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"Now, boys," announced Commodore Gibney, as he sat at the head of the officers' mess at breakfast next morning, "there'll be a lot of canoes paddling off to visit us within the hour, so whatever you do, don't allow more than two of these cannibals aboard the schooner at the same time. Make 'em keep their weapons in the canoes with 'em, and at the first sign of trouble shoot 'em down like dogs. It may be that these precautions ain't necessary, but when I was here twenty years ago it was all the rage to kill a white man and eat him. Maybe times has changed, but the harbour and the coast looks just as wild and lonely as they ever did, and I didn't see no sign of missionary when we dropped hook last night. So don't take no chances."
All hands promised that they would take extreme care, to the end that their precious persons might remain intact, so Mr. Gibney finished his cup of coffee at a gulp and went on deck.
The Kandavu aborigines were not long in putting in an appearance. Even as Mr. Gibney came on deck half a dozen canoes shot out from the beach. Mr. Gibney immediately piped all hands on deck, armed them, and nonchalantly awaited the approach of what might or might not turn out to be an enemy.
When the flotilla was within pistol shot of the schooner Mr. Gibney stepped to the rail and motioned them back. Immediately the natives ceased paddling, and a wild-looking fellow stood up in the forward canoe. After the manner of his kind he had all his life soused his head in lime-water when making his savage toilette, and as a result his shock of black hair stood on end and bulged out like a crowded hayrick. He was naked, of course, and in his hand he held a huge war club.
"That feller'd eat a rattlesnake," gasped Captain Scraggs. "Shoot him, Gib, if he bats an eye."
"Shut up," said the commodore, a trifle testily; "that's the number-one nigger, who does the talkin'. Hello, boy."
"Hello, cap'n," replied the savage, and salaamed gravely. "You likee buy chicken, buy pig? Maybe you say come 'board, I talk. Me very good friend white master."
"Bless my sweet-scented soul!" gasped the commodore. "What won't them missionaries do next? Cut off my ears if this nigger ain't civilized!" He beckoned to the canoe and it shot alongside, and its brown crew came climbing over the rail of the Maggie II.
Mr. Gibney met the spokesman at the rail and they rubbed noses very solemnly, after the manner of salutation in Kandavu. Captain Scraggs bustled forward, full of importance.
"Interduce me, Gib," he said amiably, and then, while Mr. Gibney favoured him with a sour glance, Captain Scraggs stuck out his hand and shook briskly with the native.
"Happy to make your acquaintance," he said. "Scraggs is my name, sir. Shake hands with McGuffey, our chief engineer. Hope you left all the folks at home well. What'd you say your name was?"
The islander hadn't said his name was anything, but he grinned now and replied that it was Tabu-Tabu.
"Well, my bucko," muttered McGuffey, who always drew the colour line, "I'm glad to hear that. But you ain't the only thing that's taboo around this packet. You can jest check that war club with the first mate, pendin' our better acquaintance. Hand it over, you black beggar, or I'll hit you a swat in the ear that'll hurt all your relations. And hereafter, Scraggsy, just keep your nigger friends to yourself. I ain't waxin' effusive over this savage, and it's agin my principles ever to shake hands with a coloured man. This chap's a damned ugly customer, and you take my word for it."
Tabu-Tabu grinned again, walked to the rail, and tossed his war club down into the canoe.
"Me good missionary boy," he said rather humbly.
"McGuffey, my dear boy," protested Captain Scraggs, "don't be so doggone rude. You might hurt this poor lad's feelin's. Of course he's only a simple native nigger, but even a dawg has feelin's. You----"
"A-r-r-rh!" snarled McGuffey.
"You two belay talkin' and snappin' at each other," commanded Mr. Gibney, "an' leave all bargainin' to me. This boy is all right and we'll get along first rate if you two just haul ship and do somethin' useful besides buttin' in on your superior officer. Come along, Tabu-Tabu. Makee little eat down in cabin. You talkee captain."
"Gib, my dear boy," sputtered Captain Scraggs, bursting with curiosity, following the commodore's reappearance on deck, "whatever's in the wind?"
"Money--fortune," said Mr. Gibney solemnly.
McGuffey edged up and eyed the commodore seriously. "Sure there ain't a little fightin' mixed up in it?" he asked.
"Not a bit of it," replied Mr. Gibney. "You're as safe on Kandavu as if you was in church. This Tabu kid is sort of prime minister to the king, with a heap of influence at court. The crew of a British cruiser stole him for a galley police when he was a kid, and he got civilized and learned to talk English. He was a cannibal in them days, but the chaplain aboard showed him how foolish it was to do such things, and finally Tabu-Tabu got religion and asked as a special favour to be allowed to return to Kandavu to civilize his people. As a result of Tabu-Tabu's efforts, he tells me the king has concluded that when he eats a white man he's flyin' in the face of his own interests, and most generally a gunboat comes along in a few months and shells the bush, and--well, anyhow, there ain't been a barbecue on Kandavu for ten years. It's a capital crime to eat a man now, and punishable by boilin' the offender alive in palm oil."
"Well," rumbled McGuffey, "this Tabu-Tabu don't look much like a preacher, if you ask me. But how about this black coral?"
"Oh, I've ribbed up a deal with him," said Mr. Gibney. "He'll see that we get all the trade we can lug away. We're the first vessel that's touched here in two years, and they have a thunderin' lot of stuff on hand. Tabu's gone ashore to talk the king into doin' business with us. If he consents, we'll have him and Tabu-Tabu and three or four of the sub-chiefs aboard for dinner, or else he'll invite us ashore for a big feed, and we'll have to go."
"Supposin' this king don't care to have any truck with us?" inquired McGuffey anxiously.
"In that case, Mac," replied the commodore with a smile, "we'll just naturally shell him out of house and home."
"Well, then," said McGuffey, "let's get the guns ready. Somethin' tells me these people ain't to be trusted, and I'm tellin' you right now, Gib, I won't sleep well to-night unless them two quarter gatlings and the Maxim-Vickers rapid-fire guns is mounted and ready for business."
"All right, Mac," replied Mr. Gibney, in the tone one uses when humouring a baby. "Set 'em up if it'll make you feel more cheerful. Still, I don't see why you want to go actin' so foolish over nothin'."
"Well, Gib," replied the engineer, "I may be crazy, but I ain't no fool, and if there's a dead whale around the ship, I can come pretty near smellin' it. I tell you, Gib, that Tabu-Tabu nigger had a look in his eye for all the world like a cur dog lickin' a bone. I ain't takin' no chances. My old man used to say: 'Bart, whatever you do, allers have an anchor out to windward.'"
"By the left hind leg of the Great Sacred Bull," snapped Captain Scraggs, "if you ain't enough to precipitate war."
"War," replied McGuffey, "is my long suit--particularly war with native niggers. I just naturally crave to punch the ear of anything darker than a Portugee. Remember how I cleaned out the police department of Panama?"
"Mount the guns if you're goin' to, Mac. If not, for the love of the Lord don't be demoralizin' the crew with this talk of war. All I ask is that you set the guns up after I've finished my business here with Tabu-Tabu. He's been on a war vessel, and knows what guns are, and if he saw you mountin' them it might break up our friendly relations. He'll think we don't trust him."
"Well, we don't," replied McGuffey doggedly.
"Well, we do," snapped Captain Scraggs.
There is always something connected with the use of that pronoun of kings which eats like a canker at the heart of men of the McGuffey breed. That officer now spat on the deck, in defiance of the rules of his superior officers, and glared at Captain Scraggs.
"Speak for yourself, you miserable little wart," he roared. "If you include me on that cannibal's visitin' list, and go to contradictin' me agin, I'll----"
"Mac," interrupted Mr. Gibney angrily, "control yourself. It's agin the rules to have rag-chewin' and backbitin' on the Maggie II. Remember our motto: 'All for one and one for all'----"
"Here comes that sneakin' bushy-headed murderer back to the vessel," interrupted McGuffey. "I wonder what devilment he's up to now."
Mr. McGuffey was partly right, for in a few minutes Tabu-Tabu came alongside, climbed aboard, and salaamed. Mr. Gibney, fearful of McGuffey's inability to control his antipathy for the race, beckoned Captain Scraggs and Tabu-Tabu to follow him down into the cabin. Meanwhile, McGuffey contented himself by parading backward and forward across the fo'castle head with a Mauser rifle in the hollow of his arm and his person fairly bristling with pistols and cutlasses. Whenever one of the flotilla of canoes hove to at a respectful distance, showed signs of crossing an imaginary deadline drawn by McGuffey, he would point his rifle at them and swear horribly. He scowled at Tabu-Tabu when that individual finally emerged from the conference with Mr. Gibney and Scraggs and went over the side to his waiting canoe.
"Well, what's in the wind this time?" inquired McGuffey.
"We're invited to a big feed with the king of Kandavu," replied Captain Scraggs, as happy as a boy. "Hop into a clean suit of ducks, Mac, and come along. Gib's goin' to broach a little keg of liquor and we'll make a night of it."
"Good lord," groaned McGuffey, "does the man think I'm low enough to eat with niggers?"
"Leave him to his own devices," said Mr. Gibney indulgently. "Mac's just as Irish as if he'd been born in Dublin instead of his old man. Nobody yet overcome the prejudice of an Irishman so we'll do the honours ourself, Scraggsy, old skittles, and leave Mac in charge of the ship."
"Mind you're both back at a seasonable hour," warned McGuffey. "If you ain't, I'll suspect mischief and--say! Gib! Well, what's the use talkin' to a man with an imagination? Only if I have to go ashore after you two, those islanders'll date time from my visit, and don't you forget it."
It was nearing four o'clock that afternoon when Commodore Gibney and his navigating officer, Captain Scraggs, both faultlessly arrayed in Panama hats, white ducks, white canvas shoes, cut low, showing pink silk socks, and wearing broad, black silken sashes around their waists, climbed over the side into the whaleboat and were rowed ashore in a manner befitting their rank. McGuffey stood at the rail and jeered them, for his democratic soul could take no cognizance of form or ceremony to a cannibal king, or at least a king but recently delivered from cannibalism.
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