
by man in less than two generations of men.
There was Terrence the Magnificent--descended, as Van Horn
remembered, from the American-bred Milton Droleen, out of the Queen
of County Antrim, Breda Muddler, which royal bitch, as every one who
is familiar with the stud book knows, goes back as far as the almost
mythical Spuds, with along the way no primrose dallyings with black-
and-tan Killeney Boys and Welsh nondescripts. And did not Biddy
trace to Erin, mother and star of the breed, through a long
descendant out of Breda Mixer, herself an ancestress of Breda
Muddler? Nor could be omitted from the purple record the later
ancestress, Moya Doolen.
So Jerry knew the ecstasy of loving and of being loved in the arms
of his love-god, although little he knew of such phrases as "king's
son" and "son of kings," save that they connoted love for him in the
same way that Lerumie's hissing noises connoted hate. One thing
Jerry knew without knowing that he knew, namely, that in the few
hours he had been with Skipper he loved him more than he had loved
Derby and Bob, who, with the exception of Mister Haggin, were the
only other white-gods he had ever known. He was not conscious of
this. He merely loved, merely acted on the prompting of his heart,
or head, or whatever organic or anatomical part of him that
developed the mysterious, delicious, and insatiable hunger called
Skipper went below. He went all unheeding of Jerry, who padded
softly at his heels until the companionway was reached. Skipper was
unheeding of Jerry because of the fever that wrenched his flesh and
chilled his bones, that made his head seem to swell monstrously,
that glazed the world to his swimming eyes and made him walk feebly
and totteringly like a drunken man or a man very aged. And Jerry
sensed that something was wrong with Skipper.
Skipper, beginning the babblings of delirium which alternated with
silent moments of control in order to get below and under blankets,
descended the ladder-like stairs, and Jerry, all-yearning,
controlled himself in silence and watched the slow descent with the
hope that when Skipper reached the bottom he would raise his arms
and lift him down. But Skipper was too far gone to remember that
Jerry existed. He staggered, with wide-spread arms to keep from
falling, along the cabin floor for'ard to the bunk in the tiny
Jerry was truly of a kingly line. He wanted to call out and beg to
be taken down. But he did not. He controlled himself, he knew not
why, save that he was possessed by a nebulous awareness that Skipper
must be considered as a god should be considered, and that this was
no time to obtrude himself on Skipper. His heart was torn with
desire, although he made no sound, and he continued only to yearn
over the companion combing and to listen to the faint sounds of
Skipper's progress for'ard.
But even kings and their descendants have their limitations, and at
the end of a quarter of an hour Jerry was ripe to cease from his
silence. With the going below of Skipper, evidently in great
trouble, the light had gone out of the day for Jerry. He might have
stalked the wild-dog, but no inducement lay there. Lerumie passed
by unnoticed, although he knew he could bully him and make him give
deck space. The myriad scents of the land entered his keen
nostrils, but he made no note of them. Not even the flopping,
bellying mainsail overhead, as the Arangi rolled becalmed, could
draw a glance of quizzical regard from him.
Just as it was tremblingly imperative that Jerry must suddenly squat
down, point his nose at the zenith, and vocalize his heart-rending
woe, an idea came to him. There is no explaining how this idea
came. No more can it be explained than can a human explain why, at
luncheon to-day, he selects green peas and rejects string beans,
when only yesterday he elected to choose string beans and to reject
green peas. No more can it be explained than can a human judge,
sentencing a convicted criminal and imposing eight years
imprisonment instead of the five or nine years that also at the same
time floated upward in his brain, explain why he categorically
determined on eight years as the just, adequate punishment. Since
not even humans, who are almost half-gods, can fathom the mystery of
the genesis of ideas and the dictates of choice, appearing in their
consciousness as ideas, it is not to be expected of a more dog to
know the why of the ideas that animate it to definite acts toward
And so Jerry. Just as he must immediately howl, he was aware that
the idea, an entirely different idea, was there, in the innermost
centre of the quick-thinkingness of him, with all its compulsion.
He obeyed the idea as a marionette obeys the strings, and started
forthwith down the deck aft in quest of the mate.
He had an appeal to make to Borckman. Borckman was also a two-
legged white-god. Easily could Borckman lift him down the
precipitous ladder, which was to him, unaided, a taboo, the
violation of which was pregnant with disaster. But Borckman had in
him little of the heart of love, which is understanding. Also,
Borckman was busy. Besides overseeing the continuous adjustment, by
trimming of sails and orders to the helmsman, of the Arangi to her
way on the sea, and overseeing the boat's crew at its task of
washing deck and polishing brasswork, he was engaged in steadily
nipping from a stolen bottle of his captain's whiskey which he had
stowed away in the hollow between the two sacks of yams lashed on
deck aft the mizzenmast.
Borckman was on his way for another nip, after having thickly
threatened to knock seven bells and the ten commandments out of the
black at the wheel for faulty steering, when Jerry appeared before
him and blocked the way to his desire. But Jerry did not block him
as he would have blocked Lerumie, for instance. There was no
showing of teeth, no bristling of neck hair. Instead, Jerry was all
placation and appeal, all softness of pleading in a body denied
speech that nevertheless was articulate, from wagging tail and
wriggling sides to flat-laid ears and eyes that almost spoke, to any
human sensitive of understanding.
But Borckman saw in his way only a four-legged creature of the brute
world, which, in his arrogant brutalness he esteemed more brute than
himself. All the pretty picture of the soft puppy, instinct with
communicativeness, bursting with tenderness of petition, was veiled
to his vision. What he saw was merely a four-legged animal to be
thrust aside while he continued his lordly two-legged progress
toward the bottle that could set maggots crawling in his brain and
make him dream dreams that he was prince, not peasant, that he was a
master of matter rather than a slave of matter.
And thrust aside Jerry was, by a rough and naked foot, as harsh and
unfeeling in its impact as an inanimate breaking sea on a beach-jut
of insensate rock. He half-sprawled on the slippery deck, regained
his balance, and stood still and looked at the white-god who had
treated him so cavalierly. The meanness and unfairness had brought
from Jerry no snarling threat of retaliation, such as he would have
offered Lerumie or any other black. Nor in his brain was any
thought of retaliation. This was no Lerumie. This was a superior
god, two-legged, white-skinned, like Skipper, like Mister Haggin and
the couple of other superior gods he had known. Only did he know
hurt, such as any child knows under the blow of a thoughtless or
In the hurt was mingled a resentment. He was keenly aware that
there were two sorts of roughness. There was the kindly roughness
of love, such as when Skipper gripped him by the jowl, shook him
till his teeth rattled, and thrust him away with an unmistakable
invitation to come back and be so shaken again. Such roughness, to
Jerry, was heaven. In it was the intimacy of contact with a beloved
god who in such manner elected to express a reciprocal love.
But this roughness of Borckman was different. It was the other kind
of roughness in which resided no warm affection, no heart-touch of
love. Jerry did not quite understand, but he sensed the difference
and resented, without expressing in action, the wrongness and
unfairness of it. So he stood, after regaining balance, and soberly
regarded, in a vain effort to understand, the mate with a bottle-
bottom inverted skyward, the mouth to his lips, the while his throat
made gulping contractions and noises. And soberly he continued to
regard the mate when he went aft and threatened to knock the "Song
of Songs" and the rest of the Old Testament out of the black
helmsman whose smile of teeth was as humbly gentle and placating as
Jerry's had been when he made his appeal.
Leaving this god as a god unliked and not understood, Jerry sadly
trotted back to the companionway and yearned his head over the
combing in the direction in which he had seen Skipper disappear.
What bit at his consciousness and was a painful incitement in it,
was his desire to be with Skipper who was not right, and who was in
trouble. He wanted Skipper. He wanted to be with him, first and
sharply, because he loved him, and, second and dimly, because he
might serve him. And, wanting Skipper, in his helplessness and
youngness in experience of the world, he whimpered and cried his
heart out across the companion combing, and was too clean and direct
in his sorrow to be deflected by an outburst of anger against the
niggers, on deck and below, who chuckled at him and derided him.
From the crest of the combing to the cabin floor was seven feet. He
had, only a few hours before, climbed the precipitous stairway; but
it was impossible, and he knew it, to descend the stairway. And
yet, at the last, he dared it. So compulsive was the prod of his
heart to gain to Skipper at any cost, so clear was his comprehension
that he could not climb down the ladder head first, with no
grippingness of legs and feet and muscles such as were possible in
the ascent, that he did not attempt it. He launched outward and
down, in one magnificent and love-heroic leap. He knew that he was
violating a taboo of life, just as he knew he was violating a taboo
if he sprang into Meringe Lagoon where swam the dreadful crocodiles.
Great love is always capable of expressing itself in sacrifice and
self-immolation. And only for love, and for no lesser reason, could
Jerry have made the leap.
He struck on his side and head. The one impact knocked the breath
out of him; the other stunned him. Even in his unconsciousness,
lying on his side and quivering, he made rapid, spasmodic movements
of his legs as if running for'ard to Skipper. The boys looked on
and laughed, and when he no longer quivered and churned his legs
they continued to laugh. Born in savagery, having lived in savagery
all their lives and known naught else, their sense of humour was
correspondingly savage. To them, the sight of a stunned and
possibly dead puppy was a side-splitting, ludicrous event.
Not until the fourth minute ticked off did returning consciousness
enable Jerry to crawl to his feet and with wide-spread legs and
swimming eyes adjust himself to the Arangi's roll. Yet with the
first glimmerings of consciousness persisted the one idea that he
must gain to Skipper. Blacks? In his anxiety and solicitude and
love they did not count. He ignored the chuckling, grinning,
girding black boys, who, but for the fact that he was under the
terrible aegis of the big fella white marster, would have delighted
to kill and eat the puppy who, in the process of training, was
proving a most capable nigger-chaser. Without a turn of head or
roll of eye, aristocratically positing their non-existingness to
their faces, he trotted for'ard along the cabin floor and into the
stateroom where Skipper babbled maniacally in the bunk.
Jerry, who had never had malaria, did not understand. But in his
heart he knew great trouble in that Skipper was in trouble. Skipper
did not recognize him, even when he sprang into the bunk, walked
across Skipper's heaving chest, and licked the acrid sweat of fever
from Skipper's face. Instead, Skipper's wildly-thrashing arms
brushed him away and flung him violently against the side of the
This was roughness that was not love-roughness. Nor was it the
roughness of Borckman spurning him away with his foot. It was part
of Skipper's trouble. Jerry did not reason this conclusion. But,
and to the point, he acted upon it as if he had reasoned it. In
truth, through inadequacy of one of the most adequate languages in
the world, it can only be said that Jerry sensed the new difference
of this roughness.
He sat up, just out of range of one restless, beating arm, yearned
to come closer and lick again the face of the god who knew him not,
and who, he knew, loved him well, and palpitatingly shared and
suffered all Skipper's trouble.
"Eh, Clancey," Skipper babbled. "It's a fine job this day, and no
better crew to clean up after the dubs of motormen. . . . Number
three jack, Clancey. Get under the for'ard end." And, as the
spectres of his nightmare metamorphosed: "Hush, darling, talking to
your dad like that, telling him the combing of your sweet and golden
hair. As if I couldn't, that have combed it these seven years--
better than your mother, darling, better than your mother. I'm the
one gold-medal prize-winner in the combing of his lovely daughter's
lovely hair. . . . She's broken out! Give her the wheel aft there!
Jib and fore-topsail halyards! Full and by, there! A good full! .
. . Ah, she takes it like the beauty fairy boat that she is upon the
sea. . . I'll just lift that--sure, the limit. Blackey, when you
pay as much to see my cards as I'm going to pay to see yours, you're
going to see some cards, believe me!"
And so the farrago of unrelated memories continued to rise vocal on
Skipper's lips to the heave of his body and the beat of his arms,
while Jerry, crouched against the side of the bunk mourned and
mourned his grief and inability to be of help. All that was
occurring was beyond him. He knew no more of poker hands than did
he know of getting ships under way, of clearing up surface car
wrecks in New York, or of combing the long yellow hair of a loved
daughter in a Harlem flat.
"Both dead," Skipper said in a change of delirium. He said it
quietly, as if announcing the time of day, then wailed: "But, oh,
the bonnie, bonnie braids of all the golden hair of her!"
He lay motionlessly for a space and sobbed out a breaking heart.
This was Jerry's chance. He crept inside the arm that tossed,
snuggled against Skipper's side, laid his head on Skipper's
shoulder, his cool nose barely touching Skipper's cheek, and felt
the arm curl about him and press him closer. The hand bent from the
wrist and caressed him protectingly, and the warm contact of his
velvet body put a change in Skipper's sick dreams, for he began to
mutter in cold and bitter ominousness: "Any nigger that as much as
bats an eye at that puppy. . ."
When, in half an hour, Van Horn's sweat culminated in profusion, it
marked the breaking of the malarial attack. Great physical relief
was his, and the last mists of delirium ebbed from his brain. But
he was left limply weak, and, after tossing off the blankets and
recognizing Jerry, he fell into a refreshing natural sleep.
Not till two hours later did he awake and start to go on deck.
Half-way up the companion, he deposited Jerry on deck and went back
to the stateroom for a forgotten bottle of quinine. But he did not
immediately return to Jerry. The long drawer under Borckman's bunk
caught his eye. The wooden button that held it shut was gone, and
it was far out and hanging at an angle that jammed it and prevented
it from falling to the floor. The matter was serious. There was
little doubt in his mind, had the drawer, in the midst of the squall
of the previous night, fallen to the floor, that no Arangi and no
soul of the eighty souls on board would have been left. For the
drawer was filled with a heterogeneous mess of dynamite sticks,
boxes of fulminating caps, coils of fuses, lead sinkers, iron tools,
and many boxes of rifle, revolver and pistol cartridges. He sorted
and arranged the varied contents, and with a screwdriver and a
longer screw reattached the button.
In the meantime, Jerry was encountering new adventure not of the
pleasantest. While waiting for Skipper to return, Jerry chanced to
see the wild-dog brazenly lying on deck a dozen feet from his lair
in the trade-boxes. Instantly stiffly crouching, Jerry began to
stalk. Success seemed assured, for the wild-dog, with closed eyes,
was apparently asleep.
And at this moment the mate, two-legging it along the deck from
for'ard in the direction of the bottle stored between the yam sacks,
called, "Jerry," in a remarkably husky voice. Jerry flattened his
filbert-shaped ears and wagged his tail in acknowledgment, but
advertised his intention of continuing to stalk his enemy. And at
sound of the mate's voice the wild-dog flung quick-opened eyes in
Jerry's direction and flashed into his burrow, where he immediately
turned around, thrust his head out with a show of teeth, and snarled
Baulked of his quarry by the inconsiderateness of the mate, Jerry
trotted back to the head of the companion to wait for Skipper. But
Borckman, whose brain was well a-crawl by virtue of the many nips,
clung to a petty idea after the fashion of drunken men. Twice
again, imperatively, he called Jerry to him, and twice again, with
flattened ears of gentleness and wagging tail, Jerry good-naturedly
expressed his disinclination. Next, he yearned his head over the
coming and into the cabin after Skipper.
Borckman remembered his first idea and continued to the bottle,
which he generously inverted skyward. But the second idea, petty as
it was, persisted; and, after swaying and mumbling to himself for a
time, after unseeingly making believe to study the crisp fresh
breeze that filled the Arangi's sails and slanted her deck, and,
after sillily attempting on the helmsman to portray eagle-like
vigilance in his drink-swimming eyes, he lurched amidships toward
Jerry's first intimation of Borckman's arrival was a cruel and
painful clutch on his flank and groin that made him cry out in pain
and whirl around. Next, as the mate had seen Skipper do in play,
Jerry had his jowls seized in a tooth-clattering shake that was
absolutely different from the Skipper's rough love-shake. His head
and body were shaken, his teeth clattered painfully, and with the
roughest of roughness he was flung part way down the slippery slope
Now Jerry was a gentleman. All the soul of courtesy was in him, for
equals and superiors. After all, even in an inferior like the wild-
dog, he did not consciously press an advantage very far--never
extremely far. In his stalking and rushing of the wild-dog, he had
been more sound and fury than an overbearing bully. But with a
superior, with a two-legged white-god like Borckman, there was more
a demand upon his control, restraint, and inhibition of primitive
promptings. He did not want to play with the mate a game that he
ecstatically played with Skipper, because he had experienced no
similar liking for the mate, two-legged white-god that he was.
And still Jerry was all gentleness. He came back in a feeble
imitation rush of the whole-hearted rush that he had learned to make
on Skipper. He was, in truth, acting, play-acting, attempting to do
what he had no heart-prompting to do. He made believe to play, and
uttered simulated growls that failed of the verity of simulation.
He bobbed his tail good-naturedly and friendly, and growled
ferociously and friendly; but the keenness of the drunkenness of the
mate discerned the difference and aroused in him, vaguely, the
intuition of difference, of play-acting, of cheating. Jerry was
cheating--out of his heart of consideration. Borckman drunkenly
recognized the cheating without crediting the heart of good behind
it. On the instant he was antagonistic. Forgetting that he was
only a brute, he posited that this was no more than a brute with
which he strove to play in the genial comradely way that the Skipper
Red war was inevitable--not first on Jerry's part, but on Borckman's
part. Borckman felt the abysmal urgings of the beast, as a beast,
to prove himself master of this four-legged beast. Jerry felt his
jowl and jaw clutched still more harshly and hardly, and, with
increase of harshness and hardness, he was flung farther down the
deck, which, on account of its growing slant due to heavier gusts of
wind, had become a steep and slippery hill.
He came back, clawing frantically up the slope that gave him little
footing; and he came back, no longer with poorly attempted
simulation of ferocity, but impelled by the first flickerings of
real ferocity. He did not know this. If he thought at all, he was
under the impression that he was playing the game as he had played
it with Skipper. In short, he was taking an interest in the game,
although a radically different interest from what he had taken with
This time his teeth flashed quicker and with deeper intent at the
jowl-clutching hand, and, missing, he was seized and flung down the
smooth incline harder and farther than before. He was growing
angry, as he clawed back, though he was not conscious of it. But
the mate, being a man, albeit a drunken one, sensed the change in
Jerry's attack ere Jerry dreamed there was any change in it. And
not only did Borckman sense it, but it served as a spur to drive him
back into primitive beastliness, and to fight to master this puppy
as a primitive man, under dissimilar provocation, might have fought
with the members of the first litter stolen from a wolf-den among
True, Jerry could trace as far back. His ancient ancestors had been
Irish wolf-hounds, and, long before that, the ancestors of the wolf-
hounds had been wolves. The note in Jerry's growls changed. The
unforgotten and ineffaceable past strummed the fibres of his throat.
His teeth flashed with fierce intent, in the desire of sinking as
deep in the man's hand as passion could drive. For Jerry by this
time was all passion. He had leaped back into the dark stark
rawness of the early world almost as swiftly as had Borckman. And
this time his teeth scored, ripping the tender and sensitive and
flesh of all the inside of the first and second joints of Borckman's
right hand. Jerry's teeth were needles that stung, and Borckman,
gaining the grasp on Jerry's jaw, flung him away and down so that
almost he hit the Arangi's tiny-rail ere his clawing feet stopped
And Van Horn, having finished his rearrangement and repair of the
explosive-filled drawer under the mate's bunk, climbed up the
companion steps, saw the battle, paused, and quietly looked on.
But he looked across a million years, at two mad creatures who had
slipped the leach of the generations and who were back in the
darkness of spawning life ere dawning intelligence had modified the
chemistry of such life to softness of consideration. What stirred
in the brain crypts of Borckman's heredity, stirred in the brain-
crypts of Jerry's heredity. Time had gone backward for both. All
the endeavour and achievement of the ten thousand generations was
not, and, as wolf-dog and wild-man, the combat was between Jerry and
the mate. Neither saw Van Horn, who was inside the companionway
hatch, his eyes level with the combing.
To Jerry, Borckman was now no more a god than was he himself a mere,
smooth-coated Irish terrier. Both had forgotten the million years
stamped into their heredity more feebly, less eraseably, than what
had been stamped in prior to the million years. Jerry did not know
drunkenness, but he did know unfairness; and it was with raging
indignation that he knew it. Borckman fumbled his next counter to
Jerry's attack, missed, and had both hands slashed in quick
succession ere he managed to send the puppy sliding.
And still Jerry came back. As any screaming creature of the jungle,
he hysterically squalled his indignation. But he made no whimper.
Nor did he wince or cringe to the blows. He bored straight in,
striving, without avoiding a blow, to beat and meet the blow with
his teeth. So hard was he flung down the last time that his side
smashed painfully against the rail, and Van Horn cried out:
"Cut that out, Borckman! Leave the puppy alone!"
The mate turned in the startle of surprise at being observed. The
sharp, authoritative words of Van Horn were a call across the
million years. Borckman's anger-convulsed face ludicrously
attempted a sheepish, deprecating grin, and he was just mumbling,
"We was only playing," when Jerry arrived back, leaped in the air,
and sank his teeth into the offending hand.
Borckman immediately and insanely went back across the million
years. An attempted kick got his ankle scored for his pains. He
gibbered his own rage and hurt, and, stooping, dealt Jerry a
tremendous blow alongside the head and neck. Being in mid-leap when
he received the blow Jerry was twistingly somersaulted sidewise
before he struck the deck on his back. As swiftly as he could
scramble to footing and charge, he returned to the attack, but was
checked by Skipper's:
"Jerry! Stop it! Come here!"
He obeyed, but only by prodigious effort, his neck bristling and his
lips writhing clear of his teeth as he passed the mate. For the
first time there was a whimper in his throat; but it was not the
whimper of fear, nor of pain, but of outrage, and of desire to
continue the battle which he struggled to control at Skipper's
Stepping out on deck, Skipper picked him up and patted and soothed
him the while he expressed his mind to the mate.
"Borckman, you ought to be ashamed. You ought to be shot or have
your block knocked off for this. A puppy, a little puppy scarcely
weaned. For two cents I'd give you what-for myself. The idea of
it. A little puppy, a weanling little puppy. Glad your hands are
ripped. You deserved it. Hope you get blood-poisoning in them.
Besides, you're drunk. Go below and turn in, and don't you dare
come on deck until you're sober. Savve?"
And Jerry, far-journeyer across life and across the history of all
life that goes to make the world, strugglingly mastering the abysmal
slime of the prehistoric with the love that had come into existence
and had become warp and woof of him in far later time, his wrath of
ancientness still faintly reverberating in his throat like the
rumblings of a passing thunder-storm, knew, in the wide warm ways of
feeling, the augustness and righteousness of Skipper. Skipper was
in truth a god who did right, who was fair, who protected, and who
imperiously commanded this other and lesser god that slunk away
before his anger.
Jerry and Skipper shared the long afternoon-watch together, the
latter being guilty of recurrent chuckles and exclamations such as:
"Gott-fer-dang, Jerry, believe me, you're some fighter and all dog";
or, "You're a proper man's dog, you are, a lion dog. I bet the lion
don't live that could get your goat."
And Jerry, understanding none of the words, with the exception of
his own name, nevertheless knew that the sounds made by Skipper were
broad of praise and warm of love. And when Skipper stooped and
rubbed his ears, or received a rose-kiss on extended fingers, or
caught him up in his arms, Jerry's heart was nigh to bursting. For
what greater ecstasy can be the portion of any creature than that it
be loved by a god? This was just precisely Jerry's ecstasy. This
was a god, a tangible, real, three-dimensioned god, who went about
and ruled his world in a loin-cloth and on two bare legs, and who
loved him with crooning noises in throat and mouth and with two
wide-spread arms that folded him in.
At four o'clock, measuring a glance at the afternoon sun and gauging
the speed of the Arangi through the water in relation to the
closeness of Su'u, Van Horn went below and roughly shook the mate
awake. Until both returned, Jerry held the deck alone. But for the
fact that the white-gods were there below and were certain to be
back at any moment, not many moments would Jerry have held the deck,
for every lessened mile between the return boys and Malaita
contributed a rising of their spirits, and under the imminence of
their old-time independence, Lerumie, as an instance of many of
them, with strong gustatory sensations and a positive drooling at
the mouth, regarded Jerry in terms of food and vengeance that were
Flat-hauled on the crisp breeze, the Arangi closed in rapidly with
the land. Jerry peered through the barbed wire, sniffing the air,
Skipper beside him and giving orders to the mate and helmsman. The
heap of trade-boxes was now unlashed, and the boys began opening and
shutting them. What gave them particular delight was the ringing of
the bell with which each box was equipped and which rang whenever a
lid was raised. Their pleasure in the toy-like contrivance was that
of children, and each went back again and again to unlock his own
box and make the bell ring.
Fifteen of the boys were to be landed at Su'u and with wild
gesticulations and cries they began to recognize and point out the
infinitesimal details of the landfall of the only spot they had
known on earth prior to the day, three years before, when they had
been sold into slavery by their fathers, uncles, and chiefs.
A narrow neck of water, scarcely a hundred yards across, gave
entrance to a long and tiny bay. The shore was massed with
mangroves and dense, tropical vegetation. There was no sign of
houses nor of human occupancy, although Van Horn, staring at the
dense jungle so close at hand, knew as a matter of course that
scores, and perhaps hundreds, of pairs of human eyes were looking at
"Smell 'm, Jerry, smell 'm," he encouraged.
And Jerry's hair bristled as he barked at the mangrove wall, for
truly his keen scent informed him of lurking niggers.
"If I could smell like him," the captain said to the mate, "there
wouldn't be any risk at all of my ever losing my head."
But Borckman made no reply and sullenly went about his work. There
was little wind in the bay, and the Arangi slowly forged in and
dropped anchor in thirty fathoms. So steep was the slope of the
harbour bed from the beach that even in such excessive depth the
Arangi's stern swung in within a hundred feet of the mangroves.
Van Horn continued to cast anxious glances at the wooded shore. For
Su'u had an evil name. Since the schooner Fair Hathaway, recruiting
labour for the Queensland plantations, had been captured by the
natives and all hands slain fifteen years before, no vessel, with
the exception of the Arangi, had dared to venture into Su'u. And
most white men condemned Van Horn's recklessness for so venturing.
Far up the mountains, that towered many thousands of feet into the
trade-wind clouds, arose many signal smokes that advertised the
coming of the vessel. Far and near, the Arangi's presence was
known; yet from the jungle so near at hand only shrieks of parrots
and chatterings of cockatoos could be heard.
The whaleboat, manned with six of the boat's crew, was drawn
alongside, and the fifteen Su'u boys and their boxes were loaded in.
Under the canvas flaps along the thwarts, ready to hand for the
rowers, were laid five of the Lee-Enfields. On deck, another of the
boat's crew, rifle in hand, guarded the remaining weapons. Borckman
had brought up his own rifle to be ready for instant use. Van
Horn's rifle lay handy in the stern sheets where he stood near
Tambi, who steered with a long sweep. Jerry raised a low whine and
yearned over the rail after Skipper, who yielded and lifted him
The place of danger was in the boat; for there was little
likelihood, at this particular time, of a rising of the return boys
on the Arangi. Being of Somo, No-ola, Langa-Langa, and far Malu
they were in wholesome fear, did they lose the protection of their
white masters, of being eaten by the Su'u folk, just as the Su'u
boys would have feared being eaten by the Somo and Langa-Langa and
What increased the danger of the boat was the absence of a covering
boat. The invariable custom of the larger recruiting vessels was to
send two boats on any shore errand. While one landed on the beach,
the other lay off a short distance to cover the retreat of the shore
party, if trouble broke out. Too small to carry one boat on deck,
the Arangi could not conveniently tow two astern; so Van Horn, who
was the most daring of the recruiters, lacked this essential
Tambi, under Van Horn's low-uttered commands, steered a parallel
course along the shore. Where the mangroves ceased, and where high
ground and a beaten runway came down to the water's edge, Van Horn
motioned the rowers to back water and lay on their oars. High palms
and lofty, wide-branched trees rose above the jungle at this spot,
and the runway showed like the entrance of a tunnel into the dense,
green wall of tropical vegetation.
Van Horn, regarding the shore for some sign of life, lighted a cigar
and put one hand to the waist-line of his loin-cloth to reassure
himself of the presence of the stick of dynamite that was tucked
between the loin-cloth and his skin. The lighted cigar was for the
purpose, if emergency arose, of igniting the fuse of the dynamite.
And the fuse was so short, with its end split to accommodate the
inserted head of a safety match, that between the time of touching
it off with the live cigar to the time of the explosion not more
than three seconds could elapse. This required quick cool work on
Van Horn's part, in case need arose. In three seconds he would have
to light the fuse and throw the sputtering stick with directed aim
to its objective. However, he did not expect to use it, and had it
ready merely as a precautionary measure.
Five minutes passed, and the silence of the shore remained profound.
Jerry sniffed Skipper's bare leg as if to assure him that he was
beside him no matter what threatened from the hostile silence of the
land, then stood up with his forepaws on the gunwale and continued
to sniff eagerly and audibly, to prick his neck hair, and to utter
"They're there, all right," Skipper confided to him; and Jerry, with
a sideward glance of smiling eyes, with a bobbing of his tail and a
quick love-flattening of his ears, turned his nose shoreward again
and resumed his reading of the jungle tale that was wafted to him on
the light fans of the stifling and almost stagnant air.
"Hey!" Van Horn suddenly shouted. "Hey, you fella boy stick 'm head
out belong you!"
As if in a transformation scene, the apparently tenantless jungle
spawned into life. On the instant a hundred stark savages appeared.
They broke forth everywhere from the vegetation. All were armed,
some with Snider rifles and ancient horse pistols, others with bows
and arrows, with long throwing spears, with war-clubs, and with
long-handled tomahawks. In a flash, one of them leaped into the
sunlight in the open space where runway and water met. Save for
decorations, he was naked as Adam before the Fall. A solitary white
feather uprose from his kinky, glossy, black hair. A polished
bodkin of white petrified shell, with sharp-pointed ends, thrust
through a hole in the partition of his nostrils, extended five
inches across his face. About his neck, from a cord of twisted
coconut sennit, hung an ivory-white necklace of wild-boar's tusks.
A garter of white cowrie shells encircled one leg just below the
knee. A flaming scarlet flower was coquettishly stuck over one ear,
and through a hole in the other ear was threaded a pig's tail so
recently severed that it still bled.
As this dandy of Melanesia leaped into the sunshine, the Snider
rifle in his hands came into position, aimed from his hip, the
generous muzzle bearing directly on Van Horn. No less quick was Van
Horn. With equal speed he had snatched his rifle and brought it to
bear from his hip. So they stood and faced each other, death in
their finger-tips, forty feet apart. The million years between
barbarism and civilization also yawned between them across that
narrow gulf of forty feet. The hardest thing for modern, evolved
man to do is to forget his ancient training. Easiest of all things
is it for him to forget his modernity and slip back across time to
the howling ages. A lie in the teeth, a blow in the face, a love-
thrust of jealousy to the heart, in a fraction of an instant can
turn a twentieth-century philosopher into an ape-like arborean
pounding his chest, gnashing his teeth, and seeing red.
So Van Horn. But with a difference. He straddled time. He was at
one and the same instant all modern, all imminently primitive,
capable of fighting in redness of tooth and claw, desirous of
remaining modern for as long as he could with his will master the
study of ebon black of skin and dazzling white of decoration that
A long ten seconds of silence endured. Even Jerry, he knew not why,
stilled the growl in his throat. Five score of head-hunting
cannibals on the fringe of the jungle, fifteen Su'u return blacks in
the boat, seven black boat's crew, and a solitary white man with a
cigar in his mouth, a rifle at his hip, and an Irish terrier
bristling against his bare calf, kept the solemn pact of those ten
seconds, and no one of them knew or guessed what the outcome would
One of the return boys, in the bow of the whaleboat, made the peace
sign with his palm extended outward and weaponless, and began to
chirp in the unknown Su'u dialect. Van Horn held his aim and
waited. The dandy lowered his Snider, and breath came more easily
to the chests of all who composed the picture.
"Me good fella boy," the dandy piped, half bird-like and half elf.
"You big fella fool too much," Van Horn retorted harshly, dropping
his gun into the stern-sheets, motioning to rowers and steersman to
turn the boat around, and puffing his cigar as carelessly casual as
if, the moment before, life and death had not been the debate.
"My word," he went on with fine irritable assumption. "What name
you stick 'm gun along me? Me no kai-kai (eat) along you. Me kai-
kai along you, stomach belong me walk about. You kai-kai along me,
stomach belong you walk about. You no like 'm kai-kai Su'u boy
belong along you? Su'u boy belong you all the same brother along
you. Long time before, three monsoon before, me speak 'm true
speak. Me say three monsoon boy come back. My word, three monsoon
finish, boy stop along me come back."
By this time the boat had swung around, reversing bow and stern, Van
Horn pivoting so as to face the Snider-armed dandy. At another
signal from Van Horn the rowers backed water and forced the boat,
stern in, up to the solid ground of the runway. And each rower, his
oar in position in case of attack, privily felt under the canvas
flap to make sure of the exact location of his concealed Lee-
"All right boy belong you walk about?" Van Horn queried of the
dandy, who signified the affirmative in the Solomon Islands fashion
by half-closing his eyes and nodding his head upward, in a queer,
"No kai-kai 'm Su'u fella boy suppose walk about along you?"
"No fear," the dandy answered. "Suppose 'm Su'u fella boy, all
right. Suppose 'm no fella Su'u boy, my word, big trouble.
Ishikola, big fella black marster along this place, him talk 'm me
talk along you. Him say any amount bad fella boy stop 'm along
bush. Him say big fella white marster no walk about. Him say jolly
good big fella white marster stop 'm along ship."
Van Horn nodded in an off-hand way, as if the information were of
little value, although he knew that for this time Su'u would furnish
him no fresh recruits. One at a time, compelling the others to
remain in their places, he directed the return boys astern and
ashore. It was Solomon Islands tactics. Crowding was dangerous.
Never could the blacks be risked to confusion in numbers. And Van
Horn, smoking his cigar in lordly indifferent fashion, kept his
apparently uninterested eyes glued to each boy who made his way aft,
box on shoulder, and stepped out on the land. One by one they
disappeared into the runway tunnel, and when the last was ashore he
ordered the boat back to the ship.
"Nothing doing here this trip," he told the mate. "We'll up hook
and out in the morning."
The quick tropic twilight swiftly blent day and darkness. Overhead
all stars were out. No faintest breath of air moved over the water,
and the humid heat beaded the faces and bodies of both men with
profuse sweat. They ate their deck-spread supper languidly and ever
and anon used their forearms to wipe the stinging sweat from their
"Why a man should come to the Solomons--beastly hole," the mate
"Or stay on," the captain rejoined.
"I'm too rotten with fever," the mate grumbled. "I'd die if I left.
Remember, I tried it two years ago. It takes the cold weather to
bring out the fever. I arrived in Sydney on my back. They had to
take me to hospital in an ambulance. I got worse and worse. The
doctors told me the only thing to do was to head back where I got
the fever. If I did I might live a long time. If I hung on in
Sydney it meant a quick finish. They packed me on board in another
ambulance. And that's all I saw of Australia for my holiday. I
don't want to stay in the Solomons. It's plain hell. But I got to,
He rolled, at a rough estimate, thirty grains of quinine in a
cigarette paper, regarded the result sourly for a moment, then
swallowed it at a gulp. This reminded Van Horn, who reached for the
bottle and took a similar dose.
"Better put up a covering cloth," he suggested.
Borckman directed several of the boat's crew in the rigging up of a
thin tarpaulin, like a curtain along the shore side of the Arangi.
This was a precaution against any bushwhacking bullet from the
mangroves only a hundred feet away.
Van Horn sent Tambi below to bring up the small phonograph and run
off the dozen or so scratchy, screechy records that had already been
under the needle a thousand times. Between records, Van Horn
recollected the girl, and had her haled out of her dark hole in the
lazarette to listen to the music. She obeyed in fear, apprehensive
that her time had come. She looked dumbly at the big fella white
master, her eyes large with fright; nor did the trembling of her
body cease for a long time after he had made her lie down. The
phonograph meant nothing to her. She knew only fear--fear of this
terrible white man that she was certain was destined to eat her.
Jerry left the caressing hand of Skipper for a moment to go over and
sniff her. This was an act of duty. He was identifying her once
again. No matter what happened, no matter what months or years
might elapse, he would know her again and for ever know her again.
He returned to the free hand of Skipper that resumed its caressing.
The other hand held the cigar which he was smoking.
The wet sultry heat grew more oppressive. The air was nauseous with
the dank mucky odour that cooked out of the mangrove swamp.
Rowelled by the squeaky music to recollection of old-world ports and
places, Borckman lay on his face on the hot planking, beat a tattoo
with his naked toes, and gutturally muttered an unending monologue
of curses. But Van Horn, with Jerry panting under his hand,
placidly and philosophically continued to smoke, lighting a fresh
cigar when the first gave out.
He roused abruptly at the faint wash of paddles which he was the
first on board to hear. In fact, it was Jerry's low growl and neck-
rippling of hair that had keyed Van Horn to hear. Pulling the stick
of dynamite out from the twist of his loin cloth and glancing at the
cigar to be certain it was alight, he rose to his feet with
leisurely swiftness and with leisurely swiftness gained the rail.
"What name belong you?" was his challenge to the dark.
"Me fella Ishikola," came the answer in the quavering falsetto of
Van Horn, before speaking again, loosened his automatic pistol half
out of its holster, and slipped the holster around from his hip till
it rested on his groin conveniently close to his hand.
"How many fella boy stop along you?" he demanded.
"One fella ten-boy altogether he stop," came the aged voice.
"Come alongside then." Without turning his head, his right hand
unconsciously dropping close to the butt of the automatic, Van Horn
commanded: "You fella Tambi. Fetch 'm lantern. No fetch 'm this
place. Fetch 'm aft along mizzen rigging and look sharp eye belong
Tambi obeyed, exposing the lantern twenty feet away from where his
captain stood. This gave Van Horn the advantage over the
approaching canoe-men, for the lantern, suspended through the barbed
wire across the rail and well down, would clearly illuminate the
occupants of the canoe while he was left in semi-darkness and
"Washee-washee!" he urged peremptorily, while those in the invisible
canoe still hesitated.
Came the sound of paddles, and, next, emerging into the lantern's
area of light, the high, black bow of a war canoe, curved like a
gondola, inlaid with silvery-glistening mother-of-pearl; the long
lean length of the canoe which was without outrigger; the shining
eyes and the black-shining bodies of the stark blacks who knelt in
the bottom and paddled; Ishikola, the old chief, squatting amidships
and not paddling, an unlighted, empty-bowled, short-stemmed clay
pipe upside-down between his toothless gums; and, in the stern, as
coxswain, the dandy, all nakedness of blackness, all whiteness of
decoration, save for the pig's tail in one ear and the scarlet
hibiscus that still flamed over the other ear.
Less than ten blacks had been known to rush a blackbirder officered
by no more than two white men, and Van Horn's hand closed on the
butt of his automatic, although he did not pull it clear of the
holster, and although, with his left hand, he directed the cigar to
his mouth and puffed it lively alight.
"Hello, Ishikola, you blooming old blighter," was Van Horn's
greeting to the old chief, as the dandy, with a pry of his steering-
paddle against the side of the canoe and part under its bottom,
brought the dug-out broadside-on to the Arangi so that the sides of
both crafts touched.
Ishikola smiled upward in the lantern light. He smiled with his
right eye, which was all he had, the left having been destroyed by
an arrow in a youthful jungle-skirmish.
"My word!" he greeted back. "Long time you no stop eye belong me."
Van Horn joked him in understandable terms about the latest wives he
had added to his harem and what price he had paid for them in pigs.
"My word," he concluded, "you rich fella too much together."
"Me like 'm come on board gammon along you," Ishikola meekly
"My word, night he stop," the captain objected, then added, as a
concession against the known rule that visitors were not permitted
aboard after nightfall: "You come on board, boy stop 'm along
Van Horn gallantly helped the old man to clamber to the rail,
straddle the barbed wire, and gain the deck. Ishikola was a dirty
old savage. One of his tambos (tambo being beche-de-mer and
Melanesian for "taboo") was that water unavoidable must never touch
his skin. He who lived by the salt sea, in a land of tropic
downpour, religiously shunned contact with water. He never went
swimming or wading, and always fled to shelter from a shower. Not
that this was true of the rest of his tribe. It was the peculiar
tambo laid upon him by the devil-devil doctors. Other tribesmen the
devil-devil doctors tabooed against eating shark, or handling
turtle, or contacting with crocodiles or the fossil remains of
crocodiles, or from ever being smirched by the profanity of a
woman's touch or of a woman's shadow cast across the path.
So Ishikola, whose tambo was water, was crusted with the filth of
years. He was sealed like a leper, and, weazen-faced and age-
shrunken, he hobbled horribly from an ancient spear-thrust to the
thigh that twisted his torso droopingly out of the vertical. But
his one eye gleamed brightly and wickedly, and Van Horn knew that it
observed as much as did both his own eyes.
Van Horn shook hands with him--an honour he accorded only chiefs--
and motioned him to squat down on deck on his hams close to the
fear-struck girl, who began trembling again at recollection of
having once heard Ishikola offer five twenties of drinking coconuts
for the meat of her for a dinner.
Jerry needs must sniff, for future identification purposes, this
graceless, limping, naked, one-eyed old man. And, when he had
sniffed and registered the particular odour, Jerry must growl
intimidatingly and win a quick eye-glance of approval from Skipper.
"My word, good fella kai-kai dog," said Ishikola. "Me give 'm half-
fathom shell money that fella dog."
For a mere puppy this offer was generous, because half a fathom of
shell-money, strung on a thread of twisted coconut fibres, was
equivalent in cash to half a sovereign in English currency, to two
dollars and a half in American, or, in live-pig currency, to half of
a fair-sized fat pig.
"One fathom shell-money that fella dog," Van Horn countered, in his
heart knowing that he would not sell Jerry for a hundred fathoms, or
for any fabulous price from any black, but in his head offering so
small a price over par as not to arouse suspicion among the blacks
as to how highly he really valued the golden-coated son of Biddy and
Ishikola next averred that the girl had grown much thinner, and that
he, as a practical judge of meat, did not feel justified this time
in bidding more than three twenty-strings of drinking coconuts.
After these amenities, the white master and the black talked of many
things, the one bluffing with the white-man's superiority of
intellect and knowledge, the other feeling and guessing, primitive
statesman that he was, in an effort to ascertain the balance of
human and political forces that bore upon his Su'u territory, ten
miles square, bounded by the sea and by landward lines of an inter-
tribal warfare that was older than the oldest Su'u myth. Eternally,
heads had been taken and bodies eaten, now on one side, now on the
other, by the temporarily victorious tribes. The boundaries had
remained the same. Ishikola, in crude beche-de-mer, tried to learn
the Solomon Islands general situation in relation to Su'u, and Van
Horn was not above playing the unfair diplomatic game as it is
unfairly played in all the chancellories of the world powers.
"My word," Van Horn concluded; "you bad fella too much along this
place. Too many heads you fella take; too much kai-kai long pig
along you." (Long pig, meaning barbecued human flesh.)
"What name, long time black fella belong Su'u take 'm heads, kai-kai
along long pig?" Ishikola countered.
"My word," Van Horn came back, "too much along this place. Bime by,
close up, big fella warship stop 'm along Su'u, knock seven balls
"What name him big fella warship stop 'm along Solomons?" Ishikola
"Big fella Cambrian, him fella name belong ship," Van Horn lied, too
well aware that no British cruiser had been in the Solomons for the
past two years.
The conversation was becoming rather a farcical dissertation upon
the relations that should obtain between states, irrespective of
size, when it was broken off by a cry from Tambi, who, with another
lantern hanging overside at the end of his arm had made a discovery.
"Skipper, gun he stop along canoe!" was his cry.
Van Horn, with a leap, was at the rail and peering down over the
barbed wire. Ishikola, despite his twisted body, was only seconds
"What name that fella gun stop 'm along bottom?" Van Horn
The dandy, in the stern, with a careless look upward, tried with his
foot to shove over the green leaves so as to cover the out-jutting
butts of several rifles, but made the matter worse by exposing them
more fully. He bent to rake the leaves over with his hand, but sat
swiftly upright when Van Horn roared at him:
"Stand clear! Keep 'm fella hand belong you long way big bit!"
Van Horn turned on Ishikola, and simulated wrath which he did not
feel against the ancient and ever-recurrent trick.
"What name you come alongside, gun he stop along canoe belong you?"
The old salt-water chief rolled his one eye and blinked a fair
simulation of stupidity and innocence.
"My word, me cross along you too much," Van Horn continued.
"Ishikola, you plenty bad fella boy. You get 'm to hell overside."
The old fellow limped across the deck with more agility than he had
displayed coming aboard, straddled the barbed wire without
assistance, and without assistance dropped into the canoe, cleverly
receiving his weight on his uninjured leg. He blinked up for
forgiveness and in reassertion of innocence. Van Horn turned his
face aside to hide a grin, and then grinned outright when the old
rascal, showing his empty pipe, wheedled up:
"Suppose 'm five stick tobacco you give 'm along me?"
While Borckman went below for the tobacco, Van Horn orated to
Ishikola on the sacred solemnity of truth and promises. Next, he
leaned across the barbed wire and handed down the five sticks of
"My word," he threatened. "Somo day, Ishikola, I finish along you
altogether. You no good friend stop along salt-water. You big fool
stop along bush."
When Ishikola attempted protest, he shut him off with, "My word, you
gammon along me too much."
Still the canoe lingered. The dandy's toe strayed privily to feel
out the butts of the Sniders under the green leaves, and Ishikola
was loth to depart.
"Washee-washee!" Van Horn cried with imperative suddenness.
The paddlers, without command from chief or dandy, involuntarily
obeyed, and with deep, strong strokes sent the canoe into the
encircling darkness. Just as quickly Van Horn changed his position
on deck to the tune of a dozen yards, so that no hazarded bullet
might reach him. He crouched low and listened to the wash of
paddles fade away in the distance.
"All right, you fella Tambi," he ordered quietly. "Make 'm music he
fella walk about."
And while "Red Wing" screeched its cheap and pretty rhythm, he
reclined elbow on deck, smoked his cigar, and gathered Jerry into
As he smoked he watched the abrupt misting of the stars by a rain-
squall that made to windward or to where windward might vaguely be
configured. While he gauged the minutes ere he must order Tambi
below with the phonograph and records, he noted the bush-girl gazing
at him in dumb fear. He nodded consent with half-closed eyes and
up-tilting face, clinching his consent with a wave of hand toward
the companionway. She obeyed as a beaten dog, spirit-broken, might
have obeyed, dragging herself to her feet, trembling afresh, and
with backward glances of her perpetual terror of the big white
master that she was convinced would some day eat her. In such
fashion, stabbing Van Horn to the heart because of his inability to
convey his kindness to her across the abyss of the ages that
separated them, she slunk away to the companionway and crawled down
it feet-first like some enormous, large-headed worm.
After he had sent Tambi to follow her with the precious phonograph,
Van Horn continued to smoke on while the sharp, needle-like spray of
the rain impacted soothingly on his heated body.
Only for five minutes did the rain descend. Then, as the stars
drifted back in the sky, the smell of steam seemed to stench forth
from deck and mangrove swamp, and the suffocating heat wrapped all
Van Horn knew better, but ill health, save for fever, had never
concerned him; so he did not bother for a blanket to shelter him.
"Yours the first watch," he told Borckman. "I'll have her under way
in the morning, before I call you."
He tucked his head on the biceps of his right arm, with the hollow
of the left snuggling Jerry in against his chest, and dozed off to
And thus adventuring, white men and indigenous black men from day to
day lived life in the Solomons, bickering and trafficking, the
whites striving to maintain their heads on their shoulders, the
blacks striving, no less single-heartedly, to remove the whites'
heads from their shoulders and at the same time to keep their own
And Jerry, who knew only the world of Meringe Lagoon, learning that
these new worlds of the ship Arangi and of the island of Malaita
were essentially the same, regarded the perpetual game between the
white and the black with some slight sort of understanding.
Daylight saw the Arangi under way, her sails drooping heavily in the
dead air while the boat's crew toiled at the oars of the whaleboat
to tow her out through the narrow entrance. Once, when the ketch,
swerved by some vagrant current, came close to the break of the
shore-surf, the blacks on board drew toward one another in
apprehension akin to that of startled sheep in a fold when a wild
woods marauder howls outside. Nor was there any need for Van Horn's
shout to the whaleboat: "Washee-washee! Damn your hides!" The
boat's crew lifted themselves clear of the thwarts as they threw all
their weight into each stroke. They knew what dire fate was certain
if ever the sea-washed coral rock gripped the Arangi's keel. And
they knew fear precisely of the same sort as that of the fear-struck
girl below in the lazarette. In the past more than one Langa-Langa
and Somo boy had gone to make a Su'u feast day, just as Su'u boys,
on occasion, had similarly served feasts at Langa-Langa and at Somo.
"My word," Tambi, at the wheel, addressed Van Horn as the period of
tension passed and the Arangi went clear. "Brother belong my
father, long time before he come boat's crew along this place. Big
fella schooner brother belong my father he come along. All finish
this place Su'u. Brother belong my father Su'u boys kai-kai along
Van Horn recollected the Fair Hathaway of fifteen years before,
looted and burned by the people of Su'u after all hands had been
killed. Truly, the Solomons at this beginning of the twentieth
century were savage, and truly, of the Solomons, this great island
of Malaita was savagest of all.
He cast his eyes speculatively up the slopes of the island to the
seaman's landmark, Mount Kolorat, green-forested to its cloud-capped
summit four thousand feet in the air. Even as he looked, thin
smoke-columns were rising along the slopes and lesser peaks, and
more were beginning to rise.
"My word," Tambi grinned. "Plenty boy stop 'm bush lookout along
you eye belong him."
Van Horn smiled understandingly. He knew, by the ancient telegraphy
of smoke-signalling, the message was being conveyed from village to
village and tribe to tribe that a labour-recruiter was on the
All morning, under a brisk beam wind which had sprung up with the
rising of the sun, the Arangi flew north, her course continuously
advertised by the increasing smoke-talk that gossiped along the
green summits. At high noon, with Van Horn, ever-attended by Jerry,
standing for'ard and conning, the Arangi headed into the wind to
thread the passage between two palm-tufted islets. There was need
for conning. Coral patches uprose everywhere from the turquoise
depths, running the gamut of green from deepest jade to palest
tourmaline, over which the sea filtered changing shades, creamed
lazily, or burst into white fountains of sun-flashed spray.
The smoke columns along the heights became garrulous, and long
before the Arangi was through the passage the entire leeward coast,
from the salt-water men of the shore to the remotest bush villagers,
knew that the labour recruiter was going in to Langa-Langa. As the
lagoon, formed by the chain of islets lying off shore, opened out,
Jerry began to smell the reef-villages. Canoes, many canoes, urged
by paddles or sailed before the wind by the weight of the freshening
South East trade on spread fronds of coconut palms, moved across the
smooth surface of the lagoon. Jerry barked intimidatingly at those
that came closest, bristling his neck and making a ferocious
simulation of an efficient protector of the white god who stood
beside him. And after each such warning, he would softly dab his
cool damp muzzle against the sun-heated skin of Skipper's leg.
Once inside the lagoon, the Arangi filled away with the wind a-beam.
At the end of a swift half-mile she rounded to, with head-sails
trimming down and with a great flapping of main and mizzen, and
dropped anchor in fifty feet of water so clear that every huge
fluted clamshell was visible on the coral floor. The whaleboat was
not necessary to put the Langa-Langa return boys ashore. Hundreds
of canoes lay twenty deep along both sides of the Arangi, and each
boy, with his box and bell, was clamoured for by scores of relatives
In such height of excitement, Van Horn permitted no one on board.
Melanesians, unlike cattle, are as prone to stampede to attack as to
retreat. Two of the boat's crew stood beside the Lee-Enfields on
the skylight. Borckman, with half the boat's crew, went about the
ship's work. Van Horn, Jerry at his heels, careful that no one
should get at his back, superintended the departure of the Langa-
Langa returns and kept a vigilant eye on the remaining half of the
boat's crew that guarded the barbed-wire rails. And each Somo boy
sat on his trade-box to prevent it from being tossed into the
waiting canoes by some Langa-Langa boy.
In half an hour the riot departed ashore. Only several canoes
lingered, and from one of these Van Horn beckoned aboard Nau-hau,
the biggest chief of the stronghold of Langa-Langa. Unlike most of
the big chiefs, Nau-hau was young, and, unlike most of the
Melanesians, he was handsome, even beautiful.
"Hello, King o' Babylon," was Van Horn's greeting, for so he had
named him because of fancied Semitic resemblance blended with the
crude power that marked his visage and informed his bearing.
Born and trained to nakedness, Nau-hau trod the deck boldly and
unashamed. His sole gear of clothing was a length of trunk strap
buckled about his waist. Between this and his bare skin was thrust
the naked blade of a ten-inch ripping knife. His sole decoration
was a white China soup-plate, perforated and strung on coconut
sennit, suspended from about his neck so that it rested flat on his
chest and half-concealed the generous swell of muscles. It was the
greatest of treasures. No man of Malaita he had ever heard of
possessed an unbroken soup-plate.
Nor was he any more ridiculous because of the soup-plate than was he
ludicrous because of his nakedness. He was royal. His father had
been a king before him, and he had proved himself greater than his
father. Life and death he bore in his hands and head. Often he had
exercised it, chirping to his subjects in the tongue of Langa-Langa:
"Slay here," and "Slay there"; "Thou shalt die," and "Thou shalt
live." Because his father, a year abdicated, had chosen foolishly
to interfere with his son's government, he had called two boys and
had them twist a cord of coconut around his father's neck so that
thereafter he never breathed again. Because his favourite wife,
mother of his eldest born, had dared out of silliness of affection
to violate one of his kingly tamboos, he had had her killed and had
himself selfishly and religiously eaten the last of her even to the
marrow of her cracked joints, sharing no morsel with his boonest of
Royal he was, by nature, by training, by deed. He carried himself
with consciousness of royalty. He looked royal--as a magnificent
stallion may look royal, as a lion on a painted tawny desert may
look royal. He was as splendid a brute--an adumbration of the
splendid human conquerors and rulers, higher on the ladder of
evolution, who have appeared in other times and places. His pose of
body, of chest, of shoulders, of head, was royal. Royal was the
heavy-lidded, lazy, insolent way he looked out of his eyes.
Royal in courage was he, this moment on the Arangi, despite the fact
that he knew he walked on dynamite. As he had long since bitterly
learned, any white man was as much dynamite as was the mysterious
death-dealing missile he sometimes employed. When a stripling, he
had made one of the canoe force that attacked the sandalwood-cutter
that had been even smaller than the Arangi. He had never forgotten
that mystery. Two of the three white men he had seen slain and
their heads removed on deck. The third, still fighting, had but the
minute before fled below. Then the cutter, along with all her
wealth of hoop-iron, tobacco, knives and calico, had gone up into
the air and fallen back into the sea in scattered and fragmented
nothingness. It had been dynamite--the MYSTERY. And he, who had
been hurled uninjured through the air by a miracle of fortune, had
divined that white men in themselves were truly dynamite, compounded
of the same mystery as the substance with which they shot the swift-
darting schools of mullet, or blow up, in extremity, themselves and
the ships on which they voyaged the sea from far places. And yet on
this unstable and death-terrific substance of which he was well
aware Van Horn was composed, he trod heavily with his personality,
daring, to the verge of detonation, to impact it with his insolence.
"My word," he began, "what name you make 'm boy belong me stop along
you too much?" Which was a true and correct charge that the boys
which Van Horn had just returned had been away three years and a
half instead of three years.
"You talk that fella talk I get cross too much along you," Van Horn
bristled back, and then added, diplomatically, dipping into a half-
case of tobacco sawed across and proffering a handful of stick
tobacco: "Much better you smoke 'm up and talk 'm good fella talk."
But Nau-hau grandly waved aside the gift for which he hungered.
"Plenty tobacco stop along me," he lied. "What name one fella boy
go way no come back?" he demanded.
Van Horn pulled the long slender account book out of the twist of
his loin-cloth, and, while he skimmed its pages, impressed Nau-hau
with the dynamite of the white man's superior powers which enabled
him to remember correctly inside the scrawled sheets of a book
instead of inside his head.
"Sati," Van Horn read, his finger marking the place, his eyes
alternating watchfully between the writing and the black chief
before him, while the black chief himself speculated and studied the
chance of getting behind him and, with the single knife-thrust he
knew so well, of severing the other's spinal cord at the base of the
"Sati," Van Horn read. "Last monsoon begin about this time, him
fella Sati get 'm sick belly belong him too much; bime by him fella
Sati finish altogether," he translated into beche-de-mer the written
information: Died of dysentery July 4th, 1901.
"Plenty work him fella Sati, long time," Nau-hau drove to the point.
"What come along money belong him?"
Van Horn did mental arithmetic from the account.
"Altogether him make 'm six tens pounds and two fella pounds gold
money," was his translation of sixty-two pounds of wages. "I pay
advance father belong him one ten pounds and five fella pounds. Him
finish altogether four tens pounds and seven fella pounds."
"What name stop four tens pounds and seven fella pounds?" Nau-hau
demanded, his tongue, but not his brain, encompassing so prodigious
Van Horn held up his hand.
"Too much hurry you fella Nau-hau. Him fella Sati buy 'm slop chest
along plantation two tens pounds and one fella pound. Belong Sati
he finish altogether two tens pounds and six fella pounds."
"What name stop two tens pounds and six fella pounds?" Nau-hau
"Stop 'm along me," the captain answered curtly.
"Give 'm me two tens pounds and six fella pounds."
"Give 'm you hell," Van Horn refused, and in the blue of his eyes
the black chief sensed the impression of the dynamite out of which
white men seemed made, and felt his brain quicken to the vision of
the bloody day he first encountered an explosion of dynamite and was
hurled through the air.
"What name that old fella boy stop 'm along canoe?" Van Horn asked,
pointing to an old man in a canoe alongside. "Him father belong
"Him father belong Sati," Nau-hau affirmed.
Van Horn motioned the old man in and on board, beckoned Borckman to
take charge of the deck and of Nau-hau, and went below to get the
money from his strong-box. When he returned, cavalierly ignoring
the chief, he addressed himself to the old man.
"What name belong you?"
"Me fella Nino," was the quavering response. "Him fella Sati belong
Van Horn glanced for verification to Nau-hau, who nodded affirmation
in the reverse Solomon way; whereupon Van Horn counted twenty-six
gold sovereigns into the hand of Sati's father.
Immediately thereafter Nau-hau extended his hand and received the
sum. Twenty gold pieces the chief retained for himself, returning
to the old man the remaining six. It was no quarrel of Van Horn's.
He had fulfilled his duty and paid properly. The tyranny of a chief
over a subject was none of his business.
Both masters, white and black, were fairly contented with
themselves. Van Horn had paid the money where it was due; Nau-hau,
by virtue of kingship, had robbed Sati's father of Sati's labour
before Van Horn's eyes. But Nau-hau was not above strutting. He
declined a proffered present of tobacco, bought a case of stick
tobacco from Van Horn, paying him five pounds for it, and insisted
on having it sawed open so that he could fill his pipe.
"Plenty good boy stop along Langa-Langa?" Van Horn, unperturbed,
politely queried, in order to make conversation and advertise
The King o' Babylon grinned, but did not deign to reply.
"Maybe I go ashore and walk about?" Van Horn challenged with
"Maybe too much trouble along you," Nau-hau challenged back. "Maybe
plenty bad fella boy kai-kai along you."
Although Van Horn did not know it, at this challenge he experienced
the hair-pricking sensations in his scalp that Jerry experienced
when he bristled his back.
"Hey, Borckman," he called. "Man the whaleboat."
When the whaleboat was alongside, he descended into it first,
superiorly, then invited Nau-hau to accompany him.
"My word, King o' Babylon," he muttered in the chief's ears as the
boat's crew bent to the oars, "one fella boy make 'm trouble, I
shoot 'm hell outa you first thing. Next thing I shoot 'm hell outa
Langa-Langa. All the time you me fella walk about, you walk about
along me. You no like walk about along me, you finish close up
And ashore, a white man alone, attended by an Irish terrier puppy
with a heart flooded with love and by a black king resentfully
respectful of the dynamite of the white man, Van Horn went,
swashbuckling barelegged through a stronghold of three thousand
souls, while his white mate, addicted to schnapps, held the deck of
the tiny craft at anchor off shore, and while his black boat's crew,
oars in hands, held the whaleboat stern-on to the beach to receive
the expected flying leap of the man they served but did not love,
and whose head they would eagerly take any time were it not for fear
Van Horn had had no intention of going ashore, and that he went
ashore at the black chief's insolent challenge was merely a matter
of business. For an hour he strolled about, his right hand never
far from the butt of the automatic that lay along his groin, his
eyes never too far from the unwilling Nau-hau beside him. For Nau-
hau, in sullen volcanic rage, was ripe to erupt at the slightest
opportunity. And, so strolling, Van Horn was given to see what few
white men have seen, for Langa-Langa and her sister islets,
beautiful beads strung along the lee coast of Malaita, were as
unique as they were unexplored.
Originally these islets had been mere sand-banks and coral reefs
awash in the sea or shallowly covered by the sea. Only a hunted,
wretched creature, enduring incredible hardship, could have eked out
a miserable existence upon them. But such hunted, wretched
creatures, survivors of village massacres, escapes from the wrath of
chiefs and from the long-pig fate of the cooking-pot, did come, and
did endure. They, who knew only the bush, learned the salt water
and developed the salt-water-man breed. They learned the ways of
the fish and the shell-fish, and they invented hooks and lines, nets
and fish-traps, and all the diverse cunning ways by which swimming
meat can be garnered from the shifting, unstable sea.
Such refugees stole women from the mainland, and increased and
multiplied. With herculean labour, under the burning sun, they
conquered the sea. They walled the confines of their coral reefs
and sand-banks with coral-rock stolen from the mainland on dark
nights. Fine masonry, without mortar or cutting chisel, they
builded to withstand the ocean surge. Likewise stolen from the
mainland, as mice steal from human habitations when humans sleep,
they stole canoe-loads, and millions of canoe-loads, of fat, rich
Generations and centuries passed, and, behold, in place of naked
sandbanks half awash were walled citadels, perforated with
launching-ways for the long canoes, protected against the mainland
by the lagoons that were to them their narrow seas. Coconut palms,
banana trees, and lofty breadfruit trees gave food and sun-shelter.
Their gardens prospered. Their long, lean war-canoes ravaged the
coasts and visited vengeance for their forefathers upon the
descendants of them that had persecuted and desired to eat.
Like the refugees and renegades who slunk away in the salt marshes
of the Adriatic and builded the palaces of powerful Venice on her
deep-sunk piles, so these wretched hunted blacks builded power until
they became masters of the mainland, controlling traffic and trade-
routes, compelling the bushmen for ever after to remain in the bush
and never to dare attempt the salt-water.
And here, amidst the fat success and insolence of the sea-people,
Van Horn swaggered his way, taking his chance, incapable of
believing that he might swiftly die, knowing that he was building
good future business in the matter of recruiting labour for the
plantations of other adventuring white men on far islands who dared
only less greatly than he.
And when, at the end of an hour, Van Horn passed Jerry into the
sternsheets of the whaleboat and followed, he left on the beach a
stunned and wondering royal black, who, more than ever before, was
respectful of the dynamite-compounded white men who brought to him
stick tobacco, calico, knives and hatchets, and inexorably extracted
from such trade a profit.
Back on board, Van Horn immediately hove short, hoisted sail, broke
out the anchor, and filled away for the ten-mile beat up the lagoon
to windward that would fetch Somo. On the way, he stopped at Binu
to greet Chief Johnny and land a few Binu returns. Then it was on
to Somo, and to the end of voyaging for ever of the Arangi and of
many that were aboard of her.
Quite the opposite to his treatment at Langa-Langa was that accorded
Van Horn at Somo. Once the return boys were put ashore, and this
was accomplished no later than three-thirty in the afternoon, he
invited Chief Bashti on board. And Chief Bashti came, very nimble
and active despite his great age, and very good-natured--so good-
natured, in fact, that he insisted on bringing three of his elderly
wives on board with him. This was unprecedented. Never had he
permitted any of his wives to appear before a white man, and Van
Horn felt so honoured that he presented each of them with a gay clay
pipe and a dozen sticks of tobacco.
Late as the afternoon was, trade was brisk, and Bashti, who had
taken the lion's share of the wages due to the fathers of two boys
who had died, bought liberally of the Arangi's stock. When Bashti
promised plenty of fresh recruits, Van Horn, used to the
changeableness of the savage mind, urged signing them up right away.
Bashti demurred, and suggested next day. Van Horn insisted that
there was no time like the present, and so well did he insist that
the old chief sent a canoe ashore to round up the boys who had been
selected to go away to the plantations.
"Now, what do you think?" Van Horn asked of Borckman, whose eyes
were remarkably fishy. "I never saw the old rascal so friendly.
Has he got something up his sleeve?"
The mate stared at the many canoes alongside, noted the numbers of
women in them, and shook his head.
"When they're starting anything they always send the Marys into the
bush," he said.
"You never can tell about these niggers," the captain grumbled.
"They may be short on imagination, but once in a while they do
figure out something new. Now Bashti's the smartest old nigger I've
ever seen. What's to prevent his figuring out that very bet and
playing it in reverse? Just because they've never had their women
around when trouble was on the carpet is no reason that they will
always keep that practice."
"Not even Bashti's got the savvee to pull a trick like that,"
Borckman objected. "He's just feeling good and liberal. Why, he's
bought forty pounds of goods from you already. That's why he wants
to sign on a new batch of boys with us, and I'll bet he's hoping
half of them die so's he can have the spending of their wages."
All of which was most reasonable. Nevertheless, Van Horn shook his
"All the same keep your eyes sharp on everything," he cautioned.
"And remember, the two of us mustn't ever be below at the same time.
And no more schnapps, mind, until we're clear of the whole kit and
Bashti was incredibly lean and prodigiously old. He did not know
how old he was himself, although he did know that no person in his
tribe had been alive when he was a young boy in the village. He
remembered the days when some of the old men, still alive, had been
born; and, unlike him, they were now decrepit, shaken with palsy,
blear-eyed, toothless of mouth, deaf of ear, or paralysed. All his
own faculties remained unimpaired. He even boasted a dozen worn
fangs of teeth, gum-level, on which he could still chew. Although
he no longer had the physical endurance of youth, his thinking was
as original and clear as it had always been. It was due to his
thinking that he found his tribe stronger than when he had first
come to rule it. In his small way he had been a Melanesian
Napoleon. As a warrior, the play of his mind had enabled him to
beat back the bushmen's boundaries. The scars on his withered body
attested that he had fought to the fore. As a Law-giver, he had
encouraged and achieved strength and efficiency within his tribe.
As a statesman, he had always kept one thought ahead of the thoughts
of the neighbouring chiefs in the making of treaties and the
granting of concessions.
And with his mind, still keenly alive, he had but just evolved a
scheme whereby he might outwit Van Horn and get the better of the
vast British Empire about which he guessed little and know less.
For Somo had a history. It was that queer anomaly, a salt-water
tribe that lived on the lagoon mainland where only bushmen were
supposed to live. Far back into the darkness of time, the folk-lore
of Somo cast a glimmering light. On a day, so far back that there
was no way of estimating its distance, one, Somo, son of Loti, who
was the chief of the island fortress of Umbo, had quarrelled with
his father and fled from his wrath along with a dozen canoe-loads of
young men. For two monsoons they had engaged in an odyssey. It was
in the myth that they circumnavigated Malaita twice, and forayed as
far as Ugi and San Cristobal across the wide seas.
Women they had inevitably stolen after successful combats, and, in
the end, being burdened with women and progeny, Somo had descended
upon the mainland shore, driven the bushmen back, and established
the salt-water fortress of Somo. Built it was, on its sea-front,
like any island fortress, with walled coral-rock to oppose the sea
and chance marauders from the sea, and with launching ways through
the walls for the long canoes. To the rear, where it encroached on
the jungle, it was like any scattered bush village. But Somo, the
wide-seeing father of the new tribe, had established his boundaries
far up in the bush on the shoulders of the lesser mountains, and on
each shoulder had planted a village. Only the greatly daring that
fled to him had Somo permitted to join the new tribe. The weaklings
and cowards they had promptly eaten, and the unbelievable tale of
their many heads adorning the canoe-houses was part of the myth.
And this tribe, territory, and stronghold, at the latter end of
time, Bashti had inherited, and he had bettered his inheritance.
Nor was he above continuing to better it. For a long time he had
reasoned closely and carefully in maturing the plan that itched in
his brain for fulfilment. Three years before, the tribe of Ano Ano,
miles down the coast, had captured a recruiter, destroyed her and
all hands, and gained a fabulous store of tobacco, calico, beads,
and all manner of trade goods, rifles and ammunition.
Little enough had happened in the way of price that was paid. Half
a year after, a war vessel had poked her nose into the lagoon,
shelled Ano Ano, and sent its inhabitants scurrying into the bush.
The landing-party that followed had futilely pursued along the
jungle runways. In the end it had contented itself with killing
forty fat pigs and chopping down a hundred coconut trees. Scarcely
had the war vessel passed out to open sea, when the people of Ano
Ano were back from the bush to the village. Shell fire on flimsy
grass houses is not especially destructive. A few hours' labour of
the women put that little matter right. As for the forty dead pigs,
the entire tribe fell upon the carcasses, roasted them under the
ground with hot stones, and feasted. The tender tips of the fallen
palms were likewise eaten, while the thousands of coconuts were
husked and split and sun-dried and smoke-cured into copra to be sold
to the next passing trader.
Thus, the penalty exacted had proved a picnic and a feast--all of
which appealed to the thrifty, calculating brain of Bashti. And
what was good for Ano Ano, in his judgment was surely good for Somo.
Since such were white men's ways who sailed under the British flag
and killed pigs and cut down coconuts in cancellation of blood-debts
and headtakings, Bashti saw no valid reason why he should not profit
as Ano Ano had profited. The price to be paid at some possible
future time was absurdly disproportionate to the immediate wealth to
be gained. Besides, it had been over two years since the last
British war vessel had appeared in the Solomons.
And thus, Bashti, with a fine fresh idea inside his head, bowed his
chief's head in consent that his people could flock aboard and
trade. Very few of them knew what his idea was or that he even had
Trade grew still brisker as more canoes came alongside and black men
and women thronged the deck. Then came the recruits, new-caught,
young, savage things, timid as deer, yet yielding to stern parental
and tribal law and going down into the Arangi's cabin, one by one,
their fathers and mothers and relatives accompanying them in family
groups, to confront the big fella white marster, who wrote their
names down in a mysterious book, had them ratify the three years'
contract of their labour by a touch of the right hand to the pen
with which he wrote, and who paid the first year's advance in trade
goods to the heads of their respective families.
Old Bashti sat near, taking his customary heavy tithes out of each
advance, his three old wives squatting humbly at his feet and by
their mere presence giving confidence to Van Horn, who was elated by
the stroke of business. At such rate his cruise on Malaita would be
a short one, when he would sail away with a full ship.
On deck, where Borckman kept a sharp eye out against danger, Jerry
prowled about, sniffing the many legs of the many blacks he had
never encountered before. The wild-dog had gone ashore with the
return boys, and of the return boys only one had come back. It was
Lerumie, past whom Jerry repeatedly and stiff-leggedly bristled
without gaining response of recognition. Lerumie coolly ignored
him, went down below once and purchased a trade hand-mirror, and,
with a look of the eyes, assured old Bashti that all was ready and
ripe to break at the first favourable moment.
On deck, Borckman gave this favourable moment. Nor would he have so
given it had he not been guilty of carelessness and of disobedience
to his captain's orders. He did not leave the schnapps alone. Be
did not sense what was impending all about him. Aft, where he
stood, the deck was almost deserted. Amidships and for'ard, gamming
with the boat's crew, the deck was crowded with blacks of both
sexes. He made his way to the yam sacks lashed abaft the mizzenmast
and got his bottle. Just before he drank, with a shred of caution,
he cast a glance behind him. Near him stood a harmless Mary,
middle-aged, fat, squat, asymmetrical, unlovely, a sucking child of
two years astride her hip and taking nourishment. Surely no harm
was to be apprehended there. Furthermore, she was patently a
weaponless Mary, for she wore no stitch of clothing that otherwise
might have concealed a weapon. Over against the rail, ten feet to
one side, stood Lerumie, smirking into the trade mirror he had just
It was in the trade mirror that Lerumie saw Borckman bend to the
yam-sacks, return to the erect, throw his head back, the mouth of
the bottle glued to his lips, the bottom elevated skyward. Lerumie
lifted his right hand in signal to a woman in a canoe alongside.
She bent swiftly for something that she tossed to Lerumie. It was a
long-handled tomahawk, the head of it an ordinary shingler's
hatchet, the haft of it, native-made, a black and polished piece of
hard wood, inlaid in rude designs with mother-of-pearl and wrapped
with coconut sennit to make a hand grip. The blade of the hatchet
had been ground to razor-edge.
As the tomahawk flew noiselessly through the air to Lerumie's hand,
just as noiselessly, the next instant, it flew through the air from
his hand into the hand of the fat Mary with the nursing child who
stood behind the mate. She clutched the handle with both hands,
while the child, astride her hip, held on to her with both small
arms part way about her.
Still she waited the stroke, for with Borckman's head thrown back
was no time to strive to sever the spinal cord at the neck. Many
eyes beheld the impending tragedy. Jerry saw, but did not
understand. With all his hostility to niggers he had not divined
the attack from the air. Tambi, who chanced to be near the
skylight, saw, and, seeing, reached for a Lee-Enfield. Lerumie saw
Tambi's action and hissed haste to the Mary.
Borckman, as unaware of this, his last second of life, as he had
been of his first second of birth, lowered the bottle and
straightened forward his head. The keen edge sank home. What, in
that flash of instant when his brain was severed from the rest of
his body, Borckman may have felt or thought, if he felt or thought
at all, is a mystery unsolvable to living man. No man, his spinal
cord so severed, has ever given one word or whisper of testimony as
to what were his sensations and impressions. No less swift than the
hatchet stroke was the limp placidity into which Borckman's body
melted to the deck. He did not reel or pitch. He melted, as a sack
of wind suddenly emptied, as a bladder of air suddenly punctured.
The bottle fell from his dead hand upon the yams without breaking,
although the remnant of its contents gurgled gently out upon the
So quick was the occurrence of action, that the first shot from
Tambi's musket missed the Mary ere Borckman had quite melted to the
deck. There was no time for a second shot, for the Mary, dropping
the tomahawk, holding her child in both her hands and plunging to
the rail, was in the air and overboard, her fall capsizing the canoe
which chanced to be beneath her.
Scores of actions were simultaneous. From the canoes on both sides
uprose a glittering, glistening rain of mother-of-pearl-handled
tomahawks that descended into the waiting hands of the Somo men on
deck, while the Marys on deck crouched down and scrambled out of the
fray. At the same time that the Mary who had killed Borckman leapt
the rail, Lerumie bent for the tomahawk she had dropped, and Jerry,
aware of red war, slashed the hand that reached for the tomahawk.
Lerumie stood upright and loosed loudly, in a howl, all the pent
rage and hatred, of months which he had cherished against the puppy.
Also, as he gained the perpendicular and as Jerry flew at his legs,
he launched a kick with all his might that caught and lifted Jerry
squarely under the middle.
And in the next second, or fraction of second, as Jerry lifted and
soared through the air, over the barbed wire of the rail and
overboard, while Sniders were being passed up overside from the
canoes, Tambi fired his next hasty shot. And Lerumie, the foot with
which he had kicked not yet returned to the deck as again he was in
mid-action of stooping to pick up the tomahawk, received the bullet
squarely in the heart and pitched down to melt with Borckman into
the softness of death.
Ere Jerry struck the water, the glory of Tambi's marvellously lucky
shot was over for Tambi; for, at the moment he pressed trigger to
the successful shot, a tomahawk bit across his skull at the base of
the brain and darkened from his eyes for ever the bright vision of
the sea-washed, sun-blazoned tropic world. As swiftly, all
occurring almost simultaneously, did the rest of the boat's crew
pass and the deck became a shambles.
It was to the reports of the Sniders and the noises of the death
scuffle that Jerry's head emerged from the water. A man's hand
reached over a canoe-side and dragged him in by the scruff of the
neck, and, although he snarled and struggled to bite his rescuer, he
was not so much enraged as was he torn by the wildest solicitude for
Skipper. He knew, without thinking about it, that the Arangi had
been boarded by the hazily sensed supreme disaster of life that all
life intuitively apprehends and that only man knows and calls by the
name of "death." Borckman he had seen struck down. Lerumie he had
heard struck down. And now he was hearing the explosions of rifles
and the yells and screeches of triumph and fear.
So it was, helpless, suspended in the air by the nape of the neck,
that he bawled and squalled and choked and coughed till the black,
disgusted, flung him down roughly in the canoe's bottom. He
scrambled to his feet and made two leaps: one upon the gunwale of
the canoe; the next, despairing and hopeless, without consideration
of self, for the rail of the Arangi.
His forefeet missed the rail by a yard, and he plunged down into the
sea. He came up, swimming frantically, swallowing and strangling
salt water because he still yelped and wailed and barked his
yearning to be on board with Skipper.
But a boy of twelve, in another canoe, having witnessed the first
black's adventure with Jerry, treated him without ceremony, laying,
first the flat, and next the edge, of a paddle upon his head while
he still swam. And the darkness of unconsciousness welled over his
bright little love-suffering brain, so that it was a limp and
motionless puppy that the black boy dragged into his canoe.
In the meantime, down below in the Arangi's cabin, ere ever Jerry
hit the water from Lerumie's kick, even while he was in the air, Van
Horn, in one great flashing profound fraction of an instant, had
known his death. Not for nothing had old Bashti lived longest of
any living man in his tribe, and ruled wisest of all the long line
of rulers since Somo's time. Had he been placed more generously in
earth space and time, he might well have proved an Alexander, a
Napoleon, or a swarthy Kahehameha. As it was, he performed well,
and splendidly well, in his limited little kingdom on the leeward
coast of the dark cannibal island of Malaita.
And such a performance! In cool good nature in rigid maintenance of
his chiefship rights, he had smiled at Van Horn, given royal
permission to his young men to sign on for three years of plantation
slavery, and exacted his share of each year's advance. Aora, who
might be described as his prime minister and treasurer, had received
the tithes as fast as they were paid over, and filled them into
large, fine-netted bags of coconut sennit. At Bashti's back,
squatting on the bunk-boards, a slim and smooth-skinned maid of
thirteen had flapped the flies away from his royal head with the
royal fly-flapper. At his feet had squatted his three old wives,
the oldest of them, toothless and somewhat palsied, ever presenting
to his hand, at his head nod, a basket rough-woven of pandanus leaf.
And Bashti, his keen old ears pitched for the first untoward sound
from on deck, had continually nodded his head and dipped his hand
into the proffered basket--now for betel-nut, and lime-box, and the
invariable green leaf with which to wrap the mouthful; now for
tobacco with which to fill his short clay pipe; and, again, for
matches with which to light the pipe which seemed not to draw well
and which frequently went out.
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