THE INTERNATIONAL ADVENTURE LIBRARY
THREE OWLS EDITION
THE WHITE WATERFALL
An Adventure Story
BY JAMES FRANCIS DWYER
TO L.G.D. and G.M.D.
"THAT'S THE WAY TO HEAVEN, THAT'S THE WAY TO HEAVEN, THAT'S THE WAY TO HEAVEN OUT OF BLACK FERNANDO'S HELL."
It is perhaps inadvisable to mix fact with fiction, but, it appears, some reference to certain portions of "The White Waterfall" that might strain the belief of the average reader will not be out of place. In the wonderful islands of the Pacific many things happen that seem improbable to the minds of those who dwell close to the heart of civilization. The mysterious Isle of Tears is not altogether a dream. There are several islands in Polynesia that have been looked upon from time immemorial as islands of the dead. These places are shunned by the islanders, and the centuries have invested them with the same atmosphere of brooding mystery that Professor Herndon and his party felt when they landed upon the silent isle where the Wizards of the Centipede performed their weird rites without interference from the outside world.
Nor is the Vermilion Pit created out of thin air. The savage has used many startling methods to separate the born warrior from the coward, and the author has seen a place just as wonderful as the pit, where the young men of the tribe were tested in the same manner as that related in this story. The cunning savage has always thought it inadvisable to pick his fighting men till their courage had been thoroughly tested, and in dull days of peace the headmen of the tribes racked their brains to discover nerve-shaking ordeals to try the daring of the growing youth. The safety of the tribe depended upon the valour of the fighting line, and it would have been an inexcusable blunder to put the nervous ones in the front rank.
The strange stone structures similar to the one upon which Holman and Verslun narrowly escaped being offered up as sacrifices to the Centipede are to be found in many islands of the Pacific at the present day. In the Tongan, Caroline, and Cook groups these peculiar stone ruins remain as evidence of the existence of an ancient people of superior intelligence to the islanders of to-day. As to the meaning or use of these structures we are entirely in the dark. The natives of these groups know nothing concerning them, and the Polynesian builder in that dark past was too busy clubbing and eating his neighbour to write histories. Scientists are in doubt, as in the case of the great ruins at Metalanim, whether they were built as sacrificial altars or as monuments to ambitious chiefs, and there are no records to enlighten us. But these relics are convincing proofs that the islands have been inhabited for many hundreds of years, and we are left to conjecture regarding the origin and history of the people.
The Dance of the Centipede, which Holman and Verslun witnessed in the Long Gallery, can be seen to-day by any tourist who leaves the beaten paths. Every missionary to the islands can tell of "devil dances" that take place in secluded groves, and in which, to his great disgust, his converts often take part. It takes time to turn the savage from his old beliefs. Although the South Seas constitute the last fortress of romance, and a mention of the coral atolls immediately conjures up a vision of palms and rice-white beaches, the sensitive person senses the dark and bloody past when the wizard men were the rulers, and death stalked in the palm groves.
J.F.D. New York, March, 1912.
I. The Song of the Maori II. The Professor's Daughters III. A Knife From the Dark IV. The Storm V. I Make a Promise VI. The Isle of Tears VII. The Pit VIII. The Ledge of Death IX. Into the Valley of Echoes X. A Midnight Alarm XI. Kaipi Performs a Service XII. The Devil Dancers XIII. Tombs of Silence XIV. Back to the Camp XV. A Day of Skirmishing XVI. The Stone Table XVII. Beneath the Centipede XVIII. Barbara's Messenger XIX. Leith Scores XX. The Black Kindergarten XXI. Together Again XXII. The White Waterfall XXIII. The Wizard's Seat XXIV. The Way to Heaven
THE WHITE WATERFALL
THE SONG OF THE MAORI
There is a Tongan proverb which tells us that only fools and children lie awake during hours that could be devoted to slumber, and it is a wise proverb when you judge it from a Polynesian standpoint. No special preparations are required for slumber in the last haunts of Romance, and as one does not lose caste by dozing in public, the South Sea dweller sees no reason for remaining awake when he could be peacefully sleeping. The shade of a palm tree furnishes an ideal resting place, and if a dog fight occurs in the grass-grown street, he becomes a box-seat spectator without moving from his couch. Levuka, the second largest town in the Fijis, was dozing on the afternoon of December 14, 1905, and I decided to follow the example set by the inhabitants. The thermometer in the shack at the end of the wharf registered 98 degrees, but the picturesque little town, with its white and vermilion-tinted houses, looked restful and cool. The hot, still atmosphere weighed down upon the Pacific, ironing out the wind ruffles till the ocean resembled a plain of glass, in which the Union Company's steamer Navua, from Auckland, appeared to be stuck fast, as if the glassy sea had suddenly hardened around her black hull.
A thin strip of shadow huddled close to a pile of pearl shell at the end of the wharf, and I doubled myself up and attempted to sleep. But hardwood planks don't make an ideal resting place. Besides, the rays of sun followed the strip of shadow around the pile, and each time I slipped into a doze I would be pricked into wakefulness. At last, maddened by the biting rays, I collected half a dozen copra bags, splintered a piece of kauri pine, and after rigging up one bag as an awning, I spread the others on the planks and fell asleep.
But another disturbing element awakened me from a short slumber. From the sea end of the deserted wharf came a big, greasy Maori and a fuzzy-headed Fijian, and their words went out into the silence like sound projectiles. The Maori had such a high-pitched voice that I thought, as I rolled over restlessly, he would only have to raise it a little to make them hear him up in Sydney, eighteen hundred miles away. It was one of those voices that fairly cavort over big distances, and I buried my head in the shell as the pair came closer.
It was useless to attempt to shut out that voice. I stuffed a piece of bag into the ear that wasn't jammed against the pearl shell, but the noise of that fool talking fairly sizzled in my brain. Finally I gave up all hopes of trying to sleep till the pair had left the wharf, and I lay upon my back as they came slowly up the sun-bitten structure.
It was only when I gave up all thoughts of sleep that I recognized that the Maori was talking English. Up to that moment I thought the pair were arguing in some unfamiliar tongue, but suddenly their conversation gripped me, and I strained my ears to listen.
"There's the white waterfall," chanted the Maori.
"Yes, the white waterfall," repeated the Fijian.
"An' you go along sixty paces."
"To the right?" questioned the Fijian.
"No! To the left, you fool!" screamed his companion.
"All right, you go to the left," muttered the rebuked one. "An' that's the way to heaven!" cried the Maori.
"The way to heaven," echoed the Fijian; then the two lifted up their voices and chanted:
"That's the way to heaven, That's the way to heaven, That's the way to heaven out Of Black Fernando's hell."
The incident stirred my curiosity. If I had only heard the words of the chant I would not have puzzled my brain to determine their meaning, but it was the manner in which the Maori instructed his friend as to the direction in which one must walk from the white waterfall that made me interested. I turned the words over in my mind as I watched them saunter slowly toward me. Black Fernando's hell and the white waterfall were places that I had never heard of. I thought of all the missionary hymns that I had ever listened to afloat and ashore, but the lines that the pair had chanted were not familiar.
The two walked on in silence for a few minutes after they had lifted up their voices in the chant, then the Maori began to cross-question his companion concerning the information he had just given him.
"How many paces?" he asked.
"Sixty," answered the Fijian.
"To the right, isn't it?"
"Yes, to the right," stammered the learner. "You fool nigger!" screamed the instructor. "It is to the left, pig! Do you hear me? You must go to the left from the white waterfall! Oh, you blinded fool! you make me sick! Sing it now with me!"
The Fijian, who was apparently afraid of the bully, hurried to obey the order, and I wondered as I listened.
"Sixty paces to the left," squeaked the Fijian.
"Sixty paces to the left," roared the Maori. "Now together!"
"That's the way to heaven, That's the way to heaven, That's the way to heaven out Of——"
I was the cause of the interruption. I lifted myself into a sitting position, and the movement disturbed the heap of shell. Part of the pile rattled down upon the planks of the wharf, and the Maori and his pupil stopped singing and stared at me as if they were much surprised at finding any one within hearing distance. The wharf had appeared deserted, and I gave them a start by crawling from underneath the awning I had made from the copra bag. The Maori wore a dirty khaki coat, with a pair of trousers reaching to his knees, while the Fijian, instead of being short-rigged in shirt and sulu, sported a full suit of duck. "Good afternoon, boss," said the Maori, trying to wipe the look of surprise from his face with a grin. "Mighty hot afternoon, isn't it, boss?"
"It is," I answered. "If I knew where that white waterfall is I'd go and stand under it for a few minutes."
The small Fijian gave a little gurgle of surprise and looked up at his big teacher, who regarded me with eyes of wonder.
"What white waterfall, boss?" he asked blandly.
"The one you were singing about," I cried.
The Maori smiled sweetly. "We weren't singing about a white waterfall, boss," he spluttered. "I just guess you were asleep an' dreamed something."
That didn't improve my temper. I had an edge on the fellow on account of the high-powered voice he owned, so when he suggested that I had been dreaming, I climbed to my feet so that I could make my words more impressive when I started to tell him my opinion of his bluff.
The action startled the Fijian. He had an idea that I was going to use the piece of kauri pine upon his head, so he gave a yell and started full speed up the wharf toward the town. The Maori stood his ground for a minute, then he made a face to express his contempt for me and bolted after his mate. I stared at his bare legs walloping the planks, and feeling certain that I had lost all chance of finding out where the white waterfall and Black Fernando's hell were situated, I found a new shadow patch and lay down again.
I fell asleep and dreamed that I was chasing those two islanders in an endeavour to find out the meaning of their mysterious chant, but just as I had overtaken the pair, some one gripped my arm and shook me gently.
When I opened my eyes I looked up into the face of a good-looking young fellow of about two and twenty years, who was smiling broadly as if he thought it a great joke to wake a man out of a sound sleep on a hot afternoon.
"Are you Jack Verslun?" he asked.
I nodded. It was too warm to use words recklessly.
"Pierre the Rat sent me after you," he continued.
"Why?" I asked.
"I have a berth for you," he answered. "I'm from The Waif. The mate died on the run down from Sydney, and Captain Newmarch sent me ashore to hunt up some one for his perch. Do you want it?"
"Where are you bound?" I asked.
"Science expedition under the direction of Professor Herndon of San Francisco."
I sat up and looked across the stretch of water at The Waif, and the young fellow waited patiently. I knew the yacht. An English baronet had brought the vessel out from Cowes to Brisbane, but he had made the pace too hot in the Colonies. Out in Fortitude Valley one night the keeper of a saloon fired a bullet into his aristocratic head, and The Waif was auctioned. She had taken a hand in a number of games after that. A fast yacht is a handy vessel south of the line, and some queer tales were told about the boat that had once shown her heels to the crackerjacks in the Solent. But I couldn't afford to be particular at that moment. Levuka isn't the spot where a man can pick and choose, so I wiped the shell grit from my drill suit and told myself that I had better accept the berth instead of waiting in expectation of something better turning up. Pierre the Rat, who ran "The Rathole," where penniless seamen and beachcombers lodged, was my creditor, and when Pierre was very solicitous in obtaining employment for one of his boarders, it was a mighty good intimation that the boarder's credit had reached highwater mark.
"Well," I said, climbing to my feet, "I might as well take it. I thought I had enough of the Islands, but as this has turned up I'm your man. Say," I added, "did you ever read Pilgrim's Progress'?"
The young fellow looked at me and grinned. "Yes, I did," he answered.
"Do you remember much of it?" I asked.
"Not much," he replied.
"Is there anything in it about a white waterfall that is on the way to heaven out of Black Fernando's hell?" I questioned.
The youngster put his head on one side and looked as if he was turning things over in his mental storehouse, then he gave me a quick, shrewd glance and burst out laughing.
"Well?" I growled. "What's the grin for?"
"What has Bunyan got to do with my business?" he asked. "I came to sign you up for a mate's job on The Waif, and I am in a hurry."
"Yes, I know," I grumbled, "but I thought you might have heard something of a white waterfall. I'm not sure that it is mentioned in 'Pilgrim's Progress,' but it seems to taste of Bunyan."
"P'raps so," said the youngster, "but Bunyan isn't in our line at present. Captain Newmarch told me to hurry back to the yacht, as he wants to get away by sunset, so if you're ready we'll make a start. My name is Holman, Will Holman."
We walked up the quiet street together and I began to like Will Holman. One couldn't help but like him. He had the frank, open ways of a boy, but the cut of his jaw and the manner in which he minted his words led you to believe that he would give a man's account of himself if any one pushed him up against a wall. While he made some purchases in the little stores, I went up to the broken-down shanty where Pierre the Rat ran his house of refuge, and, after I had collected my few belongings, I went back to the wharf, where a boat from The Waif was waiting to take us aboard the yacht.
It was when I was climbing into the boat that I got a surprise. One of the two natives at the oars was the little Fijian who had been the pupil of the Maori, but he didn't bat an eyelash when I stared at him.
"What's up?" asked Holman. "Do you know Toni?"
"He's one of the brace that were singing that song about the white waterfall," I growled.
The Fijian let out a volley of indignant denials, and Holman laughed.
"You might be mistaken," he said. "Toni came ashore with me about two hours ago, but I don't think he left the boat."
"I'm not mistaken," I said, as the Fijian kept on protesting that he had never moved from the boat, "but it doesn't matter much. Let it go."
We were about a quarter of a mile from the shore when a man raced down from the town, ran along to the sea end of the wharf and waved his arms as if he was signalling us. Holman turned and looked at him.
"I wonder who it is?" he muttered. "Perhaps it is somebody with your board bill, Verslun."
I started to laugh, then I stopped suddenly. The man on the wharf was shouting to us, and when my ears caught a word I recognized him. It was the big Maori who had been instructing the Fijian earlier in the afternoon.
I told Holman, and he looked at Toni, but Toni's face was blank. For some reason or other he wished to ignore his instructor who was screaming on the end of the wharf.
"He must be mad," muttered Holman. "The darned fool thinks we—Listen!"
A land breeze brought the last line of the chant to our ears as we neared The Waif, and the words seemed to stir me curiously as they swirled around us. I had a desire to memorize the chant, and even after we had got out of range of the high-powered voice of the singer I found myself murmuring over and over again the words:
"That's the way to heaven out Of Black Fernando's hell."
THE PROFESSOR'S DAUGHTERS
In the old days, when slave-carrying was a game followed by gentlemen with nerve, the officer with the best nose on board the man-o'-war that overhauled a suspected slave carrier was always sent aboard to make an examination. It was his business to sniff at the air in the hold in an endeavour to distinguish the "slave smell." No matter how the wily slaver disinfected the place, the odour of caged niggers remained, and a long-nosed investigator could always detect it.
Now the trouble odour on board a ship is the same as the slave smell. An experienced investigator can detect it immediately, and when I climbed over the low bulwarks of The Waif I got a whiff. I couldn't tell exactly where it was, but I knew that Dame Trouble was aboard the craft. It's a sort of sixth sense with a sailorman to be able to detect a stormy atmosphere, and I felt that the yacht wasn't the place that the dove of peace would choose as a permanent abode. I don't know how the information came to me. It seemed to filter in through the pores of my skin, but it was information that I felt sure was correct.
Captain Newmarch was a bilious Englishman with a thin, scrawny beard. He endeavoured to make one word do the work of two—or three if they were very short words—and working up a conversation with him was as tough a job as one could lay hold of. Sometimes a word came to the tip of his tongue, felt the atmosphere, as you might say, then slid back into his throat with a little protesting gurgle, and after a ten minutes' conversation with him, those little gurgles from the strangled words made me look upon him as a sort of morgue for murdered sentences.
Professor Herndon, the head of the expedition, was on the deck when the captain and I came up out of the cabin, and Herndon was everything the comic papers show in the make-up of science professors, with a little bit extra for good luck. He was sixty inches of nerves, wrinkles, and whiskers, with special adornments in the shape of a blue smoking cap, and a pair of spectacles with specially ground lenses of an enormous thickness.
Newmarch grunted something which the Professor and I took to be an introduction, and he put a skinny hand into mine.
"You have been a long while in the Islands?" he squeaked.
"Longer than I care to say," I replied.
"Have you been around the spot we are making for?" he asked.
"I was on Penrhyn Island for three months," I answered. "I was helping a German scientist who was studying the family habits of turtles."
I made a foolish break by admitting that I possessed any knowledge of Polynesia. The Professor had left his home at sunny Sausalito, on the shores of San Francisco Bay, in search of that kind of stuff, and before I could do a conversational backstep he had pushed me against the side of the galley and was deluging me with questions, the answers to which he entered in shorthand in a notebook that was bulkier than a Dutchman's Bible. The old spectacled ancient could fire more queries in three minutes than any human gatling that ever gripped a brief, and I looked around for relief.
And the wonder is that the relief came. I forgot the Professor and his anxiety concerning the "temba-temba" devil dance when my eyes happened to catch sight of the vision that was approaching from the companionway. A boat carrying a science expedition to one of the loneliest groups in the Pacific was not the place where one would expect to find the handsomest girl in all the world, and my tongue refused to mould my words. The girl was tall, of graceful build, and possessed of a quiet beauty that had a most peculiar effect upon me. Only that afternoon, as I lay in the shadow of the pile of pearl shell on Levuka wharf, I had thought of crossing to Auckland and shipping up to 'Frisco so that I could hear good women laugh and talk as I had heard them in my dreams during the years I had spent around the Islands, and now the woman of my dreams was in front of me. But I was afraid of her. When she came toward me I thought of the years I had wasted down in that lonely quarter where ambition is strangled by lassitude bred in tropical sunshine, and the ghost of the man I might have been banged me fair between the two eyes.
"My daughter, Miss Edith Herndon," squeaked the Professor, and when I put out my big hand to take her little one I thought I'd fall down on the deck on account of the Niagara of blood that seemed to rush to my brain.
It's funny how all the little imperfections in your dress and manner rise up suddenly and bang you hard on the bump of observation when you find yourself in front of some one whose good opinion you want to earn. I felt it so the moment I stood before the girl in the cream serge suit. My drill outfit, that I had thought rather clean when I brushed the shell grit from it after my sleep on the wharf, looked as black as the devil's tail when she appeared. My hands appeared to be several degrees larger than the prize hams that come out of Kansas, and my tongue, as if it recognized the stupidity of the remarks I attempted to make, started to play fool stunts as if it wanted to go down my throat and choke me to death.
The girl guessed the sort of predicament I was in at that moment. God only knows how many months had passed since I had spoken to a woman like her. Not that good women are lacking in the Islands, but because they were on a different plane to me. I had been belting native crews on trading schooners between the Carolines and the Marquesas, and when ashore I had little opportunity for speaking to a woman of the type of Edith Herndon.
And she understood the feeling that held me tongue-tied. To make me feel at my ease she started to tell of everything that had happened from the moment that The Waif had cleared Sydney Heads, and the time she spent in that recital was as precious to me as the two-minute interval between rounds is to a prize-fighter who has been knocked silly the moment before the round ends. I had shaken the dizziness out of my head when she finished, and I had obtained control over my tongue.
"You must tell us a lot about the South Seas," she cried. "You have been down here such a long time that you must have many interesting things to relate. Captain Newmarch will not talk, and Mr. Leith refuses to see anything picturesque in the sights he has seen during his wanderings."
"Who is Mr. Leith?" I asked.
"He is father's partner in this expedition," she said quietly. "He has lived down here for many years, but he will not tell us much. And Barbara is anxious to know everything she can."
"Barbara?" I stammered. "Then—then there is another lady aboard?"
"Oh, yes! my sister," cried the girl. "I think I hear her coming now."
There was no question about the latter part of her remark. A burst of laughter that was more infectious than influenza came from the companion-stairs, and immediately in its wake came a girl who made me think, as I compared her to Miss Edith, of a beautiful yacht alongside a stately liner. Barbara Herndon was sunshine personified. Laughter went with her wherever she went, and a pair of Tongans, polishing brasses, immediately put their molars on view, as if they had understood what caused the smiles upon her pretty face as she came toward us.
"Oh, you are the new mate?" she cried, as I was introduced. "Mr. Holman was just telling me about you. He said that you repeated a chapter of 'Pilgrim's Progress' every time you woke up after a sleep."
I blushed as I made a mental resolve that I would punch the head of that youngster when I had a suitable opportunity, and in between my stammering explanations I made notes on the differences between the two girls. Edith was as stately as Juno, with a face that was so sweet and restful that a glance at it was better than an opiate for a man whose nerves were all out of tune. She had that kind of repose that you see sometimes on the face of an Oriental statue, the repose that comes to women who have met great trials or for whom great trials are waiting. Barbara was altogether different. She found the world rather an amusing place, and it seemed as if she took it for granted that her sister was capable of shouldering the cares of the family, leaving her free to smile at all the amusing incidents she found in the course of the day.
It appeared to me that I was an amusing incident to her at that moment. She returned to the fool story that Holman had told, and I couldn't sidestep her questions.
"But it is true that you were quoting Bunyan on the wharf when Mr. Holman found you, isn't it?" she asked mischievously.
"No, it isn't true," I spluttered. "I only asked Mr. Holman a question to see if he was familiar with 'Pilgrim's Progress'."
"Why did you ask him that?" she quizzed. "I'm sure he looks a perfectly respectable young man."
Miss Edith was smiling, but she took pity upon me at last and endeavoured to rescue me from my tormentor.
"Oh, Barbara!" she cried reprovingly, "Mr. Verslun will think you are very inquisitive. You must not pry into his private affairs."
"But it is nothing private," I gurgled. "I simply asked Mr. Holman a question in an endeavour to find out what a Maori and a Fijian were talking about."
"Oh, it is something mysterious!" cried the younger girl. "I knew it! I knew it! We are getting into the region of mystery at last! Oh, Mr. Verslun, you are a perfect treasure! It has been a nasty, dull, old trip from the moment we left Sydney Harbour, and you are the first person to bring a little colour into the voyage."
She was so worked up at the thought of hearing something wonderfully mysterious and romantic that I started to make a long yarn out of that incident on the wharf just for her benefit. Miss Edith was interested too, but I was convinced, as I polished up the points of the little tale and endeavoured to pull in a thrill, that the elder sister was deriving her pleasure from watching the face of the younger one, and not from my story.
"It pleases Barbara," she cried, when I had told how Toni had denied all knowledge of his friend, and how the Maori had sent the farewell chant after the boat. "She thinks she will see and hear wonderful things before we get back to civilization."
"I hope she will," I said, and little did I dream that the wish I expressed at that moment should come true in such a remarkable manner before we had returned.
"And you don't know what they meant by their song about the white waterfall and Black Fernando's hell?" murmured Barbara.
"No, I don't," I replied. "The Maori ran away when I attempted to cross-examine him, and Toni denies all knowledge of the duet on the wharf."
"Oh, we must ask him again!" she cried. "There he is near the wheel. I'll go and bring him!"
She raced madly after the Fijian and hauled him before us in triumph. I was more convinced than ever that it was Toni who had blundered over his lesson on the wharf, but Toni denied the charge more vehemently than he did on the boat. He asserted in reply to Barbara Herndon's questions, that he could not sing a note, that he was absolutely ignorant of white waterfalls, and the only hell he knew was the one spoken of by the missionary in Lower George Street, Sydney; and the girl sighed as she gave up the effort.
"It seemed such a nice mystery to unravel," she murmured, "but if Toni persists in saying that he knows nothing of the white waterfall the investigation falls to the ground."
The Fijian was backing away with renewed protestations when a head came round the corner of the galley, and a voice that was deeper than the caves of Atiu fired a question at us.
"What about the white waterfall?"
"Oh, Mr. Leith," cried Miss Barbara, "we have just been investigating a mystery. Mr. Verslun discovered it this afternoon in Levuka. But you haven't met Mr. Verslun yet, have you?"
"I haven't," growled the owner of the voice.
"Mr. Verslun, this is Mr. Leith, who is father's partner," said Miss Barbara. "He knows a lot about the Islands, but he refuses to tell any of his experiences."
I looked at the man who stood in front of me, and a curious thing flashed through my mind. I was reminded at that moment of a story I had read of a man charged with an attempt upon the life of a prince. The would-be murderer informed the judge that a terrible hate of the princeling had gripped him the moment he put eyes on him, and he had made the attempt upon his life before he had managed to control the unexplainable surge of hate. I understood the emotion that had gripped that unfortunate as I stood face to face with Leith. A feeling of revulsion gripped me, and I experienced a peculiar squalmy sensation as I took his hand. It was unexplainable. Perhaps some ancestor of mine had unsatisfactory dealings with a man of the same unusual type in a faraway past, and the transmitted hate had suddenly sprung into the conscious area. I do know that you can keep a secretary-bird away from snakes till it grows old, but the first reptile it sees it immediately starts out to beat him up. I had the inherited hate that makes the secretary-bird rush madly at a snake that may be the first of its species that it has ever seen, and I guess that Leith had no love to spare for me from the moment he took my hand.
He was a huge brute, fully six feet tall, and he was the possessor of two of the strongest-looking hands I had ever seen. They were claws, that's what they were. The great fingers were slightly crooked, as if waiting, like the tentacles of an octopus, for something to get in their grip. The body was heavy, and, in a manner that I cannot explain, it made me think of animals that lived and died in long past ages. The big brute looked so capable of making an inexcusable attack that one's primitive instincts warned one to keep in a state of readiness for the onslaught that seemed imminent.
But it was the face that was specially unattractive. It was a sallow, flat face, and the strange eyes did nothing to lighten it. They were dead, lustreless eyes. They had a coldness in them that reminded me of the icicle eyes of the crocodile, and, curiously, I associated that reptile's notions of fair warfare with Leith as I looked at him. That sullen face, with the eyes that would never brighten at a tale of daring, or dim from a story of pathos, belonged to a man who would imitate crocodile tactics by lying quiet till his prey was within striking distance.
"What is all this about the white waterfall?" he repeated, after the crooked fingers had dropped my hand.
"Oh, it's something that happened to Mr. Verslun," replied Miss Barbara.
"Where?" asked Leith.
"On the wharf over there," I answered coldly, nodding toward the structure as I spoke. "It's really nothing important though, and I related it solely for Miss Herndon's amusement."
"But Toni?" he growled, turning toward the two girls.
"Oh, Toni puts forward an alibi," laughed the youngest sister. "He asserts that he was in the boat when the incident happened and he persists in saying that he knows nothing about the matter."
Leith again turned toward me, and his brows straightened as he looked me in the eyes. "Can't you tell the story over again?" he asked.
"I'd rather not," I said, somewhat rudely. "I'm tired of it. It was really only a small happening that I am afraid I expanded a little in an endeavour to thrill Miss Herndon, and the story is now her personal property."
"But the bare facts?" he growled.
"There are no bare facts," I replied. "I covered them with fiction, and I think Miss Herndon is going to copyright the whole."
He took the remark as a direct refusal on my part to give him an outline of the affair to satisfy his curiosity, and I felt elated at noting the sudden glint of anger that appeared in the lustreless eyes.
The two girls stood silent for a moment while Leith and I surveyed each other without speaking, then a Tahitian boy broke the awkward silence by informing me that the captain wished to see me in the cabin, and I hurriedly excused myself to the sisters and went below.
A KNIFE FROM THE DARK
It was after nine o'clock that evening before I again saw young Holman, and by that time Levuka was far behind. We had taken advantage of a stiff breeze that had sprung up about sunset, and The Waif was plunging through a moon-washed ocean, sending furrows of foam from her forefoot while the wind snored through her canvas. I forgot the happenings of the day as I felt the quivering vessel that seemed to thrill with the ecstasy of life as she flung herself at the watery wastes ahead. The tremor in her boards seemed to crawl into my body and warm me like wine, and I felt inclined to bless Holman instead of punching his head as I had thought of doing during the baiting I received from Miss Barbara Herndon. The youngster had saved me from days and nights of weary monotony in sleepy Levuka, and I welcomed him gladly as he joined me on the poop.
"Say, you made a hit with the ladies!" he cried. "Your fame as a story-teller is set upon a solid foundation. And I don't suppose you are inclined to thank me for giving you the opportunity to tell of the wonderful things that happened while you slumbered on the wharf?"
"Drop it," I growled; "I've had enough of the joke. By the way, what position do you hold in the expedition?"
The boy laughed. "I hold none," he cried, "but I'm trying to make myself useful to the Professor so that he'll invite me to come ashore with him. The Professor and his daughters, with Leith and half a dozen natives, comprise the full strength of the expedition, and I'm trying hard for an invitation to the field of wonders."
"But what are you doing aboard?" I asked.
"My uncle owns The Waif," answered the young fellow, "and he thought this trip would be a nice cheap holiday for me. I wanted to take a run to the States, but that would have cost him money, so I allowed myself to be forced aboard the yacht. But, Gee! I'm mighty glad I came now."
I glanced at his face as we turned in our walk, but he moved his head away quickly.
"So it has been pleasant?" I said.
"Pleasant?" he cried. "Why it has been a little foretaste of heaven. Say, I like you, and I know you like her by the manner in which you explained everything to her. Don't you think she's a jolly nice girl?"
"Why, Miss Barbara Herndon," he cried.
"Oh!" I gurgled. "You took me by surprise, and I hardly knew—well, I didn't know what had made the trip so pleasant."
He put out his hand, and I gripped it warmly. There was something clean and good about the youngster. When he glanced up at me as I took his hand, I looked into a face that was as open as the day—a face that possessed all the passionate purity of youth, and my grip was sincere. One didn't ask for credentials in dealing with Will Holman.
"I liked you from the start," he said, "but I wanted the opinion of the girls. That's why I put Miss Barbara up to the game of firing questions at you about that silly business on the wharf."
"And did I pass muster?" I queried.
"Sure you did!" he cried enthusiastically. "Miss Barbara Herndon says that you are true blue, and Miss Edith—"
He stopped and looked at a patch of shadow near the galley. "Some one is hiding there," he whispered. "I saw him sneak into it."
"Nonsense!" I growled. "The moon and something else are affecting your brain."
"But I'm sure of it," he gasped.
He sprang for the spot as he finished speaking, but he found nothing. He returned to my side shaking his head as if only half convinced about the matter.
"Some one was listening to us talking, but whoever it was he managed to slip away while we were arguing the question."
"Well, he didn't learn much," I said. "It was probably one of the islanders, and you've scared the life out of him now."
Holman gripped my arm as I turned away, and he put a question in a tense whisper.
"What do you think of Leith?" he asked.
Somehow the question did not surprise me, but I was not in a hurry to give my opinion of the, Professor's partner.
"I have only spoken a few words to him," I countered cautiously.
"But your impression?" stammered the youngster. "Don't you think—well, of course you haven't got the lay of things yet."
I smiled at the guilelessness of the boy who was making a confidant of a stranger. "What's wrong with Leith?" I asked. "What are you hinting at?"
Holman glanced at the Tongan at the wheel, then at the shadow patch that had disturbed his nerves a few moments before.
"He's the devil!" he whispered.
I felt inclined to laugh. Leith was certainly not a person that one would take to the moment an introduction was given, but the manner in which the young fellow had imparted his opinion was amusing. But it was evident that I had not guessed wrong when I divined trouble the moment I came over the side of the yacht.
Holman caught my coat with his left hand as we turned, and he spoke excitedly.
"Do you know what we're after?" he queried hoarsely.
"It's a scientific expedition," I replied. "That's what you and Captain Newmarch told me, and I have not questioned any one else."
"But do you know the particular line we are after?"
"No," I replied.
"Well, we're after skulls. Leith has told the Professor about some ancient boneyard that he knows of, and he's dragging old Herndon down there."
"I cannot see the crime now," I said. "I've gone after skulls before to-day. I brought a hundred of them up to Vavau for a German scientist last year. He was taking them home to European museums to prove that the Polynesians of ten centuries back had bigger brains than the niggers of to-day."
"Yes, I know that," gurgled Holman; "but Leith—oh, damn it! I can't get you to understand! He pulled the Professor into this deal, and the old man is as green as grass. Herndon supplied the money and all that, and he's that much of a silly old doodlebug that this fellow is buncoing him out of his good gold."
"Yes," I muttered; "and what do his daughters say?"
"Say?" cried the youngster. "They can say nothing that will do any good when they are talking to a madman. He sees Fame coming down the pike, and he's blind to all the tricks of that devil. It's a fact, Verslun! Leith is after the old man's cash—and after Edith Herndon as well."
I stood and looked at the youngster. His boyish face was aflame with indignation, and any suspicions I had regarding his good intentions were swept away immediately.
"After Edith Herndon?" I repeated slowly.
"Yes!" he gasped. "Oh, I knew you didn't like the big, sallow brute. Miss Barbara told me how you turned him down cold when he wanted you to repeat that yarn to satisfy his curiosity. He's a bad egg, do you hear? He's out for trouble, and we're going to run into it head on before we finish the trip. Only for the girls I would have stayed ashore at Levuka."
"And the captain?" I questioned.
"We don't know about him," he snapped. "He's Leith's captain. I mean Leith put him in his job when the Professor chartered the yacht. Anyhow, he doesn't say enough to let any one know which side of the fence he is on. He has only learned to say yes and no, and he is mighty particular about the number of times he will use those words."
I laughed at the bitterness the youngster threw into his speech. It is good to be young. One can love and hate with some intensity, and it appeared to me that Holman had found marks for both adoration and hatred on the yacht that was slipping into the mysterious islands of the South Sea.
"You mustn't look at the black side of things," I said. "Leith's face is not a likable one, I will admit, but a lot of good fellows have ugly dials. It seems that the Professor wants skulls, and it appears that Leith knows of a spot where he can gather up the oldest specimens in Polynesia. There's nothing wrong about that. As to Miss Herndon, she struck me as being a young lady who was well able to look after herself."
"That's all right," stammered the youngster. "Perhaps I said too much, but I had to speak to you."
"And I'm mighty glad you did!" I cried.
He gripped my hand and turned away, leaving me to my own reflections. It was a wonderful night. The silvery sea through which The Waif drove a path with plunging forefoot awoke strange dreams and fancies within my brain. All the mystery of the tropic night welled up around me, and my soul seemed to have suddenly awakened to the beauty of life. The veil of morbid pessimism that came before my eyes during the weary days I had spent upon the beach at Levuka was torn aside, and a wave of gladness entered my being. I felt that the voyage would be an eventful one to me, and I tramped the poop with a light step. Occasionally the sallow features of Leith persisted in rising before my mental vision to blot out the dream face that was continually before me, but I resolutely put the Professor's partner from my mind and fed myself upon the visions bred by the splendour of the night.
Holman had left me about an hour when I happened to glance at the patch of shadow that had attracted his attention while he was talking to me. I stopped and watched it intently. Some one had crawled into the velvety strip and was lying perfectly still.
"Who is there?" I asked.
There was no answer. The strip of shadow broadened and narrowed as The Waif plunged, but I could discern nothing. Outside the captain and myself, the crew of The Waif, together with the six men that were with the Professor's party, were all natives, and I wondered as I watched the shadow why one should be crawling around as if afraid of being seen. It was possible that he was attempting to thieve something from the galley, and it was also possible that he was spying, as Holman had suggested.
I picked up a small iron pin and tossed it at the spot where I felt sure the islander was hiding. I didn't throw the pin with any force, although the yell that came out of the shadow would convince an onlooker that I had thrown it with murderous intent.
I sprang forward while the shriek of pain was still vibrating in the air, but the native was determined to have revenge for the rap from the iron pin. A knife flashed in the moonlight, and I staggered as the blade touched my forehead like a tongue of flame. A dark figure dashed along the deck toward the forecastle, and brushing the blood from my eyes I started in pursuit.
At the head of the companion-stairs I collided heavily with Newmarch, who had just rushed up from the cabin, and the force of the shock nearly threw him off his feet.
"Confound it!" he cried. "What's the matter with you?"
"One of the Kanakas nearly cut my eye out!" I roared. "He flung a knife at me and ducked for the f'c'stle."
I left him standing in angry astonishment and rushed forward. I stood at the top of the ladder and listened. The only noises that came up were the shrill snores of the islanders, but the blood that streamed down my face made me forget prudence, and I scrambled down into the stuffy quarters, where the odour of natives was overwhelming.
A swinging lamp dimly illuminated the place, and I snatched it from its hook and swung it over the face of the naked occupant of the first bunk. A glance convinced me that his sleep was genuine. His mouth was wide open as he snored, and the native who feigns sleep hasn't enough sense to make his imitation more real by opening his mouth.
The man in the next bunk, a muscular Kanaka, had his face turned away from me, and in spite of his prolonged snore my suspicions were aroused. I thrust my hand beneath the single blanket that covered him, and was immediately convinced that I had discovered the culprit. The blanket was cold.
"Here, you scoundrel!" I yelled, dropping the lamp and poking him roughly in the ribs. "What the devil do you mean by trying to knife me?"
He opened his big eyes and stared at me stupidly, while the occupants of the other bunks, who were aroused by my shout, sat up and rubbed their eyes.
"Why did you throw that knife?" I screamed.
"I no throw knife," he muttered. "Me sleep, very tired."
The pain of my wound maddened me, and I seized him roughly and dragged him toward the ladder with the intention of bringing him before the bilious captain.
I had grasped a rung to haul myself up when a heavy boot came down on my fingers and the voice of the captain screamed an objection.
"Stop that business!" he shrieked.
"But this devil tried to knife me!" I protested.
"Let him go!" yelled Newmarch. "Do you hear me? Let him go this instant!"
I let go my grip of the Kanaka, who immediately dived for his bunk and curled himself up as if he had no further interest in the proceedings. The captain was beside me then, and his quick breathing betrayed his excitement. As I lifted the lamp back to its place the light fell upon his thin features; their pallor surprised me as much as his words.
"Too many wonderful things happen to you!" he stammered.
"Why—what do you mean?" I queried.
"Never mind!" he snapped. "If you start a rough house on board this boat I'll stop you before you get well under way."
I was too astounded to reply. The blood upon my face and hands was plain evidence of the wound I had received, and the captain's indifference left me breathless. Without another word he turned and scrambled up on deck, and I followed.
Once out of earshot of the listening crew I determined to make another effort to show him that my conduct was justified.
"That devil was sneaking in the shadow of the galley all the evening," I cried. "I attempted to stir him out and he jerked the knife at me."
He stopped in front of me, made one of his conversational feints by opening his mouth and shutting it again, then dived hastily for the companion, leaving me to search for sympathy in the moonlit night. I remembered as I endeavoured to staunch the wound, the question which I had put to Holman concerning the captain only an hour before, and I smiled grimly as I bound my handkerchief about my forehead. Captain Newmarch of The Waif hadn't risen in my estimation since the moment I made the inquiry.
Holman glanced inquiringly at the piece of sticking plaster above my right eye when he met me on the deck the morning after the knife incident, and I grinned sheepishly.
"You were right about that patch of shadow last night," I remarked.
"How?" he queried.
"This came from it," I replied, touching the plaster with my finger as I spoke.
The boy whistled and looked around cautiously. "You'll be getting wise in a day or two," he murmured. "She said you would when I told her this morning about our conversation of last night."
I laughed, and he turned suddenly toward me. "Do you think we'll put in anywhere in the Samoan Group?"
"I don't think so," I replied. "Why?"
Holman came closer. "If we do I'm going to get the girls ashore and keep them there," he muttered. "I don't care what you think of the proposition. This trip is going to be a tough one, and I'm certain there is some deviltry afoot."
I tried to laugh at the serious face upon the youngster, but the conviction which he threw into his words choked my mirth. Whether it was the little brush with the Kanaka or the gloomy forebodings of the boy I couldn't tell, but I felt a trifle anxious after my first night aboard The Waif.
"But there is nothing to be gained by running away if we do put in to a port," I growled.
"How is that?" stammered Holman.
"Well, if Leith is an admirer of Edith Herndon, as you say," I argued, "and if the captain is in league with Leith, the yacht wouldn't leave till the girls came aboard. Besides, the Professor wouldn't go on without them."
"I don't know about the Professor," grunted Holman. "That old doodlebug only thinks of the silly specimens that he is going to collect down here. If he had any love for his daughters he wouldn't have brought them along."
"But you told me they insisted on coming."
"So they did!" he retorted savagely. "But they knew that the poor old fool was in the hands of a scoundrel and they wouldn't let him go alone. They think they can protect him from that devil, and it nearly makes me cry to hear them say so."
Miss Edith Herndon and her sister came up on deck at that moment, and if I was impressed by the calm sweetness of the elder girl's face on the previous afternoon, the strength and beauty of it as I saw it in the fresh morning sunlight made my heart pound violently against my ribs. The prettiness of Miss Barbara made the quiet dignity of the elder sister more noticeable, and that apparent strength of character made me doubt Holman's contention that she would be unable to help the scientist if Leith's motives were discovered to be criminal.
It was Barbara's keen eyes that detected my plaster, and I squirmed as I saw the light of curiosity in her eyes.
"Oh, tell us how it happened!" she cried. "Please make it a night attack upon the yacht, Mr. Verslun! I heard a wild cry just after I retired and I felt sure that war canoes had surrounded us. They always surround the ill-fated ship, don't they?" she continued merrily. "And the ship is always ill-fated in all the really thrilling sea stories I have read!"
Leith came sauntering aft as she fired her questions at me, and he stood near Miss Edith with his dull eyes fixed upon me as I answered.
"I'm afraid I cannot feed your imagination to-day," I replied. "I tripped over a coil of rope, and the deck sprang up and bumped me."
I glanced at Leith as I spoke, and I fancied I detected a glint of amusement in the lustreless eyes that were turned in my direction. Whether it was caused by my hastily constructed lie or by the girl's inquiries I could not tell, but my dislike for the clumsy giant made me suspicious about his knowledge of the incident of the preceding evening, and I felt certain that he was smiling at my fib.
As if he wished to do something which would convince me of his ignorance of the happening, he hastily changed the subject.
"The captain thinks we are in for a spell of bad weather, Mr. Verslun," he drawled; "are you of the same opinion?"
"If signs go for anything we are," I replied. "We are running into a zone of trouble."
He walked away without further speech, and the two girls went below in response to a message from their father. The Professor was slightly indisposed, and he demanded that his daughters remain with him in the cabin. The selfishness of the scientist irritated Holman exceedingly, and he made bitter comments about him during the hour or two he kept me company.
"I never yet met one of those scientific gazaboos who didn't think he was something more than mortal," he growled. "I try to keep on good terms with the old bone measurer, but his vanity nearly turns me sick. Do you know what he told me yesterday?"
"What?" I asked, amused at the youngster's annoyance.
"Said that he might mention my name in the report of the expedition that he would send to some old research society in the States. When I didn't show any signs of elation he got offended, so I guess I'm cut out of the history."
He went grumbling down into the cabin, and I watched the ocean. The barometer was low, and out of the west a pack of fat black clouds swarmed up from the horizon, stacking themselves one upon another till they resembled a huge pile of rounded boulders which a sudden puff of wind might bring toppling down upon us. The faint scouting puffs of air—"the devil's breath" of the poetical Polynesians—whined through the stays, but the small waves that tried to rise in expectation were clouted back by the heavy, oppressive atmosphere that ironed out the ocean till one's imagination pictured it waiting for the word like a strained runner on his mark.
It burst at last. Three violent blasts ripped over us like projectiles, and the "song of the dead men" was twanged upon the straining ropes. The Waif stopped for an instant, as if debating whether she would run or cower before the onslaught, then she dipped her nose into the mad lather that rose around her and plunged forward. That jump seemed to be a challenge to the storm. It burst upon us in all its fury, and the yacht became a tiny seesaw upon the murderous Himalayas that rose around us.
Great chunks of green water came hurtling over the rail, thundering down upon us till The Waif was buried in a boiling turmoil from which she would leap and shake herself, only to be pulled down again when the next sea fell upon us. When she sprang out of the lather, those devilish, snarling, snaky waves sprang after her, slapping at her flanks, tearing and biting at her like a pack of wolves. There's an awful likeness to a wolf pack about storm waves. When you see them all foam-lathered stretching out like a pack in full cry, or watch them leaping up as if they were trying to see whether the unfortunate ship had been torn down by one of their band, you begin to credit them with some sort of intelligence.
The Waif was no poppycock yacht, built to dodge about the Solent and run for Cowes if the wind blew a capful. She had been built to hold her own with the hardest slamming seas that ever chased a shattered hull, and it was lucky for us that she was. The storm that came screeching after us from way across the Coral Sea was one of those high-powered freak disturbances that juggle with lumps of water like a vaudeville performer juggling with cheap crockery. It took the tops off those rollers and pelted them at us, and the wind seemed to yell in triumph when the yacht was buried in the whirlpools in which she dived headlong.
All through the night we raced before it, and through the following day The Waif never paused for an instant in her mad race to the eastward. The Kanakas became demoralized with fear, and I forgot the trouble hanging over the heads of the girls and their father as I helped Newmarch drag the crew from their bunks to cut away the wreckage of the vessel.
I saw a new side of the captain during those hours. A very devil of energy took hold of him with the coming of the storm, and he became a human dynamo. He pounded the frightened crew unmercifully, dragging the screaming islanders back to their work by the hair of their heads, and heaping upon them curses that were strange and blood-curdling. That he was a good sailorman I had little doubt. He handled The Waif with skill and patience, while the crew, with rolling eyes and quivering lips, were so terrorized by his wrath that they fled to do his bidding.
I had been wondering since the moment when he had ordered me to let go my grip of the Kanaka in the f'c'stle, if he was afraid that any disagreement between me and the knife-thrower would start trouble with the crew, but from the way he hazed the niggers during the storm I was convinced that it was not through any fear of them that he ordered me to leave my assailant alone. The conviction did not increase my love for him. As I viewed the happening he was inclined to shield the big brute who threw the knife simply because the offence did not appear to be one that merited punishment, and this view was not pleasing to my nerves.
It was on the second day of the storm that a little incident happened which is worth mentioning. Toni, the small Fijian who had chanted the song of Black Fernando's hell, was caught by a huge wave and pounded hard against the cabin. The mad turmoil of water swept his nearly lifeless form into the scuppers, but before another comber could snatch him overboard, I managed to reach his side and drag him into safety.
I forgot the incident in the whirl of happenings that followed, but the Fijian had a longer memory. Late that afternoon he was holding the wheel with Soma, the big Kanaka who had jerked the knife at me, and as I stopped to peer at the binnacle he beckoned me toward him.
"That was me that sing," he shrieked, as I put down my head. "I tell damn big lie you an' Miss Herndon."
"Why?" I asked, amused at the peculiar manner in which he tried to express his gratitude for the rescue of the morning.
"Big Jacky tell me not say anything," he screamed. "He tell it to me one big secret all that talk about waterfall. Tell me not to tell any one. You know why?"
I glanced at Soma and found that he was straining his ears to catch the words the other was shrieking, and as I was more than suspicious of him, I promptly closed the conversation.
"I'll see you in the morning," I roared.
The Fijian nodded and I fought my way forward, wondering as I clung to the rigging what the pupil of the Maori had to tell me about the song.
The wind had ceased somewhat on the morning of the third day, but the snaky rollers were still racing after the flying yacht. A watery sun peeped out from between the driving cloud masses, the rays glinting through the heads of the waves that curled menacingly as the battered yacht drove through them.
Newmarch hailed me from the poop when I came on deck, and there was a peculiar look upon his scrawny features as he addressed me.
"Do you know that nigger you rescued?" he asked.
"What about him?"
"You did your heroic stunt for nothing," he remarked. "The fool can't be found, so I guess he went overboard in the night."
The news came as a shock to me. Toni's last question that he had put as he clung to the wheel with Soma had flashed through my mind several times through the night. He had asked it in a manner that insinuated that I might be interested in the reasons why Big Jacky, his companion on the wharf at Levuka, wished the whereabouts of the white waterfall to remain a secret, and now his disappearance blocked my inquiries. I felt annoyed with myself for not listening to what the Fijian had to say at the moment he confessed that he had lied, and then the face of the listening Soma came up before my mental eye. Soma was a person that I was beginning to cordially dislike.
I turned to Newmarch and fired a question at him.
"Do you think he was helped overboard?"
"Why, no," he said slowly. "Why do you think that?"
"Oh, nothing," I replied. "I thought his narrow escape of the morning would have made him careful."
It was a few hours after this conversation that I had my first chance of speaking to Edith Herndon since the moment we had run into the disturbance. The girl poked her head out of the companionway, and I hastened to assist her out on deck. It was her first sight of the damage which the storm had done to the yacht, and she gave a cry of alarm as she looked at the splintered spars and the cordage that cracked in the wind like the whips of invisible devils.
"Oh, Mr. Verslun, we are a wreck!" she cried.
"Not quite," I said, gripping her arm to steady her as The Waif took a header. "We've weathered the worst of it and we're still sound. The storm centre has slipped away to the north, and we can count ourselves out of the ruction for the present."
Her shapely hand clutched my wet oilskins as the yacht plunged from the back of an enormous swell, and I was so busy noting the beauty of the hand that I had no eye for the sallow face that peeped from the companion. Leith's bass voice rose above the noise of the waves, and there was an angry note in it.
"This isn't a nice place for you, Miss Edith!" he cried.
The girl half turned her head, looked at him for a second, then without any intimation that she had heard what he said, she turned again toward me and started to cross-examine me upon the amount of damage we had sustained. I thought that the white, shapely hand tightened its grip upon my wet sleeve at the moment Leith's bass voice came booming to our ears, and I blessed the big brute's interference for the thrill which I derived from the pressure of her fingers upon the greasy coat.
But Leith was not to be denied. The cold stare, instead of driving him back into the cabin, only roused his temper. Very cautiously he climbed along the heaving deck to the point where we were standing, and, clutching a rope, he swayed backward and forward immediately behind us.
"Miss Edith!" he called.
The girl turned her head sharply. "Well?" she cried.
"This isn't a proper place for you!" roared Leith. "One of those seas is liable to come aboard at any moment, and you might be washed away before any one could assist you."
Edith Herndon's lips showed the slightest trace of a smile. "You had better be careful too, Mr. Leith," she retorted. "Mr. Verslun is holding on to me in case one of those old gray rollers should make a sudden leap, but you have no one to hold on to you."
A frown passed over Leith's face like a cloud shadow across a yellow plain. He slackened his grip on the rope and lurched toward us.
"You must go below at once!" he screamed, addressing the girl. "Your father is too ill to look after you at this moment, so the duty is mine. There is danger here, and I order you below!"
He touched her shoulder with his big fingers that resembled talons, but the girl made a quick side movement and slipped from his grip.
"Do not touch me!" she cried fiercely. "How dare you put your hand on me!"
But Leith's temper was up at that moment, and he was angry enough for anything. He made a spring for the girl's hand, and I thrust my shoulder forward to bump him off. The Waif nearly stood on her end at that instant, and her acrobatic feat combined with the push flung Leith off his feet and sent him rolling ludicrously along the deck.
Miss Herndon gave a little cry of alarm and sprang for the companion-stairs, down which she disappeared without taking a glance at the brute on the wet planks. Leith picked himself up, gripped a loose backstay with his left hand and swung himself toward me, striking out viciously with his free right hand when he came within hitting distance.
The blow landed on my shoulder, and I returned the compliment with an uppercut that jerked him from his swing rope and sent him stumbling backward against the rail. The fall stunned him for a few moments and he rolled about in the wash; then Soma, the Kanaka who jerked the knife at me, rushed from the galley door and dragged him to his feet. The native steered him to the companionway, where he stood for a moment glaring at me as if undecided whether to continue the fight or beat a retreat, but the wild plunging of the yacht convinced him that the spot was not one where he figured to advantage, so he stumbled below.
I looked around and saw Holman clinging to the rigging, his boyish face wearing an expression of extreme pleasure.
"You're getting wise," he cried, as he scrambled toward me; "but don't think you've walloped him. He'll come back at you when he has a better opportunity of beating you up."
I MAKE A PROMISE
The morning following the unpleasant incident with Leith broke clear and sunny. The Pacific, as if tired after its mad pranks of the preceding three days, was a shimmering stretch of placid blue water, and the shattered spars and loose cordage of The Waif were the only reminders of the terrific storm that had swept us before it.
Captain Newmarch set all hands at work to repair the damage, and before midday we were bowling along under as much canvas as we could spread. The storm being directly from the southwest had not carried us from our course, and Newmarch chuckled when he had taken an observation.
"We'll strike it in the morning," he growled.
"What? Penrose Island?" I asked.
"No, the Isle of Tears," he answered sharply.
"The Isle of Tears?" I repeated.
"That's what I said," he remarked sourly. "And now you know as much as I know. It was kept a little secret by the orders of my employers, but we are so close to the spot now that I don't think it will matter if I let the cat out of the bag."
"And is it there that the Professor will conduct his search?" I asked.
"You had better ask that question of Professor Herndon," he replied. "I know nothing about what they'll do ashore."
He left the poop before I had time to put another question to him, and as I walked up and down I turned over in my mind the tiny morsel of information I had received. The captain's secrecy was peculiar, to say the least, and as I reasoned that Professor Herndon knew absolutely nothing of the Islands, it was quite evident that the orders prohibiting Newmarch from making known the exact destination of the yacht had come from Leith. It was not the first time I had heard of the Isle of Tears. Strange stories floated across the Pacific concerning the little islet east of the Suvaroff Group, and out of the reticule of the mind I attempted to drag these stories and piece them together during the minutes that passed after Newmarch had given me the information. They were not pleasant stories as I remembered them at that moment. The island had a "past." The mention of it brought hazy recollections to natives—recollections that were too misty to put into words, but which the untutored mind connected with happenings that were anything but pleasant. And I recalled a night at "Tonga Pete's" place on the Rue de Rivoli at Papeete, when a sailor from a copra schooner in the bay, who had been marooned upon the island by Captain "Bully" Hayes, told a wild, weird story of unexplainable happenings that he had witnessed during the two days and two nights he had spent ashore.
Holman came hurrying upon deck as I was endeavouring to remember all the story that the sailor had told, and the youngster immediately rushed me with the news.
"The captain has just told me," I said.
"Well, Leith has just given the information out in the cabin," he cried. "They must have decided to give it out at the same moment."
"But the Professor?" I asked. "Surely he knew. Do you mean to say that he was ignorant of the fact that it was the Isle of Tears and not Penrose Island that we were making for?"
Holman laughed at my question. "You haven't spoken much to him, Verslun. He couldn't remember the name of a place three minutes. He only knows that there are archaeological treasures on this island we are going to, and he doesn't care two cents about its name. Leith has told him some tall stories about the camp, judging by the way the old man's eyes shine when he mentions it. Yesterday he read me Leith's description of stone hamungas and things that are supposed to have been built before Julius Caesar invaded Britain, and he's pop-eyed with joy as he thinks how he'll yank Fame by the tail when he gets on the ground and snapshots the affairs. Gee! I'm glad I haven't got a kink for digging up relics and dodging about places that went to smash thousands of years ago. A vice like that is more expensive than the poker habit."
"Well, Newmarch says we'll strike it early in the morning," I said, "and then we'll see whether your suspicions are correct."
"I'm infernally afraid they are," snapped the youngster. "I wouldn't care ten cents about the brute only that the girls are aboard. I felt sorry when I saw him climb to his feet yesterday. If you hit him again hit him with something that will crack his skull. He's a devil, Verslun, and before we are much older we will find it out."
I laughed at his gloomy forebodings, and as Miss Barbara Herndon came on deck at that moment he raced away and left me to my own meditations.
My thoughts were mixed. I had pleasant and unpleasant ones. If Leith was the scoundrel that Holman suspected, the two girls were in danger, and now as we neared the island where they would leave the yacht to accompany their father, the clutch of fear was upon me. On The Waif I felt that I had some little power, but on land, more especially on the lonely island toward which we were heading, that feeling of protectorship which the sailorman has for his passengers would be lost. If Leith knew the island, and it was evident that he had visited it before, any villainy that he contemplated would be held in check till he was ashore and in command of the expedition and I would be powerless.
I recognized that Holman's fears were without solid foundation. They were transmitted through Barbara Herndon, but I also recognized that the elder sister would hardly support the statements unless she had good grounds for her anxiety. Her woman's intuition had branded Leith's motives in bringing the Professor into the Islands as bad, and the sallow-faced giant could not erase the impression. The actual reason for trickery was a matter of speculation. Professor Herndon was wealthy; it was his money that had fitted out the expedition, but how Leith expected to benefit himself by treachery was more than I could tell. Still, try as I would to fight off the impressions that Holman's tongue had fixed within my mind, I was unable to alter the opinion I had formed of the man the moment I met him. There was an atmosphere about the yacht that was unexplainable. Try as I could to find legitimate grounds for fears I could not. The Professor was a scientist who wished to study certain things the whereabouts of which were known to Leith. Apparently the Professor was satisfied with the bargain he had made. Leith, as the two girls had informed Holman, had called upon their father at the Langham Hotel in Wynyard Square, Sydney, and, after fascinating the old man with his stories, had presented his credentials and made a bargain with him which resulted in the chartering of the yacht. His former life was a mystery that he guarded jealously from the probes which the girls had skilfully endeavoured to use. It was clear that he had spent many years in the Islands, but that fact is not one that is generally put forward as a recommendation of good character. The South Sea holds a large percentage of the nimble people who manage to be in another spot when Dame Justice throws her lariat. The Law of the Fringe has made curiosity a criminal offence, and a new name covers more than charity.
I had had little chance of speaking to Edith Herndon since the moment I came aboard, but I determined, after I had looked at the matter from every side, that I would ask her point blank if I could be of any assistance. Leith's face was the only prop he put forward as a support to his claims of respectability, and his face betrayed him.
My chance came early that evening. A big tropical moon rose out of Asia and spread a silvery wash upon the ocean. Professor Herndon and his eldest daughter were leaning over the rail, but the moment I joined them the old man informed us that he had to see to his scientific outfit so that everything would be in readiness for the landing on the following morning, and he hurried off and left us together.
The girl did not speak for a few minutes, and I made no attempt to break the silence. Somehow I felt that her intuition had already told her that I wished to speak about the happenings of the morrow, and her opening remark proved that my surmise was correct.
"You will stay with the yacht, I suppose?" she questioned.
"I cannot say," I replied. "Captain Newmarch hasn't spoken to me about the matter. Does your father intend to go far inland?"
"Father has just told me that the actual distance is not great, but the travelling is very hard. It seems that it is only a few miles to the spot where Mr. Leith says that father can see all the sights and obtain all the specimens he desires, but those few miles will take us four days to travel. There are all kinds of obstacles in the way."
"And you are not afraid?" I stammered. "You do not dislike the idea of going?"
She lifted her head and looked me in the face, the big amber eyes shining softly in the moonlight.
"I dread it," she said quietly. "It is foolish to say so, but—"
She stopped speaking and turned her face away from me. In the little silence that followed I heard the plop plop of the waves against the side of the yacht. A native chanted a Samoan love song in the fo'c'stle, but that and the soft whine of the pulleys were the only sounds that disturbed the night. We seemed such a long way from civilization at that minute, and a great pity for the girl's plight gave me sufficient courage to make a proffer of my services.
"Miss Herndon," I spluttered, "if I could do anything to help you, please tell me. I might help you if you wish. Tell me what you think is best."
"If you stay with the yacht you can do nothing," she murmured.
"Then you want me to go?" I cried. "You would like me to go with——"
"Father and Barbara and me," she said softly. "Mr. Holman is coming, and if you could come too—"
"I can!" I cried. "I will go with the party if you say so."
"But if Captain Newmarch orders you to stay with the yacht?"
"He can order away," I spluttered. "I am going where Leith is going, that is as long as Leith accompanies you and your father."
Something moved on the top of the galley as I put my resolution into words, and I sprang up quickly. The moon made every inch of the yacht as bright as day, yet I was not quick enough in my rush. A tin pan, knocked down by the eavesdropper, rolled across the deck, but the spy had fled.
"Some one was listening to us," I explained as I returned to the girl's side.
"I am sorry then that I asked you to accompany us," she murmured. "I am dragging you into our troubles, Mr. Verslun, and it is not right."
"Hush!" I cried. "Your troubles are mine just because you are a woman out on the very fringe of the earth where you can get no one else to help you bear them. You see I can claim a right in this spot. This is the jumping off place of the world down here, and an offer of assistance must not be refused."
She stood in front of me, a tall, splendid figure, the moonlight silvering the piled masses of hair and giving one the impression that her head was surrounded by a shining halo. Suddenly she put out her hand and took mine.
"I accept your offer gladly," she said softly. "You are very, very kind, Mr. Verslun. It may be, as you say, the jumping off place of the world down here at the very outposts of civilization, but the power that protects one in the crowded cities is surely here as well. Good-night, friend."
It was an hour after the time when Miss Herndon went below that I asked the captain's permission to go along with the expedition. He plucked his scrawny beard with a nervous hand as he stood staring at me.
"What the devil do you want to go for?" he asked.
"For the fun of the thing."
"I don't know," he muttered. "I'll see Leith."
He turned away and I walked for'ard. The beauty of the night was extraordinary. The yacht seemed to be veneered with a soft luminous paint that gave us the appearance of a ghostly ship skimming over a ghostly ocean.
At the top of the fo'c'stle ladder I found a native stretched full length and sobbing mightily. He walloped his head against the planks when I endeavoured to get him upon his feet, and the sobs shook his frame.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Toni! Toni! Toni!" he wailed. "Toni he gone. Toni, my brother, all same come from Suva, now him dead."
"I'm sorry, but it can't be helped," I said. "He should have been more careful."
The native lifted himself from the deck and glanced around fearfully. Satisfied that there were no listeners he dried his eyes and crawled upon his knees to the spot where I was standing. "He not washed overboard," he whispered. "Soma stick one knife in him, then he tip him over. Me see him, very much afraid."
"When?" I asked.
"Night afore last," he gasped. "Captain see him do it. Very bad thing. Toni, my brother, all same work one time Suva."
Holman joined me when I relieved the captain late in the night; I told the youngster what I knew about the disappearance of Toni.
"Who knifed him?" he asked.
"The big Kanaka who pulled Leith out of the scuppers when he fell yesterday."
"Holy smoke!" cried the boy. "I'd like to get the strength of things on board this boat. Why, that big nigger is going to be the guide of the expedition on shore."
"Who says so?"
"Leith pointed him out to the Professor this afternoon," answered Holman. "I was talking to the old scientist at the time."
I whistled softly. If Soma was a henchman of Leith's it was clear to me why the captain had shielded him the night he jerked the knife at me when I dropped the pin upon his woolly head, but why Toni had been put away was a mystery.
"Is it any good of attempting to convince the Professor?" I asked.
"Not a bit," snapped Holman. "The girls have been imploring him to turn back this last three days while we were stuck in the cabin, but he won't listen to them. He's a maniac, that's what he is. He doesn't know what those two women are suffering through his darned foolishness, and if he did know it wouldn't trouble him. If you want the real extract of selfishness you must make a puncture in a scientific guy with a hobby, and you can get as much as you want."
"Well, I'm going along to see what happens," I said. "If Leith refuses to accept me I'm going just the same."
Holman gripped my hand—gripped it fiercely, then he left me hurriedly.
I tramped backward and forward as The Waif sailed steadily through the waves of glittering mercury. A few days before, when I was an occupant of "The Rathole" in Levuka, life seemed to be empty and cold, but a wonderful change had come in those few days. Although I had not spoken to Edith Herndon more than half a dozen times, it appeared to me that it was those few short conversations that had chased the loneliness and morbid thoughts from my mind. Her very presence stimulated me in a manner that I could not express, and as I stared out across the moon-whitened ocean I started nervously at the thought which had sprung suddenly into my brain. It was an insane thought, and I tried to laugh it away. Edith Herndon was as far above me as the moon was above the waves that were silvered by her beams. I pictured myself lying like a beachcomber upon the pile of pearl shell when the strange chant of the Maori and the dead Toni concerning "the way to heaven out of Black Fernando's hell" had come to my ears, and I blessed the new influence which had come into my life.
"My way to heaven lies in this direction," I soliloquized, and the quivering yacht went bounding on as I allowed wild dreams to race unchecked through my brain.
THE ISLE OF TEARS
A sleepy Samoan in the main cross-trees screamed a message to the deck while the pink flush of the tropical dawn was still in the sky, and The Waif plunged through the water toward the island. One after the other the members of the expedition came on deck. Leith stumbled up when Newmarch shouted down the information, and the big brute watched the tiny spot that came gradually nearer; the Professor danced up like an adventurous boy, and he gurgled ecstatically as he peeped over the rail; while the two girls came up arm in arm and looked in silence across the dawn-reddened waters. Holman's gaze travelled from the island to Leith and back again to the island as if he was trying to trace a criminal connection between the two.
As the yacht drew closer a strange silence seemed to fall upon the vessel. The Professor's gurgles of joy died away slowly, and none of the others seemed inclined to break the stillness. The crew and the half dozen islanders that Leith had brought to carry provisions and specimens were also silent. They were grouped for'ard, but not a murmur came from them as The Waif crept slowly ahead, feeling her way cautiously into the little bay on the north side of the island which Leith had suggested to Newmarch as a good anchorage.
The peculiar stories that had gone abroad concerning the Isle of Tears were responsible for most of the wide-eyed looks of wonder which the imaginative Polynesians directed upon the shore; the strange predicament in which they were placed tied the tongues of the two girls; the Professor was thinking of the archaeological treasures, while thoughts that one could only guess at prevented Leith and Holman from speaking.
The island had a strange, wild beauty that seemed to throttle speech. The underlying coral reefs were of colours that ran from pure white to gorgeous crimson, and the effect upon the water above them was wonderful to behold. The Waif seemed to make her way over a floor of beautiful parquetry which Mother Nature had been constructing for centuries. Chameleon-tinted seaweeds stretched upward, waving backward and forward like the hair of sea nymphs hidden in the crevices of the multi-coloured rocks.
The vegetation on the shore was weird and wondrous. The trees immediately near the edge of the bay were covered with riotous lianas that looped themselves like pythons from limb to limb, and from whose green masses blazing red flowers appeared at intervals like watchful eyes. Scarlet hibiscus and perfumed frangipanni were everywhere, while climbing jasmine tried to cover up the black basalt rocks in the foreground as if to hide everything that was ugly from the eyes of the visitor. The sweet, intoxicating odours came out to us in greeting, yet the place seemed to inspire us with a feeling of awe and mystery that became more oppressive as the yacht moved lazily across the bay.
I glanced at Edith Herndon at the moment the anchor plunged down into the bed of coral, and the look of perplexed wonder upon her face startled me.
"It looks a nice place, yet it feels an awful spot," she murmured. "All those snaky creepers with their coloured flowers seem to be hiding something."
I understood her feelings regarding the place. That look of weird expectancy, common to places that are cloaked with a tremendous silence, had gripped the two girls, and the yacht seemed homelike when they compared it to the shore.
"Oh, Edith," cried the younger sister, "I wish father wouldn't go!"
"So do I, dear," murmured the elder girl, "but it is useless to attempt to persuade him to give up the quest."
"But I hate the place!" cried Miss Barbara. "Don't you?"
"Oh, no," stammered Edith, bravely attempting to cheer the spirits of the younger girl. "You will not be lonely, Barbara. Mr. Holman and father and I will be with you, and perhaps Mr. Verslun will be in our company."
Newmarch approached at the instant and squeaked out an answer to the request I had made the previous evening.
"I asked Mr. Leith if you could go with him," he said, "but he doesn't think you would be of any use. He has all the help he requires, so you had better stay on the yacht."
There was a slight grin on his thin face as he imparted the information, and his merriment tickled me. I had made up my mind without waiting for Leith's decision, and I was more pleased than annoyed at knowing that my presence was not desired with the party that went inland.
The anchor had hardly touched the bottom before Leith started to transship the provisions that were required for the trip across the island. The sight of land seemed to stir the sallow-faced giant out of the lethargy that had gripped him on the way down from Levuka. He suddenly discovered that the mantle of authority was upon his shoulders, and he bullied the island boys as they lowered the stores.
Holman was right when he stated that Soma was the man that Leith had picked as first assistant. The big Kanaka was placed in charge of the other five carriers, and he immediately imitated Leith by shrieking out orders and strutting about in a manner that was ludicrous. Professor Herndon was bubbling over with excitement. The stories which Leith had fed to him continuously concerning the remains of an extinct civilization had worked him up to a pitch that bordered on insanity, and it was pitiful to watch him as he made endless notes in the bulky notebook.
"I shall be known throughout the world inside three months," he whispered to Leith.
"In less than that," drawled the giant.
"Yes, you're right!" snapped the dream-fed scientist. "If everything is as you say our task will be an easy one. Are you ready Edith? Barbara, come along!"
He climbed down the ladder with a haste that was nearly his undoing, as he let go his grip before the boat was directly beneath him. Holman saved him from a ducking, but his solar topee, which had a distinctly scientific look, was soaked in salt water before it could be rescued.
Captain Newmarch stood by with a look of unconcern upon his thin face as the two girls went over the side, and he gave an unintelligible grunt as Leith followed. Within two hours after The Waif had cast anchor the two boats containing the stores and the ill-assorted explorers were making for a small promontory that stretched out like a green tongue into the sparkling waters of the bay.
Once on shore, Leith put Soma and the carriers in the lead, Holman and the two girls next, with himself and the Professor bringing up the rear, and in that order they moved across the little strip of white sand that glittered like diamond dust. The heavy green foliage came out to meet them, dropped over them like a veil, and left us staring at the riotous creeper masses with the brilliant flower eyes that appeared to be watching The Waif.
Newmarch gave a peculiar chuckle as he turned toward me when the party had disappeared.
"Now, Mr. Verslun," he cried, "we have plenty work to keep us busy for the week or so we will be here. Get about it the moment the boats return, and keep the men on the jump."
I nodded, and he went below without another word, leaving me still staring at the spot where the explorers had dived into the leafy wall. The strange loneliness of the place seemed to clutch me hard at that moment, and I mentally abused myself for not making a stronger protest against the whole affair. But I knew as I damned my own inactivity that protest would have been useless as far as the Professor was concerned, and the filial affection of the two girls would not allow the old ancient to wander off alone.
I had planned to allow the party a few hours' start before I made any attempt to follow, feeling certain that I would be able to find the track, and, moreover, I wished to catch up to the expedition at a point where Leith would have no chance of verifying the story I would tell to account for my presence. The big brute would probably think I was lying when I told him that Newmarch had sent me after him, but the Professor's desire to push on would probably prevent him from making an effort to check my story by sending a runner back to the boat. And luck was with me at that moment. As I racked my brain in the construction of a suitable excuse to account for my appearance, my eyes fell upon the Professor's camera that had been overlooked in the hurry of departure, and I sprang upon it joyfully and hid it till the time had elapsed. Knowing the importance which the old scientist attached to the photographs which he intended to take, I knew that he, at least, would reason that the captain had acted wisely in sending me in pursuit with the instrument, and I trusted that his gratitude would move him to get Leith's permission to allow me to remain with the expedition.
The party had been gone some six hours when I slipped over the side into the dory. Newmarch was below, and only one of the crew was on deck. I seized the oars and struck out for the shore, but I had hardly covered twenty paces when the captain rushed to the rail, took one glance at me, and then dashed toward the companion-stairs.
I sensed the motive in that mad dash for the cabin, and I pulled madly. Thoughts of Edith Herndon thronged my brain, and I drove the dory toward the promontory with every ounce of strength I possessed. To return to the yacht while she was in the eerie jungle-growth under Leith's protection would be worse than death, and I didn't pause for an instant when the captain's squeaky voice hailed me.
"Come back at once!" he shouted. "Are you coming?"
I bent my back to the oars and pulled with every muscle strained. The perspiration half blinded me, but one glance upward convinced me that I had sensed the captain's motive when I saw him rush from the side. He was standing on the poop, taking deliberate aim at me with a Winchester rifle that he had taken from the rack in his own cabin.
It seemed an age before he fired. The bullet missed the side of the boat by about three inches, and I shrieked my defiance. The devil had my nerves on edge, but the green tongue of land was close, and I pulled as never man pulled before.
A bullet lodged in the stern of the boat, another splintered the end of an oar, and then the rifleman's nerves must have got the better of him. The succeeding shots fell wide, and I whooped like a madman as I drove the boat on to the green tongue of land. Springing out hastily I made a dash across the white strip of sand, and dived into the moist creeper growth.
I lay there panting, watching the yacht to see what Newmarch would do. It was impossible for him to leave the yacht to follow me, but I guessed that he would make an attempt to communicate with Leith. And I guessed rightly.
I had not been five minutes in the bushes when a boat put off for the shore. It contained three of the crew, two Tannese and the Fijian that I had found mourning the death of Toni, his "all same brother who had worked with him at Suva." They pulled for the spot where I had left the dory, and here the Fijian sprang out, while the others proceeded to tow the dory back to The Waif. I surmised that Toni's "all same brother" had been sent to carry a message to Leith, and I lay in the bushes waiting as he raced toward me.
Cautiously he clawed his way through the undergrowth, and when he was certain that the creepers had completely veiled him from the eyes of watchers on the yacht he picked up a small flat stone from the ground, drew a yachting knife from his belt and crouching on his heels started to sharpen the blade. As he rubbed industriously he sang a weird tune in his native tongue, rounding off each verse with five words in English that explained his industry. The words were: "Now I'll kill you, Soma," and the chant was a poem of consolation to the spirit of the dead Toni, assuring it that the hour of vengeance was at hand, and that Soma would go to the great unknown the moment he got within reach of the yachting knife.
I poked my head from my hiding place, and the Fijian turned quickly.
"I think the captain told Soma to kill your brother," I said softly. "If the captain didn't tell him, Leith did, Kaipi."
Kaipi stopped sharpening the blade and fixed his big eyes upon me. "I not to speak to you," he said. "Kapitani tell me not to. I go catch up Leith, give him one piece of paper the Kapitani gave me."
"But Soma?" I asked.
"I kill Soma when chance comes," muttered Kaipi.
"Well, we're of the same mind, Kaipi," I said pleasantly. "Soma is no friend of mine and I'll help you as much as I can if you turn over the note which the captain gave you and do just what I tell you. Otherwise, Kaipi, I have a revolver, and a knife is no match for a revolver."
The Fijian considered the matter for a few moments, his dreamy eyes watching me the while. At that moment duty was forgotten in the thirst for vengeance upon Soma, and the debate with his conscience was of short duration. He pulled a note from the folds of his pareo and tossed it to me with a short laugh.
"Me not care about that," he grinned. "Me catch Soma, that's all."
The note was exceedingly brief. It read:
"The mate is following you,—NEWMARCH."
Kaipi had returned to the job of sharpening his knife in which I had interrupted him, and at intervals he assured the dead Toni that vengeance was only a matter of a few hours. As far as I was concerned the captain could not have chosen a better messenger.
"Kaipi," I said, tearing the note into small pieces, "you have been sent to help me find Leith and the Professor. See, I have the Professor's picture maker. He forgot it this morning, and the captain sent you and me to take it to him. Do you understand?"
The Fijian grinned, tried the edge of his knife blade with the ball of his thumb, then sprang to his feet.
"And don't be in too great a hurry to fix Soma," I cautioned. "Toni's spirit can wait a few days till you get a suitable opportunity. Now, we'll strike the trail."
Kaipi grinned again, put his sharpened knife into his belt and plunged into the dense undergrowth. The snaky, moist lianas made progress next to impossible. They clung around our legs like live things, and I damned the Professor's idiotic craving for notoriety as we waded through the clammy creepers in search of the trail made by the party. The prickly rope-like vines seemed to be in league with the devil who was leading the aged scientist and his daughters into dangers that made my brain dizzy as I attempted to dissect the possibilities which imagination put forward.
At last we found the traces of Soma's handiwork with an axe, and guided by these signs we hurried forward. The ground rose gradually toward the centre of the island, where columns of basalt loomed like the towers of feudal castles against the pure Venetian blue of the tropical sky. But the sky was visible only for moments that were far removed from each other. The crawling vines that overran the trees made an impenetrable barrier against the sunlight, and most of the time we were stumbling along in a mysterious twilight that increased my nervous agony. Masses of rock of volcanic origin were thickly strewn around, and anything like fast travelling was impossible.
The sun dropped slowly toward the west, and we had great difficulty in holding to the path. The axe marks and the branches broken by the carriers were really the only signs that we had to go by, but the eyes of the Fijian were exceedingly sharp in detecting the slightest evidence left by the party. We passed the spot where they had lunched, and increased our speed in an endeavour to overtake them before nightfall. The silence and unexplainable mystery of the place made me anxious to catch up with them before the darkness came down, while hunger and revenge made Kaipi move at a speed that was most unusual.
Darkness came down like a suffocating blanket, and we halted.
"No go farther," muttered Kaipi. "Better make fire and sleep. Catch um to-morrow."
I sat down while the Fijian gathered a pile of rotten wood, but before he could set fire to the heap I was on my feet clawing my way into the darkness in front. From somewhere out of the inky night came the voice of Edith Herndon lifted up in a little Italian melody that I had heard her singing the night we left Levuka. It seemed to me that she suspected my near presence, and that she was singing to guide me to the spot where the party had camped.
Five minutes afterward Kaipi and I stumbled into the circle of light round the fire, and Leith sprang to his feet with a growl of rage.
"What's this?" he cried. "Who the devil gave you permission to come here?"
"The captain sent me," I replied, looking straight at the giant as I fired the lie at him. "The carriers forgot Professor Herndon's camera, and Captain Newmarch sent Kaipi and me after you."
Leith's mutterings were drowned by the scientist's cries of joy as he took the camera from my hand, and the big brute had time to recover himself before the Professor had stopped chattering. I guessed that he reasoned that it would be bad policy to show that he was angry at my arrival, while the camera partly convinced him that I had told the truth. His surprise and the Professor's evident pleasure made me think it an opportune moment to put forward a request to stay with the party, and I put my wish into words.
"Captain Newmarch said that Kaipi and I might go along if you and Professor Herndon had no objections," I lied. "He thought we would prove useful."
Leith scowled angrily, but the Professor gave an immediate assent to the request. His short-sightedness prevented him from noticing the frown which passed over the face of his partner, but the sour look fled immediately the two girls expressed a desire to keep me in the party.
"Oh, please let Mr. Verslun come," cried Miss Barbara. "It will make it ever so much more pleasant."
"I was thinking of the stock of food," growled Leith, as if attempting to explain his evident displeasure.
"I'll go on half measure and let Mr. Verslun have the other half," laughed Holman.
"And he can have some of mine," cried Miss Barbara.
"And mine," murmured Edith.
Leith grinned as he noted the feeling of the party. It would not be diplomatic to go against the wishes of all, and he knew it. With a wave of his hand he ordered Kaipi to the fire where Soma and the other five islanders were sitting, and nodded his head as an intimation that I could stay.
"By the way," he growled, as I fell upon the plate of tinned salmon which Edith Herndon handed to me, "who was doing the shooting this afternoon?"