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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEdward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 10. A Repentance
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Edward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 10. A Repentance Post by :brettslane Category :Long Stories Author :Louis Becke Date :May 2012 Read :2339

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Edward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 10. A Repentance

CHAPTER X. A REPENTANCE

More than three months had passed away, and the shapely hull of the _Mahina was eighteen inches deeper in the water than when she first anchored in the lagoon. During all this time fine weather had prevailed, and the boats had been constantly at work, the crew, however, being given plenty of liberty to rest and refresh themselves, by wandering about the nearer islands--fishing, pig-hunting, and bird-catching, or lying about, smoking or sleeping day or night, upon the matted floors of the houses of the little native village nestling under the grove of breadfruit-trees.

But whilst matters in regard to the pearling operations had gone on without interruption, there had been several collisions between Warner's Solomon Islanders and Barry's men, and worse followed.

One day a diver named Harry, a fine, stalwart young man, belonging to Arorai, one of the Gilbert Islands, was found lying dead on the inner reef of the lagoon. He had gone out crayfishing the previous night, and should have returned long before daylight, but his absence was not noticed until Barry called to his men to turn to and man the boats for the day's work.

Billy Onotoa--the native who had been stabbed by the Greek--at once asserted that Harry had been killed by Warner's men.

"Choose well thy words, Tiban of Onotoa," said Barry sternly, addressing Billy by his native name and in his native tongue; "how dost thou know that this man hath been slain by the man-eaters?"

"Come and see," replied Billy quietly.

The dead man lay upon his back on a mat in one of the houses, and turning the body over, Billy Onotoa beckoned to the white man to draw near.

"Place thy hand here and feel his backbone," he said; "see, it is broken in the middle. And it hath been broken by a club such as the 'man-eaters' use, for there is the mark of the blow on the skin, and the bruised flesh. This man was stooping, and an unseen enemy sprang upon him from behind and broke his back with a blow from a club; then was he cast into a deep pool to drown amid the surf. How else could such a strong man die?"

Barry examined the man's body and was quickly satisfied that his backbone had been broken by a violent blow.

"Justice shall be done upon the slayer of this man," he said, turning to his boat's crew who stood around with vengeful faces; "but not yet is the time for it. So make no loud complaint, and make no quarrel with the 'man-eaters.' When the time comes, it will come suddenly."

"_E rai rai! E rai rai!_" ("It is good!") answered the natives, smiling grimly and patting Barry on the hands and shoulders; "we will wait for the word to strike."

That morning when he reported the death of Harry to Rawlings he watched Warner's coarse, bloated face.

"It's a most mysterious affair. He was picked up on the reef quite dead. The poor fellow's back was broken--the bone was crushed to a pulp," he said.

"Guess a crayfish nipped him by the big toe, and he kinder turned a back somersault and landed on his spinal collums," said Warner, with a brutal laugh.

Barry made no reply. How did Warner know that the man had been out crayfishing when not a word had been said about it? He rose from the table without further remark and went on deck, for the boats were awaiting him alongside. As he passed the main-hatch he caught sight of the hideous face of the savage Togaro, the man whose ribs he had broken. He was squatting on the hatch, and gave the officer a malevolent glance.

"Ah!" thought Barry, "that explains how that fellow Warner knew that poor Harry was out crayfishing. I suppose that black brute himself is the murderer and came off on board early this morning with the news."

Later in the day he found his surmise to be correct. Two or three of his own men always remained on board at night to keep anchor watch, and one of them told him that that morning at daylight Togaro had paddled off in a canoe and had at once gone below to Warner's cabin and remained there for nearly half an hour, emerging on deck with a bottle of gin--a present doubtless for his murderous work in the night.

That day's fishing was particularly successful, for the divers began work upon a new bed of shell, most of which were of great size and contained some magnificent pearls. Five especially huge oysters were opened by Barry himself in the presence of his men, and from them were taken seven pearls, each one larger than any yet previously obtained.

Knowing that his men were as true as steel to him, the officer showed them to each man in turn, and then handed them to Velo.

"These seven pearls are worth much money," he said, speaking in the native tongue to the men, "and shall not be handled by the man who slew the white woman's husband, for they are hers, and Velo shall himself give them to her. But cast the shells overboard."

As the days went by, and the waters of the broad lagoon shone and sparkled under a cloudless vault of blue, the work went steadily on, and in the hold of the brig, tier upon tier of cases, packed tightly with shell, were firmly stowed for the voyage to Singapore--shell worth over eight thousand pounds, and night after night Rawlings would turn out the pearls upon the scarlet cloth, and discuss their value with Barry and the other two officers.

"Six thousand pounds, you say, Mr. Barry," said the captain, rolling the gleaming, iridescent things softly to and fro with his small, shapely brown hand, whilst the Greek drew deep sighs of pleasure as he watched.

"At least that, sir," answered Barry, puffing at his pipe; "I have given you the lowest estimate of their value. If they bring nine thousand I shall not be surprised. As for the little box of seed pearls, they don't amount to much; the whole lot will not sell for more than two hundred and fifty pounds."

"Poor Tracey!" said Rawlings thoughtfully; "I must endeavour to find out by advertising in the London and colonial newspapers if he has any relatives. I should like to acquaint them with his death, and send them all of what would have been the poor fellow's share had he lived."

Barry's face never moved, but his right band clenched tightly under his jumper; for Mrs. Tracey had told him that her husband had told Rawlings all about his family, and about a quiet little village called East Dene on the coast of Sussex, where he had been born.

"It is very generous of you," said Barry stolidly; "and if you can't find out anything about his people, you may about those of his wife."

"I shall do my very best in both cases," replied Rawlings. "It will give me infinite pleasure to discover either his or his wife's relatives."

"Did he leave no letters or papers of any kind which would give you a clue?" asked Barry carelessly.

"Absolutely nothing. And, although we were on the most intimate of terms, he never spoke of his family--neither did his wife, poor little woman."

The mate rose slowly from his seat. "Good-night all. I'm going ashore and turning in. I think another fortnight will see us a full ship."

Just as Barry had taken his seat in the dinghy and the crew were about to push her off Barradas came to the gangway.

"I'd like to go ashore with you, Mr. Barry, if you don't mind, and stretch my legs along the beach."

"Certainly," answered the mate coldly, as he hauled the boat alongside the ladder again. Barradas descended and took his seat beside him in silence.

For many weeks past Barry had noticed that the second mate had sought every opportunity possible to talk to him, but he had, while being perfectly polite to him, repulsed the man's overtures. On several occasions the Spaniard, when Barry was sleeping on board, had come into his superior officer's cabin under the plea of talking about matters connected with either the ship or the boats, and each time Barry had let him see that he was not anxious for his company. In fact, he had had a hard struggle to conceal his abhorrence for the man, but for the sake of the great interests at stake he endured his visits, but gave him no encouragement to talk about anything else but the ship's business, and then with a curt "good-night" the men would part, and Barradas would walk the main deck muttering and communing to himself till dawn. Then he would resume his daily work with a sullen face and in moody silence.

The night was ablaze with the light of a glorious moon, floating in a sky of cloudless blue, as the two men stepped out of the boat and walked up to Barry's native house. Barradas was breathing quickly and heavily, and every now and then he would take a quick glance at the mate's grave, impassable face.

"Will you come in and sit down for a few minutes?" said Barry with cold civility.

"No, thank you," and as the Spaniard struck a match to light his pipe Barry saw that his swarthy face showed pale in the moonlight and that his hand trembled; "I don't want to keep you from your sleep. You have had a hard day's work in the boats, and I have done nothing."

He waited for a moment or two, but Barry did not repeat his invitation. With his hands in his pockets he was gazing out upon the moonlit lagoon, apparently oblivious of his subordinate's presence.

"I think I shall take a walk on the path running along the outer beach," said Barradas presently in an awkward, constrained manner.

Barry nodded. "Just so. But there's nothing much to see except the graves of two of the crew of a whaleship who were buried at the end of this island about four or five years ago. If you follow that path you'll come to the place in about half an hour. Don't lose your way when you're coming back. I'll keep the boat ready for you to take you aboard again."

Again Barradas looked at him as if he would like to say something more, but Barry's cold, set, and repellent face forbade it.

"Well, I think I'll go that far, anyway," said the Spaniard, and then he added nervously, with a half-appealing look to the chief officer, "I suppose you're too tired for a yarn and a smoke?"

"I am," replied Barry with studied coolness and without moving his face.

The second mate raised his dark and gloomy eyes and looked at him furtively; then, with something like a sigh, he turned quickly away, and walked along the winding path that, through the jack-fruit grove, led to the next island.

Barry turned and watched him, and presently Velo, stripped to the waist, came out of the hut and stood beside his officer.

"Shall I follow him?" he asked in the Samoan language.

"Yes," replied Barry quickly in the same tongue, "follow him and see where he goeth. There may be some mischief doing, for this man hath for many days tried to thrust himself upon me. It may be that we have been betrayed . . . But, stay, Velo, I will come with thee."

Entering the house, he threw off his canvas shoes, belted his Colt's revolver around his waist, and in a few minutes he and Velo were following in the track of the Spaniard.

Every now and then they caught a glimpse of him in the bright and dazzling moonlight as he trudged steadily along the white sandy path. Once he sat down on the bole of a fallen coco-palm, leant his chin upon his hands, and seemed lost in thought. Then he rose again and set off at a rapid walk.

At the north end of the little island he came to a stop, for further progress was barred by the wide channel separating Ujilong from the next island; the tide was flowing, and the connecting reef was covered by three feet of water. He stood awhile, looking about him, and then turned toward a cleared space among the coco-palms, where a low, square enclosure formed of loosely piled blocks of coral stood clearly out in the moonlight; in the centre of the square were two graves, one of which had at its head a cross roughly hewn from a slab of coral stone.

The Spaniard leant with folded arms upon the wall, and for some minutes intently regarded the emblem of Christianity; then, stepping over the wall, he walked up to the graves, took off his cap, and knelt beside the cross, bending his head reverently before it.

Hidden behind the boles of the coco-palms Barry and Velo watched and listened, for now and then a sob would escape the man as he prayed and made the sign of the cross. Suddenly he laid himself down upon the grave, placed his outspread hands upon the foot of the stone, and the listeners heard him weeping.

"Mother of Christ, and Jesus Most Merciful, forgive me my sins," he cried, rising to his knees and clasping his hands. "Here, before Thy cross, I plead for mercy. Holy and Blessed Virgin, help and save me, for no longer can I bear the guilt which is on my soul."

Again he bent his head and prayed silently; then he rose, put on his cap, stepped over the low wall, and set off almost at a run towards the village.

Barry and Velo followed him till he reached their house. Here for a moment or two he stood before the entrance as if in doubt. Then he went inside and called--

"Where are you, Mr. Barry?"

"Here," said Barry, stepping forward. "What is the matter, Barradas? You look ill. Sit down."

"Yes, I will sit down, for I have something to tell you--something that I should have told you long ago. I will make a clean breast of it all--before I go mad. Mr. Barry, your life is in danger. Rawlings and the Greek mean to murder you before the brig reaches Singapore."

Barry drew an empty case up to the rude table and sat down.

"I don't doubt it," he said quietly. "Now tell me, before you go any further, the true story of Tracey's death."

"As God is my witness, I will tell you all--all. Tracey was not mate; he was captain and owner."

"I know all that--have known it for some time, but I want to know how he died."

"Rawlings shot him. One day in Sydney Tracey came on board unexpectedly and found him in his cabin making a tracing of a chart of this lagoon. I heard them quarrelling, and then heard a shot. When I ran below Tracey was dead--Rawlings had shot him through the head. That was two days before you came on board. But let me tell you all--from the very beginning."

* * * * * *

"You had better go on board now," Barry said to Barradas half an hour later. "I will trust you to help me to undo some of the wrong you have done," and he held out his hand.

The Spaniard bared his head. "And I swear to you that I will be true to you and Mrs. Tracey, body and soul. When will you let me see her?"

"Very soon now, Barradas. But, as I have just said, we will have to so plan everything that nothing must go wrong. All the white seamen will stand to us to a man, but as yet Joe is the only one who knows of the existence of Mrs. Tracey and the true story of the _Mahina_. As for the native crew, they are simply burning with anxiety to help me take possession of the brig. But that cut-throat Warner and his natives have to be considered. You say that they are coming on board to stay as soon as the ship is ready for sea?"

"Yes, that was the decision come to by Rawlings and Warner the other evening."

"How many of them have rifles?"

"Only about half a dozen, but all of them have fantail tomahawks and clubs."

Barry mused. "I wonder what is Rawlings' object in taking Warner and his cannibal savages away? He doesn't like Warner--in fact, I'm sure he's afraid of him."

"I believe this"--and Barradas held up his clenched hand--"I believe that Rawlings' plan is this: After you--and myself too, most likely--have been disposed of, Warner and his men will surprise and murder all the native hands and the four white sailors. None of the Solomon Islanders can speak one single word of English, and therefore could not possibly prove a source of danger to Rawlings, Warner, and the Greek when the ship reached Singapore."

"We shall get to windward of them all, Barradas, before we are clear of this lagoon."

"May the blessed Saints help us!" said the repentant Spaniard piously, as once more he shook bands with his superior.

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