Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
Part 7 out of 8
leaped up complete. Chailly, that was the name; Chailly-
en-Biere, the post town of Barbizon--ah, there was the very
place for any man to hide himself--there was the very place for
Mr. Norris, who had rambled over England making sketches--
the very place for Goddedaal, who had left a palette-knife on
board the Flying Scud. Singular, indeed, that while I was
drifting over England with the shyster, the man we were in
quest of awaited me at my own ultimate destination.
Whether Mr. Denman had shown his album to Bellairs,
whether, indeed, Bellairs could have caught (as I did) this hint
from an obliterated postmark, I shall never know, and it
mattered not. We were equal now; my task at Stallbridge-le-
Carthew was accomplished; my interest in postage-stamps died
shamelessly away; the astonished Denman was bowed out; and
ordering the horse to be put in, I plunged into the study of the
FACE TO FACE.
I fell from the skies on Barbizon about two o'clock of a
September afternoon. It is the dead hour of the day; all the
workers have gone painting, all the idlers strolling, in the forest
or the plain; the winding causewayed street is solitary, and the
inn deserted. I was the more pleased to find one of my old
companions in the dining-room; his town clothes marked him
for a man in the act of departure; and indeed his portmanteau
lay beside him on the floor.
"Why, Stennis," I cried, "you're the last man I expected to find
"You won't find me here long," he replied. "King Pandion he is
dead; all his friends are lapped in lead. For men of our
antiquity, the poor old shop is played out."
"I have had playmates, I have had companions," I quoted in
return. We were both moved, I think, to meet again in this
scene of our old pleasure parties so unexpectedly, after so long
an interval, and both already so much altered.
"That is the sentiment," he replied. "All, all are gone, the old
familiar faces. I have been here a week, and the only living
creature who seemed to recollect me was the Pharaon. Bar the
Sirons, of course, and the perennial Bodmer."
"Is there no survivor?" I inquired.
"Of our geological epoch? not one," he replied. "This is the city
of Petra in Edom."
"And what sort of Bedouins encamp among the ruins?" I asked.
"Youth, Dodd, youth; blooming, conscious youth," he returned.
"Such a gang, such reptiles! to think we were like that! I
wonder Siron didn't sweep us from his premises."
"Perhaps we weren't so bad," I suggested.
"Don't let me depress you," said he. "We were both Anglo-
Saxons, anyway, and the only redeeming feature to-day is
The thought of my quest, a moment driven out by this
rencounter, revived in my mind. "Who is he?" I cried. "Tell
me about him."
"What, the Redeeming Feature?" said he. "Well, he's a very
pleasing creature, rather dim, and dull, and genteel, but really
pleasing. He is very British, though, the artless Briton!
Perhaps you'll find him too much so for the transatlantic nerves.
Come to think of it, on the other hand, you ought to get on
famously. He is an admirer of your great republic in one of its
(excuse me) shoddiest features; he takes in and sedulously
reads a lot of American papers. I warned you he was artless."
"What papers are they?" cried I.
"San Francisco papers," said he. "He gets a bale of them about
twice a week, and studies them like the Bible. That's one of his
weaknesses; another is to be incalculably rich. He has taken
Masson's old studio--you remember?--at the corner of the road;
he has furnished it regardless of expense, and lives there
surrounded with vins fins and works of art. When the youth of
to-day goes up to the Caverne des Brigands to make punch--
they do all that we did, like some nauseous form of ape (I never
appreciated before what a creature of tradition mankind is)
--this Madden follows with a basket of champagne. I told him
he was wrong, and the punch tasted better; but he thought the
boys liked the style of the thing, and I suppose they do. He is a
very good-natured soul, and a very melancholy, and rather a
helpless. O, and he has a third weakness which I came near
forgetting. He paints. He has never been taught, and he's past
thirty, and he paints."
"How?" I asked.
"Rather well, I think," was the reply. "That's the annoying part
of it. See for yourself. That panel is his."
I stepped toward the window. It was the old familiar room,
with the tables set like a Greek P, and the sideboard, and the
aphasiac piano, and the panels on the wall. There were Romeo
and Juliet, Antwerp from the river, Enfield's ships among the
ice, and the huge huntsman winding a huge horn; mingled with
them a few new ones, the thin crop of a succeeding generation,
not better and not worse. It was to one of these I was directed;
a thing coarsely and wittily handled, mostly with the palette-
knife, the colour in some parts excellent, the canvas in others
loaded with mere clay. But it was the scene, and not the art or
want of it, that riveted my notice. The foreground was of sand
and scrub and wreckwood; in the middle distance the many-
hued and smooth expanse of a lagoon, enclosed by a wall of
breakers; beyond, a blue strip of ocean. The sky was cloudless,
and I could hear the surf break. For the place was Midway
Island; the point of view the very spot at which I had landed
with the captain for the first time, and from which I had
re-embarked the day before we sailed. I had already been
gazing for some seconds, before my attention was arrested by a
blur on the sea-line; and stooping to look, I recognised the
smoke of a steamer.
"Yes," said I, turning toward Stennis, "it has merit. What is it?"
"A fancy piece," he returned. "That's what pleased me. So few
of the fellows in our time had the imagination of a garden
"Madden, you say his name is?" I pursued.
"Madden," he repeated.
"Has he travelled much?" I inquired.
"I haven't an idea. He is one of the least autobiographical of
men. He sits, and smokes, and giggles, and sometimes he
makes small jests; but his contributions to the art of pleasing
are generally confined to looking like a gentleman and being
one. No," added Stennis, "he'll never suit you, Dodd; you like
more head on your liquor. You'll find him as dull as ditch
"Has he big blonde side-whiskers like tusks?" I asked, mindful
of the photograph of Goddedaal.
"Certainly not: why should he?" was the reply.
"Does he write many letters?" I continued.
"God knows," said Stennis. "What is wrong with you? I never
saw you taken this way before."
"The fact is, I think I know the man," said I. "I think I'm
looking for him. I rather think he is my long-lost brother."
"Not twins, anyway," returned Stennis.
And about the same time, a carriage driving up to the inn, he
took his departure.
I walked till dinner-time in the plain, keeping to the fields; for I
instinctively shunned observation, and was racked by many
incongruous and impatient feelings. Here was a man whose
voice I had once heard, whose doings had filled so many days
of my life with interest and distress, whom I had lain awake to
dream of like a lover; and now his hand was on the door; now
we were to meet; now I was to learn at last the mystery of the
substituted crew. The sun went down over the plain of the
Angelus, and as the hour approached, my courage lessened. I
let the laggard peasants pass me on the homeward way. The
lamps were lit, the soup was served, the company were all at
table, and the room sounded already with multitudinous talk
before I entered. I took my place and found I was opposite to
Madden. Over six feet high and well set up, the hair dark and
streaked with silver, the eyes dark and kindly, the mouth very
good-natured, the teeth admirable; linen and hands exquisite;
English clothes, an English voice, an English bearing: the man
stood out conspicuous from the company. Yet he had made
himself at home, and seemed to enjoy a certain quiet popularity
among the noisy boys of the table d'hote. He had an odd, silver
giggle of a laugh, that sounded nervous even when he was
really amused, and accorded ill with his big stature and manly,
melancholy face. This laugh fell in continually all through
dinner like the note of the triangle in a piece of modern French
music; and he had at times a kind of pleasantry, rather of
manner than of words, with which he started or maintained the
merriment. He took his share in these diversions, not so much
like a man in high spirits, but like one of an approved good
nature, habitually self-forgetful, accustomed to please and to
follow others. I have remarked in old soldiers much the same
smiling sadness and sociable self-effacement.
I feared to look at him, lest my glances should betray my deep
excitement, and chance served me so well that the soup was
scarce removed before we were naturally introduced. My first
sip of Chateau Siron, a vintage from which I had been long
estranged, startled me into speech.
"O, this'll never do!" I cried, in English.
"Dreadful stuff, isn't it?" said Madden, in the same language.
"Do let me ask you to share my bottle. They call it Chambertin,
which it isn't; but it's fairly palatable, and there's nothing in this
house that a man can drink at all."
I accepted; anything would do that paved the way to better
"Your name is Madden, I think," said I. "My old friend Stennis
told me about you when I came."
"Yes, I am sorry he went; I feel such a Grandfather William,
alone among all these lads," he replied.
"My name is Dodd," I resumed.
"Yes," said he, "so Madame Siron told me."
"Dodd, of San Francisco," I continued. "Late of Pinkerton and
"Montana Block, I think?" said he.
"The same," said I.
Neither of us looked at each other; but I could see his hand
deliberately making bread pills.
"That's a nice thing of yours," I pursued, "that panel. The
foreground is a little clayey, perhaps, but the lagoon is
"You ought to know," said he.
"Yes," returned I, "I'm rather a good judge of--that panel."
There was a considerable pause.
"You know a man by the name of Bellairs, don't you?" he
"Ah!" cried I, "you have heard from Doctor Urquart?"
"This very morning," he replied.
"Well, there is no hurry about Bellairs," said I. "It's rather a
long story and rather a silly one. But I think we have a good
deal to tell each other, and perhaps we had better wait till we
are more alone."
"I think so," said he. "Not that any of these fellows know
English, but we'll be more comfortable over at my place. Your
And we took wine together across the table.
Thus had this singular introduction passed unperceived in the
midst of more than thirty persons, art students, ladies in
dressing-gowns and covered with rice powder, six foot of Siron
whisking dishes over our head, and his noisy sons clattering in
and out with fresh relays.
"One question more," said I: "Did you recognise my voice?"
"Your voice?" he repeated. "How should I? I had never heard
it--we have never met."
"And yet, we have been in conversation before now," said I,
"and I asked you a question which you never answered, and
which I have since had many thousand better reasons for
putting to myself."
He turned suddenly white. "Good God!" he cried, "are you the
man in the telephone?"
"Well, well!" said he. "It would take a good deal of
magnanimity to forgive you that. What nights I have passed!
That little whisper has whistled in my ear ever since, like the
wind in a keyhole. Who could it be? What could it mean? I
suppose I have had more real, solid misery out of that ..." He
paused, and looked troubled. "Though I had more to bother
me, or ought to have," he added, and slowly emptied his glass.
"It seems we were born to drive each other crazy with
conundrums," said I. "I have often thought my head would
Carthew burst into his foolish laugh. "And yet neither you nor
I had the worst of the puzzle," he cried. "There were others
"And who were they?" I asked.
"The underwriters," said he.
"Why, to be sure!" cried I, "I never thought of that. What could
they make of it?"
"Nothing," replied Carthew. "It couldn't be explained. They
were a crowd of small dealers at Lloyd's who took it up in
syndicate; one of them has a carriage now; and people say he is
a deuce of a deep fellow, and has the makings of a great
financier. Another furnished a small villa on the profits. But
they're all hopelessly muddled; and when they meet each other,
they don't know where to look, like the Augurs."
Dinner was no sooner at an end than he carried me across the
road to Masson's old studio. It was strangely changed. On the
walls were tapestry, a few good etchings, and some amazing
pictures--a Rousseau, a Corot, a really superb old Crome, a
Whistler, and a piece which my host claimed (and I believe) to
be a Titian. The room was furnished with comfortable English
smoking-room chairs, some American rockers, and an
elaborate business table; spirits and soda-water (with the mark
of Schweppe, no less) stood ready on a butler's tray, and in one
corner, behind a half-drawn curtain, I spied a camp-bed and a
capacious tub. Such a room in Barbizon astonished the
beholder, like the glories of the cave of Monte Cristo.
"Now," said he, "we are quiet. Sit down, if you don't mind, and
tell me your story all through."
I did as he asked, beginning with the day when Jim showed me
the passage in the _Daily Occidental_, and winding up with the
stamp album and the Chailly postmark. It was a long business;
and Carthew made it longer, for he was insatiable of details;
and it had struck midnight on the old eight-day clock in the
corner, before I had made an end.
"And now," said he, "turn about: I must tell you my side, much
as I hate it. Mine is a beastly story. You'll wonder how I can
sleep. I've told it once before, Mr. Dodd."
"To Lady Ann?" I asked.
"As you suppose," he answered; "and to say the truth, I had
sworn never to tell it again. Only, you seem somehow entitled
to the thing; you have paid dear enough, God knows; and God
knows I hope you may like it, now you've got it!"
With that he began his yarn. A new day had dawned, the cocks
crew in the village and the early woodmen were afoot, when he
THE REMITTANCE MAN.
Singleton Carthew, the father of Norris, was heavily built and
feebly vitalised, sensitive as a musician, dull as a sheep, and
conscientious as a dog. He took his position with seriousness,
even with pomp; the long rooms, the silent servants, seemed in
his eyes like the observances of some religion of which he was
the mortal god. He had the stupid man's intolerance of
stupidity in others; the vain man's exquisite alarm lest it should
be detected in himself. And on both sides Norris irritated and
offended him. He thought his son a fool, and he suspected that
his son returned the compliment with interest. The history of
their relation was simple; they met seldom, they quarrelled
often. To his mother, a fiery, pungent, practical woman,
already disappointed in her husband and her elder son, Norris
was only a fresh disappointment.
Yet the lad's faults were no great matter; he was diffident,
placable, passive, unambitious, unenterprising; life did not
much attract him; he watched it like a curious and dull
exhibition, not much amused, and not tempted in the least to
take a part. He beheld his father ponderously grinding sand,
his mother fierily breaking butterflies, his brother labouring at
the pleasures of the Hawbuck with the ardour of a soldier in a
doubtful battle; and the vital sceptic looked on wondering.
They were careful and troubled about many things; for him
there seemed not even one thing needful. He was born
disenchanted, the world's promises awoke no echo in his
bosom, the world's activities and the world's distinctions
seemed to him equally without a base in fact. He liked the
open air; he liked comradeship, it mattered not with whom, his
comrades were only a remedy for solitude. And he had a taste
for painted art. An array of fine pictures looked upon his
childhood, and from these roods of jewelled canvas he received
an indelible impression. The gallery at Stallbridge betokened
generations of picture lovers; Norris was perhaps the first of his
race to hold the pencil. The taste was genuine, it grew and
strengthened with his growth; and yet he suffered it to be
suppressed with scarce a struggle. Time came for him to go to
Oxford, and he resisted faintly. He was stupid, he said; it was
no good to put him through the mill; he wished to be a painter.
The words fell on his father like a thunderbolt, and Norris
made haste to give way. "It didn't really matter, don't you
know?" said he. "And it seemed an awful shame to vex the old
To Oxford he went obediently, hopelessly; and at Oxford
became the hero of a certain circle. He was active and adroit;
when he was in the humour, he excelled in many sports; and
his singular melancholy detachment gave him a place apart.
He set a fashion in his clique. Envious undergraduates sought
to parody his unaffected lack of zeal and fear; it was a kind of
new Byronism more composed and dignified. "Nothing really
mattered"; among other things, this formula embraced the
dons; and though he always meant to be civil, the effect on the
college authorities was one of startling rudeness. His
indifference cut like insolence; and in some outbreak of his
constitutional levity (the complement of his melancholy) he
was "sent down" in the middle of the second year.
The event was new in the annals of the Carthews, and
Singleton was prepared to make the most of it. It had been
long his practice to prophesy for his second son a career of ruin
and disgrace. There is an advantage in this artless parental
habit. Doubtless the father is interested in his son; but
doubtless also the prophet grows to be interested in his
prophecies. If the one goes wrong, the others come true. Old
Carthew drew from this source esoteric consolations; he dwelt
at length on his own foresight; he produced variations hitherto
unheard from the old theme "I told you so," coupled his son's
name with the gallows and the hulks, and spoke of his small
handful of college debts as though he must raise money on a
mortgage to discharge them.
"I don't think that is fair, sir," said Norris. "I lived at college
exactly as you told me. I am sorry I was sent down, and you
have a perfect right to blame me for that; but you have no right
to pitch into me about these debts."
The effect upon a stupid man not unjustly incensed need
scarcely be described. For a while Singleton raved.
"I'll tell you what, father," said Norris at last, "I don't think this
is going to do. I think you had better let me take to painting.
It's the only thing I take a spark of interest in. I shall never be
steady as long as I'm at anything else."
"When you stand here, sir, to the neck in disgrace," said the
father, "I should have hoped you would have had more good
taste than to repeat this levity."
The hint was taken; the levity was never more obtruded on the
father's notice, and Norris was inexorably launched upon a
backward voyage. He went abroad to study foreign languages,
which he learned, at a very expensive rate; and a fresh crop of
debts fell soon to be paid, with similar lamentations, which
were in this case perfectly justified, and to which Norris paid
no regard. He had been unfairly treated over the Oxford affair;
and with a spice of malice very surprising in one so placable,
and an obstinacy remarkable in one so weak, refused from that
day forward to exercise the least captaincy on his expenses. He
wasted what he would; he allowed his servants to despoil him
at their pleasure; he sowed insolvency; and when the crop was
ripe, notified his father with exasperating calm. His own
capital was put in his hands, he was planted in the diplomatic
service and told he must depend upon himself.
He did so till he was twenty-five; by which time he had spent
his money, laid in a handsome choice of debts, and acquired
(like so many other melancholic and uninterested persons) a
habit of gambling. An Austrian colonel--the same who
afterwards hanged himself at Monte Carlo--gave him a lesson
which lasted two-and-twenty hours, and left him wrecked and
helpless. Old Singleton once more repurchased the honour of
his name, this time at a fancy figure; and Norris was set afloat
again on stern conditions. An allowance of three hundred
pounds in the year was to be paid to him quarterly by a lawyer
in Sydney, New South Wales. He was not to write. Should he
fail on any quarter-day to be in Sydney, he was to be held for
dead, and the allowance tacitly withdrawn. Should he return to
Europe, an advertisement publicly disowning him was to
appear in every paper of repute.
It was one of his most annoying features as a son, that he was
always polite, always just, and in whatever whirlwind of
domestic anger, always calm. He expected trouble; when
trouble came, he was unmoved: he might have said with
Singleton, "I told you so"; he was content with thinking, "just
as I expected." On the fall of these last thunderbolts, he bore
himself like a person only distantly interested in the event;
pocketed the money and the reproaches, obeyed orders
punctually; took ship and came to Sydney. Some men are still
lads at twenty-five; and so it was with Norris. Eighteen days
after he landed, his quarter's allowance was all gone, and with
the light-hearted hopefulness of strangers in what is called a
new country, he began to besiege offices and apply for all
manner of incongruous situations. Everywhere, and last of all
from his lodgings, he was bowed out; and found himself
reduced, in a very elegant suit of summer tweeds, to herd and
camp with the degraded outcasts of the city.
In this strait, he had recourse to the lawyer who paid him his
"Try to remember that my time is valuable, Mr. Carthew," said
the lawyer. "It is quite unnecessary you should enlarge on the
peculiar position in which you stand. Remittance men, as we
call them here, are not so rare in my experience; and in such
cases I act upon a system. I make you a present of a sovereign;
here it is. Every day you choose to call, my clerk will advance
you a shilling; on Saturday, since my office is closed on
Sunday, he will advance you half a crown. My conditions are
these: that you do not come to me, but to my clerk; that you do
not come here the worse of liquor; and you go away the
moment you are paid and have signed a receipt. I wish you a
"I have to thank you, I suppose," said Carthew. "My position is
so wretched that I cannot even refuse this starvation
"Starvation!" said the lawyer, smiling. "No man will starve
here on a shilling a day. I had on my hands another young
gentleman, who remained continuously intoxicated for six years
on the same allowance." And he once more busied himself
with his papers.
In the time that followed, the image of the smiling lawyer
haunted Carthew's memory. "That three minutes' talk was all
the education I ever had worth talking of," says he. "It was all
life in a nut-shell. Confound it! I thought, have I got to the
point of envying that ancient fossil?"
Every morning for the next two or three weeks, the stroke of ten
found Norris, unkempt and haggard, at the lawyer's door. The
long day and longer night he spent in the Domain, now on a
bench, now on the grass under a Norfolk Island pine, the
companion of perhaps the lowest class on earth, the Larrikins
of Sydney. Morning after morning, the dawn behind the
lighthouse recalled him from slumber; and he would stand and
gaze upon the changing east, the fading lenses, the smokeless
city, and the many-armed and many-masted harbour growing
slowly clear under his eyes. His bed-fellows (so to call them)
were less active; they lay sprawled upon the grass and benches,
the dingy men, the frowsy women, prolonging their late repose;
and Carthew wandered among the sleeping bodies alone, and
cursed the incurable stupidity of his behaviour. Day brought a
new society of nursery-maids and children, and fresh-dressed
and (I am sorry to say) tight-laced maidens, and gay people in
rich traps; upon the skirts of which Carthew and "the other
blackguards"--his own bitter phrase--skulked, and chewed
grass, and looked on. Day passed, the light died, the green and
leafy precinct sparkled with lamps or lay in shadow, and the
round of the night began again, the loitering women, the
lurking men, the sudden outburst of screams, the sound of
flying feet. "You mayn't believe it," says Carthew, "but I got to
that pitch that I didn't care a hang. I have been wakened out of
my sleep to hear a woman screaming, and I have only turned
upon my other side. Yes, it's a queer place, where the
dowagers and the kids walk all day, and at night you can hear
people bawling for help as if it was the Forest of Bondy, with
the lights of a great town all round, and parties spinning
through in cabs from Government House and dinner with my
It was Norris's diversion, having none other, to scrape
acquaintance, where, how, and with whom he could. Many a
long dull talk he held upon the benches or the grass; many a
strange waif he came to know; many strange things he heard,
and saw some that were abominable. It was to one of these last
that he owed his deliverance from the Domain. For some time
the rain had been merciless; one night after another he had been
obliged to squander fourpence on a bed and reduce his board to
the remaining eightpence: and he sat one morning near the
Macquarrie Street entrance, hungry, for he had gone without
breakfast, and wet, as he had already been for several days,
when the cries of an animal in distress attracted his attention.
Some fifty yards away, in the extreme angle of the grass, a
party of the chronically unemployed had got hold of a dog,
whom they were torturing in a manner not to be described. The
heart of Norris, which had grown indifferent to the cries of
human anger or distress, woke at the appeal of the dumb
creature. He ran amongst the Larrikins, scattered them,
rescued the dog, and stood at bay. They were six in number,
shambling gallowsbirds; but for once the proverb was right,
cruelty was coupled with cowardice, and the wretches cursed
him and made off. It chanced that this act of prowess had not
passed unwitnessed. On a bench near by there was seated a
shopkeeper's assistant out of employ, a diminutive, cheerful,
red-headed creature by the name of Hemstead. He was the last
man to have interfered himself, for his discretion more than
equalled his valour; but he made haste to congratulate Carthew,
and to warn him he might not always be so fortunate.
"They're a dyngerous lot of people about this park. My word! it
doesn't do to ply with them!" he observed, in that RYCY
AUSTRYLIAN English, which (as it has received the
imprimatur of Mr. Froude) we should all make haste to imitate.
"Why, I'm one of that lot myself," returned Carthew.
Hemstead laughed and remarked that he knew a gentleman
when he saw one.
"For all that, I am simply one of the unemployed," said
Carthew, seating himself beside his new acquaintance, as he
had sat (since this experience began) beside so many dozen
"I'm out of a plyce myself," said Hemstead.
"You beat me all the way and back," says Carthew. "My
trouble is that I have never been in one."
"I suppose you've no tryde?" asked Hemstead.
"I know how to spend money," replied Carthew, "and I really
do know something of horses and something of the sea. But
the unions head me off; if it weren't for them, I might have had
a dozen berths."
"My word!" cried the sympathetic listener. "Ever try the
mounted police?" he inquired.
"I did, and was bowled out," was the reply; "couldn't pass the
"Well, what do you think of the ryleways, then?" asked
"What do YOU think of them, if you come to that?" asked
"O, _I_ don't think of them; I don't go in for manual labour,"
said the little man proudly. "But if a man don't mind that, he's
pretty sure of a job there."
"By George, you tell me where to go!" cried Carthew, rising.
The heavy rains continued, the country was already overrun
with floods; the railway system daily required more hands,
daily the superintendent advertised; but "the unemployed"
preferred the resources of charity and rapine, and a navvy, even
an amateur navvy, commanded money in the market. The
same night, after a tedious journey, and a change of trains to
pass a landslip, Norris found himself in a muddy cutting
behind South Clifton, attacking his first shift of manual labour.
For weeks the rain scarce relented. The whole front of the
mountain slipped seaward from above, avalanches of clay,
rock, and uprooted forest spewed over the cliffs and fell upon
the beach or in the breakers. Houses were carried bodily away
and smashed like nuts; others were menaced and deserted, the
door locked, the chimney cold, the dwellers fled elsewhere for
safety. Night and day the fire blazed in the encampment; night
and day hot coffee was served to the overdriven toilers in the
shift; night and day the engineer of the section made his rounds
with words of encouragement, hearty and rough and well suited
to his men. Night and day, too, the telegraph clicked with
disastrous news and anxious inquiry. Along the terraced line
of rail, rare trains came creeping and signalling; and paused at
the threatened corner, like living things conscious of peril. The
commandant of the post would hastily review his labours,
make (with a dry throat) the signal to advance; and the whole
squad line the way and look on in a choking silence, or burst
into a brief cheer as the train cleared the point of danger and
shot on, perhaps through the thin sunshine between squalls,
perhaps with blinking lamps into the gathering, rainy twilight.
One such scene Carthew will remember till he dies. It blew
great guns from the seaward; a huge surf bombarded, five
hundred feet below him, the steep mountain's foot; close in was
a vessel in distress, firing shots from a fowling-piece, if any
help might come. So he saw and heard her the moment before
the train appeared and paused, throwing up a Babylonian tower
of smoke into the rain, and oppressing men's hearts with the
scream of her whistle. The engineer was there himself; he
paled as he made the signal: the engine came at a foot's pace;
but the whole bulk of mountain shook and seemed to nod
seaward, and the watching navvies instinctively clutched at
shrubs and trees: vain precautions, vain as the shots from the
poor sailors. Once again fear was disappointed; the train
passed unscathed; and Norris, drawing a long breath,
remembered the labouring ship and glanced below. She was
So the days and the nights passed: Homeric labour in Homeric
circumstance. Carthew was sick with sleeplessness and coffee;
his hands, softened by the wet, were cut to ribbons; yet he
enjoyed a peace of mind and health of body hitherto unknown.
Plenty of open air, plenty of physical exertion, a continual
instancy of toil; here was what had been hitherto lacking in that
misdirected life, and the true cure of vital scepticism. To get
the train through: there was the recurrent problem; no time
remained to ask if it were necessary. Carthew, the idler, the
spendthrift, the drifting dilettant, was soon remarked, praised,
and advanced. The engineer swore by him and pointed him out
for an example. "I've a new chum, up here," Norris overheard
him saying, "a young swell. He's worth any two in the squad."
The words fell on the ears of the discarded son like music; and
from that moment, he not only found an interest, he took a
pride, in his plebeian tasks.
The press of work was still at its highest when quarter-day
approached. Norris was now raised to a position of some trust;
at his discretion, trains were stopped or forwarded at the
dangerous cornice near North Clifton; and he found in this
responsibility both terror and delight. The thought of the
seventy-five pounds that would soon await him at the lawyer's,
and of his own obligation to be present every quarter-day in
Sydney, filled him for a little with divided councils. Then he
made up his mind, walked in a slack moment to the inn at
Clifton, ordered a sheet of paper and a bottle of beer, and wrote,
explaining that he held a good appointment which he would
lose if he came to Sydney, and asking the lawyer to accept this
letter as an evidence of his presence in the colony, and retain
the money till next quarter-day. The answer came in course of
post, and was not merely favourable but cordial. "Although
what you propose is contrary to the terms of my instructions," it
ran, "I willingly accept the responsibility of granting your
request. I should say I am agreeably disappointed in your
behaviour. My experience has not led me to found much
expectations on gentlemen in your position."
The rains abated, and the temporary labour was discharged; not
Norris, to whom the engineer clung as to found money; not
Norris, who found himself a ganger on the line in the regular
staff of navvies. His camp was pitched in a grey wilderness of
rock and forest, far from any house; as he sat with his mates
about the evening fire, the trains passing on the track were their
next and indeed their only neighbours, except the wild things of
the wood. Lovely weather, light and monotonous employment,
long hours of somnolent camp-fire talk, long sleepless nights,
when he reviewed his foolish and fruitless career as he rose and
walked in the moonlit forest, an occasional paper of which he
would read all, the advertisements with as much relish as the
text: such was the tenor of an existence which soon began to
weary and harass him. He lacked and regretted the fatigue, the
furious hurry, the suspense, the fires, the midnight coffee, the
rude and mud-bespattered poetry of the first toilful weeks. In
the quietness of his new surroundings, a voice summoned him
from this exorbital part of life, and about the middle of October
he threw up his situation and bade farewell to the camp of tents
and the shoulder of Bald Mountain.
Clad in his rough clothes, with a bundle on his shoulder and
his accumulated wages in his pocket, he entered Sydney for the
second time, and walked with pleasure and some bewilderment
in the cheerful streets, like a man landed from a voyage. The
sight of the people led him on. He forgot his necessary errands,
he forgot to eat. He wandered in moving multitudes like a stick
upon a river. Last he came to the Domain and strolled there,
and remembered his shame and sufferings, and looked with
poignant curiosity at his successors. Hemstead, not much
shabbier and no less cheerful than before, he recognised and
addressed like an old family friend.
"That was a good turn you did me," said he. "That railway was
the making of me. I hope you've had luck yourself."
"My word, no!" replied the little man. "I just sit here and read
the _Dead Bird_. It's the depression in tryde, you see. There's
no positions goin' that a man like me would care to look at."
And he showed Norris his certificates and written characters,
one from a grocer in Wooloomooloo, one from an ironmonger,
and a third from a billiard saloon. "Yes," he said, "I tried bein'
a billiard marker. It's no account; these lyte hours are no use
for a man's health. I won't be no man's slyve," he added firmly.
On the principle that he who is too proud to be a slave is
usually not too modest to become a pensioner, Carthew gave
him half a sovereign, and departed, being suddenly struck with
hunger, in the direction of the Paris House. When he came to
that quarter of the city, the barristers were trotting in the streets
in wig and gown, and he stood to observe them with his bundle
on his shoulder, and his mind full of curious recollections of the
"By George!" cried a voice, "it's Mr. Carthew!"
And turning about he found himself face to face with a
handsome sunburnt youth, somewhat fatted, arrayed in the
finest of fine raiment, and sporting about a sovereign's worth of
flowers in his buttonhole. Norris had met him during his first
days in Sydney at a farewell supper; had even escorted him on
board a schooner full of cockroaches and black-boy sailors, in
which he was bound for six months among the islands; and had
kept him ever since in entertained remembrance. Tom Hadden
(known to the bulk of Sydney folk as Tommy) was heir to a
considerable property, which a prophetic father had placed in
the hands of rigorous trustees. The income supported Mr.
Hadden in splendour for about three months out of twelve; the
rest of the year he passed in retreat among the islands. He was
now about a week returned from his eclipse, pervading Sydney
in hansom cabs and airing the first bloom of six new suits of
clothes; and yet the unaffected creature hailed Carthew in his
working jeans and with the damning bundle on his shoulder, as
he might have claimed acquaintance with a duke.
"Come and have a drink!" was his cheerful cry.
"I'm just going to have lunch at the Paris House," returned
Carthew. "It's a long time since I have had a decent meal."
"Splendid scheme!" said Hadden. "I've only had breakfast half
an hour ago; but we'll have a private room, and I'll manage to
pick something. It'll brace me up. I was on an awful tear last
night, and I've met no end of fellows this morning." To meet a
fellow, and to stand and share a drink, were with Tom
They were soon at table in the corner room up-stairs, and
paying due attention to the best fare in Sydney. The odd
similarity of their positions drew them together, and they began
soon to exchange confidences. Carthew related his privations
in the Domain and his toils as a navvy; Hadden gave his
experience as an amateur copra merchant in the South Seas,
and drew a humorous picture of life in a coral island. Of the
two plans of retirement, Carthew gathered that his own had
been vastly the more lucrative; but Hadden's trading outfit had
consisted largely of bottled stout and brown sherry for his own
"I had champagne too," said Hadden, "but I kept that in case of
sickness, until I didn't seem to be going to be sick, and then I
opened a pint every Sunday. Used to sleep all morning, then
breakfast with my pint of fizz, and lie in a hammock and read
Hallam's _Middle Ages_. Have you read that? I always take
something solid to the islands. There's no doubt I did the thing
in rather a fine style; but if it was gone about a little cheaper, or
there were two of us to bear the expense, it ought to pay hand
over fist. I've got the influence, you see. I'm a chief now, and
sit in the speak-house under my own strip of roof. I'd like to
see them taboo ME! They daren't try it; I've a strong party, I
can tell you. Why, I've had upwards of thirty cowtops sitting in
my front verandah eating tins of salmon."
"Cowtops?" asked Carthew, "what are they?"
"That's what Hallam would call feudal retainers," explained
Hadden, not without vainglory. "They're My Followers. They
belong to My Family. I tell you, they come expensive, though;
you can't fill up all these retainers on tinned salmon for
nothing; but whenever I could get it, I would give 'em squid.
Squid's good for natives, but I don't care for it, do you?--or
shark either. It's like the working classes at home. With copra
at the price it is, they ought to be willing to bear their share of
the loss; and so I've told them again and again. I think it's a
man's duty to open their minds, and I try to, but you can't get
political economy into them; it doesn't seem to reach their
There was an expression still sticking in Carthew's memory,
and he returned upon it with a smile. "Talking of political
economy," said he, "you said if there were two of us to bear the
expense, the profits would increase. How do you make out
"I'll show you! I'll figure it out for you!" cried Hadden, and with
a pencil on the back of the bill of fare proceeded to perform
miracles. He was a man, or let us rather say a lad, of unusual
projective power. Give him the faintest hint of any speculation,
and the figures flowed from him by the page. A lively
imagination and a ready though inaccurate memory supplied
his data; he delivered himself with an inimitable heat that made
him seem the picture of pugnacity; lavished contradiction; had
a form of words, with or without significance, for every form of
criticism; and the looker-on alternately smiled at his simplicity
and fervour, or was amazed by his unexpected shrewdness. He
was a kind of Pinkerton in play. I have called Jim's the
romance of business; this was its Arabian tale.
"Have you any idea what this would cost?" he asked, pausing at
"Not I," said Carthew.
"Ten pounds ought to be ample," concluded the projector.
"O, nonsense!" cried Carthew. "Fifty at the very least."
"You told me yourself this moment you knew nothing about it!"
cried Tommy. "How can I make a calculation, if you blow hot
and cold? You don't seem able to be serious!"
But he consented to raise his estimate to twenty; and a little
after, the calculation coming out with a deficit, cut it down
again to five pounds ten, with the remark, "I told you it was
nonsense. This sort of thing has to be done strictly, or where's
Some of these processes struck Carthew as unsound; and he
was at times altogether thrown out by the capricious startings
of the prophet's mind. These plunges seemed to be gone into
for exercise and by the way, like the curvets of a willing horse.
Gradually the thing took shape; the glittering if baseless edifice
arose; and the hare still ran on the mountains, but the soup was
already served in silver plate. Carthew in a few days could
command a hundred and fifty pounds; Hadden was ready with
five hundred; why should they not recruit a fellow or two more,
charter an old ship, and go cruising on their own account?
Carthew was an experienced yachtsman; Hadden professed
himself able to "work an approximate sight." Money was
undoubtedly to be made, or why should so many vessels cruise
about the islands? they, who worked their own ship, were sure
of a still higher profit.
"And whatever else comes of it, you see," cried Hadden, "we
get our keep for nothing. Come, buy some togs, that's the first
thing you have to do of course; and then we'll take a hansom
and go to the Currency Lass."
"I'm going to stick to the togs I have," said Norris.
"Are you?" cried Hadden. "Well, I must say I admire you.
You're a regular sage. It's what you call Pythagoreanism, isn't
it? if I haven't forgotten my philosophy."
"Well, I call it economy," returned Carthew. "If we are going
to try this thing on, I shall want every sixpence."
"You'll see if we're going to try it!" cried Tommy, rising radiant
from table. "Only, mark you, Carthew, it must be all in your
name. I have capital, you see; but you're all right. You can
play vacuus viator, if the thing goes wrong."
"I thought we had just proved it was quite safe," said Carthew.
"There's nothing safe in business, my boy," replied the sage;
"not even bookmaking."
The public house and tea garden called the Currency Lass
represented a moderate fortune gained by its proprietor,
Captain Bostock, during a long, active, and occasionally
historic career among the islands. Anywhere from Tonga to the
Admiralty Isles, he knew the ropes and could lie in the native
dialect. He had seen the end of sandal wood, the end of oil,
and the beginning of copra; and he was himself a commercial
pioneer, the first that ever carried human teeth into the Gilberts.
He was tried for his life in Fiji in Sir Arthur Gordon's time; and
if ever he prayed at all, the name of Sir Arthur was certainly not
forgotten. He was speared in seven places in New Ireland--the
same time his mate was killed--the famous "outrage on the brig
Jolly Roger"; but the treacherous savages made little by their
wickedness, and Bostock, in spite of their teeth, got seventy-
five head of volunteer labour on board, of whom not more than
a dozen died of injuries. He had a hand, besides, in the
amiable pleasantry which cost the life of Patteson; and when
the sham bishop landed, prayed, and gave his benediction to
the natives, Bostock, arrayed in a female chemise out of the
traderoom, had stood at his right hand and boomed amens.
This, when he was sure he was among good fellows, was his
favourite yarn. "Two hundred head of labour for a hatful of
amens," he used to name the tale; and its sequel, the death of
the real bishop, struck him as a circumstance of extraordinary
Many of these details were communicated in the hansom, to the
surprise of Carthew.
"Why do we want to visit this old ruffian?" he asked.
"You wait till you hear him," replied Tommy. "That man
On descending from the hansom at the Currency Lass, Hadden
was struck with the appearance of the cabman, a gross, salt-
looking man, red-faced, blue-eyed, short-handed and short-
winded, perhaps nearing forty.
"Surely I know you?" said he. "Have you driven me before?"
"Many's the time, Mr. Hadden," returned the driver. "The last
time you was back from the islands, it was me that drove you to
the races, sir."
"All right: jump down and have a drink then," said Tom, and
he turned and led the way into the garden.
Captain Bostock met the party: he was a slow, sour old man,
with fishy eyes; greeted Tommy offhand, and (as was
afterwards remembered) exchanged winks with the driver.
"A bottle of beer for the cabman there at that table," said Tom.
"Whatever you please from shandygaff to champagne at this
one here; and you sit down with us. Let me make you
acquainted with my friend, Mr. Carthew. I've come on
business, Billy; I want to consult you as a friend; I'm going into
the island trade upon my own account."
Doubtless the captain was a mine of counsel, but opportunity
was denied him. He could not venture on a statement, he was
scarce allowed to finish a phrase, before Hadden swept him
from the field with a volley of protest and correction. That
projector, his face blazing with inspiration, first laid before him
at inordinate length a question, and as soon as he attempted to
reply, leaped at his throat, called his facts in question, derided
his policy, and at times thundered on him from the heights of
"I beg your pardon," he said once. "I am a gentleman, Mr.
Carthew here is a gentleman, and we don't mean to do that
class of business. Can't you see who you are talking to? Can't
you talk sense? Can't you give us 'a dead bird' for a good
"No, I don't suppose I can," returned old Bostock; "not when I
can't hear my own voice for two seconds together. It was gin
and guns I did it with."
"Take your gin and guns to Putney!" cried Hadden. "It was the
thing in your times, that's right enough; but you're old now, and
the game's up. I'll tell you what's wanted now-a-days, Bill
Bostock," said he; and did, and took ten minutes to it.
Carthew could not refrain from smiling. He began to think less
seriously of the scheme, Hadden appearing too irresponsible a
guide; but on the other hand, he enjoyed himself amazingly. It
was far from being the same with Captain Bostock.
"You know a sight, don't you?" remarked that gentleman,
bitterly, when Tommy paused.
"I know a sight more than you, if that's what you mean,"
retorted Tom. "It stands to reason I do. You're not a man of any
education; you've been all your life at sea or in the islands; you
don't suppose you can give points to a man like me?"
"Here's your health, Tommy," returned Bostock. "You'll make
an A-one bake in the New Hebrides."
"That's what I call talking," cried Tom, not perhaps grasping
the spirit of this doubtful compliment. "Now you give me your
attention. We have the money and the enterprise, and I have
the experience: what we want is a cheap, smart boat, a good
captain, and an introduction to some house that will give us
credit for the trade."
"Well, I'll tell you," said Captain Bostock. "I have seen men
like you baked and eaten, and complained of afterwards. Some
was tough, and some hadn't no flaviour," he added grimly.
"What do you mean by that?" cried Tom.
"I mean I don't care," cried Bostock. "It ain't any of my
interests. I haven't underwrote your life. Only I'm blest if I'm
not sorry for the cannibal as tries to eat your head. And what I
recommend is a cheap, smart coffin and a good undertaker.
See if you can find a house to give you credit for a coffin! Look
at your friend there; HE'S got some sense; he's laughing at you
so as he can't stand."
The exact degree of ill-feeling in Mr. Bostock's mind was
difficult to gauge; perhaps there was not much, perhaps he
regarded his remarks as a form of courtly badinage. But there
is little doubt that Hadden resented them. He had even risen
from his place, and the conference was on the point of breaking
up, when a new voice joined suddenly in the conversation.
The cabman sat with his back turned upon the party, smoking a
meerschaum pipe. Not a word of Tommy's eloquence had
missed him, and he now faced suddenly about with these
"Excuse me, gentlemen; if you'll buy me the ship I want, I'll get
you the trade on credit."
There was a pause.
"Well, what do YOU, mean?" gasped Tommy.
"Better tell 'em who I am, Billy," said the cabman.
"Think it safe, Joe?" inquired Mr. Bostock.
"I'll take my risk of it," returned the cabman.
"Gentlemen," said Bostock, rising solemnly, "let me make you
acquainted with Captain Wicks of the Grace Darling."
"Yes, gentlemen, that is what I am," said the cabman. "You
know I've been in trouble; and I don't deny but what I struck
the blow, and where was I to get evidence of my provocation?
So I turned to and took a cab, and I've driven one for three year
now and nobody the wiser."
"I beg your pardon," said Carthew, joining almost for the first
time; "I'm a new chum. What was the charge?"
"Murder," said Captain Wicks, "and I don't deny but what I
struck the blow. And there's no sense in my trying to deny I
was afraid to go to trial, or why would I be here? But it's a fact
it was flat mutiny. Ask Billy here. He knows how it was."
Carthew breathed long; he had a strange, half-pleasurable
sense of wading deeper in the tide of life. "Well," said he, "you
were going on to say?"
"I was going on to say this," said the captain sturdily. "I've
overheard what Mr. Hadden has been saying, and I think he
talks good sense. I like some of his ideas first chop. He's
sound on traderooms; he's all there on the traderoom, and I see
that he and I would pull together. Then you're both gentlemen,
and I like that," observed Captain Wicks. "And then I'll tell
you I'm tired of this cabbing cruise, and I want to get to work
again. Now, here's my offer. I've a little money I can stake up,
--all of a hundred anyway. Then my old firm will give me
trade, and jump at the chance; they never lost by me; they know
what I'm worth as supercargo. And, last of all, you want a
good captain to sail your ship for you. Well, here I am. I've
sailed schooners for ten years. Ask Billy if I can handle a
"No man better," said Billy.
"And as for my character as a shipmate," concluded Wicks, "go
and ask my old firm."
"But look here!" cried Hadden, "how do you mean to manage?
You can whisk round in a hansom, and no questions asked.
But if you try to come on a quarter-deck, my boy, you'll get
"I'll have to keep back till the last," replied Wicks, "and take
"But how about clearing? what other name?" asked Tommy, a
"I don't know yet," returned the captain, with a grin. "I'll see
what the name is on my new certificate, and that'll be good
enough for me. If I can't get one to buy, though I never heard
of such a thing, there's old Kirkup, he's turned some sort of
farmer down Bondi way; he'll hire me his."
"You seemed to speak as if you had a ship in view," said
"So I have, too," said Captain Wicks, "and a beauty. Schooner
yacht Dream; got lines you never saw the beat of; and a witch
to go. She passed me once off Thursday Island, doing two
knots to my one and laying a point and a half better; and the
Grace Darling was a ship that I was proud of. I took and tore
my hair. The Dream's been MY dream ever since. That was in
her old days, when she carried a blue ens'n. Grant Sanderson
was the party as owned her; he was rich and mad, and got a
fever at last somewhere about the Fly River, and took and died.
The captain brought the body back to Sydney, and paid off.
Well, it turned out Grant Sanderson had left any quantity of
wills and any quantity of widows, and no fellow could make
out which was the genuine article. All the widows brought
lawsuits against all the rest, and every will had a firm of
lawyers on the quarterdeck as long as your arm. They tell me it
was one of the biggest turns-to that ever was seen, bar
Tichborne; the Lord Chamberlain himself was floored, and so
was the Lord Chancellor; and all that time the Dream lay
rotting up by Glebe Point. Well, it's done now; they've picked
out a widow and a will; tossed up for it, as like as not; and the
Dream's for sale. She'll go cheap; she's had a long turn-to at
"What size is she?"
"Well, big enough. We don't want her bigger. A hundred and
ninety, going two hundred," replied the captain. "She's fully
big for us three; it would be all the better if we had another
hand, though it's a pity too, when you can pick up natives for
half nothing. Then we must have a cook. I can fix raw sailor-
men, but there's no going to sea with a new-chum cook. I can
lay hands on the man we want for that: a Highway boy, an old
shipmate of mine, of the name of Amalu. Cooks first rate, and
it's always better to have a native; he aint fly, you can turn him
to as you please, and he don't know enough to stand out for his
From the moment that Captain Wicks joined in the
conversation, Carthew recovered interest and confidence; the
man (whatever he might have done) was plainly good-natured,
and plainly capable; if he thought well of the enterprise, offered
to contribute money, brought experience, and could thus solve
at a word the problem of the trade, Carthew was content to go
ahead. As for Hadden, his cup was full; he and Bostock
forgave each other in champagne; toast followed toast; it was
proposed and carried amid acclamation to change the name of
the schooner (when she should be bought) to the Currency
Lass; and the Currency Lass Island Trading Company was
practically founded before dusk.
Three days later, Carthew stood before the lawyer, still in his
jean suit, received his hundred and fifty pounds, and proceeded
rather timidly to ask for more indulgence.
"I have a chance to get on in the world," he said. "By
to-morrow evening I expect to be part owner of a ship."
"Dangerous property, Mr. Carthew," said the lawyer.
"Not if the partners work her themselves and stand to go down
along with her," was the reply.
"I conceive it possible you might make something of it in that
way," returned the other. "But are you a seaman? I thought
you had been in the diplomatic service."
"I am an old yachtsman," said Norris. "And I must do the best
I can. A fellow can't live in New South Wales upon
diplomacy. But the point I wish to prepare you for is this. It
will be impossible I should present myself here next quarter-
day; we expect to make a six months' cruise of it among the
"Sorry, Mr. Carthew: I can't hear of that," replied the lawyer.
"I mean upon the same conditions as the last," said Carthew.
"The conditions are exactly opposite," said the lawyer. "Last
time I had reason to know you were in the colony; and even
then I stretched a point. This time, by your own confession,
you are contemplating a breach of the agreement; and I give
you warning if you carry it out and I receive proof of it (for I
will agree to regard this conversation as confidential) I shall
have no choice but to do my duty. Be here on quarter-day, or
your allowance ceases."
"This is very hard and, I think, rather silly," returned Carthew.
"It is not of my doing. I have my instructions," said the lawyer.
"And you so read these instructions, that I am to be prohibited
from making an honest livelihood?" asked Carthew.
"Let us be frank," said the lawyer. "I find nothing in these
instructions about an honest livelihood. I have no reason to
suppose my clients care anything about that. I have reason to
suppose only one thing,--that they mean you shall stay in this
colony, and to guess another, Mr. Carthew. And to guess
"What do you mean by that?" asked Norris.
"I mean that I imagine, on very strong grounds, that your
family desire to see no more of you," said the lawyer. "O, they
may be very wrong; but that is the impression conveyed, that is
what I suppose I am paid to bring about, and I have no choice
but to try and earn my hire."
"I would scorn to deceive you," said Norris, with a strong flush,
"you have guessed rightly. My family refuse to see me; but I
am not going to England, I am going to the islands. How does
that affect the islands?"
"Ah, but I don't know that you are going to the islands," said
the lawyer, looking down, and spearing the blotting-paper with
"I beg your pardon. I have the pleasure of informing you," said
"I am afraid, Mr. Carthew, that I cannot regard that
communication as official," was the slow reply.
"I am not accustomed to have my word doubted!" cried Norris.
"Hush! I allow no one to raise his voice in my office," said the
lawyer. "And for that matter--you seem to be a young
gentleman of sense--consider what I know of you. You are a
discarded son; your family pays money to be shut of you. What
have you done? I don't know. But do you not see how foolish I
should be, if I exposed my business reputation on the safeguard
of the honour of a gentleman of whom I know just so much and
no more? This interview is very disagreeable. Why prolong it?
Write home, get my instructions changed, and I will change my
behaviour. Not otherwise."
"I am very fond of three hundred a year," said Norris, "but I
cannot pay the price required. I shall not have the pleasure of
seeing you again."
"You must please yourself," said the lawyer. "Fail to be here
next quarter-day, and the thing stops. But I warn you, and I
mean the warning in a friendly spirit. Three months later you
will be here begging, and I shall have no choice but to show
you in the street."
"I wish you a good-evening," said Norris.
"The same to you, Mr. Carthew," retorted the lawyer, and rang
for his clerk.
So it befell that Norris during what remained to him of arduous
days in Sydney, saw not again the face of his legal adviser; and
he was already at sea, and land was out of sight, when Hadden
brought him a Sydney paper, over which he had been dozing in
the shadow of the galley, and showed him an advertisement.
"Mr. Norris Carthew is earnestly entreated to call without delay
at the office of Mr. ----, where important intelligence awaits
"It must manage to wait for me six months," said Norris, lightly
enough, but yet conscious of a pang of curiosity.
THE BUDGET OF THE "CURRENCY LASS."
Before noon on the 26th November, there cleared from the port
of Sydney the schooner, Currency Lass. The owner, Norris
Carthew, was on board in the somewhat unusual position of
mate; the master's name purported to be William Kirkup; the
cook was a Hawaiian boy, Joseph Amalu; and there were two
hands before the mast, Thomas Hadden and Richard Hemstead,
the latter chosen partly because of his humble character, partly
because he had an odd-job-man's handiness with tools. The
Currency Lass was bound for the South Sea Islands, and first of
all for Butaritari in the Gilberts, on a register; but it was
understood about the harbour that her cruise was more than
half a pleasure trip. A friend of the late Grant Sanderson (of
Auchentroon and Kilclarty) might have recognised in that
tall-masted ship, the transformed and rechristened Dream; and
the Lloyd's surveyor, had the services of such a one been called
in requisition, must have found abundant subject of remark.
For time, during her three years' inaction, had eaten deep into
the Dream and her fittings; she had sold in consequence a
shade above her value as old junk; and the three adventurers
had scarce been able to afford even the most vital repairs. The
rigging, indeed, had been partly renewed, and the rest set up;
all Grant Sanderson's old canvas had been patched together
into one decently serviceable suit of sails; Grant Sanderson's
masts still stood, and might have wondered at themselves. "I
haven't the heart to tap them," Captain Wicks used to observe,
as he squinted up their height or patted their rotundity; and "as
rotten as our foremast" was an accepted metaphor in the ship's
company. The sequel rather suggests it may have been sounder
than was thought; but no one knew for certain, just as no one
except the captain appreciated the dangers of the cruise. The
captain, indeed, saw with clear eyes and spoke his mind aloud;
and though a man of an astonishing hot-blooded courage,
following life and taking its dangers in the spirit of a hound
upon the slot, he had made a point of a big whaleboat. "Take
your choice," he had said; "either new masts and rigging or that
boat. I simply ain't going to sea without the one or the other.
Chicken coops are good enough, no doubt, and so is a dinghy;
but they ain't for Joe." And his partners had been forced to
consent, and saw six and thirty pounds of their small capital
vanish in the turn of a hand.
All four had toiled the best part of six weeks getting ready; and
though Captain Wicks was of course not seen or heard of, a
fifth was there to help them, a fellow in a bushy red beard,
which he would sometimes lay aside when he was below, and
who strikingly resembled Captain Wicks in voice and
character. As for Captain Kirkup, he did not appear till the last
moment, when he proved to be a burly mariner, bearded like
Abou Ben Adhem. All the way down the harbour and through
the Heads, his milk-white whiskers blew in the wind and were
conspicuous from shore; but the Currency Lass had no sooner
turned her back upon the lighthouse, than he went below for
the inside of five seconds and reappeared clean shaven. So
many doublings and devices were required to get to sea with an
unseaworthy ship and a captain that was "wanted." Nor might
even these have sufficed, but for the fact that Hadden was a
public character, and the whole cruise regarded with an eye of
indulgence as one of Tom's engaging eccentricities. The ship,
besides, had been a yacht before; and it came the more natural
to allow her still some of the dangerous liberties of her old
A strange ship they had made of it, her lofty spars disfigured
with patched canvas, her panelled cabin fitted for a traderoom
with rude shelves. And the life they led in that anomalous
schooner was no less curious than herself. Amalu alone
berthed forward; the rest occupied staterooms, camped upon
the satin divans, and sat down in Grant Sanderson's parquetry
smoking-room to meals of junk and potatoes, bad of their kind
and often scant in quantity. Hemstead grumbled; Tommy had
occasional moments of revolt and increased the ordinary by a
few haphazard tins or a bottle of his own brown sherry. But
Hemstead grumbled from habit, Tommy revolted only for the
moment, and there was underneath a real and general
acquiescence in these hardships. For besides onions and
potatoes, the Currency Lass may be said to have gone to sea
without stores. She carried two thousand pounds' worth of
assorted trade, advanced on credit, their whole hope and
fortune. It was upon this that they subsisted--mice in their own
granary. They dined upon their future profits; and every scanty
meal was so much in the savings bank.
Republican as were their manners, there was no practical, at
least no dangerous, lack of discipline. Wicks was the only
sailor on board, there was none to criticise; and besides, he was
so easy-going, and so merry-minded, that none could bear to
disappoint him. Carthew did his best, partly for the love of
doing it, partly for love of the captain; Amalu was a willing
drudge, and even Hemstead and Hadden turned to upon
occasion with a will. Tommy's department was the trade and
traderoom; he would work down in the hold or over the shelves
of the cabin, till the Sydney dandy was unrecognizable; come
up at last, draw a bucket of sea-water, bathe, change, and lie
down on deck over a big sheaf of Sydney _Heralds_ and _Dead
Birds_, or perhaps with a volume of Buckle's _History of
Civilisation_, the standard work selected for that cruise. In the
latter case, a smile went round the ship, for Buckle almost
invariably laid his student out, and when Tom awoke again he
was almost always in the humour for brown sherry. The
connection was so well established that "a glass of Buckle" or
"a bottle of civilisation" became current pleasantries on board
the Currency Lass.
Hemstead's province was that of the repairs, and he had his
hands full. Nothing on board but was decayed in a proportion;
the lamps leaked; so did the decks; door-knobs came off in the
hand, mouldings parted company with the panels, the pump
declined to suck, and the defective bathroom came near to
swamp the ship. Wicks insisted that all the nails were long
ago consumed, and that she was only glued together by the
rust. "You shouldn't make me laugh so much, Tommy," he
would say. "I'm afraid I'll shake the sternpost out of her." And,
as Hemstead went to and fro with his tool basket on an endless
round of tinkering, Wicks lost no opportunity of chaffing him
upon his duties. "If you'd turn to at sailoring or washing paint
or something useful, now," he would say, "I could see the fun
of it. But to be mending things that haven't no insides to them
appears to me the height of foolishness." And doubtless these
continual pleasantries helped to reassure the landsmen, who
went to and fro unmoved, under circumstances that might have
The weather was from the outset splendid, and the wind fair
and steady. The ship sailed like a witch. "This Currency Lass
is a powerful old girl, and has more complaints than I would
care to put a name on," the captain would say, as he pricked the
chart; "but she could show her blooming heels to anything of
her size in the Western Pacific." To wash decks, relieve the
wheel, do the day's work after dinner on the smoking-room
table, and take in kites at night,--such was the easy routine of
their life. In the evening--above all, if Tommy had produced
some of his civilisation--yarns and music were the rule. Amalu
had a sweet Hawaiian voice; and Hemstead, a great hand upon
the banjo, accompanied his own quavering tenor with effect.
There was a sense in which the little man could sing. It was
great to hear him deliver _My Boy Tammie_ in Austrylian; and
the words (some of the worst of the ruffian Macneil's) were
hailed in his version with inextinguishable mirth.
Where hye ye been a' dye?
he would ask, and answer himself:--
I've been by burn and flowery brye,
Meadow green an' mountain grye,
Courtin' o' this young thing,
Just come frye her mammie.
It was the accepted jest for all hands to greet the conclusion of
this song with the simultaneous cry: "My word!" thus winging
the arrow of ridicule with a feather from the singer's wing. But
he had his revenge with _Home, Sweet Home,_ and _Where is
my Wandering Boy To-night?_--ditties into which he threw the
most intolerable pathos. It appeared he had no home, nor had
ever had one, nor yet any vestige of a family, except a truculent
uncle, a baker in Newcastle, N.S.W. His domestic sentiment
was therefore wholly in the air, and expressed an unrealised
ideal. Or perhaps, of all his experiences, this of the Currency
Lass, with its kindly, playful, and tolerant society, approached
it the most nearly.
It is perhaps because I know the sequel, but I can never think
upon this voyage without a profound sense of pity and mystery;
of the ship (once the whim of a rich blackguard) faring with her
battered fineries and upon her homely errand, across the plains
of ocean, and past the gorgeous scenery of dawn and sunset;
and the ship's company, so strangely assembled, so Britishly
chuckle-headed, filling their days with chaff in place of
conversation; no human book on board with them except
Hadden's Buckle, and not a creature fit either to read or to
understand it; and the one mark of any civilised interest, being
when Carthew filled in his spare hours with the pencil and the
brush: the whole unconscious crew of them posting in the
meanwhile towards so tragic a disaster.
Twenty-eight days out of Sydney, on Christmas eve, they
fetched up to the entrance of the lagoon, and plied all that night
outside, keeping their position by the lights of fishers on the
reef and the outlines of the palms against the cloudy sky. With
the break of day, the schooner was hove to, and the signal for a
pilot shown. But it was plain her lights must have been
observed in the darkness by the native fishermen, and word
carried to the settlement, for a boat was already under weigh.
She came towards them across the lagoon under a great press
of sail, lying dangerously down, so that at times, in the heavier
puffs, they thought she would turn turtle; covered the distance
in fine style, luffed up smartly alongside, and emitted a
haggard looking white man in pyjamas.
"Good-mornin', Cap'n," said he, when he had made good his
entrance. "I was taking you for a Fiji man-of-war, what with
your flush decks and them spars. Well, gen'lemen all, here's
wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year," he
added, and lurched against a stay.
"Why, you're never the pilot?" exclaimed Wicks, studying him
with a profound disfavour. "You've never taken a ship in--don't
"Well, I should guess I have," returned the pilot. "I'm Captain
Dobbs, I am; and when I take charge, the captain of that ship
can go below and shave."
"But, man alive! you're drunk, man!" cried the captain.
"Drunk!" repeated Dobbs. "You can't have seen much life if
you call me drunk. I'm only just beginning. Come night, I
won't say; I guess I'll be properly full by then. But now I'm the
soberest man in all Big Muggin."
"It won't do," retorted Wicks. "Not for Joseph, sir. I can't have
you piling up my schooner."
"All right," said Dobbs, "lay and rot where you are, or take and
go in and pile her up for yourself like the captain of the Leslie.
That's business, I guess; grudged me twenty dollars' pilotage,
and lost twenty thousand in trade and a brand new schooner;
ripped the keel right off of her, and she went down in the inside
of four minutes, and lies in twenty fathom, trade and all."
"What's all this?" cried Wicks. "Trade? What vessel was this
"Consigned to Cohen and Co., from 'Frisco," returned the pilot,
"and badly wanted. There's a barque inside filling up for
Hamburg--you see her spars over there; and there's two more
ships due, all the way from Germany, one in two months, they
say, and one in three; Cohen and Co.'s agent (that's Mr.
Topelius) has taken and lain down with the jaundice on the
strength of it. I guess most people would, in his shoes; no
trade, no copra, and twenty hundred ton of shipping due. If
you've any copra on board, cap'n, here's your chance. Topelius
will buy, gold down, and give three cents. It's all found money
to him, the way it is, whatever he pays for it. And that's what
come of going back on the pilot."
"Excuse me one moment, Captain Dobbs. I wish to speak with
my mate," said the captain, whose face had begun to shine and
his eyes to sparkle.
"Please yourself," replied the pilot. "You couldn't think of
offering a man a nip, could you? just to brace him up. This
kind of thing looks damned inhospitable, and gives a schooner
a bad name."
"I'll talk about that after the anchor's down," returned Wicks,
and he drew Carthew forward. "I say," he whispered, "here's a
"How much do you call that?" asked Carthew.
"I can't put a figure on it yet--I daren't!" said the captain. "We
might cruise twenty years and not find the match of it. And
suppose another ship came in to-night? Everything's possible!
And the difficulty is this Dobbs. He's as drunk as a marine.
How can we trust him? We ain't insured--worse luck!"
"Suppose you took him aloft and got him to point out the
channel?" suggested Carthew. "If he tallied at all with the
chart, and didn't fall out of the rigging, perhaps we might risk
"Well, all's risk here," returned the captain. "Take the wheel
yourself, and stand by. Mind, if there's two orders, follow
mine, not his. Set the cook for'ard with the heads'ls, and the
two others at the main sheet, and see they don't sit on it." With
that he called the pilot; they swarmed aloft in the fore rigging,
and presently after there was bawled down the welcome order
to ease sheets and fill away.
At a quarter before nine o'clock on Christmas morning the
anchor was let go.
The first cruise of the Currency Lass had thus ended in a stroke
of fortune almost beyond hope. She had brought two thousand
pounds' worth of trade, straight as a homing pigeon, to the
place where it was most required. And Captain Wicks (or,
rather, Captain Kirkup) showed himself the man to make the
best of his advantage. For hard upon two days he walked a
verandah with Topelius, for hard upon two days his partners
watched from the neighbouring public house the field of battle;
and the lamps were not yet lighted on the evening of the second
before the enemy surrendered. Wicks came across to the Sans
Souci, as the saloon was called, his face nigh black, his eyes
almost closed and all bloodshot, and yet bright as lighted
"Come out here, boys," he said; and when they were some way
off among the palms, "I hold twenty-four," he added in a voice
scarcely recognizable, and doubtless referring to the venerable
game of cribbage.
"What do you mean?" asked Tommy.
"I've sold the trade," answered Wicks; "or, rather, I've sold only
some of it, for I've kept back all the mess beef and half the flour
and biscuit; and, by God, we're still provisioned for four
months! By God, it's as good as stolen!"
"My word!" cried Hemstead.
"But what have you sold it for?" gasped Carthew, the captain's
almost insane excitement shaking his nerve.
"Let me tell it my own way," cried Wicks, loosening his neck.
"Let me get at it gradual, or I'll explode. I've not only sold it,
boys, I've wrung out a charter on my own terms to 'Frisco and
back; on my own terms. I made a point of it. I fooled him first
by making believe I wanted copra, which of course I knew he
wouldn't hear of--couldn't, in fact; and whenever he showed
fight, I trotted out the copra, and that man dived! I would take
nothing but copra, you see; and so I've got the blooming lot in
specie--all but two short bills on 'Frisco. And the sum? Well,
this whole adventure, including two thousand pounds of credit,
cost us two thousand seven hundred and some odd. That's all
paid back; in thirty days' cruise we've paid for the schooner and
the trade. Heard ever any man the match of that? And it's not
all! For besides that," said the captain, hammering his words,
"we've got Thirteen Blooming Hundred Pounds of profit to
divide. I bled him in four Thou.!" he cried, in a voice that
broke like a schoolboy's.
For a moment the partners looked upon their chief with
stupefaction, incredulous surprise their only feeling. Tommy
was the first to grasp the consequences.
"Here," he said, in a hard, business tone. "Come back to that
saloon. I've got to get drunk."
"You must please excuse me, boys," said the captain, earnestly.
"I daren't taste nothing. If I was to drink one glass of beer, it's
my belief I'd have the apoplexy. The last scrimmage, and the
blooming triumph, pretty nigh hand done me."
"Well, then, three cheers for the captain," proposed Tommy.
But Wicks held up a shaking hand. "Not that either, boys," he
pleaded. "Think of the other buffer, and let him down easy. If
I'm like this, just fancy what Topelius is! If he heard us singing
out, he'd have the staggers."
As a matter of fact, Topelius accepted his defeat with a good
grace; but the crew of the wrecked Leslie, who were in the
same employment and loyal to their firm, took the thing more
bitterly. Rough words and ugly looks were common. Once
even they hooted Captain Wicks from the saloon verandah; the
Currency Lasses drew out on the other side; for some minutes
there had like to have been a battle in Butaritari; and though
the occasion passed off without blows, it left on either side an
increase of ill-feeling.
No such small matter could affect the happiness of the
successful traders. Five days more the ship lay in the lagoon,
with little employment for any one but Tommy and the captain,
for Topelius's natives discharged cargo and brought ballast; the
time passed like a pleasant dream; the adventurers sat up half
the night debating and praising their good fortune, or strayed
by day in the narrow isle, gaping like Cockney tourists; and on
the first of the new year, the Currency Lass weighed anchor for
the second time and set sail for 'Frisco, attended by the same
fine weather and good luck. She crossed the doldrums with but
small delay; on a wind and in ballast of broken coral, she
outdid expectations; and, what added to the happiness of the
ship's company, the small amount of work that fell on them to
do, was now lessened by the presence of another hand. This
was the boatswain of the Leslie; he had been on bad terms with
his own captain, had already spent his wages in the saloons of
Butaritari, had wearied of the place, and while all his
shipmates coldly refused to set foot on board the Currency
Lass, he had offered to work his passage to the coast. He was
a north of Ireland man, between Scotch and Irish, rough, loud,
humorous, and emotional, not without sterling qualities, and an
expert and careful sailor. His frame of mind was different
indeed from that of his new shipmates; instead of making an
unexpected fortune, he had lost a berth; and he was besides
disgusted with the rations, and really appalled at the condition
of the schooner. A stateroom door had stuck, the first day at
sea, and Mac (as they called him) laid his strength to it and
plucked it from the hinges.
"Glory!" said he, "this ship's rotten."
"I believe you, my boy," said Captain Wicks.
The next day the sailor was observed with his nose aloft.
"Don't you get looking at these sticks," the captain said, "or
you'll have a fit and fall overboard."
Mac turned towards the speaker with rather a wild eye. "Why,
I see what looks like a patch of dry rot up yonder, that I bet I
could stick my fist into," said he.
"Looks as if a fellow could stick his head into it, don't it?"
returned Wicks. "But there's no good prying into things that
can't be mended."
"I think I was a Currency Ass to come on board of her!"
"Well, I never said she was seaworthy," replied the captain: "I
only said she could show her blooming heels to anything afloat.
And besides, I don't know that it's dry rot; I kind of sometimes
hope it isn't. Here; turn to and heave the log; that'll cheer you
"Well, there's no denying it, you're a holy captain," said Mac.
And from that day on, he made but the one reference to the
ship's condition; and that was whenever Tommy drew upon his
cellar. "Here's to the junk trade!" he would say, as he held out
his can of sherry.
"Why do you always say that?" asked Tommy.
"I had an uncle in the business," replied Mac, and launched at
once into a yarn, in which an incredible number of the
characters were "laid out as nice as you would want to see,"
and the oaths made up about two-fifths of every conversation.
Only once he gave them a taste of his violence; he talked of it,
indeed, often; "I'm rather a voilent man," he would say, not
without pride; but this was the only specimen. Of a sudden, he
turned on Hemstead in the ship's waist, knocked him against
the foresail boom, then knocked him under it, and had set him
up and knocked him down once more, before any one had
drawn a breath.
"Here! Belay that!" roared Wicks, leaping to his feet. "I won't
have none of this."
Mac turned to the captain with ready civility. "I only want to
learn him manners," said he. "He took and called me
"Did he?" said Wicks. "O, that's a different story! What made
you do it, you tomfool? You ain't big enough to call any man
"I didn't call him it," spluttered Hemstead, through his blood
and tears. "I only mentioned-like he was."
"Well, let's have no more of it," said Wicks.
"But you ARE Irish, ain't you?" Carthew asked of his new
shipmate shortly after.
"I may be," replied Mac, "but I'll allow no Sydney duck to call
me so. No," he added, with a sudden heated countenance, "nor
any Britisher that walks! Why, look here," he went on, "you're a
young swell, aren't you? Suppose I called you that!" 'I'll show
you,' you would say, and turn to and take it out of me straight."
On the 28th of January, when in lat. 27 degrees 20' N., long.
177 degrees W., the wind chopped suddenly into the west, not
very strong, but puffy and with flaws of rain. The captain,
eager for easting, made a fair wind of it and guyed the booms
out wing and wing. It was Tommy's trick at the wheel, and as
it was within half an hour of the relief (seven thirty in the
morning), the captain judged it not worth while to change him.
The puffs were heavy but short; there was nothing to be called
a squall, no danger to the ship, and scarce more than usual to
the doubtful spars. All hands were on deck in their oilskins,
expecting breakfast; the galley smoked, the ship smelt of
coffee, all were in good humour to be speeding eastward a full
nine; when the rotten foresail tore suddenly between two cloths
and then split to either hand. It was for all the world as though
some archangel with a huge sword had slashed it with the
figure of a cross; all hands ran to secure the slatting canvas;
and in the sudden uproar and alert, Tommy Hadden lost his
head. Many of his days have been passed since then in
explaining how the thing happened; of these explanations it
will be sufficient to say that they were all different and none
satisfactory; and the gross fact remains that the main boom
gybed, carried away the tackle, broke the mainmast some three
feet above the deck and whipped it overboard. For near a
minute the suspected foremast gallantly resisted; then followed
its companion; and by the time the wreck was cleared, of the
whole beautiful fabric that enabled them to skim the seas, two
ragged stumps remained.
In these vast and solitary waters, to be dismasted is perhaps the
worst calamity. Let the ship turn turtle and go down, and at
least the pang is over. But men chained on a hulk may pass
months scanning the empty sea line and counting the steps of
death's invisible approach. There is no help but in the boats,
and what a help is that! There heaved the Currency Lass, for
instance, a wingless lump, and the nearest human coast (that of
Kauai in the Sandwiches) lay about a thousand miles to south
and east of her. Over the way there, to men contemplating that
passage in an open boat, all kinds of misery, and the fear of
death and of madness, brooded.
A serious company sat down to breakfast; but the captain
helped his neighbours with a smile.
"Now, boys," he said, after a pull at the hot coffee, "we're done
with this Currency Lass, and no mistake. One good job: we
made her pay while she lasted, and she paid first rate; and if we
were to try our hand again, we can try in style. Another good
job: we have a fine, stiff, roomy boat, and you know who you
have to thank for that. We've got six lives to save, and a pot of
money; and the point is, where are we to take 'em?"
"It's all two thousand miles to the nearest of the Sandwiches, I
fancy," observed Mac.
"No, not so bad as that," returned the captain. "But it's bad
enough: rather better'n a thousand."
"I know a man who once did twelve hundred in a boat," said
Mac, "and he had all he wanted. He fetched ashore in the
Marquesas, and never set a foot on anything floating from that
day to this. He said he would rather put a pistol to his head
and knock his brains out."
"Ay, ay!" said Wicks. "Well I remember a boat's crew that
made this very island of Kauai, and from just about where we
lie, or a bit further. When they got up with the land, they were
clean crazy. There was an iron-bound coast and an Old Bob
Ridley of a surf on. The natives hailed 'em from fishing-boats,
and sung out it couldn't be done at the money. Much they
cared! there was the land, that was all they knew; and they
turned to and drove the boat slap ashore in the thick of it, and
was all drowned but one. No; boat trips are my eye,"
concluded the captain, gloomily.
The tone was surprising in a man of his indomitable temper.
"Come, Captain," said Carthew, "you have something else up
your sleeve; out with it!"
"It's a fact," admitted Wicks. "You see there's a raft of little
bally reefs about here, kind of chicken-pox on the chart. Well,
I looked 'em all up, and there's one--Midway or Brooks they
call it, not forty mile from our assigned position--that I got
news of. It turns out it's a coaling station of the Pacific Mail,"
he said, simply.
"Well, and I know it ain't no such a thing," said Mac. "I been
quartermaster in that line myself."
"All right," returned Wicks. "There's the book. Read what
Hoyt says--read it aloud and let the others hear."
Hoyt's falsehood (as readers know) was explicit; incredulity
was impossible, and the news itself delightful beyond hope.
Each saw in his mind's eye the boat draw in to a trim island
with a wharf, coal-sheds, gardens, the Stars and Stripes and the
white cottage of the keeper; saw themselves idle a few weeks in
tolerable quarters, and then step on board the China mail,
romantic waifs, and yet with pocketsful of money, calling for
champagne, and waited on by troops of stewards. Breakfast,
that had begun so dully, ended amid sober jubilation, and all
hands turned immediately to prepare the boat.
Now that all spars were gone, it was no easy job to get her
launched. Some of the necessary cargo was first stowed on
board; the specie, in particular, being packed in a strong chest
and secured with lashings to the afterthwart in case of a
capsize. Then a piece of the bulwark was razed to the level of
the deck, and the boat swung thwart-ship, made fast with a
slack line to either stump, and successfully run out. For a
voyage of forty miles to hospitable quarters, not much food or
water was required; but they took both in superfluity. Amalu
and Mac, both ingrained sailor-men, had chests which were the
headquarters of their lives; two more chests with handbags,
oilskins, and blankets supplied the others; Hadden, amid
general applause, added the last case of the brown sherry; the
captain brought the log, instruments, and chronometer; nor did
Hemstead forget the banjo or a pinned handkerchief of
It was about three P.M. when they pushed off, and (the wind
being still westerly) fell to the oars. "Well, we've got the guts
out of YOU!" was the captain's nodded farewell to the hulk of
the Currency Lass, which presently shrank and faded in the sea.
A little after a calm succeeded, with much rain; and the first
meal was eaten, and the watch below lay down to their uneasy
slumber on the bilge under a roaring shower-bath. The twenty-
ninth dawned overhead from out of ragged clouds; there is no
moment when a boat at sea appears so trenchantly black and so
conspicuously little; and the crew looked about them at the sky
and water with a thrill of loneliness and fear. With sunrise the
trade set in, lusty and true to the point; sail was made; the boat
flew; and by about four in the afternoon, they were well up with
the closed part of the reef, and the captain standing on the
thwart, and holding by the mast, was studying the island
through the binoculars.
"Well, and where's your station?" cried Mac.
"I don't someway pick it up," replied the captain.
"No, nor never will!" retorted Mac, with a clang of despair and
triumph in his tones.
The truth was soon plain to all. No buoys, no beacons, no
lights, no coal, no station; the castaways pulled through a
lagoon and landed on an isle, where was no mark of man but
wreckwood, and no sound but of the sea. For the seafowl that
harboured and lived there at the epoch of my visit were then
scattered into the uttermost parts of the ocean, and had left no
traces of their sojourn besides dropped feathers and addled
eggs. It was to this they had been sent, for this they had
stooped all night over the dripping oars, hourly moving further
from relief. The boat, for as small as it was, was yet eloquent
of the hands of men, a thing alone indeed upon the sea but yet
in itself all human; and the isle, for which they had exchanged
it, was ingloriously savage, a place of distress, solitude, and
hunger unrelieved. There was a strong glare and shadow of the
evening over all; in which they sat or lay, not speaking, careless
even to eat, men swindled out of life and riches by a lying
book. In the great good nature of the whole party, no word of
reproach had been addressed to Hadden, the author of these
disasters. But the new blow was less magnanimously borne,
and many angry glances rested on the captain.
Yet it was himself who roused them from their lethargy.
Grudgingly they obeyed, drew the boat beyond tidemark, and
followed him to the top of the miserable islet, whence a view
was commanded of the whole wheel of the horizon, then part
darkened under the coming night, part dyed with the hues of
the sunset and populous with the sunset clouds. Here the camp
was pitched and a tent run up with the oars, sails, and mast.
And here Amalu, at no man's bidding, from the mere instinct of
habitual service, built a fire and cooked a meal. Night was
come, and the stars and the silver sickle of new moon beamed
overhead, before the meal was ready. The cold sea shone about
them, and the fire glowed in their faces, as they ate. Tommy
had opened his case, and the brown sherry went the round; but
it was long before they came to conversation.
"Well, is it to be Kauai after all?" asked Mac suddenly.
"This is bad enough for me," said Tommy. "Let's stick it out
where we are."
"Well, I can tell ye one thing," said Mac, "if ye care to hear it.
When I was in the China mail, we once made this island. It's
in the course from Honolulu."
"Deuce it is!" cried Carthew. "That settles it, then. Let's stay.
We must keep good fires going; and there's plenty wreck."
"Lashings of wreck!" said the Irishman. "There's nothing here
but wreck and coffin boards."
"But we'll have to make a proper blyze," objected Hemstead.
"You can't see a fire like this, not any wye awye, I mean."
"Can't you?" said Carthew. "Look round."
They did, and saw the hollow of the night, the bare, bright face
of the sea, and the stars regarding them; and the voices died in
their bosoms at the spectacle. In that huge isolation, it seemed
they must be visible from China on the one hand and California
on the other.
"My God, it's dreary!" whispered Hemstead.
"Dreary?" cried Mac, and fell suddenly silent.
"It's better than a boat, anyway," said Hadden. "I've had my
bellyful of boat."
"What kills me is that specie!" the captain broke out. "Think of
all that riches,--four thousand in gold, bad silver, and short
bills--all found money, too!--and no more use than that much
"I'll tell you one thing," said Tommy. "I don't like it being in
the boat--I don't care to have it so far away."
"Why, who's to take it?" cried Mac, with a guffaw of evil
But this was not at all the feeling of the partners, who rose,
clambered down the isle, brought back the inestimable
treasure-chest slung upon two oars, and set it conspicuous in
the shining of the fire.
"There's my beauty!" cried Wicks, viewing it with a cocked
head. "That's better than a bonfire. What! we have a chest
here, and bills for close upon two thousand pounds; there's no
show to that,--it would go in your vest-pocket,--but the rest!
upwards of forty pounds avoirdupois of coined gold, and close
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