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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEdward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 7. Alice Tracey
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Edward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 7. Alice Tracey Post by :brettslane Category :Long Stories Author :Louis Becke Date :May 2012 Read :897

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Edward Barry: South Sea Pearler - Chapter 7. Alice Tracey

CHAPTER VII. ALICE TRACEY

The whaleboat, with Barry and five hands, skimmed fleetly over the smooth waters of the lagoon before the lusty breeze, and three hours after leaving the brig she was within a quarter of a mile of the shore of a narrow little bay, embowered amidst a luxuriant grove of coco and pandanus palms. Presently Velo, the Samoan, who was standing up in the bows keeping a lookout, called out that he could see the houses of a native village showing through the trees, about two or three miles away to the right.

"And I can see three people coming along the beach, sir," he added presently, pointing to a spot midway between the village and the little bay for which the boat was heading.

"Well, three people can't do us any harm, Velo, so we will run into the beach and wait for them," said Barry. "Is it clear water ahead?"

"All clear, sir--not a bit of coral to be seen anywhere, deep water right into the beach. Fine place, sir. And look at all those breadfruit trees--just in back a little from the coconuts."

In another five minutes the boat ploughed her stem into the hard white sand, and the men jumped out.

"Three of you stay in the boat and keep her afloat," said Barry. "You, Velo, and you, Joe, come with me. We'll have a look around here and then walk along the beach and meet those three natives."

Taking their rifles with them, the mate, with Velo and the white sailor Joe following him closely, walked up the beach and entered the forest of coco-palms. Every tree was laden with fruit in all stages of growth, and at Barry's request Velo at once climbed one and threw down a score or so of young drinking-nuts.

Throwing some to the men in the boat, Barry and his companions drank one each, and then set out to look about them. Although the island was of great length, it was in no part more than a mile in width from the lagoon shore to the outer ocean beach, and the thunder of the surf on the reef could be heard every now and then amid the rustle and soughing of the palm-trees.

"It's nice to smell this 'ere hearthy smell, sir, ain't it?" said Joe to the officer. "It seems to fill yer up inside with its flavorance."

Barry smiled. "It does indeed, Joe. I love the smell of these low-lying coral islands."

Apparently encouraged by his officer's polite reply to his remark, Joe (who was in the second mate's watch) began afresh.

"I hope; sir, you won't mind my loosenin' my jaw tackle a bit; but I'd be mighty glad, sir, if you could let me come with you in the boats when we begins the divin'."

"I'll mention it to the captain, Joe. I'm quite agreeable."

"Thank you, sir," said the sailor respectfully.

This Joe was the man whom Rawlings had felled with the belaying-pin, and although when he first came on board Barry had conceived an unfavourable impression of him and his three companions, subsequent observation of the four had made him feel that he had done Joe at least an injustice, for the man, despite his sullenness and a rather quarrelsome disposition, was a good sailor and no shirker of work. During the voyage from Sydney, Barry had scarcely had occasion to speak to this man more than half a dozen times, but whenever he had done so Joe had answered him with a cheerful "Aye, aye, sir," and obeyed his orders promptly, whereas a command from Rawlings, Barradas, or the Greek was received in sullen silence and carried out with a muttered curse. The reason for this was not far to seek. Barry was a rigid disciplinarian, but never laid his hand on a man unless provoked beyond endurance, whilst the captain, Barradas, and the Greek boatswain were chary of neither abuse nor blows--too often without the slightest reason. Consequently Joe and his three shipmates--who recognised him as their leader--had developed a silent though bitter hatred of all the officers except Barry--a hatred that only awaited an opportunity to take vengeance for past brutalities. All four of them, so Velo told Barry one night, had served a sentence of three months' imprisonment in Sydney for broaching cargo, and had been picked up in a low boozing den by Rawlings just after their release, and brought on board the _Mahina without the knowledge of the shipping authorities. To Barry, who had had a long experience of deep-sea ships, this type of men was familiar. He knew their good points as well as the bad, and knew how to manage them without resorting to either threats or force, and consequently the four "gaol birds," as Rawlings persistently called them, had conceived a strong liking for the quiet-mannered, yet determined chief officer--a liking that was not confined to themselves alone, but was shared by the native crew as well.

For some little time the three men pursued their way in silence, and then Joe again spoke.

"I don't want to shove myself into other people's business, sir; but I'd like to tell you something now I has the chance to do it."

"Go ahead, Joe," replied his officer good-naturedly. "What is it?"

"Well, sir, it mightn't mean nothin' at all, and it might mean a good deal; but it's struck me and my mates that there's something wrong about the skipper, and from what we has seen and heard we believe they means some sort of mischief to you."

Barry stopped. "What makes you think that, Joe?"

"Lots o' things, sir. Why, lots o' times Sam Button and Sharkey has seen him talkin' quietly with the Greek when you were below asleep, and I've seen him confaberlatin on the quiet with the second mate and the bo'sun--all three together--and if you chanced to come up they'd either quit talkin' or pretend to just be having a yarn about nothin' in partikler. I believe, sir--and so does my mates and Velo--that they means mischief o' some sort to you."

Barry mused. "I can't make things out at all, Joe. To tell you the truth there is something mysterious about this ship--something that does not satisfy me; but what it is I cannot tell."

"Aye, aye, sir; that's it. _There is something fishy goin' on, I'm certain. And now here's somethin' else you ought to know--somethin' about this red-bearded, nigger-drivin' swab of a Warner. I know the cove, though he doesn't know me."

"Ah!" said Barry with quickened interest, "what do you know of him, Joe?"

Taking his pipe out of his mouth and speaking very slowly the seaman repeated his last words.

"I know him, sir, now, though I didn't when he first came aboard with his crowd o' bloody cannibals. But when you give him that knock-out lift under the jaw the other day, me and Sam Button, you will remember, helped him down into the cabin and laid him in his bunk, hopin' the swab was dead. The skipper told us to open his shirt at the neck, as he was a-breathin' so bad, and when we opens his shirt I sees a ship tattooed across his chest--then I knew where I'd seen that there chap with the red beard and that partikler tattooing before. It was the picture of a Yankee man-o'-war with her name over it--_The Franklin_, and I reckerlected when I'd seen it last--about nine year ago in Fiji."

"Go on, Joe," said the officer, as the man hesitated.

"Right, sir; but now I might as well tell you how I did come to see it. I was bummin' around in Levuka lookin' for a ship, havin' just done four months' hard, when I meets a petty officer belonging to a gunboat, who asked me if I wanted a week's job. He was scourin' all round the place to pick up sailor men, so me and about half a dozen more chaps was taken off on board the gunboat. She had been cruising in the Solomon Islands, and a lot of her men died from fever. Then when she was coming back to Fiji she got caught in a hurricane and dismasted, and sailed into Levuka under jury-masts, and us chaps were set to work to help refit her for the voyage to Sydney. And the first thing I saw when I got aboard was this here chap Warner, who was washing himself up for'ard with a sentry standing over him and his leg irons lying on the deck ready to be shackled on again as soon as he had finished washing. I noticed his big beard, and partikler noticed the ship on his breast. I asked one of the bluejackets who the chap was. 'Bloomin' slaver and cut-throat,' says he. 'We collared him off Bougainville in his cutter. He's the chap that shot over thirty niggers on San Christoval in cold blood two year ago, and we're taking him to Sydney to try and sheet it home to him.' So that's what _I knows about Mr. Warner, sir. And he's hand and glove with the other chaps."

"Thank you very much for your confidence, Joe," said Barry. "I believe the man is an out-and-out villain, but I shall be on my guard now, more than ever."

Then once more they turned their attention to their quest.

* * * * * *

A very brief inspection of the land in the vicinity of the little bay satisfied Barry that it would answer admirably for a station. All around were thousands upon thousands of coco-palms, and further back were some hundreds of huge jack fruit trees--a species of breadfruit bearing fruit of irregular shape, and containing large seeds. The brig could be moored within fifty yards of the beach so deep was the water, and fresh water for the ship's use could easily be had, Velo assured him, by sinking in the rich soil among the bread-fruit grove.

Just as they emerged out into the open again, and came in sight of the boat, one of the men in her called out to Velo that the three natives they had seen were women, and that one was dressed like a white woman!

"A white woman!" cried Barry, and running down to the boat he looked along the beach at the three advancing figures. One of them certainly was dressed in European clothing.

"That is very queer," said Barry to Joe. "Hallo, they've stopped."

The women had ceased walking, and were now standing close together, evidently talking. Then the two brown-skinned, half-nude figures sat down on the sand, and the third came on alone towards the boat; she was walking slowly, and apparently with difficulty.

"Let us go and meet them," said Barry.

Putting their rifles into the boat, he, Velo, and Joe at once started, and the moment the woman saw them coming she waved her hand to them; then toiling wearily up to the top of the beach, she sat down and leaned her back against the bole of a coconut tree, but still continued to beckon with her hand.

"She's done up, sir," cried Joe, as they broke into a run.

In less than ten minutes the three men were close up to her, Barry leading. Then she rose to her feet again, and with outstretched hands came to meet him, and Barry saw that she was a young woman of about five-and-twenty, and her features, though tanned by a tropic sun, undoubtedly those of an European.

"I am so tired," she panted excitedly, as Barry took her hand, "and I have hurt my foot running to meet you. I was afraid you----"

She ceased, and would have fallen had not Barry caught her. Then, overcome by excitement and physical pain, she began to sob.

Barry lifted her up in his arms and carried her back to the tree again. "There, sit down again, and don't try to talk now," he said kindly; "why, what is this--your foot is covered with blood." Kneeling beside her he lifted her bare left foot, and saw that the blood was welling from a fearful gaping cut, right under the arch.

"I trod upon the edge of a _foli which was buried in the sand," she managed to say, and then almost fainted with pain.

Hastily binding his handkerchief around the wounded foot, to stay further loss of blood, Barry again lifted her in his arms, and carried her down to the boat, which had pulled up, and was now abreast of them.

"I must get your foot washed and bound up," he said, as he laid her down in the stern, and made a pillow of his coat.

Unable to speak from the intense pain she was enduring, the woman only moaned in reply, as Barry and Velo washed her foot with fresh water, and cleansed the cut carefully--making sure by probing it with a pocket knife that no piece of foli(1) shell or stone was left in the wound. Satisfied that all was right, Barry bound up the foot again with Velo's cotton shirt, which he tore into strips.

The woman thanked him feebly, but as she again seemed inclined to faint, he gave her some strong brandy and water. She drank it eagerly, and then laid her head on the pillowed coat again, but quickly raised it when she heard Velo calling to her two companions, who, overcoming their fear, had now approached nearer to the boat, and presently they both came up, trembling in every limb.

"They want to know if she is dead, sir," said Velo, who could understand a few words of what they said.

Barry made a kindly gesture to the strange, wild-looking creatures, who were young and handsome, to come and look. They did so, and the moment they saw their mistress they jumped into the boat and crouched beside her, patting her hands and smiling at her affectionately.

It was now nearly sunset, and time to decide upon quarters for the night, and as there was an abandoned native house within a few hundred yards of where the boat lay, it was at once taken possession of.

"I cannot take you on board the ship to-night," said Barry to the women, "and I don't want you to talk too much when you are so weak, but tell me this--will there be any danger if we sleep on shore here in that old house?"

"None whatever; there are but two hundred natives here, and you need have no fear of them--all the rest were carried away by an Hawaiian labour ship two months ago," she replied faintly.

"Then we shall try and make you comfortable for to-night. We have plenty of sleeping mats in the boat. Now I must lift you out again."

By this time fires had been lit by the men, and supper was being prepared by Joe; the two native women and Velo had made a comfortable bed for the injured woman, a quantity of young coconuts husked by another sailor lay on the ground, and when Barry laid his charge down upon her bed of mats the scene was quite cheerful as the blazing fires sent out streams of light across the waters of the sleeping lagoon.

"Now you must try and sit up and eat something and drink some coffee," said Barry as he placed some biscuit and meat and a tin mug of coffee beside the woman. "There, lean your back against the water-breaker. Are you in much pain now?"

"Not so much, thank you," and as she tried to smile Barry could not but observe that she was a remarkably handsome woman, with clearly cut, refined features. Her speech, too, showed that she was a person of education.

Barry seated himself near her, and began to eat; the two wild-looking native women sat near by munching the biscuits given them by Joe; and Joe himself, with the rest of the crew, were grouped together at the other end of the hut.

"Will you have some more coffee?" said Barry presently.

"No, thank you, but I feel much better now. You have been very good to me."

Seeing that she was much recovered, although her face was still drawn and pale, Barry put his first question to her.

"You are in great distress, and are not yet strong enough to talk very much; but will you tell me how you came to be living here, and how I can help you?"

She clasped her hands together tightly, and tried to speak calmly. "My story is a very strange one indeed. I was landed here by an American whaleship five months ago. She brought me from Ocean Island. I came here in the hope that my husband--if he is alive--would come here. But I fear he is dead--murdered;" and the tears began to steal down her cheeks.

"Murdered! Is he a trader in this group?"

"No; he was captain and owner of a trading vessel, a small brig. I was with him. One night, when I was on deck, I overheard two of the officers and a man who was a passenger plotting to seize the ship and get rid of us both. They discovered me, and one of them threw me overboard to drown."

"Good Heavens! What was the ship's name?"

"The _Mahina_."

Barry's heart thumped so violently that for a moment or two he could not speak; then he said hoarsely--

"My God! Who are you? What was your husband's name?"

"John Tracey! And you, who are you? Why do you look like that? Ah, you know something. Quick, tell me. Is he dead?"

There was a pause before Barry could bring himself to reply. The woman, with pale face and quivering lips, waited for his answer.

"Yes. He is dead."

Mrs. Tracey bent her head and covered her face with her hands.

"I knew it," she said, after one sob. "I knew I should never see him again--that they would murder him as they tried to murder me. Will you tell me how you knew it?"

"I saw him lying dead in Sydney. I was told that he shot himself in a fit of melancholy. He was lying on board the _Mahina_--and the _Mahina is here at anchor in this lagoon. I am the chief officer."

"And the captain?"

"His name is Rawlings."

"Ah!--he is one of them, he was the passenger; and who are the other officers?"

"Barradas, a Spaniard, and a Greek."

"Paul, the boatswain! He it was who threw me overboard. Now tell me all you know about my husband. See, I am not crying. My grief is done. I will live now to take vengeance on these cruel murderers."

Barry was about to send his boat's crew out of hearing, but Mrs. Tracey begged him not to do so.

"Let them stay. It can do no harm; and if they are men, they will help me."

"I think you are right, Mrs. Tracey. And here is my hand and solemn promise to do all in my power to retake the _Mahina_, for now I begin to suspect that your husband did indeed meet with foul play."

 

(1) A _foli is a huge mussel, with an edge as keen as that of a razor.

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