In the early morning of another day, before the sun-blaze had gained its full strength, came an offer of a parley from Raoul Van Asveld.
Brown brought the word in from the outpost among the rocks a hundred yards away. Grief was squatted over a small fire, broiling a strip of shark-flesh. The last twenty-four hours had been lucky. Seaweed and sea urchins had been gathered. Tehaa had caught a shark, and Mauriri had captured a fair-sized octopus at the base of the crevice where the dynamite was stored. Then, too, in the darkness they had made two successful swims for water before the tiger sharks had nosed them out.
"Said he'd like to come in and talk with you," Brown said. "But I know what the brute is after. Wants to see how near starved to death we are."
"Bring him in," Grief said.
"And then we will kill him," the Goat Man cried joyously.
Grief shook his head.
"But he is a killer of men, Big Brother, a beast and a devil," the Goat Man protested.
"He must not be killed, Brother. It is our way not to break our word."
"It is a foolish way."
"Still it is our way," Grief answered gravely, turning the strip of shark- meat over on the coals and noting the hungry sniff and look of Tehaa. "Don't do that, Tehaa, when the Big Devil comes. Look as if you and hunger were strangers. Here, cook those sea urchins, you, and you, Big Brother, cook the squid. We will have the Big Devil to feast with us. Spare nothing. Cook all."
And, still broiling meat, Grief arose as Raoul Van Asveld, followed by a large Irish terrier, strode into camp. Raoul did not make the mistake of holding out his hand.
"Hello!" he said. "I've heard of you."
"I wish I'd never heard of you," Grief answered.
"Same here," was the response. "At first, before I knew who it was, I thought I had to deal with an ordinary trading captain. That's why you've got me bottled up."
"And I am ashamed to say that I underrated you," Grief smiled. "I took you for a thieving beachcomber, and not for a really intelligent pirate and murderer. Hence, the loss of my schooner. Honours are even, I fancy, on that score."
Raoul flushed angrily under his sunburn, but he contained himself. His eyes roved over the supply of food and the full water-calabashes, though he concealed the incredulous surprise he felt. His was a tall, slender, well-knit figure, and Grief, studying him, estimated his character from his face. The eyes were keen and strong, but a bit too close together—not pinched, however, but just a trifle near to balance the broad forehead, the strong chin and jaw, and the cheekbones wide apart. Strength! His face was filled with it, and yet Grief sensed in it the intangible something the man lacked.
"We are both strong men," Raoul said, with a bow. "We might have been fighting for empires a hundred years ago."
It was Grief's turn to bow.
"As it is, we are squalidly scrapping over the enforcement of the colonial laws of those empires whose destinies we might possibly have determined a hundred years ago."
"It all comes to dust," Raoul remarked sententiously, sitting down. "Go ahead with your meal. Don't let me interrupt."
"Won't you join us?" was Grief's invitation.
The other looked at him with sharp steadiness, then accepted.
"I'm sticky with sweat," he said. "Can I wash?"
Grief nodded and ordered Mauriri to bring a calabash. Raoul looked into the Goat Man's eyes, but saw nothing save languid uninterest as the precious quart of water was wasted on the ground.
"The dog is thirsty," Raoul said.
Grief nodded, and another calabash was presented to the animal.
Again Raoul searched the eyes of the natives and learned nothing.
"Sorry we have no coffee," Grief apologized. "You'll have to drink plain water. A calabash, Tehaa. Try some of this shark. There is squid to follow, and sea urchins and a seaweed salad. I'm sorry we haven't any frigate bird. The boys were lazy yesterday, and did not try to catch any."
With an appetite that would not have stopped at wire nails dipped in lard, Grief ate perfunctorily, and tossed the scraps to the dog.
"I'm afraid I haven't got down to the primitive diet yet," he sighed, as he sat back. "The tinned goods on the Rattler, now I could make a hearty meal off of them, but this muck—" He took a half-pound strip of broiled shark and flung it to the dog. "I suppose I'll come to it if you don't surrender pretty soon."
Raoul laughed unpleasantly.
"I came to offer terms," he said pointedly.
Grief shook his head.
"There aren't any terms. I've got you where the hair is short, and I'm not going to let go."
"You think you can hold me in this hole!" Raoul cried.
"You'll never leave it alive, except in double irons." Grief surveyed his guest with an air of consideration. "I've handled your kind before. We've pretty well cleaned it out of the South Seas. But you area—how shall I say?—a sort of an anachronism. You're a throwback, and we've got to get rid of you. Personally, I would advise you to go back to the schooner and blow your brains out. It is the only way to escape what you've got coming to you."
The parley, so far as Raoul was concerned, proved fruitless, and he went back into his own lines convinced that the men on the Big Rock could hold out for years, though he would have been swiftly unconvinced could he have observed Tehaa and the Raiateans, the moment his back was turned and he was out of sight, crawling over the rocks and sucking and crunching the scraps his dog had left uneaten.