Mal de Marriage
A comic demonstration of the unwisdom of mixing love and business in the cannibal isles
MR. BEN BLICK, half owner and mate of the schooner Irrepressible, was seated upon the forehatch watching the crew chipping rust off
the anchor chain and painting it black with coal tar in anticipation of having to ride at anchor for the better part of two months in the coralline lagoons of the Tangu group, whither the vessel was bound in search of copra or any other trade which the firm of MacQuoid & Blick might chance upon.
Mr. Blick was in a pleasant frame of mind. His cigar was drawing well, and the future looked rosy. He was reflecting upon the happy combination of circumstances that had made it possible for the firm to increase its capital from a dollar and sixty cents to nearly orty thousand and a four-hundred-ton topsail schooner in the short space of three and a half months, when the shrill howl of an automobile klaxon on the dock above his head brought him to his feet.
The maker of the dist urbance, a very large and heavily laden truck, was backing up abreast of the main hatch. When its massive hind wheels fetched up against the wharf stringer, Captain MacQuoid dropped lightly from the seat beside the driver and waved his hand at his partner.
“We won't have to go to the Tangus in ballast, after all, Ben,” he sang out, indicating the mountain of boxes with which the truck was loaded as he stepped down on the deck. “There are two more truck loads coming; thirty tons altogether—enough to keep 'er steady as the Rock of Gibraltar.”
Suspicion of the unknown was Mr. Blick’s creed, and of his partner’s business acumen, his obsession. He offered no comment, but merely stepped back softly as if fearful that the mountain of boxes might collapse and overwhelm him.
Captain MacQuoid drew a sheet of paper from his wallet.
"Look that over,” he said triumphantly.
The mate took it gingerly between thumb and forefinger and glanced at it with no more enthusiasm than if it had been his death warrant. It was a fully receipted bill of sale showing that the holder thereof had purchased the following items from the bankrupt stock of Weinstein, Schlemmer & Co., to wit:
20 KTOSS aluminum pancake griddles @ $51.84 $1,036.80
20 gross Ger. Sil. nutcracker sets @ $40.32... 806.40
20 gross eight-day alarm clocks @ $86.40.... 1,728.00
Grand total ........................... $3,571.20
Mr. Blick ejected a javelin of cigar smoke at the crow’s nest -happily untenanted at the moment.
“Who are the consignees of thiser, slight housekeeping impedimenta?” he asked.
“We are!” MacQuoid replied proudly. “I bought the whole smear from the Board of Trade at twenty-eight cents on the dollar.”
Mr. Blick leaned heavily against the rail.
“Great heavens,” he muttered, not very piously.
“That’s right,” MacQuoid exploded. “Make small mouth as usual at my efforts at doing for the firm.” He jerked the sheet of paper from his partner’s hand. “Where could you buy an aluminum pancake griddle for thirty-six cents, or an eight-day alarm clock for sixty? Where, do I ask?”
Mr. Blick sighed.
“You seem to have found the place,” he said gently.
“I did to the everlasting credit of the firm," the skipper asserted.
The mate shrugged his shoulders.
“Our credit with you as its manager would be on a par with a refrigerator manufacturer planning a sales campaign in Spitzbergen,” he retorted.
MacQuoid folded up the sheet of paper with a hand that shook with anger.
“There you go agin! Ain’t you got an ounce of gratitude in your miserable little carcass?”
Mr. Blick’s right hand moved slowly to the region of his back trouser pocket and came to rest there while he flicked the ash from his perfecto.
“Gratitude does not come by weight, my dear Mac, and a Colt’s forty-five makes all men equal, as my friend Mr. Francis Bret Harte used to say.”
“That’s right,” the skipper growled. “Threaten the life of the one human bein’ who has your best interests at heart.” He glowered menacingly at his diminutive partner, but took a discreet step backward as he returned the paper to his wallet.
Mr. Blick’s hand fell away from the pocket.
“Where do you propose to dispose of the bankrupt boodle?” he wanted to know.
“In the Tangus, of course,” MacQuoid replied sullenly. “The islands have a population of over a hundred thousand, or some twenty thousand families, counting five to a family. If even ten per cent of them buy, our whole consignment is gone!”
“Your Gaelic love of bargains and your passion for statistics give a certain superficial ring of truth to your statement,” Mr. Blick admitted, “were it not for the fact that the Tanguans are confirmed vegetarians; that the smallest nuts that grow there are the size of footballs, and that the Polynesians as a race have nothing to get up early for, and wouldn’t if they had.”
The skipper made a noise in his throat. His frugal Scotch soul had rebelled at the thought of proceeding empty to the Tangus with a schooner capable of carrying nearly five hundred tons of freight. He considered that
he had solved the problem. Squaring his shoulders aggressively, he glared at his little mate and co-owner.
“If you’re done with youi croakin,’ p’raps you’ll be so good as to unbatten the hatch and take this cargo aboard, Mr. Blick,” he said stiffly.
“Very well, sir,” the mate replied, with a portentous meekness for the benefit of the crew, who were beginning to crane their necks in the two men’s direction. “May I venture to ask if you paid for the consignment with a cheque on our joint account?” he added, lowering his voice and thereby increasing its tenseness.
“I certainly did,” the skipper hissed out of the corner of his mouth. Mr. Blick smiled icily.
“I feared as much. I shall take the usual precaution of withdrawing a corresponding sum and transferring it to my private account,” he said under his breath.
“Do that, you little yellow piker!” MacQuoid spat out. “I’ll handle this deal myself and pay the firm the regular freight rates of eleven dollars a ton to the Tangus.”
“That’ll be quite satisfactory, sir,” Mr. Blick replied quietly.
THE somewhat strained relations between the two partners persisted even after they’d been to sea for a week and the schooner was driving south’ard with a brisk trade wind on her starboard quarter. Mr. Blick, coming below on the dog watch for a cup of coffee, found Captain MacQuoid seated at the messroom table. Upon it lay, or stood, three samples of their ballast— an eight-day alarm clock, a German silver nutcracker set, consisting of one highly ornamented “cracker” and six picks with handles to match, and an aluminum pancake griddle. The skipper raised the griddle and held it at arm’s length.
“I call that value for your money,” he said in a tone that was intended to be conciliatory, but which was still tart with the acid of gall nursed in silence for a week.
“Your money - not mine,” Mr. Blick corrected, tilting the coffee pot and draining it to its last half pint of sleep-defying dregs.
MacQuoid compressed his lips and made a face in the shining surface of the aluminum griddle.
“I ought to crown you with it; you’ve got such a nasty disposition,” he averred.
Mr. Blick gulped his coffee before replying.
“A partnership with you would ruin the disposition of a sloth,” he remarked without rancor.
The skipper lapsed into moody silence. He had learned that his somewhat pachydermie wit was no match for his mate’s ready, swift, and not always tuneful tongue. He was also beginning to suspect that he’d made a fool of himself once more. The fact that the Tanguans were vegetarians and subsisted largely on yams, breadfruit and shellfish au naturel, and rarely fried anything except an occasional wandering missionary, worried him considerably. The nutcracker sets, too, seemed superfluous in a land limited to one species, the cocoanut. As to the alarm clocks, the less said the better. It gave him a chill to think about them.
“I admit that I make mistakes—sometimes,” he said guardedly, “but that’s no reason why you should be so
superciliant. Nobody’s perfect.” He liked to use large words, but having abandoned school at the tender age of eleven for the wider education of the high seas his vocabulary was more exotic than correct.
“Meaning that you’re willing to admit that you’ve made an ass of yourself agin?” Mr. Blick queried without interest.
MacQuoid swallowed hard. His partner’s directness was distressing. “Have you thought of a plan?” he fenced.
I have,” said Mr. Blick. “If we should run aground somewhere, we could throw the stuff overboard to lighten her.”
The skipper gathered the things up from the table and carried them to his cabin, slamming the door behind him. Mr. Blick stood listening for a moment, a smile
on his lips. Through the heavily panelled teakwood door came the sound of curses mingled with the outraged clamor of an eightday alarm clock being choked to silence with a woollen blanket.
When he went on deck he noted that the wind had drawn a point or two to leeward.
“Starboard braces!” he sang out.
“Aye, aye, sir! Starboard braces!” came the boatswain’s reply from the darkness in the waist of the ship.
'T'HE Tangu archipelago is a A collection of some two score coral islands flung in a half circle between the eighteenth and twenty-first parallels sixteen hundred miles to the east of the northernmost point of Queensland, Australia. Its reefbound lagoons are visited occasionally by intrepid traders in search of copra, that much-sought-after product of the cocoanut which explains the presence of warships and missionaries in the South Seas, and for which white men have slit the throats of brown, and brown have performed the the same surgical operation on white, with less skill, perhaps, but with considerable
The Tangus had been spared most of this; not because the traders who had visited there were more humane, but because the Tanguans were numerically able to discourage raids upon their palm-thatched warehouses. The archipelago was ruled by the iron hand of Queen Katakulani, no opéra-bouffé queeen, but a lady of considerable force of character, whose watchword was “Tangu First.”
A gunboat of a certain European power had once essayed to claim dominion over the Tangus with the appropriate ceremony with which European powers unceremoniously appropriate such things. The com-
mander of the gunboat had gone so iar as to hoist his country’s flag in front of the royal lean-to. It was a nice new flag of fast colors guaranteed not. to fade in the hottest of tropic suns. Queen Katakulani took a great fancy to it. It’s not quite clear what happened, except that the hoisting party left somewhat hurriedly. The gunboat commander in his report to his government merely stated that the islands were barren and unproductive, and totally unworthy of annexation. His report included a requisition for a new flag, as the vessel had lost its ensign “in a typhoon off the line islands.”
This pleasant bit of fiction may be repudiated by anyone visiting the throne room of the Queen where the flag is decorating the doorway as a lambrequin.
CUCH was the dominion in whose principal harbor
the Irrepressible dropped her anchor some four weeks later, in ten fathoms of water so clear that the newly tarred anchor chain showed up against the sandy bottom like a gunmetal watch chain upon the white vest of a politician. The vessel was immediately surrounded by a flotilla of canoes laden with fruit and vegetables, of which the crew purchased immoderately, thus bringing home to Captain MacQuoid, once more, the unpleasant realization that the Tanguans were indeed confirmed vegetarians.
A messenger from the royal roost cama aboard in a twelve-paddle war canoe and enquired as to their wishes. Upon being informed that the Irrepressible was after copra the messenger rattled his earrings and said just two words: “No got!”
MacQuoid and Blick looked at one another. The hatchet was buried temporarily in the common problem of securing a cargo. They knew that unless some other trader had beaten them to it, there ought to be copra to throw to the monkeys.
“Me come ’shore make talkee with him fella queen,” MacQuoid told the messenger. His pidgeon English would have made a dove look to her squabs.
The messenger shrugged his shoulders, and the skipper went to his cabin for three samples of his cargo.
“You needn’t stand there and grin at me like a Chesssheer cat,” he told Mr. Bliek as he swung himself into the waiting canoe with the package under his arm, and sat down so heavily in the stern sheets of the frail bark that the woolly head of the bow paddler almost knocked one of the sheerbolts from the main chains. “You might
at least have the decency to wish me luck !” “All the good fortune my puny wishes may evoke be yours, my dear Mac,” Mr. Blick replied, “but you can’t drive a nail with a sponge no matter how hard you soak it.”
“Aw, shut up,” the skipper flung out over his shoulder as the canoe shot forward at a grunt from the messenger.
MacQuoid was taken to a large edifice of bamboo and palm, before the door of which two giant spearmen stood guard. They eyed the brown paper package suspiciously, but allowed the skipper to pass at a sign from the mes-
senger, who led MacQuoid through a roomy apartment where a lot of brown-skinned girls wore lolling about in their pristine comeliness. They regarded the skipper’s well-knit figure with undisguised admiration. Used though he was, and not adverse, to feminine approval. MacQuoid found himself blushing delicately under his four weeks coat of tan. He speculated upon what the chances might be to strike up a little innocent flirtation to while away the tedium of the tropics, when the messenger led him through another door and the skipper of the Irrepressible found himself in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Katakulani.
Except for the grass rugs that covered the floor and the throne, on either side of which sat a girl, the room was bare unless one considered the lambrequin ensign over the door as an article of furniture. There was a familiar look about the throne that caught MacQuoid’s eye at once. A second look and he restrained a guffaw with difficulty. An enterprising plumbing fixture salesman from San Francisco had called upon the Queen the year before with a large selection of nickel-plated shower baths with curtains of Copenhagen-blue. So small a matter as the absence of running water in the royal dip had not discouraged him. Fie had demonstrated to her entire satisfaction that a large size sitz-bath tub with pillows suitably arranged, and the blue-curtained, nickelplated shower rigged up overhead made a comfortable and impressive throne; so the Queen had scrapped her old fauteuil of bamboo and mother-of-pearl.
The skipper bowed low before the ruler of all the Tangus. His obeisance reminded one of a gorilla dodging a cocoanut heaved from on high, but it was well intentioned. The Queen, a widow lady of some forty-odd summers, acknowledged the salutation gravely. Her dark eyes seemed to be measuring the disadvantages of prolonged widowhood by his stalwart figure. She was of the dimensions known in polite circles as plump, but she knew how to use her eyes, as the plumbing fixture salesman could have testified.
MacQuoid blinked and unwrapped the brown paper package; he was not sure what sort of a claim to advance for an aluminum griddle in a community of vegetarians, as he handed it to her, but the Queen solved the problem for him instantly by holding it at arm’s length, and admiring her brown, oleaginous fare in its mirror-bright surface.
The skipper drew deep breath and took reef in
his larboard suspender. Unwrapping the German silver nutcracker set he handed it to her. At first she seemed at a loss what to do with it, but not for long. Bidding one of her handmaidens hold the griddle mirror up before her, she took the heavily embossed nut picks from their purple plush case and arranged them tastefully in her somewhat elaborate coiffure. The cracker puzzled her. The fact that it was hinged seemed to stump her. She flipped it back and forth a few times. The last flip her finger got in the way. The half-smothered exclamation of pained surprise soon gave place to a beatific smile. She clapped her hands twice, and the second
of the two maids-inwaiting came to her side. She made the girl insert a finger in the nut cracker, then bore down hard. The howl of pain from the girl assured the Queen that she had found an eminently efficacious way of henceforth securing implicit obedience from her servants.
MacQuoid felt a cold trickle of perspiration percolate down his spine. Unwittingly he had introduced a new implement of torture in the Tangus. Still, he reflected, business was business. Drawing the alarm clock from its cardboard case, he wound it up, placed it
before the Queen and let it do its stuff.
Her Majesty sat staring at it, apparently unable to believe that so small a thing could make so large a noise. Presently her brown, well-rounded shoulders began to move as if she recognized in the shrill monotone of the clock some soul-stirring, long-forgotten chant of her dusky forbears. Inch by inch the movements spread from her shoulders to her waist, then to her knees, and finally to ner brown toes, until her whole body was an agitated mass of oscillating brown tissue.
The skipper took a double reef in his suspenders, fearing the worst. Suddenly, as the clock ran down she sank back exhausted against the pillows of the sitz-bath,
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clapped her hands once more, and called out sharply to the two girls, while she indicated to MacQuoid to put the clock through its paces again. Winding it with the impressive ceremony befitting the occasion, the skipper set it off once more, and the two girls proceeded to give a terpsichorean exhibition such as he had not seen equalled in the palmiest days of the Barbary Coast.
Every time the clock ran down, the Queen commanded him to play some more. For fifteen minutes the captain perspired playing orchestra to two seminude Polynesian flappers who were trying wildly to syncopate to the clamor of an eight-day alarm clock.
When the concert was over, he thanked his stars that the clocks were all their makers claimed for them. He shuddered to think what might have happened if something had gone wrong with the mainspring. He was highly elated at the outcome of his little flyer in light hardware, and considered this a propitious moment to broach the subject nearest to his heart —copra.
At the mere mention of the word,
Queen Katakulani froze to ebony. The crop had been poor, she explained. There was hardly enough to carry her people through to the next season, let alone anything for export. He might try the New Hebrides farther to the west. She had heard that the crop had been unusually heavy there. She thanked him for his nice presents and hoped that he and his winged canoe would find it convenient to lay over for a few moons; the hospitality of the islands was his.
MacQuoid listened in silence. A plan was beginning to form in his mind as she talked. He left with an invitation for dinner to Her Majesty and her court aboard the Irrepressible the following day, which she accepted with alacrity.
MR. BLICK was reading in the cabin when the skipper returned aboard. The mate gave his partner a gently enquiring smile as MacQuoid hung his cap on the peg behind the dish locker.
“You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when you hear what I’ve got to tell you,” he said belligerently.
Mr. Blick said nothing. He merely
touched the side of his face the farthest removed from his partner as if to forestall even the slightest of smiles.
“Well, you will,” MacQuoid asserted. “We’re giving a dinner here tomorrow to the Queen and her suite.”
Mr. Blick’s eyebrows went up. “Pyjamas or formal?’’ he enquired gravely.
The skipper ignored the thrust. He plunged into a recitation of his own excellency as a salesman—slightly censored.
“And so I sold her on the idea that the griddle was a lookin’ glass, the nutpicks to use in ’er hair, and the alarm clock as a phonograph,” he finished proudly.
“And she swallowed the works?” Mr. Blick supplied.
MacQuoid’s teeth came together with a snap.
“Can’t you be serious for two executive minutes?” he demanded in exasperation. “Ain’t it enough to carry all the troubles of the firm on my shoulders without having you sittin’ there sniffin’ at me like 1i hound that’s treed a skunk?”
“Skunks,” said Mr. Bliek, “do not inhabit trees, my dear Mac.”
“Well, they oughter,” the skipper asserted hotly. He leaned forward and explained with voluble emphasis what he meant to do to the Queen of the Tangus. At the end of the recital, Mr. Blick picked up his book again.
“Schopenhauer is right,” was all he said.
QUEEN Katakulani was a good business woman, but in common with members of her sex the world over she had her little extravagances, and two poor seasons had caused low water in her exchequer. She had been in the habit of buying copra from her subjects at tencent-store prices and selling it to the traders at a profit that would have given an oil promoter water on the brain. She suspected that the people in the outlying districts were dealing directly with the traders, thus robbing her of a handsome middlewoman’s profit.
When MacQuoid took her and her retinue below after dinner the following day and displayed his cargo of aggravating hardware, it occurred to her that here was a chance to make a killing by playing on the vanity of her female subjects. The skipper had the same idea, except that he had elected himself as the leading character in the homicidal drama. He tried to trade her the entire consignment for four hundred tons of copra on the half-shell.
Her Majesty looked hurt, but after some dickering in excited pidgeon English, struck a bargain with him that they were to go fifty-fifty on the deal. By royal edict she was to set the fashion of wearing nutpicks in the hair, and no Tangu household would be complete without a griddle mirror or an alarming music box. The price for the trinity was to be two sacks of copra, one for herself and one for MacQuoid.
The skipper made a quick calculation and decided that at the prevailing price he’d make something over a hundred per cent profit. He closed on the spot.
Queen Katakulani proved that her judgment of feminine nature was right, and that in the Tangus, as in other greater and lesser archipelagos and continents, women wore the nether garments, be it fig leaves or two-cylinder runabouts. In spite of the shortage of cocoanuts, the men camë lugging in their two sacks of copra from every key and coral islet, and took home with them a brown paper package. In less than three weeks, the Queen’s warehouses were stuffed to the roofs, and the hold of the Irrepressible was filling rapidly with bulging sacks well stowed under the skipper’s personal supervision. Mr. Blick took no part in the proceedings. He sat in his deck chair all day long reading Schopenhauer and watching the mouth of the harbor where a small flotilla of canoes could always be seen riding at anchor.
To the casual observer the occupants of the canoes were peacefully fishing, but Mr. Blick’s observations were never casual. He knew that natives were not in the habit of going fishing in full war regalia. He tried to estimate the schooner’s chances of getting away with the copra if the natives took it into their heads to dispute the passage of the Irrepressible through the narrow mouth of the coralline lagoon. He decided that the vessel’s chances were neither jot nor tittle of those of the historic snowball.
CO, WHEN one evening MacQuoid, after adding up his tally sheet for the day, said: “The joke’s on you, Ben. Two hundred and seventeen ton and more to come,” he merely closed Schopenhauer on his thumb and yawned. The ostentatiousness with which his partner presently cleared his throat made him look up.
“Ben,” the skipper was saying with a far-away, almost seraphic expression on his face, “I’ve decided to let you in on the deal in spite of your cussedness.”
Mr. Blick regarded him critically at this burst of generosity. “Dear me,” he said, “what sort of a hole do I pull you out of this time?”
The skipper blushed to the roots of his sandy hair. Doing a kind act always embarrassed him. He considered it a manifestation of weakness.
“Can’t a fellow offer to do the square thing without being suspected of merchantnary motives?” he wanted to know. “A partnership’s a partnership, ain’t it?” he added loftily.
“When you do the square thing without pressure, my dear Mac,” Mr. Blick replied without a trace of recrimination, “the world will have acquired four corners by centrifugal friction. What have you done to Katie, the Queen?”
“Nothing,” MacQuoid retorted sullenly. “I never give her no encouragement. Never as much as held ’er hand!”
Mr. Blick sighed. “I believe Mr. Adam of Eden was the first to use that alibi,” he mused. He smiled up at his partner: “I’ll let you borrow my white vest, Mac,” he added kindly.
The skipper brought his fist down on the messroom table with a slam that made the aneroid barometer drop to “Hurricane Centre.”
“I’m going to marry no pugnosed Polynesian for a couple of carloads of dried cocoanuts,” he shouted.
“If you had thought about her being pugnosed earlier in the game, you wouldn’t need to call on me to save you from a violent end,” Mr. Blick replied. The skipper’s face turned pale.
“Wot you mean . . . violent end?” he ejaculated.
“Read Schopenhauer and find out,” said the mate.
MacQuoid shook himself like a dog coming out of a cold bath and began pacing the floor. When he passed his partner on the fourth lap about the narrow. compartment, he said wistfully:
“I’ve always been led to believe that you could be depended on in an emergency, Ben.”
Mr. Blick turned the page before replying. His index finger moved to a longitudinal scar behind his left ear.
“That’s where I tried to arbitrate between a man and his wife in Hokitiki, New Zealand,” he said.
MacQuoid stopped short in his pacing, head thrust forward and eyes slitted.
“You mean to suggest miscellany to a gentleman,” he shouted.
“The word is miscegeny, Mac,” Mr. Blick corrected.
“Wot of it?” the skipper stormed. “It’s almost as bad as compassionate marriage. Don’t you dare suggest either one to me!”
Mr. Blick arose and stretched. “I’m going to turn in,” he said. “If you must stay ashore until two in the morning, I wish you’d tell your gondoliers to come to the starboard side. I like my beauty sleep.”
“You need it!” MacQuoid flung out over his shoulder as he slammed the door of his cabin.
rT'HE situation, as Mr. Blick had -*• surmised, was about as follows, to wit: Queen Katakulani’s spouse having got in the way of an assegai during an internecine conflict some eight years earlier, she yearned for a strong male hand to wield the sceptre. Her subjects were getting tainted by radical ideas. In some of the outlying districts the men had taken to wearing derbies, and more than once she had found it necessary to use stern measures in suppresssing incipient feminist propaganda among the women.
There is nothing particularly immoral in a derby as a derby, but boys will be boys, even in the Tangus when they’re worn with nothing but earrings and a G string. Seven derbies had been delivered to her bristling with arrows, and their seven widows had gone into mourning with black fig leaves. Too, the Queen had attained a gross displacement which rendered travelling about the main island lopping heads no longer the sport it used to be, and as she feared the sea and never trusted herself to the frail barques of her fleet, her kingdom was showing signs of disintegrating.
MacQuoid with his winged canoe seemed a heaven-sent answer to her prayers; a consort of whom any Queen might be proud; a man hard as nails, imperious as an eagle, yet diffident in the presence of ladies as a robber-crab surprised in a yam orchard in broad daylight; a man who could administer justice to the farthest flung coral key of her realm.
For hours she sat in her pillowed sitzbath, flipping the nutcracker back and forth, and dreaming between curtains of Copenhagen-blue of a small family of MacQuoids playing pinch-finger with the royal nursemaids. In the end she sent a dozen of her largest war canoe« to the entrance of the harbor with certain instructions which Mr. Blick had interpreted correctly, and of which MacQuoid had been uneasily aware for the past week.
It was no use to tell himself that his advances to the Queen had been a matter of regular routine and in the interests of the firm. He knew that he had overplayed his hand and that she had called his bluff by accepting it.
For the next two days he went about his work of checking the remainder of his cargo like a somnambulist. He ate his meals in silence and retired to his cabin while it was still daylight. His usually ruddy face took on a distressing bottlegreen hue, and his eyes became glassy and vacant. Finally, on the evening of the second day he could contain himself no longer.
“For Pete’s sake, Ben, say something,” he implored. “All you’ve done for two whole weeks is to sit and read that book and watch the barometer. Ain’t you got no heart?”
“Just because I don’t wear it on my sleeve is no cause for caustic diagnosis, my dear Mac. As a matter of fact I went ashore this morning and had a talk with the Queen while you were below counting sacks.”
“What did she say?” MacQuoid demanded eagerly.
“Nothing. I did the talking.”
“I invited her and the prime minister and two of her ladies-in-waiting to come aboard tomorrow morning.”
“Wot!” the skipper howled, “wot for?”
“For breakfast,” Mr. Blick replied.
MacQuoid’s face was livid. “I refuse to see ’er,” he bellowed. “I’ll . I’ll lock myself in my cabin.”
“Can I depend upon you doing so?” Mr. Blick wanted to know.
The skipper blinked. “Wo —wot you mean?” he stuttered.
"Just what I said,” the mate retorted. “No matter what happens you’re to stay locked in your cabin. Is it a bargain?”
MacQuoid’s chest rose under a deep intake of breath.
“Even if she wrecks the schooner and drowns us all?” he demanded.
“We won’t drown, Mac; the sharks’ll take care of that,” Mr. Blick replied cheerfully.
The skipper shivered. He glanced sidewise at his partner. “Wot d’you aim to do?” he asked in a low pleading voice.
“Let nature take its course, I hope,” the mate replied enigmatically.
MacQuoid shifted himself from one foot to the other. He would have liked to strangle his little partner where he sat. Instead, he said merely, “All right,” and went to his cabin.
nPYPHOON, says Webster, is a violent 4tropical tornado. To Queen Katakulani in her cabin aboard the Irrepressible it was the penultimate. The ultimate was yet to come. She sat on the edge of Mr. Blick’s bunk the mate had courteously turned his quarters over to her -propped up between her two maids-inwaiting, her head in her hands and her brown legs swinging pendulously back and forth as the schooner heaved and bucked. She was a very sick monarch, and would gladly have traded her kingdom for a rat-tailed mule.
Mr. Blick called upon her with condolences, after looking in upon the prime minister, whom he found lying speechless on the chartroom floor.
All things come to him who waits, the mate mused, as he flung his arm about a stay and braced himself against the gale. Having watched the barometer falling hour by hour for the past two days, he
had hove the schooner to under a single storm staysail to get the maximum activity. The little vessel plunged and reared in the heavy cross seas.
Mr. Blick was not a conceited person, but he took a pardonable pride in his own astuteness. He had inveigled Queen Katakulani to sea against her better judgment, telling her that according to the white man’s law, a sailor had to be married on the high seas, and further that he himself, although holding a master mariner’s ticket, could perform the ceremony only when twelve miles out.
The Queen had demurred at first, but upon being served an excellent breakfast of fried salt pork and dried apples with buckwheat pancakes and maple syrup, she relented, little dreaming that the combination nad been calculated with fiendish ingenuity. She permitted Mr. Blick to heave anchor and put to sea unmolested by the war canoes.
When the storm sprang up, as he had been assured it would by the antics of the barometer, he informed her frightened Majesty that it was all perfectly regular. Mr. Neptune, the white man’s sea god, always celebrated the wedding of one of his subjects with a little storm to prepare the happy couple for their life to come, he had explained.
He remained on the bridge until he judged that the storm had reached its apex, then repaired below once more, and enquired in sonorous pidgeon English if Her Royal Highness was ready to go through with the ceremony. It was imperative, he said, that it be performed at the height of the elemental disturbance.
Her Majesty stared at him vacantly in the fitful light of the swinging cuddy lamp. She half suspected that she’d been poisoned. Rocking her head in her hands, she prayed in her naive, native way for two cubic feet of coral island with a cocoanut palm to steady her.
When she did not reply, Mr. Blick added that unless she made up her mind, one way or the other, Mr. Neptune would probably let loose all the four winds of Heaven upon them, and added that he, personally, would not be responsible for the consequences.
The Queen groaned. The dried apples were having difficulties with the salt pork and the buckwheat pancakes were preparing an offensive of their own. The ceiling and floor of the small cabin seemed to advance and recede with slow concertina-like movements that were extremely distressing when one was in no position to dodge them. Her head ached, and there was a ringing in her ears, but it was not wedding bells. She managed to convey to Mr. Blick that nothing in the world would induce her to become a sailor’s bride, and begged him to use his influence with Mr. Neptune to calm the sea and to still the wind.
Mr. Blick promised to see what he
could do about it. He went into the messroom and had a talk with the barometer, through which, he explained, Mr. Neptune conveyed his messages to his white subjects. Returning, he informed Her Majesty that the sea god was pretty sore over having gone to all the trouble for nothing, but as he and Captain MacQuoid had always been a couple of good eggs, he’d overlook it this time, and call in the north wind as soon as he could get a message through, which Mr. Blick thought would be in about three hours. He had given himself an hour’s leeway, knowing that typhoons rarely lasted more than six or seven.
He also explained to the Queen that the reason Captain MacQuoid had not come to call upon her was because he was afflicted with slow ossification of the brain, and that the hardening process was particularly painful during the first half of any atmospheric disturbance. He said this in a tone loud enough for the skipper to hear it through the heavy teakwood cabin door. The violent kick on the lower panel which followed was interpreted by Mr. Bliek as evidence that the hardening process had gone even farther than he suspected.
WHEN the storm moderated according to Mr. Blick’s promise he ran under the lee of the island and ordered a lifeboat put over the side. Into this he hoisted the prostrate Queen and her retinue in a bowline at the end of a double tackle. He stood by with the schooner to see them safely through the gap of the lagoon, then squared his topsail yards and bore out to sea.
At that moment Captain MacQuoid poked his sandy head cautiously through the companion scuttle. When he saw the lifeboat ride into the lagoon on a great comber, the rest of his body emerged from the scuttle with the projectile aggressiveness of a jack-in-the-box.
“Stand by port braces!” he sang out. “Two men aloft and shake out topsails!” He grinned at his mate. “I owe you ar. apology, Ben,” he said.
“You owe the firm the price of a nev\ lifeboat, for which you’ll be duly debited when we get back to Vancouver,” Mr. Blick retorted.
“What,” the skipper howled, “after me signing over half the copra to you!” “That was for professional services privately rendered. It had nothing to do with the firm of MacQuoid & Blick,” the mate said coldly.
The skipper spat out an oath in the lee scuppers.
“Some day I’m going to cut your liver out and feed it to the ship’s cat,” he hissed between his teeth.
“That’ll be the day when I scuttle your floating kidney,” Mr. Blick retorted placidly. “All right, bosun; relieve the helm and send your watch below!”