Part 3 out of 5
"Quite right. Well, if you want any help with your engines or anything
of the sort, call on me."
He arose and began to light his lantern. "I hope as how you're getting
on well there above, sir?" ventured Handy Solomon insinuatingly.
"Very well, I thank you, my man," replied Percy Darrow drily.
"Remember those vampires, Doctor."
He swung the lantern and departed without further speech. We followed
the spark of it until it disappeared in the arroyo.
Behind us bellowed the sea; over against us in the sky was the dull
threatening glow of the volcano; about us were mysterious noises of
crying birds, barking seals, rustling or rushing winds. I felt the
thronging ghosts of all the old world's superstition swirling madly
behind us in the eddies that twisted the smoke of our fire.
We wrecked the _Golden Horn_. Forward was a rusted-out donkey
engine, which we took to pieces and put together again. It was no mean
job, for all the running parts had to be cleaned smooth, and with the
exception of a rudimentary knowledge on the part of Pulz and Perdosa,
we were ignorant. In fact we should not have succeeded at all had it
not been for Percy Darrow and his lantern. The first evening we took
him over to the cliff's edge he laughed aloud.
"Jove, boys, how could you guess it _all_ wrong," he wondered.
With a few brief words he set us right, Pulz, Perdosa, and I listening
intently; the others indifferent in the hopelessness of being able
to comprehend. Of course, we went wrong again in our next day's
experiments; but Darrow was down two or three times a week, and
gradually we edged toward a practical result.
His explanations consumed but a few moments. After they were finished,
we adjourned to the fire.
Thus we came gradually to a better acquaintance with the doctor's
assistant. In many respects he remained always a puzzle, to me.
Certainly the men never knew how to take him. He was evidently not
only unafraid of them, but genuinely indifferent to them.
Yet he displayed a certain interest in their needs and affairs. His
practical knowledge was enormous. I think I have told you of the
completeness of his arrangements--everything had been foreseen from
grindstones to gas nippers. The same quality of concrete speculation
showed him what we lacked in our own lives.
There was, as you remember, the matter of Handy Solomon's steel claw.
He showed Thrackles a kind of lanyard knot that deep-sea person had
never used. He taught Captain Selover how to make soft soap out of
one species of seaweed. Me, he initiated in the art of fishing with
a white bone lure. Our camp itself he reconstructed on scientific lines
so that we enjoyed less aromatic smoke and more palatable dinner. And
all of it he did amusedly, as though his ideas were almost too obvious
to need communication.
We became in a manner intimate with him. He guyed the men in his
indolent fashion, playing on their credulity, their good nature, even
their forbearance. They alternately grinned and scowled. He left
always a confused impression, so that no one really knew whether he
cherished rancour against Percy Darrow or kindly feeling.
The Nigger was Darrow's especial prey. The assistant had early
discovered that the cook was given to signs, omens, and superstitions.
From a curious scholar's lore he drew fantastics with which to torment
his victim. We heard of all the witches, warlocks, incubi, succibi,
harpies, devils, imps, and haunters of Avitchi, from all the teachings
of history, sacred and profane, Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, mediaeval,
Swedenborg, Rosicrucian, theosophy, theology, with every last ounce
of horror, mystery, shivers, and creeps squeezed out of them. They
were gorgeous ghost stories, for they were told by a man fully informed
as to all the legendary and gruesome details. At first I used to think
he might have communicated it more effectively. Then I saw that the
cool, drawling manner, the level voice, were in reality the highest
art. He told his stories in a half-amused, detached manner which imposed
confidence more readily than any amount of earnest asseveration. The
mere fact of his own belief in what he said came to matter little.
He was the vehicle by which was brought accurate knowledge. He had
read all these things, and now reported them as he had read: each man
could decide for himself as to their credibility.
At last the donkey engine was cleared and reinstalled, atop the cliff.
The Nigger built under her a fire of black walnut; Captain Selover
handed out grog all around; and we started her up with a cheer, just
to see the wheels revolve.
Next we half buried some long hatches, end up, to serve as bitts for
the lines, hitched our cables to them, and joyfully commenced the task
of pulling the _Golden Horn_ piece by piece up the side of the
The stores were badly damaged by the wet, and there was no liquor,
for which I was sincerely grateful. We broke into the boxes, and arrayed
ourselves in various garments--which speedily fell to pieces--and
appropriated gim-cracks of all sorts. There were some arms, but the
ammunition had gone bad. Perdosa, out of forty or fifty mis-fires,
got one feeble sputter, and a tremendous _bang_ which blew up
his piece, leaving only the stock in his hand. A few tinned goods were
edible; but all the rest was destroyed. A lot of hard woods, a
thousand feet of chain cable, and a fairly good anchor might be
considered as prizes. As for the rest, it was foolishness, but we
hauled it up just the same until nothing at all remained. Then we shut
off the donkey engine, and put on dry clothes. We had been quite happy
for the eight months.
It was now well along toward spring. The winter had been like summer,
and with the exception of a few rains of a week or so, we had enjoyed
beautiful skies. The seals had thinned out considerably, but were now
returning in vast numbers ready for their annual domestic
Our Sundays we had mostly spent in resting, or in fishing. There were
many deep sea fish to be had, of great palatability, but small
gameness; they came like so many leaden weights. A few of us had
climbed some of the hills in a half-hearted curiosity, but from their
summits saw nothing to tempt weariness. Practically we knew nothing
beyond the mile or so of beach on which we lived.
Captain Selover had made a habit of coming ashore at least once during
the day. He had contented himself with standing aloof, but I took
pains to seem to confer with him, so that the men might suppose that
I, as mate, was engaged in carrying out his directions. The dread of
him was my most potent influence over them.
During the last few days of our wrecking, Captain Selover had omitted
his daily visit. The fact made me uneasy, so that at my first
opportunity I sculled myself out to the schooner. I found him,
moist-eyed as usual, leaning against the mainmast doing nothing.
"We've finished, sir," said I.
He looked at me.
"Will you come ashore and have a look, sir?" I inquired.
"I ain't going ashore again," he muttered thickly.
"What!" I cried.
"I ain't going ashore again," he repeated obstinately, "and that's
all there is to it. It's too much of a strain on any man. Suit yourself.
You run them. I shipped as captain of a vessel. I'm no dock walloper.
I won't _do_ it--for no man!"
I gasped with dismay at the man's complete moral collapse. It seemed
incredible. I caught myself wondering whether he would recover tone
were he again to put to sea.
"My God, man, but you _must_!" I cried at last.
"I won't, and that's flat," said he, and turned deliberately on his
heel and disappeared in the cabin.
I went ashore thoughtful and a little scared. But on reflection I
regained a great part of my ease of mind. You see, I had been with
these men now eight months, during which they had been as orderly as
so many primary schoolboys. They had worked hard, without grumbling,
and had even approached a sort of friendliness about the camp fire.
My first impression was overlaid. As I looked back on the voyage, with
what I took to be a clearer vision, I could not but admit that the
incidents were in themselves trivial enough--a natural excitement by
a superstitious negro, a little tall talk that meant nothing. It must
have been the glamour of the adventure that had deceived me; that,
and the unusual stage setting and costuming. Certainly few men would
work hard for eight months without a murmur, without a chance to look
In that, of course, I was deceived by my inexperience. I realised
later the wonderful effect Captain Selover threw away with his empty
brandy bottles. The crew might grumble and plot during the watch
below; but when Captain Ezra Selover said _work_, they worked.
He had been saying work, for eight months. They had, from force of
experience, obeyed him. It was all very simple.
THE EMPTY BRANDY BOTTLE
So there I was at once deprived of my chief support. Although no
danger seemed imminent, nevertheless the necessity of acting on my
own initiative and responsibility oppressed me somewhat.
Truth to tell, after the first, I was more relieved than dismayed at
the captain's resolution to stay aboard. His drinking habit was
growing on him, and afloat or ashore he was now little more than a
figurehead, so that my chief asset as far as he was concerned, was
rather his reputation than his direct influence. In contact with the
men, I dreaded lest sooner or later he do something to lessen or
destroy the awe in which they held him.
Of course Dr. Schermerhorn had been mistaken in his man: A real
captain of men would have risen to circumstances wherever he found
them. But who could have foretold? Captain Selover had been a rascal
always, but a successful and courageous rascal. He had run desperate
chances, dominated desperate crews. Who could know that a crumble of
island beach and six months ashore would turn him into what he had
become? Yet I believe such cases are not uncommon in other walks of
life. A man and his work combine to mean something; yet both may be
absolutely useless when separated. It was the weak link----
I put in some time praying earnestly that the eyes of the crew might
be blinded, and that the doctor would finish his experiments before
the cauldron could boil up again.
My first act as real commander was to announce holiday. My idea was
that the island would keep the men busy for a while. Then I would
assign them more work to do. They proposed at once a tour into the
We started up the west coast. After three or four miles along a mesa
formation where often we had to circle long detours to avoid the
gullies, we came upon another short beach, and beyond it a series of
ledges on which basked several hundred seals. They did not seem
alarmed. In fact one old bull, scarred by many battles, made toward
We left him, scaled the cliff, and turned up a broad, pleasant valley
toward the interior.
There the later lava flow had been deflected. All that showed of the
original eruption were occasional red outcropping rocks. Soil and
grass had overlaid the mineral. Scattered trees were planted
throughout the flat. Cacti and semi-tropical bushes mingled with brush
on the rounded side hills. A number of brilliant birds fluttered at
Suddenly Handy Solomon, who was in advance, stopped and pointed to
the crest of the hill. A file of animals moved along the sky line.
"Mutton!" said he, "or the devil's a preacher!"
"Sheep!" cried Thrackles. "Where did they come from?"
"_Golden Horn_," I suggested. "Remember that wide, empty deck
forward? They carried sheep there." The men separated, intending fresh
meat. The affair was ridiculous. These sheep had become as wild as
deer. Our surrounding party with its silly bared knives could only
look after them open-mouthed, as they skipped nimbly between its
"Get a gun of the Old Man, Mr. Eagen," suggested Pulz, "and we'll have
something besides salt horse and fish."
We continued. The island was like this as far as we went. When we
climbed a ridge, we found ourselves looking down on a spider-web of
other valleys and canons of the same nature, all diverging to broad
downs and a jump into the sea, all converging to the outworks that
guarded the volcano with its canopy of vapour.
On our way home we cut across the higher country and the heads of the
canons until we found ourselves looking down on the valley and Dr.
Schermerhorn's camp. The steam from the volcanic blowholes swayed
below us. Through its rifts we saw the tops of the buildings.
Presently we made out Percy Darrow, dressed in overalls, his sleeves
rolled back, and carrying a retort. He walked, very preoccupied, to
one of the miniature craters, where he knelt and went through some
operation indistinguishable at the distance. I looked around to see
my companions staring at him fascinated, their necks craned out, their
bodies drawn back into hiding. In a moment he had finished, and
carried the retort carefully into the laboratory. The men sighed and
stood erect, once more themselves. As we turned away Perdosa voiced
what must have been in the minds of all.
"A man could climb down there," said he.
"Why should he want to?" I demanded sharply.
"_Quien sabe_?" shrugged he.
We turned in silence toward the beach. Each brooded his thoughts. The
sight of that man dressed in overalls, carrying on some mysterious
business, brought home to each of us the fact that our expedition had
an object, as yet unknown to us. The thought had of late dropped into
the background. For my part I had been so immersed in the adventure
and the labour and the insistent need of the hour that I had forgotten
why I had come. Dr. Schermerhorn's purpose was as inscrutable to me
as at first. What had I accomplished?
The men, too, seemed struck with some such idea. There were no yarns
about the camp fire that night. Percy Darrow did not appear, for which
I was sincerely sorry. His presence might have created a diversion.
For some unknown reason all my old apprehensions, my sense of
impending disaster, had returned to me strengthened. In the firelight
the Nigger's sullen face looked sinister, Pulz's nervous white
countenance looked vicious. Thrackles' heavy, bulldog expression was
threatening, Perdosa's Mexican cast fit for knife work in the back.
And Handy Solomon, stretched out, leaning on his elbow, with his red
headgear, his snaky hair, his hook nose, his restless eye and his
glittering steel claw--the glow wrote across his aura the names of
Kid, Morgan, Blackbeard. They sat smoking, staring into the fire with
mesmerised eyes. The silence got on my nerves I arose impatiently and
walked down the pale beach, where the stars glimmered in splashes
along the wettest sands. The black silhouette of the hills against
the dark blue of the night sky; the white of breakers athwart the
indistinct heave of the ocean, a faint light marking the position of
the _Laughing Lass_--that was everything in the world. I made
out some object rolled about in the edge of the wash. At the cost of
wet feet I rescued it. It was an empty brandy bottle.
[Illustration: "These sheep had become as wild as deer"]
CHANGE OF MASTERS
The next day we continued our explorations by land, and so for a week
after that. I thought it best not to relinquish all authority, so I
organised regular expeditions, and ordered their direction. The men
did not object. It was all good enough fun to them.
The net results were that we found a nesting place of sea birds--too
late in the season for eggs; a hot spring near enough camp to be
useful; and that was about all. The sheep were the only animals on
the island, although there were several sorts of birds. In general,
the country was as I have described it--either volcanic or overlaid
with fertile earth. In any case it was canon and hill. We soon grew
tired of climbing and turned our attention to the sea.
With the surf boat we skirted the coast. It was impregnable except
in three places: our own beach, that near the seal rookery, and on
the south side of the island. We landed at each one of these places.
But returning close to the coast we happened upon a cave mouth more
or less guarded by an outlying rock.
The day was calm, so we ventured in. At first I thought it merely a
gorge in the rock, but even while peering for the end wall we slipped
under the archway and found ourselves in a vast room.
Our eyes were dazzled so we could make out little at first. But
through the still, clear water the light filtered freely from below,
showing the bottom as through a sea glass. We saw the fish near the
entrance, and coral and sea growths of marvellous vividness. They
waved slowly as in a draught of air. The medium in which they floated
was absolutely invisible, for, of course, there were no reflections
from its surface. We seemed to be suspended in mid-air, and only when
the dipping oars made rings could we realise that anything sustained
Suddenly the place let loose in pandemonium. The most fiendish cries,
groans, shrieks, broke out, confusing themselves so thoroughly with
their own echoes that the volume of sound was continuous. Heavy
splashes shook the water. The boat rocked. The invisible surface was
broken into facets.
We shrank, terrified. From all about us glowed hundreds of eyes like
coals of fire--on a level with us, above us, almost over our heads.
Two by two the coals were extinguished.
Below us the bottom was clouded with black figures, darting rapidly
like a school of minnows beneath a boat. They darkened the coral and
the sands and the glistening sea growths just as a cloud temporarily
darkens the landscape--only the occultations and brightenings
succeeded each other much more swiftly.
We stared stupefied, our thinking power blurred by the incessent whirl
of motion and noise.
Suddenly Thrackles laughed aloud.
"Seals!" he shouted through his trumpeted hands.
Our eyes were expanding to the twilight. We could make out the arch
of the room, its shelves, and hollows, and niches. Lying on them we
could discern the seals, hundreds and hundreds of them, all staring
at us, all barking and bellowing. As we approached, they scrambled
from their elevations, and, diving to the bottom, scurried to the entrance
of the cave.
We lay on our oars for ten minutes. Then silence fell. There persisted
a tiny _drip, drip, drip_ from some point in the darkness. It
merely accentuated the hush. Suddenly from far in the interior of the
hill there came a long, hollow _boo-o-o-m_! It reverberated,
roaring. The surge that had lifted our boat some minutes before thus
reached its journey's end.
The chamber was very lofty. As we rowed cautiously in, it lost nothing
of its height, but something in width. It was marvellously coloured,
like all the volcanic rocks of this island. In addition some chemical
drip had thrown across its vividness long gauzy streamers of white.
We rowed in as far as the faintest daylight lasted us. The occasional
reverberating _boom_ of the surges seemed as distant as ever.
This was beyond the seal rookery on the beach. Below it we entered
an open cleft of some size to another squarer cave. It was now high
tide; the water extended a scant ten fathoms to end on an interior
shale beach. The cave was a perfectly straight passage following the
line of the cleft. How far in it reached we could not determine, for
it, too, was full of seals, and after we had driven them back a hundred
feet or so their fiery eyes scared us out. We did not care to put them
at bay. The next day I rowed out to the _Laughing Lass_ and got
a rifle. I found the captain asleep in his bunk, and did not disturb
him. Perdosa and I, with infinite pains, tracked and stalked the
sheep, of which I killed one. We found the mutton excellent. The
hunting was difficult, and the quarry, as time went on, more and more
suspicious, but henceforward we did not lack for fresh meat.
Furthermore we soon discovered that fine trolling was to be had
outside the reef. We rigged a sail for the extra dory, and spent much
of our time at the sport. I do not know the names of the fish. They
were very gamy indeed, and ran from five to an indeterminate number
of pounds in weight. Above fifty pounds our light tackle parted, so
we had no means of knowing how large they may have been.
Thus we spent very pleasantly the greater part of two weeks. At the
end of that time I made up my mind that it would be just as well to
get back to business. Accordingly I called Perdosa and directed him
to sort and clear of rust the salvaged chain cable. He refused flatly.
I took a step toward him. He drew his knife and backed away.
"Perdosa," said I firmly, "put up that knife."
"No," said he.
I pulled the saw-barrelled Colt's 45 and raised it slowly to a level
with his breast.
"Perdosa," I repeated, "drop that knife."
The crisis had come, but my resolution was fully prepared for it. I
should not have cared greatly if I had had to shoot the man--as I
certainly should have done had he disobeyed. There would then have
been one less to deal with in the final accounting, which strangely
enough I now for a moment never doubted would come. I had not before
aimed at a man's life, so you can see to what tensity the baffling
mystery had strung me.
Perdosa hesitated a fraction of an instant. I really think he might
have chanced it, but Handy Solomon, who had been watching me closely,
growled at him.
"Drop it, you fool!" he said.
Perdosa let fall the knife.
"Now, get at that cable," I commanded, still at white heat. I stood
over him until he was well at work, then turned back to set tasks for
the other men. Handy Solomon met me halfway.
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Eagen," said he, "I want a word with you."
"I have nothing to say to you," I snapped, still excited.
"It ain't reasonable not to hear a man's say," he advised in his most
conciliatory manner, "I'm talking for all of us."
He paused a moment, took my silence for consent, and went ahead.
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Eagen," said he, "we ain't going to do any
more useless work. There ain't no laziness about us, but we ain't
going to be busy at nothing. All the camp work and the haulin' and
cuttin' and cleanin' and the rest of it, we'll do gladly. But we ain't
goin' to pound any more cable, and you can kiss the Book on that."
"You mean to mutiny?" I asked.
He made a deprecatory gesture.
"Put us aboard ship, sir, and let us hear the Old Man give his orders,
and you'll find no mutiny in us. But here ashore it's different. Did
the Old Man give orders to pound the cable?"
"I represent the captain," I stammered.
He caught the evasion. "I thought so. Well, if you got any kick on
us, please, sir, go get the Old Man. If he says to our face, pound
cable, why pound cable it is. Ain't that right, boys?"
They murmured something. Perdosa deliberately dropped his hammer and
joined the group. My hand strayed again toward the sawed-off Colt's
"I wouldn't do that," said Handy Solomon, almost kindly. "You couldn't
kill us all. And w'at good would it do? I asks you that. I can cut
down a chicken with my knife at twenty feet. You must surely see, sir,
that I could have killed you too easy while you were covering Pancho
there. This ain't got to be a war, Mr. Eagen, just because we don't
want to work without any sense to it."
There was more of the same sort. I had plenty of time to see my
dilemma. Either I would have to abandon my attempt to keep the men
busy, or I would have to invoke the authority of Captain Selover. To
do the latter would be to destroy it. The master had become a stuffed
figure, a bogie with which to frighten, an empty bladder that a prick
would collapse. With what grace I could muster, I had to give in.
"You'll have to have it your own way, I suppose," I snapped.
Thrackles grinned, and Pulz started to say something, but Handy
Solomon, with a peremptory gesture, and a black scowl, stopped him
"Now that's what I calls right proper and handsome!" he cried
admiringly. "We reely had no right to expect that, boys, as seamen,
from our first officer! You can kiss the Book on it, that very few
crews have such kind masters. Mr. Eagen has the right, and we signed
to it all straight, to work us as he pleases; and w'at does he do?
Why, he up and gives us a week shore leave, and then he gives us light
watches, and all the time our pay goes on just the same. Now that's
w'at I calls right proper and handsome conduct, or the devil's a
preacher, and I ventures with all respect to propose three cheers for
They gave them, grinning broadly. The villain stood looking at me,
a sardonic gleam in the back of his eye. Then he gave a little hitch
to his red head covering, and sauntered away humming between his teeth.
I stood watching him, choked with rage and indecision. The humming
broke into words.
"'Oh, quarter, oh, quarter!' the jolly pirates cried.
_Blow high, blow low! What care we_?
But the quarter that we gave them was to sink them in the sea,
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e_."
"Here, you swab," he cried to Thrackles, "and you, Pancho! get some
wood, lively! And Pulz, bring us a pail of water. Doctor, let's have
duff to celebrate on."
The men fell to work with alacrity.
That evening I smoked in a splendid isolation while the men whispered
apart. I had nothing to do but smoke, and to chew my cud, which was
bitter. There could be no doubt, however I may have saved my face,
that command had been taken from me by that rascal, Handy Solomon.
I was in two minds as to whether or not I should attempt to warn Darrow
or the doctor. Yet what could I say? and against whom should I warn
them? The men had grumbled, as men always do grumble in idleness, and
had perhaps talked a little wildly; but that was nothing.
The only indisputable fact I could adduce was that I had allowed my
authority to slip through my fingers. And adequately to excuse that,
I should have to confess that I was a writer and no handler of men.
I abandoned the unpleasant train of thought with a snort of disgust,
but it had led me to another. In the joy and uncertainty of living
I had practically lost sight of the reason for my coming. With me it
had always been more the adventure than the story; my writing was a
by-product, a utilisation of what life offered me. I had set sail
possessed by the sole idea of ferreting out Dr. Schermerhorn's
investigations, but the gradual development of affairs had ended by
absorbing my every faculty. Now, cast into an eddy by my change of
fortunes, the original idea regained its force. I was out of the
active government of affairs, with leisure on my hands, and my
thoughts naturally turned with curiosity again to the laboratory in
Darrow's "devil fires" were again painting the sky. I had noticed them
from time to time, always with increasing wonder. The men accepted
them easily as only one of the unexplained phenomena of a sailor's
experience, but I had not as yet hit on a hypothesis that suited me.
They were not allied to the aurora; they differed radically from the
ordinary volcanic emanations; and scarcely resembled any electrical
displays I had ever seen. The night was cool; the stars bright: I
resolved to investigate.
Without further delay I arose to my feet and set off into the
darkness. Immediately one of the group detached himself from the fire
and joined me.
"Going for a little walk, sir?" asked Handy Solomon sweetly. "That's
quite right and proper. Nothin' like a little walk to get you fit and
right for your bunk."
He held close to my elbow. We got just as far as the stockade in the
bed of the arroyo. The lights we could make out now across the zenith;
but owing to the precipitance of the cliffs, and the rise of the
arroyo bed, it was impossible to see more. Handy Solomon felt the
"A man would think, sir, it was a cannibal island," he observed. "All
so tight and tidy-like here. It would take a ship's guns to batter
her down. A man might dig under these here two gate logs, if no one
was against him. Like to try it, sir?"
"No," I answered gruffly.
From that time on I was virtually a prisoner; yet so carefully was
my surveillance accomplished that I could place my finger on nothing
definite. Someone always accompanied me on my walks; and in the
evening I was herded as closely as any cattle.
Handy Solomon took the direction of affairs off my hands. You may be
sure he set no very heavy tasks. The men cut a little wood, carried
up a few pails of water--that was all.
Lacking incentive to stir about, they came to spend most of their time
lying on their backs watching the sky. This in turn bred a languor
which is the sickest, most soul- and temper-destroying affair invented
by the devil. They could not muster up energy enough to walk down the
beach and back, and yet they were wearied to death of the inaction.
After a little they became irritable toward one another. Each
suspected the other of doing less than he should. You who know men
will realise what this meant.
The atmosphere of our camp became surly. I recognised the precursor
of its becoming dangerous. One day on a walk in the hills I came on
Thrackles and Pulz lying on their stomachs gazing down fixedly at Dr.
Schermerhorn's camp. This was nothing extraordinary, but they started
guiltily to their feet when they saw me, and made off, growling under
All this that I have told you so briefly, took time. It was the eating
through of men's spirits by that worst of corrosives, idleness. I
conceive it unnecessary to weary you with the details----
The situation was as yet uneasy but not alarming. One evening I
overheard the beginning of an absurd plot to gain entrance to the
Valley--that was as far as detail went. I became convinced at last
that I should in some way warn Percy Darrow.
That seems a simple enough proposition, does it not? But if you will
stop to think one moment of the difficulties of my position, you will
see that it was not as easy as at first it appears. Darrow still
visited us in the evening. The men never allowed me even the chance
of private communication while he was with us. One or two took pains
to stretch out between us. Twice I arose when the assistant did, resolved
to accompany him part way back. Both times men resolutely escorted
us, and as resolutely separated us from the opportunity of a single
word apart. The crew never threatened me by word or look. But we understood
I was not permitted to row out to the _Laughing Lass_ without
escort. Therefore I never attempted to visit her again. The men were
not anxious to do so, their awe of the captain made them only too glad
to escape his notice. That empty shell of a past reputation was my
only hope. It shielded the arms and ammunition.
As I look back on it now, the period seems to me to be one of merely
potential trouble. The men had not taken the pains to crystallise
their ideas. I really think their compelling emotion was that of
curiosity. They wanted to _see_. It needed a definite impulse
to change that desire to one of greed.
The impulse came from Percy Darrow and his idle talk of voodoos. As
usual he was directing his remarks to the sullen Nigger.
"Voodoos?" he said. "Of course there are. Don't fool yourself for a
minute on that. There are good ones and bad ones. You can tame them
if you know how, and they will do anything you want them to." Pulz
chuckled in his throat. "You don't believe it?" drawled the assistant
turning to him. "Well, it's so. You know that heavy box we are so
careful of? Well, that's got a tame voodoo in it."
The others laughed.
"What he like?" asked the Nigger gravely.
"He's a fine voodoo, with wavery arms and green eyes, and red glows."
Watching narrowly its effect he swung off into one of the genuine old
crooning voodoo songs, once so common down South, now so rarely heard.
No one knows what the words mean--they are generally held to be
charm-words only--a magic gibberish. But the Nigger sprang across the
fire like lightning, his face altered by terror, to seize Darrow by
"Doan you! Doan you!" he gasped, shaking the assistant violently back
and forth. "Dat he King Voodoo song! Dat call him all de voodoo--all!"
He stared wildly about in the darkness as though expecting to see the
night thronged. There was a moment of confusion. Eager for any chance
I hissed under my breath; "Danger! Look out!"
I could not tell whether or not Darrow heard me. He left soon after.
The mention of the chest had focussed the men's interest.
"Well," Pulz began, "we've been here on this spot o' hell for a long
"A year and five months," reckoned Thrackles.
"A man can do a lot in that time."
"If he's busy."
"They've been busy."
"Wonder what they've done?"
There was no answer to this, and the sea lawyer took a new tack.
"I suppose we're all getting double wages."
"And that's say four hunder' for us and Mr. Eagen here. I suppose the
Old Man don't let the schooner go for nothing."
"Two hundred and fifty a month," said I, and then would have had the
They cried out in prolonged astonishment.
"Seventeen months," pursued the logician after a few moments. He
scratched with a stub of lead. "That makes over eleven thousand
dollars since we've been out. How much do you suppose his outfit
stands him?" he appealed to me.
"I'm sure I can't tell you," I replied shortly.
"Well, it's a pile of money, anyway."
Nobody said anything for some time.
"Wonder what they've done?" Pulz asked again.
"Something that pays big." Thrackles supplied the desired answer.
"Dat chis'----" suggested Perdosa.
"Voodoo----" muttered the Nigger.
"That's to scare us out," said Handy Solomon, with vast contempt.
"That's what makes me sure it _is_ the chest."
Pulz muttered some of the jargon of alchemy.
"That's it," approved Handy Solomon. "If we could get----"
"We wouldn't know how to use it," interrupted Pulz.
"The book----" said Thrackles.
"Well, the book----" asserted Pulz pugnaciously.
"How do you know what it will be? It may be the Philosopher's Stone
and it may be one of these other damn things. And then where'd we be?"
It was astounding to hear this nonsense bandied about so seriously.
And yet they more than half believed, for they were deep-sea men of
the old school, and this was in print. Thrackles voiced approximately
the general attitude.
"Philosopher's stone or not, something's up. The old boy took too good
care of that box, and he's spending too much money, and he's got hold
of too much hell afloat to be doing it for his health."
"You know w'at I t'ink?" smiled Perdosa. "He mak' di'mon's. He
The Nigger had entered one of his black, brooding moods from which
these men expected oracles.
"Get him ches'," he muttered. "I see him full--full of di'mon's!"
They listened to him with vast respect, and were visibly impressed.
So deep was the sense of awe that Handy Solomon unbent enough to whisper
"I don't take any stock in the Nigger's talk _ordinarily_. He's
a hell of a fool nigger. But when his eye looks like that, then you
want to listen close. He sees things then. Lots of times he's seen
things. Even last year--the _Oyama_--he told about her three days
ahead. That's why we were so ready for her," he chuckled.
Nothing more developed for a long time except a savage fight between
Pulz and Perdosa. I hunted sheep, fished, wandered about--always with
an escort tired to death before he started. The thought came to me
to kill this man and so to escape and make cause with the scientists.
My common sense forbade me. I begin to think that common sense is a
very foolish faculty indeed.
It taught me the obvious--that all this idle, vapouring talk was
common enough among men of this class, so common that it would hardly
justify a murder, would hardly explain an unwarranted intrusion on
those who employed me. How would it look for me to go to them with
these words in my mouth:
"The captain has taken to drinking to dull the monotony. The crew
think you are an alchemist and are making diamonds. Their interest
in this fact seemed to me excessive, so I killed one of them, and here
"And who are you?" they could ask.
"I am a reporter," would be my only truthful reply.
You can see the false difficulties of my position. I do not defend
my attitude. Undoubtedly a born leader of men, like Captain Selover
at his best, would have known how to act with the proper decision both
now and in the inception of the first mutiny. At heart I never doubted
the reality of the crisis.
Even Percy Darrow saw the surliness of the men's attitudes, and with
his usual good sense divined the cause.
"You chaps are getting lazy," said he, "why don't you do something?
Where's the captain?"
They growled something about there being nothing to do, and explained
that the captain preferred to live aboard.
"Don't blame him," said Darrow, "but he might give us a little of his
squeaky company occasionally. Boys, I'll tell you something about
seals. The old bull seals have long, stiff whiskers--a foot long. Do
you know there's a market for those whiskers? Well, there is. The
Chinese mount them in gold and use them for cleaners for their long
pipes. Each whisker is worth from six bits to a dollar and a quarter.
Why don't you kill a few bull seal for the 'trimmings'?"
"Nothin' to do with a voodoo?" grunted Handy Solomon.
Darrow laughed amusedly. "No, this is the truth," he assured. "I'll
tell you what: I'll give you boys six bits apiece for the whisker
hairs, and four bits for the galls. I expect to sell them at a
Next morning they shook off their lethargy and went seal-hunting.
I was practically commanded to attend. This attitude had been growing
of late: now it began to take a definite form.
"Mr. Eagan, don't you want to go hunting?" or "Mr. Eagen, I guess I'll
just go along with you to stretch my legs," had given way to, "We're
going fishing: you'd better come along."
I had known for a long time that I had lost any real control of them;
and that perhaps humiliated me a little. However, my inexperience at
handling such men, and the anomalous character of my position to some
extent consoled me. In the filaments brushed across the face of my
understanding I could discover none so strong as to support an overt
act on my part. I cannot doubt, that had the affair come to a focus,
I should have warned the scientists even at the risk of my life. In
fact, as I shall have occasion to show you, I did my best. But at the
moment, in all policy I could see my way to little besides
We killed seals by sequestrating the bulls, surrounding them, and
clubbing them at a certain point of the forehead. It was surprising
to see how hard they fought, and how quickly they succumbed to a blow
properly directed. Then we stripped the mask with its bristle of long
whiskers, took the gall, and dragged the carcass into the surf where
it was devoured by fish. At first the men, pleased by the novelty,
stripped the skins. The blubber, often two or three inches in
thickness, had then to be cut away from the pelt, cube by cube. It
was a long, an oily, and odoriferous job. We stunk mightily of seal
oil; our garments were shiny with it, the very pores of our skins seemed
to ooze it. And even after the pelt was fairly well cleared, it had
still to be tanned. Percy Darrow suggested the method, but the process
was long, and generally unsatisfactory. With the acquisition of the
fifth greasy, heavy, and ill-smelling piece of fur the men's interest
in peltries waned. They confined themselves in all strictness to the
Percy Darrow showed us how to clean the whiskers. The process was
evil. The masks were, quite simply, to be advanced so far in the way
of putrefaction that the bristles would part readily from their
sockets. The first batch the men hung out on a line. A few moments
later we heard a mighty squawking, and rushed out to find the island
ravens making off with the entire catch. Protection of netting had
to be rigged. We caught seals for a month or so. There was novelty
in it, and it satisfied the lust for killing. As time went on, the
bulls grew warier. Then we made expeditions to outlying rocks.
Later Handy Solomon approached me on another diplomatic errand.
"The seals is getting shy, sir," said he.
"They are," said I.
"The only way to do is to shoot them," said he.
"Quite like," I agreed.
A pause ensued.
"We've got no cartridges," he insinuated.
"And you've taken charge of my rifle," I pointed out.
"Oh, not a bit, sir," he cried. "Thrackles, he just took it to clean
it--you can have it whenever you want it, sir."
"I have no cartridges--as you have observed," said I.
"There's plenty aboard," he suggested.
"And they're in very good hands there," said I.
He ruminated a moment, polishing the steel of his hook against the
other arm of his shirt. Suddenly he looked up at me with a humorous
"You're afraid of us!" he accused.
I was silent, not knowing just how to meet so direct an attack.
"No need to be," he continued.
I said nothing.
He looked at me shrewdly; then stood off on another tack.
"Well, sir, I didn't mean just that. I didn't mean you was really
scared of us. But we're gettin' to know each other, livin' here on
this old island, brothers-like. There ain't no officers and men
ashore--is there, now, sir? When we gets back to the old _Laughing
Lass_, then we drops back into our dooty again all right and
proper. You can kiss the Book on that. Old Scrubs, he knows that. He
don't want no shore in his. _He_ knows enough to stay aboard,
where we'd all rather be."
He stopped abruptly, spat, and looked at me. I wondered whither this
devious diplomacy led us.
"Still, in one way, an officer's an officer, and a seaman's a seaman,
thinks you, and discipline must be held up among mates ashore or
afloat, thinks you. Quite proper, sir. And I can see you think that
the arms is for the afterguard except in case of trouble. Quite
proper. You can do the shooting, and you can keep the cartridges
always by you. Just for discipline, sir."
The man's boldness in so fully arming me was astonishing, and his
carelessness in allowing me aboard with Captain Selover astonished
me still more. Nevertheless I promised to go for the desired cartridges,
fully resolved to make an appeal.
A further consideration of the elements of the game convinced me,
however, of the fellow's shrewdness. It was no more dangerous to allow
me a rifle--under direct surveillance--for the purposes of hunting,
than to leave me my sawed--off revolver, which I still retained. The
arguments he had used against my shooting Perdosa were quite as cogent
now. As to the second point, I, finding the sun unexpectedly strong,
returned from the cove for my hat, and so overheard the following
between Thrackles and his leader:
"What's to keep him from staying aboard?" cried Thrackles, protesting.
"Well, he might," acknowledged Handy Solomon, "and then are we the
worse off? You ain't going to make a boat attack against Old Scrubs,
"You can kiss the Book on it, you ain't," went on Handy Solomon
easily, "nor me, nor Pulz, nor the Greaser, nor the Nigger, nor none
of us all together. We've had our dose of that. Well, if he goes
aboard and _stays_, where are we the worse off? I asks you that.
But he won't. This is w'ats goin' to happen. Says he to Old Scrubs,
'Sir, the men needs you to bash in their heads.' 'Bash 'em in
yourself,' says he, 'that's w'at you're for.' And if he should come
ashore, w'at could he do? I asks you that. We ain't disobeyed no
orders dooly delivered. We're ready to pull halliards at the word.
No, let him go aboard, and if he peaches to the Old Man, why all the
better, for it just gets the Old Man down on him."
"How about Old Scrubs----"
"Don't you believe none in luck?" asked Handy Solomon. "Aye."
"Well, so do I, with w'at that law-crimp used to call joodicious
I rowed out to the _Laughing Lass_ very thoughtful, and a little
shaken by the plausible argument. Captain Selover was lying dead drunk
across the cabin table. I did my best to waken him, but failed, took
a score of cartridges--no more--and departed sadly. Nothing could be
gained by staying aboard; every chance might be lost. Besides, an
opening to escape in the direction of the laboratory might offer--I,
as well as they, believed in luck judiciously assisted.
In the ensuing days I learned much of the habits of seals. We sneaked
along the cliff tops until over the rookeries; then lay flat on our
stomachs and peered cautiously down on our quarry. The seals had
become very wary. A slight jar, the fall of a pebble, sometimes even
sounds unnoticed by ourselves, were enough to send them into the
water. There they lined up just outside the surf, their sleek heads
glossy with the wet, their calm, soft eyes fixed unblinkingly on us.
It was useless to shoot them in the water: they sank at once.
When, however, we succeeded in gaining an advantageous position, it
was necessary to shoot with extreme accuracy. A bullet directly
through the back of the head would kill cleanly. A hit anywhere else
was practically useless, for even in death the animals seemed to
retain enough blind instinctive vitality to flop them into the water.
There they were lost.
Each rookery consisted of one tremendous bull who officiated
apparently as the standing army; a number of smaller bulls, his direct
descendants; the cows, and the pups. The big bull held his position
by force of arms. Occasionally other, unattached, bulls would come
swimming by. On arriving opposite the rookery the stranger would utter
a peculiar challenge. It was never refused by the resident champion,
who promptly slid into the sea, and engaged battle. If he conquered,
the stranger went on his way. If, however, the stranger won, the big
bull immediately struck out to sea, abandoning his rookery, while the
new-comer swam in and attempted to make his title good with all the
younger bulls. I have seen some fierce combats out there in the blue
water. They gashed each other deep----
You can see by this how our hunting was never at an end. On Tuesday
we would kill the boss bull of a certain establishment. By Thursday,
at latest, another would be installed.
I learned curious facts about seals in those days. The hunting did
not appeal to me particularly, because it seemed to me useless to kill
so large an animal for so small a spoil. Still, it was a means to my
all-absorbing end, and I confess that the stalking, the lying belly
down on the sun-warmed grass over the surge and under the clear sky,
was extremely pleasant. While awaiting the return of the big bull often
we had opportunity to watch the others at their daily affairs, and
even the unresponsive Thrackles was struck with their almost human
intelligence. Did you know that seals kiss each other, and weep tears
The men often discussed among themselves the narrow, dry cave. There
the animals were practically penned in. They agreed that a great
killing could be made there, but the impossibility of distinguishing
between the bulls and the cows deterred them. The cave was quite dark.
Immerced in our own affairs thus, the days, weeks, and months went
by. Events had slipped beyond my control. I had embarked on a journalistic
enterprise, and now that purpose was entirely out of my reach.
Up the valley Dr. Schermerhorn and his assistant were engaged in some
experiment of whose very nature I was still ignorant. Also I was
likely to remain so. The precautions taken against interference by
the men were equally effective against me. As if that were not enough,
any move of investigation on my part would be radically misinterpreted,
and to my own danger, by the men. I might as well have been in London.
However, as to my first purpose in this adventure I had evolved
another plan, and therefore was content. I made up my mind that on
the voyage home, if nothing prevented, I would tell my story to Percy
Darrow, and throw myself on his mercy. The results of the experiment
would probably by then be ready for the public, and there was no
reason, as far as I could see, why I should not get the "scoop" at
Certainly my sincerity would be without question; and I hoped that
two years or more of service such as I had rendered would tickle Dr.
Schermerhorn's sense of his own importance. So adequate did this plan
seem, that I gave up thought on the subject.
My whole life now lay on the shores. I was not again permitted to
board the _Laughing Lass_. Captain Selover I saw twice at a
distance. Both times he seemed to be rather uncertain. The men did
not remark it. The days went by. I relapsed into that state so well
known to you all, when one seems caught in the meshes of a dream existence
which has had no beginning and which is destined never to have an end.
We were to hunt seals, and fish, and pry bivalves from the rocks at
low tide, and build fires, and talk, and alternate between suspicion
and security, between the danger of sedition and the insanity of men
without defined purpose, world without end forever.
"OLD SCRUBS" COMES ASHORE
The inevitable happened. One noon Pulz looked up from his labour of
pulling the whiskers from the evil-smelling masks.
"How many of these damn things we got?" he inquired.
"About three hunder' and fifty," Thrackles replied.
"Well, we've got enough for me. I'm sick of this job. It stinks."
They looked at each other. I could see the disgust rising in their
eyes, the reek of rotten blubber expanding their nostrils. With one
accord they cast aside the masks.
"It ain't such a hell of a fortune," growled Pulz, his evil little
white face thrust forward. "There's other things worth all the seal
trimmin's of the islands."
"Diamon's," gloomed the Nigger.
"You've hit it, Doctor," cut in Solomon.
There we were again, back to the old difficulty, only worse. Idleness
descended on us again. We grew touchy on little things, as a misplaced
plate, a shortage of firewood, too deep a draught at the nearly empty
bucket. The noise of bickering became as constant as the noise of the
surf. If we valued peace, we kept our mouths shut. The way a man spat,
or ate, or slept, or even breathed became a cause of irritation to
every other member of the company. We stood the outrage as long as
we could; then we objected in a wild and ridiculous explosion which
communicated its heat to the object of our wrath. Then there was a
fight. It needed only liquor to complete the deplorable state of
Gradually the smaller things came to worry us more and more. A certain
harmless singer of the cricket or perhaps of the tree-toad variety
used to chirp his innocent note a short distance from our cabin. For
all I know he had done so from the moment of our installation, but
I had never noticed him before. Now I caught myself listening for his
irregular recurrence with every nerve on the quiver. If he delayed
by ever so little, it was an agony; yet when he did pipe up, his feeble
strain struck to my heart cold and paralysing like a dagger. And with
every advancing minute of the night I became broader awake, more
tense, fairly sweating with nervousness. One night--good God, was it
only last week? ... it seems ages ago, another existence ... a state
cut off from this by the wonder of a transmigration, at least ... Last
I did not sleep at all. The moon had risen, had mounted the heavens,
and now was sailing overhead. By the fretwork of its radiance through
the chinks of our rudely-built cabin I had marked off the hours. A
thunderstorm rumbled and flashed, hull down over the horizon. It was
many miles distant, and yet I do not doubt that its electrical
influence had dried the moisture of our equanimity, leaving us
rattling husks for the winds of destiny to play upon. Certainly I can
remember no other time, in a rather wide experience, when I have felt
myself more on edge, more choked with the restless, purposeless
nervous energy that leaves a man's tongue parched and his eyes
staring. And still that infernal cricket, or whatever it was, chirped.
I had thought myself alone in my vigil, but when finally I could stand
it no longer, and kicked aside my covering with an oath of protest,
I was surprised to hear it echoed from all about me.
"Damn that cricket!" I cried.
And the dead shadows stirred from the bunks, and the hollow-eyed
victims of insomnia crept out to curse their tormentor. We organised
an expedition to hunt him down. It was ridiculous enough, six strong
men prowling for the life of one poor little insect. We did not find
him, however, though we succeeded in silencing him. But no sooner were
we back in our bunks than he began it again, and such was the turmoil
of our nerves that day found us sitting wan about a fire, hugging our
We were so genuinely emptied, not so much by the cricket as by the
two years of fermentation, that not one of us stirred toward breakfast,
in fact not one of us moved from the listless attitude in which day
found him, until after nine o'clock. Then we pulled ourselves together
and cooked coffee and salt horse. As a significant fact, the Nigger
left the dishes unwashed, and no one cared.
Handy Solomon finally shook himself and arose.
"I'm sick of this," said he, "I'm goin' seal-hunting."
They arose without a word. They were sick of it, too, sick to death.
We were a silent, gloomy crew indeed as we thrust the surf boat
afloat, clambered in, and shipped the oars. No one spoke a word; no
one had a comment to make, even when we saw the rookery slide into
the water while we were still fifty yards from the beach. We pulled
back slowly along the coast. Beyond the rock we made out the entrance
to the dry cave.
"There's seal in there," cried Handy Solomon, "lots of 'em!"
He thrust the rudder over, and we headed for the cave. No one
expressed an opinion.
As it was again high tide, we rowed in to the steep shore inside the
cave's mouth and beached the boat. The place was full of seals; we
could hear them bellowing.
"Two of you stand here," shouted Handy Solomon, "and take them as they
go out. We'll go in and scare 'em down to you."
"They'll run over us," screamed Pulz.
"No, they won't. You can dodge up the sides when they go by."
This was indeed well possible, so we gripped our clubs and ventured
into the darkness.
We advanced four abreast, for the cave was wide enough for that. As
we penetrated, the bellowing and barking became more deafening.
It was impossible to see anything, although we _felt_ an
indistinguishable tumbling mass receding before our footsteps.
Thrackles swore violently as he stumbled over a laggard. With uncanny
abruptness the black wall of darkness in front of us was alive with
fiery eyeballs. The seals had reached the end of the cave and had
turned toward us. We, too, stopped, a little uncertain as to how to
The first plan had been to get behind the band and to drive it slowly
toward the entrance to the cave. This was now seen to be impossible.
The cavern was too narrow; its sides at this point too steep, and the
animals too thickly congested. Our eyes, becoming accustomed to the
twilight, now began to make out dimly the individual bodies of the
seals and the general configuration of the rocks. One big boulder lay
directly in our path, like an island in the shale of the cave's floor.
Perdosa stepped to the top of it for a better look. The men attempted
to communicate their ideas of what was to be done, but could not make
themselves heard above the uproar. I could see their faces contorting
with the fury of being baffled. A big bull made a dash to get by; all
the herd flippered after him. If he had won past they would have
followed as obstinately as sheep, and nothing could have stopped them,
but the big bull went down beneath the clubs. Thrackles hit the animal
two vindictive blows after it had succumbed.
This settled the revolt, and we stood as before. Pulz and Handy
Solomon tried to converse by signs, but evidently failed, for their
faces showed angry in the twilight. Perdosa, on his rock, rolled and
lit a cigarette. Thrackles paced to and fro, and the Nigger leaned
on his club, farther down the cave. They had been left at the entrance,
but now in lack of results had joined their companions.
Now Thrackles approached and screamed himself black trying to impart
some plan. He failed; but stooped and picked up a stone and threw it
into the mass of seals. The others understood. A shower of stones
followed. The animals milled like cattle, bellowed the louder, but
would not face their tormentors. Finally an old cow flopped by in a
panic. I thought they would have let her go, but she died a little
beyond the bull. No more followed, although the men threw stones as
fast and hard as they were able. Their faces were livid with anger,
like that of an evil-tempered man with an obstinate horse.
Suddenly Handy Solomon put his head down, and with a roar distinctly
audible even above the din that filled the cave, charged directly into
the herd. I saw the beasts cringe before him; I saw his club rising
and falling indiscriminately; and then the whole back of the cave
seemed to rise and come at us.
This was no chance of sport now, but a struggle for very life. We
realised that once down there would be no hope, for while the seals
were more anxious to escape than to fight, we knew that their jaws
were powerful. There was no time to pick and choose. We hit out with
all the strength and quickness we possessed. It was like a bad dream,
like struggling with an elusive hydra-headed monster, knee high,
invulnerable. We hit, but without apparent effect. New heads rose,
the press behind increased. We gave ground. We staggered, struggling
desperately to keep our feet.
How long this lasted I cannot tell. It seemed hours. I know my arms
became leaden from swinging my club; my eyes were full of sweat; my
breath gasped. A sharp pain in my knee nearly doubled me to the ground
and yet I remember clamping to the thought that I must keep my feet,
keep my feet at any cost. Then all at once I recalled the fact that
I was armed. I jerked out the short-barrelled Colt's 45 and turned
it loose in their faces.
Whether the flash and detonation frightened them; whether Perdosa,
still clinging to his rock, managed to turn their attention by his
flanking efforts, or whether, quite simply, the wall of dead finally
turned them back, I do not know, but with one accord they gave over
I looked at once for Handy Solomon, and was surprised to see him still
alive, standing upright on a ledge the other side of the herd. His
clothing was literally torn to shreds, and he was covered with blood.
But in this plight he was not alone, for when I turned toward my
companions they, too, were tattered, torn, and gory. We were a
dreadful crew, standing there in the half-light, our chests heaving,
our rags dripping red.
For perhaps ten seconds no one moved. Then with a yell of demoniac
rage my companions clambered over the rampart of dead seals and
attacked the herd.
The seals were now cowed and defenceless. It was a slaughter, and the
most debauching and brutal I have ever known. I had hit out with the
rest when it had been a question of defence, but from this I turned
aside in a sick loathing. The men seemed possessed of devils, and of
their unnatural energy. Perdosa cast aside the club and took to his
natural weapon, the knife.
I can see him yet rolling over and over embracing a big cow, his head
jammed in an ecstasy of ferocity between the animal's front flippers,
his legs clasped to hold her body, only his right arm rising and
falling as he plunged his knife again and again. She struggled,
turning him over and under, wept great tears, and fairly whined with
terror and pain. Finally she was still, and Perdosa staggered to his
feet, only to stare about him drunkenly for a moment before throwing
himself with a screech on another victim.
The Nigger alone did not jump into the turmoil. He stood just down
the cave, his club ready. Occasionally a disorganised rush to escape
would be made. The Nigger's lips snarled, and with a truly mad enjoyment
he beat the poor animals back.
I pressed against the wall horrified, fascinated, unable either to
interfere or to leave. A close, sticky smell took possession of the
air. After a little a tiny stream, growing each moment, began to flow
past my feet. It sought its channel daintily, as streamlets do,
feeling among the stones in eddies, quiet pools, miniature falls, and
rapids. For the moment I did not realise what it could be. Then the
light caught it down where the Nigger waited, and I saw it was red.
At first the racket of the seals was overpowering. Now, gradually,
it was losing volume. I began to hear the blasphemies, ferocious cries,
screams of anger hurled against the cave walls by the men. The thick,
sticky smell grew stronger; the light seemed to grow dimmer, as though
it could not burn in that fetid air. A seal came and looked up at me,
big tears rolling from her eyes; then she flippered aimlessly away,
out of her poor wits with terror. The sight finished me. I staggered
down the length of the black tunnel to the boat.
After a long interval a little three months' pup waddled down to the
water's edge, caught sight of me, and with a squeal of fright dived
far. Poor little devil! I would not have hurt him for worlds. As far
as I know this was the only survivor of all that herd.
The men soon appeared, one by one, tired, sleepy-eyed, glutted,
walking in a cat-like trance of satiety. They were blood and tatters
from head to foot, and from drying red masks peered their bloodshot
eyes. Not a word said they, but tumbled into the boat, pushed off,
and in a moment we were floating in the full sunshine again. We rowed
home in an abstraction. For the moment Berserker rage had burned itself
out. Handy Solomon continually wetted his lips, like an animal licking
its chops. Thrackles stared into space through eyes drugged with
killing. No one spoke.
We landed in the cove, and were surprised to find it in shadow. The
afternoon was far advanced. Over the hill we dragged ourselves, and
down to the spring. There the men threw themselves flat and drank in
great gulps until they could drink no more. We built a fire, but the
Nigger refused to cook.
"Someone else turn," he growled, "I cook aboard ship."
Perdosa, who had hewed the fuel, at once became angry.
"I cut heem de wood!" he said, "I do my share; eef I cut heem de wood
you mus' cook heem de grub!"
But the Nigger shook his head, and Perdosa went into an ecstasy of
rage. He kicked the fire to pieces; he scattered the unburned wood
up and down the beach; he even threw some of it into the sea.
"Eef you no cook heem de grub, you no hab my wood!" he shrieked, with
enough oaths to sink his soul.
Finally Pulz interfered.
"Here you damn foreigners," said he, "quit it! Let up, I say! We got
to eat. You let that wood alone, or you'll pick it up again!"
Perdosa sprang at him with a screech. Pulz was small but nimble, and
understood rough and tumble fighting. He met Perdosa's rush with two
swift blows--a short arm jab and an upper-cut. Then they clinched,
and in a moment were rolling over and over just beyond the wash of
The row waked the Nigger from his sullen abstraction. He seemed to
come to himself with a start; his eye fell surprisedly on the
combatants, then lit up with an unholy joy. He drew his knife and
crept down on the fighters. It was too good an opportunity to pay off
But Thrackles interfered sharply.
"Come off!" he commanded. "None o' that!"
"Go to hell!" growled the Nigger.
A great rage fell on them all, blind and terrible, like that leading
to the slaughter of the seals. They fought indiscriminately, hitting
at each other with fists and knives. It was difficult to tell who was
against whom. The sound of heavy breathing, dull blows, the tear of
cloth; and grunts of punishment received; the swirl of the sand, the
heave of struggling bodies, all riveted my attention, so that I did
not see Captain Ezra Selover until he stood almost at my elbow.
"Stop!" he shrieked in his high, falsetto voice.
And would you believe it, even through the blood haze of their combat
the men heard him, and heeded. They drew reluctantly apart, got to
their feet, stood looking at him through reeking brows half submissive
and half defiant. The bull-headed Thrackles even took a half step
forward, but froze in his tracks when Old Scrubs looked at him.
"I hire you men to fight when I tell you to, and only then," said the
captain sternly. "What does this mean?"
He menaced them one after another with his eyes, and one after another
they quailed. All their plottings, their threats, their dangerousness
dissipated like mist before the command of this one resolute man.
These pirates who had seemed so dreadful to me, now were nothing more
than cringing schoolboys before their master.
And then suddenly to my horror I, watching closely, saw the captain's
eye turn blank. I am sure the men must have felt the change, though
certainly they were too far away to see it, for they shifted by ever
so little from their first frozen attitude. The captain's hand sought
his pocket, and they froze again, but instead of the expected
revolver, he produced a half-full brandy bottle.
The change in his eyes had crept into his features. They had turned
foolishly amiable, vacant, confiding.
"'llo boys," said he appealingly, "you good fellowsh, ain't you? Have
a drink. 'S good stuff. Good ol' bottl'," he lurched, caught himself,
and advanced toward them, still with the empty smile.
They stared at him for ten seconds, quite at a loss. Then:
"By God, he's drunk!" Handy Solomon breathed, scarcely louder than
There was no other signal given. They sprang as with a single impulse.
One instant I saw clear against the waning daylight the bulky,
foolish-swaying form of Captain Selover: the next it had disappeared,
carried down and obliterated by the rush of attacking bodies. Knives
gleamed ruddy in the sunset. There was no struggle. I heard a deep
groan. Then the murderers rose slowly to their feet.
I MAKE MY ESCAPE
I had plenty of time to run away. I do not know why I did not do so;
but the fact stands that I remained where I was until they had
finished Captain Selover. Then I took to my heels, but was soon
cornered. I drew my revolver, remembered that I had emptied it in the
seal cave--and had time for no more coherent mental processes. A
smothering weight flung itself on me, against which I struggled as
hard as I could, shrinking in anticipation from the thirsty plunge
of the knives. However, though the weight increased until further
struggle was impossible, I was not harmed, and in a few moments found
myself, wrists and ankles tied, beside a roaring fire. While I
collected myself I heard the grate of a boat being shoved off from
the cove, and a few moments later made out lights aboard the _Laughing
The looting party returned very shortly. Their plundering had gone
only as far as liquor and arms. Thrackles let down from the cliff top
a keg at the end of a line. Perdosa and the Nigger each carried an
armful of the 30-40 rifles. The keg was rolled to the fire and
The men got drunk, wildly drunk, but not helplessly so. A flame
communicated itself to them through the liquor. The ordinary
characteristics of their composition sprung into sharper relief. The
Nigger became more sullen; Perdosa more snake-like; Pulz more
viciously evil; Thrackles more brutal; while Handy Solomon staggering
from his seat to the open keg and back again, roaring fragments of
a chanty, his red headgear contrasting with his smoky black hair and
his swarthy hook-nosed countenance--he needed no further touch.
Their evil passions were all awake, and the plan, so long indefinite,
developed like a photographer's plate.
"That's one," said Thrackles. "One gone to hell."
"And now the diamonds," muttered Pulz.
"There's a ship upon the windward, a wreck upon the lee,
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e_,"
roared Handy Solomon. "Damn it all, boys, it's the best night's work
we ever did. The stuff's ours. Then it's me for a big stone house in
"Frisco, hell," sneered Pulz, "that's all you know. You ought to
travel. Paris for me and a little gal to learn the language from."
"I get heem a fine _caballo_, an' fine saddle, an' fine clo's,"
breathed Perdosa sentimentally. "I ride, and the silver jingle, and
the _senorita_ look----"
Thrackles was for a ship and the China trade.
"What you want, Doctor?" they demanded of the silent Nigger.
But the Nigger only rolled his eyes and shook his head. By and by he
arose and disappeared in the dusk and was no more seen.
"Dam' fool," muttered Handy Solomon. "Well, here's to crime!"
He drank a deep cup of the raw rum, and staggered back to his seat
on the sands.
"'I am not a man-o'-war, nor a privateer,' said he.
_Blow high, blow low! What care we_!
'But I am a jolly pirate and I'm sailing for my fee,'
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e_."
he sang. "We'll land in Valparaiso and we'll go every man his way;
and we'll sink the old _Laughing Lass_ so deep the mermaids can't
Thrackles piled on more wood and the fire leaped high.
"Let's get after 'em,' said he.
"To-morrow's jes' 's good," muttered Pulz. "Les' hav' 'nother drink."
"We'll stay here 'n see if our ol' frien' Percy don' show up," said
Handy Solomon. He threw back his head and roared forth a volume of
sound toward the dim stars.
"Broadside to broadside the gallant ships did lay,
_Blow high, blow low! What care we_?
'Til the jolly man-o'-war shot the pirate's mast away,
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e_."
I saw near me a live coal dislodged from the fire when Thrackles had
thrown on the armful of wood. An idea came to me. I hitched myself
to the spark, and laid across it the rope with which my wrists were
tied. This, behind my back, was not easy to accomplish, and twice I
burned my wrists before I succeeded.
Fortunately I was at the edge of illumination, and behind the group.
I turned over on my side so that my back was toward the fire. Then
rapidly I cast loose my ankle lashings. Thus I was free, and selecting
a moment when universal attention was turned toward the rum barrel,
I rolled over a sand dune, got to my hands and knees, and crept away.
Through the coarse grass I crept thus, to the very entrance of the
arroyo, then rose to my feet. In the middle distance the fire leaped
red. Its glow fell intermittently on the surges rolling in. The men
staggered or lay prone, either as gigantic silhouettes or as
tatterdemalions painted by the light. The keg stood solid and
substantial, the hub about which reeled the orgy. At the edge of the
wash I could make out something prone, dim, limp, thrown constantly
in new positions of weariness as the water ebbed and flowed beneath
it, now an arm thrown out, now cast back, as though Old Scrubs slept
feverishly. The drunkards were getting noisy. Handy Solomon still
reeled off the verses of, his song. The others joined in, frightfully
off the key; or punctuated the performance by wild staccato yells.
"Their coffin was their ship and their grave it was the sea,
_Blow high, blow low! What care we_?
And the quarter that we gave them was to sink them in the sea,
_Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e,_"
bellowed Handy Solomon.
I turned and plunged into the cool darkness of the canon.
AN ADVENTURE IN THE NIGHT
Ten seconds after entering the arroyo I was stumbling along in an
absolute blackness. It almost seemed to me that I could reach out my
hands and touch it, as one would touch a wall. Or perhaps not exactly
that, for a wall is hard, and this darkness was soft and yielding,
in the manner of enveloping hangings. Directly above me was a narrow,
jagged, and irregular strip of sky with stars. I splashed in the
brook, finding its waters strangely warm, rustled through the grasses,
my head back, chin out, hands extended as one makes his way through
a house at night. There were no sounds except the tinkle of the
sulphurous stream: successive bends in the canon wall had shut off
even the faintest echoes of the bacchanalia on the beach.
The way seemed much longer than by daylight. Already in my calculation
I had traversed many times the distance, when, with a jump at the
heart, I made out a glow ahead, and in front of it the upright logs
of the stockade.
To my surprise the gate was open. I ascended the gentle slope to the
valley's level--and stumbled over a man lying prostrate, shivering
violently, and moaning.
I bent over to discover whom it might be. As I did so a brilliant
light seemed to fill the valley, throwing an illumination on the man
at my feet. I saw it was the Nigger, and perceived at the same instant
that he was almost beside himself with terror. His eyes rolled, his
teeth chattered, his frame contracted in a strong convulsion, and the
black of his complexion had faded to a washed-out dirty grey,
revolting to contemplate. He felt my touch and sprang to his feet,
clutching me by the shoulder as a man clutching rescue.
"My Gawd!" he shivered. "Look! Dar it is again!"
He fell to pattering in a tongue unknown to me--charms, spells,
undoubtedly, to exorcise the devils that had hold of him. I followed
the direction of his gaze, and myself cried out.
The doctor's laboratory stood in plain sight between the two columns
of steam blown straight upward through the stillness of the evening.
It seemed bursting with light. Every little crack leaked it in
generous streams, while the main illumination appeared fairly to bulge
the walls outward. This was in itself nothing extraordinary, and
indicated only the activity of those within, but while I looked an
irregular patch of incandescence suddenly splashed the cliff opposite.
For a single instant the very substance of the rock glowed white hot;
then from the spot a shower of spiteful flakes shot as from a
pyrotechnic, and the light was blotted out as suddenly as it came.
At the same moment it appeared at another point, exhibited the same
phenomena, died, flashed out at still a third place, and so was
repeated here and there with bewildering rapidity until the walls of
the valley crackled and spat sparks. Abruptly the darkness fell.
As abruptly it was broken again by a similar exhibition; only this
time the fire was blue. Blue was followed by purple, purple by red.
Then ensued the briefest possible pause, in which a figure moved
across the bars of light escaping through the chinks of the
laboratory, and then the whole valley blazed with patches of
vari-coloured fire. It was not a reflection: it was actual physical
conflagration of the solid rock, in irregular areas. Some of the fire
shapes were most fantastic. And with the unexpectedness of a bursting
shell the surface of the ground before our feet crackled into a
ghastly blue flame.
The Nigger uttered a cry in his throat and disappeared. I felt a sharp
breath on my neck, an ejaculation of surprise at my very ear. It was
startling enough to scare the soul out of a man, but I held fast and
was just about to step forward, when my collar was twisted tight from
behind. I raised both hands, felt steel, and knew that I was in the
grasp of Handy Solomon's claw.
The sailor had me foul. I did my best to twist around, to unbutton
the collar, but in vain. I felt my wind leaving me, the ghastly blue
light was shot with red. Distinctly I heard the man's sharp intaken
breath as some new phenomenon met his eye, and his great oath as he
swore. "By the mother of God!" he cried, "it's the devil."
Then I was jerked off my feet, and the next I knew I was lying on my
back, very wet, on the beach; the day was breaking, and the men, quite
sober, were talking vehemently.
It was impossible to make out what they said, but as Handy Solomon
and the Nigger were the centre of discussion, I could imagine the subject.
I felt very stiff and sore and hazy in my mind. My neck was lame from
the dragging and my tongue dry from the choking. For some time I lay
in a half-torpor watching the lilac of dawn change to the rose of
sunrise, utterly indifferent to everything. They had thrown me down
across the first rise of the little sand dunes back of the tide sands,
and from it I could at once look out over the sea full of the restless
shadows of dawn, and the land narrowing to the mouth of the arroyo.
I remember wondering whether Captain Selover were up yet. Then with
a sharp stab at the heart I remembered.
The thought was like a dash of cold water in clearing my faculties.
I raised my head. Seaward a white gull had caught the first rays of
the sun beyond the cliffs. Landward--I saw with a choke in my throat--a
figure emerging from the arroyo.
At the sight I made a desperate attempt to move, but with the effort
discovered that I was again bound. My stirring thus called Pulz's
attention. Before I could look away he had followed the direction of
my gaze. The discussion instantly ceased. They waited in grim silence.
I did not know what to do. Percy Darrow, carrying some sort of large
book, was walking rapidly toward us. Perdosa had disappeared.
Thrackles after an instant came and sat beside me and clapped his big
hand over my mouth. It was horrible.
When within a hundred paces or so, I could see that Darrow laboured
under some great excitement. His usual indifferent saunter had, as
I have indicated, given way to a firm and decided step; his ironical
eye glistened; his sallow cheek glowed.
"Boys," he shouted cheerfully. "The time's up. We've succeeded. We'll
sail just as soon as the Lord'll let us get ready. Rustle the stuff
aboard. The doctor'll be down in a short time, and we ought to be
loaded by night."
Handy Solomon and Pulz laid hand on two of the rifles near by and
began surreptitiously to fill their magazines. The Nigger shook his
knife free of the scabbard and sat with it in his left hand, concealed
by his body. I could feel Thrackles's muscles stiffen. Another fifty
paces and it would be no longer necessary to stop my mouth.
The thought made me desperate. I had failed as a leader of these men,
and I had been forced to stand by at debauching, cruel, and murderous
affairs, but now it is over I thank Heaven the reproach cannot be made
against me that at any time I counted the consequences to myself.
Thrackles's hand lay heavy across my mouth. I bit it to the bone, and
as he involuntarily snatched it away, I rolled over toward the sea.
Thus for an instant I had my mouth free. "Run! Run!" I shouted. "For
Thrackles leaped upon me and struck me heavily upon the mouth, then
sprang for a rifle. I managed to struggle back to the dune, whence
I could see.
FIVE HUNDRED YARDS' RANGE
Percy Darrow, with the keenness that always characterised his mental
apprehension, had understood enough of my strangled cry. He had not
hesitated nor delayed for an explanation, but had turned track and
was now running as fast as his long legs would carry him back toward
the opening of the ravine. My companions stood watching him, but making
no attempt either to shoot or to follow. For a moment I could not
understand this, then remembered the disappearance of Perdosa. My
heart jumped wildly, for the Mexican had been gone quite long enough
to have cut off the assistant's escape. I could not doubt that he
would pick off his man at close range as soon as the fugitive should
have reached the entrance to the arroyo.
There can be no question that he would have done so had not his
Mexican impatience betrayed him. He shot too soon. Percy Darrow
stopped in his tracks. Although we heard the bullet sing by us, for
an instant we thought he was hit. Then Perdosa fired a second time,
again without result. Darrow turned sharp to the left and began desperately
to scale the steep cliffs.
I once took part in a wild boar hunt on the coast of California. Our
dogs had penned a small band at the head of a narrow _barranca_,
from which a single steep trail led over the hill. We, perched on
another hill some three or four hundred yards away, shot at the
animals as they toiled up the trail. The range was long, but we had
time, for the severity of the climb forced the boars to a foot pace.
It was exactly like that. Percy Darrow had two hundred feet of ascent
to make. He could go just so fast; must consume just so much time in
his snail-like progress up the face of the hill. During that time he
furnished an excellent target, and the loose sandstone showed where
each shot struck.
A significant indication was that the men did not take the trouble
to get nearer, for which manoeuvre they would have had time in plenty,
but distributed themselves leisurely for a shooting match.
"First shot," claimed Handy Solomon, and without delay fired off-hand.
A puff of dust showed to the right. "Nerve no good," he commented,
"jerked her just as I pulled."
Pulz fired from the knee. The dust this time puffed below.
"Thought she'd carry up at that distance," he muttered.
The Nigger, too, missed, and Thrackles grinned triumphantly.
"I get a show," said he. He spread his massive legs apart, drew a deep
breath, and raised his weapon. It lay in his grasp steady as a log,
and I saw that Percy Darrow's fate was in the hands of that dangerous
class of natural marksman that possesses no nerves. But for the second
time my teeth saved his life. The trigger guard slipped against
Thrackles's lacerated hand almost at the instant of discharge. He
missed; and the bullet went wide.
Darrow had climbed a matter of twenty feet.
Now the seamen distributed themselves for more leisurely and accurate
marksmanship. Handy Solomon lay flat on his stomach, resting the rifle
muzzle across the top of a sand dune. Pulz sat down, an elbow on
either knee for the greater steadiness. The Nigger knelt; but
Thrackles remained on his feet. No rest could be steadier than the
stone-like rigidity of his thick arms.
The firing now became miscellaneous. No one paid any attention to
anyone else. Each discovered what I could have told them, that even
the human figure at five hundred yards is a small mark for a strange
rifle. The constant correction of elevation, however, brought the
puffs of dust always closer, and I could not but realise that the
doctrine of chances must bring home some of the bullets. I soon
discovered by way of comfort that only Thrackles and Handy Solomon
really understood firearms; and of those two Thrackles alone had had
much experience at long range. He told me afterward he had hunted
About halfway up the cliff Thrackles fired his fifth shot. No dust
followed the discharge; and I saw Percy Darrow stagger and almost lose
his hold. The men yelled savagely, but the assistant pulled himself
together and continued his crawling.
The sun had been shining in our faces. I could imagine its blurring
effect on the sights. Now abruptly it was blotted out, and a
semi-twilight fell. We all looked up, in spite of ourselves. An opaque
veil had been drawn quite across the heavens, through which we could
not make out even the shape of the sun. It was like a thunder cloud
except that its under surface instead of being the usual grey-black
was a deep earth-brown. As we looked up, a deep bellow stirred the air,
which had fallen quite still, long forks of lightning shot
horizontally from the direction of the island's interior, and flashes
of dull red were reflected from the canopy of cloud.
The men stared with their mouths open. Undoubtedly the change had been
some time in preparation, but all had been so absorbed in the affair
of the doctor's assistant that no one had noticed. It came to our
consciousness with the suddenness of a theatrical change. A dull
roaring commenced, grew in volume, and then a great explosion shook
the very ground under our feet.
We stared at each other, our faces whitening.
"What kind of hell has broke loose?" muttered Pulz.
The Nigger fell flat on his face, uttering deep lamentations.
"Voodoo! Voodoo!" he groaned.
A gentle shower of white flakes began, powdering the surface of
everything. Far out to sea we could make out the sun on the water.
Gradually the roaring died down; the lightning ceased. Comparative
peace ensued. We looked again toward the cliff. Percy Darrow had not
for one instant ceased to climb. He was just topping the edge of the
bluff. Handy Solomon, with a cry of rage, seized another rifle and
emptied the magazine at him as fast as the lever could be worked. The
dust flew wild in a half dozen places. Darrow drew himself up to the
sky line, raised his hat ironically, and disappeared.
[Illustration: The firing now became miscellaneous. No one paid any
attention to any one else.]
"Damn his soul!" cried Handy Solomon, his face livid. He threw his
rifle to the beach and danced on it in an ecstasy of rage.
"What do we care," growled Thrackles, "he's no good to us. W'at I want
to know is, wat's up here, anyhow!"
"Didn't you never see a volcano go off, you swab?" snapped Handy
"Easy with your names, mate. No, I never did. We better get out."
"Without the chest?"
"S'pose we go up the gulch and get it, then," suggested Thrackles.
But at this Handy Solomon drew back in evident terror.
"Up that hole of hell?" he objected. "Not I. You an' Pulz go."
They wrangled over it, Pulz joining. Perdosa, shaken to the soul,
crept in, and made a bee-line for the rum barrel. He and the Nigger
were frankly scared. They had the nervous jumps at every little noise
or unexpected movement; and even the natural explanation of these
phenomena gave them very little reassurance. I knew that Darrow would
hurry as fast as he could back to the valley by way of the upper
hills; I knew that he had there several sporting rifles; and I hoped
greatly that he and Dr. Schermerhorn might accomplish something before
the men had recovered their wits to the point of foreseeing his
probable attack. The uncanny cloud in the heavens, the weird
half-light, and the explosions, which now grew more frequent, had
their strong effect in spite of explanation. The men were not really
afraid to venture in quest of the supposed treasure; but they were in
a frame of mind that dreaded the first plunge. And time was going by.
But the fates were against us, as always in this ill-starred voyage.
I, watching from my sand dune, saw a second figure emerge from the
arroyo's mouth. It appeared to stagger as though hurt; and every eight
or ten paces it stopped and rested in a bent-over position. The murky
light was too dim for me to make out details; but after a moment a
rift in the veil enabled me to identify Dr. Schermerhorn carrying,
with great difficulty, the chest.
I took no chances, but began at once to shout, as soon as I saw the men
had noticed his coming. It was impossible for me to tell whether or not
Dr. Schermerhorn heard me. If he did, he misunderstood my intention, for
he continued painfully to advance. The only result I gained was to get
myself well gagged with my own pocket handkerchief, and thrown in a hollow
between the dunes. Thence I could hear Handy Solomon speaking fiercely and
"Now you let me run this," he commanded; "we got to find out somethin'. It
ain't no good to us without we knows--and we want to find out how he's got
the rest hid."
"I'm goin' out to help him carry her in," announced the seaman.
A long pause ensued, in which I watched the deep canopy of red-black
thicken overhead. A strange and unearthly light had fallen on the world,
and the air was quite still. After a while I heard Handy Solomon and Dr.
Schermerhorn join the group.
"There you are, Perfessor," cried Handy Solomon, in tones of the greatest
heartiness, "I'll put her right there, and she'll be as safe as a babby at
home. She's heavy, though."
Dr. Schermerhorn laughed a pleased and excited laugh. I could tell by the
tone of his voice that he was strung high, and guessed that his triumph
needed an audience.
"You may say so well!" he said. "It iss heafy; and it iss heafy with the
world-desire, the great substance than can do efferything. Where iss
"He's gone aboard."
"We must embark. The time is joost right. A day sooner and the egsperiment
would haf been spoilt; but now"--he laughed--"let the island sink, we do
not care. We must embark hastily."
"It'll take a man long time to carry down all your things, Perfessor."
"Oh, led them go! The eruption has alretty swallowed them oop. The lava
iss by now a foot deep in the valley. Before long it flows here, so we
"But you've lost all them vallyable things, Perfessor," said Handy
Solomon. "Now, I call that hard luck."
Dr. Schermerhorn snapped his fingers.
"They do not amoundt to that!" he cried. "Here, here, in this leetle box
iss all the treasure! Here iss the labour of ten years! Here iss the
_Laughing Lass_, and the crew, and all the equipmendt comprised. Here iss
"I'm a plain seaman, Perfessor, and I suppose I got to believe you; but
she's a main small box for all that."
"With that small box you can haf all your wishes," asserted the Professor,
still in the German lyric strain over his triumph. "It iss the box of
enchantments. You haf but to will the change you would haf taig place--it
iss done. The substance of the rocks, the molecule--all!"
"Could a man make diamonds?" asked Pulz abruptly. I could hear the sharp
intake of the men's breathing as they hung on the reply.
"Much more wonderful changes than that it can accomplish," replied the
doctor, with an indulgent laugh. "That change iss simple. Carbon iss coal;
carbon iss diamond. You see? One has but to change the form, not the
"Then it'll change coal to diamonds?" asked Handy Solomon.
"Yes, you gather my meanings--"
I heard a sharp squeak like a terrified mouse. Then a long, dreadful
silence; then two dull, heavy blows, spaced with deliberation. A moment
later I caught a glimpse of Handy Solomon bent forward to the labour of
dragging a body toward the sea, his steel claw hooked under the angle of
the jaw as a man handles a fish. Pulz came and threw off my bonds and gag.
"Come along!" said he.
All kept looking fearfully toward the arroyo. A dense white steam marked
its course. The air was now heavy with portent. Successive explosions,
some light, some severe, shook the foundations of the island. Great rocks
and boulders bounded down the hills. The flashes of lightning had become
more frequent. We moved, exaggerated to each other's vision by the strange
light, uncouth and gigantic.
"Let's get out of this!" cried Thrackles.
We turned at the word and ran, Thrackles staggering under the weight of
the chest. All our belongings we abandoned, and set out for the _Laughing
Lass_ with only the tatters in which we stood. Luckily for us a great part
of the ship's stores had been returned to her hold after the last thorough
scrubbing, so we were in subsistence, but all our clothes, all our
personal belongings, were left behind us on the beach. For after once we
had topped the cliff that led over to the cove, I doubt if any
consideration on earth would have induced us to return to that accursed
The row out to the ship was wet and dangerous. Seismic disturbances were
undoubtedly responsible for high pyramidic waves that lifted and fell
without onward movement. We fairly tumbled up out of the dory, which we
did not hoist on deck, but left at the end of the painter to beat her
sides against the ship.
THE OPEN SEA
Our haste, however, availed us little, for there was no wind at all. We
lay for over two hours under the weird light, over-canopied by the red-
brown cloud, while the explosions shook the foundations of the world.
Nobody ventured below. The sails flapped idly from the masts: the blocks
and spars creaked: the three-cornered waves rose straight up and fell
again as though reaching from the deep.
When the men first began to sweat the sails up, evidently in preparation
for an immediate departure, I objected vehemently.
"You aren't going to leave him on the island," I cried. "He'll die of