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Moran of the Lady Letty by Frank Norris

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itself at a little distance.

Enormous flukes proceeded from either side, an erect dorsal fin,
like an enormous cock's crest, rose from the back, while
immediately over the head swam the two pilot-fish, following so
closely the movement of the shark as to give the impression of
actually adhering to his body. Twice and three times the great
man-eater twelve feet from snout to tail-tip, circled slowly about
the bait, the flukes moving fan-like through the water. Once he
came up, touched the bait with his nose, and backed easily away.
He disappeared, returned, and poised himself motionless in the
schooner's shadow, feeling the water with his flukes.

Moran was looking over Wilbur's shoulder. "He's as good as
caught," she muttered; "once let them get sight of meat, and--
Steady now!" The shark moved forward. Suddenly, with a long, easy
roll, he turned completely upon his back. His white belly flashed
like silver in the water--the bait disappeared.

"You've got him!" shouted Moran.

The rope slid through Wilbur's palms, burning the skin as the huge
sea-wolf sounded. Moran laid hold. The heavy, sullen wrenching
from below twitched and swayed their bodies and threw them against
each other. Her bare, cool arm was pressed close over his

"Heave!" she cried, laughing with the excitement of the moment.
"Heave all!"--she began the chant of sailors hauling at the ropes.
Together, and bracing their feet against the schooner's rail, they
fought out the fight with the great fish. In a swirl of lather
the head and shoulders came above the surface, the flukes churning
the water till it boiled like the wake of a screw steamship. But
as soon as these great fins were clear of the surface the shark
fell quiet and helpless.

Charlie came up with the cutting-in spade, and as the fish hung
still over the side, cut him open from neck to belly with a single
movement. Another Chinaman stood by with a long-handled gaff,
hooked out the purple-black liver, brought it over the side, and
dropped it into one of the deck-tubs. The shark thrashed and
writhed, his flukes quivering and his gills distended. Wilbur
could not restrain an exclamation.

"Brutal business!" he muttered.

"Hoh!" exclaimed Moran, scornfully, "cutting-in is too good for
him. Sailor-folk are no friends of such carrion as that."

Other lines were baited and dropped overboard, and the hands
settled themselves to the real business of the expedition. There
was no skill in the matter. The sharks bit ravenously, and soon
swarmed about the schooner in hundreds. Hardly a half minute
passed that one of the four Chinamen that were fishing did not
signal a catch, and Charlie and Jim were kept busy with spade and
gaff. By noon the deck-tubs were full. The lines were hauled in,
and the hands set the tubs in the sun to try out the oil. Under
the tropical heat the shark livers almost visibly melted away, and
by four o'clock in the afternoon the tubs were full of a thick,
yellow oil, the reek of which instantly recalled to Wilbur's mind
the rancid smell of the schooner on the day when he had first come
aboard of her. The deck-tubs were emptied into the hogsheads and
vats that stood in the waist of the "Bertha," the tubs scoured,
and the lines and bent shark-hooks overhauled. Charlie
disappeared in the galley, supper was cooked, and eaten upon deck
under the conflagration of the sunset; the lights were set, the
Chinamen foregathered in the fo'c'stle head, smoking opium, and by
eight o'clock the routine of the day was at an end.

So the time passed. In a short time Wilbur could not have said
whether the day was Wednesday or Sunday. He soon tired of the
unsportsmanlike work of killing the sluggish brutes, and turned
shoreward to relieve the monotony of the succeeding days. He and
Moran were left a good deal to their own devices. Charlie was the
master of the men now. "Mate," said Moran to Wilbur one day,
after a dinner of turtle steaks and fish, eaten in the open air on
the quarterdeck; "mate, this is slow work, and the schooner smells
terribly foul. We'll have the dory out and go ashore. We can
tumble a cask into her and get some water. The butt's three-
quarters empty. Let's see how it feels to be in Mexico."

"Mexico?" said Wilbur. "That's so--Lower California is Mexico.
I'd forgotten that!"

They went ashore and spent the afternoon in filling the water-cask
from the fresh-water stream and in gathering abalones, which Moran
declared were delicious eating, from the rocks left bare by the
tide. But nothing could have exceeded the loneliness of that
shore and backland, palpitating under the flogging of a tropical
sun. Low hills of sand, covered with brush, stretched back from
the shore. On the eastern horizon, leagues distant, blue masses
of mountain striated with mirages swam in the scorching air.

The sand was like fire to the touch. Far out in the bay the
schooner hung motionless under bare sticks, resting apparently
upon her inverted shadow only. And that was all--the flat, heat-
ridden land, the sheen of the open Pacific, and the lonely

"Quiet enough," said Wilbur, in a low voice, wondering if there
was such a place as San Francisco, with its paved streets and
cable cars, and if people who had been his friends there had ever
had any real existence.

"Do you like it?" asked Moran quickly, facing him, her thumbs in
her belt.

"It's good fun--how about you?"

"It's no different than the only life I've known. I suppose you
think it s a queer kind of life for a girl. I've lived by doing
things, not by thinking things, or reading about what other people
have done or thought; and I guess it's what you do that counts,
rather than what you think or read about. Where's that pinch-bar?
We'll get a couple more abalones for supper, and then put off."

That was the only talk of moment they had during the afternoon.
All the rest of their conversation had been of those things that
immediately occupied their attention.

They regained the schooner toward five o'clock, to find the
Chinamen perplexed and mystified. No explanation was forthcoming,
and Charlie gave them supper in preoccupied silence. As they were
eating the abalones, which Moran had fried in batter, Charlie

"Shark all gone! No more catch um--him all gone."


"No savvy," said Charlie. "No likee, no likee. China boy tink um
heap funny, too much heap funny."

It was true. During all the next day not a shark was in sight,
and though the crew fished assiduously till dark, they were
rewarded by not so much as a bite. No one could offer any

"'Tis strange," said Moran. "Never heard of shark leaving this
feed before. And you can see with half an eye that the hands
don't like the looks of it. Superstitious beggars! they need to
be clumped in the head."

That same night Wilbur woke in his hammock on the fo'c'stle head
about half-past two. The moon was down, the sky one powder of
stars. There was not a breath of wind. It was so still that he
could hear some large fish playing and breaking off toward the
shore. Then, without the least warning, he felt the schooner
begin to lift under him. He rolled out of his hammock and stood
on the deck. There could be no doubt of it--the whole forepart
was rising beneath him. He could see the bowsprit moving upward
from star to star. Still the schooner lifted; objects on deck
began to slide aft; the oil in the deck-tubs washed over; then, as
there came a wild scrambling of the Chinese crew up the fo'c'stle
hatch, she settled again gradually at first, then, with an abrupt
lurch that almost threw him from his feet, regained her level.
Moran met him in the waist. Charlie came running aft.

"What was that? Are we grounding? Has she struck?"

"No, no; we're still fast to the kelp. Was it a tidal wave?"

"Nonsense. It wouldn't have handled us that way."

"Well, what was it? Listen! For God's sake keep quiet there

Wilbur looked over the side into the water. The ripples were
still chasing themselves away from the schooner. There was
nothing else. The stillness shut down again. There was not a



In spite of his best efforts at self-control, Wilbur felt a slow,
cold clutch at his heart. That sickening, uncanny lifting of the
schooner out of the glassy water, at a time when there was not
enough wind to so much as wrinkle the surface, sent a creep of
something very like horror through all his flesh.

Again he peered over the side, down into the kelp-thickened sea.
Nothing--not a breath of air was stirring. The gray light that
flooded down from the stars showed not a break upon the surface of
Magdalena Bay. On shore, nothing moved.

"Quiet there, forward," called Moran to the shrill-voiced coolies.

The succeeding stillness was profound. All on board listened
intently. The water dripped like the ticking of a clock from the
"Bertha Millner's" stern, which with the rising of the bow had
sunk almost to the rail. There was no other sound.

"Strange," muttered Moran, her brows contracting.

Charlie broke the silence with a wail: "No likee, no likee!" he
cried at top voice.

The man had gone suddenly green; Wilbur could see the shine of his
eyes distended like those of a harassed cat. As he, Moran, and
Wilbur stood in the schooner's waist, staring at each other, the
smell of punk came to their nostrils. Forward, the coolies were
already burning joss-sticks on the fo'castle head, kowtowing their
foreheads to the deck.

Moran went forward and kicked them to their feet and hurled their
joss-sticks into the sea.

"Feng shui! Feng shui!" they exclaimed with bated breaths. "The
Feng shui no likee we."

Low in the east the horizon began to blacken against the sky. It
was early morning. A watch was set, the Chinamen sent below, and
until daybreak, when Charlie began to make a clattering of tins in
the galley as he set about preparing breakfast, Wilbur paced the
rounds of the schooner, looking, listening, and waiting again for
that slow, horrifying lift. But the rest of the night was without

After breakfast, the strangely assorted trio--Charlie, Moran, and
Wilbur--held another conference in the cabin. It was decided to
move the schooner to the other side of the bay.

"Feng shui in disa place, no likee we," announced Charlie.

"Feng shui, who are they?"

Charlie promptly became incoherent on this subject, and Moran and
Wilbur could only guess that the Feng shui were the tutelary
deities that presided over that portion of Magdalena Bay. At any
rate, there were evidently no more shark to be caught in that
fishing-ground; so sail was made, and by noon the "Bertha Millner"
tied up to the kelp on the opposite side of the inlet, about half
a mile from the shore.

The shark were plentiful here and the fishing went forward again
as before. Certain of these shark were hauled aboard, stunned by
a blow on the nose, and their fins cut off. The Chinamen packed
these fins away in separate kegs. Eventually they would be sent
to China.

Two or three days passed. The hands kept steadily at their work.
Nothing more occurred to disturb the monotony of the scorching
days and soundless nights; the schooner sat as easily on the
unbroken water as though built to the bottom. Soon the night
watch was discontinued. During these days the three officers
lived high. Turtle were plentiful, and what with their steaks and
soups, the fried abalones, the sea-fish, the really delicious
shark-fins, and the quail that Charlie and Wilbur trapped along
the shore, the trio had nothing to wish for in the way of table

The shore was absolutely deserted, as well as the back country--an
unbroken wilderness of sand and sage. Half a dozen times, Wilbur,
wearying of his inaction aboard the schooner, made the entire
circuit of the bay from point to point. Standing on one of the
latter projections and looking out to the west, the Pacific
appeared as empty of life as the land. Never a keel cut those
waters, never a sail broke the edge of the horizon, never a
feather of smoke spotted the sky where it whitened to meet the
sea. Everything was empty--vast, unspeakably desolate--
palpitating with heat.

Another week passed. Charlie began to complain that the shark
were growing scarce again.

"I think bime-by him go away, once a mo'."

That same night, Wilbur, lying in his hammock, was awakened by a
touch on his arm. He woke to see Moran beside him on the deck.

"Did you hear anything?" she said in a low voice, looking at him
under her scowl.

"No! no!" he exclaimed, getting up, reaching for his wicker
sandals. "Did you?"

"I thought so--something. Did you feel anything?"

"I've been asleep, I haven't noticed anything. Is it beginning

"The schooner lifted again, just now, very gently. I happened to
be awake or I wouldn't have noticed it." They were talking in low
voices, as is the custom of people speaking in the dark.

"There, what's that?" exclaimed Wilbur under his breath. A gentle
vibration, barely perceptible, thrilled through the schooner.
Under his hand, that was clasped upon the rail, Wilbur could feel
a faint trembling in her frame. It stopped, began again, and died
slowly away.

"Well, what the devil IS it?" he muttered impatiently, trying to
master the returning creep of dread.

Moran shook her head, biting her lip.

"It's beyond me," she said, frowning. "Can you see anything?" The
sky, sea, and land were unbroken reaches of solitude. There was
no breath of wind.

"Listen," said Moran. Far off to landward came the faint, sleepy
clucking of a quail, and the stridulating of unnumbered crickets;
a long ripple licked the slope of the beach and slid back into the
ocean. Wilbur shook his head.

"Don't hear anything," he whispered. "Sh--there--she's trembling

Once more a prolonged but faint quivering ran through the "Bertha
Millner" from stem to stern, and from keel to masthead. There was
a barely audible creaking of joints and panels. The oil in the
deck-tubs trembled. The vibration was so fine and rapid that it
tickled the soles of Wilbur's feet as he stood on the deck.

"I'd give two fingers to know what it all means," murmured Moran
in a low voice. "I've been to sea for--" Then suddenly she cried
aloud: "Steady all, she's lifting again!"

The schooner heaved slowly under them, this time by the stern. Up
she went, up and up, while Wilbur gripped at a stay to keep his
place, and tried to choke down his heart, that seemed to beat
against his palate.

"God!" ejaculated Moran, her eyes blazing. "This thing is--" The
"Bertha" came suddenly down to an easy keel, rocking in that
glassy sea as if in a tide rip. The deck was awash with oil. Far
out in the bay the ripples widening from the schooner blurred the
reflections of the stars. The Chinamen swarmed up the hatch-way,
voluble and shrill. Again the "Bertha Millner" lifted and sank,
the tubs sliding on the deck, the masts quivering like reeds, the
timbers groaning aloud with the strain. In the stern something
cracked and smashed. Then the trouble died away, the ripples
faded into the ocean, and the schooner settled to her keel, quite

"Look," said Moran, her face toward the "Bertha's" stern. "The
rudder is out of the gudgeons." It was true--the "Bertha
Millner's" helm was unshipped.

There was no more sleep for any one on board that night. Wilbur
tramped the quarterdeck, sick with a feeling he dared not put a
name to. Moran sat by the wrecked rudder-head, a useless pistol
in her hand, swearing under her breath from time to time. Charlie
appeared on the quarterdeck at intervals, looked at Wilbur and
Moran with wide-open eyes, and then took himself away. On the
forward deck the coolies pasted strips of red paper inscribed with
mottoes upon the mast, and filled the air with the reek of their

"If one could only SEE what it was," growled Moran between her
clinched teeth. "But this--this damned heaving and trembling, it--
it's queer."

"That's it, that's it," said Wilbur quickly, facing her. "What
are we going to do, Moran?"

"STICK IT OUT!" she exclaimed, striking her knee with her fist.
"We can't leave the schooner--I WON'T leave her. I'll stay by
this dough-dish as long as two planks in her hold together. Were
you thinking of cutting away?" She fixed him with her frown.

Wilbur looked at her, sitting erect by the disabled rudder, her
head bare, her braids of yellow hair hanging over her breast,
sitting there in man's clothes and man's boots, the pistol at her
side. He shook his head.

"I'm not leaving the 'Bertha' till you do," he answered; adding:
"I'll stand by you, mate, until we--"

"Feel that?" said Moran, holding up a hand.

A fine, quivering tremble was thrilling through every beam of the
schooner, vibrating each rope like a harp-string. It passed away;
but before either Wilbur or Moran could comment upon it
recommenced, this time much more perceptibly. Charlie dashed aft,
his queue flying.

"W'at makum heap shake?" he shouted; "w'at for him shake? No
savvy, no likee, pretty much heap flaid; aie-yah, aie-yah!"

Slowly the schooner heaved up as though upon the crest of some
huge wave, slowly it settled, and again gradually lifted till
Wilbur had to catch at the rail to steady his footing. The
quivering sensation increased so that their very teeth chattered
with it. Below in the cabin they could hear small objects falling
from the shelves and table. Then with a sudden drop the "Bertha"
fell back to her keel again, the spilled oil spouting from her
scuppers, the masts rocking, the water churning and splashing from
her sides.

And that was all. There was no sound--nothing was in sight.
There was only the frightened trembling of the little schooner and
that long, slow heave and lift.

Morning came, and breakfast was had in silence and grim
perplexity. It was too late to think of getting away, now that
the rudder was disabled. The "Bertha Millner" must bide where she

"And a little more of this dancing," exclaimed Moran, "and we'll
have the planks springing off the stern-post."

Charlie nodded solemnly. He said nothing--his gravity had
returned. Now in the glare of the tropical day, with the "Bertha
Millner" sitting the sea as placidly as a brooding gull, he was
Talleyrand again.

"I tinkum yas," he said vaguely.

"Well, I think we had better try and fix the rudder and put back
to Frisco," said Moran. "You're making no money this way. There
are no shark to be caught. SOMETHING'S wrong. They're gone away
somewhere. The crew are eating their heads off and not earning
enough money to pay for their keep. What do you think?"

"I tinkum yas."

"Then we'll go home. Is that it?"

"I tinkum yas--to-molla."



"That's settled then," persisted Moran, surprised at his ready
acquiescence; "we start home to-morrow?" Charlie nodded.

"To-molla," he said.

The rudder was not so badly damaged as they had at first supposed;
the break was easily mended, but it was found necessary for one of
the men to go over the side.

"Get over the side here, Jim," commanded Moran. "Charlie, tell
him what's wanted; we can't work the pintle in from the deck."

But Charlie shook his head.

"Him no likee go; him plenty much flaid."

Moran ripped out an oath.

"What do I care if he's afraid! I want him to shove the pintle
into the lower gudgeon. My God," she exclaimed, with immense
contempt, "what carrion! I'd sooner work a boat with she-monkeys.
Mr. Wilbur, I shall have to ask you to go over. I thought I was
captain here, but it all depends on whether these rats are afraid
or not."

"Plenty many shark," expostulated Charlie. "Him flaid shark come
back, catchum chop-chop."

"Stand by here with a couple of cutting-in spades," cried Moran,
"and fend off if you see any shark; now, then, are you ready,

Wilbur took his determination in both hands, threw off his coat
and sandals, and went over the stern rail.

"Put your ear to the water," called Moran from above; "sometimes
you can hear their flukes."

It took but a minute to adjust the pintle, and Wilbur regained the
deck again, dripping and a little pale. He knew not what horrid
form of death might have been lurking for him down below there
underneath the kelp. As he started forward for dry clothes he was
surprised to observe that Moran was smiling at him, holding out
her hand.

"That was well done," she said, "and thank you. I've seen older
sailor-men than you who wouldn't have taken the risk." Never
before had she appeared more splendid in his eyes than at this
moment. After changing his clothes in the fo'castle, he sat for a
long time, his chin in his hands, very thoughtful. Then at
length, as though voicing the conclusion of his reflections, said
aloud, as he rose to his feet:

"But, of course, THAT is out of the question."

He remembered that they were going home on the next day. Within a
fortnight he would be in San Francisco again--a taxpayer, a
police-protected citizen once more. It had been good fun, after
all, this three weeks' life on the "Bertha Millner," a strange
episode cut out from the normal circle of his conventional life.
He ran over the incidents of the cruise--Kitchell, the turtle
hunt, the finding of the derelict, the dead captain, the squall,
and the awful sight of the sinking bark, Moran at the wheel, the
grewsome business of the shark-fishing, and last of all that
inexplicable lifting and quivering of the schooner. He told
himself that now he would probably never know the explanation of
that mystery.

The day passed in preparations to put to sea again. The deck-tubs
and hogsheads were stowed below and the tackle cleared away. By
evening all was ready; they would be under way by daybreak the
next morning. There was a possibility of their being forced to
tow the schooner out by means of the dory, so light were the airs
inside. Once beyond the heads, however, they were sure of a

About ten o'clock that night, the same uncanny trembling ran
through the schooner again, and about half an hour later she
lifted gently once or twice. But after that she was undisturbed.

Later on in the night--or rather early in the morning--Wilbur woke
suddenly in his hammock without knowing why, and got up and stood
listening. The "Bertha Millner" was absolutely quiet. The night
was hot and still; the new moon, canted over like a sinking
galleon, was low over the horizon. Wilbur listened intently, for
now at last he heard something.

Between the schooner and the shore a gentle sound of splashing
came to his ears, and an occasional crack as of oars in their
locks. Was it possible that a boat was there between the schooner
and the land? What boat, and manned by whom?

The creaking of oarlocks and the dip of paddles was unmistakable.

Suddenly Wilbur raised his voice in a great shout:

"Boat ahoy!"

There was no answer; the noise of oars grew fainter. Moran came
running out of her cabin, swinging into her coat as she ran.

"What is it--what is it?"

"A boat, I think, right off the schooner here. Hark--there--did
you hear the oars?"

"You're right; call the hands, get the dory over, we'll follow
that boat right up. Hello, forward there, Charlie, all hands,
tumble out!"

Then Wilbur and Moran caught themselves looking into each other's
eyes. At once something--perhaps the latent silence of the
schooner--told them there was to be no answer. The two ran for-
ward: Moran swung herself into the fo'castle hatch, and without
using the ladder dropped to the deck below. In an instant her
voice came up the hatch:

"The bunks are empty--they're gone--abandoned us." She came up the
ladder again.

"Look," said Wilbur, as she regained the deck. "The dory's gone;
they've taken it. It was our only boat; we can't get ashore."

"Cowardly, superstitious rats, I should have expected this. They
would be chopped in bits before they would stay longer on board
this boat--they and their-Feng shui."

When morning came the deserters could be made out camped on the
shore, near to the beached dory. What their intentions were could
not be conjectured. Ridden with all manner of nameless Oriental
superstitions, it was evident that the Chinamen preferred any
hazard of fortune to remaining longer upon the schooner.

"Well, can we get along without them?" said Wilbur. "Can we two
work the schooner back to port ourselves?"

"We'll try it on, anyhow, mate," said Moran; "we might get her
into San Diego, anyhow."

The Chinamen had left plenty of provisions on board, and Moran
cooked breakfast. Fortunately, by eight o'clock a very light
westerly breeze came up. Moran and Wilbur cast off the gaskets
and set the fore and main sails.

Wilbur was busy at the forward bitts preparing to cast loose from
the kelp, and Moran had taken up her position at the wheel when
suddenly she exclaimed:

"Sail ho!--and in God's name what kind of a sail do you call it?"

In fact a strange-looking craft had just made her appearance at
the entrance of Magdalena Bay.



Wilbur returned aft and joined Moran on the quarterdeck. She was
already studying the stranger through the glass.

"That's a new build of boat to me," she muttered, giving Wilbur
the glass. Wilbur looked long and carefully. The newcomer was of
the size and much the same shape as a caravel of the fifteenth
century--high as to bow and stern, and to all appearances as
seaworthy as a soup-tureen. Never but in the old prints had
Wilbur seen such an extraordinary boat. She carried a single
mast, which listed forward; her lugsail was stretched upon dozens
of bamboo yards; she drew hardly any water. Two enormous red eyes
were painted upon either side of her high, blunt bow, while just
abaft the waist projected an enormous oar, or sweep, full forty
feet in length--longer, in fact, than the vessel herself. It
acted partly as a propeller, partly as a rudder.

"They're heading for us," commented Wilbur as Moran took the glass

"Right," she answered; adding upon the moment: "Huh! more
Chinamen; the thing is alive with coolies; she's a junk."

"Oh!" exclaimed Wilbur, recollecting some talk of Charlie's he had
overheard. "I know."

"You know?"

"Yes; these are real beach-combers. I've heard of them along this
coast--heard our Chinamen speak of them. They beach that junk
every night and camp on shore. They're scavengers, as you might
say--pick up what they can find or plunder along shore--abalones,
shark-fins, pickings of wrecks, old brass and copper, seals
perhaps, turtle and shell. Between whiles they fish for shrimp,
and I've heard Kitchell tell how they make pearls by dropping
bird-shot into oysters. They are Kai-gingh to a man, and,
according to Kitchell, the wickedest breed of cats that ever cut

The junk bore slowly down upon the schooner. In a few moments she
had hove to alongside. But for the enormous red eyes upon her bow
she was innocent of paint. She was grimed and shellacked with
dirt and grease, and smelled abominably. Her crew were Chinamen;
but such Chinamen! The coolies of the "Bertha Millner" were
pampered and effete in comparison. The beach-combers, thirteen in
number, were a smaller class of men, their faces almost black with
tan and dirt. Though they still wore the queue, their heads were
not shaven, and mats and mops of stiff black hair fell over their
eyes from under their broad, basket-shaped hats.

They were barefoot. None of them wore more than two garments--the
jeans and the blouse. They were the lowest type of men Wilbur had
ever seen. The faces were those of a higher order of anthropoid
apes: the lower portion--jaws, lips, and teeth--salient; the
nostrils opening at almost right angles, the eyes tiny and bright,
the forehead seamed and wrinkled--unnaturally old. Their general
expression was of simian cunning and a ferocity that was utterly
devoid of courage.

"Aye!" exclaimed Moran between her teeth, "if the devil were a
shepherd, here are his sheep. You don't come aboard this
schooner, my friends! I want to live as long as I can, and die
when I can't help it. Boat ahoy!" she called.

An answer in Cantonese sing-song came back from the junk, and the
speaker gestured toward the outside ocean.

Then a long parleying began. For upward of half an hour Moran and
Wilbur listened to a proposition in broken pigeon English made by
the beach-combers again and again and yet again, and were in no
way enlightened. It was impossible to understand. Then at last
they made out that there was question of a whale. Next it
appeared the whale was dead; and finally, after a prolonged
pantomime of gesturing and pointing, Moran guessed that the beach-
combers wanted the use of the "Bertha Millner" to trice up the
dead leviathan while the oil and whalebone were extracted.

"That must be it," she said to Wilbur. "That's what they mean by
pointing to our masts and tackle. You see, they couldn't manage
with that stick of theirs, and they say they'll give us a third of
the loot. We'll do it, mate, and I'll tell you why. The wind has
fallen, and they can tow us out. If it's a sperm-whale they've
found, there ought to be thirty or forty barrels of oil in him,
let alone the blubber and bone. Oil is at $50 now, and spermaceti
will always bring $100. We'll take it on, mate. but we'll keep
our eyes on the rats all the time. I don't want them aboard at
all. Look at their belts. Not three out of the dozen who aren't
carrying those filthy little hatchets. Faugh!" she exclaimed,
with a shudder of disgust. "Such vipers!"

What followed proved that Moran had guessed correctly. A rope was
passed to the "Bertha Millner," the junk put out its sweeps, and
to a wailing, eldrich chanting the schooner was towed out of the

"I wonder what Charlie and our China boys will think of this?"
said Wilbur, looking shoreward, where the deserters could be seen
gathered together in a silent, observing group.

"We're well shut of them," growled Moran, her thumbs in her belt.
"Only, now we'll never know what was the matter with the schooner
these last few nights. Hah!" she exclaimed under her breath, her
scowl thickening, "sometimes I don't wonder the beasts cut."

The dead whale was lying four miles out of the entrance of
Magdalena Bay, and as the junk and the schooner drew near seemed
like a huge black boat floating bottom up. Over it and upon it
swarmed and clambered thousands of sea-birds, while all around and
below the water was thick with gorging sharks. A dreadful,
strangling decay fouled all the air.

The whale was a sperm-whale, and fully twice the length of the
"Bertha Millner." The work of tricing him up occupied the beach-
combers throughout the entire day. It was out of the question to
keep them off the schooner, and Wilbur and Moran were too wise to
try. They swarmed the forward deck and rigging like a plague of
unclean monkeys, climbing with an agility and nimbleness that made
Wilbur sick to his stomach. They were unlike any Chinamen he had
ever seen--hideous to a degree that he had imagined impossible in
a human being. On two occasions a fight developed, and in an
instant the little hatchets were flashing like the flash of a
snake's fangs. Toward the end of the day one of them returned to
the junk, screaming like a stuck pig, a bit of his chin bitten

Moran and Wilbur kept to the quarter-deck, always within reach of
the huge cutting-in spades, but the Chinese beach-combers were too
elated over their prize to pay them much attention.

And indeed the dead monster proved a veritable treasure-trove. By
the end of the day he had been triced up to the foremast, and all
hands straining at the windlass had raised the mighty head out of
the water. The Chinamen descended upon the smooth, black body,
their bare feet sliding and slipping at every step. They held on
by jabbing their knives into the hide as glacier-climbers do their
ice-picks. The head yielded barrel after barrel of oil and a fair
quantity of bone. The blubber was taken aboard the junk, minced
up with hatchets, and run into casks.

Last of all, a Chinaman cut a hole through the "case," and,
actually descending into the inside of the head, stripped away the
spermaceti (clear as crystal), and packed it into buckets, which
were hauled up on the junk's deck. The work occupied some two or
three days. During this time the "Bertha Millner" was keeled over
to nearly twenty degrees by the weight of the dead monster.
However, neither Wilbur nor Moran made protest. The Chinamen
would do as they pleased; that was said and signed. And they did
not release the schooner until the whale had been emptied of oil
and blubber, spermaceti and bone.

At length, on the afternoon of the third day, the captain of the
junk, whose name was Hoang, presented himself upon the quarter-
deck. He was naked to the waist, and his bare brown torso was
gleaming with oil and sweat. His queue was coiled like a snake
around his neck, his hatchet thrust into his belt.

"Well?" said Moran, coming up.

Wilbur caught his breath as the two stood there facing each other,
so sharp was the contrast. The man, the Mongolian, small,
weazened, leather-colored, secretive--a strange, complex creature,
steeped in all the obscure mystery of the East, nervous, ill at
ease; and the girl, the Anglo-Saxon, daughter of the Northmen,
huge, blond, big-boned, frank, outspoken, simple of composition,
open as the day, bareheaded, her great ropes of sandy hair falling
over her breast and almost to the top of her knee-boots. As he
looked at the two, Wilbur asked himself where else but in
California could such abrupt contrasts occur.

"All light," announced Hoang; "catchum all oil, catchum all bone,
catchum all same plenty many. You help catchum, now you catchum
pay. Sabe?"

The three principals came to a settlement with unprecedented
directness. Like all Chinamen, Hoang was true to his promises,
and he had already set apart three and a half barrels of
spermaceti, ten barrels of oil, and some twenty pounds of bone as
the schooner's share in the transaction. There was no discussion
over the matter. He called their attention to the discharge of
his obligations, and hurried away to summon his men aboard and get
the junk under way again.

The beach-combers returned to their junk, and Wilbur and Moran set
about cutting the carcass of the whale adrift. They found it
would be easier to cut away the hide from around the hooks and
loops of the tackle than to unfasten the tackle itself.

"The knots are jammed hard as steel," declared Moran. "Hand up
that cutting-in spade; stand by with the other and cut loose at
the same time as I do, so we can ease off the strain on these
lines at the same time. Ready there, cut!" Moran set free the
hook in the loop of black skin in a couple of strokes, but Wilbur
was more clumsy; the skin resisted. He struck at it sharply with
the heavy spade; the blade hit the iron hook, glanced off, and
opened a large slit in the carcass below the head. A gush of
entrails started from the slit, and Moran swore under her breath.

"Ease away, quick there! You'll have the mast out of her next--
steady! Hold your spade--what's that?"

Wilbur had nerved himself against the dreadful stench he expected
would issue from the putrid monster, but he was surprised to note
a pungent, sweet, and spicy odor that all at once made thick the
air about him. It was an aromatic smell, stronger than that of
the salt ocean, stronger even than the reek of oil and blubber
from the schooner's waist--sweet as incense, penetrating as attar,
delicious as a summer breeze.

"It smells pretty good, whatever it is," he answered. Moran came
up to where he stood, and looked at the slit he had made in the
whale's carcass. Out of it was bulging some kind of dull white
matter marbled with gray. It was a hard lump of irregular shape
and about as big as a hogshead.

Moran glanced over to the junk, some forty feet distant. The
beach-combers were hoisting the lug-sail. Hoang was at the
steering oar.

"Get that stuff aboard," she commanded quietly.

"That!" exclaimed Wilbur, pointing to the lump.

Moran's blue eyes were beginning to gleam.

"Yes, and do it before the Chinamen see you."

"But--but I don't understand."

Moran stepped to the quarterdeck, unslung the hammock in which
Wilbur slept, and tossed it to him.

"Reeve it up in that; I'll pass you a line, and we'll haul it
aboard. Godsend, those vermin yonder have got smells enough of
their own without noticing this. Hurry, mate, I'll talk

Wilbur went over the side, and standing as best he could upon the
slippery carcass, dug out the lump and bound it up in the hammock.

"Hoh!" exclaimed Moran, with sudden exultation. "There's a lot of
it. That's the biggest lump yet, I'll be bound. Is that all
there is, mate?--look carefully." Her voice had dropped to a

"Yes, yes; that's all. Careful now when you haul up--Hoang has
got his eye on you, and so have the rest of them. What do you
call it, anyhow? Why are you so particular about it? Is it worth

"I don't know--perhaps. We'll have a look at it, anyway."

Moran hauled the stuff aboard, and Wilbur followed.

"Whew!" he exclaimed with half-closed eyes. "It's like the story
of Samson and the dead lion--the sweet coming forth from the

The schooner seemed to swim in a bath of perfumed air; the
membrane of the nostrils fairly prinkled with the sensation.
Moran unleashed the hammock, and going down upon one knee examined
the lump attentively.

"It didn't seem possible," Wilbur heard her saying to herself;
"but there can't be any mistake. It's the stuff, right enough.
I've heard of such things, but this--but this--" She rose to her
feet, tossing back her hair.

"Well," said Wilbur, "what do you call it?"

"The thing to do now," returned Moran, "is to get clear of here as
quietly and as quickly as we can, and take this stuff with us. I
can't stop to explain now, but it's big--it's big. Mate, it's big
as the Bank of England."

"Those beach-combers are right on to the game, I'm afraid," said
Wilbur. "Look, they're watching us. This stuff would smell
across the ocean."

"Rot the beach-combers! There's a bit of wind, thank God, and we
can do four knots to their one, just let us get clear once."

Moran dragged the hammock back into the cabin, and, returning upon
deck, helped Wilbur to cut away the last tricing tackle. The
schooner righted slowly to an even keel. Meanwhile the junk had
set its one lug-sail and its crew had run out the sweeps. Hoang
took the steering sweep and worked the junk to a position right
across the "Bertha's" bows, some fifty feet ahead.

"They're watching us, right enough," said Wilbur.

"Up your mains'l," ordered Moran. The pair set the fore and main
sails with great difficulty. Moran took the wheel and Wilbur went
forward to cast off the line by which the schooner had been tied
up to one of the whale's flukes.

"Cut it!" cried the girl. "Don't stop to cast off."

There was a hail from the beach-combers; the port sweeps dipped
and the junk bore up nearer.

"Hurry!" shouted Moran, "don't mind them. Are we clear for'ard--
what's the trouble? Something's holding her." The schooner listed
slowly to starboard and settled by the head.

"All clear!" cried Wilbur.

"There's something wrong!" exclaimed Moran; "she's settling
for'ard." Hoang hailed the schooner a second time.

"We're still settling," called Wilbur from the bows, "what's the

"Matter that she's taking water," answered Moran wrathfully.
"She's started something below, what with all that lifting and
dancing and tricing up."

Wilbur ran back to the quarterdeck.

"This is a bad fix," he said to Moran. "Those chaps are coming
aboard again. They're on to something, and, of course, at just
this moment she begins to leak."

"They are after that ambergris," said Moran between her teeth.
"Smelled it, of course--the swine!"


"The stuff we found in the whale. That's ambergris."


"Well!" shouted Moran, exasperated. "Do you know that we have
found a lump that will weigh close to 250 pounds, and do you know
that ambergris is selling in San Francisco at $40 an ounce? Do you
know that we have picked up nearly $150,000 right out here in the
ocean and are in a fair way to lose it all?"

"Can't we run for it?"

"Run for it in a boat that's taking water like a sack! Our dory's
gone. Suppose we get clear of the junk, and the 'Bertha' sank?
Then what? If we only had our crew aboard; if we were only ten to
their dozen--if we were only six--by Jupiter! I'd fight them for

The two enormous red eyes of the junk loomed alongside and stared
over into the "Bertha's" waist. Hoang and seven of the coolies
swarmed aboard.

"What now?" shouted Moran, coming forward to meet them, her scowl
knotting her flashing eyes together. "Is this ship yours or mine?
We've done your dirty work for you. I want you clear of my deck."
Wilbur stood at her side, uncertain what to do, but ready for
anything she should attempt.

"I tink you catchum someting, smellum pretty big," said Hoang, his
ferret glance twinkling about the schooner.

"I catchum nothing--nothing but plenty bad stink," said Moran.
"No, you don't!" she exclaimed, putting herself in Hoang's way as
he made for the cabin. The other beach-combers came crowding up;
Wilbur even thought he saw one of them loosening his hatchet in
his belt.

"This ship's mine," cried Moran, backing to the cabin door.
Wilbur followed her, and the Chinamen closed down upon the pair.

"It's not much use, Moran," he muttered. "They'll rush us in a

"But the ambergris is mine--is mine," she answered, never taking
her eyes from the confronting coolies.

"We findum w'ale," said Hoang; "you no find w'ale; him b'long to
we--eve'yt'ing in um w'ale b'long to we, savvy?"

"No, you promised us a third of everything you found."

Even in the confusion of the moment it occurred to Wilbur that it
was quite possible that at least two-thirds of the ambergris did
belong to the beach-combers by right of discovery. After all, it
was the beach-combers who had found the whale. He could never
remember afterward whether or no he said as much to Moran at the
time. If he did, she had been deaf to it. A fury of wrath and
desperation suddenly blazed in her blue eyes. Standing at her
side, Wilbur could hear her teeth grinding upon each other. She
was blind to all danger, animated only by a sense of injustice and

Hoang uttered a sentence in Cantonese. One of the coolies jumped
forward, and Moran's fist met him in the face and brought him to
his knees. Then came the rush Wilbur had foreseen. He had just
time to catch a sight of Moran at grapples with Hoang when a
little hatchet glinted over his head. He struck out savagely into
the thick of the group--and then opened his eyes to find Moran
washing the blood from his hair as he lay on the deck with his
head in the hollow of her arm. Everything was quiet. The beach-
combers were gone.

"Hello, what--what--what is it?" he asked, springing to his feet,
his head swimming and smarting. "We had a row, didn't we? Did
they hurt you? Oh, I remember; I got a cut over the head--one of
their hatchet men. Did they hurt you?"

"They got the loot," she growled. "Filthy vermin! And just to
make everything pleasant, the schooner's sinking."



"SINKING!" exclaimed Wilbur.

Moran was already on her feet. "We'll have to beach her," she
cried, "and we're six miles out. Up y'r jib, mate!" The two set
the jib, flying-jib, and staysails.

The fore and main sails were already drawing, and under all the
spread of her canvas the "Bertha" raced back toward the shore.

But by the time she was within the head of the bay her stern had
settled to such an extent that the forefoot was clear of the
water, the bowsprit pointing high into the heavens. Moran was at
the wheel, her scowl thicker than ever, her eyes measuring the
stretch of water that lay between the schooner and the shore.

"She'll never make it in God's world," she muttered as she
listened to the wash of the water in the cabin under her feet. In
the hold, empty barrels were afloat, knocking hollowly against
each other. "We're in a bad way, mate."

"If it comes to that," returned Wilbur, surprised to see her thus
easily downcast, who was usually so indomitable--"if it comes to
that, we can swim for it--a couple of planks--"

"Swim?" she echoed; "I'm not thinking of that; of course we could

"What then?"

"The sharks!"

Wilbur's teeth clicked sharply together. He could think of
nothing to say.

As the water gained between decks the schooner's speed dwindled,
and at the same time as she approached the shore the wind, shut
off by the land, fell away. By this time the ocean was not four
inches below the stern-rail. Two miles away was the nearest sand-
spit. Wilbur broke out a distress signal on the foremast, in the
hope that Charlie and the deserters might send off the dory to
their assistance. But the deserters were nowhere in sight.

"What became of the junk?" he demanded suddenly of Moran. She
motioned to the westward with her head. "Still lying out-side."

Twenty minutes passed. Once only Moran spoke.

"When she begins to go," she said, "she'll go with a rush. Jump
pretty wide, or you'll get caught in the suction."

The two had given up all hope. Moran held grimly to the wheel as
a mere matter of form. Wilbur stood at her side, his clinched
fists thrust into his pockets. The eyes of both were fixed on the
yellow line of the distant beach. By and by Moran turned to him
with an odd smile.

"We're a strange pair to die together," she said. Wilbur met her
eyes an instant, but finding no reply, put his chin in the air as
though he would have told her she might well say that.

"A strange pair to die together," Moran repeated; "but we can do
that better than we could have"--she looked away from him--"could
have LIVED together," she finished, and smiled again.

"And yet," said Wilbur, "these last few weeks here on board the
schooner, we have been through a good deal--together. I don't
know," he went on clumsily, "I don't know when I've been--when
I've had--I've been happier than these last weeks. It is queer,
isn't it? I know, of course, what you'll say. I've said it to
myself often of late. I belong to the city and to my life there,
and you--you belong to the ocean. I never knew a girl like you--
never knew a girl COULD be like you. You don't know how
extraordinary it all seems to me. You swear like a man, and you
dress like a man, and I don't suppose you've ever been associated
with other women; and you're strong--I know you are as strong as I
am. You have no idea how different you are to the kind of girl
I've known. Imagine my kind of girl standing up before Hoang and
those cutthroat beach-combers with their knives and hatchets.
Maybe it's because you are so unlike my kind of girl that--that
things are as they are with me. I don't know. It's a queer
situation. A month or so ago I was at a tea in San Francisco, and
now I'm aboard a shark-fishing schooner sinking in Magdalena Bay;
and I'm with a girl that--that--that I--well, I'm with you, and,
well, you know how it is--I might as well say it--I love you more
than I imagined I ever could love a girl."

Moran's frown came back to her forehead.

"I don't like that kind of talk," she said; "I am not used to it,
and I don't know how to take it. Believe me," she said with a
half laugh, "it's all wasted. I never could love a man. I'm not
made for men."

"No," said Wilbur, "nor for other women either."

"Nor for other women either."

Wilbur fell silent. In that instant he had a distinct vision of
Moran's life and character, shunning men and shunned of women, a
strange, lonely creature, solitary as the ocean whereon she lived,
beautiful after her fashion; as yet without sex, proud, untamed,
splendid in her savage, primal independence--a thing untouched and
unsullied by civilization. She seemed to him some Bradamante,
some mythical Brunhilde, some Valkyrie of the legends, born out of
season, lost and unfamiliar in this end-of-the-century time. Her
purity was the purity of primeval glaciers. He could easily see
how to such a girl the love of a man would appear only in the
light of a humiliation--a degradation. And yet she COULD love,
else how had HE been able to love her? Wilbur found himself--even
at that moment--wondering how the thing could be done--wondering
to just what note the untouched cords would vibrate. Just how she
should be awakened one morning to find that she--Moran, sea-rover,
virgin unconquered, without law, without land, without sex--was,
after all, a woman.

"By God, mate!" she exclaimed of a sudden. "The barrels are
keeping us up--the empty barrels in the hold. Hoh! we'll make
land yet."

It was true. The empty hogsheads, destined for the storage of
oil, had been forced up by the influx of the water to the roof of
the hold, and were acting as so many buoys--the schooner could
sink no lower. An hour later, the quarterdeck all awash, her bow
thrown high into the air, listing horribly to starboard, the
"Bertha Millner" took ground on the shore of Magdalena Bay at
about the turn of the tide.

Moran swung herself over the side, hip deep in the water, and,
wading ashore with a line, made fast to the huge skull of a whale
half buried in the sand at that point.

Wilbur followed. The schooner had grounded upon the southern horn
of the bay and lay easily on a spit of sand. They could not
examine the nature of the leak until low water the next morning.

"Well, here we are," said Moran, her thumbs in her belt. "What
next? We may be here for two days, we MAY be here for two years.
It all depends upon how bad a hole she has. Have we 'put in for
repairs,' or have we been cast away? Can't tell till to-morrow
morning. Meanwhile, I'm hungry."

Half of the stores of the schooner were water-soaked, but upon
examination Wilbur found that enough remained intact to put them
beyond all fear for the present.

"There's plenty of water up the creek," he said, "and we can snare
all the quail we want; and then there's the fish and abalone.
Even if the stores were gone we could make out very well."

The schooner's cabin was full of water and Wilbur's hammock was
gone, so the pair decided to camp on shore. In that torrid
weather to sleep in the open air was a luxury.

In great good spirits the two sat down to their first meal on
land. Moran cooked a supper that, barring the absence of coffee,
was delicious. The whiskey was had from aboard, and they pledged
each other, standing up, in something over two stiff fingers.

"Moran," said Wilbur, "you ought to have been born a man."

"At all events, mate," she said--"at all events, I'm not a girl."

"NO!" exclaimed Wilbur, as he filled his pipe. "NO, you're just
Moran, Moran of the 'Lady Letty.'"

"And I'll stay that, too," she said decisively.

Never had an evening been more beautiful in Wilbur's eyes. There
was not a breath of air. The stillness was so profound that the
faint murmur of the blood behind the ear-drums became an
oppression. The ocean tiptoed toward the land with tiny rustling
steps. The west was one gigantic stained window, the ocean floor
a solid shimmer of opalescence. Behind them, sullen purples
marked the horizon, hooded with mountain crests, and after a long
while the moon shrugged a gleaming shoulder into view.

Wilbur, dressed in Chinese jeans and blouse, with Chinese wicker
sandals on his bare feet, sat with his back against the whale's
skull, smoking quietly. For a long time there was no
conversation; then at last:

"No," said Moran in a low voice. "This is the life I'm made for.
In six years I've not spent three consecutive weeks on land. Now
that Eilert" (she always spoke of her father by his first name),
"now that Eilert is dead, I've not a tie, not a relative, not even
a friend, and I don't wish it."

"But the loneliness of the life, the solitude," said Wilbur,
"that's what I don't understand. Did it ever occur to you that
the best happiness is the happiness that one shares?"

Moran clasped a knee in both hands and looked out to sea. She
never wore a hat, and the red light of the afterglow was turning
her rye-hued hair to saffron.

"Hoh!" she exclaimed, her heavy voice pitched even lower than
usual. "Who could understand or share any of my pleasures, or be
happy when I'm happy? And, besides, I'm happiest when I'm alone--I
don't want any one."

"But," hesitated Wilbur, "one is not always alone. After all,
you're a girl, and men, sailormen especially, are beasts when it's
a question of a woman--an unprotected woman."

"I'm stronger than most men," said Moran simply. "If you, for
instance, had been like some men, I should have fought you. It
wouldn't have been the first time," she added, smoothing one huge
braid between her palms.

Wilbur looked at her with intent curiosity--noted again, as if for
the first time, the rough, blue overalls thrust into the shoes;
the coarse flannel shirt open at the throat; the belt with its
sheath-knife; her arms big and white and tattooed in sailor
fashion; her thick, muscular neck; her red face, with its pale
blue eyes and almost massive jaw; and her hair, her heavy, yellow,
fragrant hair, that lay over her shoulder and breast, coiling and
looping in her lap.

"No," he said, with a long breath, "I don't make it out. I knew
you were out of my experience, but I begin to think now that you
are out of even my imagination. You are right, you SHOULD keep to
yourself. You should be alone--your mate isn't made yet. You are
splendid just as you are," while under his breath he added, his
teeth clinching, "and God! but I love you."

It was growing late, the stars were all out, the moon riding high.
Moran yawned:

"Mate, I think I'll turn in. We'll have to be at that schooner
early in the morning, and I make no doubt she'll give us plenty to
do." Wilbur hesitated to reply, waiting to take his cue from what
next she should say. "It's hot enough to sleep where we are," she
added, "without going aboard the 'Bertha,' though we might have a
couple of blankets off to lie on. This sand's as hard as a

Without answering, Wilbur showed her a couple of blanket-rolls he
had brought off while he was unloading part of the stores that
afternoon. They took one apiece and spread them on the sand by
the bleached whale's skull. Moran pulled off her boots and
stretched herself upon her blanket with absolute unconcern, her
hands clasped under her head. Wilbur rolled up his coat for a
pillow and settled himself for the night with an assumed self-
possession. There was a long silence. Moran yawned again.

"I pulled the heel off my boot this morning," she said lazily,
"and I've been limping all day."

"I noticed it," answered Wilbur. "Kitchell had a new pair aboard
somewhere, if they're not spoiled by the water now."

"Yes?" she said indifferently; "we'll look them up in the

Again there was silence.

"I wonder," she began again, staring up into the dark, "if Charlie
took that frying-pan off with him when he went?"

"I don't know. He probably did."

"It was the only thing we had to cook abalones in. Make me think
to look into the galley to-morrow....This ground's as hard as
nails, for all your blankets....Well, good-night, mate; I'm going
to sleep."

"Good-night, Moran."

Three hours later Wilbur, who had not closed his eyes, sat up and
looked at Moran, sleeping quietly, her head in a pale glory of
hair; looked at her, and then around him at the silent, deserted

"I don't know," he said to himself. "Am I a right-minded man and
a thoroughbred, or a mush-head, or merely a prudent, sensible sort
of chap that values his skin and bones? I'd be glad to put a name
to myself." Then, more earnestly he added: "Do I love her too
much, or not enough, or love her the wrong way, or how?" He leaned
toward her, so close that he could catch the savor of her breath
and the smell of her neck, warm with sleep. The sleeve of the
coarse blue shirt was drawn up, and it seemed to him as if her
bare arm, flung out at full length, had some sweet aroma of its
own. Wilbur drew softly back.

"No," he said to himself decisively; "no, I guess I am a
thoroughbred after all." It was only then that he went to sleep.

When he awoke the sea was pink with the sunrise, and one of the
bay heads was all distorted and stratified by a mirage. It was
hot already. Moran was sitting a few paces from him, braiding her

"Hello, Moran!" he said, rousing up; "how long have you been up?"

"Since before sunrise," she said; "I've had a bath in the cove
where the creek runs down. I saw a jack-rabbit."

"Seen anything of Charlie and the others?"

"They've camped on the other side of the bay. But look yonder,"
she added.

The junk had come in overnight, and was about a mile and a half
from shore.

"The deuce!" exclaimed Wilbur. "What are they after?"

"Fresh water, I guess," said Moran, knotting the end of a braid.
"We'd better have breakfast in a hurry, and turn to on the
'Bertha.' The tide is going out fast."

While they breakfasted they kept an eye on the schooner, watching
her sides and flanks as the water fell slowly away.

"Don't see anything very bad yet," said Wilbur.

"It's somewhere in her stern," remarked Moran.

In an hour's time the "Bertha Millner" was high and dry, and they
could examine her at their leisure. It was Moran who found the

"Pshaw!" she exclaimed, with a half-laugh, "we can stick that up
in half an hour."

A single plank had started away from the stern-post; that was all.
Otherwise the schooner was as sound as the day she left San
Francisco. Moran and Wilbur had the damage repaired by noon,
nailing the plank into its place and caulking the seams with lamp-
wick. Nor could their most careful search discover any further

"We're ready to go," said Moran, "so soon as she'll float. We can
dig away around the bows here, make fast a line to that rock out
yonder, and warp her off at next high tide. Hello! who's this?"

It was Charlie. While the two had been at work, he had come
around the shore unobserved, and now stood at some little
distance, smiling at them calmly.

"Well, what do you want?" cried Moran angrily. "If you had your
rights, my friend, you'd be keelhauled."

"I tink um velly hot day."

"You didn't come here to say that. What do you want?"

"I come hab talkee-talk."

"We don't want to have any talkee-talk with such vermin as you.
Get out!"

Charlie sat down on the beach and wiped his forehead.

"I come buy one-piecee bacon. China boy no hab got."

"We aren't selling bacon to deserters," cried Moran; "and I'll
tell you this, you filthy little monkey: Mr. Wilbur and I are
going home--back to 'Frisco--this afternoon; and we're going to
leave you and the rest of your vipers to rot on this beach, or to
be murdered by beach-combers," and she pointed out toward the
junk. Charlie did not even follow the direction of her gesture,
and from this very indifference Wilbur guessed that it was
precisely because of the beach-combers that the Machiavellian
Chinaman had wished to treat with his old officers.

"No hab got bacon?" he queried, lifting his eyebrows in surprise.

"Plenty; but not for you."

Charlie took a buckskin bag from his blouse and counted out a
handful of silver and gold.

"I buy um nisi two-piecee tobacco."

"Look here," said Wilbur deliberately; "don't you try to flim-flam
us, Charlie. We know you too well. You don't want bacon and you
don't want tobacco."

"China boy heap plenty much sick. Two boy velly sick. I tink um
die pretty soon to-molla. You catch um slop-chest; you gib me
five, seven liver pill. Sabe?"

"I'll tell you what you want," cried Moran, aiming a forefinger at
him, pistol fashion; "you've got a blue funk because those Kai-
gingh beach-combers have come into the bay, and you're more
frightened of them than you are of the schooner; and now you want
us to take you home."

"How muchee?"

"A thousand dollars."

Wilbur looked at her in surprise. He had expected a refusal.

"You no hab got liver pill?" inquired Charlie blandly.

Moran turned her back on him. She and Wilbur conferred in a low

"We'd better take them back, if we decently can," said Moran.
"The schooner is known, of course, in 'Frisco. She went out with
Kitchell and a crew of coolies, and she comes back with you and I
aboard, and if we tell the truth about it, it will sound like a
lie, and we'll have no end of trouble. Then again, can just you
and I work the 'Bertha' into port? In these kind of airs it's
plain work, but suppose we have dirty weather? I'm not so sure."

"I gib you ten dollah fo' ten liver pill," said Charlie.

"Will you give us a thousand dollars to set you down in San

Charlie rose. "I go back. I tell um China boy what you say 'bout
liver pill. Bime-by I come back."

"That means he'll take our offer back to his friends," said
Wilbur, in a low voice. "You best hurry chop-chop," he called
after Charlie; "we go home pretty soon!"

"He knows very well we can't get away before high tide to-morrow,"
said Moran. "He'll take his time."

Later on in the afternoon Moran and Wilbur saw a small boat put
off from the junk and make a landing by the creek. The beach-
combers were taking on water. The boat made three trips before
evening, but the beach-combers made no show of molesting the
undefended schooner, or in any way interfering with Charlie's camp
on the other side of the bay.

"No!" exclaimed Moran between her teeth, as she and Wilbur were
cooking supper; "no, they don't need to; they've got about a
hundred and fifty thousand dollars of loot on board--OUR loot,
too! Good God! it goes against the grain!"

The moon rose considerably earlier that night, and by twelve
o'clock the bay was flooded with its electrical whiteness. Wilbur
and Moran could plainly make out the junk tied up to the kelp off-
shore. But toward one o'clock Wilbur was awakened by Moran
shaking his arm.

"There's something wrong out there," she whispered; "something
wrong with the junk. Hear 'em squealing? Look! look! look!" she
cried of a sudden; "it's their turn now!"

Wilbur could see the crank junk, with its staring red eyes, high
stern and prow, as distinctly as though at noonday. As he
watched, it seemed as if a great wave caught her suddenly
underfoot. She heaved up bodily out of the water, dropped again
with a splash, rose again, and again fell back into her own
ripples, that, widening from her sides, broke crisply on the sand
at Wilbur's feet.

Then the commotion ceased abruptly. The bay was quiet again. An
hour passed, then two. The moon began to set. Moran and Wilbur,
wearied of watching, had turned in again, when they were startled
to wakefulness by the creak of oarlocks and the sound of a boat
grounding in the sand.

The coolies--the deserters from the "Bertha Millner"--were there.
Charlie came forward.

"Ge' lup! Ge' lup!" he said. "Junk all smash! Kai-gingh come
ashore. I tink him want catch um schooner."



"What smashed the junk? What wrecked her?" demanded Moran.

The deserting Chinamen huddled around Charlie, drawing close, as
if finding comfort in the feel of each other's elbows.

"No can tell," answered Charlie. "Him shake, then lif' up all the
same as we. Bime-by too much lif' up; him smash all to--Four-
piecee Chinamen dlown."

"Drown! Did any of them drown?" exclaimed Moran.

"Four-piecee dlown," reiterated Charlie calmly. "One, thlee,
five, nine, come asho'. Him other no come."

"Where are the ones that came ashore?" asked Wilbur.

Charlie waved a hand back into the night. "Him make um camp
topside ole house."

"That old whaling-camp," prompted Moran. Then to Wilbur: "You
remember--about a hundred yards north the creek?"

Wilbur, Moran and Charlie had drawn off a little from the "Bertha
Millner's" crew. The latter squatted in a line along the shore--
silent, reserved, looking vaguely seaward through the night.
Moran spoke again, her scowl thickening:

"What makes you think the beach-combers want our schooner?"

"Him catch um schooner sure! Him want um boat to go home. No can

"Let's put off to-night--right away," said Wilbur.

"Low tide," answered Moran; "and besides--Charlie, did you see
them close? Were you near them?"

"No go muchee close."

"Did they have something with them, reeved up in a hammock--
something that smelled sweet?"

"Like a joss-stick, for instance?"

"No savvy; no can tell. Him try catch um schooner sure. Him
velly bad China boy. See Yup China boy, velly bad. I b'long Sam
Yup. Savvy?'!

"Ah! the Tongs?"

"Yas. I Sam Yup. Him," and he pointed to the "Bertha's" crew,
"Sam Yup. All we Sam Yup; nisi him," and he waved a hand toward
the beach-combers' camp; "him See Yup. Savvy?"

"It's a Tong row," said Wilbur. "They're blood enemies, the See
Yups and Sam Yups."

Moran fell thoughtful, digging her boot-heel into the sand, her
thumbs hooked into her belt, her forehead gathered into a heavy
frown. There was a silence.

"One thing," she said, at last; "we can't give up the schooner.
They would take our stores as well, and then where are we?
Marooned, by Jove! How far do you suppose we are from the nearest
town? Three hundred miles wouldn't be a bad guess, and they've got
the loot--our ambergris--I'll swear to that. They didn't leave
that aboard when the junk sank."

"Look here, Charlie," she said, turning to the Chinaman. "If the
beach-combers take the schooner--the 'Bertha Millner'--from us
we'll be left to starve on this beach."

"I tink um yass."

"How are we going to get home? Are you going to let them do it?
Are you going to let them have our schooner?"

"I tink no can have."

"Look here," she went on, with sudden energy. "There are only
nine of them now, to our eight. We're about even. We can fight
those swine. I know we can. If we jumped their camp and rushed
them hard, believe me, we could run them into the sea. Mate," she
cried, suddenly facing Wilbur, "are you game? Have you got blood
in you? Those beach-comberes are going to attack us to-morrow,
before high tide--that's flat. There's going to be a fight
anyway. We can't let them have the schooner. It's starvation for
us if we do.

"They mean to make a dash for the 'Bertha,' and we've got to fight
them off. If there's any attacking to be done I propose to do it!
I propose we jump their camp before it gets light--now--to-night--
right away--run in on them there, take them by surprise, do for
one or two of them if we have to, and get that ambergris. Then
cut back to the schooner, up our sails, and wait for the tide to
float us off. We can do it--I know we can. Mate, will you back
me up?"

"Back you up? You bet I'll back you up, Moran. But--" Wilbur
hesitated. "We could fight them so much more to advantage from
the deck of the schooner. Why not wait for them aboard? We could
have our sails up, anyhow, and we could keep the beach-combers off
till the tide rose high enough to drive them back. Why not do

"I tink bes' wait topside boat," assented Charlie.

"Yes; why not, Moran?"

"Because," shouted the girl, "they've got our loot. I don't
propose to be plundered of $150,000 if I can help it."

"Wassa dat?" demanded Charlie. "Hunder fiftee tlousand you hab

"I did have it--we had it, the mate and I. We triced a sperm
whale for the beach-combers, and when they thought they had
everything out of him we found a lump of ambergris in him that
will weigh close to two hundred pounds. Now look here, Charlie.
The beach-combers have got the stuff. It's mine--I'm going to
have it back. Here's the lay. Your men can fight--you can fight
yourself. We'll make it a business proposition. Help me to get
that ambergris, and if we get it I'll give each one of the men
$1,000, and I'll give you $1,500. You can take that up and be
independent rich the rest of your life. You can chuck it and rot
on this beach, for it's fight or lose the schooner; you know that
as well as I do. If you've got to fight anyhow, why not fight
where it's going to pay the most?"

Charlie hesitated, pursing his lips.

"How about this, Moran?" Wilbur broke forth now, unheard by
Charlie. "I've just been thinking; have we got a right to this
ambergris, after all? The beach-combers found the whale. It was
theirs. How have we the right to take the ambergris away from
them any more than the sperm and the oil and the bone? It's
theirs, if you come to that. I don't know as we've the right to

"Darn you!" shouted Moran in a blaze of fury, "right to it, right
to it! If I haven't, who has? Who found it? Those dirty monkeys
might have stood some show to a claim if they'd held to the one-
third bargain, and offered to divvy with us when they got me where
I couldn't help myself. I don't say I'd give in now if they had--
give in to let 'em walk off with a hundred thousand dollars that
I've got as good a claim to as they have! But they've saved me the
trouble of arguing the question. They've taken it all, all! And
there's no bargain in the game at all now. Now the stuff belongs
to the strongest of us, and I'm glad of it. They thought they
were the strongest and now they're going to find out. We're
dumped down here on this God-forsaken sand, and there's no law and
no policemen. The strongest of us are going to live and the
weakest are going to die. I'm going to live and I'm going to have
my loot, too, and I'm not going to split fine hairs with these
robbers at this time of day. I'm going to have it all, and that's
the law you're under in this case, my righteous friend!"

She turned her back upon him, spinning around upon her heel. and
Wilbur felt ashamed of himself and proud of her.

"I go talkee-talk to China boy," said Charlie, coming up.

For about five minutes the Chinamen conferred together, squatting
in a circle on the beach. Moran paced up and down by the stranded
dory. Wilbur leaned against the bleached whale-skull, his hands
in his pockets. Once he looked at his watch. It was nearly one

"All light," said Charlie, coming up from the group at last; "him
fight plenty."

"Now," exclaimed Moran, "we've no time to waste. What arms have
we got?"

"We've got the cutting-in spades," said Wilbur; "there's five of
them. They're nearly ten feet long, and the blades are as sharp
as razors; you couldn't want better pikes."

"That's an idea," returned Moran, evidently willing to forget her
outburst of a moment before, perhaps already sorry for it. The
party took stock of their weapons, and five huge cutting-in
spades, a heavy knife from the galley, and a revolver of doubtful
effectiveness were divided among them. The crew took the spades,
Charlie the knife, and Wilbur the revolver. Moran had her own
knife, a haftless dirk, such as is affected by all Norwegians,
whether landsmen or sailors. They were examining this armament
and Moran was suggesting a plan of attack, when Hoang, the leader
of the beach-combers, and one other Chinaman appeared some little
distance below them on the beach. The moon was low and there was
no great light, but the two beach-combers caught the flash of the
points of the spades. They halted and glanced narrowly and
suspiciously at the group.

"Beasts!" muttered Moran. "They are up to the game--there's no
surprising them now. Talk to him, Charlie; see what he wants."

Moran, Wilbur, and Charlie came part of the way toward Hoang and
his fellow, and paused some fifteen feet distant, and a long
colloquy ensued. It soon became evident, however, that in reality
Hoang wanted nothing of them, though with great earnestness he
asserted his willingness to charter the "Bertha Millner" back to
San Francisco.

"That's not his game at all," said Moran to Wilbur, in a low tone,
her eyes never leaving those of the beach-comber. "He's pretty
sure he could seize the 'Bertha' and never pay us a stiver.
They've come down to spy on us, and they're doing it, too.
There's no good trying to rush that camp now. They'll go back and
tell the crew that we know their lay."

It was still very dark. Near the hulk of the beached "Bertha
Millner" were grouped her crew, each armed with a long and lance-
like cutting-in spade, watching and listening to the conference of
the chiefs. The moon, almost down, had flushed blood-red,
violently streaking the gray, smooth surface of the bay with her
reflection. The tide was far out, rippling quietly along the
reaches of wet sand. In the pauses of the conference the vast,
muffling silence shut down with the abruptness of a valve suddenly

How it happened, just who made the first move, in precisely what
manner the action had been planned, or what led up to it, Wilbur
could not afterward satisfactorily explain. There was a rush
forward--he remembered that much--a dull thudding of feet over the
resounding beach surface, a moment's writhing struggle with a
half-naked brown figure that used knife and nail and tooth, and
then the muffling silence again, broken only by the sound of their
own panting. In that whirl of swift action Wilbur could
reconstruct but two brief pictures: the Chinaman, Hoang's
companion, flying like one possessed along the shore; Hoang
himself flung headlong into the arms of the "Bertha's" coolies,
and Moran, her eyes blazing, her thick braids flying, brandishing
her fist as she shouted at the top of her deep voice, "We've got
you, anyhow!"

They had taken Hoang prisoner, whether by treachery or not, Wilbur
did not exactly know; and, even if unfair means had been used, he
could not repress a feeling of delight and satisfaction as he told
himself that in the very beginning of the fight that was to follow
he and his mates had gained the first advantage.

As the action of that night's events became more and more
accelerated, Wilbur could not but notice the change in Moran. It
was very evident that the old Norse fighting blood of her was all
astir; brutal, merciless, savage beyond all control. A sort of
obsession seized upon her at the near approach of battle, a frenzy
of action that was checked by nothing--that was insensible to all
restraint. At times it was impossible for him to make her hear
him, or when she heard to understand what he was saying. Her
vision contracted. It was evident that she could not see
distinctly. Wilbur could no longer conceive of her as a woman of
the days of civilization. She was lapsing back to the eighth
century again--to the Vikings, the sea-wolves, the Berserkers.

"Now you're going to talk," she cried to Hoang, as the bound
Chinaman sat upon the beach, leaning his back against the great
skull. "Charlie, ask him if they saved the ambergris when the
junk went down--if they've got it now?" Charlie put the question
in Chinese, but the beach-comber only twinkled his vicious eyes
upon them and held his peace. With the full sweep of her arm, her
fist clinched till the knuckles whitened, Moran struck him in the

"Now will you talk?" she cried. Hoang wiped the blood from his
face upon his shoulder and set his jaws. He did not answer.

"You will talk before I'm done with you, my friend; don't get any
wrong notions in your head about that," Moran continued, her teeth
clinched. "Charlie," she added, "is there a file aboard the

"I tink um yass, boss hab got file."

"In the tool-chest, isn't it?" Charlie nodded, and Moran ordered
it to be fetched.

"If we're to fight that crowd," she said, speaking to herself and
in a rapid voice, thick from excitement and passion, "we've got to
know where they've hid the loot, and what weapons they've got. If
they have a rifle or a shotgun with them, it's going to make a big
difference for us. The other fellow escaped and has gone back to
warn the rest. It's fight now, and no mistake."

The Chinaman who had been sent aboard the schooner returned,
carrying a long, rather coarse-grained file. Moran took it from

"Now," she said, standing in front of Hoang, "I'll give you one
more chance. Answer me. Did you bring off the ambergris, you
beast, when your junk sank? Where is it now? How many men have
you? What arms have you got? Have your men got a rifle?--Charlie,
put that all to him in your lingo, so as to make sure that he
understands. Tell him if he don't talk I'm going to make him very

Charlie put the questions in Chinese, pausing after each one.
Hoang held his peace.

"I gave you fair warning," shouted Moran angrily, pointing at him
with the file. "Will you answer?"

"Him no tell nuttin," observed Charlie.

"Fetch a cord here," commanded Moran. The cord was brought, and
despite Hoang's struggles and writhings the file was thrust end-
ways into his mouth and his jaws bound tightly together upon it by
means of the cord passed over his head and under his chin. Some
four inches of the file portruded from his lips. Moran took this
end and drew it out between the beach-comber's teeth, then pushed
it back slowly.

The hideous rasp of the operation turned Wilbur's blood cold
within him. He looked away--out to sea, down the beach--anywhere,
so that he might not see what was going forward. But the
persistent grind and scrape still assaulted his ears. He turned
about sharply.

"I--I--I'll go down the beach here a ways," he said quickly. "I
can't stand--I'll keep watch to see if the beach-combers come up."

A few minutes later he heard Charlie hailing him.

"Chin-chin heap plenty now," said he, with a grin, as Wilbur came

Hoang sat on the sand in the midst of the circle. The file and
coil of rope lay on the ground near by. The beach-comber was
talking in a high-keyed sing-song, but with a lisp. He told them
partly in pigeon English and partly in Cantonese, which Charlie
translated, that their men were eight in number, and that they had
intended to seize the schooner that night, but that probably his
own capture had delayed their plans. They had no rifle. A
shotgun had been on board, but had gone down with the sinking of
the junk. The ambergris had been cut into two lumps, and would be
found in a couple of old flour-sacks in the stern of the boat in
which he and his men had come ashore. They were all armed with
their little hatchets. He thought two of the men carried knives
as well. There was neither pistol nor revolver among them.

"It seems to me," said Wilbur, "that we've got the long end."

"We catch um boss, too!" said Charlie, pointing to Hoang.

"And we are better armed," assented Moran. "We've got the
cutting-in spades."

"And the revolver, if it will shoot any further than it will

"They'll give us all the fight we want," declared Moran.

"Oh, him Kai-gingh, him fight all same devil."

"Give the men brandy, Charlie," commanded Moran. "We'll rush that
camp right away."

The demijohn of spirits was brought down from the "Bertha" and
passed around, Wilbur and Moran drinking from the tin cup, the
coolies from the bottle. Hoang was fettered and locked in the
"Bertha's" cabin.

"Now, then, are we ready?" cried Moran.

"I tink all light," answered Charlie.

The party set off down the beach. The moon had long since gone
down, and the dawn was whitening over the eastern horizon.
Landward, ragged blankets of morning mist lay close in the hollows
here and there. It was profoundly still. The stars were still
out. The surface of Magdalena Bay was smooth as a sheet of gray

Twenty minutes passed, half an hour, an hour. The party tramped
steadily forward, Moran, Wilbur, and Charlie leading, the coolies
close behind carrying the cutting-in spades over their shoulders.
Slowly and in silence they made the half circuit of the bay. The
"Bertha Millner" was far behind them by now, a vague gray mass in
the early morning light.

"Did you ever fight before?" Moran suddenly demanded of Charlie.

"One time I fight plenty much in San Flancisco in Washington
stleet. Fight um See Yups."

Another half-hour passed. At times when they halted they began to
hear the faint murmur of the creek, just beyond which was the
broken and crumbling shanty, relic of an old Portuguese whaling-
camp, where the beach-combers were camped. At Charlie's
suggestion the party made a circuit, describing a half moon, to
landward, so as to come out upon the enemy sheltered by the sand-
dunes. Twenty minutes later they crossed the creek about four
hundred yards from the shore. Here they spread out into a long
line, and, keeping an interval of about fifteen feet between each
of them, moved cautiously forward. The unevenness of the sand-
breaks hid the shore from view, but Moran, Wilbur, and Charlie
knew that by keeping the creek upon their left they would come out
directly upon the house.

A few moments later Charlie held up his hand, and the men halted.
The noise of the creek chattering into the tidewater of the bay
was plainly audible just beyond; a ridge of sand, covered thinly
with sage-brush, and a faint column of smoke rose into the air
over the ridge itself. They were close in. The coolies were
halted, and dropping upon their hands and knees, the three leaders
crawled to the top of the break. Sheltered by a couple of sage-
bushes and lying flat to the ground, Wilbur looked over and down
upon the beach. The first object he made out was a crazy,
roofless house, built of driftwood, the chinks plastered with
'dobe mud, the door fallen in.

Beyond, on the beach, was a flat-bottomed dingy, unpainted and
foul with dirt. But all around the house the sand had been
scooped and piled to form a low barricade, and behind this
barricade Wilbur saw the beach-combers. There were eight of them.
They were alert and ready, their hatchets in their hands. The
gaze of each of them was fixed directly upon the sand-break which
sheltered the "Bertha Millner's" officers and crew. They seemed
to Wilbur to look him straight in the eye. They neither moved nor
spoke. The silence and absolute lack of motion on the part of
these small, half-naked Chinamen, with their ape-like muzzles and
twinkling eyes, was ominous.

There could be no longer any doubts that the beach-combers had
known of their enemies' movements and were perfectly aware of
their presence behind the sand-break. Moran rose to her feet, and
Wilbur and Charlie followed her example.

"There's no use hiding," she said; "they know we're here."

Charlie called up the crew. The two parties were ranged face to
face. Over the eastern rim of the Pacific the blue whiteness of
the early dawn was turning to a dull, roseate gold at the core of
the sunrise. The headlands of Magdalena Bay stood black against
the pale glow; overhead, the greater stars still shone. The
monotonous, faint ripple of the creek was the only sound. It was
about 3:30 o'clock.


Wilbur had imagined that the fight would be hardly more than a
wild rush down the slope of the beach, a dash over the beach-
combers' breastworks of sand, and a brief hand-to-hand scrimmage
around the old cabin. In all accounts he had ever read of such
affairs, and in all ideas he had entertained on the subject, this
had always been the case. The two bodies had shocked together
like a college rush, there had been five minutes' play of knife
and club and gun, a confused whirl of dust and smoke, and all was
over before one had time either to think or be afraid. But
nothing of the kind happened that morning.

The "Bertha Millner's" crew, in a long line, Moran at one end,
Wilbur at the other, and Charlie in the centre, came on toward the
beach-combers, step by step. There was little outcry. Each
contestant singled out his enemy, and made slowly for him with
eyes fixed and weapon ready, regardless of the movements of his

"See any rifles among them, Charlie?" shouted Moran, suddenly
breaking the silence.

"No, I tink no hab got," answered Charlie.

Wilbur took another step forward and cocked his revolver. One of
the beach-combers shouted out something in angry vernacular, and
Charlie instantly responded. All this time the line had been
slowly advancing upon the enemy, and Wilbur began to wonder how
long that heartbreaking suspense was to continue. This was not at
all what he had imagined. Already he was within twenty feet of
his man, could see the evil glint of his slant, small eye, and the
shine of his yellow body, naked to the belt. Still foot by foot
the forward movement continued. The Chinese on either side had
begun exchanging insults; the still, hot air of the tropic dawn
was vibrant with the Cantonese monosyllables tossed back and forth
like tennis-balls over the low sand rampart. The thing was
degenerating into a farce--the "Bertha's" Chinamen would not

Back there, under the shelter of the schooner, it was all very
well to talk, and they had been very brave when they had all flung
themselves upon Hoang. Here, face to face with the enemy, the sun
striking off heliograph flashes from their knives and spades, it
was a vastly different matter. The thing, to Wilbur's mind,
should have been done suddenly if it was to be done at all. The
best course now was to return to camp and try some other plan.
Charlie shouted a direction to him in pigeon English that he did
not understand, but he answered all right, and moved forward
another step so as to be in line with the coolie at his left.

The liquor that he had drunk before starting began suddenly to
affect him, yet he knew that his head was yet clear. He could not
bring himself to run away before them all, but he would have given
much to have discovered a good reason for postponing the fight--if
fight there was to be.

He remembered the cocked revolver in his hand, and, suddenly
raising it, fired point-blank at his man, not fifteen feet away.
The hammer snapped on the nipple, but the cartridge did not
explode. Wilbur turned to the Chinaman next him in line,
exclaiming excitedly:

"Here, say, have you got a knife--something I can fight with? This
gun's no good."

There was a shout from Moran:

"Look out, here they come!"

Two of the beach-combers suddenly sprang over the sand breastworks
and ran toward Charlie, their knives held low in front of them,
ready to rip.

"Shoot! shoot! shoot!" shouted Moran rapidly.

Wilbur's revolver was a self-cocker. He raised it again, drawing
hard on the trigger as he did so. It roared and leaped in his
hand, and a whiff of burned powder came to his nostrils. Then
Wilbur was astonished to hear himself shout at the top of his

"Come on now, get into them--get into them now, everybody!"

The "Bertha's" Chinamen were all running forward, three of them
well in advance of the others. In the rear Charlie was at
grapples with a beach-comber who fought with a knife in each hand,

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