UICK eye that he had for the promise of adventure, prepared always
for the unexpected to leap out at him from behind the nearest cocoanut tree,
nevertheless David Grief received no warning when he laid eyes on Aloysius
Pankburn. It was on the little steamer Berthe. Leaving his schooner to follow,
Grief had taken passage for the short run across from Raiatea to Papeete. When
he first saw Aloysius Pankburn, that somewhat fuddled gentleman was drinking a
lonely cocktail at the tiny bar between decks next to the barber shop. And when
Grief left the barber's hands half an hour later, Aloysius Pankburn was still
hanging over the bar, still drinking by himself.
Now it is not good for man to drink alone, and Grief threw sharp scrutiny into his passing glance. He saw a well-built young man of thirty, well-featured, well-dressed, and evidently—in the world's catalogue—a gentleman. But by the faint hint of slovenliness, by the shaking, eager hand that spilled the liquor, and by the nervous, vacillating eyes, Grief read the unmistakable marks of the chronic alcoholic.
After dinner he chanced upon Pankburn again. This time it was on deck, and the young man, clinging to the rail and peering into the distance at the dim forms of a man and woman in two steamer chairs drawn closely together, was crying drunkenly. Grief noted that the man's arm was around the woman's waist. Aloysius Pankburn looked on and cried.
"Nothing to weep about," Grief said genially.
Pankburn looked at him and gushed tears of profound self-pity.
"It's hard," he sobbed. "Hard. Hard. That man's my business manager. I employ him. I pay him a good salary. And that's how he earns it."
"In that case, why don't you put a stop to it?" Grief advised.
"I can't. She'd shut of my whisky. She's my trained nurse."
"Fire her, then, and drink your head off."
"I can't. He's got all my money. If I fired her he wouldn't give me sixpence to buy a drink with."
This woful possibility brought a fresh wash of tears. Grief was interested. Of all unique situations he could never have imagine such a one as this.
"They were engaged to take care of me," Pankburn was blubbering; "to keep me away from the drink. And that's the way they do it, lallygagging all about the shop and letting me drink myself to death. It isn't right, I tell you. It isn't right. They were sent along with me for the express purpose of not letting me drink, and they let me drink to swinishness as long as I leave them alone. If I complain they threaten not to let me have another drop. What can a poor devil do? My death will be on their heads, that's all. Come on down and join me."
He released his clutch on the rail and would have fallen had Grief not caught his arm. He seemed to undergo a transformation, to stiffen physically, to thrust his chin forward aggressively and to glint harshly in his eyes.
"I won't let them kill me. And they'll be sorry. I've offered them fifty thousand—later on, of course. They laughed. They don't know. But I know." He fumbled in his coat pocket and drew forth an object that flashed in the faint light. "They don't know the meaning of that. But I do." He looked at Grief with abrupt suspicion. "What do you make out of it, eh? What do you make out of it?"
David Grief caught a swift vision of an alcoholic degenerate putting a very loving young couple to death with a copper spike, for a copper spike was what he held in his hand, evidently an old-fashioned ship fastening.
"My mother thinks I'm up here to get cured of the booze habit. She doesn't know. I bribed the doct r to prescribe a voyage. When we get to Papeete my manager is going to charter a schooner and away we'll sail. But they don't dream. They think it's the booze. I know. I only know. Good night, sir. I'm going to bed, unless—er—you'll join me for a nightcap. One last drink, you know."
IN THE week that followed at Papeete, Grief caught numerous and bizarre
glimpses of Aloysius Pankburn. So did everybody else in the little island
capital, for neither the beach nor Lavina's boarding house had been so
scandalized in years. In midday, bare-headed, clad only in swimming trunks,
Aloysius Pankburn ran down the main street from Lavina's to the water front. He
put on the gloves with a fireman from the Berthe in a scheduled four-round bout
at the Folies Bergère, and was knocked out in the second round.
He tried insanely to drown himself in a two-foot pool of water, dived drunkenly
and splendidly from fifty feet up in the rigging of the Mariposa lying at the
wharf, and chartered the cutter Toerau at more than her purchase price and was
only saved by his manager's refusal financially to ratify the agreement. He
bought out the old blind leper at the market and sold breadfruit, plaintains
and sweet potatoes at such cut rates that the gendarmes were called out to
break the rush of bargain-hunting natives. For that matter, three times the
gendarmes arrested him for riotous behavior, and three times his manager ceased
form love-making long enough to pay the fines imposed by a needy colonial
Then the Mariposa sailed for San Francisco, and in the bridal suite were the manager and the trained nurse, freshly married. Before departing, the manager had thoughtfully bestowed eight five-pound banknotes on Aloysius, with the foreseen result that Aloysius awoke several days later to find himself broke and perilously near to delirium tremens. Lavina, famed for her good heart even among the driftage of South Pacific rogues and scamps, nursed him around and never let it filter into his returning intelligence that there was neither manager nor money to pay his board.
It was several evenings after this that David Grief, lounging under the afterdeck awning of the Kittiwake and idly scanning the meager columns of the Papeete Avant-Coureur, sat suddenly up and almost rubbed his eyes. It was unbelievable, but there it was. The old South Seas Romance was not dead. He read:
|WANTED—To exchange a half interest in buried treasure, worth five million francs, for transportation for one to an unknown island in the Pacific and facilities for carrying away the loot. Ask for FOLLY at Lavina's.|
BACK on board his schooner and dozing in a deck chair under a
three-months-old magazine, David Grief was aroused by a sobbing, slubbering
noise from overside. He opened his eyes. From the Chilean cruiser, a quarter of
a mile away, came the stroke of eight bells. It was midnight. From overside
came a splash and another slubbering noise. To him it seemed half amphibian,
half the sounds of a man crying to himself and querulously chanting his sorrows
to the general universe.
A jump took David Grief to the low rail. Beneath, centered about the slubbering noise, was an area of agitated phosphorescence. Leaning over, he locked his hand under the armpit of a man, and with a pull and heave and quick-changing grips he drew on deck the naked form of Aloysius Pankburn.
"I didn't have a sou-markee," he complained. "I had to swim and I couldn't find your gangway. It was very miserable. Pardon me. If you have a towel and some togs for me and a good stiff drink, I'll be more myself. I'm Mr. Folly, and you're the Captain Grief, I presume, who called on me when I was out. No, I'm not drunk. Nor am I cold. This isn't shivering. Lavina only allowed me two drinks today. I'm on the edge of the horrors, that's all, and I was beginning to see things when I couldn't find the gangway. If you'll take me below I'll be very grateful. You are the only one that answered my advertisement."
He was shaking pitiably in the warm night and down in the cabin, before he got his towel, Grief saw to it that a half-tumbler of whisky was in his hand.
"Now fire ahead," Grief said, when he had got his guest into a shirt and a pair of duck trousers. "What's this advertisement of yours? I'm listening."
Pankburn looked at the whisky bottle, but Grief shook his head.
"All right, Captain, though I tell you on whatever is left of my honor that I am not drunk—not in the least. Also, what I shall tell you is true, and I shall tell it briefly—for it is clear to me that you are a man of affairs and action. Likewise, your chemistry is good. To you, alcohol has never been a million maggots gnawing at every cell of you. You've never been to hell. I am there now. I am scorching. Now listen.
"My mother is alive. She is English. I was born in Australia. I was educated at York and Yale. I am a Master of Arts, a Doctor of Philosophy, and I am no good. Furthermore, I am an alcoholic. I have been an athlete. I used to swan-dive a hundred and ten feet in the clear. I hold several amateur records. I am a fish. I learned the crawl-stroke from the first of the Cavilles. I have done thirty miles in a rough sea. I have another record. I have punished more whisky than any man of my years. I will steal sixpence from you for the price of a drink. Finally, I will tell you the truth.
"My father was an American—an Annapolis man. He was a midshipman in the War of the Rebellion. In '66 he was a lieutenant on the Suwanee. Her captain was Paul Shirley. In '66 the Suwanee coaled at an island in the Pacific that I do not care to mention, under a protectorate that did not exist then and that shall be nameless. Ashore, behind the bar of a public house, my father saw three copper spikes—ship's spikes."
David Grief smiled quietly.
"And now I can tell you the name of the coaling station and of the protectorate that came afterward," he said.
"And of the three spikes?" Pankburn asked with equal quietness. "Go ahead, for they are in my possession now."
"Certainly. They were behind German Oscar's bar at Peenoo-Peenee. Johnny Black brought them there from off his schooner the night he died. He was just back from a long cruise to the westward, fishing bêche-de-mer and sandalwood trading. All the beach knows the tale."
Pankburn shook his head.
"Go on," he urged.
"It was before my time, of course," Grief explained. "I only tell what I've heard. Next came the Ecuadoran cruiser, of all directions, in from the westward, and bound home. Her officers recognized the spikes. Johnny Black was dead. They got hold of his mate and logbook. Away to the westward went she. Six months after, again bound home, she dropped in at Peenoo-Peenee. She had failed, and the tale leaked out."
"When the revolutionists were marching on Guayaquil," Pankburn took it up, "the federal officers, believing a defense of the city hopeless, salted down the government treasure chest—something like a million dollars in gold, but all in English coinage—and put it on board the American schooner Flirt. They were going to run at daylight. The American captain skinned out in the middle of the night. Go on."
"It's an old story," Grief resumed. "There was no other vessel in the harbor. The federal leaders couldn't run. They put their backs to the wall and held the city. Rojas Salcedo, making a forced march from Quito, raised the siege. The revolution was broken, and the one ancient steamer that constituted the Ecuadoran navy was sent in pursuit of the Flirt. They caught her, between the Banks Group and the New Hebrides, hove to and flying distress signals. The captain had died the day before—blackwater fever."
"And the mate?" Pankburn challenged.
"The mate had been killed a week earlier by the natives on one of the Banks, when they sent a boat in for water. There were no navigators left. The men were put to the torture. It was beyond international law. Thy wanted to confess but couldn't. They told of the three spikes in the trees on the beach, but where the island was they did not know. To the westward, far to the westward, was all they knew. The tale now goes two ways. One is that they all died under the torture. The other is that the survivors were swung at the yard-arm. At any rate, the Ecuadoran cruiser went home without the treasure. Johnny Black brought the three spikes to Peenoo-Peenee and left them at German Oscar's, but how and where he found them he never told."
Pankburn looked hard at the whisky bottle.
"Just two fingers," he whimpered.
Grief considered, and poured a meager drink. Pankburn's eyes sparkled and he took new lease on life.
"And this is where I come in with the missing details," he said. "Johnny Black did tell. He told my father. Wrote him from Levuka, before he came on to die at Peenoo-Peenee. My father had saved his life one rough-house night in Valparaiso. A Chink pearler, out of Thursday Island, prospecting for new grounds to the north of New Guinea, traded for the three spikes with a n----r. Johnny Black bought them for copper weight. He didn't dream any more than the Chink, but, coming back, he stopped for hawksbill turtle at the very beach where you say the mate of the Flirt was killed. Only he wasn't killed. The Banks islanders held him prisoner, and he was dying of necrosis of the jaw-bone—caused by an arrow wound in the fight on the beach. Before he died he told the yarn to Johnny Black. Johnny Black wrote my father from Levuka. He was at the end of his rope—cancer. My father, ten years afterward, when captain of the Perry, got the spikes from German Oscar. And from my father—last will and testament, you know—came the spikes and the data. I have the island, the latitude and the longitude of the beach where the three spikes were nailed in the trees. The spikes are up at Lavina's now. The latitude and longitude are in my head. Now what do you think?"
"Fishy," was Grief's instant judgment. "Why didn't your father go and get it himself?"
"Didn't need it. An uncle died and left him a fortune. He retired from the navy, hit up a lively pace trying to spend his money, and my mother got a divorce. Also, she fell heir to an income of something like thirty thousand dollars and went to live in New Zealand. I was divided between them—half-time New Zealand, half-time United States—until my father's death last year. Now my mother has me altogether. He left me his money—oh, a couple of millions—but my mother has had guardians appointed on account of the drink. I'm worth all kinds of money, but I can't touch a penny save what is doled out to me. But the old man, who had got the tip on my drinking, left me the three spikes and the data thereunto pertaining. Did it through his lawyers, unknown to my mother; said it beat life insurance, and that if I had the backbone to go and get it I could drink my back teeth awash until I died. Millions in the hands of my guardians, slathers of shekels of my mother's that'll be mine if she dies before I do, another million waiting to be dug up, and in the meantime I'm cadging on Lavina for two drinks a day. It's the limit, isn't it, when you consider my thirst?"
"Where's the island?"
"It's a long way from here."
"Not on your life, Captain Grief. You're making an easy half million out of this. You will sail under my directions; and when we're well to sea and on our way I'll tell you, and not before."
Grief shrugged his shoulders, dismissing the subject.
"When I've given you another drink I'll send the boat ashore with you," he said.
Pankburn was taken aback. For at least five minutes he debated with himself, then licked his lips and surrendered.
"If you promise to go I'll tell you now."
"Of course I'm willing to go. That's why I asked you. Name the island."
Pankburn looked at the bottle.
"I'll take that drink now, Captain."
"No, you won't. That drink was for you if you went ashore. If you are going to tell me the island, you must do it in your sober senses."
"Francis Island, if you will have it. Bougainville named it Banbour Island."
"Off there all by its lonely in the Little Coral Sea," Grief said. "I know it. Lies between New Ireland and New Guinea. A rotten hole, now, though it was all right when the Flirt drove in the spikes and the Chink pearler traded for them. The steamship Castor, recruiting labor for the Upolu plantations, was cut off there with all hands two years ago. I knew her captain well. The Germans sent a cruiser, shelled the bush, burned half a dozen villages, killed a couple of n----rs and a lot of pigs—and that was all. The n----rs always were bad there, but they turned really bad forty years ago. That was when they cut off a whaler. Let me see? What was her name?"
He stepped to the bookshelf, drew out the bulky South Pacific Directory, and ran hastily through its familiar pages.
"Yes. Here it is. Francis, or Banbour,"
he skimmed. "Natives, warlike and treacherous—Melanesian—cannibals.
Whaleship Western cut off—that was her name. Shoals . . . points . . .
anchorages—ah, Red-scar, Owen Bay, Likikili Bay—that's more like it—deep
indentation, mangrove swamps, good holding in nine fathoms when white scar in
bluff bears west-southwest." Grief looked up. "That's your beach,
Pankburn. I'll swear."
"Will you go?" the other demanded eagerly.
"It sounds good to me. Now if the story had been of a hundred million dollars, or some such crazy sum, I wouldn't look at it for a moment. We'll sail tomorrow, but under one consideration—you are to be absolutely under my orders."
His visitor nodded emphatically and joyously.
"And that means, no drink."
"That's pretty hard," Pankburn whimpered.
"It's my terms. I'm enough of a doctor to see you don't come to harm. And you are to work—hard work, sailor's work. You'll stand regular watches and everything, though you eat and sleep aft with us."
"It's a go." Pankburn put out his hand to ratify the agreement. "If it doesn't kill me," he added.
David Grief poured a generous three-fingers into the tumbler and extended it.
"Then here's your last drink. Take it."
Pankburn's hand went halfway out. With a sudden spasm of resolution he hesitated, threw back his shoulders and straightened up his head.
"I guess I won't," he began; then, feebly surrendering to the gnaw of desire, he reached hastily for the glass, in fear that it would be withdrawn.
IT IS a long traverse from Papeete, in the Societies, to the Little
Coral Sea—from 150 West Longitude to 150 East Longitude—as the crow flies the
equivalent to a voyage across the Atlantic. But the Kittiwake did not go as the
crow flies. David Grief's numerous interests diverted her course many times. He
stopped to take a look-in at uninhabited Rose Island, with an eye to colonizing
and planting cocoanuts. Next, he paid his respects to Tui Manua, of Eastern
Samoa, and opened an intrigue for a share of the trade monopoly of that dying
king's three islands. From Apia he carried several relief agents and a load of
trade goods to the Gilberts. He peeped in at Ontong-Java Atoll, inspected his
plantations on Ysabel, and purchased lands from the salt-water chiefs of
northwestern Malaita. And all along this devious way he made a man of Aloysius
That thirster, though he lived aft, was compelled to do the work of a common sailor. And not only did he take his wheel and lookout, and heave on sheets and tackles, but the dirtiest and most arduous tasks were appointed him. Swung aloft in a boson's chair, he scraped the masts and slushed down. Holystoning the deck or scrubbing it with fresh limes made his back ache and developed the wasted, flabby muscles. When the Kittiwake lay at anchor and her copper bottom was scrubbed with cocoanut husks by the native crew, who dived and did it under water, Pankburn was sent down on his shift, and as many times as any on the shift.
"Look at yourself," Grief said. "You are twice the man you were when you came on board. You haven't had one drink, you didn't die, and the poison is pretty will worked out of you. It's the work. It beats trained nurses and business managers. Here, if you're thirsty, clap your lips to this."
With several deft strokes of his heavy-backed sheath-knife Grief clipped a triangular piece of shell from the end of a husked drinking-cocoanut. The thin, cool liquid, slightly milky and effervescent, bubbled to the brim. With a bow, Pankburn took the natural cup, threw his head back, and held it back till the shell was empty. He drank many of these nuts each day. The black steward, a New Hebrides boy sixty years of age, and his assistant, a Lark Islander of eleven, saw to it that he was continually supplied.
Pankburn did not object to the hard work. He devoured hard work, never shirking and always beating the native sailors in jumping to obey a command. But his sufferings during the period of driving the alcohol out of his system were truly heroic. Even when the last shred of the poison was exuded, the desire, as an obsession, remained in his head. So it was when, on his honor, he went ashore at Apia, that he attempted to put the public houses out of business by drinking up their stocks in trade. And so it was, at two in the morning, that David Grief found him in front of the Tivoli, out of which he had been disorderly thrown by Charley Roberts. Aloysius, as of old, was chanting his sorrows to the stars. Also, and more concretely, he was punctuating the rhythm with cobbles of coral stone, which he flung with amazing accuracy through Charley Robert's windows.
David Grief took him away, but not till next morning did he take him in hand. It was on the deck of the Kittiwake, and there was nothing kindergarten about it. Grief struck him with bare knuckles, punched him and punished him—gave him the worst thrashing he had ever received.
"For the good of your soul, Pankburn," was the way he emphasized his blows. "For the good of your mother. For the progeny that will come after. For the good of the world, and the universe, and the whole race of man yet to be. And now, to hammer the lesson home, we'll do it all over again. That, for the good of your soul; and that, for your mother's sake; and that, for the little children, undreamed of and unborn, whose mother you'll love for their sakes, and for love's sake, in the lease of manhood that will be yours when I am done with you. Come on and take your medicine. I'm not done with you yet. I've only begun. There are many other reasons that I shall now proceed to expound."
The brown sailors and the black stewards and cook looked on and grinned. Far from them was the questioning of any of the mysterious and incomprehensible ways of white men. As for Carlsen, the mate, he was grimly in accord with the treatment his employer was administering; while Albright, the supercargo, merely played with his mustache and smiled. They were men of the sea. They lived life in the rough. And alcohol, in themselves as well as in other men, was a problem they had learned to handle in ways not taught in doctors' schools.
"Boy—a bucket of fresh water and a towel," Grief ordered, when he had finished. "Two buckets and two towels," he added, as he surveyed his own hands.
"You're a pretty one," he said to Pankburn. "You've spoiled everything. I had the poison completely out of you. And now you are fairly reeking with it. We've got to begin all over again. Mr. Albright! You know that pile of old chain on the beach at the boat landing. Find the owner, buy it and fetch it on board. There must be a hundred and fifty fathoms of it. Pankburn! Tomorrow morning you start in pounding the rust off of it. When you've done that you'll sandpaper it. Then you'll paint it. And nothing else will do till that chain is as smooth as new."
Aloysius Pankburn shook his head.
"I quit. Francis Island can go to —— for all of me. I'm done with your slave-driving. Kindly put me ashore at once. I'm a white man. You can't treat me this way."
"Mr. Carlsen, you will see that Mr. Pankburn remains on board."
"I'll have you broken for this!" Aloysius screamed. "You can't stop me."
"I can give you another licking," Grief answered. "And let me tell you one thing, you besotted whelp, I'll keep on licking you as long as my knuckles hold out or until you learn to hammer chain rust. I've taken you in hand and I'm going to make a man out of you if I have to kill you to do it. Now go below and change your clothes. Be ready to turn to with a hammer this afternoon. Mr. Albright, get that chain aboard pronto. Mr. Carlsen, send the boats ashore after it. Also, keep your eye on Pankburn. If he shows signs of keeling over or going into the shakes, give him a nip—a small one. He may need it after last night."
FOR the rest of the time the Kittiwake lay in Apia, Aloysius Pankburn
pounded chain rust. Ten hours a day he pounded. And on the long stretch across
to the Gilberts he still pounded. Then came the sandpapering. One hundred and
fifty fathoms is nine hundred feet, and every link of all that length was
smoothed and polished as no link ever was before. And when the last link had
received its second coat of black paint he declared himself.
"Come on with more dirty work," he told Grief. "I'll overhaul the other chains if you say so. And you needn't worry about me anymore. I'm not going to take another drop. I'm going to train up. You got my proud goat when you licked me, but let me tell you you only got it temporarily. Train! I'm going to train till I'm as hard all the way through and clean all the way through as that chain is now. And some day, Mr. David Grief, somewhere, somehow, I'm going to be in such shape that I'll lick you as you licked me. I'm going to pulp your face till your own n----rs won't know you."
Grief was jubilant.
"Now you're talking like a man," he cried. "The only way you'll ever lick me is to become a man. And then, maybe ——"
He paused in the hope that the other would catch the suggestion. Aloysius groped for it and, abruptly, something akin to illumination shone in his eyes.
"And then I won't want to, you mean?"
"And that's the curse of it," Aloysius lamented. "I really believe I won't want to. I see the point. But I'm going to go right on and shape myself up, just the same."
The warm sunburn glow in Grief's face seemed to grow warmer. His hand went out.
"Pankburn, I love you right now for that."
Aloysius grasped the hand and shook his head in sad sincerity.
"Grief," he mourned, "You've got my goat, you've got my proud goat, and you've got it permanently, I'm afraid."
ON A SULTRY tropic day, when the last flicker of the far Southeast Trade
was fading out and the seasonal change for the Northwest Monsoon was coming on,
the Kittiwake lifted above the sea-rim the jungle-clad coast of Francis Island.
Grief, with compass bearings and binoculars, identified the volcano that marked
Red-scar, ran past Owen Bay, and lost the last of the breeze at the entrance to
Likikili Bay. With the two whaleboats out and towing, and with Carlsen heaving
the lead, the Kittiwake sluggishly entered a deep and narrow indentation. There
were no beaches. The mangroves began at the water's edge, and behind them rose
steep jungle, broken here and there by jagged peaks of rock. At the end of a
mile, when the white scar on the bluff bore west-southwest, the lead vindicated
the Directory, and the anchor rumbled down in nine fathoms.
For the rest of that day and until the afternoon of the day following they remained on the Kittiwake and waited. No canoes appeared. There were no signs of human life. Save for the occasional splash of a fish, or the screaming of cockatoos, there seemed no other life. Once, however, a huge butterfly, twelve inches from tip to tip, fluttered high over their mastheads and drifted across to the opposing jungle.
"There's no use in sending a boat in to be cut up," Grief said.
Pankburn was incredulous and volunteered to go in alone, to swim it if he couldn't borrow the dingey.
"They haven't forgotten the German cruiser," Grief explained. "And I'll wager that bush is alive with men right now. What do you think, Mr. Carlsen?"
That veteran adventurer of the islands was emphatic in his agreement.
In the late afternoon of the second day Grief ordered a whaleboat into the water. He took his place in the bow, a live cigarette in his mouth and a short-fused stick of dynamite in his hand—for he was bent on shooting a mess of fish. Along the thwarts half a dozen rifles were placed. Albright, who took the steering-sweep, had one within reach of hand. They pulled in and along the green wall of vegetation. At times they rested on the oars in the midst of profound silence.
"Two to one the bush is swarming with them—in quids," Albright whispered.
Pankburn listened a moment longer and took the bet. Five minutes later they sighted a school of mullet. The brown rowers held their oars. Grief touched the short fuse to his cigarette and threw the stick. So short was the fuse that the stick exploded in the instant after it struck the water. And in that same instant the bush exploded into life. There were wild yells of defiance, and black and naked bodies leaped forward like apes through the mangroves.
In the whaleboat every rifle was lifted. Then came the wait. A hundred blacks—some few armed with ancient rifles, but the greater portion armed with tomahawks, firehardened spears and bone-tipped arrows—clustered on the roots that rose out of the bay. No word was spoken. Each party watched the other across the twenty feet of water. An old, one-eyed black with a bristly face rested an old rifle on his hip, the muzzle directed at Albright who, in turn, covered him with his rifle. A couple of minutes of this tableau endured. The stricken fish rose to the surface or struggled half-stunned in the clear depths of water.
"It's all right, boys," Grief said quietly. "Put down you guns and over the side with you. Mr. Albright, toss the tobacco to that one-eyed brute."
While the Rapa men dived for the fish Albright threw a bundle of trade tobacco ashore. The one-eyed man nodded his head and writhed his features in an attempt at amiability. Weapons were lowered, bows unbent and arrows put back in their quivers.
"They know tobacco," grief announced, as they rowed back aboard. "We'll have visitors. You'll break out a case of tobacco, Mr. Albright, and a few trade-knives. There's a canoe now."
Old One-Eye, as befitted a chief and leader, paddled out alone, facing peril for the rest of the tribe.
As Carlsen leaned over the rail to help the visitor up he turned his head and remarked casually:
"They've dug up the money, Mr. Grief. The old beggar's loaded with it."
One-Eye floundered down on deck, grinning appeasingly and failing to hide the fear he had overcome, but which still possessed him. He was lame of one leg; and this was accounted for by a terrible scar, inches deep, that ran down the thigh from hip to knee. No clothes he wore whatever, not even a string, but his nose, perforated in a dozen places and each perforation the setting for a carved spine of bone, bristled like a porcupine. Around his neck and hanging down on his dirty chest was a string of gold sovereigns. His ears were hung with silver half-crowns, and from the cartilage separating his nostrils depended a big English penny, tarnished and green, but unmistakable.
"Hold on, Grief," Pankburn said with perfectly assumed carelessness. "You say they know only beads and tobacco. Very well. You follow my lead. They've found the treasure and we've got to trade them out of it. Get the whole crew aside and lecture them that they are to be interested only in the pennies. Savvy? Gold coins must be beneath contempt and silver coins merely tolerated. Pennies are to be the only desirable things."
Pankburn took charge of the trading. For the penny in One-Eye's nose he gave ten sticks of tobacco. Since each stick cost David Grief a cent, the bargain was manifestly unfair. But for the half-crowns Pankburn gave only one stick each. The string of sovereigns he refused to consider. The more he refused, the more One-Eye insisted on a trade. At last, with an appearance of irritation and anger, and as a palpable concession, Pankburn gave two sticks for the string, which was composed of ten sovereigns.
"I take my hat off to you," Grief said to Pankburn that night at dinner. "The situation is patent. You've reversed the scale of value. They'll figure the pennies as priceless possessions and the sovereigns as beneath price. Result—they'll hang on to the pennies and force us to trade for sovereigns. Pankburn, I drink your health! Boy—another cup of tea for Mr. Pankburn."
FOLLOWED a golden week. From dawn till dark a row of canoes rested on
their paddles two hundred feet away. This was the dead-line. Rapa sailors,
armed with rifles, maintained it. But one canoe at a time was permitted
alongside, and but one black at a time was permitted to come over the rail.
Here, under the awning, relieveing one another in hourly shifts, the four white
men carried on the trade. The rate of exchange was that established by Pankburn
with One-Eye. Five sovereigns fetched a stick of tobacco; a hundred sovereigns,
twenty sticks. Thus, a crafty-eyed cannibal would deposit on the table a
thousand dollars in gold, and go back over the rail, hugely satisfied, with
forty cents' worth of tobacco in his hand.
"Hope we've got enough tobacco to hold out," Carlsen muttered dubiously, as another case was sawed in half.
"We've got fifty cases below," he said; "and as I figure it, three cased buy a hundred thousand dollars. There was only a million dollars buried, so thirty cases ought to get it. Though, of course, we've got to allow a margin for the silver and the pennies. That Ecuadoriano bunch must have salted down all the coin in sight."
Very few pennies and shillings appeared, though Pankburn continually and anxiously inquired for them. Pennies were the one thing he seemed to desire, and he made his eyes flash covetously whenever one was produced. True to his theory, the savages concluded that the gold, being of slight value, must be disposed of first. A penny, worth fifty times as much as a sovereign, was something to retain and treasure. Doubtless, in their jungle lairs the wise old graybeards put their heads together and agreed to raise the price on pennies when the worthless gold was worked off. Who could tell? Mayhap the strange white men could be made to give even twenty sticks for a priceless copper.
By the end of the week the trade went slack. There was only the slightest dribble of gold. An occasional penny was reluctantly disposed of for ten sticks, while several thousand dollars in silver came in.
On the morning of the eighth day no trading was done. The graybeards had matured their plan and were demanding twenty sticks for a penny. One-Eye delivered the new rate of exchange. The white men appeared to take it with great seriousness, for they debated in low voices.
"We've got just a little over eight hundred thousand, not counting the silver," Grief said. "And that's about all there is. The bush tribes behind have most probably got the other two hundred thousand. Return in three months, and the salt-water crowd will have traded back for it; also, they will be out of tobacco by that time."
"It would be a sin to buy pennies," Albright grinned. "It goes against the thrifty grain of my trader's soul."
"There's a whiff of land-breeze stirring," Grief said, looking at Pankburn. "What do you say?"
"Very well." Grief measured the faintness and irregularity of wind against his cheek. "Mr. Carlsen, heave short and get off the gaskets. And stand by with the whaleboats to tow. This breeze is not dependable."
He picked up a part case of tobacco, containing six or seven hundred sticks, put it in One-Eye's hands and helped that bewildered savage over the rail. As the foresail went up the mast a wail of consternation arose from the canoes lying along the dead-line. And as the anchor broke out and the Kittiwake's head paid off in the light breeze, old One-Eye, daring the rifles leveled on him, paddled alongside and made frantic signs of his tribe's willingness to trade pennies for ten sticks.
"Boy—a drinking nut," Pankburn called.
"It's Sydney Heads for you," Grief said. "And then what?"
"I'm coming back with you for that two hundred thousand," Pankburn answered. "In the mean time I'm going to build an island schooner. Also, I'm going to call those guardians of mine before the court to show cause why my father's money should not be turned over to me. Show cause? I'll show them cause why it should."
He swelled his biceps proudly under the thin sleeve, reached for the two back stewards, and put them above his head like a pair of dumb-bells.
"Come on! Swing out on that fore-boom-tackle!" Calsen shouted from aft, where the mainsail was being winged out.
Pankburn dropped the stewards and raced for it, beating a Rapa sailor by two jumps to the hauling part.
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