A Son of the Sun

A LITTLE ACCOUNT
WITH SWITHIN HALL

(First published in The Saturday Evening Post, v. 184, September 2, 1911: 12-14, 40-41)

III

After a giddy night of grand and lofty tumbling, in which, over a big and dying sea, without a breath of wind to steady her, the Uncle Toby rolled every person on board sick of soul, a light breeze sprang up and the reefs were shaken out. By midday, on a smooth ocean floor, the clouds thinned and cleared and sights of the sun were obtained. Two degrees and fifteen minutes south, the observation gave them. With a broken chronometer longitude was out of the question.

"We're anywhere within five hundred and a thousand miles along that latitude line," Grief remarked, as he and the mate bent over the chart. "Leu-Leu is to the south'ard somewhere, and this section of ocean is all blank. There is neither an island nor a reef by which we can regulate the chronometer. The only thing to do—"

"Land ho, skipper!" the Tongan called down the companionway.

Grief took a quick glance at the empty blank of the chart, whistled his surprise, and sank back feebly in a chair.

"It gets me," he said. "There can't be land around here. We never drifted or ran like that. The whole voyage has been crazy. Will you kindly go up, Mr. Snow, and see what's ailing Jackie."

"It's land all right," the mate called down a minute afterward. "You can see it from the deck—tops of cocoanuts—an atoll of some sort. Maybe it's Leu-Leu after all."

Grief shook his head positively as he gazed at the fringe of palms, only the tops visible, apparently rising out of the sea.

"Haul up on the wind, Mr. Snow, close-and-by, and we'll take a look. We can just reach past to the south, and if it spreads off in that direction we'll hit the southwest corner."

Very near must palms be to be seen from the low deck of a schooner, and, slowly as the Uncle Toby sailed, she quickly raised the low land above the sea, while more palms increased the definition of the atoll circle.

"She's a beauty," the mate remarked. "A perfect circle.  . . . Looks as if it might be eight or nine miles across.  . . . Wonder if there's an entrance to the lagoon.  . . . Who knows? Maybe it's a brand new find."

They coasted up the west side of the atoll, making short tacks in to the surf-pounded coral rock and out again. From the masthead, across the palm-fringe, a Kanaka announced the lagoon and a small island in the middle.

"I know what you're thinking," Grief said to his mate.

Snow, who had been muttering and shaking his head, looked up with quick and challenging incredulity.

"You're thinking the entrance will be on the northwest," Grief went on, as if reciting. "Two cable lengths wide, marked on the north by three separated cocoanuts, and on the south by pandanus trees. Eight miles in diameter, a perfect circle, with an island in the dead centre."

"I was thinking that," Snow acknowledged.

"And there's the entrance opening up just where it ought to be—"

"And the three palms," Snow almost whispered, "and the pandanus trees. If there's a windmill on the island, it's it—Swithin Hall's island. But it can't be. Everybody's been looking for it for the last ten years."

"Hall played you a dirty trick once, didn't he?" Grief queried.

Snow nodded. "That's why I'm working for you. He broke me flat. It was downright robbery. I bought the wreck of the Cascade, down in Sydney, out of a first instalment of a legacy from home."

"She went on Christmas Island, didn't she?"

"Yes, full tilt, high and dry, in the night. They saved the passengers and mails. Then I bought a little island schooner, which took the rest of my money, and I had to wait the final payment by the executors to fit her out. What did Swithin Hall do—he was at Honolulu at the time—but make a straightaway run for Christmas Island. Neither right nor title did he have. When I got there, the hull and engines were all that was left of the Cascade. She had had a fair shipment of silk on board, too. And it wasn't even damaged. I got it afterward pretty straight from his supercargo. He cleared something like sixty thousand dollars."

Snow shrugged his shoulders and gazed bleakly at the smooth surface of the lagoon, where tiny wavelets danced in the afternoon sun.

"The wreck was mine. I bought her at public auction. I'd gambled big, and I'd lost. When I got back to Sydney, the crew, and some of the tradesmen who'd extended me credit, libelled the schooner. I pawned my watch and sextant, and shovelled coal one spell, and finally got a billet in the New Hebrides on a screw of eight pounds a month. Then I tried my luck as independent trader, went broke, took a mate's billet on a recruiter down to Tanna and over to Fiji, got a job as overseer on a German plantation back of Apia, and finally settled down on the Uncle Toby."

"Have you ever met Swithin Hall?"

Snow shook his head.

"Well, you're likely to meet him now. There's the windmill."

In the centre of the lagoon, as they emerged from the passage, they opened a small, densely wooded island, among the trees of which a large Dutch windmill showed plainly.

"Nobody at home from the looks of it," Grief said, "or you might have a chance to collect."

The mate's face set vindictively, and his fists clenched.

"Can't touch him legally. He's got too much money now. But I can take sixty thousand dollars' worth out of his hide. I hope he is at home."

"Then I hope he is, too," Grief said, with an appreciative smile. "You got the description of his island from Bau-Oti, I suppose?"

"Yes, as pretty well everybody else has. The trouble is that Bau-Oti can't give latitude or longitude. Says they sailed a long way from the Gilberts—that's all he knows. I wonder what became of him."

"I saw him a year ago on the beach at Tahiti. Said he was thinking about shipping for a cruise through the Paumotus. Well, here we are, getting close in. Heave the lead, Jackie-Jackie. Stand by to let go, Mr. Snow. According to Bau-Oti, anchorage three hundred yards off the west shore in nine fathoms, coral patches to the southeast. There are the patches. What do you get, Jackie?"

"Nine fadom."

"Let go, Mr. Snow."

The Uncle Toby swung to her chain, headsails ran down, and the Kanaka crew sprang to fore and main-halyards and sheets.

Go Back To: A Little Account With Swithin Hall (IV)
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