Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 12 February 1921

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-08-07

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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The Greatest Crime

IT was a ray of slanting sunlight breaking in under the rugged tarpaulin shelter which roused Martin Hope from deep sleep. He had been dreaming of the quiet rectory that was his English home, and took him a moment or two to realize that he was exactly on the opposite side of the world, and that the place where he had slept was a little bluff on the edge of the Kiri River, in the heart of wild New Guinea.

He glanced at the sun, which was already above the bush on the opposite side of the wide brown stream.

"Phew, but I'm late!" he said aloud. "What on earth was Curtin doing that he has not called me before now?"

He crept out of his little sheller, and as he rose to his feet everything seemed to spin around him, and he sat down with a thump.

"Those tablets I took last night," he said thickly. "I thought it was foolish to take three, but Curtin vowed it was the only way to keep off the fever."

After a moment, or two the giddiness passed, and Martin got up again.

"Curtin!" he called. "Curtin, where are you?"

There was no answer, and hastily pushing through the little screen of brush which they had set up overnight to hide their fire from the eyes of prowling savages, he stepped into the open glade.

Still no sign of his companion or of Nobo, their native helper. Martin rubbed his eyes. "What the mischief has become of them?" he said, and hurried down the bank towards the river.

Half-way down he stopped short and stood staring incredulously. There was the stake to which, overnight, they had tied their canoe, but of the canoe itself there was no sign whatever. Martin looked up and down the river, but it was empty except for the long sinister shape of a big alligator which floated on the surface, close to a mud bank on the far side.

Utterly bewildered. Martin retraced his steps to the camp itself and looked about. The place was clean swept. The food packs, blankets, guns, all were gone. Even then it was some time before the full truth dawned on him.

He had been deserted. Curtin had abandoned him.

His knees went weak, and he sat down abruptly on a log and tried to realize the whole state of affairs.

Bit by bit the fog cleared. Feed had been running shorter and shorter for days past, and he remembered now how Curtin had cursed the luck because they could not find game, and how more than once he had said that they would never have enough to carry all three of them through to the head waters of the river. He remembered, too, how Curtin had chafed because he, Martin, had had a sharp attack of fever and for two days had not been able to do his duty with the paddle. Finally it came to him how, on the previous night, Curtin, pretending great kindness, had brought him the tabloids, which he had said were genuine, and induced him to take them before he turned in.

"Drugged and abandoned!" He said the words aloud, and a green parakeet which had perched just overhead flew away with a squawk.

Sudden rage seized Martin and twisted him. He sprang to his feet and shrieked and raved, and called down vengeance on the traitor Curtin, until the great silent bush rang with his cries and the sweat, streamed down his thin cheeks.

Be it said in excuse that Martin was only sixteen and that he was still weak with fever.

The fit passed and he sat. quiet. He was helpless and hopeless. His treacherous companion had not left him even a gun or a mouthful of food off which to break his fast. He had a sheath knife, matches, and his blanket—nothing else except the clothes he stood up in.

He was more than a hundred miles from the river's mouth and an equal distance from the nearest white settlement. All around was the thickest, wildest bush on earth, tenanted only by unknown tribes of head hunters and cannibals and by beasts equally but no more savage than they.

"If he had poisoned me outright it would have been kinder," he groaned.

How long he sat there on the log he did not know, but it was the increasing scorch of the fast rising sun which at last brought him to his feet. The fever, too, was mounting again in his veins, and hardly knowing what he did, he rolled his blanket and strapped it on his back. Then he set himself to travel up the bank of the creek.

He had a dim sort of notion that something might happen to Curtin. He could not believe that Providence would allow him to get away. At any rate, he would follow and either overtake him or die in the attempt.

Of course, it was madness. Even a well-equipped party, with native carriers, can move but at a snail's pace through the New Guinea bush. When Martin kept inland he was tripped every yard by twining coils of creepers tough as rope and set with hooked thorns; if he tried to keep to the bank of the stream be sank knee-deep in reeking mud and slime. Whichever way he went, he was in constant peril from poisonous snakes.

Yet he would not stop. Anything was better than to sit still and die. If he must meet his end he would do it on his feet.

As the hours passed and the heat increased Martin, who had had no food since the previous evening, and who had been on scanty rations for days, grew weaker and weaker. His head was queer, and his eyes began to play funny tricks. Twice he thought he saw figures flitting along in front of him.

The third time he saw, or thought he saw, figures, he stopped short. As he did so, something whizzed viciously through the bushes and stuck quivering in the soft bark of a big gum tree.

Instinctively Martin flung himself down behind a log. Natives! So they had found him at last. Well, an arrow was a quicker end than slow starvation. He did not much care.

As he drooped, a second arrow tuned past just overhead, and he heard it strike the water with a thin plop.

After that, silence. Martin strained his ears. He knew that his enemies were creeping up upon him. They would be cautious, for probably they suspected that he might have at least a pistol.

The hot minutes dragged by. The reek of rotting vegetation stung his nostrils. A big, gaudy lizard crept out along the log. From behind came a slight splash. A fish rising, or perhaps an alligator.

Ah, a rustle! They were coming closer now. In a spirit of bravado he raised his hat on the end of a dead stick. Instantly came two arrows, one of which actually transfixed the hat. Martin shivered a little in spite of the heat. He was wondering how the next one would feel, rending through his own flesh.

An impulse came to him to rise to his feet, and, knife in hand, charge upon his hidden enemies. It would be the quickest way.

Again the rustle, again an arrow which, passing within a few inches of his head, swished into the river.

A crash of sound! The echoes roared up and down the tree-banked river, and close above Martin's head a charge of heavy shot ripped through the greenery. From the depths of the bush came a high-pitched scream, the sound of a fall. Hardly able to believe his ears, Martin turned to see a dug-out canoe floating twenty feet from the bank, and in it a man holding a double-barrelled fowling piece.

With a shout, Martin leaped to his feet and sprang into the river.

"You'd oughtn't to have done that," calmly remarked the occupant of the dug-out, as he hauled the boy aboard. "There's a sight too many crocs to go in for swimming."

Martin: stared at him. He saw a man of perhaps forty, dressed in the roughest of diggers' clothes, and with a face so covered with hair he could hardly see any of it except a pair of wise, brown eyes.

"I prefer crocs to niggers," Martin answered. "You'd better shove along. There are a lot of them in the bush. I—"

He said no more. The effort of the last minute had finished him. Dropping quietly down into the bottom of the dug-out, he fainted.

Caught by the Blacks

WHEN Martin regained consciousness, he was on his back on a moss bed. and over his head the roof of a palm-leaf shack. His new friend, leaning over him, was putting spoonfuls of what seemed to be condensed milk mixed with water and whisky into his mouth.

"Don't you trouble to talk," said the man kindly. "Go on swallowing." Martin noticed that he spoke with an American accent.

By the time he had finished the mugful Martin felt distinctly better, and soon was well enough to disobey his new friend, and to tell him how he came to be in such a plight.

The mild brown eyes flashed with unexpected anger as their owner listened to Martin's story.

"The skunk!" he said briefly. "What did you say his name was?"

"Curtin—Rupert Curtin, he calls himself. My name is Martin Hope."

"And I'm Jim Buck," said the other. Then, answering the question which he saw in Martin's eyes. "Jest digging," he said. "It ain't much of a prospect, but I'm a-making wages. I'm on a creek running into the Kiri River, and it was just pure luck as I happened to go out after a parrot this morning."

"It was luck for me," said Martin, with a faint smile. "Are you alone?"

"Ay, I'm alone. And not sorry for company," he added.

Martin looked hard at the man. "Are you on for something better?" he asked suddenly.

"You knows of something?" countered the other.

"It was what Curtin and I were after. I had it from an old fellow named Preston, who'd been up to the head of the Kiri. He said it was rich, but the poor chap was dying when I fell in with him—blackwater fever. He hadn't time to tell me much. But he left me a map."

"You got it?"

"No," said Martin bitterly. "Curtin has that, as well as everything else belonging to me."

"It was your grub stake then?"

"Everything was mine. I took the fellow because he said he knew about digging in this country."

Jim Buck shook his head. "A beach-comber, I'll lay," he said sympathetically. "But see here, Hope; it ain't a mite of good our going trapesing up the river unless we know what we're aiming for. I guess you'd better be content to stop along with me, and finish up here. It'll be half shares from now on."

Martin thrust out a thin hand. "You're a good chap, Buck. For the present I'll be only too grateful. But"—his face hardened—"I'm not going to give up the big chance, nor will I let Curtin get away with it. Sooner or later I'll be after him, and then let him look out for himself."

"Well, I wouldn't think too much about that if I was you," replied Buck peaceably. "What you need is a good rest. Now you go right to sleep, and when you wake up grub'll be ready."

This was the beginning of the quietest, most peaceful time that Martin had known since first he had come out. Jim Buck had been years in the island; he knew it and its people and resources better than most white men. He was a pleasant companion, a wonderful cook, and a steady worker. Also he was an ingenious sort of fellow, and though he dressed roughly and looked rough, he was up to all sorts of little dodges for making life comfortable in spite of the climate.

Martin learnt a lot from him, and picked up both in health and spirits. The two worked together on the creek. It was not rich ground; but, as Buck said, they could make a living, and every day they added a little to the store of dust. Martin cherished his like a miser. Never for a moment did he forget Curtin, and the gold he won he looked on simply as a means for outfitting himself to follow the fellow's trail and run him to ground. To Buck he said little of his intention; but Buck, who was no fool, soon realized the stubborn streak in Martin's nature, and more than once thought to himself that he would not care to be in Curtin's shoes.

The days passed on monotonously, but not unpleasantly, yet there was one fly in the ointment. The sand they were panning from the creek bed, instead of getting richer, was thinning out. Some days the two between them hardly got a colour.

One evening Buck spoke out. "Guess we'll up sticks to-morrow and shift, Martin," he remarked.

Martin nodded. "Where shall we go?" he asked.

"There's another creek about a dozen miles north of this. We might have a look at it."

Next morning saw the two paddling steadily up the Kiri. The dug-out was loaded gunwale deep with their kit, and they had to go carefully and slowly. The sun blazed down upon the oily surface of the stream, and huge alligators lay like rotten logs on the sandbanks on either side.

It was Jim who saw the bottle floating in an eddy in mid-stream, and with a quick twist of his paddle sent the dug-out towards it.

"Looks like someone else might be a using of that there creek," he said in his quiet way, and, reaching out, picked the bottle out of the water.

"Why, it's corked!" exclaimed Martin.

Jim held it up against the light. He shook it.

"Ain't nothing in it, so far as I can feel," he said.

"Pull the cork out," suggested Martin.

It was easier said than done. Jim solved the difficulty by neatly knocking off the neck.

"There's a paper inside," he said, with some show of interest.

Next moment it was out of his hands and in Martin's.

"My map!" he cried, as with shaking fingers he began to unfold it. "The map old Sam Preston gave me."

Jim's brown eyes widened. "This is a rum go," he remarked.

Martin was poring over his strangely recovered map. "How in the name of goodness did it come in this bottle?" he questioned feverishly.

"There's some writing on the back of it," said Jim Buck mildly.

Martin switched it over. "It's—it's from Curtin," he cried, stammering in his eagerness. "What's he say? It's hardly legible. Wait a moment. I see it. The niggers have got him. It's help he wants. Bah! He's whining like a cur for it."

"Wouldn't wonder if I'd do a bit of whining if them niggers were fattening me up for kai-kai." said Jim in his quiet way. "Does he say where he is?"

"He's marked it on the map. Yassi, he calls it."

Jim whistled softly. "They're the worst ever. He's sure got it coming to him. I guess we got a job before us, Martin."

Martin stared. "You mean you'd go up there after him—after a cur like that?"

"We," corrected Jim gently. "It's you as well as me, Martin. Two's better'n one on a job like this."

Making Ready for the Feast

"IT'S a mighty good map, whoever drawed it," remarked Jim Buck.

Twelve days had passed since the finding of the bottle, and now the dug-out lay in a narrow creek sheltered by overhanging trees. Night was falling, but there was light enough to see, ahead, a large, open, lagoon-like space of water.

"A mighty good map," repeated Jim, "for there's the Yassi outfit right ahead."

He pointed as he spoke to a ruddy light gleaming on the far side of the lagoon.

"A cooking fire," said Martin.

"A proper kai-kai fire," answered Jim in his quiet drawl. "Well. I guess we'd better tackle the job right away."

"What—tonight?" exclaimed Martin.

Jim looked at him. "To-night's the night. Have you forgot that, Martin?"

Martin started. "I had—quite. But you're right. It's the dark of the moon, and this is the night the Yassi mean to make kai-kai of that fellow."

He paused, and Jim saw his lips tighten. "Jim," said Martin, "aren't the chances pretty good that we shall help out the nigger's feast?"

"I guess not, Martin," Jim answered in his calm way.

Martin shrugged his shoulders. "I've told you before, and now I tell you again, I don't feel the least inclination to run risks for the sake of that low-down thief. The fellow left me to die. Why should I lift a finger to help him?"

Jim was unmoved. "If you feel like that I can put you ashore here, "and come back for you later."

Martin made an impatient movement.

"Bosh! You know I'd not desert you. Come on. Let's shove ahead."

"Guess there's no hurry. I got one or two things to fix up, and we might as well cut supper. Cold grub, though. We daren't light a fire."

Martin got out food. Jim traded himself with some mysterious preparations in the bows.

"What are you doing, Jim?" asked Martin.

"Fixing a little surprise for them niggers," replied the other.

Martin said no more. He had learnt by this time to have a great respect for his soft-spoken, even-tempered friend.

By the time they had finished supper the short tropic twilight had faded, and the nightly chorus of frogs and crickets filled the darkness. Dipping their paddles softly, the two drove the dug-out gently across the broad expanse of smooth water."

As they got nearer the fire blazed up, and they were able to see huts stretching along the marshy shore, raised in Papuan fashion upon piles driven into the mud. In the centre was one larger than the rest, and from this there suddenly broke out a dull glare of torches, followed by a din of native drums.

"Show's just beginning," said Jim, and paddled on.

As they came nearer they were careful to dip their paddles silently. They headed straight for the big hut. The torches, being well inside the shed-like building, did not throw much light on the water.

The drums rose to a thunder, and suddenly a weird figure sprang out in front of the torches and began to leap and whirl furiously. He wore a weird sort of head-dress of brilliant snake skins, which rose and fell as he spun. In one hand he held a forked stick, in the other a wand to which was attached three bladders.

"Pretty dear!" whispered Jim, but Martin did not answer. Great as was his faith in Jim, he did not feel happy, for he could not imagine how they two could tackle a whole tribe of savages with the slightest prospect of success.

Jim laid his paddle down. "Keep her going quietly," he said, "and stop when I lift my hand."

He bent down and was busy with something in the bow while Martin kept the canoe moving softly up towards the platformed hut.

The sorcerer spun more madly. The red glow of the torches flung up his whirling shape, and showed, too, a dozen or more mop-headed savages behind. All these, Martin noticed, were armed with throwing spears. His heartbeats quickened, and nasty chills coursed down his back.

They were very close now. It seemed to Martin that they could not hope to escape being seen.

Jim raided his hand. There was the slight snap of a striking match, and with startling suddenness a glare of intense white light shot up. It flung up the surroundings as brilliantly as day, and a cloud of glowing fumes arose above the blaze.

At the same moment Jim leaped to his feet and flinging up his arms, began to chant in a deep bass voice. So startled was Martin that for the moment he did not even notice that what Jim was singing was "Yankee Doodle."

The drums ceased; the savages fell over themselves in their efforts to escape—all but one. The sorcerer himself seemed unaffected. Perhaps he had seen magnesium wire burn before, or perhaps he felt it was up to him to hold his ground before any rival sorcerer.

Instead of retreating, he advanced, dancing and yelling more frantically than ever. His companions, taking courage, recovered from their first fright, and began to press forward again.

Things looked ugly, but Jim sang on:

"Yankee Doodle came to town

And didn't like the niggers.

He lighted some magnesium wire,

Which rather spoilt their figures."

In spite of his fright Martin almost laughed. Jim went on:

"But as they wouldn't stop their fuss,

And things were looking blacker.

He had to try another dodge.

So fired 'em with a cracker."

As he said the last word, quick as a flash Jim stooped, picked up something, touched it to the blazing wire, and flung it among the natives.

Siss—boom—crack—bang! It was a full-size jumping cracker, which exploded and bounced, and exploded again with a series of terrific reports.

With a howl of dismay the sorcerer leaped backward, tripped, and came down with a thump that must have knocked all the wind out of him; and as he fell the cracker leaped right over him, scorching his face and bringing from him a perfect scream of fright. As for the rest, they stampeded, while the infernal firework went hopping in pursuit, banging away like a whole salvo of pistol shots.

"Smart now, Martin! We got to have that chap," said Jim, and as Martin drove the dug-out right up to the platform. Jim was up and out, landing almost on top of the sorcerer.

By the time that Martin had tied up the dug-out and scrambled on to the platform, Jim had the native gentleman pinned to the floor. The fellow fought like a cat, biting and scratching; but Martin brought a length of cord, and they soon had him tied and helpless.

"And that's that," remarked Jim. "Now I guess we won't have a lot more trouble."

"A topping idea of yours!" said Martin.

"A sight better than shooting," Jim answered quietly. "Now bring the little gentleman along and let's see what his friends have got to say about it."

They had not anything to say. What story the dancers had told, Jim and Martin could not say, but it must have been something pretty strong, for the entire community had taken to the bush, leaving their huts empty and deserted.

Curtin Changes His Mind

NOW I suppose we've got to find Curtin," said Martin, and Jim saw his lip curl in disgust, but paid no attention.

"That's the next job," he agreed. "Wait; I'll ask Mr. Funny Man here where he keeps him."

"You bushman," he said, "you give along we dem white man you got for kai-kai."

The sorcerer pretended not to understand, but the spasm that had crossed his face at the word "bushman" told Jim that he really did. For some unknown reason your New Guinea native loathes to be called "bush-man."

"You no tell, by and by we put you all along dem fire," said Jim, pointing to the big blaze of the cooking-fire.

The sorcerer emitted a howl of despair.

"That's fixed him," remarked Jim. "This is the way, I reckon."

It was towards a small hut at a little distance from the others that their guide led them. Martin's face was hard as stone as he followed. At last he was going to meet again the blackguard who had robbed and tried to murder him. He was thinking fiercely of what he would say to Curtin.

They reached the hut. The door was lashed with bush ropes.

"You go in, Martin," said Jim in his ordinary voice. "I better hold on to this slippery gent."

Martin's fingers shook a little as he twisted the tough creepers. He opened the door. The place inside was dark, and smelt sour and unpleasant, but he heard a movement inside.

"Come out, you brute!" he said curtly.

There was a shuffling sound, and a man came slowly out into the open.

Martin stared at the flabby wreck. Curtin had been a big man, beefy checked, black-haired. This was a man who looked to be sixty. His hair, which was longer than Jim's, was streaked with grey. His face was yellow.

"It's not Curtin," said Martin.

The man shuttered. "Are you Hope?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

Martin stared. "It—is—Curtin," he said slowly. He laughed harshly. "You didn't get much out of it after all, Curtin," he sneered.

Curtin shuddered again, but did not speak.

Martin turned to Jim. "I suppose we'd best take him straight along," he said.

"Yes, right away," Jim answered; "I've only got one more cracker."

"Come on," said Martin curtly, and turned back towards the landing.

Curtin stood where he was.

"Come on! repeated Martin.

Curtin took a couple of steps, caught his foot on a log at the side of the path, and fell.

"What's the matter with you?" demanded Martin harshly. "Can't you see where you're going?"

Curtin rose uncertainly. "No," he said in a toneless voice. "I can't see. I'm blind."

For a moment there was dead silence. Jim, glancing at Martin, saw that his face was working.

Suddenly Martin took Curtin by the arm.

"I'll lead you," he said quite gently.

Curtin took a few steps, then stopped.

"What's the matter?" said Martin, and Jim realized that all the boy's anger was gone. There was nothing but pity in his voice. "Can't you walk?" went on Martin gently.

"Yes, I can walk all right," Curtin answered; "but—but wait a minute. There's something in the hut there I want to bring along."

"What is it?"

"A bag. You'll find it in the corner under the palm leaves."

Martin went back, lit a match, and found the bag. It was of dirty canvas, nearly full, and very heavy.

"I've got it," he said, as he rejoined the others. Slinging it over his back, he gave Curtin his arm, and with Jim and his prisoner leading the way they made back for the landing. No one interfered with them; there was not even a rustle in the dense bush that backed the path.

"We'll take the Johnny along with us as far as the entrance to the lagoon," said Jim, as he ordered the sorcerer into the dug-out. Then he and Martin helped Curtin down from the platform, the bag was placed in the stern, and the dug-out was swung round. Next minute they were paddling swiftly back across the lagoon.

There was no sign of pursuit, and in a little while they reached the mouth of the creek, where Jim stopped paddling.

"This is where we dump the ju-ju chap," he said.

"Hadn't we better take him with us?" asked Martin. "He'll be useful as a hostage when we come back after the gold. According to the map the reef lies back of this lagoon.

Before Jim could answer Curtin spoke.

"There won't be any need for you to go after that reef," he said in his flat, colourless voice.

Martin started. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Wasn't it any good?"

"If you look in the bag you'll see if it was any good."

Martin hauled out the bag and fumbled at the knot that fastened it. His heart was thumping.

"A match, Jim," he said.

Jim struck a match and lit a candle lantern. Martin thrust his hand into the bag and brought it out full of dull grey sand—course stuff full of little lumps.

In the candle-light his face went almost as grey as the dust. He showed it to Jim. "Lead," he whispered in his ear.

Jim nodded.

Martin had not calculated on the way in which blindness intensifies hearing. Curtin caught the whisper.

"Lead!" he said, and laughed.

"What is it, then?" demanded Martin.

"Iridium," Curtin answered. "Worth thirty-five pounds an ounce," he added.

Martin could not speak. Jim took a few grains of the stuff and fingered it.

"He's right," he said, "and there's seventy or eighty pounds weight in that bag."

"That's about it," said Curtin. "It's Hope's."

Still Martin could find no words. Curtin went on: "I didn't mean him to have it, first off," he said. "I was going to leave it there to rot in that hut. You see, I hated him like he hated me. It was when he was sorry for me—after he found I was blind—that's when I changed my mind."

Martin thrust out his hand and took Curtin's.

"Well, that's over and done with," he said. "Thanks be, I don't hate you or anyone else any longer. Now, Jim, let's land our nigger, and shove along. We've got to find a doctor for Curtin. It's only fever blindness, and you know that can be cured."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.