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|South Sea Tales||Jack London|
The Seed Of McCoy
|Page 2 of 21||
"Who in hell are you?" he demanded.
"I am the chief magistrate," was the reply in a voice that was still the softest and gentlest imaginable.
The tall, heavy-shouldered man broke out in a harsh laugh that was partly amusement, but mostly hysterical. Both he and the captain regarded McCoy with incredulity and amazement. That this barefooted beachcomber should possess such high-sounding dignity was inconceivable. His cotton shirt, unbuttoned, exposed a grizzled chest and the fact that there was no undershirt beneath.
A worn straw hat failed to hide the ragged gray hair. Halfway down his chest descended an untrimmed patriarchal beard. In any slop shop, two shillings would have outfitted him complete as he stood before them.
"Any relation to the McCoy of the Bounty?" the captain asked.
"He was my great-grandfather."
"Oh," the captain said, then bethought himself. 'my name is Davenport, and this is my first mate, Mr. Konig."
They shook hands.
"And now to business." The captain spoke quickly, the urgency of a great haste pressing his speech. "We've been on fire for over two weeks. She's ready to break all hell loose any moment. That's why I held for Pitcairn. I want to beach her, or scuttle her, and save the hull."
"Then you made a mistake, Captain, said McCoy. "You should have slacked away for Mangareva. There's a beautiful beach there, in a lagoon where the water is like a mill pond."
"But we're here, ain't we?" the first mate demanded. "That's the point. We're here, and we've got to do something."
McCoy shook his head kindly.
"You can do nothing here. There is no beach. There isn't even anchorage."
"Gammon!" said the mate. "Gammon!" he repeated loudly, as the captain signaled him to be more soft spoken. "You can't tell me that sort of stuff. Where d'ye keep your own boats, hey--your schooner, or cutter, or whatever you have? Hey? Answer me that."
McCoy smiled as gently as he spoke. His smile was a caress, an embrace that surrounded the tired mate and sought to draw him into the quietude and rest of McCoy's tranquil soul.
"We have no schooner or cutter," he replied. "And we carry our canoes to the top of the cliff."
"You've got to show me," snorted the mate. "How d'ye get around to the other islands, heh? Tell me that."
"We don't get around. As governor of Pitcairn, I sometimes go. When I was younger, I was away a great deal--sometimes on the trading schooners, but mostly on the missionary brig. But she's gone now, and we depend on passing vessels. Sometimes we have had as high as six calls in one year. At other times, a year, and even longer, has gone by without one passing ship. Yours is the first in seven months."
"And you mean to tell me--" the mate began.
But Captain Davenport interfered.
"Enough of this. We're losing time. What is to be done, Mr. McCoy?"
The old man turned his brown eyes, sweet as a woman's, shoreward, and both captain and mate followed his gaze around from the lonely rock of Pitcairn to the crew clustering forward and waiting anxiously for the announcement of a decision. 'mcCoy did not hurry. He thought smoothly and slowly, step by step, with the certitude of a mind that was never vexed or outraged by life.
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