Part 3 out of 3
certainly,' said Attwater. 'I was about to say that I have still
eight dozen,' he added, fixing the captain with his eye.
'Eight dozen what?' said Davis.
'Sherry,' was the reply. 'Eight dozen excellent sherry. Why, it
seems almost worth it in itself; to a man fond of wine.'
The ambiguous words struck home to guilty consciences, and
Huish and the captain sat up in their places and regarded him
with a scare.
'Worth what?' said Davis.
'A hundred and twelve shillings,' replied Attwater.
The captain breathed hard for a moment. He reached out far
and wide to find any coherency in these remarks; then, with a
great effort, changed the subject.
'I allow we are about the first white men upon this island, sir,'
Attwater followed him at once, and with entire gravity, to the
new ground. 'Myself and Dr Symonds excepted, I should say
the only ones,' he returned. 'And yet who can tell? In the course
of the ages someone may have lived here, and we sometimes
think that someone must. The cocoa palms grow all round the
island, which is scarce like nature's planting. We found besides,
when we landed, an unmistakable cairn upon the beach; use
unknown; but probably erected in the hope of gratifying some
mumbo jumbo whose very name is forgotten, by some thick-witted
gentry whose very bones are lost. Then the island (witness
the Directory) has been twice reported; and since my tenancy,
we have had two wrecks, both derelict. The rest is conjecture.'
'Dr Symonds is your partner, I guess?' said Davis.
'A dear fellow, Symonds! How he would regret it, if he knew
you had been here!' said Attwater.
"E's on the Trinity 'All, ain't he?' asked Huish.
'And if you could tell me where the Trinity 'All was, you
would confer a favour, Mr Whish!' was the reply.
'I suppose she has a native crew?' said Davis.
'Since the secret has been kept ten years, one would suppose
she had,' replied Attwater.
'Well, now, see 'ere!' said Huish. 'You have everything about
you in no end style, and no mistake, but I tell you it wouldn't
do for me. Too much of "the old rustic bridge by the mill"; too
retired, by 'alf. Give me the sound of Bow Bells!'
'You must not think it was always so,' replied Attwater, 'This
was once a busy shore, although now, hark! you can hear the
solitude. I find it stimulating. And talking of the sound of
bells, kindly follow a little experiment of mine in silence.'
There was a silver bell at his right hand to call the servants;
he made them a sign to stand still, struck the bell with force,
and leaned eagerly forward. The note rose clear and strong; it
rang out clear and far into the night and over the deserted
island; it died into the distance until there only lingered in
the porches of the ear a vibration that was sound no longer.
'Empty houses, empty sea, solitary beaches!' said Attwater. 'And
yet God hears the bell! And yet we sit in this verandah on a
lighted stage with all heaven for spectators! And you call that
There followed a bar of silence, during which the captain sat
Then Attwater laughed softly. 'These are the diversions of a
lonely, man,' he resumed, 'and possibly not in good taste. One
tells oneself these little fairy tales for company. If there
SHOULD happen to be anything in folk-lore, Mr Hay? But here comes
the claret. One does not offer you Lafitte, captain, because I
believe it is all sold to the railroad dining cars in your great
country; but this Brine-Mouton is of a good year, and Mr Whish
will give me news of it.'
'That's a queer idea of yours!' cried the captain, bursting with
a sigh from the spell that had bound him. 'So you mean to tell
me now, that you sit here evenings and ring up . . . well, ring
on the angels . . . by yourself?'
'As a matter of historic fact, and since you put it directly, one
does not,' said Attwater. 'Why ring a bell, when there flows out
from oneself and everything about one a far more momentous
silence? the least beat of my heart and the least thought in my
mind echoing into eternity for ever and for ever and for ever.'
'O look 'ere,' said Huish, 'turn down the lights at once, and
the Band of 'Ope will oblige! This ain't a spiritual seance.'
'No folk-lore about Mr Whish--I beg your pardon, captain:
Huish not Whish, of course,' said Attwater.
As the boy was filling Huish's glass, the bottle escaped from
his hand and was shattered, and the wine spilt on the verandah
floor. Instant grimness as of death appeared on the face of
Attwater; he smote the bell imperiously, and the two brown
natives fell into the attitude of attention and stood mute and
trembling. There was just a moment of silence and hard looks;
then followed a few savage words in the native; and, upon a
gesture of dismissal, the service proceeded as before.
None of the party had as yet observed upon the excellent
bearing of the two men. They were dark, undersized, and well
set up; stepped softly, waited deftly, brought on the wines and
dishes at a look, and their eyes attended studiously on their
'Where do you get your labour from anyway?' asked Davis.
'Ah, where not?' answered Attwater.
'Not much of a soft job, I suppose?' said the captain.
'If you will tell me where getting labour is!' said Attwater
with a shrug. 'And of course, in our case, as we could name no
destination, we had to go far and wide and do the best we could.
We have gone as far west as the Kingsmills and as far south as
Rapa-iti. Pity Symonds isn't here! He is full of yarns. That was
his part, to collect them. Then began mine, which was the
'You mean to run them?' said Davis.
'Ay! to run them,' said Attwater.
'Wait a bit,' said Davis, 'I'm out of my depth. How was this?
Do you mean to say you did it single-handed?'
'One did it single-handed,' said Attwater, 'because there was
nobody to help one.'
'By God, but you must be a holy terror!' cried the captain, in
a glow of admiration.
'One does one's best,' said Attwater.
'Well, now!' said Davis, 'I have seen a lot of driving in my
time and been counted a good driver myself; I fought my way,
third mate, round the Cape Horn with a push of packet rats
that would have turned the devil out of hell and shut the door
on him; and I tell you, this racket of Mr Attwater's takes the
cake. In a ship, why, there ain't nothing to it! You've got the
law with you, that's what does it. But put me down on this
blame' beach alone, with nothing but a whip and a mouthful of
bad words, and ask me to ... no, SIR! it's not good enough! I
haven't got the sand for that!' cried Davis. 'It's the law
behind,' he added; 'it's the law does it, every time!'
'The beak ain't as black as he's sometimes pynted,' observed
'Well, one got the law after a fashion,' said Attwater. 'One
had to be a number of things. It was sometimes rather a bore.'
'I should smile!' said Davis. 'Rather lively, I should think!'
'I dare say we mean the same thing,' said Attwater. 'However,
one way or another, one got it knocked into their heads that
they MUST work, and they DID. . . until the Lord took them!'
''Ope you made 'em jump,' said Huish.
'When it was necessary, Mr Whish, I made them jump,' said
'You bet you did,' cried the captain. He was a good deal
flushed, but not so much with wine as admiration; and his eyes
drank in the huge proportions of the other with delight. 'You bet
you did, and you bet that I can see you doing it! By God,
you're a man, and you can say I said so.'
'Too good of you, I'm sure,' said Attwater.
'Did you--did you ever have crime here?' asked Herrick,
breaking his silence with a pungent voice.
'Yes,' said Attwater, 'we did.'
'And how did you handle that, sir?' cried the eager captain.
'Well, you see, it was a queer case,' replied Attwater. 'it was
a case that would have puzzled Solomon. Shall I tell it you?
The captain rapturously accepted.
'Well,' drawled Attwater, 'here is what it was. I dare say you
know two types of natives, which may be called the obsequious
and the sullen? Well, one had them, the types themselves,
detected in the fact; and one had them together. Obsequiousness
ran out of the first like wine out of a bottle, sullenness
congested in the second. Obsequiousness was all smiles; he ran to
catch your eye, he loved to gabble; and he had about a dozen
words of beach English, and an eighth-of-an-inch veneer of
Christianity. Sullens was industrious; a big down-looking bee.
When he was spoken to, he answered with a black look and a shrug
of one shoulder, but the thing would be done. I don't give him to
you for a model of manners; there was nothing showy about
Sullens; but he was strong and steady, and ungraciously obedient.
Now Sullens got into trouble; no matter how; the regulations of
the place were broken, and he was punished accordingly--without
effect. So, the next day, and the next, and the day after, till I
began to be weary of the business, and Sullens (I am
afraid) particularly so. There came a day when he was in fault
again, for the--oh, perhaps the thirtieth time; and he rolled a
dull eye upon me, with a spark in it, and appeared to speak.
Now the regulations of the place are formal upon one point: we
allow no explanations; none are received, none allowed to be
offered. So one stopped him instantly; but made a note of the
circumstance. The next day, he was gone from the settlement.
There could be nothing more annoying; if the labour took to
running away, the fishery was wrecked. There are sixty miles of
this island, you see, all in length like the Queen's Highway; the
idea of pursuit in such a place was a piece of single-minded
childishness, which one did not entertain. Two days later, I
made a discovery; it came in upon me with a flash that Sullens
had been unjustly punished from beginning to end, and the real
culprit throughout had been Obsequiousness. The native who
talks, like the woman who hesitates, is lost. You set him talking
and lying; and he talks, and lies, and watches your face to see
if he has pleased you; till at last, out comes the truth! It came
out of Obsequiousness in the regular course. I said nothing to
him; I dismissed him; and late as it was, for it was already
night, set off to look for Sullens. I had not far to go: about
two hundred yards up the island, the moon showed him to me. He
was hanging in a cocoa palm--I'm not botanist enough to tell you
how--but it's the way, in nine cases out of ten, these natives
commit suicide. His tongue was out, poor devil, and the birds
had got at him; I spare you details, he was an ugly sight! I gave
the business six good hours of thinking in this verandah. My
justice had been made a fool of; I don't suppose that I was ever
angrier. Next day, I had the conch sounded and all hands out
before sunrise. One took one's gun, and led the way, with
Obsequiousness. He was very talkative; the beggar supposed
that all was right now he had confessed; in the old schoolboy
phrase, he was plainly 'sucking up' to me; full of protestations
of goodwill and good behaviour; to which one answered one
really can't remember what. Presently the tree came in sight,
and the hanged man. They all burst out lamenting for their
comrade in the island way, and Obsequiousness was the loudest
of the mourners. He was quite genuine; a noxious creature,
without any consciousness of guilt. Well, presently--to make a
long story short--one told him to go up the tree. He stared a
bit, looked at one with a trouble in his eye, and had rather a
sickly smile; but went. He was obedient to the last; he had all
the pretty virtues, but the truth was not in him. So soon as he
was up, he looked down, and there was the rifle covering him;
and at that he gave a whimper like a dog. You could bear a pin
drop; no more keening now. There they all crouched upon the
ground, with bulging eyes; there was he in the tree top, the
colour of the lead; and between was the dead man, dancing a
bit in the air. He was obedient to the last, recited his crime,
recommended his soul to God. And then. . .'
Attwater paused, and Herrick, who had been listening attentively,
made a convulsive movement which upset his glass.
'And then?' said the breathless captain.
'Shot,' said Attwater. 'They came to ground together.'
Herrick sprang to his feet with a shriek and an insensate
'It was a murder,' he screamed. 'A cold-hearted, bloody-minded
murder! You monstrous being! Murderer and hypocrite--murderer and
hypocrite--murderer and hypocrite--' he repeated, and his tongue
stumbled among the words.
The captain was by him in a moment. 'Herrick!' he cried, 'behave
yourself! Here, don't be a blame' fool!'
Herrick struggled in his embrace like a frantic child, and
suddenly bowing his face in his hands, choked into a sob, the
first of many, which now convulsed his body silently, and now
jerked from him indescribable and meaningless sounds.
'Your friend appears over-excited,' remarked Attwater, sitting
unmoved but all alert at table.
'It must be the wine,' replied the captain. 'He ain't no drinking
man, you see. I--I think I'll take him away. A walk'll sober him
up, I guess.'
He led him without resistance out of the verandah and into
the night, in which they soon melted; but still for some time, as
they drew away, his comfortable voice was to be heard soothing
and remonstrating, and Herrick answering, at intervals, with the
mechanical noises of hysteria.
"E's like a bloomin' poultry yard!' observed Huish, helping
himself to wine (of which he spilled a good deal) with
gentlemanly ease. 'A man should learn to beyave at table,' he
'Rather bad form, is it not?' said Attwater. 'Well, well, we are
left tete-a-tete. A glass of wine with you, Mr Whish!'
Chapter 10. THE OPEN DOOR
The captain and Herrick meanwhile turned their back upon the
lights in Attwater's verandah, and took a direction towards the
pier and the beach of the lagoon.
The isle, at this hour, with its smooth floor of sand, the
pillared roof overhead, and the prevalent illumination of the
lamps, wore an air of unreality like a deserted theatre or a
public garden at midnight. A man looked about him for the statues
and tables. Not the least air of wind was stirring among the
palms, and the silence was emphasised by the continuous
clamour of the surf from the seashore, as it might be of traffic
in the next street.
Still talking, still soothing him, the captain hurried his
patient on, brought him at last to the lagoon- side, and leading
him down the beach, laved his head and face with the tepid water.
The paroxysm gradually subsided, the sobs became less convulsive
and then ceased; by an odd but not quite unnatural
conjunction, the captain's soothing current of talk died away at
the same time and by proportional steps, and the pair remained
sunk in silence. The lagoon broke at their feet in petty
wavelets, and with a sound as delicate as a whisper; stars of all
degrees looked down on their own images in that vast mirror; and
the more angry colour of the Farallone's riding lamp burned in
the middle distance. For long they continued to gaze on the scene
before them, and hearken anxiously to the rustle and tinkle of
that miniature surf, or the more distant and loud reverberations
from the outer coast. For long speech was denied them; and
when the words came at last, they came to both simultaneously.
'Say, Herrick . . .'the captain was beginning.
But Herrick, turning swiftly towards his companion, bent him
down with the eager cry: 'Let's up anchor, captain, and to sea!'
'Where to, my son?' said the captain. 'Up anchor's easy saying.
But where to?'
'To sea,' responded Herrick. 'The sea's big enough! To sea--away
from this dreadful island and that, oh! that sinister man!'
'Oh, we'll see about that,' said Davis. 'You brace up, and
we'll see about that. You're all run down, that's what's wrong
with you; you're all nerves, like Jemimar; you've got to brace
up good and be yourself again, and then we'll talk.'
'To sea,' reiterated Herrick, 'to sea tonight--now--this
'It can't be, my son,' replied the captain firmly. 'No ship of
mine puts to sea without provisions, you can take that for
'You don't seem to understand,' said Herrick. 'The whole
thing is over, I tell you. There is nothing to do here, when he
knows all. That man there with the cat knows all; can't you
take it in?'
'All what?' asked the captain, visibly discomposed. 'Why, he
received us like a perfect gentleman and treated us real
handsome, until you began with your foolery--and I must say I
seen men shot for less, and nobody sorry! What more do you expect
Herrick rocked to and fro upon the sand, shaking his head.
'Guying us,' he said, 'he was guying us--only guying us; it's
all we're good for.'
'There was one queer thing, to be sure,' admitted the captain,
with a misgiving of the voice; 'that about the sherry. Damned if
I caught on to that. Say, Herrick, you didn't give me away?'
'Oh! give you away!' repeated Herrick with weary, querulous
scorn. 'What was there to give away? We're transparent; we've
got rascal branded on us: detected rascal--detected rascal! Why,
before he came on board, there was the name painted out, and
he saw the whole thing. He made sure we would kill him there
and then, and stood guying you and Huish on the chance. He
calls that being frightened! Next he had me ashore; a fine time I
had! THE TWO WOLVES, he calls you and Huish.--WHAT IS THE
PUPPY DOING WITH THE TWO WOLVES? he asked. He showed me his
pearls; he said they might be dispersed before morning, and ALL
HUNG BY A HAIr--and smiled as he said it, such a smile! O, it's
no use, I tell you! He knows all, he sees through all; we only
make him laugh with our pretences--he looks at us and laughs
There was a silence. Davis stood with contorted brows, gazing
into the night.
'The pearls?' he said suddenly. 'He showed them to you? he
'No, he didn't show them; I forgot: only the safe
they were in,' said Herrick. 'But you'll never get them!'
'I've two words to say to that,' said the captain.
'Do you think he would have been so easy at table, unless he
was prepared?' cried Herrick. 'The servants were both armed.
He was armed himself; he always is; he told me. You will never
deceive his vigilance. Davis, I know it! It's all up; all up.
There's nothing for it, there's nothing to be done: all gone:
life, honour, love. Oh, my God, my God, why was I born?'
Another pause followed upon this outburst.
The captain put his hands to his brow,
'Another thing!' he broke out. 'Why did he tell you all this?
Seems like madness to me!'
Herrick shook his head with gloomy iteration. 'You wouldn't
understand if I were to tell you,' said he.
'I guess I can understand any blame' thing that you can tell
me,' said the captain.
'Well, then, he's a fatalist,' said Herrick.
'What's that, a fatalist?' said Davis.
'Oh, it's a fellow that believes a lot of things,' said Herrick,
'believes that his bullets go true; believes that all falls out
as God chooses, do as you like to prevent it; and all that.'
'Why, I guess I believe right so myself,' said Davis.
'You do?' said Herrick.
'You bet I do!' says Davis.
Herrick shrugged his shoulders. 'Well, you must be a fool,'
said he, and he leaned his head upon his knees.
The captain stood biting his hands.
'There's one thing sure,' he said at last. 'I must get Huish out
of that. HE'S not fit to hold his end up with a man like you
And he turned to go away. The words had been quite simple;
not so the tone; and the other was quick to catch it.
'Davis!' he cried, 'no! Don't do it. Spare ME, and don't do it--
spare yourself, and leave it alone--for God's sake, for your
His voice rose to a passionate shrillness; another moment,
and he might be overheard by their not distant victim. But Davis
turned on him with a savage oath and gesture; and the miserable
young man rolled over on his face on the sand, and lay
speechless and helpless.
The captain meanwhile set out rapidly for Attwater's house.
As he went, he considered with himself eagerly, his thoughts
racing. The man had understood, he had mocked them from the
beginning; he would teach him to make a mockery of John
Davis! Herrick thought him a god; give him a second to aim in,
and the god was overthrown. He chuckled as he felt the butt of
his revolver. It should be done now, as he went in. From behind?
It was difficult to get there. From across the table? No, the
captain preferred to shoot standing, so as you could be sure to
get your hand upon your gun. The best would be to summon
Huish, and when Attwater stood up and turned--ah, then
would be the moment. Wrapped in his ardent prefiguration of
events, the captain posted towards the house with his head
'Hands up! Halt!' cried the voice of Attwater.
And the captain, before he knew what he was doing, had
obeyed. The surprise was complete and irremediable. Coming
on the top crest of his murderous intentions, he had walked
straight into an ambuscade, and now stood, with his hands
impotently lifted, staring at the verandah.
The party was now broken up. Attwater leaned on a post,
and kept Davis covered with a Winchester. One of the servants
was hard by with a second at the port arms, leaning a little
forward, round-eyed with eager expectancy. In the open space
at the head of the stair, Huish was partly supported by the other
native; his face wreathed in meaningless smiles, his mind
seemingly sunk in the contemplation of an unlighted cigar.
'Well,' said Attwater, 'you seem to me to be a very twopenny
The captain uttered a sound in his throat for which we have
no name; rage choked him.
'I am going to give you Mr Whish--or the wine-sop that remains of
him,' continued Attwater. 'He talks a great deal when he drinks,
Captain Davis of the Sea Ranger. But I have quite done with
him--and return the article with thanks. Now,' he cried sharply.
'Another false movement like that, and your family will have to
deplore the loss of an invaluable parent; keep strictly still,
Attwater said a word in the native, his eye still undeviatingly
fixed on the captain; and the servant thrust Huish smartly
forward from the brink of the stair. With an extraordinary
simultaneous dispersion of his members, that gentleman
bounded forth into space, struck the earth, ricocheted, and
brought up with his arms about a palm. His mind was quite a
stranger to these events; the expression of anguish that deformed
his countenance at the moment of the leap was probably
mechanical; and he suffered these convulsions in silence; clung
to the tree like an infant; and seemed, by his dips, to suppose
himself engaged in the pastime of bobbing for apples. A more
finely sympathetic mind or a more observant eye might havc
remarked, a little in front of him on the sand, and still quite
beyond reach, the unlighted cigar.
'There is your Whitechapel carrion!' said Attwater. 'And now
you might very well ask me why I do not put a period to you
at once, as you deserve. I will tell you why, Davis. It is
because I have nothing to do with the Sea Ranger and the people
you drowned, or the Farallone and the champagne that you stole.
That is your account with God, He keeps it, and He will settle
it when the clock strikes. In my own case, I have nothing to go
on but suspicion, and I do not kill on suspicion, not even vermin
like you. But understand! if ever I see any of you again, it is
another matter, and you shall eat a bullet. And now take
yourself off. March! and as you value what you call your life,
keep your hands up as you go!'
The captain remained as he was, his hands up, his mouth open:
mesmerised with fury.
'March!' said Attwater. 'One--two--three!'
And Davis turned and passed slowly away. But even as he
went, he was meditating a prompt, offensive return. In the
twinkling of an eye, he had leaped behind a tree; and was
crouching there, pistol in hand, peering from either side of his
place of ambush with bared teeth; a serpent already poised to
strike. And already he was too late. Attwater and his servants
had disappeared; and only the lamps shone on the deserted table
and the bright sand about the house, and threw into the night in
all directions the strong and tall shadows of the palms.
Davis ground his teeth. Where were they gone, the cowards?
to what hole had they retreated beyond reach? It was in vain he
should try anything, he, single and with a second-hand revolver,
against three persons, armed with Winchesters, and who did not
show an ear out of any of the apertures of that lighted and
silent house? Some of them might have already ducked below it
from the rear, and be drawing a bead upon him at that moment from
the low-browed crypt, the receptacle of empty bottles and
broken crockery. No, there was nothing to be done but to bring
away (if it were still possible) his shattered and demorallsed
'Huish,' he said, 'come along.'
''S lose my ciga',' said Huish, reaching vaguely forward.
The captain let out a rasping oath. 'Come right along here,'
''S all righ'. Sleep here 'th Atty-Attwa. Go boar' t'morr','
replied the festive one.
'If you don't come, and come now, by the living God, I'll
shoot you!' cried the captain.
It is not to be supposed that the sense of these words in any
way penetrated to the mind of Hulsh; rather that, in a fresh
attempt upon the cigar, he overbalanced himself and came flying
erratically forward: a course which brought him within reach of
'Now you walk straight,' said the captain, clutching him, 'or
I'll know why not!'
''S lose my ciga',' replied Huish.
The captain's contained fury blazed up for a moment. He
twisted Huish round, grasped him by the neck of the coat, ran
him in front of him to the pier end, and flung him savagely
forward on his face.
'Look for your cigar then, you swine!' said he, and blew his
boat call till the pea in it ceased to rattle.
An immediate activity responded on board the Farallone; far
away voices, and soon the sound of oars, floated along the
surface of the lagoon; and at the same time, from nearer hand,
Herrick aroused himself and strolled languidly up. He bent over
the insignificant figure of Huish, where it grovelled, apparently
insensible, at the base of the figure-head.
'Dead?' he asked.
'No, he's not dead,' said Davis.
'And Attwater?' asked Herrick.
'Now you just shut your head!' replied Davis. 'You can do that, I
fancy, and by God, I'll show you how! I'll stand no more of your
They waited accordingly in silence till the boat bumped on
the furthest piers; then raised Huish, head and heels, carried
him down the gangway, and flung him summarily in the bottom.
On the way out he was heard murmuring of the loss of his cigar;
and after he had been handed up the side like baggage, and cast
down in the alleyway to slumber, his last audible expression
was: 'Splen'l fl' Attwa'!' This the expert construed into
'Splendid fellow, Attwater'; with so much innocence had this
great spirit issued from the adventures of the evening.
The captain went and walked in the waist with brief, irate
turns; Herrick leaned his arms on the taffrail; the crew had all
turned in. The ship had a gentle, cradling motion; at times a
block piped like a bird. On shore, through the colonnade of
palm stems, Attwater's house was to be seen shining steadily
with many lamps. And there was nothing else visible, whether
in the heaven above or in the lagoon below, but the stars and
their reflections. It might have been minutes or it might have
been hours, that Herrick leaned there, looking in the glorified
water and drinking peace. 'A bath of stars,' he was thinking;
when a hand was laid at last on his shoulder.
'Herrick,' said the captain, 'I've been walking off my trouble.'
A sharp jar passed through the young man, but he neither
answered nor so much as turned his head.
'I guess I spoke a little rough to you on shore,' pursued the
captain; 'the fact is, I was real mad; but now it's over, and you
and me have to turn to and think.'
'I will NOT think,' said Herrick.
'Here, old man!' said Davis, kindly; 'this won't fight, you
know! You've got to brace up and help me get things straight.
You're not going back on a friend? That's not like you, Herrick!'
'O yes, it is,' said Herrick.
'Come, come!' said the captain, and paused as if quite at a
loss. 'Look here,' he cried, 'you have a glass of champagne. I
won't touch it, so that'll show you if I'm in earnest. But it's
just the pick-me-up for you; it'll put an edge on you at once.'
'O, you leave me alone!' said Herrick, and turned away.
The captain caught him by the sleeve; and he shook him off
and turned on him, for the moment, like a demoniac.
'Go to hell in your own way!' he cried.
And he turned away again, this time unchecked, and stepped
forward to where the boat rocked alongside and ground
occasionally against the schooner. He looked about him. A
corner of the house was interposed between the captain and
himself; all was well; no eye must see him in that last act. He
slid silently into the boat; thence, silently, into the starry
Instinctively he swam a little; it would be time enough to stop
by and by.
The shock of the immersion brightened his mind immediately.
The events of the ignoble day passed before him in a frieze of
pictures, and he thanked 'whatever Gods there be' for that open
door of suicide. In such a little while he would be done with it,
the random business at an end, the prodigal son come home. A
very bright planet shone before him and drew a trenchant wake
along the water. He took that for his line and followed it. That
was the last earthly thing that he should look upon; that radiant
speck, which he had soon magnified into a City of Laputa,
along whose terraces there walked men and women of awful
and benignant features, who viewed him with distant
commiseration. These imaginary spectators consoled him; he told
himself their talk, one to another; it was of himself and his sad
From such flights of fancy, he was aroused by the growing
coldness of the water. Why should he delay? Here, where he
was now, let him drop the curtain, let him seek the ineffable
refuge, let him lie down with all races and generations of men in
the house of sleep. It was easy to say, easy to do. To stop
swimming: there was no mystery in that, if he could do it. Could
he? And he could not. He knew it instantly. He was aware
instantly of an opposition in his members, unanimous and
invincible, clinging to life with a single and fixed resolve,
finger by finger, sinew by sinew; something that was at once he
and not he--at once within and without him;--the shutting of some
miniature valve in his brain, which a single manly thought
should suffice to open--and the grasp of an external fate
ineluctable as gravity. To any man there may come at times a
consciousness that there blows, through all the articulations of
his body, the wind of a spirit not wholly his; that his mind
rebels; that another girds him and carries him whither he would
not. It came now to Herrick, with the authority of a revelation.
There was no escape possible. The open door was closed in his
recreant face. He must go back into the world and amongst men
without illusion. He must stagger on to the end with the pack of
his responsibility and his disgrace, until a cold, a blow, a
merciful chance ball, or the more merciful hangman, should
dismiss him from his infamy. There were men who could commit
suicide; there were men who could not; and he was one who
For perhaps a minute, there raged in his mind the coil of this
discovery; then cheerless certitude followed; and, with an
incredible simplicity of submission to ascertained fact, he
turned round and struck out for shore. There was a courage in
this which he could not appreciate; the ignobility of his
cowardice wholly occupying him. A strong current set against him
like a wind in his face; he contended with it heavily, wearily,
without enthusiasm, but with substantial advantage; marking his
progress the while, without pleasure, by the outline of the
trees. Once he had a moment of hope. He heard to the southward of
him, towards the centre of the lagoon, the wallowing of some
great fish, doubtless a shark, and paused for a little, treading
water. Might not this be the hangman? he thought. But the
wallowing died away; mere silence succeeded; and Herrick
pushed on again for the shore, raging as he went at his own
nature. Ay, he would wait for the shark; but if he had heard
him coming! . . . His smile was tragic. He could have spat upon
About three in the morning, chance, and the set of the current,
and the bias of his own right-handed body, so decided it between
them that he came to shore upon the beach in front of
Attwater's. There he sat down, and looked forth into a world
without any of the lights of hope. The poor diving dress of
self-conceit was sadly tattered! With the fairy tale of suicide,
of a refuge always open to him, he had hitherto beguiled and
supported himself in the trials of life; and behold! that also
was only a fairy tale, that also was folk-lore. With the
consequences of his acts he saw himself implacably confronted for
the duration of life: stretched upon a cross, and nailed there
with the iron bolts of his own cowardice. He had no tears; he
told himself no stories. His disgust with himself was so complete
that even the process of apologetic mythology had ceased. He was
like a man cast down from a pillar, and every bone broken. He lay
there, and admitted the facts, and did not attempt to rise.
Dawn began to break over the far side of the atoll, the sky
brightened, the clouds became dyed with gorgeous colours, the
shadows of the night lifted. And, suddenly, Herrick was aware
that the lagoon and the trees wore again their daylight livery;
and he saw, on board the Farallone, Davis extinguishing the
lantern, and smoke rising from the galley.
Davis, without doubt, remarked and recognised the figure on
the beach; or perhaps hesitated to recognise it; for after he had
gazed a long while from under his hand, he went into the house
and fetched a glass. It was very powerful; Herrick had often
used it. With an instinct of shame, he hid his face in his hands.
'And what brings you here, Mr Herrick-Hay, or Mr Hay-Herrick?'
asked the voice of Attwater. 'Your back view from my present
position is remarkably fine, and I would continue to
present it. We can get on very nicely as we are, and if you were
to turn round, do you know? I think it would be awkward.'
Herrick slowly rose to his feet; his heart throbbed hard, a
hideous excitement shook him, but he was master of himself.
Slowly he turned, and faced Attwater and the muzzle of a
pointed rifle. 'Why could I not do that last night?' he thought.
'Well, why don't you fire?' he said aloud, with a voice that
Attwater slowly put his gun under his arm, then his hands in
'What brings you here?' he repeated.
'I don't know' ' said Herrick; and then, with a cry: 'Can you
do anything with me?'
'Are you armed?' said Attwater. 'I ask for the form's sake.'
'Armed? No!' said Herrick. 'O yes, I am, too!' And he flung
upon the beach a dripping pistol.
'You are wet,' said Attwater.
'Yes, I am wet,' said Herrick. 'Can you do anything with me?'
Attwater read his face attentively.
'It would depend a good deal upon what you are,' said he.
'What I am? A coward!' said Herrick.
'There is very little to be done with that,' said Attwater. 'And
yet the description hardly strikes one as exhaustive.'
'Oh, what does it matter?' cried Herrick. 'Here I am. I am
broken crockery; I am a burst drum; the whole of my life is
gone to water; I have nothing left that I believe in, except my
living horror of myself. Why do I come to you? I don't know;
you are cold, cruel, hateful; and I hate you, or I think I hate
you. But you are an honest man, an honest gentleman. I put
myself, helpless, in your hands. What must I do? If I can't do
anything, be merciful and put a bullet through me; it's only a
puppy with a broken leg!'
'If I were you, I would pick up that pistol, come up to the
house, and put on some dry clothes,' said Attwater.
'If you really mean it?' said Herrick. 'You know they--we--they .
. . But you know all.'
'I know quite enough,' said Attwater. 'Come up to the house.'
And the captain, from the deck of the Farallone, saw the two
men pass together under the shadow of the grove.
Chapter 11. DAVID AND GOLIATH
Huish had bundled himself up from the glare of the day--his
face to the house, his knees retracted. The frail bones in the
thin tropical raiment seemed scarce more considerable than a
fowl's; and Davis, sitting on the rail with his arm about a stay,
contemplated him with gloom, wondering what manner of
counsel that insignificant figure should contain. For since
Herrick had thrown him off and deserted to the enemy, Huish,
alone of mankind, remained to him to be a helper and oracle.
He considered their position with a sinking heart. The ship
was a stolen ship; the stores, either from initial carelessness
or ill administration during the voyage, were insufficient to
carry them to any port except back to Papeete; and there
retribution waited in the shape of a gendarme, a judge with a
queer-shaped hat, and the horror of distant Noumea. Upon that
side, there was no glimmer of hope. Here, at the island, the
dragon was roused; Attwater with his men and his Winchesters
watched and patrolled the house; let him who dare approach it.
What else was then left but to sit there, inactive, pacing the
decks--until the Trinity Hall arrived and they were cast into
irons, or until the food came to an end, and the pangs of famine
succeeded? For the Trinity Hall Davis was prepared; he would
barricade the house, and die there defending it, like a rat in a
crevice. But for the other? The cruise of the Farallone, into
which he had plunged only a fortnight before, with such golden
expectations, could this be the nightmare end of it? The ship
rotting at anchor, the crew stumbling and dying in the scuppers?
It seemed as if any extreme of hazard were to be preferred to so
grisly a certainty; as if it would be better to up-anchor after
all, put to sea at a venture, and, perhaps, perish at the hands
of cannibals on one of the more obscure Paumotus. His eye roved
swiftly over sea and sky in quest of any promise of wind, but
the fountains of the Trade were empty. Where it had run yesterday
and for weeks before, a roaring blue river charioting clouds,
silence now reigned; and the whole height of the atmosphere
stood balanced. On the endless ribbon of island that stretched
out to either hand of him its array of golden and green and
silvery palms, not the most volatile frond was to be seen
stirring; they drooped to their stable images in the lagoon like
things carved of metal, and already their long line began to
reverberate heat. There was no escape possible that day, none
probable on the morrow. And still the stores were running out!
Then came over Davis, from deep down in the roots of his
being, or at least from far back among his memories of
childhood and innocence, a wave of superstition. This run of ill
luck was something beyond natural; the chances of the game
were in themselves more various; it seemed as if the devil must
serve the pieces. The devil? He heard again the clear note of
Attwater's bell ringing abroad into the night, and dying away.
How if God . . . ?
Briskly, he averted his mind. Attwater: that was the point.
Attwater had food and a treasure of pearls; escape made possible
in the present, riches in the future. They must come to grips,
with Attwater; the man must die. A smoky heat went over his
face, as he recalled the impotent figure he had made last night
and the contemptuous speeches he must bear in silence. Rage,
shame, and the love of life, all pointed the one way; and only
invention halted: how to reach him? had he strength enough?
was there any help in that misbegotten packet of bones against
His eyes dwelled upon him with a strange avidity, as though
he would read into his soul; and presently the sleeper moved,
stirred uneasily, turned suddenly round, and threw him a
blinking look. Davis maintained the same dark stare, and Huish
looked away again and sat up.
'Lord, I've an 'eadache on me!' said he. 'I believe I was a bit
swipey last night. W'ere's that cry-byby 'Errick?'
'Gone,' said the captain.
'Ashore?' cried Huish. 'Oh, I say! I'd 'a gone too.'
'Would you?' said the captain.
'Yes, I would,' replied Huish. 'I like Attwater. 'E's all right;
we got on like one o'clock when you were gone. And ain't his
sherry in it, rather? It's like Spiers and Ponds' Amontillado! I
wish I 'ad a drain of it now.' He sighed.
'Well, you'll never get no more of it--that's one thing,' said
"Ere! wot's wrong with you, Dyvis? Coppers 'ot? Well, look at me!
I ain't grumpy,' said Huish; 'I'm as plyful as a canary-bird, I
'Yes,' said Davis, 'you're playful; I own that; and you were
playful last night, I believe, and a damned fine performance you
made of it.'
"Allo!' said Huish. "Ow's this? Wot performance?'
'Well, I'll tell you,' said the captain, getting slowly off the
And he did: at full length, with every wounding epithet and
absurd detail repeated and emphasised; he had his own vanity
and Huish's upon the grill, and roasted them; and as he spoke,
he inflicted and endured agonies of humiliation. It was a plain
man's masterpiece of the sardonic.
'What do you think of it?' said he, when he had done, and
looked down at Huish, flushed and serious, and yet jeering.
'I'll tell you wot it is,' was the reply, 'you and me cut a
pretty dicky figure.'
'That's so,' said Davis, 'a pretty measly figure, by God! And,
by God, I want to see that man at my knees.'
'Ah!' said Huish. "Ow to get him there?'
'That's it!' cried Davis. 'How to get hold of him! They're four
to two; though there's only one man among them to count, and
that's Attwater. Get a bead on Attwater, and the others would
cut and run and sing out like frightened poultry--and old man
Herrick would come round with his hat for a share of the pearls.
No, SIR! it's how to get hold of Attwater! And we daren't even
go ashore; he would shoot us in the boat like dogs.'
'Are you particular about having him dead or alive?' asked
'I want to see him dead,' said the captain.
'Ah, well!' said Huish, 'then I believe I'll do a bit of
And he turned into the house.
The captain doggedly followed him.
'What's this?' he asked. 'What's your idea, anyway?'
'Oh, you let me alone, will you?' said Huish, opening a bottle
of champagne. 'You'll 'ear my idea soon enough. Wyte till I
pour some chain on my 'ot coppers.' He drank a glass off, and
affected to listen. ''Ark!' said he, ''ear it fizz. Like 'am
fryin', I declyre. 'Ave a glass, do, and look sociable.'
'No!' said the captain, with emphasis; 'no, I will not! there's
'You p'ys your money and you tykes your choice, my little
man,' returned Huish. 'Seems rather a shyme to me to spoil your
breakfast for wot's really ancient 'istory.'
He finished three parts of a bottle of champagne, and nibbled
a corner of biscuit, with extreme deliberation; the captain
sitting opposite and champing the bit like an impatient horse.
Then Huish leaned his arms on the table and looked Davis in the
'W'en you're ready!' said he.
'Well, now, what's your idea?' said Davis, with a sigh.
'Fair play!' said Huish. 'What's yours?'
'The trouble is that I've got none,' replied Davis; and wandered
for some time in aimless discussion of the difficulties in
their path, and useless explanations of his own fiasco.
'About done?' said Huish.
'I'll dry up right here,' replied Davis.
'Well, then,' said Huish, 'you give me your 'and across the
table, and say, "Gawd strike me dead if I don't back you up."'
His voice was hardly raised, yet it thrilled the hearer. His face
seemed the epitome of cunning, and the captain recoiled from it
as from a blow.
'What for?' said he.
'Luck,' said Huish. 'Substantial guarantee demanded.'
And he continued to hold out his hand.
'I don't see the good of any such tomfoolery,' said the other.
'I do, though,' returned Huish. 'Gimme your 'and and say the
words; then you'll 'ear my view of it. Don't, and you won't.'
The captain went through the required form, breathing short,
and gazing on the clerk with anguish. What to fear, he knew
not; yet he feared slavishly what was to fall from the pale lips.
'Now, if you'll excuse me 'alf a second,' said Huish, 'I'll go
and fetch the byby.'
'The baby?' said Davis. 'What's that?'
'Fragile. With care. This side up,' replied the clerk with a
wink, as he disappeared.
He returned, smiling to himself, and carrying in his hand a
silk handkerchief. The long stupid wrinkles ran up Davis's brow,
as he saw it. What should it contain? He could think of nothing
more recondite than a revolver.
Huish resumed his seat.
'Now,' said he, 'are you man enough to take charge of 'Errick
and the niggers? Because I'll take care of Hattwater.'
'How?' cried Davis. 'You can't!'
'Tut, tut!' said the clerk. 'You gimme time. Wot's the first
point? The first point is that we can't get ashore, and I'll make
you a present of that for a 'ard one. But 'ow about a flag of
truce? Would that do the trick, d'ye think? or would Attwater
simply blyze aw'y at us in the bloomin' boat like dawgs?'
'No,' said Davis, 'I don't believe he would.'
'No more do I,' said Huish; 'I don't believe he would either;
and I'm sure I 'ope he won't! So then you can call us ashore.
Next point is to get near the managin' direction. And for that
I'm going to 'ave you write a letter, in w'ich you s'y you're
ashamed to meet his eye, and that the bearer, Mr J. L. 'Uish, is
empowered to represent you. Armed with w'ich seemin'ly simple
expedient, Mr J. L. 'Uish will proceed to business.'
He paused, like one who had finished, but still held Davis
with his eye.
'How?' said Davis. 'Why?'
'Well, you see, you're big,' returned Huish; ''e knows you
'ave a gun in your pocket, and anybody can see with 'alf an eye
that you ain't the man to 'esitate about usin' it. So it's no go
with you, and never was; you're out of the runnin', Dyvis. But
he won't be afryde of me, I'm such a little un! I'm unarmed--no
kid about that--and I'll hold my 'ands up right enough.' He
paused. 'If I can manage to sneak up nearer to him as we talk,'
he resumed, 'you look out and back me up smart. If I don't, we
go aw'y again, and nothink to 'urt. See?'
The captain's face was contorted by the frenzied effort to
'No, I don't see,' he cried, 'I can't see. What do you mean?'
'I mean to do for the Beast!' cried Huish, in a burst of
venomous triumph. 'I'll bring the 'ulkin' bully to grass. He's
'ad his larks out of me; I'm goin' to 'ave my lark out of 'im,
and a good lark too!'
'What is it?' said the captain, almost in a whisper.
'Sure you want to know?' asked Huish.
Davis rose and took a turn in the house.
'Yes, I want to know,' he said at last with an effort.
'We'n you're back's at the wall, you do the best you can,
don't you?' began the clerk. 'I s'y that, because I 'appen to
know there's a prejudice against it; it's considered vulgar,
awf'ly vulgar.' He unrolled the handkerchief and showed a
four-ounce jar. 'This 'ere's vitriol, this is,' said he.
The captain stared upon him with a whitening face.
'This is the stuff!' he pursued, holding it up. 'This'll burn to
the bone; you'll see it smoke upon 'im like 'ell fire! One drop
upon 'is bloomin' heyesight, and I'll trouble you for Attwater!'
'No, no, by God!' exclaimed the captain.
'Now, see 'ere, ducky,' said Huish, 'this is my bean feast, I
believe? I'm goin' up to that man single-'anded, I am. 'E's about
seven foot high, and I'm five foot one. 'E's a rifle in his 'and,
'e's on the look-out, 'e wasn't born yesterday. This is Dyvid and
Goliar, I tell you! If I'd ast you to walk up and face the music
I could understand. But I don't. I on'y ast you to stand by and
spifflicate the niggers. It'll all come in quite natural; you'll
see, else! Fust thing, you know, you'll see him running round and
owling like a good un . . .'
'Don't!' said Davis. 'Don't talk of it!'
'Well, you ARE a juggins!' exclaimed Huish. 'What did you
want? You wanted to kill him, and tried to last night. You
wanted to kill the 'ole lot of them and tried to, and 'ere I show
you 'ow; and because there's some medicine in a bottle you kick
up this fuss!'
'I suppose that's so,' said Davis. 'It don't seem someways
reasonable, only there it is.'
'It's the happlication of science, I suppose?' sneered Huish.
'I don't know what it is,' cried Davis, pacing the floor; 'it's
there! I draw the line at it. I can't put a finger to no such
piggishness. It's too damned hateful!'
'And I suppose it's all your fancy pynted it,' said Huish, 'w'en
you take a pistol and a bit o' lead, and copse a man's brains all
over him? No accountin' for tystes.'
'I'm not denying it,' said Davis, 'It's something here, inside of
me. It's foolishness; I dare say it's dam foolishness. I don't
argue, I just draw the line. Isn't there no other way?'
'Look for yourself,' said Huish. 'I ain't wedded to this, if you
think I am; I ain't ambitious; I don't make a point of playin'
the lead; I offer to, that's all, and if you can't show me
better, by Gawd, I'm goin' to!'
'Then the risk!' cried Davis.
'If you ast me straight, I should say it was a case of seven to
one and no takers,' said Huish. 'But that's my look-out, ducky,
and I'm gyme, that's wot I am: gyme all through.'
The captain looked at him. Huish sat there, preening his
sinister vanity, glorying in his precedency in evil; and the
villainous courage and readiness of the creature shone out of
him like a candle from a lantern. Dismay and a kind of respect
seized hold on Davis in his own despite. Until that moment, he
had seen the clerk always hanging back, always listless,
uninterested, and openly grumbling at a word of anything to do;
and now, by the touch of an enchanter's wand, he beheld him
sitting girt and resolved, and his face radiant. He had raised
the devil, he thought; and asked who was to control him? and his
'Look as long as you like,' Huish was going on. 'You don't see
any green in my eye! I ain't afryde of Attwater, I ain't afryde
of you, and I ain't afryde of words. You want to kill people,
that's wot YOU want; but you want to do it in kid gloves, and it
can't be done that w'y. Murder ain't genteel, it ain't easy, it
ain't safe, and it tykes a man to do it. 'Ere's the man.'
'Huish!' began the captain with energy; and then stopped,
and remained staring at him with corrugated brows.
'Well, hout with it!' said Huish. "Ave you anythink else to
put up? Is there any other chanst to try?'
The captain held his peace.
'There you are then!' said Huish with a shrug.
Davis fell again to his pacing.
'Oh, you may do sentry-go till you're blue in the mug, you
won't find anythink else,' said Huish.
There was a little silence; the captain, like a man launched on
a swing, flying dizzily among extremes of conjecture and refusal.
'But see,' he said, suddenly pausing. 'Can you? Can the thing
be done? It--it can't be easy.'
'If I get within twenty foot of 'im it'll be done; so you look
out,' said Huish, and his tone of certainty was absolute.
'How can you know that?' broke from the captain in a choked
cry. 'You beast, I believe you've done it before!'
'Oh, that's private affyres,' returned Huish, 'I ain't a talking
A shock of repulsion struck and shook the captain; a scream
rose almost to his lips; had he uttered it, he might have cast
himself at the same moment on the body of Huish, might have
picked him up, and flung him down, and wiped the cabin with
him, in a frenzy of cruelty that seemed half moral. But the
moment passed; and the abortive crisis left the man weaker. The
stakes were so high--the pearls on the one hand--starvation
and shame on the other. Ten years of pearls! The imagination of
Davis translated them into a new, glorified existence for himself
and his family. The seat of this new life must be in London;
there were deadly reasons against Portland, Maine; and the
pictures that came to him were of English manners. He saw his
boys marching in the procession of a school, with gowns on, an
usher marshalling them and reading as he walked in a great
book. He was installed in a villa, semi-detached; the name,
Rosemore, on the gateposts. In a chair on the gravel walk, he
seemed to sit smoking a cigar, a blue ribbon in his buttonhole,
victor over himself and circumstances, and the malignity of
bankers. He saw the parlour with red curtains and shells on the
mantelpiece--and with the fine inconsistency of visions, mixed
a grog at the mahogany table ere he turned in. With that the
Farallone gave one of the aimless and nameless movements
which (even in an anchored ship and even in the most profound
calm) remind one of the mobility of fluids; and he was back again
under the cover of the house, the fierce daylight besieging
it all round and glaring in the chinks, and the clerk in a rather
airy attitude, awaiting his decision.
He began to walk again. He aspired after the realisation of
these dreams, like a horse nickering for water; the lust of them
burned in his inside. And the only obstacle was Attwater, who
had insulted him from the first. He gave Herrick a full share of
the pearls, he insisted on it; Huish opposed him, and he trod the
opposition down; and praised himself exceedingly. He was not
going to use vitriol himself; was he Huish's keeper? It was a
pity he had asked, but after all! . . . he saw the boys again in
the school procession, with the gowns he had thought to be so
'tony' long since . . . And at the same time the incomparable
shame of the last evening blazed up in his mind.
'Have it your own way!' he said hoarsely.
'Oh, I knew you would walk up,' said Huish. 'Now for the
letter. There's paper, pens and ink. Sit down and I'll dictyte.'
The captain took a seat and the pen, looked a while helplessly
at the paper, then at Huish. The swing had gone the other way;
there was a blur upon his eyes. 'It's a dreadful business,' he
said, with a strong twitch of his shoulders.
'It's rather a start, no doubt,' said Huish. 'Tyke a dip of ink.
That's it. William John Hattwater, Esq., Sir': he dictated
'How do you know his name is William John?' asked Davis.
'Saw it on a packing case,' said Huish. 'Got that?'
'No,' said Davis. 'But there's another thing. What are we to
'O my golly!' cried the exasperated Huish. 'Wot kind of man
do YOU call yourself? I'M goin' to tell you wot to write; that's
my pitch; if you'll just be so bloomin' condescendin' as to write
it down! WILLIAM JOHN ATTWATER, ESQ., SIR': he reiterated. And
the captain at last beginning half mechanically to move his pen,
the dictation proceeded:
It is with feelings of shyme and 'artfelt contrition that I
approach you after the yumiliatin' events of last night. Our Mr
'Errick has left the ship, and will have doubtless communicated
to you the nature of our 'opes. Needless to s'y, these are no
longer possible: Fate 'as declyred against us, and we bow the
'ead. Well awyre as I am of the just suspicions with w'ich I am
regarded, I do not venture to solicit the fyvour of an interview
for myself, but in order to put an end to a situytion w'ich must
be equally pyneful to all, I 'ave deputed my friend and partner,
Mr J. L. Huish, to l'y before you my proposals, and w'ich by
their moderytion, Will, I trust, be found to merit your
attention. Mr J. L. Huish is entirely unarmed, I swear to Gawd!
and will 'old 'is 'ands over 'is 'ead from the moment he begins
to approach you. I am your fytheful servant, John Davis.
Huish read the letter with the innocent joy of amateurs,
chuckled gustfully to himself, and reopened it more than once
after it was folded, to repeat the pleasure; Davis meanwhile
sitting inert and heavily frowning.
Of a sudden he rose; he seemed all abroad. 'No!' he cried.
'No! it can't be! It's too much; it's damnation. God would never
'Well, and 'oo wants Him to?' returned Huish, shrill with
fury. 'You were damned years ago for the Sea Rynger, and said
so yourself. Well then, be damned for something else, and 'old
The captain looked at him mistily. 'No,' he pleaded, 'no, old
man! don't do it.'
"Ere now,' said Huish, 'I'll give you my ultimytum. Go or st'y
w'ere you are; I don't mind; I'm goin' to see that man and
chuck this vitriol in his eyes. If you st'y I'll go alone; the
niggers will likely knock me on the 'ead, and a fat lot you'll be
the better! But there's one thing sure: I'll 'ear no more of your
moonin', mullygrubbin' rot, and tyke it stryte.'
The captain took it with a blink and a gulp. Memory, with
phantom voices, repeated in his cars something similar, something
he had once said to Herrick--years ago it seemed.
'Now, gimme over your pistol,' said Huish. 'I 'ave to see all
clear. Six shots, and mind you don't wyste them.'
The captain, like a man in a nightmare, laid down his revolver
on the table, and Huish wiped the cartridges and oiled the
It was close on noon, there was no breath of wind, and the
heat was scarce bearable, when the two men came on deck, had
the boat manned, and passed down, one after another, into the
stern-sheets. A white shirt at the end of an oar served as a flag
of truce; and the men, by direction, and to give it the better
chance to be observed, pulled with extreme slowness. The isle
shook before them like a place incandescent; on the face of the
lagoon blinding copper suns, no bigger than sixpences, danced
and stabbed them in the eyeballs; there went up from sand and
sea, and even from the boat, a glare of scathing brightness; and
as they could only peer abroad from between closed lashes, the
excess of light seemed to be changed into a sinister darkness,
comparable to that of a thundercloud before it bursts.
The captain had come upon this errand for any one of a
dozen reasons, the last of which was desire for its success.
Superstition rules all men; semi-ignorant and gross natures, like
that of Davis, it rules utterly. For murder he had been prepared;
but this horror of the medicine in the bottle went beyond him,
and he seemed to himself to be parting the last strands that
united him to God. The boat carried him on to reprobation, to
damnation; and he suffered himself to be carried passively
consenting, silently bidding farewell to his better self and his
hopes. Huish sat by his side in towering spirits that were not
wholly genuine. Perhaps as brave a man as ever lived, brave as a
weasel, he must still reassure himself with the tones of his own
voice; he must play his part to exaggeration, he must out-Herod
Herod, insult all that was respectable, and brave all that was
formidable, in a kind of desperate wager with himself.
'Golly, but it's 'ot!' said he. 'Cruel 'ot, I call it. Nice d'y
to get your gruel in! I s'y, you know, it must feel awf'ly
peculiar to get bowled over on a d'y like this. I'd rather 'ave
it on a cowld and frosty morning, wouldn't you? (Singing) "'Ere
we go round the mulberry bush on a cowld and frosty mornin'."
(Spoken) Give you my word, I 'aven't thought o' that in ten
year; used to sing it at a hinfant school in 'Ackney, 'Ackney
Wick it was. (Singing) "This is the way the tyler does, the tyler
does.' (Spoken) Bloomin' 'umbug. 'Ow are you off now, for the
notion of a future styte? Do you cotton to the tea-fight views,
or the old red 'ot boguey business?'
'Oh, dry up!' said the captain.
'No, but I want to know,' said Huish. 'It's within the sp'ere
of practical politics for you and me, my boy; we may both be
bowled over, one up, t'other down, within the next ten minutes.
It would be rather a lark, now, if you only skipped across, came
up smilin' t'other side, and a hangel met you with a B. and S.
under his wing. 'Ullo, you'd s'y: come, I tyke this kind.'
The captain groaned. While Huish was thus airing and
exercising his bravado, the man at his side was actually engaged
in prayer. Prayer, what for? God knows. But out of his
inconsistent, illogical, and agitated spirit, a stream of
supplication was poured forth, inarticulate as himself, earnest
as death and judgment.
'Thou Gawd seest me!' continued Huish. 'I remember I had
that written in my Bible. I remember the Bible too, all about
Abinadab and parties. Well, Gawd!' apostrophising the meridian,
'you're goin' to see a rum start presently, I promise you
The captain bounded.
'I'll have no blasphemy!' he cried, 'no blasphemy in my boat.'
'All right, cap,' said Huish. 'Anythink to oblige. Any other
topic you would like to sudgest, the rynegyge, the lightnin' rod,
Shykespeare, or the musical glasses? 'Ere's conversation on a
tap. Put a penny in the slot, and . . . 'ullo! 'ere they are!' he
cried. 'Now or never is 'e goin' to shoot?'
And the little man straightened himself into an alert and
dashing attitude, and looked steadily at the enemy.
But the captain rose half up in the boat with eyes protruding.
'What's that?' he cried.
'Wot's wot?' said Huish.
'Those--blamed things,' said the captain.
And indeed it was something strange. Herrick and Attwater, both
armed with Winchesters, had appeared out of the grove
behind the figure-head; and to either hand of them, the sun
glistened upon two metallic objects, locomotory like men, and
occupying in the economy of these creatures the places of heads--
only the heads were faceless. To Davis between wind and water,
his mythology appeared to have come alive, and Tophet to be
vomiting demons. But Huish was not mystified a moment.
'Divers' 'elmets, you ninny. Can't you see?' he said.
'So they are,' said Davis, with a gasp. 'And why? Oh, I see,
it's for armour.'
'Wot did I tell you?' said Huish. 'Dyvid and Goliar all the w'y
The two natives (for they it was that were equipped in this
unusual panoply of war) spread out to right and left, and at last
lay down in the shade, on the extreme flank of the position.
Even now that the mystery was explained, Davis was hatefully
preoccupied, stared at the flame on their crests, and forgot, and
then remembered with a smile, the explanation.
Attwater withdrew again into the grove, and Herrick, with
his gun under his arm, came down the pier alone.
About half-way down he halted and hailed the boat.
'What do you want?' he cried.
'I'll tell that to Mr Attwater,' replied Huish, stepping briskly
on the ladder. 'I don't tell it to you, because you played the
trucklin' sneak. Here's a letter for him: tyke it, and give it,
and be 'anged to you!'
'Davis, is this all right?' said Herrick.
Davis raised his chin, glanced swiftly at Herrick and away
again, and held his peace. The glance was charged with some
deep emotion, but whether of hatred or of fear, it was beyond
Herrick to divine.
'Well,' he said, 'I'll give the letter.' He drew a score with his
foot on the boards of the gangway. 'Till I bring the answer,
don't move a step past this.'
And he returned to where Attwater leaned against a tree, and
gave him the letter. Attwater glanced it through.
'What does that mean?' he asked, passing it to Herrick.
'Oh, I suppose so!' said Herrick.
'Well, tell him to come on,' said Attwater. 'One isn't a fatalist
for nothing. Tell him to come on and to look out.'
Herrick returned to the figure-head. Half-way down the pier
the clerk was waiting, with Davis by his side.
'You are to come along, Huish,' said Herrick. 'He bids you
look out, no tricks.'
Huish walked briskly up the pier, and paused face to face
with the young man.
'W'ere is 'e?' said he, and to Herrick's surprise, the low-bred,
insignificant face before him flushed suddenly crimson and went
'Right forward,' said Herrick, pointing. 'Now your hands
above your head.'
The clerk turned away from him and towards the figure-head,
as though he were about to address to it his devotions; he was
seen to heave a deep breath; and raised his arms. In common
with many men of his unhappy physical endowments, Huish's
hands were disproportionately long and broad, and the palms
in particular enormous; a four-ounce jar was nothing in that
capacious fist. The next moment he was plodding steadily
forward on his mission.
Herrick at first followed. Then a noise in his rear startled him,
and he turned about to find Davis already advanced as far as
the figure-head. He came, crouching and open-mouthed, as the
mesmerised may follow the mesmeriser; all human considerations,
and even the care of his own life, swallowed up in one
abominable and burning curiosity.
'Halt!' cried Herrick, covering him with his rifle. 'Davis, what
are you doing, man? YOU are not to come.'
Davis instinctively paused, and regarded him with a dreadful
vacancy of eye.
'Put your back to that figure-head, do you hear me? and stand
fast!' said Herrick.
The captain fetched a breath, stepped back against the
figure-head, and instantly redirected his glances after Huish.
There was a hollow place of the sand in that part, and, as it
were, a glade among the cocoa palms in which the direct
noonday sun blazed intolerably. At the far end, in the shadow,
the tall figure of Attwater was to be seen leaning on a tree;
towards him, with his hands over his head, and his steps
smothered in the sand, the clerk painfully waded. The surrounding
glare threw out and exaggerated the man's smallness; it
seemed no less perilous an enterprise, this that he was gone
upon, than for a whelp to besiege a citadel.
'There, Mr Whish. That will do,' cried Attwater. 'From that
distance, and keeping your hands up, like a good boy, you can
very well put me in possession of the skipper's views.'
The interval betwixt them was perhaps forty feet; and Huish
measured it with his eye, and breathed a curse. He was already
distressed with labouring in the loose sand, and his arms ached
bitterly from their unnatural position. In the palm of his right
hand, the jar was ready; and his heart thrilled, and his voice
choked,as he began to speak.
'Mr Hattwater,' said he, 'I don't know if ever you 'ad a
mother . . .'
'I can set your mind at rest: I had,' returned Attwater; 'and
henceforth, if I might venture to suggest it, her name need not
recur in our communications. I should perhaps tell you that I
am not amenable to the pathetic.'
'I am sorry, sir, if I 'ave seemed to tresparse on your private
feelin's,' said the clerk, cringing and stealing a step. 'At
least, sir, you will never pe'suade me that you are not a perfec'
gentleman; I know a gentleman when I see him; and as such, I
'ave no 'esitation in throwin' myself on your merciful
consideration. It IS 'ard lines, no doubt; it's 'ard lines to
have to hown yourself beat; it's 'ard lines to 'ave to come and
beg to you for charity.'
'When, if things had only gone right, the whole place was as
good as your own?' suggested Attwater. 'I can understand the
'You are judging me, Mr Attwater,' said the clerk, 'and God
knows how unjustly! THOU GAWD SEEST ME, was the tex' I 'ad in
my Bible, w'ich my father wrote it in with 'is own 'and upon the
'I am sorry I have to beg your pardon once more,' said
Attwater; 'but, do you know, you seem to me to be a trifle
nearer, which is entirely outside of our bargain. And I would
venture to suggest that you take one--two--three--steps back;
and stay there.'
The devil, at this staggering disappointment, looked out of
Huish's face, and Attwater was swift to suspect. He frowned, he
stared on the little man, and considered. Why should he be
creeping nearer? The next moment, his gun was at his shoulder.
'Kindly oblige me by opening your hands. Open your hands
wide--let me see the fingers spread, you dog--throw down that
thing you're holding!' he roared, his rage and certitude
And then, at almost the same moment, the indomitable Huish
decided to throw, and Attwater pulled the trigger. There was
scarce the difference of a second between the two resolves, but
it was in favour of the man with the rifle; and the jar had not
yet left the clerk's hand, before the ball shattered both. For
the twinkling of an eye the wretch was in hell's agonies, bathed
in liquid flames, a screaming bedlamite; and then a second and
more merciful bullet stretched him dead.
The whole thing was come and gone in a breath. Before
Herrick could turn about, before Davis could complete his cry
of horror, the clerk lay in the sand, sprawling and convulsed.
Attwater ran to the body; he stooped and viewed it; he put
his finger in the vitriol, and his face whitened and hardened
Davis had not yet moved; he stood astonished, with his back
to the figure-head, his hands clutching it behind him, his body
inclined forward from the waist.
Attwater turned deliberately and covered him with his rifle.
'Davis,' he cried, in a voice like a trumpet, 'I give you sixty
seconds to make your peace with God!'
Davis looked, and his mind awoke. He did not dream of
self-defence, he did not reach for his pistol. He drew himself up
instead to face death, with a quivering nostril.
'I guess I'll not trouble the Old Man,' he said; 'considering the
job I was on, I guess it's better business to just shut my face.'
Attwater fired; there came a spasmodic movement of the
victim, and immediately above the middle of his forehead, a
black hole marred the whiteness of the figure-head. A dreadful
pause; then again the report, and the solid sound and jar of the
bullet in the wood; and this time the captain had felt the wind
of it along his cheek. A third shot, and he was bleeding from
one ear; and along the levelled rifle Attwater smiled like a Red
The cruel game of which he was the puppet was now clear to
Davis; three times he had drunk of death, and he must look to
drink of it seven times more before he was despatched. He held
up his hand.
'Steady!' he cried; 'I'll take your sixty seconds.'
'Good!' said Attwater.
The captain shut his eyes tight like a child: he held his hands
up at last with a tragic and ridiculous gesture.
'My God, for Christ's sake, look after my two kids,' he said;
and then, after a pause and a falter, 'for Christ's sake, Amen.'
And he opened his eyes and looked down the rifle with a
'But don't keep fooling me long!' he pleaded.
'That's all your prayer?' asked Attwater, with a singular ring
in his voice.
'Guess so,' said Davis.
So?' said Attwater, resting the butt of his rifle on the ground,
'is that done? Is your peace made with Heaven? Because it is
with me. Go, and sin no more, sinful father. And remember that
whatever you do to others, God shall visit it again a thousand-
fold upon your innocents.'
The wretched Davis came staggering forward from his place
against the figure-head, fell upon his knees, and waved his
hands, and fainted.
When he came to himself again, his head was on Attwater's
arm, and close by stood one of the men in divers' helmets,
holding a bucket of water, from which his late executioner now
laved his face. The memory of that dreadful passage returned
upon him in a clap; again he saw Huish lying dead, again he
seemed to himself to totter on the brink of an unplumbed
eternity. With trembling hands he seized hold of the man whom
he had come to slay; and his voice broke from him like that of a
child among the nightmares of fever: 'O! isn't there no mercy?
O! what must I do to be saved?'
'Ah!' thought Attwater, 'here's the true penitent.'
Chapter 12. TAIL-PIECE
On a very bright, hot, lusty, strongly blowing noon, a fortnight
after the events recorded, and a month since the curtain rose
upon this episode, a man might have been spied, praying on the
sand by the lagoon beach. A point of palm trees isolated him
from the settlement; and from the place where he knelt, the only
work of man's hand that interrupted the expanse, was the
schooner Farallone, her berth quite changed, and rocking at
anchor some two miles to windward in the midst of the lagoon.
The noise of the Trade ran very boisterous in all parts of the
island; the nearer palm trees crashed and whistled in the gusts,
those farther off contributed a humming bass like the roar of
cities; and yet, to any man less absorbed, there must have risen
at times over this turmoil of the winds, the sharper note of the
human voice from the settlement. There all was activity.
Attwater, stripped to his trousers and lending a strong hand of
help, was directing and encouraging five Kanakas; from his
lively voice, and their more lively efforts, it was to be
gathered that some sudden and joyful emergency had set them in
this bustle; and the Union Jack floated once more on its staff.
But the suppliant on the beach, unconscious of their voices,
prayed on with instancy and fervour, and the sound of his voice
rose and fell again, and his countenance brightened and was
deformed with changing moods of piety and terror.
Before his closed eyes, the skiff had been for some time tacking
towards the distant and deserted Farallone; and presently the
figure of Herrick might have been observed to board
her, to pass for a while into the house, thence forward to the
forecastle, and at last to plunge into the main hatch. In all
these quarters, his visit was followed by a coil of smoke; and he
had scarce entered his boat again and shoved off, before flames
broke forth upon the schooner. They burned gaily; kerosene
had not been spared, and the bellows of the Trade incited the
conflagration. About half way on the return voyage, when
Herrick looked back, he beheld the Farallone wrapped to the
topmasts in leaping arms of fire, and the voluminous smoke
pursuing him along the face of the lagoon. In one hour's time,
he computed, the waters would have closed over the stolen ship.
It so chanced that, as his boat flew before the wind with much
vivacity, and his eyes were continually busy in the wake,
measuring the progress of the flames, he found himself embayed
to the northward of the point of palms, and here became aware
at the same time of the figure of Davis immersed in his devotion.
An exclamation, part of annoyance, part of amusement, broke
from him: and he touched the helm and ran the prow upon the
beach not twenty feet from the unconscious devotee. Taking the
painter in his hand, he landed, and drew near, and stood over
him. And still the voluble and incoherent stream of prayer
continued unabated. It was not possible for him to overhear the
suppliant's petitions, which he listened to some while in a very
mingled mood of humour and pity: and it was only when his
own name began to occur and to be conjoined with epithets,
that he at last laid his hand on the captain's shoulder.
'Sorry to interrupt the exercise,' said he; 'but I want you to
look at the Farallone.'
The captain scrambled to his feet, and stood gasping and
staring. 'Mr Herrick, don't startle a man like that!' he said. 'I
don't seem someways rightly myself since . . .' he broke off.
'What did you say anyway? O, the Farallone,' and he looked
'Yes,' said Herrick. 'There she burns! and you may guess from
that what the news is.'
'The Trinity Hall, I guess,' said the captain.
'The same,' said Herrick; 'sighted half an hour ago, and
coming up hand over fist.'
'Well, it don't amount to a hill of beans,' said the captain
with a sigh.
'O, come, that's rank ingratitude!' cried Herrick.
'Well,' replied the captain, meditatively, 'you mayn't just see
the way that I view it in, but I'd 'most rather stay here upon
this island. I found peace here, peace in believing. Yes, I guess
this island is about good enough for John Davis.'
'I never heard such nonsense!' cried Herrick. 'What! with all
turning out in your favour the way it does, the Farallone wiped
out, the crew disposed of, a sure thing for your wife and family,
and you, yourself, Attwater's spoiled darling and pet penitent!'
'Now, Mr Herrick, don't say that,' said the captain gently;
'when you know he don't make no difference between us. But,
O! why not be one of us? why not come to Jesus right away,
and let's meet in yon beautiful land? That's just the one thing
wanted; just say, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief! And
He'll fold you in His arms. You see, I know! I've been a sinner