THE KID had the sea fever. The genuine article, too. Y'ou could see it in his eyes, right off. The second mate of the Volante could, at any rate. But maybe that w'as only because John Grisholm liked kids, and understood about those things that are so intensely important to them. Be that as it may. when he saw it he recognized it. And he grinned his recognition plainly. Kindred spirits are like that, somehow, whether good or evil. Some subtle, mysterious flash. The w’ay a word is spoken, a lip curls, or an eye shines. And suddenly you know you are all right here. On common ground.
It was a funny place for a kid to be. though, especially that time of night—Field’s Landing Jetty in Humboldt Bay. Well, it wras a funny place for the Volante to be. too. She wasn’t a Pacific Coaster at all. She belonged in the Southern Islands, poking her rusted hull and her bluff bow's through the barrier reefs into wild lagoons on the hunt for
stray freight bits of palm oil. copra, a forgotten few bales of Island cotton, with a picul or twro of spice—if she happened to be in great good luck. But there she was, swinging her rickety cargo booms in milky fog. waiting for a tide, while her crew of Gilbert Island men shuddered in the forecastle in dumb-eyed complaint at such unaccustomed weather.
So the Volante squatted on the mud at low water with her holds full of redwood lumber and her well decks high with heavy baulks. She sighed and heaved ponderously in foggy gloom, lit up weirdly in a luminous aura flung upon her by her cargo lamps. In that vague and uncanny circle of light a few gulls and mud hens circled, mewing, and the pier posts groaned aloud. The jetty ran back toward town, a jumbled trestle over the mud, and lost completely in swirls of fog fifteen fathoms off. John Grisholm sniffed that sharp dank smell of the 'West Coast lumber ports as he w'ent along the wharf, flashlight in hand,
to see how she rode back aft. He may have heard the clanking handcar coming along (he narrow-gauge lumber track, but he gave it no heed. Probably one of the two white engineers, deploying back from town. Or maybe the pilot coming aboard to await the flood. He squatted down on his heels and flung torchlight under the Valantes counter, growling to himself as he came erect again.
"Hello.” a thin piping voice announced behind his back. John Grisholm turned and found the kid standing there, staring straight up at him with simplicity and directness. "Hello,” he said again. “Who’re you?”
"Me?” Grisholm grinned. "It happens I’m the second mate.”
“Swell !” said the kid at once. "Then we're shipmates.” “So? And what the devil are you doing here?”
"I just told you . . . This is the ship Valante., isn’t it?” “Yes.”
“And it’s Crag Blandón is master?”
“Yes, son. But—”
“Well, then! There you are. We’re bound for Suva.” His voice was shrilly immature, and his eyes glowed when
he said it. “Bound for Suva under Captain Bully Blandón ! What more would a fellow want?"
GRISHOLM, halfway between a frown and a grin, peered down at a pinched little face fired with eagerness and a high desire. There was something arresting in tile way the youngster said those things. It caught you up and made you forget to laugh. He thought a voyage to Suva in the crumby old Volante a very fine thing indeed. And he thought it finer yet to be sailing under a man like old Bully Crag Blandón—a name that had thundered once with heroism and strength under the brilliant vault of Southern skies from the Louisades and the Carolines clear west and north to the Sandwich group.
“Look, kid,” Grisholm murmured. "What the devil do you want to go to Suva for?”
The youngster looked up at him with those burning black eyes.
Plainly, he was disgusted. “You ought to know!”
Well, the kid had him there, all right. He’d been there. He ought to know. So the second mate grinned again, appreciatively. It was a little beyond him, though.
How’d the kid get there, and what made him think he could just walk aboard the Volante that way and sail off to the island of his desire?
One way or another, you had to pay for things like that. But you couldn’t just growl at him and leave him standing there in the wet cold fog.
The kid, he noticed, was in a short heavy coat with a red muffler wrapped about his throat; and his cheek was pinched and thin and pale. Clouds of steam issued from his mouth as he stood there breathing excitedly in the swirling fog. About twelve or thirteen, the second thought. And puny. But his eyes gleamed like live coals. All his inner strength of spirit and young character seemed concentrated in those eyes. He was looking the Votante over, from the rust patches visible above the quay stringers to her tipped-up cargo booms, very black against the cluster lights. And what lie saw he plainly knew was good.
"I’ll tell you something, Mister Mate,” he whispered confidentially of a sudden. “I’ll tell you because we’re shipmates. They’re worried about me. I been awful sick. That’s why they’re sending me to Suva. See? But, say!” He squared his narrow little shoulders. "Us Blandons are
tough. You just get me with Uncle Crag and.......”
"Is Crag Blandón your uncle, son?”
“Sure! You bet!” There was that fire in his eyes again. Idolization. The one thing he believed in, firmly and without doubt. Crag Blandón’s greatness. “That’s what I’m telling you. I’m Peter Blandón, Crag’s brother’s boy. But he’s gone. My father, I mean. He was lost at sea with mother when 1 was just a kid.”
“Oh.” The second smiled. "But how’d you get here? You didn’t—” •. t
"We aime from tow'd’on the handcar. Through the fog. Say, it was swell. It—”
"Sure. Me and my sister, Claire. Don’t you listen to what a fellow’s saying at all?” He spun around, crying thinly: "Claire! Here’s Bully Blandón's second mate! He . . . Oil, there you are.”
JOHN GRISHOLM looked up with a quick startled movement of his head and saw the girl standing quietly several paces off. She had been listening. And the first thing the second noticed was her face. A tired face in an aura of pale fog. Firm and lovely and with a hint of pleading in her eyes. It reached out to him across that short distance and held him somehow, that silent plea, even as she put one small hand protecting!)' on young Peter’s shoulder. Then she came forward, away from the two battered bags at her feet. And she smiled. It had a rare quality, that smile of Claire Blandón’s. A little whimsical and knowing, but steady and without fear. Like the tone of her voice when she spoke.
“I’m glad to know you, Mister Second Mate.” She looked quickly down at the kid and then up to him again. And there was that faint smile again, making her lips more lovely than ever. It wfas good to see on a cold night of wet dank fog with the smell of the low tide mud so sharp. “Because,” she murmured, “as Peter says, I guess we’re shipmates, too.”
It was a funny thing how they took possession of a fellow, Grisholm thought vaguely. Just dropped out of the fog and came up to him. Like old friends. And something in him accepted them. Both of them. At once. He didn’t knowwhy. It was the look of her, perhaps, the questing steadfast look of her. And he found himself answering it with a smile. He was about to say something, too. But he couldn’t.
Peter was babbling on in his high fragile voice, but with the burning light still in his eyes.
“I guess,” he was saying with a solid ring of pride. “I guess they don’t really know who Captain Blandón is. Eh, Claire? Let me tell you, Mister Second Mate, my Uncle Crag’s the most famous skipper in all the Southern Seas ! You bet! Everyone knows it. Even the boys where we lived before I got so sick, knew it. And if they know it, why don’t you who’re in his ship? I guess Uncle Crag’s too goodnatured with his men.”
“Is that so?”
John Grisholm found himself saying that without knowing why. The girl’s intense eyes were on him still over the youngster’s head. They were very bright. Perhaps it was the fog, perhaps something else. Her hand fluttered toward him and fell again, a pleading gesture to join that silent entreaty still on her tired face. John Grisholm accepted it. He knew he had to. They were his kind, somehow. He couldn’t let her down.
“You bet!” the youngster went on. “He was the one cleared out the Island blackbirders, Uncle Crag was. Singlehanded, too! And believe me they were tough. Mutiny and kill a man as soon as not, them fellows did. Bully Crag Blandón didn’t care. Not him ! He wiped them clean out of the archipelagoes. You bet! And I can prove it, too. I got clippings about him from the Samoan Times and the South Sea Gazette. Apia papers. All the black people are his friends; Malays, Fijis, and Solomoners. He got a gold-plated dinner service presented to him for the cabin of his brig Leonora once for what he did. You bet!”
He went rattling on that way, tolling the bell with highhearted pride for his hero and his idol, spinning out words he hardly knew the meaning of. But it was desperately important to him, and no mistake. John Grisholm took his eyes away from Claire Blandón at last and looked down at the kid’s thin and shining face.
“Did you ever hear, Peter,” he asked solemnly, “about the time Bully Blandón came sailing into Papeete with the
brig Leonora drowned in smoke? Hey? Did you? Four hundred tons of Sydney coal ready to blow her clear to heaven any day, and six Line Island men in chains for mutiny. But that didn’t bother him none. Not Crag Blandón, Peter. He brought her in, safe and sound, with his roaring quarterdeck voice and that booming foghorn laugh no man south of the tenth degree could make a mistake about!”
“No!” The kid’s eyes went wide as Chilean dollars. “Say . . !”
“She was the smartest brig east of the China Coast, Bully Blandón’s crack Leonora was. I saw her once down Levuka way when I was just a kid serving my apprenticeship out. She—”
“You bet ! Smart? Say ! With everything flying alow and aloft and a southerly buster coming up, she could shorten down to double-reefed tops’Is in two minutes and a half. Yes, sir! Two and a half minutes from the bosun’s whistle pipe till the tops’l yards were hoisted again. That’s smart, hey, Peter? She was worth watching, the Leonora was, when Bully Blandón cracked an order along his deck.”
“Say!” The kid’s eyes glowed. He had known it; he had known it all the time ! A man’s reputation doesn’t lie. You could see the fire pulsing through the youngster. It wanned him, made his enfeebled body fresh and vital and full of the lust for life. “What am I standing here for?” he wanted suddenly to know. “He—he’s aboard? Is he? Uncle Crag?”
“Well,” Grisholm hesitated. “I guess maybe you better ...”
BUT THE kid didn’t wait. He was off, headed for the groaning accommodation ladder, leaving dissipating clouds of steam behind him. The second mate noticed he walked with a limping left leg. It startled him a little, but he heard Claire’s voice again. A low clear contralto. Funny how that sound could comfort a man.
“Thank you, Mister Second Mate.”
That was all she said. It sounded a little husky. The brightness of her eyes was more intense. So he had interpreted the meaning of that pleading look correctly after all. He was glad. This girl was meant for him. He couldn’t explain that feeling. It was simply there. But he frowned now, wondering.
“Does he expect you? Blandón, I mean? The Volante isn’t a passenger ship.”
“I know. We couldn’t pay passage money, anyhow.” She said this quite simply and without the slightest apology. “Peter has had a hard time of it. He just about worships his Uncle Crag. You saw that. It means everything to him. I really think it’s all that kept him alive through the infantile paralysis and ...” She touched her chest lightly. “The doctors think maybe being with his hero, and down in the heat of the Islands ... I wrote Crag Blandón about it. And he said all right. So I gave up my job to be with the boy. I’ll find something to do down there. We’ll be all right. You—you were kind. You understood right off.”
“I was that way once myself,” John growled.
‘‘But not any more?” She smiled faintly. “Crag Blandón. Tell me. Is he . . . ?”
Grisholm pulled at his cheek, frowning darkly. “He—” He broke off abruptly. A harsh voice was sounding from the Volante s deck. Jorgan Falbane, the big chief mate.
“Come along,” he bit off sharply. “Let’s get aboard. I'll send a nig for your bags.”
He led the way quickly, urgently, striding up the ladderway to the fog swirls of the main deck. Jorgan Falbane stood there snarling, with the kid in front of him. He was a solidly powerful man, the mate of the Volante, with brittle eyes and craggy brows. And he didn’t like this fool business a bit.
“All right. All right,” he was rasping out. “If he wants to sign you and your fool sister on as workaways, good enough. I suppose I don’t count. I only own half the hooker. Where'd he be if it wasn’t for Jorgan Falbane? That’s what I'd like to know. The—”
“You can't talk that way about my Uncle Crag!” The kid was furious, challenging. “I won’t have it! You bet. Bully Crag Blandón is—”
Jorgan’s chesty bellow of laughter cut the kid short. “So you’ve got that in your craw, have you? Bully Blandon’s
been all washed up these seven years, m’son. What he was, I don't know. I only heard. What he is—I do know ! Come along an’ I'll show you, soil!” He started off, chuckling wickedly with the perverse delight of some fine jest he knew. “Come along an’ meet your famous unde, boy. Bully Blandón! Ho! If that ain't rich. Bully Crag Blandón!”
He was under the bridge ladder, headed for the master’s dcx>r. The kid limped after him, full of spirit, with his little jaw thrust out. He looked so small and a little pathetic in that fog. Dwarfed. He had nothing to bolster him up but his faith, and the inner light that shone in his eyes. John Grisholm took this all in at once as he gained the deck. And he cried out against it.
“Mr. Falbane! Don’t!” he boomed. “Peter! Come away from there. Come away, I say!”
T—TE WAS too late. Well, it wouldn’t have done any good anyhow. Not for a youngster like Peter Blandón. He’d want the truth, that kid would. He was bound to find out. Nothing short of it would satisfy him. But John Grisholm had had it in the back of his mind to bolster the old man up against it. Make it easier for a lad like that. It was plain it meant so much to him. It meant adventure, bright and crystal clear, and high romance, and the fullness of life. And he needed it; he needed it desperately. But the second mate was too late. Even as he dashed forward to keep that cabin door closed, Jorgan Falbane flung it open and guffawed aloud again.
“Have a look, lad ! Have a look. There’s your great Bully Blandón. Flat as a flounder. Takes his orders from me now, and glad of it. Ain't got no more guts in him than a jackrabbit has! Take away his squareface gin an’ he staggers clean overside. Another beachcomber he'd be if it wasn’t for Jorgan Falbane keeping his affairs an' the ship a little bit taut. And don’t you forget it. Should há' left him on the beach under a cocoa palm down Suva way. So I should. What do you think now, son? Hey? Bully Crag Blandón! Ha! There’s a joke for you, and no mistake. What do you say now, son?”
His hoarse chesty laughter rocked and shook against a wall of fog. It set the dissolving distances to a faint trembling. But the kid said nothing. John Grisholm’s face was tight, the cheekbones shining like polished teak in the outflung light. Claire Blandón was beside him now, and he could feel her body tense, and the one quick hiss of her intaking breath. But the kid said nothing. Not a word. 1 le just strxxt there. lie just stood there and stared, roundeyed and trembling.
He stared into a dishevelled cabin at the huge bulk of a flabby man snoring in red-faced stupor on the leather settee beneath a cabin lamp that swayed gently in its gimbals overhead. His soiled shirt was torn open at the throat, baring bulging throat muscles, and veins in which turgid blood surged. His bloated face lolled a little with the ship's motion, and an empty tumbler and a bottle of squareface gin tinkled together on the deck with a hopeless sound of finality. He had been a powerful man, Bully Crag Blandón, the hero and the terror of the Southern Sea; a powerful man full of strength and skill. He was nothing now but a sot.
What went on in the kid’s brain was imjx»ssible to say. Grisholm didn’t dare look down. Nor did Claire. He just stood there, pale and thin-cheeked and so very small beside the two big men and the slim loveliness of the girl. The color drained slowly from his face, leaving him ghastly white, and the life went out of his eyes while the cruel knife went deep. Then he uttered one deep racking sob; and that was all.
Falbane kicked the door closed. “11a !” he snorted, and strode savagely off . .
ON THE flooding tide the Volante went to sea. She felt her way at half speed down channel in the pale cold mists of dawn. Till the lumping swells got hold of her, and she started heaving restlessly. Outside, pilot free, a strong southwester piled the sea fog up and over her as the first spatter of spray came across her bows. But patches of blue sky could be seen and a brightly running ocean when the second mate took the bridge. The kid was up there, hanging on, but there wasn’t any life in him at all. Dully, he saw the watch change as the Gilbert Islanders, shuddering, relieved the wheel and lookout. The kid's cheek was flushed and feverish. Unnatural, Grisholm thought. Crag Blandón was up there, too, eyeing the main deck with a bleary stare, bunches of unkempt grey hair poking from under the peak of his cap. He tried to be hearty, pulling at a flaccid cheek and rumbling something in a hoarse voice. But the kid stared straight ahead through the lacing of the canvas dodger, because he couldn't look over it. Well, it was no good. You couldn’t f(x>l the youngster that way. The sap was out of his hero and the world was at an end for a kid like that. Jorgan Falbane had done a cruel thing. He came up presently, swaying, and set his feet apart.
“Them cargo chains for’ard there Jorgan," Crag Blandón mumbled down the wind. “They’re rattlin’ slack, it looks to me. Ain’t we better take up on the bolts a bit?”
Jorgan snorted. “Slack my ear. You mind your knittin’; I’ll mind mine. They’ll do good enough.”
“Ah, well.” Crag Blandón sighed. “So I guess.” And
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he immediately lapsed into heavy silence.
The kid raised his head at that, a dull hopeless look in his eye. Then he turned away and started down the ladderway with his thin shoulders hunched. Pathetic. Pitiful. Grisholm watched his slight figure swing along the unsteady deck until it disappeared in the passageway.
“He thought you was a hero, Crag,” he heard Jorgan Falbane snarl from the wheelhouse door. “Now he knows the truth, that kid won’t last to Makapuu Light, much less to Suva way ! Why you bring him an’ the dame aboard beats me for fair. Blandón, you’re a fool!"
Blandón winced. The watch wore on. But the kid never showed up again. Not for supper either, in the bouncing Volante s cabin. So Grisholm went along and looked in on him. He was in his bunk, with his face to the bulkhead. He didn’t move at all; and Claire closed the door again.
“Don’t you worry none,” the second mate growled to her. “He’s gonna be all right.”
She just looked at him, saying nothing. He couldn’t stand the hurt lie saw in her eyes, so he turned and went off. Harsh anger was in him. A girl like that ought to have laughter in her eyes. Curse Jorgan anyway ! And Bully Crag Blandón, too, for breaking a youngster’s heart.
rT'HE SECOND morning the wind backed
east and north, blowing strong and clear. The fog disappeared before that freshening gale, and the ocean, breaking with white, came rushing at the ship. She yawed into blue-green valleys, taking the water neatly over her head as she rose.
It was crisp and clear when Grisholm took over the watch. He saw Claire walking the lee deck in thin sunlight with the kid at her side. But the youngster’s heart wasn’t in it. The second mate’s lips twitched. Blandón met him at the head of the ladder, breathing heavily.
“I don’t like the way them deck timbers for’ard work, Mr. Grisholm,” he said with an anxious growl. “Suppose you get your boys and take up on them lashings. Hey? What do you say?”
Grisholm looked at him. This man, he reflected, had once stumped the poop of the crack Leonora brig, and when he spoke the whole ship jumped. His roaring voice was known across half the Southern Sea. Where was his power now? Jorgan Falbane ruled him as he would the meanest forecastle hand. Was he really so dead as that? He 1 jeered steadily into those watery eyes, searching to find there some remnant of old and hidden glories. Then he turned slowly away.
But Grisholm didn't take his men to the forward deck. Instead, he came striding back to the foot of the ladder at the head of four black Gilbert Island men. His face was set and angry. Crag Blandón blinked at what he saw. The second mate had a pistol in his fist !
"What the devil . . . ” he said.
“Let me tell you now. Crag Blandón!” the second mate cried. “We ain’t going out there ! Not for you or anyone else !”
“For heaven’s sake,” the skipper growled down in mild surprise. “All right, then. All right. What’s got into you, Mr. Grisholm?”
“Plenty ! We’re fed up with the crumby hooker and the stinkin’ chow! What dó you say, men?” The four blacks answered with an ominous growl. “Come down off
that bridge, Crag Blandón!” The second’s voice was a booming shout now. “We’re taking over the ship!”
“Have you gone mad?”
For answer. Grisholm. wild-eyed with rage, raised his pistol and fired high over Blandón’s head. The Suva skipper paled. His jaws worked loosely. Below him the men advanced a pace, with the infuriated second mate at their head. Far along the deck Crag Blandón heard a thin voice cry out a single word, “Mutiny!” But he didn’t dare look there. Cold fright was on him. He trembled with it. But the kid Peter Blandón, went rushing along toward the lee bridge ladder as fast as his limping gait could carry him.
“Are you coming down or not?” John Grisholm cracked out again.
Crag Blandón’s head weaved from side to side, searching for rescue or escape. Then the kid was at his side, high on the swinging bridge. There was a blazing fire in his youthful eyes, bright and intense. He had stopped off in the chart room, too, and plucked the skipper’s pistol from the locker there. Grisholm remembered telling him where it was. The kid didn’t forget! Not him.
“It’s mutiny, Uncle Crag!” he piped shrilly. “Mutiny! Here’s your gun. Show them now. Show them they lie ! Show them what Bully Blandón can do!”
rT'HE SHRILL voice, thin and clear, bored deep into Captain Blandón’s brain. It touched something there; some dim expiring spark. There was no derision in the kid’s voice. And he had got so used tothat—thescomful bitter laughter of men. But this kid cried his name with a deep and enduring faith. Bully Blandón ! he cried. The name of Crag’s youth and his power and his glory. The old man filled his lungs with the cold salt air. He hadn’t tasted it in that keen sharp way for years. Bully Blandón ! the kid cried. And he meant it !
Below him John Grisholm was snarling again. “Are you coming down or aren’t you, you good-for-nothing sot? You stand clear, Peter! This isn’t for you. Stand clear or you’ll get hurt.”
“Peter!” That was Claire’s voice in the distance, full of anxiety and fear; and the sound of her running feet on the deck. “Peter!”
But the kid wasn’t scared. Not him. The fire was in him again. This was what he’d waited for. He drew himself proudly erect. "Here’s your gun, Bully Blandón,” he said again, firmly.
“You keep it, son, and hold the fort.” Crag stepped down the ladder two rungs. “\ou’re a fool, Grisholm. Drop that gun !” His voice was suddenly decisive. It rose to a deep chesty boom. The old voice, the stinging voice of command, the voice of the old Leonora. The voice of Bully Blandón. “Drop it, I say!”
“Come and get it, then,” Grisholm challenged.
“So I will !”
He came down in a lunging rush, hurling himself at his second mate. The blacks, jabbering incoherently, leaped suddenly free and raced in panic for the passageway where they disappeared at once from sight. Bully Blandón swung his fist. It caught Grisholm on the side of the chin. He was awkward and slow in dodging. Its force staggered him to one side. Then overhead from the bridge he heard Jorgan Falbane’s savage voice.
“Grisholm, you swine !” and the crashing sound of pistol fire.
HTHE SLUG caught the second mate in the flesh of the shoulder; spun him round dizzily. The gun clattered from his hand as he dropped. Crag pounced on it, came erect, and shouted to the bridge.
“That’ll do, Mr. Falbane! I’ll handle this myself!”
“Yes, you will!” The mate’s voice was full of scorn. “The cursed fool. Stand clear and let me give him another!”
“Put away that gun!” Bully Blandón roared; and the sound of it was something Jorgan Falbane had never heard before. Then to Grisholm, who was staggering slowly to his feet: “D’you know what
this’ll fetch you out of a trial for mutiny? With deadly weapons, too! You fool! Have you had enough of it now?”
But the second mate seemed not to have heard. He was looking past the skipper and up to the wing of the bridge. He saw Claire Blandón standing there, looking down at him in puzzled wonder. And beside her Peter, erect and with pride flaming once more in his youthful eyes. The kid wasn’t looking at the second mate at all, but at the bulky shoulders of Crag Blandón, master of the ship Volatile. Something about that made the second mate grin, in spite of his bloody shoulder wound.
“Aye, aye, sir,” he growled out deliberately. “I’ve had enough of it now.”
Bully Blandón looked at him sharply from under soiled grey brows. Something about the way he grinned made the skipper wonder. He eyed his second mate in heavy silence. From the bridge the high shrill voice of the kid with the shining eyes rang out once more.
“Showed them that time, Bully!” he cried. “Showed them once for all!”
It rang thinly over the ship and out across the breaking sea. And all of a sudden Crag Blandón broke open the gun in his hand. His huge white head came up from it slowly. His eyes were squinting, as though the sun had somehow got in his way.
“These shells,” he growled hoarsely. “The slugs have been taken out. They’re blanks.”
“Aye, sir. I know. Yours too. I never wanted any real gunplay, sir. I never thought it would come to that. But I forgot about Mr. Falbane's gun. You can’t blame the blacks, sir. They just followed me when I told them to come.”
Bully Blandón blinked. Then he closed the gun with a snap and blinked again. What was the good of saying anything to a thing like that. “Come along,” he managed to mutter, swallowing hard. “Come along while I dress up that shoulder of yours.”
THE Volante plunged on in a sea of turquoise, flecked with foam. Jorgan Falbane couldn’t understand it. Not by a sight, he couldn’t. Something had happened to old Crag Blandón. He wasn’t the same any more. Ought to send that fool of a second mate to the pen for twenty years, that’s what! Balmy, he must be, pulling a stunt like that on board a ship these days. But old Blandón wouldn’t so much as put it in the log.
“I’ll smash your face for you, Jorgan,” he said, “if you do.” It wasn’t the voice of the sot he knew, either. It was a deep growl from the chest of a man who meant what he said. “Mind now ! You breathe a word of this to anyone, I’ll crack you down. And I can do it, too!”
Jorgan Falbane didn’t doubt it. That’s what came of bringing kids and women aboard an Island ship! No; he couldn’t understand it at all. But Claire Blandón did. For she came up to the second mate in the evening watch, when the first pale star showed above a darkling sea. His arm was in a sling, but he didn’t seem to mind. The look of him was serene and still, like the look of a man who is quite content.
“John,” she murmured, “Crag told me. I won’t thank you, but—”
“Don’t then, Claire. A fellow’s got to have something to believe in when he’s Peter Blandón’s age. I know.”
“There’s a point of land,” he said as the twilight deepened all around, “just outside of Suva, Claire. You can see the ocean there, and the ships. I always believed it a good place to build a house for a man’s woman—and a kid.”
She only nodded. But her face came alight, and a man couldn’t ask for more. She was about to say something to it, but she heard voices from the opposite wing where Peter stumped back and forth, staring up at the heavy face of a big-chested man as they measured the bridge together.
“Say, Bully,” the youngster was saying with that deep rich pride in his piping voice, "they can’t pull that stuff on us, hey? Not in Bully Blandon’s ship! You bet!”
"No, son. I guess not. Not while you’re
aboard. You take care of yourself now, lad. I need you in the ship.”
The kid laughed brightly. “You,” he said with gay merriment, “you need me? You’re a great one for a joke! Hey, Bully?”
The Suva skipper coughed. Then his voice rumbled on: “Maybe we better
forget about it, though, and give the second mate a break. He’s a good sort, after all. Don’t you think?”
“Whatever you say, Bully.”
Claire looked at the man beside her. John was smiling faintly, his good arm about her waist. The kid’s voice drifted across again on the wind.
“I guess Mr. Grisholm’s learned his lesson when Bully Blandón got done with him. You bet!”
And Claire was sure he had.