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At 6:30 o'clock of the morning of the day following the frightful experience of Commodore Gibney and Captain Scraggs with the cannibals of Kandavu, the members of the Maggie II Syndicate faced each other across the breakfast table with appetites in no wise diminished by the exciting events of the preceding day. Captain Scraggs appeared with a lump on the back of his head as big as a goose egg. The doughty commodore had a cut over his right eye, and the top of his sinful head was so sore, where the earthenware pot had struck him, that even the simple operation of winking his bloodshot eyes was productive of pain. About a teaspoonful of Kandavu real estate had also been blown into Mr. Gibney's classic features when the shells from the Maxim-Vickers gun exploded in his immediate neighbourhood, and as he na´vely remarked to Bartholomew McGuffey, he was in luck to be alive.
McGuffey surveyed his superior officers, cursed them bitterly, and remarked, with tears of joy in his honest eyes, that both gentlemen had evaded their just deserts when they escaped with their lives. "If it hadn't been for the mate," said McGuffey severely, "I'd 'a' let you two boobies suffer the penalty for your foolishness. Any man that goes to work and fraternizes with a cannibal ain't got no kick comin' if he's made up into chicken curry with rice. The minute I hear old Scraggsy yippin' for help, says I to myself, 'let the beggars fight their own way out of the mess.' But the mate comes a-runnin' up and says he's pretty sure he can come near plantin' a mess of shells in the centre of the disturbance, even if we can't see the wari on account of the jungle. 'It's all off with the commodore and the skipper anyhow,' says the mate, 'so we might just as well have vengeance on their murderers.' So, of course, when he put it that way I give my consent----"
At this juncture the mate, passing around McGuffey on his way to the deck, winked solemnly at Mr. Gibney, who hung his war-worn head in simulated shame. When the mate had left the cabin the commodore pounded with his fork on the cabin table and announced a special meeting of the Maggie II Syndicate.
"The first business before the meeting," said Mr. Gibney, "is to readjust the ownership in the syndicate. Me and Scraggsy's had our heads together, Mac, and we've agreed that you've shot your way into a full one-third interest, instead of a quarter as heretofore. From now on, Mac, you're an equal owner with me and Scraggsy, and now that that matter's settled, you can quit rippin' it into us on the race question and suggest what's to be done in the case of Tabu-Tabu and this cannibal king that almost lures me and the navigatin' officer to our destruction."
"I have the villains in double irons and chained to the mainmast," replied McGuffey, "and as a testimonial of my gratitude for the increased interest in the syndicate which you and Scraggs has just voted me, I will scheme up a fittin' form of vengeance on them two tar babies. However, only an extraordinary sentence can fit such an extraordinary crime, so I must have time to think it over. These two bucks is mine to do what I please with and I'll take any interference as unneighbourly and unworthy of a shipmate."
"Take 'em," said Captain Scraggs vehemently. "For my part I only ask one thing. If you can see your way clear, Mac, to give me the king's scalp for a tobacco pouch, I'll be obliged."
"And I," added the commodore, "would like Tabu-Tabu's shin bone for a clarionet. Pendin' McGuffey's reflections on the hamperin' of crime in Kandavu, however, we'll turn our attention to the prime object of the expedition. We've had our little fun and it's high time we got down to business. It will be low tide at nine o'clock, so I suggest, Scraggs, that you order the mate and two seamen out in the big whaleboat, together with the divin' apparatus, and we'll go after pearl oysters and black coral. As for you, Mac, suppose you take the other boat and Tabu-Tabu and the king, and help the mate. Take a rifle along with you, and make them captives dive for pearl oysters until they're black in the face----"
"Huh!" muttered the single-minded McGuffey. "What are they now? Sky blue?"
"Of course," continued the commodore, "if a tiger shark happens along and picks the niggers up, it ain't none of our business. As for me and Scraggsy, we'll sit on deck and smoke. My head aches and I guess Scraggsy's in a similar fix."
"Anythin' to be agreeable," acquiesced McGuffey.
After breakfast Commodore Gibney ordered that the prisoners be brought before him. The cook served them with breakfast, and as they ate, the commodore reminded them that it was only through his personal efforts and his natural disinclination to return blow for blow that they were at that moment enjoying a square meal instead of swinging in the rigging.
"I'm goin' to give you two yeggs a chance to reform," concluded Mr. Gibney, addressing Tabu-Tabu. "If you show us where we can get a cargo of black coral and work hard and faithful helpin' us to get it aboard, it may help you to comb a few gray hairs. I'm goin' to take the irons off now, but remember! At the first sign of the double-cross you're both shark meat."
On behalf of himself and the king, Tabu-Tabu promised to behave, and McGuffey kicked them both into the small boat. The mate and two seamen followed in another boat, in which the air-pump and diving apparatus was carried, and Tabu-Tabu piloted them to a patch of still water just inside the reef. The water was so clear that McGuffey was enabled to make out vast marine gardens thickly sprinkled with the precious black coral.
"Over you go, you two smokes," rasped McGuffey, menacing the captives with his rifle. "Dive deep, my hearties, and bring up what you can find, and if a shark comes along and takes a nip out of your hind leg, don't expect no help from B. McGuffey, Esquire--because you won't get any."
Thus encouraged, the two cannibals dove overboard. McGuffey could see them pawing around on the bottom of the little bay, and after half a minute each came up with a magnificent spray of coral. They hung to the side of the boat until they could get their breath, then repeated the performance. In the meantime, the mate had sent his two divers below to loosen the coral; with the result that when both boats returned to the Maggie II at noon Captain Scraggs fairly gurgled with delight at the results of the morning's work, and Mr. Gibney declared that his headache was gone. He and Captain Scraggs had spent the morning seated on deck under an awning, watching the beach for signs of a sortie on the part of the natives of Kandavu to recapture their king. Apparently, however, the destructive fire from the pom-pom gun the night before had so terrified them that the entire population had emigrated to the northern end of the island, leaving the invaders in undisputed possession of the bay and its hidden treasures of coral and pearl and shell.
For nearly two weeks the Maggie II lay at anchor, while her crew laboured daily in the gardens of the deep. Vast quantities of pearl oysters were brought to the surface, and these Mr. Gibney stewed personally in a great iron pot on the beach. The shell was stored away in the hold and the pearls went into a chamois pouch which never for an instant was out of the commodore's possession. The coast at that point being now deserted, frequent visits ashore were made, and the crew feasted on young pig, chicken, yams, and other delicacies. Captain Scraggs was almost delirious with joy. He announced that he had not been so happy since Mrs. Scraggs "slipped her cable."
At the end of two weeks Mr. Gibney decided that there was "loot" enough ashore to complete the schooner's cargo, and at a meeting of the syndicate held one lovely moonlight night on deck he announced his plans to Captain Scraggs and McGuffey.
"Better leave the island alone," counselled McGuffey. "Them niggers may be a-layin' there ten thousand strong, waitin' for a boat's crew to come prowlin' up into the bush so they can nab 'em."
"I've thought of that, Mac," said the commodore a trifle coldly, "and if I made a sucker of myself once it don't stand to reason that I'm apt to do it again. Remember, Mac, a burnt child dreads the fire. To-morrow morning, right after breakfast, we'll turn the guns loose and pepper the bush for a mile or two in every direction. If there's a native within range he'll have business in the next county and we won't be disturbed none."
Mr. Gibney's programme was duly put through and capital of Kandavu looted of the trade accumulations of the years. And when the hatches were finally battened down, the tanks refilled with fresh water, and everything in readiness to leave Kandavu for the run to Honolulu, Mr. Gibney announced to the syndicate that the profits of the expedition would figure close up to a hundred thousand dollars. Captain Scraggs gasped and fell limply against the mainmast.
"Gib, my dear boy," he sputtered, "are you sure it ain't all a dream and that we'll wake up some day and find that we're still in the green-pea trade; that all these months we've been asleep under a cabbage leaf, communin' with potato bugs?"
"Not for a minute," replied the commodore. "Why, I got a dozen matched pearls here that's fit for a queen. Big, red, pear-shaped boys--regular bleedin' hearts. There's ten thousand each in them alone."
"Well, I'll--I'll brew some grog," gasped Captain Scraggs, and departed forthwith to the galley. Fifteen minutes later he returned with a kettle of his favourite nepenthe and all three adventurers drank to a bon voyage home. At the conclusion of the toast Mr. McGuffey set down his glass, wiped his mouth with the back of his hairy hand, and thus addressed the syndicate.
"In leavin' this paradise of the South Pacific," he began, "we find that we have accumulated other wealth besides the loot below decks. I refer to His Royal Highness, the king of Kandavu, and his prime minister, Tabu-Tabu. When these two outlaws was first captured, I informed the syndicate that I would scheme out a punishment befittin' their crime, to-wit--murderin' an' eatin' you two boys. It's been a big job and it's taken some time, me not bein' blessed with quite as fine an imagination as our friend, Gib. However, I pride myself that hard work always brings success, and I am ready to announce what disposition shall be made of these two interestin' specimens of aboriginal life. I beg to announce, gentlemen, that I have invented a punishment fittin' the crime."
"Impossible," said Captain Scraggs.
"Shut up, Scraggs," struck in Commodore Gibney. "Out with it, Mac. What's the programme?"
"I move you, members of the syndicate, that the schooner Maggie II proceed to some barren, uninhabited island, and that upon arrival there this savage king and his still more savage subject be taken ashore in a small boat. I also move you, gentlemen of the syndicate, that inasmuch as the two aggrieved parties, A.P. Gibney and P. Scraggs, having in a sperrit of mercy refrained from layin' their hands on said prisoners for fear of invalidin' them at a time when their services was of importance to the expedition, be given an opportunity to take out their grudge on the persons of said savages. Now, I notice that the king is a miserable, skimpy, sawed-off, and hammered-down old cove. By all the rules of the prize ring he's in Scraggsy's class." (Here Mr. McGuffey flashed a lightning wink to the commodore. It was an appeal for Mr. Gibney's moral support in the engineer's scheme to put up a job on Captain Scraggs, and thus relieve the tedium of the homeward trip. Mr. Gibney instantly telegraphed his approbation, and McGuffey continued.) "I notice also that if I was to hunt the universe over, I couldn't find a better match for Gib than Tabu-Tabu. And as we are all agreed that the white race is superior to any race on earth, and it'll do us all good to see a fine mill before we leave the country, I move you, gentlemen of the syndicate, that we pull off a finish fight between Scraggsy and the king, and Gib and Tabu-Tabu. I'll referee both contests and at the conclusion of the mixup we'll leave these two murderers marooned on the island and then----"
"Rats," snapped Captain Scraggs. "That ain't no business at all. You shouldn't consider nothin' short of capital punishment. Why, that's only a petty larceny form of----"
"Quit buttin' in on my prerogatives," roared McGuffey. "That ain't the finish by no means."
"What is the finish, then?"
"Why, these two cannibals, bein' left alone on the desert island, naturally bumps up agin the old question of the survival of the fittest. They get scrappin' among themselves, and one eats the other up."
"By the toe-nails of Moses," muttered Mr. Gibney in genuine admiration, "but you have got an imagination after all, Mac. The point is well taken and the programme will go through as outlined. Scraggs, you'll fight the king. No buckin' and grumblin'. You'll fight the king. You're outvoted two to one, the thing's been done regular, and you can't kick. I'll fight Tabu-Tabu, so you see you're not gettin' any the worst of it. We'll proceed to an island in the Friendly Group called Tuvana-tholo. It lies right in our homeward course, and there ain't enough grub on the confounded island to last two men a week. And I know there ain't no water there. So, now that that matter is all settled, we will proceed to heave the anchor and scoot for home. Mac, tune up your engines and we'll get out of here a-whoopin' and a-flyin'."
Ten minutes later the anchor was hanging at the hawsepipe, and under her power the Maggie II swung slowly in the lagoon, pointed her sharp bow for the opening in the reef, and bounded away for the open sea. Captain Scraggs jammed on all of her lower sails and within two hours the island of Kandavu had faded forever from their vision.
It was an eight-hundred-mile run up to Tuvana-tholo, but the weather held good and the trade-winds never slackened. Ten days from the date of leaving Kandavu they hove to off the island. It was a long, low, sandy atoll, with a few cocoanut-palms growing in the centre of it, and with the exception of a vast colony of seabirds that apparently made it their headquarters, the island was devoid of life.
The bloodthirsty McGuffey stood at the break of the poop, and as he gazed shoreward he chuckled and rubbed his hands together.
"Great, great," he murmured. "I couldn't have gotten a better island if I'd had one built to order." He called aft to the navigating officer: "Scraggsy, there's the ring. Nothin' else to do now but get the contestants into it. Along in the late afternoon, when the heat of the day is over, we'll go ashore and pull off the fight. And, by George, Scraggs, if that old king succeeds in lambastin' you, I'll set the rascal free."
"I'll lick him with one hand tied and the other paralyzed," retorted Captain Scraggs with fine nonchalance. "No need o' waitin' on my account. Heat or no heat, I'm just naturally pinin' to beat up the royal person."
"If this ain't the best idea I ever heard of, I'm a Dutchman," replied McGuffey. "A happy combination of business and pleasure. Who fights first, Gib? You or Scraggs?"
"I guess I'd better open the festivities," said Mr. Gibney amiably. "I ain't no kill-joy and I want Scraggsy to get some fun out of this frolic. If I fight first the old kiddo can look on in peace and enjoy the sight, and if him and the king fights first perhaps he won't be in no condition to appreciate the spectacle that me and Tabu-Tabu puts up."
"That's logic," assented McGuffey solemnly; "that's logic."
Seeing that there was no escape, Captain Scraggs decided to bluff the matter through. "Let's go ashore and have it over with," he said carelessly. "I'm a man of peace, but when there's fightin' to be done, I say go to it and no tomfoolery."
Mr. Gibney winked slyly at McGuffey. They each knew Scraggs little relished the prospect before him, though to do him justice he was mean enough to fight and fight well, if he thought he had half a chance to get the decision. But he knew the king was as hard as tacks, and was more than his match in a rough and tumble, and while he spoke bravely enough, his words did not deceive his shipmates, and inwardly they shook with laughter.
"Clear away the big whaleboat with two men to pull us ashore," said Mr. Gibney to the mate. Five minutes later the members of the syndicate, accompanied by the captives, climbed into the whaleboat and shoved off, leaving the Maggie II in charge of the mate. "We'll be back in half an hour," called the commodore, as they rowed away from the schooner. "Just ratch back and forth and keep heavin' the lead."
They negotiated the fringe of breakers to the north of the island successfully, pulled the boat up on the beach, and proceeded at once to business. Mr. Gibney explained to Tabu-Tabu what was expected of him, and Tabu-Tabu in turn explained to the king. It was not the habit of white men, so Mr. Gibney explained, to kill their prisoners in cold blood, and he had decided to give them an opportunity to fight their way out of a sad predicament with their naked fists. If they won, they would be taken back aboard the schooner and later dropped at some inhabited island. If they lost, they must make their home for the future on Tuvana-tholo.
"Let 'er go," called McGuffey, and Mr. Gibney squared off and made a bear-like pass at Tabu-Tabu. To the amazement of all present Tabu-Tabu sprang lightly backward and avoided the blow. His footwork was excellent and McGuffey remarked as much to Captain Scraggs. But when Tabu-Tabu put up his hands after the most approved method of self-defense and dropped into a "crouch," McGuffey could no longer contain himself.
"The beggar can fight, the beggar can fight," he croaked, wild with joy. "Scraggs, old man, this'll be a rare mill, I promise you. He's been aboard a British man-o'-war and learned how to box. Steady, Gib. Upper-cut him, upper--wow!"
Tabu-Tabu had stepped in and planted a mighty right in the centre of Mr. Gibney's physiognomy, following it up with a hard left to the commodore's ear. Mr. Gibney rocked a moment on his sturdy legs, stepped back out of range, dropped both hands, and stared at Tabu-Tabu.
"I do believe the nigger'll lick you, Gib," said McGuffey anxiously. "He's got a horrible reach and a mule kick in each mit. Close with him, or he's due for a full pardon."
"In a minute," said the commodore faintly. "He's so good I hate to hurt him. But I'll infight him to a finish."
Which Mr. Gibney forthwith proceeded to do. He rushed his opponent and clinched, though not until his right eye was in mourning and a stiff jolt in the short ribs had caused him to grunt in most ignoble fashion. But few men could withstand Mr. Gibney once he got to close quarters. Tabu-Tabu wrapped his long arms around the commodore and endeavoured to smother his blows, but Mr. Gibney would not be denied. His great fist shot upward from the hip and connected with the cannibal's chin. Tabu-Tabu relaxed his hold, Mr. Gibney followed with left and right to the head in quick succession, and McGuffey was counting the fatal ten over the fallen warrior.
Mr. Gibney grinned rather foolishly, spat, and spoke to McGuffey, sotto voce: "By George, the joke ain't all on Scraggsy," he said. Then turning to Captain Scraggs: "Help yourself to the mustard, Scraggsy, old tarpot."
Captain Scraggs took off his hat, rolled up his sleeves, and made a dive for the royal presence. His majesty, lacking the scientific training of his prime minister, seized a handful of the Scraggs mane and tore at it cruelly. A well-directed kick in the shins, however, caused him to let go, and a moment later he was flying up the beach with the angry Scraggs in full cry after him. McGuffey headed the king off and rounded him up so Scraggs could get at him, and the latter at once "dug in" like a terrier. After five minutes of mauling and tearing Captain Scraggs was out of breath, so he let go and stood off a few feet to size up the situation. The wicked McGuffey was laughing immoderately, but to Scraggs it was no laughing matter. The fact of the matter was the king was dangerous and Scraggs had glutted himself with revenge.
"I don't want to beat an old man to death," he gasped finally. "I'll let the scoundrel go. He's had enough and he won't fight. Let's mosey along back to the schooner and leave them here to amuse themselves the best way they know how."
"Right-O," said Mr. Gibney, and turned to walk down the beach to the boat. A second later a hoarse scream of rage and terror broke from his lips.
"What's up?" cried McGuffey, the laughter dying out of his voice, for there was a hint of death in Mr. Gibney's cry.
"Marooned!" said the commodore hoarsely. "Those two sailors have pulled back to the schooner, and--there--look, Mac! My Gawd!"
McGuffey looked, and his face went whiter than the foaming breakers beyond which he could see the Maggie II, under full sail, headed for the open sea. The small boat had been picked up, and there was no doubt that at her present rate of speed the schooner would be hull down on the horizon by sunset.
"The murderin' hound," whispered McGuffey, and sagged down on the sands. "Oh, the murderin' hound of a mate!"
"It's--it's mutiny," gulped Captain Scraggs in a hard, strained voice. "That bloody fiend of a mate! The sly sneak-thief, with his pleasant smile and his winnin' ways! Saw a chance to steal the Maggie and her rich cargo, and he is leavin' us here, marooned on a desert island, with two cannibals."
Captain Scraggs fairly shrieked the last two words and burst into tears. "Lord, Gib, old man," he raved, "whatever will we do?"
Thus appealed to, the doughty commodore permitted his two unmatched optics to rest mournfully upon his shipmates. For nearly a minute he gazed at them, the while he struggled to stifle the awful fear within him. In the Gibney veins there flowed not a drop of craven blood, but the hideous prospect before him was almost more than the brave commodore could bear. Death, quick and bloody, had no terrors for him, but a finish like this--a slow finish--thirst, starvation, heat----
He gulped and thoughtfully rubbed the knuckles of his right hand where the skin was barked off. He thought of the silly joke he and McGuffey had thought to perpetrate on Captain Scraggs by leading him up against a beating at the hands of a cannibal king, and with the thought came a grim, hard chuckle, though there was the look of a thousand devils in his eyes.
"Well, boys," he said huskily, "who's looney now?"
"What's to be done?" asked McGuffey.
"Well, Mac, old sporty boy, I guess there ain't much to do except to make up our minds to die like gentlemen. If I was ever fooled by a man in my life, I was fooled by that doggone mate. I thought he'd tote square with the syndicate. I sure did."
For a long time McGuffey gazed seaward. He was slower than his shipmates in making up his mind that the mate had really deserted them and sailed away with the fortunes of the syndicate. Of the three, however, the stoical engineer accepted the situation with the best grace. He spurned the white sand with his foot and faced Mr. Gibney and Captain Scraggs with just the suspicion of a grin on his homely face.
"I make a motion," he said, "that the syndicate pass a resolution condemnin' the action of the mate."
It was a forlorn hope, and the jest went over the heads of the deck department. Said Mr. Gibney sadly:
"There ain't no more Maggie II Syndicate."
"Well, let's form a Robinson Crusoe Syndicate," suggested McGuffey. "We've got the island, and there's a quorum present for all meetin's."
Mr. Gibney smiled feebly. "We can appoint Tabu-Tabu the man Friday."
"Sure," responded McGuffey, "and the king can be the goat. Robinson Crusoe had a billy goat, didn't he, Gib?"
But Captain Scraggs refused to be heartened by this airy persiflage. "I'm all het up after my fight with the king," he quavered presently. "I wonder if there's any water on this island."
"There is," announced Mr. Gibney pleasantly; "there is, Scraggsy. There's water in just one spot, but it's there in abundance."
"Where's that spot?" inquired Scraggs eagerly.
Mr. Gibney removed his old Panama hat, and with his index finger pointed downward to where the hair was beginning to disappear, leaving a small bald spot on the crown of his ingenious head.
"There," he said, "right there, Scraggsy, old top. The only water on this island is on the brain of Adelbert P. Gibney."
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