Back on board his schooner and dozing in a deck chair under a three- months-old magazine, David Grief was aroused by a sobbing, Blubbering noise from overside. He opened his eyes. From the Chilean cruiser, a quarter of a mile away, came the stroke of eight bells. It was midnight. From overside came a splash and another slubbering noise. To him it seemed half amphibian, half the sounds of a man crying to himself and querulously chanting his sorrows to the general universe.
A jump took David Grief to the low rail. Beneath, centred about the slubbering noise, was an area of agitated phosphorescence. Leaning over, he locked his hand under the armpit of a man, and, with pull and heave and quick-changing grips, he drew on deck the naked form of Aloysius Pankburn.
"I didn't have a sou-markee," he complained. "I had to swim it, and I couldn't find your gangway. It was very miserable. Pardon me. If you have a towel to put about my middle, and a good stiff drink, I'll be more myself. I'm Mr. Folly, and you're the Captain Grief, I presume, who
called on me when I was out. No, I'm not drunk. Nor am I cold. This isn't shivering. Lavina allowed me only two drinks to-day. I'm on the edge of the horrors, that's all, and I was beginning to see things when I couldn't find the gangway. If you'll take me below I'll be very grateful. You are the only one that answered my advertisement."
He was shaking pitiably in the warm night, and down in the cabin, before he got his towel, Grief saw to it that a half-tumbler of whiskey was in his hand.
"Now fire ahead," Grief said, when he had got his guest into a shirt and a pair of duck trousers. "What's this advertisement of yours? I'm listening. "
Pankburn looked at the whiskey bottle, but Grief shook his head.
"All right, Captain, though I tell you on whatever is left of my honour that I am not drunk—not in the least. Also, what I shall tell you is true, and I shall tell it briefly, for it is clear to me that you are a man of affairs and action. Likewise, your chemistry is good. To you alcohol has never been a million maggots gnawing at every cell of you. You've never been to hell. I am there now. I am scorching. Now listen.
"My mother is alive. She is English. I was born in Australia. I was educated at York and Yale. I am a master of arts, a doctor of philosophy; and I am no good. Furthermore, I am an alcoholic. I have been an athlete. I used to swan-dive a hundred and ten feet in the clear. I hold several amateur records. I am a fish. I learned the crawl-stroke from the first of the Cavilles. I have done thirty miles in a rough sea. I have another record. I have punished more whiskey than any man of my years. I will steal sixpence from you for the price of a drink. Finally, I will tell you the truth.
"My father was an American—an Annapolis man. He was a midshipman in the War of the Rebellion. In '66 he was a lieutenant on the Suwanee. Her captain was Paul Shirley. In '66 the Suwanee coaled at an island in the Pacific which I do not care to mention, under a protectorate which did not exist then and which shall be nameless. Ashore, behind the bar of a public house, my father saw three copper spikes—ship's spikes."
David Grief smiled quietly.
"And now I can tell you the name of the coaling station and of the protectorate that came afterward," he said.
"And of the three spikes?" Pankburn asked with equal quietness. "Go ahead, for they are in my possession now."
"Certainly. They were behind German Oscar's bar at Peenoo-Peenee. Johnny Black brought them there from off his schooner the night he died. He was just back from a long cruise to the westward, fishing beche-de-mer and sandalwood trading. All the beach knows the tale."
Pankburn shook his head.
"Go on," he urged.
"It was before my time, of course," Grief explained. "I only tell what I've heard. Next came the Ecuadoran cruiser, of all directions, in from the westward, and bound home. Her officers recognized the spikes. Johnny Black was dead. They got hold of his mate and log-book. Away to the westward went she. Six months after, again bound home, she dropped in at Peenoo-Peenee. She had failed, and the tale leaked out."
"When the revolutionists were marching on Guayaquil," Pankburn took it up, "the federal officers, believing a defence of the city hopeless, salted down the government treasure chest, something like a million dollars gold, but all in English coinage, and put it on board the American schooner Flirt. They were going to run at daylight. The American captain skinned out in the middle of the night. Go on."
"It's an old story," Grief resumed. "There was no other vessel in the harbour. The federal leaders couldn't run. They put their backs to the wall and held the city. Rohjas Salced, making a forced march from Quito, raised the siege. The revolution was broken, and the one ancient steamer that constituted the Ecuadoran navy was sent in pursuit of the Flirt. They caught her, between the Banks Group and the New Hebrides, hove to and flying distress signals. The captain had died the day before—blackwater fever." "And the mate?" Pankburn challenged.
"The mate had been killed a week earlier by the natives on one of the Banks, when they sent a boat in for water. There were no navigators left. The men were put to the torture. It was beyond international law. They wanted to confess, but couldn't. They told of the three spikes in the trees on the beach, but where the island was they did not know. To the westward, far to the westward, was all they knew. The tale now goes two ways. One is that they all died under the torture. The other is that the survivors were swung at the yardarm. At any rate, the Ecuadoran cruiser went home without the treasure. Johnny Black brought the three spikes to Peenoo-Peenee, and left them at German Oscar's, but how and where he found them he never told."
Pankburn looked hard at the whiskey bottle.
"Just two fingers," he whimpered.
Grief considered, and poured a meagre drink. Pankburn's eyes sparkled, and he took new lease of life.
"And this is where I come in with the missing details," he said. "Johnny Black did tell. He told my father. Wrote him from Levuka, before he came on to die at Peenoo-Peenee. My father had saved his life one rough-house night in Valparaiso. A Chink pearler, out of Thursday Island, prospecting for new grounds to the north of New Guinea, traded for the three spikes with a nigger. Johnny Black bought them for copper weight. He didn't dream any more than the Chink, but coming back he stopped for hawksbill turtle at the very beach where you say the mate of the Flirt was killed. Only he wasn't killed. The Banks Islanders held him prisoner, and he was dying of necrosis of the jawbone, caused by an arrow wound in the fight on the beach. Before he died he told the yarn to Johnny Black. Johnny Black wrote my father from Levuka. He was at the end of his rope—cancer. My father, ten years afterward, when captain of the Perry, got the spikes from German Oscar. And from my father, last will and testament, you know, came the spikes and the data. I have the island, the latitude and longitude of the beach where the three spikes were nailed in the trees. The spikes are up at Lavina's now. The latitude and longitude are in my head. Now what do you think?"
"Fishy," was Grief's instant judgment. "Why didn't your father go and get it himself?"
"Didn't need it. An uncle died and left him a fortune. He retired from the navy, ran foul of an epidemic of trained nurses in Boston, and my mother got a divorce. Also, she fell heir to an income of something like thirty thousand dollars, and went to live in New Zealand. I was divided between them, half-time New Zealand, half-time United States, until my father's death last year. Now my mother has me altogether. He left me his money—oh, a couple of millions—but my mother has had guardians appointed on account of the drink. I'm worth all kinds of money, but I can't touch a penny save what is doled out to me. But the old man, who had got the tip on my drinking, left me the three spikes and the data thereunto pertaining. Did it through his lawyers, unknown to my mother; said it beat life insurance, and that if I had the backbone to go and get it I could drink my back teeth awash until I died. Millions in the hands of my guardians, slathers of shekels of my mother's that'll be mine if she beats me to the crematory, another million waiting to be dug up, and in the meantime I'm cadging on Lavina for two drinks a day. It's hell, isn't it? —when you consider my thirst."
"Where's the island?"
"It's a long way from here."
"Not on your life, Captain Grief. You're making an easy half-million out of this. You will sail under my directions, and when we're well to sea and on our way I'll tell you and not before."
Grief shrugged his shoulders, dismissing the subject.
"When I've given you another drink I'll send the boat ashore with you," he said.
Pankburn was taken aback. For at least five minutes he debated with himself, then licked his lips and surrendered.
"If you promise to go, I'll tell you now."
"Of course I'm willing to go. That's why I asked you. Name the island."
Pankburn looked at the bottle.
"I'll take that drink now, Captain."
"No you won't. That drink was for you if you went ashore. If you are going to tell me the island, you must do it in your sober senses."
"Francis Island, if you will have it. Bougainville named it Barbour Island."
"Off there all by its lonely in the Little Coral Sea," Grief said. "I know it. Lies between New Ireland and New Guinea. A rotten hole now, though it was all right when the Flirt drove in the spikes and the Chink pearler traded for them. The steamship Castor, recruiting labour for the Upolu plantations, was cut off there with all hands two years ago. I knew her captain well. The Germans sent a cruiser, shelled the bush, burned half a dozen villages, killed a couple of niggers and a lot of pigs, and—and that was all. The niggers always were bad there, but they turned really bad forty years ago. That was when they cut off a whaler. Let me see? What was her name?"
He stepped to the bookshelf, drew out the bulky "South Pacific Directory," and ran through its pages.
"Yes. Here it is. Francis, or Barbour," he skimmed. "Natives warlike and treacherous—Melanesian—cannibals. Whaleship Western cut off—that was her name. Shoals—points—anchorages—ah, Redscar, Owen Bay, Likikili Bay, that's more like it; deep indentation, mangrove swamps, good holding in nine fathoms when white scar in bluff
bears west-southwest." Grief looked up. "That's your beach, Pankburn, I'll swear."
"Will you go?" the other demanded eagerly.
"It sounds good to me. Now if the story had been of a hundred millions, or some such crazy sum, I wouldn't look at it for a moment. We'll sail to-morrow, but under one consideration. You are to be absolutely under my orders."
His visitor nodded emphatically and joyously.
"And that means no drink."
"That's pretty hard," Pankburn whined.
"It's my terms. I'm enough of a doctor to see you don't come to harm. And you are to work-hard work, sailor's work. You'll stand regular watches and everything, though you eat and sleep aft with us."
"It's a go." Pankburn put out his hand to ratify the agreement. "If it doesn't kill me," he added.
David Grief poured a generous three-fingers into the tumbler and extended it.
"Then here's your last drink. Take it."
Pankburn's hand went halfway out. With a sudden spasm of resolution, he hesitated, threw back his shoulders, and straightened up his head.
"I guess I won't," he began, then, feebly surrendering to the gnaw of desire, he reached hastily for the glass, as if in fear that it would be withdrawn.