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Title: Madame Gilbert's Cannibal
Author: Copplestone, Bennet
Language: English
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MADAME GILBERT'S CANNIBAL


      *      *      *      *      *      *

By BENNET COPPLESTONE

THE LOST NAVAL PAPERS
THE LAST OF THE GRENVILLES
JITNY AND THE BOYS
THE SILENT WATCHERS

E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

      *      *      *      *      *      *


MADAME GILBERT'S CANNIBAL

by

BENNET COPPLESTONE

Author of "The Lost Naval Papers," etc.



[Illustration: Logo]

New York
E. P. Dutton & Company
681 Fifth Avenue

Copyright, 1920
By E. P. Dutton & Company

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                   PAGE
    I. HIS LORDSHIP                          1

   II. MADAME TAKES CHARGE                  19

  III. THE "HUMMING TOP"                    35

   IV. IN THE SOUTH SEAS                    50

    V. WILLATOPY: PILOT                     60

   VI. A NIGHT IN THE STRAITS               79

  VII. FATHER AND SON                       94

 VIII. TOPS ISLAND                         112

   IX. WILLATOPY: SPORTSMAN                125

    X. THE COMING OF THE HEDGE LAWYER      155

   XI. THE CAMPAIGN OPENS                  167

  XII. THE SAILING OF THE YAWL             183

 XIII. WHITE BLOOD                         200

  XIV. MARIE LAMBERT                       215

   XV. TURTLE                              229

  XVI. WILLATOPY SPURNS HIS GODS           246

 XVII. FAREWELL TO TOPS ISLAND             263

XVIII. THE HAND OF MADAME GILBERT          279

  XIX. IN THE STRAITS OF SUNDA             296

   XX. MADAME REFUSES THE "HUMMING TOP"    304



MADAME GILBERT'S CANNIBAL



CHAPTER I

HIS LORDSHIP


Madame Gilbert's war service ended when Austria fell out. She had been
in Italy busied with those obscure intrigues for the confounding of an
enemy which are excused, and dignified, as patriotic propaganda. She is
satisfied that on the Italian Front she, and those who worked with her,
really won the war.

The war satisfactorily won, Madame Gilbert sped home to revel in the
first holiday which she had known since August, 1914. She always seems
to travel with fewer restrictions and at greater speed than any except
Prime Ministers and commanding Generals. In Italy she is an Italian and
in France a Frenchwoman--a dazzling Italian and a very winning
Frenchwoman. The police of both countries make smooth her path with
their humble bodies upon which Madame is graciously pleased to trample.
"I never trouble much about passports or credentials," says she, "though
I carry them just as I do my .25 automatic pistol; in practice I find
that I need draw my papers as rarely as I draw my gun. Most of the
police and officials who have seen me once know me when I come again,
and rush to my assistance." She is never grateful for service. I do not
believe she knows the sentiment of gratitude. A poor man renders her aid
in defiance of regulations, and maybe at the risk of his neck; she
smiles upon him, and the debt is instantly discharged. He is dismissed
until perchance Madame may again have occasion for his devotion. Then
she reveals the royal accomplishment of never forgetting a face. Imagine
a harassed, weary _chef du train_, before whose official unseeing eyes
travellers flit like figures on a cinema screen, imagine such a one
addressed by name and rank by the most beautiful and gracious of mortal
women, by a woman who remembers all those little family confidences
which he had poured into her sympathetic ears some twelve months before,
by a woman who enquires sweetly after his good wife--using her pet
name--laments that the brave son--also accurately named--is still
missing beyond those impenetrable Boche lines. Will not the _chef du
train_, cooed over thus and softly patted as one pats butter, break
every French rule the most iron-bound to speed Madame upon her way? Of
course he will. In war time, as in peace time, that is the royal manner
of Madame Gilbert. She does not travel; she makes a progress.

Madame came home after the armistice with Austria, and, being discharged
of liability to the propagandist headquarters, found herself a free and
idle woman. The first time for more than four years.

She had a little money from her late husband (the real one), and had
been lavishly paid for her services during the war. War prices in London
seemed quite moderate to her after the extortions of France and Italy.
She re-occupied her old rooms near Shaftesbury Avenue--and incidentally
made homeless a pair of exiled Belgians--and fed after the fashion that
she loved in the restaurants of Soho. Madame enjoyed her food. She
always scoffed at Beauty Specialists. "Look at me," she would say. "Look
closely at my skin, at my hair, at my teeth if you like. What you see is
God's gift improved by exact care for my health. I do physical exercises
for twenty minutes every night and morning. I plunge all over into cold
water whenever I can get together enough to cover me, and I eat and
drink whatever I like. I shall go on living for just as long as I am
beautiful and healthy. When I have to think of my digestion or of the
colour of my skin, I shall say Good-bye and go West in a dream of
morphia." Superficially, Madame is a Roman Catholic; at heart she is a
Greek Pagan.

It was at La Grande Patisserie Belge that Madame stumbled across the
lawyer who was fated to introduce her to the Cannibal of whom she told
me in Whitehall.

It was a melancholy afternoon in January, peace had not brought
plenty--especially of coal--and Madame was fortifying herself against
the damp chills of London by long draughts of the hottest coffee and the
sweetest and stickiest confectionery which even she could relish. About
six feet distant, on what one may describe as her port quarter, sat a
middle-aged Englishman whose bagging clothes showed that war rations
had dealt sorely with his once ample person. Madame, who without turning
her head examined him in critical detail, judged that his loss in weight
was three stone. He had the clean, shaven face and alert aspect of a
lawyer or doctor. In fancied security a little to the left and rear of
Madame Gilbert the stranger stared openly at her cheek and ear and the
coils of bright copper hair. Madame knew that he was watching her, and
rather liked the scrutiny. She had recognized him at once, and would
have been slightly humiliated if he had failed to be interested in her.
It is true that she had met him but once before in her life, and that
some four years since, but as Madame had condescended to recollect
him--I have said that her memory for faces was royal--a failure on his
part to remember her would have been an offence unpardonable.

Madame continued to munch sweet stuff, and the man, his tea completed,
rose, paid his bill, and then passed slowly in front of her. He needed
encouragement before he would speak. So Madame gave it, a quick look and
a smile of invitation. He bowed.

"Have I not the honour to meet again the Signora Guilberti?" said he.

"The Signora Guilberti," assented Madame, "or Madame Guilbert, or Madame
Gilbert, as rendered by the rough English tongue. I have stooped to
anglicise my name," she went on, "though I hate the clipped English
version." She indicated a chair, and the lawyer--he was a lawyer--sat
down.

"Is it possible that Madame honours me with remembrance?"

"Let me place you," said she, happy in the display of her
accomplishments, "and don't seek to guide my memory. It was in the
Spring of 1915, at a reception in the garden of Devonshire House. You
were in attendance upon Her Majesty the Queen-Mother of Portugal. There
were present representatives of the Italian Red Cross, for Italy, the
land of my late husband, had ranged herself with the Allies. You are a
lawyer of the _haute noblesse_. Your clients are peers and princes, of
old princes in exile and of new peers in possession. I recall you most
distinctly, though at that time, my poor friend, you were not a little
portly, and now you are a man shrunken."

"And my name?" he asked, flattered that a beautiful woman should recall
him so distinctly.

"It is a strange name--Gatepath. An old English name redolent of the
soil. Roger Gatepath. Your firm bears no prefix of initials and no
suffix of company. You call yourselves Gatepaths. Just Gatepaths, as
though your status were territorial."

He crowed with pleasure. By an exercise in memory, Madame Gilbert had
tied him to her chariot wheels.

"Right!" cried he. "Right in every particular. You are the most
wonderful of women. For two minutes I spoke with you, and that was
nearly four years ago. I was one of a large party, an insignificant
lawyer lost in a dazzling company of titles. Yet you have remembered."

Madame left the sense of flattery to soak in. She did not spoil the
impression that she had made by explaining that she would have
remembered a lackey with just the same accuracy.

"And you, Madame?" he asked. "Have you been all these years doing war
work with the Italian Red Cross? The years have passed and left no mark
upon your face and figure. I, who comfortably filled out my clothes, am
shrunken, yet time and sorrow have spared you."

"Nevertheless, I have been pretty hard at work," said Madame briskly. "I
was present at that party ostensibly as an official of the Italian Red
Cross. In fact I was there to see that no harm befell the Royal
Personages who were in my charge. While we moved about those pleasant
grounds, chatting and sipping tea, I was watching, watching. And my hand
was never far from the butt of the Webley automatic which, slung from my
waist, was hidden in a bag of silk."

"Heavens!" he cried out. "You are...."

"Hush," interposed Madame. "A lawyer and a Gatepath should be more
discreet. The war is over, and I can tell you now that I fought every
minute of it in the Secret Service, the Civil branch. I was the head
woman, the bright particular star, in Dawson's Secret Corps."

"Is it discreet to tell me this?" he asked, countering her reproof of a
moment earlier.

She smiled rather wickedly. "Are you not a lawyer and a Gatepath? And
can one not tell anything to a lawyer and a Gatepath? Besides, I have
sent in my resignation, and am now a free woman. It has been a good
time, a very good time. I have fought devils and mastered devils in
England and France and Italy for four long years, and now I would rest.
You say that time and sorrow have spared me. Yet I have known both time
and sorrow. Have I not lost...."

He broke into a babble of apologies. "I did not know.... I did not
realise...."

She waved a hand, and he fell silent. "I do not wear the trappings of
woe, for though I am eternally widowed, I glory in my loss. It was in
the rearguard at Caporetto, when all less gallant souls had fled, that
my Guilberti fell."

Of course from that moment Gatepath was her slave. She had flattered him
and humbugged him as she flattered and humbugged all of us. Madame had
no designs against Gatepath, yet she could not forbear to triumph over
him. "One never knows," she said, "when one may need a devoted friend,
and need him badly. I always look forward."

Two or three weeks later Madame found a letter at her club signed
"Gatepaths." It was the club in Dover Street with those steep steps down
which the members tumble helplessly in frosty weather. Madame calls it
"The Club of Falling Women."

It appears that Gatepath, hunting for an adviser of ripe wisdom, had
sought out the Chief of Dawson and lately of Madame, and laid bare his
pressing troubles. The Chief is one of those rare men to whom all his
friends, and they are as the stars in number, go seeking counsel in
their crimes and follies. Nothing shocks him, nothing surprises him. And
from the depths of his wise, humorous, sympathetic mind, he will almost
always draw waters of comfort. Suppose, for example, one had slain a man
and urgently sought to dispose of the corpse--a not uncommon problem in
crowded cities--to whom could one more profitably turn than to the
Chief of His Majesty's Detective Service? Or if, in a passing fit of
absence of mind, one had wedded three wives, and the junior in rank
began to suspect the existence of one or more seniors; do we not all
suffer from lapses of memory? One does not put these problems before the
Chief as one's own--there is a decent convention in these matters--but,
of course, he knows. To know all is to pardon all, and there is very
little that the Chief does not know about you or me.

The family solicitor of peers and princes poured into the Chief's ear
the fantastic cause of his present distresses. He delivered himself of
the story in all seriousness, for it was dreadfully serious to him.
Never in all his experience, and in that of his century-old firm, had
anything so dreadfully serious occurred. The Chief controlled himself
until the end was reached, and then exploded in a yell of laughter.

"It is nothing to laugh at," grumbled Gatepath.

"Not for you, perhaps. But to my mind the situation is gorgeous. Has
this man the legal right of succession?"

"Beyond a doubt," groaned Gatepath. "His father saw to that."

"Then why not leave matters to take their legal course?" asked the
Chief, still laughing. "The House of Lords will be the better for a
shock. They are a dull lot. And your lively friend will administer the
shock all right."

Roger Gatepath spread out his hands in agony. "But it is one of the
oldest peerages in the country, as old almost as the Barony of Arundel.
Can't you see how frightful it will be for the family if this--this
person--is allowed to succeed?"

"There is no question of allowing him. If he is the legal heir he must
succeed. The family must just put him in their pipe and smoke him. What
else can they do?"

"I thought that you, with all your experience of the South, might
suggest something. Would it not be possible to buy the man off--or might
he not----"

"How can you buy him off when he is the heir? You people are nothing but
trustees, who must account to him for every penny. If he claims the
peerage and estates, you must accept him. You admit that legally he is
the heir. I can see what is in your mind, but it won't do, Gatepath, it
won't do. If you try any hanky-panky, that pretty neck of yours will
find itself in a hempen collar. Now if it was only a case for judicious
kidnapping----"

Gatepath looked around anxiously. The men were alone in a recess of the
club smoking-room. "Yes," he whispered eagerly. "Yes, go on."

"I shall not do anything of the sort. You are a nice sort of family
solicitor, Gatepath. Apart from the personal danger of playing tricks,
can't you see that your interest lies with the bouncing heir, not with
the snuffy old family? Don't be an ass. Bring him home, give the House
of Lords the sensation of their placid lives, and let the good old
British public enjoy a week of laughter. How they will bellow with joy.
And the newspapers! I can see, Gatepath, that your agreeable young heir
is going to be the Success of the Season."

"You are not very helpful," groaned Gatepath. "There must be a
solution; there must be some way of shielding the Family from this
frightful humiliation."

The interview with the Chief was a complete failure, and Gatepath parted
from his old friend both hurt and angry. He had not expected ribald
laughter in so grave a social crisis. The Chief must be a Radical, a
Socialist, even a Bolshevik, one empty of all decent political
principles.

It was on his way home that Gatepath bethought him of Madame Gilbert.
She, that beautiful, loyal-hearted woman, would not laugh. He remembered
the glitter of unshed tears in the violet eyes when she had bade him
farewell. It was his tactless hand upon the open wound of Caporetto
which had aroused those tears. He remembered also that Madame was free,
and that she had been trained to do the ruthless, unscrupulous work of
the Secret Service. She did not look either ruthless or unscrupulous,
and it was in a strictly professional sense that Gatepath connected her
with these unfeminine attributes. In his troubles Gatepath needed advice
and sympathy, and Madame Gilbert, to his mind, filled the double bill. I
do not know how far Gatepath seriously expected Madame to resolve his
appalling difficulties. I suspect that he, a young bachelor of fifty or
so, was glad of any excuse to persuade Madame to sit beside him and hold
his hand. At any rate he did not know, now that the Chief had failed
him, any man or any woman who was more likely than Madame to be sweetly
helpful.

When Madame read the formal typewritten communication signed "Gatepaths"
she grinned. It did not surprise her that a recent victim should seek
the excuse of urgent business to gain access to her presence. The letter
asked for an appointment at a time and place agreeable to her
convenience. It jumped with her bizarre humour to suggest Charing Cross
Station at two o'clock in the morning, but ultimately she rang up Roger
on the telephone, and fixed an hour in the forenoon at his own office in
Lincoln's Inn Fields. To Charing Cross Station at two o'clock in the
morning she would have gleefully gone in the long black cloak and velvet
mask of a conspirator, but for the interview in Lincoln's Inn Fields she
was pleased to cast herself in the part of a woman of business, severe,
solemn business. Gatepath's welcome was nervous; he scarcely recognised
in the solemnly severe woman of business the bereaved widow of La Grande
Patisserie Beige. Madame seated herself, spread out her wide sombre
skirts, and prepared to listen to the urgencies which had impelled the
adviser of peers and princes to seek her cooperation.

Gatepath got to work at once. He saw that Madame expected value for her
complaisance, and he gave it in full measure.

"You will have heard, Madame, of the family of Toppys, pronounced Tops.
Like other famous families of Devon when the Conqueror came they were at
home. In the twelfth century they were the recognised holders of the
Barony of Topsham, a village and manor on the River Exe. Topsham means
the Home of Toppys, pronounced Tops. The title fell into abeyance for a
couple of centuries, and the Manor of Topsham has long since passed to
the Courtenays. But her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth revived the
ancient barony. Ever since then, for three hundred and fifty years, the
Head of the Family of Toppys has been Baron of Topsham. We"--Gatepath,
in his excited interest, identified himself with the famous family of
Toppys, pronounced Tops--"we are allowed to date the peerage from the
original writ of summons, and the Lord Topsham whose lamented death
occurred last year was the Twenty-Seventh Baron. I wish you to
appreciate the almost unapproachable lineage of this family upon whom
has fallen a disaster without parallel in history. The Twenty-Seventh
Baron is dead; his successor will be the twenty-eighth. Have you got
that?"

"I have," said Madame sweetly. She longed to add "Audited and found
correct." It would sound splendidly businesslike, but might give offence
as frivolous.

"Some twenty years ago one of the brothers of the late Lord Topsham left
this country, and settled on an island in the Torres Straits. It was an
extraordinary thing to do for one who was neither a wastrel nor a
criminal. The Hon. William Toppys was neither. My father, who knew him
well, has told me that he was only mad. To be mad is a misadventure
which may overtake the most cautious of us--ancient Houses are prone to
develop a reputable and characteristic species of insanity--but to
indulge an individual madness to the disgrace of one's Family is a
crime. In the legal and conventional sense the Hon. William Toppys was
not a criminal, yet he committed the worst of crimes against his ancient
and glorious lineage." The body of Roger Gatepath swelled with wrath
until it almost filled his pre-war clothes.

Madame longed to say "Good old Bill," but again refrained. The story was
beginning to amuse her.

"The Hon. William Toppys settled upon an island in the Torres Straits,
and became what is called locally a beachcomber. This degradation was
not forced upon him by poverty. He was not wealthy, but from his late
mother he derived a competence--some few hundreds of pounds a year. We
acted for his trustees, and regularly remitted his dividends to a bank
in Thursday Island. Perhaps, Madame, it will assist you if I ring for an
atlas."

"Do not trouble," said Madame sweetly. "I have a rough working
acquaintance with geography. Thursday Island is a little to the north of
Queensland. It is a centre for pearl fishing. That is why I remember the
place."

"The Hon. William Toppys built himself a hut on a small islet in the
Straits--and married a native woman. A Melanesian woman."

"Married?" enquired Madame. "How? Native fashion, _sans ceremonie_?"

"Unhappily, no. His marriage was celebrated and registered at the
Melanesian Mission's station on Thursday Island. It was--I repeat
unhappily--as legal a contract as your own marriage."

"You shock me," said Madame primly, though she struggled against
laughter. "Would you have had the Hon. William Toppys live--in sin--with
a native woman?"

"I would," shouted Gatepath.

Madame covered her face with her hands and her silks--her businesslike
silks--rustled with emotion.

"It pains me to express sentiments which you must regard as
immoral"--the silks went on rustling--"but I must look at that fatal
marriage from the point of view, the just point of view, of the ancient
family of Toppys."

"Pronounced Tops," whispered Madame, as she came up to breathe.

"The Hon. William Toppys sent us word of his marriage. That was nearly
twenty years ago. He also, with unparalleled effrontery, communicated to
his brother, the late Lord Topsham, the dates of birth of his son and
his two daughters. Those births were all registered in due form at
Thursday Island. If the Hon. William Toppys had designed to humiliate,
to outrage, the most ancient and honourable Family in Devon--save only
that of the Courtenays--he could not have gone about the business more
thoroughly or systematically. He is dead. He died in 1912. But I cannot
speak good of the dead. He committed a crime, a series of crimes. He
lawfully married a Melanesian woman and he lawfully begat a son and
heir!"

"What about the two daughters?" whispered Madame in throes of
suffocation.

"The daughters don't matter," said Gatepath. "He could have had a dozen
if he pleased. The Barony of Topsham descends to heirs male, not to
heirs general."

At this point Madame fell from grace. It had become obvious to one less
alert than she that the lawfully begotten son of the Hon. William Toppys
(pronounced Tops), and the Melanesian wife, was the half-caste
Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham, and that the ancient Family of Toppys
was wild about it. So was Gatepath--wild, furious. He gesticulated, his
cheeks puffed out. In him was embodied, for Madame to see and laugh
over, all the fury of all the Toppyses, male and female. She could not
help but laugh--in peals, till the tears came.

Roger Gatepath groaned. "I did think that you, Madame, would refrain
from ribaldry. Consider the position of my clients. This horror that is
come upon them is not an occasion for laughter."

"I am really awfully sorry," gasped Madame, wiping her eyes. "It must be
dreadful for you all. But to a stranger like me, it is frightfully
funny."

"You won't think it funny when you hear the rest of my story," growled
Gatepath. "But perhaps I had better stop."

"Oh! please don't. I am immensely interested, and thrilled. I want to
hear every word. You tell the story so splendidly, Mr. Gatepath, that I
should be wild if you stopped now."

Gatepath continued. The sacred fire of vicarious family indignation had
been somewhat abated by Madame's laughter, but he warmed up as he
proceeded. He was convinced that the gracious Madame Gilbert would share
his horror when the tale reached its tragic close. "You may ask how,
after 350 years of direct succession, the ancient and honourable Family
of Toppys should have failed of heirs--except this half-caste spawn of a
Melanesian savage. It is the war that has brought this disaster upon us.
The only son of the late Lord Topsham was killed at Ypres early in the
war. The two sons of the second brother were in the Flying Corps, and
fell with so many other honourable gentlemen in the spring of 1918. Both
were killed within a week. Their death was a blow from which Lord
Topsham never recovered. His own brothers had both gone before, and the
casualties of war had transferred the succession to that coffee-coloured
monster in the Torres Straits. Lord Topsham just withered away. I
ventured to urge a second marriage, but his lordship had no heart to
struggle. Rather than give heirship to the beachcomber's brat I would
have married a housemaid by special licence and begat a son though I
never lived to see him born."

"It might have been a useless daughter," murmured Madame unkindly.

Gatepath growled.

Madame Gilbert now pulled herself together. Her ribald laughter had
sorely weakened her influence over the solicitor of peers and princes,
and she felt impelled to regain it. It was now her role to become
sympathetically helpful.

"Are you sure, Mr. Gatepath, that you do not make this grievous affair
worse by exaggerating it? The Hon. William Toppys was an English
gentleman. He went in for the simple life as a beachcomber with a
Melanesian wife, but he must have remained a gentleman by instinct. His
son may not be so very brown--some half-castes are almost white--and has
probably, almost surely, been brought up as a gentleman. Why not make
the best of the situation, bring him home, and let me take the boy in
hand? I will make of him a cavalier almost worthy to belong to the
ancient House of Toppys."

"It is impossible," said Gatepath, and his air was that of Sir Henry
Irving in _Macbeth_. "I have seen the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham
with my own eyes."

"That was very sporting of you," cried Madame in admiration. "Did you go
out all alone to the Torres Straits and beard the lion in his den?"

"I went, and I went alone. It was a fearful journey. The war was still
raging, and it strained all the influence of Gatepaths to secure me a
passage to America in a returning troopship. Thence I travelled to San
Francisco, got a Japanese steamer to Yokohama, another Japanese steamer
to Singapore, and yet another--a small one which rolled abominably--to
Thursday Island. I cannot tell you, without reference to my diary, how
many weeks and months I was tossed about the loathsome deep. The
schooner from Thursday Island to the haunt of the late Hon. William
Toppys was the worst of my tortures. It was crammed with nude men and
women of all colours from pale olive to dark walnut, and it smelt--like
a hogshead of rancid fat. The South Sea Islands are a romantic fraud,
Madame. They reek to Heaven, and brew so many different brands of stinks
that one can never get acclimated. Can you wonder that I, who once was
well favoured in person, am now an old man, shrunken, wizened into
premature senility before my time? I arrived at my journey's end, and
there, Madame, I saw the young man whom you so very kindly propose to
take in hand and make a cavalier almost worthy of the House of Toppys.
I saw his lordship with my own eyes."

"And was he so very impossible?" asked Madame, for the solicitor of the
Toppyses had stopped, struck dumb by his emotion.

"Impossible!" he shrieked. "His lordship, the Twenty-Eighth Baron of
Topsham, is a naked Cannibal running about the beach with a spear."



CHAPTER II

MADAME TAKES CHARGE


It is fortunate that Madame Gilbert had already indulged her indecent
sense of humour. Had she exploded at this tragic moment I should have
been robbed of my story. I am sure from what I know of Roger Gatepath
that he would have thrust her shrieking from his room, and written her
off for ever as unworthy to be associated with the ancient and still
exalted House of Toppys. She shook, gurgled desperately for an instant,
and then composed her features to a becoming gravity. It was a masterly
effort for one with her vivid imagination. She has told me that before
her, plain to see, she visualised the heir of the Barony of Topsham, a
broad, grinning, coffee-coloured face rising above the crimson and
ermine robes of a peer of England. In one hand he held the patent of his
barony, in the other a stabbing spear. It was a vision gorgeous.... Yet
with this figure of fun before her inward eyes she choked down her
laughter. It was an heroic effort.

Roger Gatepath lay back in his chair, rent and exhausted by professional
suffering. Madame whipped out her case and offered one of those
favourite Russian cigarettes from which even the Bolshevists could not
bereave her. Gatepath grabbed and smoked. He would have grabbed and
smoked opium, hashish, anything which could for an instant unravel the
tangled skein of care.

"You are a great woman, Madame," he murmured; "not even your cigarettes
are in the least like anyone else's. Please give me another."

"Now," said Madame briskly, when the calm of deep narcotic satisfaction
had smoothed out the lawyer's face, "I want to hear lots more. I am
intrigued, and your story has got no farther than a thunderous
beginning."

"It has gone no farther, as yet," said he, "and can go no farther until
the half-caste savage of the Torres Straits learns of his monstrous
heirship."

"So you travelled fifteen thousand miles in the crisis of war, when all
men and women within reach of a newspaper thrilled with alternate hope
and fear, just to look once at the Twenty-Eighth Baron Topsham and then
to return. Months of hardship going out, and months more of hardship
coming back. Just to look once without speaking. You are a remarkable
man, Mr. Gatepath. I should, at least, have made his intimate
acquaintance. He may be less of a savage Cannibal than he looks."

"I went to the hut of the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys," explained the
lawyer. "It is, I am informed, a high-class hut, thatched on walls and
roof with leaves of sago palm. No aristocrat of the South Seas had ever
a finer or more luxurious residence. Yet it is a hut of one room in
which the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys, her two daughters, and her
son--known to the world of his little island as 'Willatopy'--live, eat,
and sleep, the four of them indifferent to the most primitive dictates
of decency. At the back is constructed a cookhouse. Neither edifice
boasts a chimney. The Family have resided for years in this loathsome
hovel unattended by the humblest of menials. The Right Honourable Lord
Topsham"--driven by his legal conscience, Gatepath never withheld from
the Heir his lawful title--"The Right Honourable Lord Topsham has not
even a black footboy."

Madame gurgled. "He has small occasion for a valet, I expect."

Gatepath groaned. "A bootlace about his middle, and a few feathers stuck
in his frizzy hair, seemed to constitute his entire toilet."

"It is evident," observed Madame, "that the late beachcomber, the Hon.
William Toppys, was a very thorough artist. Having determined upon the
simple life, he never looked back. His wife remained a native, his son
and daughters were brought up in exact accordance with native model. We
can dismiss the one living and sleeping room and the absence of menials
as in no sense derogatory to the dignity of Toppys. Have you no worse to
tell of the Family than that?"

Gatepath wriggled uneasily. "His Lordship," muttered he, after a
blushing pause--Madame was privileged to see a lawyer blush--"did me the
honour to prod me with his spear, in the middle of my back."

"Wherefor this outrage?"

"I ventured to inform his honourable mother, who stood outside the hut,
that the day was fine."

"And he misdoubted your intentions?" Madame let herself go for a moment
and laughed, that rippling laugh which plays on the hearts of her
victims like flame on wax. "A widow, I have heard, is in little respect
in the South Seas, and the Heir of Toppys drew cold iron in defence of
his mother, so scandalously accosted by a forward stranger. Come, come,
Mr. Gatepath, this incident suggests no savagery. It may indicate that
the heart of the boy is white after all."

"He prodded me in the back, he pursued me to my boat, and would
doubtless have killed and eaten my body had I not fled with incredible
speed. I have never run so fast since I won the hundred yards sprint for
Cambridge at the Queen's Club."

"You and the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys must have been deeply absorbed in
the beauties of the weather when the Cannibal with his spear broke in
upon the pretty conversation."

"On my honour I did but speak with her for a minute. She is light of
colour and of a countenance not disagreeable. Her English is not fluent,
yet she speaks it with intelligence and has the language of social
courtesy. Her accent too is not unpleasant, she softens the hard English
consonants, and gives full tone value to the rich English vowels."

"It seems to have been a very fine day, and taken a lot of talking
about," said Madame drily.

"I wanted to discover why the Hon. William Toppys had married the woman,
and why he made so certain of the proofs of his marriage."

"Quite so. And while engaged upon your researches, discovered that the
Hon. William Toppys was not so very mad after all?"

"No," declared the lawyer stoutly. "He was a mad and wicked criminal to
marry her. But I could realise that some twenty years earlier, in the
first bloom of her pale brown beauty, the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys was
worth the sacrifice of any man's moral scruples. I could, as a
youngster, have loved her myself. But then I should never have made the
hideous, the ghastly blunder of marrying her--except in native fashion."

"We progress," said Madame, laughing again. "The mother of the Cannibal
has found favour in your sight, and the Cannibal ran you down to the
boat lest you should find favour in hers. And how long, pray, was this
island idyll in the playing?"

"I was less than half-an-hour on the island."

"So you came, saw, and conquered all within half-an-hour. And then there
broke in the heir of Toppys with his most intrusive spear. It was
exceedingly tactless of him. A widow, especially a South Sea widow,
would not have tarried long in the wooing. I can understand now that
your feelings towards the heir must be tempestuous. A journey of fifteen
thousand miles, a talk for less than half-an-hour with a pale brown
widow of fascinating accent and aspect. Then the crushing arrival of the
too jealous son, the rending asunder of scarce joined hearts, the flight
to the boat without a moment of farewell, and--fifteen thousand weary
miles of return. In your place, Mr. Gatepath, I should whole-heartedly
loathe that doubly inconvenient son."

"You are pleased to be witty at my expense, Madame Gilbert," grumbled
Gatepath. "And we wander sadly from the purpose of the interview with
which you have honoured me this morning. That was to talk about the
Cannibal, and not about the Cannibal's mother."

"Proceed," said Madame, lying back in her chair, and lighting yet
another cigarette. "I am dying to make his further acquaintance."

"You are an astute woman, Madame Gilbert, and will already have grasped
that the Trustees of the settled estates of the Barony of Topsham--of
whom I am the legal adviser--are in a position profoundly embarrassing.
They don't know what the devil to do, and I don't know what the devil of
advice to give. Our strictly legal duty is beyond doubt. We should
notify the heir of his succession, and take the necessary steps to have
him seised of his ancestral lands and revenues. They are not great
although they represent a fair competence, even in these days of
exorbitant estate duties. There are wealthy members of the Family of
Toppys engaged in business pursuits, but they, though deeply interested,
are not at present in the direct line of succession. Some eight months
have passed since Lord Topsham died, and no steps have been taken to
acquaint the Twenty-Eighth Baron of his--of his damnable ill-fortune. We
ought to have moved long since, we must move soon, yet how, and in what
direction, can we move? I went to the Torres Straits to spy out the land
and to consider a course of action. I have returned baffled. The
Trustees are baffled. The Family of Toppys is baffled. We cannot delay
much longer. The Family of Toppys is of the highest distinction, the
Barony of Topsham is a part of the National history. A failure on the
part of the Trustees to produce an heir cannot pass unnoticed. There are
in my profession many unscrupulous practitioners, hedge lawyers, who
would greedily wallow in the chance of hunting up an heir and securing
his interest and business for themselves. The Trustees cannot permit
this; Gatepaths cannot permit this. It were better that my firm should
act for a cannibal lordship than that he should be the helpless prey of
a legal pirate. And yet if Gatepaths did what is their undoubted
duty--namely, notified the heir and represented him--they would
infallibly lose the valuable, the very valuable, connections of all the
other members of the family. We are in a horrid quandary. We cannot let
slip from among our clients the Baron of Topsham, and we cannot let slip
the other members, some of them very wealthy, of the House of Toppys.
But how to keep both passes understanding. I have mentioned the risk,
and it is no small risk, lest some hedge lawyer should get his nose upon
the trail of His Cannibal Lordship of the Torres Straits. There is
another risk which will become more insistent with every month of delay.
The Twenty-Eighth Baron is nineteen years old, an age of full virile
maturity in the South Sea. He may marry any day some native woman, and
raise, with the utmost celerity, a crop of savage heirs to his body. If,
at the instigation of his mother, he follows the detestable practice of
his late father, the marriage will be legal by our law, and the spawn of
it legitimate. Should this further disaster have time to mature--and
nothing is more certain of consummation in a minimum of time--the
coffee-coloured Cannibal line of Toppys will be impregnably entrenched.
Nothing but a special Act of Parliament could bomb it out, and in these
days of revolutionary socialism, the House of Commons would never pass a
Disabling Act. The ribald cynicism of many Members would lead them to
enjoy the gross humiliation of the Upper Chamber. We can look for no
help from Parliament; we must look to our own brains and hands. I have
gone to the Torres Straits and failed. It does not follow that Madame
Gilbert would also fail."

"Wait a bit," quoth Madame. "I must know a lot more and see a lot more
before I take any hand in this business. I confess frankly that my
sympathies lean towards the Cannibal. He, the undoubted heir of an
ancient family, is without friends in a far island. He is the son of his
father, and, despite his skin, must be half white in blood. He may be
more than half white in heart and brain. What have you against him
except the rich Melanesian infusion in his veins? Nothing except the
exquisite simplicity of his dress--you said, I recall, that he wore a
bootlace about his middle and adorned his frizzy hair with feathers.
Your visit was on the edge of the Southern summer at a season when even
you or I would gladly travel light in clothing. I feel that a feather
headdress and a petticoat of stripped banana leaves would become me
mightily. Our Mother Eve was red golden like me and must have shone
gloriously in a fig-leaf apron. If the Twenty-Eighth Baron Topsham were
really a savage cannibal, in fact as well as by birth, I might perhaps
share your wrath and agitation. But at present I am frankly on his side.
His appearance in the House of Lords would be startling, but the old
dears would be the better for a shock. So would London society. I
confess that I look forward to his succession with intense amusement. It
would be perfectly lovely, _une bizarrerie superbe_."

"You will excuse my inability to appreciate your levity," growled
Gatepath.

"That is why you are baffled by this little domestic problem," said
Madame. "If you and the portentous Family of Toppys had enough of humour
to take yourselves less seriously, you would perceive that all the world
will laugh when the disclosure comes. It is more agreeable to laugh with
the world than to be laughed at by it. You think that your retainers,
male and female, discreetly solemn in your presence, are desolated by
the misfortunes of the family. Believe me when I tell you that they are
howling with derision. Your men-servants and your maid-servants within
your gates are roaring together over the Family humiliation. Your ox and
your ass, and your old family coach-horse are gaping at you. Your
chauffeur, educated maybe in a modern Radical school of motoring, is
inclined by your misfortunes towards belief in a righteous Providence.
Even your Rolls-Royce forgets its aristocratic ghostly calm and gurgles.
Make up your ancient Toppys' minds, Mr. Gatepath, that no man or woman
in this modern world cares a depreciated tuppence for the woes of an
historic peerage. You and your Family of Toppys suffer from distorted
vision. Laugh, man, laugh, and recover some sense of perspective. Put
yourself outside this museum of mouldy antiquities, of which you are the
hereditary legal adviser, and regard them for a moment from a point of
detachment. Have you got that? Now laugh."

But the gloom upon the countenance of Gatepath remained unbroken. It was
less the embarrassments of Toppys that obsessed him than the predicament
into which his firm had drifted. If he stood by the Heir he lost the
business of Toppys; if he stood by the Family he resigned the Heir to
some intrusive perspicuous supplanter. The firm would get left either
way. It is not surprising that Roger Gatepath and humour had become
strangers.

The conspirators sat speechless for the space of two minutes, which is a
long, long time of silence between Western people. It was Madame, of
course, who broke the pause of contemplation.

"Who will benefit?" asked she suddenly.

"I don't understand," muttered Gatepath.

"I am not good to play with," said Madame, rather sternly. "Not even
Dawson, not even his great Chief, may play tricks with Madame Gilbert.
And they know it. Come, Mr. Gatepath. You did not summon me here to tell
a pleasing story of the embarrassments of the Toppys Family. At the back
of your mind you had a plan. You purposed to ask me to pull chestnuts
out of a fire which is too hot for the fingers of Trustees and
Gatepaths. You are acting in the interests of someone who conceals
himself. Who is it? Who will become the heir of Topsham should Madame
Gilbert be persuaded to kidnap or assassinate the inconvenient
Twenty-Eighth Baron? Who proposes to make himself the Twenty-Ninth in
succession to that noble line?"

Gatepath shuddered at her plain speaking. But he had the sense to see
that with Madame all cards must be placed upon the table. Already she
knew enough to be dangerous. If she went forth in anger then there might
be, there certainly would be, the very Devil to pay.

"The next heir," said he, shortly, "is Sir John Toppys, Baronet of
Wigan."

"And who is Sir John Toppys who has chosen so very unattractive a spot
as the seat of his baronetcy?"

"He is first cousin of the late Lord. Their common grandfather was the
Twenty-Fifth Baron. Sir John will infallibly succeed if the senior line
fails. I agree that Wigan is as lacking in residential amenities as
Dundee or Motherwell, but it has been a very mine of golden wealth to
the junior branch of Toppys. Coal and iron, Madame, are more productive
than diamonds. Sir John Toppys was rich before the war; now he has
advanced to wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. His great services to
the State have been plenteously rewarded in spite of the exactions of
the disgraceful excess profits duty. At his works, guns have been made
in thousands, and shells in millions. He and those like him have as
surely won the war as have our heroic soldiers and sailors--who, it must
be confessed, have received less adequate rewards. The wealth and
position of Sir John Toppys are such that he could command a peerage
from any British Government. But to him, a true Toppys of the ancient
line--though of a junior branch--a newly gilt title would have no value.
Is he not at this moment heir presumptive of the Twenty-Eighth
Baron--he of the Torres Straits--and can one feel surprise that he
resents and detests the shameful marriage of the Hon. William Toppys, by
means of which his branch of the Family has been supplanted? I am legal
adviser to Sir John Toppys, and between these close walls, Madame, I may
say that he would stick at nothing to secure--the removal--of
the--obstruction."

"You and Sir John Toppys are a pretty pair," quoth Madame. "For sheer
lawlessness, even in time of war, I have come upon nothing which can
compare with you. You deliberately conspire to compass the--the
removal--of the Heir of Topsham, and you do not apparently give heed to
the risks which both of you are running. You think in your foolishness
that if I were bribed by the gold of Wigan to carry through the
enterprise, the pretty neck of Madame Gilbert would be alone imperilled.
Permit me to scatter your illusions. Should Madame Gilbert hang for her
mercenary zeal in the interests of a white succession Sir John Toppys
and Roger Gatepath would stand beside her upon the drop. We should be an
engaging party," murmured Madame, contemplating the vision with
enjoyment. "Madame Gilbert in the centre by honour of her sex and her
superior infamy, Roger to her left, John on her right. At the word
'Go'--or whatever is tastefully appropriate to the ceremony--the hangman
would pull the lever, and the three culprits would disappear into what
is termed prophetically The Pit. At the inquest--I always think that an
inquest after a legal hanging is a superb touch of British
humour--evidence would be given to prove that the triple execution had
been well and truly carried out, and that death was instantaneous. We
should all three be buried in quicklime within the precincts of the
jail." Madame smacked her lips. "No, Mr. Gatepath, not even for this
gratifying conclusion to our joint enterprise am I going to place Sir
John Toppys--for a brief interval before his execution--in the seat of
Willatopy."

More than once during this horrible deliverance Roger Gatepath had
essayed to stop her, but Madame refused to be interrupted. It pleased
her to describe vividly the last act in the lawless drama, and she
indulged her whim. Madame loves talk almost as much as she loves action.
But there is this difference. In action she is swift, precise, and
shattering. In speech she is diffuse and interminable. Yet there are
many less agreeable occupations than to sit opposite to that royal
beauty and to listen respectfully to her babble.

"You entirely misread our intentions," said Gatepath severely, when
Madame at last allowed him to get a word in. "Do you suppose that
Gatepaths, do you suppose that Sir John Toppys, Baronet of--er--Wigan,
do you suppose that the Trustees of the settled estates of Topsham,
would countenance the assassination of the lawful heir to an English
peerage?"

"I do," said Madame calmly. "What is more, I am quite sure of it."

Gatepath collapsed. A great many people in their day have tried to
humbug Madame Gilbert. All have failed and collapsed as did Roger
Gatepath.

Then in her masterful fashion, at the moment when vague talk must cease
or anticipate vigorous action, Madame took charge of the destinies of
Toppys.

"You went out to the Torres Straits, Mr. Gatepath, and not to waste time
over polite verbiage, you made an ass of yourself. You philandered with
the pretty pale-skinned Widow Toppys. She responded to your advances. It
is of no use for you to shake your head. I know men, men of your
susceptible age, and I know widows. I am one myself. Am I not always
sweetly responsive to your fascinating middle-aged sex? You aroused the
jealousy of Willatopy, and he, a wise and dutiful son--who also appears
to understand, widows--put you to rout with his spear. Never again dare
you appear on the Island of Willatopy. Your head would infallibly
decorate his baronial residence, and your body would be served up in
ceremonious cutlets. If Willatopy is a Cannibal--which I take leave at
present to doubt--he will devour his enemies as part of a religious
ritual; not for food. He would offer your head to his mistress as a
_gage d'amour_, for no man is of any account in the South Seas as a
lover until he has at least one bleeding head to show for his affection.
The Island of Willatopy is closed to you; no more will you exchange
sweet nothings about the weather with the fair and frail Widow Toppys.
But to me all is open. If you and your accomplice the Wigan Baronet are
willing to pay my expenses on a scale adequate to a profiteer in war
material, I will set sail for the island home of the Twenty-Eighth
Baronet. If he is half white in sentiment, and not altogether a woolly
savage, I will mould him with these subtle fingers. I will be his
shelter from hedge lawyers bent upon thrusting him untimely into the
dreary old House of Lords. If, as may happen, the Heir of Topsham is
definitely and finally impossible I will do my best to move him--willing
or unwilling--to some retreat where he may be less easy of discovery by
your rival practitioners than in his present conspicuous residence. I
gather that the missionary registers of Thursday Island blazon his
address and telephone number. I will do nothing seriously unlawful,
nothing, that is, which could be proved against me to my incarceration.
A spice of adventurous illegality adds zest to an enterprise. But I
won't go to the scaffold or the prison for all the mouldy Toppyses who
were ever hatched through the centuries. And though I accept nothing but
limited liability, I will make a much more fruitful job of my island
voyage than you did of yours. The widow will have no attractions
for me, and if the Baron of Topsham and Madame Gilbert should
become--_épris_--so much the easier will my task be made. Many men,"
murmured Madame sadly, "have given me their honest (or dishonest)
hearts, and most of them have paid heavily for my apparent acceptance of
the gift. There, Mr. Gatepath, it is more than you or that bold bad
Baronet of Wigan deserves; but I have made you a fair sporting offer. I
will go to the Torres Straits, though how in the world I am to get a
passage is for the moment beyond me. All steamers are packed; those
voyagers only who have urgent business have a chance of a berth; an
unemployed widow bound upon a delicate, undescribable mission would be a
poor C 3 in the waiting list."

"Do not let that worry you," cried Gatepath. "I am beyond all things
delighted by your offer. Sir John Toppys will be delighted. The Family
of Toppys will be delighted. It is no small thing, Madame, to gain the
regard and influence of the ancient and honourable House of Toppys. I
accept your offer joyfully, and you need not calculate your expenses.
The gold of Wigan will be poured into your lap. And as for the steamer
passage, what care Gatepaths for passenger restrictions now that the
Admiralty have released the _Humming Top_! She is refitting at this
moment at Cowes. You shall sail at your ease in her."

"And what, please, is the _Humming Top_?" enquired Madame patiently.

"She is a turbine-engined yacht, built by Dennys of Dumbarton, and a
perfect seaboat. A thousand tons, Madame, Thames measurement, and fitted
like a summer palace. Not too small for comfort, and not too big for the
coral reefs of Torres. She is a sea home worthy even of Madame Gilbert."

"That is the first really sensible speech that you have made to-day,"
said Madame.



CHAPTER III

THE "HUMMING TOP"


"Why _Humming Top_?" asked Madame Gilbert.

It was early in March, and the devastation wrought by the Admiralty in
the yacht's graceful interior had been obliterated by the skilled hands
of White of Cowes. Her upper and main decks had been entirely
refashioned, and nothing remained of her armament except a brass signal
gun forward. At the main mast head waved in the breeze the burgee of the
Royal Thames Yacht Club, and from the inclined jackstaff at her stern
hung the Blue Ensign which it is the privilege of that Club to wear. The
_Humming Top_ lay in the Test above Southampton just where the magazines
of Marchwood front the river. Madame Gilbert leaned upon the bridge
rail, and beside her, as close beside her as Madame would permit, stood
the Baronet of Wigan.

Sir John Toppys had been presented to Madame some weeks earlier, and
between them a friendship had ripened. In due course, when the _Humming
Top_, completed and ready for sea, had been towed to her moorings off
Marchwood, Sir John had pressed Madame to honour the vessel with her
presence. She, not unwilling to inspect the yacht in which she was to
traverse the seas of the wide world, and not unwilling to double-lock
her chains upon the Baronet's proffered neck, had consented to travel
in his company to Southampton on the visit of introduction. Together
they had examined the sleeping quarters on the main deck allotted to
Madame and her maid, and the lady had gratified her host by suggesting
some small alterations. Notebook in hand he hung upon her lips.

"My room is splendid," said she, "and I am so glad that you have given
me a proper spring bed instead of a snuffy bunk. If you will have a
light fitted at the head of my bed, and a bell push so that I can switch
off the light or summon my maid without moving more than my hand, the
room will be just perfect."

"I will give orders at once," declared Sir John Toppys. "You are sure
that there is no further way in which I may meet your wishes?"

"None at present," said Madame. "If I think of anything else, I will let
you know. She is a lovely boat, but why do you call her the _Humming
Top_?"

Sir John Toppys had not succumbed so far to the spells of Madame as to
have wholly lost his earlier suspicion that the Toppys Family and
fortunes were in her eyes objects of derision. She was so frank in her
laughter at their ancestral pretensions, she proclaimed so openly that
she embarked on her voyage to the South Seas as a glorious rag, that in
time he had become disarmed. If she felt as she professed to feel,
surely she would be less open in profession. Still now and then Madame
would shoot out a question which did awaken in the baronet's mind a
feeling that his leg was about to be pulled. Before, therefore,
answering her inquiry he reflected for a moment upon her possible
motive.

Even to him the explanation was rather absurd. "The epithet 'humming'
suggests the whirr of the turbines," muttered he. "There is no hammer,
hammer, hammer, clank, clank, clank, about this yacht. She whirrs, hums,
just like a top."

"Quite so," assented Madame drily. "Nevertheless, I do not think----"

"You are right," put in Toppys hastily--it was better to be frank in
confession. "We should not have chosen this name had we not desired it
to suggest a Family Possession."

"Toppys, pronounced Tops," whispered Madame wickedly. "Plural Tops,
singular Top. Humming Top--the Top that Hums. What extraordinary
worshippers of the Family gods you are. I fully expect to find that
Willatopy is a faithful student of the Family Tree. He probably keeps it
stuck up in his hut."

"God forbid!" cried the Baronet of Wigan.

He was not a Bad Baronet, and certainly not Bold in the presence of
Madame. She, expecting to meet the typical fat-bellied profiteer of the
popular cartoons, had at their first introduction been struck almost
speechless with surprise. This the King of Coal and Iron, the Maker of
Guns and Shells, the Wallower in unholy War Profits! She saw before her
a small thin gentleman, whose careful dress and trimmed white moustache
suggested a military club. When he spoke, Winchester and Oxford spoke.
This a Baronet of Wigan! Madame rubbed her eyes. Further acquaintance
revealed the explanation. John Toppys possessed the caste marks of his
long line; he had been educated as the Toppyses--though in extremest
poverty--had always been educated. He, almost alone in the records of
his House, had taken to common business and shone in it. He was no
higgler, he could not have run a draper's shop, but when representing a
big firm doing big things in a big way he found that doors would open to
the pukka sahib John Toppys which would remain obstinately closed to
plebeian rivals. John Toppys had built his fortune on the secure basis
of the essential snobbishness of the English people. To his firm he had
been invaluable--for he knew how to use the _entrée_ which was his by
right of blood--he had brought to them business of the best. And when
later on he became the senior partner, and the chief partaker in the
profits, the war cloud burst and wealth showered upon him. In his
position it would have required extraordinarily perverse skill not to
have made money in car loads. Successive Governments did their utmost to
stuff him, and his like, full of wealth. Thus, Sir John Toppys became a
War Profiteer--almost against his own will--but though a Profiteer on a
superlative scale, he remained a pukka sahib. Madame liked him.

"Now that I have seen the _Humming Top_," said Madame, "I know that I am
blessed among women. At no cost to myself--though at very much to you,
Sir John Toppys--I am going to have the time of my life. From May to
September in the Torres Straits the climate is divine. A day temperature
between 75 and 85, no rain, a perpetual trade wind from the cool
south-east, nights in which one may sleep comfortably and days in which
one may revel in the tropical winter. It must be like Khartoum without
the dust and with the sea thrown in. I shall swim in the sun and devour
bananas in the shade. I shall hunt dugong and turtle, and fish in the
tumbled waters of the Great Barrier. You will observe from my local
colour that I have been studying the subject. I have. For me this
preposterous enterprise will be full of joy; for you it will be full of
expense and will end in exasperation. Why not back out while there is
yet time? Surely you are not like that thick-headed Roger Gatepath. You
do not suppose that anything, except a pleasant holiday for Madame
Gilbert, will spring from this cruise of mine?"

"The expense to me is nothing," said the Baronet. "I am smothered in
ill-gotten wealth. And if some of my money can give you pleasure, it is
well spent, Madame. I would do more than write cheques to give you
pleasure. And as for your enterprise, is it destined to be empty of
result? I think more highly of your resource than that. Dawson says that
there is nothing which you dare not do if your interest be stimulated."
He saw the angry flush spring out on Madame's forehead. "You mistake my
meaning, Madame. It was not the stimulus of money that I had in mind. It
was the overwhelming impulse of your artistic genius. When you confront
a problem, however bleakly impossible it may be, you never fail of
solution. Dawson says so. You have not concerned yourself with our
family affairs because of any interest in our troubles. You laugh at
them. It is because no man or woman alive, except Madame Gilbert, could
resolve a skein so hopelessly entangled."

"I see no solution. Sir John. And though I sail at your expense, I am
not on your side. I am free to help or to hinder, at my pleasure."

"We are all at Madame Gilbert's pleasure," said Toppys, smiling. "We
know, you and I, that Roger Gatepath is two parts flunkey, one quarter
fool, and the other quarter unscrupulous lawyer. He cares for nothing
except for the connections and profits of his firm. He would lick the
new Lord Topsham's tawny feet if he did not fear to lose some handfuls
from my golden pile. I do not value the Barony at a rush for myself, but
there is in my blood a centuries-old reverence for my Family. Rather
than that coloured brat yonder should be recognised as the Head of my
House, I would strangle him with my own hands. If you can save us from
that horror, Madame, there is nothing which is in my power to grant that
I would not lay at your feet."

"Absurd as it may seem, Sir John, I have a conscience. Madame Gilbert is
not for sale."

"No. I should not value you if you were. And believe me I rate you very
highly. You will go out in this yacht to the Torres Straits, and you
will follow your conscience. Maybe you will bring back the Twenty-Eighth
Baron in your train and set him yourself upon his seat. There is no
contract between us; you are free to do even this. Be just to me,
Madame. I have offered you nothing except a free passage; I have never
sought to bribe you. In my heart I knew that it would be useless.
Whatever may be the end, Madame, I shall always cherish these weeks of
our friendship."

"As a Toppys you are not a little ridiculous," said Madame. "But as a
man you are white all through."

She held out her hand to him there on the bridge of the _Humming Top_,
and Toppys, stooping, kissed her fingers. "Thank you," said he, simply.

Although Madame had made a sketchy inspection of the yacht in the
company of Sir John Toppys, she learned very little of its fascinating
merits until she came aboard in act to sail. The crew were already at
their quarters when Madame was ceremoniously received on board by
Captain Ching the skipper, and the Chief Engineer, Ewing. She had
already given orders--Sir John Toppys had assigned to her his full
powers and prerogatives as owner--she had already given orders that the
chief officers should mess with her in the pretty little saloon on the
upper deck, aft of which was a snug "Owner's Room"--equipped with
writing-table and bookcases--which she reserved for her own private
occupation. Whenever their duties permitted of social relaxation, Madame
had determined that the Captain and Chief Engineer should be her
intimate companions. It was no new experience for Madame to be the one
woman in a company of men--her maid did not count--and she who had the
free outlook and high courage of a man, enjoyed the privileges of a
double sex. In repose she was a woman; in action a man.

Toppys had chosen his officers with judgment. The skipper, R.N.R., a man
of Devon, sprang from the salt stock which had roamed uncharted seas
with Drake and Cook. The Chief Engineer, a man of Glasgow, was of that
hybrid race of deep water mechanicians which had come into existence
with Bell and Wood's _Comet_, and for a hundred years had bent the
powers of the land to the service of the sea. In the ancestry of sea
craft engineers are of mushroom stock, and in comparison with the
unbroken line of Plymouth Chings the Glasgow Ewing was little better
than an upstart, an expert in tin-pot mysteries. Nevertheless the sailor
Ching respected the engine-room accomplishments of Ewing, and Ewing, who
could not have safely navigated a railway steamer from Portsmouth
Harbour to Ryde Pier, freely acknowledged that in the above deck
business Ching was his master. Each expert was supreme in his own
department, and where in the world can one find better navigators than
in Plymouth, or better marine engineers than in Glasgow City?

They cast off in the late afternoon of March 15th, and in the evening
were running out towards the Needles, the rapid whirr of the geared
turbines scarcely conveying a flicker of vibration to the long slender
hull. The yacht, on bridge and down in the engine-room, was in charge of
the junior ranks, and both Ching and Ewing sat at dinner with Madame in
the bright saloon.

"Hark to yon turbines," said Ewing. "Did ye ever hear the like? Just a
wee whisper down below and a bit quiver along the decks. Yet they are
pushing the boat along at eleven good knots."

"Eleven point four," corrected Ching. "What could you hammer out, Ewing,
in case of necessity?"

"We never hammer," replied the Chief with dignity. "We just spin a wee
bit faster when more boilers are fired and the steam pressure is
raised. I could push her up to seventeen without a weep from the joints
of the Babcock boilers. But it would be wicked war-r-k with fuel oil at
150 shillings the ton. At an easy eleven knots we are just burning
money; at a forced seventeen it would be a ghastly conflagration."

"I don't understand machinery," said Madame, "though I can run a
five-ton motor lorry with any man born. What is all this talk of oil? I
thought that steam yachts burned coal and yet I haven't seen a sign of
coal dust in the vessel. My sitting-room and my cabin, like this saloon
here, are warmed by electric radiators, and when I was down below, one
might have eaten off the spickspan decks. Are we a motor yacht and no
steamer at all?"

"Coal," said Ewing, "belongs to the carboniferous epoch. This is the
Twentieth Century and the Age of Oil. The _Humming Top_ is an oil-fired
steamship and years before her time. Didn't you know that she was built
by Denny's of Dumbarr-r-ton regarr-r-dless of expense? Her original
triple-expansion reciprocating engines, driving twin screws, were put on
the scrap heap in 1913, the year before the war, and high-speed turbines
put in. Their incredible speed of revolution is reduced down to the
propeller shafts by helical spur gearing. There were vairy few
destroyers in the King's service in 1913 which wouldn't have squirmed
with jealousy at the sight of our engine-room. At the same time, Madame,
our ancient Scotch boilers with their coal fire-boxes were ripped out,
and water-tube boilers, oil fired, installed in place of them. We don't
shovel heavy dirty coal, Madame; we simply squirt atomised oil upon the
glowing fires. And when we want to replenish our bunkers we don't run
under the coal tips and smother our clean decks with filthy black dust;
we just connect up with the tanks ashore, and press the switch of an
electric pump. You could refill our bunkers yourself, Madame, without
soiling your dainty fingers. And with our geared turbines and our oil
fuel we have a radius of action which is scarce believable."

"This is most interesting," said Madame. "Though I don't understand
machinery, I love it tremendously. And I am nothing if not up-to-date."

"You are up-to-date in the _Humming Top_; you couldn't be up-to-dater in
the _Hood_. We are a small craft, only a thousand tons yacht
measurement, but at this moment we have 155 tons of oil in our side
bunkers, and a resairve of 75 tons more in our double bottom in case of
emairgency. At this easy toddle of eleven knots we can run seven
thousand miles, more than half-way over the big bulge of the world,
without replenishment. Which is an advantage, Madame, that later on you
will greatly appreciate. If we were coal fired we should need to go
under those dirty wagon tips every two thousand miles or thereby. We can
steam from here to Panama, or from Panama to Auckland without anxiety
about our bunkers--always provided that Captain Ching doesn't get
impatient and doesn't try to shove us along at more than eleven knots.
If we steam fast there will be a terrible waste, and a great reduction
in our radius."

"I shan't hurry," said the Skipper, "though Sir John told me to obey
Madame's orders about speed. If he don't mind paying for forced draught,
it is no business of mine to spare his pocket."

"Sir John may be rich as Pierpont Morgan," declared the Scot. "But I
don't waste good Asiatic oil for anybody's wealth--not at 150 shillings
the ton. Oil once burnt doesn't grow again, and posterity will starve
for our lustful rapeedity. The cost of this trip is just awful. And for
pleasure, too. I am a judeecious, reflective man. Here we are in an
empty ship idling across the world when we could have stuffed the yacht
full of high-priced cargo at any damn freights we chose to extort.
Ching, my commercial conscience racks me like a raging blister. A cabin
load each of drugs or dyestuffs would have made our fortunes in South
America, yet here we are with half a dozen cabins empty. The wickedness
of it scares me. The _Humming Top_ will come to no good when owners fly
like yon in the face of the bountiful freights of a kindly Providence.
If I may say so without irreverence, we are sacrileegiously biffing the
Providential eye."

Captain Ching laughed. He was willing to venture freight on private
account when granted an opportunity. But this was a private yachting
cruise and orders were orders. If Sir John chose to burn money to please
Madame Gilbert--for that is how the long sea trip presented itself to
his mind--well, he had plenty to burn, and Madame was well worth
pleasing. He, as skipper, was handsomely paid for his job, and that was
enough for him. So was Ewing very well paid. But the lost opportunities
of plundering South American Dagoes which slid unregarded past the
easy-going Devonian just exasperated the Scot from Glasgow.

"Please explain," put in Madame. "How can we gratify the bountiful
Providence who is displeased with the _Humming Top_? I am always
careful, when I can, to range Providence on my side."

The Engineer explained. He pointed out that here was a yacht with half
her cabins empty and stowage spaces unoccupied beneath their very feet.
Here also was a world bereft of shipping and every scrap of space afloat
worth almost as much as habitable houses ashore. It would do no one any
harm, least of all Sir John Toppys, the Owner, if by judicious private
trading Ching and Ewing could accumulate a pile of wealth. "Of course
Sir John would get his share--and you too, Madame," explained Ewing,
anxiously.

"Please leave me out," cried Madame, greatly to the relief of Ewing, to
whom an Owner's idle share gave pain sufficient, "I stand in with Sir
John. Is there any real reason, Captain Ching, why Mr. Ewing should not
do what he proposes? Would Sir John object?" It had occurred to Madame
that the _Humming Top_ as a trader would be accepted in the South Seas
without comment, whereas a private yacht, cruising at large upon an
unexplained purpose, might excite curiosity the most unwelcome.

"Not at all, I think," said Ching. "My orders are to take you to the
Torres Straits and to place myself and the yacht unreservedly at your
disposal. Sir John was most positive. I have among the ship's papers
written instructions directing me to obey any orders from you which are
consistent with the laws of British shipping. Sir John has very complete
confidence in your judgment, Madame."

"The more reason why I should not strain my temporary authority," said
Madame. "Still in this matter of private trading I do not hold that Sir
John could reasonably take objection. We do no injury to him nor to the
yacht, and you, his officers, will perhaps benefit. You have my
permission to go ahead."

"Madame Gilbert," said Ewing solemnly, "you are the maist sensible
wumman it has ever been my fortune to encounter. Not excepting Mrs.
Ewing. I may add," he went on with enthusiasm, "that if I were not a man
happily married to a gude Scots leddy I would throw my hairt into your
bonnie lap."

"This is very sudden," said Madame. "For all you know I may be married
myself."

"No matter," cried the Engineer. "If you, a foreign leddy, are so ripe
with sense now what would you become with a gude Scotsman beside ye? You
and I together would scrape the jewels off the airth. Meantime, with
your permission, we will get busy. I take it that the yacht will call at
Plymouth and maybe stay two three days whiles I communicate with my
friends in Glasgow."

"If you are going to load the _Humming Top_ with valuable stores, Mr.
Ewing, you will need a lot of ready money."

Ewing grinned. "We Scots folk are cautious, vairy cautious. Especially
when we deal with one another."

"Perhaps you need the more caution then," suggested Madame, smiling.

"Maybe aye, maybe no. We don't push in our fingers farther than we can
draw the hand back. But in these days it is scarcely possible to make a
mistake. If we load up with opium, cocaine, and other immoral dopes for
the Dagoes we can't go wrong. They will pay any money, and my friends in
Glasgow will do the needful on credit. They will ask a percentage, I
don't deny that, but there will be a margin. Ching, my son, are you game
for dope smuggling round Valparaiso and Lima way?"

"We must have creditable stores for the manifest," said Ching, "but I
don't suppose the Dago Customs will peer closely at a private yacht. And
a few honest dollars will blind their eyes I reckon. The Law is not
obtrusive on the West Coast, Ewing. But go easy with contraband. We
mustn't get Madame here into trouble."

"Don't worry about me," said Madame cheerfully. "I already feel like a
buccaneer. A bit of smuggling will give zest to a voyage which threatens
to be tedious. So let us stop in Plymouth for so long as Mr. Ewing
requires for his nefarious operations."

"I never thought to see the day," declared Ewing, beaming upon her,
"when my gude wife in Paisley would seem to be a sore encumbrance. And
after Plymouth could we not touch at Bordeaux? French wines are always
good mairchandise on the West Coast, and the profits thereof would
seduce old Pussyfoot himself."

"I clearly see," said Madame, smiling, "that when the _Humming Top_
leaves Europe for her long trail to the Panama Canal she will be laden
to her utmost capacity. We shall burn a power of oil to knock out even
eleven knots then."

"It will be worth it," cried Ewing, smacking his lips. "Even with fuel
oil at one hundred and fifty shillings the ton, there will still be a
margin. If we are loaded rail under with profitable stores I won't
grudge a cask or two of Sir John Toppys' oil. We play fair, Madame. The
Owner gets his share, a full honest share."

"For rank buccaneers and smugglers," observed Madame contemplatively,
"we seem to be indifferently honest. Go ahead, my good but disreputable
friends. And if you should require any cash I am in this thing with you
up to my fair neck."

"Madame," declared Ewing gloomily, "you make the recollection of my gude
wife fair burdensome to me, fair burdensome. We should ha' made a bonny
pair of pirates, you and I."



CHAPTER IV

IN THE SOUTH SEAS


If I had not set myself down to write the story of Madame Gilbert in
relation to His Lordship the Cannibal I should entertain my readers with
full details of the _Humming Top's_ illicit enterprises. Abetted by
Captain Ching and Madame Gilbert, the capable Scot, Ewing, let himself
go. "It should never be said of me," he remarked, "that I encouraged the
vices of the Dagoes by making them inexpensive. They shall find their
sins a most costly luxury. In the eyes of the judeecious my operations
convey a strictly moral lesson." To dopes and drinks he added chemicals
and dyes of high commercial importance. "In brand they are Swiss, but in
parentage suspiciously German; the Dagoes will pay the more for them on
that account."

The stowage capacity of the _Humming Top_ filled him with admiration.

"The design of this boat," pronounced Ewing, "is vairy creditable to my
friend Ar-r-chie Denny of Dumbarton. He was not at the time she was
constructed the Baronet that he grew into; just plain Ar-r-chie. He is a
vairy far-sighted man, is Ar-r-chie Denny. When he designed that snug
wee hold below the main deck, so modest, so unobtrusive, so shrinking
from observation, yet so bountiful in capacity, he must have foreseen
that his yacht would find its way into gude judeecious Scots hands. He
is a vairy releegious man, is Ar-r-chie Denny. I shall chairge the
idolatrous Papists a price for the dopes and dyes which will gratify his
Presbyterian conscience. The Scots, you will observe, Madame, are a
grand God-fearing people."

"I am a Papist," whispered Madame. "It was not my fault, and I am not a
very good one."

"The better for that; the better for that," said Ewing, encouragingly.
"You need only a gude Scots Presbyterian husband and you would become a
pairfect wumman."

Ching entered with zeal into the lawless projects of the Scots Engineer.
His ancestors--and mine--had played the merry three-legged game a few
hundred years earlier, and, like all of true Devon stock, he was
unchangeable in temper. He was a smuggler by inheritance. Out of
Plymouth to the Slave Coast with beads and trumpery--the first leg. From
the Coast to the West Indies with a cargo of blackbirds--the second leg.
From the West Indies to Plymouth with rum and molasses--the third leg.
That was the merry three-legged game with hundreds per cent. profit at
the end of each leg. And in those righteous days no excess profits duty.
We of Devon played it, and the Pilgrim Fathers of Rhode Island played
it--with geographical modifications--and we remained citizens of the
highest repute. John Hawkins, who began it, became a Knight by the hand
of Queen Elizabeth, and Treasurer of the Royal Navy of England. We have
fallen upon soft times, but even now the Devon folk--and Scots like
friend Ewing--revert to ancestral types and practices. "A far-sighted
man is Ar-r-chie Denny," murmured Ewing again, as he stuffed packages
into the snug wee hold between the main deck and the ballast tanks. "He
would just love to be here to see how we appreciate his cunning
war-r-k."

Ewing speedily found that Plymouth was an unsympathetic base for his
illicit operations. In the old days Cawsand at the western entrance of
the Sound had been a famous smuggling centre, but its glory had
departed. Plymouth itself was hedged about with unromantic restrictions.
Ewing's Glasgow accomplices could pass down dyestuffs and chemicals in
gratifying quantity, but dopes, the glowing fount of profits, declined
to flow.

"The English," wailed Ewing, "give no encouragement to honest Scottish
enterprises. Their jealousy is just parochial. There was a time when one
could ship any damn thing out of Glasgow, but there is too much of the
Royal British fossilised old Navy about Plymouth. Those Keyham
blacksmiths did their wor-r-st to strip my turbines with their monkey
tricks when the _Humming Top_ was requisitioned, and the port
authorities are every bit as feckless as the Navy, all forms and Customs
regulations. Give me immoral belle France and worthy dishonest Spain."

He did better at Bordeaux, and best of all at Lisbon, to which
easy-going jumping-off place his Glasgow friends ordered Switzerland to
consign the soul-raising dopes which England had barred as immoral.
There are few scruples about Switzerland and fewer still about Portugal.

"We Scots are proud of our national institutions," remarked Ewing, when
Lisbon unfolded to him its charms as an abetter of crime, "until we
come to experience their rotten foolishness. We are too intolerant and
logical; give me the broadminded and wholly unscrupulous Dagoes for
business partners. We lack sympathy with human weakness, but the Dagoes
coin dollars out of it all the time. If I were a wee bit younger I would
turn Dago myself."

When at last the _Humming Top_ cast off at Lisbon and stretched away at
her leisurely eleven knots for Colon and the South Seas she was stuffed
with stores of "prodeegious richness," all insured.

"But go careful, Ching, if you love me," implored Ewing. "I have covered
the lot on board of us at Lloyd's, but a claim won't bear looking into.
If we do get wrecked this side of Valparaiso, it has got to be a
thorough casualty. A total loss. A sunk ship tells no tales."

"We are not going to be lost," promised the Skipper.

"Speak softly, man," whispered Ewing. "Speak soft. Rub wood. Ye carry
Cæsar and his fortunes. There is sair peril in boastfulness at sea."

To Madame the flagrant abuse of Sir John Toppys' marine hospitality was
a rich jest, packed with many a subtle stimulus to laughter. One
remorseless Fate--in the person of the late Hon. William Toppys--had
given a coloured Head to an ultra-respectable and unimaginative English
Family. A second Fate--in the person of naughty Madame Gilbert--had
corrupted the virtue of the Family Yacht, and set her rollicking across
the seas as a flagrantly unchaste smuggler. The private list of her
"soul-raising" stores, designed to pander to the degenerate tastes of
South American Dagoes, almost staggered Madame herself, and she turned
for the solace of her seasoned conscience to the blameless manifest
craftily prepared by Captain Ching for the edification of the Panama
Canal Board.

"You are sure there will be no examination?" she asked the Skipper.

"Sure," he said confidently. "We are landing nothing in the Canal Zone,
and the Board doesn't care two pins what we carry through."

"If that is so," murmured Madame; "if we get through without scandal, I
will tell Sir John Toppys all about it. He is a white man, Captain
Ching, who trusted me. One owes something," added Madame virtuously, "to
a white man who really trusts one."

Confession after crime was to Madame--and I am afraid also to the
"grandly releegious" Ewing--greatly to be preferred to weak repentance
before hand.

"It is the golden rule of life," said Ewing, "not to repent too soon.
There is a time and season for all things."

That very up-to-date yacht the _Humming Top_ carried a wireless plant
and a Marconi operator. Aerials hung between the slim masts, and their
range of contact with the outside world extended for five hundred
miles--by day. By night it was much wider. The operator, as they hummed
along, picked up the news of the day for Madame's edification; it cannot
be said that he was overworked.

I think Madame's state room--it really was worthy of that abused
epithet--must have been designed for the use of Sir John Toppys and his
departed lady, in the days when space at sea was a new luxury. With its
appurtenances--a dressing-room at one end and a bathroom at the
other--it was thirty feet long, and it contained, as has been said, a
spring bedstead hung hammock-wise. The bed gave discreetly to the roll
of the ship. In the dressing-room which had a door of direct
communication, was installed Madame's maid, a French girl who detested
the sea and did not conceal her hatred. She became reconciled to the
months of sea travel by the gratifying circumstance that she and Madame
were two lone women in a man-infested ship. Marie could do with a large
surplusage of Man.

The saloon on the upper deck was the Mess of Madame and the chief
officers; to the two junior deck officers and the two assistant
Engineers was assigned the Mess Room aft on the main deck out of which
their cabins opened, and to them, at their own request, was added the
society at meals of Marie.

"How many?" enquired Madame, when Ching diffidently communicated the
invitation. "Four of them? Marie could keep a dozen busy. She will make
four hop pretty briskly." In spite of bouts of sea-sickness I fancy that
Marie enjoyed her voyage.

Between Madame Gilbert and her companions grew up a close friendship.
She talked freely with them except upon the purpose of her travels. That
was maintained for the present as a Family Secret. They, simple
creatures, sometimes wondered why Sir John Toppys should spend so much
money upon Madame's pleasures and refrain from sharing them with her.
His absence was grateful in their sight--for did they not between them
monopolise a most gracious and entertaining lady?--but they often
wondered at his lack of enterprise.

"Ching," said Ewing confidentially, "you are married as tightly as I am,
and both of us are faithful--in reason--to our wedded wives. But if you
had the chance of an unlawful holiday cruise with our beautiful Madame
Gilbert, would you not jump at it?"

"Ewing," said Ching, as confidentially, "I am a sinful man. I should."

"Sir John Toppys must be a meeracle," declared Ewing, after a long
pause.

"Perhaps it is Madame who is the miracle," observed the Skipper
shrewdly.

The ripe flavour of Ewing's Scottish character was not appreciated by
Madame Gilbert until a conversation took place off Valparaiso, for the
contraband cargo had all been disposed of--at cash prices--and Ching and
Ewing were counting up their gains in Madame's presence. Half the
profits were set aside for the Owner of the _Humming Top_, and were
safely locked up with the ship's gold in the Captain's safe.

"It's an awful sum of money to pay over to the idle rich," wailed Ewing.

The "Idle Rich," as Madame and Ching pointed out, had not only provided
the vessel for their illicit trading operations, but had also paid
handsome wages to the crew--including their noble selves. Incidentally
his idle wealth purchased the tons of oil fuel--at steadily advancing
prices--which they drew aboard at Colon and purposed to take in at
Auckland. The "Idle Rich" supplied the Capital and working expenses;
Ching, Madame, and Ewing the unscrupulous Labour. Madame, it may be
observed, received nothing: Ewing and Ching drew fifty per cent. between
them.

"Was not that fair?" enquired Madame.

"As a matter of metapheesical exactitude," replied Ewing cautiously, "I
would not deny that the Owner's half-profit is defensible. From the
point of view, mar-r-k my wor-r-ds, of the Idle Capeetalist. But the
Spirit of the Age, Madame, is not concairned solely with--with the
boodle. The news which flickers in over our most efficient wireless
apparatus indicates that the Wor-r-kers of the Wor-r-ld are all on the
Grab. I am a wor-r-ker, Ching is a wor-r-ker, you, Madame, are a
wor-r-ker. Sir John Toppys is not a wor-r-ker. I don't suppose that the
little man has ever sweated in his life-except maybe at the gowf. To the
wor-r-kers belong the profits. That means Ching and me."

"But I am also a wor-r-ker," put in Madame slyly.

Ewing shuffled uneasily. "I have said so, and I bide by what I have
said. But you have waived your rights, Madame. Ching will bear witness."

Madame laughed. Then an idea struck her, and she gleefully cast it in
Ewing's voracious teeth.

"I have waived my rights. But your officers and men have not waived
theirs. They are wor-r-kers. They have navigated the ship which has
sailed the seas and carried the goods which Ewing and Ching and
Madame--and those friends of yours in Glasgow--have bought and sold. By
comparison with the junior officers and the humble men, you and I are
little better than idle rich ourselves. We just give the orders; they
do the hard uninteresting wor-r-k. We loll smoking here while they
sweat. Surely they should have their share of the boodle."

Horror competed with exasperation on the harsh red face of the Chief
Engineer. With difficulty he awaited the end of her speech and then
burst out:

"Is it possible, Madame Gilbert, that you are a Socialist? I could not
have believed it of you if I had not hair-r-d your terrible wur-r-ds
with my own ears."

"I am more than a Socialist," said Madame proudly. "I am a Bolshevist
where the humble poor are concerned."

Ewing shuddered. "I could not have believed it. It is just peetiful
trash that you speak. And you in other respects a maist sensible wumman.
What is ceevilisation?" Ewing flung out this large inquiry, and an
answer not being offered, proceeded to supply one himself.
"Ceevilisation is brains, Madame. Capital is not brains; it is gilded
idleness levying toll on the honest wor-r-ker. Toilsome sweat is not
brains; it just stupidly does what it is told by superior intelligences.
Sir John Toppys is not ceevilisation. The men who obey our or-r-ders
above deck and in the engine-room are not ceevilisation. WE are
ceevilisation. Ching and I--and you, Madame, who have waived your claim
to a share. And quite right, too. In strict economic justice, I,
Alexander Ewing, should draw a lairger dividend from the boodle than
Rober-r-t Ching. And for why? Because I have the mair brains. The
oreeginal idea of this smuggling plant was mine. But I say nothing about
that," he added generously. "Share and share alike. But if," he went on
with vicious emphasis, "any of my engine-room hands, or my Engineers,
peer their noses into my private enterprises I will sor-r-t their fat
car-r-cases with a coal shovel. Ceevilisation is brains, Madame. Don't
for peety's sake tell you fearsome Socialism to me any more. I just
canna bear it."

The plunder was all in fat United States dollars, a noble currency which
towers like a mountain peak amidst the wreckage of European depreciated
paper. Ewing saw to that. He dribbled out his highly demanded stores in
quantities that rather added to than diminished the exuberant buoyancy
of the market. He was a Scotsman who had made a Corner, next perhaps to
a Scotsman on the Make the most noble Wor-r-k of God. Dagoes of varied
hues, and of more than doubtful parentage, came and went; they were
closeted with Ewing in the saloon, and departed stripped. They got their
dyes and their chemicals and their naughty dopes, but what a
hair-raising price they were compelled to pay!

"I am no profiteer," declared Ewing. "Just a plain, honest Scottish
mairchant. I chairge no mair than the mar-r-ket will bear. And I have a
suspeecion that there will be no excess profits duty paid on this deal.
We are private persons engaged in honourable professions, not traders or
registered partners. Besides we are out of the jurisdiction of the
wucked English income tax. We are patriots, too, employed upon the noble
wor-r-k of reconstructing the trade of the British Empire."

When one combines lofty patriotism with some five hundred per cent.
profit, the result cannot fail to be profoundly gratifying.



CHAPTER V

WILLATOPY: PILOT


They drew away from the South American Coast and headed for New Zealand
and the Coral Sea beyond. And as Robert Ching pored over the chart of
the Coral Sea it was borne in upon him that the navigation of those many
spiked waters would, in the absence of a pilot, be as big a job as he
wanted. The _Humming Top_ drew no more than ten and a half feet of
water, and was specially guarded under her keel by six inches of solid
teak--Ching had demanded the false, protective keel before he would
consent to take the yacht to the Torres Straits--but she was big enough
to tear herself to pieces on those frightful coral teeth if permitted to
swerve only by a little from the tortuous channels.

"I shall have to do without a pilot most of the time," said he. "There
is a large regular trade and not enough pilots to supply wandering
yachts. We must go back to the methods of Drake and Cook--keep the lead
going by day and lie up at night. A sailor can smell his way along
anywhere if he is not pressed for time."

Madame promised him all the time that there was--she was enjoying
herself and in no hurry to get at grips with the problem of the
Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham. Every week which passed at sea made the
purpose of her voyage seem more bizarre and incredible. Yet she was
constantly reminded of its reality. Though they knew it not, here were
Ching and Ewing, together with some two dozen officers and men, at a
cost which ran into hundreds of pounds a week, steaming to the ends of
the earth solely for that bizarre and incredible purpose. Madame had
made her own position luminously clear. She was going with no plan and
under no promise. She was not going to smother Willatopy or tip him into
the sea--which would have been of little use since he swam like a
dolphin. She was not going to poison his food or even to kidnap him. She
was simply going to see what this half-caste Baron looked like and to
order her movements in accordance with her impressions. She talked with
Ching and Ewing upon every subject in earth or heaven except this one.
The Family Secret must remain secret until the day arrived when secrecy
should avail nothing. When that day would dawn Madame had no idea. To
anyone except Sir John Toppys--and curiously enough Roger Gatepath--the
whole expedition would have seemed a ridiculous waste of money. But both
of them were at their wits' end, and both of them had a childlike faith
in Madame Gilbert's lively intelligence and resource. Something striking
would result from the voyage, of that they felt convinced; though what
it would be they had no conception. Neither had Madame. Yet she went.
The Family Misfortune intrigued her, and she wanted to see it at close
quarters, and to make it crawl to her feet and eat out of her hand.

When at last they warped up at Auckland Ewing himself sounded the fuel
tanks in the _Humming Top's_ double bottom. He had sworn by his holy
gods--the twin high-speed Parson-cum-Denny geared turbines--that the
yacht would run from Panama to Auckland, via Lima and Valparaiso, on the
230 tons of fuel oil which she bore away from the Canal Zone. She had
done it, and the Chief was curious to see by what small margin his
judgment as Engineer had been saved from derision. The margin was just
nine tons, say 270 miles of steaming at eleven knots.

"Thirty miles to the ton or thereby," murmured he, "and very good
wor-r-k too. Yon's a useful figure to bear in one's heid."

At Auckland he filled up chock a block, side bunkers and ballast tanks,
and felt confident that he could go up to Thursday Island, toddle about
at low speed in the Straits so long as it pleased Madame to toddle, and
then make his way back to the Auckland tanks while, so to speak, some
shots remained unburnt in his locker. But the price of oil at the
Antipodes struck horror to his thrifty heart. Suppose--it was an awful
suppose--Sir John Toppys, obdurate to the wheedlings of Madame, who had
promised to do her utmost to make the owner waive his share, should
insist on debiting the cost of the voyage to that "owner's share" of the
illicit profits. It was a dreadful supposition. Ewing thrust it from his
consciousness; even the Idle Rich could not be so utterly soulless.

At Auckland in addition to the stores of oil fuel they shipped trading
goods for the Islands, and stowed them carefully away in the empty
cabins and in the snug wee hold which had already served the
adventurers so well. These saleable commodities were designed to give to
the wandering yacht a commercial status, and might possibly, almost
certainly, add some few dollars of profit to their bursting treasury.

"One can never make too much profit," explained Ewing, "especially when
one doesn't pay any excess taxes to an extortionate English Government.
Cash, in American dollars, tells no tales."

Ewing had already decided that the _Humming Top_ should look in at an
American port on the way home, and that the boodle should be deposited
out of harm's way under the protection of the Stars and Stripes. A dread
lest the tax gatherers of England might yet grab some of it possessed
him. In his management of the Auckland stores his genius for finance
rose to lofty heights.

"We will invest the alleged share of Sir John Toppys in this Island
trade," declared he. "If we make a loss--and it is not a business which
I vairy clearly comprehend--then the loss will fall upon the Owner of
the yacht. Which is just. Idle and rich owners must take some risk; that
is what they are for. If we realise a profit--and my friends here say
that the Islands are stripped and will buy anything ravenously--if we
realise a profit, of course it belongs to us who have airned it. To me
and Ching," he added hastily, lest Madame should intrude with a claim.
"Sir John's share will be put back, untouched; we are honest men."

When Madame hinted that righteous dealing had not quite been given a
full rein, Ewing protested sorrowfully that as an operation of business
what he proposed was spotless, white as driven snow on the bonny hills
of Scotland.

"Sir John is a capeetalist," said he. "He would not wish his funds to
lie idle in yon safe. He would wish that they should be employed in the
reconstruction of the British Empire. That's what we are going to do
with them. Would you leave his money fruitless just because we are
twelve thousand miles away and cannot ask his permission to employ it?
Would you be baffled by a formality like yon? Capeetalists always love
to tur-r-n their money over. We will tur-r-n Sir John's over for him. We
will make it skip. It's going to belong to us anyway--you have promised
to see to that, Madame--although for the moment we are holding it for
him. Do you not reflect also, Madame, that a whole five per cent. of Sir
John's share is going to the officers and crew and I have got to make
good the grievous loss which your Socialism has brought upon me. I have
to carry that feckless Ching on my back too. He would give the lot away
like a pound of mouldy tea if I were not at his elbow to keep him
heedful of the future. I am not what you could exactly call a man of
business, but I have grasped the inherent principles of the job."

"You grasp the principles--and most other things," said Madame, smiling.
Her joy in Ewing never failed, and between the pair had grown up a very
close affection. She liked the simple, kindly, unselfish Ching, but as a
study in humanity he could not compete in interest with the great
Alexander.

Ching made no mystery of the sea craft in which he was a master. He took
Madame and Ewing wholly into his confidence, and earned their full
confidence in return. The yacht was about to sail in waters where
destruction awaited eagerly any slip by a careless navigator, and Ching
was not taking any risks which could be avoided.

"I am not going to see more of the coral reefs than I'm obliged," said
he, during the first dinner out of Auckland. "We shall get our bellyful
of them in the Straits, especially if Madame here has a fancy for
uncharted channels. I am taking the _Humming Top_ by the outer passage,
as far east of the Great Barrier as I can get, and then come down to
Thursday Island by the Bligh Entrance. You've heard of _Bounty_ Bligh,
Madame; he was a masterful man, and always stirred up a mutiny wherever
he commanded. There is a well-known inner passage between the Barrier
and the Queensland Coast; it is sheltered and lighted like the Strand,
but as it isn't much wider I'm not taking any of it. I couldn't look at
the passage without a pilot, and there might not be one to the _Humming
Top_. She's a vagrant yacht, not a real ship."

"She is an Island trader," corrected Ewing with dignity.

"Humph," replied Ching. "A ton or two of frippery doesn't turn a yacht
into a ship. We are a rich man's toy, and don't count for much on the
high seas. Our burgee and Blue Ensign look consequential at Auckland,
but an ancient Island schooner would make more stir in the Straits."

"Wait till they see our engine-room," cried Ewing. "There's nothing like
it outside the King's Navy."

"Humph," replied Ching again. "They wouldn't look at our engine-room if
there was a dirty craft alongside which would load up their copra and
_beche de mer_. Trade must run both ways to be taken seriously. I take
it that we are not going to carry copra to the English soap boilers or
smoked sea slugs for the Chinese soup market. And if we don't do both
the Island trade has no use for us and no interest in us."

"You make us feel humble," said Madame, smiling. "I had become proud of
the _Humming Top_."

"She's a fine craft, but a yacht isn't a real ship, Madame."

"She was a real enough ship when you and I ran her in at seventeen knots
under the guns at Zeebrugge to pick up the Navy boys in the watter,"
shouted Ewing.

"That was another Service," returned Ching stolidly. "She was a ship
then. Now she's a yacht. I'm proud to command her now, as I was then;
but I want to make you see that as a yacht she has no status on the
seas. If pilots are scarce we shall have no call on one. We've got to
run our own risks by ourselves and to make them as small as we know how.
Is that clear?"

"As crystal," said Madame. "Also humiliating. And I thought I was rather
a swell cruising about the world in a yacht which was practically my
own."

"You always would be a swell anywhere," said Ching politely. "But on the
high seas the mistress of a yacht doesn't count for a row of beans."

"Don't heed him, Madame," cried Ewing. "He's only a demobbed Commander
R.N.R. Your friend Alexander Ewing will stick up for you. I was an
Engineer Lieutenant, and the engine-room ranks much higher than the
bridge nowadays, though it may not sport so many rows of gold lace. It
is my deliberate opeenion, arrived at by careful consideration of all
the circumstances, and after giving full weight to the observations of
my commanding officer, that we shall get on quite nicely without a
pilot, thank you. I am not exactly what you could call an experienced
navigator, but give me a well-found vessel of light draught, with six
inches of teak fender to her hinder end, a diligent crew heaving the
lead at discreet intervals, all the eyes on the bridge looking sprightly
for promiscuous breakers, and I would con the _Humming Top_ myself. The
mair especially if I could be in two places at once and be in chairge of
my bonny engines at the same time as I strolled majestically about the
bridge. There is no real deeficulty about navigation, Madame. Yon's not
like to the management of high-speed geared turbines. Yon's child's
wor-r-k with Admiralty charts spread about ye. But since I cannot be,
like the fabulous bir-r-d, in the two places at once, I will leave the
bridge to our deefident friend Ching. Go ahead, dead slow, among the
prickly reefs, and if you should just butt on the ground give the
wor-r-d to me by the engine-room telegraph and I will whip her off on
the revairse. That is the grand advantage of geared turbines, Madame.
One has the full power on the revairse. What did you go for to put teak
to the bottom of us, Ching, if you didna expect to find a use for it?"

"It was a precaution," said the Skipper, "like a fender. One doesn't
bang the sides of a ship against a stone wharf because one has fenders.
I have seen a fender break through the plates before now when used
without judgment."

"You are a careful man, and we trust you, Ching," said Ewing
encouragingly. "Go ahead, pilot or no pilot. And if you should get into
trouble deeper than your brains can penetrate, there is always the voice
pipe handy. Take counsel of Alexander Ewing. He will stand by ye."

"I will," returned the Skipper, "I will ask you how to run my ship when
you ask me how to manage your engine-room."

"Alexander," said Madame severely, when the Captain had left the saloon
for his own duties, "if Captain Ching were not a sweet-blooded angel he
would kick you hard. I should. Don't you see, you thick-headed Scotch
mechanic, that the Captain is worried, and when a sailor like that is
worried, the danger must be considerable. I am ashamed of you,
Alexander."

"It was just pairsiflage, Madame," said Ewing. "A wee bit of vairy
humorous pairsiflage. I know my place. Though I have mair gude Scots
brains in my finger than all the soft West Country porridge stuff in
Ching's head, I would never interfere with the bridge. A Chief Engineer
is a man of science, not a rule of thumb navigator."

"You had better not," quoth Madame. "Ching is slow and quiet. He has no
small talk, and, it must be confessed, is sometimes a bit heavy on hand.
He is not a lively companion like our Alexander. But in a misspent life
I have learned something of men, and I bank on Ching. Mar-r-k my
wor-r-ds, Sandy. He will bring us through the reefs without scraping our
false keel, and if you chaff him at a moment when he is really anxious
he will chuck you into the Ditch. The Scotch are a great people, but
they are not conspicuous for tact."

It was well into May when, far up in the Gulf of Papua, Ching swung the
_Humming Top_ to the westward, and began the hazardous unaided
penetration of the coral barriers which lay between him and Thursday
Island. The weather was perfect and could be depended upon. It was the
season of the regular south-east trade, the sunny rainless season of the
Torres winter. The wind would gather strength every morning to a half
gale at noon and then as evenly decline to a calm after sunset. The
tides ran very strongly, between three and four knots, and gained in
speed as the Straits narrowed, but to judge their tidal drift, and the
variable leeway due to the rise and fall of the trade wind, was child's
play to a seaman of Ching's quality. Upon his chart were marked all the
islands--many of them loftily volcanic, others low coral atolls--and the
sandbanks, known locally as cays. He could work by taking bearings of
the more conspicuous island features, and by calculating his horizontal
danger angles with a generous margin. He assumed that every island had
an inner fringing reef and an outer barrier--though many of them had no
barrier--and that every turf-swept cay shelved slowly into the depths.
Time was not his master, and Ching was a cautious man. When one evening,
just after sunset, he raised the beacon on the Bramble Cay, and found
the position of the yacht very near to his dead reckoning, he patted
himself on the back and went to dinner with a mind temporarily at ease.
He dropped his anchor off the Black Rocks at the exact point for which
he had aimed--the Bligh Entrance to the North-East Channel.

"Now the fun is about to begin," said he, smiling. Madame plied him with
broad flattery, and the Chief did his rather clumsy best to support her.
Now that the yacht was actually in the Straits, Ewing had enough of good
sense to attend to his own job, and to leave Ching unharried to attend
to his. Both Madame and Ewing were well pleased to see the Captain
smile.

Navigation on the following day would have been less hair-raising if the
chart had been half as wise as it pretended. But since most of its
features were based upon surveys of some half a century earlier, and the
coral polyp is an industrious creature, there was a wide margin of
conjecture left to the hardy sailor. The channels were deep
enough--Ching sometimes had fourteen fathoms and usually not less than
ten under his forefoot--but there were so many of them, and they were so
liberally cut into by what in trench warfare were called traverses, that
running a vessel through them was very like threading an imperfectly
remembered maze. Still the Skipper's eye for water held true, he could
generally tell by the look of the surface if the reefs were closing in
upon him, and the lead which was freely kept going warned him off the
sandbanks. He ran dead slow all through the day, except when the tide
setting against him called for half speed. More than once he was obliged
to stop and back out of a _cul de sac_, but, as I have said, there was
usually plenty of water under foot, and a timely warning by eye or lead
when obstructions were reaching up towards the broken surface. All
through the day the _Humming Top_ never touched once, and Ching began to
feel that he needed but a licence to rate himself a pilot of the
Straits. But his self-satisfaction was not destined to last very long.

It was about five o'clock, and for an hour past the Skipper had noticed
a fully decked yawl, sailed apparently single-handed, following on his
own course about a mile to leeward. With the tide under her, and sailing
on a beam wind, this thirty-foot yawl was moving rather faster than the
big yacht which she was gradually overhauling. The yawl pulled in more
and more to the south-west, and passing astern of the _Humming Top_,
reached out towards a group of islands which Ching judged to be away
from his own channel. He himself bore off almost due west, and the gap
between the steam yacht and the yawl opened out rapidly. That was at
about five o'clock. Ching was therefore surprised half an hour later to
see the yawl come flying out of space with the wind behind her, and
steering direct for his own port bow with apparently a complete
disregard for the intricacies of the coral channels. He put up his
glass. The yawl was, as he had judged, sailed single-handed. Her
skipper, a small white figure with a bare black head, was sitting by the
tiller, and, as Ching looked, he seemed to be waving one hand. There
could be no doubt that the yawl was making for the yacht, so, with
sailor courtesy, Ching ran off his engines and waited for the little
craft to arrive.

She came with a rush and swirl which showed at least, high courage in
her solitary navigator. She passed the bow of the _Humming Top_ at about
a hundred yards distance, swung under the lee of the yacht, and
skilfully used the flow of the tide as a brake upon her progress. The
white figure sprang up, let the yawl swing with flapping sails into the
wind, and then in thirty active seconds had lowered and roughly stowed
mainsail, jib and foresail. He left the spanker standing set on the
small mizzen aft. The whole manoeuvre was so accurately timed that the
yacht had lost her way when she arrived close beside the _Humming Top's_
counter. In a moment more the visitor had caught a line which was deftly
thrown to him from the yacht, reeved it through a ringbolt by his
bowsprit, hauled his little vessel half round, and sprang, active as a
monkey, up the seven feet of freeboard to the _Humming Top's_ rail. His
deserted yawl trailed away at the end of the line, and her late skipper
and crew, now aboard the _Humming Top_, strolled forrard grinning
capaciously. It could now be seen that though clad in the white Palm
Beach trousers, and fine cotton shirt of an Englishman, he was a
dark-skinned, frizzy-haired Melanesian. His feet were bare and his head
was bare; the shirt and trousers seemed to comprise his entire wardrobe.

He moved forrard looking curiously and eagerly at the yacht's equipment.
He mounted the steps of the shade deck on which were stowed four
lifeboats, a small dinghy, and a twenty-foot motor launch. His eye ran
closely over all of them; the motor boat seemed specially to please him.
He passed the yellow funnel, and peered into the smoke-room, a pleasant
structure in which Madame Gilbert spent much of her time on deck. She
was within at the moment knitting her ninth jumper--she caught a
glimpse of a dark grinning face, and started slightly at the contrast
between the brown of the face and the bright blue eyes which looked
eagerly out of it. It was the face of a boy of some twenty years. Madame
saw him for a brief instant, and wondering who he was, and how he had
reached the yacht--she had not witnessed his masterly boarding
operation--came out on the boat deck to see more. An unexpected incident
is very welcome indeed on a long voyage unbroken except by smuggling
operations and the knitting of jumpers. The boy reached the chart-room
and wheel-house above which was built the bridge, with its engine and
steering telegraphs. Ching from the bridge looked down upon the boy, and
the boy looked up at Ching. The visitor waved a hand at the Captain.

"Cheerio, Skipper," cried he. "You are a bit off your course, aren't
you?" His voice was not unpleasing and his English was surprisingly good
for a coffee-coloured native--dark coffee, too.

"That depends on what the course is," replied Ching shortly. He was
frowning, and his genial eye had gone cold.

What I have described did not occupy more than a very few minutes,
during which time the yacht, with her engines stopped, was idly drifting
under the influence of wind and tide.

"At present," said the boy, showing his fine white teeth as he grinned
broadly, "you are bound for the Warrior Reefs. That was why I boarded
you."

Ching spoke briefly to a sailor who was with him on the bridge, and then
dropped down to the chart-room beneath. The boy mounted the bridge
ladder, and took a comprehensive look round. What he saw did not please
him. His blue eyes hardened--they were bright steely blue, very unusual
eyes even in an English face, and incredible in a native of the Torres
Straits--and going straight to one of the engine-room telegraphs pulled
the lever over to half speed astern. The bell clanged.

As a wounded tiger bursts open-mouthed and raging from its ravished
retreat in the jungle so Ching furiously burst from the chart-room at
the sound of that bell. And for my part I would sooner face a wounded
tiger in the jungle than a mild-mannered Devonshire ship captain upon
whose engine-room telegraph I had set my lawless hand. The Skipper
sprang on the bridge pushed the boy away so roughly that he sprawled
over the weather cloths, snapped the telegraph back to STOP, and roared:

"Chuck this nig--young feller into his boat and cut him adrift." It says
much, very much, for the inherent kindliness of our Robert Ching that
even under stress of an unparalleled trespass upon his prerogatives as
commander, he bit back the offensive word "nigger."

The sailor sprang at the boy, who evaded the rush with lithe ease. He
was quite calm, and still grinned cheerfully.

"Wait," cried he, in a tone so gleefully significant that the sailor
stopped, and even Ching looked up curiously. "Wait," cried the boy,
holding up his hand. They waited until one might count perhaps ten, and
then that for which they waited befell:

G-RRR-H, G-RRR-H, G-RRR-H!

The _Humming Top_ took the hidden reef with a slow grinding crash which
made her shiver, and under pressure of wind and tide she bit deeper and
deeper into the coral. It was well for her at that moment that between
her steel plates and the reef there interposed the faithful baulks of
previsionary teak.

The boy, with a heedless courage which to me seems almost sublime--after
all a skipper is a skipper and a very great man on his own bridge--the
boy pushed past the Captain of the yacht, laid his brown sacrilegious
hand once more on the engine-room telegraph, and banged the lever over
to FULL SPEED ASTERN.

"Go," he said sharply to the amazed sailorman. "Jump into my yawl, and
fend her off as we go astern."

I am afraid that when that crash came the Chief Engineer laughed. He had
seen nothing of the incidents on deck, but the sudden grounding of the
yacht, after the strange vacillations of the telegraph, suggested that
Ching had blundered badly. And Ewing, as a platonic rival with Ching for
the favours of Madame Gilbert, was not disposed to cry over the
Skipper's troubles. He gave full speed astern with a will and under the
hefty pull of the twin screws the yacht was dragged off within a few
seconds. The tide happily was flowing.

"Keep her _so_," ordered the boy, indicating the correct course with his
hand, and the Skipper, to his own surprise, kept her so. There was an
intimate local knowledge and a masterful confidence about this intrusive
Melanesian which made him irresistible.

From that moment, extraordinary as it may seem to the reader, that
strange boy took charge. He set the backward course, and kept the
_Humming Top_ at full speed astern for more than three miles. Ching had
overshot a hidden turning in the channel; he had run into a narrow byway
in which there was no space for so long a vessel to turn round. She was
230 feet over all. The new pilot quite evidently needed no chart, and
possibly would not have understood one had it been spread before him.
Every reef and bank was as familiar to him from constant sailing by them
as are the streets of one's native town. He conned the _Humming Top_ by
movements of his hand, for though he understood the uses of an
engine-room telegraph, that other telegraph which controlled the wheel
below was apparently strange to him. He gave his orders by signs and the
rightful skipper humbly obeyed. It was a triumph of intensive local
experience over professional training.

When he had backed the yacht a sufficient distance to satisfy his own
judgment this boy sent her forward once more--not at poor Ching's
cautious dead slow or half speed, but at a ramping eleven
knots--following the windings of the deep waterways with consummate
assurance. Now and then, when it seemed to the eye of Ching that he was
running straight upon surf-broken dangers, a sailor would be ordered
forward with the lead, but the result was always the same. The depth was
never less than ten fathoms, and the broken water was an innocuous tide
rip.

This went on for more than an hour, the evening drew on, and Ching, at
last convinced that he was in the hands of a master of the Coral Sea,
spoke. Hitherto he had obeyed the signs of the boy, obeyed though
savagely reluctant, yet had said nothing. Now he spoke.

"Are you a pilot, boy?"

"Oh, no. I am no pilot. I am very rich and do not work. I was sailing
down to Thursday Island in my yawl--to see my banker and collect my
money. I have much money. When I saw you running this nice ship on the
Warrior Reefs I sailed across to show you the proper way. No pearl
raking pilot can teach me anything. They are no good, no good at all."

"You seem to know the channels," assented Ching.

"All of them," said the boy. "Not these only for a big big ship, but the
little ones too. I do not sail in and out as I am taking you now. I cut
across wherever I please. There is always water to be found if one knows
where to look for it."

"It is getting dark," said Ching, "and there is a short twilight in
these latitudes. Can you see or shall we anchor now?"

"I can see. I can steer you all through the night if you please. But if
you and the white lady, the beautiful white lady with the hair so red,
would wish to anchor, I will take you to a safe place." His hand waved
here and there; the growing darkness made no difference to him, and
presently the _Humming Top_ was riding quietly at her anchor in the
lagoon of a low coral atoll. The boy had conned her through the barrier
reef and laid her up in the smooth water within. Ching gasped as the
yacht slipped in through a narrow gap in the reef little wider than her
own 30 feet of beam. It was like pushing a Rolls-Royce in between two
threatening motor lorries.

"Boy," said Ching slowly, when the anchor had splashed into the warm
quiet sea. "I meant to throw you overboard and you jolly well deserved
it for monkeying with my telegraph. But I will say that you are a daisy
of a pilot."

As they came down from the bridge they met Madame by the smoke-room.

"Who is that?" she enquired. "A native pilot?"

"No," replied the boy, before Ching could speak. "I am no pilot. I am
very rich and do no work. I am going to Thursday Island to see my banker
and get my money. I am Willatopy."



CHAPTER VI

A NIGHT IN THE STRAITS


They were gathered in the smoke-room which was planted upon the boat
deck abaft the chart-house. It was the snuggery held in common by Madame
and Ching and Ewing; to them was now added another--Willatopy, Pilot.
Madame, when she heard his name so unexpectedly had switched up the
lights behind her and invited him to enter. She wanted to see him
clearly, and to collect her thoughts. All through the long voyage she
had pictured her meeting with a naked Cannibal in the appropriate
setting of a tropical coral island. Yet here and now had come to her out
of the seas a young man, passably English in dress except for his bare
feet, passably English in speech, and a good deal superior to the
English in his masterly knowledge of the variegated depths of his native
seas. The blue eyes of this young man who called himself Willatopy had
astonished her when first she came under their quick steely flash; now
when they were bent upon her, quite plainly in admiration, she sensibly
shrank before their bright intelligence. They were the Toppys eyes; she
had admired them when set in Sir John's pale face; out of the dark,
almost black countenance of young Willatopy they shone like beacons.
They were beacons, the burning evidences of his Toppys blood.

It was their first night in the Straits--what Stevenson, pumped dry of
tropical epithets, so often called "a wonderful night of stars." Yet
Madame Gilbert had no eyes and no mind for the wonder of it. She could
think of nothing but the Cannibal who for months had seemed to be so
very remote and who was now so very near. Indeed exactly opposite to
her, seated cross-legged like an Englishman upon a sofa bunk. His lips
and nostrils were rather thick and broad, and his hair distinctly
negroid--one should, I suppose, say Australoid--he was of the colour of
strong coffee, yet he was not in the least like a Cannibal.

"Gatepath must be even a bigger fool than I thought," muttered Madame
angrily to herself. Which was unjust. She had not, like Gatepath, been
chased down to a boat by a naked furious Willatopy urged on to speed by
the prod of a fish spear. But at that moment Madame was unwilling to be
just, especially to Roger Gatepath.

"What makes your hair so red?" asked Willatopy suddenly.

"It grows that way," murmured Madame feebly.

"I have never seen hair red like that," observed Willatopy. "At Thursday
Island the white women's hair is black or muddy. Not nice. Your hair is
very nice. It shines like, like red copper. And your skin is whiter than
any skin I have seen. Are you white like that all over under your
clothes?"

"Young man," said Ewing, who had just entered and caught the last
enquiry. "You are vairy indiscreet. Leddies do not possess what they do
not please to show us."

"No?" Willatopy lifted his eyebrows. "But Madame"--he had caught the
title from Ching--"has such beautiful skin. Her stockings shine, like
rich bronze, and are very beautiful, but I think that her legs would be
much nicer without all those stockings and petticoats."

Ewing grinned. Ching frowned. Madame for a moment almost blushed and
then laughed in her old rippling fashion.

"Willatopy," said she, "if you don't mind we will change the subject.
White men don't talk like that about white women, and you must try to
behave like a white man. It was all your fault, Alexander," she went on
severely. "If you had left the boy alone I would have dealt with him
myself. How often must I tell you that Scotsmen have no tact?"

"The Scots are a vairy great people," proclaimed Ewing, unabashed. "We
are too great for the snivelling hypocrisy which the English folk call
tak. We say just what we think."

"And that is what makes you so exasperating to live with," rasped
Madame.

"Scots!" cried Willatopy. "I know the Scots. There was one of them at
Thursday Island. He was always drinking whisky and always drunk. He used
to chant songs, long, miles long, and used to shout, as he rolled over
hugging a bottle, 'From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur
springs.'"

Willatopy's exact imitation of the old drunkard's accent, which was not
widely different from Ewing's own accent, sent Madame and Ching into a
roar of laughter.

"I will mind yon," growled the Chief.

"No, you won't," commanded Madame. "You will treat Willatopy very
kindly. He is the pilot, and our lives are in his hands. Yon have
brought your troubles on your own silly head, Alexander, and I don't
sympathise with you one little bit. Now, Willatopy, tell us about
yourself, how you came to be here, where you live, and how it is that
you speak English so well."

"I am not English," said Willatopy, rather unnecessarily. "My father was
English, a very grand Chief in his own country, but he did not love the
English. He always said to me when I was so, so high," he indicated a
child of about the height of the bunk on which he was sitting. "He said
to me, 'Willie, you belong to your mother's people. You are a Hula, of
the tribe of fishers and swimmers and sailors of the sea. It is better
to be a Hula than an Englishman.' I remember the words of my father,
whose hair was long and yellow, and his eyes blue like mine. The girls
say"--he spoke a sentence in native dialect and then translated--"they
say that my eyes are blue as the sky before dawn. The brown girls love
my eyes. Do you love my eyes, Madame? I love yours; they shine like the
English violets which my father planted, like the violets shine before
the sun has soaked up the morning dew."

"You should not say things like that, young man," reproved Ewing.
"Madame will be very angry."

"Oh, shut up, Alexander," snapped Madame Gilbert. "I want to listen to
the boy. He has paid me a pretty compliment. Thank you, Willatopy. I
like your bright steely blue eyes. The girls on your island have good
taste."

"Have you a husband, Madame?" enquired Willatopy eagerly.

"Yes," replied Madame with hardihood. "I have a fine big husband, and I
love him very much."

"I am sorry," said Willatopy, simply. "I think that I should like to
marry you myself. I am a grown man and very rich. I would have built a
very fine hut for you on my island, and I would have taken one of my
girls to be your maiden."

"You are not very old, Willatopy, and it will be better fun for you not
to be married just yet. My own fine big husband would not wish me to
take another one, not even you."

"No," assented Willatopy, true to the strictly monogamous code of the
Straits. "One time, one husband. But it is a great pity. You are very
beautiful, and I love you. The Skipper he called me a nigger, Madame,
but you do not call me a nigger."

"I didn't," growled Ching, to whom the whole scene was highly offensive.
"But if it wasn't for Madame here I would soon show you your proper
place."

"Willatopy is half white," explained Madame. "He is not an ordinary
native. And you said yourself he was a daisy of a pilot."

"So he is. As a pilot and down with the men in the foc's'le he would be
in his proper place. But here, talking like this before you, he makes me
sick. If you will excuse me, Madame, I will go to my chart-room." Ching
stumped off with a sour face, but the more politic Ewing remained. He
did not propose that the novel attractions of Willatopy should have the
field entirely to themselves.

Willatopy, though half white in blood and quite passably well taught by
his late father and in the mission schools on Murray Island, had all the
inconsequence of a native. He would jump about from one subject to
another, like a bee among flowers, sipping here and there, and then
skipping on forgetful of where he had last been. He continued to stare
at Madame in deep admiration--never in his small experience had he seen
a woman with hair so richly red, eyes of so dazzling a violet, or a
figure so graciously indicated by the clinging folds of a modern dress.
His idea of woman had hitherto been of the crudest--black hair and eyes,
and brown limbs fully revealed. But though he continued to be absorbed
by the feminine mystery of Madame--there is no mystery about
nakedness--he forgot all about his recent matrimonial suggestions.

"I sail everywhere in my yawl," said he. "When the tide is high I go
straight over the reefs. They are nothing. But when the water falls I
keep to the channels. Not the deep channels; the little ones which
wander in and out among the islands. It was my father's yawl. He brought
her out from England, from his own country. She was built--I forget
where; perhaps I shall remember soon. It is no matter. In Baru, where I
live with my mother and my sisters, my father bought miles and miles of
shore and forest. It is all mine now, though my mother calls it hers. My
father said to me, 'It will be all yours, Willie, when I die, though
your mother must keep it while she lives.' My father was very rich, and
I am now very rich. I do not work. There are fish, plenty fish, in the
sea; we catch them with nets and in our hands. We are Hula fishers, and
the sea is our home as much as the land. We hunt turtle and dugong. Both
are easy. If you will come with me to my island, Madame, I will show you
how to fish on the Barrier Reef and how to hunt the dugong with spears,
and to catch the silly turtle with suckers. My father said, 'When God
plants bananas and papaw and chestnuts in the woods, and fills the sea
with fish and dugong, and turtle, there is no need for man to waste his
life in work.' My father loved Baru and the Hula more than he loved
England and the English. My father was a beachcomber," added Willatopy,
proudly.

"I have never sailed the southern part of these Straits," said Ewing.
"But I know New Guinea. The Hula tribe belong to New Guinea."

"That is so," assented Willatopy. "My father took my mother from the
Hula pile village at Bulaa, and brought her to Baru, which he bought.
Not the whole island, but miles and miles of shore and forest. I am half
English and half Hula, but I love Hula and hate English. Except you,
Madame. When I go to Thursday Island in my yawl to see my banker and to
get my money--it comes from England, my money does, in big bags--I see
English, and Japanese, plenty Japanese, but I do not love them, not a
bit. I shall never go to England. My father said when I was so, so high:
'Always stick to Hula, Willie, never go to England.' And I never will."

Madame reflected. She was called upon to make a decision of some moment.
Now that Willatopy, risen from the sea, had taken possession of the
_Humming Top_, it was plain that he must remain on board until she let
go her anchor at his island home. She would never arrive without him.
Ching was an excellent deep-sea sailor, but Willatopy was immeasurably
his superior as a pilot of the Straits. It was also obvious that the
blood connection between Willatopy and the Family of Toppys must soon
come out, though it would not necessarily be assumed that he was the
legitimate heir of the family title. Half blood is much more common than
legitimacy. Madame, of course, did not intend at any time to disclose
the fact of her pre-knowledge. The revelation of Willatopy's parentage
must be drawn from the artless boy himself. And since it seemed to
Madame that a disclosure must come sooner or later, it were on the whole
better that it should come sooner. Her task would thereby be made the
more easy. So she led the boy gently, imperceptibly, to the point at
which his identity would become manifest. From Gossip Ewing the
toothsome scandal would spread over the ship as rapidly as if one
shouted it from the bridge.

"I am very dark," observed Willatopy, flying off upon quite a new tack,
"darker than my mother, who is pure Hula. Though I have the blue eyes of
my father, my skin is very dark; it is like my face all over. When I go
to Thursday Island I wear these white clothes, but at home in my island
I wear nothing--almost nothing. When you come to my island, Madame, you
shall dress Hula fashion like my sisters. My sisters are very pale
skinned; my father said that they were the colour of fawns in England."

"You remember your father very well," said Madame, ignoring the
suggestion of a future costume for herself. "Has he been dead long?"

"Years and years. Before the war. I was so high when he died." Willatopy
indicated the stature of a boy of about twelve. "But I remember him very
well indeed. He and I used to sail together in the yawl, and I learned
all the channels; every one. He always said to me, 'Be wise when you
grow up, Willie. Stick to Tops Island. Never go to England. They are all
ravening wolves in England where every man preys on his neighbour.' He
meant, I think, that the English are cannibals. The Hula cut off the
heads of their enemies--it is the custom--but they are not cannibals any
longer. The English are cannibals. They devour one another."

Madame laughed, and thought of Roger Gatepath. This was a turning of the
tables in rich earnest. "Your father meant that there are very many
English crowded upon a small island, and that they try to get money from
one another."

"They are just like that in Thursday Island," cried Willatopy eagerly,
to show that he understood. "When I go there for my money, and carry it
away in a bag, the English try to make me drink so that they may steal
my money. But they never get it. I do not drink when I have my bag to
guard."

"Good man," said Ewing, with approval. "Never mix up whisky and
business."

"Never mix up whisky with anything," advised Madame sententiously.

"I never do," observed Ewing, grinning at her.

"Be quiet, Alexander. Willatopy has taken warning by that horrible
countryman of yours in Thursday Island, and means always to be a good
boy. He won't drink even when he hasn't a bag to guard. And now, Willie,
tell us. Do you remember what part of England your father sailed from?"

Willatopy puckered his forehead. He was not accustomed to search his
memory. The personality of the father had made a deep ineradicable
impression upon the boy, but he knew very little of his origin and
sought not to enquire. The savage half of him took everything as it came
without comment.

"It was by the sea, I am sure," said he at last, "for there was a big
battle long ago which the English won. It was a battle at sea. It is all
in the history books at Murray Island." He dismissed the subject, but
Madame stuck to her questions.

"Whom did the English beat?" she asked.

"I don't know," indifferently. "Yes, I remember. Spaniards."

"Was it the Spanish Armada?"

"Yes, that was it. The Spanish Armada. My father's father fought the
Spaniards." Willatopy's conception of time did not reach much beyond a
single generation. Centuries and historical dates conveyed nothing to
him.

"Yon place must have been Plymouth," observed Ewing. Madame, for one,
blessed the gratuitously informative Scot.

"Thank you, Alexander. You are quick. So your father came from
Devonshire?"

"Yes, Devonshire. He often spoke to me of that country. I had forgotten.
The yawl was built there--at Tops Ham, the Home of the Toppys, my
father's home. He sailed straight away from the Home of the Toppys to
Baru. It is Baru in the native speech," explained Willatopy. "But we
often call it Tops Island."

The murder was out now. Madame stared at Ewing, opening her eyes very
wide, and Ewing stared at her.

"What is all this?" exclaimed the puzzled Chief. "The Home of
Toppys--Tops Island. I don't clearly comprehend. What is your name,
boy?"

"Willatopy."

"I know. But what is your real name, your English name?"

"Willie Toppys."

"And who the blue blazes was your father?" roared Ewing, rising up in
excitement. Madame did her best to affect an equally excited interest.

"My father," said Willatopy with dignity, "was the Honourable William
Toppys. He was a Great Chief in England."

Ewing fell into his chair so suddenly that its revolution nearly pitched
him out again.

"Christ!" shouted he. "He is a by-blow of Mr. William."

The Chief Engineer jumped up, rushed to the chart-room, where Ching was
sulking in solitude, and returned dragging his commanding officer by the
coat collar.

"Ching," he roared, pointing at Willatopy. "D'ye ken the bairn's ee'
noo?"

"I don't ken the Moor's blasted eye," growled Ching. "Why should I?"

"D'ye ever see an ee' like to yon oot of a Toppys heid?"

Ching grudgingly admitted that the eyes of Willatopy were by some
impertinent freak of Nature not unlike those which distinguished the
Family.

Madame broke in. The scene was becoming ridiculous, and Willatopy was
getting cross. He felt that Ewing was making a show of him.

"Alexander," commanded Madame. "Sit down and keep quiet. Captain," she
went on, "we have just discovered that Willatopy our pilot is a son of
Mr. William Toppys, who went to the South Seas twenty years ago and died
there."

"I expect that our Mr. William has left a lot of brown brats scattered
up and down the Islands," grunted Ching. "The boy is a good and useful
pilot, but half blood don't make him a Toppys."

"He is a Toppys, and we can't treat him as a stranger in a Toppys ship.
Willie," went on Madame in her sweetest, most silvery tones. "By a
wonderful coincidence you have come to the help of your own people. This
yacht, the _Humming Top_, is owned by Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan.
We are all employed by the Family of which you are a member. You have
dropped quite by accident among your own people. Sir John Toppys must be
a cousin of yours."

"Are you a cousin of mine, Madame?" asked Willatopy eagerly.

"No. I am a friend, that is all. But aren't you frightfully interested?"

Willatopy considered the situation. "It would have been very nice to
have had you for a cousin, Madame. A sort of white sister. But I don't
want the Skipper to be my cousin. I am a Hula, and I do not love the
English. Also I am hungry, and I want my food."

As a subject for the exhibition of frightful excitement, Willatopy was
a complete failure. He was bored. He had talked himself tired and
hungry. He wanted food and afterwards sleep. He had no use, as the
Americans say, for the cousinhood of Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan.

Ching turned his rude back upon the discovered scion of Toppys, but the
kind-hearted Chief led him away, presented him to the greatly interested
Officers' Mess--Marie declared that she was ravished at the
discovery--and left him in their care.

Later that evening, when Madame had gone to her stateroom, the Captain
and Chief Engineer drew together in their own quarters.

"I have been reckoning," observed Ewing, "how mysterious are the ways of
Providence. There yonder in England is the great House of Toppys without
an heir, unless it be old Sir John; and here in the South Seas there
drops in one son of Mr. William, and maybe, as you say, lots more of
them are round about. To him that hath shall be given more than he
wants--or intends to keep--and to him that hath not shall be taken away
the heirs in whom his heart rejoices. When Lord Topsham's son and
nephews were all killed in the war the old man just withered away. His
House is desolate. I am thinking that if this nigger here, whom they
call Willatopy, had not been born the wrong side of the blanket he would
now have been the long-lost heir of the Barony of Topsham."

"That's nowt," grunted Ching. "He and all like him are just spawn. There
may, for all we know, be a brown Topy on every island in the Straits."

"Maybe aye, maybe no. It is like enough. The Idle Rich are bestially
immoral in their habits. Still, if by some chance Mr. William had
married this nigger's mother the boy would have been the Lord of
Topsham. Ching, I am a grandly circumspectious man. I am uneasy,
powerful uneasy. Why did Sir John Toppys send out the _Humming Top_ to
these waters with that foreign Madame on board of her? She's not his
mistress, I am sure of that. She is a great French lady. Why did he do
it? Did he know, think you, that there was a Willatopy here?"

"He wouldn't have bothered his head about a Moor, anyway. The yacht was
idle, and Madame wanted a voyage. That's reason enough for the likes of
us."

"All coloured men are not Moors, you old Elizabethan seadog. This is a
brown heathen Melanesian, not a Musulman Turk. Ching, I tell you that I
am uneasy. My brain is buzzing with queer thoughts. It sticks in my mind
that when that Willatopy told us the name of his father, our pretty
Madame wasn't nearly so surprised as she sought to make me think she
was. She seemed to my mind to be expecting it."

"You've got too much mind, Ewing. That is what's the matter with you.
You keep to your engine-room and I will keep to my bridge. The ways of
the gentry have nowt to do with us."

At about the same time Marie was brushing out the red gold mane which
flowed in splendid waves over Madame's broad back. There was nothing
grudged when Madame was designed and built. Beauty and power went hand
in hand at her fashioning. She could have crumpled up Marie, the
sinuous French girl, in her strong hands, and stuffed her body through a
port-hole. Their talk was carried on in vivid French; I will do my best
to render its purport in pale English.

"Did you ever see such eyes?" sighed Marie. "They go through me like
swords. And his feet and hands. Quite small, Madame. It is easy to see
that his blood is of the brightest azure. Did you say his father was an
English Lord?"

"Marie," said Madame, crossly. "You are disgustingly promiscuous. I have
allowed you two deck officers and two engineers. All fine handsome white
men. Yet you must now be googling at a coffee-coloured savage. I won't
have it, Marie."

"He is not a savage; he is most intellectual. His English is
perfect--much better than mine. And he knows a few words, they are
certainly but a few, of our French tongue. He is aristocrat. Is he not a
cousin of the rich Sir John Toppys?"

"It is a cousinship which the aristocracy do not usually recognise,"
observed Madame drily. "Willatopy is in my charge, and I won't have him
played with. Especially by an old campaigner like you. Do what you
please with the officers, I give them to you, but leave Willatopy alone.
These half-castes are dangerous to meddle with. Remember, if I have any
reason to suspect that you are up to your usual tricks, I will send you
straight back to France."

Marie shuddered, and promised that she would be cold as an icicle. She
shivered as if her blood had been physically chilled, for there were
grave reasons, the very gravest of reasons, why Marie Lambert did not
desire to be sent back to France.



CHAPTER VII

FATHER AND SON


Willatopy, standing in dignified solitude upon the Captain's bridge,
conned the _Humming Top_ through the deep water channels of bewildering
intricacy which led from the Dungeness Reef to Thursday Island. Ching,
too good a sailor not to recognise a master when he met one, had
withdrawn to the chart-room, and left Willatopy to his unchallengeable
eminence. The boy, quickly grasping the purpose and use of the steering
telegraph, now transmitted his orders direct to the quartermaster
beneath his feet in the wheel-house. He was a sailor by right of birth
on both sides of the house. His ancestors of Devon had played a
faithful, if not a very distinguished part, in the history of the Royal
Navy; there has not often been a generation since Harry the Eighth
without at least one Toppys in the books of the Navy Office. The Hulas
of New Guinea, who to this day build their huts out to sea upon the butt
ends of roughly driven piles--like our Neolithic ancestors of the Swiss
Lake Dwellings--are a tribe of amphibians. Upon the maritime side of his
being there was no collision between white and brown blood in the veins
of Willatopy. He was salt all through; saturated with the sea lore which
is the subconscious heritage from a naval ancestry; bitten to the bone
by sea instincts derived from countless generations of Hula fishers in
the Coral waters.

"How in blazes do you remember like that?" asked Ching once as Willatopy
drove at full speed with a five-knot tide under him into the hidden maze
of coral.

"I don't remember," replied Willie easily, as he delicately manipulated
the steering telegraph, and swung the big yacht this way and that, as
surely as a racing motorist swings his car. "I don't remember; I know."
He never looked at Ching's chart; he never appeared to take any
bearings--although those bright, penetrative blue eyes, ranging out over
the encircling islands, were all the while noting familiar land features
and making their own quick unconscious calculations. He never hesitated
for one instant. The Skipper down below, following Willatopy's course
upon the chart, would sometimes tremble when he saw by how much the boy
ignored the line a careful Admiralty had laid down. But he was too wise
to interfere. If you take a pilot you must trust to him, and Willatopy,
though he scorned the professional title, was a pilot beyond compare. He
did not remember; he knew.

Madame Gilbert was on the boat deck when the yacht drew in towards Port
Kennedy. She frowned viciously upon Thursday Island, that sorry western
gate of the lovely tropic Straits. A treeless, desolate waste dotted
with corrugated iron buildings. Cluster the iron buildings a little,
drive wide dusty roads between clumps of them, and one has Port Kennedy,
the seat of government. Impelled by greed of pearl and shell, and
undeterred by the stark hideousness of the Island, the sweepings of
most nations have poured down upon that uncomely spot, and have greatly
contributed to make it what it is, and to keep from reaching up towards
better things.

"Poor Willatopy," murmured Madame as she gazed upon the polluted scene.
"So this is his point of contact with white civilisation. Better Tops
Island, a hundred times."

A mile away from the port, Willatopy handed over his charge to her
lawful skipper. "Take her in. I go in my yawl." He dropped down the
bridge ladder, and ran pattering along the deck. At a sign from Madame
he stopped.

"I go in my yawl," cried he, pointing to where that little craft of his
bobbed up and down in the yacht's wash at the end of her towing line.

"But, Willatopy," protested Madame, "I am going to your island, and we
can't possibly find our way unless you come as our pilot."

"I come, Madame, after two, three days. You wait for me. I go to see my
banker, and to get my money, in a bag. Then I go to one of my brown
girls. She loves my eyes which are like the sky before dawn."

Willatopy raced away aft. He pulled the yawl in by her line, vaulted
over the yacht's rail, and plumped down in the middle of her swaying
deck. Up went mainsail, foresail, jib; she had no topsail. The driver
had remained set. Willie cast off the line and a moment later his little
vessel was leaning over to the trade wind and flying up the harbour. The
boy had not even troubled to stop the yacht's engines to make more easy
his transhipment. And Ching did not love Willatopy enough to stop them
for him. It was a flying transfer, but done so easily and surely that
Madame hardly realised the simian skill of it. She stood by the rail
watching the yawl pitch as the swell took her, and the white bare-headed
figure which grew smaller and smaller every instant.

"So I have to wait at this horrible Thursday Island while Master Willie
takes his pleasure with one of his brown girls. And it was only
yesterday that he proposed himself to me as my husband! First it was
Ching he put down; now it is Madame Gilbert. Presently it will be
Alexander, and then it will be Marie. When you come to sit in the House
of Lords, friend Willatopy, what a very, very masterful Baron of Topsham
you will be."

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

The _Humming Top_ tied up at the hulk which does duty for a wharf at
Thursday Island. Ewing, armed with a manifest of stores, and with the
joyous light of battle in his shrewd Scots eye, departed to open an
offensive upon the local markets. The Skipper disappeared as skippers
always disappear in harbour, and Madame was left alone. Port Kennedy was
flagrantly uninviting, yet she felt impelled to go ashore. One always
does. First she exchanged gracious compliments with the Administrator to
whom she carried letters of introduction from the Colonial Office, and
then, by a happy inspiration, wandered off to find Willatopy's banker.
The boy fascinated her, and she wanted to talk about him. He was so
entirely different from what Roger Gatepath had led her to expect that
her mind was in a whirl. Perhaps this banker, who kept Willatopy's
money--in large bags--might prove to be an understanding and
communicative friend. He proved to be both--though Robert Grant, like
all managers of banks in the outer fringes of the Empire, was a Scot of
Scots. Madame commanded confidences even from a Scot of Scots.

"Mr. Grant," said she, after her connection with the Family of Toppys
had been discreetly explained. "This queer boy Willatopy swooped down
upon us in his yawl out of the wide sea, saved the Family yacht from
imminent destruction on the reefs in your most dangerous Straits,
piloted us here as easily as if he were sailing his own little boat, and
then vanished. I understand that he has been here to draw his money in a
bag, and has skipped away in his own rapid decided fashion to lay
tribute at the naked feet of one of his brown girls. As a scorcher this
Willatopy of yours would give points to any young man whom I have ever
met."

Grant smiled. "He is what the Americans call a live wire. But before I
tell you what I know about him, may I be permitted to ask the purpose of
your enquiries?"

Madame saw that she must put most of her cards on the table. The finer
arts of feminine diplomacy would be wasted upon a creature so direct.

"That yacht yonder of mine," said she, "is owned by Sir John Toppys of
Wigan, cousin and heir of the late Lord of Topsham. I have come out at
his request to visit the irregular branch of the Family which is settled
in the Torres Straits, and to do what I can to help them if they need or
will accept my help."

"Sir John Toppys, cousin and heir," repeated Grant curiously. "Has the
direct line then failed?"

Madame explained how the casualties of war had left the House desolate.

"So Sir John Toppys, cousin of the late Lord, is the heir," mused Grant
reflectively. His brow puckered, and he looked at Madame acutely and
suspiciously. She bore the scrutiny in that bland impenetrable way which
has so often baffled me.

"So you are interested," said he at last, "in the irregular branch?" The
emphasis upon the adjective was unmistakable.

"Well," drawled Madame Gilbert, "you will agree that the colour is
somewhat unusual."

Grant smiled again. He was thinking hard, and it was plain that he was
familiar with the ramifications of the Family of Toppys, and with the
lawful rights of the Twenty-Eighth Baron. Until that moment, however, he
had not known that the direct white heirs had failed.

When he spoke it was with deliberate, anxiously deliberate, emphasis.
"The kindest service which you can render, Madame, to the coloured
branch of Toppys is to leave them alone--in happy ignorant security. I
repeat, ignorant security."

Madame drew a deep breath. For reasons which she did not yet appreciate,
but which she was soon to understand, Willatopy's banker was on her
side, the side of Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan.

"I was an intimate friend of Will Toppys," went on Grant. "I loved him,
and think that I, alone among his white friends, sympathised with his
withdrawal from white civilisation. Money and honours meant nothing to
his simple soul. The few hundreds a year which he drew through me from
his property in England, the small plantation which he bought upon Tops
Island, sufficed. He was in his way wealthy, and also in his own way
gloriously happy. His wife--you have not seen his wife--honoured him as
a king of men. Willatopy, his only son, worshipped him as a god. You may
perhaps have noticed how Willatopy, although but twelve years old when
his father died, quotes his lightest saying as the last word in human or
divine wisdom?"

Madame nodded.

"I was my friend's executor, and, in my humble way, have tried to be a
guardian to Willatopy. I love the boy for his father's sake and his own
sake. He is a good boy. His courage has the quality of tempered steel:
he is honest and generous. He comes here about once a month, draws a
pound or two in silver from me, buys gear for his yawl and a few
delicacies for his family--they all have a queer passion for sardines
and tinned tongue--picks up some beads for his brown girls, and then
disappears. He does not drink; he has not, I believe, ever tasted
alcohol. His relations with brown girls are those customary in the
Straits. Here, Madame, boys and girls follow their inclinations, but
they are free from the vices of the white races. The unmarried flit from
flower to flower, but those who are married--though wedded by the
sketchiest of native ceremonial--are faithful to one another with a
rigidity unknown in Europe or America. All the vices and all the
diseases in these islands are the gift of the white man. I have always
feared for Willatopy, and now your coming fills me with dread for him.
White and brown blood form a bad mixture--an explosive mixture. A
mixture unstable as nitro-glycerine. So long as Willie remains brown,
and follows the precepts of his father, he will be safe and happy. But
let him incline by ever so little towards the white side of him, let him
once awaken to a taste for wine or whisky, and become conscious of the
seductions of white women--and Willatopy will be a lost soul. Here in my
desk lies the will of my friend Toppys and--other papers. I see the
danger which threatens Willatopy, and I tremble. Take your yacht away,
Madame Gilbert, and trouble the boy no more."

"I have no wish, we have no wish, that Willatopy should leave the Torres
Straits, least of all that he should go to England. But he interests me
extremely, and I would see more of him and of his home before we go
away. It will be but for a few weeks, Mr. Grant, and all that while I
will be his zealous guardian. Besides myself there is only one white
woman in the yacht and she is my maid and at my strict orders. I can
appreciate the danger of alcohol for him, but surely a boy like
Willatopy--whose eyes are blue as the sky at dawn--has already
experienced the seductions of sex?"

"No," emphatically declared Robert Grant. "Where there are no clothes
there is no curiosity, and where there is no conscious shame, there is
no viciousness. Willatopy in the hands of an unscrupulous white woman
would become a devil. Drink and debased white women are the man-eating
tigers in the path of his life; if they fall upon Willatopy they will
devour him. Go back to your yacht, Madame Gilbert, turn her head
towards England, and trouble us no more."

"Bereft of our accomplished pilot we should be ashore within the hour,"
quoth Madame slyly.

"The boy's a wonder," mused Grant. "He arrives and conquers without an
effort. He has bound you to him by his skill in pilotage, and now, I
suppose, you will make him lead you to his island, happy no longer. The
curses of the white man will descend upon it and upon him. Drink and
Lust.... You will not have known the father of Willatopy; he was before
your time. In the eyes of the world he was mad; in all eyes, perhaps,
except my own. He gave up his home in England, he married a Hula girl
out of New Guinea, and he settled upon Tops Island. All these evidences
of rank insanity are known to you; to me alone is known an incident
which would class Will Toppys among the doddering idiots. When I first
heard of it from the man's own lips I was staggered. I am a Scot and a
banker and a materialist. I should not have done what he did; I would
have realised a quick fortune, and dashed home to bonny Scotland. I do
not live on this filthy island for fun. You cannot conceive, Madame, how
after thirty years of the tropics I ache for a bitter Scots haar. But
Will Toppys was true to himself; he rejected the lure of the millions as
he had rejected that of the thousands and the hundreds. During the
wanderings of Will Toppys some twenty years ago, when first he went to
New Guinea, he came across an old Australian gold hunter, one of the
original gang who in the fifties had staked out claims and washed gravel
for gold dust in the river beds beyond Balaarat. This old fellow had
found gold in a creek in New Guinea, and was washing for dust in the
old, old patient fashion when Toppys discovered him. The old man was
unhappy. He had, it is true, found gold in paying quantities, but mixed
with the gold was some dark, heavy obtrusive substance which marred the
serenity of his daily operations. The gold would not wash clear by
itself. Always it was mixed with this miserable stuff which had to be
painfully separated from it. The old man showed Toppys some of it; he
had kept a little under his bunk, but had thrown the rest away. Neither
Toppys nor the digger knew anything of the stuff except that it was a
nuisance. But Toppys took a pinch or two away with him in an envelope.
His curiosity was so far stimulated that he despatched the envelope to
the Assay Office at Brisbane, and asked for particulars of identity.
Years afterwards he showed me the reply which came to him from the Assay
Office. The dark, obtrusive, heavy metal, which the old digger had been
throwing away because it interfered with the purity of his gold dust,
was one of the iridium family, of great commercial importance, and was
valued at fifty pounds sterling an ounce. Fifty pounds an ounce! By
comparison the gold dust was mere dross. You will inquire, as I did,
what course William Toppys took. Many men, who pass for honest, would
have persuaded the old man to sell his claim for some derisory pittance
and have stolen the fruits of his discovery. Others would have offered
to help the old man at his gold washing and have taken their payment in
osmiridium. Others again would have slain the discoverer. Toppys did
none of these things. He went to the old digger's hut to acquaint him
with the gift which God had sent, and found that, while he waited, God
had vouchsafed another and a greater boon. The old man lay in his bunk
dead. Toppys buried him there among the wealth of which he had never
learned the value--and went away. The man was true to himself. He had
come to the Torres Straits to live the simple native life, and he would
not look back for all the riches of New Guinea at fifty pounds an ounce.
And he never disclosed to anyone, even to me, the secret of the
deposits. They were somewhere on the south coast, that was all that he
would tell. His reason was like himself, sanely mad. God, who had hidden
those treasures for millions of years, had disclosed them to two
men--one who was dead, and the other who was as good as dead. Toppys
accepted the revelation as a Divine test of his sincerity, and it would,
in his eyes, have been sacrilege to have given away or sold the
knowledge. I admit," concluded Grant rather savagely, "that if I could
have won the secret from him, I would have scratted up the blessed stuff
with my finger nails. Fifty pounds an ounce! More than a million pounds
a ton. From his own point of view Will Toppys was right in rejecting the
useless wealth, but I still think that he might have given me the tip."

"I must tell that story to Alexander," said Madame, "if only to enjoy
his writhings. Fifty pounds the ounce. Poor Mr. Grant and poor
Alexander. Though one does not need to be a Scot to jump at fifty pounds
an ounce. I could do a bit of scratching at that price with my own lily
hands."

"That was William Toppys, the father of Willatopy. Though how that
serene and unworldly soul came to inhabit the body of an ancient and
commonplace Toppys passes my poor comprehension. Willatopy, who
worshipped his father as a god, is not a bit like him in temperament. He
reminds me sometimes curiously of an English public school boy. He has
the typically English unintellectual love of life. There is nothing of
the anchorite about him. He enjoys every minute of his life. His
virility and extraordinary endurance are Melanesian. Do you know how
William Toppys died when that boy of his was twelve years old? No? Let
me tell you, and perhaps my story of the son will be as illuminating as
my story of the father. Toppys loved his son, though he could have
wished him to have been less dark. The sisters are almost white, not
darker in skin than many southern Europeans. They wear nothing but the
native petticoats, so that one has full opportunity of inspecting their
colour. Willatopy is black beside them. Toppys and his son were always
about in their yawl, which the father brought out from England. It is
fully decked and a fine seaboat. They went everywhere in it, and cared
nothing for the storms or the currents which make our navigation so
difficult and dangerous. It was in March of 1912 that William Toppys was
killed, accidentally killed, in the presence of Willatopy."

"Killed!" exclaimed Madame. "I did not know that."

"Yes, killed. I have the particulars here in my drawer with the--the
other papers. Toppys and the boy were cruising to the north and one
evening at sunset had let go their anchor in the lee of a wide coral
garden. It was the season of monsoon, when storms and rain sweep down
from the north-west. The wind blows sometimes with hurricane velocity.
We have a very brief twilight; at one rush comes the dark, or almost.
The anchor had gone down in fifteen feet of water on the edge of the
coral, and Toppys had gone forward to lower the sails. Somehow, I don't
know how, his feet became entangled, and he pitched overboard. This was
nothing in itself. The yawl has no more than two inches of rail, and
both father and son frequently went overboard without intention.
Willatopy swims like a seal, and Toppys was quite at home in the water.
Willatopy, when he heard the splash, ran forward, cast off the halliard
of the mainsail, and threw the bight over the rail. It was difficult to
climb back without a line. He saw his father come to the surface, gasp,
roll over, and sink again, leaving a trail of blood in the sea. As he
fell, Toppys must have struck his head against a spur of coral, and when
he gasped must have filled his lungs with water. He sank like a stone to
the bottom. It was after sunset, and rapidly growing dark. Willatopy,
the small boy of twelve, dived at once and sought for the heavy man of
twelve stone on the floor fifteen feet below. It was already dark below,
and quite a minute passed before Willatopy got his hand under his
father's arm and struck up to the surface. Then he found himself six
feet from the yawl, and drifting past her. There followed a furious
struggle. The small boy, hopelessly overweighted, fought every inch of
the distance, struggled across those interminable two yards, and just
got his fingers on the counter as the current carried him away. If he
had missed his last grab at the rail, Willatopy could never have swum
back bearing his father's body, and he would never have let go. He is
Melanesian in muscle and skin, but his heart is that of an English
bulldog. The boy's fingers gripped the rail, he hung at arm's length,
and with the other arm he grappled to him the man whom he worshipped as
a god. Picture to yourself the situation. The night had fallen, the wind
was soughing overhead, and threatening a gale, the tide was swirling
past the coral and dragging at Willatopy's burden--and the mainsail
halliard, by which alone he could essay to regain the yawl, was more
than fifteen feet distant toward the bows. And Willatopy was twelve
years old, and his father weighed twelve stone. I want you to get all
these details clear before you, Madame. An English boy could never have
done what Willatopy did then, and afterwards. He would have possessed
the heart but not the lithe enduring strength nor the profound sea
knowledge. Willatopy pulled himself in towards the boat, and her side
inclined slightly towards him. Then he gave the leap and kick of a
dolphin, and shifted his grip from the counter to the side rail. By a
succession of kicks and leaps he worked his way forward inch by inch,
foot by foot. He does not know how long it took him to reach the
halliard, which trailed in the water. He says it was hours, but
Willatopy has vague ideas of time. At last he arrived. He seized the
line and swung clear. Treading water he passed the line under his
father's arms, and made sure that when his own support was withdrawn,
the man's head would be clear of the water. All through that desperate,
one-armed progress from the stern to the midships of the yawl Willatopy
had never once loosened his grip upon his father, nor allowed the dear
drooping head to sink under water. Then when his father had been
securely tied, Willatopy worked forward to the anchor chain and climbed
on board by the bowsprit. He was up and hauling in an instant. The yawl
inclined more and more as the heavy body came in over the rail, but the
boy took a grip on the deck with his naked toes, and hauled more
vigorously than ever. Now was the beloved body stretched at last upon
the deck. The boy felt a long gash on his father's head, and could not
distinguish a sign of life. There was no breath that he could perceive
in the limp sodden body. The Hula fishers of New Guinea have their own
methods of restoring the apparently drowned. Willatopy applied them. He
also remembered his father's lessons and turned them to account, working
the dead arms up and down to induce respiration. It was dark as a wolf's
mouth; Willatopy had to work by touch and ear. The time passed, how long
I do not know, and without pause for rest or food the boy worked on. He
went on until the grey dawn found him still working. And then he knew
that his father was dead. The blue Toppys eyes were cold and sightless.
The body which Willatopy had rubbed and kneaded all though the night was
becoming fixed in the rigor of death. Willatopy rose up and went below.
He filled himself vigorously with food, thinking hard all the time of a
method by which he might transfer his father from the exposed deck to
the little bunk which had been his bed at sea. He felt very lonely. His
white god had withdrawn its presence; no longer would the two, father
and son, sail the seas together. In the ordinary sense, I do not think
that Willatopy grieved at all. He was too busy. After a vigorous attempt
he was obliged to leave the body on the deck. His strength was not equal
to the work of transfer to the cabin, but he did what he could. He
lashed the body so that it could not be disturbed by the rough movements
of the yawl, or by the washing of heavy seas. Then he set the sails,
hauled up the anchor, and laid a course for home. The disaster had
occurred some fifty miles to the north of Tops Island. But three days
passed before a small boy, grey with exhaustion and the continual
beating upon his naked body of salt sea foam, sailed a yawl, with the
corpse of his father lashed to the deck, into the harbour of Murray
Island thirty miles to the south.

"Of those three days Willatopy can tell little. He had been caught in a
furious gale and blown out into the Gulf, driving before it with no
sails set except the small jib. Soon after leaving the fatal anchorage,
where Toppys had been killed, Willatopy's eye for weather had told him
to strip the yawl of her canvas, and she had come down, as it were, from
full dress to a loin cloth before the tempest burst. For twenty-four
hours--as Willie put it, 'from sun to sun'--he had sat by the tiller
without food or sleep. And the previous night had been sleepless, too.
Then the wind fell, but the waves ran high under the eternal Pacific
swell. By lashing the tiller for a few minutes at a time the boy was
able to take food, but sleep was still denied to him. He came back in
long reaches, steering by the sun, for he had been blown far from
familiar waters. He was a long way to the south of Tops Island, and
east of the Great Barrier itself, so that when he sighted land after two
whole days in the open, it was a great unknown, unfriendly reef within
which the passages were narrow and tortuous. Still he worked his way
through, and getting under shelter of a strange island, let go his
anchor and slept. I do not think that he could have held out but for
that God-given sleep. And so after yet another day he arrived in Murray
Island. They took his father's body and would have buried it there, but
Willatopy forbade. He was all right, he said, and going on home, but for
the moment he was tired, and wanted to lie up among friends. So the good
souls of Murray Island made a rough coffin, and laid Toppys upon that
bunk in the little cabin where he had so often slept. Willatopy slept
peacefully on the opposite bunk. He did not shrink from his father's
body as an English boy would have done; he was happy in the thought that
his god was still with him. And then, still alone, that boy of twelve
sailed homewards with his father's corpse. He laughed when assistance
was offered, and scorned companionship. 'Now that my father is dead I
will sail his yawl,' said he. 'No one understands her except him and
me.' Will Toppys is buried near the hut where he had lived with his wife
and children. The family buried him themselves, and repeated over his
body the prayers which the dead man had taught them. That is how William
Toppys died, and that is how his son, a little boy of twelve years old,
brought the father home."

Madame Gilbert's eyes were full of tears, and she did not speak for a
few minutes.

"He comes of good stock," said she at last. "Blood always tells."

"Good stock," assented Grant, "on both sides of the house. If his father
was a Toppys of Devon, his mother is a Hula of New Guinea. Willatopy is
grit all though."

"I am very very much obliged to you," said Madame. "I understand now
something of the father and more of the son. Believe me I wish Willatopy
nothing that is not good."

"Then," said Grant very seriously, "if you mean him nothing except good
you will sail away from the Torres Straits and trouble him no more."



CHAPTER VIII

TOPS ISLAND


Three days later at noon the _Humming Top_, with thick oily smoke
pouring from her funnel, was getting up steam and awaiting her pilot.
Alexander Ewing, a grim happy Ewing, was down in the engine-room. For
days he had been stimulating the hunger of a market by exiguous sales at
the most appalling of prices; when money failed he graciously accepted
pearl--at his own valuation. Reflecting now upon his work, he saw that
it had been very good. And since the financial risk had been laid to
account of Sir John Toppys and all the profits were divisible between
himself and Ching, no thought of dividends payable to the Idle Rich
obtruded to mar his pure satisfaction. He had become, by exercise of his
own brains, a profiteer and a capeetalist--and the world was a very
pleasant place. But though conscious of well-doing, his great mind had
been for a while slightly disturbed by two exasperating thoughts. In a
moment of expansive generosity, while receiving the congratulations of
Madame upon his commercial abilities, he had presented her with a large
pearl. He did not grudge a present to one whom he loved--and in his
queer fashion he really loved Madame Gilbert--but it had been an
unnecessarily large pearl. A smaller one would have earned for him as
sweet a smile of thanks. Alexander hated an over-payment. And he never
could forget that five per cent. for the officers and men which Madame
had wrung from his grip. Even as he rejoiced in his gains, and counted
them over in his recollection, that five per cent.--a whole shilling in
every pound sterling--worried him dreadfully. It was as bad as an income
tax. He wondered how Madame would take a proposal that some charge under
the head of a "management expenses" should be debited against that five
per cent. If a labourer were worthy of reward for his bodily toil,
surely Alexander Ewing should be conceded some adequate remuneration for
the wor-r-k of his br-r-ains.

And while he reflected upon the flies which always will defile the most
perfect human ointment, an inspiration came to him. Only really great
business minds are favoured in this way. He saw that he might make good
the cost of Madame's excessively large pearl, and recover no small
portion of that scandalous five per cent., by judicious wangling of the
accounts. It was an operation which promised almost infinite
possibilities, a simple operation seeing that no one except himself had
any grasp of the true principles of finance. A grievous load lifted from
his mind. God was in His Heaven--luckily a long way off--and all was
right with the world. Human happiness is so rare that one loves to
contemplate it unalloyed. I figure to myself Alexander Ewing, in his
engine-room, grimly and perfectly happy.

It was at slack water, at the moment when the tide turning began to run
eastwards through the Straits, that Willatopy's yawl hove in sight, and
he bore down in his usual impetuous style. He had not come before, he
explained to the gloomy Skipper, because it was absurd to waste steam by
forcing the yacht against a five or six knot current. An hour or two of
delay had turned that current to one of equal velocity in the _Humming
Top's_ favour, and he was prepared forthwith to make up, and more than
make up, for the apparent procrastination. Ching, who was sick of
Thursday Island, and had wanted to get away at daybreak whatever might
have been the state of the tide, was obliged to admit the force of so
seamanlike an explanation, but he did not love the "Moor" any better for
presenting it. In his view a coloured man's place was the stokehole, not
the bridge, and most certainly not the cabin. He detested the favour
which Willatopy had gained on board the _Humming Top_ and scorned his
pretensions to be a member of the House of Toppys. When the fathers have
for generations played the merry three-legged game--Plymouth, Slave
Coast, West Indies, Plymouth--a black skin remains a covering for
merchandise in the eyes of the children, even in the Twentieth Century.

Fully a hundred miles interposed between Thursday Island and the "miles
and miles of shore and forest" which were the home of Willatopy. Between
lay a labyrinth of coral, for the most part uncharted, of which he alone
in the yacht had the secret. Ching might call him a Moor and detest his
presence on the sacred bridge, but Ching knew, better perhaps than
anyone else, that the safety of yacht and of all who sailed therein
rested in the brown hands of the half-caste boy. By unchallengeable
right, Willatopy conned the ship while her lawful commander glowered
below in the chart-room. If he had not put the yacht aground away yonder
on the fringes of the Warrior Reef, Ching would still have believed in
his own capacity, somehow by rule of thumb and lead, to navigate his own
vessel. Now he knew that he couldn't, and that Willatopy could, but he
grudged the boy the skill which was denied to himself. It was very
absurd, and I am really rather ashamed of my compatriot of Devon. No
seaman can have precise local knowledge of all waters everywhere. Ching
would have subordinated himself without a murmur to an authorised pilot
in the Thames or the Scheldt. What irked him was to play second fiddle
before Madame Gilbert to a wholly unauthorised Moor. It was no
consolation to Ching to know, as did everyone else in the yacht, that
Willatopy had swum in these Straits before he could walk, and had sailed
them before he could talk. They were his own back yard, and there was
nothing specially commendable in the precision of his acquaintance with
them. He had, it is true, more than a mere accumulation of local
knowledge; he had a sure sea instinct. But that came to him by
inheritance on both sides of the house. Daily habit, inspired by
instinct, had made him the ideal pilot whom Ching should have hugged to
his bosom on the bridge instead of cursing under his feet in the
chart-room. But it was all the same to Willatopy. He had never been in
sole charge of a big steamer before, and he joyously played with the
yacht as any boy would. He loved to drive her at full speed, to tickle
her sensitive steam steering gear with his pretty little telegraph, and
to watch the whole length of her sweep round corners where a fractional
misjudgment would have ripped the bilge keels off her frames.

Alexander Ewing highly approved of the methods of Willatopy. He hated
what he called backing and filling. He liked his engines to be kept
running at a sound steady speed, and not to be perpetually bothered with
stopping and reversing and forcing the propellers to make good the
deficiencies of the rudder. With Willatopy in command, the _Humming Top_
drove along as if coral reefs did not exist, and as if the deep water
channels had been never less than a mile wide. He never ran into
difficulties, because for him there were no difficulties.

They lay up that night, and picking up the eastward current again early
in the morning, ramped up to Tops Island at a speed to which the
cautious Ching had not yet become reconciled. Madame was on the boat
deck watching the thickly wooded island rise up with the sun out of the
sea. It was no low coral atoll, but a fine volcanic lump of basalt
towering six hundred feet out of the water, and clothed with green woods
up to the summits of the hills. As the yacht approached the shores she
saw a multitude of pretty little coves bounded by rocky headlands and
fringed with white coral sand. Here and there groves of cocoa-nut palms
delicately skirted the sea edge, while patches of the devouring mangrove
ran right into the salt water, and won back to the land wide stretches
which the sea had covered. Madame had seen many islands in the Straits,
but this Island of Tops came most near to the realisation of her
imaginative dreams of the South Seas. It was in truth an Island of
Dreams, and Will Toppys, madman and saint, had chosen well when he
built his hut upon it, and pegged out his claim upon hundreds of acres
of shore and woodland. To the north-east, as they slipped along the
coast, appeared the entrance to a long narrow bay--described by
Alexander as "just a wee Scots loch"--of which the whole line of shore
to the left was owned by Willatopy.

I do not know the dimensions of the Estate of Toppys. Willatopy's ideas
of space were as vague as his ideas of time--one was miles and miles,
the other hours and hours--but from what Madame told me it must have run
to a thousand acres at the least. There was more than a mile of shore to
Willatopy's front garden, and the natural park at the back--called by
Alexander the policies--extended up the hillside for another mile or so.
I don't suppose that the Honourable William Toppys paid very much for
it. Grant of Thursday Island, who has all his papers, would know.
Madame, who is much more interested in people than in their possessions,
never troubled to enquire about the property, and proved to be quite
useless as an authority upon it. Alexander Ewing, with whom I had much
intimate conversation before I ventured upon the details of this story,
declared dogmatically at first that it was "about twa squar-r-e miles."
On cross-examination he admitted that "the policies" had no ring fence,
and that he had never explored their alleged boundaries. Though I love
to be particular, and refused to describe the _Humming Top_ until
Denny's of Dumbarton had sent me a scale plan of her--which they very
kindly and obligingly did--I have not troubled Mr. Robert Grant. For one
thing he is too far away, and for another--before I have done, the
other reason will be clear to the discerning reader.

The narrow bay, the "wee Scots loch," bit deep into Tops Island, and
across it had been piled up by the mountain streams a bar of mud and
sand, a low wave-swept barrier. Though the yacht could not cross the
bar, she could lie safely within the entrance to the bay, and under
shelter from the prevailing trade wind--which at that season blew from
the south-east, swelling up almost into a gale at midday and dying away
to nothing shortly after sunset. The shore of the island was very steep,
and Willatopy brought the yacht in to within a hundred yards of a thick
clump of mangroves. He let go the bow anchor.

"The tide is now near the turn," said he, "and there is a rise of ten
feet at high water. You had better run out another anchor seawards, and
let her swing with the current."

"Thanks," growled Ching, rudely. "You can pilot me up the Straits, but
you can't teach me anything about the mooring of a ship."

Willatopy turned away, and descended to the boat deck. He inspected the
twenty-two-foot lifeboats with great care, and shook his head with
emphasis. "No good, no damn good," said he.

"What is troubling you, Willie?" asked Madame.

"Those fool boats," grumbled he, "have rudders. They are no good for the
surf. Look," he pointed to where half-a-mile from them the swell broke
in huge curling rollers on the bar of Tops Island. "One can't hold a
boat true in that surf with a bit of wood stuck on rudder pintles. If I
took you in now when there is little water on the bar in a boat like
that she would broach and roll over and over. And the sharks are
watching there for the meal that they would get. If you don't want to be
food for sharks, Madame, you trust to Willatopy."

"For days past," said she, "our lives have been in your hands, Willie,
and you have not failed us. Show us what we should do."

Willatopy beckoned to the second officer and explained that he wanted
the rudder to be unshipped from one of the lifeboats and a strong eye of
rope lashed to the top of the sternpost. It was to take a steering
sweep, and to be very, very strong. "I take Madame in through the surf,"
he added.

"The devil you do," said the officer, gazing upon the huge foaming
rollers, whose thunder as they broke upon the bar made conversation
difficult. "Will it not be safer to wait till high water?"

"No," returned Madame calmly. "I go now--with Willatopy."

"If you go I shall go too. Though it seems to me just foolishness. At
high water it would be easy."

"Yes," assented Willatopy. "Quite easy. There is a channel inshore which
you could pass in the motor boat. It is only now at low water that the
surf breaks heavily like that."

"No," repeated Madame firmly. "Where Willatopy leads, I follow. Make
ready and be quick about it."

The second officer lashed on the eye of rope himself, and tested
carefully the fitting of the longest sweep that he could find. He had
pledged himself to share Madame's risks, but he was not going to take
more chances than he could help. When he had finished the job,
Willatopy passed it as very good.

"I could steer you over the bar of the Fly River with that," said he,
"and the surf up north is not like those little breakers."

The "little breakers" were rearing their heads fifteen or twenty feet
above the sea level, and crashing down in a welter of foam which
stretched as far into the bay as they could see. The little breakers
were big enough for Madame and the second officer, though Willatopy made
light of them.

The officer climbed into the boat, in which six sailors stood ready to
swing out and lower. Madame was about to follow when Willie checked her.
He looked with disapproval at her graceful white muslin dress and shook
his frizzy head.

"It will be very wet," said he. "I go like this."

In a moment the shirt and trousers of civilisation dropped from him, and
he stood up a bare, naked savage. When Roger Gatepath first met
Willatopy he had feathers in his hair and a bootlace about his middle;
now Madame beheld him without either the feathers or the bootlace.

"Whew!" whistled the second officer.

"I cannot quite follow your admirable example," said Madame, smiling,
"but if you will wait a moment I will dress the part of surf bather."

She ran down to her cabin, whipped off her clothes, wriggled into a blue
silk bathing dress, and above it buckled a light linen trench coat. In
this garb she did not mind how much water came aboard. Indeed afterwards
the bathing dress and the trench coat became her standard wear while
braving the surf of the Islands.

"Will this do, Willie?" asked Madame upon her return to the deck.

He surveyed her gravely. "My sisters would have thrown off their
petticoats."

"But I am not your sister," answered Madame, climbing into the boat.

Willatopy followed, and was observed to tuck the discarded shirt and
trousers carefully under the stern sheets. He had wrapped them up in a
bit of sea cloth.

The boat was swung out and lowered, and the six sailors bent to their
oars. Willatopy standing upright on a thwart firmly grasped the
eighteen-foot sweep, and flicked the boat this way and that to test her
response to his will. He appeared to be satisfied, for his lips opened
in a grin of sheer boyish enjoyment.

"Give way," cried Willatopy.

Madame Gilbert, thorough in all that she undertook, had gone right
forward, and, seated firmly, gripped a thwart with both hands. She was
sure that Willatopy would hold the boat true in the surf, but she felt
some small apprehension lest she might herself be pitched out into the
mouths of those hungry waiting sharks. At about a hundred yards from the
bar, Willatopy cried to the men to hold up the boat and await his
orders. He was watching for the big roller which comes at fairly regular
intervals, and which was the one to sweep them forward on the furious
race through the surf.

"Now," he roared, and the lifeboat rushed upon the bar.

Madame felt her lift, lift, lift until the boat seemed to be poised
upon a steep swiftly moving roof edge. She looked forward into the
depths of an enormous hollow; she looked back to where Willatopy stood,
naked as when he was born, his hands frozen upon the big sweep, the
happy grin upon his joyful face. Time stood still. They were travelling
at a full twenty knots, but it seemed ages before the lift of the boat
ceased, and her bows fell to the level.

"Oars," cried Willatopy, and the men tossed them inboard.

The bows, with Madame clinging to her thwart, toppled steeply forward.
The stern rose and rose until Willatopy, standing upright, and clutching
the edge of the thwart with his bare, prehensile toes, towered over
Madame's wet head. The surf all around boiled and roared and foamed over
the gunwale. Madame low down got the worst of it, and wished that she
had left that drenched linen coat in her cabin. The bathing dress was
enough for decency, and was meant to be wetted. Down the hill of foaming
water they raced faster, much faster, than they had climbed it, and
always the line held true. Willatopy was always ready. He had played the
game so often that his firmly planted swaying body met every jerk and
strain of the struggling lifeboat, as if he knew exactly when to expect
those desperate efforts to broach and roll over which are the obsession
of boats in surf. At the foot of the hill of water Willatopy called
again, and the men again obeyed promptly, falling to their oars, and
driving the heavy boat down the bay. For half a mile they ran, still
tossing through broken water, and Madame, picking the strands of copper
hair out of her eyes, looked out towards the sandy beach towards which
Willatopy was steering. He drove the boat right up on the sand, splashed
over the side, and ran shouting up the beach. Instantly a pale brown
figure emerged from the woods, another followed, and Willie was in the
arms of two girls, who, save for their banana leaf petticoats, were as
bare-skinned as himself. With an arm about the waist of each he marched
off towards his home amid the trees. Madame was again forgotten. She,
that proud beautiful white woman, was becoming used to being forgotten.

But presently Willatopy came back, and with him walked his mother, the
Hula woman of Bulaa whom the Hon. William Toppys had made his lawful
wife. Madame advancing looked at her curiously. Although the
half-blooded daughters wore nothing but the native petticoats, the
mother was clad in a white European blouse and skirt of cotton. She may
have put them on for the dignity of the Family, but Madame thinks that
she always went clothed.

"This is my mother," said Willatopy proudly. Madame held out her hands,
and the native woman came to her, shyly at first, and then eagerly as
she drew courage from the sweet irresistible smile of welcome on the
most beautiful face in the world. She took both Madame's hands and knelt
at her feet.

"No," said Madame Gilbert. "Here," and lifting the poor shy, humble
creature in her strong arms, she took her to the wet trench coat and
kissed her on both cheeks.

And that is how Madame Gilbert came to Tops Island. One may well ask
what Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan, the entirely neglected paymaster
of Madame's most expensive expedition, would have thought of that pretty
little scene.



CHAPTER IX

WILLATOPY: SPORTSMAN


Between the arrival of Madame Gilbert at Tops Island and the coming of
the Hedge Lawyer there interposed three or four brief weeks of
happiness. Not for years had Madame been so purely and childishly happy.
She had sailed away from that man-destroying white civilisation which
during four desperate years of savagery had torn her own world into
rags; she had descended upon an island where the joy of life reigned as
King, and death had no terrors. From a Europe worn out by passion, a
Europe grown old and weary and corrupt, she had flown back, as it were,
to the sparkling morning of free, joyous human life. And with quick
sympathy she revelled in her new experiences.

The _Humming Top_ was moored in shelter hard by the shore of Tops Island
where the tide rose and fell ten feet, and the Pacific swell rolled
continuously. And with it the yacht rolled, too, continuously in spite
of her sturdy bilge keels. She was long and narrow and of light draught,
she was built for speed in the open sea, not for threading the
labyrinths of coral reefs or for lying up indefinitely in the lee of
mangrove swamps. It took all the superb skill of a Willatopy to navigate
her in safety through the channels of the Coral Sea, but not even the
stomach of Willatopy, sound though it was by practice and inheritance,
would have relished the perpetual roll of the _Humming Top_ at anchor.
Madame cleared out of her most comfortable sea home, and took with her
Marie, who had all the Frenchwoman's hatred of uneasy salt water. Sir
John Toppys, at a hint from Madame months before, had purchased three
large tents of the Thames pattern, oblong in shape, and with a wide air
space between walls and roof. These tents were borne ashore and pitched
in an agreeable clearing about a quarter of a mile from Willatopy's
home. Madame desired privacy for herself, and had no wish to intrude
upon that of the Family of Toppys. One tent was equipped for the use of
Madame and Marie, a second contained the gear of a cook and steward, and
the third was set aside for any of the officers or men who might be
assigned to Madame as her shore escort. There were a score or more of
native families on the island, and both Ching and Ewing set their faces
against leaving Madame Gilbert unguarded in their midst. Ching hinted
that head hunting, though a dying industry in the Straits, might be
capable of revival under severe provocation. And Ewing, as he
contemplated Madame's gorgeous copper mane shining in coils upon her
bonny head, hinted that the provocation to secure so unique a specimen
might prove irresistible. Madame laughed and flicked at them both the
muzzle of her Webley automatic.

"I am a perfect shot," quoth she, "and if you will be reassured, I will
promise to keep my gun ever beside my virtuous couch." But in spite of
Madame's skill in shooting--of which she gave an impressive
demonstration on the boat deck--they insisted upon the necessity for an
escort I suspect that neither Ching nor Ewing could endure a long
separation from their Madame Gilbert, and that both senior and junior
officers welcomed a few days of respite from the ever restless _Humming
Top_. There was never any lack of volunteers for the duty of furnishing
the escort and of beguiling the ample leisure of the capacious-hearted
Marie Lambert.

"Profiteering has solid advantages," observed Madame to me, "for those
who draw upon its unfathomable resources of ill-gotten wealth. That dear
old John Toppys of Wigan said nothing to me at the time, but it appeared
that he dredged London and Southampton for the latest and most luxurious
of camp equipment. Our tents had floor boards covered with thick rubber,
and strewn with extravagantly costly rugs. There were beds with the
springiest of mattresses, adjustable rest chairs, dressing tables, and
the dinkiest of toilet apparatus. Unbeknownst, as Ching expressed
it--Sir John had laid down for my use a camp toilet service in solid
silver--and with silver at famine prices!--and had stuck in a card
requesting me to honour it with my gracious acceptance, for keeps. You
see, I had told him that I was a forlorn widow! He had not overlooked
equipment for my maid. Every conceivable device for cooking and serving
food in camp had been thought of and provided, including Primus stoves,
and the men's tent--though less like a bower of Venus than my own--was
good enough for anyone below the exalted standing of a goddess. Even
Ching and Ewing, who had managed to decide in their wise heads that I
was not Sir John Toppys' wayward mistress, opened their eyes at his
lavish provision for my comfort. When he saw his own tent, Alexander
became, if possible, more convinced a business man than ever. 'Wealth is
power,' said he gravely, 'even in a desert island. I have done no so
badly with the dopes and the legitimate trade, but I must do a power of
robbery yet before I can count dollars with Sir John Toppys.' We camped
out on Tops Island, but there was not much of roughing it about Sir
John's notions of camp life."

Madame had won the heart of the Widow Toppys when as a beautiful white
stranger she had clasped the little creature to the bosom of her wet
trench coat, and she speedily gained also the hearts of the two "useless
daughters," scorned by Roger Gatepath. They were twins, very light in
colour, aged about sixteen. Their names, as locally rendered, were
Joytopy and Crytopy. Queer names. Mrs. Toppys, who spoke an English of
her own in the halting accent to which the middle-aged Roger Gatepath
had lingered to listen, explained that one of the girls in her early
infancy had been the most joyous, smiling angel that ever came down from
Heaven. The other twin had howled unceasingly. The Hon. William Toppys
had called one Joy and the other Cry, and had dug up real names which
would suggest the infantile characteristics. The girls had been
christened Joyce and Chrystal, but Joytopy and Crytopy they had always
remained. When Madame met them there was much bubbling joy and little
cry about either of them. They frisked about in their short voluminous
petticoats of stripped banana leaf, wearing bright beads round their
necks, and short-lived tropical flowers in their dusky hair. The girls
were not pretty by European standards, and the blue eyes of Toppys had
passed them by. But there was a glow of splendid health on their pale
brown skin, and the lithe grace of free tropical creatures about their
fully developed figures.

These girls had never worn European clothes. Will Toppys, true to his
theory that the mystery of woman, which has played so devastating a role
in human history, is due to the seduction of clothes, always insisted
that his daughters should wear the native petticoats. They were enough
for decency, said he, but not enough to excite the smallest curiosity.
Especially as the native girls, amphibious as their men folk, always
stripped bare when plunging into the sea. But though Joy and Cry had
never worn, never even seen, the contents of a European draper's shop,
they showed the most fascinated interest in the toilet fripperies of
Madame Gilbert. It was some little time before she could induce them to
enter her tent. To them it suggested a trap of canvas of which one
pulled the string and smothered the incautious entrant. But gradually
she won their confidence. With instinctive courtesy they never would
approach her dwelling unless by direct invitation, and when within moved
about gravely and spoke seldom. Madame to them was a remote royal
personage. The silver toilet service did not move them--thinking that
silver was always money, they called the precious metal bright tin--and
the Persian rugs were an encumbrance to the feet. They hinted also that
the floor coverings and hangings would in time prove a happy hunting
ground for insects and other vermin of the woods. But when one day
Madame opened a trunk and spread before their astonished eyes the
glories of her underwear, they instantly fell down and worshipped. They
had never seen such garments, they had not the slightest notion of how
to put them on, yet the beautiful texture and soft feel of the feminine
things bowled them over instantly. Perhaps it was the instinct of
clothes in their white blood bursting forth; perhaps it was some deeper,
more universal, instinct which makes women of all races kin. I don't
know. But Madame assures me, and I believe her, that at the first sight
and touch of her "things," Joy and Cry bowed their frizzy heads and did
obeisance. They did more than that a few days later. Coming home late
one afternoon after a turtle hunt with Willatopy, Madame found Joy and
Cry in her tent posturing before the deeply interested eyes of her maid
Marie. The banana petticoats lay neglected on the floor, where they had
been tossed, and the girls were clad in French frillies with which Marie
had invested them. Madame was angry, and the girls shrank away from her.
In rapid, furious French, Madame scarified that thoughtless,
warm-hearted maid of hers, and warned her to leave the girls alone as
she had warned her to leave Willatopy alone. Robbed by Madame's stern
orders of the fascinating frillies, the girls resumed their own
petticoats and sadly withdrew. The incident worried Madame not a little,
and she spoke very plainly and seriously to Marie about it. It showed by
how frail a tie these half-white feminine creatures were held to the
simple native habit of life which their white father had laid down for
them. I had nearly written "native life and customs," but checked when
I remembered a discovery which Madame had made concerning these girls.
Though they dressed like natives, and lived in all other respects the
lives of natives, there was a subconscious force in their white blood
which cut them off from familiar commerce with native boys. Girls and
widows in the Torres Straits follow their inclinations, the girls of
their hearts, the widows--one is told--more commonly of their mature
avarice. Married women, by immemorial and most potent custom, are chaste
as Junos. But from this most universal of social customs these two
girls, Joy and Cry, tacitly yet resolutely stood apart. Their own mother
was astonished; she could not comprehend an abstinence which consorted
so queerly, to her mind, with their vigorous healthy natures. Yet it was
so, as she almost tearfully assured Madame.

"But surely you should be glad," said Madame, puzzled and inclined
towards laughter at the woeful visage of little Mrs. Toppys. "Their
father, had he lived, would have honoured his daughters for
this--exclusiveness."

"But how will they ever claim husbands?" wailed the Hula woman from New
Guinea. "How ever can they ask a boy in marriage if already they are
known to be so cold and unnatural?" It is the woman who proposes
marriage in the Straits, and the man who, after full consideration,
gives or withholds his assent.

Madame soothed the disconsolate widow, and went away smiling. Grant had
declared that all the vices and diseases in the Torres Straits were the
gift of the white man, but the instinctive aloofness of Joy and Cry
revealed to the uncomprehending world of Tops Island that some hidden
virtue after all sprang from the white strain in their blood.

Madame, a hardy investigator and always frank in her dealings with
mankind, tackled Willatopy, the brother of Joy and Cry, and the lover of
numberless brown girls whom his blue eyes vanquished at sight.

"My brown girls, they are nothing," declared this easy-mannered Don
Juan, "but Joy and Cry are the daughters of my father, the Great White
Chief. They are not meat for the scum of Baru. The boys here, what are
they but tillers of my garden when they work and whipping blocks for my
stick when they don't? I am rich, I do not work. These others I make
work for me, and pay in white silver from my banker. They are the dirt
under my feet, and if one of them drew near to Joy or Cry, to speak to
them without my leave, I would let out his blood upon the sand, and
would smoke his head over the fire in my cookhouse."

There was nothing of the modern democrat about Willatopy.

As he imagined to himself, and declared to Madame, the fate of a native
island suitor for the temporary favours of his sisters, he drew forth
one of the deadly trench daggers which Alexander, a trader in hardware
for the Islands, had given him in a moment of expansion. I beg the
pardon of Alexander Ewing, man of business. He had sold two daggers to
Willatopy at "trade prices," at a tremendous discount which had made
them seem to him like gifts.

These two trench daggers, which had attracted Willatopy as "just the
things for sharks," bring me to the display before my patient readers of
Willatopy the Sportsman. He was rich, he did no work. He paid reluctant
impecunious native boys to cut his bananas and plant their
rhizomes--even the bountiful banana needs some culture--to sow and reap
vegetables in his garden, to feed his fowls and pigs, and to keep fresh
and sweet the sago palm thatch of his hut. But though he did no work,
Willatopy was an indefatigable sportsman. Incidentally, it is true, he
supplied the family with fish and dugong and turtle, but in his
code--which had a recognisable family likeness to the code of his
father's country--fishing and hunting and shooting, whatever their yield
in food, were not to be confounded with loathsome and derogatory Work.
The labour which they exacted was Sport, and rich man that he was he
could pour out his sweat over them and still remain proudly and
unstainedly idle.

At Auckland, Alexander had fallen in with brother Scots, who seemed to
be flourishing in exile, though they lamented, in the manner of their
great race, the harsh fate which had separated them from a beloved
country to which they had no intention whatever to return. These brother
Scots of Alexander's had assured him that any kind of iron or steel junk
would yield fabulous profits in the Islands, and he after cautiously
testing the advice by taking counsel of mere English New Zealanders, had
gone all out on hardware. Much that he bought at old iron prices was
surplus war material, and included sword bayonets and trench daggers.
Never had such lovely killing knives been seen in the Straits, and the
traders of Thursday Island just rose at them. Alexander sold out at a
rate of profit which made even him gasp, and he was a business man who
could stand a great deal of profit without turning a hair. Willatopy's
trench daggers were sweet weapons. They slipped over the fingers, and
were gripped in the fist, so that the six-inch blades stood out as
deadly steel extensions of the forearm. With the ordinary dagger one
stabs up or down with a blade held at right angles to the wrist, but
with trench daggers one hits out as in boxing, and delivers a blow with
the weight of the body behind it. When Willatopy first put the two
daggers on his hands and hit out, right, left, Ewing bolted behind the
smoke stack.

"They are just the thing for sharks," commented Willie with approval.

"Then take them off, boy, till you meet the sharks," implored our
cautious Alexander.

Soon after Madame had been installed in her tents, after much going and
coming at high tide through the "lubbers' hole" of the bar--she held
that one hair-raising journey through the surf was enough for
honour--Willatopy summoned his gracious lady to witness the first trial
of the daggers.

"There are plenty of sharks in the bay," said he, "fine sharks, as big
as a whaleboat."

"But what do you want with daggers?" inquired Madame, vaguely recalling
pictures of shark fishing with ropes and hooks.

"To kill the sharks with," explained Willatopy. "One hits, so and so,
under the side fins."

"But surely you don't mean to go into the water among the sharks?"
gasped Madame, who had she been a loyal representative of the Baronet of
Wigan should have welcomed any hazard to the life of the Heir of
Topsham.

"Of course," said Willatopy, grinning. "Sharks are just clumsy sheep. No
good, Madame. One at a time is no sport at all, but if I can get two at
once, one with each dagger, there should be fun. So and so." He hit out
as he had done before Ewing, and Madame skipped like a she-goat. Willie
with a dagger on each fist was a most alarming neighbour.

Madame became reconciled to the expedition with difficulty. To her it
was a wanton trifling with death for Willatopy, however expert a
swimmer, to venture with two bits of steel on his fists into the
shark-infested bay. She had all the white woman's dread of the
man-eating shark, and could not get contact with Willatopy's
indifference. But when Mrs. Toppys had assured her that a shark,
properly approached, is as harmless as a seal, and the two girls were
not sufficiently interested to look on at the hunting, she consented to
be present herself. But she made conditions. The yacht's dinghy in which
she was going must be rowed by two sailors and a third must stand in the
bows with a dugong spear ready to interpose should Willatopy seem to be
in grievous peril. The Heir of Toppys grinned at these childish
precautions. To him they were just a white woman's foolishness.

The dinghy was rowed out to a part of the bay which was known to
Willatopy as good shark country, and the boy busied himself in tying
scraps of cord to the grips of the daggers and to his own wrists. He
wanted to make sure that the daggers would not get adrift when he opened
his hands in swimming, and would be ready in place at the moment when
his fists closed. He was not excited in the least degree; his one
feeling was a mild desire to test the efficiency of trench daggers as
shark killers. When he had brought the lifeboat through the big rollers
on the bar, he had been visibly exalted; now on the eve of shark killing
he was no more than placidly interested in the efficacy of his twin
daggers.

He slipped over the side of the dinghy, and the rowers lay on their
oars. He had told them to give him room, at least a hundred yards, lest
the sharks might be frightened away. I think that that direction eased
Madame's mind more than all his previous protestations. Sharks must be
far less terrible than she had supposed if they could be frightened away
by a dinghy.

Madame, herself a good swimmer by European standards, watched Willie
amazed. She had never supposed that a human being could swim with that
perfect ease and swift smoothness. His brown body lay down in the water
as if it loved it, and a bow wave rose and curled over the almost buried
head. He swam on his side with a tremendous reach forward and thrust of
his powerful right arm, and the drive of his legs was a revelation in
the possibilities of marine propulsion. Madame could not see how he
breathed, for his head was cuddled down on the left shoulder, though
breathe he must have done somehow.

"I can't properly describe it," said Madame to me afterwards. "He was a
human torpedo. He went forward in one continuous smooth rush with that
clear bow wave curling over his head."

At a little distance, which to Madame looked too far for safety--she
still placed an emergency trust in the dugong spear--Willatopy's head
rose up and he stopped. Balancing himself in the water by imperceptible
movements of hands and legs, Willatopy was hanging out his body as a
bait for timid sharks. It was not long before one swooped down upon so
attractive a prey. Madame saw the feather of water flung up by a black
moving fin, while Willatopy, peering far down into the clear waters of
the bay, was on the alert against an attack more subtle.

"Silly beast," murmured he, and his fists tightened on the trench
daggers. The black fin ran up and then disappeared as the shark rolled
over to strike upwards with those triple rows of teeth which are set at
some distance behind and below the snout. A shark must attack its prey
belly upwards, and strike from below; if its mouth were in its snout
like a crocodile's it would be a much more dangerous foe. The shark
rolled over and struck upwards. Willatopy's head vanished, his brown
body curled over lazily, and he dived exactly as a dolphin dives. A long
swooping flash downwards. The shark broke the surface where Willie's
head had been, and Willatopy reappeared where the black fin had been.
Shark and boy had changed places, and, if Madame had been nearer, she
might have seen the grin spread out on Willatopy's face. The shark
twisted its long body about, again rolled over and again struck upwards.
Grinning contemptuously, Willatopy slipped downwards under the rising
shark, and appeared again behind its tail.

"Why doesn't he kill the brute?" muttered Madame.

"I don't rightly understand," replied the man with the fatuous spear.

"It looks 'orrible dangersome to me, ma'am. I can't 'ardly believe the
nigger boy will come back alive."

Once or twice more the shark struck at Willie, and once or twice more
the boy evaded the stroke, but made no attack himself. Then all saw for
what he waited. Another black fin, with a curling feather rising before
it, came sliding up to take part in the sport. Madame, frightened, was
now on her feet. Had time permitted, she would, I think, have disobeyed
Willatopy's instructions, and urged the boat forward to his assistance.
But there was no time. The first shark was attacking again, and the
second was rapidly approaching. Willatopy no longer delayed action. He
evaded as before the upward stroke of shark number one, and then, before
the beast could turn, twisted about under water and rose beneath the
belly of shark number two. Right, left, both daggers went home under the
fin. Turning without coming to the surface for breath--he could stay
nearly two minutes under water--Willatopy swooped back at his first
opponent, slipped under it as he had done with the other, and again shot
out both fists--so and so. He came up between the two big fish in water
reddened by their blood, and watched warily for further signs of
activity. But both sharks were dead; he had struck very swiftly, but he
had struck home truly.

Willatopy swam easily towards the boat. Shark hunting, especially with
the very efficient trench daggers, was a sport which rapidly palled,
and he had done with it. But it had not quite done with him. When he was
some twenty yards from the motionless boat, a third shark, more cunning
than his two fellows, rose at Willie from the depths without giving him
warning on the surface. But Willatopy was not caught yet. One swims with
very clearly skinned eyes in shark-infested waters, and the boy saw the
shark's shadow before its body was near enough to be dangerous. The
shark rising belly upwards could not see the boy drop downwards like a
stone, and when it did sight him, the stroke had failed, and Willatopy
had dived under the boat. Madame leaning out over the side glared down
into the clear, almost still, water. She saw what is rarely seen, an
under-water fight between a man and a shark, and she saw, moreover, how
fully Willatopy was justified in his self-confidence. The white body of
the great fish shot by the dark form of the lithe, quickly manoeuvring
boy, who, as it went past, flashed out two blows, right and left, as if
he were a boxer side-stepping and countering an opponent's rush. Madame
could not see the daggers rip home, but she saw the blood spurt from the
side of the shark and its huge body writhe and shudder. Then up came
Willatopy's head not six feet from the boat, and he swung himself in
over the stern. The dead shark, still quivering, rolled slowly up to the
surface, and floated there beside its slayer. The body after allowing
for the immersed portions, was a good deal longer than the sixteen foot
dinghy.

"They are good knives," said Willatopy, pulling the trench knives off
his fists, and unfastening the retaining cords. "They are good knives,
just the things for sharks. But sharks are silly sheep, Madame, hardly
worth the trouble of killing." He pointed to the three big bodies, each
floating in its own red pool, and laughed. "Two at once and then the
third. One kills them just like the sheep that they are. There is no
danger at all, not one little bit."

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

But though Joy and Cry would not trouble to come out of their hut to see
Willatopy kill sharks in the bay, they skipped like schoolgirls at the
promise of a dance, when offered a fishing trip to the Great Barrier.
They were Hulas of New Guinea, whose savage ancestors had for countless
ages fished the waters to leeward of the Barrier. It was the great
kindly sea farm of the Hulas, it had grown with them through more
thousands of years than mankind can count, and it will stand there,
grand, massive and mysterious, long after the last Hula has vanished
from the earth. The abrupt north end of the Barrier was some ten miles
distant--Madame could hear in her tent the everlasting thunder of the
surf against its outer wall--and thence it wound southwards, skirting
the North Queensland coast though never touching it, for twelve hundred
wave-swept miles. Inshore, from Brisbane to Cape York, there interpose
deep navigable channels, starred with islands, and through the Barrier
itself are cut gaps here and there by which the hardy navigator may pass
in safety from the outside Pacific Ocean to the inner channels. By such
a passage, Willatopy, the boy of twelve, had steered his father's yawl
with his father's corpse lashed to its deck.

The Barrier is a long, narrow, tortuous wall of which the outer
face--where the coral polyps love to cling in the foaming surf of the
Pacific--drops down almost sheer for hundreds of feet. On the inner side
the water is more shallow and broken up by reefs. This wall, twelve
hundred miles long, is not more than a quarter of a mile wide on its
coping, and in some stretches is no more than a hundred feet. For
hundreds of thousands of years the madrepores have been working upon it,
each one living out his tiny life in the whirl of the surf, and then
dying, to leave his skeleton of lime as one more brick in the gigantic
masonry.

The coral polyp, species madrepore, of the Barrier is a patient,
courageous little seaman. He is born and bred in the wide ocean. He
cannot endure the boredom of life in the still, tame, waters below the
hundred-foot level; he cannot exist above the low tidal mark, and his
salt soul withers in the muddy freshness of river mouths. I love
Darwin's romantic theory of the Barrier, though later authorities have
cast doubts upon its sufficiency. Project your mind back, says Darwin,
some few hundreds of thousands of years to the time when the Queensland
coast was much higher out of the water than it is now in these
degenerate days. Imagine the land slowly sinking, a few inches maybe in
a century, and there you are! The Great Barrier, skirting the coast yet
never touching it, is explained. The coral polyps, which cannot support
life except between low water mark and twenty fathoms, can only build
fringing reefs along the shore. Wherever a river or stream comes down
there is a gap, for the coral polyps cannot live away from their native
salt. We have then a fringing reef, cut transversely with gaps, and this
reef continually rises in height from the sea bottom as the land slowly
sinks. Each foot of subsidence gives to the polyps an added foot of
water in which to live and multiply. The æons pass, the land subsides,
and presently a water-filled channel opens out between the original
fringing reef and the shore. As the land sinks still further, the
channel widens, and is ever widening. The fringing reef has become a
barrier of which the base on the sea floor is always sinking, and the
coping of the roof always rising, built up by madrepore skeletons.
Against the edge of the new shore a new fringing reef is built up. And
so on through the long centuries. That is Darwin's theory. There are
others, less imaginative and more mechanical, but my instinct rejects
them. I feel that Charles Darwin, though himself a very bad sailor, has
alone done full and sympathetic justice to the splendid sea instincts of
the bold madrepores. They scorn the ease of shelter and shallows. Theirs
is the open coast on which the wild waves break; they make the long
fringe of it one vast coral tomb, and when the land sinks they turn that
ancient fringing tomb into a vast outer Barrier. The madrepore is a true
sea architect, and no peddling theory of under-water detritus, slowly
accumulating as a foundation for his masonry, would deceive him into
building on the rubbish.

Willatopy took charge of the expedition to the Great Barrier. He was
well equipped with gear, for being very rich and not consenting to do
any work, he bought his nets in Thursday Island. The one which he
dragged out of store looked as if it would hold enough fish to feed the
Island for twelve months. It was sixty feet long and about ten feet
wide. One edge was weighted and the other buoyed, and draw ropes were
arranged so that the whole net could be pulled into one long narrow bag.
For the service of the fishing party he commandeered the motor launch
and two whaleboats.

"We will go out with the ebb and come back on the flood," said he, "and
the jolly little motor boat shall tow the whalers. When we arrive, the
motor boat shall be anchored in safety while we fish from the
whaleboats. We shall want"--he spoke as confidently as if the resources
of the _Humming Top_ were as unreservedly at his call as were those of
Tops Island--"we shall want six strong sailors for each boat, and an
engineer to look after the motor. I don't understand motors."

"May we have the boats and men?" asked Madame sweetly of Ching, who had
come ashore to pay his regular morning visit. He was responsible for
Madame's safety on the Island, and nothing would persuade him that her
pretty head was not in grievous peril. The Skipper belonged to the dark
adventurous past.

"You are the owner," growled he, "and if you choose to butt my boats on
the reefs it is your responsibility, Madame Gilbert."

"Willatopy is a first-rate pilot," said she. "I will trust the boats
with him."

The Skipper swore under his breath. "It is not my boats I think of, but
of your foolishness, Madame. You will spoil that Moor until he gets
outside of himself, and then you will be sorry for the rest of your
life. Once a savage always a savage. He is a grand pilot of the Straits,
because he has lived in them and sailed them all his life. But in
everything else he is a naked savage. Go away fishing if you please; you
will be safe with my men."

Ching turned sulkily away. He grudged Willatopy that local knowledge of
the Coral Sea which he would never have opportunity to accumulate for
himself, and above all he grudged him Madame's undisguised favours.
Madame landed a parting dig in the middle of the Skipper's back.

"Willatopy may be a Moor," said she, "whatever a Moor may be. But you
can't look him in the eyes and protest that he isn't a Toppys." That was
the worst of the poor Skipper's troubles. He had served the Family for
twenty-five years, he had all the Devon man's respect for the landed
gentry of his native county, and he was subjected almost nightly to the
veiled hints of Alexander Ewing. Why had Madame Gilbert sailed for the
Torres Straits, and did she and Sir John know that the Willatopy whom
they had found was there waiting to be found? It was not only the naked
savagery of Willatopy which made Captain Ching long to destroy him.

Madame, the girls, and Willatopy went forth to the yacht in the dinghy,
passing the bar at nearly high water, and there joined the procession of
boats which lay waiting for them. The second engineer took charge of the
motor engine, Willatopy himself grasped the tiller, Joy and Cry bubbling
with eagerness to travel in a "buzz boat," clambered into the bows, and
the adventurers set forth for the Great Barrier, which a page or two
back I have ventured to describe. It was early morning. The sun shone as
it shone every day throughout that gracious southern winter. Its rays
had a shrewd bite in them which one never feels in the moist English
summer, so that Madame never ventured to confront them at high noon
without the protection of a helmet. The wind was blowing up from the
south-east as it always did, freshening every moment, and urging on the
tireless Pacific rollers. The string of boats rose and fell as Willatopy
drove them across the swell, and every now and then a wave would break
over the bows, and the warm salt spray lash across the faces of the
passengers. Madame Gilbert, in her bathing dress and thin trench coat,
was equipped to laugh at the lashing of salt water, and the skins of the
half-castes glistened as it soaked into them. Willatopy at a hint from
Madame--though he raised his eyebrows in surprise--had put on the
holiday trousers of Thursday Island. But he warned her that when the
serious business of fishing called for his professional attention, the
absurd usages of civilisation would go scat.

"That is right," explained Madame, "in the water. But on land or in a
boat you should be dressed--slightly. Your father was an English
gentleman, Willatopy."

"My father said," quoted Willatopy, "without clothes there is no
curiosity. Sin came into the world with clothes."

"Yes," drawled Madame. "But that was a long time ago. And sin having
come we have got to put up with it. I prefer you in trousers,
Willatopy."

"As my lady pleases," said he, and Madame started. It was a strange
sentence to come from so very dark a mouth, and she wondered where he
had heard it. Then she remembered that it was Marie's English formula in
acknowledgment of an instruction. Willatopy never came to her tent
without invitation, and, so far as she knew, had never met Marie except
in the officers' mess of the yacht. Where could he have heard her use
just that phrase? Had Marie, in her clandestine French fashion,
constituted herself the instructress of Willatopy in polite usages as
she herself understood them? Violet lightning began to flash from
Madame's eyes, and she determined to be very watchful of the movements
of that maid of hers. Ever since her confidential talk with Grant of
Thursday Island she had felt that the presence of Marie in the yacht and
on the Island was a danger. Marie was a promiscuous little she-devil
wholly devoid of moral scruples. If in defiance of Madame's warning she
indulged her esoteric tastes for Willatopy's brown skin and bright blue
eyes, grave mischief might be done before it could be stopped. "If she
does," murmured Madame, through her gritting teeth, "I will send her
back to France to be shot. And I will give myself the pleasure of
attending her execution. There is no weak masculine softness about me."

The water had fallen below its full height when Madame caught her first
glimpse of the famous Barrier, and the Pacific swell, urged against the
outer face by the south-east trade wind, was meeting the tidal flow and
tossing great spumes of spray high into the air. Over the whole width of
the reef the water boiled and roared, and masses of coral limestone,
tons in weight, were flung about like small stones. Although the
madrepores cannot live above the level of low water, the Barrier was
several feet higher, and here comes in the mechanical theory of Chamisso
and his followers to modify the beautiful simplicity of Darwin's
hypothesis of subsidence. By force of the swell which beats perpetually
on the outer wall, where the polyps flourish in surf, and where their
millions of tiny skeletons are perpetually adding to the structure,
lumps are being torn off and piled upon the coping of the wall. These
lumps under the solvent action of sun and water become cemented into
masses, so that the purity of the original madrepore design is partially
lost. The Barrier has risen higher than the polyps unaided could have
built it. The sea is no respecter of coral graveyards. In this way the
interior of purely coral islands may have become heaped up by masses
torn by the sea from the fringing reefs and flung high up the shore.

Though the Barrier broke the full force of the Pacific rollers, enough
of water swirled over it to set the string of boats tossing and bucking
in the tide rips of the sheltered western face. Willatopy ordered the
whaleboats to be cast off, and the motor launch to be anchored some half
a mile short of the reefs. The second engineer remained on board of her,
but the Topy family and Madame Gilbert transferred their wet persons to
one of the whaleboats. The long net was dragged out and stretched
between the boats, which drifted slowly on parallel courses towards the
Barrier. Between them ran the line of floats which marked the upper edge
of the net. As the boats moved rather faster than the heavily weighted
net, it sagged between them, pulling out into a long wide-mouthed bag
from the jaws of which the fish feeding in the shallows could not
readily escape. The net was carried forward in this fashion until the
boats which were controlling it had reached the inner shelving edge of
the reef, and the depth of water had come down to about ten feet, which,
it may be recalled, was the depth to which the weighted edge of the net
descended. Then the fun began, for the drag-rope on the lower edge
became entangled in the rough coral lumps on the sea floor, and the fish
which had been herded between the net's capacious jaws began to skurry
forth through the opening avenues of escape. To Madame this overflow, as
it were, seemed to matter little, for, between the boats, the fish were
leaping in hundreds, even thousands, and even if half of them won a way
to freedom, there would be far more left than the _Humming Top_ or Tops
Island could possibly consume. But the family of Topy had other views.
The moment had arrived for which these amphibians had waited and hoped;
anyone, white or brown, could trap sea fish in a net; it was vouchsafed
to them alone, hereditary fishers of Hula, to pursue escaping fish into
their own depths, and to catch them directly by hand and teeth.

When the lower drag-rope caught and strained, Willatopy directed both
boats to anchor, and cried out to his sisters in native dialect. What he
said in words Madame did not know, but what he meant was instantly made
plain. Up leapt the three Topys, away went trousers and banana-skin
petticoats, and the three of them, bare as when they were born, and
revelling in their supreme sea skill, streaked overboard. The one dark
body and the two light ones flashed over the gunwale, and took the water
like seals. Down they went to where gaps opened between the net and the
sea floor, and the fish were struggling to escape. The human fish
swooped upon the sea natives, and grappled them with claws and teeth.
These were no small feeble, defenceless fish; the least of them weighed
a pound and a half, and the erectile spines near the tail fins made them
in their own element opponents worthy even of the Hula Topys. Avoiding
the spines, the Topys, boy and girls of equal skill and quickness,
grabbed the elusive fish by the gills, and when both hands were full,
buried their sharp white fangs in the backs of them.

"I shall never forget that sight," said Madame to me. "Down they would
all flash for a few seconds, and then the three black heads shot up and
fish in torrents poured into the boat. Blood ran from their mouths, and
from the bitten backs of the captured fish. Often and often they shot
up, all three of them, with a two-pounder in each hand, and another
gripped in their jaws. We poor white folk are proud if we can by
artifice tickle a trout in its lair and ravish it from a hole with our
hands. These Hula Topys caught those fish in the free open sea. They
never seemed to miss their swoop, for they stayed down a few seconds
only at each dive, and never came up with empty hands. Their diving was
a revelation. There was no effort in it, no clumsy heaving up of the
loins and extravagant splashing. Their brown bodies rolled over and
vanished with as little fuss as the diving of a seal. Perhaps that is
the nearest word to describe what I saw. The Topys were just seals.
Their frizzy hair plastered down by the water gave them, too, something
of the look of seals. All the while they never paused for breath. It was
up and down, up and down, without ceasing, for fully a quarter of an
hour, and the fish came aboard in a torrent. Our bottom boards were
covered before the Topys ceased. And then it was the girls who stopped
to rest, not that indefatigable Willatopy. Joy and Cry swung in over the
high sharp bows and sat down panting on the forward thwart." Madame
laughed a little to herself before she resumed the description. "I was
interested to observe," she went on, "that the girls were tattooed in
deep blue patterns down the centre line of the body and on the upper
part of their thighs. And this interested me, for Willatopy had no
tattoo marks at all. The pattern was identical on both girls, a series
of light brown saltires on a blue ground resembling Alexander's Scottish
St. Andrew's Cross. It was curious that the Hon. William Toppys should
have permitted his daughters to submit to the Hula tribal markings while
his son was excluded. But perhaps men are not tattooed in the tribe
though most of the brown Melanesian boys on Tops Island had some face
markings. What struck me most vividly was the effect of the tattooing in
removing the appearance of bareness. If the Topy girls had been tattooed
from breast to knee they would have appeared to the casual eye to have
been wearing tight bathing dresses, woven in blue and brown checks.
There is a lot to be said for tattooing. Though my dear men turned their
bashful backs there was no suggestion at all of immodesty about Joy and
Cry. I loved their admirable, unconscious simplicity."

When the whaleboats had been loaded with fish to their utmost capacity,
the unwanted remainder were allowed to go free, and the net was hauled
in and coiled down. It was the hand and mouth fishing which the Toppys
really loved, the savage sport, not the larder which absorbed their
interests. The net was the means to an end--the penning up of fish so
that Willie and his sisters might attack them in their native element.
The party lunched by the Barrier while waiting for the tide to turn, and
at slack water Willatopy suggested that Madame, already clad in her silk
bathing gear, should go over the side with him. Madame was willing, but
dreaded sharks. She was quite fearless when confronted by risks which
she understood, but the thought of swimming with sharks smelling at her
toes made the brave lady's blood run cold. For her daily swims off the
Island she always kept to a small narrow creek warranted by Willatopy to
be shark-proof.

"Sharks are nothing," remonstrated Willie. "They will not come where
there are so many boats, and if they do I will drive them away."

"But you have no daggers here, Willie," objected Madame. "Even you
cannot shoo away sharks with bare hands."

One of the sailors offered his sheath knife, but Willatopy put it aside.
"If a silly shark comes by I will borrow it," said he. "There will be
time enough."

Spurred by all this easy indifference--though she saw herself being
gobbled up by a huge shark while Willatopy was strolling off to borrow
the sailor's knife--Madame flung aside the trench coat and her sun
helmet and stood forth as a reluctant sacrifice for the honour of the
white race. Though it may have really been a case of heroism without
risk, in her terrified imagination the seas swarmed with black shark
fins. Over she went, and following her went Willatopy and the girls.

"I can swim a bit," said Madame, "and rather fancied myself at home. But
those brown seals made rings around me. While I lumbered noisily along
they would frisk to and fro, now behind, now in front, now on either
side. Whenever they pleased, they would join me in half a dozen swift
vivid strokes. My progress was exactly like that of an elderly fat woman
down a field with three terriers sporting about her. It was a
humiliating spectacle. I did my best; I swam as fast as I could, and
when I got back to the boat I was puffing like an asthmatic grampus.
Willatopy was good enough to say that I had quite a useful leg drive and
might learn to swim some day if I stuck at it. He regarded me much as a
plus golfer does his thirty-six handicap grandmother. I knew better than
to show those Topys that ungainly agitated sprawl which in Europe we
call diving from the surface. But though the swimming was a humiliation
I enjoyed sitting in the sun to dry."

They returned as they had come, the motor launch towing the whaleboats,
and were sped homewards by the welling flood tide. Madame, though she
knew it not, was nearing the end of her brief spell of irresponsible
happiness. While they had been disporting themselves off the Barrier,
Fate had rung up the curtain for the Final Act in the drama of
Willatopy. It was an Act which was long in the playing, but the end
loomed inevitable almost from the opening bars of the overture. As the
string of boats merrily buzzed into the narrow bay, they all saw that
the _Humming Top_ no longer lay there alone. Within the entrance moored
to the opposite bank was a small schooner which had just come in, for
the crew were even at that moment stowing her lowered sails upon the
deck.

"What is that ship?" asked Madame, her brows gathering into an uneasy
frown. The Island had seemed so much the private property of the Topys
and of the _Humming Top_ that the presence of a stranger schooner became
an unmannerly intrusion. Especially so weather-beaten and dirty a
schooner as that one over there.

"Trading schooners often shelter here for the night while on a round of
the islands," explained Willatopy. "My yawl does all the Baru trade that
there is."

But Madame Gilbert, in spite of this satisfying explanation of the
schooner's presence in the bay, continued to look upon the vessel with
disfavour. If one schooner dropped in thus unceremoniously, another
might come, and another. Some day strangers might land, strangers from
Thursday Island or from the big world beyond Thursday Island. The
splendid steam yacht at its moorings and Madame's luxurious camp outfit
in the woods were not common objects of the shore to be accepted in the
Straits without explanation. And they would use up a lot of explanation,
and still leave the curious unsatisfied. There was too much of Toppys
about the Island and the yacht for their conjunction to be wholly a
matter of chance. Grant, Willatopy's banker, already knew much, and had
guessed the rest. He was safe, for his own reasons. But others coming
might carry away to Thursday Island, and thence to the big world beyond
Thursday Island, a story of the Toppys yacht afloat, and of the Topy
family ashore; and some might--some certainly would--connect the one
with the other. From that discovery to a peering into local registers
would be, for our inquisitive white race, a brief step. Too many people
knew the Toppys secret already, and too many more must presently get
some hint of it. It was not much of a secret after all. Madame frowned
at the dirty schooner and shrugged her shoulders. It was not her secret
anyway, though she had done her best to keep it.



CHAPTER X

THE COMING OF THE HEDGE LAWYER


The island schooner sailed at dawn. But three days later another came
and went, and three days later yet another. It never rains but it pours.
The Hedge Lawyer, spurred by a greater master of Fate than his employers
in London City, came as a sick and draggled passenger in Schooner number
Three. He did not land upon the evening of his arrival, so that Madame
did not see him, or hear of him, until the early forenoon after his ship
had gone and left him stranded as a trespasser on Tops Island. From this
marooning of the Hedge Lawyer sprang many things which shall be told in
their place. The first consequence was that the man, a Cockney of
Cockneys, was without a home in an island which possessed few huts and
no houses of rest for travellers. The feckless intruder had not even
bethought him to bring along a tent. With his luggage, a small suit
case, he was put ashore in the schooner's dinghy, and left, a
black-footed, frock-coated figure of fun, upon the fair white sandy
beach.

Madame Gilbert, returning from her morning dip in the shark-proof creek,
heard shrieks of pain interspersed with the savage howls of Willatopy.
She scurried towards the sounds as fast as her bare feet would carry
her. A black-booted, frock-coated stranger was flying shrieking towards
the sea; behind him, keeping foot to foot with him so that the sharp
fish spear which he carried might maintain its painful pressure upon the
small of the man's back followed Willatopy, naked and extremely angry.

"Huh!" roared Willatopy, thrusting with the spear. The stranger, brought
up short by the sea margin, rolled over screaming. He buried his
miserable face in the sand so that he might not see the stroke of death
which his terrors anticipated. Madame, rushing forward, stepped across
the man's body, and held up a restraining hand.

"Stop," she cried. "Who is this man, Willatopy, that you should frighten
him so?"

"He wants to eat me," roared Willatopy. "Stand aside, Madame, that I may
cut off his ugly white head and smoke it in the fire of my cook-house."

The stranger howled, and wriggled between Madame's feet, as if, like an
armadillo, he would burrow his way to safety through the fine sharp
sand. It was not the flaked oatmeal of a coral beach, for the water of
the bay, flushed by island streams, did not carry the madrepores' living
ration of salt.

"Stand back, Willatopy," commanded Madame Gilbert sternly. She pushed
the stranger contemptuously with her bare white foot. "Get up, you
crawling thing there, and tell me who you are. This island is private
property, and you have no business here."

The man cautiously got upon his feet, and stood so that Madame's strong
body interposed between his terrified person and the savage spear of
Willatopy. His absurd clothes were plastered thickly with damp,
clinging sand--his thin rat face was pinched and white, and his lank,
mud-coloured hair and moustache drooped forlornly. He was not a proud
specimen of the dominant white race. He gasped and stuttered behind the
protective back of Madame, who still faced towards Willatopy, and held
the savage half of him in subjection. Willatopy threw down his spear.

"As my lady pleases," said he sourly.

The trespasser upon the fair strand of Tops Island regained some little
of the thin courage which had poured out of his black boots. He was no
longer menaced with immediate death at the point of the barbarous fish
spear; a beautiful white woman was present; had he not been an
officer--God forgive our blear-eyed War Office--and was he not a
gentleman? He perked up a little, tried to brush the sand from his
sleeves and spoke.

"I am John Clifford, managing clerk to Chudleigh, Caves, Caves, and
Chudleigh, solicitors, of St. Mary Axe."

"Another lawyer!" cried Madame, and broke into peal after peal of
rippling laughter. "Another lawyer! And once again that wonderful
perspicuous Willatopy has chased a lawyer to the sea with a fish spear.
Willatopy, I forgive you. What a happy world it would be if all men had
your instinct for vermin and had from the first adopted your methods of
extermination."

"So that's all right," quoth Willatopy, possessing himself of the fallen
fish spear.

The late officer and present gentleman shrieked and grovelled.

"You poor worm a British officer, even one the most temporary!"
Madame's lip curled in disgust. "And yet we won the war."

"The black boy has a spear and I am unarmed. If I had a bomb now...."

"You would throw it at him. And miss because your hand trembles so. Get
behind me, British officer. I have no skirts for your protection;
though, had I known of your coming, I would have stayed to put them on.
Perhaps by then your head would have been fizzling in Willatopy's smoke,
and I, for one, would not have felt regret."

The scorn of her bit deep. "If, lady, you will send for another spear, I
will not shelter any more behind your--skirts."

"That is better," said Madame. "The worm has turned at last. Shall we
send for another spear, Willatopy?"

Willatopy did not reply. Instead he threw away his own weapon, doubled
round Madame, grabbed the stranger's arm; ducked his head under it, and
with a great lift and heave of the buttock tossed Mr. John Clifford six
feet out into the water. The shore fell steeply, and the lawyer soused
under. When he struggled out his damaged clothes had become irreparable.
Madame surveyed the dripping figure, more a figure of fun than ever.

"I hope," observed she politely, "that you have brought a change with
you. Chills are as dangerous to health in the Tropics as fish spears.
Now, Willatopy, while our uninvited and rudely handled guest steams
elegantly in the morning sun, perhaps you will explain what stimulated
into vigorous action those admirable instincts of yours for the
extermination of lawyers. What is all the row about?"

"He came ashore in a boat," said Willatopy, "and landed on my island,
Tops Island. He walked up the beach, and I met him at the fringe of the
woods. 'What do you here?' I said. 'This is my island. I am very rich,
and my name is Willatopy.' 'You are the man I have come to see,' he
said. 'You are a great English Lord, and I have come to take you to
England, and to get you all your rights. You are kept out of them by
villains,' said he. 'My father was a White Chief,' said I, 'but I am
just Willatopy.' 'No,' said he, 'you are the Lord of Tops Ham, the Home
of the Toppys. Your father is dead, and your uncle is dead. You are now
the Lord. Come home to England with me, and I will get you all your
rights.' Then I knew that the white rat lied, for why should a man come
all the way from England to get his rights for a stranger? I remember
what my father said that the English devoured one another. This English
man wanted to draw me away from my Island that he might kill and eat me.
The English are all Cannibals. So I caught up my fish spear, and thrust
at him. He ran away howling, and I ran behind jabbing my spear in his
back. He must be covered with my jabs under that black coat of his. He
is like a missionary in his clothes, but really he is a cannibal."

"So now you know," observed Madame to John Clifford. "Willatopy is not
to be taken in by fairy stories about English Lords and the rights in
England. And Willatopy, as you have found out, is an awkward customer to
humbug, I should advise you to up stakes and begone, fair stranger.
'Twere better so," she sang. "Bid me good-bye and go." Madame held out a
hand, and smiled winningly. "I have done you a service, and perhaps you
will remember Madame Gilbert, when you are far away in England. The
scars upon your back will always remind you of my friend Willatopy, that
perspicuous exterminator of vermin. I am sorry that we cannot entertain
you, even with a share in our breakfast. We are hospitable folk, but we
draw the hard stiff line at lawyers. Farewell, officer and gentleman."

"But I have lost my suit case," wailed the damp, unhappy Clifford--he
was drying quite nicely in the sunshine--"and the schooner which brought
me here has sailed away. How can I go? You are a white woman, and should
take pity on a fellow countryman. I am wet and hungry, and the chills
are running all over me. I am sure the spear was poisoned, and that I
shall die here like a dog and be damned."

"Name of a Dog!" swore Madame Gilbert. "Do you suppose I care how you
die or where you go afterwards? You are not worth the price of good pit
coal, so I take leave to doubt the damning. How did you expect to get
away when you had your black carcase dumped upon our Island? By your own
dirty law you are no better than a trespasser."

"I expected that Lord--that Mr. Willatopy would carry me away in his
yawl when he had learned my news of his inheritance. It is all true that
I spoke to him. They told me in Thursday Island that he had a yawl and
was the boldest sailor in the Straits."

"Willatopy, leave us," said Madame. "I would be alone with the little
stranger. If you should see his suit case on the sand you might pitch it
down. He steams prettily, but would be the better for a dry change. If
he dies before I have ragged him to the bones, I shall be for ever
desolated. I am pleased with you, Willatopy. You are the worthy son of
the Great White Chief, your father. If you could look in at my camp, and
send the steward down with breakfast--with breakfast for two; he might
die too soon if I don't feed him--I shall be infinitely obliged. Be
quick, my dear, for I am powerful hungry. And ask Marie for my trench
coat," she shouted after the departing Willie. "I came away to bathe in
private, and did not expect strangers. Specially when they were not
invited," added she pointedly.

"It is lucky for you, Mr. John Clifford, officer and gentleman, that I
did not go swimming to-day in the fashion of Joy and Cry, just to see
how it felt to be quite unhampered. I did think of trying. You would not
then have had me run a step to your assistance. And now I am not going
to speak another word until my hunger is appeased. You have my
permission to be seated. What ever possessed you, man, to enter the
Tropics in those funereal clothes? This is not St. Mary Axe. If your
suit case is really lost there will be for you no wear except a loin
cloth and a sun-stripped skin. You have no idea until you feel it in the
buff how the sun bites. And this is our island winter. In the summer--we
shall not take you off, my poor friend, and no schooner comes inside our
bar--in the summer you will fry, and your miserable thin white hide
will frizzle off your wasted flesh. And now be silent, if you can, until
I have eaten." The wretched victim had not spoken a word for the past
five minutes, but that was nothing to Madame. I have already said that
in action she was as swift and ruthless as she was babblesome in speech.

They had breakfast together seated on the sand, and the cabin steward of
the yacht waited upon them. He showed no visible sign of surprise at the
little stranger's appearance, though his soul must have been ravaged
with curiosity. Even yacht stewards are human.

"Now," said Madame, when the steward had gone, and she had deeply
inhaled her first beloved after-breakfast cigarette. "Now, if it is
possible for a lawyer, tell me something of the bare unvarnished truth.
Your story of Willatopy's Lordship is only one degree less probable than
your own reputed status of officer and gentleman. You are John Clifford,
managing clerk to some many-partnered firm in St. Mary Axe, London, E.C.
So far, the Court is with you. Get on with the rest."

"I was an officer, for three months before the Armistice. A second
lieutenant of Royal Artillery."

"Mon Dieu!" said Madame politely. "I knew the English Army was hard put
to it, but was it as bad as all that? Did you see any service?"

"No. I got exemption during most of the war. I was indispensable at
home."

"While gallant French and English boys were being killed," Madame's
teeth snapped. "You lawyers look after yourselves. God, if I had lost a
son of mine in the war I would take you out in yonder dinghy and throw
you to the sharks. That is what you are fit for. Shark's food."

"You are not very civil, Madame Gilbert," grumbled the managing
indispensable clerk.

"My unshakeable urbanity under the most severe provocation," responded
Madame, "fills me with wonder. Also with admiration. How I keep it up I
cannot understand. Get on. I accept the story that you got yourself made
a stay-at-home second lieutenant of Garrison Artillery because you were
afraid of the open field. I accept that. Now, what about Willatopy?"

"It is true about him. His father and uncle are dead, and he is the heir
of Topsham. We were almost sure of it in St. Mary Axe--we have a large
Devonshire connection, and know the line of every family of note. We
were nearly sure in London; since then I have inspected the registers in
Thursday Island. That black boy is the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham."

"Humph!" said Madame. "It is no business of mine, though my yacht yonder
is chartered from one member of the Toppys family. I expect there is a
catch somewhere, which you will find out--in St. Mary Axe. But how comes
it that your firm have intervened? Do they represent the interests of
the Family?"

Madame must be highly favoured by the Immortal Gods. For the second time
in this history she was privileged to see a lawyer blush. First it was
Roger Gatepath, now it was that lesser luminary John Clifford.

"No," he stammered. "Not exactly. We have a large Devonshire
connection, and we wish to see justice done to the Heir of an ancient
House."

"And incidentally to increase the large Devonshire connection." Madame's
voice, when she pleased, could rasp like a file of high carbon steel.
"To habitual knavery you add incidental poaching when it offers a
profitable connection. What a trade! Man, look at this island. It is the
most beautiful in the Straits, and until this morning shone as if
blessed by Heaven. With your coming, the air grows chill and dark as
though a curse had fallen. It is lucky I have eaten, or your ill-omened
presence would banish my appetite. And yet in spite of the most
overwhelming provocation I continue to comport myself towards you with
the most suave politeness. _Vive la politesse!_ But I won't indefinitely
answer for my own restraint. If you provoke me further, I may forget
myself and become abusive."

"I shall not stay here to be insulted. I am a demobilised British
officer, and----"

"A temporary gentleman," put in Madame. "Sit down, British officer, or I
will set Willatopy at you. Where will you go? This Island belongs to
Willatopy, and if you pick a banana without his leave, we will hale you
to Thursday Island, and consign you to the deepest dungeon. No, on
second thoughts we will punish you ourselves. To us is entrusted the
high justice, the middle, and the low. We are monarchs of all we survey.
We can keel-haul you under the teak fenders of the _Humming Top_, toast
you over a slow fire, or throw you to your brethren the sharks of the
sea. We can do any violent thing we please with you. No one will miss
you; no one will inquire after you. We will say that you left the
Island--the rest will be silence. Every man and boy in my yacht is my
devoted servant; every man, woman, and child on this Island is a slave
of Willatopy. Man, you did not know what perils you called up when you
had yourself cast on this Island of Tops. Do not, I implore you, repeat
in the hearing of my sailors this preposterous story of Willatopy's
Heirship. For the moment they are my servants, but in blood and bone
they are the feudal retainers of the Family of Toppys. The little
fingers of my sailors are thicker than Willatopy's loins. You have felt
the scorpion sting of his fish spear; you have yet to feel the searing
shattering blast from the _Humming Top's_ guns. My sailors would blow
you into fragments from the foc's'le, and say grace afterwards with
unction. We are smugglers and pirates every one of us. What to us is a
lawyer more or less? You are homeless, and friendless, and in our power.
We can put you to frizzle in the heat by day, and starve you with cold
in the long nights. We can deny you food. Even the wayside streams
belong to us. You cannot walk or lie down, or eat, or drink, save by our
gracious permission. You are cut off from the world, an outcast. Draw
comfort if you can from my words."

"You are pleased to chaff me, Madame Gilbert. The King's writ runs even
in Tops Island."

"In the immortal words of a famous British statesman: wait and see, Mr.
John Clifford, demobilised second lieutenant. And now for the moment I
have done with you. Keep clear of my camp, and, for your life, flee from
Willatopy. When you are hungered lie on the beach and howl like a dog
that is lost. Maybe someone will hear you; maybe, on the other hand,
someone won't. It is still less likely that anyone will minister to your
wants even if your cries are heard. But as a merciful sister I indicate
this one thin chance of preserving from extinction the pale flame of
your life. If you will now excuse me, Mr. John Clifford, I will withdraw
to my tent and complete my interrupted toilet. Good-bye-e-e."

"A good morning's work," murmured Madame Gilbert as she strolled away
leaving the disconsolate Hedge Lawyer to complete his drying alone. "And
let us pray that yet another wandering island schooner may drop into our
bay that we may urgently speed the parting guest--with a boathook if he
won't get moving of his own volition. In these remote islands of the
British Empire one should never omit that punctilious hospitality which
is due even to the most noxious of strangers."



CHAPTER XI

THE CAMPAIGN OPENS


Madame Gilbert kept no diary of her adventures, and her memory for dates
is precarious. But the log of the _Humming Top_--to which I have had
access--confirms her impression that she arrived at Tops Island on the
twentieth of May. It was in the fourth week of her stay that the island
schooners began to arrive, of which the third carried the little
unwelcome stranger, of whom Madame longed to be quit. But although three
schooners came within a week, the much-desired fourth, for whose dirty
sails Madame looked out so anxiously, tarried until the occasion for its
employment vanished with the flying days. During this lamentable period
of delay in speeding the parting guest, the opening rounds in the
contest between Madame and the Hedge Lawyer had been fought and
lost--lost by Madame Gilbert. No longer was it possible to eject him
with a boathook; he had become the guest of Willatopy, and Willatopy,
Lord of Topsham, was also Lord of Tops Island.

Looking back now over the series of incidents which I have to relate, I
cannot but feel that there was some failure of adroitness in Madame's
conduct of the campaign. It is true that she had no cards at all--except
her own dominating personality--and the Hedge Lawyer possessed the
entire pack. But even so her failure to put a wide distance in material
space between the Heir of Topsham and his self-appointed legal adviser
is almost inexplicable. She must have failed through excess of
confidence. She did not grasp the elusive inconsistency of Willatopy's
undeveloped mind. She believed that the influence of his dead white
father would remain ineradicable--she conceived that it was bitten into
steel instead of into soft South Sea wax--and she was misled utterly by
the violence of Willatopy's first onslaught upon the managing
indispensable clerk. When seated at that breakfast on the shore, she had
torn with her feminine claws the quivering flesh of the miserable Hedge
Lawyer, she had judged him to be a cowardly fool who could be readily
frightened away from his purpose. He was no coward, and a long way from
being a fool. A man needs more than the average equipment of Cockney
cunning to become, at thirty-two, the managing clerk of a firm of
speculative lawyers. This fellow, John Clifford, possessed the quick
shrewdness of the City's streets, and the indomitable persistence of a
man whose professional advancement depended upon his own unscrupulous
ability. His employers had promised, ere he set sail for the Torres
Straits, that his return to London with Willatopy as a dazzling and
valuable new client, would mark his own promotion to the status of
junior partner. He had everything to gain by persistence, and nothing to
lose except his life. He was sufficiently astute to realise that
Madame's threats were vain persiflage; that she was helpless if he chose
to remain on the Island, and that the mind of a half-caste savage
might, by adroit moulding, become receptive of strange and flattering
impressions. He held all the cards--those which we know of, others which
he played later. As he dried on the blazing beach, after Madame had left
him, he determined to hang on at any risk from Willatopy's spear and the
rude hands of Madame Gilbert's sailors, until he had won over to his
side the wandering intelligence of the Lord of Topsham.

"After all," muttered Clifford to himself, "he is an English Lord, and
it is a very great thing to be an English Lord." Madame he already
hated--which is not surprising. She had not exactly cultivated his
favour. He did not know that she had any interest in opposing his plans
for the transfer of Willatopy to England, and he did not anticipate
serious opposition from her when proof was offered of Willatopy's legal
heirship. That proof--copies of the registers in Thursday Island--was in
his lost suit case. Also the light flannel clothes which his damp
blackness made urgently desirable. So the first step taken by John
Clifford in his campaign was to hunt for that case which he had flung
away in his flight from the terrible fish spear.

Had Madame realised at the beginning how rapidly the atmosphere would
change, how quickly the wild ingenuous boy Willatopy would become
interested in the adroit cunning man, John Clifford, she might have
acted with her customary and ruthless illegality. On that first morning
she could easily have persuaded Willatopy to convey the intruder out to
the _Humming Top_, and could have held him there inactive until a
convenient moment arrived for carrying him back to Thursday Island.
Adequately frightened, Clifford might have been prevailed upon to set
sail for home, alone, but I doubt whether this temporarily drastic
course would have availed for long. The firm of poachers in St. Mary Axe
could not indefinitely have been denied access to their prey on Tops
Island. After Madame and her yacht had gone, John Clifford, or another,
would have returned. Willatopy, as the half-caste Heir of Topsham, was
too attractive a bait for lawyers to have been left for many months in
the security of his island solitude. Roger Gatepath, who understood his
own profession, was convinced that the legal vultures of London would
speedily discover and fasten upon the profitable pigeon of the Torres
Straits.

Clifford found his suit case within the fringe of woodland where first
he had encountered Willatopy. And as he stooped to pick it up, a heavy
hand smote him upon the back. It was Willatopy again. The boy had been
watching the breakfast party of two, and now that Clifford was alone
interposed his dark powerful figure between the lawyer and the beach.

"This time," said he, smacking his lips, "there will be no Madame
Gilbert."

"Why should you chase me again?" asked Clifford, who feared the boy less
now that he had breakfasted. Besides, Willatopy no longer carried the
fish spear. "Why should you chase me, my lord? I am your friend, and
have come to make you a very rich and great lord in England."

Willie frowned. "I am very rich now. You English are cannibals. You want
to get me away that you may kill and eat me. My father said that the
English devoured one another."

"That meant, my lord," said Clifford, "that the English try to take
money from one another."

"As they try to do in Thursday Island," assented Willatopy. "The English
try to make me drink so that they may steal my money. I keep it in a bag
tied round my waist. Miles and miles of shore and forest are mine, my
banker has piles and piles of my silver, all in bags. It comes from
England. The brown girls love my bright blue eyes and the brown boys are
my servants. I am already rich, and the lord of Tops Island. You are a
liar."

"It is a small thing," said Clifford, "to be the lord of a little island
in the Straits, and to be master of brown girls and boys. In England you
would be a real Lord, the Lord of Topsham; you would have houses, big
houses, and your servants would be white, not brown. White women,
beautiful white women, would be at your pleasure, and white men would
obey your commands."

"White women!" asked Willatopy, who began to be interested. "Would white
women love my blue eyes which are like the sky at dawn?"

"They would, my lord. And if you wish to marry one of them she would
feel honoured by your choice."

"I don't want to marry one, just yet," replied Willatopy indifferently.
"If they loved my bright blue eyes, and were to me as are my brown
girls, that would please me."

"You are a great Lord, and there would be no lack of beautiful white
women to seek your favour," said Clifford, whose little close-set eyes
began to twinkle. He was progressing.

"I have a very fine hut," observed Willie. "It is thatched with sago
palm. There is not a finer hut in the islands."

"In England you would have big houses, not huts," said Clifford. "Big
houses with many rooms."

"I do not like English houses," said Willatopy. "The walls are iron and
roofs are iron. They are painted white and glare in the sun. I have seen
them on Thursday Island."

"Those are not real houses, my lord. Your lordship's chief house in
Devonshire has red stone walls and a roof of burnt clay tiles. It is a
splendid house, hundreds of years old. Green ivy grows upon the walls.
There are many servants in the house and in the gardens; white
servants."

"I should like to have white men working in my garden as my servants.
They are very proud. I should like to have the Skipper as my servant. I
would lay my stick on his back and make him--skip. When I am an English
Lord will the Skipper be my servant?"

"If you wish, my lord, all men will be your servants. In England the
great lords are the masters of the people."

"Shall I be your master?"

Clifford hesitated. The boy with his childlike savage logic was moving
too fast, but it would not do to hesitate. He decided to go the whole
hog.

"Of course, my lord. I should be your most obedient humble servant."

"Good," said Willatopy. "Then since I am already a great English lord
you are now my servant. I should like to see a white man working in my
garden under the hot sun and jumping when I lay my stick upon him. You
shall work in my garden. Come."

"Certainly, my lord, with the utmost pleasure. But may I first change my
clothes? I have some others in this suit case."

"Clothes?" cried Willatopy contemptuously. "It is always clothes with
you foolish white people. When I go with Madame in a boat she makes me
wear my trousers, though I throw them off when I plunge into the water.
Madame will never swim like Joy and Cry if she always wears that tight
blue bathing dress. Now that I am a great English Lord, all men and
women shall be my servants, and shall do what I command. Put on your
foolish trousers, white man, and come with me. I will make you labour in
my garden, and presently when the sun grows hot at noon you will be glad
to put them off for coolness. For now that you are my servant, I shall
make you work very hard."

"I cannot work too hard in your service, my lord," replied Clifford
obsequiously. He had been successful beyond all expectation, and was
willing to sweat copiously in Willie's garden as a sacrifice to the High
Gods.

Meanwhile, Madame Gilbert had changed into the white _crepe de chine_
and muslin gear which was her toilet on land and in the yacht. She sat
in the entrance of her big tent, smoking Russian cigarettes, and mildly
wondering what had become of Clifford, the "sharks' food." She
anticipated with some pleasure hearing the howls of a dog which would
announce the hollow emptiness of his stomach. She intended to feed him
sparingly as evidence of her punctilious hospitality, though under her
austere regimen there would be no margin for pride and fatness. And
while she smoked there, ignorantly idle, Clifford had fought and won the
first and most difficult battle in his campaign. He was already the
victor, though for long hours he sweated outrageously in Willie's garden
while that lordly task-master looked on, and now and then administered
painful stimulus. John Clifford was, I am convinced, almost flattered by
receiving upon his servile, middle-class back the haughtily administered
blows of an undoubted Baron of ancient lineage.

It was not until late that afternoon that Madame Gilbert had an
opportunity to perceive the changed relations between the Hedge Lawyer
and his baronial client. There had been no starving yelps from the
beach, and though she had despatched her steward to look for the little
stranger, the man of food had returned with his supplies undevoured.
None of the sailors had seen the black-coated intruder, and Madame began
to hope that Willatopy, true to his instincts, had completed the
despatch of John Clifford, and had consigned his remains to his brother
sharks of the bay. Madame, I regret to say, has no respect for the lives
of those whom she dislikes. When she acted as the lawyer's shield in the
early morning, she had not yet made his professional acquaintance.
Afterwards, Willatopy might have carved him into pieces if he chose.

In the late afternoon, Madame was roaming in search of some rare
tropical flowers which grew at the head of the bay when she came upon
Willatopy, attended at a respectful distance by a bare-headed and
bare-footed menial dressed in grey flannels.

"Hullo, Willie," cried Madame, not recognising Clifford in this new
incarnation, "whom have you picked up?"

"This, Madame," replied Willatopy with hauteur, "is John, my white
slave. He works much better than my brown boys, and I shall keep him on
my island. He has hoed the weeds all day in my garden, and I have given
him food in payment. Now I am taking him to my yawl that he may clean it
properly inside and polish up the brass-work. John, can you clean my
yawl properly, so that the brass shines?"

"Yes, my lord. Certainly, my lord," said John, cocking an eye at Madame,
in which she detected some light of derisive humour.

"You had better," said Willie ominously. "I am a great English Lord, and
most particular. If you do not work properly, I shall throw you
overboard. The sharks will get you."

"As your lordship pleases," responded John Clifford.

Madame, frowning deeply, watched the two figures--the lord marching
ahead with the villein humbly following--embark in Willatopy's
collapsible boat, and row out to the yawl, which lay at anchor at the
head of the bay. Willatopy would sail her in or out over the bar when
the tide was high, though even he dared not push her through the rollers
which broke on the bar when the water was at its lowest. Madame realised
instantly that Clifford, by cunning flattery, had turned her flank and
captured the interest of Willatopy. It was a new experience for the
brown youth to possess an obsequious white slave who sweated at his
orders, and who addressed him as "lord" and "lordship" in every
sentence. The Baron of Topsham was beginning to believe that he must be
something out of the common way if a white stranger would come all the
way from England to call him lord, to work in his garden, and to clean
the brass of his yacht. He supposed that a Lord in England was a kind of
headman in a village or the chief in a tribe. Only, as the English were
very rich and very proud, a Lord in England must be much more exalted
than any man in the Straits--except, of course, the Administrator in
Thursday Island, or Grant, the banker. He marched with his head held
high, ordered John to row the collapsible boat--which job from long
practice on the Thames in summer he achieved tolerably--and, after the
yawl had been boarded, directed John towards the objects of his labour,
and surveyed his operations from a critical distance. Cleaning the yawl
was the one job of work which the Rich and Idle Willatopy had hitherto
undertaken with his own hands. He had cared for the yawl as a Sportsman
cares for his gun or his horse, and as a golfer cares for his clubs. It
was, however, much pleasanter to superintend the labours of John.

"You are clever," he said at last approvingly. "Not stupid like my brown
boys. I shall not go to England. I will be a great Lord in my island,
and you shall stay with me always as my slave. That white girl, Marie,
who looks at me sideways--so--with eyes that bite, I will ask Madame to
give her to me. Now that I am an English Lord, and no longer a brown
Hula of Bulaa, the girl Marie shall kiss my feet."

"You will never be really a great Lord unless you go to England where
all the men and women are white slaves of the Lords who rule them," said
John mendaciously. Having decided to go the whole hog, he did not spare
decoration upon the beast. "Here you will be always Willatopy, the brown
boy. There beyond the wide sea you will be the Right Honourable William
Toppys, Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham."

"My father, the Honourable William Toppys, was a great Chief here on his
island. I cannot be greater than my father."

"You can be, and you are," said John Clifford earnestly. "Your father
was a younger son, never a great Lord. You are the Head of the House,
Head of the ancient Family of Toppys. Even Sir John Toppys, who owns the
_Humming Top_ yonder, will be your servant."

"Huh!" cried Willatopy. "Is the yacht also mine? I will throw the
Skipper, he who called me 'nigger,' and scorns me, I will throw him into
the sea, and sail the _Humming Top_ myself. It will be better even than
my yawl."

"No," explained John, who had started Willatopy's mind working, and was
alarmed where it would fetch up. "No. The yacht is not yours. It belongs
to Sir John Toppys, not to you."

"But if I am the Lord of Topsham, it must be mine," roared Willie.

"No," repeated John, and tried to explain.

But Willatopy, with cries of "Liar, liar, liar," fell upon his white
slave, and beat him severely. And so John Clifford discovered, very
early in his campaign, that the man who would teach the English law of
inheritance to a half-caste and fully logical heir, runs a grievous risk
of being mangled by his pupil.

"There," said Willatopy, as he picked up the crumpled body of John
Clifford by the slack of its breeches, and hammered it on the yawl's
deck. "If the yacht is not mine, I cannot be the Lord of Topsham, and
you are a liar and a cannibal. Die-cannibal."

"You can get another," shrieked Clifford. "A better one than the
_Humming Top_."

"What is that?" cried Willatopy, and paused while yet some life remained
unhammered out on the yawl's deck.

"When you are a very rich Lord," groaned Clifford, "you will be able to
buy a much newer and finer yacht than the _Humming Top_."

"Where?" enquired Willatopy.

"In England. You will give your orders, and your slaves will build for
you any yacht which you please. But you must go to England first."

"I shall never go to England," said Willatopy. Yet he desisted from the
hammering of John Clifford, and his tone lacked its customary
resolution.

It had been an arduous day for the Hedge Lawyer. Yet I think that he was
well content. In a few hours, at the price of much sweat and many aching
bones, he had powerfully stirred up the soul of Willatopy so that it
would never resettle in its old simple contented form. He had driven
belief into the half-white, half-brown mind of the once happy boy that
beyond the wide seas, over in that England whence his father had fled,
he himself had become a man of consequence. His poor, childlike brain
boiled and threw up visions in its steaming vapours. White women at his
pleasure, white men as his slaves, splendid yachts at his orders, big
stone houses with many, many rooms--the big houses left him cold, but to
the other visions he could give something of warm concrete form. Marie
who made eyes at him, John who slaved for him, the yacht better even
than the splendid _Humming Top_--these would all be his, and they were
but an earnest of greater delights to follow. The round world and all
that was therein would lie beneath his brown feet if only he would go to
England and become, in his own unchallengeable right, the Twenty-Eighth
Baron of Topsham. Already the impressions left by the father upon the
small soft mind of the twelve-year-old boy were beginning to yield under
the moulding hand of the white slave John. Already the white, restless
strain in his blood, which throughout his life had reposed dormant, was
beginning to bestir itself within him. He tossed John Clifford into the
boat, and rowed ashore himself. He drove Clifford before him up into the
woods, and left him there supperless and without shelter. Let him forage
in the woods if he hungered, and seek for cover under the ample branches
about him.

Then Willatopy, that gallant boy of mixed blood, torn from his lifelong
island roots by the exotic pressure of a cursed Heirship, ran as if
devils pursued to the tent of Madame Gilbert, and bursting in, flung his
naked body at her feet. Never before had he entered without leave. And
Madame, seeing the tumult which raged in his soul, and already
understanding something of the agony of his partial awakening, listened
while the boy poured out the story much as I have told it here.

"Madame," he cried at the end. "What shall I do? What shall I do?"

"Send Clifford away," said she, "and never go to England."

"I cannot send him away," said Willatopy. "He is my white slave. And if
he went I should still be an English Lord. But when a schooner calls he
shall go. And I will never go to England. My father said: 'Always stick
to Hula, Willie: Hula is better than England.' And I always will."

"That's right," said Madame. "You can't go wrong if you follow your
father. And now, Willie dear, go back to your own hut, and be Hula once
more. I love Willatopy, but I should hate an English Lord. He couldn't
come to my tent like this--without even a bootlace about his middle. But
my dear Willatopy may wear as little as he pleases. Be off; I don't want
Marie to find you here."

The blue eyes, so strange in the almost black face, flashed with a new
light.

"Marie," he said. "The white Marie. If I were an English Lord...."

Madame held up a warning hand.

"As my lady pleases," said the boy, smiling almost happily, and turning
about, ran from the tent.

Madame sat for a long while after Willatopy had gone. Before her stood
the austere Scotch figure of Grant of Thursday Island, the banker Grant
who had loved the father and now loved the son for his father's sake.
His solemn words rang in her ears. "White and brown blood form a bad
mixture, an explosive mixture. A mixture unstable as nitro-glycerine."
Grant had declared that if drink and white women came into his life,
Willatopy would be a lost soul.

"We have no drink on the island," murmured Madame Gilbert, "and the
stores of the yacht are safe from him. Marie dreads me too gravely to be
a danger any more. If that lump of sharks' food, Clifford, can be got
away, we may pull through. But this inheritance of poor Willatopy's is
the very devil. In England it seemed a comedy shot with streaks of utter
farce; here in Tops Island it borders upon tragedy. In England it would
be ... Mon Dieu! To save Willatopy from that horror I would go some
lengths, some bitter, bitter lengths."

"Marie," said Madame Gilbert, as the French girl came in. "If you hear
any gossip about young Willatopy, don't believe it. There is a story
that he is the rightful Lord Topsham, but, of course, it isn't true.
Should it come to your ears, you have my authority to deny it stoutly."

"Certainly, Madame," said Marie, the demure maid. But Marie did not say
that Willatopy, flying from Madame's tent, had fallen in with her; that
he had told her the whole story, and that she had urged him to claim all
the rights and privileges that were his. And as a foretaste in the
privileges of a seigneur she had offered him her warm lips. No Marie
said nothing of that to Madame Gilbert.



CHAPTER XII

THE SAILING OF THE YAWL


The days passed, no more island schooners put in for night shelter at
the entrance to the bay, and the Hedge Lawyer gained with every passing
day a tighter grip upon the vagrant mind of Willatopy. The Great Lord
made the villein work for the pleasure of seeing a white man sweat in
his service, but in the intervals of labour the two of them became host
and guest rather than master and slave. And hour by hour the cunning
hand of the lawyer, deftly kneading the soft wax of the native boy's
intelligence, obliterated the impressions left by his father's teaching.
Willatopy still declared at intervals that he would never go to England,
but his tone had lost much of its old conviction. The once fixed
resolution was degenerating into a verbal formula.

For awhile Clifford stuck to the first inducements of which he had
demonstrated the effective potency. White women at Willatopy's
seignorial pleasure, white men as his humble, willing slaves, yachts and
buzz boats at his orders--Willatopy was salt to the bones. Then, as his
grip became firmer, Clifford bethought him of a further engine of
influence, and devised a means of bringing it into early operation.
Immovably bent upon the one purpose of bearing Willatopy as a helpless
fly into the spider's web of St. Mary Axe--and of securing that junior
partnership for himself--Clifford perceived that a corrupted, degenerate
Willatopy would be a prey more profitable to the plunderers than the
healthy, shrewd sportsman of Tops Island. Wholly unscrupulous, it was
nothing to him that a brave human soul should be lost. Willatopy was in
his eyes not a human soul, but a much-desired client. After having been
won over and despoiled in the interests of St. Mary Axe, the
Twenty-Eighth Lord of Topsham might go to the Devil as fast as he
pleased. The more he could be prevailed upon to dip into the Toppys
estates--no great property by modern standards--the larger would be the
profits of Chudleigh, Caves, Caves, and Chudleigh, poachers and
speculators in law. I am no effusive admirer of Roger Gatepath, the
solicitor of peers and princes, but the dingy honesty of Gatepaths was
as driven snow in comparison with the black foulness of Chudleighs.

One morning, while running to her shark-proof creek for the customary
dip after her physical exercises--Madame never neglected P.T. under any
pressure of engagements, and to this persistence in muscular well-doing
attributed her exuberant health and appetite--one morning early, Madame
perceived that the mooring station of the yawl was empty. Upon her
return she was informed that Willatopy, accompanied as always by his
white slave John, had sailed at dawn with the first of the ebb. Ching,
who had spent the night in the escort tent, and had been early astir,
had watched through his binoculars the pair go forth towards the bar.
Madame concluded that Willie, tired of making John sweat in his garden,
had borne him off upon an island cruise for the pleasure of harrying the
white man's stomach. John hated the heaving ocean, and had suffered
horribly on his trip from Thursday Island in the schooner. John, in
Madame's judgment, could not have gone willingly, and would soon prevail
upon Willatopy to return. But in this view Madame was wrong. John
Clifford, bad sailor though he was, had braved the swell and tide rips
of the uneasy Straits that he might bring into operation that further
engine of influence upon whose effectiveness he placed sure confidence.

A day and a night passed, and yet another day and night. The yawl did
not return. Madame's apprehension swelled into panic. It was, of course,
absurd to suppose that a navigator of Willatopy's competence had
suffered a marine disaster in his own familiar Straits at the settled
season of the south-east trade. Anxiety of that kind was absent from
Madame's thoughts. Her fears took an altogether different line. She was
obsessed by the dread lest Willatopy, under the rapidly growing
influence of Clifford, had sailed for Thursday Island _en route_ for
England. Grant, the banker, held considerable sums at the boy's
disposal--or, rather, since Willatopy was a minor, the banker and
executor held considerable sums which he might be prevailed upon to hand
over. Even if, as was not improbable, Grant proved obdurate, the lawyer,
John Clifford, must have been provided with ample cash or credits for
traveling expenses. Ching and Ewing were both ashore, and she commanded
their attendance.

The Devonshire ship captain and the Glasgow engineer had been close
friends during half their lives, and habit had made them inseparable. In
temperament, as we have seen, they were far apart. Though sprung from
kindred races--there is no great difference in blood between the Lowland
Glasgow Scot and the West Country Englishman--they were typical
representatives of distinct branches of the British stock. The soft and
bountiful Devon produces sailors rather than engineers; the harsher and
leaner North produces engineers rather than sailors. I cannot stop now
to explain why. In association, Ching and Ewing were complementary, the
one to the other. Both of them loved Madame Gilbert, but their
affection, though sincere, was too platonic to excite serious rivalry.
They would dine together in the big saloon of the yacht--at a table
which had accommodation for twelve persons--and discuss over Sir John's
port the merits of the gracious lady who had betaken herself to the
shore. Later on they would carry the discussion to the smoke-room where
the three had so often sat and applied their foot rules to the universe
during the long voyage out from England. Every few days, moved by a
common impulse which Ewing shamelessly avowed and Ching sought to
conceal, they would disembark and cast up in Madame's camp. It was
understood that both remained in the yacht at their unexacting care and
maintenance duties, or both revelled in Madame's welcome smiles. They
took their duties and their pleasures in company.

"My friends," said Madame, smiling and affecting a levity which she
just then did not feel, "lend me your ears.


     "The time has come La Gilbert said,
       To give you a surprise.
     To tell of yachts and reefs and tents,
       Of blackamoors and peers,
     And why she's come to this far land,
       And what it is she fears."


"As a piece of impromptu poetry," said Ewing, "yon is no so bad. If it
is impromptu, about which I have my doubts. And since my home is in
Paisley, where all the poets come from, my judgment is creetical."

Ching shot one penetrative glance at Madame, and perceptibly paled under
his weather-beaten skin.

"Further," went on Ewing cautiously--he could babble as gleefully and
interminably as Madame herself--"further, I question the judeecious use
of the wor-r-d 'surprise.' In the leeterary sense its employment is bad,
for it does not rhyme, and as a statement of fact it is erroneous. I
will not say that I cannot be surprised by anybody in the wur-r-ld,
though they that have tried to astonish me have been up against a sair
obstacle. What I assert now is that Madame Gilbert has no surprise for
me, and little enough for Ching."

"Wait," warned Madame, with assurance. "I have not yet spoken. The worst
of talking to you, Alexander, is that one can never wedge a wur-r-d in."

"Go canny, lassie," proceeded Ewing. "Go canny. Be not over boastful.
You have been a bonny actress all these weeks past, but not so bonny
that you can deceive Sandy Ewing. I had my suspeecions from the first
when that Willatopy boy revealed to as the secret of his bairth. And
since then I've been conning my eye over the bit registers in Thursday
Island."

"'Tis a wash out," admitted Madame. "I have not seen those famous
registers myself, but I understand that they would convince a brazen
image."

"They are as tight as a drum and as adhesive as a pepper plaster. The
joints of them are steam tight to any pressure. You could na shift them
with T.N.T. My metaphors may be a wee bit mixed, there is nothing of
confusion about those registers. If you would like to see fair copies, I
have them now in my hip pocket. Three half-crowns they cost me--for the
certeeficate of the registrar. It was a turrible expense."

"You are a great man, Sandy," said Madame.

"The Scots were ever a grand people, and Sandy Ewing is one of the
grandest among them. _Primus inter Pares._ But a wumman of your
perspicacity, though a foreigner and a Roman, will not have neglected to
obsairve that we are of a modesty beyond belief. We, none of us, ever
blow our own trumpets."

"Never," assented Madame. "You employ a steam syren."

"Then it be all true," groaned Ching, who had remained silent during
this interchange. Except in the speech of his profession, his tongue was
inflexible. The babble of his friends broke upon him as the sea foam on
an immovable rock. "Then it be all true. That Moor be the rightful Lord
of Topsham."

"It is true," said Madame gently. "We must make the best of it,
Captain." Much as Madame Gilbert admired and respected the solid merits
of Robert Ching, she never relaxed towards him her form of address. He
was always "Captain." The Chief Engineer had long since become the
"Alexander" of reproof or the "Sandy" of familiar converse. One may
respect, and in emergency cling to, an immovable rock. But one does not
pat it familiarly.

"Whatzimever be us vur to do?" wailed Ching, reverting in distress to
the peasant dialect of his youth.

"I do not hold," put in Ewing, "that it is for us to do anything. I am a
Leeberal, a good Scots Leeberal. In Paisley, where my home is, and where
the poets come from, we have always been steadfast, unshaken Leeberals.
No argument can shift us. For ten years past we have done our Leeberal
best to pull down the House of Lords, and Willatopy is a damn sight
better than most of the scum of them. His skin is an accident of bairth.
If his skin had come as white as his eyes are blue he would have been a
vairy presentable Head for the House of Toppys. He has, it seems to me,
all the instincts of the Idle Rich, and what more can you Tories want?
He is a grand pilot and a very hardy sailor and sportsman. His eye for
the gur-r-ls is worthy of the loftiest aristocrat. It is nothing but the
brown epidermis which sets Ching here groaning like a gravid cow, and
Madame bewailing the undoubted legitimacy of a Topy heir."

"Not quite," objected Madame, though she was impressed by the Scot's
shrewd analysis. "I admit that if Willatopy had been born white, or as
light-skinned as his sisters, his lawyers at home would long ago have
summoned him to claim his peerage. His half blood would not then have
made the Family a butt for ridicule. But to me his half blood and not
his colour is an occasion for genuine distress. It is because Willatopy
here in his own Tops Island is so artless and attractive a creature,
that I dread the effect of his transfer to England and his succession to
what still is, even in these democratic days, an eminence ringed about
with peculiar and dangerous temptations. Let me give you the opinion of
a man--one of your own countrymen, Sandy--who knew the father well, and
feels the gravest apprehensions lest the son should come to utter
wreck." Then Madame, in the frank fashion which draws men's hearts to
her, repeated that conversation with Grant of Thursday Island, which I
have recounted in a previous chapter. She kept back nothing. As she
spoke of the neglected deposits of osmiridium--at fifty pounds an
ounce--Ewing shrieked as a man tortured in the most tender nerve centres
of his being. As she told of the death of William Toppys, and of the
twelve-year-old son's desperate voyage with the father's corpse lashed
to the yawl's deck, her hearers fell silent, and she could see that both
men were deeply moved.

"Good lad," whispered Ching, who hated Willatopy.

"Good lad," whispered Ewing, who liked him. As Madame proceeded and
painted in her forcible vivid English the twin demons which threatened
the half-caste boy, torn from his native island environment, the men
followed her words with grave assent. Both of them in their wanderings
over the wide world had seen men and women of the black and brown races
wither and die at the touch of white vices.

The story drew to its end.

"He was a circumspectious man, yon Grant," said Ewing with approval. "A
good Scot and vairy intelligent."

"He was right, Madame," agreed Ching. "It is not the brown skin but the
unstable half-blood which is the peril. We must keep away drink and
white women from--his young lordship."

It was a tremendous concession from a man like Ching. The "Moor" whom he
detested had become the "young lordship" from whose stumbling footsteps
must be withdrawn the perilous rocks of offence.

"But can we?" enquired Madame Gilbert anxiously. "He is a boy and very
masterful. We cannot hold him in leading strings. Already my influence
over him is waning. The seductions of John Clifford are more potent than
the friendly, almost maternal, warnings of Madame Gilbert. I could, if I
pleased, by working on his boyish virile passions, make him crawl at my
feet and eat out of my hand. But to what end, and for how long? I should
but hasten the process of corruption which the Hedge Lawyer has begun.
From me, unassailable, he would flee to others less obdurate. And they
are never far away even in the Straits of Torres. I cannot play with
Willatopy. We must do what we can, but it is already borne in upon me
that we seek to achieve the impossible. Already, these two days since,
Willatopy has gone in the yawl with Clifford. It was for that reason I
summoned you, and announced the surprise which our Alexander had so
completely anticipated. I have grave fears lest even now John Clifford
has drawn Willatopy away to Thursday Island, thence to take ship for
England."

"For my part," declared Ewing, "I doubt the accuracy of Madame Gilbert's
prognostications. They do not carry conviction to my astute mind. The
change over is too sudden. That he will ultimately be prevailed upon to
depart for his English lordship I make no manner of doubt. But not yet.
He is a good boy. He has a great respect and affection for you, Madame.
He worships you, Madame, as a gracious white goddess. As we all do, we
all do. We are weak men, but there is nothing sinful in our love for
you. Ching here, says little though he thinks a lot; and I say, maybe,
more even than I think. But, believe me, Madame, we both of us love you
from your bonny red hair to your dainty feet--which twinkle so sweetly
over the sand when you come from your bath--and we would lay down our
lives to presairve you from har-r-m. Willatopy would not have gone away
to England without asking for your leave and bidding you farewell."

Ching, of the inflexible tongue, murmured assent.

Madame Gilbert, to whom the hearts of men had so often been as toys, was
moved.

"My dear friends," said she gently, "I believe you, and I thank you. I
have never played with your honest hearts, and I am proud that you
should have given them so freely to me." She stretched forth a hand to
each man, and first Ewing and then Ching touched with his lips her white
fingers.

"And if not to Thursday Island whither then has Willatopy gone?" asked
Madame.

"I do not say that he has not gone to Thursday Island," replied Ewing.
"Port Kennedy, with its tin houses and bare dusty streets, is the one
town in the Straits with any number of white folk. Clifford has played
on the boy's white blood, and carried him off there to flaunt his
lordship before the populace. As a preliminary canter, so to speak. If
the brown Lord of Topsham meets with favour in the Island, I doubt he
will aspire to wider fields of conquest."

"Very like," agreed Ching, and then flung forth a speech which
astonished Madame with its sharp sailor wit. Hitherto she had rated the
Skipper as a dull dog. "Willatopy will not have sailed for England
because that would mean leaving his yawl at Thursday Island. Nothing
would induce him to risk the safety of his yawl."

"You are right, Captain," cried she. "That is final. The sailor, and
Willatopy is a sailor born and bred, will cast off his mistress, but
never his ship. He will return to us with his yawl. If later on he sails
for England he will leave the yawl here in safety at her moorings. Why
didn't you think of that, my circumspectious man, Sandy?"

"I am an Engineer, not a sailor. It is engines I think of, not ships.
They are nothing to me but the case for the bonny engines."

"Exactly," said Madame. "That is just the difference between an engineer
and a sailor, between Devon and Glasgow. You are clever, Sandy, and as
a man of business, you soar far beyond our poor comprehension. But
Captain Ching here is the wiser man."

It was not very subtle, perhaps, but in this fashion Madame Gilbert put
down the talkative Ewing, and exalted the silent Ching, and bound the
hearts of both men to her. More than ever she felt assured that if she
needed help--and the fracture of the laws of God and man at her
behests--Ching and Ewing would stand immovably with her.

"Madame," said Ching, and it was to be observed that when he spoke of
the sea and his own craft, his tongue instantly loosened. "Can you tell
me when you propose that the _Humming Top_ should cast off and sail for
England?"

"I had not considered leaving. There is no hurry, is there?"

"There is no immediate urgency. But it is my duty as Captain to make
certain representations to my owner. We sailed in the middle of March,
and we arrived here after a voyage of two months, most of it in warm
weather. We have now lain for five weeks in a tropical tidal bay. The
yacht is foul, very foul. The brown boys who dive under her for bits of
silver thrown from the rail say that she trails weed four feet long. The
teak sheathing which runs from bilge to bilge, and stretches from near
the forefoot to the stern post, is uncoppered. It was attached rather
hastily, and copper was still scarce after the war. The wood is proof
against worm, but it collects weed. When we do sail--it is now near the
end of June--we must make for Singapore, and go into dock for a clean.
The Chief will tell you that though we do not lack for fuel, the foul
bottom will grievously increase our consumption."

"That is so," explained Ewing. "I have dived down myself, and seen the
blooming garden which flourishes under our bottom. We are a tropical
curiosity. We attract every kind of growth except coral. If we linger
much longer we shall become fir-r-mly attached to the sea floor. We lie
in six fathoms, but the weeds grow like bananas. At the consumption
which brought us here steaming eleven knots, we should not now make
eight. And if we get much more foul we shall not make six. Sir John's
dollars will bur-r-n in grand volumes when we put out to sea. It goes
against my conscience, Madame, to waste good oil on a foul ship."

Madame knitted her brows. "Both of you know now how I am placed. I am a
woman and curious; I want to see the drama of Willatopy unfold itself
before me."

"So do we," said Ching. "We do not ask you to depart until the need
grows urgent. But remember. We must dock at Singapore, and thence home
to England will occupy the best part of two months. The _Humming Top_ is
long and narrow, with a very low freeboard. The bulwarks of her monkey
fo'c'sle are not more than twelve feet above the water, and her stern is
no more than seven. She can live anywhere, but she was built for speed
and fair weather cruising; if we ram her through the autumn gales in the
northern hemisphere she will be a very wet and uncomfortable ship. The
seas will be all over bridge and charthouse and smokeroom, and you will
have to live battened down. You won't like that, Madame, and your maid
Marie will yield up her immortal soul."

"I am not worrying about Marie's soul--or her stomach," said Madame
callously. "How long can you give me?"

"Four weeks," said Ching firmly. "If we sail towards the end of July we
should be in English waters by the middle of October at latest."

"Make it so," said Madame. "I promise that you shall hoist the Blue
Peter--is that right?--before the end of July. And perhaps sooner. For
at the rate at which events are moving, Willatopy may soon determine to
transport his person and fortunes to England. At the last, if all my
persuasions that he should remain here fail--and I am afraid that they
must fail--I shall offer him passage in the _Humming Top_. It is fitting
that the Lord of Topsham should enter upon his inheritance on board a
Toppys ship. Sir John Toppys will not be best pleased, but if Willatopy
insists, the haughty Family must swallow their medicine, and pretend
that they like it. _Noblesse oblige!_ So long as the _Humming Top_ is
available, Lord Topsham must not travel in a hired steamer. Besides,"
added Madame with a smile, "I shall be able to keep my eye and perhaps
my hand upon that detestable little cad, the indispensable managing
clerk. And if the sea should be very rough, perhaps a kindly Neptune
might whisk him overboard."

"If you give the word, Madame, he shall go overboard all right," said
Ching, the descendant of Plymouth buccaneers.

"No. I will not allow crime where I command. I am not squeamish; in my
time I have shot more men than one or two, and when I shoot to kill, a
soul is sped. But what I have done by way of duty, or in self-defence,
has not been crime. Unless he provoked me beyond endurance, I would not
slay even John Clifford."

"If I could do a wee bit murder on the swine under the rose, and stuff
his corpse into a firebox, it would not distur-r-b my slumbers,"
observed Ewing. "But men talk, men talk. If the two of them sail with us
in the _Humming Top_, and the weather comes on sweet and dirty, we must
put up powerful petitions to an all-wise Providence. From the look of
the beast, I should judge that he has a taste for whisky. Now, whisky,
discreetly administered, might help the Divine wisdom to interpose with
an effective boost, when Clifford reeled against a lee rail. We are all
in the hands of God," concluded Alexander piously.

"We are a sweet crowd," observed Madame, with an air of detachment. "We
borrow the yacht of a highly respectable baronet and profiteer. On the
voyage out we convert her into a rollicking dope smuggler. We now
contemplate petitions to the Almighty that He should boost a drunken
Hedge Lawyer over our rail while on the voyage home. And withal, we are
God-fearing members of some Christian Church. I, it must be confessed,
am an indifferent Catholic. Alexander is a Scotch Presbyterian...."

"An Elder when at home in Paisley," interjected the Chief--"and Captain
Ching is what--a Plymouth Brother?"

"Never," declared Ching in horror. "The Church of England for me. I
will have no truck with sectarians."

"It is a beautiful example of the essential unity of the Churches," went
on Madame wickedly. "The Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian Elder and the
zealous English Churchman are all agreed to advise their God to
interpose for the confounding of a Hedge Lawyer. And if nothing happens,
their belief in the efficacy of prayer will get a nasty jar. Our
unanimity is at least some indication that in human judgment the little
sweep were better dead. But, my friends, reflect that worms as noxious
came through the war unscathed, while the best of Europe's manhood
perished. Let us not bank on the discriminating taste of the Almighty,
or on the alertness of the Providential ear."

Alexander Ewing was not unwilling to plunge into an active theological
controversy, and Ching, with a lightening of the eye, showed that he too
smelled battle. But Madame waved her hand, and forbade reply. If she
were a Catholic, I am afraid, as she herself admitted, that she was not
a very good one.

On the following evening Ching and Ewing returned to the yacht, and
three more days went by without word of the yawl, Willatopy, or John
Clifford. Then news came like the blare of a bugle summoning Madame to
the fight.

She had just returned from her morning swim, and the bathing dress,
which rapidly dried in the sun, was still upon her body. The motor boat
had just buzzed in through the passage of the bar, and brought an
officer with a message.

"The Captain's compliments," said he, "and I was to tell you, Madame,
that the brown boy, Willatopy, with the man called Clifford, are sitting
in the smokeroom of the yacht drinking Sir John Toppys' port."

"Port!" cried she. "At this hour of the day!" Her eyes flashed, and she
leapt for the tent. Upon her feet she slipped a pair of sand shoes, and
about her person buckled the linen trench coat. Then going to her
dressing case she picked out the Webley automatic which in her tent or
in her cabin was never very far from her hand. She dropped the pistol
into her right-hand pocket.

"Come," said she to the officer. "I am ready. Willatopy is Lord of the
Island, but Madame Gilbert is Lady of the Yacht. I am going to give Mr.
John Clifford, solicitor of St. Mary Axe, a lesson in the laws of
property."

"Shall I stand by with a monkey wrench?" enquired the officer eagerly.
He was a young engineer.

"It will not be needed," said Madame serenely.



CHAPTER XIII

WHITE BLOOD


The tide was at half ebb, and the trip out to the _Humming Top_ much
wetter than Madame had expected. The long Pacific rollers were already
crashing upon the bar, and had the motor boat delayed its return by half
an hour, even the passage inshore would have become too boisterous for
safety. But Madame, anxious lest she should be cut off for more than six
hours from the port-drinking intruders in the _Humming Top's_
smoke-room, gave orders that the surf must be faced at all hazards. So
the powerful little craft, driven by the full power of its
eight-cylindered engine, gave back buffet for buffet, and got through,
though the passenger and crew were soaked to the skin in the effort.
Madame, in her bathing dress and linen trench coat, had been saturated
so often since her first passage of the breakers with Willatopy, that
she paid no heed to salt water. She had always loved the sea, and was
becoming well salted.

Ching and the apologetic steward met her at the top of the accommodation
ladder.

"With your permission, Captain," said she, "I will now take charge."
And, turning to the steward, flung out the one word "Explain!"

"Mr. Willatopy and his friend," said the man, "arrived alongside in the
yawl and came aboard. Mr. Willatopy said that the surf was too bad for
the yawl to go in, and that they would wait until high tide in the
yacht. I knew that you, Madame, would wish me to treat the young
gentleman with respect, so I asked him, and his friend, to enter the
smoke-room. A few minutes later the bell rang, and Mr. Willatopy said
that his friend wished for a drink. Would I get a bottle of port? I had
no orders, and I was aware that Mr. Willatopy is said to be the new Lord
Topsham, so I brought the wine in a decanter. Then I reported what I had
done to the Captain. He was very angry, and at once sent off the motor
boat to fetch you. He knew that you would risk the surf, and was angry
that you should have been called upon to do it. I ought to have reported
to the Captain before I carried out the young gentleman's order."

"On the whole, Captain," said Madame, thoughtfully, "I am not sorry that
this incident has happened. We now know the line of Clifford's attack,
and can take measures to meet it. I will counterattack at once."

She mounted the steps of the boat decks, and walked up to the
smoke-room. She stood at the open door looking down upon the
trespassers, who had already made free with nearly a whole bottle of Sir
John's carefully selected wine. Willie had his back to her, so that the
Hedge Lawyer saw her first. His mean, thin face went white, and he tried
to push back his chair, forgetting that it was screwed to the deck.
Willie turned, and seeing Madame, raised his glass.

"Have a drink, Madame?" cried he. "I hate whisky, but I like port, which
John taught me to drink in Thursday Island. I like tumblers better than
these silly glasses, and the sweet, sticky stuff we got in Thursday
Island has more taste than my cousin's soft thin wine. Here's to your
health, Madame." He emptied the glass, and pointed to the decanter,
which was nearly exhausted. "Ring the bell, John; Madame wants a drink."

But John Clifford, with those sombre, deadly eyes of Madame Gilbert upon
him, shivered.

"Willie, dear," said Madame, softly, "will you please listen to me for a
moment." When Madame speaks like that there lives not a man so
insensible as to disregard her. Willatopy passed a hand in rather a
bewildered way across his eyes, and turned his chair round towards her.
Then, in a stiff, automatic fashion, he rose to his feet and murmured:
"I beg your pardon, Madame Gilbert."

She entered the room, and sat down on the sofa.

"Be seated, Willie, I want to talk with you. No," she added sternly to
John Clifford, who was sliding out by the farther door. "Stay where you
are, lawyer. Sit." She snapped out the word as one gives an order to a
dog, and Clifford sat.

"Willie," said Madame Gilbert, in that soft, compelling voice of hers,
which none can resist. "On the island yonder in a tent I live with my
servants. The land is yours. Any day, at any moment, you could tell me
to go, and I should go. But while I live in that tent, pitched upon your
land, I am your guest and under your protection. Would you, Willie,
enter that tent in my absence, and give orders to my servants? Would you
seat yourself, uninvited, at my table?"

Willatopy passed a hand again over his flushed cheek and heavy eyes.
"You are my guest on the Island, Madame, my honoured guest. I could not
approach your tent without your permission. You know that, Madame."

"I know it, Willie. But think a little. This yacht is mine, lent to me
by your cousin, Sir John Toppys. All the men on board are my servants.
The yacht is as much my home as the tent ashore. An English gentleman,
Willie, does not go into the house of his friend and order wine to be
placed before him; he waits to be invited, Willie. Still less does he
bring another, a stranger, with him. You cannot be an English Lord,
Willie, unless you begin by becoming an English gentleman."

Willatopy looked intently at Madame all the while she was speaking, and
his eyes lost their blurred look. As the fumes of the unaccustomed port
cleared away, the native sense of courtesy in his brown and white blood
revived. He sprang from his chair, dropped on the floor at her feet, and
laid his black, frizzy head upon her knees.

"Forgive me, Madame," cried he. "I was--a perfect hog."

"Willie dear," said Madame, as she passed her hands gently over the long
frizzled hair, and arranged the tresses neatly on her lap. "Now that you
are an English Lord, you will really have to get your hair cut." In this
fashion the two became reconciled.

Willatopy shed a vinous tear or two on Madame's trench coat, and then
sprang violently up as a thought struck him.

"You, John," roared he. "You white slave! Why did you not tell me that
it was a hoggish thing to come on board Madame's yacht and order
Madame's wine? I did not think. You are my white slave, and it is your
job to think for me. Madame, have I your permission to kill John here in
your yacht? I should like to begin at once."

"I will deal with him," said Madame. "Willie, have you half-a-crown?"

Willatopy, looking puzzled, thrust his hand into a trouser pocket, and
produced a silver coin.

"It is a two-shilling piece," said he. "Will that do?"

"Quite well." Madame drew the automatic pistol from her side pocket.
John Clifford cowered before her, screaming. "Worm and liar," snapped
Madame. "I am convinced that you are a hedge lawyer--so scurvy a wretch
could be none other--but I will never believe that even for three months
you were ever an English officer. Come outside and and look upon your
death." She drove him out on to the deck at her pistol muzzle. He
crouched down by the rail, and covered his eyes with both hands.

"No," said Madame. "That will not do at all. I had not intended to slay
you--just yet--but I am going to make you watch me shoot. As a warning.
Take away those hands and look at me." Her voice snapped at him as it
had done before, and Clifford obeyed--as a dog obeys its mistress. He
sat up by the rail and looked at her.

"Willie," said Madame. "Stand over there with your back to the sea. I
don't want anyone to be hurt, not even the brave lawyer. When I give the
word, throw that coin into the air. I am going to show to Mr. John
Clifford a little bit of trick shooting which he may bear in his
remembrance--as a warning. I shall not hit you, Willie."

"I am not afraid," said the boy with a touch of pride. He did as she
commanded. With his back to the sea, and at the word from Madame, he
spun the florin into the air.

She had stretched out her pistol arm, and with the muzzle followed the
scrap of white metal which flew upwards sparkling in the sun. Madame
declares that she never looks at her gun sights--that she shoots by
instinct. Exactly at the instant when the coin stopped in act to fall,
Madame's pistol cracked, and the two-shilling piece, hit fairly by the
small .25 bullet, flashed over the rail into the sea.

"Teach me to do that," cried Willie.

Madame returned the pistol to her pocket, and contemplated Clifford.

"I am a woman," said she, "and very nervous. My terrors, when a stranger
approaches my camp, even by day, are lamentable. I struggle against
them, but it is no use. My one consolation is this pistol, which never
leaves my side, and my skill in its use. My nerves are so uncontrollable
that I am sure no stranger--not even one so innocent of offence as Mr.
John Clifford--is safe within pistol shot of me. As a friend, who would
be desolated should an accident befall him, I say to Mr. Clifford: 'keep
clear of Madame Gilbert.' Captain," went on Madame, turning to Ching,
who had not been far away during this scene, "Mr. John Clifford regrets
that he must leave us. Would you please order out a boat, and put him
ashore over there by the mangroves. He will have a pleasant walk through
the woods of a couple of miles before reaching a human habitation.
Contemplation is good for the penitent soul. And should he approach the
ladder of the yacht again--I doubt myself if he can be persuaded to pay
us another call--will you please give orders that Madame Gilbert is not
at home--neither is her port."

The dinghy was swung out and Clifford invited to enter. He turned to
Willatopy.

"Are you coming too, my lord?" asked he, obsequiously.

"No," said Willie. "I hate walking. And your society does not amuse me.
The brown girls on Thursday Island who would not touch you, when you
sought their favours, were right. You are an unclean beast. Go and walk
and sweat by yourself. I am tired, and would sleep, if Madame will
permit."

He stretched himself upon the sofa bunk in the smoke-room, and instantly
fell asleep. Madame sat watching the dark, quiet face, so very negroid
now that the bright blue eyes were veiled, and presently Ching joined
her.

"Captain," said she softly. "The white blood stirs, and with it the
taste for white vice. Look at those lines under the eyes which stand out
purple against his skin. Listen to that harsh note in his breath, and
watch the uneasy twitch of his long, thin fingers. It was not in that
restless fashion that he slept when Willatopy was our pilot and our
guest. His Heirship lies heavily upon him already, and its burden has
scarcely begun. Do you still hate Willatopy, Captain Ching?"

"No, Madame. Since you told us of the black boy's devotion to his white
father, I have hated him no more. I wish to help his young lordship if
I can."

"He will need all our help," said Madame, sighing. "The evil that Grant
prophesied is coming upon him. If it is port to-day, it will be brandy
to-morrow. He hates whisky now, but for how long will his palate reject
it? Clifford will steep him in foul liquors if he can. For the moment
Willatopy is unspoiled. When I spoke in tones of reproof, he fell at my
feet and kissed my coat. He implored my forgiveness. But for how long
can I fight against the wiles of Clifford?"

"What strikes me the most forcibly may seem to you a little thing," said
the Skipper. "Willatopy arrived here in his yawl at an hour when he
could not pass the bar for the fury of the swell. He came aboard us, and
said that he had forgotten the state of the tide. Think of that for a
sailor and pilot like him. When he was conning the _Humming Top_,
Madame, he knew the tide level to an inch, but now he forgets that at
certain states his own yawl cannot sail over his own bar. I think that
the pair of them must have been lying up and drinking most of the night,
Madame."

"Captain, you are very wise. What you say frightens me."

Willatopy stirred upon the sofa and groaned.

"John," he murmured, "you said the wine was not strong, and did no harm.
But my head burns, and I cannot see. My father said...."

His voice trailed away, and he slid into half-drunken unconsciousness.

"That Hedge Lawyer is a cunning devil," said Madame. "It looks as if he
represented port as a temperance drink, favoured by the strictest
missionaries. I wondered a little why port was chosen for the first
introduction to alcohol. Captain Ching, it sticks in my mind that my
patience and courtesy towards that stranger will fail me, and that he
will get hurt. When I saw him sitting opposite Willatopy in this room,
making free with my yacht and my wine, my hand went to my gun. He saw
death in my eyes, and wilted."

"It is a job for us, not for you," said Ching deliberately. "Shall we
take him out into the Straits--and lose him? Not a man aboard of us
would give away the secret. My conscience would not worry me. I would as
soon drown that devil as a rat."

"We may come to it. One's views upon the sanctity of human life change
with the circumstances. I do not hold it crime to slay Clifford if the
killing of him would save Willatopy. But it would be a postponement,
that is all. Other poachers would find him out and we should not then be
at hand to interpose for his protection. There is an alternative which
appeals to me more strongly. Clifford is away toiling through the woods
yonder. Willatopy is here with us. Suppose, while he sleeps, that we
send in for my camp gear, ship it on board, cast off our moorings, and
sail immediately for England. Willie would then have been cut loose from
the unscrupulous poachers of St. Mary Axe. I would hand him over to the
Trustees of the Toppys estates, who must give his claims full
recognition, and keep a constant watch upon him in England. Disaster,
degeneracy, will fall upon him, I fear. They are the present perils of
his explosive half blood. But at least he would have been preserved
from deliberate corruption. Will you please summon Alexander. He is
shrewd and vairy circumspectious. Let us have his opinion."

Alexander considered the proposal with a grave, judicial countenance. He
had been below tinkering with his adored engines--painting the lily of
the high-speed turbines--and had seen nothing of the expulsion of John
Clifford. When told how Madame had plugged a two-shilling piece with a
.25 pistol bullet, he expanded with admiration.

"Yon Clifford will go in fear of his dirty life," said he with
satisfaction. "He will scuttle for the woods when the shadow of our
sweet Madame falls across his track. You are a bonny shooter, but don't
puncture the vermin if you can keep your wee gun off him. I like fine
your new plan. There is a flavour of lawless kidnapping about it which
appeals, which appeals. Both Ching and me are with you up to the neck.
Will you send ashore now for the gear?"

"You can't," interposed Ching shortly. "'Tis close on low water, and the
bar is not passable."

"Oh!" groaned Madame. "Like Willie, I had forgotten the tide."

"It's a peety, a sore peety," observed Ewing. "But not an insuperable
obstacle. The tents and the gear are worth much money; still they belong
to Sir John Toppys and not to us. He would be the loser by their being
left behind, not us. The Idle Rich can afford losses of gear. We can
maroon the tents as we propose to maroon the law agent."

"But," objected Ching--to the best of plans there is always some
intrusive objection--"what about my six men in the escort tent, and
Madame's maid, Marie? We can't leave them behind."

"I will willingly leave Marie--she can console John Clifford if she has
the stomach for him. But I agree that we can't leave Ching's men. They
are wanted to work the yacht. Besides, after my stores were exhausted
they would have nothing to live on except bananas and the produce of
Mrs. Toppy's fowls and garden. It would be a low down trick to play on
the poor dears. We must confide Willie and his future to the hands of
Fate. If he stays asleep until the tide rises, and we can evacuate my
camp, we will accept the omen, up anchor, and sail to-night for home.
Willie himself shall be our Pilot. But if not, not. I am a fatalist, and
shall not grumble either way. Will you please get the boats ready,
Captain, so that no time may be lost. We must do our bit to help the
workings of Fate, but I shan't interfere to the extent of locking Willie
up, and kidnapping him by force."

But Fate had already decided. Willatopy awoke at about one o'clock,
announced that hunger devastated him, and for the first time lunched
with Madame and her companions in the saloon. As Willatopy he had messed
with the junior officers; as the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham he sat
at Madame's right hand in the saloon. There was no pretence now that he
was a byblow of Will. Toppys.

It was interesting to observe Willie at table. He had been brought up
strictly as a native of the Straits, and in his father's hut had lived
exactly like other brown boys. Now and then, during his visits to
Thursday Island, he had sat at table in rough company. Once or twice, I
believe, the banker Grant had invited him to tea with his wife and
family. In the usages of white society, with these small exceptions,
Willie was wholly unversed. Yet no one watching him now, seated beside
Madame, and talking freely with Ching and Ewing, would have suspected
the slenderness of his social equipment. He never touched knife or fork
or plate until by observation he had seen how the others used them. He
watched his companions as narrowly as he watched the reefs by which, and
over which, he sailed his yawl. His method was slow, but it was very
sure. In the course of time he satisfied his hunger, and all through the
meal he never committed one noticeable gaucherie.

"The boy is white and a gentleman," thought Madame. "What a pity it is
that his skin did not come as pale as that of his sisters. But for that
most unfortunate coffee-coloured epidermis, there might be a chance for
him after all. The brown skin together with the explosive mixture in his
blood are too overwhelming a handicap to carry." No wine was served by
Madame's strict orders.

Afterwards in the smoke-room over coffee and cigarettes--Willie had
never smoked before, but seemed to relish one of Madame's favourite
Russians--Madame openly spoke to Willie of their intentions had he not
awakened so inopportunely.

"It is not too late, Willie, to go now with us of your own free will.
Lord Topsham--for you really and truly are Lord Topsham, a great English
Lord--cannot for long remain on a little island in the Torres Straits.
He will be sought out by his own Trustees, and by loathsome sharks of
the Clifford breed. Now that you know the truth and your white blood
stirs in your veins, I become convinced that you must go to England.
Before you had gone on that trip to Thursday Island, I thought it
possible that you might stay in peace here. Now I am sure that sooner or
later you must go. And if Fate wills, sail with us, your friends who
love you, in a Toppys ship. We will take you home with us, and put you
in your lawful place."

But Willie said No. The wine, dying out in his system, had left him full
of terrors. The gallant lad, who had fought for three days to save his
godlike father from the devils of the sea, who until now had never felt
fear, trembled before the unknown.

"I will never leave Tops Island," muttered he. "This is my home. I am a
Hula, and my father said, 'Always be Hula, Willie, never go to England.'
I cannot disobey the words of the Great White Chief, my father. Clifford
I hate. I am sorry, Madame, that I did not kill him when first he landed
on my island. It was you who saved his miserable life from me. In
Thursday Island he tried to give me whisky, and, when I refused it, told
me the sweet sticky port was good and safe to drink. I liked it, Madame.
He brought two, three cases away in the yawl, and some other stuff like
port--he called it cherry brandy. That I like too. It is hot and sweet.
And then there is...." In his artless fashion he was about to speak of
the girl Marie, but the white blood stirred, for the first time in his
relations with women he felt shame, and the sentence was left
unfinished.

"It is as you will," said Madame gently. "We will remain here for a
little while longer. Should you change your mind and wish to go, here is
the _Humming Top_ at your service. We cannot sail without our Pilot. We
should be cast away on the reefs for sure. You brought us to your
island, Willie, and only you can take us away."

"I will be your pilot to Thursday Island whenever you wish, Madame. But
no farther. I will return here in my yawl."

"And what about Clifford?"

"If he has not gone, I will cut off his head. It amuses me that he
should be my white slave, but I grow weary of him. His head will smoke
nicely over the fire in my cookhouse."

The afternoon drew on, and the tide rose to its height. Willie, looking
out over the bar, decided that the moment for his departure had arrived.
He went to the stern of the yacht where the yawl had been tied up.

"One moment," said Madame. "Those cases which Clifford bought? The port
and the cherry brandy? Shall we throw them overboard, Willie?"

The boy's face worked uneasily. He had tasted of the juice of the
Californian grape and found it very good. He had decided not to go to
England to claim his lordship, but had not decided to cut himself loose
from all white seductions. It was his intention to carry the cases to
his island, and there to offer alcoholic hospitality to the girl Marie.
Madame knew nothing of what passed through his opening mind.

"Shall we throw the cases into the sea?" she enquired anxiously. "It
will be better so, Willie, my dear."

Willie did not refuse her in words. He stood hesitating, and then
suddenly leaped over the rail. Down he dropped true upon the yawl's
deck, and steadied himself with one hand on the mainmast. In a moment he
had cast off and run up the sails.

Madame Gilbert watched the yawl fly through the slack water towards the
bar, and heave and pitch in the swell. Willie took her over as a skilful
rider lifts a horse over a gate, and slid away into the distant recesses
of the bay.

She turned to Ching, who stood silent at her side.

"There is something hidden," said she. "Something that we do not know.
One does not all at once become so fond of drink. What is that
something, Captain Ching?"

Ching shook his head. He did not know. If Alexander had been present, I
do not think that he would have shaken his head. He might not have known
more than was vouchsafed to Ching, but he would, at least, have put up a
guess. Alexander, the circumspectious man, did not lightly confess to
being baffled.

Willie moored the yawl at the head of the bay, and went ashore in the
collapsible boat. On the edge of the beach he met Marie, who, in the
absence of the terrible Madame Gilbert, had gained courage.

"My lord has been a long time gone," whispered she, regarding him
sideways with the eyes that bit. "Marie has missed you very much."

"You will not miss me any more," said Willie. He kissed her--it was the
salute of the seigneur to the beautiful white slave--and with his arm
about her waist walked slowly towards the woods.



CHAPTER XIV

MARIE LAMBERT


"When you go to England and become a great Lord," said she, "you will
forget poor Marie."

"Yes," agreed Willie, as one stating the most unchallengeable of truths.
Marie Lambert frowned. It was not the reply for which she had angled.

A few more days had passed. Every afternoon, when released from
attendance upon Madame Gilbert, the French girl would climb up to an
appointed place on the hillside above the camp and there meet Willatopy.
They were, she judged, safe from observation. Madame, when not afloat on
the sea, stuck to the sea shore, or read books in the shady entrance to
her tent. Never gratuitously active on foot, Madame rarely ascended the
hill which formed the backbone of Tops Island. She was enjoying a spell
of real physical laziness after her unremitting labours in the war.

The bright blue eyes and dark brown skin of Willatopy seemed to the
depraved taste of Marie to be the most fascinating masculine combination
in colour that she had ever enjoyed; when to them was added the glamour
of Willie's succession to an historic peerage, Marie felt that for once
in her lurid career she really loved. Willie, she assured him, occupied
the whole of her capacious heart. There was no room, no room at all, for
junior deck and engine-room officers. Marie knew her mistress. She was
well aware that a threat from Madame was no vain play with words. She
was convinced that the discovery of her intrigue with Willatopy would
mean: first, confinement in the ever-rolling yacht at anchor--a
nauseating prospect--and finally, her return to France with Madame as an
accuser and relentless enemy. Yet she risked all to sport with Willatopy
in the woods.

"That is unkind," said she. "You do not love Marie any more." Willatopy,
who was lying at her feet, raised his face lazily. He permitted her, if
she pleased, to bend over and kiss him. She did bend over, though
conscious of some slight humiliation.

"What do you want?" asked Willatopy, rather crossly. "I have left my
brown girls for you. When I was in Thursday Island, I would not look at
them. I rejected one whom I used to love, and she wept bitterly. When I
offered her a white man, John Clifford, she smacked his face. None of
the brown girls would put up with John. All scorned him. He is a filthy
little beast. For you, Marie, my white woman, I have turned my back on
the brown girls. What more do you want?"

"I do not wish that you should go to England and leave me. If you go,
Madame Gilbert will take me away."

"I have told you many times that I do not go to England."

"But you are a lord, the Lord of Topsham."

"I can be a Lord here on my Tops Island."

"I should like, Willie, to be the Lady of Tops Island."

"Well," said Willatopy, knitting his brows, "that is easy. When Madame
and the yacht have sailed away, you shall stay here, and be my white
Lady. My boys shall build you a fine hut thatched with sago palm."

"I don't think, Willie, that I care much for a hut. You are rich. You
have the money of your father, and of your uncle, the late Lord. You can
send for men, skilful men, and build a house on this island fit for a
white woman and her--her--husband."

"I did not say anything about a husband," observed Willatopy drily.

"But Willie," urged Marie, "you are a grown man. Very soon you will want
a home of your own and a wife who loves you. An English Lord must have a
white wife, and here am I. You will never find a wife fonder or more
beautiful than I would be."

"I do very well as I am," said Willie, philosophically.

Marie Lambert ground her teeth. She had thought to fascinate the brown
Heir, and to twist him about her fingers. A marriage, at Murray or
Thursday Island, would be as legal as a marriage at St. George's,
Hanover Square. If she could prevail upon Willie to marry her now,
before he learned the value of his peerage, she would become an English
Lady, the Lady of Topsham. After that, there would be no more talk about
a fine house on Tops Island. England, and English society, would be her
new sphere of campaign.

She had not, I fancy, thought of this scheme at the beginning, or
perhaps she would have been less complaisant. A discreet aloofness might
have proved a more potent inducement to matrimony than the free love
which she had offered. Marie, sitting there grinding her teeth, felt
that she could hate Willatopy as savagely as a day or two ago she had
loved him. If she had not also feared him, almost as much as she feared
Madame Gilbert, she would have let loose her vixenish rage. It was
perhaps a little late, but, as a new weapon, she affected a judicious
propriety.

"I should not have met you--like this, Willie, if I had doubted your
intention to marry me. White women, especially French women, are not
like brown girls. They regard their--reputation. If you have been
playing with me, I shall not meet you again--much though I love you."

Willatopy thoughtfully considered this new development. To him, her
speech was just foolishness, but in his tolerant way he tried to
understand it. In his own small world, wives were models of virtue, but
girls--and widows--were not. Marie was making a fuss about something,
though quite what it was he had no idea.

"One does not marry everybody," he said at last. He could think of no
sentence more illuminating.

"I am not--everybody--or anybody," replied Marie with dignity. "I am a
French lady, as good a lady as Madame Gilbert. When a man makes love, as
you have done, to a French lady, she naturally thinks that he intends to
marry her."

This was far over Willatopy's head. It is the woman who proposes
marriage in the Straits, and the man who, after fall consideration,
gives or withholds his assent. An amour, such as this one of his with
Marie, had nothing to do with marriage as he understood it. A man
married so that his wife might work for him. He could not picture the
white Marie, in her pretty French clothes, working for him or anyone
else. She was altogether charming to sport with, but as a wife quite
inconceivable. He tried to explain his simple code to Marie. It was not
easy, for neither of them had a full command of the English language.
Their vocabularies were sufficient for everyday speech, or for
love-making, but were incapable of expressing the deeper mysteries of
social philosophy.

Marie gathered that Willatopy would not marry her because she could not
work in his hut or in his plantation, and that he had no use for a wife
who couldn't. If that was all----

"That is nothing," exclaimed she brightly. "That only means that we must
not live in Tops Island. After we are married we will go to England
where you will be a great Lord and I shall be a great Lady. I shall be
Lady Topsham, and I will make Madame Gilbert _crever_ with jealousy."

"But I am not going to England," observed Willatopy, stolidly. He had
fully made up his mind not to marry Marie, and was quite capable of
continuing his refusal indefinitely. If she turned from him in
consequence, he would be grieved, but marry her he would not.

Rather bluntly, perhaps, he conveyed this determination to the
perceptions of Marie Lambert.

Furious, she sprang up. Willatopy rose with her. She was about to rate
him in voluble French when she remembered that he did not understand a
dozen words of that beautiful language. And since she could not do
justice to her emotions in English, she stood there gasping,
tongue-tied.

Willie smiled, and took both her hands. She strained from him, but in
his grip she was helpless. Slowly he drew her close, and bent his bright
eyes upon hers. Thus he held her.

"Let me go," she muttered. "Your eyes shine. They make me faint."

"They shine like the sky at dawn," said Willatopy. "Go back to your
tent, Marie, and meet me here to-morrow." He kissed her farewell, and,
half dazed, she went without another word.

At the appointed hour next day she came again. Willie was late, and when
at length, gracefully debonair, he strolled into the clearing, Marie
raged furiously.

"I had not intended to come again," cried she, "and now I am sorry that
I did."

"You could not keep away," replied the brown Sultan of Tops Island.

"_Bête_," roared Marie, and burst into a passion of French, which broke
uncomprehended about Willie's ears. She then tried English, but the
language would not flow. It is a terrible thing for an angry woman to
possess no vehicle of speech. Willatopy, quite unmoved, drew out a
packet of cigarettes and lighted one. Since his definite recognition by
Madame and the _Humming Top_ as the new Lord Topsham, he had adopted his
white holiday clothes as a regular island wear. Clifford and Marie had
convinced him that it was improper for a great white lord to go about
looking like a Hula savage. His suddenly acquired taste for cigarettes
was satisfied by plundering the scanty store of the white slave John.

Marie Lambert plucked the cigarette from his mouth, and flung it down.
His eyes lighted up, and he grappled her, crushing the thin white dress
into her soft arms. Frightened, she struggled feebly. He kissed her, and
she hung helpless in his arms.

"Don't be a fool, Marie," said Willatopy.

He put her down on the ground and lighted another cigarette. Marie,
conquered, no longer attempted to suppress this mark of his
indifference.

It was not until the time drew near when they must part that Marie
returned to the topic of the previous day. Her tenure of Willatopy's
affections was so insecure that no moment must be wasted if she were to
rivet him to her by the bonds of matrimony.

"It shall be to-morrow," said she softly, patting the brown cheek, which
was not far from her own.

"What will be to-morrow?" asked he lazily.

"We will start for Thursday Island in the yawl--and be married there."

"No," said he.

"Yes. Englishmen love French girls, and all of them will envy the Lord
Topsham with his wife Marie."

"You could not work in my hut or in my garden. I am very rich, and do
not work. But my wife must work very hard indeed."

Marie had been thinking over this aspect of Hula matrimony, and had her
answer pat.

"You may take a brown girl as your working wife, if you please. She
shall labour for both of us, you the Lord and me the white Lady."

"One time, one wife," replied Willatopy stolidly. "I would not take a
brown girl to wife until after I had put you away from me."

"She need not be a real wife," explained Marie eagerly. "Just one who
worked. I should be the real wife, of course."

Willatopy considered this proposal gravely. It had certain advantages,
for, in his careless savage fashion, he loved the white Marie and her
novel attractions. He was exceedingly reluctant to part with her. All
this matrimonial fuss worried him, for he had some glimmering of the
truth that an English marriage in Thursday Island--the kind of marriage
which had bound his parents, and had made him the legitimate heir of
Topsham--was something much more serious than the simple native ceremony
of the Islands. It might not be easy to put away a Marie wedded to him
in Thursday Island.

"My boys will build a hut here," said he at last, "and we will hold a
marriage feast. I will take you then. That will be better than the
English way."

"No," declared Marie positively, "that would be no more than--this. You
could cast me off and go to England, and I should be left here alone on
this hateful island."

"My mother and my sisters would be with you," said Willatopy haughtily.

"No. I must marry William, Lord Topsham, in Thursday Island, or--we must
part, Willie. I was weak to-day, but I shall not come any more if you
will not marry me."

Willatopy gritted his teeth, and Marie was nearer to receiving a hearty
whipping than she had been since her nursery days. Nothing protected her
except the vague stirrings of Willie's English blood. He would chastise
his white slave, John, with unction, but his hand unaccountably shrank
from striking this white woman who irritated him so grievously.

He began to speak in a halting fashion, and revealed to the anxiously
listening woman the strange new thoughts which were struggling for
expression in his awakening mind.

"John says that I must go to England. He says that if I send him away,
others will come later. He says that an English Lord cannot live on an
Island in the Straits; it is against the law, the English Law, and the
Government will come for me. If I try to stay here they will put me in
prison. He says that the English Lords are sent for by the King to go to
London and help him to rule, and they can't refuse, unless they want to
go to prison as rebels. That would be to disobey the King. I love the
King, and would not disobey him. If he sends for me, then I must go....
I love you, Marie, but love has nothing to do with making you my wife. I
don't want a wife. When the King sends for me he will send for William,
Lord Topsham, not for my wife. You and Madame Gilbert are the only white
women I have known, close. I want to see other white women, lots of
them, before I marry a wife. John says that they will all be my slaves
in England, and that I can take my pick among them. I should like that.
Of course I could not pick great ladies like Madame Gilbert to be my
slaves, at my pleasure, but there will be many others. Like you, Marie."

Marie raged, but that unlucky language difficulty hampered her freedom
of speech.

"Madame Gilbert is not so very great," she got out at length. "She is my
mistress, because she is rich, and because she saved me when I was in
trouble in France. She is just an ordinary widow, not a real lady like I
should be if you married me, Willie."

"What is that?" cried Willatopy, starting up. "Madame Gilbert a widow?
She told me she had a big handsome husband who loved her very much. She
told me so when I said that I would like to marry her. I was a boy then,
and had not become Lord Topsham."

"Madame Gilbert is not truthful--like me. She says any old thing which
suits her at the moment. Sometimes she tells men that she has a husband,
sometimes that she is a widow. She is really a widow, I swear it to you.
Her husband was killed in the war."

"How do you know?" asked Willatopy suspiciously. "I would believe Madame
before you. She is a Queen, not a common thing like you. She cannot be a
widow."

"She is," stated Marie positively, and left the assertion to sink into
Willatopy's mind. She was horribly jealous of the boy's honest devotion
to Madame Gilbert, and knew that widows were held in scant respect in
the Torres Straits. Willie ranked his mother, once the wife of a white
god, as altogether different from the ordinary run of brown widows, but
she had been, so far, the one exception permitted by his social code.
The simple savage mind does not like exceptions.

"No," said he at last. "I am sure that Madame has a big, handsome
husband as she declared to me."

"No," shouted Marie.

"Marie," growled Willatopy, "I don't want to smack you, but if you say
anything against Madame, I shall, hard."

"You love Madame better than you do me," grumbled Marie.

Willie had never analysed the various mental and physical emotions which
are vaguely called love, and reflected upon this charge.

"I expect that I do," said he, arriving at a judgment.

Marie sprang to her feet.

"_Que tu es bête_," she roared, "_bête comme un sauvage_. You are
the--the--limit. I go." She dashed away through the woods in a fury.
Willatopy grinned as he watched her disappear. His first rapture in the
conquest of Marie Lambert was quickly wearing thin, and though he did
not wish to part with his white mistress, a little of her society went a
long way.

"I wonder," he murmured, "if the she-devil speaks truth, and that Madame
is a widow. I will ask her."

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

Madame was lying in a rest chair at the entrance to her tent when Marie
arrived. She calmly surveyed the girl who came to a halt before her and
awaited orders. She allowed Marie a reasonable amount of time off every
afternoon, but on this occasion the maid had outstayed her leave.

"Where have you been?" asked Madame.

"I met the Misses Toppys," explained Marie, "and they detained me. I
thought that you would wish me to show the young ladies every respect. I
did not like to leave them before they desired to return."

"Quite so," said Madame drily. "I hope that you also show Lord Topsham
every--respect."

Marie started; never before had Madame used Willatopy's title when
speaking of him to her.

"Certainly, Madame. Whenever I meet his lordship, which is but seldom."

"In the future, it will be even less seldom," serenely observed Madame
Gilbert. "The motor boat is waiting for the water to deepen upon the
bar. When she leaves for the yacht you will take passage in her. And
after that, my dear, it will be _la belle France_. With what pleasure
you will revisit France after so long an exile!"

Marie howled, and grovelled at Madame's feet. "Not France," screamed
she. "Any punishment except France."

"Marie," said Madame, unmoved. "You should have learned in these years
of our association that I am not wholly a fool. My arm is long, and my
eyes can penetrate the thickets--of Tops Island, for example. Yesterday
I learned of the clearing in the woods where you have been meeting Lord
Topsham. To-day I had you watched--when going and returning. Before, I
suspected. Last time in France it was a German officer in hiding. Now it
is the brown heir to an English peerage. Your tastes are catholic. They
must be restrained, my dear, or they will get you into trouble. When
early in the war I found you in Amiens with that German officer I had
him haled forth and shot, but I concealed the identity of his associate.
I believed your tearful story of innocence. You thought him a loyal
Alsatian, didn't you? His accent, I remember, called for some little
explanation. You have been a useful maid. I have given you every chance.
I warned you, when first Lord Topsham--then the boy, Willatopy, our
Pilot--came to us, what would happen if you played tricks with him. It
is going to happen now. I shall accompany you to France and inform the
civil authorities of the circumstances under which you were found by me
four years ago at Amiens close to the fighting lines. The French are
very hard upon those of their women who give shelter and comfort to
enemy officers in hiding. The French are a susceptible race, yet much
prettier women than you have been shot or hanged for smaller crimes than
you committed. You will not find the _Humming Top_ very comfortable. She
rolls damnably at anchor. After two or three weeks of her you will
become quite a hardened sailor. Then you will have leisure to reflect
upon your sins and upon their punishment."

Marie sobbed out confessions and appeals at Madame's chair, but the
heart of her mistress was harder than its oaken frame. Madame listened
politely to the story of Marie's intrigue with Willatopy, and
incredulously to her voluble promises of amendment.

"In any case," ended Marie, "I had done with him. He refuses to marry
me."

"I thought that was the game," observed Madame. "It is ended, anyhow.
And even if I had not tumbled to your carryings on, you would have
failed. You could not have been legally married here, and Captain Ching
has my orders to blockade the bay. The yawl, with the happy bride and
bridegroom, would have been stopped on the way to the wedding. I have
not come to the ends of the earth to be foiled by a Marie Lambert. And
now, if you will put up your things, the boat will convey you to the
_Humming Top_. For the rest of my stay here I shall dispense with the
services of my maid."

At the last Marie showed the courage of her race. She rose, packed up
her clothes, and went forth in the motor boat without another word.
France was a long way off, and much might happen before she was carried
thither to her doom. But the yacht was a very present horror, and Marie
needed all her courage to face confinement within its heaving frames.
Still she went quietly without another word of wasted appeal. At the
boat's side she turned and bowed deferentially to her mistress.

"Au revoir, Marie," said Madame.

"Au 'voir, Madame," said the maid.

Madame Gilbert watched the boat buzz away, and nodded approvingly.

"She has pluck," she murmured. "That is much. We will reconsider the
second part of the programme. But for the present it shall hang like a
sharp sword over Marie's head."

Marie watched Madame standing there on the shore, and smiled grimly.

"At least," thought she, "I have told Willie that his goddess is a
widow. That will take a bit of the gilt and wings off her." From which
it would appear that Marie, though subdued and humbled, was not in the
least repentant.



CHAPTER XV

TURTLE


Willatopy did not immediately discover that Marie had been forcibly
embarked and definitely severed from his embraces. He did not attend the
place of tryst next day, for he was otherwise engaged. One of his brown
boys had caught a "sucker," which he pronounced to be in excellent
condition for the chase; a sucker suggested turtle; and the claims,
first of sport and secondly of turtle, cooked native fashion in its own
juices, banished all thoughts of Marie from his mind. Much more
civilised men than the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham have subordinated
Love to Sport and the Table.

Madame was an early riser in the Island. At seven o'clock the following
morning she was up, and was about to seek refreshment in a swim, when
her steward approached.

"Lord Topsham's compliments," said the man, "and could Madame spare his
lordship a moment before leaving for her bathe?"

Madame frowned slightly. She naturally expected that Willie had
descended in wrath to demand the return of his ravished mistress, and
she did not want to face a struggle, and possibly a quarrel, before
breakfast.

"His lordship awaits your pleasure," added the steward, "outside the
escort tent."

There was nothing to be done except to meet Willatopy at once. He might
perhaps restrain his emotional expression in the public arena of the
stirring men's camp.

Willatopy hailed Madame joyously. He had gone back at a bound to the gay
light-hearted boy who had killed sharks with trench daggers and caught
fish on the Barrier in his jaws.

"Are you Willie or Lord Topsham?" asked Madame. "I love Willie, but I
don't think that I am going to approve of Lord Topsham."

"With you, dear Madame," cried the boy, "I am always Willie. Let us
forget that I am a great English Lord. One of my boys has caught a
beautiful sucker. He has tied a string to its tail and tethered it to a
stone in the water down yonder. As soon as you have bathed and had
breakfast, Madame, let us be off after turtle in the motor boat. If we
are quick we can eat turtle in the evening, real turtle." He smacked his
lips.

"What, please, is a sucker?" enquired Madame. She had already been out
with Willie on a not very successful attempt to spear turtle in the open
sea, but had never assisted at a chase _a la_ sucker.

"A sucker," explained Willie, "is just a sucker. It sticks to the
turtle."

Madame turned to the group of officers and men who stood at a respectful
distance at the opening of their tent.

"Explain please," cried she. "What is a sucker?" Captain Ching detached
himself and approached.

"A sucker," he explained lucidly, "is a remora."

"Thank you," said Madame sweetly. "That is excellent as far as it goes.
But what, pray, is a remora?"

Ching struggled helplessly against such dense feminine ignorance. If, in
the absence of the quadruped, one asked a farmer "What is a cow?" he
might become as costive in speech as poor Ching.

The voluble Ewing, who was within earshot, offered his services.

"The remora, Madame, is the fabulous creature which used to cling to the
ships of our forbears, and drag them backwards with all sails set. At
the high school of Paisley they used to teach me that the remora,
fastening its sucker upon the galley of Marcus Antoninus, prevented him
from bringing succour to his Queen Cleopatra." The pun when first
uttered was accidental, but Ewing, unhappily perceiving that he had
achieved a play on words, repeated the offence deliberately, which was
beyond pardon.

"Your will obsairve, Madame," remarked he, "that I am a man of wut."

"Alexander," said Madame, "if I have any more of your wut I shall send
for my gun. From your description it would appear that the remora is
rather a formidable pet."

"That is so. The galley of Marcus Antoninus was pulled by the remora
against the efforts of a hundred rowers."

"Whew!" whistled Madame. "One might as well go a-fishing with a Kraken."

"But, Madame," broke in Ching. "A remora is not often more than two
feet long. It is a powerful beast for its size."

"So it would appear. My brain whirls. A fish two feet long which can
pull a galley against a hundred rowers must be of considerable
horsepower. And yet Willie's boy has tethered it to a stone. It is true
that he has not revealed the size of the stone--it must be as big as
yonder mountain."

"The beast is fabulous," observed Ewing.

"No," said Ching, "_Echeneis Remora_ is a well-known fish."

"Willie," appealed Madame in despair. "Lead me to your captive. These
experts will drive me frantic."

Willatopy led her about a hundred yards, and showed to her a fish, less
than two feet long, wriggling about in a shallow pool. A string had been
fastened near its forked tail, and the stone, which held it captive,
weighed some five pounds. Willie pointed to the curious, palpitating
organ, some five inches long, upon the shoulders of the fish by means of
which it could adhere by suction to a turtle or to a boat. Hence the
name "sucker."

"That is a remora," observed Ching.

"Is it?" said Ewing sourly. "That wee bit thing a remora? Then all I can
say is that our ancestors and our historians are damned liars."

"Your criticism is not new, Sandy," observed Madame. "In the unkind
light of positive evidence, tradition and history have a way of
crumpling up. How do you use the beast, Willie?"

Willatopy explained that the sucker adhered to the plastron of a turtle,
which could then be played by means of a long thin line fastened to the
sucker's tail. For greater security a hole was bored through the
sucker's back, a bit of string run through, and attached to the main
line.

"Hum!" remarked Madame. "Painful for the sucker, isn't it?"

With the customary assurance of the sportsman, Willie claimed that the
sucker rather enjoyed than otherwise the use to which its services were
put. By a similar contention a worm loves to be impaled upon a hook.

"If we are quick," said Willie, "there will be time to cook a turtle for
supper. Have you ever tasted turtle, Madame, real turtle?"

"So I have been assured," replied Madame cautiously.

"I don't expect, Madame," put in Ching, "that you have ever eaten turtle
cooked in its own shell, native fashion."

"Never. Is it good?"

"Good! Good!" Ching sighed deeply. "If they eat food in Heaven that is
the sort of food that they eat."

"Will you come with us, Captain, and afterwards join me at supper?"

"I will, Madame. I would not be absent for a thousand pounds."

"And why should I be left out?" wailed Ewing. "I cannot offer a thousand
pounds for my supper. I am a poor man. But if half-a-croon...."

"You shall come for nothing, Sandy," said Madame graciously.

The motor boat was ready shortly after breakfast. With her
eight-cylinder forty-horse-power engine she could drive through the
surf on the bar between half-flood and half-ebb, and the big curved
storm curtain in her bows kept her passengers moderately dry, except at
the extreme ends of her tidal range. Willie took on board some sixty
yards of thin cotton line wound upon a wooden check winch, which, long
since, he had purchased in Thursday Island. The wealth of Willatopy
enabled him to improve upon native fishing methods. He fitted the winch
upon a piece of stick, and lashed this stick to a thwart of the boat. He
explained that by keeping the motor boat broadside on to a
sucker-attached turtle--a manoeuvre which her dominating speed made
easy--he could play the beast over the gunwale from his winch. To his
hunting equipment he added four spears--similar to those which had
become the terror of intrusive lawyers--and to the shafts of these
spears were fastened coils of long stout cord. Turtle hunting _a la_
sucker looked a complicated business, though, according to Willie, the
principle was easy of comprehension. One despatched the sucker in quest
of a turtle, just as our ancestors flew falcons after heron, played the
turtle by way of the sucker's tail and soreback for so long as might be
necessary to tire the animal, then at favourable opportunities the
spears were thrown, and finally the quarry was brought to boat by means
of the cords attached to the shafts of the spears. All this took time,
for a turtle in these waters ran up to some four feet in length and two
hundred and fifty pounds in weight.

"There is a powerful lot of eating in a turtle," remarked Ewing when
these statistical details had been made clear.

"Wonderful eating, too," murmured Ching, and fell into deep
contemplation of the divinely copious ambrosia which would reward
success in their chase.

"Does the sucker get any reward for its services?" enquired Madame.

"If it is not too far gone," explained Willie, "my brown boys eat it."

"The lords of creation are ungrateful pigs," said Madame.

Willatopy took one of his boys to do the spearing part of the programme,
a junior engineer relieved Ewing of all care for the engine, Ching
steered, Madame sat in the bows under the storm curtain, and the
expedition set forth. It was bound for the sheltered coves on the west
coast of Tops Island, where turtle were to be found disporting
themselves in five or six fathoms of water. The sucker, a most
accommodating beast, was put over the side of the boat, and instantly
grappled the wooden planking to its adhesive shoulders. It is this
passion for free travel which has made the remora the slave of
turtle-hunting man. He is a hoe-boe among fish; too lazy to swim, he
makes others swim for him. Then man steps in and utilises his laziness.

In the sheltered waters to leeward of the Island turtle could be seen
swimming far down; now and then one would rise, take a gulp of air, flop
over and descend. They were very shy, and when the shadow of the motor
boat fell upon them would flee instantly. Upon Madame's previous visit
Willatopy never got within spear throw of the beasts, but now he was
better equipped for the discomfiture of turtle. He bade Ching anchor,
but haul short on the cable, so that the launch might get away quickly
upon emergency. The motor was declutched and kept running slowly so that
power would instantly be at call. Then he watched intently the depths of
the clear sea. For some time no turtle approached the hovering boat,
but, after about half-an-hour, the great carapace and flappers of a fine
specimen could be made out. Willie waited patiently until the turtle
began to rise for breath, and then leaning well over he grabbed the
remora, and skinned its sucker off the bottom of the launch. The direct
retaining power of a sucker is enormous, but one may lever up an edge
and peel it off without great difficulty. He rubbed the organ of suction
vigorously with his hand--"to wake it up" said he--and then, as the
turtle neared the surface some forty yards away, threw the remora far
out towards it over the side of the boat. The turtle gulped and sank,
and with it, adhering tightly to its plastron, went the remora. Denied
free, joyous transport under a motor launch, it would put up with
turtle. Its vigorously chafed sucker itched for adherence to something.
The check on the winch whirred as the thin line ran out.

The turtle could not feel the suck of the remora which clung tightly to
its shell, and, for a while was unconscious of the strain upon
Willatopy's line. A pound or so of pull upon a beast weighing two
hundred weight is not very noticeable. It wandered to and fro upon its
lawful occasions, and all the while Willatopy kept the line tight by
winding it in, or letting it run out against the mechanical check. He
was subjecting the big turtle to less pull than one puts upon a
twenty-pound salmon, and the situation called for sublime patience.

Time passed, the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, the launch
rolled lazily in the back wash of the Pacific swell, but Willatopy went
on oblivious playing his turtle. He could not increase the strain lest
the line be torn out of the remora's back. I cannot believe, in spite of
Willie's assurances to Madame, that the remora itself really enjoyed the
sport. A small fish with a string tied round its tail--and also rove
through a hole in its back--and perpetually hauled upon by a heavy check
winch, could not have been wholly comfortable.

The turtle wandered farther and farther away. Willie ordered the anchor
to be hauled up, the propeller moved slowly, and the boat to be steered
in a wide circle of which the turtle and the adhering remora formed the
centre. For an hour or more this manoeuvre was continued, until the
turtle revealed plain signs of annoyance. Hitherto it had risen at
intervals, showed maybe two inches of snout, while it took a mouthful of
air, and then passed to the depths to feed. Now its head would come
right out as it shook it savagely, and the upper flappers would beat the
water in irritation. Willatopy did not hurry the chase. He wanted the
turtle's attention to be so far diverted from the boat and concentrated
upon its own troubles that he could approach within a spear's throw. But
he steadily shortened his line, and directed Ching to make circles, or
rather spirals, of ever-narrowing radius. Upon these sea expeditions
Madame did not carry a watch, and was no accurate judge of time without
one. They had reached the fishing ground at about nine o'clock, and it
was about noon when the second stage in the hunt began. Thus Willatopy
had played his turtle for some two hours and a half. Once he could begin
to get in work with his spears, the business would not take long in
completion, though the natives, in their tiny canoes, hauled about by a
speared turtle, will occupy some six hours in the killing. A powerful
motor boat as a base of operation is very different from a bark canoe
two feet wide, and with little more than an inch of free board.

The motor boat, steered by the deeply interested Ching, and guided by an
occasional nod and word from Willatopy, closed in upon ever-narrowing
spirals. The turtle, a huge beast, would now stay up a few seconds after
each rise, shaking its big puzzled head, and churning the water into
angry foam with aimless flappers. Willie signalled to his boy, who
picked up a spear, and got upon his feet. He was a skilful boy, and it
was a pretty bit of javelin work that he put in. The turtle was twenty
yards distant at its last rise, yet the boy got it full under the
flapper with his first cast.

"Now," roared Willie, as the turtle dashed down and away, leaving a
trail of blood on the water, and the line fastened to the spear shaft
spun out. Round came the motor boat and followed fast, yet not so fast
that the cord was overrun. Willie wanted the turtle to pull against the
barb of the spear, as it had pulled against the check of his winch. The
end now approached. The brown boy, another spear in his hand, waited for
a second chance, and got it. His spear, flung with the most dazzling
force and accuracy, caught the unhappy turtle under a lower flapper as
it rolled over to dive, and it was now attached, fore and aft, by two
cords to the boat. Still Willatopy did not hurry; a turtle's flesh is
soft, and the barbs might be torn out, and the prey lost if haste
followed too close upon the heels of desire. He went on playing the
beast sideways, hauling in a little upon his cord, as it weakened from
its wounds, until finally he could get within spear's thrust and reach a
clean finish.

"Now," said he again, as the turtle, pulled in within six feet of the
boat, wallowed on the surface, and his boy, leaning down, drove a third
and last spear right home between shoulders and carapace. "It is
finished," said Willie with satisfaction. "We will now go back at speed
and start upon the cookery."

"I am rather sorry for the brave turtle," observed Madame.

"Not me," said Alexander, who throughout had done nothing, and done it
with his customary efficiency. "I have yet to taste a supper which Ching
values at a thousand pounds of our grievously depreciated currency. It
must be a supper worth coming twelve thousand miles to eat."

"It is worth swimming twelve thousand miles to eat, if you couldn't get
to it any other way," said Ching, for once really eloquent.

The turtle had been killed and hauled aboard at half-past twelve. Half
an hour later the motor boat, driven at twenty knots, butted its humped
shoulders through the surf, and sped down the bay to Madame's camping
ground. A crowd of Willie's brown boys awaited the arrival of the
hunters. How they knew that a turtle had been caught I cannot explain.
They did know, and wading into the water, they dragged it forth with
enthusiasm.

Their knowledge, acquired so mysteriously, had already impelled them to
light the fires for the cooking, and the stones had been getting hot
long before the motor boat had passed the bar on her rush for home.

"Now watch, Madame," said Ching. "I have seen native turtle cooking in
Queensland, and it is worth seeing. It may be Stone Age cookery, but we
can't beat it with all our modern appliances. If the Lord Mayor knew
what turtle really tasted like when properly cooked, he would let the
Mansion House for what it would fetch, and live for ever in the South
Seas."

"We want eight hours," pronounced Willie. "No more, and not a minute
less. So jump lively. Madame by nine o'clock will be hungry, but she
will be glad to have waited."

"I have a healthy appetite at all times," quoth Madame, "and am always
eager for my meals. But if turtle is like what you suggest, I will wait
for it till midnight."

"Eight hours," again said Willie. "No more, but not a minute less."

While they talked, the boys had cut off the head and the fore flappers
of the turtle, and grubbed out its inside with knives. They hollowed out
the beast as if it had been a pumpkin. Those inward parts which had been
taken out were cleaned carefully, and replaced under the stern
inspecting eye of Willatopy. His reputation was at stake, and he had
determined that Madame should partake of a supper worthy of the goddess
that he still reckoned her to be. Then a hole was dug in the sand, and
the turtle levered up till the tail and lower flappers had been buried
deeply. The headless beast stood up rigidly, and the hole between
carapace and plastron, where its neck had been, yawned capaciously. The
boys went to the smaller of the two fires, and clearing away the red-hot
ashes revealed a dozen flat stones, about the size of small saucers.
These stones glowed red as the ashes amid which they had been heated.
They were picked one up by one between sticks, and dropped down through
the cavity of the neck into the interior of the waiting turtle. As they
fell, they hissed savagely, and a thick oily steam poured forth.

"It smells good," murmured Madame.

"Wait," said Willie. He inserted a stout, clean strip of bamboo in the
turtle's stomach, and stirred the stones thoroughly, so that they might
make burning contact with all the interior juices.

In the meanwhile the brown boys had gone to the second and much larger
fire, which was burning furiously. They cast on dry sticks and churned
its heart so that the flames roared to Heaven. When its heat had been
judged to be sufficient, they raked away the blazing wood from its bed,
and Madame saw that the fire had been built upon stones laid together to
make an oval saucer of about the same size and shape as the turtle's
carapace. These stones under the fire had also become red hot. Under
Willatopy's stern exacting eye the sand about the turtle was scraped
away, and the beast, with the hot stones in its belly, eased down
carefully so that not a drop of the precious juice was spilled. Then
four boys lifted it, carapace downwards, and deposited the body on the
hot bed which had been prepared in readiness as its last resting-place.
Instantly, so that none of the essential heat might be dissipated, all
the boys fell to work piling green leaves upon the turtle, and then sand
upon the leaves until a mound, four feet high, rose above the hot stone
bed upon which the promised supper lay stewing slowly in its own rich
juices. Above and below the carapace glowed the hot stones, and within
white flesh and glutin fizzled together in silent preparation. It was,
as the Skipper said, Stone Age cookery, yet all the modern appliances of
civilisation have not come near to equalling its performances.

"I feel hungry already," wailed Madame, turning sorrowfully away from
the sacred mound.

"Eight hours," said Willie sternly. "No more, but not a minute less. The
Turtle Will Then Be Cooked."

Madame issued invitations to all the officers and men of her escort, and
as night drew on, tripods were put up round the mound, under which the
supper was cooking, and ships' lanterns hung upon them. Wood for a fire
was also prepared and piled up hard by, for the air, after sunset,
rapidly cooled as the heat radiated from the shores of the Island. Mrs.
Toppys and her daughters, all of whom loved turtle cooked native
fashion, were eager to take part in the feast; and since the turtle was
so very large, Madame offered a reversion in the hot corpse to Willie's
brown boys who had so cunningly provided the apparatus of cookery.

"They shall eat," said Willie, "but not until we have finished."
Willatopy, Lord of Tops Island, did not pretend to any truck with
democracy.

I do not often describe meals in my books. They are usually functions of
physical necessity rather than of intellectual interest. But I cannot
refrain from indicating that turtle, cooked native fashion with hot
stones, is a divine repast. A supper which, merely in anticipation,
moved the silent Ching to eloquent enthusiasm, cannot be dismissed in a
bald sentence. Yet how can one convey in words the supreme satisfaction
with which our friends in Tops Island began and ended that memorable
supper? European turtle soup, even that of the Mansion House banquets,
is a pale, tasteless potage when placed in comparison alongside a
carapace filled to the brim with the concentrated essence of turtle
perfectly cooked in its own sacred juices.

At half-past nine that evening Willatopy, in tones of becoming gravity,
announced that supper might be served. The company gathered about the
mound in silence. The occasion was too solemn a one, and feelings were
too deep, for smiles or speech. The ship's lanterns had been lighted,
and rugs spread conveniently near to the adjacent fire. Willie raised
his hand, and two brown boys stepping forward, cleared the sand and
leaves from the turtle's shell. Then, with fingers carefully wrapped in
wet leaves, they slowly prised off and lifted the plastron. Upon its
stone bed lay the bountiful carapace, and within glowed in the light of
lanterns a thick deep brown steaming turtle stew. Gallons of it! It is a
poor wretched word, stew, but I am dredged empty of adequate terms in
which to describe that gorgeous compost. The smell of it rose up like a
benediction, and smote all present in the most sensitive nerve centres
of their beings. They gasped and remained speechless. Madame alone
retained something of her self-possession. She beckoned to her steward,
and whispered the one word "SPOONS!"

The man handed them round, and, first, Madame, and then the others,
prepared to dip.

But Alexander Ewing, towering, forbidding in his pale emotion, raised a
warning hand.

"Let us, my friends," said he solemnly, "first ask a blessing."

"Dinna be o'er lang, Sandy man," whispered Madame. She had been in act
to dip her spoon, and the scent of concentrated turtle had come near to
driving forth from her all the polite restraints of civilised feeding.
"Cut the grace short if you love me."

Alexander asked a blessing, fervent in its agitated brevity. He did not
keep them waiting long. He was himself too eager to begin.

Then they dipped their spoons, slowly sucked down the quintessence of
turtle--and worshipped. Their thanks before meat may have been
perfunctory; afterwards it was heartfelt. They all guzzled, every man
and woman of them. Willatopy sought not to enquire why his Marie was not
present in attendance upon her mistress. He was too busy with his spoon.
Mrs. Toppys with Joy and Cry, though turtle was no new experience for
them, fell to as eagerly as did the Europeans. In some respects it may
be considered by the judicious to have been a horrid spectacle. But give
me the most sour-faced and dyspeptic of social critics, let me place
him before a carapace well filled with real turtle, cooked native
fashion for eight hours, and his high-browed criticism will go to
blazes. He will guzzle with the rest.

They did not stop until exhaustion, following upon repletion, drove them
to the rugs about the fire. There they lay and smoked Madame's
cigarettes. They did not digest. One does not digest real turtle, cooked
native fashion in its own juices. One absorbs it whole.

Then the brown boys came and fell upon the turtle. They lapped it up
with balls of dried grass; they ate noisily and disgustingly; but those
who had fed before them looked on with approving sympathy. No
restraints, no civilised conventions, can be expected of those, white or
brown, who sup late and hungry upon real turtle. Especially of those who
have cooked it.

When all was finished, Madame suddenly remembered the humble
hard-working sucker, to whose exertions they owed the feast which had
been spread. She beckoned Willie to her side and whispered:

"What became of the dear sucker?"

"Oh!" replied he indifferently. "It was still attached to the turtle
when we drew it in. It died in the boat, so I threw it away. It was no
more good."

For a full minute Madame said nothing. Then: "Mankind," observed she
sententiously to the stars which twinkled yet heeded not, "Mankind was
never grateful to its true benefactors. And mankind never changes. But
next time, Willie, please put the sucker back in the water before it is
dead. It might come in useful another time."



CHAPTER XVI

WILLATOPY SPURNS HIS GODS


That was the last of Madame Gilbert's happy days in Tops Island. Before
twenty-four hours had gone by, the storm burst which whirled Willatopy
as we have known him out of my story. In his place remained Lord
Topsham. In the course of the last ten chapters I have tried to realise
Willatopy and to paint his portrait for you. It has been a labour of
love, for he was a gallant lad. But for the Lord Topsham, into whom by
woeful mischance of birth he developed, I have neither respect nor
affection. He seems to me to have displayed the worst qualities of the
two races whose blood formed an unstable mixture in his veins. It is
true that the boy never had a chance. The lawyer, John Clifford, and the
girl Marie were the worse conceivable guides for his halting steps on
the threshold of a new life. And just when Madame Gilbert's influence
was most vitally needed by him it failed. She who had been raised to the
throne of a goddess came tumbling down and lay prostrate--a mere human
widow. Willatopy spurned both his gods--his dead father the wise madman
of Tops Island, and the living Madame. He rejected the precepts of the
father, and he bitterly resented the restraints which Madame Gilbert
sought to impose upon him. His misguided, masterful spirit then led him
with terrible swiftness down the steep slope which ended in
irretrievable disaster. I love the boy Willatopy, and I would that it
had been my fate to tell this story differently.

When Willie found the place of assignation empty, on the afternoon which
followed the turtle feast, he descended in great leaps to Madame's camp,
and made enquiries of her escort. From a talkative sailor he learned
that Marie had been embarked in the motor boat two days before, and had
not returned to the camp. Willie scented a discovery of his amour, and,
as a deeply resentful Peer of England, sought an explanation from Madame
Gilbert.

"What have you done with Marie, Madame Gilbert?" demanded he.

"What has my maid Marie to do with Lord Topsham?" asked Madame. She saw
the fury burning in the bright blue eyes, and faced him with a hauteur
as fierce as his own.

"I have made her my white slave," growled he.

"That is very good of you," said Madame blandly. "But Marie Lambert
happens to be my maid and otherwise engaged. By my orders she has been
returned to the yacht, where she will remain. Please bear in mind,
Willie, that your heirship to a Peerage gives you no rights whatever
over my servants."

"John says...." began Willie, but Madame waved him into silence with a
royal gesture.

"If you paid more attention to your father's memory and to my words, and
less to that miserable wretch, John Clifford, you would understand
better your position. An English Lord has no rights which are not
common to every English gentleman. John Clifford is deceiving you for
his own ends, that he may take you to England and rob you. You think
yourself rich, my poor boy. Wait till Clifford has had his will of you.
There will not be a shilling left in your purse, and not an ounce of
flesh upon your bones, when Clifford has done with the stripping of
you."

"John came all the way from England to tell me that I was the heir of my
uncle. You also came all the way from England, but you told me nothing.
You must have known, for you came here in a Toppys yacht, the property
of my cousin. Yet you told me nothing. John Clifford is a little mean
white beast, but he has been more of a friend to me than you, Madame.
Although you knew what I had become you told me nothing."

"Yes," said Madame calmly. "I knew. And yet I told you nothing."

"It was you who wished to rob me, you and Sir John Toppys. If John
Clifford had not come I should still be Willatopy."

"It is my great regret that you have not remained the Willatopy whom I
met and loved in the Torres Straits. You were happy then, you are
unhappy now. Nothing except misery for you can come of this most
lamentable succession of yours."

"John has often told me that you wished to rob me, you and Sir John
Toppys. But I did not believe. I beat John for the words that he spoke
against you. But now I begin to believe. You and your _Humming Top_
would never have taken me to England if John had not come to search me
out."

"You would not have wished to go to England if John Clifford had not
come to spoil your life."

"Willatopy would not have gone to England. Why should he? But now that I
am the lawful Lord of Topsham I shall certainly go. My father was wrong.
I see now that my place is not here. I see it more clearly because you
have tried to keep me in ignorance. You who were my friend, my false
friend, have now become openly my enemy. You tried to steal my place in
England from me, and now you have torn away my white girl, Marie."

"Willie," said Madame gently. "It is not very long since in the _Humming
Top_ I offered to raise the anchor and bear you homewards myself. Does
this look as if I wished to steal your place from you? I offered to
carry you home and protect you. It was you, Willie, who declined to go."

"I would not leave Marie."

"I suspected that Marie was the explanation. The publicity of a yacht
does not offer much opportunity for assignations. You have behaved very
badly towards me, Willie. You had no right to make appointments with my
servant. Still less have you any right to resent my action in sending
her back to the _Humming Top_. I am speaking to you exactly as I should
to an English gentleman and a social equal. Lord Topsham has behaved
badly, Willie. Lord Topsham, under the malign influence of that Clifford
wretch, has got his head swelled. When you go to England you will have
many miseries and many disappointments. You will discover that, in these
modern days, English Lords count for nothing except for their worth as
men. They have no rights and no powers beyond those of common men. But,
Willie, because of their rank and place they are expected to behave
always as honourable gentlemen. It is no act of a gentleman to come
ranting and raging at me because I stopped your intrigue with my servant
Marie. An Englishman, even one without rank or station, would be ashamed
to speak to me in reproof upon such a subject. He would have felt too
much of shame for his conduct. You played me a low trick, Willie, and I
am excessively angry with you."

"Why should I feel shame before you?" asked Willie haughtily. Never
before had he used such a tone towards Madame Gilbert, and she looked
searchingly at him. She had noticed and lamented the almost daily change
observable in him, but though much of his old tender regard for her had
been visibly slipping away, he had never yet used words of offence.

"Why should I feel shame before you?" he asked again.

Madame Gilbert shrugged her shoulders. It was a question difficult to
answer. After all the boy was a Melanesian who had never been outside
his own seas, and one could not expect him to comprehend the standards
of social conduct in Europe.

"You were my friend, Willie, my dear friend. And Marie was my maid.
Don't you see that your action was not quite worthy of one who calls
himself Lord Topsham? You are now the head of a very ancient and
honourable family."

"Honourable!" cried Willie scornfully. "You told me that you were the
honourable wife of a big and handsome husband. Now I know that you are
nothing but a widow."

"Who told you that?" asked Madame quietly.

"Is it true?"

"Yes, it is true. My big and handsome husband is dead. But what
difference does that make? I put up my big and handsome husband because
at our first meeting in the yacht, which seems now so long ago, your
admiration was so very outspoken. You wanted, if I remember rightly, to
marry me yourself."

"I did not then know that you were a widow. Men do not marry widows in
the Torres Straits."

"So that is the trouble. I am a widow, and therefore disreputable.
Willie, dear, when I think how much you have to learn about the ways of
white men and women, my heart fails because of you. You will have a
very, very, rotten time in England. Clifford is your white slave, and
Marie is, or was, your white mistress. You have made a very bad
beginning, and a beginning most unfortunate for you. You think, no
doubt, that all white men will be your slaves and all white women will
be at your pleasure. That is what Clifford tells you. He stuffs you up
with this dreadful rubbish and stifles your sense--you have plenty of
good sense about things that you understand--he stifles your sense with
filthy liquors brought over from Thursday Island. You are a fly in the
spider's web, Willie, and I, who have done my best to save you from him,
am spurned as a mere widow. If you were a little older, my dear, you
would remember that a Widow sat on the throne of England for more years
than you or I are likely to live."

"Queens are different. My mother is a widow, but she also is different.
Her husband was a white god. You, Madame, are not different. You tried
to rob me of my rank and place, and you have torn away Marie whom I
loved. I will never forgive you, Madame. You thought that I was a
helpless brown boy who could be played with and deceived. If you had
been a queen with a big handsome king for husband I would have obeyed
your wishes. I would have stayed here in Tops Island and forgotten Marie
whom I should not love if she were not white. But I am not going to be
ruled by a widow, even by one so beautiful as you. I am not Willatopy
any more; I am William, Lord Topsham."

"I do not think," responded Madame coldly, "that I am greatly interested
in William, Lord Topsham, or that I desire his further acquaintance. You
have my permission to depart."

He stared, puzzled by the formula of dismissal. Then when Madame turned
her broad back, his skin flushed into deep purple. He a great English
Lord had been curtly sent away by a mere widow! Something must be wrong
with the world which in ignorant imagination he had constructed.
William, Lord Topsham, went to consult John Clifford, who advised that
Madame, with her paraphernalia of tents and escort, should be summarily
expelled from the Toppys property on the Island. But Willie in becoming
an English Lord had not shed his native courtesy. So long as Madame
wished to remain on Tops Island, she was free to stay. But for his part
he would visit her no more.

Madame Gilbert summoned her friends into council, and described in
detail the stormy interview with Willie.

"We were both very angry, very haughty, and very ridiculous," said
Madame. "I think that the late supper upon excessive quantities of rich
turtle had something to do with our loss of temper. The high
mightinesses of his brown lordship ought to have made me laugh. But
there will emerge, I fancy, certain solid advantages. It is clear that
Master Willie _à la tête montée_ has flung away the precepts of his late
father, and means to claim his English peerage. He will very soon find
that the Madame Gilbert whom he is pleased to scorn holds the key to
that project. We will begin at once to make ostentatious preparations
for departure. You might, if you will, Captain, hire sundry brown boys
to scrape weed off the _Humming Top's_ teak fenders. Our preparations
will instantly come to Willie's ears, and he will rapidly pass from
curiosity to worry. Prompted by John Clifford it will dawn upon his
infant mind that the _Humming Top_ holds not only Marie, but the command
of his passage to England."

"The boys will be delighted to scrape off the worst of our weed," said
Ching, "and their labours will help us up to Singapore. But I don't
quite grasp the rest of your scheme, Madame."

"It is quite simple," said she. "In these days of overcrowded shipping
how is Willie to get away beyond Thursday Island unless as our guest in
the _Humming Top_? He might hang about for months waiting for a ship to
take him to Singapore, and might spend months more before he could get
any farther. Grant, if I mistake not, will not unloose the money bags,
and John Clifford, whatever may be his resources, will not spend a penny
more than he can help. It will be the interest of both to come hat in
hand to me, and make peace. Then I shall command the situation and lay
down my own terms."

"Madame is right," cried Ewing. "She always is. It will cost Clifford a
small fortune to get Willie home by passenger steamers even if he can
secure berths, which is not likely. When he is up against staying here
or in Thursday Island at indefinite delay and expense for a passage, he
will send his brown master to Madame to eat humble pie. I don't want to
let either of them get out of my sight, and it will be a great pull for
us if they come of their own accord."

"Besides," went on Madame serenely, "I have the bait of Marie locked up
in the _Humming Top_, and Willie does not know that my hold over her is
so terrifying that she will avoid him like the plague when he comes
aboard. Let him find that out later for himself." Madame then explained
the nature of her influence over Marie Lambert. "If she remains
convinced that I shall certainly take her to France she may become
reckless, but I shall hint judiciously that a rigid obedience to my
orders may bring about a reprieve. I've got her tight, and Master Willie
too. They may both be as savage as they please so long as they dance to
my strings."

"The weak point of your scheme, Madame, if I may say so," observed
Ching, "is the presence of that damned Jonah Clifford in my yacht. He
will bring along enough ill luck to sink a battleship. My officers won't
have him in their mess, and if I put him in the foc's'le there will be a
mutiny among the men. The best of lawyers would make them restive, and
this poisonous little blighter would bust up all the restraints of
discipline. Not a man in my ship would eat or drink with him. I would
sooner give passage to a plague-stricken Chinky than to that Clifford
beast."

"I feel for you," said Madame, smiling. "We will give him a cabin
somewhere forrard, and let him take his food there. He shall learn what
it feels like to be a pariah. The experience will do him good."

"I expect," observed Alexander thoughtfully, "that he will pick his bit
of offal in the shaft tunnel. He won't be safe from man-handling
anywhere else. My stokehold staff would love to put him in their fires."

"Still, however rightly unpopular he may be, we can't leave him here,"
declared Madame. "I cannot have that dear little Mrs. Topy and the jolly
girls burdened with the swine hound. But we will dump him over the side
at Singapore, and leave him to find his way home from there. We will
carry him out of harm's way and then shunt him. I have quite decided to
disappoint the poachers of St. Mary Axe. Once Willie, Lord Topsham,
comes aboard my yacht, he doesn't leave it till I hand him over to his
own Trustees. Sir John Toppys and Gatepath will be furious with me, but
there is nothing else to be done. I won't have the boy plundered by
those land sharks."

Madame's plans were at once put in train, and it quickly spread through
the Island that good pay was to be won by diving down and cutting weed
from the _Humming Top's_ bottom. Willie's black boys deserted his
plantation under the magnetic pull of the yacht's treasure chest. Boats
full of divers clustered about the vessel throughout all the hours of
daylight, and every kind of scraper was furbished up and turned to
account in the novel labour. It was given about that the _Humming Top_
would sail as soon as her bottom had been made tolerably clean, and John
Clifford, in dread of being marooned for months on Tops Island, was
prepared to face even Madame's straight-shooting pistol rather than be
left there by himself. He suspected that Willie would be welcome on
board, but he cherished no illusions concerning his own popularity. He
urged his lordly master to approach Madame with humility, and to seek
passage for both. John Clifford, a human "sucker," had all the remora's
love for free transport. His voyage out had occupied months and
contained exasperations innumerable; whatever might be his sufferings in
the detested _Humming Top_, they could not compare with the professional
disaster of losing his hardly won client--spirited off in the yacht--and
being left himself upon the loathed beach. He was insistent upon a free
passage for both, the client and the lawyer. It cost him the surviving
bottles in his liquor cases to win the assent of Lord Topsham, and he
would not have won even with their fiery aid, had not recollections of
the ravished Marie been present to Willie's mind. William, Lord Topsham,
under the stimulus of hot, bad wine, became convinced that Madame had
done him grievous wrong, and was savagely resentful. He had spurned her
as a goddess. Now he came near to spurning her as a woman, and to
accepting John's theory that Madame had swept Marie off into captivity
because the mistress was jealous of his lordship's attentions to the
maid. The pair of them argued much as Madame had anticipated. Willie
would regain his Marie under Madame's forbidding nose, and both would
secure a passage to England in a luxurious private yacht. Neither
appreciated the hidden disadvantages. Willie did not realise that Marie,
given one last chance of reprieve from a shameful death in France, would
flee from the smallest association with himself; and before Clifford's
mind arose no picture of an outcast Hedge Lawyer, spurned as vermin by
the humblest seaman, driven to pick his bit of offal in the shaft
tunnel.

The preparations for departure went on, and for a week Madame Gilbert
saw nothing of Willie or John Clifford. The lawyer she had not met since
she had thrust him off the yacht's deck into the mangrove swamp. Mrs.
Topy and the girls she encountered now and then. They looked at her
sorrowfully, but said little. Some hint of Willie's intended abandonment
of Tops Island had been conveyed to them, and they grieved. The mother,
and perhaps the sisters also, realised that if he went they would never
look upon his face again. He was an English Lord; they were Hulas of New
Guinea. Lawful inheritance ran in the male line; to the women it brought
nothing except loss. From the artless chatter of Joy and Cry, Madame
gathered that Willie was working up an appetite for the humble pie. He
was furious against her, she learned, and smiled. Madame had been fond
of Willatopy, but she felt very little regard for William, Lord Topsham.
She did not care how furious he grew so long as he fell in with her
plans.

Willie took his meal as soon as the divers had all been paid off, and
the work of cleaning completed--in so far as it could be completed out
of dock. He approached the camp one evening, observed the ostentatious
signs of packing up, and then plunged into a request that Madame would
see him. She graciously assented, and he was shown into that tent
whither not so long since he had fled, a frightened savage boy, and
sobbed out his troubles at her feet. Then he had been Willatopy; now he
was William, Lord Topsham. Just as Willie had changed so Madame had
changed. She was no longer the half-maternal comforter who had nursed
the frizzy head in her lap and playfully suggested that he should really
get his hair cut in honour of his peerage. Now she received him with
ceremony, bowed him towards a chair, and seated herself opposite. He who
had been so gay and outspoken was now tongue-tied, his spirit frozen by
the chilly atmosphere in which Madame had enwrapped herself. Even then
had Madame relented, stretched out both her hands, and smiled upon him
in the old fashion, I believe that the boy would have cast aside his
absurd pretensions to dignity, and given back to her his heart. Madame
could, I am convinced, have made him kiss the dust off her feet. But she
was still sore and angry. A goddess does not take pleasure in being
tumbled into ruin by a brown half-caste, and Madame, who had brought so
many white men to her feet, scorned to win an easy conquest over Willie.
Since he had elected to be William, Lord Topsham, he should be treated
as he deserved.

"Well," said Madame, as the boy mumbled and stammered before her. "You
wish to speak to me?"

"They say that you are leaving my Island," muttered Willie.

"Yes," replied Madame. "There is nothing to keep me here now. I stayed
as your friend. You have spurned me, and I go. My yacht is under orders
to sail as soon as the camp gear has been transferred. I am obliged to
you for your hospitality, Lord Topsham, and should have called to bid
you farewell and thank you. Since you have come I thank you now." She
was certainly not making his humble pie very appetising.

"We have been honoured by your presence, Madame," said he. It was quite
a good beginning, and gave him courage. "And since I have been so
fortunate as to be able to show you hospitality, I feel bold enough to
request a return favour from you."

Madame stared. The speech did not sound a bit like the composition of
Willie--certainly not of the old Willatopy--and had little flavour of
the Hedge Lawyer. There were no books upon the Island from which Willie
might have gleaned polite phrases. The change in him from brown to
white, which was taking place before her eyes, was almost incredible in
its speed. She remembered his faithful recollection of his father's
words, and supposed that expressions which the father had used remained
embedded in the son's mind.

"It will be a real pleasure, Lord Topsham," said she with gravity, "if I
may be permitted to return your kind hospitality."

"You once offered me passage to England in the _Humming Top_," said
Willie. "I refused then but I shall no longer refuse if you repeat the
offer."

"Consider it repeated, Lord Topsham," said Madame, and a smile flickered
round her lips. "Since you have decided to go to England it is fitting
that you should go in a Toppys ship."

"And my lawyer, Mr. John Clifford?" enquired he. A little while since
since it had been "My white slave, John." Now it was "My lawyer, Mr.
John Clifford."

"I will not pretend that I care for the society of your lawyer. But I
will not be so unkind as to separate a client from his legal adviser."
This was language above Willie's head, and it was his turn to stare.
Madame translated: "John Clifford may come in the yacht, but please
don't expect me to entertain him myself. You will be my guest, but
Clifford must fend for himself with the men."

"Of course," said Willie, indifferently consigning the Hedge Lawyer to
the shaft tunnel. "He is a noxious animal. But he is my lawyer, and I
would not leave him here."

Madame smiled again, and thought of how the legal adviser would be shot
off into desolate space at Singapore. She was willing that he should
travel thus far in the yacht, and hoped, but without confidence, that
his voyage would be pleasant.

"Thank you, Madame," said Willie, rising. "We will come aboard when you
are ready to receive us. Have I your permission to go?" He was a quick
lad, very quick to pick up English phrases.

Madame relaxed at the words, and her old friendly smile shone out. If
Willie had then forgotten his ridiculous assumption of dignity and
relaxed too, the pair of them might have attained to happy
reconciliation in one another's arms. But Fate had spoken, and the boy
moved towards his destined end. "How could we sail," whispered she,
"without our Pilot Willatopy?"

He frowned. "I will sail as your guest, Madame. But Lord Topsham is not,
and will not be, your pilot."

"Well, well," muttered Madame as she watched him go, "I could not have
believed that my boy Willatopy would so quickly turn into an
insufferable fool. So he is too proud now even to pilot the _Humming
Top_. Soon he will be too proud to sail his own yawl. His pride will
come down with a pretty hard bump upon the unkindly soil of England.
That is some comfort."

She sent for Ching, and told him the latest of Lord Topsham's
incarnations. "He is now much too fine a gentleman to navigate a steam
yacht. His Highness will presently seek the services of a valet when his
wardrobe has had an opportunity of development. He pictures himself
surrounded by white slaves among whom you and I have the honour of
inclusion. Captain, can you manage to take the blessed yacht back to
Thursday Island without butting her aground? That confounded Peer would
sneer disgustingly at us if we couldn't get through the channels without
his help. He wants to bring us to our knees imploring his assistance. I
would sooner that the _Humming Top_ were wrecked in the Straits and
perished with all hands."

"I think that I can do it," said Ching cautiously. "His young lordship
brought us up here so fast and fearlessly that I took no soundings, but
I have all the channels marked, and the bearings of every headland. It
stuck in my mind that we might have to get back without a pilot, so my
first officer or myself were on watch all the time in the chart-house
following the course, charting the channels, and working out the
bearings. We have had a lot of time on our hands here, and have filled
some of it by constructing a chart of our own of the Torres Straits. I
can't con the yacht with the ease and certainty of his lordship, but I
can get through without bumping much on the ground. After we pass
Thursday Island, it is just deep-sea work up to Sunda. I can manage,
Madame, I think."

This assurance from the careful and competent Ching gave Madame Gilbert
the utmost satisfaction. Now that William, Lord Topsham, though anxious
to take passage in the yacht, had refused to work for his living, she
would have perished rather than seek help from him. He should learn that
there were others besides himself capable of navigating his own familiar
seas. She blessed the cautious foresight of the complete seaman, Robert
Ching, and was prepared to trust him to save the bottom of the _Humming
Top_ and the face of her owner. As for William, Lord Topsham, her
resentment began to take root and grow with tropical rapidity. The boy
Willatopy, whom she had loved, was in danger of being obliterated
altogether. And yet until the Hedge Lawyer appeared to bring woe upon
the happy Island, he had been a boy eminently lovable.



CHAPTER XVII

FAREWELL TO TOPS ISLAND


"I spent nearly two months on Tops Island," said Madame to me, when
telling her story in Whitehall, "and I was exceedingly loath to depart.
I had by accident picked out the very best season in the year. There was
not a drop of rain, the big sun shone gloriously all day long, and the
regular rise and fall of the south-east trade wind kept down the heat.
In my tent, which was wide open by night and day, and had generous air
spaces between the walls and roof, the temperature never rose above 85
nor sank below 65. We called that winter in the South, but it was just a
perfect English summer, smiling upon the tropical growth of a Pacific
island. Whenever I thought of a return to a desolate European autumn, I
shuddered to my bones. If I were not an intensely modern woman," she
went on reflectively, "I would spend three months of every year in Tops
Island. But it takes such a devil of a long time to go and return. And
perhaps my second stay would be so unlike my first--there would be no
Willatopy and no _Humming Top_--that I should never go again. It is
always a mistake to seek the repetition of a delightful experience. I
don't suppose that I shall ever again see little Mrs. Toppys, the Hula
wife of wise mad William, or those dear girls in the banana-leaf
petticoats. They had lost their shyness of me, and clung about my neck
when the motor boat came to bear me off for the last time. I consoled
them with bright chains for their brown necks, and gave to the Topy
family two of Sir John's tents and quite a lot of his camp gear. I am
afraid that all through my Southern adventure I made very free with the
property of our good profiteer of Wigan. He never called me to account,
the dear thing. The last I saw of my camping ground, as the boat sped
off, was the three Topy women kneeling on the sand crying to me to come
back. I wonder what they would think of me now if they knew all."

William, Lord Topsham, and his legal adviser had already gone off in a
whaleboat, so that when Madame mounted the accommodation ladder all was
ready for departure. The mooring hawsers had been cast off, and the bow
anchor cable hauled short. The tide was flowing into the bay so that the
_Humming Top's_ cutwater pointed towards the Coral Sea outside. At a
word from Ching, who stood alone on the bridge, the steam winches
rattled, and the anchor was run up.

John Clifford had discreetly vanished below, but Willie stood not far
from Madame Gilbert on the boat deck. Ching rang for half-speed astern,
and the long narrow yacht backed into the bay to give herself room to
make the entrance. At the sound of the engines Willie started and his
eyes flashed. For a moment he became once more the sailor and the
incomparable pilot. By instinct, rather than intention, he moved towards
the bridge ladder and mounted the rungs. At the top Ching faced him.

"Do you wish to take charge, my lord?" asked the Skipper.

"No," mattered Willie, "I am not a pilot. I am Lord Topsham."

"Then," replied Ching, very firmly, "I must request Lord Topsham to
leave my bridge. No passengers are allowed here."

Willie returned to the boat deck and seated himself gloomily by the
rail. He could not keep his skilled eyes off the channel through which
they had begun to pass, but he felt grievously the rebuff that Ching had
dealt him. The loss of Madame's friendliness had taught him something;
the Skipper's cold professional words had taught him more. He began to
realise that an idle English Lord is of no account in a ship in
comparison with a pilot. As Willatopy, the pilot, he had been, by sheer
merit, Lord of the Bridge; now he was titular Lord only of Topsham, a
far-off Devonshire hamlet. It was a bitter lesson in relative values.

Madame walked over to where he sat, and made her last effort towards a
reconciliation between the new friendless Lord of Topsham and the real
world of men and women.

"Willie," said she gently, "I heard Captain Ching. He means that though
he won't have Lord Topsham on his bridge he will give the most kindly
welcome to our pilot Willatopy."

But Willie remained stupidly sullen. "There isn't a Willatopy any more,"
said he.

"I am sorry," said Madame, and for the last time she turned her back
upon him. She was never a patient woman, but I think sometimes that she
might have commanded a little more patience had she chosen. Willie was,
after all, a boy, a boy of nineteen, puffed up and exalted by his new
uncomprehended dignities. She, a woman of the world, a woman of nearly
twice his age, might have dealt more gently with his boyish follies. I
think that she would have acted differently had she ever borne a son of
her own. She would not then have been so resentful of the snub of a
silly youth.

Captain Ching, sensible that a far better pilot was watching every
movement of the vessel, was taking no risks. In his cautious navigation
there was nothing of the splendid free-hand verve of Willatopy. With the
tide flowing under him he was content with eight knots of speed, and the
Chief Engineer down below, watching the slow response of the
foul-bottomed yacht to the revolutions of the propellers, gave thanks
for his superior's moderation. They toddled along at a "vairy economical
consumption," they kept rigidly to the deepest of channels, there was
none of that spirited corner cutting so characteristic of the confident
Willatopy, the performance was altogether lacking in flair, but it was
safe and sound. Ching made no mistakes, and as Willie watched the course
he learned yet another lesson--that no man in this world is
indispensable. He had expected appeals for assistance, and might perhaps
have consented to abate the dignity of his lordship, had Madame and
Ching been reduced by necessity to a gratifying condition of grovelling
humility. But of that there was no sign. The Skipper serenely conned the
yacht from his own bridge, Madame had disappeared into the smoke-room,
the sailors moved about upon their lawful occasions, the lordly
passenger was wholly neglected. And above all other evidences of
indifference to his feelings, the _Humming Top_ proceeded steadily upon
her way, and never came near to a bump on the reefs.

Presently Willie got up and went sullenly below. He had been allotted a
handsome stateroom with bath and dressing-room attached on the main
deck--it was on the starboard side opposite Madame's quarters--and
thither he went and sulked by himself. I am afraid that he was not
happy, and perhaps began to grasp some little inkling of the great truth
that no man is happy unless he fills the place and does the job for
which he is fitted. On the bridge in charge of the yacht he would have
grinned joyously--the round man in the round hole which he perfectly
fitted; here in a modern luxurious cabin, the boy, who had spent his
life in a palm-thatched hut, or in a 30-foot yawl, was ill-placed and
miserable.

A light step tripped along the corridor outside. Willie opened his door
and saw Marie vanishing into a room just opposite. He called, and she,
turning, showed for an instant a frightened face. Then she vanished, and
Willie heard the snap of a drawn bolt. So even Marie, his white
mistress, had flown at the sight of him, and bolted her door against
him. He knocked, but there was silence within. He waited for what seemed
a long time. But the door that he watched remained closed. Weary of
waiting he went back to his cabin, lay down on the bed, and fell asleep.

I do not know what had happened to John Clifford except that he had been
given a room aft on the main deck, and kept resolutely to his own
quarters. His one great anxiety was to keep out of sight of that
terrible straight-shooting Madame Gilbert.

When night drew on the yacht was brought to anchor under shelter of a
large cay, and the Skipper drew a sigh of deep relief. He felt quite
confident now that he could tackle the channels, and that his carefully
constructed chart was to be depended upon. He received Madame's earnest
congratulations with modesty, and the pair of them--closer friends now
than at any period of their association--went down to the saloon for
dinner. At the right of Captain Ching had been laid a place for William,
Lord Topsham, and on his left sat Madame Gilbert. Beyond her the Chief
Engineer had elected to deposit his ample person. When Willie came in,
escorted by the now obsequious steward, the other three were waiting.
The boy was bare-footed--he had never worn shoes in his life--and for
the first time showed some sense of the inadequacy of his simple holiday
dress of white shirt and Palm Beach trousers. He gazed with involuntary
admiration upon our dazzling Madame--who, as always in the yacht, wore a
dinner dress--and eyed the smart uniforms of the officers. He looked
down at his own brown feet, and passed one hand nervously through the
long frizzy tresses which stood out from his skull. The dark brown of
his skin flushed into purple. Madame, who saw his embarrassment, at once
spoke to him exactly as she would have done to an English guest. She
drew him into the familiar chat of the group of old friends, and tried
to make him forget for a moment the raw novelty of his inherited social
status. Presently they were all seated at table, and Willie felt more
at ease now that his obtrusive feet were hidden. Just as daring that
lunch in the saloon of a fortnight earlier, he watched how the others
handled their dinner tools and committed no gaucheries. Unobtrusively,
Madame observed and approved. The boy had many of the instincts of a
gentleman; if only he could summon sense to his aid there might be hopes
for him. But when she thought of that unstable mixed blood, unstable as
nitro-glycerine, she sighed. More was needed than a smattering of
carefully acquired table manners to turn a half-caste Hula into a
civilised white man.

Willie observed that no wine was served at dinner, and that no liqueurs
accompanied the after-dinner coffee. The _Humming Top_ had become a "dry
ship." By Madame's orders--accepted heartily by Ching, and no less
heartily, though sorrowfully, by Alexander--the carefully selected
cellar of Sir John Toppys had been locked up, and the key deposited in
Ching's pocket. As with the saloon so also with the officers' mess and
foc's'le. There were many groans and deep curses, but Madame was loved,
and the senior officers respected. The need for the ordinance had been
discreetly explained and accepted. His lordship was heartily consigned
to the bottomless pit, but there was no mutiny.

It was in the smoke-room afterwards that Willie sprang upon our friends
a request which showed how the white blood was beginning to stir in his
veins. The Skipper had announced his intention not to stop at the
unattractive Thursday Island, but to make without delay for the deep
water beyond.

"I should like to have a word with Mr. Grant," observed Madame. She was
anxious, if that were possible, to remove, by adroit explanations, the
ill-opinion which she feared Willatopy's austere banker would form of
her proceedings.

"Better go straight on," growled Ching stolidly.

"Very well," Madame sighed, for she hated that any man should think ill
of her. Then Willie broke in. He was sitting with those conspicuous bare
feet tucked under him, and with his eyes fixed on Madame's neat shoes
and perfectly fitting silk stockings.

"I hope that you will stop," said he shyly. "I wish to go ashore."

"Is it urgent, Willie?" asked Madame. "Had we better not get on now that
we have started for home?"

"I should like to see my banker. He was my father's friend, and has been
very good to me. I should like to get some money."

"We have plenty here. Thanks to the business operations of the great
Alexander, our treasure chest is bursting with wealth. We can supply all
that you need."

"I want," murmured Willie, and his dark skin flushed again with that
significant purple. "I want--to--get--some--clothes--and some shoes."

Madame looked away, and tried not to smile. "Certainly, if you wish. I
quite understand. We will stop for a few hours, Captain."

The Skipper grunted, and reluctantly gave in. He could not say that he
had elected to give Port Kennedy a miss in order that the dryness of the
_Humming Top_ might not be tempered by fiery island liquors. He knew
very well what would happen if Lord Topsham and his seducer, John
Clifford, were let loose upon that outpost of white civilisation.

Down below, when later Willie descended, he again caught a glimpse of
his Marie. But again she fled from him, skipped into an empty cabin, and
fastened the door against him. Again he waited, and did not retire to
his own room until he heard Madame's steps approach. Madame Gilbert had
deliberately chosen that he should be housed where his doings could be
kept under her close personal observation. Willie, in his cabin, heard
the mistress and maid go to their own quarters, and devoured his nails
in helpless rage. His boyish love for Madame had already gone; in its
place was growing up a passion not far removed from hate. Was he, a
great English Lord, to be cabined and spied on by a mere widow? She had
cut him off from the wine which he was learning to love, and she had so
terrified Marie that the girl was afraid even to look upon him. The
goddess whom he had spurned he now cursed.

Marie, eager above all things to earn that reprieve of which Madame had
hinted, told how she had escaped from Willie, and locked herself up at
his approach. Her degenerate passions had been stirred by Willie's
colour, and she had sought to advance herself by a marriage with an
English Lord before the boy could recover from her novel fascinations.
But of love for him, in the nobler sense, she had not a scrap. She would
sacrifice half-a-dozen Lord Topshams, now that she had no prospect of
marrying one of them, to be saved from a return to that awful
revengeful France. Eagerly, in rapid emphatic French, she spread before
Madame the proofs of her abandonment of Lord Topsham, and again and
again protested her resolution never, never to sport with him again. She
would not speak with him if she could possibly help. If he touched her
she would shriek for protection.

"But, Madame," she went on, "I am as frightened of him as I am of you. I
have seen in his bright blue eyes that cold look for murder which
sometimes glares out from yours. I feel sure that he will kill me. But I
would sooner that he killed me--if he did it quickly--than that I should
be tried and shot in France. The shooting I might face bravely--death
many times came near me in Amiens and I smiled upon it--but the trial,
the awful remorseless faces, the shame and the horror of my treachery,
the cold, deliberate preparations for my death--I could not face them,
Madame. I would far sooner kill myself now at your feet."

"Keep that shame and terror before you," said Madame harshly. "They
shall be yours if you disobey me, even for one instant. For you then
there shall be no escape by the easy way of suicide. I will have you
locked up and watched day and night by my sailors."

From Tops Island to Port Kennedy is about one hundred miles, and the
_Humming Top_, at the cautious speed set by Ching, did not arrive until
the early afternoon of the second day out. She had come through all the
channels without touching once, and the First Officer, who with Ching
had prepared the home-made chart, shook hands with him in mutual
congratulation.

"This," said the First, "is a great occasion wasted. What it really
needs is a long drink."

"It does," lamented Ching. "I have always been strictly temperate in my
habits, and will have no officer or man with me who cannot be trusted to
keep down his elbow. But this terrible drought which has fallen upon the
_Humming Top_ makes me dream of bottles by night and think of them by
day. The most beautiful music which I could hear would be the flop of a
pulled-out cork."

"There is nothing to do now, sir," whispered the First. "Shall we hand
over to the Second--he is a happy teetotaller--and go ashore--for a
stroll?"

"I think that we might," replied the Skipper judicially. "I think that
we might. For a stroll. After all those hours on the bridge my legs are
powerful stiff."

The boat which took the Skipper and First Officer for their stroll also
contained Willie and John Clifford. No one except the officers' steward
had seen John Clifford since he came aboard. He lived in the seclusion
of his cabin aft, to which retreat sustenance was borne by the not
unkindly steward. Clifford during the voyage on a hostile ship desired
nothing so much as forgetfulness of his presence--the steward always
excepted.

An hour or so after the others had gone, Madame had herself put ashore
in the motor launch, and went up to Grant's office. The banker received
her at once, and she found him much agitated.

"Willatopy has been here, yet told me little," said he. "He made a
larger demand upon me for money than he has done hitherto, and, though
he is a minor, I felt unable to refuse. As trustee, I have invested the
Topy funds for years, and the family of Baru are much richer than they
realise. I noticed a very marked change in Willatopy, a most lamentable
change. Tell me everything, Madame Gilbert."

"He is not Willatopy any longer. He is William, Lord Topsham."

"So I suspected. Now I fear the worst. I warned you to sail away in your
accursed yacht and trouble the boy no more."

Madame told all that she knew, all that I have told in this book. She
described, with genuine emotion, her happy days on the Island of Tops,
her friendship with the simple brown family, the shark hunt, and the
wild fishing on the Barrier Reef. When she came to the casting up of the
Hedge Lawyer on the peaceful strand of Baru, her listener groaned.
"Wheresoever the carcass is there will the vultures be gathered
together." She explained eagerly, anxiously--for she valued the good
opinion of this honest Scotsman--how she had tried to win the confidence
of Willatopy, and to set at naught the unscrupulous seductions of the
legal poacher. She admitted failure. She showed how Willatopy had been
led astray, first, by the visit in the yawl to Thursday Island, and the
introduction to port and cherry brandy--("He never came near me then,"
ejaculated Grant)--and, secondly, by the wiles of the French girl Marie.
She ended by declaring that Willie, godless--for he had spurned his
gods--was on his way to England.

"He has come ashore," said she, "to buy clothes and shoes."

"And Clifford has come to buy drink," added Grant. "Among you all you
have ruined my poor boy. He was a brave honest lad, and you are making
of him a devil. I could bring myself to curse you, Madame Gilbert."

"It was not my fault," pleaded Madame, in distress. "I am as grieved as
you possibly can be. Even if I had followed my first righteous impulse,
and thrown John Clifford to the sharks, another vulture would have
followed after a ripe carcass. In my hands Willie was becoming white. It
was the lawyer and Marie who corrupted him, not I."

"You carried the girl Marie to him."

"Mr. Grant. You are a just man who knows the world. If it had not been
John Clifford it would have been some other hedge lawyer. If it had not
been Marie, it would have been some other shameless white woman. I have
at least done something to protect Willatopy from his lawyer, and I have
stopped utterly the intrigue with Marie. In order that Willie may not in
his ignorance be plundered, I shall take him now to England, and put him
in the legal charge of his own Trustees of Topsham. The Hedge Lawyer
shall be shot ashore at Singapore, and left there baffled and marooned.
I can still save Willatopy from the worst disasters that threaten him."

"I have never doubted your good intentions, Madame. Hell is paved with
good intentions. If you had intended to carry him off you should have
done it at once. In the yacht you could have kept the boy and the girl
apart. I gravely fear that your precautions are now too late. You may
stop the intrigue, but you will conjure up new perils. Remember that
Willatopy is of the blood of New Guinea head hunters and ceremonial
cannibals. He is by no more than two generations removed from
untrammelled bloodthirsty man-eaters. Under the restraint which you now
put upon his passions, he will turn towards revenge. I pray that murder
may not be done in your beautiful yacht yonder. Believe me, you and that
girl Marie, you no less than the girl, go in grievous peril. You should
have foreseen, after my warning, the danger of bringing that intemperate
maid of yours to Tops Island. You are deceiving yourself if you suppose
that the evil train which she has led can be rendered harmless by any
damping now."

"Surely you would not ..." began Madame in astonishment, but Grant cut
in brusquely:

"No, of course not. Though it would now be the lesser peril. I have
warned you once, and you disregarded my words. I will most gravely and
solemnly warn you again. In that yacht you will live in daily, hourly
peril of your life. You are a woman of high courage. It is written upon
your face. But I implore you for once to live in fear--for yourself and
your maid."

"I hesitate to believe you," said Madame, slowly and thoughtfully.
"Willie has not changed so much as that would imply. His head is swollen
with a sense of high lordship, but I am certain that he would not raise
his hand against me. I allow that danger threatens Marie, and I will
guard her against it. But for myself, no. The boy has worshipped me as a
goddess; he has knelt at my feet and kissed my coat. He has flown to me
in trouble, and I have comforted him. He has changed towards me, but not
by so much as all that."

"For twelve years he worshipped his father as a live god. For seven
more years, until almost yesterday, he worshipped his father's memory,
and treasured all the little words of wisdom which fell from the lips of
the god. Where is that father's godship now? The solid image of the
father has been overthrown just as you--a newly erected idol--have been
overthrown. I say to you again, Madame Gilbert: Live in Fear, in Hourly
Deadly Fear."

When Madame rose to go, the Scotsman rose with her. He smiled kindly
upon her and held out his hands. She took them both and pressed them
with affection.

"Have you forgiven me?" whispered she.

"I cannot forgive you," said Grant, but though his words were stem his
eyes smiled kindly. "I can never forgive you, but I acquit you wholly of
evil intention. The evil that we do, however free from intention, lives
after us, and sometimes it lives longer than we do. Take grave heed to
my warning, for I wish you well."

Madame smiled almost gaily as she walked away. Grant, in words, had
denied to her forgiveness, but his smile had been a benediction. She
thought to dismiss his warning, but it marched with her, and would not
be thrust aside. Almost against her own will she found herself examining
the doors of her cabin, of Marie's adjoining room, and of the bath and
dressing-room on the other side. All the rooms opened upon the corridor
from which Willie's cabin also opened. Marie entered as Madame was
testing the strong brass bolts with which the doors were fitted.

"Always be careful to bolt your door at night," commanded Madame. "You
are within the width of a passage from two great dangers: the love and
the hatred of Lord Topsham. I do not know which is the more deadly. Bolt
your door firmly against both."

Marie promised, for she already walked in the Hourly Deadly Fear
demanded by the banker Grant. When the maid had left her, Madame picked
up her automatic, flicked open the magazine, and saw that five
cartridges lay within. In her stormy life that pistol, always loaded,
had never been far from her hand. She had neglected somewhat of habitual
precaution in the yacht, but Grant's words, spoken with the most solemn
energy, would not be thrust away. She selected a bit of ribbon, and tied
it to the ring on the pistol butt. Then she adjusted a loop to her own
wrist.

"It is quite like old times," murmured Madame, when she had adjusted the
ribbon so that the pistol hung conveniently from her wrist with the butt
against her quick fingers. "It is quite like old times when I never went
to sleep without this brave little fellow at my right hand. And
sometimes but for his comforting presence I might almost have been
frightened."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE HAND OF MADAME GILBERT


Madame Gilbert, standing by the rail, watched the boat come alongside
which bore Lord Topsham and his legal adviser from Port Kennedy. They
appeared to have been shopping with energy, for the boat was laden with
packages. Among the spoils of Thursday Island were three wooden cases
around which the seamen clustered, like wasps about honey, when they had
been hauled up and laid upon the deck. Ching, who was standing beside
Madame, and looking the happier for his stroll ashore, frowned savagely.

"Shall I have them thrown overboard?" asked he.

Madame did not reply. She was speechless with the fury of one who has
been outraged publicly. Picture to yourself the feelings of a hostess
who invites guests to dinner, and watches them enter her drawing-room,
each with a bottle under the arm. Though strong drink may not be looked
for at her board, does she not regard this ostentatious liquid
supplement to her hospitality as a public outrage? So Madame felt in her
"dry ship" when Lord Topsham and his slave John brought their cases of
alcoholic refreshment aboard. For a moment she was strongly inclined to
let Ching have his will, but reflected that even if guests should bring
their own liquor to one's dinner, one should not retaliate by smashing
the bottles on the carpet. The only adequate retort would be to write
the cads' names off the list of one's acquaintance. That is exactly what
Madame was most disposed to do. She seriously thought of instantly
sending Willie and Clifford to the right about with their baggage, and
leaving them to find some other means of transport than the _Humming
Top_. Had Willie been educated in the ways of white men she would
certainly have shot him forth. But she realised that the blame lay with
the man Clifford, and that she could not dismiss the servant while
retaining the master. It must be both or neither. And while she hung
upon the edge of decision, Willie himself determined the issue by one of
those small unconscious actions which so often determine human
destinies. He looked up, saw Madame, forgot for a moment his resentment
against her, and smiled as the Willatopy of old had been wont to smile.

"I had just made up my mind to send the pair of them packing off to Port
Kennedy," said Madame to me, "when the boy looked up and smiled. There
was an unholy fascination about the brown creature, and sometimes I
almost came within sympathetic range of my wicked maid Marie. The bright
blue eyes, which shone like the sky at dawn, had a potency which no
woman could wholly resist. When he smiled at me then, I remembered the
boy who had kissed my wet trench coat--and I let him be. The cases were
taken down to Willie's cabin. I was beaten again, and as soon as I was
set free from the charm of those eyes, suffered the agonies of defeat.
But I was helpless. I could not ostracise that wretch Clifford any more
than he was already ostracised. One cannot exile an inhabitant of
Coventry in his own city. If our relations had not suffered so great a
change, had not a gulf of bitter resentment yawned between us, I would
have reasoned with the boy Willie--who at heart was a natural born
gentleman--and have shown him his error, as I had done when he ordered
port to be served in my own smoke-room. If that Clifford ever turns up
again, and approaches within pistol shot of me, even in Piccadilly
Circus at noonday, I am sure that I shall plug a hole in his waistcoat."
Our Madame is a very human woman; she can love and she can hate, and
after years of friendship and intimate knowledge of her, I cannot tell
which is the more dangerous--her love or her hate.

Wine in cases was not the only result of Willie's shopping expedition in
the outpost of white resources. He had gone ashore to gather covering
for his feet and person which would be in harmony with his exalted
dignity. The boy, who had happily roamed almost naked about his own
island, and had lived for nineteen years the simple, untrammelled life
of a native, had now become obsessed with the vice of clothes.

Madame Gilbert was standing in the saloon, waiting for her fellow diners
to collect, when the shuffle of strange feet behind fell upon her quick
ears. She spun round and beheld a portent. Lord Topsham had entered, a
Lord Topsham transfigured most abominably. Upon his shoulders hung an
ill-fitting dinner jacket, pumps of incredible vastness covered his
broad, naturally developed feet, and the edges of his black
trousers--some three inches too long--trailed upon the carpet. Upon
what long-neglected peg in Thursday Island that villainous suit had
hung, and for how long, Madame was never privileged to discover. Willie,
in delighted zeal, had torn it down, and wrapped it about himself, and
now stood forth the perfect European. Madame had been so completely
absorbed in Willie's clothes that some few seconds passed before her
eyes travelled upwards to his head. Then she had a further surprise--his
long, frizzy hair had been cropped quite close to his skull.

The boy, in equipping himself as the Lord Topsham of his imagination,
had lost for ever all the natural dignity of Willatopy. He had become
the very image of an uncouth brown waiter in a Pacific Island hotel. It
was pitiful, and Madame hung poised between laughter and tears.

"Am I all right, Madame?" asked Willie anxiously. "John fastened my tie.
I could not do it myself."

"You are quite all right," said Madame kindly. "You were very lucky to
find so splendid a dinner jacket in Thursday Island."

He glowed with pleasure, and stretched out a black, shining foot. "I am
not ashamed now to sit at dinner with you, Madame."

At this moment Ching and Alexander entered, and, like the gentlemen that
they were, paid no apparent attention to the transfigured Willie. But
they were appalled at the change which had been wrought upon him by that
dreadful apparel. Never before had they so vividly realised the power of
clothes to make or mar the human form. Willie, at his first effort, had
unhappily chosen the most cruelly searching of all human vestments. He
had aspired to the heights and fallen into the depths.

They were still lying off Port Kennedy, for the Skipper did not propose
until morning dawned to guide the _Humming Top_ through the narrow
bottle-neck of the Straits. They dined in comfort on an even keel, and
afterwards Willie disappeared to go to his cabin, and there, with his
slave John, to supplement Madame's austere hospitality.

At about eleven o'clock there happened an incident which has some
significance in this story. Willie, whose thoughts were never far away
from the Marie whose charms had been denied to him, and was ever on the
alert to encounter her, had come into the corridor outside his cabin,
and seen Marie's white skirt passing through an open door. He sprang,
and before she could slip within, had gripped her hand in his iron fist.

"Now I have you," he whispered. "At last."

He pulled her towards him, but the girl strained away. She looked
fearfully up and down the corridor.

"Kiss me, Marie," murmured Willie. "You cannot escape me now."

Still she strained away from him in terror. Then suddenly she relaxed,
and he got his arm about her waist. She no longer resisted him, seemed
not to be looking at him, and he was puzzled by a placid indifference
which he had never before experienced in her. He had his arm round her
waist, and she was gazing intently over his shoulder.

Willie threw back his head, and followed the direction of the girl's
eyes. Six feet distant Madame Gilbert was standing in the corridor
gazing upon the pair with that sombre deadly look which chilled the
blood of Marie, and sobered even the ardent, wine-inspired Lord of
Topsham.

He released the girl, who immediately vanished, and turned savagely upon
Madame. She said nothing. He moved towards her, and seized both her
elbows. He thrust her against the wall, and held her there motionless.

Madame is very strong, physically, but she tells me that she never puts
forth the strength of her body against that of a man.

"Whenever a man seizes me in anger I never struggle," she has often said
to me. "A physical broil between a man and a woman must always end to
the discomfiture of the woman. To the greater power of a man I oppose
exaggerated feminine weakness."

With muscles deliberately limp, she stood against the wall in Willie's
grip, her breast rising and falling quietly, her cold, fearless eyes
holding him immovably. He approached his face to hers until each could
see the tiny reflection of self in the other's pupils. Willie's breath,
charged with the fumes of bad and fiery port, beat upon Madame's senses.
She suffered from a momentary nausea, but the steadiness of her gaze
continued unabated.

He was trying to beat her down with the power of his eyes, but, just
then, they had no charm for Madame Gilbert. They were no longer the eyes
of Willatopy before whose radiance her heart had often melted; they were
the drink-suffused eyes of Lord Topsham, an enemy. She put forth all her
moral energy, and stared him into disquiet. And when his eyelids began
to blink and flicker, she knew that she had won. The savage light died
out, and he released her elbows. He stepped back, and she was free.
Still calm, she bowed slightly as one bidding farewell to a distant
acquaintance, and walked slowly towards her own door. With the snap of
her drawn bolt the spell broke, and Willie also moved away. He felt
humiliated, as one who had suffered defeat. As he had stood there facing
Madame, there had come upon him a savage lust to fasten his talons in
the beautiful white throat, and to choke the cold light of scorn out of
her lovely eyes. But he could not do it. He had spurned her, and felt
that he hated her, but there still remained for him about her something
of the aura of a goddess.

Madame was very thoughtful as Marie undressed her that evening. She said
nothing to the girl, for she had perceived her attempts to repulse Lord
Topsham. She had confidence in Marie's terrors if not in her virtue. But
the brief contest of wills without had made a deep impression. She
perceived that the struggle for mastery between the half-savage boy and
herself had begun seriously. As the wise man Grant had predicted, the
boy was growing into a peril. She had beaten him once in the tense
silent battle of eyes, but could she always reckon upon time and
opportunity within which to achieve another victory? Madame lay deep in
thought upon her bed, and fingered delicately the butt of that faithful
companion which now always slept beside her.

A couple of hours later, while she still lay sleepless, a loud noise of
shouting and singing arose from the cabin opposite. Willie and John
Clifford had been broaching the cases of sweet fiery port, and had
become drunkenly exuberant This was, I believe, the first time that
Willie had passed over the alcoholic border into actual intoxication.
Madame listened to the unseemly racket, which resounded now through the
silent anchored ship, and again toyed with the automatic.

"Drink and Lust and explosive half-blood," murmured she. "The blood of
Old Devon and of savage Melanesia. I wonder what the end of it all will
be."

That end came with appalling suddenness, without warning or preparation.
Madame alone in the ship was ready, for she who had for five years lived
amid quick storms and unheralded perils was always ready. For three days
the yacht had been steaming slowly up towards the Straits of Sunda.
Willie in public had been surly and reserved; he had not again fallen
upon the apprehensive Marie--too intently busied upon working out her
reprieve to relax in favour towards him--and had shown no overt
hostility to Madame. Every night he had drunk deeply with John Clifford,
and the noise of their joint libations had disturbed Madame Gilbert's
rest. The once healthy boy, splendid in his tireless virility, was
degenerating fast. From day to day the decline could be seen in the
greyness of his face, and in the tremor of his strong thin fingers. The
shoes which he insisted upon wearing crippled his free movements. Once
conspicuously elastic of tread--he had seemed to move on steel
springs--he now slouched and shuffled. Madame never saw Clifford, but
she heard his voice nightly in the cabin opposite, and I am sure that
she ached to slay him. She longed for Singapore, and for the final
expulsion of the Hedge Lawyer, who was responsible for the woes of a
once happy Toppys yacht, and of the once happy Tops Island. He was
working fast for Willie's destruction, but he did not understand the
explosive material with which he worked. In the end he lost--at the
moment when it seemed to his narrow intelligence that the white slave
had become the white master.

It was after midnight, Madame was abed, and for once the potations of
the drinkers did not culminate in a noise which disturbed her sleep. For
once Willie had dismissed Clifford at an early hour, and bent himself to
carry out his own delayed yet cherished schemes. Something of the
cunning of the white man had tempered the desires of the savage; he had
deliberately ceased to pursue Marie, and thought to dim the bright
polish of Madame's unfailing watchfulness.

Nothing was to be heard that night save the whirr of the high-speed
turbines, and nothing to be felt except the quivering vibration of the
yacht's frames. Although the cabin opposite was unwontedly quiet, Madame
Gilbert did not sleep. The change from noise to silence oppressed her.
She was more wakeful and watchful than she had been for some days; she
had learned that the unexpected always happens and she was waiting,
apprehensively, for the violently unexpected. She did not, as Grant had
advised, pass her days and nights in deadly fear--it was no strange
experience for her to watch and wait with that faithful companion within
grip of her fingers--but both her days and nights were brimful of
apprehension and sorrow. She had faintly hoped that the old spirit of
Willatopy would revive when the well-beloved seas girt him about, and
his feet trod the decks of a ship. She had hoped that the salt of the
sea would call irresistibly to the salt in his blood. But the strong,
rich drinks of Thursday Island were more potent than any sea salt.
Willatopy was gone for ever. There remained a visibly degenerating Lord
Topsham.

Suddenly she heard the soft closing of a door. The sound was quite near.
She sat up and listened. A faint light, reflected from the sea, came
through her cabin scuttles; she could make out the closed doors of her
room--the bathroom door behind her, Marie's door in front, and that
other which led into the corridor at her right. Her rooms were on the
port side of the main deck. But though the upper part of the cabin was
faintly illuminated, the deck lay in the deepest shadow.

Madame heard nothing, but straight before her she saw the communicating
door between her room and Marie's open half-way and then close. Someone
had penetrated her room by way of the bathroom door, crawled past her
bed along the deck, and slipped without sound into her maid's cabin.

A gust of fury shook her. She did not seek to enquire whether Marie were
a victim or an accomplice. Just as when those cases of liquor had come
aboard, she felt the humiliation of outrage. Her room had been made
flagrant use of as a surreptitious passage to her maid's; her one
passion at that moment was for instant vengeance.

She stretched forth her left hand, and snapped on the electric lights.
In her other hand was gripped the loaded automatic.

The lights flashed on, and Marie's door opened wide. On the threshold
stood Lord Topsham, clad only in a pair of pyjama trousers. The dark
brown skin of his body glowed in the light. He himself paused,
momentarily dazzled.

Behind him rang out a shriek followed instantly by a howl from Willie.
White arms were wound about his neck. Marie had sprung upon his back,
and clung to him shrieking.

Willie staggered into Madame's room, and some hard object, which had
been in his hand, fell upon the deck. Madame heard the ring of steel
upon wood. Then he raised both hands, and fastened his fingers into the
soft upper arms of the girl who had sprung upon him. Those fingers,
contracted with the full force of Willie's powerful muscles, bit into
Marie's flesh, and she screamed with a pain which was even greater than
her terror. The remorseless fingers ground and bit, and the grip of
Marie's arms relaxed. Then Willie bent almost to the deck, and with a
heave of his loins flung Marie, a whirl of white tangled draperies,
against the cabin wall. She brought up with a sickening crunch against
the hard steel-backed panelling, and lay insensible along the wainscot.

Willie stooped and picked up that which he had dropped. Madame sat upon
her hammock-bed, motionless, scarcely breathing, every scrap of nervous
energy concentrated in her eyes and skilled right hand. As one whose
life hung by a thread, which she alone could preserve intact, she
watched intently Willie's every movement.

He stooped and picked up the trench dagger which at Marie's onslaught he
had dropped. The light ran up and down the thin sharp blade. Madame
watched Willie feel the point with his thumb, and settle his fingers
comfortably about the grip. He did not hurry, and as he grasped the
dagger firmly, and struck out gently once or twice to enjoy a sense of
its handiness, the broad lips curled back from his white teeth.

Then he sprang straight at Madame. It was the launching of a human
steel-tipped javelin.

He was ten feet away from her when he sprang, and six feet distant when
her pistol cracked like a vicious whip lash. In the act of firing she
threw herself backwards. The brown boy, carried irresistibly forward by
the impetus of his leap, fell diagonally across Madame's body, the
outstretched dagger-tipped arm passing close over her face. He fell
across her, pinning her down, and the hammock bed creaked and swung with
the shock. The stricken boy lay across Madame, his hands and feet
tearing at the deck as the bed swung, his body heaving and writhing in
convulsions. Under him she lay pinned down, and felt within her own
living frame every quiver and pang of his dissolution.

The hammock bed slowed down in its swing, and the hands and feet of
William, Lord Topsham, trailed helplessly. His brown half-naked body was
quiet now. The sudden leap, the quick deadly shot, the last agonies, had
not filled up sixty seconds, yet they left Madame aged by their rapid
passage. In those seconds some of her old light-heartedness had gone
from her. She felt little sorrow for the Lord Topsham who had sought to
slay her, and whom she had killed in the act, but her heart wept
bitterly for the Willatopy whom he once had been.

The bed and the body came to rest together, and all was still.

"Marie," called Madame. There was no response from the white heap which
lay where it had been flung.

"Marie," Madame cried again, "_es tu morte_?"

It was the silliest of enquiries, yet it penetrated the dulled ear of
the sorely bruised girl.

"_Oui, Madame_," groaned Marie. "_Je suis morte, morte, absolument._"

"So that's all right," cried Madame, much relieved. The maid had risen
to a lofty eminence in the opinion of the mistress, when she, inspired
by her brave French blood, had sprung upon the back of the murder-filled
savage. She had staked her life, and come nigh to losing her stake, to
gain time for the mistress whom she had no great reason to love.

"I am pinned down and cannot move," explained Madame. "Try to open the
door and then scream as loudly as you can."

"Where is the terrible Lord?" muttered Marie, still not wholly
conscious. "I woke with his face against mine. He pricked my breast with
his sharp steel."

"Tell me later," cried Madame. "He is dead. Open the door and scream."

The heap moved slowly, and Marie somehow got the door open. Then she
howled.

A steward ran up and thrust in his gaping head.

"Call the Captain," ordered Madame sharply.

Summoned by an urgent message, of which he could make no sense, Ching
leaped down from his bridge and a moment later stepped over Marie's
body into Madame's cabin.

Madame, lying with Willie stretched across her, his feet and hands
drooping to the deck on either side, raised her right hand, and beckoned
to the Skipper with her pistol muzzle.

"See, I have killed him. It happened very quickly."

Before the slow-witted Skipper could take in this astonishing situation,
Alexander Ewing burst through the ring of sailors which had clustered
about the door. A rumour had flown through the ship that Madame Gilbert
was dead. Alexander burst into her cabin, white and shaking, for he
loved her.

The air still reeked with the acrid taste of burnt cordite, and for a
moment Alexander could see no more of Madame than a glorious mass of
copper tresses on the white pillow beyond Willie's shoulder. He groaned
"Is she dead? Is our Madame really dead?"

"Not much," came the voice which he loved. "If you will lift off the
body of this unhappy, foolish boy, you will find me very much alive,
Sandy dear."

They raised with gentle hands the limp body of the Twenty-Eighth Baron
of Topsham, who never now would enter upon his hereditary dignities;
they lifted the body, and laid it on the floor. There was no sign about
him of a weapon, and both men looked enquiringly at Madame. She pointed
between her bed and the wall, and Ewing leaning over picked up the
trench dagger.

"That explains all," said he as he threw it down by the corpse. "It is
sharp and deadly, Ching. Madame had no choice but to shoot."

"I was sure of that before I saw the dagger," said Ching coldly.

Madame swung herself out of bed, and wrapped a dressing-grown about her
blue pyjamas. She stood beside Alexander Ewing, looking down upon the
body of the boy whom she had shot. The blue eyes, half open, had lost
their brightness. No longer were they like the sky at dawn. Death
falling swiftly had wiped out their colour. A large scorched patch
appeared on the broad chest of him who had been called Lord Topsham, and
in the centre, over the heart, was the deep print of Madame's bullet.
The small sharp bullet had passed right through him; they found it later
embedded in the woodwork of Marie's door. Madame looked down at the
scorched breast, and at the tiny hole through which a life had sped; her
lips twitched painfully, and she held back a sob. She looked up
pitifully at the two men, both her loving friends; at Ching, whose faith
in her cool judgment had not asked for the proof of Willie's dagger; at
Alexander, to whom the discovery of that weapon had brought a deep sense
of relief. Ching stood erect, thinking deeply, but Alexander, with
quicker sympathy, moved a step, and laid his arm about Madame's
shoulders.

"Brave lass," he whispered, as she cuddled herself to him.

"I had to shoot, Sandy," she murmured. "It was a very close call,
Sandy."

"Brave lass," said he again, and stooping down, kissed the twitching
lips.

"Thank you, Sandy dear," said Madame. "I am only a woman thing, after
all."

But though only a woman thing, Madame, an instant later, gave them an
exhibition of her rapid relentless quality. Into the room penetrated a
red-faced slobbering figure. Roused out of his drunken slumbers by a
realisation of the total failure of his evil plans, John Clifford came
for the last time into the silent presence of his human spoil.

He saw the body lying upon its back on the floor; he saw Madame standing
by with the pistol still dangling from her wrist. The wide burnt mark
made by the flaming cordite and the bullet hole told their tale. The
base creature, who did not lack for courage, turned furiously upon
Madame in the presence of her loyal friends.

"Murderess," he shrieked. "If there is a law in England you shall have
justice done upon you."

Madame swung round, the automatic in, her hand.

"And you, John Clifford, robber and man destroyer, shall have justice
here and now."

The pistol cracked, and the bullet, passing within an inch of his head,
smacked up against the wall. He leaped for the door, both Ching and
Ewing jumped out of the way, and the crowd beyond scattered down the
corridor. Crack went the pistol again, and a second bullet banged with
the impact of a hammer on the doorpost. Clifford reached the opening,
and was through. They heard his feet pattering down the alley way.

"Steady, lass," warned Ewing. "Ye might have killed him."

"No," said Madame. "I shot to frighten, not to kill. And I have done
what I intended. We shall not hear much more of Clifford and his law.
With all my heart I wish that he lay here now at my feet, and that poor
Willatopy, safe and ignorantly happy, were still in Tops Island. Fate is
very cruel, Sandy; it might have spared upon my hand the blood of
Willatopy."



CHAPTER XIX

IN THE STRAITS OF SUNDA


The Captain of a British ship is every kind of civil authority, from
magistrate and chaplain to hangman. In his capacity as coroner, Robert
Ching held an enquiry in the saloon on the morning which followed the
death of Willatopy. He was supported by those of his officers who were
not on duty above and below deck. Marie, sore and grievously bruised
from shoulder to knee, was carried in and laid at length upon a sofa.
Her bones were unbroken, and though she suffered much pain, she was a
very happy Marie Lambert. Madame Gilbert had passed the sponge of
forgiveness over the maid's disreputable past; her one act of
self-forgetting courage had blotted out the treachery in France, and the
fatal amour in Tops Island. Marie had won her final reprieve.

John Clifford, broken down by days of drunkenness and by the collapse of
his professional ambition, attended the inquest as the legal adviser of
the slain Baron of Topsham. His spirit of the night before had faded out
of him with the alcohol which stimulated it. It was a very miserable and
draggled Hedge Lawyer who met for the last time his fellow voyagers in
the _Humming Top_.

I will not trouble the reader with the whole enquiry, which was long and
tedious. Ching, foreseeing scandal and legal complications when the
tragic story came to be told in England, wrote down in his round, slow
sailor's hand, every word that was spoken, and obtained the signatures
of all present, even that of the reluctant John Clifford, to the
evidence as given on oath.

No new facts were disclosed, except by Marie. She described how she had
been awakened, and had felt Lord Topsham's face against hers and his
dagger's point at her breast. She had tried to cry out, but his rude
hand upon her mouth commanded silence. She had whispered urging him to
go, and warning him that Madame, in the adjoining room, would hear.

"How did he get into your room?" asked Ching.

Marie said that he had come through Madame's cabin, crawling along the
floor. He must have entered by the bathroom. The door of that room which
gave upon the corridor was always bolted, had naturally always been kept
bolted. Willie must have slipped in sometime when the rooms were empty,
and unfastened that door. The slipping of the bolt had not been
perceived. She had been afraid to cry out, even when Lord Topsham
removed his hand from her mouth, for the dagger which he carried was
very sharp. She had already felt its point. Yet she struggled, and
whispered that Madame would hear, that Madame would interpose furiously,
and that she would be a Marie Lambert doomed to a cruel death in France.
Lord Topsham's breath smelled strongly of wine, and she was sure that he
was half drunk. Had he been sober he would never have raised his hand
against Madame Gilbert. But when Marie urged that her life would pay
the toll for any further indiscretions, Willie had ground his teeth in
rage.

"'It is always Madame,' he growled. 'I am tired of Madame. She stands
between me and you, and she threatens you with death. Wait, Marie,' he
had said. 'I will kill this Madame nuisance, and then will come back to
you. I am a great English Lord, and will kill anyone who interferes with
me.'"

Marie went on to say that Lord Topsham had then let her go, and turned
to enter Madame's room. He held the trench dagger in his right hand.
Marie was terribly frightened, but she could not lie still and let
Madame be murdered in her sleep. She did not know that Madame Gilbert
was already awake and watching. So, as the half-drunken savage boy
approached the door of communication with Madame's room, she slipped out
of bed, and followed behind him. And when he opened the door she jumped
upon his back and screamed.

"He couldn't kill me then," she explained simply, "until Madame had
awakened and got ready to meet him. I knew that she slept with her
pistol beside her. I jumped on Lord Topsham's back to save Madame's
life."

A murmur of admiration ran round the table of the saloon.

"We all feel," said Ching gravely, "that your conduct was very brave and
splendid. You risked your life for a mistress whom you had no cause to
love and good reason to fear. I shall put this commendation in my
report."

"Thank you, sir," said Marie. "Of course I knew that if I saved Madame
she would forgive me everything."

The Court smiled at this ingenuous display of heroism combined with
regard for the main chance. Marie was sprung from thrifty French peasant
stock.

Madame followed, and told what we already know. She would not, she
declared, have shot to kill if she could have stopped Willie by wounding
him. John Clifford interposed with a question. Madame, he said, was a
first-rate pistol shot. She could have hit her assailant in any part of
his body that she pleased. Could she not have preserved her own life by
disabling Lord Topsham's right arm or breaking his leg?

Madame, with a sad little smile, offered him her automatic pistol.

"It carried a .25 nickel-coated bullet," said she. "A tiny bullet with
no stopping power. With a .45 revolver and a lump of soft lead, I could
have knocked the poor boy over long before he reached me. I should have
fired at him immediately after he flung off Marie. But with this little
toy I had no choice. When he launched himself at me I shot him through
the heart, and should, even then, have been pierced by his dagger had I
not evaded the stroke by flinging myself instantly flat on my back. The
dagger point just missed me. If I had done no more than wound him, had I
merely punctured a hole in a leg or arm, he would have had plenty of
time to kill me. You may not believe me, Mr. John Clifford, but I swear
to you that I did not shoot willingly. I loved Willatopy very
sincerely."

Clifford said no more, and when Ching asked for his signature to the
evidence he gave it without another word.

"I find," declared Ching solemnly, "and so I shall write in my report
to the English Board of Trade, that Madame Gilbert shot and killed
William, Lord Topsham, in defence of her own life, and that she was
fully justified in what she did."

After the enquiry had been closed, Madame went to her room, and rummaged
among her trunks. She was looking for something which she vaguely
remembered to have packed, and presently she found what she sought.
Madame Gilbert, a Catholic by birth and upbringing, was infamously
negligent of religious observances, yet she always, impelled by some
inherited instinct, carried upon her travels a small ivory crucifix. It
had been her mother's. Now Madame drew forth this emblem of her loosely
fitting faith and bore it reverently to the cabin where the body of
Willatopy lay awaiting sea burial. There she stood looking down upon the
face of the boy whom she had killed. The bright blue eyes were closed
for ever, but the quiet, almost smiling face was that of the Willatopy
of Tops Island. She laid the crucifix upon the boy's breast that it
might go into the depths with him. It was the last service that she
could render, and, for some reason, it brought solace to her.

She had never kissed Willie in life, but now she stooped and pressed her
lips upon the cold forehead.

"Willie," she murmured, "forgive the Madame who loved and killed you. I
was the best friend that you ever had, Willie dear. It was better, far
better, that you should die by my little bullet than that you should
cease for always to be Willatopy." And with that kiss of farewell,
there departed from Madame Gilbert all sense of blood guilt. Her hand
had been the Hand of Fate, and it had been a bountiful and kindly Fate.

Willatopy lies in the depths of the Straits of Sunda. The seas are all
one, and he, a sailor on both sides of the house, went home to the Great
Mother upon whose bosom he had been born and lived. Madame's crucifix
was sewn up in his sailcloth shroud, and he lies with it for ever upon
his breast. The yacht was stopped for the ceremony, and the whole ship's
company with bared heads watched the Twenty-Eighth Lord of Topsham enter
into his inheritance. For his true heritage was the Sea, which he knew
and loved so well.

As Madame told the story to me, in that room of mine in Whitehall--so
remote in distance and in atmosphere from Tops Island and the Torres
Straits--she asked me anxiously, often with tears glittering in those
violet eyes of hers, if there was anything which she could have done, or
left undone, to thrust tragedy away from the bright young life of
Willatopy. She had loved the boy, though his skin was of so very dark a
brown, and his hair so definitely negroid. And I could do no better than
shake my head and lament that which was inevitable. The Hedge Lawyer,
that little London cad, quickened the movement towards destruction, and
set at naught Madame's own kindly exertions, but sooner or later tragedy
must have fallen, heavy footed, upon Willatopy's soul and body.

"You fought and lost," said I sadly, "but in the end you won. I am sure
of this: that when Will Toppys, the wise mad father, met beyond the
stars the brave though erring son, the blessing of the father descended
from Heaven upon the head and hand of Madame Gilbert. He knew, that
beachcomber, from what a calamitous fate your shot had saved his
Willatopy."

"Do you really, honestly think so?" she asked eagerly.

"I do, really and honestly," said I.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

It fell to the lot of the silent, always dependable Ching to speed at
Singapore the parting guest. The _Humming Top_ had been warped into
dock, and there was a bustle of preparation for her cleansing, when the
Hedge Lawyer, bearing his suit case, appeared on the main deck and
accosted the skipper.

"I am leaving you here," said he. "I shall not stay upon this
blood-stained ship. I said little at your precious enquiry, for I knew
that you were all in the interest of Sir John Toppys, your owner. I go
now to England to make very sure that justice shall be done upon that
murderess."

"I will help you on the road," replied Ching serenely, and gripping the
wretch by collar and pants, he hove him over the rail into the dock. No
one saw him climb forth, and yet, when the water had run away, there was
no trace of him in the mud--except his half-buried suit case. Hove by
Captain Ching, he disappeared over the rail, and, so far as I can
discover, has never since been seen. Roger Gatepath, who has his own
underground methods of enquiry, declares that John Clifford has not
returned to St. Mary Axe. The "Justice" which he demanded against Madame
Gilbert has never been invoked. He is not in the dock at Singapore; he
must have clambered out; so much we know--but the rest is silence.



CHAPTER XX

MADAME GILBERT REFUSES THE "HUMMING TOP"


"You have, if I may say so, done us the greatest service."

Madame and Sir John Toppys were together in the Owner's Room of the
_Humming Top_, and all had been told.

"It was not intended," replied Madame Gilbert sadly. "I have been frank
with you. All the interest and all the wealth of Toppys for their
numberless generations would not have induced me to raise my hand
against Willatopy. In some ways he was more worthy than the best of you.
I was bringing him to England to put him in his place, and yet I am glad
that Fate interposed. White blood drags down more than it uplifts.
Willatopy in his own island, before the fatal knowledge of his
succession reached him, was a simple, gallant, charming boy. Would to
God that so he could have remained. But those very qualities, which made
him so admirable as a savage youth, dragged him into the pit of
degeneracy. He grabbed white vices with both hands, and sloughed off his
native virtues. He was losing his soul very fast, lamentably fast. I
killed him that I might save what was left."

"You speak as if you need not have fired--to kill," said Toppys slowly.

"At the end I had no choice," replied Madame. "But I feel now, and have
felt many times since the tragedy of the _Humming Top_, that he would
never have leaped upon me had I spoken. My power over him was great.
Until recently he had honoured me as a goddess. With my eyes upon his he
could not have struck. And yet I waited for his attack to be delivered.
I waited while he felt the point of the dagger, and tested the fittings
on his hand. I might have spoken in the old friendly tone, which always
moved him--and yet I did not. For it suddenly was revealed to me that
here was the solution of his troubled destiny. Now that Willatopy, the
dear boy of Tops Island, was no more, his successor, Lord Topsham, were
better dead before far worse disasters than death, a clean, quick death,
overtook him. So I waited for him to spring--it was a terrible moment,
and I cannot speak of it now without a creeping of the flesh--I waited
for him to spring that I might shoot. I am not a praying woman," added
she, "but there was a prayer in my heart when I sped the bullet through
his. I never loved the boy more honestly than in that instant when I
deliberately slew him."

They turned to leave the room.

"I shall be sorry to give up my temporary ownership of the _Humming
Top_," said Madame. "I agree with Alexander that she is a bonnie wee
beastie."

"Will you not keep her?" asked Toppys calmly.

Madame shook her head. "A yacht, especially a steam yacht of a thousand
tons, is too sharp-edged a gift for my poor hands to receive. She must
cost twenty thousand a year to run, and I cannot spend a tithe of that
amount upon my travels."

"I did not mean that you should maintain her," said Toppys.

Madame smiled wickedly. "Sir John Toppys, in my day I have been offered
many gifts by the undiscerning. Jewellery, of course. Perfectly
appointed flats and houses, of course. One refuses calmly from habit I
have never yet had a fully maintained thousand-ton yacht laid at my
feet, yet it costs me little to refuse. Madame Gilbert, Sir John Toppys,
is not for sale, and she is slightly disappointed that one whom she
thought her friend should have offered to purchase her."

"You misunderstand me again," said Sir John Toppys, "I suspect wilfully.
I did not offer the _Humming Top_ as your purchase price. I wished to
hint, somewhat crudely I fear, that I am a widower, and that----"

He paused. Madame looked at him curiously. It was almost unbelievable,
yet plain to see, that the Baronet of Wigan was tongue-tied with genuine
emotion. She softened towards him, and her mantle of cynicism fell.

"_Et puis?_" she murmured with encouragement.

"My wife has long since been dead. My two sons have fought through the
war, and happily are unhurt. My line is safe. One son is already
married; the other hopes soon to be married. I have no daughter to be an
embarrassment to a stepmother. There is no reason, therefore, in my
domestic circumstances why Madame Gilbert should refuse to share my
home--and my yacht."

"No reason," observed Madame reflectively. "No reason, and every
inducement, except the will of Madame Gilbert."

"Is what I ask impossible?"

"Quite. Even if I personally desired to accept your offer, it would be
impossible. You are what you are, because my hand opened the way. I
cannot share in succession the hereditary honours of Willatopy."

"Is that your only reason?" he asked, his eyes brightening. They were
the steel blue Toppys eyes, the eyes of Willatopy.

"No," said she, and told him of her vagabond life. Once she had loved
and married, but for the future was resolved to remain free. She had
played with the hearts of men too long to submit to mastery.

"I understand," said he, when her tale was told. "Not even the _Humming
Top_, not even the overflowing disgusting wealth of a War Profiteer, can
persuade you to take a husband in earnest. And yet when I look at you,
especially now when you so obdurately dismiss me, I shall dearly love to
pour my ill-gotten riches into your bonny lap."

"So would the Chief Engineer Ewing," quoth Madame, smiling.

She moved towards the door, but Toppys had not yet done with her. "Is
there anything that I can do or offer which will shake your unhappy
resolution?"

"Women," observed Madame contemplatively, "are selfish toads. Their one
unchanging purpose from the cradle to the coffin is to grab as much as
they can from men, and to give as little as they can in return. I have
grabbed more than most because I am more agreeable to look upon than are
most. We are vampires. I am true to the purpose of my sex, Sir John
Toppys. I have snatched at all I could get from you, and have refused to
give anything in return. I have even asked you to forgo your share in
Alexander's boodle, and you have consented. You are a better man than I
am a woman. You are well rid of me, even as an associate."

"I shall not claim the Barony of Topsham," said he. "My son, when his
day shall dawn, may succeed if he will--it is his lawful right. But I
shall go to my grave as Sir John Toppys. Your hand has given me the
Barony, but my hand, no less resolute than yours, refuses the gift."

"You are right," said she thoughtfully. "You with your yacht and I with
my automatic have slain Willatopy, and we cannot either of us accept the
price of blood. I am glad that you will never sit in the poor lad's
place."

She held out both her hands to him, and Toppys--as he had done months
before on the deck of the _Humming Top_--Toppys stooped down and kissed
her fingers.

"There is blood upon them," she whispered.

"And yet I can kiss them," murmured he. "Were it not that your harsh
will forbids, I would go on kissing them all my life."





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