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And the ba.s.s-toned Fowler echoed, "d.a.m.ned if I understand his game."

Thus we were left once more alone upon the Norah Creina; and the news of the night, and the lamentations of Pinkerton, and the thought of my own harsh decision, returned and besieged me in the dark. According to all the rubbish I had read, I should have been sustained by the warm consciousness of virtue. Alas, I had but the one feeling: that I had sacrificed my sick friend to the fear of prison-cells and stupid starers. And no moralist has yet advanced so far as to number cowardice amongst the things that are their own reward.

CHAPTER XVII. LIGHT FROM THE MAN OF WAR.

In the early sunlight of the next day, we tossed close off the buoy and saw the city sparkle in its groves about the foot of the Punch-bowl, and the masts cl.u.s.tering thick in the small harbour. A good breeze, which had risen with the sea, carried us triumphantly through the intricacies of the pa.s.sage; and we had soon brought up not far from the landing-stairs. I remember to have remarked an ugly horned reptile of a modern warship in the usual moorings across the port, but my mind was so profoundly plunged in melancholy that I paid no heed.

Indeed, I had little time at my disposal. Messieurs Sharpe and Fowler had left the night before in the persuasion that I was a liar of the first magnitude; the genial belief brought them aboard again with the earliest opportunity, proffering help to one who had proved how little he required it, and hospitality to so respectable a character. I had business to mind, I had some need both of a.s.sistance and diversion; I liked Fowler--I don't know why; and in short, I let them do with me as they desired. No creditor intervening, I spent the first half of the day inquiring into the conditions of the tea and silk market under the auspices of Sharpe; lunched with him in a private apartment at the Hawaiian Hotel--for Sharpe was a teetotaler in public; and about four in the afternoon was delivered into the hands of Fowler. This gentleman owned a bungalow on the Waikiki beach; and there in company with certain young bloods of Honolulu, I was entertained to a sea-bathe, indiscriminate c.o.c.ktails, a dinner, a hula-hula, and (to round off the night), poker and a.s.sorted liquors. To lose money in the small hours to pale, intoxicated youth, has always appeared to me a pleasure overrated.

In my then frame of mind, I confess I found it even delightful; put up my money (or rather my creditors'), and put down Fowler's champagne with equal avidity and success; and awoke the next morning to a mild headache and the rather agreeable lees of the last night's excitement. The young bloods, many of whom were still far from sober, had taken the kitchen into their own hands, vice the Chinaman deposed; and since each was engaged upon a dish of his own, and none had the least scruple in demolishing his neighbour's handiwork, I became early convinced that many eggs would be broken and few omelets made. The discovery of a jug of milk and a crust of bread enabled me to stay my appet.i.te; and since it was Sunday, when no business could be done, and the festivities were to be renewed that night in the abode of Fowler, it occurred to me to slip silently away and enjoy some air and solitude.

I turned seaward under the dead crater known as Diamond Head. My way was for some time under the shade of certain thickets of green, th.o.r.n.y trees, dotted with houses. Here I enjoyed some pictures of the native life: wide-eyed, naked children, mingled with pigs; a youth asleep under a tree; an old gentleman spelling through gla.s.ses his Hawaiian Bible; the somewhat embarra.s.sing spectacle of a lady at her bath in a spring; and the glimpse of gaudy-coloured gowns in the deep shade of the houses.

Thence I found a road along the beach itself, wading in sand, opposed and buffeted by the whole weight of the Trade: on one hand, the glittering and sounding surf, and the bay lively with many sails; on the other, precipitous, arid gullies and sheer cliffs, mounting towards the crater and the blue sky. For all the companionship of skimming vessels, the place struck me with a sense of solitude. There came in my head what I had been told the day before at dinner, of a cavern above in the bowels of the volcano, a place only to be visited with the light of torches, a treasure-house of the bones of priests and warriors, and clamorous with the voice of an unseen river pouring seaward through the crannies of the mountain. At the thought, it was revealed to me suddenly, how the bungalows, and the Fowlers, and the bright busy town and crowding ships, were all children of yesterday; and for centuries before, the obscure life of the natives, with its glories and ambitions, its joys and crimes and agonies, had rolled unseen, like the mountain river, in that sea-girt place. Not Chaldea appeared more ancient, nor the Pyramids of Egypt more abstruse; and I heard time measured by "the drums and tramplings" of immemorial conquests, and saw myself the creature of an hour. Over the bankruptcy of Pinkerton and Dodd, of Montana Block, S. F., and the conscientious troubles of the junior partner, the spirit of eternity was seen to smile.

To this mood of philosophic sadness, my excesses of the night before no doubt contributed; for more things than virtue are at times their own reward: but I was greatly healed at least of my distresses. And while I was yet enjoying my abstracted humour, a turn of the beach brought me in view of the signal-station, with its watch-house and flag-staff, perched on the immediate margin of a cliff. The house was new and clean and bald, and stood naked to the Trades. The wind beat about it in loud squalls; the seaward windows rattled without mercy; the breach of the surf below contributed its increment of noise; and the fall of my foot in the narrow verandah pa.s.sed unheard by those within.

There were two on whom I thus entered unexpectedly: the look-out man, with grizzled beard, keen seaman's eyes, and that brand on his countenance that comes of solitary living; and a visitor, an oldish, oratorical fellow, in the smart tropical array of the British man-o'-war's man, perched on a table, and smoking a cigar. I was made pleasantly welcome, and was soon listening with amus.e.m.e.nt to the sea-lawyer.

"No, if I hadn't have been born an Englishman," was one of his sentiments, "d.a.m.n me! I'd rather 'a been born a Frenchy! I'd like to see another nation fit to black their boots." Presently after, he developed his views on home politics with similar trenchancy. "I'd rather be a brute beast than what I'd be a liberal," he said. "Carrying banners and that! a pig's got more sense. Why, look at our chief engineer--they do say he carried a banner with his own 'ands: 'Hooroar for Gladstone!' I suppose, or 'Down with the Aristocracy!' What 'arm does the aristocracy do? Show me a country any good without one! Not the States; why, it's the 'ome of corruption! I knew a man--he was a good man, 'ome born--who was signal quartermaster in the Wyandotte. He told me he could never have got there if he hadn't have 'run with the boys'--told it me as I'm telling you. Now, we're all British subjects here----" he was going on.

"I am afraid I am an American," I said apologetically.

He seemed the least bit taken aback, but recovered himself; and with the ready tact of his betters, paid me the usual British compliment on the riposte. "You don't say so!" he exclaimed. "Well, I give you my word of honour, I'd never have guessed it. n.o.body could tell it on you," said he, as though it were some form of liquor.

I thanked him, as I always do, at this particular stage, with his compatriots: not so much perhaps for the compliment to myself and my poor country, as for the revelation (which is ever fresh to me) of Britannic self-sufficiency and taste. And he was so far softened by my grat.i.tude as to add a word of praise on the American method of lacing sails. "You're ahead of us in lacing sails," he said. "You can say that with a clear conscience."

"Thank you," I replied. "I shall certainly do so."

At this rate, we got along swimmingly; and when I rose to retrace my steps to the Fowlery, he at once started to his feet and offered me the welcome solace of his company for the return. I believe I discovered much alacrity at the idea, for the creature (who seemed to be unique, or to represent a type like that of the dodo) entertained me hugely.

But when he had produced his hat, I found I was in the way of more than entertainment; for on the ribbon I could read the legend: "H.M.S.

Tempest."

"I say," I began, when our adieus were paid, and we were scrambling down the path from the look-out, "it was your ship that picked up the men on board the Flying Scud, wasn't it?"

"You may say so," said he. "And a blessed good job for the Flying-Scuds.

It's a G.o.d-forsaken spot, that Midway Island."

"I've just come from there," said I. "It was I who bought the wreck."

"Beg your pardon, sir," cried the sailor: "gen'lem'n in the white schooner?"

"The same," said I.

My friend saluted, as though we were now, for the first time, formally introduced.

"Of course," I continued, "I am rather taken up with the whole story; and I wish you would tell me what you can of how the men were saved."

"It was like this," said he. "We had orders to call at Midway after castaways, and had our distance pretty nigh run down the day before.

We steamed half-speed all night, looking to make it about noon; for old Tootles--beg your pardon, sir--the captain--was precious scared of the place at night. Well, there's nasty, filthy currents round that Midway; YOU know, as has been there; and one on 'em must have set us down.

Leastways, about six bells, when we had ought to been miles away, some one sees a sail, and lo and be'old, there was the spars of a full-rigged brig! We raised her pretty fast, and the island after her; and made out she was hard aground, canted on her bilge, and had her ens'n flying, union down. It was breaking 'igh on the reef, and we laid well out, and sent a couple of boats. I didn't go in neither; only stood and looked on; but it seems they was all badly scared and muddled, and didn't know which end was uppermost. One on 'em kep' snivelling and wringing of his 'ands; he come on board all of a sop like a monthly nurse. That Trent, he come first, with his 'and in a b.l.o.o.d.y rag. I was near 'em as I am to you; and I could make out he was all to bits--'eard his breath rattle in his blooming lungs as he come down the ladder. Yes, they was a scared lot, small blame to 'em, I say! The next after Trent, come him as was mate."

"G.o.ddedaal!" I exclaimed.

"And a good name for him too," chuckled the man-o'-war's man, who probably confounded the word with a familiar oath. "A good name too; only it weren't his. He was a gen'lem'n born, sir, as had gone maskewerading. One of our officers knowed him at 'ome, reckonises him, steps up, 'olds out his 'and right off, and says he: ''Ullo, Norrie, old chappie!' he says. The other was coming up, as bold as look at it; didn't seem put out--that's where blood tells, sir! Well, no sooner does he 'ear his born name given him, than he turns as white as the Day of Judgment, stares at Mr. Sebright like he was looking at a ghost, and then (I give you my word of honour) turned to, and doubled up in a dead faint. 'Take him down to my berth,' says Mr. Sebright. ''Tis poor old Norrie Carthew,' he says."

"And what--what sort of a gentleman was this Mr. Carthew?" I gasped.

"The ward-room steward told me he was come of the best blood in England," was my friend's reply: "Eton and 'Arrow bred;--and might have been a bar'net!"

"No, but to look at?" I corrected him.

"The same as you or me," was the uncompromising answer: "not much to look at. I didn't know he was a gen'lem'n; but then, I never see him cleaned up."

"How was that?" I cried. "O yes, I remember: he was sick all the way to 'Frisco, was he not?"

"Sick, or sorry, or something," returned my informant. "My belief, he didn't hanker after showing up. He kep' close; the ward-room steward, what took his meals in, told me he ate nex' to nothing; and he was fetched ash.o.r.e at 'Frisco on the quiet. Here was how it was. It seems his brother had took and died, him as had the estate. This one had gone in for his beer, by what I could make out; the old folks at 'ome had turned rusty; no one knew where he had gone to. Here he was, slaving in a merchant brig, shipwrecked on Midway, and packing up his duds for a long voyage in a open boat. He comes on board our ship, and by G.o.d, here he is a landed proprietor, and may be in Parliament to-morrow! It's no less than natural he should keep dark: so would you and me in the same box."

"I daresay," said I. "But you saw more of the others?"

"To be sure," says he: "no 'arm in them from what I see. There was one 'Ardy there: colonial born he was, and had been through a power of money. There was no nonsense about 'Ardy; he had been up, and he had come down, and took it so. His 'eart was in the right place; and he was well-informed, and knew French; and Latin, I believe, like a native! I liked that 'Ardy; he was a good-looking boy, too."

"Did they say much about the wreck?" I asked.

"There wasn't much to say, I reckon," replied the man-o'-war's man. "It was all in the papers. 'Ardy used to yarn most about the coins he had gone through; he had lived with book-makers, and jockeys, and pugs, and actors, and all that: a precious low lot!" added this judicious person.

"But it's about here my 'orse is moored, and by your leave I'll be getting ahead."

"One moment," said I. "Is Mr. Sebright on board?"

"No, sir, he's ash.o.r.e to-day," said the sailor. "I took up a bag for him to the 'otel."

With that we parted. Presently after my friend overtook and pa.s.sed me on a hired steed which seemed to scorn its cavalier; and I was left in the dust of his pa.s.sage, a prey to whirling thoughts. For I now stood, or seemed to stand, on the immediate threshold of these mysteries. I knew the name of the man d.i.c.kson--his name was Carthew; I knew where the money came from that opposed us at the sale--it was part of Carthew's inheritance; and in my gallery of ill.u.s.trations to the history of the wreck, one more picture hung; perhaps the most dramatic of the series.

It showed me the deck of a warship in that distant part of the great ocean, the officers and seamen looking curiously on; and a man of birth and education, who had been sailing under an alias on a trading brig, and was now rescued from desperate peril, felled like an ox by the bare sound of his own name. I could not fail to be reminded of my own experience at the Occidental telephone. The hero of three styles, d.i.c.kson, G.o.ddedaal, or Carthew, must be the owner of a lively--or a loaded--conscience, and the reflection recalled to me the photograph found on board the Flying Scud; just such a man, I reasoned, would be capable of just such starts and crises, and I inclined to think that G.o.ddedaal (or Carthew) was the mainspring of the mystery.

One thing was plain: as long as the Tempest was in reach, I must make the acquaintance of both Sebright and the doctor. To this end, I excused myself with Mr. Fowler, returned to Honolulu, and pa.s.sed the remainder of the day hanging vainly round the cool verandahs of the hotel. It was near nine o'clock at night before I was rewarded.

"That is the gentleman you were asking for," said the clerk.

I beheld a man in tweeds, of an incomparable languor of demeanour, and carrying a cane with genteel effort. From the name, I had looked to find a sort of Viking and young ruler of the battle and the tempest; and I was the more disappointed, and not a little alarmed, to come face to face with this impracticable type.

"I believe I have the pleasure of addressing Lieutenant Sebright," said I, stepping forward.

"Aw, yes," replied the hero; "but, aw! I dawn't knaw you, do I?" (He spoke for all the world like Lord Foppington in the old play--a proof of the perennial nature of man's affectations. But his limping dialect, I scorn to continue to reproduce.)

"It was with the intention of making myself known, that I have taken this step," said I, entirely unabashed (for impudence begets in me its like--perhaps my only martial attribute). "We have a common subject of interest, to me very lively; and I believe I may be in a position to be of some service to a friend of yours--to give him, at least, some very welcome information."

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The Wrecker Part 28 summary

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