Charles Boardman Hawes
Part 3 out of 5
us, and lithely stepped aside. With a single swing of his right arm he cut
Kipping across the face with a rope's end and stopped him dead.
As the welt reddened on his face, Kipping staggered, leveled his other
pistol point-blank and pulled the trigger.
For the moment I could not draw breath, but the pistol missed fire.
"Flashed in the pan!" Roger cried, and tugged at his own pistol, which had
caught inside his shirt where he had carried it out of sight. "That's not
all--that's flashed in the pan!"
"Now then, you fools," Kipping shrieked. "Go for 'em! Go for'em! The bell's
struck! Now's the time!"
So far it all had happened so suddenly and so extraordinarily swiftly, with
one event fairly leaping at the heels of another, that the men were
Captain Falk sat on the deck with his hand pressed against his injured
shoulder and with his pistol lying beside him where he had dropped it when
he fell. Kipping, the red bruise showing across his face, confronted us
with one pistol smoking, the other raised; Blodgett, having thrown the
lead, was drawing his knife from the sheath; Roger was pulling desperately
at his own pistol; and for my part I was in a state of such complete
confusion that to this day I don't know what I did or said. In the moments
that followed we were to learn once and for all the allegiance of every man
aboard the Island Princess.
One of the men from Boston, evidently picking me out as the least
formidable of the trio, shot a quick glance back at Kipping as if to be
sure of his approval, and springing at me, knocked me flat on my back. I
felt sure he was going to kill me when he reached for my throat. But I
heard behind me a thunderous roar, "Heah Ah is! Heah Ah is!" And out of the
corner of my eye I saw the cook, the meat-cleaver in his hand, leaping to
my rescue, with Roger, one hand still inside his shirt, scarcely a foot
The man from Boston scrambled off me and fled.
"Ah's with you-all foh one," the cook cried, swinging his cleaver. "Ah
ain't gwine see no po' sailor man done to death and me not say 'What foh!'"
"You fool! You black fool!" Chips shrieked, shaking his fist, "Stand by and
share up! Stand by and share up!"
Neddie Benson jumped over beside the cook. "Me too!" he called shrilly.
"Bad luck or good luck, old Bill he done his best and was fair murdered."
Poor Bill! His martyrdom stood us in good stead in our hour of need.
On the other side of the deck there was a lively struggle from which came
fierce yells as each man sought to persuade his friends to his own way of
"Stand by, lads, stand by--"
"----the bloody money!--"
"Hanged for mutiny--"
"I know where my bed's made soft--"
The greater part of the men, it seemed, were lining up behind Kipping and
Captain Falk, when a scornful shout rose and I was aware that some one else
had come over to our side. It was old Davie Paine. "He didn't ought to
shame me in front of all the men," Davie muttered. "No, sir, it wa'n't
right. And what's more, there's lots o' things aboard this ship that ain't
as they should be. I may be poor and ignorant and no shakes of a scholar,
but I ain't goin' to put up with 'em."
So we six faced the other twelve with as good grace as we could
muster,--Roger, the cook, Blodgett, Neddie Benson, Davie, and I,--and there
was a long silence. But Roger had got out his pistol now, and the lull in
the storm was ominous.
That it was important to control the after part of the ship, I was well
aware, and though we were outnumbered two to one, I hoped that by good
fortune we might win it.
I was not long in doubt of Roger's sharing my hope. He analyzed our
opponents' position at a single glance, and ignoring their advantage in
numbers, seized upon the only chance of taking them by surprise. Swinging
his arm and crying, "Come, men! All for the cabin!" he flung himself
headlong at Falk. I followed close at his heels--I was afraid to be left
behind. I heard the cook grunt hoarsely as he apprehended the situation and
sprang after us. Then the others met us with knives and pistols.
Our attack was futile and soon over, but while it lasted there was a merry
little fight. As a man slashed at Roger with a case-knife, laying open a
long gash in his cheek, Roger fired a shot from his pistol, and the fellow
pitched forward and lay still except for his limbs, which twitched
sickeningly. For my own part, seeing another who had run aft for a weapon
swing at me with a cutlass, I threw myself under his guard and got my arms
round both his knees. As something crashed above me, I threw the fellow
back and discovered that the cook had met the cutlass in full swing with
the cleaver and had shattered it completely. Barely in time to escape a
murderous blow that the carpenter aimed at me with his hammer, I scrambled
to my feet and leaped back beside Roger, who held his cheek with his hand.
I believe it was the cook's cleaver that saved our lives for the time
being. Falk and Kipping had fired the charges in their pistols, and no one
was willing to venture within reach of the black's long arm and brutal
weapon. So, having spent our own last charge of powder, we backed away into
the bow with our faces to the enemy, and the only sounds to be heard were
flapping sails and rattling blocks, the groans of the poor fellow Roger had
shot, and the click of a powder-flask as Falk reloaded and passed his
ammunition to Kipping.
"So," said Falk at last, "we have a fine little mutiny brewing, have we?"
He looked first at us, then at those who remained true to him and his
schemes. "Well, Mr. Kipping, with the help of Chips here, we can make out
to work the ship at a pinch. Yes, I think we can dispense with these young
cocks altogether. Yes,--" he raised his voice and swore roundly--"yes, we
can follow our own gait and fare a damned sight better without them. We'll
let them have a boat and row back to Salem. A voyage of a few thousand
miles at the oars will be a rare good thing to tone down a pair of young
fighting cocks." Then he added, smiling, "If they meet with no Ladronesers
or Malays to clip their spurs."
Captain Falk looked at Kipping and his men, and they all laughed.
"Ay, so it will," cried Kipping. "And old Davie Paine 'll never have a
mister to his name again. You old lubber, you, your bones will be rotting
at the bottom of the sea when we're dividing up the gold."
Again the men laughed loudly.
Davie flushed and stammered, but Blodgett spoke out bitterly.
"So they will, before you or Captain Falk divide with any of the rest. Ah!
Red in the face, are ye? That shot told. Davie 'd rather take his chances
with a gentleman than be second mate under either one o' you two. He may
not know when he's well off, but he knows well when he ain't."
For all Blodgett spoke so boldly, I could see that Davie in his own heart
was still afraid of Kipping. But Kipping merely smiled in his mean way and
slowly looked us over.
"If we was to walk them over a plank," he suggested, deferentially, to the
captain, "there would be an end to all bother with them."
"No," said Falk, "give them a boat. It's all the same in the long run, and
I ain't got the stomach to watch six of them drown one after another."
Kipping raised his eyebrows at such weakness; then a new thought seemed to
dawn on him. His accursed smile grew broader and he began to laugh softly.
For the moment I could not imagine what he was laughing at, but his next
words answered my unspoken question. "Ha ha ha! Right you are, captain!
Just think of 'em, a-sailing home in a ship's boat! Oh, won't they have a
The predicament of six fellow men set adrift in an open boat pleased the
man's vile humor. We knew that he believed he was sending us to certain
death, and that he delighted in it.
"This fine talk is all very well," said Roger, "and I've no doubt you think
yourselves very witty, but let that be as it may. As matters stand now,
you've got the upper hand--though I wish you joy of working the ship.
However, if you give us the long-boat and a fair allowance of water and
bread, we'll ask nothing more."
"Ah," said Falk, with a leer at Kipping who was smiling quietly, "the
long-boat and a fair allowance of water and bread! Ay, next they'll be
wanting us to set 'em up in their own ship." He changed suddenly from a
leer to a snarl. "You'll take what I give you and nothing more nor less.
Now then, men, we'll just herd these hearties overboard and bid them a gay
He stood there, pointing the way with a grand gesture and the late
afternoon sun sparkled on the buttons of his coat and shone brightly on the
fine white shirt he wore, which in better days had belonged to Captain
Whidden. "Murderer and thief!" I thought. For although about Captain
Whidden's death I knew nothing more than the cook's never-to-be-forgotten
words, "a little roun' hole in the back of his head--he was shot f'om
behine," I laid Bill Hayden's death at Captain Falk's door, and I knew well
by now that our worthy skipper would not scruple at stealing more than
When Falk pointed to the quarter-boat, the men, laughing harshly, closed in
on us and drove us along by threatening us with pistols and pikes, which
the bustling steward by now had distributed. And all the while Kipping
stood just behind the captain, smiling as if no unkind thought had ever
ruffled his placid nature. I could not help but be aware of his meanness,
and I suppose it was because I was only a boy and not given to looking
under the surface that I did not yet completely recognize in him the real
leader of all that had gone astray aboard the Island Princess.
We let ourselves be driven toward the boat. Since we were outnumbered now
eleven to six,--not counting the wounded man of course,--and since,
compared with the others, we were virtually unarmed, we ought, I suppose,
to have been thankful that we were not murdered in cold blood, as doubtless
we should have been if our dangerous plight had not so delighted Kipping's
cruel humor, and if both Falk and Kipping had not felt certain that they
would never see or hear of us again. But we found little comfort in
realizing that, as matters stood, although in our own minds we were
convinced absolutely that Captain Falk and Mr. Kipping had conspired with
the crew to rob the owners, by the cold light of fact we could be proved in
the wrong in any court of admiralty.
So far as Roger and I were concerned, our belief was based after all
chiefly on supposition; and so craftily had the whole scheme been phrased
and manoeuvred that, if you got down to categorical testimony, even
Blodgett and Davie Paine would have been hard put to it to prove anything
culpable against the other party. Actually we were guilty of mutiny, if
The cook still carried his great cleaver and Blodgett unobtrusively had
drawn and opened a big dirk knife; but Neddie Benson, Davie, and I had no
weapons of any kind, and Roger's pistol was empty.
We worked the boat outboard in silence and made no further resistance,
though I knew from Roger's expression as he watched Falk and Kipping and
their men, that, if he had seen a fair chance to turn the scales in our
favor, he would have seized it at any cost.
Meanwhile the sails were flapping so loudly that it was hard to hear
Roger's voice when he again said, "Surely you'll give us food and water."
"Why--no," said Falk. "I don't think you'll need it. You won't want to row
right home without stopping to say how-d'y'-do to the natives."
Again a roar of laughter came from the men on deck.
As the boat lay under the side of the ship, they crowded to the rail and
stared down at us with all sorts of rough gibes at our expense.
Particularly they aimed then-taunts at Davie Paine and Blodgett, who a
short time before had been hand-in-glove with them; and I was no little
relieved to see that their words seemed only to confirm the two in their
determination, come what might, never to join forces again with Falk and
Kipping. But Kipping singled out the cook and berated him with a stream of
"You crawling black nigger, you," he yelled. "Now what'll _you_ give _me_
for a piece of pie?"
Holding the cleaver close at his side, the negro looked up at the fox who
was abusing him, and burst into wild vituperation. Although Kipping only
laughed in reply, there was a savage and intense vindictiveness in the
negro's impassioned jargon that chilled my blood. I remember thinking then
that I should dread being in Kipping's shoes if ever those two met again.
As we cast off, we six in that little boat soon to be left alone in the
wastes of the China Sea, we looked up at the cold, laughing faces on which
the low sun shone with an orange-yellow light, and saw in them neither pity
nor mercy. The hands resting on the bulwark, the hands of our own
shipmates, were turned against us.
The ship was coming back to her course now, and some of us were looking at
the distant island with the cone-shaped peaks, toward which by common
consent we had turned our bow, when the cook, who still stared back at
Kipping, seemed to get a new view of his features. Springing up suddenly,
he yelled in a great voice that must have carried far across the sea:--
"You Kipping, Ah got you--Ah got you--Ah knows who you is--Ah knows who you
is--you crimp's runner, you! You blood-money sucker, you! Ah seen you in
Boston! Ah seen you befo' now! A-a-a-ah!--a-a-a-ah!" And he shook his great
black fist at the mate.
The smile on Kipping's face was swept away by a look of consternation. With
a quick motion he raised his loaded pistol, which he had primed anew, and
fired on us; then, snatching another from one of the crew, he fired again,
and stood with the smoking weapons, one in each hand, and a snarl fixed on
Captain Falk was staring at the negro in wrath and amazement, and there was
a stir on the deck that aroused my strong curiosity. But the cook was
groaning so loudly that we could hear no word of what was said, so we bent
to the oars with all our strength and rowed out of range toward the distant
Kipping's second ball had grazed the negro's head and had left a deep
furrow from which blood was running freely. But for the thickness of his
skull I believe it would have killed him.
Once again the sails of the Island Princess, as we watched her, filled with
wind and she bore away across the sapphire blue of the sea with all her
canvas spread, as beautiful a sight as I have ever seen. The changing
lights in the sky painted the water with opalescent colors and tinted the
sails gold and crimson and purple, and by and by, when the sun had set and
the stars had come out and the ocean had darkened, we still could make her
out, smaller and ghostlike in the distance, sailing away before light winds
with the money and goods all under her hatches.
Laboring at the oars, we rowed on and on and on. Stars, by which we now
held our course, grew bright overhead, and after a time we again saw dimly
the shores of the island. We dared not stay at sea in a small open boat
without food or water, and the island was our only refuge.
Presently we heard breakers and saw once more the bluff headlands that we
had seen from the deck of the Island Princess. Remembering that there had
been low shores farther south, we rowed on and on, interminably and at
last, faint and weary, felt the keel of the boat grate on a muddy beach.
At all events we had come safely to land.
As we rested on our oars by the strange island, and smelled the warm odor
of the marsh and the fragrance of unseen flowers, and listened to the
_wheekle_ of a night-hawk that circled above us, we talked of one thing and
another, chiefly of the men aboard the Island Princess and how glad we were
to be done with them forever.
"Ay," said Davie Paine sadly, "never again 'll I have the handle before my
name. But what of that? It's a deal sight jollier in the fo'castle than in
the cabin and I ain't the scholar to be an officer." He sighed heavily.
"It warn't so jolly this voyage," Neddie Benson muttered, "what with Bill
Hayden passing on, like he done."
We were silent for a time. For my own part, I was thinking about old Bill's
"little wee girl at Newbury-port" waiting for her stupid old dad to come
back to her, and I have an idea that the others were thinking much the same
thoughts. But soon Blodgett stirred restlessly, and the cook, the cleaver
on his knees, cleared his throat and after a premonitory grunt or two began
"Boy, he think Ah ain't got no use foh boys," he chuckled. "Hee-ha ha! Ah
fool 'em. Stew'd, he say, 'Frank, am you with us o' without us?' He say,
'Am you gwine like one ol' lobscozzle idjut git cook's pay all yo' life?'
"'Well,' Ah says, 'what pay you think Ah'm gwine fob to git? Cap'n's pay,
maybe? 0' gin'ral's pay? Yass, sah. Ef Ah'm cook Ah'm gwine git cook's
"Den he laff hearty and slap his knee and he say 'Ef you come in with us,
you won't git cook's pay, no' sah. You is gwine git pay like no admiral
don't git if you come in with us. Dah's money 'board dis yeh ol'
"'Yass, sah,' says I, suspicionin' su'thin' was like what it didn't had
ought to be. 'But dat's owner's money.'
"Den stew'd, he say, 'Listen! You come in with me and Cap'n Falk and Mistah
Kipping, and we's gwine split dat yeh money all up'twix' one another. Yass,
sah! But you all gotta have nothin' to do with dat yeh Mistah Hamlin and
dat yeh cocky li'le Ben Lathrop.'
"'Oh no,' Ah says inside, so stew'd he don't heah me. 'Guess you all don't
know me and dat yeh Ben Lathrop is friends.'
"Den Ah stop sudden. 'Mah golly,' Ah think, 'dey's a conspiration a-foot,
yass, sah, and if dis yeh ol' nigger don't look out dey gwine hu't de boy.'
If Ah gits into dat yeh conspiration, den Ah guess Ah'll snoop roun' and
learn what Ah didn't had ought to, and when time come, den mah golly, Ah'll
took good keer of dat boy. So Ah done like Ah'm sayin' now, and Ah says to
stew'd, 'Yass, sah, yass, sah,' and Ah don't let boy come neah de galley
and Ah don't give him no pie nor cake, but when time come Ah take good keer
of him, and Ah's tellin' you, Ah knows a lot 'bout what dem crawlin'
critters yonder on ship think dey gwine foh to do."
With a glance toward me in the darkness that I verily believe expressed as
much genuine affection as so villainous a black countenance could show,
Frank got out his rank pipe and began packing it full of tobacco.
Here was further evidence of what we so long had suspected. But as I
reflected on it, with forgiveness in my heart for every snub the faithful,
crafty old darky had given me and with amusement at the simple way he had
tricked the steward and Falk and Kipping, I recalled his parting remarks to
our worthy mate.
"What was that you said to Mr. Kipping just as we gave way this afternoon?"
"Hey, what dat?" Frank growled.
"When had you seen Kipping before?"
There was a long silence, then Frank spoke quietly and yet with obvious
feeling. "Ah got a bone to pick with Kipping," he said, "but dat yeh's a
matter 'twix' him and me."
All this time Roger had watched and listened with a kindly smile.
"Well, men," he now said, "we've had a chance to rest and get our wind.
It's time we set to work. What do you say, hadn't we better haul the boat
Although we tacitly had accepted Roger as commander of our expedition, he
spoke always with a certain deference to the greater age and experience of
Blodgett and Davie Paine, which won them so completely that they would have
followed him anywhere.
They both looked at the sky and at the darkly rolling sea on which there
now rested a low incoming mist; but Davie left the burden of reply to old
Blodgett, who spoke nervously in his thin, windy voice.
"Ay, sir, that we had. There's not much wind, nor is there, I think, likely
to be much; but if we was to haul up into some bushes like those yonder,
there won't be a thousand savages scouring the coast, come daylight,
a-hunting for the men that came in the boat."
That was sound common sense.
We got out and, standing three on a side, hauled the boat by great effort
clean out of water. Then we bent ropes to each end of three thwarts, and
thrust an oar through the bights of each pair of ropes. Thus, with one of
us at each end of an oar, holding it in the crooks of his elbows, we made
out to lift the boat and drag it along till we got it safely hidden in the
bushes with the oars tucked away under it. We then smoothed out our tracks
and restored the branches as well as we could, and held a counsel in which
every man had an equal voice.
That it would be folly to remain on the beach until daylight, we were all
agreed. Immediately beyond the muddy shore there was, so far as we could
tell, only a salt marsh overgrown with rank grass and scattered clumps of
vegetation, which might conceal us after a fashion if we were willing to
lie all day long in mud that probably swarmed with reptile life, but which
would afford us no real security and would give us no opportunity to forage
for fresh water and food.
Blodgett, wide-eyed and restless, urged that we set out inland and travel
as far as possible before daybreak. "You can't tell about a country like
this," he said. "Might be we'd stumble on a temple with a lot of heathen
idols full of gold and precious stones to make our everlasting fortunes, or
a nigger or two with a bag of rubies tied round his neck with a string."
"Yeah!" the cook grunted, irritated by Blodgett's free use of the word
"nigger," "and Ah's tellin' you he'll have a Malay kris what'll slit yo'
vitals and chop off yo' head; and nex' time when you gwine come to say
howdy, you'll find yo' ol' skull a-setting in de temple, chockfull of dem
rubies and grinnin' like he was glad to see you back again. Ah ain't gwine
on no such promulgation, no sah! What Ah wants is a good, cool drink and a
piece of pie. Yass, sah,"
"Now that's like I feel," said Neddie Benson. "I never thought when the
lady was tellin' me about trouble in store, that there warn't goin' to be
enough victuals to go round--"
"Ah, you make me tired," Blodgett snapped out. "Food, food, food! And
here's a chance to find a nice little temple an' better our fortunes. Of
course it ain't like India, but if these here slant-eyed pirates have stole
any gold at all, it'll be in the temples."
"What I'd like"--it was Davie Paine's heavy, slow voice--"is just a drink
of water and some ship's bread."
"Well," said Roger, "we'll find neither bread nor rubies lying on the
beach, and since we're agreed that it's best to get out of sight, let's set
He was about to plunge blindly into the marsh, when Blodgett, who had been
ranging restlessly while we talked, cried, "Here's a road! As I'm alive
here's a road!"
We trooped over to where he stood, and saw, sure enough, an opening in the
brush and grass where the ground was beaten hard as if by the passing of
"Well, let's be on our way," said Blodgett, starting forward.
"No, sah, dat ain't no way foh to go!" the cook exclaimed. He stood there,
head thrown forward, chin out-thrust, the cleaver, which he had carried all
the time since we left the ship, hanging at his side.
"Why not?" asked Roger.
"'Cause, sah, whar dey's a road dey's humans and humans heahbouts on dese
yeh islands is liable to be drefful free with strangers. Yass, sah, if we
go a-walkin' along dat yeh road, fust thing we know we's gwine walk into a
whole mob of dem yeh heathens. Den whar'll we be?" In answer to his
question, the negro thrust out his left hand and, grasping an imaginary
opponent by the throat, raised the cleaver, and swept it through the air
with a slicing motion. Looking keenly at us to be sure that we grasped the
significance of his pantomime he remarked, "Ah want mah ol' head to stay
"There ain't going to be no village till we come to trees," said Davie
Paine slowly. "If there is, we can see it anyhow, and if there isn't, this
road'll take us across the marsh. Once we're on the other side, we can
leave the road and take to the hills."
"There's an idea," Roger cried. "How about it, Bennie?"
Blodgett eagerly went first and the cook, apparently fearing that he was on
his way to be served as a particularly choice tidbit at somebody else's
banquet, came last. The rest of us just jostled along together. But Davie
Paine, I noticed, held his head higher than I ever had seen it before; for
Roger's appreciation of his sound common sense had pleased him beyond
measure and had done wonders to restore his self-confidence.
First there were interwoven bushes and vines beside the road, and then tall
reeds and marsh grasses; now there was sand underfoot, now mud. But it was
a better path by far than any we could have beaten out for ourselves, and
we all--except the cook--were well pleased that we had taken it.
The bushes and tall grasses, which shut us in, prevented our seeing the
ocean behind us or the hills ahead, and the miasmic mist that we had
noticed some time since billowed around our knees. But the stars were very
bright above us, and phosphorescent creatures like fire-flies fluttered
here and there, and, all things considered, we made excellent progress.
As it had been Blodgett in his eternal peering and prowling who had found
the path, so now it was Blodgett, bending low as he hurried at the head of
our irregular line, who twice stopped suddenly and said that he had heard
hoarse, distant calls.
Each time, when the rest of us came up to him and listened, they had died
away, but Blodgett now had lost his confident air. He bent lower as he
walked and he peered ahead in a way that seemed to me more prowling and
catlike than ever. As we advanced his uneasiness grew on him, until
presently he turned and raised his hand. The five of us crowded close
together behind him and listened intently.
For a while, as before, we heard nothing; then suddenly a new, strange
noise came to our ears. It was an indistinct sound of trampling, and it
certainly was approaching.
The cook grasped my arm. "'Fo' de good Lo'd!" he muttered, "dey's voices!"
Now I, too, and all the others heard occasional grunts and gutturals. We
dared not flee back to the beach, for there or in the open marshy land we
could not escape observation, and since it had taken us a good half hour to
carry our boat to its hiding-place, it would be utter folly to try to
launch it and put out to sea.
Not knowing which way to turn, the six of us stood huddled together like
frightened sheep, in the starlight, in the centre of that great marsh, with
the white mist sweeping up around the bushes, and waited for we knew not
As the noise of tramping and the guttural voices grew louder, Blodgett
gasped, "Look! In heaven's name, look there!"
Where the path wound over a gentle rise, which was blurred to our eyes by
the mist, there appeared a moving black mass above which swayed and rose
and fell what seemed to our excited vision the points of a great number of
With one accord we turned and plunged from the path straight into the marsh
and ran with all our might and main. The cook, who hitherto had brought up
the rear, now forged to the front, springing ahead with long jumps.
Occasionally, as he leaped even higher to clear a bush or a stump, I could
see his kinky round head against the sky, and catch the flash of starlight
on his cleaver, which he still carried. Close behind him ran Neddie Benson,
who saw in the adventures of the night a more terrible fulfillment of the
plump lady's prophecies than ever he had dreamed of; then came Roger and I,
and at my shoulder I heard Davie's heavy breathing and Blodgett's hard
To snakes or other reptiles that may have inhabited the warm pools through
which we splashed, we gave no thought. Somewhere ahead of us there was high
land--had we not rowed close enough to the promontory to hear breakers?
When Davie and Blodgett fairly panted to us to stop for breath, the cook
and Neddie Benson with one voice urged us on to the hills where we could
find rocks or trees for a shelter from which to stand off whatever savages
might pursue us.
Though we tried to make as little noise as possible, our splashing and
crashing as we raced now in single file, now six abreast, now as
irregularly as half a dozen sheep, must have been audible to keen ears a
mile away. When we came at last to woods and drier ground, we settled down
to a steady jog, which was much less noisy, but even then we stumbled and
fell and clattered and thrashed as we labored on.
At first we had heard in the night behind us, repeated over and over again,
those hoarse, unintelligible calls and certain raucous blasts, which we
imagined came from some crude native trumpet; but as we climbed, the rising
mist floated about us, and hearing less of the calling and the blasts, we
slowed down to a hard walk and went on up, up, up, through trees and over
rocks, with the mist in our faces and obscuring the way until we could not
see three feet in front of us, but had to keep together by calling
cautiously now and then.
Blodgett, coming first to a ridge of rock, stopped high above us like a
shadow cast by the moonlight on the mist.
"Here's the place to make a stand," he cried in his thin voice. "A nat'ral
fort to lay behind. Come, lads, over we go!"
Up on the rock we scrambled, all of us ready to jump down on the other
side, when Neddie Benson called on us to stop, and with a queer cry let
himself fall back the way he had come. Fearing that he was injured, we
"Don't go over that rock," he cried.
"Why not?" Roger asked.
"It gives me a sick feeling inside."
"Stuff!" exclaimed Blodgett. "Behind that rock we'll be safe from all the
heathen in the Chinese Sea."
"The lady she said there'd be trouble," Neddie wailed insistently, "and I
ain't going over that rock. No, sir, not when I feel squeamish like I do
With an angry snort Blodgett hesitated on the very summit of the ledge.
"Come on, come on," he said.
"Listen dah!" the cook whispered.
I thought of savage yells and trampling feet when, crouching on hands and
knees, I listened; but I heard none of them. The sound that came to my ears
was the faint, distant rumble of surf breaking on rocks.
Now Roger spoke sharply: "Steady, men, go slow."
"The sea's somewhere beyond us," I said.
"Come, come," Blodgett repeated tiresomely in his thin windy voice, "over
these rocks and we'll be safe." He was so confident and eager that we were
on the very point of following him. I actually leaned out over the edge
ready to leap down. Never did a man's strange delusion come nearer to
leading his comrades to disaster!
The cook raised his hand. "Look--look dah!"
He was staring past Blodgett's feet, past my hands, down at the rocks
whither we were about to drop. The mist was opening slowly. There was
nothing for more than six feet below us--for more than twelve feet. Now the
mist eddied up to the rock again; now it curled away and opened out until
we could look down to the ghostly, phosphorescent whiteness of waves
breaking on rough stones almost directly under us. Blodgett, with a queer,
frightened expression, crawled back to Neddie Benson.
We were sitting at the brink of a sheer precipice, which fell away more
than two hundred feet to a mass of jagged rock on which the sea was booming
with a hollow sound like the voice of a great bell.
"Well, here we'll have to make our stand if they follow us," said Davie.
Although the rest were white with horror at the death we so narrowly had
avoided, old Davie did not even breathe more quickly. The man had no more
imagination than a porpoise.
Gathering in the lee of the rocky ridge, we took stock of our weapons and
recovered our self-possession. The cook again ran his thumb-nail along the
edge of the cleaver; Roger examined the lock of his pistol--I saw a queer
expression on his face at the time, but he said nothing; Blodgett sharpened
his knife on his calloused palm and the rest of us found clubs and stones.
We could flee no farther. Here, if we were pursued, we must fight. But
although we waited a long time, no one came. The mist gradually passed off;
the stars again shone brightly, and the moon presently peeped out from
between the cone-shaped mountains on our eastern horizon.
IN WHICH THE TIDE TURNS
IN LAST RESORT
"They're not on our heels at all events," said Roger, when we had sat
silent and motionless until we were cramped from head to foot. Of our
little band, he was by far the least perturbed. "If we should set an anchor
watch, we could sleep, turn and turn about. What do you say to that?"
He had a way with him, partly the quiet humor that twinkled in his eyes,
partly his courteous manner toward all of us, particularly the older men,
that already had endeared him to every member of our company, and a general
murmur of assent answered him.
"Blodgett, Neddie, and I'll stand first watch, then. We'll make the watches
three hours on deck and three below, if you say so. You others had best
hunt out an easy place to sleep, but let every man keep his knife or club
where he can snatch it up in case of attack."
Remembering his comfortable quarters in the steerage of the Island
Princess, the cook groaned; but we found a spot where there was some
sun-baked earth, which we covered with such moss as we could lay our hands
on, threw ourselves down, and fell asleep forthwith.
We were so stiff when the other three waked us that we scarcely could stand
without help; but we gradually worked new life into our sore muscles and
took our stations with as much good-will as we could muster. Roger gave us
his watch to tell the time by, and we agreed on separate posts from which
to guard against surprise--the cook a little way down the hill to the
right, Davie Paine farther to the left, and I on the summit of the rocks
whence I could see in all directions.
The wild view from that rock would have been a rare sight for old and
experienced voyagers, and to me, a boy in years and in travels, it was
fascinating both for its uncommon beauty and for the thousand perils that
it might conceal. Who could say what savages were sleeping or prowling
about under the dark branches of yonder shadowy woods? What wild creatures
lurked in their depths? What pirate prows were steering their course by
yonder cone-shaped peaks or by those same bright stars that twinkled
I studied the outline of the island, with its miles of flat marshland deep
in grass and tangled vines, its palms and dense forests, its romantic
mountains, and its jagged northern cliffs; I watched the moonbeams
sparkling on the water; I watched a single light shining far out at sea. By
and by I saw inland, on the side of one of the hills, a light shining in
the jungle, and stared at it with a sort of unwilling fascination.
A light in the jungle could mean so many things!
Startled by a sound down in our own camp, I quickly turned and saw old
Blodgett scrambling up to where I sat.
"It ain't no use," he said in an undertone. "I can't sleep." He twisted his
back and writhed like a cat that wants to scratch itself against a
doorpost. "What an island for temples! Ah, Benny, here's our chance to make
our everlasting fortunes."
I touched him and pointed at the distant light shining out of the darkness.
Sitting down beside me, he watched it intently. "I tell ye, Benny," he
murmured thoughtfully, "either me and you and the rest of us is going to
make our everlasting fortunes out o' these here natives, or we're going to
lay out under these here trees until the trumpet blows for Judgment."
After a time he spoke again. "Ah, but it's a night to be stirring! I'll
stake all my pay for this unlucky voyage that there's not a native on the
island who hasn't a bag of rubies tied round his neck with a string, or
maybe emeralds--there's a stone for you! Emeralds are green as the sea by a
sandy shore and bright as a cat's eyes in the dark."
Morning came quickly. Pink and gold tinted the cone-shaped peaks, the sky
brightened from the color of steel to a clear cobalt, and all at once the
world lay before us in the cool morning air, which the sun was soon to warm
to a vapid heat. As we gathered at the summit of the cliff over which
Blodgett nearly had let us into eternity, we could see below, flying in and
out, birds of the variety, as I afterwards learned, that make edible nests.
It now was apparent that the light I had seen at sea was that of a ship's
lantern, for to our amazement the Island Princess lay in the offing.
Landward unbroken verdure extended from the slope at our feet to the base
of the cone-shaped peaks, and of the armed force that had frightened us so
badly the evening before we saw no sign; but when we looked at the marsh we
rubbed our eyes and stared anew.
There was the rough hillside that we had climbed in terror; there was the
marsh with its still pools, its lush herbage, and the "road" that wound
from the muddy beach to the forest on our left. But in the marsh, scattered
here and there--! The truth dawned on us slowly. All at once Blodgett
slapped his thin legs and leaned back and laughed until tears started from
his faded eyes; Neddie Benson stared at him stupidly, then poured out a
flood of silly oaths. The cook burst into a hoarse guffaw, and Roger and
Davie Paine chuckled softly. We stopped and looked at each other and then
laughed together until we had to sit down on the ground and hold our aching
In the midst of the marsh were feeding a great number of big, long-horned
water buffaloes. We now realized that the road we had followed was one of
their trails that the guttural calls and blasts from rude trumpets were
their snorts and blats, that the spears we had seen were their horns viewed
from lower ground.
The ebbing tide had left our boat far from the water, and since we were
faint from our long fast, it was plain that, if we were to survive our
experience, we must find help soon.
"If I was asked," Davie remarked thoughtfully, "I'd say the thing to do was
to follow along the edge of that there swamp to the forest, where maybe
we'll find a bit of a spring and some kind of an animal Mr. Hamlin can
shoot with that pistol of his."
Roger drew the pistol from his belt and regarded it with a wry smile.
"Unfortunately," he said, "I have no powder."
At all events there was no need to stay longer where we were; so, retracing
our steps of the evening before, we skirted the marsh and came to a place
where there were many cocoanut trees. We were bitterly disappointed to find
that our best efforts to climb them were of no avail. We dared not try to
fell them with the cook's cleaver, lest the noise of chopping attract
natives; for we were convinced by the light we had seen shining in the
jungle that the island was inhabited. So we set off cautiously into the
woods, and slowly tramped some distance through an undergrowth that
scratched our hands and faces and tore our clothes. On the banks of a small
stream we picked some yellow berries, which Blodgett ate with relish, but
which the rest of us found unpalatable. We all drank water from the hollows
of trees,--we dared not drink from the boggy stream,--and Neddie Benson ate
the leaves of some bushes and urged the rest of us to try them. That we
refused, we later had reason to be deeply thankful.
Following the stream we crossed a well-marked path, which caused us
considerable uneasiness, and came at last to an open glade, at the other
end of which we saw a person moving. At that we bent double and retreated
as noiselessly as possible. Once out of sight in the woods, we hurried off
in single file till we thought we had put a safe distance behind us; but
when we stopped to rest we were terrified by a noise in the direction from
which we had come, and we hastened to conceal ourselves under the leaves
The noise slowly drew nearer, as if men were walking about and beating the
undergrowth as they approached. Blodgett stared from his covert with beady
eyes; Neddie gripped my wrist; the cook rubbed his thumb along the blade of
the cleaver, and Roger fingered the useless pistol. Still the noises
approached. At the sight of something that moved I felt my heart leap and
stand still, then Blodgett laughed softly; a pair of great birds which flew
away as soon as they saw us stirring, had occasioned our fears.
Having really seen a man in the glade by the stream, we were resolved to
incur no foolish risks; so we cautiously returned to the hill, whence we
could watch the beach and the broad marsh and catch between the mountains a
glimpse of a bay to the northeast where we now saw at a great distance some
men fishing from canoes. While the rest of us prepared another hiding-place
among the bushes, Roger and Blodgett sallied forth once more to reconnoitre
in a new direction.
Although we no longer could see the ship, we were much perplexed that she
had lingered off the island, and we talked of it at intervals throughout
the day. Whatever her purpose, we were convinced that for us it augured
Presently Roger and Blodgett returned in great excitement and reported that
the woods were full of Malays. Apparently the natives were unaware of our
presence but we dared not venture again in search of food, so we resumed
our regular watches and slept in our turns. As soon as the sun should set
we planned to skirt the mountains under the cover of darkness, in desperate
hope of finding somewhere food and water with which we could return to our
boat and defy death by putting out to sea; but ere the brief twilight of
the tropics had settled into night, Neddie Benson was writhing and groaning
in mortal agony. We were alarmed, and for a time could think of no
explanation; but after a while black Frank looked up from where he crouched
by the luckless Neddie and fiercely muttered:--
"What foh he done eat dem leaves? Hey? Tell me dat!"
It was true that Neddie alone had eaten the leaves. A heavy price he was
paying for it! We all looked at Blodgett with an anxiety that it would have
been kinder, perhaps, to hide, and Blodgett himself seemed uneasy lest he
should be poisoned by the berries he had eaten. But no harm came of them,
and by the time the stars were shining again Neddie appeared to be over the
worst of his sickness and with the help of the rest of us managed to
stagger along. So we chose a constellation for our guide and set off
through the undergrowth.
Even Blodgett by this time had got over his notion of robbing temples.
"If only we was to run on a yam patch," he said to me as together we
stumbled forward, "or maybe some chickens or a little rice or a vegetable
garden or a spring of cold water--"
But only a heavy sigh answered him, a grunt from the cook, and a moan from
Neddie. Our spirits were too low to be stirred even by Blodgett's visionary
tales. It was hard to believe that the moon above the mountains was the
same that had shone down upon us long before off the coast of Sumatra.
The woods were so thick that we soon lost sight of our constellation, but
we kept on our way, stopping often to rest, and made what progress we
could. More than once we heard at a little distance noises that indicated
the presence of wild beasts; and the brambles and undergrowth tore our
clothes and scratched and cut our skin till blood ran from our hands and
faces. But the thing that alarmed us most we heard one time when we had
thrown ourselves on the ground to rest. Though it came from a great
distance it unmistakably was four distinct gunshots.
Too weak and exhausted to talk, yet determined to carry through our
undertaking, we pushed on and on till we could go no farther; then we
dropped where we stood, side by side, and slept.
Morning woke us. Through the trees we saw a cone-shaped peak and a great
marsh where buffalo were feeding. We unwittingly had circled in the night
and had come back to within a quarter of a mile of the very point from
which we had set forth.
A STORY IN MELON SEEDS
We were all gaunt and unkempt after our hardships of the past two days, but
Neddie, poor fellow, looked more like a corpse than a living man and moaned
with thirst and scarcely could sit up without help. Finding about a pint of
water close at hand in the hollow of a tree, we carried him to it and he
sucked it up with a straw till it was all gone; but though it relieved his
misery, he was manifestly unable to walk, even had we dared stir abroad, so
we stayed where we were while the sun rose to the meridian. We could find
so little water that we all suffered from thirst, and with Neddie's
sickness in mind none of us dared eat more leaves or berries.
The afternoon slowly wore away; the tide came in across the flats; the
shadows lengthened hour by hour. But no breath of wind cooled our hot
faces. Neddie lay in a heap, moaning fitfully; Blodgett and Davie Paine
slept; Roger sat with his back to a tree and watched the incoming tide; the
cook stirred about uneasily and muttered to himself.
Coming over to me, he crouched at my side and spoke of Kipping. He was
savagely vindictive. "Hgh!" he grunted, "dat yeh crimp! He got dis nigger
once, yass, sah. Got me to dat boa'din' house what he was runner foh. Yass,
sah. Ah had one hunnerd dollahs in mah pants pocket, yass, sah. Nex'
mohnin' Ah woke up th'ee days lateh 'boa'd ship bound foh London. Ah ain'
got no hunnerd dollah in mah pants pocket. Dat yeh Kipping he didn't leave
me no pants pocket." The old black pulled open his shirt and revealed a
jagged scar on his great shoulder. "Look a' dat! Cap'n done dat--dat yeh
At dusk Neddie's moaning woke the sleepers, and we held a council in which
we debated plans for the future. Daring neither to venture abroad nor to
eat the native fruits and leaves, exhausted by exposure, perishing of
hunger and thirst, we faced a future that was dark indeed.
"As for me," said Davie calmly, "I can see only one way to end our misery."
He glanced at the cook's cleaver as he spoke.
"No, no!" Roger cried sharply. "Let us have no such talk as that, Davie."
He hesitated, looking first at us,--his eyes rested longest on Neddie's
hollow face,--then at the marsh; then he leaned forward and looked from one
to another. "Men," he said, "I see no better way out of our difficulties
than to surrender to the natives."
"Oh, no, no, sah! No, sah! Don' do dat, sah! No, no no!" With a yell black
Frank threw himself on his knees. "No, sah, no, sah! Dey's we'y devils,
sah, dey's wuss 'n red Injuns, sah!"
"Fool." Roger cried. "Be still!" Seeming to hold the negro in contempt, he
turned to the rest of us and awaited our answer.
At the time we were amazed at his harshness, and the poor cook was
completely overwhelmed; for little as Roger said, there was something in
his manner of saying it that burned like fire. But later, when we looked
back on that day and remembered how bitterly we were discouraged, we saw
reason to thank God that Roger Hamlin had had the wisdom and the power to
crush absolutely the first sign of insubordination.
Staring in a curious way at the cook, who was fairly groveling on the
earth, Blodgett spoke up in a strangely listless voice. "I say yes, sir. If
we're to die, we're to die anyhow, and there's a bare chance they'll feed
us before they butcher us."
"Ay," said Davie. "Me, too!"
And Neddie made out to nod.
The cook, watching the face of each man in turn, began to blubber; and when
I, the youngest and last, cast my vote with the rest, he literally rolled
on the ground and bellowed.
"Get up!" Roger snapped out at him.
He did so in a kind of stupid wonder.
"Now then, cook, there's been enough of this nonsense. Come, let's sleep.
At daylight to-morrow we'll be on our way."
Apparently the negro at first doubted his ears; but Roger's peremptory tone
brought him to his senses, and the frank disapproval of the others ended
A certain confidence that our troubles were soon to be ended in one way or
another, coupled with exhaustion, enabled me to sleep deeply that night,
despite the numberless perils that beset us.
I was aware that the cook continually moaned to himself and that at some
time in the night Roger and Blodgett were throwing stones at a wild beast
that was prowling about. Then the sun shone full on my face and I woke with
Roger and Davie Paine each gave Neddie Benson an arm, Blodgett and I pushed
ahead to find the best footing, and the cook, once more palsied with fear,
again came last. To this day I have not been able to account for Frank's
strange weakness. In all other circumstances he was as brave as a lion.
Staggering along as best we could, we arrived at the stream we had found
before--we dared not drink its water, even in our extremity--and followed
it to the glade, which this time we boldly entered. At first we saw no one,
but when we had advanced a few steps, we came upon three girls fishing from
the bank of the stream. As they darted off along the path that led up the
glade, we started after them, but we were so weak that, when we had gone
only a short distance, we had to sit down on the trunk of a large tree to
About a quarter of an hour later we heard steps, and shortly seven men
appeared by the same path.
Indicating by a motion of his hand that he wished the rest of us to remain
seated, Roger rose and went fearlessly to meet the seven. When he had
approached within a short distance, they stopped and drew their krises, or
knives with waved points. Never hesitating, Roger continued to advance
until he was within six feet of them, then falling on his knees and
extending his empty hands, he begged for mercy.
For a long time they stood with drawn knives, staring at him and at us;
then one of them put up his kris, and knelt in front of him and offered him
both hands, which, it seemed, was a sign of friendship.
When we indicated by gestures that we were hungry, they immediately gave us
each a cocoanut; but meanwhile some twenty or thirty more natives had
arrived at the spot where we were, and they now proceeded to take our hats
and handkerchiefs, and to cut the buttons from our coats.
Presently they gave us what must have been an order to march. At all events
we walked with them at a brisk pace along a well-marked trail, between
great ferns and rank canes and grasses, and after a time we came to a
village composed of frail, low houses or bungalows, from which other
natives came running. Some of them shook their fists at us angrily; some
picked up sticks and clubs or armed themselves with knives and krises, and
came trailing along behind. Children began to throw clods and pebbles at
us. The mob was growing rapidly, and for some cause, their curiosity to see
the white men, the like of whom most of them probably never had seen
before, was unaccountably mixed with anger.
If they were going to kill us, why did they not cut our throats and have it
done with? Still the people came running, till the whining of their voices
almost deafened us; and still they hustled us along, until at last we came
to a house larger than any we had passed.
Here they all stopped, and our captors, with as many of the clamoring mob
as the place would hold, drove us through the open door into what appeared
to be the judgment-hall of the village. Completely at their mercy, we stood
by the judgment-seat in the centre of a large circle and waited until, at
the end of perhaps half an hour, an even greater uproar arose in the
There was much stirring and talking and new faces continued to appear. From
where I stood I could see that the growing throng was armed with spears and
knives. More and more natives pressed into the ring that surrounded us and
listened intently to a brisk discussion, of which none of us could
understand a word.
In one corner was a heap of melons; in another were spears and shields. I
was looking at them curiously when something familiar just above them
caught my eye and sent a stab of fear through my heart. In that array of
savage weapons were _three ship's cutlasses_. I was familiar enough with
the rife of those Eastern islands to know what that meant.
Everywhere in the dim hall were bared knives, and muttering voices now and
then rose to loud shrieks. What with faintness and fatigue and fear, I felt
myself growing weak and dizzy. The circle of hostile faces and knives and
spears seemed suddenly dim and far-away. In all the hut I could see only
the three ship's cutlasses in the corner, and think only of what a grand
history theirs must have been.
The distant roar that came slowly nearer seemed so much like a dream that I
thought I must be delirious, and rubbed my eyes and ears and tried to
compose myself; but the roar continued to grow louder, and now a more
intense clamor arose. The crowd parted and in through the open lane came a
wild, tall man, naked except for a pair of short breeches, a girdle, and a
red handkerchief on his head, who carried a drawn kris. Coming within the
circle, he stopped and stared at us. Then everything grew white and I found
myself lying on my back on the floor, looking up at them all and wondering
if they had killed me already. Small wonder that starvation and exposure
had proved too much for me!
Roger was down on his knees beside me,--he told me long afterwards that
nothing ever gave him such a start as did my ghastly pallor,--and the
others, in the face of our common danger, gathered round me solicitously.
All, that is, except the cook; for, although our captors had exhibited a
lively curiosity about those of us who were white, they had frightened the
poor negro almost out of his wits by feeling of his cheeks and kinky hair
and by punching his ribs with their fingers, until now, having been
deprived of his beloved cleaver, he cowered like a scared puppy before the
gravely interested natives. "O Lo'd," he muttered between chattering teeth,
"O Lo'd, why am dis yeh nigger so popolous? O Lo'd, O Lo'd, dah comes
anotheh--dah comes anotheh!"
Of the hostility of our captors there now could be no doubt. The sinister
motion of their weapons, the angry glances that they persistently darted at
us, the manner and inflection of their speech, all were threatening. But
Roger, having made sure that I was not injured, was on his feet and already
had faced boldly the angry throng.
Though we could not understand the savages and they could not understand
us, Roger's earnestness when he began to speak commanded their attention,
and the chief fixed his eyes on him gravely. But some one else repeated it
twice a phrase that sounded like "Pom-pom, pom-pom!" And the rest burst
into angry yells.
Roger indignantly threw his hands down,--palms toward the chief,--as if to
indicate that we had come in friendship; but the man laughed scornfully and
repeated the phrase, "Pom-pom!"
Again Roger spoke indignantly; again he threw his hands down, palms out.
But once more the cry, "Pom-pom, pom-pom," rose fiercely, and the angry
throng pressed closer about us. The rest of us had long since despaired of
our lives, and for the moment even Roger was baffled.
What the phrase meant we had not the remotest idea, but that our state now
was doubly perilous the renewed hubbub and the closing circle of weapons
"Pom-pom, pom-pom!" Again and again in all parts of the hall we heard the
Was there nothing that we could do to prove our good faith? Nothing to show
them that at least we did not come as enemies?
Over Davie Fame's face an odd expression now passed. He was staring at the
heap of melons.
"Mr. Hamlin," he said in a low voice, "if we was to cut a ship out of one
of them melons, and a boat and some men, we could show these 'ere heathen
how we didn't aim to bother them, and then maybe they'd let us go away
"Davie, Davie, man," Roger cried, "there's an idea!"
I was completely bewildered. What could Davie mean, I wondered. Melons and
a ship? Were he and Roger mad? From Roger's actions I verily believed they
He faced our captors for a moment as if striving to think of some way to
impress them; then, with a quick gesture, he deliberately got down on the
floor and took the chief's foot and placed it on his head, to signify that
we were completely in the fellow's power. Next he rose and faced the man
boldly, and began a solemn and impressive speech. His grave air and stern
voice held their attention, though they could not understand a word he
said; and before their interest had time to fail, he drew from his pocket a
penknife, a weapon so small that it had escaped their prying fingers, and
walking deliberately to the corner where the melons were heaped up, took
one of them and began to cut it.
At first they started forward; but when Roger made no hostile motion, they
gathered round him in silence to see what he was doing.
"Here, men, is the ship," he said gravely, "and here the boats." Kneeling
and continuing his speech, he cut from the melon-rind a roughly shaped
model of a ship, and stuck in it, to represent masts, three slivers of
bamboo, which he split from a piece that lay on the floor; then he cut a
smaller model, which he laid on the deck of the ship, to represent a boat.
On one side of the deck he upright six melon seeds, on the other twelve.
Pointing at the six seeds and holding up six fingers, he pointed at each
of us in turn.
Suddenly one of the natives cried out in his own tongue; then another and
another seemed to understand Roger's meaning as they jabbered among
themselves and in turn pointed at the six seeds and at the six white men
whom they had captured.
Roger then imitated a fight, shaking his fists and slashing as if with a
cutlass, and, last of all, he pointed his finger, and cried, "Bang! Bang!"
At this the natives fairly yelled in excitement and repeated over and over,
"Bang-bang!"--"Pom-pom!" We suddenly understood the phrase that they had
used so often.
Now in dead silence, all in the hut, brown men and white, pressed close
around the melon-rind boat on the floor. So moving the melon seeds that it
was obvious that the six men represented by six seeds were being driven
overboard, Roger next set the boat on the floor and transferred them to it.
Lining up all the rest along the side of the ship, he cried loudly, "Bang
"Cook," he called, beckoning to black Frank, "come here!"
As the negro reluctantly obeyed, Roger pointed to the long gash that
Kipping's bullet had cut in his kinky scalp. Crying again, "Bang-bang!" he
pointed at one of the seeds in the boat and then at the cook.
Not one of them who could see the carved boats failed to understand what
Roger meant, and the brown men looked at Frank and laughed and talked more
loudly and excitedly than ever. Then the chief stood up and cried to some
one in the farthest corner of the room, and at that there was more laughing
and shouting. The man in the corner seemed much abashed; but those about
him pushed him forward, and he was shoved along through the crowd until he,
too, stood beside the table, where a dozen men pointed at his head and
cried "Bang-bang!" or "Pom-pom!" as the case might be.
To our amazement we saw that just over his right temple there was torn the
path of a bullet, exactly that on the cook's head.
He cut from the melon-rind a roughly shaped model of a ship and stuck in
it, to represent masts, three slivers of bamboo.]
Now the chief reached for Roger's knife and deftly whittled out the shape
of a native canoe. In it he placed several seeds, then, pushing it against
the carved ship, he pointed to the man with the bullet wound on his temple
and cried, "Pom-pom!" Next he pointed at two seeds in the boat and said,
"Pom-pom," and snapped them out of the canoe with his finger.
"Would you believe it!" Blodgett gasped. "The heathens went out to the ship
in one o' them boats, and Falk fired on 'em!"
"And two of 'em was killed!" Davie exclaimed unnecessarily.
Roger now laid half a melon on the floor, its flat side down, and moved the
boat slowly over to it.
That the half-melon represented the island was apparent to all. The natives
crowded round us, jabbering questions that we could not understand and of
course could not answer; they examined the cook's wound and compared it
with the wound their friend had suffered; they pointed at the little boats
cut out of melon-rind and laughed uproariously.
Now one of them made a suggestion, the others took it up, and the chief
split melons and offered a half to each of us.
We ate them like the starving men we were, and did not notice that the
chief had assembled his head men for a consultation, until he sent a man
running from the hall, returned shortly with six pieces of betel nut, which
the natives chew instead of tobacco, and gave them to the chief, who handed
one to each of us as a mark of friendship. Next, to our amazement, one of
the natives produced Roger's useless pistol and handed it back to him; and
as if that were a signal, one after another they restored our knives and
clubs, until, last of all, a funny little man with a squint handed the
cleaver back to the cook.
With a tremendous sigh of relief, Frank seized the mighty weapon and laid
it on his knee and buried his big white teeth in half a melon. "Mah golly!"
he muttered, when he had swallowed the huge mouthful and had wiped his lips
and chin with the back of his hand, "Ah neveh 'spected to see dis yeh
felleh again. No, sah!" And he tapped the cleaver lovingly.
The chief, who had been talking earnestly with his counselors, now made
signs to attract our attention. Obviously he wished to tell us a story of
his own. He cut out a number of slim canoes from the melon-rind and laid
them on the half-melon that represented the island; next, he pushed the
ship some distance away on the floor. Blowing on it through pursed lips, he
turned it about and drew it back toward the half-melon that represented the
island. When it was in the lee of the island, he stopped it and looked up
at us and smiled and pointed out of the door. We were puzzled. Seeing our
blank expressions, he repeated the process. Still we could not understand.
Persisting in his efforts, he now launched three roughly carved canoes, in
which he placed a number of seeds, pointing at himself and various others;
then in each of the prows he placed two seeds and pointed at the six of us,
two at a time. Pointing next at the roof of the hut, he waved his hand from
east to west and closed his eyes as if in sleep, after which he placed his
finger on his lips, pushed the carved canoes very slowly across the floor
toward the ship, then, with a screech that made our hair stand on end, he
rushed them at the seeds that represented Captain Falk and his men,
yelling, "Pom-pom-pom-pom!" and snapped the seeds off on the floor.
Leaning back, he bared his teeth and laughed ferociously.
Here was a plot to take the ship! Although we probably had missed the fine
points of it, we could not mistake its general character.
"Ay," said Blodgett, as if we had been discussing the matter for hours,
"but we'll be a pack of bloody pirates to be hanged from the yard-arms of
the first frigate that overhauls us."
It was true. We should be liable as pirates in any port in Christendom.
"Men," said Roger coolly, "there's no denying that in the eyes of the law
we'd be pirates as well as mutineers. But if we can take the ship and sail
it back to Salem, we'll be acquitted of any charge of mutiny or piracy, I
can promise you. It'll be easy to ship a new crew at Canton, and we can
settle affairs with the Websters' agents there so that at least we'll have
a chance at a fair trial if we are taken on our homeward voyage. Shall we
The cook rolled his eyes. "Gimme dat yeh Kipping!" he cried, and with a
savage cackle he swung his cleaver.
"Falk for me, curse him!" Davie Paine muttered with a neat that surprised
me. I had not realized that emotions as well as thoughts developed so
slowly in Davie's big, leisurely frame that he now was just coming to the
fullness of his wrath at the indignities he had undergone.
Turning to the native chief, Roger cried, "We're with you!" And he
extended his hand to seal the bargain.
Of course the man could not understand the words but in the nods we had
exchanged and in the cook's fierce glee, he had read our consent, and he
laughed and talked with the others, who laughed, too, and pointed at
Roger's pistol and cried, "Pom-pom!" and at the cook's cleaver and cried,
When by signs Roger indicated that we needed sleep the chief issued orders,
and half a dozen natives led us to a hut that seemed to be set apart for
our use. But although we were nearly perishing with fatigue, they urged by
signs that we follow them, and so insistent were they that we reluctantly
Climbing a little hill beyond the village, we came to a cleared spot
surrounded by bushes through which we looked across between the mountains
to where we could just see the open ocean. There, not three miles away, the
Island Princess rode at anchor.
I remember thinking, as I fell asleep, of the chance that Falk and Kipping
would sail away before it was dark enough to attack them, and I spoke of it
to Roger and the others, who shared my fear; but when our savage hosts
wakened us, we knew by their eagerness that the ship still lay at her
anchor. Why she remained, we could not agree. We hazarded a score of
conjectures and debated them with lively interest.
Presently the natives brought us rice and sago-bread and peas.
As I ate and looked out into the darkness where fires were twinkling, I
wondered which was the light I had seen that night when I watched from the
summit of the headland.
Though a gentle rain was falling, the whole village was alive with people.
Men armed with spears and krises squatted in all parts of the hut. Boys
came and went in the narrow circle of light. Women and girls looked from
the door and from the farthest corners. Now and then some one would point
at Roger's pistol and cry, "Pom-pom!" or, to the pride and delight of the
cook, point at the cleaver and cry, "Whish!" and laugh loudly.
Even black Frank had got over his terror of having natives come up without
warning and feel of his arm or his woolly head, though he muttered
doubtfully, "Ah ain't sayin' as Ah likes it. Dah's su'thin' so kind of
hongry de way dey comes munchin' an' proddin' round dis yeh ol' niggeh."
At midnight we went out into the dark and the rain, and followed single
file after our leader along a narrow path that led through dripping ferns
and pools of mud and water, over roots and rocks, and under low branches,
which time and again swung back and struck our faces.
We were drenched to the skin when we came at last to a sluggish, black
little stream, which ran slowly under thick overhanging trees, and in other
circumstances we should have been an unhappy and rebellious crew. But now
the spell of adventure was upon us. Our savage guides moved silently and
surely, and the forest was so mysterious and strange that I found its
allurement all but irresistible. The slow, silent stream, on which now and
then lights as faint and elusive as wisps of cloud played fitfully,
reflected from I knew not where, had a fascination that I am sure the
others felt as strongly as I. So we followed in silence and watched all
that the dense blackness of the night let us see.
Now the natives launched canoes, which slipped out on the water and lay
side by side in the stream. Roger and Neddie Benson got into one; Blodgett
and Davie Paine another; the cook and I into a third, Whatever thoughts or
plans we six might have, we could not express them to the natives, and we
were too widely separated to put them into practice ourselves. We could
only join in the fight with good-will when the time came, and I assure you,
the thought made me very nervous indeed. Also, I now realized that the
natives had taken no chance of treachery on our part: _behind each of us
sat an armed man_.
The canoes shot ahead so swiftly under the pressure of the paddles that
they seemed actually to have come to life. But they moved as noiselessly as
shadows. We glided down the stream and out in a long line into a little
bay, where we gathered, evidently to arrange the last details of the
attack. I heard Roger say in a low voice, "We'll reach the ship about three
bells and there couldn't be a better hour." Then, with a few low words of
command from the native chief, we spread out again into an irregular,
swiftly moving fleet, and swept away from the shore.
As I looked back at the island I could see nothing, for the cloudy sky and
the drizzly rain completely obscured every object beyond a limited circle
of water; but as I looked ahead, my heart leaped and my breath came
quickly. We had passed the farthest point of land and there, dimly in the
offing, shone a single blurred light, which I knew was on the Island
In the darkness and rain we soon lost sight even of those nearest us on
each side, but we knew by the occasional almost imperceptible whisper of a
paddle in the water, or by the faintest murmur of speech, that the others
were keeping pace with us.
To this day I do not understand how the paddlers maintained the proper
intervals in our line of attack; yet maintain them they did, by some means
or other, according to a preconcerted plan, for we advanced without hurry
Approaching the ship more closely, we made out the rigging, which the soft
yellow light of the lantern dimly revealed. We saw, too, a single dark
figure leaning on the taffrail, which became clear as we drew nearer. I was
surprised to perceive that we had come up astern of the ship--quite without
reason I had expected to find her lying bow on. Now we rode the gentle
swell without sound or motion. The slow paddles held us in the same place
with regard to the ship, and minutes passed in which my nervousness rose to
such a pitch that I felt as if I must scream or clap my hands simply to
shatter that oppressive, tantalizing, almost unendurable silence. But when
I started to turn and whisper to the cook, something sharp and cold pricked
through the back of my shirt and touched my skin, and from that time on I
sat as still as a wooden figurehead.
After a short interval I made out other craft drawing in on our right and
left, and I later learned that, while we waited, the canoes were forming
about the ship a circle of hostile spears. But it then seemed at every
moment as if the man who was leaning on the taffrail must espy us,--it
always is hard for the person in the dark, who sees what is near the light,
to realize that he himself remains invisible,--and a thousand fears swept
There came now from somewhere on our right a whisper no louder than a
mouse's hiss of warning or of threat. I scarcely was aware of it. It might
have been a ripple under the prow of the canoe, a slightest turn of a
paddle. Yet it conveyed a message that the natives instantly understood.
The man just behind me repeated it so softly that his repetition was
scarcely audible, even to me who sat so near that I could feel his breath,
and at once the canoe seemed silently to stir with life. Inch by inch we
floated forward, until I could see clearly the hat and coat-collar of the
man who was leaning against the rail. It was Kipping.
From forward came the cautious voices of the watch. The light revealed the
masts and rigging of the ship for forty or fifty feet from the deck, but
beyond the cross-jack yard all was hazy, and the cabin seemed in the odd
shadows twice its real size. I wondered if Falk were asleep, too, or if we
should come on him sitting up in the cabin, busy with his books and charts.
I wondered who was in the galley, where I saw a light; who was standing
watch; who was asleep below. Still we moved noiselessly on under the stern
of the ship, until I almost could have put my hands on the carved letters,
Besides things on deck, the light also revealed our own attacking party.
The man in front of me had laid his paddle in the bottom of the canoe and
held a spear across his knees. In the boat on our right were five natives
armed with spears and krises; in the one on our left, four. Beyond the
craft nearest to us I could see others less distinctly--silent shadows on
the water, each with her head toward our prey, like a school of giant fish.
In the lee of the ship, the pinnace floated at the end of its painter.
Still the watch forward talked on in low, monotonous voices; still Kipping
leaned on the rail, his head bent, his arms folded, to all appearances fast
I had now forgotten my fears. I was keenly impatient for the word to
A shrill wailing cry suddenly burst on the night air. The man in front of
me, holding his spear above his head with one hand, made a prodigious leap
from the boat, caught the planking with his fingers, got toe-hold on a
stern-port, and went up over the rail like a wild beast. With knives
between their teeth, men from the proas on my right and left boarded the
ship by the chains, by the rail, by the bulwark.
I saw Kipping leap suddenly forward and whirl about like a weasel in his
tracks. His yell for all hands sounded high above the clamor of the
boarders. Then some one jabbed the butt of a spear into my back and,
realizing that mine was not to be a spectator's part in that weird battle,
I scrambled up the stern as best I could.
The watch on deck, I instantly saw, had backed against the forecastle where
the watch below was joining it. Captain Falk and some one else, of whose
identity I could not be sure, rushed armed from the cabin. Then a missile
crashed through the lantern, and in the darkness I heard sea-boots banging
on the deck as those aft raced forward to join the crew.
I clambered aboard, waving my arms and shouting; then I stood and listened
to the chorus of yells fore and aft, the _slip-slip-slip_ of bare feet, the
thud of boots as the Americans ran this way and that. I sometimes since
have wondered how I escaped death in that wild mêlée in the darkness.
Certainly I was preserved by no effort of my own, for not knowing which way
to turn, ignored by friend and foe alike, almost stunned by the terrible
sounds that rose on every side, I simply clutched the rail and was as
unlike the hero that my silly dreams had made me out to be--never had I
dreamed of such a night!--as is every half-grown lad who stands side by
side with violent death.
Of Kipping I now saw nothing, but as a light momentarily flared up, I
caught a glimpse of Captain Falk and his party sidling along back to back,
fighting off their assailants while they struggled to launch a boat. Time
and time again I heard the spiteful crack of their guns and their oaths and
exclamations. Presently I also heard another sound that made my heart
throb; a man was moaning as if in great pain.
Then another cried, with an oath, "They've got me! O Tom, haul out that
spear!" A scream followed and then silence.
Some one very near me, who as yet was unaware of my presence, said, "He's
"Look out!" cried another. "See! There behind you!"
I was startled and instinctively dodged back. There was a crashing report
in my face; the flame of a musket singed my brows and hair, and powder
stung my skin. Then, as the man clubbed his gun, I dashed under his guard,
scarcely aware of the pain in my shoulder, and locking my right heel behind
his left, threw him hard to the deck, where we slipped and slid in a warm
slippery stream that was trickling across the planks.
Back and forth we rolled, neither of us daring to give the other a moment's
breathing-space in which to draw knife or pistol; and all the time the
fight went on over our heads. I now heard Roger crying to the rest of us to
stand by. I heard what I supposed to be his pistol replying smartly to the
fire from Falk's party, and wondered where in that scene of violence he had
got powder and an opportunity to load. But for the most part I was rolling
and struggling on the slippery deck.
When some one lighted a torch and the flame flared up and revealed the grim
scene, I saw that Falk and his remaining men were trying at the same time
to stand off the enemy and to scramble over the bulwark, and I realized
that they must have drawn up the pinnace. But I had only the briefest
glimpse of what was happening, for I was in deadly terror every minute lest
my antagonist thrust a knife between my ribs. I could hear him gasping now
as he strove to close his hands on my throat, and for a moment I thought he
had me; but I twisted away, got half on my knees with him under me, sprang
to my feet, then slipped once more on the slow stream across the planks,
and fell heavily.
In that moment I had seen by torchlight that the pinnace was clear of the
ship and that the men with their guns and spikes were holding off the
natives. I had seen, too, a spear flash across the space of open water and
cut down one of the men. But already my adversary was at me again, and with
his two calloused hands he once more was gripping my throat. I exerted all
my strength to keep from being throttled. I tried to scream, but could only
gurgle. His head danced before me and seemed to swing in circles. I felt
myself losing strength. I rallied desperately, only to be thrown.
Then, suddenly, I realized that he had let me go and had sat down beside me
breathing heavily. It was the man from Boston whose nose had been broken.
He eyed me curiously as if an idea had come upon him by surprise.
"I didn't go to fight so hard, mate," he gasped, "but you did act so kind
of vicious that I just had to."
"You what?" I exclaimed, not believing my ears.
"It's the only way I had to come over to your side," he said with a
whimper. "Falk would 'a' killed me if I'd just up an' come, though I wanted
to, honest I did."
I put my hand on my throbbing shoulder, and stared at him incredulously.
"You don't need to look at me like that," he sniveled. "Didn't I stand by
Bill Hayden to the last along with you? Ain't I human? Ain't I got as much
appreciation as any man of what it means to have a murderin' pair of
officers like Captain Falk and Mr. Kipping? You don't suppose, do you, that
I'd stay by 'em without I had to?"
I was somewhat impressed by his argument, and he, perceiving it, continued
vehemently, "I _had_ to fight with you. They'd 'a' killed you, too, if I
There was truth in that. Unquestionably they would have shot me down
without hesitation if we two had not grappled in such a lively tussle that
they could not hit one without hitting the other.
We got up and leaned on the bulwark and looked down at the boat, which rode
easily on the slow, oily swell. There in the stern-sheets the torchlight
now revealed Falk.
"I'm lawful master of this vessel," he called back, looking up at the men
who lined the side. "I'll see you hanged from the yard-arm yet, you
white-livered wharf-rats, and you, too, you cabin-window popinjay!"--I knew
that he meant me.--"There'll come a day, by God! There'll come a day!"
The men in the boat gave way, and it disappeared in the darkness and mist,
its sides bristling with weapons.
But still Falk's voice came back to us shrilly, "I'll see you yet a-hanging
by your necks," until at last we could only hear him cursing.
WHAT WE FOUND IN THE CABIN
Now some one called, "Ben! Ben Lathrop! Where are you?"
"Here I am," I cried as loudly as I could.
"Well, Ben, what's this? Are you wounded?"
It was Roger, and when he saw with whom I was talking he smiled.
"Well, Bennie," he cried, "so we've got a prisoner, have we?"
"No, sir," whimpered the man from Boston, "not a prisoner. I come over, I
"I come over--to your side, sir."
"How about it, Ben?"
"Why, so he says. We were having a pretty hard wrestling match, but he says
it was to cover up his escape from the other party."
"How was I to get away, sir, if I didn't have a subterfoog," the prisoner
interposed eagerly. "I _had_ to wrastle. If I hadn't have, they'd 'a' shot
me down as sure as duff on Sunday."
For my own part I was not yet convinced of his good faith. He had gripped
my throat quite too vindictively. To this very day, when I close my eyes I
can feel his hard fingers clenched about my windpipe and his knees forcing
my arms down on the bloody deck. He had let me go, too, only when we both
knew that Captain Falk and his men had put off from the ship. It seemed
very much as if he were trying to make the best of a bad bargain. But if,
on the other hand, he was entirely sincere in his protestations, it might
well be true that he did not dare come over openly to our side. The problem
had so many faces that it fairly made me dizzy, so I abandoned it and tore
open my clothes to examine the flesh wound on my shoulder.
"Ay," I thought, when I saw where the musket-ball had cut me at close
range, "that was a friendly shot, was it not?"
Roger himself was not yet willing to let the matter fall so readily. His
sharp questions stirred the man from Boston to one uneasy denial after
"But I tell you, sir, I come over as quick as I could."
Again Roger spoke caustically.
"But I tell you, sir, I did. And what's more, I can tell you a lot of
things you'd like to know. Perhaps you'd like to know--" He stopped short.
Roger regarded him as if in doubt, but presently he said in a low voice,
"All right! Say nothing of this to the others. I'll see you later."
Captain Falk and his crew, meanwhile, had moved away almost unmolested.
Their pikes and guns had held off the few natives who made a show of
pursuing them, and the great majority of our allies were running riot on
the ship, which was a sad sight when we turned to take account of the
Three natives were killed and two were wounded, not to mention my injured
shoulder among our own casualties; and two members of the other party in
the crew were sprawled in grotesque attitudes on the deck. Counting the one
who was hit by a spear and who had fallen out of the boat, it meant that
Falk had lost three dead, and if blood on the deck was any sign, others
must have been badly slashed. In other words, our party was, numerically,
almost the equal of his. Considering the man from Boston as on our side, we
were seven to their eight. The lantern that we now lighted revealed more of
the gruesome spectacle, and it made me feel sick to see that both the man
from Boston and I were covered from head to foot with the gore in which we
had been rolling; but to the natives the sight was a stupendous triumph;
and the cook, when I next saw him, was walking down the deck, looking at
the face of one dead man after another.
By and by he came to me where, overcome by a wave of nausea, I had sat down
on the deck with my back against the bulwark. "Dey ain't none of 'em
Kipping," he said grimly. Then he saw my bleeding shoulder and instantly
got down beside me. "You jest let dis yeh ol' nigger took a hand," he
cried. "Ah's gwine fix you all up. You jest come along o' me!" And helping
me to my feet, he led me to the galley, where once more he was supreme and
In no time at all he had a kettle of water on the stove, in which the coals
of a good fire still lingered, and with a clean cloth he washed my wound so
gently that I scarcely could believe his great, coarse hands were actually
at work on me. "Dah you is," he murmured, bending over the red, shallow
gash that the bullet had cut, "dah you is. Don' you fret. Ah's gwine git
you all tied up clean an' han'some, yass, sah."
The yells and cries of every description alarmed and agitated us both. It
was far from reassuring to know that that mob of natives was ranging the
ship at will.
"Ef you was to ask me," Frank muttered, rolling his eyes till the whites
gleamed starkly, "Ah's gwine tell you dis yeh ship is sottin', so to speak,
on a bar'l of gunpowder. Yass, sah!"
An islander uttered a shrill catcall just outside the galley and thrust his
head and half his naked body in the door. He vanished again almost
instantly, but Frank jumped and upset the kettle. "Yass, sah, you creepy
ol' sarpint," he gasped. "Yass, sah, we's sottin' on a bar'l of gunpowder."
I am convinced, as I look back on that night from the pinnacle of more than
half a century, that not one man in ten thousand has ever spent one like
it. Allied with a horde whose language we could not speak, we had boarded
our own ship and now--mutineers, pirates, or loyal mariners, according to
your point of view--we shared her possession with a mob of howling heathens
whose goodwill depended on the whim of the moment, and who might at any
minute, by slaughtering us out of hand, get for their own godless purposes
the ship and all that was in her.
The cook cautiously fingered the keen edge of his cleaver as we looked out
and saw that dawn was brightening in the east.
"Dat Falk, he say he gwine git us yet," the cook muttered. "Maybe so--maybe
not. Maybe we ain't gwine last as long as dat."
"All hands aft!"
Frank and I looked at each other. The galley was as safe and comfortable as
any place aboard ship and we were reluctant to leave it.
"_All hands aft!_" came the call again.
"Ah reckon," Frank said thoughtfully, "me and you better be gwine. When
Mistah Hamlin he holler like dat, he want us."
Light had come with amazing swiftness, and already we could see the deck
from stem to stern without help of the torches, which still flamed and sent
thin streamers of smoke drifting into the mist.
As we emerged from the galley, I noticed that the after-hatch was half
open. That in itself did not surprise me; stranger things than that had
come to pass in the last hour or two; but when some one cautiously emerged
from the hold, with a quick, sly glance at those on the quarter-deck, I'll
confess that I was surprised. It was the man from Boston.
Smiling broadly and turning his black rat-like eyes this way and that, the
chief of our wild allies, who held a naked kris from which drops of blood
were falling, stood beside Roger. Blodgett was at the wheel, nervously
fingering the spokes; Neddie Benson stood behind him, obviously ill at
ease, and Davie Paine, who had got from the cabin what few of his things
were left there, to take them forward, was a little at one side. But the
natives were swarming everywhere, aloft and alow, and we knew only too well
that no small movable object would escape their thieving fingers.
"Ef on'y dem yeh heathen don't took to butcherin'!" the cook muttered.
The prophetic words were scarcely spoken when what we most feared came to
pass. One of the islanders, by accident or design, bumped into Blodgett,--
always erratic, never to be relied on in a crisis,--who, turning without a
thought of the consequences, struck the man with his fist a blow that
floored him, and flashed out his knife.
That single spark threatened an explosion that would annihilate us. Spears
enclosed us from all sides; krises leaped at our throats.
"Come on, lads! Stand together," Blodgett shrieked.
With a yell of terror the cook sprang to join the others, and bellowing in
panic, swung his cleaver wildly.
The man from Boston and Neddie Benson shrank back against the taffrail as a
multitude of moving brown figures seemed to swarm about us. Then I saw
Roger leap forward, his arms high in air, his hands extended.
"Get back!" he cried, glancing at us over his shoulders.
As all stopped and stared at him, he coolly turned to the chief and handed
him his pistol, butt foremost. Was Roger mad, I wondered? He was the sanest
man of all our crew. The chief gravely took the proffered weapon and looked
at Blodgett, whose face was contorted with fear, and at the Malay, who by
now was sitting up on deck blinking about him in a dazed way. Then he
smiled and raised his hand and the points of the weapons fell.
In truth I was nearly mad myself, for now it all struck me as funny and I
laughed until I cried, and all the others looked at me, and soon the
natives began to point and laugh themselves. I suppose I was hysterical,
but it created a diversion and helped to save the day; and Neddie Benson
and the man from Boston, whom Roger had sent below, returned soon with
bolts of cloth and knives and pistols and threw them in a heap on the
Some word that I suppose meant gifts, went from lip to lip and our allies
eagerly crowded around us.
"Get behind me, men," Roger said in an undertone. "Whatever happens, guard
the companionway. I think we're safe, but since by grace of Providence
we're all here together, we'll take no chances that we can avoid."
The first rays of sunlight shone on the heap of bright stuffs and polished
metal, but the sun itself was no brighter than the face of the chief when
Roger draped over him a length of bright cloth and presented him with a
handsome knife. He threw back his head, laughing aloud, and strutted across
the deck. Turning in grave farewell, he grasped his booty with one arm and,
after a few sharp words to his men, swung himself down by the chains with
the other. To man after man we gave gaudy cloths or knives or, when all
the knives were given away, a cutlass or a gun; and when at last the only
canoes in sight were speeding toward shore like comets with tails of red
flannel and purple calico, we breathed deeply our relief.
"Now, men," said Roger, "we have a hard morning's work in front of us.
Cook, break out a cask of beef and a cask of bread, and get us something to
eat. Davie, you stand watch and keep your eye out either for a native canoe
or for any sign of Falk or his party. The rest of you--all except Lathrop--
wash down the deck and sew those bodies up in a piece of old sail with
plenty of ballast. Ben, you and I have a little job in front of us. Come
into the cabin with me."
I gladly followed him. He was as composed as if battle and death were all
in the routine of a day at sea, and I was full of admiration for his
coolness and courage.
The cabin was in complete disorder, but comparatively few things had been
stolen. Apparently not many of the natives had found their way thither.
"Fortunately," Roger said, unlocking Captain Whidden's chest of which he
had the key, "they've left the spare quadrant. We have instruments to
navigate with, so, when all's said and done, I suppose we're lucky."
He closed the chest and locked it again; then he took from his pocket a
second key. "Benny, my lad," he said, "let's have a look at that one
hundred thousand dollars in gold."
Going into the captain's stateroom, we shut the door and knelt beside the
iron safe. The key turned with difficulty.
"It needs oil," Roger muttered, as he worked over it. "It turns as hard as
if some one has been tinkering with it." By using both hands he forced it
round and opened the door.
The safe was empty.
IN WHICH WE REACH THE PORT OF OUR DESTINATION
FALK PROPOSES A TRUCE
As we faced each other in amazed silence, we could hear the men working on
deck and the sea rippling against the hull of the ship. I felt that strange
sensation of mingled reality and unreality which comes sometimes in dreams,
and I rather think that Roger felt it, too, for we turned simultaneously to
look again into the iron safe. But again only its painted walls met our
The gold actually was gone.
Roger started up. "Now how did Falk manage that?" he cried. "I swear he
hadn't time to open the safe. We took them absolutely by surprise--I could
swear we did."
I suggested that he might have hidden it somewhere else.
"Not he," said Roger.
"Would Kipping steal from Captain Falk?"
"From Captain Falk!" Roger exclaimed. "If his mother were starving, he'd
steal her last crust. How about the bunk?"
We took the bunk apart and ripped open the mattress. We sounded the
woodwork above and below. With knives we slit the cushion of Captain
Whidden's great arm-chair, and pulled out the curled hair that stuffed it.
We ransacked box, bag, cuddy, and stove; we forced our way into every
corner of the cabin and the staterooms. But we found no trace of the lost
It seemed like sacrilege to disturb little things that once had belonged
to that upright gentleman, Captain Joseph Whidden. His pipe, his
memorandum-book, and his pearl-handled penknife recalled him to my mind as
I had seen him so many times of old, sitting in my father's drawing-room,
with his hands folded on his knee and his firm mouth bent in a whimsical
smile. I thought of my parents, of my sister and Roger, of all the old
far-away life of Salem; I must have stood dreaming thus a long time when my
eyes fell on Nathan Falk's blue coat, which he had thrown carelessly on the
cabin table and had left there, and with a burst of anger I came back to
affairs of the moment.
"They've got it away, Benny," said Roger, soberly. "How or when I don't
know, but there's no question that it's gone from the cabin. Come, let's
clear away the disorder."
As well as we could we put back the numerous things we had thrown about,
and such litter as we could not replace we swept up. But wisps of hair
still lay on the tables and the chairs, and feathers floated in the air
like thistle-down. We had little time for housewifery.
We found the others gathered round the galley, eating a hearty meal of salt
beef, ship's bread, and coffee, at which we were right glad to join them.
Roger had a way with the men that kept them from taking liberties, yet that
enabled him to mingle with them on terms far more familiar than those of a
ship's officer. I watched him as he sat down by Davie Paine, and grinned at
the cook, and asked Neddie Benson how his courage was and laughed heartily
at Blodgett who had spilled a cup of coffee down his shirt-front--yet in
such a way that Blodgett was pleased by his friendliness rather than
offended by his amusement. I suppose it was what we call "personality."
Certainly Roger was a born leader. After our many difficulties we felt so
jolly and so much at home,--all, that is, except the man from Boston, who
sat apart from the rest and stared soberly across the long, slow seas,--
that our little party on deck was merrier by far than many a Salem
merrymaking before or since.
I knew that Roger was deeply troubled by the loss of the money and I
marveled at his self-control.
Presently I saw something moving off the eastern point of the island.
Thinking little of it, I watched it idly until suddenly it burst upon me
that it was a ship's boat. With a start I woke from my dream and shouted,
"Sail ho! Off the starboard bow!"
In an instant our men were on their feet, staring at the newcomer. In all
the monotonous expanse of shining, silent ocean only the boat and the
island and the tiny sails of a junk which lay hull down miles away, were to
be seen. But the boat, which now had rounded the point, was approaching
"Ben, lay below to the cabin and fetch up muskets, powder, and balls,"
Roger cried sharply. "Lend a hand, Davie, and bring back all the pikes and
cutlasses you can carry. You, cook, clear away the stern-chasers and stand
by to load them the minute the powder's up the companionway. Blodgett, you
do the same by the long gun. You, Neddie, bear a hand with me to trice up
Spilling food, cups, pans, and kids in confusion on the deck, we sprang to
do as we were bid. In the sternsheets of the approaching boat we could make
out at a distance the slim form of Captain Nathan Falk.
The rain had stopped long since, and the hot sun shining from a cloudless
sky was rapidly burning off the last vestige of the night mist as Captain
Falk's boat came slowly toward us under a white flag. A ground-swell gave
it a leisurely motion and the men approached so cautiously that their oars
seemed scarcely more than to dip in and out of the water.
With double-charged cannon, with loaded muskets ready at hand, and with
pikes and cutlasses laid out on deck, one for each man, where we could
snatch them up as soon as we had spent our first fire, we grinned from
behind the nettings at our erstwhile shipmates. Tables had turned with a
vengeance since we had rowed away from the ship so short a time before.
They now were a sad-looking lot of men, some of them with bandages on their
limbs or round their heads, all of them disheveled, weary, and unkempt. But
they approached with an air of dignity, which Falk tried to keep up by
calling with a grand fling of his hand and his head, "Mr. Hamlin, we come
to parley under a flag of truce."
I think we really were impressed for a moment. His face was pale, and he
had a blood-stained rag tied round his forehead, so that he looked very
much as if he were a wounded hero returning after a brave fight to arrange
terms of an honorable peace. But the cook, who heartily disapproved of
admitting the boat within gunshot, shattered any such illusion that we may
"Mah golly!" he exclaimed in a voice audible to every man in both parties,
"ef dey ain't done h'ist up cap'n's unde'-clothes foh a flag of truce!"
The remark came upon us so suddenly and we were all so keyed up that,
although it seems flat enough to tell about it now, then it struck us as
irresistibly funny and we laughed until tears started from our eyes. I
heard Blodgett's cat-yowl of glee, Davie Paine's deep guffaw, Neddie
Benson's shrill cackle of delight. But when, to clear my eyes, I wiped away
my tears, the men in the other boat were glaring at us in glum and angry
"Ah, it's funny is it?" said Falk, and his voice me think of the times when
he had abused Bill Hayden. "Laugh, curse you, laugh! Well, that's all
right. There's no law against laughing. I've got a proposition to put up to
you. You've had your little fling and a costly one it's like to be. You've
mutinied and unlawfully confined the master of the ship, and for that
you're liable for a fine of one thousand dollars and five years in prison.
You've usurped the command of a vessel on the high seas unlawfully and by
force, and for that you're liable to a fine of two thousand dollars and ten
years in prison. Think about that, some o' you men that haven't a hundred
dollars in the world. The law'll strip and break you. But if that ain't
enough, we've got evidence to convict you in every court of the United
States of America of being pirates, felons, and robbers, and the punishment
for that is death. Think of that, you men."
Falk lowered his head until his red scarf, which he had knotted about his
throat, made the ghastly pallor of his face seem even more chalky than it
was, and thrust his chin forward and leveled at us the index finger of his
right hand. The slowly rolling boat was so near us now that as we waited to
see what he would say next we could see his hand tremble.
"Now, men," he continued, "you've had your little fling, and that's the
price you'll have to pay the piper. I'll get you, never you fear. Ah, by
the good Lord's help, I'll see you swinging from a frigate's yard-arm yet,
unless"--he stopped and glared at us significantly--"unless you do like I'm
going to tell you.
"You've had your fling and there's a bad day of reckoning coming to you,
don't you forget it. But if you drop all this nonsense now, and go forward
where you belong and work the ship like good seamen and swear on the Book
to have no more mutinous talk, I'll forgive you everything and see that no
one prosecutes you for all you've done so far. How about it? Nothing could
be handsomer than that."
"Oh, you always was a smooth-tongued scoundrel" Blodgett, just behind me,
murmured under his breath.
The men in the two parties looked at each other in silence for a moment,
and if ever I had distrusted Captain Falk, I distrusted him four times more
when I saw the mild, sleek smile on Kipping's face. It was reassuring to
see the gleam in black Frank's eyes as he fingered the edge of his cleaver.
I turned eagerly to Roger, upon whom we waited unanimously for a reply.
"Yes, that's very handsome of you," he said reflectively. "But how do we
know you'll do all that you promise?"
Falk's white face momentarily lighted. I thought that for an instant his
eyes shone like a tiger's. But he answered quietly, "Ain't my word good?"
"Why, a _gentleman's_ word is always good security."
There was just enough accent on the word "gentleman" to puzzle me. The
remark sounded innocent enough, certainly, and yet the stress--if stress
was intended--made it biting sarcasm. Obviously the men in the boat were
equally in doubt whether to take offense or to accept the statement in good
Back to Full Books