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ALBERT DORRINGTON

AN AFFAIR OF GUNBOATS

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A "BULLY" HAYES STORY

ILLUSTRATED BY H.M. PAGET


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Published in:
The Pall Mall Magazine, April 1908
Short Stories, April 1908

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-08-22
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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ABOUT CAPTAIN "BULLY" HAYES

"BULLY" HAYES was a notorious American-born "blackbirder" who flourished in the 1860 and 1870s, and was murdered in 1877. He arrived in Australia in 1857 as a ships' captain, where he began a career as a fraudster and opportunist. Bankrupted in Western Australia after a "long firm" fraud, he joined the gold rush to Otago, New Zealand. He seems to have married around four times without the formality of a divorce from any of his wives.

He was soon back in another ship, whose co-owner mysteriously vanished at sea, leaving Hayes sole owner; and he joined the "blackbirding" trade, where Pacific islanders were coerced, or bribed, and then shipped to the Queensland canefields as indentured labourers. After a number of wild escapades, and several arrests and imprisonments, he was shot and killed by ship's cook, Peter Radek.

So notorious was "Bully" Hayes, and so apt his nickname, (he was a big, violent, overbearing and brutal man) that Radek was not charged; he was indeed hailed a hero.

Dorrington wrote a number of amusing and entirely fictitious short stories about Hayes. Australian author Louis Becke, who sailed with Hayes, also wrote about him.

Terry Walker



THE Hindu snake-charmer halted in front of the trade-house, placing his red basket in the purao shade.

A pair of blue herons rose from a near thicket and fluttered into the hot windless jungle. At sound of the Hindu's footsteps a big-shouldered white man stalked from the verandah with a half scowl at the turbaned figure. No word was spoken.

Grinning amiably, the Hindu whipped a brown-throated cobra from his sleeve and allowed the darting head to wind around his jewelled wrist.

"You like to see the entertainment, sahib?" he began in a gentle voice. "I come yesterday to Nukahiva in the Kompany's boat. I show you the four man-killer cobras for one half-dollar."

"You couldn't fetch me if you showed me four blamed elephants," yawned the white man. "I'm not in my best snake humour to-day. Call again, when the whiskey's gone."

Salaaming, the Hindu raised his red basket and proceeded leisurely down the limestone path leading to the bay. At that moment a small fifty-ton schooner wore through the narrow harbour entrance and anchored within a cable's length of the French gunboat Jéna. Ten minutes later a dingey was lowered from her side; a planter, accompanied by a sullen-browed Manihikian boy, pulled ashore to the pier steps and hurried up the crumbling path to the trade-house.

From the palm-thatched verandah the big-shouldered man watched their coming, half curiously. "Hullo, Long!" he exclaimed briefly. "Thought you were running an opium farm in Manna."

"So I was," panted Long, "until a five-inch shell dropped through my front window."

"Oyster-shell?" A bottle of whiskey was pushed across the verandah table. "Who's been throwing valuable pearl at you, James?"

"There was more iron in it than pearl, Captain Hayes. And I don't want to load up on your whiskey, either," added the newcomer irritably. "I'm badly burnt and half poisoned already."

"Easy, Long, and don't wave your jaundice at a man like me. Take eight breaths and compose your nerves." The buccaneer waited dourly for the other to speak.

"I don't want to insult you, Hayes. But... you see," he twisted his hands together savagely, "I saw my trade-house shot away a few mornings ago—the work of ten years undone."

"Sounds nice," nodded Hayes. "Can't say I follow you, though. Didn't think there was a man on your island who could shoot a blamed turtle."

Long's face grew dark with rage. "You haven't escaped, Hayes," he went on. "The shells gutted that depot of yours at Hurricane Reef. Three of your kanakas were killed—old Tamaita, Nukoa, and that Gilbert Islander, Pao. The landing party shot them in the scrub and left a pile of ashes where your sandalwood was stored. I must say the shooting improved," he added maliciously, "when they got the range of your factory, Bully."

"You mean—" Hayes stepped forward and snarled in the face of James Long.

"The German gunboat Moltke, commissioned to wipe out the island over that poll-tax affair. The Moltke dropped in on the 15th, and opened fire as if we were a crowd of cannibals."

Long drew a sheet of dirty paper from his pocket. "Here's a list of the killed and injured, Hayes; I'm sorry I couldn't bring a photograph of your heap of ashes at Hurricane Reef."

"You bolted?"

"Partly. Compensation's my ticket, and I'm writing to the Home Government about it."

"How did you dodge the Germans?"

"They landed after the bombardment. A sub-lieutenant, with a squad of Deutschers at his heels, met me on the beach and told me—told me," half screamed Long, "that he was sorry for what they had done. 'It was all an over sight,' he said; 'they'd mistaken Manua for Nassau Island.' He stood in front of my burning house and—and apologised."

"It's almost amusing, Long."

"Is it? Well, you'd better go and look at the graveyard they've made of your island. A burning forest isn't much of a timber asset. They haven't left a roof to cover your head."

The buccaneer received the news in silence. His storehouse and sandalwood depot at Manua Island held most of his worldly possessions. His patent-rubber diving gear, his silk and cotton trade had been destroyed, his servants killed, at the instigation of a slovenly, incompetent navigator.

"What's the Moltke's destination?"

"Flint Island, I should say. Anybody that wants can pick her up in the Manihiki group. The yarn about the bombardment being a mistake is bunkum. It's you they're striking at, Hayes. Your schooners get all the trade. The Schoffenhagen and the De Wert people want you out of the way. Can't you see it, Hayes? They've fixed up this poll-tax punitive expedition question, and rung up their bleating gunboat to clear away undesirables from their spheres of influence."

"That's so," answered the buccaneer wearily. "I don't mind a square fight between man and man, but I can't tackle the German navy."


IT was gala day at Tai-o-hai. Half a dozen copra schooners lay out in the bay. The newly arrived French gunboat Jéna was anchored in the fairway, her yards decked with flags and bunting. Towards evening the resident consul and principal traders of the town entertained the captain and officers at a dinner given in honour of their visit. The sound of music came from the Marine Esplanade, where the Jéna's band performed in front of the Consul's residence.

The trade-house occupied by Captain Hayes was in darkness. Since sunset no attempt had been made to illuminate the wide, palm-shadowed verandah overlooking the bay. Seated in chairs or lying on the bare floor were a score of white men of all nationalities—American ex-naval officers, Britishers and Australians, swart, lean derelicts, for the most part, who had engaged in every kind of island warfare and revolt since their own respective navies had discharged or expelled them.

The majority were engaged in the labour traffic; a few owned schooners and pearling lagoons, but to a man they viewed with loathing the presence of a German warship in their vicinity. They believed that no foreign power had a right to interfere with their trade. They were the pioneers of the South Seas. They had fought the wastes of sky and sea, had spent their lives seeking new plantations and in the building of trade-houses. They had hewn their way into unknown forests, supplying money and goods to enterprising agents when pestilence and famine swept over the archipelago.

The Germans had followed hot on their footsteps, supporting their claims with fast-moving gunboats, and in many cases expelling British and American traders from certain island groups whenever their presence interfered with the policy of German expansion.

Here and there among the bearded pioneers one saw a handsome face; some were mere boys, dressed in the vivacious colours of Spanish hidalgoes, hearty and clean of speech, and with the hot southern night to blood their imaginations.

There were others, grey and husky of voice, who exuded the atmosphere of Chilian barracoons, men inured to the death-wails of the island labour schooners. At their head sat Captain William Hayes, tight-lipped, flinty-eyed, the memory of the recent German outrage running molten through his brain.

"Seems to me," said a voice from the dark of the verandah, "that we've got no redress. Last year in New Britain four white traders were shot and others imprisoned by a crowd of money-grubbing Deutschers. Two of our fellows are still in an island prison eating papaw and bananas with Malays and Tonquinese lepers. I don't say we're all philanthropists and Bible-class men, but we don't hit back with five-inch shells."

"We might," drawled Hayes. "Anybody been aboard the French gunboat?"

"Couldn't get within a bayonet's length of her this afternoon. They're taking in stores."

"Yah! The whole crew are ashore can-canning and playing guard of honour round the Consul's house. Captain Decroix likes his lads to join in when there's free drinks and music. It's anybody's gunboat tonight; the crew are nearly all ashore."

A kanaka servant appeared suddenly from the rear of the trade-house and whispered a word in the vernacular. Hayes almost leaped from his feet. "Bring him here, then," he cried, addressing the servant.

A moment later the Hindu snake charmer slunk forward, carrying his red basket under his arm. Glancing furtively at the crowd of lean swart men on the verandah, he drew back undecidedly.

Hayes beckoned sharply. "You are coming with us to-night, Ghulem Singh. And if you behave properly there's fifty dollars for you in the morning."

The Hindu smiled weakly, and shivered. "I no understand," he stammered.

"Sit in that corner, and you'll soon get a grip of things," commanded Hayes. "And keep your cobras where they won't breathe on the company. Sharp, now!"

The buccaneer leaned over the verandah and glanced seaward. Down in the dark hollow of the bay several schooners danced at their moorings. Above the starlit waters glittered the Jéna's fore-top light. Hayes searched her critically through his night-glasses, and the men sprawling at his feet looked up inquiringly from time to time. Clearing his voice, he turned upon them huskily. "She'll do, boys; she's gunned fore and aft like an English cruiser. Well... who's coming with me?" he demanded sombrely. There was an answering chorus of voices that almost rose to a shout. "I'm your man, Bully. I was suckled at the breech of a gun."

"Put me in, Hayes. I can repair a broken gas-engine or fit up a nickel-plated ammunition hoist."

"Take me, Cap'n. Here's my torpedo and gunnery certificates—United States Navy."

The buccaneer turned upon a white haired, bull-throated man smoking quietly in the dark of the verandah. "And who are you?" he demanded suddenly.

"Richard Holt, at your service, Cap'n. Sailed in the Alabama and ran for the presidency of Venezuela."

"Bet they cleaned you with tar oil and deported your relatives on a horse-punt," snapped Hayes. "Who's next?"

"Stanley Wheeler, Cap'n. Fought in the Merrimac and passed all gunnery tests."

"Well?" Hayes turned to another inquiringly.

The man coughed behind his hand. "Threw some iron into a Peruvian slave runner in the 'fifties. I'd sooner fight than drink whiskey. Me mother was an Irishwoman."

"I know a gunboat from an ice-chest," broke in another, "and I'm going."

"You are," said Hayes sadly. "You are going to help me hit Bismarck and his Kolonialverein on the lip. Put away that gin, boys; it won't fight German bluejackets." He grew suddenly thoughtful. "Boys," he began after awhile, "it's not heroes I'm after, but plain, honest greasers. I want half a dozen lads who can drive a gunboat's engines. I don't want ex-torpedo lieutenants and copper-plated blatherskites; six oil-cans are wanted to shove us over the skyline."

"No greasing for me," piped a Sydney boy, in white silk coat and pants. "I'll sign on for a bit of gentlemanly scrapping, though, if you'll provide the ammunition."

"Guess you'll provide the squealing, if there's going to be any," answered Hayes. "You'll come as a greaser, or quit. You'll be much safer among the lubricators."

Hereat a voice from the shadows volunteered to whip a crew of firemen together within an hour if a month's pay in advance were guaranteed. Eight New Plymouth men from a stranded American tramp steamer were, at that moment, almost destitute in Tai-o-hai.

Hayes nodded briefly, spoke a few instructions under his breath, and the volunteer—his name was Eric Williams— departed silently towards the town.


TEN minutes later Captain Hayes led the way to the beach, a score of island rebels breathing in his wake. At the foot of a bluff overlooking a tide-glutted inlet lay a couple of whale-boats. Ghulem Singh, with his red basket, was hurried into the first, the others tumbling in after him.

The French gunboat had veered stern on to the town; smoke oozed from her funnel in lazy wreaths. A pair of copra schooners rode on her port side, deserted and unlit, and the fretting tide made guzzling sounds under their storm-bruised ribs.

With muffled oars the two whaleboats crept under the Frenchman's bows, unchallenged and unseen. Discipline in most foreign warships relaxes when officers and men are the guests of island consuls and traders. In the silence of the starlit bay the Jéna loomed Titanesque above them. At a signal from the buccaneer a dark shape crawled monkey-like up the gunboat's stiff anchor-chain. Pausing with his right foot in the hawser hole he cast a line into the whaleboat below.


Illustration

A dark shape crawled monkey-like up the gunboat's stiff anchor-chain.


Hayes caught the rope and fastened it securely to the Hindu's red basket. "Now," he whispered, "this game is full of delirium tremens if the reptiles only behave decently. I'm not going to shoot a few French sailors, but they'll have to excuse the cobras."

The man crouching under the Jéna's bows drew up the basket smartly, unfastened the lid, and rolled it into the dark forecastle. The silence that followed seemed to quake with the suppressed laughter of the men in the whaleboats.

The sound of a French sailor singing below was plainly heard. A couple of look-out men stood near the stern-rail and watched the gay lights flitting across the palm-shrouded inlet. A sergeant-at-arms loafed under the gala awning amid ships, humming softly as the soft music from the shore reached him.

Large stars of milky whiteness leaned from the blue depths above. A cool wash of air rippled the surface of the bay, bringing the low rustling sound of palms, the soft wailings of violins and flutes from the consul's trade-house.

The sergeant-at-arms wiped his hot face, stooped lazily and struck a match, holding it to the cigarette between his fingers. For one moment he stood thus, with eyes bulging, voiceless, transfixed. Then, with a cry of horror, he sprang to the stern rail. "Sacre! Look, Antoine!" he choked. "Look!"

Antoine, leaning over the rail, turned and saw the flat, venomous head of an Indian cobra stealing across the angle of light. Another diamond-throated shape glided into view, accompanied by a silken hiss that ran like quicksilver about the ship.

The frantic look-out men dropped into the water under the Jéna's rail, followed by a panting sergeant-at-arms. The three swam towards the purao-fringed beach on the eastern side of the bay. From the mess-room below came half-smothered yells, followed by a thudding of bare feet. Several scantily-clad sailors tore up the stairs, an unknown terror in their eyes. A sub-lieutenant sprang past the starboard davits, striking with a hanger at a pair of scintillating eyes that flashed near his own.

"Parbleu! What devil's trick is this?" A half-naked mitrailleur vanished over the port side, followed by the sub-lieutenant. They were prepared to shed their last drop of blood for France, but, diable! the navy was not a snake-fighter!

"Hurry aboard, my lads," whispered Hayes. "You first, Ghulem Singh, and put the comether on those two big cobras."

The Hindu protested vehemently. The reptiles, he said, were harmless; the poison had been drained from their fangs. He did not desire to go aboard the gunship belonging to France. It was against the law.

A pistol rapped against his turbaned brow sent him clawing up the stiff anchor chain, muttering maledictions in the vernacular on the man who had hurled his pet cobras into the silent gun-flanked ship. "There is a penal settlement at Île Nou," he muttered. "Let them look to it!"

"The snakes!" repeated Hayes from the whaleboat. "And don't tear the casemates with your blamed feet."

The others followed the Hindu, and found the decks deserted. A pile of arms stood near the companion; no sound below save the chortling of Ghulem's magic reed as he prowled fore and aft in quest of his beloved cobras.

"A mitrailleuse in the little fighting-top," said the buccaneer, glancing aloft approvingly. Then his eye lingered over the highly polished gun-breeches, the long slim throats that peeped from the sullen casemates.

The men fell about the ship, gaping at first like schoolboys flung into an arsenal. A sudden order from Hayes scattered them above and below. Furnace doors were opened and slammed, coal bunkers investigated. The ammunition-hoist and shell-room were overhauled critically. White-coated men dived into the heart of the Jéna and came up grease-blackened, and dripping oil.

A boat clattered under the Jéna's gangway; Eric Williams, accompanied by his scratch crew of firemen and two engineers, scrambled aboard exultantly.

"Now, my lads," shouted Hayes, "heave all wooden truck and wash-deck gear overboard, and we'll up anchor."

A swift inspection of the ship satisfied him that the Jéna was in active-service trim. In ten minutes every man was at his allotted post; anchor cables were safely stowed long before the helmsman swung her for the open Pacific.

"Try gun circuits!" shouted Hayes from the bridge. "And you, Mr. Jamieson," he added, to a lean, sunburnt figure near the davits, "smarten ship and hoist splinter-nets; we'll want them shortly."

In less than thirty minutes the French gunboat Jéna, commanded by Captain William Hayes, was steaming towards Flint Island in the Manihiki group.

On the beach at Tai-o-hai a score of French sailors, headed by a Deputy Commissioner and a brigadier of gendarmerie, gaped at sight of the Jéna moving swiftly from her anchorage. Later, the sub-lieutenant and dripping master-at-arms presented themselves to the dumfounded Captain Decroix.

"Bigre!" he choked. "What is the meaning..."

The sub-lieutenant explained the cobra invasion lucidly and without passion. The assembled traders laughed uneasily. A clammy perspiration broke over the Jéna's officers: Captain Decroix glared through the Commissioner's glasses at the fast disappearing gunboat.

"It's that fellow Hayes, I'll swear," said the Consul. "He played the same trick on a Peruvian sloop-of-war three years ago in the Paumotos."

"Mon Dieu! I lose my ship, my honour. Oh, my friends, what shall I say to France! Who will lend me a launch to overtake this—this Hayes?" he demanded feverishly.

"He'd sink you in three minutes, m'sieur," advised the Consul. "Sooner or later he will fall in with a British man o'-war, and that will be the end of Hayes."


THE Jéna did not fall in with a British war-vessel. She beat her way through the hot windless nights with scarce a ripple about her steel-hammered foot. On the third night Hayes scanned the far sky-line, where a crumb of light pinched the darkness above reef-lines. Not a sound disturbed the quiet pulsing of the engines.

Here and there about the masked lights one saw groups of men standing within the hot barbettes peering over gun-sights or watching the big-browed man on the bridge above.

"Gentlemen"—he leaned towards them suddenly and his voice seemed to cut the intolerable silence—"Flint Island is behind that reef-mountain in the nor'-east. We'll fetch the entrance in half an hour. I guess my intentions are fairly clear to all. For six or seven years we've been harassed and threatened by irresponsible quarter-deck bounders, who have the good fortune to possess a few tons of nigger ammunition and hoop-iron artillery. I've lost my trade-house, and my sandalwood is burnt to ashes, because I happen to be competing squarely with two or three millionaire Deutscher firms, who desire the earth and sea."

Hayes paused, lit a cigarette slowly.

"Now," he continued, "I want to find out whether this fire-spreading Moltke is a steel-hipped gunboat or just a blamed junk painted like iron to frighten kanakas and overfed Chinamen."

"There ain't no paint on the Moltke, Cap'n." A voice spoke from the black shadowed barbette. "She's a shell typhoon. Don't hold her cheap; she's muscle and ginger down to her fighting belt."

The Jéna throbbed through the fretting reef-bound seas, and the stiff-jawed men lying under the gun-breeches counted each leap of the pistons and grinned. The low thunder of surf reached them, the slow running boom of imprisoned breakers fleeing down the endless lanes of coral.

It seemed as though eternity lingered between heartthrobs as the slow-moving gunboat wallowed through the reef entrance. The narrow harbour swung like a nightpiece across their vision. Lights no larger than a pencil-point pricked the sombre heights where the palm-woods masked the eastern side of the bay. The smoky flares of a dozen native fishing boats tormented the face of the water.

A squat, wedge-shaped outline with a low funnel and gleaming foretop light filled the middle entrance. The buccaneer regarded it with clenched fists, as one who sees a wolf or a tiger cub sprawling in his path. Several white-clad figures moved about her deck, watching from time to time the native canoes that swarmed under their gangway.

"That fat gentleman promenading with the palm-leaf fan is Captain Gronow." Hayes spoke from the bridge softly. "He's the chap that shoots at our trade houses."

The Jéna panted in the darkness; her port battery was already in line with the German gunboat.

"Now, Mr. Alabama," Hayes stooped over the bridge rail and addressed a huddle of men standing at the for'rd casemate. "Are you ready?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"I guess we're a clear half-mile from the Deutscher." The buccaneer stared through his binoculars at the Moltke's sullen outline.

"I make it a bit more, sir." The electric circuits had been switched on; half a dozen fuses glowed near the gun-shields and barbettes.

"When you are ready, then," nodded Hayes, "you may fire."

A sound of muffled voices came from the shell-room; the slithering gurr of the ammunition hoist checked off the nerve breaking moments. A gun-breech closed with a snap. Six seconds later a thin livid flame whipped the darkness of the bay. The man stationed in the foretop saw a bulb of fire burst far beyond the Moltke's stern.

"Too high and wide," he sang out.

There was a hurried readjustment of sights. Another shot followed, and swift upon it a loud steely rattle as though a hundred blades had been snapped in halves.

"Right on the coffee-pot," came from the look-out man. "You've smashed the gold-plated dinner service."

The Jéna's second shell had exploded within the Moltke's port battery, dismounting a quick-firing gun, and tearing away the twelve-inch roof of steel above the barbettes. Savage confusion prevailed. The sudden attack coming from the empty solitudes of the Pacific paralysed the unsuspecting Germans; but not for long.

The fat white figure of Captain Gronow was observed scrambling to the bridge, his hoarse, trumpeting voice was clearly heard across the bay. Like ants the German sailors poured up from below, running to their stations with machine-like precision.

Hayes smiled grimly, and spoke again to the men below. "Now, Mr. Merrimac, we'll be smelling Prussian Gehenna in a minute."

Two flashes followed the order. The flame-lit darkness whined as the sobbing shells leaped across the bay.

"One wide; t'other—Mr. Merrimac's—right on the starboard blinker. Look out, boys, I can see the Deutscher's fuses."

The Jéna manoeuvred cunningly, presenting her narrow bows to the Moltke's uncertain fire.

"Forty trained men are serving up that ammunition." Hayes glanced at the lurid scarves of flame that fluttered overhead, and he knew that the German gunners would find the range within thirty seconds.

"Mr. Alabama, are you asleep?" he inquired coldly.

The slamming of "Alabama's" breech was the response; a fuse blistered the darkness of the Jéna's port battery. Hayes watched the blinding flash, the cigar-shaped flame that roared through the tropic night. A splintering crash followed; the Moltke's funnel vanished as though a hurricane had uprooted it.

For a period of thirty seconds the German gunboat was silent, until the murderous rattle of a machine-gun burst from her foretop.

"You there in the fighting-top!" roared the buccaneer; "give 'em a drink of lead from that mitrailleuse."


A STEAM siren spluttered in the darkness; a fifty-foot launch scampered across the bay under shelter of the Jéna's bulwarks. Faintly above the heart-shaking din a voice was heard calling to Hayes.

"Cap'n, for God's sake cease firing! The French are coming in a two-hundred-ton schooner. They'll board you for certain. They're yelping like hyenas for your scalp."

Hayes, peering over the bridge rail, looked down for a moment, and the white gun-flash seemed to pinch his eyes. "That you, Mr. Long?... Stand away!" he snarled.

"Hayes, you idiot! This is a hanging job. Come away... hide yourself. You've a wife and children somewhere, like most of us."

Without waiting for an answer, Long scrambled up the Jéna's half-lowered gangway, followed by three stalwart Marquesan boatmen, and gained the bridge.

Hayes, with fury in his eyes, found himself torn from his post of observation and carried to the shelter of the barbette. And not a moment too soon. A five-inch shell from the Moltke's forward gun ploughed the bridge from its stanchions. Another crimson bolt hewed down their fighting-top; the brass-mounted mitrailleuse fell with a splintering roar to the deck. Gun-shields and barbettes hummed and quaked under the murderous enfilade of small shot.

"Guess they've found our cooking range," gasped Hayes. "Steady, my lads! the music won't play all night."

The men at the Jéna's guns flinched; a few ran below to the shelter of the lower deck. Stripped to the waist and almost alone, the white-bearded Alabama veteran half-crouched beside his heated gun. "One more, cap'n," he said thickly, "and a bit of salt on it for luck."

Hayes joined him grimly, and drove the long-snouted shell into the breech. Three men lay in the dark of the casemate, shot-riddled, unrecognisable.... The buccaneer locked the breech, "Alabama" fired. Both men stooped, and watched.


Illustration

Hayes joined him grimly, and drove the long-snouted shell into the breech.


A blue lightning-flash seemed to whip the German gunboat amidships; a deadly hiccuping sound of shell-torn steel reached them, a thing like a red wound appeared in the Moltke's side, and opened wide until the darkness swooped over it like a slamming door.

"They're sinking!" cried Hayes. "And, oh, man, if we help them they'll hang us for pirates."

The duel was ended; the Jéna limped out to sea at half-speed. Dawn found her moving through the oily seas, fire-blackened and shot-riven. The men stared at each other blankly, scarce lifting their powder-smoked eyes to greet each other. They asked no questions of Hayes; he was taking them back to Tai-o-hai, and no one doubted his ability to end the affair gracefully and with honour to themselves.

They found the harbour almost deserted; the fleet of copra schooners had vanished as if by magic; the town itself weltered in the hot noon haze. Flocks of sea-birds hovered about the surf-thrashed headlands. Hayes ran his glasses over the beach before casting anchor. Here and there a few natives had gathered in the purao shade, watching the shell-battered Jéna with fear-stricken eyes.

"See here, my lads," the buccaneer called the men aft and addressed them civilly: "I'm going ashore to wind up my affairs. Mr. Long tells me that Captain Decroix and his crew are looking for me."

"And if they enter the harbour while you're ashore, Cap'n," inquired "Alabama," "what then?"

"There's half a ton of ammunition in the shell-room, and they've got a wooden junk and a few spare cutlasses maybe," answered Hayes. "Don't let 'em cheek you. Offer them a dollar a ton damages, or fight it out."

Hayes went ashore. A clammy silence hung over the palm-woods as he slipped through the palisade and entered the trade-house. Stuffing his papers into a large grip-sack, he sat at the verandah table and drew out pen and note-paper. For several minutes he wrote leisurely, pausing at times with pen uplifted.

A crunching of feet on the gravel path made him look up: the white glitter of bayonets stayed for a moment in the tropic sun-glare beyond the palm thicket. A brigadier of gendarmerie entered the house palisade, accompanied by six of the Deputy Commissioner's men. He saluted briefly.

"I have come to arrest Monsieur Captain," he began stiffly. "There will be no trouble."

A line of bayonets seemed to wheel round the silent trade-house, where the blue parrots fluttered above the palm-thatched eaves. The brigadier prided himself on his brevity and tact.

Without a glance in his direction the buccaneer continued writing. Folding the letter carefully, he placed it in an envelope and addressed it. Then rising slowly he handed it to the palpitating brigadier.

That officer regarded it dumbly; sweat ran from beneath his white helmet; his hand trembled violently. "It is addressed to Count Von Bismarck!" he stammered.

"Post it," said the buccaneer, "when I'm gone."


Illustration

"Post it," said the buccaneer, "when I'm gone."


"But you are arrest, Monsieur Captain; and you are not gone!"

Hayes laughed good-humouredly, and leaned over the verandah rail. "Well, I'm hanged if you don't deserve kicking, Émile Froshard."

"Monsieur!"

"Kicked and your ears twisted," nodded the buccaneer, "like General Moltke and Bismarck twisted them in eighteen-seventy."

"I do not discuss ze war," responded the brigadier fiercely. "You are arrest."

"Émile," went on the buccaneer gravely, "I must be frank—I do not love German gunboats, nor German bayonets and shells. They have uprooted my home, stripped me of the few things I hold dear in this world."

"It is—" stammered the brigadier.

"No affair of yours, Emile. Quite so; but you have sympathies with others, whose hearths and household gods have been turned to ashes by the guns of a blackguard warship—Gronow's warship, Emile."

"I deplore, Monsieur—"

"Of course you do. France afterwards deplored when Marshal MacMahon refused my appeal to serve her when the Prussian wolves were yelping around your Paris... I'm a bad man, Émile, but don't you think I heard the cry of the children, the cry of France?"

"Monsieur!"

"The other day, Émile, when I stole your country's ship, I felt that my hour had arrived. Could you have stood beside me on the Jéna's bridge and looked at the Moltke's guns without doing what I did?"

Half a dozen white helmets showed near the palisade; a bull-necked gendarme twirled his grizzled moustache and addressed his comrades in a fierce undertone. The brigadier remained motionless, listening to the gendarme's half-uttered words....

"You—you fought the Moltke, Monsieur Captain?" he muttered, turning to Hayes.

"I was wishing you were there, Émile." Hayes threw a side glance at the brigadier. "The affair went off without a hitch. We did it in our Sunday clothes. Blamed if any of us bothered to wash our hands, either."

"The Moltke, the Moltke, Monsieur Captain?" demanded the brigadier testily.

"Lying in thirty fathoms, my Émile. Went down like a piece of gaspipe. You've seen the Jéna; a thousand dollars will put her into fighting trim. A new bridge and another fighting-top, and she'll make scrap-iron of anything in the Pacific."

"Mon Dieu!" The assembled gendarmes craned over the trade-house palisade, eyeing the buccaneer with unfeigned admiration.

Seizing his grip-sack, Hayes shook hands cordially with the gaping brigadier, nodded to the bull-necked gendarme, and passed swiftly to the beach.

"'Cre nom! Monsieur Hayes is in a devilish hurry," growled the brigadier. "We did not hear the rest of the story."

The party of gendarmes returned to Tai-o-hai by way of a side track through the palm-woods.

The buccaneer gained the Jéna's gangway at the moment a fore-and-aft-rigged schooner entered the bay. Her deck was crowded with French sailors and marines, and as they wore inshore they yelped at sight of their gunboat's battered appearance.

Haggard, fierce-eyed Captain Decroix tramped the narrow poop, scanning the Jéna's shot-riddled casemates, her roofless battery, the splintered stanchions that showed where the bridge had been ploughed away by the German's fire.

He stood like one transfixed; the crew bared their teeth, shook their few cutlasses at the men who had placed them in so evil a plight.

Hayes watched them narrowly as they brought their unwieldy schooner across his port side. A sudden click, click, caught his ear. Glancing for'rd he observed Mr. "Merrimac" placing a shell in the breech of a gun.

"Stop that!" he thundered. "We're not a gang of murderers. And you there," he beckoned a party of men gathered in the port battery, "keep your fingers off that ammunition. You are behaving no better than Chinese pirates."

Shamefaced, the men withdrew from the guns. Hayes mounted the rail and saluted Captain Decroix. The little incident in the battery had not passed unnoticed; its effect on the excited Frenchman was electrical.

Captain Decroix responded to the buccaneer's salute from the schooner's poop. "My ship!" he cried, indicating the shot-battered Jéna. "My honour!"

"Captain Decroix," answered the buccaneer respectfully, "I herewith return your gunboat. It was merely borrowed to settle an affair with Gronow of the Moltke. France was the only nation with a ship to spare in these parts. I took her, monsieur."

"Sacre! It is now our turn to speak, Captain Hayes. We shall be glad to hang you when we come aboard."

"Monsieur Decroix, my body is at your service, but before it waves from your yardarm, you will allow every man on this vessel to leave Tai-o-hai unconditionally."

"Diable! It is impossible."

"I'll give you ten minutes to talk it over with your officers," said Hayes. "In the meantime there is nothing to prevent me dropping most of the Jéna's machinery and gun-fittings overboard. It would take you a year to refit, and by that time your épaulettes would be in danger."

"We fight now!" screamed the captain. "To ze death!"

"Pshaw!" Hayes turned away half wearily. "I don't want to turn that schooner into a shambles—and with your own guns too. Come aboard, Captain Decroix, and have a glass of wine."

The French captain staggered from the poop, half-demented, only to meet the pleading faces of his officers. They surrounded him like good sons. The affair, they explained, was between Germany and Captain Hayes. There would be no trouble in effecting speedy repairs to the Jéna.

The French crew, on hearing that the Moltke had been sunk, were barely restrained from cheering the buccaneer as he prepared to hand over the gunboat to its rightful captain.

"Blamed if we didn't leave Tai-o-hai that night with the band playing!" said Hayes, afterwards.


THREE months later Count Von Bismarck received a letter dated at Nukahiva in the French Marquesas.


Excellency,

I pray you exonerate the captain and crew of the French gunboat Jéna from all blame in connection with the affair at Tai-o-hai. I was in good form. The Moltke lost everything except her barnacles. Gronow had a way of dropping shells wherever I built a homestead or planted coconuts. At Manua, in the Navigators, and at Marchand Island, in the Marquesas, two of my trade-houses disappeared on the wings of your five-inch shells. Your Gronow is a humourless sportsman—he shot a number of my young palm-trees and several elderly kanaka ladies. In return I hit your gun boat with both hands. She lies in thirty fathoms—a mere proposition in scrap heaps.

Bully Hayes.

"Impudence!" growled the Iron Chancellor. "If Gronow had hanged the fellow I would have given him a cruiser."


SIX months later, when the newly commissioned German gunboat Hecla visited the Navigators, it was discovered that Hayes had left for Sydney in his schooner with thirty tons of black-lip pearl.


THE END


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