Part 2 out of 5
"That cannot be. My plans are all----"
"It's the usual thing to pay something----"
"Ach, but yes. I haf forgot. Darrow told me. I will make you a check. Let
us go to the table of which you spoke."
They moved away, still talking. I did not dare follow them into the
light, for I feared that the Doctor would recognise me. I'd have given my
eye teeth, though, to have gathered the name of the schooner, or that of
her master. As it was, I hung around until the two had emerged from the
corner saloon. They paused outside, still talking earnestly. I ventured a
hasty interview with the bar-keeper.
"Did you notice the two men who were sitting at the middle table?" I
"Sure!" said he, shoving me my glass of beer.
"Know them?" I inquired.
"Never laid eyes on 'em before. Old chap looked like a sort of corn
doctor or corner spell-binder. Other was probably one of these longshore
"Thanks," I muttered, and dodged out again, leaving the beer untouched.
I cursed myself for a blunderer. When I got to the street the two men had
disappeared. I should have shadowed the captain to his vessel.
The affair interested me greatly. Apparently Dr. Schermerhorn was about
to go on a long voyage. I prided myself on being fairly up to date in
regard to the plans of those who interested the public; and the public at
that time was vastly interested in Dr. Schermerhorn. I, in common with
the rest of the world, had imagined him anchored safely in Philadelphia,
immersed in chemical research. Here he bobbed up at the other end of the
continent, making shady bargains with obscure shipping captains, and
paying a big premium for absolute secrecy. It looked good.
Accordingly I was out early the next morning. I had not much to go by;
schooners are as plenty as tadpoles in San Francisco harbour. However, I
was sure I could easily recognise that falsetto voice; and I knew where
the supplies were to be purchased. Adams & Marsh are a large firm, and
cautious. I knew better than to make direct inquiries, or to appear in
the salesroom. But by hanging around the door of the shipping room I soon
had track of the large orders to be sent that day. In this manner I had
no great difficulty in following a truck to Pier 10, nor to identify a
consignment to Captain Ezra Selover as probably that of which I was in
The mate was in charge of the stowage, so I could not be quite sure.
Here, however, was a schooner--of about a hundred and fifty tons burden.
I looked her over.
You're all acquainted with the _Laughing Lass_ and the perfection of
her lines. You have not known her under Captain Ezra Selover. She was the
cleanest ship I ever saw. Don't know how he accomplished it, with a crew
of four and the cook; but he did. The deck looked as though it had been
holystoned every morning by a crew of jackies; the stays were whipped and
tarred, the mast new-slushed, and every foot of running gear coiled down
shipshape and Bristol fashion. There was a good deal of brass about her;
it shone like gold, and I don't believe she owned an inch of paint that
wasn't either fresh or new-scrubbed.
I gazed for some time at this marvel. It's unusual enough anywhere, but
aboard a California hooker it is little short of miraculous. The crew had
all turned up, apparently, and a swarm of stevedores were hustling every
sort of provisions, supplies, stock, spars, lines and canvas down into
the hold. It was a rush job, and that mate was having his hands full. I
didn't wonder at his language nor at his looks, both of which were
somewhat mussed up. Then almost at my elbow I heard that shrill falsetto
squeal, and turned just in time to see the captain ascend the after
He was probably the most dishevelled and untidy man I ever laid my eyes
on. His hair and beard were not only long, but tangled and unkempt, and
grew so far toward each other as barely to expose a strip of dirty brown
skin. His shoulders were bowed and enormous. His arms hung like a
gorilla's, palms turned slightly outwards. On his head was jammed a linen
boating hat that had once been white; gaping away from his hairy chest
was a faded dingy checked cotton shirt that had once been brown and
white; his blue trousers were spotted and splashed with dusty stains; he
was chewing tobacco. A figure more in contrast to the exquisitely neat
vessel it would be hard to imagine.
The captain mounted the gangplank with a steadiness that disproved my
first suspicion of his having been on a drunk. He glanced aloft, cast a
speculative eye on the stevedores trooping across the waist of the ship,
and ascended to the quarter-deck where the mate stood leaning over the
rail and uttering directed curses from between sweat-beaded lips. There
the big man roamed aimlessly on what seemed to be a tour of casual
inspection. Once he stopped to breathe on the brass binnacle and to rub
it bright with the dirtiest red bandana handkerchief I ever want to see.
His actions amused me. The discrepancy between his personal habits and
his particularity in the matter of his surroundings was exceedingly
interesting. I have often noticed that such discrepancies seem to
indicate exceptional characters. As I watched him, his whole frame
stiffened. The long gorilla arms contracted, the hairy head sunk forward
in the tenseness of a serpent ready to strike. He uttered a shrill
falsetto shriek that brought to a standstill every stevedore on the job;
and sprang forward to seize his mate by, the shoulder.
Evidently the grasp hurt. I can believe it might, from those huge hands.
The man wrenched himself about with an oath of inquiry and pain. I could
hear one side of what followed. The captain's high-pitched tones carried
clearly; but the grumble and growl of the mate were indistinguishable at
"How far is it to the side of the ship, you hound of hell?" shrieked the
Mumble--surprised--for an answer.
"Well, I'll tell you, you _swab_! It's just two fathom from where
you stand. Just two fathom! How long would it take you to walk there? How
long? Just about six seconds! There and back! You--" I won't bother with
all the epithets, although by now I know Captain Selover's vocabulary
fairly well. "And you couldn't take six seconds off to spit over the
side! Couldn't walk two fathom! Had to spit on my quarter-deck, did you!"
Rumble from the mate.
"No, by God, you won't call up any of the crew. You'll get a swab and do
it yourself. You'll get a _hand_ swab and get down on your knees,
damn you! I'll teach you to be lazy!"
The mate said something again.
"It don't matter if we ain't under way. That has nothing to do with it.
The quarter-deck is clean, if the waist ain't, and nobody but a damn
misbegotten son-of-a-sea-lawyer would spit on deck anyhow!" From this
Captain Selover went on into a good old-fashioned deep-sea "cussing out,"
to the great joy of the stevedores.
The mate stood it pretty well, but there comes a time when further talk
is useless even in regard to a most heinous offense. And, of course, as
you know, the mate could hardly consider himself very seriously at fault.
Why, the ship was not yet at sea, and in all the clutter of charging. He
began to answer back. In a moment it was a quarrel. Abruptly it was a
fight. The mate marked Selover beneath the left eye. The captain with
beautiful simplicity crushed his antagonist in his gorilla-like squeeze,
carried him to the side of the vessel, and dropped him limp and beaten to
the pier. And the mate was a good stout specimen of a sea-farer, too.
Then the captain rushed below, emerging after an instant with a chest
which he flung after his subordinate. It was followed a moment later by a
stream of small stuff,--mingled with language--projected through an open
port-hole. This in turn ceased. The captain reappeared with a pail and
brush, scrubbed feverishly at the offending spot, mopped it dry with that
same old red bandana handkerchief, glared about him,--and abruptly became
as serene and placid as a noon calm. He took up the direction of the
stevedores. It was all most astounding.
Nobody paid any attention to the mate. He looked toward the ship once or
twice, thought better of it, and began to pick up his effects, muttering
savagely. In a moment or so he threw his chest aboard an outgoing truck
It was now nearly noon and I was just in the way of going for something
to eat, when I caught sight of another dray laden with boxes and crated
affairs which I recognised as scientific apparatus. It was followed in
quick succession by three others. Ignorant as I was of the requirements
of a scientist, my common sense told me this could be no exploring
outfit. I revised my first intention of going to the club, and bought a
sandwich or two at the corner coffee house. I don't know why, but even
then the affair seemed big with mystery, with the portent of tragedy.
Perhaps the smell of tar was in my nostrils and the sea called. It has
always possessed for me an extraordinary allurement----
A little after two o'clock a cab drove to the after gangplank and
stopped. From it alighted a young man of whom I shall later have occasion
to tell you more, followed by Dr. Schermerhorn. The young man carried
only a light leather "serviette," such as students use abroad; while the
doctor fairly staggered under the weight of a square, brass-bound chest
without handles. The singularity of this unequal division of labour
struck me at once.
It struck also one of the dock men, who ran forward, eager for a tip.
"Kin I carry th' box for you, boss?" he asked, at the same time reaching
The doctor's thin figure seemed fairly to shrink at the idea.
"No, no!" he cried. "It iss not for you to carry!"
He hastened up the gangplank, clutching the chest close. At the top
Captain Selover met him.
"Hello, doctor," he squeaked. "Here in good time. We're busy, you see.
Let me carry your chest for you."
"No, no!" Dr. Schermerhorn fairly glared.
"It's almighty heavy," insisted the captain. "Let me give you a hand."
"You must not _touch!_" emphatically ordered the scientist. "Where
iss the cabin?"
He disappeared down the companionway clasping his precious load. The
young man remained on deck to superintend the stowing of the scientific
goods and the personal baggage.
All this time I had been thinking busily. I remembered distinctly one
other instance when Dr. Schermerhorn had disappeared. He came back
inscrutably, but within a week his results on aerial photography were
public property. I told myself that in the present instance his lavish
use of money, the elaborate nature of his preparations, the evident
secrecy of the expedition as evidenced by the fact that he had negotiated
for the vessel only the day before setting sail, the importance of
personal supervision as proved by the fact that he--notoriously
impractical in practical matters, and notoriously disliking anything to
do with business--had conducted the affair himself instead of delegating
it,--why; gentlemen, don't you see that all this was more than enough to
wake me up, body and soul? Suddenly I came to a definite resolution.
Captain Selover had descended to the pier. I approached him.
"You need a mate," said I.
He looked me over.
"Perhaps," he admitted. "Where's your man?"
"Right here," said I.
His eyes widened a little. Otherwise he showed no sign of surprise. I
cursed my clothes.
Fortunately I had my master's certificate with me--I'd passed
fresh-water on the Great Lakes--I always carry that sort of document on
the chance that it may come handy. It chanced to have a couple of naval
endorsements, results of the late war.
"Look here," I said before I gave it to him. "You don't believe in me. My
clothes are too good. That's all right. They're all I have that are good.
I'm broke. I came down here wondering whether I'd better throw myself in
"You look like a dude," he squeaked. "Where did you ever ship?"
I handed him my certificate. The endorsements from Admiral Keays and
Captain Arnold impressed him. He stared at me again, and a gleam of
cunning crept into his eyes.
"Nothing crooked about this?" he breathed softly.
I had the key to this side of his character. You remember I had overheard
the night before his statement of his moral scruples. I said nothing, but
"What was it?" he murmured. "Plain desertion, or something worse?"
I remained inscrutable.
"Well," he conceded, "I do need a mate; and a naval man--even if he is
wantin' to get out of sight----"
"He won't spit on your decks, anyway," I broke in boldly.
Captain Selover's hairy face bristled about the mouth. This I
subsequently discovered was symptom of a grin.
"You saw that, eh?" he trebled.
"Aren't you afraid he'll bring down the police and delay your sailing?" I
He grinned again, with a cunning twinkle in his eye.
"You needn't worry. There ain't goin' to be any police. He had his
advance money, and he won't risk it by tryin' to come back."
We came to an agreement. I professed surprise at the wages. The captain
guardedly explained that the expedition was secret.
"What's our port?" I asked, to test him.
"Our papers are made out for Honolulu," he replied.
We adjourned to sign articles.
"By the way," said I, "I wish you wouldn't make them out in my own name.
'Eagen' will do."
"All right," he laughed, "I _sabe_. Eagen it is."
"I'll be aboard at six," said I. "I've got to make some arrangements."
"Wish you could help with the lading," said he. "Still, I can get along.
Want any advance money?"
"No," I replied; then I remembered that I was supposed to be broke.
"Yes," I amended.
He gave me ten dollars.
"I guess you'll show up," he said. "Wouldn't do this to everybody. But a
naval man--even if he is dodgin' Uncle Sam----"
"I'll be here," I assured him.
At that time I wore a pointed beard. This I shaved. Also I was accustomed
to use eye-glasses. The trouble was merely a slight astigmatism which
bothered me only in reading or close inspection. I could get along
perfectly well without the glasses, so I discarded them. I had my hair
cut rather close. When I had put on sea boots, blue trousers and shirt, a
pea jacket and a cap I felt quite safe from the recognition of a man like
Dr. Schermerhorn. In fact, as you shall see, I hardly spoke to him during
all the voyage out.
Promptly at six, then, I returned with a sea chest, bound I knew not
whither, to be gone I knew not for how long, and pledged to act as second
officer on a little hundred-and-fifty-ton schooner.
THE GRAVEN IMAGE
I had every reason to be satisfied with my disguise,--if such it could
be called. Captain Selover at first failed to recognise me. Then he burst
into his shrill cackle.
"Didn't know you," he trebled. "But you look shipshape. Come, I'll show
you your quarters."
Immediately I discovered what I had suspected before; that on so small a
schooner the mate took rank with the men rather than the afterguard.
Cabin accommodations were of course very limited. My own lurked in the
waist of the ship--a tiny little airless hole.
"Here's where Johnson stayed," proffered Selover. "You can bunk here, or
you can go in the foc'sle with the men. They's more room there. We'll get
under way with the turn of the tide."
He left me. I examined the cabin. It was just a trifle larger than its
single berth, and the berth was just a trifle larger than myself. My
chest would have to be left outside. I strongly suspected that my lungs
would have to be left outside also; for the life of me I could not see
where the air was to come from. With a mental reservation in favour of
investigating the forecastle, I went on deck.
The _Laughing Lass_ was one of the prettiest little schooners I ever
saw. Were it not for the lines of her bilges and the internal arrangement
of her hold, it might be imagined she had been built originally as a
pleasure yacht. Even the rake of her masts, a little forward of the
plumb, bore out this impression, which a comparatively new suit of
canvas, well stopped down, brass stanchions forward, and two little guns
under tarpaulins, almost confirmed. One thing struck me as peculiar. Her
complement of boats was ample enough. She had two surf boats, a dingy,
and a dory slung to the davits. In addition another dory,--the one you
picked me up in--was lashed to the top of the deck house.
"They'd mighty near have a boat apiece," I thought, and went forward.
Just outside the forecastle hatch I paused. Someone below was singing in
a voice singularly rich in quality. The words and the quaintness of the
minor air struck me immensely and have clung to my memory like a burr
"'Are you a man-o'-war or a privateer,' said he.
_Blow high, blow low, what care we!_
'Oh, I am a jolly pirate, and I'm sailing for my fee.'
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e."_
I stepped to the companion. The voice at once ceased. I descended.
A glimmer of late afternoon struggled through the deadlights. I found
myself in a really commodious space,--extending far back of where the
forward bulk-heads are usually placed,--accommodating rows and row of
bunks--eighteen of them, in fact. The unlighted lamp cast its shadow on
wood stained black by much use, but polished like ebony from the
continued friction of men's garments. I wish I could convey to you the
uncanny effect, this--of dropping from the decks of a miniature craft to
the internal arrangements of a square-rigged ship. It was as though,
entering a cottage door, you were to discover yourself on the floor of
Madison Square Garden. A fresh sweet breeze of evening sucked down the
hatch. I immediately decided on the forecastle. Already it was being
borne in on me that I was little more than a glorified bo's'n's mate. The
situation suited me, however. It enabled me to watch the course of events
more safely, less exposed to the danger of recognition.
I stood for a moment at the foot of the companion accustoming my eyes to
the gloom. After a moment, with a shock of surprise, I made out a shining
pair of bead-points gazing at me unblinkingly from the shadow under the
bitts. Slowly the man defined himself, as a shape takes form in a fog. He
was leaning forward in an attitude of attention, his elbows resting on
his knees, his forearms depending between them, his head thrust out. I
could detect no faintest movement of eyelash, no faintest sound of
breathing. The stillness was portentous. The creature was exactly like a
wax figure, one of the sort you meet in corridors of cheap museums and
for a moment mistake for living beings. Almost I thought to make out the
customary grey dust lying on the wax of his features.
I am going to tell you more of this man, because, as you shall see, he
was destined to have much to do with my life, the fate of Dr. Karl
Augustus Schermerhorn, and the doom of the _Laughing Lass_.
He wore on his head a red bandana handkerchief. I never saw him with
other covering. From beneath It straggled oily and tangled locks of
glossy black. His face was long, narrow, hook-nosed and sinister; his
eyes, as I have described them, a steady and beady black. I could at
first glance ascribe great activity, but only moderate strength to his
slender, wiry figure. In this I was mistaken. His sheer physical power
was second only to that of Captain Selover. One of his forearms ended in
a steel hook. At the moment I could not understand this; could not see
how a man so maimed could be useful aboard a ship. Later I wished we had
more as handy. He knew a jam hitch which he caught over and under his
hook quicker than most men can grasp a line with the naked hand. It would
render one way, but held fast the other. He told me it was a cinch-hook
hitch employed by mule packers in the mountains, and that he had used it
on swamp-hooks in the lumber woods of Michigan. I shouldn't wonder. He
was a Wandering Jew.--His name was Anderson, but I never heard him called
that. It was always "Handy Solomon" with men and masters.
We stared at each other, I fascinated by something, some spell of the
ship, which I have never been able to explain to myself--nor even
describe. It was a mystery, a portent, a premonition such as overtakes a
man sometimes in the dark passageways of life. I cannot tell you of it,
nor make you believe--let it pass----
Then by a slow process of successive perceptions I became aware that I
was watched by other eyes, other wax figures, other human beings with
unwavering gaze. They seemed to the sense of mystic apprehension that for
the moment held possession of me, to be everywhere--in the bunks, on the
floor, back in the shadows, watching, watching, watching from the
advantage of another world.
[Illustration: Slowly the man defined himself as a shape takes form in a
I don't know why I tell you this; why I lay so much stress on the first
weird impression I got of the forecastle. It means something to me
now--in view of all that happened subsequently. Almost can I look back
and see, in that moment of occultism, a warning, an enlightenment----But
the point is, it meant something to me then. I stood there fascinated,
unable to move, unable to speak.
Then the grotesque figure in the corner stirred.
"Well, mates," said the man, "believe or not believe, it's in the book,
and it stands to reason, too. We have gold mines here in Californy and
Nevada and all them States; and we hear of gold mines in Mexico and
Australia, too, but did you ever hear tell of gold mines in Europe? Tell
me that! And where did the gold come from then, before they discovered
America? Tell me that! Why they made it, just as the man that wrote
this-here says, and you can kiss the Book on that."
"How about that place, Ophir, I read about?" asked a voice from the
The man shot a keen glance thither from beneath his brows.
"Know last year's output from the mines of Ophir, Thrackles?" he inquired
in silky tones.
"Why, no," stammered the man addressed as Thrackles.
"Well I do," pursued the man with the steel hook, "and it's just the
whole of nothing, and you can kiss the Book on that too! There ain't any
gold output, because there ain't any mines, and there never have been.
They made their gold."
He tossed aside a book he had been holding in his left hand. I recognised
the fat little paper duodecimo with amusement, and some wonder. The only
other copy I had ever laid my eyes on is in the Astor Library. It is
somewhat of a rarity, called _The Secret of Alchemy, or the Grand
Doctrine of Transmutation Fully Explained_, and was written by a Dr.
Edward Duvall,--a most extraordinary volume to have fallen into the hands
I stepped forward, greeting and being greeted. Besides the man I have
mentioned they were four. The cook was a bullet-headed squat negro with a
broken nose. I believe he had a name,--Robinson, or something of that
sort. He was to all of us, simply the Nigger. Unlike most of his race, he
was gloomy and taciturn.
Of the other two, a little white-faced, thin-chested youth named Pulz,
and a villainous-looking Mexican called Perdosa, I shall have more to say
My arrival broke the talk on alchemy. It resumed its course in the
direction of our voyage. Each discovered that the others knew nothing;
and each blundered against the astounding fact of double wages.
"All I know is the pay's good; and that's enough," concluded Thrackles,
from a bunk.
"The pay's too good," growled Handy Solomon.
"This ain't no job to go look at the 'clipse of the moon, or the devil's
"W'at you maik heem, den?" queried Perdosa.
"It's treasure, of course," said Handy Solomon shortly.
"He, he, he!" laughed the negro, without mirth.
"What's the matter with you, Doctor?" demanded Thrackles.
"Treasure!" repeated the Nigger. "You see dat box he done carry so
cairful? You see dat?"
A pause ensued. Somebody scratched a match and lit a pipe.
"No, I don't see that!" broke out Thrackles finally, with some
impatience. "I _sabe_ how a man goes after treasure with a box; but
why should he take treasure away in a box? What do you think, Bucko?" he
suddenly appealed to me.
I looked up from my investigation of the empty berths.
"I don't think much about it," I replied, "except that by the look of the
stores we're due for more than Honolulu; and from the look of the light
we'd better turn to on deck."
An embarrassed pause fell.
"Who are you, anyway?" bluntly demanded the man with the steel hook.
"My name is Eagen," I replied; "I've the berth of mate. Which of these
bunks are empty?"
They indicated what I desired with just a trace of sullenness. I
understood well enough their resentment at having a ship's officer
quartered on them,--the forec'stle they considered as their only liberty
when at sea, and my presence as a curtailment to the freedom of speech. I
subsequently did my best to overcome this feeling, but never quite
At my command the Nigger went to his galley, I ascended to the deck. Dusk
was falling, in the swift Californian fashion. Already the outlines of
the wharf houses were growing indistinct, and the lights of the city were
beginning to twinkle. Captain Selover came to my side and leaned over the
rail, peering critically at the black water against the piles.
"She's at the flood," he squeaked. "And here comes the Lucy Belle."
The tug took us in charge and puffed with us down the harbour and through
the Golden Gate. We had sweated the canvas on her, even to the flying jib
and a huge club topsail she sometimes carried at the main, for the
afternoon trades had lost their strength. About midnight we drew up on
The schooner handled well. Our crew was divided into three watches--an
unusual arrangement, but comfortable. Two men could sail her handily in
most sorts of weather. Handy Solomon had the wheel. Otherwise the deck
was empty. The man's fantastic headgear, the fringe of his curling oily
locks, the hawk outline of his face momentarily silhouetted against the
phosphorescence astern as he glanced to windward, all lent him an
appearance of another day. I could almost imagine I caught the gleam of
silver-butted horse pistols and cutlasses at his waist.
I brooded in wonder at what I had seen and how little I had explained.
The number of boats, sufficient for a craft of three times the tonnage;
the capacity of the forec'stle with its eighteen bunks, enough for a
passenger ship,--what did it mean? And this wild, unkempt, villainous
crew with its master and his almost ridiculous contrast of neatness and
filth;--did Dr. Schermerhorn realise to what he had trusted himself and
his precious expedition, whatever it might be?
The lights of shore had sunk; the _Laughing Lass_ staggered and
leaped joyously with the glory of the open sea. She seemed alone on the
bosom of the ocean; and for the life of me I could not but feel that I
was embarked on some desperate adventure. The notion was utterly
illogical; that I knew well. In sober thought, I, a reporter, was
shadowing a respectable and venerable scientist, who in turn was probably
about to investigate at length some little-known deep-sea conditions or
phenomena of an unexplored island. But that did not suffice to my
imagination. The ship, its surroundings, its equipment, its crew--all
read fantastic. So much the better story, I thought, shrugging my
shoulders at last.
THE TWELVE REPEATING RIFLES
After my watch below the next morning I met Percy Darrow. In many ways he
is, or was, the most extraordinary of my many acquaintances. During that
first half hour's chat with him I changed my mind at least a dozen times.
One moment I thought him clever, the next an utter ass; now I found him
frank, open, a good companion, eager to please,--and then a droop of his
blond eyelashes, a lazy, impertinent drawl of his voice, a hint of
half-bored condescension in his manner, convinced me that he was shy and
affected. In a breath I appraised him as intellectual, a fool, a shallow
mind, a deep schemer, an idler, and an enthusiast. One result of his
spasmodic confidences was to throw a doubt upon their accuracy. This
might be what he desired; or with equal probability it might be the
chance reflection of a childish and aimless amiability.
He was tall and slender and pale, languid of movement, languid of eye,
languid of speech. His eyes drooped, half-closed beneath blond brows; a
long wiry hand lazily twisted a rather affected blond moustache, his
voice drawled his speech in a manner either insufferably condescending
and impertinent, or ineffably tired,--who could tell which?
I found him leaning against the taffrail, his languid graceful figure
supported by his elbows, his chin propped against his hand. As I
approached the binnacle, he raised his eyes and motioned me to him. The
insolence of it was so superb that for a moment I was angry enough to
ignore him. Then I reflected that I was here, not to stand on my personal
dignity, but to get information. I joined him.
"You are the mate?" he drawled.
"Since I am on the quarter-deck," I snapped back at him.
He eyed me thoughtfully, while he rolled with one hand a corn-husk
"Do you know where you are going?" he inquired at length.
"Depends on the moral character of my future actions," I rejoined tartly.
He allowed a smile to break and fade, then lighted his cigarette.
"The first mate seems to have a remarkable command of language," said he.
I did not reply.
"Well, to tell you the truth I don't know where we are going," he
continued. "Thought you might be able to inform me. Where did this ship
and its precious gang of cutthroats come from, anyway?"
"Oh, meaning you too, for all I know," he shrugged wearily. Suddenly he
turned to me and laid his hand on my shoulder with one of those sudden
bursts of confidence I came later to recognise and look for, but in which
I could never quite believe--nor disbelieve.
"I am eaten with curiosity," he stated in the least curious voice in the
world. "I suppose you know who his Nibs is?"
"Dr. Schermerhorn, do you mean?"
"Yes. Well, I've been with him ten years. I am his right-hand man. All
his business I transact down to the last penny. I even order his meals.
His discoveries have taken shape in my hands. Suddenly he gets a freak.
He will go on a voyage. Where? I shall know in good time. For how long? I
shall know in good time. For what purpose? Same answer. What
accommodations shall I engage? I experience the worst shock of my
life;--he will engage them himself. What scientific apparatus? Shock
number two;--he will attend to that. Is there anything I can do? What do
you suppose he says?"
"How should I know?" I asked.
"You should know in the course of intelligent conversation with me," he
drawled. "Well, he, good old staid Schermie with the vertebrated thoughts
gets kittenish. He says to me, 'Joost imachin, Percy, you are
all-alone-on-a-desert-island placed; and that you will sit on those sands
and wish within yourself all you would buy to be comfortable. Go out and
buy me those things--in abundance.' Those were my directions."
"What does he pay you?" he asked.
"Enough," I replied.
"More than enough, by a good deal, I'll bet," he rejoined. "The old fool!
He ought to have left it to me. What is this craft? Have you ever sailed
on her before?"
"Have any of the crew?"
I replied that I believed all of them were Selover's men. He threw the
cigarette butt into the sea and turned back.
"Well, I wish you joy of your double wages," he mocked.
So he knew that, after all! How much more of his ignorance was pretended
I had no means of guessing. His eye gleamed sarcastically as he sauntered
toward the companion-way. Handy Solomon was at the wheel, steering easily
with one foot and an elbow. His steel hook lay fully exposed, glittering
in the sunlight. Darrow glanced at it curiously, and at the man's
"Well, my genial pirate," he drawled, "if you had a line to fit that
hook, you'd be equipped for fishing." The man's teeth bared like an
animal's, but Darrow went on easily as though unconscious of giving
offence. "If I were you, I'd have it arranged so the hook would turn
backward as well as forward. It would be handier for some
things,--fighting, for instance."
He passed on down the companion. Handy Solomon glared after him, then
down at his hook. He bent his arm this way and that, drawing the hook
toward him softly, as a cat does her claws. His eyes cleared and a look
of admiration crept into them.
"By God, he's right!" he muttered, and after a moment; "I've wore that
ten year and never thought of it. The little son of a gun!"
He remained staring for a moment at the hook. Then he looked up and
caught my eye. His own turned quizzical. He shifted his quid and began to
"The bos'n laid aloft, aloft laid he,
_Blow high, blow low! What care we?_
'There's a ship upon the wind'ard, a wreck upon the lee,'
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e."_
We had entered the trades and were making good time. I was content to
stay on deck, even in my watch below. The wind was strong, the waves
dashing, the sky very blue. From under our forefoot the flying fish sped,
the monsters pursued them. A tingle of spray was in the air. It was all
very pleasant. The red handkerchief around Solomon's head made a pretty
spot of colour against the blue of the sky and the darker blue of the
sea. Silhouetted over the flaw-less white of the deck house was the
sullen, polished profile of the Nigger. Beneath me the ship swerved
and leaped, yielded and recovered. I breathed deep, and saw cutlasses in
harmless shadows. It was two years ago. I was young--then----
At the mess hour I stood in doubt. However, I was informed by the
captain's falsetto that I was to eat in the cabin. As the only other
officer, I ate alone, after the others had finished, helping myself from
the dishes left on the table. It was a handsome cabin, well kept, with
white woodwork spotlessly clean, leather cushions--much better than one
would expect. I afterwards found that the neatness of this cabin and of
the three staterooms was maintained by the Nigger--at peril of his neck.
A rack held a dozen rifles, five revolvers, and,--at last--my cutlasses.
I examined the lot with interest. They were modern weapons,--the new high
power 30-40 box-magazine rifle, shooting government ammunition,--and had
been used. The revolvers were of course the old 45 Colt's. This was an
extraordinary armament for a peaceable schooner of one hundred and fifty
The rest of the cabin's fittings were not remarkable. By the
configuration of the ship I guessed that two of the staterooms must be
rather large. I could make out voices within.
On deck I talked with Captain Selover.
"She's a snug craft," I approached him.
"You have armed her well."
He muttered something of pirates and the China seas.
"You have arms enough to give your crew about two magazine rifles
apiece--unless you filled all your berths forward!"
Captain Selover looked me direct in the eye.
"Talk straight, Mr. Eagen," said he.
"What is this ship, and where is she bound?" I asked, with equal
"As for the ship," he replied at length, "I don't mind saying. You're my
first officer, and on you I depend if it comes to--well, the small arms
below. If the ship's a little under the shade, why, so are you. She's by
way of being called a manner of hard names by some people. I do not see
it myself. It is a matter of conscience. If you would ask some
interested, they would call her a smuggler, a thief, a wrecker, and all
the other evil titles in the catalogue. She has taken in Chinks by way of
Santa Cruz Island--if that is smuggling. The country is free, and a Chink
is a man. Besides, it paid ten dollars a head for the landing. She has
carried in a cargo or so of junk; it was lying on the beach where a fool
master had piled it, and I took what I found. I couldn't keep track of
the underwriters' intentions."
"But the room forward----?" I broke in.
"Well, you see, last season we were pearl fishing."
"But you needed only your diver and your crew," I objected.
"There was the matter of a Japanese gunboat or so," he explained.
"Poaching!" I cried.
"So some call it. The shells are there. The islands are not inhabited. I
do not see how men claim property beyond the tide water. I have heard it
"Hold on!" I cried. "There was a trouble last year in the Ishigaki Jima
Islands where a poacher beat off the _Oyama_. It was a desperate
Captain Selover's eye lit up.
"I've commanded a black brigantine, name of _The Petrel_," he
admitted simply. "She was a brigantine aloft, but _alow_ she had
much the same lines as the _Laughing Lass_." He whirled on his heel
to roll to one of the covered yacht's cannon. "Looks like a harmless
little toy to burn black powder, don't she?" he remarked. He stripped off
the tarpaulin and the false brass muzzle to display as pretty a little
Maxim as you would care to see. "Now you know all about it," he said.
"Look here, Captain Selover," I demanded, "don't you know that I could
blow your whole shooting-match higher than Gilderoy's kite. How do you
know I won't do it when I get back? How do you know I won't inform the
doctor at once what kind of an outfit he has tied to?"
He planted far apart his thick legs in their soiled blue trousers, pushed
back his greasy linen boating hat and stared at me with some amusement.
"How do you know I won't blow on Lieutenant or Ensign Ralph Slade,
U.S.N., when I get back?" he demanded. I blessed that illusion, anyway.
"Besides, I know my man. You won't do anything of the sort." He walked to
the rail and spat carefully over the side.
"As for the doctor," he went on, "he knows all about it. He told me all
about myself, and everything I had ever done from the time I'd licked
Buck Jones until last season's little diversion. Then he told me that was
why he wanted me to ship for this cruise." The captain eyed me
I threw out my hands in a comic gesture of surrender.
"Well, where are we bound, anyway?"
The dirty, unkempt, dishevelled figure stiffened.
"Mr. Eagen," its falsetto shrilled, "you are mate of this vessel. Your
duty is to see that my orders as to sailing are carried out. Beyond that
you do not go. As to navigation, and latitude and longitude and where the
hell we are, that is outside your line of duty. As to where we are bound,
you are getting double wages not to get too damn curious. Remember to
earn your wages, Mr. Eagen!"
He turned away to the binnacle. In spite of his personal filth, in spite
of the lawless, almost piratical, character of the man, in that moment I
could not but admire him. If Percy Darrow was ignorant of the purposes of
this expedition, how much more so Captain Selover. Yet he accepted his
trust blindly, and as far as I could then see, intended to fulfil it
faithfully. I liked him none the worse for snubbing me. It indicated a
streak in his moral nature akin to and quite as curious as his excessive
neatness regarding his immediate surroundings.
THE STEEL CLAW
During the next few days the crew discussed our destination. Discipline,
while maintained strictly, was not conventional. During the dog watches,
often, every man aboard would be below, for at that period Captain
Selover loved to take the wheel in person, a thick cigar between his
lips, the dingy checked shirt wide open to expose his hairy chest to the
breeze. In the twilight of the forecastle we had some great sea-lawyer's
talks--I say "We," though I took little part in them. Generally I lay
across my bunk smoking my pipe while Handy Solomon held forth, his speech
punctuated by surly speculations from the Nigger, with hesitating
deep-sea wisdom from the hairy Thrackles, or with voluminous bursts of
fractured English from Perdosa. Pulz had nothing to offer, but watched
from his pale green eyes. The light shifted and wavered from one to the
other as the ship swayed: garments swung; the empty berths yawned
cavernous. I could imagine the forecastle filled with the desperate men
who had beaten off the _Oyama_. The story is told that they had
swept the gunboat's decks with her own rapid-fires, turned in.
No one knew where we were going, nor why. The doctor puzzled them, and
the quantity of his belongings.
"It ain't pearls," said Handy Solomon. "You can kiss the Book on that,
for we ain't a diver among us. It ain't Chinks, for we are cruising
sou'-sou'-west. Likely it's trade,--trade down in the Islands."
We were all below. The captain himself had the wheel. Discipline, while
strict, was not conventional.
"Contrabandista," muttered the Mexican, "for dat he geev us double pay."
"We don't get her for nothing," agreed Thrackles. "Double pay and duff on
Wednesday generally means get your head broke."
"No trade," said the Nigger gloomily.
They turned to him with one accord.
"Why not?" demanded Pulz, breaking his silence.
"No trade," repeated the Nigger.
"Ain't you got a reason, Doctor?" asked Handy Solomon.
"No trade," insisted the Nigger.
An uneasy silence fell. I could not but observe that the others held the
Nigger's statements in a respect not due them as mere opinions.
Subsequently I understood a little more of the reputation he possessed.
He was believed to see things hidden, as their phrase went.
Nobody said anything for some time; nobody stirred, except that Handy
Solomon, his steel claw removed from its socket, whittled and tested,
screwed and turned, trying to fix the hook so that, in accordance with
the advice of Percy Darrow, it would turn either way.
"What is it, then, Doctor?" he asked softly at last.
"Gold," said the Nigger shortly. "Gold--treasure."
"That's what I said at first!" cried Handy Solomon triumphantly. It was
extraordinary, the unquestioning and entire faith with which they
accepted as gospel fact the negro's dictum.
There followed much talk of the nature of this treasure, whether it was
to be sought or conveyed, bought, stolen, or ravished in fair fight. No
further soothsaying could they elicit from the Nigger. They followed
their own ideas, which led them nowhere. Someone lit the forecastle lamp.
They settled themselves. Pulz read aloud.
This was the programme every day during the dog watch. Sometimes the
watch on deck was absent, leaving only Handy Solomon, the Nigger and
Pulz, but the order of the day was not on that account varied. They
talked, they lit the lamp, they read. Always the talk was of the
As to the reading, it was of the sort usual to seamen, cowboys,
lumbermen, and miners. Thrackles had a number of volumes of very cheap
love stories. Pulz had brought some extraordinary garish detective
stories. The others contributed sensational literature with paper covers
adorned lithographically. By the usual incongruity a fragment of _The
Marble Faun_ was included in the collection. The Nigger has his copy
of _Duvall on Alchemy_. I haven't the slightest idea where he could
have got it.
While Pulz read, Handy Solomon worked on the alteration of his claw. He
could never get it to hold, and I remember as an undertone to Pulz's
reading, the rumble of strange, exasperated oaths. Whatever the evening's
lecture, it always ended with the book on alchemy. These men had no
perspective by which to judge such things. They accepted its speculations
and theories at their face value. Extremely laughable were the
discussions that followed. I often wished the shade of old Duvall could
be permitted to see these, his last disciples, spelling out dimly his
teachings, mispronouncing his grave utterances, but believing utterly.
Dr. Schermerhorn appeared on deck seldom. When he did, often his fingers
held a pen which he had forgotten to lay aside. I imagined him
preoccupied by some calculation of his own, but the forecastle, more
picturesquely, saw him as guarding constantly the heavy casket he had
himself carried aboard. He breathed the air, walked briskly, turned with
the German military precision at the end of his score of strides, and
re-entered his cabin at the lapse of the half hour. After he had gone,
remained Percy Darrow leaning indolently against the taffrail, his
graceful figure swaying with the ship's motion, smoking always the
corn-husk Mexican cigarettes which he rolled with one hand. He seemed
from that farthest point aft to hold in review the appliances, the
fabric, the actions, yes, even the very thoughts, of the entire ship.
From them he selected that on which he should comment or with which he
should play, always with a sardonic, half-serious, quite wearied and
indifferent manner. His inner knowledge, viewed by the light of this
manner or mannerism, was sometimes uncanny, though perhaps the sources of
his information were commonplace enough, after all. Certainly he always
viewed with amusement his victim's wonder.
Thus one evening at the close of our day-watch on deck, he approached
Handy Solomon. It was at the end of ten days, on no one of which had the
seaman failed to tinker away at his steel claw. Darrow balanced in front
of him with a thin smile.
"Too bad it doesn't work, my amiable pirate," said he. "It would be so
handy for fighting--See here," he suddenly continued, pulling some object
from his pocket, "here's a pipe; present to me; I don't smoke 'em. Twist
her halfway, like that, she comes out. Twist her halfway, like this, she
goes in. That's your principle. Give her back to me when you get
He thrust the briar pipe into the man's hand, and turned away without
waiting for a reply. The seaman looked after him in open amazement. That
evening he worked on the socket of the steel hook, and in two days he had
the job finished. Then he returned the pipe to Darrow with some growling
"That's all right," said the young man, smiling full at him. "Now what
are you going to fight?"
THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE
Captain Selover received as his due the most absolute and implicit
obedience imaginable. When he condescended to give an order in his
own person, the men fairly jumped to execute it. The matter had evidently
been threshed out long ago. They did not love him, not they; but they
feared him with a mighty fear, and did not hesitate to say so,
vividly, and often, when in the privacy of the forecastle. The
prevailing spirit was that of the wild beast, cowed but snarling
still. Pulz and Thrackles in especial had a great deal to say of what
they were or were not going to do, but I noticed that their resolution
always began to run out of them when first foot was set to the
One day we were loafing along, everything drawing well, and everybody
but the doctor on deck to enjoy the sun. I was in the crow's-nest for
my pleasure. Below me on the deck Captain Selover roamed here and
there, as was his custom, his eye cocked out like a housewife's for
disorder. He found it, again in the evidence of expectoration, and
as Perdosa happened to be handiest, fell on the unfortunate Mexican.
Perdosa protested that he had had nothing to do with it, but Captain
Selover, enraged as always when his precious deck was soiled, would
not listen. Finally the Mexican grew sulky and turned away as though
refusing to hear more. The captain thereupon felled him to the deck,
and began brutally to kick him in the face and head.
Perdosa writhed and begged, but without avail. The other members of
the crew gathered near. After a moment, they began to murmur. Finally
Thrackles ventured, most respectfully, to intervene.
"You'll kill him, sir," he interposed. "He's had enough."
"Had enough, has he?" screeched the captain. "Well, you take what's
He marked Thrackles heavily over the eye. There was a breathless
pause; and then Thrackles, Pulz, the Nigger, and Perdosa attacked at
They caught the master unawares, and bore him to the deck. I dropped
at once to the ratlines, and commenced my descent. Before I had
reached the deck, however, Selover was afoot again, the four hanging
to him like dogs. In a moment more he had shaken them off; and before
I could intervene, he had seized a belaying pin in either hand, and
was hazing them up and down the deck.
"Mutiny, would you?" he shrilled. "You poor swabs! Forgot who was your
captain, did ye? Well, it's Captain Ezra Selover, and you can lay to
that! It would need about eight fathom of _stuff_ like you to
tie me down."
He chased them forward, and he chased them aft, and every time the
pins fell, blood followed. Finally they dived like rabbits into the
forecastle hatch. Captain Selover leaned down after them.
"Now tie yourselves up," he advised, "and then come on deck and clean
up after yourselves!" He turned to me. "Mr. Eagen, turn out the crew
to clean decks."
I descended to the forecastle, followed immediately by Handy Solomon.
The latter had taken no part in the affair. We found the men in
horrible shape, what with the bruises and cuts, and bleeding freely.
"Now you're a nice-looking Sunday school!" observed Handy Soloman,
eyeing them sardonically. "Tackel Old Scrubs, will ye? Well, some
needs a bale of cotton to fall on 'em afore they learns anything.
Enjoyed your little diversions, mates? And w'at do you expect to gain?
I asks you that, now. You poor little infants! Ain't you never tackled
him afore? Don't remember a little brigatine, name of the
_Petrel!_ My eye, but you _are_ a pack of damn fools!"
To this he received no reply. The men sullenly assisted each other.
Then they went immediately on deck and to work.
After this taste of his quality, Captain Selover enjoyed a quiet ship.
We made good time, but for a long while nothing happened. Finally the
monotony was broken by an incident.
One evening before the night winds I sat in the shadow of the extra
dory on top of the deck house. The moon was but just beyond the full,
so I suppose I must have been practically invisible. Certainly the
Nigger did not know of my presence, for he came and stood within three
feet of me without giving any sign. The companion was open. In a
moment some door below was opened also, and a scrap of conversation
came up to us very clearly.
"You haf dem finished?" the doctor's voice inquired. "So, that iss
well,"--papers rustled for a few moments. "And the r-result--
ah--exactly--it iss that exactly. Percy, mein son, that maigs
the experiment exact. We haf the process----"
"I don't see, sir, quite," replied the voice of Percy Darrow, with
a tinge of excitement. "I can follow the logic of the experiment, of
course--so can I follow the logic of a trip to the moon. But when you
come to apply it--how do you get your re-agent? There's no known
Dr. Schermerhorn broke in: "Ach, it iss that I haf perfected. Pardon
me, my boy, it iss the first I haf worked from you apart. It iss for
a surprise. I haf made in small quantities the missing ingredient.
It will form a perfect interruption to the current. Now we go----"
"Do you mean to say," almost shouted Darrow, "that you have succeeded
in freeing it in the metal?"
"Yes," replied the doctor simply.
I could hear a chair overturned.
"Why, with that you can----"
"I can do everything," broke in the doctor. "The possibilities are
"And you can really produce it in quantity?"
"I think so; it iss for us to discover."
A pause ensued.
"Why!" came the voice of Percy Darrow, awestricken. "With fifty
centigrammes only you could--you could transmute any substance--why,
you could make anything you pleased almost! You could make enough
diamonds to fill that chest! It is the philosopher's stone!"
"Diamonds--yes--it is possible," interrupted the doctor impatiently,
"if it was worth while. But you should see the real importance----"
The ship careened to a chance swell; a door slammed; the voices were
cut off. I looked up. The Nigger's head was thrust forward fairly into
the glow from the companionway. The mask of his sullenness had fallen.
His eyes fairly rolled in excitement, his thick lips were drawn back
to expose his teeth, his powerful figure was gathered with the tensity
of a bow. When the door slammed, he turned silently to glide away.
At that instant the watch was changed, and in a moment I found myself
in my bunk.
Ten seconds later the Nigger, detained by Captain Selover for some
trifling duty, burst into the forecastle. He was possessed by the
wildest excitement. This in itself was enough to gain the attention
of the men, but his first words were startling.
"I found de treasure!" he almost shouted. "I know where he kept!"
They leaped at him--Handy Solomon and Pulz--and fairly shook out of
him what he thought he knew. He babbled in the forgotten terms of
alchemy, dressing modern facts in the garments of mediaeval thought
until they were scarcely to be recognised.
"And so he say dat he fine him, de Philosopher Stone, and he keep him
in dat heavy box we see him carry aboard, and he don' have to make
gol' with it--he can make diamon's--_diamon's_--he say it too
easy to fill dat box plum full of diamon's."
They gesticulated and exclaimed and breathed hard, full of the marvel
of such a thought. Then abruptly the clamour died to nothing. I felt
six eyes bent on me, six unwinking eyes moving restless in motionless
figures, suspicious, deadly as cobras----
Up to now my standing with the men had been well enough. Now they drew
frankly apart. One of the most significant indications of this was
the increased respect they paid my office. It was as though by prompt
obedience, instant deference, and the emphasising of ship's etiquette
they intended to draw sharply the line between themselves and me.
There was much whispering apart, many private talks and consultations
in which I had no part. Ordinarily they talked freely enough before
me. Even the reading during the dog watch was intermitted--at least
it was on such days as I happened to be in the watch below. But twice
I caught the Nigger and Handy Solomon consulting together over the
volume on alchemy.
I was in two minds whether to report the whole matter to Captain
Selover. The only thing that restrained me was the vagueness of the
intention, and the fact that the afterguard was armed, and was four
to the crew's five. An incident, however, decided me. One evening I
was awakened by a sound of violent voices. Captain Selover occasionally
juggled the watches for variety's sake, and I now had Handy Solomon
and Perdosa. The Nigger, being cook, stood no watch.
"You drunken Greaser swab!" snarled Handy Solomon. "You misbegotten
son of a Yaqui! I'll learn you to step on a seaman's foot, and you
can kiss the book on that! I'll cut your heart out and feed it to the
"Potha!" sneered Perdosa. "You cut heem you finger wid your knife."
They wrangled. At first I thought the quarrel genuine, but after a
moment or so I could not avoid a sort of reminiscent impression of
the cheap melodrama. It seemed incredible, but soon I could not dodge
the conclusion that it was a made-up quarrel designed to impress me.
Why should they desire to do so? I had to give it up, but the fact
itself was obvious enough. I laughed to see them. The affair did not
come to blows, but it did come to black looks on meeting, muttered
oaths, growls of enmity every time they happened to pass each other
on the deck. Perdosa was not so bad; his Mexican blood inclined him
to the histrionic, and his Mexican cast lent itself well to evil looks.
But Handy Solomon, for the first time in my acquaintance with him,
About this time we crossed into frequent thunders. One evening just
at dark we made out a heavy black squall. Not knowing exactly what
weight lay behind it, I called up all hands. We ducked the staysail
and foresail, lowered the peak of the mainsail, and waited to feel
of it--a rough and ready seamanship often used in these little California
windjammers. I was pretty busy, but I heard distinctly Handy Solomon's
voice behind me.
"I'll kill you sure, you Greaser, as soon as my hands are free!"
And some muttered reply from the Mexican.
The wind hit us hard, held on a few moments, and moderated to a stiff
puff. There followed the rain, so of course I knew it would amount
to nothing. I was just stooping to throw the stops off the staysail
when I felt myself seized from behind, and forced rapidly toward the
side of the ship.
Of course I struggled. The Japanese have a little trick to fool a man
who catches you around the waist from behind. It is part of the
jiu-jitsu taught the Samurai--quite a different proposition from the
ordinary "policeman jiu-jitsu." I picked it up from a friend in the
nobility. It came in very handy now, and by good luck a roll of the
ship helped me. In a moment I stood free, and Perdosa was picking
himself out of the scuppers.
The expression of astonishment was fairly well done--I will say that
for him--but I was prepared for histrionics.
"Senor!" he gasped. "Eet is you! _Sacrosanta Maria!_ I thought
you was dat Solomon! Pardon me, senor! Pardon! Have I hurt you?"
He approached me almost wheedling. I could have laughed at the
villain. It was all so transparent. He no more mistook me for Handy
Solomon than he felt any real enmity for that person. But being angry,
and perhaps a little scared, I beat him to his quarters with a
On thinking the matter over, however, I failed to see all the ins and
outs of it. I could understand a desire to get rid of me; there would
be one less of the afterguard, and then, too, I knew too much of the
men's sentiments, if not of their plans. But why all this elaborate
farce of the mock quarrel and the alleged mistake? Could it be to
guard against possible failure? I could hardly think it worth while.
My only theory was that they had wished to test my strength and
determination. The whole affair, even on that supposition, was
childish enough, but I referred the exaggerated cunning to Handy
Solomon, and considered it quite adequately explained. It is a minor
point, but subsequently I learned that this surmise was correct. I
was to be saved because none of the conspirators understood navigation.
The next morning I approached Captain Selover.
"Captain," said I, "I think it my duty to report that there is trouble
brewing among the crew."
"There always is," he replied, unmoved.
"But this is serious. Dr. Schermerhorn came aboard with a chest which
the men think holds treasure. The other evening Robinson overheard
him tell his assistant that he could easily fill the box with diamonds.
Of course, he was merely illustrating the value of some scientific
experiment, but Robinson thinks, and has made the others think, that
the chest contains something to make diamonds with. I am sure they
intend to get hold of it. The affair is coming to a head."
Captain Selover listened almost indifferently.
"I came back from the islands last year," he piped, "with three
hundred thousand dollars' worth of pearls. There was sixteen in the
crew, and every man of them was blood hungry for them pearls. They
had three or four shindies and killed one man over the proper way to
divide the loot after they had got it. They didn't get it. Why?" He
drew his powerful figure to its height and spread his thick arms out
in the luxury of stretching. "Why?" he repeated, exhaling abruptly.
"Because their captain was Ezra Selover! Well, Mr. Eagen," he went
on crisply, "Captain Ezra Selover is their captain, _and they know
it_! They'll talk and palaver and git into dark corners, and
sharpen their knives, and perhaps fight it out as to which one's going
to work the monkey-doodle business in the doctor's chest, and which
one's going to tie up the sacks of them diamonds, but they won't git
any farther as long as Captain Ezra is on deck." "Yes," I objected,
"but they mean business. Last night in the squall one of them tried
to throw me overboard."
Captain Selover grinned.
"What did you do?" he asked.
"Hazed him to his quarters with a belaying pin."
"Well, that's all settled then, isn't it? What more do you want?"
I stood undecided.
"I can take care of myself," he went on. "You ought to take care of
yourself. Then there's nothing more to do."
He mused a moment.
"You have a gun, of course?" he inquired. "I forgot to ask."
"No," said I.
"Well, no wonder you feel sort of lost and hopeless! Here, take this,
it'll make a man of you."
He gave me a Colt's 45, the barrel of which had been filed down to
about two inches of length. It was a most extraordinary weapon, but
effective at short range.
"Here's a few loose cartridges," said he. "Now go easy. This is no
warship, and we ain't got men to experiment on. Lick 'em with your
fists or a pin, if you can; and if you do shoot, for God's sake just
wing 'em a little. They're awful good lads, but a little restless."
I took the gun and felt better. With it I could easily handle the
members of my own watch, and I did not doubt that with the assistance
of Percy Darrow even a surprise would hardly overwhelm us. I did not
count on Dr. Schermerhorn. He was quite capable of losing himself in
a problem of trajectory after the first shot.
I came on deck one morning at about four bells to find the entire
ship's company afoot. Even the doctor was there. Everybody was gazing
eagerly at a narrow, mountainous island lying slate-coloured across
the early morning.
We were as yet some twenty miles distant from it, and could make out
nothing but its general outline. The latter was sharply defined,
rising and falling to a highest point one side of the middle. Over
the island, and raggedly clasping its sides, hung a cloud, the only
one visible in the sky.
I joined the afterguard.
"You see?" the doctor was exclaiming. "It iss as I haf said. The
island iss there. Everything iss as it should be!" He was quite
Percy Darrow, too, was shaken out of his ordinary calm.
"The volcano is active," was his only comment, but it explained the
"You say there's a harbour?" inquired Captain Selover.
"It should be on the west end," said Dr. Schermerhorn.
Captain Selover drew me one side. He, too was a little aroused.
"Now wouldn't that get you?" he squeaked. "Doctor runs up against a
Norwegian bum who tells him about a volcanic island, and gives its
bearings. The island ain't on the map at all. Doctor believes it, and
makes me lay my course for those bearings. _And here's the
island_! So the bum's story was true! I'd like to know what the
rest of it was!" His eyes were shining.
"Do we anchor or stand off and on?" I asked.
Captain Selover turned to grip me by the shoulder.
"I have orders from Darrow to get to a good berth, to land, to build
shore quarters, and to snug down for a stay of a year at least!"
We stared at each other.
"Joyous prospect," I muttered. "Hope there's something to do there."
The morning wore, and we rapidly approached the island. It proved to
be utterly precipitous. The high rounded hills sloped easily to within
a hundred feet or so of the water and then fell away abruptly. Where
the earth ended was a fantastic filigree border, like the fancy paper
with which our mothers used to line the pantry shelves. Below, the
white surges flung themselves against the cliffs with a wild abandon.
Thousands of sea birds wheeled in the eddies of the wind, thousands
of ravens perched on the slopes. With our glasses we could make out
the heads of seals fishing outside the surf, and a ragged belt of kelp.
When within a mile we put the helm up, and ran for the west end. A
bold point we avoided far out, lest there should be outlying ledges.
Then we came in sight of a broad beach and pounding surf.
I was ordered to take a surf boat and investigate for a landing and
an anchorage. The swell was running high. We rowed back and forth,
puzzled as to how to get ashore with all the freight it would be
necessary to land. The ship would lie well enough, for the only open
exposure was broken by a long reef over which we could make out the
seas tumbling. But inshore the great waves rolled smoothly, swiftly--
then suddenly fell forward as over a ledge, and spread with a roar
across the yellow sands. The fresh winds blew the spume back to us.
We conversed in shouts.
"We can surf the boat," yelled Thrackles, "but we can't land a load."
That was my opinion. We rowed slowly along, parallel to the shore,
and just outside the line of breakers. I don't know exactly how to
tell you the manner in which we became aware of the cove. It was as
nearly the instantaneous as can be imagined. One minute I looked ahead
on a cliff as unbroken as the side of a cabin; the very next I peered
down the length of a cove fifty fathoms long by about ten wide, at
the end of which was a gravel beach. I cried out sharply to the men.
They were quite as much astonished as I. We backed water, watching
closely. At a given point the cove and all trace of its entrance
disappeared. We could only just make out the line where the headlands
dissolved into the background of the cliffs, and that merely because
we knew of its existence. The blending was perfect.
We rowed in. The water was still. A faint ebb and flow whispered
against the tiny gravel beach at the end. I noted a practicable way
from it to the top of the cliff, and from the cliff down again to the
sand beach. Everything was perfect. The water was a beautiful light
green, like semi-opaque glass, and from the indistinctness of its
depths waved and beckoned, rose and disappeared with indescribable
grace and deliberation long feathery sea growths. In a moment the
bottom abruptly shallowed. The motion of the boat toward the beach
permitted us to catch a hasty glimpse of little fish darting, of big
fish turning, of yellow sand and some vivid colour. Then came the
grate of gravel and the scraping of the boat's bottom on the beach.
We jumped ashore eagerly. I left the men, very reluctant, and ascended
a natural trail to a high sloping down over which blew the great Trades.
Grass sprung knee-high. A low hill rose at the back. From below the
fall of the cliff came the pounding of surf.
I walked to the edge. Various ledges, sloping toward me, ran down to
the sea. Against one of them was a wreck, not so very old, head on,
her afterworks gone. I recognised the name _Golden Horn_, and
was vastly astonished to find her here against this unknown island.
Far up the coast I could see--with the surges dashing up like the explosion
of shells, and the cliffs, and the rampart of hills grown with grass
and cactus. A bold promontory terminated the coast view to the north,
and behind it I could glimpse a more fertile and wooded country. The
sky was partly overcast by the volcanic murk. It fled before the
Trades, and the red sun alternately blazed and clouded through it.
As there was nothing more to be seen here, I turned above the hollow
of our cove, skirted the base of the hill, and so down to the beach.
It occupied a wide semicircle where the hills drew back. The flat was
dry and grown with thick, coarse grass. A stream emerged from a sort
of canon on its landward side. I tasted it, found it sulphurous, and
a trifle worse than lukewarm. A little nearer the cliff, however, was
a clear, cold spring from the rock, and of this I had a satisfying
drink. When I arose from my knees, I made out an animal on the hill
crest looking at me, but before I could distinguish its
characteristics it had disappeared.
I returned along the tide sands. The surf dashed and roared, lifting
seaweeds of a blood red, so that in places the water looked pink.
Seals innumerable watched me from just outside the breakers. As the
waves lifted to a semi-transparence, I could make out others playing,
darting back and forth, up and down like disturbed tadpoles, clinging
to the wave until the very instant of its fall, then disappearing as
though blotted out. The salt smell of seaweed was in my nostrils: I
found the place pleasant--
With these few and scattered impressions we returned to the ship. It
had been warped to a secure anchorage, and snugged down. Dr.
Schermerhorn and Darrow were on deck waiting to go ashore.
I made my report. The two passengers disappeared. They carried lunch
and would not be back until night-fall. We had orders to pitch a large
tent at a suitable spot and to lighten ship of the doctor's personal
and scientific effects. By the time this was accomplished, the two
"It's all right," Darrow volunteered to Captain Selover, as he came
over the side. "We've found what we want."
Their clothes were picked by brush and their boots muddy. Next morning
Captain Selover detailed me to especial work.
"You'll take two of the men and go ashore under Darrow's orders," said
Darrow told us to take clothes for a week, an axe apiece, and a block
and tackle. We made up our ditty bags, stepped into one of the surf
boats, and were rowed ashore. There Darrow at once took the lead.
Our way proceeded across the grass flat, through the opening of the
narrow canon, and so on back into the interior by way of the bed
through which flowed the sulphur stream. The country was badly eroded.
Most of the time we marched between perpendicular clay banks about
forty feet high. These were occasionally broken by smaller tributary
arroyos of the same sort. It would have been impossible to reach the
level of the upper country. The bed of the main arroyo was flat, and
grown with grasses and herbage of an extraordinary vividness, due,
I supposed, to the sulphur water. The stream itself meandered aimlessly
through the broader bed. It steadily grew warmer and the sulphur smell
more noticeable. Above us we could see the sky and the sharp clay edge
of the arroyo. I noticed the tracks of Darrow and Dr. Schermerhorn
made the day before.
After a mile of this, the bottom ran up nearly to the level of the
sides, and we stepped out on the floor of a little valley almost
surrounded by more hills.
It was an extraordinary place, and since much happened there, I must
give you an idea of it.
It was round and nearly encircled by naked painted hills. From its
floor came steam and a roaring sound. The steam blew here and
there among the pines on the floor; rose to eddy about the naked
painted hills. At one end we saw intermittently a broad ascending
canon--deep red and blue-black--ending in the cone of a smoking
volcano. The other seemed quite closed by the sheer hills; in fact
the only exit was the route by which we had come.
For the hills were utterly precipitous. I suppose a man might have
made his way up the various knobs, ledges, and inequalities, but it
would have required long study and a careful head. I, myself, later
worked my way a short distance, merely to examine the texture of their
This was at once varied and of great body--not at all like the smooth,
glossed colour of most rock, but soft and rich. You've seen painters'
palettes--it was just like that, pasty and _fat_. There were reds
of all shades, from a veritable scarlet to a red umber; greens, from
sea-green to emerald; several kinds of blue, and an indeterminate
purple-mauve. The whole effect was splendid and barbaric.
We stopped and gasped as it hit our eyes. Darrow alone was unmoved.
He led the way forward and in an instant had disappeared behind the
veil of steam. Thrackles and Perdosa hung back murmuring, but at a
sharp word from me gathered their courage in their two hands and proceeded.
We found that the first veil of steam, and a fearful stench of gases,
proceeded from a miniature crater whose edge was heavily encrusted
with a white salt. Beyond, close under the rise of the hill, was
another. Between the two Percy Darrow had stopped and was waiting.
He eyed us with his lazy, half-quizzical glance as we approached.
"Think the place is going to blow up?" he inquired, with a tinge of
irony. "Well, it isn't." He turned to me. "Here's where we shall stay
for a while. You and the men are to cut a number of these pine trees
for a house. Better pick out the little ones, about three or four
inches through: they're easier handled. I'll be back by noon."
We set to work then in the roaring, steaming valley with the vapour
swirling about us, sometimes concealing us, sometimes half revealing
us gigantic, again in the utterness of exposure showing us dwindled
pigmies against the magnitudes about us. The labour was not difficult.
By the time Darrow returned we had a pile of the saplings ready for
his next direction.
He was accompanied by the Nigger, very much terrified, very much
burdened with food and cooking utensils. The assistant was lazily
relating tales of voodoos, a glimmer of mischief in his eyes.
CAPTAIN SELOVER LOSES HIS NERVE
I lived in the place for three weeks. We were afoot shortly after
daybreak, under way by sun-up, and at work before the heats began.
Three of us worked on the buildings, and the rest formed a pack train
carrying all sorts of things from the shore to the valley. The men
grumbled fiercely at this, but Captain Selover drove them with slight
regard for their opinions or feelings.
"You're getting double pay," was his only word, "earn it!"
They certainly earned it during those three weeks. The things they
brought up were astounding. Besides a lot of scientific apparatus and
chests of chemical supplies, everything that could possibly be
required, had been provided by that omniscient young man. After we
had built a long, low structure, windows were forthcoming, shelves,
tables, sinks, faucets, forges, burners, all cut out, fitted and ready
to put together, each with its proper screws, nails, clamps, or pipes
ready to our hands. When we had finished, we had constructed as
complete a laboratory on a small scale as you could find on a college
campus, even to the stone pillar down to bed-rock for delicate
microscopic experiments, and hot and cold water led from the springs.
And we were utterly unskilled. It was all Percy Darrow.
I was toward the last engaged in screwing on a fixture for the
generation of acetelyne gas.
"Darrow," said I, "there's one thing you've overlooked; you forgot
to bring a cupola and a gilt weather-cock for this concern."
After the laboratory was completed, we put up sleeping quarters for
the two men, with wide porches well screened, and a square, heavy
storeroom. By the end of the third week we had quite finished.
Dr. Schermerhorn had turned with enthusiasm to the unpacking of his
chemical apparatus. Almost immediately at the close of the
freight-carrying, he had appeared, lugging his precious chest, this
time suffering the assistance of Darrow, and had camped on the spot.
We could not induce him to leave, so we put up a tent for him. Darrow
remained with him by way of safety against the men, whose measure,
I believe, he had taken. Now that all the work was finished, the doctor
put in a sudden appearance.
"Percy," said he, "now we will have the defence built."
He dragged us with him to the narrow part of the arroyo, just before
it rose to the level of the valley.
"Here we will build the stockade-defence," he announced.
Darrow and I stared at each other blankly.
"What for, sir?" inquired the assistant.
"I haf come to be undisturbed," announced the doctor, with owl-like,
Teutonic gravity, "and I will not be disturbed."
Darrow nodded to me and drew his principal aside.
They conversed earnestly for several minutes. Then the assistant
returned to me.
"No use," he shrugged in complete return to his indifferent manner.
"Stockade it is. Better make it of fourteen foot logs, slanted out.
Dig a trench across, plant your logs three or four feet, bind them
at the top. That's his specification for it. Go at it."
"But," I expostulated, "what's the _use_ of it? Even if the men
were dangerous, that would just make them think you _did_ have
something to guard."
"I know that. Orders," replied Percy Darrow.
We built the stockade in a day. When it was finished we marched to
the beach, and never, save in the three instances of which I shall
later tell you, did I see the valley again. The next day we washed
our clothes, and moved ashore with all our belongings.
"I'm not going to have this crew aboard," stated Captain Selover
positively, "I'm going to clean her." He himself stayed, however.
We rowed in, constructed a hasty fireplace of stones, spread our
blankets, and built an unnecessary fire near the beach.
"Clean her!" grumbled Thrackles, "my eye!"
"I'd rather round the Cape," growled Pulz hopelessly.
"Come, now, it can't be as bad as all that," I tried to cheer them.
"It can't be more than a week or ten days' job, even if we careen her."
"You don't know what you're talking about," said Thrackles. "It's
worse than the yellow jack. It's six weeks at least. Mind when we last
'cleaned her'?" he inquired of Handy Solomon.
"You can kiss the Book on it," replied he. "Down by the line in that
little swab of a sand island. My eye, but _don't_ I remember!
I sweated my liver white."
They smoked in silence.
"That's a main queer contrivance of the Perfessor's--that
stockade-like," ventured Solomon, after a little.
"He doesn't want any intrusion," I said. "These scientific experiments
are very delicate."
"Quite like," he commented non-committally.
We slept on the ground that night, and next morning, under Captain
Selover's directions, we commenced the task of lightening the ship.
He detailed the Nigger and Perdosa for special duty.
"I'll just see to your shore quarters," he squeaked. "You empty her."
All day long we rowed back and forth from the ship to the cove,
landing the contents of the hold. These, by good fortune, we did not
have to carry over the neck of land, for just above the gravel beach
was a wide ledge on which we could pile the stores. We ate aboard,
and so had no opportunity of seeing what Captain Selover and his men
were about, until evening. Then we discovered that they had collected
and lowered to the beach a quantity of stateroom doors from the wreck,
and had trundled the galley stove to the edge where it awaited our
assistance. We hitched a cable to it, and let it down gently. The
Nigger was immensely pleased. After some experiment he got it to draw,
and so cooked us our supper on it. After supper, Captain Selover rowed
himself back to the ship.
"Eagen," he had said, drawing me aside, "I'm going to leave you with
them. It's better that one of us--I think as owner I ought to be
"Of course, sir," said I, "it's the only proper place for you."
"I'm glad you think so," he rejoined, apparently relieved. "And
anyway," he cried, with a burst of feeling, "I hate the gritty feeling
of it under my feet! Solid oak's the only walking for a man."
He left me hastily, as though a trifle ashamed. I thought he seemed
depressed, even a little furtive, and yet on analysis I could discover
nothing definite on which to base such a conclusion.
It was rather a feeling of difference from the man I had known. In
my fatigue it seemed hardly worth thinking about.
The men had rolled themselves in their blankets, tired with the long
Next morning Captain Selover was ashore early. He had quite recovered
his spirits, and offered me a dram of French brandy, which I refused.
We worked hard again; again the master returned at night to his
vessel, this time without a word to any of us; again the men, drugged
by toil, turned in early and slept like the dead.
We became entangled in a mesh of days like these, during which things
were accomplished, but in which was no space for anything but the
tasks imposed upon us. The men for the most part had little to say.
"Por Dios, eet is too mooch work!" sighed Perdosa once.
"Why don't you kick to the Old Man, then?" sneered Thrackles.
The silence that followed, and the sullenness with which Perdosa
readdressed himself to his work, was significant enough of Captain
Selover's past relations with the men.
And how we did clean her! We stripped her of every stitch and sliver
until she floated high, an empty hull, even her spars and running
rigging ashore. I understood now the crew's grumbling. We literally
went at her with a nail brush.
Captain Selover took charge of us when we had reached this period.
He and the Nigger and Perdosa had long since finished the installation
of the permanent camp. They had built us huts from the wreck, collecting
stateroom doors for the sides, and hatches for the roofs, huge and
solid, with iron rings in them. The bronze and iron ventilation
gratings to the doors gave us glimpses of the coast through fretwork;
the rich inlaying of woods surrounded us. We set up on a solid rock
the galley stove--with its rails to hold the cooking pots from
upsetting, in a sea way. In it we burned the debris of the wreck, all
sorts of wood, some sweet and aromatic and spicy as an incensed
cathedral. I have seen the Nigger boiling beans over a blaze of sandal
wood fragrant as an Eastern shop.
First we scrubbed the _Laughing Lass_, then we painted her, and
resized and tarred her standing rigging, resized and rove her running
gear, slushed her masts, finally careened her and scraped and painted
When we had quite finished, we had the anchor chain dealt out to us
in fathoms, and scraped, pounded and polished that. These were indeed
days full of labour.
Being busy from morning until night we knew but little of what was
about us. We saw the open sea and the waves tumbling over the reef
outside. We saw the headlands, and the bow of the bay and the surf
with its watching seals and the curve of yellow sands. We saw the
sweep of coast and the downs and the strange huts we had built out
of departed magnificence. And that was all; that constituted our world.
In the evening sometimes we lit a big bonfire, sailor fashion, just
at the edge of the beach. There we sat at ease and smoked our pipes
in silence, too tired to talk. Even Handy Solomon's song was still.
Outside the circle of light were mysterious things--strange wavings
of white hands, bendings of figures, callings of voices, rustling of
feet. We knew them for the surf and the wind in the grasses: but they
were not the less mysterious for that.
Logically Captain Selover and I should have passed most of our
evenings together. As a matter of fact we so spent very few. Early
in the dusk the captain invariably rowed himself out to his beloved
schooner. What he did there I do not know. We could see his light now
in one part of her, now in the other. The men claimed he was scrubbing
her teeth. "Old Scrubs" they called him to his back: never Captain
"He has to clean up after his own feet, he's so dirty," sagely
proffered Handy Solomon. And this was true.
The seaman's prophecy held good. Seven weeks held us at that infernal
job--seven weeks of solid, grinding work. The worst of it was, that
we were kept at it so breathlessly, as though our very existence were
to depend on the headlong rush of our labour. And then we had fully
half the stores to put away again, and the other half to transport
painfully over the neck of land from the cove to the beach.
So accustomed had I become to the routine in which we were involved,
so habituated to anticipating the coming day as exactly like the day
that had gone, that the completion of our job caught me quite by
surprise. I had thrown myself down by the fire prepared for the some
old half hour of drowsy nicotine, to be followed by the accustomed
heavy sleep, and the usual early rising to toil. The evening was warm;
I half closed my eyes.
Handy Solomon was coming in last. Instead of dropping to his place,
he straddled the fire, stretching his arms over his head. He let them
fall with a sharp exhalation.
"'Lay aloft, lay aloft,' the jolly bos'n cried.
_Blow high, blow low, what care we!_
'Look ahead, look astern, look a-windward, look a-lee.'
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e._"
The effect was electrical. We all sprang to our feet and fell to
talking at once.
"By God, we're _through_!" cried Pulz. "I'd clean forgot it!"
The Nigger piled on more wood. We drew closer about the fire. All the
interests in life, so long held in the background, leaped forward,
eager for recognition. We spoke of trivialities almost for the first
time since our landing, fused into a temporary but complete good
fellowship by the relief.
"Wonder how the old doctor is getting on?" ventured Thrackles, after
"The devil's a preacher! I wonder?" cried Handy Solomon.
"Let's make 'em a call," suggested Pulz.
"Don't believe they'd appreciate the compliment," I laughed. "Better
let them make first call: they're the longer established." This was
lost on them, of course. But we all felt kindly to one another that
I carried the glow of it with me over until next morning, and was
therefore somewhat dashed to meet Captain Selover, with clouded brows
and an uncertain manner. He quite ignored my greeting.
"By God, Eagen," he squeaked, "can you think of anything more to be
I straightened my back and laughed.
"Haven't you worked us hard enough?" I inquired. "Unless you gild the
cabins, I don't see what else there can be to do."
Captain Selover stared me over.
"And you a naval man!" he marvelled. "Don't you see that the only
thing that keeps this crew from gettin' restless is keeping them busy?
I've sweat a damn sight more with my brain than you have with your
back thinking up things to do. I can't see anything ahead, and then
we'll have hell to pay. Oh, they're a sweet lot!"
I whistled and my crest fell. Here was a new point of view; and also
a new Captain Ezra. Where was the confidence in the might of his two
He seemed to read my thoughts, and went on.
"I don't feel _sure_ here on this cussed land. It ain't like a
deck where a man has some show. They can scatter. They can hide. It
ain't right to put a man ashore alone with such a crew. I'm doing my
best, but it ain't goin' to be good enough. I wisht we were safe in
He would have maundered on, but I seized his arm and led him out of
possible hearing of the men.
"Here, buck up!" I said to him sternly. "There's nothing to be scared
of. If it comes to a row, there's three of us and we've got guns. We
could even sail the schooner at a pinch, and leave them here. You've
stood them off before."
"Not ashore," protested Captain Selover weakly.
"Well, they don't know that. For God's sake don't let them see you've
lost your nerve this way." He did not even wince at the accusation.
"Put up a front."
He shook his head. The sand had completely run out of him. Yet I am
convinced that if he could have felt the heave and roll of the deck
beneath him, he would have faced three times the difficulties he now
feared. However, I could see readily enough the wisdom of keeping the
men at work.
"You can wreck the _Golden Horn_," I suggested. "I don't know
whether there's anything left worth salvage; but it'll be something
He clapped me on the shoulder.
"Good!" he cried, "I never thought of it."
"Another thing," said I, "you better give them a day off a week. That
can't hurt them and it'll waste just that much more time."
"All right," agreed Captain Selover.
"Another thing yet. You know I'm not lazy, so it ain't that I'm trying
to dodge work. But you'd better lay me off. It'll be so much more for
"That's true," said he.
I could not recognise the man for what I knew him to be. He groped,
as one in the dark, or as a sea animal taken out of its element and
placed on the sands. Courage had given place to fear; decision to
wavering; and singleness of purpose to a divided counsel. He who had
so thoroughly dominated the entire ship, eagerly accepted advice of
me--a man without experience.
That evening I sat apart considerably disturbed. I felt that the
ground had dropped away beneath my feet. To be sure, everything was
tranquil at present; but now I understood the source of that
tranquillity and how soon it must fail. With opportunity would come
more scheming, more speculation, more cupidity. How was I to meet it,
with none to back me but a scared man, an absorbed man, and an
WRECKING OF THE GOLDEN HORN
Percy Darrow, unexpected, made his first visit to us the very next
evening. He sauntered in with a Mexican corn-husk cigarette between
his lips, carrying a lantern; blew the light out, and sat down with
a careless greeting, as though he had seen us only the day before.
"Hullo, boys," said he, "been busy?"
"How are ye, sir?" replied Handy Solomon. "Good Lord, mates, look at
Our eyes followed the direction of his forefinger. Against the dark
blue of the evening sky to northward glowed a faint phosphorescence,
arch-shaped, from which shot, with pulsating regularity, long shafts
of light. They beat almost to the zenith, and back again, a half dozen
times, then the whole illumination disappeared with the suddenness
of gas turned out.
"Now I wonder what that might be!" marvelled Thrackles.
"Northern lights," hazarded Pulz. "I've seen them almost like that
in the Behring Seas."
"Northern lights your eye!" sneered Handy Solomon. "You may have seen
them in the Behring Seas, but never this far south, and in August,
and you can, kiss the Book on that."
"What do you think, sir?" Thrackles inquired of the assistant.
"Devil's fire," replied Percy Darrow briefly. "The island's a little
queer. I've noticed it before."
"Debbil fire," repeated the Nigger.
Darrow turned directly to him.
"Yes, devil's fire; and devils, too, for all I know; and certainly
vampires. Did you ever hear of vampires, Doctor?"
"No," growled the Nigger.
"Well, they are women, wonderful, beautiful women. A man on a long
voyage would just smack his lips to see them. They have shiny grey
eyes, and lips red as raspberries. When you meet them they will talk
with you and go home with you. And then when you're asleep they tear
a little hole in your neck with their sharp claws, and they suck the
blood with their red lips. When they aren't women, they take the shape
of big bats like birds." He turned to me with so beautifully casual
an air that I wanted to clap him on the back with the joy of it.
"By the way, Eagen, have you noticed those big bats the last few
evenings, over by the cliff? _I_ can't make out in the dusk
whether they are vampires or just plain bats." He directed his remarks
again to the Nigger. "Next time you see any of those big bats, Doctor,
just you notice close. If they have just plain, black eyes, they're
all right; but if they have grey eyes, with red rims around 'em,
they're vampires. I wish you'd let me know, if you do find out. It's
"Don' get me near no bats," growled the Nigger.
"Where's Selover?" inquired Darrow.
"He stays aboard," I hastened to say. "Wants to keep an eye on the
"That's laudable. What have you been doing?"
"We've been cleaning ship. Just finished yesterday evening."
"We were thinking of wrecking the _Golden Horn_."