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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEdward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 5. Velo, The Samoan, Prophesies
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Edward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 5. Velo, The Samoan, Prophesies Post by :brettslane Category :Long Stories Author :Louis Becke Date :May 2012 Read :3203

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Edward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 5. Velo, The Samoan, Prophesies

CHAPTER V. VELO, THE SAMOAN, PROPHESIES

The advent of Mr. Billy Warner of Ponape with his entourage of sixteen truculent, evil-faced Solomon Islanders was not regarded with enthusiasm by the chief officer and the native crew of the _Mahina_.

Warner himself was an insolent, overbearing ruffian of the first water, and yet strangely enough his retinue, whom he at times treated with the most savage brutality, were intensely devoted to him, and every one of them would have cheerfully given up his life to protect the drunken, foul-mouthed, and unmitigated scoundrel who knocked them about one day and fraternised with them the next.

Velo, who, though a Samoan, was the acknowledged leader and mentor of the native crew--men who mostly came from the Equatorial Islands of the South and North Pacific--was quick to convey his impressions of the newcomers to Barry, and expressed his fears for the future.

"Trouble will come to us through these black men, these woolly-haired eaters of men's flesh," he said to the mate in Samoan, on the following evening. "One of them--he with the hare-lip--can speak Fijian, and this evening he was boasting to me of all that his master hath done, of the men he hath killed, not only in the islands to the south, but here in Ponape."

"They're a bad lot, I believe, Velo," answered the mate in English, "but you and the rest of the men must try and avoid quarrelling with them."

Velo nodded. "Aye, but they are rude of speech, and will scarce move out of our way; and our men from the Gilbert Islands are quick to anger. Trouble will come."

Trouble did come, and much sooner than even Velo had anticipated.

At ten o'clock on the morning of the fifth day the calm still continued, but there was a faint, fleecy wall of cloud to the north-east which Barry knew meant wind in a few hours. Ponape was still in sight about forty miles distant.

The ship was very quiet, for the heat was so intense that beyond washing down decks the crew had done nothing since sunrise, and the watch were lying down under the topgallant foc's'le, smoking and mending clothes. On the main-hatch was Warner's whaleboat, and sitting around her were the savage crew, chewing betel-nut and expectorating the scarlet juice in every direction. Mr. Warner himself was aft, showing Rawlings the mechanism of a Vetterli rifle. Early as was the hour he was already half-drunk, and every now and then would stagger against the rail or knock against the wheel or skylight flaps.

Presently he stumbled along the deck towards Barry, and holding the rifle in his left hand clapped the officer on the shoulder with his right.

"You're a mighty solemn-faced cuss, young feller," he said, with drunken hilarity; "have a drink with me, and don't be so ---- high and mighty. I'm a damned good sort when you know me--ain't that so, Jim Rawlings?"

"A very good sort indeed," answered the captain suavely; "but a bit too convivial too early in the day."

"You be damned and let me be; don't try to put on frills, Jimmy, my boy," and still clutching Barry's shoulder he grinned insolently at Rawlings, whose dark, handsome face paled with sudden passion as he turned away with an exclamation of anger.

By a sudden movement he freed himself from Warner's grasp, just as the latter repeated his invitation to him to come below and have a drink.

"I don't want to drink with you or any one else when it is my watch on deck," he said shortly.

Warner's coarse face grew purple with rage. "You don't say so! Why, who the blazes are you any way? Don't you try to put on airs with me, young feller, or you'll get hurt."

Boiling with anger as he was, the mate made no answer, and Warner, with a snort of contempt at him, went below. In a minute or two he reappeared with his pipe and a large plug of tobacco in his hand.

"Here, Tagaro, you rabbit-faced swine," he called, "come aft here and cut me up a pipe of tobacco."

Tagaro, the huge savage with a hare-lip, jumped up from the main-hatch where he was squatting and came aft, his hideous red lips twisting and squirming like the tentacles of an octopus as he masticated a mouthful of betel-nut. Taking the pipe and tobacco from his master he sat down cross-legged beside the companion. Barry eyed him for an instant with anger and disgust. He returned the look with an impertinent grin, and then coolly spat out a stream of the acrid scarlet juice half-way across the clean, white deck.

This was too much for the officer. His face whitened with rage, and striding up to Warner he pointed to the befouled whiteness of the deck. "Tell that nigger of yours to get a swab and clean up that mess in double quick time," he said, trying to steady his voice.

"Swab it up yourself," was the insulting reply; "reckon it's about all you're fit for."

A second later Mr. Billy Warner went down on his back with a crash as Barry caught him a terrific blow on the chin, and then spinning round on his heel he dealt the hare-lipped nigger a kick in the side that cracked two of his ribs like pipe-stems and doubled him up in agony.

In less than half a minute pandemonium seemed to have broken loose, for Warner's natives made a rush aft crying out that Barry had killed their white man and Tagaro. They were met by the officer, two of the white seamen, men named "Joe" and "Sam Button," and several of the Gilbert Islanders, who beat them back with belaying-pins. Joe, who was an immensely powerful man, knocked three of them senseless with successive blows on their woolly pates, and his comrades did equally as well. Then Rawlings darted on deck, followed by Barradas, and threatening the Solomon Islanders with their revolvers, succeeded in relieving Barry and his men, and driving their assailants up for'ard, where they were met by the watch below, who at once attacked them, and again the two parties began another struggle, using their knives freely.

Then it was that Barry's influence over the native crew was made manifest to the captain. Followed by Velo and big Joe he sprang into the midst of the half-maddened crew, and by blows, threats, and entreaties to his own men, managed to effect a separation before murder was done, Rawlings and Barradas aiding him by striking out right and left with belaying-pins, for the chief officer kept calling out to them not to fire.

The whole affair did not last more than ten minutes, and as soon as the ship was quiet, Barry urged the captain to send Warner's men below into the main hold. This was done, though the savages at first refused to go until they were satisfied that their master was not dead. They were allowed to go aft and see him. He was sitting up and barely able to speak, for in falling he had struck his head heavily. Rawlings gave him some brandy, which he drank, and then, supported by two seamen, he was taken below to recover.

Barry then explained the cause of the disturbance to the captain and Barradas, both of whom said that he could have acted in no other way.

"We shall want a couple of doctors soon if we have any more of this cursed business," said Rawlings. "Here's the boatswain badly hurt; Billy Onotoa, who you say is a good man, with a couple of knife holes in his hide; Warner's head man with two stove-in ribs, and Warner himself with a bad head; and now there's three or four more of these black and brown devils cut about. Curse the whole thing!"

"I'm not at all sorry about that blackguard's head," said the mate, with some degree of irritation; "he deserved all he got from me--much more than that poor devil of a nigger of his."

"Come below, Mr. Barry," said the captain, seeing that his officer resented his tone; "I don't think a drop of good brandy and water would do any of us any harm."

"Certainly, sir," he answered, his good temper at once asserting itself; "and, look over there--there's the breeze coming at last."

Before eight bells struck the vessel was slipping through the water before a fresh, cool breeze; the Solomon Islanders were allowed to come on deck, and Barry paid a round of visits to the wounded men, including Mr. Billy Warner, who freely cursed him and frankly assured him of his intention to "take it out" at the first opportunity that offered after the ship reached Arrecifos.

"Right you are," was the reply, "but it will pay you better to leave me alone, I think."

That night, however, the captain and Warner had a conversation, which resulted in the red-bearded scoundrel coming up to the mate and professing sorrow for what had occurred--his excuse of course being that he was drunk at the time, and did not remember what he was saying. Barry accepted his apologies coldly, but avoided the man as much as possible without being actually uncivil to him.

The Greek was soon fit for duty again, and although the crew went about their work willingly, it was evident that they had a deep distrust of all the officers except the chief. Warner and Rawlings daily grew more intimate, and it was very evident to Barry that they knew a great deal about each other, for at times, especially when he had taken too much to drink, the former would address the captain in such an insolently familiar manner that his dark, handsome features would pale with suppressed passion, though he appeared not to notice the man's manner.

As the days went by the chief officer spoke less and less to those living aft, though Barradas made several renewed efforts to break through his reserve; but finding that he met with no response he gave up all further attempts, and attached himself when off duty to Rawlings, the Greek, and Warner.

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CHAPTER IV. MR. BILLY WARNER, OF PONAPETen days after leaving Sydney the _Mahina had rounded the south-eastern end of New Caledonia, and was steering a northerly course between the New Hebrides Group and the great archipelago of the Solomon Islands for Arrecifos Lagoon. During these ten days Barry had had time to study Captain Rawlings and the rest of the ship's company, and had come to the conclusion that there was some mystery attached to both ship and crew. The latter, with the exception of the boatswain, who was a dark-faced, ear-ringed Greek, and the four new hands brought
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