PETER WILLIAMS

Next morning Floyd called on Hakluyt, while Cardon, who had accompanied
him, waited outside the office.

Floyd was half an hour in the office, and when he came out Cardon
followed till he had turned the street corner, and there joined him.

“I can’t make it out,” said Floyd; “I’ve said good-by to him, and I’m
to start to-morrow morning at sunup, and not a word did he say about
Luckman or anyone else, not a hint that he was going to send an extra
hand on board. What’s the meaning of it? Did I dream that business in
the office, or was it real?”

“Oh, I guess you’ll find it real enough to satisfy you before long,”
said Cardon. “You see, there’s one solid reason behind all this that
will make it work out different from a dream, and that reason is
pearls. You say you have a third share in the business, which share,
if the business is worth twenty thousand as it stands, would work out
close on seven thousand pounds. Now, if Hakluyt is a shipowner, he’s
a scoundrel; and if he’s a scoundrel, he’ll do a lot to secure seven
thousand pounds. Why, men sink ships every day for less than that; and
sinking a ship is a lot more risky business than doing up an unknown
sailorman. You needn’t be uneasy on that score. You dreamed a real
dream. You see, you are worth killing, that’s the long and short of
it; for not only are you worth the seven thousand, but you are worth a
third of all that pearl lagoon will bring in the future, which may be a
lot. I wish we could get to know something about this Luckman. Suppose
we make inquiries?”

“Whom could we ask?”

“Some one who knows the port. Peter Williams, he’s the man; he keeps
a bar down on the waterside. I knew him in Melbourne years ago, and I
gave him a call when I came here first, and he’s a friendly sort of
customer. Don’t you do any talking; leave it all to me.”

They took their way down to the waterside, and here, before a rather
dingy bar with the name Peter Williams done in huge letters on the
front, Cardon paused.

“This is the place,” said he, “and we’d better go in separate. You
see, if Williams by any chance was to know Luckman and tell him two
strangers had been inquiring about him, Luckman would ask for a
description of them, and might spot you. Don’t pretend to know me, then
we will be on the safe side.”

Peter Williams, a red-headed Welshman in shirt sleeves, was leaning
across the bar talking to Cardon when Floyd entered. There was no one
else in the place.

Floyd glanced round him with disgust. The walls were dingy and showed a
dado of grease marks above the benches where the heads of customers had
rested against the wall. The atmosphere was heavy with stale tobacco
and the smell of gin and sawdust.

He called for a drink, and took his seat on one of the benches while
Peter Williams returned to his conversation with Cardon.

“Well, I wouldn’t have him here,” said Peter. “Not that I’m a prying
man into another man’s character, for a publican has nothing to do
with the character of his customers. No, it’s not that; it’s my other
customers I’m thinking of. If he was to come in here or be seen here
regular, I’d lose my trade–and no wonder. He’s never been had by the
law, but he’s got the name of having drowned more sailormen than is
good for him. It’s so. He’s lost three ships out of this port alone,
and God He knows how many more, and has done it so artful that the law
can’t touch him. And still he gets ships. What’s that you say–you
wonder that sailormen will sign on under him? How are they to pick
and choose? Give them drink enough, and they’d sign on under Satan.
And there’s more than that to it. The _Baralong_, she was known to be
rotten right down to her garboard strake and Huffer was her captain,
and he was known to be as bad as her; and there were two jacks in
here drinking and talking her over and talking Huffer over and giving
them both their proper names. Well, next day both those chaps signed
on under Huffer, and the day after they were off to Valparaiso on the
_Baralong_. I believe some of those chaps would sooner sign on in a
crazy vessel than a sound one. They seem to like the danger. All the
same, when they sit down to their drinks they don’t want to have the
taste of their liquor spoiled by the sight of chaps like Huffer or
Luckman. They’ll sail under them, but they won’t drink near them.
That’s the plain truth.”

Cardon, after a little while, went out, and presently Floyd followed
him.

“Well,” said Floyd, when they met in the street, “you’ve heard
Luckman’s character. What do you think of it?”

“I never think about men’s characters, or bother a cent about anything
than the man himself,” replied Cardon. “A man may have a tremendous big
character–or, better, call it reputation for being a holy terror; and
when you overhaul him you may find him to be a merchantman painted in
imitation of a pirate, or, again, he may have the reputation of being a
very quiet man indeed; then you take his lid off, and–oh, my!

“I’ve seen a little bit of a man who looked like a parson with the pip,
a little bit of a chap with a pale face that looked as if it had been
trying all its life to raise a beard and then given up the business
as unworkable. Well, that chap swam out to a ship somewhere down the
Chile coast, talked the crew over, and made them mutiny. With the crew
he took the ship, and with the ship he took a town, and with the town
he’d have taken Chile, I believe, only the Chilean government chipped
in in time and sent troops and beat him in a big battle near Valdivia
and then hanged him at ConcepciĆ³n. I saw him hanged. Benken was his
name–an American from nowhere, with a past history that showed nothing
except the fact that he had once been a prisoner in Numea and had
escaped by raising a revolt and murdering the guards. Yet to look at
him he was quite a quiet man; might have been a shopman.

“No; as I was saying, there’s nothing counts but the man himself, and
by the man himself I don’t mean a man’s character or face, but just
the something that drives him on. If he hasn’t got that something, he
may have the face of a Napoleon Bonaparte or the character of a white
lamb–it doesn’t matter, he arrives nowhere. Now, from all accounts,
the man I fear most in this business is not Luckman but Schumer.
Schumer seems to be all there from what you tell me, and he doesn’t
seem to make much show. Is he a quiet sort of chap?”

“Yes, very.”

“Fair spoken and easy in his talk?”

“Yes.”

“That’s the sort of man that gives trouble. Well, we will see what we
will see when the time comes; and now I propose we go and have a bit of
dinner. It’s the last we’ll have on shore for some time.”

That afternoon Floyd, having paid off his landlord, called a porter and
had his gear, together with Cardon’s, taken down to the wharfside. Here
they took a shore boat and rowed off to the _Southern Cross_. Mountain
Joe was hanging over the rail as they approached. He and the whole
Kanaka ship’s company had been specially provided for when on shore
by Hakluyt. He had sent the whole lot, in fact, under the guidance of
one of his men, to a fishing village down the coast, there to amuse
themselves till the time of sailing. He did not want them knocking
round Sydney and maybe talking, though indeed they knew little enough
as to the truth concerning the pearl fishery.

Mountain Joe grinned when he saw Floyd; then he lowered the ladder for
them.

It was a lovely late afternoon, the great harbor like a sheet of
glass, the gulls crying and wheeling above the water and the trees of
the shore and the far-stretching hills green against a sky of summer.
Cardon, when he stepped on deck, looked round him with approval. The
_Southern Cross_ was not a fast boat, as schooners go, but she was
only some six years old and she had been well looked after. Built by
McDowell, of Sydney, than whom no better schooner builder exists, she
had been laid down to the plans of a private firm with ideas of their
own, as though one were to go to Mr. Pool or Messrs. Stultz for a suit
of clothes to be made according to one’s own ideas of cut and style.

The result was that the _Southern Cross_ turned out to be something of
a failure as far as speed was concerned, but a splendid sea boat. Every
bit of stuff in her was good, and spars, rigging, and hull would have
stood the criticism of an English navy dockyard inspection.

Floyd took Cardon down below and showed him the main cabin and the
cabins of the captain and the first and second mate.

The captain’s cabin had two bunks–an upper and a lower one–and they
arranged that Cardon should sleep that night in the upper bunk, which
had curtains.

“If Hakluyt should turn up before we start,” said Cardon, “I can lie in
the upper bunk with the curtains drawn and you can say I’m some of your
gear you have stowed there. There’s no fear of any of those tomfool
Kanakas coming and poking their noses in here?”

“No, I’ll look to that. The fellow that acts as steward is a born fool,
and if he did see you he wouldn’t take notice; and, anyhow, you’re on
board, and, Hakluyt or no Hakluyt, you are going to sail with me.”

He got out the spirits and some cigars, and they sat smoking and
talking till the steward came in to light the lamps.

Cardon, at sight of this person, felt no uneasiness; he was of
the stupid type of native–“wore his mouth open,” to use Cardon’s
expression, and was afflicted with deafness due to adenoids.

They came up on deck after dark, and sat smoking and watching the
lights of Sydney and the harbor all spangled with star reflections and
the anchor lights of the shipping.

“Well,” said Cardon, “if old man Hakluyt had been intending to come off
for the purpose of dumping Luckman on you, I guess he’d have come by
this.”

“You never know,” replied Floyd. “That sort of reptile is pretty
cunning, and I don’t give up a fear of surprise till I’m outside the
Heads. Look! There’s a shore boat come off, and it’s making for us if
I’m not mistaken.”

Cardon looked in the direction indicated.

“You’re right,” said he.

Without another word he turned and dived below.

Floyd, quite sure as to the other’s ability to take cover, remained on
deck.

He could see the boat now clearly as she drew near across the starlit
water.

There were four fellows rowing, and a figure in the stern steering. It
was Hakluyt alone and unaccompanied by Luckman.

Hakluyt came on board and gave Floyd good evening, inquired if the crew
were all right, and then came below.

Floyd, who preceded him, looked anxiously round, but Cardon had removed
all traces of himself, and the door of the captain’s cabin was closed.

“Well,” said Hakluyt, as he took his seat and a drink, “here’s luck
to the voyage and a quick return with another cargo of shell, though
I expect it is Schumer himself who will come next to Sydney. You will
give him my very good respects?”

“Certainly,” replied Floyd, “and perhaps the next time I meet you will
be on the island. You are sure to pay us another visit.”

“Maybe,” replied Hakluyt, “and maybe not. I am getting old for sea
work, but I shall always be glad to welcome you in Sydney.”

He produced a pocketbook, and they went into accounts as to stores, et
cetera. This business took them some half hour or so, and then Hakluyt
took another cigar and talked on indifferent subjects till it was time
to go.

He shook hands effusively with Floyd on deck, and wished him good luck
again as he went down the side.

Floyd watched the boat draw off and the oars making rings on the
star-spangled water; then he returned to the cabin, where he found
Cardon released from his prison and seated at the table.

“He’s gone,” said Floyd.

“And no sign of Luckman?”

“Not a sign.”

“Well,” said Cardon, “it’s beyond me. However, we’re not out of Sydney
harbor yet, and there’s no knowing what may happen before we are.”

You may also like