A tale of the South Seas, of thirty-seven skeletons and an island that wasn’t on the map
AUSTEN first saw him at the Col Bleu on a boat night.
“There’s a good man to keep away from. He’ll stick around as long as anybody'll buy him a drink, and tell you about some island he claims he discovered years ago. It’s an obsession.”
“And there isn’t any such place?” asked Austen.
“Well, when he first reported it, it was put on the charts as a dot marked Digge Island, P.D., which means position doubtful. They didn’t trust Andy Digge even then. Year? later, after a lot of sailing over that part of the Pacific, mariners hadn’t sighted any island, so the chart was amended to E.D., which stands for existence doubtful. No. I don’t think there’s any such island.” Austen's friend finished. “Andy was probably drunk. Let's move over to a table on the other side, before he sees us.”
The next time was in Kakanui, one of the Tuamotus. Austen was the only white man on the island, and he had been there more than seven weeks. W hen the shabby little Titaia slouched in through the pass and the tender landed Skipper Digge, Austen was on the beach to greet him.
“Hullo! They even got missionaries here now, eh?” Austen was twenty-five, had taken his Ph.D at twentytwo, looked forty. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles and blinked a good deal. His eyes were vague, his mouth apologetic, his body lank, the shoulders stooped. Whether he liked it or not, he was doomed to appear the student he was. Most of the time he didn’t mind; but it was not fiattering to be mistaken for a missionary.
“You’ve made an error. I’m an anthropologist employed in a survey the Kenselman Foundation is conducting to calculate in terms of climatic pulsation the successive thrusts along available avenues leading to more favored ethnological posts.”
He said it viciously, with the arrogance of the learned.
There was no apparent effect. Digge only said, “That so? Scientist, eh? Lote of scientists around here, but they usually stay in Tahiti, studying conditions.” He winked. “You know—conditions among the gals and so forth.”
“I’m working,” Austen said, “but I'm just about cleaned up now-.”
“Fine. I've got to be around till the weather settles.”
The lagoon was dazzling with splotches of green, purple and blue. On the reef the combers lifted and fell; beyond, the Pacific w as almost cringingly flat.
“You'll see. I bore over this way to miss it, but I had to duck inside.”
THEY sat that night in the rear room of Lee Tom’s corrugated iron shack, the only structure on Kakanui not built of cocoanut or pandanus thatch. They did not yet hate one another, only despised one another. You must see them and remember them this way, for afterward they were not so free and friendly. They were poles, these two. north and south, and would have been enemies no matter where they ’d met.
Austen was scrupulously clean and in all things tidy. The gross sweat-shiny skipper's nails were broken and lined with dirt; what teeth he had were either gold or black, and his breath wras as foul as his speech. He was sixty-odd and enormous. He could not possibly have spoken in a quiet voice. His eyes were small and blue and bleary. Over the top of his undershirt—the only shirt he wore, and he must have been wearing it for weeks—stuck out a thick greasy mop of hair. I íe frequently belched.
Austen would normally have avoided him; but on
DONALD BARR CHIDSEY
Kakanui it was different. Kakanui in seven weeks had proved loo quiet. His work was already finished. Sometimes vexed, not seldom frightened, he had taken skull, spine and limb measurements of every sullen hulking male and every suspicious female on this island. Yet he was going to have to stay here, living on fish and cocoa nuts w ith an occasional can of salmon, for six more weeks, until the copra schooner picked him up.
“So you’re not a missionary, eh? I certainly tix>k you for one. I lave some?’’
It was raw w'hisky. Austen mixed it with a little water. The skipper, after drinking, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I discovered an
Roger Austen listened, glad enough to listen to anything resembling English.
Forty-three years ago somewhere north of Renrhyn young Andrew Digge, in command of a schooner worthy of his talents, had sighted Digge Island. More, he had landed there. It was very low and only about a mile long, perhaps half a mile across. There was nothing on it but sand, chunks of coral, some stiff colorless grass, a low dry coral cave, and in that cave the bones of thirty-five or fort y Japanese.
“Japanese?” exclaimed Austen.
“Yuh. Japs because they was all so little. They was stretched out in a row', all skeletons, and not a one more’n five feet. I tcx>k the skull of one for a sort of souvenir. I got it on the ship out there right now, and 1 11 show it to you if you want. But first of all, let me tell you what it done to rue.”
It had jinxed him. He had been a promising young man but from that time on his luck changed ;■ he’d gone down and down.
He pounded the table.
“/1 afat mai i le kova!”
Sniggering a little, Lee Tom slippered in with another bottle.
Sitting under that pressure lamp while the storm rose— for the skipper’s w'eather prediction had been right—he told Roger Austen all about it. From that time on . . He returned to Auckland to learn that his wife had run off with another man. He lost his command. Though not a heavy drinker, he was fid some dojxrd rum which caused him to resent an insult with more vehemence than was necessary, so that the skipper was railroaded to jail. 1 le found difficulty getting other commands after that, and unbelievably bad luck w hen he did get them.
“It ’s the skull that done it ! That little Jap wanted to go back to the island and be with the rest of ’em.”
He knew that his one chance of casting off the spell was to get the skull back to that island. EarliiT, this would have been simple, for he was sure of its position and could have made an excuse for sailing that far north. And of course the land was there! Never mind what them chartmakers said.
“Of course,” murmured Austen.
"Existence doubtful ! Did you ever hear such—”
But when a man can’t get a command, it’s different. Even when, as sometimes happened, he did get a command. it was a cheap one and he was kept busy scampering around the lower Cooks or over to Rajxete, and had to account for practically every hour at sea. He would get the sack at the end of this voyage too, his first as captain in many years. I íe knew it, had been tipped off.
“If I could only get to that island and put that skull back, mister, things would be* all right again. Say. you want to see that skull? I’ll fetch it fok you.”
“It’s— uh—raining pretty hard.”
The heavens had ojxmed. Never before had Roger Austen heard such rain. It flittered like rifle fire among the cocoanut trees. In wind-wild gusts it slammed across the roof, making a noise like thunder.
“What’s a little rain?” said the skipix*r and went out.
THE SKIPPER, of course, would not return. If he reached his boat at all, he would collapse in a stupor. No man could drink that much and struggle through a storm like this.
A palm frond, torn loose, thudded against the shack. One of the Chinese youngsters whimpered a little and then was still.
Roger Austen stood in the doorway looking out, and his throat was dry and tight, not because he was frightened— though he was. a little—but because he was lonesome. He knew what he was doing when he came out here; he had no special illusions about the South Seas. The shock came from within. He had supposed himself equipjx*d to meet solitude. It was amazing, now, to find himself so lonesome that he was willing to sit and listen to a swine like Skipper Digge—and even to feel sorry that the skipjx*r was gone! He leaned against the door jamb and gazed with glum eyes at the lagoon, and he admitted to himself that he was homesick. Just plain old-fashioned homesick.
“Out of the way, young fella!”
The skipper wore oilskins now. Carefully, in both arms,
he held something white. He pushed past Austen and into the room under the lamp. He deposited the white object on the table.
“There is what’s ruined my life!”
Without fussing about a glass, Djgge took a very long drink. When he heard a sudden jerky giggling he lowered the bottle, to see this missionary-looking bird sitting in a chair as though he'd been pushed into it. Austen was
staring at the skull, and while his mouth emitted giggles his eyes w ere hot w ith excitement.
"What the devil's the matter with you?” The skipper frowned.
Austen’s voice, along the edge of hysteria, cut his bellow. “There are others there? Complete skeletons?”
“Yuh. Must’ve been thirty-five or forty of ’em.”
“And they were all short? Less than five feet?”
“Every one. That’s how' I knewthey was Japs.”
“Japs!” Austen laughed again. He never took his gaze from the thing on the table. “Did you ever see a subbrachycephalic Japanese?”
“Well, I don’t know anything about that. All I said was—”
“Man, that’s a Negrito’s skull ! Don’t you understand?” “No niggers around this part of the world as short as that. In Papua they got some that’s—”
“Not negro—Negrito!" Austen looked up, his eyes
glittering. “Negrito skeletons in the longitude of the Cooks! They’ve been on the Philippines, but it’s never been proved that they voyaged farther east. This wrill be revolutionary news! It’s of the utmost importance. The utmost!”
The skipixr, puzzled, sat down.
In the fourteenth century Roger Austen w'ould surely have been a priest. He was inherently, he was essentially, religious. He worshipjxxl science. Unheroical in everything else, he would gladly have given his life if by doing so he could increase by one certain iota the accumulated knowledge of mankind. That flame burned in him.
“Captain, you said you thought that island was sinking?” “Looked like that. You’re going to say maybe that’s why those others didn’t sight it. because it disappeared after I landed? Well, I don't believe it. It won’t go until all the bones are together again.”
“Could you find it again?”
“Course I could, if I had a chance!”
“Suppose you were to sail in search of it now?”
“Can't. Haven’t got the water and supplies. Besides, I'm cleared for Renrhyn.”
“Suppose you were given the water and supplies? And as far as Penrhyn’s concerned, you were cleared for there when you put in here. Now listen: You told me you w'ere going to get fired anyway, the end of this voyage. What would happen if you were a few months late getting in but hadn't spent any extra money? What if you'd been supplied with
everything you need and perhaps a little more besides? That island must be approximately a thousand miles away. Could you find it and have a few days there and get back here to Kakanui inside of six weeks?”
The skull was between the two men, and the rain roared. The skipper put elbows on the table, and leaned forward.
“Listen, mister. I’d have to have a little something for myself, of course, to protect me against maybe an owner's suit. But to get a chance to put this thing back—”
HE HAD the right to do this, Austen told himself many times. He was supposed to use his head. He was not stealing anything except an opportunity. The island was volcanic and might sink under the sea. Islands did, in these parts. They rose from nowhere and to nowjiere returned, leaving nothing. Had this happened already in the case of Digge? He tried not to consider that possibility. But at least he could determine whether Digge Island still existed, and be back in time for the copra schooner.
Austen had a great deal of time in which to go over all this in his mind. The trades were blowing, a fine steady breeze just abaft the starboard beam, so that they shushed along at six and a half; but the days were seemingly interminable, and if life on Kakanui had been dull, life aboard the Titaia was even more so.
The Tiiaia was fifty-four feet overall with a thirteen-foot beam. She was cranky, slow, very old, and ketch-rigged. Her canvas was dirty. She was infested with copra bugs and cockroaches. Carrying no cargo, she rolled mightily. Below, she stank so much that, except when it rained, Austen remained on deck night and day, as did the crew. The skipper, however, spent much of his time in the cabin he shared with Austen. He would lie in his bunk for hours on end, mumbling to himself or singing a little, or, if he were asleep, snoring. The bottle was never far away.
Not with gruff heartiness, but meaning it, the skipper called the weather calm. To Austen it was not. He was sick almost continuously the first three days, and he lay
on deck and suffered. He simply could not meet the stench below. The skipper laughed at him, and the three Cook Islanders chuckled.
Yet Austen did not falter. He was out with a purpose and he would accept any agony to achieve that purpose. In medieval times he would have gone to the stake smiling, on a formal point of dogma. If he could prove that there had been Negritos as far east as the fifteenth westerly line of
longitude, he would have no cause for complaint.
On the fourth day, weak but no longer sick, he set up his typewriter on the afterdeck. Working was difficult. But in five days he had finished the entire report, checked every figure, balanced every table, and bound the whole thing neatly between cardboard covers.
It had helped. When it was done, the lonesomeness flowed back, engulfing him like fog. He looked around for something else to do.
He thought of navigation.
The skipper did a great deal of navigating. Austen, though a stranger to astronomy and relativity, had of course studied geometry, advanced algebra, trigonometry. Navigation should not be difficult for such a man. He suggested this to the skipper.
“You ’tend to your own business! What you do is measure bones. What I do is navigate.”
“But certainly it wouldn’t do any harm if—”
“I ain't no schoolteacher!”
He might have been guarding a valuable secret which all the world was trying to wrench from him. Delusional jealousy. The rickety old sextant was guarded like a Mohammedan wife. The skipper seemed even to resent Austen watching him from a distance when he shot the sun and immediately afterward, hastily, with black overshoulder looks, the sextant was locked up again. The charts too were kept locked up, and all the sheets the skipper covered with tiny figures. Even the ancient chronometer, which sounded like an alarm clock and probably wasn’t much more accurate, was treated as though it were something not to be profaned by the eyes of anthropologists. When the skipper caught Austen glancing at it one day, he pushed him in the chest so that he slammed against the cabin wall.
“You keep away from that!”
Austen, his head singing from the impact, blinked rapidly. He was trembling. But he said nothing, and quit the cabin. Austen sat on the forward hatch, marvelling
that it was possible to hate a man with so much bitterness.
rANE DAY was exactly the same as another, but Austen had brought a calendar and marked it regularly, so that he knew it was the fourteenth day when they changed their course. Even the skipper could not keep him from reading the compass, which had to be where the steersman could see it, and Austen could get a rough idea of direction from the map in his Pacific Islands Yearbook. Until the fourteenth day they were heading generally right. After that the skipper did not seem to know where they were going. He took more sights than ever, and covered sheet after sheet with figures. He was troubled. He wouldn’t admit it ; but he was worried. Several times a day he would shout some new command to the native at the wheel. For a whole afternoon they were heading back toward Kakanui. They made a little southing, then a lot of northing. For three days with seeming aimlessness they tacked. For an entire week. < Austen deduced from peeks at the , compass, they went in concentric circles.
It meant at least this: that the wind came from different directions, and so the sails were differently set—for it seemed to be the wind that changed its course, not the Titaia—and this chipped at least the outer surface of the monotony into which they were affixed like objects melted into a great pillar of glass.
On the twenty-fifth day Austen spoke. They were breakfasting on flying fishes which had landed on the deck during the night, and Austen hoped that this delicacy would put the skipper in a relatively amiable mood.
“See here. I’ve got to get back to Kakanui by the eighth. That only allows us sixteen more days. It means as much to me as it does to you, but don’t you think we’d better agree that Digge Island is—uh—well, that it sank?”
Andy Digge looked up, and the small blue eyes in that great fat face were like the eyes of an angry pig. He looked down again.
"I'm the master of this ship.”
“I understand that, captain. But after all. we've got to—”
“We'll go back when I say we’ll go back !”
“You may be the master, but I’ve chartered her.”
“You done nothing of the kind.” The skipper was gnawing a fish. “All you done was make a verbal agreement with me to take you to Digge Island. And that’s what I’m doing.”
“Provided we could get there and back inside of six weeks.”
“I don’t remember anything about that.” The skipper spat a sliver of bone, tossed the carcass overside, and rose, wiping greasy hands on his undershirt. “1 came out here to find that island, and I'm going to find it.”
He started for the sextant locker, but stopped, and half turned, waggling a huge and very dirty forefinger.
“An’ what’s more, if you got any idf'as of conking me when I’m asleep you better get rid of ’em. Remember. I’m the only one aboard that knows how to navigate—and it's a big ocean.”
They went here and there. They were an absurd sunscorched thing pushed about by waves. They w ere a thing of peeling paint, shrouds that hung slack, planks that squealed and squee-ed, sails that flamped wearily into place with each new change of course, while the goosenecks gritted with the swinging of the gawky booms— this w hole being dominated by a voice, though an ocean yearned to gulp it.
No, the ocean didn’t care. There was plenty of time.
There was a morning when he was awakened in a dubiously blue dawn by the skipper, who shook him. Austen shrank back a little, for the skipper's monstrous face was very close and his breath draconic with poison. He’d been drunk when Austen stretched out on deck and he was still drunk. His hand waved forward.
“See that. Professor Bones?”
It was a grey-brown smear on the surface, a splotch of earth incredibly afloat yet fixed in place, at first glance scarcely any larger than the Tilaia itself. Even the sea, with rage to spare, could not be troubled to lather it. and there were no combers at its rim, only wavelets which slid up and slid away in sibilant scorn.
“That’s my island. I told you I’d find it again !”
IT WAS regrettable, Austen reflected, backing away from the thirty-seventh skeleton, that he had not brought his camera. There was little space for personal baggage aboard the Tilaia. and his notes took up a lot of room, so he had left the camera behind. Thoughtless of him. The row should have been photographed precisely as it was, though admittedly this would be difficult, for there was not much light in the cave. He had sketched the row instead, to show the relative position and size of each skeleton. In addition, he was labelling each individual bone and numbering it according to the skeleton to which it belonged.
He backed out of the cave, where he had been obliged to stoop low, and straightened his back, kicking the kinks from his legs. I lis muscles were still sore from the voyage, but he didn’t mind. He hummed, for he was happy.
There they were, blurred white shapes in the dimness of the cave, thirty-seven skeletons—and each that of a Negrito. What a field this was going to open !
Complete they were to the last detail, for the skipper on landing two days ago had promptly replaced the skull which for forty-three years, in his opinion, had jinxed him. The skipper too was happy now. He was quieter. He was drunk, but good-naturedly drunk. He would sometimes come to the mouth of the cave and watch Austen at work, and say sarcastic things, but there was none of the old snarling. He was all right now. He’d put the skull back where it belonged.
What a field ! Roger Austen felt again the ecstasy he had felt in the back of Lee Tom’s shack that night when he’d first seen the skull the skipper had. It was a greater ecstasy now, smoother, fuller, more complete, enveloping him so that to the eyes of other men he must have apI>eared somnambulistic as he moved about. It was not compounded in part of hope. It was joy for a thing complete and assured. “Existence doubtful” be hanged! He had the bones.
There must originally have been many more of the Negritos on this island—or had it once been more than an island? He was no geologist. This was obviously a burial place, this cave, the air of which had preserved these bones through the centuries. What had happened to the others? Sunk in a sudden sinking of one end of the island? Or had volcanic rumbles warned them, so that they took to the sea in crude boats and were lost? For the island was undoubtedly volcanic. The skip]M*r said that it was not more than one quarter the size it had been when he discovered it, and within three hours of arrival they had felt a distinct if slight jolt beneath their feet.
“Come on. professor. We got to clear out soon. Dirty weather making up.”
Austen said, “Yes, yes,” affably. He did not turn his head.
“Take a look at it. if you don’t believe me. I’m not going to be near any glorified reef when that hits us! Take a look.”
Though Austen looked politely, he did not see the black army of clouds any more than he noticed the tensity of the air. I lis glance immediately returned to the cave.
"Well, I 'll push the boat out. Corríe on.”
What sort of people had they been? Little, of course. Dark. But what were their habits, and what gods had they worshipped? We knew something of the ancient New Caledonians and the Tasmanians, extinct negroid ty|>es, and the Dravidian aborigines of Australia. We could guess much of what we didn’t know. With all the work that had been done, we even knew something about the Neanderthal man, the Cro-Magnon man. But these fellows! Were they —they probably were—some kin to the Akkas and Batwas and Wochuasof Africa, and Andaman Islanders, the Aetas, perhaps the Senangs of Malaya? But how ever did they reach a remoteness as stunning as this?
Austen let bewilderment ravish him and didn’t even try to think. There was a smile on his face an onlooker might have called fatuous. There was a great singing in his heart. 1 le had no thought of danger.
“Come on, come on! This thing is serious!”
THE SUN was shining, but very soon it would be shut off like an electric light. The onrushing clouds were close, and from time to time splashes of purple-white lightning showed in this or that part of them, as though one section of the army signalled to another. The clouds themselves were mercilessly black.
Austen's teeth clicked together, his heels were shocked. It was a curious feeling, gone before he had a chance to analyze it. It was as though he had been standing in an elevator cage when some fool jiggled the lever.
“Feel that? There was another one a little while ago, though you probably didn’t notice it. standing here in a trance. Come on! I won’t stay another minute on this island.”
I íe started away. Austen ran after him and caught up to him at the edge of the water where the skipj>er had started to push out the dinghy.
“But see here! I'll carry them myself—I wouldn’t let anybody else touch them—but you’ll have to hold the boat for me.”
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Andy Digge looked as angry as the clouds, his face almost as dark. He knew that dead feeling in the air. He knew that though the sun shone on them now, in a few minuses all hell was going to break loose. He also knew that the Titaia's anchorage, half a mile out in the direction of the oncoming storm, was none too good. There was no lagoon. And the three Cook Islanders, while they could obey orders, would make a mess of handling the vessel if the storm reached them before the skipper did.
“Carry what? What are you talking about?”
“Why, the bones, of course!”
The skipper stepped away from the beached dinghy. His voice, for it, was low.
“Listen, mister. You don’t think you’re going to take any bones off this island, do you?”
"Why — why, I’m going to take them all !”
“I came here,” said the skipper, "to leave bones, not to take ’em away.”
“But you don’t understand! They’re one of the most valuable anthropological discoveries in recent years! The world of science—”
“I don’t care a hoot about the world of science. Those bones stay here, every one !
I was jinxed bad enough once. It ain’t going to happen again. Come on.”
The earth shook beneath Austen’s feet, literally, but figuratively as well. He stood flabbergasted. He had not expected any considerable understanding or sympathy from this drunkard; but science was science, a thing absolute; and that anybody should propose to leave a single one of those objects . . .
It became suddenly dark. The earth shook again, quietly, not theatrically but with purpose.
“Then I won’t go with you !”
“Suit yourself.” The skipper shrugged, lifting the tiny sand anchor. “I’ll try not to miss you too much.”
Austen grabbed his arm.
“I won’t let you go without taking those remains!”
The skipper straightened and turned. • His face was only a few inches from Austen’s.
“You think you’re going to stop me? How? By force maybe?”
“If necessary. I don’t ordinarily believe in—”
One of the maxims of your experienced rough-and-tumble brawlers is that if something’s going to start he might as well be the one to start it. The first blow, properly delivered, can count for so much. Andy Digge, who had battled in barrooms from Panama to Singapore, was a believer in this maxim.
Austen never saw the punch coming. It was as though an explosion occurred inside his head—and then he was lying in the
sand and all around him the earth rocked like a disc spun on the end of a stick.
“Want any more?”
He rose slowly, spitting blood, shaking his head, not in answer to the question but instinctively to clear his brain. He took off his glasses. He put up his fists.
“Well, this won’t last long,” said the skipper.
'V'ET it did. For if the skipper was more than twice Austen’s weight, he also was more than twice Austen’s age. Austen had something besides youth on his side too, for he fought with the courage and unaccountable strength of a fanatic. To the skipper it was just another tussle. To Austen it was not only a matter of life and death but a holy crusade. Austen was a pacifist by training and conviction. You might have ellxnved him off a sidewalk or insulted his mother, and he would pass the incident by with a shrug of annoyance. He thought fighting was wasteful, vulgar and absurd. But here on the beach at Digge Island, science had been outraged.
Austen went down three more times, twice to hands and knees, once full length. On this last occasion the skipper managed to get in a couple of kicks to the side of the head. But somehow the young man rose. Blinking nearsightedly, his face puffed, his mouth a mass of blood, he came in again and again.
There was nobody to watch, not even a sea gull. The Cook Islanders were asleep on the deck of the Titaia, all unaware of science or the storm.
The skipper began to swear, then gave it up. He needed his wind.
They stood and hammered one another, slugged one another, stood there toe-totoe, punching one another's pulpy faces, gasping, panting, refusing to quit.
Though he knew many a dirty trick, the skipper in fact was no better boxer than Austen. But then, this wasn’t boxing. This was sheer brute fighting. They might have been a couple of troglodytes on the verge of a steamy marsh in the days before history began.
The skipper knew he was sagging. He could scarcely lift his arms; while this fool kid came in with terrible persistence. The skipper stepped close, trying to lock the fool kid’s elbows, at the same time bringing up a knee.
Whether it was because of a si ip on the sand or a lucky blow, or a combination of these, Roger Austen was never to learn. But the skipper went down.
Austen, indeed, nearly fell on top of him, nearly was carried off his own feet by a wild blind blow' which found no mark. He staggered. He stood with heels dug into the sand, swaying, panting.
The skipper did not move. It wras very dark now, and Austen became aware of the wind, which was full and strong, no
gale but stiffening every instant, carrying firm assurance of greater force in reserve. It did not come with a crash, dramatically, as perhaps a hurricane should. It came with firm bulky shouldered confidence in its own ability to sweep away everything. The breakers, which had been trifling, suddenly were very high, turning under greenish-white, with a hiss of foam across their tops. Lightning flashed in sheets, without sound. The grass crouched low.
"Captain, get up! We—we—” Even that landlubber Roger Austen at last had seen the danger. “We’ve got to get aboard ! Don’t you hear—it’s coming!”
It was as though a frenzy had taken him. Panic shook his spare battered form. His ears were ringing, his head was hot, he could not think, but alternately waved to the ship and tried to lift the skipper.
That man must have weighed pounds, and the strength fury lent had dribbled swiftly out of Austen when his foeman was stretched at his feet. The skipper had hit his head on a piece of coral. His eyes were closed, he didn’t move. He wras a great limp mass of flesh smeared with sweat and blood and sand.
"Here! You’ve got to . . . It’s coming!”
Even the Cook Islanders had awakened now, and they were running back and forth on the deck waving for him to return immediately. He, after pointing to the prone skipper, signalled them to come to him; but the darkness was thicker every moment, and either they did not understand his signals, or, what was more likely -—and he could not blame them—did not dare leap into a maddened sea. The dinghy was the only boat the Titaia carried.
It did not occur to Austen until he had pushed out, sobbing a little from vexation and fright, that he had never before even tried to row. What a helpless man he was ! Yet he made it; and one of the boys jumped in and took the oars; and somehow between them they got Andy Digge aboard the Titaia. The natives did not ask questions. They were not unaccustomed to seeing their master like this—his lips were cut and puffed, his head wore a crown of blood, under one eye and all down the cheek the skin was blue-black—and besides, there wasn't time.
A USTEN had previously thought of the Titaia as an abode of almost unendurable idleness; but now there was not a second to spare. What could he do to help? Nothing. The natives slapped and skittered about, lurching, holding onto things, handling rigging and furling sails Austen knew nothing about. Once he grasped the wheel, thinking he could at least steer. But he was weak as a baby, and couldn’t even hold the thing properly; and a native, shoving him aside, took over. Austen fell to the deck.
Even the natives were not sure of themselves. They were unused to the smallest responsibility. In this pinch they simply did not know how to act without the voice of command. They got in one another’s way; they jabbered, though none could hear what the others said; and repeatedly, with large scared eyes, they glanced aft toward the skipper who rocked in the scuppers, his eyes closed. There had not been time to take the skipper below. Perhaps the natives did not wish to do so anyway; jjerhaps merely looking at his limp form gave them some measure of confidence.
The foresail, even while they struggled to reef it, went “clack !” and was no longer there. It did not seem to have been blown away, but simply to have disappeared. Afterward there was a flurry of rope ends which snapped and whirled like whips, each of them heavy enough and moved with enough force to knock a man overboard. The wheelsman’s mouth was open, and he might have been screaming.
They were northeast of Digge Island, the only place they had been able to find anchorage. The storm had come from the northeast. They were trying to beat ; but what did these three know about beating free in such a blow, and who was to tell
i them? It was too dark to see the island now, but even above the roar of the wind the roar of the breakers was audible. A harmless little place, this island had first seemed; a child’s toy on a toy lake. Unseen but thunderous, it had become as awful as the grave. If they struck, even supposing they managed to scramble ashore, where would they be? There was no water on Digge, and not even a cocoanut tree. Those precious bones, Austen reflected grimly, would be no help to men who were starving. They had cleared for Penrhyn, and no searching party would seek them as far north as this. Besides, who would take the trouble to search? Or who, if search he did, would find this dot? Through the centuries, so far as was known, only Andy Digge had ever found it. Indeed, its very existence was doubted !
The jibstay, the jib with it, was carried away. Their only spread now was the halfreefed mainsail, so shredded that it might as well have been that many dangling strips of canvas.
The wheel kicked in the steersman’s hands. The Titaia slithered up a wave, bucked sideways like a great shying horse, and heeled suddenly and violently to starboard as though she meant to get it all over with and dive to the bottom without further struggle.
Austen saw the sea coming, and he threw his arms across his head and humped his shoulders just in time. They had shipped other seas, to be sure, and the air was filled with spray that stung like sparks; but this was a mountain. It knocked the breath out of Austen, who lay flat on the deck. He must have lost consciousness for a moment. The next thing he knew was the swish and gurgle of water in the scupj)er holes.
He sat up. The skipper had opened one
Only one eye, for the other had been closed by Austen. Blinking it, the skipper propped himself on his elbows. His puffed lips rubbered out, spewing sea water. He ran his tongue over them. The taste of brine . the sight of those bare poles . . .
He began to shout. And you could hear him.
"Puaka aka tautau! Break out that storm trysail ! What do you think we carry it for?”
Miraculously, a ghost, he got to his feet. He fell against the wheel, shouldered aside the steersman.
“Vite, you lazy Kanaka! HaavititUi! Jump it!”
'“PHIS WAS about four o’clock in the afternoon, though it was dark as midnight. Until a little before ten o’clock the next morning, when the sun inched in agony through clouds that were shredded as the Titaia’s sails, the skipper remained at that wheel. He was not often quiet in that time. But though he swore terribly, occasionally, too, he laughed; and his laughter was as loud as his cursing. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. A hurricane can’t kill a man like that. Hearing him, the Cook Islanders would look aft and chuckle. Everything was all right now.
Austen, ignored, lay on the deck with one arm around a stanchion, and looked up. Here was a demon—but a reassuring one. Here was a man who, whatever else might be said of him, knew his job. There would be old salts in other waters who might look at the Titaia while docked, and shake their heads at the thought of anybody being fool enough to put to sea in such a tub; but Andy Digge was used to making rottenness stay afloat.
He did not eat in those eighteen hours, but as soon as he got her riding properly he sent one of the natives to the cabin for a bottle. He laughed as he drank. By the time the sun came, in fact, Digge was drunk all over again. He went into the cabin for a little while, and when he reappeared he carried the sextant. He saw Austen sitting there.
Austen had not ventured to get to his feet, and now he was too exhausted and
■ too sick to try. He sat looking astern, his I weak blue eyes squinting. He had left ! his glasses on the beach.
“Sweet little blow, eh, professor!” The ; skipper seemed to hold no grudge. “Buck up ! We’ll get back to Kakanui yet !”
Austen did not answer or even turn his head, and the skipper, leaning, looked into his face and saw the tears. The face was bruised and cut, and it was stiff with dried brine; but the tears were fresh, hot, busy.
“Still thinking of those bones? Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you’ll promise to move ’em all yourself, so’s the jinx will jump on you and not on me. I’ll take you back ! I think my own jinx must be dead since that blow. I can feel it. So I’ll take you back.”
But in the afternoon the skipper said in a voice relatively gentle: “Professor, I think we are back! I know my navigating, an’ if we ain’t right where—”
“I—I felt that last night. I felt it all along.” He held up a slip of paper on which was written in smeared purple ink: “Os Coccyx. Sk. No. 3.”
“One of the boys fished it out of the ocean a little while ago. It was one of the labels. But I found I’d already labelled that bone, so I dropped this just outside the cave.”
“Yuh ... So that’s all that’s left of Digge Island?” j “I’m afraid it is.”
A subdued Pacific shushed along the sides of that disgraceful old tub the Titaia, which should have been condemned and broken up years ago. There was no other sound.
Then the skipper burst into a roar of laughter.
“If I don’t mind, professor, why should you? After all, it was my island!” He shoved a bottle before Austen’s face. “Here. Do you good ! That’s the trouble with you, professor. You don’t drinkenough.”