THE DIAMOND HUNTERS
HENRY P. HOLT
THE fates so ordained it that Captain Zebedee Knott paused long enough to light his pipe, thereby materially altering the entire finish of his career. For he had to strike two matches, and that delay just enabled him to catch
sight of a large and battered pith helmet,
under the shade of which he noticed a familiar face. The recognition was mutual and instantaneous.
S' “It’s Bob Herrick, or I’m a Chinaman!” exclaimed the shipmaster, proffering a huge paw, which engulfed that of Herrick. “But what, in the name of the South Seas, are you doing here?”
Herrick smiled angelically, as was the way of the man, even if the earth seemed
about to open up and swallow everything. “Got to have a peek at civilization once in a while, you know,” he declared in his lazy Southern manner.
“I see,” Zebedee returned, with a comprehensive glance at the other’s attire. Bob Herrick’s shoes were a disgrace. His trousers were developing a fringe around the bottoms, and at the knee there was a rent which had been sewn up carefully but noticeably. His coat, of white cotton, had descended very low in the social scale. Also Herrick .looked hungry. “I’ve got an hour to spare,” Zebedee added, “and I’m just going to have something to eat. Care to join me?”
Herrick hesitated for a fraction of a second, but the gnawing within was too much; and ten minutes later he was plying knife and fork busily, in silence. Zebedee had been as hungry as that himself on occasions, so he hardly spoke until the coffee came and Herrick was beginning to look at the world more cheerfully.
“You were going to settle down as a trader in Manila, last time I saw you, Bob,” said Zebedee at length. “What came of it?” They had been partners once, and the shipmaster knew Herrick to be as square a man as ever trod in shoe leather.
Herrick shrugged his shoulders. IP'T*
“Wish now, in a way, that I’d done it,” he said. “I’ve been poking my nose among those islands in the South Seas long enough and”—he paused with an odd touch of something akin to shyness—“and, well, I want to settle down nowr. I’m close on forty; and, and, say, Zeb, do you remember that girl I met at Culvert’s Hotel in Manila?” “Why, of course. She’s the daughter of Cap’n Augell, of the Para Maid.”
“Huh! Thought maybe you’d forget her. That’s four years ago. She’s —er—if I could only get settled down there’s romance in store for me, yet.”
“Why, you were crazy about that girl at the time,” said the master-mariner, with a sympathetic smile. “But didn’t it get kinda broken off?”
“Yes, when her father’s ship sailed. She gave me her address in New Jersey, but the paper got burnt up a few days later in the fire at Culvert’s Hotel. It seemed like Providence looking after her, because, you know, Zeb, especially in those days, I wasn’t what you might call an ideal husband for any girl. I’ve always been a bit unsettled.”
Zebedee snorted mildly.
“A wife would have settled you,” he declared.
Amusement came into Bob Herrick’s eyes.
“A wife, plus eight children, don’t seem to have anchored you down.”
'T'HE older man puffed with unnecessary force at his cigar.
“God knows it isn’t because I didn’t want to settle ashore,” he said firmly. “I’ve had to go and batter around on the ocean looking for the price of kids’ shoe-leather and twenty-seven square meals a day, to say nothing of my own grub. And I can’t drop my anchor ashore yet, though
I hope to some day soon. But, say, where did you run up against Dorothy Augell again?”
“Didn’t exactly. The Para Maid put into Singapore, so I went on board,
and Cap’n Augell gave me the glad hand. He didn’t say so, but I sort of gathered, after I’d told him about the fire and losing Dorothy’s address, that if things had gone on right at first we’d have had the paternal blessing, and all that sort of thing. So I wrote to Dorothy from Singapore, and well the fact is, if only I can win through now, it s a cottage by the sea for mine, the finest girl between Seattle and Hoboken, and if, after that, I go further from home than the length of a ship’s cable, it’ll only be because I’m carried.”
“But—but,” Zeb began, hesitatingly, “from appearances you’re not any way near Easy Street yet. Did you come home to see the girl?”
Herrick shook his head.
“She doesn’t even know I’m in America,” he said, with a rueful glance at his own attire. “Hang it, a fellow can’t Play the lover looking like a scarecrow. I wrote giving her an idea what I was out for, though. It’s going to be kill or cure, Zeb. It may be kill, but I’m willing to take a chance on that. Did you ever go ashore at Wallater in the Solomons?”
“Why, no. Don’t know that I’d want to, either. It’s too pesky unhealthy, for white men. Isn’t that the island where the natives chopped up a Dutch exploration party a year or so ago, and made stew of ’em?”
That s the spot. A chap called Debrett was in charge of the expedition, but they were all doomed the minute they set foot ashore. Debrett knew no more of the habits and peculiarities of the Wallater folk than a cat does. He was an Amsterdam merchant, out for a vacation mingled with excitement and profit; and all he got was the excitement, such as it was, while it lasted.”
“What were they after? Silver deposits?”
Herrick closed one eye significantly.
“Nominally, yes: actually, no,” he replied. “There was a man named Hekkoma in the party, and I doubt whether he wasn t the mainspring of the whole show. Carl Hekkoma
world over in his own particular line. They always used to swear he could smell diamonds a hundred miles off; and Carl Hekkoma didn’t go into the interior of Wallater for anything but diamonds. He used to think in terms of diamonds, breathe diamonds; he lived for diamonds, and he died for diamonds, sure enough. If he’d come across silver deposits there they wouldn’t have interested him personally, any more than if he’d been an orchid hunter and found a brand new kind of three-eared pink monkey
“Well, as you know, the hill tribes and the tribes near the ocean are eternal enemies of one another, so that any white man who wants to go into the interior is up against a terrific proposition, because he has
to contend with both the hill folks and the other fellows. But what you don’t know is, that I was ashore at Wallater eight months ago.”
OAPTAIN ZEBEDEE KNOTT nodded. Nothing that ^ Bob Herrick might have done in the South Pacific could surprise him.
“Come to think of it, you’d been there before, hadn’t you?” he asked, watching a wreath of cigar smoke.
“Yes, five years ago. I was supercargo on a schooner this time, and we were trading the usual junk. It so happened I was the only man on board who knew any of their lingo at Wallater, and I had a pow-wow with King Kaleta. He’s a suspicious old brute, as artful as a wagon load of monkeys. However, I was dead set on learning what he knew about Hekkoma’s expedition. When the Dutch Government sent a punitive party in a warship to blow bits off the island, he convinced ’em that he was as innocent as an unhatched chicken. He swore he’d given a royal escort to the explorers as far as the borders of his domains, and, of course, he couldn’t be held responsible for what happened after Hekkoma passed into the interior.
“I started to pump King Kaleta about it all, but he was foxy, so I got foxy, too. I told him a great army of white men were coming to find gold on Wallater, as we had heard that Hekkoma had discovered gold there. Of • course Kaleta knows well what gold is. There’s some gold on the island. The natives used to make ear-rings and nose ornaments out of it, and the traders gathered those in years ago. They thought they’d found a Klondyke, but it’s rather scarce now. The niggers try hard enough to find gold, but I think they only run across an occasional small nugget.
“Well, when I told King Kaleta that, I had a reason for it. Though he doesn’t mind us going there and selling gin and knives and things, he’s dead scared of losing his darned little kingdom through an invasion of white men. And my idea worked all right, too. He swore by the loins of his father that it wasn’t true Hekkoma had found gold. There was hardly any gold in his kingdom, he said, save the little pieces which his people found in the bed of streams occasionally. He confided in me that he had, indeed, suspected it was gold Hekkoma was after, and therefore lie wasn’t truly sorry the hill men had killed the party. But—and here’s the pith of the whole story— he said all Hekkoma got was some little white stones, not half as big as your eye.”
Zebedee bit off the end of a fresh cigar and grunted.
“Then this man Hekkoma was on the right track, evidently,” he commented.
“Sure he was. He always was. But, Zeb, diamonds half as big as your eye! Doesn’t that make you squirm?”
“Why no,” replied the master mariner slowly. “For one thing, they might have been a darn sight less than half as big as your eye, and for another, well, them hill folk aint what you might call hospitable. Is t his what you’re going after for kill or cure? Because if so. I’d like to take
out a little insurance policy on you. It’d be an investment.”
Herrick sat. back moodily, staring vacantly at the ceiling.
“Gosh!” he exclaimed feelingly, a few moments later. “Folks are queer. Tell ’em you want a million dollars capital to run the most harebrained scheme ever thought of, right here in Montreal, and it’s all America to a dough-nut, you’ll be smothered with it. Tell ’em of something genuine, with a ten thousand per cent, dividend attached to it, and if the place doesn’t happen to be right under their noses, you’ve to chloroform ’em to extract a dime.”
“Don’t you believe it,” retorted Zeb. “The trouble with you is that you didn’t have enough bait of the right kind— a clean collar, and a wad of bills and so on. And p’raps I’m not sorry.
They don’t know you as I do, Bob. Want me to come in on this?”
Herrick stared. He had hardly hoped for such a thing.
“I—why—I’d be tickled to death!” he said. “I’ve tramped all over the city trying to get someone interested, but they take me for a lunatic or a crook. As a matter of fact, I’d got pretty near the end of my rope. This trip would cost money,
Zeb. You’ve got the old schooner yet?”
“The Golden Hope is tied up in Halifax, and^l’m sailing round Cape Horn for Batavia in three days,” replied the skipper.
“I could increase the mortgage on her by another couple of thousand dollars, if necessary. The schoonèr is all I’ve got, mind, and if ever I lose her I’ll have to die in my boots, working for someone else, instead of settling down ashore as I’d hoped for. Best thing you can do, anyway, is to come along. I can ship you as mate. But, first of all, what kind of a plan have you got? You can’t just walk ashore at Wallater, fill up a bag of diamonds, and stroll off again.”
“I haven’t exactly got any plans worked out, Zeb,” replied Herrick. “Of course the first thing is to get on the right side of King Kaleta, and then beat it for the hill. I’m not going to try to fool you by saying the diamonds are hanging there like ripe bananas waiting to be picked. It means taking a chance, both with money and with life. I’m not asking you to risk your head: I’ll do that part of the business. But if you’ll land me at Wallater, and give me your mental, moral and financial assistance, I’ll go fifty-fifty with the proceeds, if there are any.”
“You come with me to-night,” said the master mariner. “It seems to me that there’s a good deal we need to talk over. Maybe it won’t come to anything, but—well, you and I know that there’s pickings to be had in the South Seas yet, if you go about it right. And the price of a few diamonds would come in handy to me, Bob. Yes, very handy.”
'TAHE Golden Hope lay tugging at her anchor off a low -*■ and forbidding shore. She had already called at Rio and Valparaiso, scudded before the trade wind to the other side of the Pacific, and discharged her obligations at Batavia. At the present moment Captain Zebedee Knott was sandwiching in a little matter of business at Wallater. Or rather, he hoped to. The royal canoe had already come off, ascertained that the schooner’s visit was a purely friendly one, and returned to report to his majesty, who, though portly, black as the ace of spades, and utterly unversed in the arts of higher diplomacy, was, in his way, a diplomat. So was Herrick. For that reason the royal ambassadors bore back with them a large and exceedingly malodorous cheese (the greater portion of which, by the way, his majesty forced upon his wives until he was certain no joker was contained therein) as tangible evidence of the visitor’s amiable intentions. And a little later Herrick, accompanied by Zebedee Knott, went ashore in person, they taking with them a second instalment of the presents intended for King Kaleta, including a large looking-glass, a case of canned pork and beans, and a quantity of liquid refreshment in bottles.
When they arrived at the royal shack, his majesty’s mouth was watering, for his wives still lived though they ate the cheese under his very eyes. He glanced at Zebedee and then fastened his gaze upon Herrick, whom he recog-
“Oh, Kaleta, I have again come over the sea,” Herrick explained haltingly, in the native tongue, “this time to bring yo* many presents. And," he added hastily, perceiving the dawn of suspicion on the monarch’s face, “I
ask nothing in return.
None of the little lumps of yellow metal, no copra, no mahogany. I am commanded to come here by the king who sent a warship to visit you a season ago, after the hill-men killed the white men.”
Kaleta temporarily forgot the cheese, and looked uncomfortable. To him all relations with foreign powers were disturbing and undesirable. He waved his arm, however, indicating his willingness to hear the rest.
“The white king,” Herrick went on, “desires me to tell you that he wished he could reign with the wisdom and power that you do, and I am to take back nothing but a few stones from the hill where his warriors perished, so that he may place them in his own hut and weep over them.”
KALETA grunted and nodded. After all, it was a tribute to the greatness of Wallater, and there was a hint of more presents in Herrick’s speech. King Kaleta was eminently practical.
“Show me the other presents,” he said shrewdly.
“Oh, Kaleta, those we could not carry are still on the ship. There are many more bottles of happy-water, and little knives, and a great knife with teeth which eats a tree down quickly, and cases of food from the white king’s own hut. Some of these you shall have now, but the rest I will hand over when I have been to the hill and got the stones for my king to weep over. Then, but not until then, I will give you this gun, which is the most wonderful kind of weapon in the world.”
Herrick showed him a neat little .22 repeater with which a skilled sniper could make a rabbit sit up and take notice at two hundred yards. The lid of the pork and bean case was set up as a target, and Herrick put a dozen shots through it without re-loading, whereupon Kaleta was ready to promise anything up to half his kingdom in exchange for the thing. He held out his hand hopefully, but Herrick shook his head.
“Not so fast, you old son-of-a-gun,” he said; and then, in the native tongue, explained that to earn the repeater his majesty had to provide a safe escort for him to the interior. To this Kaleta readily agreed, and arrangements were made to start next day.
SHEER luck was in their favor. Two days later with the new moon, the males among the hill-folk were due to assemble at the far side of the island for a great festival, so that the approach to the hill would be less hazardous than usual. Kaleta’s warriors would form an escort as far as the boundary of the hilldwellers’ territory, but they could go no further.
As they returned to the
Golden Hope, Herrick explained the situation to his companion.
“It looks good,” he said. “I’ll have about three clear days to poke about in the bed of that stream, and that’s giving us a run for our money, anyway. I want you to hang around in the schooner for eight days. I ought to be back by that time. If I’m not, you beat it to Canada and forget about me, because I won’t be eligible to vote any more.”
“By gravy!” Zeb exclaimed. “Trying to hog the game, Bob? Think a run ashore won’t do me just as much good as it will you? By cripes, sir! we’ll make it a party of
“Don’t be a doggone crazy idiot, Zeb,” the other protested. “It isn’t going to be ice-cream and feather beds, you know! We don’t both have to get killed.”
“We’ll both go, or I’ll have the anchor up in three minutes,” the skipper protested. And Herrick reluctantly agreed.
DEARLY the following morning the expedition started.
A round score of Kaleta’s picked fighting men formed the escort, under a kinky-haired leader, named Toilak, whom the king had promised to torture with exceeding care and ingenuity if anything happened to the two white men while they were under his wing. Not that his majesty cared a jot how Herrick and Zebedee Knott fared, excepting that his chance of drawing more pork and beans, and that natty little gun, depended solely upon the white men’s safe return.
At dawn, twenty-four hours later, the escort halted at a bend of the stream, the course of which Toilak declared they must follow alone, and it would lead them to the hill. Herrick and his partner were each armed with revolvers, but before going on Herrick borrowed from Toilak a spear with a hardwood shaft and a head of beaten metal.
“You take one, too, Zeb,” he urged.
Zeb looked at the thing scornfully and shook his head.
“I’m a man of peace,” he declared, “and if we run out of ammunition I’ll use the butt end of my gun rather than poke any man in the stomach with a heathen tooth-pick o’ that sort.”
It took them until nightfall to reach their destination. The lower reaches of the stream were choked with weeds, which made it difficult to search for what they wej-e after, but the bed of the stream was clearer on the hill.
“That accounts for Hekkoma and his friends coming up here,” said Herrick as they prepared to camp for the night. “To-morrow, if our luck’s in, we may strike oil.”
But the morrow brought obstacles. Soon after dawn they barely had time to squat in the bushes before a band of the hill-folk, consisting of old men, women and children, came into view. The natives were in no hurry, and their presence held Herrick and his companion prisoners for hours, for if once the alarm were raised, any number of the hill tribesmen might be hastily summoned; in which case the second mate, now kicking his heels on the Golden Hope, would probably have the pleasure of navigating that craft back home alone. It was high noon before Herrick considered it safe to do a little exploring, and even then, while he waded into the stream, he found it necessary to post Zebedee in a nook, to keep guard.
Zeb .waited with such patience as he could command, ears and eyes straining for the slightest sound of the enemy until, toward evening, there suddenly appeared, close by his side, the most astonished gentleman in the entire Solomon Islands. He stared blankly at Zeb, as one might upon encountering a specimen of Neolithic manhood on the board-walk at Atlantic City. Zeb guessed the creature’s age to be something— anything — between fifty and a hundred and fifty. They were not ten yards apart. The first instinct of the sailor was to fell the black with the heavy end of his revolver, and, urgently necessary though this performance was, he hesitated just about as long as a rattlesnake takes to strike twice, the hesitation being due to the fact that one doesn’t, in the ordinary way of business, bludgeon an inoffensive old man every day of one’s life. And during that fraction of a minute the bewrinkled old native, re-
covering his senses with a jerk, bounded away with the agility of an antelope, very evidently intent on making his first stop at the war-department of Wallater.
Zeb realized that in a short while munition shares were in for a sensational rise at Wallater. Throwing discretion to the four winds of heaven, he rushed up the bank of the stream to Herrick, and before the bounding centenarian had time to get his second wink two active American citizens were taking violent exercise, with a full day’s journey ahead of them before they could hope to reach King Kaleta’s warriors; with a full-sized, man-eating war in the making, on their account, behind them; and with a very tolerable prospect of never reaching Kaleta’s territory at all.
Zeb, making good time, and with an ample margin of wind, calculated that if they kept up the same pace, they should reach the bend of the stream by midnight. His brain was working fast, and he was madder than a wet hen. Suddenly he called a halt.
“Say, Bob,” he demanded, “wasn’t that the right place we’d got to?”
“Yes, I believe it must have been. If Kaleta wasn’t lying, I’ll bet I’d have found diamonds there if only I could have been left in peace a while. The soil looks to me—”
“Well,” the skipper interrupted testily, “don’t it seem to you we’re in an almighty hurry to get away? We won’t be able to come back to-morrow, nor next month, nor—”
“Listen!” Herrick protested; and the distant beat of tom-toms came faintly over the still air. “I’ll go back if you say so, but it sounds to me as though the fun had started. And don’t forget, we’re to provide the chief part of the amusement if they can cut us off.”
A T that instant a bolo came hurtling through the air and missed the mariner by inches only. He spun around, and fired into the trees with his revolver.
“As I say,” Herrick went on, “I’ll go back if you say
“Beat it!” snapped Zebedee. “We can’t fight the whole danged population!”
Every five minutes Zebedee swore, either at the way their expedition had turned out, at undergrowth which tore his clothing, or at vines which tripped him up. He was clearly arriving, by rapid stages, at the frame of mind when he would want to stop and take on all comers so long as the ammunition lasted, and then, if necessary, die. Büt as death would have been the one certain event n the programme, Herrick coaxed him; and even threatened to leave the skipper to fight it out alone, until, at about
one o’clock in the morning, they arrived at the bend in the river and found Kaleta’s warriors awaiting them in a condition bordering on panic. For the sound of the tom-toms had spread everywhere now. At each hut in the interior of the island, the oldest male was pounding away at the drum of war as if his very life depended on it.
Toilak pushed on back to their starting point, where Zeb and Herrick arrived in a state of utter weariness, with both nerves and temper worn extremely thin at the edges.
“Come on, straight to the boat,” Zebedee urged as they approached the coast, “and let’s get away. I’ve had enough of this place, and every hour yon schooner’s lying idle she’s costing me—”
“Go easy,” cautioned Herrick, as a solid phalanx of Kaleta’s warriors suddenly came into view, blocking the path. “Now, Zeb, don’t be an idiot! If you fire on ’em you’ll be murdered in three minutes. The king evidently hasn’t finished with us yet. Keep your temper while I find out what this is all about.”
A little later, Zebedee Knott was led, fuming and protesting, to the presence of the king. Herrick took it more calmly, determined to keep his head, in more senses than one, at all costs.
“Take your hand away from your gun, Zeb. The fat’s in the fire, and we’ve got to use our beans here,” he protested. “Oh, Kaleta,” Herrick went on, addressing the king, “what means this?”
Kaleta’s eyes narrowed, and he rubbed his fingers through his grizzled beard.
“Did you find any of the yellow metal for which the white man craves ?” he asked, none too graciously.
“We found nothing,” replied Herrick. “The hill-men found us, though, and we barely escaped with our lives.”
“What of the stones that you went to fetch?” asked Kaleta, blandly.
“We did not bring them. There was no time.”
Kaleta again fingered his scrubby beard.
“The white men who died in there a season ago came for the yellow metal,” he said at last, judicially, “but they tried to bring away the little stones off the hill, instead.”
“We have nothing,” Herrick replied. Then he added, to Zeb: “The old gink’s suspicious that diamonds are valuable and he’s afraid we’ve brought some away. Don’t roar! If we act sanely, we’ll get out of this yet. Just bite your tongue and hold your horses. See, they’re not going to take anybody’s word for it: we’re going to be searched.”
“They’re not going to search me!” bellowed Zeb.
“All right, then good-bye, old son! You’ll kill a few of
’em, but they’re like flies. If you’ll only sit tight for about five minutes, we’ll probably be released. You’re within a hair’s-breadth of being sliced up at this second.”
^EBEDEE drew a deep breath and glared while he and ^ his friend were half stripped and every inch of their clothing was examined minutely. Zebedee’s language, as he was putting on his shoes again, was a revelation to the only man present who could understand deep-sea sailor talk. On being convinced, at last, that they had spoken the truth, Kaleta rubbed his hands with evident satisfac ion.
“Your king sent more presents to me. You will remain here while the other man fetches them,” he said to Herrick This was interpreted to Zebedee, who would cheerfully have consigned the entire crowd to perdition and made a dash for it, but Herrick prevailed on him to go off to the schooner and land the promised gifts.
“And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget the gun,” Herrick called after him. “I’ll never get out of hock till it arrives!” Zebedee returned from the schooner in less than half an hour. The indignity of being searched still rankled, but now that he was recovering his temper, he realized that this was only an astute move, on Kaleta’s part, to make sure that they fulfilled their bargain. And, after all, the king had done all that he promised, so his bill was a just one.
Kaleta chuckled when he saw the cases, the tops of which Herrick ripped off, to show there was no deception. There remained only the gun to hand over.
“The white king told me that when I gave you this I was to take back a spear so that he could see what manner of weapon your warriors wage war with,” Herrick said.
Kaleta grinned and held out his hand for the gun, bui before Herrick passed it over he possessed himself of the spear he had taken from Toilak, back on the river. After which the white men were allowed to depart in peace.
“Well,” said Zeb, after the schooner’s anchor had been raised and the Golden Hope's nose was once more turned eastward, “we had rotten luck, that’s all. It might have been worse. We had a run for our money, so I’ve got no kick coming. My temper’s too all-fired quick for me to monkey around with them islanders, though.”
“I was afraid of that, so I didn’t tell you everything," replied Herrick, with one of his angelic smiles as he tapped at Toilak’s spear until the head came off. “You know, Zeb, these island niggers are getting too darned civilized. Before long they’ll know as well as we do how much change to give out of a dollar bill. I fully expected the old gink
Continued on page 54
Continued from page 26
would search us, because he knew well enough that Hekkoma didn’t gather up those stones for his health. However,” and he emptied eleven irregular shapen objects from the cavity in the spear head, “I’ll bet you’ve never seen a collection like that in your life, Zeb.” Themaster-mariner’sgreat hand trembled as he touched the things with awe and reverence.
“Why—why—you don’t mean—then you did get ’em?” Zeb blurted out. “They're diamonds, ain’t they, Herrick?”
“Just about the finest kind of diamonds that any jeweler ever sold. I got ’em just
before you raised the alarm back there. I was afraid you’d show too much of your hand if you knew what there was tucked away in that spearhead, Zeb. You never was a poker player.”
“I’m going to stop the first boat we meet with wireless on board,” said the skipper, with a curious look in his eyes. “There’s a little woman who’d like to know about this. You see Herrick, there’s Ellen, our youngest—”
But though Herrick smiled, he wasn’t listening. His fancy was already turning to a farm in New Jersey and the finest girl between Seattle and Hoboken.