DAVID AND GOLIATH
Huish had bundled himself up from the glare of the day--his
face to the house, his knees retracted. The frail bones in the
thin tropical raiment seemed scarce more considerable than a
fowl's; and Davis, sitting on the rail with his arm about a stay,
contemplated him with gloom, wondering what manner of
counsel that insignificant figure should contain. For since
Herrick had thrown him off and deserted to the enemy, Huish,
alone of mankind, remained to him to be a helper and oracle.
He considered their position with a sinking heart. The ship
was a stolen ship; the stores, either from initial carelessness
or ill administration during the voyage, were insufficient to
carry them to any port except back to Papeete; and there
retribution waited in the shape of a gendarme, a judge with a
queer-shaped hat, and the horror of distant Noumea. Upon that
side, there was no glimmer of hope. Here, at the island, the
dragon was roused; Attwater with his men and his Winchesters
watched and patrolled the house; let him who dare approach it.
What else was then left but to sit there, inactive, pacing the
decks--until the Trinity Hall arrived and they were cast into
irons, or until the food came to an end, and the pangs of famine
succeeded? For the Trinity Hall Davis was prepared; he would
barricade the house, and die there defending it, like a rat in a
crevice. But for the other? The cruise of the Farallone, into
which he had plunged only a fortnight before, with such golden
expectations, could this be the nightmare end of it? The ship
rotting at anchor, the crew stumbling and dying in the scuppers?
It seemed as if any extreme of hazard were to be preferred to so
grisly a certainty; as if it would be better to up-anchor after
all, put to sea at a venture, and, perhaps, perish at the hands
of cannibals on one of the more obscure Paumotus. His eye roved
swiftly over sea and sky in quest of any promise of wind, but
the fountains of the Trade were empty. Where it had run yesterday
and for weeks before, a roaring blue river charioting clouds,
silence now reigned; and the whole height of the atmosphere
stood balanced. On the endless ribbon of island that stretched
out to either hand of him its array of golden and green and
silvery palms, not the most volatile frond was to be seen
stirring; they drooped to their stable images in the lagoon like
things carved of metal, and already their long line began to
reverberate heat. There was no escape possible that day, none
probable on the morrow. And still the stores were running out!
Then came over Davis, from deep down in the roots of his
being, or at least from far back among his memories of
childhood and innocence, a wave of superstition. This run of ill
luck was something beyond natural; the chances of the game
were in themselves more various; it seemed as if the devil must
serve the pieces. The devil? He heard again the clear note of
Attwater's bell ringing abroad into the night, and dying away.
How if God . . . ?
Briskly, he averted his mind. Attwater: that was the point.
Attwater had food and a treasure of pearls; escape made possible
in the present, riches in the future. They must come to grips,
with Attwater; the man must die. A smoky heat went over his
face, as he recalled the impotent figure he had made last night
and the contemptuous speeches he must bear in silence. Rage,
shame, and the love of life, all pointed the one way; and only
invention halted: how to reach him? had he strength enough?
was there any help in that misbegotten packet of bones against
His eyes dwelled upon him with a strange avidity, as though
he would read into his soul; and presently the sleeper moved,
stirred uneasily, turned suddenly round, and threw him a
blinking look. Davis maintained the same dark stare, and Huish
looked away again and sat up.
'Lord, I've an 'eadache on me!' said he. 'I believe I was a bit
swipey last night. W'ere's that cry-byby 'Errick?'
'Gone,' said the captain.
'Ashore?' cried Huish. 'Oh, I say! I'd 'a gone too.'
'Would you?' said the captain.
'Yes, I would,' replied Huish. 'I like Attwater. 'E's all right;
we got on like one o'clock when you were gone. And ain't his
sherry in it, rather? It's like Spiers and Ponds' Amontillado! I
wish I 'ad a drain of it now.' He sighed.
'Well, you'll never get no more of it--that's one thing,' said
"Ere! wot's wrong with you, Dyvis? Coppers 'ot? Well, look at me!
I ain't grumpy,' said Huish; 'I'm as plyful as a canary-bird, I
'Yes,' said Davis, 'you're playful; I own that; and you were
playful last night, I believe, and a damned fine performance you
made of it.'
"Allo!' said Huish. "Ow's this? Wot performance?'
'Well, I'll tell you,' said the captain, getting slowly off the
And he did: at full length, with every wounding epithet and
absurd detail repeated and emphasised; he had his own vanity
and Huish's upon the grill, and roasted them; and as he spoke,
he inflicted and endured agonies of humiliation. It was a plain
man's masterpiece of the sardonic.
'What do you think of it?' said he, when he had done, and
looked down at Huish, flushed and serious, and yet jeering.
'I'll tell you wot it is,' was the reply, 'you and me cut a
pretty dicky figure.'
'That's so,' said Davis, 'a pretty measly figure, by God! And,
by God, I want to see that man at my knees.'
'Ah!' said Huish. "Ow to get him there?'
'That's it!' cried Davis. 'How to get hold of him! They're four
to two; though there's only one man among them to count, and
that's Attwater. Get a bead on Attwater, and the others would
cut and run and sing out like frightened poultry--and old man
Herrick would come round with his hat for a share of the pearls.
No, SIR! it's how to get hold of Attwater! And we daren't even
go ashore; he would shoot us in the boat like dogs.'
'Are you particular about having him dead or alive?' asked
'I want to see him dead,' said the captain.
'Ah, well!' said Huish, 'then I believe I'll do a bit of
And he turned into the house.
The captain doggedly followed him.
'What's this?' he asked. 'What's your idea, anyway?'
'Oh, you let me alone, will you?' said Huish, opening a bottle
of champagne. 'You'll 'ear my idea soon enough. Wyte till I
pour some chain on my 'ot coppers.' He drank a glass off, and
affected to listen. ''Ark!' said he, ''ear it fizz. Like 'am
fryin', I declyre. 'Ave a glass, do, and look sociable.'
'No!' said the captain, with emphasis; 'no, I will not! there's
'You p'ys your money and you tykes your choice, my little
man,' returned Huish. 'Seems rather a shyme to me to spoil your
breakfast for wot's really ancient 'istory.'
He finished three parts of a bottle of champagne, and nibbled
a corner of biscuit, with extreme deliberation; the captain
sitting opposite and champing the bit like an impatient horse.
Then Huish leaned his arms on the table and looked Davis in the
'W'en you're ready!' said he.
'Well, now, what's your idea?' said Davis, with a sigh.
'Fair play!' said Huish. 'What's yours?'
'The trouble is that I've got none,' replied Davis; and wandered
for some time in aimless discussion of the difficulties in
their path, and useless explanations of his own fiasco.
'About done?' said Huish.
'I'll dry up right here,' replied Davis.
'Well, then,' said Huish, 'you give me your 'and across the
table, and say, "Gawd strike me dead if I don't back you up."'
His voice was hardly raised, yet it thrilled the hearer. His face
seemed the epitome of cunning, and the captain recoiled from it
as from a blow.
'What for?' said he.
'Luck,' said Huish. 'Substantial guarantee demanded.'
And he continued to hold out his hand.
'I don't see the good of any such tomfoolery,' said the other.
'I do, though,' returned Huish. 'Gimme your 'and and say the
words; then you'll 'ear my view of it. Don't, and you won't.'
The captain went through the required form, breathing short,
and gazing on the clerk with anguish. What to fear, he knew
not; yet he feared slavishly what was to fall from the pale lips.
'Now, if you'll excuse me 'alf a second,' said Huish, 'I'll go
and fetch the byby.'
'The baby?' said Davis. 'What's that?'
'Fragile. With care. This side up,' replied the clerk with a
wink, as he disappeared.
He returned, smiling to himself, and carrying in his hand a
silk handkerchief. The long stupid wrinkles ran up Davis's brow,
as he saw it. What should it contain? He could think of nothing
more recondite than a revolver.
Huish resumed his seat.
'Now,' said he, 'are you man enough to take charge of 'Errick
and the niggers? Because I'll take care of Hattwater.'
'How?' cried Davis. 'You can't!'
'Tut, tut!' said the clerk. 'You gimme time. Wot's the first
point? The first point is that we can't get ashore, and I'll make
you a present of that for a 'ard one. But 'ow about a flag of
truce? Would that do the trick, d'ye think? or would Attwater
simply blyze aw'y at us in the bloomin' boat like dawgs?'
'No,' said Davis, 'I don't believe he would.'
'No more do I,' said Huish; 'I don't believe he would either;
and I'm sure I 'ope he won't! So then you can call us ashore.
Next point is to get near the managin' direction. And for that
I'm going to 'ave you write a letter, in w'ich you s'y you're
ashamed to meet his eye, and that the bearer, Mr J. L. 'Uish, is
empowered to represent you. Armed with w'ich seemin'ly simple
expedient, Mr J. L. 'Uish will proceed to business.'
He paused, like one who had finished, but still held Davis
with his eye.
'How?' said Davis. 'Why?'
'Well, you see, you're big,' returned Huish; ''e knows you
'ave a gun in your pocket, and anybody can see with 'alf an eye
that you ain't the man to 'esitate about usin' it. So it's no go
with you, and never was; you're out of the runnin', Dyvis. But
he won't be afryde of me, I'm such a little un! I'm unarmed--no
kid about that--and I'll hold my 'ands up right enough.' He
paused. 'If I can manage to sneak up nearer to him as we talk,'
he resumed, 'you look out and back me up smart. If I don't, we
go aw'y again, and nothink to 'urt. See?'
The captain's face was contorted by the frenzied effort to
'No, I don't see,' he cried, 'I can't see. What do you mean?'
'I mean to do for the Beast!' cried Huish, in a burst of
venomous triumph. 'I'll bring the 'ulkin' bully to grass. He's
'ad his larks out of me; I'm goin' to 'ave my lark out of 'im,
and a good lark too!'
'What is it?' said the captain, almost in a whisper.
'Sure you want to know?' asked Huish.
Davis rose and took a turn in the house.
'Yes, I want to know,' he said at last with an effort.
'We'n you're back's at the wall, you do the best you can,
don't you?' began the clerk. 'I s'y that, because I 'appen to
know there's a prejudice against it; it's considered vulgar,
awf'ly vulgar.' He unrolled the handkerchief and showed a
four-ounce jar. 'This 'ere's vitriol, this is,' said he.
The captain stared upon him with a whitening face.
'This is the stuff!' he pursued, holding it up. 'This'll burn to
the bone; you'll see it smoke upon 'im like 'ell fire! One drop
upon 'is bloomin' heyesight, and I'll trouble you for Attwater!'
'No, no, by God!' exclaimed the captain.
'Now, see 'ere, ducky,' said Huish, 'this is my bean feast, I
believe? I'm goin' up to that man single-'anded, I am. 'E's about
seven foot high, and I'm five foot one. 'E's a rifle in his 'and,
'e's on the look-out, 'e wasn't born yesterday. This is Dyvid and
Goliar, I tell you! If I'd ast you to walk up and face the music
I could understand. But I don't. I on'y ast you to stand by and
spifflicate the niggers. It'll all come in quite natural; you'll
see, else! Fust thing, you know, you'll see him running round and
owling like a good un . . .'
'Don't!' said Davis. 'Don't talk of it!'
'Well, you ARE a juggins!' exclaimed Huish. 'What did you
want? You wanted to kill him, and tried to last night. You
wanted to kill the 'ole lot of them and tried to, and 'ere I show
you 'ow; and because there's some medicine in a bottle you kick
up this fuss!'
'I suppose that's so,' said Davis. 'It don't seem someways
reasonable, only there it is.'
'It's the happlication of science, I suppose?' sneered Huish.
'I don't know what it is,' cried Davis, pacing the floor; 'it's
there! I draw the line at it. I can't put a finger to no such
piggishness. It's too damned hateful!'
'And I suppose it's all your fancy pynted it,' said Huish, 'w'en
you take a pistol and a bit o' lead, and copse a man's brains all
over him? No accountin' for tystes.'
'I'm not denying it,' said Davis, 'It's something here, inside of
me. It's foolishness; I dare say it's dam foolishness. I don't
argue, I just draw the line. Isn't there no other way?'
'Look for yourself,' said Huish. 'I ain't wedded to this, if you
think I am; I ain't ambitious; I don't make a point of playin'
the lead; I offer to, that's all, and if you can't show me
better, by Gawd, I'm goin' to!'
'Then the risk!' cried Davis.
'If you ast me straight, I should say it was a case of seven to
one and no takers,' said Huish. 'But that's my look-out, ducky,
and I'm gyme, that's wot I am: gyme all through.'
The captain looked at him. Huish sat there, preening his
sinister vanity, glorying in his precedency in evil; and the
villainous courage and readiness of the creature shone out of
him like a candle from a lantern. Dismay and a kind of respect
seized hold on Davis in his own despite. Until that moment, he
had seen the clerk always hanging back, always listless,
uninterested, and openly grumbling at a word of anything to do;
and now, by the touch of an enchanter's wand, he beheld him
sitting girt and resolved, and his face radiant. He had raised
the devil, he thought; and asked who was to control him? and his
'Look as long as you like,' Huish was going on. 'You don't see
any green in my eye! I ain't afryde of Attwater, I ain't afryde
of you, and I ain't afryde of words. You want to kill people,
that's wot YOU want; but you want to do it in kid gloves, and it
can't be done that w'y. Murder ain't genteel, it ain't easy, it
ain't safe, and it tykes a man to do it. 'Ere's the man.'
'Huish!' began the captain with energy; and then stopped,
and remained staring at him with corrugated brows.
'Well, hout with it!' said Huish. "Ave you anythink else to
put up? Is there any other chanst to try?'
The captain held his peace.
'There you are then!' said Huish with a shrug.
Davis fell again to his pacing.
'Oh, you may do sentry-go till you're blue in the mug, you
won't find anythink else,' said Huish.
There was a little silence; the captain, like a man launched on
a swing, flying dizzily among extremes of conjecture and refusal.
'But see,' he said, suddenly pausing. 'Can you? Can the thing
be done? It--it can't be easy.'
'If I get within twenty foot of 'im it'll be done; so you look
out,' said Huish, and his tone of certainty was absolute.
'How can you know that?' broke from the captain in a choked
cry. 'You beast, I believe you've done it before!'
'Oh, that's private affyres,' returned Huish, 'I ain't a talking
A shock of repulsion struck and shook the captain; a scream
rose almost to his lips; had he uttered it, he might have cast
himself at the same moment on the body of Huish, might have
picked him up, and flung him down, and wiped the cabin with
him, in a frenzy of cruelty that seemed half moral. But the
moment passed; and the abortive crisis left the man weaker. The
stakes were so high--the pearls on the one hand--starvation
and shame on the other. Ten years of pearls! The imagination of
Davis translated them into a new, glorified existence for himself
and his family. The seat of this new life must be in London;
there were deadly reasons against Portland, Maine; and the
pictures that came to him were of English manners. He saw his
boys marching in the procession of a school, with gowns on, an
usher marshalling them and reading as he walked in a great
book. He was installed in a villa, semi-detached; the name,
Rosemore, on the gateposts. In a chair on the gravel walk, he
seemed to sit smoking a cigar, a blue ribbon in his buttonhole,
victor over himself and circumstances, and the malignity of
bankers. He saw the parlour with red curtains and shells on the
mantelpiece--and with the fine inconsistency of visions, mixed
a grog at the mahogany table ere he turned in. With that the
Farallone gave one of the aimless and nameless movements
which (even in an anchored ship and even in the most profound
calm) remind one of the mobility of fluids; and he was back again
under the cover of the house, the fierce daylight besieging
it all round and glaring in the chinks, and the clerk in a rather
airy attitude, awaiting his decision.
He began to walk again. He aspired after the realisation of
these dreams, like a horse nickering for water; the lust of them
burned in his inside. And the only obstacle was Attwater, who
had insulted him from the first. He gave Herrick a full share of
the pearls, he insisted on it; Huish opposed him, and he trod the
opposition down; and praised himself exceedingly. He was not
going to use vitriol himself; was he Huish's keeper? It was a
pity he had asked, but after all! . . . he saw the boys again in
the school procession, with the gowns he had thought to be so
'tony' long since . . . And at the same time the incomparable
shame of the last evening blazed up in his mind.
'Have it your own way!' he said hoarsely.
'Oh, I knew you would walk up,' said Huish. 'Now for the
letter. There's paper, pens and ink. Sit down and I'll dictyte.'
The captain took a seat and the pen, looked a while helplessly
at the paper, then at Huish. The swing had gone the other way;
there was a blur upon his eyes. 'It's a dreadful business,' he
said, with a strong twitch of his shoulders.
'It's rather a start, no doubt,' said Huish. 'Tyke a dip of ink.
That's it. William John Hattwater, Esq., Sir': he dictated
'How do you know his name is William John?' asked Davis.
'Saw it on a packing case,' said Huish. 'Got that?'
'No,' said Davis. 'But there's another thing. What are we to
'O my golly!' cried the exasperated Huish. 'Wot kind of man
do YOU call yourself? I'M goin' to tell you wot to write; that's
my pitch; if you'll just be so bloomin' condescendin' as to write
it down! WILLIAM JOHN ATTWATER, ESQ., SIR': he reiterated. And
the captain at last beginning half mechanically to move his pen,
the dictation proceeded:
It is with feelings of shyme and 'artfelt contrition that I
approach you after the yumiliatin' events of last night. Our Mr
'Errick has left the ship, and will have doubtless communicated
to you the nature of our 'opes. Needless to s'y, these are no
longer possible: Fate 'as declyred against us, and we bow the
'ead. Well awyre as I am of the just suspicions with w'ich I am
regarded, I do not venture to solicit the fyvour of an interview
for myself, but in order to put an end to a situytion w'ich must
be equally pyneful to all, I 'ave deputed my friend and partner,
Mr J. L. Huish, to l'y before you my proposals, and w'ich by
their moderytion, Will, I trust, be found to merit your
attention. Mr J. L. Huish is entirely unarmed, I swear to Gawd!
and will 'old 'is 'ands over 'is 'ead from the moment he begins
to approach you. I am your fytheful servant, John Davis.
Huish read the letter with the innocent joy of amateurs,
chuckled gustfully to himself, and reopened it more than once
after it was folded, to repeat the pleasure; Davis meanwhile
sitting inert and heavily frowning.
Of a sudden he rose; he seemed all abroad. 'No!' he cried.
'No! it can't be! It's too much; it's damnation. God would never
'Well, and 'oo wants Him to?' returned Huish, shrill with
fury. 'You were damned years ago for the Sea Rynger, and said
so yourself. Well then, be damned for something else, and 'old
The captain looked at him mistily. 'No,' he pleaded, 'no, old
man! don't do it.'
"Ere now,' said Huish, 'I'll give you my ultimytum. Go or st'y
w'ere you are; I don't mind; I'm goin' to see that man and
chuck this vitriol in his eyes. If you st'y I'll go alone; the
niggers will likely knock me on the 'ead, and a fat lot you'll be
the better! But there's one thing sure: I'll 'ear no more of your
moonin', mullygrubbin' rot, and tyke it stryte.'
The captain took it with a blink and a gulp. Memory, with
phantom voices, repeated in his cars something similar, something
he had once said to Herrick--years ago it seemed.
'Now, gimme over your pistol,' said Huish. 'I 'ave to see all
clear. Six shots, and mind you don't wyste them.'
The captain, like a man in a nightmare, laid down his revolver
on the table, and Huish wiped the cartridges and oiled the
It was close on noon, there was no breath of wind, and the
heat was scarce bearable, when the two men came on deck, had
the boat manned, and passed down, one after another, into the
stern-sheets. A white shirt at the end of an oar served as a flag
of truce; and the men, by direction, and to give it the better
chance to be observed, pulled with extreme slowness. The isle
shook before them like a place incandescent; on the face of the
lagoon blinding copper suns, no bigger than sixpences, danced
and stabbed them in the eyeballs; there went up from sand and
sea, and even from the boat, a glare of scathing brightness; and
as they could only peer abroad from between closed lashes, the
excess of light seemed to be changed into a sinister darkness,
comparable to that of a thundercloud before it bursts.
The captain had come upon this errand for any one of a
dozen reasons, the last of which was desire for its success.
Superstition rules all men; semi-ignorant and gross natures, like
that of Davis, it rules utterly. For murder he had been prepared;
but this horror of the medicine in the bottle went beyond him,
and he seemed to himself to be parting the last strands that
united him to God. The boat carried him on to reprobation, to
damnation; and he suffered himself to be carried passively
consenting, silently bidding farewell to his better self and his
hopes. Huish sat by his side in towering spirits that were not
wholly genuine. Perhaps as brave a man as ever lived, brave as a
weasel, he must still reassure himself with the tones of his own
voice; he must play his part to exaggeration, he must out-Herod
Herod, insult all that was respectable, and brave all that was
formidable, in a kind of desperate wager with himself.
'Golly, but it's 'ot!' said he. 'Cruel 'ot, I call it. Nice d'y
to get your gruel in! I s'y, you know, it must feel awf'ly
peculiar to get bowled over on a d'y like this. I'd rather 'ave
it on a cowld and frosty morning, wouldn't you? (Singing) "'Ere
we go round the mulberry bush on a cowld and frosty mornin'."
(Spoken) Give you my word, I 'aven't thought o' that in ten
year; used to sing it at a hinfant school in 'Ackney, 'Ackney
Wick it was. (Singing) "This is the way the tyler does, the tyler
does.' (Spoken) Bloomin' 'umbug. 'Ow are you off now, for the
notion of a future styte? Do you cotton to the tea-fight views,
or the old red 'ot boguey business?'
'Oh, dry up!' said the captain.
'No, but I want to know,' said Huish. 'It's within the sp'ere
of practical politics for you and me, my boy; we may both be
bowled over, one up, t'other down, within the next ten minutes.
It would be rather a lark, now, if you only skipped across, came
up smilin' t'other side, and a hangel met you with a B. and S.
under his wing. 'Ullo, you'd s'y: come, I tyke this kind.'
The captain groaned. While Huish was thus airing and
exercising his bravado, the man at his side was actually engaged
in prayer. Prayer, what for? God knows. But out of his
inconsistent, illogical, and agitated spirit, a stream of
supplication was poured forth, inarticulate as himself, earnest
as death and judgment.
'Thou Gawd seest me!' continued Huish. 'I remember I had
that written in my Bible. I remember the Bible too, all about
Abinadab and parties. Well, Gawd!' apostrophising the meridian,
'you're goin' to see a rum start presently, I promise you
The captain bounded.
'I'll have no blasphemy!' he cried, 'no blasphemy in my boat.'
'All right, cap,' said Huish. 'Anythink to oblige. Any other
topic you would like to sudgest, the rynegyge, the lightnin' rod,
Shykespeare, or the musical glasses? 'Ere's conversation on a
tap. Put a penny in the slot, and . . . 'ullo! 'ere they are!' he
cried. 'Now or never is 'e goin' to shoot?'
And the little man straightened himself into an alert and
dashing attitude, and looked steadily at the enemy.
But the captain rose half up in the boat with eyes protruding.
'What's that?' he cried.
'Wot's wot?' said Huish.
'Those--blamed things,' said the captain.
And indeed it was something strange. Herrick and Attwater, both
armed with Winchesters, had appeared out of the grove
behind the figure-head; and to either hand of them, the sun
glistened upon two metallic objects, locomotory like men, and
occupying in the economy of these creatures the places of heads--
only the heads were faceless. To Davis between wind and water,
his mythology appeared to have come alive, and Tophet to be
vomiting demons. But Huish was not mystified a moment.
'Divers' 'elmets, you ninny. Can't you see?' he said.
'So they are,' said Davis, with a gasp. 'And why? Oh, I see,
it's for armour.'
'Wot did I tell you?' said Huish. 'Dyvid and Goliar all the w'y
The two natives (for they it was that were equipped in this
unusual panoply of war) spread out to right and left, and at last
lay down in the shade, on the extreme flank of the position.
Even now that the mystery was explained, Davis was hatefully
preoccupied, stared at the flame on their crests, and forgot, and
then remembered with a smile, the explanation.
Attwater withdrew again into the grove, and Herrick, with
his gun under his arm, came down the pier alone.
About half-way down he halted and hailed the boat.
'What do you want?' he cried.
'I'll tell that to Mr Attwater,' replied Huish, stepping briskly
on the ladder. 'I don't tell it to you, because you played the
trucklin' sneak. Here's a letter for him: tyke it, and give it,
and be 'anged to you!'
'Davis, is this all right?' said Herrick.
Davis raised his chin, glanced swiftly at Herrick and away
again, and held his peace. The glance was charged with some
deep emotion, but whether of hatred or of fear, it was beyond
Herrick to divine.
'Well,' he said, 'I'll give the letter.' He drew a score with his
foot on the boards of the gangway. 'Till I bring the answer,
don't move a step past this.'
And he returned to where Attwater leaned against a tree, and
gave him the letter. Attwater glanced it through.
'What does that mean?' he asked, passing it to Herrick.
'Oh, I suppose so!' said Herrick.
'Well, tell him to come on,' said Attwater. 'One isn't a fatalist
for nothing. Tell him to come on and to look out.'
Herrick returned to the figure-head. Half-way down the pier
the clerk was waiting, with Davis by his side.
'You are to come along, Huish,' said Herrick. 'He bids you
look out, no tricks.'
Huish walked briskly up the pier, and paused face to face
with the young man.
'W'ere is 'e?' said he, and to Herrick's surprise, the low-bred,
insignificant face before him flushed suddenly crimson and went
'Right forward,' said Herrick, pointing. 'Now your hands
above your head.'
The clerk turned away from him and towards the figure-head,
as though he were about to address to it his devotions; he was
seen to heave a deep breath; and raised his arms. In common
with many men of his unhappy physical endowments, Huish's
hands were disproportionately long and broad, and the palms
in particular enormous; a four-ounce jar was nothing in that
capacious fist. The next moment he was plodding steadily
forward on his mission.
Herrick at first followed. Then a noise in his rear startled him,
and he turned about to find Davis already advanced as far as
the figure-head. He came, crouching and open-mouthed, as the
mesmerised may follow the mesmeriser; all human considerations,
and even the care of his own life, swallowed up in one
abominable and burning curiosity.
'Halt!' cried Herrick, covering him with his rifle. 'Davis, what
are you doing, man? YOU are not to come.'
Davis instinctively paused, and regarded him with a dreadful
vacancy of eye.
'Put your back to that figure-head, do you hear me? and stand
fast!' said Herrick.
The captain fetched a breath, stepped back against the
figure-head, and instantly redirected his glances after Huish.
There was a hollow place of the sand in that part, and, as it
were, a glade among the cocoa palms in which the direct
noonday sun blazed intolerably. At the far end, in the shadow,
the tall figure of Attwater was to be seen leaning on a tree;
towards him, with his hands over his head, and his steps
smothered in the sand, the clerk painfully waded. The surrounding
glare threw out and exaggerated the man's smallness; it
seemed no less perilous an enterprise, this that he was gone
upon, than for a whelp to besiege a citadel.
'There, Mr Whish. That will do,' cried Attwater. 'From that
distance, and keeping your hands up, like a good boy, you can
very well put me in possession of the skipper's views.'
The interval betwixt them was perhaps forty feet; and Huish
measured it with his eye, and breathed a curse. He was already
distressed with labouring in the loose sand, and his arms ached
bitterly from their unnatural position. In the palm of his right
hand, the jar was ready; and his heart thrilled, and his voice
choked,as he began to speak.
'Mr Hattwater,' said he, 'I don't know if ever you 'ad a
mother . . .'
'I can set your mind at rest: I had,' returned Attwater; 'and
henceforth, if I might venture to suggest it, her name need not
recur in our communications. I should perhaps tell you that I
am not amenable to the pathetic.'
'I am sorry, sir, if I 'ave seemed to tresparse on your private
feelin's,' said the clerk, cringing and stealing a step. 'At
least, sir, you will never pe'suade me that you are not a perfec'
gentleman; I know a gentleman when I see him; and as such, I
'ave no 'esitation in throwin' myself on your merciful
consideration. It IS 'ard lines, no doubt; it's 'ard lines to
have to hown yourself beat; it's 'ard lines to 'ave to come and
beg to you for charity.'
'When, if things had only gone right, the whole place was as
good as your own?' suggested Attwater. 'I can understand the
'You are judging me, Mr Attwater,' said the clerk, 'and God
knows how unjustly! THOU GAWD SEEST ME, was the tex' I 'ad in
my Bible, w'ich my father wrote it in with 'is own 'and upon the
'I am sorry I have to beg your pardon once more,' said
Attwater; 'but, do you know, you seem to me to be a trifle
nearer, which is entirely outside of our bargain. And I would
venture to suggest that you take one--two--three--steps back;
and stay there.'
The devil, at this staggering disappointment, looked out of
Huish's face, and Attwater was swift to suspect. He frowned, he
stared on the little man, and considered. Why should he be
creeping nearer? The next moment, his gun was at his shoulder.
'Kindly oblige me by opening your hands. Open your hands
wide--let me see the fingers spread, you dog--throw down that
thing you're holding!' he roared, his rage and certitude
And then, at almost the same moment, the indomitable Huish
decided to throw, and Attwater pulled the trigger. There was
scarce the difference of a second between the two resolves, but
it was in favour of the man with the rifle; and the jar had not
yet left the clerk's hand, before the ball shattered both. For
the twinkling of an eye the wretch was in hell's agonies, bathed
in liquid flames, a screaming bedlamite; and then a second and
more merciful bullet stretched him dead.
The whole thing was come and gone in a breath. Before
Herrick could turn about, before Davis could complete his cry
of horror, the clerk lay in the sand, sprawling and convulsed.
Attwater ran to the body; he stooped and viewed it; he put
his finger in the vitriol, and his face whitened and hardened
Davis had not yet moved; he stood astonished, with his back
to the figure-head, his hands clutching it behind him, his body
inclined forward from the waist.
Attwater turned deliberately and covered him with his rifle.
'Davis,' he cried, in a voice like a trumpet, 'I give you sixty
seconds to make your peace with God!'
Davis looked, and his mind awoke. He did not dream of
self-defence, he did not reach for his pistol. He drew himself up
instead to face death, with a quivering nostril.
'I guess I'll not trouble the Old Man,' he said; 'considering the
job I was on, I guess it's better business to just shut my face.'
Attwater fired; there came a spasmodic movement of the
victim, and immediately above the middle of his forehead, a
black hole marred the whiteness of the figure-head. A dreadful
pause; then again the report, and the solid sound and jar of the
bullet in the wood; and this time the captain had felt the wind
of it along his cheek. A third shot, and he was bleeding from
one ear; and along the levelled rifle Attwater smiled like a Red
The cruel game of which he was the puppet was now clear to
Davis; three times he had drunk of death, and he must look to
drink of it seven times more before he was despatched. He held
up his hand.
'Steady!' he cried; 'I'll take your sixty seconds.'
'Good!' said Attwater.
The captain shut his eyes tight like a child: he held his hands
up at last with a tragic and ridiculous gesture.
'My God, for Christ's sake, look after my two kids,' he said;
and then, after a pause and a falter, 'for Christ's sake, Amen.'
And he opened his eyes and looked down the rifle with a
'But don't keep fooling me long!' he pleaded.
'That's all your prayer?' asked Attwater, with a singular ring
in his voice.
'Guess so,' said Davis.
So?' said Attwater, resting the butt of his rifle on the ground,
'is that done? Is your peace made with Heaven? Because it is
with me. Go, and sin no more, sinful father. And remember that
whatever you do to others, God shall visit it again a thousand-
fold upon your innocents.'
The wretched Davis came staggering forward from his place
against the figure-head, fell upon his knees, and waved his
hands, and fainted.
When he came to himself again, his head was on Attwater's
arm, and close by stood one of the men in divers' helmets,
holding a bucket of water, from which his late executioner now
laved his face. The memory of that dreadful passage returned
upon him in a clap; again he saw Huish lying dead, again he
seemed to himself to totter on the brink of an unplumbed
eternity. With trembling hands he seized hold of the man whom
he had come to slay; and his voice broke from him like that of a
child among the nightmares of fever: 'O! isn't there no mercy?
O! what must I do to be saved?'
'Ah!' thought Attwater, 'here's the true penitent.'