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Neils Halvorsen often wondered what had become of the Maggie and Captain Scraggs. Mr. Gibney and Bartholomew McGuffey he knew had turned their sun-tanned faces toward deep water some years before Captain Scraggs and the Maggie disappeared from the environs of San Francisco Bay, and Neils Halvorsen was wise enough to waste no time wondering what had become of them. These two worthies might be anywhere, and every conceivable thing under the sun might have happened to them; hence, in his idle moments, Neils Halvorsen did not disturb his gray matter speculating on their whereabouts and their then condition of servitude.
But the continued absence of Captain Scraggs from his old haunts created quite a little gossip along the waterfront, and in the course of time rumours of his demise by sundry and devious routes came to the ears of Neils Halvorsen. Now, Neils had sailed too long with Captain Scraggs not to realize that the erstwhile green-pea trader would be the last man to take a chance in any hazardous enterprise unless forced thereto by the weight of circumstance; also there was affection enough in his simple Scandinavian heart to cause him to feel just a little worried when two weeks passed and Captain Scraggs failed to show up. He had disappeared in some mysterious manner from San Francisco Bay and the old Maggie had never been heard from again.
Hence Neils Halvorsen was puzzled. In fact, to such an extent was Neils puzzled, that one perfectly calm, clear night while beating down San Pablo Bay in his bay scow, the Willie and Annie, he so far forgot himself and his own affairs as to concentrate all his attention on the problem of the ultimate finish of Captain Scraggs. So engrossed was Neils in this vain speculation that he neglected to observe toward the rules of the ocean highways that nicety of attention which is highly requisite, even in the skipper of a bay scow, if the fulsome title of captain is to be retained for any definite period. As a result, Neils became confused regarding the exact number of blasts from the siren of a river steamer desiring to pass him to port. Consequently the Willie and Annie received such a severe butting from the river steamer in question as to cause her to careen and fill. Being, unfortunately, loaded with gravel on this particular trip, she subsided incontinently to the bottom of San Pablo Bay, while Neils and his crew of two men sought refuge on a plank.
Without attempting to go further into the details of the misfortunes of Neils Halvorsen, be it known that the destruction of the Willie and Annie proved to be such a severe shock to Neils' reputation as a safe and sane bay scow skipper that he was ultimately forced to seek other and more virgin fields. With the fragments of his meagre fortune, the ambitious Swede purchased a course in a local nautical school from which he duly managed to emerge with sufficient courage to appear before the United States Local Inspectors of Hulls and Boilers and take his examination for a second mate's certificate. To his unutterable surprise the license was granted; whereupon he shipped as quartermaster on the steamer Alameda, running to Honolulu, and what with the lesson taught him in the loss of the Willie and Annie and the exacting duties of his office aboard the liner, he forgot that he had ever known Captain Scraggs.
Judge of Neils Halvorsen's surprise, therefore, upon the occasion of his first trip to Honolulu, when he saw something which brought the whole matter back to mind. They were standing in toward Diamond Head and the Alameda lay hove to taking on the pilot. It was early morning and the purple mists hung over the entrance to the harbour. Neils Halvorsen stood at the gangway enjoying the sunrise over the Punch-bowl, and glancing longingly toward the vivid green of the hills beyond the city, when he was aware of a "put," "put," "put," to starboard of the Alameda. Neils turned at the sound just in time to see a beautiful gasoline schooner of about a hundred and thirty tons heading in toward the bay. She was so close that Neils was enabled to make out that her name was Maggie II.
"Vell, aye be dam," muttered Neils, and scratched his head, for the name revived old memories. An hour later, when the Alameda loafed into her berth at Brewer's dock, Neils noticed that the schooner lay at anchor off the quarantine station.
That night Neils Halvorsen went ashore for those forms of enjoyment peculiar to his calling, and in the Pantheon saloon, whither his pathway led him, he filled himself with beer and gossip. It was here that Neils came across an item in an afternoon paper which challenged his instant attention. It was just a squib in the shipping news, but Neils Halvorsen read it with amazement and joy:
The power schooner Maggie II arrived this morning, ten days from the Friendly Islands. The little schooner came into port with her hold bursting with the most valuable cargo that has entered Honolulu in many years. It consists for the most part of black coral.
The Maggie II is commanded by Captain Phineas Scraggs, and after taking on provisions and water to-day will proceed to San Francisco, to-morrow, for discharge of cargo.
"By yiminy," quoth Neils Halvorsen, "aye bat you that bane de ole man so sure as you bane alive. And aye bat new hat he skall be glad to see Neils Halvorsen. I guess aye hire Kanaka boy an' he bane pull me out to see de ole man."
Which is exactly what Neils Halvorsen proceeded to do. Ten minutes later he was at the foot of Fort Street, bargaining with a Kanaka fisherman to paddle him off to the schooner Maggie II. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and as Neils sat in the stern of the canoe, listening to the sound of the sad, sweet falsetto singing of half a dozen waheenies fishing on the wharf, he actually waxed sentimental. His honest Scandinavian heart throbbed with anticipated pleasure as he conjured up a mental picture of the surprise and delight of Captain Scraggs at this unexpected meeting with his old deckhand.
A Jacob's ladder was hanging over the side of the schooner as the canoe shot in under her lee quarter, and half a minute later the expectant Neils stepped upon her deck. A tall dark man, wearing an ancient palmleaf hat, sat smoking on the hatch coaming, and him Neils Halvorsen addressed.
"Aye bane want to see Cap'n Scraggs," he said.
The tall dark man stood erect and cast a quick, questioning look at Neils Halvorsen. He hesitated before he made answer.
"What do you want?" he asked deliberately, and there was a subtle menace in his tones. As for Neils Halvorsen, thinking only of the surprise he had in store for his old employer, he replied evasively:
"Aye bane want job."
"Well, I'm Captain Scraggs, and I haven't any job for you. Get off my boat and wait until you're invited before you come aboard again."
For nearly half a minute Neils Halvorsen stared open-mouthed at the spurious Captain Scraggs, while slowly there sifted through his brain the notion that he had happened across the track of a deep and bloody mystery of the seas. There was "something rotten in Denmark." Of that Neils Halvorsen was certain. More he could not be certain of until he had paved the way for a complete investigation, and as a preliminary step toward that end he clinched his fist and sprang swiftly toward the bogus skipper.
"Aye tank you bane damn liar," he muttered, and struck home, straight and true, to the point of the jaw. The man went down, and in an instant Neils was on top of him. Off came the sailor's belt, the hands of the half-stunned man were quickly tied behind him, and before he had time to realize what had happened Neils had cut a length of cord from a trailing halyard and tied his feet securely, after which he gagged him with his bandana handkerchief.
A quick circuit of the ship convinced Neils Halvorsen that the remainder of the dastard crew were evidently ashore, so he descended to the cabin in search of further evidence of crime. He was quite prepared to find Captain Scraggs's master's certificate in its familiar oaken frame, hanging on the cabin wall, but he was dumfounded to observe, hanging on the wall in a similar and equally familiar frame, the certificate of Adelbert P. Gibney as first mate of steam or sail, any ocean and any tonnage. But still a third framed certificate hung on the wall, and Neils again scratched his head when he read the wording that set forth the legal qualifications of Bartholomew McGuffey to hold down a job as chief engineer of coastwise vessels up to 1,200 tons net register.
It was patent, even to the dull-witted Swede, that there had been foul play somewhere, and the schooner's log, lying open on the table, seemed to offer the first means at hand for a solution of the mystery. Eagerly Neils turned to the last entry. It was not in Captain Scraggs's handwriting, and contained nothing more interesting than the stereotyped reports of daily observations, currents, weather conditions, etc., including a notation of arrival that day at Honolulu. Slowly Halvorsen turned the leaves backward, until at last he was rewarded by a glimpse of a different handwriting. It was the last entry under that particular handwriting, and read as follows:
June 21, 19--. Took an observation at noon, and find that we are in 20-48 S., 178-4 W. At this rate should lift Tuvana-tholo early this afternoon. All hands well and looking forward to the fun at Tuvana. Bent a new flying jib this morning and had the king and Tabu-Tabu holystone the deck.
Neils Halvorsen sat down to think, and after several minutes of this unusual exercise it appeared to the Swede that he had stumbled upon a clue to the situation. The last entry in the log kept by Mr. Gibney was under date of June 21st--just eleven days ago, and on that date Mr. Gibney had been looking forward to some fun at Tuvana-tholo. Now where was that island and what kind of a place was it?
Neils searched through the cabin until he came across the book that is the bible of every South Sea trading vessel--the British Admiralty Reports. Down the index went the old deckhand's calloused finger and paused at "Friendly islands--page 177"; whereupon Neils opened the book at page 177 and after a five-minute search discovered that Tuvana-tholo was a barren, uninhabited island in latitude 21-2 south, longitude 178-49 west.
Ten days from the Friendly Islands, the paper said. That meant under power and sail with the trades abaft the beam. It would take nearer fifteen days for the run from Honolulu to that desert island, and Neils Halvorsen wondered whether the marooned men would still be alive by the time aid could reach them. For by some sixth sailor sense Neils Halvorsen became convinced that his old friends of the vegetable trade were marooned. They had gone ashore for some kind of a frolic, and the crew had stolen the schooner and left them to their fate, believing that the castaways would never be heard from and that dead men tell no tales.
"Yumpin' yiminy," groaned Neils. "I must get a wiggle on if aye bane steal this schooner."
He rushed on deck, carried his prisoner down into the cabin, and locked the door on him. A minute later he was clinging to the Jacob's ladder, the canoe shot in to the side of the vessel at his gruff command and passed on shoreward without missing a stroke of the paddle. An hour later, accompanied by three Kanaka sailors picked up at random along the waterfront, Neils Halvorsen was pulled out to the Maggie II. Her crew had not returned and the bogus captain was still triced hard and fast in the cabin.
The Swede did not bother to investigate in detail the food and water supply. A hasty round of the schooner convinced him that she had at least a month's supply of food and water. Only one thought surged through his mind, and that was the awful necessity for haste. The anchor came in with a rush, the Kanaka boys chanting a song that sounded to Neils like a funeral dirge, and Neils went below and turned the gasoline engines wide open. The Maggie II swung around and with a long streak of opalescent foam trailing behind her swung down the bay and faded at last in the ghostly moonlight beyond Diamond Head; after which Neils Halvorsen, with murder in his eye and a tarred rope's end in his horny fist, went down into the cabin and talked to the man who posed as Captain Scraggs. In the end he got a confession. Fifteen minutes later he emerged, smiling grimly, gave the Kanaka boy at the wheel the course, and turned in to sleep the sleep of the conscience-free and the weary.
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