The Man They Forgot
Treachery and violence meet their just reward and a gentleman of little stature proves himself a man of great heart
R. V GERY
IT WAS five o’clock in the evening, and the day’s intolerable heat had begun to slacken a little with the declining sun. Vickery, casting about him for something to do that might possibly please the boss on his return from the pearling beds, had found a hoe and was weeding a coral path among the palms. As he worked he wrestled wáth a problem, and came no nearer to its solution-the problem of Saul Kinch and his mysterious doings of the last twenty hours.
That revolver, after his obviously secret visit to the schooner? It was a menace, beyond any doubt but against whom? Lammiter. presumably, as the man who had put him out of his comfortable job. Or the doctor? Kinch was not the sort to take any thrashing lying down. The doctor would have to be warned about him, too.
He leaned on his hoe, considering whether to go straight up to the bungalow at once and tell Mallory before Lammiter came back from the pearling beds. 1'hese blokes that went about with loaded guns . . .
Not thirty feet from Vickery, motionless among the pandanus, Saul Kinch fingered his pistol and watched him approach, step by step.
This was an enterprise of the bearded man’s own, undertaken after a day’s mulling over the details of the plot and without consultation with his associates. All the morning and afternoon Kinch had remained in his room, restlessly going through the events of the coming night and devising improvements on the scheme. This was one of them—the putting of Vickery out of the way— and it had cost him a deal of thought before he had made up his mind to it. Finally he had slipped from his window and gone about it, not because he had any fear of the Cockney—he flattered
himself that he had already put him where he belonged in the scheme of things—but simply as a matter of technique, a rounding-off of the whole business. Vickery might cause trouble. Unlikely, but still he might. Therefore, Vickery must be attended to.
Kinch weighed his revolver in the palm of his hand, debating whether to use it or not. On the one hand it was quick and certain, and Kinch was by nature a killer: but— it was a still evening, and the verandah of that bungalow through the trees there was parlous close. He watched Vickery as a cat watches an approaching sparrow, and made up his mind that the gun was too dangerous here. It would never do to have the mechanism of the plot set off at half-cock over Vickery. Better use other means.
Waiting until the unconscious Cockney was almost at arm’s length, moving step by step behind his hoe, Kinch projected himself upon him. an avalanche of huge shoulders and griping, spadelike hands. Vickery emitted a squawk like a frightened hen, then the great paws were about his neck, compressing his stringy throat, choking back any outcry. Kinch’s hot breath whistled in his face.
Bit by bit, the overseer strangled the sense from Vickery; then, with a rapid glance about him, he tossed the limp body across his shoulders and darted down the path to the door of an open hut.
There was a filthy old bit of sacking lying in the sun outside, and Kinch snatched it as he ran. Once in the darkness within, he ripped it into shreds, tied Vickery swiftly hand and foot, and jammed a handful of it deep into his jaws. Then, sooner than risk detection by creeping back to his room once more, he resumed his crouching among the pandanus. He pulled a watch out of his pocket and glanced at the time. It was nearly six, and he had a longish wait in
front of him; and even as he looked at the time, he heard far off down the lagoon the toot-toot of Lammiter’s returning launch.
rT'HE string of boats passed close under the schooner’s counter, and lammiter waved cheerfully at Levine, lounging in a canvas chair on deck.
“Expect you for dinner,” he called.
Levine smiled his thanks.
“Make it in half an hour,” Lammiter added. "Give me a chance to get rid of some of this stuff.” He held up a hand black with dredged mud, and passed on, burly and radiating good humor.
The leader of the enterprise dropped into the cabin and found Marks there, fidgeting nervously, a wary eye on the cabin locker.
"Now listen here, Harry,” he said, “and just get this well into that thick head of yours. There must not be any bungling over this business. I’m serious this time—and you’ve not seen me serious before. If you or Kinch make a mess of things I’ll put a bullet into either of you as soon as wink and run the show myself. Understand?”
The lazy, cynical dandy had vanished, and the man’s real nature stood out from him all of a sudden—ruthless, diamond hard, without compassion or compunction. A small white patch appeared momentarily at each side of his nostrils, and Marks shrank back from him. It was not the first time he had seen that sign.
"All right, all right.” he said defensively. “Nobody’s goin’ to let you down, Stannie. Here, let’s run over it again —and for crimes’ sake put that thing away.”
Levine had taken the phial out of the cupboard again and was looking at it amusedly.
“Funny,” he said, taking no notice of Marks’ panicstricken outcry. “This stuff always amuses me, Harry. Innocent enough to look at, yet it does so much in a short time. There are people like that, Harry Marks. I’m one of ’em. Eh?”
Arrogance radiated from him as he spoke, the kind of pride that comes from an atrophied moral sense.
The skipper was actually trembling as he gaped at him.
"Put it away, Stannie.” he begged. "I don’t mind some things, but that ruddy stuff gives me the horrors.”
Levine laughed. “You’re a white-livered cur, Harry
Marks,” he said. “Ever know that? But white liver or no white liver, you do your job tonight or it’s finish for you. Go get me a bar of soap. now. Ordinary soap will do. And then you come here and go over the moves with me.”
Half an hour later, cool, scented and clean-cut. Levine was rowed ashore by the three Kanakas who formed the schooner’s crew. At the beach he turned to them.
“You boy all same like stop ashore t’night.” he said easily. “Marks him take watch on deck. How you say, eh?”
There was not much doubt about the wide grins that greeted this suggestion, as Levine had foreseen. They made the boat fast and pattered off along the darkening beach to feasts of fried plantain, community singing, and the society of the island girls. Levine watched them go. There went another link of the chain that held him to his past. Tomorrow and the next day the rest were due to be broken. But there would be no long-tongued Kanakas on board the schooner when she pulled out.
Lammiter met him at the verandah steps, and mixed him a cocktail while dinner was preparing. All through the meal he was the perfect host, courteous, considerate, and anxious for his guest’s comfort and enjoyment. Neither Eve nor Mallory found the heart to break into that pleasant evening’s hospitality by any reference to the events of the afternoon. Levine himself had apparently forgotten the matter completely, and conversed and told stories with a pleasant and pungent wit. Eve Lammiter found herself wondering after all, whether she might not have been mistaken.
With the coffee Lammiter proposed bridge, and the four of them sat down at a table just inside the screened door. Outside, the night was alive with fireflies and brilliant with the flicker of heat lightning low down on the horizon. There was a veil of thin cloud over the sky, and a prickling tingle on the skin presaged a storm within the next twenty-four hours.
Down at the huts there was the sound of shouts and laughter, and the beginning of song, as the schooner’s crew were entertained. Wing Lee, the smiling Chinese, came in with a concertina under his arm, and asked permission to go down there and assist. Lammiter nodded.
"All right. Wing.” he said. “By the way, has anyone seen anything of Kinch today? No? Well. I hardly supposed he’d show7 up a lot. Must have been a bit awkward for him. I might ask you to give him a cast out of this, Mr. Levine. When you go. of course—there’s no hurry.”
“Charmed.” said Levine with formal politeness. “When I go I'll take him.” At that moment he could feel under his coat, strapped tight to his body, two suggestive lumps — one the phial of nitroglycerine and the other a flat automatic.
“And Vickery?” Lammiter asked, picking up his cards, “Anyone seen him?”
Eve told of her meeting with the Cockney outside the kitchen door, suppressing her further interview with the doctor. Mallory caught her eye. approving her reticence.
“Well. w7e can see about him tomorrow.” Lammiter said. “He’s a poor thing, but I might find some use for him. Two hearts.”
Levine glanced down at the watch on his wrist. It pointed to five minutes to eleven.
\nCKERY fought painfully with his bonds in the darkV ness. An hour earlier, returning consciousness had first been an agony, then an ache, and finally a desperate urge to get free before worse happened to him. He remembered Kinch’s savage face too well to be under any delusions that the bearded man was done with him as yet. If any further evidence that he would be wanted again were needed, there were the ropes that bit and cut into his wrists and ankles.
Back and forward he writhed, striving with the tenacity of despair to wrench himself free. The gag in his mouth nearly choked him, and his bruised throat was painful enough to make him chary of trying to shout through the folds of cloth. But sick and dizzy though he might be — and from one cause and another he was nearly at the end of his forces—he still fought on, driven by the red glare he had seen at the back of Saul Kinch’s eyes that evening. Fear can work wonders, even with a little runt like Vickery, the Cockney deck hand.
At long last he contrived to expel the evil-smelling wad of
rag from between his jaws, and he gave a hoarse shout for hd’j. Then he fell suddenly silent, for the thought crossed his mind that somewhere or other Saul Kinch might still be lurking, ready to come and finish him off. The idea made him strain and tug at the lashings of his wrists more furiously than ever. Sweat burst from his forehead. He rolled backward and forward across the rough floor in Ins attempts to attain liberty.
At last he struck something square and hard. It was a packing case and. moving his head to make further investigation. his cheek met with the sharp edge of a metal strap. A sob of relief broke from him. and hurriedly he twisted himself over and over until his wrists met the iron. Then he commenced to rub. frantically and gasping with excitement.
Ten minutes later he tottered to his feet, free. The door was still open, and through it he could see the lights of the bungalow among the trees. Blindly he stumbled toward it toward the boss and the stern, two-fisted young doctor, in whose shadow he might be free of Saul Kinch.
As he went he half-heard behind him the shouts and noisy laughter of the Kanakas down at their quarters. A concertina was in full blast, and a chorus of the men’s mellow voices rose, filling the night. Vickery cursed them for a crowd of silly niggers and staggered on.
Then, twenty yards from the lighted house, he stopped as if thunderstruck. A sound had come to him. clear over the music and singing of the natives; a sound that he had heard on one or two occasions already, and had not forgotten. It was the sharp crack of a pistol, muffled a little from being fired in a confined space but none the less unmistakable.
“Gaw !” The ejaculation burst from his lacerated lips in a kind of croak. “Shootin’!”
For a long minute he st<x>d perfectly still, listening to his heart thumping at his ribs. Then very slowly, and drawn as if by some irresistible attraction stronger than his will, he approached the bungalow and with starting eyes looked through the window.
He could see the whole room. In the middle of the floor,
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\ an inert heap, lay Lammiter, a trickle of I blood staining his suit of pongee silk. Backed i against the wall, was the doctor, his hands ¡ above his head, and Marks, revolver in ! hand, in front of him. As Vickery watched,
I a sharp word of command from Levine sent ¡the skipper in closer, the gun waving menacingly.
■UVE LAMMITER was collapsed in a j chair, her hands over her eyes as if to shut out the sight, of her father’s body on the (loor. Vickery could see her shoulders shaking with sobs, and a new sensation swept over him.
“Gaw!” he said again, and this time he ground his teeth. “Filthy ounds!”
1 íe took a step or two closer. Kinch was standing over the girl—it had not been part of Levine’s strategy to let him deal with Mallory as yet and Levine himself was moving toward an inner door, the glass phial in his hand. As he went he picked up ! a lamp. Vickery crept in closer, until he ! was within a hand’s reach of the window.
Ixvine passed into another room, and for some time was invisible. Then he came out again, with the long white coils of a fuse unwinding in his hand.
“All right, Saul,” he said hurriedly. “Out with you—quick! Ah-h! You would, would you!”
The last was to Mallory, who had dropped his hands and leaped boldly at Marks. There was another shot as the skipper’s j revolver went off harmlessly, a wolflike I snarl from Saul Kinch, and the big bearded man dashed at Mallory and gripped him round the waist with the hug of a gorilla. At the same instant Levine snaked suddenly in and whipped the doctor’s feet from under him, so that he fell with a crash, Kinch heavily on top of him.
Levine had his automatic in his hand. “Out of the way. Saul !” Vickery heard him say. “We’ve had enough of this fellow.”
Kinch looked up at him over his shoulder. “No,” he said. “You leave the silly swine to me, Stannic. Lemme get him where I’ve got time on me hands, and by Judas I’ll cut the liver out of him. You leave him to me and I’ll leave you your share, Stannie. Otherwise we’ll quarrel.”
Levine straightened himself up. “Oh, very well,” he said. “We haven’t time to argue. I’ll thrash this out with you later, Saul Kinch. And while we’re about it, what about that little Cockney fool?”
“Oh, him?” said Kinch. “He’s fixed all right.”
“Not he. Twasn’t worth it.”
“Well, never mind.” Levine was growing impatient. “He doesn’t count anyhow— useless little rat! Give that friend of yours a crack on the head there if he won’t keep quiet, and then let’s get out of this. Marks, you take Miss Lammiter. Outside now, quick. I’m going to touch things off.” Vickery, out in the darkness, heard every word of this dialogue and saw what followed —the expeditious, brutal stunning of Mallory, Marks’ brief struggle with the terrified girl, and the swift clearing of the room. He even saw Levine scratch a match and set it to the fuse, and then follow the others in their retreat.
But Vickery’s mind was not on these
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matters. Strange things were taking place in it. "Useless little rat,” eh? So that was what Mister What's-his-name thought about him—and Mister Saul Kinch, too? And the young lady there she’d looked at him pitying-like, eh? And the doctor . . .
Cripes! So that was it, was it? Useless little rat! Well, he’d show ’em, would Tom Vickery.
It was at this precise juncture that something knocked him head over heels. Levine’s charge, though reduced—the safe was an ancient one—was quite strong enough to have unpleasant effects on any one standing erect within three or four yards of its explosion. But its reaction on Vickery was an unexpected one. It merely made him, for the first time in his life, see red.
He scrambled to his feet, cursing in a mixture of full-blooded London River and half the ports of the East. Through what appeared to be clouds of billowing smoke and flames, he saw Stannie Levine dash into the house again, a flitting shape. Then, on a sudden idea, he turned sharply and ran as fast as his still shaky legs could carry him for the beach.
The schooner was perhaps seventy yards out, a dim shape in the darkness. There were boats at the water’s edge, but Vickery never saw them. One thought and one only possessed his inflamed imagination—to get out to that ship and cut her adrift; scuttle her if it could be managed; but,'anyhow, to demonstrate to these something-or-other gentlemen that Tom Vickery, the “useless little rat,’’ was still something to be reckoned with.
He plunged into the water and struck out strongly for the schooner.
'"TO EVE LAMM ITER, huddled in the -k stern sheets of the boat and under the hairy paws of Saul Kinch, it seemed that this must be the end of everything. In fifteen swift minutes she had passed from security and contentment to deadliest peril, at the hands of men who would stop at nothing. Her father killed—if Levine’s bullet had not done it, then the explosion surely had. Mallory in no better case than herself, limp and unconscious. Her home smoldering behind her, a prisoner being led who knew whither or to what fate, the girl may well be forgiven for breaking down. She stared blindly ahead of her, deaf to the muttered talk of the men in the boat and the shouting and confusion that had suddenly and uselessly sprung up among the huts behind them.
The boat bumped suddenly into the schooner’s side, and Levine sprang hastily on deck.
“Slippy, now!” he called down to the others. “Hand them up here, quick. Miss Lammiter, sorry to inconvenience you, but hurry, please! Throw the doctor up, Saul, and then slip that cable forward. You, Marks, get to the engine.”
Thus, in methodical and well-ordered haste, the transfer took place. Eve, mute and stunned still, was hustled into the sleeping cabin and the key turned on her. There was a splash forward as Kinch knocked the pin out of the anchor chain and let it go bodily to the bottom of the lagoon. A couple of preliminary explosions and the auxiliary engine took up its steady song. The schooner slowly gathered way under Levine’s hand, and pointed for the gap in the reef. In a few minutes she had passed the twin jets of foam that marked the boundaries of the passage, and was beginning to lift a little to the swell of the outer sea.
Levine called the other two. “Sail, gentlemen, please,” he said.
Kinch and Marks, sweating, got the big mainsail set, and a couple of headsails. The wind was rising, and the schooner began to rustle steadily through the water. Marks shut off the engine, and Levine handed him the wheel.
“And that’s that,” he said genially. “A very pretty piece of work.”
“Got the pearls?” asked Kinch.
“What d’you suppose?” Levine enquired. “Think I’d be here if I hadn’t, Saul?” He thrust his hands into the side pockets of
his coat and drew out a couple of soft leather bags. “I don’t know what’s here.” he said, “but I took all there were. Come on below and let’s have a squint at them. Marks, hold her as she goes.”
The two of them descended to the cabin, passing Mallory as they did so, stretched motionless on the deck. Levine flung a careless glance at him.
“You hit hard, Saul,” he observed.
Kinch growled inarticulately in his throat. “He’ll come round,” he said. “He’ll be ready for me when I want him. Now let’s have a dekko at them pearls, Stannie.” Levine produced a tray and emptied the two bags into it on the cabin table. Kinch examined the milky globes, handling them and purring like a great cat.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s about the lot, Stannie. I don’t believe you left very much. Sixty thou, isn’t far wrong, either. There’s the pick of the Indies here.”
Levine chuckled in gratification. For the first time he was showing something like emotion. “That’s what comes of working with me, Saul,” he said. “I get results—eh?” He leaned on the table’s edge, feasting his eyes on the wealth before him. Something hard in his clothing caught the wood and he straightened all at once.
“Whew!” he said. “I nearly forgot this.” He drew out the half-empty phial of ! nitroglycerine and set it carefully by the side of the pearls. Kinch gulped.
“Chuck the cursed stuff overside, Stannie,” he advised. “It ain’t pretty company.”
Levine toyed with the bottle once more. It seemed to exercise an odd fascination over him.
“I don’t know, Saul,” he said. “It served us well enough. I think we’ll stick to it for a while at least. You never know.”.
He opened the locker and chocked the phial away carefully in its box within, ; wedging the box with a folded cloth. Kinch 1 watched him curiously.
“Mighty careful all of a sudden, ain’t you?” he asked. “You’ve been carryin’ that stuff about with you all day in your bloomin’ pocket, gay as you please. What’s the notion, coddlin’ it like that now?”
Levine closed the locker dixir with care. “Because, Saul,” he said in the tone of one patiently explaining matters to a child, “that stuff is pretty safe in a man’s pocket, where there’s no risk of its getting bumped or dropped. But this schooner’s in for a bit of a blow before daylight, unless I’m
wrong, and she’ll roll.....and I don’t want to
go to heaven just yet awhile. There’s enough in that bottle to send us there.”
He began to gather up the pearls coolly ! enough, replacing them in the two bags, while Kinch glared at the locker door, grumbling.
“Now,” Levine said, “you clear out of this. Saul. I’ve an interview to handle and 1 want to be alone for it.”
He went across to the cabin door and | unlocked it. Kinch went out. And a face, a j pallid, triangular, weasel face that had been i for the last ten minutes peering down through a crack in the skylight, suddenly withdrew itself into the darkness.
VICKERY, drenched, shivering, but with the light of battle still in his eye, lay close under the forward wall of the deck house, jammed into the darkness between it and the mainmast. Immediately above his head the great boom swung outward, so that the luff of the mainsail might conceal a small man from whoever was at the wheel.
He had anticipated the boat’s arrival at the schooner’s side by a scant couple of ! minutes, and —more because there did not seem to be anything else to do than for any , other reasonhad yanked himself hand ¡ over hand up the anchor chain and aboard. ¡ Dodging into the open foc’s’le door, he had lain hidden there in the Kanakas' quarters, panting, while Kinch had come forward and slipped the anchor, chain and all. Then, foot by foot, and worming himself in and out of the patches of light and shadow, he had made his way aft until the gleam of light from the saloon skylight had attracted him to it, and with a cautious head thrust
upward over the roof he had once again spied on Levine and Saul Kinch. Now. as he huddled in his dark corner, his mind was running hotly on what he had just heard.
A plan was taking shape in his head— wild, desperate, impossible but to Vickery's brain, still on fire with a kind of holy resentment against the world that held him of such small account, the thing appeared a conception of absolute splendor.
Below him in the cabin, he heard voices once more and, with a watchful eye aft and moving inch by inch, he Uxjked down again. Levine and Eve were lone in the cabin. Levine was addressing the girl.
“Now, now, Eve,’’ he was saying. “There’s no sense in taking it like this. Be a sensible girl and you’ll be treated all right.”
Eve hit him in the face with all her strength. Levine fell back a pace. Then he laughed.
“Temper, eh?” he said. “Well, I don’t know that l like you any the worse for that. But get over it quickly, like a gtxxl child.
I can’t allow you much of it. A little’s all very well, but there are limits. Even to my patience,” he added significantly.
He took a couple of steps toward her. Eve dodged frantically, edging from side to side of the tiny saloon in her efforts to elude him.
Straight above her. Vickery said something between his teeth. He held in his hand the loose end of the schooner’s signal halyards, a fine strong piece of cordage from which he had been fashioning something during the past minutes, his fingers moving with the deftness of much practice among ropes.
Cautiously he tipped the skylight open another few inches. The halyard fell inside, a widely contrived noose across Levine’s shoulders. Vickery gave it a quick jerk, and it settled taut under the man’s chin. Then he set his back to the mast and heaved.
In the saloon. Eve’s first intimation that tilings were happening was the sight of Levine’s face, the smile on it frozen into a look of horror, his chin being drawn back | and back by the rope, and a throttled gurgle proceeding from his throat. She leaned back against the door and, spellbound, watched Levine being swiftly lifted off his feet, until he dangled a good foot clear of the floor, swaying dreadfully to the motion of the ship.
Then his ascent stopped, as Vickery took a couple of turns of his halyard round a stanchion at the foot of the mast. Eve gave a faint scream of terror as Vickery flung another rope’s end into the saloon and came down it like a monkey.
”’Ullo, miss!” he said quite cheerfully. “Come on, now, let’s get out o’ this. Make ¡ haste if you please.”
In a frenzy of hurried and silent movement. he drew the girl across to the rope and | slipped it round her shoulders. Then he ! swiftly went through the pockets of the j pendant Levine and extracted the two leather bags of pearls. Finally, and just before he started upward for the skylight again, he turned to the locker. It was on j the vessel’s lee, and as Vickery wrenched the door open he could see the phial of nitroglycerine propped in its box within.
Latching the door back wide open, he drew the phial from its box and balanced it at the cupboard’s mouth. A swift glance round him discovered a crate of empty bottles in a comer. He drew this invitingly just beneath the nitroglycerine, so that the phial should have a clear fall of three feet or so, straight on to the heavy glass. Then
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he grinned ferociously, and was up and out of the skylight in a flash, dragging Eve with him.
“Now, miss,” he said through his teeth, “we’ll clear out o’ this. It ain’t goin’ to be ’ealthy on this bally ’ooker.”
He grabbed a marline spike and rushed round the corner of the deckhouse.
CAUL KINCH was occupied with Mallory. ^ He was kneeling over him, rumbling curses, and telling the semi-conscious doctor just what it was he planned to do with him when he should be alive enough to appreciate it. The recital might have been an interesting one, except that Mallory was too close to the borderline of sensation to appreciate it. Also it was interrupted in the middle.
Vickery, a barefooted flying shadow, was out from behind the deckhouse and upon the kneeling overseer before Kinch could even sense his presence. Marks at the wheel saw something; but the schooner was running without lights and the morning was a black one, the only illumination being the upward glow from the salcxin, half obscured by the bellying mainsail and the intermittent phosphorescence from the top of a j breaking wave. In any event, Marks’ eyes were on the compass card in the binnacle j in front of him.
Vickery hit Kinch once, and the overseer ; went down soundlessly in a heap beside the j doctor. Then the Cockney fumbled overside ; and came up with the dinghy’s towrope, not yet transferred to the schooner’s stern. He began to draw it in, hand over hand, as Mallory sat up dazedly, and Marks at the wheel broke into a sudden shout of surprise.
Mercifully, the towrope was a short one, and half a dozen heaves had the little craft bumping alongside. Marks, undecided and j confused by the darkness and surprise, was ! calling Levine and Kinch alternately; and it was not until the boat, its painter cut, drifted past him and swirled away into the schooner’s wake that he pulled out his revolver and fired a couple of shots harmlessly into the dark. Then he lashed the wheel with a couple of hurried turns of roping and hurried forward to investigate.
In a moment he had tripped over the stout form of Saul Kinch. “Crikey!” he said in astonishment. “What’s all this?”
Kinch sat up. “What swine hit me?” he demanded in a choked voice. “You, Harry Marks? Where’s Mallory?”
But Marks had caught a glimpse of somej thing through the saloon skylight and could ; only point dumbly at Levine, hanging there clear of the floor and swaying solemnly to the lift of the schooner. Kinch took one look at it and dashed aft to the wheel.
“Fooled, by the great hook block!” he roared. “Ready about !”
He jammed the wheel down. The schooner spun on her heel, and came across on the other tack . . .
A quarter of a mile away, bobbing in the short seas, the boat held three people, flat on her floorboards. Vickery was shouting frantically at Mallory and Eve.
“Down!” he yelled. “Down! Keep your nappe rs down!”
A blinding fountain of flame split the night, and the shock of the explosion almost : lifted the frail dinghy out of the water. | Masts, spars, and tackle hurtled skyward; and with them went Levine and Saul Kinch and Harry Marks, gentlemen adventurers ; who had adventured once too often.
CORNELIUS VAN TROMP sat in the ¡ cockpit of the power boat, chewing morosely on the butt of a cheroot. He was in one of his moods and his sturdy crew avoided him. while Meintjes, astraddle over his roaring engines, coaxed the ultimate ounce of speed out of the little craft.
Van Tromp was in a hurry, and he was j also extremely annoyed with things in general. It was not often, in his bailiwick, that so extravagantly simple a trick as a planted overseer with faked credentials had been pulled off. And the man down the Arus had told him a few things in that return j cable of his that made the Dutchman's ¡
pugnacious little jaw jut like a badtempered pike’s. Saul Kinch, a thousand miles to the east, had been undeniably hot stuff; and whatever the Aru police might or might not have done about it. Van Tromp was not going to permit hot stuff to linger unappreciated within the confines of his inspectorship. There was an atmosphere of hanging about the cockpit of that launch. You could almost see the jiggle of the rope.
Of Levine and Marks, of course, he knew nothing. The schooner’s landfalls on her way up from the east had been infrequent and furtive and only for such necessities as water. Levine was a minor genius in moving about the islands without leaving embarrassing trails. Possibly it is as well that their presence ahead of him was unknown to the inspector. His temper was quite waspish enough as it was.
He flung the cigar over the side and turned to Meint jes.
"Speed?” His question was half a snarl. The sergeant looked at the patent log.
"Thirty-three, mynheerhe said.
Cornelius dropped his grim blue eyes to the chart on his knee and flicked on a tiny torch.
"An hour should see us in. then.” he muttered to himself. "I do not like this business. Allerjê, what was that?”
Low down ahead of them, six or seven miles away, the dark sky had all at once been illuminated by a sudden flower of white fire that shot heavenward and as i quickly died. There was no mistaking it j for anything but an explosion, although the roaring of the power boat's engines drowned its report. Lightning never produced so j clean-cut a flame, and there were no volj canoes nearer than Krakatoa. Van Tromp jumped to his feet, jerking out orders, and the boat heeled and veered toward the scene ¡ of the blaze.
It was Vickery who first caught the thunder of her exhaust, and saw its red glow across the formless swells.
“Wot. ho!” he said huskily, executing a cautious fandango in the boat’s bottom. "’Ere comes the bus, boys and girls! We’re j saved, so don't you weep no more.” He began to sing hysterically some snatch of a hymn heard at street corner meetings in Limehouse. Mallory, his arm round Eve, | scarcely repressed a chuckle at the sight.
Continued on page 56
Continued from page 53
A searchlight blinked suddenly to life from the power boat’s forward cowling, swept about the sea for a minute, and then settled its unwinking eye firmly upon them. Cornelius Van Tromp stared unbelievingly over the gunwale as the launch, with backing engines, scraped alongside the boat.
“Coedverdom!” he ejaculated. “And what is the meaning of all this? Eve—and you too, mynheer the doctor—adrift at three in the morning fifteen miles at sea! And who is this man?” He pointed at Vickery, still standing upright in the boat, a scarecrow figure in the searchlight’s white glare.
“Name’s Vickery, sir,” said the Cockney. “I reckon you’d better take us aboard and run in, quick. The boss ”
“Yes. yes,” said Cornelius. “You can tell us the rest as you go. Mallory, where is that sc helium, Saul Kinch?”
In spite of himself the doctor laughed. “1 don’t know,” he confessed. “He was promoted to higher things about ten minutes ago. You may have seen something of it.” Dawn was breaking over the island, red ; and angry, as the power boat hurtled toward the reef and through the gap in it. Van j Tromp and Mallory had been talking in : low tones, and the little Dutchman, with many a guttural exclamation, had extracted most of the story from the doctor and Vickery, while Eve, worn out with tension, had fallen into an uneasy sleep on the cushioned seats of the cockpit.
“But I do not understand," raid Van
Tromp for the tenth time. “It is beyond me. You, Mynheer Vickery”—he smiled at the Cockney—“seem to he a dangerous fellow—ja, and a brave one. And yet they told me—” He broke off with a trace of embarrassment.
Vickery looked extremely sheepish. His old semi-cringing manner was falling on him again.
”’E called me a useless little rat, sir,” was all Cornelius could get out of him.
The Dutchman was still shaking his head and swearing to himself as the launch nosed into the beach.
“And now,” he raid, “there is Mynheer Lammiter. This will he something for you, doctor, it is to be hoped.”
Together they ran up the beach toward the bungalow. Thin trails of smoke were still spiralling into the air from one wing of it, but otherwise it was intact. A dozen j Kanakas stood about, gaping at the new¡ comers with round eyes.
On the verandah, astonishingly clad in his white cook’s dress, cool and smiling imperturbably, was Wing Lee. He anticipated the question that Van Tromp and Mallory fired at him together.
“Him live,” he raid comfortably. “No much hurt. You come see him, doctol?”
Lammiter was lying on a couch, his wound neatly strapped up and a great surface burn on one side of his face. He tried to jump up at sight of Van Tromp and Mallory, but fell back with a groan of relief when 1 Eve ran unsteadily past them and knelt at his side.
“I thought, I thought —” was all he could get out; and then his eye fell on Vickery. “You, too!” he raid. “I’d forgotten about you.”
Van Tromp spoke with gravity, while Mallory advanced and, with Eve, began to attend to her father’s wounds.
“Ja,” he raid very decidedly. “Forgotten is the word, my friend. We have all of us forgotten something. I think.”
He held out his stubby firm hand to the dilapidated Cockney.
“But we make amends.” he said with the smile that had carried him through so many xid places. “Amends to a very brave man —eh?”
Vickery colored to the eyebrows under his encrusted dirt. He almost choked.
“Caw!” he raid fervently.