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|South Sea Tales||Jack London|
The Terrible Solomons
|Page 4 of 10||
"Quite common, them accidents," remarked the skipper. "You see that man at the wheel, Mr. Arkwright? He's a man eater. Six months ago, he and the rest of the boat's crew drowned the then captain of the ARLA. They did it on deck, sir, right aft there by the mizzen-traveler."
"The deck was in a shocking state," said the mate.
"Do I understand--?" Bertie began.
"Yes, just that," said Captain Hansen. "It was an accidental drowning."
"But on deck--?"
"Just so. I don't mind telling you, in confidence, of course, that they used an axe."
"This present crew of yours?"
Captain Hansen nodded.
"The other skipper always was too careless," explained the mate. He but just turned his back, when they let him have it."
"We haven't any show down here," was the skipper's complaint. "The government protects a nigger against a white every time. You can't shoot first. You've got to give the nigger first shot, or else the government calls it murder and you go to Fiji. That's why there's so many drowning accidents."
Dinner was called, and Bertie and the skipper went below, leaving the mate to watch on deck.
"Keep an eye out for that black devil, Auiki," was the skipper's parting caution. "I haven't liked his looks for several days."
"Right O," said the mate.
Dinner was part way along, and the skipper was in the middle of his story of the cutting out of the Scottish Chiefs.
"Yes," he was saying, "she was the finest vessel on the coast. But when she missed stays, and before ever she hit the reef, the canoes started for her. There were five white men, a crew of twenty Santa Cruz boys and Samoans, and only the supercargo escaped. Besides, there were sixty recruits. They were all kai-kai'd. Kai-kai?--oh, I beg your pardon. I mean they were eaten. Then there was the James Edwards, a dandy-rigged--"
But at that moment there was a sharp oath from the mate on deck and a chorus of savage cries. A revolver went off three times, and then was heard a loud splash. Captain Hansen had sprung up the companionway on the instant, and Bertie's eyes had been fascinated by a glimpse of him drawing his revolver as he sprang.
Bertie went up more circumspectly, hesitating before he put his head above the companionway slide. But nothing happened. The mate was shaking with excitement, his revolver in his hand. Once he startled, and half-jumped around, as if danger threatened his back.
"One of the natives fell overboard," he was saying, in a queer tense voice. "He couldn't swim."
"Who was it?" the skipper demanded.
"Auiki," was the answer.
"But I say, you know, I heard shots," Bertie said, in trembling eagerness, for he scented adventure, and adventure that was happily over with.
The mate whirled upon him, snarling:
"It"s a damned lie. There ain't been a shot fired. The nigger fell overboard."
Captain Hansen regarded Bertie with unblinking, lack-luster eyes.
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