DAYBREAK

Even as she spoke the words, and as though in answer to the question
he had asked, a faint smell of burning filled the air of the room, and
through one of the chinks, like a little gray snake, a wreath of smoke
coiled upward, clinging to the woodwork.

“So that’s what they were doing!” cried Floyd. “They have fired the
house.”

Through every chink and crevice a curl of smoke was licking upward, and
now came the sharp, crackling sound of brushwood burning and the snap
and hiss of sticks blazing alight.

The air of the room was already turned to a gray haze of smoke, smoke
that made the eyes smart, the smoke of burning hibiscus and poison oak
and bay cedar bush, choking and suffocating fumes, followed now by
flames as the wretches outside flung coconut shells on the fire, shells
that blazed like flare lamps once ignited.

“The place will burn like a torch,” said Floyd, “once the scantling
gets alight. Listen! What’s that above? They have got on the roof; they
are lighting it. We must quit and make a dash for the dinghy. It’s our
only chance. Wait!”

He rushed into the smaller room, and returned with something in his
hands. It was the tin box holding the pearls.

He opened it, emptied the contents wrapped in cotton wool, and filled
his pockets.

“I’m not going to leave these behind,” said he, speaking as if
to himself. Then to Isbel: “Take a revolver and this package of
ammunition. I’ll take the other and a rifle. Unbar the door and run
first. Don’t stop to fire unless you can’t help. Hark! What’s that?”

A sound like a sharp clap of thunder shook the air and was followed by
a yell from the grove behind the house and from the beach on either
side.

“Open the door!” said Floyd.

Isbel undid the bars, and flung the door wide. Instantly the draft
settling from the grove filled the place with volumes of smoke.

“Now,” said Floyd, “run!”

They dashed out of the house, across the beach, running, half blind
with the effects of the smoke. They had expected a flight of spears.
They found instead an empty beach, full dawn, and a reef over which the
last of their assailants were scrambling.

A great white cloud filled the break of the reef. It was the _Southern
Cross_ coming in with a fair wind and a flooding tide.

The first rays of the sun were on her topsails, which the wind scarcely
filled. The water under her was still violet with night. White gulls,
rose-colored gulls, golden gulls, as the sunrise took them, were
flocking and screaming in the pale sapphire above her, schooner, gulls,
lagoon, and sky making a picture more lovely than a dream.

As she cleared the reef entrance and rounded to her anchorage, the wind
spilling out of her sails, a plume of smoke broke from her, and again
the report of a gun shook the island.

As it died away the splash of the anchor was followed by a roar of the
chain through the hawse pipe, and the _Southern Cross_, her long, long
journey over, lay at her moorings swinging to the incoming tide.

Isbel turned to Floyd and clung to him, weeping. All her courage had
suddenly vanished now that there was no need for it.

Floyd, holding her tight in his arms, kissed her black, perfumed hair.
The flower had fallen, but a trace of its scent remained.

It was the moment of his life, and then she drew away from him, cast
one dark glance obliquely up at him, and stood with her breast heaving
and both hands shading her eyes.

She was looking over the water in the direction of the _Southern Cross_.

The schooner was lowering a boat. It was the whaleboat, and Floyd saw
the men tumbling into her, followed by a white-clad figure–Schumer.

Even at that distance he recognized Schumer. Following Schumer came
another white-clad figure, evidently a European.

Besides the two white men there were twelve hands in the boat, fourteen
in all, and as she approached rapidly, urged by the long ash sweeps,
Floyd saw the rifles with which the men were armed, the barrels showing
as they rested, muzzle upward, by the seats.

As the boat came ashore Schumer, from his place in the stern sheets,
waved his hand to Floyd. Then the fellows, jumping out, beached the
boat, and Schumer, following them, set foot on the sand.

He did not waste words.

He had seen the whole business at a glance, and he had brought canvas
buckets. Dense columns of smoke were rising from the back part of
the house, but the roof had fortunately not caught alight. The crew
had their orders, and in a moment they were filling the buckets and
carrying them up to the grove while Schumer, Floyd, and the newcomer
helped and superintended.

The mutineers had piled stacks of underwood, sticks, and all the
rubbish they could find against the house wall. The stuff was burning
with more smoke than flame, and the fire had fortunately taken no
considerable hold on the building. They kicked the rubbish aside, flung
water on the wall, and in twenty minutes or so the situation was saved.

Isbel had been posted by Schumer as a lookout in case the enemy should
return. She had not contented herself by standing by as a watch, but
had gone as far as the grove end, from where the reef could be seen up
to the pierhead. She had seen nothing. The whole crowd of the enemy, in
fact, had scattered back to the fishing camp by the road they had come
the night before, and Schumer, standing now on the beach, could see
them through his glass congregated about the tents.

Then he turned to Floyd. “Well,” said he, “you seem to have had a
lively time. What was the bother?”

Floyd explained in a few words, and, Isbel not being by, told of the
trouble with Sru.

“He was plotting mischief all the time,” said Floyd, “and this is the
result.”

“Well,” said Schumer, “we will deal with the gentleman all in good
time. What luck have you had with the pearls?”

Floyd told.

Taking off his coat, and laying it on the sands, he began to remove the
pearls, in their casings of cotton wool, from the pockets. He explained
why he had placed them there, and, as he went on with the work, Schumer
and the stranger, standing by, looked on.

Schumer up to this had been too busy to introduce the newcomer. He did
so now.

“This is Captain Hakluyt,” said he. “He’s in this venture, as I will
explain to you afterward. His firm owns the _Southern Cross_.”

Floyd looked up, and nodded to Hakluyt.

The new man’s face was not a certificate of character. There are faces
that repel at first sight, and Hakluyt’s was one of them.

He had the appearance, not so much of a man who was ill, but of a man
who never enjoyed good health. Anæmic looking despite his exposure to
sun and wind, he seemed unable to bear either the full light of the
sun or a full gaze. He was continually blinking, and to Floyd in that
moment he suggested vividly the idea of a sick owl.

It was the curve of the nose and the blinking of the eyelids that
produced this impression. The eyes themselves were not at all owllike,
being small and set close together.

The whole figure of the man matched his face, slight and mean, with
shoulders sloping like the shoulders of a champagne bottle. It was a
figure that no tailor could improve.

His hands, as he stood with the thumbs in the armholes of his
waistcoat, showed lean and clawlike, birdlike. Birdlike is the term
best suited for the whole man; light, restless, peering, and without
grace, for it is a fact that the animal and the bird translated into
human terms lose both grace and nobility. Man standing or falling by
his approach or recession to the type, man.

As Floyd looked up from his work he took in Hakluyt’s appearance fully
for the first time, and the idea that this man was the new partner in
their concern filled him with repulsion and uneasiness.

He had been on the point of exposing the pearls triumphantly to view,
but in a flash he altered his decision, and, asking them to wait for a
moment, left his work and ran up to the house for the tin cash box from
which he had taken them.

He placed it on the sand, and packing in the precious
cotton-wool-covered parcels, closed the lid and handed it to Schumer.

“We can examine them afterward,” said he. “Keep them for the present.
They are not a bad lot, but they might be better.”

“We’ll put them in the house,” replied Schumer. “I’ve got a safe
on board; brought it from Sydney, but I can’t get it ashore till
to-morrow. Meanwhile they’ll be all right in the house. Well, Hakluyt,
what do you think of the island?”

Hakluyt looked about him as though taking stock of the place for the
first time.

“It is not so bad,” said he. “It is a fair bit of a lagoon, but it
might be bigger.”

“Oh, it will be big enough for us,” replied Schumer, with a laugh.
“Come up to the house with me, Floyd, till I put this stuff away. I
want to have a talk with you.”

They left Hakluyt, and walked up to the house.

“I say,” said Floyd, “if that’s our new man I don’t like the look of
him.”

Schumer laughed.

“He’s not a beauty,” said he, “but he’s the best I could find. He’s
Hakluyt & Son. He’s the son; the father’s dead. He’s in a good way of
business as a shipowner and ship’s chandler in Sydney. He has got the
money and the means to help us. I have drawn up a contract with him; he
gets a third share.”

“A third share. That means that the total profits will be divided into
three parts. One for you, one for me, and one for Hakluyt.”

“Just so,” said Schumer, “and you pay me for the trade goods we salved
from the _Tonga_.”

“Of course,” said Floyd, “but it seems to me that Hakluyt ought to
stand in with me and pay something.”

“I suggested that, but he refused. He would only come into the deal on
condition that he got a third share of the profits without deduction.”

Floyd felt inclined to grumble at this. Hakluyt would have the benefit
of those goods or what was left of them, but he said nothing. He wanted
explanation on another point.

“How about the _Southern Cross_?” said he.

“In what way?”

“Well, we salved her, didn’t we, or as good as salved her? Hakluyt
ought to pay for that.”

“It was this way,” replied Schumer. “Before coming into the venture he
wanted half profits. He gave me to understand that our connection with
the _Southern Cross_ was in no way a salving job, since the crew were
on board, and he said straight out that he would fight the matter in
the courts. Now, as he has lots of money to fight with, and we have
none, or next to none, I didn’t see any sense in that. He said to me:
‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do. In recognition of your trouble in bringing
the schooner back to Sydney, I’ll be content to take only a third of
the profits in this pearling business. What’s more, I will use the
schooner for it free of charge and victual and man her.’

“Now, that seemed to me a fair proposition, and I agreed to it. What do
you say?”

Floyd did not reply for a moment. He could come to no decision. The
whole thing was so intricate and the values involved were such unknown
qualities that at last he gave it up. If Schumer was satisfied it was
doubtless all right. Schumer knew more of business affairs than he did,
and it was better to leave it at that.

“Well,” said he, “I suppose you couldn’t do better, but it seems to
me Hakluyt won’t do badly out of the business. Wait till I show you
something.”

They had reached the house, and, taking the cash box from Schumer,
Floyd placed it on the table and opened it.

He carefully removed some of the contents till he came to the package
he was looking for; then, carefully removing the cotton wool from it,
he exposed the pink pearl.

“Heavens, man!” said Schumer. “Why didn’t you tell me of this?”

“Wait!” said Floyd.

He took another small ball of wool from the box, unrolled the wool, and
held out the big white pearl.

Schumer laughed.

“Any more?” he asked.

“Not of that size,” replied Floyd. “Well, what do you think of them?”

“Think of them? They are a fortune in themselves.”

He carefully rolled them up again and replaced them in the box.

Meanwhile Floyd had been unpacking other specimens, which Schumer
examined in their turn. He seemed well pleased with the take since his
absence, as well he might be.

“I will have the safe brought ashore to-morrow,” said he. “Meanwhile
they will be all right here. Put them all back and come on. We have to
tackle these scamps now and bring them to their senses. I don’t want
any fighting, if possible, for that would mean killing more of them,
and we want them all for the fishery.”

“Do you mean to say you are going to trust them to work again?”

“Of course I am. Why, man, it is nothing when one is working fellows
like these to have revolts and rows. You shouldn’t have let them get
so much out of hand. I don’t blame you, mind, for you are new to the
business, but in the first instance you should have dealt properly
with Sru. You should have shot him after that business about the girl.
Martial law is the only law by which you can hold your own in a case
like this. Well, we will see. Take your gun and come along.”

They went out, and Schumer ordered the whaleboat to be manned.

Floyd for the first time recognized that the crew of the whaleboat were
the same Kanakas who had formed the original crew of the _Southern
Cross_. Mountain Joe was one of them. He saluted Floyd when he was
recognized, and then took his place as stroke oar. Each man had a rifle
and seemed to know how to use it, and they had all the stamp of men
reliant and trained to arms.

They were not the same men–viewed as fighting men–that Schumer had
taken away with him. He had done wonders with them in his absence, and
the thought suddenly occurred to Floyd: Did Schumer expect that there
would be trouble on the island during his absence? Did he train and arm
the crew of the _Southern Cross_ in view of this possible trouble?

It seemed so.

Then came another thought: Suppose you had been defeated and killed,
would not Schumer have benefited? There would have been one partner the
less, and ought he not to have warned you more especially as to the
danger of a revolt?

Schumer had, in fact, warned him casually to be on the lookout, but
his warning had chiefly to do with the cache and the necessity of
preventing its locality and contents from becoming known. He had not
dwelt on the matter of a possible revolt, nor had he prepared plans to
meet it.

Did he hope to return and find a clear field and his partner put out of
the way?

Floyd instantly dismissed the idea as unworthy of himself and Schumer.
He had no tittle of real evidence to support such an idea–yet it had
occurred to him.

There are some ideas that arise not from any concrete basis, but from
vague suggestions. This was one of them.

As they approached the fishing beach they could see the enemy
scuttering about in alarm. Fellows came out of the tents, shaded their
eyes for a second, and then darted off into the grove. In less than a
minute not a soul was in sight.

“There’ll be no fighting,” said Schumer as the boat came to the beach,
and they sprang out. “Floyd, you stay here with the men and I’ll take
Mountain Joe up to the wood edge and have a palaver. I’ll leave my gun
with you so they may see we’ve come for peace, not war. They are sure
to be peeping and spying from the trees.”

He left the rifle, and, taking Joe with him, walked steadily up from
the lagoon edge to the grove. Twenty paces from the trees he stopped
and began to speak.

Floyd could hear his voice, and it was strange enough to see him
standing there and seemingly addressing the trees.

Mountain Joe also put in a word now and then as if on his own account.

The effect was absolutely negative, and Floyd expected to see them turn
and come back.

But Schumer knew the native mind and its ways, and he did not seem the
least disconcerted at his failure. He paused in his oration, walked up
and down a bit, and then began to talk again.

Presently, not from the trees before him, but from the trees at the
left-hand side of the grove, a native appeared. He stood for a moment,
now resting on one foot, now on the other. Then he said a few words, to
which Schumer replied.

They kept this up for a minute or so, and then, from the wood, another
native joined the first, then another and another.

“They are all right now,” cried Schumer to Floyd. “Come up and help to
jaw them. Leave your gun behind.”

Floyd handed his rifle to one of the men and came right up to the group
of natives before whom Schumer was now standing. He was talking to
them, to use his own expression, like a Dutch uncle. Talking as only he
knew how.

The Polynesian native, pick him up in most places, has a good deal of
humor in his composition. He can both feel and use sarcasm. He has over
and above this a certain bonhomie, a good spirit readily worked if one
knows how.

Schumer knew how. He did not speak them fair by any means. He told them
what was in his mind about them, told them they were pigs who would
have dashed to their own destruction but for his arrival, yet told them
it in a way that did not stir resentment.

These half-civilized creatures had been cast right back into savagery
by some influence beyond their control. Sru had not been the influence,
but he had worked it, just as a sorcerer might raise a devil.

Sru had not yet made his appearance. Schumer asked for him, and the
reply came that he was dead and lying over somewhere in the grove near
the house. One of the stray shots fired by Floyd while the brushwood
was being placed against the house wall had found Sru and sent him to
his last account.

“Well,” said Schumer, “that’s the best news we have had yet. It clears
up everything. You don’t want to punish these fellows, do you? Seems to
me you have given them a pretty good grueling already, three dead and
several wounded.”

“I don’t want to punish them,” said Floyd. “You can tell them I call it
quits. Sru was the man most to blame, and now he is dead. But there is
one man I have a grudge against–Timau–and I don’t see him here.”

“Timau,” said Schumer. “Which one is that?”

“He’s a fellow whose life I saved at a great deal of risk and trouble.
He stepped into one of those big clamshells and got seized, and I
managed to free him, but he’s not here.”

Schumer turned to the natives and asked them where Timau was; then he
translated to Floyd.

“It seems he wouldn’t take part in the business because you had brought
him back from the dead.”

“So I did, with artificial respiration.”

“Just so–and Sru bound him and put him in one of the tents. He’s there
now. We had better go and loose him.”

They walked up to the tents, and there sure enough they found Timau
lying on his side and chewing tobacco. He had managed to get one arm
free and could have freed himself entirely had he taken the trouble.
He had not. He just lay there, chewing and waiting on events. He was
the laziest of the whole crowd employed on the fishery, and since his
return from death he seemed to take everything as a fatalist.

But he had refused to join in the attack on Floyd.

Schumer undid his bonds, and he stood up, stretched himself, grunted,
and walked off to join the others.

Schumer looked after him.

“He’s a cool customer. Well, there’s an end of the business. To-morrow
they will all be working again, except the dead men. Now let’s get
back and bury Sru. We’ll have to hunt for him in the grove. Then you
can come on board and we will have something to eat. You haven’t had
breakfast?”

“Lord, no!” replied Floyd. “I had a sort of supper some time in the
night, but what I want most is sleep. I’ll lie down and have a snooze
when we have finished up with Sru.”

They came back to the house, and then started out to find what the
grove had to reveal to them.

The cache had been half rifled, but most of the goods that had been
taken were still lying on the sands and had not been injured.

Then they found Sru lying at the foot of an artus tree, a broken spear
in his hand. He was lying on his face, and he would not trouble them
any more.

Schumer buried him after a fashion of his own. He ordered two of the
crew to carry the deceased to the pierhead at the break in the reef and
cast him to the sharks.

“They’ll look after him,” said he.

You may also like