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Chapter 12

TAIL-PIECE

On a very bright, hot, lusty, strongly blowing noon, a fortnight
after the events recorded, and a month since the curtain rose
upon this episode, a man might have been spied, praying on the
sand by the lagoon beach. A point of palm trees isolated him
from the settlement; and from the place where he knelt, the only
work of man's hand that interrupted the expanse, was the
schooner Farallone, her berth quite changed, and rocking at
anchor some two miles to windward in the midst of the lagoon.
The noise of the Trade ran very boisterous in all parts of the
island; the nearer palm trees crashed and whistled in the gusts,
those farther off contributed a humming bass like the roar of
cities; and yet, to any man less absorbed, there must have risen
at times over this turmoil of the winds, the sharper note of the
human voice from the settlement. There all was activity.
Attwater, stripped to his trousers and lending a strong hand of
help, was directing and encouraging five Kanakas; from his
lively voice, and their more lively efforts, it was to be
gathered that some sudden and joyful emergency had set them in
this bustle; and the Union Jack floated once more on its staff.
But the suppliant on the beach, unconscious of their voices,
prayed on with instancy and fervour, and the sound of his voice
rose and fell again, and his countenance brightened and was
deformed with changing moods of piety and terror.

Before his closed eyes, the skiff had been for some time tacking
towards the distant and deserted Farallone; and presently the
figure of Herrick might have been observed to board
her, to pass for a while into the house, thence forward to the
forecastle, and at last to plunge into the main hatch. In all
these quarters, his visit was followed by a coil of smoke; and he
had scarce entered his boat again and shoved off, before flames
broke forth upon the schooner. They burned gaily; kerosene
had not been spared, and the bellows of the Trade incited the
conflagration. About half way on the return voyage, when
Herrick looked back, he beheld the Farallone wrapped to the
topmasts in leaping arms of fire, and the voluminous smoke
pursuing him along the face of the lagoon. In one hour's time,
he computed, the waters would have closed over the stolen ship.

It so chanced that, as his boat flew before the wind with much
vivacity, and his eyes were continually busy in the wake,
measuring the progress of the flames, he found himself embayed
to the northward of the point of palms, and here became aware
at the same time of the figure of Davis immersed in his devotion.
An exclamation, part of annoyance, part of amusement, broke
from him: and he touched the helm and ran the prow upon the
beach not twenty feet from the unconscious devotee. Taking the
painter in his hand, he landed, and drew near, and stood over
him. And still the voluble and incoherent stream of prayer
continued unabated. It was not possible for him to overhear the
suppliant's petitions, which he listened to some while in a very
mingled mood of humour and pity: and it was only when his
own name began to occur and to be conjoined with epithets,
that he at last laid his hand on the captain's shoulder.

'Sorry to interrupt the exercise,' said he; 'but I want you to
look at the Farallone.'

The captain scrambled to his feet, and stood gasping and
staring. 'Mr Herrick, don't startle a man like that!' he said. 'I
don't seem someways rightly myself since . . .' he broke off.
'What did you say anyway? O, the Farallone,' and he looked
languidly out.

'Yes,' said Herrick. 'There she burns! and you may guess from
that what the news is.'

'The Trinity Hall, I guess,' said the captain.

'The same,' said Herrick; 'sighted half an hour ago, and
coming up hand over fist.'

'Well, it don't amount to a hill of beans,' said the captain
with a sigh.

'O, come, that's rank ingratitude!' cried Herrick.

'Well,' replied the captain, meditatively, 'you mayn't just see
the way that I view it in, but I'd 'most rather stay here upon
this island. I found peace here, peace in believing. Yes, I guess
this island is about good enough for John Davis.'

'I never heard such nonsense!' cried Herrick. 'What! with all
turning out in your favour the way it does, the Farallone wiped
out, the crew disposed of, a sure thing for your wife and family,
and you, yourself, Attwater's spoiled darling and pet penitent!'

'Now, Mr Herrick, don't say that,' said the captain gently;
'when you know he don't make no difference between us. But,
O! why not be one of us? why not come to Jesus right away,
and let's meet in yon beautiful land? That's just the one thing
wanted; just say, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief! And
He'll fold you in His arms. You see, I know! I've been a sinner
myself!'

Robert Louis Stevenson

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