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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJohn Frewen, South Sea Whaler - Book 1 - Chapter 7
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John Frewen, South Sea Whaler - Book 1 - Chapter 7 Post by :brettslane Category :Long Stories Author :Louis Becke Date :May 2012 Read :3271

Click below to download : John Frewen, South Sea Whaler - Book 1 - Chapter 7 (Format : PDF)

John Frewen, South Sea Whaler - Book 1 - Chapter 7

BOOK I CHAPTER VII

It was three o'clock in the afternoon, and the decks of the _Esmeralda gleamed dazzlingly white under the burning rays of the Samoan sun, as she lay motionless upon a sea as calm as some sheltered mountain lake or reed-margined swamp hidden away in the quiet depths of the primeval forest. Twenty miles away to the south and east of the ship, the purple-grey crests of the mountains of Savai'i rose nearly five thousand feet in air, and, nearer the long verdant slope of beautiful Upolu stretched softly and gently upwards from the white beaches of the western point to the forest-clad sides of Mount Tofoa--ten miles distant. Still nearer to the ship, and shining like a giant emerald lying within a circlet of snow, was the island of Manono, the home or birthplace of all the chiefly families of Samoa for many centuries back. Almost circular in shape, and in no place more than fifty feet in height, it was covered with an ever-verdant forest of breadfruit, pandanus, orange and palm-groves, broken here and there by the russet-hued villages of the natives, built just where the shining beach met the green of the land. And the whole seemed to float on the bosom of the lagoon, which, completely encompassed by the barrier reef, slumbered peacefully--its waters undisturbed except when they moved responsive to the gently-flowing current from the blue ocean beyond, or were rippled by the paddle of a fisherman's canoe. A mile beyond Manono, and midway between it and the "iron-bound" coast of Savai'i, was the little volcanic isle of Apolima--once in olden times the fortress that guarded the passage through the straits, now occupied only by a few families of fisher-folk dwelling in peace and plenty in the village nestling at the foot of the long-extinct volcano. Overhead a sky of wondrous spotless blue.

* * * * *

On the quarter-deck of the _Esmeralda three of the mutineers were seated together under the shade of a small temporary awning, engaged in an earnest conversation. A fourth person--Almanza--who was at that moment the subject of their conversation, was lying in the captain's stateroom, immediately beneath them; the rest of the gang were idling about on the main or fore decks smoking their inevitable cigarettes, and waiting till the Levantine "Ryan," whom they now recognised as leader, called them to hear the result of the discussion.

The Chileno, who was seated with Ryan and Foster, was named Rivas, and had recommended himself to them by reason of his ferocious and merciless disposition. Long before the mutiny occurred he, with the Greeks, had insisted upon the necessity of murdering not only the captain, first officer, steward, and all the English seamen, but Mrs. Marston as well. Almanza, however, protested so strenuously that they reluctantly consented not to resort to murder, if it could possibly be avoided; but their lust for slaughter was too great to be controlled when Villari made his gallant attempt to aid his captain.

On the top of the skylight was spread a chart, at which Ryan was looking, trying to find out as near as he could the ship's position. He could read English, and easily recognised the islands of Apolima and Manono, both of which were shown on the chart.

"That is where we are now, or about there," he said, taking a pencil in his hand and making a mark on the spot. "But we are drifting towards the reefs, and must anchor once we get into soundings--or else go ashore."

"Do you think he is going to die?" inquired Rivas, with a gesture towards the cabin.

"How can I tell, comrade?" replied the Greek with an angry snarl. "Only that we want him badly to navigate the ship, it would be best for us if he does die--for two reasons."

His fellow-scoundrels nodded assent. The two reasons they knew were, firstly, that Almanza had proved to be too timorous as regarded the taking of life, and secondly that his death would give them a greater share of plunder.

"Well, what are we to do?" asked Rivas.

"What can we do?" exclaimed Foster fiercely, as he shook his black-haired, greasy and ear-ringed head. "We must wait and see if he gets better--unless we drift ashore in the night and get our throats cut by los Indios over there," and he indicated the islands.

"Bah!" growled his countryman. "Did I not tell you that I heard the captain say over and over again that these people are not savages? But what we do want is a breeze, so that we can work off the land--for how are a few men going to tow a heavy ship like this against a two-knot current? We could not move her." Then he called out, with a sneering inflection in his tones, "Come aft, comrades, and we shall drink to our _brave captain's speedy recovery."

The rest of the mutineers but one obeyed with alacrity, just as the man who remained, and who was standing on the topgallant foc'sle, gave a loud cry--

"A boat is coming from the shore!"

In an instant confusion ensued; but Ryan, picking up Marston's glass, angrily bade them be silent. The boat had approached to within a mile of the ship, and Ryan saw that she was pulling four oars.

"It is not the captain's boat, _amigos_," he said, "and there seem to be only a few people in her. But be ready."

The _Esmeralda_, in addition to the six guns she carried, was plentifully provided with small-arms--enough for a crew of thirty men; and all of these, as well as the big guns, were kept loaded, for after the escape of the captain's boat the mutineers had worked most energetically to put the ship in a state of defence--both Almanza and Ryan recognising the possibility of the survivors of Marston's party reaching Apia, and there obtaining assistance to enable them to recapture the ship.

The boat came on steadily, the blades of her four oars flashing in the bright sunlight. Ryan continued to look at her, and felt quite satisfied when he saw she contained but seven persons, three of whom were Europeans, and four natives.

"It is a whale-boat," he cried; "and there are three white men in her and four natives. She is very deep in the water, and I can see a lot of green stuff in the bows." (These were the bunches of bananas, purposely stowed in a pile for'ard, so as to indicate the boat's peaceful mission.)

The mutineers--with the exception of the two Greeks--who remained on the quarter-deck, dressed in Mars-ton's and Villari's clothes--stood in the waist. All were armed with pistols, and a number of loaded muskets were lying along the waterways close to their hands, if needed.

When within easy speaking distance of the ship Ryan went to the rail and hailed the boat.

"Boat ahoy!"

The four oars ceased pulling, and Frewen, who was steering, stood up and answered the hail.

"Good morning, captain. I've seen you since daylight. You are drifting too close in, so I've come off to warn you to tow off."

"Come on board, please," replied the Greek, who, as Frewen spoke, saw that the boat was deeply-laden with fruit; and the cackling of fowls and sudden squeal of a pig convinced him that everything was right. And then, in a few minutes, Frewen and Raymond clambered up the side and walked quickly aft to where Ryan stood on the poop.

"How do you do, captain?" said Frewen, holding out his hand. "Where are you from, sir?"

"Valparaiso to Batavia," was the glib reply, as the mutineer shook hands with his visitors. "Are you living on shore there?" and he nodded towards Samatau.

"Yes, this is my partner. We have a cotton plantation there. We have brought you off a boatload of fresh provisions. Perhaps you can spare us a cask of salt beef in exchange? Pork is the only meat we have on shore."

"Very well, I can easily do that," was the reply.

Frewen went to the side and hailed the watchful Cheyne.

"Pass up all that stuff, Randall," he said.

Aided by the Chileno seamen, Cheyne and the four natives soon cleared the boat of the livestock and fruit, whilst Ryan, who had not yet asked his visitors below, continued to talk to them on deck, although he told one of the crew, whom he addressed as "steward," to bring up refreshments.

"Now, captain," continued Frewen, speaking in the most friendly manner, "you must set to and tow your ship away from here as quietly as possible, or you will go ashore if this calm lasts. You can't anchor anywhere near here, the water is too deep."

"Perhaps you will help me? I am short-handed. Twelve of my crew took the longboat and deserted from me during the voyage, and I am in a tight place."

"Oh, well, captain, we must try and help you out of it to the best of our ability." He raised his glass. "I am glad to have met you, Captain------," and he paused.

"Ryan is my name. The ship is the _Esmeralda_."

"And a beautiful ship she is, too. You must be proud to command such a splendid vessel, sir."

"She is a fine ship," was the brief reply. "Now will you please tell me how you are going to help me?"

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