Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 13 October 1917

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-07-19

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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NED DUCAT licked his blackened lips.

"I was a fool, Guy, a fool," he said huskily.

Guy Ballard, a tall young fellow of eighteen was standing at the wheel of the schooner, staring out across the intensely blue water towards the tall cliffs of San Lucar Island. He turned as Ned spoke, and in the fierce sunlight his face showed pinched and grey, while his lips had the same blackened, blistered appearance as his friend's.

"You're not the only one, Ned. The fault's as much mine as yours. I ought to have seen that we had the new chart before we left Sydney."

"Buck up!" he continued, with a brave show of cheerfulness. "Keep a stiff lip. We're bound to find a channel sooner or later."

Ned did not answer. He knew that if they could not soon find some way through the reef it would be too late. Their Kanaka crew were already down and out. It was only a question of a few hours before thirst finished its work and he and Guy shared the collapse of their men.

For there was not one drop of water left aboard the Yellowtail. In a storm, three days ago, the scuttle butt had sprung a leak, and twenty-four hours earlier they and the crew had shared out the last quart of water between them.

Guy, who, young as he was, had been given command of the Yellowtail by his father, had run for the nearest land, the big but almost unknown island of San Lucar, only to find, on reaching it, that they were barred from landing by a tremendous ring of coral reef, a reef in which there were certainly gaps, but not one through which they dared to try a passage. Their only chart was one which Ned had brought aboard. It was not up to date, and gave no soundings around San Lucar.

The result was horrible. Here they were, dying of thirst, while only two miles away they could actually see cascades of beautiful fresh water pouring down the rocky cliffs of the island. But why, you will ask, did they not lie to outside and go ashore in a boat. They could have got through any of the small openings with a boat, and then have buoyed a channel for the schooner to pass. The answer is that they had no boat. Both the Yellowtail's boats had been swept away by the hurricane. The schooner without boats was like a man without eyes.

Ned Ducat looked longingly at the veils of white foam shifting in rainbows across the black face of the cliff.

"Let's swim ashore," he said desperately.

For answer Guy pointed to the black triangular fin cutting the blue between them and the reef.

"We haven't been round the north side yet," he said. "There's the chance of an opening there."

As he spoke he hauled closer to the wind, so as to bring the schooner round a point which rose steeply half a mile to the northward.

Then suddenly Ned Ducat's fingers closed on Guy's arm with a nervous grip.

"An opening!" he cried. "See, Guy?"

"Look at the rocks!" was all Guy said. The break was but a narrow one, and, like others they had passed, was set about with hideous reefs. Saw-toothed points sowed the sea, and the blue Pacific rollers broke upon them in acres of snowy foam.

Ned staggered. He seemed about to drop. Then of a sudden he revived again.

"It's buoyed!" he gasped. "The channel is buoyed!"

Guy's jaw dropped. His eyes seemed about to burst from his head. In fact, he could hardly believe his senses. For Ned was right. The channel was indeed buoyed, though with nothing but little black bladders which bobbed and swayed upon the swell.

But he did not hesitate. Up went the helm, and the schooner came round like a top and went straight for the opening.

THE clear water creamed under her fore part as she raced inwards. Guy, revived by this amazing stroke of fortune, conned her to perfection, and, handy as a racer, the beautiful little craft danced in and out among the deadly reefs, any one of which would have ripped the bottom out of her.

In less than five minutes she was safe inside the main reef and skimming shorewards across the mirror-like surface of the broad lagoon.

"Inside at last!" gasped Ned.

"And there's the craft that conned us in," added Guy, pointing as he spoke to a lubberly-looking Chinese junk which lay at anchor behind the point.

"Pearlers," said Ned, noticing the boats around her.

"Aye, or pearl stealers," replied Guy, altering course to run near the junk. "I'm going to ask them for water, Ned, or the loan of a boat."

He brought to close to the junk and hailed her.

A stolid yellow face appeared over the high poop, but all the answer Guy got was, "No sabby."

Guy's pinched face darkened.

"The hound! It isn't that they can't understand. They won't. It's a case of swimming ashore, after all, Ned."

"I'll do it," said Ned eagerly. "No sharks inside here. Run in as close as it's safe, Guy. There's plenty of water here."

THEY ran to within a hundred yards of the beach; then Guy threw the schooner up into the wind, and he and Ned together managed to get the anchor over. The Kanakas, realising that they were at last close to shore and to fresh water, staggered to their feet; and one, not so far gone as the rest, volunteered to swim with Ned.

Taking four well-corked bottles apiece, the two plunged overboard, and, weak as they were, struggled ashore.

To Guy, parched with intolerable thirst, it seemed an hour before he saw them return across the snow-white, blazing beach, and another hour before they were alongside. But when they gained the deck and Ned put to his parched lips one of the bottles, the feel of that deliciously cool water coursing down his sand-dry throat made up for all.

"There's a spring not two hundred yards back in the bush," Ned told him. "Lovely water! Feeling better, old chap?"

"Better! I'm myself again. I'm hungry," cried Guy. "But, Ned"—he shivered a little—"it was a narrow squeak. We'll not take a risk like that again. Before we leave I'll have everything aboard that will hold water filled."

"Right, Guy. But it's going to be a job to do it without a boat."

"We'll have to build a raft," replied Ballard. "We can manage one big enough for two men and a barrel. Let's have some food and then get to work."

THERE was no need to drive the crew. They were as keen about the water as their white masters. They worked with a will, but even so the sun was down before they had finished their task, and the great tropical stars burning like lamps in the cloudless Leavens. But there was no moon, and Guy would not risk the passage out except by daylight.

"A good night's rest won't hurt us," he said. "We can clear at daylight."

"Then we'd best set an anchor watch," answered Ned. "I don't trust those yellow rascals over there."

He pointed as he spoke to the junk, which brooded like a black blotch against the mirrored stars. She showed no lights, and seemed as sullen as her silent crew.

"Wonder if it's shell or pearls they're after?" mused Guy. "I rather fancy they think we are going to poach on their preserves. Chinks aren't generally so beastly disobliging."

"Depends where they come from," said Ned. "Some of these chaps from the islands are awful brutes. They are born pirates, and would cut your throat as soon as look at you."

Guy laughed. "We won't give them a chance to do either to-night," he said.

A WATCH was set, but the night passed quietly enough, and Guy, coming on deck at daylight, found to his delight that there was a fair wind. He roused out all hands, the anchor was raised, sail was set, and the pretty Yellowtail went bowling out towards the gap in the reef.

Guy was at the wheel; but it was Ned, standing beside him, who first discovered that the buoys were gone.

"The buoys gone!" exclaimed Guy. "Impossible!"

"Look for yourself, man," Ned answered. "There's nothing the matter with my eyes, that I know of."

"Who's done it?" asked Guy in amazement.

"The Chinks, of course."

"But the junk is still there."

"They used one of their boats," said Ned.

"Of course they have," returned Guy impatiently. "But why? That's what I can't understand."

"Because they don't want us to get out. Don't you see, Guy? The Chinks are on something rich—pearls, probably. They believe that we are after them or their pearls, and they've made up their yellow minds that we are not going off to spread the news or fetch help.

"At least," he ended, "that's the way it looks to me."

"And to me, too, now I come to think of it," said Guy. He glared at the black junk.

"For two pins I'd run her down," he growled.

"I wouldn't," advised Ned. "It would take a steel ram to make a dint in those slab sides of hers. And, in any case, her crew is quite five times the strength of ours."

"What in the name of sense are we to do?" asked Guy, frowning. "We're due at Ladivia by the twenty-seventh. I shall lose that cargo of copra if I'm late."

Ned shook his head.

"Hanged if I know. For the present we'd best anchor again, have breakfast and talk it over."

IT was a bitter pill to have to do so, and to know that the yellow men were laughing in their wide sleeves. And to lose a fair wind made it worse. But there was no help for it, and after anchoring again, the two went below to their bacon and coffee.

Through the open port they could see the junk's boats out again. Each had two divers who, stripped to the buff, took in turns to plunge overboard and drop to the bottom, coming up with their bags filled with the big abalone oysters.

"They're on something pretty rich, take my word for that," said Ned Ducat as he watched them through a glass.

"If we only had one of those boats!" sighed Guy.

"Why shouldn't we?" Ned asked quickly.

"How are we to get one? You've just said that they were five to one. We shouldn't stand a dog's chance in a scrap."

"I'm not thinking of a scrap," Ned answered. "My notion is to sneak a boat. They don't haul 'em up at night."

Guy whistled softly.

"I see. Swim, you mean, and sneak one."

"That's the ticket. You wait till dark, Guy, and if I don't have one of those boats I'm a Dutchman."

NED had been able to swim almost before he could walk. That night, as soon as it was full dark, he went overboard from the schooner, and Guy, leaning on the rail, watched anxiously the slight phosphorescent gleam which was all there was to mark Ned's progress.

Presently he lost even the faint glow.

Minutes dragged by. There was no sign or movement from the junk. No light showed from her ugly black bulk. With his night glasses Guy could just make out the four pull boats dragging in the tide at the stern of the junk. His eyes were on the endmost, and at last it seemed to him that she was moving. Presently he was sure. She was drifting away from the others.

"He's done it! Ned's done it!" he muttered.

Quite suddenly the boat slipped away, and when she was fifty yards from the junk he saw her rock as Ned clambered aboard and picking up a scull, set to working her softly towards the schooner.

Guy chuckled softly.

"What a sell for the Chinkies!"

And then—all of a sudden—the brazen boom of a gong roused the echoes, and lantern lights glimmered aboard the junk.

Next moment men were swarming into her remaining boats, and the chase had begun.

But the gong had warned Ned as well as the Chinamen. He had both sculls out, and was rowing like mad. He had a hundred yards start before the Chinks got under way.

The distance was a good half mile and Guy said at once that Ned must be caught before he reached the schooner. Expecting something of the sort, he had already had his cable buoyed. Now his orders rang out sharp and clear, and the Kanakas flew to make sail.

Inside five minutes the Yellowtail was under way, and gliding steadily towards Ned's boat.

"Pull, Ned!" roared Guy.

Ned was pulling like fury, but his boat was chunky and heavy, and the first of the junk's boats, with four men tugging at the oars, was gaining hand over fist.

Guy saw that there was only one thing to do. Instead of cutting in between, as he had at first intended, he drove straight for the side of the pursuing boat.

There was a yell, an echoing crash, and the junk's boat, splintered by the impact, was driven down under the sharp bows of the schooner. Her crew, seeing what was coming, had all leaped overboard and were swimming wildly to escape sharing the fate of their craft.

Guy saw Ned's boat close under the counter. He flung the schooner into the wind, shouted to a Kanaka to take the wheel, and with one flying leap over the side was into the boat.

"Help me aboard," gasped Ned. "I'm done."

"Wait! I want one of those chaps—more if I can get 'em."

As he spoke, one of the swimming Chinamen caught hold of the gunwale, and started climbing aboard. In the starlight Guy saw an ugly, yellow face with a long, sharp knife held between his teeth.

Guy seized him by the pigtail, snatched away the knife, and by main force dragged him aboard. As he did so, he heard a thud. Ned, struggling to his feet, had brought an oar down on the shaven skull of another swimmer who had tried to stab him from behind.

"Collar him, Ned. It's hostages we want," cried Guy.

Before the rest of the Chinese could arrive the two prisoners were hauled over the schooner's rail and dumped aboard like bales of hay.

Guy and Ned followed and had just secured the stolen boat when the first of their pursuers came splashing and thumping alongside.

Their leader, a great brawny fellow, with narrow eyes and high cheek bones, sprang to his feet and caught hold of the rail.

"Why you steal dem boat?" he demanded fiercely.

"So you can talk English when you want to!" retorted Guy. "Why you take dem buoys up?"

"Dem buoys allee same ours," answered the big man. "You give me dem boat, you give me dem men. You no do it I allee same take dem."

Without a moment's hesitation Guy whipped out a revolver.

"Try it, and I'll blow your head off," he said grimly.

There was tense silence. The other boats were up, and the schooner's crew were out-numbered two to one. If the Chinks showed fight it was all up. Guy's revolver was the only firearm aboard, and the Kanakas were precious little use in a scrap.

But the Chinese did not know this, and Guy's bold front daunted them.

"What you wantee?" growled the big man at last.

"I want to clear out—that's all. Put me safely through the channel and you shall have your boat and your men."

"Suppose you come back?" said the other doubtfully.

"I wouldn't come back for a farm," snapped Guy. "And if you want it, I'll give you my word that I'll not say anything about your pearling."

Silence again. Guy could almost hear his own heart beating. At last came the answer.

"Velly well. Can do."

Guy merely nodded.

"Thought you'd see sense. But I'm going to keep your men till we're safe outside. Sabby?"

The other nodded. He dropped down on to his thwart.

"Me come sun up," he said curtly, then gave a word to his crew, and they pulled away towards the junk.

Guy and Ned watched them go. Then Ned turned to Guy.

"Pretty good bluff you put up, old man."

"Only thing to do, Ned. But, my only aunt, it's a good thing that yellow beggar didn't know how scared I was."

He drew a deep breath.

"We can turn in now, Ned. No, they'll not touch us. A Chink may be all sorts of a blackguard, but his word is as good as his bond."


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.