SCHUMER GOES AWAY

They got the water on board next day, and the day following they were
up before dawn to catch the slack of the tide which was due an hour
after sunrise. It would then be still water at the break in the reef.

Schumer had made all his last preparations the night before. He would
breakfast on board the schooner when she was free of the lagoon, and
as Floyd rowed him across in the dinghy, the sky over the eastern reef
was paling, and the stars above, that had been leaping all night like
hearts of fire, showed signs of the coming day.

When Schumer was on board, Floyd pushed off again, having wished him
good luck, and then hung on his oars half a cable length away, watching
the preparations for departure.

He could hear Schumer’s voice giving orders, and the bare feet of the
fellows on deck running forward to the capstan.

“Break down,” came the order, and following it the chorus of the
Kanakas mixed with the rasp of the anchor chain as the slack of it came
in, till the order was given, “Vast leaving.”

All sound now ceased, and at that moment, just as the first light of
day was striking the palm fronds and the topmost spars of the _Southern
Cross_, the schooner, riding at her taut anchor chain, seemed the ghost
of a ship stricken suddenly into unreality by the profound silence that
had suddenly fallen upon her. A moment passed, and then the voice of
Schumer came again, ordering the hands to set the mainsail, and to haul
on the throat and peak halyards.

There was scarcely a trace of morning bank in the east, and the light,
now strengthening rapidly, showed the great trapezium of canvas
slatting to the faint and favorable wind. Then the foresail took the
breeze, dusky forms swarming on the jib boom were casting the gaskets
off the jib, now the men on deck were hauling at the jib halyards, and
just as a horse answers to the pull of the bit, the _Southern Cross_
veered round to the pressure of the sail, while the voice of Schumer
came again, ordering the anchor to be hove up.

As it left the water and rose to the cathead, the schooner, with way on
already, began to steal toward the reef opening, the first rays of the
sun turning her canvas to vague gold against the new-born blue of the
sky.

The form of Schumer appeared for a moment at the after rail and waved a
hand, then it vanished, and Floyd, having watched the _Southern Cross_
make her first bow to the swell of the outside sea, returned to the
shore.

He hauled the dinghy up, and then, climbing across the coral to the
break in the reef, watched the dwindling sail, till the sun dazzle half
blinded him. Then he turned away and sought the house.

The two men had used the main room of the house for sleeping in at
night, a bunk mattress taken from the _Southern Cross_ being placed in
each corner, and removed in the daytime to the smaller room. Floyd,
without waiting for Isbel’s help, removed the mattresses, and then
began to wash and shave. The trade room of the _Tonga_ had supplied
them with all toilet necessaries, even to scissors, and its saloon
had given them a mirror; as Floyd’s eyes fell now on the scissors he
recalled the fact that Schumer had been his hair cutter, even as he had
been Schumer’s. Well, it would be nine weeks before he would have the
chance of a haircut, unless he could press Sru into the business. The
thought of this made him laugh as he left the house and came out on the
beach.

Isbel had lit the fire and laid the breakfast things. She was turning
away when he stopped her.

“Schumer is gone,” said he; “he has taken the ship and gone away, but
he will be back in a little time.”

“He will be back—-” She broke off the sentence and raised her eyes
to his, and though she was gazing full at him, she did not seem to see
him. She seemed looking at something a hundred miles away, and the
sensation of being gazed through as though he were clear as glass, and
absolutely negligible, gave Floyd a queer sensation–almost a shiver.

“In a while,” said he. “What ails you, Isbel–what have I done to you
that has altered you so? We used to be good friends. It was not my
fault, that trouble with one of your people; he had killed a man. He
had committed murder, and the man who commits murder must die.”

Isbel listened to him just as though she were listening to the sound
of the sea or the wind, with the same far-away look, the same air of
abstraction. Then she said, speaking not in answer to him, but as
though she were making a statement about some ordinary matter:

“I have no peace here. I wish to go to my own people. Schumer will come
back, but he will not find me.”

“Hello!” said Floyd. “What do you mean?”

But she would say nothing more; she would not even look him again
in the face, and, irritated at last, he turned away and sat down to
breakfast.

If Schumer were to come back and not find her, where on earth did she
propose to go? What did she mean? For a moment the horrid idea occurred
to him that she might intend suicide; then he dismissed it; Isbel was
not the sort of person to commit self-murder without any appreciable
cause; though mysterious enough, she was too healthy and sane for that
folly. All the same, as he breakfasted, her words kept ringing in his
head:

“Schumer will come back, but he will not find me.”

“God knows,” thought he, “it will be hard enough here all alone without
her bolting off or doing something foolish–anyhow, there is nowhere
for her to bolt to, unless she bolts into the lagoon–confound Schumer
and his methods. If he had left that chap alone, she would not have
taken this dead set against us.”

When he had finished breakfast, he went to the pierhead at the break
on the reef and swept the sea line with his eyes. Away, far away,
like a flake of white spar, a sail showed against the sky. It was the
_Southern Cross_, almost hull down on the horizon.

You may also like