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The Last Cruise of John Maudsley, Recruiter

THE Montiara, barque, of Sydney, from the New Hebrides to Samoa with a cargo of black labour, was lying becalmed upon a sea of glass, with the pitch bubbling up between her deck seams. Ten miles away to the eastward the verdured slopes of two islands—Fotuna and Alofi—which, an hour before had shone a vivid and enchanting green, were now changing to a dulled purple under the last rays of an angry, blood-red sun.

As four bells struck, John Maudsley, the chief mate came up on deck from the main hold, and walking quickly aft, joined his captain on the poop.

“Packenham,” he said wearily, as he took off his broad straw hat and fanned his heated face, “there's another poor devil just pegged out—one of the Santa Cruz boys. Thirteen in twenty-one days! and unless we get a breeze soon they'll begin to die like rotten sheep. Look here, old man, it's no use talking, we must let a batch of say thirty up on deck at once—it will at least give the rest some more air.”

The two men looked into each other's faces for a few moments in silence, then Packenham spoke.

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“It's terribly risky, Maudsley. There are only three sound men in the ship besides you and I, and it would simply be asking those Tanna and Pentecost niggers to cut our throats and take the ship. What chance should we have, old man, with even only a dozen of them if they knew our weakness! Can't you get the sick men to come up on deck?”

“No. They are sulky and savage, and would rather die down there of suffocation. There are now quite half-a-dozen of them sickening. Tried to get one fellow up on his feet, to bring him on deck, but his countrymen looked so threateningly at me that I had to desist.”

“Any of the Tanna and Pentecost boys sick yet?”

“No; it would be a damned good thing for us if they were. They're the crowd who are bent on mischief. So far, only the Banks' Islanders have been attacked, and they are the least dangerous of the lot. Something must be done, Packenham. Always thought measles was a baby's complaint, didn't you? I say, old man, look out for the deck for a bit and send for some coffee. I've got a bit of a twister coming on. Oh, this is a lovely trip! all hands but five down with fever, measles among the ‘cargo'—the greater portion of which is only waiting its chance to cut our throats; and a blarsted, furious calm to boot.”

“Steward, bring some coffee, quick,” cried Packenham, as Maudsley, with chattering teeth and shaking limbs crawled up between the up-ended wings of the skylight, and drawing his knees to his chest, lay down on his side, whilst the captain hastily covered him with rugs and blankets until the ague fit was past and the bone-racking agonies of the fever began.

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The steward brought the coffee, and Maudsley raised himself on his elbow and caught sight of his captain standing over him.

“Damn you, Packenham, what the devil are you doing here?” he chattered in querulous, irritable tones; “I'm all right. You go and get that ‘tween deck ladder up—if the niggers mean to make a rush one man with a gun won't stop 'em. Take a look below first, and see what they're doing. If it wasn't murder to do so in such weather, I'd clap the hatches on.”

The skipper of the Montiara was well used to his mate's language, for the two men were old and tried comrades; and in all matters concerning natives, Packenham always gave way to his subordinate; for Maudsley was not only his chief officer but “recruiter” as well, and no man who ever sailed the Pacific had a greater knowledge of native custom and character nor had displayed it so often in the face of the deadliest danger.

Packenham walked along to the main deck and looked down the hatchway, but the fast gathering darkness prevented him from discerning more than the recumbent figures of his “cargo,” with here and there the gleam of a surreptitious pipe or a cigarette of negrohead tobacco rolled in a dried banana leaf. A sailor, armed with a revolver and cutlass, was pacing to and fro across the for'ard end of the hatchway, and presently Packenham motioned him to haul up the light ladder. This was done without noise; and then the captain went to the deck-house, and, putting his head in at the door, addressed the occupants (six hands) which it contained.

“Here, I say you fellows, can't you shake off a bit

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of fever? Why, there's the mate, who is worse than any of you, and whose teeth are going like a cottongin at full speed, dancing a jig on the poop to himself. Come, buck up my lads.”

The boatswain, a tall, sallow-faced Maori half-caste, crawled slowly out of his bunk.

“I'm feeling a bit more fit, sir. I can take the wheel, if a breeze comes, if I can't do anything else.”

“That's right, Bill. Here, strike a light first and let me look at you fellows. Steward looking after you all right, eh?”

“Yes, sir,” answered one of the men with a groan, “we has got all we wants, sir; but we doesn't like bein' here by ourselves. Tommy Samoa there”—pointing to a native seaman lying on the deck of the house rolled in a mat—“says that if those Tanna men make a rush all us chaps will have our throats cutted and will be blue sharks' meat afore we knowed where we was.”

“Just what Maudsley said,” muttered Packenham to himself, then he added aloud, “You needn't be scared; the hatchway ladder is hauled up and there's a man on the lookout, not ten feet away. Have you your arms by you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, what the blazes are you making a song about? You stand a better show in a good, strong deck-house than do the rest of us.”

Then raising the lamp he surveyed the place, examined the men's carbines and pistols, and then went on his usual nightly round along the deck of the disease-smitten ship. Ten minutes later he rejoined Maudsley, who was now sitting up, clad

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only in his pyjamas, and pressing his throbbing head between his hands as the fever heat ran fiercely through his boiling veins.

“Pack.,” he began excitedly, “there's a bit of an air up aloft. Look over the side and you'll see we're moving. Does she steer, Harry?”

“No sir, not yet,” answered the helmsman.

Packenham looked aloft and then over the side.

“You're right, Maudsley, a breeze is coming sure enough, and a breeze means everything to us; we can run into Singavi Bay on Fotuna. One of the two French priests there is a doctor, and we can put the sick people ashore at any rate.”

Maudsley gave an irritated laugh.

“Don't be a fool. I know you're not a brute; but why the —— don't you think of what you're saying? There's a thousand natives on Fotuna, and it would be a damned dirty thing for us to do to dump these measly brutes of ours among them. If we did, the chances are that there wouldn't be another native left alive on the island in a month.… Now, this is my idea: if we can get up under the lee of Alofi, we can anchor. There is no one living there—at least not that I know of—as the island is only used by the Fotuna people for their yam plantations, and they seldom go there. There's good holding ground under the west point—ten miles away from Fotuna.”

Packenham nodded.

“I see; go ahead.”

“Well, as soon as we get there, let us land the whole lot—Tanna boys, Pentecost boys, and the Banks' Islanders. Plenty of coco-nuts, yams, and taro, and, above all, a fine big stream of running

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water. They'll be as right as rain there; and then while you and the hands disinfect the hold and the rest of the ship I'll start off for Singavi in the boat with a couple of hands and see if the French priest—the medicine-man fellow—will come back with me. By God, Pack., he'll have to come. We mustn't let these poor devils die like rotten sheep.”

“Look here, Maudsley; you give the word, and I'll do whatever you say must be done. Hurrah! here's the breeze now, and no mistake—but nearly dead ahead.”

“Never mind that,” said Maudsley, languidly; “we can't pick up the anchorage to-night, but we'll be near enough at daylight. Try and fix that wind-sail, Pack., so that some of this cool breeze goes down into the hold.”

Packenham, with the three seamen who were able to work, and the steward, set to and trimmed the sails, and under the bright light of myriad stars the little barque glided over the silent sea.

An hour before the dawn, Maudsley, who was feeling better, had taken the wheel, whilst Packenham and the others were ranging the cable ready for anchoring. The clang and thump of the heavy iron links as they fell upon the deck seemed to put new life into the crew, and even those who were lying sick in the house came out into the cooling morning air, and with weakened arms and trembling knees helped to flake the chain along ship-shape.

Just as they had finished, and as the first yellow lights of the rising sun were dispersing the thick mists of Schouten Mountain on Fotuna Island, the

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steward came softly up to Maudsley and touched his arm.

“The second mate is dead, sir.”

Maudsley's hands gripped the spokes of the wheel tightly, and then he ran his eye aloft before he answered.

“Was he conscious, steward?”

“Yes, sir, he was—just at the last. He arst fur you, sir; an' when I told 'im that you was at the wheel, an' the skipper an' the rest of the hands was gettin' ready for anchorin', he says to me, ‘Don't call the mate, steward, but tell 'im as there's a letter under my piller for some one as he's a-heard me a-speakin' of.' An' without another word, sir, he turns on his side an' dies nice and quiet.”

“All right, steward. Go below and get me a stiff glass of brandy. And, look here, while I think of it, put that letter of Mr. Belton's in the captain's cabin. Hurry up now, you damned Cockney swab, and bring me that brandy—I want it.”

The steward disappeared without a word, and soon came on deck again with half a tumblerful of liquor.

The chief mate, his hand now quite steady, took the glass.

“Thank you, steward. You're no Cockney swab, but a good little chap. There's a twenty-dollar gold piece in the top after-drawer of my locker—that's for you.… You see I've got the fever pretty bad this time, and as like as not I'll slip my cable—you know what that means, my Borough Road fried-fish-eating friend, don't you, though you're no sailor man? Sometimes it means going to hell suddenly, instead of having a parson to ‘ready’ you up for it, though as

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like as not he'll tell you that you'll appear as white as snow before the throne of God.… Clear out, damn you! What the devil are you staring at? The skipper will want his coffee presently.”

The steward, an under-sized, bent-shouldered old man, placed his hand on the edge of the skylight and looked into Maudsley's face.

“You're very ill, sir—I can see that. Can't I call one of the hands, sir, to take the wheel?”

“No, you can't. Go below and get that twenty-dollar piece and stow it away—and clap a stopper on your jaw-tackle, you silly old fool!”

Presently Packenham came aft and stood beside him.

“We're all ready for'ard, Maudy.”

“Right you are, Pack. We'll go about presently; another half hour will bring us close enough, I think, though I can't see where we are very well as yet. Take a cast of the lead, will you, old man, as soon as we are in stays? Oh, God! Look there!” and he sprang down off the poop to the main hatch and tried to beat back the upward rush of threescore or more of naked savages with his clenched fists.

Packenham and the three seamen ran to his aid: and then began a deadly struggle—the white men trying to hurl back the savages into the hold instead of using their revolvers. But in less than ten seconds one of the sailors was thrown down upon his back and his brains dashed out with a tomahawk; then, and not till then, was a shot fired. Packenham was the first to bring his pistol into play, and none too soon, for a huge Tanna man had seized him by the beard with his left hand, and in another moment would have

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driven a knife into his heart. The sharp crack of the heavy Colt was followed by another and another, and each time a native went down; then came the loud reports of the seamen's carbines, and the lust of slaughter had seized upon them all, as, flinging aside their firearms, they drew their heavy cutlasses and slashed and cut and stabbed the naked figures of the now maddened islanders. Up to this time not more than thirty had succeeded in actually gaining the deck by means of the ladder they had so cunningly made and placed in position; and of these eight or ten were lying either dead or dying on the deck, as many more had been hurled below, and the rest, when they saw Packenham cut down two of their number and the boatswain smash the skull of a third with the butt of his carbine, turned and fled for'ard. Some of them ran up the forerigging, and these were being picked off one by one by Tommy Samoa and the other seamen, when Maudsley struck their weapons from their hands, and fiercely bade them cease such useless slaughter.

“On with the hatches,” he said pantingly, as he stooped over the coamings and pulled up the ladder the natives had placed in position—a mere bamboo pole with half-a-dozen cross-pieces lashed to it with cinnett—“on with the hatches, men. They'll give in now, but we must take no further risks, and there must be no more of this bloody work.”

As the hatches were being put on, Maudsley leant over and looked at the savages below. They had all gathered as far aft as possible, believing that the white men, now that daylight had come, would open fire on them.

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Maudsley bade them remain quiet; their lives would be spared, he said, if they obeyed him. Then he called to those of their number who were aloft, and told them to come down and go below. They stared at him sullenly and refused.

“Then stay there, you brutes,” he said with a curse; “they can't hurt us, Packenham, up there. Now let us get to anchor.”

A cut from a tomahawk had laid open his cheek, and Packenham, who himself had a knife-thrust through the arm, quickly bound it up, and then Maudsley again went aft to the wheel and brought the barque to an anchor under a high-wooded bluff on the western point of Alofi Island, and in water as calm as that of a mountain lake. The bodies of the dead natives were then thrown overboard, and that of the white sailor carried aft and laid beside the second mate's in the cabin.

Then, when those of the crew who had been wounded had had their hurts attended to by the captain and steward, the ensanguined decks were washed down, coffee and biscuit were served out, and Maudsley went for'ard, and again urged the Tanna men who were aloft to come down.

“If we are to die, we can die here,” was their sullen answer.

The white man was losing patience; the wound on his face made him feel sick and faint, and a sudden spasm of ague shook his frame. He took his pistol from his belt.

“I promise you that no harm shall be done to you if you come down quickly and go into the hold with your countrymen. Have I ever lied to you?”

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“No,” replied the oldest man of the four—a wild-eyed, vicious-faced, brute, with his hair twisted into countless tiny curls, which hung in a greasy tangle down his neck and cheeks.

“Then do as I bid you, or I shall kill you from where I stand—quick!” and he raised his right hand.

Slowly and suspiciously they descended, still grasping their blood-stained knives and tomahawks. As they reached the deck they stopped and glared about them with the ferocity and fear of hunted tigers.

“Keep back there, men,” said Maudsley to the crew who were standing near the main-hatch, “they'll want a bit of coaxing. Hang a line over the for'ard end of the hatch so that they can get down.” Then putting his revolver back into its pouch, he unbuckled the belt and laid it down on the windlass.

“Now, come with me, men of Tanna,” he said quietly, “no one shall hurt you. See, I hold no weapon in my hand, and the rest of the white men, too, have laid down their guns.” Beckoning to them to follow, he walked to the hatchway, then turned and faced them.

“Now listen. Take hold of that rope and go down one by one. And tell your countrymen and the men of Pentecost that if they sit down quietly till the sun is high in the sky they shall have food and water given them. Then when all the badness is out of their minds, they shall come on deck, ten at a time, and the smell of blood will no longer be in our nostrils. But before food and water is given, every knife, every tomahawk and every club must be brought on deck to me by two men. Now give me these,”

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and he reached his hands out for the weapons they themselves carried.

Two heavy butcher knives and one tomahawk were, after a little hesitation, given up, were at once thrown over the side, and the three disarmed savages went below; the fourth man—he with the greasy curls—still clutched his tomahawk tightly.

“Come, be quick,” said Maudsley, give it to me.”

“Take it, white man!” and the native swinging the keen-edged weapon swiftly above his head, struck it deep into the officer's side, and with a yell of triumph he sprang over the side and swam for the shore—only to throw up his arms and sink as Packenham sent a bullet through his head, before he was fifty yards away from the ship.

“I'm done for, Packenham, old man … No, don't carry me aft, time's too short. There's a letter for poor Belton's girl, Pack., which you must give to her. Tell her she must forgive me for tempting him to ship on this cruise—my last cruise, old man.”

Very gently they lifted and carried him aft and quickly rigged an awning, for the sun was blazing hot and fiercely upon the vessel's decks. Then Packenham, with the quick-falling tears coursing down his bronzed and bearded face, knelt beside the dying man and took his hand.

Maudsley opened his eyes and smiled at his captain and gave a faint answering pressure. “Don't you worry, old fellow. Somehow I don't much care. But it was hard for poor Belton to die—he was a bright young shaver, and a gentleman. I've got my gruel

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this time, and I'm not going to make a—song over it. And I'm no loss to any one.”

Then in slow, laboured words he told Packenham what should be done. The sick natives should be put ashore as soon as possible; the rest disarmed and kept confined till aid could be obtained from the white traders on Fotuna, who would find him native sailors to help sail the barque to Samoa. Nothing escaped him, nothing was forgotten in his seaman's mind that bore upon the ship and her safety.

“How does she lie, old man?” he asked presently.

“Snug as possible, Tom,” answered the captain brokenly.

“Plenty of room to swing if the wind comes from the westward?”

“Plenty. Tom, old man, I've sent the boat to Singavi for the French priest. She should be back by noon.”

Maudsley shook his head. “I don't want any doctoring, Pack. That buck sent it home properly.” Suddenly, by a mighty effort he half raised himself.

“Steward, boatswain, come here; I want you fellows to witness that I have said that all the money coming to me for this cruise is to be paid to Captain Packenham.” Then he sank back again, and motioned to the captain to come closer.

“Pack.,” he whispered, “send it all to Belton's girl.”

Packenham bent his head, and then Maudsley the Recruiter gave a long, heavy sigh and closed his eyes—his last cruise was ended.