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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Rescue - PART I. THE MAN AND THE BRIG - Chapter II
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The Rescue - PART I. THE MAN AND THE BRIG - Chapter II Post by :bosstee Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :January 2011 Read :1073

Click below to download : The Rescue - PART I. THE MAN AND THE BRIG - Chapter II (Format : PDF)

The Rescue - PART I. THE MAN AND THE BRIG - Chapter II

It was half-past eight o'clock before Lingard came on deck again.
Shaw--now with a coat on--trotted up and down the poop leaving
behind him a smell of tobacco smoke. An irregularly glowing spark
seemed to run by itself in the darkness before the rounded form
of his head. Above the masts of the brig the dome of the clear
heaven was full of lights that flickered, as if some mighty
breathings high up there had been swaying about the flame of the
stars. There was no sound along the brig's decks, and the heavy
shadows that lay on it had the aspect, in that silence, of secret
places concealing crouching forms that waited in perfect
stillness for some decisive event. Lingard struck a match to
light his cheroot, and his powerful face with narrowed eyes stood
out for a moment in the night and vanished suddenly. Then two
shadowy forms and two red sparks moved backward and forward on
the poop. A larger, but a paler and oval patch of light from the
compass lamps lay on the brasses of the wheel and on the breast
of the Malay standing by the helm. Lingard's voice, as if unable
altogether to master the enormous silence of the sea, sounded
muffled, very calm--without the usual deep ring in it.

"Not much change, Shaw," he said.

"No, sir, not much. I can just see the island--the big one--still
in the same place. It strikes me, sir, that, for calms, this here
sea is a devil of loc-ality."

He cut "locality" in two with an emphatic pause. It was a good
word. He was pleased with himself for thinking of it. He went on
again:

"Now--since noon, this big island--"

"Carimata, Shaw," interrupted Lingard.

"Aye, sir; Carimata--I mean. I must say--being a stranger
hereabouts--I haven't got the run of those--"

He was going to say "names" but checked himself and said,
"appellations," instead, sounding every syllable lovingly.

"Having for these last fifteen years," he continued, "sailed
regularly from London in East-Indiamen, I am more at home over
there--in the Bay."

He pointed into the night toward the northwest and stared as if
he could see from where he stood that Bay of Bengal where--as he
affirmed--he would be so much more at home.

"You'll soon get used--" muttered Lingard, swinging in his rapid
walk past his mate. Then he turned round, came back, and asked
sharply.

"You said there was nothing afloat in sight before dark? Hey?"

"Not that I could see, sir. When I took the deck again at eight,
I asked that serang whether there was anything about; and I
understood him to say there was no more as when I went below at
six. This is a lonely sea at times--ain't it, sir? Now, one would
think at this time of the year the homeward-bounders from China
would be pretty thick here."

"Yes," said Lingard, "we have met very few ships since we left
Pedra Branca over the stern. Yes; it has been a lonely sea. But
for all that, Shaw, this sea, if lonely, is not blind. Every
island in it is an eye. And now, since our squadron has left for
the China waters--"

He did not finish his sentence. Shaw put his hands in his
pockets, and propped his back against the sky-light, comfortably.

"They say there is going to be a war with China," he said in a
gossiping tone, "and the French are going along with us as they
did in the Crimea five years ago. It seems to me we're getting
mighty good friends with the French. I've not much of an opinion
about that. What do you think, Captain Lingard?"

"I have met their men-of-war in the Pacific," said Lingard,
slowly. "The ships were fine and the fellows in them were civil
enough to me--and very curious about my business," he added with
a laugh. "However, I wasn't there to make war on them. I had a
rotten old cutter then, for trade, Shaw," he went on with
animation.

"Had you, sir?" said Shaw without any enthusiasm. "Now give me a
big ship--a ship, I say, that one may--"

"And later on, some years ago," interrupted Lingard, "I chummed
with a French skipper in Ampanam--being the only two white men in
the whole place. He was a good fellow, and free with his red
wine. His English was difficult to understand, but he could sing
songs in his own language about ah-moor--Ah-moor means love, in
French--Shaw."

"So it does, sir--so it does. When I was second mate of a
Sunderland barque, in forty-one, in the Mediterranean, I could
pay out their lingo as easy as you would a five-inch warp over a
ship's side--"

"Yes, he was a proper man," pursued Lingard, meditatively, as if
for himself only. "You could not find a better fellow for company
ashore. He had an affair with a Bali girl, who one evening threw
a red blossom at him from within a doorway, as we were going
together to pay our respects to the Rajah's nephew. He was a
good-looking Frenchman, he was--but the girl belonged to the
Rajah's nephew, and it was a serious matter. The old Rajah got
angry and said the girl must die. I don't think the nephew cared
particularly to have her krissed; but the old fellow made a great
fuss and sent one of his own chief men to see the thing done
--and the girl had enemies--her own relations approved! We could
do nothing. Mind, Shaw, there was absolutely nothing else between
them but that unlucky flower which the Frenchman pinned to his
coat--and afterward, when the girl was dead, wore under his
shirt, hung round his neck in a small box. I suppose he had
nothing else to put it into."

"Would those savages kill a woman for that?" asked Shaw,
incredulously.

"Aye! They are pretty moral there. That was the first time in my
life I nearly went to war on my own account, Shaw. We couldn't
talk those fellows over. We couldn't bribe them, though the
Frenchman offered the best he had, and I was ready to back him to
the last dollar, to the last rag of cotton, Shaw! No use--they
were that blamed respectable. So, says the Frenchman to me: 'My
friend, if they won't take our gunpowder for a gift let us burn
it to give them lead.' I was armed as you see now; six
eight-pounders on the main deck and a long eighteen on the
forecastle--and I wanted to try 'em. You may believe me! However,
the Frenchman had nothing but a few old muskets; and the beggars
got to windward of us by fair words, till one morning a boat's
crew from the Frenchman's ship found the girl lying dead on the
beach. That put an end to our plans. She was out of her trouble
anyhow, and no reasonable man will fight for a dead woman. I was
never vengeful, Shaw, and--after all--she didn't throw that
flower at me. But it broke the Frenchman up altogether. He began
to mope, did no business, and shortly afterward sailed away. I
cleared a good many pence out of that trip, I remember."

With these words he seemed to come to the end of his memories of
that trip. Shaw stifled a yawn.

"Women are the cause of a lot of trouble," he said,
dispassionately. "In the Morayshire, I remember, we had once a
passenger--an old gentleman--who was telling us a yarn about them
old-time Greeks fighting for ten years about some woman. The
Turks kidnapped her, or something. Anyway, they fought in Turkey;
which I may well believe. Them Greeks and Turks were always
fighting. My father was master's mate on board one of the
three-deckers at the battle of Navarino--and that was when we
went to help those Greeks. But this affair about a woman was long
before that time."

"I should think so," muttered Lingard, hanging over the rail, and
watching the fleeting gleams that passed deep down in the water,
along the ship's bottom.

"Yes. Times are changed. They were unenlightened in those old
days. My grandfather was a preacher and, though my father served
in the navy, I don't hold with war. Sinful the old gentleman
called it--and I think so, too. Unless with Chinamen, or niggers,
or such people as must be kept in order and won't listen to
reason; having not sense enough to know what's good for them,
when it's explained to them by their betters--missionaries, and
such like au-tho-ri-ties. But to fight ten years. And for a
woman!"

"I have read the tale in a book," said Lingard, speaking down
over the side as if setting his words gently afloat upon the sea.
"I have read the tale. She was very beautiful."

"That only makes it worse, sir--if anything. You may depend on it
she was no good. Those pagan times will never come back, thank
God. Ten years of murder and unrighteousness! And for a woman!
Would anybody do it now? Would you do it, sir? Would you--"

The sound of a bell struck sharply interrupted Shaw's discourse.
High aloft, some dry block sent out a screech, short and
lamentable, like a cry of pain. It pierced the quietness of the
night to the very core, and seemed to destroy the reserve which
it had imposed upon the tones of the two men, who spoke now
loudly.

"Throw the cover over the binnacle," said Lingard in his duty
voice. "The thing shines like a full moon. We mustn't show more
lights than we can help, when becalmed at night so near the land.
No use in being seen if you can't see yourself--is there? Bear
that in mind, Mr. Shaw. There may be some vagabonds prying
about--"

"I thought all this was over and done for," said Shaw, busying
himself with the cover, "since Sir Thomas Cochrane swept along
the Borneo coast with his squadron some years ago. He did a rare
lot of fighting--didn't he? We heard about it from the chaps of
the sloop Diana that was refitting in Calcutta when I was there
in the Warwick Castle. They took some king's town up a river
hereabouts. The chaps were full of it."

"Sir Thomas did good work," answered Lingard, "but it will be a
long time before these seas are as safe as the English Channel is
in peace time. I spoke about that light more to get you in the
way of things to be attended to in these seas than for anything
else. Did you notice how few native craft we've sighted for all
these days we have been drifting about--one may say--in this
sea?"

"I can't say I have attached any significance to the fact, sir."

"It's a sign that something is up. Once set a rumour afloat in
these waters, and it will make its way from island to island,
without any breeze to drive it along."

"Being myself a deep-water man sailing steadily out of home ports
nearly all my life," said Shaw with great deliberation, "I cannot
pretend to see through the peculiarities of them out-of-the-way
parts. But I can keep a lookout in an ordinary way, and I have
noticed that craft of any kind seemed scarce, for the last few
days: considering that we had land aboard of us--one side or
another--nearly every day."

"You will get to know the peculiarities, as you call them, if you
remain any time with me," remarked Lingard, negligently.

"I hope I shall give satisfaction, whether the time be long or
short!" said Shaw, accentuating the meaning of his words by the
distinctness of his utterance. "A man who has spent thirty-two
years of his life on saltwater can say no more. If being an
officer of home ships for the last fifteen years I don't
understand the heathen ways of them there savages, in matters of
seamanship and duty, you will find me all there, Captain
Lingard."

"Except, judging from what you said a little while ago--except in
the matter of fighting," said Lingard, with a short laugh.

"Fighting! I am not aware that anybody wants to fight me. I am a
peaceable man, Captain Lingard, but when put to it, I could fight
as well as any of them flat-nosed chaps we have to make shift
with, instead of a proper crew of decent Christians. Fighting!"
he went on with unexpected pugnacity of tone, "Fighting! If
anybody comes to fight me, he will find me all there, I swear!"

"That's all right. That's all right," said Lingard, stretching
his arms above his head and wriggling his shoulders. "My word! I
do wish a breeze would come to let us get away from here. I am
rather in a hurry, Shaw."

"Indeed, sir! Well, I never yet met a thorough seafaring man who
was not in a hurry when a con-demned spell of calm had him by the
heels. When a breeze comes . . . just listen to this, sir!"

"I hear it," said Lingard. "Tide-rip, Shaw."

"So I presume, sir. But what a fuss it makes. Seldom heard such
a--"

On the sea, upon the furthest limits of vision, appeared an
advancing streak of seething foam, resembling a narrow white
ribbon, drawn rapidly along the level surface of the water by its
two ends, which were lost in the darkness. It reached the brig,
passed under, stretching out on each side; and on each side the
water became noisy, breaking into numerous and tiny wavelets, a
mimicry of an immense agitation. Yet the vessel in the midst of
this sudden and loud disturbance remained as motionless and
steady as if she had been securely moored between the stone walls
of a safe dock. In a few moments the line of foam and ripple
running swiftly north passed at once beyond sight and earshot,
leaving no trace on the unconquerable calm.

"Now this is very curious--" began Shaw.

Lingard made a gesture to command silence. He seemed to listen
yet, as if the wash of the ripple could have had an echo which he
expected to hear. And a man's voice that was heard forward had
something of the impersonal ring of voices thrown back from hard
and lofty cliffs upon the empty distances of the sea. It spoke in
Malay--faintly.

"What?" hailed Shaw. "What is it?"

Lingard put a restraining hand for a moment on his chief
officer's shoulder, and moved forward smartly. Shaw followed,
puzzled. The rapid exchange of incomprehensible words thrown
backward and forward through the shadows of the brig's main deck
from his captain to the lookout man and back again, made him feel
sadly out of it, somehow.

Lingard had called out sharply--"What do you see?" The answer
direct and quick was--"I hear, Tuan. I hear oars."

"Whereabouts?"

"The night is all around us. I hear them near."

"Port or starboard?"

There was a short delay in answer this time. On the quarter-deck,
under the poop, bare feet shuffled. Somebody coughed. At last the
voice forward said doubtfully:

"Kanan."

"Call the serang, Mr. Shaw," said Lingard, calmly, "and have the
hands turned up. They are all lying about the decks. Look sharp
now. There's something near us. It's annoying to be caught like
this," he added in a vexed tone.

He crossed over to the starboard side, and stood listening, one
hand grasping the royal back-stay, his ear turned to the sea, but
he could hear nothing from there. The quarter-deck was filled
with subdued sounds. Suddenly, a long, shrill whistle soared,
reverberated loudly amongst the flat surfaces of motionless
sails, and gradually grew faint as if the sound had escaped and
gone away, running upon the water. Haji Wasub was on deck and
ready to carry out the white man's commands. Then silence fell
again on the brig, until Shaw spoke quietly.

"I am going forward now, sir, with the tindal. We're all at
stations."

"Aye, Mr. Shaw. Very good. Mind they don't board you--but I can
hear nothing. Not a sound. It can't be much."

"The fellow has been dreaming, no doubt. I have good ears, too,
and--"

He went forward and the end of his sentence was lost in an
indistinct growl. Lingard stood attentive. One by one the three
seacannies off duty appeared on the poop and busied themselves
around a big chest that stood by the side of the cabin companion.
A rattle and clink of steel weapons turned out on the deck was
heard, but the men did not even whisper. Lingard peered steadily
into the night, then shook his head.

"Serang!" he called, half aloud.

The spare old man ran up the ladder so smartly that his bony feet
did not seem to touch the steps. He stood by his commander, his
hands behind his back; a figure indistinct but straight as an
arrow.

"Who was looking out?" asked Lingard.

"Badroon, the Bugis," said Wasub, in his crisp, jerky manner.

"I can hear nothing. Badroon heard the noise in his mind."

"The night hides the boat."

"Have you seen it?"

"Yes, Tuan. Small boat. Before sunset. By the land. Now coming
here--near. Badroon heard him."

"Why didn't you report it, then?" asked Lingard, sharply.

"Malim spoke. He said: 'Nothing there,' while I could see. How
could I know what was in his mind or yours, Tuan?"

"Do you hear anything now?"

"No. They stopped now. Perhaps lost the ship--who knows? Perhaps
afraid--"

"Well!" muttered Lingard, moving his feet uneasily. "I believe
you lie. What kind of boat?"

"White men's boat. A four-men boat, I think. Small. Tuan, I hear
him now! There!"

He stretched his arm straight out, pointing abeam for a time,
then his arm fell slowly.

"Coming this way," he added with decision.

From forward Shaw called out in a startled tone:

"Something on the water, sir! Broad on this bow!"

"All right!" called back Lingard.

A lump of blacker darkness floated into his view. From it came
over the water English words--deliberate, reaching him one by
one; as if each had made its own difficult way through the
profound stillness of the night.

"What--ship--is--that--pray?"

"English brig," answered Lingard, after a short moment of
hesitation.

"A brig! I thought you were something bigger," went on the voice
from the sea with a tinge of disappointment in its deliberate
tone. "I am coming alongside--if--you--please."

"No! you don't!" called Lingard back, sharply. The leisurely
drawl of the invisible speaker seemed to him offensive, and woke
up a hostile feeling. "No! you don't if you care for your boat.
Where do you spring from? Who are you--anyhow? How many of you
are there in that boat?"

After these emphatic questions there was an interval of silence.
During that time the shape of the boat became a little more
distinct. She must have carried some way on her yet, for she
loomed up bigger and nearly abreast of where Lingard stood,
before the self-possessed voice was heard again:

"I will show you."

Then, after another short pause, the voice said, less loud but
very plain:

"Strike on the gunwale. Strike hard, John!" and suddenly a blue
light blazed out, illuminating with a livid flame a round patch
in the night. In the smoke and splutter of that ghastly halo
appeared a white, four-oared gig with five men sitting in her in
a row. Their heads were turned toward the brig with a strong
expression of curiosity on their faces, which, in this glare,
brilliant and sinister, took on a deathlike aspect and resembled
the faces of interested corpses. Then the bowman dropped into the
water the light he held above his head and the darkness, rushing
back at the boat, swallowed it with a loud and angry hiss.

"Five of us," said the composed voice out of the night that
seemed now darker than before. "Four hands and myself. We belong
to a yacht--a British yacht--"

"Come on board!" shouted Lingard. "Why didn't you speak at once?
I thought you might have been some masquerading Dutchmen from a
dodging gunboat."

"Do I speak like a blamed Dutchman? Pull a stroke, boys--oars!
Tend bow, John."

The boat came alongside with a gentle knock, and a man's shape
began to climb at once up the brig's side with a kind of
ponderous agility. It poised itself for a moment on the rail to
say down into the boat--"Sheer off a little, boys," then jumped
on deck with a thud, and said to Shaw who was coming aft: "Good
evening . . . Captain, sir?"

"No. On the poop!" growled Shaw.

"Come up here. Come up," called Lingard, impatiently.

The Malays had left their stations and stood clustered by the
mainmast in a silent group. Not a word was spoken on the brig's
decks, while the stranger made his way to the waiting captain.
Lingard saw approaching him a short, dapper man, who touched his
cap and repeated his greeting in a cool drawl:

"Good evening. . . Captain, sir?"

"Yes, I am the master--what's the matter? Adrift from your ship?
Or what?"

"Adrift? No! We left her four days ago, and have been pulling
that gig in a calm, nearly ever since. My men are done. So is the
water. Lucky thing I sighted you."

"You sighted me!" exclaimed Lingard. "When? What time?"

"Not in the dark, you may be sure. We've been knocking about
amongst some islands to the southward, breaking our hearts
tugging at the oars in one channel, then in another--trying to
get clear. We got round an islet--a barren thing, in shape like a
loaf of sugar--and I caught sight of a vessel a long way off. I
took her bearing in a hurry and we buckled to; but another of
them currents must have had hold of us, for it was a long time
before we managed to clear that islet. I steered by the stars,
and, by the Lord Harry, I began to think I had missed you
somehow--because it must have been you I saw."

"Yes, it must have been. We had nothing in sight all day,"
assented Lingard. "Where's your vessel?" he asked, eagerly.

"Hard and fast on middling soft mud--I should think about sixty
miles from here. We are the second boat sent off for assistance.
We parted company with the other on Tuesday. She must have passed
to the northward of you to-day. The chief officer is in her with
orders to make for Singapore. I am second, and was sent off
toward the Straits here on the chance of falling in with some
ship. I have a letter from the owner. Our gentry are tired of
being stuck in the mud and wish for assistance."

"What assistance did you expect to find down here?"

"The letter will tell you that. May I ask, Captain, for a little
water for the chaps in my boat? And I myself would thank you for
a drink. We haven't had a mouthful since this afternoon. Our
breaker leaked out somehow."

"See to it, Mr. Shaw," said Lingard. "Come down the cabin, Mr.--"

"Carter is my name."

"Ah! Mr. Carter. Come down, come down," went on Lingard, leading
the way down the cabin stairs.

The steward had lighted the swinging lamp, and had put a decanter
and bottles on the table. The cuddy looked cheerful, painted
white, with gold mouldings round the panels. Opposite the
curtained recess of the stern windows there was a sideboard with
a marble top, and, above it, a looking-glass in a gilt frame. The
semicircular couch round the stern had cushions of crimson plush.
The table was covered with a black Indian tablecloth embroidered
in vivid colours. Between the beams of the poop-deck were fitted
racks for muskets, the barrels of which glinted in the light.
There were twenty-four of them between the four beams. As many
sword-bayonets of an old pattern encircled the polished teakwood
of the rudder-casing with a double belt of brass and steel. All
the doors of the state-rooms had been taken off the hinges and
only curtains closed the doorways. They seemed to be made of
yellow Chinese silk, and fluttered all together, the four of
them, as the two men entered the cuddy.

Carter took in all at a glance, but his eyes were arrested by a
circular shield hung slanting above the brass hilts of the
bayonets. On its red field, in relief and brightly gilt, was
represented a sheaf of conventional thunderbolts darting down the
middle between the two capitals T. L. Lingard examined his guest
curiously. He saw a young man, but looking still more youthful,
with a boyish smooth face much sunburnt, twinkling blue eyes,
fair hair and a slight moustache. He noticed his arrested gaze.

"Ah, you're looking at that thing. It's a present from the
builder of this brig. The best man that ever launched a craft.
It's supposed to be the ship's name between my initials--flash of
lightning--d'you see? The brig's name is Lightning and mine is
Lingard."

"Very pretty thing that: shows the cabin off well," murmured
Carter, politely.

They drank, nodding at each other, and sat down.

"Now for the letter," said Lingard.

Carter passed it over the table and looked about, while Lingard
took the letter out of an open envelope, addressed to the
commander of any British ship in the Java Sea. The paper was
thick, had an embossed heading: "Schooner-yacht Hermit" and was
dated four days before. The message said that on a hazy night the
yacht had gone ashore upon some outlying shoals off the coast of
Borneo. The land was low. The opinion of the sailing-master was
that the vessel had gone ashore at the top of high water, spring
tides. The coast was completely deserted to all appearance.
During the four days they had been stranded there they had
sighted in the distance two small native vessels, which did not
approach. The owner concluded by asking any commander of a
homeward-bound ship to report the yacht's position in Anjer on
his way through Sunda Straits--or to any British or Dutch man-of-
war he might meet. The letter ended by anticipatory thanks, the
offer to pay any expenses in connection with the sending of
messages from Anjer, and the usual polite expressions.

Folding the paper slowly in the old creases, Lingard said--"I am
not going to Anjer--nor anywhere near."

"Any place will do, I fancy," said Carter.

"Not the place where I am bound to," answered Lingard, opening
the letter again and glancing at it uneasily. "He does not
describe very well the coast, and his latitude is very
uncertain," he went on. "I am not clear in my mind where exactly
you are stranded. And yet I know every inch of that land--over
there."

Carter cleared his throat and began to talk in his slow drawl. He
seemed to dole out facts, to disclose with sparing words the
features of the coast, but every word showed the minuteness of
his observation, the clear vision of a seaman able to master
quickly the aspect of a strange land and of a strange sea. He
presented, with concise lucidity, the picture of the tangle of
reefs and sandbanks, through which the yacht had miraculously
blundered in the dark before she took the ground.

"The weather seems clear enough at sea," he observed, finally,
and stopped to drink a long draught. Lingard, bending over the
table, had been listening with eager attention. Carter went on in
his curt and deliberate manner:

"I noticed some high trees on what I take to be the mainland to
the south--and whoever has business in that bight was smart
enough to whitewash two of them: one on the point, and another
farther in. Landmarks, I guess. . . . What's the matter,
Captain?"

Lingard had jumped to his feet, but Carter's exclamation caused
him to sit down again.

"Nothing, nothing . . . Tell me, how many men have you in that
yacht?"

"Twenty-three, besides the gentry, the owner, his wife and a
Spanish gentleman--a friend they picked up in Manila."

"So you were coming from Manila?"

"Aye. Bound for Batavia. The owner wishes to study the Dutch
colonial system. Wants to expose it, he says. One can't help
hearing a lot when keeping watch aft--you know how it is. Then we
are going to Ceylon to meet the mail-boat there. The owner is
going home as he came out, overland through Egypt. The yacht
would return round the Cape, of course."

"A lady?" said Lingard. "You say there is a lady on board. Are
you armed?"

"Not much," replied Carter, negligently. "There are a few muskets
and two sporting guns aft; that's about all--I fancy it's too
much, or not enough," he added with a faint smile.

Lingard looked at him narrowly.

"Did you come out from home in that craft?" he asked.

"Not I! I am not one of them regular yacht hands. I came out of
the hospital in Hongkong. I've been two years on the China
coast."

He stopped, then added in an explanatory murmur:

"Opium clippers--you know. Nothing of brass buttons about me. My
ship left me behind, and I was in want of work. I took this job
but I didn't want to go home particularly. It's slow work after
sailing with old Robinson in the Ly-e-moon. That was my ship.
Heard of her, Captain?"

"Yes, yes," said Lingard, hastily. "Look here, Mr. Carter, which
way was your chief officer trying for Singapore? Through the
Straits of Rhio?"

"I suppose so," answered Carter in a slightly surprised tone;
"why do you ask?"

"Just to know . . . What is it, Mr. Shaw?"

"There's a black cloud rising to the northward, sir, and we shall
get a breeze directly," said Shaw from the doorway.

He lingered there with his eyes fixed on the decanters.

"Will you have a glass?" said Lingard, leaving his seat. "I will
go up and have a look."

He went on deck. Shaw approached the table and began to help
himself, handling the bottles in profound silence and with
exaggerated caution, as if he had been measuring out of fragile
vessels a dose of some deadly poison. Carter, his hands in his
pockets, and leaning back, examined him from head to foot with a
cool stare. The mate of the brig raised the glass to his lips,
and glaring above the rim at the stranger, drained the contents
slowly.

"You have a fine nose for finding ships in the dark, Mister," he
said, distinctly, putting the glass on the table with extreme
gentleness.

"Eh? What's that? I sighted you just after sunset."

"And you knew where to look, too," said Shaw, staring hard.

"I looked to the westward where there was still some light, as
any sensible man would do," retorted the other a little
impatiently. "What are you trying to get at?"

"And you have a ready tongue to blow about yourself--haven't
you?"

"Never saw such a man in my life," declared Carter, with a return
of his nonchalant manner. "You seem to be troubled about
something."

"I don't like boats to come sneaking up from nowhere in
particular, alongside a ship when I am in charge of the deck. I
can keep a lookout as well as any man out of home ports, but I
hate to be circumvented by muffled oars and such ungentlemanlike
tricks. Yacht officer--indeed. These seas must be full of such
yachtsmen. I consider you played a mean trick on me. I told my
old man there was nothing in sight at sunset--and no more there
was. I believe you blundered upon us by chance--for all your
boasting about sunsets and bearings. Gammon! I know you came on
blindly on top of us, and with muffled oars, too. D'ye call that
decent?"

"If I did muffle the oars it was for a good reason. I wanted to
slip past a cove where some native craft were moored. That was
common prudence in such a small boat, and not armed--as I am. I
saw you right enough, but I had no intention to startle anybody.
Take my word for it."

"I wish you had gone somewhere else," growled Shaw. "I hate to be
put in the wrong through accident and untruthfulness--there!
Here's my old man calling me--"

He left the cabin hurriedly and soon afterward Lingard came down,
and sat again facing Carter across the table. His face was grave
but resolute.

"We shall get the breeze directly," he said.

"Then, sir," said Carter, getting up, "if you will give me back
that letter I shall go on cruising about here to speak some other
ship. I trust you will report us wherever you are going."

"I am going to the yacht and I shall keep the letter," answered
Lingard with decision. "I know exactly where she is, and I must
go to the rescue of those people. It's most fortunate you've
fallen in with me, Mr. Carter. Fortunate for them and fortunate
for me," he added in a lower tone.

"Yes," drawled Carter, reflectively. "There may be a tidy bit of
salvage money if you should get the vessel off, but I don't think
you can do much. I had better stay out here and try to speak some
gunboat--"

"You must come back to your ship with me," said Lingard,
authoritatively. "Never mind the gunboats."

"That wouldn't be carrying out my orders," argued Carter. "I've
got to speak a homeward-bound ship or a man-of-war--that's plain
enough. I am not anxious to knock about for days in an open boat,
but--let me fill my fresh-water breaker, Captain, and I will be
off."

"Nonsense," said Lingard, sharply. "You've got to come with me to
show the place and--and help. I'll take your boat in tow."

Carter did not seem convinced. Lingard laid a heavy hand on his
shoulder.

"Look here, young fellow. I am Tom Lingard and there's not a
white man among these islands, and very few natives, that have
not heard of me. My luck brought you into my ship--and now I've
got you, you must stay. You must!"

The last "must" burst out loud and sharp like a pistol-shot.
Carter stepped back.

"Do you mean you would keep me by force?" he asked, startled.

"Force," repeated Lingard. "It rests with you. I cannot let you
speak any vessel. Your yacht has gone ashore in a most
inconvenient place--for me; and with your boats sent off here and
there, you would bring every infernal gunboat buzzing to a spot
that was as quiet and retired as the heart of man could wish. You
stranding just on that spot of the whole coast was my bad luck.
And that I could not help. You coming upon me like this is my
good luck. And that I hold!"

He dropped his clenched fist, big and muscular, in the light of
the lamp on the black cloth, amongst the glitter of glasses, with
the strong fingers closed tight upon the firm flesh of the palm.
He left it there for a moment as if showing Carter that luck he
was going to hold. And he went on:

"Do you know into what hornet's nest your stupid people have
blundered? How much d'ye think their lives are worth, just now?
Not a brass farthing if the breeze fails me for another
twenty-four hours. You may well open your eyes. It is so! And it
may be too late now, while I am arguing with you here."

He tapped the table with his knuckles, and the glasses, waking
up, jingled a thin, plaintive finale to his speech. Carter stood
leaning against the sideboard. He was amazed by the unexpected
turn of the conversation; his jaw dropped slightly and his eyes
never swerved for a moment from Lingard's face. The silence in
the cabin lasted only a few seconds, but to Carter, who waited
breathlessly, it seemed very long. And all at once he heard in
it, for the first time, the cabin clock tick distinctly, in
pulsating beats, as though a little heart of metal behind the
dial had been started into sudden palpitation.

"A gunboat!" shouted Lingard, suddenly, as if he had seen only in
that moment, by the light of some vivid flash of thought, all the
difficulties of the situation. "If you don't go back with me
there will be nothing left for you to go back to--very soon. Your
gunboat won't find a single ship's rib or a single corpse left
for a landmark. That she won't. It isn't a gunboat skipper you
want. I am the man you want. You don't know your luck when you
see it, but I know mine, I do--and--look here- -"

He touched Carter's chest with his forefinger, and said with a
sudden gentleness of tone:

"I am a white man inside and out; I won't let inoffensive people-
-and a woman, too--come to harm if I can help it. And if I can't
help, nobody can. You understand--nobody! There's no time for it.
But I am like any other man that is worth his salt: I won't let
the end of an undertaking go by the board while there is a chance
to hold on--and it's like this--"

His voice was persuasive--almost caressing; he had hold now of a
coat button and tugged at it slightly as he went on in a
confidential manner:

"As it turns out, Mr. Carter, I would--in a manner of speaking--I
would as soon shoot you where you stand as let you go to raise an
alarm all over this sea about your confounded yacht. I have other
lives to consider--and friends-- and promises--and--and myself,
too. I shall keep you," he concluded, sharply.

Carter drew a long breath. On the deck above, the two men could
hear soft footfalls, short murmurs, indistinct words spoken near
the skylight. Shaw's voice rang out loudly in growling tones:

"Furl the royals, you tindal!"

"It's the queerest old go," muttered Carter, looking down on to
the floor. "You are a strange man. I suppose I must believe what
you say--unless you and that fat mate of yours are a couple of
escaped lunatics that got hold of a brig by some means. Why, that
chap up there wanted to pick a quarrel with me for coming aboard,
and now you threaten to shoot me rather than let me go. Not that
I care much about that; for some time or other you would get
hanged for it; and you don't look like a man that will end that
way. If what you say is only half true, I ought to get back to
the yacht as quick as ever I can. It strikes me that your coming
to them will be only a small mercy, anyhow--and I may be of some
use--But this is the queerest. . . . May I go in my boat?"

"As you like," said Lingard. "There's a rain squall coming."

"I am in charge and will get wet along of my chaps. Give us a
good long line, Captain."

"It's done already," said Lingard. "You seem a sensible sailorman
and can see that it would be useless to try and give me the
slip."

"For a man so ready to shoot, you seem very trustful," drawled
Carter. "If I cut adrift in a squall, I stand a pretty fair
chance not to see you again."

"You just try," said Lingard, drily. "I have eyes in this brig,
young man, that will see your boat when you couldn't see the
ship. You are of the kind I like, but if you monkey with me I
will find you--and when I find you I will run you down as surely
as I stand here."

Carter slapped his thigh and his eyes twinkled.

"By the Lord Harry!" he cried. "If it wasn't for the men with me,
I would try for sport. You are so cocksure about the lot you can
do, Captain. You would aggravate a saint into open mutiny."

His easy good humour had returned; but after a short burst of
laughter, he became serious.

"Never fear," he said, "I won't slip away. If there is to be any
throat-cutting--as you seem to hint--mine will be there, too, I
promise you, and. . . ."

He stretched his arms out, glanced at them, shook them a little.

"And this pair of arms to take care of it," he added, in his old,
careless drawl.

ut the master of the brig sitting with both his elbows on the
table, his face in his hands, had fallen unexpectedly into a
meditation so concentrated and so profound that he seemed neither
to hear, see, nor breathe. The sight of that man's complete
absorption in thought was to Carter almost more surprising than
any other occurrence of that night. Had his strange host vanished
suddenly from before his eyes, it could not have made him feel
more uncomfortably alone in that cabin where the pertinacious
clock kept ticking off the useless minutes of the calm before it
would, with the same steady beat, begin to measure the aimless
disturbance of the storm.

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After waiting a moment, Carter went on deck. The sky, the sea,the brig itself had disappeared in a darkness that had becomeimpenetrable, palpable, and stifling. An immense cloud had comeup running over the heavens, as if looking for the little craft,and now hung over it, arrested. To the south there was a lividtrembling gleam, faint and sad, like a vanishing memory ofdestroyed starlight. To the north, as if to prove the impossible,an incredibly blacker patch outlined on the tremendous blacknessof the sky the heart of the coming squall. The glimmers in thewater had gone out and the invisible sea all around
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Out of the level blue of a shallow sea Carimata raises a loftybarrenness of grey and yellow tints, the drab eminence of itsarid heights. Separated by a narrow strip of water, Suroeton, tothe west, shows a curved and ridged outline resembling thebackbone of a stooping giant. And to the eastward a troop ofinsignificant islets stand effaced, indistinct, with vaguefeatures that seem to melt into the gathering shadows. The nightfollowing from the eastward the retreat of the setting sunadvanced slowly, swallowing the land and the sea; the landbroken, tormented and abrupt; the sea smooth and inviting withits easy polish of continuous surface
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