CARDON

Next morning Floyd presented himself early at the office of Hakluyt
& Son, and Hakluyt received him with some very bald jokes about his
condition on the day before.

Floyd was not in a temper to take them, and indicated as much. Then
they fell to discussing stores and the sailing of the _Southern Cross_.
The stores were all on board, and the crew were ready. “I had thought
of your sailing on Friday,” said Hakluyt, “but Friday is not a good
day; Thursday is better; that is the day after to-morrow. Will you be
ready to sail on Thursday?”

Floyd asked nothing better, and said so; then he waited, expecting
Hakluyt to broach the subject of Captain Luckman, but Hakluyt did not
say a word about that gentleman. They talked of a good many things, but
Luckman’s name was never mentioned.

Floyd left the office perplexed and more disturbed than he would have
been had Hakluyt announced his intention of superseding him as captain
by appointing Luckman to the post.

Was Luckman to be sprung upon him at the last moment? Apparently so.

He turned down Market Street. So deep in thought was he that the
passers-by were unnoticed. He walked without aim or object for some
two hundred yards till at the corner of Fore Street he was brought to
reality by a hand laid on his arm.

He turned, and found himself face to face with a tall, bearded man,
wearing a slouch hat, roughly dressed yet somehow well-to-do looking,
bronzed, hearty, and healthy with sun and open-air life.

“Captain Cardon!” said Floyd.

“You passed me as if you didn’t know me,” said the other, laughing.
“And I’m Captain Cardon no more; plain Jack Cardon, gold prospector,
and down on his luck–that’s me. Where the deuce have you sprung from?”

“You don’t look particularly down on your luck,” said Floyd. “Me? I’ve
sprung from the islands–let’s go somewhere and have a talk.”

“You come with me,” said Cardon, turning and leading the way down Fore
Street. “Well, this is a bit of good fortune. I was crazy for the sight
of some man I knew other than the bar bummers round here. It’s four
years since we met, isn’t it? And I owe you that five dollars still;
lost your postal address, or did you give me one?”

Floyd laughed.

He had sailed under Cardon in one of the blackbird freighters, and knew
him for what he was–one of the best, most desperate, and irresponsible
of men. He had parted from him at ‘Frisco in a bar in a haze of tobacco
smoke, Cardon, relieved of his responsibilities in life by reason of a
quarrel with his owners, sitting on a high stool by the counter, a full
glass beside him, and leading the chorus of “A Hot Time in the Old
Town To-night.”

He was to have seen Cardon the next day, but they had failed to meet,
and then the sea had separated them. He remembered the five dollars;
they fluttered up to his mind now–ghosts of silver coins forgotten
beneath the waters of memory.

Cardon was like a sea breeze to him in his present state of mind, and
he followed as Cardon led the way through a garden where seats and
tables were set out and into a bar where more seats and tables faced a
bar counter gorgeous with colored bottles.

There were island spears and head-dresses on the walls, and photographs
of towns sea-washed and backed by coconut palms.

The poetry of the islands spreads across the Pacific even to the bars
of Sydney and San Francisco, where the trade winds blow in mariners
bronzed by the sun and salt, where even the traders carry with them in
their hands something more than copra or gold.

The place was almost empty at this hour, and Cardon, at Floyd’s
request, called for soft drinks. Floyd produced cigars.

“Well,” said Cardon, when he had lit up, “I’m blessed if this doesn’t
lay over everything. To think of you and me parting at Black Jack’s
on the Barbary Coast four years and more ago and promising to meet
the next day, and then meeting here, just as though we’d only parted
yesterday–what have you been doing with yourself?”

“What have you?” asked Floyd. “You tell me your yarn, and I’ll tell
mine. I want a little time to think about mine, for if I’m not mistaken
it will have more to do with you than you think. I may have an offer
to make you; however, that will do to talk of afterward.”

“If your offer has anything to do with money, I’m open to it,” said
Cardon. “What have I been doing since we parted? Everything and
nothing. I made a fortune the next year in Brazil–mining. And I lost
it six months after I got it. I was done by a partner, and pretty nigh
done up. Then I took to the sea again. A cattle boat, and I was boss
of it. I was tending the cattle–fact. But I didn’t grumble. I like
cattle; they’re a long sight honester than men. Well, after that I
did some railway work in Central America, and after that I went oil
prospecting with a young fellow who paid for kit and accouterments and
died on my hands with malaria before we got a sign of what we were
looking for. He had no relatives, and he gave me all the money on him
before he died, which wasn’t much–some seven hundred dollars. Then
I turned up here on the hunt for gold, and found none; did some more
railway work and got good pay for it, straggled back to Sydney and
struck you in the street. That’s all.”

“Well, you’re looking well on it,” said Floyd; “you don’t look a day
older than when I met you last.”

“Nor I don’t feel it,” said Cardon. “If I’d been living in a city all
the time it would have been different, but the open air keeps one
alive. If I’d managed to keep that fortune, I’d have mostlike been dead
by this time between wine and women. As it is, I’m liver than when I
started–I don’t care a hang for money.”

“Well, why are you always hunting for it then?” asked Floyd, with a
laugh.

“For the pleasure of the hunt,” replied Cardon. “What makes a man hunt
bears and spend thousands of dollars on guns and tents and guides, as
I’ve seen some of these N’ York chaps do? He doesn’t love bears; he
hunts them for the fun of the thing. Same with me and dollars; I don’t
love them, but I love hunting for them. It’s the same with most men, I
reckon. Well, what’s your yarn?”

Floyd tipped the ash off his cigar. All this time, while listening to
Cardon, he had been making up his mind. He, like Cardon, did not love
money. He reckoned that his share of the pearling business and the
pearls, even if he were to divide it equally with Cardon, would give
him enough money to start in life at some more profitable business than
sailoring. He was bitterly in need of friendship and a strong man’s
help, and he decided to tell Cardon everything, invoke his help, and
offer him half shares.

“What I’m going to tell you,” said he, “sounds like a yarn out of a
book, but it’s the truth. Some months ago I left ‘Frisco, bound for the
islands in a schooner owned by a man named Coxon. The _Cormorant_ was
her name. She was an unlucky ship.” He told of the fire, of the island,
of Schumer and Isbel, of the pearls–he told everything worth telling
about the whole business; and, when he had finished, the effect of the
yarn on Cardon was very evident, for that gentleman for once in his
life was dumb.

“But that’s not all,” went on Floyd. “Something happened yesterday that
puts a topknot on the whole business.”

He told of the conversation he had overheard in Hakluyt’s office, and
of the act of treachery which he believed to be impending.

“That’s clear enough,” said Cardon; “they mean to do you up. Who is
this Luckman?”

“I don’t know him from Adam. Didn’t even see him, only heard his voice.”

“That’s bad,” said Cardon; “and you say the _Southern Cross_ sails the
day after to-morrow?”

“Yes, on Thursday.”

“You are bound to go in her?”

“Of course.”

“Has Hakluyt said anything to you about Luckman?”

“Not a word.”

“Yet you are the skipper?”

“Yes.”

“What’s your crew?”

“All Kanakas.”

“All Kanakas?”

“Yes.”

“But how in the nation are you going to work her single-handed?”

“Oh, easy enough. I have a chap called Mountain Joe; he’s a Kanaka, but
he has picked up a bit of navigation.”

“Well,” said Cardon, “that simplifies matters a bit, for Hakluyt can’t
ship this blighter as a Kanaka, can’t slide him aboard as an extra
hand. He must ship him openly; most likely he’ll do it at the last
moment.”

“That is what I’m thinking,” said Floyd. “He’ll dump him onto me just
as I’m getting up anchor, and I can’t refuse, for he’s sure to make up
some yarn. My only course is to take him and then deal with him when I
get to sea.”

“That’s easier said than done.”

“You’re right.”

“Unless you shoot him right off and chuck him overboard, which is
impossible; or put him in irons, which, with a Kanaka crew, would be
risky; or maroon him on some rock or other with a beaker of water and
a bag of bread, which is also a bit risky. No, I should take him right
along and front him with this Schumer, tell them they are found out,
and at the first sign of a move on their part–shoot.”

“That’s easy to say.”

“Yes, easier to say than do; yet if it was me I’d do it.”

“Look here,” said Floyd, “will you come into this business with me?
I’ll give you half profits.”

Cardon did not reply for a moment. He took a pull at his drink, wiped
his mouth with the back of his hand, looked at the top of his cigar,
and then said, quite simply:

“I don’t mind.”

Floyd stretched out his hand and they shook.

“I thought you would,” said Floyd. “And now I’ll tell you something
else–it’s not the money I’m thinking of so much as that girl I told
you of.”

“Isbel?”

“Yes, Isbel. I’m–I’m—-”

“Soft on her,” said Cardon, laughing. “Well, you’re not the first
to get tangled with a girl. All the same, I wish we were fighting
this business out without petticoats in it. I have a holy dread of
petticoats. On shore and after a cruise I don’t mind; but they’re no
use afloat or where fighting has to be done.”

“Aren’t they?” said Floyd. “I’d sooner have Isbel backing me in a row
than most men. I told you she helped me in my scrap with those scamps,
but I did not tell you all. She can shoot straight, and she doesn’t
know fear. She backed me right through the business without turning
a hair, and we were fighting half a day and the whole of a night.
Fighting? Yes! I have never known what it meant before–shut up in a
house with nearly half a hundred Solomon Islanders outside all yelling
like fiends and mad to have one’s blood.”

“Well,” said Cardon, “I expect you’ll have some fighting to match that
before we have done with this business. If this man Schumer is anything
like what you say, and if this man Luckman is anything like Schumer, we
will have our work cut out for us by a fancy tailor. What did you say
these pearls were worth?”

“Worth? I don’t know the exact figures, but Schumer has pearls there
on the island now that I reckon must be at least worth twenty thousand
pounds. I’m figuring on the values he suggested, and he’s a man who
knows something of pearls, and he’s not a man who exaggerates.”

“Well, I’m not going to halve your pearls,” said Cardon. “I reckon my
share in the business will be the whole of Schumer’s.”

“Of Schumer’s?”

“Of Schumer’s.”

“But, see here,” said Floyd.

“Yes?”

“You intend to take Schumer’s share from him?”

“That is what I said.”

“But would that be fair? He has worked deuced hard; he discovered the
oyster beds—-”

“And he betrayed you, and is only waiting there on this island of yours
to help to do you in.”

“All the same,” said Floyd, “I don’t like the idea of stripping him if
we get the better of him. It may be foolish, but I’ve worked alongside
of him, and, though I believe he is the biggest scoundrel God ever put
hair on, I don’t like the idea of taking his share of the pearls from
him.”

“When we have done with Schumer,” replied Cardon grimly, “I don’t
suspect he’ll want pearls. We’ll leave the matter till then, for it’s
on the cards that when he has done with us we won’t want pearls,
either. So let’s not divide the stuff up till the business is over. How
are you off for arms and ammunition?”

“I have a revolver at my rooms and half a packet of cartridges, and
there is a rifle on board in my cabin with a hundred cartridges for it.”

“Good!” said Cardon. “And I have my old friend Joe.” He opened his
coat and showed a navy revolver strapped in its case to his belt. He
slipped the long, beautifully kept weapon from its case and stroked it
lovingly. “This is him. This chap would stop a hippopotamus. He’s a
man’s weapon–what?”

“He’s big enough,” said Floyd, as Cardon returned Joe to his case, “and
I hope to goodness we’ll pull this thing through without having to use
him. I’m not a coward, but I hate killing.”

“So do I,” replied Cardon, “till it comes to the point. Well, now we’ve
settled about the arms, let’s fix another matter. How am I to book a
passage on the _Southern Cross_?”

“I have been thinking that out the whole time,” replied Floyd. “Suppose
I go to Hakluyt and say that I have a friend I want to take with me,
he’ll buck at the idea at once, the same as if I told him I wanted an
extra hand to help in the navigating; and it would be quite natural,
too, for the whole of this business is a secret, and if another white
man was taken on board, no matter who or what he was, it might mean the
secret getting out.”

“Sure,” said Cardon.

“The only way,” continued Floyd, “is to take you without Hakluyt
knowing.”

“Stowaway?”

“Yes. There are two cabins off the main cabin–the captain’s and the
mate’s. Only one is used; for Mountain Joe, the fellow I told you
about, berths with the crew. I can take you aboard to-morrow night.
I’ll tell Joe next morning you have gone ashore in a shore boat. You
can stay in the mate’s cabin till we get the anchor up.”

“No,” said Cardon, “in your cabin.”

“Why so?” asked Floyd.

“This way: Suppose old man Hakluyt arrives off with this Luckman at the
last moment. You can’t refuse to take him; you don’t _want_ to refuse.
Well, naturally, he’ll want the mate’s cabin, and you can let him have
it without any bother.”

“That’s true,” said Floyd.

“Luckman may be sprung on you before that,” said Cardon. “In which case
we must make some other arrangement about my getting on board; but, as
far as we know, what we have decided on will stand.”

“Where are you staying in Sydney?” asked Floyd.

“Well,” said Cardon, “I only arrived last night, and I put up at a
tavern on the Leicester Road. I left all my gear there. It isn’t much,
and it won’t take many porters to fetch it down to the wharfside.”

“Well,” said Floyd, “you had better come and stay at my place. I can
get you a room, and you can put your things among my baggage which I’ll
send on board to-morrow night.”

Cardon agreed to this, and, finishing their drinks, they left the place
together.

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