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The Red One by Jack London

Part 3 out of 3

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"Jack-pots?" Fatty queried. At sight of an irritable movement, he
added: "You see, I never got over to the West like Delarouse and

"They're all head-hunters. Heads are valuable, especially a white
man's head. They decorate the canoe-houses and devil-devil houses
with them. Each village runs a jack-pot, and everybody antes.
Whoever brings in a white man's head takes the pot. If there
aren't openers for a long time, the pot grows to tremendous
proportions. Beastly funny, isn't it?

"I know. Didn't a Holland mate die on me of blackwater? And
didn't I win a pot myself? It was this way. We were lying at
Lango-lui at the time. I never let on, and arranged the affair
with Johnny, my boat-steerer. He was a kinky-head himself from
Port Moresby. He cut the dead mate's head off and sneaked ashore
in the might, while I whanged away with my rifle as if I were
trying to get him. He opened the pot with the mate's head, and got
it, too. Of course, next day I sent in a landing boat, with two
covering boats, and fetched him off with the loot."

"How big was the pot?" Whiskers asked. "I heard of a pot at Orla
worth eighty quid."

"To commence with," Slim answered, "there were forty fat pigs, each
worth a fathom of prime shell-money, and shell-money worth a quid a
fathom. That was two hundred dollars right there. There were
ninety-eight fathoms of shell-money, which is pretty close to five
hundred in itself. And there were twenty-two gold sovereigns. I
split it four ways: one-fourth to Johnny, one-fourth to the ship,
one-fourth to me as owner, and one-fourth to me as skipper. Johnny
never complained. He'd never had so much wealth all at one time in
his life. Besides, I gave him a couple of the mate's old shirts.
And I fancy the mate's head is still there decorating the canoe-

"Not exactly Christian burial of a Christian," Whiskers observed.

"But a lucrative burial," Slim retorted. "I had to feed the rest
of the mate over-side to the sharks for nothing. Think of feeding
an eight-hundred-dollar head along with it. It would have been
criminal waste and stark lunacy.

"Well, anyway, it was all beastly funny, over there to the
westward. And, without telling you the scrape I got into at Taki-
Tiki, except that I sailed away with two hundred kinky-heads for
Queensland labour, and for my manner of collecting them had two
British ships of war combing the Pacific for me, I changed my
course and ran to the westward thinking to dispose of the lot to
the Spanish plantations on Bangar.

"Typhoon season. We caught it. The Merry Mist was my schooner's
name, and I had thought she was stoutly built until she hit that
typhoon. I never saw such seas. They pounded that stout craft to
pieces, literally so. The sticks were jerked out of her,
deckhouses splintered to match-wood, rails ripped off, and, after
the worst had passed, the covering boards began to go. We just
managed to repair what was left of one boat and keep the schooner
afloat only till the sea went down barely enough to get away. And
we outfitted that boat in a hurry. The carpenter and I were the
last, and we had to jump for it as he went down. There were only
four of us--"

"Lost all the niggers?" Whiskers inquired.

"Some of them swam for some time," Slim replied. "But I don't
fancy they made the land. We were ten days' in doing it. And we
had a spanking breeze most of the way. And what do you think we
had in the boat with us? Cases of square-face gin and cases of
dynamite. Funny, wasn't it? Well, it got funnier later on. Oh,
there was a small beaker of water, a little salt horse, and some
salt-water-soaked sea biscuit--enough to keep us alive to Tagalag.

"Now Tagalag is the disappointingest island I've ever beheld. It
shows up out of the sea so as you can make its fall twenty miles
off. It is a volcano cone thrust up out of deep sea, with a
segment of the crater wall broken out. This gives sea entrance to
the crater itself, and makes a fine sheltered harbour. And that's
all. Nothing lives there. The outside and the inside of the
crater are too steep. At one place, inside, is a patch of about a
thousand coconut palms. And that's all, as I said, saving a few
insects. No four-legged thing, even a rat, inhabits the place.
And it's funny, most awful funny, with all those coconuts, not even
a coconut crab. The only meat-food living was schools of mullet in
the harbour--fattest, finest, biggest mullet I ever laid eyes on.

"And the four of us landed on the little beach and set up
housekeeping among the coconuts with a larder full of dynamite and
square-face. Why don't you laugh? It's funny, I tell you. Try it
some time.--Holland gin and straight coconut diet. I've never been
able to look a confectioner's window in the face since. Now I'm
not strong on religion like Chauncey Delarouse there, but I have
some primitive ideas; and my concept of hell is an illimitable
coconut plantation, stocked with cases of square-face and populated
by ship-wrecked mariners. Funny? It must make the devil scream.

"You know, straight coconut is what the agriculturists call an
unbalanced ration. It certainly unbalanced our digestions. We got
so that whenever hunger took an extra bite at us, we took another
drink of gin. After a couple of weeks of it, Olaf, a squarehead
sailor, got an idea. It came when he was full of gin, and we,
being in the same fix, just watched him shove a cap and short fuse
into a stick of dynamite and stroll down toward the boat.

"It dawned on me that he was going to shoot fish if there were any
about; but the sun was beastly hot, and I just reclined there and
hoped he'd have luck.

"About half an hour after he disappeared we heard the explosion.
But he didn't come back. We waited till the cool of sunset, and
down on the beach found what had become of him. The boat was there
all right, grounded by the prevailing breeze, but there was no
Olaf. He would never have to eat coconut again. We went back,
shakier than ever, and cracked another square-face.

"The next day the cook announced that he would rather take his
chance with dynamite than continue trying to exist on coconut, and
that, though he didn't know anything about dynamite, he knew a
sight too much about coconut. So we bit the detonator down for
him, shoved in a fuse, and picked him a good fire-stick, while he
jolted up with a couple more stiff ones of gin.

"It was the same programme as the day before. After a while we
heard the explosion and at twilight went down to the boat, from
which we scraped enough of the cook for a funeral.

"The carpenter and I stuck it out two days more, then we drew
straws for it and it was his turn. We parted with harsh words; for
he wanted to take a square-face along to refresh himself by the
way, while I was set against running any chance of wasting the gin.
Besides, he had more than he could carry then, and he wobbled and
staggered as he walked.

"Same thing, only there was a whole lot of him left for me to bury,
because he'd prepared only half a stick. I managed to last it out
till next day, when, after duly fortifying myself, I got sufficient
courage to tackle the dynamite. I used only a third of a stick--
you know, short fuse, with the end split so as to hold the head of
a safety match. That's where I mended my predecessors' methods.
Not using the match-head, they'd too-long fuses. Therefore, when
they spotted a school of mullet; and lighted the fuse, they had to
hold the dynamite till the fuse burned short before they threw it.
If they threw it too soon, it wouldn't go off the instant it hit
the water, while the splash of it would frighten the mullet away.
Funny stuff dynamite. At any rate, I still maintain mine was the
safer method.

"I picked up a school of mullet before I'd been rowing five
minutes. Fine big fat ones they were, and I could smell them over
the fire. When I stood up, fire-stick in one hand, dynamite stick
in the other, my knees were knocking together. Maybe it was the
gin, or the anxiousness, or the weakness and the hunger, and maybe
it was the result of all of them, but at any rate I was all of a
shake. Twice I failed to touch the fire-stick to the dynamite.
Then I did, heard the match-head splutter, and let her go.

"Now I don't know what happened to the others, but I know what I
did. I got turned about. Did you ever stem a strawberry and throw
the strawberry away and pop the stem into your mouth? That's what
I did. I threw the fire-stick into the water after the mullet and
held on to the dynamite. And my arm went off with the stick when
it went off. . . . "

Slim investigated the tomato-can for water to mix himself a drink,
but found it empty. He stood up.

"Heigh ho," he yawned, and started down the path to the river.

In several minutes he was back. He mixed the due quantity of river
slush with the alcohol, took a long, solitary drink, and stared
with bitter moodiness into the fire.

"Yes, but . . . " Fatty suggested. "What happened then?"

"Oh," sad Slim. "Then the princess married me, of course."

"But you were the only person left, and there wasn't any princess .
. . " Whiskers cried out abruptly, and then let his voice trail
away to embarrassed silence.

Slim stared unblinkingly into the fire.

Percival Delaney and Chauncey Delarouse looked at each other.
Quietly, in solemn silence, each with his one arm aided the one arm
of the other in rolling and tying his bundle. And in silence,
bundles slung on shoulders, they went away out of the circle of
firelight. Not until they reached the top of the railroad
embankment did they speak.

"No gentleman would have done it," said Whiskers.

"No gentleman would have done it," Fatty agreed.

Glen Ellen, California,
September 26, 1916.

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