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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTessa - Chapter 9
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Tessa - Chapter 9 Post by :Keyser Category :Long Stories Author :Louis Becke Date :May 2012 Read :4010

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Tessa - Chapter 9


All that day over a gently heaving sea the boat sped steadily onward before the soft breath of the dying trade wind, and when night fell Harvey and Atkins reckoned that they could not be more than twenty miles from Pikirami. About midnight, therefore, the sail was lowered, and the boat allowed to drift, as otherwise she might have run past the island in the darkness. Two of the natives were placed on the look-out for indications of the land, and the rest of the people, except Harvey, laid down and slept, for after one or two rain squalls early in the evening the night had turned out fine and dry.

Poor Morrison's body had been covered up and placed under the for'ard thwarts; amidships lay Atkins, who had fallen asleep with his pipe in his mouth and his head pillowed on the naked chest of one of the native sailors; aft, in the stern sheets, Tessa and Maoni slept with their arms around each other, Tessa's pale cheek lying upon the soft, rounded bosom of the native girl. Still further aft, on the whale-back, Harvey sat, cross-legged, contentedly smoking a stumpy clay pipe lent to him by Huka, and looking, now at the glorious, myriad-starred sky above, and now at the beautiful face just beneath him, and musing upon the events of the past few days. Then as his eye rested for a moment or two on the stiffened form of the dead engineer, his face hardened, and he thought of Chard and the captain. Where were they now? Making for Ponape, no doubt, with all possible speed, so that they might escape in some passing whale-ship or vessel bound China-wards. But where could they go? What civilised country would afford protection to such fiendish and cruel murderers? Neither of them dare dream of ever putting foot on Australian soil again if a single one of the survivors of the _Motutapu reached there before them. Then he thought of Hendry's wife and three fair daughters.

"Poor things," he muttered, "the story of their father's crime will break their hearts, and make life desolate to them. Better for them if the Almighty, in His mercy, took them before this frightful tale is told to wreck their lives."

An hour passed, and then Roka, who was one of the look-outs, came aft, stepping softly so as not to awaken the sleepers.

"What is it, Roka?"

"Listen," whispered the native, "dost hear the call of the _kanapu_? There be many of them about us in the air; so this land of Pikirami must be near."

Harvey nodded and listened, and though his ear was not so quick as that of the sailor, he soon caught the low, hoarse notes of the _kanapu_, a large bird of the booby species, which among the islands of the North-West Pacific fishes at night-time and sleeps most of the day; its principal food being flying-fish and _atulti or young bonito, which, always swimming on the surface, fall an easy prey to the keen-eyed, sharp, blue-beaked bird.

"Ay, Roka," said the trader, "we be near the land, for the _kanapu never wandereth far from the shore."

Low as he spoke, Tessa heard him, for she slumbered but lightly. She rose and sat up, deftly winding her loosened hair about her head.

"Is it land, Harvey?"

"Land is near, Tessa. We can hear the _kanapu calling to each other."

"I am so glad, Harvey; for it would be terribly hard upon the men if we missed Pikirami and had to make for New Britain."

"Ay, it would indeed. So far we have been very lucky, however, yet, even if we had missed it, we should have no cause to fear. We have a fine boat, provisions and water, a good crew, and one of the best sailor men that ever trod a deck in command," and he pointed to the sleeping second mate.

Then as they sat together, listening to the cries of the sea-birds, and waiting for the dawn, Harvey re-told to Tessa, for Roka's benefit, the story of that dreadful boat voyage sixteen years before, in which his father and five others had perished from hunger and thirst.

"I was but fourteen years of age then, and people wondered how a boy like me survived when strong men had died. They did not know that every one of those thirteen men, unasked by my father, had put aside some portion of their miserable allowance for me, and I, God forgive me for doing so, took it. One man, a big Norwegian, was so fearful of going mad with the agonies of thirst, that he knelt down and offered up a prayer, then he shook hands with us all--my father was already dead--and jumped overboard. We were all too weak to try and save him. And less than an hour afterwards God's rain came, as my father had said it would come just before he died."

Atkins, with a last mighty snore, awoke, sat up, and filled his pipe again.

"What, awake, miss!" he said with rough good-humour to Tessa. "How goes it, Mr. Carr?"

"Bully, old man. We're near the land; we can hear some _kanapu about us, so we can't be more than five or six miles away."

"The land is there," said Roka to Harvey, pointing to a dark shadow abeam of the boat, "and we could see it but for the rain-clouds which hide it from us."

Harvey grasped the steer oar, the crew were aroused, and in another few minutes the boat was under way again, heading for the sombre cloud to the westward under which Roka said the land lay.

And he was right. For as the dawn broke there came to the listening ears in the boat the low hum of the surf upon the coral reef; and then, as the rain-cloud dissolved and vanished to leeward, a long line of coco-palms stood up from the sea three miles away, and the bright golden rays of the rising sun shone upon a beach of snow-white sand, between which and the curling breakers that fell upon the barrier reef there lay a belt of pale green water as smooth as a mountain lake.

"Up with the sail, boys," cried Harvey, with sparkling eyes, turning to Atkins as he spoke; "the passage into the lagoon is on the south side, just round that high mound of coral, and the native village is on the first islet on this side of the passage. Keep her going, my lads; we shall be drinking young coconuts and stretching our legs in another half an hour."

The sail was hoisted, and, with five oars assisting, the boat was kept away two or three points, till the entrance to the lagoon was opened out, and the weary voyagers saw before them a scene of quiet beauty and repose that filled their hearts with thankfulness. Nestling under a grove of coco-palms was a village of not more than a dozen thatched houses, whose people had but just awakened to another day of easy labour--labour that was never a task. As Harvey steered the boat in between the coral walls of the narrow passage, two or three thin columns of pale blue smoke ascended from the palm grove, and presently some women and children, clad only in their thick girdles of grass, came out from the houses and walked towards the beach for their morning bathe. Then the _click-clack of the oars in the rowlocks made them look seaward, to utter a scream of astonishment at the strange sight of the crowded boat so suddenly appearing before them. In another ten seconds every man, woman, and child in the village--about fifty people all told--were clustered together on the beach, shouting and gesticulating in the most frantic excitement, some of the men rushing into the water, and calling out to the white men to steer clear of several submerged coral boulders which lay directly in the boat's track.

But their astonishment was intensified when Harvey answered them in their own tongue.

"I thank ye, friends, but I have been to this land of thine many times. Have ye all forgotten me so soon?"

That they had not forgotten was quickly evident, for his name was shouted again and again with eager, welcoming cries as the boat was run up on to the hard, white sand of the shining beach, and he, Atkins, Tessa, and their companions were literally pounced upon by the delighted people and carried up to the headman's house. Ten minutes later every family was busy preparing food for their unexpected visitors; and pigs, fowls, and ducks were being slaughtered throughout the islet, whilst Tessa and her faithful Maoni were simply overwhelmed with caresses from the women and children, who were anxious to hear the story of their adventures from the time of the burning of the steamer to the moment of their arrival in the lagoon.

Calling the head-man apart Harvey pointed to the body of Morrison, which was then being carried up from the boat.

"Ere we eat and drink, let us think of the dead," he said.

The kindly-hearted and sympathetic natives at once set to work to dig out a grave beneath a wide-spreading pandanus palm, which grew on the side of the coral mound overlooking the waters of the placid lagoon; whilst some of the women brought Atkins and Harvey clean new mats to serve as a shroud for their dead shipmate.

Then mustering the hands together, Atkins, with Harvey, Roka, and Huka, carried the body to its last resting-place, and Huka, as Latour the steward dropped a handful of the sandy soil into the grave, prayed as he had prayed over the bodies of those who had been buried at sea--simply, yet touchingly--and then the party returned along the narrow palm-shaded path to the village.

Much to Harvey's satisfaction, the head-man informed him that a trading schooner was expected to reach Pikirami within two or three weeks, as nearly six months had passed since her last visit, and she always came twice a year.

"That will suit us well," said Harvey to Tessa and Atkins, as they sat in the head-man's cool, shady house and ate the food that had been brought to them. "We can well wait here for two or three weeks; and the skipper of the _Sikiana will be glad enough to earn five or six hundred dollars by giving us a passage to Ponape. I know him very well; he's a decent little Dutchman named Westphalen, who has sailed so long in English and American ships that he's civilised. He was with me, Tessa, when I was sailing the _Belle Brandon for your father."

Soon after noon the crew, after having had a good rest, set to work to overhaul the boat in a large canoe shed, for quite possibly they might have to put to sea in her again, if anything should prevent the _Sikiana from calling at the island in a reasonable time.

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Tessa - Chapter 10 Tessa - Chapter 10

Tessa - Chapter 10
CHAPTER XThat night as the second mate and his companions were sleeping peacefully under the thatched roofs of the little native village, with nought to disturb their slumbers but the gentle lapping of the waters of the lagoon on the sandy beach, and the ceaseless call of the reef beyond, Hendry and his companion in crime were sitting in their boat talking earnestly. The captain was steering; Chard sat on the after-thwart, facing him. "I tell you that I don't care much what we do, Louis," said the supercargo, with a reckless laugh, as he looked into the captain's sullen face.

Tessa - Chapter 8 Tessa - Chapter 8

Tessa - Chapter 8
CHAPTER VIIIAn exclamation of horror burst from Harvey as the boat, with its panting crew, dashed up alongside that of the chief mate. "For God's sake, Tessa, do not look!" he cried hoarsely. For the half-sunken boat was a shambles, and of her nine occupants only three were alive--the second steward Jessop, Morrison, and Oliver himself. The latter lay in the stern sheets with a bullet hole through his chest, and a smashed hip; he had but just time to raise his hand in mute farewell to Harvey and Atkins, and then breathed his last. Morrison, whose spine was broken by