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  • 1901
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blue smoke, with now and then a scarlet trail of flame. Here was a complication.

“So you gluttonous, careless brutes have set fire to her, have you? Here, who was in the engine room?”

Discipline was coming back. A man in black trousers, with a clout round his neck, stepped out.

“You? Well, slip below, and turn steam into the donkey.”

“Steam no lib, sar. Cranes die when we try to work him just now.”

“Oh, you holy crowd of savages! Well, if we can’t use the hose, you must hand buckets–and sharp, too. That fire’s gaining. Now then, head-men, step out.”

“I second head-man, sar.”

“I head-man, sar.”

“Get buckets, tubs, tins–anything that’ll hold water, and look sharp. If you boys work well now, I’ll overlook a lot that’s been done. If you don’t, I’ll give you fits. Try and get below, some of you, and pull away what’s burning. Probably you’ll find some of your dear relations down there, drunk on gin and smoking pipes. You may knock them on the head if you like, and want to do a bit more murder. They deserve it.”

But though half a dozen of the Krooboys, who were now thoroughly tamed, tried to get down the hatch, the fire was too strong for them. Even the water when it came did little to check the burning, for though it sent up great billows of steam, the flames shot out fiercer and higher every moment. In that sweltering climate it does not take very much inducement to make a fire settle down thoroughly to work, once it gets anything like a tolerable start.

To add to the trouble, news of the wreck had been carried to the village behind the beach where Captain Kettle had sung for his lodging over-night, and the one-eyed head-man there and his friends were coming off to share in the spoil as fast as canoes could bring them. They, too, would have their theories as to the ownership of wrecked cargoes on the West African Coast, and as they were possessed of trade guns, they were not like to forego what they considered their just rights without further fighting.

But as it happened, a period was put to the scene on the steamer with considerable suddenness. Sheriff, who had been making sure that there were no Krooboys lurking forward who could take them from the rear, came up and looked upon the fire with a blanched face. “Excuse me, Skipper,” he said, and turned and bawled for the lifeboat to come alongside.

“No hurry for that yet,” said Kettle, angrily. “Don’t scare the men, sir. And don’t you give orders without my sanction. You made me Captain here, and, by James! Captain I’ll be. We’re handicapped for want of the hose, but we’re going to try and get this fire under without. Anyway, there’s no question of leaving the ship yet.”

“Good God, man, don’t niggle about that now. I know what I’m saying. There’s eight tons of powder in that hold.”

“And we may be blown up against the sky as a thin kind of rain any minute? Well, sir, you’re owner, and as you seem to have acted as purser on board, you ought to know. But hadn’t we better ask the Mate for his cargo-book first, so as to make sure?”

He turned and looked, but Sheriff had gone, and was sliding down into the lifeboat which had come alongside. “Well, I don’t like leaving the ship, and I suppose for that matter he wouldn’t either, being owner, and being uninsured. But as Mr. Sheriff’s gone in such a blazing hurry, it’s probably time for me to go too, if I’m to land home any time in South Shields again.” He hailed the lower deck with a sharp order. “You boys, there, knock off. Knock off work, I say, and throw down your buckets. There’s powder stowed down below, and it’ll be going off directly. Gunpowder, you savvy, shoot-powder, go _fizz–boosh–bang_!”

There was a sharp clatter of understanding and explanation, but no movement. The African is not great at making deductions. Captain Kettle had to give a definite order. “Now, overboard with you, all hands, and lib for beach. No time for lower boats. You all fit for swim.”

They took the hint, and began leaping the bulwark rail like a swarm of black frogs. “Good-by, boys,” he said, in valediction. “You’ll find it cheaper to be good and virtuous next time. You haven’t stay enough in you for a real good fight.” And then he went to where the davits dangled over the water, and slid down to the boat, while the frightened crew cursed him aloud for keeping them waiting.

Not much was said as they rowed away. The all-nation rowers were openly terrified; the Mate had all his attention used up in steering to a hair; and Sheriff sat with his shoulders humped beside his ears in the position of a man who expects a blow. Captain Kettle held his peace. He knew that mere words could not urge the sweating crew to heavier effort, and he puffed at his treasured cigar as any smoker would who had been divorced from tobacco for so many a month, and does not know when he will meet with his next indulgence.

And in due time the powder was fired, and the steamer was turned into a vast volcano of steam and smoke and flame, which vomited iron and human limbs, and which sent forth an air blast which drove the boat before it like the hurricane of a tornado. And then the _debris_ from the sky foamed down into the water, and then there was a long, long silence. Save for some inconsiderable flotsam, the steamer and all that was in her had vanished eternally. The canoes from the village were paddling for the beach again. They were alone on a lonely sea. No man seemed to have a thought he wished to share.

The Mate was the first to speak. He patted a bundle whose outer housing was a pillow-case, which lay on the thwart beside him. “Well,” he said, “it’s been a close thing. I darn nearly lost those new clothes of mine.”

“It might have been worse,” said Sheriff; “we might well all have been killed. But as it is,” he added with a sigh, “we’ve merely got to start fresh from the bottom again. Anyway, Kettle, I’m obliged to you for what you have done.”

The little sailor frowned. “It’s kind of you, sir, to say that. But I hate being beaten. And it’s no excuse to say I did my best. I hadn’t figured on that fire and the powder, and that’s a fact.”

“I wonder,” said the Mate thoughtfully, “which of those beggars scoffed that gold zodiac ring of mine. That steward’s boy, Tins, I expect. Took the ring and left the new blue suit. Well, by gum, they’re a funny lot, those boys.”

CHAPTER VI

THE WIRE-MILKERS

“Look here,” said Sheriff, “you compel me to be brutal, but the fact is, they’ve had enough of you here in Lagos. So far as I can see, you’ve only got the choice of two things. You can have a free passage home to England as a Distressed Seaman by the next steamer, and you know what that means. The steamer gets paid a shilling a day, and grubs and berths you accordingly, and you earn your ‘bacca money by bumming around the galley and helping the cook peel spuds. Or else, if you don’t like that, you can do the sensible thing, and step into the billet I offer you.”

“By James!” said Kettle, “who’s going to turn me out of Lagos; tell me that, sir?”

“Don’t get wrathful with me. I’m only telling you what you’ll find out to be the square truth if you stay on long enough. The authorities here will be equal to handling you if you try to buck against them.”

“But, sir, they have no right to touch me. This isn’t French territory, or German, or any of those clamped-down places. The town’s as English as Liverpool, and I’m a respectable man.”

“The trouble of it is,” said Sheriff drily, “they say you are not. There are a limited number of white men here in Lagos–perhaps two hundred all told–and their businesses and sources of income are all more or less visible to the naked eye. Yours aren’t. In the language of the–er–well–the police court, you’ve no visible means of subsistence, and yet you always turn out neat, and spruce, and tidy; you’ve always got tobacco; and apparently you must have meals now and again, though I can’t say you’ve got particularly fat on them.”

“I’ve never been a rich man, sir. I’ve never earned high wages–only once as much as fifteen pounds a month–and there’s the missis and the family to provide for; and, as a consequence, I’ve never had much to spend on myself. It would surprise a gentleman who’s been wealthy like you, Mr. Sheriff, to see the way I can make half-a-crown spin out.”

“It surprises me to see how you’ve made nothing at all spin out,” said Sheriff; “and as for the Lagos authorities I was speaking about, it’s done more; it’s made them suspicious. Hang it, man, be reasonable; you must see they are bound to be suspicious.”

Captain Kettle’s brown face grew darker in tint, and he spoke with visible shame. “I’ve come by a living, sir, honest, but I couldn’t bear it to be told aloud here to all the world how it was done. I may be down, Mr. Sheriff, but I have my pride still.”

Sheriff spread his hands helplessly. “That’s no kind of answer,” he said. “They won’t let you continue to stay here in Lagos on an explanation like that. Come now, Kettle, be sensible: put yourself in the authorities’ place. They’ve got a town to administer–a big town–that not thirty years ago was the most murderous, fanatical, rowdy dwelling of slave-traders on the West Coast of Africa. To-day, by dint of careful shepherding, they’ve reduced it to a city of quiet respectability, with a smaller crime rate than Birmingham; and in fact made it into a model town suitable for a story-book. You don’t see the Government much, but you bet it’s there, and you bet it isn’t asleep. You can bet also that the nigger people here haven’t quite forgotten the old days, and would like to be up to a bit of mischief every now and again, just for old association’s sake, which of course the Government is quite aware of.

“Now there’s nothing that can stir up niggers into ructions against a white man’s government better than a white man, as has been proved tons of times already, and here are you already on the carpet quite equal to the job. I don’t say you are up to mischief, nor does the Government, but you must see for yourself that they’d be fools if they didn’t play for safety and ship you off out of harm’s way.”

“I must admit,” said Kettle ruefully, “that there’s sense in what you say, sir.”

“Are you going to give a free and open explanation of your means of employment here in Lagos, and earn the right to stay on openly, or are you going to still stick to the mysterious?”

The little sailor frowned. “No, sir,” he said; “as I told you before, I have my pride.”

“Very-well, then. Now, are you going to be the Distressed Seaman, and be jeered at all the run home as you cadge round for your ‘baccy money, or are you going to do the sensible thing, and step into this billet I’ve put in your way?”

“You corner me.”

“I’m glad to hear it, and let me tell you it hasn’t been for want of trying. Man, if I hadn’t liked you, I would not have taken all this trouble to put a soft thing ready to your hand.”

“I believe you want service out of me in return, sir,” said Kettle stiffly.

Sheriff laughed. “You aren’t the handiest man in the world to get on with, and if I hadn’t been an easy-tempered chap I should have bidden you go to the deuce long enough ago. Of course, I want something out of you. A man who has just lost a fortune, and who is down on his luck like I am, can’t afford to go in for pure philanthropy without any possible return. But, at the same time, I’m finding you a job at fifty pound a month with a fortnight’s wages paid in advance, and I think you might be decently grateful. By your own telling, you never earned so much as four sovereigns a week before.”

“The wages were quite to my taste from the beginning, sir; don’t think me ungrateful there. But what I didn’t like was going to sea without knowing beforehand what I was expected to do. I didn’t like it at first, and I refused the job then; and if I take it now, being, as you say, cornered, you’re not to understand that it’s grown any the tastier to me.”

“We shouldn’t pay a skipper a big figure like that,” said Sheriff drily, “if we didn’t want something a bit more than, the ordinary out of him. You may take it you are getting fifteen pounds a month as standard pay, and the extra thirty-five for condescending to sail with sealed orders. But what I told you at first I repeat now: I’ve got a partner standing in with me over this business, and as he insists on the whole thing being kept absolutely dark till we’re away at sea, I’ve no choice but to observe the conditions of partnership.”

Some thirty minutes later than this, Mr. Sheriff got out of his ‘rickshaw on the Marina and went into an office and inquired for Mr. White. One of the colored clerks (who, to do credit to his English education, affected to be utterly prostrated by the heat) replied with languor that Mr. White was upstairs; upon which Sheriff, mopping himself with a handkerchief, went up briskly.

White, a gorgeously handsome young Hebrew, read success from his face at once. “I can see you’ve hooked your man,” said he. “That’s good business; we couldn’t have got another as good anywhere. Have a cocktail?”

“Don’t mind if I do. It’s been tough work persuading him. He’s such a suspicious, conscientious little beggar. Shout for your boy to bring the cocktail, and when we’re alone, I’ll tell you about it.”

“I’ll fix up your drink myself, old man. Where’s the swizzle-stick? Oh, here, behind the Angostura bottle. And there’s a fresh lime for you–got a basket of them in this morning. Now you yarn whilst I play barmaid.”

Mr. Sheriff tucked his feet on the arms of a long-chair and picked up a fan. He sketched in the account of his embassage with humorous phrase.

The Hebrew had been liberal with his cocktail. He said himself that he made them so beautifully that no one could resist a second; and so, with a sigh of gusto, Sheriff gulped down number two and put the glass on the floor. “No,” he said; “no more. They’re heavenly, I’ll grant, but no more. We shall want very clear heads for what’s in front of us, and I’m not going to fuddle mine for a commencement. I can tell you we have been very nearly wrecked already. It was only by the skin of my teeth I managed to collar Master Kettle. I only got him because I happened to know something about him.”

“Did you threaten to get him into trouble over it? What’s he done?”

“Oh, nothing of that sort. But the man’s got the pride of an emperor, and it came to my knowledge he’d been making a living out of fishing in the lagoon, and I worked on that. Look out of that window; it’s a bit glary with the sun full on, but do you see those rows of stakes the nets are made fast on? Well, one of those belongs to Captain Owen Kettle, and he works there after dark like a native, and dressed as one. You know he’s been so long living naked up in the bush that his hide’s nearly black, and he can speak all the nigger dialects. But I guessed he’d never own up that he’d come so low as to compete with nigger fishermen, and I fixed things so that he thought he’d have to tell white Lagos what was his trade, or clear out of the colony one-time. It was quite a neat bit of diplomacy.”

“You have got a tongue in you,” said White.

“When a man’s as broke as I am, and as desperate, he does his best in talk to get what he wants. But look here, Mr. White, now we’ve got Kettle, I want to be off and see the thing over and finished as soon as possible. It’s the first time I’ve been hard enough pushed to meddle with this kind of racket, and I can’t say I find it so savory that I’m keen on lingering over it.”

The Jew shrugged his shoulders. “We are going for money,” he said. “Money is always hard to get, my boy, but it’s nice, very nice, when you have it.”

Keen though Sheriff was to get this venture put to the trial, brimming with energy though he might be, it was quite out of the question that a start could be made at once. A small steamer they had already secured on charter, but she had to be manned, coaled, and provisioned, and all these things are not carried out as quickly in Lagos as they would be in Liverpool, even though there was a Kettle in command to do the driving. And, moreover, there were cablegrams to be sent, in tedious cypher, to London and elsewhere, to make the arrangements on which the success of the scheme would depend.

The Jew was the prime mover in all this cabling. He had abundance of money in his pocket, and he spent it lavishly, and he practically lived in the neighborhood of the telegraph office. He was as affable as could be; he drank cocktails and champagne with the telegraph staff whenever they were offered; but over the nature of his business he was as close as an oyster.

A breath of suspicion against the scheme would wreck it in an instant, and, as there was money to be made by carrying it through, the easy, lively, boisterous Mr. White was probably just then as cautious a man as there was in Africa.

But preparations were finished at last, and one morning, when the tide served, the little steamer cast off from her wharf below the Marina, and steered for the pass at the further side of the lagoon.

The bar was easy, and let her through with scarcely so much as a bit of spray to moisten the dry deck planks, and Sheriff pointed to the masts of a branch-boat which had struck the sand a week before, and had beaten her bottom out and sunk in ten minutes, and from these he drew good omens about this venture, and at the same time prettily complimented Kettle on his navigation.

But Kettle refused to be drawn into friendliness. He coldly commented that luck and not skill was at the bottom of these matters, and that if the bar had shifted, he himself could have put this steamer on the ground as handily as the other man had piled up the branch-boat. He refused to come below and have a drink, saying that his place was on the bridge till he learned from observation that either of the two mates was a man to be trusted. And, finally, he inquired, with acid formality, as to whether his employers wished the steamer brought to an anchor in the roads, or whether they would condescend to give him a course to steer.

Sheriff bade him curtly enough to “keep her going to the s’uth’ard,” and then drew away his partner into the stifling little chart-house. “Now,” he said, “you see how it is. Our little admiral up there is standing on his temper, and if he doesn’t hear the plan of campaign, he’s quite equal to making himself nasty.”

“I don’t mind telling him some, but I’m hanged if I’m going to tell him all. There are too many in the secret already, what with you and the two in London; and as I keep on telling you, if one whiff of a suspicion gets abroad, the whole thing’s busted, and a trap will be set that you and I will be caught in for a certainty.”

“Poof! We’re at sea now, and no one can gossip beyond the walls of the ship. Besides Kettle is far too staunch to talk. He’s the sort of man who can be as mum as the grave when he chooses. But if you persist in refusing to trust him, well, I tell you that the thought of what he may be up to makes me frightened.”

“Now look here, my boy,” said White, “you force me to remind you that I’m senior partner here, and to repeat that what I say on this matter’s going to be done. I flatly refuse to trust this Kettle with the whole yarn. We’ve hired him at an exorbitant fee–bought him body and soul, in fact, as I’ve no doubt he very well understands–and to my mind he’s engaged to do exactly as he’s told, without asking questions. But as you seem set on it, I’ll meet you here; he may be told a bit. Fetch him down.”

But as Kettle refused to come below, on the chilly plea of business, the partner went out under the awnings of the upper bridge, where the handsome White, with boisterous, open-hearted friendliness, did his best to hustle the little sailor into quick good humor.

“Don’t blame me, Skipper, or Sheriff here either, for the matter of that, for making all this mystery. We’re just a couple of paid agents, and the bigger men at the back insisted that we should keep our mouths shut till the right time. There’s nothing wrong with this caution, I’m sure you’ll be the first to say. You see they couldn’t tell from that distance what sort of man we should be able to pick up at Lagos. I guess they never so much as dreamed that we’d have the luck to persuade a chap like you to join.”

“You are very polite, sir,” said Kettle formally.

“Not a bit of it. I’m not the sort of boy to chuck civility away on an incompetent man. Now look here, Captain. We’re on for making a big pile in a very short time, and you can stand in to finger your share if you’ll, only take your whack of the work.”

“There’s no man living more capable of hard work than me, sir, and no man keener to make a competence. I’ve got a wife that I’d like to see a lot better off than I’ve ever been able to make her so far.”

“I’m sure Mrs. Kettle deserves affluence, and please the pigs she shall have it.”

“But it isn’t every sovereign that might be put in her way,” said the sailor meaningly, “that Mrs. Kettle would care to use.”

“I guess I find every sovereign that comes to my fingers contains twenty useful shillings.”

“I will take your word for it, sir. Mrs. Kettle prefers to know that the few she handles are cleanly come by.”

Mr. White gritted his handsome teeth, shrugged his shoulders, and made as if he intended to go down off the bridge. But Sheriff stopped him. “We’d better have it out,” Sheriff suggested; “as well now as later.”

“Put it in your own words, then. I don’t seem able to get started. You,” he added significantly, “know as well as I do what to say.”

“Very well. Now, look here, Kettle. This mystery game has gone on long enough, and you’ve got to be put on the ground floor, like the rest of us. Did you ever dabble in stocks?”

“No, sir.”

“But you know what they are?”

“I’ve heard the minister I sit under ashore give his opinion from the pulpit on the Stock Exchange, and those who do business there. The minister of our chapel, sir, is a man I always agree with.”

This was sufficiently unpromising, but Sheriff went doggedly on. “I see your way of looking at it: the whole crowd of stock operators are a gang of thieves that no decent man would care to touch?”

“That’s much my notion.”

“And they are quite unworthy of protection?”

“They can rob one another to their heart’s content for all I care.”

Sheriff smiled grimly. “That’s what I wanted to hear you say, Captain. This cruise we are on now is not exactly a pleasure trip.”

“I guessed that, of course, from the pay that was offered.”

“What we are after is this: the Cape to England telegraph cable stops at several places on the road, and we want to get hold of one of the stations and work it for our own purposes for an hour or so. If we can do that, our partners in London will bring off a speculation in South African shares that will set the whole lot of us up for life.”

“And who pays the piper? I mean where will the money for your profit come from?”

White was quicker than Sheriff to grasp the situation. “From inside the four walls of the Stock Exchange. S’elp me, Captain, you needn’t pity them. There are lots of men there, my friends too, who would have played the game themselves if they had been sharp enough to think of it. We have to be pretty keen in the speculation business if we want to make money out of it.”

Captain Kettle buttoned his coat, and stepped to the further end of the bridge with an elaborate show of disgust. “You are on the Stock Exchange yourself, sir?”

“Er–connected with it, Captain.”

[Illustration: “YOU INSOLENT LITTLE BLACKGUARD, YOU DARE TO SPEAK TO ME LIKE THAT!”]

“I can quite understand our minister’s opinion of stock gamblers now. Perhaps some day you may hear it for yourself. He’s a great man for visiting jails and carrying comfort to the afflicted.”

“By gad!” said White, “you insolent little blackguard, you dare to speak to me like that!”

“I use what words I choose,” said Kettle, truculently. “I’d have said the same to your late King Solomon if I hadn’t liked his ways; but if I was pocketing his pay, I should have carried out his orders all the same.” He bent down to the voice hatch, and gave a bearing to the black quartermaster in the wheel-house below, and the little steamer, which had by this time left behind her the vessels transhipping cargo in the roads, canted off on a new course to the southward.

“Hullo,” said Sheriff, “what’s that mean? Where are you off to now?”

Kettle mentioned the name of a lonely island standing by itself in the Atlantic.

But Sheriff and the Jew were visibly startled. Mr. Sheriff mopped at a very damp forehead with his pocket handkerchief. “Have you heard anything then?” he asked, “or did you just guess?”

“I heard nothing before, or I should not have signed on for this trip, sir. But having come so far I’m going to earn out my pay. What’s done will not be on my conscience. The shipmaster’s blameless in these matters; it’s the owner who drives him that earns his punishment in the hereafter; and that’s sound theology.”

“But how did you guess, man, how did you know where we were bound?”

“A shipmaster knows cable stations as well as he knows owners’ agents’ offices ashore. Any fool who had been told your game would have put his finger on that island at once. That’s the loneliest place where the cable goes ashore all up and down the coast, and it isn’t British, and what more could you want?”

With these meagre assurances, Messieurs Sheriff and White had to be content, as no others were forthcoming. Captain Kettle refused to be drawn into further talk upon the subject, and the pair went below to the stuffy little cabin more than a trifle disconsolate. “Well, here’s the man you talked so big about,” said White, bitterly. “As soon as we get out at sea, he shows himself in his true colors. Why, he’s a blooming Methodist. But if he sells us when it comes to the point, and there’s a chance of my getting nabbed, by gad I’ll murder him like I would a rat.”

“If he offers a scrimmage,” said Sheriff, “you take my tip, and clear out. He’s a regular glutton for a fight; I know he’s armed; and he could shoot the buttons off your coat at twenty yards. No, Mr. White; make the best or the worst of Captain Kettle as you choose, but don’t come to fisticuffs with him, or as sure as you are living now, you’ll finish out on the under side then. And mind, I’m not talking by guess-work. I know.”

“I shall not stick at much if this show’s spoiled. Why, the money was as good as in our pockets, if he hadn’t cut up awkward.”

“Don’t throw up the sponge till some one else does it for you. Look here, I know this man Kettle a lot better than you do. He wants the pay very badly. And when it comes to sticking up the cable station, you’ll see him do the work of any ten like us. I tell you, he’s a regular demon when it comes to a scuffle.”

It was in this attitude, then, that the three principal members of the little steamer’s complement voyaged down over those warm tropical seas which lay between Lagos and the isle of their hopes and fears. Two of them kept together, and perfected the detail of their plans for use in every contingency; but the other kept himself icily apart, and for an occupation, when the business of the ship did not require his eye, wrapped himself up in the labor of literary production. He even refused to partake of meals at the same table with his employers.

The island first appeared to them as a huddle of mountains sprouting out of the sea, which grew green as they came more near, and which finally showed great masses of foliage growing to the crown of the splintered heights, with a surf frilling the bays and capes at their foot. There was a town in the hug of one of these bays, and toward it the little steamer rolled as though she had been an ordinary legitimate trader. She brought up to an anchor in the jaws of the bay, half-way between the lighthouse and the rectangular white building on the further beach, and after due delay, a negro doctor, pulled up by a surf-boat full of other negroes, came off and gave her pratique.

The rectangular white building, standing in the sea breeze by itself away from the town beyond, was the cable station, but for the present they faced it with their backs. Kettle had seen it before; the other two acted as though it were the last thing to trouble their minds. There was no going ashore for any of them yet; indeed, the less they advertised their personal identity, the more chance there was of getting off untraced afterward.

Night fell with such suddenness that one could almost have imagined the sun was permanently extinguished. Round the rim of the bay lights began to kindle, and presently (when the wind came off the land) strains of music floated out to them.

“Some saint’s day,” Sheriff commented.

“St. Agatha’s,” said Kettle with a sigh.

“Hello, Kettle. I thought you were a straight-laced chapel goer. What have you to do with saints and their days?”

“I was told that one once, sir, and I can’t help remembering it. You see the date is February 5th, and that’s my eldest youngster’s birthday.”

Sheriff swore. “I wish you’d drop that sort of sentimental bosh, Skipper; especially now. I want to get this business over first, and then, when I go back with plenty in my pocket, I can begin to think of family pleasures and cares again. Come now, have you thought out what we can do with the steamer after we’ve finished our job here?”

“Run up with the coast and sink her, and then go ashore in the surf-boat at some place where the cable doesn’t call, and leave that as soon as possible for somewhere else.”

“It will be a big saving of necks,” said Kettle drily. “Why sir, you’ve been a steamer-owner in your time, and you must know how we’re fixed. You’ve given up your papers here, and you’re known. You can’t go into another port in the whole wide world without papers, and as far as forging a new set, why that’s a thing that hasn’t been done this thirty years outside a story-book.”

Mr. White came up to hear. “I don’t see that,” he said.

“You fellows don’t understand everything in Jerusalem,” said Kettle, with a cheerful insult, and walked away. Captain Kettle regarded Sheriff as a gull, and pitied him accordingly; but White he recognized as principal knave, and disliked him accordingly.

But when the start was made for the raid, some hour and a half before the dawn, Kettle was not backward in fulfilling his paid-for task. Himself he saw a surf-boat lowered into the water and manned by black Krooboy paddlers; himself he saw his two employers down on the thwarts, and then followed them; and himself he sat beside the head-man who straddled in the stern sheets at the steering oar, and gave him minute directions.

The boat was avoiding the bay altogether. She was making for the strip of sand in front of the cable station, and except when she was shouldered up on the back of a roller, the goal was out of sight all the time.

“There’s a rare swell running, and it’s a mighty bad beach to-night,” Kettle commented. “I hope you gentlemen can swim, for the odds are you’ll have to do it inside the next ten minutes.”

“If we are spilt getting ashore,” said White, “how do you say we’ll get off again?”

“The Lord knows,” said Kettle.

“Well, you’re a cheerful companion, anyway.”

“I wasn’t paid for a yacht skippering job and asked to say nice things which weren’t true. But if you don’t fancy the prospect, go back and try a trade that’s less risky. You mayn’t like honest work, but it strikes me this kind of contract’s out your weight anyway.”

The Jew looked as if he would like to let loose his tongue, and perhaps handle a weapon, but his motto was “business first,” and he could not afford to have an open fracas with Kettle then. So he swallowed his resentment, and said, “Get on,” and clung dizzily on to his thwart.

As each roller passed tinder her, the surf-boat swooped higher and higher, and the laboring paddles seemed to give her less and less momentum. The head-man strained at the steering oar. The Krooboys had hard work to keep their perches on the gunwale.

At last the head-man shouted, and the paddles ceased. They were waiting for a smooth. Roller after roller swept under them, and the boat rode them dizzily, but kept her place just beyond the outer edge of the surf. From over his shoulder, the head-man watched the charging seas with animal intentness. Then with a sudden shriek he gave the word, and the paddles stabbed the water into spray. The heavy boat rushed forward again, and a great towering sea rushed after her. It reared her up, stern uppermost, and passed, leaving her half swamped by its foaming passage; and then came another sea, and the boat broached to and spilt. The Krooboys jumped like black frogs from either gunwale, and Kettle jumped also, and made his way easily to the sand, being used to this experience. But Sheriff was pulled on to the beach with difficulty, and the Jew was hauled there in a state verging on the unconscious. He looked at the fearsome surf, and shuddered openly. “How shall we get off again?” he gasped.

“More swimming,” said Kettle tersely. “And perhaps not manage it at all. You’d better give up the game, and go off decently to-morrow morning from the Custom House wharf.”

But Mr. White, whatever might be the list of his failings, was certainly possessed of dogged pluck, and as he had got that far with his enterprise, did not intend to desert it. He got rid of the sea-water that was within him, and resolutely led the way to the cable station, which loomed square and solid through the dusk. Sheriff followed, and Captain Kettle, with his hands in his pockets, brought up the rear. The Krooboys, according to their orders, stayed on the beach, brought in the boat, collected her furniture, and got all ready for relaunching.

White seemed to know the way as if he had been there before. He went up to the building, entered through an open door, and strode quietly in his rubber-soled shoes along a dark passage. At the end was a room in partial darkness, and a man who watched a spot of light which darted hither and back, and between whiles wrote upon paper. To him White went up, and clapped a cold revolver muzzle against the nape of his neck.

“Now,” he said, “I want the loan of your instrument for about an hour. If you resist, you’ll be shot. The noise of the shot will bring out the other men on the station, and they’ll be killed also. There are plenty of us here, and we are well armed, and we intend to have our own way. If you are not anything short of a fool, you’ll go and sit on that chair, and keep quiet till you’re given leave to talk.”

“I don’t think I’ll argue it with you,” said the operator coolly. He got up and sat where he was told, and Kettle, according to arrangement, stood guard over him. “I suppose you malefactors know,” he added, “that there are certain pains and penalties attached to this sort of amusement, and that you are bound to get caught quite soon, whether you shoot me or let me go?”

Nobody answered him. White had sat down at the instrument table, and was tapping out messages like a man well accustomed to the work.

“Of course with those black mask things over your faces I couldn’t recognize you again, even if I was put in the box; but, my good chaps, your steamer’s known, there’s no getting over that. Much better clear out before any mischief’s done, and own up you’ve made a mistake.”

White turned on the man with a sudden fury. “If you don’t keep your silly mouth shut, I’ll have you throttled,” he threatened, and after that the only noise that broke the silence was the _tap–taptap–taptapping_ of the telegraph instrument.

Only two men in that darkened room knew what message was being dispatched, and these were White and the dispossessed operator. The one worked with cool, steady industry, and the other listened with strained intentness. Sheriff was outside the door keeping guard on the rest of the house. But Kettle, from his station behind the operator’s chair, listened with a strange disquietude. He had been told that the object of the raid was to arrange a stock exchange robbery, and to this he had tacitly agreed. According to his narrow creed (as gathered from the South Shields chapel) none but rogues and thieves dealt in stocks and shares, and if these chose to rob one another, an honest man might well look on non-interferent. But what guarantee had he that this robbery was not planned to draw plunder from the outside public as well? The pledged word of Mr. White. And that was worth? He smiled disdainfully when he thought of the slenderness of its value.

_Tap–taptap–tap–tap–taptap_, said the tantalizing instrument, going steadily on with its hidden speech.

The stifling heat of the room seemed to get more oppressive. The mystery of the thing beat against Kettle’s brain.

Of course he could not read the deposed operator’s thoughts, though he could see easily that the man was reading the messages which White was so glibly sending off. But it was clear that the man’s agitation was growing; growing, too, out of all proportion to the coolness he had shown when his room was first invaded. At last an exclamation was forced from him, almost, as it seemed, involuntarily. “Oh, you ghastly scoundrel,” he murmured, and on that Kettle spoke. He could not stand the mystery any longer.

“Tell me,” he said, “exactly what message that man’s sending.”

“But I forbid you to do any such thing,” said White, and reached for his revolver. But before his fingers touched it, he looked up and saw Kettle’s weapon covering him.

“You put that down,” came the crisp order, and White obeyed it nervously enough.

“And now go and stand in the middle of the room till I give you leave to shift.”

White did this also. He grasped the fact that Captain Kettle was not in a mood to be trifled with.

“Now, Mr. Telegraph Clerk, as you understand this tack-hammer language, and as I could see you’ve been following all the messages that’s been sent, just tell me the whole lot of it, please, as near as you can remember.”

“He called up London first, and gave what sounded like a registered address, and sent the word ‘corruscate.’ That’s probably code; anyway I don’t know what it meant. Then he called the Cape, and sent a message to the Governor. He hadn’t got to the end, and there was no signature, but it was evidently intended to make them believe that it was sent from the Colonial Office at home.”

“Well,” said Kettle, “what was the message?”

“Good Lord, man, he’s directing the Governor to declare war on the Transvaal. You know there’s been trouble with them lately, and they’ll believe that it comes from the right place. If this is some stock-jobbing plant–“

“It is.”

“Then, by heavens, it’ll be carried through unless you let me stop it at once. The thing’s plausible enough–“

But here White recovered from his temporary scare, and cut in with a fine show of authority. “S’help me, Kettle, you’re making a pretty mess of things. You make me knock off in the middle of a message, and they’ll not know what’s up at the other end if I don’t go on. Look at that mirror.”

“I see the spot of light winking about.”

“That’s the operator at the next station calling me.”

“But is it true what this gentleman’s been telling me?”

“I suppose it is, more or less. But what of that? What did you lose your temper for like this? You knew quite well what we came here for.”

“I knew you came to steal money from stockbrokers. I knew nothing about going to try and run my country in for a war.”

“Poof, that’s nothing. The war would not hurt you and me. Besides, it must go on now. I’ve cabled my partner in London to be a bear in Kaffirs for all he’s worth. We must smash all the instruments here so they can’t contradict the news, and then be off.”

“Your partner can be a bear or any other kind of beast, in any sort of niggers he chooses, but I’m not going to let you run England into war at any price.”

“Pah, my good man, what does that matter to you? What’s England ever done for you?”

“I live there,” said Kettle, “when I’m at home, and as I’ve lived everywhere else in the world, I’m naturally a bit more fond of the old shop than if I’d never gone away from her beach. No, Mr. White, England’s never done anything special for me that I could, so to speak, put my finger on, but–ah would you!”

White, in desperation, had made a grab at the revolver lying on the instrument table, but with a quick rush Kettle possessed himself of it, and Mr. White found himself again looking down the muzzle of Captain Kettle’s weapon.

But a moment later the aim was changed. Sheriff, hearing the whispered talk, had come in through the doorway to see what it was about, and promptly found himself favored in his turn.

“Shift your pistol to muzzle end, and bring it here.”

Sheriff obeyed the order promptly. He had seen enough of Captain Kettle’s usefulness as a marksman not to dispute his wishes.

“Did you know that we came here to stir up a war between our folks at home and the Transvaal?”

“I suppose so.”

“And smash up the telegraph instruments afterward, so that it could not be contradicted till it was well under way?”

“That would have been necessary.”

“And you remember what you told me on that steamboat? Oh! you liar!” said Kettle, and Sheriff winced.

“I’m so beastly hard up,” he said.

Captain Kettle might have commented on his own poverty, but he did not do this. Instead, he said: “Now we’ll go back to the ship, and of course you’ll have to scuttle her just as if you’d brought off your game here successfully. Run England in for a bloody war, would you, just for some filthy money? By James! no. Come, march. And you, Mr. Telegraph Clerk, get under weigh with that deaf and dumb alphabet of yours, and ring up the Cape, and tell them what’s been sent is all a joke, and there’s to be no war at all.”

“I’ll do that, you may lay your heart on it,” said the operator. “But Mr. I-don’t-know-what-your-name-is, look here. Hadn’t you better stay? I’ll see things are put all right. But if you go off with those two sharks, it might be dangerous.”

“Thank you, kindly, sir,” said Kettle; “but I’m a man that’s been accustomed to look after myself all the world over, and I’m not likely to get hurt now. Those two may be sharks, as you say, but I’m not altogether a simple little lamb myself.”

“I shall be a bit uneasy for you. You’re a good soul whoever you may be, and I’d like to do something for you if I could.”

“Then, sir,” said Kettle, “just keep quiet, here, and get on with your work contradicting that wire, and don’t send for any of those little Portuguese soldiers with guns to see us off. It’s a bad beach, and we mayn’t get off first try, and if they started to annoy us whilst we were at work, I might have to shoot some of them, which would be a trouble.”

“I’ll see to that,” said the operator. “We’ll just shake hands if you don’t mind, before you go. There’s more man to the cubic inch about you than in any other fellow I’ve come across for a long time. I’ve no club at home now, or I’d ask you to look me up. But I dare say we shall meet again some time. So long.”

“Good-by, sir,” said Kettle, and shook the operator by the hand. Then he turned, and drove the other two raiders before him out of the house, and down to the beach, and, with the Krooboys, applied himself to launching the surf-boat through the breakers.

“Run the old shop into a war, would you?” he soliloquized to two very limp, unconscious figures, as the Krooboys got the surf-boat afloat after the third upset. “It’s queer what some men will do for money.” And then, a minute later, he muttered to himself: “By James! look at that dawn coming up behind the island there; yellow as a lemon. Now, that is fine. I can make a bit of poetry out of that.”

CHAPTER VII

THE DERELICT

“Her cargo’ll have shifted,” said the third mate, “and when she got that list her people will have felt frightened and left her.”

“She’s a scary look to her, with her yard-arms spiking every other sea,” said Captain Image, “and her decks like the side of a house. I shouldn’t care to navigate a craft that preferred to lie down on her beam ends myself.”

“Take this glass, sir, and you’ll see the lee quarter-boat davit-tackles are overhauled. That means they got at least one boat in the water. To my mind she’s derelict.”

“Yard-arm tackles rigged and overhauled, too,” said Captain Image. “She’ll have carried a big boat on the top of that house amidships, and that’s gone, too. Well, I hope her crew have got to dry land somewhere, or been picked up, poor beggars. Nasty things, those old wind-jammers, Mr. Strake. Give me steam.”

“But there’s a pile of money in her still,” said the third mate, following up his own thoughts. “She’s an iron ship, and she’ll be two thousand tons, good. Likely enough in the ‘Frisco grain trade. Seems to me a new ship, too; anyway, she’s got those humbugging patent tops’ls.”

“And you’re thinking she’d be a nice plum if we could pluck her in anywhere?” said Image, reading what was in his mind.

“Well, me lad, I know that as well as you, and no one would be pleaseder to pocket L300. But the old _M’poso’s_ a mailboat, and because she’s got about a quarter of a hundredweight of badly spelt letters on board, she can’t do that sort of salvage work if there’s no life-saving thrown in as an extra reason. Besides, we’re behind time as it is, with smelling round for so much cargo, and though I shall draw my two and a-half per cent, on that, I shall have it all to pay away again, and more to boot, in fines for being late. No, I tell you it isn’t all sheer profit and delight in being skipper on one of those West African coast boats. And there’s another thing: the Chief was telling me only this morning that they’ve figured it very close on the coal. We only have what’ll take us to Liverpool ourselves, without trying to pull a yawing, heavy, towing thing like that on behind us.”

Strake drummed at the white rail of the bridge. He was a very young man, and he was very keen on getting the chance of distinguishing himself; and here, on the warm, windless swells abeam, the chance seemed to sit beckoning him. “I’ve been thinking, sir, if you can lend me half a dozen men, I could take her in somewhere myself.”

“I’m as likely to lend you half a dozen angels. Look at the deck hands; look at the sickly trip this has been. We’ve had to put some of them on double tricks at the wheel already, and as for getting any painting done, or having the ship cleaned up a bit, why, I can see we shall go into Liverpool as dirty as a Geordie collier. Besides, Mr. Strake, I believe I’ve told you once or twice already that you’re not much use yourself, but anyway you’re the best that’s left, and I’m having to stand watch and watch with you as it is. If the mate gets out of his bed between here and home, it’ll be to go over the side, and the second mate’s nearly as bad with that nasty blackwater fever only just off him; and there you are. Mr. Strake, if you have a penn’oth of brains stowed away anywhere, I wish to whiskers you’d show ’em sometimes.”

“Old man’s mad at losing a nice lump of salvage,” thought Strake. “Natural, I guess.” So he said quietly: “Ay, ay, sir,” and walked away to the other end of the bridge.

Captain Image followed him half-way, but stopped irresolutely with his hand on the engine-room telegraph. On the fore main deck below him his old friend, Captain Owen Kettle, was leaning on the rail, staring wistfully at the derelict.

“Poor beggar,” Image mused, “’tisn’t hard to guess what he’s thinking about. I wonder if I could fix it for him to take her home. It might set him on his legs again, and he’s come low enough, Lord knows. If I hadn’t given him a room in the first-class for old times’ sake, he’d have had to go home, after his trouble on the West Coast, as a distressed seaman, and touch his cap to me when I passed. I’ve not done badly by him, but I shall have to pay for that room in the first-class out of my own pocket, and if he was to take that old wind-jammer in somewhere, he’d fork out, and very like give me a dash besides.

“Yes, I will say that about Kettle; he’s honest as a barkeeper, and generous besides. He’s a steamer sailor, of course, and has been most of these years, and how he’ll do the white wings business again, Lord only knows. Forget he hasn’t got engines till it’s too late, and then drown himself probably. However, that’s his palaver. Where we’re going to scratch him up a crew from’s the thing that bothers me. Well, we’ll see.” He leaned down over the bridge rail, and called.

Kettle looked up.

“Here a minute, Captain.”

Poor Kettle’s eye lit, and he came up the ladders with a boy’s quickness.

Image nodded toward the deserted vessel. “Fine full-rigger, hasn’t she been? What do you make her out for?”

“‘Frisco grain ship. Stuff in bulk. And it’s shifted.”

“Looks that way. Have you forgotten all your ‘mainsail haul’ and the square-rig gymnastics?”

“I’m hard enough pushed now to remember even the theory-sums they taught at navigation school if I thought they would serve me.”

“I know. And I’m as sorry for you, Captain, as I can hold. But you see, it’s this: I’m short of sailormen; I’ve barely enough to steer and keep the decks clean; anyway I’ve none to spare.”

“I don’t ask for fancy goods,” said Kettle eagerly. “Give me anything with hands on it–apes, niggers, stokers, what you like, and I’ll soon teach them their dancing steps.”

Captain Image pulled at his moustache. “The trouble of it is, we are short everywhere. It’s been a sickly voyage, this. I couldn’t let you have more than two out of the stokehold, and even if we take those, the old Chief will be fit to eat me. You could do nothing with that big vessel with only two beside yourself.”

“Let me go round and see. I believe I can rake up enough hands somehow.”

“Well, you must be quick about it,” said Image. “I’ve wasted more than enough time already. I can only give you five minutes, Captain. Oh, by the way, there’s a nigger stowaway from Sarry Leone you can take if you like. He’s a stonemason or some such foolishness, and I don’t mind having him drowned. If you hammer him enough, probably he’ll learn how to put some weight on a brace.”

“That stonemason’s just the man I can use,” said Kettle. “Get him for me. I’ll never forget your kindness over this, Captain, and you may depend upon me to do the square thing by you if I get her home.”

Captain Kettle ran off down the bridge and was quickly out of sight, and hard at his quest for volunteers. Captain Image waited a minute, and he turned to his third mate. “Now, me lad,” he said, “I know you’re disappointed; but with the other mates sick like they are, it’s just impossible for me to let you go. If I did, the Company would sack me, and the dirty Board of Trade would probably take away my ticket. So you may as well do the kind, and help poor old Cappie Kettle. You see what he’s come down to, through no fault of his own. You’re young, and you’re full to the coamings with confidence. I’m older, and I know that luck may very well get up and hit me, and I’ll be wanting a helping hand myself. It’s a rotten, undependable trade, this sailoring. You might just call the carpenter, and get the cover off that smaller lifeboat.”

“You think he’ll get a crew, then, sir, and not our deckhands?”

“Him? He’ll get some things with legs and arms to them, if he has to whittle ’em out of kindling-wood. It’s not that that’ll stop Cappie Kettle now, me lad.”

The third mate went off, sent for the carpenter, and started to get a lifeboat cleared and ready for launching. Captain Image fell to anxiously pacing the upper bridge, and presently Kettle came back to him.

“Well, Captain,” he said, “I got a fine crew to volunteer, if you can see your way to let me have them. There’s a fireman and a trimmer, both English; there’s a third-class passenger–a Dago of some sort, I think he is, that was a ganger on the Congo railway–and there’s Mr. Dayton-Philipps; and if you send me along your nigger stonemason, that’ll make a good, strong ship’s company.”

“Dayton-Philipps!” said Image. “Why, he’s an officer in the English Army, and he’s been in command of Haussa troops on the Gold Coast, and he’s been some sort of a Resident, or political thing up in one of those nigger towns at the back there. What’s he want to go for?”

“Said he’d come for the fun of the thing.”

Captain Image gave a grim laugh. “Well, I think he’ll find all the fun he’s any use for before he’s ashore again. Extraordinary thing some people can’t see they’re well off when they’ve got a job ashore. Now, Mr. Strake, hurry with that boat and get her lowered away. You’re to take charge and bring her back; and mind, you’re not to leave the captain here and his gang aboard if the vessel’s too badly wrecked to be safe.”

He turned to Kettle. “Excuse my giving that last order, old man, but I know how keen you are, and I’m not going to let you go off to try and navigate a sieve. You’re far too good a man to be drowned uselessly.”

The word was “Hurry,” now that the final decision had been given, and the davit tackles squeaked out as the lifeboat jerked down toward the water. She rode there at the end of her painter, and the three rowers and the third mate fended her off, while Kettle’s crew of nondescripts scrambled unhandily down to take their places. The negro stowaway refused stubbornly to leave the steamer, and so was lowered ignominiously in a bowline, and then, as he still objected loudly that he came from Sa’ Leone, and was a free British subject, some one crammed a bucket over his head, amidst the uproarious laughter of the onlookers.

Captain Kettle swung himself down the swaying Jacob’s ladder, and the boat’s painter was cast off; and under three oars she moved slowly off over the hot sun-kissed swells. Advice and farewells boomed like a thunderstorm from the steamer, and an animated frieze of faces and figures and waving headgear decorated her rail.

Ahead of them, the quiet ship shouldered clumsily over the rollers, now gushing down till she dipped her martingale, now swooping up again, sending whole cataracts of water swirling along her waist.

The men in the boat regarded her with curious eyes as they drew nearer. Even the three rowers turned their heads, and were called to order therefor by the mate at the tiller. A red ensign was seized jack downward in her main rigging, the highest note of the sailorman’s agony of distress. On its wooden case, in her starboard fore-rigging, a dioptric lens sent out the faint green glow of a lamp’s light into the sunshine.

The third mate drew attention to this last “Lot of oil in that lamp,” he said, “or it means they haven’t deserted her very long. To my mind, it must have been in yesterday’s breeze her cargo shifted, and scared her people into leaving her.”

“We shall see,” said Kettle, still staring intently ahead.

The boat was run up cannily alongside, and Kettle jumped into the main chains and clambered on board over the bulwarks. “Now, pass up my crew, Mr. Strake,” said he.

“I’m coming myself next, if you don’t mind,” said the third mate, and did so. “Must obey the old man’s orders,” he explained, as they stood together on the sloping decks. “You heard yourself what he said, Captain.”

“Well, Mr. Mate,” said Kettle grimly, “I hope you’ll decide she’s seaworthy, because, whatever view you take of it, as I’ve got this far, here I’m going to stay.”

The mate frowned. He was a young man; he was here in authority, and he had a great notion of making his authority felt. Captain Kettle was to him merely a down-on-his-luck free-passage nobody, and as the mate was large and lusty he did not anticipate trouble. So he remarked rather crabbedly that he was going to obey his orders, and went aft along the slanting deck.

It was clear that the vessel had been swept–badly swept. Ropes-ends streamed here and there and overboard in every direction, and everything movable had been carried away eternally by the sea. A goodly part of the starboard bulwarks had vanished, and the swells gushed in and out as they chose. But the hatch tarpaulins and companions were still in place; and though it was clear from the list (which was so great that they could not walk without holding on) that her cargo was badly shifted, there was no evidence so far that she was otherwise than sound.

The third mate led the way on to the poop, opened the companion doors and slide, and went below. Kettle followed. There was a cabin with state rooms off it, littered, but dry. Strake went down on his knees beneath the table, searching for something. “Lazaret hatch ought to be down here,” he explained. “I want to see in there. Ah, it is.”

He got his fingers in the ring and pulled it back. Then he whistled. “Half-full of water,” he said. “I thought so from the way she floated. It’s up to the beams down here. Likely enough she’ll have started a plate somewhere. ‘Fraid it’s no go for you, Captain. Why, if a breeze was to come on, half the side of her might drop out, and she’d go down like a stone.”

Now to Kettle’s honor be it said (seeing what he had in his mind) he did not tackle the man as he knelt there peering into the lazaret. Instead he waited till he stood up again, and then made his statement coldly and deliberately.

“This ship’s not too dangerous for me, and I choose to judge. And if she’ll do for me, she’s good enough for the crew I’ve got in your boat. Now I want them on deck, and at work without any more palaver.”

“Do you, by God!” said the mate, and then the pair of them closed without any further preliminaries. They were both of them well used to quick rough-and-tumbles, and they both of them knew that the man who gets the first grip in these wrestles usually wins, and instinctively each tried to act on that knowledge.

But if the third mate had bulk and strength, Kettle had science and abundant wiriness; and though the pair of them lost their footing on the sloping cabin floor at the first embrace, and wriggled over and under like a pair of eels, Captain Kettle got a thumb artistically fixed in the bigger man’s windpipe, and held it there doggedly. The mate, growing more and more purple, hit out with savage force, but Kettle dodged the bull-like blows like the boxer he was, and the mate’s efforts gradually relaxed.

But at this point they were interrupted. “That wobbly boat was making me sea-sick,” said a voice, “so I came on board here. Hullo, you fellows!”

Kettle looked up. “Mr. Philipps,” he said, “I wish you’d go and get the rest of our crew on deck out of the boat.”

“But what are you two doing down there?”

“We disagreed over a question of judgment. He said this ship isn’t safe, and I shouldn’t have the chance to take her home. I say there’s nothing wrong with her that can’t be remedied, and home I’m going to take her, anyway. It might be the one chance in my life, sir, of getting a balance at the bank, and I’m not going to miss it.”

“Ho!” said Dayton-Philipps.

“If you don’t like to come, you needn’t,” said Kettle. “But I’m going to have the stonemason and the Dago, and those two coal-heavers. Perhaps you’d better go back. It will be wet, hard work here; no way the sort of job to suit a soldier.”

Dayton-Philipps flushed slightly, and then he laughed. “I suppose that’s intended to be nasty,” he said. “Well, Captain, I shall have to prove to you that we soldiers are equal to a bit of manual labor sometimes. By the way, I don’t want to interfere in a personal matter, but I’d take it as a favor if you wouldn’t kill Strake quite. I rather like him.”

“Anything to oblige,” said Kettle, and took his thumb out of the third mate’s windpipe. “And now, sir, as you’ve so to speak signed on for duty here, away with you on deck and get those four other beauties up out of the boat.”

Dayton-Philipps touched his hat and grinned. “Ay, ay, sir,” he said, and went back up the companion.

Shortly afterward he came to report the men on board, and Kettle addressed his late opponent. “Now, look here, young man, I don’t want to have more trouble on deck before the hands. Have you had enough?”

“For the present, yes,” said the third mate huskily. “But I hope we’ll meet again some other day to have a bit of further talk.”

“I am sure I shall be quite ready. No man ever accused me of refusing a scrap. But, me lad, just take one tip from me: don’t you go and make Captain Image anxious by saying this ship isn’t seaworthy, or he’ll begin to ask questions, and he may get you to tell more than you’re proud about.”

“You can go and get drowned your own way. As far as I am concerned, no one will guess it’s coming off till they see it in the papers.”

“Thanks,” said Kettle. “I knew you’d be nice about it.”

The third mate went down to his boat, and the three rowers took her across to the _M’poso_, where she was hauled up to davits again. The steamer’s siren boomed out farewells, as she got under way again, and Kettle with his own hands unbent the reversed ensign from the ship’s main rigging, and ran it up to the peak and dipped it three times in salute.

He breathed more freely now. One chance and a host of unknown dangers lay ahead of him. But the dangers he disregarded. Dangers were nothing new to him. It was the chance which lured him on. Chances so seldom came in his way, that he intended to make this one into a certainty if the efforts of desperation could do it.

Alone of all the six men on the derelict, Captain Kettle had knowledge of the seaman’s craft; but, for the present, thews and not seamanship were required. The vessel lay in pathetic helplessness on her side, liable to capsize in the first squall which came along, and their first effort must be to get her in proper trim whilst the calm continued. They knocked out the wedges with their heels, and got the tarpaulins off the main hatch; they pulled away the hatch covers, and saw beneath them smooth slopes of yellow grain.

As though they were an invitation to work, shovels were made fast along the coamings of the hatch. The six men took these, and with shouts dropped down upon the grain. And then began a period of Homeric toil. The fireman and the coal-trimmer set the pace, and with a fine contempt for the unhandiness of amateurs did not fail to give a display of their utmost. Kettle and Dayton-Philipps gamely kept level with them. The Italian ganger turned out to have his pride also, and did not lag, and only the free-born British subject from Sierra Leone endeavored to shirk his due proportion of the toil.

But high-minded theories as to the rights of man were regarded here as little as threats to lay information before a justice of the peace; and under the sledge-hammer arguments of shovel blows from whoever happened to be next to him, the unfortunate colored gentleman descended to the grade of nigger again (which he had repeatedly sworn never to do), and toiled and sweated equally with his betters.

The heat under the decks was stifling, and dust rose from the wheat in choking volumes, but the pace of the circling shovels was never allowed to slacken. They worked there stripped to trousers, and they understood, one and all, that they were working for their lives. A breeze had sprung up almost as soon as the _M’poso_ had steamed away, and hourly it was freshening: the barometer in the cabin was registering a steady fall; the sky was banking up with heavy clouds.

Kettle had handled sheets and braces and hove the vessel to so as to steady her as they worked, but she still labored heavily in the sea, and beneath them they could hear the leaden swish of water in the floor of the hold beneath. Their labor was having its effect, and by infinitesimal gradations they were counteracting the list and getting the ship upright; but the wind was worsening, and it seemed to them also that the water was getting deeper under their feet, and that the vessel rode more sluggishly.

So far the well had not been sounded. It is no use getting alarming statistics to discourage one’s self unnecessarily. But after night had fallen, and it was impossible to see to work in the gloomy hold any longer without lamps, Captain Kettle took the sounding-rod and found eight feet.

He mentioned this when he took down the lanterns into the hold, but he did not think it necessary to add that as the sounding had been taken with the well on the slant it was therefore considerably under the truth. Still he sent Dayton-Philipps and the trimmer on deck to take a spell at the pumps, and himself resumed his shovel-work alongside the others.

Straight away on through the night the six men stuck to their savage toil, the blood from their blistered hands reddening the shafts of the shovels. Every now and again one or another of them, choked with the dust, went to get a draft of lukewarm water from the scuttlebutt. But no one stayed over long on these excursions. The breeze had blown up into a gale. The night overhead-was starless and moonless, but every minute the black heaven was split by spurts of lightning, which showed the laboring, dishevelled ship set among great mountains of breaking seas.

The sight would have been bad from a well-manned, powerful steamboat; from the deck of the derelict it approached the terrific. With the seas constantly crashing on board of her, to have left the hatches open would have been, in her semi-waterlogged condition, to court swamping, and after midnight these were battened down, and the men with the shovels worked among the frightened, squeaking rats in the closed-in box of the hold. There were four on board the ship during that terrible night who openly owned to being cowed, and freely bewailed their insanity in ever being lured away from the _M’poso_. Dayton-Philipps had sufficient self-control to keep his feelings, whatever they were, unstated; but Kettle faced all difficulties with indomitable courage and a smiling face.

“I believe,” said Dayton-Philipps to him once when they were taking a spell together at the clanking pumps, “you really glory in finding yourself in this beastly mess.”

“I have got to earn out the salvage of this ship somehow,” Kettle shouted back to him through the windy darkness, “and I don’t much care what work comes between now and when I handle the check.”

“You’ve got a fine confidence. I’m not grumbling, mind, but it seems very unlikely we shall be still afloat to-morrow morning.”

“We shall pull through, I tell you.”

“Well,” said Dayton-Philipps, “I suppose you are a man that’s always met with success. I’m not. I’ve got blundering bad luck all along, and if there’s a hole available, I get into it.”

Captain Kettle laughed aloud into the storm. “Me!” he cried. “Me in luck! There’s not been a man more bashed and kicked by luck between here and twenty years back. I suppose God thought it good for me, and He’s kept me down to my bearings in bad luck ever since I first got my captain’s ticket. But He’s not cruel, Mr. Philipps, and He doesn’t push a man beyond the end of his patience. My time’s come at last. He’s given me something to make up for all the weary waiting. He’s sent me this derelict, and He only expects me to do my human best, and then He’ll let me get her safely home.”

“Good Heavens, Skipper, what are you talking about? Have you seen visions or something?”

“I’m a man, Mr. Philipps, that’s always said my prayers regular all through life. I’ve asked for things, big things, many of them, and I’ll not deny they’ve been mostly denied me. I seemed to know they’d be denied. But in the last week or so there’s been a change. I’ve asked on, just as earnestly as I knew how, and I seemed to hear Him answer. It was hardly a voice, and yet it was like a voice; it appeared to come out of millions of miles of distance; and I heard it say: ‘Captain, I do not forget the sparrows, and I have not forgotten you. I have tried you long enough. Presently you shall meet with your reward.'”

Dayton-Philipps stared. Was the man going mad?

“And that’s what it is, sir, that makes me sure I shall bring this vessel into some port safely and pocket the salvage.”

“Look here, Skipper,” said Dayton-Philipps, “you are just fagged to death, and I’m the same. We’ve been working till our hands are raw as butcher’s meat, and we’re clean tired out, and we must go below and get a bit of sleep. If the ship swims, so much the better; if she sinks, we can’t help it; anyway, we’re both of us too beat to work any more. I shall be ‘seeing things’ myself next.”

“Mr. Philipps,” said the little sailor gravely, “I know you don’t mean anything wrong, so I take no offence. But I’m a man convinced; I’ve heard the message I told you with my own understanding; and it isn’t likely anything you can say will persuade me out of it. I can see you are tired out, as you say, so go you below and get a spell of sleep. But as for me, I’ve got another twenty hours’ wakefulness in me yet, if needs be. This chance has mercifully been sent in my way, as I’ve said, but naturally it’s expected of me that I do my human utmost as well to see it through.”

“If you stay on at this heart-breaking work, so do I,” said Dayton-Philipps, and toiled gamely on at the pump. There he was still when day broke, sawing up and down like an automaton. But before the sun rose, utter weariness had done its work. His bleeding fingers loosed themselves from the break, his knees failed beneath him, and he fell in an unconscious stupor of sleep on to the wet planking of the deck. For half an hour more Kettle struggled on at the pump, doing double work; but even his flesh and blood had its breaking strain; and at last he could work no more.

He leaned dizzily up against the pump for a minute or so, and then with an effort he pulled his still unconscious companion away and laid him on the dry floor of a deck-house. There was a pannikin of cold stewed tea slung from a hook in there, and half a sea biscuit on one of the bunks. He ate and drank greedily, and then went out again along the streaming decks to work, so far as his single pair of hands could accomplish such a thing, at getting the huge derelict once more in sailing trim.

The shovels meanwhile had been doing their work, and although the list was not entirely gone, the vessel at times (when a sea buttressed her up) floated almost upright. The gale was still blowing, but it had veered to the southward, and on the afternoon of that day Kettle called all hands on deck and got her under way again, and found to his joy that the coal-trimmer had some elementary notion of taking a wheel.

“I rate you as Mate,” he said in his gratitude, “and you’ll draw salvage pay according to your rank. I was going to make Mr. Philipps my officer, but–“

“Don’t apologize,” said Dayton-Philipps. “I don’t know the name of one string from another, and I’m quite conscious of my deficiency. But just watch me put in another spell at those infernal pumps.”

The list was of less account now, and the vessel was once more under command of her canvas. It was the leak which gave them most cause for anxiety. Likely enough it was caused by the mere wrenching away of a couple of rivets. But the steady inpour of water through the holes would soon have made the ship grow unmanageable and founder if it was not constantly attended to. Where the leak was they had not a notion. Probably it was deep down under the cargo of grain, and quite unget-at-able; but anyway it demanded a constant service at the pumps to keep it in check, and this the bone-weary crew were but feebly competent to give. They were running up into the latitude of the Bay, too, and might reasonably expect that “Biscay weather” would not take much from the violence of the existing gale.

However, the dreaded Bay, fickle as usual, saw fit to receive them at first with a smiling face. The gale eased to a plain smiling wind; the sullen black clouds dissolved away into fleckless blue, and a sun came out which peeled their arms and faces as they worked. During the afternoon they rose the brown sails of a Portuguese fishing schooner, and Kettle headed toward her.

Let his crew be as willing as they would, there was no doubt that this murderous work at the pumps could not be kept up for a voyage to England. If he could not get further reinforcements, he would have to take the ship into the nearest foreign port to barely save her from sinking. And then where would be his sighed-for salvage? Wofully thinned, he thought, or more probably whisked away altogether. Captain Kettle had a vast distrust for the shore foreigner over questions of law proceedings and money matters. So he made for the schooner, hove his own vessel to, and signalled that he wished to speak.

A boat was slopped into the water from the schooner’s deck, and ten swarthy, ragged Portuguese fishermen crammed into her. A couple pushed at the oars, and they made their way perilously over the deep hill and dale of ocean with that easy familiarity which none but deep-sea fishermen can attain. They worked up alongside, caught a rope which was thrown them, and nimbly climbed over on to the decks.

Two or three of them had a working knowledge of English; their captain spoke it with fluent inaccuracy; and before any of them had gone aft to Kettle, who stood at the wheel, they heard the whole story of the ship being found derelict, and (very naturally) were anxious enough by some means or another to finger a share of the salvage. Even a ragged Portuguese _baccalhao_ maker can have his ambitions for prosperity like other people.

Their leader made his proposal at once. “All right-a, Captain, I see how you want. We take charge now, and take-a you into Ferrol without you being at more trouble.”

“Nothing of the kind,” said Kettle. “I’m just wanting the loan of two or three hands to give my fellows a spell or two at that pump. We’re a bit short-handed, that’s all. But otherwise we’re quite comfortable. I’ll pay A.B.’s wages on Liverpool scale, and that’s a lot more than you Dagos give amongst yourselves, and if the men work well I’ll throw in a dash besides for ‘bacca money.'”

[Illustration: HE PICKED UP THE MAN AND SENT HIM AFTER THE KNIFE.]

“Ta-ta-ta,” said the Portuguese, with a wave of his yellow fist. “It cannot be done, and I will not lend you men. It shall do as I say; we take-a you into Ferroll. Do not fear-a, captain; you shall have money for finding sheep; you shall have some of our salvage.”

Dayton-Philipps, who was standing near, and knew the little sailor’s views, looked for an outbreak. But Kettle held himself in, and still spoke to the man civilly.

“That’s good English you talk,” he said. “Do all your crowd understand the language?”

“No,” said the fellow, readily enough, “that man does not, nor does him, nor him.”

“Right–oh!” said Kettle. “Then, as those three man can’t kick up a bobbery at the other end, they’ve just got to stay here and help work this vessel home. And as for the rest of you filthy, stinking, scale-covered cousins of apes, over the side you go before you’re put. Thought you were going to steal my lawful salvage, did you, you crawling, yellow-faced–ah!”

The hot-tempered Portuguese was not a man to stand this tirade (as Kettle anticipated) unmoved. His fingers made a vengeful snatch toward the knife in his belt, but Kettle was ready for this, and caught it first and flung it overboard. Then with a clever heave he picked up the man and sent him after the knife.

He tripped up one of the Portuguese who couldn’t speak English, dragged him to the cabin companion, and toppled him down the ladder. Dayton-Philipps (surprised at himself for abetting such lawlessness) captured a second in like fashion, and the English fireman and coal-trimmer picked up the third and dropped him down an open hatchway on to the grain in the hold beneath.

But there were six of the fishermen left upon the deck, and these did not look upon the proceedings unmoved. They had been slow to act at first, but when the initial surprise was over, they were blazing with rage and eager to do murder. The Italian and the Sierra Leone nigger ran out of their way on to the forecastle head, and they came on, vainglorious in numbers, and armed with their deadly knives. But the two English roughs, the English gentleman, and the little English sailor, were all of them men well accustomed to take care of their own skins; the belaying pins out of the pinrail seemed to come by instinct into their hands, and not one of them got so much as a scratch.

It was all the affair of a minute. It does not do to let these little impromptu scrimmages simmer over long. In fact, the whole affair was decided in the first rush. The quartette of English went in, despising the “Dagos,” and quite intending to clear them off the ship. The invaders were driven overboard by sheer weight of blows and prestige, and the victors leaned on the bulwark puffing and gasping, and watched them swim away to their boat through the clear water below.

“Ruddy Dagos,” said the roughs.

“Set of blooming pirates,” said Kettle.

But Dayton-Philipps seemed to view the situation from a different point. “I’m rather thinking we are the pirates. How about those three we’ve got on board? This sort of press-gang work isn’t quite approved of nowadays, is it, Skipper?”

“They no speakee English,” said Kettle drily. “You might have heard me ask that, sir, before I started to talk to that skipper to make him begin the show. And he did begin it, and that’s the great point. If ever you’ve been in a police court, you’ll always find the magistrate ask, ‘Who began this trouble?’ And when he finds out, that’s the man he logs. No, those fishermen won’t kick up a bobbery when they get back to happy Portugal again; and as for our own crowd here on board, they ain’t likely to talk when they get ashore, and have money due to them.”

“Well, I suppose there’s reason in that, though I should have my doubts about the stonemason. He comes from Sierra Leone, remember, and they’re great on the rights of man there.”

“Quite so,” said Kettle. “I’ll see the stonemason gets packed off to sea again in a stokehold before he has a chance of stirring up the mud ashore. When the black man gets too pampered, he has to be brought low again with a rush, just to make him understand his place.”

“I see,” said Dayton-Phillips, and then he laughed.

“There’s something that tickles you, sir?”

“I was thinking, Skipper, that for a man who believes he’s being put in the way of a soft thing by direct guidance from on high, you’re using up a tremendous lot of energy to make sure the Almighty’s wishes don’t miscarry. But still I don’t understand much about these matters myself. And at present it occurs to me that I ought to be doing a spell at those infernal pumps, instead of chattering here.”

The three captive Portuguese were brought up on deck and were quickly induced by the ordinary persuasive methods of the merchant service officer to forego their sulkiness and turn-to diligently at what work was required of them. But even with this help the heavy ship was still considerably undermanned, and the incessant labor at the pumps fell wearily on all hands. The Bay, true to its fickle nature, changed on them again. The sunshine was swamped by a driving gray mist of rain; the glass started on a steady fall; and before dark, Kettle snugged her down to single topsails, himself laying out on the foot-ropes with the Portuguese, as no others of his crew could manage to scramble aloft with so heavy a sea running.

The night worsened as it went on; the wind piled up steadily in violence; and the sea rose till the sodden vessel rode it with a very babel of shrieks, and groans, and complaining sounds. Toward morning, a terrific squall powdered up against them and hove her down, and a dull rumbling was heard in her bowels to let them know that once more her cargo had shifted.

For the moment, even Kettle thought that this time she was gone for good. She lost her way, and lay down like a log in the water, and the racing seas roared over her as though she had been a half-tide rock. By a miracle no one was washed overboard. But her people hung here and there to eyebolts and ropes, mere nerveless wisps of humanity, incapable under those teeming cataracts of waves to lift so much as a finger to help themselves.

Then to the impact of a heavier gasp of the squall, the topgallant masts went, and the small loss of of top-weight seemed momentarily to ease her. Kettle seized upon the moment. He left the trimmer and one of the Portuguese at the wheel, and handed himself along the streaming decks and kicked and cuffed the rest of his crew into activity. He gave his orders, and the ship wore slowly round before the wind, and began to pay away on the other tack.

Great hills of sea deluged her in the process, and her people worked like mermen, half of their time submerged. But by degrees, as the vast rollers hit and shook her with their ponderous impact, she came upright again, and after a little while shook the grain level in her holds, and assumed her normal, angle of heel.

Dayton-Philipps struggled up and, hit Kettle on the shoulder. “How’s that, umpire?” he bawled. “My faith, you are a clever, sailor.”

Captain Kettle touched his hat. “God bore a hand there, sir,” he shouted through the wind. “If I’d tried to straighten her up like that without outside help, every man here would have been fish-chop this minute.”

Even Dayton-Philipps, sceptical though he might be, began to think there was “something in it” as the voyage went on. To begin with, the leak stopped. They did not know how it had happened, and they did not very much care. Kettle had his theories. Anyway it stopped. To go on with, although they were buffeted with every kind of evil weather, all their mischances were speedily rectified. In a heavy sea, all their unstable cargo surged about as though it had been liquid, but it always shifted back again before she quite capsized. The mizzen-mast went bodily overboard in one black rain-squall because they were too short-handed to get sail off it in time, but they found that the vessel sailed almost as well as a brig, and was much easier for a weak crew to manage.

All hands got covered with salt-water boils. All hands, with the exception of Kettle–who remained, as usual, neat–grew gaunt, bearded, dirty, and unkempt. They were grimed with sea-salt, they were flayed with violent suns; but by dint of hard schooling they were becoming handy sailormen, all of them, and even the negro stonemason learned to obey an order without first thinking over its justice till he earned a premonitory hiding.

In the throat of the English Channel a blundering steamship did her best to run them down, and actually rasped sides with the sailing-vessel as she tore past into the night; but nobody made an attempt to jump for safety on to her decks, nobody even took the trouble to swear at her with any thing like heartfelt profanity.

“It’s a blooming Flying Dutchman we’re on,” said the coal-trimmer who acted as mate. “There’s no killing the old beast. Only hope she gets us ashore somehow, and doesn’t stay fooling about at sea forever just to get into risks. I want to get off her. She’s too blooming lucky to be quite wholesome somehow.”

Kettle had intended to make a Channel port, but a gale hustled him north round Land’s End, “and you see,” he said to Dayton-Philipps, “what I get for not being sufficiently trustful. The old girl’s papers are made out to Cardiff, and here we are pushed round into the Bristol Channel. By James! look, there’s a tug making up to us. Thing like that makes you feel homey, doesn’t it, sir?”

The little spattering tug wheeled up within hail, tossing like a cork on the brown waves of the estuary, and the skipper in the green pulpit between the paddle-boxes waved a hand cheerily.

“Seem to have found some dirty weather, Captain,” he bawled. “Want a pull into Cardiff or Newport?”

“Cardiff. What price?”

“Say L100.”

“I wasn’t asking to buy the tug. You’re putting a pretty fancy figure on her for that new lick of paint you’ve got on your rails.”

“I’ll take L80.”

“Oh, I can sail her in myself if you’re going to be funny. She’s as handy as a pilot-boat, brig rigged like this, and my crew know her fine. I’ll give you L20 into Cardiff, and you’re to dock me for that.”

“Twenty wicked people. Now look here, Captain, you don’t look very prosperous with that vessel of yours, and will probably have the sack from owners for mishandling her when you get ashore, and I don’t want to embitter your remaining years in the workus, so I’ll pull you in for fifty quid.”

“L20, old bottle nose.”

“Come now, Captain, thirty. I’m not here for sport. I’ve got to make my living.”

“My man,” said Kettle, “I’ll meet you and make it L25, and I’ll see you in Aden before I give a penny more. You can take that, or sheer off.”

“Throw us your blooming rope,” said the tug skipper.

“There, sir,” said Kettle _sotto voce_ to Dayton-Philipps, “you see the marvellousness of it? God has stood by me to the very end. I’ve saved at least L10 over that towage, and, by James! I’ve seen times when a ship mauled about like this would have been bled for four times the amount before a tug would pluck her in.”

“Then we are out of the wood now?”

“We’ll get the canvas off her, and then you can go below and shave. You can sleep in a shore bed this night, if you choose, sir, and to-morrow we’ll see about fingering the salvage. There’ll be no trouble there now; we shall just have to ask for a check and Lloyds will pay it, and then you and the hands will take your share, and I–by James! Mr. Philipps, I shall be a rich man over this business. I shouldn’t be a bit surprised but what I finger a snug L500 as my share. Oh, sir, Heaven’s been very good to me over this, and I know it, and I’m grateful. My wife will be grateful too. I wish you could come to our chapel some day and see her.”

“You deserve your luck, Captain, if ever a man did in this world, and, by Jove! we’ll celebrate it. We’ve been living on pig’s food for long enough. We’ll find the best hotel in Cardiff, and we’ll get the best dinner the _chef_ there can produce. I want you to be my guest at that.”

“I must ask you to excuse me,” said Kettle. “I’ve received a good deal just lately, and I’m thankful, and I want to say so. If you don’t mind, I’d rather say it alone.”

“I understand, Skipper. You’re a heap better man than I am, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to shake hands with you. Thanks. We may not meet again, but I shall never forget you and what we’ve seen on this murderous old wreck of a ship. Hullo, there’s Cardiff not twenty minutes ahead. Well, I must go below and clean up after you’ve docked her.”

CHAPTER VIII

TO CAPTURE AN HEIRESS

The _Parakeet_ had discharged the last of her coal into the lighters alongside, had cast off from the mooring buoys, and was steaming out of the baking heat of Suez harbor on her way down toward the worse heat of the Red Sea beyond. The clatter and dirt of the-working ships, with the smells of hot iron and black humanity, were dying out astern, and presently she slowed up to drop the pilot into his boat, and then stood on again along her course.

A passenger, a young man of eight or nine-and-twenty, lounged on a camp-stool under the upper bridge awning, and watched the _Parakeet’s_ captain as he walked briskly across and across, and presently, when the little sailor faced him, he nodded as though he had decided something that was in his thoughts.

“Well, sir?” said Captain Kettle.

“I wish you wouldn’t look so anxious. We’ve started now, and may as well make up our minds to go through it comfortably.”

“Quite so,” said Kettle. “I’m thinking out how we are to do this business in comfort–and safety,” and with that he resumed his walk.

The man beside him had introduced himself when the black workers were carrying the _Parakeet’s_ cargo of coal in baskets from the holds to the lighters alongside; and Kettle had been rather startled to find that he carried a letter of introduction from the steamboat’s owners. The letter gave him no choice of procedure. It stated with clearness that Mr. Hugh Wenlock, solicitor, had laid his wishes before them, and that they had agreed to further these wishes (through the agency of their servant–Captain Owen Kettle) in consideration of the payment of L200 sterling.

The _Parakeet_ was a cargo tramp, and carried no passenger certificate, but a letter of recommendation like this was equivalent to a direct order, and Kettle signed Mr. Wenlock on to his crew list as “Doctor,” and put to sea with an anxious mind.

Wenlock waited awhile, watching squalid Suez sink into the sea behind; and then he spoke again.

“Look here, Captain,” he said, “those South Arabian ports have got a lot worse reputation than they really deserve. The people down there twenty years ago were a pack of pirates, I’ll grant you, but nowadays they know that if they get at any of their old games, a British gunboat promptly comes up next week and bombards them at two-mile range, and that’s not good enough. They may not be honest from inclination, but they’ve got the fear of the gunboat always handy, and that’s a wonderful civilizing power. I tell you, captain, you needn’t be frightened; that pirate business is exploded for now and always.”

“I know all about the piratical hankerings of those South Arabian niggers, sir,” said Kettle stiffly, “and I know what they can do and what they can’t do as well as any man living. And I know also what I can do myself at a push, and the knowledge leaves me pretty comfortable. But if you choose to think me frightened, I’ll own I am. It’s the navigation down there that gave me cold shivers the first moment you mentioned it.”

“Why, it’s no worse than the Red Sea here, anyway.”

“Red Sea’s bad, but you can get good charts of it and rely on them. South Arabian coast is no better, and the charts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. There are bad tide-rips down there, sir, and there are bad reefs, and there’s bad fog, and the truth of it is, there’s no handier place to lose a ship in all the big, wide world.”

“I wouldn’t like you to wreck the steamer down there. It might be awkward for me getting back.”

“Quite so,” said Kettle, “you’re thinking of yourself, and I don’t blame you. I’m thinking of myself also. I’m a man that’s met a great deal of misfortune, sir, and from one thing and another I’ve been eight years without a regular command. I had the luck to bring in a derelict the other day, and pocket a good salvage out of her, and my present owners heard of it, and they put me as master of this steamer, just because of that luck.”

“Nothing like luck.”

“If you don’t lose it. But I am not anxious to pile up this steamboat on some uncharted reef just because luck has left me, and have to wait another eight years before I find another command.”

“And, as I say, I’m as keen as you are not to get the steamer wrecked, and if there’s any way she can be kept out of a dangerous area, and you can manage to set me ashore where I want in a boat, just you say, and I’ll meet you all I can. But at the same time, Skipper, if you don’t mind doing a swap, you might give me a good deal of help over my matter in return.”

“I haven’t heard your business yet, sir. All you’ve told me is that you want to be set down in this place, Dunkhot, and be taken off again after you’ve stayed there four-and-twenty hours.”

“Well, you see I didn’t want it talked over beforehand. If the newspapers got hold of the yarn, and made a lot of fuss about it, they might upset a certain marriage that I’ve very much set my heart upon.”

Captain Kettle looked puzzled. “I don’t seem to quite follow you, sir.”

“You shall hear the tale from the beginning. We have plenty of time ahead of us just now. You remember the wreck of the _Rangoon_?”

“She was coming home from East Indian ports, wasn’t she, and got on fire somewhere off Cape Guardafui? But that’ll have been twenty years back, in the old overland days, before the Ditch was opened. Only about ten of her people saved, if I remember.”

“That’s about right,” said Wenlock, “though it’s twenty years ago now. She was full of Anglo-Indians, and their loss made a great sensation at the time. Amongst others was a Colonel Anderson, and his wife, and their child Teresa, aged nine; and what made their deaths all the more sad was the fact that Anderson’s elder brother died just a week before, and he would have come home to find a peerage and large estates waiting for him.”

“I can feel for that man,” said Kettle.

“I can feel most for the daughter,” said Wenlock.

“How do you mean, sir?”

“Well, Colonel Anderson’s dead, and his wife’s dead, but the daughter isn’t, or at any rate she was very much alive twelve months ago, that’s all. The whole lot of them, with others, got into one of the _Rangoon’s_ boats, and after frizzling about at sea till they were nearly starved, got chucked on that South Arabian coast (which you say is so rocky and dangerous), and were drowned in the process. All barring Teresa, that is. She was pulled out of the water by the local niggers, and was brought up by them, and I’ve absolutely certain information that not a year ago she was living in Dunkhot as quite a big personage in her way.”

“And she’s ‘My Lady’ now, if she only knew?”

“Well, not that. The title doesn’t descend in the female line, but Colonel Anderson made a will in her favor after she was born, and the present earl, who’s got the estates, would have to shell out if she turned up again.”

“My owners, in their letter, mentioned that you were a solicitor. Then you are employed by his lordship, sir?”

Mr. Wenlock laughed. “Not much,” he said. “I’m on my own hook. Why, hang it all, Captain, you must see that no man of his own free will would be idiot enough to resurrect a long-forgotten niece just to make himself into a beggar.”

“I don’t see why not, sir, if he got to know she was alive. Some men have consciences, and even a lord, I suppose, is a man.”

“The present earl has far too good a time of it to worry about running a conscience. No, I bet he fights like a thief for the plunder, however clear a case we have to show him. And as he’s the man in possession and has plenty of ready cash for law expenses, the odds are he’ll turn out too big to worry at through all the courts, and we shall compromise. I’d like that best myself. Cash down has a desirable feel about it.”

“It has, sir,” said Kettle with a reminiscent sigh. “Even to pocket a tenth of what is rightfully yours is better than getting mixed up with that beastly law. But will the other relatives of the young lady, those that are employing you, I mean, agree to that?”

“Don’t I tell you, Captain, I’m on my own hook? There are no other relatives–or at least none that would take a ha’porth of interest in Teresa’s getting the estates. I’ve gone into the thing on sheer spec, and for what I can make out of it, and that, if all’s well, will be the whole lump.”

“But how? The young lady may give you something in her gratitude, of course, but you can’t expect it all.”

“I do, though, and I tell you how I’m going to get it. I shall marry the fair Teresa. Simple as tumbling off a house.”

Kettle drew himself up stiffly and walked to the other end of the bridge, and began ostentatiously to look with a professional eye over his vessel.

Wenlock was quick to see the change. “Come, what is it now, Captain?” he asked with some surprise.

“I don’t like the idea of those sort of marriages,” said the little sailor, acidly.

Wenlock shrugged his shoulders good-humoredly.

“Neither do I, and if I were a rich man, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it. Just think of what the girl probably is: she’s been with those niggers since she was quite a kid; she’ll be quite uneducated; I’m in hopes she’s good-looking and has a decent figure; but at the best she’ll be quite unpresentable till I’ve had her in hand for at least a couple of years, if then. Of course you’ll say there’s ‘romance’ about the thing. But then I don’t care tuppence about romance, and anyway it’s beastly unconfortable to live with.”

“I was not looking at that point of view.”

“Let me tell you how I was fixed,” said Wenlock with a burst of confidence. “I’d a small capital. So I qualified as a solicitor, and put up a door-plate, and waited for a practice. It didn’t come. Not a client drifted near me from month’s end to month’s end. And meanwhile the capital was dribbling away. I felt I was getting on my back legs; it was either a case of the Colonies or the workhouse, and I’d no taste for either; and when the news of this girl Teresa came, I tell you I just jumped at the chance. I don’t want to marry her, of course; there are ten other girls I’d rather have as wife; but there was no other way out of the difficulty, so I just swallowed my squeamishness for good and always. See?”

“It was Miss Teresa Anderson I was pitying,” said Kettle pointedly.

“Good Lord, man, why? Isn’t it the finest thing in the world for her?”

“It might be fine to get away from where she is, and land home to find a nice property waiting. But I don’t care to see a woman have a husband forced on her. It would be nobler of you, Mr. Wenlock, to let the young lady get to England, and look round her for a while, and make her own choice.”

“I’m too hard up to be noble,” said Wenlock drily. “I’ve not come here on philanthropy, and marrying that girl is part of my business. Besides, hang it all, man, think of what she is, and think of what I am.” He looked himself up and down with a half humorous smile–“I know nice people at home who would be civil to her, and after all, hang it, I’m not unmarriageable personally.”

“Still,” said Kettle doggedly, “I don’t like the idea of it.”

“Then let me give you an inducement. I said I was not down here on philanthropy, and I don’t suppose you are either. You’ll have my passage money?”

“Two and a-half per cent of it is my commission. The rest goes to the owners, of course.”

“Very well, then. In addition to that, if you’ll help this marriage on in the way I ask, I’ll give you L50.”

“There’s no man living who could do more usefully with L50 if I saw my way of fingering it.”

“I think I see what you mean. No, you won’t have to wait for it. I’ve got the money here in hard cash in my pocket ready for you to take over the minute it’s earned.”

“I was wondering, sir, if I could earn it honorably. You must give me time to think this out. I’ll try and give you an answer after tea. And for the present I shall have to leave you. I’ve got to go through the ship’s papers: I have to be my own clerk on board here just now, though the Company did certainly promise me a much better ship if I beat up plenty of cargo, and made a good voyage of it with this.”

The _Parakeet_ worked her way along down the Red Sea at her steady nine knots, and Mr. Hugh Wenlock put a couple of bunk pillows on a canvas boat-cover under the bridge deck awnings, and lay there and amused himself with cigarettes and a magazine. Captain Owen Kettle sat before a table in the chart-house with his head on one side, and a pen in his fingers, and went through accounts. But though Wenlock, when he had finished his magazine, quickly went off to sleep, Captain Kettle’s struggles with arithmetic were violent enough to keep him very thoroughly awake, and when a due proportion of the figures had been checked, he put the papers in a drawer, and was quite ready to tackle the next subject.

He had not seen necessary to mention the fact to Mr. Wenlock, but while that young man was talking of the Miss Teresa Anderson, who at present was “quite a big personage in her way” at Dunkhot, a memory had come to him that he had heard of the lady before in somewhat less prosaic terms.