Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: For Jacinta
Author: Bindloss, Harold, 1866-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "For Jacinta" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from scanned images of public domain material


FOR JACINTA



[Illustration: "DON'T YOU KNOW THAT IT IS RATHER A SERIOUS THING TO
DELAY A SPANISH MAIL-BOAT?"--Page 19]



FOR JACINTA

By HAROLD BINDLOSS

AUTHOR OF "ALTON OF SOMASCO," "THE CATTLE-BARON'S DAUGHTER,"
"THE DUST OF CONFLICT," "WINSTON OF THE PRAIRIE," ETC.

[Illustration]

FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
NEW YORK       PUBLISHERS

Copyright, 1907
BY FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
All rights reserved

Published January, 1908



CONTENTS

 CHAPTER                                        PAGE
      I.  JACINTA BROWN                            1
     II.  AN OVERHEATED JOURNAL                   13
    III.  ON THE VERANDA                          26
     IV.  A BIG CONTRACT                          37
      V.  THE TOMATO FINCA                        49
     VI.  AUSTIN'S POINT OF VIEW                  60
    VII.  AT THE BULL FIGHT                       72
   VIII.  JEFFERSON FEELS THE STRAIN              86
     IX.  AUSTIN MAKES A VENTURE                  98
      X.  JACINTA IS NOT CONTENT                 111
     XI.  THE LAND OF THE SHADOW                 121
    XII.  NOCTURNAL VISITORS                     132
   XIII.  TOIL                                   142
    XIV.  JEFFERSON'S REMONSTRANCE               152
     XV.  STARTING THE PUMP                      163
    XVI.  ELUSIVE GUM                            174
   XVII.  AUSTIN GOES DOWN RIVER                 183
  XVIII.  JACINTA BECOMES INDIGNANT              194
    XIX.  CONDEMNED UNHEARD                      204
     XX.  JACINTA MAKES NO EXCUSE                215
    XXI.  THE PICTURES                           225
   XXII.  FUNNEL-PAINT'S PROPOSITION             236
  XXIII.  FUNNEL-PAINT MOVES AGAIN               245
   XXIV.  AUSTIN FINDS A CLUE                    256
    XXV.  HOVE OFF                               267
   XXVI.  JEFFERSON FINDS THE GUM                277
  XXVII.  AUSTIN'S TOAST                         288
 XXVIII.  IN COMMAND                             299
   XXIX.  AUSTIN IS MISSING                      310
    XXX.  JACINTA CAPITULATES                    322



FOR JACINTA



CHAPTER I

JACINTA BROWN


It was about seven o'clock in the evening when sobrecargo Austin boarded
the little mail-boat _Estremedura_ as she lay rolling at anchor on the
long, moon-lit heave that worked into the roadstead of Santa Cruz,
Palma. Sobrecargo means much the same thing as purser, and Austin was an
Englishman, though the _Estremedura_ was to all intents and purposes a
Spanish steamer. She traded round the islands of the Canary archipelago
with mules and camels, tomatoes, bananas, onions, and seasick English
tourists, as fortune favoured her. Now, as the heavily sealed document
Austin carried in his pocket declared, she was to sail for Las Palmas,
Grand Canary, with the Cuban mail, by the gracious permission of the
young King of Spain.

He had trouble on getting on board of her, for there were a good many
bullocks swimming about her side waiting until the red-capped crew
should heave them on board beneath the derrick-boom by means of a rope
twisted round their horns. It probably hurt the bullocks, and now and
then one succumbed to a broken neck during the operation; but the
Castilian, who can face his losses placidly, is not, as a rule,
particularly merciful to his beast. There were also stray sheep, goats,
and donkeys, as well as olive-faced peasants with blankets strapped
about their shoulders, wandering about the after portion of the main
deck, which was supposed to be reserved for the second-class passengers,
when Austin stopped a moment by the covered hatch. A big electric light
hung from the spar-deck beams above his head, and he looked about him
with a little ironical smile.

He was a young man of average stature, and there was nothing especially
distinguished in his appearance, though he had good grey eyes, and a
pleasant bronzed face. He was somewhat lightly made, though he looked
wiry, and held himself well, and there was a certain languidness in his
smile which seemed to suggest that he was not addicted to troubling
greatly about anything. Because the Scotchman who ran the
_Estremedura_'s engines had sold his white uniform jacket with the
resplendent buttons a day or two before, he was just then attired
somewhat incongruously in a white cap with the very large and imposing
badge of the Spanish mail service clasped into the front of it, a brown
alpaca jacket, white duck trousers, and pipe-clayed shoes. The latter
two items were, however, by no means immaculate, since he had, as a
special favour to the mate, brought off certain sheep and goats in his
despatch-boat, as well as a camel tied astern of it. Spaniards and
Englishmen do not invariably agree, but they lived like brothers on
board the _Estremedura_, which, however, had its disadvantages. Austin
objected in particular to the community of property.

That evening the steamer hummed with life, and the clatter of polyglot
tongues. Parsee dealers in silver-thread embroideries, German commercial
travellers, Madeiran Portuguese, Canario hillmen, and Peninsular
Spaniards, moved amidst the straying livestock, while a little group of
Anglo-Saxons naturally sat apart upon the hatch. There were, as is
usual when Englishmen foregather in a country where wine is cheap, empty
bottles scattered about. The engineer from the sister ship and an
athletic tourist, stripped, at least as far as was permissible, were
wrestling in Cumberland fashion on the hatch, with much delicate
manœuvring of their feet and futile clutches at each other's waists.
Macallister, who, when he felt inclined, superintended the
_Estremedura_'s machinery, alternately encouraged them sardonically and
solaced himself with one of the bottles. He was a big, gaunt man, and
just then extremely dirty, and when he saw Austin he looked up with a
mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"I have been waiting for ye anxiously," he said. "Ye may now have the
pleasure of lending me five dollars."

"I'm afraid not!" said Austin decisively. "For one thing, I haven't got
them. I very seldom have--as you ought to know."

Macallister made a little gesture of resignation. "Well," he said, "ye
have always your clothes, and if ye had known us better ye would not
have brought so many of them on board the _Estremedura_. I'm half
expecting yon Jackson o' Las Palmas, who gave us two dollars for the
last white suit, to come round for some more o' them when we get in."

Austin tried the door of his room close by, and was consoled to find it
locked, as he had left it.

"They cost me five, and I naturally never saw a peseta of the money. I
suppose you kept the Correo buttons?"

"I did not," said Macallister, unabashed. "Ye may observe Miguel, the
quartermaster, walking round in them. It was no a bad bargain--a basket
o' big grapes an' a watermelon."

Austin bore it patiently. There was, in fact, nothing to be gained by
protesting, and he knew that it was useless to expostulate with
Macallister when he spoke his own tongue, which was not an invariable
custom with him. Then the engineer turned and glanced at the wrestlers,
who were still stamping up and down the hatch with feet spread well
apart, compassionately.

"They've been at it the whole o' a half hour, an' no a fall to cheer a
body yet. One would think it was dancing they were," he said. "It wasn't
to see that I wasted a tumblerful o' anisow on them."

Now, anisado is a preparation of spirit and extract of anise seed, which
is esteemed in that country, and Austin looked hard at his comrade,
because he had a jar of it, intended for a Spanish friend, in his room.
He was a trifle uneasy, since a lock is not an insuperable obstacle to
an engineer. The latter, however, changed the subject.

"It's a kind o' pity about your clothes," he said. "Miss Jacinta Brown
is going across with us to-night, an' she was enquiring kindly after
ye."

Austin had a good deal of composure, and he often needed it, but the
shrewd Scottish eyes saw the momentary pleasure in his face. Then,
because he did not appreciate Macallister's badinage on that subject, he
went into his room and bolted the door behind him before he switched on
the light and examined the anisado jar. It seemed quite full when he
shook it, and the seal was intact, but on looking closer he saw that the
impression on the latter was not what it had been when he left it. He
was aware that a certain proportion of sea-water may be added to rum
without the average consumer noticing any great difference, but he had
suspicions that a blend of brine and anise was not likely to be
appreciated by its recipient, and he was for a moment or two consumed
with righteous indignation. This, however, passed, for he realised that
his expostulations would be heard with laughter. It was all a part of
the happy-go-lucky life he led, and nobody concerns himself unduly about
anything under the flag of Spain. The Castilian, as a rule, bears his
troubles patiently, which is, perhaps, just as well, since he rarely
sees them coming or makes any attempt to get out of the way of them.

Austin accordingly busied himself with his papers, and it was an hour
later when he went on deck. The _Estremedura_ had gone to sea by then,
and the lights of the little Spanish town blinked above the broad fringe
of surf astern. High above her the great black cordillera cut hard and
sharp against the luminous blueness of the night, and the long heave of
the Atlantic flashed, white-topped, beneath the moon ahead. She swung
over it with slanted spars and swaying funnel, while the keen
trade-breeze sang in her rigging, and now and then a flying-fish
ricocheted, gleaming, from sea-top to sea-top beneath her side. She was
very well kept above decks, a trim, yacht-like vessel, and for a while
Austin leaned over her quarter-rails, smoking a cigarette, and wondering
when Miss Jacinta Brown would come up on deck. There was a very deaf
Englishman, who insisted on conversing with him in stentorian tones in
the saloon, and he had no desire for his company. In the meanwhile, it
was pleasant to lounge there and watch the moonlight gleam upon the
tumbling seas.

There were, he admitted, a good many compensations in the life he led.
The warmth and colour of the South appealed to him, and, though they are
not particularly numerous, there are men like him who retain a somewhat
chastened affection for the sea they earn their bread upon. It is true
that he earned very little more than that on board the _Estremedura_,
and he had once had his aspirations like other men, as well as a
prospect of realising them; but when financial disaster overtook the
family firm nobody seemed anxious to secure the services of a young man
without specialised training, who had artistic and somewhat expensive
tastes, which was, perhaps, not altogether astonishing. That was how
Austin eventually came on board the _Estremedura_, and stayed there,
though there were odd hours when he took himself to task for doing so.
Still, he did not exactly know where he could go if he left her, and the
indifference of the Latins was already infecting him. Men in Spain
believe that the future is quite able to take care of itself.

By and by, however, a slim, white-clad figure appeared in the entrance
to the saloon companion, and he moved in that direction with evident
alacrity. As one result of being the _Estremedura_'s sobrecargo, he was
acquainted with everybody of importance in the archipelago, and among
them all there was nobody who figured more prominently than Miss Jacinta
Brown. She was English on both sides, though she had lived in those
islands most of her twenty-five years, and understood the Spaniards,
probably better than they understood themselves, for they are rather an
impulsive than an introspective people. She also understood her
countrymen, and ruled over them, as well as Spanish artillery officers
and Commandantes. It was not very evident how she did it, for there were
a good many Spanish women, at least, almost as pretty, and of much
better birth than she, and she apparently received no great assistance
from her father, for Pancho Brown was a merchant of an unusually solid
and unimaginative description. The wives of the English visitors,
however, did not, as a rule, like Jacinta. They said she was forward,
and it was a pity she had no mother; but when any of them received an
invitation from her it was immediately proclaimed all over the hotel.

She smiled at Austin graciously, and allowed him to place her a deck
chair beneath a big lifeboat, where it was out of the wind, after which
he procured himself another, and sat down and looked at her. Jacinta did
not seem to mind it, and most men would probably have found it difficult
to keep their eyes off her. She was little, shapely, and very dainty,
though she could, as Austin knew, on occasion be essentially dignified.
She had brown hair and eyes, with a little scintillating gleam in them,
and her face was slightly tinted with the warm Andalusian olive, though
there was only English blood in her. She was dressed in white, as usual,
with a simplicity that suggested perfect taste, while, as he watched
her, Austin wondered again exactly where her compelling attractiveness
lay. He had met women with more delicate complexions, finer features,
softer voices, and more imposing carriage; that is, women who possessed
one or two of these advantages, but he had not as yet met any one to be
compared to Jacinta, as he expressed it, in the aggregate. Then it
seemed that she read his thoughts, which was, as he had noticed, a habit
of hers.

"Yes, the dress is a new one. I am rather pleased with it, too," she
said.

Austin laughed. "If I hadn't had the pleasure of making your
acquaintance some time ago, you would have astonished me. As it is----"

"Never mind," said Jacinta. "After all, there is no great credit in
telling people of your kind what they are thinking, though I can't help
it now and then. You were wondering what anybody saw in me."

Now Austin was too wise to fancy for a moment that Jacinta was fishing
for compliments. She knew her own value too well to appreciate them
unless they were particularly artistic, and he surmised that she had
merely desired to amuse herself by his embarrassment.

"If I was, it was very unwise of me," he said. "You are Jacinta--and one
has to be content with that. You can't be analysed."

"And you?"

"I am the _Estremedura_'s sobrecargo, which is, perhaps, a significant
admission."

Jacinta nodded comprehension. "I think it is," she said. "Still, since
you considered yourself warranted in approving of my dress, what are you
doing in that jacket on a mail run?"

"As usual, there is a reason. When I was across at Arucas my comrades
laid hands upon my garments, and disposed of them at a bargain. They had
naturally squandered the money by the time I came back. I am now longing
for a few words with the man who, I understand, is coming down to
purchase some more at an equally alarming sacrifice."

Jacinta laughed, but she also looked at him with a little gleam in her
eyes. "Don't you think it's rather a pity you--are--the _Estremedura_'s
sobrecargo?"

"Well," said Austin, reflectively, "I won't pretend to misunderstand
you, but the trouble is that I don't quite see what else I could be. I
cannot dig, and I'm not sure that it would be very pleasant to go round
borrowing odd dollars from my friends, even if they were disposed to
lend them to me, which is scarcely probable. Most of them would,
naturally, tell me to look at them, and see what I might have been if
I'd had their diligence and probity. Besides, I have time to paint
little pictures which rash tourists buy occasionally, and the life one
leads here has its compensations."

The _Estremedura_'s whistle hooted just then, and as Jacinta looked
round a lordly four-masted ship, carrying everything to her royals,
swept up out of the night. She was driving down the trade-breeze a good
twelve knots an hour, and the foam flew up in cascades as her bows went
down, swirled in a broad, snowy smother along the slender streak of
rushing hull. Above it four tapered spires of sailcloth swung back
against the moonlight at every stately roll, and she showed as an
exquisite cameo cut in ebony on a ground of silver and blue. Still, it
was not the colour that formed the strength of that picture, but the
suggestion of effort and irresistible force that was stamped on it. She
drove by majestically, showing a breadth of wet plates that flashed in a
leeward roll, and Jacinta's eyes rested on the bent figure high on the
lifted poop grappling with her wheel.

"Ah!" she said. "I suppose it's sometimes brutal, but that is man's
work, isn't it?"

Austin laughed again, though there was a faint warmth in his cheek. "Of
course, I see the inference," he said. "Still, it really isn't necessary
for everybody to hold a big vessel's wheel, and I would a good deal
sooner you said something nice to me. Nobody likes to be told the truth
about themselves, you know, and I understand now why folks threw big
stones at the goat-skinned prophets long ago."

"Well," said Jacinta, "we will talk of somebody else. I wonder if you
know that Jefferson has been left a fortune, or, at least, part of one?"

"I didn't. Still, I'm glad to hear it. I like the man. In fact, he's the
straightest one I've come across in his occupation, which, by the way,
is, perhaps, somewhat of an admission, considering that he's an
American."

"I like most Americans. For one thing, they're usually in earnest."

"And you like Spaniards, who certainly aren't."

"We will waive the question. It's rather a coincidence that Jefferson
should have fallen in love about the same time."

"Do I know the lady, who is, presumably, in earnest, too? I don't like
women who have a purpose openly, though that does not apply to you. You
have usually a good many, but nobody knows anything about them until you
have accomplished them."

Jacinta ignored the compliment. "I don't think you know her, but she is
a friend of mine. I went to school with her for two years in England."

"Then, of course, she's nice."

"That," said Jacinta, "is naturally a matter of opinion. She is,
however, not in the least like me."

"In that case it's difficult to see how she can be nice at all."

Jacinta smiled somewhat sardonically. "Well," she said, "Muriel is
bigger than I am, and more solid--in every way--as well as quiet and
precise. Being the daughter of the clergyman of a forlorn little place
in England, she has, of course, had advantages which have been denied to
me. There are people who have to undertake their own training, or do
without any, you know. She very seldom says anything she does not mean,
and always knows exactly what she is going to do."

"I'm not sure that sounds particularly attractive."

Jacinta lifted her head and looked at him. "Still, she is worth--oh,
ever so much more--than a good many such frivolous people as you or I.
You will see her yourself to-morrow. She is coming across with us to Las
Palmas, and, of course, if you would like to please me----"

"That goes without saying. To-morrow we will endeavour to turn this ship
upside down. It usually has to be done when we have the honour of
carrying a lady from any part of provincial England."

"I really don't want very much," and Jacinta smiled, at him. "Just the
big forward room for her, and the seat next me at the top of your table.
The nicest things have a way of getting there. Then she is fond of
fruit--and if you could get any of the very big Moscatel, and some of
that membrillo jelly. A few bunches of roses would look nice at our end
of the table, too."

"Well," said Austin, with a little whimsical gesture of resignation,
"there is, as you know, a Spanish Commandante and his wife in that
forward room, but I suppose we shall have to turn them out. The other
things will naturally follow, but I'm afraid Major-domo Antonio will
call us dreadful names to-morrow."

Jacinta rose. "You are as nice as I expected you would be," she said.
"Now it is getting chilly, and I have a letter to write."

She smiled at him and went forward, walking, though she was English,
with a curious buoyant gracefulness as Spanish women do, while Austin
sat still and considered the position. He was quite aware that he would
have trouble with the Spanish Commandante as well as his Major-domo on
the morrow, but that was, after all, of no great importance. When
Jacinta wanted anything she usually obtained it, and it was not a little
to be counted among her friends, since she frequently contrived to do a
good deal for them. There were men as well as women in those islands who
owed more than they were aware of to Jacinta Brown.

Austin sighed as he remembered it, for he was a penniless sobrecargo,
and she, in those islands, at least, a lady of station. It must be
sufficient for him to do what little he could to please her, and he had,
in fact, once or twice done a good deal. He took life easily, but there
was in him a vein of chivalry, which for the most part, however, found
somewhat whimsical expression. Then he recollected that he had still
certain documents to attend to, and going down again locked himself into
his room.



CHAPTER II

AN OVERHEATED JOURNAL


The _Estremedura_ lay rolling gently off the quaint old Spanish city of
Santa Cruz, Teneriffe, most of the following day. It was, indeed, late
in the afternoon when she went to sea, and while the jumble of white
walls and red-tiled roofs faded astern Austin sat in a deck-chair under
a lifeboat, while Jacinta, Mrs. Hatherly, and Miss Muriel Gascoyne, to
whom he had been duly presented, occupied a seat close by. He was not
particularly charmed with the latter's company, and decided that she was
certainly as unlike Jacinta as she very well could be.

Miss Gascoyne was a clear-complexioned, blue-eyed young Englishwoman,
solidly put together, and endued with a certain attractiveness; but she
was quiet, and had a disconcerting way of looking at him in a fashion
which vaguely suggested disapproval. There was also what he felt to be a
slightly irritating air of authority about her, which seemed to suggest
that she recognised the responsibility of her station, as one who was
looked up to in a remote corner of rural England. Mrs. Hatherly, her
aunt, was a little, withered old lady, with ruddy cheeks and the stamp
of vigorous health upon her, though she had apparently been ordered
south for the winter. She became visibly interested when Jacinta
contrived to mention that Austin was in charge of the _Estremedura_'s
medicine chest.

"It really isn't my fault, and I don't do more harm with it than I can
help," he said.

"Then you have a knowledge of medicine?" asked the red-cheeked lady.

"No," said Austin, "not in the least. I had to get a sixpenny book from
England to tell me the difference between a scruple and a drachm, and
I'm not sure about some of the measures yet. You see, I entered the
profession quite by accident. The manual in the drug chest was,
naturally, in English, as it was sent on board a Spanish ship, and the
skipper, who couldn't read it, passed it on to me. My first case was a
great success, unfortunately. We were loading pine, and one of the men
contrived to get a splinter into the inner side of his eyelid. I suppose
it was a weakness, but I really couldn't watch him going about in
agony."

"Is the desire to relieve a fellow creature's suffering a weakness?"
asked Miss Gascoyne.

Austin appeared to reflect. "I almost think it is when the chances are
tolerably even that you're going to blind him. Still, I got the thing
out, and that man never quite knew the risks he ran. The next week
another of them dropped a hogshead on to his foot, and smashed it
badly--they don't wear boots, you know. He seemed quite convinced that I
could cure him, and, as the risk was his, I undertook the thing. You can
see him on the forecastle yonder, and he isn't limping. After that my
fame went abroad, and they send their cripples off to me at several of
the desolate places we call at. I always give them something, but
whatever quantity of water the manual recommends I put in twice as
much."

Miss Gascoyne looked at him curiously. She had not met a young man of
this type before, and was not sure that she approved of him. She also
fancied that he was a trifle egotistical, which he certainly was not,
and it never occurred to her that he was merely rambling on for her
entertainment because he felt it his duty.

"Don't you think that one should always have faith in one's
prescriptions and act upon it?" said her aunt. "I endeavour to do so
when I dose the village people who come to me."

Austin laughed. "Well," he said, "you see, I haven't any, and, perhaps
if I had, it would be a little rough on others. Still, as a matter of
fact, they do get better--that is, most of them."

Miss Gascoyne looked startled. "Is it right to abuse the ignorant
people's credulity like that?" she said, and stopped a trifle awkwardly,
while a little twinkle crept into Jacinta's eyes.

"Mr. Austin hasn't really killed anybody yet," she said. "You haven't
told us what you think of Teneriffe, Muriel."

Miss Gascoyne turned her face astern, and there was appreciation, and
something deeper than that, in her blue eyes, which had seen very little
of the glory of this world as yet. High overhead the great black wall of
the Cañadas cut, a tremendous ebony rampart, against the luminous blue,
and beyond it the peak's white cone gleamed ethereally above its
wrappings of fleecy mist. Beneath, the Atlantic lay a sheet of
glimmering turquoise in the lee of the island, and outside of that there
was a blinding blaze of sunlight on the white-topped sea.

"It is beautiful--wonderfully beautiful," she said, with a little
tremble in her voice. "Isn't it sad that such a country should be
steeped in superstition?"

Austin felt the last observation jar upon him, for he knew that the
inhabitants of that land would, in respect of sobriety and morality,
compare very favourably with those of several more enlightened places he
was acquainted with at home, and that was going far enough for him.
Still, he could defer to another's convictions when they were evidently
sincere, and it seemed to him that Jacinta's warning glance was a trifle
unnecessary. There was, however, an interruption just then, for a
steward appeared with a laden tray at the door of the captain's room.

"Doesn't Don Erminio take his comida in the saloon?" asked Jacinta.

"No," said Austin. "Not when we have English ladies on board. He's a
different man, you know, and some of them will insist on talking Spanish
to him. It's a little trying to have to admit you don't understand your
own language."

"Vaya!" said a deep voice beyond the open door. "Eso no me gusta," and
while the steward backed out in haste, a couple of plates went flying
over the rail.

"Don Erminio," said Jacinta, "evidently doesn't approve of his dinner."

Miss Gascoyne appeared astonished, and looked at Austin gravely.

"Does he often lose his temper in that fashion?" she asked. "Isn't it
very childish to throw--good food into the sea?"

"The captain is, when you come to know him, really a very good-natured
man," said Austin. Then he stopped, and stood up suddenly as two figures
came towards them along the deck, and another from the opposite
direction. "It's Monsignor--I wonder what Macallister wants with him."

A little, portly priest moved forward with a smile of good-humoured
pride, and an ecclesiastic of a very different stamp walked at his side.
The latter was a great man, indeed, a very great man, though he had once
toiled in comparative obscurity. Even Miss Gascoyne had apparently
heard of him.

"If one could venture, I should like to speak to him," she said.

Neither Jacinta nor Austin seemed to hear her. They were both watching
Macallister, and he, at least, clearly intended to accost the clerics.
He was now dressed immaculately in blue uniform, and in that condition
he was a big, handsome man, but he was also a North British Calvinist,
so far as he had any religious views at all, and accordingly not one who
could reasonably be expected to do homage to a dignitary of Rome. Still,
the little fleshy priest was a friend of his, and when the latter
presented him he bent one knee a trifle and gravely took off his uniform
cap. The ecclesiastic raised two fingers and spoke in Latin. Macallister
smiled at him reassuringly.

"That isn't exactly what I meant, but it can't do me any harm coming
from a man like you, while if it does me any good I daresay I need it.
You see, I'm one of the goats," he said.

The great man glanced at his companion, who translated as literally as
he could, though he also explained that the Señor Macallister not
infrequently made things easier for some of the peasants who travelled
third class on board the _Estremedura_. Then a whimsical but very kindly
twinkle crept into the great man's eyes, and he laid a beautiful,
olive-tinted hand on the shoulder of the mechanic who had graciously
approved of him.

"If he is kind to these poor hill men he is a friend of mine. The
charity it covers many--differences," he said.

Then, as they came aft together, Austin also took off his cap, and
touched Miss Gascoyne's arm as he turned to the cleric. The girl rose
gravely, with a tinge of heightened colour in her face and a little
inclination, and, though nobody remembered exactly what was said, unless
it was the eminent cleric, who was, as usual with his kind, a polished
man of the world as well, he moved on with the girl on one side of him
and Macallister talking volubly in a most barbarous jargon on the other.
Mrs. Hatherly and the little priest took their places behind them, and
Austin gathered that as a special favour Macallister was going to show
them all his engines. Jacinta leaned back in her seat and laughed
musically.

"Macallister," she said, "is always unique, and he will probably finish
the entertainment by offering Monsignor a glass of whiskey. It is to be
hoped he doesn't apostrophise his firemen with his usual fluency. Still,
do you know, I am rather pleased with you? You have made Muriel happy."

"If I have pleased you it is rather more to the purpose," said Austin,
reflectively. "I have, however, noticed that when you express your
approbation there is usually something else to be done."

Jacinta smiled. "It is very little, after all, but perhaps I had better
explain. Muriel met Jefferson, who had been to London to see somebody,
on board the _Dahomey_, and--I'm telling you this in confidence--there
are reasons for believing the usual thing happened. She is really good,
you know, while Jefferson is a somewhat serious man himself, as well as
an American. They treat women rather well in his country--in fact, they
seem to idealise them now and then. Besides, I understand it was
remarkably fine weather."

"Yes," said Austin, who glanced suggestively across the sunlit heave
towards the dim, blue heights of Grand Canary, "it is, one would
believe, quite easy to fall in love with any one pretty and clever
during fine weather at sea. That is, of course, on sufficient
provocation. There are also, I think, Englishmen with some capacity for
idealisation--but hadn't you better go on?"

Jacinta pursed her lips as she looked at him with an assumption of
severity, but she proceeded. "Now, I had arranged for Mrs. Hatherly and
Muriel to spend the winter in Grand Canary, but she has heard of a
doctor in one of the hotels at Madeira, and is bent on going there.
There is, of course, nothing the matter with her; but if she approves of
the doctor in question it is very probable that she will stay in that
hotel until the spring. Still, she is changeable, and if she doesn't go
at once it is possible that she will not go at all. The Madeira boat
leaves Las Palmas about half an hour after we get there, and I don't
want Mrs. Hatherly and Muriel to catch her. Muriel doesn't want to,
either."

Austin shook his head. "Don't you know that it is rather a serious thing
to delay a Spanish mailboat?" he said. "Still, I suppose you have
decided that it must be done?"

"I think so," said Jacinta sweetly. "I also fancy you and Macallister
could manage it between you. You have my permission to tell him anything
you think necessary."

She rose and left him, with this, and Austin, who was not altogether
pleased with his commission, waited until after the four o'clock comida,
when, flinging himself down on a settee in the engineer's room, cigar in
hand, he put the case to Macallister, who grinned. The latter, as a
rule, appeared to find his native idiom more expressive in the evening.

"I'm no saying Jacinta's no fascinating, an' I've seen ye looking at her
like a laddie eyeing a butterscotch," he said. "Still, it can no be
done. Neither o' our reputations would stand it, for one thing."

"We have nothing to do with the Madeira boat, and the Lopez boat for
Cuba doesn't sail until an hour after her," said Austin. "Besides,
Jacinta wants it done."

Macallister looked thoughtful. "Weel," he said, "that is a reason.
Jacinta thinks a good deal of me, an' if I was no married already I
would show ye how to make up to her. I would not sit down, a long way
off, an' look at her. She's no liking ye any the better for that way of
it."

"Hadn't you better leave that out?" said Austin stiffly. "I'm the
_Estremedura_'s sobrecargo, which is quite sufficient. Can't you have a
burst tube or something of the kind?"

"A burst tube is apt to result in somebody getting scalded, an' stepping
into boiling water is sore on a Primera Maquinista's feet. Ye'll just
have to make excuses to Jacinta, I'm thinking."

Austin, who knew he could do nothing without Macallister's co-operation,
was wondering what persuasion he could use, when he was joined by an
unexpected ally. A big, aggressive Englishman in tourist apparel
approached the mess-room door and signed to him.

"You were not in your room," he said, as though this was a grievance.

Austin looked at him quietly. "I'm afraid I really haven't the faculty
of being in two places at once. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"There is. I particularly want to catch the Liverpool boat _via_ Madeira
to-night, and the time you get in cuts it rather fine. It occurred to me
that you might be able to hurry her up a little."

"I'm sorry that's out of the question," said Austin, languidly. "You
see, I'm not expected to interfere with this steamer's engines."

He was wondering how he could best favour the Englishman with a delicate
left-handed compliment, when Macallister, who was once more very dirty,
and wore only a dungaree jacket over his singlet, broke in:

"I would," he said, "like to see him try."

"May I ask who you are?" said the passenger, who regarded him
superciliously.

"Ye may," and there was a portentious gleam in Macallister's eyes. "I'm
only her chief engineer."

"Ah!" said the other, who did not consider it advisable to mention that
he had supposed him to be a fireman. "Well, there are, I believe, means
of obtaining a favour from a chief engineer. You naturally don't get
many pickings in this kind of boat."

Austin laughed softly, for he knew his man. It is now and then
permissible to bestow an honorarium upon a chief engineer over a deal in
coals, but it requires to be done tactfully, and when the stranger
suggestively thrust his hand into his pocket, Macallister hove his six
feet of length upright, and looked down on him, with a big hand clenched
and blazing eyes.

"Out o' this before I shake some manners intil ye, ye
fifteen-pound-the-round-trip scum!" he said.

The stranger backed away from him, and then bolted incontinently as
Macallister made for the door. Austin laughed softly when he heard him
falling over things in the dark alleyway, and Macallister sat down
fuming.

"A bit doosoor on the coal trade is one thing, but yon was--insultin',"
he said, and then looked up with a sudden grin. "I'll fix the waster.
Can ye no smell a crank-pin burning?"

"I can't," said Austin. "Still, under the circumstances, I'm quite
willing to take your word for it."

He went up on deck. It was dark now, but the moon was shining, and he
was not surprised to see a sooty fireman clambering in haste up the
bridge ladder. Then the throb of the propeller slackened, and when the
_Estremedura_ lay rolling wildly athwart the long, moonlit heave, an
uproar broke out in the engine room below. The Castilian is excitable,
and apt to lose his head when orders which he cannot understand are
hurled at him, while Macallister, when especially diligent, did not
trust to words alone, but used lumps of coal and heavy steel spanners.
He was just then apparently chasing his greasers and firemen up and down
the engine room. There was a rush of apprehensive passengers towards the
open skylights, from which steam as well as bad language ascended, and
Austin, who went with them, found Jacinta by his side.

"I suppose it's nothing dangerous?" she said.

Austin laughed. "If it were Macallister would not be making so much
noise. In fact, I don't think you need worry at all. When Miss Jacinta
Brown expresses her wishes, things are not infrequently apt to happen."

Jacinta smiled at him. "I have," she said, "one or two faithful
servants. Shall we move a little nearer and see what he is doing?"

"I'm afraid the conversation of one of them is not likely to be of a
kind that Miss Gascoyne, for example, would approve of."

"Pshaw!" said Jacinta, and followed when Austin made way for her to one
of the skylights' lifted frames.

The _Estremedura_ was rolling wickedly, and very scantily attired men
were scrambling, apparently without any definite purpose, beneath the
reeling lights which flashed upon the idle machinery. They, however,
seemed to be in bodily fear of Macallister, who held a spouting hose,
while a foamy, soapy lather splashed up from the crank-pit on the big,
shining connecting-rod. Austin could see him dimly through a cloud of
steam, though he could think of no reason why any of the latter should
be drifting about the engine room. There were several English passengers
about the skylights, and the one with the aggressive manner was
explaining his views to the rest.

"The man is either drunk or totally incapable. He is doing nothing but
shout," he said. "You will notice that he spends half the time washing
the connecting-rods, which, as everybody knows, cannot get hot. If we
miss the Madeira boat I shall certainly call upon the company's
manager."

Perhaps he spoke too loudly, or it may have been an accident, though
Austin, who saw Macallister flounder on the slippery floor-plates as the
steamer rolled, did not think it was. In any case, he drew Jacinta back,
and a moment later a jet from the spouting hose struck with a great
splashing upon the glass. The aggressive passenger, who was looking down
just then, got most of it in his face, and he staggered back, dripping,
and gasping with anger. When he once more became vociferous, Austin led
Jacinta away.

"I'm afraid we will not catch that boat, but I really don't think you
ought to hear Mack's retort," he said.

It was not quite half an hour later when the _Estremedura_ moved on
again, and Macallister informed Austin that he could not allow two
journals to become overheated in the same voyage. It would, he said, be
too much of a coincidence, and some of his subordinates did know a
little about machinery. They had accordingly some few minutes yet in
hand when they swung round the high Isleta cinder heap into sight of Las
Palmas. It gleamed above the surf fringe, a cluster of twinkling lights
at the black hills' feet, and there were other lights, higher up, on
ships' forestays, behind the dusky line of mole. In between, the long
Atlantic heave flashed beneath the moon, and there was scarcely two
miles of it left. Austin, standing forward with a pair of night-glasses,
and Jacinta beside him, watched the lights close on one another
dejectedly.

"We'll be in inside ten minutes, and I think the Madeira boat has still
her anchor down," he said. "I had to give the quartermaster orders to
have our lancha ready, and he'll take any passengers straight across to
her."

"I believe you did what you could," said Jacinta. "Still, you see----"

"Oh, yes," said Austin. "You like success?"

Jacinta looked at him with a little enigmatical smile. "When any of my
friends are concerned, I believe I do."

Austin went aft, and a little while later found Macallister standing by
the poop, which was piled with banana baskets, among which seasick
Canary peasants lay. The big crane on the end of the mole was now on the
_Estremedura_'s quarter, and they were sliding into the mouth of the
harbour. Close ahead, with white steam drifting about her forecastle,
lay the Madeira boat.

"They're heaving up," said the engineer. "Jacinta will no' be pleased
with ye, I'm thinking."

"There's only one thing left," said Austin. "One of us must fall in."

Macallister grinned. "Then I know which it will be. It was not me who
swam across the harbour last trip. But wait a moment. There's a dozen or
two Spaniards among the baskets, an' I'm thinking nobody would miss one
of them."

Austin, who knew what his comrade was capable of, seized hold of him,
but Macallister shook his grasp off and disappeared among the baskets.
Then there was a splash in the shadow beneath the ship, a shout, and a
clamour broke out from the crowded deck. A gong clanged below, the
captain shouted confused orders from his bridge, and the _Estremedura_
slid forward, with engines stopped, past a British warship with her
boats at the booms. Then in the midst of the confusion, Austin, who was
leaning on the rail, wondering what had really happened, felt himself
gripped by the waist. They had slid into the shadow of the Isleta, which
lay black upon the water just there.

"Noo's your chance," said a voice he knew. "It's a hero she'll think ye.
In ye go to the rescue!"

Austin, who was by no means certain that there was a man in the water at
all, had no intention of going if he could help it, but, as it happened,
he had no option. The _Estremedura_ rolled just then, he felt himself
lifted, and went out, head foremost, over the rail. The steamer had gone
on and left him when he rose to the surface, but there was nobody either
swimming or shouting in the water behind him. He knew it would be a
minute or two yet before they got the big passenger lancha over, but the
_Estremedura_'s propeller was thrashing astern, and when she came back
towards him he seized the boat-warp already lowered along her side.
Nobody appeared to notice him, for one of the British warship's boats
was then approaching. She flashed by as he crawled in through the opened
gangway, and a man stood up in her.

"Spanish mail ahoy!" he cried. "Anybody speaking English aboard of you?
If so, tell your skipper to go ahead. We have got the banana basket he
dropped over. He can send for it to-morrow."

Austin slipped, unnoticed, into his room, but he laughed as he heard the
roar of a whistle, and saw a long, black hull ringed with lights slide
by. It was the Madeira boat, steaming down the harbour.



CHAPTER III

ON THE VERANDA


It was a clear, moonlight night when Pancho Brown, Mrs. Hatherly, and
Erminio Oliviera, the _Estremedura_'s captain, sat in big cane chairs on
the veranda of the Hotel Catalina, Las Palmas. The Catalina is long and
low, and fronted with a broad veranda, a rather more sightly building
than tourist hotels usually are, and its row of windows blazed that
night. They were, most of them, wide open, and the seductive strains of
a soft Spanish waltz drifted out with the rhythmic patter of feet and
swish of light draperies, for the winter visitors had organised a
concert and informal dance. A similar entertainment was apparently going
on in the aggressively English Metropole, which cut, a huge, square
block of building, against the shining sea a little further up the
straight white road, while the artillery band was playing in the alameda
of the town, a mile or two away. The deep murmur of the Atlantic surf
broke through the music in a drowsy undertone.

Pancho Brown was essentially English, a little, portly gentleman with a
heavy, good-humoured face. He was precise in dress, a little slow in
speech, and nobody at first sight would have supposed him to be
brilliant, commercially or otherwise. Still, he had made money, which
is, perhaps, the most eloquent testimony to anybody's business ability.
He was then meditatively contemplating his daughter, who was strolling
in the garden with a young English officer from the big white warship
in the harbour. A broad blaze of silver stretched back across the sea
towards the hazy blueness in the east beyond which lay Africa, and it
was almost as light as day. Mrs. Hatherly followed his gaze.

"An only daughter must be a responsibility now and then," she said. "I
have never had one of my own, but for the last few months my niece has
been living with me, and I have had my moments of anxiety."

Pancho Brown, who fancied she was leading up to something, smiled in a
fashion which suggested good-humoured indifference, though he was quite
aware that his daughter was then talking very confidentially to the
young naval officer.

"I am afraid I do not deserve your sympathy," he said. "Jacinta's mother
died when she was eight years old, but ever since she came home from
school in England Jacinta has taken care of me. In fact, I almost think
it is Jacinta who feels the responsibility. I am getting a little old,
and now and then my business enterprises worry me."

"And does that young girl know anything about them?"

"Jacinta," said Brown, "knows a good deal about everything, and it
really doesn't seem to do her any harm. In fact, I sometimes feel that
she knows considerably more than I do. I make mistakes now and then, but
if Jacinta ever does I am not aware of them."

"Still, a girl with Miss Brown's appearance--and advantages--must
naturally attract a good deal of attention, and, of course, one has----"

Brown smiled at her indulgently. "When Jacinta chooses her husband I
shall, no doubt, approve of him. I am not sure," he added, with an air
of reflection, "that it would make any great difference if I didn't."

"You are to be envied," said his companion, with a little sigh. "I feel
the responsibility circumstances have placed on me is unpleasantly
heavy, and I am almost sorry I missed the Madeira boat two or three
weeks ago. If we had gone in her we should not, of course, have been in
Las Palmas now."

"It is almost as evident that I should have been left forlorn to-night,"
said Brown, with cumbrous gallantry.

Mrs. Hatherly appeared to reflect. "It is a curious thing that Miss
Brown assured me we should not catch the steamer that night, though we
had apparently half an hour to spare; but in one respect it was perhaps
fortunate, after all. If we had gone to Madeira I should not have
consulted Dr. Lane, who seems to understand my case so thoroughly; but,
on the other hand, we should have seen no more of Mr. Jefferson."

"It is not such a long way to Madeira, and there is a steamer every week
or so. From what I know of Mr. Jefferson, I think it is possible he
would have gone there, too."

"You are well acquainted with him?"

Brown glanced at her with a faint twinkle in his eyes. "I know a little
about everybody in these islands, madam. Mr. Jefferson is considered a
straight man, and I may mention that he meets with Jacinta's approval. I
almost think I could vouch for his character. I wonder," and he smiled
genially, "if it would be as much to the purpose if I said that he had
just been left eight thousand pounds?"

"Eight thousand pounds is not very much," and Mrs. Hatherly turned to
him as if for guidance. "Mr. Jefferson called on me this afternoon, and
it would be almost three weeks before I could get a letter from Muriel's
father, who trusted her to me. Of course, a good deal would depend upon
what I said about him; but, after all, Muriel has not a penny of her
own."

"The sum in question is apt to go a long way when the man who has it is
an American, and I really think you could leave him and Miss Gascoyne to
settle the affair between them." Brown stopped a moment, and then added,
as if by an afterthought: "It is, of course, quite possible that they
have done so already; and, in any case, I am not sure, my dear madam,
that Jefferson would be very greatly discouraged by your opposition. He
is--as has been said--an American."

The little, red-cheeked lady made a gesture of resignation, but just
then Captain Oliviera, who spoke a little English, and appeared to feel
himself neglected, broke in:

"You come here for your healt, señora?" he said. "Bueno! My sobrecargo
go by the step, and he is savvy much the medsin. Me, he cure,
frecuentemente, by the morning. Ola, I call him!"

"Otra vez," said Brown, restrainingly, and Mrs. Hatherly favoured the
captain, who was big and lean and bronzed, with a glance of interested
scrutiny.

"You are an invalid, too?" she said. "One would scarcely fancy it. In
fact, you seem very robust to me. What do you suffer from?"

Brown made this a trifle plainer, and Don Erminio smiled. He had no
great sense of fitness, and was slightly reckless in his conversation.

"Mi t'roat, and the head of me--by the morning," he said, and made a
curious gurgling to give point to the explanation. "El sobrecargo he
laugh and say, 'Aha, mi captain, you want a peek-a-up again.' It is of
mucho effecto. I go call him. He make some for you."

"Peek-a-up!" said Mrs. Hatherly, and Brown laid his hand restrainingly
upon the gallant skipper's arm.

"It is a preparation they find beneficial at sea, though I do not think
it would suit your case," he said, and Oliviera roused himself to a
further effort.

"Good man, mi sobrecargo. Much education. Also friend of me. I say him
often: 'Carramba! In Spain is no dollar. Why you stay here?' Aha, Señor
Austin savvy. By and by he marry a rich English señorita."

It occurred to Mrs. Hatherly that Brown's face lost a trifle of its
usual placidity as his eyes rested on his daughter, who was, however,
still apparently talking to the naval officer. The Catalina did not
possess a particularly attractive garden then, but there were a few
dusty palms in it, and any one strolling in their shadow that moonlight
night could see the filmy mists drifting athwart the great black
cordillera, and the wisp of lights that twinkled above the hissing surf
along the sweep of bay until they ended in a cluster where the
white-walled city rose above the tossing spray. There were several pairs
of young men and women who apparently found the prospect attractive, but
Brown did not notice Austin among them. He and Mrs. Hatherly sat in the
shadow, but Oliviera was in the moonlight, which was probably how it
happened that a man who appeared in the lighted doorway close by turned
towards him, evidently without noticing the others.

"That you, Don Erminio? Then come right along," he said. "I've got to
give somebody a good time, and you have so much human nature it's easy
pleasing you. Get up on your hind feet, and have some champagne--enough
to make your throat bad for a month, if you feel like it."

Oliviera rose with alacrity. "Aha!" he said. "I come."

He wasted no time in doing it, though he reluctantly spared a moment to
make his companions a little grave inclination, for Don Erminio was,
after all, a Castilian, and when he had gone the two who were left
looked at one another. The joyous satisfaction in the voice and
attitude of the man at the door had its significance for both of them.
Mrs. Hatherly looked troubled, but there was a faint twinkle in her
companion's eyes.

"I wonder if Mr. Jefferson often gives his friends invitations of that
kind?" she said.

Brown smiled reassuringly. "I almost think I could answer for his
general abstemiousness. Still, there are occasions upon which even the
most sedate of us are apt to relax a little, and wish to share our
satisfaction with our friends."

"Then," said Mrs. Hatherly, with evident anxiety, "you fancy----"

"I should almost fancy this is one of the occasions in question."

The little, red-cheeked lady rose with a sigh. "I have tried to do my
duty," she said. "Now, I think I must find Muriel, if you will excuse
me."

She left him, and when Brown also sauntered into the hotel the veranda
remained empty until Jacinta came up the broad stairway just as it
happened that Austin came out of the door. She was attired diaphanously
in pale-tinted draperies, and seemed to Austin, almost ethereal as she
stopped a moment at the head of the stairway with the moonlight upon
her. He was, however, quite aware that material things had their value
to Jacinta Brown, and that few young women had a more useful stock of
worldly wisdom. In another moment she saw him, and made him a little
sign with her fan. He drew forward a chair, and then leaned against the
balustrade, looking down on her, for it was evident that Jacinta had
something to say to him.

"As I haven't seen you since that night on board the _Estremedura_, I
naturally haven't had an opportunity of complimenting you," she said.

"May I ask upon what?" and Austin looked a trifle uneasy.

"Your discretion. It would, perhaps, have been a little cold for a
moonlight swim, and one's clothing would also be apt to suffer. After
all, there was, of course, no reason why it should afford you any
pleasure to display your gallantry."

Austin's face flushed. "There have been other occasions when it would
have pleased me to twist Macallister's neck," he said. "No doubt you
overheard what he said to me?"

"I did," said Jacinta, who looked at him quietly over her fan. "It is a
little astonishing that neither of you noticed me. Still, of course,
your attitude was, at least, sensible. What I do not understand is why
you saw fit to change it a minute or two later. I had, I may mention,
left the poop then."

"I'm not sure I understand."

Jacinta laughed musically. "Now," she said, "I really believe you do."

"Well," said Austin, with a doubtful smile, "if you think I went
overboard of my own will to win your approbation, you are mistaken. I
did not go at all. I was, in fact, thrown in. Macallister is, as you
know, a somewhat persistent person."

"Ah!" said Jacinta. "That explains a good deal. Well, I feel almost
tempted to be grateful to him for doing it, though you were, of course,
sensible. There was really no reason why you should wish me to credit
you with courage and humanity--especially when you didn't possess them."

Austin hoped she did not see that he winced, for although he had borne a
good deal of her badinage, he felt his face grow hot. He was quite aware
that this girl was not for him, and he had, he believed, succeeded in
preventing himself falling in love with her. It seemed quite fitting
that she should regard him as one of her servants, and since he could
look for nothing more, he was content with that. He had, however, a
spice of temper, and sometimes she drove him a trifle too hard.

"Still," he said, "if I ever did anything really worth while, I think I
should insist upon your recognising it, though it is scarcely likely
that I shall have the opportunity."

"No," said Jacinta, reflectively, "I scarcely think it is; but, after
all, I have a little to thank you for. You see, you did delay the
_Estremedura_. I suppose you have not seen Mr. Jefferson during the last
half hour?"

"No," said Austin, with a little start of interest. "Has he----"

"He has. Muriel, at least, has evidently arrived at an understanding
with him. I am not sure they saw me, but I came across them a little
while ago--and they looked supremely happy."

There was satisfaction in her voice, but it was with a mildly ironical
and yet faintly wistful expression she gazed at the shining sea. It
somewhat astonished Austin, though there was so much about Jacinta that
was incomprehensible to him.

"Well," he said, "I'm glad; but I should scarcely have fancied Miss
Gascoyne would have attracted Jefferson. After all, one would hardly
consider her a young woman who had very much in her. Indeed, I have
wondered why you were so fond of her."

Jacinta smiled curiously as she looked at him. "She is wonderful to
Jefferson. There is no grace or goodness that she is not endued with in
his estimation."

"But if she doesn't possess them?"

"Then," said Jacinta, decisively, "because he believes she does, she
will acquire them. There are women like that, you know, and I am not
sure that sensible people like you and I don't lose the best of life
occasionally. If a man believes a girl of Muriel's kind angelic she is
very apt to unfold shining wings, though nobody else ever fancied that
she had anything of the kind about her."

"Ah!" said Austin, who was a little stirred, though he would not admit
it. "No doubt you know. A good many men must have thought that of you."

Jacinta laughed again. "No, my friend," she said. "I have met men who
thought me amusing, and two or three who thought me clever--but that is
a very different thing--while it is possible that the others remembered
I was Pancho Brown's daughter. So, you see, my wings have not unfolded.
In fact, I sometimes think they are in danger of shrivelling away."

There was nothing that Austin could say, for he was the _Estremedura_'s
sobrecargo, and had never forgotten that Pancho Brown was reputed to be
making several thousand a year. Still, he found silence difficult, and
changed the subject.

"Well," he said, "you haven't told me yet why you are so fond of Miss
Gascoyne."

"She--is--good, and, after all, goodness really does appeal to some of
us. Besides, when I went to an English school, a stranger, more Spanish
than English in thought and sentiment, and most of the others held aloof
from me, she saw I was lonely, and came and made friends with me. I was
glad to cling to her then, and you see I haven't forgotten it."

There was a tone in the girl's voice which sent a little thrill through
the man. It was very clear that Jacinta did not forget a kindness, and
he had once or twice already had glimpses of her deeper nature. While he
stood silent, and, as it happened, in the shadow, Miss Gascoyne came
out of the door and approached Jacinta with the moonlight on her face.
Austin was almost startled as he glanced at her.

When he had last seen Muriel Gascoyne he had considered her a comely
English girl without imagination or sensibility. She had, in fact,
appeared to him narrow in her views, totally unemotional, and more than
a little dull, certainly not the kind of young woman to inspire or
reciprocate passionate admiration in any discerning man. Now, as she
came towards him with her eyes shining and the soft colour in her face,
which was very gentle, she seemed transfigured and almost radiant. She
stooped and kissed Jacinta impulsively.

"I am so happy, my dear," she said. "We owe ever so much to you."

Austin had the grace to wish himself somewhere else, though he did not
see how he could get away, but Jacinta, with her usual boldness, turned
in his direction.

"Well," she said, "I almost think you owe Mr. Austin a little, too. If
he hadn't stopped the _Estremedura_ you would probably have been in
Madeira now."

Again Muriel Gascoyne astonished Austin, for though it was evident she
had not been aware of his presence, she showed no embarrassment, and
smiled at him with a simplicity which, though he had not expected it
from her, had in it the essence of all womanly dignity.

"Yes," she said, "I realise that. Mr. Austin, Harry has been looking for
you everywhere."

Austin made her a little grave inclination, and then, because she seemed
to expect it, shook hands with her.

"I am glad that the man you have promised to marry is one of my
friends," he said. "There is not a better one in these islands."

He did not remember what Miss Gascoyne said, and perhaps it was not of
any particular consequence, but when she left them it happened that he
and Jacinta did not look at one another. There was, in fact, an almost
embarrassing silence, and through it they heard the rhythmic swing of a
soft Spanish waltz, and the deep-toned murmur of the sea. Then Jacinta
laughed.

"I wonder what you are thinking?" she said.

Austin smiled, somewhat drily. "I was endeavouring to remember that
there are a good many things the _Estremedura_'s sobrecargo must
dispense with. It is exceedingly unlikely that anybody will ever leave
me eight thousand pounds."

"I fancy there are a good many of us who would like to have a good deal
more than we will probably ever get," said Jacinta. "It can only be a
very few who ever hear the celestial music at all, and to them it comes
but once in their life."

Austin looked at her quietly. "A little while ago I should not have
considered Miss Gascoyne capable of hearing it; but now, and because I
know the man she has promised to marry, I almost think she will, at
least occasionally, be able to catch an echo of it. It must be difficult
to hear that orchestra once and forget it."

Jacinta turned to him with a curious little smile in her eyes. "You and
I are, of course, sensible people, and fancies of that kind have nothing
to do with us. In the meanwhile, it is really necessary that I should
appear in one or two of the dances."

Austin made a little gesture that might have expressed anything, and she
rose and left him standing on the veranda.



CHAPTER IV

A BIG CONTRACT


It was the day after the dance at the Catalina, and Austin was running
into Las Palmas harbour in a powerful steam launch which had been lent
him to convey certain documents to a Spanish steamer. The trade-breeze
had veered a little further east that day, as it sometimes did, and the
full drift of the long Atlantic sea came rolling inshore. The launch was
wet with spray, which flew up in clouds as she lurched over the
white-topped combers that burst in a chaotic spouting on a black
volcanic reef not far away from her. It also happened that the coaling
company's new tug had broken down a few minutes earlier, and when the
launch drove past the long mole the first thing Austin saw was a
forty-ton coal lighter, loaded to the water's edge, drifting towards the
reef. There was a boat astern of her, out of which a couple of Spanish
peons seemed to be flinging the water, preparatory to abandoning the
lighter to her fate, but Austin could see very little of the latter. The
sea washed clean across her, and she showed no more than a strip of
sluicing side amidst the spray.

What became of her was no business of his, but when the whistle of a big
grain tramp rolling across the mouth of the harbour, and apparently
waiting for her coal, roared out a warning, it occurred to Austin that
the Spaniards in the boat might have considerable difficulty in pulling
her clear of the reef against the sea. Accordingly, he unloosed the
launch's whistle, and while it screeched dolefully, put his helm over
and ran down upon the lighter. She was wallowing sideways towards the
reef when he rounded up close alongside and saw, somewhat to his
astonishment, that there was a man still on board. He was very black,
though the spray was dripping from his face, and the seas that swept
over the lighter's deck wet him to the knees. Austin shouted to him:

"I'll run round to leeward, Jefferson, so you can jump!" he said.

The wet man swung an arm up. "Stand by to take our rope. I'm not going
to jump."

Austin considered. He was by no means sure that the launch had power
enough to tow the lighter clear, and the long white seething on the
jagged lava astern of her suggested what would happen if she failed to
do it.

"Come on board. I haven't steam to pull her off," he said.

Jefferson made an impatient gesture. "If you want me, you have got to
try."

Austin wasted no more time. It was evidently valuable then, and he knew
his man. He signed to the Spanish fireman to back the launch astern, and
clutched the rope Jefferson flung him as she drove across the lighter's
bows.

"I can tow her just as well with you on board here," he roared.

"I guess you can," and a sea wet Jefferson to the waist as he floundered
aft towards the lighter's stern. "Still, you're going to find it awkward
to steer her, too."

This was plain enough, and Austin decided that if Jefferson meant to
stay on board it was his affair, while he was far from sure that he
would gain anything by attempting to dissuade him, even had there been
time available. As it was, he realised that the lighter would probably
go ashore while they discussed the question, and he signed to the
Spanish fireman, who started the little engine full speed ahead, and
then opened the furnace door. There was a gush of flame from the funnel,
and the tow-rope tightened with a bang that jerked the launch's stern
under. Then, while she was held down by the wallowing lighter a big,
white-topped sea burst across her forward, and for a few seconds Austin,
drenched and battered by the flying spray, could see nothing at all.
When it blew astern he made out Jefferson standing knee deep in water at
the lighter's helm, though there was very little else visible through
the rush of white-streaked brine. Austin shouted to the fireman, who
once more opened the furnace door, for that cold douche had suddenly
made a different man of him.

He did, for the most part, very little on board the _Estremedura_, and
took life as easily as he could, but there was another side of his
nature which, though it had been little stirred as yet, came uppermost
then, as it did occasionally when he brought his despatches off at night
in an open roadstead through the trade-wind surf. It was also known to
the _Estremedura_'s skipper that he had once swum off to the steamer
from the roaring beach at Orotava when no fishermen in the little port
would launch a barquillo out. Thus he felt himself in entire sympathy
with Jefferson as every big comber hove the launch up and the spray
lashed his tingling skin, while for five anxious minutes the issue hung
in the balance. Launch and lighter went astern with the heavier seas,
and barely recovered the lost ground in the smooths when a roller failed
to break quite so fiercely as its predecessors.

Then the Spanish fireman either raised more steam, or the heavy weight
of coal astern at last acquired momentum, for they commenced to forge
ahead, the launch plunging and rolling, with red flame at her funnel,
and the smoke and spray and sparks blowing aft on Austin, who stood,
dripping to the skin, at the tiller. Ahead, the long seas that hove
themselves up steeply in shoal water came foaming down on him, but there
was a little grim smile in his eyes, and he felt his blood tingle as he
watched them. When he glanced over his shoulder, which it was not
advisable to do unguardedly, he could see Jefferson swung up above him
on the lighter's lifted stern, and the long white smoother that ran
seething up the reef.

It, however, fell further behind them, until he could put the helm over
and run the lighter into smoother water behind the mole, when Jefferson
flung up his arm again.

"Swing her alongside the grain boat, and then hold on a minute. I'll
come ashore with you," he said.

Austin stopped the launch and cast the tow-rope off, and the lighter,
driving forward, slid in under the big grain tramp's side. A few minutes
later Jefferson appeared at her gangway, and when Austin ran in jumped
on board. He was a tall man, and was just then very wet, and as black as
any coal heaver. This, however, rather added to the suggestion of
forcefulness that usually characterised him.

"That fellow has been waiting several hours for his coal, and as I
couldn't get a man worth anything on to the crane, I ran the thing
myself," he said. "The way the wind was it blew the grit all over me,
and I'm coming across for a wash with you. I'm 'most afraid to walk
through the port as I am just now."

He laughed happily, and Austin fancied that he understood him, since he
felt that if he had held Miss Gascoyne's promise he would not have liked
to run any risk of meeting her in the state in which Jefferson was just
then. As it happened, it did not occur to either of them that they had
done anything unusual, which had, perhaps, its significance.

Austin took him on board the _Estremedura_, and when he had removed most
of the coal-dust from his person they sat down with a bottle of thin
wine before them in the sobrecargo's room. Jefferson was lean in face
and person, though he was largely made, and had dark eyes that could
smile and yet retain a certain intentness and gravity. His voice had a
little ring in it, and, big as he was, he was seldom altogether still.
When he filled his glass his long fingers tightened on it curiously.

"I owe you a little for pulling us off just now, but that's by no means
all," he said. "Miss Gascoyne told me how you stopped the boat that
night three weeks ago. Now----"

Austin laughed. "We'll take it item by item. When you get started you're
just a little overwhelming. In the first place, what are you coaling
grain tramps for when somebody has left you a fortune?"

"It's not quite that," said Jefferson. "Forty thousand dollars. They're
busy at the coal wharf, and wanted me to stay on until the month was up,
any way."

"I don't think you owe them very much," said Austin. "In fact, I'm not
sure that if I'd been you I'd have saved that coal for them; but we'll
get on. I want to congratulate you on another thing, and I really think
you are a lucky man."

The smile sank out of Jefferson's eyes. "I'm quite sure of it," he said
gravely. "I get wondering sometimes how she ever came to listen to such
a man as I am, who isn't fit to look at her."

Austin made a little gesture of sympathy. This was not what he would
have said himself, but he was an insular Englishman, and the reticence
which usually characterises the species is less highly thought of across
the Atlantic. The average American is more or less addicted to saying
just what he means, which is, after all, usually a convenience to
everybody. Before he could speak Jefferson went on:

"I've been wanting to thank you for stopping that steamer," he said.
"It's the best turn anybody ever did me, and I'm not going to forget it.
Now----"

"If you're pleased, I am," said Austin, who did not care for
protestations of gratitude, a trifle hastily. "Any way, you have got
her, and though it's not my business, the question is what you're going
to do. Eight thousand pounds isn't very much, after all, and English
girls are apt to want a good deal, you know."

Jefferson laughed. "Forty thousand dollars is quite a nice little sum to
start with; but I've got to double it before I'm married."

"There are people who would spend most of their life doing it," said
Austin, reflectively. "How long do you propose to allow yourself?"

"Six months," and there was a snap in Jefferson's voice and eyes. "If I
haven't got eighty thousand dollars in that time I'm going to have no
use for them."

"When you come to think of it, that isn't very long to make forty
thousand dollars in," said Austin.

He said nothing further, for he had met other Americans in his time, and
knew the cheerful optimism that not infrequently characterises them.

Jefferson looked at him steadily with the little glow still in his eyes.
"You stopped the _Estremedura_, and, in one respect, you're not quite
the same as most Englishmen. They're hide-bound. It takes a month to
find out what they're thinking, and then, quite often, it isn't worth
while. Any way, I'm going to talk. I feel I've got to. Wouldn't you
consider Miss Gascoyne was worth taking a big risk for?"

"Yes," said Austin, remembering what he had seen in the girl's face. "I
should almost think she was."

"You would almost think!" and Jefferson gazed at him a moment in
astonishment. "Well, I guess you were made that way, and you can't help
it. Now, I'm open to tell anybody who cares to listen that that girl was
a revelation to me. She's good all through, there's not a thought in her
that isn't clean and wholesome. After all, that's what a man wants to
fall back upon. Then she's dainty, clever, and refined, with sweetness
and graciousness just oozing out of her. It's all round her like an
atmosphere."

Austin was slightly amused, though he would not for his life have shown
it. It occurred to him that an excess of the qualities his companion
admired in Miss Gascoyne might prove monotonous, especially if they
were, as in her case, a little too obtrusive. He also fancied that this
was the first time anybody had called her clever. Still, Jefferson's
supreme belief in the woman he loved appealed to him in spite of its
somewhat too vehement expression, and he reflected that there was
probably some truth in Jacinta's observation that the woman whose lover
credited her with all the graces might, at least, acquire some of them.
It seemed that a simple and somewhat narrow-minded English girl, without
imagination, such as Miss Gascoyne was in reality, might still hear what
Jacinta called the celestial music, and, listening, become transformed.
After all, it was not mere passion which vibrated in Jefferson's voice
and had shone in Muriel Gascoyne's eyes, and Austin vaguely realised
that the faith that can believe in the apparently impossible and the
charity that sees no shortcomings are not altogether of this earth.
Then he brushed these thoughts aside and turned to his companion with a
little smile.

"How did you ever come to be here, Jefferson?" he asked, irrelevantly.
"It's rather a long way from the land of progress and liberty."

Jefferson laughed in a somewhat curious fashion. "Well," he said,
"others have asked me, but I'll tell you, and I've told Miss Gascoyne. I
had a good education, and I'm thankful for it now. There is money in the
family, but it was born in most of us to go to sea. I went because I had
to, and it made trouble. The man who had the money had plotted out quite
a different course for me. Still, I did well enough until the night the
_Sachem_--there are several of them, but I guess you know the one I
mean--went down. I was mate, but it wasn't in my watch the Dutchman
struck her."

"Ah!" said Austin softly, "that explains a good deal! It wasn't exactly
a pleasant story."

He eat looking at his companion with grave sympathy as the details of a
certain grim tragedy in which the brutally handled crew had turned upon
their persecutors when the ship was sinking under them came back to him.
Knowing tolerably well what usually happens when official enquiry
follows upon a disaster at sea, he had a suspicion that the truth had
never become altogether apparent, though the affair had made a sensation
two or three years earlier. Still, while Jefferson had not mentioned his
part in it, he had already exonerated him.

"It was so unpleasant that I couldn't find a shipping company on our
side who had any use for the _Sachem_'s mate," he said, and his voice
sank a little. "Of course, it never all came out, but there were more
than two of the men who went down that night who weren't drowned. Well,
what could you expect of a man with a pistol when the one friend he had
in that floating hell dropped at his feet with his head adzed open. That
left me and Nolan aft. He was a brute--a murdering, pitiless devil; but
there were he and I with our backs to the jigger-mast, and a few of the
rest left who meant that we should never get into the quarter-boat."

Austin was a trifle startled. "You told Miss Gascoyne that?" he said.
"How did she take it?"

Jefferson made a curious little gesture. "Of course," he said simply. "I
had to. She believed in me; but do you think I'm going to tell--you--how
it hurt her?"

It was borne in upon Austin that, after all, he understood very little
about women. A few days earlier it would have seemed impossible to him
that a girl with Muriel Gascoyne's straitened views should ever have
linked her life with one who had played a leading part in that revolting
tragedy. Now, however, it was evident that there was very little she
would not do for the man who loved her.

"I'm sorry! You'll excuse it," he said. "Still, that scarcely explains
how you came to Las Palmas."

"I came as deck-hand on board a barque bringing tomato boxes over. They
were busy at the coaling wharf just then, and I got put on. You know the
rest of it. I was left forty thousand dollars."

"You haven't told me yet how you're going to turn them into eighty
thousand."

"I'm coming to it. You know we coaled the _Cumbria_ before she went out
to West Africa. A nearly new 1,500-ton tramp she was, light draught at
that, or she'd never have gone where she did. You could put her down at
£15,000 sterling. She went up into the half-charted creeks behind the
shoals and islands south of Senegal, and was lost there. Among other
things, it was a new gum she went for. It appears the niggers find gums
worth up to £5 the hundredweight in the bush behind that country. A
Frenchman chartered her, but he's dead now, as is almost everybody
connected with the _Cumbria_. They've fevers that will wipe you out in a
week or two yonder--more fever, in fact, than anywhere else in Africa.
Well, as everybody knows, they got oil and sundries and a little gum,
and went down with fever while they crawled about those creeks loading
her. She got hard in the mud up one of them, and half of the boys were
buried before they pulled her out at all, and then she hit something
that started a plate or two in her. They couldn't keep the water down,
and they rammed her into a mangrove forest to save her. More of them
died there, and the salvage expedition lost three or four men before
they turned up their contract."

"That," said Austin, "is what might be termed the official version."

Jefferson nodded. "What everybody doesn't know is that the skipper
played the Frenchman a crooked game," he said. "There was more gum put
into her than was ever shown in her papers; while they had got at the
trade gin before she went ashore. In fact, I have a notion that it
wasn't very unlike the _Sachem_ affair. I can't quite figure how they
came to start those plates in the soft mud of a mangrove creek. Any way,
the carpenter, who died there, was a countryman of mine. You may
remember I did a few things for him, and the man was grateful. Well, the
result is I know there's a good deal more than £20,000 sterling in the
_Cumbria_."

Austin surmised that this was possible. It was not, he knew, seafarers
of unexceptional character who usually ventured into the still little
known creeks of Western Africa, which the coast mailboats' skippers left
alone. He was also aware that more or less responsible white men are
apt to go a trifle off their balance and give their passions free rein
when under the influence of cheap spirits in that land of pestilence.

"Well?" he said.

"I've bought her, as she lies, for £6,000."

Austin gasped. "You will probably die off in two or three weeks after
you put your foot in her."

"I'm not quite sure. I was at Panama, and never had a touch of fever.
Any way, I'm going, and if you'll stand in with me, I'll put you down a
quarter-share for a dollar."

It was in one respect a generous offer, but Austin shook his head. "No,"
he said decisively. "Have you forgotten that Miss Gascoyne expects you
to marry her?"

Jefferson's eyes glowed. "I'm remembering it all the time. That's why
I'm going. Would you take a refined and cultured girl and drag her
through all the hard places men of my kind make money in up and down the
world? Has she to give up everything and come down to me? No, sir! It
seems to me, the man who wants to marry a girl of that kind has got to
do something to show he knows her value before he gets her, and it would
be way better for both of us that she should be sorry for me dead than
that I should live to drag her down."

It seemed to Austin that there was a good deal to be said for this point
of view, and it also occurred to him that there was in this latter-day
American, who had still the grime of the coaling wharf upon him,
something of the spirit which had sent the knight-errant out in the days
of chivalry. Still, he naturally did not say so, for he was, after all,
what Jefferson called a hide-bound Englishman.

"Well," he said, "you're taking a big risk, but perhaps you are right."

Jefferson rose with the abruptness which usually characterised his
movements.

"You're not coming?"

"No. I haven't your inducement, and I'm afraid the contract's too big
for me."

"You have a week to consider it in," said Jefferson, who opened the
door. "In the meanwhile there's another fellow ready for his coal, and
I'm going along."



CHAPTER V

THE TOMATO FINCA


Three weeks had passed since his interview with Austin before Jefferson
was ready to sail, and he spent most of the time in strenuous activity.
He had cabled to England for a big centrifugal pump and a second-hand
locomotive-type boiler, while, when they arrived, Macallister said that
five hundred pounds would not tempt him to raise full steam on the
latter. He also purchased a broken-down launch, and, though she was
cheap, the cost of her and the pump, with other necessaries, made a
considerable hole in his remaining £2,000. It was for this reason he
undertook to make the needful repairs himself, with the help of a
steamer's donkey-man who had somehow got left behind, while Austin and
Macallister spent most of the week during which the _Estremedura_ lay at
Las Palmas in the workshop he had extemporised. He appeared to know a
little about machinery, and could, at least, handle hack-saw and file in
a fashion which moved Macallister to approbation, while Austin noticed
that the latter's sardonic smile became less frequent as he and the
American worked together.

Jefferson was grimly in earnest, and it was evident that his
thoroughness, which overlooked nothing, compelled the engineer's
admiration. It also occurred to Austin that, while there are many ways
in which a lover may prove his devotion, few other men would probably
have cared for the one Jefferson had undertaken. He was not a very
knightly figure when he emerged, smeared with rust and scale, from the
second-hand boiler, or crawled about the launch's engines with blackened
face and hands; but Austin, who remembered it was for Muriel Gascoyne he
had staked all his little capital in that desperate venture, forebore to
smile. He knew rather better than Jefferson did that it was a very
forlorn hope indeed the latter was venturing on. One cannot heave a
stranded steamer off without strenuous physical exertion, and the white
man who attempts the latter in a good many parts of Western Africa
incontinently dies.

At last all was ready, and one night Jefferson steamed off to the
African liner from Las Palmas mole, taking with him the steamboat
donkey-man and another English seafarer, who were at the time
disgracefully drunk, as well as six Spaniards from the coasting
schooners. He said that when he reached the _Cumbria_ he would hire
niggers, who would be quite as reliable, and considerably cheaper. As it
happened, the _Estremedura_ was going to sea that night, bound for the
eastern islands, and Mrs. Hatherly, who was never seasick, and had heard
that the climate of one of them where it scarcely ever rained was good
for rheumatic affections, had determined to visit it in her. Jacinta,
for no very apparent reason, decided to go with her, and it accordingly
came about that most of her few acquaintances were with Muriel Gascoyne
when she said good-bye to Jefferson at the head of the mole. She kissed
him unblushingly, and then, when the launch panted away across the
harbour, turned, a little pale in face, but with a firm step, towards
the _Estremedura_, and an hour later stood with Jacinta on the saloon
deck, watching the liner's black hull slide down the harbour. Then as
the steamer lurched out past the mole, with a blast of her whistle
throbbing across the dusky heave, Muriel shivered a little.

"I don't know whether we shall ever meet here again, but I think I could
bear that now, and it really couldn't be so very hard, after all," she
said. "It would have been horrible if he had gone and had not told me."

Jacinta looked thoughtful, as in fact she was. She was of a more
complex, and, in some respects, more refined nature than her companion,
while her knowledge of the world was almost startlingly extensive; but
wisdom carries one no further than simplicity when one approaches the
barriers that divide man's little life from the hereafter. Indeed, there
is warrant for believing that when at last they are rolled away, it is
not the wise who will see with clearest vision.

"I am not--quite--sure I understand," she said.

There was a trace of moisture on Muriel Gascoyne's cheek, but she held
herself erect, and she was tall and large of frame, as well as a
reposeful young woman. Though she probably did not know it, there was a
suggestion of steadfast unchangeableness in her unconscious pose.

"Now," she said, very simply, "he belongs to me and I to him. If he dies
out there--and I know that is possible--it can only be a question of
waiting."

Jacinta was a little astonished. She felt that there had been a great
and almost incomprehensible change in Muriel Gascoyne since she fell
very simply and naturally in love with Jefferson. It was also very
evident that she was not consoling herself with empty phrases, or
repeating commendable sentiments just because they appealed to her
fancy, as some women will. She seemed to be stating what she felt and
knew.

"Ah!" said Jacinta, "you knew he might die there, and you could let him
go?"

Muriel smiled. "My dear, I could not have stopped him, and now he is
gone I think I am in one way glad that it was so. I do not want money--I
have always had very little--but, feeling as he did, it was best that he
should go. He would not have blamed me afterwards--of that I am
certain--but I think I know what he would have felt if hardship came,
and I wanted to spare it him." Then, with a faint smile, which seemed to
show that she recognised the anti-climax, she became prosaic again. "One
has to think of such things. Eight thousand pounds will not go so very
far, you know."

Jacinta left her presently, and, as it happened, came upon Austin soon
after the _Estremedura_ steamed out to sea. He was leaning on the
forward rails while the little, yacht-like vessel--she was only some 600
tons or so--swung over the long, smooth-backed undulations with slanted
spars and funnel. There was an azure vault above them, strewn with the
lights of heaven, and a sea of deeper blue which heaved oilily below,
for, that night, at least, the trade breeze was almost still.

"The liner will be clear of the land by now," she said. "I suppose you
are glad you did not go with Jefferson? You never told me that he had
asked you to!"

Austin, who ignored the last remark, laughed in a somewhat curious
fashion.

"Well," he said, reflectively, "in one respect Jefferson is, perhaps, to
be envied. He is, at least, attempting a big thing, and if he gets wiped
out over it, which I think is quite likely, he will be beyond further
trouble, and Miss Gascoyne will be proud of him. In fact, it is she I
should be sorry for. She seems really fond of him."

"Is that, under the circumstances, very astonishing?"

"Jefferson is really a very good fellow," said Austin, with a smile. "In
fact, whatever it may be worth, he has my sincere approbation."

Jacinta made a little gesture of impatience. "Pshaw!" she said. "You
know exactly what I mean. I wonder if there is one among all the men I
have ever met who would--under any circumstances--do as much for me?"

She glanced at him for a moment in a fashion which sent a thrill through
him; but Austin seldom forgot that he was the _Estremedura_'s purser. He
had also a horror of cheap protestations, and he avoided the question.

"You could scarcely expect--me--to know," he said. "Suppose there was
such a man, what would you do for him?"

There was just a trace of heightened colour in Jacinta's face. "I think,
if it was necessary, and he could make me believe in him as Muriel
believes in Jefferson, I would die for him."

Austin said nothing for a space, and looked eastwards towards Africa,
across the long, smooth heave of sea, while he listened to the throbbing
of the screw and the swash of the water beneath the steamer's side. He
was quite aware that while Jacinta, on rare occasions, favoured her more
intimate masculine friends with a glimpse of her inner nature, she never
permitted them to presume upon the fact. He had, he felt, made some
little progress in her confidence and favour, but it was quite clear
that it would be inadvisable to venture further without a sign from her.
Jacinta was able to make her servants and admirers understand exactly
what line of conduct it was convenient they should assume. If they
failed to do so, she got rid of them.

"Whatever is Mrs. Hatherly going to Fuerteventura for?" he asked.

"Dry weather," said Jacinta, with a little smile.

Austin laughed. "One would fancy that Las Palmas was dry and dusty
enough for most people. I suppose you told her there is nowhere she can
stay? They haven't a hotel of any kind in the island."

"That," said Jacinta, sweetly, "will be your business. You are a friend
of Don Fernando, and he has really a comfortable house. Still, I expect
three days of it will be quite enough for Mrs. Hatherly. You can pick us
up, you know, when you come back from Lanzarote."

Austin made a little whimsical gesture of resignation. "There is,
presumably, no use in my saying anything. After all, she will be company
for Confidencia."

"Who is, by the way, a friend of yours, too."

"I have artistic tastes, as you know. Confidencia is--barring one or
two--the prettiest girl in these islands."

He moved away, but he turned at the top of the ladder, and Jacinta
smiled.

"It is almost a pity a taste of that kind does not invariably accompany
an artistic talent," she said.

Austin went down to his little room, which was almost as hot as an oven,
and strove to occupy himself with his papers. The attempt, however, was
not a success, for his thoughts would follow Jefferson, who was on his
way to Africa with a big centrifugal pump, a ricketty steam launch, and
a second-hand boiler of the locomotive type. In view of his ulterior
purpose, there was, it seemed to Austin, something ludicrously
incongruous about this equipment, though he realised that the gaunt
American possessed in full degree the useful practical point of view in
which he himself fell short. Jefferson was, in some respects, primitive,
but that was, after all, probably fortunate for him. He knew what he
desired, and set about the obtaining of it by the first means available.
Then he dismissed the subject, and climbing into his bunk went to sleep.

Next morning he took Jacinta, Mrs. Hatherly, and Muriel Gascoyne
ashore, and afterwards went on with the _Estremedura_ to the adjoining
island. It was three days later, and the steamer had come back again,
when he and her captain rode with the three ladies towards the coast,
after a visit to the black volcanic hills. Mrs. Hatherly and Muriel sat
in a crate-like affair upon the back of a camel, with distress in their
faces, for there is probably no more unpleasant form of locomotion to
anyone not used to it than camel-riding. The beast possesses a gait
peculiarly its own, and at every lurch of its shoulders the two women
jolted violently in the crate. The camel, however, proceeded
unconcerned, with long neck moving backwards and forwards like a
piston-rod. The rest rode horses, and a gun and several ensanguined
rabbits lay across the Captain's saddle. He rode like a Castilian, and
not a sailor, and Jacinta had noticed already that Austin was equally at
home in the saddle. The fact had, naturally, its significance for her.

It was then about two o'clock in the afternoon, and very hot, though the
fresh trade breeze blew long wisps of dust away from under the horses'
feet. Nobody could have called that part of Fuerteventura a beautiful
country, but it had its interest to two of the party, who had never seen
anything quite like it before. Behind them rose low hills, black with
streams of lava, red with calcined rock, and every stone on them was
outlined in harsh colouring in that crystalline atmosphere. In front lay
a desolation of ashes and scoriæ, with tracts of yellow sand, blown
there presumably from Africa, which swirled in little spirals before the
breeze. It was chequered with clumps of euphorbia and thorn, but they,
too, matched the prevailing tones of grey and brown and chrome, and
there was not in all the waste a speck of green. Further still in front
of them the sea flamed like a mirror, and a vault of dazzling blue hung
over all.

They wound down into a hollow, through which, as one could see by the
tortuous belt of stones, a little water now and then flowed, and
dismounted in the scanty shadow of a ruined wall. It had been built high
and solid of blocks of lava centuries ago, perhaps by the first of the
Spanish, or by dusky invaders from Morocco. As it was not quite so hot
there, Austin and the Captain made preparations for a meal when a
bare-legged peon led the beasts away. Then the Captain frowned darkly at
the prospect.

"Ah, mala gente. Que el infierno los come!" he said, with blazing eyes,
and swung a brown hand up, as though appealing to stones and sky before
he indulged in another burst of eloquence.

"What is he saying?" asked Muriel Gascoyne. "He seems very angry."

Austin smiled. "I scarcely think it would be altogether advisable to
enquire, but it is not very astonishing if he is angry," he said. "Don
Erminio is not, as a rule, a success as a business man, and this is a
farm he once invested all his savings in. I am particularly sorry to say
that I did much the same."

Miss Gascoyne appeared astonished, which was, perhaps, not altogether
unnatural, as she gazed at the wilderness in front of her. There were,
she could now see, signs that somebody had made a desultory attempt at
building a wall which was nearly buried again. A few odd heaps of lava
blocks had also been piled up here and there, but the hollow was strewn
with dust and ashes, and looked as though nothing had ever grown there
since that island was hurled, incandescent, out of the sea. It was very
difficult to discover the least evidence of fertility.

"Ah!" said Jacinta, "so this is the famous Finca de La Empreza
Financial?"

Oliviera overheard her, and once more made a gesture with arms flung
wide.

"Mira!" he said. "The cemetery where I bury the hopes of me. O much
tomate, mucho profit. I buy more finca and the cow for me. Aha! There is
also other time I make the commercial venture. I buy two mulo. Very good
mulo. I charge mucho dollar for the steamboat cargo cart. Comes the
locomotura weet the concrete block down Las Palmas mole. The mole is
narrow, the block is big, the man drives the locomotura behind it, he
not can look. Vaya, my two mulo, and the cart, she is in the sea. That
is also ruin me. I say, 'Vaya. In fifty year she is oll the same,' but
when I see the Finca de tomate I have the temper. Alors, weet
permission, me vais chasser the conejo."

"The unfortunate man!" said Jacinta, when he strode away in search of a
rabbit. "Still, the last of it wasn't quite unexceptional Castilian."

Austin laughed. "Don Erminio speaks French almost as well as he does
English. In fact, he's a linguist in his way. Still, I'm not sorry he
didn't insist upon me going shooting with him. It's risky, and I would
sooner he'd borrowed somebody else's gun."

They made a tolerable lunch, for the _Estremedura_'s cook knew his
business, and, though it very seldom rains there, some of the finest
grapes to be found anywhere grow in the neighbouring island of
Lanzarote. Then Mrs. Hatherly apparently went to sleep with her back
against the wall, while Muriel sat silent in the shadow, close beside
her. Perhaps the camel ride had shaken her, and perhaps she was thinking
of Jefferson, for she was gazing east towards Africa, across the flaming
sea. Jacinta, as usual, appeared delightfully fresh and cool, as she
sat with her long white dress tucked about her on a block of lava, while
Austin lay, contented, not far from her feet.

"You never told me you had a share in the Finca," she said.

"Well," said Austin, "I certainly had. I also made a speech at the
inaugural dinner, and Don Erminio almost wept with pride while I did it.
I had, though he did not mention it, a share in his mule cart, too, and
once or twice bought a schooner load of onions to ship to Havana at his
suggestion. You see, I had then a notion that it was my duty to make a
little money. Somehow, the onions never got to Cuba, and our other
ventures ended--like the Finca."

"Then you have given up all idea of making money now?"

"It really didn't seem much use continuing, and, after all, a little
money wouldn't be very much good to me. A chance of making twenty
thousand pounds might, perhaps, rouse me to temporary activity."

"Ah," said Jacinta, looking at him with thoughtful eyes, "you want too
much, my friend. You are not likely to make it by painting little
pictures on board the _Estremedura_."

A faint trace of darker colour showed through the bronze in Austin's
cheek. "Yes," he said, "that is exactly what is the matter with me.
Still, as I shall never get it, I am tolerably content with what I have.
Fortunately, I am fond of it--I mean the sea."

"Of course," said Jacinta, with a curious little sparkle in her eyes,
"contentment is commendable, though there is something that appeals to
one's fancy in the thought of a man struggling against everything to
acquire the unattainable."

"So long as it is unattainable, what would be the good? Besides, I am
almost afraid I am not that kind of man."

Jacinta said nothing further, and half an hour slipped by, until a trail
of smoke with a smear of something beneath it, crept up out of the
glittering sea.

"The _Andalusia_," said Austin. "She takes up our western run here under
the new time-table. I hope she's bringing no English folks from Las
Palmas to worry us."

As it happened, there was a man on board the _Andalusia_ who was to
bring one of the party increased anxiety and distress of mind, but they
did not know that then, and in the meanwhile the peon with the horses
and Don Erminio came back again. He brought no rabbits, but he had
succeeded in badly scratching one of the Damascene barrels of Austin's
gun.

"The conejo he no can eat the stone, and here there is nothing else," he
explained. "Otra vez--the other time, comes here a señor Engleesman, and
we have the gun, but there is no conejo. Me I say, 'Mira. Conejo into
his hole he go!' Bueno! The Engleesman he put the white rat into that
hole, and wait, oh, he wait mucho tiempo. Me, away I go. I come back,
the Engleesman has bag the Captain of puerto."

Then he turned with a dramatic gesture to the camel, which stretched out
its little head towards his leg. "Bur-r-r. Hijo de diablo. Aughr-r-r.
Focha camello! Me, I also spick the Avar-r-ack. The condemn camello he
comprehend."

The long-necked beast at least knelt down as though it did, and Mrs.
Hatherly climbed into the crate with a somewhat apprehensive glance at
the gallant captain.



CHAPTER VI

AUSTIN'S POINT OF VIEW


Mrs. Hatherly decided during the ride to the beach that she had seen
quite enough of that island in the three days she had spent there, and
she had already gone off to the _Estremedura_ with Muriel and Jacinta
when Austin stood smoking on the little mole. Long undulations of
translucent brine seethed close past his feet to break with a drowsy
roar upon the lava reefs, and the _Estremedura_ lay rolling wildly a
quarter of a mile away. A cluster of barefooted men were with difficulty
loading her big lancha beneath the mole with the barley-straw the row of
camels, kneeling in the one straggling street behind him, had brought
down. The men were evidently tired, for they had toiled waist-deep in
the surf since early morning, and Austin decided to spare them the
journey for his despatch gig.

Accordingly, when the lancha was loaded high with the warm yellow bales
he clambered up on them and bade the crew get under way. The long sweeps
dipped, and the craft went stern first towards the reef for a moment or
two before she crawled out to sea, looking very like a cornstack set
adrift as she lurched over the shining swell. Austin lay upon the straw,
smoking tranquilly, for everybody leaves a good deal to chance in Spain,
and now and then flung a little Castilian badinage at the gasping men
who pulled the big sweeps below. As it happened, they could not see him
because the straw rose behind them in a yellow wall. They were cheerful,
inconsequent fishermen, who would have done a good deal for him, and not
altogether because of the bottle of caña he occasionally gave them.

They had traversed half the distance, when, opening up a point, they met
a steeper heave, and when the dripping bows went up after the plunge
there was a movement of the barley-straw. Austin felt for a better hold,
but two or three bales fetched away as he did so, and in another moment
he plunged down headforemost into the sea. When he came up he found a
straw bale floating close beside him, and held on by it while he looked
about him. The lancha was apparently going on, and it was evident that
although the men must have heard the straw fall, they were not aware
that he had gone with it. There was, he surmised, no room for the lost
bales, and the men could not have heaved them up on top of the load. It
therefore appeared probable that they purposed unloading the lancha
before they came back for them, and he decided to climb up on the bale.

He found it unexpectedly difficult, for when he had almost dragged
himself up the bale rolled over and dropped him in again; while, when he
tried to wriggle up the front of it, it stood upright and then fell upon
him. After several attempts he gave it up, and set out for the steamer
with little pieces of barley-straw and spiky ears sticking all over him.
He could swim tolerably well, and swung along comfortably enough over
the smooth-backed swell, for his light clothing did not greatly cumber
him. Still, he did not desire that any one beyond the _Estremedura_'s
crew should witness his arrival.

He was, accordingly, by no means pleased to see Jacinta and Miss
Gascoyne stroll out from the deck-house as he drew in under the
_Estremedura_'s side, especially as there were no apparent means of
getting on board quietly. The lancha had vanished round the stern, the
ladder was triced up, and the open cargo gangway several feet above the
brine. The steamer also hove up another four or five feet of streaming
plates every time she rolled. Still, it was evident that he could not
stay where he was on the chance of the ladies not noticing him
indefinitely, and as he swam on again Miss Gascoyne broke into a
startled scream.

"Oh!" she said, "there's somebody drowning!"

The cry brought Macallister to the gangway, and he was very grimy in
engine-room disarray. Austin, in the water, saw the wicked twinkle in
his eyes, and was not pleased to hear Jacinta laugh musically.

"I really don't think he is in any danger," she said.

Austin set his lips, and swam for the gangway as the _Estremedura_
rolled down. His flung up hand came within a foot of the opening, and
then he sank back a fathom or more below it as the _Estremedura_ hove
that side of her out of the water. When he swung up again Macallister
was standing above him with a portentiously sharp boat hook, while two
or three grinning seamen clustered round. The girls were also leaning
out from the saloon-deck rails.

"Will ye no keep still while I hook ye!" said the engineer.

"If you stick that confounded thing into my clothes I'll endeavour to
make you sorry," said Austin savagely.

Macallister made a sweep at him, and Austin went down, while one of the
seamen, leaning down, grabbed him by the shoulder, when he rose.

"Let go!" he sputtered furiously. "Give me your hand instead!"

He evidently forgot that the seaman, who held on, was not an Englishman,
and next moment he was hove high above the water. Then there was a
ripping and tearing, and while the seaman reeled back with a long strip
of alpaca in his hand, Austin splashed into the water. He came up in
time to see Macallister smiling in Jacinta's direction reassuringly.

"There's no need to be afraid," he said. "Though I'm no sure he's worth
it, I'll save him for ye."

Now, Jacinta was usually quite capable of making any man who offended
her feel sorry for himself, but the sight of Austin's savage red face as
he gazed at Macallister, with the torn jacket flapping about him in the
water and the barley-straw sticking all over him, was too much for her,
and she broke into a peal of laughter.

In another moment Macallister contrived to get his boat hook into the
slack of Austin's garments, and when two seamen seized the haft they
hove him out, wrong side uppermost, and incoherent with wrath. When they
dropped him, a tattered, dripping heap, on the deck, Miss Gascoyne
leaned her face upon her hands, and laughed almost hysterically, until
Jacinta touched her shoulder.

"Mr. Austin evidently believes he has a good deal to thank his comrade
for. I think you had better come away," she said.

Austin put himself to some trouble in endeavouring to make Macallister
understand what he thought of him, when they had gone, but the engineer
only grinned.

"Well," he said, "I'll forgive ye. If I had looked like ye do with two
ladies watching me, I might have been a bit short in temper myself, but
come away to your room. The _Andalusia_'s boat came across a while ago,
and there's business waiting ye."

Austin went with him, but stopped a moment when he approached his room.
The door was open, as usual, and a stranger, in grey tourist tweed, upon
whom Englishman and clergyman was stamped unmistakably, sat inside the
room. Austin felt that he knew who the man must be.

"Does he know Miss Gascoyne is on board?" he asked.

"No," said Macallister. "The boat came round under our quarter, and we
landed him through the lower gangway. He said he'd stay here and wait
for ye. He's no sociable, anyway. I've offered him cigars and anisow,
besides some of my special whisky, but he did not seem willing to talk
to me."

Austin fancied he could understand it. Macallister, who had discarded
his jacket, was very grimy, and his unbuttoned uniform vest failed to
conceal the grease stains on his shirt. Then he remembered that his own
jacket was torn to rags, and he was very wet; but Macallister raised his
voice:

"Here's Mr. Austin, sir," he said.

The clergyman, who said nothing, gazed at him, and Austin, who realised
that his appearance was against him, understood his astonishment. He
also fancied that the stranger was one with whom appearances usually
counted a good deal.

"If you will wait a minute or two while I change my clothes, I will be
at your service, sir," he said. "As you may observe, I have been in the
sea."

"Swum off to the steamer," said Macallister, with a wicked smile. "It
saves washing. He comes off yon way now and then."

Austin said nothing, but stepped into the room, and, gathering up an
armful of clothing, departed, leaving a pool of water behind him. The
clergyman, it was evident, did not know what to make of either of them.
A few minutes later Austin, who came back and closed the door, sat down
opposite him.

"My name is Gascoyne," said the stranger, handing him an open note.
"Mr. Brown of Las Palmas, who gave me this introduction, assured me that
I could speak to you confidentially, and that you would be able to tell
me where my daughter and Mrs. Hatherly are staying."

Austin glanced at him with misgivings. He was a little man, with pale
blue eyes, and hair just streaked with grey. His face was white and
fleshy, without animation or any suggestion of ability in it, but there
had been something in the tone which seemed to indicate that he had, at
least, been accustomed to petty authority. Austin at once set him down
as a man of essentially conventional views, who was deferred to in some
remote English parish; in fact, just the man he would have expected
Muriel Gascoyne's father to be; that is, before she had revealed her
inner self. It was a type he was by no means fond of, and he was quite
aware that circumstances were scarcely likely to prepossess a man of
that description in his favour. Still, Austin was a friend of
Jefferson's, and meant to do what he could for him.

"I know where Miss Gascoyne is, but you suggested that you had something
to ask me, and I shall be busy by and by," he said.

Gascoyne appeared anxious, but evidently very uncertain whether it would
be advisable to take him into his confidence.

"I understand that you are a friend of Mr. Jefferson's?" he said.

"I am. I may add that I am glad to admit it, and I almost fancy I know
what you mean to ask me."

Gascoyne, who appeared grateful for this lead, looked at him steadily.
"Perhaps I had better be quite frank. Indeed, Mr. Brown, who informed me
that you could tell more about Jefferson than any one in the islands,
recommended it," he said. "I am, Mr. Austin, a clergyman who has never
been outside his own country before, and I think it is advisable that I
should tell you this, because there may be points upon which our views
will not coincide. It was not easy for me to get away now, but the
future of my motherless daughter is a matter of the greatest concern to
me, and I understand that Mr. Jefferson is in Africa. I want you to tell
me candidly--as a gentleman--what kind of man he is."

Austin felt a little better disposed towards Gascoyne after this. His
anxiety concerning his daughter was evident, and he had, at least, not
adopted quite the attitude Austin had expected. But as Austin was not by
any means brilliant himself, he felt the difficulty of making Gascoyne
understand the character of such a man as Jefferson, while his task was
complicated by the fact that he recognised his responsibility to both of
them. Gascoyne had put him on his honour, and he could not paint
Jefferson as he was not. In the meanwhile he greatly wished to think.

"I wonder if I might offer you a glass of wine, sir, or perhaps you
smoke?" he said.

"No, thanks," said Gascoyne, with uncompromising decision. "I am aware
that many of my brethren indulge in these luxuries. I do not."

"Well," said Austin, "if you will tell me what you have already heard
about Jefferson it might make the way a little plainer."

"I have been told that he is an American seafarer, it seems of the usual
careless type. Seafarers are, perhaps, liable to special temptations,
and it is generally understood that the lives most of them lead are not
altogether----"

Austin smiled a little when Gascoyne stopped abruptly. "I'm afraid that
must be admitted, sir. I can, however, assure you that Jefferson is an
abstemious man--Americans are, as a rule, you see--and, though there are
occasions when his conversation might not commend itself to you, he has
had an excellent education. Since we are to be perfectly candid, has it
ever occurred to you that it was scarcely likely a dissolute sailor
would meet with Miss Gascoyne's approbation?"

Gascoyne flushed a trifle. "It did not--though, of course, it should
have. Still, he told her that he was mate of the _Sachem_, which was a
painful shock to me. I, of course, remember the revolting story."

He stopped a moment, and his voice was a trifle strained when he went on
again. "I left England, Mr. Austin, within three days of getting my
daughter's letter, and have ever since been in a state of distressing
uncertainty. Mr. Jefferson is in Africa--I cannot even write him. I do
not know where my duty lies."

Had the man's intense anxiety been less evident, Austin would have been
almost amused. The Reverend Gascoyne appeared to believe that his
affairs were of paramount importance to everybody, as, perhaps, they
were in the little rural parish he came from; but there was something in
his somewhat egotistical simplicity that appealed to the younger man.

"One has to face unpleasant facts now and then, sir," he said. "There
are times when homicide is warranted at sea, and man's primitive
passions are very apt to show themselves naked in the face of imminent
peril. It is in one respect unfortunate that you have probably never
seen anything of the kind, but one could not expect too much from a man
whose comrade's head had just been shorn open by a drink-frenzied
mutineer. Can you imagine the little handful of officers, driven aft
away from the boats while the ship settled under them, standing still to
be cut down with adze and axe? You must remember, too, that they were
seafarers and Americans who had few of the advantages you and your
friends enjoy in England."

He could not help the last piece of irony, but Gascoyne, who did not
seem to notice it, groaned.

"To think of a man who appears to hold my daughter's confidence being
concerned in such an affair at all is horribly unpleasant to me."

"I have no doubt it was almost as distressing to Jefferson at the time.
Still, as you have probably never gone in fear of your life for weeks
together, you may not be capable of understanding what he felt, and we
had perhaps better get on a little further."

Gascoyne seemed to pull himself together. "Mr. Jefferson has, I
understand, no means beyond a certain legacy. It is not, after all, a
large one."

"If he is alive in six months I feel almost sure he will have twice as
much, which would mean an income of close upon £600 a year from sound
English stock, and that, one would fancy, would not be considered abject
poverty in a good many English rural parishes."

Gascoyne sighed. "That is true--it is certainly true. You said--if he
were alive?"

"As he is now on his way to one of the most deadly belts of swamp and
jungle in Western Africa, I think I was warranted. Knowing him as I do,
it is, I fancy, certain that if he does not come back with £16,000 in
six months he will be dead."

"Ah," said Gascoyne, with what was suspiciously like a sigh of relief.
"One understands that it is a particularly unhealthy climate. Still,
when one considers that all is arranged for the best----"

Austin, who could not help it, smiled sardonically, though he felt he
had an almost hopeless task. It appeared impossible that Gascoyne should
ever understand the character of a man like Jefferson. But he meant to
do what he could.

"It is naturally easier to believe that when circumstances coincide with
our wishes, sir," he said. "Now, I do not exactly charge you with
wishing Jefferson dead, though your face shows that you would not be
sorry. I am, of course, another careless seafarer, a friend of his, and
I can understand that what you have seen of me has not prepossessed you
in my favour. Still, if I can, I am going to show you Jefferson as he
is. To begin with, he believes, as you do, that Miss Gascoyne is far
above him--and in this he is altogether wrong. Miss Gascoyne is
doubtless a good woman, but Jefferson is that harder thing to be, a good
man. His point of view is not yours, it is, perhaps, a wider one; but he
has, what concerns you most directly now, a vague, reverential respect
for all that is best in womanhood, which, I think, is sufficient to
place Miss Gascoyne under a heavy responsibility."

He stopped a moment, looking steadily at Gascoyne, who appeared blankly
astonished.

"Because it was evident to him that a woman of Miss Gascoyne's
conventional upbringing must suffer if brought into contact with the
unpleasant realities of the outside world, he has staked his life
willingly--not recklessly--on the winning of enough to place her
beyond the reach of adversity. He realised that it was, at least, even
chances he never came back from Africa; but it seemed to him better
that she should be proud of him dead than have to pity him and herself
living. I know this, because he told me he would never drag the woman
who loved him down. He fell in love with her without reflection,
instinctively--or, perhaps, because it was arranged so--I do not
understand these things. As surely--conventionalities don't always
count--she fell in love with him, and then he had to grapple with the
position. Your daughter could not live, as some women do, unshocked
and cheerfully among rude and primitive peoples whose morality is not
your morality, in the wilder regions of the earth. It was also evident
that she could not live sumptuously in England on the interest of
£8,000. You see what he made of it. If he died, Miss Gascoyne would be
free. If he lived, she could avoid all that would be unpleasant. Isn't
that sufficient? Could there be anything base or mean in a nature
capable of devotion of that description?"

Gascoyne sat silent almost a minute. Then he said very quietly: "I have
to thank you, Mr. Austin--the more so because I admit I was a little
prejudiced against you. Perhaps men living as I do acquire too narrow a
view. I am glad you told me. And now where is my daughter and Mrs.
Hatherly?"

"Wait another minute! Jefferson is, as you will recognise, a man of
exceptional courage, but he is also a man of excellent education, and,
so far as that goes, of attractive presence; such a one, in fact, as I
think a girl of Miss Gascoyne's station is by no means certain to come
across again in England. Now, if I have said anything to offend you, it
has not been with that object, and you will excuse it. Your daughter and
Mrs. Hatherly are on board this ship. It seemed better that you should
hear me out before I told you."

"Ah," said Gascoyne. "Well, I think you were right, and again I am much
obliged to you. Will you take me to Mrs. Hatherly?"

Austin did so, and coming back flung himself down on the settee in
Macallister's room.

"Give me a drink--a long one. I don't know that I ever talked so much at
once in my life, and I only hope I didn't make a consummate ass of
myself," he said.

"It's no that difficult," said Macallister, reflectively, as he took out
a syphon and a bottle of wine. "Ye made excuses for yourself and
Jefferson?"

Austin laughed. "No," he said. "I made none for Jefferson. I think I
rubbed a few not particularly pleasant impressions into the other man. I
felt I had to. It was, of course, a piece of abominable presumption."

Macallister leaned against the bulkhead and regarded him with a sardonic
grin.

"I would have liked to have heard ye," he said.



CHAPTER VII

AT THE BULL FIGHT


Austin was writing in the saloon, which was a little cooler than his
room, at about eight o'clock that night, while Jacinta and Mrs. Hatherly
made ineffectual attempts to read in the ladies' cabin, for the
_Estremedura_ was on her way south again, with the trade-wind combers
tumbling after her. She rolled with a long, rhythmic swing, and now and
then shook and trembled with the jar of her lifted propeller. Muriel
Gascoyne was accordingly alone with her father on the deck above. She
sat in a canvas chair, while Gascoyne leaned upon the rails in front of
her. There was a full moon overhead, and a fantastic panorama of
fire-blackened hills, wastes of ash and lava, whirling clouds of sand,
black rocks lapped by spouting surf, and bays of deepest indigo,
unrolled itself upon one hand. It is, however, probable that neither of
the pair saw much of it, for their thoughts were not concerned with the
volcanic desolation.

"It is a pity I did not come a few weeks earlier," said Gascoyne with a
sigh.

Muriel's eyes were a trifle hazy, but her voice was even. "If you had
come then, and insisted upon it, I might have given him up," she said.

"That means it is irrevocable now? I want you to make quite sure, my
dear. This man does not belong to our world. Even his thoughts must be
different from ours. You cannot know anything of his past life--I
scarcely think he could explain it to you. He would regard nothing from
the same standpoint as we do."

"Still, it cannot have been a bad one. I can't tell you why I am sure of
that, but I know."

Gascoyne made a little, hopeless gesture. "Muriel," he said, a trifle
hoarsely, "it is a terrible risk--and if you marry him you must
inevitably drift away from me. You are all I have, and I am getting old
and lonely, but that is not of the greatest moment. It would be horrible
to think of you drifting away from all you have been taught to believe
in and hold sacred."

It was a strong appeal, perhaps the strongest he could have made, for
the girl had been without breadth of view when she left home, and the
boundaries of her outlook had coincided with those of the little rural
parish. Still, in some strange fashion she had gained enlightenment, and
she was resolute, though her blue eyes slowly brimmed with moisture. It
was true that he would be very lonely.

"Ah," she said, and it was a significant sign that she questioned the
comprehension of the man whom she had regarded as almost infallible a
few weeks earlier, "how can I make you understand? There are, perhaps,
many worlds, and we know there are many kinds of men. They must think
differently, but does that matter so very much, after all? There is the
same humanity in all of us."

"Undoubtedly! In Turks, idolaters, and unbelievers. Humanity in itself
is fallen and evil."

Muriel smiled. "Father," she said, "you don't believe that there is no
good in all those who have not been taught to believe as we do."

Gascoyne did not answer her, though it is possible that there were
circumstances under which he would have returned a very slightly
qualified affirmative.

"There is a perilous optimism abroad," he said.

"Still," said Muriel, unconscious of the irony of her deprecatory
answer, "Mr. Jefferson is neither a Turk nor an idolater. He is only an
American sailor."

Gascoyne sighed dejectedly, for there was, it seemed, nothing left for
him to appeal to. The girl's beliefs had gone. The simple, iron-fast
rules of life she had once acknowledged were now apparently discredited;
but even in his concern he was vaguely sensible that an indefinite
something which he did not recognise as the charity that love teaches
was growing up in place of them. Still, he felt its presence as he
watched her, and knew that it could not be altogether born of evil.

"My dear," he said, "how shall I implore you to consider?"

Muriel smiled out of hazy eyes. "It is too late. He has my promise, and
I belong to him. Nothing that you could say would change that now. He
has gone out--to Africa--believing in me, and I know that he may never
come back again."

Gascoyne appeared a trifle startled, and remembered a curious remark
that Austin had made to the effect that there was a heavy responsibility
upon his daughter. He could not altogether understand why this should
be, but he almost fancied that she recognised it now. There was also a
finality and decision in the girl's tone which was new to him.

"I think you know how hard it was for me to get away, but it seemed
necessary. I came out to implore you to give this stranger up," he said.

The girl rose, and stood looking at him gravely, with one hand on the
chair arm to steady herself as the steamer rolled, and the moonlight
upon her face. It was almost reposeful in its resolution.

"Father," she said, "you must try to understand. Perhaps I did wrong
when I gave him my promise without consulting you, but it is given, and
irrevocable. He has gone out to Africa--and may die there--believing in
me. I don't think I could make you realise how he believes in me, but,
though, of course, he is wrong, I grow frightened now and then, and
almost hope he may never see me as I really am. That is why
I--daren't--fail him. If there was no other reason I must keep faith
with him."

"Then," said Gascoyne, very slowly, "I must, at least, try to resign
myself--and perhaps, my apprehensions may turn out to be not quite
warranted, after all. I was horribly afraid a little while ago, but this
man seems to have the faculty of inspiring confidence in those who know
him. They cannot all be mistaken, and the man who is purser on this
steamer seems to believe in him firmly. His views are peculiar, but
there was sense in what he said, and he made me think a little less
hardly of Mr. Jefferson."

Muriel only smiled. She realised what this admission, insufficient and
grudging as it was, must have cost her father, and--for she had regarded
everything from his point of view until a few weeks ago--she could
sympathise with him. Still, she was glad when she saw Jacinta and Mrs.
Hatherly coming towards them along the deck.

It was an hour later when Jacinta met Austin at the head of the ladder,
and stopped him with a sign.

"I have had a long talk with Mr. Gascoyne, and found him a little less
disturbed in mind than I had expected," she said. "I want to know what
you said to him."

"Well," said Austin, reflectively, "I really can't remember, and if I
could it wouldn't be worth while. Of course, I knew what I wanted to
say, but I'm almost afraid I made as great a mess of it as I usually
do."

"Still, I think Miss Gascoyne is grateful to you."

"That," said Austin, "affords me very little satisfaction, after all.
You see, I didn't exactly do it to please Miss Gascoyne."

"Then I wonder what motive really influenced you?"

Austin pursed his lips, as if thinking hard. "I don't quite know. For
one thing, very orthodox people of the Reverend Gascoyne's description
occasionally have an irritating effect upon me. I feel impelled to
readjust their point of view, or, at least to allow them an opportunity
of recognising the advantages of mine, which, however, isn't necessarily
the correct one. I hope this explanation contents you."

Jacinta smiled. "I think I shall remember it," she said. "I believe I
generally do when anybody does a thing to please me. Still, Miss
Gascoyne's gratitude will not hurt you."

Then she swept away, and left him standing meditatively at the head of
the ladder. He saw no more of her that night, and he was busy when the
_Estremedura_ steamed into Las Palmas early next morning, while it was
nearly three weeks later when he met her again at a corrida de toros in
the bull ring at Santa Cruz, Teneriffe, which was, perhaps, the last
place where one would have expected to find an English lady.

The spacious amphitheatre was open to the sky, and all its tiers of
stone benches packed with excited humanity, for half the inhabitants of
the island had apparently gathered to enjoy the sanguinary spectacle.
Black is the colour affected by men who can afford it on a Spanish
holiday, but the white cotton the bare-legged hillmen wore, and the pink
and chrome of their wives' and daughters' dresses, flecked with luminous
colour the sombre ranks of the close-packed multitude. Blazing sunlight
beat down upon them, for it is only the richer citizens who sit in the
shadow, and the topmost row was projected, a filagree of black and
motley, against the hard glaring blue. Below, the arena shone dazzlingly
yellow, and the smell of blood and fresh sawdust came up from it through
the many-toned murmur of the crowd. When this sank a little one could
hear the deep boom of the Atlantic swell crumbling on the lava beach.

The revolting picador scene was over. Two or three worn-out and
blindfolded horses had been gored or trampled to death, and one
picador's arm had been broken. The tawny, long-horned bull, which had
shown unusual courage, stood panting in the middle of the arena, with a
crimson smear on one shoulder where a lance had scored it deep, and
while the bugles rang, the vast assembly waited for the banderillero
scene in high good humour. Just then a little party descended one of the
avenues on the shady side, and Austin, who had a note from Pancho Brown
in his pocket, with some difficulty made his way to meet them. He was
quite aware that Brown was probably the only Englishman in those islands
who would have been able to reserve desirable places at a corrida de
toros.

Jacinta, who accompanied him, was attended by his Spanish housekeeper
and two sunburnt English naval officers, but she made room for Austin on
one side of her, and appeared in no way displeased by his indifferently
veiled approbation. Miss Brown had been dressed by a Castilian modeste,
mostly in black lace, that day, and her clustering brown hair was
ornamented by a little mantilla of the same material. It was not a dress
which would have suited every Englishwoman, especially of substantial
type, but Jacinta was slight, and delicately round, and altogether
sylph-like.

"You venture to approve of this get-up?" she said. "The tourists were a
little horrified at the hotel."

Austin, who wore white duck, noticed that she smiled at the Governor,
who sat above them amidst his glittering staff, and that almost sufficed
to spoil his satisfaction, though it was only one of the many little
things that emphasised the difference between them. Still, he contrived
to laugh.

"I expect they were envious. It's bewilderingly effective, and I am a
bit of an artist, as you know," he said. "I was wondering whether you
would have the courage to come."

"Jacinta," said Pancho Brown, "has courage enough for anything. Still,
she came because I asked her. I make my living out of these people, and,
perhaps, a little more. It was policy."

Jacinta laughed. "Well," she said, "I rather like it, and I have been
before. Of course, I mean after they have killed the horses and smashed
the picadores. That part is not only cruel, but ineffective. It's not
inspiriting to see a man padded with leather sit quite still to be
knocked over. They should either wipe it out or give them stuffed
horses. By the way, you don't know my companions."

The two naval officers acknowledged the introduction with characteristic
brevity. Their eyes were fixed on the arena, and the scene was probably
worth their attention, for there are parts of a bull fight which cannot
be termed revolting, at least, by those who have actually witnessed
them.

A lithe, well-favoured man, picturesquely attired, skipped into the
ring, holding a crimson cape in one hand, and a couple of little
decorated darts in the other. It was his business to strike them into
the neck or shoulder of the bull, but nowhere else, while their points
were calculated to do no more than exasperate it. The beast watched him
savagely, pawing up the sand, and the chances appeared somewhat against
the man, since to reach its neck he must approach his silk-covered
breast within an inch or two of the gleaming horns, one of which was
suspiciously reddened.

Austin could not quite see how he did it, for his motions were
bewilderingly rapid, but he saw the wave of the gaudy cloak and heard
its crisp rustle that was lost in the roar. Then the man was running
round the ring for his life, and the bull thundering along with lowered
head and a dart bristling in its neck, a yard or two behind him. He had
no time to swing himself over the barricade, as hard pressed
banderilleros now and then did, for the deadly horns were almost in the
small of his back. It was a frantic test of speed, highly trained human
agility and endurance against the strength of the beast, and there was
dead silence while they went round the arena once, the man running
desperately, with tense, set face, while Austin fancied he could hear
his gasping breath through the roar of the hoofs. Then, with a splendid
bound, he drew a yard ahead, and another man with a green cape hurled
himself through the opening. Somehow he escaped destruction, and the
bull slid onward with hoofs ploughing up the sand, and the gaudy silk
fluttering about its head. There was a roar of plaudits that could have
been heard miles away at sea, and while from tiers of benches the hats
came sailing down, the bull, which shook the cape off, tore the coloured
rags to fragments.

"That fellow has good nerves," said one of the navy men. "I don't see
anything very brutal in it, after all. They both start level, and take
their chances, you know."

Jacinta looked at Austin over her fan, and there was a faint flush in as
much of her face as he could see, as well as a little gleam in her
eyes.

"I'm afraid it--is--a little barbarous," she said. "Everybody says so.
Still, wasn't that banderillero splendid! You see, I have put on
Castilian notions with my clothes. Of course, as an Englishwoman, I
could never venture here."

Austin was a little annoyed to feel that he was smiling sardonically.
"Well," he said, "I should almost have fancied that you were too
super-refined and ethereal to admire that kind of thing, but I really
believe you do."

Jacinta waved her fan. "Do not be deceived, my friend. There is a good
deal of the primitive in us all, and it shows up now and then." Then she
laughed. "I wonder how they all get their right hats back again."

Austin could not tell her, for it was a thing he could never understand;
but while the attendants were still flinging the black sombreros into
the air another banderillero approached the bull. He planted one dart
and then dashed across the ring, but either his nerve failed him, or he
could not trust his speed, for he grasped the top of the barricade and
swung himself over. In another moment the bull struck it with a crash,
and then stood still, half stunned, apparently endeavouring to make out
where the man had gone. There was a storm of hisses and opprobrious
cries.

"That banderillero," said Jacinta, sweetly, "should have been driven out
of the ring. He ought never to have undertaken a thing that was too big
for him."

"Isn't that a little hard upon the man?" said Austin. "He probably
didn't know it was too big until he had undertaken it."

"That's sensible, Miss Brown," said one of the navy men. "When he found
he couldn't run as fast as the bull could what was he to do?"

"What did a certain gunboat's men do when they found themselves quite
unexpectedly in front of the African headman's battery?"

The navy man flushed a little, for he was young. "Oh," he said, "that
was different. They set their lips and went in, though I don't suppose
any of them liked it. Still, you see, that was what they were there to
do."

"Exactly!" and Jacinta laughed a little, though there was still a gleam
in her eyes, and it was Austin she looked at. "They did the obvious, as
well as the most artistic thing. It fortunately happens that they're
often very much the same."

"I'm not quite sure I understand you," said the young officer. "People
who want me to have to talk plain. Still, I suppose one has always a
certain sympathy for the fellow who gets himself killed decently."

Then, for a time, they became absorbed in the play of the banderilleros,
who, flashing here and there, with cloaks of red, and gold, and green,
passed the bull from one to another up and down the trampled arena. Now,
one of them escaped annihilation by a hairsbreadth, while the thundering
vivas went up to the glaring sky, and a comrade turned the tormented
beast again. Now, a silk-clad athlete swept through the two-foot gap
between deadly horns and flying man, and the bull swung round with a
bellow to pursue him, or stood still, temporarily blinded with the gaudy
cloak about its horns. It was a fascinating exhibition of human nerve
and skill, and Austin saw that Jacinta watched it with slightly parted
lips and a gleam in her eyes, until at last the bugles rang, and most of
the men withdrew, leaving the bull alone in the middle of the arena,
with the foam flakes dripping from its muzzle and its brawny neck
bristling with the little darts. Then there was a general movement and a
great hum of voices rose from the close-packed benches. Jacinta waved
her fan, and touched Austin's arm as she looked about her.

"Surely that is Macallister. But whatever is he doing there?" she said.

Austin looked up across the long rows of faces, and saw his comrade
sitting, spick and span in the blue Spanish mail uniform, among the
brilliant officers of the Governor's staff. Macallister was a big man,
with a commanding appearance, when he had for the time being done with
the engine room, and Austin, who knew that he could make friends with
anybody, was not astonished to notice that he seemed very much at home.

"It is rather more than I know," he said. "Still, I should fancy he was
telling them something amusing in execrable Castilian, by the way they
are laughing. I believe Macallister could get anywhere he wanted. He
has, as a matter of fact, dragged me into somewhat astonishing places."

"I shouldn't wonder," said one of the navy men. "George, isn't that big
fellow in the uniform yonder the one we saw the other night at the
opera?"

"It is," said his comrade, with a little soft laugh, as though he
remembered something that had afforded him considerable pleasure.

Jacinta touched Austin with her fan. "I presume you know what he is
referring to?"

"Well," said Austin, "what I do know is this. Mack and I went to see the
Italian company the other night, and because he, of course, knew
everybody about the place, we went behind the scenes. He, unfortunately,
became interested in the stage machinery, and when he had made spirited
attempts to pull some of it to pieces, I and the improvisatore beguiled
him to a chair in the wings. We gave him a cigar to keep him quiet, as
well as the libretto, which he could not read, and, as he seemed
somewhat sleepy, I was thankful to leave him there. I didn't care about
that opera. He never told me what happened after."

The young officer laughed again. "I daresay I can enlighten you. In the
middle of the last act one of the wings collapsed, and everybody saw a
big Englishman, who had apparently just kicked it over, sitting, half
asleep, in a folding chair. He didn't appear to have any legitimate
connection with the drama, but he brought the house down when he got up
in a hurry and fell over his chair."

Then the shrill call of the bugles rang through the great building, and
a tall man, with a scarred face, gorgeously dressed, walked into the
arena, holding a three-cornered hat and a long, straight sword. He stood
still a moment, an imposing and curiously graceful figure, with bright
blade lowered, while a tumultuous shout of "Mæstro!" filled the
building; and then, taking a cloak from an attendant, approached the
bull. It was freely smeared with blood, and as it stood, bellowing, and
pawing the sand in murderous rage, it was evident that the Mæstro's task
was not a particularly pleasant one. There was only one way in which he
could kill the bull, and that was to pass his sword over the horns and
down into the brawny chest, near the base of the neck. Should he strike
elsewhere it was probable that the vast assembly would descend and
trample on him, for this was a duel to the death between man and beast,
in which the latter was secured what seemed an even chance by
punctilious etiquette. The Spaniard displays a good deal of sympathy
with a gallant bull.

The beast seemed to understand that this man was different from the
banderilleros who had previously tormented it, and backed away from him
until he smote it lightly on the nostrils. Then it swept forward in a
savage rush but though the man's movements were so quick that one
scarcely noticed them, he was not quite where he had been a moment
earlier, when the bull thundered past him. Still, one horn had ripped a
strip of silk from him. He followed the beast, and struck it with his
hand, and for five or six frenzied minutes the vast audience roared.
This man never ran. He stepped backwards, or twisted, always with grave
gracefulness, in the nick of time, until at last the bull stood still,
as though stupefied with rage or uncertain how to attack its elusive
persecutor.

Then, as the man walked up to it very quietly and unconcernedly, it
seemed to hump itself together for a furious bound and rush with lowered
head, and there was no sound in the great building until the bright
steel flashed. Man's breast and gleaming horns seemed to meet, but
apparently in the same second the gorgeously clad figure had stepped
aside, and in the next the bull plunged forward and came down upon its
knees.

There was another roar, and once more from all the close-packed benches
came the rain of hats, cigars, and bundles of cigarettes.

"Ah," said Jacinta, with a little gasp, "I think I have seen enough.
There will be another bull and more picadores now. I never could stand
that part of it. Besides, I have done my duty, and patronised the show."

They made their way out while the audience waited for another bull, and
certain leather-swathed picadores rode in on decrepit, blindfolded
horses, brought there to be killed; and it was an hour later when, as
they stood beneath the oleanders in a fonda garden looking down upon the
white-walled town, Jacinta mentioned the affair again.

"Of course, it is a little cruel; but, after all, it appeals to rather
more than the lower passions and lust of slaughter, don't you think?"
she said.

"I never saw anything to equal that Mæstro's play in my life," said one
of the young officers. "It was cool daring in the superlative degree."

"I fancy," said Austin, "you want us to make excuses for your being
there."

Jacinta laughed. "Not exactly! I am rather proud of being a law to
myself--and others--you know. Now, I really think that the qualities the
Mæstro possessed appealed to me, though I naturally mean some and not
all of them. I am, after all, as I admitted, a little primitive in some
respects."

"You mean that you like a man to be daring?" asked the other officer.

"Of course!" and once more it was Austin Jacinta looked at. "Still, I
don't necessarily mean that everybody should go bull-fighting. There are
other things more worth while."

"Even than sailing round the Canaries and painting little pictures?"
said Austin.

Jacinta glanced at him with a curious smile. "Well," she said, "since
you ask me, I almost think there are." Then she stopped a moment, and
stood looking out from among the oleanders towards the glittering heave
of the Atlantic across the white-walled town. Once more a faint gleam
crept into her eyes.

"I wonder," she added, "what Jefferson is doing--out yonder in Africa."



CHAPTER VIII

JEFFERSON FEELS THE STRAIN


The afternoon was wearing through, but it was still almost insufferably
hot when Jefferson stood with his hand upon the valve of the _Cumbria_'s
forward winch. She lay with her bows wedged into the mangrove forest,
which crawled on high-arched roots over leagues of bubbling mire to the
edge of one of the foulest creeks in Western Africa. It flowed, thick
and yeasty, beneath the steamer's hove-up side, for she lay with a list
to starboard athwart the stream. There was a bend close by, and her
original crew had apparently either failed to swing her round it, which
is an accident that sometimes happens in that country, or driven her
ashore to save her sinking.

Her iron deck was unpleasantly hot, and the negroes who crossed it
between hatch and surfboat hopped. They, of course, wore no boots, and,
indeed, very little of anything at all beyond a strip of cotton round
their waists. There was not a breath of wind astir, and the saturated
atmosphere, which was heavy with the emanations of the swamps, seemed to
seal the perspiration in the burning skin. Jefferson felt the veins on
his forehead swollen to the bursting point when he stopped the winch and
looked about him while the Spaniards slipped a sling over a palm-oil
puncheon in the hold below.

He could see nothing but a strip of dazzling water, and the dingy,
white-stemmed mangroves which stretched away farther than the eye could
follow, and sighed as he glanced back at the _Cumbria_. She lay with
deck unpleasantly slanted and one bilge in the mire, a rusty, two-masted
steamer, with the blistered paint peeling off her, and the burnt awnings
hanging from their spars. He did not expect much water in that creek
until the wet season, and in the meanwhile it was necessary to heave the
coal and cargo out of her and send it down stream to a neighbouring
beach. It was very slow work with the handful of men he had, and those
few weeks had set their mark on Jefferson.

He had never been a fleshy man, and long days of feverish toil under a
burning sun and in the steamy heat of the flooded holds had worn him to
skin and bone. His duck garments hung with a significant slackness about
his gaunt frame, and they were rent in places, as well as blackened and
smeared with oil. His face was grim and hollow, but there was a fierce
steadfastness in his eyes, which seemed filled with curious brilliancy.

"Are you going to sleep down there? Can't you send up another cask?" he
said.

A voice came up from the dusky hatch, out of which there flowed a hot,
sour smell of palm oil and putrefying water. "The next tier's jammed up
under the orlop beams," it said. "We might get on a little if we could
break a puncheon out."

Jefferson laid his hands upon the combing of the hatch and swung himself
over. It was a drop of several yards, and he came down upon the slippery
round of a big puncheon, and reeling across the barrels, fell backwards
against an angle-iron. He was, however, up again in a moment, and stood
blinking about him with eyes dazzled by the change from the almost
intolerable brightness above. Blurred figures were standing more than
ankle deep in water on the slanted rows of puncheons, and Jefferson,
who could not see them very well, blinked again when an Englishman,
stripped to the waist, moved towards him. The latter was dripping with
yellow oil and perspiration.

"It's this one," he said, and kicked a puncheon viciously. "The
derrick-crabs have pulled the tops of the staves off her. They're soaked
an' soft with oil. The water underneath's jamming them up, an' you'll
see how the tier's keyed down by the orlop-beams."

Jefferson wrenched the iron bar he held away from him and turned to the
rest.

"There's a patch of the head clear. Two or three of you get a handspike
on to it," he said. "No, shove it lower down. Mas abajo. Now, heave all
together. Vamos. Toda fuerza!"

They were barefooted Canary Spaniards, of an astonishing ignorance, but
excellent sailormen, and they understood him. Lean, muscular bodies
strained and bent, the dew of effort dripped from them; and, as he
heaved with lips set, the hollows grew deeper in Jefferson's grim face.
No one spoke; there was only a deep, stertorous gasping, until the
puncheon moved a little, and Jefferson, stooping, drove his bar a trifle
lower. Then, while he strained every muscle and sinew in strenuous
effort, the great, slimy barrel rose again, tilted, and rolled out on
its fellows. For a moment it left a space of oily black water where it
had been, and then the puncheons closed in with a crash again. Jefferson
flung the bar down and straightened himself.

"Now," he said wearily, "you can get ahead."

He crawled up the ladder with a curious languidness, and while one of
the Englishmen apostrophised the puncheons the Spaniards went back to
their task. The Castilian is not supposed to be remarkable for
diligence, but there is, at least among the lower ranks of men in whom
the Iberian blood flows, a capacity for patient toil and uncomplaining
endurance which, while not always very apparent, nevertheless shows
itself unmistakably under pressure of circumstances. These were simple
men, who had never been encouraged to think for themselves, and were,
therefore, like other Spaniards of their degree, perhaps, incapable of
undertaking anything on their own initiative, but they could do a great
deal under the right leader, and they had him in Jefferson.

One of the Englishmen, however, was not quite satisfied. He had been in
the tropics before, and did not like the curious flush in Jefferson's
face or the way the swollen veins showed on his forehead, so he climbed
the ladder after him and leaned upon the winch-drum looking at him
meditatively. The man was very ragged as well as very dirty, and
altogether disreputable, so far as appearance went, while it is probable
that in several respects his character left a good deal to be desired.

"Here's your hat. It's wet, but that's no harm," he said. "You forgot
it. Hadn't you better put it on quick?"

Jefferson, who recognised the wisdom of this, did so.

"That's all right! Well, what--are--you stopping for?" he said.

The other man still regarded him contemplatively. "I know my place--but
things isn't quite the same aboard this 'ooker as they would be on a
big, two-funnel liner. You couldn't expect it. That's why I come up just
now to speak to you. You're not feelin' well to-day?"

"It's not worth worrying about. I guess nobody but a nigger ever does
feel well in this country."

The other man shook his head. "You go slow. I've seen it comin' on," he
said. "You oughtn't to 'a' had your hat off a minute. You see, if you
drop out, how's Bill an' me to get the bonus you promised us?"

Jefferson laughed, though he found, somewhat to his concern, that he
could not see the man very well.

"I'm going to hold up until I knock the bottom of this contract out," he
said, good-humouredly. "I can't do it if I stop and talk to you. Get a
move on. Light out of this!"

The man went back. He had done what he felt was his duty, though he had
not expected that it would be of very much use, and Jefferson started
the winch. It hammered and rattled, and the barrels came up, slimy and
dripping, with patches of whitewash still clinging to them. The glare of
it dazzled Jefferson until he could scarcely see them as they swung
beneath the derrick-boom, but he managed to drop them into the surfboat
alongside and pile the rest on deck, when she slid down the creek with a
row of negroes paddling on either side. The steamer had struck the
forest at the time of highest water, and it was necessary to take
everything out of her if she was to be floated during the coming rainy
season.

He toiled on for another hour, with a racking pain in his head, and the
Canarios toiled in the stifling hold below, until there was a jar and a
rattle, and a big puncheon that should have gone into the surfboat came
down with a crash amidst them, and, bursting, splashed them with yellow
oil. Then the man who had remonstrated with Jefferson went up the ladder
in haste. The winch had stopped, and Jefferson lay across it, amidst a
coil of slack wire, with a suffused face. The man, who stooped over him,
shouted, and the rest who came up helped to carry him to his room
beneath the bridge. The floor was slanted so that one could scarcely
stand on it, and as the berth took the same list, they laid him where
the side of it met the bulkhead. He lay there, speechless, with
half-closed eyes, and water and palm oil soaking from him.

"Now," said the man who had given Jefferson good advice, "you'll get
these Spaniards out of this, Bill. Then you'll go on breaking the
puncheons out. Wall-eye, here, can run the winch for you, but you can
come back in half an hour when I've found out what's wrong with the
skipper."

Bill seemed to recognise that his comrade had risen to the occasion.
"Well," he said, "I s'pose there's no use in me sayin' anything. All I
want to know is, how you're going to do it?"

"See that?" and the other man pointed to a chest beneath the settee.
"It's full of medicines, an' there's a book about them. Good ole Board
of Trade!"

"How d'you know those medicines arn't all gorn?" asked Bill.

"They arn't. I've been in. There's a bottle of sweet paregoricky stuff I
came round for a swigg of when Mr. Jefferson wasn't there now and then.
It warms you up kind of comfortin'."

Bill went away with the Spaniards, and, in place of improving the
occasion by looking for liquor, as he might, perhaps, have been expected
to do, went on with his task. The English sailorman does not always
express himself delicately, but he is, now, at least, very far from
being the dissolute, unintelligent ruffian he is sometimes supposed to
be. There is no doubt of this, for shipowners know their business, and
while there is no lack of Teutons and cheerful, sober Scandinavians, a
certain proportion of English seamen still go to sea in English ships.
The man who sat in Jefferson's room could, at least, understand the
treatise in the medicine chest, although it was one approved by the
Board of Trade, which august body has apparently no great fondness for
lucid explanations. He was, however, still pouring over it when his
comrade thrust his head into the doorway again, and it is possible that
Jefferson had not suffered greatly from the fact that he had not as yet
quite decided on any course of treatment.

"Well," said the newcomer, "I s'pose you know what he--has--got?"

"Come in, an' sit down there," said the other. "It's fever, for one
thing--I've seen it coming on--an' sunstroke for another. What I'm stuck
at is if I'm to treat them both together."

Bill looked reflective. "I think I'd take them one at a time. Get the
sunstroke out of him, an' then go for the fever. How d' you start on it,
Tom?"

"Undo his clothes. That's easy. The buttons is mostly off them, an' he
has hardly any on. Then you put cold water on his head."

"That's not easy, anyway! Where the blazes are you going to get cold
water from?"

It was somewhat of a paradox, for while there is plenty of water in
Western Africa, none of it is cold. Tom, however, was once more equal to
the occasion.

"We could get a big spanner from the engine room, an' put it on his
head," he said. "There's plenty of them. S'pose you go an' bring one.
Any way, we'll swill him with the coldest water we can get."

They laid a soaked singlet upon his head with a couple of iron spanners
under it, and then sat down to watch the effect. Somewhat to their
astonishment, it did not appear to do him any appreciable good. Darkness
closed down as they waited, and it seemed to grow hotter than ever,
while the thick white steam rose from the swamps. Tom stood up and
lighted the lamp.

"The fever's easier," he said. "I've had it. You give him the
mixture--it's down in the book--though I don't know what the meaning of
all these sign things is. That starts him perspiring, an' then it's
thick blankets. We used to give them green-lime water in the mailboats."

"Where's the green limes?" said Bill. "Any way, I'd give the sunstroke a
decent chance first. Perhaps he'll come out of it himself. I don't know
that it wouldn't be better if he did."

Jefferson came out of his limp unconsciousness into a raving delirium
that night, and they rolled him in two blankets, while Bill, being left
on watch, wisely threw away the draught his comrade had concocted.
Jefferson was also very little more sensible during the next few days,
and, though the work went on, before the week was over the two lonely
Englishmen found they had another difficulty to grapple with. The sun
was almost overhead, and the iron deck, insufferably hot, when the
surfboat negroes, who had just finished their meal, came forward
together, eight or nine big, naked men, with animal faces and splendid
muscles. Nobody knew where they came from, but when two or three of them
appeared in a canoe, Jefferson had managed to make them understand that
he was willing to pay them for their services, and they forthwith went
away, and came back with several comrades and a man of shorter stature
who had apparently worked on a steamboat or at a white man's factory.
They had worked tolerably well while Jefferson was about to watch them,
but they had now apparently decided on another mode of behaviour, for
the attitude of their leader was unmistakably truculent. The man called
Bill, sitting on the fore hatch, turned at the patter of naked feet, and
looked at him.

"Well," he said sharply, "what the ---- are you wanting?"

"Two bokus them green gin," said the negro. "Two lil' piece of cloff
every boy."

Tom laughed ironically. "There isn't any green gin bokus in the ship,
for one thing. You'll get your cloth-piece when the work is done. That's
all I've got to say to you. Get out of this!"

The negro made a little forceful gesture. "You no cappy."

"Well," said Bill, drily, "he figures he's a bloomin' admiral in the
meanwhile, and that's good enough for you. Go home again, and don't
worry me."

"Two cloff-piece," said the negro. "Two cloff-piece every boy. You no
lib for get them, we come down too much boy an' take them 'teamboat from
you."

The white men looked at one another, and it was evident that they were
uncertain how far the negro might be able to make good his threat. There
was, as it happened, very little to prevent him doing it, and stockaded
factories, as well as stranded steamboats, have been looted in Western
Africa. Still, they remembered that they had the prestige of their
colour to maintain.

"Oh, get out one time!" said Tom.

The negro turned upon him. "You no cappy. You low, white 'teamboat
bushman. Too much boy he lib for come down one night an' cut you big fat
t'roat."

Bill, who was big and brawny, rose with an air of sorrowful resignation.
"This ---- nonsense has got to be stopped," he said, and walked
tranquilly towards the negro. "You wouldn't listen to reason,
Black-funnel-paint."

Then, before the latter quite realised what had happened to him, a grimy
fist descended upon his jaw, and as he staggered backwards somebody
seized his shoulders and whirled him round. In another moment Bill
kicked with all his might, and the negro went out headlong through the
open gangway into the creek alongside. In the meanwhile the Spaniards
came tumbling from the hatch, and, though they were quiet men, they
carried long Canary knives. The sight of them was enough for the
negroes, and they followed their leader, plunging from the gangway or
over the rail. Their canoes still lay beneath the quarter, and though
Tom hurled a few big lumps of coal on them as they got under way, they
were flying up the creek in another minute, with paddles flashing.

Then Bill explained the affair to the Canarios as well as he could, and
afterward drew his comrade back into the shadow of the deck-house to
hold a council. Both of them felt somewhat lonely as they blinked at the
desolation of dingy mangroves which hemmed them in. There was, so far as
they knew, not a white man in that part of Africa, and the intentions of
the negroes were apparently by no means amicable.

"Funnel-paint may come back an' bring his friends," said Tom. "I don't
know what's to stop him if he wants to. There's not a gun in the ship
except Mr. Jefferson's pistol, an' those Canary fellows' knives, an' we
can't worry Mr. Jefferson about the thing when he's too sick to
understand. If I'd only begun on him for fever he might have been
better."

"I'm thankful," said Bill, "as he isn't dead. It wouldn't be very
astonishing, but that don't matter."

"You'd think it mattered a good deal if you was Mr. Jefferson. If I
wasn't that anxious about him I'd let you try your hand an' see how easy
it is worrying out that book. As it is, one of us is enough."

"I'm thinking," said Bill sourly, "as it's a ---- sight too much!"

Tom glared at him a moment, for one of the effects that climate has upon
a white man's nerves is to keep him in a state of prickly irritation;
but he was more anxious than he cared to confess, too anxious, indeed,
to force a quarrel.

"Well," he said, "I'll ask you what you mean another time. Just now,
we've got to do a little for Mr. Jefferson and a little for ourselves.
Eight pound a month, all found, and a fifty-pound bonus when he gets her
off, isn't to be picked up everywhere, and, of course, there's no
telling when you an' me may get the fever. Now, then, we want a boss who
isn't sick, an' more men, as well as a doctor."

"Of course. How're you goin' to get 'em?"

"Not here. They don't grow in the swamps. Somebody's got to go for them,
an' Las Palmas is the best place. You could find a West-coast mailboat
goin' home if you went down the creek in the launch. They've a man or
two sick in the engine room most trips, an' they'd be glad to take you
firin'. Now, before Mr. Jefferson got that sunstroke he showed me two
envelopes. If he was to peg out sudden I was to see the men in Las
Palmas got them, and they'd tell me what to do. Men do peg out at any
time in this country. Well, you look for a liner an' take those letters.
If it's a good boat she'll only be four or five days steaming up the
trades. Mr. Jefferson deserves a chance for his life."

"What's wrong with takin' him, too; or all of us goin', for that
matter?" asked his companion.

"Eight pounds a month, an' a bonus! Besides, Mr. Jefferson put all his
money into getting this ship off. If he comes round an' finds it thrown
away he's not going to be grateful to either of us."

Bill sat silent, evidently thinking hard for a minute or two. "Well," he
said, "there's sense in the thing, an' I'll try it. You'll be all right
with those Canariers. They're nice quiet men, an' if you make 'em say it
over lots of times you can generally understand 'em. Wall-eye can bring
the launch back. I'll get out of this when we've steam up."

It was two hours later when he and one of the Canarios who had worked on
board the coaling company's tug departed, and the rest, clustering along
the _Cumbria_'s rail, watched them wistfully as the little clanking
craft slid down the creek. They would very much have liked to have gone
in her, and might have done so had not Jefferson had the forethought to
promise them a small share of the profit when the work was done, and fed
them well. There are also men who inspire confidence in those they lead,
and sailormen capable of carrying out a bargain. Thus there were no open
expressions of regret or misgivings when the last of the launch's
smoke-trail melted above the mangroves, though Tom looked very grave as
he clawed the shoulder of an olive-faced Canario seaman who did not
understand him.

"If that man goes on the loose with what he gets for firin', an' forgets
all about those letters, it won't be nice for us," he said. "In the
meanwhile, we've just got to buck up and lighten the blame old
scrap-iron tank between us."

He called her a few other names while the Spaniard watched him, smiling,
and, having so relieved himself, went softly into the skipper's room,
where Jefferson lay, a worn-out shadow of a man, wrapped in very dirty
blankets, and babbling incoherently.



CHAPTER IX

AUSTIN MAKES A VENTURE


It was late one hot night when Austin first met Captain Farquhar of the
S.S. _Carsegarry_ in a calle of Santa Cruz, and the worthy shipmaster,
being then in a somewhat unpleasant position, was sincerely pleased to
see him. The _Carsegarry_ had reached Las Palmas with three thousand
tons of steam coal some ten days earlier, and, because there are
disadvantages attached to living on board a vessel that is discharging
coal, Farquhar had taken up his abode at the Metropole. He had, as
usual, made friends with almost everybody in the hotel during the first
few days, which said a good deal for his capabilities, considering that
most of them were Englishmen; and then, finding their society pall on
him, went across to Santa Cruz in search of adventure and more congenial
company.

As it happened, he found the latter in the person of another Englishman
with similar tastes; and one or two of their frolics are remembered in
that island yet. On the night Farquhar came across Austin they had
amused themselves not altogether wisely in a certain café, from which
its proprietor begged them to depart when they had broken one citizen's
guitar and damaged another's clothes. Then, as it was getting late, they
adjourned to the mole, where the Englishman had arranged that a boat at
his command should meet them, and convey Farquhar, who was going back to
Las Palmas next day, on board the _Estremedura_. The boat was not
forthcoming, and the Englishman's temper deteriorated while they waited
half an hour for it, until when at last the splash of oars came out of
the soft darkness he was not only in a very unpleasant humour, but
determined upon showing his companion that he was not a man with whom a
Spanish crew could take liberties.

There was also a pile of limestone on the mole, and when a shadowy
launch slid into the blackness beneath it he hurled down the biggest
lumps he could find, as well as a torrent of Castilian vituperation.
Then, however, instead of the excuses he had expected, there were
wrathful cries, and the Englishman gasped when he saw dim, white-clad
figures clambering in portentous haste up the adjacent steps.

"We'll have to get out of this--quick!" he said. "I've made a little
mistake. It's somebody else's boat."

They set about it without waste of time, but there was a good deal of
merchandise lying about the mole, and the Englishman, who fell over some
of it, lay still until a peon came across him peacefully asleep behind a
barrel next morning. Farquhar, however, ran on, snatching up a handspike
as he went, with odd lumps of limestone hurtling behind him; and as he
and his pursuers made a good deal of noise as they sped across the plaza
at the head of the mole, the citizens still left in the cafés turned out
to enjoy the spectacle. English seafarers are tolerated in that city,
but it is, perhaps, their own fault that they are not regarded with any
particular favour, and when Farquhar turned at bay in a doorway and
proceeded to defy all the subjects of Spain, nobody was anxious to stand
between him and the barelegged sailors, who had nasty knives. It might,
in fact, have gone hard with him had not two civiles, with big revolvers
strapped about them, arrived.

They heard the crowd's explanations with official unconcern, and then,
though it was, perhaps, their duty to place Farquhar in safe custody in
the cuartel, decided on sending for Austin, who was known to be staying
that night in a neighbouring hotel. He had befriended English skippers
already under somewhat similar circumstances, and the civiles, who knew
their business, were quite aware that nobody would thank them for
forcing the affair upon the attention of the English Consul. Austin
came, and saw Farquhar gazing angrily at the civiles and still gripping
his bar, while the crowd stood round and made insulting remarks about
him in Castilian. He at once grasped the position, and made a sign of
concurrence when one of the civiles spoke to him.

"You take him to his steamer," said the officer. "One of us will come
round in the morning when he understands."

Austin turned to Farquhar. "Give the man that bar," he said. "Come
along, and I'll send you off to your steamer."

"I'm going to have satisfaction out of some of them first," and Farquhar
made an indignant gesture of protest. "Then I'll knock up the Consul.
I'll show them if a crowd of garlic-eating pigs can run after me."

"If you stop here you'll probably get it, in the shape of a knife
between your ribs," said Austin, who seized his arm. "A wise man doesn't
drag in the Consul when he wants to keep his berth."

He forced Farquhar, who still protested vigorously, along, and, because
the civiles marched behind, conveyed him to the mole, where a boat was
procured to take them off to the _Estremedura_. Farquhar had cooled down
a little by the time they reached her, and appeared grateful when Austin
put him into his berth.

"Perhaps you did save me some trouble, and I'll not forget you," he
said. "Take you round all the nice people in Las Palmas and tell them
you're a friend of mine."

"I'm not sure it would be very much of a recommendation," said Austin,
drily.

Farquhar laughed. "That's where you're mistaken. When I've been a week
in a place I'm friends with everybody worth knowing."

"If to-night's affair is anything to go by, it's a little difficult to
understand how you manage it," said Austin.

"It's quite easy to be looked up to, and still have your fun," and
Farquhar lowered his voice confidentially. "When folks think a good deal
of you in one place you have only to go somewhere else when you feel the
fit coming on."

The _Estremedura_ sailed for Las Palmas next morning, and on arriving
there Austin was somewhat astonished to discover that Farquhar had, in
fact, acquired the good-will of a good many people of consequence in
that city. He was a genial, frolic-loving man, and Austin, who became
sensible of a liking for him, spent a good deal of his leisure on board
the _Carsegarry_, while, when the _Estremedura_ came back there, he also
consented to advise Farquhar about the getting up of a dance to which
everybody was invited. It was a testimony to the latter's capacity for
making friends that a good many of them came, and among the rest were
Pancho Brown, his daughter, Muriel Gascoyne, and Mrs. Hatherly, as well
as the commander of a Spanish warship, and several officers of
artillery.

The night was soft and still, and clear moonlight shone down upon the
sea. The trade breeze had fallen away, and only a little cool air came
down from the black Isleta hill, while fleecy mists drifted ethereally
athwart the jagged peaks of the great cordillera. An orchestra of
guitars and mandolins discoursed Spanish music from the poop, and there
was room for bolero and casucha on the big after-hatch, while, when the
waltzers had swung round it, the _Carsegarry_'s engineer made shift to
play the English lancers on his fiddle. Everybody seemed content, and
the genial Farquhar diffused high spirits and good humour.

Austin had swung through a waltz with Jacinta, though the guitars were
still twinging softly when they climbed the ladder to the bridge-deck,
where canvas chairs were laid out. It was a curious waltz, tinged with
the melancholy there is in most Spanish music, but the crash of a gun
broke through it, and while the roar of a whistle drowned the drowsy
murmur of the surf, the long black hull of an African mailboat slid into
the harbour ringed with lights. Then there followed the rattle of cable,
and Austin fancied that the sight of the steamer had, for no very
apparent reason, its effect upon his companion. She had been cordial
during the evening, but there was a faint suggestion of hardness in her
face as she turned to him.

"I am especially fond of that waltz," she said. "You may have noticed
there's a trace of what one might call the bizarre in it. No doubt, it's
Eastern. They got it from the Moors."

"It only struck me as very pretty," said Austin, who surmised by her
expression that Jacinta was preparing the way for what she meant to say.
"I'm afraid I'm not much of a musician."

"You, at least, dance rather well. There are not many Englishmen who
really do, which is, perhaps, no great disadvantage, after all."

Austin laughed, though he was a trifle perplexed. "Well," he said,
"though you don't overwhelm me with compliments, as a rule, you have
told me that I could dance before. Now, however, one could almost fancy
that the fact didn't meet with your approval."

Jacinta looked at him reflectively over her fan. "I scarcely supposed
you would understand, and one does not always feel in the mood to
undertake a logical exposition of their views. Still, here's Muriel, and
she, at least, generally seems to know just what she means. Suppose you
ask her what she thinks of dancing."

Austin did so, and Miss Gascoyne, who was crossing the deck-bridge with
Farquhar, stopped beside them.

"I don't think there is any harm in dancing, in itself--in fact, I have
just been waltzing with Captain Farquhar," she said. "Of course, the
disadvantage attached to amusements of any kind is that they may
distract one's attention from more serious things. Don't you think so,
Captain Farquhar?"

Farquhar caught Austin's eye, and grinned wickedly, but Miss Gascoyne,
who failed to notice this, glanced towards the steamer which had just
come in.

"That must be the African boat, but I suppose there is no use expecting
any news?" she said quietly, though there was a faint suggestive tremour
in her voice.

She passed on with Farquhar, and Jacinta glanced at Austin with a little
enquiring smile.

"If I had a sister who persisted in talking in that aggravatingly
edifying fashion, I should feel tempted to shake her," he said. "Still,
one could forgive her a good deal if only for the way she looked at the
West-coast boat. It suggested that she has as much humanity in her as
there is in the rest of us, after all."

"Still, don't you think there was a little reason in what she said?"

"Of course. That is, no doubt, why one objects to it. Well, since it's
difficult to keep the personal equation out, I suppose dancing and
sailing about these islands on board the _Estremedura_ is rather a
wasteful life. Painting little pictures probably comes to much the same
thing, too, though there are people who seem to take art seriously."

Jacinta looked at him steadily. "When one has really an artistic talent
it is different," she said.

Austin, who hoped she did not notice that he winced, sat silent a space,
gazing out across the glittering sea, and it was not altogether a
coincidence that his eyes were turned eastwards towards Africa, where
Jefferson was toiling in the fever swamps. He wondered if Jacinta knew
his thoughts had also turned in that direction somewhat frequently of
late.

"Well," he said, "I suppose it is. Some of those pictures must be
pretty, or the tourists wouldn't buy them, but that doesn't go very far,
after all." He stopped a moment, and then went on with a little wry
smile. "No doubt some patients require drastic treatment, and there are
cases where it is necessary to use the knife."

Jacinta rose, and, dropping her fan to her side, gravely met his gaze.

"If it wasn't, it would probably not be tried," she said. "One could
fancy that it was, now and then, a little painful to the surgeon."

Austin walked with her to the ladder, and stopped a moment at the head
of it. "Well," he said, "one has to remember that all men are not built
on the same model, and, what is more to the purpose, they haven't all
the same opportunities. No doubt the latter fact is fortunate for some
of them, since they would probably make a deplorable mess of things if
they undertook a big enterprise."

"Ah!" said Jacinta, who remembered it afterwards, "one never knows when
the opportunities may present themselves."

She went down the ladder, and it was about an hour later when a boat
slid alongside, and a man came up, asking for Austin. The latter, who
sat on the bridge-deck amidst a group of Farquhar's guests, looked at
him curiously when he handed him an envelope. His garments had evidently
not been made for him, and there were stains of grease and soot on his
coarse serge jacket, while the coal dust had not been wholly washed from
his face. It was not difficult to recognise him as a steamer's fireman.

"You're Mr. Austin?" he said.

Austin admitted that he was, and after a glance at the letter turned
round and saw that Muriel Gascoyne, who sat close by, was watching him
with a curious intentness. Then he once more fixed his attention on the
paper in his hand.

"S.S. _Cumbria_" was written at the top of it, and there followed a
description of the creek, and how the steamer lay, as well as the cargo
in her holds. Then he read: "I'm beginning to understand why those
wrecker fellows let up on the contract, though they hadn't the stake I
have in the game. There are times when I get wondering whether I can
last it out, for it seems to me that white men who work in the sun all
day are apt to drop out suddenly in this country. I make you and Mr.
Pancho Brown my executors in case of anything of that kind happening to
me. If you come across anybody willing to take the _Cumbria_ over as a
business proposition, do what you can, on the understanding that
one-third of the profit goes to Miss Gascoyne, the rest as executors'
and wreckers' remuneration. I don't know how far this statement meets
your law, but I feel I can trust you, any way. In case either party is
not willing to take the thing up, the other may act alone."

Austin turned to the fireman. "You have another letter for Mr. Brown?"

"Yes, sir," said the man. "Mr. Jefferson----"

Austin, who heard a rustle of feminine draperies and what seemed to be a
little gasp of surprise or alarm, made the man a sign.

"Come into the skipper's room. I've two or three things to ask you," he
said. "Miss Brown, will you please hand that letter to your father?"

They disappeared into the room beneath the bridge, and it was some time
before they came out again. Then Austin sent the man down the ladder
with a steward to take him to Brown, and leaned against the rail.
Jacinta, Muriel, and Mrs. Hatherly were still sitting there, but the
rest had gone. He told them briefly all he had heard about Jefferson,
and then descended the ladder in search of Brown. The latter met him
with the letter in his hand, and they found a seat in the shadow of the
_Carsegarry_'s rail. Nobody seemed to notice them, though the fluttering
dresses of the women brushed them as they swung in the waltz.

"You have read it," said Austin. "What do you think?"

Pancho Brown tapped the letter with the gold-rimmed glasses he held in
his hand.

"As a business proposition I would not look at it. The risks are too
great," he said.

"It struck me like that, too. Still, that's not quite the question. You
see, the man isn't dead."

"I almost think he is by this time," said Brown, reflectively. "Now, he
did not seem quite sure when he wrote those letters that there was
really any gum in her. At least, he hadn't found it, and I understand
that circumstances had made him a little suspicious about the
_Cumbria_'s skipper, who we know is dead. Taking oil at present value,
in view of what we would have to pay for a salvage expedition and
chartering, there is, it seems to me, nothing in the thing."

"I'm not quite sure of that; but you are still presuming Jefferson
dead."

Brown turned and looked at him. "The first thing we have to do is to
find out. Somebody will have to go across, and, of course, he must be a
reliable man. I should be disposed to go so far as to meet the necessary
expenses, not as a business venture, but because Jacinta would give me
no peace if I didn't."

"There would be no difficulty about the man."

Brown turned to him sharply. "You?"

"Yes. If Jefferson is dead I should probably also undertake to do what I
can to meet his wishes as executor."

Brown sat silent a space, and then tapped the letter with his glasses
again. "In that case I might go as far as to find, say, £200. It should,
at least, be sufficient to prove if there is any odd chance of getting
the _Cumbria_ off."

"I think I shall do that with £80, but I should prefer that you did not
provide it. That is, unless you decide to go into the thing on a
business footing, and take your share of the results, as laid down by
Jefferson."

Brown seemed to be looking hard at him, but they sat in shadow, and
Austin was glad of it.

"Ah!" he said quietly, though there was a significance in his tone.
"Well, somebody must certainly go across, and if you fail elsewhere you
can always fall back on me for--a loan. When are you going?"

"By the first boat that calls anywhere near the creek."

He rose and turned away, but Pancho Brown sat still, with a curious
expression in his face. If any of the dancers had noticed him, it would
probably have occurred to them that he was thinking hard. Pancho Brown
was a quiet man, but he often noticed a good deal more than his daughter
gave him credit for. Still, when at length he rose and joined Farquhar
there was nothing in his appearance which suggested that he was either
anxious or displeased.

In the meanwhile Austin came upon Mrs. Hatherly, who was wandering up
and down the deck, and she drew him beneath a lifeboat.

"Miss Gascoyne is, no doubt, distressed? I am sorry for her," he said.

The little lady held his arm in a tightening grasp. "Of course," she
said, and there was a tremour in her voice. "Still, after all, that does
not concern us most just now. Somebody must go, and see what can be done
for Mr. Jefferson."

"Yes," said Austin. "I am going."

"Then--and I am sure you will excuse me--it will cost a good deal, and
you cannot be a rich man, or----"

"I should not have been on board the _Estremedura_? You are quite
correct, madam."

Mrs. Hatherly made a little deprecatory gesture. "I am not exactly poor;
in fact, I have more money than I shall live to spend, and I always
meant to leave it to Muriel. It seems to me that it would be wiser to
spend some of it on her now. You will let me give you what you want, Mr.
Austin?"

Austin stood silent a moment, with a flush in his face, and then gravely
met her gaze.

"I almost think I could let you lend me forty pounds. With that I shall
have enough in the meanwhile. You will not think me ungracious if I say
that just now I am especially sorry I have not more money of my own?"

The little lady smiled at him. "Oh, I understand. That is what made me
almost afraid. It cannot be nice to borrow from a woman. Still, I think
you could, if it was necessary, do even harder things."

"I shall probably have to," said Austin, a trifle drily. "I don't mind
admitting that what you have suggested is a great relief to me."

"You would naturally sooner let me lend it you than Mr. Brown?"

"Why should you suppose that?" and the flush crept back into Austin's
face.

Mrs. Hatherly smiled again. "Ah," she said, "I am an old woman, and have
my fancies, but they are right now and then. I will send you a cheque
to-morrow, and, Mr. Austin, I should like you to think of me as one of
your friends. Do you know that I told Muriel half an hour ago you would
go?"

Austin made her a little grave inclination, though there was a smile in
his eyes.

"I am not sure that any of my other friends has so much confidence in
me, madam," he said. "After all, it is another responsibility, and I
shall have to do what I can."

The little lady smiled at him as she turned away. "Well," she said
quietly, "I think that will be a good deal."

It was ten minutes later when Austin met Jacinta, and she stopped him
with a sign.

"You are going to Mr. Jefferson?" she said.

"Yes," said Austin, with a trace of dryness. "I believe so. After all,
he is a friend of mine."

Jacinta watched him closely, and her pale, olive-tinting was a trifle
warmer in tone than usual. His self-control was excellent, to the little
smile, but she could make a shrewd guess as to what it cost him.

"Soon?" she asked.

"In two or three days. That is, if the Compania don't get the Spaniards
to lay hands on me. By the way, you may as well know now that I had to
get Mrs. Hatherly to lend me part, at least, of the necessary money."

Jacinta flushed visibly. "You will not be vindictive, though, of
course, I have now and then been hard on you."

"I shouldn't venture to blame you. As we admitted, there are occasions
on which one has to resort to drastic remedies."

Jacinta stopped him with a gesture. "Please--you won't," she said. "Of
course, I deserve it, but you will try to forgive me. You can afford
to--now."

She stood still a moment in the moonlight, an ethereal, white-clad
figure, with a suggestion of uncertainly and apprehension in her face
which very few people had ever seen there before, and then turned
abruptly, with a little smile of relief, as Miss Gascoyne came towards
them.

"He's going out, Muriel. You will thank him--I don't seem able to," she
said.

Muriel came forward with outstretched hands, and in another moment
Austin, to his visible embarrassment, felt her warm grasp.

"Oh," she said, "Mrs. Hatherly knew you meant to. I feel quite sure I
can trust you to bring him back to me."

Austin managed to disengage his hands, and smiled a little, though it
was Jacinta he looked at.

"I think," he said, "I have a sufficient inducement for doing what I
can. Still, you will excuse me. There are one or two points I want to
talk over with Captain Farquhar."

He turned away, and twenty minutes later Jacinta, standing on the
bridge-deck, alone, watched his boat slide away into the blaze of
moonlight that stretched suggestively towards Africa.



CHAPTER X

JACINTA IS NOT CONTENT


Darkness was closing down on the faintly shining sea, and the dull
murmur of the surf grew louder as the trade-breeze died away, when
Jacinta and Muriel Gascoyne sat in the stern of a white gig which two
barefooted Canarios pulled across Las Palmas harbour on the evening on
which Austin was to sail. In front of them the spray still tossed in
filmy clouds about the head of the long, dusky mole, and the lonely
Isleta hill cut black as ebony against a cold green transparency, while
skeins of lights twinkled into brilliancy round the sweep of bay.
Jacinta, however, saw nothing of this. She was watching the
_Estremedura_'s dark hull rise higher above the line of mole, and
listening to one of the boatmen who accompanied the rhythmic splash of
oars with a little melodious song. She long afterwards remembered its
plaintive cadence and the words of it well.

"Las aves marinas vuelen encima la mar," he sang, and then while the
measured thud and splash grew a trifle faster, "No pueden escapar las
penas del amor."

He did not seem to know the rest of it, and when she had heard the
stanza several times Jacinta, who saw Muriel's eyes fixed upon her
enquiringly, made a little half-impatient gesture.

"It's the usual sentimental rubbish, though he sings passably well.
'Even the sea birds cannot escape the pains of love,'" she said.
"Absurd, isn't it? like most of the men one comes across nowadays, they
probably spend all their time in search of something to eat. Still, I
suppose--you--would sympathise with the man whose perverted imagination
led him to write that song."

Muriel looked at her with a hint of reproach in her big blue eyes, which
were very reposeful. "I don't think I ever quite understood you, and I
don't now, but I once went to see an English gullery," she said. "There
were rows of nests packed so close that one could scarcely pick a way
between, with little, half-feathered things in most of them. They all
had their mouths open."

Jacinta laughed musically. "Of course," she said. "You are delightful.
But never mind me. Go on a little further."

"It was the big gulls I was thinking of," said Muriel gravely. "They
didn't fly away, but hung just above us in a great white cloud,
wheeling, screaming, and now and then making little swoops at our heads.
It didn't seem to matter what happened to them, but any one could see
they were in an agony of terror lest we should tread upon some of the
little, half-feathered nestlings. I came away as soon as the others
would let me. It seemed a cruelty to frighten them."

"It seems to me," said Jacinta, "that you are anticipating, or confusing
things considerably, but I'll try not to offend you by making that a
little plainer, though, I should almost like to. I'm in quite a prickly
humour to-night."

She sat silent a moment or two, while a trace of colour crept in her
companion's face, looking out towards the eastern haze, as she had done
of late somewhat frequently.

"Yes," she said, reflectively, "I feel that it would be a relief to make
you upset and angry. You are so aggravatingly sure of everything, and
serene. Of course, that is, perhaps, only natural, after all. You have,
in one respect, got just what you wanted, and have sense enough to be
content with it."

Muriel turned and looked at her with a trace of bewilderment, for there
was an unusual hardness in Jacinta's tone.

"Wouldn't everybody be content in such a case?" she asked.

"Oh, dear no!" and Jacinta laughed. "I, for one, would begin to look for
flaws in the thing, whatever it was, and wonder if it wouldn't be wiser
to change it for something else. In fact, I don't mind telling you I
feel like that to-night. You see, for a year at least, I have been
trying to bring a certain thing about, and--now I have succeeded--I wish
I hadn't. Of course, you won't understand me, and I don't mean you to;
but you may as well remember that it's a somewhat perilous thing to keep
on giving people good advice. Some day they will probably act upon it."

"But that ought to please one."

Jacinta glanced once more into the soft darkness that crept up from the
East with a little shiver. "Well," she said sharply, "in my case it
certainly doesn't."

They were alongside the _Estremedura_ in another minute, but the seaman
they found on deck did not know where Austin was, and led them down to
Macallister's room. It was beneath the spar-deck, and very hot, for the
dynamo was not running that night, and a big oil lamp lighted it. It was
also full of tobacco smoke, and--for the port was open--the rumble of
the long swell tumbling against the mole came throbbing into it. A big
man in very shabby serge, with a hard face, sat opposite the engineer,
until the latter, seeing the two women, laid a hand upon his shoulder.

"Out ye get!" he said, and his guest was projected suddenly into the
dimly-lighted space about the after-hatch.

Then he smiled upon the newcomers affably. "Come away in," he said. "Was
it me or Mr. Austin ye came to see?"

"On this occasion it was Mr. Austin," said Jacinta, who found a place
opposite him, beside Muriel, on a settee. "Of course, that was because
he is going away. Isn't he here?"

"He is not," and Macallister beamed at her. "In one way, it's not that
much of a pity. There's twice the light-heartedness in me that there is
in Mr. Austin."

"I can quite believe it. Still, light-heartedness of one kind is now and
then a little inconvenient. Where has he gone?"

"To the town. I don't expect him until he calls for his man--the one
I've just hove out--when the West-coast mailboat comes in. She won't
stop more than half an hour, but there's no sign of her yet."

Jacinta sighed whimsically, perhaps to hide what she felt.

"Then I'm afraid we shall not see him, which is a pity, because I've
been thinking over the nice things I meant to say to him, and now
they're all wasted," she said. "You will tell him that we came to say
good-bye to him, won't you, and that I'm just a little vexed he never
called to tell us anything about his expedition."

Macallister grinned sardonically, and though Jacinta was usually a very
self-possessed young woman, she appeared to find his gaze a trifle
disconcerting.

"Well," he said, "I know all about it. He has sold everything he had,
and he borrowed £40. One way or another he has another £60 of his own."

Jacinta looked up sharply. "He has no more than that?"

"It's not likely," and Macallister watched her with a faint twinkle in
his eyes. "I do not know why he would not have the £200 Mr. Brown
offered him. Maybe ye do."

There was a just perceptible trace of colour in Jacinta's cheek. "I
hardly see how you could expect me to when I never heard of it until
this moment," she said. "Would £100 be enough for Mr. Austin?"

"I'm thinking it would. No for everybody under the same circumstances,
but enough for him. There are folks in these islands who have only seen
the outside of Mr. Austin, which, ye may observe, is in one sense quite
a natural thing."

He stopped a moment, and smiled upon her genially. "It's not his fault
that he's no quite so well favoured as I am. What would ye expect of an
Englishman? Still, there are men aboard here who have seen what's
underneath--I mean the other side of him--at nights when he brought the
dispatch off through the surf, and once--though that was not his
business--when I was sick, an' they let water down in the starboard
boiler."

"Still," said Jacinta, "he would naturally have to have so many things."

"He has four good men, a little box o' drugs, and a case o' dynamite.
Farquhar's going on to Australia with mining stores, and he gave it
him."

It seemed absurdly insufficient, and Jacinta struggled with an almost
hysterical inclination to laugh. It was, she realised, a very big thing
Austin had undertaken, and his equipment consisted of a case of dynamite
and a box of drugs, which, on his own confession, he knew very little
about. Still, she saw that Macallister, who, she fancied, ought to
know, rated manhood far higher than material. It was Muriel who broke
the silence.

"But they will want a doctor," she said, with a little tremour in her
voice.

Macallister shook his head. "Ye would not get one to go there for £500,
and he would be no use if he did," he said. "Ye will remember that
malaria fever does not stay on one long. It goes away when it has shaken
the strength out o' ye--and now and then comes back again--while by the
time Austin gets there Mr. Jefferson will be----"

He stopped with some abruptness, but though she shivered, Muriel looked
at him with steady eyes.

"Ah!" she said, "you mean he will either be better, or that no doctor
could cure him then?"

Macallister made her a little inclination, and it was done with a grave
deference that Jacinta had scarcely expected from him.

"Just that," he said. "I'm thinking ye are one of the women a man can
tell the truth to. It is a pity there are not more o' them. It is no a
healthy country Mr. Austin is going to, but I have been five years on
the coast o' it, and ye see me here."

"I wonder," said Jacinta, "whether you, who know all about ships and
engines, did not feel tempted to go with Mr. Austin?"

The engineer smiled curiously. "Tempted!" he said. "It was like trying
to be teetotal with a whisky bottle in the rack above one's bunk; but I
am a married man, with a wife who has a weakness for buying dining-room
suites."

"Dining-room suites! What have they to do with it?"

"Just everything," and Macallister sighed. "She will only have the
biggest ones the doors will let in, and she has furnished a good many
dining-rooms altogether. Ye will mind that we lived here and there and
everywhere, while she's back in England now. Ye would not meet a better
woman, but on £20 a month ye cannot buy unlimited red-velvet chairs and
sideboards with looking-glasses at the back o' them."

Jacinta laughed as she rose. "You will tell Mr. Austin we are sorry we
did not see him."

"I will," and Macallister stood up, too. "Perhaps ye mean it this time,
and I'm a little sorry for him myself. There are men who get sent off
with bands and speeches and dinners to do a smaller thing, but Mr.
Austin he just slips away with his box o' dynamite and his few
sailormen."

He stopped and looked hard at her a moment before he turned to Muriel.
"Still, we'll have the big drum out when he brings Mr. Jefferson and the
_Cumbria_ back again, and if there's anything that can be broken left
whole in this ship that night it will be no fault o' mine."

They went out and left him, but Jacinta stopped when they came upon the
man he had ejected from his room, sitting on the companion stairway and
smoking a very objectionable pipe. She also held a little purse
concealed beneath her hand.

"You are going back with Mr. Austin to the _Cumbria_?" she said.

The man stood up. "In course," he said. "It's eight pound a month, all
found, an' a bonus."

"Ah!" said Jacinta. "I suppose there is nothing else?"

The man appeared to ruminate over this, until a light broke in on him.

"Well," he said, "Mr. Jefferson does the straight thing, an' he fed us
well. That is, as well as he could, considering everything."

Jacinta smiled at Muriel. "You will notice the answer. He is a man!"
Then she held out a strip of crinkly paper. "That will make you almost a
month to the good, and if you do everything you can to make things
easier for the man who wants to get the _Cumbria_ off, there will
probably be another waiting for you when you come back again."

The man, who took the crinkly paper, gazed at it in astonishment, and
then made a little sign of comprehension. "Thank you kindly, miss, but
which one am I to look after special? You see, there's two of them."

Jacinta was apparently not quite herself that night, for the swift
colour flickered into her face, and stayed there a moment.

"Both," she said decisively. "Still, you are never to tell anybody about
that note."

The man once more gazed at her with such evident bewilderment that
Muriel broke into a little half-audible laugh. Then he grinned suddenly,
and touched his battered cap.

"Well, we'll make it--both," he said.

They went up the companion, and left him apparently chuckling, but
Jacinta appeared far from pleased when she got into the waiting boat.

"That was to have gone to England for a hat and one or two things I
really can't do without--though I shall probably have to now," she said.
"Oh, aren't they stupid sometimes--I felt I could have shaken him."

In the meanwhile the man in the fireman's serge went back to
Macallister's room.

"Give me an envelope--quick!" he said.

Macallister got him one, and he slipped a strip of paper inside before
he addressed it and tossed it across the table.

"You'll post that. There's a Castle boat home to-morrow, and I'd sooner
trust you with it than myself," he said, with a little sigh, which,
however, once more changed to a chuckle.

"If there's money inside it ye're wise," said Macallister drily. "Still,
what are ye grinning in yon fashion for?"

"I was thinking it's just as well I've only--one--old woman. It would
make a big hole in eight pounds a month--an' a bonus--if I had any more
of 'em. But you get that letter posted before I want it back."

"Wanting," said Macallister, reflectively, "is no always getting. Maybe,
it's now and then fortunate it is so, after all."

It was two hours later, and Jacinta stood on the flat roof of Pancho
Brown's house looking down upon the close-packed Spanish town, when the
crash of a mail gun rose from the harbour and was lost in the drowsy
murmur of the surf. Then the other noises in the hot streets below her
went on again, but Jacinta scarcely heard the hum of voices and the
patter of feet as she watched a blinking light slide out from among the
others in the harbour. It rose higher and swung a little as it crept
past the mole, then a cluster of lower lights lengthened into a row of
yellow specks, and she could make out the West-coast liner's dusky hull
that moved out with slanting spars faster into the faintly shining sea.
Jacinta closed one hand as she leaned upon the parapet and watched it,
until she turned with a little start at the sound of footsteps. She was,
one could have fancied, not particularly pleased to see Muriel Gascoyne
then.

"We were wondering what had become of you, and Mrs. Hatherly is waiting
to go home," said the latter. Then she turned and caught a glimpse of
the moving lights that were closing in on one another and growing dim
again. "That must be the African boat?"

"It is. She is taking out six careless sailormen whose lives are,
perhaps, after all, of some value to them."

Muriel looked at her, and wished she could see her face. "Every one of
them may be of some value to somebody else."

"I suppose so," and Jacinta laughed curiously. "You obvious people are
now and then to be envied, Muriel."

"If there is anything you would like to tell me----" and Muriel laid a
hand upon her arm with a gesture of sympathy.

"There isn't. We all have our discontented fits, and mine is, no doubt,
more than usually unreasonable since everything has turned out as I
wanted it."

Then she rose and turned towards the stairway with a little laugh which
Muriel fancied had a hint of pride in it. "I really don't think I would
have had anything done differently, after all, and now I must not keep
Mrs. Hatherly waiting."



CHAPTER XI

THE LAND OF THE SHADOW


It was towards the end of the afternoon when the skipper of the
West-coast mailboat, peering through his glasses, made out two palms
that rose apparently straight out of the sea. He watched them for some
minutes, and then took their bearing carefully upon the compass, before
he rang for half speed and called Austin to the bridge.

"That's your island, and we'll run in until I get under six fathoms," he
said. "After that it will have to be the surfboat, and I fancy you will
be very wet when you get ashore."

It seemed to Austin that this was more than probable, for although there
was not an air of wind to wrinkle it, a long heave came up in vast, slow
undulations out of the southern horizon, and the little mailboat swung
over them with sharply slanted spars and funnel. She stopped once for a
few moments while the deep-sea lead plunged from her forecastle, and
then, with propeller throbbing slowly, crept on again. She had come out
of her course already under the terms of the bargain Austin had made
with the Las Palmas agent, for some of those steamers have the option of
stopping for odd boatloads of cargo and passengers wherever they can be
found along the surf-swept beaches, and since no offer he could make
would have tempted her skipper to venture further in among the shoals,
Austin had fixed upon that island as the nearest point of access to the
_Cumbria_. He did not, however, know how he was to reach her when he got
there.

In the meanwhile they were slowly raising the land, or the nearest
approach to it to be found in that part of Africa, which consists of
mire and mangroves intersected everywhere by lanes of water. It lay
ahead, a grey smear streaked with drifting mist against which the palms
that had now grown into a cluster rose dim and indistinct, and a thin
white line stretched between themselves and it. The skipper appeared to
watch the latter anxiously.

"There's considerable surf running in on the beach, and I'm a little
uneasy about my boat," he said. "I suppose it wouldn't suit you to go on
with us, and look for a better place to get ashore to-morrow?"

"No," said Austin, decisively. "I'm far enough from where I'm going
already, and one would scarcely fancy that there are many facilities for
getting about in this country."

The skipper made a little gesture of resignation. "That's a fact," he
said. "Well, I can't go back on the agent, but if the boat turns you and
the boys out before you get there you can't blame me."

Austin laughed. He had got many a wet jacket, and had once or twice had
to swim for it, in the surf of the Canary beaches, though he was quite
aware that there are very few places where the sea runs in and breaks as
it does on the hammered coast of Western Africa. Indeed, as he watched
the blur of steamy mangroves grow clearer, and the filmy spouting
increase in whiteness, he could have fancied that nature, in placing
that barrier of tumbling foam along its shore, had meant it as a warning
that the white man was not wanted there. The air was hot and heavy, the
sky a dingy grey, the sea a dim, slatey green, and there came off
across the steep heave a dull booming like the sound of distant thunder.

It was not an encouraging prospect, and Austin knew from what he had
heard about the country that he was not likely to be more favourably
impressed with it upon closer acquaintance. He also felt that if there
was not quite so much at stake he could very willingly leave the salving
of the _Cumbria_ to Jefferson and take the next steamer back again. He
could fix upon no sufficient reason for his being there at all, since
the very uncertain profits on a quarter share in the venture did not
account for it. In one respect, also, Jacinta's favourable opinion could
scarcely be of any practical value to him, since she would naturally
marry a man of means by and by, and forget all about him. Still, she
had, dropping now and then a barbed word which rankled in his memory,
striven to stir him to endeavour; and now he was watching the spray
drive across a beach of Western Africa, while he wondered what the
result of it all would be, and whether he or the men he had brought with
him would escape the fever. So far as he was concerned, it did not seem
to greatly matter. He had taken life easily, but he realised that it had
very little to offer him, and it was, perhaps, fortunate that he did so,
since it is, as a rule, broken men and those who have nothing to fall
back upon who accomplish what is most worth doing in the lands that lie
beneath the shadow.

In any case, it was clear that he had broken down the last bridge behind
him when the mailboat stopped and lay rolling more wildly than ever
athwart the long swell. A big surfboat sank down her side amidst a
clatter of blocks and complaining of davit-falls, down which a cluster
of almost naked black men slid on board. It was not an easy matter to
descend after them. The steamer rolled one way, the boat another, while
the latter swung up one moment almost level with her rail and swooped
down beneath a fathom of streaming side the next. Austin, Bill, the
fireman, and the Canarios, however, accomplished it, and there was a
waving of hats among the cluster of passengers who watched them above.
Then the negroes, perched six or seven on either side, took up the
paddles, and Austin was sensible of a momentary sinking of his heart as
the boat slid out from the rolling steamer. She was a part of the
civilisation he had been accustomed to, and when a sonorous blast of her
whistle came throbbing after him in farewell he sighed.

He would, however, at least not look behind, and sitting in the
stern-sheets, out of the paddlers' way, he tossed the Canarios a bundle
of maize-husk cigarettes, and passed one to Bill, the fireman, who
glanced at it scornfully. Then he made himself as comfortable as he
could upon the box of dynamite while he lighted another, for that
compound of nitro-glycerine is supposed to require a detonator, and
nobody is very particular who has lived in Spain. The black men wanted
cigarettes, too, but Austin did not hand them any. The island was still
a good way off, and it seemed to him advisable that they should devote
their attention to their paddling.

They did it, swaying rhythmically, with toes in a loop of fibre, and
naked black bodies that straightened suddenly and bent again, while some
kept up a measured hissing and the rest broke into a little doleful
song. A brawny man, with a blue stripe down his forehead, stood upright
grasping the sculling oar astern, and the boat swung along smoothly,
with big, dim slopes of water rolling up astern of her. They, however,
grew steeper as she drew in with the shore, and the easy dip and swing
became a succession of fierce rushes, during which she drove onwards,
lifted high, with the foam seething to her gunwale, and then swooped
suddenly into the hollow. When she did so Austin, glancing aft, could
see a great slope of water that grew steeper and steeper as it came
speeding after her.

Then the slopes became ridges that frothed above and roared, and the
paddles whirled faster, while the big muscles bunched beneath the
helmsman's skin, and the veins began to stand out on his sable forehead.
The boat no longer sailed inshore. She sped like a toboggan on an icy
slide, though it seemed to Austin that the comparison was faulty,
because she went fastest uphill, while when he rose upright for a moment
he could see no shore at all. There was only a succession of parallel
white ridges in front of them and a filmy cloud of spray. The afternoon
was also wearing through, and the vapours from the steaming swamps
obscured the dingy heavens.

It was even less consoling to glance astern, for the surf that sweeps
the fever coast was evidently rather worse than usual that day, as it is
now and then for no very apparent reason. The ridges had become walls,
with great frothing crests and sides that were smeared with spumy lines.
They had the vast, slow lift and fall of the ocean behind them, and were
running up a smoothly slanted plane of shoals.

The black men paddled faster, and they no longer sang. They hissed and
shrieked and whistled, while the thud of their paddles rose in a
strenuous rhythm like the tapping of a great drum, and the craft
careered at furious speed beneath them, driven by the sea. The foam
stood feet above her now when she sped along, very like an arrow, and
boiled in over her high, pointed stern every now and then. There was a
foot of brine inside her that swilled to and fro, and every man was
dripping, while the roar of the tumbling rollers had grown bewildering.
They appeared to be crumbling upon hammered sand not very far away.

How the negroes meant to beach her, Austin did not know, and he was
content that it was their business and not his. The Canarios were
evidently uneasy, for, sailormen as they were, they had never run
through surf like this; but they were also of Iberian extraction, and,
when discussion is clearly useless, and the last crisis must be faced,
the Spaniard is, at least, as capable of calm resignation as most other
men. In any case, there is certainly no better boat-boy than the West
African Kroo, and Austin left the affair to the helmsman, when there was
a sudden horrifying crash that threw three or four of the paddlers down
together. It was evident that they had touched bottom, but, fortunately
for them, the swirl of the shore-running sea dragged them off again, and
they went up, not more than half swamped, sideways, with the foam
seething into her, on the next roller. Then the spouting chaos about
them seemed to suddenly melt away, and Austin, wiping the water from his
eyes, saw that they were sliding round a sandy beach into a little bay.

In another few minutes they were out on the sand, though they toiled for
the next half hour helping the negroes to tilt the great boat and run
her in again when they had emptied the water out of her. It was done at
last, and Austin felt almost sorry, while he was once more sensible of
vague but unpleasant misgivings when the negroes drove her lurching out
into the spray. Night was not very far away, and he had no notion of
where he was to sleep, or what he was to eat, for that matter, since the
provisions the steward had given him were, for the most part, saturated.
A little muddy creek oozed down amidst the mangroves across the bay, and
there were a few huts, apparently made of rammed soil, beside it, as
well as a canoe. The light was going when they reached them, and Bill,
who went into the nearest, came out suddenly.

"There's a dead nigger inside," he said.

Austin looked at him with a little smile. He had reasons for surmising
that the man's nerves were good, but his voice had an uncertain tone in
it, and his eyes were anxious.

"Well," he said, "I suppose one must expect to come across a dead nigger
now and then in this country."

Bill glanced furtively over his shoulder towards the hut, as though he
desired to be rather farther away from it.

"That one wasn't nice to look at," he said. "What did they leave him
there for when there's a creek just outside the door, and where are the
rest of them? I'd like to know what he died of. It might be catchin'."

Austin was once more sensible of a little thrill of apprehension as he
looked about him and considered the question. On the one side a tuft of
palms dominated the narrow strip of sand, but the little ridge of high
land behind it was covered with apparently impenetrable jungle.
Elsewhere the dingy mangroves rose from black depths of mire on slimy
roots and pale stems that glimmered, blanched, amidst the drifting steam
that clung about them. Night was close at hand, and, though there was no
sign of the land breeze yet, the air was thick and heavy with a hot,
sour smell. The clamour of the surf made the deep silence more apparent,
for there was no sound of life about the clustered huts. Austin knew
that the black man is frequently stricken by the pestilence, and as he
stood there on the little strip of desolate beach he felt his courage
melting away from him. The Canarios he also saw were standing close
together and murmuring excitedly, while every now and then one of them
would glance askance at the huts.

"If there was any niggers but dead ones in the place they'd have been
out by now," said Bill.

"The _Cumbria_ should lie about north from here up the biggest creek,"
said Austin. "If we borrowed the canoe yonder you could find your way to
her?"

"I'd try that, or anything, so long as it was to get out of this."

He glanced towards the hut again, and Austin, who could not quite
explain it, then or afterwards, became sensible that if he waited much
longer he would say or do something that would not be seemly in one who
was there as leader. He felt that had he been alone he would probably
have turned and run.

"Well," he said, as quietly as he could contrive, "we will run the canoe
down. I believe some of the things they get are infectious now and
then."

He had no need to repeat the order. The Canarios jumped at the word, and
in another few minutes they had launched the canoe and were paddling her
out of the creek clumsily, as men unaccustomed to the oar might do. It
opened into a wider one, through which the heave of the sea pulsed
languidly, until they crawled round a point and the streamy mangroves
closed in on them. Then suddenly the thick, hot darkness fell.

They moored the canoe to a slimy stem, and lay down in her, packed like
herrings; but in spite of the mosquitoes Austin slept a little of the
night. He was glad when all the swamps steamed again as the dawn broke
suddenly upon them; and when they had eaten they took up the paddles.
The mists thinned and melted, the sun that sucked the damp from their
dew-soaked clothing scorched their skin, and the glare from the yellow
water became intolerable. Still, it was evident that it would not be
advisable to waste any time, and through the long hot hours the canoe
crept on.

Now she slid into steamy shadow among the mangrove islets, skirting
belts of mire, and now crept, a slender strip of hull, packed with
wearied and perspiring humanity, across broad reaches of flaming water
that moved on inland under her, streaked with smears of yellow foam. It
was evident to Austin that the flood tide ran longer than usual there,
as it sometimes does about an island, or the Guinea stream had backed it
up along the shore. The stream, however, did not only set up the creek,
but slid through the forest, where the trees rose on arched roots above
the water; and here and there they had to paddle hard to avoid being
drawn into branch-roofed tunnels that smelt like open sewers. The refuse
of leagues of forest seemed to lie rotting there.

By afternoon Austin's hands were bleeding, and one of his knees was raw
where he pressed it as a point of resistance to paddle from on the
craft's bottom; but he took his place when his turn came, though his
eyes were dazzled, and the headache that had crept upon him was growing
insufferable. He was now distinctly anxious as to when they would reach
the _Cumbria_, for, though Bill said she lay up a big muddy creek north
of the island, he appeared by no means sure that was the one, and Austin
felt he could not logically blame him. Creeks, it was evident, were
bewilderingly plentiful in that country, and there were no distinctive
features in the scenery. Dingy, white-stemmed mangroves, fermenting
mire, and yellow water, were all the same, and as they crept on past
bend and island there was no sign of change.

The shadows lay black upon the water when they stopped again, all of
them horribly cramped, and aching in every limb; but when they had sat
portentiously silent, with the craft moored to a mangrove root, for half
an hour or so, Bill stood up in the bow.

"Did you hear anything, Mr. Austin?" he asked.

Austin fancied that he did, though for a moment or two he was not sure
that it was not the ticking of his watch, for the sound, which was very
faint, had a beat in it. Then it grew a little louder, and he felt a
curious thrill of satisfaction.

"Engines!" he said sharply. "It's the launch."

She swung out, apparently from the mangroves, in another few minutes,
and came on towards them, clanking and wheezing horribly, with the
yellow foam piled about her, but Austin felt that he had never seen
anything more welcome than that strip of mire-daubed hull with the plume
of smoke streaming away from it. Then she stopped close alongside them,
and Austin shook hands with Tom as he climbed on board.

"Did you come across any niggers, sir?" asked the latter.

"No," said Austin. "How's Mr. Jefferson?"

"Comin' round," said Tom, with a grin. "I've worked most of the
fever--an' the sunstroke--out of him. It was a big load off me when, as
I took him his mixture one morning, he looks up at me. 'Who the devil
are you poisoning?' says he, quite sensible, an' like himself again."

"You were coming down to look for us?"

"We were--an' uncommonly glad to see you. The blame niggers is getting
aggravating. Came down, two canoe loads of 'em, a night or two ago, an'
only sheered off when we tumbled one o' them over with a big lump o'
coal. Wall-eye dropped it on to the man in the bow of her from the
bridge, an' so far as we could make out it doubled him up
considerable."

Wall-eye was apparently the squinting Spaniard who acted as fireman, and
when he saw Tom glance at him he stood up, with a grimy hand clenched,
and unloosed a flood of Castilian invective. Austin, who smiled as he
watched him, felt that while most of what he said could not be
effectively rendered into cold Anglo-Saxon, it was probably more or less
warranted. In the meanwhile the launch was coming round with backed
propeller, and in another moment or two she was clanking away into the
darkness that descended suddenly, towards the _Cumbria_.



CHAPTER XII

NOCTURNAL VISITORS


Jefferson was standing at the open door of the house beneath the
_Cumbria_'s bridge when Austin first caught sight of him, as he groped
his way forward along the slanted deck. The black, impenetrable
obscurity that descends upon the tropic swamps when the air is full of
vapour, hung over the stranded steamer, and the man's gaunt figure cut
with harsh sharpness against the stream of light. The thin duck he wore
clung about him, soaked with perspiration and the all-pervading damp,
emphasising the attenuated spareness of his frame, and Austin could
almost have fancied it was a draped skeleton he was gazing at. Still, he
was a trifle reassured when he felt the firm grasp of a hot, bony hand.

"So you have come?" said the American. "It's good to get a grip of you.
I guessed you would."

He drew Austin into the deck-house, and they sat down opposite each
other, and said nothing for almost a minute, though there was a little
smile in Jefferson's face as he leaned back against the bulkhead. His
hair, which had grown long since he left Las Palmas, hung low and wet
upon his forehead, and the big cheek bones showed through the
tight-stretched skin, which was blanched, though there was a faint
yellow tinge in it which relieved its dead whiteness. This had its
significance, for the coast fever has not infrequently an unpleasant
after effect upon the white man's constitution.

"It isn't quite a sanatorium," he said, as though he guessed his
comrade's thoughts. "Port Royal, Santos, Panama--I know them all--aren't
a patch on these swamps. Still, we needn't worry now you have come."

Austin smiled as he looked at him. "To be correct, I'm not quite sure
that I did," he said, reflectively. "I mean, it wasn't exactly because I
wished to."

"Ah!" said Jefferson, as comprehension dawned on him. "Then the quarter
share--that offer stands good--didn't bring you? Well, I was wondering
if she would make you go."

Austin was a trifle astonished, for, though he had a somewhat hardly
acquired acquaintance with human nature, it had never occurred to him
that the patronage Jacinta extended to her masculine friends naturally
attracted some attention, or that in this particular case the onlookers
might most clearly grasp the points of the game.

"I can't quite see why she should have wanted me to," he said.

There was another brief silence, during which the men looked at one
another. This was not a subject either of them had meant to talk about.
Indeed, it was one which, under different circumstances, they would have
kept carefully clear of, but both realised that conventional niceties
did not count for much just then: They were merely men who had
henceforth to face the grim realities of existence with the shadow of
death upon them, and they knew that the primitive humanity in them would
become apparent as the veneer wore through.

"Still," said Jefferson, "I can think of one reason. There was a time
when Muriel was good to her, and Jacinta can't forget it. She's not that
kind. The first day I met her I felt that she was taking stock of me,
and I knew I'd passed muster when she made you stop the _Estremedura_.
Perhaps, it wasn't very much in itself, but I was thankful. I've done a
few tough things in my time, but I know I'd never have got Muriel if
that girl had been against me. Still, it wasn't altogether because of
Muriel she sent you."

Austin showed his astonishment this time, and Jefferson smiled. "You
can't quite figure how I came to understand a thing of that kind? Well,
some of you smart folks have made the same mistake before. You don't
seem to remember when you waste ten minutes working a traverse round
what you could say in one, that however you dress it up, human nature's
much the same. Now you're astonished at me. I'm talking. Sometimes I
feel I have to. You want to know just why she really sent you?"

"To be frank, I have asked myself the question, and couldn't be quite
sure it was altogether because she wanted me to get this unfortunate
steamboat off."

"It wasn't. You're getting as near to it as one could expect of an
Englishman. It hurts some of you to let anybody know what you really
think. Well, I'll try to make my notion clear to you. There was a lady
in France who threw her glove among the lions long ago, but the man who
went down for it was of no great account after all. He hadn't sense
enough to see the point of the thing."

"There were apparently folks who sympathised with him," said Austin,
with a reflective air. "I'm not sure the man could reasonably have been
expected to go at all, since the lady in question evidently only wished
to show everybody how far he would venture to please her."

"Now it seems to me quite likely that she meant to do a good deal more.
The man may have been content to fool his time away making pretty
speeches to the court ladies and walking round dressed in silk while
the rest of them rode out in steel. Can't you fancy that she wanted him
to find out that he had the grit of the boldest of them, and could do
something worth while, too? She probably knew he had, or she would never
have sent him."

A little colour crept into Austin's face, but he laughed. "One could, no
doubt, imagine a good many other reasons, and most of them would
probably be as wide of the mark. Any way, they don't concern us. If the
thing ever happened, it was a very long while ago. We know better now."

"Well, I guess you can't help it," and there was a twinkle in
Jefferson's eyes. "Your shell's quite a good fit, and you don't like to
come out of it, though I almost thought you were going to a moment or
two ago."

"I don't like to be pulled out. One feels that it isn't decent. The
shell's the best of some of us," said Austin.

"Then we'll come down to business. You brought the giant powder?"

"A case of it, with fuses and detonators," and Austin's relief at the
change of subject was evident. "Are you contemplating blowing her up?"

"No, sir. She's worth too much. It is, however, quite likely that we'll
make a hole in the mangrove forest and shake up the bottom of this
creek. That is, when we're ready. There's a good deal to be put through
first."

"Have you found the gum?"

"I haven't looked. She's full to the orlops, and we haven't started in
to pump her out. Didn't seem much use in trying while she had so much
weight in her, and we'll want all the coal we've got. When we have hove
most of it and the oil out I'll start the big centrifugal. You see, she
hasn't a donkey on deck. That's why, though it cost me a good deal, I
bought the locomotive boiler. You folks have a library of Shipping
Acts, but you don't show much sense when you let anything under 2,000
tons go to sea with her pumps run from the main engines. When you most
want steam for pumping it's when your fires are drowning out."

It was once more evident to Austin that Jefferson knew his business, and
had foreseen most of the difficulties he would have to grapple with.
Still, he fancied, by his face, that he had not quite anticipated all.

"Where are you putting the oil you take out of her?" he asked.

"On a strip of sand up a creek. That's one of the few things that are
worrying me. We'll have to get it on board as soon as we float her off
when the rain comes, or the creek will get it ahead of us. The next
point is that it will be a little rough on the men who have to watch it
after working all day long."

"To watch it! Who is likely to meddle with it here?"

"Niggers," said Jefferson drily. "They cleaned most everything they
could come at off the boat before I got to her, but they couldn't break
out cargo with the water in her, and didn't know enough to get at the
provisions in the lazaret. Still, while these particular swamps don't
seem to belong to anybody, there's trade everywhere, and oil's a
marketable commodity."

"Where's the Frenchman who chartered the _Cumbria_?"

"Dead. I've been up to his place in the launch. I found it caved in, and
trees growing up in it already. Nature straightens things up quite
smartly in this country. Any way, I'll show you round to-morrow; and, in
the meanwhile, it's about time that Spaniard brought you some supper."

"It seems to me that everybody who had anything to do with this
unfortunate vessel invariably died."

Jefferson smiled a trifle grimly. "That's a fact," he said.

Then one of the Canarios brought in a simple meal, and when they had
eaten and talked for another hour, Austin stretched himself out on the
settee and Jefferson climbed into his slanted bunk. They left the light
burning and the door wide open, and both of them lay down dressed as
they were; but while Jefferson seemed to fall into a somewhat restless
doze, Austin found that sleep fled the further from him the more he
courted it that night. It was very hot, for one thing, and stranded
steamer and mangrove forest alike seemed filled with mysterious noises
that stirred his imagination and disturbed his rest. It was only by a
strenuous effort he lay still for a couple of hours, and then, rising
softly, with a little sigh, went out into the night.

The darkness closed about him, black and impenetrable, when he stepped
out of the stream of light before the deck-house door, and the feeble
flame of the match he struck to light his pipe as he leaned upon the
rail only made it more apparent. He could see nothing whatever when the
match went out, but the oily gurgle of the creek beneath him suggested
the height of the steamer's hove-up side. She lay, so Jefferson had told
him, with her inshore bilge deep in the mire, and two big derrick-booms
slung from the wire hawser that ran from her stern to the mangroves
along what should have been the bank, as a precaution against any
nocturnal call by negroes in canoes. Her outshore side, which he looked
down from, was, he surmised by the slant of deck, between ten and
fifteen feet above the creek.

It was a little cooler there, and the sounds were less disquieting than
they had been in the room. He could localise and identify some of them
now--the splash of falling moisture, the trickle of the stream, and the
soft fanning of unseen wings as one of the great bats which abound in
that country stooped towards the light. Still, behind these were
mysterious splashings among the mangroves and wallowings in the creek,
while the thick, hot darkness seemed to pulse with life. He could almost
fancy he heard the breathing of unseen things, and it did not seem
strange to him that the dusky inhabitants of that country should believe
in malevolent deities. Indeed, as he leaned upon the rail, with its
darkness enfolding him, he was troubled by a sense of his own
insignificance and a longing to escape from that abode of fear and
shadow. Other men, including those who had come out with a salvage
expedition, had found the floating of the _Cumbria_ too big a thing for
them, and he already understood that there are parts of the tropics
where the white man is apt to find his courage melt away from him as
well as his bodily vigour.

Then he commenced to wonder dispassionately why Jacinta had sent him, or
if he had, after all, been warranted in considering that she had done
so. She had, though he admitted it unwillingly, at least, not bidden him
go, but she had certainly done what she could to make him understand
that he was wasting his life on board the _Estremedura_. It would have
been a consolation to feel that he was obeying her command and doing her
a definite service, if it was only to bring Jefferson home to Muriel
Gascoyne; but she had not laid one upon him, and even Jefferson seemed
to understand that her purpose went further.

He was less pleased with the fancy that Jacinta had undertaken what she
apparently considered his reformation. He had been, in some respects,
content as he was, for while there was no other woman he had the same
regard for, he had forced himself to recognise that it was quite out of
the question that she should ever entertain more than kindliness for
him. Austin could be practical, and remembered that young women with her
advantages, as a rule, looked higher than a steamboat purser, while even
if Jefferson succeeded in his venture, and he went home with four or
five thousand pounds, which appeared just then distinctly unlikely,
Jacinta was the only daughter of a man whose income was supposed to
amount to as much a year.

Austin sighed a little as he decided that he did not really know why he
had come. In the meanwhile he was there, and there was nothing to be
gained by being sorry, especially as he could not even console himself
with the fancy that Jacinta was grieving over him. She was probably, as
usual, far too busy by that time with somebody else's affairs. He was
also averse from permitting himself to feel any glow of
self-congratulation over the fancy that he was doing a chivalrous thing.
In fact, he saw it with realistic clearness of vision as one that was
wholly nonsensical, and it did not occur to him that the essence of all
that was best in the old knightly days might be surviving still, and,
indeed, live on, indestructible, even in the hearts of practical,
undemonstrative Englishmen, as well as garlic-scented Spaniards, and
seafaring Americans. Still, when he had yielded himself instinctively to
Jacinta's will he had vaguely realised that, after all, the bonds of
service are now and then more profitable to a man than dominion.

In the meanwhile the damp soaked through his clothing, and his physical
nature shrank from the hot steaminess and the sour odours of
putrefaction. It was unpleasant to stand there in that thick darkness,
and even a little hard upon the nerves, but he had had enough of the
deck-house, and he could not sleep, which is by no means an unusual
difficulty with white men in the tropics. It was a relief when at last
a sound that grew louder fixed his attention, and resolved itself into a
measured thudding. Here were evidently canoes coming down the creek, but
Austin was a little uncertain what to do. He had no wish to rouse the
worn-out men, who probably needed all the sleep they could get, if this
was a usual occurrence; but it did not appear advisable that there
should be nobody but himself on deck in case the canoes ran alongside.
He was considering what he should do when Jefferson, who held a glinting
object in his hand, appeared in the door of the deck-house. Then there
was a patter of feet on a ladder below, and another dim figure
materialised out of the darkness.

"That ---- Funnel-paint come back again," said the half-seen man.

Jefferson laughed unpleasantly. "He's getting monotonous, but he's
taking steep chances this time."

The beat of paddles slackened a little, there was a murmur of voices
beneath the steamer's side, and Jefferson leaned out, looking down into
the impenetrable blackness beneath him. A scraping sound came out of it,
and apparently moved along, while, when the half-seen man thrust a big
block of coal upon him, Austin turned and strode softly after Jefferson,
who walked forward beside the rail.

"Better let him have it now, sir," said the other man. "She's quite low
on the other quarter, and if they try swimming round her stern the booms
won't stop them."

Then there was a vivid streak in the darkness, and a detonation that was
twice repeated, while Austin, who hurled his lump of coal down with all
his strength, caught a whiff of acrid smoke. There was also a splash
below, and a confused clamour that was lost in the hasty thud of paddles
as the invisible canoes got away. Then, while the Canarios came
floundering across the deck, a single voice rose up.

"Bimeby we done lib for cut you t'roat!" it said.

"Oh, go to the devil!" said Jefferson, and the big revolver flashed
again.

There was no answer, and the splash of paddles slowly died away. It was
evident that the affair was over, and Austin fancied that nobody was
much the worse. Jefferson sauntered towards him snapping the spent
shells out of his pistol.

"Funnel-paint is getting on my nerves. I'll have to drop half a stick of
giant powder on him next time he comes," he said.

"He didn't make much of a show," said Austin. "You think he meant to
come on board?"

"If there had been nobody round he would have done so, but how far he'd
have gone then is another question. He probably knows that nigger
stockades are apt to get blown up when a white man disappears, and it's
quite likely his nerve would have failed him. Any way, he's hanging out
at a village up the creek, and we'll probably go round to-morrow with
some giant powder and make a protest. In the meanwhile, I don't know any
reason why you shouldn't go to sleep again."

Austin went back with him to the house beneath the bridge, and, though
it was not perceptibly cooler, found sleep come to him. His vague
apprehensions had vanished in the face of a definite peril.



CHAPTER XIII

TOIL


A faint light was creeping into the skipper's room when Austin awakened,
and, seeing his comrade's berth unoccupied, went out on deck. The swamps
were wrapped in woolly vapour, and a column of dingy smoke went up
straight and unwavering from the funnel of the locomotive boiler. The
hot land breeze had died away, and it would be some time yet before that
from the sea set in. In the meanwhile it was almost cool, and very
still; so still, in fact, that Austin was startled when a flock of
parrots, invisible in the mist, swept past, screaming, overhead.

Then the sounds of man's activity suddenly commenced, for there was a
clatter forward where the Spaniards flung the loose covers from the
hatch, and a harsh rattle of chain mingled with the soft patter of their
naked feet. In another few moments a sharp, musical clinking broke out,
and Austin saw Tom, who had served as a steamer's donkey-man, straighten
his bent back when a rush of white vapour whirled with a strident
hissing about the locomotive boiler, which now drove the winch. He
grinned at Austin, and glanced at the misty creek, far down which a
faint screaming was dying away.

"Those parrots must be ---- silly things," he said. "What d' they want
to live here for when they can fly?"

Austin, who decided that there was some reason in the query, strolled
round the house, and came upon Jefferson sitting with his back to it
and the box of dynamite on the deck in front of him. He looked gaunter
and more haggard than ever in the daylight, but he was busy pinching
down a copper cap upon a strip of snaky fuse, which he proceeded to
carefully embed in a roll of semi-plastic material that looked very like
a candle made of yellow wax.

"What are you doing?" asked Austin.

"Nipping on a couple of detonators," said Jefferson. "Stand clear of the
one on the deck. They're lined with mercury fulminate, and you want to
take your shoes off when you come near that. Giant powder's innocent by
comparison. I mean to try a stick or two of this consignment."

"What are you going to try it on?" asked Austin, who stepped back a pace
or two expeditiously.

Jefferson looked up with a little grim smile. "On the house of the
headman of the village where Funnel-paint lives," he said. "If we can
get in a good morning's work, we'll go up and remonstrate with him this
afternoon. You might take that stick of powder and fuse and wrap it up
in something."

Austin picked up the yellow roll, and then held it as far as he
conveniently could from him, while Jefferson laughed.

"I guess you needn't worry. You could pound it with a hammer, or put it
in the fire, and it wouldn't show fight--that is, ninety-nine times out
of the hundred," he said. "Still, there might be considerable trouble on
the other one. The sure way to stir it up is to pat a shred of it with a
piece of wood, though the man who tries it is scarcely likely to see
what it does."

Austin got rid of the dynamite as speedily as he could, and when he came
back one of the Spaniards was laying out breakfast on the deck. It was
not a sumptuous meal, consisting, as it did, of coffee, a can of meat
that Austin fancied was tainted, ship's bread, which is biscuit, and a
pale fluid that had presumably been butter; but he did not feel hungry,
and Jefferson ate little. In the meanwhile a blaze of light beat through
the mists which melted under it, and flaming yellow creek and dingy
mangroves sprang suddenly into being as by the unrolling of a
transformation scene. Their pale stems dripped slime, and just there
their foliage was blotched and spotted as with smears of flour. It gave
them a diseased appearance, and Austin, who felt he loathed the sight of
them already, remembered that where the mangrove grows the white man not
infrequently dies. He was almost glad when breakfast was over and
Jefferson rose.

"I want to be quite clear," he said. "You're going to see this thing out
with me on a quarter share?"

"I am," said Austin. "Anyway, I'll do what I can, though I'm afraid I
haven't given the question of the share much consideration."

Jefferson looked at him intently. "Well," he said, "I've worried a good
deal about my three-quarters. That's what I came for, and if we float
her off you'll get yours, just as sure as you'll earn it--hard. It's a
big thing you're going into, and you'll find it calling on all the grit
that's in you. We're on results here, and, now you understand that,
we'll start in."

He went to the forward winch, and Austin, obeying his directions,
descended to the hold with a vague recognition of the fact that there
was a change in Jefferson. As coaling clerk in Grand Canary, Austin had
found him a quiet and somewhat reserved man, who conducted himself in
everything, at least, as conventionally as most of his English friends
in that island. Now it was as though he had sloughed off the veneer so
that the primitive man beneath it appeared, which is a thing that not
infrequently happens in such places as the swamps he was toiling in. His
voice, even, was different. It was harsh, with a suggestion of command;
and the fierce, resolute nature of the man became revealed in it and the
penetrating glance of his steady eyes.

Austin, however, discovered that he had very little time to think of
Jefferson. The Spaniards were on results, too, and when the chain sling
came rattling down the strenuous toil began. The hold was dim and
shadowy, as well as insufferably hot, and filled with nauseating smells.
The tiers of barrels slanted so that one could scarcely stand on them,
but when somebody gave Austin a handspike he took his place with the
rest, and set about prizing loose the puncheons so that they could get a
sling round them or the hoisting-crabs on the stave-ends. Now and then
the crabs slipped, or tore through the oil-soaked wood when the great
barrel swung up into the sunlight, and it came crashing down; while each
time they made an opening, the rest slipped down, grinding upon each
other, and squeezed it up again. Those on the lower side were
water-borne, but the others were only held in place by those beneath
them on the incline, and the men could not keep the untouched tiers
intact as they would have done had the _Cumbria_ been floating level.

For the first half hour, Austin, who had never undertaken manual toil
before, felt that his task was beyond the strength of such a man as he.
One can no more acquire facility in labour without some training than he
can in an art or craft, and again and again his untaught muscles failed
to obey the prompting of his will. Then the heavy puncheon generally
rolled back and bruised him, or the slipping handspike left its mark
upon his skin. It was probably fortunate that the Canarios were
cheerful, deft-handed sailormen, courteous, too, and considerate in
their own fashion, for that half hour was, in some respects, a bitter
one. During it the man of taste and leisure had his comparative
uselessness impressed upon him, for, while he gasped, and the dew of
effort dripped from him, it was not alone the slackness of his soft
muscles that became apparent, but his inferiority in quickness, and the
intrepidity which on occasion risks crushed foot and hand or a broken
limb. The men who surpassed him were also benighted aliens, but he
remembered afterwards that there was not one among them who flung a jibe
at him.

Then it became a trifle easier. His nerves steadied, and the fits of
gasping became less frequent as he warmed to the work. It was, as
Jefferson had mentioned, a big thing they had undertaken, a thing worth
doing, even apart from what they might gain by it, and it occurred to
him that somebody must toil brutally before anything of that kind in
brought to its accomplishment. By and by the strain and stress of it,
the swift flitting of half-naked figures, the upward lurch of the
dripping puncheons, and the clanging of the winch commenced to fire his
blood. There was, after all, a good deal of the primitive in him, and he
had the capacity for finding delight in bodily toil which still lurks
here and there in a cultured Englishman, and presently he flung his
oil-stained jacket away. Then, in a momentary pause, his shirt was
discarded, too, and he knotted his suspenders about his waist. When he
fell in between the grinding puncheons one of them removed most of the
light singlet from him, and he clambered out with a Berserker fit upon
him. He had found his manhood, and vaguely recognised that the curse
laid on man in Eden might be a privilege. Something had awakened in him
he had not felt before, though he had run the _Estremedura_'s lancha
through the spouting surf, and had never been accounted a laggard in
the strenuous English games.

The chain slings came down faster and faster, while the hammerings of
the winch rang insistently through their rattle. At any cost to the men
below it must not be kept waiting. The blaze of brightness beneath the
hatch became dazzling, and Austin felt his shoulders scorched as he
passed through it. The iron deck above them shed down an intolerable
heat, and still the olive-faced Canarios swayed, and splashed, and
heaved amidst the barrels. Now and then a man said "Car-rai!" or in
incongruous juxtaposition, "Ave Maria!" ejaculating it in gasps, but
there was a puncheon ready when the sling came clashing down, and
Jefferson's voice rang encouragingly through the din.

"Oh, hump yourselves! Send her up!" he said. "Vamos! Adelante! Dern your
skins! More bareel!"

Bill grinned at Austin in one momentary stoppage. "The boss is himself
again," he said. "He's shoving her along. We've got to make the time for
our little trip this afternoon. Oh, howling--is that how you slew a
puncheon? You'll manslaughter one of us next time. Cut her as she
rolls."

Austin gasped with astonishment as well as relief when the winch stopped
at last. The first half hour had appeared interminable, the other hours
had fled, for he saw by the distance the glare of light had moved across
the hold that the sun was overhead. Then he essayed to straighten
himself, and when he had with some difficulty accomplished it went up
the ladder with the rest. When he went out on deck Jefferson was sitting
upon the drum of the winch, and smiled curiously as he scrutinised him.
Austin, whose torn singlet fell away from him clitted with yellow oil,
was almost naked to the waist, as well as very wet from the knees
downwards. One of his canvas shoes had burst, and his hands were
bleeding. He stood still, dazzled by the change of light, and blinked at
his comrade.

"Well," said Jefferson, reflectively, "I have seen men who looked
smarter, but I guess you'll do. In fact, I'm beginning to feel sure of
you."

"Thanks!" said Austin. "I suppose in one respect that's a compliment.
Still, I almost think, or, at least, I did when I first went down there,
that if I'd known what was in front of me I'd have stayed in Grand
Canary."

Jefferson nodded with a curious little smile. "I wonder," he said,
reflectively, "if you ever felt like that before?"

Austin considered a moment.

"I'm not going to make any admissions. You probably have?" he said.

"Quite often," and Jefferson laughed. "It's a thing that happens to most
of us now and then. There are times when the contract looks very big and
the man feels very small. In fact, it's sometimes hard to look straight
at it and not back down. Still, in the case of this one, it has to be
done."

"I suppose so!" said Austin, and then turned round. "Well, what is it,
Bill?"

"Here's your shirt an' jacket," said the man. "If you don't want your
skin to come off, you'd better put them on."

Austin, who thanked him, did so, and then fumbled in the pocket for a
cigarette. The one he found was torn and crushed, but he contrived to
light it, and flung himself down in the shadow of the rail. Jefferson,
who watched him, grinned.

"You're getting your grip," he said. "Not long ago you'd have slung that
thing into the creek. The man left the sir out, too. Perhaps you noticed
it?"

"I did. Still, no doubt, after watching my efforts in the hold, he felt
himself warranted. I didn't expect to find things quite the same here as
they are at the Catalina."

Jefferson laughed softly. "They're not. This is a blame risky
co-operative venture, and when I made it so I put down a big stake on
human nature. We're all on results, and partners in the thing. There's
no respect in this ship. I don't want it. Why should any man touch his
hat to me? Oh, I know we use the fist and handspike on American
ships--when it's necessary--and I skipped round the _Sachem_'s
deck-house once with the cold steel an inch or two behind me; but that's
not the point at all. I want a hundred cents' worth for my dollar from
every man, and I'm going to get it, but I'm boss because I can drive a
winch and break out cargo better than any of the rest of them. At least,
that's one big reason."

Austin would have grinned at this not very long ago. Jefferson expressed
himself crudely, but Austin was disposed to be less critical after that
morning's labour, and was commencing to realise that his comrade had, in
fact, placed a heavy stake upon the reliability of seafaring humanity. A
taint of suspicious distrust or petty treachery would, he felt, be
sufficient to ruin the venture, for there was one pistol in the ship to
enforce authority, and a dozen men, who might defy it, with wicked
knives. It was also evident that the full dollars' worth would be
demanded from every one of them. Still, Austin smiled.

"I scarcely think that's the American skipper's usual point of view,
though, of course, it's a commendable one," he said. "After all, one has
to admit that there is, perhaps, some foundation for the equality notion
in a democratic country, but from what I know of yours, while you seem
willing to act upon it in regard to Scandinavians, Teutons, Poles, and
Englishmen, you make Indians and niggers an exception."

"Exactly! They were made different, and they stop outside. I was
crowding her a little this morning to save time, because I mean to
remonstrate with one of them this afternoon. This ship's mine; I bought
her with good money, and there may be a balance out that's to be settled
with blood as well. Am I to sit down while the black scum take her from
me?"

"I really think that the longer one looks at this contract the bigger it
gets," said Austin, reflectively.

Jefferson glanced at the dingy forest, flaming creek, and the
_Cumbria_'s slanted deck with a little glow in his eyes.

"Well," he said, "that's what gets hold of me. To worry a big contract
through, is--life--to some kinds of men."

"Perhaps it is, but it was easier painting little pictures. Still, you
see, when you marry Miss Gascoyne you'll have to go round with your
shirt, and, perhaps, a frock coat on, and let up on this kind of thing.
In fact, what you are doing isn't at all what the folks she is
acquainted with would expect from a man with £20,000 in England."

Jefferson laughed, though there was a certain grimness in his face.
"Well," he said, "there is a good deal to be done everywhere, and
different ways of playing the game. A frock coat wouldn't stop a man
making a show at one of them, although at first he mightn't find it
comfortable. Life's much the same thing everywhere when you mean to take
part in it and hustle. Any way, I've talked enough, and Wall-eye's
coming along with the comida."

They ate the meal in silence. Austin was glad to rest, and sitting
drowsily content in the shadow, he began to realise the boundless
optimism and something of the adaptability of his companion. Jefferson
had made an excellent coaling clerk at Las Palmas, though he knew
nothing about the business, which demands a good deal of discretion,
when he came there. He had also passed muster with Mrs. Hatherly and
Muriel Gascoyne as what they no doubt called a gentleman, which was a
manifestly harder thing, and here in Africa he was a ragged and
fever-worn leader of primitive men, but clearly a successful one. It
seemed to Austin that if he eventually aspired to become a local
influence in any part of sheltered England he would also in all
probability show up equally well.



CHAPTER XIV

JEFFERSON'S REMONSTRANCE


They were not long over the meal, and when Austin thrust his plate
aside, Jefferson, who had waited at least five minutes for him, rose
with a little twinkle, which seemed to express whimsical resignation, in
his eyes.

"And now there's something I'd rather leave alone to be done," he said.
"The launch is ready, and we'll go up and remonstrate with those
niggers. It's a little rough upon a man who is fond of a quiet life."

"One would scarcely have fancied that quietness had any great attraction
for you," said Austin. "Still, you probably know what pleases you better
than I do."

Jefferson laughed. "There are folks who seem to like being kicked, but
it's a sensation that doesn't appeal to everybody."

"You have a case of dynamite, too. Now, I had once an air-gun sent me, a
good many years ago, and I remember how I burned to go out and destroy
the neighbours' cats with it."

The American's face grew a trifle grim, and he looked at him with
half-closed eyes. "Well," he said, "I suppose that feeling's there, but
in a sense you're wrong. It isn't the only one. We put up a big bluff in
coming here at all, and it's nerve, and nothing else, that will have to
keep us where we are. There are no police or patrolmen in this country
to fall back upon, and you have to face the cold truth, which is this:
If one of those niggers clinched with you or me, he would mop the deck
with us in about two minutes. It's not a nice thing to admit, but there
it is."

Austin looked thoughtful, as, indeed, he was, for Jefferson, who, it
seemed, could look an unpleasant fact in the face, had gone straight to
the bottom of the question, as he usually did. The white man's
domination, it had to be admitted, largely depended upon his command of
machine guns and magazine rifles, but they had none of these on board
the _Cumbria_. They were no match for the negro as a muscular animal,
and there was only left them what Jefferson called bluff, which
apparently consisted of equal parts of hardihood and arrogance. Still,
there are respects in which it is difficult to distinguish between it
and genuine courage, and it was certainly apt to prove futile in that
land without the latter. Austin realised that since there was nothing
else available, they must do what they could with it, though this was
far from pleasing him. He had a dislike for anything which savoured of
assertive impudence.

They went up the creek in the little, clanking launch, eight limp and
perspiring white men, with knives and iron bars, under a scorching sun
that burned through their oil-stained garments. They slid through strips
of shadow where the belts of mire they skirted bubbled with the
emanations the heat sucked up from them, and slid across lake-like
reaches where the yellow water was dazzling to look upon. All the time,
endless ranks of mangroves crawled past them, and there was no sound but
the presumptuous clanking of the engine to break the deep silence of the
watery forest. The whole land seemed comatose with heat, and all that
had its being in it probably was so, for it is at night that nature
awakens in the swamps of the fever belt. Man alone was stirring, and the
puny noise of his activity jarred for a few moments on the great
stillness and then sank into it again.

Austin sat huddled in the launch's stern-sheets with his senses dulled
by the heat and glare, though the desolation of mire and mangroves
reacted on him. He knew, as he sometimes admitted, a little about a good
many things which were of no use to him, and he remembered then that the
vast quadrilateral of Northern Africa west of Egypt had absorbed several
civilisations long before the Portuguese saw its southern shores. They
had vanished, and left no mark on it, and it was plain that in the great
swamp belt, at least, the black man still lived very much as he had done
when the first mangroves crept out into the sea. It is a primitive
country, where man knows only the law of the jungle, and Jefferson, who
grasped that fact, was apparently ready to act upon it in the usual
primitive fashion.

There was, at first, no sign of life when the launch came into sight of
a little village hemmed in by the swamps. It had its attractiveness in
that country, for the clustering huts stood, half buried in foliage,
beneath towering cottonwoods, with a glaring strip of sand in front of
them. There were bananas, and, as Jefferson recognised, lime trees in
between. Still, by the time they approached the beach men came
floundering hastily out of the huts, and Austin was not greatly consoled
by the sight of them. They were big men, and wore very little to conceal
their splendid muscles. Some of them also carried long canoe paddles,
and one or two had wicked, corkscrew-headed spears. Austin wondered, a
little uneasily, whether they only speared fish with them, and looked
round to see what effect their appearance had upon his companions.

It was apparently not a great one. Jefferson was quietly grim; Tom, the
donkey-man, scornfully cheerful; while there was a little portentous
glint in the Canarios' eyes. Austin fancied he was the only one who had
the slightest doubt that anything their leader did would not be
altogether warranted. This, however, was comprehensible, for he was
aware that while the American's attitude towards the coloured people is,
perhaps, not altogether what it should be, the Western pioneer never
quite equalled the Iberian in his plan of subjugation. The Spaniard, at
least, did not send out Indian agents, or dole out rations of very
inferior beef.

They landed without molestation, and straightened themselves to make
what show they could, though there was nothing very imposing about any
of the party. The climate had melted the stiffness out of them, and
their garments, which were stained with oil, and rent by working cargo,
clung about their limbs soaked with perspiration. They looked, Austin
fancied, more like shipwrecked seamen than anything else. In fact, he
felt almost ashamed of himself, and that it was the negroes' own fault
if they did not unceremoniously fling them back into the creek. Still,
he realised that they were men who probably held their lives in their
hands, and had what appeared to be a singularly difficult task in front
of them. They were there to make it clear to the headman that it would
be wise of him to leave them alone, and Austin was quite willing to
supplement Jeffersons' efforts in this, though he was by no means sure
how it was to be accomplished. The negroes, so far as he could see, were
regarding them with a kind of derisive toleration.

In the meanwhile they were moving forward between patches of bananas,
and under a few glossy limes, while groups of dusky men kept pace with
them behind, until they reached a broad strip of sand with a big
cottonwood tree in the midst of it. There was a hut of rammed soil that
appeared more pretentious than the rest in front of them, and a man
stood waiting in the door of it. Jefferson stopped in the shadow when he
saw him.

"I'm going to sit down where it's cool," he said. "Any way, if that is
their headman, I'd sooner he came out to us."

He sat down, with his back to the tree, while the rest clustered round
him, a lean, dominant figure, in spite of his haggard face and the state
of his attire, and it seemed to Austin that there was a suggestion of
arrogant forcefulness in his attitude. The headman stood quietly in his
doorway, looking at him, while the negroes drew in a little closer. They
now seemed uncertain what to make of these audacious strangers, and
waited, glancing towards their leader, though there were, Austin
fancied, forty or fifty of them.

"Is there anybody here, who speaks English?" asked Jefferson.

It appeared that there was, for all along that coast there is a constant
demand for labour in the white men's factories, and a man who wore a
piece of cloth hung from his shoulder instead of the waist-rag, stood
forward at a sign from the headman. The latter had little cunning eyes
set in a heavy, fleshy face, and he, too, wore a piece of cloth, a sheet
of white cotton, which flowed about his tub-like body in graceful lines.
Negroes, like other people, fatten when they seize authority and live in
idleness upon the result of others' toil, for even the swamp belt
heathen who asks very little from life must now and then work or starve.
There are no charitable institutions to fall back upon in that country,
where the indigent is apt to be belaboured by his neighbours' paddles.

Then the headman, who did not leave his hut, conferred with the
interpreter, until the latter turned to Jefferson, whom he had, it
seemed, already pitched upon as leader.

"Them headman he done say--what the debbil you lib for here for?" he
announced.

"We have come for Funnel-paint," said Jefferson.

It was evident that the negro did not understand whom he meant, but when
Jefferson, assisted by the donkey-man, supplied him with a very
unflattering description of the delinquent, comprehension seemed to dawn
on him, and he once more conferred with his master.

"Him no one of we boy," he said. "Him dam bad 'teamboat bushman, sah.
Lib for here two three day. Now lib for go away."

Austin, who understood that the term bushman was not used in a
complimentary sense in those swamps, smiled as he noticed that seafaring
men were evidently also regarded there with no great favour, and glanced
at Jefferson inquiringly.

"He's probably lying," said the latter. "I've trailed Funnel-paint here,
and there's nowhere else he could live. I've been round to see. Any way,
he had a crowd of this rascal's boys with him when he came down to worry
me. We'll let him have that to figure on."

It cost him some trouble to make his meaning clear to the negro, while
when the latter in turn explained it to the headman, Austin noticed a
retrograde movement among several of those about them. They seemed
desirous of getting a little further away from the domineering white
man.

"I want those boys," said Jefferson, indicating the negroes who had
edged away. "Then I want some gum or ivory, or anything of that kind
your headman has, as a token he'll send me down Funnel-paint as soon as
he can catch him. He hasn't caught on to half of it. Help me out,
Austin."

Austin did what he could, and at last it became evident that the
interpreter grasped their meaning. This time there was, however, a
change in the attitude of the negro, which had hitherto appeared to be a
trifle conciliatory.

"None of my boys have been near your steamer. Go away before we drive
you out," was, at least, the gist of what he said.

Jefferson made a little contemptuous gesture, and pointed to one of the
negroes. "Tell him I want those boys, and it would be wise of him to
turn them up before the shadow crawls up to where that man is. If he
doesn't, I'll let a Duppy, Ju-Ju, or whatever he calls his fetish
devils, loose on him. He has about fifteen minutes to think the thing
over in."

Even with the help of the donkey-man they were some time in making this
comprehensible, and Austin glanced at his comrade when the headman's
answer came. It was a curt and uncompromising _non possumus_, and
Jefferson sighed.

"Of course," he said, "I saw it would come to this from the beginning,
and in one way I'm not sorry. I don't know what I'd have done with
Funnel-paint or his friends if I had got them, except that somehow I'd
'most have scared them out of their lives. Still, it seemed only decent
to give the headman a chance for himself. Now it will suit us
considerably better to scare him and the others all together. I'll wipe
that house of his out of existence inside twenty minutes."

Austin glanced at the house. It was larger than the others, and
comparatively well built, and, he fancied, probably of as much value to
its owner as a white man's mansion would be to him. This was clearly
not a time to be supersensitive, but he felt a trace of compunction.

"I don't know that I'd go quite so far myself," he said. "After all,
we're not sure that the headman is responsible."

"Then," said Jefferson, drily, "we'll make him, and you listen to me. We
may have to do quite a few things that aren't pretty, and we have no use
for sentimentality. We're just a handful of white men, with everything
to grapple with, and we'll be left alone to do it while these devils are
afraid of us, and not a moment longer. The fever may wipe half of us out
at any time, and we have got to make our protest now."

"It's the giant-powder I'm sticking at. No doubt it's a little absurd of
me--but I don't like it."

Jefferson laughed a trifle scornfully. "There's a good deal of what we
call buncome in most of you. You don't like things that
don't--look--pretty, pistols among them. Well, am I to be trampled on
whenever it happens that the other man is bigger than I?"

"The law is supposed to obviate that difficulty in a civilised
community."

"The man who gets the verdict is usually the one with the biggest
political pull or the most money, in the one I belong to, but that's not
quite the point just now. If you have a notion that the game's all in
our hands, look at them yonder."

Austin did so, and decided that, after all, Jefferson might be right.
The negroes had clustered together, and there were more of them now,
while all of them had spears or big canoe paddles. It was tolerably
evident that any sign of vacillation would bring them down upon the
handful of white men whose prestige alone had hitherto secured them from
molestation. If they failed to maintain it, and had to depend upon their
physical prowess, the result appeared as certain as it would be
unpleasant. The affair had resolved itself into a case of what Jefferson
termed bluff, a test of coolness and nerve, and Austin glanced a trifle
anxiously at the Spaniards. They were, he fancied, a little uneasy, but
it was clear that they had confidence in their leader, and they sat
still, though he could see one or two of them fingering the wicked
Canary knives. Their courage was, however, not of the kind that stands
the tension of uncertainty well, and he commenced to long that the
shadow would reach the trampled spot where the man Jefferson pointed to
had stood.

In the meanwhile it was creeping slowly across the hot white sand, and
he felt his heart beat as he watched it and the negroes, who commenced
to murmur and move uneasily. The white man's immobility had its effect
on them, and it seemed that Jefferson had done wisely in confiding in
the latter's ability to bear the longer strain. Still, Austin was not
sure that the impatience of the Spaniards might not spoil everything
after all. As regarded himself, he began to feel a curious and almost
dispassionate interest in the affair which almost prevented him
considering his personal part in it. He also noticed the intensity of
the sunlight, and the blueness of the shadows among the trees, as well
as the mirror-like flashing of the creek. It was, he fancied, the
artistic temperament asserting itself. Then he felt a little quiver run
through him when Jefferson stood up.

"We have to get it done," he said. "Keep those Canarios close behind
me."

They moved forward in a little phalanx, carrying staves and iron bars,
though Austin knew that a word would bring out the twinkling steel; and,
somewhat to his astonishment, the negroes fell back before them, and as
they approached it the headman scuttled out of his house. Jefferson
stopped outside it and taking a stick of yellow substance from his
pocket, inserted it in a cranny he raked out in the wall. Then he
lighted the strip of fuse and touched Austin's shoulder.

"Get those fellows back to the creek, but they're not to run," he said.
"The action of one stick of giant-powder is usually tolerably local, but
I don't want any of the niggers hoisted, either. Where's that
interpreter? Steady, we'll bring them down on us like a swarm of bees if
they see us lighting out before they understand the thing."

There was, Austin fancied, not much time to waste; but he managed to
impress the fact upon the Canarios that their haste must not be too
evident, and to make the negro understand that it was perilous to
approach the house. Then he overtook the Spaniards, and they moved back
in a body towards the launch, and stopped close by the beach. The
negroes also stood still, and all alike watched the little sputtering
trail of smoke creep up the side of the house. It showed blue in the
sunlight, though there was a pale sparkling in the midst of it.

Then a streak of light sprang out suddenly, and expanded into a blaze of
radiance. After it came the detonation, and a rolling cloud of thin
vapour, out of which there hurtled powdered soil and blocks of
hard-rammed mud. The vapour thinned and melted, and Austin saw that
there was no longer any front to the headman's house, while, as he
watched it, most of the rest fell in. He looked round to see what effect
it had on the negroes, but could not make out one of them. They had, it
seemed, gone silently and in haste. Then he heard Jefferson sigh as with
relief.

"Well," he said, "that's one thing done, and I'm glad we have come out
of it with a whole skin. We'll light out before somebody shows them
that we're only human, and spoils the thing."

They went on board the launch, but Austin felt curiously limp as she
clanked away down stream. The strain of the last half hour had told on
him, though he had not felt it to the full at the time. It was two
hours' steaming before they swept past the _Cumbria_, and a man on her
forecastle waved an arm to indicate that all was right on board her; but
Austin would not have had the time any shorter. He felt it was just as
well that village lay some distance from them. They went on to the strip
of sand where Jefferson had stored the coal and oil, and when they
reached it he stood up suddenly with an imprecation.

"Four puncheons gone! Funnel-paint has come out ahead of me, after all,"
he said. "Well, there's no use in worrying now, when he has got away
with them; but I'm going to stop down here to-night in case he comes
back again."

Then he swung the launch round with backed propeller, and in another few
minutes they were steaming back up stream towards the _Cumbria_. A tent
of some kind must be extemporised, for it is not wise of a white man to
spend the night unprotected in the fever swamps.



CHAPTER XV

STARTING THE PUMP


The bush was dim with steamy shade when Austin and Jefferson plodded
along a little path behind the beach where the oil was stored. It was
with difficulty they made their way, for the soil was firmer there, and
a dense undergrowth sprang up among the big cottonwoods which replaced
the mangroves. They were draped with creepers, and here and there an
orchid flung its fantastic blossoms about a rotting limb, while the path
twisted in and out among them and through tangled thickets. It was then
the hottest part of the afternoon, and save for the soft fall of the
men's footsteps everything was still. The atmosphere was very like that
of a Turkish bath, and as Austin stumbled along the perspiration dripped
from him.

He had toiled strenuously from early dawn until darkness closed down, of
late, and though he had, as yet, escaped the fever, every joint in his
body ached, and he was limp and dejected with the heat and weariness.
His only respite from labour had been the few hours spent on watch
beside the landed oil when his turn came, and he had now come down with
two of the Spaniards to relieve Jefferson, who was going back to the
_Cumbria_. The latter glanced towards a ray of brightness that beat into
the dim green shadow, and here and there flung a patch of brilliancy
athwart the great columnar trunks.

"I've been wondering where this trail goes, and it seems to me there's
an opening close in front of us," he said. "We'll rest when we get
there, and I don't know that I'll be sorry. You have to choose between
stewing and roasting in this country, and, when it lets my skin stay on
me, I almost think the latter's easier."

Austin felt inclined to agree with him, for they had blundered through
the shadowy bush for half an hour, and its hot, saturated atmosphere
made exertion almost impossible. Still, he said nothing, and in a few
more minutes they came out upon a glaring strip of sand beside another
creek. Jefferson stopped a moment, with a little gesture of
astonishment, in the shadow of a palm.

"What in the name of wonder have they been turning that sand over for?"
he said.

Austin walked out of the shadow, blinking in the dazzling brightness the
creek flung back, and saw that the sand had certainly been disturbed
every here and there. It seemed to him that somebody had been digging
holes in it and then had carefully filled them up.

"There isn't a nigger village nearer than the one where Funnel-paint
lives, or I could have fancied they'd had an epidemic and been burying
their friends," he said.

Jefferson shook his head. "They wouldn't worry to bring them here," he
said. "Still, somebody has been digging since the last wet season, for
it seems to me that when the rain comes the creek flows over here."

It occurred to Austin that one or two, at least, of the excavations had
been filled in not long ago, but his comrade made no comment when he
suggested it, and they went back together to the shadow of the palm,
where Jefferson, sitting down thoughtfully, filled a blackened pipe.

It was several minutes before he broke the silence.

"There is," he said, at length, "a good deal I can't get the hang of
about the whole affair; but if I knew just how they came to start the
plates that let the water in, I'd have something to figure on. You can't
very well knock holes in an iron steamer's bottom on soft, slimy mud,
and I don't know where they could have found a rock here if they wanted
to."

"Ah!" said Austin. "Then you think they might have wanted to find one?"

Jefferson again sat silent for almost a minute, and then slowly shook
his head. "I don't know--I've nothing to go upon," he said. "She's not
even an old, played-out boat. Still, it seems to me that a heavily
freighted steamer, hung up by her nose on the bank, might easily have
started some of her plates when the waters of the creek subsided. Then
she'd settle deeper--it's nice soft mud."

"But that would be--after--she went ashore."

"Yes," said Jefferson dryly. "That's the point of it."

Austin looked thoughtful. It had also occurred to him that there was a
good deal it was difficult to understand about the stranding of the
_Cumbria_, though that, after all, did not appear to concern them
greatly just then.

"What puzzles me is why the salvage men let go," he said. "You see,
they're accustomed to this kind of thing, and have money behind them."

Jefferson looked at him with a little smile, and Austin saw that he
guessed his thoughts. Jefferson was as gaunt as ever, a fever-worn
skeleton of a man, dressed, for the most part, in oil-stained rags,
while Austin was quite aware that, so far as outward appearances went,
there was very little that was prepossessing about himself. His big felt
hat hung over his forehead, sodden with grease, and shapeless; his hands
were hard and scarred, his nails were broken, and the rent singlet hung
open almost to his waist. All this seemed to emphasise their feebleness,
and the fact that there was no money behind them, at least.

"Well," said Jefferson, "that's quite easy. Those salvage men are
specialists, and expect a good deal for the time they put in. Now they
took some oil out of her, but there is reason for believing they were
not sure they'd get the _Cumbria_ off at all, and it would cost a good
deal to charter a light-draught steamer to come up here. They tried
towing it down to a schooner, and lost a good deal of it on the shoals.
Then they towed the schooner in, and had to wait for a smooth surf
before they could get her out, with no more than sixty tons at that. The
game wasn't worth while, and the men were going down with fever."

"But the gum?"

"There wasn't a great deal down in the cargo sheets, and, any way, until
they'd hove the oil out they couldn't come at it."

"You are still sure about the gum yourself?"

Jefferson laughed softly. "I think I am. I don't quite know where it is,
but the skipper got it--a good deal of it."

"Still, the steamer would be worth a persistent effort. There was no
doubt about her being there."

"No," said Jefferson, with a little gesture of comprehension. "Now I
know just what you mean. You're wondering, since those men couldn't
heave her off, what's the use of us trying. Well, specialists make their
mistakes now and then, just like other men, and they took it for granted
that things were normal when they were there. From what I've seen of the
sand strips and the marks on the mangrove trunks, I don't think they
were. You see, there's a good deal we don't know about the tides yet,
and the Guinea stream doesn't always run quite the same along this
coast; while, when there's less than usual of the southwest winds that
help it along, it's quite likely to mean two or three feet less water in
these creeks. Then you can have a wet season that's a little drier than
the other ones, and it's fresh water here--the tide just backs it up."

"Then you're counting on the present season being a normal one?"

"Yes," said Jefferson quietly. "I've staked all I have on it--and a good
deal more than that. If it isn't, I might as well have pitched my forty
thousand dollars into the sea."

He stopped a moment, and then laid a little grey object in Austin's
palm. "What d'you make of that?"

Austin started as he looked at it. "A pistol bullet!"

"Exactly," said Jefferson. "It has been through the barrel, too; you can
see the score of the rifling. I picked it up along the trail, but I
don't know how long it lay there, or who fired it. Still, the niggers
don't carry pistols. Well, it's about time I was getting back on board
if we're to start the pump to-night."

Austin glanced at him sharply, and noticed that there was a suggestion
of tension in his voice, though his face was quiet. It was evident that
a good deal would depend upon the result of the first few hours'
pumping, for unless it lowered the water there would be little
probability of their floating the steamer. Neither of them, however,
said anything further, and when they went back to the beach where the
oil was, Jefferson steamed away in the launch, and Austin, who was left
with two Canarios, lay down in the shadow of a strip of tarpaulin. The
Spaniards, tired with their morning's labour, went to sleep; and Austin,
who filled his pipe several times, found the hours pass very slowly.
There was nothing to hold his attention--only glaring sand, dingy, dim
green mangroves, and tiers of puncheons with patches of whitewash
clinging to them. It flung back an intolerable brightness that hurt his
aching eyes, and he became sensible of a feverish impatience as he lay
watching the shadows lengthen.

His thoughts were with Jefferson, who was, no doubt, now getting steam
on the locomotive boiler and coupling up the big pump. Unless the latter
did what they expected of it, the toil they had undergone, and
Jefferson's eight thousand pounds, would have been thrown away. That was
very evident, but Austin wondered a little at himself as his impatience
grew upon him, until it was only by an effort he held himself still.

It was not the quarter share Jefferson offered him which had brought him
there, for he realised that even with five thousand pounds he would
still be, to all intents and purposes, a poor man, and his life on board
the _Estremedura_ had, in most respects, been one that suited him. He
had, in fact, not greatly cared whether the _Cumbria_ could be floated
or not, when he came out, but since then Jefferson's optimism, or
something that was born of the toil they had undertaken, had laid hold
of him, and now he was almost as anxious as his comrade that their
efforts should result in success. In fact, he was feverishly anxious,
and felt that if it would gain them anything he would willingly stake
his life on the venture. Then he smiled as he remembered that he had,
without quite realising it, done so already.

Still, the long, hot afternoon dragged away, and when the sun dipped,
and black darkness closed down upon the creek, the launch came clanking
up to the beach. She brought two Canarios as well as Bill, the fireman,
and Austin's voice was eager as he greeted the latter.

"Have you got the pump going yet?" he asked.

"No," said Bill. "Tom and Mr. Jefferson was packing something when I
came away. He'd given her a spin, and found the engine blowing at a
gland."

Austin asked him nothing further, but drove the launch at top speed
through the blackness that shrouded the misty creek, and walked straight
to where Jefferson was standing when he reached the _Cumbria_. The red
glow from the open fire-door of the locomotive boiler fell upon him, and
there were signs of tension in his face, while the red trickle from a
hand he had apparently injured smeared his torn jacket. Steam was
roaring from a valve beside him, and Austin could scarcely hear him when
he turned to the donkey-man.

"Shut the fire-door. She'll go now," he said. "I'll let her shake down
for a minute or two, and then we'll give her everything."

He walked forward towards where the light of a lamp fell upon the casing
of the pump, which looked like a huge iron drum considerably flattened
in. Then he touched a valve, and the machine became animate with a low
pulsatory wheezing, while something commenced to hum and rattle inside
it. The sound swelled into a fierce rhythmic whirring, the great iron
case vibrated, and Austin could feel the rails he leaned on tremble.
Jefferson turned and looked at him with a little smile, while he laid a
hand, as it were, affectionately upon the pump.

"Yes," he said, "I've made her go, and she's going to earn me eighty
thousand dollars. She's drawing air just now. Heave your hat down, and
see if she'll take it along."

Austin, who became sensible that a little draught was shaking his duck
trousers, did as Jefferson suggested, and the big felt hat rolled and
flopped in a ludicrous fashion along the deck. Then it seemed to spring
forward into the blackness, and groping after it, he found it glued to
the iron grid which was screwed to the end of a big pipe. It was with
some little difficulty he tore it loose. Then he saw Jefferson swing up
one hand.

"Easy, while she's getting her first drink; then, if she's spouting
full, you can let her hum," he said, and turned to Austin. "Now, come
down with me."

They went down together into the musty hold, and when somebody lowered
the big hose after them, Jefferson, standing upon the ladder, seized the
rope, and looked up at the Canarios clustering round the hatch above.

"Where's that rake you made?" he said.

It was handed him, and Austin glanced down at the water, which glistened
oilily under the light of a suspended lamp. It was thick with floating
grease and strewn with fragments of rotten bags.

"Get hold and keep her clear!" said Jefferson, who thrust the rake upon
him, and then waited a moment before he lowered the hose, while Austin,
glancing round a moment, could see the faces of the men above them. They
were intent, and almost as expectant as his comrade's.

Then the big pipe sank with a soft splash, and shook out its loose
half-coil, as if alive, while it swelled. It grew hard and rigid, and
the dim, oily water swirled and seethed about the end of it. In another
moment there was a rush of floating objects towards it from the shadows.
Strips of bagging, handspikes, clots of oil, and dunnage wood, came
thicker and thicker, and Jefferson raised his voice.

"Let her hum!" he said.

The pipe palpitated as it further straightened itself, and now a hole
opened in the oily water, and half-seen things came up with a rush from
the depths of the flooded hold. Hundreds of little black kernels whirled
and sank in the swing of the eddy, which grew wider as a deep, resonant
hum descended from the deck above. It seemed to Austin that everything
in the hold was coming to the top, but as he watched the bewildering
succession of odds and ends that spun amidst the froth, Jefferson's
voice rose harshly.

"It's water she's wanting! Keep her clear!" he said.

Austin contrived to do it for a while, though now and then the whirling
rush of bags and wood almost tore the rake away from him. He was kept
busy for half an hour, while Jefferson stood leaning out from the
ladder, and steadily watching the water. Then the American swung himself
down, with his knife in his hand, and scratched the iron at its level.

"We'll know in another hour or two whether we're pumping out the
_Cumbria_ or pumping in the creek," he said. "If it's the latter, I've
got to let up on the contract. I can't undertake to dry out this part of
Africa."

Then he signed to one of the Canarios. "Come down. Ven aca, savvy, and
take this rake."

They went up together, but as they passed along the deck Jefferson
stopped once more to lay his hand upon the pump. It was running with a
dull, rumbling roar, and the deck trembled about it.

"She's doing good work," he said. "Now we'll have comida. I daren't go
back there for another hour."

They went into the deck-house, where the Spaniard who acted as steward
was waiting them, but in passing, Jefferson made a sign to Tom, who
stood in the glow from the fire-door, with a shovel in his hand.

"All she's worth!" he said.

They ate as a matter of duty, and because they needed all the strength
the climate had left them, but neither had much appetite, and Austin
knew that Jefferson was listening as eagerly as he was himself to the
deep, vibrating hum that came throbbing through the open door. It was a
relief to both of them to hear, the persistent jingling of a cup that
stood unevenly in its saucer. The pump was running well, but there
remained the momentous question, was it lowering the water? And when the
meal was over, Austin glanced at Jefferson as he pushed his plate aside.

"Shall I go down and look?" he asked.

"No," said Jefferson hoarsely. "Any way, if you do, don't come back and
worry me. She's full up, fore and after holds and engine room--and there
are things I don't stand very well. We'll give her two hours, and then,
if she's doing anything worth while, the scratch I made will be dry."

Austin nodded sympathetically. "Under the circumstances," he said, "two
hours is a long while."

Jefferson smiled, a curious, wry smile. "It's hard--the toughest thing
one can do--just to keep still; but if I climbed up and down that ladder
for two hours I'd probably break out, and heave somebody into the creek.
There are things you have to get over once for all--and do it quick."

"I suppose there are," said Austin. "Still, it's the first time I've
made the acquaintance of any of them, and I shouldn't have fancied one
could get a thrill of this kind out of a centrifugal pump. There is,
however, of course, a good deal at stake."

"Eighty thousand dollars," said Jefferson, "and all the rest of my life.
You don't usually get such chances as the _Cumbria_ is giving us twice."

Austin found that he, at least, could not keep still, however he tried,
and he went out and paced up and down the slanted deck, where he fell
over things, though he now and then endeavored to talk rationally to Tom
the donkey-man. He did not find the attempt a success, but he saw that
he was not the only one who felt the tension, for the Canarios, in place
of resting, were clustered round the hatch, and apparently staring down
the opening. Jefferson was still in the deck-house each time he passed,
a gaunt, grim-faced object, with a lean hand clenched on an unlighted
pipe, and at last Austin sat down on the deck beside the pump. He liked
to feel the throb of it, but he remembered the half hour he spent there
a long while afterwards.

Then Jefferson came out of the deck-house, walking slowly, though Austin
fancied it cost him an effort, and they climbed down the ladder
together. The man with the rake stood on the opposite one across the
hatch, and Austin felt his heart beat painfully as he raised the lantern
he held and Jefferson stooped down. He straightened himself slowly,
though the blood was in his face.

"Dry!" he said hoarsely. "She's lowering it. It's a sure thing, Austin.
If the fever doesn't get us we'll see this contract out."

Then he turned, and they went up and back to the deck-house, while an
exultant clamour broke out from the Canarios; but Jefferson's lean hand
quivered a little when he laid it on the table as he sat down.

"If she has started any plates, they're not started much," he said.
"Now, talk about anything you like, so long as it isn't the _Cumbria_.
I've got to slacken down to-night."



CHAPTER XVI

ELUSIVE GUM


It was in the small hours when Austin wakened, and, listening a moment,
stretched his aching limbs with a little sigh of content. The odds and
ends on the table beside him were rattling merrily, and a deep pulsatory
humming rang stridently through the silence of the swamps. The pump was
running well, for he could hear the steady splash of water falling into
the creek, and once more a little thrill of exultation ran through him.
He was not in most respects a fanciful man, for in him the artistic
temperament was held in due subjection by a knowledge of the world and
shrewd practical sense. Still, there were times when he vaguely
recognised that there might, after all, be a reality behind the fancies
he now and then indulged in with a smile, and that night it seemed to
him that the big centrifugal pump was chanting a song of triumph.

He had tasted toil, and what toil really is only those know who have
borne it in the steamy heat of the tropics, which saps the white man's
vigour; while he had discovered what, artist as he was, he had not
learned before: that, by way of compensation, man may attain a certain
elusive spirituality by the stern subjugation of his body, even when it
is accomplished by brutal manual labour. As the _Estremedura_'s
sobrecargo he had watched the struggle for existence between man and man
with good-humoured toleration of its petty wiles and trickeries, but now
it was the cleaner and more primitive struggle between man and matter
he was called upon to take his part in with the faith in the destiny of
his species which is capable of moving mountains, and not infrequently
does so with hydraulic hose and blasting charges, as well as a few odd
thousand tons of iron and water in a stranded steamer. Lying still a
while, he heard the great pump hurling out its announcement of man's
domination to swamp and forest, and then went peacefully to sleep.

He was astir with the dawn next morning, but when they went down the
ladder into the hold he knew that the change in him had reached a
further stage. Whether the water had sunk or not, he was going to see
that fight out, and go back triumphant, or leave his bones in Africa. It
was not alone to vindicate himself in Jacinta's eyes, for that, though
it counted, too, seemed of less moment now; he was there to justify his
existence, to prove himself a man, which many who have won honours in
this world have, after all, never really done. As a sign of it, he was
wholly practical when, hanging down from the ladder, he laid the fingers
of one hand upon the scratch Jefferson had made on the iron. Then he
held up the hand.

"Wet to the knuckles only," he said. "Last night the water was on the
thumb."

They went up, and Jefferson looked at him keenly when they stood on
deck; in fact, as he had done when Austin first clambered, half naked,
out of the hatch.

"Yes," he said quietly, "she is heaving it out, and you have done more
than start in. You mean staying with it now?"

Austin laughed. "I'm not sure how you know it, but I really think I do."

"No?" said Jefferson, with a twinkle in his eyes. "When it's in your
voice, and stamped upon the rest of you. Well, I think we're going to
float her, though it's perhaps not quite a sure thing yet. We seem to
have bluffed off Funnel-paint, but the trouble is, you can't bluff the
fever. In the meanwhile, we'll see if she's draining any out of the
engine room."

They went in, and stood on the top platform, looking down on the water,
which, so far as they could discern, stood at much the same level as it
had done. Jefferson gazed at it with an air of reflection.

"If the bulkhead's strained and started so the water could get in, I
don't quite see why it shouldn't run out into the hold again, but
there's evidently no suction that way," he said. "You see how that
tool-case lid is floating. There's another point that strikes me. Those
started plates don't seem to be letting very much water in."

"As you have already pointed out, there is a good deal it's a little
difficult to understand about the whole thing."

"Well," said Jefferson gravely, "it doesn't matter in the meanwhile, and
we'll probably find out by and by. The first thing we have to do is to
lay hands on that gum, and until the water's lower we can't start in.
The boys can lay off to-day. Well, what are you wanting, Bill?"

"Two of the Canariers down!" said the fireman, who appeared in the
doorway. "They was looking groggy yesterday, an' one o' them's talking
silly now. I think it's fever."

Austin looked at Jefferson, whose face grew a trifle grim. "Ah," he
said, "it's beginning. Well, I had expected we'd have that to grapple
with before very long. We'll go along and look at them."

They went, and found one of the men raving in the forecastle, while
Austin, who did what he could for him and his comrade, which was very
little, afterwards spent a day of blissful idleness stretched at full
length on the settee in the skipper's room, with a damp-stained
treatise on navigation. He had never imagined that he could peruse a
work of that kind with interest, but it served its purpose, for he felt
he must have something to fix his attention on. In the meanwhile the big
pump hummed on, as it did for another day and night, until on the third
morning Jefferson stopped it and turned steam on the winch again.

"You have got to keep your eyes open as well as hustle, boys," he said,
as he stood with his hand on the lever. "There'll be forty dollars,
Spanish, for whoever finds the first bag of gum."

Austin made this clear to them, and they went down the ladder, but two
men who had gone with them before were not there that day. The water had
sunk, and tiers of rotting bags lay, half afloat, in it, giving out a
sickening smell of fermentation. They were filled with little black
nuts, the oleaginous kernels of the palm fruit from which the layer of
oil had been scraped off, and these were evidently worth little in their
damaged condition. Austin, however, had very little time to notice them
in, for the winch above him rattled, and the day of feverish toil began.

The bags burst when they dragged them into piles and laid them upon the
sling, while when the winch swung them up, a rain of kernels and slimy
water came pattering and splashing down. Putrefying kernels floated up
into every hole they made, and now and then a man sank waist deep among
the crumbling bags. Still, there was no stoppage or slackening of
effort. Forty dollars is a large sum to a seaman of the Canaries, who
can bring up a family on one peseta, which is rather less than
ninepence, a day, while the bonus contingent on getting the _Cumbria_
off would set up most of them for life. They remembered it that day as
they floundered and waded about the stifling hold, for the work of the
big pump had renewed their ardour.

Still, the task before them was one most men would have shrunk from. The
heat below decks was suffocating, the smell of the steaming, fermenting
mass of slime and oil and kernels nauseating. The water it swam in was
putrescent, and the weight to be hauled out of it and sent up into the
sunlight apparently enough to keep them busy for months ahead, though
they had, as everybody knew, very little time to move it in. It was to
be a grim struggle between man and inert material, for unless the
_Cumbria_ was hove off when the rains came, it seemed very probable that
she would stay there until she fell to pieces.

They set about it in silence, which, in the case of Spaniards, was a
significant thing; but nobody had any breath to spare, and Austin gasped
distressfully as he toiled, almost naked, in their midst. His hair was
filled with grease, clots of oil smeared his shoulders, and the bags
that burst as he lifted them abraded his dripping skin. Still, they went
up, opening as they swung out of the dusky hold, and the winch rattled
on, while there could be no rest for any man while sling succeeded
sling.

He was half blinded by perspiration, the wounds on his raw hands had
opened again, and there were now red patches on his uncovered breast and
arms. His muscles had, however, grown accustomed to the strain since the
first arduous day, and he did a man's part, as their comrade, with the
rest. There were no distinctions down in the stifling hold. It was a
community of effort for the one result, and again Austin wondered at the
forethought of the fever-wasted man above who drove the hammering winch.

Jefferson was, beyond all question, boss; but with singular clearness of
vision, or, perhaps, that higher, half-conscious faculty of doing the
right thing, that characterises the leader of men, he had recognised
that what he called bluff was of no service here, and had gone straight
to the strength there is in simple human nature. There was, those
untaught sailormen knew, no labour he was not ready to bear his part in,
and no command was flung at them for a show of authority. Jefferson
spent his strength and dollars freely, and while he asked no more than a
hundred cents' worth for the latter, he got it with interest, a
hundredfold.

It grew hotter and hotter, and there were curiously mingled ejaculations
of Latin prayer and imprecations that had somehow lost their sting. The
man with calumniated ancestry took it as a jest, and amidst the roar of
running chain and fierce rattle of the winch the work went on. The rains
were coming, there was very much to be done, and human courage braced
itself to the task. Hard hands were torn and bleeding, veins showed
gorged on dusky foreheads, muscles rose and bunched themselves under the
olive skin, and Englishman and Iberian gave freely all that was in them,
the sweat of the hard-driven body and tension of controlling will. They
were alone in the land of the shadow, with a deadly climate against
them, but the conflict they were engaged in has been waged before by
Spaniards and Englishmen in half the wilder lands.

Then the winch stopped suddenly, and Jefferson came backwards down the
ladder. He alighted knee deep in water among the rotten bags, and all
his observations were not recordable. He had put off conventionality,
and was once more the reckless sailor and the optimistic American, so he
spoke of the lower regions, and called the men who had stowed the
_Cumbria_'s cargo condemned loafers in barbarous Castilian and good
American, while the olive-faced Canarios gasped and grinned at him.

"The man who packed those bags there should be hung," he said. "We can't
break the bulk out until we've shifted most of them. Then I'll send you
down the sling-tub, and we'll heave the stuff to ----! It's sixty
dollars now for the man who finds the gum."

"No sign of it yet," said Austin. "They'd never have stowed it among the
bulk kernels. They're worth something. Hadn't you better make sure of
them?"

Jefferson laughed grimly. "They're worth--how do I know? Call it £12 a
ton when they're not rotten. It's the gum we came for, and I'm going to
find it if I tear the ballast tanks and limbeys out of her. Clear that
bag bulkhead, and then stand by for the sling-tub. We'll heave every
blue-flamed kernel over."

The tub came down by and by, in fact, two of them, and those who had no
shovels bailed up the slimy kernels with their hats and hands; but each
time the chain swung through the hatch the tub below was full. It was
two o'clock when they desisted, and some of them were waist deep in
water then, while soon after they came up the big hose splashed in
again. There were steampipe collars to unbolt and pack, and bolt again,
before that was done; while when Austin came upon Jefferson, he held up
one hand from which the scalded skin was peeling.

"I can run the ---- winch if I drive her with my mouth and foot," he
said. "Get the comida into you, and then back into the hold again. We're
going to make her hum."

Austin glanced suggestively towards the men, who stood with backs still
bent with weariness, about the entrance to the forecastle.

"I suppose so," he said. "Still, the question is, can they stand it
long?"

Jefferson laughed harshly. "They'll have to. We have the blazing sun
against us, and the evening fever-mist; in fact, 'most everything that
man has to grapple with, and the worst of all is time. Still, they can't
break us. We have got to beat them--the river, the climate, and all the
man-killing meanness nature has in Western Africa."

He stopped a moment, and, standing very straight, a haggard, grim-faced
scarecrow, flung up his scalded hands towards the brassy heavens in a
wide, appealing gesture. "When you come to the bottom of things, that's
what we were made for. There's something in us that is stronger than
them all."

Austin said nothing, though once more a little thrill ran through him as
he slipped away quietly in search of his comida. What they were doing
had, he felt, been sung in Epics long ago, and Jefferson had, it seemed,
blundered upon the under-running theme. It was the recognition of the
primal ban again, the ban that had a blessing for man to triumph in, and
by it win dominion over the material world and all there is therein. He
and his comrade were men whose creed was crudely simple, though it was
also, on points they did not often mention, severe; but they bore the
bonds of service, which are never worn without compensation, willingly,
and the tense effort of will and limb had clarified and strengthened the
vague faith in them until they were ready to attempt the impossible.

Still, Austin had little time for his comida. The men in the forecastle
were very sick indeed, and he packed them in foul blankets, and dosed
them with green-lime water, boiling hot to start the perspiration, which
was, he recognised, likely to accomplish more than his prescriptions.
There were limes in Funnel-paint's village, and they had not scrupled to
requisition them. One of the men lay still, moaning faintly through
blackened lips, and the other, raving, called incoherently on saints and
angels. It seemed to Austin, standing in that reeking den, that there
was small chance for his patients unless they heard him. Two of those
whose names he caught had once, he remembered, been, at least,
fresh-water sailormen, and half unconsciously he also appealed to them.
One creed appeared much the same as another in that dark land, and
something in him cried out instinctively to the great serene influences
beyond the shadow. When he had finished his work of mercy the Spaniards
were stripping the covers off the after hatch, and he had scarcely a
minute for a mouthful before he joined them to heave the kernels up by
hand. They went up, basket after basket, and splashed into the creek,
but there was no sign of a gum bag or package anywhere among them. Bill,
who hove them out through the open gangway, once turned to grin at
Austin, who stood next the hatch.

"I've never been a millionaire, an' it's ---- unlikely that I'll ever be
one, either; but I know what it must feel like now," he said. "Here are
you an' me slingin' away stuff that's worth twelve pounds a ton, an' one
o' them goes a long way with a man like me."

Austin said nothing. He had no breath to spare, but he thrust a brimming
basket upon the fireman, and that did just as well. They toiled
throughout that afternoon, under a broiling sun, but when the black
darkness came again they had still found no gum. Then, as they ate
together, Austin looked at Jefferson.

"You are sure the gum was really put into her?" he said.

"It was," said Jefferson, with a little grim smile. "Whether it's there
now, or not, is another thing. We'll know when she's empty, and if we
haven't found it then, we'll consider. Not a pound reached Grand Canary,
and it's quite certain that the fellows who went--somewhere else--took
none of it with them."



CHAPTER XVII

AUSTIN GOES DOWN RIVER


A week had passed without their finding any gum, when one evening Austin
stood beside Jefferson in the _Cumbria_'s forecastle. It felt as hot as
an oven, though the damp fell in big drops from the iron beams and
trickled down the vessel's unceiled skin, while a smoky lamp supplied it
with insufficient illumination. The faint light showed the hazily
outlined forms of the men sitting limp and apathetic, now the long day's
toil was over, in the acrid smoke of Canary tobacco, and forced up
clearly the drawn face of one who lay beneath it, gazing at Austin with
a glitter in his uncomprehending eyes. Behind him other figures occupied
a part of the shelf-like row of bunks, but they were mere shapeless
bundles of greasy blankets and foul clothing, with only a shock of damp
hair or a claw-like hand projecting from them here and there to show
that they were human. Jefferson said nothing, but his face was a trifle
grim, and he straightened himself wearily when one of the Spaniards rose
and moved into the light.

"Señor," he said, with a little deprecatory gesture, "for ourselves we
others do not complain, but these men are very sick, and the medicines
of the Señor Austin do not make them better. One of them is my cousin,
another my wife's brother; and there are those in Las Palmas and Galdar
who depend on them. In a week, or, perhaps, a day or two, they die.
Something must be done."

There was a faint approving murmur from the rest of the men. They had
worked well, but the excitement of the search for the gum was wearing
off, and the strain had commenced to tell. Jefferson smiled wryly as he
glanced at Austin.

"Hadn't you better ask him what can be done?" he said.

The Spaniard flung his arms up when Austin translated this. "Who knows?"
he said. "I am only an ignorant sailorman, and cannot tell; but when we
came here the Señor Austin promised us that we should have all that was
reasonable. It is not fitting that men should die and nothing be done to
save them."

"I scarcely think it is," said Austin. "Still, how to set about the
thing is more than I know. It must be talked over. We may, perhaps, tell
you more to-morrow."

He touched Jefferson's shoulder, and they went out of the forecastle and
towards the skipper's room silently. When they sat down Jefferson looked
hard at him.

"Well?" he said. "Two of them are your men."

Austin made a little sign of comprehension. "I don't remember what I
promised them. I had trouble to get them, but I certainly told them the
place wasn't a healthy one. That, however, doesn't convey a very
sufficient impression to anybody who hasn't been here."

"No," and Jefferson smiled grimly, "I don't quite think it does. The
point is that you feel yourself responsible to them, though I don't see
why you should. A man has to take his chances when he makes a bargain of
the kind they did."

Austin stretched himself on the settee wearily, and lighted a cigarette.
He had been feeling unpleasantly limp of late, and his head and back
ached that night.

"It's a little difficult to define what a bargain really is," he said.
"Still, it seems to me that to make it a just one the contracting
parties should clearly understand, one what he is selling, and the other
what he is buying. In the case in question I knew what I was getting,
but I'm far from sure the Canarios quite realised what they might have
to part with."

"That is not the business view."

"I am willing to admit it. I, however, can't help fancying that there is
a certain responsibility attached to buying up men's lives for a few
dollars when they're under the impression that it's their labour they're
selling. In fact, it's one that is a little too big for me."

Jefferson sat silent for almost a minute, looking at Austin, who met his
gaze steadily, with his eyes half closed.

"Well," he said, "it isn't the usual view, but there's something to be
said for it. What d'you mean to do?"

"Put the sick men on board the launch and run them out to sea on the
chance of picking up a West-coast liner, or--and it might suit just as
well--one of the new opposition boats. From what I gathered at Las
Palmas, the men who run them are, for the most part, rather a hard-up
crowd, and you're usually more likely to get a kindness done you by that
kind of people. We have nothing to pay their passage with, you see."

"You might get one oil puncheon into the launch. Still, you have to
remember that men who go down with fever along shore often die, instead
of coming round, when they get out to sea."

Austin smiled. "One would fancy that men who stay along shore when they
have fever, as these fellows have it, die invariably."

Once more Jefferson sat silent a while, gazing at his comrade
thoughtfully.

"Well," he said, with a little gesture, "I leave the thing to you.
After all, it's quite likely that one's dollars aren't worth what you
lay out to get them, now and then, but that's certainly not the
question. The boat's not making the water I expected, but we haven't
found the gum, and engine room and after hold are still almost full. The
boiler, as you know, has two or three tubes blowing, and we have nothing
to stop them with. That means she's wasting half her steam, and as we
have to keep a full head for the pump and winch, the coal's just
melting. By the time we heave her off there will be very little left,
and I've no fancy for going to sea short of fuel and being picked up as
salvage. It's a point that has been worrying me lately."

"There is coal to be had at Sierra Leone."

"And there are a British Consul and Government authorities. You're
loaded down to the water's edge with Shipping Acts, and the _Cumbria_'s
still upon your register. Do you suppose they are going to let her out
again, as she is, if we once go in there?"

Austin fancied it was scarcely likely. The requirements of the paternal
Board of Trade are, in fact, so onerous that English owners not
infrequently register their ships under another flag; while it occurred
to him that consul and surveyor would have a fit of indignant horror if
they saw how the enactments were complied with on board the _Cumbria_.

"No, sir," said Jefferson. "She's going straight across to Las Palmas
when she leaves this creek. That's Spanish, and a few dollars go a long
way in Spain. Besides, it's not quite certain that we'll leave the
creeks at all this season."

Austin straightened himself suddenly. "What do you mean?"

"Only that I'm not going home without the gum."

There was a little silence, and during it Austin endeavoured to adopt
an attitude of resignation. It was his belief that the _Cumbria_ would
be floated, or the project given up, when the rains came, that had
animated him through the toil he had undertaken. Another month or two
would, he had expected, see the task accomplished; but now it might, it
seemed, continue indefinitely, and he shrank from the thought of a
longer sojourn in the land of shadow. Then, with a little effort, he
slowly raised his head.

"To be candid, that is a good deal more than I counted on when I made
the bargain," he said. "Still, I can't well go back on it now. There is
coal to be had in Dakar, too, but it would cost a good deal to bring
even a schooner load here, though we could, per contra, load up oil in
her. Have you the money?"

Jefferson drummed with his fingers upon the table. "That's the trouble.
I have a little left, but I'm not quite sure I could get it into my
hands without the mailing to and fro of signed papers."

"Some of the West-coast mailboats call at Dakar. I might get the coal
and a schooner on a bond there. Of course, the people would want a heavy
profit under the circumstances."

"Three or four times as much as they were entitled to, any way," and a
little glint crept into Jefferson's eyes. "Now, it's quite usual for the
man who does the work to be glad of the odd scraps the man with the
money flings him for his pains, but it's going to be different with this
contract. I haven't the least notion of working here to make the other
fellow rich. If we buy the coal it will be at the market value, cash
down. The trouble is, I don't quite know where I'm going to get it."

"Well," said Austin, slowly, "a means of raising it has occurred to me.
You see, as seems to have been the case with you, there is money in the
family, and ethically I really think a little of it belongs to me. It
is not--for several reasons--a pleasant thing to ask for it. In fact, I
fancied once I'd have starved before I did so, but it couldn't be harder
than what we have been doing here. One could cable to Las Palmas, and a
credit might be arranged by wire with one of the banking agencies
there."

"Your people would let you have the money?"

Austin laughed, a trifle harshly. "Not exactly out of good-will, but, if
I worded that cable cleverly, they might do it to keep me here. I don't
know how it is in your country, but in ours they're seldom very proud of
the poor relation. In fact, some of them would do a good deal to prevent
his turning up to worry them. I think there are occasions when a man is
almost warranted in levying contributions of the kind."

Jefferson's eyes twinkled. "You are a curious, inconsequent kind of man.
You worry over those Spaniards who have no call on you, and then you
propose to bluff your own people out of their money."

"If I had been one who always acted logically I should certainly not
have been here. As it is, I'll start to-morrow, and wire my kind
relations that, failing a draft for two hundred pounds, I'm coming home
in rags by the first steamer. I almost think they'll send the money."

Jefferson stretched out a lean hand suddenly, and laid it on his
comrade's arm. "It's going to hurt you, but you can't get anything worth
while without that. You can send them back their money when we get her
off; but if you let anything stop you now you'll feel mean and sorry all
your life."

"Yes," said Austin, "I fancy I should. It's rather a pity, but one can't
always be particular. In the meanwhile, I'll see Tom about the launch."

He went out, and, coming back half an hour later, threw himself down on
the settee, and was fast asleep when Jefferson, who had been busy about
the pump, came in and stood a moment looking down on him. Austin's face
was worn, and thinner than it had been when he reached the _Cumbria_;
the damp stood beaded on it, and his hair lay wet and lank upon his
pallid forehead.

"I guess the raising of that money is going to be about the hardest
thing you ever did, but you'll do it," said Jefferson. "I've got the
kind of man I want for a partner."

Austin, who did not hear him, slept on peacefully, and steamed away down
river early next morning; while it was late on the second night, and the
launch was out at sea, when he sat, very wearily, with his hand upon her
helm, looking out across the long, smooth undulations. A half-moon hung
low to the westward, and they came up, heaving in long succession from
under it, ebony black in the hollows, and flecked with blinks of silver
light upon their backs. Austin only saw the latter, for he was looking
into the dusky blueness of the east, though it was only by an effort he
kept himself awake. During the last few days a feeling of limp dejection
had been creeping over him.

The launch was steaming slowly, with only a little drowsy gurgle about
her propeller as she swung and dipped to the swell, though she rolled
uneasily with the weight of the big oil puncheon high up in her. Bill,
the fireman, was crouched, half asleep, beside the clanking engine, and
two very sick men lay forward beneath a ragged tarpaulin. Though the
surf had been smoother than usual, Austin did not know how he had
brought them all out across the bar.

There were many stars in the heavens, and by and by, as he blinked at
the soft darkness with aching eyes, he saw one that seemed unusually
low down and moved a little. Then, shaking himself to attention, he made
out a dim glimmer of green, and became sensible of a faint throbbing
that crept softly out of the silence. He leaned forward and touched the
fireman.

"Open her out," he said. "That's a steamboat coming, and it looks as if
she would go by well to the south."

Bill pulled at a lever, the engine clanked faster, and the launch
commenced to rail more sharply as she lurched over the long undulations
with an increasing gurgle beneath her side. The sea was oily smooth, and
she rolled southwards fast; but the steamer's lights were rising high,
and the pounding of engines grew louder in a sharp crescendo, until they
could hear the black water frothing under iron bows. Then the launch's
whistle broke into a shrill scream. There was no answer, and Austin
turned to the fireman again.

"Shake her up! There will not be another boat for a week!" he said.

Bill pulled the lever over a little further, and stirred the furnace,
and the clanking grew louder, while the launch rolled more violently.
When she swung up, Austin saw a strip of dusky hull that swayed and
heaved in front of them, and then was suddenly lost to view again.

"She's not one of the mailboats, anyway. They'd be lighted, saloon deck
and poop," he said. "It almost looks as if she would get away from us."

Bill opened the whistle full, and left it screaming while he sprang up
on the side deck, a black figure holding high a strip of blazing waste.
Its red glare streaked the water, and the burning oil dripped from it in
a sparkling rain, while Austin felt his heart beat when the man flung it
down with an imprecation. Then a deep, vibratory blast came trembling
across the glimmering water, and he saw the piled-up foam fall away
beneath the big iron bows.

"They've seen us," he said. "She's standing by."

Five minutes later the launch lay lurching beneath the steamer's high,
black side, while a man leaned out from her slanted bridge above,
looking down into her.

"What d'you want?" he said. "I'm not going in for cargo unless it's
worth while. We're tolerably full this trip."

"A passage," said Austin. "There are myself and two sick men. We're
going to Grand Canary."

"What's the oil for?"

"To cover the ticket."

The skipper appeared to be gazing down at him in astonishment.

"Sixteen pounds' worth, at the most, for three men to Grand Canary! You
have good nerves," he said.

"I can't go any further, and you see they're very sick."

The skipper was understood to say that his ship was not a several
adjectived hospital, but Austin only smiled, for he was acquainted with
that kind of man, and aware that he was, at least, as likely to do him a
kindness as an elaborately got up mailboat's skipper.

"Well," he said, "if you won't have us, I'll take them back and bury
them. It's tolerably sure to come to that. Two of us will not eat much,
any way, and we'll be quite content to sleep on deck."

There was no answer for a moment, and then, as the bridge came slanting
down, the man who leaned out from it laughed.

"It's a puncheon of oil to nothing, and I've been hard up myself," he
said. "The next thing is, how the devil are you going to get them up?
We've stowed away our ladder."

"Then it'll have to be a sling. I'll steady them up when she rises, and
some of your crowd can hand them in."

It was done with difficulty, for the steamer rolled with a disconcerting
swing, and then Austin grasped Bill's hand before he went up the rope. A
gong clanged sharply, the launch slid astern, and several seamen carried
the two bundles of foul blankets away. While Austin watched them
vacantly a hand fell upon his shoulder, and propelled him into a room
beneath the bridge. Then he heard a harsh voice:

"There isn't any factory I'm acquainted with hereabouts. Where d'you get
that oil from?" it said.

Austin sat down on the settee and blinked at the burly, hard-faced man
in front of him.

"I don't know if you'll be astonished, but we really came by it
legitimately," he said. "In fact, we got it out of a stranded
steamer--one we're endeavouring to heave off, you see."

The skipper smiled as comprehension suddenly dawned on him. "Then you're
one of the ---- fools who bought the _Cumbria_?"

"I am. Still, I'm not sure that your opinion of us is quite warranted
yet. If it isn't, you'll get more than the one puncheon for taking us
across. In the meanwhile, I'm a little anxious about those men."

"They're all right. Pills will see to them. We have one. He probably
killed somebody by accident, or did something of that kind, or he
wouldn't be here. Directors had a notion we might pick up a few
passengers. They, however, prefer the liners."

Austin laughed, and the skipper's eyes slowly twinkled. "The fact is, I
don't blame them," he said. "Any way, you will lie down here until they
get you a room in the poop ready."

He went out, and an hour or two later Austin was roused by a touch from
a fitful sleep. A young man who stooped over him was regarding him
intently.

"Put that in your mouth?" he said.

Austin slipped the little glass tube between his lips, and the doctor
nodded when he passed it back to him.

"Yes," he said, "you have a very promising case of fever coming on. Get
up and lean on me; the sooner we pack you between the blankets the
better."

Austin rose unsteadily, and found that he had some difficulty in walking
when they went out upon the slanting deck. He was quite sure of that,
but everything else that he did, or was done to him, during the next few
days, was wrapped in obscurity. Still, he had a hazy notion of the
doctor and another man half dragging him into a little room.



CHAPTER XVIII

JACINTA BECOMES INDIGNANT


It was fifteen days after he boarded the steamer when Austin reached Las
Palmas in a condition which, at least, prevented him chafing at the
delay as he otherwise would have done. On the second day something went
wrong with the high-pressure engine, and the little, deep-loaded vessel
lay rolling idly athwart the swell, while her engineers dismantled and
re-erected it. Then the trouble they had already had with the condenser
became more acute, so that they would scarcely keep a vacuum, and it
also happened that the trade-breeze she had to steam against blew
unusually fresh that season.

Austin, however, was not aware of this at the time. He lay rambling
incoherently for several days, and when at last his senses came back to
him, found himself too weak and listless to trouble about anything. He
gained strength rapidly, for the swamp fever does not, as a rule, keep
its victim prostrate long. It either kills him without loss of time, or
allows him to escape for a season; but its effect is frequently mental
as well as physical, and Austin's listlessness remained. He had borne a
heavy strain, and when he went ashore at Las Palmas the inevitable
reaction was intensified by the black dejection the fever had left
behind. It seemed to him that he and Jefferson were only wasting their
efforts, and though he still meant to go on with them, he expected no
result, since he now felt that there was not the slightest probability
of their ever getting the _Cumbria_ off. It was a somewhat unusual mood
for a young Englishman to find himself in, though by no means an
incomprehensible one in case of a man badly shaken by the malaria fever,
while one of Austin's shortcomings was, or so, at least, Jacinta Brown
considered, a too complaisant adaptation of himself to circumstances.
She held the belief that when the latter were unpropitious, a determined
attempt to alter them was much more commendable, and not infrequently
successful.

In any case, Austin found Pancho Brown was away buying tomatoes when he
called at his office, and the Spanish clerk also informed him that Miss
Brown and Mrs. Hatherly had left Las Palmas for a while. He fancied they
had gone to Madeira, but was not certain, and Austin, who left him a
message for Brown and a letter Jefferson had charged him with to be
forwarded to Miss Gascoyne, went on to the telegraph office more
dejected than ever. Jacinta had, usually, a bracing effect upon those
she came into contact with, and Austin, who felt he needed a mental
stimulant, realised now that one of the things that had sustained him
was the expectation of hearing her express her approval of what he had
done. He had not looked for anything more, but it seemed that he must
also dispense with this consolation.

He delivered one of the canarios, who was apparently recovering, to his
friends, and saw the other bestowed in the hospital, and then, finding
that he could not loiter about Las Palmas waiting an answer to his
cable, which he did not expect for several days, decided to go across to
Teneriffe with the _Estremedura_. There was no difficulty about this,
though funds were scanty, for the Spanish manager told him he could make
himself at home on board her as long as he liked, if he would instruct
the new sobrecargo in his duties, as he, it appeared, had some
difficulty in understanding them.

On the night they went to sea he lay upon the settee in the engineers'
mess-room, with Macallister sitting opposite him, and a basket of white
grapes and a garafon of red wine on the table between them. Port and
door were wide open, and the trade-breeze swept through the room, fresh,
and delightfully cool. Austin had also an unusually good cigar in his
hand, and stretched himself on the settee with a little sigh of content
when he had recounted what they had done on board the _Cumbria_.

"I don't know if we'll ever get her off, and the astonishing thing is,
that since I had the fever I don't seem to care," he said. "In the
meanwhile, it's a relief to get away from her. In fact, I feel I would
like to lie here and take it easy for at least a year."

Macallister nodded comprehendingly. Austin's face was blanched and
hollow, and he was very thin, while the stamp of weariness and lassitude
was plain on him. Still, as he glanced in his direction a little sparkle
crept into the engineer's eyes.

"So Jefferson made the pump go, and ran the forehold dry!" he said.
"When ye come to think of it, yon is an ingenious man."

Austin laughed. "He is also, in some respects, an astonishing one. He
was perfectly at home among the smart people at the Catalina, and I
fancy he would have been equally so in the Bowery, whose inhabitants,
one understands, very much resemble in their manners those of your
Glasgow closes or Edinburgh wynds. In fact, I've wondered, now and then,
if Miss Gascoyne quite realises who she is going to marry. There are
several sides to Jefferson's character, and she has, so far, only seen
one of them."

"Well," said Macallister, reflectively, "I'm thinking she will never
see the rest. There are men, though they're no exactly plentiful, who
can hide them, and it's scarcely likely that Jefferson will rive a
steamboat out of the African swamps again."

"Once is quite enough in a lifetime, but it's when the work is done, and
he has to quiet down, I foresee trouble for Jefferson. I'm not sure Miss
Gascoyne's English friends would altogether appreciate him."

Again Macallister nodded. "Still," he said, "what yon man does not know
he will learn. I would back him to do anything now he has made that
boiler steam. Then ye will mind it's no the clever women who are the
easiest to live with when ye have married them, and there's a good deal
to be said for girls like Miss Gascoyne, who do not see too much. It is
convenient that a wife should be content with her husband, and not be
wanting to change him into somebody else, which is a thing I would not
stand at any price myself."

Austin grinned, for it was known that Macallister had, at least now and
then, found it advisable to entertain his friends on board the
_Estremedura_ by stealth. The engineer however, did not appear to notice
his smile.

"Ye will go back when ye get the money?" he said.

"Of course. I have to see the thing out now, though I don't quite
understand how I ever came to trouble myself about it in the first
place."

This time it was Macallister who grinned. "I have been in this world a
weary while, and would ye pull the wool over my eyes? Ye are aware that
the notion was driven into ye."

Austin was astonished, and a trifle annoyed, as he remembered a certain
very similar conversation he had had with Jefferson. It was
disconcerting to find that Macallister was as conversant with his
affairs as his partner had shown himself to be, especially as they had
both apparently drawn the same inference.

"I wonder what made you say that?" he asked, with lifted brows.

Macallister laughed. "Well," he said drily, "I'm thinking Miss Brown
knows, as well as I do, that ye would not have gone of your own accord."

"Why should Miss Brown have the slightest wish that I should go to
Africa?"

"If ye do not know, how could ye expect me to? Still, it should be plain
to ye that it was not for your health."

Austin raised himself a trifle, and looked at his comrade steadily. "The
drift of your remarks is tolerably clear. Any way, because I would
sooner you made no more of them, it might be as well to point out that
no girl who cared twopence about a man would send him to the swamps
where the _Cumbria_ is lying."

"Maybe she would not. There are things I do not know, but ye will mind
that Jacinta Brown is not made on quite the same model as Miss Gascoyne.
She sees a good deal, and if she was not content with her husband she
would up and alter him. I'm thinking it would not matter if it hurt the
pair o' them."

"The difficulty is that she hasn't got one."

Macallister laughed softly. "It's one that can be got over, though
Jacinta's particular. It's not everybody who would suit her. Ye are
still wondering why ye went to Africa?"

"No," said Austin, with a trace of grimness. "I don't think it's worth
while. Mind, I'm not admitting that I didn't go because the notion
pleased me, and if Miss Brown wished me to, it was certainly because of
Muriel Gascoyne."

"Maybe," said Macallister, with a little incredulous smile. He rose,
and, moving towards the doorway, turned again. "She might tell ye
herself to-morrow. She's now in Santa Cruz."

He went out, apparently chuckling over something, and Austin
thoughtfully smoked out his cigar. To be a friend of Jacinta Brown's
was, as he had realised already, a somewhat serious thing. It implied
that one must adopt her point of view, and, what was more difficult, to
some extent, at least, sink his own individuality. Macallister and
Jefferson were, he fancied, perhaps right upon one point, and that was
that Jacinta had decided that a little strenuous action might be
beneficial in his case; but if this was so, Austin was not sure that he
was grateful to her. He was willing to do anything that would afford her
pleasure, that was, so long as he could feel she would gain anything
tangible, if it was only the satisfaction of seeing Muriel Gascoyne made
happy through his endeavours. In fact, what he wished was to do her a
definite service, but the notion of being reformed, as it were, against
his wishes, when he was not sure that he needed it, did not please him.
This was carrying a friendly interest considerably too far, and it was
quite certain, he thought, that he could expect nothing more from her.
He almost wished that he had never seen her, which was a desire he had
hovered on the brink of before; but while he considered the matter the
trade-breeze was sighing through the port, and the engines throbbed on
drowsily, while from outside came the hiss and gurgle of parted seas.
Austin heard it all, until the sounds grew fainter, and he went to
sleep.

It also happened that while he slept and dreamed of her, Jacinta sat
with Muriel Gascoyne in the garden of a certain hotel on the hillside
above Santa Cruz, Teneriffe. The house had been built long ago,
evidently for a Spanish gentleman of means and taste, and its latest
proprietor had sufficient sense to attempt no improvement on its
old-world beauty. It stood on a terrace of the hillside, quiet, quaint,
and cool, with its ancient, bronze-railed balconies, red-tiled roof, and
pink-washed walls, but its garden of palms and oleanders was its
greatest charm.

On the night in question a full moon hung over the Cañadas' splintered
rampart, and its soft radiance fell upon the white-walled city and smote
a track of glittering silver across the vast plain of sea. The smell of
oleanders and heliotrope was heavy in the air, and a cluster of blossoms
swayed above Jacinta's shoulder. She was just then looking up at a
Spanish officer in dark green uniform, who stood close by, with sword
girt tight to his thigh. He had a dark, forceful face, with the stamp of
distinction on it, but he received no encouragement, though he glanced
at the vacant place on the stone bench suggestively.

"No," said Jacinta. "I do not think I shall go to-morrow, so you need
not call for me. I have scrambled through the Mercedes Wood several
times already, and we came here to be quiet. That is why we are sitting
outside to-night. There are two or three tiresome people in the house
who will insist upon talking."

It is seldom necessary to furnish a Spaniard, who is usually skilled in
innuendo, with a second hint, and the officer took his departure
gracefully. When he vanished, with jingling sword, into the shadow of
the palms, Muriel looked at her companion.

"You meant me to stay?" she said.

"Of course," said Jacinta. "Still, I didn't mean you to let him see that
I did, and I really did not kick you very hard. Any way, it doesn't
matter. The great thing is that he is gone."

"You were anxious that he should go?"

"Yes," said Jacinta. "I feel relieved now. He is, in some respects, a
very silly man. In fact, he has been wanting to marry me for ever so
long."

"Why?" said Muriel, and stopped abruptly. "Of course, I mean that he is
a Spaniard, you know."

Jacinta laughed, and apparently indicated herself by a little wave of
her fan. She was once more attired in an evening dress that appeared to
consist largely of black lace, and looked curiously dainty and
sylph-like in the diaphanous drapery. The moonlight was also on her
face.

"The reason," she said, "ought to be sufficiently plain. He is, as you
point out, certainly Spanish, but there really are a few estimable
gentlemen of that nationality. This one was Governor or Commandante in
some part of Cuba, and I believe he got comparatively rich there. They
usually do. Still, he's a little fond of the casino, and is reported to
be unlucky, while, in spite of my obvious disadvantages, I am the
daughter of Pancho Brown."

She stopped with another laugh that had a faintly suggestive ring in it.
"There are times when I wish I was somebody else who hadn't a penny!"

"But it can't be nice to be poor," said Muriel, looking at her with a
trace of bewilderment in her big blue eyes.

"It is probably distinctly unpleasant. Still, it would be consoling to
feel that your money could neither encourage nor prevent anybody you
liked falling in love with you, and it would, in one sense, be nice to
know that the man you graciously approved of would have to get whatever
you wanted for you. You ought to understand that."

There was a trace of pride in Muriel's smile. "Of course; but, after
all, there are not many men who can do almost anything, like--Harry
Jefferson. Some of the very nicest ones seem quite unable to make
money."

"I really don't think there are," and Jacinta's tone was, for no very
apparent reason, slightly different now. "The nicest ones are, as you
suggest, usually lazy. It's sad, but true. Still, you see, if ever I
married, my husband would have to shake off his slothfulness and do
something worth while."

"But he mightn't want to."

"Of course," said Jacinta, drily. "He probably wouldn't. Still, he would
have to. I should make him."

"Ah," said Muriel. "Do you know that you are just a little hard, and I
think when one is too hard one is generally sorry afterwards. Now, I
don't understand it all, but you once told me you had got something you
wished for done, and were sorry you had. I fancied you were even sorrier
than you wished me to know."

Jacinta sat silent a moment or two, with a curious expression in her
face, as she looked out across the clustered roofs towards the sparkling
sea. It was a custom she had fallen into lately, and it was always
towards the east she gazed. Then she smiled.

"Well," she said, "perhaps I was, but it was certainly very silly of
me."

Neither of them spoke again for a while, and by and by a man came out of
the house bearing an envelope upon a tray. Jacinta tore it open, and
Muriel saw the blood surge to her face as she spread out the telegraphic
message. Then the swift colour faded, and there was only a little angry
glint in her eyes.

"It's from my father, and good news for you," she said. "Tell Muriel
Austin was here. Salvage operations difficult, but he left Jefferson,
who expects to be successful, well. Forwarding letter."

"Ah!" said Muriel, with a little gasp, "you don't know what a relief
that is to me. But you seem almost angry."

Jacinta laughed a trifle harshly. "I almost think I am. It isn't exactly
pleasant to find one's self mistaken, and I had expected something
better from Mr. Austin. The difficulties he mentions were evidently too
much for him. You were quite right, my dear. There are not many men like
Jefferson."

Now Muriel Gascoyne had no very keen perceptions, and was, moreover,
wrapped up in her own and Jefferson's affairs, or she might have seen
that anger was not all that Jacinta was feeling. As it was, overcome by
the relief the message had brought her, she quite failed to notice the
pain in her companion's face or the quivering of her hands. In a minute
or two Jacinta, who waited until she fancied she could do so without it
appearing significant, rose and left her.

She, however, stopped on the terrace, and once more looked down on the
glittering sea, with one hand closed at her side. Then, as though
remembering something, she turned hastily.

"I could never have believed you were a coward--and you went out for
me!" she said, and moved towards the hotel with a little air of
resolution, as one who had made a painful decision.



CHAPTER XIX

CONDEMNED UNHEARD


A full moon hung over the white city, and the drowsy murmur of the surf
broke fitfully through the music of the artillery band when Austin sat
listlessly on a bench in the plaza of Santa Cruz. It was about eight
o'clock in the evening, and the plaza was crowded, as usual at that
hour. Peon and officer, merchant and clerk, paced slowly up and down,
enjoying the cool of the evening with their wives and daughters, or sat
in clusters outside the lighted cafés. The band was an excellent one,
the crowd gravely good-humoured, and picturesquely attired, for white
linen, pale-tinted draperies, sombre cloth, and green uniform formed
patches of kaleidoscopic colouring as the stream of humanity flowed by
under the glaring lamplight and the soft radiance of the moon.

Austin had sat there often before he went to Africa, listening to the
music and watching the spectacle; but neither had any charm for him that
night. The laughter sounded hollow, the waltz the band was playing had
lost its swing, and the streams of light from the cafés hurt his eyes
and irritated him. The deep murmur of the sea alone was faintly
soothing, and remembering how often he had thought of that cool plaza,
with its lights and music, in the steamy blackness of the swamps, he
wondered vaguely what had happened to him. The zest and sparkle seemed
to have gone out of life, and he did not attribute it to the fact that
the melancholia of the swamp belt was still upon him.

He crossed the plaza, and sitting outside one of the cafés he had
frequented, asked for wine. It was brought him, chilled with snow from
the great peak's summit, but the greeting of the man who kept the café
seemed for once devoid of cordiality, and the wine sour and thin. Still,
the Spaniard stood a minute or two by his chair, and, as it happened,
Jacinta passed just then with a dark-faced Spanish officer. He wore an
exceedingly tight-fitting uniform, but he had a figure that carried it
well, and an unmistakable air of distinction. Jacinta was also smiling
at him, though she turned, and seemed to indicate somebody in the
vicinity with a little gesture. As she did so her eyes rested for a
moment upon Austin, who became for the first time unpleasantly conscious
of his haggard face and hard, scarred hands. There was, he realised,
nothing in the least distinguished about him. Then it was with a faint
sense of dismay he saw that Jacinta did not mean to recognise him, for
she laughed as she turned to her companion, and he heard the soft rustle
of her light draperies as they went on again.

"That is the Colonel Sarramento?" he said, as carelessly as he could,
though there was a faint flush in his hollow face.

"It is," said his companion. "Colonel in the military service, though he
has held other offices in Cuba. A man of ability, señor, and now it is
said that he will marry the English merchant's daughter. Why not? The
Señorita Brown is more Spanish than English, and she is certainly rich."

"I don't know of any reason," said Austin listlessly, and the man turned
away. He had no wish to waste his time upon an Englishman who
apparently did not appreciate his conversation.

Austin sat still a little while, indignation struggling with his
languor, for he was almost certain that Jacinta had seen him. He had
never flattered himself that she would regard him as anything more than
a friend who was occasionally useful, but he thought she might, at
least, have expressed her appreciation of his latest efforts, and he was
also a trifle puzzled. Jacinta, as a rule, would stop and speak to any
of the barefooted peons she was acquainted with, and he had never known
her to slight an acquaintance without a reason. It seemed only due to
her to make quite sure she had intentionally passed him without
recognition.

He rose and strolled round the plaza until he met her again face to face
where a stream of garish light fell upon them both. She allowed her eyes
to rest upon him steadily, but it was the look she would have bestowed
on a stranger, and in another moment she had turned to the officer at
her side. Then a bevy of laughing tourists passed between and separated
them.

After that Austin strolled round the plaza several times in a far from
amiable temper. He was stirred at last, and easy-going as he usually
was, there was in him a certain vein of combativeness which had been
shaken into activity in Africa. It was, he admitted, certainly Jacinta's
privilege to ignore him; but there were occasions on which
conventionalities might be disregarded, and he determined that she
should, at least, make him acquainted with her purpose in doing so. He
did not mean to question it, but to hear it was, he felt, no more than
his due.

It was some time before he came upon her again, talking to a Spanish
lady, who, seeing him approaching with a suggestion of resolution in his
attitude, had sufficient sense to withdraw a pace or two and sign to
another companion. Jacinta apparently recognised that he was not to be
put off this time, for she indicated the vacant chairs not far away with
a little wave of her fan, and when he drew one out for her sat down and
looked at him.

"You are persistent," she said. "I am not sure that it was altogether
commendable taste."

Austin laughed a trifle bitterly, for the pessimistic dejection the
fever leaves does not, as a rule, tend to amiability, and its victim,
while willing to admit that there is nothing worth worrying over, is apt
to make a very human display of temper on very small provocation.

"One should not expect too much from a steamboat sobrecargo," he said.
"It is scarcely fair to compare him--for example--with a distinguished
Spanish officer."

"I do not think you are improving matters," said Jacinta.

"Well," said Austin drily, "I have, you see, just come from a land where
life is rather a grim affair, and one has no time to study its little
amenities. I am, in fact, quite willing to admit that I have left my
usual suavity behind me. Still, I don't think that should count. You
contrived to impress me with the fact that you preferred something more
vigorously brusque before I went out."

Jacinta met his gaze directly with a little ominous sparkle in her eyes
and straightening brows. She had laid down her fan, and there was a cold
disdain in her face the man could not understand. It was unfortunate he
did not know how Pancho Brown had worded his message, for it contained
no intimation that he was going back to Africa.

"It's a pity you didn't stay there," she said.

Austin started a little. He did not see what she could mean, and the
speech appeared a trifle inhuman.

"It would please me to think you haven't any clear notion what those
swamps are like," he said. "One is, unfortunately, apt to stay there
altogether."

"Which is a contingency you naturally wished to avoid? I congratulated
you upon your prudence once before. Still, you, at least, seemed quite
acquainted with the characteristics of the fever belt of Western Africa
when you went out. Your friends the mailboats' officers must have told
you. That being so, why did you go?"

"A persistent dropping will, it is said, in time wear away considerably
harder material than I am composed of. Words are also, one could fancy,
even more efficacious than water in that respect."

A trace of colour crept into Jacinta's face, and her brows grew
straighter. The lines of her slight form became more rigid, and she was
distinctly imperious in her anger.

"Oh, I understand!" she said. "Well, I admit that I was the cause of
your going, and now you have come to reproach me for sending you. Well,
I will try to bear it, and if I do show any anger it will not be at what
you say, but at the fact that one who I to some extent believed in
should consider himself warranted in saying anything at all. No doubt,
you will not recognise the distinction, but in the meanwhile you haven't
quite answered my question. You were a free agent, after all, and I
could use no compulsion. Why did you go?"

Austin's temper had grown no better during the interview, which was
unfortunate for him, because an angry man is usually at a disadvantage
in the presence of a woman whose indignation with him is largely
tempered by a chilling disdain.

"That," he said, reflectively, "is a point upon which I cannot be quite
certain, though the whole thing was, naturally, in most respects a piece
of egregious folly. Still, your good opinion had its value to me,
especially as it was very evident that I could never expect anything
more. A little brutal candour is, I think, admissible now and then."

The colour had faded out of Jacinta's face, but the sparkle was a trifle
plainer in her eyes. "So you recognised that! Under the circumstances,
it was wise of you, though how far you were warranted in telling me is a
question we needn't go into now. It is a pity you ever went at all."

"In one sense I almost think it is," said Austin, gazing at her
bewilderedly. "Still, there is a good deal I can't understand. I am in
the dark, you see."

"Then I suppose I must try to make it clear to you. I am an essentially
practical person, and any ardour you possess has hitherto been qualified
by a very commendable discretion; but we are not very old, after all,
and there is, fortunately, something in most of us which is occasionally
stronger than the petty prudence we guide ourselves by. Now and then, as
you gracefully suggest, it leads us into folly, which we have, perhaps,
really no great reason to be sorry for. Well, for a little while you
shook off the practical and apparently aspired after the ideal. You went
out to Africa because you fancied it would please me, and it did. One
may admit that a thing of that kind appeals to a woman's vanity. Still,
of course, one could scarcely expect you to adhere to such a purpose. We
have grown too wise to indulge in unprofitable sentimentality, and our
knights errant do not come back upon their shields. They are practical
gentlemen, who appreciate the comfort of a whole skin."

"I'm afraid you're confusing historical periods, and the times have
certainly changed. They now use an empty gun case in Western Africa, I
believe, and if they can't get that, any old blanket or piece of canvas
that happens to be available."

"It should be a comfort to know that you need never anticipate anything
so unpleasant."

This time the colour suffused Austin's pallid face. It was clear that
she was taunting him with cowardice in leaving Jefferson, and her
contempt appeared so wholly unreasonable that he would make no attempt
to vindicate himself. It did not appear likely to be successful in any
case, and the pessimistic bitterness the fever leaves was still upon
him.

"Well," he said quietly, "I had looked for a slightly different
reception; but it presumably isn't dignified to complain, especially
when it's evident it wouldn't do any good, while I scarcely think there
is anything to be gained by extending our conversation. You see, I am,
naturally, aware that my character is a somewhat indifferent one
already. You will, no doubt, excuse me?"

Jacinta made him a little inclination over her lifted fan.

"If you will tell the Señora Anasona yonder that I am waiting, I should
be much obliged," she said.

It was five minutes later when Austin was admitted to the cable office
as a favour, and handed a despatch from a Las Palmas banking agency.

"Your draft will be honoured to the extent of £200," it ran.

He smiled grimly as he thrust it into his pocket, and, wandering round
the plaza again, came upon Muriel Gascoyne and Mrs. Hatherly sitting in
two of the chairs laid out in front of a hotel. He felt tempted to slip
by, but remembered that he had a duty to Jefferson. Mrs. Hatherly shook
hands with him, and though he fancied there was a restraint in her
cordiality, Muriel turned to him impulsively.

"Tell me everything," she said. "The letter has not arrived."

"There is a good deal of it," said Austin, with a smile.

"Then don't waste time."

Austin roused himself with an effort. Her tense interest and her
simplicity, which, it seemed to him, had in it so much that was
admirable, appealed to him, and he determined that she, at least, should
know what Jefferson had done for her. The artistic temperament had also
its influence on him, and he made her and her companion see the steaming
swamps and feel the stress and strain of effort in the stifling hold,
while it was his pleasure that Jefferson should stalk, a lean, dominant
figure, through all the varied scenes. He felt, when he concluded, that
he had drawn those sombre pictures well, and it would be Jefferson's
fault if he did not henceforward pose before the girl's fancy as a
knightly hero of romance. There were, naturally, difficulties to be
overcome, for he recognised that she must be forced to comprehend that
chivalric purposes must, nowadays, be wrought out by most prosaic means,
and that the clash of the encounter occasionally leaves its mark upon a
man. Still, he saw that he had succeeded when the simple pride shone
through the moisture that gathered in the girl's big blue eyes, and he
was moved to sympathy when she rose with a little gasp.

"I must tell Jacinta. I don't feel quite able to thank you, Mr. Austin;
but you will understand," she said.

She left them, and Mrs. Hatherly turned and looked at Austin very
graciously.

"So you are going back?" she said.

"Of course," said Austin. "There is a Spanish boat to Las Palmas
to-morrow, and nothing to keep me now I have got the money. I don't mind
admitting that the asking for it was harder than anything I did in
Africa."

The little lady nodded, with a very kindly light in her eyes. "Yes," she
said, "I can understand that, but in one sense I am not exactly pleased.
Why didn't you come to me?"

"It sounds very ungracious, madam, but I am already in your debt, and
one is naturally shy about asking favours of that kind from women. I
almost think there are special reasons why it should be so in my case."

"That, presumably, means somebody has used you badly? Still, it really
isn't wise to generalise too freely, and you were once good enough to
promise that you would consider me as a friend of yours."

"I could scarcely have fancied you were particularly friendly a little
while ago."

The little lady smiled again. "I offer you my sincere apologies, Mr.
Austin. And now a question. Did you tell Jacinta what you have told us?"

"I certainly did not. To be candid, I hadn't the slightest
encouragement. Miss Brown made it quite clear to me that she hadn't a
trace of interest in any of my doings. In fact, she was kind enough to
suggest it was rather a pity I escaped the fever, and hadn't come back
upon my shield."

"For which she will probably be distinctly annoyed with herself by and
by. I presume you must catch the Spanish steamer, Mr. Austin?"

"Of course. After all, I shall be glad to get back. People are not so
very exacting in Africa, you see."

Mrs. Hatherly nodded, though there was a twinkle in her eyes. "Well,"
she said, "we will talk of something else in the meanwhile. I am alone
just now, and you cannot decently leave me."

They discussed a good many things, and it seemed to Austin that his
companion meant to keep him there, and was anxious to gain time. Still,
he could see no reason for it, and failed to understand her remark about
Jacinta, and he sat still with an effort until Muriel came back again.
She appeared a trifle vexed about something.

"I don't know what has happened to Jacinta, but she wasn't in the least
sympathetic," she said. "She wouldn't even listen when I wanted to talk
about Harry and the _Cumbria_."

"Where is she now?" asked Mrs. Hatherly.

"With the Señora Anasona. They are going back to Laguna directly, though
she had, as you know, practically promised to stay with us to-night. The
señora, it seems, wants to drive her across to her finca at Orotava
to-morrow. It is very provoking."

Mrs. Hatherly changed the subject, and it was a minute or two later when
she turned to Austin again.

"I suppose it is really necessary that you should cross to Las Palmas
to-morrow," she said casually. "Couldn't you get there in the
_Estremedura_ before the West-coast boat sailed?"

"There are several things I have to do which can't well be arranged
here."

"You would insist on getting them all done, even if you knew it would
cost you something?"

"I really think I should. You see, Jefferson and the others are
practically depending on me, and I daren't omit anything I want,
whatever trouble it might cause me, although, as a matter of fact, I
don't anticipate any, and it will be rather a relief to get away."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Hatherly. "Well, I suppose that is only what one would
expect from you. Muriel, will you tell Jacinta that she has not shown me
the lace she mentioned, and as I think I'll get the woman at Laguna to
make me some, I want to see it before she goes away. I shall have to
keep you another few minutes, Mr. Austin."

Muriel disappeared into the crowd, and it was a little time before she
came back again.

"Jacinta has just driven off with the señora," she said. "I can't quite
understand why she didn't come to say good-bye."

Austin smiled drily. "I think I could guess her reason."

Mrs. Hatherly rose and held out her hand. "If you can come and see us
to-morrow, please do so," she said. "If not, you will remember now that
whatever happens I am one of your friends."

"I shall be glad to do so, madam," and Austin made her a little
inclination. "Good friends are scarce, and there are apparently not many
people who believe in me."



CHAPTER XX

JACINTA MAKES NO EXCUSE


It was in the heat of the afternoon Mrs. Hatherly and Muriel drove into
old-world Laguna, which stands high upon the hill slopes above Santa
Cruz. It was built four hundred years ago, and remains but little
changed, for its early prosperity ebbed away with the trade in the once
famous vintages of Canary, so that it stood until a few years ago with
the grass in its streets, a place of drowsy stillness, picturesque in
its decay, cool, and by no means over clean. Beneath it the hillside
drops, dusty and sun-scorched, to the sea; but on the plateau behind it
are fields of tall sugar-cane, walnuts, eucalyptus, and vines, beyond
which again the shoulders of the great peak are seamed by straggling
pines. Still, when Mrs. Hatherly drove into it, Laguna was once more
awakening, for the British tourist had arrived, with his wife and
daughters, in blue veils and inartistic raiment that roused the
peasants' wonder, besides cameras, and baggage by the carriage load; and
when the tourist comes, quietness and the dignified simplicity of olden
Spain melt before him.

The Señora Anasona, with whom Jacinta was then residing, however,
belonged to the ancient order, and she had also placed herself and all
her possessions at Mrs. Hatherly's disposal. The latter had already
discovered that to be a friend of Jacinta's counted for a good deal in
those islands. It secured one consideration in unexpected places, and
opened doors at which the tweed-clad tourists' wives might knock in
vain. The Castilian is somewhat behind the times, and, perhaps because
he is seldom troubled with much of it, attaches rather less importance
than some other people do to the possession of money. Muriel, however,
was not certain why her aunt had undertaken that hot and dusty drive,
although she had informed her that if there was a comfortable hotel in
Laguna she might stay there a day or two, because she was not sure that
Santa Cruz suited her, and she had been troubled with certain
premonitory twinges in one shoulder.

In any case, she faced the scorching sun uncomplainingly, and arriving
at last before an iron-bound door in a blank white wall, was led through
an ill-kept garden, where flowers rioted, a chaos of blazing colour, at
their will, into a big, cool house, which seemed filled with slumbrous
quietness. She was received by a very reposeful lady of middle age in
inconveniently tight-fitting black silk, with the powder thick upon her
pallid face. The Señora Anasona was, as is usual with Spanish women who
have passed their third decade, somnolent in expression, and portly; but
though they could only muster a very little indifferent French between
them, she promptly set her guests at ease.

"This poor house and all there is in it are yours," she said. "The
friends of the Señorita Jacinta are also mine. Since you have known this
for some time, why have you stayed away so long?"

It was the usual conventional formula in Spain, but there was a certain
stately graciousness in her gesture which Mrs. Hatherly had never seen
quite equalled before. The latter attempted an appropriate reply in
French, and then inquired for Jacinta, whereupon her hostess smiled.

"She is in the patio, and, perhaps, asleep," she said. "If not, it is
likely that she will come in. I do not know. One does what one pleases
always in this house of mine, and here one usually sleeps by the
afternoon. What would you? It is a custom of the country, and there is
nothing else to do. One can dream of the times when it was different
with us and Spain."

"One could fancy in this island that those days have not altogether
passed away, or, at least, that they had left something behind," said
Mrs. Hatherly. "One sees it in even your peons' courtesy, and the
modesty of the women."

"You did not feel that in Las Palmas?"

"No," said Mrs. Hatherly. "I don't think I did."

The señora laughed. "Las Palmas is not Spanish now, my friend. They have
coal wharves and harbour works, and heap up the pesetas there. There
are, however, things we others would not exchange for silver. This
house, for example. An Englishman would buy it and make it an hotel."

"Of course, you would not sell it him?"

The señora shook her head. "It is not mine," she said. "It belongs to
the Anasonas who are dead. One of them built it four hundred years ago,
and one of them has lived here always, until my husband, Colonel of
Cazadores, died in Cuba. Now I live alone, and remember, until by and by
my nephew comes here after me. The past is all we have in Spain, but one
feels that, after all, it may be worth more than the present--when one
goes to Las Palmas."

Then a maid brought in a basket of grapes and a little wine, and it was
some time later when the señora turned to Muriel.

"It seems that Jacinta is not coming in," she said. "Perhaps she would
sooner see you alone in the patio. I do not know. Jacinta does not care
about the conventions. She does what pleases her, and it is also very
often the right thing. One descends from the veranda outside that
window."

Muriel smiled as she went out, for she was acquainted with Jacinta's
habits, and was beginning to comprehend the customs of the land she
lived in, where time is not considered, and it is always drowsy
afternoon. Then, though she was not an imaginative person, she trod
softly as she went down the steps to the patio, for the influence of the
place laid hold on her. The little white town lay silent under the
cloudless heavens, and had there been any movement of busy life there,
which very seldom happened, the high white walls of the garden would
have shut out the sound. The house was also built round the patio in a
hollow square, and interposed a double barrier between the outer world
and that space of flowers.

Over it hung bronze-railed balconies, and quaint verandas with old
carved pillars and rich trellises smothered in purple bougainvilla,
while there were oleanders and heavy scented heliotrope in the little
square below. A fountain twinkled in the midst of it, and fat goldfish
from Palma swam slowly round its marble basin; but all was old,
artistic, ill cared for, and steeped in a silence which seemed filled
with the reminiscences of bygone years. Even Jacinta, who lay in a big
cane chair near the fountain, appeared in keeping with the atmosphere of
the place, for she was dressed in gauzy Castilian black, which added a
suggestion of old-fashioned stateliness to her somewhat slender figure,
and an ebony fan of a kind not made nowadays lay across an open book she
had apparently been reading. She looked up with a little smile when she
saw Muriel, and languidly pointed to the canvas lounge beside her.

"It's comfortable, and I think it's strong," she said. "Any way, the
señora regularly goes to sleep in it. I brought the lounges with me,
because they don't have such things in Spain. I shall probably leave
them here, and if they break down with the señora it is quite certain
nobody will ever think of mending them. One folds one's hands and says
that it doesn't matter at Laguna. You will begin to understand it if you
stay here."

Muriel laughed. "It's often a little hard to tell what you mean," she
said. "You have been reading?"

"Mr. Prescott's history of the Spanish occupation of Mexico--you will,
no doubt, be astonished at that?"

"I am. Still, I have read it, too."

Jacinta smiled as she unfolded her fan. "I have my moments of
relaxation, and can be sentimental now and then. Sentiment, you see, is
in the atmosphere here. One feels mediæval, as if all the old things of
the olden days had come back again, miracles, and crowned virgins that
fell from the clouds, valour and knightliness, and man's faith in woman.
No doubt there were more, but I don't remember them. They have, of
course, gone out of fashion long ago."

She spoke lightly, but there was a trace of bitterness in her voice that
Muriel noticed.

"One doesn't find that atmosphere in the book. The men who went with
Cortez were cruel as well as brutal."

"They certainly seem to have been so, which is one reason why they
interest me. You see, the Spaniards seized these islands a little before
they discovered Cuba, and I wanted to find out what the men who built
these beautiful homes here were really like when they had work on hand.
As one would have fancied, the grave, ceremonious Don who posed as a
most punctilious gentleman at home became a very different kind of
person when he went to Mexico. The original Adam showed up there. It's
a useful lesson to any one silly enough to idealise the man she is going
to marry."

Muriel flushed a little. "I think I know what you mean. Mr. Austin tried
to convey the same impression when he told me what they were doing on
board the _Cumbria_. Still, he went a good deal further than you do. He
made me understand that, though there are things that could only be done
rudely and almost brutally, it was often only what was ideal in the men
who did them that sent them to the work at all."

"Yes," said Jacinta drily. "I fancy he would do it rather well. Mr.
Austin is not much of an artist, and would never be a great one; but he
has the capacity of understanding, or, perhaps, I should say imagining
things. Still, the pity is that he usually stops there. He doesn't want
to do them, and though he once very rashly tried, he was not long in
discovering that the work was a good deal too hard for him. I really
think you should be glad there is a trace of primitive--we'll be candid,
and call it brutality--in Harry Jefferson."

Again the colour showed in Muriel's face. "It isn't," she said. "It's
only natural forcefulness; but we needn't go into that. I wonder why you
are so angry with Mr. Austin?"

"Angry?" and Jacinta raised her brows. "Oh, dear no! Still, there are
points on which he did not quite come up to my expectations, and after
the admonitions I have wasted on him I feel a little annoyed with him."

"Still, isn't that a trifle unreasonable? What could he have done that
he hasn't done? He was ill and worn out, but he wouldn't even stay a day
after he got the money."

"What money?" and there was a sharp insistency in Jacinta's tone.

"The money to buy the coal with. They found they hadn't enough, you
know."

"I don't."

"Well," said Muriel, "it is really your own fault. You wouldn't let me
tell you about it in the plaza. Mr. Austin had to borrow the money from
his English relatives, though I think it hurt him horribly to ask them.
When he found they would send it he had to catch the first African
steamer."

Jacinta straightened herself suddenly, and gazed at Muriel with
astonishment and dismay in her face.

"So he meant to go back all the time?" she said.

"Of course," said Muriel, and Jacinta, sitting back again, sat very
still, though her companion noticed that one hand had closed tightly on
her fan.

"When was he to go?" she asked, with a curious quietness.

"In a day or two. He is in Las Palmas now."

Then there was a curious silence for almost a minute, and Jacinta, who
could not rouse herself to break it, was glad to see that Muriel had
evidently not remembered that her only information about Austin's doings
was that contained in her father's message. There was no sound but the
soft splashing of the fountain, and Jacinta found the stillness becoming
intolerable. It was a relief when Muriel, who felt that her company was
not appreciated, rose.

"Perhaps the señora will expect me to go back," she said. "Are you
coming?"

"I am not," said Jacinta. "I have no doubt your aunt will come out to
see me presently."

Muriel looked a little puzzled. "You will not mind my going?"

"Of course not," and Jacinta laughed somewhat curiously. "I have, as
you see, a work on Mexico to keep me company."

Muriel left her, and she lay still in the chair listening to the
fountain and gazing straight in front of her, until Mrs. Hatherly came
down the veranda stairs alone half an hour later. She sat down and
looked at Jacinta steadily.

"I suppose you know why I have come to Laguna to-day?" she said.

"Yes," said Jacinta quietly. "Still, I hadn't the faintest notion a
little while ago. I shall try to bear anything you may think fit to say
to me. Mr. Austin, I understand, is a friend of yours."

The little lady smiled, for she saw that Jacinta was clever enough to
make no excuses, and she appreciated her candour as well as her good
sense.

"Well," she said, "I want you to tell me why you sent him to Africa."

"For one thing, because Muriel was once very kind to me. Mr. Jefferson
was down with fever, and I fancied that, in any case, he could do a good
deal more with a comrade there. Still, that was not all. There were
other reasons."

"Naturally. It is gratifying to discover how far a man's devotion will
carry him."

A little flash crept into Jacinta's eyes, but it faded again. "I suppose
I deserve that, but you are wrong. It wasn't to soothe my vanity."

"No?" and there was a suggestion of incredulity in Mrs. Hatherly's
smile. "Still, one may be excused for pointing out that it really looks
very like it."

Jacinta made a little movement with her fan. "You can't think worse of
me than I do of myself; but I scarcely fancy I did wrong in sending him.
He was wasting his life here, and I thought I knew what there was in
him. I wanted to rouse it--to waken him. You see, I am talking very
frankly."

"In that case it must have cost you something to send him to Africa?"

The colour showed plainly in Jacinta's face. "I think that is another
question. One, too, which you could scarcely expect me to answer you."

"I'm afraid it was not very delicate," and Mrs. Hatherly's eyes grew
gentler. "Still, didn't you feel that you were presumptuous?"

"Of course; but I have always done what pleased me, and made others do
it, too. It usually turned out well, you know. I have, however, come to
grief this time, and it would almost be a relief if somebody would shake
me."

Mrs. Hatherly smiled. "I fancy the feeling will do you good. Still, if
you were right in sending Mr. Austin out, it is just a little
incomprehensible."

"Then you don't know how I treated him?"

"No," said Mrs. Hatherly. "At least, not exactly. He only admitted that
you did not seem very pleased to see him. Still, I am an old woman, and
that naturally conveyed a good deal to me. Perhaps you do deserve
shaking, but I want to be kind."

Jacinta turned to her with the colour in her cheeks and a haziness in
her eyes.

"I taunted him with being a coward and finding the work too hard for
him. The man was ill and jaded, but I had no mercy on him. He said
nothing; he never told me he was going back. How was I to know? The
night my father's message came I felt I could have struck him. If I had
done so, he would probably not have felt it half so much as the
bitterness I heaped upon him."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Hatherly. "It was, perhaps, natural under the
circumstances, but there is a good deal that you are responsible for."

"What do you mean by under the circumstances?"

Mrs. Hatherly smiled. "I have not the slightest doubt that you quite
understand, my dear. The question, however, is how you are going to set
it right?"

Jacinta shivered a little. The colour had already ebbed from her face,
which was a trifle more pallid than usual.

"It is a thing I may never be able to do," she said. "That is what makes
it so hard. You see, a good many men go out to Africa, and so few come
back again. If it hadn't been for that I don't think I should have
admitted what I have done, but I feel I must have somebody's
comprehension--if I can't expect sympathy."

"You have mine, my dear," and Mrs. Hatherly laid a beautiful thin hand
gently upon her arm. "Besides, I think Mr. Austin will understand how it
came about when he goes back to Africa."

Jacinta straightened herself slowly. "Well," she said, "that may happen,
and in any case I know that I sent him, and he was glad to go."

She met the little lady's sympathetic gaze steadily. "Still, that is so
very little, after all."

Mrs. Hatherly smiled reassuringly. "My dear," she said, "I think you do
not quite understand all that man is yet. In spite of the climate he and
his comrade are going to be successful."

Then she turned, and Jacinta rose, for the Señora Anasona and Muriel
were coming down the stairway.



CHAPTER XXI

THE PICTURES


Austin had been gone a fortnight when Jacinta and Muriel Gascoyne sat
under the lee of the _Estremedura_'s deck-house one morning, on their
way to Las Palmas. Above them the mastheads swung languidly athwart a
cloudless sweep of blue, and the sea frothed in white incandescence
about the lurching hull below as the little yacht-like steamer reeled
eastwards with a rainbow in the spray that whirled about her bows.
Astern of her the Peak's white cone gleamed above its wrappings of
fleecy mist, and ahead on the far horizon Grand Canary swam a purple
cloud.

Jacinta was dressed ornately in the latest English mode, and it seemed
to Muriel that she had put on conventional frivolity along with her
attire. Indeed, Muriel had noticed a change in her companion during the
last few days, one that was marked by outbreaks of flippancy and
somewhat ironical humour. An English naval officer leaned upon the back
of her chair, and a tourist of the same nationality stood balancing
himself against the rolling with his hand on the rail that ran along the
deck-house. The latter was looking down at Macallister, who sat upon the
deck with a little box in front of him.

"I brought up the two or three sketches ye were asking for, Mr.
Coulstin," he said. "The saloon's full of jabbering Spaniards, and the
messroom's over hot."

The tourist screwed the glass he wore more tightly into his eye. "If
they're equal to the one I saw in the N. W. A. store I may be open to
make a purchase," he said. "I think you told me you were acquainted with
the artist, Miss Brown?"

"I believe I did," said Jacinta, who was conscious that Macallister was
watching her languidly. "You will, however, no doubt be able to judge
his pictures for yourself."

Coulston made a little humourous gesture. "I am not a painter, and I
could scarcely venture to call myself a connoisseur. Still, I buy a
picture or two occasionally, and the one I mentioned rather took my
fancy. A sketch or two of that kind would make a pleasant memento."

"One would fancy that a good photograph would be more reliable, as well
as cheaper," said the naval officer.

Coulston reproachfully shook his head. "I'm afraid we differ there," he
said. "Leaving out the question of colour, a photograph is necessarily
an artificial thing. It wants life and atmosphere, and you can never put
that into a picture by a mechanical process. Only a man can feel, and
transmute his impressions into material. Accuracy of detail is, after
all, by comparison, a secondary consideration, but perhaps I had better
pull up before my hobby makes a bolt of it."

"I have heard of people riding a hobby uncomfortably hard," said Jacinta
reflectively.

"That, I think, is, to be accurate, seldom what happens. If a man has a
genuine hobby, it never needs spurring. It is, in fact, unpleasantly apt
to run away with him on the smallest provocation. Are steamboat men
addicted to making sketches, Mr. Macallister?"

"No," said Macallister, grinning. "At least its not the usual thing, but
I once sailed with another of them who did. He was second engineer, and
would draw the chief one day. It was very like him, so like that it
cost the man his job, and a wife as well. Says he, 'How could ye expect
me to idealise a man with a mouth like yon?'"

"But how did that affect his wife?" asked the officer.

Macallister grinned more broadly, but it was Jacinta he looked at.

"Ye see," he said, "he had not got one then. He was second engineer, and
would have gone chief in a new boat if he'd stayed with that company.
The young woman was ambitious, and she told him she would not marry him
until he was promoted, on principle. He was a long while over it after
he lost that berth, and then--also on principle--he would not marry
her."

Jacinta laughed, though Muriel fancied she had seen a momentary
hardening of her face.

"She probably deserved it, though one can't help concluding that she
wouldn't feel it much," she said. "That is one of the advantages of
being a practical person; but hadn't you better get the drawings out?"

Macallister took out a sketch in water-colour and held it up. It showed
a strip of a steamer's deck, with the softened sunlight beating down
through an awning upon a man in skipper's uniform who lay, cigar in
hand, in a hammock that swung beneath the spars. He was, to judge from
his expression, languidly contented with everything, and there was a big
glass of amber-coloured liquid on the little table beside him, and a
tier of bottles laid out upon the deck. Beneath it ran the legend, "For
men must work."

"That," said Jacinta, "is, at least, what they tell their wives."

The tourist gazed at the drawing, and then turned to her. He was, as she
had discovered already, a painfully didactic person.

"The conceit," he said, "is a somewhat happy one, though the sketch is,
it seems to me, a little weak in technique. As we admitted, one
difference between a photograph and a painting is that the artist
records his own sensations in the latter, and stamps it with, at least,
a trace of his individuality. In that respect the sketch is, I fancy,
characteristic. The artist, one could imagine, was in full sympathy with
his subject--the far niente--but I am, no doubt, getting prosy."

For no very apparent reason a little flush of colour crept into
Jacinta's face, and Macallister, who saw it, chuckled as he took out
another sketch.

"Well," he said, reflectively, "I never met a man who could do nothing
more gracefully than Mr. Austin, but I'll let ye see the rest of them,
since they're in my charge to sell. Mr. Austin, who wants the money,
took a sudden notion he'd go to Africa, and, if they've had a quick run,
he's now humping palm oil puncheons in a stranded steamer's hold. I'm
thinking it will be a big change for him."

The naval officer laughed softly. "From what I know of the tropics I
fancy you are right. In fact, it's rather difficult to imagine the man I
met at the bull fight doing that kind of thing at all. Salvage work is
necessarily hard under any circumstances, and anywhere, but the last
place I would care to attempt it in is Western Africa. What
sent--him--there?"

"Ye must not ask me," and a little twinkle, for which Jacinta longed to
shake him, crept into Macallister's eyes. "Now, there are clever folks
who will look at a man, or maybe talk to him awhile, and then label him,
thinking they know just what to expect of him. It does him no great
harm, and it pleases them, until one day he does something that
astonishes them in spite of his label. Then they're apt to get angry
with him. A man, ye see, is, after all, not that unlike an engine. Ye
cannot tell what may be going on in the inside of him, and when the
result's distressing it's most often the fault of injudicious handling."

Jacinta, to whom he apparently directed his observations, contrived to
regard him with a little smile, and he proceeded to extricate another
sketch, a canvas this time.

"This one is different," he said.

Coulston, who apparently concurred with him, gazed at the picture with a
trace of astonishment. It showed a big cargo lancha lurching out,
deep-loaded, through a fringe of tumbling surf with four men straining
at the ponderous oars. The wet rags they wore clung about their limbs,
and there was weariness in their grim, brown faces. Bent backs and set
lips had their significance, and the sketch was stamped with the
suggestion of endurance and endeavour. Yet, as those who saw it felt,
there was triumph in it, too, for while the rollers came seething in to
hurl her back the lancha was clawing off the shore.

"It's good!" said the navy man. "It's unusually good. Those fellows are
played out, and they know if they slacken down for a moment she'll roll
over with them or go up on the beach. The sea's running in against
her--one finds out by trying it how hard it is to pull off against a
surf--but they're driving her out. Presumably, that's what you call the
motive of the thing."

The tourist nodded appreciatively. "Yes," he said. "In spite of certain
faults in drawing, it's well worked out. What puzzles me is how the man
who did the other one came to feel it as he evidently did. One could
fancy he had had a revelation, and that in some respects he was a
different man when he painted this. I'll offer you five guineas for it,
Mr. Macallister."

"Then," said Macallister, promptly, "ye can have it. Eight guineas for
the two, if ye would like the other one. There are two or three more of
them here ye might care to look at." He stopped a moment, and added, as
if in explanation: "I'm anxious to do what I can for Mr. Austin. Many's
the time I've stole his wine and sold his clothes."

He undid a package, and, first of all, took out a photograph of a young
girl with a comely English face, which Jacinta glanced at somewhat
sharply. Then she became intent when there followed several rudimentary
pencil and pastel sketches of herself, until Macallister handed Coulston
a picture. He turned from it to Jacinta, and looked at her with a
steadiness a young woman less accustomed to masculine criticism would
probably have found disconcerting.

She lay smiling at him in the canvas lounge, very pretty and very
dainty, with conventional indifference expressed even in her pose. She
was, he fancied, a woman who knew her world thoroughly, and had the
greater influence therein because she seldom asked too much from it.
Then he glanced again at her portrait almost incredulously, for it
showed the little shapely head held well erect, the red lips
straightened and firmly closed, and the glow of a strenuous purpose in
the eyes. Stooping, he laid the picture on her knees with a little
smile.

Jacinta laughed softly. "Yes," she said, "of course, I know what you
mean. I am essentially modern and frivolous, and not in the least like
that. Still, you see, all of us have our serious moments now and then,
although it is probably fortunate they don't last long."

"Ah," said Coulston, wilfully neglecting his opportunity, "I almost
fancy a light breaks in on me. One could entitle this inspiration, and
it is, you know, possible to transmit it occasionally. I wonder whether
it would make the idea clearer if we placed the three pictures
together. Mr. Macallister will permit me?"

He set up the first sketch of the steamboat skipper against the lifeboat
skids, and gazed at it critically. "Assuming that a picture contains
something of its painter's ego, you will observe how the idea of petty
indulgence and his appreciation of sensual comfort is impressed on one,"
he said. "Now we will set up the other sketch of the sailormen. There
you see restraint, tense effort, abnegation--and victory--in one sense a
spiritual triumph over the body. It is an interesting question how the
man who painted both could have been brought to grasp what Lieutenant
Onslow calls the motive of the last one; but if we might venture to
place another picture between."

Jacinta raised her head sharply, and there was an ominous sparkle in her
eyes. "No," she said, with quiet incisiveness, "I would sooner you
didn't. There are certainly men whose hobby, now and then, runs away
with them. Macallister, will you put that portrait back again?"

She handed it him face downwards, for the others had not seen it, and
Lieutenant Onslow turned to the tourist.

"I don't quite understand, but I fancy Miss Brown doesn't approve of
vivisection any more than I do," he said. "It really isn't decent to
turn anybody inside out."

"I wonder," said Coulston, ignoring him, "if you would mind my offering
to buy the three?"

He was looking steadily at her, but Jacinta contrived for a moment to
catch Macallister's eye. So swift was the flashed glance that the
tourist did not notice it, but Jacinta could convey a good deal with a
look, and the engineer was a man of considerable intelligence.

"That one is not for sale," he said.

"No," said Onslow, who held up a strip of pasteboard and a sheet of
brown paper, "I scarcely think it is. In fact, you don't appear to have
noticed that there's a seal on this part of it, and instructions that
this particular packet is not to be opened."

It seemed to Muriel that a trace of colour once more crept into
Jacinta's face, but Macallister surveyed the wrappings the officer
handed him with a grin.

"It is not that difficult to slice a seal off and stick it back again,"
he said. "It's also a thing Mr. Austin should have remembered. Many a
garafon of wine has he seen opened."

"So you know that trick!" Onslow laughed. "I'm inclined to think it's
one that has now and then been practised upon our mess."

Just then Mrs. Hatherly appeared on deck, and the group broke up. Muriel
joined her aunt, Macallister, accompanied by the tourist, went down the
ladder with the box of sketches under his arm, while Jacinta and
Lieutenant Onslow were left alone. The latter stood with his hand on the
lifeboat skids, looking down on her gravely. He was a well-favoured
young man, with an honest, sun-bronzed face.

"I am," he said, "as you know, going out to take over command of a
West-coast gunboat in a day or two, and it is more than probable that I
shall not have an opportunity like this again. You see, Nasmyth and I
have had a very good time in these islands, and we feel that we owe it
largely to you. In fact, it's perfectly clear to us that things would
have been very different if you hadn't taken us under your gracious
protection. I just want to say that we recognise it, and feel grateful."

"Well," said Jacinta, reflectively, "I am rather glad you do. Gratitude
that is worth anything carries a certain sense of obligation with it."

"Of course!" and Onslow smiled. "Only give me the chance of doing
anything I can for you."

"Do you know whereabouts on the West-coast the Delgado Island lies?"

"I can readily find out."

Jacinta glanced at him sharply, and had no doubt concerning the
eagerness in his face. If there was anything he could do to please her
it would certainly be done.

"There is a stranded steamer somewhere up a creek behind that island,
and I think the men who are trying to salve her have a good many
difficulties to contend with. Among other things, I fancy the niggers
are worrying them."

"Ah!" said Onslow. "Our ships are not, as a rule, permitted to take any
part in commercial ventures, but there are, of course, exceptions to
everything. According to my instructions, I am also to avoid all
unpleasantness with the seaboard niggers unless they have been provoking
the authorities. Still, I would like to ask if any of the men on board
that steamer is a friend of yours?"

"One of them is Miss Gascoyne's affianced lover, and she is a very old
friend indeed. However, since you are apparently unable----"

Onslow checked her with a little smile. "I'm not sure you are really
willing to let me off, and if you were, I shouldn't be pleased, while I
scarcely think you have answered my question very frankly, either. That,
however, doesn't matter. It is permissible for the commander of a coast
patrol gunboat to send a pinnace in to survey a little known creek or
channel, and her crew would, of course, be guided by circumstances if
they came upon a stranded steamer."

"I presume you would not care to earn Muriel's undying gratitude by
being a trifle more definite?"

"No," said Onslow, with twinkling eyes. "I esteem Miss Gascoyne's good
opinion, but I really couldn't go any further to win yours. As I pointed
out, one would be guided by circumstances; but men on board stranded
steamers have been supplied with drugs and provisions, as well as lent
naval artificers to advise them as to repairs. I have even heard of a
gunboat's launch carrying out their hawsers and anchors."

Jacinta rose with a little smile. "I think one could leave it with
confidence to your discretion, and since it seems very likely that you
will come across that steamer, I should be pleased to have your views as
to the selection of a few comforts and provisions."

Onslow favoured her with them, and, as it happened, met Macallister when
at last he went down the ladder.

"Ye are going out to Africa, too?" said the latter, with a grin. "She
has been giving ye sailing instructions?"

Onslow looked at him grimly. "Well," he said, "what the devil has that
to do with you?"

"Oh, nothing. Just nothing at all. Still, because I see ye are willing,
I would have ye know that there are--two--men from Grand Canary on board
yon steamer already."

Onslow smiled a trifle drily. "My dear man, I'm not altogether an ass,"
he said.

In the meanwhile Muriel strolled back towards Jacinta, and glanced at
her with a suggestion of astonishment in her face as she sat down.

"You are different from what you were a little while ago," she said.

Jacinta laughed. "I daresay I am. I had, as a matter of fact, sunk into
a state of pessimistic apathy, which naturally found expression in
ill-humoured pleasantries lately, but I have been getting to work again.
It has rather a bracing effect, you see. In the meanwhile, it might be
advisable for you to make yourself as nice as possible to Lieutenant
Onslow, who is now coming up on deck again. Go and ask him to show you a
flying fish, or something."

Muriel went, for she had discovered that there was usually a sufficient
reason for most of what Jacinta did, and the latter lay still in her
chair.

"There is," she said, "still a fly in the amber. I wonder what he wanted
with that photograph, though, after all, he didn't think it worth while
carrying to Africa."



CHAPTER XXII

FUNNEL-PAINT'S PROPOSITION


Deep stillness hung over the dingy mangroves, and there was not a breath
of air astir, while Austin, who lay among the palm oil puncheons beside
the creek, was oppressed by a sense of suffocation. A few yards away two
Spaniards lay, apparently asleep, huddled, shapeless heaps of ragged
clothing, beneath a strip of tarpaulin raised on poles, and it was then,
though there was no sun visible, a little past the hottest part of the
afternoon. A yellow vapour that seemed suffused with heat had obscured
the heavens for a week or more, and the swamps lay sweltering beneath it
waiting for the rain. Austin longed for it ardently, for there was an
almost unendurable tension in the atmosphere.

He had shaken off the fever, but he was worn and dazed by toil, for the
strain was not without its effect upon him, and he had become subject to
curious tricks of fancy. He had brought the coal from Dakar, and it now
lay piled upon a down river beach; but he had obtained only two or three
men, and the steamy heat of the swamp belt had melted the sustaining
energy out of the _Cumbria_'s company. Individually, he felt that it was
a hopeless struggle they were making. They had untrammelled nature
against them, and, he could almost fancy, the malevolent spirits of the
bush the negroes believed in. A man, he admitted, could believe in
anything in that country, and he had of late been troubled by a feeling
that something sinister and threatening was hovering near him.

He was unpleasantly conscious of it then, which was partly why he lay
raised on his elbow, with his eyes fixed on the bush that shut in the
narrow strip of land. It rose before him, laced with tangled creepers,
mysterious, and shadowy, and it seemed to him that somebody or something
was watching him from its dim recesses. He had been conscious of the
same sensation when he plodded with a Spanish seaman along the narrow
trail to the dug up beach, an hour earlier, but it was stronger now, and
instinctively he slipped his hand into a pocket where the pistol he had
bought in Grand Canary lay. Then he laughed in a listless fashion, for
they had seen no more of the negroes since the blowing up of the
headman's house, and he felt that he had not them to fear. There was, in
fact, no tangible cause for apprehension at all.

Presently something seemed to materialise amidst the shadows where the
creepers streamed from a cottonwood in dense festoons, and, lying still,
with fingers closing on the pistol, he could almost fancy he made out a
dim human form. There was, at least, one black patch among the leaves
that suggested greasy naked skin. It vanished again, however, and
Austin, who felt his heart beating, abused the intolerable glare the
sand flung up that dazzled his vision, and then stiffened himself in
tenser watchfulness as for a moment he made out a pair of rolling eyes.
The creepers rustled, a twig snapped, and he was about to call out, when
one of the Canarios raised himself a trifle.

"Ave Maria!" he said, with drowsy hoarseness, and, though the words are
frequently used to express astonishment in his country, it was evident
that he meant them as a pious appeal.

In any case, the creepers became suddenly still again, and Austin, who
rose a trifle stiffly, found nothing when he pushed his way through the
midst of them. There was no sound in the steamy bush, not a leaf seemed
bruised or bent, and he went back again, with the perspiration dripping
from him. Nevertheless, he was annoyed to notice that the Canario was
watching him curiously.

"Nothing!" he said, with a dramatic gesture. "Nothing that one can see."

"What do you mean?" asked Austin sharply.

The Canario flung out an arm again. "Who knows! Though one cannot see
it, it comes now and then. There are evil things in this land of the
devil, and the saints are very far away. This is no place for them."

Austin sat down again and took out his pipe. He felt that there was
nothing to be gained by continuing the discussion, for of late he had
become almost superstitiously apprehensive himself. He lay watching the
bush for another hour, and then, though it was the last thing he had
intended, went to sleep. He had borne a heavy strain, and his will was
weakening.

It was dark when he was awakened by a splash of paddles as the
_Cumbria_'s surfboat crept up the creek with the relief watch, and
another hour had passed when they made the craft fast alongside the
gangway and climbed wearily on board the steamer. There was no sound or
light on board her, for half the crew were sick, and the pump had
stopped. She lay, a black mass, amidst the sliding mist, and he stumbled
over the kernel bags upon her slanted deck as he groped his way to his
room in the poop. It was seldom he or Jefferson slept soundly now, and
as they only awakened each other, Austin had moved to a room aft.

He lighted the oil lamp and flung himself, dressed as he was, into his
berth, but found he could not sleep, though he could not remember how
long he lay awake listening. He could hear mysterious splashings in the
forest and the low gurgle of the creek, while now and then a timber
creaked, or a drop of moisture fell from the iron beams with a splash
that startled him. At last, when his eyes were growing heavy, there was
a different and very faint sound on deck, and as he raised himself the
door that stood a little open swung back gently. The lamp was still
burning, for he found the light comforting, as white men are
occasionally apt to do in that country, and it was with a little gasp of
relief he felt for the pistol beneath his pillow as Funnel-paint came
in. He was almost naked, and the water ran from him, but the strip of
cloth about his loins was bound by a leather belt, with a sheath hung to
it such as seamen wear, and the knife from the latter gleamed in his wet
hand. He, however, dropped it upon the deck, and squatted on the
water-ledge that rose a foot beneath the door. Austin watched him
quietly, for he was, at least, not afraid of Funnel-paint.

"What the devil do you want?" he said.

"Halluf them gum," said the negro, with a wicked grin.

"How are we to give it you when we haven't found a bag of it?"

The negro grinned again. "S'pose I done tell you where him lib?"

"If you knew why didn't you get it for yourself?"

Funnel-paint shook his head. "Them book I got savvy--I no savvy make him
tell me," he said. "You dash me halluf them gum you get them book."

Austin lay silent, resting on one elbow, for a moment or two. He knew
that book means anything which is written on in that country, and it
occurred to him that if the gum had been hidden ashore, it was very
probable that the man who buried it had made a rough sketch or other
record of the spot. The document, it was conceivable, might have come
into the negro's possession. Still, he was suspicious.

"There's another boy who speaks English in the headman's village," he
said.

"Him only dam bushman--no savvy book, no savvy anyt'ing. Him them
headman's boy. Headman he want everyt'ing."

"Ah!" said Austin, who was more dubious about his visitor's good faith
than ever, since it was clear that it was his intention to trick his
confederate out of his share of the plunder. "I suppose, since you swam
off, you haven't the book about you?"

The negro let one eyelid droop a little. "You t'ink black man one dam
fool?"

"No," said Austin, reflectively, "if you understand me, I should rather
call you an infernal rogue. Any way, you lib for get out one time, and
come back to-morrow. I'll palaver with them other white man by then,
savvy?"

Funnel-paint unobtrusively laid a wet prehensile toe upon the haft of
the knife, but Austin, who was careful not to betray the fact, noticed
it.

"Them other white man he do go dash me anyt'ing," he said decisively. "I
savvy him. S'pose you done tell him you no go catch them book?"

"Then how do you fancy I'm going to give you half the gum without his
knowing?"

Funnel-paint grinned unpleasantly. "Bimeby them white cappy man he die,"
he said, as though he were sure of it. "White man sick too much in dis
country. I savvy."

Austin contrived to hold in check the indignant wrath he felt. A man's
life, he was quite aware, was worth very little in those swamps; and,
because he placed some small value on the one that belonged to him, it
was evidently advisable to proceed circumspectly. Funnel-paint was, he
recognised, a diplomatist in his way, and had said very little, though
that was sufficient to show Austin what his proposition meant. It was,
at least, clear that he was to ask no questions if anything unexpected
happened to Jefferson, and in reward of this he would be permitted to
carry off half the gum. It appeared that Funnel-paint was sure of its
existence, or he would never have ventured to creep on board at night at
all, and Austin decided that since he certainly could not be trusted,
the boldest course was best. The rage he felt also prompted him to it,
and he lay still, considering, with a hand beneath the pillow, and a
flush in his face, while the negro squatted, huge and motionless, on the
door-ledge, watching him with a little cunning smile. It seemed to
Austin that it would simplify matters considerably if he could secure
Funnel-paint's person, though he could not quite see how it was to be
done, especially since it was evident that the negro would be no use to
them dead.

In the meanwhile there was deep stillness without, intensified by the
oily gurgle of the creek, until Austin fancied he heard another faint
and stealthy sound on deck. Funnel-paint did not appear to notice it,
which was, it seemed to Austin, significant, for he sat still, though
with a scarcely perceptible motion he drew the knife a little nearer to
him with his toe. Austin decided that the proposition he had made was,
after all, probably a blind, and the friends he had expected were now
arriving.

"Keep still!" he said abruptly, whipping out the pistol.

The negro started, and would apparently have fallen backwards in his
alarm had he not seized the edge of the cushion on the settee in a wet
hand. Then he gazed at Austin as though in bewilderment or
consternation.

"Bushman lib!" he said.

He glanced towards the open ring of the port, and for a second Austin
turned his eyes in the same direction, but that was long enough, for the
big cushion of the settee fell upon his head, and he rolled over under
it. It was a moment or two before he had flung it from him and sprung
out of his berth, and then there was no sign of Funnel-paint, though he
could hear a rush of feet and the sound of a scuffle on deck. They were
also booted feet, and Austin ran out into the black darkness beneath the
poop. He could see nothing for a moment, but he heard a hoarse
ejaculation that was followed by a splash in the creek. Then a shadowy
figure grew out of the blackness, and he dropped the pistol to his side
at the sound of an English voice.

"All right, Mr. Austin?" it said.

"I am," said Austin. "Is that you, Bill?"

The half-seen man assured him that it was, and then followed him back
into the lighted room, where he sat down and held up a hand from which a
red trickle dripped down his arm.

"The dam brute's got away," he said. "P'r'aps you could fix this up for
me."

Austin lugged a little chest out from under the settee, and glanced at
the injured hand. "Nothing serious, though I have no doubt it stings,"
he said. "You were in one sense lucky in getting it there. How did you
happen to come along?"

"It was my watch," said Bill. "I had just come down from the bridge-deck
when I thought I heard talking, and that brought me here as quietly as I
could. If I'd had the sense to take my boots off I'd have had him. I
gripped him by the rail, but he shoved the knife into my hand and slung
himself over."

Austin bound his hand up, and then looked at him thoughtfully.

"I don't think there's anything to be gained by letting the others
know," he said. "Any way, I'd consider it a favour if you said nothing
about the thing until I've talked it over with Mr. Jefferson."

Bill grinned comprehendingly. "I'll tell Tom, but nobody else. We have
our own little row with the vermin, and the next time I get my grip on
him there'll be an end of him!"

He went out, and by and by Austin contrived to go to sleep, while it was
next day, and they sat in the dripping engine room, from which the water
was sinking, when he told Jefferson what had passed. The latter listened
thoughtfully, and then broke into a little hollow laugh.

"It seems to me that you missed your chance," he said. "Funnel-paint
knows a good deal--I have guessed that for some time--but he has found
out he can't get at the gum without one of us helping him, at last. That
is probably why he has left us alone so long. He wasn't sure whether
there was any of it on board the ship, and was, naturally, willing that
we should decide that point for him."

"What would he gain by that?" asked Austin.

"The gum!" and Jefferson laughed again, but not pleasantly. "He's an
inconsequent devil, but he seems to have scraped up a little sense as he
went on with the game. You see, white men are apt to die off suddenly in
this country, and I scarcely think that anybody who could make trouble
knows we're here. Any way, there's no unusual need for worry. It only
means double watches."

"Still, one could fancy you had a good deal on your mind."

"I have. We have stripped this ship all but the engine room to the
ballast tanks--there was, you may remember, a manhole lid lifted on the
forward one, which may account for some of the water getting in--and the
five hundred dollars I raised the offer to hasn't produced a pound of
gum. Half the men are down now, and we can't send them all away, while
even if we wanted to they're most of them unwilling to go. They're as
keen on their share--and it's quite a big one--as I am. Then we'll have
the rains on us in a week or two."

Austin sat silent awhile. He knew that the feverish search for the
treasure had stirred the cupidity of the Latins until they were as
determined on finding it as their leader. Nothing else was thought of,
the sick men raved of it, and, in any case, those who had held out so
long and staunchly had their percentage on the value of the steamer's
hull and cargo to gain. It meant comparative affluence to the barefooted
sailormen. That, however, was only one side of the question, after all,
for while their willingness was evident, their physical capacity for
work was lessening every day.

"The rains will flood every beach," he said. "If we don't find the gum
before they come, what then?"

"If it's necessary, we'll stay here until the water falls again. That
is, at least, some of us will."

Austin rose up slowly with a little sign of comprehension. Two men had
been buried while he was away, and he did not think that many of them
would be left there to see the waters fall.



CHAPTER XXIII

FUNNEL-PAINT MOVES AGAIN


A week had slipped by since the negro's visit, and Austin and Jefferson
were sitting late in the skipper's room. There had been no change in the
weather, and it was then, if possible, hotter than ever. The muggy land
breeze had died away, and a thick woolly mist shut the stranded steamer
in. Door and ports were open wide, but the oil lamp that hung beneath
the beams burned unwaveringly, and the ray of light that streamed out
from the doorway made the blackness outside more apparent. The big pump
was running behind the deck-house, and its deep vibratory humming rang
startlingly through a stillness so intense that it seemed unnatural, as
it hurled the water out of the engine room.

Austin sat huddled in a corner, attired only in duck trousers, and torn
singlet which came no lower than his elbows, and, for want of buttons,
fell open at his neck. He had an unusually clean skin, and his
sun-scorched lower arms and scarred hands, with the battered knuckles
and broken nails, emphasised by contrast the clear whiteness of his
half-covered chest. That night it was beaded with perspiration, for
which he was sincerely thankful, since there are times in the tropics
when the healing moisture fails to find its way through the fevered
skin, and its afflicted owner burns in torment.

Jefferson sat on the little table, a blackened pipe in his hand, and
the listless pose of both suggested that the last trace of energy had
been sapped out of them. At last Austin laughed, hollowly and
dejectedly.

"I don't know why we're sitting here saying nothing when we have to
begin again at five o'clock to-morrow, but I don't feel like sleep," he
said. "In fact, I scarcely think I've slept for more than a couple of
hours at a time since I came back again. I suppose I ought to be in the
forecastle now--four or five of them seemed very sick when I last looked
in--but there's an abominable tension in the air that makes any exertion
out of the question."

Jefferson nodded. "You can't do anything for them, and there's nobody we
could spare to send with them down river," he said. "They've got to take
their chances with the rest of us now, and it seems to me one might
figure them out as three or four to one if the rains don't come. Still,
if you don't want to do anything, why can't you keep still?"

"I don't know," and Austin, who had been rolling a damp cigar in his
fingers, flung it down. "If that pump stopped I should probably make an
exhibition of myself. The hum and thump it makes has a soothing effect
on me. It's suggestive. Even here man has something to say. I don't know
whether you understand me."

Jefferson looked at him curiously. "I guess I do. I'd mix myself a good
strong pick-me-up if I were you. You have had something on your mind the
last day or two."

"I have," said Austin. "I'm afraid of that infernal Funnel-paint, I
think. I can't help a fancy that we haven't done with him yet; and,
though the connection isn't very apparent, the fact that the first thing
we came across after landing when I came out was a dead nigger, insists
on obtruding itself on my recollection. Bill told me he was singularly
unpleasant to look at."

Jefferson contrived to laugh. "You take that pick-me-up, and in the
meanwhile let up on your reminiscences. Things of that kind aren't
cheerful--and I'm worried by one or two of them myself."

Austin, who stooped and picked up the cigar, settled himself afresh on
the settee after lighting it, and half an hour dragged by. Neither of
them felt the least sign of drowsiness yet, and the jingle of the odds
and ends in the rack, and tremble of the stout teak house, was, as he
had said, vaguely reassuring. The big pump was pounding on in spite of
the climate, and neither heat nor fever had any effect on steam. Then he
looked up sharply, and Jefferson straightened himself, for a faint sound
of footsteps came out of the darkness. They were slow and dragging, as
though somebody was groping his way warily towards the light.

"On deck!" said the American. "What d'you want? Are you there, Wall-eye?
Que hay?"

There was no answer, but the shuffling steps drew nearer, slowly and
falteringly, as though whatever made them was but indifferently capable
of motion. There was also something unpleasantly suggestive about them,
and Austin now sat very straight, while he saw that Jefferson's lips
were pressed together. There was no apparent reason why they should
shrink from what was coming, but Austin, at least, felt his nerves
tingling. He was overwrought, and white men are apt to become fanciful
when they work too hard in the fever swamps. It is a land where one
realises the presence of influences beyond the definition of human
reason, and he afterwards admitted that he was afraid.

"Mil diablos!" said Jefferson. "Ven aca! What are you after, outside
there?"

There was still no answer, though a clatter of booted feet now rose from
the iron deck. It drowned the other footfalls, and Austin found that
clang of nailed shoes curiously reassuring. Then a figure that swayed
from side to side emerged from the blackness and stood mowing in the
stream of light.

"Good Lord!" said Jefferson, with horror in his voice. "Slam that door
to. Keep it out!"

Austin rose with a sense of sudden sickness, but the figure had moved
again, and now stood with one foot inside the room and a horrible hand
on the door-jamb, leering at them. It had the shape of a man, but the
resemblance ended there, for there was no sign of human intelligence in
the awful face. The thing had no eyebrows, the hair had almost gone, and
nose and cheeks were formless with corruption, while naked chest and
arms were smeared with festering scars. Austin stood still, shivering,
with one hand clenched hard on the table, until Jefferson snatched a
glinting object from his bunk.

"Good Lord!" he said again. "It's coming in!"

The figure seemed to brace itself for another move forwards, and Austin
saw Jefferson straighten himself slowly with a big pistol in his hand.
He did not remember what his comrade said, but the negro seemed to
recoil instinctively before his fierce ejaculation, and, lurching
backwards, faded into a formless shadow in the gloom again. Then
Jefferson's hand fell upon Austin's shoulder.

"Shake yourself! There's something to be done," he said. "They have a
light forward, and we can't have--that thing--groping among them in the
forecastle."

They went out, and as they did so a sudden glare of light sprang up.
Tom, the donkey-man, had lighted the air-blast lamp he used when
anything had to be done to pump or boiler at night, and its smoky
radiance showed that Jefferson's shouts had roused the Spaniards. They
were clustered, half dressed, about the head of the ladder which led to
the bridge deck, with consternation in their shadowy faces, glancing at
one another as though afraid to move a step further. Tom leaned against
the rail, holding up the lamp, and the thing that had the shape of a man
sat gibbering on a coil of hawser in the midst of the bridge deck. The
eyes of all who stood there were fixed upon it, but nobody seemed
anxious to come any nearer.

Jefferson, standing very straight, opened the breech of his pistol, ran
a finger across the back of the chamber, and then closed it with a
little snap which, though the pump was humming, sounded startlingly
distinct. His lips were tightly set, and his face was very grim. The
loathsome figure on the rope mowed and grinned at him.

"I suppose the thing was human--once," he said. "Still, we can't have it
here. These complaints are contagious, one understands, but I wish it
hadn't happened. He's too like a man."

He dropped the pistol to his side, as though his nerve had momentarily
failed him, and Austin, who suddenly grasped his purpose, sprang forward
as he raised it again.

"Hold on!" he said. "Do you realise what it is you propose to do?"

Jefferson turned to him slowly, and there was a curious stillness among
those who watched them. Austin was glad of the hum of the big pump and
the pounding of the engine, for he felt that silence would have made the
tension unendurable. Then Jefferson smiled, a little wry smile.

"I know," he said, a trifle hoarsely, "it isn't nice to think of, but
it's no more than happens to a superfluous kitten--and it's necessary.
Heaven knows what the poor devil suffered before he came to this, and we
don't want to. He's animate carrion without reason or sensibility now.
It was only the light brought him here when Funnel-paint somehow sent
him within sight of us."

Austin saw that this was true. There was no glimmer of human
intelligence in the creature's wandering gaze, but he still bore the
shape of a man, and that counted for a good deal, after all.

"Jefferson," he said, "it can't be done!"

His comrade looked at him with half-closed eyes. "Would you wish to live
if you looked like that, or do you want the rest of us to find out what
he went through? I'm responsible for those men yonder--and it's only
antedating the thing a month or two. The life is almost rotted out of
him. Stand clear! We must get it over!"

It was evident that the Spaniards understood what he meant to do, and a
murmur of concurrence rose from them, for they knew a little about the
more loathsome forms of skin diseases. Men who might have escaped from
the sepulchre walk abroad in the hot Southern countries, where restraint
is unknown and salt fish is a staple food, but, though they have often
themselves to blame, the innocent also suffer in Western Africa, and
none of those who stood by, tense and strung up, had ever seen a man who
looked quite as this one did.

Then, as Jefferson raised his pistol, Austin seized him by the shoulder
and shook him in a sudden outbreak of fury.

"You're right," he said, "but you shall not do it! You hear me? Put the
---- thing down!"

Then there was a sudden clamour, and as the Canarios ran forward
Jefferson struggled vainly. Austin never knew where his strength came
from, but in another moment the pistol slipped from his comrade's hand,
and, reeling backwards, he struck the deck-house. Austin stood in front
of him, with hands clenched, and the veins swollen high on his forehead,
panting hard.

"It has come to this," he said. "If you move a step, I'll heave you
over the rail! I've strength enough to break your back to-night!"

Jefferson straightened himself slowly, and waved back the others who
were clustering round. Then he smiled, and made a little gesture of
resignation.

"I believe you have, but that's not quite the point," he said. "It's the
only thing you have ever asked me, and, if nothing else will satisfy
you, you shall have him. You don't suppose it isn't a relief to me? The
question is, what you're going to do with him? You see, he can't stay
here."

That, at least, was evident, and for a moment or two Austin gazed about
him stupidly as he grappled with the difficulty. The stricken man still
squatted, unconcerned, upon the hawser, mowing and grimacing, while he
clawed at the hemp in a fashion that suggested the antics of a pleased
animal, with swollen hands. The rest stood still, well apart from him,
with expectancy overcoming the repulsion they felt. Then Tom, the
donkey-man, who was nearest the rail, held up his flaring lamp.

"There's the canoe he come in still alongside aft," he said.

Austin gasped with relief. "Heave down a bunch of the red bananas we got
up the creek," he said. "He'll know they are good to eat."

It was done, and Jefferson smiled again grimly.

"That," he said, "is easy. Still, have you figured how he is to be
gotten into the canoe? You are hardly going to make him understand what
he is to do."

"There's only one way. He must be put into it. Under the circumstances,
it's only fitting that I should undertake the thing."

"No!" and Jefferson's voice rang sharply. "Not you! Offer any of the
rest of them fifty dollars!"

Austin smiled. "To take a risk I'm responsible for? I think not. I went
sufficiently far when I brought some of them here. Besides, it's
comforting to remember you mayn't be right about the thing being
contagious, after all."

Jefferson looked at him hard a moment, with the fingers of one hand
closed, and then made a little sign.

"Well," he said, "if you feel it that way, there's probably nothing to
be gained by protesting. There are disadvantages in being leader."

Austin turned and touched the negro with his foot, while he pointed to
the ladder.

"Get up! You lib for canoe one time!" he said.

The negro mowed and gibbered meaninglessly, and Austin, stooping,
grasped his shoulder, which was clean. With an effort he dragged him to
his feet, and, while the rest fell back from them, drove the man towards
the head of the ladder. Then one of them slipped, and there was a cry of
horror from the rest as the negro clutched the white man, and they
rolled down the ladder into the darkness below together. Tom ran towards
the rail with his lamp, and as Jefferson leaned out from them he saw
Austin shake off the negro's engirdling grasp.

"Get up!" he said hoarsely, and stirred him with his foot again.

The man rose half upright, stumbled, and, straightening himself, moved
towards the open gangway with a lurch. Then he vanished suddenly and
there was a crash below. Austin leaned out through the opening, and his
voice rose harsh and strained:

"Come down, one of you, and cut this warp! The devil's hanging on!" he
said.

Wall-eye, the Canario, sprang down with his knife, and when Austin
climbed back to the bridge deck the men clustering along the rails saw
a canoe with a shadowy object lying in the stern of her slide through
the blaze of radiance cast by the blast-lamp and vanish into the
blackness outside it. Then Tom put out the light, and a hoarse murmur of
relief rose out of the darkness.

A minute or two later Austin stood, a trifle grey in face, in the
doorway of the skipper's room, and stepped back suddenly when Jefferson
approached him.

"Keep off!" he said. "Give me the permanganate out of the side drawer. I
left it there. Miguel, bring me the clothes you washed out of my room in
the poop, and fill me a bucket."

The last was in Castilian, and one of the Canarios went scrambling down
the ladder, while when he came back with an armful of duck clothing
Jefferson held out a jar to his comrade.

"No!" said Austin sharply. "Put it down!"

Jefferson did as he was bidden, and Austin, who stripped the thin
garments from him and flung them over the rail, shook the permanganate
into the bucket, and then, standing stark naked, when it had dissolved,
sluiced himself all over with the pink solution. It was ten minutes
later when he stepped into the room, dripping, with a wet rag about his
waist, and shook his head when Jefferson handed him a towel.

"I think not," he said. "If there's any efficacy in the thing, I may as
well let it dry in. After all, it's consoling to remember that it mayn't
be necessary."

Jefferson's fingers quivered as he leaned upon the table. "No. Of course
not!" he said, and added, inconsequently: "I don't think I'm unduly
sensitive, but a very little thing would turn me deadly sick."

Austin struggled into his duck trousers, and Jefferson, whose face was
also a little more pallid than usual, glanced at him again.

"You have a beautiful skin," he said. "It's most like a woman's. There's
good clean blood in you."

"It's one of my few good points," and Austin's smile suggested
comprehension. "I haven't been particularly indulgent in any direction,
considering my opportunities, and I'm rather glad of it now. One could
fancy that the man who seldom let one slip would be unusually apt to get
the promised wages in this country."

He dragged his singlet over his arms, and a little twinkle slowly crept
into Jefferson's eyes.

"Well," he said, "you carry your character with you. How long has the
restraining influence been at work on you?"

"You are a little outside the mark," and a faint flush showed in
Austin's hollow cheeks. "I am, as you know, not a believer in the
unnecessary mortification of the flesh, but there's a trace of the
artistic temperament, if that's the right name for it, in me, and it's
rather apt to make one finickingly dainty."

Jefferson smiled drily. "That doesn't go quite far enough. I've seen men
of your kind wallow harder than the rest. Still, whatever kept you from
it, you can be thankful now."

Austin went on with his dressing, and then took a little medical
treatise out of a drawer. He spent some time turning over it before he
looked up.

"There's nothing that quite fits the thing here, and from what the
West-coast mailboat men told me, craw-craw must be different," he said.
"In the meanwhile, it wouldn't do any harm to soak myself in black
coffee."

He was about to go out when Jefferson stopped him. "This is a thing that
is better buried, but there's something to be said. From my point of
view, and it's that of the average sensible man, I was right; but yours
goes higher, and in one way I am glad of it. I just want to tell you I'm
satisfied with my partner!"

Austin smiled at him. "We'll both be guilty of some sentimental nonsense
we may be sorry for afterwards if we continue in that strain, my friend.
Still, there's one thing to consider. Although I couldn't help it, what
I did was, of course, absurd, if you look at it practically, and things
of that kind have their results occasionally."

Jefferson seemed to shiver, and then clenched a hard, scarred fist.

"We won't think of it. Your blood's clean," he said. "But if, after all,
trouble comes--I'll get even with that damned Funnel-paint if I spend my
life in Africa trailing him, and have to kill him with my naked hands!"



CHAPTER XXIV

AUSTIN FINDS A CLUE


The grey light was growing clearer, and the mangroves taking shape among
the fleecy mist, when Austin stood looking down upon the creek in the
heavy, windless morning. There was no brightness in the dingy sky, which
hung low above the mastheads, but the water gleamed curiously, and no
longer lapped along the steamer's rusty plates. It lay still beneath her
hove-up bilge, giving up a hot, sour smell, and Jefferson, who came out
of the skipper's room, touched Austin as he gazed at it.

"The stream should have been setting down by now. Something's backing up
the ebb," he said. "A shift of wind along the shore, most likely. The
rain's coming!"

Austin glanced up at the lowering heavens, but there was no change in
their uniform greyness, and no drift of cloud. The smoke of the
locomotive boiler went straight up, and the mist hung motionless among
the trees ashore. Still, there was something oppressive and portentous
in the stillness, and his skin was tingling.

"If it doesn't come soon we'll not have a man left," he said. "It isn't
in flesh and blood to stand this much longer."

"Then," said Jefferson drily, "the sooner we get to work the better.
There's a good deal to do, and you're not going to feel it quite so much
once you get hold of the spanner."

The pump had just stopped, and Tom came towards them, rubbing his greasy
hands with a cotton rag, as they moved in the direction of the engine
room. The lower part of it was dripping when they went down, and a foot
or two of water still lay upon the floor-plates where they met the
depressed side, but it was evident that another hour's work of the big
pump would leave the place almost dry. Austin sat down on a tool-locker
lid, with Jefferson standing beside him, but Tom floundered away towards
the stoke-hold, and they could hear him splashing in the water. When he
reappeared with a blinking lamp he crawled up the slippery ladder as
though working out a clue, while it was several minutes before he came
back and leaned against a column opposite Jefferson with the look of a
man who had not found quite what he had expected.

"Sea-cocks shut!" he said. "Ballast tank full-way cock is screwed up,
too. Of course, they could have closed that with the overhead
screw-gear. You'll remember that manhole cover was off the forward
section."

Jefferson glanced at Austin, though it was Tom he spoke to. "Did you
expect to find them open?"

"Well," said the donkey-man, "to be quite straight, I did."

"I wonder why?"

Tom glanced at him with a little suggestive grin. "She has two plates
started, but with the boiler blowing away half her steam we haven't very
hard work to run all that came in that way down, and her bilge pump
would have kept her clear. What I want to know is, what all that water
was doing in her?"

"Ah," said Jefferson, "you must ask another. I guess nobody's going to
find the full answer to that conundrum. There are only two or three men
who could have told us, and we're not going to have an opportunity of
worrying them about it, unless we get the fever, too."

"Well," said Tom, "the mill's looking good, but it's about time we made
a start on her and got the cylinder covers off and hove the pistons up.
It's quite likely we'll want to spring new rings on them. There should
be some of the spanners in that locker, Mr. Austin."

Austin rose and lifted the lid, while Tom held the lamp, but the first
thing he saw was a sodden book. He drew it out, dripping, and opened it;
but while a good many of the pulpy pages had fallen out, there were
enough left to show that it was one of the little tables of strengths
and weight of materials an engineer often carries about with him. There
was a rather wide margin round the tabulated figures, and as he vacantly
pulled out one of the wet pages he noticed a little close pencil writing
upon a part of it.

"Hold that light nearer, Tom. Here's something that looks interesting,"
he said. "'Buried Jackson this morning--memo hand his share over to Mary
Nichol.'"

He signed Tom to move the light again. "There follows an obliterated
address, and the words, 'scarcely think she'll ever get it. My left
arm's almost rotten now.'"

He stopped again a moment, and his face had grown hard when he went on:
"You see, the thing--is--contagious, and that devil Funnel-paint, or
somebody, has played the same trick before. I wonder if the man who
wrote this looked quite as bad as the nigger did."

"Hold on!" said Jefferson sharply. "I guess none of us have any use for
that kind of talking, and you swilled yourself with permanganate, any
way."

"The result will probably be the same, whether one thinks of it or not.
You will, however, notice that the man's name was Jackson, and the
woman's Mary Nicol."

It was evident that this was a forced attempt to break away from the
subject, and though Tom grinned, it was in a sickly fashion.

"That's no how astonishing. She was the last," he said. "Hadn't you
better turn over, and see if there's any more of it?"

Austin contrived to lift another of the pulpy pages, and once more the
close writing appeared, but it was difficult to make out, and their
faces were close together when Tom lowered the lamp. They showed
curiously grave, as well as hollow, in the smoky light, for there was
reason for believing that the man who had made those notes was dead, and
it was clear that the horrible thing which had stricken him might also
come upon them.

"The last of the bags buried this afternoon," Austin read. "Watson took
a new bearing. W. half N. to the cottonwood, with twist of creek in
line. Forty paces--he made it thirty-nine. Graham says one packet left
in the old place where the niggers got scent of it, and the quills on
the second islet; memo, it makes £50 to me."

He dropped the book, and Tom came near letting go the lamp, while for a
moment or two afterwards they stared at one another. Austin was
quivering a little, but Jefferson made a restraining gesture as he laid
a hand upon his shoulder.

"Steady! I guess we've got the clue," he said. "There are two islets two
or three leagues back down the creek. You passed them coming up. Still,
what do they put up in quills?"

"Gold-dust! The niggers bring it down from the Western Soudan, and I
believe they're ostrich quills. One of the trader fellows told me a good
deal about them over a dinner at the Metropole. A bushman had once stuck
him with a lot of brass filings. Are you going down to look for them?"

Jefferson, it was evident from his face, laid a strong restraint upon
himself.

"No," he said, with curious quietness. "Funnel-paint knows nothing about
these islets yet, or he wouldn't have come to you, and it's my first
business to heave this steamer off. To do it we'll want her engines, and
there's a heavy job in front of us before we start them. The rains won't
wait for any man."

He broke off, for a glare of blue light fell through the open frames
above and flooded the engine room. It flickered on rusty columns and
dripping, discoloured steel, and vanished, leaving grey shadow behind
it, amidst which the smoky lamplight showed feeble and pale. Then there
was a crash that left them dazed and deafened, and in another moment was
followed by a dull crescendo roar, while a splashing trickle ran down
into the engine room. The glass frames quivered under the deluge, and
one could almost have fancied that the heavens had opened. Jefferson
whirled round and gripped the donkey-man's arm, shaking him as he stood
blinking about him in a bewildered fashion.

"If you tell any of the rest what you have heard, I'll fling you into
the creek! And now up with you, and bring every man who is fit to work.
There's no time to lose," he said.

Tom made for the ladder, and Austin, who went with him, carrying the
book, was drenched before he reached the skipper's room. The air was
filled with falling water that came down in rods, and blotted out the
mangroves a dozen yards away. Steam rose from the sluicing deck, the
creek boiled beneath the deluge, but there was no longer any trace of
the insufferable tension, and he stood a moment or two relaxing under
the rush of lukewarm water that beat his thin clothing flat against his
skin. Then he splashed forward to the forecastle, where Tom had little
difficulty in rousing the men. They crawled out, gaunt and haggard, in
filthy rags, some of them apparently scarcely fit to stand, for the rain
had come, and every inch the water rose would bring them so much nearer
home. There was no need to urge them when they floundered into the
engine room, and hour after hour they strained and sweated on big
spanner and chain-tackle willingly, while the big cylinder-heads and
pistons were hauled up to the beams. The one thought which animated them
was that the engines would be wanted soon.

It mattered little that platform-grating and slippery floor-plates
slanted sharply under them, and each ponderous mass they loosened must
be held in with guy and preventer lest it should swing wildly into
vertical equilibrium. That was only one more difficulty, and they had
already beaten down so many. So day after day they worked on sloping
platforms, slipping with naked feet, and only grinned when Tom flung
foul epithets, and now and then a hammer, at one of them. Much of what
he said was incomprehensible, and, in any case, he was lord supreme of
the machinery; and Bill, whose speech was also vitriolic, acted as his
working deputy. The latter had served as greaser in another steamer, and
for the time being even Jefferson deferred to him.

They stripped her until the big cylinders stood naked on their columns,
and the engine room resembled the erecting shop of a foundry, and then
the work grew harder when the reassembling began. Since the skeleton
engines slanted, nothing would hang or lower as they wanted it, and they
toiled with wedge and lever in semi-darkness by the blinking gleam of
lamps, while the rain that shut the light out roared upon the shut-down
frames above. It was very hot down in the engine room, and when a small
forge was lighted to expand joints they could not spring apart, and to
burn off saponified grease, men with less at stake would probably have
fancied themselves suffocated. Still, each massive piece was cleaned and
polished, keyed home, or bolted fast, and, when the hardest work was
over, the slope of the platforms lessened little by little as the
_Cumbria_ rose upright. It was evident to all of them that the water was
rising in the creek.

In a month her deck was almost leveled, but the muddy flood that gurgled
about her still lay beneath her corroded water line, and Jefferson
seized the opportunity of laying out an anchor to heave on before the
stream ran too strong. The launch's boiler had given out, and they
lashed her to the surfboat, with the hatch covers as a bracing between,
but they spent an afternoon over it before Jefferson was satisfied, and
the thick, steamy night was closing in when they warped the double craft
under the _Cumbria_'s forecastle. It rose above them blackly, with a
blaze of flickering radiance over it where the blast-lamp hurled a shaft
of fire upwards into the rain. Floundering figures cut against the
uncertain brilliancy, voices came down muffled through the deluge, and
there was a creaking and groaning as the ponderous stream anchor swung
out overhead.

Austin stood, half naked, on the platform between launch and surfboat,
with the water sluicing from him, and though he had toiled since early
dawn, he was sensible only of a feverish impatience, and no weariness at
all. He had had enough of the dark land, and what they were about to do
was to ensure a start on the journey that would take them out of it. It
grew rapidly darker, the long hull faded, and the flare of the lamp
alone cut, a sheet of orange and saffron, against the blackness above
them. Jefferson's voice fell through it sharply.

"Stand by!" he said. "We'll ease her down!"

There was a fresh groaning and creaking. Something big and shadowy that
racked the complaining chain descended towards them, and then there was
a scuffle and a shout on the deck above. Austin heard the rattle of
running chain and a hoarse cry.

"Jump on it!" Jefferson's voice ran out, fierce with alarm. "Nip the
slack around the bollard. Hang on! Oh, hang on, until he gets a turn!"

Feet shuffled about the light, there was stertorous gasping, another
cry, and a scream, and again Jefferson's voice broke through the
confused sounds:

"Stand from under--for your life!" it said.

The warning was unnecessary, for the Canarios were already crouching
forward in the surfboats bottom, and as Austin sprang in among them
there was a whirr and a crash. The craft swayed beneath him; he could
feel her dipping in the flood, but she rose with a staggering lurch,
slanted slightly, and held down by something huge and heavy.

"Are you still on top there?" Jefferson asked.

"We seem to be," said Austin. "Something's gone, but it's too dark to
see. How d'you come to let her go with a run?"

"Wall-eye let her surge too soon," said Jefferson. "He was getting an
extra turn on, and nipped his hand in. She has 'most wrung it off him.
Handspike your anchor where you can tilt her clear before we slack
cable."

They contrived to do it somehow, with the flare that was lowered from
the cat-davit dropping blazing oil about them, and then coiled down a
length of the ponderous cable. One of the twin craft was tilted to the
water's edge now, and still the massive iron links came clanking down.
Then, as the last fell with a crash, Jefferson leaned out over the rails
above.

"Bend the wire on below the break. You'll want a clear link for the
shackle when we couple her up," he said. "Hang on to your anchor until
you're in the mangroves on the other bank. We want to heave towards deep
water out in the stream."

More barefooted men came swinging down the hanging wire, and they slid
away into the blackness, bumping against the steamer's plates. The twin
craft were top-heavy, and lurched in the grip of the stream. It was a
minute or two before they had cleared the _Cumbria_, and by then they
were almost under her quarter; while when they had crept away from her a
fathom or two all of them knew there was a task in front of them that
would severely tax all their strength.

They had the uncoiling wire rope to drag them back into line, the stream
swept them down a fathom for every one they made ahead, and, as ill luck
would have it, bore upon the launch's pressed down side so that they
could hear the water gurgling into her in ever faster swirl. Still, they
had to reach the opposite bank, or be hauled back to commence the task
again, and, gasping and panting, they heaved on the wet rope that led
into the rain ahead. Most of them were used to work of that kind, but
during the first five minutes Austin felt his arms grow weary and
nerveless, and the veins distend on his forehead, while a curious
singing commenced in his ears. He choked with every fresh grasp he laid
upon the rope, and a Canario behind him gasped out breathless snatches
of Castilian obscenity.

Still, in spite of all they could do, the blaze of red light leaping in
the rain showed that they were making nothing, and now and then the rope
ran out again through their clinging hands. There was no sign of the
mangroves on the opposite bank, while the tilt of the platform grew
steeper, and it was evident that the launch was filling under them.
Then, little by little, the wire rope that ran out into the darkness
astern commenced to curve--they could hear the swirl of the stream
across it--and after another five minutes' tense effort they swung into
a slacker flow or reflex eddy. There was, however, no slackening of the
strain, and it was not until a dim, black wall rose up above them that
Austin loosed his grasp upon the rope, and, floundering and stumbling in
the rain and darkness, they strove to clear the anchor.

It went over with a mighty splash, the platform rose with a jerk under
them; then, as they backed clear, there was a rattle of cable, and they
seized the wire. The lashed craft swung like a pendulum athwart the
stream, the rattling winch hauled them back fathom by fathom to the
_Cumbria_, while, when he had crawled on board her, Austin dropped
limply, and a trifle grey in face, on to the settee in the skipper's
room.

"Well," he said, "that's done, though I think a little more of it would
have made an end of me. It is rather an astonishing thing, but while I
felt fiercely anxious to get that anchor out before we started, it
hardly seems worth the trouble now."

"We couldn't heave her off without it," said Jefferson. "That means
going home--eventually."

"I suppose it does," said Austin, with a little mirthless smile. "Still,
I haven't any home, you see, and I'm not sure that a lazar hospital of
some kind isn't what is awaiting me. You will remember the encouraging
words that fellow left--'My arm's almost rotten now.'"

Jefferson slowly clenched one scarred hand. "That's a thing we are
neither of us strong enough to think about. It's a little too
horrible--it couldn't happen!"

"It's scarcely likely in your case, at least. He didn't put his arm
round you, and I had nothing worth mentioning on that night. Men do die
rotten, and I fancied once or twice I felt a suggestive tingling in my
skin."

Jefferson seemed to be holding himself in hand with a struggle, but
Austin smiled.

"Well," he said, "if it comes at all, it will get the right one. I'm not
going home to be married. In fact, I was told that it would be rather a
graceful thing to come back upon my shield, though I don't know that I
would like to do so looking as that nigger did. In the meanwhile, I had,
perhaps, better see to Wall-eye's hand."

He went out into the darkness, and Jefferson stood still, with his lips
set tight, leaning on the table. He was, in some respects, a hard man,
and his sojourn in Africa had not roused his gentler qualities, but just
then he felt an unpleasant physical nausea creeping over him again.



CHAPTER XXV

HOVE OFF


The rain came down in sheets, and the mangrove roots were hidden by the
yellow flood, when Jefferson stood, dripping, on the _Cumbria_'s bridge.
Her iron deck was level, the stumpy pole masts ran upright into the
drifting mist, and a column of black smoke floated sluggishly from her
rusty funnel. Dingy vapour also rose from the slender one of the
locomotive boiler, and cables--hemp and wire and chain--stretched
between the mangroves and the steamer's bow and stern. Jefferson,
leaning heavily on the bridge rails, considered them each in turn. He
shivered a little, though the rain was warm, and his wet face looked
unusually gaunt and worn; but his eyes were intent and steady, for at
last all was ready for the supreme effort of heaving the _Cumbria_ off.

He looked down when Austin stopped at the foot of the ladder. His face
and hands were black, and the thin singlet, which was all he wore above
his duck trousers, seemed glued to him.

"Hadn't you better keep inside the wheelhouse until we start the mill?"
he said.

Jefferson smiled drily. "Do you think you could? What are you wandering
up and down the deck for?"

"I'm not. I've been firing the locomotive boiler, and spent the last
twenty minutes in the forecastle. It isn't as dry as it should be
there."

He spoke lightly, though there was a suggestion of tension in his voice,
and it was evident that both of them were anxious. Indeed, Jefferson
fancied that his comrade found it difficult to stand still at all.

"Well?" he said.

"There are a third of them I daren't turn out, and two or three of the
others who are down with Tom look a good deal shakier than I care about.
Still, you see, I couldn't keep them in. They've had about enough of
this country, and I don't blame them. You can figure on about half of us
as reasonably effective, but what everybody wants to know is, when we
are to begin."

"When you can give me eighty pounds of steam. Then we'll shake her up
for an hour or two with reversed propeller, and heave on everything when
you get up to the hundred. Still, although we have blown a good deal of
the mud out forward, I expect she'll want another fifty before she'll
move."

Austin glanced at the gap in the forest beneath the bows, across which
the shattered mangroves were strewn. He and Jefferson had gone over all
this before, but since he had stopped by the ladder they must talk of
something, for silence would have been intolerable just then.

"I'll go down and stir them up, though I'm not sure that they need it,"
he said.

He disappeared round the deck-house, and now there was nobody to see
him, Jefferson paced feverishly up and down the bridge, until Wall-eye,
the steward, came pattering barefoot along the deck, with his arm in a
sling. Jefferson stopped him with a sign.

"Slip into Mr. Austin's room, and bring me the thermometer he keeps in
the little case," he said. "As usual, no comprenny? Casetta de cuero,
very chiquitita."

The man went away, and when he came back Jefferson, who went into the
wheelhouse, sucked the little clinical thermometer gravely for a minute
or two. Then he frowned as he looked at it.

"Ninety-nine, point something. I guess it's coming on again," he said.
"Well, one can go on working when it's a good deal more than that,
especially when he has to."

He came out, and, leaning down, dropped the case into the hands of the
man below.

"Put it back, and don't let Mr. Austin know," he said. "Señor Austin no
savvy, you comprenny?"

Wall-eye grinned as he went away. He could, of course, hold his tongue,
but the little case was sodden already, and it could not have got so wet
as that in Austin's room.

In the meanwhile Austin had gone down to the stoke-hold. The place was
dimly lighted, and insufferably hot, for, with the _Cumbria_ stationary,
no more air came down the ventilator shafts than the fires would draw,
and they were burning sulkily. In fact, it was only by strenuous labour
that steam could be raised at all. Here and there the pale flicker of an
oil lamp emphasised the gloom, though there were three half-moon patches
of brightness in each of the two boilers, until a fierce red glow beat
out as Tom, the donkey-man, flung open a furnace door. Then Austin
gained some impression of his surroundings.

The bent figures of half naked men with shovels were forced out of the
shadows. Another man, dripping with perspiration, pushed a clattering
truck, and several more lay, apparently inert, upon the floor-plates,
with water thick with coal grime trickling from them. Only two of them
were professional firemen, and all were weakened by the climate or
shaken by the fever, while as the red light touched them, Austin could
see how worn they were, and the suggestive hollows in their uncovered
skin. There are also things which it is unfit that a white man should
do, and firing in a calm in the tropics is one of them. Austin,
however, had little time to look about him in, for Tom thrust an iron
bar into one of the Spaniards's hands.

"Stand by with the bucket, you. Now, out with the clinker!" he said.

It is probable that the last man addressed did not understand what was
said, but he knew how to clean a fire, and stood, half crouching, before
the furnace, with face averted, while he plied the bar. There was a
rattling beneath the grate-bars and an overpowering wave of heat, in the
midst of which the man stood bowed, with thin garments scorching and his
hair frizzling visibly. Austin could hear his gasping breath, and became
possessed by a sense of futile indignation. Toil of that kind was, he
felt, more than could be expected of anything made in the image of a
man. Then the Canario let the bar fall clanging, and seized another,
while the heat grew more intense when he raked out the ash and glowing
clinker from the flaming tunnel. Austin shrank back with a hand upon his
eyes and singlet singeing, and his voice broke through Tom's cry of
"Damp her down!"

"Por misericordia," he said, "echadle agua!"

Somebody swung a bucket, and a cloud of steam whirled up; but the man
who had cleaned the fire let his scraper fall, and lurching with a half
strangled cry, went down amidst the vapour. He lay with scorched chest
and arms on the floor-plates, making little stertorous noises, until
Tom, who tore the bucket from his comrade's hands, flung the rest of its
contents over him.

"Drag him away!" he said, and turned to Austin. "He's the second one,
but he'll come round by and by. Did you come down to look on or give us
a hand?"

He flung open another door, and Austin took a shovel from a weary man.
He had studied the art of firing up on deck, where it was considerably
cooler, before the locomotive boiler, but he discovered that the work
now demanded from him was an entirely different matter. The heat was
overpowering, the bed of glowing fuel long, and it was only by the
uttermost swing of shoulders and wrench of back and loins that he could
effectively distribute his shovelful. He felt his lowered face
scorching, and the sweat of effort dripped from him, but he toiled on in
Berserker fury while Tom encouraged him.

"Spread it!" he said. "Next lot well down to the back end. You needn't
be afraid to move yourself. Keep her thin!"

Austin wondered whether he had any eyebrows left when that furnace was
filled, but it was done at last, and then there was coal to be trimmed
from the bunkers. The dust that whirled about the shovels blackened and
choked him, but he worked on savagely. Every man was needed, with half
the Spaniards sick, and he felt that if this was the cost of success it
was not fitting that he should shirk his part in it. Social distinctions
counted for nothing there; the barriers of creed and nationality had
also melted. They were all privates in that forlorn hope, with death as
the penalty of failure, and while they could not be more, none of them
that day dared be less, than men.

He never remembered all he did. There was a constant clanging of
shovels, whirring of coal trucks, and slamming of iron doors that opened
to let out fiery heat and radiance and take the flying fuel in. Men came
and went like phantoms, gasping, panting, groaning now and then, and the
voice of their leader rose stridently at intervals. He was a man of low
degree, and his commands were not characterised by any particular
delicacy, but he was the man they needed, and when he emphasised his
instructions with a grimy hand, and now and then the flat of the
shovel, nobody resented it. During one brief interlude he found breath
for a deprecatory word or two with Austin.

"If she was doing her eight or ten knots it wouldn't be as hard as
this," he said. "Then the ventilators would cool her down. The fires
won't burn themselves now--you have got to make them; but you'll find
her steam sweet and easy when she's going up the trades head to breeze."

"I wonder," said Austin grimly, "how many of us will be left when she
gets there."

Then Bill, who had been busy at the locomotive boiler, came down the
ladder with a message, and he and Tom vanished into the engine room,
while Austin, who greatly desired to go with them, put a restraint upon
himself. For some minutes he felt his heart beat as he listened to a
premonitory wheezing and panting, and then his blood seemed to tingle as
this merged into the steady rumble of engines. The faint quiver of the
floor-plates sent a thrill through him, and he drew in a great breath of
relief when beam and angle commenced to tremble. The rumbling grew
steadily louder, the whirl of the reversed propeller shook the ship, and
it was evident that the engines were running well.

After that, however, the work became harder still, for the big cylinders
must be fed, and it was with a sensation of thankfulness that he had not
broken down beneath the strain Austin dragged himself up the ladder when
a message was brought him that he was wanted to drive the after winch.
It was raining heavily, but he found it a relief to feel the deluge beat
upon his beaded face and scorched skin, though he could scarcely see the
mangroves to which the wire that ran from the winch drum led. It was
shackled to a big bridle, a loop of twisted steel that wound in and out
among a rood or two of the stoutest trees. The winch was also powerful,
and it remained to be seen whether it would heave the _Cumbria_ out of
her miry bed, or pull that portion of the watery forest up bodily. A
great cable that slanted back towards him rose out of the water forward
in a curve, and he could dimly see Jefferson's lean figure outlined
against the drifting mist high up on the bridge. On the forecastle
beyond it more shadowy men stood still, and Austin wondered whether
their hearts beat as his did while they waited. The man beside him
stooped ready, with body bent in a rigid curve, and bare, stiffened
arms, clenching the wire that led to the winch-drum. There was a
minute's waiting, and then Jefferson, moving along the bridge, flung up
a hand.

"Heave!" he said.

Austin felt his pulses quicken and a curious sense of exultation as he
unscrewed the valve, for it seemed to him that flesh and blood had borne
the strain too long, and now they had steel and steam to fight for them.
The deck beneath him quivered as the screw whirled faster, and he could
see the poop shaking visibly. Then the winch wheezed and pounded, and
there was a groaning forward as the rattle of the windlass joined in.
Wire and hemp and studded chain rose ripping from the river, creaked and
groaned and strained, but when they had drawn each curve out they could
get no inch of slack in. Austin clenched his fingers on the valve-wheel,
but his eyes were fixed on the lonely figure pacing feverishly up and
down the bridge, and just then he felt all the bitterness of defeat. The
rattle forward died away, and though the winch still whirred and
hammered, none of the wire rope ran over the drum into the crouching
Spaniard's hands. The tension lasted for some minutes, and then
Jefferson's voice came down harshly through the rain.

"Let up!" he said. "Get down, half of you, and see if you can help them
with the firing. We'll try her again when you have raised more steam."

There was, by contrast, a curious silence when the roar of steam died
away, and the thudding of the big engines below decks sank to a lower
pitch. The men who could be spared went down in a body, and toiled for
another hour in a frenzy. The fierce Latin blood was up; they knew it
was the last round, and they would not be beaten now. The throbbing
blast which rushed skywards from the blow-off valve when they came up
again showed what they had done, and Austin walked aft, singed and
blackened, to his winch, with his heart in his mouth. It must be now or
never, for it was clear to him that the men were making their last
effort, and the boilers would not bear another pound of steam.

The windlass was groaning horribly when he opened the valve, and the
whole ship trembled with the whirring of the screw. He saw the drums
spin round futilely for a moment or two, and then the Spaniard, who
crouched behind one of them, howled, as a foot of the uncoiling wire
came back to his hands. Simultaneously, the groaning of the windlass
changed to a clanking rattle, and no sound had ever seemed half so
musical to Austin. The ship shook beneath him, and creaked in all her
frame, while the hammering and rattling swelled into a frantic din as
she commenced to move. He felt as though he were choking, and his sight
momentarily failed him; but as yet the battle was not quite won, and
closing blackened fingers on the valve-wheel, he watched the rope come
home with dazzled eyes. It ran in faster and faster; he could hear the
great stud-cable splashing and grinding as it came in, too, and for five
breathless minutes he held himself to his task, feeling the _Cumbria_
creep down stream, stern foremost, under him. Then her pace grew faster,
and the clanging of his winch seemed to deafen him, until at last a
shrill-pitched voice fell through the din.

"Bastante!" it said. "She's clear now! 'Vast heaving!"

Then the tension slackened as the long, rusty hull swung out into
midstream, and flesh and blood were left shaken, and, as yet, unable to
recover from the suddenly lifted strain in the silence, as winch and
engines stopped. Tom, the donkey-man, was chanting some incoherent
ribaldry forward; here and there a Canario howled or flung up dripping
arms; while the one beside Austin sat down upon the hatch and rocked
himself to and fro as he called upon the Queen of Heaven. Only Jefferson
stood very still, a tall, lean figure, on the bridge, with his torn and
drenched clothing sticking to him, and Austin leaned heavily upon his
winch. He did not wish to move, and was not sure he could have done so
had he wanted to. The _Cumbria_ was clear afloat, and they had won; but
there was nothing he could say or do which would sufficiently celebrate
that triumph.

Jefferson gave them five minutes to recover their balance, and then his
voice came down again. The windlass clanked its hardest, wire hawsers
splashed, and the _Cumbria_ had swung across to the opposite forest when
the big anchor rose to her bows. In the meanwhile the surfboat had been
busy, too; and when the winch whirred again they slid away, stern
foremost, with propeller churning slowly, against the muddy stream. It
was twenty minutes later when, with a roar of running cable, the anchor
plunged once more, and she brought up abreast of the creek where the
coal and oil were stored. Jefferson came down from his bridge and sat
down on the table in the skipper's room when Austin flung himself on to
the settee, with the water trickling from him.

"Well," he said, "we have floated her, but there's still a good deal to
be done. There are the coal and oil to get on board, and then we have to
find the gum."

Austin looked up at him with a little smile.

"That's rather a prosaic epilogue when one comes to think of it," he
said.

"Then you can paint a picture of it when you get home, if you fancy it
worth while," said Jefferson drily.

"I don't think it would be," and Austin smiled again. "After all, a
picture either goes beyond or falls a long way short of the real thing,
and the subject's rather too big for me. Man's domination symbolised by
a staggering scarecrow with a fireman's shovel."

Jefferson dropped his hand on his shoulder, and gripped it hard. "Well,"
he said, "you can drive a winch and sling a palm oil puncheon like a
sailorman. I guess that's 'most as useful as the other thing, any way."

"Ah!" said Austin, "you're skirting rather a big question, but we are
practical now. Are you going to dig the gum up before you heave in
cargo?"

"I'm not. It seems to me it's safer where it is in the meanwhile, so
long as Funnel-paint doesn't know where to look for it. If you'll give
me a dose of quinine I'd be obliged to you."

Austin glanced at him sharply. "Have you any special reason for asking
for it?"

"I've been in the rain quite a long while now, and it's a good deal
wiser to head off a fever than wriggle out of its clutches once it gets
a good grip on you. One gets cautious in this country."

Austin said nothing further, for he was by this time well acquainted
with his comrade's characteristics, but he was not quite contented with
the latter's reason when he lugged out the medicine chest.



CHAPTER XXVI

JEFFERSON FINDS THE GUM


A half-moon shone in a rift between the massed banks of cloud when
Austin stood looking down into the trench four of the Spaniards were
digging. It ran partly across the islet, which was small and sandy,
intersecting another excavation that had a palm at one end of it, while
a half-rotten cottonwood, from which orchids sprang, stood in line with
the trench the men were toiling in. They were shovelling strenuously,
and the thud of the sand they flung out jarred on the silence, for the
night was very still. Austin could hear the creek lapping on the beach,
and the deep humming of the _Cumbria_'s pump, softened by the distance.
She lay, with a light or two blinking fitfully on board her, half a mile
away, ready at last for sea. Then he glanced at Jefferson, who stood
close beside him, shivering a little, though the night was hot, as he
leaned upon a shovel.

"We have been at it, at least, a couple of hours," Austin said
suggestively.

Jefferson laughed. "And we'll be here this time to-morrow unless we find
the case. There's only one on this islet, that fellow said, and, as I
tried to point out, the men who buried it probably wanted to get the
thing done quickly. They'd have run a line from the two trees, and
either dumped the case at the intersection or a few paces outside it on
a given bearing. If we don't strike it in a few minutes we'll work a
traverse."

Ten minutes passed, and then one of the Canarios cried out excitedly as
he struck something with his shovel. Austin saw his comrade's hands
quiver on the shovel-haft in the moonlight, but that was all, and next
moment two of the Spaniards fell on hands and knees in the sand. They
flung it up in showers with their fingers, while Austin, by an effort,
stood very still, for he felt that he might do things he would be sorry
for afterwards if he let himself go. The Latins were panting in their
eagerness, and wallowing rather like beasts than men amidst the flying
sand. Then one of them, who dragged something out, hove it up and flung
it at Austin's feet with a gasp of consternation.

"Ah, maldito! Es muy chiquitita!" he said.

Austin set his lips as he glanced at his comrade, whose face grew
suddenly hard.

"Yes," he said, with portentous quietness. "It is remarkably small, and
by the way he hove it up there can't be very much in it."

They stood still a moment, looking down at the little wooden case, while
the Spaniards clustered round them, with eyes that gleamed in the
moonlight, breathing unevenly. Then Jefferson said: "Light that
blast-lamp, and we'll open it."

Austin's fingers trembled, and he wasted several matches before the
sheet of flame sprang up. Then he fell furiously upon the case with a
hammer and splintered the lid. He plunged his hand in and took out a
quill, which he twisted until it burst, and spilled a little heap of
gleaming grains in his palm.

"It's gold," he said.

"Empty the lot!" said Jefferson, and his voice was hoarse. "Your hat is
big enough. It will all go into it."

There was a low murmur from the Spaniards when Austin obeyed him, and he
handed the wide-brimmed hat to Jefferson.

"Would you make it four pounds?" asked the latter.

"I certainly would not."

Jefferson laughed harshly. "Then it's probably worth some £200," he
said. "It's rather a grim joke, considering what has no doubt been done
for the sake of it."

He laid the hat down, and one of the Spaniards, glancing at the little
pile of quills, broke into a torrent of horrible maledictions, while
Austin, who said nothing, gazed at his comrade until the latter made a
curious little gesture.

"There is still the gum," he said.

Austin smiled sardonically. "If you can still believe in it you are an
optimist of the finest water. Any way, we'll go and look for it. It will
be a relief to get done with the thing."

They waded to the surfboat, which lay close by on the beach, and slid
down stream to an adjacent island, where they had no difficulty in
finding the tree the man who made the note in the engineers' tables had
alluded to. The moon had, however, sunk behind a cloud, and they toiled
by the light of the blast-lamp for half an hour, until once more one of
the Canarios struck something with his shovel. They dragged it out with
difficulty, and found it to be a heavy, half-rotten bag, with something
that appeared to be a package of plaited fibre inside it. Other bags
followed, and hope was growing strong in them again when they had
disclosed at least a score. Jefferson looked at Austin with a little
smile in his eyes.

"There's a couple of hundred pounds, any way, in each of those bags, and
if the man who told me was right, that stuff is worth anything over £100
the ton," he said. "So far as we have prospected, this strip of sand is
full of them. It's going to be more profitable than gold-mining. We'll
get this lot into the surfboat first. Put that lamp out."

Austin did so, and they staggered through a foot or two of water with
the bags on their backs. Some of them burst as they carried them, but
the fibre packages remained intact, and the big boat was almost loaded
when Austin, who was breathless, seated himself for a moment on her
gunwale. He could see by the silvery gleam on the cloud bank's edge that
the moon was coming through again, and he was glad of the fact, for he
had stumbled and once fallen heavily under his burden when floundering
through the strip of thorny brushwood which fringed the beach. Still, he
agreed with Jefferson that it was not advisable to use the big
blast-light any longer than was absolutely necessary, for they both had
an unpleasant suspicion that they had not done yet with Funnel-paint. It
was, indeed, for that reason they had made the search at night and used
the surfboat, which could be paddled almost silently, instead of the
launch, though Tom had repaired her boiler, and she was then lying
alongside the _Cumbria_, with steam up, ready.

The black hull of the latter was faintly visible, and as he glanced at
it he fancied that a puff of white steam sprang up where he supposed the
locomotive boiler to be. A moment later a thin, shrill scream rang
through the stillness, and one of the Spaniards, startled by the sound,
fell heavily against the boat with the bag he was carrying. Austin made
a sign to Jefferson, who was staggering across the beach with a bag upon
his back.

"They're whistling," he said. "I fancy I can hear the launch coming."

There was another hoarser scream, and when it died away a low thudding
sound crept out of the darkness. Austin swept his gaze upriver, but
could only see the shadowy mangroves, for the moon had not come through
yet.

"Funnel-paint!" said Jefferson, breathlessly. "There are four more bags
in sight. We'll get her afloat before we go for them."

They did it up to their waists in water, and it cost them an effort, for
the big boat was heavy now; and then, though the Spaniards glanced
longingly at the _Cumbria_'s blinking lights, Jefferson insisted upon
their carrying down the bags. When that was done, nobody lost any time
in getting on board; and, grasping the paddles, they drove her out into
the stream.

"Paddle!" said Jefferson grimly. "I guess it's for your lives!"

It is probable that the Spaniards did not understand him, but they did
what they could, for while the clank of the launch's engines grew louder
the sound of paddles was also rapidly drawing nearer. There were,
however, very few of them, and the boat was big, so that Austin gasped
with relief when at last the little steamer swept round her stern.

"Stand by for the line!" said Tom, who sprang up on her deck. "They
can't be far off. It's ten minutes, any way, since we first heard their
paddles."

The tow-line was caught, and tightened with a jerk, and the surfboat
went upstream with the yellow water frothing about her, while Austin
could hear the rhythmic thud of paddles through the clank of
hard-pressed engines. Jefferson said nothing, but stood rigidly still,
with hands clenched on the big steering oar, until they drove alongside
the _Cumbria_.

"Up with you, Tom, and see they whip those bags in!" he said. "I want
the case you'll find under the settee in my room, too. You'll sing out
for two or three men who can be relied on, Austin."

"What are you going to do?" asked Austin.

Jefferson laughed unpleasantly. "Head the devils off from the island,
any way, and, if it's necessary, obliterate some of Funnel-paint's
friends. It's fortunate the launch has twice the speed of any canoe."

He clambered on board the launch, and when a few more men came
scrambling down, swung her out before they could decide whether it would
be wiser to climb back again. After that, he left the helm to Austin,
and moving towards the engine, opened the valve wide.

"Head her for the islet. If they have had anybody watching us in a
canoe, they'll go there first," he said.

Austin made a sign of comprehension, but said nothing until his comrade,
sitting down, opened the case he had asked for. Then he became possessed
by unpleasant apprehensions as he saw Jefferson take out several rolls
of giant-powder with fuses attached to them. They looked exactly like
candles now, only the wicks were black, and unusually long. Sitting
still, very grim in face, he tied one or two together, and then nipped a
piece or two off the fuses with his knife.

"I guess it would be as well to make sure," he said.

"Of what?" asked Austin.

"That they'll go off when I want them," and Jefferson laughed a little
grating laugh. "I've had them ready for some while, and took a good deal
of trouble timing the fuses. Now, the effect of giant-powder's usually
local, and I figure one could throw these things far enough for us to
keep outside the striking radius. They'd go better with a little
compression, but there's a big detonator inside them which should stir
them up without it. If these two sticks fell upon a nigger they wouldn't
blow him up. They'd dissolve him right into gases, and it's quite
probable there wouldn't be any trace of him left."

Austin asked no more questions. Worn as he was by tense effort and the
climate, kept awake as he had been to watch when he might have slept at
night, and troubled by vague apprehensions that the loathsome plague
might be working in his blood, he was ready, and, perhaps, rather more
than that, to turn upon the man who had made their heavy burden more
oppressive still. Indeed, it would have been a relief to him to feel the
jump of a rifle barrel in his hand, but from Jefferson's scheme he
shrank almost aghast. To run amuck, with flashing pistol or smashing
firebar, among the canoes, would have appeared to him a natural thing,
but the calculating quietness of his comrade, who sat so unconcernedly,
making sure that the rolls of plastic material should not fail, struck
him as wholly abnormal, and a trifle horrible. Pistol shot, machete
slash, and spear thrust, were things that one might face; but it seemed
beyond toleration that another man should unloose the tremendous
potentialities pent up in those yellow rolls upon flesh and blood.

He was, however, quite aware that there was nothing to be gained by
protesting, and while Jefferson went on with his grim preparations he
turned his gaze upriver towards the approaching canoes. He could see
them clearly, black bars that slid with glinting paddles athwart a track
of silvery radiance, for the half-moon had sailed out from behind the
cloud. They were coming on in a phalanx, five or six of them, and the
splash and thud of the paddles rose in a rhythmic din. He swung the
launch's bows a trifle down stream, to run in between them and the
island.

Then he turned again, and saw Bill, the fireman, watching Jefferson. The
light of the engine lantern was on his face, and it showed wry and
repulsive with its little venomous grin. Forward, the Spaniards were
clustered together, and they were, by their movements, apparently
loosening their wicked knives; but they showed no sign of consternation,
and Austin became sensible of a change in his mood. It seemed to him
that he and they had grown accustomed to fear, and felt it less in the
land of shadow. If they were to be wiped out by a spear thrust, or
Jefferson's giant-powder, which seemed equally likely, nothing that he
could do would avert it; but by degrees he became possessed by a quiet
vindictive anger against the man who had forced this quarrel on them
when their task was almost done. There were, he fancied, fifty or sixty
men in the canoes, and he felt a little thrill of grim satisfaction as
he reflected that if he and his comrades went under they would not go
alone. In fact, he could almost sympathise with Jefferson.

In the meanwhile the canoes were drawing level with them as they
approached the islet. He could see the wet paddles glinting, and the
naked bodies swing, while presently Jefferson, who made Bill a little
sign to stop the engine, stood up on the deck. The case of giant-powder
lay open at his feet, and Bill laid a glowing iron on the cylinder
covering. The men in the canoes ceased paddling, and while the craft
slid slowly nearer each other there was for a moment or two an
impressive silence, through which Austin fancied he could hear a faint
rhythmic throbbing. Then Jefferson, who cut one of the rolls of
giant-powder through, flung up his hand.

"Where you lib for, Funnel-paint?" he shouted.

"Them beach," said the negro, and his voice reached them clearly. "We
done come for them gum. You lib for 'teamboat before we cut you t'roat!"

"Then I'm going to put the biggest kind of Ju-Ju onto you," said
Jefferson. "You savvy how I blow up them headman's house? If you don't
want to be blown up like it, lib for up river one time, and be ---- to
you!"

There was probably only one man among them who partly understood him,
but his gesture was fierce and commanding, and the confused splashing
of paddles suggested that some, at least, of the negroes were impressed.
Two of the canoes moved backwards against the stream, and while
Funnel-paint cried out in his own tongue, Jefferson stooped.

"Touch that on the iron, Bill," he said.

In another moment he stood very straight again with a dim object that
sparkled in his hand, and then hurled it at the island. It fell amidst
the brushwood, out of which there sprang a sheet of flame that was
followed by a detonation and a great upheaval of flying sand. Then the
paddles splashed confusedly, and in another minute or two the canoes
were a hundred yards away. After that there was silence, broken only by
the voice of Funnel-paint, who seemed to be flinging reproaches at his
friends, and a faint, dull throbbing which Austin fancied was a trifle
plainer than before. Then Jefferson laughed as he took up another stick
of giant-powder.

"That seems to have scared them, but if they come back again they'll get
the next one in the middle of them," he said.

"Listen!" said Austin, holding up his hand. "Can't you hear engines?"

Jefferson swung round sharply, and the scream of a whistle came shrilly
across the water from the _Cumbria_ just then. It was answered by
another of a deeper tone, and a blaze of blue light sprang up,
apparently out of the creek. It showed a black shape that wallowed
through a mass of piled up foam.

"A launch!" said Jefferson. "A fast one!"

"No," said Austin. "A pinnace. A gunboat's pinnace. Ah! the canoes are
going."

There was a sudden thudding of paddles, and the canoes melted into the
darkness as the moon sailed behind a cloud again; but the whirr and
thump of engines drew nearer, and Jefferson reached down for the
lantern.

"Well," he said, "a good deal depends upon what country she belongs to,
and it's quite likely we're going to have trouble. Still, we have got to
face it now."

He waved the lantern, and while the whirr of engines slackened a voice
came out of the darkness.

"Launch ahoy! Is that the _Cumbria_ yonder?" it said in excellent
English.

Austin took the lantern from Jefferson with a soft laugh.

"I'll take charge now--you see, I'm acquainted with my countrymen's
little peculiarities," he said, and raised his voice a trifle. "It is.
If you don't mind steaming that far, we should consider it a pleasure to
do anything we can for you."

"If you have no great objections, I'll come on board now," said the
other man. "Starboard a little! Start her slow!"

There was a whirring of engines, a little, very trim pinnace crept up
alongside, and a young man in immaculate white uniform stepped on the
launch's deck.

"Ah!" he said, "Mr. Austin! I've had the pleasure of meeting you before.
What has become of the niggers?"

"Which niggers?" asked Jefferson, carelessly.

The young officer looked at him with a little dry smile, and it was
evident that his eyes were keen, for he made a sign to Bill, who was
about to secrete the giant-powder.

"I am," he said, "under the impression that you know a good deal more
about them than I do. We have rather good glasses, and I certainly made
out four or five canoes. May I ask what that stuff is yonder?"

"It is what, I believe, is called in America giant-powder," said Austin.
"We found it useful in blowing the mangroves up."

"Quite so," said the officer. "In fact, we heard the detonation. Still,
I daresay there are several things we should like to ask each other
about, and you suggested going across to your steamer."

"I did," said Austin. "We should be glad of your company for to-night,
at least, though I'm afraid we can't offer you much to eat. This is my
partner, Jefferson--Lieutenant Onslow."



CHAPTER XXVII

AUSTIN'S TOAST


An hour had passed since their first meeting, when Austin, Jefferson,
and two navy men sat round a little table that had been laid out upon
the _Cumbria_'s bridge deck. It was slightly cooler there than it was
below, besides which the mess-rooms reeked with damp and mildew. A lamp
hung from one of the awning spars above them, and its light fell upon
the men's faces and the remnants of the very frugal meal. The handful of
bluejackets who came up in her had apparently gone to sleep beneath an
awning on the flooring of the pinnace, which lay alongside, but a sharp
clinking rose from the lighted engine room, where a couple of naval
artificers were busy with Tom, the donkey-man. The gunboat's surgeon,
who had been round the forecastle, was talking to Austin, while her
commander lay opposite Jefferson, immaculately neat, in a canvas chair.

"Our tale," he said, "is a very simple one. As we didn't seem to be
wanted anywhere just now, we moored ship snugly in the bight behind the
island, and decided to get a little painting done. She was getting rusty
along the water-line, and one can't get at it well when she's washing
through a swell, you know. Under the circumstances, I seized the
opportunity to do a little rough surveying. We are expected to pick up
any information that may be of use to the Admiralty hydrographers."

Jefferson lay very limply in his chair, but his eyes twinkled
appreciatively. "Well," he said, "I guess that would look all right in
the log, but any one who had seen you start surveying would wonder why
you brought those cases of provisions as well as engine oil and packing,
and two or three ingots of bearing metal. We were uncommonly glad to get
them and see the artificers, though I'm not sure your Admiralty would
approve of the way you're squandering its stores."

Onslow laughed. "We are not forbidden to offer assistance to any one in
want of it, and the provisions, at least, do not belong to our
parsimonious Lords. In fact, they were handed me at Las Palmas by a
friend of yours, on the off chance of our falling in with you. Of
course, I could not exactly promise that you would get them, though I
had reasons for believing the thing was possible."

Jefferson filled a wineglass, and thrust the bottle across the table.

"I think I know the lady's name," he said. "This is the first wine I've
drunk since I came to Africa, and it will probably be the last until I
get out of it again. To-morrow it's going forward to the sick men in the
forecastle. The lady who sent it is not going to mind my passing the
kindness on."

"I venture to think she would approve," and Onslow glanced at Austin.
"In fact, I couldn't quite help a fancy she intended it as a
peace-offering. Miss Brown is, as you are probably aware, capable of
conveying an impression without saying anything very definite, and the
one I received from her was that she felt she had been a trifle hard on
somebody. I should, of course, not have presumed to mention it had it
not been borne in on me that it was not intended I should keep that
impression entirely to myself. If I have been mistaken I must apologise
to her and both of you."

Jefferson stood up with the wineglass in his hand, and the others rose
with him.

"This," he said, "is a little out of my usual line, but it's her wine
we're drinking, and I can't quite let the occasion pass. 'To Her Serene
Excellency, the cleverest woman in the Canaries, who hasn't forgotten
us!'"

Austin stood opposite him, a ragged, climate-worn skeleton, with a
little flush in his haggard face, and he looked at the gunboat's
commander.

"My comrade hasn't gone quite far enough," he said. "The Queen, who can
do no wrong!"

Then the glasses were emptied, and there was a moment's silence when
they sat down. Three of them were, after all, somewhat reserved
Englishmen, who had, for once, allowed their thoughts to become
apparent; and Commander Onslow, who felt that he had, perhaps, exceeded
his somewhat delicate commission, was distinctly displeased with
himself. He had had a certain conversation with Mrs. Hatherly, who had
been rather frank with him, before he left the Canaries, and the
attitude of the ragged adventurer who had proclaimed his unwavering
devotion to the woman who had sent him there appealed to him, so much
so, in fact, that it made him uncomfortable. It was, he felt, advisable
to change the subject.

"Considering everything, it was, perhaps, as well we turned up when we
did. You see, those niggers don't belong to us," he said. "I was, I may
admit, rather thankful when they disappeared, since it might have made a
good deal of trouble if we had taken a hand in. Now you understand that,
you may be willing to tell me what you purposed doing with the
giant-powder."

Jefferson laughed grimly. "If you had come five minutes later I'd have
blown half of them to the devil. We, at least, can't afford to be
particular."

"You had, presumably, a reason? I wonder if you have any objections to
telling us the rest of it in confidence?"

Jefferson, who lighted a cigar, told him the story, and Onslow lay back
in his chair, listening with grave attention, while the surgeon leaned
forward with elbows on the table. At last Onslow shook his head.

"It's interesting, exceedingly," he said. "Still, I don't think I'd
recommend you to tell it in quite that shape to everybody. It would
probably make trouble, and you mightn't find anybody very willing to
believe you. Things of that kind don't happen now--at least, they're not
supposed to--and I fancy it would prove a good deal more convenient just
to mention the simple facts. You bought the steamer stranded, and, with
considerable difficulty, got her off."

"We had practically decided on doing no more than that already," said
Austin. "Still, I wonder if, now you have heard the story, one could ask
your views?"

Onslow smiled drily. "I haven't any, and if I were you, I wouldn't worry
about anything beyond the financial aspect of the affair. Nobody is
likely to thank you, and the only men who could tell you what happened
are dead, you know."

Austin saw that Jefferson also recognised that the advice was good, and,
changing the subject, he spoke to the surgeon. The latter looked
thoughtful.

"I can't tell you what that man was afflicted with," he said. "There are
several African diseases we are not acquainted with, and a good many of
their troubles are supposed to be contagious. Of course, you could apply
to the College of Tropical Diseases they've lately started in Liverpool,
if you are really interested."

"I am," said Austin. "In fact, I'm very much so, indeed. You see, I had
practically nothing on, and he got his festering arms round me."

The surgeon looked at him gravely. "I scarcely think you need worry, but
if you have to do any rough work I would endeavour to avoid any
lacerated bruises, and, as far as possible, keep your skin unbroken."

"It's a little difficult on board this steamer. There are several raw
patches on my arms now."

The surgeon promised to attend to them, but just then Onslow turned to
Jefferson.

"Have you opened up any of the gum yet?" he asked.

Jefferson said he had not, and was rather anxious to do so, whereupon
Onslow and the surgeon offered to accompany him, and they went down the
ladder together to where the bags still lay upon the forward hatch.

"I shouldn't wonder if you were right about its value," said the
surgeon, when Jefferson held up the lantern one of the Spaniards had
handed him. "We took a Senegal Frenchman down the coast last trip, and
he had rather a craze upon the subject. There is, I understood from him,
a particular gum the niggers find somewhere between here and the head of
the Niger, for which one could get almost what he liked to ask from the
makers of special high-class varnishes. In fact, the man said that one
of them who had been trying it told him that it must be used in certain
processes whatever its cost might be. The only trouble was that it
appeared very difficult to get hold of, except in the smallest
quantities; but perhaps your Frenchman had got on the track of it."

Austin tore one of the bags, which were very rotten, across, and then
slit the fibre package beneath it. The surgeon, who stooped beside him,
was the first to thrust his hand into the opening.

"The nodules seem very uniform in size," he said, and then stood up
suddenly, with astonishment in his face. "I'm almost afraid that
somebody has been beforehand with you."

"What do you mean?" asked Austin, still tearing at the package.

The surgeon turned and gazed hard at Jefferson. "This is certainly not
gum. It looks very like an ordinary palm kernel."

He held up a little, round, black object, and Jefferson's face grew
grim, while he clenched one hand. Then he wrenched the knife from Austin
and fell on his knees, ripping at the fibre package savagely. It opened
beneath the steel, and when its contents poured out on deck he rose with
a little bitter laugh. There was no doubt whatever. They were palm
kernels. A curious silence followed, during which Jefferson leaned
against the rail, looking down upon the bags with expressionless eyes,
until he made a little gesture.

"Well," he said, very quietly, "it seems we have had our trouble for
nothing. You may as well open the rest of them."

Austin was not sure how he contrived to do it. He felt suddenly limp and
feeble, but holding himself in hand by an effort, he slit the remaining
bags, and flooded the deck with kernels. There was nothing else, and the
kernels appeared half rotten.

"This must be a little rough on you," said Onslow, with a trace of
awkwardness. "I understand you expected to find more of the stuff
yonder."

"I did," said Jefferson. "Funnel-paint can have it now. We have had
about enough of this country, and if your artificers fancy we could
trust that starboard boiler, we'll set about raising steam to take her
out first thing in the morning."

Onslow made a little gesture of sympathy. "I almost think it is the
wisest thing you can do," he said. "In the meanwhile, it is getting
late, and we have a long trip in front of us to-morrow. I have no doubt
you don't feel much like entertaining anybody just now."

He and the surgeon withdrew to the rooms prepared for them, and when
Austin, who went with them, came back, he stood a moment by the doorway
of the one beneath the bridge which Jefferson now occupied alone. The
latter looked up at him with half-closed eyes.

"We have the oil and the ship--and that will have to be enough," he
said, and then straightened himself with a fierce gesture. "Get out, and
sleep--if you feel like it. The thing has shaken me, and I'm not sure
I'm very well."

Austin went away, but it was almost daylight before sleep came to him,
and he had only been on deck an hour when their guests departed in the
morning. Jefferson, who bade them good-bye at the gangway, stood leaning
on the rail while the pinnace steamed away, and then walked, with
curious heaviness, towards his room. He crawled into his bunk when he
reached it, and lay there, while Austin looked down on him with concern.

"I've had the fever on me for quite a while, and at last it has gripped
me hard," he said. "I'll probably be raving in an hour or two. Get steam
up as soon as you're able, and take her out of the devilish country."

Austin was very busy between his comrade's room, forecastle, and
stoke-hold during the rest of that day, and he had very little time for
rest at night, but though half the men were sick, and his own limbs were
aching portentously, it was with a little thrill of exultation he
climbed to the bridge early on the following morning. The windlass was
rattling on the forecastle, Wall-eye stood by the winch astern, and the
surfboat was sliding towards the mangroves, where a big wire hawser was
made fast, in the rain. Austin was not a professional sailor, but he
could handle surfboat and steam launch, and in the good days had sailed
his yacht along the coast at home. He also had confidence in the
grizzled, olive-faced Spaniard who stood gravely behind him, gripping
the steering-wheel.

The anchor came home to the bows at last, somehow the fever-worn men on
the forecastle hove it in; the after winch hammered when he made a sign,
and the long, rusty hull moved backwards towards the forest as her head
swung slowly round. There was a splash of dripping wire, and he swung up
an arm with a cry of "Largo!"

Then the winch rattled furiously, a gong clanged below, and a wild,
exultant shouting went up when the _Cumbria_'s engines commenced to
throb. The gaunt, hollow-faced men who stood, dripping, in the rain, had
borne everything but cold, and now they were going home. Austin felt his
eyes grow hazy for a moment as he leaned upon the rails, and then, with
a little shake of his shoulders, he fixed his gaze steadily upon the
mangroves that came sliding back to him ahead. He had, he felt, a task
that would demand all his attention in front of him.

They slid down stream unchecked until the afternoon, and the _Cumbria_
steered handily, which, since there were awkward bends to swing round,
was fortunate for all of them; but Austin had misgivings when at last
they approached one that appeared sharper than the rest, for he could
only see the close ranks of dingy mangroves in front of him as he gazed
into the rain and mist. The creek was too narrow to swing the steamer to
an anchor, and it was evident that if she was to get around the bend at
all he most go at it hard, for the yellow stream was running fast with
them, and unless she steamed faster the vessel would not steer. He
signed to the helmsman, who edged her in near one bank to gain a little
room; and then set his lips tight as he clenched his telegraph and rang
for full speed ahead. It was consoling to remember that Tom was below,
for a good donkey-man is, as a rule, more to be trusted than a junior
engineer.

Ahead, the oily current was sliding through the mangroves as well as
among them, covering all their high-arched roots, and he knew that there
were a good many feet of water there, for the creek was full, and he had
heard of steamers going full tilt into the watery forest at such times.
Still he breathed unevenly as he watched the dingy trees slide past one
another, for the bend was opening very slowly, and there was a long
tongue of mangroves close in front of him. The bridge planks were
trembling beneath him now, and he could hear the thud-thud of the
hard-driven screw; but the stream seemed to be running very fast at the
bend, and, glancing round, he saw something very like fear in the face
of the man who held the wheel. When he looked ahead again the long
tongue of mangroves seemed flying towards him.

He strode to the end of the bridge and glanced down at the lift of rusty
side. There was a good deal of it above the water, for the _Cumbria_ was
loaded easily, and she was also, he was very glad to remember, light of
draught. He could not check her with an anchor under foot. She would
only swing to it, and that would land her among the mangroves broadside
on. If he backed his propeller he would as surely go ashore, and his
face grew very grim as he made the helmsman a little sign. Since he must
strike the forest, he would strike it fair, as hard as the engines
could drive her, bows on; and he thrust down the telegraph once more
for the last pound of steam.

The throb of plank and rail grew sharper, the trees seemed rushing at
the forecastle, the helmsman gazed forward with drawn face over his
moving wheel, and a shouting broke out on deck. Austin, however, did not
move at all, save when he raised a hand to the helmsman. Once more,
easy-going artist as he was, the Berserker fit was upon him, and it was
with a light only one or two of his friends had ever seen there in his
eyes he hurled her full speed at the forest.

She struck it, with a crash that flung two or three of the Spaniards
staggering, and it crumpled up before her. Mangrove boughs came
streaming down on her grinding forecastle, torn limbs clutched at rail
and stanchion, and were smashed by them. Mire was whirled aloft by the
thudding screw, and Austin, gripping his telegraph, laughed a harsh
laugh as he saw that she was going through. How thick that belt of trees
was, or what water flowed among their roots, he did not know, but he
remembered that he had found no bottom among them in other places with a
boathook, now and then.

In another few moments the white-stemmed trunks fell aside again, and
they drove out once more into clear and swiftly-flowing water. Then the
Spaniards howled together, and Austin, twining his hand in the lanyard,
unloosed the whistle, and hurled back a great vibratory blast at the
beaten forest. It was, he admitted afterward, a somewhat feeble thing,
but he said he felt the occasion demanded something then.

After that they had no great difficulty, and by nightfall they drove her
out with sluicing decks over the smoking bar, dipping the bleached and
rotten ensign to the little white gunboat that lay rolling behind the
island. Then Austin felt a great weight lifted off him as he flung
himself into a canvas chair upon his bridge. There was now only open sea
in front of them, and he had seen that the big pump could keep the water
down. He felt that he could contrive by some means to make Las Palmas.



CHAPTER XXVIII

IN COMMAND


Austin was quite aware that he had his work cut out when he was left in
command of the _Cumbria_, with half her crew sick, and her skipper
raving deliriously. He knew very little about medicine, and certainly no
more about what he termed the astronomical side of navigation, and after
several attempts decided that it was beyond his ability to take an
accurate solar observation. There were, however, other, though not very
reliable, means of approximately ascertaining the ship's position which
he was acquainted with, and he nerved himself afresh for a grapple with
what most men would, under the circumstances, have considered
insuperable difficulties.

He had two Spaniards who could be trusted to keep the steamer more or
less on the course he gave them, while the _Cumbria_ steerd handily,
which is more than all steamers do. There was a large-scale chart,
considerably mildewed, but still legible, in the skipper's room, as well
as a pilot guide to the West African coast, while the patent log that
towed astern to record the distance run appeared to be working
accurately. He could thus, it was evident, depend in some degree upon
what is termed dead reckoning, which is comparatively reliable in the
case of short distances run in the vicinity of a high, well lighted
coast. The one the _Cumbria_ steamed along was, however, not lighted at
all, and most of it scarcely rose a foot above sea-level, while when he
had ruled the line she was presumed to be travelling on across the
chart, and pricked off the distance the patent log told him she had run,
there remained the question how far the tide and the Guinea stream had
deflected it, and whether the steering and her compasses could be
trusted.

It was also rather an important question; and when he had, on several
occasions, peered for an hour at a time through Jefferson's glasses in
search of a cape or island which the chart indicated should be met with,
and saw only a hazy line of beach, or a dingy smear on the horizon which
might be mangroves, or, quite as likely, a trail of mist, the
probability of his ever reaching the Canaries seemed very remote indeed.
There would, he fancied, be no great difficulty in obtaining a mate and
two or three seamen from one of the steamers he came across, but in that
case the strangers would expect half the value of the _Cumbria_'s hull
and cargo, and very likely make their claim to it good. He was also
aware that more experienced skippers than he was had put their ships
ashore upon that coast. But what troubled him most was the fact that if
he lost sight of it, or found no point that he could identify, he would
have nothing to start from when he must boldly head her out across the
open ocean.

She had rolled along at six to eight knots, with the big pump going, for
several days, when a trail of smoke crept out of the Western horizon.
Austin watched it anxiously, and when at last a strip of black hull and
a yellow funnel grew into shape beneath it, summoned the donkey-man, and
with his assistance, which was not especially reliable, worried over the
signal code painted on the flag rack in the wheel-house when he had
stopped the engines. It was almost obliterated, and most of the flags
themselves were missing; but between them they picked out sundry strips
of mildewed bunting and sent them up to the masthead. The little
West-coast mailboat was close alongside now, and flags also commenced to
flutter up between her masts, while her whistle screamed in long and
short blasts. Austin, anxious as he was, laughed a little.

"That is apparently the Morse code, and it's unfortunate that neither of
us understands it," he said. "I presume it means that they can make
nothing of our flags, and one could hardly blame them. Any way, we have
got to stop her."

Tom grinned as he pulled an armful of tattered ensigns out of a locker.
"This one should do the trick," he said. "I'd start the whistle."

Austin drew the lanyard, and when the ensign blew out on the hot air
Union down, the mailboat stopped, and, considering that they were
steamboat men, her crew had a white gig over in a very creditable time.
She came flying towards the _Cumbria_ with four negroes at the oars, and
when she slid alongside a young mate in trim white uniform came up a
rope.

"You might have slung me the ladder down," he said, gazing about him in
blank astonishment. "Paint is evidently scarce where you come from. I've
seen smarter craft in a wrecker's yard. Still, I can't stop here
talking. What do you want?"

"A doctor, for one thing," said Austin, to gain time.

"We have half the crew down in the forecastle."

The mate walked to the rails and shouted to his boat-boys, while, when
the gig slid away, he pointed up at the drooping flags as he turned to
Austin.

"I suppose it's artistic, the colouring, I mean," he said.

"Still, it's a trifle difficult to make out by either code." Austin
laughed. "Come into my room and have a drink. There are one or two
things I want to ask you."

Five minutes later he spread a mildewed chart on the table as they sat
with a bottle of Jacinta's wine before them.

"Now," he said, "if you will tell me exactly where we are, I'd be much
obliged to you."

"You don't know?" and the mate looked at him curiously.

"Since you can't undertake any salvage operations with the mails on
board, I don't mind admitting that I'm far from sure. You see, we have
only one navigator, and if you were forward just now you would hear him
raving. I've got to take her somehow--on dead reckoning--to the
Canaries."

The mate opened his mouth and gasped. "Well," he said simply, "may I be
----!"

"I suppose that's natural, but it isn't much use to me. I've been
creeping along the coast, so far, but it's evident that if I stick to it
I won't reach Las Palmas. I want a definite point from which to make a
start for the ocean run."

The mate pulled a pin out of the chart, and, measuring with the
dividers, stuck it in again. "You're not quite so much out as I expected
you would be," he said. "It's a straight run to the Isleta, Grand
Canary. Whether you'll ever get there with the compass and the patent
log is another matter, though, of course, if you go on long enough,
you'll fetch some part of America. I don't want to be unduly
inquisitive, but you will have lost, at least, an hour of our time
before I put Pills on board again, and I really think there is a little
you should tell me."

Austin briefly outlined his adventures, and when he had finished the
mate brought his fist down with a bang on the table.

"Well," he said, "you have evidently excellent nerves of your own, and
I'm not quite so sure as I was that you'll never get her home. I don't
mind admitting now that at first I thought you were crazy. It's evident
that your compass and patent log are all right, but you'll have to get
your latitude and longitude, at least, occasionally, and I'll bend on
some signals any skipper you come across would understand. If he's
particularly good-natured he might chalk it on a board."

He stopped a moment with a little sardonic smile. "As a matter of fact,
it's not quite so unusual a question as you might suppose."

Austin thanked him profusely, and felt a good deal easier when he and
the mailboat's doctor, who arrived presently and gave him good advice,
went away. Then, with a blast of her whistle, the _Cumbria_ steamed on
to the West again, and it was three or four days later, and she was
plunging along with dripping forecastle at a little over six knots
against the trades, when Austin had trouble with Jefferson. He was
asleep in his room, aft, and, awakening suddenly, wondered for a moment
or two what was wrong, until it dawned on him that it was the unusual
quietness which had roused him. Then he sprang from his berth and
hastened out on deck, for it was evident that the engines had stopped.

There was clear moonlight overhead, and the ship was rolling heavily,
while as he looked forward a clamour broke out beneath the bridge, where
grimy men came scrambling up from the stoke-hole gratings. It was light
enough for him to see their blackened faces and their excited gestures.
Other men were, he fancied, from the pattering on the iron deck, also
moving in that direction from the forecastle; but what most astonished
him was the sight of a gaunt white figure pacing up and down the bridge.
While he gazed at it, Wall-eye came running towards him breathlessly.

"The Señor Jefferson has stopped the ship!" he said. "He has a pistol,
and Maccario, who is shut up in the wheel-house, shouts us that he will
go back to Africa again!"

Austin, who knew a little about malarial fever by this time, ran
forward, and met Tom at the foot of the bridge ladder. The latter laid a
grimy finger on his forehead significantly.

"Right off his dot! I don't know what's to be done," he said. "It would
be easier if he hadn't that pistol."

A gong clanged beneath them while they considered it, and Tom shook his
head. "He has been ringing all over the telegraph, from full speed to
hard astern," he said. "I don't know if he'd give you the pistol, but
when I got half way up the ladder he said he'd put a bullet into me. Any
way, if you went up and talked to him while I crawled up quiet by the
other ladder, I might get him by the foot or slip in behind him."

Austin was by no means anxious to face the pistol, but it was evident
that something must be done, and he went up the ladder as unconcernedly
as he could. When he reached the head of it Jefferson beat upon the
wheel-house window with his fist.

"What's her head to the westwards for?" he said. "Port, hard over! Can't
you hear inside there?"

The steering engine rattled, and it was evident that the helmsman was
badly afraid, but in another moment Jefferson had swung away from the
wheel-house, and was wrenching at the telegraph again.

"What's the matter with these engines?" he said. "I want her backed
while I swing her under a ported helm. I'll plug somebody certain if
this is a mutiny."

He opened the big revolver, and closed it with a suggestive click, while
it cost Austin an effort to walk quietly along the bridge. Jefferson's
eyes were glittering, his hair hung down on his face, which was grey and
drawn, dark with perspiration, and his hands and limbs were quivering.
His voice, however, although a trifle hoarser, was very like his usual
one, so much so, in fact, that Austin found it difficult to believe the
man's mind was unhinged by fever. He whirled round when he heard Austin,
without a trace of recognition in his eyes.

"Now," he said, "why can't I get what I want done?"

"You're very sick," said Austin quietly. "Hadn't you better go back to
bed?"

Jefferson laughed. "Yes," he said, "I guess I am, or these brutes
wouldn't try to take advantage of me. Still, in another minute you're
going to see me make a hole in somebody!"

He leaned heavily on the bridge rails, with the pistol glinting in his
hand, and Austin endeavoured to answer him soothingly.

"What do you want to go back to Africa for?" he said. "There wouldn't be
any difficulty about it if it was necessary."

"Funnel-paint's there. They brought me away when I was sick, or I'd have
killed him." He made a little gesture, and dropped his hoarse voice.
"You see, I had a partner who stood by me through everything, and
Funnel-paint sent down a ---- rotting nigger!"

"Your partner's all right," said Austin, who saw that Jefferson was as
far from recognising him as ever. "I've excellent reasons for being sure
of it."

Jefferson leaned towards him confidentially, with one hand on the rails.

"It hasn't come out, but it's bound to get him. The nigger had his arms
round him. Then he'll have to hide in a dark hole where nobody can see
him, while the flesh rots off him, until he dies."

Austin could not help a shiver. He knew the thing might happen, and he
realised now that it had also been in Jefferson's mind. Still, it was,
in the meanwhile, his business to get the pistol from the latter, and
then put him in his berth, by force, if necessary.

"The difficulty is that you can't kill a man twice," he said. "I seem to
have a notion that you hove a stick of dynamite into Funnel-paint's
canoe."

"I could have done, and I meant to, but my partner was with me. I had to
humour him. That man stood by me."

Austin stood still, looking at him, a little bewildered by it all. The
mailboat doctors and some of the traders he had met at Las Palmas had
more than once related curious examples of the mental aberration which
now and then results from malarial fever. Still, Jefferson, whom he had
left scarcely fit to raise his head in his bunk, was now apparently
almost sensible; and, what was more astonishing, able, at least, to walk
about. Then, when he wondered how he was to get his comrade down from
the bridge, the latter turned to him with a sudden change of mood.

"You're keeping me talking while they play some trick on me," he said.
"All right! In another moment you'll be sorry."

The pistol went up, and Austin set his lips while a little shiver of
dismay ran through him. The ladder he had come up by was some distance
away, the wheel-house, at least, as far, and he stood clear in the
moonlight, realising that the first move he made would probably lead to
Jefferson squeezing the trigger. Then, with sudden bitterness, he
remembered what, it seemed, was in his blood, and felt astonished that
he should be troubled by physical fear. It would be a swifter and
cleaner end if his comrade killed him there. That consideration,
however, only appealed to his reason, and the reflection came that
Jefferson would probably never shake off the recollection of what he had
done; and, knowing it was safest, he braced himself to stand motionless,
while the perspiration dripped from him, steadily eyeing the
fever-crazed man.

"If you will let me tell you why we are steaming west it would save a
good deal of trouble," he said, as soothingly as he could, though his
voice shook. "You see, you were too sick to understand, and you're not
very well yet."

Jefferson, somewhat to his astonishment, seemed willing to listen, but
he was, unfortunately, far from the side of the bridge below which
Austin surmised that Tom was crouching. He risked a glance round, but
the helmsman evidently dare not leave the wheel-house, for which Austin
could not blame him, and the Spaniards stood clustered together gazing
up at them from below. Austin decided that if he signed or called to
them Jefferson would use the pistol, though he fancied that one of them
was trying to make him understand something.

Then suddenly a shadowy form glided out from behind the wheel-house,
where Jefferson could not see it. There was a rush of feet, and a
spring, and Jefferson went down heavily with another man, who wound his
arms round him. They rolled against the bridge rails, and a breathless
voice called to Austin.

"Get hold of the pistol!" it said.

Austin wrenched it from his comrade; men came scrambling up the ladder,
and in another moment or two they had Jefferson helpless, and set about
carrying him to his room. When they laid him in his berth his strength
seemed to suddenly melt away, and he lay limp and still, only babbling
incoherently. Austin ventured to give him a sedative, and then, leaving
Wall-eye to watch him, went out on deck. Tom, who was waiting for him,
made a little deprecatory gesture.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Austin, but he never came near my side of the bridge,"
he said. "If I had got up he'd have dropped me with the pistol, and that
wouldn't have done much good to anybody."

"Of course not," said Austin. "I was uncommonly thankful when Bill got
hold of him. Send him along to my room, and then start your engines."

In another two or three minutes the _Cumbria_ was steaming west again,
and Bill, the fireman, stood, somewhat sheepishly, in the doorway of
Austin's room.

"I owe you a good deal, and when the time comes I'll endeavour to
remember it," said the latter. "Still, I don't want Mr. Jefferson ever
to know anything about the thing. You did it cleverly."

Bill grinned. "Well," he said, "I'm quite glad I did. I felt I had to do
something for my five pounds, any way."

It dawned upon Austin that once or twice, when he had somewhat risky
work to do, Bill had been near him.

"What five pounds?" he asked.

"The five pounds she shoved into my hand one night on board the
_Estremedura_--no--the fact is, I'm feeling a little shaky, and I don't
quite know what I'm saying. The getting hold of Mr. Jefferson has upset
me. When you think of it, it's only natural."

"Then it has come on very suddenly," said Austin. "You seemed all right
a moment or two ago. Am I to understand that somebody gave you five
pounds to look after me?"

It was evident to Bill that there was nothing to be gained by further
reticence, and he edged out of the doorway, grinning more broadly than
ever.

"Well," he said, "I guess she meant you, though she said it was both of
you. Still, you won't tell her, or I sha'n't get any more."

He had vanished before Austin could ask another question, but the matter
was quite clear to the latter, and his face grew hot while a little
thrill of satisfaction ran through him as he recognised that Jacinta had
felt it worth while to do what she could to ensure his safety. Then he
remembered something else, and his face grew hard as he pulled off his
jacket and glanced at his bare arm.

He had torn and abraded it heaving in oil and coal, and the gunboat's
surgeon had warned him that it was advisable to keep his skin unbroken.
There were several half-hardened scars upon it now, and another had been
torn away when he fell against the rail in a heavy lurch a day or two
earlier. He had worn no jacket at the time. He had since noticed a
curious tingling sensation in that part of his arm, and, holding it
nearer the lamp, he saw that the flesh was inflamed about the wound.
There was no doubt about the fact. When he pressed it with his thumb all
the lower arm was sore, and he let it fall limply to his side, and sat
down with a little groan. The horrible thing he shrank from had, it
seemed, come upon him. He sat very still for half an hour, grappling
with a numbing sense of dismay, and then, with a little shake of his
shoulders, went back to the bridge, for he had still a duty to his
comrades.



CHAPTER XXIX

AUSTIN IS MISSING


It was a fine morning, and the signal, "Steamer approaching from the
South," was flying from the staff high up on the Isleta hill, when
Pancho Brown's boat lay heaving on the smooth swell at the entrance to
Las Palmas harbour. Mrs. Hatherly, Jacinta, and Muriel sat in the
stern-sheets, and beyond them two barefooted Canarios were resting on
their oars, while two or three miles away a smear of smoke that half hid
a streak of dusky hull moved towards them across the shining sea. Brown
was watching it attentively with a pair of marine glasses in his hand.

"You have brought me off several times for nothing, but I almost think
our friends have turned up at last," he said. "Of course, from
Lieutenant Onslow's cable she should have been here several days ago,
but it's very likely the engines would give them trouble. Any way, we'll
know in ten minutes or so. There's the _Sanidad_ going off."

A launch crept out from the mole, and behind her in the harbour boats
were being got afloat. Coaling clerks, tobacco and wine merchants, and a
miscellaneous crowd of petty dealers, were waiting to step on board, but
two, at least, of Pancho Brown's party had no eyes for them. They were
watching the incoming steamer rise higher out of the shining sea, and
wondering if she was the one they had for the last few days looked for
with tense anxiety. They had Onslow's cable from Sierra Leone, and the
skipper of a big tramp which had come in for coals reported that a small
British steamer had asked him for the latitude and longitude a week
before. Nothing, however, had since been heard of her, and Jacinta had
found the last three or four days as trying as Muriel did. The latter
had, however, borne the suspense bravely, and displayed a sublime
confidence in her lover which Jacinta, for no very obvious reason, found
almost exasperating at times.

"Can't we go out a little?" she said at last.

Brown made a sign to the Canarios, who dipped the oars, and as they slid
past the _Carsegarry_, which lay with steam blowing off, and a water
barge alongside, Captain Farquhar leaned over her rails. He had come in
for coal on his way to Liverpool the previous day, and had spent part of
the night with Brown.

"I really think that is the _Cumbria_," he said. "Any way, she's much
the kind of boat Jefferson described to me, and so far as I can make out
they have a big boiler on deck. I suppose you are going off to her?"

Brown said they were, and Farquhar glanced at the boat hesitatingly.
"I'd very much like to come with you, but I can't leave just now," he
said. "Still, we won't have filled our tanks up for an hour or two, and
you might tell Mr. Austin that I certainly expect him to pull across and
see me. In fact, although we have steam up, I'll wait until he does."

Brown made a sign of comprehension, and the boat slid away, while when
she stopped again outside the harbour the eyes of all on board her were
fixed upon the steamer. She had also stopped, and lay rolling wildly,
with the yellow flag at her foremast-head and the _Sanidad_ launch
alongside her; but in another minute or two the flag came fluttering
down, and she moved on again towards the harbour. Brown signed to the
oarsmen to turn the boat's head.

"There's no doubt that she's the _Cumbria_, and they can't have had
anything very bad on board," he said.

In another five minutes the _Cumbria_ crept up with them, rolling
wickedly, with the big pump thudding on her deck, and a stream of water
spouting from her side. Rags of awnings fluttered about her, her funnel
was white with salt crust, for the trade-wind blows strong at that
season, and the blistered paint had peeled from her corroded sides. Her
story was written upon her so that even the girls could read, and both
felt that no plainer testimony was needed to the courage of the men who
had brought her home. Then they saw them, Jefferson leaning out, gaunt
and blanched in face, from the bridge rails, and Austin standing amidst
a group of haggard men on the forecastle. Jacinta's heart was beating a
good deal faster than usual, and she saw the sudden tears rise to her
companion's eyes; but as the long, rusty hull forged past them Austin
made no sign. He stood looking straight in front of him, until he turned
to the men about him who were busy with the anchor.

"He can't have seen us," said Muriel, with astonishment in her tone, and
then touched Brown's arm. "Tell them to row their hardest, please."

The Canarios bent their backs and the boat swept forward, for the
steamer had already passed ahead of them. Jacinta sat unusually still,
watching her, sensible at once of a vague dismay and a thrill of pride.
She had understanding as well as imagination, and the sight of that
rusty vessel and the worn faces of the men upon her deck had stirred her
curiously. It was, she felt, a notable thing they had done, and she was,
she knew, responsible for the part one of them had played in it. He had
come home with credit, a man who had done something worth while, and
had doubtless learned his strength. She could not fancy him frittering
his life away after that; but still she was perplexed, and a trifle
anxious, for it seemed that he must have seen them, and he had made no
sign. She had, on her part, twice passed him without recognition in the
Plaza at Santa Cruz, and her heart smote her as she remembered it; but
he was not a vindictive man, and must by that time have realised the
misapprehension she had been under concerning him. For that, at least,
she would ask his forgiveness in another few minutes, and her face
burned as she wondered what he would say to her.

Then she saw the white wash of the _Cumbria_'s propeller as it whirled
astern, and there was a roar of running chain, while two or three
minutes later they were making their way up the lowered ladder amidst a
crowd of petty dealers when Jefferson came across the deck, driving the
latter aside. Jacinta saw that it cost Muriel an effort to hide her
consternation at his appearance, but in another moment she was smiling
at him with shining eyes, and the haggard man's arms were about her.
That the deck was crowded with Spaniards did not seem in the least to
matter to either of them. Jacinta, who would not have done as much, felt
a little thrill of sympathy, and, it was significant, looked round for
Austin. There was, however, no sign of him.

Then Jefferson, still holding Muriel's arm, drew them out of the press,
and there was a general offering of congratulations and grasping of
hands.

"I am," he said, "uncommonly glad to be back again, though I'm not sure
we'd have ever got here except for Austin. I have only been on my feet
the last day or two, and he did everything."

"Where is he?" said Muriel, seeing that Jacinta would not ask.

"Across at the _Carsegarry_. At least, he told me he was going when he
recognised her."

"Without coming to shake hands with us?" said Muriel, who flashed a
covert glance at Jacinta.

"I understand from one of these fellows that Farquhar is just going to
sea, and it's very probable that Austin heard it, too. I have no doubt
he'll be back again in five minutes."

"You will come ashore with us, and we will expect you and Mr. Austin to
make my house your home in the meanwhile," said Brown.

"I shall be very glad," said Jefferson. "You will, however, have to
excuse me for an hour or two. I have our Consul to see, and a good many
things to do before I can call my time my own. I wonder if you could get
me a tartana?"

"Mine is waiting at the Mole," said Brown.

It was an hour later when they took their places in the vehicle, but
though Brown bade the driver wait a minute or two, there was no
appearance of Austin. Just then the _Carsegarry_ crept down the harbour,
and with a sonorous blast of her whistle steamed out to sea.

"There is no boat coming. He must have landed on the other mole, and,
perhaps, met somebody he couldn't get away from," said Brown. "I'll
leave word that we are expecting him, and no doubt he'll turn up soon
after we get home."

They drove away, and that afternoon sat together in Brown's cool patio.
The noise of the bustling city was deadened by the tall white walls,
over which there shone a square of cloudless blue, and the scent of
flowers was heavy in the shadowy space below. Jefferson lay, attired
becomingly once more, in a big cane chair, with a little smile of
content in his hollow face, and a pile of fruit, and a flask of wine,
on the table in front of him. The others sat about him, and a fountain
splashed behind them in the shadow.

"A very little of this will make me well," he said. "In fact, it is
already a trifle difficult to believe that I could scarcely lift myself
in my berth a few days ago. I think it was the sight of Gomera that
cured me. You see, I was a little doubtful about Austin finding the
Canaries, and when they came to tell me they could see the Peak,
Wall-eye, who was watching me, ran out."

"What was he watching you for?" asked Muriel.

"To see I didn't get up. I had my chance then, and I crawled out of my
berth. I believe I fell over several things before I got out on deck,
and then I knew we were all right at last. There was the Peak--high up
in the sky in front of us, with Gomera a blue smudge low down at its
feet. We ran in under the lee, and, because they were played out, and
Tom had trouble with his engines, stayed there three days."

He stopped a moment, with a little laugh. "I think Austin was 'most
astonished as I was to find he'd brought her home. He'd been running
four or five days on dead reckoning, and wasn't much more than a hundred
miles out."

"I wonder where he is," said Brown.

Jefferson looked a trifle perplexed, and it was evident that others of
the party had asked themselves the same question, for there was a
moment's silence until Muriel spoke.

"If he doesn't come soon I shall feel very vexed with him; but we want
to hear how you got the steamer off," she said.

Jefferson commenced his tale diffidently, but, because Austin had worked
in the sombre background--more effectively than he could do
already--the rest listened with full comprehension. His unvarnished
narrative was, however, striking enough, and, save for the splashing of
the fountain, and his low voice, there was a suggestive silence in the
patio, until he stopped abruptly when he came to the scene in which
Austin pleaded for the negro.

"The man wasn't fit to look at," he said.

"But why did Mr. Austin go near him?" asked Muriel, with a little
shiver.

"To save his life," said Jefferson, awkwardly. "You see, we couldn't
have him there--and he really wasn't a man then. The thing he had we
believed contagious, and somebody had to put him into his canoe."

Muriel gazed at him with an expression of perplexity, and it was clear
that she did not quite understand what had taken place on the night in
question, which was, however, not astonishing. Brown appeared a trifle
uncomfortable, and Jefferson was sincerely thankful when Jacinta broke
in.

"Of course," she said. "He couldn't have stayed there. Mr. Austin put
him into his canoe?" She stopped for a moment, and her voice seemed to
change a trifle. "Did he find it necessary to touch him?"

"He did. In fact, the nigger got hold of him. One of them slipped on the
bridge deck ladder and they rolled down it together."

Again there was silence, and all of them looked at Jefferson, who saw
the question in Jacinta's eyes.

"No," he said. "Nothing came of it, though for a week or so I was
horribly afraid. It isn't men like Austin who take that kind of thing,
and it's possible it mayn't have been infectious, after all."

Muriel heard Jacinta softly draw in her breath, as though she had been
under a strain which had suddenly relaxed. Then a little colour crept
into her face and a sparkle into her eyes.

"Yes," said Jefferson, though nobody had spoken, "it was a daring thing.
More, in fact, than I would have done. My partner has the cleanest kind
of real hard sand in him."

He turned to Muriel with a little deprecatory gesture. "I had more at
stake than he had--and I was afraid that night."

Jacinta sat still a while, a trifle flushed in face, for the scene
Jefferson had very vaguely pictured had stirred her to the depths. The
man whom she had sent forth had done more than she would ever have asked
of him, and the gallantry of the action brought a dimness to her eyes.
Then she remembered that it was not done recklessly, for he had, it
seemed, decided calmly, which must have made it inexpressibly harder.
There were, she could imagine, circumstances in which a man might more
or less willingly risk his life, but the risk Austin had taken was
horrible, and he stood to gain nothing when he quietly recognised the
responsibility he had taken upon himself. It was with an overwhelming
sense of confusion she remembered the jibes she had flung at him
concerning his discretion, and yet under it there was still the sense of
pride. After all, it was to please her he had gone to Africa.

"Well," said Jefferson quietly, "you are pleased with him?"

Jacinta met his gaze unwaveringly, and her voice had a little thrill in
it.

"Does it matter in the least whether I am pleased or not?" she said.
"Still, since you ask, I scarcely think I have heard of anything that
would surpass what he did that night."

Jefferson made her a little inclination. "I am," he said gravely, "not
sure that I have, either."

He went on with his story, but Jacinta scarcely listened to it, for she
was wondering why Austin had not come, and waiting expectantly for the
time when she could, in self-abasement, endeavour to wipe what she had
said from his memory. Still, he did not come, and it was half an hour
later when a barefooted boatman was shown into the patio. He had an
envelope in his hand, and turned to Brown.

"The Englishman who was in the _Estremedura_ gave me this on board the
_Carsegarry_," he said. "I am sorry I could not bring it before, but
several steamers I had to go to came in, and then it was some time
before I found out that the Señor Jefferson had gone home with you."

When he went away Brown handed Jefferson the note, while the latter, who
opened it, straightened himself suddenly and seemed to be struggling
with some emotion. Then he passed it to Jacinta.

"You have good nerves, Miss Brown," he said. "If I had known it would
come to this, I think I would have left the _Cumbria_ there."

Jacinta took the letter in a steady hand, but her face grew a trifle
blanched as she read.

"I am going home with Farquhar," the message ran. "I could hardly go in
a passenger boat, and he is fixing me up a room by myself. I didn't care
to tell you when you were just shaking off the fever, but one of my arms
feels very much as that engineer said his did. I am going to see if one
of the big specialists or the Tropical Disease men can do anything for
me."

Jacinta sat quite still a minute, and then slowly rose.

"It is horrible, but I suppose even a purpose of the kind he had does
not exempt one from the consequences," she said. "There are things to
attend to. You will excuse me just now."

They looked at one another when she left them, and then Brown turned to
Jefferson.

"I wonder if you have any objections to showing me that note?" he said.

"It doesn't seem to be here," said Muriel. "What can she have done with
it?"

"Don't worry about looking," said Jefferson sharply. "I can remember it.
It has, in fact, shaken a good deal of the stiffness out of me."

Muriel gasped with consternation when he told them, and by and by the
group broke up, while it was a somewhat silent party that assembled for
comida an hour later. Jacinta, it was evident, had very little appetite,
though she contrived to join in the somewhat pointless conversation, and
it was not until late that night Brown came upon her alone on the flat
roof. She was leaning on the parapet, and looking out across the sea,
but her eyes were turned northwards now, and she did not hear him until
he gently laid a hand upon her shoulder. Then she turned and looked at
him with despair in her face. She had not expected him, or he would not
have seen it, though there was clear moonlight above them.

Brown sat down on the parapet, and, taking off his gold-rimmed glasses,
held them in his hand.

"I think I understand, my dear, and I have something to say," he said.

Jacinta made no disclaimer. For one thing, she saw it would have been
useless, and she had no strength left in her then.

"Is it worth while?" she asked. "Would anything that you could say
change what has happened?"

"No," said Brown, reflectively, "I scarcely think it would. Still, I
would like to mention that we really don't know the thing is incurable.
In fact, it may be a malady which is readily susceptible to the proper
treatment, and he has done wisely in going to England."

A little gleam of hope crept into Jacinta's eyes. "I had hardly dared to
think of that," she said.

"Well," said Brown, "I really fancy the thing may not be as serious as
you and Mr. Jefferson, perhaps naturally, seem to fear. Now, as you
know, I was going to England about the new fruit contracts in a week or
two, and there is no particular reason why I shouldn't go the day after
to-morrow. I should make it my business to see Mr. Austin has the best
advice which can be got from the specialists in that country. Only, my
dear, I want to ask a very plain question. Supposing he is cured--what
then?"

"I'm afraid you must shape the question differently," and a trace of
colour crept into the whiteness of Jacinta's face.

"Then I will tell you what I know. You sent that man to Africa, and he
went because he was in love with you. He is also a man I have a
considerable liking for--and you are my only child. I am getting old,
and would like to see you safely settled before I go. There are," and he
made a little gesture, "occasions on which one must speak plainly."

Jacinta's face was crimson at last, but she in no way attempted to
question the correctness of the announcement he had made.

"Mr. Austin, at least, never told me what you seem to be so sure
about--and it is scarcely likely that he will ever do so now," she said.

Brown smiled a little, and tapped the palm of his hand with his glasses.

"My dear," he said, "I think you know better. Of course, you would
never have admitted so much as you have done if I had not had you at a
disadvantage to-night. Well, the first thing is to see what can be done
to cure him. Only, if he comes back, you will, I suppose, know your
mind?"

He looked at her steadily, and, when Jacinta lowered her eyes, laid his
hand gently on her arm again.

"I sail by the yellow-funnel boat the day after to-morrow," he said.



CHAPTER XXX

JACINTA CAPITULATES


The _Carsegarry_ was not a fast vessel. Like most of the ocean tramp
species, she had been built to carry the largest possible cargo on a
very moderate consumption of coal, and speed was a secondary
consideration. She had also been in the warmer seas for some time, with
the result that every plate beneath her water-line was foul, and as she
fell in with strong northwest breezes, she was an unusually long while
on the way to Liverpool. Austin was thus not astonished to find a letter
from Jefferson, written four or five days after he left Las Palmas,
waiting him at Farquhar's brokers, which made it evident that his
comrade had got to work again.

He smiled a trifle grimly as he read it, for he fancied that its
optimistic tone had cost Jefferson--who alluded to his apprehensions
about his arm very briefly--an effort, for the fact that he was asked to
cable as soon as he had seen a doctor appeared significant. The rest of
the letter concerned financial affairs.

"We have had a rough preliminary survey, and the result is distinctly
encouraging," he read. "After making a few temporary repairs I expect to
bring her on to Liverpool, and there is every reason to believe we can
dispose of her for a good round sum. I could have got £10,000, ex-cargo,
as she lies here. Palm oil, it also appears, is scarce and dear, at up
to £30 the ton, from which it seems to me that your share should
approximate £7,000. I have to mention that Brown is on his way to
Liverpool and wants you to communicate with him at the address
enclosed."

This was satisfactory as far as it went. The only trouble was that
Austin was very uncertain whether he would live to spend what he had so
hardly earned. His arm had become exceedingly painful during the voyage,
and after a consultation with the ship broker he telephoned an eminent
specialist.

"I will expect you at two o'clock," the doctor said. "If it appears
advisable, we can, of course, avail ourselves, as you suggest, of any
views the Tropical Disease men may favour us with. In the meanwhile, I
will arrange for a gentleman who has made considerable progress in
similar researches to meet you."

Austin went out of the broker's office with three hours to spare, and
wandered aimlessly about the city in a state of tense suspense. He felt
that he could not sit still, and in any case he was dubious as to
whether he was warranted in going back to the hotel. Indeed, he wondered
whether he had any right to be at large at all, and after a while hung
about the wharves, where there was less chance of any one coming into
perilous contact with him. He had never spent such a morning in his
life, and decided that what he had done and borne in Africa was not
worth mention by comparison. Still, the hours dragged by, and at last he
set out for the specialists' surgery without daring to wonder what the
result would be, and found two gentlemen awaiting him there. One of
them, who had grey hair and very keen eyes, motioned him to a chair.

"Now," he said, "before we proceed to an examination it might be better
if you told us concisely what happened to you in Africa."

Austin, who sat down, did so, and wondered a little that he was able to
speak coherently and quietly, for every nerve in him seemed tingling
with tense anxiety. Then the man with the grey hair asked him a few
terse questions about the negro's appearance, and when he had described
it as well as he could remember, glanced at his companion.

"Do you recognise the symptoms?" he said.

"No," said the other man, who was younger. "There are one or two
complaints not unusual in that country which appear to somewhat resemble
it, but they are seldom so virulent. I would like to talk to Mr. Austin
about it later, but in the meanwhile----"

"Exactly," and the specialist made a little gesture. "Mr. Austin is, no
doubt, anxious to hear our opinion. If you will permit me----"

He drew the jacket gently over Austin's swollen arm, and the latter, who
held it out, bare to the shoulder, felt the perspiration start from him
as he watched the doctors bend over the limb. They said nothing for a
space of seconds, and Austin fancied he would remember that time while
he lived. Then, to his astonishment, the grey-haired man glanced at his
companion with a little smile.

"I fancy this case has lost its special interest to you?" he said.

The other man nodded. "It has," he said. "Our views evidently coincide."

"I would venture to point out that any decision you may have arrived at
is, naturally, of considerable importance to me," said Austin, a trifle
sharply.

The specialist smiled again. "I expect you will be pleased to hear that
it is not a peculiarly African disease you are suffering from. It is, in
fact, no more than a by no means infrequent form of blood poisoning."

Austin gasped, and felt his heart beat furiously from relief, and the
specialist waited a moment or two before he went on. "It is evident that
you had several lacerations on your lower arm--made by corroded iron, or
something of the kind."

"I tore the skin rather frequently working cargo, and when the scars had
partly healed opened up rather a nasty wound by falling on the steamer's
rail."

"Exactly. The result is not astonishing in the case of a man weakened by
fever who has attempted to work harder than is advisable in a country
like the one you mention. In the meanwhile, this arm is going to give
you trouble, and I should recommend you to go into the private ward of
the ---- hospital. I will telephone them if that would suit you?"

Austin said he placed himself in the doctor's hands, and half an hour
later was being driven to the hospital, where the other man, who was
apparently anxious to know more about the negro, asked permission to
visit him. He also came in due time, but, so far as Austin could
ascertain, never quite decided what the negro was suffering from, though
he admitted that there were African troubles of the kind which were
infectious.

In the meanwhile, Austin realised how much he needed rest, and how heavy
the strain he had borne had been. He did not even want to read, and was
languidly content to sit still and think of nothing, until one day, when
it was evident that his arm was healing, a nurse came in to announce a
visitor.

"If it's that doctor man, you can tell him I can't remember anything
more about the nigger, and don't mean to try," he said.

The nurse laughed. "It isn't," she said. "It's a little gentleman with
gold-rimmed spectacles."

Austin started. "Ah!" he said. "Will you please tell them to send him
in?"

In a few more minutes Brown came in, and, sitting down, shook his head
reproachfully.

"You have really given your friends a good deal of anxiety, and I was
almost afraid I would have to go back without learning what had become
of you," he said. "Still, though I know the thing isn't, fortunately,
what you thought it was, the first question is, how are you?"

"Recovering," said Austin, with a smile. "I understand that my arm will
be all right again very shortly. It was a very usual trouble. As you
seem to recognise, I let my imagination run away with me."

"I am very pleased to hear it. Why didn't you cable?"

"I understood that you had left Las Palmas, and Jefferson was on the
point of doing so. I could scarcely suppose there was any one else who
cared enough about what happened to me to make it necessary."

Brown looked at him with a curious little smile which Austin found
disconcerting. "There are Mrs. Hatherly and Muriel. I almost think
Jacinta would have liked to know that you and Jefferson were under a
misapprehension, too. Still, that is, perhaps, not very important, after
all. I suppose Jefferson told you that he expects to get a good deal for
the _Cumbria_ and her cargo?"

"I was pleased to hear that my share might amount to £7,000."

Brown took off his glasses and held them in one hand, which, as Austin
knew, was a trick of his when he had anything on his mind.

"I am going to take a liberty," he said. "Have you decided yet what you
will do with it?"

"No. That was one of the points I meant to wait a little before
grappling with."

"Well," said Brown, reflectively, "there is something I could suggest,
but I would like to ask another question." He stopped a moment, and
tapped the palm of one hand with his glasses. "Why did you go out to
Africa?"

"Wouldn't the chance of winning £5,000, which was what Jefferson
estimated my share would be, appear a sufficient reason?"

"No," said Brown drily. "Not to me. When he first made you the offer you
wouldn't go."

"I went, however, when I heard that he was sick. It was then a very
natural thing. That ought to satisfy you."

"I scarcely think it does."

"Then, if I had any other reasons, though I am not exactly admitting it,
they concern myself alone."

Brown made a little gesture. "Well," he said, "I don't suppose it
matters in the meanwhile. You have once or twice asked my advice, and
now you have some £7,000, and, I understand, don't know how to lay it
out to the best advantage."

"Exactly. I don't feel the least desire to undertake the heaving off of
any more steamers."

Brown leaned forward, and tapped his hand with the glasses. "An
enterprising man could do a good deal with £7,000. It would, for
example, buy him, we'll call it, a third share in a certain rather
profitable fruit and wine business in Las Palmas. That is, of course, on
the understanding that he devoted his whole time and energy to it."

Austin gazed at him in blank astonishment for a moment or two, and then
a red flush crept into his face.

"I fancy a third share in the business you are evidently alluding to
would be worth a good deal more than that," he said.

"Probably," said Brown, with a trace of dryness. "That is, I might get
more for it, but I have no intention of offering it to everybody. I
would like to ask your careful attention for a minute or two, Mr.
Austin."

He stopped a moment, and his tone had changed when he proceeded. "There
is nothing to be gained by hiding the fact that I am getting old, and I
begin to feel that I would like to take my life a little more easily,"
he said. "Indeed, I want somebody I could have confidence in to do the
hardest work for me. I made the business--and I am a little proud of it.
It would not please me to let go of it altogether--and, as a matter of
fact, I have been warned that if I retired to England, the climate would
probably shorten my life for me. You are, perhaps, aware that I came out
to the Canaries originally because my constitution is not an excellent
one."

He stopped again, and added, with a certain significance: "I have,
however, been told that my ailments are not likely to prove hereditary.
Well, as I mentioned, I do not want to give the business up entirely,
and it would be a matter of grief to me to see it go to pieces in the
hands of an incompetent manager. That is why I have made you the offer."

Austin met his gaze steadily, though the flush was still in his face. "I
scarcely think anybody would call me an enterprising business man, that
is, at least, from the conventional English point of view."

Brown chuckled softly. "I believe you know as well as I do that a man of
that kind would not be of the least use in Spain. They would drive him
crazy, and he would probably have insulted half his clients past
forgiveness before he had been a month among them. Now, you understand
the Spaniards, and, what is as much to the purpose, they seem to like
you."

Austin sat still, looking at him, and at last he saw that Brown's
reserve was breaking down. His hands seemed to be trembling a little,
and there were other signs of anxiety about him.

"I don't know why you have made me that offer, sir," he said. "There
must be plenty of men more fitted to be the recipient of it."

"It is, at least, wholly unconditional," and Brown made a little gesture
that curiously became him. "I may say that I had already satisfied
myself about you, or I should never have made it."

"Then," said Austin, a trifle hoarsely, "I can only thank you--and
endeavour to give you no cause for being sorry afterwards that you fixed
on me."

They had a little more to say, but the nurse appeared during the course
of it and informed Brown that the surgeon was coming to dress Austin's
arm.

"Just a minute," said the latter. "Will you be kind enough to pass me
that pad and pencil?"

She gave it to him, and he scribbled hastily, and then tore off the
sheet and handed it to Brown.

"I wonder if that message meets with your approval, sir?" he said.

Brown put on his glasses, and smiled as he read: "Miss Brown,
Casa-Brown, Las Palmas. Ran away without a cause. Almost well. May I
come back as your father's partner?"

Brown chuckled softly, though there was a curious and somewhat unusual
gentleness in his eyes.

"It has my full approbation, though, considering the cable company's
charges, isn't it a trifle loquacious?"

"Does that matter?" asked Austin.

Brown laughed, and grasped the hand he held out. "No," he said, "I don't
suppose it does. After all, these things only happen once in the average
lifetime. Well, I must evidently go now, but I will come back to see
what Jacinta says to-morrow."

He went out, and that night Austin got Jacinta's answer.

"Come!" was all it said, but Austin was well content, and, though he was
not a very sentimental man, went to sleep with the message beneath his
pillow.

It was, however, rather more than three weeks later when, as a
yellow-funnelled mailboat slid into Las Palmas harbour, Austin, leaning
down from her rail, saw Jacinta and Mrs. Hatherly in one of the crowding
boats below. The little lady discreetly remained where she was, and when
Jacinta came up the ladder Austin met her at the head of it. She flashed
a swift glance into his face, and then for a moment turned hers aside.

"Ah!" she said, "you have forgotten what I said to you, and you are
really well again?"

Austin laughed, a quiet, exultant laugh. "I was never particularly ill,
but you know all that, and we have ever so much more pleasant things to
talk about," he said. "In the meanwhile, I fancy we are blocking up the
gangway."

Holding the hand she had given him, he drew her behind the deck-house
masterfully, and looked down on her with a little smile.

"I almost think you are pleased to see me back," he said.

"Ah!" said Jacinta, "if you only knew what the past few weeks have cost
me."

Austin, laying both hands on her shoulders, stooped and kissed her
twice. "That was worth going to Africa for, and if Jefferson had only
bought the _Cumbria_ sooner I would have ventured to do as much ever so
long ago."

There was apparently nobody else on that side of the deck-house, and
Jacinta, who did not shake his grasp off, looked up at him with shining
eyes.

"You are quite sure of that?" she said.

"The wish to do so was almost irresistible the first time I saw you. It
has been growing stronger ever since."

Jacinta laughed softly, though the crimson was in her cheeks. "Still,
you would have mastered it. You were always discreet, you know, and that
was why at last I--who have hitherto told all my friends what they ought
to do--had to let some one else make it clear how much I wanted you.
Now, you are going to think very little of me after that?"

"My dear," said Austin, "you know there was only one thing which could
have kept me away from you."

"As if that mattered," and Jacinta laughed scornfully. "Now, stoop a
little, though, perhaps, I shouldn't tell you, and if you hadn't gone to
Africa, of course, I shouldn't have done it. I knew when you went away
how badly I wanted you--and I would have done anything to bring you
back, however much it cost me."

A couple of seamen carrying baggage appeared from behind the deck-house
just then, which naturally cut short their confidences, and Austin made
his way with Jacinta's hand upon his arm towards the boat. He was a
trifle bewildered, as well as exultant, for this was quite a new
Jacinta, one, in fact, he had never encountered before. She gave him
another proof of it when he made an observation that afforded her the
opening as they were rowed across the harbour.

"No," she said, quite disregarding Mrs. Hatherly, "I am not going to
give you any advice or instructions now you belong to me. After managing
everybody else's affairs successfully for ever so long I made a
deplorable mess of my own, you see."

"Then what am I to do when we have difficulties to contend with?" said
Austin. "We may have a few now and then."

"You," said Jacinta sweetly, "will have to get over them. I know you can
do that now, and I am just going to watch you and be pleased with
everything. Isn't that the correct attitude, Mrs. Hatherly?"

The little lady beamed upon them both. "It is rather an old-fashioned
one, my dear," she said. "Still, I am far from sure that it doesn't work
out as well as the one occasionally adopted by young women now."


THE END.



Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the
original edition have been corrected.

In Chapter II, ="Don Erminio," said Jacinto, "evidently doesn't approve
of his dinner."= was changed to ="Don Erminio," said Jacinta, "evidently
doesn't approve of his dinner."=, =A bit doosoor on the coal trade is one
thing, but you was--insultin'= was changed to =A bit doosoor on the coal
trade is one thing, but yon was--insultin'=, =as he steamer rolled= was
changed to =as the steamer rolled=, and =our launcha ready= was changed to
=our lancha ready=.

In Chapter III, =Erminio Oliviera, the _Estremeduro's_ captain= was
changed to =Erminio Oliviera, the _Estremedura's_ captain=, and =if Jacinto
ever does= was changed to =if Jacinta ever does=.

In Chapter IV, =it also occured to him= was changed to =it also occurred to
him=.

In Chapter V, =a schoner load of onions= was changed to =a schooner load of
onions=, and a missing quotation mark was added after =painting little
pictures on board the _Estremedura_.=

In Chapter VI, =as he drew in under the Estremedura's side= was changed to
=as he drew in under the _Estremedura's_ side=, and =Isn't that sufficient.=
was changed to =Isn't that sufficient?=

In Chapter VII, =his silk-covered beast= was changed to =his silk-covered
breast=, =escaped anihilation= was changed to =escaped annihilation=, and
=didn't apear to have any legitimate connection= was changed to =didn't
appear to have any legitimate connection=.

In Chapter VIII, =the negroes who crosesd it= was changed to =the negroes
who crossed it=, and =somebody seized his soulders= was changed to =somebody
seized his shoulders=.

In Chapter IX, =drifted etherially athwart= was changed to =drifted
ethereally athwart=.

In Chapter X, =acompanied the rhythmic splash of oars= was changed to
=accompanied the rhythmic splash of oars=.

In Chapter XI, =the blurr of steamy mangroves= was changed to =the blur of
steamy mangroves=, =swoopd down beneath= was changed to =swooped down
beneath=, and ="Who the devil are you poisoning?"= was changed to ='Who the
devil are you poisoning?'=.

In Chapter XIII, a missing period was added after =winch commenced to
fire his blood=.

In Chapter XV, a quotation mark was deleted before =Those salvage men are
specialists=.

In Chapter XVI, a quotation mark was added after =Last night the water
was on the thumb.=

In Chapter XVII, a missing quotation mark was added after ="Well,= and
before =he said, "it isn't the usual view=, and a missing quotation mark
was added after =The trouble is, I don't quite know where I'm going to
get it.=.

In Chapter XIX, =admissable now and then= was changed to =admissible now
and then=, =he recognised thath she must be forced= was changed to =he
recognised that she must be forced=, =the girls' big blue eyes= was changed
to =the girl's big blue eyes=, and a missing quotation mark was added
before =Couldn't you get there in the _Estremedura_=.

In Chapter XX, a missing quotation mark was added after ="Well,= and
before =said Muriel, "it is really your own fault=, a quotation mark was
deleted before =Eight guineas for the two=, and a period was changed to a
question mark after =the Delgado Island lies=.

In Chapter XXI, =That, I think, is, to be acurate= was changed to =That, I
think, is, to be accurate=.

In Chapter XXII, =one of the Canorios raised himself a trifle= was changed
to =one of the Canorios raised himself a trifle=, and a quotation mark was
deleted after =not afraid of Funnel-paint=.

In Chapter XXIII, a quotation mark was added after =makes any exertion
out of the question=, a quotation mark was deleted before =Offer any of
the rest of them=, and =clenched a hard, scared fist= was changed to
=clenched a hard, scarred fist=.

In Chapter XXIV, =even Jefferson deferrd to him= was changed to =even
Jefferson deferrd to him=, =as the Cumbria rose upright= was changed to =as
the _Cumbria_ rose upright=, =In a month her deck was almost leved= was
changed to =In a month her deck was almost leveled=, =You will remember the
encouraging words that fellow left--"My arm's almost rotten now."= was
changed to =You will remember the encouraging words that fellow left--'My
arm's almost rotten now.'"=, and =slowly clenched one scared hand= was
changed to =slowly clenched one scarred hand=.

In Chapter XXV, =he keeps in the litle case= was changed to =he keeps in
the little case=, =beam and angle comenced to tremble= was changed to =beam
and angle commenced to tremble=, and =Wire and hemp and studded chain
rosed= was changed to =Wire and hemp and studded chain rose=.

In Chapter XXVI, a missing question mark was added after =Put that lamp
out.=, =keep outside the straking radius= was changed to =keep outside the
striking radius=, =Austim became sensible of a change in his mood= was
changed to =Austin became sensible of a change in his mood=, and =a faint
rythmic throbbing= was changed to =a faint rhythmic throbbing=.

In Chapter XXVII, quotation marks were added after =keep your skin
unbroken.= and =You may as well open the rest of them.=

In Chapter XXVIII, =the _Cumbria_ steerd handily= was changed to =the
_Cumbria_ steered handily=, and =the distance run appeared to be working
acurately= was changed to =the distance run appeared to be working
accurately=.

In Chapter XXX, =an dinformed Brown that the surgeon= was changed to =and
informed Brown that the surgeon=.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "For Jacinta" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home