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´╗┐Title: Overdue - The Story of a Missing Ship
Author: Collingwood, Harry, 1851-1922
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Overdue
The Story of a Missing Ship

By Harry Collingwood
________________________________________________________________________
Another very well-written book by Collingwood.  As he was a naval
architect you can rely upon his descriptions of the deck and sails of a
vessel of the mid nineteenth century, the period of which he writes.

Our hero, the 17-year-old midshipman of the Salamis, is suddenly given
the job of going aboard and taking command of the Mercury, an emigrant
ship that they find drifting in mid-ocean, all her officers having died
in various accidents, and the illiterate bosun and the ship's carpenter
knowing full well that they had no idea how to navigate.  He takes
charge and all appears to be going well, when-- But I will not spoil a
good story for you.

Full of events, and seamen's humour, this books makes a good audiobook,
and you will enjoy it.
________________________________________________________________________
OVERDUE
THE STORY OF A MISSING SHIP

BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD



CHAPTER ONE.

THE "MERCURY" APPEARS.

This is a yarn of the days when the clipper sailing-ship was at the
zenith of her glory and renown; when she was the recognised medium for
the transport of passengers--ay, and, very frequently, of mails between
Great Britain and the Colonies; and when steamers were, comparatively
speaking, rare objects on the high seas.  True, a few of the great
steamship lines, such as the Cunard and the Peninsular and Oriental,
were already in existence; but their fleets were only just beginning to
compete, and with but a very limited measure of success, against the
superb specimens of marine architecture owned by the Black Ball and
other famous lines of sailing clippers.  For the Suez Canal had not yet
been dug, and--apart from the overland journeys to India--travellers
bound to the East were compelled to go south-about round the Cape of
Good Hope, whether they journeyed by steamer or by sailing-ship; and it
was no very uncommon thing for the latter to beat the former on the
passage to India, China, or Australia.  Moreover, the marine steam
engine was, at that period, a very expensive piece of machinery to
operate, developing only a very moderate amount of power upon an
exceedingly heavy consumption of coal; hence it was only the nabobs who
could afford to indulge in the then costly luxury of ocean travel by
steam.

The occurrence which I regard as the starting-point of my extraordinary
yarn happened on the 27th day of October, in the year of grace 18--; the
_Salamis_--which was the ship in which it originated--being, at noon of
that day, in latitude 30 degrees south, and longitude 23 degrees west,
or thereabout; thirty days out from London, on a voyage to Melbourne.

The _Salamis_, I may explain, was a full-rigged clipper ship of 1497
tons register, classed 100 A 1; being one of the crack vessels of the
celebrated Gold Star Line, outward bound to Melbourne, as I have said,
with a full complement of saloon and steerage passengers, and a general
cargo that, while it filled her to the hatches, was so largely composed
of light merchandise that it only sank her in the water to her very
finest sailing trim; of which circumstance Captain Martin, her
commander, was taking the fullest possible advantage, by "carrying on"
day and night, in the hope of making a record passage.  I, Philip
Troubridge, was one of her midshipman-apprentices, of whom she carried
six, and I was seventeen years of age on the day when the occurrence
happened which I have alluded to above, and which I will now relate.

The _Salamis_ carried three mates: chief, second, and third; and the
accident happened in the first watch, when Mr Moore, the second mate,
had charge of the deck.  The wind was out from about nor'-nor'-west, and
had been blowing very fresh all day, notwithstanding which the ship was
under all three royals, and fore and main topgallant studdingsails, her
course being south-east.  There was a heavy and steep sea following the
ship on her port quarter, which not only made her motions exceedingly
uneasy, but also caused her to yaw wildly from time to time, despite the
utmost efforts of two men at the wheel to keep her true to her course.

It was during one of these wild sheers that the main topgallant
studdingsail-boom snapped short off by the boom-iron; and there was
immediately a tremendous hullabaloo aloft of madly slatting canvas and
threshing boom, as the studdingsail flapped furiously in the freshening
breeze, momentarily threatening to spring the topgallant yard, if,
indeed, it did not whip the topgallant-mast out of the ship.  Then
something fouled aloft, rendering it impossible to take in the sail;
and, the skipper being on deck and manifesting some impatience at what
he conceived to be the clumsiness of the men who had gone up on the
topsail yard, Mr Moore, the second mate, sprang into the main rigging
and went aloft to lend a hand.  Just precisely what happened nobody ever
knew; one of the men aloft said that the broken boom, in its wild
threshing, struck the mate and knocked him off the yard; but, be that as
it may, one thing certain is, that the poor fellow suddenly went
whirling down, and, without a cry, fell into the boiling smother raised
by the bow wave, and was never seen again!  I happened to be on the poop
at the moment, and, despite the darkness, saw the falling body of the
mate just as it flashed down into the water, and guessed what had
happened even before the thrilling cry of "Man overboard!" came pealing-
down from aloft.  I therefore made a dash for one of the lifebuoys that
were stopped to the poop rail, cut it adrift, and hove it, as nearly as
I could guess, at the spot where the mate had disappeared, while one of
the men on the forecastle, anticipating the skipper's order, called all
hands to shorten sail.  The whole ship was of course instantly in a
tremendous commotion, fore and aft.  The rest of the studdingsails were
taken in as quickly as possible, the royals and topgallantsails were
clewed up, a reef was taken in the topsails, and the ship was brought to
the wind and worked back, as nearly as could be, to the spot where the
accident had happened, and a boat was lowered.  Although the skipper had
displayed such nice judgment in determining the precise spot where the
search should begin, that the crew of the boat dispatched to search for
the mate actually found and recovered the lifebuoy that I had thrown, no
sign of the lost man was ever discovered.  The assumption was that he
had been stunned by the blow that had knocked him overboard, and had
sunk at once.  This occurrence cast a gloom over the ship for several
days; for poor Moore was probably the most popular man in the ship,
highly esteemed by the passengers, and as nearly beloved by the crew as
one of the afterguard can ever reasonably hope to be.  The skipper, in
particular, took the loss of this very promising officer deeply to
heart, not only because of the esteem in which he held him, but also, I
fancy, because he was worried by the conviction that the accident was
very largely due to his own propensity to "carry on" rather too
recklessly.

On the ninth day after this unfortunate occurrence, and on our thirty-
ninth day out from London, we found ourselves in the longitude of the
Cape of Good Hope, and in latitude 37 degrees 20 minutes south, with a
whole gale of wind chasing us, which blew us into latitude 39 degrees
south, and longitude 60 degrees east before it left us, ten days later,
stark becalmed.  The calm, however, lasted but a few hours, and was
succeeded by a light northerly breeze, under the impulse of which, with
all plain sail set, the _Salamis_ could barely log six knots to the
hour.  This lasted all night, and all the next day; but before that day
had sped, the second incident occurred, that resulted in plumping me
into the adventure which is the subject of this yarn.

The heavy sea which had been kicked up by the gale subsided with
extraordinary rapidity, and when I went on duty at eight bells (eight
o'clock) on this particular morning the weather was everything that the
most fastidious person could possibly desire, saving that the sun struck
along the weather side of the deck--when he squinted at us past the
weather leach of the mainsail as the ship rolled gently to the heave of
the swell--with a fierceness that threatened a roasting hot day, what
time he should have worked his way a point or two farther round to the
nor'ard.  The swell which lingered, to remind us of the recent breeze,
was subsiding fast, and the ocean presented one vast surface of long,
solemn-sweeping undulations of the deepest, purest sapphire, gently
ruffled by the breathing of the languid breeze, and ablaze in the wake
of the sun with a dazzle that brought tears to the eye that attempted to
gaze upon it.  The ship's morning toilet had been completed, and the
decks, darkened by the sluicing to which they had been lavishly
subjected by the acting second mate and his watch, were drying fast and
recovering their sand-white colour in the process.  The brasswork,
freshly scoured and polished, and the glass of the skylights, shot out a
thousand flashes of white fire, where the sun's rays searched out the
glittering surfaces as the ship rolled.  The awning had already been
spread upon the poop, in readiness for the advent of those energetic
occupants of the cuddy who made a point of promenading for half an hour
in order to generate an appetite for breakfast; the running gear had all
been bowsed taut and neatly coiled down; and the canvas, from which the
dew had already evaporated, soared aloft toward the deep, rich azure of
the zenith in great, gleaming, milk-white cloths of so soft, so tender,
so ethereal an aspect, that one would scarcely have been surprised to
see the skysails dissolve in vapour and go drifting away to leeward upon
the languid breeze.  The main deck was lively with the coming and going
of the steerage passengers as they went to the galley to fetch their
breakfast; and there must have been between twenty and thirty children
chasing each other fore and aft, and dodging round their elders in their
play, filling the rich, sweet, morning air with the music of their
voices.  There was a soft, seething sound over the side as the ship slid
gently along, accompanied by a constant iridescent gleam and flash of
the tiny bubbles that slipped along the bends and vanished at last in
the smooth, oil-like wake with its tiny whirlpools; and at frequent
intervals a shoal of flying-fish would spark out from under the bows and
go skimming and glittering away to port or starboard, like a shower of
brand-new silver dollars hove broadcast by the hand of old Father
Neptune himself.  The cuddy breakfast was fairly under way, and a great
clattering of cups and saucers, knives and forks, and the hum of lively
conversation, accompanied by sundry savoury odours, came floating up
through the open skylights, when the chief mate's eye happened to be
attracted toward a gasket, streaming loose like an Irish pennant from
the fore topgallant yard, and he sang out to one of the ordinary seamen
to jump aloft and put it right.  The fellow made his way up the ratlines
with extreme deliberation--for, indeed, a journey aloft in such
scorching heat was no joke--made up the loose gasket, and was in the
very act of swinging himself off the yard when, happening to be watching
him, I saw him suddenly pause and stiffen into an attitude of attention
as, holding on to the jackstay with one hand, he flung the other up to
his forehead and peered ahead under the sharp of it.  For a full minute
he stood thus; then, twisting his body until he faced aft, he hailed:

"On deck there!"

"Hillo!" answered the mate.

"There's a biggish ship away out yonder, sir," reported the man, "under
her three taups'ls and fore topmast staysail; and by the way that she
comes to and falls off again I'd say that she was hove-to."

"How far off is she?" demanded the mate.

"'Bout a dozen mile, I reckon, sir," answered the man.

"Um!" remarked the mate, as much to himself as to me, it seemed.  "She
is probably a whaler on the lookout for `fish'.  I believe they
sometimes meet with rare streaks of luck just about here.  All right,"
he added, hailing the man aloft; "you can come down."

Shortly afterward we made out the stranger's upper spars from the deck;
and from the rapidity with which we raised them it soon became apparent
that, if she had really been hove-to when first seen, she had soon
filled away, and was now standing in our direction.  By five bells she
was hull-up; and while the skipper and mate were standing together
eyeing her from the break of the poop--the latter with the ship's
telescope at his eye--I saw the ensign of the stranger float out over
her rail and go creeping up to her gaff-end.

"There goes her ensign, sir," I shouted to the mate, who responded by
remarking dryly:

"Yes; I see it."  Then, turning to the skipper, he said:

"There's something wrong aboard that craft, sir; they've just hoisted
their ensign, jack downward!"  This, it may be explained to the
uninitiated, is a signal of distress.

"The dickens they have!" exclaimed the skipper.  "Just let me have a
look at her, Mr Bryce."

The mate handed over the telescope, and the skipper raised it to his
eye, adjusting the focus to his sight.

"Ay, you are quite right," he agreed, with his eye still peering through
the tube.  "The jack's downward, right enough.  Wonder what's wrong
aboard of her? her hull and spars seem to be all right, and I don't see
any water pouring from her scuppers, as there would be if she had sprung
a leak and the hands were working at the pumps.  Well, we shall soon
know, I suppose.  Let our own ensign be hoisted in acknowledgment, Mr
Bryce."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered the mate.  "Troubridge,"--to me--"jump aft and
run our ensign up to the peak, will ye?"

I went aft to the flag locker, drew out the big ensign, bent it on to
the halyards, and ran it up to the gaff-end, where there was just wind
enough to blow it out and make it distinguishable for what it was.

The news that the stranger in sight was flying a signal of distress soon
spread among the passengers, and in a few minutes every telescope in the
cuddy was upon the poop and being eagerly focused upon the approaching
vessel, which had by this time revealed herself as a full-rigged ship of
some 800 tons measurement, of wholesome, motherly build, but certainly
not a whaler, as could be seen by the model of the boats which she
carried, and by the absence of certain characteristics which proclaim
the whaler, and are apparent almost from the moment when she heaves into
full view.  There was, naturally, a vast amount of speculation, not only
on the part of the skipper and mate, but also among our passengers, as
to the precise character of her distress; but probably not one of us
came anywhere near guessing at its extraordinary nature.

Approaching each other, as the two vessels were, it did not take us very
long to close with the stranger; and as we drew near to her it became
apparent that her people were preparing to lower a boat.  At the proper
moment, therefore, our mainyard was laid aback, the stranger followed
suit, and a minute or two later the two craft came to a stand abreast of
each other, the stranger about a hundred fathoms to windward of us, near
enough, indeed, for us to read with the unaided eye the name _Mercury_
upon her head-boards.  Then one of her two port quarter boats was
lowered and hauled to the gangway, and with three men pulling, and one
in the stern-sheets grasping the yoke lines, she shoved off and pulled
away towards us, the mate hailing them to come to the lee gangway, where
a side ladder had been dropped over for their use.  Her main deck was
crowded with people--men and women--all hanging over the rail and
staring at us with that idle curiosity which is so characteristic of the
uneducated classes.  Mr Bryce at once unhesitatingly pronounced them to
be emigrants, an opinion which the skipper as unhesitatingly endorsed.

The men in the approaching boat were all forecastle hands, the one
steering having the appearance of being either the boatswain or the
carpenter of the ship, and this it was that gave me--and no doubt the
skipper and mate also--the first specific hint of what was actually
wrong aboard the stranger.  Nothing, however, was said; and presently,
when the boat came rounding under our stern, Captain Martin and Mr
Bryce descended to the main deck and awaited our visitors at the
gangway, our own steerage passengers, who had crowded the lee rail to
see the strange boat come alongside, respectfully making way for them.

One only of the boat's crew--the man in the stern-sheets--ventured to
come on deck, the other three staring up at the heads peering down at
them from our rail, without saying a word in reply to the multitude of
questions that were fired into them, beyond remarking that "the bo'sun
will tell your skipper all about it."

The boatswain of the _Mercury_--for such the newcomer proved to be--
passed through our gangway, pulled off the knitted woollen cap which
decorated his head, and at once addressed himself to the skipper.

"Mornin', sir," he remarked.  "My name's Polson--James Polson, and I'm
bo'sun of the _Mercury_, which ship you see hove-to yonder,"--with a
flourish of his hand in the direction of the vessel named.

"Yes?" said the skipper enquiringly, as the man paused, apparently
waiting to be questioned after this introduction of himself.  "I see you
have a signal of distress flying.  What's wrong with you?"

"Well, the fact is, sir, as we've lost our cap'n and both mates--"
answered the man, when the skipper struck in amazedly:

"Lost your captain and both mates!  How in the name of Fortune did that
happen?"

"Well, sir, you see it was this way," was the reply.  "When we'd been
out about a week--we're from Liverpool, bound to Sydney, New South
Wales, with a general cargo and two hundred emigrants--ninety-seven days
out--when we'd been out about a week, or thereabouts--I ain't certain to
a day or two, but it's all wrote down in the log--Cap'n Somers were
found dead in his bunk by the steward what took him in a cup o' coffee
every mornin' at six bells; and Mr Townsend--that were our chief mate--
he took command o' the ship.  Then nothin' partic'lar happened until we
was well this side o' the Line, when one day, when all hands of us was
shortenin' sail to a heavy squall as had bust upon us, Jim Tarbutt, a
hordinary seaman, comin' down off the main tops'l yard by way o' the
backstays, lets go his hold and drops slap on top o' Mr Townsend, what
happened to be standin' underneath, and, instead of hurtin' of hisself,
broke t'other man's neck and killed him dead on the spot!  Then,"
continued Polson, regardless of the ejaculations of astonishment and
commiseration evoked by the recital of this extraordinary accident,
"then Mr Masterman, what were origin'lly our second mate, he up and
took charge, and navigated us to somewheres about where we are now.  But
four nights ago come last night--yes, that's right, it were four nights
ago--'bout three bells in the middle watch, while it were blowin' hard
from the west'ard and we were runnin' under single-reefed topsails, with
a very heavy sea chasin' of us, the night bein' dark and thick with
rain, somebody comes rushin' out of the poop cabin yellin' like mad,
and, afore anybody could stop him, sprang on to the lee rail, just the
fore side of the main riggin', and takes a header overboard!"  More
exclamations of astonishment from the listeners, amid which Polson
triumphantly concluded his gruesome narrative by adding: "Of course we
couldn't do nothin', and so the poor feller were lost.  And when Chips
and I comed to investigate we found that the unfortunit man were Mr
Masterman, he bein' the only one that was missin'!"

"Well!" ejaculated the skipper, addressing himself to Mr Moore, our
chief mate; "I've heard a good many queer yarns in my time, of maritime
accident and disaster, but this one tops the lot.  The captain and both
mates lost in the same voyage, and, so far as the two last are
concerned, by such queer accidents too!  Did you,"--turning to
Polson--"find anything in Mr--what's his name!--Masterman's cabin to
account for his extraordinary behaviour in rushing out on deck and
jumping overboard in the middle of the night?"

"No, sir," answered Polson with much simplicity.  "He'd been drinkin' a
goodish bit, and there were a half-empty bottle of rum under his piller;
but--"

"A-ah!" ejaculated the skipper with a whole world of emphasis; "that may
account for a good deal.  Well, what happened next?"

"Oh, nothin' else haven't happened, thank God!" exclaimed the boatswain
piously.  "But ain't that what I've already told ye quite enough, sir?
What's made it so terrible awk'ard for all hands of us is that we're now
without a navigator, and have lost our reckonin'.  So, after Chips and I
had confabulated a bit, we comed to the conclusion that, knowin' as we
was well in the track of ships bound to the east'ard, the best thing we
could do was to heave-to and wait until somethin' comed along that could
spare us somebody to navigate the ship for us to Sydney.  Chips and I
are men enough to take care of her--to know when to make and when to
shorten sail--but we don't know nothin' about navigation, ye see, sir."

"Ay, I see," answered the skipper.  "Well, I think you acted very
wisely, boatswain, in heaving-to; I don't know that you could have done
anything better, under the circumstances.  But, as to sparing an officer
to navigate you--I have had the misfortune to lose one of my own mates
this voyage, and,"--here his eye happened to fall on me, and he
considered me attentively for several seconds, as though he felt he had
seen me before somewhere, and was trying to remember who I was.  Then
his countenance lit up as an idea seemed to strike him, and he addressed
me briskly:

"What d'ye say, Troubridge?  You've heard this man's yarn, and
understand the fix that they're in aboard the ship yonder.  You are a
perfectly reliable navigator, and a very fair seaman; moreover, the
boatswain says that he and the carpenter are seamen enough to take care
of the ship, which I do not for a moment doubt.  Do you feel inclined to
undertake the job of navigating the _Mercury_ from here to Sydney?  It
ought to be a very good thing for you, you know.  I have no doubt that
the owners--"

I did not wait for him to finish; I knew enough to understand perfectly
well what a splendid thing it would be for me, from a professional point
of view, if I should succeed in safely navigating such a ship as the
_Mercury_ to Sydney; and I had no shadow of doubt of my ability to do
so; I therefore cut in by eagerly expressing my readiness to undertake
the task.

"Then that is all right," remarked the skipper.

Turning to Polson, he said: "This young gentleman is Mr Philip
Troubridge, one of my midshipman-apprentices.  He has been with me for a
matter of three years; and he is, as you just now heard me say, an
excellent navigator, and a very good seaman.  I have not the least doubt
that he will serve your purpose quite as well as anyone else that you
are at all likely to pick up; and if you care to have him I shall be
pleased to spare him to you.  But that is the best that I can do for
you; as I told you, a little while ago, I have lost one of my mates--"

"Say no more, sir; say no more," interrupted Polson.  "Your
recommendation's quite sufficient to satisfy me that Mr--er--
Troubridge'll do very well; an' since he's willin' to come with us we'll
have him most gratefully, sir, and with many thanks to you for sparin'
of him to us."

"Very well, then; that is settled," exclaimed the skipper briskly.
Then, turning to me, he said:

"Cut away at once, Troubridge, and get your chest over the side as
quickly as possible.  If you are smart you may get aboard your new ship
in time to take an observation at noon and check your own reckoning by
ours."  Then, as I rushed off to the after-house, where we apprentices
were berthed, he turned to Polson and proceeded to question him further
relative to the extraordinary series of fatalities that had occurred on
board the _Mercury_.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS.

It took me less than ten minutes to bundle my traps into the waiting
boat alongside; and then, having already said goodbye to my shipmates in
the apprentices' berth, I stepped up to the skipper and chief mate to
say the same, and to thank the former for giving me this splendid
chance.  He was very kind in bidding me farewell; told me I had given
him every satisfaction while I had been with him; gave me a few words of
caution and advice; and wound up by saying:

"The boatswain, here, tells me that the chronometer aboard the _Mercury_
has unfortunately been allowed to run down; when, therefore, you get
aboard, and have taken your meridian altitude, you had better wind the
chronometer and then set it to Greenwich time, which I will give you;
after which you should experience no difficulty in finding your way to
Sydney, to which port I wish you a prosperous and pleasant voyage.  Of
course I quite reckon upon arriving two or three weeks ahead of you; but
unless you have an exceptionally protracted passage you ought to arrive
in good time to return home with us.  Unless, therefore, the _Mercury's_
agent in Sydney wishes you to return to England in the ship, you had
better make your way to Melbourne as soon as you have settled up, and go
back with us."

I thanked him for the kindly send-off that he was giving me, and then,
after a final shake of the hand, followed Polson down the side, seated
myself in the stern-sheets, and--the boatswain pulling stroke while the
other three oarsmen shifted one thwart forward--shoved off, the crew and
passengers of the _Salamis_ giving me a little cheer to speed me on my
way.  The cheer was at once vociferously responded to by the people
crowding the _Mercury's_ rail.  No doubt they were greatly relieved at
the thought that there was to be no more aimless drifting about the
ocean for them, but that at last they were to find themselves again
heading intelligently toward their port of destination.

By the time that I had arrived alongside the _Mercury_ and mounted to
her deck it was getting so close toward noon, that I had only barely
time enough to get my traps out of the boat before the moment arrived
when I must get to work with my sextant to secure the sun's meridian
altitude, from which to deduce the ship's latitude.  Then there was an
even more important job to be done, namely, to start and set the
chronometer; therefore, as soon as I had secured my meridian altitude
and made it noon aboard the _Mercury_, we wore ship, and coming up
alongside the _Salamis_--that lay patiently waiting for us with her main
topsail aback--obtained the correct Greenwich time and set our
chronometer to it.  This done, Captain Martin swung his mainyard and
made sail, and we followed suit as quickly as we could.  Then I worked
out my observations, pricked off the ship's position on the chart, wrote
up the log, and took possession of the late captain's stateroom, by
which time dinner was on the cabin table, and I sat down to my first
meal on board the _Mercury_.  The food, of course, was not quite so
luxurious as that served up on the cuddy tables aboard the _Salamis_,
but it was a long way better than what I had been accustomed to get in
the apprentices' berth, and I appreciated the change accordingly.

At the conclusion of the meal, at which Polson joined me, uninvited,
while the carpenter stumped the poop as officer of the watch, I went on
deck to have a good look at my first command; and, on the whole, was
very pleased with her.  She was a big ship for her tonnage, having
evidently been constructed with an eye to ample cargo stowage rather
than speed; consequently she was inclined to be bluff in the bows and
full in the run; yet when I looked ahead and saw that the _Salamis_ had
only drawn ahead of us by about a mile during the half-hour or so that I
had been below, I was by no means dissatisfied.  She was evidently an
elderly ship, for everything about her in the way of fittings and
equipment was old-fashioned; but she was as strong as oak and iron could
make her, her scantling being nearly twice as heavy as that of the
_Salamis_.  Her bulwarks were almost as high and solid as those of a
frigate, and she was pierced to mount seven guns of a side, but no
longer carried any artillery on her decks excepting two brass six-
pounders for the purpose of signalling.  She was very loftily and
solidly rigged, and it did not take me long to ascertain that she had
been most liberally maintained, much of her rigging, both standing and
running, being new, while her ground tackle was ponderous enough to hold
a ship of double her size.  "Not much chance," thought I, "of this old
barkie dragging her anchors home and driving ashore in anything short of
a hurricane!"  She carried a full poop, the break of which came so far
forward that there was scarcely room to pass comfortably between the
foot of the poop ladders and the combing of the after hatch.  The poop
cabin was a very spacious affair, extending, for the greater part of its
length, to the full width of the ship, and it was most comfortably
fitted up, although, as might be expected, it lacked the luxurious
finish of the _Salamis'_ cuddy.  It looked as though it might at one
time have been fitted with staterooms on either side for the
accommodation of saloon passengers; but, if so, they had all been
removed, save two at the fore and two at the after end of the cabin.
And even these were now unoccupied, the boatswain and carpenter
occupying the staterooms at the fore end of the structure, in which the
chief and second mate had originally been berthed.

The captain's cabin was abaft the saloon, in the extreme after end of
the ship, and was an unusually commodious and airy apartment, extending
the entire width of the ship, and splendidly lighted and ventilated by a
whole range of large stern windows.  There was a fine, roomy, standing
bed-place on the starboard side, with a splendid chest of drawers under
it; a washstand and dressing-table at the foot of it; a large and well-
stocked bookcase on the port side; a chart rack occupied the whole of
the fore bulkhead; the floor or deck of the cabin was covered with a
handsome Turkey carpet; and a mahogany table, big enough to accommodate
a large chart, stood in the middle of the apartment.  This was where I
was to sleep, and to spend in privacy as much of my waking time as I
chose.  "Truly," thought I, "this is an agreeable change from my cramped
quarters aboard the _Salamis_!"

Having completed the establishment of myself in this luxurious cabin, by
turning out my chest and hanging up such of my clothes as I was likely
to want immediately, and so on, I went on deck again, where the
carpenter, who told me that his name was Tudsbery--"Josiah Tudsbery,
your honour, sir,"--was on duty, and requested him to conduct me below
to the emigrants' quarters, which, I found, occupied the whole of the
'tween-decks.  Here again the liberality of the ship's owners became
manifest, for the whole fitting up of the place was vastly superior to
what was at that time considered good enough accommodation for
emigrants; the married quarters consisting of a number of quite
comfortable and roomy cabins; while the spaces allotted to the
accommodation of the single men and women ensured to their occupants
such complete privacy as was deemed quite unnecessary in those days.  I
found that it was the duty of the emigrants to keep their own quarters
clean, and this seemed to have been somewhat neglected of late.  I
therefore gave orders that all hands should at once turn-to and give the
'tween-decks a thorough cleansing, in readiness for another inspection
by myself at eight bells in the afternoon watch.

The emigrants aboard the _Mercury_ numbered two hundred all told; namely
thirty-three married couples, twenty-eight unmarried women, forty-two
unmarried men, and sixty-four children, of whom one--a sweet, good-
tempered baby girl--had been born during the voyage.  They, the
emigrants, seemed to be a very mixed lot, ranging from clod-hopping,
agricultural labourers, whose intelligence seemed insufficient to enable
them to appreciate the wonder of a flying-fish or the beauty of a
golden, crimson, and purple sunset, to individuals of so refined and
intellectual an appearance and so polished a behaviour, that the fact of
their being 'tween-deck passengers seemed nothing short of a grotesque
incongruity.

When I went below again, at eight bells, to inspect the emigrants'
quarters, I found them sweet, clean, and altogether very much more
wholesome than they had been upon the occasion of my first visit, and I
expressed my gratification at the change, hinting pretty strongly that I
should expect the place to be maintained in that condition for the
remainder of the voyage; at which remark one of the occupants--a pale,
delicate-looking girl--exclaimed:

"Oh, sir, I only hope that you will insist upon that!  Some of the
people here--especially the men--are shockingly lazy, and would never do
a hand's turn of work if they were not made to."

"I am much obliged to you for the hint," said I.  "I will find out the
identity of those especially lazy ones, and see if I cannot imbue them
with a good wholesome hatred of idleness before we arrive in the land,
where those who won't work must starve."

By sunset that night the _Salamis_ had slid so far ahead of us that only
the heads of her courses were visible above the horizon; and with
nightfall we saw the last of her that we were destined to see during
that voyage.

I suppose it was only natural that I, a lad of barely seventeen years of
age, should be full of business, and importance, and anxiety, for a few
hours at least, upon finding myself thus unexpectedly placed in a
position of such tremendous responsibility as was involved in the
navigation, and therefore, to a large extent, the safety of this fine,
wholesome old ship with her two hundred passengers, her crew of thirty,
and her valuable cargo.  At all events, that was the condition of mind
in which I found myself as I paced the spacious poop, hour after hour,
sometimes accompanied by Polson, sometimes conversing with Tudsbery, and
occasionally alone.  As I walked, my glances travelled, with the
regularity of clockwork, first to windward, then ahead, then aloft, and
finally--as I reached the binnacle--into the compass bowl; then away out
to windward again, and so on, _ad infinitum_, until I was fairly bone-
weary, and had completely walked off all my anxiety--to say nothing of
my importance--and had convinced myself that I really might venture to
leave the ship for a few hours to the care of the boatswain and the
carpenter.

I have mentioned that, when bidding me farewell prior to my change over
from the _Salamis_ to the _Mercury_, Captain Martin was kind enough to
give me a word or two of caution and advice; and one of the bits of
advice which he most forcibly impressed upon me was that I should make a
point of sighting either Saint Paul or Amsterdam island on my way to the
eastward, and thus verify my reckoning.  I recognised this as being a
counsel of wisdom, and determined to shape a course that would enable me
to sight both, they being only about fifty miles apart, and both
standing high.  I therefore very carefully laid off the compass course
upon the chart, and found it to be south-east by east three-quarters
east, the distance being eight hundred and forty miles; and this course
I gave to the helmsman as soon as I had pricked it off and very
carefully verified it, while he passed it on to his relief, and so on.

But when I turned out at six bells the next morning I found, to my
disgust, that the wind had drawn round from the eastward and broken us
some four points off our course; while, to add to my vexation, the
boatswain and the carpenter--both of them illiterate men--had entered up
the log slate in such an extraordinary manner that, so far as the dead
reckoning was concerned, the information was not of the slightest use to
me.  Fortunately for my peace of mind the atmosphere was clear, and I
was able to get sights during the forenoon which gave me the ship's
longitude; while, a little later on, a meridian altitude of the sun
fixed our latitude for us.  Then, for nearly thirty hours, we found
ourselves enveloped in one of the densest fogs I ever experienced, with
light, baffling variable winds that made of our wake a continual zigzag,
winding up with three days of thoroughly foul weather--a whole gale of
wind from the north-east--during the greater part of which we lay hove-
to under close-reefed fore and main topsails, with our head to the
south-east.  Then the weather cleared and moderated; the wind gradually
worked round, first to east, and then to south-east; and at length I
found the ship laying up, close-hauled under all plain sail, for the
spot where, according to my reckoning, Saint Paul ought to be.  I was
now especially anxious to make that island, for the weather of the past
three or four days had been of such a character as to baffle the most
experienced of navigators, and I confess that I was beginning to feel
rather more than a trifle nervous.  The island, however, hove into view
at the precise moment and in the precise quarter that it ought to do if
my reckoning happened to be correct; and this test and verification of
the accuracy of my working served to completely re-establish my
confidence in myself, so that, from that time onward, I never
experienced the least anxiety.  I felt that so long as I could get
tolerably regular sights of the sun, moon, or stars I was not at all
likely to go wrong.

But before the island of Saint Paul had climbed up over the horizon that
stretched athwart our bows, I had become aware of a certain matter that,
while it struck me as being somewhat peculiar, seemed to bear no further
significance for me.

One of the first persons among the emigrant passengers aboard the
_Mercury_ to attract my attention was a tall, thin, long-haired, sickly-
looking man, of about thirty years of age, clad in a suit of rusty
black, whose appearance and manner generally suggested to me the idea
that he must be by profession a schoolmaster.  There was a certain air
of exaggerated earnestness of demeanour about him, and a wildness of
expression in his flashing coal-black eyes, that caused me to set him
down as being somewhat crack-brained.  His name, I soon ascertained, was
Algernon Marcus Wilde, and he was among the first of the emigrants to
speak to me.  He came to me, on the morning after I joined the ship,
with a complaint as to the quality and quantity of the food served out
to the occupants of the 'tween-decks; and I was as much struck by the
correctness of his speech, as by the excessive indignation which he
infused into his manner, when stating the nature of his alleged
grievance.  I pointed out to him the fact that, whatever the quality of
the food might be, I was certainly not responsible for it, nor, in the
event of its proving to be unsuitable, could I remedy the matter away
out there in mid-ocean; but I promised to investigate the affair, and to
do what might be possible to remove the grievance, should I find such to
exist--of which I had my doubts after my brief but highly satisfactory
experience of the viands served up in the cabin.

I accordingly requested the steward to produce the dietary list which
formed the basis of the agreement between the owners and the emigrants;
and, upon going through it, was certainly unable to find any just cause
for complaint, so far as quantity was concerned.  The question of
quality was of course a different matter; but here again, when, a day or
two later, I unexpectedly examined the food as it was being served out
at the galley, I was quite unable to discover any legitimate cause for
complaint.  On the contrary, the food, although plain, was as good as it
was possible to obtain in those times aboard a ship that had been at sea
a hundred days; and it was excellently prepared.  When I sent for Wilde,
and asked him to state specifically what he found wrong with the food
that I had just examined, all he could say was that it was not so good
or so varied in character as that which he had seen from time to time
carried aft for use in the cabin; and that in his opinion no distinction
whatever ought to be made in the treatment of persons occupying
different parts of the ship; also that he considered I ought to give
instructions for the emigrants to be fed henceforth from the stores
provided for cabin use; nor would he be satisfied, although I pointed
out that he was getting the food that the owners had undertaken to
provide him with in exchange for his passage money.  Of course to
attempt to argue with so unreasonable an individual was obviously
absurd, and I therefore dismissed him and thought nothing more about his
complaints.

This, however, was not the matter of which I have spoken as gradually
obtruding itself upon my attention, although, had I only been able to
guess it, the two were not unconnected.  What I noticed, almost from the
first moment of boarding the _Mercury_, without attaching any particular
importance to it, was that this man Wilde and a few of the other male
emigrants were in the habit of spending practically the whole of the
second dogwatch--which, in fine weather at all events, is usually a
period of idleness and recreation for a ship's crew--on the forecastle-
head, smoking and chatting animatedly with the forecastle hands; while
at other times the ex-schoolmaster--as Wilde actually proved to be--
seemed eternally engaged in earnest discussion with his fellow
emigrants.  I often wondered idly what the man could possibly find to
talk about so incessantly; but usually found a sufficiently satisfactory
explanation in the reflection that, being a man of education, he would
naturally take pleasure in extracting the ideas of others, and also
probably in correcting them according to his own notions.  He was
evidently very fond of talking; and I frequently amused myself by
watching the impassioned earnestness and the eloquent gestures with
which he would hold forth upon the subject--whatever it might be--that
happened to be under discussion.  I soon found that Polson and Tudsbery,
the boatswain and carpenter of the ship, apparently found more pleasure
in spending the second dogwatch on the forecastle with their shipmates
and the emigrants than they did in promenading the poop with me; but
this was not surprising, for not only were they both very illiterate
men, but it quickly became apparent that they and I had scarcely a
single interest or idea in common, and we were consequently often hard
put to it to find a topic of congenial conversation; indeed, in the
course of a few days, without the slightest ill-feeling on either side,
our communications became almost exclusively restricted to matters
connected with the business of the ship.

Looking back, from the summit of a matured experience, as I now can,
upon that first fortnight aboard the _Mercury_, I often feel astonished
that I never, for a single instant, caught the faintest premonition of
what was looming ahead; for I can recall plenty of hints and
suggestions, had I only been keen-sighted enough to observe them and
smart enough to read their significance; but I believe the fact to be
that at that time I had no room in my mind for any other thought than
that of the navigation of the ship.  It is true that for more than a
year it had been part of my daily duty, as a midshipman-apprentice
qualifying for the position of officer, to take observations of the
various heavenly bodies simultaneously with those of Captain Martin and
the mates, to work them out independently, and to submit my calculations
to the skipper--who examined and returned them with such written
comments as he deemed called for--with the result that I had long since
become proficient in the science of navigation.  But this was a very
different thing.  If on board the _Salamis_ I had chanced to make a
mistake, the worst that could have happened would have been a sharp
rebuke from the skipper for my carelessness, and an equally sharp
injunction to be more careful in future; whereas now, aboard the
_Mercury_, if I happened to make a miscalculation, there was nobody to
correct it; and although subsequent observations might reveal the error,
and no actual harm arise from its committal so long as the ship was in
mid-ocean, a comparatively trivial mistake committed when the ship
happened to be in the vicinity of rocks, or shoals, or approaching land,
might easily make all the difference between perfect safety and her
total loss, together with that of all hands.  Hence, during those early
days, when the sense of grave responsibility lay heavy upon my young
shoulders, I could think of nothing but more or less abstruse
astronomical problems.



CHAPTER THREE.

AN UNPLEASANT SURPRISE.

The revelation came upon me, with the stunning effect of a thunder-clap,
on the day upon which we made the island of Saint Paul.  The weather
during the whole of the preceding day had been brilliantly fine, with a
light air of wind that, breathing out from the south-east at daybreak,
had gradually hauled round until by noon it had settled at south; so
that when I took my meridian altitude of the sun for the determination
of our latitude, the _Mercury_ was heading straight for the spot where
my calculations declared the island to be, with all plain sail set to
her royals, and with the weather bracer slightly checked.

Upon working out my meridian altitude I found the ship's latitude to be
38 degrees 43 minutes south and we were steering true east; consequently
if my calculations were accurate, we were at that moment on the exact
parallel of Saint Paul, which--also according to my calculations--then
lay in line with our jibboom, eighty miles distant.  This result was
confirmed by a further observation of the sun taken in the course of the
afternoon watch; and a very simple calculation then informed me that, if
I had made no mistake, and there occurred no change in the direction or
strength of the wind, the island ought to be sighted, directly ahead,
fourteen miles distant, at dawn of the next day.  This anticipation I
communicated, in my anxiety, to Polson and Tudsbery, the former of whom
remarked:

"Well, Mr Troubridge, we shan't have very long to wait afore we're able
to prove the haccuracy of your calculations; but let me tell ye this,
sir--if you're able to hit off that there bit of a hiland anywhere near
as close as you hopes to, a'ter all the box-haulin' about, breakin' off,
heavin'-to, and driftin' to leeward that we've had these here last few
days--well, all I can say is that you're a good enough navigator to take
a ship anywhere, ay, if 'twas round the world and back."

"Y-e-es," said I, flattered a bit off my balance by the fulsome
character of the compliment, "there will not be much fault to find, I
fancy, after the traverse that we have been working.  By the way,
Polson, have you ever sighted Saint Paul?  I never have, although this
is my fifth trip in these seas."

"Well, no, sir; I can't say as I have," answered the boatswain.  "But,"
he continued, peering through the skylight at the cabin clock, "it's
eight bells.  I'll call Chips.  I fancies I heard him say that he 'ad
sighted it once or twice.  I'll ask him when he comes on deck."

So saying, Polson walked to the bell, where it hung mounted on the rail
that guarded the fore end of the poop, struck "eight bells" upon it, and
then descended to call the carpenter, with whom he presently returned to
the poop.

"Yes, Mr Troubridge," continued the boatswain, as he preceded the
carpenter up the weather poop ladder, "Chips, here, says he've sighted
the hiland twice in his time; but only at a distance."

"Ah!" said I.  "Do you think you would recognise it again, Tudsbery?"

"Oh, yes, sir; no fear of that," answered the carpenter confidently.
"It's a peculiar-lookin' spot, not to be very easily mistook.  I
remembers that when we last sighted it I heard the mate say to the
skipper that it looked pretty much like a dead whale floatin' high out
o' the water; and he was right; it did.  Oh yes, I'll reckernize it
again fast enough, if I claps my eyes upon it, never fear."

"Well," said I, "I expect it to heave in sight to-morrow at dawn, under
the jibboom-end, some fourteen or fifteen miles distant, if the wind and
weather last as they are now--which I believe will be the case, since
the barometer remains steady.  It is your morning watch, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir; my eight hours out to-night," answered Chips.

"Then," said I, turning to the boatswain, "when you call the carpenter
to-morrow morning, at the end of the middle watch, please give me a call
also; for, never yet having sighted the island, I should like to be on
deck when it heaves into view, and get a good look at it."

"All right, sir," answered Polson; "I'll rouse ye out, never fear."

The weather held fine all through that night, with the breeze light but
steady at south; when, having been duly called by the boatswain at four
o'clock the next morning, I turned out and went on deck, the ship, with
her spars almost upright, was sliding very gently along over a sea so
smooth that her mastheads seemed scarcely to sway at all among the
brilliant stars that thickly jewelled the deep indigo vault overhead.
The silence of night lay heavy upon the breast of the placid deep, and
seemed to be emphasised rather than broken by the faint sigh of the
breeze through the maze of spars and rigging that towered aloft, the
soft seething and plash of water along the bends, the light creak or
cheep of some parral or sheave up in the velvet darkness, and the
occasional clank of the tiller chains as the watchful helmsman, with his
eye upon some star peering past the weather leach of the main-royal,
found it necessary to give the ship a spoke of the wheel one way or the
other.  The watch had stowed themselves away somewhere about the fore
deck, doubtless taking a quiet catnap somewhere out of reach of the
heavy dew, and were not to be seen; but the figure of the lookout on the
topgallant forecastle could be just made out, momentarily eclipsing
first one low-lying star and then another, as he paced monotonously to
and fro athwartships to keep himself awake.

As I stood there at the head of the weather poop ladder, abstractedly
watching this man's movements, it suddenly struck me that there was one
point upon the horizon, straight ahead, where the night gloom seemed to
be the merest trifle deeper and more opaque than elsewhere, and I
wondered whether it might perchance be the loom of the island, the
highest point of which being, according to the chart, eight hundred and
twenty feet above the sea level, should now be visible above the horizon
if it were only daylight--and my reckoning happened to be correct.  I
fetched the ship's night-glass and took a good look through it at this
spot, but at first could make nothing certain of it.  However, while I
still looked, a bright star suddenly swam into view above the spot, and
my heart gave a great leap, and a heavy sigh escaped me; for I knew,
from the sweep of the horizon and the height of other stars about it in
the immediate neighbourhood, that the celestial body which had so
suddenly sprung into the field of the telescope must have just risen
above the topmost ridge of something solid blotting out a small space of
sky in that quarter; and the something solid could only be the island of
Saint Paul.

"The island is in sight, Tudsbery, as straight ahead as it is possible
for a man to aim for it!"  I exclaimed exultantly; for my feeling of
relief from doubt and anxiety, and the swift conviction that I might
henceforward confidently rely upon myself, were so great that I felt
impelled to give audible expression to my satisfaction.

"You don't say so, Mr Troubridge!" exclaimed the carpenter, coming to
my side.  "Whereabouts do she lie, sir?"

"Come and stand where I am, and I will show you," answered I.  "There,
now, do you see that bright star, low down in the sky, just over the
spot where the cathead passes out through the bulwarks?"

"Certainly, sir; I see it quite plainly," answered the carpenter.

"Then look immediately beneath it, and you will see the loom of the
land," said I.  "You can make it out more clearly with the naked eye
than through the telescope.  D'ye see it?"

"Well," exclaimed Chips doubtfully, "now that you comes to mention it, I
admit that the gloom away down there do look a bit thicker than it do
anywheres else; but I should never ha' noticed it if you hadn't drawed
my attention to it.  And, even now, I don't know as I should care to
swear as to it bein' land."

"No," said I; "and neither should I, if I did not know it to be there.
But wait until the day breaks, and you will see that I am right."

"I don't doubt it, sir; I don't doubt it at all," answered Chips
soothingly; "but it's a wonder to me how you've been able to find your
way to it; for it's only a little bit of a rock after all--a hextinc'
volcano, I've heard some people say.  How far d'ye reckon we are off
from it, now, Mr Troubridge?"

"Probably about seventeen or eighteen miles," said I.

"Ah!" observed Chips.  "Then we ought to be abreast of it soon a'ter
breakfast."  And therewith he fell into a reverie.

It was about an hour later that, preceded by a slight chilling of the
air, the first faint pallor of dawn came filtering through the velvet
darkness ahead, stealing imperceptibly higher and higher into the
eastern sky, and causing the stars thereaway to dwindle and grow dim
until, one after another, they vanished in the cold, colourless light
that now stretched along the horizon beneath our jibboom-end, spreading
right and left, even as one stood and watched it.  Then a faint flush of
palest primrose stole into the pallor, against which the horizon line
ran black as ebony, with here and there a suspicion of a gleam coming
and going between it and the ship, as the growing light fell upon the
gently heaving swell.  A moment later a great shaft of white light shot
perpendicularly from the horizon far ahead toward the zenith, where the
indigo was swiftly paling to purest ultramarine, the primrose hue became
more pronounced, and there, in the very midst of it, where the colour
was strongest, rose a hummock of softest, most delicate and ethereal
amethyst, clean-cut as a cameo, and shaped--as the carpenter had said--
like the back of a gigantic whale, with three well-marked protuberances
growing out of it, while others showed just clear of the water, toward
what might be supposed to be the tail end.

"There you are, Chips," I exclaimed in a fever of exultation; "there is
the island--"

"Land ho! straight ahead," shouted the lookout at this moment, as he
faced aft, pointing with his right hand over the bows.

"Ay, ay, Jimmy, my hearty, we sees it, plain enough," answered the
carpenter.  Then he turned to me and continued:

"Yes, sir; there it is, as you says.  Ay, and it's Saint Paul, too;
ne'er a doubt of it.  I reckernizes them there hummicks a-stickin' up
out of the back of it.  And I reckon that it's just about fourteen mile
away--which brings your calcilations right to a hapigraphy.  Well, well,
hedication's a most wonderful thing, and no mistake.  The bosun and I
might ha' searched for that there rock till all was blue, and never ha'
found it; but you comes along and gets aboard of us eight hunderd mile
away, and--says you--`we'll sight Saint Paul as we runs down our
eastin''; and, although we've been headin' all round the compass since
then, there's the hiland, right enough, and just where you said it would
be, ay, to the very hinch."

I was vastly tickled at the man's enthusiastic admiration of my little
twopenny-halfpenny feat of navigation, and--secretly--very proud of it
myself; but, of course, in reality it was an exceedingly commonplace
exploit, which any other navigator worthy of being so-called could have
accomplished without the slightest difficulty, the only essentials to
success being good instruments, clear skies, and correct arithmetic, all
of which I fortunately possessed.  But I was nevertheless highly elated
at my success, chiefly, I think, because, it being my first independent
attempt to navigate a ship, I had demonstrated to myself my ability to
do so.

The day now grew fast in the east; the primrose hue softened away, right
and left, into a tint of warm grey with a faint suggestion of rose in
it; the stars had all vanished save one solitary gem that hung low in
the western sky like a silver lamp; the zenith was a rich, pure
ultramarine, that was fast spreading toward the western horizon and
chasing the last lingering shadow of night before it.  Great spokes of
radiant light were darting aloft from behind the island and touching
into gold a few small, scattered flakes of fleecy cloud that floated
high over our mastheads.  Then, all in a moment, the small, faintly-
gleaming bit of land ahead became transformed, as it might be with a
magician's wand, into a block of deepest, richest purple, bristling with
rays of burning gold, a throbbing rim of molten gold swept into view
from behind it, and in an instant it vanished amid a blinding blaze of
sunlight that flashed across the ocean toward us, transfiguring its
erstwhile surface of ebony into a tremble of turquoise and gold,
outlining every spar and sail and rope in the ship with thin, golden
wires, and causing every bit of glass and polished metal-work to blaze
and scintillate with golden fire.  The watch appeared, yawning and
stretching as they emerged from their hiding places, blinking like owls
as they stared over the bows endeavouring to pick out from the dazzle
ahead the shape of land that the lookout was pointing to; and the
carpenter emerged from his reverie to shout:

"Rig the head-pump there, for'ard, and lay along with your buckets and
brushes!"

At two bells in the forenoon watch, when I mounted the poop after
breakfast, we were square abreast and within a mile of the island, I
having instructed the boatswain to pass as close to it as was prudent;
for I had heard of shipwrecked people having found refuge there and on
the neighbouring island of Amsterdam, and was desirous to see whether
perchance there might be anyone there at the moment.  But there was no
one to be seen, at which I was not surprised, for our approach had been
slow, affording ample opportunity to anyone on the island to observe it
and make his presence known; yet no signal or sign of any kind
indicating human occupation had been descried.  True, as we drew nearer,
a faint wreath of smoke here and there was occasionally seen; but our
telescopes showed us that these issued from the soil itself, and not
from fires kindled by human agency, being, no doubt, the result of
volcanic action; also there were a few goats dotted about, browsing in
groups of two or three; and their perfect placidity of demeanour was
convincing evidence of the absence of man on the island.  Having
satisfied ourselves of the non-existence of human beings upon Saint
Paul, I gave the order to bear away for Amsterdam, which lies due north
and fifty miles distant from the smaller island, intending to subject it
also to a similar inquisition.  Five minutes later we were running off
square before the flagging breeze, with the elusive, filmy shadow which
was as much as we could see of the island at that distance, and under
the existing atmospheric conditions hovering on the horizon over our
figurehead.

I had just completed the making of a sketch of, and the jotting down of
a few notes concerning, Saint Paul, which I thought might possibly be
useful to me some time later on in life, when, somewhat to my surprise,
the man Wilde, of whom I have already spoken, came up on to the poop and
informed me that he had somewhat to say to me if I could spare the time
to listen to him.  Imagining that he might have some fresh complaint to
make regarding the food supplied to the emigrants, I closed my notebook,
returned it to my pocket, and requested him to say on.

"Thank you!" he said.  "The fact is, Mr Troubridge, that I come to you
this morning as the representative and spokesman of all on board this
ship, crew as well as passengers; and it will perhaps simplify matters a
great deal if I tell you at the outset that we are all absolutely of one
mind regarding the matter which I have been deputed to lay before you."

"I understand," said I.  "Pray proceed, Mr Wilde," for the man had
paused, as though to afford me an opportunity to speak.

He bowed slightly in acknowledgment of my permission to continue, and
resumed:

"When Polson, the boatswain of this ship, boarded the _Salamis_, he
informed your captain that the _Mercury_ was bound from Liverpool to
Sydney, New South Wales, and in a sense the statement was true, inasmuch
as that when the ship sailed from Liverpool her captain had instructions
to navigate her to Australia.  But since then many things have happened,
as you are aware.  One very important happening, however, of which as
yet you know nothing, is this: After most carefully weighing every
point, for and against, we have arrived, with absolute unanimity, at the
determination that, instead of continuing our voyage to Australia, we
will proceed to the Pacific Ocean, where, on some suitable island--for
which we will search until we find it--we will establish ourselves as a
little community, to be governed upon the simple, old-fashioned,
patriarchal system of perfect equality.  And my object in explaining
this scheme of ours to you is to request that you will have the goodness
to change the course of the ship accordingly."

This extraordinary statement, with its concluding request, was made in
so perfectly calm and matter-of-fact a manner, and in a tone of such
absolute finality, that for a space of several seconds I was rendered
literally speechless with amazement.  The colossal impudence and
audacity of the proposal took my breath away.  But I soon collected my
scattered faculties, and forthwith proceeded vigorously to remonstrate
with the visionary enthusiast who, I instantly recognised, must be the
originator of the scheme.

"Sit down, Mr Wilde," said I, seating myself upon a hencoop, and
signing to him to place himself beside me.  "You have sprung upon me a
matter that is not to be dealt with and dismissed in a breath; indeed,
it involves so many momentous questions that I scarcely know where to
begin.  But, by way of a starter, let me ask you whether you are aware
that you have no right whatever to make use of this ship for such a
purpose as that which you have outlined to me?  The contract of the
owners was to convey you to Sydney, and land you there, and you can
claim no more from them.  In the next place--"

"Pardon me for interrupting you," broke in my companion with an
indulgent smile and uplifted, protesting hand; "but I believe I know and
could repeat to you every one of the somewhat musty arguments which are
crowding each other upon the tip of your tongue; and it will perhaps
save time--and possibly a certain amount of unpleasant friction--if I
inform you at once--as indeed I have hinted to you already--that we have
given them all our most careful and exhaustive consideration, and have
quite settled among ourselves that none of them is anything like weighty
enough to divert us from our purpose.  We know, for example, that the
appropriation of this ship and her cargo, in the carrying out of our
plans, will involve a certain amount of hardship and loss to the owners;
but no revolutionary scheme of any sort, great or small, was ever yet
carried into effect without inflicting loss and hardship upon somebody.
It would pass the wit of man to devise one that did not, and we are
therefore prepared to regard that phase of the question with perfect
complacency."

"I wonder whether you understand that what you contemplate is called
piracy, and is punishable with death?" said I.

"Of course we do, my dear young friend," answered Wilde with a smile.
"But perhaps I ought to have explained to you that the very root and
foundation of our plan is to escape from man-made laws, which are
compounded of tyranny and injustice of the grossest kind, and to revert
to the old, simple, patriarchal, family idea--the idea of holding all
things in common, of abolishing individualism and inequality of every
description, and of submitting only to such simple laws as are
manifestly for the benefit and advantage of all.  Besides, who will
there be to punish us for our so-called act of piracy?"

"You may rest assured," said I, "that there is no spot on this globe so
remote, so hidden away, that a British cruiser will not find it sooner
or later; and when she happens to visit your island--if ever you reach
it--her captain will insist upon an explanation of how you come to be
there, and, in short, of having your whole story told to him.  And then,
Mr Wilde, the days of the originator of this mad scheme will be
numbered."

"My dear boy," said Wilde, laying his hand soothingly upon my arm, "`the
originator of this mad scheme', as you are pleased to put it, is more
than willing to take his chance of such a happening as you suggest; so
we need not discuss that point any farther, but may pass on to the next.
The question now is: Will you, or will you not, help us to find the
sort of island that we have in mind?  No, no,"--as he saw that I was
about to refuse hotly--"do not decide in the negative too hurriedly;
take time to consider the matter, because it is a rather important one,
both to you and to us.  It is important to us, because, if you should
decide in the negative, it will put us to all the trouble and
inconvenience of finding another navigator; and it is important to you,
because, if you should refuse, it will mean that, being opposed to us,
you must be got rid of, for we will have no enemies, secret or open,
among us; and I think that the best way to get rid of you, and at the
same time to guard against the possibility of your doing us a bad turn
in the future, will be to tie your hands and heels together, attach a
good heavy weight to your neck, and drop you overboard sometime in the
small hours when all the women and children are asleep, and cannot be
shocked or distressed at the sight.

"You see, we have considered this matter so thoroughly, and have so
completely made up our minds what we intend to do, that we cannot dream
of allowing the qualms of conscience of a mere lad like yourself to
stand in our way.  If you had not been an expert navigator it would have
been a different affair altogether.  We should have said nothing to you,
but should have put you ashore on one of these islands, had we chanced
to find them, or have exchanged you with some ship for a better
navigator; but you have proved your ability, and now you must either
throw in your lot with us, or--accept the alternative.  Think it over,
my dear boy, and let me know your decision when you have fully made up
your mind.  You will be able to do this all the more easily since, as
`the originator of this mad scheme', and the accepted leader of all on
board, it is my intention to take up my quarters in the cabin for the
remainder of our voyage."

So saying, Wilde rose and, bestowing upon me a friendly smile, made his
way down the poop ladder to the main deck; and a few minutes later I saw
the stewards helping him to transfer his belongings from the steerage to
the cabin.



CHAPTER FOUR.

WILDE EXPLAINS.

The boatswain, whose watch it now was, and who had been making a
pretence of superintending some job on the forecastle while Wilde was
talking to me, presently slouched along the deck and came up on to the
poop.  Arrived at the head of the weather poop ladder, he paused and,
facing forward, appeared to be regarding the set of the canvas
attentively.  Then, with a very sheepish air, he joined me and took the
seat which Wilde had not long vacated.  I saw that the fellow was dying
of curiosity to learn what had passed between the ex-schoolmaster and
myself, but was determined not to help him by opening the conversation;
the result being a long--and apparently on the part of the boatswain an
embarrassing pause.  However, at length he broke ground by remarking
with a conciliating smile:

"So I sees you've been havin' a yarn with Mr Wilde, eh, Mr Troubridge?
Have he told ye, sir, of the plan that we've made up among us for
startin' a new country?"

"He has told me--to my intense astonishment--that I have become
shipmates with a round hundred or so of consummate idiots--leaving the
women and children out of the question," I answered sharply.

"A-ah!" returned the boatswain, with a sorrowful shake of the head.  "I
felt, somehow, as you wouldn't see the thing as we sees it.  All the
same, sir, I hopes--yes, I most fervently hopes--as he've been able to
persuade ye to jine in with us."

"He tells me that if I refuse to do so I am to be lashed up, neck and
heels, and hove overboard with a sinker attached to my neck some fine
night when the women and children are all below.  Do you approve of that
arrangement, Polson?"  I demanded.

"Well--no--I can't say as I do; not altogether," answered the boatswain,
fidgeting uneasily where he sat.  "But I hopes it won't come to that,
Mr Troubridge.  I don't hold with forcin' anybody to do what they don't
want to do; but I don't see as it'd do you no very serious harm for to
agree to navigate this here ship to the spot where we wants her took to;
and that's all as you're to be asked to do."

"And if I should choose to refuse, I suppose you would stand by and see
me drowned, if indeed you did not lend a hand to lash me up?"  I asked,
infusing all the sarcasm I could into the question.

"No, no, Mr Troubridge!" exclaimed Polson, justly indignant that I
should bring such a monstrous charge against him.  "I wouldn't lift a
finger to hurt ye, sir--I shouldn't have no need to, for there's lots o'
chaps among them emigrants ready enough to do any mortal thing that Mr
Wilde tells 'em to.  I should just go below and have nothin' to do with
the job."

"By which simple means you would secure the acquittal of the thing you
call your conscience against the charge of murdering me!"  I ejaculated
scornfully.  "Do you know, Polson, that the man who consents to a murder
is every whit as guilty as he who actually does the deed?"

"Well, I dunno," answered Polson; "I don't see how that can be, Mr
Troubridge.  If another man chooses to murder ye, what's that got to do
wi' me?  Besides, what can we do?  All hands of us has already signed a
paper agreein' to obey Mr Wilde's orders."

"Tut!"  I exclaimed impatiently.  "Do you seriously wish me to believe,
Polson, that you are such an utter fool that you are unable to
discriminate between right and wrong?  With one breath you give me to
understand that you would have no conscientious objection to permitting
a man to murder me; and with the next you intimate that having, as I
understand it, blindly pledged yourself to obey all Wilde's orders--
whatever their nature may be--your conscience will not permit you to
break your pledge!  Let me tell you, man, that such a pledge as that is
in nowise binding, and the law will hold you blameless if you choose to
break it."

"Ay--yes--the law!" retorted the boatswain, spitting over the rail, the
more strongly to mark his contempt of that system which was once tersely
denounced as being "a hass".  "I don't take no account of the law, Mr
Troubridge.  Mr Wilde have showed us that the law ain't justice.  It
have been made by rich men to grind down the poor, and keep 'em down;
and there ain't goin' to be no law in this here new country what we're
goin' to make.  Everybody's goin' to be just as good as everybody else,
and is goin' to do just what he jolly well likes."

"Just so!"  I said.  "I have heard that yarn before, and if I knew of a
country where such a state of things existed I would take precious good
care to steer clear of it.  Can't you picture to yourself the joy of
living in a place where, if a stronger man than you happened to take a
fancy to your clothes, or your house, or anything else that belonged to
you, he could compel you to give them up, and nobody would interfere to
say him nay.  That is the kind of thing that is to be expected in a
country where there are no laws, and where everybody is at liberty to do
`just what he jolly well likes'.  I am astonished to hear you talking
such utter tomfoolery; I set you down as having more common sense!"

The poor man stared at me in silence, agape with perplexity.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" he exclaimed at last, thumping the hencoop
with his fist in his bewilderment; "what's a man to do?  Here's that
chap Wilde--a man of eddication, mind ye, Mr Troubridge--comes along
and spins us a yarn of how we poor sailormen are ill-treated and kep'
down, overworked and underpaid by rich owners; and of how the law won't
do nothin' for us; and he shows us a plan how we can live in peace and
happiness and enj'yment all the rest of our lives; and then you turns up
and knocks the whole bag o' tricks into a cocked hat!  Which of ye is
right?  If you're right, I stays as I am all my life, a poor, miserable
shellback, endin' my days by sellin' matches in the streets, when I'm
too old and too stiff wi' the rheumatics to go to sea any longer.  That
bein' the case, I'll give Mr Wilde's plan a trial for a spell; right or
wrong."

"Very well," said I, "go your own way, if you will; but you will most
certainly regret it some day when it is too late to retrace your steps.
And let me tell you this, Polson, you are attributing your position and
its accompanying hardships to the wrong cause altogether.  The true
state of the case is that you are an ignorant and unintelligent man
through lack of education.  Did you ever go to school?"

"No, never, Mr Troubridge," answered my companion.  "What little I
knows I larned myself.  My father, who was supposed to be a wharfinger,
was too fond of the drink ever to be able to hold a job, the consekence
bein' that my poor mother had to keep things goin' by takin' in washin';
and, since there was seven of us young 'uns, it took her all her time to
find us in grub and clo'es.  She hadn't no money to spare for
eddication.  Consekence was I didn't have none.  And when I was 'bout
'leven year old things got to such a pitch at home that I cut and run,
goin' to sea as cabin-boy in a Geordie to start with, and gradually
workin' my way up to bein' a bosun, as I am now."

"Ah!" said I.  "Well, you have done a good deal better, Polson, than
many others in like circumstances.  But--and this is my point--if your
father, instead of stupefying his brains with drink, had been a sober,
steady, hard-working man, and had done his duty by you to the extent of
sending you to school, you would have gained a vast amount of valuable
knowledge.  You would have cultivated your intellect; you would have
learned to discriminate between right and wrong; you would have been
able to reason, and to perceive that certain causes invariably produce
certain effects.  You would have discovered that knowledge is power, and
that the more knowledge a man possesses the higher he is able to rise in
the world.  Instead of stopping at being a boatswain, you would have
risen to be, first a mate, and then a master--and possibly an owner some
day, as other men have done.  Now, put that in your pipe and smoke it!"

And I jumped up and went below to fetch my sextant up on deck; for by
this time it was drawing well on toward noon.

As the day wore on, the wind fell lighter, until by sunset the ship
scarcely had steerage-way; consequently it was not until the next
morning that we found ourselves off the island of Amsterdam, past which
we drifted so slowly that, had there been anyone on the island, they
would have had ample time to make their presence known.  But we saw no
one, nor anything in the least resembling a signal.  After skirting the
western side of the island to its northern extremity, I gave the order
to bring the ship to the wind, and gave the officer of the watch a
compass course of east-south-east for Cape Otway.  I was not going to
yield to Wilde at the first demand; and not at all, if I could possibly
help it; although my talk with the boatswain was of anything but an
encouraging character.  There was still the carpenter, however; and I
thought I would sound him as to his views on this visionary scheme of
Wilde's, the very first step toward the realisation of which involved an
act of piracy.  But when I came to talk to him I soon found that he was
even worse to deal with than the boatswain; for although perhaps not
quite so ignorant as the latter, he was still ignorant enough to be
convinced by the specious arguments of the Socialist, to readily accept
the doctrine of perfect equality between all men, and--like most of
those whose labour is of an arduous character, and whose life is one of
almost constant hardship and privation--to be dazzled by the alluring
prospect of being able to live out the rest of his days on an island
where--according to Wilde--Nature would do all the work, and man would
only need to stretch forth his hand to gather in her bounties.

I will do Wilde the justice to say that he manifested no impatience
while awaiting the announcement of my decision relative to the proposal
which he had made to me; on the contrary, when I met him at the cabin
table at meal-times he was very chatty and friendly, with a certain
subtle suggestion of patronage in his tone, however, that rather went
against the grain with me; but he asked me no questions until I had set
the course for Cape Otway, and the island of Amsterdam was melting into
the haze astern of us.  Then, being on the poop at the moment when I
gave the course to the helmsman, and hearing its direction, he came up
to me and said:

"Are you aiming for any point in particular in directing the helmsman to
steer east-south-east, Mr Troubridge?"

"Yes," said I.  "If the wind will permit us to steer that course long
enough it will eventually bring us within sight of Cape Otway."

"Cape Otway!" he repeated.  "Um! the name seems not altogether
unfamiliar to me, and as a man who has been for some years a
schoolmaster I suppose I ought to be able to say, offhand, exactly where
it is.  But my memory upon such matters is a trifle weak, I am afraid.
Perhaps you will kindly tell me where Cape Otway is?"

"Cape Otway lies some sixty miles--more or less--south-west of Port
Philip Heads," said I, "and, excepting Wilson Promontory, is the most
southerly headland of Australia."

"Of course, of course," he exclaimed with a little air of vexation.
"Dear me! how marvellously easy it seems to forget such details.  I am
afraid our system of education does not attach nearly as much importance
as it ought to the study of geography.  Ah, well; what matters it?  I
have done with such trifles, I hope, for the remainder of my days.  Does
Cape Otway happen to be on our road to the Pacific, Mr Troubridge?"

"Yes," I said; "that is to say, if one elects to go south-about.  But
the Pacific is a big sheet of water, and there are two or three ways of
getting to it from here.  All depends, of course, upon the particular
part of the Pacific to which one is bound."

"Yes, of course," agreed Wilde.  Then he turned suddenly, and, looking
me keenly in the face, remarked: "Really, you know, Troubridge, you
impress me very favourably--very favourably indeed!  I shall be
profoundly sorry if we are obliged to part with you, for you seem to me
to be a lad of considerably more than average intelligence.  That remark
of yours touching `the particular part of the Pacific to which one is
bound'--by the way, have you a tolerably intimate knowledge of the
Pacific?"

"No," said I; "I know nothing whatever of it except the part which lies
between Australia and Cape Horn."

"Which, I take it, comprises a very small portion of the whole?"
questioned he.

"A very small portion indeed," I agreed.

"Ah!" he commented.  "Can you tell me whether there happens to be a map
of the Pacific on board this ship?"

"It is quite possible," I said.  "She is pretty well-stocked with
charts; and, now that you come to mention it, I believe there is a chart
of the Pacific in the rack."

"Let us go down and ascertain, shall we?" said he.  And, placing his
hand within my arm, he gently but firmly led me off the poop.  It may,
of course, have been pure imagination on my part, but his manner seemed
to say as distinctly as words--"Don't mistake my politeness and
geniality for weakness.  I believe in putting things pleasantly, but
when I make a suggestion I intend it to be accepted as a command."

We descended together to the captain's cabin--which I now occupied--and
he entered it with me, laughingly explaining that he was sure I would
excuse the liberty he was taking in doing so, and at once fell to
examining the labels of the charts in the rack.

"Ah! here we are," he exclaimed, laying his hand upon a roll labelled
"Pacific Ocean".  "Let us take it into the main cabin and study it
together."

He laid it out flat upon the cabin table and placed four weights at the
corners to hold them down.  Then he bent over the sheet and studied it
with extraordinary interest.

"So this is what you call a chart, is it?" he exclaimed.  "I see that it
varies very materially from an ordinary map, in that it gives a great
deal of information about the sea, and not much about the land, beyond
its outline."  And he began his study of it by asking the meaning of
certain mysterious lines and markings upon it.  Then he asked a number
of questions respecting the various small islands dotted about, more or
less in patches, upon it, to answer which I had to hunt for a Pacific
Directory, which I fortunately found in the bookcase; and finally, after
we had thus been engaged for an hour or more, he said:

"It is perfectly clear to me that it would be idle for us to determine,
at this distance, in what particular part of the Pacific we will search
for our future home.  That search must be conducted methodically; and
after studying this chart very carefully, I have come to the conclusion
that our best course will be to begin our search here,"--indicating with
his finger a point about midway between the north-western extremity of
New Guinea and the Pelew Islands--"and work our way in an easterly
direction."

"Have you read those notes?"  I asked, drawing his attention to certain
notes on the chart explaining that: "the Caroline, Marshall, and Solomon
groups are almost entirely unknown, and are believed to have many
dangers in their neighbourhood not marked upon the charts; navigators
are therefore cautioned to exercise the most extreme vigilance when
approaching or sailing among them."

"Certainly I have, my boy," he answered; "and it is to them that my
choice of that part of the ocean is chiefly due.  Those islands, you
see, are `almost entirely unknown'; which means that if we can find one
among them of a suitable character for our new settlement, we are not
likely to be disturbed by the intrusion of curious and inquisitive
visitors.  Therefore, kindly take measures to navigate the ship to the
spot that I have indicated."

It was on the tip of my tongue flatly to refuse to have anything
whatever to do with him or his scheme, and to defy him to do his worst,
when the germ of an idea came floating into my mind, and I said instead:

"Do you leave the choice of route to me?  Because, if so, I shall
certainly go south-about past Australia, as being much the safer route."

"Safer, possibly, but not nearly so direct," replied Wilde.  "Therefore,
since we are all anxious to begin our new life as early as possible, let
us take the shorter and more direct route, past the north-west of
Australia, and through the Banda Sea and Molucca Passage."

"That route positively bristles with dangers, as you might see if you
understood a chart," I exclaimed, in tones of exasperation.

"I do not doubt your word for a moment, my dear boy," answered Wilde
soothingly.  "But we shall bear in mind the warning of the chart; we
shall exercise `the most extreme vigilance' in the midst of those
dangers; and I have not the slightest doubt that everything will be all
right.  And now, to change the subject, have you made a choice between
the two alternatives that I submitted to you yesterday?"

"You mean the alternative of joining you or of being drowned?"  I asked
with vindictive emphasis.

"Precisely," he answered with a smile of the utmost suavity.  "And,
understand me, youngster," he continued, with a sudden change to
sternness in his manner, that disconcerted me a great deal more than I
should have cared for him to know, "if you decide to join us you must do
so wholeheartedly, and with no mental reservations.  Those who are not
with us must inevitably be against us; and the issues at stake with us
are of far too grave a character to allow of our running any risk from
secret enemies.  No mercy will be shown to traitors, I assure you; so do
not permit your mind to dwell upon any plan in which submission that is
to be only apparent has a place."

"You do not leave me very much choice," I remarked.  "If I refuse to
throw in my lot with you, you drown me; and if I accept your
alternative, and should be unlucky enough to incur the suspicion that I
am not acting honestly with you, what happens?"

"We hang you," answered Wilde tersely.

"I see," I said.  "The choice you offer me appears to lie between the
certainty of drowning and the risk of hanging.  I am by no means certain
that it would not wiser on my part to choose the former, and get it over
and done with at once.  But I will think it over and let you know."

"Yes, pray do so," returned Wilde, in the same exasperating tone of
suavity.  "And, before we dismiss the subject," he continued, "let me
give you a word of genuinely friendly advice.  Get rid of that idiotic
idea of choosing the alternative of being drowned, and getting it over
and done with as soon as possible; because so long as you allow your
imagination to dwell upon it, it will simply warp your judgment and
prevent you from arriving at a sound, sensible conclusion.  No young man
possessing a sound mind in a sound body--as you appear to do--
deliberately chooses death, and the annihilation which follows it,
rather than the long years of ease, happiness, and comfort which will be
yours if you join us; so why should you, eh?"

"I will think it over, and let you know as soon as I have arrived at a
decision," I repeated.  "But don't you make any mistake about the
annihilation that comes after death.  That is the atheist's notion; but,
if you are reckoning upon anything of that kind, to save you from
punishment for your misdeeds in this present life, you are going to be
badly undeceived; make no mistake about that."

"My boy," he said, laying his hand upon my shoulder, "if you possess any
religious convictions, retain them by all means, and much good may they
do you; but do not try to convert me.  No scruples of what they term a
religious character will ever be permitted to deter me from taking any
steps, that may appear necessary to further and ensure the success of my
schemes."

"Such, for instance, as committing murder," I retorted.  "All right.
But let me tell you that the hint--or threat, call it which you like--
will not influence me a hairbreadth, one way or the other."

"Very well, my dear boy," he returned; "be it so.  At least we
thoroughly understand each other, don't we?  And--don't be a fool!"

With which parting shot he left me, and, proceeding to the main deck,
entered into conversation with some of the emigrants who were leaning
over the bulwarks, idly watching the water as the ship drove slowly
through it.

"Don't be a fool!"  It was excellent advice, although given by a man
whose folly I regarded as stupendous, and I determined to follow it.
Then I proceeded to reason out the matter with myself, for it was
evident that I should very soon have to come to a decision; and it
appeared to me that there was nothing to be gained by delay.  In the
first place, I was compelled inwardly to admit that, intensely as I
disliked Wilde, and stupendous as I considered his folly, there was
sound sense in his suggestion that I should abandon the idea of throwing
away my life.  But when it came to his insisting that, if I decided to
afford him that help, I must do so with no mental reservations, that was
altogether a different affair.  He was compelling me to do something to
which I very strongly objected, leaving me no choice between that and
death; and since he had no scruples about employing all the power he
possessed to thus constrain me, I felt that I, too, must throw my
scruples overboard in my endeavour to defeat him.  He had the power to
compel me to help him; and, that being the case, it seemed to me that it
would be sound policy on my part to afford that help with as good a
grace as I could muster; but, so far as "mental reservations" were
concerned, I resolved that if I could find means to make known what had
happened to the _Mercury_, and thus bring a British man-o'-war out to
rescue the ship and cargo from the scoundrel who was so determinedly
bent upon stealing them to carry out his own mad, visionary scheme, I
would do so, and risk the consequences.



CHAPTER FIVE.

A CONDITIONAL SURRENDER.

I had just definitely arrived at the above conclusion when the boatswain
joined me.

"I see Mr Wilde have been havin' another yarn with ye, Mr Troubridge,"
he remarked, as he seated himself at my side.

"Yes," I answered shortly.

"And is there any chance of his bein' able to persuade ye to give us the
help we wants?" he enquired in conciliatory tones.

"There might be, perhaps, if all hands of you were willing to agree to
my terms," I answered, stubbornly determined to drive the best bargain
possible.

"Ah!" he exclaimed with an air of satisfaction; "that sounds better;
yes, a good deal better, it do.  You say what them terms of yours be,
Mr Troubridge, and I dare say I could very soon give ye a hidea whether
we'd be willin' to agree to 'em.  You won't find us noways unreasonable,
sir, I promise ye, because we wants your help badly, and there's no use
in pretendin' that we don't.  You've proved yourself to be a hefficient
navigator, and me and Chips has quite made up our minds that we might go
farther and fare a precious sight worse in the way of findin' somebody
to take your place.  Besides, we don't want no murder if we can anyways
help it, and I know that all hands in the fo'c's'le'd be willin' to
agree to a'most anything in reason to dodge that sort of thing."

"Do you really mean that, Polson?"  I demanded.  "Because, if so, it is
a very great pity that you did not frankly say so when this matter was
first broached.  Besides, although you sailors may be inclined to listen
to reason, you must remember that you cannot answer for Wilde and the
rest of the emigrants--"

"Oh, but I think we can, Mr Troubridge!" interrupted the boatswain.
"Ye see, sir, it's this way," he continued.  "We sailormen are the
masters of the sittyation, as the sayin' is.  Wilde and his lot can't do
nothin' without our help; they can't navigate the ship, and they can't
handle her; there ain't one of 'em knows enough to be able so much as
clew up a r'yal, or take in the flyin' jib; so if they wants to carry
out their plan, they'll have to agree to the same as what we does, d'ye
see?  And we're willin' to agree to anything reasonable as you may want
to propose."

This sudden complaisance on the part of the boatswain put a very
different complexion upon the whole affair, and was infinitely better
than I had dared to hope.  With the entire crew at my back I ought to
have no difficulty in keeping Wilde and his lot in their proper places;
and--well, the sea has many surprises for those who follow it, and who
could know what might happen?  But it was no part of my policy to betray
to this man the extreme satisfaction which his words had given me, and
thus, perhaps, subtly suggest to him the idea that he had displayed more
flexibility than was actually necessary to secure my co-operation.  I
therefore said:

"Well, whichever way the affair goes, I am at least glad to hear you say
that the ship's crew are willing to agree to any reasonable proposition
that I may make; but that still remains to be seen.  You and I may
differ in our ideas as to what is reasonable, you know."

"Ay, of course we may; but I don't think it's at all likely as we shall,
sir," answered the boatswain.  "You state your conditions, Mr
Troubridge, and I'll soon tell ye whether they seems reasonable or not."

"Very well," said I, "I will.  If I understand the ins and outs of this
affair, Wilde has persuaded all hands aboard this ship, seamen and
emigrants alike, to seek out some suitable island, whereon you can try
the experiment of living the ideal life of the Socialist.  You are, one
and all, absolutely determined to give this fantastic experiment a
trial; and you desire me to help you to the extent of finding the island
for you.  Is that it?"

"That's it, sir; yes, that's it; you've got it hit off to a
happigraphy," agreed the boatswain.

"Then listen to the conditions upon which I am willing to do what you
require of me," said I.  "The sort of island that you people desire is
only to be found--if found at all--in an ocean that is at present
comparatively unknown, and is full of dangers in the shape of rocks,
shoals, and islands, the position of which is doubtful, as shown by the
charts, while there are doubtless many others that have never yet been
sighted, and which a ship, bound upon such an errand as ours, is liable
to blunder up against at any hour of the day or night.  To navigate
successfully a ship among such dangers as these it is imperative that
there should be one person--and one only--as the supreme head, to whom
all the rest shall render the most implicit, unquestioning obedience;
and I demand to be that one, with you and the carpenter as first and
second mates.  I must command the ship, and nobody must presume to
interfere with or dictate to me in any way.  Secondly, the crew must
undertake to observe and maintain strict discipline, both among
themselves and also among the emigrants if need be.  And, thirdly, I
decline--nay, I absolutely refuse--to acknowledge Wilde's authority.  He
may be your king, or president, or whatever he chooses to call himself,
as soon as your island is found and all hands are ashore; but until
then--so far, at least, as I am concerned--he is only a passenger.  Now,
those are the terms upon which I am willing to undertake the service you
require of me; and you may take them or leave them, just as you please."

"They seems reasonable enough, I won't deny it," admitted Polson, "and I
dare say as everybody'll be willin' enough to agree to 'em, all except
Wilde, I mean.  I know he won't like the hidea of not bein' allowed to
hinterfere until we arrives at the hiland.  Can't ye make that there
part a trifle easier, Mr Troubridge?"

"No," said I resolutely, "on no account whatever; on the contrary, that
is the proviso upon which I shall insist most strongly.  Wilde may be an
excellent schoolmaster, for aught I know to the contrary, but he is
neither a seaman nor a navigator; and I will never consent to his being
allowed to interfere, either directly or indirectly, with matters of
which he possesses no knowledge.  You cannot have two captains to one
ship, you know.  If he is to be captain you will have no need of me; but
if I am to be captain I will not allow anyone--and least of all a
landsman--to interfere with me."

"Ay, ay, Mr Troubridge, yes, I can see now as you are quite right,"
agreed the boatswain.  "It wouldn't never do to have him hinterferin'
and givin' horders about things he don't understand.  If he was allowed
to do it there's others as would soon want to do the same, and then we
should soon all be in a pretty mess.  D'ye mind writin' them conditions
of yours down upon a sheet of paper, so as I can read 'em out to all
hands, sir?  And if they agree to 'em I'll get 'em to sign the paper and
then I'll hand it back to you."

"Very well," said I; "that arrangement will do excellently.  And, see
here, Polson, if all you seamen are willing to sign, I don't care a
brass button whether the emigrants do or not.  If you men for'ard are
all agreed that those conditions of mine are just and reasonable, we
need not trouble ourselves as to what the emigrants think of them,
because, you know, they can't take the ship from us, however
dissatisfied they may be."

"No, no, in course they can't, Mr Troubridge," agreed the boatswain,
grinning appreciatively, as though the helplessness of the emigrants was
a fact that had not hitherto occurred to him.

We had now thrashed the matter out, and I had succeeded in bringing
Polson into a far more pliant frame of mind than I had ever dared to
hope for.  I therefore determined to clinch the matter at once, by
putting my demands into black-and-white, and securing the signatures of
the crew to them before the boatswain, who was evidently a man of
influence among them, should find time to alter his view of the affair.
I consequently sprang to my feet and, bidding my companion await my
return, descended to my own cabin, and, carefully wording the document,
drew up a form of agreement between myself on the one part and the crew
and passengers of the _Mercury_ on the other.  Then, returning with it
to the poop, I placed the paper in Polson's hand, after reading it over
to him, and requested him to obtain first the signatures of the crew to
it, beginning with himself and the carpenter, and then those of the
emigrants; afterwards returning the document to me.  It cost him nearly
three hours strenuous work to secure the signatures of the entire crew
and the emigrants to the agreement; for in the first place he found the
occupants of the forecastle, one and all, very unwilling--as is the case
with most illiterate people--to pledge themselves by attaching their
signatures or marks to my memorandum, although it was read over and
explained to them at least half a dozen times, so that they thoroughly
understood the nature of it, and verbally expressed themselves as fully
approving of each of the conditions.

At length, however, by dint of much persuasion the boatswain secured the
signature or mark of every occupant of the forecastle, after which he
entered the 'tween-decks and, summoning the whole of the emigrants to
meet him, fully explained the situation to them, read over the
agreement, and then, laying the document upon the table, demanded their
signatures to it.  But here, again, he encountered a quite unexpected
amount of opposition, Wilde stepping forward and not only refusing to
attach his own signature to the paper, but also forbidding any of the
other emigrants to do so.  Polson argued, pleaded, and cajoled, but all
in vain.  Nothing that he could say appeared to have the slightest
effect upon his audience, although several declared their perfect
readiness to sign if their leader would but accord his permission.  It
was not until at length, with his patience completely exhausted, he
suddenly determined upon the adoption of what, to him, seemed a
thoroughly desperate expedient, that he achieved even a partial success.
Dashing the paper down with vehemence upon the table, he exclaimed
wrathfully:

"Now, listen to me, the lot of ye.  Chips and me and all hands in the
fo'c's'le has signed this here doccyment because, havin' thought it all
over, we're agreed that Mr Troubridge is quite right in demandin' what
he do.  Mr Wilde there objects to it because he ain't allowed to
interfere with and dictate to Mr Troubridge, and none of you won't sign
because Mr Wilde won't let ye.  Now, I'll give ye all ten minutes
longer to make up your minds, and if you haven't signed by that time we
sailormen won't have no more truck with ye, but'll go to Mr Troubridge
and tell 'im he can take the ship to Sydney, where she's bound to."

This announcement, coming quite unexpectedly, fell like a bombshell
among Polson's audience, who had dwelt upon the idea of life in an
island where perpetual summer reigns, and where Nature offers many of
her choicest gifts almost unsolicited, until it had taken such complete
possession of them that it had come to represent to them the one
desirable thing in the whole world, to lose which would be to lose
everything.  In a perfect passion of consternation they turned upon
Wilde and not only claimed their right to sign, but also insisted that
he should conform to Polson's demand and be the first among them to
affix his signature.  Subjected to such pressure as this there was of
course but one thing for him to do; and he did it; but the next moment
he dashed up on deck, sprang up the poop ladder, and, approaching me,
shook his clenched fist in my face as he exclaimed, almost foaming at
the mouth:

"You young scoundrel!  I have signed that precious document of yours
because that fool Polson left me no option.  But wait until we arrive at
the island and my power begins, and then I'll make you--"

"Hold your tongue, sir, and go down off this poop!"  I exclaimed,
springing to my feet in a rage, for the fellow at the helm was grinning
broadly at the scene.  "And if you dare to come up here again without
being sent for I'll kick you down on to the main deck, and then have you
put in irons.  Ay, and I'll do so now if you dare to answer me.  Be off
with you now, quick!"

I never in all my life saw a man so completely taken aback as was this
crazy schoolmaster when I tackled him.  Amazement, incredulity, wounded
vanity, indignation, and bodily fear seemed all to be struggling
together to assert themselves in his countenance and to find articulate
expression upon his tongue; but fear was the strongest of them all--the
fear that he might be actually subjected to the unspeakable indignity of
personal violence.  And when, as I uttered the final words, I advanced a
step toward him, as though about to carry out my threat, he suddenly
turned tail and slunk off like a whipped cur.

Some time later, when Polson, having at length accomplished his mission,
brought me the signed agreement--which of course I knew was, as a
binding document, not worth the paper upon which it was written,
although I still hoped that it might be to some extent effective--I
related to him the little incident that had occurred between Wilde and
myself; at which he expressed some concern, although he fully agreed
with me that the schoolmaster--at all events while aboard ship and at
sea--must be held as amenable to discipline as anyone else, and that it
would never do to give him the least bit more liberty than we were
prepared to accord to every one of the other emigrants.  Having secured
which admission from the boatswain, I sent there and then for the
steward and ordered him at once to bundle Wilde's belongings out of the
cabin back to the 'tween-decks.

During the second dogwatch, that same evening, Wilde sought out the
boatswain and carpenter, and complained to them of what he termed my
tyrannical conduct, which, he represented to his two listeners, was of
so grossly humiliating a character that it was calculated very seriously
to detract from his influence with his followers.  So serious a
grievance did he make of it that at length Polson and Tudsbery
approached me with something in the nature of a remonstrance,
accompanied by a mildly offered suggestion that I should concede
something to enable Wilde to preserve his dignity.  Probably I should
have been wiser to have accepted and acted upon this suggestion; but I
had got the idea into my head that the matter had resolved itself into a
struggle for supremacy between Wilde and myself, and I obstinately
refused to yield a hairbreadth, thereby exciting the permanent hostility
not only of Wilde himself, but also--as I afterward found--of several of
his followers.  The boatswain and carpenter were at first disposed to
regard me as unnecessarily firm, but this feeling soon yielded to one of
quiet gratification that they had, as leader, one who, young as he was,
would not submit to dictation from anybody.  And I feel convinced that
whatever I may have lost in popularity I more than regained in the shape
of power and authority, thereby averting--as I soon had reason to
believe--many a serious dispute and quarrel between the widely
conflicting elements that were confined so closely together in the ship.

The terms upon which I was to command the _Mercury_ having at length
been arranged upon as satisfactory a basis as I could reasonably expect,
I now found time to give consideration to my plans for the future.  As
my hope that the wild scheme of the conspirators might be frustrated,
and the ship and her cargo restored to their lawful owners, rested
almost entirely upon the possibility that we might fall in with a
British man-o'-war, the first question to which I devoted my attention
was that of the route which I should choose by which to reach the
Pacific.  There were two alternative routes open to me; one--and that,
perhaps, rather the safer of the two from the navigator's point of
view--to the south and east of Australia, then northward between the
Solomon and Admiralty groups to the waters wherein our search for a sort
of earthly Paradise was to be prosecuted; and the rather shorter but
more dangerous route up the western coast of Australia, then through the
Ombay Passage into the Banda Sea, and thence, through the Boeroe Strait,
into the Molucca or the Gillolo Passage, the successful negotiation of
either of which would bring us to the spot where our search was to
commence.  If the question of ease and safety of navigation had alone
been concerned, I should have unhesitatingly chosen the former; but when
I came to weigh the comparative chances of falling in with a British
man-o'-war, it did not take me long to make up my mind that the closer I
could hug the Philippines, and the longer I could remain in their
neighbourhood, the more likely should I be to encounter something
belonging to the China station, and I accordingly settled upon the
second alternative.  This choice had the further advantage that, being
the shorter of the two routes, it gratified all hands, none of whom was
intelligent enough to understand and appreciate the question of the
comparative dangers of the two routes, or to consider that, by adopting
the one which met with their approval, the risk of encountering a man-
o'-war--and thus having all their plans knocked on the head--was very
greatly increased.  Naturally, I did not enlighten them.

It was the season of the north-east monsoon in the Indian Ocean, and a
careful study of the chart and directory made it clear to me that the
proper course to pursue was to run down our easting until 100 degrees
east longitude should be reached, and then, still availing ourselves to
the utmost of such westerly wind as might be met with, haul gradually up
to the northward in the West Australian current, which has a northerly
set.  Accordingly, I kept the ship's bowsprit pointing steadily to the
eastward, despite the violent remonstrances which Wilde addressed to the
boatswain and the carpenter--he had never spoken to me since I had
ordered him off the poop and turned him out of the cabin.  For the first
few days I was rather afraid that I was going to have a little trouble
with these two men, for whenever Wilde complained to them that I was
unnecessarily prolonging the voyage by steering east instead of north-
east--which, according to his crude notions, I ought to have done--they
came to me, reiterating the man's complaints, and evincing so much
curiosity and suspicion that it was perfectly evident they did not trust
me.  But I quickly arrived at the conviction that, let my relations with
Wilde be what they might, it was absolutely necessary that I should
possess the full confidence of the boatswain and the carpenter--and,
through them, of the whole crew.  I therefore took considerable pains to
make them clearly understand my reasons for acting as I did, after which
I had no further trouble with them.

I very soon had reason to congratulate myself upon the adoption of this
policy; for while my relations with the crew daily grew more
satisfactory--so that had it not been for the ridiculous hopes of a life
of perfect liberty, equality, and immunity from hard work with which
Wilde had addled their brains, I might easily have won their consent to
take the ship to her legitimate destination--Wilde was devoting his
entire energies to the task of stirring up and fomenting a spirit of
lawlessness and insubordination among his fellow emigrants, chiefly--as
it seemed to me--with the object of causing me as much annoyance and
trouble as possible.

At length, however, matters came to such a pass that I perceived it
would be absolutely necessary for me to seize the first opportunity that
offered to assert myself and put an end to a state of affairs that was
fast becoming utterly unendurable; and that opportunity was not long in
coming.

It arose in this wise.  There was among the passengers a girl named
Grace Hartley, about twenty-three years of age, of considerable personal
attractions, well-educated, and of a very gentle and amiable
disposition.  She had been a governess in England, and had been engaged
by an agent to proceed to Australia to take a similar position in a
family out there; and it was, perhaps, the indifferent treatment which
she had received at the hands of her former employers that had caused
her tacitly to accept the alternative which Wilde's scheme offered her.
Be that as it may, she had apparently raised no protest when the scheme
was first mooted, nor subsequently.  What sort of life she was really
looking forward to upon the island for which we were about to search I
do not believe that even she herself could have explained.  Probably her
philosophy might have been expressed in the phrase: "Sufficient unto the
day is the evil thereof".  She soon discovered, however, that the future
would not permit itself to be shelved in this offhand fashion; there
were certain problems that persisted in thrusting themselves upon her
notice with increasing frequency, and one of them was--marriage!  The
idea of creating a Utopia necessarily included that of establishing the
home life and domestic happiness.  There were two men in particular who
forced her to give some thought to this detail, one of whom was Wilde,
and the other an able seaman named Gurney--the latter quite as
remarkable a man in his way as was Wilde in his, though the ways of the
two men were totally dissimilar; for Gurney, while wonderfully popular
with his mates in the forecastle, was so entirely different from them in
every respect that they admiringly nicknamed him "The Swell", which will
perhaps enable the reader to make a mental sketch of him.  He and Wilde
had both made formal proposals of marriage to Miss Hartley--the ceremony
to be performed as speedily as might be after our arrival at Utopia; but
she had thus far accepted neither, although, as might be expected, of
the two men she was rather disposed to favour Gurney.  Wilde, however,
was not at all the sort of man to accept a rebuff tamely, indeed his
vanity was so stupendous that he could not understand another being
preferred before himself.  He consequently plagued the poor girl so
persistently that at length, in desperation, she came aft to me, laying
all the circumstances before me, and begging my protection.  I answered
by directing her to remove herself, bag and baggage, to the after cabin,
assigning to her one of the spare staterooms therein, and permitting her
to take her meals at the cabin table.  Whereby I greatly strengthened
Wilde's enmity toward me, but at the same time secured two devoted
adherents, namely, the girl and Gurney; and a time came--as I sometimes
suspected it would--when I was more than glad to have them on my side,
instead of against me.



CHAPTER SIX.

THE DERELICT DUTCH BARQUE.

Nothing further of any importance occurred until, having worked our way
slowly up past the west and north-west coast of Australia, we found
ourselves to the northward of the Ombay Passage, the entrance of which--
or, rather, Savou Island, which may be said to lie in the fairway of the
southern entrance--I hit off to a hair, much to my own secret
gratification and the admiration of the boatswain and carpenter.  Then
one night, toward the end of the middle watch, the wind having fallen
very light, the carpenter, whose watch it happened to be, came down
below in a great state of perturbation to inform me that, although
nothing could be seen, all hands had been terribly alarmed by the sound
of a bell tolling at no great distance.

My first thought upon hearing this news was of a bell buoy marking the
position of some dangerous rock or shoal toward which we might be
drifting; but I quickly dismissed that idea, for bell buoys were much
less numerous in those days than they are now.  Moreover there was no
mention of any such thing on the chart or in the directory.  I therefore
came to the conclusion that there must be some other cause for the
sounds, and, without waiting to don any of my day clothing, went on deck
to investigate.

Upon stepping out on deck the reason why nothing could be seen at once
became apparent, for the night was as dark as a wolf's mouth--so dark
indeed, that, even after I had been up on the poop long enough for my
eyes to become accustomed to the darkness, nothing was visible save the
feeble light of the low-turned cabin lamps shining through the skylight,
the faint glow of the binnacle lamps upon the helmsman's face and hands
and the upper part of the wheel, and the ghostly image of some twelve
feet of the mainmast, part of the fife rail round it, and such portions
of the running gear as were belayed to the pins therein, all glimmering
uncertainly in as much of the cabin light as made its way out on deck,
through the door by which I had emerged.  Beyond these patches of dim
illumination, and the coming and going of a spark on the forecastle,
where one of the watch sucked meditatively at his pipe, all was opaque
darkness, unrelieved by even the occasional glimpse of so much as a
solitary star.

The night was as quiet as it was dark, for the wind, light all through
the preceding twenty hours, had at length fallen away to nothing, and
the ship was motionless, save for the slight heave of the swell which,
stealing along through the blackness, would occasionally take her under
the counter and give her a gentle lift that would cause all her spars to
creak and her canvas to rustle with a pattering of reef-points, a jerk
and rattle of hemp and chain sheets, and a faint click of cabin doors
upon their hooks, the whole accompanied, perhaps, with a discordant bang
of the wheel chains to the kick of the rudder as the black water swirled
and gurgled round it.  In the midst of it all there would come the
clear, metallic clang of a bell--a single stroke, as though someone away
out there in the offing were tolling for a funeral.  It was a ship's
bell that was being struck, there could be no doubt about that; but why
was it being tolled?  That was the question that puzzled me, and, as I
could clearly see, had excited the superstitious alarm of the carpenter
and the hands forward.  The sound was so clear and distinct that I felt
convinced it must emanate from a craft at no very great distance, and
Chips and I accordingly united our voices in a stentorian hail of "Ship
ahoy!" repeating it at least half a dozen times.  But no reply came to
us out of the darkness, save the occasional "ting" of the bell; nor was
any light shown to indicate the whereabouts of our mysterious neighbour.
This being the case, and feeling satisfied that the stranger could do
us no harm so long as she came no closer to us than she was, I
instructed Chips to report the matter to the boatswain when the latter
came on deck at eight bells, requesting him to keep a sharp lookout
during the remaining hours of darkness, and to call me at daylight, and
then went back to my cabin and turned in again.

I had scarcely closed my eyes, as it seemed to me, when I was awakened
by Polson, who was shaking me by the shoulder as he reported:

"It's just gone four bells, Mr Troubridge, and there's daylight enough
abroad to show us that the ringin' that have been worryin' us comes from
a barque 'bout half a mile to the east'ard of us.  Her mizenmast is over
the side, and she looks as if she might have been afire; but I don't see
nobody aboard of her except the chap what's hangin' over the poop rail,
and it's him that seems to be tollin' the bell."

"All right, boatswain," I replied, "I'll be on deck directly, and take
my bath as usual under the head-pump, after which we will have a good
look at our neighbour."

Springing out of my bunk, I passed through the main cabin out on deck,
and so forward into the eyes of the ship, where one of the watch, having
rigged the head-pump in readiness for washing decks, sluiced me for a
couple of minutes with clear, cool, sparkling salt water.  The
refreshment from this exhilarating shower bath, after a night spent in a
close sleeping-cabin, was indescribable; and having given myself a good
towelling I returned aft to my cabin to dress for the day, taking a
cursory glance at the strange barque as I went.  As the boatswain had
said, she was about half a mile distant from us, and her mizenmast was
over the side, still fast to the hull by the rigging, which had not been
cut away.

Half an hour later, having given the scrubbers time to get off the poop,
I once more hied me on deck, this time taking the ship's telescope with
me; and now, seating myself upon a convenient hencoop, I proceeded to
acquire as much knowledge of the stranger as was to be obtained with the
aid of a reasonably good set of lenses.  I saw that the vessel was a
craft of probably a trifle over three hundred tons, her hull painted
green, from her rail down to her zinc sheathing.  She was lying in such
a position that the _Mercury_ was broad on her port bow, and my first
glimpse of her showed that she carried a name upon her head-boards,
which name, after a while, I made out to be _Braave_.  She was,
therefore, doubtless Dutch.  For a little while after that I was unable
to make out anything further about her, for she lay right in the wake of
the newly risen sun, the dazzle of which obliterated all detail; but
after the lapse of about a quarter of an hour the sun crept a trifle
away to the south of her, while some slight movement on the part of both
vessels helped me.  Then, although her port side was still in shadow, a
dark stain on the green paint beneath one of her scuppers attracted my
attention, and set me wondering what it could possibly be; for there was
a sinister suggestiveness about its appearance that I did not want to
accept.

I could still see nobody about her decks, although the time was now long
past when her crew ought to have been stirring, nor was there the
faintest film of smoke issuing from her galley chimney.  Yet it seemed
that she could scarcely be abandoned, for she carried two boats at her
davits, one on each quarter, while there were two more, bottom-up, on
the gallows abaft the mainmast, and, unless I was greatly mistaken, I
could make out the longboat stowed on top of the main hatch, with the
jollyboat in her.  But I could not be certain of this, for the vessel's
decks seemed to be lumbered up most unaccountably just in that part of
her.  As I was looking at her, she canted a bit, bringing her poop into
clearer view, and then I was able to see that, as the boatswain had
said, there appeared to be a solitary figure up there hanging over the
rail in a most extraordinary posture close alongside the ship's bell,
which still most persistently tolled a single stroke at irregular
intervals.  Once, when the craft rolled toward us, I thought I caught a
glimpse of what might possibly be a hole in her poop deck, just where
the mizenmast had once been stepped.  But these imperfect glimpses,
which were all that I was just then able to get, were so full of
suggestion that, as soon as the watch had finished washing the decks,
the weather still being fine, with no sign of wind, I had the smallest
of our quarter boats lowered, and, jumping into her with a couple of
hands, pushed off for the stranger, determined to pay her a visit, and
thus either confirm or banish certain suspicions that were beginning to
arise within my mind.

Ten minutes sufficed us to cover the stretch of oil-smooth sea that lay
between the _Mercury_ and the _Braave_, when, passing beneath the stern
of the latter in order to reach her starboard side, I again read her
name, carved in four-inch letters upon her counter, with the word
"Amsterdam", her port of registry.  Then, as we cleared her stern and
ranged up alongside her starboard main chains, with her green side
staring at us in the full blaze of the tropical sunlight, my eye was
again caught by a dark, rusty-looking stain beneath one of her scuppers,
similar to what I had already observed through the _Mercury's_
telescope.  I recognised it for what it was, and what I had all along
suspected, but had refused to acknowledge it to be--blood, dried blood,
that had been shed so freely that it had poured out through the scupper-
holes!  The man who was pulling stroke, standing up in the boat and
facing forward, fisherman-fashion, caught sight of the sinister stain
almost as soon as I did, and exclaimed, as he laid in his oar with a
clatter on the thwart:

"Jerusher! see that, sir?  See that, Tom?  Smother me if it ain't blood!
Now, what's been happenin' aboard this here ghastly hooker?"

"I am afraid I can make a pretty shrewd guess," I answered; "but let us
wait until we can get a glimpse of what is to be seen between her
bulwarks.  Make fast your painter round one of her deadeyes, and then
follow me aboard."

So saying, I sprang into her main chains, and from thence made my way
inboard.  The moment that my head rose above her rail a horrible odour,
of which my nostrils had already caught a faint hint, smote me almost as
something solid, and, looking down upon the main deck, the waist of her
seemed to be full of dead bodies, their clothing smeared and splashed
with blood, while that part of the deck whereon they lay was deeply dyed
and crusted with the same deep, rusty stain.  As I gazed, petrified with
horror, the bell upon the poop once more clanged loudly; and, glancing
upward, I saw that the figure which I had already observed lolling in so
odd an attitude over the poop rail was that of a dead man, grasping in
his right hand the short length of rope attached to the clapper of the
bell.  His attitude was such that, as the ship swung upon the swell, his
body moved just sufficiently to cause the clapper to strike a single
stroke.

For the first few seconds after I had found myself standing upon the
ensanguined deck planks of that floating charnel house I had no eyes for
anything, save the spectacle of her slaughtered crew, lying there at my
feet in every conceivable attitude indicative of the unspeakable agony
and terror that had distracted their last conscious moments.  Then, as
the two seamen who had accompanied me from the _Mercury_ swung
themselves in over the rail and came to my side, muttering ejaculations
of horror and dismay at the ghastly spectacle that met their gaze, I
pulled myself together with a wrench, and, mounting to the poop, began
to take in the general details of the scene.

Standing, as I now was, at the head of the starboard poop ladder, I
commanded a complete view of the vessel's deck from stem to stern, and
saw that my original estimate of her size was rather under than above
the mark, her dimensions being those of a vessel of fully three hundred
and fifty tons.  From certain details of her build and equipment I set
her down as being at least fifty years old; but she was still apparently
quite sound as to hull, spars, and rigging, and had been evidently well
taken care of.  She mounted eight twelve-pounders upon her main deck,
four in each battery, but they were all secured, and I could see nothing
to suggest that she had recently fought an action with another ship.  On
the contrary, all the evidence was in favour of the assumption that her
people had been taken completely by surprise--most probably during the
night; that she had been boarded by pirates, Malays or Chinese, all
hands ruthlessly massacred, and the ship then plundered and set on fire.
These last assumptions were based upon the facts that her longboat--
which from the deck of the _Mercury_ had appeared to be stowed over the
main hatch--had been shifted over to the port side of the deck, the
hatches removed, and a quantity of her cargo broken out and hoisted up
on deck, where it now lay, a confused jumble of merchandise and of torn
bales and shattered packages, piled high on the starboard side of the
hatchway.  A yawning, fire-blackened cavity in the poop, where the
mizenmast had stood, showed that she had been on fire in the cabin; but
that the fire had somehow become extinguished before it had had time to
get a firm hold upon the hull.  The condition of the bodies of the
murdered crew seemed to indicate that the tragedy must have occurred
some time within the preceding forty-eight hours.  Apparently she had
been under all plain sail when the thing happened.

Descending again to the main deck, and calling upon the two seamen from
the _Mercury_ to follow me, I next entered the poop cabin, which I found
to be arranged after the manner that was very usual at that time.
Access to the main cabin was gained by a narrow passage some nine feet
in length, on the port side of which, and next the ship's side, was a
stateroom which was easily identifiable as that belonging to the chief
mate, while on the starboard side of the passage was the steward's
pantry.  At the inner end of the passage was a doorway, the door being
open and hooked back against the bulkhead; and passing through this
doorway one found oneself in the main cabin, an apartment some thirty
feet long, with three staterooms on each side of it.  Abaft that again
was the sail-room, well-stocked with bolts of canvas of varying degrees
of coarseness and several sails, many of which seemed to be quite new,
neatly rolled up into long bundles, stopped with spunyarn, and each
labelled legibly with the description of the sail.  Forward of the main
cabin, on the starboard side, and separated by a stout bulkhead from the
steward's pantry, was the captain's cabin, a fine, roomy, comfortable
apartment, neatly and conveniently fitted up with a standing bed-place,
having a capacious chest of drawers beneath it, a washstand at the foot
of the berth, and a small flap table against the fore-and-aft bulkhead,
at which the skipper could sit to write up his log or make his daily
astronomical calculations.  There were two entrances to this stateroom,
one from the main cabin, and one directly from the main deck; and in the
fore bulkhead there was a window through which, while still lying in his
bunk, the skipper could see everything that was happening out on deck.

These observations occupied me nearly half an hour; but the moment that
I entered the main cabin my nostrils were assailed by the smell of
recently extinguished fire, and upon looking about me I finally came to
the conclusion that the fire had not been intentional but the result of
accident.  The miscreants who had boarded the vessel had apparently been
all over her in search of anything that might be worth carrying away,
and, among other places, they had explored the lazarette, which lay
beneath the cabin, a small hatchway just abaft the mizenmast giving
access to it.  This hatchway we found open, and the general appearance
of the cabin seemed to indicate that the depredators had roused up a
number of barrels and cases, and broken them open for the purpose of
ascertaining what they contained.  I conjectured that among the articles
broached must have been a cask of spirits, which had been accidentally
set on fire.  The fire had burnt away a portion of the cabin deck,
partially destroyed the cabin table, severely scorched and charred the
paintwork generally, and had evidently burnt the lower part of the
mizenmast, and the deck in which it was stepped, so completely away that
the mast had gone over the side to the roll of the ship.  Why it had not
spread farther and entirely destroyed the ship I could not imagine.  The
plunderers had practically cleared the lazarette of its contents; the
chronometer, the ship's papers, and the captain's charts and sextant
were missing; but upon investigating the state of affairs out on deck it
did not appear that they had taken very much, if any, of the ship's
cargo.  But we could not find any weapons or ammunition of any kind; if,
therefore, the ship had carried anything of the sort the pirates had
cleared the whole of it out of her.  After giving the craft a pretty
thorough overhaul fore and aft, and making a number of notes of my most
important discoveries, I eventually came to the conclusion that the
vessel had been surprised and laid aboard during the night; that her
crew had been mustered and secured, most likely with a guard over them;
and that, after the pirates had taken all that they cared for out of the
ship, they had brutally murdered all hands.

It now became a nice question with me what--if anything--I ought to do
with this blood-stained derelict.  Although she had lost her mizenmast,
there was nothing to prevent her being navigated to a port; and had the
circumstances been different, I should have called for volunteers and
made an effort to induce a crew to undertake the navigation of her to,
say, Batavia, with the idea of claiming salvage.  But I had come to know
by this time that no eloquence of mine, even though it were backed up by
the prospect of a handsome sum of salvage money, would be powerful
enough to wean the crew of the _Mercury_ from their cherished idea of a
life of ease and independence upon some fair tropic island, to say
nothing of their fear of what would follow upon the discovery of their
unlawful appropriation of the ship and cargo to their own use and
service.  I therefore very quickly, yet none the less unwillingly,
abandoned that idea, and proceeded to consider the merits of the only
alternatives left me, namely, those of destroying her, and of leaving
her just as we had found her--excepting, of course, that in the latter
case sentiment demanded the decent and reverential burial of her
murdered crew.  Considering the latter alternative first, if we left her
drifting about the ocean, what was likely to happen?  On the one hand
she might be fallen in with by another ship and taken into a port; but
on the other hand it was equally likely that she might become a death-
trap to some other craft, athwart whose hawse she might drift on some
black and stormy night, and whose bows would be stove in and destroyed
by violent collision with her; or she might be swamped and founder in
the next gale that she encountered.  Taking all things into
consideration, I at length came to the conclusion that the best thing to
be done was to scuttle her, and so render it impossible for her to
become a menace to other craft.  Accordingly, summoning my two men, who
were below exploring the forecastle and fore peak, I jumped into the gig
and pulled back aboard the _Mercury_, where I arrived just as the
steward was bringing the cabin breakfast aft.

As we sat at table, partaking of the meal, I related to Polson and
Tudsbery all that I had seen and done aboard the Dutchman, and informed
them of the decision at which I had arrived with regard to her,
directing the carpenter to take a boat's crew and his auger immediately
after breakfast, go on board, and scuttle her by boring several holes
through her bottom below the water line.  Both men fully agreed with me
that this was the right and proper thing to do; and at the conclusion of
the meal Chips set about the making of his preparations.  Somewhat to my
surprise, however, when, a little later, he came aft with his tools, he
was followed by four men, instead of the modest two with which I had
contented myself, who preceded him down the side into the boat.  When he
reached the _Braave_, instead of being absent ten minutes, or a quarter
of an hour at the utmost, which would have afforded him ample time to do
all that was necessary, the whole five of them vanished from sight, and
were not again seen until, after the lapse of a full hour or more, they
once more showed themselves on the deck of the derelict, passing a
quantity of things down her side into the boat.  Finally, about half an
hour later still, they returned to the _Mercury_, considerably the worse
for drink, and with the boat loaded down to her gunwale with bolts of
canvas, new sails, and other oddments that they had appropriated.  Of
course there was no actual harm in their bringing these things away from
the Dutchman, because, had they left them on board, they must have gone
to the bottom with her and thus have been wasted; but I felt that Chips
might as well have paid me the compliment of first mentioning his
intentions to me.  I was even more annoyed that the carpenter, occupying
as he did a position of authority--of however shadowy a character--had
not only permitted the men to partake pretty freely of the drink which
they had found, but had evidently not scrupled to partake of it with
them.  I came to the conclusion, however, that my remonstrance would be
likely to be a good deal more effective if addressed to him later on,
instead of at the moment when he was under the influence of the liquor.
Therefore I said nothing to him beyond briefly enquiring how many holes
he had bored in the ship, and where, and suggesting to him the
advisability of retiring to his bunk to sleep for an hour or two, which
advice he seemed more than half-inclined to resent, but ultimately
followed, in a somewhat belligerent mood.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

EMBAYED.

It soon became perfectly evident that, muddled with drink though he
undoubtedly was, Chips had very effectively executed his work of
destruction aboard the _Braave_, for in half an hour she had sunk to the
extent of very nearly three strakes of her planking, and within the hour
she had brought her chain-plate bolts flush with the water, at which
rate another three hours should suffice to see the last of her.  Before
that moment arrived, however, a little air of wind came along out from
the westward, and, with our port braces slightly checked, we began to
creep away on a nor'-nor'-east course for Boeroe Strait.  But our
progress was so slow that at noon the derelict was still hull-up to the
southward, sunk to the level of her covering-board; and when, after
dinner, I returned to the poop and took the glass to search for her, she
was nowhere to be seen, although, had she still been afloat, her spars
and canvas at least should have been visible above the horizon.

Although the _Braave_ had vanished, she had left behind her a small
legacy of annoyance for me; for while I was still searching the horizon
for some sign of her continued existence I became aware of certain
raucous sounds issuing from the forecastle, which I was quickly able to
identify as the maudlin singing which seamen are so prone to indulge in
when they are the worse for liquor.  Presently Polson, who had gone
forward to turn-to the watch after dinner, came aft with an expression
of vexation upon his weather-beaten countenance, and explained that the
carpenter's boat's crew, having smuggled aboard several bottles of
Schiedam from the scuttled vessel, all hands forward had become just
sufficiently fuddled to render them indifferent to such authority as,
under the peculiar circumstances of the case, we were still able to
exercise over them, and had flatly refused to come on deck, declaring,
with much abuse of the boatswain, that they did not intend to do any
more work until they had finished the drink which still remained.

"How much have they, Polson?"  I asked.

"I dunno, sir," he answered.  "I tried to find out, but the scowbanks
wouldn't tell me.  I fancies, however, that they haven't got so very
much, for I don't see how four men--or even five, if you chooses to
reckon Chips in with 'em--could ha' brought more'n about a dozen bottles
aboard among 'em without our findin' out somethin' about it; and a dozen
bottles won't go so very far among all hands.  I reckon that they'll
finish the lot in the course of the next hour or so, and then they'll
all turn in and have a good sleep, and be ready to come on deck in time
for the first watch.  Luckily there ain't no more wind than what we
knows what to do with, and not much sign of it freshenin', so far as I
can see; so p'rhaps there won't be such a very terrible lot o' harm done
a'ter all."

"Possibly not," I agreed.  "But," I went on, seizing the opportunity to
point a moral, "that is merely a happy accident.  Had it been blowing
hard, and the weather threatening, it would probably not have made the
slightest difference in the conduct of those men.  You and Chips, by
listening to and falling in with the fantastic proposals of that madman
Wilde, have set the men a very bad example, the effect of which is bound
to recoil on your own heads sooner or later.  By taking part in the
seizure of this ship you have broken the law, which is the mainstay of
all authority, order, and discipline, and in doing so you have
encouraged those ignorant creatures for'ard to become lawless and
disobedient.  I have pointed all this out to you before, Polson, and now
you have an example--a very mild example, it is true--of what inevitably
happens under such circumstances."

"Yes; I sees what you mean, Mr Troubridge," answered the boatswain.
"But, Lor' bless yer, sir, I don't think nothin' at all of a little
spree like this here.  Discipline's a first-rate thing, I admit; but a
man can have too much of it, and it does him good to chuck it overboard
now and again.  Them chaps for'ard won't be none the worse for this here
little outbreak of theirs, you'll see.  We all enj'ys a bit o' liberty
occasionally, you know."

"Ay," answered I rather bitterly.  "The mischief of it is, Polson, that
when men in the position of those noisy rascals in the forecastle take
it upon themselves to determine when, and for how long a time, they
shall indulge in a spell of liberty, they are as likely as not to insist
upon having it at a moment when it spells disaster for other people.
Liberty is a grand thing, in theory, and within certain well-defined
limits; but when it becomes licence--as it is very apt to do--it is a
bad thing for all concerned."

"Well, sir, you may be right, or you may be wrong, I don't know, never
havin' had any eddication.  But Mr Wilde, he's an eddicated man, and
he's all for liberty and equality; and I don't mind sayin' as I prefers
his notions to yours."

"Very well," I said; "go your own way, Polson, since go you will.  But I
wouldn't mind betting the sailorman's favourite wager--a farthing's
worth of silver spoons--that before another year has passed over your
head you will alter your tune.  Take care that you do not defer the
alteration until it is too late and the mischief has become
irrevocable."

Now it happened that Wilde was, among a great many other things, a
stanch teetotaller; he was also an excessively nervous person.  When he,
with the rest of the emigrants, came on deck after dinner upon this
particular day, and heard the maudlin, drunken singing in the
forecastle, and furthermore recognised that the ship was, for the time
being at least, without a crew, he fell into a tremendous rage, and,
rushing forward, precipitated himself into the forecastle, where,
believing that the crew, drunk, would accord to him the same reverential
attention that they were wont to do when sober, he proceeded to reproach
and revile them in no measured terms for their lapse from virtue,
actually going to the length, before anybody could stop him, of smashing
half a dozen bottles of Schiedam that he caught sight of snugly stowed
away in a bunk.  So long as he confined himself to merely verbal
remonstrance and abuse the men listened to him with the vacuous, good-
humoured smile of intoxication, occasionally interrupting him with an
invitation to join them in their bacchanalian orgy; but when he took
what they deemed a base advantage of their good nature, by smashing the
bottles and wasting the liquor that one of the revellers had
incautiously revealed to him in support of the jovial invitation, their
good humour suddenly evaporated, and, staggering to their feet in
indignation, they would probably have done the man a serious injury had
they been capable of following him up on deck, whither he precipitately
fled.  Then, having learned, during his brief visit to the forecastle,
that the carpenter was the chief culprit, he rushed into the latter's
cabin, mercilessly aroused poor Chips from the profound sleep that was
gradually clearing his muddled brain, and tongue-lashed the bewildered
man until he must have scarcely known whether he was upon his head or
his heels.  Fortunately for the schoolmaster, Chips's indiscretion had
been a mild one indeed compared with those of the forecastle hands, and
he therefore accepted Wilde's rebukes with a tolerably good grace and in
silence; but Wilde was one of those enthusiasts who carry even their
virtues to excess, and his denunciations of Chips were of so virulent
and extravagant a character that they did more harm than good, and--as I
discovered later on--converted Tudsbery from a blindly faithful disciple
into a sullen, more than half-doubting, and reluctant follower.

The incident ended, as Polson had anticipated that it would, in all
hands coming on deck at the end of the first dogwatch, and clearing
their brains by plunging their heads into buckets of sea water, after
which the boatswain went forward and gave them all a mild and more than
half good-humoured dressing-down, at the same time telling them one or
two home truths in a tersely sarcastic strain that was far more
effective than Wilde's rabidly intolerant language, which lost its point
with those to whom it was addressed chiefly because of its violent
exaggeration, through which he contrived, in a few minutes, to lose a
measure of influence that it cost him months of strenuous endeavour to
regain only partially.  The fact is that this incident, comparatively
trifling and harmless in its character as it was, led some of the men to
question whether they had not thrown off the mild and easy restraints of
lawful discipline, only to subject themselves to the grinding tyranny of
a single individual of impulsive temper and overbearing disposition.

The sun went down that evening in a sky that glowed like molten copper
and was streaked with long tatters of smoky-looking cloud, which seemed
to presage both a windy and a dark night, to my great anxiety; for the
ship was now navigating a comparatively restricted area of landlocked
sea, the chart of which was dotted--much too thickly for my peace of
mind--with dangers of various descriptions, the names of many of which,
when they bore any names at all, were coupled with that sinister caution
("P.D.") warning the mariner that the position, as laid down upon the
chart, was doubtful, and that therefore an especially good lookout must
be maintained lest it should be blundered upon unawares.

These hints as to the necessity for exceptionally careful navigation
were supplemented by a further warning given in the directory to the
effect that not only were the positions of many of the dangers shown
upon the chart exceedingly doubtful, but also that the existence of
other dangers, not indicated at all upon the chart, was very strongly
suspected!  The exhaustive study which I had given to both the chart and
the directory had so very effectually impressed upon me the vital
necessity for the exercise of the most extreme caution henceforward
that, being yet very young, and quite new to the heavy load of
responsibility imposed upon me, I was perhaps more anxious than there
was any actual need for.  Under the pressure of this anxiety I went
below, again produced the chart, and very carefully laid down upon it
the course and distance, as indicated by the compass and log, which the
ship had travelled since noon.  I did this chiefly because I had already
ascertained that there lay in the ship's path two known dangers, the
positions of which were doubtful; and what I had just done resulted in
the discovery that, should the wind freshen sufficiently during the
night to increase the speed of the ship to more than six knots, we were
likely enough to approach within perilous proximity of those dangers
before daylight of the next morning.

Accordingly I mentioned this fact to both Polson and Tudsbery,
cautioning them to shorten sail in good time, and to call me should the
wind freshen, as it seemed likely to do, during the hours of darkness.
As a matter of fact, not only did the wind freshen during the first
watch, but it also hauled round over the port quarter, increasing our
speed so greatly that at length, when the watch was called at midnight,
I--having kept the deck in my anxiety--took the precaution of shortening
sail to the three topsails and fore topmast staysail, thus ensuring, as
I confidently believed, that we should keep well clear of those
pestilent dangers while the darkness lasted.  Then, to add further to my
anxieties, a drizzling rain came driving down upon us, thickening the
atmosphere to such an extent that it became impossible to see anything
beyond a ship's length distant; and, after driving along through this at
a speed of about five knots for the next four hours, my nervousness
became so great that I gave orders to bring the ship to the wind and
heave her to, determining to await the return of daylight before
attempting any further progress.

At length a faint paling of the intense darkness astern proclaimed that
the long night--wet, hot, steamy, and altogether unpleasant--was drawing
to an end, and simultaneously the rain ceased, enabling us to discard
the oilskins and sou'-westers in which we had been stewing all night.  I
took mine down on to the main deck, and hung them up to drain and dry on
a hook commonly used to hook back the starboard door giving access to
the poop cabins.  Then, feeling exceedingly weary with my all-night
vigil--for I had never been off the deck since sunset--I went to my own
cabin for a few minutes and, filling the wash basin with cold fresh
water, indulged in the luxury of a good wash, which had the effect of
considerably refreshing me.  This done, I returned to the poop, meeting
Polson--whose watch it was--at the head of the poop ladder.

"Oh, here you are, sir!" he exclaimed in accents of evident relief.  "I
was just upon the p'int of goin' down to ask ye to come on deck again."

"Indeed," said I.  "Have there been any fresh developments, then, during
the two or three minutes that I have been below?"

"Well, I dunno know much about `developments', Mr Troubridge," replied
the boatswain; "but turn your ear to wind'ard, sir, and tell me if you
hears anything at all out of the common."

"Why?"  I demanded.  "Do you hear anything in particular?"  And, as
requested, I turned my head in a listening attitude.

Even during my brief absence from the deck the sky away to the eastward
had paled perceptibly, and there was already light enough abroad to
enable one not only to distinguish all the principal details of the
ship's hull and rigging, but also to render visible the heaving surface
of the sea for the distance of perhaps a couple of cable's lengths,
which was as far as the eye could penetrate the still somewhat misty
atmosphere.  As I glanced outboard my attention was instantly arrested
by the short, choppy tumble of the water, and its colour, which was a
pale, chalky blue.

"Why, Polson," I exclaimed, "what has happened to the sea during the
night?  Look at the colour of it!  And--hark!--surely that cannot be the
sound of broken water?"

"So you've catched it, Mr Troubridge, have ye, sir?" the man replied.
"Well, you hadn't scarcely got down off the poop just now afore I
thought I heard some'at o' the sort, but I couldn't be sure.  And what
you told us last night about them there shoals that's supposed to be
somewheres ahead of us have been stickin' in my mind all night and
makin' me-- Ah! did ye hear that, sir?" he broke off suddenly.

Again the peculiar "shaling" sound, as of water breaking over some
deeply submerged obstruction, came floating down to me from to windward!

"Yes, Polson, I certainly thought I did," answered I in a state of
considerable alarm; "and, to tell you the honest truth, I don't half
like it any more than I do the movement and colour of the water.  Let
them get the hand lead and take a cast of it."

"Ay, ay, Mr Troubridge, I will.  That's the proper thing to do,"
responded the boatswain, as he bustled away down on to the main deck and
wended his way forward to bring up the lead-line.

The ship was already hove-to; there should therefore be no difficulty in
obtaining absolutely accurate soundings.  In another couple of minutes a
man was stationed in the weather fore chains with the line coiled in his
hand and the lead weight, its foot duly "armed" with tallow, sweeping in
long swings close over the surface of the water, preparatory to being
cast.  Presently the weight shot forward and plunged into the sea a
fathom or two ahead of the ship, the coils of thin line leapt from the
leadsman's hand, and, as the ship surged slowly ahead, the line
slackened, showing that the lead had reached bottom, and the leadsman,
bringing the sounding line up and down, proclaimed the depth--eighteen
fathoms!

"Eighteen fathoms!" ejaculated I in horrified accents to Polson, who had
rejoined me.  "That means, Polson, that we are already on top of one of
those dangers that I was speaking about last night.  Jump for'ard, man,
at once; clear away the starboard anchor ready for letting go, and bend
the cable to it.  And hurry about it, my good fellow, as you value your
life.  We may need to anchor at any moment in order to save the ship!"

The daylight was by this time coming fast, and it was possible to see
with tolerable distinctness all round the ship, to as great a distance
as the haziness of the atmosphere would permit.  Still at intervals
there seemed to float down upon the pinions of the warm, steamy wind
that curious suggestion--for it was scarcely more--of the sound of
breaking water.  But if it were indeed an actual sound, and not an
illusion of the senses, what did it mean?  Had we already become embayed
or entangled among an intricacy of reefs and shoals during the night, or
had we in some marvellous fashion blundered past or through them in the
darkness, and were already leaving them behind us?  As I stood on the
poop, asking myself these questions, and sending my glances into the
mist that enshrouded the ocean on all sides of me, I fancied that I
again caught the mysterious sound which resembled that of breaking
water; but this time it seemed to come from ahead.  And looking in that
direction, I presently became aware of a line of spectral whiteness,
stretching right athwart our hawse, that seemed to come and go even as I
watched it.

"Stand by to wear ship!"  I shouted.  As the watch sprang to the braces
I signed to the man who was tending the wheel to put it hard up.  The
ship, with her fore topsail aback, slowly fell off, until she was
running dead before the wind; then, just as she was coming to on the
other tack, the mist lifted for a moment and I caught a glimpse of a
vast expanse of white water foaming and spouting and boiling dead ahead
of and, as it seemed to me, close aboard of us!

"Lay aft here, some of you, and haul out the spanker!"  I shouted.
"Flow your fore topmast staysail sheet, to help her to come to, and call
all hands to make sail.  Round in upon your after lee braces.  Board
your fore and main tacks, Polson.  We are on a lee shore, here, and must
claw off, if we can!"

The furious battering of the boatswain's handspike upon the fore scuttle
brought up the watch below with a rush; and the sight of the white water
close to leeward--caught by them the moment that they came on deck--was
a hint to them, stronger than any words, of the necessity for haste,
causing them to spring about the decks with a display of activity very
unusual on the part of the merchant seaman.  In a few minutes, the ship
having come to on the starboard tack and brought the breakers square off
her lee beam, the fore and main tacks were boarded, the sheets hauled
aft, and half a dozen of the hands were in the weather rigging on their
way aloft to loose the topgallantsails and royals, while two more were
laying out upon the jibbooms to loose the jibs.  Meanwhile I had sprung
into the lee mizen rigging, and from that situation was anxiously
scanning the sea ahead and upon the lee bow.  To my great relief I
presently saw that the ship was looking up high enough to justify the
hope that she would claw off from the danger that menaced her to
leeward; the sea being merely a short, irregular popple, with no weight
in it to set us down toward the white water.  Meanwhile the hand in the
chains was continuing to take casts of the lead as fast as he could haul
in the line, with the result that we seemed to be maintaining our depth
of about eighteen fathoms, over a rocky bottom--composed of coral, as I
had no doubt, from the peculiar whitish-blue tint of the water.

By the time that the topgallantsails, royals, jibs, and staysails had
been set it had become broad daylight, and a few minutes later the sun
rose above a heavy bank of thunderous-looking cloud that lay stretched
along the eastern horizon, dispersing the mist that had hitherto
obscured the atmosphere, and affording us an extended prospect of our
surroundings.

The scene thus disclosed was alarming enough; for when, in order to
obtain as wide a view as possible, I ascended to the fore topmast
crosstrees I discovered, to my consternation, that we were in a sort of
lake, of very irregular shape, measuring about eight miles east and
west, by perhaps twelve miles north and south, surrounded on all sides
by extensive patches of broken water, with narrow, and more or less
intricately winding channels of clear water between them.  How on earth
we had contrived to blunder blindfold into such a trap of a place, in
the darkness and thickness of the past night, without touching one or
another of the countless reefs by which we were surrounded, passed my
comprehension, although I believed I could make out the channel by which
we had entered, far away to windward.  If I were right in my conjecture
we must have hove-to when we were about three or four miles to windward
of everything, and then have driven, while still hove-to, along the
channel, and finally into the lake-like expanse of comparatively deep
water, missing destruction a dozen times or more during the passage by a
sheer miracle.

Now, being in the trap, the problem to be solved was, how to get out of
it again.  Glancing round me, I could see nothing but broken water
extending right out to the horizon, look which way I would.  With the
object of extending my view, I ascended to the royal yard, but even at
this elevation the prospect was no more encouraging.  Yet, stay, surely
that dark streak away there on the northern horizon was blue water!
Yes; the longer I looked at it--that thin thread of dark colour, barely
visible, and broken here and there by intervening white patches, must be
open water.  Furthermore, it was to leeward, and therefore to be reached
much more quickly and easily than the open water which we had left
behind us sometime during the night, and to return to which it would be
necessary for us to beat to windward through a more or less intricate
and difficult channel.  It was undoubtedly true that somewhere out there
to windward there existed a channel carrying a sufficient depth of water
to float the ship, for she had already passed through it; but our
difficulty would be to pick that particular channel out from among the
many intersecting streaks of unbroken water that showed so elusively
among the breakers.  And if it were possible to hit off that channel, or
indeed any channel leading without a break into clear water, was the
wind sufficiently free to enable us to lay our course along it without
breaking tacks?  I doubted it very much; and if not, or if at a critical
moment the wind should shift a point or two, the ship must inevitably go
ashore and become a wreck; for I could nowhere see a channel wide enough
to allow the ship to work in.  Arguing thus, I soon came to the
conclusion that I must look to leeward for the channel that must conduct
us to open water and safety.

I accordingly directed my gaze northward; and for some time my eyes
searched that vast expanse of seething whiteness for an unbroken channel
leading out into blue water from the lagoon-like sheet of water across
which the _Mercury_ was then ratching.  But all in vain; for while there
were plenty of channels leading from the lagoon through the broken water
to leeward, not one of them seemed to be continuous all the way across
the reef and right out to blue water.  They intersected, merged into,
and branched off from each other in the most bewildering fashion, and
there were at least half a dozen that seemed to lead into open water;
but I quite failed to trace a connection between them and those that led
out of the lagoon.  At length, however, when the ship had reached the
easternmost extremity of the lagoon, and the moment had arrived when it
became necessary for us to go about and retrace our steps, we suddenly
opened out a small patch of unbroken water away to the north-eastward,
with a clear, well-defined channel leading from it to the open sea.
While I was still regarding this part of the reef I caught a momentary
glimpse of another channel leading into the small patch of unbroken
water, and intently following its course I presently became convinced
that it was continuous, with a channel that opened out close ahead of
us, and broad on our lee bow.

This channel was exceedingly narrow and tortuous, but a rapid survey of
it satisfied me that the wind was free enough to allow the ship to
traverse it, and I at once determined to make the attempt.  There was no
time for hesitation; whatever was to be done must be done at once.  I
therefore hailed Polson to keep the ship away a couple of points; and a
minute later the _Mercury_ had slid into the channel, and was sweeping
rapidly along it to the north-east.  For good or for evil the die was
cast; for the direction of the wind and the exceeding narrowness of the
channel precluded any possibility of return, and a couple of hours would
now decide the momentous question, whether or not we were to bring the
whole adventure to a premature conclusion by leaving our bones, and
those of the ship, on that deadly coral reef.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE PIRATE JUNKS.

To con a ship into and along a narrow winding channel, with no
possibility of return, and with the certain knowledge that the slightest
mistake, the smallest error of judgment, meant the destruction of the
vessel, and the drowning of every individual on board her, was nervous
work for a lad of my years.  As I stood there on the royal yard, with my
arm round the masthead to steady myself upon my somewhat precarious
perch, and my gaze concentrated upon the thin line of unbroken water
that twisted hither and thither through the seething turmoil of yeasty
froth, swirling and boiling on either hand, I burst into a drenching
perspiration.  For it must be remembered that I had assumed the enormous
responsibility of plunging the ship into the inextricable situation
which I have indicated upon the impulse of a moment, generated by a
conviction that in no other manner could we hope to escape from the
labyrinth of shoals in which we had become involved.  Furthermore, I had
been spurred to the act by the hope, rather than the certainty, that the
channel along which we were now sweeping with what, to my
apprehensiveness, seemed headlong speed, offered us an unobstructed
passage to open water.  Yet now, when retreat was impossible, I began to
fear that I had been fatally mistaken; for at a certain spot in the
channel along which I proposed to take the ship I saw that the water,
which happened to have been unbroken at the instant when I arrived at my
momentous decision, was now all aboil with foam for a space of three or
four ship's-lengths, as though an impassable obstruction existed there.
If this were the case, but one slender hope remained for us, the hope
that before that obstruction should be reached we might find a part of
the channel wide enough to permit the ship to round-to and anchor, thus
giving us time to make a more deliberate search for a way of escape.

This hope, however, was an exceedingly slender one, for the channel
which we were traversing was appallingly narrow, averaging very little
more than a couple of lengths of the ship, which was considerably less
than half the minimum space that I required for the contemplated
manoeuvre.  But while I was anxiously searching the channel ahead, on
the lookout for such a spot, I suddenly caught sight of another channel,
branching out of the one which we were then traversing, which
unquestionably ran without a break into the small patch of open water of
which I have already spoken, and from which a good channel led into the
open sea.  The only question was whether there was room enough to allow
the ship to take the sweep out of the one channel into the other without
going ashore upon the reef; for the new channel branched off at a very
acute angle, and there appeared to be even less width than usual at the
junction of the two channels.

Here was another momentous question for me to decide, unaided, in the
space of a few seconds--for there was not time enough to permit of my
summoning the boatswain aloft and consulting him upon the matter.  I had
to make up my mind whether to continue along the channel which the ship
was then in, trusting that the appearance indicative of an obstruction
was illusory, or whether I would take the risk of wrecking the ship on
the reef in an endeavour to pass round a very acute angle into the
newly-discovered channel, which I was by this time able to see would
certainly enable us to reach open water.  It was difficult to determine
which of the two alternatives was the more desperate; but as the ship
went driving along toward the point, once past which a choice would no
longer be possible, I fancied that the prospect of being able to turn
into the new channel looked a trifle less hopeless than it did a few
minutes earlier, while the appearance of an obstruction in the original
channel was still as menacing as ever, I therefore determined to put all
to the hazard of the die and make the attempt to get into the new
channel.  This decision arrived at, I hailed Polson to send all hands to
their stations in readiness to brace round the yards smartly at the word
of command, and for the helmsman to respond instantly to my signals for
the manipulation of the wheel.  Then, as we rushed down toward the
turning-point, I caused the ship to be edged gradually up to windward,
until her weather side was all but scraping the coral of the reef, in
order to secure every possible inch of turning-space, at the same time
narrowly watching the channel ahead that I might be able to determine
accurately the precise moment when to shift the helm.  Twice or thrice
in as many seconds did my courage fail me and all but determine me to
take the risk of keeping straight head, but when the critical moment
arrived I was once more master of myself and was able to give the order:
"Hard up with your helm!  Brail in the spanker, and shiver the mizen
topsail!"

Polson, recognising the necessity for prompt action at the helm, had
sent a second hand to the wheel, and at the first sound of my voice
these two men sent the wheel spinning hard over with all their united
strength, while at the same moment the men tending the after braces had
relieved the ship of the pressure of the whole of the canvas upon her
mizenmast, the craft accordingly swerved away from the wind with almost
the alacrity of a living thing, and the next moment she was swirling
round, as though upon a pivot, shaving the obstructive angle of the reef
by a hairbreadth, and coming to with the wind over the starboard
quarter, when the rounding of her port bow was actually dashing aside
the white water, while I clung to my masthead in fear and trembling,
waiting for the shock which should tell me that she had struck.  As a
matter of fact, she actually did, very slightly, graze the coral for a
few feet of her length, just beneath the port main chains, for I
afterwards saw the marks upon her sheathing; but it was the merest
touch, the shock of which was scarcely perceptible, and the next moment
she had luffed fair into the centre of the new channel, and was speeding
away to the northward and eastward.  This new channel was so exceedingly
narrow and tortuous that the vessel still needed the most careful
watching; but, compared with that sharp turn, the remaining portion of
the navigation was simple, and a trifle over two hours later I had the
extreme satisfaction of seeing the _Mercury_ sweep clear of the edge of
the reef into blue water, and to feel her once more rising and falling
upon the swell of the open ocean.  Then I made my way down on deck and,
having given the officer of the watch the course, retired to the cabin
to enjoy a good breakfast, before lying down to recover some of my
arrears of rest.

At noon on the fifth day after this exceedingly awkward adventure, our
latitude, as computed from the meridian altitude of the sun, showed that
we had fairly cleared the Molucca Passage and had reached the waters,
wherein our search for the ideal island pictured by Wilde's vivid
imagination was to begin.  I therefore gave orders for the ship to be
brought to the wind on the starboard tack, and we plunged into the vast
North Pacific Ocean, shortly afterward sighting the Tulur Islands on our
lee beam.

In the course of the next day we sighted and passed two groups of
islands within twenty miles of each other, standing in close enough to
each to enable us to form a pretty accurate idea of their character; but
they were altogether too small and insignificant to meet with Wilde's
approval, so we left them without even taking the trouble to land and
give them an overhaul.

On the following day, the ship still heading to the northward, we
sighted a couple of junks, about a mile apart, steering south.  They
were made out from the forecastle-head, about three points on the lee
bow, at four bells of the forenoon watch; and the emigrants, who were
all on deck, manifested much interest in the quaint appearance of the
craft, as they approached us close-hauled.  There was only a very
moderate breeze blowing--we were carrying all three of our royals--and
there was no sea to speak of, yet, despite these favourable conditions,
I must confess that I was not a little astonished to see how nimbly
those two unwieldy-looking craft moved over the water, and how close to
the wind they contrived to lie--this last, of course, being due to the
almost absolutely flat set of their mat sails.  The weathermost of the
two looked as though she might cross our stern, at a distance of not
much more than a quarter of a mile.  I got up the glass and had a look
at them when they were about two miles distant, but found nothing very
interesting about them, after I had noted their strangeness of model and
rig, and the quaint, decorative painting of their hulls, the bows of
each especially being painted to represent a human face with great,
staring goggle eyes, and of most diabolically ferocious aspect.  Grace
Hartley was standing near me; and when, having completed my inspection
of the junks, I was about to return the telescope to its beckets, she
asked me if she might be permitted to use it.  Of course I at once
handed the instrument to her, and then walked away to attend to some
business of the ship, returning to the poop when the leading junk was
within half a mile of us, with her two masts in line.

"What singular-looking vessels, are they not, Mr Troubridge?" exclaimed
the girl, withdrawing the instrument from her eye for a moment to speak
to me.  "Of course," she continued, "I have seen pictures of Chinese
junks; but one really needs to see the vessels themselves, sailing as
those are, to get the complete idea of their quaintness of appearance.
And what an extraordinary number of men they carry!  Is it because of
the peculiarity of their rig and the large size of their sails that they
require so many men?"

"N-o," said I doubtfully, "I think not.  I am not aware that a junk
needs an exceptionally strong crew.  Do you consider that those vessels
are very heavily manned?"

"Well, are they not?" she asked.  "Of course I have no idea how many men
a junk requires to manage it, but I have been looking at those two--and
especially the nearest one--through the glass, and it struck me that
they must each have at least a hundred men on board!"

"A hundred men!"  I repeated incredulously.  "Oh, surely not!  You must
be mistaken.  Twenty, or perhaps twenty-five at the utmost, would be
much nearer the mark."

"Oh, but I am certain there are far more than that on board each of
those vessels!  It was one of the peculiarities that particularly
impressed me in connection with them," answered the girl.

"Are you quite sure?  Kindly let me have the glass a moment," said I,
taking the instrument from her and levelling it at the nearest junk.
The junk, however, was by this time settling away broad on our lee beam,
as we drew ahead, and was showing her weather side to us.  It was
therefore difficult for me to get a view of her decks, the more so as
her bulwarks seemed to be unusually high.  One thing, however, I
noticed, namely, that she carried eight brass guns--apparently about
twelve-pounders--of a side; and as I got a glimpse through the wide
ports out of which these weapons grinned, it seemed to me that there
were men stationed at them!

In a flash my thoughts reverted to the _Braave_, the Dutch barque that
we had fallen in with a week ago, with her cargo plundered and her
murdered crew cumbering her decks; and I sang out for Tudsbery to come
aft, that individual being at the moment busy upon some job on the
forecastle, as was frequently the case during his watch, if I happened
to be on the poop.

"Tudsbery," said I, as he joined me on the poop, "I think I remember
having heard you say that you have seen service in the China trade.  I
want you to take a good look at those two junks--if you have not yet
done so--and give me your opinion of them."

"I've had a squint at 'em, of course, Mr Troubridge," he answered, as I
handed him the glass; "but I haven't noticed anything extra partic'lar
about 'em, so far."  And he applied the instrument to his eye.

"You don't imagine, for instance, that they are cruising in company; or
that they are other than honest trading junks?"  I asked.

"Well, I dunno," he replied, working away at them with the glass.
"Perhaps it is a bit strange, seein' two of 'em out here so close
together, and both of 'em steerin' exactly the same course.  Yes, and,
by George, now I comes to look at 'em through the glass, I sees that
they are both of 'em armed--this here nearest one mounts eight barkers
of a side, and I'll be hanged if I don't believe her people are a-
trainin' of 'em upon us!  Yes; dash me if they ain't!  You'd better look
out, sir; they mean to slap a broadside into us in another minute, or
I'm a Dutchman!"

I turned and faced forward.  "Go below, all of you!"  I shouted.  "Down
with you at once!  That junk is going to fire upon us, and some of you
may be hurt.  Miss Hartley," turning to the girl, who was standing close
beside us, "go down off the poop and get under cover at once, if you
please--"

Bang! crash!  Eight jets of flame and smoke leapt from the port battery
of the nearest junk, which had by this time drawn down broad on our lee
quarter, some three cable-lengths distant, and the next instant the air
all round us seemed thick with humming missiles, many of which struck
the hull and bulwarks of the ship, making the splinters fly, while
others passed through our lower canvas, perforating it in two or three
dozen places, and providing a nice little repairing job for the hands in
some of their future spare moments.  A hurried glance along the decks,
however, assured me that nobody had been hurt, although there was a good
deal of screaming among the women, while several of the children, in the
process of being hustled below by their parents, started crying
vigorously.  Meanwhile Miss Hartley, after pausing a moment to stare in
astonishment at the splintered bulwarks and the riddled sails, calmly
descended the poop ladder and made her way into the cabin.

"Well," exclaimed Chips, "swamp me if that ain't the rummiest go as ever
I seen!  That junk's a pirate junk, Mr Troubridge, neither more nor
less; and in my opinion t'other one's no better.  Look at that, sir;
there she goes in stays!  Tell ye what, sir, they means to get us in
between 'em if they can!"

"Upon my word, Chips, I believe you are right!" said I, as the more
distant of the two junks swept up into the wind, preparatory to going
round on the other tack.  "And if they should succeed it will be a
pretty poor lookout for all hands aboard this ship!  Have we any arms of
any description, do you know, with which to defend ourselves?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Mr Troubridge," answered the carpenter in tones
of great concern.  "I haven't seen none.  But there may be a few
muskets, or some'at of that sort, stowed away somewheres down below, for
all that I knows.  If there is, I dare say the bosun'll know where to
lay his hands upon 'em."

"Then the best thing that you can do will be to go down and call the
boatswain, and put the question to-- ah, here he is!" as Polson's head
showed above the poop ladder.  "Come up here, Polson!"  I exclaimed;
"you are just the man we want.  That junk astern of us has just treated
us to a broadside of langrage, and Chips's opinion of the pair of them
is that they are a couple of piratical craft.  Have we any firearms of
any kind aboard with which to defend the ship, or must we run for it?"

"I believe that there's a case of two dozen muskets and some ammunition
down in a little bit of a magazine abaft the lazarette," answered
Polson; "and I fancies that there's a few round shot for them two six-
pounders of ours.  Shall I go down and have a look, Mr Troubridge?"

"Yes, certainly," said I; "and be quick about it too, Polson.  To be
perfectly frank with you, I don't half like the look of things.  That
junk that has just tacked is looking up a good point higher than we are,
and unless we happen to have the heels of her, I fancy that we are in
for a warm time."

The boatswain waited to hear no more, but scuttled away off the poop
again with more alacrity than I had seen him exhibit since I had joined
the _Mercury_.  Meanwhile the watch below, awakened by the racket, had
come on deck, and were having the situation explained to them with much
gesticulation and lurid language by their comrades, the watch on deck,
all of whom had knocked off the work upon which they happened to have
been engaged, and were now talking excitedly, casting occasional glances
from us on the poop to the junk away down on the lee bow.  Presently the
junk which had fired into us, having drawn up fair into our wake,
distant about half a mile, tacked and stood after us.

After an absence of some ten minutes, the boatswain reappeared with the
news that he had found and opened the case of muskets, which were of the
new-fashioned percussion pattern, and also a generous supply of
ammunition for the same, together with some fifty round shot and
cartridges for the six-pounders.

"Good!"  I exclaimed.  "Take some hands below, Polson, and bring up that
case of muskets, together with some ammunition; also a few rounds for
the six-pounders.  If appearances go for anything, we shall need them
all before long!"

A few minutes later the muskets, each of which had been carefully
wrapped in well-oiled cloths, were brought on deck, taken out of their
wrappings, well wiped, the nipples carefully tested with a pin, and
loaded, the powder being measured out from a powder horn, a wad rammed
down on top of it, with a bullet on top of that, and then another wad on
top of all to keep the bullet in its place.  Then the brass six-pounders
were loaded and primed, and two pieces of slow match were cut off, ready
for lighting.

I must confess that I looked forward to the prospect of a fight with a
considerable amount of trepidation, for, in the first place, the odds
were exceedingly heavy against us--thirty of a crew, of whom only
twenty-four could be armed, against, probably, two hundred.  Moreover,
our lads knew nothing about fighting, and, as I could see, had not much
stomach for it, while the crews of the junks were undoubtedly fighters
by trade.  Still it was clear that we were in a fix, out of which there
was no escape without a fight; and that fact, which was patent to all
hands, might perhaps influence them to do their best.  But probably
there were some among them who had never handled a musket in their
lives; it would obviously be useless to put weapons into the hands of
such men, and my first business must be to ascertain how many men were
capable of using firearms.  I therefore directed the boatswain to call
all hands aft to the quarter-deck, where I addressed them.

"My lads," said I, "your leader's plans, and your own folly in abetting
them, have brought us into perilous waters, as you may see, for the two
junks which are endeavouring to close with us are undoubtedly pirate
craft.  Unfortunately, none of us suspected their character until it was
too late; and now we are in a trap from which we can only escape by
fighting.  And we must not only fight--we must also beat them off; for,
as I suppose you all know, if we permit ourselves to fall into their
hands, our fate will be similar to that of the unfortunate crew of the
Dutch barque with which we fell in the other day.  Now we have here two
dozen muskets, with plenty of ammunition, and also a few rounds for the
six-pounders; so we are not badly off for weapons if we only have men
enough who know how to use them.  Let as many of you as know how to use
a musket step to the front.  And if any of you know anything about
working guns, step forward too."

Exactly twenty men stepped to the front, sixteen of whom declared that
they could use a musket, while the remaining four announced that they
were capable of loading and firing cannon.

"Very well," said I, "we must all do our utmost; for fight we must.
Those of you who are unable to fight must act as sail-trimmers.  Polson
and Tudsbery, you must take charge of the guns.  Steward, go below and
tell the emigrants that I want eight volunteers capable of handling
muskets; and they must preferably be single men.  Polson, you may serve
out ammunition to the musketry men; and, hark ye, lads, when the time to
shoot arrives, do not blaze away at random, but select a mark, and do
your best to hit it!  Now range yourselves along the lee rail, and do
not fire until I give the word."



CHAPTER NINE.

WE BEAT OFF THE PIRATES.

A few minutes later the steward returned from the 'tween-decks, followed
by seven very decent-looking young fellows, who appeared as if they
might have been farm hands, and announced that they knew how to handle a
fowling-piece, and they supposed that a musket was not very greatly
different.  To these men muskets and ammunition were accordingly
distributed, and they were put among the seamen stationed along the lee
rail.  This left one musket unemployed, at which I was by no means
sorry; for I rather fancied myself as a shot, and was glad of a good
excuse to appropriate one of the weapons.

Our arrangements being now complete, I had leisure to consider the
relative positions of the two junks as regarded ourselves, and it needed
but a single glance to assure me that the enemy's vessels, unwieldy and
awkward as their model seemed to be, had the advantage of us in the
matter of weatherliness; for they looked up a good point and a half
higher than the _Mercury_, and although they made more leeway than
ourselves, that point and a half fully compensated for it, the
consequence being that the junk astern was gradually working out upon
our weather quarter, while the junk on our lee bow was also hawsing up
to windward.  We were slightly faster than they, however, and were
consequently drawing away from the junk astern, from which I hoped we
had not much more to fear.  But the junk on our lee bow was certain to
give us trouble, for we were gaining upon her while she was edging up
nearer to our track every minute, with the result that, by the time that
we overhauled her, we should be within biscuit-toss of each other.  And
I could not hope to escape her by tacking ship, for she would probably
be quite as quick in stays as ourselves, possibly a trifle quicker.
Such an evolution would place her broad on our weather quarter, and far
enough to windward to permit of her edging down on us with slack
bowlines, while we should be jammed close on a wind, an advantage which,
I believed, would give her the heels of us and enable her to lay us
aboard.  This, I felt, must be avoided at all costs; for if once her
crew should gain a footing upon our decks their numbers were sufficient
to overpower us instantly.  I therefore determined to slip past her to
windward and run the gauntlet of her fire; that risk, terrible as it
was, being, to my mind, less than the other.

Having thus decided, I called to Polson to ask him how we were off in
the matter of bullets, to which he replied that there were half a dozen
kegs altogether.  This being the case, I thought we might venture to be
a trifle extravagant, so I gave orders for a keg to be brought on deck,
and for the two six-pounders to be loaded with bullets practically to
the muzzle, on top of a round shot.  This was done, four double--
handfuls--amounting to about one hundred bullets--being dropped into the
gun on top of the round shot, and a wad rammed home on the top of all.
This done, the two guns were run forward and pointed out through the two
foremost ports on the lee side of the deck.

We were now all ready for the fight, and nothing remained but to await
the critical moment with such composure as we could summon to our aid.
In one respect we were more fortunate than many other ships would have
been in the same situation, for our helmsman was sheltered in a sort of
little hurricane house built of stout planking over the wheel, and he
was therefore in some degree protected from jingal fire.  Indeed I hoped
that the planking of the structure would turn out to be absolutely proof
against the missiles usually fired from such weapons, which I expected
would be the firearm used by the pirates.  Thus we might hope we should
avoid being thrown into confusion at the critical moment by our helmsman
being killed or disabled.

At length we drew up within point-blank musketry range of the junk that
was endeavouring to close upon our lee bow, and I gave the word for
those armed with that weapon, while keeping carefully under cover
themselves, to open fire upon any of the pirates who might expose
themselves.  Almost immediately a dozen shots rang out from our decks,
and a few splinters flew aboard the junk, but I could neither see nor
hear that any further mischief had been done.

"Watch her ports, lads, and fire through them," I ordered.  "If you can
shoot down the men at her weather battery during the few minutes that we
are passing her you will have nothing more to fear."

At this moment a perfect giant of a man ascended the short poop of the
junk and stood calmly watching us, occasionally saying a word or two to
those on the deck beneath him.  He had scarcely taken up his position,
however, before our men began to blaze away at him, and presently a
bullet knocked his hat off, while, as he was calmly stooping to pick it
up again, another bullet must have struck him on the right shoulder; for
I saw him suddenly clap his hand to that part and hastily retreat from
his exposed situation, without stopping to pick up the hat.

"Hurrah, lads!"  I shouted.  "There is first blood to us.  Keep the pot
boiling; but don't shoot until you can see somebody to shoot at!"

At this moment the weather bulwark of the junk became suddenly lined
with men all armed with jingals, with which they proceeded to blaze away
at us, and some half a dozen or more missiles went whizzing past most
unpleasantly close to my head.  Nobody was hurt, however, and our men
returned the fire with commendable steadiness, scoring a few hits, if
one might judge by the cries that arose on board the junk, and the
suddenness with which some five or six of her people sank out of sight
behind her bulwarks.  Then fresh hands appeared, showing suddenly above
the rail, taking rapid aim, pulling trigger, and vanishing out of sight,
not always quickly enough, however, to dodge the bullets that our people
sent whizzing about their ears.

Thus far not one of the _Mercury's_ people had been touched; but the
critical moment was yet to come.  It was now close at hand, however, for
our figurehead had drawn up level with the stern of the junk, and there
was not more than fifty fathoms of water between the two craft.  We
might expect their broadside at any moment, and I felt that it was
scarcely possible for us to receive it at such very short range without
receiving very severe punishment.  I therefore exhorted our people to
maintain a hot fire upon the ports of the junk, feeling-convinced that
every bullet which passed through would be almost certain to find its
billet in the body of a Chinaman, thus tending to flurry their gunners
and possibly cause them to shoot wide.

We were now so close that I was able to see that the junk needed a
trifle of lee helm to keep her close to the wind; and I had no sooner
noted this fact than I saw a man show his head for an instant above the
break of the junk's poop and sign to the helmsman to put his helm hard
down.  I guessed in an instant what this meant.  They were about to
throw the junk into the wind, in the hope that she would fall aboard of
us, when they would pour their starboard broadside into us and board
amidst the smoke.  They could not possibly have hit upon a plan more
likely to succeed, or to be fatal to us; and, recognising the deadly
nature of our peril, I yelled to our people at once to fling themselves
flat on the deck, which they did with almost laughable promptitude.  At
the same time I seized my musket, which thus far I had not fired, and,
kneeling down, with one of the poop hencoops as a rest, aimed straight
at the body of the junk's helmsman, just as he was thrusting the tiller
hard down.  I pulled the trigger the instant that I had the man covered,
and down he dropped, motionless, the ponderous tiller escaping from his
grasp and swinging heavily back amidships, with the result that the
junk, which was already coming to, at once fell off again at the precise
instant when her whole starboard broadside burst into flame and smoke,
the missiles luckily passing just ahead of us and very considerably
damaging our figurehead, but doing no worse injury.  By a most fortunate
chance I had made my lucky shot at the exact moment which alone could
save us from disaster.  To give the pirates their due, at least a dozen
men instantly sprang up on the poop, and rushed aft to replace the
injured helmsman; but our people had been watching through a number of
peep-holes what was happening, and no sooner did they see the Chinese on
the poop than they leaped to their feet, and opened fire upon them with
such murderous effect that half of them dropped, while the other half
turned and fled from the poop, seeking shelter under cover of their
craft's bulwarks.

Left thus to herself, the junk gradually fell broad off, presenting her
quarter to us.  The opportunity thus afforded to pour into her a
partially raking fire was much too good to let slip, and I shouted to
the boatswain and Chips to send the contents of their pieces into her
starboard bulwark, hoping that some at least of the bullets would enter
her open ports and do a certain amount of execution.  The two men had
evidently been expecting such an order and had got their pieces ready
levelled.  A couple of seconds later the two six-pounders barked out
together, and the two hundred bullets peppered the junk's bulwarks most
handsomely, many of them penetrating the planking, as I could both see
and hear; for the next instant a dreadful, ear-splitting yell arose from
the deck of the craft, telling a tale of very severe punishment.  But
that was not all; the two round shot likewise crashed through the
bulwarks very effectively, one of them dismounting a gun, while the
other brought the craft's mainmast down, thus effectually placing her
_hors de combat_.  Those two shots must have wrought terrible havoc
among the junk's crew, for not only did they not attempt to return our
fire, but they allowed their vessel to run broad off before the wind,
squaring away their foresail the better to do so; and presently the junk
in our wake abandoned the chase and bore up to join her consort.  We
thus emerged marvellously well from a predicament that at one moment
threatened to be exceedingly serious, and that, too, without the
slightest injury to so much as a single one of our company.

It was remarked that Wilde had most scrupulously refrained from
obtruding his presence on deck during our little brush with the junks,
which exhibition of pusillanimity on the part of a man who aspired to
the position of head and leader of the little community provoked a great
deal of adverse criticism, and considerably reduced his influence and
popularity.

On the fourth day following the above incident, with the appearance of
dawn, we sighted land ahead, which, as we drew nearer, resolved itself
into three islands lying close together, the largest of which measured
about eight miles long by three miles wide, while the remaining two were
roughly circular in shape, measuring about a mile in diameter.  The two
smaller islands presented the appearance of low pyramids with rounded
tops, their highest points rising some eight hundred feet above the sea
level, while the biggest of the three rose somewhat abruptly from the
water to a height of about fifteen hundred feet at each extremity, and
preserved that height pretty uniformly from end to end, but with an
elevation rising perhaps three hundred feet higher almost in the middle
of its length.

All three of the islands were well wooded; but the largest had been
cleared to some extent of its timber, the cleared ground bearing
evidences of being under cultivation.  This, of course, indicated that
at least the largest of the islands was already inhabited, and was
therefore unsuited to the requirements of Wilde and his followers, who
wanted to find a spot where they would be reasonably free from all risk
of molestation by hostile natives.  Nevertheless, it was decided to
approach the islands a little nearer, if only for the chance of being
able to procure some fruit and a few fresh vegetables, for which all
hands were by this time pining.  However, since we knew nothing of the
character of the inhabitants, but were under a sort of general
impression that the natives of all the islands of the Eastern seas were
of a more or less treacherous character, while some at least of them
were very strongly suspected of cannibalistic tendencies, we determined
to adopt every possible precaution.  The muskets were accordingly
brought on deck and loaded, while every man who had not a musket served
out to him took care to provide himself with a weapon of some sort, even
though it were no more formidable than a belaying pin.  I also insisted
that the ship should be kept under way, in order that, upon the first
suggestion of treacherous designs upon the part of the natives, we might
be able to make sail and stand out to sea again.

Approaching the lee side of the biggest of the three islands, one hand
was sent aloft into the fore topmast crosstrees to keep a sharp lookout
for submerged rocks, while another was sent into the fore chains with
the hand lead.  Then we clewed up our courses, royals, and
topgallantsails, and hauled down our flying jib and some of the lighter
staysails, but furled nothing, leaving all in a state to be set again
from the deck at a moment's notice.

The water in the immediate neighbourhood of these islands was deep, no
bottom being reached with the hand lead until we were within half a mile
of the shore, at which distance we brought the ship to the wind and laid
the main topsail to the mast, as it was seen that many natives had
gathered on the beach, and were making preparations to launch their
canoes, several of which were hauled up on the dazzlingly white sand.  I
kept the ship's telescope steadily bearing upon these craft and the
numerous natives who swarmed about them, and was greatly relieved to see
that the latter all appeared to be busily engaged in loading the former
with baskets of fruit, fish, and quantities of fowls, while nowhere
could I discover anything resembling a weapon.

That these people were quite accustomed to the bartering of their
produce with passing ships, and had been taught to understand that they
would not be allowed on board, was evident; for, although within the
next half-hour we were surrounded by quite a hundred canoes of various
sizes, ranging from the sixteen-foot craft with two occupants up to the
vessel measuring fifty feet over all, manned by from twenty to thirty
natives, not one attempted to come alongside until specially invited to
do so.  They simply lay off a few fathoms and held up to our view the
wares that they had for disposal, and then waited to be beckoned to
approach.

These natives were for the most part fine, lithe, active-looking men, of
a deep, rich, bronze colour.  Most of them were almost naked, and
adorned with necklaces of shells or sharks' teeth, their hair so
arranged that it stuck out all round their heads like the thrums of a
twirled mop.  A few of them wore necklaces or armlets of vari-coloured
beads, of which they appeared to be inordinately proud, and these
adornments furnished many of our people with a hint as to the kind of
article most desired in exchange, a whole basket of assorted fruit, as
heavy as one man could conveniently lift, being freely parted with for a
hank containing five strings of ordinary glass beads which, at home,
would cost about a penny.  Next to beads, copper wire appeared to be the
most prized commodity, nails coming next, such a basket of fruit as I
have just described, or half a dozen fowls, costing twenty two-inch
nails; while a dozen baskets of fruit were eagerly offered for a single
six-inch spike.  Fish-hooks, too, commanded good prices, that is to say,
two baskets of fruit, or one dozen fowls, sold for a single hook.  Fish,
of which several basketfuls were brought off, were to be had almost for
the asking, a basket containing about fifty pounds weight of delicious
fresh fish being gladly given in exchange for a single ordinary pin!  At
such prices as these the crew and emigrants would willingly have taken
as much as the natives had for sale, if I would have allowed it; but I
was afraid to let them have too much fresh fruit all at once, lest they
should make themselves ill; but we took every fowl that we could get
hold of, killing enough to serve all hands for dinner that day, and
putting the rest into the coops, which had by this time become almost
empty.

It took us nearly two hours to complete our purchases, for I would not
allow more than four canoes alongside at the same moment; and when we
had acquired as much produce as I thought it prudent to lay in at one
time, the mainyard was swung, the fore and main tacks boarded, and we
resumed our voyage, parting from the natives with mutual smiles and upon
the best of terms.  I was very much gratified at this first experience
of intercourse with the Pacific islanders, for it seemed to me that it
would be impossible to find a more quiet, amiable, peace-loving race of
people on the face of the earth.  I made the mistake of judging the
whole by a very few, and set down the stories I had heard of treachery,
cruelty, and blood-curdling tragedy as malicious fables.  I was speedily
disillusioned, however; for a week later we reached the Caroline
Islands; and while we found some of these islanders as friendly disposed
as those above-mentioned, there were others who did their utmost to
entice us to land and place ourselves within their power, and on one
occasion, when they failed in this, produced hidden weapons and
resolutely attacked the ship, giving us all that we could do to beat
them off, and more or less seriously injuring three seamen and two of
the male emigrants.  This little experience taught us all a much-needed
lesson in prudence; for it was more by luck than good management that we
avoided capture and the general massacre that would most assuredly have
followed.

For the next five weeks we cruised among these islands, vainly seeking
the earthly paradise that Wilde had taught all hands to expect, and with
less than which none of them would be satisfied.  For such islands as
seemed to approach Wilde's standard in the matter of size and fertility
were already inhabited, and that, too, for the most part, by natives
whose pressing invitations to land, and lavishly proffered hospitality,
we had learned to regard with something more than suspicion; while the
uninhabited islands were invariably found to be wholly lacking in some
essential feature.

Then, leaving the Carolines behind us, we passed on to the Marshall
group, where the atoll--which we had already encountered in a somewhat
modified form here and there among the Carolines--was to be found in its
typically perfect development.  Here the islands, such as they were,
were entirely of coral formation, of diminutive area, generally not more
than six or eight feet above the surface of the ocean, their vegetation
consisting of a few coconut trees, with, maybe, a patch or two of coarse
grass here and there, and possibly a few stunted bushes, the whole
constituting a more or less irregularly shaped belt enclosing a
saltwater lagoon, usually with an entrance from the open sea, and with
water enough inside to float a ship; but sometimes with no entrance at
all.  A fortnight among these atolls sufficed to convince the most
optimistic among us that what we were looking for was not to be found in
that neighbourhood.  Accordingly we bade farewell to the group, to my
intense relief, for, between the shoals and the currents, I was worried
very nearly into a fever, and scarcely dared to leave the deck day or
night.

Once clear of the Marshall Islands, we stood away to the northward,
gradually hauling round, as the wind favoured us, to about west-nor'-
west, occasionally sighting a small island, but more frequently broken
water, until at length, when we had been out from the Marshall group
close upon three weeks, land was made at daybreak, bearing two points on
the lee bow.  It was at a considerable distance, for it showed soft and
delicate of tint as a cloud in the brilliant light of the newly risen
sun, but that it was good, solid earth was clear enough from the fact
that it did not in the slightest degree alter its truncated conical
shape as the minutes sped.  True, there was no land shown on the chart
at that precise spot; but that did not alter the fact of it being there;
and since it showed above the horizon from the deck at a distance which
we estimated at fully _fifty_ miles, it was concluded that it must be of
fairly respectable size, and quite worth looking at more closely; the
helm was therefore shifted, and we kept dead away for it.

The ship was slipping along at about seven knots, before a nice little
easterly breeze, under all plain sail--that being as much canvas as I
cared to show, bearing in mind the fact that not infrequently, of late,
we had been obliged to haul our wind rather suddenly in consequence of
white water revealing itself unexpectedly at no great distance ahead.
But although we were travelling at this quite respectable pace--for the
_Mercury_--we did not appear to be decreasing our distance from the land
ahead nearly so rapidly as we had anticipated, which circumstance led me
to the conclusion that I had considerably underestimated that distance
in the first instance.  And this conclusion proved to be correct, for at
six bells in the afternoon watch we were still fully seven miles from
the island.  But we had arrived within four miles of what, from the fore
topmast crosstrees, I had been able to identify as a barrier reef that
appeared to extend from the northern to the southern extremity of the
island--and, indeed, might completely surround it, for aught that I
could tell--enclosing a magnificently spacious harbour, some three miles
wide between itself and the island, which I estimated to measure about
ten miles long, from north to south, with a peak, apparently the crater
of an extinct, or at all events a quiescent, volcano, approximating to
three thousand feet high, rising almost in the centre of it.  It was
wooded from the inner margin of the somewhat narrow, sandy beach that
lined it to within about three hundred feet of the summit of the peak;
and--most promising of all, from the point of view of Wilde and his
followers--there were no canoes on the beach, or any other signs of
inhabitants.



CHAPTER TEN.

WE ARRIVE AT THE ISLAND.

The surf was breaking heavily over the whole length of the barrier reef;
but my experience among the Caroline and Marshall Islands led me to
believe that somewhere in that reef a break might be found wide enough
to allow the passage of the ship through it.  Examining the long line of
the leaping surf very carefully through the ship's telescope, I at
length thought I detected such a passage, some two or three miles to the
southward of the point at which the ship's bowsprit was pointing; I
accordingly hailed the deck, directing the helmsman how to steer for it,
and at the same time requested Polson to join me.

"There, Polson," I exclaimed, "what think you of that for an island upon
which to settle?  It ought to be big enough to accommodate all hands of
you, with room to spare.  Its soil is fertile, if one may judge by its
luxuriantly wooded appearance; and, thus far, I have been unable to
detect any signs of inhabitants upon it.  Do you think it good enough to
justify us in attempting to find a way through that reef in order to get
a closer view of it?"

"Do I?" repeated the boatswain, feasting his eyes upon the lovely
prospect the island presented in the rays of the afternoon sun, which
happened at that moment to fall at just the proper angle to reveal
clearly the gently undulating character of the island, scored here and
there with ravines which seemed to promise not only a series of charming
prospects, but also an abundance of fresh water from the streams that
had their origin in the central peak--"Yes, Mr Troubridge, I most
certainly do, if a way can be found of gettin' at the place.  Why, it's
the very kind of island as I've been picturin' in my mind ever since
that chap Wilde began to talk about his plans, except that yonder island
is a good bit bigger and altogether more promisin' than I'd ever hoped
to stumble upon.  But how is that there line of surf goin' to be passed
through, Mr Troubridge?"

"Take this glass, Polson," I said, "and very carefully examine the spot
immediately over our jibboom-end.  To my mind there seems to be a very
narrow patch of unbroken water there, which may yet prove wide enough to
take the ship through with a leading wind."

"Ay, sir," answered Polson, "I sees what you mean; there certainly do
look to be a bit of a passage there; and, narrer as it looks, it may, as
you say, be wide enough for the _Mercury_ to slip through.  And what's
them two p'ints on the mainland, just over the break, with the blue
shadder showin' beyond it?  Don't it look to you somethin' like a bit of
a cove, or a harbour of some sort?"

I looked at the spot indicated, and thought I could detect something of
the kind suggested by the boatswain; but my unaided vision was not
strong enough to enable me to be sure; I therefore borrowed the glass
from Polson, and then saw that there was indeed an indentation of some
sort which had the appearance of being spacious enough to give
harbourage to the ship.  That, however, was a point that did not call
for immediate settlement, although it was certainly to be kept in mind.

Meanwhile, the ship, running off with the wind now a couple of points
over the port quarter, had been sliding rapidly down toward the reef,
and had by this time drawn so near it that I felt morally certain not
only of the fact that there actually was a passage through it, but also
that it was wide enough for the ship to go through.  Yet I did not
altogether like the idea of pushing the ship through it without further
ado, for a rather unpleasant thought had flashed through my mind, which
I at once proceeded to communicate to the boatswain.

"Now, look here, Polson," I said.  "That is undoubtedly a passage
through the reef; and as we draw nearer to it I grow the more disposed
to believe that it may be possible to take the old _Mercury_ through it.
Yet I am strongly opposed to the idea of doing anything hastily.  What
I mean is this," I continued in answer to the quick glance of half-
suspicious enquiry that he flashed upon me.  "There is no sign that we
can detect of natives upon that island; yet there may be hundreds, ay,
thousands, of them there for all that.  If so, what is to prevent their
having us in sight all day to-day, and hiding their canoes and otherwise
obliterating all indication of their presence, in the hope that, by so
doing, we may be tempted to pass through the reef and come to an anchor
under its lee and in pretty close proximity to the island.  Once through
that passage, Polson, and, with the wind as it is now, we should be in a
trap from which it might be difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to
escape in the event of our being attacked by a strong body of hostile
natives.  Now, my idea is this.  If we were to enter that lagoon this
evening, by the time that we had come to an anchor and rolled up our
canvas it would be altogether too late to go ashore and explore
satisfactorily that island; and, as I said just now, if there happen to
be hostile natives there we might find ourselves in an exceedingly
awkward fix.  I propose, therefore, that instead of attempting to go
inside to-night, we should shorten sail to our three topsails, go round
under the lee of the island, and either heave-to or stand off and on
until daylight.  If we do this at once we may hug the lee side of it as
closely as we please, and subject that side of the island to a pretty
searching scrutiny while it is still daylight; and if the lee side is as
bare of any sign of inhabitants as the weather side seems to be, I think
we may venture with tolerable safety to go through the passage to-morrow
morning as soon as there is light enough, when we shall have the whole
day in which to explore the island.  What say you?"

"Yes, Mr Troubridge, you're quite right, sir," answered the boatswain.
"That there island looks most terrible temptin', shinin' there in the
a'ternoon sunlight, and I should dearly like to stretch my legs by
takin' a run ashore there afore I turn in to-night--as I make no doubt
is the case with all hands; but what you say is right, sir; and what you
propose is the proper thing to do.  Shall I go down on deck and start
shortenin' sail at once, sir?"

"Yes, if you please, Polson," answered I.  "Meanwhile, I will remain up
here and see as much as I can."

Whereupon Polson descended the rigging, and, taking charge, proceeded to
clew up and haul down until the canvas was reduced to the three topsails
and the fore topmast staysail, afterward sending the hands aloft to make
a harbour furl of everything.

By the time that all this was done we had run down to within a mile of
the opening which I had detected in the reef, and I now perceived it to
be wide enough to allow of the passage of not only a single ship, but of
half a dozen vessels abreast, of the tonnage of the _Mercury_.  At this
distance from the reef, and at my elevation above the level of the
water, it was possible not only to see this, but also to make out that a
fringing reef stretched along almost the entire eastern face of the
island, to the northern and southern extremities of which the barrier
reef was united with but one opening in it, namely the one that I had
already discovered.  The fringing reef--the whereabout of which was
indicated by the pale-blue tint of the water, varied in width from two
miles, at the north-eastern extremity of the island, where the barrier
reef joined it, to an average of about half a mile along the rest of the
shore--except for a break of some two miles in length at the point where
Polson had detected indications of a cove or an inner harbour.

This much determined, I hailed the deck, instructing the boatswain to
haul up to the southward; and when we had brought the passage through
the reef in line with the summit of the peak I again hailed him to take
the bearings of the latter, to serve as a guide when running for the
passage on the morrow.  This bearing I found to be north-west by west-a-
quarter-west, of which I made a note in my pocket book.

The sun was within half an hour of setting when at length, having
closely skirted the southern shore of the island, we opened out its
western side, which, all aglow as it was in the golden light of evening,
presented a picture of absolutely fairy-like beauty, its wooded slopes
revealing in the nearer distances a thousand varied tints of verdure,
from brilliant yellow to deepest olive, relieved here and there by great
patches of white, scarlet, purple, and other lovely tints that could
only proceed from immense masses of blossom of some kind.  As this blaze
of rich and varied colour receded from the eye into the middle and more
remote distances, it gradually merged into an all-pervading tint of
delicate, exquisite, ethereal grey.

With the gradual unfolding of the charming picture presented by the
western side of the island--which seemed to throw all hands down on deck
into ecstasies of delight, judging from the continuous exclamations of
rapture that reached me from below as fresh beauties swung into view
with the progress of the ship--it became apparent that the barrier reef
existed only on the eastern side of the island; but the fringing reef
seemed to run all round it, with a narrow margin of dazzlingly white
coral sand above high-water mark.  The land seemed to rise everywhere
from the beach at a very gentle slope; and the vegetation came down
right to the inner margin of the sand.  In fact there was a thick fringe
of what I took to be coconut trees growing all along the edge of the
beach, and encroaching upon it so far in places, that the roots of the
trees must be actually washed by the salt water at the top of the spring
tides.  But, search the shore as carefully as I might--and now that we
were to leeward of the island I did not hesitate to approach the ship to
within a quarter of a mile of the edge of the reef, in order that I
might obtain the best possible view--I could discover no sign or trace
of human beings.  There were open patches of delicious greensward here
and there visible among the clumps of trees, but no suggestion of
cultivation; there were no canoes on the beach--indeed I greatly doubted
whether it would have been possible for canoes to pass through the line
of surf that boiled and swirled all along the edge of the reef, even on
the lee side of the island--nor could I detect any feather of smoke
rising among the trees, or other sign of human occupancy, although we
were now so close to the land, and the evening light smote upon it so
strongly, that had there been any natives moving about on the beach or
in the nearer open spaces, I could scarcely have failed to see them.

The ship, now under the lee of the island, and moreover under short
canvas, did little more than barely drift to the northward, along the
western edge of the reef, and long before we arrived off the north-
western extremity of the island the sun had set, and it had become too
dark for me to complete my survey of this lonely but lovely spot; yet I
had seen enough to assure me that there was only one place along that
lee side at which it would be possible for the ship to anchor.  Even
there, although the place in question took the form of a bay, I did not
altogether like the look of it; for nearly half its area consisted of
fringing reef, upon which, if a ship were to drive ashore during a
sudden shift of wind, she would infallibly go to pieces in a few
minutes.  It might possibly be made to do, failing a better place, by
riding with both anchors down; but I determined to have a look at
Polson's cove round on the weather side of the island, under the shelter
of the natural breakwater formed by the barrier reef, before risking the
ship by taking her into such an unsatisfactory anchorage.

The second dogwatch had passed before we drew out clear of the island,
and once more felt the full strength of the breeze, whereupon I gave
instructions for the ship to be kept "full and by" on the starboard tack
until four bells in the middle watch, when the officer of the watch was
to wear ship and come to the wind on the port tack, heading to the
southward for the island again, the weather side of which I considered
we ought to fetch by daylight, in good time to allow of our passing
through the reef and coming to an anchor about breakfast-time.

The first rays of the morning sun were flashing off the placidly heaving
waters, and into my cabin, when Chips awakened me with the news that the
peak of the island was broad on our lee bow, and that there was now
light enough to enable us to see our way in through the reef.  I
accordingly turned out and went forward to get my usual douche bath
under the head-pump prior to dressing, taking note on the way of the
fact that we were still some ten miles to the northward and eastward of
the opening in the reef.  Moreover, the wind was blowing a very gentle
breeze, pushing the ship along at scarcely more than three knots; I
therefore so far modified my arrangements of the previous night as to
give orders for breakfast to be prepared half an hour earlier, in order
that the meal might be disposed of before the real business of the day
began.  But long before the cook's husky notes summoned the emigrants'
messmen to the galley, to receive their morning allowance of cocoa and
their tins of "lobscouse", all hands were on deck, the emigrants
gathered in the waist of the ship, leaning over the lee rail, and
devouring with their eyes the beauties of the lovely island, fresh,
green, and sparkling with the dews of the past night.  It was rather
amusing to note that many of these people, especially the women and
children, had donned their best clothes in which to go ashore, as though
it were a festive occasion.

By the time that breakfast was over the ship had drawn well down toward
the southern extremity of the island; and at length the peak was brought
to bear by compass north-west by west-a-quarter-west, by which I knew
that it and the passage through the reef were now in line.  Accordingly
we bore up and wore round, heading straight for the peak.  Slinging the
ship's telescope over my shoulder, I once more wended my way aloft to
the fore topmast crosstrees, in order that from that commanding
elevation I might perform the delicate task of conning the ship through
the passage in the reef, and at the same time maintain a sharp lookout
for what now seemed to be the only peril to be guarded against, namely,
the possible existence upon the island of hostile natives.

Although we were some four miles from the reef when we bore up, I had
not the slightest difficulty in discovering the whereabouts of the
passage through it immediately upon my arrival in the crosstrees; and I
now at once brought the telescope to bear upon it, in search of possible
dangers in the form of sunken rocks; for although that apparently narrow
stretch of unbroken water was the sure indication of a break in the
continuity of the reef, it was just possible that there might be a
detached rock or two in the fairway, lying deep enough to allow the
swell to roll over it unbroken, yet not quite deep enough to permit a
ship of the size of the _Mercury_ to pass over it.

But a prolonged inspection with the aid of the glass failed to reveal
any such danger, and in the course of the next half-hour we had drawn so
close in, that I could see as much in that direction with the unaided
eye as with the telescope.  I therefore diverted my attention for a few
minutes to the more distant beach, and the still more distant open
grassy spaces of the island, in search of possible indications of life
and movement.  But here, too, my quest was vain, for nowhere could I
detect the slightest signs of life, except that of birds, a few gulls
and pelicans being visible, busily engaged in seeking a breakfast on the
waters of the lagoon, while it was also possible to detect the
occasional flash of wings among the trees that so thickly clustered on
the slopes of the island.

At length the moment arrived when it became necessary for me to give my
undivided attention to the passage through the reef, which the ship had
now approached, to within a distance of a couple of cable-lengths, while
the air was vibrant with the deep, hoarse, thunderous roar of the surf
that eternally flung itself in foam and fury upon those ten miles of
submerged coral wall which I have spoken of as the reef.  This wall, or
reef, I could now see, was of a tolerably uniform width of about one-
third of a mile throughout its length, and its top was so nearly level
with the surface of the ocean that it constituted a very perfect
breakwater, excluding from the lagoon which it enclosed all surface
disturbance except the trifling amount caused by the incessant beat of
the surf upon it, and revealed itself in the form of some eight or ten
lines of miniature swell, sweeping inward from the reef and losing
itself in the smooth, sparkling surface of the lagoon within a distance
of half a mile.

Thus far I had failed to discover any submerged dangers in the passage
through the reef, and we were now so close in that I must have seen them
through the clear, transparent water, had such existed.  I therefore
directed the helmsman how to steer, so as to take the ship through the
middle of the channel, which now revealed itself as an opening fully
sixteen hundred feet wide, and a minute later we surged into it on the
back of a swell which crashed down upon the reef to right and left of us
with a roar that made one's very ears tingle, while the spray, snow-
white, and sparkling in the dazzling sunshine like countless millions of
diamonds, leapt into the air as high as our maintop, to fall, a cable's
length to leeward, in a glittering shower upon the seething turmoil of
lace-like foam that swirled hither and thither above the reef.

Five minutes sufficed us to accomplish the passage through the reef,
when we found ourselves gliding gently forward upon the placid surface
of the lagoon, which formed a magnificent crescent-shaped, natural
harbour, some ten miles long by about two and a half miles wide at its
widest part, tapering away to nothing at its northern and southern
extremities, where the barrier and fringing reefs united.  The floor of
this lagoon, as I could distinctly see from my elevated post of
observation, was composed of fine white coral sand, with no sign of rock
or any other obstruction upon it so far as my sight could reach.  We of
course had a leadsman in the chains taking continual casts of the lead
as we proceeded, and from these it appeared that the depth of water in
the lagoon, close up against the inner face of the reef, amounted to
seven and a half fathoms, shoaling very gradually and regularly as we
neared the island, the exceeding beauty of which evoked a continuous
chorus of admiration from the delighted emigrants as its many
attractions unfolded themselves at our approach.

Upon clearing the passage through the reef I had shouted instructions
down to the man at the wheel to haul up a couple of points to the
northward, which had brought our jibboom-end pointing fair between the
two headlands opening into the indentation which I have termed Polson's
harbour, and I now judged, from what I could see, to be of quite
respectable extent.  I had no intention, however, of attempting to take
the ship into it without first subjecting it to something in the nature
of a preliminary examination.  I therefore now called to them on deck to
stand by to let go the anchor, to which Polson responded that they were
all ready for letting go.

"Stand by to let run your topsail halyards!" was the next order, which
was obeyed with a rush as of a parcel of schoolboys eagerly anticipating
a holiday.  I allowed the ship to drive ahead a little farther, until we
had arrived within half a mile of the two headlands, which, I now saw,
were about a quarter of a mile apart, and then gave the order: "Hard
down with your helm, and let her come head to wind!" closely followed
by: "Let run your topsail halyards!" and the next moment, with a
screaming of sheaves and a rattle of parrals, the three topsail yards
slid down the topmasts and brought up with a thud upon the caps, to the
accompaniment of a jubilant cheer from the crowd on deck.  Then, a
minute later, when the ship had lost her way, followed the order: "Let
go your anchor!" succeeded by a yell from the carpenter of "Stand clear
of the cable!" a few clinking strokes of a hammer, the sudden plunging
splash of the anchor into the placid waters of the lagoon, and the
rattling roar of the cable through the hawse-pipe.  Chips snubbed her
with the twenty-five fathom shackle just inside the hawse-pipe, the
depth of water alongside being a deep five fathoms, and then the men
sprang into the rigging and laid out on the bowsprit to furl the
topsails and fore topmast staysail.

Then, turning myself about with my face toward the stern of the ship, I
seated myself comfortably in the crosstrees and, once more bringing the
telescope into action, proceeded again to subject the island to a
searching scrutiny.  We were now so close to it that, had there been
human beings upon it, I could scarcely have failed to detect some
indication of their presence; but, search as I would, no sign of life,
save that of birds, could I discover.  I therefore finally came to the
conclusion that, strange as it might be, this lovely island was actually
uninhabited, and, therefore, in that respect, perfectly suited to the
experiment which Wilde and his disciples were about to attempt upon it.
Nor did it appear less suited in other respects.  Its size was ample;
its fertility indisputable, and apparently exuberant.  Glimpses of tiny
rivulets of water could be caught, here and there, flashing and
sparkling through its glades; there appeared to be no noxious animals
upon it to endanger life; and, so far as beauty was concerned, the place
seemed to be a perfect Eden, the woods being gay with flowering shrubs
and trees, that everywhere diversified the innumerable shades of green
with great splashes of vivid and gorgeous colour.  Nor could much fault
be found with the climate, for, although the island lay well within the
tropics, the constant sea breeze must certainly temper the heat and
render it perfectly endurable.

The people on deck, seeing how I was engaged, waited with exemplary
patience until I should make a move; but the moment I rose to my feet
and prepared to descend the rigging there was a rush to that part of the
deck which I must first touch, upon my return from aloft, every
individual in the crowd evidently charged with questions which he fully
intended to fire off at me without further delay.  While descending the
ratlines, therefore, I hastily prepared a little speech which I hoped
would not prove disappointing to them.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

AN END TO MY RESPONSIBILITIES.

As I stepped out of the rigging on to the rail, and stood there grasping
a backstay, there was a sudden rushing together of the crowd, every eye
sought mine, and a few of the more eager ones stretched out their hands,
as though to grasp me and thus establish a sort of claim to my immediate
attention.  But I had no inclination to subject myself to the sort of
cross-questioning that might be expected from folk of the class of which
the emigrants were largely composed.  I therefore raised my hand for
silence and to command attention, and when I saw that they were ready to
listen to me I began.

"I can see," I said, "that you are all very naturally anxious to learn
what I have been able to discover concerning yonder beautiful island
during my long stay aloft.  I will therefore embrace the opportunity
which you have given me, by assembling yourselves together, to tell you
collectively the result of my observations.

"To begin with the size of the island, of which you are probably as well
able to judge as I am.  Roughly speaking, it is of circular shape, as
you have already had the opportunity to see for yourselves, and I
estimate its diameter to be, as nearly as may be, ten miles.  This
should give you an area of somewhere about seventy-eight and a half
square miles, or upwards of fifty thousand acres, of which probably
three-quarters will be found useful for any purpose to which you may
wish to put it.  I therefore think you will agree with me that the
island is amply large enough to accommodate you all, and find you plenty
of employment for the remainder of your lives.  I have seen several
streams of water, evidently fresh, flowing down its slopes; you are
therefore not likely to perish of thirst; on the contrary, there must be
an abundant supply, judging from the evidences of abounding fertility
that we see everywhere.  I have observed no signs of animals, noxious or
otherwise, nor do I very well understand how they could get here, taking
into consideration the fact that there is no other land near at hand
from which they could have come; you are not likely, therefore, to
experience any trouble from that source.  And, lastly, I have seen no
signs of inhabitants; it would therefore appear that your title to the
island is as good as that of anyone else;" (loud cheers).  "But," I
continued, "I do not think it would be altogether wise to assume that
the island is uninhabited simply because I have been unable to discover
from aloft any trace of human presence.  For aught that we know to the
contrary, the place may be swarming with natives, eager to obtain
possession of this ship and her cargo; and since we first entered these
waters we have had more than one opportunity of judging what would be
likely to happen, should we be so unfortunate as to fall into the power
of such people.  I therefore propose that instead of all hands swarming
ashore, and leaving the ship to take care of herself--as I see you all
seem inclined to do--the muskets, with a good supply of ammunition,
shall be served out to those most capable of making a good use of them,
and half of that number shall go ashore as an exploring party to examine
the island thoroughly, while the other half shall remain aboard to take
care of the ship.  Then, when you have satisfied yourselves that there
are no hostile natives to molest you, we will take the ship into yonder
cove, and all hands can then land without fear."  This last proposition
of mine was evidently extremely unpopular, with no one more so than
Wilde, who, thrusting himself through the crowd, hotly demanded to know
who I thought I was that I should presume to dictate to them as to who
should and who should not land.  But there were a few level-headed ones
among the party who, while freely acknowledging how tantalising it would
be to those left on board to gaze upon the island without being
permitted to land upon it, were quite able to recognise the prudence of
my suggestion, among them being Polson and the carpenter.  At length,
after much animated discussion, not altogether free from the flavour of
acrimony, the proposal was adopted, and the difficult task of choosing
those who were to form the exploring party was proceeded with.  Wilde
demanded that he should be included among the party upon the ground that
he was the originator of the scheme which had brought us all to the
island; and as I saw no particular reason for resisting this demand, I
allowed it to pass unchallenged, merely insisting that Polson should be
the leader of the expedition; while four others would necessarily have
to be seamen, in order to handle the boat and bring her quickly back to
the ship in the event of anything in the nature of a hasty retreat
becoming advisable.  Thus five of the twelve explorers were seamen, and
the whole of these I personally nominated, being careful to choose the
most steady and reliable for so important a service, while the remaining
six were chosen by lot from among the unmarried male emigrants.  This
point being at length settled, a packet of refreshments, consisting of
cold meat and ship's bread, was served out to each member of the
expedition; the largest of the quarter boats was lowered and brought to
the gangway, and the whole party bundled down the side into her and
pushed off amid the half-envious cheers of the rest.  Just before they
started I drew Polson aside and gave him my views upon the manner in
which I considered that the exploration ought to be conducted, and
impressed upon him the fact that he was the leader of the expedition and
must exact the strictest obedience from every member of it; and this he
promised to do.

I allowed the exploring party to get fairly away from the ship, and
then, causing the second quarter boat to be lowered, sent four hands
down into her with the lead-line, followed them myself, and then headed
after the first boat toward the harbour which I suspected to exist
inside the two headlands first discovered by Polson, my object being to
make a rough survey of this harbour before attempting to take the ship
into it.  The fact that I would allow only four seamen to accompany me
occasioned some further discontent among the number who were obliged to
remain aboard the ship; but I cared nothing for this.  I was quite
determined that no unnecessary risks of any kind should be run; and
since these people appeared unable to think for themselves, and Wilde
seemed to have as little idea as the rest of them of what precautions
ought to be observed, I just resolved to think for them, at least until
they were all safely ashore and I could feel that I was no longer
responsible for their safety.  After that they might take as many risks
as they pleased.

As we in the second boat neared the two headlands which formed the
approach to the inner harbour they assumed a much more imposing
appearance than they had presented from the deck of the ship, rising
sheer out of the water to a height of nearly or quite two hundred feet,
in the form of precipitous cliffs of dark rock which sloped away on
either hand until, at a distance of about a mile to right and left, they
dwindled away to nothing and were lost in the verdant slope that rose
gently from the outside beach.

I started sounding as soon as the boat pushed off from the ship's side,
and, instead of heading directly for the inner harbour, pursued a zigzag
course athwart and toward the mouth of it, each arm of the zigzag
measuring about half a mile.  I did this in the hope of discovering any
hidden dangers that might perchance lurk in the track of the ship on her
way into the inner harbour; but we found none, and the floor of the
lagoon seemed to be as smooth and almost as level as that of a ballroom,
sloping very gradually up from a deep five fathoms where the ship lay to
four and a half fathoms between the two headlands.

But when at length we got fairly in between those two headlands, what a
surprise was sprung upon us!  I had expected--and indeed the utmost
extent of my hopes had been--that inside those two heads we might find a
snug little cove just large enough to allow the ship room to swing in;
but, to the astonishment of us all, when we got inside we found
ourselves in a splendid landlocked basin, measuring about two and a half
miles long by about one and three-quarter miles wide, by far the largest
part of the area lying to the south-westward of the entrance.

On the inner side the two heads presented very much the same appearance
as they did outside; that is to say, they sprang sheer out of the water
as practically vertical cliffs, gradually decreasing in height until, at
about a distance of a mile from the harbour entrance, they disappeared
altogether, merging into the general, gentle, upward slope of the land
from the water's edge.  Where the cliffs ended a beautiful sandy beach
began, having a sweep of fully three miles round the back of the basin.
It was on this beach that the exploring party had landed; and when we
entered the basin there was the other boat, her stem hauled up on the
beach, and her painter made fast to an oar, the loom of which had been
driven deep into the sand, instead of lying off, afloat, with two hands
in her as boatkeepers, ready for any emergency, as I had directed.  It
was a little annoying to find one's instructions disregarded so
flagrantly; but I reminded myself that, with the berthing of the ship in
the basin, I should have accomplished all that had been demanded of me,
and henceforth must expect to be treated as a nonentity.  That, of
course, would leave me quite free to think out some plan whereby to
effect my escape and return to civilisation; for Wilde's Socialistic
doctrines did not in the least appeal to me, and not even the prospect
of passing the remainder of my life upon that beautiful and fertile
island could reconcile me to them.

However, there was plenty of time before me in which to work out a plan
of escape; my present business was to ascertain whether the Basin--as I
already named it in my own mind--afforded safe anchorage for the ship; I
therefore resumed the task of sounding, working pretty regularly all
over the area of it, with the result that the floor was found to slope
upward very gradually until within about half a mile of low-water mark,
when the slope became comparatively steep.  So far as my somewhat
cursory survey went there seemed to be no submerged rocks, shoals, or
other dangers in that beautiful landlocked harbour to imperil the safety
of the ship; but in order to make assurance doubly sure I landed on the
inner beach and ascended the south-west head--from which the best view
of the basin was to be obtained--when, the sun having by this time
climbed nearly to the zenith and his rays striking down almost
perpendicularly into the water, I was able to see a considerable portion
of the sandy floor of the harbour through the crystalline depths of its
waters; but neither in this way could I discover any sign of danger or
obstruction.  I therefore concluded that the ship might be brought
inside the Heads, and anchored pretty closely to the beach, without much
apprehension of harm happening to her, especially as there did not
appear to be more than eighteen inches rise of tide in this particular
part of the ocean.

From the situation which I now occupied I was of course afforded the
best view of the island that I had yet obtained; and truth compels me to
say that the more I saw of it the better I liked it.  There should be no
lack of fresh water on the island, for even from my point of observation
there were at least a dozen small streams in sight, and doubtless there
were others beyond the range of my vision.  Then the trees upon it
seemed to number some hundreds of thousands, a very fair proportion of
which appeared to be of large size, and the timber of which would
probably be found useful for a multiplicity of purposes.  It was a
veritable garden of flowers of the most varied and beautiful shapes and
hues; butterflies of enormous size and the most gorgeous colours flitted
here and there; bees hovered over the multitudinous blossoms, busily
engaged in collecting their store of honey; many birds were seen, some
of then of marvellously beautiful plumage; while, as to fruit, wild
strawberries and raspberries flourished in profusion even upon the
headland on which I was standing, and which boasted no other vegetation
than grass and low bushes.  The shores of the basin offered an
absolutely ideal site for a town, although the ground there might
perhaps be considered rather low; and for my own part I practically made
up my mind that, while I would stick to the ship as long as I might be
permitted to do so, if I were compelled to remain on the island for any
length of time I would endeavour to secure a plot of land on the weather
side of the island, and about halfway up the side of the mountain.

One of the most remarkable facts connected with the island, that served
to confirm me in the conviction that it was uninhabited, was the
extraordinary and absolute fearlessness of man which the birds and other
living things exhibited.  They flitted about us, and settled within
reach of our hands, and numbers of them might have been captured had I
permitted it; but I pointed out to the men who accompanied me the
absolute uselessness as well as cruelty of such a proceeding, and
contrived to convince them that a great deal more pleasure was to be
derived from the sight of these beautiful creatures, alive and flying
about in perfect freedom and fearlessness, than from the possession of a
few of their dead and stuffed skins.

Having at length learned as much as was possible in such a brief visit
to this island paradise, and having also fully made up my mind as to the
precise spot in the basin where the _Mercury_ should be moored, I
summoned my boat's crew to follow me, and, descending to the beach, got
into our boat and pulled back to the ship, just in time for dinner.

Polson being ashore with the explorers, the cabin party at dinner
consisted only of Miss Hartley, Tudsbery, and myself; and it was only
natural that my two companions should be eager to learn what impression
a nearer view of the island had produced upon me, although I could not
help thinking that there was a something suggestive of apprehension or
distaste in the questions which the girl put to me.  I took but little
notice of it at the moment, however; for I was thinking more about the
task of moving the ship than of satisfying the curiosity of my
companions, who, I considered, would doubtless have an opportunity on
the morrow to learn for themselves all that they desired to know.

I had so completely made up my mind that there was no reason why the
ship should not at once be taken into the basin, that as soon as dinner
was over I gave the carpenter instructions to muster the hands and heave
short, the news that the ship was about to enter the basin producing a
sufficient number of voluntary helpers from among the emigrants to
render the task of walking the ship up to her anchor an easy one,
despite the fact that the exploring party left us five seamen short.
Then, the seamen who remained on board having loosed and set the three
topsails, jib, and spanker, we broke out the anchor, cast the ship with
her head to the southward for a short stretch in the lagoon, in order to
get a fair run in between the Heads, then roused the anchor up to the
bows, and catted it.

By the time that this was done we were far enough to the southward to
enable us to point our jibboom straight for the fairway between the
Heads--the northernmost of which slightly overlapped the other--when we
tacked ship and bore away for the entrance, with the emigrants crowding
the waist, on both sides of the ship, eager to see their new home at
somewhat closer quarters.  A quarter of an hour later we swept in
between the two towering headlands, with sufficient way on the ship to
carry us through the belt of calm under the lee of the northernmost
Head, and the interior of the Basin, in all its beauty, lay spread out
like a picture before us.  Loud ejaculations of delight proclaimed the
pleasure which the sight gave to the emigrants, several of whom turned
their faces toward the poop, and in unmistakable language hinted the
hope that they would now be allowed to go ashore without further delay.
Once fairly inside the Head, the helm was starboarded and the ship was
headed for a sort of bay in the southern extremity of the basin, the
topsail halyards were let go, the jib hauled down, and the spanker
brailed in, and with the way that she still had on her the _Mercury_
slowly drifted to the spot which I had chosen as her final berth, and
the anchor was let go, in three and a half fathoms of water.

I am afraid I earned a certain amount of unpopularity by steadfastly
refusing to allow anyone to leave the ship until the explorers should
have returned, but the refusal was part of my policy of extreme caution,
of leaving nothing to chance, and of taking no risks of any kind, and I
adhered to it, explaining my reasons, and, I think, convincing the
majority that I was right.

With the mooring of the _Mercury_ in the berth which I had chosen for
her inside the Basin, I considered my task and my responsibility at an
end; and, seating myself in a basket chair on the poop, beneath the
awning, I disposed myself to begin thinking out some plan for the
ordering of my own future conduct.  But I had scarcely settled myself
comfortably when I was joined by Grace Hartley, who strove to conceal a
somewhat embarrassed manner, and the obvious fact that she had something
on her mind, behind an attempt at light and frivolous conversation.  I
endured this as long as I could; but at length the girl's preoccupation
became so marked that I interrupted her somewhat unceremoniously by
saying:

"Pray excuse me for breaking in upon your entertaining remarks, Miss
Hartley, but do you not think you had better come to the point, and have
done with it?  You want to say something to me, and do not quite know
how to begin.  Is not that the fact?"

"Yes, Mr Troubridge, it is," she acknowledged; "although how you
managed to guess it, I am sure I don't know."

"Well," said I, "let it suffice that I have guessed it.  Now, go ahead
and just tell me what it is."

The girl hesitated for some time, and at length said, with a laugh of
embarrassment:

"I know quite well what it is that I want to say; but my difficulty is
that I do not know how you will take it, for I have only a very hazy
idea what are your own ideas upon the subject."

"Has it anything to do with Gurney, by any chance?"  I asked.

"Well, yes, it has--in a way," she answered.  "The fact is, Mr
Troubridge, that now, when that horrid man Wilde's scheme seems to be
nearing fruition, I am beginning to realise that I am in a very awkward
and difficult position; and I am feeling very anxious.  I have heard
much talk, lately, that has greatly alarmed me; and I have been
compelled to ask myself what is to be the outcome of this attempt to
found a colony upon Socialistic lines.  I admit that I have never very
closely studied the doctrine of Socialism; but if Wilde's views are to
be accepted as its gospel, my common sense tells me that the experiment
which we are about to make can result in nothing but a ghastly fiasco.
The text of his preaching is Social Equality.  Equality!  There has
never been, and never will be such a thing so long as this world endures
and mankind is what it is; and all attempts to make and keep men equal
are foredoomed to end in failure, even as they did in the days of the
French Revolution.  I foresee that one of the first results which will
follow such an attempt here will be discontent; then will speedily
follow dissension, and, finally, anarchy; and I look forward to that
condition of things with the utmost dread.  For anarchy means
lawlessness, violence, the adoption of the doctrine that Might is Right;
and in the midst of such a state of things what will happen to us
unfortunate women?"

"Ah!" said I.  "That is a question which I should think will affect you
very closely, although, judging merely from what I have seen of the
others, I doubt whether it will greatly trouble them.  I imagine that,
even if anarchy should come, they will know pretty well how to take care
of themselves, even as the French Revolutionary women did.  But what has
all this got to do with Gurney?"

"Well, it concerns him in this way," the girl answered.  "He thinks upon
this subject precisely as I do, and foresees--as I do--that grave
troubles for us all loom in the not-far-distant future.  Of course you
know very little about George Gurney, Mr Troubridge; to you he is
merely one of the crew of this ship; but," with some little
embarrassment which I very readily understood, "I have seen a great deal
of him of late, and I assure you that he is a very remarkable man,
intelligent, well-educated, refined; indeed, as a matter of fact, I
believe--although he has never told me so--that he was born to a very
different station in life from that which he now occupies.  I may as
well acknowledge that it is to conversations I have had with him that I
have come to see things in the light that I have endeavoured to make
clear to you; and it is partly at his suggestion that I finally decided
to mention the subject to you, and endeavour to obtain your views upon
it."

"My views, Miss Hartley," said I, "are in all essentials identical with
your own--and Gurney's--and, if you think fit, you may tell him so."

"Oh, thank you, Mr Troubridge!" exclaimed my companion.  "I will
certainly do so, for I am sure that he will be glad to hear it.  Of
course you understand that this conversation of ours was intended to be
private?  You will not mention to others what--?"

"I will not," I promised; "make your mind quite easy upon that point.
As a matter of fact I am very much obliged to you for opening your mind
to me; I will give what you have said my most serious consideration; and
it may be that, a little later on, I shall be very glad to have a little
further conversation with you upon this most interesting subject."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

A LANDING IS EFFECTED.

The explorers, weary but jubilant, bubbling over with enthusiastic
encomiums upon the beauty, fertility, and resources of the island, and
loaded down with samples of the numerous fruits and vegetable products
which they had discovered, arrived on board the ship just as the sun was
sinking beyond the southern shoulder of the peak.  Polson reported that,
upon landing, they had gone to the westward, and thence north, east, and
south, spreading themselves out in such a manner as to cover the widest
possible extent of country while still retaining touch with each other,
and had carefully examined the entire coast line of the island in search
of indications of the presence of natives, but finding none; so they had
come to the conclusion that they might safely assume the island to be
uninhabited, and therefore in that respect, as in all others, eminently
suited to their requirements.  They had found two harbours, in addition
to the Basin, one--that which we had observed on the preceding evening--
toward the north-western extremity of the island, and the other--of
nearly the same area as the Basin--on the northern shore; but they
considered both these harbours to be inferior to the Basin, from the
fact that the one on the north-west coast was practically an open
roadstead, exposed to westerly winds, while the other, although pretty
well sheltered from all except north-westerly winds--which seldom blew
in that latitude--was shallow, the fringing reef entirely filling it.
They described the island as abundantly watered, having encountered and
crossed no less than twenty-seven streams and brooks during the day; and
there did not appear to be a sterile spot anywhere upon it, except just
the bald head of the peak.  Wilde was of opinion that the island was
rich in minerals, traces of both iron and coal having been met with,
while outcrops of granite and a very beautiful marble, probably
exceedingly rich in lime, had also been encountered.  This was the first
rough report of the explorers, given immediately upon their return to
the ship, which Wilde undertook to supplement in an address which he
proposed to deliver from the poop after supper.

Accordingly, at the conclusion of the meal, all hands, emigrants and
seamen alike, mustered in the waist and on the quarter-deck, finding
seats where they could, some of them on the rail with their feet resting
on the plank-sheer, some on the after hatch, and the rest on the deck
planks, while Polson, Tudsbery, Grace Hartley, and I disposed ourselves
upon the poop, near enough to hear all that was said; Wilde placing
himself in the centre of the fore end of the poop, where he could be
seen and heard by everybody.  I am bound to admit that, as a speaker,
the ex-schoolmaster acquitted himself fairly well.  His grammar was
unexceptionable, as might be reasonably expected; his choice of words
admirable, and his mode of expressing himself easy, yet precise; while
he seemed to have the gift of arranging the points of his subject
symmetrically, and in such a manner as instantly to catch and hold the
attention of his hearers.  He began by recounting in detail the history
of the day's doings, describing the route taken, the nature of the
country passed over, and the various products met with.  Some of his
descriptive passages dealing with the beauties of the scenery--the
loveliness of the wooded glens, each with its tiny streamlet flowing
over a rocky bed, with here and there a romantic, tree-shaded waterfall,
its jagged margin adorned with rich growths of rare and beautiful ferns;
the wide, park-like expanses of greensward dotted with magnificent
trees; the tangled brakes, gorgeous with strange and wonderful orchids
and flowering shrubs and creepers; the countless fruit-bearing trees and
shrubs loaded with luscious fruits and berries; the miles of coconut-
palms bordering the shore; the gaily-plumaged birds with their quaint
and sometimes discordant cries; the brilliant-winged butterflies--were
both picturesque and poetical.  There were neither savages, ferocious
animals--or, indeed, animals of any kind--nor reptiles on the island, so
far as the explorers had been able to discover, he said; and as for the
extent of the island, it was sufficient to provide each individual of
the party, including the children, with ample subsistence for the rest
of his or her life.

Then he proceeded to sketch out--for about the thousandth time--the
principle upon which the community was to be governed.  It was to be
subject to laws which were to be enacted from time to time by a council
of seven--including himself--of which he was to be president for life in
virtue of the fact that the whole scheme and idea was of his
originating, the remaining six members of council to be elected once
every three years.  There were to be no distinctions of rank or class;
all were to be absolutely equal; there was to be no such thing as
private property, everything being held in common; everybody was to
labour diligently for the benefit of the entire community; and the
natural increase due to every person's labour was to be delivered into a
sort of general store, or warehouse, and apportioned out in accordance
with rules to be framed by the council.  There was a great deal more
said that night to the same effect, some of the statements being
received with rapturous applause--chiefly by the lazy and ne'er-do-well
members of the party; but I could see that although all hands had in the
first instance jumped readily enough at the prospect of an easy and
luxurious life, free--as they thought--from all restraint, in a land of
eternal summer, there were those among them to whom the Socialistic
doctrine of perfect equality and all things in common was already
distinctly distasteful; and I believed that if I could but school myself
sufficiently in the exercise of that patience which is said to be a
virtue, I should hear more of that distaste, and also of other things
that might be advantageous to me in my determination to effect my escape
from a community with the aims of which I was entirely out of sympathy.

Wilde closed his discourse with the announcement that on the morrow all
hands would be permitted to go on shore, immediately after breakfast, to
view the island and sample its products for themselves, returning to the
ship at sunset, in time for supper, after which another meeting would be
held for the purpose of electing the six members of council, who would,
upon election, immediately proceed to frame laws for the good government
of the community, and also make arrangements for its settlement upon the
island.  Accordingly, soon after sunrise on the following morning, the
emigrants once more made their appearance on deck in holiday attire, all
impatient for the moment to arrive when the boats should be brought to
the gangway to convey them to those green and bosky glades, which had
spread themselves so alluringly before their gaze for the preceding
forty-eight hours.  So eager were they that it was only with the utmost
difficulty we were able to persuade them to go below again, until the
crew had had time to wash decks and perform the ship's toilet for the
day.  My determination not to forgo this daily duty drew from Wilde an
acrimonious remonstrance; but his objections were promptly overruled by
Polson and Tudsbery, who, I now discovered, to my great satisfaction,
were, with most of the crew, disposed still to leave all matters
strictly pertaining to the ship, and her rule and governance, entirely
in my hands.

"Wilde don't know nothin' about a ship, Mr Troubridge--how should he?"
explained Polson to me; "and if he was let to have his way he might
start pullin' of her to pieces for the sake of her timber and metal."

"As likely as not he would," said I.  "But you men must never permit
that, Polson; at least, not for some time to come.  There are a dozen
ways in which she may yet be found eminently useful.  For instance,
beautiful and altogether suitable as this island appears for your
purpose, who is to say that it does not possess some subtle peculiarity
of climate rendering it unfit for the abode of Europeans; and what sort
of condition would you be in if such should prove to be the case, and
you had no ship to which to retreat, and in which to seek another
island?"

"Very true, sir," cut in the carpenter.  "I hadn't thought of that; but
there's the chance of it, all the same, now that you comes to mention
it."

As a matter of fact, however, it was not the above reason that
influenced me in the least in my desire to ensure the preservation of
the ship, for, although I had mentioned it, I did not for a moment
believe that the contingency would ever arise; but, like Grace Hartley
and Gurney, I had long since subjected Wilde's theories to careful
examination, and decided that there was nothing in them to satisfy a man
possessed of a healthy ambition to make his mark in the world; I
therefore wanted to keep open for myself a way of escape; and no better
way could possibly be afforded than by the ship.

By one bell in the forenoon watch--half-past eight--breakfast was over
and everybody was once more on deck and clustering about the gangways,
waiting for the boats to be brought alongside.  This was soon done,
every boat belonging to the ship having been got into the water and
veered astern the first thing that morning.  But now another delay
occurred, most vexatious to the impatient emigrants; for every one of
the boats--excepting the quarter boats, which had been kept tight by
filling them about a quarter full of water every morning--proved so
leaky, their seams having opened through long exposure to the air, that
they had quietly swamped in the interval between six o'clock and
breakfast-time.  The swamping process, however, had not occupied more
than a quarter of an hour, since which time the submerged boats had been
rapidly "taking up"; therefore when, soon afterward, they were baled
out, it was found that they had already become tight enough to make the
short passage to the shore; and by ten o'clock the ship was empty, save
for Polson and two seamen who had been included in the exploring party
of the previous day, and who were now willing to remain aboard and look
after her.

I went ashore in the last boat to leave the ship; and, upon stepping
ashore, at once set my face toward the peak, with the intention of
ascending it.  The nearer slopes ahead of me were thickly dotted with
people in little groups, parents and children, or friends, who were bent
upon seeing something of the island, certainly, but whose chief aim was
an enjoyable picnic.  The children were already, for the most part,
busily engaged in plucking the many strange and beautiful flowers with
which the greensward was thickly dotted; while the parents, eager to
sample the various fruits which the island yielded, vainly strove to
quicken the youngsters' pace.  There were a few solitary couples
straying off by themselves; and among them I presently recognised Gurney
and Grace Hartley.  Wilde, acting as cicerone to a large party who were
evidently anxious to see as much as possible of the island forthwith,
was already a long way ahead.

The greensward, which came right down to the beach of coarse coral grit,
rose undulatingly at a very gentle slope until within about three-
quarters of a mile from the summit of the peak, when the slope became
considerably steeper--probably a rise of one in five--to within a couple
of hundred feet of the summit, when the slope took an angle of about
forty-five degrees.  But it must not be imagined that the very gentle
slope of which I have spoken was uniform, for it was far from that; on
the contrary, I had not advanced much more than half a mile on my way
before I came to, first, a slight dip, then a rather stiff rise of a few
hundred yards to a kind of ridge, upon surmounting which I found myself
upon the edge of a wildly picturesque glen, or ravine, the steep sides
of which consisted of finely broken ground interspersed with outcrops of
lichen--stained rock and thickly overgrown with a tangle of bushes and
flowering shrubs, with here and there a few graceful saplings or a clump
of noble shade trees entwined with strange-looking and beautiful
orchids.  The cool, refreshing, musical sound of running water came up
from the depths of the glen, although the stream itself was not visible
from where I stood, while the subdued roar of a distant waterfall
strongly tempted me to swerve from my path and follow the upward course
of the glen.  I surrendered myself to the temptation, rather erroneously
arguing that every foot of rise must necessarily take me so much nearer
the summit of the peak, whereas I eventually found that I had diverged
almost at right angles to my proper course.  But I was richly rewarded
for my labour and loss of time, for at the end of a somewhat arduous
climb of about twenty minutes I found myself gazing at as romantic and
beautiful a bit of scenery as I had ever beheld.

I was in a deep hollow between two hills, the bottom of the hollow
forming a rocky basin into which poured the water of a small stream,
some ten feet in width, as it tumbled over a broad, rocky ledge some
sixty feet above, and came foaming, lace-like, down the moss-grown face
of the precipice.  The pool, or basin, into which the water fell was
some thirty feet in diameter, and apparently about four feet deep, the
pebbly bottom showing with startling distinctness through the crystal-
clear water.  The steep sides of the hollow were grass-grown, with
great, rough outcrops of granite rock showing here and there, out of the
interstices of which sprang a great variety of beautiful ferns, and were
overhung by a magnificent tangle of beautiful trees and bushes growing
so thickly together as completely to exclude the sun's rays, bathing the
whole scene in a soft, cool, delicious green twilight.

The water looked so clear, so cool, so altogether tempting, that I
decided there and then to treat myself to the luxury of a freshwater
bath; I accordingly stripped and sprang in, fully expecting to touch
bottom.  But, to my astonishment, the pool proved to be fully ten feet
deep; moreover the water was icy cold, or appeared to be so in
comparison with the tropical heat of the air; I therefore scrambled out
as quickly as possible, and, dressing, resumed my ramble, greatly
refreshed by my dip.

The hot air was heavy with the smell of wet earth, the spray of the
waterfall, the rank vegetation that flourished riotously along the
margins of the brook, and the mingled perfumes of a thousand varieties
of strange and gorgeously tinted flowers, as I laboriously climbed the
steep side of the ravine, after crossing the brook, on my way to the
more open country beyond.  But this soon changed upon my emerging from
the ravine, giving place to the more healthful and invigorating scent of
the salt sea breeze that came sweeping over the island and roared among
the lofty branches of the trees, among the trunks of which I now wound
my upward way.

I had now reached a park-like stretch of country, the surface of which
was clad with long, rich, luxuriant grass, thickly dotted with clumps of
splendid trees, many of which were of immense height and girth,
promising a rich yield of valuable timber, while others blazed with
vivid scarlet flowers instead of leaves.  These open park-like expanses
of country, however, were of comparatively limited extent, the trees for
the most part growing closely together, while the space between their
trunks was choked with thick undergrowth, consisting of shrubs, bushes,
and long, tough, flowering creepers, so densely and inextricably
intermingled that it was sometimes impossible to force a way through it,
and long detours became necessary in order to make any progress.  But
there were other spots, again, which conveyed the idea of natural
gardens, for in them little else than fruit-bearing trees were to be
found, among which I quickly recognised the banana, the plantain, the
peach, the orange, the lime, the custard apple, the granadilla, to say
nothing of many other kinds to which I was a stranger; while raspberries
and strawberries were to be found almost everywhere.  And a little later
on in my walk I came here and there upon patches of melon plants in all
stages, from that in which the blossom was just opening to that of the
ripe and perfect fruit.  A particularly rich and luscious-flavoured
purple grape also appeared to be exceedingly abundant.  Needless to say,
I sampled these various fruits as freely as discretion permitted, while
I filled my pockets with others to serve as dessert to my dinner.  This
meal I discussed, luxuriously reclining upon a thick bed of soft moss
surrounding a spring of deliriously cold fresh water, that came bubbling
up out of the earth in the shade of a thick grove of aromatic pines
which constituted the last belt of timber before the bare soil
surrounding the summit was reached.

Finally, after I had rested long enough to recover in a measure from the
fatigue of my unwonted exertions, I left the scented shadow of the pine
grove and, emerging into the blistering sunshine, manfully set myself to
climb the last three hundred feet of steep, bare ascent that separated
me from the highest point of the island.

The reason for the absolute bareness of the cone became apparent the
instant that I stepped out of the shadow of the pines, for I immediately
plunged ankle-deep in a loose deposit of ashes and pumice-stone that
yielded to my tread and slid away under me to such an extent as to make
progress almost impossible.  But I was determined not to be beaten; and
at length, after a full hour's violent exertion, I found myself,
breathless and with my clothing saturated with perspiration, standing,
as I had expected, on the lip of the crater of an extinct volcano.  The
crater was almost mathematically circular in shape, of about a quarter
of a mile in internal diameter, and fully five hundred feet deep; the
sides of the cup were practically vertical, and everywhere so smooth
that I could nowhere discover a spot where a descent into the crater
would have been possible, even had I desired to go down into it.  But I
had no such inclination; for I could see all that I wished from the
summit, the internal walls being absolutely bare, while the bottom was
simply a lake of stagnant water, apparently not more than a few inches
deep.

But if the interior of the crater offered little or nothing to attract
the eye, it was far otherwise when I directed my gaze outward.  The
whole of the island, except the comparatively small strip that was
hidden from me by the spreading rim of the crater, lay stretched out
beneath me like a map, beautifully executed in relief and tinted by the
hand of a master.  Its groves, its brakes, its broad park-like expanses,
its rocky glens, its picturesque ravines, its sparkling rivulets, its
deeply indented coast line, its dazzlingly white beaches, the outline of
its fringing reef, ay, and the long thin line of its barrier reef, with
its spouting, leaping wall of snowy spray, reaching from north to south,
and spreading far into the deep blue of the ocean to the eastward, were
visible through that clear air with startling distinctness.  Why, I
could even detect the evanescent whiteness of the breaking surges far
out beyond the barrier reef, where their crests were whipped into foam
by the scourging of the fiery breeze.  I considered that I commanded a
horizon of nearly a hundred and twenty miles in diameter, yet throughout
that wide stretch of ocean there was nothing visible save the island, no
ship save the _Mercury_, floating like a tiny toy upon the placid,
landlocked surface of the Basin.  I keenly searched the horizon in every
direction for signs of other land, but nowhere could I detect even the
loom of it.  We were absolutely alone here in our lovely island Eden;
and there was no land in any direction near enough to cause us the
slightest uneasiness as to incursions of hostile savages.

Two full hours, by my watch, did I spend upon the summit of the crater,
slowly sauntering round its rim, feasting my eyes upon the surpassing
beauties of the scene beneath and around me, and also sketching a rough
map of the island for future use.  Then, sated with enjoyment, and more
than half-reconciled to the possibility that I might be compelled to
spend the remainder of my life amid such glorious surroundings, I set
about to effect my descent and return to the ship, following a route
which I had mentally mapped out, as it seemed to promise easier going
than the one by which I had ascended.  Taking my time, choosing my
ground, and winding hither and thither to avoid obstacles, I arrived at
the beach just in good time to go off aboard with the last boatload of
holiday makers, all of whom, though hot and weary with their long day's
ramble, were full of enthusiasm at the prospect of making their homes on
so lovely and fertile a spot and in such a perfect climate.

At eight o'clock that night Wilde ascended the poop and, assuming the
direction of affairs quite as a matter of course, gave orders for all
hands to assemble in the waist in order that the business of electing
the members of council--who, in conjunction with himself, were to frame
the laws and order the affairs of the community--might be proceeded
with.  He opened the proceedings by explaining in detail precisely what
the duties of the council were to be, incidentally mentioning the fact
that, in consideration of the onerous and responsible character of those
duties, the members would be absolved from the performance of any and
every other kind of work.  He dwelt at some length upon the
qualifications which he considered indispensable for the efficient
discharge of the duties of a member of council, enumerating, among
others, wisdom, discretion, organising ability, and the faculty of
anticipating and providing for the future needs of the community; and
then himself proceeded to propose the six persons whom he considered
best fitted to fill the office, all of them being chosen from among the
emigrants!

At this stage of the proceedings Gurney promptly rose and intervened.
He said that he fully agreed with the chairman both as to the necessity
for extreme care in the choice of persons to fill positions of such
heavy responsibility, and also as to the qualifications required in the
holders of such positions.  But, while he had nothing to say against the
persons proposed by the chairman, he was of opinion that there was one
person in the ship who, despite his extreme youth, was at least as fully
qualified as any other individual among them to fill satisfactorily the
position of a member of council, and who, moreover, had fully earned the
distinction by piloting them to this beautiful island.  He presumed that
he need not add that he referred to young Mr Troubridge, to whose
exceptional skill as a seaman and a navigator they all owed so much!

These remarks were greeted with so much enthusiasm that it was with the
utmost difficulty I succeeded in making it understood--to Wilde's
manifest relief--that for certain good and sufficient reasons I must
decline to accept the proffered office.  But, I continued, it seemed to
me not only a mistake but distinctly invidious that the seamen should be
entirely excluded from the governing body; and I considered that, in
common fairness to them, two at least of their number--to be chosen by
themselves--ought to be included.

This proposal also was loudly applauded; and, after a great deal of
rather heated discussion, Polson and Gurney, as representative of the
officers and crew of the ship, were duly elected members of council; the
other four being William Fell, once a solicitor's clerk; Henry Burgess,
lately a colliery agent; John Monroe, formerly a builder; and Samuel
Hilary, late agricultural labourer.  These four last, as may be readily
understood, owed their election not so much to their superior
qualifications as to the fact that they were red-hot Socialists, full of
plans to enable everybody to enjoy a maximum amount of comfort at the
cost of a minimum of labour; and they proved the sincerity of their
doctrine by securing their own election to posts which freed them from
the necessity to labour for themselves.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

AN IMPORTANT TALK WITH GURNEY.

Immediately upon the completion of the election, Wilde, in the plenitude
of his zeal and eagerness to taste the sweets of power and authority,
insisted on calling a meeting of the council, to meet there and then in
the poop cabin, for the purpose of arranging the proceedings of the
morrow.  When the sitting was over, Polson told me that the very first
proposal submitted by the president was that the ship's sails should all
be unbent and taken ashore to form tents for the people to live in; and
that, next, the ship should be stripped to a gantline, and her spars and
rigging--together with as much of her bulwarks as might be required--
worked up into a raft for the conveyance of cargo to the shore.  Of
course Polson, with the memory of the conversation that had passed
between him and myself on that very morning still fresh in his mind,
stoutly opposed the proposal, adducing the arguments that I had used
against such a proceeding, and adding to them his own, with such success
that not only was the proposal negatived, but he actually succeeded in
carrying another to the effect that half a dozen hands under me were to
be told off for the express purpose of giving the hull, spars, standing
and running rigging, and sails a thorough overhaul, and executing such
repairs, etcetera, as might be found necessary to bring the ship to, and
maintain her in, a condition of perfect fitness for service at a
moment's notice!

This result achieved, the boatswain was quite content to let Wilde have
his own way in all other respects, with the result that it was quickly
arranged that the hatches should be lifted the first thing after
breakfast on the following morning, the cargo overhauled as far as
possible, and room made by transferring to the shore such portions of it
as were not likely to be injured by exposure to the weather; also that
the live stock, consisting of some three dozen fowls, together with a
boar and two sows, were to be landed and allowed to run wild for a week
or two, until proper quarters could be prepared for their reception, in
order that they might improve their condition.  The mention of live
stock produced another weighty argument in favour of the proposal just
carried by Polson, for it elicited an expression of opinion that horses
and horned cattle, as well as sheep, were urgently required by the
colonists, and ought to be procured at the earliest possible moment.

"What d'ye think of the arrangement, Mr Troubridge?" asked the
boatswain, when he had brought his account of the proceedings to a
close.

"I see nothing to find fault with in it," I replied, "except that I
think you are acting unwisely in meddling with the cargo before
providing a receptacle for it ashore.  I believe it highly probable that
when you begin to break out the cargo you will find many things that
must necessarily be kept under cover, if they are not to be ruined by
exposure to the weather; and what will you do with them?  Strike them
back into the hold?  If so, you will be giving yourselves double
trouble, and delaying instead of expediting matters."

"Well, but what else can we do?  What would you have advised if you'd
been in my place?" demanded Polson.

"I should have proposed building a storehouse big enough to receive the
whole of the cargo before removing the hatches," replied I.  "The job
could easily be done.  A few poles cut up there among the hills and
brought down to the shore, a sufficient quantity of wattles to form the
roof and sides, and a covering of coconut-palm leaves, and there you
are.  We saw plenty of such structures among the islands that we visited
before arriving here, and I remember that everybody remarked how easily
they might be built."

"Now, why the mischief didn't I think of that?" exclaimed the boatswain,
smiting his knee with vexation.  "Of course that's the proper thing to
do.  Oh, Mr Troubridge, why didn't you let yourself be elected a member
of council, sir?  You've an old head, although it is on young shoulders;
and you'd have been worth more to us than Fell, Burgess, Monroe, and
Hilary all lumped together."

"I refused, Polson," said I, "because, as you must have been aware from
the first, I absolutely and utterly disapproved of the whole affair from
beginning to end.  You started wrong, in the first place, by stealing
the ship and cargo from those to whom they lawfully belonged.  That is
piracy; an act for which some of you may yet be made to smart.  But
apart from that, I am strongly of opinion that you are starting this
community upon totally wrong lines.  You have already heard me say, more
than once, that I have no belief in, or sympathy with, the principles
upon which Wilde proposes to rule this settlement.  I do not believe
they will be found to work satisfactorily; and therefore I will have
nothing whatever to do with the scheme."

"Yes, yes, I know, Mr Troubridge; I've heard you say all that afore,"
answered Polson with some impatience.  "But, all the same, I can't for
the life of me see what's wrong with the plan.  As for what you calls
our act of piracy, well, there's no gettin' away from it that if ever we
was found out, some of us would get `toko' for that job, and I expect
that I should be one.  But I dunno as I feels partic'lar oneasy about
that, for I don't see how we're goin' to be found out.  And the risk,
such as it is, was worth runnin', for ain't we goin' to settle down here
and live in peace and plenty and happiness all our lives?"

"You think so, Polson, I don't doubt," said I.  "But wait a while until
the schoolmaster's theories are put to the test of actual everyday
practice, and then come and tell me what you think of them."

"All right, Mr Troubridge, that's fair enough; I will," answered the
boatswain.  And therewith he rose and, with a somewhat troubled
countenance, left me.

The effect of this conversation became apparent when on the following
morning, before breakfast, Polson came aft and announced to me that,
upon further consideration of the matter, the council had decided to
build a storehouse ashore before touching the cargo.  And he followed up
this communication by asking me for my idea as to what the dimensions of
the structure should be.

"Oh," said I in a tone of indifference, "if you make it twice as long as
the ship's hold, twice as wide, and about twelve feet high to the eaves,
you ought to have ample room for the storage of everything, in such a
fashion that you can get at any particular portion of the cargo without
difficulty, and at a moment's notice.  And let me give you another hint,
Polson.  If you are wise you will have a careful inventory taken of
every item of the cargo as it goes ashore, with a record of the
particular part of the building in which it is stored."

"Thank 'e, Mr Troubridge; thank 'e, sir; that's good advice, and I'll
see as it's follered," answered the boatswain, walking away.

Now, I was quite determined to hold myself absolutely aloof from
everything in the most remote degree savouring of participation in this
mad scheme, for many reasons; but I had no objection to the dropping of
a hint to Polson now and then, for I considered that by so doing I
should strengthen my influence with him.  I wanted him to acquire the
habit of depending upon me to help him when he found himself in a
difficulty of any kind; and there was also the possibility that in this
way I might occasionally be able to induce him to put forward or support
proposals that might be of the utmost advantage to my plans of ultimate
escape.

The revised arrangement of the council was put into effect immediately
after breakfast, the boats being brought alongside and all hands--except
the members of council, myself and my gang, and a few of the idlers--
sent ashore.  The carpenter, with a gang of assistants, going up to the
higher lands to select, cut down, and transport to the near
neighbourhood of the beach a sufficient number of suitable trees and
saplings to form the framework of the store, while another gang sought
wattles wherewith to form the walls, the women and children meanwhile
being dispatched along the shore, to collect the fallen leaves of the
coconut-palms and bind them in bundles, prior to their transportation to
the site of the store for use as thatch for the roof and sides of the
building.  A fourth working party at the same time was engaged in
digging holes in the soil for the reception of the poles which were to
form the corner and intermediate posts of the structure.

While all hands ashore were thus engaged, the council was sitting in the
poop cabin, drafting the laws by which the community was to be
governed--and making a mighty poor business of it, if the frequent
outburst of voices raised in angry altercation might be taken as a
criterion.  As for me, half a dozen seamen were placed at my disposal
thoroughly to overhaul the hull, spars, rigging, and sails of the ship;
and I began my task by unbending all the sails that needed any repair,
sending them down on deck, and storing them away in the sail-room prior
to starting upon the repairs.  This did not take very long; and pretty
early in the afternoon I had my party at work on the poop, under an
awning, cutting out worn cloths and inserting new from the stock of
canvas carried for that purpose, ripping off the old roping and
replacing it with new, and generally putting each sail into perfectly
good and reliable condition.  There was not so much of this kind of work
to be done as I had feared; so it and the building of the warehouse came
to an end together.

Then followed the discharging of the cargo, which was conveyed to the
shore in boats, carried up from the beach on men's shoulders, or, in the
case of the heavier packages, on hand barrows; a few there were so heavy
that they had to be removed from the beach on rollers, but they were not
many; and when the ship's hold was empty, and the whole of its contents
transferred to the warehouse, there ensued a general overhaul of
everything, and a detailed inventory was taken, showing precisely what
articles and materials, and in what quantity, were at the disposal of
the community.

The ship being empty, I seized the opportunity to careen her, examine
her sheathing, go over it with mallets where it had become wrinkled with
the straining of the hull, stripping off the worst of it and replacing
it with new, so far as our resources would allow; removed all weed and
barnacles, and re-caulked her seams where necessary.  The next job was
to smoke her for rats, with which she was overrun, and remove their
carcasses; then we repainted her, inside and out, having plenty of paint
for the purpose; after which we ballasted her with sand, putting a
sufficient quantity into her to make her tolerably weatherly.  Finally
we gave her spars and rigging a thorough overhaul, fitting to her a new
main topmast, the old one proving to be slightly sprung, and rove a
considerable quantity of new running gear.  The lower masts, bowsprit,
mastheads, and yards were next repainted, the bright spars thoroughly
scraped and revarnished, the standing rigging tarred down; and, last of
all, the sails were rebent, and the old _Mercury_ was once more ready to
go to sea at practically a moment's notice.

All this work, with the small gang of men at my disposal, occupied the
best part of six months in the doing.  Meanwhile the remainder of the
community had not been altogether idle, although it had already become
apparent that there was a fairly liberal sprinkling of drones among
them, and there was a steadily growing discontent among the more
industriously disposed because of this, and because, also, Wilde's
doctrines provided no means whereby the lazy ones could be compelled to
do their fair share of work.  But despite this, the aspect of the island
had greatly changed--not altogether for the better, I thought--during
the months of our sojourn upon it.  In the first place, the warehouse
had been so easily and quickly erected that a roomy, barrack-like
structure had at once been built alongside it for the accommodation of
all hands, pending the erection of separate dwellings of better
appearance and a more permanent character for the several families.
Then, many marriages had taken place, Wilde, in his capacity of chief
magistrate, undertaking to tie the nuptial knot.

But the erection of two buildings by no means comprised the sum total of
what had thus far been accomplished by the settlers.  Small parties of
prospectors had been sent out to ascertain the resources of the island;
and, among many other valuable products, coal, iron, clay of
exceptionally fine quality for the manufacture of bricks and tiles,
marble, granite, basalt, limestone, pine, satinwood, teak, and
sandalwood in exceedingly large quantities had been found.  A brick and
tile yard had been established over on the north-west side of the
island, and large quantities of splendid bricks and tiles had already
been made; a limekiln had been built, and was in full operation; and a
large consignment of circular and other saws having been found among the
cargo, a sawmill had been erected alongside one of the numerous streams,
the flow of which had been utilised to drive the saws, and much timber
had already been cut down and converted into planks and scantling.  A
considerable quantity of sandalwood had likewise been collected, with
the intention of loading it into the ship and dispatching her with it to
China, there to be converted into money, with which a cargo of tea and
another ship were to be purchased and dispatched to find a profitable
market, the proceeds of the cargo being expended to provide live stock
and such other necessaries as the settlers might require.  So much
sandalwood indeed had already been collected that, to make room for it,
it had been found necessary to discharge all but some eighty tons of the
sand ballast that had been originally shipped, and the _Mercury_ was now
quite deep enough in the water to enable her to go to sea with safety at
any moment.

The only thing that was worrying Wilde and the council, so far as this
part of their plans was concerned, was the fact that I was the only
navigator among them; and, well knowing how strongly I had disapproved
of everything connected with the original scheme for the appropriation
of the ship and her cargo, they feared that, if I were sent away to
navigate the ship, I should betray them at the first civilised port
arrived at, while without me the ship could not be sent to sea at all.
I gathered this partly from the strenuous efforts that were now being
made to induce me to throw in my lot with the rest of the settlers, and
partly from Grace Hartley, between whom and myself a firm friendship had
steadily grown up, and who, in her turn, had gained a pretty fair
knowledge of the situation from Gurney.  But I did not often see her,
for she had been installed as schoolmistress to instruct the young folk
of the settlement; while I, in conjunction with a young fellow named
Meadows, who had served his pupilage with an architect and surveyor in
England, had been set the task of making a detailed survey and plan of
the entire island.

The affairs of the settlement had reached this stage when, on a certain
evening, after all hands had knocked off for the day, Miss Hartley came
to my side as we were leaving the large shed in which all meals were
served, and, after a few casual remarks that gave us time to get out of
earshot of the rest, said:

"I suppose, Mr Troubridge, after tramping about all day in the hot sun,
as you have been, you feel too tired to come for a walk with George and
me?"

"No, indeed I do not!"  I answered.  "I have grown quite accustomed to
be on my feet all day, and now think nothing of it; indeed, I had it in
my mind to take a stroll in any case.  The evening is far too fine and
beautiful to be spent under cover.  But, may I ask, have you any special
reason for giving me this invitation?"

"Yes," said Grace, "I have.  The fact is, Mr Troubridge, that George is
very anxious to have a chat with you."

"All right," I said.  "I shall be very pleased.  It is some time now
since Gurney and I have spoken to each other.  But do you know what he
wishes to speak to me about?  I hope there is nothing wrong."

"No," she said--"no; there is nothing actually wrong.  But George will
tell you all about it himself.  Do you mind if we go up on to the Head?
It will be delightful up there to-night, and we can talk without much
fear of being overheard.  I told George we would go there, and he will
follow us."

And so he did, overtaking us about halfway up the rise.

"I must apologise, Mr Troubridge," he said, "for troubling you to come
all this way after your long day's work; but the fact is that for the
last month I have had it in my mind to speak to you, and the inducement
to do so has been growing ever since.  To come to the point at once,
Grace and I have had enough of Wilde and his fantastic notions, and
would like to cut our connection with the whole concern if it were
possible.  I am speaking quite freely to you, Mr Troubridge, for I know
that you have been dragged into this business quite against your will,
and--apart from what Grace has told me from time to time--I have drawn
my own conclusions from your steadfast refusal to sign the Charter.
Also, from what I have seen of you, I feel tolerably certain that
whatever I may say to you in confidence will not be betrayed to others."

"Of course," said I, "you may rest assured of that.  But what is it that
you wish to do, Gurney; and in what way do you imagine that I can help
you?"

"Well," said Gurney, "the idea has taken hold of me--and not me only, I
may tell you, but a good many others, Wilde being one of them--that if a
chance to quit this island and return to civilisation were to present
itself to you, you would gladly seize it.  And it is just this idea that
has caused Wilde to hesitate about completing the loading of the ship
and dispatching her under your command.  Something, however, must be
done soon; for the settlement is in urgent need of live stock, and many
other things, which must be obtained by hook or by crook without much
further delay.  Now, I cannot speak with certainty, because I don't
know, but by putting two and two together I have come to the conclusion
that Wilde and certain other unscrupulous persons among his followers
have it in their minds to fill up the ship with sandalwood, man her with
a dozen or so of the forecastle hands in whom they can place absolute
trust, and dispatch her to Canton under your command.  But--and here
comes in the villainy of the scheme--as soon as a landfall is made, you
are to be quietly knocked on the head and hove over the side to prevent
all further trouble.  The ship is to be taken into port; she and her
cargo are to be disposed of; another vessel and a cargo of tea are to be
bought with the proceeds; a skipper secured; and the new ship is then to
proceed to some good market where the tea will be disposed of, and the
proceeds applied to the purchase of what is most urgently needed by the
settlers."

"A very pretty scheme indeed!"  I exclaimed.  "But, Gurney, you must be
mistaken as to their intention to do away with me.  Why, the idea is
monstrous; it means sheer, deliberate, cold-blooded murder!"

"Yes, it does," admitted Gurney; "and of course I may be mistaken, for I
do not enjoy Wilde's full confidence by any means--we are far too
antagonistic in every way for that.  But let me urge you not to trust
too much to the possibility that I may be mistaken, Mr Troubridge, for
I do not believe that I am; and if it should happen to be you, and not
I, who are mistaken, it would be bad for you, would it not?"

"It would," I agreed.  "But forewarned is forearmed, Gurney; and I would
take precious good care not to be caught napping.  Was it to tell me
this that you proposed this walk to-night?"

"Yes," answered Gurney; "to tell you that; and also to say that if what
you have heard to-night should determine you to attempt an escape from
the island, you may rely upon Grace and me to help you to the utmost
extent of our power.  Also, I want you to include us both in your plan.
I think it will be quite worth your while to take us with you, Mr
Troubridge; for you know something of my qualifications as a seaman, and
I am sure I could be of service in carrying out your plans; while, as
for Grace, well, if she can do nothing else, she can at least cook our
grub for us.  Now, what do you say?"

"I say that I will gladly include both of you in my plans, and there is
my hand upon it," answered I, offering him my right hand in token of
good faith.  We discussed the matter for some time longer; and at length
I said: "Now please leave me to think this matter out.  What you have
told me has taken me a good deal by surprise, and as yet I feel scarcely
able to grasp the full significance of it.  But I have no doubt that I
shall get the bearings of it within the next hour or so.  Meanwhile, I
believe you are right in suggesting that it would be unwise to leave
anything to chance; I will therefore endeavour to think out some
practical scheme, and when I have done so we will have another chat.
And now, good night!  Good night, Miss Hartley!"



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE CRITICAL MOMENT APPROACHES.

I watched the tall, good-looking, well-spoken sailor, and the slim,
willowy figure of his sweetheart gradually vanish amid the deep shadows
of the bushes that bordered the path leading downward from the Head; and
then, oblivious of the peril of rheumatism, seated myself upon the least
dew-sodden boulder that I could find, and proceeded to think out the
momentous communication that had just been made to me.

It was a glorious night.  The full moon, some thirty degrees above the
eastern horizon, flashed the whole sea beneath her, outside the reef,
into a vast sheet of tumbling liquid silver, while her beams fell in a
long line of tremulous radiance upon the placid waters of the lagoon,
right up to the edge of the cliff upon which I sat.  The sky was
cloudless, and toward the zenith and away down in the west some of the
larger stars beamed with that soft yet brilliant effulgence that is only
to be seen within the tropics, but in her own neighbourhood the stronger
light of the moon had eclipsed them all save the planet Venus that hung
near her, glowing like a silver lamp.  So brilliant were the moonbeams
that even the ants, beetles, and other small creeping things that ran
about my feet were distinctly visible, as were the tints of the flowers
that bloomed everywhere, and some of which had the peculiarity of
opening only at night.  A soft and gentle breeze was blowing in from the
sea, just strongly enough to stir and rustle the grasses and foliage
about me, and to bring to my ears the deep and ceaseless thunder of the
surf that beat everlastingly upon the distant reef.

The greater part of the Basin was still in shadow, including that where
the _Mercury_ lay, but the moon was high enough for her rays to reach
the upper spars of the ship almost down to her topsail yards, and the
dew-wetted spars and rigging gleamed as though inlaid with wires of
silver.  The settlement, temporarily built on the inner shore of the
Basin, was almost as distinctly visible as though it were daylight, its
scattered lights gleaming yellow through the gauze-like mistiness of the
dew-laden atmosphere; and from it the slopes and undulations of the
island delicately receded, until at the peak they assumed almost the
ethereal softness of clouds.  It was a glorious scene that the island
presented, slumbering langorously under the brilliant rays of the
tropical moon, more enchanting in some respects than when viewed in the
garish light of the sun; and so strong was the enticement of its beauty
upon me that, but for the dull cramping influence of the doctrines
accepted by the settlers upon which to frame the guiding rules of their
lives, I could without very much difficulty have reconciled myself to
the idea of a sojourn there for the remainder of my days.

But I had already perceived unmistakable evidences of the blighting
effect which was being steadily produced upon certain members of the
community by the consciousness--which I think some of them were only now
beginning to fully realise--that industry and individual effort were to
count for nothing, and that the lazy, useless units were to live a life
of inglorious ease at the expense of the hard workers.  I foresaw that a
time was coming when deadly strife would rage between the two sections;
and the prospect was not enticing enough to induce me to throw in my lot
with the rest.  Yet, if I did not, my life would be in danger; for it
scarcely needed Gurney's communication of an hour before to impress upon
me the conviction that, sooner or later, Wilde and his followers would
insist upon my giving in my adhesion to them or--taking the consequences
of refusal.  And it did not need the gift of the seer to forecast the
precise character of those consequences.  I had scouted the idea of
deliberate cold-blooded murder when Gurney had suggested it to me, yet I
had not forgotten that I had already been threatened with death as the
alternative to undertaking the navigation of the ship, during the quest
for a suitable island upon which to settle; and I had very little doubt
that they would have carried out their threat had I persisted in my
refusal.

Now I was again threatened with it.  There seemed to be but two
alternatives--submission or flight; and it was but the work of a moment
with me to decide that flight was the more acceptable of the two.  But
how to accomplish it?  I thought of the longboat; but to fit her for a
long voyage in the open ocean, with any hope of accomplishing it, would
need an amount of preparation that could not possibly escape notice.
And to be detected in the making of such preparations would be to arouse
such suspicion as must inevitably result in the complete defeat of my
plans, followed perhaps by other consequences of a still more serious
character; while to neglect them and attempt flight in the boat, just as
she was, would be madness--an expedient only to be resorted to under
stress of the direst extremity.  Hour after hour I sat there racking my
brains in quest of some practicable plan offering a reasonable prospect
of success; but could think of nothing; the scheme upon which I finally
settled being only one degree less mad than that of venturing to sea in
the unprepared longboat.  Such as it was, however, I determined to
submit it to Gurney's consideration, and hear what he thought of it.

Accordingly, watching my opportunity, I contrived to get hold of Grace
Hartley, on the following evening, after supper, and whispered to her
that I intended to walk up to the Head again, and would be glad if she
and Gurney would follow me to the spot where we had had our previous
talk together.  To which she replied that they would certainly do so;
and half an hour later the pair joined me.

"Well, Mr Troubridge," exclaimed Gurney, as we met, "I hope this
summons means that you have succeeded in hitting upon some scheme which
will enable us all three to get away from here without delay; for I may
as well tell you that the council have to-day decided to complete the
loading of the _Mercury_ and dispatch her to Canton forthwith.  And,
although Wilde did not say so in so many words, I have every reason to
believe that the pretty little programme which I sketched out to you
last night is to be carried through."

"So much the greater reason why you and I, Gurney, should make up our
minds at once what is to be done," said I.

"Yes; you are right," answered Gurney.  "For I have not yet told you the
whole of the story, nor how it affects Grace and me.  I, as one of the
council, am to go in the ship, ostensibly for the purpose of transacting
the commercial part of the business--the disposal of the ship and cargo,
the purchase of another vessel, and of a cargo of tea, and so on; but
actually--as I have only too much reason to fear--in order that, during
my absence, Wilde may have an opportunity to force Grace to marry him."

"I see," said I.  "Well, Gurney, the only scheme that I have thus far
been able to think of is of so mad and desperate a character that I
gravely doubt whether you will feel justified in having anything to do
with it."

"Let us hear what it is, Mr Troubridge," answered Gurney.  "It will
have to be something pretty desperate to choke Grace and me off it; for
I can tell you we are growing more than a trifle desperate ourselves."

"Well," said I, "to put the scheme baldly, I simply propose that we
three shall run off with the ship, sail her to Sydney, hand her over to
the authorities, telling the whole truth, and take our chance of what
may follow.  I doubt whether they would deal hardly with either of us.
Miss Hartley is of course quite blameless; they would never dream of
holding her in the least degree responsible for the theft of the ship
and cargo; nor do I believe they would be very hard upon me, seeing that
Wilde and the rest compelled me to fall in with their plans.  And as for
yourself, the fact that you had assisted me to restore the ship to her
proper owners would probably be accepted as a set-off against your share
of the crime of stealing the ship, especially in view of the fact that
we had brought in a cargo of sandalwood in place of the much less
valuable cargo which the settlers have appropriated.  Now, what do you
think of it?"

"Well," answered Gurney slowly, as he turned my plan over in his mind,
"the proposal that two men and a girl shall attempt to navigate a ship
of eight hundred tons from here to Sydney--a matter of four thousand
miles or more, I suppose--has certainly, as you say, more than a
suggestion of madness about it.  Yet I believe that we could do it, Mr
Troubridge--I was in Plymouth Sound, a trifle over two years ago, when a
ship nearly as big as the _Mercury_ came in.  She was from Rio; and the
second mate, an apprentice, and one ordinary seaman comprised the whole
of her crew.  She sailed from Rio with her full complement; and when she
was only three days at sea an outbreak of yellow fever occurred aboard
her.  First one, and then another, and another of her crew was struck
down; but the skipper would not put back.  He had a fair wind, and he
insisted that the men's best chance of shaking off the fever lay in
keeping the ship at sea.  And they did so, although the men continued to
die until, by the time that they reached the latitude of the Azores,
only the three I have named remained alive.  Meanwhile, as the crew
dwindled and the ship became short-handed, they snugged her down until
at last they had nothing set but the close-reefed fore and main topsails
and the fore topmast staysail, and under that canvas she entered the
Sound, hove-to, and signalled for assistance.  Oh yes, I am sure we
could do it, provided, of course, that we kept our health; and we should
have to take our chance of that.  It would be hard work, certainly, but
there are two of us, both fairly strong, and--as the second mate of that
ship I told you of answered, when he was asked how they managed--one can
do a lot of work with a tackle or two.  And as to how the authorities
might be disposed to regard my share of the stealing of the ship, I
would take my chance of that.  Gracie here can bear witness that I was
never in favour of the scheme, and only joined in it with a good grace
because there seemed nothing else to be done.  Now, as to the best time
for making the attempt, what is your idea about that?"

"Well," said I, "in view of the fact that it has actually been decided
to send the ship to sea, I think it will be well to wait until the cargo
is all in, and the hatches on.  That will give us an opportunity to get
all our traps aboard without exciting suspicion.  Then, on the night of
the day prior to the sailing of the ship, we three must go off to her,
slip her cable, make sail--as much as we can manage--and trust that we
may be able to reach open water before our flight is discovered.  If the
completion of the loading can by any means be delayed until the moon
rises about an hour after midnight, so much the better."

"Oh, as to that!" answered Gurney; "the deliberate way of working that
the people have got into will make it quite a week before the loading is
finished, which will bring moonrise to somewhere about the time you
mention.  The moon will have taken off to about her third quarter by
then; but even so she will give us light enough to find our way out
through the reef, which is all that we need trouble about."

"Precisely," I agreed.  "Then am I to understand that you and Miss
Hartley definitely agree to throw in your lot with me in this desperate
attempt?"

"Yes, Mr Troubridge, you certainly may," answered Gurney.  "At least,"
he corrected himself, "I can answer for myself.  And as to Gracie here,
what say you, little woman?"

"I say, of course, that I would infinitely prefer to go with you and Mr
Troubridge," answered the girl.  "The only thing is," she continued,
"that I am afraid I shall be a frightful trouble to you both.  And yet I
don't know; I can cook your meals for you; and I can steer the ship in
fine weather, can't I, George?"

"Ay, that you can, as well as any man in the ship," answered Gurney.  "I
taught her myself, Mr Troubridge, long before you appeared upon the
scene."

"I foresee, Miss Hartley," said I, "that, so far from being a trouble to
us, you will be absolutely indispensable to our success.  And now,
Gurney, I think we had better part; for, under all the circumstances, I
believe it will scarcely be wise for you and me to be seen very much
together.  Watch the progress of events in the council, and let me know
if anything should transpire of a character likely to interfere with our
plans."

On the evening of the following day, upon my return to the settlement
from the scene of the surveying operations, I found awaiting me a formal
intimation from the council of its determination forthwith to complete
the loading of the _Mercury_ and dispatch her to sea at the earliest
possible moment; and I was instructed to deliver over all documents and
papers of every kind relating to the survey of the island to my
coadjutor, Meadows, who would henceforth have sole charge of the survey;
also, I was to proceed on board the ship on the following morning,
accompanied by the men--former members of the crew--named in the margin,
for the purpose of submitting the hull, spars, sails, and rigging to a
thorough overhaul, in order to ensure that the ship was fit and ready in
all respects to undertake a voyage to China; and to prepare an inventory
of such provisions and stores as might be required for the voyage.  And,
lastly, when these orders had been carried out, I was to report in
person to the council and receive my final instructions relative to the
voyage.

I found that my crew was to consist of twenty men, all told, namely,
eighteen seamen, one cook, and a cabin steward; and of the eighteen
seamen Gurney was to act in the capacity of chief mate, and Tudsbery,
the carpenter, as second.  Gurney, being a member of the council, was
excused from participation in the overhauling operations, Polson--who
was also a member of the council--being sent in his stead.  I could not,
at the time, quite understand the reason for this somewhat singular
arrangement; for I did not for an instant accept the official
explanation that Polson, from his former association with the ship as
boatswain, was considered to possess a more intimate knowledge than
Gurney of the minutiae of the ship's equipment.  However, it was all
made clear to me afterwards.

With these twenty men, then, I proceeded on board the _Mercury_ on a
certain morning, and proceeded to give her and all her gear a thorough
overhaul, although I knew it to be simply a waste of time and energy,
the overhaul having already been made, all defective or doubtful gear
replaced, and the sails loosed and aired once every week since.  Still,
I did not in the least object, for it was all to my personal advantage
that if perchance any trifling defect had been thus far overlooked, it
should now be made good.  While the rest of the hands, under Polson and
Tudsbery, were going systematically to work upon the overhauling process
I set the cook and steward to work to take careful stock of the contents
of the lazarette, with the object of ensuring that there should be a
sufficiency of provisions to last us through the voyage.  I also had the
water tanks emptied, and filled up with pure spring water.  And while
all this was being done a strong gang was put to the task of bringing
down the sandalwood, loading it into the ship's boats, and bringing it
alongside, when it was carefully stowed in the hold, the object being to
so stow it as to make the ship receive the utmost possible quantity for
which she had capacity.

On the fourth day the overhaul of the ship was completed; and on the
morning of the fifth day I presented myself before the council, to hand
in my report and receive my full instructions.  The report was a very
simple document, merely informing the council that the final overhaul
had been most carefully executed; that no defects of any description had
been discovered; that the supply of provisions in the lazarette had been
found to be sufficient for the proposed voyage; and that I was ready to
proceed to sea at a moment's notice.  The report was received with a
formal expression of the council's satisfaction; and I was then informed
that as it was anticipated that the loading of the ship would be
completed on the morrow, I was to make every preparation for the sailing
of the ship on the day afterward, when the crew would be sent on board
immediately after breakfast, and when I was to present myself before the
council for my final instructions.

I left the apartment that had been dignified with the name of council
chamber exceedingly well satisfied with what had transpired, and
especially so at the information that the crew were not to join the ship
until the day of sailing.  For this was precisely the point upon which I
had been experiencing a good deal of anxiety of late.  For this reason.
I was most anxious that the ship should go to sea with her hatches on,
and the longboat at least properly stowed.  But, on the other hand, I
greatly feared that when matters had reached this point the crew would
be ordered aboard, say on the evening of the day preceding the sailing
of the ship.  And, if this should happen, my plan of making off with the
ship must almost inevitably fail, for it would be practically impossible
for Gurney and myself to overpower the remaining nineteen of the crew,
who, apart from other considerations, would certainly have their
suspicions aroused as soon as Grace Hartley's presence on board should
be discovered, as it soon must be.

I shrewdly suspected that this arrangement relative to the embarkation
of the crew at the last moment prior to the sailing of the ship must be
due to Gurney, who would, of course, perceive quite as clearly as myself
how vital to our success such an arrangement must be, and I tried to get
a word with him to ascertain whether this was actually the case.  But I
found it impossible to do so; and I accordingly devoted the remainder of
the day to getting my chest aboard, taking possession of my cabin, and
carefully studying the charts with the view of deciding upon the most
desirable route to be followed on the voyage to Sydney.  Late in the
afternoon Gurney and Tudsbery also brought their chests aboard, but even
then I was unable to get any private word with the former, because of
the constant presence of the latter.  Moreover, it appeared to me that
Gurney was rather markedly avoiding me, a circumstance that caused me a
good deal of uneasiness.  But at the last moment, just as all hands were
going ashore at the close of the day's work, my co-adventurer came and
stood beside me at the gangway for an instant and, without saying a
word, or even looking at me, felt for my hand, and thrust into it what
seemed to be a small, tightly folded piece of paper, immediately
afterwards passing through the gangway and down the ship's side.  I
waited until everybody else had left the deck, and then, carefully
thrusting the paper into my breeches pocket, followed.

Arrived at length at the quarters that I occupied while ashore, I drew
forth from my pocket what proved to be, as I had suspected from the feel
of it, a sheet of paper folded into a very small compass, and, opening
it, read as follows:--

"I have just learned, through the merest chance, that it has been
arranged that the crew shall go aboard to-morrow, instead of next day,
which means that we must act to-night.  Please meet me, therefore, among
the big rocks on the Basin beach under the South Head as soon after
supper as you conveniently can; and, if I should not be there when you
arrive, kindly wait for me.  I have chosen that spot for our rendezvous
on account of its secluded character, and because nobody cares to go
there after dark."

This was awkward news indeed; for, as Gurney had remarked in his
communication, it meant that we must act--that is to say, must make our
escape--that same night, although the hatches were off, and all the
boats were ashore.  Of course the fact that the hatches were off was the
merest trifle, for Gurney and I could soon clap them on and batten them
down; but I did not at all like the idea of going to sea without even so
much as a single boat on board; while, of all the boats belonging to the
ship, I should most have preferred the longboat, because she was a fine,
wholesome boat, and in the event of anything untoward happening we
should stand a far better chance in her than in any of the others.
However, there was no help for it; it would be better for us to escape
without boats than not at all.  And yet, when I came to think of it,
there was no reason why we should go to sea entirely without boats; we
should require one in which to make the passage from the shore to the
ship, and surely it ought not to be beyond the power of two men--and a
girl--to hoist one of the quarter boats to the davits, for, as Gurney
had said, a good deal of work can be done with the aid of a tackle or
two.  And if we could hoist one quarter boat, why not both?  Ay, and it
might even be possible to get in the longboat as well, if time and
opportunity permitted--but perhaps that was almost too much good luck to
expect.  Still, I had the germ of a plan in my mind, and I determined to
talk to Gurney about it.

Supper, the last meal of the day, was served at seven o'clock, and was
over and done with before eight, by which time it was quite dark, save
for such light as the stars afforded.  While this light was quite
sufficient to enable one to see one's way about the island, it was not
powerful enough to reveal objects at any great distance.  The conditions
were, therefore, quite favourable for our purpose, and when I left the
building in which supper had been served I sauntered off in an aimless
sort of way, as though going for a stroll toward the peak before turning
in for the night.  But when I had gone about a quarter of a mile, and
had satisfied myself that no one was about--for the settlers were, as a
rule, early birds, and usually turned in almost immediately after
supper--I made a detour which took me, by way of a slight hollow, down
to the inner beach, along which I passed towards the rendezvous
mentioned by Gurney.  This spot was situated beneath the cliffs on the
Basin side of the South Head, where an outcrop of big basalt rocks
occurred, and was always of so dark and gloomy and weird a character
that it was generally shunned even during the hours of daylight, while
at night time nobody ever went near the place if they could possibly
avoid it.  As I drew near it I once or twice fancied that someone was
following me, and, thinking that it might possibly be Gurney, I waited
to let him overtake me; but as nobody appeared I supposed I must have
been mistaken, and went on again, presently arriving among the rocks.
The next moment two figures emerged from among the shadows, and Gurney
and his sweetheart stood before me.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE GREAT ADVENTURE.

"Ah! here you are, Gurney, and Miss Hartley, too," I exclaimed.  "That
is good; better, indeed, than I dared hope, for I did not expect to see
you, Miss Hartley, at least for another two or three hours."

"No," answered Grace; "nor did I expect to be here so soon.  But a lucky
chance enabled me to get my box out of the hut unobserved, and, George
happening to come to my window soon afterward to make his final
arrangements, we seized the opportunity and came straight away at once.
Mrs Pierson, with whom I have been staying, believes me to be in bed
with a bad headache.  I made my escape through the window."

"Excellent!" said I.  "Then I suppose we may set to work almost at once,
may we not, Gurney?"

"Yes, as soon as you please, Mr Troubridge," answered Gurney.  "But I
think it would be wise to give everybody a chance to get home and into
bed first.  It would be rather awkward if anybody should happen to be
out late, taking a walk on the Head, and should see us."

"That is true; it would," said I.  "Which reminds me that as I came
along the beach, on my way here just now, I once or twice had an
impression of being followed.  I thought that possibly it might be you,
and waited for you to overtake me; but nothing came of it."

"It is a case of `guilty conscience', I expect, Mr Troubridge," laughed
Gurney.  "Why should anyone follow you?  Nobody can possibly suspect us,
for neither Grace nor I--nor you either, I suppose--have ever breathed a
word of this to a single soul, not even to each other when there has
been the slightest chance of our being overheard."

"No, of course not; it was my fancy, perhaps," I answered.  "I must
plead guilty to having felt a trifle anxious and nervous during the last
few days.  But that is all gone and past now.  The first thing that I
want to talk to you about, Gurney, is the boats.  I don't much like the
idea of going to sea without boats, and especially the longboat.  Now,
so far as the quarter boats are concerned, I believe we might manage to
get them both hoisted up to the davits, by hooking the watch-tackle on
to the falls; but what about the longboat?  Do you think there is any
possibility of our being able to hoist her in?"

"We might, certainly--if we only had the time," answered Gurney.  "But
it would have to be done before we passed out through the reef.  In
smooth water--if, as I say, we had the time--I dare say it could be
done.  But not outside, with the ship rolling and tumbling about; the
boat would be stove long before we could get her inboard."

"Undoubtedly," I agreed.  "But I have a plan which I think will afford
us the time to hoist in the longboat as well as the two quarter boats
before we go outside.  When once we are safely out of the Basin, what
have we to fear?  Nothing, except being overtaken and the ship
recaptured by a strong body of men sent after us in boats.  But if they
have no boats they cannot follow us!  Now, my plan is this.  I propose
that, as soon as it seems safe to do so, we proceed to the spot where
all the boats are moored, man the jollyboat, and tow all the rest off to
the ship, veering them astern by their painters when we get aboard.
Then we will loose and set the fore and main topsail and fore topmast
staysail, slip the cable, and work the ship out between the Heads into
the lagoon.  Once there, we are safe; we can heave-to, and hoist the two
quarter boats to the davits, then put on the hatches, and hoist in the
longboat, with no fear that anyone can possibly interfere with us.
Then, when we have completed our work to our satisfaction, we can cast
the remaining boats adrift--they will be certain to drive ashore
undamaged, and be recovered--and we can go out through the reef in broad
daylight."

"By Jove, Mr Troubridge, you have hit it!" exclaimed Gurney with
enthusiasm.  "If we can manage to secure the whole of the boats, and get
the ship out of the Basin, undetected, we may defy all hands of them.
Yes; I see no possibility of a hitch in that plan.  But we shall not be
safe until we are outside the Basin.  And now, what do you think, Mr
Troubridge, will it be safe to make a beginning at once, or shall we
give them a little longer to get indoors and to sleep?"

"Every minute is of the utmost value to us," said I.  "Still, it would
be a pity to spoil all by being too precipitate.  Let us wait another
hour, at the expiration of which I think we may safely make a move."

Accordingly, we all three sat down in the deepest shadow of the rocks,
chatting in low tones and discussing the prospects of the voyage, the
chances of success in the somewhat desperate attempt that we were about
to make, and kindred matters, until my watch showed that we were within
an hour of midnight, when I thought it would be unwise to delay any
longer, and accordingly gave the word to make a move.  Whereupon Gurney
hoisted his sweetheart's box on his shoulders, and we all three moved
cautiously and in dead silence along the beach toward where the boats
were moored, keeping close in among the shadows cast by the cliffs and
the overhanging foliage.

The boats, with the exception of the jollyboat, were all moored in a
string at a distance of about a hundred yards from the beach, the
longboat riding to a small boat anchor, while the others were secured to
her by their painters, the jollyboat being hauled up on the sand.  This
was the boat that we intended to use to go off to the ship in, towing
the other boats astern; and when we got alongside her, Gurney swung
Grace Hartley's box off his shoulder, intending to deposit it in the
stern-sheets of the boat prior to launching her.  As he leaned over the
gunwale to do so, however, he started back with a smothered ejaculation,
for at the same instant a human figure rose up out of the bottom of the
boat, where it had been crouching.  To drop the box on the sand was,
with Gurney, the work of a second; and the next instant he had the man
by the throat and was bearing him back into the bottom of the boat
again, while Grace Hartley seized my arm and gripped it like a vice to
prevent herself from screaming.

"Not a sound, for your life, Grace!"  I hissed in her ear as I shook
myself free from her grip.  Then, springing to Gurney's side, I
exclaimed in a low, tense whisper:

"Steady, Gurney; steady, man! don't kill the fellow, and don't make a
noise.  Who is he?  Let him get up and tell us who he is, and what he is
doing here."

"Do you hear what Mr Troubridge says?" growled Gurney in his prisoner's
ear.  "Get up and give an account of yourself.  But if you attempt to
raise your voice I'll choke the life out of you without more ado.  Now
then, let us have a look at you.  Why, I'll be shot if it isn't
Saunders!"

Saunders, it may be explained, was one of the original crew of the
_Mercury_, and a very quiet, steady, well-conducted fellow.  It was
probably for that reason that he had not been chosen to go in the ship
on her projected voyage to China.

I approached the man and stared in his face.  Sure enough it was indeed
Saunders; and a very scared as well as somewhat angry appearance he
presented.

"Why, Saunders," I exclaimed in low-pitched accents of surprise, "what
are you doing here in the boat at this time of night?  Come, explain
yourself!"

"I will, Mr Troubridge, in half a jiffy, as soon as I've got the feel
of Gurney's grip out of my throat," answered the man.  "It's like this,
sir.  I've been on this here island long enough to see that Wilde's
ideas won't work.  I can see that, accordin' to his plan, I may stay
here all my life and be no better off than I am to-day, 'cause why--the
harder I and others like me works the better it is for a lot of lazy
shirkin' swabs, who've made up their minds that they'll never do a
hand's turn if they can help it.  And I don't see no fun in workin' for
skowbanks like that.  I've had about enough of it, and I wants to get
away from this here place to somewheres where a man can get the full
value of his labour.  So I've kep' my eye on you all day to-day, Mr
Troubridge, on the lookout for a chance to ast you to let me stow myself
away aboard the _Mercury_ until she gets well out to sea, intendin', you
understand, sir, to cut and run at the first port that we touches at.
But I couldn't get the chance to speak to you without bein' seen by them
as I didn't want to see me, so I follered you to-night when you started
out for a walk--as I thought--intendin' to range up alongside of you
when we was well clear of the settlement.  And afore I could arrange my
thoughts shipshape, so's to make clear what I wanted, you'd jined George
here and the young lady, and I couldn't help hearin' pretty near all
that was said.  Now, sir, I understands that you and Gurney feels pretty
much as I do about Wilde and his notions, and intends to give the lot of
'em the slip by makin' off all alone by yourselves in the ship to-night.
Ain't that it, sir?"

"Well, supposing that we had any such plan, what have you to say about
it?"  I returned.

"Only this, sir," answered Saunders, "that I begs you most earnestly to
let me come in with you.  It's a stiff job, Mr Troubridge, for two
people--for the young lady won't count nothin' to speak of--to work a
ship the size of the _Mercury_, and you'd find me most uncommon useful,
I assure ye, sir.  I'm an A.B., and knows my business as well as e'er a
man--"

"Yes," I agreed, "that is perfectly true, Saunders, for I have noticed
you more often than perhaps you think.  But have you considered the
tremendous amount of hard work that would fall to your share in such an
adventure as you speak of?  And hard work is not the only thing that has
to be considered; a voyage of the kind that you are talking about is
certain to involve a considerable element of danger.  Are you--"

"I don't care that for danger or hardship," interrupted Saunders,
snapping his fingers emphatically.  "Only say that I may jine in the
picnic, and you shan't have no cause to regret it, sir."

"What say you, Gurney?"  I asked.  "You have a right to a voice in this
matter; and you probably know Saunders a good deal better than I do."

"I say let him come by all means, Mr Troubridge," answered Gurney.  "He
is a good man, and will be worth his weight in gold to us."

"So I think," agreed I.  "But," turning to Saunders, "are you prepared
to start with us now, this instant?  For I cannot consent to incur the
risk and delay that would be involved in a return to the settlement."

"There's no call for me to go back, sir," answered the man eagerly.
"I've nobody to say goodbye to.  And as to `dunnage', why, I dare say I
can make out pretty well durin' the v'yage by helpin' myself from the
chests I shall find in the fo'c's'le."

"Very well, then," said I, "you may come, Saunders, and welcome.  Now,
Miss Hartley, step in, please, and sit down while Gurney and I shove
off.  In with that box though, Gurney; we must not leave that behind.
Go aft, Saunders, and help with an oar; but remember, everything must be
done in absolute silence."

The boat, which was already afloat for three parts of her length, was
easily launched, and in another minute I was seated in the stern-sheets
beside Grace Hartley, while Gurney and Saunders were gently and silently
paddling toward the spot where the rest of the boats were moored.  We
ranged quietly up alongside the longboat, and I got hold of her painter
and hauled up the anchor, which I placed in the bottom of the jollyboat.
Whereupon the two men at the oars once more gave way gently, and we
were soon slowly heading for the ship with the whole string of boats in
tow.  It took us a full half-hour to accomplish the distance between the
ship and the spot where the boats had been moored, and during the whole
of that time Gurney and Saunders kept their eyes intently fixed upon the
settlement, while I steered; but the place remained wrapped in darkness,
and nothing occurred to occasion us the least alarm.

During our stealthy passage across the basin we discussed in low tones
the important question of the boats; and it was ultimately settled that
we would take two of the four gigs, and at least make an effort to hoist
in the longboat, the other two gigs and the jollyboat to be cast adrift
and allowed to drive ashore as soon as we were ready to pass out through
the reef.  Accordingly, as soon as we had arrived alongside the ship,
and Grace Hartley and her box had been safely passed up the side, all
the boats were veered astern, the longboat and the best two of the gigs
each by her own painter, while the other two gigs and the jollyboat were
secured together in a string, one astern of the other, so that by
casting off one painter all three of the boats would be released at the
same instant, while, being lashed together, they would all go ashore at
the same spot.

By the time these arrangements were carried out the hour of midnight had
arrived.  The moon--or what there was left of her--was not due to rise
until an hour and twenty minutes later; but by the time that we had got
the two gigs hooked on, and the tackles hauled hand-taut--which was as
much as we intended to do with them before getting clear of the basin--
we had come to the conclusion that the stars afforded us light enough to
see by, and we therefore determined to proceed at once with the task of
setting the canvas.  I was more anxious over this part of our job than
any other, for it was no light task for four people--one of whom was a
slender slip of a girl--to sheet home and hoist the fore and main
topsails of an eight-hundred-ton ship.  It would be rather a lengthy
business, and somewhat noisy at that; for on a quiet night the rasping
of the chain sheets through the sheeve-holes might be heard at a
considerable distance, far enough, indeed, to attract the attention of
any sleepless individual in the settlement.  Moreover, the inside of the
Basin was a particularly quiet spot, being under the lee of the Heads,
and thus sheltered to a considerable extent from the sweep of the wind.
True, the reef lay to windward, and the ceaseless roar of the surf upon
it filled the air with such a volume of sound during the night that
other sounds might well be drowned in it; but if perchance any
suspicious sounds from the direction of the ship were to reach the
settlement, and the alarm be given, it might still be very awkward for
us, although we had all the boats.  For the settlers had plenty of
firearms and ammunition obtained from the cargo; and if they were to
muster on the Heads in time to fire upon us as we passed out of the
Basin, one or more of us might be hit and disabled, if not killed, which
would greatly jeopardise the success of our attempted flight.  Still,
the risk had to be taken, and all that we could do was to minimise it as
much as possible by taking every precaution.

Accordingly the buntlines, clewlines, and leech-lines were cast off and
very carefully overhauled, and the watch-tackle hitched to the halyards
before any of us went up on the yards; then the gaskets were cast off,
and the main topsail sheeted home.  To us, with our every sense wrought
to its highest pitch by anxiety, the noise was absolutely appalling, and
seemed as though it might easily be heard at the most distant extremity
of the island; but the die was cast.  We had taken our fate in our
hands, and there was nothing for it now but to go on and get this part
of the business over as quickly as possible; therefore as soon as the
sheets seemed to be home we belayed them and sprang to the watch-tackle.
With the assistance of this handy little piece of gear we got the heavy
yard mastheaded without much difficulty, although the process was a
somewhat lengthy one, in consequence of the necessity to frequently
fleet the tackle, racking the halyards meanwhile to keep what we had
gained.  However, we completed the job at length, and then the same
process had to be gone through with the fore topsail; and it was while
we were dragging away at the halyard of this sail that Grace Hartley,
upon whom we had not as yet found it necessary to call for help, came
running forward to tell us that lights were beginning to flash out here
and there in the settlement.  It was true; for when we paused from our
labours for a moment to verify the statement I counted four separate
points of light, and while we still stood looking, another and another
leapt out of the darkness.

"The alarm is given and the men are being roused!"  I exclaimed.  "Well,
it cannot be helped; and, anyhow, they are too late; for before they can
even discover that we have the boats we shall be under way.  Tail on
again, my hearties, and let us get this yard mastheaded, then our heavy
work will be done for the present.  Grace, you will find a lantern in
the steward's pantry; light it, please, and bring it for'ard, but take
care that the gleam is not seen from the shore.  Well, there, with the
halyards, belay!  I think we have all that we can get of it.  Saunders,
slip out and cast loose the fore topmast staysail.  Gurney, lend me a
hand to brace round the foreyard!"

Little or no attempt was now made at concealment; we hoisted the fore
topmast staysail, and, light as was the breeze inside the Basin, the
rustling of that important piece of canvas drummed in our ears with a
sound like thunder; but I had sense enough to know that it was
exceedingly doubtful whether or not it could be heard at the settlement.
The most noisy part of our work was yet to come, however; and to it we
now bent our energies.  This was the slipping of the cable.  We soon had
the shackle out, and the released portion of the cable at once rushed
through the hawse-pipe with a roar that must certainly be heard at the
settlement.  Then I dashed aft to the wheel and flung it hard over to
help the ship to cant, which she did with, as it seemed to me, most
exasperating sluggishness.  But she paid off at last, when we hauled aft
the staysail sheet, braced up the yards, and the _Mercury_ began, very
deliberately, to forge ahead, and our great adventure was at length
fairly begun.  Then, while the ship ratched across the Basin, prior to
tacking to pass out between the two Heads, Gurney and Saunders, both of
whom were exceptionally powerful men, went to work to hoist the two gigs
up to the davits.

By the time that they had got the first boat up, and the second one out
of the water, we were far enough to windward to render it necessary to
tack in order to avoid putting the old barkie ashore on the northern
beach.  I was just a little doubtful whether the ship would work under
such short canvas, but we had now drawn out from under the lee of the
south Head, and were feeling something of the true breeze.  The water
was smooth, and the ship had very nearly four knots' way on her, I
therefore determined to try it, and, giving the word "Ready about!" to
the others, put the helm very gently down, my aim being to sail her
round, if possible, with as little drag as might be from the rudder.
She luffed into the wind quite as freely as could reasonably be
expected; and the moment that I heard the head sails begin to flap I
jammed the helm hard down and lashed it there, leaving the ship to
herself while I sprang to help the others to swing the mainyard.  By the
time that we had got this and the main topsail yard round the ship was
fairly paying off on the other tack, when I sang out to Grace to cast
off the lashing and steady the helm.  Then, letting go the fore braces,
we dragged round the head yards and got them also braced up; whereupon I
ran aft to the wheel again, leaving Gurney and Saunders to trim over the
fore topmast staysail sheet.

Upon reaching the wheel I found Grace Hartley already perched alongside
it, and the ship well to windward of the passage between the Heads.  She
had fallen off a good bit, owing to the sluggishness with which the head
yards had been swung, but she was already coming to, and a few seconds
later her jibboom was pointing straight for the middle of the passage,
with the Heads looming up on either hand, black as ebony against the
faint shimmer of starlight on the waters of the lagoon beyond.  Gurney
and Saunders now came aft and proceeded to complete the hoisting of the
second quarter boat; and seeing that Grace seemed to know pretty well
what she was about with the wheel I left her at it, directing her to
steer the ship as nearly as might be midway between the two Heads, and
went to lend the others a hand with the boat.

We had both davit-tackles "two blocks" by the time that the ship was
fairly clear of the Heads and in the lagoon, after which we put the
hatches on and battened them down.  Then came the formidable job of
endeavouring to hoist in the longboat--and a formidable job it was, when
we actually came to seriously consider it.  Nevertheless we determined
to make the attempt.  Time was the only thing needed to assure us
success; and it was just in regard to this that we had our doubts.  For
it must be remembered that although we had got the ship out of the
Basin, she was not yet in open water; on the contrary, she was now
moving athwart the placid waters of the lagoon, heading about sou'-sou'-
east.  This lagoon, I think I have somewhere said, was, roughly,
crescent-shaped in plan, measuring about ten miles long by about two and
a half miles wide at its broadest part, the northern end being a trifle
the more weatherly of the two.

Now, our plan was this.  A ship, when hove-to, drifts along on a course
as nearly as possible at right angles to the direction of the wind,
which, in this case, was blowing due east.  We therefore proposed to
work the _Mercury_ up toward the northern end of the lagoon, until, when
brought round and hove-to, she should have room to drive slowly to the
southward without going ashore on the fringing reef which projected into
the lagoon an average distance of a mile from the island.  Then, while
she was thus drawing to the southward--the available distance being
about seven miles, or maybe a trifle more--we were to make the attempt
to hoist in the longboat by means of yard tackles, and stow her on the
main hatch.  The hatches were already on and battened down.  To get the
chocks into place to receive the boat was but the work of a few minutes;
and then came the business of rousing out the yard tackles and getting
them aloft.  I knew where to lay my hand upon them, and soon had them
ready for sending aloft; but by the time that we had got thus far the
ship had drawn well over toward the southern end of the barrier reef,
and it was time to heave about.  We therefore tacked ship again, the old
hooker working in much more lively fashion this time, because we were
now within the influence of the true breeze.  Then, with Grace Hartley
still at the wheel, Gurney and Saunders went aloft and got the tackles
up on the fore and main yards, also the stay purchases; and we were then
ready to begin the actual work itself.  The boat was next hauled
alongside the starboard gangway, in readiness to be hooked on; when, the
ship being by this time as far to the northward as it was prudent to go,
we tacked, and hove-to on the port tack.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE CATACLYSM.

No sooner was the ship round and hove-to, with her fore topsail aback,
than Gurney and Saunders slid down into the longboat and hooked on the
tackles, which I stood by on deck to haul taut.  Then by means of a
snatch-block, the watch-tackle, and the winch, we proceeded to lift
first the bows and then the stern out of the water, a foot or so at a
time.  It was slow, tedious work; but we were greatly assisted by the
light of the moon, which was by this time well above the horizon; and by
working as though for our lives we at length managed to get the boat
well above the level of the bulwarks, to transfer her weight from the
yards to the stay tackles, and to swing her inboard a few minutes before
it became imperatively necessary for us to wear round in order to avoid
going ashore upon the barrier reef.  By this time, too, we were able to
see a great crowd of people gathered upon the south Head watching us;
and once or twice we even thought we caught the sound of hailing; but
their attempts to communicate with us ended with that, a fear which I
had entertained that a number of them might attempt to swim out and
scramble aboard while we were all busy with the longboat proving
groundless.

We contrived to get the ship round with her head to the northward again,
just in time to avoid nicely hitting the reef; and then, upon the
principle that it is useless to make two bites at a cherry, we
determined to complete our task fully before going outside; we therefore
got the yard and stay tackles down and stowed away, and the longboat
properly secured in gripes before attempting to pass out through the
reef.  This kept us busy for nearly another hour, at the end of which we
tacked for the last time in the lagoon, and bore away for the passage
through the reef, which we successfully negotiated just as the sun's
upper rim flashed above the horizon, the jollyboat and the two gigs that
we intended to leave behind having been cast adrift a quarter of an hour
earlier.

We were all by this time beginning to feel the need of both food and
rest, we therefore decided to treat ourselves to a good, substantial
breakfast to start with; after which, the weather being fine, and the
glass high, three out of the four of us might safely venture to snatch a
few hours' sleep.  Accordingly I went aft to relieve Grace Hartley at
the wheel, while she retired to the cabin which had been allotted to her
and made a hasty toilet prior to an incursion into the steward's pantry
with the view of arranging for breakfast.  But Saunders was beforehand
with her; for while she was refreshing herself he entered the pantry and
gave it an overhaul, finding a smoked ham, a barrel of cabin bread,
coffee, cocoa, sugar, and a number of other articles already stowed
there by the steward who was to have accompanied the ship on her
projected voyage to China.  The ham he promptly cut, carrying several
slices, together with the coffee, forward to the galley, where Gurney
was already busy starting a fire; after which he returned to the cabin
and produced a tablecloth, knives and forks, cups and saucers, plates
and dishes, and set the table; thus, by the time that Grace was ready,
she found all her intentions anticipated.  When breakfast was ready,
Saunders came and relieved me at the wheel, while I, in company with
Gurney and his sweetheart, sat down to breakfast, at which meal it was
arranged that I should take the first watch, steering the ship and
keeping a lookout until seven bells in the forenoon, when Gurney was to
be called to relieve me while I took the sun, Saunders's duty being to
prepare a makeshift dinner.  The next watch, until eight bells in the
afternoon, was to be Gurney's, when Saunders would come on duty for the
first dogwatch, while Grace Hartley was to be allowed to prepare the
tea--or supper, as it was then the fashion to call the last meal of the
day; in fact, we made out a regular watch-bill, setting forth the
sequence of the watches, the names of those who were to keep them, and
the additional duties which each person was to perform, Grace Hartley
being, of course, let off very lightly, her share of the work being
principally confined to easy domestic duties.

As soon as I had finished breakfast I went on deck and relieved
Saunders, who went forward to the galley to secure the food that was
there being kept hot for him, taking it aft and consuming it in the
cabin.  I had already determined upon the route that I would take, and
was glad to find that while I had been below, the wind had veered just
sufficiently to allow the ship to lay her course, close-hauled.  Half an
hour's further experience revealed the fact that the ship was so nearly
steering herself that a very slight adjustment of the helm would enable
her to do so entirely, and this adjustment I was able to make with
sufficient accuracy within the next twenty minutes to permit of my
lashing the wheel and giving my attention to other matters.  I therefore
got out the chart and spread it open on the cabin table, went on deck
again to take the bearings and distance of the island--the latitude and
longitude of which I had long ago ascertained and marked upon the
chart--and then laid down the ship's position.

Then, finding that the ship still continued to behave satisfactorily
under her lashed helm, I got the telescope and went up into the main
topmast crosstrees to take a last look at the island, by that time about
ten miles distant.  It still lay broad on the horizon astern, and so
clear was the atmosphere that I was able to distinguish the boats which
we had cast adrift, still about a mile from the shore.  I next swept the
entire horizon with the telescope, in search of other land, or a sail,
but not a hint of the presence of either could I detect in any
direction.  I was especially anxious to fall in with a ship as soon as
possible, it being my intention to borrow a few more men, if I could;
for our experiences of the past night had already demonstrated to us
that while it was certainly possible for us four to handle the ship in
fine weather, it meant heavy work, while in bad weather it might easily
prove impossible.  The one thing of paramount importance to us, while we
were so short-handed, was plenty of sea room; and this I was determined
to keep, ay, although to do so should add another thousand miles to the
length of the voyage.

Having taken a thoroughly exhaustive look round I descended to the deck
and busied myself about a number of odd jobs that needed attention, such
as hauling taut and coiling up as much of the running gear as had been
cast off the pins during the night.

In this way I contrived to pass a fairly busy morning until seven bells,
when I called Saunders to turn out and start work in the galley,
afterward taking my sextant on deck to catch the meridian altitude of
the sun.  Then, immediately after dinner, I retired to my cabin and,
throwing off the clothing that I had now worn for more than thirty
hours, stretched myself upon my bunk, and slept like a log until Grace
Hartley--who had left the cabin an hour or so before--knocked at my door
to tell me that it was four bells and supper was ready.

By this time we had all had at least six hours' sleep, and felt able to
face the coming night with equanimity, the more so for the reason that
the weather promised to continue fine.  The ship was still under her two
topsails and fore topmast staysail, under which she was doing very well,
her average rate of sailing throughout the day having been, as nearly as
possible, four and a half knots.  There was a nice topgallant breeze
blowing, and we all felt that we should like to have availed ourselves
of it to the fullest possible extent; but making sail and taking it in
were two very different things--we could make sail at our leisure, but
we should probably be in a hurry when the shortening process became
necessary; moreover, to swing the topsail and lower yards, with the
strength at our command, was quite as much as we could well manage.
After talking the matter over together, therefore, we ultimately decided
to let everything stand just as it was until we could see a little more
clearly what was before us.

In this manner, then, the first two days passed, the ship jogging along
to the southward at the rate of about one hundred to a hundred and
twenty miles in the twenty-four hours, the weather continuing fine and,
on the whole, settled, enabling us all to get an ample sufficiency of
rest while attending to the duties which each day brought with it.

On the third night, dating from the beginning of our adventure, it fell
to me to take the middle watch; and when I went on deck at midnight I
still found the weather everything that could be desired, except that
the wind was perceptibly lighter than it had been when I turned in some
four hours earlier.  This change, Saunders informed me, had been in
progress during almost the whole of his watch; but I did not think--nor
did he--that it portended any very important alteration in the weather,
for the sky was perfectly clear, and the stars shone brilliantly.  The
utmost that I anticipated was a possible shift of wind; which, however,
would be no great matter, since it was just as likely to be in our
favour as against us.  We stood for a few minutes discussing
probabilities, and then Saunders bade me good night and went below.

For nearly two hours I stood at the wheel, holding the ship to her
course with ever-increasing difficulty; for the wind still continued to
drop until we scarcely had steerage-way.  Then, with a final sigh the
breeze died away altogether, the topsails hung limp and dew-saturated
from the yards, the fore topmast staysail sheet drooped amidships, and
the _Mercury_ swung broadside-on to the scarcely perceptible swell.

Abandoning the now useless wheel, I walked forward to the skylight--in
which the cabin lamp, turned low, burned dimly--and had a look at the
barometer.  It was about a tenth lower than when I had last looked at
it, two hours earlier, and that might possibly mean an impending change
of weather; but if so, the heavens showed no sign of it thus far, for
the sky was still clear as crystal, the stars beamed down with
undiminished radiance out of the immeasurable depths of the blue-black
vault overhead, and the swell was perceptibly flattening.  Then I looked
at the clock, which, as is usual at sea, was set every day by the sun.
It wanted five minutes to two; I therefore had still two hours of my
watch to stand; and, to stave off a certain feeling of drowsiness that
was insidiously taking possession of me, I went down on to the main deck
and proceeded to pace to and fro in the waist, satisfied that I might
walk there as long as I pleased without disturbing the rest of my
companions, each of whom occupied a cabin under the poop.

As I thoughtfully walked fore and aft between the main and fore rigging,
instinctively treading lightly in sympathy with the profound silence of
the night, my imagination carried me back to the island, and I was
endeavouring to picture to myself Wilde's rage and disgust upon making
the discovery that the ship had prematurely gone to sea, taking with her
the girl that he had fully determined to marry, when a low sound, like
the muttering of far-distant thunder, awoke me out of my reverie.  I
sprang up on the poop and flung a hasty glance around the horizon to see
if I could anywhere catch the glimmer of distant lightning, thinking
that possibly a squall might be brewing.  Far away to the northward I
did indeed distinctly see what appeared to be the reflection in the sky
of certain ruddy flashes, but they hardly looked to me like lightning,
or, at all events, like the kind of lightning which I had been
accustomed to see.

Meanwhile the low, muttering sound had not died away, as thunder does;
on the contrary, it was not only continuous but was steadily growing; in
volume with amazing rapidity, proceeding apparently from the direction
of those curious ruddy flashes, which were also growing stronger, even
as I stood staring and wondering what the phenomenon might mean.  As the
sound steadily increased so did its resemblance to thunder--or the rapid
firing of heavy guns--become more pronounced, a distinct booming, like
that of frequent heavy explosions, making itself heard in the midst of
the continuous rumble--which seemed to me to be drawing nearer with
frightful rapidity.  Then, as I still gazed in perplexity toward the
spot from which this mysterious and terrifying sound seemed to emanate,
I caught the gleam of white water on the northern horizon; and no longer
doubting that a heavy squall--of a character quite unknown to me, and
perhaps peculiar to those waters--was about to burst upon us, I dashed
down the poop ladder and into the cabin, uttered one yell of: "All hands
on deck!" and then dashed out again on to the main deck, springing first
to the main topsail halyards and letting them run, and then doing the
same by the fore.

By the time that I had cast off the fore topsail halyards, Gurney and
Saunders, alarmed by my cry, were out on deck, while in the doorway of
the cabin stood Grace Hartley with a wrap of some sort thrown over her
shoulders.

"What is it, Mr Troubridge--what, in the name of all that is terrible,
is happening?" demanded Gurney, gazing about him in amazement.

"Man the reef tackles, for your lives!"  I shouted.  "Don't you hear the
squall thundering down upon us?  If we are not lively it will whip the
masts out of her--indeed I am not sure but it will in any case!  Here we
are; lay hold, and drag--Grace, go back to your cabin--this is no place
for you!"

Gurney sprang to one of the reef tackles, while Saunders and I dragged
at the other, yelling our "Yo ho's!" as we did so.  Meanwhile the awful
booming and crashing sounds seemed to be sweeping down toward us on the
wings of the squall, and so heavy had they by this time become that we
could actually feel the ship trembling with the reverberation of them.
The next second that frightful combination of rumbling and crashing
sounds was all about us, mingled now with the hoarse roar of heavily
breaking water; the ship suddenly began to pitch and roll with a
violence which deprived us of all power to do anything more than just
cling for our lives to the nearest object that we could lay hold of; the
sea all about us suddenly broke into a mad turmoil of raging waters,
white with the glare of phosphorescence, leaping, foaming, and swirling
hither and thither with appalling violence; huge masses of water flung
themselves high in the air and crashed in over our bulwarks, forward,
aft, and amidships, all at the same moment, deluging our decks and
threatening to sweep us overboard; and in the midst of it all we felt a
succession of violent shocks, as though the ship were being swept over a
reef by a violent tide race.  But there was no wind; not a breath, save
such slight baffling draughts as were probably created by the violent
motion of the sea around us.

Those grating, hammering shocks lasted perhaps half a minute, then they
suddenly ceased; the deep rumbling, crashing sound swept past us away
down to the southward, and gradually died away; the roar of broken water
changed its note and became the seething hiss of an innumerable
multitude of streams rushing over a rocky bed and cascading from one
level to the other; and the ship once more floated motionless, or nearly
so.  And throughout the whole of this soul-shaking experience the stars
beamed calmly down upon us with undimmed splendour.

For a few seconds we three men stood staring at each other in awestruck
silence; then Gurney spoke, with a curious little quaver in his voice.

"That was no squall, Mr Troubridge," said he.  "It was a submarine
earthquake, and of extraordinary violence, too.  I should not be in the
least surprised if you find that its effects have been powerful and
widespread enough to make your chart of these seas absolutely useless to
you.  For instance, we are supposed to be a long way off soundings here,
are we not?  Yet what are we to make of those shocks that we felt just
now; were they merely the result of the earth tremor communicated to the
water, and through it to the hull of the ship; or were we actually swept
violently over the surface of a shoal?  I should like, just for
curiosity's sake, to take a cast of the--"

He paused suddenly.  While speaking, his eyes had been fixed intently
upon something that he seemed to see over my shoulder, away out on the
port side of the ship; and now, without attempting to finish his
sentence, he abruptly walked to the rail and stood staring out over it.

"What is the matter, Gurney; what do you think you see?"  I demanded,
going to his side, and somehow thrilled by the queerness of his manner.

"Come up on the poop," he said; "we shall see better from there."

He led the way, and I followed; and as I drew to his side he slowly
stretched forth his arm in a pointing attitude, and, sweeping his hand
slowly right round the horizon, said, in a low, impressive voice that
was almost a whisper, the single word:

"Look!"

Then, for the first time, I saw the explanation of his strangeness of
manner.  While he had been voicing his anticipations as to the possible
effects of the earthquake, I had been looking at him, meanwhile merely
catching a suggestion out of the corner of my eye, as it were, of the
fact that the disturbance of the ocean's surface around us was very
rapidly subsiding, but without grasping the significance of it all; for
I was listening to what he was saying, and turning it over in my mind.
But now, as we stood together on the poop and gazed out in every
direction round about us, I saw, to my unspeakable awe and
consternation, that what, a quarter of an hour earlier, had been, to the
best of my knowledge and belief, an unfathomable ocean was now, to a
very large extent, dry land!  That is to say, the ship appeared to be
floating--or was she aground?--in a kind of pond, or small lake, of
perhaps eight or ten acres in extent, surrounded on every side by land
of some sort, off the rugged surface of which the salt water was still
pouring in a multitude of little streams and cataracts.  How far this
land extended it was at that moment quite impossible to say; but, so far
as could be seen in the dim uncertain light of the stars, it appeared to
extend nearly or quite to the horizon.  And the whole of it had been
hove up from the ocean depths in the space of a few seconds.  True, this
part of the great Pacific Ocean was thickly dotted with reefs and
shoals, the positions of many of which had never been accurately
determined, while it was known that there were many others with a
sufficient depth of water upon them to allow a ship to pass safely over
them in any weather.  This might possibly be one of them; but, even so,
the fact remained that a low island of quite respectable extent had
suddenly been created.

"Well, Gurney," I exclaimed, looking round in ever-growing amazement,
"this is something quite new in the way of shipwrecks; something,
indeed, that, if recorded in the newspapers, would be denounced by the
clever ones who know everything as an outrageous falsehood, an audacious
attempt to impose upon people's credulity."

"Very possibly," agreed Gurney.  "I have run up against a good many
people in my time who seem to make a point of disbelieving everything
that has not come within the scope of their own actual experience.  Yet
there is nothing so very wonderful in this business, after all.  New
land is frequently being discovered where deep water is known to have
previously existed; and this is a case in point, that is all.  And, as
to calling our present plight a shipwreck--well, I think it is rather
anticipating matters to do that.  If we had chanced to be caught
floating immediately over any of that portion that has been hove out of
water, and the ship left high and dry, we might be justified in calling
ourselves shipwrecked; but here we are, still afloat; and who is to say
that a way may not be found out of this dock into the open ocean?"

"Yes," I agreed, "there is certainly something in what you say.  But are
we really afloat?  The ship seems too absolutely motionless for that.
Let us get the lead-line, and take a cast."

"Ay, ay, Mr Troubridge; that's the proper thing to do!" exclaimed
Saunders, who meanwhile had joined us.  "I'll get the lead and take a
few casts all round her."  And he hurried off to put his resolve into
execution.

As he descended to the main deck by way of the starboard poop ladder,
Grace Hartley, fully clad, ascended to the poop by way of the other,
and, approaching us, exclaimed:

"Oh, George--oh, Mr Troubridge, whatever dreadful thing has happened,
and what does this unnatural stillness of the ship mean?"

"It means, Gracie dear," answered Gurney, "that there has been a violent
submarine earthquake, which has replaced most of the water that was
round about us, half an hour ago, with dry land, as you may see by
looking about you.  And the `unnatural stillness' of the ship, as you
call it, is due to the fact that we are now afloat--at least I hope so--
in a small lake, instead of upon the open ocean.  That is the sum and
substance of what has happened; and to that statement I may add that the
earthquake has passed and there is now no further danger.  There is
therefore no reason why you should not be in bed, Miss Hartley, and
there I very strongly advise you to go, forthwith."

"Thank you, Mr George Gurney, both for your information and your
advice," answered Grace, with a little quavering laugh, that testified
to the extent of the alarm from which the poor girl had been suffering.
"As to the latter, however," she continued, "I shall not follow it, for
the simple reason that it would be quite impossible for me to sleep,
notwithstanding your reassuring statement that all danger has now
passed.  Therefore, as I imagine that you men will not attempt to turn
in again to-night, I shall go to the galley, light the fire, and make
you each a cup of good strong coffee, for which I believe you will all
be the better."

So saying, she tripped away on to the main deck, and forward to the
galley, from the dark recesses of which we presently saw a cheerful
light gleaming; and within half an hour our ministering angel had placed
within the hands of each of us a cup of steaming hot coffee and a
buttered biscuit.

Meanwhile Saunders, having procured the lead-line and a lantern,
proceeded to sound systematically all round the ship, with the result
that in due time he rejoined us on the poop, reporting as follows:--

"There's a bed of soft mud under our bows, Mr Troubridge, on which
we've grounded to about as far aft as the fore riggin'.  Beyond that, I
reckon the ship's afloat, for at that p'int there's eighteen foot of
water, gradually deepenin' to twenty-two foot under the starn-post.  I
don't reckon that we're so very hard and fast on the mud, hows'ever; for
there's a good seventeen foot o' water under the bows; and I noticed,
when we'd finished loadin' her t'other day, that she only drawed
seventeen foot six for'ard."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE REEF.

"That is good news," I remarked, when Saunders had completed his report;
"for, short-handed though we are, I think it may be possible for us to
get the ship afloat again.  Then if, as you, Gurney, have suggested,
there happens to be a channel carrying depth enough to float us, we may
yet hope to find our way into open water once more.  Let us pray,
however, that the channel--if such exists--does not trend to windward,
unless, of course, it happens to be wide enough to work the ship in.
And now, I think our first job must be to clew up and furl our canvas,
otherwise, when the breeze comes--as come it may at any moment--we shall
drive ashore in grim earnest, and perhaps never get afloat again."

My two companions fully agreed with me; and accordingly, the halyards
having already been let go, and the yards lowered to the caps, we let go
the sheets and manned the clewlines and buntlines, first of the main and
then of the fore topsail.  Then we let go the fore topmast staysail
halyards and hauled down the sail; finally laying out and securing it
before going aloft to furl the topsails, which we tackled one at a time.

The next thing to be thought about was how to provide for the safety of
the ship when the breeze should come again, as come it soon must.  As
the ship then lay she was heading almost exactly due east; and if the
wind should happen to come away out from that quarter--which seemed to
be its prevailing direction thereabout--I thought it not improbable that
we might blow off the mudbank and go ashore again on the lee side of the
lake, quite possibly in a very much worse position than that which we
then occupied.  Gurney and Saunders were quite of my opinion; and after
talking the matter over for a while, we decided to get the stream anchor
over the bows, in place of the one left behind at the island, bend a
hawser to it, and have it all ready to let go at any moment.  This we
did without any difficulty, the anchor in question being of a weight not
too great for the three of us to handle.

By the time that this job was ended the first signs of the coming dawn
began to show themselves away to the eastward, and with one consent
Gurney, Saunders, and I sprang into the main rigging and made our way
aloft to the crosstrees, with the purpose of taking a good look round at
our surroundings.  In those low latitudes the day comes quickly, and we
had not occupied our lofty perch many minutes when up leapt the sun,
flashing his golden beams over the dark expanse spread out around us,
and we saw, to our dismay, that we occupied a small basin--one of many
such--situated almost in the exact centre of a vast reef, stretching
over a distance which we roughly estimated at thirty miles from north to
south, and perhaps twenty miles from east to west.  The salt water that
had been hove up with the reef had by this time all run off, leaving the
dark, weed-covered rock fully exposed to view.  Here and there, of
course, owing to the exceeding roughness and irregularity of the
surface, were scattered numerous pools, some small, and others of
considerable extent, which must obviously soon evaporate and disappear
under the influence of the sun's beams; and the disagreeable possibility
suggested itself to us all that the pool in which the _Mercury_ floated
might share the same fate.  But we hoped not, for there were at least
three channels, wide enough to permit the passage of the ship, leading
out of our basin, stretching away across the reef, and joining other
channels, until the labyrinth became too intricate for the eye to
follow, and we trusted that one or more of these might lead to the open
ocean.

While we still remained aloft, discussing our situation and the best
means of extricating ourselves from it, a light air from the eastward
arose, redolent of the mingled odours of mud and seaweed; and as a wind
from this direction, if it would but come strong enough, might greatly
assist our efforts to get the ship off the mudbank upon which she was
partially grounded, we decided that we would at once try the effect of
setting the main topsail and throwing it aback; so while Gurney and
Saunders proceeded with this work, I looked about me for a suitable
berth in which to moor the ship, in the event of our efforts to refloat
her being crowned with success.  At the height of the main topmast
crosstrees it was easy for me to discern pretty clearly the character of
the bottom of the basin in which we lay, and as the light increased I
discovered that the mudbank which held the ship was only of very small
extent, the remaining portion of the bottom being sandy, apparently of
almost uniform depth below the surface of the water, and affording
excellent holding ground.  There was one place, however, some two
hundred fathoms to the southward of the spot where the ship then lay,
which seemed to be a trifle deeper than elsewhere, and I at once
determined that, if we could by any means clear ourselves of the mud, I
would anchor there.

By the time that I had thus decided, the other two had cast off the
gaskets from the main topsail.  I therefore slid down on deck by way of
the topgallant backstay, and cast off the clewlines and buntlines that
Saunders might overhaul them prior to coming down from aloft, and then
manned the sheets, which, of course, came home easily enough, except for
the last few inches, upon which I required the help of Gurney and
Saunders.  Then, having squared the main and topsail yard, we got the
halyard to the winch, with the aid of a snatch-block, and hoisted the
sail, flat aback.  Gurney then went forward and loosed the fore topmast
staysail ready for setting in case of need, while Saunders got the hand
lead and dropped it over the side, in order that we might be able at
once to detect any movement on the part of the ship.

The wind meanwhile had freshened perceptibly, and was now blowing a ten-
knot breeze, the effect of which soon became perceptible, for the lead-
line had not been overboard five minutes when Saunders cried out that
the ship was moving.  At the same moment I distinctly felt a slight
tremor in the hull, followed by a barely perceptible jerk, then another,
another, and another, and she was once more afloat and driving astern.
I at once sprang to the wheel, and put it hard a-starboard, at the same
time shouting to Gurney and Saunders to hoist the fore topmost staysail.
Then, leaving the wheel to take care of itself, I sprang to the main
braces, throwing the port main and topsail braces off their pins, and
rounding in on the starboard as well as I could unaided.  The ship had
now paid off on the port tack; and as soon as the starboard fore topmast
staysail sheet was hauled aft, she began to forge ahead, whereupon I
rushed back to the wheel, steadied it, and called to Gurney to stand by
to let go the stream anchor, and to Saunders to take a cast of the lead.
The first cast gave us a bare four fathoms; the next, a trifle over
four fathoms; the next, four and a half fathoms; and the next, five
fathoms; whereupon I gave the word to let go the anchor and haul down
the staysail, at the same time abandoning the wheel and springing to the
main topsail halyard, which I let run.  By the time that we had once
more furled our canvas, breakfast was ready, and we all sat down to it
with excellent appetites.

Having breakfasted, Gurney and I again betook ourselves aloft to the
main topmast crosstrees, carrying the ship's telescope with us, our
object being to subject the reef to a thorough scrutiny, in the hope
that, with the sun now high in the heavens, and the light as good as it
was likely to be, we might be fortunate enough to discover a way of
escape from our extraordinary prison.

As a matter of fact we did now get a much clearer and, on the whole,
more satisfactory view of the reef than upon the previous occasion; but
although we perceived a perfect network of channels--some so narrow as
scarcely to permit the passage of a boat, while others were wide enough
in places actually to allow a ship to work to windward in them--the
inequalities in the surface of the reef were so great as to render it
impossible for us to trace any of them for more than three or four miles
at the utmost.  There were four channels, wide enough to allow the
passage of the ship, branching out from the basin in which we lay, one
trending toward the north-east; another running off toward the north-
west, and then, apparently, by a zigzag course ultimately leading to
open water on the west side of the reef; a third running west out of the
basin for a distance of about three miles, beyond which its farther
course became untraceable; and a fourth, broad on our starboard bow,
which looked the most promising of all.  We counted seven pools, or
lakelets, in addition and similar to our own--three to the northward,
one to the eastward, two to the southward, and one to the south-westward
of our own; but the one in which the _Mercury_ floated seemed to be the
largest of them all.  The reef appeared to be composed wholly of rock,
covered for the most part with weed, but with broad expanses of sand
here and there, interspersed with mud banks; and its height above the
ocean level seemed to vary from about a foot to ten or fifteen feet,
with occasional isolated hummocks, rising perhaps as high in some cases
as forty feet.  With the aid of the telescope we were able to perceive
that considerable quantities of fish had been stranded and left to
perish by the sudden upheaval, and the appearance of them caused me a
slight spasm of alarm on the score of our health, which was only
partially dissipated by the fact, to which Gurney directed my attention,
that already great flocks of sea birds had appeared and were busily
devouring them.

We remained aloft for more than an hour, studying the reef and, so far
as I was concerned, making copious notes and a rough sketch map of it in
my notebook, and then descended to the deck, having come to the
conclusion that the only thing to be done was to make a systematic
exploration of the reef, and especially of the channels, by means of one
of the boats.

For this purpose we selected the larger of the two quarter boats, a very
handsomely modelled craft of twenty-six feet long by six feet beam, with
a keel nearly eight inches deep in midships, and rigged as a fore-and-
aft schooner.  She had been the late captain's fancy boat, used by him
for sailing ashore from open roadsteads, and was fitted with air-
chambers forward and aft and under each of the thwarts, thus being
converted into a sort of unsinkable lifeboat.  She was therefore in
every respect eminently suitable for the duty upon which we proposed to
employ her.

I was rather afraid that, upon learning our purpose, Grace Hartley might
express a desire to accompany us; and this would be somewhat awkward, in
view of the rough work which might possibly lie before us; but to my
relief she expressed herself as perfectly content to remain aboard
alone, upon being assured that no harm could possibly happen to the
ship.  We therefore bent the ensign on to the main signal halyards,
showed her how to hoist it, and directed her to run it up to the main
truck in the event of anything occurring to render our immediate return
to the ship necessary.  Then, having hastily stowed away a few biscuits
and a piece of cold salt beef in the boat's stern locker, and placed a
small breaker of fresh water in her for ballast, we lowered her to the
water, brought her to the gangway, rigged her, and got away about six
bells in the forenoon watch, Grace waving her farewells to us from the
poop.

We decided to begin our exploration by examining the channel which
opened on the south side of the basin, as that was the widest and the
most promising of the four.  Accordingly, upon leaving the ship, we
brought the boat close to the wind on the port tack--which just enabled
her to point fair for the mouth of the channel--and at once proceeded to
take soundings.  But we had not been under way five minutes before we
found that, under whole canvas, the boat travelled much too fast to
enable us to sound with the frequency and accuracy that I considered
necessary; we were consequently obliged to take in the foresail
altogether, and sail the boat under the single-reefed mainsail and jib,
at least during the outward journey.

Within ten minutes of leaving the ship we glided into the channel which
it was our intention to explore, and found ourselves slipping along a
waterway ranging from two hundred to a thousand feet in width, with an
average depth of about five fathoms.  The sides of the channel were very
rough and irregular, its direction was also exceedingly erratic, varying
from east-south-east to south by west.  This irregularity of direction
was the worst feature of the channel; for, with the prevailing direction
of the wind at about due east, there were stretches of the channel
looking so close into the wind's eye that the ship could never be sailed
through them.  True, some of these stretches were so short that Gurney
believed the _Mercury_ could be carried through them by making a half-
board; but this would be a somewhat hazardous experiment, unless the
wind chanced to veer a point or two in our favour, while, even then,
there were other stretches that could only be traversed by kedging.
But, apart from this disadvantage, there was nothing to find fault with,
the channel being everywhere wide enough to permit the passage of the
ship, and the depth in it never less than twenty feet, with a fine sandy
bottom.

We traversed this channel for a distance of about nine miles, during
which the general trend of it might be said to be south-east, and then
we arrived at a point where it not only widened out, but also abruptly
took a south-south-west direction, to our great delight.  For if the
ship could by any means be coaxed as far as this, she could then proceed
with a free wind.  But, alas for our hopes, we had not traversed more
than another mile and a half before we found ourselves in a cul-de-sac,
the channel coming to an abrupt end.

This was a very severe disappointment to us, for after travelling so
far, and meeting with so few difficulties, we were already beginning to
congratulate ourselves upon having found a way of escape at the first
attempt.  However, there was no use in worrying about it, the only thing
to be done was to retrace our steps and try one of the other channels.

It must not be supposed that the channel which we had thus traversed to
its extremity was unbroken; on the contrary, there were several other
channels branching out of it to right and left at various points in its
length, two of which at least--one about three miles back, and another
five miles back--had struck us as not altogether unpromising, and our
idea was now to return and examine these.  But before starting upon our
return journey Gurney made a suggestion that was destined to exercise an
extraordinary influence upon our future.  As we lay hove-to in the cul-
de-sac, discussing the question of what should next be done, our
attention had been more than once attracted toward a large hummock of
rock rising some thirty or forty feet above the general level of the
reef, at no great distance from the margin of the channel; and Gurney's
proposal was that, before attempting anything else, we should land, make
our way to the hummock, climb it, and ascertain whether any observations
of value were to be made from its summit.  The proposal had so much to
commend it that it was agreed to forthwith.  Laying the boat alongside
the rock at a convenient spot, we all three landed, and set out to walk
across the reef.  The hummock in question was only some two hundred
yards from the margin of the channel; we therefore soon reached it,
despite the difficulty of the going, the surface of the reef proving to
be exceedingly rough, and covered for the most part with weed so
terribly slippery that it was positively dangerous to attempt to walk
upon it.  When at length we reached the summit of the rock we were not
much better off; for although we could see from thence a great deal more
of the reef than was to be observed from the boat, we made no
discoveries that were likely to facilitate our escape.

But while we stood upon the summit of this rock, staring about us, our
attention was arrested by the sight of a great brown patch, some three
or four acres in extent, showing up strongly against the dull black of
the otherwise weed-covered rock.  Although it obviously had nothing to
do with channels, or extricating the ship from her extraordinary
situation, our curiosity was aroused, and we determined to pay it a
visit and ascertain its character before returning to the boat.  It lay
some three hundred yards to the south of the hummock, and we saw that,
upon returning from it to the boat, we should only need to pass close to
the eastward of the hummock to hit off the correct trail.

Accordingly we descended to the surface of the reef, and headed for the
mysterious brown patch, which we soon reached, some suspicion of its
true character having dawned upon us, even before we arrived at the
spot, from the circumstance that, as we approached, our nostrils became
cognisant of a "most ancient and fish-like smell".  The suspicion that
we had formed was confirmed upon our arrival by the discovery that the
object of our curiosity was a great bed of oysters, hove up and exposed
to the air by the convulsion of the previous night.  But, fond as I am
of oysters, I did not care to tackle any of these; for, apart from the
fact that many of them were already dead, I did not altogether like the
appearance of them.  They were very much larger than the ordinary edible
oyster; and to my mind they did not look quite wholesome.  Saunders,
however, was far less fastidious than either Gurney or me; he found one
or two that, being immersed in a shallow pool of salt water, were still
alive, and announced his intention of trying them.  Accordingly,
producing a strong clasp knife, he contrived, with some difficulty, to
open one; and no sooner had he forced the shells apart than I guessed
that we had all stumbled upon a fortune, in extent probably "beyond the
dreams of avarice!"  For as the shells parted, exposing the fish, three
or four small bead-like objects became revealed, that I instantly
recognised as pearls.  The oysters were undoubtedly pearl oysters; and
the millions of shells that lay at our feet doubtless contained gems
enough to make us all rich for the remainder of our days!

Not to be behindhand with Saunders, I seized one of the bivalves,
already dead and with the shells gaping apart, and tore it open; but
although the shell was lined with beautiful lustrous mother-o'-pearl, it
was barren of gems.  Flinging this away, I tried another, and a third
and fourth, with a like result; a fifth yielded nine small pearls about
the size of duck shot; numbers six and seven proved barren; but the
eighth surrendered to my eager grasp a magnificent pearl, perfectly
globular, quite half an inch in diameter, and, when cleaned, of
exquisite lustre and colour.  Gurney and Saunders meanwhile had been as
busily engaged as myself, and between them had secured three more gems
not quite so large as mine, and about as much seed pearl as would half
fill an ordinary wineglass.  One of the three smaller pearls, however--
secured by Gurney--amply made up in beauty what it lacked in size, for
it was of a most exquisitely delicate yet rich rose colour.

"My friends," said I, as soon as I was able to collect my scattered
senses and speak intelligibly, "it is said that the darkest cloud has a
silver lining, and the extraordinary accident by which we have become
imprisoned in the meshes of this reef--let us hope only temporarily--has
at the same time presented us with a treasure of incalculable value.  I
think we should be almost criminally negligent if we failed to make the
utmost of our marvellous good fortune, and I therefore propose that,
before we proceed further with the exploration of the reef, we take
steps to secure the wealth that lies spread so lavishly at our feet.
Let us take these oysters and spread them--or at least a portion of
them--in rows, so that the sun may get at them and speedily bring about
that state of decomposition which I understand is necessary to enable
the gems they contain to be secured uninjured.  And I further propose
that, whatever be the value of the wealth we may ultimately secure, it
be equally divided between all four of us; for it would be manifestly
unfair that Miss Hartley should not equally participate in our good as
in our ill fortune.  What say you?"

My companions cheerfully agreed with my proposal, and, this point
settled, we forthwith proceeded to collect the oysters indiscriminately
from the enormous heap and lay them out singly upon the seaweed in long
rows, taking care to place each bivalve quite flat, in order that, as
the process of decomposition proceeded, the precious contents should not
roll out and be lost.  So absorbed were we in our occupation that we did
not desist until the sun hung upon the very verge of the western
horizon, by which time we had placed in position very nearly three
thousand oysters.  And not until then did we find time to remember that
we had eaten nothing since leaving the ship!

Then, returning to the boat, we cleansed our hands in the water
alongside, shook out our reef, set all our canvas, and headed the boat
back to the ship, snatching a hasty meal as we went.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE PEARLS.

The breeze freshened with the disappearance of the sun beneath the
horizon, and the boat, under whole canvas and in the perfectly smooth
water of the canal-like channel, fairly flew along, careening almost
gunwale-to, with a merry buzzing of water at her sharp stem, as she
sheared through it with a sound like the rending of silk.  In about an
hour and a half, favoured with a free wind, and a sufficiency of
starlight to enable us to see our way, we found ourselves once more
alongside the ship, tired with the fatigues of the day, but excited and
happy at the amazing good fortune that had befallen us.  For the moment
we could neither think nor talk of anything but pearls; the precarious
situation of the ship and the consideration of what might happen to her
should a gale spring up were entirely lost sight of, and already
Saunders, if not Gurney and myself, was anxiously considering what he
should do with his wealth when he had conveyed it safely home.  Grace
Hartley, woman-like, fairly gloated over the sight of the lovely gems
that we had brought back with us, and earnestly besought us that she
might be allowed to accompany us on our next visit to the oyster-bed, in
order that she might have the delight of securing a few with her own
hands; and after some demur we promised that she might do so on the
following day, by the end of which she would probably have had quite
enough of it; for decomposition of animal matter is speedy under a
tropical sun, and our experience even of a single day led us all to
conclude that another twenty-four hours would reduce the stranded
oysters to a condition sufficiently revolting to tax even male endurance
pretty severely.

The following morning found us all early astir, and the moment that
breakfast was over the boat was brought alongside and our provisions for
the day passed down into her.  Then Gurney descended and assisted his
sweetheart down the side, Saunders following, and I bringing up the
rear.  The boat's sails were set, and under whole canvas we pushed off
on our way to the oyster-bed; for the craving for wealth was upon us
all, and we felt that every moment spent otherwise than in gathering it
was so much wasted time.

The breeze was still blowing fresh, and, although for the greater part
of the distance the boat was jammed close upon a wind, we made excellent
time between the ship and our point of destination, arriving there after
a pleasant sail of less than two hours.  But long before we arrived I
began to wish that I had thought of putting a gun into the boat; for
while we were still a good two miles from the oyster-bed we saw the
birds hovering over it in thousands, and I strongly suspected that upon
arrival we should find that those same birds had played havoc with our
previous day's work.  And so we did; for when we reached the spot we
found our neatly arranged rows of oysters turned topsy-turvy by the
birds in their endeavours to get at the fish, while the odour that
emanated from the millions of dead bivalves was already powerful enough
to upset any but a strong stomach.

Although the birds had completely disarranged our labours of the
preceding day, they did not appear to have otherwise done any very
serious damage.  It is true that every single oyster that we had laid
out so carefully had been attacked, dragged out of place, and the fish
extracted; but nearly a hundred pearls of value were found between the
otherwise empty shells, while a careful examination of the ground
revealed fully as many more, together with as much seed pearl as would
rather more than fill a half-pint measure.  Grace Hartley accompanied us
from the boat to the oyster-bed, and remained long enough to actually
find for herself two very fine pearls; but that sufficed.  She confessed
that the effluvium was altogether too powerful for her, and beat a hasty
retreat to the boat, where she spent the remainder of the day in
comparative comfort, only an occasional faint whiff of odour reaching
her there.  As for us males, we had taken the precaution to bring along
with us a ship's bucket, which we filled with salt water upon leaving
the boat, and every pearl found, whether large or small, was dropped
into this as soon as found.

Our first task was to go very carefully over the ground upon which we
had laid out our oysters on the previous day, retrieving the pearls that
had been thrown out of the shells by the birds in their endeavours to
extract the fish; and when we had satisfied ourselves that no more were
to be found there, we turned our attention to the bed itself, where also
the birds had been, and still remained, exceedingly busy.  But we did
not then attempt to look for spilled pearls, for the bulk of the oysters
were by this time dead, and had been so long enough to render the
opening of the shells quite an easy matter.  We therefore wandered about
the bed examining such of the shells as happened to be gaping open,
extracting any pearls that might happen to be therein, and then flinging
fish and shell as far away to leeward as we could.  We had done with
those, and now tossed them aside, in order that we might not
inadvertently find ourselves handling them a second time.  We toiled
assiduously throughout the whole of that day, my two companions smoking
steadily all the time in order to counteract, as far as might be, the
sickening odour of the fast-decaying fish.

When we knocked off work shortly before sunset we found that altogether
we had gathered during the day five hundred and nineteen pearls varying
in size from a large pea to a marble, and nearly a quart measure full of
seed pearl.  Our prizes were, generally speaking, of the usual soft,
sheeny, white colour; but there were exceptions to this, two more pink
pearls being found, as well as one of a deep rich exquisite rose colour,
one of a very delicate shade of sea-green, and seven of so very dark a
smoke colour that they were almost black.  We did not think very much of
these last, believing that their extremely dark colour was against them;
but we ultimately discovered that this was very far from being the case,
that precise shade of colour being exceedingly rare.

None of us had much appetite for food that night when we got back to the
ship; and when we turned out next morning we were even less desirous of
food than we had been on the previous evening.  We were all suffering
from violent headaches, accompanied by great nausea, and were fain to
confess that we had had quite enough of the oyster-bed for the present.
We therefore soon agreed to let that part of the reef very severely
alone for at least a week, and to devote the interval to the prosecution
of our survey of the channel.  Accordingly, after making an ineffectual
attempt to do justice to the excellent meal which Grace Hartley had
provided for us, we three males hauled the boat alongside, descended
into her, and got under way.

Our course, for the first seven and a half miles, lay along the canal
leading to the oyster-bed, our purpose being to examine two promising-
looking channels that branched out of it, and that we had already
noticed and commented upon.  On reaching the more distant--and, as we
thought, the more promising--of the two we bore up and, with the wind
over our starboard quarter, ran away on a west-south-west course for
about five miles, next hauling up to about south.  But by the time that
we had run some four miles in this new direction we saw clearly that
this channel could be of no possible service to us, for it began to
shoal, and ultimately became too shallow to float the ship; therefore
as, simultaneously with this discovery, we caught a strong whiff of
tainted wind from our oyster-bed, some four miles to windward, we put
down our helm, tacked, and retraced our steps, going back a couple of
miles along the oyster-bed channel to the other channel which we desired
to examine.

It was by this time about noon, and the purer air of the reef
generally--although even that was not wholly innocent of a suggestion of
decaying fish--had so far restored our appetites that we decided to pipe
to dinner; accordingly, upon entering the new channel we opened out the
package that Grace had prepared for us, and fell to.  The channel in
which we now found ourselves trended generally about north-east by east
for a distance of some four and a half miles, there were therefore short
stretches in it here and there where the wind came too shy to allow the
boat to lay her course, and we consequently had to beat to windward, a
long leg and a short one, in those stretches.

At length we reached a point where the channel took a due northerly
trend, when away we went with flowing sheets, but under short canvas,
sounding industriously all the way.  Then, after we had traversed some
ten miles in all of this new channel, we quite suddenly and unexpectedly
found ourselves in a basin, very similar to that in which the _Mercury_
lay peacefully at anchor, but not quite so large.  We coasted along the
weather side of this basin for a distance of about two miles, and then
found another channel, which we at once entered.  This channel trended
north-east, but we had not sailed above four miles before it narrowed so
much that we saw it would be useless to us, and we therefore bore up and
returned to the newly-discovered basin.  Continuing our progress round
this, we found another channel, branching out of its north-western
extremity, and as it had a rather promising appearance we plunged into
it.  It trended away to the northward and westward for the first seven
miles, then turned abruptly toward the southward for a distance of some
five miles, when we found ourselves in another channel trending about
north-north-west and south-south-east.

This channel was even more promising than the one which we had just
emerged from, being almost double the width; but we were puzzled for the
moment as to which direction to take, whether to head to the northward
or the southward.  The northerly-trending channel might lead anywhere;
the southerly portion, on the other hand, looked as though it might
possibly take us back to the ship, the spars of which were visible some
nine miles away.  We decided to try the latter, as the day was by this
time well advanced, and, should we ultimately find ourselves obliged to
retrace our steps, it would make us very late in getting back to the
ship.  Fortunately, however, we were not driven to this latter
alternative, for after following the winding course of the southerly
channel for a distance of some twelve miles we arrived at the north-
eastern extremity of the basin in which the _Mercury_ lay at anchor, and
safely arrived alongside half an hour later, having spent the day in
circumnavigating a portion of the reef which we thus discovered to be
entirely surrounded by channels of a width and depth of water sufficient
to allow of the passage of the ship.  This discovery, however, was of no
practical service to us; for it still left us in our original state of
uncertainty regarding the existence of a channel through which the ship
might be taken into open water.

The narrative of our efforts to find such a channel has been given thus
far with considerable detail, in order to bring home to the reader some
idea of the extreme awkwardness of our situation, and the difficulties
and perplexities with which we found ourselves confronted; but there is
no need to continue the story further in quite so detailed a form, since
the progress of our researches was unaccompanied by anything in the
nature of adventure.  Let it suffice, therefore, to say that we
traversed the multitudinous canal-like channels of that labyrinthine
reef continuously for ten days longer before we found a passage of
sufficient width, and with a sufficient depth of water in it everywhere,
to enable the _Mercury_ to go through it to the open sea.  This passage,
when found, proved to be a continuation of the channel originating in
the north-eastern angle of what we had now come to speak of as the
Mercury Basin, from the fact that the ship lay anchored in it.  Although
it was an undoubted fact that we had actually found a channel leading
from this basin to open water, the difficulties in the way of
successfully carrying the ship through it were so great that we had very
grave doubts of our ability to accomplish it.  In the first place, the
course of the channel was of so winding a character that, according to a
very careful estimate, the ship would have to traverse no less than a
hundred and ten miles of waterway before clearing the reef; consequently
it would be impossible to accomplish the whole distance during the hours
of daylight of a single day; while to attempt the navigation of any
portion of it during the hours of darkness was altogether too hazardous
an undertaking to be calmly thought of.  But, as though this difficulty
were not in itself sufficient, there was a stretch of twelve miles of
channel running in a north-easterly direction which the ship could not
possibly negotiate under sail unless a change of wind should occur--of
which there seemed to be absolutely no prospect.  The only alternative,
therefore, would be to kedge those twelve miles; truly a most formidable
undertaking for four persons--one of them being a girl--to attempt.
Fortunately, however, for us all, the problem of how to overcome these
tremendous difficulties was solved for us by accident, and quite
unexpectedly.  For, upon going over this long and intricate channel
again, in order thoroughly to familiarise ourselves with it, and to
become better acquainted with its many danger-points, it happened that
on the return journey--which was being made by moonlight--we missed our
way, continuing along what appeared to be the main channel, instead of
diverging into a branch trending to the eastward; and by the time that
we discovered our mistake we were so favourably impressed with the
appearance of this new, strange channel--which seemed to be running
almost straight toward Mercury Basin--that we determined to follow it up
and see whither it led.

Not to dilate unnecessarily upon this portion of our adventures, we
discovered, to our infinite satisfaction and delight, that it did indeed
ultimately conduct us back to the ship; and that, too, by a route which
reduced the distance to be travelled to about forty-five miles, or very
considerably less than half that of the other channel.  Moreover, while
the original channel first ran north, then north-east, for the twelve
miles that were only to be covered by kedging--before it ultimately
changed its course to south--in which direction the point of ultimate
egress lay, the new channel left Mercury Basin at its western, or
leeward, extremity, running first west, then south-west, and ultimately
south, straight out to sea.  Thus the whole distance could be traversed
under sail and with a free wind.  The three following days and nights
were devoted to a most careful re-examination of this new channel, with
the result that we thoroughly satisfied ourselves as to its absolute
practicability.

With our minds thus relieved of a tremendous load of anxiety, we felt
ourselves once more able to turn our thoughts in the direction of our
pearl harvest.  A full fortnight had been devoted to the exploration of
the reef since our last visit to the oyster-bed, and we were of opinion
that it ought by this time to be in such a condition as to afford us a
very handsome return for our labours.

Accordingly, after allowing ourselves a day's rest to enable us to
recover from the fatigues of our recent arduous boat duty, we once more
repaired to the oyster-bed--Grace Hartley preferring on this occasion to
remain "at home", as she put it, rather than again face the disgusting
sights and odours that had met her on the occasion of her visit.  But
upon our arrival at the scene of operations we soon found that a
fortnight had made a vast amount of difference in the condition of the
oysters.  For whereas when we had last visited the oyster-bed the
process of putrefaction had only just begun, it had now advanced so far
that the fish were not only completely decayed but had also in many
cases so completely dried up under the influence of the sun's rays as to
have, to a very great extent, lost their odour.  Furthermore, the birds
had been so busy that more than half the shells had been completely
emptied; our task, therefore, although still excessively disagreeable,
promised to be far less revoltingly offensive and disgusting than it had
been before.  Even such offensiveness as still remained we contrived to
mitigate to a very considerable extent, by adopting the simple plan of
starting work on the windward edge of the bed, whereby the accumulated
odours were blown away from us, instead of directly in our faces, as on
the previous occasion.

Now we went to work systematically, roughly dividing the bed into three
nearly equal portions, one of which was to be gone over very carefully
by each of us.  Also we each had a bucket, into which to drop our
spoils, so that there might be no time lost and no unnecessary fatigue
incurred in passing to and fro.  Our system of working was simplicity
itself, and merely consisted in starting operations on the extreme
weather side of the bed, examining the fish just as they came to hand,
extracting such pearls as they contained, dropping the gems into the
bucket of water with which each of us was provided, and then throwing
the shells out on the reef apart from those still untouched.  We toiled
on thus all day, with a pause of half an hour about midday, when we
retired to the boat, cleaned ourselves as well as we could, and snatched
a hasty meal, concluding our labours about half an hour before sunset.
When, during the run back to the ship at the end of the day, we
proceeded to compare notes and take stock of the results of our labour,
we came to the conclusion that either the bed was an enormously rich
one, or that we had had an exceedingly lucky day, for our combined booty
consisted of over fourteen hundred pearls--sixty-three of which were of
quite exceptional value from their size or colour--and a full quart
measure of seed pearl.  I was of opinion, at the time--and am so still--
that we might have obtained considerably more than we did of the last,
but for the eagerness with which we prosecuted our search for the larger
gems, which caused our search for the smaller seed pearls to degenerate
into a very perfunctory operation.

The story of one day's work at the oyster-bed is the story of all; it is
therefore unnecessary to say more upon the subject than that we spent a
full fortnight upon the task of gathering pearls, by the end of which
time we had acquired so much dexterity at the work that we did more in
one day than we did in two at the beginning of our labours.  Then,
although at the expiration of the fortnight we seemed to have made
scarcely any perceptible inroad upon that enormous deposit, we grew
tired of our self-imposed task and mutually agreed that we had
accumulated as much wealth as we required.  Moreover, as we watched the
increase of that wealth day by day, our anxiety grew lest perchance
anything should happen to prevent our escape from the reef and our
return to that civilisation, where alone our wealth could be of any real
value to us.  The reader may reasonably ask what grounds of
justification we had for the fear that anything could possibly happen to
prevent our escape, seeing that we had been fortunate enough to discover
a channel through which the ship might be easily taken out to sea; but I
think we all still carried a vivid recollection of the terrific natural
convulsion that had placed us in the extraordinary situation which we
then occupied; and I believe the others shared with me the feeling that,
such a thing having once happened, it might possibly happen again.  The
reef that had held us prisoners for so long might sink again to the
ocean depths, perchance carrying the ship with it in the terrific
turmoil that must ensue; or it might be hove up still higher, leaving
the ship stranded and immovable; and then what would be our plight?
Therefore, when on the evening of a certain day Gurney ventured to voice
the suggestion that it would now be well to think seriously of making
good our escape, while yet the opportunity to do so remained to us,
neither of the others raised so much as a single word of protest, but on
the contrary agreed to the proposal with an eagerness which clearly
showed how welcome it was to us all.

"As for me," said Gurney, when walking the poop with me that night and
discussing the matter, "my way is now clear; Gracie and I will get
married as soon as we arrive in Sydney; and then I think I may venture
to return home and once more hope to find a welcome beneath the roof-
tree which shelters those to whom I have given so much sorrow."

"Indeed," remarked I, scarcely knowing what to say, for my companion had
spoken those last words in a tone of such intense feeling that I felt
convinced a story must lie behind them.

"Yes," he said, and was silent for a minute or two, apparently plunged
in deep and painful thought.  Then, suddenly throwing up his head, he
continued: "I belong to the genus Prodigal Son.  Would you care to hear
my story?  I think I should rather like to tell it you; for you are a
good lad, high-spirited, full of generous impulses, eager to excel, and
full of pluck.  You are bound to make a success of your life if you will
only steadfastly follow the path that your feet are now treading.  But--
forgive me for saying so--the qualities that you possess, excellent as
they are, are precisely those that, unless you are very careful, are
likely to betray you.

"When I was your age I was just such another lad as you are, and my
father was as proud of, and as hopeful for, me as any parent can
possibly be of an only son.  He gave me a first-class education, and
finally procured me an excellent post under Government.  My duties took
me abroad--there is no need to say where--and I at once found myself the
associate and companion of a lot of young fellows who had somehow
imbibed the idea that it was incumbent upon them, as Government
officials, to adopt a smart, bold, dashing, reckless demeanour, a kind
of modern edition of the swashbucklers of the Stuart regime; and they
did their best to live up to that idea.  This sort of thing was quite
new to me; for you must remember that I was fresh from school at the
time, and had never seen anything of the kind before, my father being an
exceptionally quiet and sober-minded individual, associating only with
men of similar temperament to himself.  With my new companions, however,
`respectability' was voted old-fashioned and out of date, sobriety of
conduct a bore.  They were fine, dashing, high-spirited young fellows,
fearing nothing and nobody, and they didn't care who knew it.  They
drank freely, constituted themselves authorities on all kinds of sport,
gambled, and did many other things that at first distinctly frightened
me, but which, a little later on, I rather admired, and--like the young
fool that I was--soon began to humbly emulate.  _Facilis descensus
Averni_!  The reverence for truth, and purity, and uprightness that had
come to me in the atmosphere of home soon died.  I recognised that those
virtues belonged to a bygone period, but I was going to be up-to-date,
in the forefront: nobody should surpass me!  I dare say--ay, and I very
fervently hope--that all this sounds the most incredible folly to you;
but I give you my word that, so imperceptible were the steps by which I
descended the down-grade that, looking back upon it all, I am even now
not astonished at what I did.  I believe that it was inevitable, under
the circumstances, for, mark you this, I had never been warned against
it!  My parents had such implicit faith in me that the possibility of
such a warning being necessary never occurred to them!  Of course there
could only be one end to this sort of thing, and in two years it came.
Two years sufficed to convert me, from such a lad as you are now, into
an utterly worthless, disreputable blackguard, a confirmed drunkard, a
hardened liar, and--a contemptible thief!  With my constitution
completely shattered, I was obliged to resign my post, to avoid being
kicked out, and I returned home a moral and physical wreck.  But, even
then, my poor father and mother had no suspicion of the truth, for I
told them that my condition was due to fever contracted in the discharge
of my duty.  It was, however, impossible for me to conceal the truth
from them very long after I had once more come under their roof; and the
grief and shame that overwhelmed them when at length their eyes were
opened might have melted the heart of a stone.  But it did not melt
mine, for I was by that time so completely the slave of my vices that I
had lost every vestige of natural feeling.  I continued my drunken
habits as long as I had money to spend on liquor; and when finally I had
exhausted my own resources I stole from my parents the means to still
continue in the indulgence of my degrading vice.  It broke my poor
mother's heart, and she died; and on the day of her funeral I was unable
to follow her body to its last resting-place, because I was too drunk to
stand or speak!  That was the crowning act of my disgraceful career; for
on that very day my father gave me twenty pounds and turned me out of
his house, forbidding me ever again to darken his door.  I went to
London, spent my twenty pounds in a wild life, got into a street fight,
and was carried to a hospital with a knife-wound between my ribs; and
there I lingered between life and death for nearly a month before I took
a turn for the better and began to mend; and it was three months before
I was up and out again.  But during that three months the hospital
chaplain contrived to gain my confidence.  He induced me to tell him my
story; and in return he told me some home truths that had the eventual
effect of opening my eyes to the enormity of my guilt, the effect being
helped, perhaps, by the fact that during my stay in the hospital I had
been cured of my cursed craving for drink.  When at length I was ready
to leave the hospital my friend the chaplain offered to communicate with
my father and endeavour to effect a reconciliation; but I refused.  I
had vowed that I would never return home until I could do so as a
thoroughly reformed character; I therefore made my way down to the
docks, took the first berth that offered, and, under the assumed name of
George Gurney, became a common sailor.  You will think, perhaps, that to
go to sea, and in such a capacity, was not quite the best possible
method whereby to effect my reformation, and may be it was not, but I
was determined that nothing--nothing--should stand in my way; and I
think I may now say, without undue confidence, that I have succeeded.
Gracie, to whom I have told my story, assures me that I need no longer
fear to face my father, and I believe her, for a woman can see more
deeply than a man.  So now I shall return home, to be a comfort, as I
devoutly hope, to my dear father's declining years; and perhaps, with
the aid of my wealth, I may be able to do enough good to obliterate the
memory of all the grief and shame that I have caused him to suffer.
That is my story, Troubridge; and all that I will add to it is this: If
ever you feel tempted to stray, though ever so slightly, from the path
of rectitude, think of the man whom you once knew as George Gurney; and
let his history serve as a warning to you.  And now I will say good
night; for we must be stirring early to-morrow."



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

ONCE MORE IN OPEN WATER.

I slept anything but soundly that night, fearing that, if I abandoned
myself too completely to the influence of the drowsy god, I might not
awake early enough in the morning to ensure the accomplishment of all
that was to be done next day--for we had to hoist the boat, make sail,
and traverse some forty-five miles of winding channel through the reef
in order to reach open water before darkness overtook us.  But although
I was astir with the first signs of the coming dawn, I found, upon going
out on deck, that Gurney and Saunders were before me.  They too, it
appeared, had been too anxious to do more than doze restlessly and
intermittently through the hot night, and finally, as though by mutual
consent, had turned out about an hour before daylight and, after softly
pacing the main deck together, chatting and smoking for about half an
hour, had gone forward, lighted the galley fire, and proceeded to
prepare an early breakfast, in order that we might all be ready to turn-
to the moment that we had light enough to see what we were about.  When
I went forward and looked into the galley--the light from which had
attracted my attention the instant that I emerged from the cabin--I was
greeted with the mingled aromas of boiling cocoa and frying bacon, as
well as with the cheery "good morning!" of the two men who were bending
over the galley stove; but I had scarcely had time to exchange greetings
with them when the fourth member of our party, awakened by my movements
while dressing, made her appearance and promptly assumed charge of the
culinary operations.  This left the three males of the party free to
tackle the more arduous duties of the day; and we forthwith proceeded to
unrig the boat and make her ready for hoisting.  By the time that this
task had been advanced to the point of hooking on and hauling taut the
davit-tackles, we were summoned to breakfast, and in high spirits sat
down to partake of what we hoped would be our last meal but one before
we should find ourselves once more at sea.

The meal over, we proceeded to get the quarter boat hoisted to the
davits, which, heavy boat though she was for three men to handle, we
soon accomplished with the assistance of a couple of watch-tackles, in
the employment of which we had by this time, through much usage, become
experts.  Then came the loosing and setting of the canvas.  We decided
that, as before, we would rely upon the three topsails and the fore
topmast staysail to carry us to our destination, that being as much
canvas as we could conveniently handle; and an hour and a half sufficed
us to get these sails set to our satisfaction and braced ready for
casting the ship.  Then, sending Grace Hartley aft to the wheel, which
she was now able to manipulate as deftly as any of us, Gurney and I
stood by the fore braces, while Saunders, armed with an axe, proceeded
to the forecastle and stood by to sever the hawser by which the ship
rode.  At the proper moment the word was given, the axe fell once,
twice, and we were once more adrift, the ship gathering stern-way and
paying off with her helm hard a-starboard and the port fore braces
flattened in.  She made a stern board until she was heading about south-
south-west, when the squared main and mizen topsails began to fill and
checked her, whereupon the head yards were squared, the staysail sheet
hauled over, the helm steadied, and the old _Mercury_ began to forge
ahead, not to stop again, as we hoped, until she should arrive in Sydney
Harbour.

And now the most ticklish part of our task lay before us, for we had to
navigate some forty-five miles of narrow, winding channel, and negotiate
several very awkward places, where the slightest mistake meant disaster,
before we should find ourselves once more rising and falling in safety
on the swells of the open Pacific.  But we had talked the matter over a
dozen times or more before reaching this stage of our adventure, and
knew exactly what was best to be done.  We therefore proceeded forthwith
to do it, for there is no time for hesitation when a ship is under way
in narrow waters; whatever has to be done must be done smartly and on
the instant.  The channel which we had to traverse, and toward the
entrance of which the ship was now heading, started by heading due west
for a short distance, then it swerved to about south-west, then looked
up to about south-by-east, and thence, undulating slightly a point or so
east or west, trended south for the remainder of its length.  Now, there
were two or three short reaches of channel, the longest of them not much
more than a mile in length, where we should find the wind shy enough to
necessitate the ship being braced sharp up on the port tack to enable
her to negotiate them successfully.  But it was necessary for one of us
to be aloft to con the ship, and as it was obvious that the other two
could not brace round the yards of a ship of the _Mercury's_ size, we
were no sooner free of our anchor than, although the ship was at the
moment running off square before the wind, we sprang to the braces, and
braced the yards sharp up on the port tack, in readiness for the
negotiation of the reaches of which I have spoken.  For, while the ship
would run before the wind with her yards braced sharp up, she would not
sail close-hauled with her yards square; and we had therefore settled it
that the proper thing to do was to provide for the difficult points at
once.  By the time that this was done we were so close to the western
extremity of the basin, and the entrance of the channel, that it became
necessary for me to jump aloft at once, while Gurney relieved Grace
Hartley at the wheel, and Saunders stood in the waist, with his eye on
me in the fore topmast crosstrees, ready to pass the word from me to the
helmsman, from whom I was hidden by the main and mizen topsails.

I am bound to admit that when I reached the crosstrees, and noted the
speed with which the ship was sliding along in that perfectly smooth
water, under the impulsion of a fine brisk easterly breeze, and observed
the narrowness and tortuousness of the channel that we had to traverse,
winding hither and thither through that vast expanse of reef, my heart
almost quailed within me, and I felt inclined to doubt whether we three
males possessed the ability, the skill, the quickness of eye, the
readiness and strength of hand, to take the ship in safety through that
apparently endless, twisting channel.  But the feeling was merely
momentary; an old adage flashed into my mind to the effect that one need
never trouble about crossing a bridge until one comes to it; also that
it is very unwise to meet troubles halfway.  I told myself that I would
not worry about the difficulties and dangers ahead, but would stand up
there in the crosstrees and deal with them, one at a time, as we came to
them.  And so I did, with the gratifying result that when the sun's
lower rim had reached to within a finger's breadth of the western
horizon the _Mercury_ slid out past the southern edge of the reef and
made her first curtsy as she once more dipped to the swell of the open
ocean, having triumphantly negotiated and overcome every one of the
difficulties of that endless rock-bound channel.  I sprang into the
topgallant rigging and shinned up to the royal yard, from which
elevation I was able to watch, over the head of the main topsail, the
great black expanse of reef receding on either quarter, until the sun
plunged beneath the horizon in a blaze of purple, crimson, and gold, and
then I descended to the deck by way of the backstay, and walked aft to
exchange congratulations with the little group of two men and a woman,
who stood clustered about the wheel watching the evanishment of that
strange rock prison in the fast-gathering gloom of the tropical night.
Before descending from aloft I had taken the precaution to fling one
long, lingering, all-embracing glance round the horizon ahead, from one
quarter to the other, and had pretty well satisfied myself that there
were no dangers lurking in the road along which we were going, no white
curl of surf to warn us of the existence of treacherous sunken reefs.
Our next act, therefore, was to bring the ship as close to the wind as
she would lie, on the port tack, lash the wheel, adjust the after braces
in such a way that the craft would steer herself, and then all go below
to partake of the very excellent meal that Grace Hartley had prepared
specially to celebrate the occasion of our happy escape from the reef.

The ensuing fortnight was a period absolutely barren of events, the
weather remaining fine and the wind steady during the whole time, so
that we had nothing to do but just to permit the ship to drive steadily
along to the southward, hour after hour, and day after day, at an
average speed of about four knots.  It is true that during the course of
that fortnight we sighted and passed several islands, at varying
distances; and in one case we hove-to for about half an hour to permit a
canoe with half a dozen natives to come alongside and barter their load
of fruit for a few feet of brass wire and a handful of glass beads.  But
we determined to anchor nowhere, if we could help it; for we were now
all anxiety to reach our destination as quickly as possible.  The care
of so big a ship was a heavy responsibility to rest upon the shoulders
of three men--and a girl, and we desired to free ourselves of it without
a moment's unnecessary delay.  And, quite apart from that, the monotony
of the thing was beginning to get upon our nerves.  For Gurney and Grace
Hartley it was doubtless well enough; so long as they could be together
it mattered little to them to what length the voyage might be spun out,
but so far as I was concerned--and I think I might also answer for
Saunders--I was beginning to crave for the sight of fresh faces, the
sound of new voices, and the stir and bustle and excitement of life
ashore.

At length, on our sixteenth day out from the reef, in latitude 1 degree
42 minutes north, the wind showed signs of failing us; and by sunset,
that night, it had fallen stark calm, with a rapidly subsiding swell;
yet the sky was clear, the barometer high, and, in short, there was
every indication that we were booked for a long spell of calm weather
before we should find ourselves to the southward of the Equator.  So
indeed it proved; for I believe I may say with absolute truth that
never, for five consecutive minutes during the ten succeeding days, had
we sufficient wind to extinguish the flame of a candle.  True, there
were occasional evanescent breathings that came stealing along from
nowhere in particular, gently ruffling a few superficial yards of the
ocean's glassy surface into faintest blue for a brief two or three
minutes at a time, and then vanishing again; but during the whole of
that period we never had enough wind to keep our canvas fully distended
for a whole minute.  Or course, being short-handed, we could not resort
to the various devices usually adopted in a fully manned craft for
profiting by those transient breathings.  The yards were altogether too
heavy for us to attempt to swing them to meet every fickle draught of
air that we saw coming toward us; it was therefore only the most
favourable that we made any effort to utilise; yet, despite this, we
somehow contrived to drift daily a little farther south; it might be,
perhaps, no more than a mile, or it might rise to as much as five or six
miles.  Everything depending upon whether the favourable zephyrs
happened to hit the ship, or whether they passed her by--sometimes at a
distance of only a few yards.

When we first ran into this belt of calm our horizon was bare, neither
land nor ship being in sight--indeed we had not sighted so much as one
solitary sail since leaving the island; but at dawn on the sixth morning
of the calm we sighted the mastheads of a small craft far away down in
the southern board, which, upon being inspected from aloft, proved to be
a schooner of, possibly, a hundred or one hundred and twenty tons
measurement.  During the day it became apparent that she was bound to
the northward, for she assiduously utilised every chance breath of wind
that touched her to work her way in that direction, while we did what we
could to make way in the opposite direction, with the result that by
sunset we had shortened the distance between us by three or four miles.
The succeeding four days were simply repetitions in all respects of the
same wearisome, monotonous state of things; yet the way in which the
_Mercury_ and the strange schooner insensibly drew ever nearer to each
other during that time was singularly illustrative of what could be
accomplished in the way of progress by sailing-ships, even in the
embrace of what was to all intents and purposes a stark calm, by active
and intelligent officers.  It is true that we in the _Mercury_ did but
little toward the abbreviation of the distance between the two vessels,
for the reason already mentioned, yet when the tenth day of the calm
dawned the schooner was hull-up in the southern board, some six miles
distant from us.

None but those who have endured a long spell of calm in the vicinity of
the Equator can have the faintest idea of the deadly monotony of the
experience.  Day after day comes and goes, bringing a cloudless sky of
dazzling blue, in the midst of which circles a merciless sun, from the
scorching rays of which there is no escape, even under an awning; for
the stoutest canvas seems incapable of completely intercepting the fiery
darts that cause the pitch to bubble up out of the deck seams, and heat
metal and dark-painted wood to a temperature high enough to blister the
hand unwarily laid upon either.  Even though an awning be spread, and
shelter sought thereunder, those burning rays are not to be evaded; for
they flash up from the mirror-like surface of the sea with a power which
is scarcely to be distinguished from that exerted by those which fall
direct from the great luminary himself.  As to going below in order to
escape the arrows of the fiery archer, the thing is not to be thought
of; for the whole interior of the ship is, at such times, simply an
oven, the air of which is too hot to breathe!  Under such circumstances
with what eagerness does the long-enduring seaman scan the polished
surface of the sleeping ocean in search of the little smudge of faint,
evanescent blue, the cat's-paw that betrays the presence of some
wandering eddy in the stagnant air which, even though it be too feeble
and insignificant to move the ship by so much as a single inch, may at
least afford his fevered body the momentary relief of a suggestion of
comparative coolness.  And how often does the panting and perspiring
officer of the deck drag his weary, enervated frame to the skylight in
the almost despairing hope that he may detect a depression of the
mercury in the barometric tube, giving the promise of a coming change,
only to turn away again with a weary, disappointed sigh.

It was under such circumstances as these that, during the forenoon of
the tenth day of the calm, Gurney, upon examining the barometer,
reported a concavity in the surface of the mercury, which, as we all
knew, was the first indication of a tendency to fall; and a falling
barometer of course meant a change of weather, which, in its turn, meant
wind, from what quarter we scarcely cared, so long as it came with
strength enough to fill our canvas and give us steerage-way.  Yet the
change was long in coming, for the fall of the mercury was so slow as to
be all but undistinguishable, while up till noon the only difference
that could be detected in the aspect of the sky was a certain subtle
thickening of the atmosphere, that robbed the blue of its exquisite
clarity, and reduced the sun to a shapeless blazing; mass that could be
gazed at without bringing tears to the eyes, although there was thus far
no appreciable alleviation of the scorching heat of the rays that he
showered down upon us.  But there was an added quality of closeness in
the air that caused one literally to gasp for breath occasionally, while
the slightest exertion--even that of moving from one part of the deck to
another--induced instant profuse perspiration.  So hot, indeed, was it
that with one accord we decided against cooking any food that day, the
idea of hot viands of any kind being absolutely repulsive to us all, and
we accordingly dined all together upon the poop, under the shelter of
the awning, upon such cold food as the steward's pantry afforded.

It was about four bells in the afternoon watch when the upper edge of a
great bank of livid purple cloud began to heave itself up above the
north-western horizon; but when once it had risen into sight its
progress was rapid--so rapid, indeed, that within an hour of its first
appearance it had soared high enough to blot out the sun, to our intense
relief, for with the disappearance of the luminary we were at once freed
from the scorching of his beams, although the closeness of the
atmosphere became intensified, rather than otherwise.  Of course there
was no mystery as to what we were to expect; we were undoubtedly in for
a first-class tropical thunderstorm, with its usual accompaniments of
torrential rain and, very probably, a sharp squall of wind that might
perhaps last half an hour or so, and, if we were in luck, end in a
breeze that would carry us across the Line.  The moment, therefore, that
the sun was hidden we proceeded to make our preparations for the welcome
change, beginning by striking the awning, following this by clewing up
and furling the mizen topsail, and winding up by close-reefing the fore
and main topsails.  This task, which kept us all busy until close upon
eight bells (that is, four o'clock in the afternoon), left the ship
under close-reefed fore and main topsails and fore topmast staysail,
which was snug canvas enough to enable a vessel, even as short-handed as
the _Mercury_ then was, to face anything like the weather which we had
reason to expect.  Meanwhile, as we found time to notice, the schooner
had followed our example and, long before our preparations were
complete, had been stripped of everything except her boom-foresail.

By the time that our labours had come to an end, and we were once more
free to sit down and await the issue of events, the pall of thundercloud
had overspread the entire visible heavens, from horizon to horizon,
enshrouding the scene in a kind of murky twilight, under which the
ocean, undulating sluggishly in long, low, irregular folds, like the
breathings of a sleeping giant, gleamed pallid and lustreless as a sea
of molten lead.  The atmosphere was still oppressively close, but it was
no longer as deadly stagnant as it had been during the earlier hours of
the day; for, at intervals, the vane at our main-royal masthead, which
hitherto had drooped heavy as a sodden deck swab, save for the swaying
motion imparted to it by the lift of the ship to the heave of the
scarcely visible swell, lifted and fluttered feebly for a second or two,
pointing now this way, and anon in some other direction, showing that,
away up aloft there, and as yet too high to reach and stir the surface
of the sea, the air currents were awakening under the brooding influence
of the coming storm.  These movements occurred at first at long
intervals, and were of the most evanescent character; but the intervals
rapidly shortened, and within an hour of the occurrence of the first
manifestation of atmospheric movement it had increased to such an extent
as to cause our topsails to rustle and fill, or fall aback, for a
moment, while, a little later still, we could feel the light breathings
upon our faces, and even note their light touch here and there upon the
glassy surface of the water.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE END OF THE VOYAGE.

Suddenly the surface of the water darkened away toward the north-west,
showing that a breeze was coming along from that direction, and we
sprang to the port braces, rounding them in a foot or two to meet it,
and hauling taut and making fast the starboard.  We worked quickly, not
yet knowing quite what was at the back of the coming breeze; but it
proved to be only a trifle after all, creeping down toward us very
gradually, and scarcely careening the ship when at length it reached
her.  But, trifling though it was, it was none the less welcome to us
all; for it was inexpressibly refreshing once more to feel a wind
fanning our fevered faces, stirring our hair, raising a pleasant
tinkling sound of water under the bows and along the bends, and stilling
the eternal and distracting flap of canvas aloft after the long period
of breathless calm through which we had sweltered.  Moreover, the ship
was once more moving through the water, with her jibboom pointing in the
right direction, and every mile that she now travelled was so much to
the good, increasing our chances of getting across the Line and making
our escape from the awful region of equatorial calms which constitute
such a ghastly bugbear to those who go down to the sea in sailing-ships.
Our self-congratulations proved, however, to be premature, for the
breeze lasted only about half an hour when it died away again, leaving
us as completely becalmed as before.  But during that half-hour we had
succeeded in covering quite two miles; while the schooner, evidently
strong-handed, had snatched at the opportunity afforded her and, hastily
setting her mainsail and jibs once more, had managed to creep up to
within a short mile of us before the breeze died away, leaving both
craft once more boxing the compass.

But we were by no means discouraged, for we had only to glance round us
at the great lowering cloud-masses, that seemed to have descended almost
to the level of our mastheads, to know that there would be plenty more
wind before we again beheld blue sky.  And, if appearances went for
anything, we should not have very much longer to wait for it, for the
blackness overhead was working like yeast, and the outfly might come at
any moment.  Yet another half-hour passed, and nothing happened.  Then,
while we all stood gazing and waiting, the canopy of cloud that arched
above us was rent asunder by a steel-bright flash of lightning so
intensely vivid that we were all completely blinded for a few seconds,
and the next instant there followed a crash of thunder that would have
drowned the combined broadsides of a thousand line-of-battle ships, and
the tremendous concussion of which caused the poor old _Mercury_ to
quiver and tremble from stem to stern.

"Now look out for the rain!" shouted Gurney exultantly, as he sprang to
close the skylight covers.  "Jump below, Gracie dear," he continued, "or
get under cover before the rain comes and washes you overboard!"

But the rain did not come, at least not just then; but, as though that
first flash had been a signal-gun, the whole of the visible heavens
seemed to break at the same moment into lightning flashes, and for a
full quarter of an hour there was such a terrific lancing of lightning,
such a crashing and roaring and rumbling of thunder, that one might
almost have thought the navies of the world had foregathered up aloft
there and with one accord had set about the task of annihilating each
other.  During the whole of this time not a solitary drop of rain fell,
and not enough stirring of air occurred to extinguish the flame of a
candle; we had nothing to do but simply to stand there, dazzled and
deafened, and watch, as far as we might, this wonderful, awe-inspiring
manifestation of the conflicting forces of nature.

It happened that the schooner lay right in the wake of the most violent
part of the storm; we therefore had her full in view as we stood and
watched.  Her people were at this time busily engaged in restowing their
mainsail and jibs, apparently convinced that the ultimate outcome of all
this elemental disturbance must be an outfly of wind against which it
would be well to be fully prepared.  They had got their mainsail down,
and some eight or ten hands were stretched along the length of the boom,
tightly rolling up the great folds of canvas, while four more were laid
out on the jibboom furling the jibs, when the storm seemed to reach its
height, and a great vivid flash of lightning, like a sword of blue-green
fire, lighting up the whole scene with its ghastly glare, fell, as it
appeared to us, full upon the little craft, and the next instant, as the
accompanying peal of thunder crashed and boomed in our ears, we all
distinctly saw a flash, as of fire, leap up aboard her, accompanied by a
great puff of whitish smoke.  It was only momentary, and had the
appearance of an explosion; but it was perfectly apparent that something
more or less serious had happened to the little vessel.  After an
appreciable pause on the part of her crew, as though they were
collecting their faculties in the face of some sudden disaster, they
broke at once into a state of feverish activity, rushing hither and
thither about her decks like men who are attempting to do half a dozen
separate and distinct things at the same moment.  Then came another
flash of flame on board her; and all in a moment, as it seemed to us,
the whole after part of her burst into a fierce blaze!

"Why, Gurney!"  I exclaimed, turning to where the man stood with his
sweetheart: "that last flash of lightning seems to have set the schooner
on fire."

"Yes," he answered; "and she is blazing like a tar barrel.  If the rain
doesn't come within the next two or three minutes they will have their
work cut out to extinguish the flames."

"Ay," cut in Saunders, "you are right there, George.  Look how she
flares up.  Why, she must be as dry as tinder.  Ah! there they go with
their buckets.  But what is the use of buckets against a blaze like
that; why don't they get their hose along and start their head-pump?
They'll never put out that fire by balin' up water from over the side."

"No," assented Gurney, "nor by means of a hose and head-pump either.
Nothing but a good downpour of rain will do them any good now, and the
rain seems to be holding off.  Scissors! that ought to fetch it down"--
as another terrific flash of lightning illuminated the whole scene from
horizon to horizon.

But it did not; the lightning--fierce, vivid, and baleful--continued to
flash, the thunder rolled and crashed and reverberated in one continuous
deafening uproar; but the rain held off for a good five minutes longer,
during which the fire aboard the schooner gained apace and spread with
amazing rapidity.  When at length the heavens opened, and the overladen
clouds began to discharge their contents, it was not by any means the
kind of tropical deluge that might have reasonably been expected, but
simply a sudden brisk shower lasting less than a minute, and then
ceasing abruptly.  It was neither copious enough nor of sufficient
duration to be of any appreciable service to the crew of the schooner,
and indeed it did not perceptibly check the progress of the flames.  To
the onlookers aboard the _Mercury_ it seemed that the other craft was
irretrievably doomed; and such also seemed to be the opinion of her own
crew, for they were presently seen to be frantically busy over the
clearing away of the longboat, which was stowed on top of the main
hatch, and the safety of which was now threatened by the rapidly
advancing flames.

"Do you think that they will succeed in extinguishing the fire, George?"
asked Grace Hartley, as she clung to her lover's arm and gazed with
wide-open eyes of anxiety at the progress of the conflagration.

"No," answered Gurney unhesitatingly; "to be quite candid with you,
dear, I do not.  Whatever may be the cargo that the schooner carries, it
is evidently of a highly combustible character, and now seems to be
fairly ignited.  The fire gains ground even as we stand and gaze; and if
the crew could not conquer it at the outset, they are not likely to do
so now.  What think you, Mr Troubridge?"

"I quite agree with you," I answered.  "That schooner--"

"Then," interrupted Grace passionately, with an impatient stamp of her
foot on the deck, "if you really think that, what are we all standing
here idly for?  Why are we not doing something to help those poor
fellows who are in danger of perishing in the flames?"

"Because, my dear, there is no need, as yet, at all events," answered
Gurney.  "You see," he continued, "they are clearing away their own
boat; and if they can only contrive to get her into the water before she
is irretrievably damaged they will be all right.  They have but to cross
that narrow space of water to reach us and safety.  But as for us, we
can do nothing.  It would need two of us to take one of our quarter
boats alongside that schooner in time to be of any service to those
people; and with the weather as it is at this moment it would be the
height of madness for us to make the attempt.  For, suppose that this
thunderstorm were to end in a heavy squall of wind--as it may at any
moment--catching the boat, with Saunders and me in her, halfway or
thereabout between the two vessels, what would be the result?  Why, that
we should be equally unable to reach the schooner or return to the
_Mercury_.  We should all part company; and the chances are that none of
us would ever again meet in this world!  No, no, I suppose we should all
be willing to risk a great deal to help our fellow-creatures in
extremity; but we must not lightly undertake an adventure that may be
fatal to us, while of very problematical advantage to the others.  Ah!
see, there is the answer to your appeal, Gracie!  They have cleared away
the longboat, and now they are hoisting her out, none too soon either;
for if my eyes do not deceive me, one gang have to sluice her with water
to prevent her taking fire while the others are getting her over the
side."

It was even as Gurney had said; the flames had spread with such
astounding rapidity that the schooner's crew only saved the boat by the
very skin of their teeth.  But presently she splashed safely into the
water alongside, and as she did so the schooner's people seemed to pour
over that vessel's low rail in a body, scarcely giving themselves time
to unhook the tackles before they flung out their oars and shoved off.
Indeed, there was very urgent need for haste; for not only was the
entire after part of the schooner ablaze by this time--the flames
shooting straight up in the breathless air as high as the little
vessel's main truck--but within the last minute or so there had occurred
that abrupt cessation which, in the case of tropical thunderstorms, is
so frequently the precursor of a sudden and brief but exceedingly
violent squall of wind.  And if that threatened squall should burst its
bonds and come shrieking and howling in fury across the surface of the
sea, scourging it into a mad turmoil of foaming, leaping water and
blinding spindrift, while the burnt-out crew of the schooner were making
their passage across to the _Mercury_, it might be very bad for them;
for even should they be fortunate enough to avoid capsizal, it might be
exceedingly difficult, if not altogether impossible, for the ship,
smitten and bowed down by the might of the tempest, to pause and pick
them up.

Of course, as we fully expected, the boat headed straight for the
_Mercury_; and the only question now was whether she would reach us
before the brooding tempest broke loose and involved us all in its
clutches.  I glanced anxiously round the horizon, and was not reassured
by what I saw; for the aspect of the heavens had rapidly grown so
threatening that it looked as though the outburst must inevitably come
within the next minute or two, while, strive as they might, the
strangers could not get alongside us in less than ten minutes at the
least.  And we could do absolutely nothing to help them, for at this
moment there was not the faintest perceptible movement of the
atmosphere, and both craft lay as motionless as logs in a timber pond.
I looked aloft at the vane at our masthead; it might have been made of
cast iron for all the movement that it betrayed; I wetted my finger and
held it up, turning it this way and that in the hope of detecting a
draught, however slight; but there was nothing.  A glance at the blazing
hull of the schooner showed that the flames were shooting heavenward as
straight as the flame of a candle burning in a vault.  No, there was
nothing to be done except to get a number of rope's-ends ready to fling
into the boat the moment that she came alongside, should she succeed in
doing so; and this we did, flinging the coils of braces and what not off
the pins to the deck in readiness to cast at the moment when perhaps a
second more or less might make all the difference between life and death
to some fourteen or fifteen of our fellow-creatures.

That the occupants of the boat were as fully alive as ourselves to the
critical nature of the situation was clear from the desperate energy
with which they toiled at the six oars they had thrown out, the stout
ash blades bending almost to breaking point at each stroke and sending a
long trail of tiny froth-flecked swirls seething and driving astern, as
the men sprang and bent their backs to their work, while the water
buzzed and foamed under the craft's bluff bows.  They were racing for
their lives, and knew it!  Fathom by fathom the heavy boat surged ahead
over the oil-smooth surface of the black water, with the scowling sky
writhing overhead, as though the spirit of the storm were struggling to
burst its bonds and leap upon them.  They were already so near at hand
that we could hear their cries as they shouted encouragement to each
other, when a sudden puff of air from the north-west swept over the
ship, causing the topsails and staysail to momentarily fill, with a
report like a musket-shot, with a quick jar and creaking of trusses,
parrals, and block sheaves, before the canvas again collapsed to the
masts with a rustling sound that to our overstrained senses seemed
preternaturally loud.

"It is coming now; look there, over the starboard quarter!" shouted
Gurney, pointing; and, putting his hands to his mouth, he yelled to
those in the approaching boat: "Pull, men; pull for your lives, or
you'll miss us yet!"

I looked in the direction indicated, and, sure enough, it was as Gurney
had said.  The sky in that quarter was black as night, and beneath it
was the long line of white foam that marked the progress of the
approaching squall.  It was racing down upon us with incredible speed,
and, near as the boat was, it was evident that the squall must strike us
before she could get alongside.  And, once in the grip of that raving
fury of wind, no earthly power could save those unfortunates, who were
now fighting like maniacs to reach the ark of safety that floated so
near--yet not near enough!  Something must be done, some risk must be
taken to help them.  That we should, without effort of any sort, suffer
ourselves to be cruelly snatched away far beyond the reach of those
desperately struggling men, leaving them to miserably perish, was
unthinkable!

"Back the fore topsail!"  I yelled, springing down the poop ladder to
the main deck and feverishly casting off the fore braces; "it is the
only thing that we can do; we may lose our topmasts, but we must risk
that.  With our fore topsail aback we may perhaps be able to edge down
upon and pick them up, otherwise we shall never set eyes upon them
again."

Working like demons, each of us seeming to be possessed, for the moment,
of the strength of a dozen men, we got the head yards braced round and
the braces made fast before the squall reached us; and then I sprang aft
to the wheel, while Gurney and Saunders, snatching up as many loose
coils of rope as they could grasp, stood by to drop them into the boat.
As I reached the wheel and wrenched it hard a-starboard, the squall,
with an indescribable fury of sound, struck us--fortunately well over
the starboard quarter.  With a report like a cannon-shot and a creaking
and groaning of overstrained spars and timbers the _Mercury_ buried her
bows in the boiling sea and gathered way, paying off square before the
wind as she did so.  I let her go well off, until the longboat was broad
on our starboard bow; then, putting the helm hard down, I brought the
ship close to the wind, thus throwing her fore topsail aback, and, by
the mercy of Providence, judging my distance with such nicety that the
next moment the longboat, by this time full to her thwarts and utterly
helpless, was scraping along under the shelter of our lee side, while
the ship, suddenly arrested by her backed topsail, careened until her
lee rail was level with the foam.  Gurney and Saunders hove their
rope's-ends fair into the boat; but there was no need for them, the ship
was bowed so steeply that the occupants were able to seize her rail and
scramble inboard unaided.  In as many seconds fourteen strange men had
transferred themselves from the sinking longboat to our decks, while the
boat, rasping astern along the ship's side, capsized and turned bottom-
up as she drove clear.  Gurney flourished his hand to me as a sign that
all was well, and then, as I once more put the helm up and allowed the
ship to go off before the wind, he seized some three or four of the
dazed strangers and invoked their aid to square the foreyard.

It was with a mighty sigh of relief that I presently resigned the wheel
to Saunders and went forward to greet and welcome the rescued men; for,
by the skin of our teeth we had saved them all in the very nick of time,
and that, too, without parting so much as a ropeyarn.  Furthermore, by
an extraordinary stroke of fortune--good for us, although bad for them--
we had, in the most unexpected manner, secured the services of enough
hands to enable us to work the ship without being constantly worried as
to the quantity of sail that we might safely venture to set.  Therefore
we were now in a position to avail ourselves to the utmost extent of
every kind of weather, and could hope to bring our remarkable voyage to
a speedy conclusion.

As I joined the group of strangers clustered about Gurney, down on the
main deck, it was easy to determine, even before I came within sound of
their tongues, that they were British--Australians, that is to say, for
they one and all bore the well-marked characteristics of that sturdy,
independent, self-reliant race.  Gurney at once took it upon himself to
perform the ceremony of introduction.

"This, mates," said he, indicating me, "is our skipper, Mr Troubridge.
He is but a youngster, as you may see for yourselves; but you may take
my word for it that, so long as he commands, everything will go right
with us.  Our story is a long one, and a queer one--too long and too
queer to be spun just now, so it must wait; but you will all be glad to
know that we are bound for the port that you hail from; so, please God,
it will not be long before you see your sweethearts and wives once more.
This, Mr Troubridge, is Mr Thomson, chief mate of the schooner
_Seamew_, blazing out yonder; and the rest are the remainder of her
crew, whose names I have not yet had time to learn."

"Welcome aboard the _Mercury_, Mr Thomson, and men of the _Seamew_!"
said I.  "I am heartily glad that, since it was your lot to meet with
misfortune, we happened to be near enough at hand to pick you up.  But
what of your captain; where is he?"

"I am sorry to say, Mr Troubridge," answered Thomson, "that Captain
Peters and Mr Girdlestone, our second mate, were both struck dead by
the flash of lightning that set the schooner afire; and we were obliged
to leave 'em aboard to burn with her, since we had no time to do
anything else.  The _Seamew_ was Cap'n Peters' own property; and we were
out after sandalwood, of which the schooner was more'n half-full when
this misfortune happened to her.  We fought the flames as long as we
could, in the hope of savin' her; but we never had a chance from the
very first, for she was old, and as dry as the inside of a tinder-box,
and she burned like a pine splinter.  We hung on to her so long that we
had to leave all our belongings aboard her, comin' away with just what
we stood up in, and we cut it so fine that if we'd delayed another
minute we'd all be in Davy's locker now."

"Ay," said I, "there is very little doubt of that, I think.  However, a
miss is as good as a mile, they say, and you are all here, except your
unfortunate captain and second mate, so you must make yourselves as
comfortable as you can until we arrive in Sydney.  I am afraid I shall
have to ask you to work your passages, for we are very short-handed, as
you will have seen; but no doubt when we arrive--"

"Oh, that's all right, sir!" cut in Thomson; "of course we'll work our
passages, and glad of the chance to do so.  It's a lucky thing for us
that you were near enough to pick us up."

So the matter was arranged, Gurney and Thomson each heading a watch of
six men, while the cook and the steward of the _Seamew_ respectively
took charge of the _Mercury's_ galley and pantry, and Saunders promptly
escaped from the cabin to the more congenial atmosphere of the
forecastle, where he entertained the men, during the remainder of the
voyage, with stories of our adventures, first on the island, and
afterwards on the reef.  But a timely hint from Gurney, terse and
strong, kept his lips closed upon the subject of the pearls, of the
existence of which on board not a man of the schooner's crew ever became
aware.

There is but little more that need be said in order to bring this story
of a very remarkable and adventurous voyage to a close.  The schooner
continued to blaze fiercely--the flames fanned to ever-increasing fury
by the strength of the wind--for about half an hour after we had run
past her, when we suddenly lost sight of her; Thomson's opinion being
that by that time her upper works had been completely consumed, and that
the sea had gained access to her interior, sending her charred remains
to the bottom.  True, the tail of the squall brought along a smart
shower of rain that lasted about ten minutes, but it was over again
before she disappeared, so that the alternative theory of Brady, her
boatswain, that the rain extinguished the flames, found little
acceptance with us.  In any case it was not worth while returning to
seek her, for, even had she been found, she could but have been a mere
burnt-out shell, of no value to anyone.  The squall blew itself out in
about twenty minutes; but the wind continued to blow strongly all
through the night, and it was not until sunrise on the following morning
that the weather moderated sufficiently to induce Gurney to send the
hands aloft to turn out the reefs and make sail.  When I went on deck,
however, at seven bells, it was glorious weather; the sky clear, save
for a few light fleecy clouds drifting solemnly along out of the north-
west, a moderate sea running, and the ship bowling gaily along under all
plain sail and her starboard studding sails--a sight which I had not
gazed upon for many a long day.  We crossed the Equator during the
forenoon of that day and, meeting with favourable weather for the
remainder of the voyage, entered Port Jackson, without further
adventure, some three weeks later, coming to an anchor close to Garden
Island.

The arrival of the _Mercury_, so long overdue that she had been given up
as lost, created quite a little local sensation, which was vastly
increased when the history of the voyage was made public, to such an
extent, indeed, that a Government ship was dispatched to the island with
authority to arrest Wilde, Polson, and Tudsbery upon a charge of piracy,
and bring them to Sydney for trial.  The business of the ship, and the
fact that Gurney, Saunders, Grace Hartley, and I would be required as
witnesses at the trial, detained us all at Sydney until the return of
the corvette from the island, some two months later.

The news which she brought back sent a thrill of horror throughout the
colony.  It was to the effect that upon her arrival at the spot, the
latitude and longitude of which I had given, a small islet had been
discovered which, upon examination, proved to be the crater of a volcano
that had evidently been very recently in a state of violent activity;
but no traces of life were to be found upon it, nor had the islet any
resemblance to the extensive and beautiful island which we had
described.  The weather, however, proving favourable, the captain of the
corvette had anchored his ship for several days close to the islet, and
had caused an extensive series of soundings to be taken all round it,
which, upon being plotted to a large scale, were of such a character as
to leave no doubt that the islet was indeed the summit of the peak of
Wilde's island, and that the latter had most probably been engulfed,
with its inhabitants, by the same cataclysm that had imprisoned the
_Mercury_ among the meshes of the pearl reef!  Our escape, therefore,
from the common destruction that had overtaken the rest had been an
exceedingly narrow one, the margin of safety amounting, in fact, to less
than three days; for there can be no question that, had the _Mercury_
been at her moorings in the Basin, or even within a few miles of the
island, when the catastrophe occurred, she could never have survived it.

The consignees of the _Mercury's_ original cargo--the names and
addresses of whom were mentioned in the ship's manifest, found by me,
with the rest of the ship's papers, in the captain's desk--were of
course only too glad to accept the cargo of sandalwood brought from the
island, in lieu of the much less valuable merchandise originally
consigned to them, and they at once chartered the ship to carry the wood
to Canton, one of the partners--a Mr Henderson--going with it in the
capacity of supercargo to dispose of it, upon arrival.  There was not
much difficulty in engaging another master, officers, and crew for the
ship; and I subsequently learned that she arrived safely, that the cargo
was speedily disposed of, tea purchased with the proceeds, and the ship
dispatched with it to England, where she duly arrived; the net result of
the adventure being a big profit for the fortunate consignees.  These
gentlemen were Scotchmen, and although persons of that nationality have
the reputation of keeping a very tight hand upon the bawbees, I am bound
to say that they treated Gurney, Saunders, and myself with a liberality,
not to say generosity, that left nothing to be desired, although of
course we had no claim on them.  The result being that not only were we
able to maintain ourselves most comfortably in Sydney while awaiting the
return of the corvette from the island, but also to return afterwards to
England as first-class passengers.  That is to say, Gurney, Grace
Hartley, and I did so; but Saunders remained in the colony and
eventually became a prosperous and exceedingly wealthy sheep farmer.  As
for Gurney, he lost no time in making Grace Hartley his wife, I
officiating as best man on the occasion.

We all three went home together in the cuddy of the same ship, and upon
our arrival it was my happy privilege to be the means of opening the
negotiations with his father--Sir George Burnley, baronet, of Chudleigh
Grange, Devon--that resulted in a complete and permanent reconciliation
between the two.  Gurney--or Burnley, to give him his correct name--had
learned his lesson while passing through the fires of adversity.  He had
learned, in the school of experience--that best of all schools--that the
so-called pleasures of sin endure but for a very brief season and are
inevitably followed by misery, suffering, shame, and self-contempt
beyond all power of words to express; and he had the resolution and
strength to pull himself together and become once more a man, in the
best and highest sense of the term, before it was too late and mental,
moral, and physical ruin, complete and irretrievable, had overtaken him.
He had the joy of seeing his father's belief and pride in him fully
restored, and of making that father's declining years easy, pleasant,
and happy.  Now he reigns in that father's stead, honoured, respected,
and beloved by all, and the pride and joy of his wife and children.

As for me, my pearls, when at length I had succeeded in converting them
into money, produced so unexpectedly magnificent a fortune that not only
was I enabled by its means to obtain a commanding interest in the
corporation which owned the Gold Star line of sailing clippers, but also
very materially to assist in converting that line from sail to steam.
This was, of course, a very gradual process; and by the time that it was
complete I was not only out of my apprenticeship but had worked my way
up to the position of chief mate.  Two voyages in this capacity sufficed
to qualify me for the position of master; and now, in the time of my
ripened experience, I hold the proud position of Commodore of the fleet,
and have the pleasure of walking the bridge as commander of one of the
finest passenger steamers that trade between England and the Australian
ports.





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