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Mr. Gibney had made a splendid job of changing the vessel's name, and as she chugged lazily out of Panama Bay and lifted to the long ground-swell of the Pacific, it is doubtful if even her late Mexican commander would have recognized her. She was indeed a beautiful craft, and Commodore Gibney's heart swelled with pride as he stood aft, conning the man at the wheel, and looked her over. It seemed like a sacrilege now, when he reflected how he had trained the gun of the old Maggie on her that day off the Coronados, and it seemed to him now even a greater sacrilege to have brazenly planned to enter her as a privateer in the struggles of the republic of Colombia. The past tense is used advisedly, for that project was now entirely off, much to the secret delight of Captain Scraggs, who, if the hero of one naval engagement, was not anxious to take part in another. In Panama the freebooters of the Maggie II learned that during Mr. Gibney's absence on his filibustering trip the Colombian revolutionists had risen and struck their blow. After the fashion of a hot-headed and impetuous people, they had entered the contest absolutely untrained. As a result, the war had lasted just two weeks, the leaders had been incontinently shot, and the white-winged dove of peace had once more spread her pinions along the borders of the Gold Coast.
Commodore Gibney was disgusted beyond measure, and at a special meeting of the syndicate, called in the cabin of the Maggie II that same evening, it was finally decided that they should embark on an indefinite trading cruise in the South Seas, or until such time as it seemed their services must be required to free a downtrodden people from a tyrant's yoke.
Captain Scraggs and McGuffey had never been in the South Seas, but they had heard that a fair margin of profit was to be wrung from trade in copra, shell, cocoanuts, and kindred tropical products. They so expressed themselves. To this suggestion, however, Commodore Gibney waved a deprecating paw.
"Legitimate tradin', boys," he said, "is a nice, sane, healthy business, but the profits is slow. What we want is quick profits, and while it ain't set down in black and white, one of the principal objects of this syndicate is to lead a life of wild adventure. In tradin', there ain't no adventure to speak of. We ought to do a little blackbirdin', or raid some of those Jap pearl fisheries off the northern coast of Formosa."
"But we'll be chased by real gunboats if we do that," objected Captain Scraggs. "Those Jap gunboats shoot to kill. Can't you think of somethin' else, Gib?"
"Well," said Mr. Gibney, "for a starter, I can. Suppose we just head straight for Kandavu Island in the Fijis, and scheme around for a cargo of black coral? It's only worth about fifty dollars a pound. Kandavu lays somewhere in latitude 22 south, longitude 178 west, and when I was there last it was fair reekin' with cannibal savages. But there's tons of black coral there, and nobody's ever been able to sneak in and get away with it. Every time a boat used to land at Kandavu, the native niggers would have a white-man stew down on the beach, and it's got so that skippers give the island a wide berth."
"Gib, my dear boy," chattered Captain Scraggs, "I'm a man of peace and I--I----"
"Scraggsy, old stick-in-the-mud," said Mr. Gibney, laying an affectionate hand on the skipper's shoulder, "you're nothin' of the sort. You're a fightin' tarantula, and nobody knows it better'n Adelbert P. Gibney. I've seen you in action, Scraggsy. Remember that. It's all right for you to say you're a man of peace and advise me and McGuffey to keep out of the track of trouble, but we know that away down low you're goin' around lookin' for blood, and that once you're up agin the enemy, you never bat an eyelash. Eh, McGuffey?"
McGuffey nodded; whereupon, Captain Scraggs, making but a poor effort to conceal the pleasure which Mr. Gibney's rude compliment afforded him, turned to the rail, glanced seaward, and started to walk away to attend to some trifling detail connected with the boat falls.
"All right, Gib, my lad," he said, affecting to resign himself to the inevitable, "have it your own way. You're a commodore and I'm only a plain captain, but I'll follow wherever you lead. I'll go as far as the next man and we'll glom that black coral if we have to slaughter every man, woman, and child on the island. Only, when we're sizzlin' in a pot don't you up and say I never warned you, because I did. How d'ye propose intimidatin' the natives, Gib?"
"Scraggsy," said the commodore solemnly, "we've waged a private war agin a friendly nation, licked 'em, and helped ourselves to their ship. We've changed her name and rig and her official number and letters and we're sailin' under bogus papers. That makes us pirates, and that old Maggie burgee floatin' at the fore ain't nothin' more nor less than the Jolly Roger. All right! Let's be pirates. Who cares? When we slip into M'galao harbour we'll invite the king and his head men aboard for dinner. We'll get 'em drunk, clap 'em in double irons, and surrender 'em to their weepin' subjects when they've filled the hold of the Maggie II with black coral. If they refuse to come aboard we'll shell the bush with that long gun and the Maxim rapid-fire guns we've got below decks. That'll scare 'em so they'll leave us alone and we can help ourselves to the coral."
Scraggs's cold blue eyes glistened. "Lord, Gib," he murmured, "you've got a head."
"Like playin' post-office," was McGuffey's comment.
The commodore smiled. "I thought you boys would see it that way. Now to-morrow I'm going ashore to buy three divin' outfits and lay in a big stock of provisions for the voyage. In the meantime, while the carpenters are gettin' the ship into shape, we'll leave the first mate in charge while we go ashore and have a good time. I've seen worse places than Panama."
As a result of this conference Mr. Gibney's suggestions were acted upon, and they contrived to make their brief stay in Panama very agreeable. They inspected the work on the canal, marvelled at the stupendous engineering in the Culebra Cut, drank a little, gambled a little. McGuffey whipped a bartender. He was ordered arrested, and six spiggoty little policemen, sent to arrest him, were also thrashed. The reserves were called out and a riot ensued. Mr. Gibney, following the motto of the syndicate, i.e.,
All for one and one for all--
United we stand, divided we fall,
mixed in the conflict and presently found himself in durance vile. Captain Scraggs, luckily, forgot the motto and escaped, but inasmuch as he was on hand next morning to pay a fine of thirty pesos levied against each of the culprits, he was instantly forgiven. Mr. Gibney vowed that if a United States cruiser didn't happen to be lying in the roadstead, he would have shelled the town in retaliation.
But eventually the days passed, and the Maggie II, well found and ready for sea, shook out her sails to a fair breeze and sailed away for Kandavu. She kept well to the southwest until she struck the southeast trades, when she swung around on her course, headed straight for her destination. It was a pleasant voyage, devoid of incident, and the health of all hands was excellent. Mr. Gibney took daily observations, and was particular to make daily entries in his log when he, Scraggs, and McGuffey were not playing cribbage, a game of which all three were passionately fond.
On the afternoon of the twenty-ninth day after leaving Panama the lookout reported land. Through his glasses Mr. Gibney made out a cluster of tall palms at the southerly end of the island, and as the schooner held lazily on her course he could discern the white breakers foaming over the reefs that guarded the entrance to the harbour.
"That's Kandavu, all right," announced the commodore. "I was there in '89 with Bull McGinty in the schooner Dashin' Wave. There's the entrance to the harbour, with the Esk reefs to the north and the Pearl reefs to the south. The channel's very narrow--not more than three cables, if it's that, but there's plenty of water and a good muddy bottom that'll hold. McGuffey, lad, better run below and tune up your engines. It's too dangerous a passage on an ebb-tide for a sailin' vessel, so we'll run in under the power. Scraggsy, stand by and when I give the word have your crew shorten sail."
Within a few minutes a long white streak opened up in the wake of the schooner, announcing that McGuffey's engines were doing duty, and a nice breeze springing up two points aft the beam, the Maggie heeled over and fairly flew through the water. Mr. Gibney smiled an ecstatic smile as he took the wheel and guided the schooner through the channel. He rounded her up in twelve fathoms, and within five minutes every stitch of canvas was clewed down hard and fast. The sun was setting as they dropped anchor, and Mr. Gibney had lanterns hung along the rail so that it would be impossible for any craft to approach the schooner and board her without being seen. Also the watch on deck that night carried Mauser rifles, six-shooters, and cutlasses. Mr. Gibney was taking no chances.
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