THE POWER OF SCHUMER

During it all Floyd had kept his eyes turned away. When the men had
come running aft with the halyard line they had knocked against him,
making him shift his position, and now, with the dead man swinging
aloft, he walked over to the weather side, seemingly an impassive
figure, with his rifle under his arm keeping guard.

As he stood looking over the water to the camping place he saw Isbel.
She had come out on the sands and she was standing with her hand
shading her eyes. She must have been a witness of the whole tragedy,
and she stood, motionless as a figure carved from stone–for a moment.
Then she turned, and just as though something were in pursuit of her,
she ran, making for the grove, into which she disappeared.

Floyd swore under his breath. That the girl should have been allowed to
see such a thing struck him as a monstrous fact. Gentle, kindly, and
willing she had been, almost unknown to himself, the one bright spot in
his life on the island. The one human thing to keep life warm. Schumer
had been a companion who had never grown into anything more than an
acquaintance; Isbel, though he had talked to her as little as he would
have talked to a dog, had been a friend. He did not understand her at
all; she had lived her own life, thought her own thoughts, and said
little; a child living in a child’s world of which he knew nothing, but
she had somehow kept his heart warm, and now she had been allowed to
see _this_, the doing to death of one of her own people in the broad
light of day.

What could she know of the justice of the case? He turned to Schumer,
who had come toward him now that everything was finished, and, taking
him by the arm, led him to the weather rail; they leaned over the rail
as they talked.

“Do you know,” said Floyd, “that child has seen the whole of this
business?”

“What child?”

“Isbel.”

“Well, what of that?”

“What of that? She stood there watching it all, and then she ran off as
if some one were going to kill her. It was brutal to let her see it;
goodness knows she has stuck to us and done everything for us a mortal
could do, and now we repay her by letting her see us hanging one of her
own people.”

Schumer seemed disturbed and irritated by this news.

“One cannot think of everything,” said he; “you speak as though you
were accusing me. Am I to do all the thinking? Well, she has seen what
she has seen, and it cannot be helped, though I would not have had it
for a good deal. That girl may be very useful to us yet, and we do not
want to make an enemy of her. She will brood over this and say nothing,
and then maybe let us have it in the back some time. Well, we cannot
help it; we must remedy it somehow. There is no use in talking about
it with the business we have to do before us. First we must bring
stores and some canvas to make tents for those labor men. Come, we will
get the stuff together now and take it to them in the whaleboat; we
will take two of the crew with us to help to row.”

They rousted out some spare canvas from the sail room of the schooner,
and had it sent into the whaleboat, which was still alongside, with the
two Solomon Islanders who had rowed her out sitting on the thwarts and
staring up at the form dangling overhead.

It seemed to fill them with curiosity, nothing more; yet Floyd noticed
that when Schumer spoke to them they jumped to attention as though they
had been addressed by some powerful chief. The crew also ran about at
his least sign, hauled with all their energy, and hung on his words.

Schumer did not go to the cache for provisions; he opened the
schooner’s lazaret. She was well supplied. Though the mutineers had
killed their officers they had not sacked the provision room and
broached the liquor as they would have done had they been Europeans.

“They were helpless, you see, like a duck with a broken wing,” said
Schumer. “Didn’t know where they were; didn’t know who would catch
them. Kanakas will drink, but they don’t fly to drink like our chaps;
it’s not grained in them.”

They made a selection of tins and had them brought on deck and hoisted
into the boat. Schumer added some sticks of tobacco, and they pushed
off and rowed for the fishing ground.

The laborers waiting on the beach helped them to land. They were a very
subdued lot indeed; the sight of the hanging seemed to have put them
under a spell as far as the white men were concerned, and they worked
at the unlading of the stores without a word, yet with all their energy.

When the stuff was landed, Schumer began to talk to them. He asked them
to choose a foreman, and, having consulted together for a few minutes,
they picked out one of their number–a man with a huge shell ring
through his nostrils, split ear lobes, and scar marks on his chest and
all down his left arm.

Sru was the name of this individual, and Schumer, as he watched him
step out from the ranks, regretted the choice. He suspected that
they had chosen him, not because he was a favorite, but because he
was feared. This is always bad, because in dealing with a mass of
natives–and the same holds good for Europeans–authority has most to
fear from the individual. It is the one man who makes the bother, and
the man who is feared, if he is placed in a position of supremacy, is
more likely to make trouble than the man who is loved.

However, they had chosen a foreman at Schumer’s request, and it
was not for him to interfere with their choice. He set to and gave
them directions as to how they were to make their camp, placed the
provisions and tobacco under charge of the foreman, ordered them to
be ready for work next morning at sunup, and then returned to the
schooner, leaving the two laborers behind with the others.

On board he gave an order for the body to be lowered and cast in the
lagoon, where the sharks were patiently waiting for their prey; then
with Floyd he returned to the camping ground, rowing themselves across
in the ship’s dinghy.

They had left on board the whole native crew with Joe to supervise them.

They beached the dinghy by the quarter boat, and walked up to the tent.
Isbel was nowhere to be seen.

Schumer looked round for her, called, received no answer, and then,
with his own hands, prepared to light the fire and make the supper.

The sun was now low down over the western roof, and the lagoon was
filling with gold; the schooner, freed from the horror dangling at her
yardarm, lay with her anchor chain taut, and the golden ripples of
the incoming tide racing past her sides. She made a beautiful picture
with the sunset light upon her masts and spars, the gulls flying and
flitting about her, crying as they wheeled.

It was the time of the full moon, and she rose with the dark. Schumer
had gone to the tent, where he had placed the letters and papers taken
from the captain’s coat on board the _Southern Cross_. He returned with
them in his hand, and, taking his seat by the embers of the fire, he
began to examine them.

He did not require a lamp; one could have read the smallest print by
the moonlight now flooding the world.

It was a poor enough find. There were half a dozen letters in a woman’s
handwriting, mostly referring to remittances received or expected. The
addresses at the head of them told nothing. “One hundred and two North
Street” was the invariable heading, and for date Monday or Tuesday,
without hint of the month in which they were written. “My dear Joe,”
they began, and the ending was always the same, “Your loving Mary.”
There were no envelopes to give a clew to the town they came from or
the country.

“His loving Mary seemed to have a keen eye for the boodle,” said
Schumer. “Ah–what’s this?” He had opened a letter with the printed
heading: “Hakluyt & Son, Market Street, Sydney.” The letter ran:

DEAR CAPTAIN WALTERS: Owing to Captain Dennison’s illness we are
prepared to offer you the _Southern Cross_, which is now lying in
harbor. If you will call upon us to-morrow at ten-thirty sharp
we will be happy to talk over the matter with you and make all
arrangements.
J. B. for HAKLUYT & SON.

“That was written four months ago,” said Schumer, looking at the date
on the envelope. “They are the owners, and I believe I know Hakluyt
& Son; pair of rogues, as all shipowners are, but they are rich, if
they are the people I take them for; anyhow it’s a good find. We know
the owners. You see, a schooner is not a thing you can pick up like
a purse and put in your pocket. Unless you run her into a port where
there is no law and sell her for the price of old truck what are you
to do with her? Change her name? Well, what about your papers and
your log, and how are you going to muzzle your crew, even if they are
Kanakas? You have boards of trade and port officers everywhere. It’s
one of the troubles of civilization, but it has to be faced. Now, on
the other hand, knowing the owners, we have the law not against us but
on our side. The schooner is practically derelict; if we bring her
into port we can claim compensation. I see a lot of clear sky ahead
in this business if it is properly worked, and we must remember this:
the fish-poisoning business holds good; there’s no use in having
government inquiries, though I don’t even dread those; we tried our
man fairly and we hanged him as an example to the others who seemed
mutinous.”

“Look here,” said Floyd. “I want to say something about that business.
I don’t deny that fellow got what he deserved, but there were others
in the business, and there is no doubt at all that they had a lot of
provocation. But you hanged that man less for what he had done than for
what he might do in the future.”

“Exactly; and to show the others what they might expect, and to show
them that they have got masters over them.”

“You hanged him as a matter of policy.”

“Just so. As a matter of policy first, and as a matter of punishment
second.”

“Well, that’s where I’m against you.”

“How?”

“Killing for policy’s sake. I may be wrong, but it’s against my nature
to hang a chap so as to strike terror into others. However, he is
hanged and done with, and there’s no use saying any more on the matter.”

“Not a bit,” said Schumer, going on with the examination of the papers.
There was nothing else of importance; some receipted bills, some old
letters from chums dated four years back, an envelope with a theater
program in it, and another envelope with a faded photograph of a woman
in a low-necked dress, evidently the photograph of some actress that
had struck Captain Walters’ fancy.

“It’s funny what you find among a man’s belongings,” said Schumer.
“I’ve come across a Bible and a pious letter from his mother in the
leavings of one of the biggest blackguards in the world, and I met
a man who told me he had gone through the gear of a parson who was
laid out on a smallpox ship and found books and pictures that weren’t
holy. This Walters had an eye for a pretty girl, and sent his wife
remittances pretty often; that’s all his remains say of him. I reckon
he was a poor sort, sentimental, with a taste for the bottle and with
no hold on his crew.”

They put the papers away, and Schumer retired to bed, while Floyd,
relighting his pipe, strolled over to the ocean side of the reef. At
night, and especially when the moon was full, this was a place of
terrific loneliness. One heard the voice of the wastes of the sea. He
sat down on a lump of coral and watched the rollers coming in and the
bursting of the foam under the moonlight.

The events of the day had depressed him, yet nothing could have shown
better results, as regards their plans, than the day’s work just
finished. They wanted labor for the fishery, and labor had appeared
on the island as though summoned by a genie. They wanted a ship that
would make no trouble, and here was a schooner floating in the lagoon,
a vessel well found and seaworthy and without eyes or ears to spy on
their doings.

Fortune had turned her face toward them and held out her hand, and had
Floyd been listening to the story of himself and Schumer told as a yarn
his commentary would have been “Lucky beggars!”

The reality was different, and it disclosed the brutality which attends
success, especially the successful attempt to lift treasure that is in
Nature’s keeping.

Nothing could be more fascinating than the idea of raiding one of
Nature’s great banks where she stores her pearls, her diamonds, or her
gold, nothing more trying to all the endurance and good in man than the
prosecution of that great burglary.

The hanging business had hit Floyd a hard blow; more than that, the
thought of Schumer was now beginning to threaten his peace like a
phantom.

The running away of Isbel at the sight of the hanging had suddenly cast
a new light upon Schumer and incidentally upon himself.

It was as though Innocence had spoken, condemning them both. And yet
the man had deserved his fate. Floyd told himself this again and again;
it was the knowledge of this that had prevented him from interfering.
He told himself that, even as a matter of policy and to protect their
own lives against another outbreak headed by the same leader, the
action was justified.

And yet the phantom remained to disturb his thoughts. Schumer, the
man who had bound himself up so closely in his life, the man whom he
did not understand in the least, the man whose personality was so
powerful, whose wishes always made themselves good, and whose word was
practically law on that island.

Schumer was always right; that was part of the origin of his power;
he had the genius to foresee everything that was coming and the head
to prepare for eventualities. His suggestions were commands based
on reason; his orders were worded so as to seem suggestions; his
personality suffused everything, dominated all things, and made Floyd
feel at times as though he were an automaton worked by strings instead
of a living man moved by will.

Yet never had Schumer stirred resentment in him.

That is the most magical power in a great and dominating personality.
It does not irritate; it lulls. Your little strong man gets his
will–if he gets it–by setting everybody by the ears. Your big strong
man works without friction; his men become part of him, his motives
part of them; when they are free to think they may vaguely wonder at
their own subservience and even resent it in a way, yet they come under
again to the will that bends them as surely as the wheat stalks come
under to the wind when it blows.

Floyd, having smoked for a while, tapped the ashes out of his pipe
and rose up. As he was returning to the tent he caught the glimmer of
something white among the outer trees of the grove and came toward it.
It passed among the trees, and he followed it, pushing branches of the
hibiscus aside and trampling down the fern that grew here in profusion.

He was following Isbel, and there, in a little glade amid the ferns,
with her back to an artus tree, crouched in the moonlight, he brought
her to bay.

There was something feline in her attitude, as though she were about to
spring, and her eyes were fixed on him steadfastly as though watching
for his next move.

“Isbel,” he said, speaking loud enough for her to hear, yet not loud
enough to attract the possible attention of Schumer in the tent near
by, “what is the matter with you? Come, I am not going to hurt you.
Don’t you know me?”

He held out his hand, with the finger-tips pressed together, as one
holds out one’s hand to an animal; then he took a step toward her.

She turned and whisked away round the tree, and he heard her movements
among the bushes as she vanished from sight.

He came out of the grove and went back to the tent.

* * * * *

Next morning when he came out of the tent the first thing that struck
his eye was Isbel. She had returned, and was setting the sticks for the
fire as though nothing had occurred. But when her business was done she
vanished again, reappearing only in time to help in the preparation of
the evening meal.

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