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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWest Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 2
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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 2 Post by :rankwarforum Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :2244

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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 2

BOOK II CHAPTER II

The first of the two boats came alongside, and men began to go clumsily, even fearfully down the ladders. Throughout the early stages of activity on shore, the passengers and crew went out in shifts, so to speak. Percival and others experienced in construction work had learned that efficiency and accomplishment depend entirely upon the concentration of force, and so, instead of piling hundreds of futile men on shore to create confusion, they adopted the plan of sending out daily detachments of fifty or sixty, to work in regular rotation until all available man power had been broken in and classified according to fitness and strength. For example, certain men developed into capable wood-choppers, while others were useless in that capacity. Each successive draft, therefore, had its choppers, its strippers, its haulers, its "handy men,"--and its water-boys. Moreover, this systematic replacement of toilers made it possible for those who were not accustomed to hard, manual labour to recover from the unusual tax on strength and endurance.

It should be explained, however, that this system was not applied to individuals selected for the purpose of exploration and research. Four parties, well-armed and equipped, were sent out to explore both sections of the island. These expeditions had numerous objects in view: to determine, if possible, whether the island had ever been visited or occupied by man; to determine the character of the fruits and vegetables; extent and variety of animal life; the natural food resources, etc. The groups were made up of men familiar with nature in the rough. Lieutenant Platt headed one group, Professor Flattner another, a Bolivian ranchman and an English horse buyer the remaining two.

Abel Landover was to have gone out with the first day's shift to work on the road through the wood. He refused point-blank to leave the ship. This state of affairs lasted through the next two days, the banker stubbornly ignoring the advice and finally the commands of Captain Trigger. In the meantime he had been joined in his rebellion,--a word used here for want of a milder one,--by half a dozen gentlemen who did a great deal of talking about how the Turks were maltreating the Armenians, but, for fear of being suspected of pro-Germanism, studiously avoided pre-war dissertations on the conduct of the Russians.

The first shift's turn had come around once more in the natural order of things, and practically all of the men had been landed. Landover had refused to go out with either of the other shifts. He had stood his ground obstinately. Percival's ultimatum, sweeping like wildfire throughout the ship's company, brought nearly every one on board to the rails to see whether he would carry out his threat. Would he dare throw the great capitalist, this mighty Croesus, this autocrat, into the sea?

The first boat carried off Nicklestick, Block, Shine and the other objectors. Landover was in his stateroom.

"Just a minute," called out Percival to the oarsmen, as they waited for him to take his place in the last boat. "We're shy a man, I see." His eye ranged the deck. His face was a sickly yellow. It would have been white save for the tan. "Where is Landover?" he demanded of the crowd.

Some one answered: "He went to his cabin a couple of minutes ago," and another volunteered: "It's Number 9 on the promenade deck."

Half a minute later Percival rapped peremptorily on the door of Number 9.

"We're waiting for you, Mr. Landover," he called out.

"Wait and be damned," came strongly from the stateroom. "The door is unlocked. If you put a foot inside this room, I'll shoot you like a dog."

"You will have the satisfaction of killing a mighty good dog," said Percival, and threw the door wide open. He did not enter the room, however. Standing just outside the door, he faced the banker. Landover stood in the centre of the luxurious cabin, a revolver in his hand.

"I mean exactly what I say, Percival. I will shoot the instant you put a foot through that door."

"I don't believe you would," said Percival, "but, just the same, I'm not going to chance it. If I ever conclude to commit suicide, I'll go off somewhere and blow my brains out with my own gun. At present, I have no thought of committing suicide, so I'll stay right where I am. I didn't come here to kill you, Mr. Landover. I have no gun with me. I simply came to tell you that the last boat is leaving, and we are waiting for you."

For many seconds the two men looked straight into each other's eyes.

"Are you coming?" demanded the young man levelly.

"Certainly not!"

Percival's shoulders sagged. His face wore an expression of complete surrender.

"Well,--if you won't, I suppose you won't," he muttered.

A triumphant sneer greeted this abject back-down on the part of the would-be dictator.

"I thought so," exclaimed Landover. "You're yellow. You can bully these poor, ignorant--"

He never finished the sentence. Percival cleared the eight or nine feet of intervening space with the lunge of a panther. His solid, compact body struck Landover with the force of a battering ram. Before the larger and heavier man could fire a shot, his wrist was caught in a grip of steel. As he staggered back under the impact, Percival's right fore-arm was jammed up under his chin. In the fraction of a second, Landover, unable to withstand this sudden, savage onslaught, toppled over backwards and, with his assailant clinging to him like a wildcat, found himself pinned down to the spacious, inset washstand.

The revolver was discharged, the bullet burying itself in the floor. An instant later the weapon fell from his paralysed fingers. With his free left hand he struck wildly, frantically at Percival, but with no effect. The broad back and shoulders of his assailant proved a barrier he could not drive past. And that rigid, merciless right arm, as hard as a bar of steel, was pressing relentlessly against his throat, crushing, choking the life out of him. He was a strong, vigorous man, but he was helpless in the grasp of this tigerish young fighter from the slopes of the Andes. He heard Percival's voice, panting in his ear.

"I can keep this up longer than you can. I don't want to break your neck,--do you understand? I don't want to break your neck, Landover, but if you don't give in, I'll--I'll--" The pressure slackened perceptibly. "Say it! Now's your chance. Say you've--got enough!"

Landover managed to gasp out the word. He could still feel his eyes starting from his head, his tongue seemed to fill his mouth completely.

Percival released him instantly and fell back a yard or so, ready, however, to spring upon his man again at the first sign of treachery. No more than sixty seconds elapsed between the beginning and the end of the encounter. It was all over in the twinkling of an eye, so to speak. In fact, it was over so quickly that the first man to reach the door after the report of the revolver rang out, found the two men facing each other, one coughing and clutching at his throat, the other erect and menacing. For the first time, Percival took his eyes from the purplish face of the banker. They fell first upon a head and pair of shoulders that blocked one of the two port-holes. He recognized the countenance of Soapy Shay, the thief. To his amazement, Soapy grinned and then winked at him!

"The boat is ready to leave, Landover," said the victor briskly. "We have no more use for this thing at present," he went on, shoving the revolver under the berth with the toe of his boot. The banker stared past him at the agitated group in the corridor. The man was trembling like a leaf, not so much from fear as from the effects of the tremendous physical shock.

Percival was a generous foe. He experienced a sudden pity,--a rush of consideration for the other's feelings. He saw the tears of rage and mortification well up in the eyes of the banker, he heard the half-suppressed sob that broke from his lips. Whirling, he ordered the crowd away from the door. "It's all right," he said. "Please leave us." He addressed Soapy Shay. "Beat it, you!"

Soapy saluted with mock servility. "Aye, aye, sir. I saw the whole show. It was certainly worth the price of admission." Having delivered himself of that graceful acknowledgment, he effaced himself.

"Just a word or two, Mr. Landover," said Percival as the crowd shuffled away from the door. "I am sorry this had to happen. Even now I am not sure that you fully understand the situation. You may still be inclined to resist. You are not in the habit of submitting to force, reason or justice. I am only asking you, however, to recognize the last of these. You will be happier in the end. I don't give a hang how much you hate me, nor how far you may go to depose me. I don't want your friendship any more than I want your enmity. I can get along very nicely without either. But that isn't the point. At present I am in charge of a gang of workmen. Every man on this ship belongs to that gang, you with the rest. I ask you to look at the matter fairly, honestly, open-mindedly. You accuse me of being high-handed. I return the charge. It's you who are high-handed. You set yourself above your fellow-unfortunates. You refuse to abide by the will of the majority. I represent the majority. I am not acting for myself, but for them. God knows, I am not looking for trouble. This job isn't one that I would have chosen voluntarily. But now that it has been thrust upon me, I have no other alternative than to see it through. You ought to be man enough, you ought to be fair enough to see it in that light. If conditions were reversed, Mr. Landover, and you were in my place, I would be the last to oppose you, because I have learned in a very tough school that it pays to live up to the regulations. Everywhere else in the world it is a question of capital and labour. Here it is a question of labour alone. There is no such thing as capital. Socialism is forced upon us, the purest kind of socialism, for even the socialist can't get rich at the expense of his neighbour. But I'm beginning to lecture again. Let's get down to cases. Are you prepared to go out peaceably,--I'll not say willingly,--and do your share on the job as long as you are physically able?"

"I submit to brute force. There is no other course left open to me," said Landover hoarsely.

"Very well, then. Come along,--we're wasting valuable time here."

"I will follow you in a few minutes."

"You will come now," said Percival levelly. "You and I, Mr. Landover, are jointly concerned in the establishment of a very definite order of discipline. We represent the two extremes." He stood aside. "Precede me, if you please."

After a moment's hesitation, the other lifted his chin and walked past the young man. The corridors were clear. Percival followed close behind. He kept up a glib, one-sided conversation.

"You see, there was no other way to handle you. I was obliged to resort to punitive measures. That's always the case when you are dealing with sensible, intelligent, educated men. It is impossible to reason with an intelligent, educated man. He invariably has opinions, ideas, viewpoints of his own. He is mentally equipped to resist any kind of an argument. Take our United States Senators, our Congressmen, even our Presidents. You can't reason with them. No doubt you've tried it a thousand times, you and the other capitalists. We've all tried it. You've got to hit 'em on the head with some sort of a club or big stick if you want to bring 'em to time. You have to club them to death at the polls, so to speak. Now, you take these wops. They can't argue. They haven't got that sort of intelligence. They're considerably like the common or garden variety of dog. No matter how much you beat them and scold them, you can always get along with them if you feed them and let them see that you're not afraid of them. If they once get an idea that you are afraid of them,--well, it's all off. They begin to be sensible right away, and then they form a labour union. And the more sensible and intelligent they become, the easier it is for the labour leaders, the walking delegates, and blood-sucking agitators to make fools of 'em. It's all a matter of leadership, Mr. Landover, as you will admit, any way you look at it. Well, here we are."

Landover paused before starting down the ladder to the boat. He turned to address Percival in a loud, clear voice.

"You will not long be in a position to browbeat and bully the rest of us, young man. Your reign will be short. I would like my fellow-passengers to know that I have never refused to work with them. I have merely declined to work under an outlaw. Life is as dear to me as it is to any one else on this ship. I am taking this step against my will, rather than subject myself to further indignities and the cruelties you would inflict if I held out against you. I am sorry to deprive you of the spectacular hit you might have made by throwing me into the sea, a treat which you doubtless led all of these people to expect."

He climbed down the ladder and dropped into the boat. As he took his seat, he ran his eye along the line of faces above. Finding the persons he sought, he smiled, shook his head slowly to signify a state of resignation, and then set his flushed, angry face toward the land.

Percival, following him, did not look up at the row of faces.

Careni-Amori sang that evening in the main saloon. Signer Joseppi, tired and sore after his hard day's work, wept, and after weeping as publicly as possible created a profound sensation by kissing the great prima-donna in full view of the applauding spectators. Then, to cap the climax, he proclaimed in a voice charged with emotion that Madame Careni-Amori never had sung better in all her life! This to an artist who had the rare faculty for knowing when she was off the key,--and who knew that she was very badly off on this particular occasion.

Percival was standing near the door as Ruth Clinton and her aunt left the saloon on the way to their rooms. He joined them after a moment's hesitation. The two ladies bowed coldly to him. He was the essence of decision. As usual, he went straight to the point.

"I can't take back what I did this morning, and I wouldn't if I could," he said, falling in beside Mrs. Spofford. "I know you are displeased with me. Can't we thresh it out now, Mrs. Spofford?"

The elder woman raised her chin and stared at him coldly. He shot a glance past her at the girl's face. There was no encouragement to be found in the calm, unsmiling eyes.

"I fail to see precisely why we should thresh anything out with you, Mr. Percival," replied Mrs. Spofford.

"It is barely possible that you are not quite clear as to my motives, and therefore unable to gauge my actions."

"I understand your motives perfectly,--and I approve of them. Your actions are not so acceptable. Good-night, Mr. Percival."

He smiled whimsically at Ruth. "My left hand is rather in need of attention, Miss Clinton. I suppose I am so deeply in your bad graces that I may not hope for--er--the same old kindness?"

She stopped short. "Is this a request or a command? Mr. Percival, I will be quite frank with you. Mr. Landover is our friend. I am not, however, defending him in the position he has taken. There is no reason why he should not do his share with the rest of the men. But was it necessary to humiliate him, was it necessary to insult him as you did this morning? He is a distinguished man. He--"

"Are you coming, Ruth?" demanded Mrs. Spofford, sharply.

"In just a moment, Aunt Julia."

"You will oblige me by coming with me at once. We have nothing more to say to this young man."

"I have asked him a question. I shall wait for his answer."

"I will answer it, Miss Clinton, by saying it was necessary," said he steadily. "There are other distinguished men here who are further distinguishing themselves by toeing the mark without complaint or cavil. Mr. Landover was appealed to on three distinct occasions by Captain Trigger and the committee. He ignored all private appeals--and commands. The time had come for a show-down. It was either Landover and his little band of sycophants, or me and the entire company of men on this ship. It may interest you to know that you and Mrs. Spofford are the only two people on board, outside of Mr. Landover's retrievers, who blame me for what I did this morning."

"You can hardly expect me to be interested in what other people think of my position, Mr. Percival," she said, raising her eyebrows slightly.

"No more, I dare say, than Landover cares what they think of his," was his retort.

She lifted her chin. "I am beginning to appreciate Mr. Landover's attitude toward you, Mr. Percival," she said icily.

"And to justify it, I suppose," he said dejectedly. "I want your friendship, Miss Clinton,--yes, I want a great deal more than your friendship. You may as well know it. I'm not asking for it,--I'm just telling you. Please don't go away. I promise not to make myself ridiculous. You have been good to me, you have been wonderful. I--I can't bear the thought of losing your friendship or your respect. I just had to bring Landover to time. You may think there was some other way, but I do not. At any rate, it isn't a matter that we can discuss. Some day you may admit that I was right, but I don't believe I will ever see the day when I will admit that I was wrong. Won't--can't we be friends?"

"I do not believe I can ever feel the same toward you after witnessing what I did this morning," said she, shaking her head. "You deliberately, intentionally degraded Mr. Landover in the presence of others. Was that the act of a gentleman? No! It was the act of an overbearing, arrogant bully who had nothing to fear. You took advantage of your authority and of the fact that he is so rich and powerful that he is practically without a friend or champion. You knew only too well that ninety-nine per cent of the people on board this ship were behind you in your attack on him because he represents capital! You had nothing to fear. No, Mr. Percival, I don't believe we can be friends. I am sorry."

"You heard what Mr. Landover said to me this morning, Miss Clinton," said he, paling. "You heard what he called me. Do you believe these things of me?"

She was silent for a moment. "No, I do not," she replied slowly. "I believe that you are all you have represented yourself to be."

"Thank you," he said, with gentle dignity. "I am sorry if I have distressed you this evening. Please don't think too harshly of me when I say that I just had to find out how we stand, you and I. Now that I know, I can only promise not to bother you again, and you may rely on my promises. I never break them. Good-night, Miss Clinton."

He bowed to Mrs. Spofford, who ignored him, and then to Ruth, a wistful smile struggling to his lips and eyes as he did so. As he turned away, she spoke to him.

"You mentioned your hand being bad again. If you would like me to dress it for you,--under the circumstances,--I will do so."

"Ruth!" cried Mrs. Spofford in a shocked voice.

He put his left hand behind his back. It was the one with which he had gripped Landover's wrist that morning. The strain had reopened the partially healed wounds.

"I injured it this morning in an encounter with your friend, Miss Clinton. I can hardly ask you to dress it. Thank you, just the same."

"I know all that happened in Mr. Landover's cabin, but even so, I am ready and willing to do anything in my power to ease the pain you are suffering." She spoke calmly, dispassionately, almost perfunctorily.

He shook his head. "I shouldn't have spoken of it," he said. "It isn't so bad that I can't fix it up myself. Good-night."

She joined her aunt and they made their way in silence to the latter's stateroom. It was not until after the door was safely locked that Mrs. Spofford delivered herself of the thought that had been in her mind the whole length of the slanting corridor.

"I hope he will not take advantage of his position to--to bully us--to bully you, dearest,--he might, you know. He has shown himself to be perfectly capable of it. And we are so defenceless. No one but Abel Landover to look to for help if he,--for, of course, no one else would dare oppose this lawless young,--oh, you need not smile! He has the power and it is quite plain now that he intends to exercise it. He will brook no interference--"

"I am not afraid of Mr. Percival, Aunt Julia," said the girl, sitting down wearily on the edge of the berth. "He is a gentleman."

"A--a gentleman?" gasped Mrs. Spofford. "Good gracious!"

"He will not annoy me," said Ruth, absently study-ing the tips of her slim, shapely shoes. "Possess your soul in peace. I think I know him."

"Are you defending the braggart?"

"Not at all! I detest him," cried the girl, springing to her feet, her face crimsoning. "He is perfectly abominable."

"I--I wouldn't speak quite so loudly, my dear," cautioned her aunt, glancing at the door uneasily--"It would be like him to listen outside the door,--or at any rate, one of his men may have been set to spy upon--"

"Don't be silly, Aunt Julia. And don't be afraid. Mr. Percival isn't going to make us walk the plank for mutiny, or put us in chains,--or outrage us,--if that is what you are thinking. Now, go to bed, you old dear, and--"

"I insist on your staying in my room, Ruth. He is in love with you."

"He can be in love with me and still be a gentleman, can't he, Aunt Julia? Don't worry! I shall sleep in my own room. I may even go so far as to leave my door unlocked."

"What! And if he should come to--"

"Ah, I shan't send him word that it's unlocked, dear," scoffed Ruth, finding a malicious enjoyment in her aunt's dismay. "Good-night. Sleep tight! We must sleep while we have the opportunity, you know. Our lazy days will soon be over. He says we've all got to work like,--I think he said dogs."

"Oh, dear me. I,--I wonder what is to become of us?" moaned the wretched lady. "After what he tried to do to Abel Landover, there is no telling to what lengths he may go in--By the way, has Mr. Landover reported to Captain Trigger that the fellow attempted to shoot him this morning?"

"Of course not, Aunt Julia."

"Well, I think it is his duty to do so. Captain Trigger should take drastic means to curb this--"

"You forget that Mr. Landover maintains that Captain Trigger and all the other officers are like putty in the hands of Mr. Percival. I am beginning to believe it myself. He--he has got them all hypnotized."

"He hasn't got me hypnotized!" exclaimed Mrs. Spofford.

"In any case, he is in the saddle," sighed Ruth.

"He deliberately tried to kill Mr. Landover," said the other. "Is nothing to be done about it? We heard the shot,--every one heard it. And no one has the courage to say a word about it! What a lot of cowards we are! I don't see why he refuses to let me take the matter up with the Captain. Captain Trigger ought to know the truth."

Ruth was silent for a moment or two. "It's hard for me to believe, Aunt Julia, that he would attack a defenceless man with a revolver. It--it doesn't seem like him."

"But you have Abel Landover's word for it, Ruth. The bullet grazed his head. The coward would have killed him most certainly if he had not succeeded in knocking the pistol out of his hand and overpowering him."

"If I did not believe Mr. Landover to be an absolutely truthful, honourable man, I--" began Ruth, a little furrow between her eyebrows, "well, I might still believe a little in Mr. Percival."

"And what chance had poor Landover with that highwayman, or whatever he is, pointing a revolver at him through the porthole and threatening to blow his brains out if he did not throw up his hands and let Percival alone?"

Olga Obosky bandaged Percival's hand. She intercepted him on his way to Dr. Cullen's cabin.

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West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 3 West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 3

West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 3
BOOK II CHAPTER IIIDuring the days and weeks that followed, Percival maintained an attitude of rigid but courteous aloofness. Only on occasions when it was necessary to consult with Ruth and her aunt on matters pertaining to the "order of the day" did he relax in the slightest degree from the position he had taken in regard to them. In time, the captious Mrs. Spofford began to resent this studied indifference. She detested him more than ever for not running true to the form she had predicted; her apprehensiveness gave way to irritation. She resented his dignified, pleasant "good mornings"; she
PREVIOUS BOOKS

West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 1 West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 1

West Wind Drift - Book 2 - Chapter 1
BOOK II CHAPTER IThe warm, summer season was well-advanced in this far southern land before the strenuous, tireless efforts of the marooned settlers began to show definite results. Some six weeks after the stranding of the Doraine, staunch log cabins were in course of completion along the base of the hills overlooking the clear, rolling meadow-land to the north and east. Down in the lowlands scores of men were employed in sowing and planting. The soil was rich. Farmers and grain-raisers among the passengers were unanimously of the opinion that almost any vegetable, cereal or fruit indigenous to Argentina (or at
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