The early morning found the Wonder laying close-hauled along the coast of Guadalcanar. She moved lazily through the water under the dying breath of the land breeze. To the east, heavy masses of clouds promised a renewal of the southeast trades, accompanied by sharp puff s and rain squalls. Ahead, laying along the coast on the same course as the Wonder, and being slowly overtaken, was a small ketch. It was not the Willi-Waw, however, and Captain Ward, on the Wonder, putting down his glasses, named it the Kauri.
Grief, just on deck from below, sighed regretfully.
,,if it had only been the Willi-Waw," he said.
"You do hate to be beaten," Denby, the supercargo, remarked sympathetically.
"I certainly do." Grief paused and laughed with genuine mirth. "It's my firm conviction that Griffiths is a rogue, and that he treated me quite scurvily yesterday. 'Sign he says, 'sign in full, at the bottom, and date it.' And Jacobsen, the little rat, stood in with him. It was rank piracy, the days of Bully Hayes all over again."
"If you weren't my employer, Mr. Grief, I'd like to give you a piece of my mind," Captain Ward broke in.
"Go on and spit it out," Grief encouraged.
"Well, then—" The captain hesitated and cleared his throat. "With all the money you've got, only a fool would take the risk you did with those two curs. What do you do it for?"
"Honestly, I don't know, Captain. I just want to, I suppose. And can you give any better reason for anything you do?"
"You'll get your bally head shot off some fine day," Captain Ward growled in answer, as he stepped to the binnacle and took the bearing of a peak which had just thrust its head through the clouds that covered Guadalcanar.
The land breeze strengthened in a last effort, and the Wonder, slipping swiftly through the water, ranged alongside the Kauri and began to go by. Greetings flew back and forth, then David Grief called out:
"Seen anything of the Willi-Waw?"
The captain, slouch-hatted and barelegged, with a rolling twist hitched the faded blue lava-lava tighter around his waist and spat tobacco juice overside.
"Sure," he answered. "Griffiths lay at Savo last night, taking on pigs and yams and filling his water-tanks. Looked like he was going for a long cruise, but he said no. Why? Did you want to see him?"
"Yes; but if you see him first don't tell him you've seen me."
The captain nodded and considered, and walked for'ard on his own deck to keep abreast of the faster vessel.
"Say!" he called. "Jacobsen told me they were coming down this afternoon to Gabera. Said they were going to lay there to-night and take on sweet potatoes."
"Gabera has the only leading lights in the Solomons," Grief said, when his schooner had drawn well ahead. "Is that right, Captain Ward?"
The captain nodded.
"And the little bight just around the point on this side, it's a rotten anchorage, isn't it?"
"No anchorage. All coral patches and shoals, and a bad surf. That's where the Molly went to pieces three years ago."
Grief stared straight before him with lustreless eyes for a full minute, as if summoning some vision to his inner sight. Then the corners of his eyes wrinkled and the ends of his yellow mustache lifted in a smile.
"We'll anchor at Gabera," he said. "And run in close to the little bight this side. I want you to drop me in a whaleboat as you go by. Also, give me six boys, and serve out rifles. I'll be back on board before morning."
The captain's face took on an expression of suspicion, which swiftly slid into one of reproach.
"Oh, just a little fun, skipper," Grief protested with the apologetic air of a schoolboy caught in mischief by an elder.
Captain Ward grunted, but Denby was all alertness.
"I'd like to go along, Mr. Grief," he said.
Grief nodded consent.
"Bring some axes and bush-knives," he said. "And, oh, by the way, a couple of bright lanterns. See they've got oil in them."