THE ISLAND

Next morning early, Floyd was on deck and aloft with a glass. He knew
it was impossible, at their rate of sailing, that the island could show
up before noon. They might not even sight it before sundown. Yet, all
the same, he was on the lookout. There was nothing; nothing but the
great wheel of the sea. Not even a gull showed in the whole of that
blue expanse.

He came down, disappointed, and was gloomy and absent-minded at
breakfast, though Cardon was cheerful enough.

Toward eleven o’clock, when they were on deck smoking and talking, a
great bird passed them, flying straight ahead.

“That chap is going twenty knots,” said Cardon. “I reckon he could make
forty if he wanted to. He’s not much of an indication that there’s land
about, for a thousand miles to him is less than a thirty-mile walk to
you or me. Say, Floyd, how would it be if we couldn’t find your island?
I heard a yarn once of a chap who spotted a guano island. He said it
was a solid slab of guano a mile wide, and he started for ‘Frisco and
got up a syndicate to work it, and they chartered a schooner and had a
champagne breakfast to start on; and when they reached the spot, the
darned thing had gone–sunk into the sea.”

“Rubbish!” said Floyd. “And I wish you wouldn’t start those sorts of
yarns just now; it’s not lucky.”

“Oh, I am only joking. Your island is there, safe enough, with Schumer
on top of it. That sort of chap never sinks into the sea; it’s only the
good men Davy Jones troubles about. He’s a mascot, sure.”

Floyd did not answer him; he was staring right ahead.

“When I sighted it first,” said he, “I was in an open boat that gave
very little horizon, and what struck me first was the sky. It was pale,
just a patch of it, a sort of glittering paleness that was caused by
the lagoon. Have you ever seen that mark in the sky above a lagoon
island?”

“Can’t say I have, but then I’m not so used to the Pacific as you are.
Do you see anything now?”

“No,” said Floyd. “I wish I did.”

Cardon whistled gently to himself, tapping the ashes out of his pipe
against the rail and refilling it. He was just as anxious as Floyd, but
his anxiety had not such a keen edge and he hid it better. There were
times when he, like Floyd, almost doubted the reality of the island.

He was bending in the shelter of the bulwark to light his pipe when a
hail came from aloft.

Floyd had stationed a lookout in the crosstrees, and it was his voice
that came, high and clear, like the call of a bird.

Next moment the two men were swarming up the ratlines and looking
forward in the direction to which the fellow was pointing.

“It’s the island!” said Floyd.

Cardon looked.

All he could see at first was a tiny mark on the sea line, a mark no
larger than a pin head; then, as his eyes grew more accustomed to the
dazzle, another tiny mark appeared close to the first, and then another.

Then these marks became fused together, forming a faint line.

The lookout had a glass with him, and Floyd, taking it, found that it
gave scarcely any better definition than the naked eye. The shimmer of
the sea formed a veil more impenetrable than the veil of distance.

He handed the glass to Cardon, who was clinging to the ratlines below
him.

“It’s land, sure enough,” said Cardon, “and another hour will bring it
right up. We’d better go down and wait on deck; no use sticking here.”

In less than an hour the palm tops showed clearly through the glass,
and in two hours’ time the reef could be made out and the white thread
of the foam breaking upon it.

It was the island, surely enough, though still a great way off–so far
that from the deck and with the naked eye nothing could be seen but a
faint smudge that might have been a trace of smoke clinging to the sea
line.

The wind had fallen a bit, and now, as if beneath the weight of
afternoon, it was falling still more.

Floyd hove the log. They were making seven knots, and he calculated
that it would be sundown before they could make the break in the reef.

Dinner was served, but they could scarcely eat; the weather held all
their thoughts, and the dread of the wind falling to a flat calm was on
both their minds.

At four o’clock, however, the wind was still steady, and the land ahead
was visible now clearly from the deck.

Floyd, who had gone aloft, suddenly hailed Cardon, who was on deck, and
the latter came up to him.

“Look out and tell me what you see,” said Floyd, handing him the glass
he had been using.

Cardon looked through the glass.

“By gad,” said he, “there’s a vessel in the lagoon.”

The glass showed the reef and the grove on the right of the break
distinctly. The break in the reef was not so clear, as they were
heading slightly to the south of it; but very clearly indeed could be
seen the threadlike masts of a vessel anchored in the lagoon. She was
stripped of canvas. She was a schooner.

Cardon handed the glass up again to Floyd, who took another long look;
then the two men came down on deck.

“That’s Luckman!” said Floyd.

“‘Pears so,” said Cardon, “unless it’s some vessel blown in by chance.”

“No, it’s no chance. I feel convinced of that. He started ahead of us,
and maybe laid over us in sailing. Let’s go down below and have a talk
over this.”

They went down to the cabin, and Floyd took his seat at the table while
Cardon took the couch.

“You see, it explains everything,” said Floyd. “Explains why Luckman
did not sail with us, and why Hakluyt looked so cheerful, which he
wouldn’t have done had his plans fallen through.”

“If what you say is right,” said Cardon, “it makes everything a lot
worse, for why should these scoundrels employ two ships unless they
are determined to lose one of them? You may bet the _Southern Cross_
is insured to the hilt and over. You say Hakluyt had her into dry dock
and spent money having her scraped when she did not want it. That was
all part of the plan to allay suspicion, for what would the ordinary
fool say but that a man wouldn’t spend money like that on a ship he was
going to lose.”

“Besides,” said Floyd, “if Hakluyt had sent Luckman with me, what
reason could he have given me for sending him? We don’t want another
white man in this business–well, what excuse could Hakluyt have given
me for shoving Luckman in?”

“None,” said Cardon, “that I can see; but that’s not saying a clever
rascal like Hakluyt couldn’t have found some excuse.”

Floyd suddenly struck the table with his fist.

“The _Domain_ wasn’t at her anchorage when we left,” said he. “I
noticed it, but I never thought of it as being connected with us.”

“The _Domain_? What vessel was she?”

“One of Hakluyt’s, a schooner. She was pointed out to me as belonging
to him, and before we started I noticed that she wasn’t at her
anchorage. I thought nothing of that, for a shipowner doesn’t keep
ships to anchor them out and leave them to rot. But there’s the fact,
and I’ll bet my life that schooner in the lagoon is the _Domain_.”

“You’re probably right,” said Cardon. “Anyhow, we’ll soon see. Now
let’s talk of my share in the business. If Luckman is really here, it
means that your destruction has been plotted and planned to the last
tip end. It means that there must be no quarter for Schumer.”

“If Luckman is here,” said Floyd, rising and pacing the cabin, “Schumer
will get no quarter from me. Not a ha’porth of mercy.”

“I’m glad you are beginning to see things in their proper light,”
said Cardon. “And now to business. I must keep hidden; I can stay in
your cabin, and you must get these two fellows on board as quick as
possible. It may be that Schumer will board us right away when we get
into the lagoon. He’s almost sure to. It may be that he will bring
Luckman with him. Now I think the best plan, if Schumer boards us right
off and by himself, is to deal with him at once, lock him up here, and
then land and deal with Luckman.”

“Maybe you are right,” said Floyd.

“I’m sure I am. There’s nothing like grasping your nettle right off,
and it will give them no time to conspire together. Of course, if they
both come aboard, so much the better. You speak to them fair, and
bring them down here, get them seated at the table before some drink;
then I’ll open the cabin door and enter, smiling. Directly you see
me, draw your gun and cover one of them. Cover Luckman; that will be
pleasanter for you, seeing that Schumer is known to you and was once
your friend–or pretended to be. When we have disarmed them, we will
tie them up.”

“Suppose they succeed in drawing their pistols?”

“In that case we must shoot first, and shoot to kill. There’s no use
in putting on kid gloves in this matter. Your life has been planned
against; these two chaps are out against you, and they’ve got to be
scotched. Do you feel equal to the job? If not, we had better ’bout
ship and make back to Sydney.”

“God help me,” said Floyd, “but what I would have shuddered at a few
days ago leaves me now without the least feeling. It’s finding Luckman
here, I suppose, finding that the plot against me is absolutely true. I
don’t know. But the idea of killing those men seems no more to me than
the idea of killing a pair of scorpions.”

“That’s right,” said Cardon. “You’ll do all right. And now up with
you on deck–I don’t appear till the business begins. If I were to go
on deck now, there’s no knowing that I mightn’t be spotted through a
glass. Give me your fist.”

The two men shook hands.

Then Floyd went on deck, where the hands were crowded forward, gazing
at the island, which was now so close that the individual trees could
be distinguished, the coral, and the surf breaking on the outer beach.

Floyd’s heart leaped in him at the sight. He took the glass from its
sling near the wheel and examined the shore through it. Not a sign of
life could be seen.

The house was, of course, hidden by the grove, and it was quite
unlikely that any one might be here on the seaward side of the reef;
still, the absence of all signs of life struck a chill to the heart of
Floyd, the illogical heart of the man who loves.

The wind was still holding steady, and the _Southern Cross_ was making
good way.

Now they were so close that he fancied he could hear the tune of the
surf on the coral; and now they were opening the break of the reef, and
the lagoon showed mirror calm as compared to the sea.

Floyd took the wheel.

The schooner held for a moment on her course; then, answering to the
helm, made full for the opening in the reef. The tide was with them,
and like a white cloud the _Southern Cross_ passed the pierheads of the
reef and entered the lagoon.

Floyd handed the wheel over to Mountain Joe, gave his orders to the
fellows at the halyards and the braces, and walked forward. There was,
indeed, another vessel in the lagoon, and she was the _Domain_. He
could not be mistaken. She was anchored a good way out from the shore,
and he maneuvered to get the inner berth. Even as he did so, his eye
caught sight of a figure that had just emerged from the grove. It was
Isbel.

He ran to the bulwark rail and flung up his arm just as the roar of the
anchor chain through the hawse pipe cut the air. Isbel waved her hand
in reply. She was alone. Not a sign of Schumer or Luckman was to be
seen, and Floyd, half mad with delight, started orders for the quarter
boat to be lowered, and helped with his own hands at the falls.

When the boat touched the beach he sprang out knee-deep in the water,
waded ashore, and caught her two hands in his.

Then he remembered the fellows in the boat and the possibility that
Schumer might be watching from some post of observation. He released
her hands and led the way up to the house.

“Schumer?” said he. “Where is Schumer?”

Isbel nodded toward the fishing camp.

“Over there,” said she; “he and the new man. They will only know that
you have come now. I saw you very far at sea, but I said nothing. I
was to light a fire if I saw a ship, but I knew it was you, and I did
nothing.”

They had entered the house, and were safe from observation.

“Isbel,” said Floyd.

He held her apart from him for a moment; then he caught her in his arms.

She clung to him, holding him about the neck with her naked arms,
telling him in a broken voice and a half whisper how she had waited
and watched always for him; how she had prayed to the sea to bring him
back, and the stars to light him on his way. Then holding him from her
she told, in short, hot sentences, fierce as stabbing spears, of his
danger.

A new ship had come into the lagoon only the day before; a new man had
joined Schumer, a terrible man. They had talked last night, and she
had listened. No sooner had this strange man shown his face than she
suspected danger; he “carried danger with him.” So she had listened.
They had not talked in the house; they had gone together and sat by the
grove edge. She had crawled through the trees and listened. At first
she could not make out what they said, they spoke in so low a tone;
then, feeling safe and forgetting caution, they spoke louder. Even
still she could seize upon nothing definite, as they spoke in a general
way as if about some prearranged plot, but she gathered enough to know
that Luckman had come to the island to wait for the man she loved,
and then, with the help of Schumer, or, more properly speaking, the
connivance of Schumer, to do away with him.

As she told this her gaze seemed to turn inward, as though she were
looking at some mental picture, and a long shudder ran through her as
though from some vibration of the soul. It was not the shudder of fear
or cold; it was the shudder of hate, and Floyd, who had never seen it
before, felt for a moment almost afraid of Isbel. He recognized, and
not for the first time, that this being whom he loved belonged to a
world of which he knew little. She was a person from another star, the
child of another race. In her love for him a whole unknown world was
rushing to meet him. It was this that completed her fascination and
made him, now heedless of Schumer’s menace, seize her to his heart and
cover her face and throat with burning kisses. Taking fire she returned
them, and then, holding him apart from her again, and still speaking in
those sentences, short and hot like stabbing spears that have already
tasted blood, she went on to give him all that she had gathered and
all that she suspected. She knew for certain that Luckman and Schumer
were expecting Floyd, for they had mentioned him by name, and she knew
for certain that they had designs upon the life of the man they were
expecting, and here lay her great grief; she could not fathom the
nature of their design. She had, however, gathered enough to understand
that the Kanaka crew of the _Southern Cross_ was to be brought ashore
as soon as possible.

“Yes,” said Floyd, “they are going to do away with the schooner.
Well, we will see. We will see which of us is the cuter and which the
stronger. Isbel, I am not alone.”

“How?” said Isbel, looking at him with wide-open eyes.

“I have a friend with me.”

“A friend!”

“Yes, a friend. Providence sent him, I think.” He began to tell her
about Cardon, how he had met him in the street in Sydney, how Cardon
had joined in the venture and was ready to assist against Schumer, and
how he was now on board the _Southern Cross_ awaiting developments.

He had reached this stage in his story when a sound from outside made
them both turn. It was the sound of oars in rowlocks.

Floyd sprang to the door. A boat that had crossed the lagoon from the
fishing ground was within a few yards of the beach. It was the boat
bringing Schumer from the fishing camp.

A man was seated beside Schumer in the stern sheets. Was it Luckman?

If indeed it was Luckman, then Luckman was a most formidable
individual. This person seated beside Schumer was immense, a great
four-square built man beside whom Schumer had the appearance of a youth.

As the boat touched the sand Schumer leaped out, and, half wading, made
up the beach toward Floyd, who had come down from the house. Isbel had
remained indoors.

“So you’re back,” cried Schumer, as he held out his hand. “I knew
nothing till half an hour ago over there at the fishing ground I
turned my head and saw the _Southern Cross_ coming into the lagoon.
Isbel should have spotted her hours ago and given us a signal. Oh,
I forgot. I have a new man to introduce you to, but you’ve seen his
vessel; it ran in here yesterday for water. It is the _Domain_, of
Sydney, owned by–who do you think?–Hakluyt, and here’s her captain;
Luckman is his name. Luckman, this is Mr. Floyd.”

Just as Floyd held out his hand toward Luckman a curious sensation
struck him, as though for a moment he were clairvoyant, as though for
the hundredth part of a moment some glimpse had been given him of his
psychic surroundings, a glimpse of the soul of Schumer, of Luckman, and
incidentally of Hakluyt. It was Luckman’s appearance, perhaps, that
influenced him.

Luckman, though a very big man at a distance, was a very little man
seen close to. In other words, he had nothing to recommend him but his
size. He had, no doubt, been all that the barkeeper had hinted. He had,
no doubt, sunk ships in his time and lost the lives of innumerable
sailormen and escaped from the law himself by a miracle. All the same,
from the crown of his flat head to the sole of his flat feet, the man
was a duffer, a mass of brute force–nothing more. And the thing that
struck Floyd most keenly at that moment was the thought that Luckman,
like himself, was in the toils of Schumer and Hakluyt; that Luckman
might be used as a tool against him–Floyd–but would be inevitably
flung away when used by Schumer and Hakluyt. That they would take the
opportunity not only of getting rid of the _Southern Cross_ at a high
insurance and of their troublesome partner, but also of Luckman, their
tool and assistant.

The fact that Schumer had taken Luckman to the fishing ground and let
him see the secret of the island with his own eyes, that fact seemed to
Floyd to be Luckman’s death sentence.

“Glad to meet you,” said Luckman, holding out a fist like a ham.

“It’s funny that you should have turned up here,” said Floyd, “for only
a very little time ago I parted with Mr. Hakluyt, your owner.”

“Yes,” said Luckman, “it’s funny enough to see two of Hakluyt’s vessels
in the same lagoon, considering the many lagoons there are in the
Pacific. I was bound for Upolo, and was blown a bit out of my course,
then I picked up this island and put in for water, and when Mr. Schumer
here found Hakluyt was my owner he _was_ surprised–weren’t you, Mr.
Schumer?”

He laughed as he asked the question, and Schumer laughed as he replied
in the affirmative.

“The strange thing is,” said Floyd gravely, “that I left Sydney, came
straight down here, and here I find the _Domain_, who has missed Upolo,
which is a good way out of the line, been blown out of her course, and
yet has arrived here only a day before me.”

“And how is that strange?” asked Luckman.

“In this way: I saw the _Domain_ in Sydney harbor two days before I
left, riding at her anchor. How the deuce has she managed to go through
all those experiences you speak of and yet arrive here only the day
before me?”

“And what date was it when you left Sydney?” asked Luckman.

Floyd gave the date.

“Well, all I can say,” said Luckman, “is that the _Domain_ left ten
days before that. You must be thinking of the _Dominion_, which is also
owned by Hakluyt. She’s a sister of the _Domain_, built on the same
slip, owned by Shuster, she was, till he went bankrupt and Hakluyt
picked her up for an old song. That’s the vessel that’s in your head.
I left her anchored in Sydney harbor when I left.” Floyd said nothing.
Luckman’s manner was so assured and plausible that had he not overheard
that fatal conversation in Hakluyt’s office he would have been entirely
taken in. He turned to Schumer as if to change the subject.

“Well,” said he, “how has the luck been going?”

Schumer took him by the arm and led him away a bit along the water edge.

“I’m glad you are back,” said he, “before that man Luckman leaves.
It’s a nuisance, his coming. Of course he’s one of Hakluyt’s men, else
I’d have made him clear out of the lagoon when he’d taken his water on
board. As it is he knows all about the pearling. He scented it at once,
and spoke to me of it. You see, he’s an old island hand, so I just told
him, and, what’s more, took him right over the grounds. I did a bit of
trade with him, too. He had some timber and corrugated iron on board,
and I bought it of him, and we’ve been rafting it over all yesterday
and to-day. I’m going to put up huts over at the fishing camp. The
rains will be here soon, now, and I want to get the fellows under
cover.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Floyd.

He could not make out all this in the least, but he determined to say
nothing and wait for more indications.

“Yes,” said Schumer, “it’s most important for us to keep these fellows
fit and well, and tents aren’t much use against the rains, especially
in an exposed place like the grounds over there. Seems like Providence,
doesn’t it, that fellow Luckman happening along with his building
material just at the moment?”

“Schumer,” said Floyd, “are you sure it’s all right about Luckman?”

Schumer turned on him with a surprised look. “Why, what could be wrong?”

“Well, I could have sworn I saw the _Domain_ in the harbor two days
before I left.”

“In Sydney harbor?”

“Yes, in Sydney harbor.”

“My dear chap,” said Schumer, “you heard what he said–what could be
wrong? Even if Hakluyt were to try to get the better of us in any way
what could Luckman do? Steal the pearls? Well, I reckon he’d have
his work cut out, considering we are two to one. No. You have made a
mistake. It was the _Dominion_ you saw. Mind you, I wouldn’t trust
Hakluyt farther than I could see him, but it’s against common sense to
think that he is trying to play any game against us. You see, the crew
of the _Domain_ are all Kanakas, and not fighting Kanakas, either, but
a soft lot; otherwise it might be different. Then again Luckman is off
to-morrow. Oh, you needn’t be a bit scared of Luckman; I’m sharp enough
to smell a rat, as you very well know, and I’m satisfied.”

“Very well,” said Floyd.

“Now as to the building business,” went on Schumer, “I want all the
_Southern Cross_ chaps to get to work on it first thing to-morrow, so
we may as well get them over to the fishing camp to-night.”

“To-night!”

“Yes, they’ll be able to stretch their legs before setting to, and
they’ll want to put up tents for themselves while they are working.”

“Very well. I can send them over in the whaleboat.”

“That will do after supper,” said Schumer.

The sun at this moment was just setting beyond the reef, and a thin
wreath of smoke was rising near the grove where Isbel was busy lighting
the fire and getting supper ready. Luckman was seated on the sand, near
the house, smoking and seemingly oblivious to everything but the beauty
of the scene before him.

The crew of the _Southern Cross_ were fraternizing across the water
with the crew of the _Domain_. Their thin, high-pitched voices came
across the lagoon water and mixed with the crying of the gulls who
were flocking around the vessels, picking up scraps from the rubbish
that the fellows had hove overboard. Then, as the sun sank, the crying
of the gulls died down and silence fell on the island with the night,
a silence only broken by the song of the surf and the blowing of the
night wind in the foliage of the grove.

Isbel, having prepared the meal, had disappeared, and the three men
found themselves alone by the flickering camp fire. It was the night
before the new moon, and beyond the zone of firelight the lagoon showed
all shot with stars, and the two schooners gray black with their
anchor lights shining in the twilight of the stars.

Schumer had produced a bottle of wine in honor of Luckman, but despite
the wine and Schumer’s attempts at conviviality the talk hung fire.

Floyd was thinking hard.

Schumer’s suggestion that the crew of the _Southern Cross_ should be
landed over at the fishing beach was plausible on the face of it. The
men would work better after a night on shore; they would be on the spot
in the morning, and so no time would be wasted bringing them across the
lagoon, and it was certainly necessary that no time should be lost in
putting up the huts, if they were to be put up, for the rainy season
was fast approaching. All the same, he felt that there was more in the
proposition than what met the eye.

He did not like the idea of being left alone here with Schumer and
Luckman. It was true that the crew of the _Domain_ would be on board
their vessel, but she was anchored a good way out. The conviction came
to him that whatever these two men had in mind was to be carried out
that night, and that the _Southern Cross_ would be the object of their
plans as well as himself. Most possibly they would sink her at her
anchorage after having disposed of him.

He determined, come what might, not to sleep ashore, and as they were
finishing supper he made up his mind to state his intention at once.

“Well,” said he, “I suppose I’d better get off and send those fellows
across to the camp. I’ll give them the whaleboat; it will hold the lot.”

“Yes,” said Schumer, “I’ll come with you and start them off, and maybe
you’d better sleep on board for to-night, as I’ve put Captain Luckman
up in the house and there’s only two beds.”

“Yes, I’ll sleep aboard,” said Floyd, relieved, yet somewhat surprised
at Schumer suggesting the very plan that was in his mind. “I’ve got all
my tackle there, besides–well, shall we start?”

He looked round, on the chance of seeing Isbel, but she was nowhere
about; then they left Luckman, smoking by the fire, and, going down to
the lagoon edge, pushed off the quarter boat which was lying by the
dinghy. They would have taken the dinghy, only that she had developed
a leak. Schumer explained this as they rowed, and Floyd scarcely heard
him; he was thinking of Isbel.

He could not possibly take her off with him, and she was safer ashore
in the dangerous business that he felt was developing. He had no fear
of harm coming to her left alone with Schumer and Luckman, for she was
well able to take care of herself, and she was armed. She had told him
so. All the same his heart felt heavy as lead at leaving her, even
though they were separated only by a couple of cable lengths of water.

On board, he gave orders to Mountain Joe for the landing of the crew,
and in a moment the deck was swarming. The idea of getting ashore set
the fellows chattering and carrying on like school children just set
free, and there were no hands wanted to assist at the falls.

In a moment the whaleboat was lowered and alongside and the crew
tumbling into her. Schumer helped in the lowering of the boat and
shouted directions to Mountain Joe, who took the stern oar.

“They’ll find canvas enough over there if they want to make tents,”
said Schumer. “As like as not they will prefer sleeping in the open on
a night like this. There they go.”

The whaleboat had pushed off, and was now out in the lagoon, making
good way despite its heavy load.

It looked like a huge, heavy-bodied beetle crawling across the surface
of the lagoon.

Schumer turned away and followed Floyd down to the cabin for a drink.
Floyd had shipped some Bitter Water at Sydney, and he opened a bottle
now and produced glasses from the swinging rack by the door. He also
brought out a box of cigars.

Schumer took a cigar and a drink, and sat down at the table, placing
his hat upon it.

Floyd took his place opposite to him, and they sat smoking and talking
on indifferent matters, Floyd trying to keep pace with the situation
and at the same time to appear his ordinary self.

Should he deal with Schumer now and at once or let him go ashore and
then have a consultation with Cardon?

Cardon, he knew, was listening to every word of their conversation, and
he had a great respect for Cardon’s judgment. He determined to explain
the situation to Cardon now and at once and through his conversation
with Schumer.

“It was a good idea of yours to send all the crew ashore at the fishing
camp so as to have them on the spot for working in the morning,” said
he. “Of course that only leaves me on board, and I’m a jolly sight too
tired to stand an anchor watch. However, we don’t want an anchor watch
in this lagoon. There’s nothing to look out for but sharks.”

“That’s so,” replied Schumer.

“Luckman is off to-morrow, you say?”

“Yes, he’ll be off to-morrow if this wind holds.”

“Well, I’m glad to have met him. He didn’t give me a very good
impression at first sight, but he improves a bit on acquaintance. He
must be a powerfully strong man. I’d sooner have him at my back in a
fight than against me.”

“Yes,” said Schumer, “I reckon he could hold his own against any two
men, or maybe three, but he’s all strength, not much intelligence.”

“And it’s the intelligence that counts nowadays,” said Floyd. “You see,
if a man has a gun and some intelligence, brute force doesn’t count for
much, or even numbers. I had an adventure once that proved that to me.
I was held up in the cabin of a ship by two ruffians–it was off the
South American coast–and I didn’t resist simply for the reason that
a friend of mine was close by whom I reckoned to be a much cleverer
chap than myself. He was lying in his bunk, and the fellows couldn’t
see him. I waited for his lead. His name was Cardon, and I determined
to let him decide whether I should put up a fight at once or just sit
still and let myself be robbed. It was the funniest sensation, sitting
there and waiting for another man’s brains to work out the situation,
but I was right. The upshot was I recovered my money.” He yawned, and
then suddenly, switching off the subject: “There’s no fear, is there,
of Luckman getting too close to the pearls? Mind you, I’m not going
against your judgment about the man. All the same, temptation is
temptation, and it’s as well to be on our guard.”

“The pearls are all right,” said Schumer. “They are in the safe, and
the safe is in the inner room of the house, and I sleep there.”

He rose to go, flicking the ash of his cigar onto the floor. Floyd rose
also.

There was no sign from Cardon, so he knew that wily person had decided
to let Schumer go ashore. Then he accompanied the other on deck.

The boat in which Schumer had come was alongside. He got into it, bade
Floyd good night, and rowed ashore. Floyd watched him land. He saw
Luckman come down from the house to help in beaching the boat, and
then the two men walked up to the house. They entered it, and closed
the door, and then beach and reef and grove lay deserted under the
starlight.

Floyd left the deck and came down to the cabin, and there, at the
table, Cardon was seated.

“You’ve done well,” said Cardon. “I was afraid you would open the game
too soon. Sit down there and give me a few points. What’s Luckman like?”

“Like a beast,” said Floyd.

“I heard all you said,” went on Cardon. “Schumer has got all the men
off the ship, hasn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“That’s their first move, and they mean business to-night–when you are
sleeping. They won’t act for an hour or two yet, so we have plenty of
time.”

“What’s their game, do you think?” asked Floyd.

“It’s as simple as sin. They mean to row off, steal down here, knock
you on the head, and then scuttle the schooner. They’ll reckon to take
you sleeping. That’s their game, and as like as not, when the business
is done, Schumer will do Luckman in and sink him with the ship.”

“Good God!” said Floyd. “I was thinking that myself to-night, and yet
you who have never seen Schumer suspected it, too.”

“Simply because I have studied out the whole proposition while I was
lying in that stuffy bunk. Can’t you see how it stands? They must get
rid of Luckman. The only thing that gravels me is this: Why did they
ever bring Luckman into the affair at all? Why didn’t Schumer knock you
on the head, do the thing off his own bat, so to speak?

“I can only work it out like this: If he had done that there would
have been witnesses sure. The crew of the _Southern Cross_ would have
smelled a rat. There’s nothing more likely to pop out than murder if
there are any witnesses that know the murdered party. Schumer wants to
break off from the island and every one connected with the pearling.
Most likely he suspects the lagoon is beginning to give out. Anyhow, he
has got a big lot of stuff, and it’s my belief that his plan is to cut
his stick instantly you are out of the way, leave the island and the
lagoon and the niggers to look after themselves, and set sail in the
_Domain_ with the boodle he’s got. That’s why he has landed the crew.”

“You mean to say he will desert the island and never come back?”

“Yes.”

“But surely if he did a thing like that it would only mean losing a
good property. I don’t believe the lagoon is giving out. There was no
indication of it.”

“I only suggested that. It may be giving out or it mayn’t, but there’s
this fact, you must admit–the lagoon is not real estate; you have no
title to it. Suppose an English man-of-war shoves her nose in and asks
you what you are doing here. What will you say? That you are looking
for mushrooms? English, French, or German, the first ship that gets
wind of the business does for you. They’ll mark it down on their chart
and say to you: ‘This is our island; get out!’ Suppose even a trader
comes along and sniffs you. Do you think they’re going to leave a
jeweler’s shop like this severely alone? Do you think they won’t say
‘half shares or we split’? No, sir. You and Schumer have had a very
good swig at this cornucopia. It’s amazing you haven’t been interfered
with before this. The common-sense thing is to take what you’ve got and
do a bunk, cut all connections with the business, and don’t leave a rag
of yourselves behind. That’s what Schumer is going to do. Of course
he’ll have to play fair with Hakluyt so as to get rid of the pearls and
have no trouble about the schooner. Then there’s the insurance money on
the _Southern Cross_. That will be a nice penny for them to divide.”

“I suppose you are right,” said Floyd. “It’s hateful–the whole thing.
The world seems suddenly to be filled with devils, not men. I could
never have fancied such villainy if I hadn’t gone through it.”

“Oh, you’ll be pretty tough to this sort of thing when you are as
old as I am,” said Cardon, “and when you have knocked about the west
American seaboard a dozen years or so. You don’t know these chaps as
I do. A sailor doesn’t know anything. You must leave the sea and stick
for a few years to the land as I have done to find the truth, and the
truth about the Pacific coast is that quite a lot of people don’t give
a cent for the life of a man if it’s worth a dollar to them.

“Now, there’s no use in sticking down here any longer. We’d better be
getting up on deck and taking our position. I’ve got a plan in my head
which you’ll see put in work before long. Have you got your gun?”

Floyd showed the butt of his revolver.

“Right!” said Cardon. “And now, first of all, let’s make everything
straight.”

There were three glasses on the table, his own, Floyd’s, and the one
Schumer had drunk from. He renewed his own glass, looked round to make
sure that he had left no trace of his presence anywhere, put out the
light, and led the way on deck.

At the top of the companionway he turned to Floyd, who was below him.

“Don’t show yourself above the bulwarks,” said he. “Crawl along the
deck after me to the caboose. That’s the place for us to hide and wait
for them.”

“Right!” said Floyd.

They crawled along on hands and knees till they reached the caboose
door. It opened to the starboard, and as the _Southern Cross_ was
swinging to the incoming tide, with her nose to the break in the reef,
the door of the caboose faced the _Domain_, and consequently could not
be seen from the shore.

Cardon opened the door, and they went in, closing the door behind them.

The place was terribly stuffy and filled with the smell of grease and
cooking. The copper was still hot, which did not improve matters, and
cockroaches were in evidence even in that darkness.

There was a scuttle giving aft, and in a moment Floyd had opened it.
It gave a view of the whole of the deck aft, and though there was no
moon the starlight showed everything. The main hatch, with its cover
of tarpaulin, the saloon hatch, the bulwarks, and the planking of the
deck so clearly that the lines of division between the planks could be
traced, and even the dowels that fixed the planking to the beams.

It was a noisome hole to be cooped up in, but it was a splendid post of
observation, though, from the size of the scuttle, only one man could
keep a lookout at a time.

“We’ll take it turn about,” said Cardon, “and the chap that’s off duty
can sit on the copper and keep it warm. We haven’t a watch, and a watch
would be no use to us, as we daren’t show a light; so we’ll have to
guess the length of the trick. Ten minutes each will be the length of
the lookout as far as we can make it. I’ll take first, if you don’t
mind.”

Floyd had no objection, and he sat on a ledge by the copper, listening
and waiting in the dark while Cardon stood on watch. The ship was full
of sounds. On deck everything seemed bathed in dead silence, but here,
listening in the dark, all sorts of little noises came to greet the ear
and imagination.

The outside sea sent a vague, almost imperceptible, swell into the
lagoon, and as she moved to it she creaked and muttered and groaned,
masts, spars, and body timber all finding points of greater and lesser
tension and every point a tiny voice.

The rudder shifted now and then slightly, and the rudder chain clicked
in response. There were rats on board, and they made themselves
audible, and there was a nest of young rats somewhere under the
planking, and their thriddy voices came in little bursts now and then,
telling of some disturbance in the nest. Floyd pictured to himself
the old mother rat suckling them while the father was out on business
seeking food, and he philosophized on the idea that even the timbers of
a ship may hide all sorts of interests and ambitions, affections and
hates.

An hour passed, during which he and Cardon relieved each other at the
lookout post several times, and it was during Cardon’s watch, some
twenty minutes later, that the event occurred.

Suddenly a sound made itself heard that was not a sound born of the
ship. A faint splash came from alongside, followed by something quite
unmistakable–the sound of an oar shipped and laid along the seats of a
boat–incautiously. It had probably slipped from the hand of the rower
as he laid it inboard.

Floyd, who had heard the sound also, tipped Cardon’s leg with his toe,
and Cardon, reaching out with his heel, signaled that he knew.

A few seconds passed, and then Cardon saw a form coming over the side.
It was Schumer. He had never seen Schumer, but from Floyd’s description
he knew that it could not be Luckman. Then, surely enough, came Luckman
in all his immensity.

Neither man wore either boots or stockings, and their bare feet, wet
with the bilge water of the boat, shone in the starlight. Those
glistening feet fascinated Cardon. All the tragedy of the business
seemed focused in them, and, strong and brave though he was, they
exercised such a powerful psychological effect that for a moment he
could have retched.

The two men did not pause for more than a second. Soundless as shadows,
they made for the saloon hatch, while Cardon, who thought the moment
for action had arrived, moved slightly as if to leave his post.

Then he stopped.

Schumer and his companion, instead of going down below, were bending
over the hatch. They were closing it.

Cardon drew in his breath.

He saw at once their object. Instead of going down to kill the man
they imagined to be below, they were bottling him up. No man, however
strong, could force his way on deck through that hatch once closed.

Again he felt Floyd’s toe, as if it were inquiring if all was right,
and, again reaching back, he signaled an answer. His eyes were glued to
the malefactors, who were now at the main hatch removing the tarpaulin.

It did not take long. Then they worked the locking bars loose and
removed the hatch with scarcely a sound. He saw Schumer produce
something. It was a lantern. They lit it, and Schumer, with it in his
hand, vanished down the main hatch into the hold. He was there a full
minute that seemed a full hour to the man at the scuttle; then he
reappeared. The hatch was closed, but the tarpaulin was not replaced,
and, leaving it, they came forward, Schumer carrying the light and
Luckman following him. They passed the caboose, and were lost to sight.

“Now is our time,” whispered Cardon, turning from the scuttle. “We’ve
got them forward in a close space. Cock your gun and follow me.”

He opened the caboose door and found a vacant deck.

For a moment he thought that the two men had gone overboard; then he
saw the truth. They had gone down into the fo’c’sle. Floyd saw the
situation and the chance in the same flash with Cardon, and in a moment
they had flung themselves on the fo’c’sle hatch cover and driven it to.

The men who fancied they had bottled Floyd were bottled in their turn.

They had imagined a vain thing, and the fact was evidently borne in on
them now to judge from the sounds coming from below.

The cover of the fo’c’sle hatch was placed at such an angle with the
fo’c’sle companionway that it was impossible to make much noise by
striking upward from below, and its thickness was well demonstrated by
the feebleness of the noise of the men who were now shouting at the top
of their voices.

“They’re fixed and done for,” said Cardon, “and I reckon Schumer will
start repenting in a minute that he sent the crew ashore. Come, we have
no time to waste here.”

He ran to the port rail, followed by Floyd.

The boat Schumer and Luckman had come in was alongside. Every plan they
had made and every preparation seemed working now for their destruction
and for the success of their enemies. The thought crossed Floyd’s mind
as he followed Cardon down into the boat, but there was little time to
think in, and, taking the stern oar while Cardon took the bow, they
pushed off for the shore.

Having beached the boat, Floyd led the way up to the house, and as they
approached it a figure came out of the grove into the starlight. It was
Isbel. Floyd ran up to her as Cardon entered the house; then, as he was
holding her hands and trying to tell her all that had occurred, Cardon
appeared at the house door with a lighted match in his hand.

“There’s no safe here,” said he.

He lit another match as they followed through the main into the inner
room.

There was nothing there at all, except the bed which Schumer slept on
and the tossed blankets. The safe, which had stood in one corner of the
room, was gone.

“That does us,” said Floyd. He had fancied that the pearls were a
secondary consideration, that Isbel was the one and only thing. Now
he knew different. Isbel was not the only thing. Without the pearls
and the money they would fetch he was nothing. Nothing but a sailorman
earning a few shillings a week, tossed hither and thither about the
world at the will of an owner.

For one terrible minute before the loss of these things he felt his
poverty, and there is nothing much more terrible than that if one
loves. What had stricken him would strike Isbel. Where could he take
her? What could he do with her, he who had no home but a sailors’
lodging home, no resources but a miserable pittance only to be earned
at the cost of separation from her?

Cardon brought him back to himself.

“No, it doesn’t,” said Cardon, “but it saves us a lot of trouble. Can’t
you see? The pearls and the safe are on board the _Domain_?”

“On board the _Domain_?”

“Where else? Didn’t I tell you Schumer was going to shin out of here in
the _Domain_? Well, he has removed the safe there, and all we have to
do now is to go aboard the _Domain_, up anchor, and get away. He has
played into our hands all through, and every point he made against us
has turned against him. Don’t you see?”

Floyd did. This last act of Schumer’s put the finishing touch to the
business. Not only had he saved them the trouble of carrying off
the safe, but he had destroyed all qualms in the mind of Floyd. All
Schumer’s plotting, so skillful, so carefully weighed, so intricate,
and so powerfully backed by Hakluyt with his ships and money had been
brought to naught by one little flaw, one accident–Floyd’s surprisal
of Hakluyt’s conversation with Luckman.

“Come!” said Cardon.

They hurriedly left the house, Cardon walking first, Floyd following
with Isbel, whose hand he was holding.

It was their good-by to the island. In that short walk from the house
door to the lagoon edge the fact that he was leaving what he nevermore
might see was brought vividly to the mind of Floyd. Never had the place
seemed more beautiful from the piers of the reef to the far-off fires,
where the pearl fishers were holding a revel beneath the palm trees
with the crew of the _Southern Cross_.

As they rowed across the lagoon, passing under the stern of the
_Southern Cross_, they could hear the songs brought by the wind across
the water from the fishing camp. Not a sound came from the schooner,
where the trapped men were no doubt fumbling in the fo’c’sle for some
means of escape, and not a sound came from the _Domain_, where the
whole crew, anchor watch included, were fast asleep. As they came
alongside the _Domain_, Cardon hailed her, and a fellow rousing on deck
came to the bulwark rail, rubbing his eyes. He cast a rope, and the
boat was made fast.

Then they came on board.

Three men had been sleeping on deck, the bos’n and two of the hands,
and when Cardon gave the order to rouse the crew and get the anchor up
just for a moment it seemed there was going to be trouble. Then Isbel
saved the situation.

“It is by Luckman’s orders,” said she, speaking in the native. “He is
staying here; the ship is to be taken where he wills,” she finished,
pointing at Cardon. Had there been any resistance on the part of the
bos’n or the crew Cardon would have promptly dealt with it, but there
was none. They were an unsuspicious lot. There had been no sign of
disturbance on shore, and whether the ship sail under Luckman or under
Cardon did not matter a button to them. Besides, it was due to sail.
The water was on board, and Luckman had told them to be ready to weigh
anchor at any moment.

The wind was blowing steadily for the break in the reef, and now, had
you been ashore, you would have seen the mainsail of the _Domain_
rising like a black wing under the stars to the creaking of blocks and
slatting of canvas; then came the sound of the capstan pawls as the
anchor chain was hove short, and Floyd’s voice ordering the jib to be
cast loose. The tide was near the turn, and it was just approaching the
moment of smooth water at the reef opening.

Floyd, before starting to work the vessel, had run down to the cabin,
where, sure enough, the safe was standing against the couch which ran
along the starboard side, and between it and the table.

Not only was the safe on board, but Schumer had also brought off
the tin cash box holding what remained to them of the money of the
_Cormorant_ and _Tonga_.

He had made a clean sweep, only to sweep it all into Floyd’s pocket.

Floyd was thinking this as he stood on deck now giving orders for the
securing of the anchor which had left the water and was being hoisted,
dripping, to the catheads, and now as the mainsail filled to the wind
he took the wheel himself.

As he turned the spokes and got the feel of the ship answering to
his hand a faint, hot, acrid smell came on a puff of wind, a smell
of burning, though from where he could not say. He glanced back at
the far-off fires of the fishing camp, and fancied it might be coming
from that quarter. There was nowhere else possible for it to come from
except the _Southern Cross_, and the _Southern Cross_ showed no sign of
smoke or fire as she lay there mute and somber, her spars cutting the
starlit sky and her hull blackening with its shadow the starlit water.

So gently did the _Domain_ move that, viewed from the deck, it seemed
that past her, lying stationary, the reef and the trees were gliding
aft.

Then the pierheads of the reef passed like ghosts or shadows, and the
_Domain_ rose to the swell of the outer sea and sank, bursting the foam
away from her bow like snow.

Floyd gave the wheel over to the bos’n, and stood for a moment looking
aft across the sea; then he turned and went below, where Isbel was
waiting for him in the cabin.

* * * * *

Cardon, left on deck, paced up and down, now with an eye on the
binnacle card, now glancing aft, as though on the watch for something
he expected to appear in the wake of the schooner.

The wind had freshened, and the _Domain_ was making a good eight knots.
Not a cloud was to be seen in the star-spangled sky, nor a sail on the
sea line, nor a sign now of the island.

The atoll island does not show up well at night. It is less an island
than a kink in the sea over which a vessel may trip just as a man trips
over a kink in a carpet, and, looking back now as Cardon was looking,
nothing could be seen of the shore they had left.

Till suddenly Cardon drew in his breath, clutched the after rail, and
stood motionless and gazing at a pale orange-colored glow marking the
sky on the sea line they were leaving.

Even as he watched the glow deepened in color to an angry red.

A great fire was in progress over there. One might have fancied that
the whole of Pearl Island had caught alight and was blazing like a
torch in the wind. But Cardon knew better. He knew that what he was
watching was the destruction of the _Southern Cross_.

When he had seen Schumer going down into the hold with the light he had
guessed what was forward. Schumer had fired the vessel, and then, to
make sure, he had gone into the fo’c’sle with Luckman to fire her in a
fresh place.

The fire had proclaimed itself now, and Schumer and his companion,
bottled up in the fo’c’sle, would by this be beyond praying for.

Cardon had said nothing to Floyd of his suspicions, and now as he
watched them verified he determined to keep the matter still to himself.

There was no use in troubling the mind of Floyd. As for his own mind,
he was not in the least troubled.

What Schumer had prepared for another he was receiving himself, and
Cardon was not the man to pity a traitor and a murderer or to quarrel
with the justice of fate.

But it was strange beyond imagination to watch that steady, silent,
distant glow, knowing what it meant.

He watched it increasing to a certain point and decrease to a certain
point. Of a sudden, with a heave and flicker, it went out, and the
stars burned clear where the glow had been.

The _Southern Cross_ had sunk at her anchorage, and Cardon, turning
away, left the deck and came down to the cabin where Floyd and the girl
were seated.

ENVOI

Some three weeks later the _Domain_ cast anchor in Sydney harbor, and
Cardon, after the port authorities and the health officer had been
on board, took a shore boat for the quay. Floyd and Isbel did not
accompany him. He was going to interview Hakluyt, and he judged that he
would do the business better if he did it alone.

He waved his hand to them as he rowed off, and when he reached the quay
he made straight for Hakluyt’s office.

Hakluyt was in, but was engaged, and Cardon waited in an outer room
patiently enough for some twenty minutes. He was in no hurry, and when
at last he was shown into the room where the shipowner was seated at
his desk he showed no hurry to begin the business he had on hand.

He was studying Hakluyt.

“Well, sir,” said Hakluyt, after the pause that followed Cardon’s
announcement and while that person was comfortably taking his seat,
“and what can I do for you?”

“Nothing,” said Cardon. “I have come to tell you that Luckman has
burned the _Southern Cross_, according to arrangement with you, and
that I have all the evidence in my pocket, that he tried to do away
with Mr. Floyd according to agreement, and that I have witnesses of
the plot. In other words, my dear man, that your game is up and that
it rests entirely with me whether I close my fist on you or let you go
free.”

Hakluyt said nothing.

“All your pearls are gone,” said Cardon, lighting a cigarette. “Floyd
has got them. They are worth a good many thousand. I have taken your
schooner, the _Domain_, and you have here and now to make out a paper
selling her to me for the sum of–shall we say five thousand?–not
one penny of which you will ever receive. I am going to take her to
‘Frisco, and if you make one kick or give one squeal or try one dirty
trick I will put you in quod as sure as my name is Jack Cardon.”

“This is blackmail,” said Hakluyt, sweating and grinning at the same
time, and in all his life Cardon had never seen anything stranger than
that grin.

“This is blackmail!”

“Of course it is,” replied the other, “but what I want to point out to
you is that there is no resistance. You are absolutely tied up. I have
Luckman and Schumer in the hollow, of my hand, a whole island full of
Kanaka witnesses, _and_ the sunken schooner; also Floyd and a native
girl. Well, what do you say?”

“Where is Schumer?” cried Hakluyt, who seemed now like a person dazed
by a blow.

“He’s with Luckman, and I can only say this–he can be produced when
wanted.” Then, suddenly bursting out: “He is where you sent him. Dead
in the fo’c’sle of the ship that he sank. He, and Luckman along with
him. Blackmail! Do you think if I were working this thing for my own
hand I would stoop to blackmail _you_? No, sir. I’m working this for
Floyd, who is a soft-shell Englishman, as good as they make them, but a
child against ruffians of your cut. I’m squeezing you for him, and if
you don’t like my loving embrace say so and I’ll call in the law to do
the business. Now I give you one minute to decide. Do you stick out or
do you give in?”

“I give in,” said Hakluyt.

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