THE PUNISHMENT

Floyd’s finger went to the trigger of the rifle across his knees. He
expected a sudden attack by the criminal on his accuser, but the man
did nothing.

A murmur went up from the crowd, the sort of murmur that would have
followed the exhibition of a conjuring trick, while Schumer, taking his
man by the arm, led him apart from the rest and made him stand with his
back to the port bulwarks.

“Is what I say true?” he asked, turning to Joe.

He had calculated on everything, and he knew that Joe the informer
would never, never reveal to the others that his–Schumer’s–magic
gift of seeing the truth through men’s skulls was a trick based on
information.

For a moment Joe, between the devil and the deep sea, gazed wildly
round him, then he bent his head in assent.

“So,” said Schumer, then he turned to Floyd. “You are one of the judges
of this man. I am the other, but I am president of this court, and I
have the casting vote–pronounce your sentence.”

“He deserves death,” said Floyd; “but—-”

“But what?”

“I would prefer to isolate him on some part of the island and hand him
over to the first ship.”

Schumer turned to Joe, and, pointing to a whaleboat hanging at the
davits, ordered it to be lowered.

When it was afloat he gave orders for the whole of the labor men to get
into it, telling them that all was clear now that the chief offender
was to be punished, and that no more would be said on the matter, that
their work would be paid for on the terms he had named, and that their
future lot would be happiness, good pay, good food, and plenty of it.

They crowded down into the boat. There were thirty of them, and they
filled it nearly. Then, leaving Floyd on board with Joe and the Kanaka
crew and the criminal, he got into the boat and took his place at the
tiller.

The Solomanders rowed villainously, but they made the whaleboat move,
and Floyd, with one eye on the murderer, who had now taken his seat
on the deck, watched Schumer steering them for the fishing ground and
landing them on the beach.

He landed them, and seemed to be explaining things. Floyd caught
glimpses of him waving his arm about almost as though he were pointing
out the view.

Then with two of them for oarsmen he came back.

Floyd, as Schumer came on deck, felt sick at heart. He hated the crime,
and he hated the sight of the criminal, but he hated even more the idea
of death, and he knew that the man now crouched on the deck was surely
going to die.

Schumer, as he came on deck, seemed Fate itself–calm, cold,
passionless Fate. The judge, the hangman, and the rope all in one.

The Kanakas seemed to guess it; the very brightness of the day seemed
grown paler. Floyd walked to the bulwark rail and looked over at the
boat where the two rowers were seated looking up at the vessel. His
lips were dry. He could do nothing; whatever was going to happen was
deserved, but it was horrible.

He heard Schumer giving his orders for signal halyard line and a block.
The _Southern Cross_ carried a brass cannonade for saluting purposes,
and now he heard Schumer giving orders for it to be loaded.

I have said that the _Southern Cross_ was a topsail schooner, and at
this moment the crowd of laborers away out at the fishing ground had
their attention drawn by the movement going on upon the rigging of the
foremast; men were swarming up, and a fellow was out on the yard–he
looked at that distance like a fly against the blue. He came down, as
did the others, and he had scarcely reached the deck when a white jet
of smoke shot like a plume from the bow of the _Southern Cross_, and
the noise of a gun came on the wind.

Something black and struggling, and just like a spider running up a
thread, went from the deck of the _Southern Cross_ to the yardarm,
touched it, and then sank some half dozen feet, and swung dangling
against the sky. It was the murderer.

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