Gascoyne, the Sandal-Wood Trader, by R.M. Ballantyne.
An exciting story set in the Pacific. Is Gascoyne a pirate, or isn't he? Quite a gripping tale, and well worth reading.
GASCOYNE, THE SANDAL-WOOD TRADER, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
The Great Pacific is the scene of our story. On a beautiful morning, many years ago, a little schooner might have been seen floating, light and graceful as a sea-mew, on the breast of the slumbering ocean. She was one of those low black-hulled vessels, with raking, taper masts, trimly cut sails, and elegant form, which we are accustomed to associate with the idea of a yacht or a pirate.
She might have been the former, as far as appearance went, for the sails and decks were white as snow, and every portion of brass and copper above her water-line shone in the hot sun with dazzling brilliancy. But pleasure-seekers were not wont, in those days, to take such distant flights, or to venture into such dangerous seas—dangerous alike from the savage character of the islanders, and the numerous coral-reefs that lie hidden a few feet below the surface of the waves.
Still less probable did it seem that the vessel in question could belong to the lawless class of craft to which we have referred; for, although she had what may be styled a wicked aspect, and was evidently adapted for swift sailing, neither large guns nor small arms of any kind were visible.
Whatever her nature or her object, she was reduced, at the time we introduce her to the reader, to a state of inaction by the dead calm which prevailed. The sea resembled a sheet of clear glass. Not a cloud broke the softness of the sky, in which the sun glowed hotter and hotter as it rose towards the zenith. The sails of the schooner hung idly from the yards; her reflected image was distorted, but scarcely broken, by the long gentle swell; her crew, with the exception of the watch, were asleep either on deck or down below, and so deep was the universal silence, that, as the vessel rose and fell with a slow, quiet motion, the pattering of the reef points on her sails forcibly attracted the listener's attention, as does the ticking of a clock in the deep silence of night. A few sea-birds rested on the water, as if in the enjoyment of the profound peace that reigned around; and, far away on the horizon might be seen the tops of the palm-trees that grew on one of those coral islands which lie scattered in thousands, like beautiful gems, on the surface of that bright blue sea.
Among the men who lay sleeping in various easy off-hand attitudes on the schooner's deck was one who merits special attention—not only because of the grotesque appearance of his person, but also because he is one of the principal actors in our tale.
He was a large powerful man, of that rugged build and hairy aspect that might have suggested the idea that he would be difficult to kill. He was a fair man, with red hair and a deeply sun-burned face, on which jovial good-humour sat almost perpetually enthroned. At the moment when we introduce him to the reader, however, that expression happened to be modified in consequence of his having laid him down to sleep in a sprawling manner on his back—the place as well as the position being, apparently, one of studied discomfort. His legs lay over the heel of the bowsprit; his big body reposed on a confused heap of blocks and cordage, and his neck rested on the stock of an anchor, so that his head hung down over it, presenting the face to view, with the large mouth wide open, in an upside down position. The man was evidently on the verge of choking, but, being a strong man, and a rugged man, and a healthy man, he did not care. He seemed to prefer choking to the trouble of rousing himself and improving his position.
How long he would have lain in this state of felicity it is impossible to say, for his slumbers were rudely interrupted by a slight lurch of the schooner, which caused the blocks and cordage attached to the sheet of the jib to sweep slowly, but with rasping asperity, across his face. Any ordinary man would have been seriously damaged—at least in appearance—by such an accident; but this particular sea-dog was tough in the skin—he was only awakened by it—nothing more. He yawned, raised himself lazily, and gazed round with that vacant stare of unreasonable surprise which is common to man on passing from a state of somnolence to that of wakefulness.
Gradually the expression of habitual good-humour settled on his visage, as he looked from one to another of his sleeping comrades, and at last, with a bland smile, he broke forth into the following soliloquy:—
"Wot a goose, wot a grampus you've bin, John Bumpus: firstly, for goin' to sea; secondly, for remainin' at sea; thirdly, for not forsakin' the sea; fourthly, for bein' worried about it at all, now that you've made up your mind to retire from the sea, and, fifthly—"
Here John Bumpus paused as if to meditate on the full depth and meaning of these polite remarks, or to invent some new and powerful expression wherewith to deliver his fifth head. His mental efforts seemed to fail, however, for instead of concluding the sentence, he hummed the following lines, which, we may suppose, were expressive of his feelings as well as his intentions:—
"So goodbye to the mighty ocean, And adoo to the rollin' sea, For it's nobody has no notion Wot a grief it has bin' to me."
"Ease off the sheets and square the topsail yards," was at that moment said, or rather murmured, by a bass voice so deep and rich, that, although scarcely raised above a whisper, it was distinctly heard over the whole deck.
John Bumpus raised his bulky form with a degree of lithe activity that proved him to be not less agile than athletic, and, with several others, sprang to obey the order. A few seconds later, the sails were swelled out by a light breeze, and the schooner moved through the water at a rate which seemed scarcely possible under the influence of so gentle a puff of air. Presently the breeze increased, the vessel cut through the blue water like a knife, leaving a long track of foam in her wake as she headed for the coral-island before referred to. The outer reef, or barrier of coral which guarded the island, was soon reached. The narrow opening in this natural bulwark was passed. The schooner stood across the belt of perfectly still water that lay between the reef and the shore, and entered a small bay, where the calm water reflected the strip of white sand, green palms, and tropical plants that skirted its margin, as well as the purple hills of the interior.
Here she swept round in a sudden, but graceful curve, until all her canvas fluttered in the breeze, and then dropt anchor in about six fathoms water.
BUMPUS IS FIERY AND PHILOSOPHICAL—MURDEROUS DESIGNS FRUSTRATED.
The captain of the schooner, whose deep voice had so suddenly terminated the meditations of John Bumpus, was one of those men who seem to have been formed for the special purpose of leading and commanding their fellows.
He was not only unusually tall and powerful—physical qualities which, in themselves, are by no means sufficient to command respect—but, as we have said, he possessed a deep full-toned bass voice in which there seemed to lie a species of fascination, for its softest tones riveted attention, and when it thundered forth commands in the fiercest storms it inspired confidence and a feeling of security in all who heard it. The countenance of the captain, however, was that which induced men to accord to him a position of superiority in whatever sphere of action he chanced to move. It was not so much a handsome as a manly and singularly grave face, in every line of which was written inflexible determination. His hair was short, black, and curly. A small moustache darkened his upper lip, but the rest of his face was closely shaven, so that his large chin and iron jaw were fully displayed. His eyes were of that indescribable blue colour which can exhibit the intensest passion, or the most melting tenderness.
He wore a sombre but somewhat picturesque costume—a dark-coloured flannel shirt and trousers, which latter were gathered in close round his lower limbs by a species of drab gaiter that appeared somewhat incongruous with the profession of the man. The only bit of bright colour about him was a scarlet belt round his waist, from the side of which depended a long knife in a brown leather sheath. A pair of light shoes and a small round cap, resembling what is styled in these days a pork-pie, completed his costume. He was about forty years of age.
Such was the commander, or captain, or skipper, of this suspicious-looking schooner—a man pre-eminently fitted for the accomplishment of much good or the perpetration of great evil.
As soon as the anchor touched the ground, the captain ordered a small boat to be lowered, and, leaping into it with two men, one of whom was our friend John Bumpus, rowed towards the shore.
"Have you brought your kit with you, John?" inquired the captain, as the little boat shot over the smooth waters of the bay.
"Wot's of it, sir," replied our rugged seaman, holding up a small bundle tied in a red cotton handkerchief. "I s'pose our cruise ashore won't be a long one."
"It will be long for you, my man, at least as far as the schooner is concerned, for I do not mean to take you aboard again."
"Not take me aboard agin!" exclaimed the sailor, with a look of surprise which quickly degenerated into an angry frown, and thereafter gradually relaxed into a broad grin as he continued—"why, capting, wot do you mean to do with me then, for I'm a heavy piece of goods, d'ye see, and can't be easily moved about without a small touch o' my own consent, you know."
Jo Bumpus, as he was fond of styling himself, said this with a serio-comic air of sarcasm, for he was an exception to the general rule of his fellows. He had little respect for, and no fear of, his commander. Indeed, to say truth, (for truth must be told, even though the character of our rugged friend should suffer,) Jo entertained a most profound belief in the immense advantage of muscular strength and vigour in general, and of his own prowess in particular. Although not quite so gigantic a man as his captain, he was nearly so, and, being a bold self-reliant fellow, he felt persuaded in his own mind that he could thrash him, if need were. In fact, Jo was convinced that there was no living creature under the sun, human or otherwise, that walked upon two legs, that he could not pommel to death with more or less ease by means of his fists alone. And in this conviction he was not far wrong. Yet it must not be supposed that Jo Bumpus was a boastful man or a bully. Far from it. He was so thoroughly persuaded of his invincibility, that he felt there was no occasion to prove it. He therefore followed the natural bent of his inclinations, which led him at all times to exhibit a mild, amiable, and gentle aspect—except, of course, when he was roused. As occasion for being roused was not wanting in the South Seas in those days, Jo's amiability was frequently put to the test. He sojourned, while there, in a condition of alternate calm and storm; but riotous joviality ran, like a rich vein, through all his chequered life, and lit up its most sombre phases like gleams of light on an April day.
"You entered my service with your own consent," replied the captain to Jo's last remark, "and you may leave it, with the same consent, whenever you choose; but you will please to remember that I did not engage you to serve on board the schooner. Back there you do not go either with or without your consent, my fine fellow, and if you are bent on going to sea on your own account—you've got a pair of good arms and legs—you can swim! Besides," continued the captain, dropping the tone of sarcasm in which this was said, and assuming a more careless and good-natured air, "you were singing something not long since, if I mistake not, about 'farewell to the rolling sea,' which leads me to think you will not object to a short cruise on shore for a change, especially on such a beautiful island as this is."
"I'm your man, capting," cried the impulsive seaman, at the same time giving his oar a pull that well-nigh spun the boat round. "And, to say wots the plain truth, d'ye see, I'm not sorry to ha done with your schooner, for, although she is as tight a little craft as any man could wish for to go to sea in, I can't say much for the crew,—saving your presence, Dick"—(he added, glancing over his shoulder at the surly-looking man who pulled the bow oar.) "Of all the rascally set I ever clapped eyes on, they seems to me the worst. If I didn't know you for a sandal-wood trader, I do believe I'd take ye for a pirate."
"Don't speak ill of your messmates behind their backs, Jo," said the captain with a slight frown. "No good and true man ever does that."
"No more I do," replied John Bumpus; while a deep red colour suffused his bronzed countenance. "No more I do; leastwise if they wos here I'd say it to their faces, for they're a set of as ill-tongued villains as I ever had the misfortune to—"
"Silence!" exclaimed the captain, suddenly, in a voice of thunder.
Few men would have ventured to disobey the command given by such a man, but John Bumpus was one of those few. He did indeed remain silent for two seconds, but it was the silence of astonishment.
"Capting," said he, seriously, "I don't mean no offence, but I'd have you to know that I engaged to work for you, not to hold my tongue at your bidding, d'ye see. There aint the man living as'll make Jo Bumpus shut up w'en he's got a mind to—"
The captain put an abrupt end to the remarks of his refractory seaman by starting up suddenly in fierce anger and seizing the tiller, apparently with the intent to fell him. He checked himself, however, as suddenly, and, breaking into a loud laugh, cried—"Come, Jo, you must admit that there is at least one living man who has made you 'shut up' before you had finished what you'd got to say."
John Bumpus, who had thrown up his left arm to ward off the anticipated blow, and dropped his oar in order to clench his right fist, quietly resumed his oar, and shook his head gravely for nearly a minute, after which he made the following observation:—
"Capting, I've seed, in my experience o' life, that there are some constitootions as don't agree with jokin'; an' yours is one on 'em. Now, if you'd take the advice of a plain man, you'd never try it on. You're a grave man by natur', and you're so bad at a joke that a feller can't quite tell w'en you're a-doin' of it. See, now, I do declare I wos as near drivin' you right over the stern o' your own boat as could be, only by good luck I seed the twinkle in your eye in time."
"Pull away, my lad," said the captain, in the softest tones of his deep voice, at the same time looking his reprover straight in the face.
There was something in the tone in which that simple command was given, and in the look by which it was accompanied; that effectually quelled John Bumpus in spite of himself. Violence had no effect on John, because in most cases he was able to meet it with superior violence, and in all cases he was willing to try. But to be put down in this mild way was perplexing. The words were familiar, the look straightforward and common enough. He could not understand it at all, and, being naturally of a philosophical turn of mind, he spent the next three minutes in a futile endeavour to analyse his own feelings. Before he had come to any satisfactory conclusion on the subject, the boat's keel grated on the white sand of the shore.
Now, while all that we have been describing in the last and present chapters was going on, a very different series of events was taking place on the coral-island, for there, under the pleasant shade of the cocoa-nut palms, a tall, fair, and handsome youth was walking lightly down the green slopes towards the shore in anticipation of the arrival of the schooner, and a naked dark-skinned savage was dogging his steps, winding like a hideous snake among the bushes, and apparently seeking an opportunity to launch the short spear he carried in his hand at his unsuspecting victim.
As the youth and the savage descended the mountain-side together, the former frequently paused when an opening in the rich foliage peculiar to these beautiful isles enabled him to obtain a clear view of the magnificent bay and its fringing coral reef, on which the swell of the great Pacific—so calm and undulating out beyond—fell in tremendous breakers, with a long, low, solemn roar like distant thunder. As yet no object broke the surface of the mirror-like bay within the reef.
Each time the youth paused the savage stopped also, and more than once he poised his deadly spear, while his glaring eyeballs shone amid the green foliage like those of a tiger. Yet upon each occasion he exhibited signs of hesitation, and finally lowered the weapon, and crouched into the underwood.
To any one ignorant of the actors in this scene, the indecision, of the savage would have appeared unaccountable; for there could be no doubt of his desire to slay the fair youth—still less doubt of his ability to dart his formidable spear with precision. Nevertheless, there was good reason for his hesitating, for young Henry Stuart was well known, alike by settlers and savages, as possessing the swiftest foot, the strongest arm, and the boldest heart in the island, and Keona was not celebrated for the possession of these qualities in any degree above the average of his fellows, although he did undoubtedly exceed them in revenge, hatred, and the like. On one occasion young Stuart had, while defending his mother's house against an attack of the savages, felled Keona with a well-directed blow of his fist. It was, doubtless, out of revenge for this that the latter now dogged the former through the lonely recesses of the mountain-pass by which he had crossed the island from the little settlement in which was his home, and gained the sequestered bay in which he expected to find the schooner. Up to this point, however, the savage had not summoned courage to make the attack, although, with the exception of a hunting-knife, his enemy was altogether unarmed, for he knew that in the event of missing his mark the young man's speed of foot would enable him to outstrip him, while his strength of frame would quickly terminate a single combat.
As the youth gained the more open land near the beach, the possibility of making a successful cast of the spear became more and more doubtful. Finally the savage shrunk into the bushes and abandoned the pursuit.
"Not here yet, Master Gascoyne," muttered Henry as he sat down on a rock to rest; for although the six miles of country he had crossed was a trifle, as regarded distance, to a lad of nineteen, the rugged mountain-path by which he had come would have tried the muscles of a Red Indian, and the nerve of a goat. "You were wont to keep to time better in days gone by. Truly it seems to me a strange thing that I should thus be made a sort of walking post between my mother's house and this bay, all for the benefit of a man who seems to me no better than he should be, and whom I don't like, and yet whom I do like in some unaccountable fashion that I don't understand."
Whatever the youth's thoughts were after giving vent to the foregoing soliloquy, he kept them to himself. They did not at first appear to be of an agreeable nature, for he frowned once or twice, and struck his thigh with his clenched hand, but gradually a pleasant expression lit up his manly face as he gazed out upon the sleeping sea, and watched the gorgeous clouds that soon began to rise and cluster round the sun.
After an hour or so spent in wandering on the beach picking up shells, and gazing wistfully out to sea, Henry Stuart appeared to grow tired of waiting, for he laid himself down on the shore, turned his back on the ocean, pillowed his head on a tuft of grass, and deliberately went to sleep.
Now was the time for the savage to wreak his vengeance on his enemy, but, fortunately, that villain, despite his subtlety and cunning, had not conceived the possibility of the youth indulging in such an unnatural recreation as a nap in the forenoon. He had, therefore, retired to his native jungle, and during the hour in which Henry was buried in repose, and in which he might have accomplished his end without danger or uncertainty, he was seated in a dark cave moodily resolving in his mind future plans of villany, and indulging the hope that on the youth's returning homewards he would be more successful in finding a favourable opportunity to take his life.
During this same hour it was that our low-hulled little schooner hove in sight on the horizon, ran swiftly down before the breeze, cast anchor in the bay, and sent her boat ashore, as we have seen, with the captain, the surly man called Dick, and our friend John Bumpus.
It happened that, just as the boat ran under the shelter of a rocky point and touched the strand, Keona left his cave for the purpose of observing what young Stuart was about. He knew that he could not have retraced his homeward way without passing within sight of his place of concealment.
A glance of surprise crossed his dark visage as he crept to the edge of the underwood and saw the schooner at anchor in the bay. This was succeeded by a fiendish grin of exultation as his eye fell on the slumbering form of the youth. He instantly took advantage of the opportunity; and so deeply was he engrossed with his murderous intention, that he did not observe the captain of the schooner as he turned a projecting rock, and suddenly appeared upon the scene. The captain, however, saw the savage, and instantly drew back, signing, at the same time, to his two men to keep under cover.
A second glance shewed him the sleeping form of Henry, and, almost before he had time to suspect that foul play was going on, he saw the savage glide from the bushes to the side of the sleeper, raise his spear, and poise it for one moment, as if to make sure of sending it straight to the youth's heart.
There was not a moment to lose. The captain carried a short carbine in his hand, with which he took aim at the savage—going down on one knee to make a surer shot, for the carbine of those days was not to be depended on at a distance much beyond a hundred yards; and as the actors in this scene were separated by even more than that distance, there was a considerable chance of missing the savage and hitting the young man.
This, however, was not a moment to calculate chances. The captain pulled the trigger, and the crash of the shot was followed by a howl from the savage, as his uplifted arm dropt to his side, and the spear fell across the face of the sleeper. Henry instantly awoke, and sprang up with the agility of a panther. Before he could observe what had occurred, Keona leapt into the bushes and disappeared. Henry at once bounded after him; and the captain, giving vent to a lusty cheer, rushed across the beach, and sprang into the forest, closely followed by surly Dick and John Bumpus, whose united cheers of excitement and shouts of defiance awoke the echoes of the place with clamorous discords.
A ROUGH WALK ENLIVENED BY RAMBLING TALK—BUMPUS IS "AGREEABLE."
It is said, in the proverbial philosophy of nautical men, that "a stern chase is a long one." The present instance was an exception to the general rule. Keona was wounded. Young Stuart was fleet as the antelope, and strong as a young lion. In these circumstances it is not surprising that, after a run of less than a quarter of a mile, he succeeded in laying his hands on the neck of the savage and hurling him to the ground, where he lay panting and helpless, looking up in the face of his conqueror with an expression of hopeless despair—for savages and wicked men generally are wont to judge of others by themselves, and to expect to receive such treatment from their enemies as they themselves would in similar circumstances accord.
The fear of instant death was before his eyes, and the teeth of Keona chattered in his head, while his face grew more hideous than ever, by reason of its becoming livid.
His fears were groundless. Henry Stuart was not a savage. He was humane by nature; and, in addition to this, he had been trained under the influence of that Book which teaches us that the most philosophical, because the most effective, method of procedure in this world, is to "overcome evil with good."
"So, you scoundrel," said Henry, placing his knee on Keona's chest, and compressing his throat with his left hand, while, with his right, he drew forth a long glittering knife, and raised it in the air—"So you are not satisfied with what I gave you the last time we met, but you must needs take the trouble to cross my path a second time, and get a taste of cold steel, must you?"
Although Keona could speak no English, he understood it sufficiently to appreciate the drift of the youth's words, even though he had failed to comprehend the meaning of the angry frown and the glittering knife. But, however much he might have wished to reply to the question, Henry took care to render the attempt impossible, by compressing his windpipe until he became blue in the face, and then black. At the same time, he let the sharp point of his knife touch the skin just over the region of the heart. Having thus convinced his vanquished foe that death was at the door, he suddenly relaxed his iron gripe; arose, sheathed his knife, and bade the savage get up.
The miserable creature did so, with some difficulty, just as the captain and his men arrived on the scene.
"Well met, Henry," cried the former, extending his hand to the youth, "had I been a moment later, my lads I fear that your life's blood would have been on the sea shore."
"Then it was you who fired the shot, Captain Gascoyne? This is the second time I have to thank you for saving my life," said the young man, returning the grasp of the captain's hand.
"Truly, it is but a small matter to have to thank me for. Doubtless, if my stout man, John Bumpus, had carried the carbine, he would have done you as good service. And methinks, Henry, that you would have preferred to owe your life to either of my men, rather than to me, if I may judge by your looks."
"You should not judge by looks, captain," replied the youth quickly—"especially the looks of a man who has just had a hand to hand tussle with a savage. But, to tell the plain truth, Captain Gascoyne, I would indeed rather have had to thank your worthy man, John Bumpus, than yourself for coming to my aid, for although I owe you no grudge, and do not count you an enemy, I had rather see your back than your face—and you know the reason why."
"You give me credit, boy, for more knowledge than I possess," replied Gascoyne, while an angry frown gathered for a moment on his brow; but passed away almost as quickly as it came; "I know not the cause of your unreasonable dislike to one who has never done you an injury."
"Never done me an injury!" cried Henry, starting and turning with a look of passion on his companion; then, checking himself by a strong effort, he added in a milder tone—"But a truce to such talk, and I ask your forgiveness for my sharp words just after your rendering me such good service in the hour of need. You and I differ in our notions on one or two points—that is all; there is no need for quarrelling. See, here is a note from my mother, who sent me to the bay to meet you."
During this colloquy, Dick and Bumpus had mounted guard over the wounded savage, just out of ear-shot of their captain. Neither of the sailors ventured to hold their prisoner, because they deemed it an unmanly advantage to take of one who was so completely (as they imagined) in their power. They kept a watchful eye on him, however; and while they affected an easy indifference of attitude, held themselves in readiness to pounce upon him if he should attempt to escape. But nothing seemed farther from the mind of Keona than such an attempt. He appeared to be thoroughly exhausted by his recent struggle and loss of blood, and his body was bent as if he were about to sink down to the ground. There was, however, a peculiar glance in his dark eyes that induced John Bumpus to be more on his guard than appearances seemed to warrant.
While Gascoyne was reading the letter to which we have referred, Keona suddenly placed his left leg behind surly Dick, and, with his unwounded fist, hit that morose individual such a tremendous back-handed blow on the nose, that he instantly measured his length on the ground. John Bumpus made a sudden plunge at the savage on seeing this, but the latter ducked his head, passed like an eel under the very arms of the sailor, and went off into the forest like a deer.
"Hold!" shouted Captain Gascoyne, as John turned in a state of mingled amazement and anger to pursue. "Hold on, Bumpus, let the miserable rascal go."
John stopped, looked over his shoulder, hesitated, and finally came back with a rolling air of nautical indifference, and his hands thrust into his breeches pockets.
"You know best, capting," said he, "but I think it a pity to let sich a dirty varmint go clear off, to dodge about in the bushes, and mayhap treat us to a pisoned arrow, or a spear-thrust on the sly. Howsomedever, it aint no consarn wotever to Jo Bumpus. How's your beak, Dick, my boy?"
"None the better for your askin'," replied the surly mariner, who was tenderly stroking the injured member of his face with the fingers of both hands.
"Come, Dick, it is none the worse of being inquired after," said Henry, laughing. "But 'tis as well to let the fellow go. He knows best how to cure his wound, by the application of a few simples, and by thus making off, has relieved us of the trouble and responsibility of trying our hands at civilised doctoring. Besides, John Bumpus, (if that's your name,—though I do think your father might have found you a better,) your long legs would never have brought you within a mile of the savage."
"Young man," retorted Jo, gravely, "I'd have you to know that the family of the Bumpuses is an old and a honourable one. They comed over with the Conkerer to Ireland, where they picked up a deal o' their good manners, after which they settled at last on their own estates in Yorkshire. Though they have comed down in the world, and the last of the Bumpuses—that's me—is takin' a pleasure trip round the world before the mast, I won't stand by and hear my name made game of, d'ye see; and I'd have ye to know, farther, my buck, that the Bumpuses has a pecooliar gift for fightin', and although you are a strappin' young feller, you'd better not cause me for to prove that you're conkerable."
Having delivered himself of this oration, the last of the Bumpuses frowned portentously on the youth who had dared to risk his anger, and turning with a bland smile to surly Dick, asked him "if his beak was any better now."
"There seems to be bad news in the letter, I think," observed Henry, as Captain Gascoyne perused the epistle with evident signs of displeasure.
"Bad enough in these times of war, boy," replied the other, folding the note and placing it in a pouch inside the breast of his flannel shirt. "It seems that that pestiferous British frigate the Talisman, lies at anchor in the bay, on the other side of the island."
"Nothing in that to cause uneasiness to an honest trader," said Henry, leading the way up the steep path by which he had descended from the mountain region of the interior.
"That speech only shews your ignorance of the usages of ships of war. Know you not that the nature of the trade in which I am engaged requires me to be strong-handed, and that the opinion of a commander in the British navy as to how many hands are sufficient for the navigation of a trading schooner does not accord with mine?—a difference of opinion which may possibly result in his relieving me of a few of my best men when I can ill afford to spare them. And, by the way," said Gascoyne, pausing as they gained the brow of an eminence that commanded a view of the rich woodland on one side and the sea on the other, "I had better take precautions against such a mischance. Here, Dick," (taking the man aside and whispering to him,) "go back to the schooner, my lad, and tell the mate to send ten of the best hands ashore with provisions and arms. Let them squat where they choose on land, only let them see to it that they keep well out of sight and hearing until I want them. And now, Master Henry, lead the way; John Bumpus and I will follow at your heel like a couple of faithful dogs."
The scene through which young Henry Stuart now led his seafaring companions was of that rich, varied, and beautiful character which is strikingly characteristic of those islands of the Pacific which owe their origin to volcanic agency. Unlike the low coral islets, this island presented every variety of the boldest mountain scenery, and yet, like them, it displayed all the gorgeous beauty of a rich tropical vegetation. In some places the ground had been cracked and riven into great fissures and uncouth caverns of the wildest description, by volcanoes apparently long since extinct. In others the landscape presented the soft beauty of undulating grove-like scenery, in which, amid a profusion of bright green herbage, there rose conspicuous the tall stems and waving plumes of the cocoa-nut palm; the superb and umbrageous ko-a, with its laurel-green leaves and sweet blossoms; the kukui or candle-nut tree, the fragrant sandal-wood, and a variety of other trees and shrubs for which there are no English names.
Hundreds of green paroquets with blue heads and red breasts, turtle-doves, wood-pigeons, and other birds, enlivened the groves with sound, if not with melody, and the various lakelets and pools were alive with wild ducks and water-hens.
The route by which the party travelled, led them first across a country of varied and beautiful aspect; then it conducted them into wild mountain fastnesses, among which they clambered, at times with considerable difficulty. Ere long they passed into a dreary region where the ancient fires that upheaved the island from the deep seemed to have scorched the land into a condition of perpetual desolation. Blackened and bare lava rocks, steep volcanic ridges and gorges, irregular truncated coves, deep-mouthed caves and fissures, overhanging arches, natural bridges, great tunnels and ravines, surrounded them on every side, and so concealed the softer features of the country that it was scarcely possible to believe in the reality of the verdant region out of which they had just passed. In another hour this chaotic scenery was left behind; the highest ridge of the mountains was crossed, and the travellers began to descend the green slopes on the other side of the island. These slopes terminated in a beach of white sand, while beyond lay the calm waters of the enclosed lagoon, the coral reef with its breakers, and the mighty sea.
"'Tis a pretty spot?" said Henry, interrogatively, as the party halted on the edge of a precipice, whence they obtained an uninterrupted view of the whole of that side of the island.
"Ay, pretty enough," replied Gascoyne in a somewhat sad tone of voice; "I had hoped to have led a quiet life here once,—but that was not to be. How say you, Bumpus; could you make up your mind to cast anchor here for a year or so?"
"Wot's that you say, capting?" inquired honest John, who was evidently lost in admiration of the magnificent scene that lay spread out before him.
"I ask if you have no objection to come to an anchor here for a time," repeated the captain.
"Objection! I'll tell ye wot it is, capting, I never seed sich a place afore in all my born days. Why it's a slice out o' paradise. I do believe if Adam and Eve wos here they'd think they'd got back again into Eden. It's more beautifuller than the blue ocean, by a long chalk, an' if you wants a feller that's handy at a'most anything after a fashion—a jack of all trades and master of none (except seamanship, which aint o' no use here)—Jo Bumpus is your man!"
"I'm glad to hear you say that, Jo," said Henry, laughing, "for we are greatly in need of white men of your stamp in these times, when the savages are so fierce against each other that they are like to eat us up altogether, merely by way of keeping their hands in practice."
"White men of my stamp!" remarked Bumpus, surveying complacently his deeply-bronzed hands, which were only a shade darker than his visage; "well, I would like to know what ye call black if I'm a white man."
"Blood, and not skin, is what stamps the colour of the man, Jo. If it were agreeable to Captain Gascoyne to let you off your engagement to him, I think I could make it worth your while to engage with me, and would find you plenty of work of all kinds, including a little of that same fighting for which the Bumpuses are said to be so famous."
"Gentlemen," said Jo, gravely, "I'm agreeable to become a good and chattel for this occasion only, as the playbills say, and hold myself up to the highest bidder."
"Nay, you are sold to me, Bumpus," said Gascoyne, "and must do as I bid you."
"Wery good, then bid away as fast as you like."
"Come, captain, don't be hard," said Henry, "what will you take for him?"
"I cannot afford to sell him at any price?" replied the other, "for I have brought him here expressly as a gift to a certain Mary Stuart, queen of women, if not of Scotland—a widow who dwells in Sandy Cove."
"What, my mother?" interrupted Henry, while a shade of displeasure crossed his countenance at what he deemed the insolent familiarity with which Gascoyne mentioned her name.
"The same. On my last visit I promised to get her a man-servant who could do her some service in keeping off the savages when they take a fancy to trouble the settlement; and if Bumpus is willing to try his luck on shore, I promise him he'll find her a good mistress, and her house pleasant quarters."
"So," exclaimed the stout seaman, stopping short in his rolling walk, and gazing earnestly into his captain's face, "I'm to be sold to a woman?"
"With your own consent entirely, Master Bumpus," said Gascoyne with a smile.
"Come, Jo," cried Henry, gaily, "I see you like the prospect, and feel assured that you and I shall be good friends. Give us your flipper, my boy!"
John Bumpus allowed the youth to seize and shake a "flipper," which would have done credit to a walrus, both in regard to shape and size. After a short pause he said, "Whether you and me shall be good friends, young man, depends entirely on the respect which you shew to the family of the Bumpuses—said family havin' comed over to Ireland with the Conkerer in the year, ah! I misremember the year, but that don't matter; bein' a subject of no consarn wotiver, 'xcept to schoolboys who'll get their licks if they can't tell, and sarve 'em right too. But if you're willin' I'm agreeable, and there's an end o' the whole affair."
So saying, John Bumpus suffered a bland smile to light up his ruddy countenance, and resumed his march in the "wake," as he expressed it, of his companions.
Half an hour later they arrived at Sandy Cove, a small native settlement and mission station, and were soon seated at the hospitable board of Widow Stuart.
THE MISSIONARY—SUSPICIONS, SURPRISES, AND SURMISES.
Sandy Cove was a small settlement inhabited partly by native converts to Christianity, and partly by a few European traders, who, having found that the place was in the usual track of South Sea whalers, and frequently visited by that class of vessels as well as by other ships, had established several stores or trading houses, and had taken up their permanent abode there.
The island was one of those the natives of which were early induced to agree to the introduction of the gospel. At the time of which we write, it was in that transition state which renders the work of the missionary one of anxiety, toil, and extreme danger, as well as one of love.
But the Reverend Frederick Mason was a man eminently fitted to fill the post which he had selected as his sphere of labour. Bold and manly in the extreme, he was more like a soldier in outward aspect than a missionary. Yet the gentleness of the lamb dwelt in his breast and beamed in his eye; and to a naturally indomitable and enthusiastic disposition was added burning zeal in the cause of his beloved Master.
Six years previous to the opening of our tale, he had come to Sandy Cove with his wife and child, the latter a girl of six years of age at that time. In one year death bereaved the missionary of his wife, and, about the same time, war broke out in the island between the chiefs who clung to the idolatrous rites and bloody practices peculiar to the inhabitants of the South Sea islands, and those chiefs who were inclined to favour Christianity. This war continued to rage more or less violently for several years, frequently slumbering, sometimes breaking out with sudden violence, like the fitful eruptions of the still unextinct volcanoes in those distant regions.
During all this period of bloodshed and alarms, the missionary stuck to his post. The obstinacy of hatred was being gradually overcome by the superior pertinacity of zeal in a good cause, and the invariable practice—so incomprehensible to the savage mind—of returning good for evil; the result was, that the Sabbath bell still sent its tinkling sound over the verdant slopes above Sandy Cove, and the hymn of praise still arose, morning and evening, from the little church, which, composed partly of wood, partly of coral rock, had been erected under the eye, and, to a large extent, by the hands of the missionary.
But false friends within the camp were more dangerous and troublesome to Mr Mason than avowed enemies without. Some of the European traders, especially, who settled on the island a few years after the missionary had made it habitable, were the worst foes he had to contend with.
In the same vessel that brought the missionary to the island, there came a widow, Mrs Stuart, with her son Henry, then a stout lad of thirteen. The widow was not, however, a member of the missionary's household. She came there to settle with her son, who soon built her a rudely constructed but sufficiently habitable hut, which, in after years, was enclosed, and greatly improved; so that it at last assumed the dimensions of a rambling picturesque cottage, whitewashed, brilliant, and neat in its setting of bright green.
The widow, although not an official assistant to the missionary, was nevertheless a most efficient one. She taught in his schools, being familiar with the native tongue; and, when the settlement grew in numbers, both of white and black, she became known as the good angel of the place—the one who was ever ready with sympathy for the sorrowful, and comfort for the dying. She was fair and fragile, and had been exceedingly beautiful; but care had stamped his mark deeply in her brow. Neither care nor time, however, could mar the noble outline of her fine features, or equal the love that beamed in her gentle eyes.
The widow was a great mystery to the gossips of Sandy Cove; for there are gossips even in the most distant isles of the sea! Some men (we refer, of course, to white men) thought that she must have been the wife of an admiral at least, and had fallen into distressed circumstances, and gone to these islands to hide her poverty. Others said she was a female Jesuit in disguise, sent there to counteract the preaching of the gospel by the missionary. A few even ventured to hint their opinion that she was an outlaw, "or something of that sort" and shrewdly suspected that Mr Mason knew more about her than he was pleased to tell. But no one, either by word or look, had ever ventured to express an opinion of any kind to herself, or in the hearing of her son; the latter, indeed, displayed such uncommon breadth of shoulders, and such unusual development of muscle, that it was seldom necessary for him— even in those savage regions and wild times—to display anything else, in order to make men respectful.
While our three friends were doing justice to the bacon and breadfruit set before them by Widow Stuart, the widow herself was endeavouring to repress some strong feeling, which caused her breast to heave more than once, and induced her to turn to some trifling piece of household duty to conceal her emotion. These symptoms were not lost upon her son, whose suspicions and anger had been aroused by the familiarity of Gascoyne. Making some excuse for leaving the room, towards the conclusion of the meal, he followed his mother to an outhouse, whither she had gone to fetch some fresh milk.
"Mother," said Henry, respectfully, yet with an unwonted touch of sternness in his voice; "there is some mystery connected with this man Gascoyne that I feel convinced, you can clear up—"
"Dear Henry," interrupted the widow, and her cheek grew pale as she spoke, "do not, I beseech you, press me on this subject. I cannot clear it up."
"Say you will not, mother," answered Henry, in a tone of disappointment.
"I would if I dared," continued the widow. "The time may come when I—"
"But why not now," urged the youth, hastily. "I am old enough, surely, to be trusted. During the four visits this man has paid to us, I have observed a degree of familiarity on his part which no man has a right to exhibit towards you; and which, did I not see that you permit it, no man would dare to shew. Why do you allow him to call you 'Mary?' No one else in the settlement does so."
"He is a very old friend," replied the widow, sadly. "I have known him from childhood. We were playmates long ago."
"Humph! that's some sort of reason, no doubt; but you don't appear to like him, and his presence always seems to give you pain. Why do you suffer yourself to be annoyed by him? Only say the word, mother, and I'll kick him out of the house, neck and crop—"
"Hush, boy; you are too violent."
"Too violent! Why, it would make a coward violent, to see his mother tormented as you are by this fellow, and not be allowed to put a stop to it. I suspect—"
"Henry," said the widow, again interrupting her exasperated son, "do you think your mother would do what is wrong?"
"Mother," exclaimed the youth, seizing her hand, and kissing her brow almost violently, "I would as soon think that the angels above would do wrong; but I firmly believe that you are suffering wrong to be done to you; and—just listen to the fellow, I do believe he's howling for more bacon at this moment!"
There could be no doubt whatever about the fact; for just then the deep tones of Gascoyne's voice rang through the cottage, as he reiterated the name of the widow, who hastened away, followed by her son. Henry scarcely took the trouble to conceal the frown that darkened his brow as he re-entered the apartment where his companions were seated.
"Why, Mary, your bacon surpasses anything I have tasted for the last six months; let's have another rasher, like a good woman. That mountain air sharpens the appetite amazingly; especially of men who are more accustomed to mount the rigging of a ship than the hills on shore. What say you, John Bumpus?"
John Bumpus could not at that moment say anything, in consequence of his mouth being so full of the bacon referred to, that there was no room for a single word to pass his lips. In the height of his good-humour, however, he did his best by signs to express his entire approval of the widow's provender, and even attempted to speak. In so doing, he choked himself, and continued in convulsions for the next five minutes, to the immense delight of the captain, who vowed he had never before seen such a blue face in the whole course of his life.
While this scene was enacting, and ere Jo Bumpus had effectually wiped away the tears from his eyes, and cleared the bacon out of his windpipe, the door opened, and the commander of H.M.S. Talisman entered.
Edmund Montague was a young man to hold such a responsible position in the navy; but he was a bold, vigorous little Englishman—a sort of gentlemanly and well-educated John Bull terrier; of frank address, agreeable manners, and an utterly reckless temperament, which was qualified and curbed, however, by good sense, and hard-earned experience.
"Good day to you, Mrs Stuart; I trust you will forgive my abrupt intrusion, but urgent business must be my excuse. I have called to have a little further conversation with your son, respecting that rascally pirate who has given me so much trouble. If he will have the goodness to take a short walk with me, I shall be much indebted."
"By all means," said Henry, rising and putting on his cap.
"Perhaps," said Gascoyne, as they were about to leave the room, "if the commander of the Talisman would condescend to take a little information from a stranger, he might learn something to the purpose regarding the pirate Durward; for he it is, I presume, of whom you are in search."
"I shall be happy to gain information from any source," replied Montague, eyeing the captain narrowly. "Are you a resident in this island?"
"No, I am not; my home is on the sea, and has been since I was a lad."
"Ah! you have fallen in with this pirate then on your native ocean, I fancy, and have disagreeable cause to remember him, perchance," said Montague, smiling. "Has he given you much trouble?"
"Ay, that he has," replied Gascoyne, with a sudden scowl of ferocity. "No one in these seas has received so much annoyance from him as I have. Any one who could rid them of his presence would do good service to the cause of humanity. But," he added, while a grim smile overspread his handsome face, "it is said that few vessels can cope with his schooner in speed, and I can answer for it that he is a bold man, fond of fighting, with plenty of reckless cut-throats to back him, and more likely to give chase to a sloop-of-war than to shew her his heels. I trust you are well manned and armed, Captain Montague, for this Durward is a desperate fellow, I assure you."
The young commander's countenance flushed as he replied, "Your anxiety on my account, sir, is quite uncalled for. Had I nothing but my own longboat wherewith to attack this pirate, it would be my duty to do so. I had scarcely expected to find unmanly fears exhibited in one so stalwart in appearance as you are. Perhaps it may relieve you to know that I am both well manned and armed. It is not usual for a British man-of-war to cruise in distant seas in a less suitable condition to protect her flag. And yet, methinks, one who has spent so many years of his life on salt water might know the difference between a frigate and a sloop-of-war."
"Be not so hasty, young man," answered Gascoyne, gravely; "you are not on your own quarter-deck just now. There ought to be civility between strangers. I may, indeed, be very ignorant of the cut and rig of British war vessels, seeing that I am but a plain trader in seas where ships of war are not often wont to unfurl their flags, but there can be no harm, and there was meant no offence, in warning you to be on your guard."
A tinge of sarcasm still lingered in Captain Montague's tone as he replied, "Well, I thank you for the caution. But to come to the point, what know you of this pirate—this Durward, as he calls himself; though I have no doubt he has sailed under so many aliases that he may have forgotten his real name."
"I know him to be a villain," replied Gascoyne.
"That much I know as well as you," said Montague.
"And yet it is said he takes fits of remorse at times, and would fain change his way of life if he could," continued Gascoyne.
"That I might guess," returned the other; "most wicked men have their seasons of remorse. Can you tell me nothing of him more definite than this, friend?"
"I can tell you that he is the very bane of my existence," said Gascoyne, the angry expression again flitting for a moment across his countenance. "He not only pursues and haunts me like my own shadow, but he gets me into scrapes by passing his schooner for mine when he is caught."
The young officer glanced in surprise at the speaker as he uttered these words.
"Indeed," said he, "that is a strange confusion of ideas. So then, the two schooners bear so strong a resemblance as to be easily mistaken for each other?"
"They are twins. They were built at the same time, from the same moulds, and were intended for the sandal-wood trade between these islands and Calcutta, Manilla, and Australia. One of them, the Avenger, was seized on her first voyage, by this Durward, then mate of the schooner, and has ever since scoured the South Seas as a pirate; the other, named the Foam, which I have the misfortune to command, still continues the traffic for which she was originally built."
"Ha!" exclaimed Montague, turning suddenly round with an inquiring gaze at the stalwart figure of the sandal-wood trader; "it is most fortunate that I have met with you, Mr Gascoyne. I doubt not that you can conduct me to this vessel of yours, so that I may know the pirate when I fall in with him. If the two vessels resemble each other so closely, a sight of the Foam will be of great service to me in my search after the Avenger."
"You are most welcome to a sight of my craft," replied Gascoyne. "The only difference between the two is, that the figurehead of the pirate is a griffin's head, painted scarlet, that of my schooner is a female, painted white. There is also a red streak round the sides of the pirate; the hull of the Foam is entirely black."
"Will you come on board my vessel, and accompany me in one of my boats to yours?" inquired Montague.
"That is impossible," replied Gascoyne; "I came here on urgent business which will not brook delay; but my schooner lies on the other side of the island; if you pull round, my mate will receive you. You will find him a most intelligent and hospitable man. He will conduct you over the vessel, and give you all the information you may desire. Meanwhile," added the captain of the Foam, rising and putting on his cap, "I must bid you adieu."
"Nay, but you have not yet told me when or where you last saw or heard of this remarkable pirate, who is so clever at representing other people, perhaps I should rather say misrepresenting them," said Montague, with a meaning smile.
"I saw him no longer ago than this morning," replied Gascoyne gravely. "He is now in these waters, with what intent I know not, unless from his unnatural delight in persecuting me, or, perhaps, because fate has led him into the very jaws of the lion."
"Humph! he will find that I bite before I roar, if he does get between my teeth," said the young officer.
"Surely you are mistaken, Gascoyne," interposed Henry Stuart, who, along with John Bumpus, had hitherto been silent listeners to the foregoing conversation. "Several of our people have been out fishing among the islands, and have neither seen nor heard of this redoubted pirate."
"That is possible enough, boy, but I have seen him, nevertheless, and I shall be much surprised if you do not see and hear more of him than you desire before many days are out. That villain does not sail the seas for pastime, you may depend on it."
As Gascoyne said this, the outer door of the house was burst violently open, and the loud voice of a boy was heard in the porch or short passage that intervened between it and the principal apartment of the cottage, shouting wildly—"Ho! hallo! hurrah! I say, Widow Stuart! Henry! here's a business—sich fun! only think, the pirate's turned up at last, and murdered half the niggers in—"
There was an abrupt stoppage both of the voice and the muscular action of this juvenile tornado as he threw open the door with a crash, and, instead of the widow or her son, met the gaze of so many strangers. The boy stood for a few seconds on the threshold, with his curly brown hair dishevelled, and his dark eyes staring in surprise, first at one, then at another of the party, until at length they alighted on John Bumpus. The mouth, which up to that moment had formed a round O of astonishment, relaxed into a broad grin, and, with sudden energy, exclaimed—
"What a grampus!"
Having uttered this complimentary remark, the urchin was about to retreat, when Henry made a sudden dart at him, and caught him by the collar.
"Where got you the news, Will Corrie?" said Henry, giving the boy a squeeze with his strong hand.
"Oh, please, be merciful, Henry, and I'll tell you all about it. But, pray, don't give me over to that grampus," cried the lad, pretending to whimper. "I got the news from a feller, that said he'd got it from a feller, that saw a feller, who said he'd heard a feller tell another feller, that he saw a black feller in the bush, somewhere or other 'tween this and the other end o' the island, with a shot hole in his right arm, running like a cogolampus, with ten pirates in full chase. Ah! oh! have mercy, Henry; really my constitution will break down if you—"
"Silence, you chatter-box, and give me a reasonable account of what you have heard or seen, if you can."
The volatile urchin, who might have been about thirteen years of age, became preternaturally grave all of a sudden, and, looking up earnestly in his questioner's face, said, "Really, Henry, you are becoming unreasonable in your old age, to ask me to give you a reasonable account of a thing, and at the same time to be silent!"
"I'll tell you what, Corrie, I'll throttle you if you don't speak," said Henry.
"Ah! you couldn't," pleaded Corrie in a tone of deep pathos.
"P'raps," observed John Bumpus, "p'raps if you hand over the young gen'l'm'n to the 'grampus,' he'll make him speak."
On hearing this, the boy set up a howl of affected despair, and suffered Henry to lead him unresistingly to within a few feet of Bumpus, but, just as he was within an inch of the huge fist of that nautical monster, he suddenly wrenched his collar out of his captor's grasp, darted to the door, turned round on the threshold, hit the side of his own nose a sounding slap with the forefinger of his right hand, uttered an inexpressively savage yell, vanished from the scene, and,—
"Like the baseless fabric of a vision, Left not a wreck behind."
Except the wreck of the milk-saucer of the household cat, which sagacious creature had wisely taken to flight at the first symptom of war.
The boy was instantly followed by Henry, but so light was his foot, that the fastest runner in the settlement had to penetrate the woods immediately behind his mother's house for a quarter of a mile before he succeeded in again laying hold of the refractory lad's collar.
"What do you mean, Corrie, by such conduct?" said his captor, shaking him vigorously. "I have half a mind to give you a wallopping."
"Never do anything by halves, Henry," said the boy mildly. "I never do. It's a bad habit; always go the whole length or none. Now that we are alone, I'll give you a reasonable account of what I know, if you'll remove your hand from my collar. You forget that I'm growing, and that, when I am big enough, the day of reckoning between us will surely come!"
"But why would you not give me the information I want in the house. The people you saw there are as much interested in it as I am."
"Oh! are they?" returned Corrie with a glance of peculiar meaning; "perhaps they are more interested than you are."
"Why, how do I know, and how do you know, that these fellows are not pirates in disguise?"
"Because," said Henry, "one of them is an old friend—that is, an acquaintance—at least a sort of intimate, who has been many and many a time at our house before, and my mother knows him well. I can't say I like him—that is to say, I don't exactly like some of his ways—though I don't dislike the man himself."
"A most unsatisfactory style of reply, Henry, for a man—ah, beg pardon, a boy—of your straightforward character. Which o' the three are you speaking of—the grampus?"
"No, the other big handsome-looking fellow."
"And you're sure you've known him long?" continued the boy, while an expression of perplexity flitted over his face.
"Quite sure; why?"
"Because I have seen you often enough, and your house and your mother, not to mention your cat and your pigs, and hens; but I've never seen him before to-day."
"That's because he usually comes at night, and seldom stays more than an hour or two."
"A most uncomfortable style of acquaintance," said Corrie, trying to look wise, which was an utterly futile effort, seeing that his countenance was fat and round, and rosy, and very much the reverse of philosophical. "But how do you know that the grampus is not the pirate?"
"Because he is one of Gascoyne's men."
"Oh! his name is Gascoyne, is it?—a most piratical name it is. However, since he is your friend, Henry, it's all right; what's tother's name?"
On hearing this, the boy clapped both hands to his sides, expanded his eyes and mouth, shewed his teeth, and finally gave vent to roars of uncontrollable laughter, swaying his body about the while as if in agony.
"Oh, clear!" he cried, after a time, "John Bumpus, ha! ha! ha! what a name!—John Bumpus, ha! ha! the grampus—why, it's magnificent, ha! ha!" and again the boy gave free vent to his merriment, while his companion looked on with a quiet grin of amusement.
Presently, Corrie became grave, and said, "But what of the third, the little chap, all over gold lace? P'r'aps he's the pirate. He looked bold enough a'most for anything."
"Why, you goose, that's the commander of his Britannic Majesty's frigate Talisman."
"Indeed? I hope his Britannic Majesty has many more like him."
"Plenty more like him. But come, boy; what have you heard of this pirate, and what do you mean about a wounded nigger?"
"I just mean this," answered the lad, suddenly becoming serious, "that when I was out on the mountain this morning, I thought I would cross the ridge, and when I did so, the first thing I saw was a schooner lying in the bay at the foot of the hill, where you and I have so often gone chasing pigs together; well, being curious to know what sort of a craft she was, I went down the hill, intendin' to go aboard; but before I'd got half way through the cocoanut grove, I heard a horrible yell of a savage; so, thinks I, here comes them blackguard pagans again, to attack the settlement; and before I could hide out of the way, a naked savage almost ran into my arms. He was sea-green in the face with fright, and blood was running over his right arm.
"The moment he saw me, instead of splitting me up with his knife and eating me alive, as these fellers are so fond of doin', he gave a start, and another great cry, and doubled on his track like a hare. His cry was answered by a shout from half a dozen sailors, who burst out of the thicket at that moment, and I saw they were in pursuit of him. Down I went at once behind a thick bush, and the whole lot o' the blind bats passed right on in full cry, within half an inch of my nose. And I never saw sich a set o' piratical-looking villains since I was born. I felt quite sure that yon schooner is the pirate that has been doing so much mischief hereabouts, so I came back as fast as my legs could carry me, to tell you what I had seen. There, you have got all that I know of the matter now."
"You are wrong, boy—the schooner you saw is not the pirate, it is the Foam. Strange, very strange!" muttered Henry.
"What's strange," inquired the lad.
"Not the appearance of the wounded nigger," answered the other; "I can explain all about him, but the sailors—that puzzles me."
Henry then related the morning's adventure to his young companion.
"But," continued he, after detailing all that the reader already knows, "I cannot comprehend how the pirates you speak of could have landed without their vessel being in sight; and that nothing is to be seen from the mountain tops except the Talisman on the one side of the island and the Foam on the other, I can vouch for. Boats might lie concealed among the rocks on the shore, no doubt. But no boats would venture to put ashore with hostile intentions, unless the ship to which they belonged were within sight. As for the crew of the Foam, they are ordinary seamen, and not likely to amuse themselves chasing wounded savages, even if they were allowed to go ashore, which I think is not likely, for Gascoyne knows well enough, that that side of the island is inhabited by the pagans, who would as soon kill and eat a man as they would a pig."
"Sooner,—the monsters," exclaimed the boy indignantly, for he had, on more than one occasion, been an eye-witness, of the horrible practice of cannibalism which prevails, even at the present day, among some of the South Sea islanders.
"There is mystery here," said Henry, starting up, "and the sooner we alarm the people of the settlement, the better. Come, Corrie, we shall return to the house and let the British officer hear what you have told me."
When the lad had finished relating his adventure to the party, in Widow Stuart's cottage, Gascoyne said quietly, "I would advise you, Captain Montague, to return to your ship and make your preparations for capturing this pirate, for that he is even now almost within range of your guns, I have not the slightest doubt. As to the men appearing piratical-looking fellows to this boy, I don't wonder at that; most men are wild enough when their blood is up. Some of my own men are as savage to look at as one would desire. But I gave strict orders this morning, that only a few were to go ashore, and these were to keep well out of sight of the settlement of the savages. Doubtless, they are all aboard by this time. If you decide upon anything like a hunt among the mountains, I can lend you a few hands."
"Thank you, I may perhaps require some of your hands," said Montague, with a dash of sarcasm in his tone; "meanwhile, since you will not favour me with your company on board, I shall bid you good afternoon."
He bowed stiffly, and, leaving the cottage, hastened on board his ship, where the shrill notes of the boatswain's whistle, and the deep hoarse tones of that officer's gruff voice, quickly announced to the people on shore that orders had been promptly given, and were in course of being as promptly obeyed.
During the hour that followed these events, the captain of the Foam was closeted with Widow Stuart and her son, and the youthful Corrie was engaged in laying the foundations of a never-to-die friendship with John Bumpus, or, as that eccentric youngster preferred to style him, Jo Grampus.
THE PASTOR'S HOUSEHOLD—PREPARATIONS FOR WAR.
When the conference in the widow's cottage closed, Henry Stuart and Gascoyne hastened into the woods together, and followed a narrow footpath which led towards the interior of the island. Arriving at a spot where this path branched into two, Henry took the one that ran round the outskirts of the settlement towards the residence of Mr Mason, while his companion pursued the other which struck into the recesses of the mountains.
"Come in," cried the missionary, as Henry knocked at the door of his study. "Ah, Henry, I'm glad to see you. You were in my thoughts this moment. I have come to a difficulty in my drawings of the spire of our new church, and I want your fertile imagination to devise some plan whereby we may overcome it. But of that I shall speak presently. I see from your looks that more important matters have brought you hither. Nothing wrong at the cottage, I trust?"
"No, nothing—that is to say, not exactly wrong, but things, I fear, are not altogether right in the settlement. I have had an unfortunate rencontre this morning with one of the savages, which is likely to lead to mischief, for blood was drawn, and I know the fellow to be revengeful. In addition to this, it is suspected that Durward, the pirate, is hovering among the islands, and meditates a descent on us. How much truth there may be in the report I cannot pretend to guess; but Gascoyne, the captain of the Foam, has been over at our cottage, and says he has seen the pirate, and that there is no saying what he may venture to attempt, for he is a bold fellow, and, as you know, cannot have a good-will to missionary settlements."
"I'm not so sure of that," said the pastor, in answer to the last remark. "It is well known that wherever a Christian settlement is founded in these islands, that place becomes a safe port for vessels of all sorts—pirates as well as others, if they sail under false colours and pretend to be honest traders;—while in all the other islands, it is equally well known, the only safety one can count on, in landing, is superior force. But I am grieved to hear of your affray with the native. I hope that life will not be sacrificed."
"No fear of that; the rascal got only a flesh wound."
Here the young man related his adventure of the morning, and finished by asking what the pastor advised should be done in the way of precaution.
"It seems to me," said Mr Mason, gravely, "that our chief difficulty will be to save ourselves from our friends—"
"Would friends harm us, father?" asked a sweet soft voice at the pastor's elbow. Next moment Alice Mason was seated on her father's knee, gazing up in his face with an expression of undisguised amazement.
Alice was a fair, delicate, gentle child. Twelve summers and winters had passed over her little head without a cloud to obscure the sunshine of her life save one—but that one was a terribly dark one, and its shadow lingered over her for many years. When Alice lost her mother, she lost the joy and delight of her existence; and although six years had passed since that awful day, and a fond Christian father had done his best to impress on her young mind that the beloved one was not lost for ever, but would one day be found sitting at the feet of Jesus in a bright and beautiful world, the poor child could not recover her former elasticity of spirits. Doubtless, her isolated position and the want of suitable companions, had something to do with the prolonged sadness of her little heart.
It is almost unnecessary to say that her love for her father was boundless. This was natural, but it did not seem by any means so natural that the delicate child should give the next place in her heart to a wild little boy, a black girl, and a ragged little dog! Yet so it was, and it would have been difficult for the closest observer to tell which of these three Alice liked best.
No one could so frequently draw forth the merry laugh that in former days had rung so sweetly over the hill-sides of the verdant isle, as our young friend Will Corrie. Nothing could delight the heart of the child so much as to witness the mad gambols, not to mention the mischievous deeds, of that ragged little piece of an old door-mat, which, in virtue of its being possessed of animal life, was named Toozle. And when Alice wished to talk quietly,—to pour out her heart, and sometimes her tears,—the bosom she sought on which to lay her head, next to her father's, was that of her youthful nursery-maid, a good, kind, and gentle, but an awfully stupid native girl named Kekupoopi.
This name was, of course, reduced in its fair proportions by little Alice, who, however, retained the latter part thereof in preference to the former, and styled her maid Poopy. Young Master Corrie, on the other hand, called her Kickup or Puppy, indifferently, according to the humour he chanced to be in when he met her, or to the word that rose most readily to his lips.
Mr Mason replied to the question put by Alice, at the beginning of this somewhat lengthy digression, "No, my lamb, friends would not willingly do us harm; but there are those who call themselves friends who do not deserve the name, who pretend to be such, but who are in reality secret enemies. But go, dearest, to your room; I am busy just now talking with Henry—he, at least, is a trusty friend. When I have done you shall come back to me."
Alice kissed her father, and, getting off his knee, went at once in search of her friend Poopy.
That dark-skinned and curly black-headed domestic was in the kitchen, seated on the bottom of an overturned iron pot, inside the dingy niche in which the domestic fire was wont to burn when anything of a culinary nature was going on. At the time when her mistress entered, nothing of the kind was in progress, and the fire had subsided to extinction.
The girl, who might have been any age between twelve and sixteen—nearer the latter, perhaps, than the former—was gazing with expressionless eyes straight before her, and thinking, evidently, of nothing. She was clothed in a white tunic, from which her black legs, arms, neck, and head protruded—forming a startling contrast therewith.
"Oh! Poopy, what a bad girl you are!" cried Alice, laughing, as she observed where her maid was seated.
Poopy's visage at once beamed with a look of good humour, a wide gash suddenly appeared somewhere near her chin, displaying a double row of brilliant teeth surrounded by red gums; at the same time the whites of her eyes disappeared, because, being very plump, it was a physical impossibility that she should laugh and keep them uncovered.
"Hee! hee!" exclaimed Poopy.
We are really sorry to give the reader a false impression, as we feel that we have done, of our friend Kekupoopi, but a regard for truth compels us to shew the worst of her character first. She was not demonstrative; and the few words and signs by which she endeavoured to communicate the state of her feelings to the outward world were not easily interpreted except by those who knew her well. There is no doubt whatever that Poopy was—we scarcely like to use the expression, but we know of no other more appropriate—a donkey! We hasten to guard ourselves from misconstruction here. That word, if used in an ill-natured and passionate manner, is a bad one, and by no means to be countenanced; but, as surgeons may cut off legs at times, without thereby sanctioning the indiscriminate practice of amputation in a miscellaneous sort of way as a pastime, to this otherwise objectionable word may, we think, be used to bring out a certain trait of character in full force. Holding this opinion, and begging the reader to observe that we make the statement gravely and in an entirely philosophical way, we repeat that Poopy was—figuratively speaking—a donkey!
Yet she was an amiable, affectionate: good girl for all that, with an amount of love in her heart for her young mistress which words cannot convey, and which it is no wonder, therefore, that Poopy herself could not adequately express either by word or look.
"It's all very well for you to sit there and say 'Hee! hee!'" cried Alice, advancing to the fire-place; "but you must have made a dreadful mark on your clean white frock. Get up and turn round."
"Hee! hee!" exclaimed the girl, as she obeyed the mandate.
The "Oh! oh!! oh!!!" that burst from Alice, on observing the pattern of the pot neatly printed off on Poopy's garment, was so emphatic, that the girl became impressed with the fact that she had done something wrong, and twisted her head and neck in a most alarming manner in a series of vain attempts to behold the extent of the damage.
"What a figure!" exclaimed Alice, on recovering from the first shock.
"It vill vash," said Poopy, in a deprecatory tone.
"I hope it will," replied Alice, shaking her head doubtfully, for her experience in the laundry had not yet been so extensive as to enable her to pronounce at once on the eradicability of such a frightfully deep impression. While she was still shaking her head in dubiety on this point, and while Poopy was still making futile attempts to obtain a view of the spot, the door of the kitchen opened, and Master Corrie swaggered in with his hands thrust into the outer pockets of his jacket, his shirt collar thrown very much open, and his round straw hat placed very much on the back of his head; for, having seen some of the crew of the Talisman, he had been smitten with a strong desire to imitate a man-of-war's-man in aspect and gait.
At his heels came that scampering mass of ragged door-mat Toozle, who, feeling that a sensation of some kind or other was being got up for his amusement, joined heartily in the shout of delight that burst from the youthful Corrie when he beheld the extraordinary figure in the fireplace.
"Well, I say, Kickup," cried the youth, picking up his hat, which had fallen off in the convulsion, and drying his tears, "you're a sweet lookin' creetur, you are! Is this a new frock you've got to go to church with? Come, I rather like that pattern, but there's not quite enough of 'em. Suppose I lend a hand and print a few more all over you. There's plenty of pots and pans here to do it; and if Alice will bring down her white frock I'll give it a touch up too."
"How can you talk such nonsense, Corrie!" said Alice, laughing. "Down, Toozle; silence, sir. Go, my dear Poopy, and put on another frock, and make haste, for I've something to say to you."
Thus admonished, the girl ran to a small apartment that opened off the kitchen, and speedily reappeared in another tunic. Meanwhile, Corrie had seated himself on the floor, with Toozle between his knees and Alice on a stool at his side. Poopy, in a fit of absence of mind, was about to resume her seat on the iron pot, when a simultaneous shriek, bark, and roar, recalled her scattered faculties, produced a "hee! hee!" varied with a faint "ho!" and induced her to sit down on the floor beside her mistress.
"Now, tell me, Poopy," said Alice, "did you ever hear of friends who were not really friends, but enemies?"
The girl stared with a vacant countenance at the bright intelligent face of the child, and shook her head slowly.
"Why don't you ask me?" inquired Corrie. "You might as well ask Toozle as that potato Kickup. Eh? Puppy, don't you confess that you are no better than a vegetable? Come, now, be honest."
"Hee! hee!" replied Poopy.
"Humph! I thought so. But that's an odd question of yours, Alice. What do you mean by it?"
"I mean that my papa thinks there are friends in the settlement who are enemies."
"Does he, though? Now, that's mysterious," said the boy, becoming suddenly grave. "That requires to be looked to. Come, Alice, tell me all the particulars. Don't omit anything—our lives may depend on it."
The deeply serious manner in which Corrie said this, so impressed and solemnised the child, that she related, word for word, the brief conversation she had had with her father, and all that she had heard of the previous converse between him and Henry.
When she had concluded, Master Corrie threw a still more grave and profoundly philosophical expression into his chubby face, and asked, in a hollow tone of voice, "Your father didn't say anything against the Grampus, did he?"
"The what?" inquired Alice.
"The Grampus—the man, at least, whom I call the Grampus, and who calls hisself Jo Bumpus."
"I did not hear such names mentioned, but Henry spoke of a wounded nigger."
"Ay, they're all a set of false rascals together," said Corrie.
"Niggers ob dis here settlement is good mans, ebery von," said Poopy, promptly.
"Hallo! Kickup, wot's wrong? I never heard ye say so much at one time since I came to this place."
"Niggers is good peepils," reiterated the girl.
"So they are, Puppy, and you're the best of 'em; but I was speakin' of the fellers on the other side of the island, d'ye see?"
"Hee! hee!" ejaculated the girl.
"Well, but what makes you so anxious?" said Alice, looking earnestly into the boy's face.
Corrie laid his hand on her head and stroked her fair hair as he replied—
"This is a serious matter, Alice; I must go at once and see your father about it."
He rose with an air of importance, as if about to leave the kitchen.
"Oh! but please don't go till you have told me what it is; I'm so frightened," said Alice; "do stay and tell me about it before you go to papa."
"Well, I don't mind if I do," said the boy, sitting down again. "You must know, then, that it's reported there are pirates on the island."
"Oh!" exclaimed Alice.
"D'ye know what pirates are, Puppy?"
"Hee! hee!" answered the girl.
"I do believe she don't know nothin'," said the boy, looking at her with an air of compassion "wot a sad thing it is to belong to a lower species of human natur! Well, I s'pose it can't be helped. A pirate, Kickup, is a sea-robber. D'ye understand?"
"Ay, I thought so. Well, Alice, I am told that there's been a lot o' them landed on the island and took to chasin' and killin' the niggers, and Henry was all but killed by one o' the niggers this very morning, an' was saved by a big feller that's a mystery to me, and by the Grampus, who is the best feller I ever met—a regular trump he is; and there's all sorts o' doubts, and fears, and rumours, and things of that sort, with a captain of the British navy, that you and I have read so much about, trying to find this pirate out, and suspectin' everybody he meets is him. I only hope he won't take it into his stupid head to mistake me for him—not so unlikely a thing after all." And the youthful Corrie shook his head with much gravity, as he surveyed his rotund little legs complacently.
"What are you laughing at?" he added, suddenly, on observing that a bright smile had overspread Alice's face.
"At the idea of you being taken for a pirate," said the child.
"Hee! hee! ho! ho!" remarked Poopy.
"Silence, you lump of black putty!" thundered the aspiring youth.
"Come, don't be cross to my maid," said Alice, quickly.
Corrie laughed, and was about to continue his discourse on the events and rumours of the day, when Mr Mason's voice was heard the other end of the house.
"That's me," cried the boy, promptly springing up and rushing out of the room.
"Here, my boy, I thought I heard your voice. I want you to go a message for me. Run down, like a good lad, to Ole Thorwald and tell him to come up here as soon as he conveniently can. There are matters to consult about which will not brook delay."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered Corrie, sailor fashion, as he touched his forelock and bounded from the room.
"Off on pressing business," cried the sanguine youth, as he dashed through the kitchen, frightening Alice, and throwing Toozle into convulsions of delight—"horribly important business that 'won't brook delay;' but what brook means is more than I can guess."
Before the sentence was finished, Corrie was far down the hill, leaping over every obstacle like a deer. On passing through a small field he observed a native bending down, as if picking weeds, with his back towards him. Going softly up behind, he hit the semi-naked savage a sounding slap, and exclaimed, as he passed on, "Hallo! Jackolu, important business, my boy—hurrah!"
The native to whom this rough salutation was given, was a tall stalwart young fellow who had for some years been one of the best behaved and most active members of Frederick Mason's dark-skinned congregation. He stood erect for some time, with a broad grin on his swarthy face, and a twinkle in his eye, as he gazed after the young hopeful, muttering to himself, "Ho! yes—bery wicked boy dat, bery; but hims capital chap for all dat."
A few minutes later, Master Corrie burst in upon the sturdy middle-aged merchant, named Ole Thorwald, a Norwegian who had resided much in England, and spoke the English language well, and who prided himself on being entitled to claim descent from the old Norwegian sea-kings. This man was uncle and protector to Corrie.
"Ho! uncle Ole; here's a business. Sich a to do—wounds, blood, and murder! or at least an attempt at it;—the whole settlement in arms, and the parson sends for you to take command!"