THE OPEN SEA

Floyd did not take the trouble to speak to Mountain Joe about Cardon’s
presence on board.

Cardon got into the upper bunk at about eleven o’clock and went
promptly to sleep. As for Floyd, he could neither sleep nor lie still.
During his stay in Sydney, he had been restless enough at times, but he
had never felt like this. Ever since his departure from the island the
idea of Isbel had followed him and been with him now clear and close,
now more remote and partly obscured from him by everyday affairs.

To-night she haunted him.

All sorts of fears and imaginings rose in his mind. He had never known
the extent of his love for her till just this moment, on the eve of his
return. Suppose when he got back he found she was not there. Suppose
the natives had revolted again; suppose that Schumer, playing every
one false and on the chance of a passing ship, had gone off from the
island, taking the pearls with him and Isbel. Suppose–suppose—-There
was no end to the suppositions that rose up before his mind as he paced
the floor of the main cabin and listened to Cardon snoring in his bunk.

Cardon, in his idea of passing himself off as baggage, had not
reckoned on his capacity for snoring. Floyd, however, did not trouble
about it; even if Hakluyt were suddenly to come on board and see Cardon
in the flesh, let alone hearing him snoring, it would not much matter.

In his present frame of mind, he would have bundled Hakluyt down the
main hatch and closed it on him had he appeared to give any trouble.

He came on deck, leaving Cardon to his dreams, and paced the planks,
still engaged in suppositions as to Isbel.

Then the night wind, balmy and warm, blew the evil fancies from his
mind and restored its tone. Nothing could have happened in the few
weeks that had elapsed since his departure. Isbel was well able to take
care of herself, and as for the natives, they were not likely to try
any more tricks with Sru dead and Schumer in command. The real danger
was to come, and its name was Luckman. That was nothing. With Cardon at
his elbow, he felt able to cope with a hundred Luckmans and Schumers.
He was forewarned. Fate had declared for him–or so it seemed.

He remained on deck till dawn began to break upon the harbor, then he
went down and woke Cardon.

Before going down, he had stirred up the cook and ordered coffee to be
sent to the main cabin; and while they were drinking this they heard a
boat coming alongside, and Mountain Joe shouted down the hatchway that
the pilot was coming on board.

“I reckon I’d better stay hid till we are clear of the harbor,” said
Cardon. “There’s no use in running risks. Up with you, and interview
the pilot and get the anchor out of the mud as quick as you can. Give
me a word when you have dropped him. You won’t have far to look for me.”

Floyd went up and found the pilot already on deck. The wind was fair;
all the port regulations had been complied with, and there was nothing
to hold them but the anchor.

Cardon, down below, could hear the clank of the windlass pawls as the
slack of the anchor chain was being hove in, the feet of the fellows on
deck running to orders, their voices as they hauled on the halyards,
and then again the welcome music of the pawls as the anchor was dragged
from the mud and hauled, gray and dripping, to the catheads.

Instantly the schooner took the feel of a live ship, to use Cardon’s
words. She heeled ever so little, and, as he lay in the bunk, he could
hear the warble of the water against her planking, to say nothing of
the rattle of the rudder chain and the occasional creak of woodwork
acknowledging mast pressure and strain.

After a while Cardon, tired with the stuffy air of the cabin, dropped
asleep. When he awoke, Floyd was standing beside him, and by the
movement of the cabin he knew that the _Southern Cross_ had cleared the
harbor and was making her bow to the Pacific.

“How about the pilot?” asked Cardon, rubbing his eyes.

“Dropped him long ago,” replied Floyd. “Hop out and come on deck. The
fellow is laying the things for breakfast, and a breath of air will do
you good.”

Cardon slipped from the bunk and came on deck.

A brave breeze was blowing, and the sea, roughed up beneath the
morning sun, had a hard, gemlike look. Foam caps showed, and in the
west the setting moon hung, ghostlike, in a sky that suggested millions
and millions of miles of depth and blueness.

All the east was hard and bright; all the west was blue and subtle and
tender; and between the east and the west lay the sea like a country
carved from sapphire and tourmaline, with the green hills of earth
sinking slowly but surely away beyond the foam in the schooner’s wake.

Then, as the sun mounted higher, the sea lost its look of solidity,
cast it back on the land, now remote and hard, black fish came
walloping along as if racing the rushing schooner. The wind,
freshening, blew in great, steady gusts, filling the bellying canvas
and pressing like a great hand so that the lee rail was almost awash
and the spray came inboard, fresh, like the very breath of the sea.

Cardon, with his hand on the ratlines, stood taking it all in while
Floyd stood beside him, his clothes flapping round him in the flogging
wind.

Mountain Joe was at the wheel. He showed no surprise at Cardon’s
presence on board, nor did any of the others. They evidently looked on
him as a passenger or supercargo of some sort approved of by Hakluyt.

“She’s a good sea boat,” said Cardon, “and she seems to steer well; but
what in the nation can have become of Luckman?”

“That’s what’s bothering me,” said Floyd. “I’ve been trying to figure
the thing out ever since we got the anchor on board. He can’t be stowed
away anywhere. He’s not in the fo’c’sle, for I went down there under
the pretense of seeing whether the hammocks were all right. He’s not
in the galley, he’s not in the cabins, and he’s not in the hold. He’s
not on board, in fact. Well, what is the meaning of it? The only thing
I can imagine is that the affair has fallen through and he’s gone off
with the money Hakluyt gave him–either that or I must have imagined
the conversation I heard.”

“Oh, I reckon that wasn’t any imagination of yours,” said Cardon.
“There was lots of reason why Hakluyt should have put the business
against you. No; the only explanation is that the thing, as you say,
must have fallen through. Luckman funked it and took his hook with the
money. That’s the only possible thing that can have happened. But it
leaves the position just the same as far as you and I are concerned.”

“How do you mean?”

“Just this: The plot was made against you, and it wasn’t made in
Sydney. It was all arranged on the island between Schumer and Hakluyt.”

“Yes, it must have been.”

“Well, then, the question turns up, are you going to go on working with
this Schumer, who has made all the arrangements for doing you in and
who would have done you in had not the thing fallen through?”

“Never!” said Floyd. “I have finished with Schumer.”

“Oh, no, you haven’t!” replied Cardon. “Not by a long chalk. There
remains the question of the pearls, and the question of punishment.
Schumer has got to pay for his villainy, and pay through the nose. But
there’s the fellow bringing breakfast aft. Let’s go down, and we can
talk the matter out below.”

They went down, and when breakfast was over Cardon lit a pipe, settled
himself comfortably on the couch at the starboard side of the cabin,
and, after a moment’s silence, turned to Floyd, who was lighting a
cigar.

“You have got to get even with Schumer, and from all you have told
me of Schumer you will have your work cut out. I know the type. The
Pacific is full of it. This chap is a trader and a sailor and a fighter
all rolled in one. I know the sort–able to do anything, from playing a
tune on a fiddle to playing a dirty trick. I know them.”

“Don’t you be too sure,” said Floyd. “This man Schumer is not one of
the ordinary sort of traders and swindlers. He’s a very big man. He
ought to have been anything, and the wonder to me is he has never risen
to something in the world better than what he is.”

“There you have his weakness,” said Cardon. “I admit he may be a big
man, as you say; and yet, as you say, he is only a little one as far
as the world is concerned. There’s something wrong somewhere in his
make-up. He doesn’t drink?”

“Not he!”

“Well, there’s some crack in him we must try and feel for. I expect
the chap is such a rightdown wrong one that he has failed in life just
because of that. I don’t say I’m not a failure in my way, but I have
failed mostly through taking things easy and trusting in men. But
Schumer hasn’t those weaknesses, if I can judge by what you have told
me. No; I suspect his disease has been a pretty general one. He’s a
wrong un. I’m not a man given to moralizing, but I’ve seen a lot of
the world, and I’ve seen that men who don’t run straight don’t get on.
It’s funny, but they don’t. Now look at old man Schumer’s case. He fell
in with a pearl lagoon; he has taken twenty thousand pounds’ worth of
pearls out of it, and maybe more by this. He had a partner named Floyd.
He couldn’t run straight with that partner, but must lay plans for his
wiping out. Floyd discovers his trick, and now Schumer is going to lose
pearls and lagoon and all; and when he’s lost them he will go back to
his old way of life with his feathers clipped, and men will say: ‘I
can’t understand that Schumer; he ought to have been anything, and yet
there he is bumming around in bars.’ That’s what they will say. Honesty
is the best policy, and that’s God’s truth and no copybook story, and
that’s what I’m going to teach Schumer.”

“But, look here, you say he is going to lose pearls and lagoon and
all—-”

“I? He may keep the lagoon–we only want the pearls.”

“Yes, but—-”

“I know what you are going to say–we have to get them before we keep
them. I know. The thing to worry out is how we are to get the weather
gauge on him. You have taken me into this affair as a partner, offering
me half your share. I don’t want that. I want Schumer’s share. The man
is a murderer, and deserves hanging. I am only going to fire him, but I
admit the thing will be difficult.

“If we sail into the lagoon and declare war openly with him, he’ll
fight, and he’ll be backed by all those natives he has got there.”

“He will, and besides there’s the–the girl.”

“Just so; you don’t want her injured.”

“Cardon,” said Floyd, “I tell you the truth as between man and man.
She’s everything. I don’t care a straw about the pearls, about money,
about Schumer. I don’t care about life itself where she’s concerned.
She’s the only thing I have ever cared for really.”

“And yet,” cut in Cardon, “if you care for her like that, it’s all
the more important for you not to be done out over the pearls. Pearls
are money. Well, do you think you don’t want money? To a single man,
money is useful, but to a man with a woman in tow, by God, it’s a blank
necessity! What are you to do with her as a sailor? Leave her in some
seaport while you are off sweeping the sea for tuppence a week in some
dirty hooker owned by some dirty owner who feeds his men on salt horse
and sends them to the bottom through overloading or for the sake of the
insurance money? No. If you care for a woman, put a pistol to her head
before you turn her into a sailor’s wife, depending on a sailor’s pay.
You have got to get the money that’s owing to you from Schumer, and you
have got to get your satisfaction from him. I don’t know how yet, but
I’ll find out by thinking over it.”

“You are right,” said Floyd. “I have got to get the money, anyhow, even
if I don’t get the satisfaction. But there’s another point: Suppose I
do get the pearls; there’s always a difficulty in selling them.”

“You needn’t worry about that,” said Cardon. “I’ve got the means of
selling anything that is come by honestly. I have a good name among
a good set at ‘Frisco. Now I’ll tell you something you can’t easily
believe; but if I wanted to borrow money in ‘Frisco, I could do so to
the extent of thousands and thousands of dollars. There are two men
there, rich men, who would let me draw on them for what I liked; and
yet I have often borrowed a few dollars from a poor man–you remember
that five dollars I got from you and which I owe you still, by the way.
No, sir, I have never tapped those rich men because they are under
an obligation to me, and because they are my friends, and because I
know that they would be only too pleased to lend to me. Men are funny
things, and I guess I’m a man. Anyhow, that’s how things stand. Now,
if I were to go to those men and say: ‘Look here, I have got a fortune
in pearls, and I want to turn it into dollars,’ those fellows would
put all their means at my disposal to get me the best price, and ten
to one they’d buy the stuff themselves, and my difficulty would be
to stop them from paying too big a price. One is Kane, of the Union
Pacific Company; the other is Calthorpe, the grain man. I knew them
first twenty years ago, when we were all dead beats together. Kane
started life as a newsboy, selling books on the cars of the Reading
Railway. He builds them now. Calthorpe started in life on the docks at
‘Frisco, helping to load sacks of wheat. They don’t load wheat in sacks
nowadays; his elevators do most of the work. Well, they are white men,
and though they have wives and daughters and carriages, they are always
glad to see me at their offices, and they are such gentlemen they have
never offered to start me in life. They take me as one of themselves,
and we have a clack and a smoke and a drink. I generally stand the
drinks, and I know they are green with envy of my stomach, for they
are both eaten up with dyspepsia. Now those chaps have succeeded in
life, but they haven’t succeeded in keeping up their pleasure in
life. I have, and I reckon, when all’s said and done, the account is
on my side. They are pretty well done to death with worry, living in
stuffed-up rooms, fighting every moment of the day to keep what they’ve
got, taking their food like medicine, and with gold teeth in their
heads to help them chew it; and here am I with every tooth in my head
and an appetite like a shark, clear two hundred, without an ache or
pain, breathing God’s good air, and sailing to belt a chap over the
head and collar a pearl lagoon. I guess they’d change places if their
wives would let them.”

“You have never grown old,” said Floyd.

“I’m forty-five,” replied Cardon, “and I don’t want to grow any older,
and I wouldn’t be an inch younger for worlds. A man only begins to live
properly when he’s forty, and at forty-five he has just about found
himself. Well, I’m going on deck to have a breath of air. She seems to
be going a bit steadier; I expect the wind has fallen.”

When they got on deck, they found that the wind had lost its gusty
character and had settled down into a steady blow. The land was very
far away, and only one sail was in sight–a full-rigged ship, almost
hull down on the horizon and white like a flake of spar. The _Southern
Cross_ was heading northeast, on a course that would leave Norfolk
Island some two hundred miles to port; and before her lay that great,
empty zone of sea which stretches from the Kermadec Islands to the
Tongas, and from the Australs to the Isle of Pines.

Some ten days out from Sydney, they hailed a steamer; she was the mail
boat from Auckland to Fiji, and the last trace of her smoke was the
last sign of man for many days.

The weather was perfect and the wind favorable, though moderate, as
they stole northward toward the line. Each day the sea became of a
deeper and deeper blue, and each day the sense of remoteness from the
world as we know it grew more intense.

The nights were tremendous with stars, and the days were scarcely days,
as days are reckoned with us. They left on the mind only one enduring
impression–great spaces of radiant blueness, infinite distance where
there was nothing but the send of the sea and the blowing of a tepid
wind.

One day, breaking the sea line on the starboard bow, came an island–a
dream of the sea, foam-stained and waving palms to the wind, the tepid
wind still blowing steadily and ceaselessly like the moist, warm breath
of million-leagued Capricorn. It was Rarotonga.

It faded away, and at sunset it had vanished. Next day, toward noon,
the Hervey Islands showed right ahead, and, like a white gull coming
from the islands toward them, a schooner. She passed only a few cable
lengths away, her canvas luminous and honey-colored with the sun. She
was a trader bound for the Tongas, and in an hour she was a speck to
the southward, while the Hervey Islands loomed more fully ahead, only
to be passed with the sunset and wiped away utterly by the night.

One evening Floyd, who had been working out the reckoning, said to
Cardon:

“To-morrow, if this wind holds good, we ought to arrive–somewhere
about noon, I should say.”

“Good!” said Cardon. “And now I’ll tell you of the plan that’s been in
my head for the last couple of days. We have no longer to reckon with
Luckman; he has evidently miscarried. Still, Schumer will give us all
the work we want. My plan is this, and it’s simple enough. When we drop
anchor, he’s almost sure to come on board. Well, you must receive him
on deck and ask him down into the main cabin. I’ll be ambushed in your
cabin.

“Out I’ll step, put Joe’s muzzle to his head, and say, ‘Hands up!’ When
he’s disarmed, we’ll give him a fair hearing and a fair trial; you’ll
be judge, and I’ll be jury. Then we’ll lock him up in your cabin to
pray for his sins, and I’ll keep watch on him while you go ashore and
collect the pearls and the girl.

“You’ll bring them off, and then we’ll put to sea. Outside the reef
we’ll put Schumer in a boat and let him row ashore. Then we’ll upstick
back to Sydney, and there you and I will have an interview with
Hakluyt, fling Luckman and all that business in his teeth, and gag him
with it. Then we’ll make for ‘Frisco by the mail boat. You see, we must
take the schooner back to Sydney, or else be had, maybe, for stealing
her. Well, what do you think of the plan?”

Floyd was silent for a moment.

“Suppose,” said he, “Schumer doesn’t put his hands up when you tell
him. Suppose he goes for his revolver?”

“Then I’ll shoot.”

“Suppose he comes on board with half a dozen of those natives and
brings them armed? It’s not likely, but Schumer is just the man to do
an unlikely thing of that sort.”

“If we see him coming off with a boatload of those scalawags, we must
change our plan. I can hide till we are able to get him onto the
schooner alone; but there’s no use supposing too much. What we want is
a plan to go on, and that’s the best I can think of.”

“Well,” said Floyd, “I don’t like it, and that’s the truth. It’s a good
enough plan, no doubt, but there seems to me something treacherous
about it. I don’t mean that in a nasty way, or as reflecting on you.
All the same, it’s a plan I’d hate to carry out.”

“Well, and who forces us to use treachery, as you call it? If you hide
behind a bush to shoot a tiger, is that treachery? No, it would be if
you were dealing with a man; it isn’t if you are dealing with a tiger.
Schumer is a tiger; or, more like, a polecat; and if you don’t use
treachery, he will. He has already, in fact.”

“He’d still have the lagoon,” said Floyd, wavering.

“Yes, we’d leave him the lagoon–not for love, but for our own sakes.
I’ve been figuring the thing out, and we’d better let the lagoon go. If
we tried to cling to it, we would have to tear Schumer’s claws loose
from it, not to speak of Hakluyt’s. If we leave it to them, it will be
a sop in the pan and will stop them from making any worry. We only want
the pearls already captured. They’ll do for us.”

Floyd heaved a sigh. He could not but see the force of Cardon’s
reasoning. Schumer deserved punishment, beyond all question; he had
plotted with Hakluyt, and the plot had only failed to materialize owing
to some accident or some rascality on the part of Luckman toward his
fellow conspirators. Still, he hated the idea of the whole business.
Inveigling a man into the cabin and then clapping a pistol to his head
was a plan of action that would never have occurred to him. Cardon was
thicker skinned. All the same, he could not help feeling that Cardon
was right.

There are some men whom it is impossible to deal with as gentlemen,
just as there are some men whom it is impossible to fight with
according to the rules of the prize ring. Schumer was one of them.

Floyd thought the matter over for a moment, and came to the conclusion
that Cardon was right. “I have no right to criticize your plan,” he
answered, “since I haven’t any plan of my own to offer instead of it.
We’ll leave it at that, and trust to luck, and if it comes to doing
what you say, I will, of course, back you, unless I hit on any idea
between this and to-morrow.”

He went on deck. The _Southern Cross_, carrying every stitch of her
canvas, was making a good ten knots, and the foam in her wake had
a phosphorescence as though she were leaving behind her a cloud of
luminous smoke that clung to the water and refused to rise. Never
had he seen the stars more wonderful, or a night more lovely. There
was little of the heaviness and languor of the tropics; and but for
Canopus and the Cross blazing overhead it might have been a night of
June in northern latitudes.

Floyd stood by the fellow at the wheel for a little while, and then he
walked forward, and, leaning against the lee rail, looked over the sea.
From the fo’c’sle came the sound of a concertina, faint and indistinct;
that and the creak of cordage and the slashing of the bow wash were the
only sounds in all that infinity of night and silence.

He was thinking of Isbel and the island invisible, but surely there
beyond the rim of the sea. There were moments when the whole thing
seemed a fantastic dream–Schumer, and the pearls, and the island,
and the woman he loved. Was it possible that he would see her on the
morrow?

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