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Darkness was creeping over the beach at Tuvana-tholo before Mr. Gibney could smother the despair in his heart sufficient to spur his jaded imagination into working order. For nearly an hour the three castaways had sat on the beach in dumb horror, gazing seaward. They were not alone in this, for a little further up the beach the two Fiji Islanders sat huddled on their haunches, gazing stupidly first at the horizon and then at their white captors. It was the sight of these two worthies that spurred Mr. Gibney's torpid brain to action.
"Didn't you say, Mac, that when we left these two cannibals alone on this island that it would develop into a case of dog eat dog or somethin' of that nature?"
Captain Scraggs sprang to his feet, his face white with a new terror. However, he had endured so much since embarking with Mr. Gibney on a life of wild adventure that his nerves had become rather inured to impending death, and presently his fear gave way to an overmastering rage. He hurled his hat on the sands and jumped on it until it was a mere shapeless rag.
"By the tail of the Great Sacred Bull," he gasped, "if they don't start in on us first I'm a Dutchman. Of all the idiots, thieves, crimps, thugs, and pirates, Bart McGuffey, you're the worst. Gib, you hulkin' swine, whatever did you listen to him for? It was a crazy idea, this talk of fight. Why didn't we just drop the critters overboard and be done with it? We got to kill 'em now with sticks and stones in order to protect ourselves."
"Forgive me, Scraggsy, old scout," said Mr. Gibney humbly. "The fat's in the fire now, and there ain't no use howlin' over spilt milk."
"Shut up, you murderer," shrilled Captain Scraggs and danced once more on his battered hat.
"Let's call a meetin' of the Robinson Crusoe Syndicate," said Mr. Gibney.
"Second the motion," rumbled McGuffey.
"Carried," said the commodore. "The first business before the meetin' is the organization of a expedition to chase these two cannibals to the other end of the island. I ain't got the heart to kill 'em, so let's chase 'em away before they get fresh with us."
"Good idea," responded McGuffey, whereupon he picked up a rock and threw it at the king. Mr. Gibney followed with two rocks, Captain Scraggs screamed defiance at the enemy, and the enemy fled in wild disorder, pursued by the syndicate. After a chase of half a mile Mr. Gibney led his cohorts back to the beach.
"Let's build a fire--not that we need it, but just for company--and sleep till mornin'. By that time my imagination'll be in workin' order and I'll scheme a breakfast out of this God-forsaken hole."
At the first hint of dawn Mr. Gibney, true to his promise, was up and scouting for breakfast. He found some gooneys asleep on a rocky crag and killed half a dozen of them with a club. On his way back to camp he discovered a few handfuls of sea salt in a crevice between some rocks, and the syndicate breakfasted an hour later on roast gooney. It was oily and fishy but an excellent substitute for nothing at all, and the syndicate was grateful. The breakfast would have been cheerful, in fact, if Captain Scraggs had not made repeated reference to his excessive thirst. McGuffey lost patience before the meal was over, and cuffed Captain Scraggs, who thereupon subsided with tears in his eyes. This hurt McGuffey. It was like salt in a fresh wound, so he patted the skipper on the back and humbly asked his pardon. Captain Scraggs forgave him and murmured something about death making them all equal.
"The next business before the syndicate," announced Mr. Gibney, anxious to preserve peace, "is a search of this island for water."
They searched all forenoon. At intervals they caught glimpses of the two cannibals skulking behind sand-dunes, but they found no water. Toward the centre of the island, however, the soil was less barren, and here a grove of cocoa-palms lifted their tufted crests invitingly.
"We will camp in this grove," said the commodore, "and keep guard over these green cocoanuts. There must be nearly a hundred of them and I notice a little taro root here and there. As those cocoanuts are full of milk, that insures us life for a week or two if we go on a short ration. By bathin' several times a day we can keep down our thirst some and perhaps it'll rain."
"What if it does?" snapped Captain Scraggs bitterly. "We ain't got nothin' but our hats to catch it in."
"Well, then, Scraggsy, old stick-in-the-mud," replied the commodore quizzically, "it's a cinch you'll go thirsty. Your hat looks like a cullender."
Captain Scraggs choked with rage, and Mr. Gibney, springing at the nearest palm, shinned to the top of it in the most approved sailor fashion. A moment later, instead of cocoanuts, rich, unctuous curses began to descend on McGuffey and Scraggs.
"Gib, my dear boy," inquired Scraggs, "whatever is the matter of you?"
"That hound Tabu-Tabu's been strippin' our cocoanut grove," roared the commodore. "He must have spent half the night up in these trees."
"Thank the Lord they didn't take 'em all," said McGuffey piously. "Chuck me down a nut, Gib," said Captain Scraggs. "I'm famished."
In conformity with the commodore's plans, the castaways made camp in the grove. For a week they subsisted on gooneys, taro root, cocoanuts and cocoanut milk, and a sea-turtle which Scraggs found wandering on the beach. This suggested turtle eggs to Mr. Gibney, and a change of diet resulted. Nevertheless, the unaccustomed food, poorly cooked as it was, and the lack of water, told cruelly on them, and their strength failed rapidly. Realizing that in a few days he would not have the strength to climb cocoanut trees, Mr. Gibney spent nearly half a day aloft and threw down every cocoanut he could find, which was not a great many. They had their sheath knives and consequently had little fear from an attack by Tabu-Tabu and the king. These latter kept well to the other side of the island and subsisted in much the same manner as their white neighbours.
At the end of a week, all hands were troubled with indigestion and McGuffey developed a low fever. They had lost much flesh and were a white, haggard-looking trio. On the afternoon of the tenth day on the island the sky clouded up and Mr. Gibney predicted a williwaw. Captain Scraggs inquired feebly if it was good to eat.
That night it rained, and to the great joy of the marooned mariners Mr. Gibney discovered, in the centre of a big sandstone rock, a natural reservoir that held about ten gallons of water. They drank to repletion and felt their strength return a thousand-fold. Tabu-Tabu and the king came into camp about this time, and pleaded for a ration of water. Mr. Gibney, swearing horribly at them, granted their request, and the king, in his gratitude, threw himself at the commodore's feet and kissed them. But Mr. Gibney was not to be deceived, and after furnishing them with a supply of water in cocoanut calabashes, he ordered them to their own side of the island.
On the eighteenth day the last drop of water was gone, and on the twenty-second day the last of the cocoanuts disappeared. The prospects of more rain were not bright. The gooneys were becoming shy and distrustful and the syndicate was experiencing more and more difficulty, not only in killing them, but in eating them. McGuffey, who had borne up uncomplainingly, was shaking with fever and hardly able to stagger down the beach to look for turtle eggs. The syndicate was sick, weak, and emaciated almost beyond recognition, and on the twenty-fifth day Captain Scraggs fainted twice. On the twenty-sixth day McGuffey crawled into the shadow of a stunted mimosa bush and started to pray!
To Mr. Gibney this was an infallible sign that McGuffey was now delirious. In the shadow of a neighbouring bush Captain Scraggs babbled of steam beer in the Bowhead saloon, and the commodore, stifling his own agony, watched his comrades until their lips and tongues, parched with thirst, refused longer to produce even a moan, and silence settled over the dismal camp.
It was the finish. The commodore knew it, and sat with bowed head in his gaunt arms, wondering, wondering. Slowly his body began to sway; he muttered something, slid forward on his face, and lay still. And as he lay there on the threshold of the unknown he dreamed that the Maggie II came into view around the headland, a bone in her teeth and every stitch of canvas flying. He saw her luff up into the wind and hang there shivering; a moment later her sails came down by the run, and he saw a little splash under her port bow as her hook took bottom. There was a commotion on decks, and then to Mr. Gibney's dying ears came faintly the shouts and songs of the black boys as a whaleboat shot into the breakers and pulled swiftly toward the beach. Mr. Gibney dreamed that a white man sat in the stern sheets of this whaleboat, and as the boat touched the beach it seemed to Mr. Gibney that this man sprang ashore and ran swiftly toward him. And--Mr. Gibney twisted his suffering lips into a wry smile as he realized the oddities of this mirage--it seemed to him that this visionary white man bore a striking resemblance to Neils Halvorsen. Neils Halvorsen, of all men! Old Neils, "the squarehead" deckhand of the green-pea trade! Dull, bowlegged Neils, with his lost dog smile and his----
Mr. Gibney rubbed his eyes feebly and half staggered to his feet. What was that? A shout? Without doubt he had heard a sound that was not the moaning of their remorseless prison-keeper, the sea. And----
"Hands off," shrieked Mr. Gibney and struck feebly at the imaginary figure rushing toward him. No use. He felt himself swept into strong arms and carried an immeasurable distance down the beach. Then somebody threw water in his face and pressed a drink of brandy and sweet water to his parched lips. His swimming senses rallied a moment, and he discovered that he was lying in the bottom of a whaleboat. McGuffey lay beside him, and on a thwart in front of him sat good old Neils Halvorsen with Captain Scraggs's head on his knees. As Mr. Gibney looked at this strange tableau Captain Scraggs opened his eyes, glanced up at Neils Halvorsen, and spoke:
"Why if it ain't old squarehead Neils," he muttered wonderingly. "If it ain't Neils, I'll go to hades or some other seaport." He closed his eyes again and subsided into a sort of lethargy, for he was content. He knew he was saved.
Mr. Gibney rolled over, and, struggling to his knees, leaned over McGuffey and peered into his drawn face.
"Mac, old shipmate! Mac, speak to me. Are you alive?"
B. McGuffey, Esquire, opened a pair of glazed eyes and stared at the commodore.
"Did we lick 'em?" he whispered. "The last I remember the king was puttin' it all over Scraggsy. And that Tabu boy--was--no slouch." McGuffey paused, and glanced warily around the boat, while a dawning horror appeared in his sunken eyes. "Go back, Neils--go back--for God's sake. There's two niggers--still--on the--island. Bring--'em some--water. They're cannibals--Neils, but never--mind. Get them--aboard--the poor devils--if they're living. I--wouldn't leave a--crocodile on that--hell hole, if I could--help it."
An hour later the Robinson Crusoe Syndicate, including the man Friday and the Goat, were safe aboard the Maggie II, and Neils Halvorsen, with the tears streaming down his bronzed cheeks, was sparingly doling out to them a mixture of brandy and water. And when the syndicate was strong enough to be allowed all the water it wanted, Neils Halvorsen propped them up on deck and told the story. When he had finished, Captain Scraggs turned to Mr. Gibney.
"Gib, my dear boy," he said, "make a motion."
"I move," said the commodore, "that we set Tabu-Tabu and the king down on the first inhabited island we can find. They've suffered enough. And I further move that we readjust the ownership of the Maggie II Syndicate and cut the best Swede on earth in on a quarter of the profits."
"Second the motion," said McGuffey.
"Carried," said Captain Scraggs.
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