GOLD OUT OF CELEBES
BY CAPTAIN A. E. DINGLE
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY GEORGE W. GAGE
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1920
Copyright, 1920, BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
All rights reserved
Published April, 1920
Norwood Press Set up and electrotyped by J. S. Cushing Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
WAGGLES AND BUBBLES
GOLD OUT OF CELEBES
Perhaps it was Jack Barry's own fault that he had spent three weeks loafing about Batavia without a job. Fat jobs were to be had, if a fellow persevered and could grin at rebuffs; but when he discovered that shore jobs for sailors were usually secured through the Consulate, and that his own country's Consulate Service was limited, as service, to cocktails and financial reports to Washington, he decided to avoid that combination and stick to his own profession. He had been mate of the Gregg, when that ancient ark foundered off Kebatu, and also held a clean master's ticket; but somehow he found that masters and mates were a drug on the Batavian market just then; hence his three barren weeks of idleness.
"An American has no business with the sea these days," he reflected moodily. "Confound this stodgy port and its stodgy Dutchmen!"
Legs wide apart, hands thrust deep into his pockets, he puffed fiercely at his pipe and surveyed the scene before him. He stood on the gigantic quay overlooking the seething activity of the inner Tandjong Priok harbor, and beyond this stretched the two monster jetties and the outer port. Eyeing the trading craft that lined the quays, Barry frowned and cursed his luck afresh.
He did not notice a man coming up behind him, who now stood scrutinizing him admiringly from top to toe.
"Hullo, my noble American sailorman!" The voice at his back brought Barry around with a jerk. He glimpsed a figure which might have stepped direct from Bond Street or Fifth Avenue,—natty, trim, wide-shouldered. Under a soft panama hat a keen, shrewd face smiled so infectiously that the disgruntled seaman smiled back in spite of his grouch.
"Well, what of it?" he demanded. "Might as well be a wooden Indian in this one-hoss town."
The other advanced with extended hand. His eyes narrowed in appreciation of Barry's sturdy, powerful frame and clean-cut face.
"Spotted you right off the bat, hey? My name's Tom Little. Glad to know you," he greeted.
"Barry—Jack Barry," returned the sailor.
Their hands met, and in the grip each recognized in the other no mere wastrel of Eastern ports, but a man of energy, virility.
"Sailor from sailortown, I'll bet," smiled Little. "Hey? Splice th' mainbrace!—Heave-ho, me bullies!—all that stuff, hey? How about it?"
"You win," laughed Barry, amused at his new acquaintance's conversational powers. "But I'm a rat in a strange garret here. Nothing doing. Can't get a ship for love or lucre."
"I knew it," Little nodded. "Look as if you'd lost your last copper cash and wanted to join the Socialist Party. But tell me; is this straight? D' you really want a job?"
"Have another," parried Barry. "D' you need a skipper?"
"Who—me?" Little began to roll a smoke, chuckling happily. "I'm a typewriter salesman," he said, "or was, until last night. I quit the job." He watched Barry keenly while lighting his smoke, then suddenly asked: "Where d' you hail from, Barry?"
"Salem, where the sailors used to come from," growled Barry. He was disgusted again, sensing simply another waste of time in Little's manner. Little saw the change of expression, and puffed silently awhile.
"Look here," he remarked presently, "I've sold typewriters for two years, from the Ditch to Nagasaki, and from the land o' rubies clear to the land of apes, and I'm doggone sick of toting literary sausage grinders around. I see a chance to horn in on a prospect that's sure to pay exes and maybe pan out a pile, but I need a good man of your profession in with me. How about you?"
"I'd jump into anything clean," asserted Barry promptly. "But what's the golden hoodle?"
"A brigantine and sealed orders," grinned Little, with an air of mock mystery. "Are you a sure-enough skipper, though?"
Barry nodded, then turned. Along the wharves were junks, island schooners, cargo tramps, and riffraff of the Seven Seas, but only one brigantine. It was an uncommon rig in the port. The craft lay far down the quay, and even at that distance looked old and desolate.
"That?" he asked, pointing.
"Good eye," chuckled Little admiringly. "How d' ye guess?"
"She's the only brigantine in the port...."
"Oh, glory! Real story-book salt, hey? Show you a hunk o' wood, and you'll tell me the family history of the skipper of the hooker it came out of, hey? Barry, you're all to the mustard!"
Little clapped him on the shoulder, and Barry gazed into his snapping black eyes for a moment.
"Mr. Little," he said quietly, "if you're always as easy in your choice of men you're not the wise owl I thought you at first sight."
"Me? Good guesser, that's all," returned Little, unrebuked. "Think I'm an easy mark, hey? Muggins from Muggsville? Come again, Barry. Beg pardon, Cap'n Barry, I should say. Haul th' bowline! Jack up th' fo'c'sle yard! See, I'm also a tarry shellback way down deep."
Barry laughed outright. It was impossible to maintain a frown or a doubt in the salesman's breezy presence. "Just what is your proposition?" he asked at length.
"Sh! Clap a stopper on your jaw-tackle!" Again that air of mock mystery came into Little's face. "Say, d' you know old Cornelius Houten?"
"Heard of a trader by that tally. Don't know him."
"Same man," Little nodded. "Only one like him. Known him a long time. Sold him a parcel of machines for his Government. He's a queer old duck. Made me a proposition last night. Millions in it. Chucked up my job by cable right away. Sorry this morning, though. Like a dream. I wanted to hunt up a fellow who could put me wise on binnacles and charts and things like that. Get me?"
"As far as you've gone," chuckled Barry.
"Well, Houten likes my style. Thinks I can do this job as well as I sold typewriters. I like you, too. See the drift? Come to his office with me and give the thing the once over. If you say O.K., you come in on it, and we'll sign up right away. I told Houten I was going to find a man."
Barry eyed the other quizzically. Liking Tom Little at first sight, he liked him more now.
"You're putting a lot of faith in a stranger," he warned.
Little cut him short. "Cut out the cackle and talk hoss," was the retort. "I size up men first pop. My bet's down now on your blue eye. Let's get a rig. I don't know a darn thing about this part of the world except the drummers' hotels. But Houten takes a chance on me. And if I'm his blue-eyed boy, you're mine. I'm taking a chance without a qualm, Barry."
Little passed an arm through his companion's, and they turned towards the railroad station. As they picked out a sadoe from among the waiting vehicles, Barry strove desperately to recover a grip on himself. He had been all but swept off his feet by Little's cheery optimism and breezy confidence. Jack Barry was also accustomed to sizing up men quickly. Despite the typewriter salesman's slangy, easy-going way, he saw underneath a man shrewd, efficient, utterly dependable. And as the sadoe rattled at the heels of the tiny Timor pony along the wide avenue, past the dirt-choked canals of the old port, he fell into rosy, perhaps premature, dreams of the future. Little awakened him with rapid-fire speech.
"Selling typewriters out here is easy. Like getting rid of pink lemonade at a kid's party," chattered the salesman. "Was doing a wildfire business. Chucked the job clean, on Houten's face. Imagine how he struck me to make me do that." Perhaps thirty seconds of silence—a long silence for Little—then, "How'd you get stranded, Barry?"
Barry told of the foundering of the Gregg, and though the recital was in the plainest of sailorese terms, Little's eyes popped in amazement.
"Holy smoke! You've been shipwrecked? Floating around in an open boat? Didn't believe it was done, except in Perilous Polly Feature Fillum Bunk! Ph-e-ew!" and Little relapsed into a real, awed silence.
They passed into old Batavia, amid its swamps and silted canals. Further along lay Welterreden, the new city, with its magnificent avenues and residences; but the business in hand lay in the older section. Here, among clustering mangroves, huge rooted and malarial, Chinese and native kampongs huddled in the shadow of decaying ruins. Here was a deserted city, with jungle creeping over Dutch waterways and red-brick houses, whose quaint gables and leaded windows spoke of eighteenth-century Holland rather than of twentieth-century Java. One involuntarily looked for windmills. A few of the old houses were still occupied as offices, and at one of these, where a native kampong nestled and stank beneath the rank shrubbery to one side, the sadoe drew up.
"Houten's," announced Little, recovering speech. Bidding the sadoe driver wait, he led Barry inside the office.
A Javanese boy bowed them into a room where nothing was in evidence save a punkah, a giant porcelain stove, a huge desk and chair, and a monster man. Cornelius was fleshy to enormity. He was very like a mammoth but benevolent spider. Wealthy as he was fat, while many men had cursed him, many more had blessed him. His business interests were wide and complex, reached into many fields, and usually came to a good end. Also, to be the accredited agent of Cornelius Houten was in itself a recommendation as to probity and worth greatly to be desired. Rarely did his judgment err; the men who had failed to measure up to his estimate of them were extremely few.
He acknowledged Barry with a grunt to Little's introduction, and motioned his visitors to two chairs silently produced by the Javanese boy. He sat in ponderous silence for a space, his piggy eyes dwelling on Barry with steel-point steadiness, his great hands resting idly on the desk before him. Then he spoke,—in thick, heavy English.
"Good man. You will command my Barang, Captain Barry?"
"Not too swift, Mynheer," chimed in Little. "Run over the business again for Barry, hey? Give him a chance to kick."
Houten maintained his steady gaze. "You have master's papers, of course, Captain Barry?"
Barry produced his certificate and discharges and laid them on the desk. Houten glanced through them and pushed them back with a nod. Then his gaze switched to Little.
"You can tell him," he said, and Little leaped at the chance to talk again.
"This is it," the ex-salesman began eagerly. He watched Houten incessantly for hint or encouragement. "Houten made one of his rare miscues on a man, Barry. One time in a thousand. Englishman, name of Gordon. Manager of a trading post in Celebes. Gordon sends back small parcels of trade but sends a lot of gold dust to a fellow in Surabaya—old capital of Java, y' know.
"Evidently Gordon has located a gold-bearing river on the concession and is swiping the dust. Tells Mynheer a lot of lies to quiet him, Houten wants me to ferret out this Surabaya duck, get the hang o' things, then go out after Mister Gordon, chop-chop. You know—not the dust, but the principle of the thing, et cetera. Millions for justice but not a plugged Straits dollar for graft. Catch on?"
"Why not invoke the law? No lack of it here, I understand," put in Barry innocently. Houten's vast frame shook with a silent chuckle.
"Go on," he gurgled. "Captain Barry is no fool."
"Act two—curtain!" Little complied quickly. "Surabaya chap is called Leyden, half Dutch, half English. Trader of sorts, see? Well, Leyden is bound for Celebes right now; hunt up the source of supplies, y' know. Up the Sandang River, where the post is, there's a missionary outfit that Houten is interested in. One of the Mission lot is a girl, and Leyden has boasted openly he's going to make a hit with the little frock. Houten aims to empty Gordon out, euchre Leyden, and give the good Mission people an object lesson on bad men in general, with Leyden as the horrible example. Savvee? Sure you do."
Barry eyed Houten in some perplexity. Knowing little of the man, he was more than slightly suspicious of this tale.
"I gather your intention is to interfere between this girl and Leyden more than anything else," he remarked slowly. "Well, frankly, I'd like to know why. It doesn't sound any nicer than the usual man-and-woman affair out East. It's too altruistic."
Houten's steady eyes seemed to fire Little to further explanation.
"Not a bit, Barry," Little went on warmly. "This fellow Leyden isn't a clean sport, by a jugful. Puts on heaps of side; carries a swagger front. Put over some shady jobs in the island already, and Houten's sick of it. Don't imagine our friend here has any interest in this particular Mission lady beyond befriending her and her kind. He hasn't. I'll guarantee that.
"He wants to hand Leyden a swift kick, business and personal. Also save the little Mission toiler from contamination by personal contact with the bad man, or words to that effect. We take train to Surabaya—the Barang picks us up there—size up Leyden's outfit, and put a spoke in his wheel that'll give us a start of him.
"If we locate the gold river, we get half the loot, see? Forget the altruism of it—an old sea-dog has no business with a word like that, anyway. I know Houten, and I'll answer for his motives. How about it, Barry?"
Barry thought for a moment, scanning both of his companions keenly the while, then: "Suits me," he said quietly. "I suppose we descend upon Surabaya as a pair of pop-eyed tourists, eh?"
"Right, first shot!" cried Little jubilantly. "Then the Barang picks us up. Cap'n Barry takes command. And it's Yo-heave-ho! on the briny billows in a bouncing brigantine! Coming, ain't you?"
"Sure!" grinned Barry, and thrust his free brown fist into Houten's great paw. Little was pumping furiously at the other hand.
In mid-forenoon of the second day's train ride, Little and Barry were forced to cool their heels at Solo Junction while the train waited for the tardy Samarang connection.
The typewriter salesman was a keen man in his line of business, but he had never used his senses to much ulterior purpose while traveling about the East; he was much more concerned with a prospective customer's financial status than with the surroundings in which the customer lived.
Now while fuming over the delay, Little stepped out on the platform and abruptly awoke to the fact that sheer beauty was riot in Java, if one's eyes were but opened to it. Hedges of lantana were not new to him, they were common from end to end of the island; but not until now had he appreciated the warm magenta coloring of gorgeous poinsettias and bougainvillea, the glowing-hearted, waxy white flowers of frangipani; not until now did he realize the prodigality of Nature towards Java in the matter of weird and awesome fruits and vegetables.
He stood in wonder, gazing at the pendant fruit of a heavily laden sausage tree, for all the world like queerly colored, succulent sausages, garnished with brilliant green foliage; his wonder lasted until a coolie passed to windward of him munching on a great chunk of prickly durian, which fruit combines the flavor of ambrosia with the odor of a gasworks. He retreated incontinently, bursting in upon Barry who had remained in the train, and almost knocking over a lady who was hastily leaving. Apologizing confusedly, Little bore down on the sailor.
"Phe-e-ew!" he gasped. "You're one wise old fox, Barry. Seen all this stuff before, hey? Say, there's a coolie outside eating armor-plated limburger, ten years defunct! Enjoying it, too. And I've just seen a tree full o' hot-dogs! Honest, Barry—Hullo, old boy, why the blushes? Why all the figuring?"
Barry sat in the big soft seat of the first-class carriage, a scrap of paper on one knee, a pencil chewed to splinters between his teeth. His brow was puckered into deep lines above troubled eyes which stared absently at a Mesdag picture in blue and white tile set in the compartment wall. He smiled at his friend's exuberance and dropped pencil point to paper.
"How in thunder do you figure this confounded Dutch money, Little?" he asked. "What's the fare in real money? Fifty gulden sounds like conic sections to me."
"Why, fifty gulden is—But what for, son? Why the financial statement?"
"Want to start right, that's all. You've paid for everything so far, Little, and I'm busted clean. Keeping tally, that's all."
"Forget it," smiled Little. "I've got a note on Houten's bankers in Surabaya for the exes. Pitch that pencil out o' the window before it gives you indigestion. But there's something else," he accused, watching Barry closely. "Darned if I don't think you've started an affair! Who was the lady?"
Barry got up quickly, stepped to the window and drew Little after him. After a swift scrutiny, he pointed out a graceful figure in cool white and answered Little's query.
"See her? Yes, that woman just going into the crowd. Same one you nearly bowled over in the doorway. Came to me the minute you went out; greeted me as an old friend, though I never saw her in my life before. D' you know her?"
Little stared hard at the retreating figure, trying to glimpse her face. The woman turned, gazing up the track towards Samarang, and the vivid sunlight irradiated her face with startling clearness. It was a striking face, full of mature loveliness, yet holding something in the deep expressive eyes that hinted at more than a woman's share of hard contact with the world.
"No," Little said slowly, "never saw her, Barry. But I believe I'd like to meet her at that. Some queen, hey? What's she want?"
"Wanted a passage in my ship!" exploded Barry. "See here, Little, I thought this job was on the quiet. I haven't said a word to anybody," and he fixed an accusing eye on Little.
"Me too," retorted the ex-salesman, as warmly returning the other's quiz. "Maybe you're oversensitive, though. How much did she seem to know?"
"Can't tell," hesitated Barry. "Perhaps she startled me by simply talking ship. I suppose almost anybody can spot me for a sailor. But she seemed to be so darned certain that I was in command of a vessel leaving Surabaya, and she asked me for a passage, and be darned if I savvee why, since even Hawkeye himself couldn't tell where the ship is bound for, unless we blabbed it."
"What did you tell her?"
"That my ship was bound for Europe," grinned the sailor. "She came right back, too; said that's just where she wants to go. She was urging me to sell her a berth when you came in and saved me."
Little glanced out again then suddenly pulled Barry from the window.
"Come out and watch the crowd," he said. "Some of these people are worth watching. The Samarang train is due." With the announcement Little leaped from the train and impatiently awaited his companion.
"Easy to see the people worth watching," laughed Barry, joining him.
Little walked up the platform towards the knot of folks with whom the lady was last seen, and the sailor followed with an indulgent grin. Together they reached the locomotive of their train, and like a vision the strange lady emerged from nowhere and approached them, smiling brilliantly.
"How do you do, Mr. Little," she greeted, and Little's politeness was scarcely proof against his astonishment. He stared in amazement at her ready use of his name. And he was certain now that he had never set eyes on this radiant being before. The lady prattled on, with a note of reproof: "Captain Barry refuses to accommodate a lady in distress. Won't you persuade him to sell me a passage in his ship, Mr. Little?"
Little was sharp-witted. But even he was nonplussed to find their errand so obviously known in part. As for Barry, simple, straight sailor that he was, he was dumbfounded.
What the outcome might have been was left in doubt. The warning whistle of the incoming train jarred the warm air, and the crowd surged every way, creating a diversion that precluded reply. The train from the north drew in and disgorged its passengers, voluble or stolid, according to whether they were of the native subjects or the Dutch masters. Out of the scrambling chaos of chugging trains, first, second, and third-class passengers were directed or driven to their respective locations amid hoarse or shrill orders of guttural European or musical Javanese trainmen.
Until the last few passengers were mounting the train steps, Barry and Little lingered, watching the human kaleidoscope and awkwardly conscious that they made poor figures before the lady at their side. Then they were attracted by an altercation going on farther along the station platform, and when they turned again the mysterious lady had as mysteriously vanished.
"She's gone!" breathed Barry, with relief.
"Good egg!" echoed Little, then seized Barry's arm. "Come on, Barry, we must hustle too. Gosh! See that?"
A mild-mannered, soft-eyed Javanese porter had set down a heavy suitcase and was apparently trying to persuade its white owner to pay his small fee for carrying it. The white man, keen-faced, overbearing, immaculately dressed, cursed the porter in venomous Low Malay and picked up the suitcase himself. As he turned to board the train, leaving the fee unpaid, the porter trotted beside him with outstretched palm, asking civilly enough for his wage. The white man swung around, kicked him viciously, and sprang on the train, leaving his victim squirming in agony on the platform.
"Here, I'm going after that duck!" gritted Barry, buttoning his jacket and starting forward. "That's the sort of white man that makes me glad I'm sun-tanned brown!"
"Not here—not now," warned Little, seizing the sailor's sleeve. "We've got to hustle to keep our seats, son. Ain't that sort o' thing regular with white men in a black man's land? It is with these lordly Dutchmen, anyway."
"Regular? Huh! Not if I can stop it," snorted Barry. "Would you see a dog kicked like that? Not much you wouldn't. I don't like that white man."
"We'll sure agree not to like him, Barry, old scout; but for the love o' Mother Dooley don't start something that'll tie our hands this early in the game."
Little led his obstinate friend to his seat, and until their fellow travelers melted away in the crowd at the Surabaya station he kept a wary eye on him. Barry snorted like a pugilist stung hard on the nose when the white corrector of insistent coolies marched from the station as if he owned the town; and the ex-salesman was forced to use all his diplomacy to restrain Barry from an outbreak.
"Have a heart, Cap, have a heart," he pleaded, when Barry barely escaped collision with a speeding barouche while following with his eyes his unknown enemy. "We're a pair o' tourists, remember. You'll get all the scrapping you can handle when we get away from here. If you go after every white fellow you see slugging a coolie, we'll have no time to attend to our own business."
"You're boss of the job; I'm dumb," grunted Barry. "All the same, I'd pass up Houten's proposition for the pleasure of pushing that chap's jib three inches further inboard. Let's get something to drink. I'm on fire."
Little led the way to a quiet hotel whose veranda commanded a wide view of the harbor and the Island of Madura across the straits. He had stopped here many times in his capacity of salesman, had sold the landlord a typewriter, and was still a welcome guest in spite of it. Ordering two tall schooners of imported beer, the only kind drinkable even in that hotel, he took the proprietor aside and made some inquiries. Presently he sauntered back to Barry.
"Going up town, Jack," he announced. "Too late for the bank. I'll go to the banker's villa for our gulden. Unless the bottom drops out of the Barang, she'll be in before morning, and we can't lose any time.
"When you've lowered that bar'l o' beer into your hold—more nautical stuff, see?—you get busy too. Mynheer host tells me Leyden's schooner, the Padang, is hauled out for caulking. The job's done. They float her on this evening's tide. He says Leyden drops in about sundown whenever he's in town. He'll surely be here to-night, being busy about his ship.
"Now, old salt, that schooner can sail rings around any shovel-nosed old boat with those funny little crosspieces on her masts. Houten admitted that. We must hinder that schooner, long enough to beat her to the Sandang River. That's your job, sailor. But don't pull stuff raw enough to get us clapped into the calaboose. Report back here. I'll be back like a shot. Then we'll camp on Leyden's trail and size him up."
Barry set down his empty beer mug and stood up, glad of the chance of action. He hesitated, though, and said doubtfully:
"If she's hauled out still, it's easy to fix her. But I'd feel easier about it if I knew that Leyden is actually the dog you say he is. If it turned out that he's only a keen fellow who's got to windward of Houten by straight methods, I'd feel as if I'd knifed him in the dark by playing tricks on his schooner to get a start of him."
"Oh, splash!" ejaculated Little. He was hot and looked it. "I thought you were satisfied about that. Look here; go ahead, pull whatever stunt is up your sleeve. I give you my word that if you see Leyden and feel as you do about him then, we'll hold back our own vessel until he's under weigh, no matter what we lose by it. Does that soothe your blessed Quixotic scruples?"
"Good enough," agreed Barry heartily, throwing off the half-felt doubts that had obsessed him. "I shouldn't have said anything like that at all, after taking you up. That coolie business got me heated. I'll probably feel better with something to do."
They parted on the hotel steps, and Barry, after inquiring of the proprietor the whereabouts of the slipway where Leyden's schooner was, swung off in the given direction. Past wharves and warehouses he strode, throwing back his wide shoulders and inhaling great drafts of spicy ozone as he found himself once again among shipping, in the atmosphere that was meat and drink to him.
At the northern extremity of the water front the craft in port dwindled from steamers and deep-water square-riggers to "country" ships, schooners, junks, and other small fry; and among the forest of masts his experienced eye picked out two spars, straighter and more shipshape than the rest, which guided him unerringly to the Padang.
Blocked up on a tidewater slipway, every detail of the vessel was visible, even to the last fathom of oakum now being hammered into her port garboard seam. White painted and trim, she spelled speed and weatherliness in every line, and a note of admiration escaped Barry as he regarded her clean underbody from a safe distance. A trickle of water was already creeping up towards her stern; the rudder would be wet again within an hour.
From the vantage point of a huge pair of sheer-legs Barry reconnoitered. He saw the last muddy toiler crawl from beneath the keel and scramble ashore. It was getting rapidly dusk as the sun dipped, and a lone figure high up on deck went around placing lanterns in readiness for working the schooner off when the tide served. Besides the solitary watchman, not a soul was visible. Barry stepped out cautiously and hastened down to the floor of the slip.
One of Jack Barry's most cherished possessions was a weird Yankee contraption that cost him heavily in the shape of worn pockets. Its maker named it a knife; as a matter of fact, the knife part was worthless; but snugly and cunningly fitted into the stout buckhorn handle was a serviceable file, a hacksaw, and a marlinespike.
In the brief time before the slipway employees and the schooner's crew returned from their supper, Barry worked swiftly and silently. He ripped out fathom after fathom of fresh caulking in the garboards, making assurance doubly sure, by thrusting his knife-blade clear through the seam in a dozen places. The anchor, hanging at the cathead ready to let go when the schooner floated in the harbor, he loosely connected with one of the chain-plates by a length of small wire rope, so that, when let go, it would hang a few feet under water and the schooner must drift, possibly ashore, before another anchor could be cleared and put over.
In little over half an hour he climbed out of the slip again, dripping sweat, minus the skin of all his knuckles, and blistered as to palms and knees, but with a cheerful grin that spoke of a satisfied soul. He confidently depended upon the darkness, now absolute, and native unthoroughness, for his work to remain undetected until the sea came up and concealed it.
After a bath at the hotel he sought Little and reported his achievement.
"Good work!" chuckled his friend. Then Little whispered: "And who d 'ye suppose Leyden is, after all?"
"Search me," said Barry, his eyes on a group of men along the veranda. "Who?"
"Your coolie kicker of Solo!"
A flash of joy lighted Barry's bronzed face, to be shaded in a moment.
"That's the best news in months, Little. But Gosh! If I'd known, I could just as easily have ripped out another ten fathom of caulking!"
As he spoke, Barry leaned forward suddenly. The group of men along the veranda had drawn his attention by their noisy laughter and greetings, and now he saw his man of Solo appear in their midst. Leyden was flushed and in high good humor; that he was hail fellow well met was obvious. He flung himself into a long cane chair and plunged into a recital that induced a gale of merriment in his listeners. Barry's eyes glittered like points of flame and bored into Leyden's back as if to force notice.
"Go easy, Jack," warned Little, sensing trouble. "Don't start a fuss."
"Shut up!" growled Barry, holding his gaze. "I won't start anything. I'll make him start something though; then I'll sail into him like a rat up a pump!"
Leyden had finished his story, and the class of it was patent from the guffawed comments it excited. Another of the group capped it with another, grosser yet, and the party burst into an uproarious hilarity. Then a flabby-jowled, paunchy fellow urged in throaty gutturals:
"Come, Leyden, tell us about the new flame. It's too good to keep to yourself. She's a good girl, isn't she—as yet?"
No attempt was made to keep the conversation private. The whole party oozed a blatant superiority over any possible audience, easily traceable to the copious flow of schnapps at their table. Leyden alone, Barry noticed, drank nothing. A roar greeted the last speaker's shrewd hint at Leyden's reputation as a ladies' man, which he replied to by taking a fat wallet from his breast pocket. This he opened ostentatiously, and after a suitable pause, produced a cabinet photograph which he pressed to his lips with a theatrical flourish.
Barry crouched in his chair, feet drawn under him, hands gripping the chair arms and supporting most of his weight. Little watched the group curiously, for the moment forgetting his inflammable friend. The picture went around, to the accompaniment of coarse jests, the burden of which indicated that the Celebes Mission field was due to either gain a convert in Leyden or lose a valued worker in the person of the picture's original.
Leyden replied with a remark that would have procured him a beating in a sailor's dive, and Barry lurched to his feet with a lurid, rumbling oath. Little started up, too, but half-heartedly, then sat down to follow the action of his friend. He too had caught that last remark, and his fingers itched to feel Leyden's windpipe throb under them.
Barry staggered across the veranda, cleverly simulating drunkenness. Furious as he was, he was cool enough to play a definite and reasonably safe game. He lost his balance ten feet from Leyden's chair, recovered himself with a damp hiccough and maudlin apology, then darted forward and sprawled among the hilarious group with hands outstretched for the table to support himself.
Mumbling incoherently, he slowly raised himself and glared owlishly around, caught sight of the picture in Leyden's hand, and grabbed for it.
"Pretty, pretty," he gabbled, leering at Leyden and prodding that fuming gentleman in the ribs with a hard finger. "'Zat your sister?"
An awkward laugh burst from the party. Recalling the remarks they had been bandying about, they considered how little sport they would have caused Leyden had the original of that picture been in truth his sister. Leyden flushed to his hair roots, then paled with fury. He seized Barry by the shoulder, picked up a glass of schnapps, and flung the stinging liquor into the sailor's face.
Barry's pose dropped in a flash. He made an expertly short job of the coolie kicker now the opening had come. Ramming a right fist like a jib-sheet-block hard into Leyden's solar plexus, he brought the same hand up streaking to the jaw; his left shot out as his man staggered to fall, and crunched home with a smash into the now distorted features.
Uproar ensued. The landlord ran in, feigning distress. Little joined, and the supposedly drunken sailor was hauled away from his fallen adversary. A rapid exchange of crisp sentences passed between the host and Little, and the former nodded. He busied himself with Leyden and his vociferous friends, had the damaged man taken to a private room, and made the way clear for Little to hustle Barry out of the hotel and into a barouche.
"I can't blame you, Jack," grinned the salesman as the carriage rolled away. "It was what we wanted, after all; but it may cause trouble yet. Some hothead, old scout! I'll look out I keep off your corns myself. Now we'll get to the front and watch for the Barang. She's about due, and the town's too hot for us after this."
An hour later an anchor was let go somewhere out in the night. Little had secured a boatman, and the two friends put off to the brigantine full of self-congratulatory chuckles; for, whether Leyden had pulled strings to arrest his assailant or not, the mannikin at the end of the string had as yet shown no signs of jumping.
As they neared the dark shape of the vessel, two market boats left her shadow, and voices came across the water, signifying the correct tally of sundry stores. Then the Barang's anchor came up again immediately her new skipper set his foot on deck, the topsail yard, lowered to the cap on anchoring, was jerked aloft, and the brigantine stood silently out of the roadstead.
Cape Lapa, at the east end of Madura Island, was smoky and indistinct on the port quarter when Captain Barry came out of his stateroom after two brief hours of sleep. He had kept the deck through the night until the brigantine was well away; now, with a natural curiosity, he rose early to take a survey of his new command and her crew. Coming on board at black midnight he had sensed rather than seen his first officer. How far that first shadowy impression had satisfied him was evident when he permitted himself to sleep without verifying it by daylight. His crew he had only seen as noiseless shapes between dark bulwarks as they slid rather than ran in response to the officers' orders in getting to sea.
The Barang had a deckhouse companion,—that is, a square house built over and around the head of the companionway stairs, forming a convenient chart room for the officers or a snug smoking lounge for possible passengers. By the open door of this house Barry stood for a few moments, gazing intently at the picture he had snatched from Leyden, and which had remained in his pocket after the encounter. Out from the oval of the mount a sweet girlish face smiled at him. It was the face of a woman grown, yet retaining the utter innocence and trust of a girl. The picture had been taken in a studio, the Sumarang photographer's name was stamped on the card, and Barry felt a wave of anger creeping over him at the thought that Leyden could get such a picture. Then he thought it possible that the picture had been bought; for native photographers are not beyond taking money for pictures they have no right to sell; and the thought pleased him. He turned the card over, and was again absurdly pleased to find no signature on the back.
"That's it!" he muttered. "She didn't give him this." He smiled back at the charming face and fancied it smiled up at him. Such a vision of fresh, wholesome loveliness had never crossed his horizon before. The level brows shaded eyes that looked straight out at him, fearless, unconcealing; the richly curved lips were parted in a dazzling expression of happiness. Barry gladdened at the sight, then frowned at the recollection of the discussion at Leyden's table. Such frank, unsophisticated loveliness was tender prey for the likes of Leyden.
"Not if I know it, he won't!" the skipper muttered under his breath. He slipped the picture into his pocket and stepped out on deck, taking in every detail of ship and crew that came into his line of sight.
In the strengthening sunlight of rising morning the brigantine would not have appealed very strongly to a landsman, or even to a yachtsman. As Barry discovered later, at breakfast, Little was sadly disappointed at the lack of polished brass-work, the bareness of the paint, the all-round creakiness of the ancient fabric. But to a seaman's eye the absence of brass meant a pleasing lack of irritating work on ornamentation; the worn paint showed sound timber beneath; there was just enough creakiness to indicate an amount of free play that made for pliability and strength.
From forward came the musical swish of brooms and water as the bare-legged watch scrubbed decks. A burly Hollander stood on the spare topmast lying in the port scuppers, one leg crooked over the bulwark rail, scooping water from the ocean with a draw-bucket and discharging it with consummate skill among the brown legs of the scrubbers.
Barry took notice of the big Dutchman, receiving an impression of quiet, ponderous efficiency that was yet strangely suggestive of a velvet-covered steel trap. This impression, however, was only a fleeting one as to the latter part; it struck Barry just once in that first early morning view of his ship, when the Hollander gave a softly spoken order to a brown Javanese, smiling ruddily as he spoke, and the sailor leaped to obey with fear so apparent in his face and movements that Barry was forced to grin at the ludicrousness of it.
But the outstanding figure in the scrubbing party was Little, and the skipper quickly forgot the seaman's fright in amusement at his friend's antics. Broom in hand, his trousers rolled above his knees, and his shirt flying open at the neck, his face glowing with the exercise, the late typewriter salesman darted in and out among the other scrubbers, leaving the spot he was working on to pounce upon any fresh space of planking sluiced by the water. Getting in everybody's way, tripping himself with his own broom, hopping like a cat in a puddle when his toes were jabbed by the bristles, he displayed three men's energy and accomplished the work of a one-armed boy.
But his enthusiasm was pleasing to behold. It assured Barry that Little was not making the trip with a view to growing corpulent in the lazy luxury of immaculate attire and cabin cushions. The amateur shellback caught sight of Barry, standing regarding him with an amused grin, and he ceased his labors. Thrusting his broom into the hands of a sailor, Little gave a fore-and-aft hitch to his pants in approved Dick Deadeye style, plucked his forelock, and his joyful voice rang along the decks.
"Ahoy—ahoy! Slack away for'ard, leggo aft! Tara-ra, tara-ra—A life on the ocean wave is better than going to sea! Keelhaul th' main scuppers; lash th' anchor to th' mast! Whe-eee! Say, Barry, but this is th' life, hey?"
Barry beckoned him, and Little sauntered aft, rolling like a deep water man getting rid of a twelve-months' payday.
"Look here, skipper," he said, halting at the deckhouse door, "I can't see why you don't give me a regular job in this boat. Dutchy there says I'm a born sailor, by the way I handle a broom. Suppose you sign me on as chief broom-rastler, or corporal of the starboard bucket rack, or something, hey? I know I've got Viking blood in me, the sea chatter comes so natural to me. I ought to be an officer, too; my appetite's much too good for a common sailor."
"Glad to hear about the appetite, because breakfast is ready," grinned the skipper, casting a comprehensive glance around his ship before leading the way below. "Better slick up a bit, though, before going to table, Little. A piratical atmosphere's all right in its place, but I'll feel as if I ought to pack a pistol or two if I sit down to eat with a tough looking specimen like you."
The chief mate ate at the first table that morning, and Barry took the opportunity to make himself familiar with some general details of the ship's company. The brigantine was a relic of an ancient period of shipbuilding, and her main cabin fitted her excellently. Dark, full of deep recesses in which great square windows opened to the ocean's free breezes; cosy with an old-world cosiness; picturesque with spacious skylight dome, in which swung a mahogany rack full of tinkling glasses and ruby and amber decanters; full of weird, whispering voices of aged bulkheads and cheeping frames. Such was the cabin. And the chief mate fitted the cabin as that apartment fitted the ship.
Square as one of the stern ports, his face tanned and grained to the semblance of a piece of the skylight mahogany; honest as the timber that went into the building of the ship, Jerry Rolfe attempted no bluff, either in his table manners or his professional duties. As he ate, his shoulders swung to the heave of his arms, attacking the food on his plate as an enemy to be downed catch-as-catch-can style, no holds barred. Little stared in amazement at first. He shot a quizzical glance at Barry when the mate absorbed a cupful of scalding coffee with one gurgling, sucking swallow. But Barry expected only sailorly qualities and loyalty from his officers; on the first count he was satisfied with Rolfe, and his doubts were few on the second. He inquired now about the other member of the afterguard,—the burly Hollander who had superintended the washing-down.
"Hendrik Vandersee 's his name; bo'sun, acting second mate's his rating," replied the mate in a plain, official tone. "Dunno anything about him, sir, only that Mr. Houten sent him aboard and said he's been highly recommended by somebody as knowing more about the place we're bound for than any other man in the East."
"Well, what d' you think of him? Good second mate, eh?"
"Oh, Barry," Little broke in exuberantly, "he's the jolliest fat sailor that ever swabbed a deck. Why, he told me I was a whale of a shellback, and he's going to teach me...."
"This is business, Little," Barry interrupted, with a trace of irritation. "Come, Mr. Rolfe; if you've finished your breakfast, you can relieve Vandersee for his. We can talk as well on deck."
The second mate was relieved and went below. Barry examined him casually as he passed, and again he was conscious of that same feeling that had swept through him earlier in the morning. Again there was that vague suggestion of a steel trap covered with velvet, or kidskin. Not to any one feature, either, could this suggestion be traced; the man's ruddy face was open and bland, his eyes sparkled like gems, his bearing was that of a man who owes no man, either in money or favor.
Barry felt faintly angry with himself for harboring fancies and turned back to the chief mate.
"I asked what opinion you had formed of the second mate, Mr. Rolfe," he said, joining the other on the weather side of the poop.
"I never form an opinion of an owner's man, sir—not to talk about it, anyhow," returned Rolfe slowly. "In any case, you've known him almost as long as I have; you'll form your own ideas, no matter what mine are. I only know that Vandersee knows his work, and that he's supposed to know the Sandang River like one of its own fish."
Barry knew by the length of the mate's speech that he thought little of his big junior officer. A good, or even fair opinion would have been simply expressed as yes, or good enough. Having in view the possibility of conflict when their destination was reached and the necessity for singleness of purpose among the ship's company, he went quietly to work on a mental register of every man on board from chief mate down to cook, to the end that he might have to depend on nobody's judgment save his own.
The Barang wallowed through the islet-studded seas in a fashion that brought many a grimace to the skipper's face. Frequently he caught himself gazing astern and persuaded himself it was the wake he was looking at; but when he snatched his eyes away from the stern and bent them forward at the blustering, smashing bow-wave thrown off to the leeward by the snub-nosed brigantine, he knew that his own wake was one of his lesser worries. Leyden's schooner was the cause of his uneasiness; for it would be a sluggish vessel indeed, of her rig and lines, that could not easily allow the Barang a full day's start in the run to the river.
A brisk breeze holding steadily southeast gave the Barang the fullest advantage of her square rig and lessened the skipper's anxiety in some degree; and the Celebes coast stretched along to leeward like a roll of vapor in due course without any disquieting gleam of canvas having popped up over the stern-ward sea line.
Then came a day of calms and baffling airs, and a sickening swell rolled in from the south that made of the brigantine a staggering, squealing platform, hammering all the Viking spirit out of Little for a while and forcing him to run to cover like a very greenhorn. Barry visited him in his cabin from time to time and at first ridiculed his weakness; but Little was undergoing a treatment in which he had a faith proof against ridicule. He waved a cheery hand at Barry, and a sickly smile puckered his pale yellow face.
"'Vast, y' lubber!" he cried, in no manner abashed. "I'm not seasick. Just undergoing redecoration inside. At present I have a beautiful greenish-orange feeling in my lower hold; in an hour or so it'll change to purplish-pink and my face will change from yellow to green. Then I'll be all right again. Fit to take command when you curl up, old boy."
"Don't you want anything?" inquired Barry, grinning admiringly at the sufferer's grit. "Brandy or something?"
"Nothing, thanks. Vandersee's been in every half hour during his watch below; he's got some stuff that goes down like oiled honey and kicks hard when it lands. He's all right, Barry. His smile's worth a hogshead o' rum. Says, if I keep quiet here for an hour or so more, he'll have me fit to fight a roast turkey."
The second mate stepped out of his own berth as Barry left Little, and the skipper regarded him with a new interest. The ruddy face wore a soft smile, and the big frame passed across the main cabin on feet light as a dancer's. He carried a glass of some mixture in his hand and entered Little's cabin, giving the skipper a deferential nod as he went by. Barry joined the mate on the poop.
"Queer fellow, Vandersee is," smiled the skipper, joining stride with the other in his short walk. "You'd think he was a qualified nurse by the way he's coddling Little. I'll share his watch when he relieves you, Mr. Rolfe. He may want to administer a few more doses to his patient."
"Huh! I'd be pretty sick before I'd let a smooth duck like him give me any doses—Beg pardon, Captain Barry. Yes, sir, I think he's quite a nurse," returned the mate, half committing himself before he could pull up. Barry let the slight outburst pass without comment.
Vandersee relieved the deck for the first watch, from eight o'clock until midnight, and Barry remained on deck with him. A red sun had dipped below the sea line two hours before, and a faint breeze sprang up at his setting. Now the Barang leaned slightly to full canvas and snored easily through the phosphorescent seas with a pleasant tinkling of running wavelets along her sides. Overhead the heavens were luminous with sparks of ultra brilliance; the decks and sails of the ancient brigantine were bathed in soft radiance, ruled across and along with bars of blackest shadow. A softly noisy chorus of sea voices kept rhythm to the swaying of the tall spars, and from somewhere out in the shimmering sea came the sob and suck of a broken swell over a submerged reef.
A brown man stood at the wheel like a brown wooden figure, his arms and face vaguely illumined by the glow from the binnacle lamp. Forward the decks were silent and deserted, except in one spot. Here a thin bar of yellow light slashed in two the shadowed shape of the galley, eclipsed at intervals as the cook inside moved to and fro in his business of preparing dough for the morning's bread.
The spell of the night fell over Barry. He sent his thoughts ahead, dreamily, trying to peer into the future as if to see what it would hold for him. But the picture invariably dissolved as soon as it was conjured out of the mists, and in its place glowed the vision of a girl in Mission dress, simple and sweet: the girl whose good name he had defended; whose picture now lay in the lid of his chronometer box, where he must see it every time he went to his room.
Vandersee asked permission and went below to see Little. As he went, he remarked that it would be the last time his attentions would be necessary; the seasick Viking would be his own good man again by morning. Barry was dragged out of his dreams when the second mate spoke to him; now he shook off his fancies and walked aft to the compass. Satisfied with the steering, he passed along the poop towards the deckhouse and leaned against the lee forward corner of it, scanning the lofty, indistinct leeches of the forward canvas.
Up through the companionway floated Little's voice, and the skipper smiled at the altered tone of it. It was the voice of a man conscious of a growing healthy appetite. Vandersee's voice chimed in and died away, as if the man had gone somewhere else, perhaps in search of food for his hungry patient. There ensued a space of perhaps ninety seconds when no voice was audible. Then, like a ghostly hand out of the black beyond, something whirred past Barry's face, touched the skin lightly in passing, and thudded into the bellying mainsail.
Like a flash the skipper swung on his heel. As he turned he caught sight of the cook at his galley door; his eyes next fell upon the motionless figure of the helmsman; with the one motion he shoved his head through the deckhouse window and swept a keen searching look around the interior. It was undoubtedly empty.
He stepped over to leeward without remark and looked for the missile in the hollow of the sail foot. Nothing there. But following the canvas upward, he detected a clean slit in the cloth and passed under the boom to follow his clue. Then, by the rail in the coil of the main-gaff-topsail-halliards, he saw something glitter and picked it up.
"A pretty joke gone adrift!" he muttered, balancing the glittering thing in his palm. "Now who the devil threw that?"
The missile that had fanned his cheek was a heavy-bladed, double-edged knife, a knife made for throwing if ever one was: such a weapon as no sailor ever had need of; a thing that could mean only murder when it left a thrower's hand. And it had come from one of only two possible directions: from aft, or from the deckhouse; and the deckhouse was empty. Barry walked swiftly aft and confronted the man at the wheel, holding up the knife.
"What did you throw this for?" he snapped, boring into the man's placid face with blazing eyes.
"No t'row heem, sar—no can do—No see 'eem knife lika dat, sar," denied the little brown man, merely raising his eyes to look at the knife, then stolidly fastening his gaze upon the compass again.
Barry scrutinized the man keenly and shrugged his shoulders in disgust. He could have no doubt the man spoke truth. The little, soft-mannered Javanese people are not as a rule addicted to murder. Like a shadow the skipper sped to the taffrail and peered over. Nothing was there, save the big square ports, triced up by chains to admit the air into the saloon. Back again, Barry asked the sailor:
"Did you see a man up here just before I came aft?"
"No see nobody, sar," replied the man with cherubic simplicity. "Small bird, I t'ink, he fly by my face one time. Das all."
"Little bird, hell!" snorted the skipper, moving away. He was inclined to make little of the occurrence, since the solution seemed so hopeless; but he did not permit himself to blink the fact that mystery had already crept into the cruise, and that mystery of a deadly sort. It was only in so far as it concerned him in person that he belittled it. Vandersee appearing at the companionway, however, reminded him of Rolfe's partly expressed opinion. He joined the second mate, peered into his face, and tried to detect some sign that might give him an opening. The Dutchman's face was bland as ever; his eyes sparkled with humor as he made some trifling remark about Little's improved condition.
Barry had put the murderous knife into his pocket. He took Vandersee's arm now, turning him until he faced the mainsail.
"See that slit, Mr. Vandersee?" he said casually, yet watching the man's face closely. "Might have a man patch that in the morning. Don't think it's necessary to unbend the sail, is it?"
"No sir. Lower away to the first reef. That'll do. How did it happen, sir? That's a stout piece of canvas."
"Stout's right, Mr. Vandersee," drawled Barry. "A bird flew through it. Pretty stout bird, hey?"
"Bird? Surely you're joking, sir," laughed the second mate, his round face glowing with a jolly grin. "But I'll see that it's attended to."
Barry went below, looked in on Little, who slept like an infant now, then sat in his own stateroom smoking and feasting his eyes on the precious photograph in his chronometer case until he heard a seaman knock at the chief mate's door to call him at midnight. When the seaman had gone on deck, the skipper stepped over to Rolfe's berth.
"Mr. Rolfe," he said, "did you hold any communication with the shore before Mr. Little and I came on board?"
"Ye-ow-ow!" yawned the mate, rubbing his eyes vigorously. "Beg pardon, sir. Communication with the shore? Why, yes—just before we dropped anchor in Surabaya a boat came off with fresh provisions that Mr. Houten had ordered by telegraph. That's all, sir."
"Didn't ship anybody, hey?" pursued Barry.
"Ship? Why, no, sir, unless some rat stowed away," returned the puzzled mate, struggling into his jacket. "Why?"
"Never mind," returned the skipper shortly and retired to his own berth.
He undressed now, putting aside all further consideration of his mystery until he could attack it in daylight. But on second thoughts he looked closely to his pistol and placed it beneath his pillow. Then he shot the bolt of his door and was satisfied that all proper precautions had been taken.
"Just a little peep at dainty Miss Mission, to say night-night," he smiled, unfastening the catch on the chronometer case. "Then I'll sleep on the dirty knife business."
He raised the box lid, started back in doubt, left the box open and glanced around the desk. Then he rummaged through all the litter on his table, opened drawers and left them open. He swore torridly, grinding his teeth with vexation.
The photograph had vanished.
For a moment Barry blazed with a desire to turn the ship inside out, and if necessary search every man clear down to his bedclothes. But the thought of that flying knife came back to him, and the combination of mystery gave him pause; there must surely be some connection between the two occurrences, and the train of thought led directly to the notion that somewhere in the dark recesses of the brigantine lurked the person responsible.
The voices of the two mates, one relieving the other, sounded softly through the open skylight, and Barry decided to curb his impatience. He mounted to the poop again and gave orders to both officers to keep close watch as the land was approached and to see that nobody left the ship. Once more he felt that vague suggestion of a cloaked trap in the second mate's smiling acceptance of the instructions, but now, strangely, the feeling did not bother him. The hint remained nebulous; he shook it off and went to sleep on the more important mystery.
He was called at daybreak and went on deck to find the brigantine stemming the yellow current of a river estuary. A mile ahead the turbid waters churned and slopped over the sand bar, forming a sluggish but powerful eddy across half the river's breadth. Pieces of rotten wood and heaped masses of forest grasses swirled into a floating tangle in the lee of the bar.
Preparations were going forward for bringing up, and the skipper's intention to apprise Little of the events of the past night was perforce laid aside. It was not until the ship was docked that Little heard the story. Rolfe was busy on the forecastle getting ready the anchors, while Vandersee, the bulky Hollander, had stretched out a new lead line along the poop and was carefully marking it off, after well wetting it. For a moment Barry failed to see Little. Even the cheery voice was not in evidence. Then the clattering of iron links, as the cables were ranged for letting go, was followed by a whoop of interest, and the ex-salesman popped into sight in the bows, deep in an examination of the tumbler gear that released the big anchors.
Barry scanned the river mouth closely, dubiously. The available channel was barely wide enough to pass, even with good luck. The breeze blew straight into the river and across the current, causing a confused welter of water that made the picking out of a passage doubly difficult. If the wind had weight enough to overcome the stream, and remained fair, the passage might be accomplished, given shrewd pilotage; but a very slight swerve from the straight and narrow course would place the ship in the grip of that big eddy and inevitably on the bar. That was unthinkable. It could scarcely be hoped that Leyden's navigator would repeat such an error when he arrived, and such a mishap would at once wipe out the advantage gained through Barry's attentions to the schooner in the dry dock.
Vandersee finished his task and coiled up the new lead line. He stepped over to Barry and with respectful confidence said:
"If you know the channel, sir, I'll get into the chains with the lead myself. There's a bad shoal patch this side of the bar, and with the water slicking over it to the out-draw of that eddy, it looks like deep water."
"All right, Mr. Vandersee—Oh, thunder!" Barry flung out the expression in petulance. "Why, you were sent aboard because you know this river, weren't you? I forgot."
"Yes, sir," smiled Vandersee. "I'm fairly well acquainted here. Shall I take her in?"
"Yes. Take the wheel and sing out your directions. Where had we better anchor? Can't go right up, I suppose?"
"Tide's right, sir, and with this breeze, if we manage to avoid swinging across stream in making past the bar, we can carry our draft two miles up, anyway. If we have to bring up before that, there's a snug creek—there, see?—fifty fathom to the eastward of those trees—where we can lie moored fore and aft to the shore."
Barry took up a position at the fore end of the poop, scanning the narrow entrance a trifle anxiously. He had no desire to cast his new command away in making her first port. But Vandersee undoubtedly knew his business. The Barang, for all her slowness, answered to the master touch on her helm and edged surely up for the deep water until the slop of the bar bore well abeam.
For a moment the skipper held his breath as she lurched heavily to the suck of the current. He saw that smooth, flowing patch of oily water, which the second mate had said was in reality a real shoal, draw steadily astern; and he brightened at thought of the danger overcome. Then out of a clear sky came the unforeseen.
From the forecastle head sounded the crash and rattle of chain and a resounding splash. The roar of cable followed, amid a volley of thumping deep-sea oaths from Rolfe directed at the devoted head of Little; and the Barang snubbed up with a jerk, her stern swinging swiftly around towards the bar.
Little stood aghast, replying nothing to the mate's harsh epithets. Barry bawled a demand as to the trouble and turned to the wheel. Again that subtle suggestion of padded steel struck him as he surprised a fleeting but unmistakable smile on Vandersee's calm face.
"I think Mr. Little has unwittingly slipped the tumblers, sir," smiled the big Hollander, stepping away from the useless wheel.
"To hell with Little!" shouted Barry. "Get a boat out, before we plow up that sand!"
Then he hailed forward:
"Mr. Rolfe! Get lines. Carry them to those trees. Hurry!" and to Little he barked: "You, Little, get aft here, and for God's own sake, keep your meddling hooks off things as you come!"
Little started aft, abashed at last. The careful manner in which he avoided contact with crew or gear would have made Barry grin under any other circumstances; but now near disaster impended, simply on account of the irrepressible salesman's voracious appetite for knowledge.
As he approached the poop ladder, Little grimaced up at the skipper and shrugged his shoulders resignedly in anticipation of the storm. Barry's face was flushed and angry, and his strong teeth shone white over his compressed nether lip. The brigantine's stern was awfully close to the edge of the bar, in spite of the swift action of Vandersee, who, in leaving the wheel and before going down to his boat, let go the big mainsail and took the after pressure off the vessel. Now the big second mate hailed from the top of the midship house.
"This boat's all open, sir. She won't float a minute!"
"Oh, blazes!" howled the skipper, flinging his cap on the deck. "Send a man to swim with the line. Any of them. They're all water rats."
"Can't make a man swim here, sir," returned the Hollander, and even now his voice was velvety soft. "Alligators are too thick."
Little paused on the bottom step of the ladder. He measured with his eye the distance to the nearest point ashore. Fifty yards it was; and on the water's edge grew a tangled mass of slimy roots, rising to gnarled, moss-covered trunks, monstrosities rather than trees. Even at that distance suspicious logs could be seen lying half in, half out of the water; but a space ten yards wide, including some of the biggest and ugliest of the trees, seemed bare of those logs.
Barry sent a hail along to the forecastle to avast heaving on the cable; for some of the watch had remained on deck, when the rest went below to pass up lines, and were now taking spasmodic, aimless jerks at the windlass. The mate drove his brown-skinned men to marvellous feats with coiling lines, determined to be ready with his part when the boat was ready. He had not heard Vandersee's report on the boat.
Now on the port side, that farthest from the bar, heaps of cleverly faked-down small lines were ranged along the waterways, in preparation for any emergency of drifting boat. The big Manila hawser lay coiled on the fore hatch, all ready to bend on when a small line was safely ashore. All these things Barry took in with quick professional perception. But now he was stumped. He was the last man on earth to send a man where he himself dare not go; and those filthy, suspicious logs had only too well corroborated the second mate's hint of alligators.
He was aroused from his contemplation of them by a shout from Rolfe, echoed by Vandersee, and followed immediately by a tremendous splash and the whiz of small line running over a teakwood rail. A soft-eyed Javanese seaman worked feverishly near the fore rigging, flinging coil after coil of line overboard until the end was at hand. Then he stooped swiftly, seized the end of a fresh coil, and stood ready to repeat.
Barry looked for Little now and missed him. He ran to the side. An excited chattering among the crew forward, and gesticulating arms, directed his gaze, and he gasped with amazed admiration. Surging through the muddy tide with a powerful trudgeon stroke, making a wake of swirling bubbles across which snaked the black coils of a heaving line, Little headed for the shore. Once he disappeared, as a freak of churning waters gripped several coils of line and jerked him back and under. But the innocent cause of all the trouble made no false estimate of his ability to rectify his error. He forged straight for his mark—that mass of slimy roots and mossy trunks—and soon he was seen to rise waist high from the water, stumble heavily as his feet sank deep in the sticky ooze, and, recovering, plunge headlong up the bank with his line.
A cry of helpless apprehension burst from the brigantine's company as one of those suspicious logs stirred into reptilian life. A great, warty snout jutted upwards, with a swift half-turn towards the intruder, and the yellow water was swept into a furious whirlpool as the saurian secured leverage to turn by a convulsion of his powerful tail.
The cry rose to a shout of warning, and with the shout Barry sprang below to his cabin. He returned on the run with a big-game rifle in time to hear a ripple of relief run from end to end of the ship; and his eyes opened wide with astonishment when he saw the cause.
Other muddy logs had come to life on the foreshore and Little's attitude would have been ludicrous but for the terrible risk he ran. He stared at the suddenly awakened monsters as the sexton of a church might stare if one of his gargoyles suddenly spoke to him. But there was no fear in his bearing; simply the natural wonder of a man faced by a situation which, more than likely, he had disbelieved the possibility of until that moment.
He had kept tight hold of his line, and as Barry watched, he gathered up the slack and with a whoop jumped nimbly over the back of the nearest alligator, charging now with open jaws. As he landed on his feet, he dodged behind a root, and his clear cry rang over the water.
"The big rope, Barry, quick! I can dodge these big lizards. It's a cinch!"
The mate bent on the hawser, and men picked up great coils of it and flung them overboard. Barry stood silent, dumbfounded, and watched Little haul in his line, only pausing from time to time to pass from one side of the tree to the other, as the alligators closed in on him. The eye-end of the hawser splashed up the shoal water, was wrapped securely, but in sorry landsman's fashion, about the big roots, and in response to a howl of triumph from the shore, Barry sang out:
"After capstan here! Get a strain on the line, Mr. Rolfe!" And while the dripping rope crawled in through the fair-lead, cracking and twanging to the strain of the ship's arrested drift, he stood at the rail, rifle in hand, and muttered:
"He's a comic-opera sailor, all right; but Lordy! what a man he'll make with his feet on dry earth! Let go my anchor, hey? By Godfrey, he can let go the forestay when we're going about, and I'll forgive him after this."
The ship's stern answered to the steady pull of the line and dragged away from the edge of the sand until she pointed fair into the channel again. Forward, men hove in the cable until the anchor was underfoot; aft, men tailed on to the main halliards and sent the great mainsail aloft with a will. Barry waved the second mate back to the wheel and sent Rolfe forward to finish picking up the anchor. Then he swung around at a shout from the shore. He had momentarily forgotten Little.
"Damnation!" he breathed, and jerked his rifle to his shoulder. Then he dropped his elbow to the rail, took snap-sights and fired.
The greatest alligator of them all, the patriarch of all saurians, had attacked Little. That agile young man saw his foe in time to avoid the rush by leaping over the straining hawser, knee-high, and the ugly jaws closed with a crash on the rope. Barry's shot rang out simultaneously with the singing snap of a Manila strand, and the heavy bullet chugged home in the vulnerable skin on the alligator's throat.
The Barang gathered way, and the hawser sagged into the water as the strain was released. Whatever Little's limitations were as a seaman, he lacked nothing of common sense; he saw that the ship was independent of the line now, and Barry received another shock while trying to decide how to get his friend safely on board again.
"That's the stuff, Barry!" Little shouted, capering madly as the alligator rolled over towards the river. "Keep your blue eye on these fellows and haul away on the rope!"
With the words he was sawing away busily at the Manila with a fearsome knife he had invested in as part of a sailor's outfit.
"Stop! You're crazy!" bawled the skipper. Rolfe cursed luridly, and even Vandersee's sleek face clouded.
If Little heard, he made no sign. Without a wasted second after the line parted, he followed the running end down to the water, took a grip on it, and plunged in with a shout:
"Pull away! Watch out for my toes, Barry!"
The little brown men of the crew needed no order to pull. The sheer intrepidity of the man on the line had ensured their reverence and loyalty, and the heavy hawser came inboard with a whiz. At the end of it struggled Little, striking out frantically with his legs and free hand to keep his head above the water at the pull of those eager arms. As he took the water, from four separate points along the bank great reptiles slithered; their snouts and protuberant eyes left behind them sinister ripples as they converged on the swimmer.
Barry watched with set lips and glittering eyes. He well knew the improbability of hitting a vulnerable spot in a swimming alligator; his marksmanship was scarcely equal to the certainty of finding one of those wicked, armor-lidded eyes. It was with a hard gulp of fear in his throat that he pressed the trigger for a second shot.
The bullet took the foremost reptile on the point of the snout, checking the beast and causing a flurry among its companions. Little gained a few precious feet, and as a patch of dirty gray belly showed for an instant in the over-roll of the smitten beast, Barry fired again, and his friend gained a little more.
Another factor now entered into the contest, and the ex-salesman was safe. The brigantine was steadily stemming the tide, and now fairly past the bar had reached far beyond the point to which the hawser had been made fast. As she forged slowly ahead, with gathering speed as she left behind the influence of the big eddy, the rope trailed more and more astern and the ship's speed was added to that of the incoming hawser.
Little was hauled up to the quarter, and Barry himself let down the boarding ladder and went over the side to assist the half-drowned swimmer on board.
When Little had coughed several pints of muddy river water from his system, he looked up at Barry with a whimsical grin, as if prepared now to take the calling down that his recent action had delayed. But the skipper had nothing to say about the escapade with his anchors. He gripped his friend's hand with a hard squeeze and took him below for a warming shot of rum with a simply spoken:
"Thanks, Little. That's the greatest thing I ever saw. You're free of the ship forever!"
Late in the afternoon the Barang rounded a bend in the river and came in sight of the trading station. The yellow, muddy stream swirled at her blunt bows, and the matted verdure on the banks reduced the hot breeze to a zephyr that barely gave her headway.
Bamboo thickets alternated with patches of dark forest; cane-walled native houses peeped from beneath overhanging trees; silent, sarong-clad people suspended their leisurely activities to stare at the passing ship, and noisy birds and chattering monkeys redoubled their din at the apparition.
A slimy reed-grown creek opened out to starboard, and evil miasma arose from the rotting tree trunks across its mouth; the entire scene was one of dreary, soul-searing repulsiveness and made a sorry jest of the strongly stockaded trading post whose defensive armament could be plainly seen peeping over a woven cane parapet.
"Heavens, what a dismal hole!" ejaculated Little, as the brigantine swung slowly around the bend. "Mean t' tell me white people live here, Barry? I wouldn't swap a shop-soiled typewriter for the whole box and dice!"
"Sure white people live here. Why would we be coming, else?" retorted Barry impatiently. He was scanning the buildings. Several white-clad figures passed and repassed among the huddle of squalid huts, all apparently bound towards the river wharf to meet the ship.
"Wonder where the Mission is," the skipper went on musingly, to himself rather than to Little.
"I get your drift," Little grinned back. "Yes, I wonder where she lives, too."
Something gleamed in Barry's eyes that warned against jesting on that subject, and Little stepped aside with a shrug and watched Vandersee as that stolid worthy piloted the ship up to the crazy wharf with consummate skill.
An anchor dropped in mid-channel stopped her way, and the forward canvas was hauled down. A pull to windward on the mainsheet backed the big mainsail and drove the stern towards the dock, whereon a mob of naked brown men awaited the casting of shore lines. The starboard quarter grated against the piling, and the open stern windows overhung the stringpiece for a moment. Barry was deeply interested in the probable location of the Mission—far too deeply interested for a shipmaster docking his ship—and Little, too, had his mind and eyes on the scene of his imminent adventures to the exclusion of all else. Rolfe, the dour chief mate, was where a good mate should be, on the forecastle head, looking out for lines and fenders. Vandersee alone appeared capable of handling his duties and giving attention to the shore at the same time. Never relaxing his vigilance for a moment in placing the brigantine advantageously in her berth, the burly Hollander nevertheless had an eye open for other things. A cloud passed over his shiny face as the stern touched; he stepped swiftly to the rail and peered over; two natives stood by, and he sent them hurrying forward with a Low Malay expletive that made them jump in fright. Then he peered over the side again, his face cleared, and he returned to his post at the stern fair-lead, shouting to his men to carry along the sternfasts. Barry turned at the shout, as if just awakening from a dream, and the second mate told him respectfully:
"It would be as well to have the stern windows closed, sir. The natives here are not too honest, in spite of the Mission's good work."
Barry gave the necessary order through the skylight and shook himself into a more vital interest in his work. He opened his mouth to direct the mate in some detail of mooring ship, and it remained open until he half-closed it in a whistle of surprise and seized Little violently by the arm. His eyes were fixed upon a figure walking easily and unconcernedly along the wharf.
"Look!" he breathed, and Little winced with the pain of his grip. "Look! How in thunder did she get here ahead of us?"
"She? Who?" stammered Little, gazing shoreward. "Oh, the woman who tried to scrape an acquaintance at Solo, isn't it? Steamer, I suppose. Gee! I thought you'd seen the little missionary by the savage way you bit into my wing. Hope I ain't in reach when you do catch sight of her, old scout. You're too blamed carnivorous."
"Oh, shut up!" growled the skipper, shaking the irrepressible salesman furiously. "There's no joke in this. Wanted to go to Europe, didn't she? Wasn't that her reason for begging a passage? Well, you darned lunatic! Is this Europe? Or anywhere near it? Let me tell you, there's no steamer touching here from Surabaya or anywhere else. Sanjai's the nearest steamer port—a ship a month; besides, no man or woman other than a breech-clouted deer-footed native could get here from Sanjai in less than a week. She looks as if she just hopped out of a Paris trunk!"
Little made no verbal response. He left Barry abruptly, sprang to the bulwarks, and leaped to the dock, not waiting for the gangplank to be run out. Then, assuming his best salesman's smile, he walked directly over to the woman and raised his hat.
"Glad to meet you again, Madam," he smiled. "Small place, this old globe, isn't it? Didn't expect to see you until we reached Europe. How on earth did you get here so quickly?"
"How do you do, Mr.—er—let me see—is it Mr. Little, or Captain Barry?" she beamed, extending a small, shapely hand frankly. "Mr. Little? Thanks. I'm so glad to see you. Business demanded that I make a call here before going home; but I never dared to hope that I would meet old friends here. I must visit your ship and renew the Captain's acquaintance," and she dazzled Little with a sunny smile.
"Surely, do," invited Little. The sunniness of his own smile increased. "Please forgive me if I have forgotten your name?" She flashed a quizzical glance at him. "Mrs. Goring," she said. She indeed looked entirely desirable in that sweltering, reeking, jungle post. Her dress was of some flimsy white material that billowed and rustled with her every movement. The big sun-hat shaded her face and enabled her to maintain an aspect of fresh, delightful coolness. Her lips and eyes seemed in their moistness to resemble dewy flowers peeping out of a sheltering glade.
How much was due to art Little cared nothing. It was, to his buoyant heart, like encountering a cool breeze in the desert to hold converse with such a creature in such a place. Besides, Little was bent on business first, last, and all the time; business might not be permitted to suffer from any incivility on his part. He asked, joining step with her as she moved along the rough planking:
"But tell me how you got here so quickly. When we saw you in Solo, we understood you were bound for Europe. We might have given you a passage, you know."
"But you were going to Europe, too, weren't you?" she laughed, and her violet eyes grew black. "Of course, I was only joking about sailing in your ship. I knew such a vessel did not usually go such long voyages. But you see I beat you here, didn't I?"
"Yes, but how?"
"Oh, that's a State secret, Mr. Little." The woman laid a slim finger on her red lips in mock seriousness. "My brother arranged it for me, and I arrived just as you docked. But I'm going to visit you as soon as I've been up to the post. I have a friend there. Good-by, Mr. Little. Please give my warmest regards to the Captain, won't you?"
Little walked slowly aboard the Barang, never turning his head once to look after Mrs. Goring. He went directly to Barry.
"Barry," he said, "you were right. There's no joke about this. Mrs. Goring is as deep as the Bottomless Pit! There's something back of those big violet eyes of hers that burns clear through you. She's coming to see you presently. What d' ye think about her being here at all?"
"How do I know, yet?" Barry laughed harshly. "I'm glad these things have happened so soon, though. You see now, right from the start, this thing is real business and no moving-picture bunk."
"Things? What else has happened?"
"Don't you call that knife business something happening?" grunted the skipper, busy with some papers on his desk. "Don't you attach any importance to the theft of that photo from my chronometer case? That wasn't taken by any native thief. Never mind what picture it was, or what value I placed on it; whoever took it didn't swipe it for the value of it to them. Then this mysterious woman turns up as soon as we haul alongside, and now Rolfe tells me that the fo'c'sle hands say Mindjee slipped ashore as we came up the river, and a search proves it."
"Mindjee? The Malay who had the wheel that night? No, sir! He's certainly not on board now," exclaimed Little, a queer bewilderment creeping into his face. "But he didn't swim ashore, unless he swam mighty fast and then ran some. I just saw Mindjee back of the godown! Thought you had sent him ashore for something, so didn't notice him particularly. Wouldn't have remembered which of the brown-skins it was, if it hadn't happened to be the one at the wheel when that knife was buzzed at your head."
"Behind the godown? Where? What doing? Where was he going?" Barry was alert now.
"I only saw him over Mrs. Goring's shoulder as I talked to her. He was sliding along pretty fast towards the stockade."
"Then the fun starts right now, Little," said Barry quietly. "From now on, never go without your artillery and keep a hand on the butt, no matter whether it's man, woman, or missionary you're talking to. Come on. I'll post the mate; then we'll walk up and interview Mr. Gordon."
Jerry Rolfe appeared surprised, and in a measure chagrined, to find that the second mate had not yet asked leave to go ashore. His opinion of the big Hollander was an open secret in the ship. It was easy to see that the total destruction of the Barang and her people would have better fitted in with that opinion than the safe and expert passage of the tortuous river to a snug berth.
"You ain't going to trust that fellow with a gun, sir?" the mate demanded, after receiving Barry's orders.
"Why not?" returned the skipper, with a frown. "You must drive that notion out of your head, Rolfe, or you won't be able to trust anybody. We need all the men we can depend on, and I want you and Vandersee to pull together. I trust him, so does Mr. Little, and so does Houten, obviously. You and he will remain in charge of your regular watches, though you need not keep sea watches, and right now you'll decide whom you can trust with arms. We may not have to use 'em; but there's a big chance we will."
On the way to the stockaded post the skipper told Little of the mate's doubts and suggested that it might be arranged for one of them at all times to be in touch with the ship after this first visit to Gordon. For, he said: "I'm not too sure of the man myself, Little, though something tells me I misjudged him at first. That subtle hint of steel under velvet sort of got me, and for a moment I suspected him of heaving that knife at me. But against that is his treatment of you while you were sick, and other things have helped to change my views."
"Don't know what to think, myself," rejoined Little. "At first I thought there could not be another sailorman in the wide world like him. I was ready to lick his boots those first few days at sea. He filled all my ideas of what a rollicking sea dog ought to be, and I was tickled silly at the wrinkles he taught me. Then came that fool stunt of mine, letting go the anchor in a bad place, and it looked then that I had been purposely set to meddling with that gear just to bring that off. What d' ye think?"