BEFORE THE ATTACK

That night he made her sleep in the house, while he took his place
outside. He arranged to call her when half the night was over, so that
she might keep watch while he slept, and as he sat with his back to the
house wall, and a loaded rifle by his side, he tried to forecast the
possibility of an attack and the upshot, should it occur.

The fact that Sru had seen the cache weighed with him as much as the
occurrence of that evening. The two facts combined made the position
very, very threatening. The labor men had no arms and ammunition, but
they were thirty in number; they had no boat, but they had the raft,
and though the reef was almost impassable, Isbel had got along it
that night of her flight, and what she had done, these fellows could
doubtless accomplish also.

He could see the sparks of the camp fires away across the lagoon, but
though the wind was blowing from over there, it brought no sound on it.
Usually one could catch stray snatches of song from across the water,
or the fellows shouting as they speared fish in the rock pools by
torchlight.

To-night the silence seemed ominous, and the light of the camp fires
like threatening eyes. Now and again would come the splash of a fish,
and now and again the wind breezing up for a moment would set the
foliage moving in the grove, the breadfruit leaves clapping like great
green hands, and the palm fronds rustling and cheeping.

The surf on the outer reef was low of sound to-night, yet,
occasionally, over to the west, where the full trend of the swell was
meeting the coral, it would speak louder and become angry like the
sound of a train at full speed.

Even the stars had taken on the aspect of attention; they seemed
watching and waiting to see something that would surely occur.

Floyd had to get up and pace the sands to break the spell. Then, after
a while, he sat down again. The fires over at the fishing camp had died
out, the wind had fallen to the merest breath, and the surf on the
western reef no longer snarled.

Danger seemed to have drawn away from the island, leaving behind her
the profoundest peace. Floyd, whose eyes were longing to close despite
all his efforts to keep awake, felt a touch on his shoulder. It was
Isbel come to relieve guard. When he came out next morning, the sun was
up, and Isbel had lit the fire and was preparing breakfast.

They sat down to the meal together, and, when it was over, Floyd
declared his intention of going, as usual, to the fishery.

“We must keep the work going, at all costs,” said he. “If I did not,
they would think I was afraid, and then they would be sure to attack
us. Besides, there may be nothing to fear. Sru is the only one I care
about, the others are pretty harmless, with no one to lead them, and
Sru may be knocked out. He looked pretty dead when I left him.”

Isbel shook her head.

“One blow would not kill Sru,” said she. “Too strong. If you go, I go
with you.”

“You,” said Floyd. “And suppose–suppose they attack us?”

“Suppose you go alone and get killed,” said Isbel, “what become of me
here alone? No, I go if you go. I can shoot. I stay in the boat to keep
it safe, whiles you go to the fishing. If they come to take the boat,
I kill them. If they strike at you, I kill them. You don’t know me. I
know myself. I have no fear at all.”

“I believe you,” said he. “Yes, we will go together; you are worth half
a dozen men—-Isbel, why did you run away from me that time?”

Isbel looked down.

“I went to find my own people,” said she at last. “I was afraid.”

“Afraid of me?”

“I don’t know,” said Isbel; “you and Schumer, and being alone with you
made me afraid.”

“And you are not afraid any longer?”

“With you I am not any more afraid,” said Isbel, speaking with
difficulty, and drawing a little pattern on the sand with her finger
tip. Then, looking up: “Not even with Schumer, if you were there.”

Floyd was about to take her hand, but he restrained himself.

“That is good,” said he. “You need never have been afraid of me. I care
for you too much to let any one hurt you, and that morning when I came
out of the house and found you gone, when I searched in the grove and
along the reef and could not see you and thought you might be drowned
and that I would never see you again, the world seemed no use any
longer.”

He rose to his feet as if to check his words, and walked off to the
house, leaving Isbel still seated on the sand, and still drawing the
pattern with her finger.

He returned with one of the Winchester rifles under his arm, a revolver
in his hand, and one in his pocket.

Isbel rose, and, going down to the lagoon edge, they pushed the dinghy
off, got in, and started for the fishing camp. As they drew near they
saw that the fishing was going on apparently as usual, and the first
person to greet them on the beach was Sru.

There were all the elements for a strained situation, but Sru showed
no sign of the incident of the day before, and when Floyd stepped
out on the sand, nodded his head as usual, and grumbled something in
his throat that seemed intended for a welcome. But his eye lit on
the Winchester Isbel propped against the seat of the dinghy, and it
doubtless took in, also, the revolver butt sticking from Floyd’s coat
pocket.

The seeming indifference of Sru to what had happened struck Floyd as
almost uncanny; then, as they set to work, he let the matter drop from
his mind. If it satisfied Sru to take a thrashing and say nothing,
it satisfied Floyd’s policy to let the matter drop. The man had been
punished for his misdeed, and the incident was closed, for the present
at least.

Now Schumer would undoubtedly have tried the man and shot him offhand,
not only for the attack on Isbel, but to safeguard the little colony.
Floyd, though just as courageous as Schumer at a pinch, and probably
more so, was incapable of acting the part of executioner. He could not
kill a man in cold blood.

So he worked side by side with the yellow-eyed one, and as the labor
went on he forgot more and more the danger of the situation, but he
might have noticed, had he turned, that Isbel, who had taken her seat
on the sand by the boat, never left her position for a moment, and that
position enabled her, if need arose, to stretch out her arm and seize
the Winchester that was propped against the seat of the dinghy.

Neither would she have anything to say to the fellows who were diving.
The raft came several times ashore to discharge shell, and some of the
hands drew close to her, but she told them to clear off.

Floyd heard her voice once or twice hard and sharp, a quite new voice
for her. He could not tell what she said, but he noticed that none of
the fellows approached her.

Some of them, as far as he could judge, seemed deriding her just as
schoolboys joke at one of their number who has made himself unpopular,
but they kept their distance.

At the dinner hour shortly before noon, the whole crowd of the labor
men, joined by Sru, drew off to a spot close to the tents, and,
squatting in a ring, set to on their food.

Work was always knocked off in the middle of the day, Floyd returning
to the house for a siesta. He came now toward Isbel, intending to help
her to push the dinghy off, but instead of rising, she made him sit
down beside her.

“See them,” said she. “They sit all together and like that.” She made a
ring on the sand with her finger. “I go and hear what they say if you
wait. It is no good when they sit like that all together and talk while
they eat—-Wait!”

She rose up and walked along the beach edge, picking up shells. Then
she drew close to the grove and vanished into it. Some of the tents
were situated close up to the grove, and the hands were seated eating
and talking close to the tent. They looked after Isbel as she was
walking along the beach edge. When she disappeared, they seemed to
forget her, and went on with their palaver. Floyd waited. Five minutes
later he saw the form of the girl away out from among the trees. She
walked right down to the edge of the lagoon, and then came along toward
Floyd, still picking up an occasional shell.

When she reached him she showed him the shells.

“No good,” said she. “But look at them so they may see.”

Floyd handled the shells and pretended to admire them; then she placed
them in the dinghy and they pushed her off.

It was not till they reached the middle of the lagoon that she told of
what she had done, and what she had heard.

She had crept through the grove to the back of one of the tents, and
listened to the chatter that had come clearly heard on the slight wind
that was blowing toward the grove.

Something was afoot, and whatever they were going to do was to be done
that night. From what Isbel gathered, an attack was to be made on them,
and the attackers would cross the lagoon on the raft.

Floyd, who was rowing, pulled in his sculls.

“The raft,” said he. “I never thought of that. They can get twenty
chaps on to it. We must stop this. It is going to be war anyhow, so we
may as well strike first.”

He told Isbel the fear that had suddenly occurred to him, and she
laughed. Then taking to the sculls again, he rowed on as hard as he
could, till they reached their destination.

Leaving Isbel to look after the dinghy, he ran up to the house and came
back with a hammer, a big nail, and a coil of rope. Then they pushed
off again, making for the fishing camp. The raft, when not in use, was
moored by a rope to a spur of coral jutting out from the sand.

As they approached, they could see the labor men still seated at their
pow-wow. Heads were turned as the dinghy drew near to the raft, but not
a man moved till Isbel, with a rifle in one hand and a knife in the
other, cut the mooring rope.

Then a yell rose up, and the whole crowd, rising like one man, came
racing down to the water’s edge, picking up stones as they ran, while
some of them, turning, made off for the fish spears in the tents.

While Isbel had been cutting the rope, Floyd, with three blows of the
hammer, had driven the big nail into one of the logs, tied the rope to
it, tied the other end of the rope to the rings in the stern of the
dinghy, and was now sculling for his life. The heavy raft moved slowly,
and the crowd on shore, held up for a moment by the water, were just
taking to it when Isbel’s rifle rang out, and the foremost of them,
hit through the shoulder, sat down with a yell on the sand. The rush
was broken for a moment, and Floyd, as he tugged at the sculls, saw a
sight that would have made him laugh, had he been watching from a place
of safety.

The balked ones literally danced on the sands. Fury drove them, but
fright held them, and the dance was the result till the fellows with
the fish spears made their appearance, racing down from the tents.

Floyd instantly put the dinghy alongside the raft, and, springing on to
it, took the rifle from the girl, while she, getting into the dinghy,
took the sculls and went on with the towing.

Floyd dropped the first spearman twenty paces from the water’s edge,
and he fell on his belly, while the spear slithered along the beach.

The second spearman, struck fair in the forehead, flung out his arms
and fell on his back. The spear, striking the sand with its butt, stood
upright and quivering, the point, still dark with fish blood, impotent
and pointing to the sky.

It was enough for the others. They broke and ran, and, as they ran,
Floyd fired on them, catching one fellow through the leg and knocking a
tuft of hair off another’s head.

In thirty seconds the beach was clear.

Floyd through it all had acted almost automatically and as if firing at
a target. The whole business seemed strangely impersonal and unreal.
That he should be standing there, killing men like flies, seemed part
of the everyday business of life, and yet, at the back of his mind,
something was crying out against it all, a voice small as though it had
traveled from a thousand miles away, and without substance or sound or
weight in effect on his mind.

He stood with the taste of the cartridge smoke in his mouth, staring
at the beach, while from behind him he could hear the sound of the
sculls in the rowlocks as Isbel strained at the oars.

They were now well out from the shore, and he took his place in the
boat at the sculls, while Isbel got on the raft.

The beach they were leaving was all trodden up, and the bodies of the
two dead men lay, one huddled up as though he were asleep, the other
spread-eagled and looking like a brown starfish, the spear he had been
carrying so valiantly standing beside him, barb pointing to the sky.

The light wind was blowing the dry sand in little eddies, and under
the blazing sunlight the salt white beach and the emerald shallows of
the lagoon made a dazzling picture. Nothing could seem farther removed
from death or the thought of death than this brilliant scene, where the
slain were lying unburied and Death himself was watching from the grove
of trees that formed its background.

Isbel stood on the raft as he towed it, her hand shading her eyes, her
gaze fixed on the shore.

Floyd, recalling her horror of the hanging and the effect it produced
upon her, could not help wondering at her attitude now, till he
remembered the difference between the cold-blooded execution of a man
and the killing of a man in self-defense.

When they had reached the middle of the lagoon, she turned from gazing
at the shore and sat down on the raft. They did not speak to one
another till the dinghy was landed and the raft moored by a long rope
which they tied to one of the seats of the quarter boat, which was
lying high and dry on the sand.

“Well,” said Floyd, when this was finished, “we are in for it now,
Isbel, you and I. These fellows won’t sit down and do nothing, or, if
they do, I am greatly mistaken.”

“No,” said Isbel, “they will try to kill us.” She said it quite simply,
as though she were talking of some matter of little moment.

“And we’ll try to stop them,” said Floyd, with a laugh. It is the sign
mark of the Anglo-Saxon and Celts and all breeds that spring from their
mixture, that they go laughing into battle, die jesting, and carve
their enemies with epigrams as well as swords; battle brings a levity
of spirit that in its turn brings victory, and Floyd, now that war was
declared, moved lightly and felt a liveliness at heart such as he had
not experienced since boyhood.

He had destroyed the enemy’s fleet, but he had not destroyed their land
forces, and worse than all, he had not put their general out of action.

Sru was still alive, and he was more dangerous than all the others.

When the firing had begun, Sru had flung himself flat on his stomach on
the sand, and from that position had yelled his orders. It was evident
that he was the directing spirit of the whole business, and it was
nearly certain that he would not take defeat lying down.

The weak position of the house as a defensive stronghold lay in its
proximity to the grove and the fact that it did not command the
approach to this bit of the island by way of the reef. The back of the
building was close up to the trees, and, though there were chinks that
made good loopholes for firing through, the trees, and especially
their shadow by night, gave good cover for an attacking party.

Then there was the prospect of a siege. Floyd, taking his seat on the
sand in the shade of the trees, called to Isbel to sit down beside him.

Then they held a council of war.

“How many fish spears have those fellows got, Isbel?” asked he.

“Many,” replied Isbel. “They were making them a long time ago–too many
for fishing.”

“You mean they were made for the purpose of attacking us–I mean, of
attacking me, for you were with them then?”

Isbel nodded.

“Yes, but I did not know. I thought then it was for the fishing. Now
I know better. It was Sru who told them to make more spears, and they
would all get together and talk. I had no feeling at all that it was
wrong, else I would have listened. But now I see it all.”

This cast even a darker light on Sru. He must have been plotting all
along and from the first. Plotting to seize Isbel for himself, kill the
only white man on the place, and seize all the valuables he could find.
That was doubtless his plan of campaign. As to the far future, and how
he was to escape from the island and from punishment, he was unlikely
to have made any plan. The savage view is a short view, and is mainly
occupied by immediate desires and the means of gratifying them. It is
only the trained intelligence that forecasts and lays plans only to be
carried out in the far future.

Sru wanted Isbel, and tobacco more than he could use, knives for which
he had no use, firearms to glut his desire for lethal weapons, printed
cotton, and the satisfaction of the lust to kill. He most likely
promised himself Floyd served up roasted in plantain leaves, for he
belonged to the man-eating order of Solomanders. So in his dark mind he
had constructed a scheme for getting these things and satisfying these
desires, and had carried out his scheme while working in amity with the
man he intended to destroy.

His military genius had not proved itself on a par with his genius for
villainy, but he had the numbers, while Floyd only had the rifles, for
rifles, even though they be Winchesters, firing five shots apiece, are
of limited use without men behind them.

From the edge of the grove bordering the rough coral of the reef a good
lookout could be kept toward the fishing ground. From here the lagoon,
exclusive of the segment, including the reef opening, could be watched.

One could see the fishing camp and the whole of the roof leading from
it. Standing here, one could command with a rifle all that strip of
rough and broken coral that made a natural defense, and along which an
attacking force must come, if it wished to reach the house by land.

Floyd determined that this was the point where watch must be kept by
night. The coral, though rough and sharp here and there as knives,
was not impassable to a determined foe. Isbel had got along it that
time she ran away, and these fellows, with foot soles like leather and
nerves insensitive to cuts and falls, could do what she had done.

He posted Isbel now to keep watch, while, going back to the house, he
made preparations for a possible siege.

Taking the tarpaulin from the cache, he made a collection of all the
tinned food that came first to hand. There were two bags of ship’s
bread still left, and these, with the tins of bully beef, potatoes,
and so forth, he carried to the house. Then he filled two of the water
beakers at the well and placed them in the main room of the building.

Then he remembered the albini rifles. These, with their ammunition,
were stored separately, and the conveyance of them would have meant
a considerable amount of labor and time. He took only the ammunition
which was made up in four large parcels. These he carted down to the
dinghy, rowed her out into five fathom of water, and dumped the parcels
in the lagoon.

The bottom of the lagoon where he dumped them was pretty rough coral,
so they would not be shifted much by the tide, and could be fished up
later on.

Having completed all these preparations, he rejoined Isbel at the
lookout post.

It was late in the afternoon now, and neither of them had eaten
anything since morning, so he sent Isbel to the house to get some food,
and, taking his seat with his back to a tree, waited her return.

Alone like this, he sat with his eyes fixed on the enemy’s country, on
the lookout for any sign of movement on their part. He had brought the
telescope with him, and used it now and then without effect. Through
it he could see the fishing beach and the bodies still lying upon it,
the spear, sticking upright from the sand, the trodden-up sand, and the
deserted tents. That was all. There was no sign of the enemy, who were
no doubt hiding in the grove behind the tents, or on the reef beyond
the grove.

He argued that they must have been considerably scared to have effaced
themselves in this fashion, yet he knew enough of savages to prevent
him from building too much on moral effect. They might be scared now,
but the effect would wear off, and the desire for revenge and blood and
loot reassert itself. Even now, though they were in hiding, they were
doubtless holding a powwow, with Sru as chairman.

The position was bad. The pearl fishing had ceased, the island was
in a state of war, there could be no peace or parleying with the
enemy simply because there could be no trust placed in them while Sru
was alive and active. At best, they could hold their own only by a
continuous watch and defensive until Schumer returned. But Schumer
might be delayed; he might never come back, the _Southern Cross_ might
even now be lying at the bottom of the Pacific, or hove up on some reef
a thousand miles away from the Island of Pearls. As this thought came
to him, he cast his eyes across the great space of sea visible on the
ocean side of the reef. The sea, in the late afternoon light, lay calm
but for the gentle swell that heaved it shoreward, but he knew well the
treachery of that sea, of all seas the most fair–and faithless.

He was aroused from his thoughts by Isbel, who had returned, bringing
him some food. She had also brought with her a rifle and some more
ammunition. As she stood with the gun in her hand, gazing over toward
the fishing camp, Floyd watched her, wondering at the change in her
and the difference between this figure and the Isbel he had known at
first–the girl he had seen that day of his first landing on the
island.

Even during the last couple of days she had changed. Nothing makes for
the development of the best and the worst in us like war. The struggle
for existence, brought to a flaming point, is the true fire assay for
character. Not only does the human soul develop in this ordeal, but the
human being ages. Isbel, since the morning of the day before, seemed a
year older, and Floyd’s boyish character had taken on a sternness and
received a solidification that ten years of ordinary life might not
have effected.

She sat down beside him, and they ate the food she had brought, talking
little, and each ever on the watch for any movement of the enemy. There
was nothing. Nothing but the gulls flying in the blue, and the waves
breaking on the coral and the wind moving the foliage of the distant
trees.

The island might have been deserted but for their presence and those
brown spots lying on the sand of the distant beach.

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