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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTessa - Chapter 1
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Tessa - Chapter 1 Post by :brettslane Category :Long Stories Author :Louis Becke Date :May 2012 Read :2046

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Tessa - Chapter 1

CHAPTER I

A small, squat and dirty-looking trading steamer, with the name _Motutapu painted in yellow letters on her bows and stern, lay at anchor off the native village of Utiroa on Drummond's Island in the Equatorial Pacific. She was about 800 tons burden, and her stained and rusty sides made her appear as if she had been out of port for two years instead of scarcely four months.

At this present moment four of her five boats were alongside, each one piled high over the gunwales with bags of copra, which the steam winch was hoisting in as quickly as possible, for night was drawing on and Captain Louis Hendry, who was then ashore, had given orders to the mate, a burly Yorkshireman named Oliver, to be ready to heave up at six o'clock.

The day had been intensely hot and windless, the sea lay sweltering, leaden-hued and misty, and the smoke from the native houses in Utiroa village hung low down amid the groves of coco-palms which encompassed it on three sides.

On the after-deck of the steamer, under the awning, a man was lying on a bed of mats, with a water-bottle and a plate of bananas beside him. Seated cross-legged beside him was a native boy, about fifteen years of age, who kept fanning his master's face, and driving away the pestering flies. It was easy to see that the man was suffering from fever. His deeply-bronzed cheeks had yellowed and were thin and hollow, and his eyes dull and apathetic. He looked like a man of fifty, though he was in reality not more than thirty-two. Every now and then he drank, then lay back again with a groan of pain. Piled up on the skylight was a heap of rugs and blankets, for use when the violent chilling attack of ague would follow on the burning, bone-racking heat of fever.

Presently the mate, accompanied by the chief engineer, came aft. Both men were very hot and very dirty, and their faces were streaming with perspiration. They sat down on deck-chairs beside the sick man, called to the steward for a bottle of beer, and asked him how he felt.

Carr made a sudden effort and sat up.

"D---- bad, Oliver! I have about six hundred and forty-nine pains all over me, and no two of them in the same place. I've swilled enough water to float a battleship; and, look here! you must give me some beer: a bottle--two bottles--a gallon--a cask! Beer I will have if I perish like a beast in the field. I can't drink water like that-it's as hot as -----"

Morrison, the Scotch engineer, smiled. "Don't swear, Carr. Ye shall have just one long drink of beer. 'Twill do ye no great harm on such a roasting day as this."

The steward brought two bottles of lager beer, and Carr eagerly extended his thin, brown hand for the creamy, tempting liquid poured out for him by the mate. He drank it off and then laid down again.

"When are we getting out of this beastly hole, Oliver?" he asked.

"To night, I expect-that is, if the skipper comes aboard fairly sober. He doesn't often get too much grog aboard, but this island is one of the places where he is bound to get loaded up. The two traders ashore are countrymen of his, I believe, though they call themselves Britishers."

Carr nodded. "Dutchmen of some kind, eh?"

"Yes, like himself. He's a Dane, though if you told him so he'd get nasty over it."

"He's a nasty brute, anyway," said Carr wearily. "I don't like that shifty eye of his. And I think he's a bit of a sneak."

"You needn't _think it; you can be sure of it. I'll prove it to you in a minute," said the mate. "Both he and that fat beast of a supercargo are a pair of sneaks, and they hate you like poison. What have you done to offend them?"

"Nothing that I know of. But I have always suspected that neither of them are too fond of me. Hendry I consider a low-lived scoundrel. I met his wife and daughters in Sydney a year ago--went to his house with him. They think he's a perfect saint, and at the time I thought so too, considering he's been in the island trade for ten years. But I know what he is pretty well by now. He's not fit to be married to a decent white woman and have children."

The mate assented. "You're right, Carr. He's a double-faced swab, and a thundering hypocrite as well. There's only one good point about him--he's a rattling good sailor man. As for Sam Chard, he's simply a drunken bully. I shall be glad to be quit of this hooker. I'm not a paragon of virtue, but this ship is a bit too rocky for me. Now I will show you what I meant just now when I said I'll prove that both Hendry and Chard are sneaks, and have their knives into you."

He disappeared below for a few seconds, and then returned carrying a letter-book.

"Now, Carr, my boy," he said, seating himself beside the sick trader again, "just cock your ears and listen. This is our esteemed supercargo's letter-book. I had to go into his cabin yesterday to look for the list of ship's stores, and I saw this letter-book lying on his table, opened at this particular page. I caught your name, and took the liberty of reading the letter. It is addressed to the owners in Sydney, and is dated May 5, 1889."

"That was two days after you and the skipper and Chard had the row about those flash Samoan girls coming aboard at Vavau," put in Morrison, "and he and Chard started to knock the hands about."

"I remember," said Carr, as a grim smile flitted across his yellow face; "go on, Oliver."


The mate began:--

"'SS. _Motutapu_. Niafu Harbour,
"'Vavau, Tonga Islands,
"'May 5, 1889.

"'Dear Sirs,--As the barque _Metaris leaves to-day for
Sydney, I take the opportunity of writing you to report
progress of cruise of the _Motutapu up to date.'"


Then followed an account of the various trading operations in which the steamer had been engaged from the time she left Sydney up to her arrival at the Friendly Islands. Then--


"'In pursuance of your instructions, we called at Kabaira
Bay, New Britain, to remove Mr. Harvey Carr from there to a
more healthy location. We found Mr. Carr's station in a
satisfactory state, and his accounts were correct. But
both Captain Hendry and myself are of the opinion that Mr.
Carr was on altogether too friendly terms with the manager
of the German firm at Blanche Bay, and we believe that your
firm's interest has greatly suffered thereby. He certainly
was ill, but we do not think his illness has been caused by
fever, of which we could see no traces, but by his availing
himself of the too lavish hospitality of the manager of the
German firm. He had also, I learnt, become very thick with
the Wesleyan missionaries at Port Hunter, and seems to have
been continually visiting them under the pretext of getting
medical attendance from the Rev. Dr. Bowen, who, as you are
well aware, is a determined opponent of your firm in New
Britain, and has made several adverse reports upon our
manner of trading with the natives to the commander of H.M.
ships.'"


"What do you think of that?" inquired the engineer wrathfully, striking his clenched hand upon his knee; "and the fellow is a Scotsman, too."

Carr laughed. "Don't get angry, Morrison. He's one of the wrong sort of Scotsmen. Give me some beer. I'm a drunken beast, aren't I? Go on, Oliver."


"'In fact Mr. Carr seems to have thoroughly ingratiated
himself with the missionaries as well as with the Germans,
and I think it is my duty to mention this to you at the
earliest opportunity. I proposed to him that he should take
charge of one of your stations in the New Hebrides, but he
declined to remain in Melanesia, alleging that he is
suffering from fever, and insisting on being given a station
in the Caroline Islands. I pointed out to him that it would
be to the firm's advantage for him to remain in the vicinity
of New Britain, whereupon he was grossly insulting, and said
that the firm could go to hell, that he studied his own
health as much as anything. Furthermore, he made the direct
statement that he was not anxious to continue in the service
of a firm that resorted to shady and illegal practices, such
as sly grog-selling, and other blackguardly things. These
words he uttered to myself and Captain Hendry. On Sunday
last, the 3rd inst., myself and the captain had occasion to
exercise our authority over our native crew, who were making
a noise on deck. Mr. Carr--who was violently excited from
the effects of liquor--at once interfered and took the part
of the crew, who not only threatened both myself and Captain
Hendry with personal violence, but committed an assault on
us. I consider that the firm will be wise to terminate their
connection with Mr. Carr. His presence on board is a
continual source of trouble, and I shall be glad to have
authority from you to dismiss him. Captain Hendry bears me
out in these statements, and herewith attaches his signature
to mine.

"'I am, dear Sir,

"'Yours very obediently,

"'Samuel Chard, supercargo.

"'Louis Hendry, master. "'Messrs. Hillingdon & McFreeland,
"'Sydney.'"


"What do you think of that, Carr?" "It doesn't astonish me, Oliver, for Chard, with all his seeming _bonhomie_, is as big a black-guard as Hendry. And there is a certain amount of truth in his letter--I did say that the firm of Hillingdon and McFreeland were guilty of shady and illegal practices, and that the High Commissioner in Fiji would bring them up with a round turn some day. But, as you know, all the rest is false--downright lies."

The mate slapped him on the shoulder. "Lies! Of course they are! Now just listen to what I have written in my own private log."

He stepped along to the deck-house, entered his cabin, and came back with the private log aforesaid.

"Here, listen to this:--


"'Vavau, Tonga Islands, May 3, 1889.--This evening Captain
Hendry and Mr. Chard, the supercargo, came on board at six
o'clock, accompanied by several white men and a number of
loose Samoan women. They were all more or less under the
influence of drink. As is usual, our native crew were seated
on the fore-hatch, holding their evening service, when Mr.
Chard went for'ard, and with considerable foul language
desired them to stop their damned psalm-singing. He then
offered them two bottles of Hollands gin. The native seamen
refused to accept the liquor, whereupon Mr. Chard struck one
of them and knocked him down. Then Captain Hendry, who was
much the worse for drink, came for'ard, and calling on me to
follow and assist him, attacked the crew, who were very-
excited (but offered no violence), with an iron belaying-
pin. He stunned three of them before the second mate, the
chief engineer, and myself could restrain him, and he
threatened to shoot what he called "the ringleaders of a
mutiny." He had a revolver belted round his waist. The
native crew then came aft and made a complaint to. Mr.
Harvey Carr, the trader, who was lying ill with fever in his
berth. He came on deck, and speaking in Samoan to the crew
and to the women who had been brought on board by Captain
Hendry and the supercargo, urged the women to go on shore,
as it was Sunday. This they at once did, and getting into a
canoe, paddled away. Thereupon Captain Hendry, Mr. Sam
Chard, and the white traders became very insulting to Mr.
Carr, who, although he was so ill, kept his temper, until
Mr. Chard called him a "missionary crawler." This
expression made Mr. Carr lose control of himself, and he
used very strong language to Captain Hendry and the
supercargo upon the gross impropriety of their conduct. He
certainly used expressions that he should not have employed,
but under the circumstances, and bearing in mind the fact
that the native crew were ready for mutiny, and that mutiny
was only averted by Mr. Carr's influence over the native
crew, I and my fellow officers, whose names are attached,
desire to record the facts of the case.

"'Then Captain Hendry and Mr. Sam Chard used very foul
language to Mr. Carr, who again lost his temper and called
the former a damned stock-fish eating Dutchman, who had no
right to sail under British colours as an Englishman, and
ought to be kicked off the deck of a British ship. He
(Mr. Carr) then, being greatly excited, added that Captain
Hendry, being a married man with a large family, was little
better than a brute beast in his mode of life, else he would
not have brought half a dozen native harlots on board--women
whose very presence insulted even his native crew. Mr. Chard
then advanced towards Mr. Carr in a threatening manner,
whereupon the whole native crew, headed by a white stoker
named Cleaver, rushed the after-deck, seized Captain Hendry
and Mr. Chard, and threw them below into the saloon.

"'Mr. Carr then addressed the crew in their own several
languages, and explained to them the danger of laying hands
upon the captain or an officer of the ship; also he
explained to them his own position as a passenger. They
listened to him quietly, and promised to follow his
directions. At six o'clock Captain Hendry and Mr. Sam Chard
came on deck, and in my presence and in that of the second
officer and Felix Latour, the steward, apologised to Mr.
Carr. Mr. Carr, who was very exhausted with fever, shook
hands with them both, and the matter has ended. I have
briefly entered these occurrences in the ship's log, which
Captain Hendry refuses to sign. But this statement of mine
is signed as follows:--

"'James Oliver, Chief Officer.

"'Jos. Atkins, Second Officer.

"'Felix Latour, Steward.

"'Tom Cleaver, Fireman."


The trader held out his hand, "Thank you, Oliver. But I'm afraid that the firm of Hillingdon and McFreeland will be glad to get rid of a man like me. I'm not the sort of trader they want. I took service with them under the impression that they were straight people. They are not--they are simply unmitigated sweeps. Hillingdon, with his solemn, stone-jug-like face, I _know to be a most infernal rogue. He fakes the firm's accounts to the detriment of the London people who are paying the piper, and who are really the firm. As for Sam Chard and this measly, sneaking, Danish skipper, they are merely minor thieves. But I didn't do so badly with them, did I, Oliver?"

The mate laughed loudly. "No, indeed. You settled them that time. But you must be careful. Hendry especially is a dangerous man. I believe that he wouldn't stick at murder if it could be done without any fear of detection. And he hates you like poison. Chard, too, is a scoundrel, but wouldn't do anything worse than he has done, which is bad enough, for the fat blackguard always keeps up the appearance of a jolly, good-natured fellow. But be careful of Hendry. Don't lean on the rail on a dark night when he's on deck. He'd give you a hoist overboard in a second if you gave him a chance and no one was about."

"I'll watch him, Oliver. And when I get better, I'll take it out of him. But I'm not going to let him and Chard drive me out of the ship. I am under a two years' engagement to this rascally firm, and have only three more months to put in. I'll settle in the Carolines, and start trading there on my own account. I'm sick of this filthy old tub."

"So is Morrison, and so am I," said the mate, as he rose to go for'ard again. "Hallo, here is the skipper coming at last."

A quarter of an hour later the captain's boat, came alongside, and Hendry and his supercargo came aft under the awning, and with much solicitude asked Carr how he was feeling. He replied civilly to their inquiries, but excused himself when Chard asked him to have a small bottle of lager. They were accompanied by two respectable-looking white men, who were resident traders on Drummond's Island.

"I have some news for you, Mr. Carr," said the supercargo genially; "there's an old friend of yours here, a trader named Remington."

Carr raised himself with an expression of pleasure lighting up in his worn, thin face. "Old Jack Remington! Where is he? I _shall be glad to see him again."

"He'll be aboard here in another hour. He has a station at the north end of the island. The moment we mentioned your name he said he would come and see you. His daughter is going on to the Carolines with us, and he has just now gone off to his station to bring her on board, as the captain wants to get away at daylight in the morning." Then with a pleasant nod he moved his chair some little distance away, and began talking business with the two traders.

Carr, lying on his side with half-closed eyes, apparently was trying to sleep, in reality he was studying the supercargo's face. It was a handsome, "taking" sort of face, rather full and a bit coarse perhaps, deeply browned by tropic suns, and lit up by a pair of jet black eyes, which, when the possessor was in a good temper and laughed, seemed to dance in unison. Yet they were eyes that in a moment could narrow and show an ugly gleam, that boded ill for the object of their owner's resentment. His curly hair and beard were jet black also, save here and there where they were streaked with grey, and his figure, stout, but close and well-knit together, showed him to be a man of great strength and activity.

From the face of the supercargo Carr let his glance light upon the figure of Captain Louis Hendry, who was standing at the break of the poop talking to the chief mate. He was a small, slightly-built man of about fifty years of age, with regular features, and wore a flowing grey beard trimmed to a point. His eyes were those of the true Scandinavian, a bright steely blue, though at the present moment the whites were bloodshot and angry-looking. As he talked he kept stroking his beard, and directing sullen glances at the crew, who were still working hard at hoisting in the bags of copra. It was not a pleasant face to look at--a sullen ill-humour seemed to glower forth from under the bushy grey eyebrows, and vie with a nervous, sneaking apprehensiveness, as if he every moment feared to be struck from behind. That he was a bit of a dandy was very evident, for although his navy serge coat and cap were soiled and dirty, they were both heavily trimmed with gold lace--a most unusual adornment for the master of an island trading steamer. Like his supercargo, he carried a revolver at his side, and at this Carr looked with a contemptuous smile, for neither of the two traders, who actually lived on the island, thought it necessary to carry arms, though the natives of Taputeauea, as Drummond's Island was called, had a bad reputation.

An hour after sunset, and whilst supper was proceeding in the saloon, a smart whaleboat, manned by a crew of half-naked natives of Pleasant Island, came alongside, and an old white-haired man of past sixty stepped on deck. He was accompanied by a fair-skinned, dark-haired girl of about twenty. The boatswain conducted them aft to where Carr, now shaking with a violent attack of ague, was lying.

"My dear boy," cried the old man, kneeling beside the trader, and looking into his face with intense sympathy. "I am so glad to meet you again, though sorry to see you so ill."

Carr, with chattering teeth, held out an icy-cold hand.

"How are you, Remington? And you, Tessa? I'll be all right in another ten minutes, and then we can talk."

Tessa Remington slipped down on the deck into a sitting posture beside him, and placed her soft, warm hand on his forehead.

"Don't talk any more just now, Mr. Carr. There, let me tuck you in properly," and she wrapped the rugs more closely around him. "I know exactly what to do, don't I, father?"

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