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Title: Cursed
Author: England, George Allan
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CURSED


[Illustration: The witch-woman, raising crooked claws against him,
hurled shrill curses at Briggs—wild, unintelligible things, in a
wail—_See page 29_]


CURSED

by

GEORGE ALLAN ENGLAND

Author of
The Alibi, Darkness and Dawn, Keep Off the Grass, etc.

Frontispiece by Modest Stein



[Illustration: LOGO]

Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers      New York

Copyright, 1919,
By Small, Maynard & Company
(Incorporated)



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                           PAGE

        I AT BATU KAWAN                                1

       II ALPHEUS BRIGGS, BUCKO                        6

      III SCURLOCK GOES ASHORE                        16

       IV THE CURSE OF NENEK KABAYAN                  22

        V THE MALAY FLEET OF WAR                      32

       VI COUNCIL OF WAR                              39

      VII BEFORE THE BATTLE                           47

     VIII PARLEY AND DEATH                            55

       IX ONSET OF BATTLE                             65

        X KUALA PAHANG                                70

       XI HOME BOUND                                  77

      XII AT LONG WHARF                               84

     XIII AFTER FIFTY YEARS                           91

      XIV A VISITOR FROM THE LONG AGO                100

       XV TWO OLD MEN                                107

      XVI THE CAPTAIN SPEAKS                         115

     XVII VISIONS OF THE PAST                        125

    XVIII THE LOOMING SHADOW                         131

      XIX HAL SHOWS HIS TEETH                        139

       XX THE CAPTAIN COMMANDS                       146

      XXI SPECTERS OF THE PAST                       153

     XXII DR. FILHIOL STANDS BY                      161

    XXIII SUNSHINE                                   169

     XXIV DARKENING SHADOWS                          179

      XXV TROUBLED SOULS                             186

     XXVI PLANS FOR RESCUE                           191

    XXVII GEYSER ROCK                                197

   XXVIII LAURA UNDERSTANDS                          204

     XXIX THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE                   214

      XXX HIS WORD OF HONOR                          222

     XXXI THE SAFE                                   233

    XXXII THE READING OF THE CURSE                   238

   XXXIII ROBBERY                                    246

    XXXIV SELF-SACRIFICE                             257

     XXXV TREACHERY                                  267

    XXXVI THE DOCTOR SPEAKS                          274

   XXXVII THE CAPTAIN SEES                           283

  XXXVIII CAPTAIN BRIGGS FINDS THE WAY               292

    XXXIX “ONE MUST DIE”                             299

       XL ON THE _Kittiwink_                         305

      XLI FATE STRIKES                               310

     XLII IN EXTREMIS                                319

    XLIII CURARÉ                                     329

     XLIV NEW DAWN                                   340



CURSED



CURSED



CHAPTER I

AT BATU KAWAN


Slashed across the copper bowl of sunset, the jagged silhouette of
tawny-shouldered mountains, fringed with areca-palms in black fretwork
against the swift-fading glow, divided the tropic sky. Above, day yet
lingered. Below, night’s dim shroud, here and there spangled with
glow-lights still or moving, had already folded earth in its obscurity.

Down from that mountain crest the descending slopes fell through grove
and plantation to the drowned paddy-fields and to the miasmatic swamps,
brooded by settling mists like thin, white breath of ghosts that in
this Malay land all men gave faith to.

Nearer still, it reached the squalid _campong_ of Batu Kawan.
Batu Kawan, huddled in filth, disorder and disease between the
steaming arsenical green of the lowlands and the muddy idleness of
the boat-jammed Timbago River. Batu Kawan, whence the New Bedford
clipper-ship, _Silver Fleece_, should have sailed two hours ago on the
high tide, this 18th day of February, 1868. Batu Kawan, pestilent,
malodorous, sinister, swarming with easy life, hemmed round with easier
death.

William Scurlock, mate, was looking townward, leaning with crossed arms
on rail. The umber smudge of half-light in the sky, fading over the
torn edge of the mountains, revealed something of his blond bigness,
freckled, weather-bitten, with close-cropped hair, a scarred jaw and
hard teeth that gripped his cutty-pipe in bulldog fashion.

Scurlock seemed to be engaged with inward visionings, rather than
outward. The occasional come-and-go of some dim figure in the waist
of the ship, the fan-tan game of four or five Malay seamen—for
the _Silver Fleece_ carried a checkerboard crew, white, yellow and
brown—as they squatted on their hunkers under the vague blur of a
lantern just forward of the mainmast, and the hiccoughing stridor of an
accordion in the fo’c’s’le, roused in him no reaction.

Nor, as he lolled there under the awning, did he appear to take heed of
the mud-clogged river with its jumble of sampans and house-boats, or of
the thatched huts and tiled _godowns_ past which the colorful swarm of
Oriental life was idling along the bund. This stewing caldron of heat,
haze, odors, dusk where fruit-bats staggered against the appearing
stars said nothing whatever to the mate. All he could see in it was
inefficiency, delay and loss.

Not all its wizardry of gleaming lights in hut and shop, its firefly
paper lanterns, its murmuring strangeness could weigh against the
vexing fact that his ship had missed the tide, and that—though
her full cargo of tea, rattan, tapioca, cacao and opium was under
hatches—she still lay made fast to the bamboo mooring-piles. What
could offset the annoyance that Captain Alpheus Briggs, ashore on
business of his own, was still delaying the vital business of working
downstream on the ebb?

“Devil of a cap’n!” grumbled Scurlock. He spat moodily into the dark
waters, and sucked at his pipe. “Ain’t it enough for him to have put
in a hundred boxes of raw opium, which is liable to land us all in
hell, without stealin’ a nigger wench an’ now drinkin’ samshu, ashore?
Trouble comin’—mutiny an’ murder an’ damnation with trimmin’s, or I’m
no Gloucester man!”

Savagely he growled in his deep throat. Scurlock disapproved of Batu
Kawan and of all its works, especially of its women and its raw
rice-whisky. The East grated on his taut nerves. Vague singing in huts
and the twangle of musically discordant strings set his teeth on edge.
He hated the smells of the place, all seemingly compounded of curry and
spices and mud and smoke of wood fires, through which the perfumes of
strange fruits and heavy flowers drifted insistently.

The voices of mothers calling their naked little ones within their
doors, lest Mambang Kuning, the yellow devil who dwells in the
dusk, should snatch them, jarred upon his evil temper. So, too, the
monotonous _tunk-tunk-tunk_ of metal-workers’ hammers in some unseen
place; the snuffling grunt of carabaos wallowing in the mud-swale
beyond the guava clump, up-stream; the nasal chatter of gharry-drivers
and Kling boatmen; the whining sing-song of Malay pedlers with
shouldered poles, whence swung baskets of sugar-cane and mangosteens.
Scurlock abominated all that shuffling, chattering tangle of dark,
half-clad life. The gorge of his trim, efficient, New England soul rose
up against it, in hot scorn.

“Damn the Straits!” he grumbled, passing his hand over his forehead,
sweaty in the breathless heat. “An’ damn Briggs, too! It’s my last
voyage East, by joycus!”

Which was, indeed, the living truth, though by no means as Scurlock
meant or understood it.

A plaintive hail from the rough brick coping of the bund drew his
atrabilious attention. The mate saw that a brown, beardless fellow was
making gestures at him. A lantern on the quarterdeck flung unsteady
rays upon the Malay’s nakedness, complete save for the breech-clout
through which a kris was thrust. In his left hand he gripped a
loose-woven coir bag, heavily full. His left held out, on open palm,
three or four shining globules. Scurlock viewed with resentment the
lean, grinning face, lips reddened and teeth jet-black by reason of
long years of chewing lime and betel.

“Turtle egg, sar, sellum piecee cheap,” crooned the Malay. “Buyum
turtle egg, sar?”

Scurlock’s answer was to bend, reach for a piece of holystone in a
bucket by the rail, and catapult it at the vagabond who had made so
bold as to interrupt his musings. The Malay swung aside; the holystone
crunched into the sack of eggs and slid to earth.

The screaming curse of the barbarian hardly crossed the rail ahead of
the flung kris. The wavy, poisoned blade flickered, spinning. Scurlock
stooped away; the fraction of an eyewink later would have done his
life’s business very neatly. Into the mizzen-mast drove the kris, and
quivered there.

Scurlock turned, strode to it and plucked it out, swearing in his
rage. The Malays at fan-tan by the gleam of the slush-light under the
awning grew silent. Their fantastic little cards, of gaudy hue, dropped
unheeded; for they had heard the name of Ratna Mutnu Manikam, god who
brings death. Wherefore they shuddered, and turned scared faces aft;
and some touched heart and forehead, warding off the curse.

Back to the rail, kris in hand, ran Scurlock.

“_Juldi_, you!” he shouted, with an oath unprintable. “Top your broom,
you black swine—skip, before I come ashore an’ split you! _Juldi
jao!_”

The Malay hesitated. Scurlock, flinging “_Sur!_” at him, which in the
_lingua franca_ denominates a swine, started for the gangway. Silently
the Malay faded into the little fringe of brown and yellow folk that
had already gathered; and so he vanished. Scurlock was already setting
foot upon the gangway that led slantwise down to the bund, when through
the quickly coagulating street-crowd an eddy, developing, made visible
by the vague light a large head covered with a topi hat wrapped in
a pugree. Powerful shoulders and huge elbows, by no means chary of
smashing right and left against the naked ribs, cleared a passage, amid
grunts and gasps of pain; and once or twice the big man’s fists swung
effectively, by way of make-weight.

Then to William Scurlock’s sight appeared a tall, heavy-set figure,
rather dandified, in raw yellow bamboo silk and with very neatly
polished boots that seemed to scorn the mud of Batu Kawan. A first
glance recorded black brows of great luxuriance, a jungle of black
beard contrasting sharply with a face reddened by wind, weather and
hard liquor, and, in the V of a half-opened shirt, a corded neck and
hairy chest molded on lines of the young Hercules. This man would be
going on for twenty-eight or so. Fists, eyes and jaw all lusted battle.

Alpheus Briggs, captain and part owner of the _Silver Fleece_, had
returned.



CHAPTER II

ALPHEUS BRIGGS, BUCKO


For a moment, Briggs and Scurlock confronted each other, separated
by the length of the gangway. Between them stretched silence; though
on the bund a cackle and chatter of natives offended the night. Then
Captain Briggs got sight of the kris. That sufficed, just as anything
would have sufficed. He put his two huge, hairy fists on his hips;
his neck swelled with rage born of samshu and a temper by nature the
devil’s own; he bellowed in a formidable roar:

“Drop that knife, Mr. Scurlock! What’s the matter with you, sir?”

A wise mate would have obeyed, with never one word of answer. But Mr.
Scurlock was very angry, and what very angry man was ever wise? He
stammered, in a burst of rage:

“I—a Malay son of a pup—he hove it at me, an’ I—”

“Hove it at you, did he, sir?”

“Yes, an’—”

Tigerish with drunken ferocity, Briggs sprang up the plank. A single,
right-hand drive to the jaw felled Scurlock. The kris jangled away and
came to rest as Scurlock sprawled along the planking.

“_Sir_, Mr. Scurlock!” fulminated Briggs—though not even in this blind
passion did he forget sea-etiquette, the true-bred Yankee captain’s
“touch of the aft” in dealing with an officer. No verbal abuse; just
the swinging fists now ready to knock Scurlock flat again, should he
attempt to rise. “Say _sir_ to me, Mr. Scurlock, or I’ll teach you how!”

“Sir,” mumbled the mate, half dazed. He struggled to a sitting posture,
blinking up with eyes of hate at the taut-muscled young giant who
towered over him, eager for another blow.

“All right, Mr. Scurlock, and don’t forget I got a handle to my name,
next time you speak to me. If any man, fore or aft, wants any o’ my
fist, let him leave off _sir_, to me!”

He kicked Scurlock heavily in the ribs, so that the breath went
grunting from him; then reached down a gorilla-paw, dragged him up
by the collar and flung him staggering into the arms of “Chips,” the
clipper’s carpenter—Gascar, his name was—who had just come up the
quarterdeck companion. Other faces appeared: Bevans, the steward, and
Prass, the bo’sun. Furiously Briggs confronted them all.

“Understand me?” he shouted, swaying a little as he stood there with
eager fists. “Where’s Mr. Wansley?”

“Asleep, sir,” answered Bevans. Wansley, second-mate, was indeed dead
to the world in his berth. Most of the work of stowing cargo had fallen
on him, for in the old clippers a second-mate’s life hardly outranked a
dog’s.

“What right has Mr. Wansley to be sleeping?” vociferated the captain,
lashing himself into hotter rage. “By God, you’re all a lot of lazy,
loafing, impudent swine!”

One smash of the fist and Bevans went staggering toward the forward
companion ladder, near the foot of which a little knot of seamen,
white, brown and yellow, had gathered in cheerful expectation of seeing
murder done.

Briggs balanced himself, a strange figure in his dandified silk and
polished boots, with his topi hat awry, head thrust forward, brows
scowling, massive neck swollen with rage and drink. Under the smudgy
gleam of the lantern on the mizzen, his crimson face, muffled in jetty
beard, and the evil-glowering eyes of him made a picture of wrath.

Briggs stooped, snatched up the kris that lay close by his feet, and
with a hard-muscled arm whistled its keen edge through air.

“I’ll keep order on my ship,” he blared, passionately, “and if I can’t
do it with my fists, by God, I’ll do it with this! The first man that
loosens his tongue, I’ll split him like a herring!”

“Captain Briggs, just a moment, sir!” exclaimed a voice at his left. A
short, well-knit figure in blue, advancing out of the shadows, ’round
the aft companion, laid a hand on the drunken brute’s arm.

“You keep out of this, doctor!” cried Briggs. “They’re a mutinous,
black lot o’ dogs that need lickin’, and I’m the man to give it to ’em!”

“Yes, yes, sir, of course,” Dr. Filhiol soothed the beast. “But as the
ship’s physician, let me advise you to go to your cabin, sir. The heat
and humidity are extremely bad. There’s danger of apoplexy, sir, if
you let these fellows excite you. You aren’t going to give them the
satisfaction of seeing you drop dead, are you, captain?”

Thrown off his course by this new idea, Briggs peered, blinked, pushed
back his topi and scratched his thick, close-curling poll. Then all at
once he nodded, emphatically.

“Right you are, doctor!” he cried, his mood swiftly changing. “I’ll go.
They shan’t murder me—not yet, much as they’d like to!”

“Well spoken, sir. You’re a man of sense, sir—rare sense. And on a
night like this—”

“The devil’s own night!” spat Briggs. “God, the breath sticks in my
throat!” With thick, violent fingers he ripped at his shirt, baring his
breast.

“Captain Briggs!” exclaimed Scurlock, now on his feet again. “Listen to
a word, sir, please.”

“What the damnation now, sir?”

“We’ve lost the tide, sir. The comprador sent word aboard at four
bells, he couldn’t hold his sampan men much longer. We should be
standin’ downstream now, sir.” Scurlock spoke with white, shaking lips,
rubbing his smitten jaw. Hate, scorn, rage grappled in his soul with
his invincible New England sense of duty, of efficiency, of getting the
ship’s work done. “If they’re goin’ to tow us down to-night, by joycus,
sir, we’ve got to get under way, and be quick about it!”

Briggs dandled the kris. Its wavy blade, grooved to hold the dried
curaré-poison that need do no more than scratch to kill, flung out
vagrant high-lights in the gloom.

“For two cents I’d gut you, Mr. Scurlock,” he retorted. “_I’m_ master
of this ship, and she’ll sail when _I’m_ ready, sir, not before!”

“Captain, they’re only trying to badger-draw you,” whispered Filhiol
in the bucko’s ear. “A man of your intelligence will beat them at
their own game.” Right well the doctor knew the futility of trying to
get anything forward till the captain’s rage and liquor should have
died. “Let these dogs bark, sir, if they will. You and I are men of
education. I propose a quiet drink or two, sir, and then a bit of
sleep—”

“What the devil do you mean by that, sir?” flared Briggs, turning on
him. “You mean I’m not able to take my ship out of this devil’s ditch,
to-night?”

“Farthest from my thought, captain,” laughed the doctor. “Of course you
can, sir, if you want to. But this mutinous scum is trying to force
your hand. You’re not the man to let them.”

“I should say _not_!” swaggered the captain, with a blasphemy, while
low-voiced murmurs ran among the men,—dim, half glimpsed figures by
the mizzen, or in the waist. “Not much! Come, doctor!”

He lurched aft, still swinging the kris. Ardently Filhiol prayed he
might gash himself therewith, but the devil guards his own. With savage
grimace at Scurlock, the physician whispered: “Name o’ God, man, let
him be!” Then, at a discreet distance, he followed Briggs.

Scurlock nodded, with murder in his eyes. Gascar and Bevans murmured
words that must remain unwritten. Under the awning at the foot of the
forward companion, white men from the fo’c’sle and Malays from the
deck-house buzzed in divers tongues. Briggs, the while, was about to
enter the after companion when to his irate ear the sound of a droning
chant, somewhere ashore, came mingled with the dull thudding of a drum,
monotonous, irritating as fever pulses in the brain of a sick man.

Briggs swerved to the starboard quarter rail and smote it mightily
with his fist, as with bloodshot eyes he peered down at the smoky,
lantern-glowing confusion of the bund.

“The damned Malays!” he shouted. “They’ve started another of their
infernal sing-songs! If I could lay hands on that son of a whelp—”

He shook the kris madly at a little group about a blazing flare; in
the midst squatted an itinerant ballad-singer. Tapping both heads of a
small, barrel-like drum, the singer whined on and on, with intonations
wholly maddening to the captain.

For a moment Briggs glared down at this scene, which to his fuddled
senses seemed a challenge direct, especially devil-sent to harry him.

“Look at that now, doctor, will you?” Briggs flung out his powerful
left hand toward the singer. “Want to bet I can’t throw this knife
through the black dog?”

He balanced the kris, ready for action, and with wicked eyes gauged the
throw. Filhiol raised a disparaging hand.

“Don’t waste a splendid curio on the dog, captain,” smiled he, masking
fear with indifference. Should Briggs so much as nick one of the Malays
with that envenomed blade, Filhiol knew to a certainty that with fire
and sword Batu Kawan would take complete vengeance. He knew that before
morning no white man would draw life’s breath aboard the _Silver
Fleece_. “You’ve got a wonderful curio there, sir. Don’t lose it, for a
mere nothing.”

“Curio? What the devil do _I_ care for Malay junk?” retorted Briggs,
thick-tongued and bestial. “The only place I’d like to see this
toothpick would be stickin’ out of that swine’s ribs!”

“Ah, but you don’t realize the value of the knife, sir,” wheedled
Filhiol. “It’s an extraordinarily fine piece of steel, captain, and the
carving of the lotus bud on the handle is a little masterpiece. I’d
like it for my collection.” He paused, struck by inspiration. “I’ll
play you for the knife, sir. Let’s have that drink we were speaking
of, and then a few hands of poker. I’ll play you anything I’ve got—my
watch, my instrument case, my wages for the voyage, whatever you
like—against that kris. Is that a go?”

“Sheer off!” mocked Briggs, raising the blade. The doctor’s eye judged
distance. He would grapple, if it came to that. But still he held to
craft:

“This is the first time, captain, I ever knew you to be afraid of a
good gamble.”

“Afraid? Me, afraid?” shouted the drunken man. “I’ll make you eat those
words, sir! The knife against your pay!”

“Done!” said the doctor, stretching out his hand. Briggs took it in
a grip that gritted the bones of Filhiol, then for a moment stood
blinking, dazed, hiccoughing once or twice. His purpose, vacillant,
once more was drawn to the singer. He laughed, with a maudlin catch of
the breath.

“_Does_ that gibberish mean anything, doctor?” asked he.

“Never mind, sir,” answered Filhiol. “We’ve got a game to play, and—”

“Not just yet, sir! That damned native may be laying a curse on me, for
all I know. Mr. Scurlock!” he suddenly shouted forward.

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered the mate’s voice, through the gloom.

“Send me a Malay—one that can talk United States!”

“Yes, sir!” And Scurlock was heard in converse with the brown men in
the waist. Over the rail the captain leaned, staring at the singer and
the crowd, the smoky torches, the confused crawling of life in Batu
Kawan; and as he stared, he muttered to himself, and twisted at his
beard with his left hand—his right still gripped the kris.

“You damned, outrageous blackguard!” the doctor thought. “If I ever get
you into your cabin, God curse me if I don’t throw enough opium into
you to keep you quiet till we’re a hundred miles at sea!”

Came the barefoot slatting of a Malay, _pad-pad-padding_ aft, and the
sound of a soft-voiced: “Captain Briggs, sar?”

“You the man that Mr. Scurlock sent?” demanded Briggs.

“Yas, sar.”

“All right. Listen to that fellow down there—the one that’s singing!”
Briggs laid a hand on the Malay, jerked him to the rail and pointed a
thick, angry finger. “Tell me what he’s sayin’! Understand?”

“Yas, sar.”

The Malay put both lean, brown hands on the rail, squinted his gray
eyes, impassive as a Buddha’s, and gave attentive ear. To him arose the
droning words of the long-drawn, musical cadences:

  _Arang itou dibasouh dengan ayer
  Mawar sakalipoun tiada akan poutih._
    _Satahoun houdjan di langit ayer latout masakan tawar?_
  _Sebab tiada tahon menari dikatakan tembad._
    _Tabour bidjian diatas tasik tiada akan toumbounh—_

On, on wailed the chant. At last the Malay shook his head, shrugged
thin shoulders under his cotton shirt, and cast an uneasy glance at
Briggs, looming black-bearded and angry at his side.

“Well, what’s it all about?” demanded the captain, thudding a fist on
the rail. “Sayin’ anythin’ about me, or the _Silver Fleece_? If he is—”

“No, sar. Nothin’ so, sar.”

“Well, what?”

“He sing about wicked things. About sin. He say—”

“_What_ does he say, you cinder from the Pit?”

“He say, you take coal, wash him long time, in water of roses, coal
never get white. Sin always stay. He say, rain fall long time, one
year, ocean never get fresh water. Always salty water. Sin always stay.
He say one small piece indigo fall in one jar of goat-milk, spoil all
milk, make all milk blue. One sin last all life, always.” The Malay
paused, trying to muster his paucity of English. Briggs shook him
roughly, bidding him go on, or suffer harm.

“He say if sky will go to fall down, no man can hold him up. Sin always
fall down. He say, good seed on land, him grow. Good seed on ocean, him
never grow. He say—”

“That’ll do! Stow your jaw, now!”

“Yas, sar.”

“Get out—go forrard!”

The Malay salaamed, departed. Briggs hailed him again.

“Hey, you!”

“Yes, sar?” answered the brown fellow, wheeling.

“What’s your name—if pigs have names?”

“Mahmud Baba, sar,” the Malay still replied with outward calm. Yet to
call a follower of the Prophet “pig” could not by any invention of the
mind have been surpassed in the vocabulary of death-inviting insult.

“My Mud Baby, eh? Good name—that’s a slick one!” And Briggs roared
into a laugh of drunken discord. He saw not that the Malay face was
twitching; he saw not the stained teeth in grimaces of sudden hate.
Gloom veiled this. “I’ll remember that,” he went on. “My Mud Baby. Well
now, Mud Baby, back to your sty!”

“Captain Briggs,” the doctor put in, fair desperate to get this brute
below-decks ere blood should flow. “Captain, if you were as anxious as
I am for a good stiff game of poker and a stiffer drink, you wouldn’t
be wasting your breath on Malay rubbish. Shall we mix a toddy for the
first one?”

“Good idea, sir!” Briggs answered, his eyes brightening. He
clapped Filhiol on the shoulder, so that the man reeled toward the
after-companion.

Down the stairway they went, the doctor cursing under his breath,
Briggs clumping heavily, singing a snatch of low ribaldry from a Bombay
gambling-hell. They entered the cabin. To them, as the door closed,
still droned the voice of the minstrel on the bund:

  _Sebab tiada tahon menari dikatakan tembad,
  Tabour bidjian diatas tasik tiada akan toumbounh._

  One drop of indigo spoils the whole jar of milk;
  Seed sown upon the ocean never grows.



CHAPTER III

SCURLOCK GOES ASHORE


Sweltering though the cabin was, it seemed to Dr. Filhiol a blessèd
haven of refuge from the probabilities of grevious harm that menaced,
without. With a deep breath of relief he saw Briggs lay the kris on the
cabin table. Himself, he sat down at that table, and while Briggs stood
there half-grinning with white teeth through black beard, took up the
knife.

He studied it, noting its keen, double edge, its polished steel, the
deft carving of the lotus-bud handle. Then, as he laid it down, he
offered:

“It’s a genuine antique. I’ll go you a month’s wages against it.”

“You’ll do nothin’ of the kind, sir!” ejaculated Briggs, and took it up
again. “The voyage, you said, and it’s that or nothing!”

The doctor bit his close-razored lip. Then he nodded. Filhiol was
shrewd, and sober; Briggs, rash and drunk. Yes, for the sake of getting
that cursed knife out of the captain’s hands, Filhiol would accept.

“Put it out of harm’s way, sir, and let’s deal the cards,” said he.
“It’s poisoned. We don’t want it where we might get scratched, by
accident.”

“Poisoned, sir?” demanded Briggs, running a horny thumb along the
point. His brows wrinkled, inquisitively. No fear showed in that
splendidly male, lawless, unconquered face.

“For God’s sake, captain, put that devilish thing away!” exclaimed the
doctor, feigning to shudder; though all the while a secret hope was
whispering:

“Heaven send that he may cut himself!” Aloud he said: “I’ll play no
game, sir, with that kris in sight. Put it in your locker, captain, and
set out the drink. My throat’s afire!”

“Poisoned, eh?” grunted the captain again, still with drunken obstinacy
testing the edge. “All damned nonsense, sir. After that’s been run into
the Oregon pine of my mizzen, a couple of inches—”

“There’s still enough left to put you in a shotted hammock, sir, if
you cut yourself,” the doctor insisted. “But it’s your own affair. If
you choose to have Mr. Scurlock take the _Silver Fleece_ back to Long
Wharf, Boston, while you rot in Motomolo Straits—”

With a blasphemy, Briggs strode to his locker. The doctor smiled
cannily as Briggs flung open the locker, tossed in the kris and, taking
a square-shouldered bottle, returned to the table. This bottle the
captain thumped down on the table, under the lamp-gleam.

“Best Old Jamaica,” boasted he. “Best is none too good, when I win my
doctor’s entire pay. For it’s as good as mine already, and you can lay
to that!”

Speaking, he worried out the cork. He sniffed at the bottle, blinked,
peered wonderingly at the label, and sniffed again.

“Hell’s bells!” roared Briggs, flaring into sudden passion.

“What’s the matter, sir?”

“Old Jamaica!” vociferated the captain. “It _was_ Old Jamaica, but now
smell o’ that, will you?”

Filhiol sniffed, tentatively. In a second he knew some one had been
tampering with the liquor, substituting low-grade spirits for Brigg’s
choicest treasure; but he merely shrugged his shoulders, with:

“It seems like very good rum, sir. Come, let’s mix our grog and get the
cards.”

“Good rum!” gibed Briggs. “Some thieving son of Satan has been at my
Jamaica, and has been fillin’ the square-face up with hog-slop, or I
never sailed blue water! _Look_ at the stuff now, will you?”

He spilled out half a glass of the liquor, tasted it, spat it upon the
floor. Then he dashed the glass violently to the boards, crashing it to
flying shards and spattering the rum all about. In a bull-like roar he
shouted:

“Boy! You, there, boy!”

A moment, and one of the doors leading off the main cabin opened, on
the port side. A pale, slim boy appeared and advanced into the cabin,
blinking up with fear at the black-bearded vision of wrath.

“Yes, sir? What is it, sir?” asked he, in a scared voice.

Briggs dealt him a cuff that sent him reeling. The captain’s huge hand,
swinging back, overset the bottle, that gurgled out its life-blood.

“What _is_ it?” shouted Briggs. “You got the impudence to ask me what
it is? I’ll learn you to step livelier when I call, you whelp! Come
here!”

“Yes, sir,” quavered the boy. Shaking, he sidled nearer. “What—what do
you want, sir?”

“What do I _want_?” the captain howled; while Filhiol, suddenly pale
with a rage that shook his heart, pressed lips hard together, lest some
word escape them. “You swab! Catechisin’ me, are you? Askin’ _me_ what
I want, eh? If I had a rope’s-end here I’d show you! Get out, now. Go,
tell Mr. Scurlock I want him. Jump!”

The lad ducked another blow, ran to the cabin-door and sprang for
the stairs. Ill-fortune ran at his side. He missed footing, sprawled
headlong up the companion stairway.

With a shout of exultation, Briggs caught up from a corner a long,
smooth stick, with a polished knob carved from a root—one of the clubs
known in the Straits as “Penang-lawyers,” by reason of their efficacy
in settling disputes. He grabbed the writhing boy, now frantically
trying to scrabble up the stairs, in a clutch that almost crunched
the frail shoulder bones. Up the companion he dragged him—the boy
screaming with terror of death—and hurled him out on deck, fair
against the wheel.

The boy collapsed in a limp, groaning heap. Briggs laughed wildly, and,
brandishing the Penang-lawyer, advanced out upon the dim-lit planking.

An arm thrust him back.

“You ain’t goin’ to hit that there boy!” shouted a voice—William
Scurlock’s. “Not while I’m alive, you ain’t!”

A wrench and the club flew over the rail. It splashed in the dark, slow
waters of the Timbago.

Briggs gulped. He whirled, both fists knotted. Then, swift as a cobra,
he sprang and struck.

Scurlock dodged. The captain’s fist, finding no mark, drove against
one of the spokes of the wheel with a crash that split the hickory. As
Briggs had never cursed before, now he cursed. For a second or two he
nursed his damaged hand.

The brief respite sufficed. Scurlock snatched up the boy. He started
forward, just as the doctor appeared at the top of the companion.

“Captain Briggs, sir!” cried Filhiol, in a shaking voice. Still he was
hoping against hope to keep the peace. “Are you hurt, sir?”

“To hell with you!” roared Briggs, now forgetting sea-etiquette—surest
indication of the extremity of his drunken passion. He lurched after
the retreating Scurlock. “Back, here, you bloody swine! Drop that brat,
and I’ll show you who’s boss!”

Scurlock laughed mockingly and quickened his stride. Mad with the rage
that kills, Briggs pursued, a huge, lunging figure of malevolence and
hate. Before he could lay grips on Scurlock, the mate wheeled. He let
the fainting boy slide down on deck, whipped out a clasp-knife, snicked
open the blade. Holding it low, to rip upward, he confronted Briggs
under the glimmer of the mizzen-lantern.

Now this was raw mutiny, and a hanging matter if Scurlock drew one
drop of the captain’s blood. But that Scurlock cared nothing for the
noose was very plain to see. Even the crimson rage of Briggs saw death
knocking at the doors of his life. Barehanded, he could not close for
battle. He recoiled, his bloodshot eyes shuttling for some handy weapon.

“Damn you, if I had that kris—” he panted.

“But you ain’t, you lousy bucko!” mocked Scurlock. “An’ you turn your
back on me, to go for it, if you dare!”

Briggs sprang for the rail. He snatched at a belaying-pin, with wicked
blasphemies. The pin stuck, a moment. He wrenched it clear, and
wheeled—too late.

Already Scurlock had snatched up the boy again. Already he was at the
gangway. Down it he leaped, to the bund. With the unconscious boy still
in the crook of his left arm, he shoved into the scatter of idling
natives. Then he turned, raised a fist of quivering hatred, and flung
his defiance toward the vague, yellow-clad figure now hesitating at the
top of the gangway, pin in hand:

“I’m through with you, you rum-soaked hellbender! He’s through, too,
the boy is. We’ll take our chances with the Malays an’ the plague.”

Scurlock’s voice, rising out of the softly-lit tropic evening, died
suddenly.

“Come back, Mr. Scurlock, and bring that boy!” cried the doctor, from
the rail.

“I’ve got nothin’ against you, sir,” answered Scurlock. “But against
_him_. God! If I come back, it’ll only be to cut his black heart out
an’ throw it to the sharks. We’re done!”

A moment Briggs stood drunkenly peering, half minded to pursue, to
match his belaying-pin against the mate’s dirk. Gurgling in his
throat—for excess of rage had closed upon all speech—he panted, with
froth upon his black beard, while dim figures along the rail and on
shore waited great deeds. Then all at once he laughed—a horrible,
deep-throated laugh, rising, swelling to mighty and bestial merriment;
the laugh of a gorilla, made man.

“The Malays and the plague,” he thickly stammered. “—He’s said it—let
’em go! They’re good as dead already, and hell take ’em!”

He swung on his heel, then strode back unsteadily to the companion.
Down it he lunged. Still laughing, he burst into the heat and reek of
the cabin.

“Come on, doctor,” cried he, “our cards, our cards!”



CHAPTER IV

THE CURSE OF NENEK KABAYAN


“He’ll steal no more of my Old Jamaica,” exulted Briggs, flinging
himself into a chair by the table. “And that sniveling boy will give me
no more of his infernal lip! Skunks!” He picked up the bottle, still
containing a little rum, and poured a gulp of liquor down his throat.
“On my own ship!”

“Where are the cards, sir?” asked Filhiol. His voice, quivering, was
hardly audible.

“Petty game,” burst out the captain, “no good. Make it a real one, and
I’ll go you!”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Stakes worth playin’ for! Man-size stakes! You got money in Boston,
sir. Some fifteen thousand. I’ll play you for that, plus your wages
this voyage!”

“Against what, sir?”

“Against my share of the ship’s cargo, and my share of the _Silver
Fleece_, herself. And if I scuttle her, as scuttle her I may, in case
the insurance money foots bigger than the ship’s worth and the cargo, I
stake that money, too!”

The doctor pondered a moment, while Briggs pressed a hand to his thick
neck, redly swollen with heat and rum. Suddenly the captain broke out
again:

“That’s an A1 gamble for you, sir. When I land my West Coast natives at
San Felipe, and slip my opium into Boston, there won’t be a shipmaster
walk up State Street that will be better fixed than I’ll be.”

“Bring out the cards, sir,” answered the doctor. “But the kris goes in
as part of the wager?”

“Yes, damn it, and I’ll be generous,” slavered Briggs. He jerked open
the table drawer and fetched out a well-thumbed pack of cards, which he
flung on the green cloth. “I’ll put up a stake that’d make any man’s
mouth water, sir, if he _is_ a man! Though maybe you’re not, bein’ only
a sawbones!”

“What’s that, sir?”

“The yellow wench asleep in my berth—Kuala Pahang!”

“Done!” exclaimed Filhiol, humoring the ruffian to all possible limits,
till liquor and heat should have overcome him.

“Deal the cards, sir!” cried Briggs. “I may be a bucko, and I may be
drunk to-night, but I know a man when I see one. I’m not too drunk to
add your wages and your savin’s to my plunder. Deal the cards!”

Filhiol had just fallen to shuffling the pasteboards when a groan, from
behind the door of the captain’s private cabin, arrested his hand.
Frowning, he swung around. In his tensing hand the cards bent almost
double.

Briggs buffeted him upon the shoulder, with huge merriment.

“_She’s_ not dead yet, is she?” exulted he. “No, no, not yet. Even
though everybody in this devil’s hole claims the wenches will die
first, before they’ll be a white man’s darlin’.” His speech had become
so thick as to be hardly speech at all. “All infernal liars, sawbones!
She’s been here already two days, Topsy has. An’ is she dead yet? Not
very! No, nor not goin’ to die, neither, an’ you can lay to that!
Nor get away from me. Not while I’m alive, an’ master o’ the _Silver
Fleece_!”

The doctor’s jaw set so hard that his tanned skin whitened over the
maxillary muscles. Very vividly Filhiol still perceived the danger
of general mutiny, of mass-attack from Batu Kawan, of fire and sword
impending before the clipper could be got down-river and away. Come all
that might, he must cling to Briggs, warily, humoringly.

After all, what was one native girl, more or less? The doctor shuffled
the cards again, and dealt, under the raw light of the swinging-lamp. A
louder cry from the girl turned Briggs around.

“Damnation!” he blared, starting up. “If the wench gets to howling,
she’ll raise the town. I’m goin’ to shut her jaw, and shut it hard!”

“Quite right, sir,” assented the doctor, though his deep eyes glowed
with murder. “But, why not get under way, at once, drop down the river
to-night, anchor inside Ulu Salama bar till—”

Briggs interrupted him with a boisterous laugh.

“Even Reuben Ranzo, the tailor,” he gibed, “could give you points on
navigation!” He stared at Filhiol a moment, his face darkening; then
added harshly: “You stick to your pills and powders, Mr. Filhiol, or
there’ll be trouble. I won’t have anybody tryin’ to boss. Now, I’m not
goin’ to tell you twice!”

For three heartbeats their eyes met. The doctor’s had become injected
with blood. His face had assumed an animal expression. Briggs snapped
his thick fingers under the physician’s nose, then turned with an oath
and strode to his cabin door. He snatched it open, and stood there a
moment peering in, his face deep-lined in a mask of vicious rage.

“Captain Briggs!”

The doctor’s voice brought the ruffian about with a sharp turn.

“_You_ mutinous, too?” shouted he, swinging his shoulders, loose,
hulking, under the yellow silk of his jacket.

“By no means, sir. As a personal favor to me, however, I’m asking you
not to strike that girl.” The doctor’s voice was shaking; yet still he
sat there at the table, holding his cards in a quivering hand.

“You look out for your own skin, sawbones!” Briggs menaced. “The
woman’s mine to do with as I please, an’ it’s nobody’s damn business,
you lay to that! I’ll love her or beat her or throw her to the sharks,
as I see fit. So now you hear me, an’ I warn you proper, stand clear o’
me, or watch out for squalls!”

Into the cabin he lunged, just as another door, opening, disclosed a
sleepy-eyed, yellow-haired young man—Mr. Wansley, second-mate of the
devil-ship. Wansley stared, and the doctor stood up with doubled fists,
as they heard the sound of blows from within, then shriller cries,
ending in a kind of gurgle—then silence.

The doctor gripped both hands together, striving to hold himself. The
life of every white man aboard now depended absolutely on seeing this
thing through without starting mutiny and war.

“Get back in your cabin, Mr. Wansley, for God’s sake!” he exclaimed,
“or go on deck! The captain’s crazy drunk. If he sees you here,
there’ll be hell to pay. Get out, quick!”

Wansley grasped the situation and made a speedy exit up the
after-companion, just ahead of Briggs’s return. The captain banged his
cabin door, and staggered back to the table. He dusted his palms one
against the other.

“The black she-dog won’t whine again, for _one_ while,” he grinned with
white teeth through his mat of beard. “That’s the only way to teach
’em their lesson!” He clenched both fists, turning them, admiring them
under the lamp-light. “Great pacifiers, eh, sawbones? _I_ tell you!
Beat a dog an’ a woman, an’ you can’t go far off your course. So now
I’ll deal the cards, an’ win every cent you’ve got!”

“The cards are dealt, sir,” answered Filhiol, chalky to the lips.

“Yes, an’ you’ve been here with ’em, all alone!” retorted the captain.
“No, sir, that won’t go. Fresh deal—here, I’ll do it!”

He gathered the dealt hands and unsteadily began shuffling, while the
doctor, teeth set in lip, swallowed the affront. Some of the cards
escaped the drunken brute’s thick fingers; two or three dropped to the
floor.

“Pick ’em up, sir,” directed Briggs. “No captain of my stamp bends his
back before another man—an’ besides, I know you’d be glad to knife me,
while I was down!”

Filhiol made no answer. He merely obeyed, and handed the cards to
Briggs, who was about to deal, when all at once his hands arrested
their motion. His eyes fixed themselves in an incredulous, widening
stare, at the forward cabin door. His massive jaw dropped. A sound
escaped his throat, but no word came.

The doctor spun his chair around. He, too, beheld a singular
apparition; though how it could have got there—unless collusion had
been at work among the Malays in the waist—seemed hard to understand.

So silently the door had slid, that the coming of the aged native woman
had made no sound. Aged she seemed, incredibly old, wizen, dried;
though with these people who can tell of age? The dim light revealed
her barefooted, clad in a short, gaudily-striped skirt, a tight-wrapped
body-cloth that bound her shrunken breast. Coins dangled from her ears;
her straight black hair was drawn back flatly; her lips, reddened with
lime and betel, showed black, sharp-filed teeth in a horrible snarl of
hatred.

Silent, a strange yellow ghostlike thing, she crept nearer. Briggs
sprang up, snatched the rum-bottle by its neck and waited, quivering.
Right well he knew the woman—old Dengan Jouga, mother of Kuala, his
prey.

For the first time in years unnerved, he stood there. Had she rushed
in at him, screamed, vociferated, clawed with hooked talons, beaten at
him with skinny fists, he would have knocked her senseless, dragged her
on deck and flung her to the bund; but this cold, silent, beady-eyed
approach took all his sails aback.

Only for a moment, however. Briggs was none of your impressionable men,
the less so when in drink.

“Get out!” he shouted, brandishing the bottle. “Out o’ this, or by
God—”

The door, opening again, disclosed the agitated face of Texel, a
foremast hand.

“Cap’n Briggs, sir!” exclaimed this wight, touching his cap, “one o’
the Malays says _she_, there, has got news o’ Mr. Scurlock an’ the boy,
sir, that you’ll want to hear. He’s out here now, the Malay is. Will I
tell him to come in?”

“I could have you flogged, you scum, for darin’ to come into my cabin
till you’re called,” shouted Briggs. “But send the pig in!”

The bottle lowered, as Briggs peered frowning at the silent hag.
Uncanny, this stillness was. Tempests, hurricanes of passion and of
hate would have quite suited him; but the old Malay crone, standing
there half-way to the table, the light glinting from her deep
coal-black eyes, her withered hands clutching each other across her
wasted body, disconcerted even his bull-like crassness.

The seaman turned and whistled. At once, a Malay slid noiselessly in,
salaamed and stood waiting. Texel, nervously fingering the cap he held
in his hands, lingered by the door.

“Oh, it’s you again, Mud Baby, is it?” cried the bucko. “What’s the
news Dengan Jouga has for me? Tell her to hand it over an’ then clear
out! Savvy?”

“Captain, sahib, sar,” stammered Mahmud, almost gray with fear, every
lean limb aquiver with the most extraordinary panic. “She says Mr.
Scurlock, an’ boy, him prisoner. You give up girl, Kuala Pahang. No
givem—”

The sentence ended in a quick stroke of the Malay’s forefinger across
the windpipe, a whistling sound.

Briggs stared and swore. The doctor laid a hand on his arm.

“Checkmated, sir,” said he. “The old woman wins.”

“Like hell!” roared the captain. “I don’t know what the devil she’s
talkin’ about. If Scurlock an’ the boy get their fool throats cut, it’s
their own fault. They’re bein’ punished for mutiny. No girl here, at
all! You, Mud Baby, tell that to old Jezebel!”

Mahmud nodded, and slid into a sing-song chatter. The woman gave ear,
all the while watching Briggs with the unwinking gaze of a snake. She
flung back a few crisp words at Mahmud.

“Well, what now?” demanded Briggs.

“She say, you lie, captain, sar!”

“I _lie_, do I?” vociferated the bucko. He heaved the bottle aloft and
would have struck the hag full force, had not the doctor caught his
arm, and held it fast.

“My God, captain!” cried Filhiol, gusty with rage and fear. “You want
mutiny? Want the whole damned town swarming over us, with torch and
kris?”

Briggs tried to fling him off, but the doctor clung, in desperation.
Mahmud Baba wailed:

“No, no, captain! No touch her! She very bad luck—she Nenek Kabayan!”

“What the devil do _I_ care?” roared Briggs, staggering as he struggled
with the doctor. “She’s got to get out o’ my cabin, or by—”

“She’s a witch-woman!” shouted Filhiol, clinging fast. “That means a
witch, Nenek Kabayan does. If you strike her, they’ll tear your heart
out!”

Mahmud, in the extremity of his terror, clasped thin, brown hands,
groveled, clutching at the captain’s knees. Briggs kicked him away like
a dog.

“Get out, you an’ everybody!” he bellowed. “Doctor, I’ll lay you in
irons for this. Into the lazaret you go, so help me!”

The witch-woman, raising crooked claws against him, hurled shrill
curses at Briggs—wild, unintelligible things, in a wail so penetrantly
heart-shaking, that even the captain’s bull-like rage shuddered.

From the floor, Mahmud raised appealing hands.

“She say, give girl or she make _orang onto_ kill everybody!”
cried the Malay. “_Orang onto_, bad ghost! She say she make
_sabali_—sacrifice—of everybody on ship.” His voice broke, raw, in a
frenzy of terror. “She say Vishnu lay curse on us, dead men come out of
graves, be wolves, be tigers—_menjelma kramat_—follow us everywhere!”

“Shut your jaw, idiot!” shouted Briggs, but in a tone less brutal. The
man was shaken. Not all his bluster could blink that fact. The doctor
loosed his arm; Briggs did not raise the bottle, now, to strike. On and
on wailed Mahmud:

“She say _chandra wasi_, birds of ocean foam, poison us, an’ Zemrud,
him what keep life, leave us. She say blind face in sky watch you,
cap’n, sahib, an’ laugh, an’ you want to die, but you not die. She say
you’ life be more poison than _katchubong_ flowers—she say evil seed
grow in you’ heart, all life long—she say somethin’ you love, cap’n,
sar, somethin’ you love more than you’ life, sometime die, an’ you die
then but still you not die! She say—”

Briggs chewed and spat a curse and, turning to the table, sat down
heavily there. Astonished, Filhiol stared at him. Never had he seen the
captain in this mood. A wild attack, assault, even murder, would not
have surprised the doctor; but this strange quietude surpassed belief.
Filhiol leaned over Briggs, as he sat there sagging, staring at the
witch-woman still in furious tirade.

“Captain,” he whispered, “you’re going to give up the girl, of course?
You’re going to save Mr. Scurlock and the boy, and keep this shriveled
monkey of a witch from raising the town against us?”

Briggs only shook his head.

“No,” he answered, in a strange, weary voice. “She can’t have her, an’
that’s flat. I don’t give a damn for the deserters, an’ if it comes to
a fight, we got our signal-cannon an’ enough small-arms to make it hot
for all the natives between here an’ hell. The girl’s plump as a young
porpoise, an’ she’s mine, an’ I’m going to keep her; you can lay to
that!”

Mahmud, still stammering crude translation of the witch-woman’s
imprecations, crawled to Briggs’s feet. Briggs kicked the man away,
once more, and burst into a jangle of laughter.

“Get ’em all out o’ here, sawbones,” said he, his head sagging.
The life seemed to have departed from him. “I’m tired of all this
hullabaloo.” He opened his table drawer and drew out an army revolver.
“Three minutes for you to get ’em all out, doctor, or I begin
shootin’.”

In the redness of his eye, bleared with drink and rage, Filhiol read
cold murder. He dragged Mahmud up, and herded him, with Texel and the
now silent witch-woman, out the forward cabin door.

“_You_ get out, too!” mouthed the captain, dully. “I’ll have no
sawbones sneakin’ and spyin’ on my honeymoon. Get out, afore I break
you in ways your books don’t tell you how to fix!”

The doctor gave him one silent look. Then, very tight-lipped, he issued
out beneath the awning, where among the Malays a whispering buzz of
talk was forward.

As he wearily climbed the companion ladder, he heard the bolt go home,
in the cabin door. A dull, strange laugh reached his ears, with mumbled
words.

“God save us, now!” prayed Filhiol, for the first time in twenty years.
“God save and keep us, now!”



CHAPTER V

THE MALAY FLEET OF WAR


Dawn, leaping out of Motomolo Strait, flinging its gold-wrought,
crimson mantle over an oily sea that ached with crawling color, found
the clipper ship, whereon rested the curse of old Dengan Jouga, set
fast and fair on the sandspit of Ula Salama, eight miles off the mouth
of the Timbago River.

Fair and fast she lay there, on a tide very near low ebb, so that two
hours or such a matter would float her again; but in two hours much can
happen and much was destined to.

At the taffrail, looking landward where the sand-dunes of the river met
the sea, and where tamarisk and mangrove-thickets and pandan-clumps
lay dark against the amethyst-hazed horizon, Dr. Filhiol and Mr.
Wansley—now first mate of the _Silver Fleece_, with Prass installed as
second—were holding moody speech.

“As luck goes,” the doctor was growling, “this voyage outclasses
anything I’ve ever known. This puts the climax on—this Scurlock
matter, and the yellow girl, _and_ going aground.”

“We did the best we could, sir,” affirmed Wansley, hands deep in jacket
pockets. “With just tops’ls an’ fores’ls on her—”

“Oh, I’m not criticising your navigation, Mr. Wansley,” the doctor
interrupted. “The old man, of course, is the only one who knows the
bars, and we didn’t dare wait for him to wake up. Yes, you did very
well indeed. If you’d been carrying full canvas, you’d have sprung her
butts, when she struck, and maybe lost a stick or two. Perhaps there’s
no great harm done, after all, if we can hold this damned crew.”

Thus hopefully the doctor spoke, under the long, level shafts of day
breaking along the gold and purple waters that further off to sea
blended into pale greens and lovely opalescences. But his eyes, turning
now and then towards the ship’s waist, and his ear, keen to pick up a
more than usual chatter down there under the weather-yellowed awnings,
belied his words.

Now, things were making that the doctor knew not of; things that, had
he known them, would have very swiftly translated his dull anxieties
into active fears. For down the mud-laden river, whose turbid flood
tinged Motomolo Strait with coffee five miles at sea, a fleet of motley
craft was even now very purposefully making way.

This fleet was sailing with platted bamboo-mats bellying on the morning
breeze, with loose-stepped masts and curiously tangled rattan cordage;
or, in part, was pulling down-stream with carven oars and paddles
backed by the strength of well-oiled brown and yellow arms.

A fleet it was, laden to the topmost carving of its gunwales with
deadly hate of the white men. A fleet hastily swept together by the
threats, promises and curses of old Dengan Jouga, the witch-woman. A
rescue fleet, for the salvation of the yellow girl—a fleet grim either
to take her back to Batu Kawan, or else to leave the charred ribs of
the _Silver Fleece_ smoldering on Ulu Salama bar as a funeral pyre over
the bones of every hated _orang puti_, white man, that trod her cursèd
decks.

Nineteen boats in all there were; seven sail-driven, twelve thrust
along with oars and paddles cunningly fashioned from teak and _tiu_
wood. These nineteen boats carried close on three hundred fighting men,
many of them head-hunters lured by the prospect of a white man’s head
to give their sweethearts.

A sinister and motley crew, indeed; some of chief’s rank, clad in rare
feather cloaks, but for the most part boasting no garment save the
_de rigueur_ breech-clout. Among them rowed no less than eight or ten
Mohammedan _amok_ fanatics, who had sworn on the beard of the Prophet
to take a Frank dog’s life or else to die—in either event surely
destined for paradise and the houris’ arms. And one of these fanatics
was the turtle-egg seller, with special hopes in mind which for the
present cannot be divulged.

Under the leadership of Dengan Jouga and a lean, painted _pawang_, or
medicine-man, the war fleet crawled downstream. Spears, axes, stone
and iron maces with ornate hafts bristled in all the long war-canoes,
high-prowed and gaudy with flaring colors. Blow-guns, too, were there,
carrying venomed darts, and krises by the score—wavy-edged blades,
heavy and long, that, driven by a sinewed arm, would slice through a
man’s neck as if it had been _ghee_, or melted butter; would open a
man’s body broad to the light of day; or, slashing downward, split him
from crown to collar bone.

The morning shafts of sun glinted, too, on gun-barrels—old flintlock
muzzle-loaders, with a few antique East India Company’s rifles that in
some obscure channels of trade had worked their way up the east coast
of the Malay Peninsula to Batu Kawan. Some bowmen had long arrows
wrapped in oil-soaked cotton pledgets. Such fire-balls, shot into the
sun-dried canvas of the clipper, might go far towards leaving her bones
ableach on Ulu Salama.

Nor was this all. More formidable still was a small, brass cannon,
securely lashed in the bows of a seagoing proa, its lateen sail all
patched with brown and blue; a proa manned by fifty chosen warriors,
and carrying the medicine man and Dengan Jouga herself. True, the
Malays had only a scant dozen charges for their ordnance, but if they
could catch the hull of the _Silver Fleece_ between wind and water, as
she careened on the bar, they might so riddle her that the up-coming
tide would pour her full of brine.

Down the fever-smelling river, steaming with heat and purple haze under
the mounting sun, the war-fleet drove, between lush banks now crowded
with sandal and angsana-trees all clustered with their lolling, yellow
blooms, now mere thickets where apes and screaming parrots rioted amid
snarled labyrinths of lianas, now sinking into swamps choked with
bamboo and lalang grass.

In some occasional pool, pink lotus-blossoms contrasted with fragrant
charm against the vivid, unhealthy green of marsh and forest. And,
louder than the crooning war-songs that unevenly drifted on the
shimmering air, the loomlike whir of myriad trumpeter-beetles blurred
the waiting day whose open eye shrank not from what must be.

Here, there, a fisherman’s hut extended its crazy platform out over
the sullen waters. From such platforms, yellow-brown folk with braided
top-knots shouted words of good augury to the on-toiling warriors.
Naked, pot-bellied children stood and stared in awe. Flea-tormented
curs barked dolefully. And from such fisher-boats, as lay anchored
in the stream, rose shouts of joy. For, in the mysterious way of the
Orient, the news of the great, black deed done by the devil-captain,
Briggs Sahib, had already run all down the Timbago.

Thus the war-fleet labored downward to the sea, coming [towards the
hour that a landsman would call eight o’clock,] to salt water. Withered
Dengan Jouga, crouching snake-eyed in the proa, caught sight of the
long, turquoise line that marked the freedom of the open.

She pointed a skinny arm, flung a word at Akan Mawar, the medicine
man, and clutched more tightly the thin-bladed knife which—so all had
sworn to her—she, and only she, should plunge into the heart of the
black-bearded devil. Silently she waited, as the seascape broadened.
The sunlight, sparkling on that watery plain, dazzled her eyes like
the shimmer of powdered glass, but still she peered, eager to catch a
glimpse of the _Silver Fleece_. Her betel-reddened lips moved again.
She whispered:

“My daughter I shall have. His blood, his blood I shall have, even
though he flee from me _diatas angin_, beyond the back of the wind!
King Surana, who reigns in the watery depths, will give him to me.
Even though he flee through the Silken Sea, at the end of the world, I
shall have his blood! _Tuan Allah poonia krajah!_ It is the work of the
Almighty.”

“_Tuan Allah poonia krajah!_” echoed old Akan Mawar; and other voices
raised the supplication. Back drifted the words from boat to boat; the
whole river murmured with confused echoes: “_Tuan Allah poonia krajah!_”

Now silence fell again, but for the lipping of cleft waters at
many prows, the dip of oars, the little whispering swirl of eddies
where paddles lifted. Bright-yellow sands, here and there gleaming
pearl-white with millions of turtle-eggs, extended seaward from the
river-mouth, pointing like a dagger of menace at Ulu Salama bar eight
miles to sea; the bar that Alpheus Briggs so easily could have left to
starboard, had he not been sleeping off the fumes of samshu in the
cabin with Kuala Pahang.

Cries from the proa and the war-canoes echoed across the waters. No
longer could savagery repress its rage. Already, far and dim through
the set of haze that brooded over Motomolo Strait, dimming the liquid
light of morning, eyes of eager hate had seen a distant speck. A tiny
blot it was, against the golden welter on the eastern horizon; a blot
whence rose fine-pricked masts and useless sails.

And spontaneously there rose an antiphonal _pantun_, or song of war. Up
from the fleet it broke, under the shrill lead of the hag, now standing
with clenched, skinny fists raised high. She wailed:

  _Adapoun pipit itou sama pipit djouga!_

Others answered. A drum of bamboo, headed with snake-skin, began to
throb.

  _Dan yang enggang itou sama enggang djouga!_

As the echoes died, again rose the witch-woman’s voice, piercing,
resonant:

  _Bourga sedap dispakey!_

The others then:

  _Layou—dibouang!_[1]

The song continued, intoned by the witch-woman with choral responses
from the fighting men. From lament it passed to savage threats of death
by torture and by nameless mutilations. Maces began to clatter on
shields, krises to glint in sunlight, severed heads of enemies to wave
aloft on spears.

And out over the liquid rainbow surface of the strait rolled a
long echo, blent of war-cries, shouts of vengeance, the booming of
snake-skin drums—defiance of the human wolf-pack now giving wild
tongue.

Dr. Filhiol and Mr. Wansley stopped in their speech and raised peering
eyes landward, as some faint verberation of the war-shout drifted down
upon them. The doctor’s brows drew to a frown; he narrowed his keen
eyes toward the line of hot, damp hills. Mr. Wansley pushed back his
cap and scratched his head. Together they stood at the rail, not yet
glimpsing the war-fleet which still moved in partial concealment along
the wooded shore.

Into their silence, a harsh, liquor-roughened voice broke suddenly:

“Empty staring for empty brains! Nothin’ better to do than look your
eyes out at the worst coast, so help me, God ever made?”

Neither answered. Mr. Wansley surveyed in silence the hulking,
disordered figure now coming forward from the after companion. The
doctor drew a cigar from his waistcoat pocket and lighted it. Complete
silence greeted Briggs—silence through which the vague turmoil
trembling across the mother-of-pearl iridescence of the strait still
reached the _Silver Fleece_.



CHAPTER VI

COUNCIL OF WAR


A moment the two men eyed the captain. Malay voices sounded under the
awning. Forward, a laugh drifted on the heat-shimmering air. Briggs
cursed, and still came on.

A sorry spectacle he made, tousled, bleary-eyed, with pain-contracted
forehead where the devil’s own headache was driving spikes. Right hand
showed lacerations, from having struck the wheel. Heavy shoulders
sagged, head drooped. Angrily he blinked, his mood to have torn up the
world and spat upon the fragments in very spite.

“Well, lost your tongues, have you?” he snarled. “I’m used to being
answered on my own ship. You, Mr. Wansley, would do better reading your
’Bow-ditch’ than loafing. And you, doctor, I want you to mix me a stiff
powder for the damnedest headache that ever tangled my top-hamper. I’ve
had a drink or two, maybe three, already this morning. But that does no
good. Fix me up something strong. Come, stir a stump, sir! I’m going to
be obeyed on my own ship!”

“Yes, sir,” answered the doctor, keeping his tongue between his teeth,
as the saying is. He started aft, followed by Wansley. Briggs burst out
again:

“Insubordination, mutiny—that’s all I get, this voyage!” His fists
swung, aching for a target. “Look what’s happened! Against my orders
you, Mr. Wansley, try to take the _Fleece_ to sea. And run her
aground! By God, sir, I could have you disrated for that! I’d put you
in irons for the rest of the voyage if I didn’t need you on deck.
Understand me, sir?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Wansley, with exceeding meekness. Briggs was about
to flare out at him again, and might very well have come to fist-work,
when a hard, round little concussion, bowling seaward, struck his ear.

At sound of the shot, the captain swung on his heel, gripped the rail
and stared shoreward.

“What the hell is _that_?” demanded he, unable to conceal a sudden fear
that had stabbed through the thrice-dyed blackness of his venom.

“I rather think, sir,” answered Filhiol, blowing a ribbon of smoke on
the still morning air, “it’s trouble brewing. By Jove, sir—see that,
will you?”

His hand directed the captain’s reddened eyes far across the strait
toward the coastal hills, palm-crowded. Vaguely the captain saw a long,
dim line. At its forward end, just a speck against the greenery, a
triangle of other color was creeping on. Briggs knew it for the high
sail of a proa.

“H-m!” he grunted. Under the bushy blackness of his brows he stared
with blood-injected eyes. His muscles tautened. Suddenly he commanded:

“Mr. Wansley, my glass, sir!”

The doctor pursed anxious lips as Wansley departed toward the companion.

“Trouble, sir?” asked he.

“I’ll tell you when there’s trouble! How can I hear anythin’, with your
damned jaw-tackle always busy?”

The doctor shut up, clamwise, and leaned elbows on the rail, and so
they stood there, each peering, each listening, each thinking his own
thoughts.

Mr. Wansley’s return, brass telescope in hand, broke both lines of
reflection. Briggs snatched the glass, yearning to knock Wansley flat,
as he might have done a cabin-boy. Wansley peered at him with bitter
malevolence.

“You hell-devil!” muttered he. “You’ve murdered two of us already, an’
like as not you’ll murder all of us before you’re done. If the sharks
had you this minute—”

“By the Judas priest!” ejaculated Briggs, glass at eye. He swung it
left and right. “Now you lubberly sons of swabs _have_ got me on a
lee-shore with all anchors draggin’!”

“What is it, sir?” demanded Filhiol, calmly.

“What _is_ it?” roared the captain, neck and face scarlet. “After you
help run the _Silver Fleece_ on Ulu Salama bar, where that damned
war-party can close in on her, you ask me what it is! Holy Jeremiah!”

“See here, Captain Briggs.” The doctor’s voice cut incisively. “If
that’s a war-party, we’ve got no time to waste in abuse. Please let me
use that glass and see for myself.”

“Use nothing!” shouted Briggs. “What? Call me a liar, do you? I tell
you it _is_ a war-party with five—eight—twelve—well, about sixteen
boats and a proa, I make it; and you stand there and call me a liar!”

“I call you nothing, sir,” retorted the physician, his face impassive.
In spite of anger, Filhiol comprehended that he and Briggs represented
the best brain-power on the clipper. Under the urge of peril these two
must temporarily sink all differences and stand together. “You say
there’s a war-party coming out. I place myself at your orders.”

“Same here, sir,” put in Mr. Wansley. “What’s to be done, sir?” Urgent
peril had stifled the fires of hate.

“Call Mr. Prass and Mr. Crevay,” answered the captain, sobered. “You,
doctor, mix me up that powder, quick. Here, I’ll go with you. You’ve
got to stop this damned headache of mine! Look lively, Mr. Wansley! Get
Bevans, too, and Gascar!”

In five minutes the war-council was under way on the after-deck.
Already the doctor’s drug had begun to loosen the bands of pain
constricting the captain’s brow. Something of Briggs’s normal fighting
energy was returning. The situation was already coming under his strong
hand.

Careful inspection through the glass confirmed the opinion that a
formidable war-fleet was headed toward Ulu Salama bar. The far, vague
sound of chanting and of drums clinched matters.

“We’ve got to meet ’em with all we’ve got,” said Briggs, squinting
through the tube. “There’s a few hundred o’ the devils. Our game is to
keep ’em from closing in. If they board us—well, they aren’t goin’ to,
that’s all.”

“I don’t like the look o’ things forrard, sir,” put in Crevay, now
bo’sun of the clipper, filling the position that Prass had vacated in
becoming second mate. “Them Malays, sir—”

“That’s the hell of it, I know,” said Briggs. He spoke rationally,
sobered into human decency. “If we had a straight white crew, we could
laugh at the whole o’ Batu Kawan. But our own natives are liable to run
_amok_.”

“We’d better iron the worst of ’em, sir, an’ clap hatches on ’em,”
suggested Crevay. “There’s seventeen white men of us, an’ twenty
natives. If we had more whites, I’d say shoot the whole damn lot o’
Malays an’ chuck ’em over to the sharks while there’s time!” His face
was deep-lined, cruel almost as the captain’s.

Silence followed. Gascar nodded approval, Bevans went a trifle pale,
and Wansley shook his head. Prass turned his quid and spat over the
rail; the doctor glanced forward, squinting with eyes of calculation.
Under the brightening sun, each face revealed the varying thoughts that
lay in each man’s heart. Filhiol was first to speak.

“Those Malays are valuable to us,” said he. “They make excellent
hostages, if properly restrained in the hold. But we can’t have them at
large.”

“We can, and must, all of ’em!” snapped Briggs. His eye had cleared and
once more swept up the situation with that virile intelligence which
long had made him a leader of men. His nostrils widened, breathing the
air of battle. His chest, expanding, seemed a barrier against weakness,
indecision. The shadow of death had blotted out the madness of his
orgy. He stood there at the rail, erect, square-jawed, a man once more.
A man that even those who most bitterly hated him now had to respect
and to obey.

“We need ’em all,” he repeated, with the resonance of hard decision.
“We’re short-handed as it is. We need every man-jack of them, but
not to fight. They won’t fight for us. We daren’t put so much as a
clasp-knife in their murderin’ hands. But they can work for us, and,
by the Judas priest, they shall! Our pistols can hold ’em to it. Work,
sweat, damn ’em—sweat the yellow devils, as they never sweat before!”

“How so, captain?” asked the doctor.

“It’ll be an hour before that fleet lays alongside. There’s a good
chance we can kedge off this damned bar. Twenty natives at the poop
capstan, with you, Mr. Bevans—and I guess I’ll let the doctor lend a
hand, too—standing over ’em with cold lead—that’s the game.” Briggs
laughed discordantly. “How’s your nerve, Mr. Bevans? All right, sir?”

Sea-etiquette was returning. Confidence brightened.

“Nerve, sir? All right!”

“Ever shoot a man dead in his tracks?”

“I have, sir.”

“Good! Then you’ll do!” Briggs slapped Bevans on the shoulder. “I’ll
put you and the doctor in charge of the natives. First one that raises
a hand off a capstan-bar, drill him through the head. Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” said Bevans. The doctor nodded.

“That’s settled! To work! We won’t want the natives at large, though,
till we get the kedge over. We’ll keep ’em in the ’midships deck-house
for a while yet. Doctor, you stand at the break and shoot the first
son of a hound that sticks his nose out. Mr. Wansley, muster all the
white men aft for instructions. Mr. Prass, take what men you need and
get up all the arms and ammunition. First thing, get out that stand of
rifles in my cabin. Here’s two keys. One is my private locker-key, and
the other the key to the arms-locker. In my locker you’ll find a kris.
In the other, three revolvers. Bring those.” The captain’s words came
crisp, sharp, decisive. “Bring up the six navy cutlasses from the rack
in the cabin. Mr. Gascar will help you. Mr. Gascar, how many axes have
you got in your carpenter’s chest?”

“Four, sir, and an adz.”

“Bring ’em all. Tell the cook to boil every drop of water he’s got
room for on the galley range. Get the marline spikes from the bo’sun’s
locker and lay ’em handy. Cast loose the signal-gun lashed down there
on the main deck. We’ll haul that up and mount it at the taffrail.
God! If they want war, they’ll get it, the black scuts!”

“We’re short of round-shot for the gun, sir,” said “Chips.” “I misdoubt
there’s a dozen rounds.”

“No matter. Solid shot isn’t much good for this work. Get all the
bolts, nuts and screws from your shop—all the old iron junk you can
ram down her throat. How’s powder?”

“Plenty, sir.”

“Good! We’ve got powder enough, men enough and guts enough. To your
work. Mr. Crevay!”

“Yes, sir?” A lank, bony man, Crevay, with fiery locks and a slashed
cheek where a dirk had once ripped deep. An ex-navy man he, and of
fighting blood.

“I’m goin’ to have you serve the gun when ready. You and any men you
pick,” the captain told him, while the others departed each on his own
errand, tensely, yet without haste or fear. “Meanwhile, I’ll put you in
charge of kedgin’ us off. Cast loose and rig the kedge-anchor, lower it
away from that davy there to the long-boat, and sink it about a hundred
fathom off the starb’d quarter. With twenty Malays at the capstan-bars,
we ought to start the _Fleece_. If not, we’ll shift cargo from forrard.
Look alive, sir!”

“Yes, sir!” And Crevay, too, departed, filled with the energy that
comes to every man when treated like a man and given a man’s work to do.

As by a miracle, the spirit of the _Silver Fleece_ had changed.
Discipline had all come back with a rush; the battling blood had
risen. No longer, for the moment, were the captain’s heavy crimes and
misdemeanors held against him. Briggs stood for authority, defense in
face of the peril of death. His powerful body and stern spirit formed a
rallying-point for every white man aboard. And even those who had most
poisonously grisled in their hearts against the man, now ran loyally to
do his bidding.

Forgotten was the cause of all this peril—the stealing of Kuala
Pahang, in drunken lust. Forgotten the barbarities that had driven
Mr. Scurlock and the boy ashore. Forgotten the brutal cynicism that
had refused to buy their liberty at the price of giving up the girl.
Of all these barbarities, no memory seemed now to survive. The deadly
menace of twenty Malays already growling in the waist of the ship, and
of the slow-advancing line of war-canoes, banished every thought save
one—battle!

Once more Captain Alpheus Briggs had proved himself, in time of crisis,
a man; more than a man—a master of men.

Thus, now, swift preparations had begun to play the game of war in
which no quarter would be asked or given.



CHAPTER VII

BEFORE THE BATTLE


Strenuous activities leaped into being, aboard the stranded clipper
ship.

All the Malays were herded in the deck-house, informed that they were
sons of swine and that the first one who showed a face on deck, till
wanted, would be shot dead. The doctor, with a revolver ready for
business, added weight to this information.

Under the orders of Mr. Wansley, all the white sailors came trooping
aft. Noisily and profanely they came, making a holiday of the impending
slaughter. A hard company they were, many in rags, for Briggs could
never have been called other than conservative regarding credits from
the slop-chest. Rum, however, he now promised them, and whatever loot
they could garner from the Malay fleet; so they cheered him heartily.
They, too, had all become his men.

Bad men they looked, and such as now were needed—three or four
Liverpool guttersnipes, a Portuguese cut-throat from Fayal, a couple
of Cayman wreckers, a French convict escaped from the penal ship at
Marseilles, and the rest low-type American scum. For such was the
reputation of Alpheus Briggs, all up and down the Seven Seas, that few
first-class men ever willingly shipped with him before the mast.

Workers and fighters they were, though, every one. While black smoke
began to emerge from the galley funnel, on the shimmering tropic air,
as the cook stuffed oily rags and oil-soaked wood under all the
coppers that his range would hold, divers lines of preparation swiftly
developed.

Already some were casting loose the lashings of the signal-gun
and rigging tackle to hoist the rust-red old four-inch piece to
the after-deck. Others fell to work with Mr. Crevay, rigging the
kedge-anchor or lowering away the long-boat. Another gang leaped to
the task of getting above-decks all the rifles, cutlasses, powder,
ball-shot and iron junk, the axes and revolvers; of loading everything,
even of laying belaying-pins handy as a last line of hand-to-hand
weapons.

Briggs supervised all details, even to the arming of each man with the
butchering-tool he claimed to be most expert with. The best were given
the rifles; to those of lesser skill was left the cutlass work. A gun
crew of two men was picked to serve the cannon with Mr. Crevay. Three
were detailed to help the cook carry boiling water.

“Mr. Bevans will stand over the natives at the capstan,” directed
Briggs. “And you, doctor, will act in your medical capacity when we get
into action. If hard-driven, you can be useful with the kris, eh? Quite
in your line, sir; quite in your line.”

Briggs smiled expansively. All his evil humors had departed. The
foretaste of battle had shaken him clean out of his black moods. His
genius for organizing, for leading men, seemed to have expanded him to
heroic proportions. In his deep, black eyes, the poise of his head, the
hard, glad expression of his full-blooded, black-bearded face, one saw
eager virility that ran with joy to meet the test of strength, and that
exulted in a day’s work of blood.

A heroic figure he, indeed—thewed like a bull; with sunlight on face
and open, corded neck; deep-chested, coatless now, the sleeves of his
pongee shirt rolled up to herculean elbows. Some vague perception
crossed the doctor’s mind that here, indeed, stood an anomaly, a man
centuries out of time and place, surely a throwback to some distant
pirate strain of the long-vanished past.

Imagination could twist a scarlet kerchief ’round that crisp-curling
hair, knot a sash about the captain’s waist, draw high boots up to
his powerful knees. Imagination could transport him to the coasts
of Mexico long, long ago; imagination could run the Jolly Roger to
the masthead—and there, in Captain Briggs, merchant-ship master
of the year 1868, once more find kith and kin of Blackbeard, Kidd,
Morgan, England, and all others of the company of gentlemen rovers in
roistering days.

Something of this the doctor seemed to understand. Yet, as he turned
his glance a moment to the line of war-craft now more plainly visible
across the shimmering nacre of the strait, he said, raising his voice
a trifle by reason of the various shouts, cries and diverse noises
blending confusedly, and now quite obliterating all sounds from the war
fleet:

“You know what those canoes are coming after, of course.”

“The girl! What of it?”

“And you know, sir, that old Dengan Jouga is bound to be aboard.
There’ll be a medicine man or two, as well.”

“What the devil are you driving at?” demanded Briggs.

“That’s a formidable combination, sir,” continued the doctor. “We’ve
got twenty Malays on board that will face hell-fire itself rather than
see any harm befall a native _pawang_ or a witch-woman. We’ll never
be able to hold them to any work. Each of them believes he can reach
paradise by slaughtering a white man. In addition, he can avenge harm
done to the old woman and the girl. Under those circumstances—”

“By God, sir, if I didn’t need you, sir—”

“Under those circumstances, my original suggestion of holding them all
under hatches, as hostages, has much to recommend it, if we come to a
fight. But need we come to a fight? Need we, sir?”

“How the devil can we sheer off from it?”

“By giving up the girl, sir. Put her in one of the small boats with a
few trade-dollars and trinkets for her dowry—which will effectually
lustrate the girl, according to these people’s ideas—and give her a
pair of oars. She’ll take care of herself all right. The war-fleet will
turn around and go back, which will be very much better, sir, than
slaughter. We’ve already lost two men, and—”

“And you’re white-livered enough to stand there and advise taking no
revenge for them?” interrupted Briggs, his voice gusty with sudden
passion.

Briggs struck the rail with the flat of his palm, a blow that cracked
like a pistol-shot; while the doctor, wholly unhorsed by this tilt from
so unexpected an angle, could only stare.

“By the Judas priest, sir!” cried Briggs furiously. “That’s enough to
make a man want to cut you down where you stand, sir, you hear _me_?
And if that yellow-bellied cowardice wasn’t enough, you ask me to give
up the girl—the girl that’s cost me two men already—the girl that may
yet cost me my ship and my own life! Well, by the Judas priest!”

“Don’t risk your life and the ship for a native wench!” cut in the
doctor with a rush of indignation. “There are wenches by the score,
by the hundred, all up and down the Straits. You can buy a dozen, for
a handful of coin. Wenches by the thousands—but only one _Silver
Fleece_, sir!”

“Devilish lot you care about the _Fleece_!” snarled Briggs. “Or about
anything but your own cowardly neck!”

“Captain Briggs, don’t forget yourself!”

“Hell’s bells! They shan’t have that girl. Witch-women, medicine men or
all the devils of the Pit shan’t take her back. She’s mine, I tell you,
and before I’ll let her go I’ll throw her to the sharks myself. Sharks
enough, and plenty—there’s one now,” he added, jerking his hand at a
slow-moving, black triangle that was cutting a furrow off to starboard.
“So I want to hear no more from you about the girl, and you can lay to
that!”

He turned on his heel and strode aft, growling in his beard. The
doctor, peering after him with smoldering eyes, felt his finger tighten
on the trigger. One shot might do the business. It would mean death, of
course, for himself. The courts would take their full penalty, all in
due time; but it would save the ship and many white men’s lives.

Nevertheless, the doctor did not raise his weapon. Discipline still
held; the dominance of that black-bearded Hercules still viséed all
opposition into impotence. With no more than a curse, the doctor turned
back to his guard duty.

“Are you man or are you devil?” muttered Filhiol. “Good God, what _are_
you?”

Already the defense of the _Silver Fleece_ was nearly complete; and in
the long-boat the kedge-anchor was being rowed away by four men under
command of Mr. Crevay. The war-fleet had drawn much nearer, in a rough
crescent to northwestward, its sails taut. Flashing water-jewels,
swirled up from paddles, had become visible, under the now unclouded
splendor of the sun. More and more distinctly the chanting and
war-drums drifted in.

The off-shore breeze was urging the armada forward; the dip and swing
of all those scores of paddles gave a sense of unrelenting power.
But Briggs, hard, eager, seemed only welcoming battle as he stood
calculating time and distance, armament and disposal of his forces,
or, with an eye aloft at the clewed-up canvas, figured the tactics
of kedging-off, of making sail if possible, and showing Batu Kawan’s
forces a clean pair of heels.

“Look lively with that anchor!” he shouted out across the sparkling
waters. “Drop her in good holdin’ ground, and lead that line aboard.
The sooner we get our Malays sweatin’ on the capstan, the better!”

“Aye, aye, sir,” drifted back the voice of Crevay. And presently the
splash of the anchor as the boat-crew tugged it over the stern, flung
cascades of foam into the heat-quivering air.

The boat surged back bravely; the line was bent to the capstan, and
Briggs ordered the Malays to the bars. Sullen they came, shuffling,
grumbling strange words—lean, brown and yellow men in ragged cotton
shirts and no shirts at all—as murderous a pack as ever padded in
sandals or bare feet along white decks.

Among them slouched Mahmud Baba, who, like all the rest, shot
a comprehending glance at the on-drawing fleet. Up the forward
companion-ladder they swarmed, and aft to the capstan, with Briggs, the
doctor and Wansley all three on a hair-trigger to let sunlight through
the first who should so much as raise a hand of rebellion. And so they
manned the capstan-bars, and so they fell a-heaving at the kedge-line,
treading with slow, toilsome feet ’round and ’round on the hot planks,
where—young as the morning was—the pitch had already softened.

“Come here, you _surkabutch_!” commanded the captain, summoning Mahmud
Baba. “_Juldi, idherao!_”

The Malay came, gray with anger—for Briggs had, in hearing of all his
fellows, called him “son of a pig,” and a Mohammedan will kill you for
calling him that, if he can. Nevertheless, Mahmud salaamed. Not now
could he kill. Later, surely. He could afford to wait. The Frank must
not call him son of a pig, and still live. Might not Allah even now
be preparing vengeance, in that war-fleet? Mahmud salaamed again, and
waited with half-closed eyes.

At the capstan the _thud-thud-thud_ of twoscore trampling feet was
already mingling with a croon of song, that soon would rise and
strengthen, if not summarily suppressed, and drift out to meet the
war-chant of the warrior blood-kin steadily approaching.

_Click-click-click_! the pawl and ratchet punctuated the rhythm of feet
and song, as the hawser began to rise, dripping, from the sea. Briggs
drew his revolver from his belt, and ground the muzzle fair against
Mahmud’s teeth.

“You tell those other _surkabutchas_,” said he with cold menace, “that
I’ll have no singing. I’ll have no noise to cover up your plotting and
planning together. You’ll all work in silence or you’ll all be dead.
Understand me?”

“Yas, sar.”

“And you’ll hang to the capstan-bars till we’re free, no matter what
happens. The first man that quits, goes to glory on the jump. Savvy?”

“Yas, sar.” Mahmud’s voice was low, submissive; but through the
drooping lids a gleam shone forth that never came from sunlight or from
sea.

“All right,” growled Briggs, giving the revolver an extra shove. “Get
to work! And if those other sons of pigs in the canoes board us, we
white men will shoot down every last one o’ _you_ here. We’ll take
no chances of being knifed in the back. _You’ll_ all have gone to
damnation before one o’ _them_ sets foot on my decks. You lay to that,
my Mud Baby! Now, tell ’em all I’ve told you, and get it straight!
_Jao!_”

Briggs struck Mahmud a head-cracking blow with the revolver just above
the ear and sent him staggering back to the capstan. The song died,
as Mahmud gulped out words that tumbled over each other with staccato
vehemence.

“Get in there at the bars!” shouted Briggs. “Get to work, you, before I
split you!”

Mahmud swung to place, and bent his back to labor, as his thin chest
and skinny hands pushed at the bar beside his fellows.

And steadily the war-fleet drew in toward its prey.



CHAPTER VIII

PARLEY AND DEATH


In silence now the capstan turned. No Malays hummed or spoke. Only
the grunting of their breath, oppressed by toil and the thrust of the
bars, kept rough time with the slither of feet, the ratchet-click, the
groaning creak of the cable straining through the chocks.

“Dig your toe-nails in, you black swine!” shouted Briggs. “The first
one that—”

“Captain Briggs,” the doctor interrupted, taking him by the arm, “I
think the enemy’s trying to communicate with us. See there?”

He pointed where the fleet had now ranged up to within about two miles.
The mats of the proa and of the other sailing-canoes had crumpled
down, the oars and paddles ceased their motion. The war-party seemed
resting for deliberation. Only one boat was moving, a long canoe with
an outrigger; and from this something white was slowly waving.

“Parley be damned!” cried Briggs. “The only parley I’ll have with that
pack of lousy beggars will be hot shot!”

“That canoe coming forward there, with the white flag up,” Filhiol
insisted, “means they want to powwow. It’s quite likely a few dollars
may settle the whole matter; or perhaps a little surplus hardware.
Surely you’d rather part with something than risk losing your ship,
sir?”

“I’ll part with nothin’, and I’ll save my ship into the bargain,”
growled the captain. “There’ll be no tribute paid, doctor. Good God!
White men knucklin’ under, to niggers? Never, sir—never!”

Savagely he spoke, but Filhiol detected intonations that rang not quite
true. Again he urged: “A bargain’s a bargain, black or white. Captain
Light was as good a man as ever sailed the Straits, and _he_ wasn’t
above diplomacy. He understood how to handle these people. Wanted a
landing-place cleared, you remember. Couldn’t hire a man-jack to work
for him, so he loaded his brass cannon with trade-dollars and shot
them into the jungle. The Malays cleared five acres, hunting for those
dollars. These people can be handled, if you know how.”

The captain, his heavy brows furrowed with a black frown, still peered
at the on-drawing canoe. Silence came among all the white men at their
fighting-stations or grouped near the captain.

“That’s enough!” burst out Briggs. “Silence, sir! Mr. Gascar, fetch my
glass!”

The doctor, very wise, held his tongue. Already he knew he was by way
of winning his contention. Gascar brought the telescope from beside the
after-companion housing, where Briggs had laid it. The captain thrust
his revolver into his belt. In silence he studied the approaching
canoe. Then he exclaimed: “This is damned strange! Dr. Filhiol!”

“Well, sir?”

“Take a look, and tell me what you see.”

He passed the telescope to the doctor, who with keenest attention
observed the boat, then said:

“White men on board that canoe. Two of them.”

“That’s what _I_ thought, doctor. Must be Mr. Scurlock and the boy, eh?”

“Yes, sir. I think there’s still time to trade the girl for them,” the
doctor eagerly exclaimed. A moment Briggs seemed pondering, while at
the capstan the driven Malays—now reeking in a bath of sweat—still
trod their grunting round.

“Captain, I beg of you—” the doctor began. Briggs raised a hand for
silence.

“Don’t waste your breath, sir, till we know what’s what!” he commanded.
“I’ll parley, at any rate. We may be able to get that party on board
here. If we can, the rest will be easy. And I’m as anxious to lay hands
on those damned deserters o’ mine as I was ever anxious for anything
in my life. Stand to your arms, men! Mr. Bevans, be ready with that
signal-gun to blow ’em out of the water if they start trouble. Mr.
Gascar, fetch my speakin’-trumpet from the cabin. Bring up a sheet,
too, from Scurlock’s berth. That’s the handiest flag o’ truce we’ve
got. Look alive now!”

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered Gascar, and departed on his errand.

Silence fell, save for the toiling Malays, whose labors still were
fruitless to do aught save slowly drag the kedge through the gleaming
sand of the sea-bottom. Mr. Wansley muttered something to himself; the
doctor fell nervously to pacing up and down; the others looked to their
weapons.

From the fleet now drifted no sound of drums or chanting. In stillness
lay the war-craft; in stillness the single canoe remained on watch,
with only that tiny flicker of white to show its purpose. A kind of
ominous hush brooded over sea and sky; but ever the tramp of feet
at the capstan, and the panting breath of toil there rose on the
superheated air.

Gascar returned, handed the trumpet to Briggs, and from the rail waved
the sheet. After a minute the canoe once more advanced, with flashing
paddles. Steadily the gun-crew kept it covered, ready at a word to
shatter it. Along the rail the riflemen crouched. And still the little
white flutter spoke of peace, if peace the captain could be persuaded
into buying.

The glass now determined beyond question that Mr. Scurlock and the boy
were on board. Briggs also made out old Dengan Jouga, the witch-woman,
mother of the girl. His jaw clamped hard as he waited. He let the
war-craft draw up to within a quarter-mile, then bade Gascar cease
displaying the sheet, and through the speaking-trumpet shouted:

“That’ll do now, Scurlock! Nigh enough! What’s wanted?”

The paddlers ceased their work. The canoe drifted idly. Silence
followed. Then a figure stood up—a figure now plainly recognizable in
that bright glow as Mr. Scurlock. Faintly drifted in the voice of the
former mate:

“Captain Briggs! For God’s sake, listen to me! Let me come closer—let
me talk with you!”

“You’re close enough now, you damned mutineer!” retorted Briggs. “What
d’ you want? Spit it out, and be quick about it!”

Another silence, while the sound traveled to the canoe and while the
answer came:

“I’ve got the boy with me. We’re prisoners. If you don’t give up that
girl, an’ pay somethin’ for her, they’re goin’ to kill us both. They’re
goin’ to cut our heads off, cap’n, and give ’em to the witch-woman, to
hang outside her hut!”

“And a devilish good place for ’em, too!” roared Briggs, unmindful of
surly looks and muttered words revealing some disintegration of the
discipline at first so splendidly inspired. “I’ll have no dealin’s with
you on such terms. Get back now—back, afore I sink you, where you
lie!”

“See here, captain!” burst out Filhiol, his face white with a flame of
passion. “I’m no mutineer, and I’m not refusing duty, but by God—”

“Silence, sir!” shouted Briggs. “I’ve got irons aboard for any man as
sets himself against me!”

“Irons or no irons, I can’t keep silent,” the doctor persisted, while
here and there a growl, a curse, should have told Briggs which way the
spate of things had begun to flow. “That man, there, and that helpless
boy—”

He choked, gulped, stammered in vain for words.

“They’ll hang our heads up, and they’ll burn the _Silver Fleece_ and
bootcher all hands,” drifted in the far, slow cry of Mr. Scurlock.
“They got three hundred men an’ firearms, an’ a brass cannon. An’ if
this party is beat, more will be raised. This is your last chance! For
the girl an’ a hundred trade-dollars they’ll all quit and go home!”

“To hell with ’em!” shouted Briggs at the rail, his face swollen with
hate and rage. “To hell with you, too! There’ll be no such bargain
struck so long as I got a deck to tread on, or a shot in my lockers!
If they want the yellow she-dog, let ’em come an’ take her! Now, stand
off, there, afore I blow you to Davy Jones!”

“It’s murder!” flared the doctor. “You men, here—officers of this
ship—I call on you to witness this cold-blooded murder. Murder of a
good man, and a harmless boy! By God, if you stand there and let him
kill those two—”

Briggs flung up his revolver and covered the doctor with an aim the
steadiness of which proved how unshaken was his nerve.

“Murder if you like,” smiled he with cold malice, his white teeth
glinting. “An’ there’ll be another one right here, if you don’t put
a stopper on that mutinous jaw of yours and get back to your post.
That’s my orders, and if you don’t obey on shipboard, it’s mutiny.
Mutiny, sawbones, an’ I can shoot you down, an’ go free. I’m to
windward o’ the law. Now, get back to the capstan, afore I let daylight
through you!”

Outplayed by tactics that put a sudden end to any opposition, the
doctor ceded. The steady “O” of the revolver-muzzle paralyzed his
tongue and numbed his arm. Had he felt that by a sudden shot he could
have had even a reasonable chance of downing the captain, had he
possessed any confidence of backing from enough of the others to have
made mutiny a success, he would have risked his life—yes, gladly lost
it—by coming to swift grips with the brute. But Filhiol knew the
balance of power still lay against him. The majority, he sensed, still
stood against him. Sullenly the doctor once more lagged aft.

From the canoe echoed voices, ever more loud and more excited. In the
bow, Scurlock gesticulated. His supplications were audible, mingled
with shouts and cries from the Malays. Added thereto were high-pitched
screams from the boy—wild, shrill, nerve-breaking screams, like those
of a wounded animal in terror.

“Oh, God, this is horrible!” groaned the doctor, white as paper. His
teeth sank into his bleeding lip. He raised his revolver to send a
bullet through the captain; but Crevay, with one swift blow, knocked
the weapon jangling to the deck, and dealt Filhiol a blow that sent him
reeling.

“Payne, and you, Deming, here!” commanded he, summoning a couple of
foremast hands. They came to him. “Lock this man in his cabin. He’s got
a touch o’ sun. Look alive, now!”

Together they laid hands on Filhiol, hustled him down the
after-companion, flung him into his cabin and locked the door. Crevay,
guarding the Malays at the capstan, muttered:

“Saved the idiot’s life, anyhow. Good doctor; but as a man, what a
damned, thundering fool!”

Unmindful of this side-play Briggs was watching the canoe. His face had
become that of a devil glad of vengeance on two hated souls. He laughed
again at Scurlock’s up-flung arms, at his frantic shout:

“For the love o’ God, captain, save us! If you don’t give up that girl,
they’re goin’ to kill us right away! You got to act quick, now, to save
us!”

“Save yourselves, you renegades!” shouted Briggs, swollen with rage and
hate. His laugh chilled the blood. “You said you’d chance it with the
Malays afore you would with me. Well, take it, now, and to hell with
you!”

“For God’s sake, captain—”

Scurlock’s last, wild appeal was suddenly strangled into silence.
Another scream from the boy echoed over the water. The watchers got
sight of a small figure that waved imploring arms. All at once this
figure vanished, pulled down, with Scurlock, by shouting Malays.

The exact manner of the death of the two could not be told. All that
the clipper’s men could see was a sudden, confused struggle, that ended
almost before it had begun. A few shouts drifted out over the clear
waters. Then another long, rising shriek in the boy’s treble, shuddered
across the vacancy of sea and sky—a shriek that ended with sickening
suddenness.

Some of the white men cursed audibly. Some faces went drawn and gray.
A flurry of chatter broke out at the toiling capstan—not even Mr.
Crevay’s furious oaths and threats could immediately suppress it.

Briggs only laughed, horribly, his teeth glinting as he leaned on the
rail and watched.

For a moment the canoe rocked in spite of its steadying outrigger, with
the violence of the activities aboard it. Then up rose two long spears;
spears topped with grisly, rounded objects. A rising chorus of yells,
yells of rage, hate, defiance, spread abroad, echoed by louder shouts
from the wide crescent of the fleet. And once again the drums began to
pulse.

From the canoe, two formless things were thrown. Here, there, a
shark-fin turned toward the place—a swirl of water.

Silence fell aboard the clipper. In that silence a slight grating
sound, below, told Briggs the kedging had begun to show results. A glad
sound, indeed, that grinding of the keel!

“By God, men!” he shouted, turning. “The forefoot’s comin’ free.
Dig in, you swine! Men, when she clears, we’ll box her off with the
fores’l—we’ll beat ’em yet!”

Once more allegiance knit itself to Briggs. Despite that double murder
(as surely done by him as if his own hand had wielded the kris that
had beheaded Mr. Scurlock and the boy), the drums and shoutings of the
war-fleet, added to this new hope of getting clear of Ulu Salama, fired
every white man’s heart with sudden hope.

The growl that had begun to rise against Briggs died away.

“Mr. Crevay,” he commanded, striding aft, “livelier there with those
pigs! They’re not doin’ half a trick o’ work!” Angrily he gestured at
the sweat-bathed, panting men. “You, Lumbard, fetch me up a fathom o’
rope. _I’ll_ give ’em a taste o’ medicine that’ll make ’em dig! And
you, Mr. Bevans—how’s the gun? All loaded with junk?”

“All ready, sir!”

Briggs turned to it. Out over the water he squinted, laying careful
aim at the canoe where Scurlock and the boy had died.

The canoe had already begun retreating from the place now marked by a
worrying swirl of waters where the gathering sharks held revel. Back
towards the main fleet it was circling as the paddlemen—their naked,
brown bodies gleaming with sunlight on the oil that would make them
slippery as eels in case of close fighting—bent to their labor.

On the proa and the other sailing-canoes the mat sails had already been
hauled up again. The proa was slowly lagging forward; and with it the
battle-line, wide-flung.

Briggs once more assured his aim. He seized the lanyard, stepped back,
and with a shout of: “Take this, you black scum!” jerked the cord.

The rusty old four-inch leaped against its lashings as it vomited half
a bushel of heavy nuts, bolts, brass and iron junk in a roaring burst
of smoke and flame.

Fortune favored. The canoe buckled, jumped half out of the water, and,
broken fair in two, dissolved in a scattering flurry of débris. Screams
echoed with horrible yells from the on-drawing fleet. Dark, moving
things, the heads of swimmers already doomed by the fast-gathering
sharks, jostled floating things that but a second before had been
living men. The whole region near the canoe became a white-foaming
thrash of struggle and of death.

“Come on, all o’ you!” howled Briggs with the laughter of a
blood-crazed devil. “We’re ready, you _surkabutchas_! Ready for you
all!”

With an animal-like scream of rage, a Malay sprang from the capstan-bar
where he had been sweating. On Crevay he flung himself. A blade,
snatched from the Malay’s breech-clout, flicked high-lights as it
plunged into Crevay’s neck.

Whirled by a dozen warning yells, the captain spun. He caught sight of
Crevay, already crumpling down on the hot deck: saw the reddened blade,
the black-toothed grin of hate, the on-rush of the _amok_ Malay.

Up flung his revolver. But already the leaping figure was upon him.



CHAPTER IX

ONSET OF BATTLE


The shot that Wansley fired, a chance shot hardly aimed at all, must
have been guided by the finger of the captain’s guardian genius. It
crumpled the Malay, with strangely sprawling legs. Kill him it did not.
But the bullet through his lower vertebræ left only his upper half
alive.

With a grunt he crumpled to the hot deck, knife still clutched in
skinny fist. Shouts echoed. Briggs stood aghast, with even his steel
nerve jangling. The quivering Malay was a half-dead thing that still
lived. He writhed with contorted face, dragging himself toward Briggs.
The knife-blade clicked on the planking, like the clicking of his teeth
that showed black through slavering lips.

“_Allah! il Allah!_” he gulped, heaving himself up on one hand,
slashing with the other.

Why do men, in a crisis, so often do stupid, unaccountable things?
Why did Briggs kick at him, with a roaring oath, instead of shooting?
Briggs felt the bite of steel in his leg. That broke the numbing spell
of unreason. The captain’s pistol, at point-blank range, shattered the
yellow man’s skull. Blood, smeared with an ooze of brain, colored the
stewing deck.

“_Allah! il Al—!_”

The cry ended in a choking gurgle on lips that drew into a horrible
grin. And now completely dead even beyond the utmost lash of Islamic
fanaticism, the Malay dropped face down. This time the captain’s kick
landed only on flesh and bone past any power of feeling.

At the capstan-bars it was touch-and-go. Crevay was down, groaning,
his hands all slippery and crimson with the blood that seeped through
his clutching fingers. For a moment, work slacked off. Wansley was
shouting, with revolver leveled, his voice blaring above the cries,
oaths, imprecations. Things came to the ragged edge of a rush, but
white men ran in with rifles and cutlasses. Briggs flung himself aft,
trailing blood.

Crazed with rage and the burn of that wound, he fired thrice. Malays
sagged down, plunged screaming to the deck. The captain would have
emptied his revolver into the pack, but Wansley snatched him by the arm.

“Hold on!” he shouted. “That’s enough—we need ’em, sir!”

Prass, belaying-pin in hand, struck to right, to left. Yells of pain
mingled with the tumult that drowned the ragged, ineffective spatter
of firing from the war-fleet. The action was swift, decisive. In
half a minute, the capstan was clicking again, faster than ever.
Its labor-power, diminished by the loss of three men, was more than
compensated by the fear of the survivors.

“Overboard with the swine!” shouted Briggs. “Overboard with ’em, to the
sharks!”

“This here one ain’t done for yet, sir,” began Prass, pointing. “He’s
only—”

“Overboard, I said!” roared Briggs. “You’ll go, too, by God, if you
give me any lip!”

As men laid hands on the Malays to drag them to the rail, Briggs
dropped on his knees beside Crevay. He pulled away the man’s hands from
the gaping neck-wound, whence the life was irretrievably spurting.

“Judas priest!” he stammered, for here was his right-hand man as good
as dead. “Doctor! Where the devil is Mr. Filhiol?”

“In the cabin, sir,” Prass answered.

“Cabin! Holy Lord! On deck with him!”

“Yes, sir.”

“And tell him to bring his kit!”

Prass had already dived below. The doctor was haled up again, with
his bag. A kind of hard exultation blazed in the captain’s face. He
seemed not to hear the shouts of war, the spattering fusillade from
the canoes. His high-arched chest rose and fell, pantingly. His hands,
reddened with the blood of Crevay, dripped horribly. Filhiol, hustled
on deck, stared in amazement.

“A job for you, sir!” cried Briggs. “Prove yourself!”

Filhiol leaned over Crevay. But he made no move to open his kit-bag.
One look had told him the truth.

The man, already unconscious, had grown waxen. His breathing had become
a stertorous hiccough. The deck beneath him was terrible to look upon.

“No use, sir,” said the doctor briefly. “He’s gone.”

“Do something!” blazed the captain. “Something!”

“For a dead man?” retorted Filhiol. As he spoke, even the hiccough
ceased.

Briggs stared with eyes of rage. He got to his feet, hulking, savage,
with swaying red fists.

“They’ve killed my best man,” he snarled. “If we didn’t need the dogs,
we’d feed ’em all to the sharks, so help me!”

“You’re wounded, sir!” the doctor cried, pointing at the blood-wet
slash in the captain’s trouser-leg.

“Oh, to hell with that!” Briggs retorted. “You, and you,” he added,
jabbing a finger at two sailors, “carry Mr. Crevay down to the
cabin—then back to your rifles at the rail!”

They obeyed, their burden sagging limply. Already the dead and
wounded Malays had been bundled over the rail. The fusillade from the
war-canoes was strengthening, and the shouts had risen to a barbaric
chorus. The patter of bullets and slugs into the sea or against the
planking of the _Silver Fleece_ formed a ragged accompaniment to the
whine of missiles through the air. A few holes opened in the clipper’s
canvas. One of the men who had thrown the Malays overboard cursed
suddenly and grabbed his left elbow, shattered.

“Take cover!” commanded Briggs. “Down, everybody, along the rail! Mr.
Wansley, down with you and your men. Get down!”

Indifferent to all peril for himself, Briggs turned toward the
companion.

“Captain,” the doctor began again. “Your boot’s full of blood. Let me
bandage—”

Briggs flung a snarl at him and strode to the companion.

“Below, there!” he shouted.

“Aye, aye, sir!” rose the voice of one of the foremast hands.

“Get that wench up here! The yellow girl! Bring her up—an’ look alive!”

“Captain,” the doctor insisted, “I’ve got to do something for that gash
in your leg. Not that I love you, but you’re the only man that can save
us. Sit down here, sir. You’ll bleed to death where you stand!”

Something in Filhiol’s tone, something in a certain giddiness that was
already reaching for the captain’s heart and brain, made him obey. He
sat down shakily on deck beside the after-companion. In the midst of
all that turmoil, all underlaid by the slow, grinding scrape of the
keel on the sand-bar, the physician performed his duty.

With scissors, he shore away the cloth. A wicked slash, five or six
inches long, stood redly revealed.

“_Tss! Tss!_” clucked Filhiol. “Lucky if it’s not poisoned.”

“Mr. Gascar!” shouted the captain. “Go below!” Briggs jerked a thumb
downward at the cabin, whence sounds of a struggle, mingled with cries
and animal-like snarls, had begun to proceed. “Bring up the jug o’ rum
you’ll find in my locker. Serve it out to all hands. And, look you, if
they need a lift with the girl, give it; but don’t you kill that wench.
I need her, alive! Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Gascar replied, and vanished down the companion. He
reappeared with a jug and a tin cup.

“They’re handlin’ her all right, sir,” he reported. “Have a drop, sir?”

“You’re damned shoutin’, I will!” And the captain reached for the cup.
Gascar poured him a stiff drink. He gulped it and took another. “Now
deal it out. There’ll be plenty more when we’ve sunk the yellow devils!”

He got to his feet, scorning further care from Filhiol, and stood there
wild and disheveled, with one leg of his trousers cut off at the knee
and with his half-tied bandages already crimsoning.

“Rum for all hands, men!” he shouted. “And better than rum—my best
wine, sherry, champagne—a bottle a head for you, when this shindy’s
over!”

Cheers rose unevenly. Gascar started on his round with the jug. Even
the wounded men, such as could still raise their voices, shouted
approval.

“Hold your fire, men,” the captain ordered. “Let ’em close in—then
blow ’em out o’ the water!”



CHAPTER X

KUALA PAHANG


The doctor, presently finishing with Briggs, turned his attention to
the other injured ones. At the top of the companion now stood the
captain with wicked eyes, as up the ladder emerged the two seamen with
the struggling, clawing tiger-cat of a girl.

The cruel beating the captain had given her the night before had not
yet crushed her spirit. Neither had the sickness of the liquor he had
forced her to drink. Bruised, spent, broken as she was, the spirit of
battle still dwelt in the lithe barbarian. That her sharp nails had
been busy to good effect was proved by the long, deep gashes on the
faces and necks of both seamen. One had been bitten on the forearm. For
all their strength, they proved hardly more than a match for her up
the narrow, steep companion. Their blasphemies mingled with the girl’s
animal-like cries. Loudly roared the booming bass of the captain:

“Up with the she-dog! I’ll teach her something—teach ’em all
something, by the Judas priest! Up with her!”

They dragged her out on deck, up into all that shouting and firing,
that turmoil and labor and blood. And as they brought her up a plume of
smoke jetted from the bows of the proa. The morning air sparkled with
the fire-flash of that ancient brass cannon. With a crashing shower of
splinters, a section of the rail burst inward. Men sprawled, howling.
But a greater tragedy—in the eyes of these sailormen—befell: for a
billet of wood crashed the jug to bits, cascading the deck with good
Medford. And, his hand paralyzed and tingling with the shock, Gascar
remained staring at the jug-handle still in his grip and at the flowing
rum on deck.

Howls of bitter rage broke from along the rail, and the rifles began
crackling. The men, cheated of their drink, were getting out of hand.

“Cease firing, you!” screamed Briggs. “You’ll fire when I command, and
not before. Mr. Bevans! Loaded again?”

“All loaded, sir. Say when!”

“Not yet! Lay a good aim on the proa. We’ve got to blow her out o’ the
water!”

“Aye, aye, sir!” And Bevans patted the rusty old piece. “Leave that to
me, sir!”

Briggs turned again to the struggling girl. A thin, evil smile drew
at his lips. His face, under its bronze of tan, burned with infernal
exultation.

“Now, my beauty,” he mocked, “now I’ll attend to you!”

For a moment he eyed Kuala Pahang. Under the clear, morning light, she
looked a strange and wild creature indeed—golden-yellow of tint, with
tangled black hair, and the eyes of a trapped tigress. Bruises wealed
her naked arms and shoulders, souvenirs of the captain’s club and fist.
Her supple body was hardly concealed by her short skirt and by the
tight Malay jacket binding her lithe waist and firm, young breast.

Briggs exulted over her, helpless and panting in the clutch of the two
foremast-hands. “To the rail with her!” he ordered.

“What you goin’ to do, sir?” asked one of the men, staring. “Heave her
over?”

Briggs menaced him with clenched fist.

“None o’ your damned business!” he shouted. “To the rail with her!
Jump, afore I teach you how!”

They dragged her, screeching, to the starboard rail. All the time they
had to hold those cat-clawed hands of hers. From side to side she flung
herself, fighting every foot of the way. Briggs put back his head and
laughed at the rare spectacle. Twice or thrice the sailors slipped in
blood and rum upon the planking, and once Kuala Pahang all but jerked
free from them. At the capstan, only the pistols of the three white
guards held her kinsmen back from making a stampede rush; and not
even the pistols could silence among them a menacing hum of rage that
seethed and bubbled.

“Here, you!” shouted Briggs. “Mahmud Baba, you yellow cur, come here!”

Mahmud loosed his hold on the capstan-bar and in great anguish
approached.

“Yas, sar?” whined he. The lean, brown form was trembling. The face had
gone a jaundiced color. “I come, sar.”

Briggs leveled his revolver at the Malay. Unmindful of the spattering
bullets, he spoke with deliberation.

“Son of a saffron dog,” said he, “you’re going to tell this wench
something for me!”

“Yas, sar. What piecee thing me tell?”

“You tell her that if the boats don’t go back to land I’ll heave her
over the rail. I’ll feed her to the sharks, by God! Alive, to the
sharks—sharks, down there! Savvy?”

“Me savvy.”

“And she’s got to shout that to the canoes! She’s got to shout it to
’em. Go on, now, tell her!”

Mahmud hesitated a moment, shuddered and grimaced. His eyes narrowed
to slits. The captain poked the revolver into his ribs. Mahmud
quivered. He fell into a sing-song patter of strange words with whining
intonations. Suddenly he ceased.

The girl listened, her gleaming eyes fixed on Mahmud’s face. A sudden
question issued from her bruised, cut lips.

“What’s she asking?” demanded Briggs.

“She ask where her mother, sar?”

“Tell her! Tell her I’ve shot the old she-devil to hell, and beyond!
Tell her she’ll get worse if she don’t make the canoes stand
off—worse, because the sharks will get her alive! Go on, you black
scut o’ misery, tell her!”

Mahmud spoke again. He flung a hand at the enveloping half-circle of
the war-fleet. The nearest boats now were moving hardly a quarter-mile
away. The gleam of krises and of spears twinkled in the sun. Little
smoke-puffs all along the battle-front kept pace with the popping of
gunfire. In the proa, oily brown devils were laboring to reload the
brass cannon.

Mahmud’s speech ended. The girl stiffened, with clenched hands. The
sailors, holding her wrists, could feel the whipcord tension of her
muscles.

“Tell her to shout to the proa there!” yelled the captain in white
fury. “Either they stand off or over she goes—and you see for yourself
there’s sharks enough!”

Again Mahmud spoke. The girl grunted a monosyllable.

“What’s that she says?” demanded Briggs.

“She say no, sar. She die, but she no tell her people.”

“The hell you say!” roared the captain. He seized her neck in a huge,
hairy paw, tightened his fingers till they bit into the yellow skin,
and shook her violently.

“I’ll break your damned, obstinate neck for you!” he cried, his face
distorted. “Tell your people to go back! Tell ’em!”

Mahmud translated the order. The girl only laughed. Briggs knew himself
beaten. In that sneering laugh of Kuala Pahang’s echoed a world of
maddening defiance. He loosened his hold, trying to think how he should
master her. Another man grunted, by the rail, and slid to the deck,
where a chance bullet had given him the long sleep.

Briggs whirled on Mahmud, squeezed his lean shoulder till the bones
bent.

“_You_ tell ’em!” he bellowed. “If she won’t, you will!”

“Me, sar?” whined the Malay, shivering and fear-sick to the inner
marrow. “Me tell so, they kill me!”

“If you don’t, _I_ will! Up with you now—both o’ you, up, on the rail!
Here, you men—up with ’em!”

They hoisted the girl, still impassive, to the rail, and held her
there. The firing almost immediately died away. Mahmud tried to grovel
at the captain’s feet, wailing to Allah and the Prophet. Briggs flung
him up, neck and crop. Mahmud grappled the after backstays and clung
there, quivering.

“Go on, now, out with it!” snarled Briggs, his pistol at the Malay’s
back. “And make it loud, or the sharks will get you, too!”

Mahmud raised a bony arm, howled words that drifted out over the
pearl-hued waters. Silence fell, along the ragged line of boats. In
the bow of the proa a figure stood up, naked, gleaming with oil in the
sunlight, which flicked a vivid, crimson spot of color from a nodding
feather head-dress.

Back to the _Silver Fleece_ floated a high-pitched question, fraught
with a heavy toll of life and death. Mahmud answered. The figure waved
a furious arm, and fire leaped from the brass cannon.

The shot went high, passing harmlessly over the clipper and
ricochetting beyond. But at the same instant a carefully laid rifle,
from a canoe, barked stridently. Mahmud coughed, crumpled and slid from
the rail. He dropped plumb; and the shoal waters, clear-green over the
bar, received him.

As he fell, Briggs struck the girl with a full drive of his trip-hammer
fist. The blow broke the sailors’ hold. It called no scream from Kuala
Pahang. She fell, writhing, plunged in foam, rose, and with splendid
energy struck out for the canoes.

Briggs leaned across the rail, as if no war-fleet had been lying in
easy shot; and with hard fingers tugging at his big, black beard,
watched the swimming girl, her lithe, yellow body gleaming through
the water. Watched, too, the swift cutting of the sharks’ fins toward
her—the darting, black forms—the grim tragedy in that sudden,
reddening whip of brine. Then he laughed, his teeth gleaming like
wolves’ teeth, as he heard her scream.

“Broke her silence at last, eh?” he sneered. “They got a yell out of
the she-dog, the sharks did, even if I couldn’t—eh?”

Along the rail, hard-bitten as the clipper’s men were, oaths broke out,
and mutterings. Work slackened at the capstan, and for the moment the
guards forgot to drive their lathering slaves there.

“Great God, captain!” sounded the doctor’s voice, as he looked up from
a wounded man. “You’ve murdered us all!”

Briggs only laughed again and looked to his pistol.

“They’re coming now, men,” said he coolly. To his ears the high and
rising tumult from the flotilla made music. The lust of war was in him.
For a moment he peered intently at the paddlemen once more bending to
their work; the brandished krises and long spears; the spattering of
bullets all along the water.

“Let ’em come!” he cried, laughing once more. “With hot lead and
boiling water and cold steel, I reckon we’re ready for ’em. Steady’s
the word, boys! They’re coming—give ’em hell!”



CHAPTER XI

HOME BOUND


Noon witnessed a strange scene in the Straits of Motomolo, a scene of
agony and death.

Over the surface of the strait, inborne by the tide, extended a broad
field of débris, of shattered planks, bamboos, platted sails.

In mid-scene, sunk on Ulu Salama bar only a few fathoms from where
the _Silver Fleece_ had lain, rested the dismantled wreck of the
proa. The unpitying sun flooded that wreck—what was left of it after
a powder-cask, fitted with fuse, had been hurled aboard by Captain
Briggs himself. No living man remained aboard. On the high stern still
projecting from the sea—the stern whence a thin waft of smoke still
rose against the sky—a few broken, yellow bodies lay half consumed by
fire, twisted and hideous.

Of the small canoes, not one remained. Such as had not been capsized
and broken up, had lamely paddled back to shore with the few Malays who
had survived the guns and cutlasses and brimming kettles of seething
water. Corpses lay awash. The sharks no longer quarreled for them.
Full-fed on the finest of eating, they hardly snouted at the remnants
of the feast.

So much, then, for the enemy. And the _Silver Fleece_—what of her?

A mile to seaward flying a few rags of canvas, the wounded clipper
was limping on, under a little slant of wind that gave her hardly
steerageway. Her kedge cable had been chopped, her mizzen-topmast was
down, and a raffle of spars, ropes and canvas littered her decks or
had brought down the awnings, that smoldered where the fire-arrows had
ignited them.

Her deck-houses showed the splintering effects of rifle and
cannon-fire. Here, there, lay empty pails and coppers that had held
boiling water. Along the rails and lying distorted on deck, dead men
and wounded—white, brown and yellow—were sprawling. And there were
wounds and mutilations and dead men still locked in grapples eloquent
of fury—a red shambles on the planks once so whitely holystoned.

The litter of knives, krises, cutlasses and firearms told the story;
told that some of the Malays had boarded the _Silver Fleece_ and that
none of these had got away.

The brassy noonday fervor, blazing from an unclouded sky, starkly
revealed every detail. On the heavy air a mingled odor of smoke and
blood drifted upward, as from a barbaric pyre to some unpitying and
sanguinary god—perhaps already to the avenging god that old Dengan
Jouga had called upon to curse the captain and his ship, “the Eyeless
Face that waits above and laughs.”

A doleful sound of groaning and cursing arose. Beside the
windlass—deserted now, with part of the Malays dead and part under
hatches—Gascar was feebly raising a hand to his bandaged head, as he
lay there on his back. His eyes, open and staring, seemed to question
the sun that cooked his bloodied face. A brown man, blind and aimless,
was crawling on slippery red hands and knees, amidships; and as he
crawled, he moaned monotonously. Two more, both white, were sitting
with their backs against the deck-house. Neither spoke. One was past
speech; the other, badly slashed about the shoulders, was groping in
his pockets for tobacco; and, finding none, was feebly cursing.

Bevans, leaning against the taffrail, was binding his right forearm
with strips torn from the shirt that hung on him in tatters. He was
swearing mechanically, in a sing-song voice, as the blood seeped
through each fresh turn of cotton.

From the fo’c’s’le was issuing a confused sound. At the wheel stood a
sailor, beside whom knelt the doctor. As this sailor grimly held the
wheel, Filhiol was bandaging his thigh.

“It’s the best I can do for you now, my man,” the doctor was saying.
“Others need me worse than you do.”

A laugh from the companionway jangled on this scene of agony. There
stood Alpheus Briggs, smearing his bearded lips with his hirsute
paw—for once again he had been at the liquor below. He blinked
about him, set both fists on his hips, and then flung an oath of
all-comprehensive execration at sea and sky and ship.

“Well, anyhow, by the holy Jeremiah,” he cried, with another laugh of
barbaric merriment, “I’ve taught those yellow devils one good lesson!”

A shocking figure the captain made. All at once Prass came up from
below and stood beside him. Mauled as Prass was, he seemed untouched
by comparison with Briggs. The captain’s presence affronted heaven and
earth, with its gross ugliness of rags and dirt and wounds, above which
his savage spirit seemed to rise indifferent, as if such trifles as
mutilations lay beneath notice.

Across the captain’s brow a gash oozed redly into his eye, puffy,
discolored. As he smeared his forehead, his arm knotted into hard
bunches. His hairy breast was slit with slashes, too; his mop of beard
had stiffened from a wound across his cheek. Nothing of his shirt
remained, save a few tatters dangling from his tightly-drawn belt. His
magnificent torso, muscled like an Atlas, was all grimed with sweat,
blood, dirt. Save for his boots, nothing of his clothing remained
intact; and the boots were sodden red.

Now as he stood there, peering out with his one serviceable eye under a
heavy, bushy brow, and chewing curses to himself, he looked a man, if
one ever breathed, unbeaten and unbeatable.

The captain’s voice gusted out raw and brutelike, along the shambles of
the deck.

“Hell of a thing, this is! And all along of a yellow wench. Devil roast
all women! An’ devil take the rotten, cowardly crew! If I’d had that
crew I went black-birding with up the Gold Coast, not one o’ those
hounds would have boarded us. But they didn’t get the she-dog back, did
they? It’s bad, bad, but might be worse, so help me!”

Again he laughed, with white teeth gleaming in his reddened beard, and
lurched out on deck. He peered about him. A brown body lay before him,
face upward, with grinning teeth. Briggs recognized the turtle-egg
seller, who had thrown the kris. With a foul oath he kicked the body.

“_You_ got paid off, anyhow,” he growled. “Now you and Scurlock can
fight it out together, in hell!”

He turned to the doctor, and limped along the deck.

“Doctor Filhiol!”

“Yes, sir?” answered the doctor, still busy with the man at the wheel.

“Make a short job o’ that, and get to work on those two by the
deck-house. We’ve got to muster all hands as quick as the Lord’ll let
us—got to get sail on her, an’ away. These damned Malays will be
worryin’ at our heels again, if we don’t.”

“Yes, sir,” said Filhiol, curtly. He made the bandage fast, took his
kit, and started forward. Briggs laid a detaining hand on his arm—a
hand that left a broad red stain on the rolled-up sleeve.

“Doctor,” said he, thickly, “we’ve got to stand together, now. There’s
a scant half-dozen men, here, able to pull a rope; and with them we’ve
got to make Singapore. Do your best, doctor—do your best!”

“I will, sir. But that includes cutting off your rum!”

The captain roared into boisterous laughter and slapped Filhiol on the
back.

“You’ll have to cut my throat first!” he ejaculated. “No, no; as long
as I’ve got a gullet to swallow with, and the rum lasts, I’ll lay to
it. Patch ’em up, doctor, an’ then—”

“You could do with a bit of patching, yourself.”

The captain waved him away.

“Scratches!” he cried. “Let the sun dry ’em up!” He shoved the doctor
forward, and followed him, kicking to right and left a ruck of weapons
and débris. Together the men advanced, stumbling over bodies.

“Patch those fellows up the best you can,” directed Briggs, gesturing
at the pair by the deck-house. “One of ’em, anyhow, may be some good.
We’ve got to save every man possible, now. Not that I love ’em,
God knows,” he added, swaying slightly as he stood there, with his
blood-stained hand upon the rail. “The yellow-bellied pups! We’ve
got to save ’em. Though if this was Singapore, I’d let ’em rot. At
Singapore, Lascars are plenty, and beach-combers you can get for a song
a dozen. Get to work now, sir, get to work!”

Life resumed something of order aboard the _Silver Fleece_, as she
wore slowly down Motomolo Strait. The few Malays of the crew, who
had survived the fight and had failed to make their escape with the
retreating forces, were for the present kept locked in the deck-house.
Briggs was taking no chances with another of the yellow dogs running
_amok_.

The number of hands who mustered for service, including Briggs, Wansley
and the doctor, was only nine. This remnant of a crew, as rapidly as
weak and wounded flesh could compass it, spread canvas and cleaned
ship. A grisly task that was, of sliding the remaining bodies over
the rail and of sluicing down the reddened decks with buckets of warm
seawater. More and more canvas filled—canvas cut and burned, yet still
holding wind enough to drive the clipper. The _Silver Fleece_ heeled
gracefully and gathered way.

Slowly the scene of battle drew astern, marked by the thin smoke still
rising from the wreckage of the proa. Slowly the haze-shrouded line of
shore grew dim. A crippled ship, bearing the dregs of a mutilated crew,
she left the vague, blue headland of Columpo Point to starboard, and
so—sorely broken but still alive—passed beyond all danger of pursuit.

And as land faded, Captain Alpheus Briggs, drunk, blood-stained,
swollen with malice and evil triumph, stood by the shattered taffrail,
peering back at the vanishing scene of one more battle in a life that
had been little save violence and sin. Freighted with fresh and heavy
crimes he exulted, laughing in his blood-thick beard. The tropic sun
beat down upon his face, bringing each wicked line to strong relief.

“Score one more for me,” he sneered, his hairy fists clenched hard.
“Hell’s got you now, witch-woman, an’ Scurlock an’ all the rest that
went against me. But I’m still on deck! They don’t stick on _me_,
curses don’t. And I’ll outlaugh that Eyeless Face—outlaugh it, by
God, and come again. And so to hell with that, too!”

He folded steel-muscled arms across his bleeding, sweating chest,
heaved a deep breath and gloried in his lawless strength.

“To hell with that!” he spat, once more. “I win—I always win! To hell
with everything that crosses me!”



CHAPTER XII

AT LONG WHARF


Four months from that red morning, the _Silver Fleece_ drew in past
Nix’s Mate and the low-buttressed islands in Boston Harbor, and with a
tug to ease her to her berth, made fast at Long Wharf.

All signs of the battle had long since been obliterated, overlaid by
other hardships, violences, evil deeds. Her bottom fouled by tropic
weed and barnacles that had accumulated in West Indian waters, her
canvas brown and patched, she came to rest. Of all the white men who
had sailed with her, nearly two years before, now remained only Captain
Briggs, Mr. Wansley, and the doctor. The others who had escaped the
fight had all died or deserted on the home-bound journey. One had
been caught by bubonic at Bombay, and two by beri-beri at Mowanga, on
the Ivory Coast; the others had taken French leave as occasion had
permitted.

Short-handed, with a rag-tag crew, the _Fleece_ made her berth. She
seemed innocent enough. The sickening stench of the slave cargo that
had burdened her from Mowanga to Cuba had been fumigated out of her,
and now she appeared only a legitimate trader. That she bore, deftly
hidden in secret places, a hundred boxes of raw opium, who could have
suspected?

As the hawsers were flung and the clipper creaked against the wharf,
there came to an end surely one of the worst voyages that ever an
American clipper-ship made. And this is saying a great deal. Those
were hard days—days when Massachusetts ships carried full cargoes of
Medford rum and Bibles to the West Coast, and came back as slavers,
with black ivory groaning and dying under hatches—days when the sharks
trailed all across the Atlantic, for the bodies of black men and
women—hard days and evil ways, indeed.

Very spruce and fine was Captain Briggs; very much content with life
and with the strength that in him lay, that excellent May morning, as
with firm stride and clear eye he walked up State Street, in Boston
Town. The wounds which would have killed a weaker man had long since
healed on him. Up from the water-front he walked, resplendent in his
best blue suit, and with a gold-braided cap on his crisp hair. His
black beard was carefully trimmed and combed; his bronzed, full-fleshed
face glowed with health and satisfaction; and the smoke of his cigar
drifted behind him on the morning air. As he went he hummed an ancient
chantey:

  “Oh, Sharlo Brown, I love your datter,
  Awa-a-ay, my rollin’ river!
  Oh, Sharlo Brown, I love your datter,
  Ah! Ah! We’re bound with awa-a-ay,
  ’Cross the wide Missouri!”

Past the ship-chandlers’ stores, where all manner of sea things lay in
the windows, he made his way, and past the marine brokers’ offices;
past the custom-house and up along the Old State House; and so he came
into Court Street and Court Square, hard by which, in a narrow, cobbled
lane, the Bell-in-Hand Tavern was awaiting him.

All the way along, shipmasters and seafaring folk nodded respectfully
to Alpheus Briggs, or touched their hats to him. But few men smiled.
His reputation of hard blows and harder dealings made men salute him.
But no man seized him by the hand, or haled him into any public house
to toast his safe return.

Under the dark doorway of the Bell-in-Hand—under the crude, wooden
fist that from colonial times, as even to-day, has held the gilded,
wooden bell—Briggs paused a moment, then entered the inn. His huge
bulk seemed almost to fill the dim, smoky, low-posted old place, its
walls behung with colored woodcuts of ships and with fine old sporting
prints. The captain raised a hand of greeting to Enoch Winch, the
publican, passed the time of day with him, and called for a pewter of
Four-X, to be served in the back room.

There he sat down in the half-gloom that seeped through the little
windows of heavily leaded bull’s-eye glass. He put his cap off, drew
deeply at his cigar, and sighed with vast content.

“Back home again,” he murmured. “A hell of a time I’ve had, and that’s
no lie. But I’m back home at last!”

His satisfaction was doubled by the arrival of the pewter of ale.
Briggs drank deeply of the cold brew, then dried his beard with a
handkerchief of purple silk. Not now did he smear his mouth with his
hand. This was a wholly other and more elegant Alpheus Briggs. Having
changed his latitude and raiment, he had likewise changed his manners.

He drained the pewter till light showed through the glass bottom—the
bottom reminiscent of old days when to accept a shilling from a
recruiting officer, even unaware, meant being pressed into the service;
for a shilling in an empty mug was held as proof of enlistment, unless
instantly detected and denied. Briggs smiled at memory of the trick.

“Clumsy stratagem,” he pondered, “We’re a bit slicker, to-day. In the
old days it took time to make a fortune. Now, a little boldness turns
the trick, just as I’ve turned it, this time!”

He rapped on the table for another pewter of Four-X. Stronger liquors
would better have suited his taste, but he had certain business still
to be carried out, and when ashore the captain never let drink take
precedence of business.

The second pewter put Captain Briggs in a reminiscent mood, wherein
memories of the stirring events of the voyage just ended mingled with
the comforting knowledge that he had much money in pocket and that
still more was bound to come, before that day’s end. As in a kind of
mental mirage, scenes arose before him—scenes of hardship and crime,
now in security by no means displeasing to recall.

The affair with the Malay war fleet had already been half-obliterated
by more recent violences. Briggs pondered on the sudden mutiny that
had broken out, ten days from Bombay, led by a Liverpool ruffian named
Quigley, who had tried to brain him with a piece of iron in a sock.
Briggs had simply flung him into the sea; then he had faced the others
with naked fists, and they had slunk away forward.

He and Wansley had later lashed them to the gangway and had given them
the cat to exhaustion. Briggs felt that he had come out of this affair
with honors. He took another draught of ale.

Beating up the West Coast, he recalled how he had punished a young
Irishman, McCune, whom he had shipped at Cape Town. McCune, from the
supposed security of the foretop-gallant yard, had cursed him for a
black-hearted bucko. Without parley, Briggs had run up the ratlines,
and had flung McCune to the deck. The man had lived only a few
minutes. Briggs nodded with satisfaction. He clenched his right fist,
hairy, corded, and turned it this way and that, glad of its power.
Greatly did he admire the resistless argument that lay in all its bones
and ligaments.

“There’s no man can talk back to _me_!” he growled. “No, by the Judas
priest!”

Now came less pleasing recollections. The slave cargo on the
west-bound voyage had been unusually heavy. Ironed wrist and ankle,
the blacks—men, women, children, purchased as a rather poor bargain
lot from an Arab trader—had lain packed in the hold. They had been
half starved when Briggs had loaded them, and the fever had already got
among them. The percentage of loss had been a bit too heavy. Some death
was legitimate, of course; but an excessive mortality meant loss.

The death rate had risen so high that Briggs had even considered
bringing some of the black ivory on deck, and increasing the ration.
But in the end he had decided to hold through, and trust luck to arrive
in Cuba with enough slaves to pay a good margin. Results had justified
his decision.

“I was right about that, too,” thought he. “Seems like I’m always
right—or else it’s gilt-edged luck!”

Yet, in spite of all, that voyage had left some disagreeable memories.
The reek and stifle of the hold, the groaning and crying of the
blacks—that no amount of punishment could silence—had vastly annoyed
the captain. The way in which his crew had stricken the shackles from
the dead and from those manifestly marked for death and had heaved them
overboard to the trailing sharks, had been only a trivial detail.

But the fact that Briggs’s own cabin had been invaded by vermin and by
noxious odors had greatly annoyed the captain. Not all Doctor Filhiol’s
burning of pungent substances in the cabin had been able to purify the
air. Briggs had cursed the fact that this most profitable trafficking
had involved such disagreeable concomitants, and had consoled himself
with much strong drink.

Then, too, a five-day blow, three hundred miles west of the Cape
Verdes, had killed off more than forty of his negroes and had made
conditions doubly intolerable. Once more he formulated thoughts in
words:

“Damn it! I might have done better to have scuttled her, off the
African coast, and have drawn down my share of the insurance money.
If I’d known what I was running into, that’s just what I _would_ have
done, so help me! I made a devilish good thing of it, that way, in the
old _White Cloud_ two years ago. And never was so much as questioned!”

He pondered a moment, frowning blackly.

“Maybe I did wrong, after all, to bring the _Fleece_ into port. But if
I hadn’t, I’d have had to sacrifice those hundred boxes of opium, that
will bring me a clear two hundred apiece, from Hendricks. So after all,
it’s all right. I’m satisfied.”

He drained the last of the Four-X, and carefully inspected his watch.

“Ten-fifteen,” said he. “And I’m to meet Hendricks at ten-thirty at the
Tremont House. I’ll hoist anchor and away.”

He paid his score with scrupulous exactness, for in such matters he
greatly prided himself on his honesty, lighted a fresh cigar, and
departed from the Bell-in-Hand.

Cigar in mouth, smoke trailing on the May morning, he made his way to
School Street and up it. A fine figure of a mariner he strode along,
erect, deep-chested, thewed and sinewed like a bull.

In under the columned portals of the old Tremont House—now long since
only a memory—he entered, to his rendezvous with Hendricks, furtive
buyer of the forbidden drug.

And as he vanishes beneath that granite doorway, for fifty years he
passes from our sight.



CHAPTER XIII

AFTER FIFTY YEARS


If you will add into one total all that is sunniest and most sheltered,
all that hangs heaviest with the perfume of old-fashioned New England
gardens, all that most cozily combines in an old-time sailor’s home,
you will form a picture of Snug Haven, demesne of Captain Alpheus
Briggs, long years retired.

Snug Haven, with gray-shingled walls, with massive chimney stacks
projecting from its weather-beaten, gambreled roof, seemed to epitomize
rest after labor, peace after strife.

From its broad piazza, with morning-glory-covered pillars, a
splendid view opened of sea and shore and foam-ringed islets in the
harbor of South Endicutt—a view commanding kelp-strewn foreshore,
rock-buttressed headlands, sun-spangled cobalt of the bay; and then the
white, far tower of Truxbury Light, and then the hazed and brooding
mystery of open Atlantic.

Behind the cottage rose Croft Hill, sweet with ferns, with bayberries
and wild roses crowding in among the lichen-crusted boulders and ribbed
ledges, where gnarly, ancient apple-trees and silver birches clung.
Atop the hill, a wall of mossy stones divided the living from the
dead; for there the cemetery lay, its simple monuments and old, gray
headstones of carven slate bearing some family names that have loomed
big in history.

Along the prim box-hedge of Captain Briggs’s front garden, the village
street extended. Wandering irregularly with the broken shore line, it
led past time-grayed dwellings, past the schoolhouse and the white,
square-steepled church, to the lobstermen’s huts, the storehouses and
wharves, interspersed with “fish-flakes” that blent pungent marine
odors with the fresh tang of the sea.

Old Mother Nature did her best, all along that street and in the
captain’s garden, to soften those sometimes insistent odors, with her
own perfumes of asters and petunias, nasturtiums, dahlias, sweet fern,
and fresh, revivifying caresses of poplar, elm and pine, of sumac,
buttonwood and willow.

With certain westerly breezes—breezes that bore to Snug Haven the sad,
slow chant of the whistling buoy on Graves Shoal and the tolling of the
bell buoy on the Shallows—oakum and tar, pitch, salt and fish had the
best of it in South Endicutt. But with a shift to landward, apple-tree,
mignonette and phlox and other blooms marshalled victorious essences;
and the little village by the lip of the sea grew sweet and warm as the
breast of a young girl who dreams.

The afternoon on which Captain Alpheus Briggs once more comes to our
sight—the 24th of June, 1918—was just one of those drowsy, perfumed
afternoons, when the long roar of the breakers over Dry Shingle Reef
seemed part of the secrets the breeze was whispering among the pine
needles on Croft Hill, and when the droning of the captain’s bees,
among his spotted tiger-lilies, his sweet peas, cannas and hydrangeas,
seemed conspiring with the sun-drenched warmth of the old-fashioned
garden to lull man’s spirit into rest and soothe life’s fever with
nepenthe.

Basking in the sunlight of his piazza, at ease in a broad-armed rocker
by a wicker table, the old captain appeared mightily content with life.
Beside him lay a wiry-haired Airedale, seemingly asleep yet with one
eye ready to cock open at the captain’s slightest move. A blue cap,
gold-braided, hung atop one of the uprights of the rocking-chair; the
captain’s bushy hair, still thick, though now spun silver, contrasted
with his deep-lined face, tanned brown. Glad expectancy showed in his
deep-set eyes, clear blue as they had been full fifty years ago, eyes
under bushy brows that, once black, now matched the silver of his hair.

White, too, his beard had grown. Once in a while he stroked it,
nervously, with a strong, corded hand that seemed, as his whole,
square-knit body seemed, almost as vigorous as in the long ago—the
half-forgotten, wholly repented long ago of violence and evil ways.
Not yet had senility laid its clutch upon Alpheus Briggs. Wrinkles had
come, and a certain stooping of the powerful shoulders; but the old
captain’s blue coat with its brass buttons still covered a body of iron
strength.

The telescope across his knees was no more trim than he. Carefully
tended beard, well-brushed coat and polished boots all proclaimed
Alpheus Briggs a proud old man. Though the soul of him had utterly
changed, still Captain Briggs held true to type. In him no laxity
inhered, no falling away from the strict tenets of shipshape neatness.

The captain appeared to be waiting for something. Once in a while he
raised the telescope and directed it toward the far blue sheet of the
outer harbor, where the headland of Pigeon Cliff thrust itself against
the gray-green of the ship channel, swimming in a distant set of haze.
Eagerly he explored the prospect, letting his glass rest on white lines
of gulls that covered the tide-bars, on the whiter lines of foam over
the reef, on the catboats and dories, the rusty coasting steamers and
clumsy coal-barges near or far away. With care he sought among the
tawny sails; and as each schooner tacked, its canvas now sunlit, now
umber in shade, the captain’s gaze seemed questioning: “Are you the
craft I seek?”

The answer came always negative. With patience, Captain Briggs lowered
his glass again and resumed his vigil.

“No use getting uneasy,” said he, at last; and brought out pipe and
tobacco from the pocket of his square-cut jacket. “It won’t bring him a
bit sooner. He wrote me he’d be here sometime to-day, and that means he
surely will be. He’s a Briggs. What he says he’ll do he _will_ do. No
Briggs ever breaks a promise, and Hal is all clear Briggs, from truck
to keelson!”

Waiting, pondering, the old man let his eyes wander over the Snug Haven
of his last years; the place where he could keep contact with sunshine
and seashine, with the salt breeze and the bite of old ocean, yet where
comfort and peace profound could all be his.

A pleasant domain it was, and in all its arrangements eloquent of
the old captain. There life had been very kind to him, and there his
darkest moments of bereavement had been fought through, survived.
Thither, more than five-and-forty years ago, he had brought the young
wife whose love had turned his heart from evil ways and set his feet
upon the better path from which, nearly half a century, they had not
strayed.

In the upper front room his only son, Edward, had been born; and from
the door, close at hand, he had followed the coffins that had taken
away from him the three beings about whom, successively, the tendrils
of his affection had clung.

First, the hand of death had closed upon his wife; but, profound as
that loss had been, it had left to him his son. In this same house,
that son had grown to manhood, and had himself taken a wife; and so
for a few years there had been happiness again.

But not for long. The birth of Hal, the old man’s grandson, had cost
the life of Hal’s mother, a daughter-in-law whom Captain Briggs had
loved like his own flesh and blood; and, two years after, tragedy had
once more entered Snug Haven. Edward Briggs, on his first voyage as
master of a ship—a granite-schooner, between Rockport and Boston—had
fallen victim of a breaking derrick-rope. The granite lintel that had
crushed the body of the old captain’s son had fallen also upon the
captain’s heart. Long after the grass had grown upon that third grave
in the Briggs burial lot, up there on the hill overlooking the shining
harbor, the old man had lived as in a dream.

Then, gradually, the fingers of little Hal, fumbling at the latchets of
the old man’s heart, had in some miraculous way of their own that only
childish fingers possess, opened that crushed and broken doorway; and
Hal had entered in, and once more life had smiled upon the captain.

After even the last leaves of autumn have fallen, sometimes wonderful
days still for a little while warm the dying world and make men glad.
Thus, with the captain. He had seemed to lose everything; and yet,
after all, Indian summer still had waited for him. In the declining
years, Hal had become his sunshine and his warmth, once more to expand
his soul, once more to bid him love. And he had loved, completely,
blindly, concentrating upon the boy, the last remaining hope of his
family, an affection so intense that more than once the child, hurt
by the fierce grip of the old man’s arms, had cried aloud in pain and
fright. Whereat the captain, swiftly penitent, had kissed and fondled
him, sung brave sea chanteys to him, taught him wondrous miracles of
splicing and weaving, or had fashioned boats and little guns, and so
had brought young Hal to worship him as a child will when a man comes
to his plane and is another, larger child with him.

Life would have ceased to hold any purpose or meaning for the captain,
had it not been for Hal. The boy, wonderfully strong, had soon begun to
absorb so much of the captain’s affection that the wounds in his heart
had ceased to bleed, and that his pain had given place to a kind of
dumb acquiescence. And after the shock of the final loss had somewhat
passed life had taken root again, in Snug Haven.

Hal had thriven mightily in the sea air. Body and mind, he had
developed at a wonderful pace. He had soon grown so handsome that even
his occasional childish fits of temper—quite extraordinary fits, of
strange violence, though brief—had been forgiven by every one. He had
needed but to smile to be absolved.

Life had been, for the boy, all “a wonder and a wild desire.” The
shadow of death had not been able to darken it. Before very long he
had come to care little for any human relationship save with his
grandfather. But the captain, proud of race, had often spoken to him
of his father and his mother, or, leading Hal by the hand, had trudged
up the well-worn path to the cemetery on the hill, to show the boy the
well-kept graves.

So Hal had grown up. Shore and sea and sky had all combined to develop
him. School and play, and all the wonders of cliff, beach, tide, and
storm, of dories, nets, tackle, ships, and sea-things had filled both
mind and body with unusual vigor.

The captain had told Hal endless tales of travel, had taught him an
infinite number of sea-marvels. Before Hal had reached ten years, he
had come to know every rope and spar of many rigs.

At twelve, he had built a dory; and, two years later with the captain’s
help, a catboat, in which he and the old man had sailed in all
weathers. If there were any tricks of navigation that the boy did not
learn, or anything about the mysterious doings of the sea, it was only
because the captain himself fell short of complete knowledge.

In everything the captain had indulged him. Yet even though he had
never inflicted punishment, and even though young Hal had grown up to
have pretty much his own way, the captain had denied spoiling him.

“Only poor material will spoil,” he had always said. “You can’t spoil
the genuine, thoroughbred stuff. No, nor break it, either. I know what
I’m doing. Whose business is it, but my own?”

Sharing a thousand interests in common with Hal, the captain’s love
and hope had burned ever higher and more steadily. As the violent and
grief-stricken past had faded gradually into a vague melancholy, the
future had seemed beckoning with ever clearer cheer. The captain had
come to have dreams of some day seeing Hal master of the biggest ship
afloat. He had formed a hundred plans and dreamed a thousand dreams,
all more or less enwoven with the sea. And though Hal, when he had
finished school and had entered college, had begun to show strange
aptitude for languages—especially the Oriental tongues—still the old
man had never quite abandoned hope that some day the grandson might
stand as captain on the bridge of a tall liner.

For many years another influence had had its part in molding Hal—the
influence of Ezra Trefethen, whereof now a word or two. Ezra, good
soul, had lived at Snug Haven ever since Hal’s birth, less as a servant
than as a member of the household. Once he had cooked for the captain,
on a voyage out to Japan. His simple philosophy and loyalty, as well as
his exceeding skill with saucepans, had greatly attached the captain
to him—this being, you understand, in the period after the captain’s
marriage had made of him another and a better man.

When Hal’s mother had died, the captain had given Ezra dominion over
the “galley” at Snug Haven, a dominion which had gradually extended
itself to the whole house and garden, and even to the upbringing of the
boy.

Together, in a hit-or-miss way that had scandalized the good wives of
South Endicutt, Briggs and Trefethen had reared little Hal. The captain
had given no heed to hints that he needed a house-keeper or a second
wife. Trefethen had been a powerful helper with the boy. Deft with the
needle, he had sewed for Hal. He had taught him to keep his little
room—his little “first mate’s cabin,” as he had always called it—very
shipshape. And he had taught him sea lore, too; and at times when the
captain had been abroad on the great waters, had taken complete charge
of the fast-growing lad.

Thus the captain had been ever more and more warmly drawn towards Ezra.
The simple old fellow had followed the body of the captain’s son up
there to the grave on the hill, and had wept sincerely in the captain’s
sorrow. Together, Briggs and Ezra had kept the cemetery lot in order.
Evenings without number, after little Hal had been tucked into bed, the
two ageing men had sat and smoked together.

Almost as partners in a wondrous enterprise, they two had watched Hal
grow. Ezra had been just as proud as the captain himself, when the
sturdy, black-haired, blue-eyed boy had entered high school and had won
his place at football and on the running-track. When “Hal” had become
“Master Hal,” for him, on the boy’s entering college, the old servitor
had come to look upon him with something of awe, for now Hal’s studies
had lifted him beyond all possible understanding. Old Ezra had thrilled
with pride as real and as proprietary as any Captain Briggs had felt.

Thus, the belovèd idol of the two indulgent old sea-dogs, Hal had grown
up.



CHAPTER XIV

A VISITOR FROM THE LONG AGO


As the captain sat there expectantly on the piazza, telescope across
his knees, dog by his side, a step sounded in the hallway of Snug
Haven, and out issued Ezra, blinking in the sunshine, screwing up his
leathery, shrewd, humorous face, and from under a thin palm squinting
across the harbor.

“Ain’t sighted him yit, cap’n?” demanded he, in a cracked voice. “It’s
past six bells o’ the aft’noon watch. You’d oughta be sightin’ him
pretty soon, now, seems like.”

“I think so, too,” the captain answered. “He wrote they’d leave Boston
this morning early. Seems as if they should have made Endicutt Harbor
by now.”

“Right, cap’n. But don’t you worry none. They can’t of fell foul o’
nothin’. Master Hall, he’s an A1 man. He’ll make port afore night,
cap’n, never you fear. He’s _gotta_! Ain’t I got a leg o’ lamb on to
roast, an’ ain’t I made his favorite plum-cake with butter-an’-sugar
sauce? Aye, he’ll tie up at Snug Haven afore sundown, never you fear!”

The captain only grunted; and old Trefethen, after careful but
fruitless examination of the harbor, went back into the house again,
very much like those figures on toy barometers that come out in good
weather and retire in bad.

Left alone once more, the captain drew deeply at his pipe and glanced
with satisfaction at his cozy domain. A pleasant place it was,
indeed, and trimly eloquent of the hand of an old seafaring man. The
precision wherewith the hedge was cut, the whitewashed spotlessness
of the front gate—a gate on the “port” post of which was fastened a
red ship’s-lantern, with a green one on the “starboard”—and even the
sanded walks, edged with conch-shells, all spelled “shipshape.”

Trailing woodbine covered the fences to right and left, and along these
fences grew thrifty berry bushes. Apple-trees, whereon green buttons of
fruit had already set, shaded the lawn, interspersed with flower-beds
edged with whitewashed rocks—flower-beds bright with hollyhocks,
peonies and poppies.

Back of the house a vegetable-garden gave promise of great increase;
and in the hen-yard White Leghorns and Buff Orpingtons pursued the
vocations of all well-disposed poultry. A Holstein cow, knee-deep in
daisies on the gentle hill-slope behind Snug Haven, formed part of the
household; and last of all came the bees, denizens of six hives not far
from the elm-shaded well.

But the captain’s special pride centered in the gleaming white
flagpole, planted midway of the front lawn—a pole from which flew
the Stars and Stripes, together with a big blue house-flag bearing a
huge “B” of spotless white. This flag and a little cannon of gleaming
brass, from which on every holiday the captain fired a salute, formed
his chief treasures; by which token you shall read the heart of the old
man, and see that, for all his faring up and down the world, a certain
curious simplicity had at the end developed itself in him.

Thus that June afternoon, sitting in state amid his possessions, the
captain waited. Waited, dressed in his very best, for the homecoming
of the boy on whom was concentrated all the affection of a nature now
powerful to love, as in the old and evil days it had been violent to
hate. His face, as he sat there, was virile, patriarchal, dignified
with that calm nobility of days when old age is “frosty but kindly.”
With placid interest he watched a robin on the lawn, and listened to
the chickadees’ piping monotone in the huge maple by the gate. Those
notes seemed to blend with the metallic music of hammer and anvil
somewhere down the village street. _Tunk-tunk! Clink-clank-clink!_ sang
the hammer from the shop of Peter Trumett, as Peter forged new links
for the anchor-chain of the _Lucy Bell_, now in port for repairs. Then
a voice, greeting the captain from the rock-nubbled roadway, drew the
old man’s gaze.

“How do, cap’n?” called a man from the top of a slow-moving load of
kelp. “I’m goin’ up-along. Anythin’ I kin do fer you?”

“Nothing, Jacob,” answered Briggs. “Thank you, just the same. Oh,
Jacob! Wait a minute!”

“Hoa, _s-h-h-h-h_!” commanded the kelp-gatherer. “What is it, cap’n?”

The old man arose, placed his telescope carefully in the rocking-chair,
and slowly walked down toward the gate. The Airedale followed close.
The dog’s rusty-brown muzzle touched the captain’s hand. Briggs fondled
the animal and smiling said:

“I’m not going to leave you, Ruddy. None of us can go anywhere to-day.
Hal’s coming home. Know that? We mustn’t be away when he comes!” The
captain advanced once more. Half-way down the walk he paused, picked
up a snail that had crawled out upon the distressful sand. He dropped
the snail into the sheltering grass and went forward again. At the gate
he stopped, leaned his crossed arms on the clean top-board, and for a
moment peered at Jacob perched on the load of kelp that overflowed the
time-worn, two-wheeled cart.

“What is it, cap’n?” Jacob queried. “Somethin’ I kin do fer you?”

“No, nothing you can do for me, but something you can do for Uncle
Everett and for yourself, if you will.”

At sound of that name the kelp-gatherer stiffened with sudden
resentment.

“Nothin’ fer him, cap’n!” he ejaculated. “He’s been accommodatin’ as
a hog on ice to me, an’ the case is goin’ through. Nothin’ at all fer
that damned—”

“Wait! Hold on, Jacob!” the old man pleaded, raising his hand. “You
can’t gain anything by violence and hate. I know you think he’s injured
you grievously. He thinks the same of you. In his heart I know he’s
sorry. You and he were friends for thirty years till this petty little
quarrel came up. Jacob, is the whole boat worth cutting the cables of
good understanding and letting yourselves drift on the reefs of hate?
Is it, now?”

“You been talkin’ with him ’bout me?” demanded Jacob irefully.

“Well, maybe I have said a few words to Uncle Everett,” admitted the
captain. “Uncle’s willing to go half-way to meet you.”

“He’ll meet me nowheres ’cept in the court-room down to ’Sconset!”
retorted Jacob with heat. “He done me a smart trick that time. I’ll
rimrack _him_!”

“We’ve all done smart tricks one time or another,” soothed the old
captain. The sun through the arching elms flecked his white hair with
moving bits of light; it narrowed the keen, earnest eyes of blue.
“That’s human. It’s better than human to be sorry and to make peace
with your neighbor. Uncle Everett’s not a bad man at heart, any more
than you are. Half a dozen words from you would caulk up the leaking
hull of your friendship. You’re not going to go on hating uncle, are
you, when you _could_ shake hands with him and be friends?”

“Oh, ain’t I, huh?” demanded Jacob. “Why ain’t I?”

“Because you’re a man and can think!” the captain smiled. “Harkness and
Bill Dodge were bitter as gall six months ago, and Giles was ready to
cut Burnett’s heart out, but I found they were human, after all.”

“Yes, but they ain’t _me_!”

“Are you less a man than they were?”

“H-m! H-m!” grunted Jacob, floored. “I—I reckon not. Why?”

“I’ve got nothing more to say for now,” the captain answered. “Good-by,
Jacob!”

The kelp-gatherer pushed back his straw hat, scratched his head, spat,
and then broke out:

“Mebbe it’d be cheaper, after all, to settle out o’ court rather ’n’ to
law uncle. But shakin’ hands, an’ bein’ neighbors with that—that—”

“Good day, Jacob!” the captain repeated. “One thing at a time. And if
you come up-along to-morrow, lay alongside, and have another gam with
me, will you?”

To this Jacob made no answer, but slapped his reins on the lean withers
of his horse. Creakingly the load of seaweed moved away, with Jacob
atop, rather dazed. The captain remained there at the gate, peering
after him with a smile, kindly yet shrewd.

“Just like the others,” he murmured. “Can’t make port all on one tack.
Got to watch the wind, and wear about and make it when you can. But if
I know human nature, a month from to-day Jacob Plummer will be smoking
his pipe down at Uncle Everett’s sail-loft.”

The sound of piping voices, beyond the blacksmith-shop, drew the old
captain’s attention thither. He assumed a certain expectancy. Into the
pocket of his square-cut blue jacket he slid a hand. Along the street
he peered—the narrow, rambling street sheltered by great elms through
which, here and there, a glint of sunlit harbor shimmered blue.

He had not long to wait. Round the bend by the smithy two or three
children appeared; and after these came others, with a bright-haired
girl of twenty or thereabout. The children had school-bags or bundles
of books tightly strapped. Keeping pace with the teacher a little girl
on either side held her hands. You could not fail to see the teacher’s
smile, as wholesome, fresh and winning as that June day itself.

At sight of the captain the boys in the group set up a joyful shout and
some broke into a run.

“Hey, lookit! There’s cap’n!” rose exultant cries. “There’s Cap’n
Briggs!”

Then the little girls came running, too; and all the children captured
him by storm. Excited, the Airedale set up a clamorous barking.

The riot ended only when the captain had been despoiled of the
peppermints he had provided for such contingencies. Meanwhile the
teacher, as trimly pretty a figure as you could meet in many a day’s
journeying, was standing by the gate, and with a little heightened
flush of color was casting a look or two, as of expectancy, up at Snug
Haven.

The old captain, smiling, shook his head.

“Not yet, Laura,” he whispered. “He’ll be here before night, though.
You’re going to let me keep him a few minutes, aren’t you, before
taking him away from me?”

She found no answer. Something about the captain’s smile seemed to
disconcert her. A warm flush crept from her throat to her thickly
coiled, lustrous hair. Then she passed on, down the shaded street; and
as the captain peered after her, still surrounded by the children, a
little moisture blurred his eyes.

“God has been very good to me in spite of all!” he murmured. “Very,
very good, and ‘the best is yet to be’!”

He turned and was about to start back toward the house when the
_cloppa-cloppa-clop_ of hoofs along the street arrested his
attention. Coming into view, past Laura and her group of scholars, an
old-fashioned buggy, drawn by a horse of ripe years, was bearing down
toward Snug Haven.

In the buggy sat an old, old man, wizen and bent. With an effort he
reined in the aged horse. The captain heard his cracked tones on the
still afternoon air:

“Pardon me, but can you tell me where Captain Briggs lives—Captain
Alpheus Briggs?”

A babel of childish voices and the pointing of numerous fingers
obliterated any information Laura tried to give. The old man, with
thanks, clucked to his horse, and so the buggy came along once more to
the front gate of Snug Haven. There it stopped.

Out of it bent a feeble, shrunken figure, with flaccid skin on
deep-lined face, with blinking eyes behind big spectacles.

“Is that you, captain?” asked a shaking voice that pierced to
the captain’s heart with a stab of poignant recollection. “Oh,
Captain—Captain Briggs—is that you?”

The captain, turning pale, steadied himself by gripping at the
whitewashed gate. For a moment his staring eyes met the eyes of the
old, withered man in the buggy. Then, in strange, husky tones he cried:

“God above! It—it can’t be you, doctor? It can’t be—Dr. Filhiol?”



CHAPTER XV

TWO OLD MEN


“Yes, yes, it’s Dr. Filhiol!” the little old man made answer. “I’m
Filhiol. And you—Yes, I’d know you anywhere. Captain Alpheus Briggs,
so help me!”

He took up a heavy walking-stick, and started to clamber down out of
the buggy. Captain Briggs, flinging open the gate, reached him just in
time to keep him from collapsing in the road, for the doctor’s feeble
strength was all exhausted with the long journey he had made to South
Endicutt, with the drive from the station five miles away, and with the
nervous shock of once more seeing a man on whom, in fifty years, his
eyes had never rested.

“Steady, doctor, steady!” the captain admonished with a stout arm about
him. “There, there now, steady does it!”

“You—you’ll have to excuse me, captain, for seeming so unmanly weak,”
the doctor proffered shakily. “But I’ve come a long way to see you,
and it’s such a hot day—and all. My legs are cramped, too. I’m not
what I used to be, captain. None of us are, you know, when we pass the
eightieth milestone!”

“None of us are what we used to be; right for you, doctor,” the captain
answered with deeper meaning than on the surface of his words appeared.
“You needn’t apologize for being a bit racked in the hull. Every
craft’s seams open up a bit at times. I understand.”

He tightened his arm about the shrunken body, and with compassion
looked upon the man who once had trod his deck so strongly and so
well. “Come along o’ me, now. Up to Snug Haven, doctor. There’s good
rocking-chairs on the piazza and a good little drop of something to
take the kinks out. The best of timber needs a little caulking now and
then. Good Lord above! Dr. Filhiol again—after fifty years!”

“Yes, that’s correct—after fifty years,” the doctor answered.
“Here, let me look at you a moment!” He peered at Briggs through his
heavy-lensed spectacles. “It’s you all right, captain. You’ve changed,
of course. You were a bull of a man in those days, and your hair was
black as black;—but still you’re the same. I—well, I wish I could say
that about myself!”

“Nonsense!” the captain boomed, drawing him toward the gate. “Wait till
you’ve got a little tonic under your hatches, ’midships. Wait till
you’ve spliced the main brace a couple of times!”

“The horse!” exclaimed Filhiol, bracing himself with his stout cane. He
peered anxiously at the animal. “I hired him at the station, and if he
should run away and break anything—”

“I’ll have Ezra go aboard that craft and pilot it into port,” the
captain reassured him. “We won’t let it go on the rocks. Ezra, he’s my
chief cook and bottle-washer. He can handle that cruiser of yours O.
K.” The captain’s eyes twinkled as he looked at the dejected animal.
“Come along o’ me, doctor. Up to the quarterdeck with you, now!”

Half-supported by the captain, old Dr. Filhiol limped up the
white-sanded path. As he went, as if in a kind of daze he kept
murmuring:

“Captain Briggs again! Who’d have thought I could really find him? Half
a century—a lifetime—Captain Alpheus Briggs!”

“Ezra! Oh, Ezra!” the captain hailed. Carefully he helped the aged
doctor up the steps. Very feebly the doctor crept up; his cane clumped
hollowly on the boards. Ezra appeared.

“Aye, aye, sir?” he queried, a look of wonder on his long, thin face.
“What’s orders, sir?”

“An old-time friend of mine has come to visit me, Ezra. It’s Dr.
Filhiol, that used to sail with me, way back in the ’60’s. I’ve got
some of his fancy-work stitches in my leg this minute. A great man he
was with the cutting and stitching; none better. I want you men to
shake hands.”

Ezra advanced, admiration shining from his honest features. Any man who
had been a friend of his captain, especially a man who had embroidered
his captain’s leg, was already taken to the bosom of his affections.

“Doctor,” said the captain, “this is Ezra Trefethen. When you get some
of the grub from his galley aboard you, you’ll be ready to ship again
for Timbuctoo.”

“I’m very glad to know you, Ezra,” the doctor said, putting out his
left hand—the right, gnarled and veinous, still gripped his cane.
“Yes, yes, we were old-time shipmates, Captain Briggs and I.” His voice
broke pipingly, “turning again toward childish treble,” so that pity
and sorrow pierced the heart of Alpheus Briggs. “It’s been a sad, long
time since we’ve met. And now, can I get you to look out for my horse?
If he should run away and hurt anybody, I’m sure that would be very
bad.”

“Righto!” Ezra answered, his face assuming an air of high seriousness
as he observed the aged animal half asleep by the gate, head hanging,
spavined knees bent. “I’ll steer him to safe moorin’s fer you, sir. We
got jest the handiest dock in the world fer him, up the back lane. He
won’t git away from _me_, sir, never you fear.”

“Thank you, Ezra,” the doctor answered, much relieved. The captain
eased him into a rocker, by the table. “There, that’s better. You see,
captain, I’m a bit done up. It always tires me to ride on a train; and
then, too, the drive from the station was exhausting. I’m not used to
driving, you know, and—”

“I know, I know,” Briggs interrupted. “Just sit you there, doctor, and
keep right still. I’ll be back in half a twinkling.”

And, satisfied that the doctor was all safe and sound, he stumped into
the house; while Ezra whistled to the dog and strode away to go aboard
the buggy as navigating officer of that sorry equipage.

Even before Ezra had safely berthed the horse in the stable up the
lane, bordered with sweetbrier and sumacs, Captain Briggs returned
with a tray, whereon was a bottle of his very best Jamaica, now kept
exclusively for sickness or a cold, or, it might be, for some rare and
special guest. The Jamaica was flanked with a little jug of water, with
glasses, lemons, sugar. At sight of it the doctor left off brushing his
coat, all powdered with the gray rock-dust of the Massachusetts north
shore, and smiled with sunken lips.

“I couldn’t have prescribed better, myself,” said he.

“Correct, sir,” agreed the captain. He set the tray on the piazza
table. “I don’t hardly ever touch grog any more. But it’s got its uses,
now and then. You need a stiff drink, doctor, and I’m going to join
you, for old times’ sake. Surely there’s no sin in that, after half a
century that we haven’t laid eyes on one another!”

Speaking, he was at work on the manufacture of a brace of drinks.

“It’s my rule not to touch it,” he added. “But I’ve got to make an
exception to-day. Sugar, sir? Lemon? All O. K., then. Well, doctor,
here goes. Here’s to—to—”

“To fifty years of life!” the doctor exclaimed. He stood up, raising
the glass that Briggs had given him. His eye cleared; for a moment his
aged hand held firm.

“To fifty years!” the captain echoed. And so the glasses clinked, and
so they drank that toast, bottoms-up, those two old men so different in
the long ago, so very different now.

When Filhiol had resumed his seat, the captain drew a chair up close to
him, both facing the sea. Through the doctor’s spent tissues a little
warmth began to diffuse itself. But still he found nothing to say;
nor, for a minute or two, did the captain. A little silence, strangely
awkward, drew itself between them, now that the first stimulus of the
meeting had spent itself. Where, indeed, should they begin to knit up
so vast a chasm?

Each man gazed on the other, trying to find some word that might be
fitting, but each muted by the dead weight of half a century. Filhiol,
the more resourceful of wit, was first to speak.

“Yes, captain, we’ve both changed, though you’ve held your own better
than I have. I’ve had a great deal of sickness. And I’m an older man
than you, besides. I’ll be eighty-four, sir, if I live till the 16th
of next October. A man’s done for at that age. And you’ve had every
advantage over me in strength and constitution. I was only an average
man, at best. You were a Hercules, and even to-day you look as if you
might be a pretty formidable antagonist. In a way, I’ve done better
than most, captain. Yes, I’ve done well in my way,” he repeated.
“Still, I’m not the man you are to-day. That’s plain to be seen.”

“We aren’t going to talk about that, doctor,” the captain interposed,
his voice soothing, as he laid a strong hand on the withered one of
Filhiol, holding the arm of the rocker. “Let all that pass. I’m laying
at anchor in a sheltered harbor here. What breeze bore you news of me?
Tell me that, and tell me what you’ve been doing all this time. What
kind of a voyage have you made of life? And where are you berthed, and
what cargo of this world’s goods have you got in your lockers?”

“Tell me about yourself, first, captain. You have a jewel of a place
here. What else? Wife, family, all that?”

“I’ll tell you, after you’ve answered my questions,” the captain
insisted. “You’re aboard my craft, here, sitting on my decks, and so
you’ve got to talk first. Come, come, doctor—let’s have your log!”

Thus urged, Filhiol began to speak. With some digressions, yet in the
main clearly enough and even at times with a certain dry humor that
distantly recalled his mental acuity of the long ago, he outlined his
life-story.

Briefly he told of his retirement from the sea, following a wreck off
the coast of Chile, in 1876—a wreck in which he had taken damage from
which he had never fully recovered—and narrated his establishing
himself in practice in New York. Later he had had to give up the
struggle there, and had gone up into a New Hampshire village, where
life, though poor, had been comparatively easy.

Five years ago he had retired, with a few hundred dollars of pitiful
savings, and had bought his way into the Physicians’ and Surgeons’
Home, at Salem, Massachusetts. He had never married; had never known
the love of a wife, nor the kiss of children. His whole life, the
captain could see, had been given unhesitatingly to the service of his
fellow-men. And now mankind, when old age had paralyzed his skill, was
passing him by, as if he had been no more than a broken-up wreck on the
shores of the sea of human existence.

Briggs watched the old man with pity that this once trim and active
man should have faded to so bloodless a shadow of his former self.
Close-shaven the doctor still was, and not without a certain neatness
in his dress, despite its poverty; but his bent shoulders, his baggy
skin, the blinking of his eyes all told the tragedy of life that fades.

With a pathetic moistening of the eyes, the doctor spoke of this
inevitable decay; and with a heartfelt wish that death might have laid
its summons on him while still in active service, turned to a few words
of explanation as to how he had come to have news again of Captain
Briggs.

Chance had brought him word of the captain. A new attendant at the home
had mentioned the name Briggs; and memories had stirred, and questions
had very soon brought out the fact that it was really Captain Alpheus
Briggs, who now was living at South Endicutt. The attendant had told
him something more—and here the doctor hesitated, feeling for words.

“Yes, yes, I understand,” said Briggs. “You needn’t be afraid to speak
it right out. It’s true, doctor. I _have_ changed. God knows I’ve
suffered enough, these long years, trying to forget what kind of a
man I started out to be; trying to forget, and not always able to.
If repentance and trying to sail a straight course now can wipe out
that score, maybe it’s partly gone. I hope so, anyhow; I’ve done my
best—no man can do more than that, now, can he?”

“I don’t see how he can,” answered the doctor slowly.

“He can’t,” said the captain with conviction. “Of course I can’t
give back the lives I took, but so far as I’ve been able, I’ve made
restitution of all the money I came by wrongfully. What I couldn’t give
back directly I’ve handed over to charity.

“My undoing,” he went on, then paused, irresolute. “My great
misfortune—was—”

“Well, what?” asked Filhiol. And through his glasses, which seemed to
make his eyes so strangely big and questioning, he peered at Captain
Briggs.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CAPTAIN SPEAKS


The captain clenched his right fist, and turned it to and fro, studying
it with rueful attention.

“My undoing was the fact that nature gave me brute strength,” said
he. “Those were hard, bad days, and I had a hard, bad fist; and
together with the hot blood in me, and the Old Nick, things went pretty
far. Lots of the things I did were needless, cruel, and beyond all
condemnation. If I could only get a little of the guilt and sorrow off
my mind, that would be something.”

“You’re morbid, captain,” answered Filhiol. “You’ve made all the amends
that anybody can. Let’s forget the wickedness, now, and try to remember
the better part. You’ve changed, every way. What changed you?”

“Just let me have another look through the glass, and I’ll tell you
what I can.”

Briggs raised his telescope and with it swept the harbor.

“H-m!” said he. “Nothing yet.”

“Expecting some one, captain?”

“My grandson, Hal.”

“Grandson! That’s fine! The only one?”

“The only one.” Briggs lowered his glass with disappointment. “He’s the
sole surviving member of the family, beside myself. All the rest are up
there, doctor, in that little cemetery on the hilltop.”

Filhiol’s eyes followed the captain’s pointing hand, as it indicated
the burial-ground lying under the vagrant cloud-shadows of the fading
afternoon, peaceful and “sweet with blade and leaf and blossom.” In
a pine against the richly luminous sky a bluejay was scolding. As a
contrabass to the rhythm of the blacksmith’s hammer, the booming murmur
of the sea trembled across the summer air. The captain went on:

“I’ve had great losses, doctor. Bitter and hard to bear. After I fell
in love and changed my way of life, and married and settled here, I
thought maybe fate would be kind to me, but it wasn’t. One by one my
people were taken away from me—my wife, and then my son’s wife, and
last of all, my son. Three, I’ve lost, and got one left. Yet it isn’t
exactly as if I’d really lost them. I’m not one that can bury love, and
forget it. My folks aren’t gone. They’re still with me, in a way.

“I don’t see how people can let their kin be buried in strange places
and forgotten. I want to keep mine always near me, where I can look out
for them, and where I know they won’t feel lonesome. I want them to be
right near home, doctor, where it’s all so friendly and familiar. Maybe
that’s an old man’s foolish notion, but that’s the way I feel, and
that’s the way I’ve had it.”

“I—think I understand,” the doctor answered. “Go on.”

“They aren’t really gone,” continued Briggs. “They’re still up there,
very, very near to me. There’s nothing mournful in the lot; nothing
sad or melancholy. No, Ezra and I have made it cheerful, with roses
and petunias and zinnias and all kinds of pretty flowers and bushes
and vines. You can see some of those vines now on the monument.” He
pointed once more. “That one, off to starboard of the big elm. It’s a
beautiful place, really. The breeze is always cool up there, doctor,
and the sun stays there longest of any spot round here. It strikes that
hill first thing in the morning, and stays till last thing at night.
We’ve got a bench there, a real comfortable one I made myself; not one
of those hard, iron things they usually put in cemeteries. I’ve given
Hal lots of his lessons, reading and navigation, up there. I go up
every day a spell, and take the dog with me, and Ezra goes, too; and
we carry up flowers and put ’em in jars, and holystone the monument
and the headstones, and make it all shipshape. It’s all as bright as a
button, and so it’s going to be, as long as I’m on deck.”

“I think you’ve got the right idea, captain,” murmured Filhiol. “Death,
after all, is quite as natural a process, quite as much to be desired
at the proper time, as life. I used to fear it, when I was young; but
now I’m old, I’m not at all afraid. Are you?”

“Never! If I can only live to see Hal launched and off on his life
journey, with colors flying and everything trig aloft and alow, I’ll be
right glad to go. That’s what I’ve often told my wife and the others,
sitting up there in the sunshine, smoking my pipe. You know, that’s
where I go to smoke and think, doctor. Ezra goes too, and sometimes
we take the old checkerboard and have a game or so. We take the
telescopes and sextant up, too, and make observations there. It kind of
scandalizes some of the stiff-necked old Puritans, but Lord love you!
I don’t see any harm in it, do you? It all seems nice and sociable; it
makes the death of my people seem only a kind of temporary going away,
as if they’d gone on a visit, like, and as if Hal and Ezra and I were
just waiting for ’em to come back.

“I tell you, doctor, it’s as homy and comfortable as anything you ever
saw. I’m truly very happy, up there. Yes, in spite of everything, I
reckon I’m a happy man. I’ve got no end of things to be thankful for.
I’ve prospered. Best of all, _the_ main thing without which, of course,
everything else wouldn’t be worth a tinker’s dam, I’ve got my grandson,
Hal!”

“I see. Tell me about him, captain.”

“I will. He’s been two years in college already, and he’s more than
made good. He’s twenty-one, and got shoulders on him like Goliath. You
ought to see him at work in the gym he’s fitted up in the barn! Oh,
doctor, he’s a wonder! His rating is A1, all through.”

“I don’t doubt it. And you say he’s coming home to-day?”

“To-day—which makes this day a great, wonderful day for his old
grandfather, and that’s the living truth. Yes, he’s coming home for as
long as he’ll stay with me, though he’s got some idea of going out with
the fishing-fleet, for what he calls local color. He’s quite a fellow
to make up stories; says he wants to go to sea a while, so he can do it
right. Though, Lord knows, he’s full enough of sea-lore and sea-skill.
That’s his grandfather’s blood cropping out again, I suppose, that love
for blue water. That’s what you call heredity, isn’t it, doctor?”

“H-m! yes, I suppose so,” answered Filhiol, frowning a little. “Though
heredity’s peculiar. We don’t always know just what it is, or how it
acts. Still, if a well-marked trait comes out in the offspring, we call
it heredity. So he’s got your love of the sea, has he?”

“He surely has. There’s salt in _his_ blood, all right enough!”

“H-m! You don’t notice any—any other traits in him that—remind you of
your earlier days?”

“If you mean strength and activity, and the love of hard work, yes.
Now see, for example. Any other boy would have come home by train,
and lots of ’em would have traveled in the smoker, with a pack of
cigarettes and a magazine. Does Hal come home that way? He does not! He
writes me he’s going to work his way up on a schooner, out of Boston,
for experience. That’s why I’m keeping my glass on the harbor. He told
me the name of the schooner. It’s the _Sylvia Fletcher_. The minute she
sticks her jib round Truxbury Light, I’ll catch her.”

“_Sylvia Fletcher?_” asked the doctor. “That’s an odd coincidence,
isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“Why, just look at those initials, captain. _Sylvia Fletcher_—S.F.”

“Well, what about ’em?”

“_Silver Fleece._ That was S.F., too.”

The captain turned puzzled eyes on his guest. He passed a hand over his
white hair, and pondered a second or two. Then said he:

“That _is_ odd, doctor, but what about it? There must be hundreds of
vessels afloat, with those initials.”

“By all means. Of course it can’t mean anything. As you say, S.F.
must be common enough initials among ships. So then, Hal’s amphibious
already, is he? What’s he going to be? A captain like yourself?”

“I’d like him to be. I don’t hardly think so, though,” Briggs answered,
a little distraught. Something had singularly disturbed him. Now and
then he cast an uneasy glance at the withered little man in the chair
beside him.

“It’s going to be his own choice, his profession is,” he went on.
“He’s got to settle that for himself. But I know this much—anything
he undertakes, he’ll make a success of. He’ll carry it out to the last
inch. He’s a wonder, Hal is. Ah, a fellow to warm the heart! He’s none
of your mollycoddles, in spite of all the high marks and prizes he’s
taken. No, no, nothing at all of the molly-coddle.”

The captain’s face lighted up with pride and joy and a profound
eagerness.

“There isn’t anything that boy can’t do, doctor,” he continued.
“Athletics and all that; and he’s gone in for some of the hardest
studies, too, and beaten men that don’t do anything but get
round-shouldered over books. He’s taken work outside the regular
course—strange Eastern languages, doctor. I hear there never _was_ a
boy like Hal. You don’t wonder I’ve been sitting here all afternoon
with my old spy-glass, do you?”

“Indeed I don’t,” Filhiol answered, a note of envy in his feeble
voice. “You’ve had your troubles, just as we all have, but you’ve got
something still to live for, and that’s more than _I_ can say. You’ve
got everything, everything! It never worked out on you, after all, the
curse—the black curse that was put on you fifty years ago. It was all
nonsense, of course, and I knew it wouldn’t. All that stuff is pure
superstition and humbug—”

“Of course! Why, you don’t believe such rubbish! I’ve lived that all
down half a lifetime ago. Two or three times, when death took away
those I loved, I thought maybe the curse of old Dengan Jouga was really
striking me, but it wasn’t. For that curse said _everything_ I loved
would be taken away, and there was always something left to live for;
and even when I’d been as hard hit as a man ever was, almost, after a
while I could get my bearings again and make sail and keep along on my
course. Because, you see, I always had Hal to love and pin my hopes to.
I’ve got him now. He’s all I’ve got—but, God! how wonderfully much he
is!”

“Yes, yes, you’re quite right,” the doctor answered. “He must be a
splendid chap, all round. What does he look like?”

“I’m going to answer you in a peculiar way,” said Briggs. “That boy,
sir, that grandson of mine, he’s the living spit and image of what I
was, fifty-five or sixty years ago!”

“Eh, what? What’s that you say?”

“It’s wonderful, I tell you, to see the resemblance. His father—my
son—didn’t show it at all. A fine, handsome man he was, doctor, and
a good man, too. Everybody liked him; he never did a bad thing in his
life. He sailed a straight course, and went under his own canvas, all
the way; and I loved him for an honest, upright man. But he wasn’t
brilliant. He never set the world on fire. He was just a plain, good,
average man.

“But, Hal! Hal—ah, now there _is_ something for you! He’s got all
the physique I ever had, at my best, and he’s got a hundred per cent.
more brains than ever I had. It’s as if I could see myself, my youth
and strength, rise up out of the grave of the past, all shining and
splendid, doctor, and live again and make my soul sing with the morning
stars, for gladness, like it says in the Bible or somewhere, sir!”

The old captain, quite breathless with his unaccustomed eloquence,
pulling out a huge handkerchief, wiped his forehead where the sweat had
started. He winked eyes wet with sudden moisture. Filhiol peered at him
with a strange, brooding expression.

“You say he’s just like you, captain?” asked he. “He’s just the way you
used to be, in the old days?”

“Why—no, not in all ways. God forbid! But in size and strength he’s
the equal of me at my best, or even goes ahead of that. And as I’ve
told you before, he’s got no end more brains than ever I had.”

“How’s the boy’s temper?”

“Temper?”

“Ever have any violent spells?” The doctor seemed as if diagnosing a
case. Briggs looked at him, none too well pleased.

“Why—no. Not as I know of,” he answered, though without any emphatic
denial. “Of course all boys sometimes slip their anchors, and run foul
of whatever’s in the way. That’s natural for young blood. I wouldn’t
give a brass farthing for a boy that had no guts, would you?”

“No, no. Of course not. It’s natural for—”

“_Ship ahoy!_” the captain joyfully hailed. His keen old eye had
just caught sight of something, far in the offing, which had brought
the glass to his eye in a second. “There she is, doctor! There’s the
_Sylvia Fletcher_, sure as guns!”

“He’s coming, then?”

“Almost here! See, right to south’ard o’ the light? That’s the
_Sylvia_, and my boy’s aboard her. She’ll be at Hadlock’s Wharf in half
an hour. He’s almost home. Hal’s almost home again!”

The captain stood up and faced the doctor, radiant. Joy, pride,
anticipation beamed from his weather-beaten old face; his eyes
sparkled, blue, with pure happiness. He said:

“Well, I’m going down to meet him. Do you want to go, too, doctor?”

“How far is it?”

“Mile, or a little better. I’ll make it, easy, afore the _Sylvia_ gets
in. I’ll be on the wharf, all right, to welcome Hal.”

“I—I think I’ll stay here, captain,” the other answered. “I’m lame,
you know. I couldn’t walk that far.”

“How about the horse? Ezra’ll hitch up for you.”

“No, no. It tires me to ride. I’m not used to so much excitement and
activity. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll just sit here and wait.
Give me a book, or something, and I’ll wait for you both.”

“All right, doctor, suit yourself,” the captain assented. The relief
in his voice was not to be concealed. Despite his most friendly
hospitality, something in the doctor’s attitude and speech had laid a
chill upon his heart. The prospect of getting away from the old man and
of meeting Hal quite alone, allured him. “I’ll give you books enough
for a week, or anything you like. And here in this drawer,” as he
opened one in the table, “you’ll find a box of the best Havanas.”

“No, no, I’ve given up smoking, long ago,” the doctor smiled, thinly.
“My heart wouldn’t stand it. But thank you, just the same.”

The figure of Ezra loomed in the doorway, and, followed by the dog,
came out upon the porch.

“Sighted him, cap’n?” asked the old man joyfully. “I heered you
hailin’. That’s him, sure?”

“There’s the _Sylvia Fletcher_,” Briggs made answer. “You’ll see Hal
afore sundown.”

“Gosh, ain’t that great, though?” grinned Ezra, his leathery face
breaking into a thousand wrinkles. “If I’d of went an’ made that there
cake, an’ fixed that lamb, an’ he hadn’t of made port—”

“Well, it’s all right, Ezra. Now I’m off. Come, Ruddy,” he summoned the
Airedale. “Master’s coming!”

As the dog got up, the doctor painfully rose from his chair. Cane in
hand, he limped along the porch.

“It’s just a trifle chilly out here, captain,” said he, shivering
slightly. “May I go inside?”

“Don’t ask, doctor. Snug Haven’s yours, all yours, as long as you
want it. Make yourself at home! Books, papers, everything in the
library—my cabin, I call it. And if you want, Ezra’ll start a fire for
you in the grate, and get you tea or coffee—”

“No, no, thank you. My nerves won’t stand them. But a little warm milk
and a fire will do me a world of good.”

“Ezra’ll mix you an egg-nog that will make you feel like a
fighting-cock. Now I must be going. Hal mustn’t come ashore and not
find me waiting. Come, Ruddy! Good-by, doctor. Good-by, Ezra; so long!”

“Tell Master Hal about the plum-cake an’ the lamb!” called the faithful
one, as Captain Briggs, a brave and sturdy figure in his brass-buttoned
coat of blue and his gold-laced cap tramped down the sandy walk. “Don’t
fergit to tell him I got it special!”

At the gate, Briggs waved a cheery hand. The doctor, peering after him
with strange, sad eyes, shook a boding head. He stood leaning on his
stick, till Briggs had skirted the box-hedge and disappeared around the
turn by the smithy. Then, shivering again—despite the brooding warmth
of the June afternoon—he turned and followed Ezra into the house.

“After fifty years,” he murmured, as he went. “I wonder if it could
be—after fifty years?”



CHAPTER XVII

VISIONS OF THE PAST


Comfortably installed in a huge easy-chair beside the freshly built
fire in the “cabin” of Snug Haven and with one of Ezra Trefethen’s most
artful egg-nogs within easy reach, the aged doctor leaned back, and
sighed deeply.

“Maybe the captain’s right,” said he. “Maybe the boy’s all right. It’s
possible; but I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Blinking, his eyes wandered about the room, which opened off from an
old-fashioned hallway lighted by glass panels at the sides of the front
door, and by a leaded fanlight over the lintel; a hallway with a curved
stairway that would have delighted the heart of any antiquarian. The
cabin itself showed by its construction and furnishing that the captain
had spent a great deal of thought and time and money. At first glance,
save that the fireplace was an incongruous note, one would have thought
one’s self aboard ship, so closely had the nautical idea been carried
out.

To begin with, the windows at the side, which opened out upon the
orchard, were circular and rimmed with shining brass, and had thick
panes inward-swinging like ships’ portholes. A polished fir column, set
a trifle on a slant, rose from floor to ceiling, which was supported
on white beams, the form and curve of which exactly imitated marine
architecture. This column measured no less than a foot and a half in
diameter, and gave precisely the impression of a ship’s mast. On it
hung a chronometer, boxed in a case of polished mahogany, itself the
work of the captain’s own hand.

All the lamps were hung in gimbals, as if the good captain expected
Snug Haven at any moment to set sail and go pitching away over
storm-tossed seas. The green-covered table bore a miscellany of
nautical almanacs; it accommodated, also, a variety of charts, maps
and meteorological reports. The captain’s own chair at that table
was a true swinging-chair, screwed to the floor; and this floor, you
understand, was uncarpeted, so that the holystoned planking shone in
immaculate cleanliness as the declining sun through the portholes
painted long, reddish stripes across it. Brass instruments lay on the
table, and from them the sun flecked little high-lights against the
clean, white paint of the cabin.

At the left of the table stood a binnacle, with compass and all; at the
right, a four-foot globe, its surface scored with numerous names, dates
and memoranda, carefully written in red ink. The captain’s log-book,
open on the table, also showed writing in red. No ordinary diary
sufficed for Alpheus Briggs; no, he would have a regulation ship’s log
to keep the record of his daily life, or he would have no record at all.

In a rack at one side rested two bright telescopes, with an empty place
for the glass now out on the piazza. Beneath this rack a sextant hung;
and at one side the daily government weather-report was affixed to a
white-painted board.

A sofa-locker, quite like a ship’s berth, still showed the impress
of the captain’s body, where he had taken his after-dinner nap. One
almost thought to hear the chanting of sea-winds in cordage, aloft, and
the creak and give of seasoned timbers. A curious, a wonderful room,
indeed! And as Dr. Filhiol studied it, his face expressed a kind of
yearning eagerness; for to his fading life this connotation of the
other, braver days brought back memories of things that once had been,
that now could never be again.

Yet, analyzing everything, he put away these thoughts. Many sad years
had broken the spirit in him and turned his thoughts to the worse
aspects of everything. He shook his head again dubiously, and his thin
lips formed the words:

“This is very, very strange. This is some form of mental aberration,
surely. No man wholly sane would build and furnish any such grotesque
place. It’s worse, worse than I thought.”

Contemplatively he sipped the egg-nog and continued his observations,
while from the kitchen—no, the galley—sounded a clink of coppers,
mingled with the piping song of old Ezra, interminably discoursing on
the life and adventures of the unfortunate Reuben Ranzo, whose chantey
is beknown to all seafaring men. The doctor’s eyes, wandering to the
wall nearest him, now perceived a glass-fronted cabinet, filled with a
most extraordinary _omnium gatherum_ of curios.

Corals, sponges, coir, nuts, pebbles and dried fruits, strange puffy
and spiny fishes, specimens in alcohol, a thousand and one oddments
jostled each other on the shelves.

Nor was this all to excite the doctor’s wonder. For hard by the cabinet
he now perceived the door of a safe, set into the wall, its combination
flush with the white boards.

“The captain can’t be so foolish as to keep his money in his house,”
thought Filhiol. “Not when there are banks that offer absolute
security. But then, with a man like Captain Briggs, anything seems
possible.”

He drank a little more of Ezra’s excellent concoction, and turned his
attention to the one remaining side of the cabin, almost filled by the
huge-throated fireplace and by the cobbled chimney.

“More junk!” said Dr. Filhiol unsympathetically.

Against the cobble-stones, suspended from hooks screwed into the
cement, hung a regular arsenal of weapons: yataghans, scimitars, sabers
and muskets—two of them rare Arabian specimens with long barrels and
silver-chased stocks. Pistols there were, some of antique patterns
bespeaking capture or purchase from half-civilized peoples. Daggers
and stilettos had been worked into a kind of rough pattern. A bow and
arrows, a “Penang lawyer,” and a couple of boomerangs were interspersed
between some knobkerries from Australia, and a few shovel-headed spears
and African pigmies’ blow-guns. All the weapons showed signs of wear or
rust. In every probability, all had taken human life.

Odd, was it not, that the captain, now so mild a man of peace, should
have maintained so grim a reliquary? But, perhaps (the doctor thought),
Briggs had preserved it as a kind of strange, contrasting reminder of
his other days, just as more than one reformed drunkard has been known
to keep the favorite little brown jug that formerly was his undoing.

Filhiol, however, very deeply disapproved of this collection. Old age
and infirmity had by no means rendered his disposition more suave. He
muttered words of condemnation, drank off a little more of the egg-nog,
and once again fell to studying the collection. And suddenly his
attention concentrated, fixing itself with particular intentness on a
certain blade that until then had escaped his scrutiny.

This blade, a Malay kris with a beautifully carved lotus-bud on the
handle, seemed to occupy a sort of central post of honor, toward
which the other knives converged. The doctor adjusted his spectacles
and studied it for a long minute, as if trying to bring back some
recollections not quite clear. Then he arose lamely, and squinted up at
the blade.

“That’s a kris,” said he slowly. “A Malay kris. Good Lord, it couldn’t
be—_the_ kris, could it?”

He remained a little while, observing the weapon. The sunlight,
ever growing redder as the sun sank over Croft Hill and the ancient
cemetery, flicked lights from the brass instruments on the table, and
for a moment seemed to crimson the vicious, wavy blade of steel. The
doctor raised a lean hand to touch the kris, then drew back.

“Better not,” said he. “That’s the one, all right enough. There’s the
groove, the poison groove. There couldn’t be two exactly alike. I
remember that groove especially. And curaré lasts for years; it’s just
as fatal now, as when it was first put on. That kris is mighty good to
let alone!”

A dark, rusty stain on the blade set him shuddering. Blood, was
it—blood, from the long ago? Who could say? The kris evoked powerful
memories. The battle of Motomolo Strait rose up before him. The smoke
from the fire in the grate seemed, all at once, that of the burning
proa, drifting over the opalescent waters of that distant sea. The
illusion was extraordinary. Dr. Filhiol closed his eyes, held tightly
to the edge of the mantel, and with dilated nostrils sniffed the smoke.
He remained there, transfixed with poignant emotions, trembling, afraid.

It seemed to him as if the shadowy hand of some malignant _jinnee_ had
reached out of the bleeding past, and had laid hold on him—a hand that
seized and shook his heart with an envenomed, bony clutch.

“God!” he murmured. “What a time that was—what a ghastly, terrible
time!”

He tried to shake off this obsessing vision, opened his eyes, and sank
down into the easy-chair. Unnerved, shaking, he struck the glass still
holding some of the egg-nog, and knocked it to the floor.

The crash of the breaking glass startled him as if it had been the
crack of a rifle. Quivering, he stared down at the liquor, spreading
over the holystoned floor. Upon it the red sunlight gleamed; and in a
flash he beheld once more the deck of the old _Silver Fleece_, smeared
and spotted with blood.

Back he shrank, with extended hands, superstitious fear at his heart.
Something nameless, cold and terrible fingered at the latchets of his
soul. It was all irrational enough, foolish enough; but still it caught
him in its grip, that perfectly unreasoning, heart-clutching fear.

Weakly he pressed a shaking hand over his eyes. With bloodless lips he
quavered:

“After fifty years, my God! After fifty years!”



CHAPTER XVIII

THE LOOMING SHADOW


Old Captain Briggs, meanwhile, absorbed in the most cheerful
speculations, was putting his best foot forward on the road to
Hadlock’s Wharf. A vigorous foot it was, indeed, and right speedily it
carried him. With pipe in full eruption, leaving a trail of blue smoke
on the late afternoon air, and with boots creaking on the hard, white
road, the captain strode along; while the Airedale trotted ahead as if
he, too, understood that Master Hal was coming home.

He made his way out of the village and so struck into the road to
Endicutt itself. “The mingled scents of field and ocean” perfumed the
air, borne on a breeze that blent the odors of sea and weedy foreshore
and salt marsh with those of garden and orchard, into a kind of airy
nectar that seemed to infuse fresh life into the captain’s blood. His
blue eyes sparkled almost as brightly as the harbor itself, where gaily
painted lobster-pot buoys heaved on the swells, where dories labored
and where gulls spiraled.

Briggs seemed to love the sea, that afternoon, almost as he had
never loved it—the wonderful mystery of tireless, revivifying,
all-engendering sea. Joy filled him that Hal, in whose life lived
all the hopes of his race, should have inherited this love of the
all-mother, Ocean.

Deeply the captain breathed, as he strode onward, and felt that life
was being very good to him. For the most part, rough hillocks and
tangled clumps of pine, hemlock and gleaming birch hid the bay from
him; but now and again these gave way to sandy stretches, leaving the
harbor broad-spread and sparkling to his gaze. And as the old man
passed each such place, his eyes sought the incoming canvas of the
_Sylvia Fletcher_, that seemed to him shining more white, uprearing
itself with more stately power, than that of any other craft.

Now and then he hailed the boy as if Hal could hear him across all
that watery distance. His hearty old voice lost itself in the ebbing,
flowing murmur of the surf that creamed up along the pebbles, and
dragged them down with a long, rattling slither. Everything seemed
glad, to Captain Briggs—dories hauled up on the sand; blocks, ropes
and drying sails; lobster-pots and fish-cars; buoys, rusty anchors
half-buried—everything seemed to wear a festive air. For was not Hal,
now homeward bound, now almost here?

So overflowing were the old man’s spirits that with good cheer even
beyond his usual hearty greeting he gave the glad news to all along the
road, to those he met, to those who stopped their labors or looked up
from their rest in yards and houses, to give him a good-evening.

“It _is_ a good evening for me, neighbor,” he would say, with a fine
smile, his beard snowy in the sun now low across the western hills.
“A fine, wonderful evening! Hal’s coming home to-night; he’s on the
_Sylvia Fletcher_, just making in past the Rips, there—see, you can
sight her, yourself.”

And then he would pass on, glad, triumphant. And as he went, hammers
would cease their caulking, brushes their painting; and the fishers
mending their russet nets spread over hedge or fence would wish him joy.

Here, there, a child would take his hand and walk with him a little
way, till the captain’s stout pace tired the short legs, or till some
good mother from a cottage door would call the little one back for
supper. Just so, fifty years ago, yellow-skinned Malay mothers had
called their children within doors, at Batu Kawan, lest Mambang Kuning,
the demon who dwelt in the sunset, should do them harm. And just so the
sunset itself, that wicked night at the Malay _kampong_, had glowered
redly.

A mist was now rising from the harbor and the marshland, like an
exhalation of pale ghosts, floating vaguely, quite as the smoke had
floated above Batu Kawan. The slowly fading opalescence of the sky,
reddening over the hills, bore great resemblance to those hues that in
the long ago had painted the sky above the jagged mountain-chain in
that far land. But of all this the captain was taking no thought.

No, nothing could enter his mind save the glad present and the
impending moment when he should see his Hal again, should feel the
boy’s hand in his, put an arm about his shoulder and, quite unashamed,
give him a kiss patriarchal in its fine simplicity and love.

“It _is_ a good evening!” he repeated. “A wonderful evening, friends.
Why, Hal’s been gone nearly six months. Gone since last Christmas. And
now he’s coming back to me, again!”

So he passed on. One thing he did not note: this—that though all
the folk gave him Godspeed, no one inquired about Hal. That after he
had passed, more than one shook a dubious head or murmured words of
commiseration. Some few of the fisherfolk, leaning over their fences
to watch after him, talked a little together in low tones as if they
feared the breeze might bear their words to the old man.

Of all this the captain remained entirely unaware. On he kept, into the
straggling outskirts of Endicutt. Now he could see the harbor only at
rare intervals; but in the occasional glimpses he caught of it, he saw
the _Sylvia Fletcher’s_ tops’ls crumpling down and perceived that she
was headed in directly for the wharf. He hurried on, at a better pace.
Above all things Hal must not come, and find no grandfather waiting for
him. That, to the captain’s mind, would have been unthinkable treason.

The captain strode along the cobblestoned main street, past the
ship-chandlers’ stores, the sail-lofts and quaint old shops, and so
presently turned to the right, into Hadlock’s Wharf. Here the going
was bad, because of crates and barrels of iced fish and lobsters, and
trucks, and a miscellany of obstructions. For a moment the captain was
entirely blocked by a dray across the wharf, backing into a fish-shed.
The driver greeted him with a smile.

“Hello, cap!” cried he. “Gee, but you’re lookin’ fine. What’s up?”

“It’s a great day for me,” Briggs answered. “A rare fine day. Hal, my
boy, is coming home. He’s on the _Sylvia Fletcher_, just coming in from
Boston. Can’t you let me past, some way?”

“Why, sure! Back _up_!” the driver commanded, savagely jerking at the
bit. “You can make it, now, I reckon.”

Then, as Briggs squeezed by, he stood looking after the old, blue-clad
figure. He turned a lump in his cheek, and spat.

“Gosh, ain’t it a shame?” he murmured. “Ain’t it a rotten, gorrammed
shame?”

By the time Captain Briggs, followed by the faithful Ruddy, reached the
stringpiece of the wharf, the schooner was already close. The captain,
breathing a little fast, leaned against a tin-topped mooring-pile, and
with eager eyes scrutinized the on-coming vessel. All along the wharf,
the usual contingent of sailors, longshoremen, fishers and boys had
already gathered. To none the captain addressed a word. All his heart
and soul were now fast riveted to the schooner, from whose deck plainly
drifted words of command, and down from whose sticks the canvas was
fast collapsing.

With skilful handling and hardly a rag aloft, she eased alongside.
Ropes came sprangling to the wharf. These, dragged in by volunteer
hands, brought hawsers. And with a straining of hemp, the _Sylvia_
hauled to a dead stop, groaning and chafing against the splintered
timbers.

Jests, greetings, laughter volleyed between craft and wharf. The
captain, alone, kept silent. His eager eyes were searching the deck;
searching, and finding not.

“Hello, cap’n! Hey, there, Cap’n Briggs!” voices shouted. The mate
waved a hand at him, and so did two or three others; but there seemed
restraint in their greetings. Usually the presence of the captain
loosened tongues and set the sailormen glad. But now—

With a certain tightening round the heart, the captain remained there,
not knowing what to do. He had expected to see Hal on deck, waving a
cap at him, shouting to him. But Hal remained invisible. What could
have happened? The captain’s eyes scrutinized the deck, in vain.
Neither fore nor aft was Hal.

Briggs stepped on the low rail of the schooner and went aboard. He
walked aft, to the man at the wheel. Ruddy followed close at heel.

“Hello, cap’n,” greeted the steersman. “Nice day, ain’t it?” His voice
betrayed embarrassment.

“Is my boy, Hal, aboard o’ you?” demanded Briggs.

“Yup.”

“Well, where is he?”

“Below.”

“Getting his dunnage?”

“Guess so.” The steersman sucked at his cob pipe, very ill at ease.
Briggs stared at him a moment, then turned toward the companion.

A man’s head and shoulders appeared up the companionway. Out on deck
clambered the man—a young man, black-haired and blue-eyed, with mighty
shoulders and a splendidly corded neck visible in the low roll of his
opened shirt. His sleeves, rolled up, showed arms and fists of Hercules.

“_Hal!_” cried the captain, a world of gladness in his voice. Silence
fell, all about; every one stopped talking, ceased from all activities;
all eyes centered on Hal and the captain.

“Hal! My boy!” exclaimed Briggs once more, but in an altered tone. He
took a step or two forward. His hand, that had gone out to Hal, dropped
at his side again.

He peered at his grandson with troubled, wondering eyes. Under the
weathered tan of his face, quick pallor became visible.

“Why, Hal,” he stammered. “What—what’s happened? What’s the meaning
of—of all this?”

Hal stared at him with an expression the old man had never seen
upon his face. The boy’s eyes were reddened, bloodshot, savage with
unreasoning passion. The right eye showed a bruise that had already
begun to discolor. The jaw had gone forward, become prognathous like an
ape’s, menacing, with a glint of strong, white teeth. The crisp black
hair, rumpled and awry, the black growth of beard—two days old, strong
on that square-jawed face—and something in the full-throated poise
of the head, brought back to the old captain, in a flash, vivid and
horrible memories.

Up from that hatchway he saw himself arising, once again, tangibly and
in the living flesh. In the swing of Hal’s huge fists, the squaring of
his shoulders, his brute expression of blood-lust and battle-lust, old
Captain Briggs beheld, line for line, his other and barbaric self of
fifty years ago.

“Good God, Hal! What’s _this_ mean?” he gulped, while along the wharf
and on deck a staring silence held. But his question was lost in a
hoarse shout from the cabin:

“Here, you young devil! Come below, an’ apologize fer that!”

Hal swung about, gripped both sides of the companion, and leaned down.
The veins in his powerful neck, taut-swollen, seemed to start through
the bronzed skin.

“Apologize?” he roared down the companion. “To a lantern-jawed P. I.
like you? Like hell I will!”

Then he stood back, lifted his head and laughed with deep-lunged scorn.

From below sounded a wordless roar. Up the ladder scrambled, simian
in agility, a tall and wiry man of middle age. Briggs saw in a daze
that this man was white with passion; he had that peculiar, pinched
look about the nostrils which denotes the killing rage. Captain Fergus
McLaughlin, of Prince Edward’s Island, had come on deck.

“You——!” McLaughlin hurled at him, while the old man stood quivering,
paralyzed. “If you was a member o’ my crew, damn y’r lip—”

“Yes, but I’m not, you see,” sneered Hal, fists on hips. “I’m a
passenger aboard your rotten old tub, which is almost as bad as your
grammar and your reputation.” Contemptuously he eyed the Prince
Edward’s Islander, from rough woolen cap to sea-boots, and back again,
every look a blistering insult. His huge chest, rising, falling,
betrayed the cumulating fires within. The hush among the onlookers grew
ominous. “There’s not money enough in circulation to hire me to sign
articles with a low-browed, sockless, bean-eating—”

McLaughlin’s leap cut short the sentence. With a raw howl, the P. I.
flung himself at Hal. Deft and strong with his stony-hard fists was
McLaughlin, and the fighting heart in him was a lion’s. A hundred men
had he felled to his decks, ere now, and not one had ever risen quite
whole, or unassisted. In the extremity of his rage he laughed as he
sprang.

Lithely, easily, with the joy and love of battle in his reddened eyes,
Hal ducked. Up flashed his right fist, a sledge of muscle, bone, sinew.
The left swung free.

The impact of Hal’s smash thudded sickeningly, with a suggestion of
crushed flesh and shattered bone.

Sprawling headlong, hands clutching air, McLaughlin fell. And, as he
plunged with a crash to the planking, Hal’s laugh snarled through the
tense air. From him he flung old Briggs, now in vain striving to clutch
and hold his arm.

“Got enough apology, you slab-sided herring-choker?” he roared,
exultant. “Enough, or want some more? Apologize? You bet—with
these! Come on, you or any of your crew, or all together, you greasy
fishbacks! _I’ll_ apologize you!”

Snarling into a laugh he stood there, teeth set, neck swollen and eyes
engorged with blood, his terrible fists eager with the lust of war.



CHAPTER XIX

HAL SHOWS HIS TEETH


Fergus McLaughlin, though down, had not yet taken the count. True,
Hal had felled him to his own deck, half-stunned; but the wiry Scot,
toughened by many seas, had never yet learned to spell “defeat.” For
him, the battle was just beginning. He managed to rise on hands and
knees. Mouthing curses, he swayed there. Hal lurched forward to finish
him with never a chance of getting up; but now old Captain Briggs had
Hal by the arm again.

“Hal, Hal!” he entreated. “For God’s sake—”

Once more Hal threw the old man off. The second’s delay rescued
McLaughlin from annihilation. Dazed, bleeding at mouth and nose, he
staggered to his feet and with good science plunged into a clinch.

This unexpected move upset Hal’s tactics of smashing violence. The
Scot’s long, wiry arms wrapped round him, hampering his fist-work. Hal
could do no more than drive in harmless blows at the other’s back. They
swayed, tripped over a hawser, almost went down. From the crew and
from the wharf ragged shouts arose, of fear, anger, purely malicious
delight, for here was battle-royal of the finest. The sound of feet,
running down the wharf, told of other contingents hastily arriving.

“By gum!” approved the helmsman, forgetting to chew. He had more than
once felt the full weight of McLaughlin’s fist. “By gum, now, but Mac’s
in f’r a good takin’-down. If that lad don’t fist him proper, I miss
my ’tarnal guess. Sick ’im, boy!”

Blaspheming, Hal tore McLaughlin loose, flung him back, lowered his
head and charged. But now the Scot had recovered a little of his wit.
On deck he spat blood and a broken snag of tooth. His eye gleamed
murderously. The excess of Hal’s rage betrayed the boy. His guard
opened. In drove a stinging lefthander. McLaughlin handed him the other
fist, packed full of dynamite. The boy reeled, gulping.

“Come on, ye college bratlin’!” challenged the fighting Scot, and
smeared the blood from his mouth. “This here ain’t your ship—not yet!”

“My ship’s any ship I happen to be on!” snarled Hal, circling for
advantage. Mac had already taught him to be cautious. Old Captain
Brigg’s imploring cries fell from him, unheeded. “If this _was_ my
ship, I’d wring your neck, so help me God! But as it is, I’ll only mash
you to a jelly!”

“Pretty bairn!” gibed McLaughlin, hunched into battle-pose, bony fists
up. “Grandad’s pretty pet! Arrrh! Ye _would_, eh?” as Hal bored in at
him.

He met the rush with cool skill. True, Hal’s right went to one eye,
closing it; but Hal felt the bite of knuckles catapulted from his neck.

Hal delayed no more. Bull-like, he charged. By sheer weight and fury
of blows he drove Mac forward of the schooner, beside the deck-house.
Amid turmoil, the battle raged. The jostling crowd, shoved and pushed,
on deck and on the wharf, to see this epic war. Bets were placed, even
money.

McLaughlin, panting, half-blind, his teeth set in a grin of rage, put
every ounce he had left into each blow. But Hal outclassed him.

A minute, two minutes they fought, straining, sweating, lashing. Then
something swift and terrible connected with Mac’s jaw-point in a jolt
that loosened his universe. Mac’s head snapped back. His arms flung up.
He dropped, pole-axed, into the scuppers.

For the first time in five-and-twenty years of fighting, clean and
dirty, Fergus McLaughlin had taken a knockout.

A mighty shout of exultation, fear and rage loosened echoes from the
old fish-sheds. Three or four of the crew came jostling into the
circle, minded to avenge their captain. Sneering, his chest heaving,
but ready with both fists, Hal faced them.

“Come on, all o’ you!” he flung, drunk with rage, his face bestial. A
slaver of bloody froth trickled from the corner of his mouth. “Come on!”

They hesitated. Gorilla-like, he advanced. Back through the crowd the
overbold ones drew. No heart remained in them to tackle this infuriated
fighting-machine.

Hal set both fists on his hips, flung up his head and panted:

“Apologize, will I? I, a passenger on this lousy tub, I’ll apologize to
a bunch of down-east rough-necks, eh? If there’s anybody else wants any
apology, I’m here!”

None caught up the gage of battle. Bursting with fury that had to vent
itself, Hal swung toward McLaughlin. The Scot had landed on a coil of
hawser in the scuppers, that had somewhat broken his fall. Hal reached
down, hauled him up and flung him backward over the rail. Thrice he
struck with a fist reddened by McLaughlin’s blood. He wrenched at the
unconscious man’s arm, snarling like an animal, his face distorted,
eyes glazed and staring. A crunching told of at least one broken bone.

Shouts of horror fell unheeded from his ears. He glared around.

“My Gawd, he’s a-killin’ on him!” quavered a voice. “We can’t stan’ by
an’ see him do murder!”

Old Briggs, nerved to sudden action, ran forward.

“Hal! For God’s sake, Hal!”

“You stand back, grandad! He’s my meat!”

Hal raised McLaughlin high above his head, with a sweep of wonderful
power. He dashed the Scot to the bare planks with a horrible, dull
crash, hauled back one foot and kicked the senseless man full in the
mangled, blood-smeared face.

A communal gasp of terror rose up then. Men shrank and quivered,
stricken with almost superstitious fear. All had seen fights aplenty;
most of them had taken a hand in brawls—but here was a new kind of
malice. And silence fell, tense, heart-searching.

Hal faced the outraged throng, and laughed with deep lungs.

“There’s your champion, what’s left of him!” cried he. “_He_ won’t
bullyrag anybody for one while, believe me. Take him—I’m through with
him!”

Of a sudden the rage seemed to die in Hal, spent in that last,
orgiastic convulsion of passion. He turned away, flung men right
and left, and leaped down the companion. Swiftly he emerged with a
suit-case. To his trembling, half-fainting grandfather he strode,
unmindful of the murmur of curses and threats against him.

“Come on, grandpop!” he said in a more normal tone. His voice did not
tremble, as will the voice of almost every man after a storm of rage.
His color was fresh and high, his eyes clear; his whole ego seemed
to have been vivified and freshened, like a sky after tempest. “Come
along, now. I’ve had enough of this rotten old hulk. I’ve given it what
it needed, a good clean-up. Come on!”

He seized Captain Briggs by the elbow—for the old man could hardly
stand, and now was leaning against the hatchway housing—and half
guided, half dragged him over the rail to the wharf.

“Shame on you, Hal Briggs!” exclaimed an old lobsterman. “This here’s a
bad day’s work you’ve done. When he was down, you booted him. We wun’t
fergit it, none of us wun’t.”

“No, and _he_ won’t forget it, either, the bragging bucko!” sneered
Hal. “Uncle Silas, you keep out of this!”

“Ef that’s what they l’arn ye down to college,” sounded another voice,
“you’d a durn sight better stay to hum. We fight some, on the North
Shore, but we fight fair.”

Hal faced around, with blazing eyes.

“Who said that?” he gritted. “Where’s the son of a pup that said it?”

No answer. Cowed, everybody held silence. No sound was heard save
the shuffling feet of the men aboard, as some of the crew lifted
McLaughlin’s limp form and carried it toward the companion, just as
Crevay had been carried on the _Silver Fleece_, half a century before.

“Come on, gramp!” exclaimed Hal. “For two cents I’d clean up the whole
white-livered bunch. Let’s go home, now, before there’s trouble.”

“I—I’m afraid I can’t walk, Hal,” quavered the old man. “This has
knocked me galley-west. My rudder’s unshipped and my canvas in rags. I
can’t navigate at all.” He was trembling as with a chill. Against his
grandson he leaned, ashen-faced, helpless. “I can’t make Snug Haven,
now.”

“That’s all right, grampy,” Hal assured him. “We’ll dig up a jitney if
you can get as far as the street. Come on, let’s move!”

With unsteady steps, clinging to Hal’s arm and followed by the dog,
old Captain Briggs made his way up Hadlock’s Wharf. Only a few minutes
had elapsed since he had strode so proudly down that wharf, but what a
vast difference had been wrought in the captain’s soul! All the glad
elation of his heart had now faded more swiftly than a tropic sunset
turns to dark. The old man seemed to have shrunken, collapsed. Fifteen
little minutes seemed to have bowed down his shoulders with at least
fifteen years.

“Oh, Hal, Hal!” he groaned, as they slowly made their way towards the
street. “Oh, my boy, how could you ha’ done that?”

“How could I? After what he said, how _couldn’t_ I?”

“What a disgrace! What a burning, terrible disgrace! You—just back
from college—”

“There, there, grandpop, it’ll be all right. Everybody’ll be glad, when
they cool off, that I handed it to that bully.”

“This will make a terrible scandal. The _Observer_ will print it, and—”

“Nonsense! You don’t think they’d waste paper on a little mix-up aboard
a coasting-schooner, do you?”

“This is more than a little mix-up, Hal. You’ve stove that man’s hull
up, serious. There’s more storm brewing.”

“What d’you mean, more storm?”

“Oh, he’ll take this to court. He’ll sue for damages.”

“He’d better not!” snapped Hal, grimly. “I’ve got more for him, where
what I handed him came from, if he tries it!”

“Hal, you’re—breaking my old heart.”

“D’you think, grandpa, I was going to stand there and swallow his
insults? Do you think I, a Briggs, was going to let that slab-sided
P.I. hand me that rough stuff? Would _you_ have stood for it?”

“I? What do you mean? How could I fight, at my age?”

“I mean, when you were young. Didn’t _you_ ever mix it, then? Didn’t
you have guts enough to put up your fists when you had to? If you
didn’t, you’re no grandfather of mine!”

“Hal,” answered the old man, still holding to his grandson as they
neared the street, “what course I sailed in my youth is nothing for
you to steer by now. Those were rough days, and these are supposed to
be civilized. That was terrible, terrible, what you did to McLaughlin.
The way you flung him across the rail, there, and then to the deck,
and—kicked him, when he was down—kicked him in the face—”

“It’s all right, I tell you!” Hal asserted, vigorously. He laughed,
with glad remembrance. “When I fight a gentleman, I fight like a
gentleman. When I fight a ruffian, I use the same tactics. That’s all
such cattle understand. My motto is to hit first, every time. That’s
the one best bet. The second is, hit hard. If you’re in a scrap, you’re
in it to win, aren’t you? Hand out everything you’ve got—give ’em the
whole bag of tricks, all at one wallop. That’s what _I_ go by, and it’s
a damn good rule. You, there! Hey, there, jitney!”

The discussion broke off, short, as Hal sighted a little car, cruising
slowly and with rattling joints over the rough-paved cobbles.



CHAPTER XX

THE CAPTAIN COMMANDS


The jitney stopped.

“Oh, hello, Sam! That you?” asked Hal, recognizing the driver.

“Horn spoon! Ef it ain’t Hal!” exclaimed the jitney-man. “Back ag’in,
eh? What the devil _you_ been up to? Shirt tore, an’ one eye looks like
you’d been—”

“Oh, nothing,” Hal answered, while certain taggers-on stopped at a
respectful distance. “I’ve just been arguing with McLaughlin, aboard
the _Sylvia Fletcher_. It’s nothing at all.” He helped his grandfather
into the car and then, gripping the Airedale so that it yelped with
pain, he pitched it in. “How much do you want to take us down to Snug
Haven?”

“Well—that’ll be a dollar ’n’ a half, seein’ it’s you.”

“You’ll get one nice, round little buck, Sam.”

“Git out! You, an’ the cap’n, an’ the dog, an’ a tussik! Why—”

Hal climbed into the car. He leaned forward, his face close to Sam’s.
The seethe of rage seemed to have departed. Now Hal was all joviality.
Swiftly the change had come upon him.

“Sam!” he admonished. “You know perfectly well seventy-five cents would
be robbery, but I’ll give you a dollar. Put her into high.”

The driver sniffed Hal’s breath, and nodded acceptance.

“All right, seein’ as it’s you,” he answered. He added, in a whisper:
“Ain’t got nothin’ on y’r hip, have ye?”

“Nothing but a bruise,” said Hal. “_Clk-clk!_”

The jitney struck its bone-shaking gait along the curving street of
Endicutt. No one spoke. The old captain, spent in forces and possessed
by bitter, strange hauntings, had sunk far down in the seat. His
beard made a white cascade over the smart blue of his coat. His eyes,
half-closed, seemed to be visioning the far-off days he had labored so
long to forget. His face was gray with suffering, beneath its tan. His
lips had set themselves in a grim, tight line.

As for Hal, he filled and lighted his pipe, then with a kind of bored
tolerance eyed the quaint old houses, the gardens and trim hedges.

“Some burg!” he murmured. “Some live little burg to put in a whole
summer! Well, anyhow, I started something. They ought to hand me a
medal, for putting a little pep into this prehistoric graveyard.”

Then he relapsed into contemplative smoking.

Presently the town gave place to the open road along the shore, now
bathed in a thousand lovely hues as sunset died. The slowly fading
beauty of the seascape soothed what little fever still remained in
Hal’s blood. With an appreciative eye he observed the harbor. The
town itself might seem dreary, but in his soul the instinctive love
of the sea awoke to the charms of that master-panorama which in all
its infinite existence has never twice shown just the same blending of
hues, of motion, of refluent ebb and fall.

Along the dimming islands, swells were breaking into great bouquets of
foam. The murmurous, watery cry of the surf lulled Hal; its booming
cadences against the rocky girdles of the coast seemed whispering
alluring, mysterious things to him. In the offing a few faint specks
of sail, melting in the purple haze, beckoned: “Come away, come away!”

To Captain Briggs quite other thoughts were coming. Not now could the
lure of his well-loved ocean appeal to him, for all the wonders of the
umber and dull orange west. Where but an hour ago beauty had spread its
miracles across the world, for him, now all had turned to drab. A few
faint twinkles of light were beginning to show in fishers’ cottages;
and these, too, saddened the old captain, for they minded him of Snug
Haven’s waiting lights—Snug Haven, where he had hoped so wonderfully
much, but where now only mournful disillusion and bodings of evil
remained.

The ceaseless threnody of the sea seemed to the old man a requiem over
dead hopes. The salt tides seemed to mock and gibe at him, and out of
the pale haze drifting seaward from the slow-heaving waters, ghosts
seemed beckoning.

All at once Hal spoke, his college slang rudely jarring the old
captain’s melancholy.

“That was some jolt I handed Mac, wasn’t it?” he laughed. “He’ll be
more careful who he picks on next time. That’s about what he needed, a
good walloping.”

“Eh? What?” murmured the old man, roused from sad musings.

“Such people have to get it handed to them once in a while,”
the grandson continued. “There’s only one kind of argument they
understand—and that’s this!”

He raised his right fist, inspected it, turning it this way and that,
admiring its massive power, its adamantine bone and sinew.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Hal, don’t do that!” exclaimed the captain.
With strange eyes he peered at the young man.

Hal laughed uproariously.

“Some fist, what?” he boasted. “Some pacifier!”

As he turned toward the old man, his breath smote the captain’s senses.

“Lord, Hal! You haven’t been drinking, have you?” quavered Briggs.

“Drinking? Well—no. Maybe I’ve had one or two, but that’s all.”

“One or two what, Hal?”

“Slugs of rum.”

“Rum! Good God!”

“What’s the matter, now? What’s the harm in a drop of good stimulant? I
asked him for a drink, and he couldn’t see it, the tightwad! I took it,
anyhow. That’s what started all the rough-house.”

“Great heavens, Hal! D’you mean to tell me you’re drinking, now?”

“There, there, gramp, don’t get all stewed up. All the fellows take a
drop now and then. You don’t want me to be a molly-coddle, do you? To
feel I can’t take a nip, once in a while, and hold it like a gentleman?
That’s all foolishness, grampy. Be sensible!”

The old man began to shiver, though the off-shore breeze blew warm. Hal
made a grimace of vexation. His grandfather answered nothing, and once
more silence fell. It lasted till the first scattering houses of South
Endicutt came into view in the fading light.

The driver, throwing a switch, sent his headlights piercing the soft
June dusk. The cones of radiance painted the roadside grass a vivid
green, and made the whitewashed fences leap to view. Hedges, gardens,
gable-ends, all spoke of home and rest, peace and the beatitude of snug
security. Somewhere the sound of children’s shouts and laughter echoed
appealingly. The tinkle of a cow-bell added its music; and faint in the
western sky, the evening star looked down.

And still Captain Briggs held silent.

A little red gleam winked in view—the port light of Snug Haven.

“There’s the old place, isn’t it?” commented Hal, in a softer tone.
He seemed moved to gentler thoughts; but only for a moment. His eye,
catching a far, white figure away down by the smithy, brightened with
other anticipations than of getting home again.

“Hello!” he exclaimed. “That’s Laura, isn’t it? Look, gramp—isn’t that
Laura Maynard?”

Peering, Captain Briggs recognized the girl. He understood her innocent
little subterfuge of being out for a casual stroll just at this time.
His heart, already lacerated, contracted with fresh pain.

“No, no, Hal,” he exclaimed. “That can’t be Laura. Come now, don’t be
thinking about Laura, to-night. You’re tired, and ought to rest.”

“Tired? Say, that’s a good one! When was I ever tired?”

“Well, _I’m_ tired, anyhow,” the captain insisted, “and I want to cast
anchor at the Haven. We’ve got company, too. It wouldn’t look polite,
if you went gallivanting—”

“Company? What company?” demanded Hal, as the car drew up toward the
gate.

“A very special friend of mine. A man I haven’t seen in fifty years. An
old doctor that once sailed with me. He’s waiting to see you, now.”

“Another old pill, eh?” growled the boy, sullenly, his eyes still fixed
on the girl at the bend of the road. “There’ll be time enough for
Methuselah, later. Just now, it’s me for the skirt!”

The car halted. The captain stiffly descended. He felt singularly spent
and old. Hal threw out the suit-case, and lithely leaped to earth.

“Dig up a bone for Sam, here,” directed Hal. “Now, I’ll be on my way
to overhaul the little dame.”

“Hal! That’s _not_ Laura, I tell you!”

“You can’t kid me, grampy! That’s the schoolma’m, all right. I’d know
her a mile off. She’s some chicken, take it from me!”

“Hal, I protest against such language!”

“Oh, too rough, eh?” sneered the boy. “Now in your day, I suppose you
used more refined English, didn’t you? Maybe you called them—”

“Hal! That will do!”

“So will Laura, for me. She’s mine, that girl is. She’s plump as a
young porpoise, and I’m going after her!”

The captain stood aghast, at sound of words that echoed from the very
antipodes of the world and of his own life. Then, with a sudden rush of
anger, his face reddening formidably, he exclaimed:

“Not another word! You’ve been drinking, and you’re dirty and torn—no
fit man, to-night, to haul up ’longside that craft!”

“I tell you, I’m going down there to say good evening to Laura,
anyhow,” Hal insisted, sullenly. “I’m going!”

“You are _not_, sir!” retorted Briggs, while Sam, in the car, grinned
with enjoyment. “You’re _not_ going to hail Laura Maynard to-night! Do
you want to lose her friendship and respect?”

“Bull! Women like a little rough stuff, now and then. This ‘Little
Rollo’ business is played out. Go along in, if you want to, but I’m
going to see Laura.”

“Hal,” said the old man, a new tone in his voice. “This is carrying too
much canvas. You’ll lose some of it in a minute, if you don’t reef. I’m
captain here, and you’re going to take my orders, if it comes to that.
The very strength you boast of and misuse so brutally is derived from
money I worked a lifetime for, at sea, and suffered and sinned and
bled and almost died for!” The old captain’s tone rang out again as in
the old, tempestuous days when he was master of many hard and violent
men. “Now, sir, you’re going to obey me, or overside you go, this
minute—and once you go, you’ll never set foot on my planks again! Pick
up your dunnage, sir, and into the Haven with you!”

“Good _night_!” ejaculated Hal, staring. Never had the old man thus
spoken to him. Stung to anger, though Hal was, he dared not disobey.
Muttering, he picked up the suit-case. The dog, glad to be at home once
more, leaped against him. With an oath, Hal swung the suit-case; the
Airedale, yelping with pain, fawned and slunk away.

“Into the Haven with you!” commanded Briggs, outraged to his very
heart. “_Go!_”

Hal obeyed, with huge shoulders hulking and drooping in their
plenitude of evil power, just like the captain’s, so very long ago.
Alpheus Briggs peered down the street at the dim white figure of
the disappointed girl; then, eyes agleam and back very straight, he
followed Hal toward Snug Haven—the Haven which in such beatitude of
spirit he had left but an hour ago—the Haven to which, filled with so
many evil bodings, he now was coming back again.

“Oh, God,” he murmured, “if this thing must come upon me, Thy will be
done! But if it can be turned aside, spare me! Spare me, for this is
all my life and all my hope! Spare me!”



CHAPTER XXI

SPECTERS OF THE PAST


Hal’s boots, clumping heavily on the porch, aroused the captain from
his brief revery of prayer. Almost at once the new stab of pain
at realization that Dr. Filhiol must see Hal in this disheveled,
half-drunken condition brought the old man sharply back to earth again.
Bitter humiliation, brutal disillusionment, sickening anti-climax! The
captain stifled a groan. Fate seemed dealing him a blow unreasonably
hard.

A chair scraped on the porch. Briggs saw the bent and shriveled form
of Dr. Filhiol arising. The doctor, rendered nervous by the arsenal
and by the cabinet of curios, which all too clearly recalled the
past, had once more gone out upon the piazza, to await the captain’s
return. Warmed by the egg-nog within, and outwardly by a shawl that
Ezra had given him, now he stood there, leaning on his cane. A smile
of anticipation curved his shaven, bloodless lips. His eyes blinked
eagerly behind his thick-lensed glasses.

“Home again, eh?” he piped. “Good! So then this is the little grandson
back from college? Little! Ha-ha! Why, captain, he’d make two like us!”

“This is Hal,” answered the captain briefly. “Yes, this is my grandson.”

The doctor, surprised at Briggs’s curt reply, put out his hand. Hal
took it as his grandfather spoke the doctor’s name.

“Glad to know you, doctor!” said he in a sullen voice, and let the hand
drop. “Excuse me, please! I’ll go in and wash up.”

He turned toward the door. With perturbation Filhiol peered after him.
Then he glanced at the captain. Awkwardly silence fell, broken by a cry
of joy from the front door.

“Oh, Master Hal!” ejaculated Ezra. “Ef it ain’t Master Hal!”

The servitor’s long face beamed with jubilation as he seized the
suit-case with one hand and with the other clapped Hal on the shoulder.
“Jumpin’ jellyfish, but you’re lookin’ fine an’ stout! Back from y’r
books, ain’t ye? Ah, books is grand things, Master Hal, ’specially
check-books, pocketbooks, an’ bank-books. Did the cap’n tell ye? He
did, didn’t he?”

“Hello, Ez!” answered Hal, still very glum. “Tell me what?”

“‘Bout the plum-cake an’ lamb?” asked Ezra anxiously as Hal slid past
him into the house. “I remembered what you like, Master Hal. I been
workin’ doggone hard to git everythin’ jest A1 fer you!”

His voice grew inaudible as he followed Hal into Snug Haven. The
captain and the doctor gazed at each other a long, eloquent moment in
the vague light. Neither spoke. Filhiol turned and sat down, puzzled,
oppressed.

Briggs wearily sank into another chair. Hal’s feet stumbling up the
front stairs echoed with torment through his soul. Was that the
stumbling of haste, or had the boy drunk more than he had seemed to?
The captain dropped his cap to the porch-floor. Not now did he take
pains to hang it on top of the rocking-chair. He wiped his forehead
with his silk handkerchief, and groaned.

The doctor kept silence. He understood that any word of his would prove
inopportune. But with pity he studied the face of Captain Briggs, its
lines accentuated by the light from the window of the cabin.

Presently the captain sighed deep and began:

“I’m glad you’re here on my quarterdeck with me to-night, doctor.
Things are all going wrong, sir. Barometer’s way down, compass is
bedeviled, seams opening fore and aft. It’s bad, doctor—very, very
bad!”

“I see there’s something wrong, of course,” said Filhiol with sympathy.

“Everything’s wrong, sir. That grandson of mine—you—noticed just what
was the matter with him?”

“H-m! It’s rather dark here, you know,” hedged Filhiol.

“Not so dark but what you understood,” said Briggs grimly. “When
there’s a storm brewing no good navigator thinks he can dodge it by
locking himself in his cabin. And there _is_ a storm brewing this time,
a hurricane, sir, or I’ve missed all signals.”

“Just what do you mean, captain?”

“Violence, drink, women—wickedness and sin! You smelled his breath,
didn’t you? You took an observation of his face?”

“Well, yes. He’s been drinking a little, of course; but these boys in
college—”

“He very nigh killed the skipper of the _Sylvia Fletcher_, and there’ll
be the devil to pay about it. It was just luck there wasn’t murder done
before my very eyes. He’s been drinking enough so as to wake a black
devil in his heart! Enough so he’s like a roaring bull after the first
pretty girl in the offing.”

“There, there, captain!” The doctor tried to soothe him, his thin
voice making strange contrast with the captain’s booming bass. “You’re
probably exaggerating. A little exuberance may be pardoned in youth,”
his expression belied his words. “Remember, captain, when _you_ were—”

“That’s just what’s driving me on the rocks with grief and despair!”
the old man burst out, gripping the arms of the rocker. “God above!
It’s just the realization of my own youth, flung back at me now, that’s
like to kill me! That boy, so help me—why, he’s thrown clean back
fifty years all at one crack!”

“No, no, not that!”

“He has, I tell you! He’s jumped back half a century. _He_ don’t belong
in this age of airplanes and wireless. _He_ belongs back with the
clipper-ships and—”

“Nonsense, captain, and you know it!”

“It’s far from nonsense! There’s a bad strain somewhere in my blood.
I’ve been afraid a long time it was going to crop out in Hal. There’s
always been a tradition in my family of evil doings now and then.
I don’t know anything certain about it, though, except that my
grandfather, Amalfi Briggs, died of bursting a blood-vessel in his
brain in a fit of rage. That was all that saved him from being a
murderer—he died before he could kill the other man!”

Silence came, save for the piping whistle of an urchin far up the road.
The ever-rising, falling suspiration of the sea breathed its long
caress across the land, on which a vague, pale sheen of starlight was
descending.

Suddenly, from abovestairs, sounded a dull, slamming sound as of a
bureau-drawer violently shut. Another slam followed; and now came a
grumbling of muffled profanity.

“All that saved my grandfather from being a murderer,” said Briggs
dourly, “was the fact that he dropped dead himself before he could cut
down the other man with the ship-carpenter’s adze he had in his hand.”

“Indeed? Your grandfather must have been rather a hard specimen.”

“Only when he was in anger. At other times you never saw a more jovial
soul! But rage made a beast of him!”

“How was your father?”

“Not that way in the least. He was as consistently Christian a man as
ever breathed. My son—Hal’s father—was a good man, too. Not a sign of
that sort of brutality ever showed in him.”

“I think you’re worrying unnecessarily,” judged the doctor. “Your
grandson may be wild and rough at times, but he’s tainted with no
hereditary stain.”

“I don’t know about that, doctor,” said the captain earnestly. “For a
year or two past he’s been showing more temper than a young man should.
He’s not been answering the helm very well. Two or three of the village
people here have already complained to me. I’ve never been really
afraid till to-night. But now, doctor, I _am_ afraid—terribly, deadly
afraid!”

The old man’s voice shook. Filhiol tried to smile.

“Let the dead past bury its dead!” said he. “Don’t open the old graves
to let the ghosts of other days walk out again into the clear sunset of
your life.”

“God knows I don’t want to!” the old man exclaimed in a low, trembling
voice. “But suppose those graves open themselves? Suppose they won’t
stay shut, no, not though all the good deeds from here to heaven were
piled atop of them, to keep them down? Suppose those ghosts rise up and
stare me in the eyes and won’t be banished—what then?”

“Stuff and nonsense!” gibed Filhiol, though his voice was far from
steady. “You’re not yourself, captain. You’re unnerved. There’s nothing
the matter with that boy except high spirits and overflowing animal
passions.”

“No, no! I understand only too well. God is being very hard to me! I
sinned grievous, in the long ago! But I’ve done my very best to pay
the reckoning. Seems like I haven’t succeeded. Seems like God don’t
forget! He’s paying me now, with interest!”

“Captain, you exaggerate!” the doctor tried to assure him, but Briggs
shook his head.

“Heredity skips that way sometimes, don’t it?” asked he.

“Well—sometimes. But that doesn’t prove anything.”

“No, it don’t prove anything, but what Hal did to-night _does_!
Would a thing like that come on sudden that way? Would it? A kind of
hydrophobia of rage that won’t listen to any reason but wants to break
and tear and kill? I mean, if that kind of thing was in the blood,
could it lay hid a long time and then all of a sudden burst out like
that?”

“Well—yes. It might.”

“I seem to remember it was the same with me the first time I ever
had one of those mad fits,” said the captain. “It come on quick. It
wasn’t like ordinary getting mad. It was a red torrent, delirious
and awful—something that caught me up and carried me along on its
wave—something I couldn’t fight against. When I saw Hal with his teeth
grinning, eyes glassy, fists red with McLaughlin’s blood, oh, it struck
clean through my heart!

“It wasn’t any fear of either of them getting killed that harpooned
me, no, nor complications and damages to pay. No, no, though such will
be bad enough. What struck me all of a heap was to see myself, my very
own self that used to be. If I, Captain Alpheus Briggs, had been swept
back to 1868 and set down on the deck of the _Silver Fleece_, Hal would
have been my exact double. I’ve seen myself just as I was then, doctor,
and it’s shaken me in every timber. There I stood, I, myself, in Hal’s
person, after five decades of weary time. I could see the outlines of
the same black beard on the same kind of jaw—same thick neck and
bloody fists; and, oh, doctor, the eyes of Hal. His eyes!”

“His eyes?”

“Yes. In them I saw my old, wicked, hell-elected self—saw it glaring
out, to break and ravish and murder!”

“Captain Briggs!”

“It’s true, I’m telling you. I’ve seen a ghost this evening. A ghost—”

He peered around fearfully in the dusk. His voice lowered to a whisper:

“A ghost!”

Filhiol could not speak. Something cold, prehensile, terrible seemed
fingering at his heart! Ruddy, the Airedale, raised his head, seemed
to be listening, to be seeing something they could not detect. In the
dog’s throat a low growl muttered.

“What’s _that_?” said the captain, every muscle taut.

“Nothing, nothing,” the doctor answered. “The dog probably hears some
one down there by the hedge. This is all nonsense, captain. You’re
working yourself into a highly nervous state and imagining all kinds of
things. Now—”

“I tell you, I saw the ghost of my other self,” insisted Briggs.
“There’s worse kinds of ghosts than those that hang around graveyards.
I’ve always wanted to see that kind and never have. Night after night
I’ve been up there to the little cemetery on Croft Hill, and sat on the
bench in our lot, just as friendly and receptive as could be, ready to
see whatever ghost might come to me, but none ever came. I’m not afraid
of the ghosts of the dead! It’s ghosts of the living that strike a
dread to me—ghosts of the past that ought to die and can’t—ghosts of
my own sins that God won’t let lie in the grave of forgiveness—”

“_S-h-h-h!_” exclaimed the doctor. He laid a hand on the captain’s,
which was clutching the arm of the rocker with a grip of steel. “Don’t
give way to such folly! Perhaps Hal did drink a little, and perhaps he
did thrash a man who had insulted him. But that’s as far as it goes.
All this talk about ghosts and some hereditary, devilish force cropping
out again, is pure rubbish!”

“I wish to God above it _was_!” the old man groaned. “But I know it’s
not. It’s there, doctor, I tell you! It’s still alive and in the world,
more terrible and more malignant than ever, a living, breathing thing,
evil and venomous, backed up with twice the intelligence and learning
I ever had, with a fine, keen brain to direct it and with muscles of
steel to do its bidding! Oh, God, I know, I _know_!”

“Captain Briggs, sir,” the doctor began. “This is most extraordinary
language from a man of your common sense. I really do not understand—”

“Hush!” interrupted the captain, raising his right hand. On the
stairway feet echoed. “Hush! He’s coming down!”

Silent, tense, they waited. The heavy footfalls reached the bottom of
the stair and paused there a moment. Briggs and the doctor heard Hal
grumbling something inarticulate to himself. Then he walked into the
cabin.



CHAPTER XXII

DR. FILHIOL STANDS BY


Through the window both men could see him. The cabin-lamp over
the captain’s table shed soft rays upon the boy as he stood there
unconscious of being observed.

He remained motionless a moment, gazing about him, taking account of
any little changes that had been wrought in the past months. At sight
of him the old captain, despite all his bodings of evil, could not but
thrill with pride of this clean-limbed, powerful-shouldered grandson,
scion of the old stock, last survivor of his race, and hope of all its
future.

Hal took a step to the table. The lithe ease and power of his stride
impressed the doctor’s critical eye.

“He’s all right enough, captain,” growled Filhiol. “He’s as normal
as can be. He’s just overflowing with animal spirits, strength, and
energy. Lord! What wouldn’t you or I give to be like that—again?”

“I wouldn’t stand in those boots of his for all the money in Lloyd’s!”
returned the captain in a hoarse whisper. “For look you, doctor, I have
lived my life and got wisdom. My fires have burned low, leaving the
ashes of peace—or so I hope. But that lad there, ah! there’s fires
and volcanoes enough ahead for him! Maybe those same fires will kindle
up my ashes, too, and sear my heart and soul! I thought I was entitled
to heave anchor and lay in harbor a spell till I get my papers for
the unknown port we don’t any of us come back from, but maybe I’m
mistaken. Maybe that’s not to be, doctor, after all.”

“What rubbish!” retorted Filhiol. “Look at him now, will you? Isn’t he
peaceful, and normal enough for anybody? See there, now, he’s going to
take a book and read it like any well-behaved young man.”

Hal had, indeed, taken a book from the captain’s table and had sat
down with it before the fireplace. He did not, however, open the book.
Instead, he leaned back and gazed intently up at the arsenal. He
frowned, nodded, and then broke into a peculiar smile. His right fist
clenched and rose, as if in imagination he were gripping one of those
weapons, with Fergus McLaughlin as his immediate target.

Silence fell once more, through which faintly penetrated the far-off,
nasal minor of old Ezra, now engaged upon an endless chantey recounting
the adventures of one “Boney”—_alias_ Bonaparte. Peace seemed to have
descended upon Snug Haven, but only for a minute.

For all at once, with an oath of impatience, Hal flung the book to the
floor. He stood up, thrust both hands deep into his pockets, and fell
to pacing the floor in a poisonous temper.

Of a sudden he stopped, wheeled toward the captain’s little private
locker and strode to it. The locker door was secured with a brass
padlock of unusual strength. Hal twisted it off between thumb and
finger as easily as if it had been made of putty. He flung open the
door, and took down a bottle.

He seized a tumbler and slopped it levelful of whisky, which he gulped
without a wink. Then he smeared his mouth with the back of his hand and
stood there evil-eyed and growling.

“_Puh!_ That’s rotten stuff!” he ejaculated. “Grandpop certainly does
keep a punk line here!” Back upon the shelf he slammed the bottle and
the glass. “Wonder where that smooth Jamaica’s gone he used to have?”

“God above! Did you see that, doctor?” breathed the old captain,
gripping at the doctor’s hand. “He downed that like so much water.
Isn’t that the exact way I used to swill liquor? By the Judas priest,
I’ll soon stop _that_!”

Filhiol restrained him.

“Wait!” he cautioned as the two old men peered in, unseen, through the
window. “Even that doesn’t prove the original sin you seem determined
to lay at the boy’s door. He’s unnerved after his fight. Let’s see what
he’ll do next. If we’re going to judge him, we’ve got to watch a while.”

Old Briggs sank back into his chair, and with eyes of misery followed
the boy, hope of all his dreams. Hal’s next move was not long delayed.

“Ezra!” they heard him harshly call. “You, Ezra! Come _here_!”

The chantey came to a sudden end. A moment, and Ezra appeared in the
doorway leading from the cabin to the “dining-saloon.”

“Well, Master Hal, what is it?” smiled the cook, beaming with
affection. In one hand he held a “copper,” just such as aboard the
_Silver Fleece_ had heated water for the scalding of the Malays. “What
d’you want, Master Hal?”

“Look here, Ezra,” said the boy arrogantly, “I’ve been trying to find
the rum grandpop always keeps in there. Couldn’t locate it, so I’ve
been giving this whisky a trial, and—”

“When whisky an’ young men lay ’longside one another, the whisky don’t
want a trial. It wants lynchin’!”

“I’m not asking _your_ opinion!” sneered Hal.

“Yes, but I’m givin’ it, Master Hal,” persisted Ezra. “When the devil
goes fishin’ fer boys, he sticks a petticoat an’ a bottle o’ rum on the
hook.”

“Get me the Jamaica, you!” demanded Hal with growing anger. “I’ve got
no time for your line of bull!”

“Lots that ain’t got no time for nothin’ in this world will have time
to burn in the next! You’ll get no rum from me, Master Hal. An’ what’s
more, if I’d ha’ thought you was goin’ to slip your cable an’ run
ashore in any such dognation fool way on a wave o’ booze, I’d of hid
the whisky where _you_ wouldn’t of run it down!”

“You’d have hidden it!” echoed Hal, his face darkening, the veins on
neck and forehead beginning to swell. “You’ve got the infernal nerve to
stand there—you, a servant—and tell me you’d hide anything away from
me in my own house?”

“This here craft is registered under your grandpa’s name an’ is sailin’
under his house-flag,” the old cook reminded him. His face was still
bland as ever, but in his eyes lurked a queer little gleam. “It ain’t
the same thing at all—not yet.”

“Damn your infernal lip!” shouted Hal, advancing. Captain Briggs,
quivering, half-rose from his chair. “You’ve got the damned impudence
to stand there and dictate to _me_?”

“Master Hal,” retorted Ezra with admirable self-restraint, “you’re
sailin’ a bit too wide wide o’ your course now. There’s breakers ahead,
sir. Look out!”

“I believe you’ve been at the Jamaica yourself, you thieving son of
Satan!” snarled Hal. “I’ll not stand here parleying with a servant. Get
me that Jamaica, or I’ll break your damned, obstinate neck!”

“Now, Master Hal, I warn you—”

“To hell with you!”

“With me, Master Hal? With old Ezra?”

“With everything that stands in my way!”

Despite Hal’s furious rage the steadfast old sailor-man still
resolutely faced him. Captain Briggs, now again hearing almost the
identical words he himself had poured out in the cabin of the _Silver
Fleece_, sank back into his chair with a strange, throaty gasp.

“Doctor!” he gulped. “Do you hear that?”

“Wait!” the doctor cautioned, leaning forward. “This is very strange.
It is, by Jove, sir! Some amazing coincidence, or—”

“Next thing you know he’ll knock Ezra down!” whispered the captain,
staring. He seemed paralyzed, as though tranced by the scene. “That’s
what I did to the cabin-boy, when my rum was wrong. Remember? It’s all
coming round again, doctor. It’s a nightmare in a circle—a fifty-year
circle! Remember Kuala Pahang? She—she died! I wonder what woman’s got
to die this time?”

“That’s all pure poppycock!” the doctor ejaculated. He was trembling
violently. With a great effort, leaning heavily on his stick, he arose.
Captain Briggs, too, shook off the spell that seemed to grip him and
stood up.

“Hal!” he tried to articulate; but his voice failed him. Turning, he
lurched toward the front door.

From within sounded a cry, a trampling noise. Something clattered to
the floor.

“Hal! My God, Hal!” the captain shouted hoarsely.

As he reached the door Ezra came staggering out into the hall, a hand
pressed to his face.

“Ezra! What is it? For Heaven’s sake, Ezra, what’s Hal done to you?”

The old man could make no answer. Limply he sagged against the
newel-post, a sorry picture of grief and pain. The captain put an arm
about his shoulders, and with burning indignation cried:

“What did he do? Hit you?”

Ezra shook his head in stout negation. Even through all the shock and
suffering of the blow, his loyalty remained sublimely constant.

“Hit me? Why, no, sir,” he tried to smile, though his lips were white.
“_He_ wouldn’t strike old Ezra. There’s no mutiny aboard this little
craft of ours. Two gentlemen may disagree, an’ all that, but as fer
Master Hal strikin’ me, no, _sir_!”

“But I heard him say—”

“Oh, that’s nothin’, cap’n,” the old cook insisted, still, however,
keeping his cheek-bone covered with his hand. “Boys will be boys.
They’re a bit loose with their jaw-tackle, maybe. But there, there,
don’t you git all har’red up, captain. Men an’ pins is jest alike, that
way—no good ef they lose their heads. Ca’m down, cap’n!”

“What’s that on your face. Blood?”

“Blood, sir? How would blood git on my doggone face, anyhow?
That’s—h-m—”

“Don’t you lie to me, Ezra! I’m not blind. He cut you with something!
What was it?”

“Honest to God, cap’n, he never! I admit we had a bit of an argyment,
an’ I slipped an’ kind of fell ag’in’ the—the binnacle, cap’n. I’ll
swear that on the ship’s Bible!”

“Don’t you stand there and perjure your immortal soul just to shield
that boy!” Briggs sternly reproved, loving the old man all the more for
the brave lie. “But I know you will, anyhow. What authority have I got
aboard my own ship, when I can’t even get the truth? Ezra, you wouldn’t
admit it, if Hal took that kris in there and cut your head off!”

“How could I then, sir?”

“That’ll do, Ezra! Where is he now?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“I’ll damn soon find out!” the captain cried, stung to the first
profanity of years. He tramped into the cabin, terrible.

“Come here, sir!” he cried in a tone never before heard in Snug Haven.

No answer. Hal was not there. Neither was the bottle of whisky. A chair
had been tipped over, and on the floor lay the captain’s wonderful
chronometer, with shattered glass.

This destruction, joined to Ezra’s innocent blood, seemed to freeze the
captain’s marrow. He stood there a moment, staring. Then, wide-eyed, he
peered around.

“Mutiny and bloodshed,” he whispered. “God deliver us from what’s to
be! Hal Briggs, sir!” he called crisply. “Come here!” The captain,
terrible in wrath, strode through the open door.

A creaking of the back stairs constituted the only answer. The captain
hurried up those stairs. As he reached the top he heard the door of
Hal’s room shut, and the key turn.

“You, sir!” he cried, knocking violently at the panels. A voice issued:

“It’s no use, gramp. I’m not coming out, and you’re not coming in.
It’s been nothing but hell ever since I struck this damn place. If it
doesn’t stop I’m going to get mad and do some damage round here. All I
want now is to be let alone. Go ’way, and don’t bother me!”

“Hal! Open that door, sir!”

Never a word came back. The captain knocked and threatened, but got no
reply.

At last, realizing that he was only lowering his dignity by such vain
efforts, he departed. His eyes glowered strangely as he made his way
down-stairs.

Ezra had disappeared. But the old doctor was standing in the hallway,
under the gleam of a ship’s lantern there. He looked very wan and
anxious.

“Captain,” said he, with timid hesitation. “I feel that my presence
may add to your embarrassment. Therefore, I think I had best return to
Salem this evening. If you will ask Ezra to harness up my horse, I’ll
be much obliged.”

“I’ll do nothing of the kind, doctor! You’re my friend and my guest,
and you’re not going to be driven out by any such exhibition of brutal
bad manners! I ask you, sir, to stay. I haven’t seen you for fifty
years, sir; and you do no more than lay ’longside, and then want to
hoist canvas again and beat away? Never, sir! Here you stay, to-night,
aboard me. There’s a cabin and as nice a berth as any seafaring man
could ask. Go and leave me now, would you? Not much, sir!”

“If you really want me to stay, captain—”

Briggs took Filhiol by the hand and looked steadily into his anxious,
withered face.

“Listen,” said he, in a deep, quiet tone. “I’m in trouble, doctor.
Deep, black, bitter trouble. Nobody in this world but you can help me
steer a straight course now, if there’s any way _to_ steer one, which
God grant! Stand by me now, doctor. You did once before on the old
_Silver Fleece_. I’ve got your stitches in me yet. Now, after fifty
years, I need you again, though it’s worse this time than any knife-cut
ever was. Stand by me, doctor, for a little while. That’s all I ask.
_Stand by!_”



CHAPTER XXIII

SUNSHINE


The miracle of a new day’s sunshine—golden over green earth,
foam-collared shore and shining sea—brought another miracle almost as
great as that which had transformed somber night to radiant morning.
This miracle was the complete reversal of the situation at Snug Harbor,
and the return of peace and happiness. But all this cannot be told in
two breaths. We must not run too far ahead of our story.

So, to go on in orderly fashion we must know that Ezra’s carefully
prepared supper turned out to be a melancholy failure. The somber
dejection of the three old men at table, and then the miserable evening
of the captain and the doctor on the piazza, talking of old days with
infinite regret, of the present with grief and humiliation, of the
future with black bodings, made a sorry time of it all.

Night brought but little sleep to Captain Briggs. The doctor slept well
enough, and Ezra seconded him. But the good fortune of oblivion was not
for the old captain. Through what seemed a black eternity he lay in the
bunk in his cabin, brooding, agonizing, listening to the murmur of the
sea, the slow tolling of hours from the tall clock in the hallway. The
cessation of the ticking of his chronometer left a strange vacancy in
his soul. Deeply he mourned it.

After an infinite time, half-sleep won upon him, troubled by ugly
dreams. Alpheus Briggs seemed to behold again the stifling alleyways
of the Malay town, the carabaos and chattering gharrimen, the peddlers
and whining musicians, the smoky torch-flares and dark, slow-moving
river. He seemed to smell, once more, the odors of spice and curry,
the smoke of torches and wood fires, the dank and reeking mud of the
marshy, fever-bitten shore.

And then the vision changed. He was at sea again; witnessing the death
of Scurlock, the boy and Kuala Pahang, in the blood-tinged waters.
Came the battle with the Malays, in the grotesque exaggerations of a
dream; and then the torments of the hell-ship, cargoing slaves. The
old captain seemed stifled by the reek and welter of that freight; he
seemed to hear their groans and cries—and all at once he heard again,
as in a voice from infinite distances, the curse of Shiva, flung at him
by Dengan Jouga, witch-woman of the Malay tribesmen:

 “The evil spirit will pursue you, even beyond the wind, even beyond
 the Silken Sea! Vishnu will repay you! Dead men shall come from their
 graves, like wolves, to follow you. Birds of the ocean foam will
 poison you. Life will become to you a thing more terrible than the
 venom of the katchubong flower, and evil seed will grow within your
 heart.

 “Evil seed will grow and flourish there, dragging you down to death,
 down to the longing for death, and yet you cannot die! And the blind
 face in the sky will watch you, _sahib_—watch you, and laugh, because
 you cannot die! That is the curse of Vishnu on your soul!”

In the captain’s dream, the groaning and crying of the wounded and
perishing men aboard the _Silver Fleece_ seemed to blend with that
of the dying slaves. And gradually all this echoing agony transmuted
itself into a sinister and terrible mirth, a horrifying, ghastly
laughter, far and strange, ceaseless, monotonous, maddening.

Somewhere in a boundless sky of black, the captain seemed to behold
a vast spiral, whirling, ever-whirling in and in; and at its center,
vague, formless yet filled with menace, he dimly saw an eyeless face,
indeed, that still for all its blindness seemed to be watching him. And
as it watched, it laughed, blood-freezingly.

Captain Briggs roused to his senses. He found himself sitting up in
bed, by the open window, through which drifted the solemn roar and
hissing backwash of a rising surf. A pallid moon-crescent, tangled in
spun gossamer-fabric of drifting cloud, cast tenuous, fairy shadows
across the garden. Staring, the captain rubbed his eye.

“Judas priest!” he muttered. “What—where—Ah! Dreaming, eh? Only
dreaming? Thank God for that!”

Then, with a pang of transfixing pain, back surged memories of what had
happened last night. He slid out of bed, struck a match and looked at
his watch. The hour was just a bit after two.

Noiselessly Briggs crept from his room, climbed the stairs and came
to Hal’s door. The menace of Kuala Pahang still weighed terribly upon
him. Something of the vague superstitions of the sea seemed to have
infused themselves into the captain’s blood. Shuddering, he remembered
the curse that now for years had lain forgotten in the dusty archives
of his youth; remembered even more than he had dreamed; remembered the
words of the _nenek kabayan_, the witch-woman—that strange, yellow,
ghostlike creature which had come upon him silently over his rum and
gabbling in the cabin of the hell-ship:

 “Something you love—love more than your own life—will surely die.
 You will die then, but still you will not die. You will pray for
 death, but death will mock and will not come!”

The old captain shivered as he stood before the door of Hal’s room.
Suppose the ancient curse really had power? Suppose it should strike
Hal, and Hal should die! What then?

For a moment he heard nothing within the room, and his old heart nearly
stopped, altogether. But almost at once he perceived Hal’s breathing,
quiet and natural.

“Oh, thank God!” the captain murmured, his soul suddenly expanding
with blest relief. He remained there a while, keeping silent vigil at
the door of his well-loved boy. Then, satisfied that all was well,
he retraced his steps, got back into bed, and so presently fell into
peaceful slumber.

A knocking at his door, together with the voice of Ezra, awoke him.

“Cap’n Briggs, sir! It’s six bells o’ the mornin’ watch. Time to turn
out!”

The captain blinked and rubbed his eyes.

“Come in, Ezra,” bade he, mustering his wits. “H-m!” he grunted at
sight of Ezra’s cheek-bone with an ugly cut across it. “The doctor up
yet?”

“Yes, sir. He’s been cruisin’ out ’round the lawn an’ garden an hour.
He’s real interestin’, ain’t he? But he’s too kind o’ mournful-like
to set right on _my_ stomach. Only happy when he’s miserable. Men’s
different, that way, sir. Some heaves a sigh, where others would heave
a brick.”

“That’ll do, Ezra. What’s there to record on the log, so far?” asked
Briggs, anxiously.

“First thing this A. M. I’m boarded by old Joe Pringle, the peddler
from Kittery. Joe, he wanted to sell us anythin’ he could—a
jew’s-harp, history o’ the world, Salvation Salve, a phonograft, an
Eyetalian queen-bee, a—”

“Hold hard! I don’t care anything about Joe. What’s the news this
morning about—about—”

“News, sir? Well, the white Leghorn’s bringin’ off a nestful. Five’s
hatched already. Nature’s funny, ain’t it? We git chickens from eggs,
an’ eggs from chickens, an’—”

“_Will_ you stop your fool talk?” demanded the captain. He peered at
Ezra with disapproval. To his lips he could not bring a direct question
about the boy; and Ezra was equally unwilling to introduce the subject,
fearing lest some word of blame might be spoken against his idol. “Tell
me some news, I say!” the captain ordered.

“News, cap’n? Well, Dr. Filhiol, there, fed his nag enough of our
chicken-feed to last us a week. The doc, he calls the critter, Ned. But
I think Sea Lawyer would be ’bout right.”

“Sea Lawyer? How’s that?”

“Well, sir, it _can_ draw a conveyance, but it’s doggone poor at it.”

“Stop your foolishness, Ezra, and tell me what I want to know. How’s
Hal this morning? Where is he, and what’s he doing?”

“Master Hal? Why, he’s all right, sir.”

“He is, eh?” The captain’s hands were clenched with nervousness.

Ezra nodded assent.

“Don’t ye worry none about Master Hal,” said he gravely. “Worry’s
wuss’n a dozen leaks an’ no pump. Ef ye _must_ worry, worry somebody
else.”

“What’s the boy doing? Drinking again?”

“Not a drink, cap’n. Now my idea about liquor is—”

“Judas priest!” interrupted Briggs. “You’ll drive me crazy! If the
world was coming to an end you’d argue with Gabriel. You say Hal’s not
touched it this morning?”

“Nary drop, sir.”

“Oh, that’s good news!”

“Good news is like a hard-b’iled egg, cap’n. You don’t have to break it
easy. Hal’s fine an’ fit this mornin’, sir. I thought maybe he might
hunt a little tot o’ rum, this mornin’, but no; no, sir, he’s sober as
a deacon. The way he apologized was as han’some.”

“Apologized? Who to?”

“Me an’ the doctor. He come out to the barn, an’ begged our pardons in
some o’ the doggondest purtiest language I ever clapped an ear to. He’s
slick. Everythin’s all right between Master Hal an’ I an’ the doctor.
After he apologized he went fer a swim, down to Geyser Rock.”

“Did, eh? He’s wonderful in the water! Not another man in _this_
town dares take that dive. I—I’m mighty glad he had the decency to
apologize. Hal’s steering the right course now. He’s proved himself
a man anyhow. Last night I’d almost lost faith in him and in all
humanity.”

“It ain’t so important fer a man to have faith in humanity as fer
humanity to have faith in him,” affirmed the old cook. “Now, cap’n, you
git up, please. You’ll want to see Master Hal afore breakfast. Listen
to me, cap’n, don’t never drive that boy out, same’s I was drove.
Master Hal’s sound an’ good at heart. But he’s had his own head too
long now fer you to try rough tactics.”

“Rough! When was I ever rough with Hal?”

“Mebbe if you had of been a few times when he was small it’d of been
better. But it’s too late now. Let him keep all canvas aloft; but hold
a hard helm on him. Hold it hard!”

The sound of singing somewhere across the road toward the shore drew
the captain’s attention out the window. Striding home from his morning
plunge, Hal was returning to Snug Harbor, “coming up with a song from
the sea.”

The captain put on his bathrobe, then went to the window and sat down
there. He leaned his arms on the sill, and peered out at Hal. Ezra
discreetly withdrew.

No sign seemed visible on Hal of last night’s rage and war. Sleep, and
the exhilaration of battling with the savage surf along the face of
Geyser Rock, had swept away all traces of his brutality. Molded into
his wet bathing-suit that revealed every line of that splendidly virile
body, he drew near.

All at once he caught sight of Captain Briggs. He stopped his song, by
the lantern-flanked gateway, and waved a hand of greeting.

“Top o’ the morning to you, grandfather!” cried he. There he stood
overflooded with life, strength, spirits. His body gleamed with
glistening brine; his face, lighted by a smile of boyish frankness,
shone in the morning sun. His thick, black hair that he had combed
straight back with his fingers, dripped seawater on his bronzed,
muscular shoulders.

“God, what a man!” the captain thought. “Hard as nails, and ridged with
muscle. He’s only twenty-one, but he’s better than ever I was, at my
best!”

And once again, he felt his old heart expand with pride and hope—hope
that reached out to lay eager hold upon the future and its dreams.

“I want to see you, sir, before breakfast,” said the captain.

Hal nodded comprehension. From the hedge he broke a little twig, and
held it up.

“Here’s the switch, gramp,” said he whimsically. “You’d better use it
now, while I’ve got bare legs.”

The old man had to smile. With eyes of profound affection he gazed at
Hal. Sunlight on his head and on Hal’s struck out wonderful contrasts
of snow and jet. The luminous, celestial glow of a June morning on
the New England coast—a morning gemmed with billions of dewdrops
flashing on leaf and lawn, a morning overbrooded by azure deeps of sky
unclouded—folded the world in beauty.

A sense of completion, of loveliness fulfilled compassed everything.
Autumn looks back, regretfully. Winter shivers between memories and
hopes. Spring hopes more strongly still—but June, complete and
resting, says: “Behold!”

Such was that morning; and the captain, looking at his boy, felt its
magic soothing the troubled heart within him. On the lawn, two or three
robins were busy. Another, teetering high on the plumy crest of a
shadowing elm, was emptying its heart of melody.

A minute, old man and young looked steadily at each other. Then Hal
came up the white-sanded walk, between the two rows of polished
conches. He stopped at the old man’s window.

“Grandfather,” said he in a low tone. “Will you listen to me, please?”

“What have you got to say, sir?” demanded Briggs, and stiffened his
resolution. “Well, sir?”

“Listen, grandfather,” answered Hal, in a very manly way, that
harmonized with his blue-eyed look, and with his whole air of ingenuous
and boyish contrition. He crossed his bare arms, looked down a moment
at the sand, dug at it a little with a toe, and then once more raised
his head. “Listen, please. I’ve got just one thing to ask. Please don’t
lecture me, and don’t be harsh. I stand here absolutely penitent,
grandfather, begging to be forgiven. I’ve already apologized to Dr.
Filhiol and Ezra—”

“So I understand,” put in Briggs, still striving hard to make his
voice sound uncompromising. “Well?”

“Well, grandfather—as for apologizing to you, that’s kind of a hard
proposition. It isn’t that I don’t want to, but the relations between
us have been so close that it’s pretty hard to make up a regular
apology. You and I aren’t on a basis where I really _could_ apologize,
as I could to anybody else. But I certainly did act the part of a
ruffian on the _Sylvia Fletcher_, and I was certainly a rotter here
last night. There’s only one other thing—”

“And what’s that, sir?” demanded Briggs. The captain still maintained
judicial aloofness, despite all cravings of the heart. “What’s that?”

“I—you may not believe it, gramp, but it’s true. I really don’t
remember hardly anything about what happened aboard the schooner or
here. I suppose I can’t stand even a couple of drinks. It all seems
hazy to me now, like a kind of nightmare. It’s all indistinct, as
if it weren’t me at all, but somebody else. I feel just as if I’d
been watching another man do the things that I really know I myself
_did_ do. The feeling is that somebody else took my body and used it,
and made it do things that I myself didn’t want it to do. But I was
powerless to stop it. Grampy, it’s true, true, _true_!”

He paused, looking at his grandfather with eyes of tragic seriousness.
Old Briggs shivered slightly, and drew the bathrobe more tightly around
his shoulders.

“Go on, Hal.”

“Well, there isn’t much more to say. I know there’ll be consequences,
and I’m willing to face them. I’ll cut out the booze altogether. It was
foolish of me to get into it at all, but you know how it is at college.
They all kidded me, for not drinking a little, and so—well. It’s my
own fault, right enough. Anyhow, I’m done. You’ll forget it and forgive
it, won’t you, grandpa?”

“_Will_ I, my boy?” the old man answered. He blinked to keep back the
tears. “You know the answer, already!”

“You really mean that, gramp?” exclaimed Hal, with boyish enthusiasm.
“If I face the music, whatever it is, and keep away from any encores,
will you let me by, this time?”

The captain could answer only by stretching out his hand and gripping
Hal’s. The boy took his old, wrinkled hand in a grip heartfelt and
powerful. Thus for a moment the two men, old and young, felt the strong
pressure of palms that cemented contrition and forgiveness. The captain
was first to speak.

“Everything’s all right now, Hal,” said he, “so far’s I’m concerned.
Whatever’s wrong, outside Snug Haven, can be made right. I know you’ve
had your lesson, boy.”

“I should say so! I don’t need a second.”

“No, no. You’ll remember this one, right enough. Well, now, least said
soonest mended. It was pretty shoal water there, one while. But we’re
floating again, and we’re not going to run on to any more sandbars, are
we? Ah, there’s Ezra blowing his bo’sun’s whistle for breakfast. Let’s
see which of us gets to mess-table first!”



CHAPTER XXIV

DARKENING SHADOWS


Breakfast—served on a regulation ship’s table, with swivel-chairs
screwed to the floor and with a rack above for tumblers and
plates—made up by its overflowing happiness for all the heartache of
the night before. Hal radiated life and high spirits. The captain’s
forebodings of evil had vanished in his newly-revivified hopes. Dr.
Filhiol became downright cheerful, and so far forgot his nerves as to
drink a cup of weak coffee. As for Ezra, he seemed in his best form.

“Judgin’ by your togs, Master Hal,” said he, as Hal—breakfast
done—lighted his pipe and blew smoke up into the sunlit air, “I
cal’late Laura Maynard’s got jest the same chances of not takin’ a
walk with you, this mornin’, that Ruddy, here, has got of learnin’
them heathen Chinee books o’ yourn. It says in the Bible to love y’r
neighbor as y’rself, so you got Scripture backin’ fer Laura.”

“Plus the evidence of my own senses, Ezra,” laughed the boy, as he drew
at his pipe. His fresh-shaven, tanned face with those now placid blue
eyes seemed to have no possible relation with the mask of vicious hate
and rage of the night before.

As he sat there, observing Ezra with a smile, he appeared no other than
an extraordinary well-grown, powerfully developed young man.

“Must have been the rum that did it,” the captain tried to convince
himself. “Works that way with some people. They lose all anchors,
canvas, sticks and everything—go on the rocks when they’ve only
shipped a drink or two. There’ll be no more rum for Hal. He’s passed
his word he’s through. That means he _is_ through, because whatever
else he may or may not be, he’s a Briggs. So then, that’s settled!”

“Now that you’ve put me in mind of Laura, I think I _will_ take a walk
down-street,” said Hal. “I might just possibly happen to meet her. Glad
you reminded me, Ezra.”

“I guess you don’t need much remindin’,” replied the old cook solemnly.
“But sail a steady course an’ don’t carry too much canvas. You’re too
young a cap’n to be lookin’ for a mate, on the sea o’ life. Go slow.
You can’t never tell what a woman or a jury’ll do, an’ most women jump
at a chanst quicker ’n what they do at a mouse. Go easy!”

“For an old pair of scissors with only one blade, you seem to
understand the cut of the feminine gender pretty well,” smiled the boy.

“Understand females?” replied Ezra, drawing out a corn-cob and a pouch
of shag. “Not me! Some men think they do, but then, some men is dum
fools. They’re dangerous, women is. No charted coast, no lights but
love-light, an’ that most always turns out to be a will-o’-the-wisp,
that piles ye up on the rocks. When a man gits stuck on a gal, seems
like he’s like a fly stuck on fly-paper—sure to git his leg pulled.”

Hal laughed again, and departed with that kind of casual celerity which
any wise old head can easily interpret. Ezra, striking into a ditty
with a monotonous chorus of “Blow the man down,” began gathering up
the breakfast-dishes. The captain and his guest made their way to the
quarterdeck and settled themselves in rockers.

Briggs had hardly more than lighted his pipe, when his attention
was caught by a white-canvas-covered wagon, bearing on its side the
letters: “R. F. D.”

“Hello,” said he, a shade of anxiety crossing his face. “Hello, there’s
the mail.”

He tried to speak with unconcern, but into his voice crept foreboding
that matched his look. As he strode down the walk, Filhiol squinted
after him.

“It’s a sin and shame, the way he’s worried now,” the doctor murmured.
“That boy’s got the devil in him. He’ll kill the captain, yet. A swim,
a shave and a suit of white flannels don’t change a man’s heart. What’s
bred in the bone—”

Captain Briggs came to a stand at the gate. His nervousness betrayed
itself by the thick cloud of tobacco-smoke that rose from his lips.
Leisurely the mail-wagon zigzagged from side to side of the street as
the postman slid papers and letters into the boxes and hoisted the red
flags, always taking good care that no card escaped him, unread.

“Mornin’, cap’n,” said the postman. “Here’s your weather report, an’
here’s your ‘Shippin’ News.’ An’ here’s a letter from Boston, from
the college. You don’t s’pose Hal’s in any kind o’ rookus down there,
huh? An’ here’s a letter from Squire Bean, down to the Center. Don’t
cal’late there’s any law-doin’s, do you?”

“What do you mean?” demanded the captain, trying to keep a brave front.
“What could there be?”

“Oh, _you_ know, ’bout how Hal rimracked McLaughlin. I heered tell,
down-along, he’s goin’ to sue for swingein’ damages. Hal durn nigh
killed the critter.”

“Who told you?” demanded the captain.

“Oh, they’re all talkin’. An’ I see Mac, myself, goin’ inta the
squire’s house on a crutch an’ with one arm in a sling, early this
mornin’. This here letter must of been wrote right away after that.
Course I hope it ain’t nuthin’, but looks to me like ’tis. Well—”

He eyed the captain expectantly, hoping the old man might open the
letter and give the news which he could bear to all and sundry. But,
no; the captain merely nodded, thrust the letters into the capacious
breast-pocket of his square-rigged coat and with a non-committal “Thank
you,” made his way back to the piazza.

His shoulders drooped not, neither did his step betray any weakness.
The disgruntled postman muttered something surly, clucked to his horse,
and in disappointment pursued his business—the leisurely handling of
Uncle Sam’s mail and everybody’s private affairs.

The same robin—or perhaps, after all, it was a different one—was
singing in the elm, as Alpheus Briggs returned to the house. Down the
shaded street the metallic rhythm of the anvil was breaking through
the contrabass of the surf. But now this melody fell on deaf ears, for
Captain Briggs. Heavily he came up the steps, and with weariness sank
down in the big rocker. Sadly he shook his head.

“It’s come, I’m afraid,” said he dejectedly. “I was hoping it wouldn’t.
Hoping McLaughlin would let it go. But that was hoping too much. He’s
no man to swallow a beating. See here now, will you?”

The captain pulled out his letter from Squire Bean, and extended it to
Filhiol.

“Local attorney?” asked the doctor, with a look of anxiety.

“Yes,” answered the captain. “This letter means only one thing.
Barometer’s falling again. We’ll have to take in more canvas, sir.”

He tore the envelope with fingers now trembling. The letter revealed a
crabbed hand-writing, thus:

  Endicutt, Massachusetts,
  June 19, 1918.

  CAPTAIN ALPHEUS BRIGGS,
  South Endicutt.

 DEAR SIR: Captain Fergus McLaughlin has placed in my hands the matter
 of the assault and battery committed upon him by your grandson,
 Hal Briggs. Captain McLaughlin is in bad shape, is minus a front
 tooth, has his right arm broke, and cannot walk without a crutch.
 You are legally liable for these injuries, and would be immediately
 summoned into court except Capt. McLaughlin has regard for your age
 and position in the community. There is, however, no doubt, legal
 damages coming to the Capt. If you call, we can discuss amt. of same,
 otherwise let the law take its course.

  Resp’ly,
  JOHAB BEAN, J. P.,
  Ex-Candidate for Judge of Dis’t Court.

Captain Briggs read this carefully, then, tugging at his beard, passed
it over to Dr. Filhiol.

“It’s all as I was afraid it would be,” said the captain. “McLaughlin’s
not going to take the medicine he’s really deserved for long years of
buckoing poor devils. No, doctor. First time he meets a _man_ that can
stand up to him and pay him back with interest, he steers a course
for the law. That’s your bully and your coward! Thank God, for all my
doings, I never fought my fights before a judge or jury! It was the
best man win, fist to fist, or knife to knife if it came to that—but
the law, sir, never!”

“Well, that doesn’t matter now,” said Filhiol. “I’m afraid you’re in
for whacking damages. Hal’s lucky that he wasn’t a signed-on member of
the crew. There’d have been mutiny for you to get him out of, and iron
bars. Lucky again, he didn’t hit just a trifle harder. If he had, it
might have been murder, and in this State they send men to the chair
for that. Yes, captain, you’re lucky it’s no worse. If you have only a
hundred or two dollars to pay for doctor’s bills and damages, you’ll be
most fortunate.”

“A hundred or two dollars!” ejaculated the captain. “Judas priest! You
don’t think there’ll be any such bill as that for repairs and demurrage
on McLaughlin’s hulk, do you?”

“I think that would be a very moderate sum,” answered Filhiol. “I’m
willing to stand back of you, captain, all the way. I’ll go into court
and examine McLaughlin, myself, as an expert witness. It’s more than
possible Squire Bean is exaggerating, to shake you down.”

“You’ll stand back of me, doctor?” exclaimed the captain, his face
lighting up. “You’ll go into court, and steer me straight?”

“By all means, sir!”

Briggs nearly crushed the doctor’s hand in a powerful grip.

“Well spoken, sir!” said he. “It’s like you, doctor. Well, all I can do
is to thank you, and accept your offer. That puts a better slant to our
sails, right away. Good, sir—very, very good!”

His expression was quite different as he tore open the letter from the
college. Perhaps, after all, this was only some routine communication.
But as he read the neat, typewritten lines, a look of astonishment
developed; and this in turn gave way to a most pitiful dismay.

The captain’s hands were shaking, now, so that he could hardly hold
the letter. His face had gone quite bloodless. All the voice he could
muster was a kind of whispering gasp, as he stretched out the sheet of
paper to the wondering Filhiol:

“Read—read that, doctor! The curse—the curse! Oh, God is being very
hard on me, in my old age! Read _that_!”



CHAPTER XXV

TROUBLED SOULS


Dr. Filhiol trembled as he took the letter and read:

  Cambridge, Massachusetts,
  June 18, 1918.

  DEAR SIR:

 I regret that I must write you again in regard to your grandson,
 Haldane Briggs, but necessity leaves no choice. This communication
 does not deal with an unimportant breach of discipline, such as we
 overlooked last year, but involves matters impossible to condone.

 During the final week of the college year Mr. Briggs’s conduct cannot
 be too harshly stigmatized. Complaint has been entered against him for
 gambling and for having appeared on the college grounds intoxicated.
 On the evening of Thursday last Mr. Briggs attempted to bring liquor
 into a college dormitory, and when the proctor made a protest, Mr.
 Briggs assaulted him.

 In addition, we find your grandson has not applied the money sent by
 you to the settlement of his term bill, but has diverted it for his
 own uses. The bill is herewith enclosed, and I trust that you will
 give it your immediate attention.

 Mr. Briggs, because of his undesirable habits, has not recently been
 properly attending to his courses, with the exception of his Oriental
 language work, in which he has continued to take a real interest. His
 examination marks in other studies have been so high as to lead to
 an inquiry, and we find that Mr. Briggs has been hiring some person
 unknown to take his place in three examinations and to pass them for
 him—a form of cheating which the large size of some of our courses
 unfortunately renders possible.

 Any one of Mr. Briggs’s infractions of the rules would result in his
 dismissal. Taken as a total, they render that dismissal peremptory and
 final. I regret to inform you that your grandson’s connection with
 the university is definitely terminated.

 Regretting that my duty compels me to communicate news of such an
 unpleasant nature, I am,

  Very sincerely yours,
  HAWLEY D. TRAVERS, A.B., A.M., LL.B.

  To CAPTAIN ALPHEUS BRIGGS,
  South Endicutt, Massachusetts.

Down sank the head of Captain Briggs. The old man’s beard flowed over
the smart bravery of his blue coat, and down his weather-hardened
cheeks trickled slow tears of old age, scanty but freighted with a
bitterness the tears of youth can never feel.

For a moment the captain sat annihilated under life’s most grievous
blow—futility and failure after years of patient labor, years of
saving and of self-denial, of hopes, of dreams. One touch of the harsh
finger of Fate and all the gleaming iridescence of the bubble had
vanished. From somewhere dark and far a voice seemed echoing in his
ears:

 “Even though you flee to the ends of the earth, my curse will reach
 you. You shall pray to die, but still you cannot die! What is written
 in the Book must be fulfilled!”

Suddenly the captain got up and made his way into the house. Like a
wounded animal seeking its lair he retreated into his cabin.

The doctor peered after him, letter in hand. From the galley Ezra’s
voice drifted in nasal song, with words strangely trivial for so tragic
a situation:

  “Blow, boys, blow, for Californ-io!
  There’s plenty of gold, so I’ve been told,
  On the banks of Sacramento!”

“H-m!” grunted the doctor. “Poor old captain! God, but this will finish
him! That Hal—damn that Hal! If something would only happen to him
now, so I could have him for a patient! I’m a law-abiding man, but
still—”

In the cabin Briggs sank down in the big rocking-chair before the
fireplace. He was trembling. Something cold seemed clutching at his
heart like tentacles. He looked about, as if he half-thought something
were watching him from the far corner. Then his eye fell on the Malay
kris suspended against the chimney. He peered at the lotus-bud handle,
the wavy blade of steel, the dark groove where still lay the poison,
the _curaré_.

“Merciful God!” whispered Captain Briggs, and covered his eyes with a
shaking hand. He suddenly stretched out hands that shook. “Oh, haven’t
I suffered enough and repented enough? Haven’t I labored enough and
paid enough?” He pressed a hand to his forehead, moist and cold. “He’s
all I’ve got, Lord—the boy is all I’ve got! Take me, _me_—but don’t
let vengeance come through _him_! The sin was mine! Let me pay! Don’t
drag him down to hell! Take me—but let him live and be a man!”

No answer save that Briggs seemed to hear the words of the old
witch-woman ringing with all the force of long-repressed memories:

 “Your blood, your blood I will have! Even though you flee from me
 forever, your blood will I have!”

“Yes, yes! My blood, not his!” cried the old captain, standing up.
Haggard, he peered at the kris, horrible reminder of a past he would
have given life itself to obliterate so that it might not go on forever
poisoning his race. There the kris hung like a sword of Damocles
forever ready to fall upon his heart and pierce it. And all at once a
burning rage and hate against the kris flared up in him. That thing
accursed should be destroyed. No longer should it hang there on his
fireplace to goad him into madness.

Up toward the kris he extended his hand. For a moment he dared not
lay hold on it; but all at once he forced himself to lift it from its
hooks. At touch of it again, after so long a time, he began to tremble.
But he constrained himself to study it, striving to fathom what power
lay in it. Peering with curiosity and revulsion he noted the lotus-bud,
symbol of sleep; the keen edge spotted with dark stains of blood and
rust; the groove with its dried poison, one scratch thereof a solvent
for all earthly problems whatsoever.

And suddenly a new thought came to him. His hand tightened on the grip.
His head came up, his eye cleared, and with a look half of amazement,
half triumph, he cried:

“I’ve got the answer here! The answer, so help me God! Before that boy
of mine goes down into the gutter—before he defiles his family and all
the memories of his race, here’s the answer. Lord knows I hope he will
come about on a new tack yet and be something he ought to be; but if he
don’t, he’ll never live to drag our family name down through the sewer!”

Savage pride thrilled the old man. All his hope yearned toward the
saving of the boy; but, should that be impossible, he knew Hal would
not sink to the dregs of life.

The kris now seemed beneficent to Captain Briggs. Closely he studied
the blade, and even drew his thumb along the edge, testing its
keenness. Just how, he wondered, did the poison work? Was it painless?
Quick it was; that much he knew. Quick and sure. Not in anger, but with
a calm resolve he stood there, thinking. And like the after-swells of
a tempest, other echoes now bore in upon him—echoes of words spoken
half a hundred years ago by Mahmud Baba:

 “Even though I wash coal with rosewater a whole year long, shall I
 ever make it white? Even though the rain fall a whole year, will it
 make the sea less salt? One drop of indigo—and lo! the jar of milk is
 ruined! Seed sown upon a lake will never grow!”

Again the captain weighed the kris in hand.

“Maybe the singer was right, after all,” thought he. “I’ve done my
best. I’ve given all I had to give. He’ll have his chance, the boy
shall, but if, after that—”



CHAPTER XXVI

PLANS FOR RESCUE


“For Heaven’s sake, captain, what are you up to there?”

The voice of Filhiol startled Briggs. In the door of the cabin he saw
the old man standing with a look of puzzled anxiety. Through the window
Filhiol had seen him take down the kris; and, worried, he had painfully
arisen and had hobbled into the house. “Better put that knife up,
captain. It’s not a healthy article to be fooling with.”

“Not, eh?” asked the captain. “Pretty bad poison, is it?”

“Extremely fatal.”

“Even dried, this way?”

“Certainly! Put it up, captain, I beg you!” The doctor, more and more
alarmed, came into the cabin. “Put it up!”

“What does it do to you, this _curaré_ stuff?” insisted the captain.

“Various things. And then—”

“Then you die? You surely die?”

“You do, unless one very special antidote is applied.”

“Nobody in this country has that, though!”

“Nobody but myself, so far as I know.”

“You’ve got it?” demanded the captain, amazed. “Where the devil would
_you_ get it?”

“Out East, where you got that devilish kris! You haven’t forgotten that
Parsee in Bombay, who gave me the secret cure, after I’d saved him from
cholera? But that’s neither here nor there, captain! That kris is no
thing to be experimenting with. Put it up now, I tell you! We aren’t
going to have any foolishness, captain. Not at our age, mind you! Put
it up, now.”

Unwillingly the captain obeyed. He hung the weapon up once more, while
Filhiol eyed him with suspicious displeasure.

“It would be more to the point to see how we’re going to get the boy
out of his trouble again,” the doctor reproved. “If you can’t meet this
problem without doing something very foolish, captain, you’re not the
man I think you!”

Briggs made no answer, but hailed:

“Ezra! Oh, Ezra!”

The old man’s chantey—it now had to do with one “Old Stormy,” alleged
to be “dead and gone”—promptly ceased. Footfalls sounded, and Ezra
appeared. The cut on his cheek showed livid in the tough, leathery skin.

“Cap’n Briggs, sir?” asked he.

“The doctor and I are going to take a little morning cruise down to
Endicutt in the tender—the buggy, I mean.”

“An’ you want me to h’ist sail on Bucephalus, sir? All right! That
ain’t much to want, cap’n. Man wants but little here below, an that’s
jin’ly all he gits, as the feller says. Right! The Sea Lawyer’ll be
anchored out front, fer you, in less time than it takes to box the
compass!”

Ezra saluted and disappeared.

“I don’t know what I’d do without Ezra,” said the captain. “There’s
a love and loyalty in that old heart of his that a million dollars
wouldn’t buy. Ezra’s been through some mighty heavy blows with me. If
either of us was in danger, he’d give his life freely, to save us. No
doubt of that!”

“None whatever,” assented the doctor, as they once more made their way
out to the porch. He blinked at the shimmering vagrancy of light that
sparkled from the harbor through the fringe of birches and tall pines
along the shore. “Going down to see Squire Bean? Is that it?”

“Yes. The quicker we settle that claim the better. You’ll go with me,
eh?”

“If I’m needed—yes.”

“Well, you _are_ needed!”

“All right. But, after that, I ought to be getting back to Salem.”

“You’ll get back to nowhere!” ejaculated Briggs. “They can spare you
at the home a few days. You’re needed here on the bridge while this
typhoon is blowing. Here you are and here you stay till the barometer
begins to rise!”

“All right, captain, as you wish,” he conceded, his will overborne by
the captain’s stronger one. “But what’s the program?”

“The program is to pay off everything and straighten that boy out and
make him walk the chalk-line. Between the four of us—you and I and
Laura and Ezra—if we can’t do it, we’re not much good, are we?”

“Laura? Who is this Laura, anyhow? What kind of a girl is she?”

“The very best,” answered Briggs proudly. “Hal wouldn’t go with any
other kind. She’s the daughter of Nathaniel Maynard, owner of a dozen
schooners. A prettier girl you never laid eyes to, sir!”

“Educated woman?”

“Two years through college. Then her mother had a stroke, and Laura’s
home again. She’s taken the village school, just to fill up her time. A
good girl, if there ever was one. Good as gold, every way. I needn’t
say more. I love her like a daughter. I suppose if I could have my
dearest wish—”

“You’d have Hal marry her?”

“Just that; and I’d see the life of my family carried on stronger,
better and more vigorous. I’d see a child or two picking the flowers
here, and feel little hands tugging at my old gray beard and—but,
Judas priest! I’m getting sentimental now. No more of that, sir!”

“I think I understand,” the doctor said in another tone. “We’ve got
more than just Hal to save. We’ve got a woman’s happiness to think of.
She cares for him, you think?”

Briggs nodded silently.

“It’s quite to be expected,” commented the doctor. “He certainly can
be charming when he tries. There’s only one fly in the honey-pot. Just
one—his unbridled temper and his seemingly utter irresponsibility.

“You know yourself, captain, his actions this morning have been quite
amazing. He starts out to see this girl of his, right away, without
giving his bad conduct a second thought. The average boy, expelled
from college, would have come home in sackcloth and ashes and would
have told you all about it. Hal never even mentioned it. That’s almost
incredible.”

“Hal’s not an average kind of boy, any more than _I_ was!” put in the
captain proudly.

“No, he doesn’t seem to be,” retorted the physician, peppery with
infirmity and shaken nerves. “However, I’m your guest and I won’t
indulge in any personalities. Whatever comes I’m with you!”

The captain took his withered hand in a grip that hurt, and for a
moment there was silence. This silence was broken by the voice of Ezra,
driving down the lane:

“All ready, cap’n! All canvas up, aloft an’ alow, an’ this here craft
ready to make two knots an hour ef she don’t founder afore you leave
port! Fact is, I think Sea Lawyer’s foundered already!”

Together captain and doctor descended the path to the front gate. In a
few minutes Ezra, bony hands on hips, watched the two men slowly drive
from sight round the turn by the smithy. Grimly the old fellow shook
his head and gripped his pipe in some remnants of teeth.

“I don’t like Pills,” grumbled he. “He’s a tightwad; never even slipped
me a cigar. He’s one o’ them fellers that stop the clock, nights, to
save the works. S’pose I’d oughta respect old age, but old age ain’t
always to be looked up to, as, fer instance, in the case of eggs. He’s
been ratin’ Master Hal down, I reckon. An’ that wun’t _do_!”

Resentfully Ezra came back to the house and entered the hall. Into
the front room Ezra walked, approached the fireplace and for a moment
stood there, carefully observing the weapons. Then he reached up
and straightened the position of the “Penang lawyer” club, on its
supporting hooks.

“I got to git that jest right,” said he. “Jest exactly right. Ef the
cap’n should see ’twas a mite out o’ place he might suspicion that was
what Master Hal hit me with. So? Is that right, that way?”

With keen judgment he squinted at the club and gave it a final touch.
The kris, also, he adjusted.

“I didn’t know Hal touched the toad-stabber, too,” he remarked. “But I
guess he must of. It’s been moved some, that’s sure.

“I guess things’ll do now,” judged he, satisfied. “There’s many a slip
’twixt the cup an’ the lip, but there’s a damn sight more after the cup
has been _at_ the lip. That’s all that made Master Hal slip. He didn’t
know, rightly, what he was up to. Forgive the boy? God bless him, you
bet! A million times over!

“But that doctor, now, what’s been ratin’ Master Hal down—no, no,
he’ll never be no friend o’ _mine_! Well, this ain’t gittin’ dinner
ready fer Master Hal. A boy what can dive off Geyser Rock, an’ lick
McLaughlin, an’ read heathen Chinee, an’ capture the purtiest gal in
_this_ town, is goin’ to be rationed proper, or I’m no cook aboard the
snuggest craft that ever sailed a lawn, with lilacs on the port bow an’
geraniums to starb’d!”

Ezra gave a final, self-assuring glance at the Malay club that had so
nearly ended his life, and turned back to his galley with a song upon
his lips:

  “A Yankee ship’s gone down the river,
  Her masts an’ yard they shine like silver.

      _Blow, ye winds, I long to hear ye!
          Blow, boys, blow!_
      _Blow to-day an’ blow to-morrer,
          Blow, boys, bully boys, blow!_

  How d’ye know she’s a Yankee clipper?
  By the Stars and Stripes that fly above her!

      _Blow, boys, blow!_

  An’ who d’ye think is captain of her?
  One-Eyed Kelly, the Bowery runner!

      _Blow, boys, bully boys, blow!_

  An’ what d’ye think they had fer dinner?
  Belayin’-pin soup an’ monkey’s liver!

      _Blow, ye winds, I long to hear ye!
        Blow, boys, blow!_
      _Blow to-day an’ blow to-morrer,
        Blow, boys, bully boys, blow!_”



CHAPTER XXVII

GEYSER ROCK


Hal Briggs had little thought of trouble as he strode away in search
of Laura. Very hot was his blood as he swung down the shaded street
toward the house of Nathaniel Maynard, father of the girl. Some of the
good folk frowned and were silent as he greeted them, but others had
to smile and raise a hand of recognition. Still at some distance from
Laura’s house, the boy caught sight of a creamy-toned voile dress among
the hollyhocks in the side yard. He whistled, waved his hand, hurried
his pace. And something leaped within him, so that his heart beat up a
little thickly, as the girl waved an answering hand.

Another look came to his eyes. Another light began to burn in their
blue depths.

“Geyser Rock!” he whispered. “By God, the very place!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Geyser Rock boldly fronts the unbroken sweep of the sea at Thunder
Head. Up it leaps, sheer two hundred feet, from great deeps. Fifty feet
from the barnacle-crusted line of high-tide a ledgelike path leads to
the face of the cliff. From this ledge Hal often took the plunge that
had won him local fame—a plunge into frothing surf that even in the
calmest of midsummer days was never still.

Few visitors ever struggle up through sumacs, brakes and undergrowth,
to gain the vantage-point of the pinnacle. Rolling boulders, slippery
ledge and dizzying overlook upon the shining sea deter all but the
hardy. The very solitude of the place had greatly endeared it to Hal.
To him it was often a solace and a comfort after his strange fits of
rage and viciousness.

All alone, up in that isolated height, he had passed long hours
reading, smoking, musing in the tiny patch of grass there under the
canopy of the white-birches’ filigree of green, or under the huge pine
that carpeted the north slope of the crest with odorous, russet spills.
Some of his happiest hours had been spent on the summit, through the
tree-tops watching sky-shepherds tend their flocks across the pastures
infinitely far and blue above him.

Strangely secluded was the top of Geyser Rock. Though it lay hardly a
pistol-shot from the main coast-road, it seemed almost as isolated as
if it had been down among the Celebes.

For that reason Hal loved it best of all, with its grasses, flowers,
ferns and tangled thickets, its rock-ridges filigreed with silvery
lichens or sparkling with white quartz-crystals. From this aerie Hal
could glimpse a bit of the village; the prim church spire; the tiny,
far gravestones sleeping on Croft Hill. The solitude of this, his own
domain by right of conquest, had grown ever more dear and needful to
him as he had advanced toward manhood.

Such was the place toward which Laura and he were now walking along
the road, with tilled fields and rock-bossed rolling hills to right of
them; and, to their left, the restless flashings of the sea.

Laura had never been more charming. Her happiness in his return had
flushed her cheeks with color and had brightened her eyes—thoughtful,
deep, loyal eyes—till they looked clear and fresh as summer skies
after rain.

Everything wholesome and glad seemed joined in Laura; her health and
spirits were like the morning breeze itself that came to court the
land, from the golden sparklings that stretched away to the shadowed,
purple rim of the ocean. The June within her heart mirrored itself
through her face, reflecting the June that overbrooded earth and sea
and sky.

Hal sensed all this and more, as with critical keenness he looked down
at her, walking beside him. He noted the wind-blown hair that shaded
her eyes; he saw the health and vigor of that lithe, firm-breasted
young body of hers. His look, brooding, glowed evilly. Fifty years ago
thus had his grandsire’s eyes kindled at sight of Kuala Pahang in her
tight little Malay jacket. And as if words from the past had audibly
echoed from some vibrant chord in the old-time captain’s symphony of
desire, once more the thought formed in his brain:

“She’s mine, the girl is! She’s plump as a young porpoise, and, by God,
I’m going to have her!”

The words he uttered, though, were far afield from these. He was saying:

“So now, Laura, you see I wasn’t really to blame, after all. ‘A lie
runs round the world, while truth is getting on its sandals.’ That
proverb’s as true here as in Siam, where it originated. People are
saying I was drunk and brutal, and all that, when the fact is—”

“I know, Hal,” she answered, her eyes troubled. “I know how this
country gossip exaggerates. But, even so, did you do right in beating
Captain McLaughlin as you did?”

“It was the only thing I _could_ do, Laura!” he protested. “The bully
tried to humiliate me. I—I just licked him, that’s all. You wouldn’t
want me to be a milksop, would you?”

“No, not that, Hal. But a fair fight is one thing and brutality is
another. And then, too, they say you’d been drinking.”

He laughed and slid his hand about her arm.

“I give you my word of honor, Laura, all I’d had was just a little nip
to take the sea-chill out of my bones. Come, now, look at me, and tell
me if I look like a thug and a drunkard!”

He stopped in the deserted road, swung the girl round toward him, and
laid his hands on her shoulders. Through the sheer thinness of her
dress he felt the warmth of her. The low-cut V of her waist tempted
him, dizzyingly, to plant a kiss there; but he held steady, and met her
questioning eyes with a look that seemed all candor.

For a long moment Laura kept silence, searching his face. Far off,
mournfully the bell-buoy sent in its blur of musical tolling across the
moving sea-floor.

“Well, Laura, do I look a ruffian?” asked Hal again, smiling.

Laura’s eyes fell.

“I’m going to believe you, Hal, whatever people say,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry it happened at all, but I suppose that’s the way of a man.
You won’t do anything like that again, though, will you?”

“No—dear! Never!”

He drew her toward him, but she shook her head and pressed him back.
Wise with understanding, from sources of deep instinct, he let her go.
But now the fires in his eyes were burning more hotly. And as they once
more started down along the road he cast on her a glance of quick and
all-inclusive desire.

Silence a minute or two. Then Hal asked:

“Laura, have you ever been up Geyser Rock?”

“No. Why?” Her look was wondering.

“Let’s go!”

“That’s pretty rough climbing for a girl, isn’t it?”

“Not for a girl like you, Laura. You can make it, all right. And the
view—oh, wonderful!” His enthusiasm quickened now that he saw her
coming to his hand. “On a clear day you can see Cape Ann, to northward,
and Cross Rip Light, to the south. See that big Norway pine right
there? That’s where the path leads in. Come on, Laura!”

“I—I don’t know—”

“Afraid?”

“Not where _you_ are, Hal, to protect me!”

He took her hand and drew her into the thick-wooded path, in under
the cool green shadows, gold-sprinkled with the magic of the sun’s
morris-dance of little elfin light-fairies. New strength seemed to
flood him. His heart, beginning to beat quickly, flushed his face with
hot blood. Something as yet unawakened, something potent, atavistic,
something that had its roots twined far into the past, surged through
his veins.

“Come on, Laura!” he repeated. “Come on, I’ll show you the way!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour had passed before they stood upon the summit. They had
perhaps lingered a bit more than needful, even with so many leaves and
flowers to pick and study over; and, moreover, part of the way their
progress had been really difficult. Hal had carried her in his arms up
some of the more dangerous pitches—carried her quite as if she had
been a child. The clinging of her arms to his shoulders, the warmth and
yielding of her, the blowing of her hair across his face, the faint
perfume of her alluring femininity had kindled fires that glowed from
his eyes—eyes like the eyes of Alpheus Briggs in the old days when the
Malay girl had been his captive. Yet still the atavisms in him had been
stifled down. For Hal was sober now. And still the metes and bounds of
civilization and of law had held the boy in leash.

Thus they had reached the summit. Far up past the diving-ledge they had
made their way, and so had climbed to the little sheltered nook facing
the sky.

“I think you’re wonderful, Laura!” Hal said as he pressed aside the
bushes for her to enter the grassy sward. His voice was different now;
his whole manner had subtly altered. No longer words of college argot
came to his lips. “I think you’re really very wonderful! There’s not
another girl in this town who’d take a risk like this!”

“It’s nothing, Hal,” she answered, looking up at him in the sunshine
with a smile. “I told you before I couldn’t possibly be afraid where
you were. How _could_ I be afraid?”

“Lots of girls would be, all the same,” said he. “You’re just a wonder.
Well, now, let’s go over there to the edge. I won’t let you fall. I
want you to see the view. Just through that fringe of birches there
you’ll see it.”

With quickened breath the girl peered down through the trees, at land
and sea spread far below, while Hal’s arm held her from disaster.
Branches and twigs had pulled at her, in the ascent. Her voile dress
showed a tear or two; and all about her face the disordered hair
strayed as the sea-breeze freshened over the top of Geyser. The boy
kept silence that matched hers. A kind of vague, half-realized struggle
seemed taking place in him—a conflict between the sense of chivalry,
protecting this woman in his absolute power, and the old demon-clutch
that reached from other days and other places.

Now, though his thoughts and hers lay far apart as the world’s poles,
each felt something of the same mysterious oppression. For the first
time quite alone together, up there aloft in that snug, sun-warm nest
embowered in greenery, a kind of mystic and half-sensed languor seemed
to envelop them; a yearning that is older than old Egypt; a wonder and
a dream.

Hal’s arm tightened a very little ’round her body. She felt it tremble,
and, wondering, understood that she, too, felt a little of that tremor
in her own heart. She realized in a kind of half-sensed way that more
dangers lay here than the danger of falling from the cliff. Yet in her
soul she knew that she was glad to be there.



CHAPTER XXVIII

LAURA UNDERSTANDS


Thus she remained, holding to a silver birch, leaning out a little
toward the chasm. Up from the depths echoed a gurgling roar as the
white fury drenched and belabored the gray, sheer wall, then fell back,
hissing.

For a moment Laura peered down, held by the boy’s encircling arm. She
looked abroad upon the sun-shining waters flecked with far, white boats
and smudged with steamer-smoke. Then she breathed deep and lifted up
her face toward the gold filigree of sun and leaf, and sighed:

“Oh, it’s wonderful, Hal! I never even guessed it could be anything
like this!”

“Wonderful isn’t the name for it, Laura,” he answered. He pointed far.
“See the lighthouse? And Cape Ann in the haze? And the toy boats?
Everything and everybody’s a toy now except just you and me. We’re the
only real people. I wish it were really so, don’t you?”

“Why, Hal? What would you do if it were?”

“Oh,” he answered with that heart-warming smile of his, “I’d take you
in a yacht, Laura, away off to some of those wonderful places the
Oriental poems tell about. We’d sail away ‘through the Silken Sea,’ and
‘Beyond the Wind,’ wherever that is. Wouldn’t you like to go there with
me, dear?”

“Yes. But—”

“But what, Laura?” His lips were almost brushing the curve of her
neck, where the wind-blown hair fell in loose ringlets. “But what?”

“I—I mustn’t answer that, Hal. Not now!”

“Why not now?”

“While you’re still in college, Hal? While there’s so much work and
struggle still ahead of you?”

The boy frowned, unseen by her, for her eyes were fixed on the vague
horizons beyond which, no doubt, lay Silken Seas and far, unknown
places of enchantment beyond all winds whatsoever. Not thus did he
desire to be understood by Laura. The whim of June shrinks from being
mistaken for a thing of lifelong import. Laura drew back from the chasm
and faced him with a little smile.

“It’s very wrong for people to make light of such things,” she said.
Her look lay steadily upon his face. “While the sun is shining it’s
so easy to say more than one means. And then, at the first cloud, the
fancy dies like sunlight fading.”

“But this isn’t a mere fancy that I feel for you,” Hal persisted,
sensing that he had lost ground with her. “I’ve had plenty of foolish
ideas about girls. But this is different. It’s so very, very different
every way!” His voice, that he well knew how to make convincing, really
trembled a little with the thrill of this adventuring.

“I wish I could believe you, Hal!”

He drew her toward him again. This time she did not resist. He felt
the yielding of her sinuous young body, its warmth and promise of
intoxication.

“You _can_ believe me, Laura! Only trust in me!”

“I—I don’t know, Hal. I know what men are. They’re all so much alike.”

“Not all, dear! You ought to know me well enough to have confidence in
me. Think of the long, long time we’ve known each other. Think of the
years and years of friendship! Why, Laura, we’ve known each other ever
since we were a couple of children playing on the beach, writing each
other’s names in the sand—”

“For the next high tide to wash away!”

“But we’re not children now. There’s something in my heart no tide can
obliterate!”

“I hope that’s true, Hal. But you’re not through college yet. Wait till
you are. You’ve got to graduate with flying colors, and make your dear
old grandfather the proudest man in the world, and be the wonderful
success I know you’re going to be! And make me the happiest girl! You
will, won’t you?”

“I’ll do anything in the world for you, Laura!” he exclaimed. His face,
flushed with enkindling desire, showed no sign of shame or dejection.
Laura knew nothing of his débâcle at the university. Of course she must
soon know; but all that still lay in the future. And to Hal nothing
mattered now but just the golden present with its nectar in the blossom
and its sunshine on the leaf. He drew her a little closer.

“Tell me,” he whispered. “Do you really care?”

“Don’t ask me—yet!” she denied him, turning her face away. “Come,
let’s be going down!”

“Why, we’ve only just come!”

“I know, but—”

“You needn’t be afraid of _me_!” he exclaimed. “You aren’t, are you,
dear?”

“No more than I am of myself,” she answered frankly, while her throat
and face warmed with blood that suddenly burned there. “We—really
oughtn’t to be alone like this, Hal.”

He laughed and opened his arms to let her go. For a moment she stood
looking up at him; then her eyes, too innocent to find the guile in
his, smiled with pure-hearted affection.

“Forgive me, Hal!” said she. “I didn’t mean that. But, you know, when
you put your arms round me like that—”

“I won’t do it again,” he answered, instinct telling him the bird would
take fright if the trap seemed too tightly closed. He dropped his arms,
the palms of his hands spread outward. “You see, when you tell me to
let you go, I mind you?”

“Yes, like the good, dear boy you are!” she exclaimed with sudden,
impulsive affection. She reached up, took his face in both hands and
studied his eyes. He thought she was about to kiss him, and his heart
leaped. He quivered to seize her, to burn his kisses on her lips,
there in the leafy, sun-glimmering shade; but already Laura’s arms had
fallen, and she had turned away, back toward the path that would lead
them downward from this tiny enchanted garden to the common level of
the world again.

“Come, Hal,” said she, “we must be going now!”

He nodded, his eyes glowering coals of desire, and followed after. Was
the bird, then, going to escape his hand? A sinister look darkened his
face; just such a look as had made Captain Briggs a brute when he had
shouldered his way into his cabin aboard the _Silver Fleece_, to master
the captive girl.

“Laura, wait a minute, please!” begged Hal.

“Well, what is it?” she asked, half-turning, a beautiful, white,
gracious figure in the greenery—a very wood-nymph of a figure, sylvan,
fresh, enwoven with life’s most mystic spell—the magic of youth.

“You haven’t seen half my little Mysterious Island up here!”

“Mysterious Island?” asked she, pleased by the fanciful whim. “You call
it that, do you?”

“Yes, I’ve always called it that ever since I read Jules Verne, when
I was only a youngster. I’ve never told anybody, though. I haven’t
told that, or a hundred other imaginings.” He had come close to her
again, had taken her by the arm, was drawing her away from the path and
toward the little flower-enameled greensward among the boulders crowned
with birch and pine. “You’re the only one that knows my secret, Laura.
You’ll never, never tell, now, will you?”

“Never!” she answered, uneasiness dispelled by his frank air. “Do you
imagine things like that, too, Hal? I thought I was the only one around
here who ever ‘pretended.’ Are you a dreamer, too?”

“Very much a dreamer. Sit down here, Laura, and let me tell you some of
my dreams.”

He sat down in the grass, and drew her down beside him. She yielded
“half willing and half shy.” For a moment he looked at her with eyes of
desire. Then, still holding her hand, he said:

“It was all fairies and gnomes up here when I first came. Fairyland in
those boyhood days. After a while the fairies went away and pirates
began to come; pirates and Indians and a wild crew. I was sometimes a
victim, sometimes a member of the brotherhood. There’s treasure buried
all ’round here. Those were the days when I was reading about Captain
Kidd and Blackbeard. You understand?”

“Indeed I _do_! Go on!”

He laughed, as her mood yielded under the subtle mastery of his voice,
his eyes.

“Oh, but it’s a motley crew we’ve been up here, the pirates and I!”
said he, leaning still closer. “‘Treasure Island’ peopled the place
with adventurers—Long John Silver, and Pew and the Doctor, and all the
rest. ‘Robinson Crusoe’ swept them all away, all but Man Friday; and
then the savages had to come. If there’s anything at all I haven’t
suffered in the way of shipwreck, starvation, cannibals and being
rescued just in the nick of time up here, really I don’t know what it
is. And since I’ve grown up, though of course I can’t ‘pretend’ any
more, I’ve always loved this place to day-dream in, and wonder in,
about the thing that every man hopes will come to him some day.”

“And what’s that, Hal?” she asked in a lower voice.

“Love!” he whispered. “Love—and you!”

“Hal, is that really true?”

“Look at me, Laura, and you’ll know!”

She could not meet his gaze. Her eyes lowered. He drew his arm about
her as she drooped a little toward him.

“Listen to me!” he commanded, masterfully lying. “There’s never been
anybody but you, Laura. There never will be. You’ve been in all my
dreams, by night, my visions by day, up here in fairyland!”

His words were coming impetuously now. In his eyes the golden flame of
desire was burning hot.

“You’re everything to me! Everything! I’ve sensed it for a long time,
but only in the last month or two I’ve really understood. It all came
to me in a kind of revelation, Laura, one day when I was translating a
poem from the Hindustani.”

“A poem, Hal?” The girl’s voice was tremulous. Her eyes had closed.
Her head, resting on his shoulder, thrilled him with ardor; and in
his nostrils the perfume of her womanhood conjured up shimmering
dream-pictures of the Orient—strange lands that, though unseen, he
mysteriously seemed to know. “Tell me the poem, dear!” Laura whispered.
“A love-poem?”

“Such a love-poem! Listen, sweetheart! It’s a thousand years old, and
it comes from the dim past to tell you what I feel for you. It runs
this way:

  “Belovèd, were I to name the blossoms of the spring,
  And all the fruits of autumn’s bounteousness;
  Were I to name all things that charm and thrill,
  And earth, and Heaven, all in one word divine,
      I would name thee!

  “Had I the gold of Punjab’s golden land,
  Had I as many diamonds, shining bright
  As leaves that tremble in a thousand woods,
  Or sands along ten thousand shining seas;
  Had I as many pearls of shifting hue
  As blades of grass in fields of the whole world,
  Or stars that shine on the broad breast of night,
  I’d give them all, a thousand, thousand times,
      To make thee mine!”

For a minute, while Hal watched her with calculation, Laura kept
silence. Then she looked up at him, dreamy-eyed, and smiled.

“That’s wonderful, Hal. I only wish you meant it!”

“You _know_ I do! I want you, Laura—God, how much! You’re all I need
to make my fairyland up here a heaven!”

“What—what do you mean, Hal? Are you asking me to—to be your wife?”

His face contracted, involuntarily, but he veiled his true thought
with a lie. What mattered just a lie to gain possession of her in this
golden hour of sunshine?

“Yes, yes, of course!” he cried, drawing her to his lips in a betraying
kiss—a kiss, to her, culminant with wonder and mystic with a good
woman’s aspiration for a life of love and service—a kiss, to him, only
a trivial incident, lawless, unbridled. At heart he cursed the girl’s
pure passion for him. Not this was what he wanted; and dimly, even
through the flame of his desire, he could see a hundred complications,
perils. But now the lie was spoken—and away with to-morrow!

Again he kissed the girl, sensing, in spite of his desire, the
different quality of her returning kiss. Then she smiled up at him, and
with her hand smoothed back the thick, black hair from his forehead.

“It’s all so wonderful, Hal!” she whispered fondly. “I can’t believe
it’s true. But it is true, isn’t it? Even though we’ve got to wait till
you get through college. I’m willing to. I love you enough, Hal, to
wait forever. And you will, too, won’t you?”

“Of—of course I will!”

“And it’s really, really true? It’s not just a fairy dream of
wonderland, up here, that will vanish when we go down to the world
again?”

“No, no, it’s all true, Laura,” he was forced to answer, baffled and at
a loss. Not at all was this adventure developing as he had planned it.
Why, Laura was taking it seriously! Laura was acting like a child—a
foolish, preposterous child! The web that he had hoped to spread for
her undoing had, because of her own trusting confidence, been tangled
all about himself.

Abashed and angry, he sought some way to break its bonds. Another poem
rose to memory, a poem that he hoped might make her understand. He had
read it the day before in a little book called “The Divine Image,” and
it had instantly burned itself into his brain. Now said he:

“Listen, dear. I’ve got another verse for you. It’s called: ‘His
Woman.’”

“And I’m really yours, forever?”

“Of course you are, dear! Listen, now:

  “‘In the pale, murmuring dawn she lay
      Alone, with nothing more to lose.
  Her eyes one warm, soft arm espied,
  And lips too tired to voice her pride
      Caressed and kissed a bruise.’”

The girl looked up at him a moment, circled with his arm, as she lay
there content. For a little she seemed not to understand. Then, slowly,
a puzzled look and then a look of hurt rose to her eyes.

“Hal, you—you mustn’t—”

“Why mustn’t I, dear?”

She tried to answer, but his lips upon her mouth stifled her speech.

Swift fear leaped through her as she fought away from him.

“Oh, Hal!” she cried. “What—what are you looking at me that way for?
Your eyes, Hal—your eyes—”

In vain he tried to kiss her. Her face was turned away, her hands
repulsing him.

“Kiss me, Laura! Kiss me!”

“No, no—not now! Oh, Hal, you have only yourself to resist. I have you
to resist, and myself, too!”

The thought gave him a minute’s pause. Did some instinct of chivalry,
deep-buried, try for a second to struggle up through his evil heritage,
or was it but surprise that loosed his grip upon her so that she
escaped his hands, his arms?

“God forgive you, Hal, for having killed the most wonderful treasure I
had—my faith in you!” she cried from where she stood now, looking down
at him with tragic eyes of disillusion. “Oh, God forgive you!”

He would have spoken, but she turned and fled toward the tangled
thicket through which the path led downward.

“Laura! Wait!” He sprang to his feet, peering after her with hateful
eyes. No answer as she vanished through the greenery.

For all his rage and passion, Hal realized how absurd a figure he would
make, pursuing her. Swift anger swept over him, broke all down, rushed
in uncontrolled floods.

A moment he stood there, brutal, venomous. Then with a laugh, the echo
of that which had sounded when Alpheus Briggs had flung the Malay girl
to death, he clutched at his thick hair, tugging at it with excess
of madness. He broke into wild curses that rose against the sky with
barbarous blasphemy.

Foam slavered upon his lips. His face grew black; the veins stood out
upon his neck and temples. A madman, he trampled through the bushes,
stamping, striking, lusting to kill.

So for a time he raged in blind, stark passion; while Laura, shaken and
afraid, bleeding at her heart of hearts, made her way all alone back to
the safety of the seashore road.

At last, his rage burned out, Hal flung himself down in the grass. Face
buried in hands, teeth set in bleeding lip, he lay there.

And over him the heavens, like an eyeless face, smiled down with calm,
untroubled purpose.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE


Sadly returning home, Laura stopped for a moment at her garden gate
to make quite sure her father was not in the side yard. With all her
girlish dreams broken and draggled, the heartbroken girl stood looking
at the flowers that only an hour before had seemed so wondrous gay. And
all at once she heard the sound of wheels upon the road. Turning, she
saw old Captain Briggs and Dr. Filhiol slowly driving toward Snug Haven.

Half-minded to retreat inside the garden, still she stood there, for
already Captain Briggs had raised a hand in greeting. Every feature of
the old captain’s face was limned with grief. His shoulders seemed to
sag, bowed down with heavier weight than his almost eighty years could
pile upon them.

So the girl remained at the gate, greatly sorrowing; and peered after
the two old men. Though she could not guess the captain’s trouble, her
woman’s instinct told her this trouble bore on Hal. And over her own
grief settled still another cloud that darkened it still more.

Puzzled, disillusioned, she swung the gate and entered the prim paths
bordered with low box-hedges. No one saw her. Quietly she entered the
house and crept up-stairs to her own room. There, in that virginal
place, she dropped down on her old-fashioned, four-posted bed of black
walnut, and buried her face in the same pillows to which, girl-like,
she had often confided so many innocent and tender dreams.

As the girl lay there, crying for the broken bauble, love, crushed in
the brutal hand of Hal, old Captain Briggs and Dr. Filhiol—once more
back on the quarterdeck of Snug Haven—settled themselves for dejected
consultation.

“I never did expect ’twould be as much as that,” the captain said,
mechanically stuffing his pipe. “I reckoned maybe fifty dollars would
pay demurrage and repairs on Mac. McLaughlin isn’t worth more, rig and
all. But, Judas priest, two hundred and a half! That’s running into
money. Money I can ill afford to pay, sir!”

“I know,” the doctor answered. “It’s cruel extortion. But what can you
do, captain? McLaughlin holds the tiller now. He can steer any course
he chooses. The fact that he started at five hundred, plus the apology
that he demands from Hal on the deck of the _Sylvia_ in front of the
whole crew, and that we’ve pared him down to two hundred and fifty,
plus the apology—that’s a very great gain. It’s bad, I know, but not
so bad as having had the boy locked up, charged with felonious assault.
It’s not so bad as that, sir!”

“No, no, of course not,” Briggs agreed. “I suppose I’ve got to pay,
though Lord knows, sir, the money’s needed terribly for other things,
now that the college bill has got to be settled all over again!”

“I know it’s hard,” sympathized the doctor, “but there’s no help for
it. Wipe the slate clean, and give Hal another start. That’s all you
_can_ do.”

The old captain remained smoking and brooding a while, with sunshine
on his head. At last his eyes sought the far, deep line of blue that
stretched against the horizon—the sea-line, lacking which the old man
always sensed a vacancy, a loss.

“Close on to six bells,” judged he, “by the way the sun’s shining on
the water. Wonder where the boy can be? I’ve got to have a proper gam
with him.”

“Why? Where ought he to be?” the doctor asked.

“He must have put back into port, after his little cruise with Laura,
this morning. We sighted her, moored at her front gate, you remember?”

“H-m! You don’t suppose there’s trouble brewing there too, do you? I
thought the girl looked upset, didn’t you?”

“_I_ didn’t notice anything. What seemed to be the matter?”

“I thought she’d been crying a bit.”

The captain clenched his fist.

“By the Judas priest!” he exclaimed fervently. “If I thought Hal had
been abusing that girl, I’d make it hot for him! That’s _one_ thing I
won’t stand!” He peered down the road with narrowing eyes, then got up
and went to the front door. “Hal, oh, Hal!” he cried.

No answer. The captain’s voice echoed emptily in the old-fashioned
hallway.

“Not here, anyhow,” said he, returning to his rocker. “Well, we won’t
accuse him of anything else till we know. I only hope he hasn’t written
any more black pages on the log by mishandling Laura.”

Wearily his eyes sought Croft Hill. Of a sudden unbidden tears blurred
his sight.

“_There’s_ a peaceful harbor for old, battered craft, anyhow,” he
murmured, pointing. “I sometimes envy all the tired folk that’s found
sleep and rest up there in their snug berths, while we still stand
watch in all weathers. If, after all I’ve worked and hoped for, there’s
nothing ahead but breakers, I’ll envy them more than ever.”

“Come now, captain!” Filhiol tried to cheer him. “Maybe it was only a
little lovers’ quarrel that sent Laura home. There’s never all smooth
sailing, with maid and man for a crew. Let’s wait a while and see.”

“Yes, wait and think it over,” said the captain. “There’s only one
place for me, doctor, when things look squally, and that’s with my
folks on the hill. Guess I’ll take a walk up there now and talk it over
with them. Come with me, will you?”

Filhiol shook his head.

“Too much for me, that hill is,” he answered. “If you don’t mind, I’ll
sit right here and watch the sea.”

“Suit yourself, doctor.” And Captain Briggs arose. “When Ezra comes
down the lane tell him not to bother with dinner. A little snack will
do. Let’s each of us think this thing out, and maybe we can chart the
proper course between us.”

He stood a moment in the sunshine, then, bare-headed, went down the
steps and turned into the path that would lead him up Croft Hill. He
stopped, gathering a handful of bright flowers—zinnias, hollyhocks,
sweet peas—for his ever-remembered dead. Then he went on again.

“Poor old chap!” said Dr. Filhiol. “The curse is biting pretty deep.
That’s all poppycock, that Malay cursing; but the curses of heredity
are stern reality. There’s a specific for every poison in the world.
Even the dread _curaré_ has one. But for the poison of heredity, what
remedy is there? Poor old captain!”

Alpheus Briggs, with bowed head, climbed up the winding way among the
blackberry bushes, the sumacs and wild roses dainty-sweet; and so at
last came to the wall pierced with the whitewashed gate that he himself
kept always in repair.

Into the cemetery, his Garden of Gethsemane, he penetrated, by paths
flanked with simple and pious stones, many of hard slate carved with
death’s-heads, urns, cherubs and weeping-willows, according to the
custom of the ancient, godly days. Thus to his family burial lot he
came, and there laid his offering upon the graves he loved; and then
sat down upon the bench there, for meditation in this hour of sorrow
and perplexity.

And as sun and sky and sea, fresh breeze and drifting cloud, and the
mild influences of his lifelong friend, tobacco, all worked their
soothings on him, he presently plucked up a little heart once more. The
nearness of his dead bade him have hope and courage. He felt, in that
quiet and solemn place, the tightening of his family bonds; he felt
that duty called him to lift even these new and heavy burdens, to bear
them valiantly and like a man.

With the graves about him and the sea before, and over all the
heavens, calm returned. And sorrow—which, like anger, cannot long be
keen—faded into another thought: the thought of how he should make of
Hal the man that he would have him be.

How restful was this sunlit hilltop, where he knew that soon he, too,
must sleep! The faint, far cries of gulls drifted in to him with the
bell-buoy’s slow tolling; and up from the village rose the music of
the smitten anvil. That music minded him of a Hindustani poem Hal
once had read to him—a poem about the blacksmith, Destiny, beating
out showers of sparks upon the cosmic anvil in the night of eternity,
each spark a human soul; and each, swiftly extinguished, worth just as
much to Destiny as earthly anvil sparks are to the human toiler at the
forge—as much and no more.

The poem had thus ended:

  “All is Maya, all is illusion! Why struggle, then?
  To walk is better than to run; to stand is better than to walk.
  To sit is better than to stand; to lie is better than to sit.
  To sleep is better than to wake; to dream is better than to live.
  Better still is a sleep that is dreamless,
    And death is best of all!”

“I wonder if that’s true?” the captain mused. “I wonder if life _is_
all illusion and death alone is real?”

Thus meditating, he felt very near the wife and son who lay there
beneath the flowers he had just laid on the close-cut sod. The
cloud-shadows, drifting over the hilltop, seemed symbols of the
transitory passage of man’s life, unstable, ever drifting on, and
leaving on the universe no greater imprint than shadows on the grass.
He yearned toward those who had gone to rest before him; and though not
a praying man, a supplication voiced itself in him:

“Oh, God, let me finish out my work, and let me rest! Let me put the
boy on the right course through life, and let me know he’ll follow
it—then, let me steer for the calm harbor where Thou, my Pilot, wilt
give me quiet from the storm!”

Thus the old captain sat there for a long time, pondering many and sad
things; and all at once he saw the figure of a man in white coming
along the road. The captain knew him afar.

“There’s Hal now,” said he. “I wonder where he’s been and what this all
means?”

A new anxiety trembled through his wounded heart, that longed for
nothing now but love and trust. Up rose the old captain, and with slow
steps walked to the eastern wall of the cemetery. There he waited
patiently.

Presently Hal came into sight, round the shoulder of Croft Hill.

“Ahoy, there! Hal! Come here—I want to see you!”

The old man’s cry dropped with disagreeable surprise into Hal’s
sinister reflections. Hal looked up, and swore to himself. He sensed
the meaning of that summons.

“There’s another damned scene coming,” thought Hal. “Why the hell can’t
he let me alone now? Why can’t everybody let me alone?”

Nothing could now have been more inopportune than an interview with
his grandfather. Hal—his rage burned out to ashes—had come down from
Geyser Rock, and had turned homeward in evil humor. And as he had gone
he had already begun to lay out tentative plans for what he meant to do.

“It’s all bull, what Laura handed me!” he had been thinking when
the captain’s summons had intruded. “Am I going to let her throw me
that way? I guess _not_! I’ll land her yet; but not here, not here!
I can’t stick here. The way I’m in wrong with the college, and now
this new rough-house with Laura, will certainly put the crimp in me.
What I’ve got to do is clear out. And I won’t go alone, at that. If I
only had a twenty-five footer! I could get her aboard of it some way.
The main thing’s a boat. The rest is easy. I could let them whistle,
all of them. The open sea—that’s the thing! That’s a man’s way to do
things—not go sniveling ’round here in white flannels all summer,
letting a girl hand it to me that way!

“God, if I could only raise five hundred bucks! I could get Jim
Gordon’s _Kittiwink_ for that, and provision it, too. Make a break
for Cuba, or Honduras; why, damn it, I could go round the world—go
East—get away from all this preaching and rough-house—live like a
man, by God!”

The captain’s hail shattered Hal’s dreams.

“Devil take the old man!” snarled Hal to himself as he scowled up at
the figure on the hilltop. “What’s he want _now_? And devil take all
women! They’re like dogs. Beat a dog and a woman, and you can’t go
wrong. I’ll play this game to win yet, and make good! Hello, up there?”
he shouted in reply to the captain. “What d’you want of me?”

“I want to talk with you, Hal,” the old man’s voice came echoing down.
“Come here, sir!”

Another moment Hal hesitated. Then, realizing that he could not yet
raise the banner of open rebellion, he turned and lagged toward the
road that led up the south side of the hill.

As he climbed, he put into the background of his brain the plans he had
been formulating, and for the more pressing need of the future began
framing plausible lies.

He lighted a Turkish cigarette as he entered the graveyard, to give
himself a certain nonchalance; and so, smoking this thing which the
old captain particularly abominated, swinging his shoulders, he came
along the graveled walk toward the family burying lot, where once more
Captain Briggs had sat down upon the bench to wait for him.



CHAPTER XXX

HIS WORD OF HONOR


The old man said nothing at all, as Hal drew near, but only peered at
him from under those white-thatched brows of his, with eyes of stern
reproach. This still further quickened Hal’s apprehension and blew to a
kindling fire the glowing embers of venomous ill-humor.

For all his swagger, Hal could not bring himself to look the captain in
the eye. Hands in pockets, cigarette in lips, he came close and stood
there; and with defiant surliness on his tanned face managed to say:

“Well, gramp, what now? Getting ready to pan me properly, are you? If
so, when ready, Gridley, you can fire!”

“Hal,” answered the old man, “that’s the last impertinence you’re ever
going to utter to me! So remember. Sit down and answer my questions.”

“I can take it standing, all right!” said Hal, defiant still.

“I said, sit down, sir!”

Making no answer this time, the boy hulked his surly way toward the
ancient, flat-topped tomb, the granite slab of which—supported on six
stone pillars—bore the name “Amalfi Briggs.”

“Not there, sir!” exclaimed the captain sternly. “Have you no respect
for either dead or living? Here on this bench beside me! Sit down, I
tell you!”

Hal slouched down beside his grandfather, his huge shoulders sagging. A
strange resemblance grew visible between these two—young man and old;
black-haired and white.

“Well, now what is it?” demanded Hal with an oblique glance.

“The first thing, sir, is that I’m going to be obeyed, without question
and without any back talk. I never took it aboard my ships, and I’m not
going to stand any impertinence. I’m an old man, but I’m still captain
of Snug Harbor. As long as there’s a breath of air in my lungs or a
drop of blood in my veins, I’m going to give orders there; and those
that don’t like them will have to sail with some other skipper. Do you
understand _that_?”

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy, more subdued in tone. This new note of
his grandfather’s told him real business was up-wind.

“Very well, then. That’s understood,” continued Alpheus, grimly. “You
are subordinate to me. That point ought never to have been raised at
all, and with a right-minded grandson it never would have been. But
since you’ve shown yourself rebellious, it’s got to be. I’m master, and
you’re man. Don’t ever forget that, sir. If you do, into the small boat
you go, and away; and, once you’ve gone, there’s no Jacob’s-ladder down
the side for you ever again!”

“All right, sir. What next?”

“Next, throw away that infernal cigarette, sir. There’ll be no
cigarettes smoked here in presence of our dead!”

“But, gramp, you’ve been smoking that rank old pipe here!”

The cigarette, dashed from Hal’s mouth, would have burned a hole in the
white flannel trousers had not Hal swiftly brushed its fire away. Hal’s
eyes glowered with swift anger, but he held his tongue. The captain
began again:

“Where have you been, sir?”

“Been? Why—nowhere—just taking a walk with Laura. That’s all.”

“H-m! Why didn’t you come back with her?”

“She—got mad at something, and—”

Hal’s face grew ugly. With savage eyes he regarded the old man.

“Mad at what? What did you say to her?”

“Nothing, gramp, so help me! She got jealous about another girl in
Boston, that’s all.”

“Very well, sir. I hope that _is_ all. If you’ve been lying to me, or
if you’ve hurt one hair of that girl’s head, it’ll be a bad day for
you, sir! Now then, listen to me! You’ve got me into shoal waters, on
a lee shore, with your evil ways. Yes, and you’ve got yourself there,
too. I’ve been to see Squire Bean this morning, on account of your
assault on Fergus McLaughlin.”

“Assault, nothing! That was a fair fight, and I trimmed him.”

“Legally, it’s assault and battery. Do you know how much it’s going to
cost me to keep you out of court and clear the name of Briggs? Cash
money, sir. Money that would have been yours later, but that I’ve got
to take out of my safe now because of your evil doings?”

“Out of the safe?” asked Hal, his thoughts diverted into a new channel.
He was going to add: “I thought you kept your money in the Endicutt
National.” But he nipped the words before they could escape him. The
captain, too wrought up to notice the gleam in his grandson’s eyes or
the evil portent of the question, repeated:

“Do you know how much it’s going to cost me, sir?”

“Search _me_!”

“Two hundred and fifty dollars, sir.”

“You’re kidding!”

“That will do, sir, for that kind of language in hearing of our family
dead!”

“Excuse me, gramp—I forgot myself!” Hal apologized, feigning
contrition. “You don’t mean to tell me McLaughlin has the nerve to ask
that much—and can collect it?”

“He asked five hundred, but Dr. Filhiol’s help reduced the claim. I’ve
agreed to pay. That’s a hard blow to me, Hal, but there’s far worse.
I got a letter from the college this morning that carried away all
canvas. It brought me heavy, bad news, Hal!”

“I thought so,” said Hal moodily, his eyes fixed on the close-trimmed
grass. “It was bound to come! I’m fired from college!”

“And yet you went gallivanting off with Laura, and never even reported
it to me!”

“I knew you’d find it out soon enough. Yes, I’m on the shelf with the
rest of the canned goods!”

“Dishonorably discharged from the service, sir! And for what cause?”

“How do _I_ know what that sour old pill, Travers, has framed up on
me?” demanded Hal angrily. “He’s the kind of guy that would make murder
out of killing a mosquito. If a fellow takes a single drink, or looks
at a skirt—a girl, I mean—he’s ready to chop his head off!”

“Is, eh?” demanded the old captain sternly. “So you deny having been
drunk and disorderly, having committed an assault on a proctor, having
stolen the money I sent you for your bill, and having cheated in
examinations? Here in this place of solemn memories you deny all that?”

“I—I—” Hal began, but the tale of his misdemeanors was too
circumstantial for even his brazen effrontery.

“You deny it, sir?”

“Oh, what’s the use, gramp?” Hal angrily flung at him. “Everything’s
framed up against me! I’m sick of the whole thing, anyhow. College is
a frost. I never fell for it at all. You tried to wish it on me, when
everything I wanted in the world was to go to sea. It’s all true. Let
it go at that!”

“So then, sir, I still have a heavy bill at college to pay, besides the
disgrace of your discharge?”

“Oh, I suppose so! I’m fired. Glad I _am_! Glad I’m done with the whole
damned business!”

“Sir! Mind your tongue!”

“I’m glad, I tell you!” The boy’s face seemed burning with interior
fires, suddenly enkindled. “I quit everything. Give me a boat,
gramp—anything that’ll sail—a twenty-five footer, and let me go! I
don’t ask you for a dollar. All I ask is a boat. Give me that, and I
swear to God I’ll never trouble you again!”

“A boat, Hal? What do you mean, sir?” Startled, the captain peered at
him.

“Oh, God!” Hal cried with sudden passion. “A boat—that’s all I want
now! I’m dying here! I was dying in college, choking to death by
inches!” He stood up, raised his head, and flung his arms towards the
sea. He cried from his black heart’s depths:

“Let me go! Oh, let me go, let me go!”

“Go? Go where?”

“Lord, how do _I_ know? All I want is to go somewhere, away from here.
This place is cursed! I’m cursed here, and so are you, as long as I’m
around!”

“Cursed, Hal?” whispered the captain, tensely. “What gives you that
idea?”

“I know it! This village bounded on one side by nothing and on the
other by a graveyard—I can’t stand it, and I won’t! Let me go
somewhere, anywhere, out to sea, where it’s calling me out over beyond
_there_!” He gestured mightily at the lure of the horizon. “Let me go
out past the Silken Sea, beyond the Back of the Wind!”

Panting a little he grew silent, with clenched fists, face flushed
and veins swollen on neck and brow. The old man, staring, shivered at
sound of the strange Malay words, now suddenly spoken again after half
a century—words that echoed ghostlike in the empty chambers of the
past. He peered at Hal, as at an apparition. His face, pale under its
weather-beaten tan, drew into lines of anguish.

“Let me go!” the boy flung at him again. “You’ve got to let me go!”

“Sit down, sir!” the captain made shift to answer. “This is sheer
lunacy. What, sir? You want to give up your career, your family,
everything? You want to take a small boat and go sailing off into
nowhere? Why, sir, Danvers Asylum is the place for you. No more such
talk, sir; not another word!”

“I don’t care what you say, I’m going, anyhow,” Hal defied him. “I’m
not going to rot in this dump. It’s no place for a live man, and you
know it!”

“You’ve got no money to be buying boats, Hal! No, nor no skipper’s
papers, either. By the Judas priest, sir, but you’re crazy! You’ll be
talking piracy next, or some such nonsense.”

“I don’t care what I talk,” the boy retorted. “I’m sick of this! I’m
through! I’m going to live, and be myself, and be—”

“You’ll be a corpse or a jail-bird, if that’s the course you’re
sailing!” the captain cut in. “This is a civilized world you’re living
in now.”

“Civilized! My God, civilized! That’s all I hear—civilized! When you
were my age were _you_ always civilized? Were _you_ kept on dry land
instead of going to sea? Were _you_ buried in college, learning damned,
dry rubbish?”

“Dry rubbish? Your Oriental studies dry rubbish?”

“I don’t have to go to college for those! What you know of the East,
did you learn it out of books? You did not! You learned it out of life!
Learned it yourself, ‘somewhere east of Suez.’ Well, the temple-bells
are calling me, too; and yet you pen me up in this crabbed little New
England village, where they don’t even know there _are_ temple-bells!
It’s choking me to death, I tell you!” He caught at his throat, as if
striving for air. “But you don’t understand. You’re old now, and you’ve
‘put it all behind you, long ago and far away,’ and now you ask me to
be civilized!”

“You mean to tell me, sir,” the captain asked, his voice trembling,
“that you’d abandon me, after the way I’ve worked for you? You’d
abandon the family and the home? You’d leave that good, pure girl,
Laura, just for a whim like this? I appeal to you, my boy, in the name
of the family—”

“It’s no use, grandfather. You’ve got to let me go!” Unmoved he heard
the old man plead:

“Have you no love for me, then? I’m in my declining years. Without
you what would be left? I’ve lived for you, Hal, and in the hope of
what you’d be some day. I’ve hoped you’d marry Laura—I’ve dreamed of
grandchildren, of new light in the sunset that’s guiding me to the
western harbor. I’ve wanted nothing but to give the end of my life to
you and for you, Hal—nothing but that!” In the captain’s eyes gleamed
a tear. Hal, noting it, felt secret scorn and mockery. “I’m willing to
overlook everything that’s past and give you a fresh start. God knows,
I’d gladly lay down my life for you! Because, Hal—you know I love you,
boy!”

Hal glanced appraisingly at the entreating old figure on the bench,
at the white head, the tear-blurred eyes, the trembling outstretched
hands. To what point, he wondered with sinister calculation, could he
turn this blind affection to his own uses? He kept a moment’s silence,
then said in a tone that skilfully simulated humilitude:

“I suppose I _am_ a fool to have such thoughts, after all. What is it
you want me to do?”

“First, I want you to get off the lee shore. I’ll pay your debts, Hal,
and clear you. There are other colleges, and as for McLaughlin, the
money and apology will satisfy him.”

“Apology? What apology?”

“Oh, he demands an apology from you, you understand?”

“He does, eh? Like—h-m! Well, I suppose I can do that.” Hal kept his
lying tongue to the deception now essential to the success of his plans.

“Finely spoken, sir, and like a man!” exclaimed Captain Briggs, with
sudden joy and hope. “I knew you’d come to it. You’re sound at heart,
boy—sound as old oak. You’re a Briggs, after all!”

“When do I have to make this apology?” asked Hal, with a searching
look. “Not right away?”

“No. I’m going to pay the money this afternoon. In a day or two you can
go aboard the schooner—”

“The schooner? You mean I’ve got to see him _there_?”

“Well, yes. You see, he insists on the apology where the assault was
done. You’re to give it in front of all the crew. I know that’ll be
hard sailing, against stiff winds of pride, but you’ll come through.
You’ll prove yourself a man, for your own sake as well as Laura’s and
mine, won’t you?”

Hal’s fists were clenched tight as he answered:

“Yes, of course. I’ll go through.” His eyes were the eyes of murder,
but the old captain saw only his boy coming back to him again, dutiful
and ready for a new start in life. “I’ll do it, sir. Count on me!”

“Your hand, sir!”

The captain’s hand met his grandson’s in a grip that, on one side,
was all confidence and love; on the other, abysmal treachery and
wickedness. Hal said as the grasp loosened:

“I’m asking only one little favor of you.”

“What’s that, boy?”

“Till this thing is all settled, let’s not talk about it any more.
No more than is strictly necessary. Please don’t discuss it with the
doctor, or with Ezra!”

“Ezra knows nothing. The doctor may talk a little, but I’ll discourage
it. From now on, Hal, there’ll be very little said.”

“If you see Laura—”

“Not a word to her. And from now on, Hal, you’re going to make amends
for what you’ve done, and live it down, and prove yourself a man?”

“Why, sure!”

“You mean that, boy?”

“Of course I mean it! What shall I swear it on? The blue-throated
Mahadeo of the Hindus, or Vishnu the Destroyer, or Ratna Mutnu Manikam,
the Malay Great God of Death? All three, if you say so!”

The captain shivered again, as if the cold breath of ghosts from far,
terrible graves had suddenly blown upon him.

“I wish you wouldn’t talk that way, Hal,” said he tremulously. “Just
give me your word of honor. Will you?”

“Yes, sir!”

“As a gentleman?”

“As a ‘gentleman—unafraid!’”

Captain Briggs got up from the bench among the tombs and put his tired
old arm through the strong, vigorous one of Hal, with a patriarchal
affection of great nobility.

“Come, boy!” said he, happy with new hopes. “Come, we must be getting
under way for Snug Haven—for the little home you’re going to be so
worthy of and make so happy. The home where, some of these fine days, I
know you’ll bring Laura to comfort and rejoice me. Come, boy, now let’s
be going down the hill!”

Together he and Hal made their way toward the gate in the old stone
wall, warm in the sunlight of June.

A smile was on the captain’s time-worn face, a smile of joy and peace.
Hal was smiling, too, but with mockery and craft and scorn.

“That’s the time I handed it out right and stalled him proper!” he was
thinking as they started down the winding path amid the sumacs and wild
roses. “He’s easy, gramp is—a cinch! Getting moldy in the attic. He’ll
fall for anything. Now, if Laura’d only been as easy! If she _had_—”

Heavily, but still smiling, the old man leaned upon Hal’s arm, finding
comfort in the strength of the lusty young scion of the family which,
save for this one hope, must perish.

“God has been very good to me, after all!” the captain thought as they
went down the hill. “I feared God was going to punish me; but, after
all, He has been kind! ‘My cup runneth over—He leadeth me beside the
still waters,’ at last, after so many stormy seas! Sunset of life is
bringing peace—and somewhere my Pilot’s waiting to tell me I have
paid my debt and that I’m entering port with a clean log!”

And Hal? What was Hal thinking now?

“Cinch is no name for it! The old man’s called off all rough-house
for a day or two. One day’s enough. Just twenty-four hours. That’s
all—that’s all I need!”



CHAPTER XXXI

THE SAFE


Though a freshening east wind was now beginning to add a raw salt tang
to the air, troubled by a louder suspiration of surf, and though the
fluttering of the poplar-leaves, which now had begun to show their
silvery undersides, predicted rain, all was bright sunshine in the old
man’s heart.

The drifting clouds in no wise lessened the light for Captain Briggs.
Nodding flower and piping bird, grumbling bee and brisk, varnished
cricket in the path all bore him messages of cheer. His blue eyes
mirrored joy. For, after all that he had suffered and feared, lo! here
was Hal come back to him again, repentant, dutiful and kind.

“God is being very good to me after all,” the old captain kept
thinking. “‘His mercy endureth forever, and He is very, very good!’”

Dr. Filhiol, sitting at the window of his room, up-stairs, watched the
captain and Hal with narrowed eyes that harbored suspicion. His lips
drew tight, but he uttered no word. Hal, glancing up, met his look with
instinctive defiance. Boldness and challenge leaped into his eyes.
Filhiol understood his threat:

“Keep yourself out of this or take all consequences!”

And again the thought came to the doctor:

“What wouldn’t I give to have you for a patient of mine? Just for one
hour!”

The captain and Hal disappeared ’round the ell, in which Filhiol had
his room; but even after he had lost them to sight, he sensed the
fatuous self-deception of the old man and the cruel baseness of the
young one. Hal’s overstrained effort at good fellowship grated on the
doctor’s nerves with a note as false as his forced smile. He longed
to warn the captain—and yet! How could he make Briggs credit his
suspicions? Impossible, he realized.

“Poor captain!” he murmured. “Poor old captain!” And so he sat there,
troubled and very sad.

He heard their feet on the porch, then heard Hal coming up-stairs,
alone. Along the passageway went Hal, muttering something
unintelligible. Presently he returned down-stairs again and went into
the yard. Filhiol swung his blinds shut. Much as he hated to play the
spy, instinct told he must.

Hal now had his pipe, and carried books and paper. With these he sat
down on the rustic seat that encircled one of the captain’s big elms—a
seat before which a table had been built, for _al fresco_ meals, or
study. He opened one of the books and began writing busily, while smoke
curled on the breeze now growing damp and raw. Even the doctor could
not but admit Hal made an attractive figure in his white flannels.

“Pure camouflage, that study is,” pondered the doctor. “That smile
augurs no good.” Down-stairs he heard Briggs moving about, and pity
welled again. “This is bad, bad. There’s something in the wind, _I_
know. Tss-tss-tss! What a wicked, cruel shame!”

Down in the cabin, Captain Briggs’s appearance quite belied the
doctor’s pity. Every line of his venerable face showed deep content. In
his eyes lay beatitude.

“Thank God, the boy’s true-blue, after all!” he murmured. “Just a
little wild, perhaps, but he’s a Briggs—he’s sound metal at the core.
Thank God for that!”

He opened the top drawer of his desk, took out a little slip of paper
that helped refresh his memory, and approached the safe. Right, left,
he turned the knob, as the combination on the paper bade him; then he
swung open the doors, and pulled out a little drawer.

“Cap’n Briggs, sir!”

At sound of Ezra’s voice in the doorway, he started almost guiltily.

“Well, what is it?”

“Anythin’ you’re wantin’ down to Dudley’s store, sir?”

“No, Ezra.” The captain’s answer seemed uneasy. Under the sharp boring
of Ezra’s steely eyes, he quailed. “No, there’s nothing.”

“All right, cap’n!” The old cook remained a moment, observing. Then
with the familiarity of long years, he queried:

“Takin’ money again, be you? Whistlin’ whales, cap’n, that won’t do!”

“Ezra! What d’you mean, sir!”

“You know, cap’n, we’re gittin’ mighty nigh the bottom o’ the locker.”

“You’re sailing a bit wide, Ezra!”

“Mebbe, sir.” The honest old fellow’s voice expressed deep anxiety.
“But you an’ me is cap’n an’ mate o’ this here clipper, an’ money’s
money.”

The voices drifting out the open window brought Hal’s head up,
listening. The doctor, peering through the blinds, saw him hesitate
a moment, peer ’round, then cross the lawn to where, screened by the
thick clump of lilac-bushes, he could peek into the room.

“Money’s money, cap’n,” repeated Ezra. “We hadn’t oughta let it go too
fast.”

“There’s lots of better things in this world than money, Ezra,” said
the captain, strangely ill at ease.

“Mebbe, sir, but it takes money to buy ’em,” the cook retorted. “I
ain’t a two-dollar-worry man fer a one-dollar loss, but still I know a
dollar’s a good little friend.”

“Happiness is better,” affirmed the captain. “What I’m going to spend
this money for now will bring me happiness. Better than all the money
in the world, is being contented with your lot.”

“Yes, sir, if it’s a lot of money, or a corner lot in a live town. _I_
think there’s six things to make a man happy. One is a good cook an’
the other five is cash. However, fur be it from me to argy with you. I
got to clear fer Dudley’s, or there wun’t be no dinner.”

Ezra withdrew.

“It’s that damn McLaughlin, I betcha,” he pondered. “I got an intuition
the cap’n’s got to pay him heavy. Intuition’s a guess, when it comes
out right; an’ I’ll bet a schooner to a saucepan I’m right this time.
If I was half the man I used to be, it wouldn’t be money McLaughlin’d
be gittin’, but _this_!” Menacingly, he doubled his fist.

Captain Briggs took from the safe a packet of bills and counted off
four hundred dollars. This money he put into his wallet. Hal watched
every move; while above, from behind the blinds, Dr. Filhiol observed
him with profound attention.

“We _are_ getting a bit low in the treasury,” admitted the captain,
inspecting the remainder of the cash. “Only a matter of seven hundred
and fifty left, to stand us till January. A bit low, but we’ll manage
some way or other. Sail close to the wind, and make it. After all,
what’s a little money when the boy’s whole life is at stake?”

He put the remaining bills back and closed the safe. To the desk he
walked, dropped the combination into it and shut it, tight. Silently
Hal slid back to his seat under the elm, and once more set himself to
writing.

Filhiol peered down at him with animosity.

“A nice little treatment of strychnine or _curaré_ might make a proper
man of you, you brute,” he muttered, “but, by the living Lord, I don’t
think anything else could!”



CHAPTER XXXII

THE READING OF THE CURSE


The kitchen door slammed. Ezra, turning the corner of the house, paused
to gaze with admiration at Hal.

“Hello, Master Hal, sir,” said he. “Always studyin’, ain’t you?” Voice
and expression alike showed intense pride. Above, Filhiol bent an ear
of keenest attention. “Ain’t many young fellers in this town would be
workin’ over books, when there’s petticoats in sight.”

“You don’t approve of the girls, eh?” asked Hal with a smile. A smile
of the lips alone, not of the eyes.

“No, sir, I don’t,” answered Ezra with resentment—for once upon a time
a woman had misused him, and the wound had never healed. “They ain’t
what I call good reliable craft, sir. Contrary at the wheel, an’ their
rig costs more ’n what their hull’s wu’th. No, sir, I ain’t overly fond
of ’em.”

“Your judgment’s not valid,” said Hal. He seemed peculiarly expansive,
as if for some reason of his own he wanted to win Ezra to still greater
affection. “What do _you_ know about women, an old bach like you?”

“I know!” affirmed Ezra, coming over the lawn to the table. “Men are
like nails—when they’re drove crooked, they’re usually drove so by a
woman. Women can make a fool of almost any man, ef nature don’t git a
start on ’em.”

Hal laughed. A certain malevolent content seemed radiating from him.
Lazily he leaned back, and drew at his pipe. “Right or wrong, you’ve
certainly got definite opinions. You know your own mind. You believe in
a man knowing himself, don’t you?”

“Ef some men knowed themselves they’d be ashamed o’ the acquaintance,”
opined Ezra. “An’ most women would. No, sir, I don’t take no stock
in ’em. There ain’t nothin’ certain about love but the uncertainty.
Women ain’t satisfied with the milk o’ human kindness. They want all
the cream. What they expect is a sealskin livin’ on a mushrat salary.
Love’s a kind of paralysis—kind of a stroke, like. Sometimes it’s
only on one side an’ there’s hope. But ef it gits on both sides, it’s
hopeless.”

“Love makes the world go ’round, Ezra!”

“Like Tophet! It only makes folks’ heads spin, an’ they _think_ the
world’s goin’ ’round, that’s all. Nobody knows the value of a gold-mine
or a woman, but millions o’ men has went busted, tryin’ to find out!
Not fer me, this here lovin’, sir,” Ezra continued with eloquence. “I
never yet see a matrimonial match struck but what somebody got burned.
Marriage is the end o’ trouble, as the feller says—but which end? I
ask you!”

“You needn’t ask _me_, Ezra; I’m no authority on women. There’s a nice
little proverb in this book, though, that you ought to know.”

“What’s that, Master Hal?”

“Here, I’ll find it for you.” Hal turned a few pages, paused, and read:
“‘_Bounga sedap dipakey, layou dibouang._’”

“Sufferin’ snails! What _is_ that stuff, anyhow? Heathen Chinee?”

“That’s Malay, Ezra,” Hal condescended. The doctor, listening, felt
a strange little shiver, as of some reminiscent fear from the vague
long-ago. Those words, last heard at Batu Kawan, fifty years before,
now of a sudden rose to him like specters of great evil. His attention
strained itself as Hal went on:

“That’s a favorite Malay proverb, and it means: ‘While the flower is
pleasing to man, he wears it. When it fades, he throws it away.’”

“Meanin’ a woman, o’ course? Uhuh! _I_ see. Well, them heathens has
it pretty doggone nigh correct, at that, ain’t they? So that there is
Malay, is it? All them twisty-wisty whirligigs? An’ you can read it
same as if it was a real language?”

“It _is_ a real language, Ezra, and a very beautiful one. I love it.
You don’t know how much!” A tone of real sincerity crept into the
false camaraderie of Hal’s voice. Filhiol shook his head. Vague,
incomprehensible influences seemed reaching out from the vapors of
the Orient, fingering their way into the very heart of this trim New
England garden, in this year of grace, 1918. The doctor suddenly felt
cold. He crouched a little closer toward the blinds.

“Holy halibut, Master Hal!” exclaimed Ezra in an awed tone, peering at
the book. “What a head you got on you, sir! Fuller o’ brains than an
old Bedford whaler is o’ rats!”

“You flatter me, Ezra. Think so, do you?”

“I know so! Ef I’d had your peak I wouldn’t of walloped pots in a
galley all my natural. But I wan’t pervided good. My mind’s like a pint
o’ rum in a hogshead—kind of broad, but not very deep. It’s sort of
a phonograph mind—makes me talk a lot, but don’t make me say nothin’
original. So that’s Malay, is it? Well, it’s too numerous fer _me_.
There’s only one kind o’ Malay I know about, an’ that’s my hens. They
may lay, an’ then again they may not. That’s grammatical. But this
here wiggly printin’—no, no, it don’t look reasonable. My eye, what a
head! Read some more, will you?”

“Certainly, if you like it,” said Hal, strangely obliging. “Here’s
something I’ve been translating, in the line of cursing. They’re great
people to curse you, the Malays are, if you cross them. Their whole
lives are full of vengeance—that’s what makes them so interesting.
Nothing weak, forgiving or mushy about _them_!” He picked up the paper
he had been writing on, and cast his eyes over it, while Ezra looked
down at him with fondly indulgent pride. “Here is part of the black
curse of Vishnu.”

“Who’s he?”

“One of their gods. The most avenging one of the lot,” explained Hal.
The doctor, crouching behind the blinds, shivered.

“Gods, eh? What’s this Vishnu feller like?” asked Ezra, with a touch of
uneasiness. “Horns an’ a tail?”

“No. He’s got several forms, but the one they seem most afraid of is a
kind of great, blind face up in the sky. A face that—even though it’s
blind—can watch a guilty man all his life, wherever he goes, and ruin
him, crucify him, bring him to destruction, and laugh at him as he’s
dying.”

“_Brrr!_” said Ezra. He seemed to feel something of the same cold
that had struck to the doctor’s heart—a greater cold than could be
accounted for by the veiling of the sun behind the clouds now driving
in from the sea, or by the kelp-rank mists gathering along the shore.
“You make me feel all creepylike. You’re wastin’ your time on such
stuff, Master Hal, same as a man is when he’s squeezing a bad lemon or
an old maid. None o’ that cursin’ stuff fer me!”

“Yes, yes, you’ve got to listen to it!” insisted Hal maliciously.
Ezra’s trepidation afforded him great enjoyment. “Here’s the way it
goes:

 “‘The curse of Vishnu, the great black curse, can never end
 unsatisfied when it has once been laid upon a human head. Beyond the
 land it carries, and beyond the sea, beyond the farthest sea unsailed.
 Beyond the day, the month, the year, it carries; and even though the
 accursèd one flee forever, in some far place and on some far day it
 will fall on him or his!’”

“Great grampus!” cried the old man, retreating a little with wide eyes.
“That’s _some_ cussin’, all right!”

The doctor sensed an insistent fear that would not be denied. What if
old Captain Briggs should overhear this colloquy? What if Ezra should
repeat to him these words that, now arising from the past, echoed with
ominous purport? At realization of possible consequences, Filhiol’s
heart contracted painfully.

“Damn you, Hal!” thought he, peering out through the blinds. “Damn you
and your Malay books. If any harm comes to the captain, through you,
look out!”

“Some awful cussin’,” Ezra repeated. “I wouldn’t want to have no sech
cuss as that rove onta _me_! You b’lieve that stuff, do ye?”

“Who am I to disprove it?”

“Ain’t there no way to kedge off, ef you’re grounded on a cuss like
that?”

“Only one, Ezra, according to this book.”

“What way’s that?”

“Well,” and Hal once more glanced at the paper, “well, this is what the
book says:

 “‘The curse must be fulfilled, to the last breath, for by Shiva and
 the Trimurthi, what is written is written. But if he through whom
 the curse descendeth on another is stricken to horror and to death,
 then the Almighty Vishnu, merciful, closes that page. And he who
 through another’s sin was cursed, is cleansed. Thus may the curse be
 fulfilled. But always one of two must die. _Tuan Allah poonia krajah!_
 It is the work of the Almighty One! One of two must die!’”

“Gosh!” ejaculated Ezra. “I reckon that’ll be about enough fer me,
Master Hal. Awful, ain’t it?”

“Don’t like Malay, after all?” laughed Hal.

“Can’t say as I’m pinin’ fer it. But you got some head on you, to
read it off like that. I s’pose it’s all right in its way, but I
don’t relish it overly, as the feller said when he spilled sugar on
his oysters. Well,” and he glanced at the lowering clouds and the
indrifting sea-fog that with the characteristic suddenness of the north
shore had already begun to throw its chilly blanket over the world,
“well, this ain’t gittin’ to Dudley’s store, is it? Lord, sir, what a
head you got on you!”

With admiring ejaculations the old man started down the path once more.
The doctor, filled with stern thoughts, remained watching Hal, who had
now gone back to his writing.

“What a fatality!” pondered the doctor, unable to suppress a certain
superstitious dread. Not all his scientific training could quite
overcome the deep-rooted superstition that lies in the bottom of every
human heart. “The black curse of Vishnu again, with this new feature:
‘_One of two must die!_’ What the devil does all this mean now?”

A crawling sensation manifested itself along his spine. Silent shapes
seemed standing behind him in the corners of the room darkened by
the closing of the blinds. Trained thinker though he was, he could
not shake off this feeling, but remained crouching at the window, a
prey to inexplicable fear. The words Hal had spoken, echoing along
dim corridors of the past, still seemed vibrating in his heart with
unaccustomed pain.

“Nonsense!” he growled at last. “It’s all nonsense—nothing but a sheer
coincidence!” He tried to put the words away, but still they sounded in
his ears: “_One of two must die! Always one of two must die!_”

Another thought, piercing him, brought him up standing with clenched
fists.

“If the captain ever gets hold of that idea, what then? If he ever
does—_what then_?”

Brooding he paced up and down the room, limping painfully, for without
his cane he could hardly walk even a few steps. And almost at once
his fear curdled into hate against the sleek, white-flanneled fellow,
sitting there under the elm, calmly translating words that might mean
agony and death to the old grandsire.

Filhiol’s mind became confused. He knew not what to think, nor yet
which way to turn. What events impended? He recalled the way Hal had
peered stealthily into the cabin, and how he had then slid back to his
seat under the elm. Was Hal plotting some new infamy? What could be
done to warn the captain, to make that blindly loyal heart accept the
truth and act upon it?

Tentacles of some terrible thing seemed enmeshing both Filhiol and the
old captain—some catastrophe, looming black, impossible to thrust
aside. But it was not of himself that Filhiol was thinking. Only the
image of the captain, trusting, confident, arose before him.

Filhiol set his teeth in a grimace of hate against the figure at work
out there under the big elm.

“I’ve probably done my share of evil in this world,” thought he, “but
I could wipe it all out with one supremely good action. If I could put
an end to _you_—”

All unconscious, Hal continued at his work. As he wrote, he smiled a
little. The smile was sinister and hard.

What thoughts did it reflect?



CHAPTER XXXIII

ROBBERY


Dinner brought the four men together: Filhiol glum and dour, Hal in his
most charming mood, the captain expansive with new-found happiness, and
old Ezra bubbling with aphorisms.

Silent and brooding, Filhiol turned the situation in his mind, asking
himself a hundred times what he could do to avert catastrophe impending.

Decision, after dinner, crystallized into action. First of all the
doctor interviewed Ezra in the galley, and from him extracted a
binding promise to make no mention before Captain Briggs, of anything
concerning Malay life, or books, or curses, or whatever.

“I can’t explain now, Ezra,” said he, “but it’s most important. As
a physician, I prohibit your speaking of these matters here. You
understand?”

“Yes, sir. I dunno’s I’m over an’ above keen to obey you, sir, but ef
it’s fer the cap’n’s good, that’s enough fer me.”

“It _is_ for the captain’s good, decidedly!” affirmed the doctor, and
left old Ezra to think it over. One source of danger, he now felt
confident, had been dammed up.

Ezra was still thinking it over when the captain told him to harness
Sea Lawyer for a drive to Endicutt. In spite of the fine, drifting rain
that had set in, Briggs was determined to go, for until McLaughlin’s
claim and the college bill had been settled, the money he had taken
from the safe for that purpose was burning in his pocket. He insisted
on going quite alone, despite protests from Filhiol and Ezra. Even
though all the sunlight had died from the darkening sky, it seemed
still shining in the old man’s eyes as he drove off to pay the
hard-saved money that now—so he believed—would put Hal on the upward
road once more.

“Hal,” said the doctor, when the old captain had slowly jogged out of
sight, “I’ve got a few words to say to you, out on the porch. Give me
five minutes, please?”

“Why, surest thing you know! Just let me get my pipe, and I’ll be with
you.”

He seemed all engaging candor—just a big, powerful fellow, open of
face and manner, good-humored and without guile. As he rejoined the
doctor, Filhiol wondered whether, after all, his analysis might not
be wrong. But no, no. Something at the back of Hal’s blue-eyed look,
something arrogant with power, something untamed, atavistic, looked out
through even the most direct glance. Filhiol knew that he was dealing
with no ordinary force. And, carefully choosing his words, he said:

“Listen, young man. I’m going to ask a favor of you.”

“My grandfather’s guest has only to ask, and it’s done,” smiled Hal, as
he settled himself in one of the rockers, and hoisted his white-shod
feet to the porch-rail.

“You know, Hal,” the doctor commenced, “your grandfather has been
greatly distressed about your conduct.”

“Well, and what then?” asked Hal, his eyes clouding.

“He has a strange idea that some of the misdeeds of his youth,
long since atoned for, are being visited upon you, and that he’s
responsible for—h-m—certain irregularities of your conduct.”

“Yes?”

“In short, he half believes a curse is resting on you, because of him.
It would be most deplorable to let that belief receive corroboration
from any source, as for example, from any of your Oriental studies.”

Hal shot a keen glance at the old man. This was indeed getting under
the hide, with a vengeance. The glance showed fear, too. Had Filhiol,
then, been spying on him? Had he, by any chance, seen him peeking in at
the window, through the lilac-bushes? Hal’s evil temper began to stir,
and with it a very lively apprehension.

“What are you driving at, anyhow?” demanded he, sullenly.

“I want you to keep your Oriental stuff completely in the background
for a while. Not to talk with him about it, and especially to avoid all
those fantastic curses.”

“Oh, is that all?” asked Hal, relieved. “Well, that’s easy.”

The doctor sighed with relief.

“That makes me feel a bit better,” said he. “We’ve got to do our best
to protect the captain against himself. I know you’ll coöperate with me
to keep him out of any possible trouble.”

“Surest thing you know, doctor!” exclaimed Hal. “I’ve been a fool and
worse, I know, but that’s all over. I’ve taken a fresh start that will
help me travel far. You’ll see.”

He put out his hand.

“Let’s shake on it,” he smiled winningly.

A moment their eyes met. Then Filhiol said:

“I’m sorry if I’ve misjudged you. Let’s just forget it. You don’t know
how much relieved I feel.”

“I feel better, too,” said Hal. “Things are going to take a decidedly
new turn.”

“It’s fine to hear you say that!” exclaimed the doctor, almost
convinced that at last he had struck a human stratum in the boy’s
heart. “I can take my after-dinner nap with a great deal easier mind
now. Good-by.”

He limped into the house, not perhaps fully confident of Hal, but at
any rate more inclined to believe him amenable to reason. Hal, peering
after him, whispered a terrific blasphemy under his breath.

“You damned buttinsky!” he growled, black with passion. “There’s
something coming to you, too. Something you’ll get, by God, or I’m no
man!”

He got up, and—silently in his rubber-soled shoes—walked around the
porch to the end of it, then stepped down into the grass and crept
along by the house. Under the doctor’s window he stood, listening
acutely. Just what the doctor was doing he must by all means know. Ezra
was safe enough. From the kitchen drifted song:

  “Rolling Rio,
  To my rolling Rio Grande!
  Hooray, you rolling Rio!
  So fare ye well, my bonny young girls,
  For I’m bound to the Rio Grande!”

Hal nodded as he heard the springs of the doctor’s bed creak, and knew
the old man had really laid down for his mid-afternoon nap.

“It’s working fine,” said he. “Gramp’s gone, Ezra’s good for half an
hour on ‘Rio Grande,’ and the doc’s turned in. Looks like a curse was
sticking to me, doesn’t it? Not much! Nothing like that can stick to
_me_!”

At his feet two or three ants were busy with a grasshopper’s leg. Hal
smeared them out with a dab of his sole.

“That’s the way to do with people that get in your way,” he muttered.
“Just like that!”

He slouched back to the porch. The resemblance to what Captain Briggs
had been in the old days seemed wonderfully striking at just this
moment. Same hang of heavy shoulders, same set of jaw; scowl quite a
simulacrum of the other, and even the dark glowering of the eyes almost
what once had been.

As Hal Briggs lithely stepped on to the porch again he formed how
wonderful an image of that other man who, half a century ago, had swung
the poisoned kris upon the decks of the _Silver Fleece_, and, smeared
with blood, had hewn his way against all opposition to his will!

“Afraid of an old Malay curse!” sneered Hal. “Poor, piffling fool!
Why, Filhiol’s loose in the dome, and grandpop’s no better. They’re a
couple of children—ought to be shoved into the nursery. And they think
they’re going to dictate to _me_?”

He paused a moment at the front door to listen. No sound from within
indicated any danger.

“Think they’re going to keep me in this graveyard burg!” he gibed. “And
stop my having that girl! Well, they’ve got another think coming. She’s
mine, that young porpoise. She’s mine!”

Into the cabin he made his way, noiselessly, closed the hall door and
smiled with exultation.

He needed but a moment to reach the desk, take out the little slip of
paper on which the captain had written the combination, and go to the
safe.

A few turns of the knob, and the iron door swung wide. Open came the
money-compartment. With exultant hands, filled with triumph and evil
pride, Hal caught up the sheaf of bills there, quickly counted off
five hundred dollars, took a couple more bills for good luck, crammed
the money into his pocket, and replaced the pitifully small remnant in
the compartment.

“Sorry I’ve got to leave any,” he reflected, “but it’ll be safer. It
may keep him from noticing. The old man wouldn’t let me have a boat,
eh? And Laura turned me down, did she? Well now, we’ll soon see about
all that!”

“Master Hal, sir! What _in_ the name o’ Tophet are you up to?”

The sound of Ezra’s voice swung Hal sharp around. So intent had he been
that he had quite failed to notice the cessation of the old cook’s
chantey. A moment, Hal’s eyes, staring, met those of the astonished
servitor. Ominous silence filled the room.

“Why, Master Hal!” Ezra quavered. “You—ain’t—”

“You sneaking spy!” Hal growled at him, even in his rage and panic
careful to keep his voice low, lest he awake the doctor, abovestairs.
Toward the old man he advanced, with rowdy oaths of the fo’cs’le.

Ezra stood his ground.

“_I_ ain’t no spy, Master Hal,” he exclaimed, tremblingly. “But I come
into the dinin’-saloon, here, an’ couldn’t help seein’. Tell me it
ain’t so, Master Hal! Tell me you ain’t sunk so low as to be robbin’
your own grandpa, while he’s to town in all this rain, settlin’ up
things fer you! Not that, Master Hal—not that!”

“Ezra, you damn son-of-a-sea-cook!” snarled Hal, his face the face of
murder. “You call me a thief again, and so help me but I’ll wring your
neck!” His hand caught Ezra by the throat and closed in a gorilla-grip,
shutting off all breath. “You didn’t learn your lesson from the club
last night, eh? Well, I’ll teach you one now, you old gray rat! I’ll
shut _your_ mouth, damn you!”

Viciously he shook the weak old man. Ezra clawed with impotent hands at
the vise-clutch strangling him.

“It’s my money, my own money, understand?” Hal spat at him. “Every
penny of it’s mine. He didn’t want me to have it just yet, but I’m
going to, and you’re not going to blow on me! If you _do_—”

He loosed his hold, snatched down from its supporting hooks the
Malay kris, and with it gripped in hand confronted the trembling,
half-fainting cook.

“See this, Ezra?” And Hal shook the envenomed blade before the poor old
fellow’s horror-smitten eyes.

“Master—Master Hal!”

“If you breathe so much as one syllable to the captain, I’ll split you
with this knife, as sure as I’m a foot high! What? Butting in on me, in
my own house, are you? Like hell! Take a slant at this knife here, and
see how you’d like it through your guts!”

He raised it as if to strike. Ezra cowered, shrinking with the imminent
terror of death.

“Master Hal, oh, fer God’s sake, now—”

“You’re going to keep your jaw-tackle quiet, are you, to the captain?”

“I—I—”

Wickedly Hal slashed at him. Ezra opened his mouth, no doubt to cry
aloud, but Hal clapped a sinewed hand over it, and slammed him back
against the wall.

“Not a word more!” he commanded, and released the trembling old man.
“I’ve got to turn you loose, Ezra, but if you double-cross me, so help
me God—”

“You callin’ on God, Master Hal?” quavered Ezra. “You, with your
heathen curses an’ your Malay sword, an’ all the evil seed you’re
sowin’ fer a terrible crop o’ misery?”

“Shut up, you!”

“Goin’ on this way, Master Hal, after you jest promised the cap’n you
was goin’ to begin at the bottom o’ the ladder an’ climb ag’in? This
here ain’t the bottom; this here is a deep ditch you’re diggin’, fur
below that bottom. Oh, Master Hal,” and Ezra’s shaking hands went out
in passionate appeal, “ef you got any love fer the memory o’ your dead
mother; ef you got any fer your grandpa, what’s been so wonderful good
to you; ef you got any little grain o’ gratitude to me, fer all these
long years—”

“Ezra, you bald-headed old pot-walloper, I’m going to count ten on
you,” Hal interrupted, terrible with rage. “If, by the end of that time
you haven’t sworn to keep your mouth shut about this, I’m going to kill
you right here in this room! I mean that, Ezra!”

“But ef it’s y’r own money, Master Hal, why should you be afeared to
let him know?”

Hal struck the old man a staggering blow in the face. “You keep your
voice down,” he snarled. “If you wake the doctor, and he comes down
here, God help the pair of you! Now, Ezra, I’m not going to trifle with
you any longer. You’re going to swear secrecy, and do it quick, or take
the consequences!”

He turned, caught up the captain’s well-thumbed Bible from the desk,
and with the Bible in one hand, the poisoned kris in the other,
confronted Ezra.

“Here! Lay your hand on this book, damn quick!” he ordered. “And repeat
what I tell you. Quick, now; _quick!_”

The argument of the raised kris overbore Ezra’s resistance. With a look
of heart-breaking anguish he laid a trembling, veinous hand on the
Bible.

“What is it, Master Hal?” quavered he. “What d’ye want me to say?”

“Say this: ‘If I betray this secret—’”

“‘If I—if I betray this secret—’”

“‘May the black curse of Vishnu fall on me!’”

“‘May the’—listen, Master Hal! Please now, jest one minute!”

“Ezra, say it, damn your stiff, obstinate neck! Say it, or you get the
knife!”

“‘May the black curse o’—o’ Vishnoo fall on me!”

“‘And may his poisoned kris strike through my heart!’”

“No, no, sir, I can’t say that!” pleaded the simple old fellow, ashen
to the lips, his forehead lined with deep wrinkles of terror.

“You _will_ say it, Ezra, and you’ll mean it, or by the powers of
darkness I’ll butcher you where you stand!” menaced Hal. “And you’ll
say it quick, too!” Hal was nerving his hand to do cold murder. “One,
two, three, four! Say it now before I cut you down! There’s blood on
this knife, Ezra. See the dark stains? Blood, that my grandfather
put on there, fifty years ago—that’s what I’ve heard among old
sailors—put on there, because some of his men wouldn’t obey him. Well,
I can play the same game. What he did, I can do, and will! There’ll be
more blood on it, fresh blood, your blood, if you don’t mind me. Five,
six, seven! Say it, you obstinate cur!”

Up rose the kris again, ready to strike. Hal’s eyes were glowing. His
lips had drawn back, showing the gleam of white teeth.

“Keep your hand on that Bible, Ezra! Take that oath. Say it! Eight,
nine, t—”

“I’ll say it, Master Hal! I’ll say it!” gasped the old man. “Don’t kill
me—_don’t_!”

“Say it, then: ‘May this poisoned kris strike through my heart!’”

“‘M-m-may this poisoned kris—strike through—my—heart!’ There now!
Oh! Now I’ve said it. Let me go—let me go!”

“Go, and be damned to you! Get out o’ here, you spying
_surka-batcha_—you son-of-a-pig!”

Hal dropped the Bible back on to the desk, swung Ezra ’round, and
pitched him, staggering, into the dining-saloon. Ezra dragged himself
away, quaking, ghastly, to his own room, there to lock himself in.
Spent, terrified, he threw himself upon his bunk, and lay there, half
dead.

Well satisfied, Hal reviewed the situation.

“I guess I’ve kept _him_ quiet for a while,” he muttered. “Long enough,
anyhow. I won’t need much more time now.”

Back to the fireplace he turned, hung up the kris again on its hooks,
glanced around to assure himself he had left no traces of his robbery.
He closed the door of the safe, spun the knob, and in the desk-drawer
replaced the slip of paper bearing the combination.

“I guess I’ve fixed things so they’ll hold a while now,” judged he.
“God, what a place—what people! Spies, all spies! They’re all spying
on me here. And Laura’s giving me the laugh, too. Maybe I won’t show
them all a thing or two!”

He listened a moment, and, satisfied, opened the door into the front
hall. To all appearances the coast was free. He snatched a cap, jammed
it upon his head, and, hunching into an old raincoat, quietly left the
house.

The Airedale would have followed him, but with the menace of an
upraised fist he sent it back. Through the gate he went, and turned
toward the right, in the direction of Hadlock’s Cove, where dwelt Jim
Gordon, owner of the _Kittiwink_.

In his ears the wind, ever-rising, and the shouting of the quick-lashed
surf along the rocks joined with the slash of the rain to make a
chorus glad and mighty, to which his heart expanded. On and on he
strode, exultant, filled with evil devisings of a mind half mad in the
lusts of strength and passion. And as he went he held communion with
himself:

“I’ll beat ’em to it—and devil take anything that stands in my way! To
hell with them—to hell with everything that goes against me!”



CHAPTER XXXIV

SELF-SACRIFICE


The rapidly increasing northeast storm, that meant so little to Hal
Briggs, thoroughly drenched and chilled the old captain long before he
reached home.

By the time he had navigated back to Snug Haven, he was wet to the
bone, and was shivering with the drive of the gale now piling gray
lines of breakers along the shore. Dr. Filhiol, his face very hard, met
the old captain at the front door; while Ezra—silent, dejected, with
acute misery and fear—took the ancient horse away up the puddled lane.

“This is outrageous, captain!” the doctor expostulated. “The idea of
your exposing yourself this way at your age!”

“Where’s Hal?” shivered the captain. “I’ve got to see Hal! G-g-got to
tell him all his debts are paid, and he’s a free man again!”

“You’re hoarse as a frog, sir; you’ve got a thundering cold!” chided
the doctor. “I order you to bed, sir, where I’ll give you a stiff glass
of whisky and lemon, and sweat you properly.”

“Nonsense!” chattered the captain. “I’ll j-j-just change my clothes,
and sit by the fire, and I’ll be all r-r-right. Where’s Hal? I want
Hal!”

“Hal? How do _I_ know?” demanded Filhiol. “He’s gone. Where’s he bound
for? No good, I’ll warrant, in this storm. It shows how much _he_
cares, what you do for him, the way he—”

“By the Judas priest, sir!” interrupted Briggs. “I’m not going to
have anything said against Hal, now he’s free. I know you’re my guest,
doctor, but don’t drive me too far!”

“Well, I’ll say no more. But now, into your bunk! There’s no argument
about _that_, anyhow. Bathrobe and hot water-bottle now, and a good tot
of rum!”

The captain had to yield. A quarter-hour later the doctor had him
safely tucked into his berth in the cabin, with whisky and lemon aboard
him. “There, that’s better,” approved Filhiol. “You’ll do now, unless
you get up, and take another chill. I want you to stay right there till
to-morrow at the very least. Understand me? Now, I prescribe a nap for
you. And a good sweat, and by to-morrow you’ll be fine as silk.”

“All right, doctor,” agreed Briggs, though Hal’s absence troubled him
sore. “There’s only one thing I want you to do. Put my receipts in the
safe.”

“What receipts?”

“For the cash I paid Squire Bean and for the money-order I sent the
college.”

“Where are they?”

“In my wallet, there, in that inside coat-pocket,” answered Briggs,
pointing to the big blue coat hung over a chair by the fire. “The
combination of the safe is in that top drawer, on a slip of paper. You
can open the safe easy enough.”

“All right, anything to please you,” grumbled the old doctor. “Where
shall I put the receipts, captain?”

“In the cash-drawer. Inner drawer, top, right.”

Filhiol located the drawer and dropped the precious receipts into it.
His eyes, that could still see quite plainly by the fading, gray light
of the stormy late afternoon, descried a few bills in the drawer.

“It’s been a terrible expense to you, captain,” said he with the
license of long years of acquaintanceship. “Down a bit on the cash now,
eh?”

“Yes, doctor, down a bit. Plims’l-mark’s under water this time. But I’m
not foundering just yet. There’s still seven hundred and fifty or so.”

“Seven fifty?” asked the doctor, squinting. A sudden suspicion laid
hold of him as he eyed the slender pile of bills. With crooked fingers
he ran them over. “Why, there’s not—_h-m! h-m!_” he checked himself.

“Eh? What’s that, sir?” asked the captain, drowsy already.

“Nothing, sir,” answered Filhiol. “I was just going to say there’s not
many as well fixed as you are, captain. Even though your cash _is_ low,
you’ve got a pretty comfortable place here.”

“Yes, yes, it’s pretty snug,” sleepily assented Briggs. “And now that
Hal’s coming back, I’m happy. A few dollars—they don’t matter, eh?”

Hastily Filhiol counted the bills. Only a matter of about two hundred
and twenty-five dollars remained. As in a flash the old doctor
comprehended everything.

“_Tss! Tss!_” clucked the doctor, going a shade paler. But he said no
more.

He closed the safe and put the combination back into the desk-drawer.
For a moment he stood leaning on his cane, peering down at the captain,
who was already going to sleep. Then he shook his head, grief and rage
on his face.

“God!” he was thinking. “Robbery! On top of everything else, downright
robbery! This will certainly kill the old man! What black devil is in
that boy anyhow? What devil out of hell?”

He paused a moment, looking with profound compassion at the tired
old captain. Then he limped out of the room, and made his way to the
galley, bent on having speech with Ezra.

Down the walk from the barn Ezra was at this moment coming, shoulders
bent against the storm, hat-brim trickling water. The rain was now
slashing viciously, in pelting ribbons of gray water that drummed on
the tin roof of the kitchen and danced in spatters on the walk.

Filhiol opened the door for Ezra, who peeled off his coat, and shook
his wet hands.

“Great, creepin’ clams!” he puffed. “But this is some tidy wind, sir!
These here Massachusetts storms can’t be beat, the way they pounce.
An’ rain! Say! Must be a picnic somewhere nigh. Never rains like this
unless there _is_ one!”

The old man tried to smile, but joviality was lacking. He closed the
door and came over to the stove. The doctor followed him.

“Ezra,” said he, “you don’t like me. No matter. You _do_ like Captain
Briggs, don’t you?”

“That ain’t a question as needs answerin’,” returned Ezra, with
suspicious eyes.

“I like the captain, too,” continued Filhiol. “We’ve got to join hands
to help him. And he’s in very, very serious trouble now.”

“Well, what is it?” The old servitor sensed what was in the wind, and
braced himself to meet it.

“If it came to choosing between Hal and the captain, which would you
stand by?”

“That’s another question that ain’t needed!” retorted Ezra defiantly.

“It’s got to be answered, though. Something critical has happened,
Ezra, and we’ve got to take the bull by the horns.”

“Better take the bull by the tail, doctor. Then you can let go without
hollerin’ fer help.”

“This is no time for joking, Ezra! Something has happened that, if the
captain finds it out, will have terrible consequences. If he discovers
what’s happened, I can’t answer for the consequences. It might even
kill him, the shock might.”

“Wha—what d’ you mean, sir?” demanded Ezra, going white. “What _are_
you gammin’ about, anyhow?”

“I might as well tell you, directly. Captain Briggs has just been
robbed of more than five hundred dollars.”

“Robbed! No! Holy haddock! You—don’t—”

“Robbed,” asserted Filhiol. “More than five hundred dollars are gone
from the safe, and—Hal’s gone, too.”

“Dr. Filhiol, sir!” exclaimed the old man passionately, but in a low
voice that could not reach the cabin. “That wun’t go here. You’re
company, I know, but there’s some things that goes too doggone fur. Ef
you mean to let on that Master Hal—”

“The money’s gone, I tell you, and so is Hal. I know _that_!”

“Yes, an’ I know Master Hal, too!” asseverated Ezra, manfully standing
by his guns, not through any fear of Hal’s vengeance, but only for the
honor of the house and of the boy he worshipped. “Ef you mean to accuse
him of bein’ a _thief_, well then, me an’ you has nothin’ more to say.
We’re docked, an’ crew an’ cargo is discharged right now. All done!”

“Hold on, Ezra!” commanded Filhiol. “I’m not making any direct
accusation. All I’m saying is that the money and Hal are both gone.”

“How d’ _you_ know the money’s gone? How come _you_ to be at the
cap’n’s safe an’ money-drawer?”

“I—why—” stammered Filhiol, taken aback. “Why, the captain had me
open it, to put in some receipts, and he told me how much he thought
was there. I saw he was mistaken, by more than five hundred.”

“Oh, you counted the cap’n’s money, did ye?” Ezra demanded boldly.
“Well, that’s some nerve! In case it comes to a showdown, where would
_you_ fit? Looks like _your_ fingers might git burned, don’t it?”

“Mine? What do you mean, sir?”

“Well, you was there, wa’n’t ye? An’ Master Hal wa’n’t, that’s all!”
Swiftly Ezra was thinking. The loss, he knew, could not be kept from
Captain Briggs. And Hal must be protected. Sudden inspiration dawned on
him.

“How much d’ you say is gone?” demanded he.

“Five hundred and some odd dollars.”

“Yes, that’s right,” said the old man, nodding. “Them’s the correct
figgers, all right enough.”

“How do _you_ know?” exclaimed the doctor, staring.

“Why hadn’t I ought to, when I took that there money myself?”

“_You?_”

“Me, sir! I’m the one as stole it, an’ what’s more, I got it now,
up-stairs in my trunk!”

Silence a moment while the doctor peered at him with wrinkled brow.

“That’s not true, Ezra,” said he at last, meeting the old man’s defiant
look. “You’re lying now to shield that boy!”

“Lyin’, am I?” And Ezra reddened dully. “Dr. Filhiol, sir, ef you
wa’n’t an old man, an’ hobblin’ on a cane, them ain’t the words you’d
use to me, an’ go clear!”

“I—I beg your pardon, Ezra,” stammered the doctor. “I’m not saying it
in a derogatory sense.”

“Rogatory or hogatory, don’t make a damn’s odds! You called me a liar!”

“A noble liar. That kind of a lie is noble, Ezra, but very foolish. I
understand you, all right. When I say you’re trying to shield Hal,
I’ve hit the mark.”

“You ain’t half the shot you think you be, sir! There’s lots o’
marksmen in this world can’t even make a gun go off, an’ yet they can’t
miss fire in the next world. You’re one of ’em. I took the money, I
tell ye, an’ I can prove it by showin’ it to you, in two minutes!”

The old man, turning, started for the stairs.

“Where are you going now?” demanded Filhiol.

“To git that there money!”

“Your own savings, no doubt? To shield Hal with?”

“The money I stole, an’ don’t ye fergit it neither!” retorted Ezra
with a look so menacing that the doctor ventured no reply. In silence
he watched the old man, wet clothes still clinging to him, plod up the
stairs and disappear.

“Lord, if this isn’t a tangled web,” thought Filhiol, “what is? I ought
never to have come. And yet I’m needed every minute, if a terrible
catastrophe is to be turned aside!”

His heart contracted at thought of the inevitable shock to Captain
Briggs if he should discover the theft. Could Ezra conceal it, even
with his savings? And, if he could, would it not be best to let him?
Would not anything be preferable to having the captain’s soul wrung out
of him? Sudden hate against the cause of all this misery flared up in
him.

“Great God!” he muttered. “If I only had that Hal for a patient, just
one hour!”

The footsteps of Ezra, descending again, roused him. In Ezra’s hand was
gripped a roll of bills, old and tattered for the most part—a roll
that counted up to some five hundred and thirty dollars, or to within
about forty dollars of every cent Ezra had in the world. More than
fifteen years of hard-earned savings lay in that roll. This money Ezra
had hastily dug from under a lot of old clothes in his trunk. And now
he shook it before the eyes of Filhiol, eager to sacrifice it.

“Is _that_ proof enough fer you now, or ain’t it?” Ezra exultantly
demanded. “Dollar fer dollar, about, what the cap’n said had oughta be
in the safe, an’ ain’t? Well, does that satisfy ye now?”

Filhiol had no answer. His brain was whirling. Ezra laughed in his face.

“I got _your_ goat all right, old feller!” gibed he.

“Ezra,” said the doctor slowly, “I don’t understand this at all. I’m no
detective. This is too much for me. Either you’re a monumental fool or
a sublime hero. Maybe both. I can’t judge. All I want to do is look out
for Captain Briggs. I was his medical officer in the old days. Now I
seem to be back on the job again. That’s all.”

“Yes, an’ I’m on the job, too, an’ you’d better keep out o’ what don’t
consarn ye,” menaced Ezra. “Every man to his job, an’ yours ain’t
ratin’ down Master Hal an’ makin’ a thief of him!”

“All right, Ezra. Put the money in the safe. Whether it’s yours or
not, doesn’t matter now. It will protect the captain’s peace of mind a
little longer, and that’s the main thing now.”

Ezra nodded. Together they went quietly into the cabin. Watchfully they
observed the captain. Face to the wall, he was profoundly sleeping.

“It’s all right,” said Filhiol. “You can open the safe and put the
money in.”

Ezra advanced to it, on tiptoe. But Ezra did not open the safe.
Puzzled, he stopped and whispered:

“I—doggone it, I’ve fergot the combination now!”

“Have, eh?” asked Filhiol with a sharp look. “Well then, all you’ve got
to do is look at the paper.”

“The—h-m!”

“Of course you know he keeps it on a paper?” said the doctor shrewdly.

“Oh, sure, sure! But just now I disremember where that paper is!”

Filhiol retreated to the dining-room, and beckoned Ezra to him.

“See here,” said he in a low tone, “this game of yours is pitifully
thin. Why don’t you own up to the truth? Your loyalty to Hal is
wonderful. The recording angel is writing it all down in his big book;
but you can’t fool anybody. Why, not even a child would believe you,
Ezra, and how can I—a hard-shelled old man who’s knocked up and down
the seven seas? You know perfectly well Hal Briggs stole that money.
Own up now!”

The old cook fixed a look of ire on him, and with clenched fist
confronted Filhiol.

“Doctor,” said he, “there’s two things makes most o’ the trouble in
this here world. One is evil tongues, to speak ill o’ folks, an’ the
other is evil ears, to listen. There’s jest two things you can’t do
here—speak ill o’ the cap’n, an’ talk ag’in’ Master Hal. Ef you do,
doc—it don’t signify ef you _be_ old, I’ll make it damn good an’ hot
fer you! Now, then, I’ve warned you proper. That’s all—an’ that’s
enough!”

“You don’t understand—” the doctor was just going to retort, when a
trample of feet on the front porch brought him to silence.

“There’s Master Hal now!” exclaimed the old cook, with an expression
of dismay. “An’ the money ain’t back in the safe yit—an’ Master Hal’s
li’ble to wake the cap’n up!”

“He _mustn’t_ wake him up!” said Filhiol. He turned, and, hobbling on
his cane, started for the front door to head him off. Too late! Already
Hal had flung off his cap and, stamping wet feet, had entered the
cabin. The voice of the captain sounded:

“Oh, that you, Hal? God above! but I’m glad to see you! Come here, boy,
come here. I’ve got news for you. Great, good news!”



CHAPTER XXXV

TREACHERY


Still in his dripping raincoat, Hal approached the berth.

“Whew, but it’s hot and stifling in here, gramp!” said he. He turned
and opened a window, letting the damp, chill wind draw through. “There,
that’s better now. Well, what’s the big news, eh?”

The old captain regarded him a moment, deeply moved. In the
dining-room, Ezra had hastily stuffed the bills into his pocket. Now
he was retreating to his galley. Filhiol, undecided what to do, did
nothing; but remained in the front hall.

“What’s the news?” repeated Hal. He looked disheveled, excited. “And
what are _you_ in bed for, this time of day?”

His voice betrayed nothing save curiosity. No sympathy softened it.

“The doctor made me turn in,” Briggs explained. “I got wet through,
going to town. But it was all for you, boy. So why should _I_ mind?”

“For me, eh?” demanded Hal. “More trouble? Enough storm outside,
without kicking up any more rows inside. Some weather, gramp! Some
sailing weather, once a boat got out past the breakwater, where she
could make her manners to the nor’east blow!” His tongue seemed a
trifle thick, but the captain perceived nothing. “Well, gramp, what was
the idea of going to town an afternoon like this?”

“To set you on the right road again, boy.” The captain raised himself
on one elbow, and peered at his beloved Hal. “To open up a better
career for you than _I_ had. No more sea-life, Hal. There’s been far
too much salt in our blood for generations. It’s time the Briggs family
came ashore. You’ve got better things ahead of you, now, than fighting
the sea. Peel your wet coat off, Hal, and sit down. You’ll take cold,
I’m afraid.”

“Cold, nothing! This is the kind of weather I like!”

He pulled up a chair by the berth, and flung himself down into it,
hulking, rude, flushed. In the dim light old Captain Briggs did not see
that telltale flush of drink. He did not note the sinister exultation
in his grandson’s voice. Nor did he understand the look of Hal’s
searching eyes that tried to fathom whether the old man as yet had any
suspicions of the robbery.

The captain reached out from the bedclothes he should have kept well
over him, and laid his hand on Hal’s.

“Listen,” said he, weak and shaken. His forehead glistened, damp with
sweat. “It’s good news. I’ve been down to see Squire Bean. I’ve paid
him the money for McLaughlin, and got a receipt for it, and the case
against you is all settled. Ended!”

“Is, eh?” demanded Hal, with calculating eyes. “Great! And the apology
stuff is all off, too?”

“Well, no, not that. Of course you’ve still got to apologize to him so
all the crew can hear it. But that’s only a little detail. Any time
will do. I know that after what I’ve sacrificed for you, boy, you’ll be
glad to play the part of a man and go down there and apologize, won’t
you?”

“Surest little thing you know!” Filhiol heard him answer, with malice
and deceit which Captain Briggs could not fathom. “The crew will hear
from me, all right. Some of ’em have already. Yes, that’s a fact. I’ve
already apologized to three of ’em. I’ll square everything, gramp. So
that’s all settled. Anything more?”

“You’re true metal, at heart!” murmured Briggs, shivering as the draft
from the open window struck him. “Thank God for it! Yes, there’s one
more thing. I’ve sent the money to the college. Sent a money-order, and
got a receipt for that, too. Both receipts are in the money-drawer, in
the safe.”

“They _are_?” Hal could not dissemble his sudden anxiety. How much,
now, did his grandfather know? Everything? Suspiciously he blinked
at the old man. “So you put ’em in the safe, did you?” asked he,
determined to force the issue.

“The doctor did for me.”

“Oh, _he_ did, did he? H-m! Well, all right. What next?” Hal stiffened
for the blow, but the captain only said:

“It’s fine to have the whole thing cleaned up, so you can start on
another tack!” The old man smiled with pitiful affection. “Everything’s
coming out right, after all. You don’t know how wonderfully happy I am
to-day. It won’t be long before I have you back in some other college
again.”

“The devil it won’t!” thought Hal. The doctor, at the rear of the
hallway, felt a clutch on his arm. There stood old Ezra.

“Doctor,” he whispered in a way that meant business, “you ain’t goin’
to stand here listenin’ to ’em, this way!”

“I’m not, eh?” And Filhiol blinked astonishment. “Why not?”

“There’s ten reasons. One is, because I ain’t goin’ to let you, an’
the other nine is because I ain’t goin’ to let you! I wouldn’t do it
myself, an’ _you_ ain’t goin’ to, neither. Will you clear out o’ here,
peaceful, or be you goin’ to make me matt onta you an’ carry you out?”

The doctor hesitated. Ezra added:

“Now, doc, don’t you git me harr’d up, or there’ll be stormy times!”

Filhiol yielded. He followed Ezra to the galley, where the old man
practically interned him. Inwardly he cursed this development. What
might not happen, were the captain now to discover the loss of the
money while Hal was there? But to argue with Ezra was hopeless. Filhiol
settled down by the stove and resigned himself to moody ponderings.

“This summer, take things easy,” the captain was saying, with
indulgence. “In the fall you’ll enter some other college and win honors
as we all expect you to. So you’ll be glad to go, won’t you, Hal?”

“I’ll be glad to _go_, all right!”

“That’s fine!” smiled the captain. He got out of bed in his bathrobe,
slid his feet into slippers, and stood there a moment, looking at Hal.

“Boy,” said he, “on the way back from town I made up my mind to do the
right thing by you, to give you something every young fellow along the
coast ought to have. You were asking me for a boat, and I refused you.
I was wrong. Nothing finer, after all, than a little cruising up and
down the shore. I’ve changed my mind, Hal.” He laid an affectionate
hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I’m going to give you the money for
Gordon’s _Kittiwink_.”

“Huh?” grunted Hal, standing up in vast astonishment and anxiety.

“Take the money, Hal, and buy your heart’s dearest wish,” said the
old captain. “It’ll maybe pinch me, for a while, but you’re all I’ve
got to love and some way I can rub along. If I can give you a happy
summer the few hundred dollars won’t mean much, after all. So, boy,
get yourself the boat. Why, what’s the matter? You look kind of
flabbergasted, Hal. Aren’t you glad and thankful?”

“Surest thing you know, I am!” the boy rallied with a strong effort.
“It’s great of you, gramp! But—can you afford it?”

“That’s for me to judge, Hal,” smiled the captain, shivering as the
draft struck him. He turned towards the safe. Hal detained him with a
hand upon his arm.

“Don’t give it to me just yet,” said he, anxiously. “Wait a little!”

“No, no, that wouldn’t be the same at all,” insisted Briggs. “I want
you to have this present now, to-day, to make you always remember your
fresh start in life.”

“Not to-day, gramp!” exclaimed Hal. “I don’t feel right about it,
and—and I can’t accept it. I want to make a really new start. To make
my own way—be a man, not a dependent! Please don’t spoil everything
the first minute by doing this!”

“But, Hal—”

“I know how you feel,” said the boy, with feverish energy. “But
I’ve got feelings, too, and now you’re hurting them. Please don’t,
grandfather! Please let me stand on my own feet, and be a man!”

Old Briggs, who had with feeble steps made his way half across the
floor, turned and looked at Hal with eyes of profound affection.

“God bless you, boy!” said he with deep emotion. “Do you really mean
that?”

“Of course I do! Come, get back into bed now. You’re taking cold there.
Get back before you have another chill!”

Anxiously he led the captain back towards the berth. His touch was
complete betrayal. Into his voice he forced a tone of caressing
sincerity, music to the old man’s ears.

“I’ve learned a great deal the last day or two,” said he, as with
traitor solicitude he put the captain into his berth, and covered him
up. “I’ve been learning some great lessons. What you said to me up
there among the graves, has opened my eyes.”

“Bless God for that!” And in the captain’s eyes tears glistened.
“That’s wonderful for me to hear, in this room where all those relics
of the past—that kris and everything—can’t help reminding me of other
and worse days. A wonderful, blessèd thing to hear!”

“Well, I’m glad it is, gramp,” said Hal, “and it’s every bit true. On
my honor as a gentleman, it is! From to-day I’m going to stand on my
own feet and be a man. You don’t know what I’ve been doing already
to give myself a start in life, but if you did, you’d be wonderfully
surprised. What I’m still going to do will certainly surprise you more!”

“Lord above, Hal, but you’re the right stuff after all!” exclaimed
Captain Briggs, the tears now coursing freely. “Oh, if you could only
realize what all this means for me after all the years of sacrifice and
hopes and fears. We came pretty nigh shipwreck on the reefs, didn’t we,
boy? But it’s all right. It’s all right now at last!”

“It surely is. And I’m certainly going to surprise you and Laura and
everybody.”

“Kneel down beside me, just a minute, boy, and then I’ll go to sleep
again.”

Hal, making a wry face to himself, knelt by the bedside. Old Briggs,
with one arm, drew him close. The other hand stroked back Hal’s thick,
wet hair with a touch that love made gentle as a woman’s.

“This is a day of days to me,” he whispered. “A wonderful blessèd day!
God guide and keep you, forever and ever. Amen!”

He sighed deeply and relaxed. His eyes drooped shut. Hal pulled the
blankets up and got to his feet, peering down with eyes of malice.

A moment he stood there while the wind gusted against the house, the
rain sprayed along the porch, and branches whipped the roof.

Then, with a smile of infernal triumph, he turned.

“Cinch!” he muttered, as he left the cabin and made his way up-stairs.
“Why, it’s like taking candy from a baby. He’ll sleep for hours now.
But won’t it jar the old geezer when his pipe goes out, to-night? Just
won’t it, though?”

With silent laughter Hal reached his room, where, without delay, he
started on his final preparations for events now swiftly impending.

Over all the heavens—a blind, gray face of wrath—seemed peering down.
But on that face was now no laughter.

Even for Vishnu the Avenger some things must be too terrible.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE DOCTOR SPEAKS


Hal had been at work five minutes when he was startled by a sharp
knock. The door was flung open in no gentle manner.

Dr. Filhiol, leaning on his cane, confronted him. Hal knew trouble lay
dead ahead. Standing there in shirt-sleeves, with litter and confusion
of packing all about, and two half-filled suit-cases on a couple of
chairs, Hal frowned angrily.

“You’ve got a nerve to butt in like this!” he growled. “What d’ you
want now?”

“I want to talk to you, sir.”

“I’ve got no time to waste on nonsense!”

“You’ve got time to talk to me, and talk to me you’re going to,”
returned the doctor. “This is no nonsense.” He came in and shut the
door. The scent of liquor met his nostrils. “A young man who’s been
responsible for the things you have, has certainly got time to answer
me!”

Awed by the physician’s cold determination, and with fear at heart—for
might not Filhiol know about the stolen money?—Hal moderated his
defiance. This old man must be kept quiet for a few hours yet; Hal must
have a few hours.

“You’re assuming too much authority for a stranger,” said Hal,
sullenly. “I never knew before that a gentleman would interfere in this
way.”

“Probably not, when dealing _with_ a gentleman,” retorted Filhiol, “but
this case is different. My acquaintance with your grandfather dates
back more than half a century, and when my duty requires me to speak,
no young bully like you is going to stop me. No, you needn’t double
your fist, or look daggers, because I’m not in the least afraid of you,
sir. And I’m not going to mince matters with you. What did you do with
the captain’s five hundred dollars?”

Hal felt himself lost. He had effectually closed Ezra’s mouth, but now
here stood the doctor, accusing him. One moment he had the impulse to
do murder; but now that all things were in readiness for his flight,
he realized violence would be a fatal error. His only hope lay in
diplomacy.

“What five hundred dollars?”

“You know very well what five hundred! Come, what did you do with it?”

“Really, Dr. Filhiol, this is a most astonishing accusation!” said Hal.
“_I_ don’t know anything about any five hundred. Is that amount gone?”

“You know very well it’s gone!”

“I know nothing of the kind! How should I?”

“You can’t fool me, young man!” exclaimed the doctor hotly. He raised
his cane in menace.

“Put that stick down, sir,” said Hal in a wicked voice. “No man living
can threaten me with a stick and get way with it. I tell you I don’t
know anything about the money! I’ve been out of this house for some
time, and you and Ezra have been here. Now you tell me there’s five
hundred dollars gone. By God, if you weren’t an old man and a guest,
you’d eat your words damned quick!”

“I—you—” stammered the doctor, outgeneralled.

“I’ve wasted enough time on you now!” Hal flung at him. “It’s time for
you to be going.” He gripped Filhiol by the wrist with a vise-pressure
that bruised. “And one thing more, you!” he growled. “You’d just
better not go stirring up gramp against me, or accusing me to Ezra. It
won’t be healthy for you to go accusing me of what you can’t prove, you
prying gray ferret!”

“Ezra knows all about it already!” retorted the doctor, tempted to
smash at that insolent, evil face with his cane.

“Knows it, does he?” Hal could not repress a start.

“Yes, he does. He’s already sworn to a falsehood to me, to save your
worthless hide!”

“What d’you mean?”

“I mean he’s accused himself of the theft, you scoundrel!”

“Let him, then! If the shoe fits him, let him put it on!”

“Oh, let him, eh? Yes, and let him beggar himself. Let him try to get
his pitiful life-savings back into the safe in time to save you! A man
who’ll stand by and let a poor old servant, more faithful than a dog,
bankrupt himself to cover up a sneaking crime—a man who’ll pack up and
run away—”

“I’ve had enough o’ you!” snarled Hal. He pushed the doctor out into
the hall. “Ezra’s admitted it, and gramp wouldn’t believe I did it,
even if he saw the money in my hand. Get out now, and if you cross my
path again, look out!”

The doctor met his threat unflinchingly.

“Young man,” said he, “I sailed harder seas, in the old times, than any
seas to-day. I sailed with your grandfather when he was a bucko of the
old school, and though we didn’t usually agree and once I nearly shot
him, I never knuckled under. Maybe the bullet that just missed cutting
off your grandfather’s life is still waiting for its billet. Maybe
that’s part of the curse on _you_!”

His eyes were cold steel as he peered at the menacing, huge figure of
Hal.

“Be careful, sir,” he added. “Be very careful how you raise your hand
against a man like me!”

“If I ever _do_ raise my hand, there’ll be no more threats of shooting
left in you!” Hal flung at him. With a sudden flare of rage he pushed
old Filhiol through the door and turned the lock. The doctor stumbled,
dropped his cane and fetched up against the balustrade of the stairs.
Ashen and trembling he clung there a moment. Then he raised his shaking
fist to heaven.

“Oh, God,” he prayed, “God, give me power to stamp this viper’s
head before it poisons the captain—before it poisons Laura and old
Ezra—the town, the very air, the world! God, give me strength to stamp
it in the dust!”

Within the room sounded the tread of Hal, going, coming as he growled
to himself, packed up his things for flight.

“Aye, go!” thought the doctor. “Go, and devil take you! Go, and if
there’s any curse, carry it with you to the end of the world!”

The doctor realized that nothing better than this departure could
happen. The boy would undoubtedly come to his end before long in some
drunken brawl. Sooner or later he would meet his match; would get
killed, or would do murder and would finish on the gallows or in the
chair. That over-mastering physical strength, backed by the arrogance
of conscious power, could not fail to ruin him.

“The world will soon settle with you, Hal Briggs,” said he, as he made
his way down-stairs. “Soon settle, and for good. It will break the
captain’s heart to have you go, but it would break it worse to have you
stay. This is best.”

Calmer now, he stopped a moment at the cabin door to assure himself
Captain Briggs was sleeping.

“Lord!” he thought. “I hope Hal gets away before the old man wakes up.
It will spare us a terrible scene—a scene that might cost the captain
his life!”

His eye caught a glint of red. Oddly enough, firelight, reflected from
one of the captain’s brass instruments, ticked just a tiny point of
crimson on the blade of the old kris.

The doctor shuddered and passed on, failing to notice the open window
in the room. He felt oppressed and stifling. Air! he must have air! He
got into a coat hanging on the rack, put on his hat and limped out upon
the porch.

Up and down walked Dr. Filhiol a few times, trying to shake off heavy
bodings of evil. A curious little figure he made, withered, bent, but
with the fires of invincible determination burning in his eyes. The
time he had passed at Snug Haven had brought back his fighting spirit.
Dr. Filhiol seemed quite other from the meek and inoffensive old man
who had so short a time ago driven up to the captain’s gate. Even the
grip of his hand on his cane was different. Hal Briggs might well look
out for him now, if any turn of chance should put him into Filhiol’s
power.

The doctor paused at last on the sheltered side of the porch, near the
captain’s windows and away from that side of the house where Hal’s room
was located. More heavily than ever the rain was sheeting down, and
from the shore a long thunder told of sea charges broken against the
impenetrable defenses of the rocks.

All at once the doctor saw a figure coming along the road, head down to
wind and rain—a figure in a mackintosh, with a little white hat drawn
down over thick hair—the figure of a woman.

Astonished that a woman should be abroad in such weather, he peered
more closely. The woman came to the side gate, stopped there, and,
holding her hat and flying hair with one hand, looked anxiously over
the hedge at Snug Haven.

Then Dr. Filhiol recognized her.

“Laura! What the devil now?” said he.

The doctor seemed to read her thought, that she was afraid of being
seen by Hal, but that she greatly desired speech of some one else. With
raised hand he beckoned her; and she, perceiving him, came quickly
through the gate to the porch.

Wild-tossed and disheveled she was with frightened eyes and wistful,
pleading face. Filhiol’s heart yearned to her, filled with pity.

“You’re Laura, aren’t you?” asked the doctor, taking her hand and
steadying her a little. “Laura Maynard? Yes? I’m Dr. Filhiol, a very
old and confidential friend of the captain’s. What can I do to help
you?”

“The captain!” she panted, almost spent with exertion and chill. “I’ve
got to—see the captain right away!”

“My dear, that’s quite impossible,” said Filhiol, drawing her more into
shelter. “He’s asleep, worn out with exertions concerning Hal. You’ve
come to see him about Hal. Yes, I thought so. Well, the captain can’t
be disturbed now, for any reason whatever. But you can tell me, Laura.
Perhaps I may do quite as well.”

She pondered a moment, then asked with a strong effort: “Where is Hal
now?”

“Up-stairs. Do you want to see him?”

“No, no, no!” she shuddered. “God forbid! But—oh, doctor, please let
me see the captain, if only for a minute!”

“He’s ill, I tell you, Laura.”

“Not seriously?” she asked with sudden anxiety.

“Perhaps not yet, but we can’t take any chances.”

The girl took his hand in a trembling clasp.

“Don’t let anything happen to the captain!” she exclaimed, her
rain-wet face very beautiful in its anxiety. “Oh, doctor, he’s the
most wonderful old man in the world, the finest, the noblest! Nothing,
nothing must happen to _him_!”

“Nothing shall, if I can help it. If I can stand between him and—and—”

“And Hal?” she queried. “Yes, I understand. What a terrible curse to
love a man like that!”

“The captain must soon find it so,” said Filhiol. “Every one who loves
that boy has got to suffer grievously. You, too, Laura,” he added. “You
must steel your heart to many things. The captain will soon need all
your strength and consolation.”

“You know the bad news, too?”

“I know much bad news. But if you’ve got any more, tell me!”

“You know about the fight he had this afternoon and about his buying
Gordon’s boat, the _Kittiwink_?”

“No. Nothing about that. But I know Hal’s packing some things now to
make what they call a getaway. And—”

“And you’re not going to stop him?” exclaimed the girl, clutching his
arm. “You’re _not_?”

“Shhh, my dear!” warned Filhiol. “We mustn’t wake the captain in there!
Stop Hal? No, no! Nothing better could happen than to have him go
before he does murder in this town.”

“He almost did murder this afternoon! He ran into three of McLaughlin’s
men down at Hadlock’s Cove, and they twitted him about apologizing to
McLaughlin. Then—”

“Say no more,” interrupted the doctor, raising his hand. “I understand.”

“Yes, doctor, but the news has spread, and the rest of the crew have
sworn vengeance on Hal. They’ll surely kill him, doctor!”

“God grant they may!” the doctor thought, but what he said was:

“The quicker he goes, then, the better.”

“But isn’t there any way to bring him to reason, doctor? To make him
like other men? To save him?”

“I see none,” Filhiol answered. He pondered a moment while the
rain-drums rolled their tattoos on the roof of the porch and the sea
thundered. “The curse, the real curse on that boy, is his unbridled
temper, his gorilla-like strength. His strength has unsettled his
judgment and his will. Ordinary men rely on their brains, and have
to be decent. Hal, with those battering-ram fists, thinks he can
smash down everything, and win, like one of Nietzsche’s supermen. If
something could drain him of strength, and weaken and humble him, it
might be the salvation of him yet.”

“God grant it might!”

“You still love him, girl?” asked Filhiol, tenderly as a father. “In
spite of everything?”

“I love the good in him, and there’s so wonderfully much!”

“I understand, my dear. Just now, the bad is all predominant. There’s
nothing to do but let him go, Laura. Because—he’s determined to go, at
all costs. Where, I don’t know, or how.”

“_I_ know how!” exclaimed the girl. “He’s bought the _Kittiwink_ and
laid in supplies. My father’s in the boat-brokerage business, and he’s
got word of it.”

“Bought it?” interrupted the doctor. “How? On credit?”

“No, cash. He paid four hundred and seventy-five dollars for it, in
bills.”

“He did? By—h-m!”

“What is it, doctor? Where could Hal get all that money? Do you know?”

“I know only too well, my dear.”

“Tell me!” she exclaimed eagerly, and took him by the hand.

So absorbed were they that neither heard a slight sound from the
captain’s window, like the quick intake of a breath. How could they
know the old man had wakened, had heard their voices; how could they
know he had arisen, and, all trembling and weak, was now standing
hidden inside the window, listening to words that tore the heart clean
out of him?



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE CAPTAIN SEES


Anguished the captain listened. He heard Laura question:

“Where did Hal get that money? Where’s he going, and what does it all
mean?” Her trembling voice echoed its woe in the captain’s tortured
soul.

“Where Hal’s going I don’t know, Laura,” the doctor answered,
“except it’s evident he’s planning to escape from here for good. He
may be bound for the South Seas with some crazy, wild notion of a
free-and-easy buccaneering life. Hal’s going, and it’s evident he
doesn’t intend to come back. The best thing we can do is just _let_ him
go. It seems hard, but there’s no other way. As for where he got the
money—well—Why not speak plainly to you? It’s the best way now.”

“Tell me, then!”

Within his cabin, old Captain Briggs clutched his hands together in
agony. But still he held himself that he might stand there and hear
this revelation to the end.

“I _will_ tell you, Laura. The money—there’s only one place where it
could have come from.”

“The captain? He gave it to him?”

“It came from the captain, but not as a gift.”

“You—don’t mean—”

“It’s terribly hard to speak that word, Laura, isn’t it?” pitied the
old doctor. “Yet the money’s gone from the captain’s safe. Ezra accuses
himself, but that’s mere nonsense. Every finger of certainty points
to Hal Briggs as a thief. And not only an ordinary thief, but one
who’s taken advantage of every bond of confidence and affection, most
brutally to betray the man who loves him better than life itself!”

“Oh, you—you can’t mean _that_—”

“I’m afraid I can’t mean anything else. Hal’s up-stairs now, unless
he’s already gone. He’s trying to escape before the captain wakes up.”

“And you’re not going to stop him?”

“Never! You mustn’t, either!”

“But this will break the old man’s heart—the biggest, most loving
heart in the world! This will kill him!”

“Even that would be less cruel than to have Hal stay, and have him
torture the old captain.”

“And there’s nothing you can do? Nothing you’ll let _me_ do?”

“There’s nothing any one can do now, but God. And God holds aloof,
these days.”

For a minute Laura peered up at him, letting the full import of his
words sink into her dazed brain. Then, sensing the tragic inevitability
of what must be, she turned, ran down the steps and along the
rain-swept path.

He dared not call after her, to bid her take no desperate measures, for
fear of waking the captain—the captain, at that very moment shivering
inside the window, transfixed by spikes of suffering that nailed him to
his cross of Calvary. In silence he watched her, storm-driven like a
wraith, grow dim through the rain till she vanished from his sight.

Alone, Dr. Filhiol sank heavily into a wet chair. There he remained,
thinking deep and terrible things that wring the heart of man.

And the captain, what of him?

Dazed, staggered, he groped toward the desk. From the drawer he took
the slip of paper bearing the combination. With an effort that taxed
all his strength he opened the safe, opened the money-compartment. His
trembling fingers caught up the few remaining bills there.

“God above!” he gulped.

Then all at once a change, a swift metamorphosis of wrath and outraged
love swept over him. He seemed to freeze into a stern, avenging figure,
huge of shoulder, hard of fist. The bulk of him loomed vast, in that
enfolding bathrobe like a Roman patrician’s toga, as he strode through
the door and up the stairs.

Silent and grim, he struck Hal’s door with his fist. The door resisted.
One lunge of the shoulder, and the lock burst.

Hal stood there in corduroy trousers, heavy gray reefer and oilskin
hat. Two strapped suit-cases stood by the bureau. Over the floor, the
bed, lay a litter of discarded clothes and papers.

“What the hell!” cried the thief, clenching angry fists.

“You, sir!” exclaimed old Captain Briggs, in a voice the boy had never
yet heard. “Stand where you are! I have to speak with you!”

Not even the effrontery of Hal’s bold eyes could quite meet that blue,
piercing look. Had the old man, he wondered, a revolver? Was he minded
now to kill? In that terrible and accusing face, he saw what Alpheus
Briggs had been in the old, barbarous days. The brute in him recognized
the dormant passions of his grandfather, now rekindling. And, though he
tried to mask his soul, the fear in it spied through his glance.

“You snake!” the captain flung at him. “You lying Judas!”

“Go easy there!” Hal menaced. That he had been drinking was obvious.
The scent of liquor filled the room, abomination in the old man’s
nostrils. “Go easy! I’m not taking any such talk from any man, even if
he is my grandfather!”

“You’ll take all I have to say, and you can lay to that, sir!” retorted
the old man. Toward Hal he advanced, fists doubled. The boy cast about
him for some weapon. Not for all his strength did he dare stand against
this overpowering old man.

Below, on the porch, the doctor had heard sounds of war, and had pegged
into the hall at his best speed. There he met Ezra, who had just come
from the cabin.

“Great gulls! The safe’s open—the cap’n—knows! Hell’s loose now!”
Ezra gasped.

He made for the stairs. The doctor tried to clutch him back.

“No use, Ezra! Too late—you can’t stop it now with all that nonsense
about your being the thief!”

“Let me up them stairs, damn you!”

“Never! They’ve got to settle this themselves. You’ll only make things
worse!”

With an oath, a violent wrench, Ezra tore himself away, and scrambled
up the stairs.

“Cap’n Briggs! Hal!” he shouted, torn by conflicting loves. “Wait on,
both o’ ye. _I_ done it—_nobody but me_—”

“There now, how does _that_ strike you?” sneered Hal, respited by the
shock of this self-accusation that dropped the captain’s fists. “The
son-of-a-sea-cook owns up to it, himself!”

“Me, me, nobody but me!” vociferated Ezra, who had now reached the
room. He clawed at the captain’s arm. “Not him, cap’n! _Me!_”

“If that’s true, Ezra, how the devil does Hal, here, know what you’re
talking about, so slick?”

“Ezra lent me five hundred, when it comes to that,” put in Hal, “and
told me it was his savings. But I see now—he stole it, the damned,
black-hearted thief! Didn’t you, Ezra?”

“Sure, sure! Cap’n, you listen to me now. Hal, he never—”

“Ezra,” said old Briggs, holding his rage in check, “you’re wonderful!”
He laid a hand of affection on the shoulder of the trembling old man.
“It’s your heart and soul that’s speaking falsehood—falsehood more
white and shining than God’s truth. But I can’t take your word, given
to shield this serpent we’ve been nursing in our bosom. I know all
about everything now. I know why Hal robbed me.”

“Like hell you do!” the boy blared out.

“Yes, even the name of the very boat he’s bought with my hard-saved
money. Money that was meant to help him up and on again. It’s no use
your lying to me, Ezra.” He pointed a steady, accusing finger. “There’s
the thief, Ezra, standing right before you—standing there for the last
time he’ll ever stand under this roof of mine, so help me God!”

“Cap’n, cap’n,” implored the old man sinking to his knees, hands
clasped, face streaming tears. “Don’t say that! Oh, Lord, don’t, don’t
say that!”

“I don’t give a damn _what_ the old stiff says now,” sneered Hal,
picking up his baggage. His red face was brutalized with rage and
drink. “Let him go to it. He said a mouthful when he said I grabbed the
coin. Sure I did—and I’m only sorry it wasn’t more. Wish I’d grabbed
it all! I’d like to have cleaned the old tightwad for a decent roll,
while I was at it!”

“Hal! Master Hal!”

The doctor, listening from below, quivered with rage, but held himself
in check. What, after all, could his weak body accomplish? And as for
speech, that was not needed now.

“Get out o’ my way, the pair o’ you, and let me blow out o’
this namby-pamby, Sunday-school dump!” snarled Hal, shouldering
forward. “I’m quitting. I told you yesterday I was sick of all this
grandpa’s-darling stuff. If I can’t get out and _live_, I’ll cash in my
checks. College—apologies—white flannels—_urrgh!_”

The growl in his deep chest and sinewed throat was that of a wolf.
Silent, cold, unmoved now, the old captain studied him.

“None o’ that for mine, thanks!” Hal threw at him with insolence
supreme. “Wait till I catch McLaughlin! _I’ll_ apologize to him!
Say! I’ve already apologized to three of his men, and Mac’ll get it,
triple-extract. And then I’ll blow. I’ve got a classy boat that can
walk _some_, and let ’em try to stop me, if they want to. I’m not
afraid of you, or any man in this town, or in the world!”

He dropped one of the suit-cases, raised his right arm and swelled
the formidable biceps, glorying in the brute power of his arm, his
trip-hammer fist.

“Afraid? Not while I’ve got this! Go ahead and try to get me arrested,
if you think fit. It’ll take more than Albert Mills to pinch me, or
Squire Bean to hold me for trial—it’ll take more than any jail in this
town to keep _me_!

“Now I’ve said all I’m going to, except that I took the coin. Yes,
I took it. And I’ll take more wherever I find it. Money, booze,
women—I’ll take ’em all. They’re mine, if I can get ’em. That’s all.
To hell with everything that stands in my way! You two get out of it
now before I throw you out!”

He brutally struck the kneeling old Ezra down and picked up the
suit-cases. The captain quivered with the strain of holding his hand
from slaughter, and stood aside. Not one word did he speak.

Hal blundered out into the passageway, and, panting with rage, started
to descend the stairs.

Old Ezra, crawling on hands and knees, tried to follow.

“Hal! Master Hal, come back! I got money! _I’ll—I’ll pay!_”

The captain lifted him, held him with an arm of steel.

“Silence, Ezra! Remember, we’re not children. We’re old deep-water
sailormen, you and I. This is mutiny. The boy has chosen. It’s all
over.”

Ezra sank into a chair, covered his face and burst into convulsive
sobs, rocking himself to and fro in the excess of his grief.

Alpheus Briggs walked to the top of the stairs, and silently watched
Hal descend. At the bottom, Dr. Filhiol confronted the swearing,
murderous fellow. He, too, kept silence. Only he stood back a little,
avoiding Hal as if the very breath of him were poison.

Hal flung a sneer at him with bared teeth, and paused a moment at
the door leading into the cabin. A thought came to his brain, crazed
with whisky, rage and the obscure hereditary curse that lay upon him.
Something seemed whispering a command to him, irrational enough, yet
wholly compelling.

To the fireplace Hal strode, snatched down the kris, opened one of the
suit-cases, and threw the weapon in. He locked the case again, and
slouched out on to the piazza, defiantly and viciously.

“Might come handy, that knife, if the fists didn’t get away with the
goods,” he muttered. “Take it along, anyhow!”

The Airedale, hearing Hal’s step, got up and fawned against him. Hal,
with an obscene oath, kicked the animal.

“_Get_ out o’ my way, you—” he growled. The dog, yelping, still
cringed after him as he descended the steps. Mad with the blind passion
that kills, Hal flung down his suit-cases, snatched up the dog and
dashed it down on the steps with horrible force.

“Damn you, don’t you touch that dog again!” shouted old Dr. Filhiol,
hobbling out the door.

He brandished his cane. In his pale face flamed holy rage. With a
boisterous, horrible laugh, Hal snatched the cane from him, snapped
it with one flirt of his huge hands, and threw the pieces into the
doctor’s face.

The dog, still crying out with the pain of a broken leg, tried to drag
himself to Hal. Another oath, a kick, and Ruddy sprawled along the
porch.

“I’ve fixed _you_ a while, you fossil quack!” gibed Hal at the doctor.
“Maybe you’ll butt in again where you’re not wanted! Lucky for you I’m
in a hurry now, or I’d do a better job!”

Again Hal picked up his cases, and strode down the walk, against the
rain and gale. At the gate he paused, triumphant.

“To hell with this place!” he cried. “To hell with the whole business
and with all o’ you!”

Then he passed through the gate, along the hedge, and vanished in the
boisterous storm.

Up in Hal’s room, old Ezra was still convulsed with senile grief.
The captain, his face white and lined, had sunk down on the bed and
with vacant eyes was staring at the books and papers strewn there in
confusion.

All at once his attention focused on a sheet of paper whereon a few
words seemed vividly to stand out. He advanced a shaking hand, picked
up the paper and read:

 The curse must be fulfilled, to the last breath, for by Shiva and
 the Trimurthi, what is written is written. But if he through whom
 the curse descendeth on another is stricken to horror and to death,
 then the Almighty Vishnu, merciful, closes that page. And he who
 through another’s sin was accursed, is cleansed. Thus may the curse be
 fulfilled. But always one of two must die. _Tuan Allah poonia krajah!_
 It is the work of the Almighty One! One of two must die!

Carefully the old man read the words. Once more he read them. Then,
with a smile of strange comprehension and great joy, he nodded.

“One of two—one of two must die!” said he. “Thank God, I understand!
_At last—thank God!_”



CHAPTER XXXVIII

CAPTAIN BRIGGS FINDS THE WAY


The full significance of the curse burning deep into his brain, old
Captain Briggs sat there on the bed a moment longer, his eyes fixed on
the slip of paper. Then, with a new and very strange expression, as
of a man who suddenly has understood, has chosen and is determined,
he carefully folded the paper and thrust it into the pocket of his
bathrobe. He stood up, peered at Ezra, advanced and laid a hand upon
the old man’s shoulder.

“Ezra,” said he in a deep voice, “there’s times when men have got to
_be_ men, and this is one of ’em. You and I have gone some pretty
rough voyages in years past. I don’t recall that either of us was ever
afraid or refused duty in any wind or weather. We aren’t going to now.
Whatever’s duty, that’s what we’re going to do. It’ll maybe lead me to
a terribly dark port, but if that’s where I’ve got to go, as a good
seaman, so be it.

“And now,” he added in another tone, “now that’s all settled, and no
more to be said about it.” Affectionately he patted the shoulder of the
broken-hearted Ezra. “Come, brace up now; brace up!”

“Cap’n Briggs, sir,” choked Ezra, distraught with grief, “you ain’t
goin’ to believe what Master Hal said, be you? He accused himself o’
stealin’ that there money, to pertect me. It was really _me_ as done
it, sir, not _him_!”

“We won’t discuss that any more, Ezra,” the captain answered, with
a smile of deep affection. “It doesn’t much signify. There’s so much
more to all this than just one particular case of theft. You don’t
understand, Ezra. Come now, sir; pull yourself together! No more of
this!”

“But ain’t you goin’ to do anythin’ to bring him back, cap’n?” asked
the old man. He got up and faced the captain with a look of grief and
pain. “That there boy of ourn, oh, he can’t be let go to the devil this
way! Ain’t there nothin’ you can do to save him?”

“Yes, Ezra, there is.”

“Praise God fer that, cap’n! You hadn’t ought to be too hard on Hal.
You an’ me, we’re old, but we’d oughta try an’ understand a young un.
Young folks is always stickin’ up the circus-bills along the road o’
life, an’ old uns is always comin’ along an’ tearin’ ’em down; an’ that
ain’t right, cap’n. You an’ me has got to understand!”

“I understand perfectly,” smiled the captain, his eyes steady and calm.
“I know exactly what I’ve got to do.”

“An’ you’ll do it?” Ezra’s trembling eagerness was pitiful. “You’re
going’ to do it, cap’n?”

Alpheus Briggs nodded. His voice blended with a sudden furious gust of
wind as he answered:

“I’m going to do it, Ezra. I’m surely going to.”

“An’ what _is_ it?” insisted Ezra. “Run after him an’ bring him back?”

“Bring him back. That’s just it.”

“Praise the Lord!” The old man’s eyes were wet. “When? When you goin’
to do it?”

“Very soon, now.”

“You got to hurry, cap’n. We mustn’t let anythin’ happen to our Hal.
He’s run kinda wild, mebbe, but he’s everythin’ we got to love. Ef you
can git him back agin, we’ll be so doggone good to him he’ll _hafta_
do better. But you mustn’t lose no time. Ef he gits aboard that there
_Kittiwink_ an’ tries to make sail out through the Narrers, he’s like
as not to git stove up on Geyser.”

The captain smiled as he made answer:

“I sha’n’t lose any unnecessary time, Ezra. But I can’t do it all in a
moment. And you must let me do this in my own way.”

The old man peered up at him through tears.

“You know best how to chart this course, now.”

“Yes, I believe I do. To save that boy, I’ve got to make a journey, and
I’ll need a little time to get ready. But just the minute I _am_ ready,
I’ll go. You can depend on that!”

“A journey? I’ll go too!”

“No, Ezra, this is a journey I must take all alone.”

“Well, you know best, cap’n,” the old fellow assented. “But ef you need
any help, call on!”

“I will, Ezra. Now go to your room and rest. You’re badly used up.
There’s nothing you can do to help, just now.”

“But won’t you be wantin’ me to pack y’r duffel? An’ rig Bucephalus?”

“When I want you, I’ll let you know,” smiled Briggs. With one hand
still on the old man’s shoulder, his other hand took Ezra’s in a strong
clasp.

“Ezra,” said he, “you’ve always stood by, through thick and thin, and I
know you will now. You’ve been the most loyal soul in this whole world.
No needle ever pointed north half as constant as you’ve pointed toward
your duty by Hal and me. You’re a man, Ezra, _a man_—and I’m not
ashamed to say I love you for it!”

His grip tightened on the old man’s hand. For a moment he looked square
into Ezra’s wondering, half-frightened eyes. Then he loosened his
grasp, turned and walked from the room.

Along the hall he went, and down the stairs. His face, calm, beatified,
seemed shining with an inner light that ennobled its patriarchal
features.

“Thank God,” he whispered, “for light to see my duty, and for strength
to do it!”

As he reached the bottom of the stairs, the front door opened, and Dr.
Filhiol staggered in, admitting a furious gust of wind and rain. With
great difficulty he was managing himself, holding the injured dog.
Ruddy was yelping; one leg hung limp and useless.

For a tense moment the doctor confronted Briggs. He pushed the door
shut, with rage and bitterness.

“And you, sir,” he suddenly exclaimed, “you go against my orders; you
leave your bed and expose yourself to serious consequences, for the
sake of a beast—who will do a thing like _this_!”

Furiously he nodded downward at the dog.

The captain advanced and, with a hand that trembled, caressed the rough
muzzle.

“Hal?” asked he, under his breath. “This, too?”

“Yes, this! Nearly killed the poor creature, sir! Kicked him. And that
wasn’t enough. When the dog still tried to follow him, grabbed him
up and dashed him down on the steps. This leg’s broken. Ribs, too, I
think. A miracle the dog wasn’t killed. Your grandson’s intention was
to kill him, all right enough, but I guess he didn’t want to take time
for it!” Filhiol’s lips were trembling with passion, so that he could
hardly articulate. “This is horrible! Injury to a man is bad enough,
but a man can defend himself, and will. But injury to a defenseless,
trusting animal—my God, sir, if I’d been anything but a cripple, and
if I’d had a weapon handy, I’d have had your grandson’s blood, so help
me!”

The captain made no answer, but set his teeth into his bearded lip. He
patted the dog’s head. Ruddy licked his hand.

“Well, sir?” demanded Filhiol. “What have you to say now?”

“Nothing. Hal’s gone, and words have no value. Can you repair this
damage?”

“Yes, if the internal injuries aren’t too bad. But that’s not the
point. Hal, there, goes scot free and—”

Alpheus Briggs raised his hand for silence.

“Please, no more!” he begged. “I can’t stand it, doctor. You’ve got to
spare me now!”

Filhiol looked at him with understanding.

“Forgive me,” said he. “But help me with poor old Ruddy, here!”

“Ezra can help you. On a pinch, call in Dr. Marsh, if you like.”

“Oh, I think my professional skill is still adequate to set a dog’s
leg,” Filhiol retorted.

“And you don’t know how grateful I am to you for doing it,” said the
captain. “I’m grateful, too, for your not insisting on any more talk
about Hal. You’re good as gold! I wish you knew how much I thank you!”

The doctor growled something inarticulate and fondled the whimpering
animal. Alpheus Briggs forced himself to speak again.

“Please excuse me now. I’ve got something very important to do.” His
hand slid into the pocket of his bathrobe, closed on the paper there,
and crumpled it. “Will you give me a little time to myself? I want an
hour or two undisturbed.”

The temptation was strong on the captain to take the hand of Filhiol
and say some words that might perhaps serve as a good-by, but he
restrained himself. Where poor old Ezra had understood nothing,
Filhiol would very swiftly comprehend. So Alpheus Briggs, even in this
supreme moment of leave-taking, held his peace.

The doctor, however, appeared suddenly suspicious.

“Captain,” he asked, “before I promise you the privacy you ask, I’ve
got one question for you. Have you overheard any of Hal’s reading
lately, or have you seen any of his translations from the Malay?”

By no slightest quiver of a muscle did the old man betray himself.

“No,” he answered. “What do you mean, doctor? Why do you ask?”

“That’s something I can’t tell you,” said Filhiol, thankful that no
hint had reached Briggs concerning the curse. Swiftly he thought. Yes,
it would well suit his purpose now to get the captain out of the way.
That would give Filhiol time to run through the litter of papers in
Hal’s room, and to destroy the translation that might have such fatal
consequences if it should come into the captain’s hands.

“Very well, sir,” said he. “Take whatever time you need to settle
matters relative to Hal’s leaving. By rights I ought to order you back
to bed; but I know you wouldn’t obey me now, anyhow, so what’s the
use? Only, be reasonably sensible, captain. Even though Hal _has_ made
a fearful mess of everything, your life is worth a very great deal to
lots of people!”

The captain nodded. Filhiol’s admonitions suddenly seemed very trivial,
just as the world and life itself had all at once become. Already
these were retreating from his soul, leaving it alone, with the one
imperative of duty. At the last page of the book of life, Alpheus
Briggs realized with swift insight how slight the value really was of
that poor volume, and how gladly—when love and duty bade him—he could
forever close it.

“We’ll talk this all over in the morning, doctor,” said he. “But till
then, no more of it. I’ve got to get my bearings and answer my helm
better before I’ll know exactly what to do. You understand?”

“Yes, captain, I think I do,” answered the doctor, with compassion. He
said no more, but hobbled towards the kitchen, there to summon Ezra and
do what could be done for Ruddy.

Thus Captain Briggs was left alone. Alone with the stern consummation
of his duty, as he saw it.



CHAPTER XXXIX

“ONE MUST DIE”


Briggs entered his cabin, and locked both doors; then fastened the
window giving on the porch. He went to the fireplace, overhung with
all that savage arsenal, and put a couple of birch-logs on the glowing
coals.

He sat down in his big chair by the fire, pondered a moment with the
fireglow on his deep-wrinkled, bearded face, then from the pocket of
his bathrobe drew the crumpled bit of paper. Again he studied it,
reading it over two or three times. In a low voice he slowly pronounced
the words, as if to grave them on his consciousness:

 “The curse must be fulfilled, to the last breath, for by Shiva and
 the Trimurthi, what is written is written. But if he through whom
 the curse descendeth on another is stricken to horror and to death,
 then the Almighty Vishnu, merciful, closes that page. And he who
 through another’s sin was cursed, is cleansed. Thus may the curse be
 fulfilled. But always one of two must die. _Tuan Allah poonia krajah!_
 It is the work of the Almighty One! One of two must die!”

For some minutes he pondered all this. Before him rose visions—the
miasmatic Malay town; the battle in the Straits; the yellow and
ghostlike presence of the witch-woman, shrilling her curse at him; the
death of Scurlock and the boy, of Mahmud Baba, of Kuala Pahang, of the
_amok_ Malay who, shot through the spine and half paralyzed, still had
writhed forward, horribly, to kill.

“No wonder the curse has followed me,” murmured the old man. “I haven’t
suffered yet as any one would have to suffer to pay for all that. For
all that, and so much more—God, how much more! It’s justice, that’s
all; and who can complain about justice? Poor Hal, poor boy of mine!
No justice about _his_ having to bear it, is there? Why should _he_
suffer for what _I_ did fifty years ago? Thank God! Oh, thank God!” he
exclaimed with passionate fervor, “that I can pay it all, and make him
free!”

He relapsed into silence a little while, his face not at all marked
with grief or pain, but haloed with a high and steadfast calm. The
drumming rain on the porch roof, the shuddering impact of the wind
as the storm set its shoulders against Snug Haven, saddened him with
thoughts of the fugitive, bearing the curse that was not his, out there
somewhere in the tumult and the on-drawing night, trying to flee the
whips of atavism. But through that sadness rose happier thoughts.

“It’s only for a little while now,” said the captain. “The curse is
nearly ended. When I’ve paid the score, it will lift, and he’ll come
back again. Poor Hal—how little he knew, when he was writing this
paper, that he was giving me the chart to steer my right course! If
the hand of some divine Providence isn’t in this, then there’s no
Providence to rule this world!”

Another thought struck him. Hal knew nothing of the fact that his
grandfather had found the curse. He must never know. In the life
of better things that soon was to open out for him, no embittering
self-accusation must intrude. All proof must be destroyed.

Captain Briggs tossed the curse of Dengan Jouga into the flames just
beginning to flicker upward from the curling birch-bark. The paper
browned and puffed into flame. It shriveled to a crisp black shell,
on which, for a moment or two, the writing glowed in angry lines of
crimson. Captain Briggs caught one last glimpse of a word or two,
grotesquely distorted—”_The curse—horror and death—one—must die—_”

Despite himself he shuddered. The hate and malice of the old
witch-woman seemed visibly glaring out at him from the flames, after
half a century. From the other side of the world, even from “beyond the
Silken Sea,” words of vengeance blinked at him, then suddenly vanished;
and with a gust of the storm-wind, up the chimney whirled the feather
bit of ash. The captain drew his bath robe a little closer round him,
and glanced behind him into the dark corners of the cabin.

“This—is very strange!” he whispered.

Still he sat pondering. Especially he recalled the Malay he had shot
through the spine. That lithe, strong man, suddenly paralyzed into a
thing half dead and yet alive, was particularly horrible to remember.
Helplessness, death that still did not die....

A spark snapped out upon the floor. He set his foot on it.

“That’s the only way to deal with evil,” said he. “Stamp it out! And
if we’re the evil ourselves, if we’re the spark of devil-fire, out we
must go! What misery I could have saved for Hal, if I’d understood
before—and what a cheap price! An old, used-up life for a new, strong,
fresh one.”

His mind, seeking what way of death would be most fitting, reverted
to the poisoned kris, symbol of the evil he had done and of the old,
terrible days. He peered up at the mantelpiece; but, look as he would,
failed to discover the kris. He rose to his feet, and explored the
brickwork with his hands in the half-light reflected from the fire.
Nothing there. The hooks, empty, showed where the Malay blade had been
taken down, but of the blade itself no trace remained.

The old captain shivered, amazed and wondering. In this event there
seemed more than the hand of mere coincidence. Hal was gone; the kris
had vanished. The captain could not keep cold tentacles of fear from
reaching for his heart. To him it seemed as if he could almost see
the eyeless face looming above him, could almost hear the implacable
mockery of its far, mirthless laughter.

“God!” he whispered. “This won’t do! I—I’ll lose my nerve if I keep on
this way, and nerve is what I’ve got to have now!”

Why had Hal taken that knife? What wild notion had inspired the boy?
Alpheus Briggs could not imagine. But something predestined, terrible,
seemed closing in. The captain felt the urge of swift measures. If Hal
were to be rescued, it must be at once.

Turning from the fireplace of such evil associations, he lighted the
ship’s lamp that hung above it. He sat down at the desk, opened a
drawer and took out two photographs. These he studied a few minutes,
with the lamp-light on his white hair, his venerable beard, his heavy
features. Closely he inspected the photographs.

One was a group, showing himself with the family that once had been,
but now had almost ceased to be. The other was a portrait of Hal.
Carefully the old man observed this picture, taken but a year ago,
noting the fine, broad forehead, the powerful shoulders, the strength
of the face that looked out so frankly at him. For the first time
he perceived a quality in this face he had never seen before—the
undertone of arrogant power, born of unbeaten physical strength.

The captain shook his head with infinite sadness.

“That’s the real curse that lay on me,” he murmured. “That’s what I’ve
got to pay for now. Well, so be it.”

He kissed both pictures tenderly, and put them back into the drawer.
From it he took a box, and from the box a revolver—an old revolver,
the very same that he had carried in the _Silver Fleece_ fifty long
years ago.

“You’ve done very great evil,” said Alpheus Briggs slowly. “Now you’re
going to pay for it by doing at least one good act. That’s justice. God
is being very good to me, showing me the way.”

He broke open the revolver, spun the cylinder and snapped the hammer
two or three times.

“It’s all right,” judged he. “This is an important job. It mustn’t be
made a mess of.”

He looked for and found a few cartridges, and carefully loaded the
weapon, then snapped it shut, and laid it on the desk. The sound of Dr.
Filhiol, coming with another cane along the hall, caused him to slide
the gun into the drawer. Filhiol knocked at the door, and Briggs arose
to open it. He showed no signs of perturbation. A calm serenity glowed
in his eyes.

“Isn’t it time you got your writing finished and went to bed?” the
doctor demanded tartly.

“Almost time. I’m just finishing up. I sha’n’t be long now. Tell me,
how’s Ruddy?”

“We’ve made a fair job of it, and Ezra’s gone to his room. He’s taking
everything terribly to heart. Anything I can do for you?”

“Nothing, thank you. Good night.”

The captain’s hand enfolded Filhiol’s. Neither by any undue pressure
nor by word did he give the doctor any hint of the fact that this
good-by was final. The old doctor turned and very wearily stumped away
up-stairs. Briggs turned back into his cabin.

“A good, true friend,” said he. “Another one I’m sorry to leave, just
as I’m sorry to leave the girl and Ezra. But—well—”

At his task once more, he fetched from the safe his black metal
cash-box, and set himself to looking over a few deeds, mortgages and
other papers, making sure that all was in order for the welfare of Hal.
He reread his will, assuring himself that nothing could prevent Hal
from coming into the property, and also that a bequest to Ezra was in
correct form. This done, he replaced the papers in the safe.

On his desk a little clock was ticking, each motion of its
balance-wheel bringing nearer the tragedy impending. The captain
glanced at it.

“Getting late,” said he. “Only one more thing to do now, and then I’m
ready.”

He set himself to write a letter that should make all things clear to
Hal. But first he brought out the revolver once more, and laid it on
the desk as a kind of _memento mori_, lest in the writing his soul
should weaken.

The lamp, shining down upon the old man’s gnarled fingers as they
painfully traced the words of explanation and farewell, also struck
high-lights from the revolver.

The captain’s eyes, now and then leaving the written pages as he paused
to think, rested upon the gun. At sight of it he smiled; and once he
reached out, caressed it and smiled.



CHAPTER XL

ON THE _KITTIWINK_


When Hal left Snug Haven, he bent his shoulders to the storm and with
his suit-cases plowed through the gathering dusk toward Hadlock’s Cove.

Cold, slashing rain and boistering gusts left his wrath uncooled. Ugly,
brutalized, he kept his way past the smithy—past Laura’s house, and so
with glowering eyes on into the evening that caught and ravened at him.

The sight of Laura’s house filled him with an access of rage. That calm
security of shaded windows behind the rain-scourged hedge seemed to
typify the girl’s protection against him. He twisted his mouth into an
ugly grin.

“Think you’re safe, don’t you?” he growled, pausing a moment to glower
at the house. “Think I can’t get you, eh? I haven’t even begun yet!”

In the turmoil of his mind, no clear plan had as yet taken form. He
knew only that he had a boat and full supplies, that from him the ocean
held no secrets, that his muscles and his will had never yet known
defeat, and that the girl was his if he could take her.

“She’ll turn me down cold and get away with it, will she?” he snarled.
“She will—like hell!”

Forward he pushed again, meeting no one, and so passed Geyser Rock, now
booming under the charges of the surf. He skirted a patch of woods,
flailed by the wind, and beyond this turned through a stone wall, to
follow a path that led down to the cove. On either side of the path
stretched a rolling field, rich with tall grasses, with daisies,
buttercups, milfoil and devil’s paint-brush, drenched and beaten down
in the dusk by the sweep of the storm.

Louder and more loud rose, fell, the thunders of the sea, as Hal
approached the rocky dune at the far side of the field—a dune that on
its other edge sank to a shingle beach that bordered the cove.

To eastward, this beach consolidated itself into the rocky headland
of Barberry Point, around which the breakers were curving to hurl
themselves on the shingle. The wind, however, was at this point almost
parallel with the shore. Hal reckoned, as he tramped across the field,
that with good judgment and stiff work he could get the _Kittiwink_ to
sea at once.

And after that, what? He did not know. No definite idea existed in that
half-crazed, passion-scourged brain. The driving power of his strength
accursed, took no heed of anything but flight. Away, away, only to be
away!

“God!” he panted, stumbling up the dune to its top, where salt spray
and stinging rain skirled upon him in skittering drives. He dropped his
burdens, and flung out both huge arms toward the dark, tumbling void
of waters, streaked with crawling lines of white. “God! that’s what I
want! That’s what they’re trying to keep me away from! I’m going to
have it now—by God, I am!”

He stood there a moment, his oilskin hat slapping about his face. At
his right, three hundred yards away or so, he could just glimpse the
dark outlines of Jim Gordon’s little store that supplied rough needs of
lobstermen and fishers. Hal’s lip curled with scorn of the men he knew
were gathered in that dingy, smoky place, swapping yarns and smoking
pipes. They preferred that to the freedom of the night, the storm, the
sea! At them he shook his fist.

“There’s not one of you that’s half the man I am!” he shouted. “You
sit in there and run me down. I know! You’re doing it now—telling
how gramp had to pay because I licked a bully, and how I’ve got to
apologize! But you don’t dare come out into a night like this. I can
outsail you and outfight you all—and to hell with you!”

His rage somehow a little eased, he turned to the task immediately
confronting him. The beach sloped sharply to the surf. A litter of
driftwood, kelp and mulched rubbish was swirling back and forth among
the churning pebbles that with each refluent wave went clattering
down in a mad chorus. Here, there, drawn up out of harm’s way, lay
lobster-pots and dories. Just visible as a white blur tossing on the
obscure waters, the _Kittiwink_ rode at her buoy.

“Great little boat!” cried Hal. A vast longing swept over him to be
aboard, and away. The sea was calling his youth, strength, daring.

Laura? And would he go without the girl? Yes. Sometime, soon perhaps,
he would come back, would seize her, carry her away; but for now that
plan had grown as vaguely formless as his destination. Fumes of liquor
in his brain, of passion in his heart, blent with the roaring confusion
of the tempest. All was confusion, all a kind of wild and orgiastic
dream, culmination of heredity, of a spirit run _amok_.

Night, storm and wind shouted to the savage in this man. And, standing
erect there in the dark, arms up to fleeing cloud and ravening gale, he
howled back with mad laughter:

“Coming now! By God, I’m coming now!”

There was foam on his lips as he strode down the beach, flung the
suit-cases into a dory—and with a run and a huge-shouldered shove
across the shingle fairly flung the boat into the surf.

Waist-deep in chilling smothers of brine, he floundered, dragged
himself into the dory that shipped heavy seas, and flung the oars on
to the thole-pins. He steadied her nose into the surf, and with a few
strong pulls got her through the tumble. A matter of two or three
minutes, with such strength as lay in his arms of steel, brought him to
the lee of the _Kittiwink’s_ stern. He hove the suit-cases to the deck
of the dancing craft, then scrambled aboard and made the painter fast.

Again he laughed, exultingly. Now for the first time in his life his
will could be made law. Now he stood on his own deck, with plenty of
supplies below, and—above, about him—the unlimited power of the gale
to drive him any whither he should choose.

He strode to the companionway, his feet sure on the swaying deck, his
body lithely meeting every plunge, and slid back the hatch-cover.
Down into the cabin he pitched the cases and followed them. He struck
a match. It died. He cursed bitterly, tried again, and lighted the
cabin-lamp. His eyes, with the affection of ownership, roved around
the little place, taking in the berths, the folding-table, the stools.
He threw the suit-cases into a berth, opened one and took out a
square-face, which he uncorked and tipped high.

“Ah!” he sighed. “Some class!” He set the bottle in the rack and
breathed deeply. “Nice little berths, eh? Laura—she’d look fine here.
She’d fit great, as crew. And if she gave me any of her lip, then—”

His fist, doubled, swayed under the lamp-shine as he surveyed it
proudly.

“Great little boat,” judged Hal. “She’ll outsail ’em all, and I’m the
boy to make her walk!”

Huge, heavy, evil-faced, he stood there, swaying as the _Kittiwink_
rode the swells. He cast open his reefer, took out pipe and tobacco,
and lighted up. As he sucked at the stem, his hard lips, corded throat
and great jaws gave an impression of brutal power, in no wise differing
from that of old Alpheus Briggs, half a hundred years ago.

“Make me go to school and wear a blue ribbon,” he gibed, his voice a
contrabass to the shrilling of the wind aloft in the rig, the groaning
and creaking of the timbers. “Make me go round apologizing to drunken
bums. Like—hell!”

A gleam of metal from the opened suit-case attracted his eyes. He
took up the kris, and with vast approval studied it. The feel of the
lotus-bud handle seemed grateful to his palm. Its balance joyed him.
The keen, wavy blade, maculated with the rust of blood and brine, and
with the groove where lay another stain whose meaning he knew not, held
for him a singular fascination. Back, forth he slashed the weapon,
whistling it through the air, flashing it under the lamp-light.

“Fine!” he approved, with thickened speech. “Glad I got it—might come
handy in a pinch, what?”

He stopped swinging the kris, and once more observed it, more closely
still. Tentatively he ran his thumb along the edge, testing it, then
scratched with some inchoate curiosity at the poison crystallized in
the groove.

“Wonder what that stuff is, anyhow?” said he. “Doesn’t look like the
rest. Maybe it’s the blood of some P. I., like McLaughlin. _That_ ought
to make a dirty-looking stain, same as this. Maybe it will, some of
these days, if he crosses my bows. Maybe it will at that!”



CHAPTER XLI

FATE STRIKES


Hal tossed the kris into the berth, and was just about to reach for the
bottle again when a _thump-thump-thumping_ along the hull startled his
attention.

“What the devil’s that, now?” he growled, stiffening. The sound
of voices, then a scramble of feet on deck, flung him toward the
companion-ladder. “_Who’s there?_”

“He’s here, boys, all right!” exulted a voice above. “We got him this
time, the—”

Have you seen a bulldog bristle to the attack with bared teeth and
throaty growl? So, now, Hal Briggs.

“Got me, have you?” he flung up at the invaders. “More o’ that rotten
gurry-bucket’s crew, eh? More o’ Bucko McLaughlin’s plug-uglies!”

“Easy there,” sounded a caution, as if holding some one back from
advancing on Hal. “He’s mebbe got a gun.”

“T’ hell wid it!” shouted another. “He ain’t gonna lambaste half our
crew an’ the ole man, an’ git away wid it! Come on, if there’s one o’
ye wid the guts of a man. We’ll rush the son of a pup!”

Heavy sea-boots appeared on the ladder. Hal leaped, grabbed, flung his
muscles into a backward haul—and before the first attacker realized
what had happened, he landed on his back. One pile-driver fist to the
jaw, and the invader quivered into oblivion, blood welling from a lip
split to the teeth.

“There’s one o’ you!” shouted Hal. “One more!” He laughed
uproariously, half drunk with alcohol, wholly drunk with the strong
waters of battle. “Looks like I’d have to make a job of it, and clean
the bunch! Who’s next?”

Only silence answered a moment. This swift attack and sudden loss
seemed to have disconcerted Mac’s men. Hal kicked the fallen enemy
into a corner, and faced the companionway. His strategic position, he
realized, was almost impregnable. Only a madman would have ventured up
to that narrow and slippery deck in the night, with an undetermined
number of men armed, perhaps, with murderous weapons, awaiting him.
Hal was no madman. A steady fighter, he, and of good generalship. In
his heart he meant, as he stood there, to kill or cripple every one of
those now arrayed against him. He dared take no chances. Tense as a
taut spring, he crouched and waited.

Then as he heard whisperings, furious gusts of mumbled words, oaths at
the very top of the companion, an idea took him. He snatched up the
unconscious man, thrust him up the ladder and struggled behind him with
titanic force. His legs, massive pillars, braced themselves against the
sides of the companion. Like a battle-ax he swung the vanquished enemy,
beating about him with this human flail. With fortune, might he not
sweep one or two assailants off into the running seas?

He saw vague forms, felt the impact of blows, as his weapon struck.
Came a rush. Overborne, he fell backward to the floor. Up he leaped, as
feet clattered down the ladder, and snatched the kris.

But he could not drive it home in the bulky, dark form leaping down
at him. For, lightning-swift, sinewed arms of another man behind him
whipped round his neck, jerked his head back, bore him downward.

He realized that he was lost. He had forgotten the forward hatch,
opening down into the galley; he had forgotten the little passageway
behind him. Now one of McLaughlin’s men, familiar with the build of the
_Kittiwink_, had got a strangling grip on him. A wild yell of triumph
racketed through the cabin, as three more men dropped into that little
space.

Hal knew he must use strategy. Backward he fell: and as he fell, he
twisted. His right hand still held the kris; his left got a grip on the
other’s throat.

That other man immediately grew dumb, and ceased to breathe, as the
terrible fingers closed. Volleys of blows and kicks rained on Hal
ineffectively. Still the fingers tightened; the man’s face grew
horribly dusky, slaty-blue under the lamp-light, while his tongue
protruded and his staring eyes injected themselves with blood.

The arm round Hal’s neck loosened, fell limp. Hal flung the man from
him, groveled up under the cross-cutting slash of blows, and bored in.

The crash of a stool on his right wrist numbed his arm to the elbow;
the stool, shattered, fell apart, and one leg made smithereens of the
lamp-globe. The smoky flare redly lighted a horrible, fantastic war.
Hal fought to snatch up the knife again; the others to keep him from
it, to trample him, bash him in, smear his brains and blood on the
floor. Scientific fighting went to pot. This was just jungle war, the
war of gouge and bite, confused, unreal.

All the boy knew was that he swayed, bent and recovered in the midst of
terrible blows, and that one arm would not serve him. The other fist
landed here, there; and now it had grown red, though whether from its
own blood or from the wounds of foemen, who could tell? Strange fires
spangled outward before Hal’s eyes; he tasted blood, and, clacking his
jaws, set his teeth into a hand and through it.

Something wrenched, cracked dully. Blasphemy howled through the smoky
air, voicing the anguish of a broken arm. A rolling, swaying, tumbling
mass, the men trampled the fallen one, pulping his face. Broken glass
gritted under hammering bootheels, as the shards of lamp-chimney were
ground fine.

Back, forth, strained the fighters, with each heave and wallow of the
boat. The floor grew slippery. The folding-table, torn from its hinges,
collapsed into kindling; and one of these sticks, aimed at Hal’s head,
missed him, but struck the square-face.

Liquor gurgled down; the smell of whisky added its fetor to the stench
of oil, bilge, sweat and blood. The floor grew slippery, and crimson
splashes blotched the cabin walls.

“Kill—the son—of—” strainingly grunted some one.

Hal choked out a gasping, husky laugh. Only one eye was doing duty
now; but that one still knew the kris was lying in the corner by the
starboard berth.

He tugged, bucked, burst through, fell on the kris, grappled its knob
and writhed up, crouching.

He flung the blade aloft to strike. Everything was whirling in a
haze of dust and dancing confusion, lurid under the flare. Grinning,
bleeding faces, rage-distorted, gyrated before him. He swirled the kris
at the nearest.

A hand, vising his wrist, snapped the blade downward, drove it back.
Hal felt a swift sting, a burning, lancinating pain in his right
pectoral muscle. It seemed to pierce the chest, the lung itself.

He dropped his arm, staring. The kris, smeared brightly red, thumped to
the floor.

“Got ’im, b’ God!” wheezed somebody.

“Got him—yes, an’ now it won’t be healthy fer us, if we’re caught
here, neither!” panted another.

The men stood away from him, peering curiously. Hal confronted them,
one arm limp. The other hand rested against the cabin bulkhead. He
swayed, with the swaying of the boat; his head, sagging forward, seemed
all at once very heavy. He felt a hot trickle down his breast.

“You—you’ve got me, you—” he coughed, and, leaning his back against
the bulkhead, got his free hand feebly to the wound. It came away
horribly red. By the smoky, feeble flare, he blinked at it. The three
hulking men still on foot—vague figures, with black shadows on bearded
faces, with eyes of fear and dying anger—found no answer. One sopped
at a cut cheek with his sleeve; another rubbed his elbow and growled a
curse. On the cabin floor two lay inert, amid the trample of débris.

“_Now_ you’ve done it, Coombs,” suddenly spat the smallest of
McLaughlin’s men. He shook a violent forefinger at the blood-smeared
kris that had fallen near the ladder. “Now we got murder on our hands,
you damn fool! We didn’t come here to kill the son of a dog. We only
come to give him a damn good beatin’-up, an’ now see what you’ve went
an’ done! We got to clear out, all of us! An’ stick, too; we got to fix
this story right!”

“What—what d’you mean?” stammered Coombs, he of the bleeding cheek. He
had gone ashy pale. The whiteness of his skin make startling contrast
with the oozing blood. “What story? What we gotta do?”

“Get ashore an’ all chew it over an’ agree on how we wasn’t within a
mile o’ here to-night. Fix it, an’ git ready to swear to it! If we
don’t, we’ll all go up! Come along out o’ here! Quick!”

“Aw, hell! If he dies, serves him right!” spoke up the third man. “They
can’t touch us fer killin’ a skunk!”

“You’ll soon find out if they can or not!” retorted the small man,
livid with fear. “Out o’ here now!”

“An’ not fix him up none? Not bandage him ner nothing?” put in Coombs.
“Gosh!”

“Bandage nothin’!” cried the small man. “Tully’s right. We got to be
clearin’. But _I_ say, set fire to her an’ burn her where she lays, an’
him in her, an’—”

“Yes, an’ have the whole damn town here, an’ everythin’! You got a head
on you like a capstan. Come on, beat it!”

“We can’t go an’ leave our fellers here, can we?” demanded Coombs,
while Hal, sliding down along the bulkhead, collapsed upon the
blood-stained floor. He felt his life oozing out hotly, but now had no
power even to raise a hand. Coombs peered down, his eyes unnaturally
big. “We can’t leave _them_! That’d be a dead give-away. An’ we hadn’t
oughta leave a man bleed to death that way, neither.”

“T’ hell with ’im!” shrilled the little man, more and more
panic-stricken. “We should worry! Git hold o’ Nears an’ Dunning here,
an’ on deck with ’em. We can git ’em ashore, an’ the others, too, in
the dory. We can all git down to Hammill’s fish-shed an’ no one the
wiser. Give us a hand here, you!”

“I’m goin’ to stay an’ fix this here man up,” decided Coombs. “I reckon
I stuck him, or he stuck himself because I gaffled onta his hand.
Anyhow, I done it. You clear out, if you wanta. I ain’t goin’ to let
that feller—”

“You’re comin’ with us, an’ no double-crossin’!” shouted Tully, his
bruised face terrible, one eye blackened and swollen. He bored a
big-knuckled fist against Coombs’s nose. “If you’re caught here, we’re
_all_ done. You’re comin’ now, or, by the jumpin’ jews-harps, I’ll
knock you cold myself, an’ lug you straight ashore!”

“An’ I’ll help ye!” volunteered the little man, with a string of oaths.
“Come on now, git busy!”

Overborne, Coombs had to yield. The three men prepared to make good
their escape and to cover all tracks. Not even lifting Hal into a
berth, but leaving him sprawled face-downward on the floor, with blood
more and more soaking his heavy reefer, they dragged the unconscious
men to the companion, hauled them up and across the pitching, slippery
deck, and dropped them like potato sacks into the dory that had brought
them. Then they did likewise with the unconscious man Hal had used as
a flail against them. In the dark and storm, all this took minutes and
caused great exertion. But at last it was done; and now Tully once more
descended to the cabin.

He looked around with great care, blinking his one still serviceable
eye, his torn face horrible by the guttering oil-flame that danced as
puffs of wind entered the hatch.

“What you doin’ down there, Tully?” demanded a voice from above.
“Friskin’ him fer his watch?”

“I’ll frisk _you_ when I git you ashore!” Tully flung up at him. Coombs
slid down into the cabin.

“That’s all right,” said he, “but I ain’t trustin’ you much!”

“Aw, go to hell!” Tully spat. He stooped and began pawing over the ruck
on the floor. Here he picked up a cap, there a piece of torn sleeve. He
even found a button, and pocketed that. His search was thorough. When
it ended, nothing incriminating was left.

“I reckon they won’t git much on us _now_,” he grinned, and
contemplatively worked back and forth a loosened tooth that hardly hung
to the gum. “An’ if they try to lay it on us, they can’t prove nothin’.
All of us swearin’ together can git by. There ain’t no witness except
_him_,” with a jerk of the thumb at the gasping, unconscious form.
“Nobody, unless he gits well, which he ain’t noways likely to.”

He rolled Hal over, looked down with malice and hate at the pale,
battered face, listened a moment to the laboring, slow _râle_ of the
breath, and nodded with satisfaction. Even the bloody froth on Hal’s
blue lips gave him joy.

“You got what’s comin’ to _you_, all right!” he sneered. “Got it
proper. Thought you’d git funny with Mac an’ his gang, huh? Always
butted through everythin’, did you? Well, this here was one proposition
you couldn’t butt through. We was one too many fer _you_, all righto!”

He turned, and saw Coombs with the kris in hand. Fear leaped into his
face, but Coombs only gibed:

“You’re a great one, ain’t you? Coverin’ up the story o’ what happened
here an’ leavin’ that in a corner!”

Fear gave way to sudden covetousness.

“Gimme that there knife!” demanded Tully. “There _is_ a souvenir! That
there’s a krish. I can hide it O. K. Gimme it!”

Coombs’s answer was to stoop, lay the kris down and set his huge
sea-boot on it. A quick, upward wrench at the lotus-bud handle and
the snaky, poisoned blade, maybe a thousand years old, snapped with a
jangle of dissevered steel.

“Here, you!” shouted Tully. But already Coombs had swung to the
companion. One toss, and lotus-bud and shattered blade gyrated into the
dark. The waves, white-foaming, received them; they vanished forever
from the world of men.

“On deck with you now!” commanded Coombs. “If we’re goin’ to do this at
all, we’re goin’ to make a good job of it. You go first!”

Tully had to obey. Coombs puffed out the light and—leaving Hal Briggs
in utter dark, bleeding, poisoned, dying—followed on up the ladder.
The dory pushed away, laden with three unconscious men and three others
by no means unscathed of battle. Toward the shore it struggled, borne
on the hungry surges.

Thus fled the men of McLaughlin’s crew—avenged. Thus, brought low by
the cursèd thing that had come half-way ’round the world and waited
half a hundred years to strike, Hal sank toward the great blackness.

Lotus-bud, symbol of sleep, and poisoned blade—cobra-fang from the
dim, mysterious Orient—now with their work well done, lay under waves
of storm in a wild, northern sea.

Above, in the black, storm-whipped sky, was the blind face of Destiny
peering with laughter down upon the fulfilment of its prophecy?



CHAPTER XLII

IN EXTREMIS


It would be difficult to tell how long the wounded boy lay there,
but after a certain time, some vague glimmering of consciousness
returned. No light came back. Neither was motion possible to him. His
understanding now was merely pain, confusion and a great roaring wind
and wave. Utter weakness gripped his body; but more than this seemed
to enchain him. By no effort of his reviving will could he move hand
or foot; and even the slow breath he took, each respiration a stab of
agony, seemed for some reason a mighty effort.

Though Hal knew it not, already the _curaré_ was at work, the _curaré_
whose terrible effect is this: that it paralyzes every muscle, first
the voluntaries, then those of the respiratory centers and of the heart
itself. Yet he could think and feel. _Curaré_ does not numb sensation
or attack the brain. It strikes its victims down by rendering them more
helpless than an infant; and then, fingering its way to the breath and
to the blood, closes on those a grip that has one outcome only.

Hal Briggs, who had so gloried in the strength and swift control of all
his muscles, who had so wrought evil and violent things, trusting to
his unbeatable power, now lay there, chained, immobile, paralyzed.

He thought, after a few vain efforts to move:

“I must be badly cut to be as weak as this. I must be bled almost to
death. I’m going to die. That’s certain!”

Still, he was not afraid. The soul of him confronted death,
unterrified. Even while his laboring heart struggled against the
slow instillation of the _curaré_, and even while his lungs caught
sluggishly at the air, his mind was undaunted.

He wanted light, but there was none. A velvet dark enveloped
everything—a dark in which the creaking fabric of the _Kittiwink_
heaved, plunged till it rolled his inert body back against the shell of
the craft, then forward again.

“I got some of them, anyhow,” he reflected, with strange calmness.
“They didn’t get away without a lot of punishment. If they hadn’t
knifed me, I’d have cleaned up the whole bunch!”

A certain satisfaction filled his thoughts. If one must die, it is good
to know the enemy has taken grievous harm.

Still, what, after all, did it matter? He felt so very languid, so
transfixed with that insistent pain in the right lung! Even though he
had killed them all, would that have recompensed him for the failure
of all his cherished plans, for the loss of the life that was to have
meant so wildly much to him?

He felt a warm oozing on his breast, and knew blood was still seeping.
His lips tasted salty, but he could not even spit away the blood on
them. _Curaré_ is of a hundred different types. This, which he had
received, had numbed his muscles beyond any possibility of waking them
to action. A few vain efforts convinced him he could not move. So there
he lay, suffering, wondering how any loss of blood—so long as life
remained—could so paralyze him.

His thoughts drifted to Snug Haven, to his grandfather, to Ezra, to
Laura, but now in more confusion. He realized that he was fainting
and could do nothing to prevent it. A humming, different from the
storm-wind, welled up in his ears. He felt that he was sinking down,
away. Then all at once he ceased alike to think, to feel.

When next he came to some vague consciousness, he sensed—millions
of miles away—a touch on his shoulder, a voice in his ears. He knew
that voice; and yet, somehow, he could not tell whose voice it was. He
understood that his head was being raised. Very dimly, through closed
eyelids that he could not open, he perceived the faint glimmer of a
light.

“Hal!” he heard his name. And then again: “Hal!”

The futile effort to move, to answer, spent his last forces. Once more
the blackness of oblivion received him mercifully.

“Hal! Oh, God! Hal, speak to me! _Answer me!_” Laura’s voice trembled,
broke as she pleaded. “Oh—they’ve killed you! _They’ve killed you!_”

With eyes of terror she peered down at him. In her shaking hand the
little electric search-lamp sent its trembling beam to illuminate the
terrible sight there on the cabin floor. The girl could get only broken
impressions—a pale, wan face; closed eyes that would not open; a
fearful welter of blood on throat and chest.

“Look at me! Speak to me! You aren’t dead—look at me! It’s Laura!
Hal—_Hal_!”

Her words were disjointed. For a moment presence of mind left her. For
a moment, she was just a frightened girl, suddenly confronted by this
horrible thing, by the broken, dying body of the man she had so loved.
And while that moment lasted she cried out; she gathered Hal to her
breast; she called to him and called again, and got no answer.

But soon her first anguish passed. She whipped back her reason and
forced herself to think. The prescience she had felt of evil had indeed
come true. The furtive, dark figures that from her window she had seen
slinking toward Hadlock’s Cove, had indeed sought Hal just as she had
felt that they were seeking him. And the numb grief that, after she had
seen Hal passing down the road, had still chained her at that upper
window peering out into the darkening storm, had all at once given
place to action.

What strategies she had had to employ to escape from the house! What
a battle with the tempest she had fought, with wind and rain tearing
at her long coat, the pocket of which had held the flashlight! Ay, and
that battle had been only a skirmish compared to the launching of a
dory, the mad struggle through the surf. All thought of danger flung to
the wings of heaven, all fear of Hal abandoned, and of losing her good
name in case of being seen by any one, so she had battled her way to
him—to warn him, to save him.

Laura, suddenly grown calm with that heroic resolution which inspires
every true woman in the moment of need, let the boy’s head fall back
and mustered her thoughts. She realized the essential thing was go for
help, at once. Strong as she was, and nerved with desperation, she
knew the task of dragging Hal up the companionway, of getting him into
her dory, of carrying him ashore in the gale-beaten surf surpassed her
powers.

So she must leave him, even though he should die alone there.

But, first, she could at least give him some aid. She peered about her,
flicking the electric beam over the trampled confusion. What could she
use for bandages? A smashed suit-case yawned wide, its contents slewed
about. She caught up a shirt, tore it into broad strips and, laying the
flashlight in the berth, bent to her work.

“Oh, God!” she whispered, as she laid bare the wound; but though she
felt giddy, she kept on. The sagging dead weight of Hal’s body almost
overbore her strength. She held it up, however, and very tightly bound
him, up around the massive neck, over the back, across the high-arched,
muscular chest. She knotted her bandages, and let Hal sink down again.

Then she smoothed back his drabbled hair. She bent and kissed him;
snatched the light, turned and fled up the companion, clambered down
into the dory, and cast loose.

All the strength of her young arms had to strain their uttermost.
Passionately she labored. The wounded man no longer was the brute
who had so cruelly sought to wrong her. He was no longer the untamed
savage, the bully, the thief. No, in his helplessness he had gone
swiftly back to the boy she had known and loved—just Hal, her boy.

The storm-devils, snatching at her, seemed incarnate things that fought
her for his life. The wind that drove her away from the shingle-beach
and toward the rocks below Jim Gordon’s store, the lathering crests
that spewed their cold surges into the dory as it heaved high and swung
far down, seemed shouting: “Death to Hal!”

Laura, her hair down and flying wild, pulled till wrists and arms
seemed breaking. For a few minutes she thought herself lost; but
presently, when breath and strength were at the ragged edge, she
began to hear the loud, rattling clamor of pebbles on the shingle. A
breaker caught the dory, flung it half round, upset it. Into the water,
strangling, struggling, Laura plunged. The backwash caught her, tugged
at her. She found footing, lost it, fell and choked a cry in cold brine.

The next breaker heaved her up. She crawled through wrack and weed,
over jagged stones, and fell exhausted on a sodden windrow of drift.

For a minute she could move no further, but had to lie under the
pelting rain, with the dark hands of ocean clutching to drag her back.
But presently a little strength revived. She crawled forward once more,
staggered to her feet, and, falling, getting up again, won to the top
of the dune.

Off to her left, dim through the shouting night, the vague light-blurs
of old man Gordon’s windows were fronting the tempest. The girl
struggled forward, sobbing for breath. Not all the fury of the North
Atlantic, flung against that shore, had turned her from her task.

Astonished beyond words, the lobstermen and fishers eyed her with blank
faces as she burst in the door. Under the light of tin reflectors,
quids remained unchewed, pipes unsmoked. Bearded jaws fell. Eyes
blinked.

The girl’s wet, draggled hair, her bloodless face and burning eyes
stunned them all.

“Quick, quick!” she implored. “Hal Briggs—”

“What’s he done now, girl?” cried old Sy Whittaker, starting up. “He
ain’t hurt _you_, has he? If he _has_—”

“He’s been stabbed, aboard the _Kittiwink_! He’s bleeding to death
there!”

Chairs scraped. Excitement blazed.

“What’s that, Laura?” cried Gordon. “Stabbed? Who done it?”

“Oh, no matter—go, quick—go, _go_!”

“Damn funny!” growled a voice from behind the stove. “Gal goin’ aboard
night like this, an’ him stabbed. Looks mighty bad!”

“You’ll look a damn sight wuss if you say that agin, or anythin’ like
it!” shouted the old storekeeper with doubled fist. “Hal Briggs ain’t
worryin’ me none, but this here is Laura, old man Maynard’s gal, an’
by the Jeeruzlem nobody ain’t goin’ to say nothin’ about her! Tell me,
gal,” he added, “is he hurt bad?”

She caught him by the arm. He had to hold her up.

“Dying, Jim! Bleeding to death! Oh, for the love of God—hurry,
_hurry_!”

Around them the rough, bearded men jostled in pea-coats, slickers,
sou’westers. The tin reflectors struck harsh lights and shadows from
rugged faces of astonishment.

“Who could o’ done it?” began Shorrocks, the blacksmith. “They’d oughta
be ketched, an’—”

“Never you mind about that!” cried Gordon. He caught from a nail a
formless old felt hat and jammed it on his head; he snatched up a
lighted lantern standing on the counter, and with a hobnailed clatter
ran for the door.

“Everybody out!” he bellowed. “Everybody out now, to help Laura!”

Into the storm he flung himself. All hands cascaded toward the door.

“You stay here, gal!” advised Asahel Calkins, lobsterman. “Ain’t no
night fer you!”

“I can’t stay! Let me go, too!” she pleaded. They made way for her.
With the men she ran. Two or three others had lanterns, but these made
no more than tiny dancing blurs of light in the drenching dark. Along
a path, then into the field and up to the storm-scourged dune they
stumbled, pantingly, bucking the gale. The lanterns set giant legs of
shadows striding up against the curtain of the rain-drive, as the men
pressed onward. Snapping, Laura’s skirts flailed.

Over the dune they charged, and scuffled down to the dories. Disjointed
words, cries, commands whipped away. Strong hands hustled a dory down.
Laura was clambering in already, but Jim Gordon pulled her back.

“No, gal, no!” he ordered sternly. His voice flared on the wind as he
shoved her into the arms of Shorrocks. “You, Henry, look out for her.
Don’t let her do nothin’ foolish!”

He set his lantern in the dory, impressed Calkins and another into his
service, and scrambled aboard. A dozen hands ran the dory out through
the first breakers. Oars caught; and as the men came up the beach,
dripping in the vague lantern-light, the dory pulled away.

To Laura, waiting with distracted fear among the fishermen, it seemed
an hour; yet at the most hardly fifteen minutes had passed before
the little boat came leaping shoreward in white smothers. Out jumped
Gordon. Laura ran to him, knee-deep in a breaker.

“Is he—_dead_?” she shivered, with clacking teeth.

“Nope. Ain’t much time to lose, though, an’ that’s a fact. He’s cut
_some_, looks like! Goddy mighty, but there must o’ been some fight out
there!”

He turned to the dory. With others, he lifted out a heavy body, wrapped
in sailcloth, horribly suggestive of a burial at sea. Laura gripped her
hands together for self-mastery.

“Oh, hurry, hurry!” she entreated.

“We’ll do all we kin, gal,” some one answered, “but we ain’t no real
amb’lance-corpse. It’s goin’ to be a slow job, gittin’ him home.”

“Here, Laura, you carry a lantern an’ go ahead, ’cross the field,”
commanded Gordon, with deep wisdom. Only to give her something to do,
something to occupy her mind, was kindness of the deepest. Into her
hand old Calkins thrust a lantern.

“All ready!” cried he. “H’ist anchor, an’ away!”

Seven or eight men got hold, round the edges of the sailcloth, and so,
swinging the inert Hal as in a cradle, they stumbled to the road, with
Laura going on ahead.

To the right they turned, toward Snug Haven. Now Laura walked beside
them. Once in a while she looked at the white face half seen in its
white cradle, now beginning to be mottled with crimson stains.

But she said no other word. Strong with the calm that had reasserted
itself, she walked that night road of storm and agony.

Thus was Hal Briggs borne back to his grandfather’s house.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the cabin at Snug Haven old Captain Briggs—having finished his
letter to Hal and put that, too, in the safe—had now come to the last
task of all, the sacrifice that, so he faithfully believed, was to
remove the curse of Dengan Jouga from his boy.

A strange lassitude weighed down upon the old man, the weariness that
comes when a long journey is almost done and the lights of home begin
to shine out through “the evening dews and damps.” The captain felt
that he had come at last to journey’s end. He sat there at his desk,
eying the revolver, a sturdy, resolute figure; an heroic figure,
unflinchingly determined; a figure ennobled by impending sacrifice,
thoughtful, quiet, strong. His face, that had been lined with grief,
had grown quite calm. The light upon it seemed less from his old-time
cabin-lamp than from some inner flame. With a new kind of happiness,
more blessed than any he had ever known, he smiled.

“Thank God!” he murmured, with devout earnestness. “It won’t be long
now afore I’m with the others that have waited for me all this time
up there on Croft Hill. I’m glad to go. It isn’t everybody than can
save the person they love best of anything in the world, by dying. I
thought God was hard with me, but after all I find He’s very good.
He’ll understand. He’d ought to know, Himself, what dying means to save
something that must be saved!”

Once more he looked at Hal’s picture. Earnestly and simply, he kissed
it. Then he laid it on the desk again.

“Good-by,” said he. “Maybe you won’t ever understand. Maybe you’ll
blame me. Lots will. I’ll be called a coward. You’ll have to bear some
burden on account of me, but this is the only way.”

His expression reflected the calm happiness which comes with
realization that to die for one beloved is a better and more blessèd
thing than life. Never had old Captain Briggs felt such joy. Not only
was he opening the ways of life to Hal, but he was cleansing his own
soul. And all at once he felt the horror of this brooding curse was
lifting—this curse which, during fifty years, had been reaching out
from the dark and violent past.

He breathed deeply and picked up the revolver.

“God, Thou art very good to me,” he said quietly. “I couldn’t
understand the way till it was shown me. But now I understand.”

Toward his berth he turned, to lie down there for the last time. As
he advanced toward it he became vaguely conscious of some confusion
outside. A sound of voices, gusty and faint through the wind, reached
him. These came nearer, grew louder.

Listening, he paused, with a frown. Of a sudden, feet clumped on the
front steps. Heavily they thudded across the porch. And with sharp
insistence his electric door-bell trilled its musical _brrr_!

“What’s that, now?” said the captain. Premonitions of evil pierced his
heart. As he hesitated, not knowing what to do, the front door boomed
with the thudding of stout fists. A heavy boot kicked the panels. A
voice bawled hoarsely:

“Briggs! Ahoy, there, cap’n! Let us in! Fer God’s sake, let us in!”



CHAPTER XLIII

CURARÉ


“Who’s there?” cried Alpheus Briggs, astonished and afraid. He faced
toward the front hall. “What’s wanted?”

A tapping at his window-pane, with eager knuckles, drew his attention.
He heard a woman’s voice—the voice of Laura Maynard:

“Here’s Hal! Let us in; quick, _quick_!”

“Hal?” cried the old man, turning very white. That evil had indeed come
to him was certain now. He strode to his desk, dropped the revolver
into the top drawer and closed it, then crossed over to the window
and raised the shade. The face of Laura, with disheveled hair and
fear-widened eyes, was peering in at him. Briggs flung the window up.

“Where is he, Laura? What’s happened? Who’s here with him?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you, captain!” she whispered. He saw her trembling;
he noted those big, terror-stricken eyes, and thrilled with panic.
From the front door sounded a confused bass murmur; and again the bell
sounded. “Men from the store,” she gulped, “Jim Gordon and others.
They’re—”

“They’re what, Laura? Bringing Hal back home?”

She nodded silently. He thought he had never seen a woman so pale.

“Captain, let them in!” she cried. “I’ve got to tell you. Hal—is
injured. Open the door, quick! Get Dr. Filhiol!”

Everything else forgotten now, the captain turned, precipitated himself
into the hall and snatched open the front door. Gusts of rain and wind
tugged at him, flapping his bath robe. For a moment, not understanding
anything, he stood peering out at what was all a blur of perfectly
incomprehensible confusion. His fear-stricken eyes and brain failed to
register any clear perception. A second or two, he neither heard nor
saw. Then he became aware that some one—Jim Gordon, yes—was saying:

“We done the best we could, cap’n. Got him here as fast as we could.
We’ll bring him right in.”

The captain saw something white out there on the dark, wet porch. In
the midst of this whiteness a form was visible—and now the old man
perceived a face; Hal’s face—and what, for God’s sake, was all this
crimson stain?

He plunged forward, thrusting the men aside. A lantern swung, and he
saw clearly.

“God above! They’ve—they’ve murdered him!”

“No, cap’n, he ain’t dead yit,” said some one, “but you’d better git
him ’tended to, right snug off.”

Old Briggs was on his knees now gathering the lax figure to his arms.

“Hal! Hal!”

“Shhh!” exclaimed Gordon. “No use makin’ a touse, cap’n. He’s cut some,
that’s a fact, but—”

“Who killed my boy?” cried the old man, terrible to look upon. “Who did
this thing?”

“Captain Briggs,” said Laura tremulously, as she pulled at his sleeve,
“you mustn’t waste a minute! Not a second! He’s got to be put right to
bed. We’ve got to get a doctor now!”

“Here, cap’n, we’ll carry him in, fer ye,” spoke up Shorrocks. “Git up,
cap’n, an’ we’ll lug him right in the front room.”

“Nobody shall carry my boy into this house but just his grandfather!”
cried the captain in a loud, strange voice.

The old-time strength of Alpheus Briggs surged back. His arms, that
felt no weakness now, gathered up Hal as in the old days they had
caught him when a child. Into the house he bore him, with the others
following; into the cabin, and so to the berth. The boy’s head, hanging
limp, rested against the old man’s arm, tensed with supreme effort. The
crimson stain from the grandson’s breast tinged the grandsire’s. Down
in the berth the captain laid him, and, raising his head, entreated:

“Hal, boy! Speak to me—speak!”

Gordon laid a hand on his shoulder.

“It ain’t no use, cap’n,” said he. “He’s too fur gone.” With a muffled
clumping of feet the others, dripping, awed, silent, trickled into
the room. Laura had already run up-stairs, swift-footed, in quest of
Dr. Filhiol. “It ain’t no use. Though mebbe if we was to git a little
whisky into him—”

“Hal! Master Hal!” wailed a voice of agony. Old Ezra, ghastly and
disheveled, appeared in the doorway. He would have run to the berth,
but Shorrocks held him back.

“You can’t do no good, Ez!” he growled. “He’s gotta have air—don’t you
go crowdin’ now!”

The shuffling of lame feet announced Dr. Filhiol. Laura, still in her
drenched long coat, helped him move swiftly. Calkins shoved up a chair
for him beside the berth, and the old doctor dropped into it.

“A light here!” commanded he, with sudden return of professional
instinct and authority. Laura threw off her coat, seized the lamp from
its swinging-ring over the desk, and held it close. Its shine revealed
the pallor of her face, the great beauty of her eyes, the soul of her
that seemed made visible in their compassionate depths, where dwelt an
infinite forgiveness.

“You’ll have to stand back, captain,” ordered the doctor succinctly.
“You’re only smothering him that way, holding him in your arms; and you
must _not_ kiss him! Lay him down—so! Ezra, stop that noise! Give me
scissors or a knife, quick!”

Speaking, the doctor was already at work. With the sharp blade that
Calkins passed him he cut away the blood-soaked bandage and threw it
to the floor. His old hands did not tremble now; the call of duty had
steeled his muscles with instinctive reactions. His eyes, narrowed
behind their spectacles, made careful appraisal.

“Deep stab-wound,” said he. “How did he get this? Any one know anything
about it?”

“He got it in the cabin of the _Kittiwink_,” answered Laura.
“Everything was smashed up there. It looked to me as if Hal had fought
three or four men.”

“McLaughlin’s!” cried the captain. His fists clenched passionately.
“Oh, God! They’ve murdered my boy! Is he going to die, Filhiol? Is he?”

“That’s impossible to say. We’ll need plenty of hot water here, and
soap and peroxide. Towels, lots of them! Ezra, you hear me? Get your
local doctor at once. And have him bring his surgical kit as well as
his medical. Tell him it’s a deep stab, with great loss of blood. Get a
move on, somebody!”

Ezra, Gordon and Calkins departed. The front door slammed, feet ran
across the porch, then down the steps and away.

“Everybody else go, too,” directed Filhiol. “We can’t have outsiders
messing round here. Get out, all the rest of you—and mind now you
don’t go making any loose talk about who did it!”

Silently the fishermen obeyed. A minute, and no one was left in the
cabin save old Briggs, Filhiol and Laura, gathered beside the wounded,
immobile figure in the berth.

“How long will it take to get your local doctor?” demanded Filhiol,
inspecting the wound that still oozed bright, frothy blood, showing the
lung to be involved in the injury.

“Ten minutes, perhaps,” said Laura.

“H-m! There’s no time to lose here.”

“Is he going to die?” asked the old captain, his voice now firm. He
had grown calm again; only his lips were very tight, and under the
lamp-glow his forehead gleamed with myriad tiny drops. “Is this boy of
mine going to die?”

“How can I tell? Why ask?”

“If he does, I won’t survive him! That’s the simple truth.”

“H-m!” grunted Filhiol, once more. He cast an oblique glance at the
captain. And in that second he realized that the thought, which had
been germinating in his brain, could lead him nowhere; the thought
that now his wish had really come to pass—that Hal was really now his
patient, as he had wished the boy might be. He knew, now, that even
though he could so far forget his ethics as to fail in his whole duty
toward Hal Briggs, the captain held an unconscious whip-hand over him.
Just those few simple words, spoken from the soul—”I won’t survive
him”—had closed the doors of possibility for a great crime.

Ezra came in with a steaming basin, with soap and many towels.

“Put those on this chair here,” commanded Filhiol. “And then either
keep perfectly quiet, or get out and stay out!”

Cowed, the old man tremblingly obliterated himself in the shadow
behind the desk. The doctor began a little superficial cleaning up of
his patient. Hal had still shown no signs of consciousness, nor had
he opened his eyes. Yet the fact was, he remained entirely conscious.
Everything that was said he heard and understood. But the paralysis
gripping him had made of him a thing wherein no slightest power lay to
indicate his thought, or understanding. Alive, yet dead, he lay there,
much as the _amok_ Malay of fifty years before had lain upon the deck
of the _Silver Fleece_. And all his vital forces now had narrowed to
just one effort—to keep heart and lungs in laboring action.

Little by little the invading poison was attacking even this last
citadel of his life. Little by little, heart and lungs were failing, as
the _curaré_ fingered its way into the last, inner nerve-centers. But
still life fought. And as the doctor bent above Hal, washing away the
blood from lips and throat and chest, a half-instinctive analysis of
the situation forced itself upon him. This wound, these symptoms—well,
what other diagnosis would apply?

“There’s something more at work here,” thought he, “than just loss of
blood. This man could stand a deal of that and still not be in any such
collapse. There’s poison of some kind at work. And if this wound isn’t
the cut of a kris, I never saw one!”

He raised one eyelid, and peered at the pupil. Then he closed the eye
again.

“By the Almighty!” he whispered.

“What is it, doctor?” demanded the captain. “Don’t keep anything from
me!”

“I hate to tell you!”

The old man caught his breath, but never flinched.

“Tell me!” he commanded. Laura peered in silence, very white. “I can
stand it. Tell me all there is to tell!”

“Well, captain, from what I find here—there can be no doubt—”

“No doubt of what?”

“The blade that stabbed Hal was—”

“That poisoned kris?”

Filhiol nodded silently.

“God above! The curse—retribution!”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, captain, drop all that nonsense!” flared
out the doctor from taut nerves. “This is no time for your infernal
superstitions! We’ve got all we can handle without cluttering things up
with a mess of rubbish. We’ve got a long, hard fight on our hands.”

“I know. But you can save him, doctor! You must!”

“I’ll do all in human power. This wound here I’m not in a position to
deal with. Your local doctor can attend to that. It isn’t the vital
feature of this case. The poison is!”

“You’ve got a remedy for that, haven’t you? You said you had!”

“Do you realize it’s been an hour, perhaps, since this wound was
made? If the _curaré_ had been fresh and new—” He finished with an
expressive gesture. “It’s old and dried, and some of it must have been
worn off the blade. Perhaps, not a great deal got into the cut. There’s
a chance, a fighting chance—perhaps.”

“Then the remedy! Quick, doctor! Get it, make it!”

“I’ve got to wait till the physician comes. I’ve got no drugs with me.”

“Will he have the right ones?”

“They’re common enough. It all depends on the formula, the exact
mixture.”

“You remember them?”

“Maybe I can, if you don’t disturb my mind too much.”

“I’ll be quiet, doctor. You just order me, and I’ll do anything you
say,” the old man promised abjectly. His eyes were cavernous with
suffering. “Lord God! why don’t Dr. Marsh come?”

“Hal here is suffering from a general paralysis,” said Filhiol. “This
_curaré_ is peculiar stuff.” He laid his ear to Hal’s chest, listened a
moment, then raised his head. “There’s some heart-action yet,” said he.
“Our problem is to keep it going, and the respiration, till the effects
pass. It’s quite possible Hal isn’t unconscious. He may know what’s
going on. With this poison the victim feels and knows and understands,
and yet can’t move hand or foot. In fact, he’s reduced to complete
helplessness.”

“And yet you call me superstitious when I talk retribution!” the
captain whispered tensely. “I lived by force in the old days. He,
poor boy, put all his faith and trust in it; he made it his God, and
worshipped it. And now—he’s struck down, helpless—”

“It _is_ strange,” Filhiol had to admit. “I don’t believe in anything
like that. But certainly this is very, very strange. Yes, your grandson
is more helpless now than any child. Even if he lives, he’ll be
helpless for a long time, and very weak for months and months. This
kind of _curaré_ used by the upper Malay people is the most diabolical
stuff ever concocted. Its effects are swift and far-reaching; they last
a long, long time, in case they don’t kill at once. Hal can never be
the same man he used to be, captain. You’ve got to make up your mind to
that, anyhow.”

“Thank the Lord for it!” the old man fervently ejaculated. “Thank the
good Lord above!”

“If he lives, he may sometime get back a fair amount of strength. He
may be as well as an average man, but the days of his unbridled power
and his terrific force are all over. His fighting heart and arrogant
soul are gone, never to return.”

“God is being very good to me!” cried Briggs, tears starting down his
wrinkled cheeks.

“Amen to that!” said Laura. “I don’t care what he’ll be, doctor. Only
give him back to me!”

“He’ll be an invalid a very long time, girl.”

“And all that time I can nurse him and love him back to health!”

Footsteps suddenly clattered on the porch. The front door flung open.

“Laura! Are you all right? Are you safe?” cried a new voice.

“There’s my father!” exclaimed the girl. “And there’s Dr. Marsh, with
him!”

Into the cabin penetrated two men. Nathaniel Maynard—thin, gray,
wiry—stood staring. The physician, brisk and competent, set his bag on
a chair and peeled off his coat, dripping rain.

“Laura! Tell me—”

“Not now, father! Shhh! I’m all right, every way. But Hal here—”

“We won’t have any unnecessary conversation, Mr. Maynard,” directed Dr.
Marsh. He approached the berth. “What is this, now? Stab-wound? Ah,
yes. Well, I’ll wash right up and get to work.”

“Do, please,” answered Filhiol. “You can handle it alone, all right.
I’ve got a job of my own. There’s poisoning present, too. _Curaré._”

“_Curaré!_” exclaimed Marsh, amazed. “That’s most unusual! Are you
sure?”

“I didn’t serve on ships in the Orient, for nothing,” answered Filhiol
with asperity. “My diagnosis is absolute. There was dried _curaré_ on
the blade that stabbed this man. It’s a very complex poison—either
C_{18}H_{35}N, or C_{10}H_{35}N. Only one man, Sir Robert Schomburg,
ever found out how the natives make it, and only one man—myself—ever
learned the secret of the antidote.”

“So, so?” commented Marsh, rolling up his shirt-sleeve. He set out
antiseptics, dressings, pads, drainage, and proceeded to scrub up.
“We can’t do this work here in the berth. Clear the desk, Ezra,” he
directed. “It’s long enough for an operating-table. Make up a bed
there—a few blankets and a clean sheet. Then we can lift him over.
We’ll strip his chest as he lies—cut the clothes off. Lively, every
one! _Curaré_, eh? I never came in contact with it, Dr. Filhiol. I’m
not above asking its physiological effects.”

“It’s unique,” answered Filhiol. He got up from beside the wounded
man and approached the chair on which stood the doctor’s bag. “It
produces a type of pure motor-paralysis, acting on the end plates of
the muscles and the peripheral end-organs of the motor-nerves. First
it attacks the voluntary muscles, and then those of respiration. It
doesn’t cause unconsciousness, however. The patient here may know all
that’s going on, but he can’t make a sign. Don’t trust to this apparent
unconsciousness in exploring the wound. Give plenty of anesthetic, just
as if he seemed fully conscious.”

“Glad you told me that,” said Marsh, nodding. “How about stimulants, or
even a little nitroglycerine for the heart?”

“Useless. There’s just one remedy.”

“And you’ve got it?”

“I can compound it, I think. It’s a secret, given me fifty years ago by
a Parsee in Bombay. He’d have lost his life for having given it, if it
had been known. Let me have some of your drugs, will you?”

“Help yourself,” answered Marsh, drying his hands.

While Laura and the captain watched in silence, Filhiol opened the bag,
and after some deliberation chose three vials.

“All right,” said he. “Now you to your work, and I to mine!”

“Got everything you need?”

“I’ll want a hypodermic when I come back—if I succeed in compounding
the formula.”

“How long will you be?”

“If I’m _very_ long—” His look finished the phrase. Laura came close
to Filhiol.

“Doctor,” she whispered, her face tense with terrible earnestness. “You
_must_ remember the formula. You can’t fail! There’s more than Hal’s
life at stake, now. The captain—you’ve got to save him!”

“And you, too! Your happiness—that is to say, your life!” the old
man answered, laying a hand on hers. “I understand it all, dear. All,
perfectly. I needn’t tell you more than that!”

He turned toward the door.

“Captain Briggs, sir,” said he, “I was with you in the old days, and
I’m with you now—all the way through. Courage, and don’t give up the
ship!”



CHAPTER XLIV

NEW DAWN


Twenty minutes later, anxious fingers tapped at Filhiol’s door.

“Come!” bade the doctor. Laura entered.

“Forgive me,” she begged. “I—I couldn’t stay away. Dr. Marsh has got
the wound closed. He says that, in itself, isn’t fatal. But—”

She could not finish. From the hallway, through the open door,
penetrated the smell of ether.

“The captain’s been just splendid!” said she. “And Ezra’s got his nerve
back. I’ve helped as much as I could. Hal’s in the berth again.”

“What’s his condition?”

“Dr. Marsh says the heart action is very weak and slow.”

“Respiration?” And Filhiol peered over his glasses at her as he sat
there before his washstand, on which he had spread a newspaper, now
covered with various little piles of powder.

“Hardly ten to the minute. For God’s sake, doctor, do something!
Haven’t you got the formula yet?”

“Not yet, Laura. It’s a very delicate compound, and I have no means
here for making proper analyses, or even for weighing out minute
quantities. I don’t suppose a man ever tried to work under such fearful
handicaps.”

“I know,” she answered. “But—oh, there must be _some_ way you can get
it!”

Their eyes met and silence came. On the porch roof, below the doctor’s
window, the rain was ruffling all its drums. The window, rattled in its
sash, seemed in the grip of some jinnee that sought to force entrance.
Filhiol glanced down at his little powders and said:

“Here’s what I’m up against, Laura. I’m positively sure one of these
two nearest me is correct. But I can’t tell which.”

“Why not test them?”

“One or the other is fearfully poisonous. My old brain doesn’t work as
well as it used to, and after fifty years—But, yes, one of these two
here,” and he pointed at the little conical heaps nearest him with the
point of the knife wherewith he had been mixing them, “one of these two
must be the correct formula. The other—well, it’s deadly. I don’t know
which is which.”

“If you knew definitely which one was poisonous,” asked she, “would
that make you certain of the other?”

“Yes,” he answered, not at all understanding. “But without the means of
making qualitative analyses, or the time for them, how can I find out?”

She had come close, and now stood at his left side. Before he could
advance a hand to stop her, she had caught up, between thumb and
finger, a little of the powder nearest her and had put it into her
mouth.

“Holy Lord, girl!” shouted the old man, springing up. His chair clashed
to the floor. “How do you know which—”

“I’ll know in a few moments, won’t I?” she asked. “And then you’ll be
able to give the right one to Hal?”

The old doctor could only stare at her. Then he groaned, and began to
cry. The tears that had not flowed in years were flowing now. For the
first time in all that long and lonesome life, without the love of
woman to soften it, he had realized what manner of thing a woman’s love
can be.

She remained there, smiling a little, untroubled, calm. The doctor
blinked away his tears, ashamed.

“Laura,” said he, “I didn’t think there was anything like that in the
world. I didn’t think there was any woman anywhere like you. It’s too
wonderful for any words. So I won’t talk about it. But tell me, now,
what sensations do you get?” His face grew anxious with a very great
fear. He came close to her, took her hand, closely watched her. “Do you
feel anything yet?”

“There’s a kind of stinging sensation on my tongue,” she answered, with
complete quietude, as though the scales of life and death for her had
not an even balance. “And—well, my mouth feels a little numb and cold.
Is that the poison?”

“Do you experience any dizziness?” His voice was hardly audible. By the
lamp-light his pale face and widened eyes looked very strange. “Does
your heart begin to accelerate? Here, let me see!”

He took her wrist, carefully observing the pulse.

“No, doctor,” she answered, “I don’t feel anything except just what
I’ve already told you.”

“Thank the good God for that!” he exclaimed, letting her hand fall.
“You’re all right. You got the harmless powder. Laura, you’re—you’re
too wonderful for me even to try to express it. You’re—”

“We’re wasting time here!” she exclaimed. “Every second’s precious. You
know which powder to use, now. Come along!”

“Yes, you’re right. I’ll come at once.” He turned, took up the knife,
and with its blade scraped on to a bit of paper the powder that the
girl had tested. This he wrapped up carefully and tucked into his
waistcoat-pocket.

“Dow-nstairs, Laura!” said he. “If we can pull him through, it’s you
that have saved him—it’s _you_!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The thud of the old doctor’s feet seemed to echo in the captain’s heart
like thunders of doom. He got up from beside the berth and faced the
door, like a man who waits the summons to walk forth at dawn and face
the firing-squad. Dr. Marsh, still seated by the berth, frowned and
shook his head. Evidently he had no faith in this old man, relic of a
school past and gone, who claimed to know strange secrets of the Orient.

“This boy is dying,” thought Marsh. “I don’t believe in all this talk
about _curaré_. He’s dying of hemorrhage and shock. His pulse and
respiration are practically _nil_—his skin is dusky with suffocation
already. Even if the old chap has a remedy, he’s too late. Hal’s
gone—and it will kill the captain, too. What a curse seems to have
hung to this family! Wiped out, all wiped out!”

In the doorway appeared Laura and old Filhiol. The girl’s face was
burning with excitement. The doctor’s eyes shone strangely.

“Still alive, is he?” demanded Filhiol.

“Yes,” answered Marsh. “But you’ve got no time for more than one
experiment.”

“Got it, Filhiol?” choked the captain. His hands twitched with appeal.
“Tell me you’ve—got it!”

“Water! The hypodermic needle!” directed Filhiol, his voice a whiplash.

He mixed the powder in a quarter-glass of water, and drew the solution
up into the glass barrel of the syringe. Ezra, unable to bear any
further strain, sank down in a chair, buried his face in both hands and
remained there, motionless. Dr. Marsh, frankly skeptical, watched in
silence. The girl, her arm about the captain, was whispering something
to him. Through the room sounded a hollow roaring, blent of surf and
tempest and wind-buffetings of the great chimney.

Filhiol handed the hypodermic to Marsh.

“Administer this,” he commanded. “Your hands have been sterilized, and
mine haven’t. We mustn’t even waste the time for me to scrub up, and
I’m taking no chances at all with any non-surgical conditions.”

Marsh nodded. The old man was undoubtedly a little cracked, but it
could do no harm to humor him. Marsh quickly prepared an area of Hal’s
arm, rubbing it with alcohol. He tossed away the pledget of cotton,
pinched up the bloodless skin, and jabbed the needle home.

“All of it?” asked he, as he pushed down the ring.

“All!” answered Filhiol. “It’s a thundering dosage, but this is no time
for half measures!”

The ring came wholly down. Marsh withdrew the needle, took more cotton
and again rubbed the puncture. Then he felt Hal’s pulse, and very
grimly shook his head.

“Laura,” said he, “I think you’d better go. Your father, when he left,
told me to tell you he wanted you to go home.”

“I’m not afraid to see Hal die, if he’s got to die, any more than
I’m afraid to have him live. He’s mine, either way.” Her eyes were
wonderful. “I’m going to stay!”

“Well, as you wish.” Dr. Marsh turned back to his observation of the
patient.

Filhiol stood beside him. Wan and haggard he was, with deep lines of
exhaustion in his face. The old captain, seated now at the head of the
berth, was leaning close, listening to each slow gasp. Now and again
he passed a hand over his forehead, but always the sweat dampened it
once more.

“Any change?” he whispered hoarsely.

“Not yet,” Marsh answered.

“It couldn’t take effect so soon, anyhow,” cut in Filhiol. “It’ll be
ten minutes before it’s noticeable.”

Marsh curled a lip of scorn. What did this superannuated relic know?
What, save folly, could be expected of him?

The seconds dragged to minutes, and still Marsh kept his hold on the
boy’s wrist. A gust of wind puffed ashes out upon the hearth. Somewhere
at the back of the house a loose blind slammed. The tumult of the surf
shuddered the air.

“Oh, God! Can’t you tell yet?” whispered the captain. “Can’t you tell?”

“_Shhh!_” cautioned Filhiol. “Remember, you’re captain of this clipper.
You’ve got to hold your nerve!”

The clock on the mantel gave a little preliminary click, then began
striking. One by one it tolled out twelve musical notes, startlingly
loud in that tense silence.

Marsh shifted his feet, pursed his lips and leaned a little forward. He
drew out his watch.

“Humph!” he grunted.

“Better?” gulped Alpheus Briggs. “Better—or worse?”

“I’ll be damned!” exclaimed Marsh.

“What _is_ it?”

“Dr. Filhiol, you’ve done it!”

“Is he—dead?” breathed Laura.

“Two more beats per minute already!” Marsh answered. “And greater
amplitude. Captain Briggs, if nothing happens now, your boy will live!”

The old man tried to speak, but the words died on his white lips. His
eyes closed, his head dropped forward as he sat there, and his arms
fell limp. In his excess of joy, Captain Alpheus Briggs had fainted.

       *       *       *       *       *

By early dawn the tempest, blowing itself clean away with all its wrack
of cloud and rain, left a pure-washed sky of rose and blue over-arching
the wild-tossing sea. The sun burned its way in gold and crimson up
into a morning sprayed with spindrift from the surf-charges against the
granite coast. All along the north shore that wave army charged; and
the bell-buoy, wildly clanging, seemed to revel in furious exultation
over the departed storm.

The early rays flashed out billions of jewels from drops of water
trembling on the captain’s lawn. Through the eastward-looking
portholes of the cabin, long spears of sunlight penetrated, paling the
flames on the hearth. Those flames had been fed with wood surpassing
strange—with all the captain’s barbarous collection of bows and
arrows, blowpipes, spears and clubs, even to the brutal “Penang lawyer”
itself.

Before the fire, in a big chair, Ezra slept in absolute exhaustion.
Dr. Marsh was gone. By the berth Filhiol was still on guard with Laura
and the captain. All three were spent with the terrible vigil, but
happiness brooded over them, and none thought of rest or sleep.

In the berth, now with open eyes, lay Hal, his face white as the
pillow. With the conquering of the paralysis, some slight power of
motion had returned to him; but the extreme exhaustion of that heavy
loss of blood still gripped him. His eyes, though, moved from face to
face of the three watchers, and his blue lips were smiling.

A different look lay in those eyes than any that had ever been there,
even in the boy’s moments of greatest good humor. No longer was there
visible that latent expression of arrogance, of power, cruelty and
pride that at any moment had been wont to leap like a trapped beast
tearing its cage asunder. Hal’s look was now not merely weakness; it
took hold on gentleness and on humanity; it was the look of one who,
having always gloried in the right of might, had found it swiftly turn
to the bursting bubble of illusion.

This Hal now lying bandaged and inert in the old captain’s berth was
no longer the Hal of yesterday. That personality had died; another
had replaced it. Something had departed from the boy’s face, never to
return again. One would almost have said the eyes were those of madness
that had become suddenly sane—eyes from which a curse had all at once
been lifted, leaving them rational and calm.

Hal’s eyes drifted from the old doctor’s face to the captain’s, rested
a moment on Laura, and then wandered to the fireplace. Surprise came,
at sight of the bare bricks. The captain understood.

“They’re gone, Hal,” said he. “Burned up—they were all part and parcel
of the old life; and now that _that’s_ gone they can’t have any place
here. I know you’ll understand.”

Hal made an effort. His lips formed the words soundlessly: “I
understand.”

“He’ll do now,” said Filhiol. “I’m pretty far gone. I’ve got to get
a little rest or you’ll have two sick men on your hands. If you need
anything, call me, though. And don’t let him talk! That punctured lung
of his has got to rest!”

He got up heavily, patted Hal’s hand that lay outside the spread, and
hobbled toward the door.

The captain followed him, laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Doctor,” said he in a low tone, “if you knew what you’ve done for
me—if you could only understand—”

“None of that, sir!” interrupted the old man sternly. “A professional
duty, sir, nothing more!”

“A million times more than that! You’ve opened up a new heaven and a
new earth. You’ve given Hal back to me! I can see the change. It’s
real! The old book’s closed. The new one’s opened. You’ve saved a thing
infinitely more than life to me. You’ve saved my boy!”

Filhiol nodded.

“And you, too,” he murmured. “Yes, facts are facts. Still, it was
all in the line of duty. We’re neither of us too old to stand up to
duty, captain. I hope we’ll never be. Hal’s cured. There can’t be any
manner of doubt about _that_. The curse of unbridled strength is lifted
from him. He’s another man now. The powers of darkness have defeated
themselves. And the new dawn is breaking.”

He paused a moment, looking intently into the old captain’s face, then
turned again toward the door.

“I’m very tired now,” said he. “There’s nothing more I can do. Let me
go, captain.”

Alpheus Briggs clasped his hand in silence. For a long minute the hands
of the two old men gripped each other with eloquent force. Then Filhiol
hobbled through the door and disappeared.

The captain turned back to Laura. There were tears in his eyes as he
said:

“If there were more like Filhiol, what a different world this would be!”

“It _is_ a different world to-day, anyhow, from what it was yesterday,”
smiled Laura. She bent over Hal and smoothed back the heavy black hair
from his white forehead. “A different world for all of us, Hal!”

His hand moved slightly, but could not go to hers. She took it,
clasped it against her full, warm breast, and raised it to her mouth
and kissed it. She felt a slight, almost imperceptible pressure of his
fingers. Her smile grew deep with meaning, for in that instant visions
of the future were revealed.

The sunlight, strengthening, moved slowly across the wall whence now
the kris had been torn down. A ray touched the old captain’s white
hair, englorifying it. He laid his hand on Laura’s hand and Hal’s; and
in his eyes were tears, but now glad tears that washed away all bitter
memories.

From without, through a half-opened window that let sweet June drift
in, echoed sounds of life. Voices of village children sounded along
the hedge. Cartwheels rattled. The anvil, early at work, sent up its
musical _clank-clank-clank_ to Snug Haven.

From an elm near the broad porch, the sudden melody of a robin,
greeting the new day after the night of storm, echoed in hearts now
infinitely glad.


                                THE END



“STORM COUNTRY” BOOKS BY GRACE MILLER WHITE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list.


#JUDY OF ROGUES’ HARBOR#

Judy’s untutored ideas of God, her love of wild things, her faith in
life are quite as inspiring as those of Tess. Her faith and sincerity
catch at your heart strings. This book has all of the mystery and tense
action of the other Storm Country books.


#TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY#

It was as Tess, beautiful, wild, impetuous, that Mary Pickford made
her reputation as a motion picture actress. How love acts upon a
temperament such as hers—a temperament that makes a woman an angel or
an outcast, according to the character of the man she loves—is the
theme of the story.


#THE SECRET OF THE STORM COUNTRY#

The sequel to “Tess of the Storm Country,” with the same wild
background, with its half-gypsy life of the squatters—tempestuous,
passionate, brooding. Tess learns the “secret” of her birth and finds
happiness and love through her boundless faith in life.


#FROM THE VALLEY OF THE MISSING#

A haunting story with its scene laid near the country familiar to
readers of “Tess of the Storm Country.”


#ROSE O’ PARADISE#

“Jinny” Singleton, wild, lovely, lonely, but with a passionate yearning
for music, grows up in the house of Lafe Grandoken, a crippled cobbler
of the Storm Country. Her romance is full of power and glory and
tenderness.


_Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction_



JACK LONDON’S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list.


#JOHN BARLEYCORN.# Illustrated by H. T. Dunn.

This remarkable book is a record of the author’s own amazing
experiences. This big, brawny world rover, who has been acquainted
with alcohol from boyhood, comes out boldly against John Barleycorn.
It is a string of exciting adventures, yet it forcefully conveys an
unforgettable idea and makes a typical Jack London book.


#THE VALLEY OF THE MOON.# Frontispiece by George Harper.

The story opens in the city slums where Billy Roberts, teamster and
ex-prize fighter, and Saxon Brown, laundry worker, meet and love and
marry. They tramp from one end of California to the other, and in the
Valley of the Moon find the farm paradise that is to be their salvation.


#BURNING DAYLIGHT.# Four illustrations.

The story of an adventurer who went to Alaska and laid the foundations
of his fortune before the gold hunters arrived. Bringing his fortunes
to the States he is cheated out of it by a crowd of money kings, and
recovers it only at the muzzle of his gun. He then starts out as a
merciless exploiter on his own account. Finally he takes to drinking
and becomes a picture of degeneration. About this time he falls in love
with his stenographer and wins her heart but not her hand and then—but
read the story!


#A SON OF THE SUN.# Illustrated by A. O. Fischer and C. W. Ashley.

David Grief was once a light-haired, blue-eyed youth who came from
England to the South Seas in search of adventure. Tanned like a native
and as lithe as a tiger, he became a real son of the sun. The life
appealed to him and he remained and became very wealthy.


#THE CALL OF THE WILD.# Illustrations by Philip R. Goodwin and
Charles Livingston Bull. Decorations by Charles E. Hooper.

A book of dog adventures as exciting as any man’s exploits could be.
Here is excitement to stir the blood and here is picturesque color to
transport the reader to primitive scenes.


#THE SEA WOLF.# Illustrated by W. J. Aylward.

Told by a man whom Fate suddenly swings from his fastidious life into
the power of the brutal captain of a sealing schooner. A novel of
adventure warmed by a beautiful love episode that every reader will
hail with delight.


#WHITE FANG.# Illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull.

“White Fang” is part dog, part wolf and all brute, living in the frozen
north; he gradually comes under the spell of man’s companionship, and
surrenders all at the last in a fight with a bull dog. Thereafter he is
man’s loving slave.


                GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



                               FOOTNOTE:

[1] This chant, freely translated, bespeaks the horror of the Malay at
any admixture with a foreigner, thus: “Let the sparrow mate with but
the sparrow only, and the parrot with the parrot only. While a flower
is pleasing to man, he wears it. When it fades, man throws it away.”



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

Obvious errors were corrected.





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