The Project Gutenberg eBook, Madame Gilbert's Cannibal, by Bennet Copplestone

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Title: Madame Gilbert's Cannibal

Author: Bennet Copplestone

Release Date: June 7, 2017 [eBook #54865]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



E-text prepared by deaurider, Martin Pettit,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
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Note: Images of the original pages are available through the Google Books Library Project. See






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Author of "The Lost Naval Papers," etc.


681 Fifth Avenue

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Copyright, 1920
All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

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I.   His Lordship 1
II.   Madame Takes Charge 19
III.   The "Humming Top" 35
IV.   In the South Seas 50
V.   Willatopy: Pilot 60
VI.   A Night in the Straits 79
VII.   Father and Son 94
VIII.   Tops Island 112
IX.   Willatopy: Sportsman 125
X.   The Coming of the Hedge Lawyer 155
XI.   The Campaign Opens 167
XII.   The Sailing of the Yawl 183
XIII.   White Blood 200
XIV.   Marie Lambert 215
XV.   Turtle 229
XVI.   Willatopy Spurns His Gods 246
XVII.   Farewell to Tops Island 263
XVIII.   The Hand of Madame Gilbert 279
XIX.   In the Straits of Sunda 296
XX.   Madame Refuses the "Humming Top" 304

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Madame Gilbert's war service ended when Austria fell out. She had been in Italy busied with those obscure intrigues for the confounding of an enemy which are excused, and dignified, as patriotic propaganda. She is satisfied that on the Italian Front she, and those who worked with her, really won the war.

The war satisfactorily won, Madame Gilbert sped home to revel in the first holiday which she had known since August, 1914. She always seems to travel with fewer restrictions and at greater speed than any except Prime Ministers and commanding Generals. In Italy she is an Italian and in France a Frenchwoman—a dazzling Italian and a very winning Frenchwoman. The police of both countries make smooth her path with their humble bodies upon which Madame is graciously pleased to trample. "I never trouble much about passports or credentials," says she, "though I carry them just as I do my .25 automatic pistol; in practice I find that I need draw my papers as rarely as I[Pg 2] draw my gun. Most of the police and officials who have seen me once know me when I come again, and rush to my assistance." She is never grateful for service. I do not believe she knows the sentiment of gratitude. A poor man renders her aid in defiance of regulations, and maybe at the risk of his neck; she smiles upon him, and the debt is instantly discharged. He is dismissed until perchance Madame may again have occasion for his devotion. Then she reveals the royal accomplishment of never forgetting a face. Imagine a harassed, weary chef du train, before whose official unseeing eyes travellers flit like figures on a cinema screen, imagine such a one addressed by name and rank by the most beautiful and gracious of mortal women, by a woman who remembers all those little family confidences which he had poured into her sympathetic ears some twelve months before, by a woman who enquires sweetly after his good wife—using her pet name—laments that the brave son—also accurately named—is still missing beyond those impenetrable Boche lines. Will not the chef du train, cooed over thus and softly patted as one pats butter, break every French rule the most iron-bound to speed Madame upon her way? Of course he will. In war time, as in peace time, that is the royal manner of Madame Gilbert. She does not travel; she makes a progress.

Madame came home after the armistice with Austria, and, being discharged of liability to the propagandist headquarters, found herself a free and idle woman. The first time for more than four years.

She had a little money from her late husband[Pg 3] (the real one), and had been lavishly paid for her services during the war. War prices in London seemed quite moderate to her after the extortions of France and Italy. She re-occupied her old rooms near Shaftesbury Avenue—and incidentally made homeless a pair of exiled Belgians—and fed after the fashion that she loved in the restaurants of Soho. Madame enjoyed her food. She always scoffed at Beauty Specialists. "Look at me," she would say. "Look closely at my skin, at my hair, at my teeth if you like. What you see is God's gift improved by exact care for my health. I do physical exercises for twenty minutes every night and morning. I plunge all over into cold water whenever I can get together enough to cover me, and I eat and drink whatever I like. I shall go on living for just as long as I am beautiful and healthy. When I have to think of my digestion or of the colour of my skin, I shall say Good-bye and go West in a dream of morphia." Superficially, Madame is a Roman Catholic; at heart she is a Greek Pagan.

It was at La Grande Patisserie Belge that Madame stumbled across the lawyer who was fated to introduce her to the Cannibal of whom she told me in Whitehall.

It was a melancholy afternoon in January, peace had not brought plenty—especially of coal—and Madame was fortifying herself against the damp chills of London by long draughts of the hottest coffee and the sweetest and stickiest confectionery which even she could relish. About six feet distant, on what one may describe as her port quarter, sat a middle-aged Englishman whose bagging[Pg 4] clothes showed that war rations had dealt sorely with his once ample person. Madame, who without turning her head examined him in critical detail, judged that his loss in weight was three stone. He had the clean, shaven face and alert aspect of a lawyer or doctor. In fancied security a little to the left and rear of Madame Gilbert the stranger stared openly at her cheek and ear and the coils of bright copper hair. Madame knew that he was watching her, and rather liked the scrutiny. She had recognized him at once, and would have been slightly humiliated if he had failed to be interested in her. It is true that she had met him but once before in her life, and that some four years since, but as Madame had condescended to recollect him—I have said that her memory for faces was royal—a failure on his part to remember her would have been an offence unpardonable.

Madame continued to munch sweet stuff, and the man, his tea completed, rose, paid his bill, and then passed slowly in front of her. He needed encouragement before he would speak. So Madame gave it, a quick look and a smile of invitation. He bowed.

"Have I not the honour to meet again the Signora Guilberti?" said he.

"The Signora Guilberti," assented Madame, "or Madame Guilbert, or Madame Gilbert, as rendered by the rough English tongue. I have stooped to anglicise my name," she went on, "though I hate the clipped English version." She indicated a chair, and the lawyer—he was a lawyer—sat down.

"Is it possible that Madame honours me with remembrance?"

[Pg 5]

"Let me place you," said she, happy in the display of her accomplishments, "and don't seek to guide my memory. It was in the Spring of 1915, at a reception in the garden of Devonshire House. You were in attendance upon Her Majesty the Queen-Mother of Portugal. There were present representatives of the Italian Red Cross, for Italy, the land of my late husband, had ranged herself with the Allies. You are a lawyer of the haute noblesse. Your clients are peers and princes, of old princes in exile and of new peers in possession. I recall you most distinctly, though at that time, my poor friend, you were not a little portly, and now you are a man shrunken."

"And my name?" he asked, flattered that a beautiful woman should recall him so distinctly.

"It is a strange name—Gatepath. An old English name redolent of the soil. Roger Gatepath. Your firm bears no prefix of initials and no suffix of company. You call yourselves Gatepaths. Just Gatepaths, as though your status were territorial."

He crowed with pleasure. By an exercise in memory, Madame Gilbert had tied him to her chariot wheels.

"Right!" cried he. "Right in every particular. You are the most wonderful of women. For two minutes I spoke with you, and that was nearly four years ago. I was one of a large party, an insignificant lawyer lost in a dazzling company of titles. Yet you have remembered."

Madame left the sense of flattery to soak in. She did not spoil the impression that she had made by explaining that she would have remembered a lackey with just the same accuracy.

[Pg 6]

"And you, Madame?" he asked. "Have you been all these years doing war work with the Italian Red Cross? The years have passed and left no mark upon your face and figure. I, who comfortably filled out my clothes, am shrunken, yet time and sorrow have spared you."

"Nevertheless, I have been pretty hard at work," said Madame briskly. "I was present at that party ostensibly as an official of the Italian Red Cross. In fact I was there to see that no harm befell the Royal Personages who were in my charge. While we moved about those pleasant grounds, chatting and sipping tea, I was watching, watching. And my hand was never far from the butt of the Webley automatic which, slung from my waist, was hidden in a bag of silk."

"Heavens!" he cried out. "You are...."

"Hush," interposed Madame. "A lawyer and a Gatepath should be more discreet. The war is over, and I can tell you now that I fought every minute of it in the Secret Service, the Civil branch. I was the head woman, the bright particular star, in Dawson's Secret Corps."

"Is it discreet to tell me this?" he asked, countering her reproof of a moment earlier.

She smiled rather wickedly. "Are you not a lawyer and a Gatepath? And can one not tell anything to a lawyer and a Gatepath? Besides, I have sent in my resignation, and am now a free woman. It has been a good time, a very good time. I have fought devils and mastered devils in England and France and Italy for four long years, and now I would rest. You say that time and sorrow[Pg 7] have spared me. Yet I have known both time and sorrow. Have I not lost...."

He broke into a babble of apologies. "I did not know.... I did not realise...."

She waved a hand, and he fell silent. "I do not wear the trappings of woe, for though I am eternally widowed, I glory in my loss. It was in the rearguard at Caporetto, when all less gallant souls had fled, that my Guilberti fell."

Of course from that moment Gatepath was her slave. She had flattered him and humbugged him as she flattered and humbugged all of us. Madame had no designs against Gatepath, yet she could not forbear to triumph over him. "One never knows," she said, "when one may need a devoted friend, and need him badly. I always look forward."

Two or three weeks later Madame found a letter at her club signed "Gatepaths." It was the club in Dover Street with those steep steps down which the members tumble helplessly in frosty weather. Madame calls it "The Club of Falling Women."

It appears that Gatepath, hunting for an adviser of ripe wisdom, had sought out the Chief of Dawson and lately of Madame, and laid bare his pressing troubles. The Chief is one of those rare men to whom all his friends, and they are as the stars in number, go seeking counsel in their crimes and follies. Nothing shocks him, nothing surprises him. And from the depths of his wise, humorous, sympathetic mind, he will almost always draw waters of comfort. Suppose, for example, one had slain a man and urgently sought to dispose of the corpse—a not uncommon problem in crowded cities—to whom could one more profitably turn than to[Pg 8] the Chief of His Majesty's Detective Service? Or if, in a passing fit of absence of mind, one had wedded three wives, and the junior in rank began to suspect the existence of one or more seniors; do we not all suffer from lapses of memory? One does not put these problems before the Chief as one's own—there is a decent convention in these matters—but, of course, he knows. To know all is to pardon all, and there is very little that the Chief does not know about you or me.

The family solicitor of peers and princes poured into the Chief's ear the fantastic cause of his present distresses. He delivered himself of the story in all seriousness, for it was dreadfully serious to him. Never in all his experience, and in that of his century-old firm, had anything so dreadfully serious occurred. The Chief controlled himself until the end was reached, and then exploded in a yell of laughter.

"It is nothing to laugh at," grumbled Gatepath.

"Not for you, perhaps. But to my mind the situation is gorgeous. Has this man the legal right of succession?"

"Beyond a doubt," groaned Gatepath. "His father saw to that."

"Then why not leave matters to take their legal course?" asked the Chief, still laughing. "The House of Lords will be the better for a shock. They are a dull lot. And your lively friend will administer the shock all right."

Roger Gatepath spread out his hands in agony. "But it is one of the oldest peerages in the country, as old almost as the Barony of Arundel. Can't[Pg 9] you see how frightful it will be for the family if this—this person—is allowed to succeed?"

"There is no question of allowing him. If he is the legal heir he must succeed. The family must just put him in their pipe and smoke him. What else can they do?"

"I thought that you, with all your experience of the South, might suggest something. Would it not be possible to buy the man off—or might he not——"

"How can you buy him off when he is the heir? You people are nothing but trustees, who must account to him for every penny. If he claims the peerage and estates, you must accept him. You admit that legally he is the heir. I can see what is in your mind, but it won't do, Gatepath, it won't do. If you try any hanky-panky, that pretty neck of yours will find itself in a hempen collar. Now if it was only a case for judicious kidnapping——"

Gatepath looked around anxiously. The men were alone in a recess of the club smoking-room. "Yes," he whispered eagerly. "Yes, go on."

"I shall not do anything of the sort. You are a nice sort of family solicitor, Gatepath. Apart from the personal danger of playing tricks, can't you see that your interest lies with the bouncing heir, not with the snuffy old family? Don't be an ass. Bring him home, give the House of Lords the sensation of their placid lives, and let the good old British public enjoy a week of laughter. How they will bellow with joy. And the newspapers! I can see, Gatepath, that your agreeable young heir is going to be the Success of the Season."

"You are not very helpful," groaned Gatepath.[Pg 10] "There must be a solution; there must be some way of shielding the Family from this frightful humiliation."

The interview with the Chief was a complete failure, and Gatepath parted from his old friend both hurt and angry. He had not expected ribald laughter in so grave a social crisis. The Chief must be a Radical, a Socialist, even a Bolshevik, one empty of all decent political principles.

It was on his way home that Gatepath bethought him of Madame Gilbert. She, that beautiful, loyal-hearted woman, would not laugh. He remembered the glitter of unshed tears in the violet eyes when she had bade him farewell. It was his tactless hand upon the open wound of Caporetto which had aroused those tears. He remembered also that Madame was free, and that she had been trained to do the ruthless, unscrupulous work of the Secret Service. She did not look either ruthless or unscrupulous, and it was in a strictly professional sense that Gatepath connected her with these unfeminine attributes. In his troubles Gatepath needed advice and sympathy, and Madame Gilbert, to his mind, filled the double bill. I do not know how far Gatepath seriously expected Madame to resolve his appalling difficulties. I suspect that he, a young bachelor of fifty or so, was glad of any excuse to persuade Madame to sit beside him and hold his hand. At any rate he did not know, now that the Chief had failed him, any man or any woman who was more likely than Madame to be sweetly helpful.

When Madame read the formal typewritten communication signed "Gatepaths" she grinned. It[Pg 11] did not surprise her that a recent victim should seek the excuse of urgent business to gain access to her presence. The letter asked for an appointment at a time and place agreeable to her convenience. It jumped with her bizarre humour to suggest Charing Cross Station at two o'clock in the morning, but ultimately she rang up Roger on the telephone, and fixed an hour in the forenoon at his own office in Lincoln's Inn Fields. To Charing Cross Station at two o'clock in the morning she would have gleefully gone in the long black cloak and velvet mask of a conspirator, but for the interview in Lincoln's Inn Fields she was pleased to cast herself in the part of a woman of business, severe, solemn business. Gatepath's welcome was nervous; he scarcely recognised in the solemnly severe woman of business the bereaved widow of La Grande Patisserie Beige. Madame seated herself, spread out her wide sombre skirts, and prepared to listen to the urgencies which had impelled the adviser of peers and princes to seek her cooperation.

Gatepath got to work at once. He saw that Madame expected value for her complaisance, and he gave it in full measure.

"You will have heard, Madame, of the family of Toppys, pronounced Tops. Like other famous families of Devon when the Conqueror came they were at home. In the twelfth century they were the recognised holders of the Barony of Topsham, a village and manor on the River Exe. Topsham means the Home of Toppys, pronounced Tops. The title fell into abeyance for a couple of centuries, and the Manor of Topsham has long since passed to the[Pg 12] Courtenays. But her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth revived the ancient barony. Ever since then, for three hundred and fifty years, the Head of the Family of Toppys has been Baron of Topsham. We"—Gatepath, in his excited interest, identified himself with the famous family of Toppys, pronounced Tops—"we are allowed to date the peerage from the original writ of summons, and the Lord Topsham whose lamented death occurred last year was the Twenty-Seventh Baron. I wish you to appreciate the almost unapproachable lineage of this family upon whom has fallen a disaster without parallel in history. The Twenty-Seventh Baron is dead; his successor will be the twenty-eighth. Have you got that?"

"I have," said Madame sweetly. She longed to add "Audited and found correct." It would sound splendidly businesslike, but might give offence as frivolous.

"Some twenty years ago one of the brothers of the late Lord Topsham left this country, and settled on an island in the Torres Straits. It was an extraordinary thing to do for one who was neither a wastrel nor a criminal. The Hon. William Toppys was neither. My father, who knew him well, has told me that he was only mad. To be mad is a misadventure which may overtake the most cautious of us—ancient Houses are prone to develop a reputable and characteristic species of insanity—but to indulge an individual madness to the disgrace of one's Family is a crime. In the legal and conventional sense the Hon. William Toppys was not a criminal, yet he committed the worst of crimes against his ancient and glorious lineage."[Pg 13] The body of Roger Gatepath swelled with wrath until it almost filled his pre-war clothes.

Madame longed to say "Good old Bill," but again refrained. The story was beginning to amuse her.

"The Hon. William Toppys settled upon an island in the Torres Straits, and became what is called locally a beachcomber. This degradation was not forced upon him by poverty. He was not wealthy, but from his late mother he derived a competence—some few hundreds of pounds a year. We acted for his trustees, and regularly remitted his dividends to a bank in Thursday Island. Perhaps, Madame, it will assist you if I ring for an atlas."

"Do not trouble," said Madame sweetly. "I have a rough working acquaintance with geography. Thursday Island is a little to the north of Queensland. It is a centre for pearl fishing. That is why I remember the place."

"The Hon. William Toppys built himself a hut on a small islet in the Straits—and married a native woman. A Melanesian woman."

"Married?" enquired Madame. "How? Native fashion, sans ceremonie?"

"Unhappily, no. His marriage was celebrated and registered at the Melanesian Mission's station on Thursday Island. It was—I repeat unhappily—as legal a contract as your own marriage."

"You shock me," said Madame primly, though she struggled against laughter. "Would you have had the Hon. William Toppys live—in sin—with a native woman?"

"I would," shouted Gatepath.

Madame covered her face with her hands and[Pg 14] her silks—her businesslike silks—rustled with emotion.

"It pains me to express sentiments which you must regard as immoral"—the silks went on rustling—"but I must look at that fatal marriage from the point of view, the just point of view, of the ancient family of Toppys."

"Pronounced Tops," whispered Madame, as she came up to breathe.

"The Hon. William Toppys sent us word of his marriage. That was nearly twenty years ago. He also, with unparalleled effrontery, communicated to his brother, the late Lord Topsham, the dates of birth of his son and his two daughters. Those births were all registered in due form at Thursday Island. If the Hon. William Toppys had designed to humiliate, to outrage, the most ancient and honourable Family in Devon—save only that of the Courtenays—he could not have gone about the business more thoroughly or systematically. He is dead. He died in 1912. But I cannot speak good of the dead. He committed a crime, a series of crimes. He lawfully married a Melanesian woman and he lawfully begat a son and heir!"

"What about the two daughters?" whispered Madame in throes of suffocation.

"The daughters don't matter," said Gatepath. "He could have had a dozen if he pleased. The Barony of Topsham descends to heirs male, not to heirs general."

At this point Madame fell from grace. It had become obvious to one less alert than she that the lawfully begotten son of the Hon. William Toppys (pronounced Tops), and the Melanesian wife,[Pg 15] was the half-caste Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham, and that the ancient Family of Toppys was wild about it. So was Gatepath—wild, furious. He gesticulated, his cheeks puffed out. In him was embodied, for Madame to see and laugh over, all the fury of all the Toppyses, male and female. She could not help but laugh—in peals, till the tears came.

Roger Gatepath groaned. "I did think that you, Madame, would refrain from ribaldry. Consider the position of my clients. This horror that is come upon them is not an occasion for laughter."

"I am really awfully sorry," gasped Madame, wiping her eyes. "It must be dreadful for you all. But to a stranger like me, it is frightfully funny."

"You won't think it funny when you hear the rest of my story," growled Gatepath. "But perhaps I had better stop."

"Oh! please don't. I am immensely interested, and thrilled. I want to hear every word. You tell the story so splendidly, Mr. Gatepath, that I should be wild if you stopped now."

Gatepath continued. The sacred fire of vicarious family indignation had been somewhat abated by Madame's laughter, but he warmed up as he proceeded. He was convinced that the gracious Madame Gilbert would share his horror when the tale reached its tragic close. "You may ask how, after 350 years of direct succession, the ancient and honourable Family of Toppys should have failed of heirs—except this half-caste spawn of a Melanesian savage. It is the war that has brought this disaster upon us. The only son of the late Lord Topsham was killed at Ypres early in the war. The[Pg 16] two sons of the second brother were in the Flying Corps, and fell with so many other honourable gentlemen in the spring of 1918. Both were killed within a week. Their death was a blow from which Lord Topsham never recovered. His own brothers had both gone before, and the casualties of war had transferred the succession to that coffee-coloured monster in the Torres Straits. Lord Topsham just withered away. I ventured to urge a second marriage, but his lordship had no heart to struggle. Rather than give heirship to the beachcomber's brat I would have married a housemaid by special licence and begat a son though I never lived to see him born."

"It might have been a useless daughter," murmured Madame unkindly.

Gatepath growled.

Madame Gilbert now pulled herself together. Her ribald laughter had sorely weakened her influence over the solicitor of peers and princes, and she felt impelled to regain it. It was now her role to become sympathetically helpful.

"Are you sure, Mr. Gatepath, that you do not make this grievous affair worse by exaggerating it? The Hon. William Toppys was an English gentleman. He went in for the simple life as a beachcomber with a Melanesian wife, but he must have remained a gentleman by instinct. His son may not be so very brown—some half-castes are almost white—and has probably, almost surely, been brought up as a gentleman. Why not make the best of the situation, bring him home, and let me take the boy in hand? I will make of him a cavalier[Pg 17] almost worthy to belong to the ancient House of Toppys."

"It is impossible," said Gatepath, and his air was that of Sir Henry Irving in Macbeth. "I have seen the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham with my own eyes."

"That was very sporting of you," cried Madame in admiration. "Did you go out all alone to the Torres Straits and beard the lion in his den?"

"I went, and I went alone. It was a fearful journey. The war was still raging, and it strained all the influence of Gatepaths to secure me a passage to America in a returning troopship. Thence I travelled to San Francisco, got a Japanese steamer to Yokohama, another Japanese steamer to Singapore, and yet another—a small one which rolled abominably—to Thursday Island. I cannot tell you, without reference to my diary, how many weeks and months I was tossed about the loathsome deep. The schooner from Thursday Island to the haunt of the late Hon. William Toppys was the worst of my tortures. It was crammed with nude men and women of all colours from pale olive to dark walnut, and it smelt—like a hogshead of rancid fat. The South Sea Islands are a romantic fraud, Madame. They reek to Heaven, and brew so many different brands of stinks that one can never get acclimated. Can you wonder that I, who once was well favoured in person, am now an old man, shrunken, wizened into premature senility before my time? I arrived at my journey's end, and there, Madame, I saw the young man whom you so very kindly propose to take in hand and[Pg 18] make a cavalier almost worthy of the House of Toppys. I saw his lordship with my own eyes."

"And was he so very impossible?" asked Madame, for the solicitor of the Toppyses had stopped, struck dumb by his emotion.

"Impossible!" he shrieked. "His lordship, the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham, is a naked Cannibal running about the beach with a spear."

[Pg 19]


It is fortunate that Madame Gilbert had already indulged her indecent sense of humour. Had she exploded at this tragic moment I should have been robbed of my story. I am sure from what I know of Roger Gatepath that he would have thrust her shrieking from his room, and written her off for ever as unworthy to be associated with the ancient and still exalted House of Toppys. She shook, gurgled desperately for an instant, and then composed her features to a becoming gravity. It was a masterly effort for one with her vivid imagination. She has told me that before her, plain to see, she visualised the heir of the Barony of Topsham, a broad, grinning, coffee-coloured face rising above the crimson and ermine robes of a peer of England. In one hand he held the patent of his barony, in the other a stabbing spear. It was a vision gorgeous.... Yet with this figure of fun before her inward eyes she choked down her laughter. It was an heroic effort.

Roger Gatepath lay back in his chair, rent and exhausted by professional suffering. Madame whipped out her case and offered one of those favourite Russian cigarettes from which even the Bolshevists could not bereave her. Gatepath grabbed and smoked. He would have grabbed and[Pg 20] smoked opium, hashish, anything which could for an instant unravel the tangled skein of care.

"You are a great woman, Madame," he murmured; "not even your cigarettes are in the least like anyone else's. Please give me another."

"Now," said Madame briskly, when the calm of deep narcotic satisfaction had smoothed out the lawyer's face, "I want to hear lots more. I am intrigued, and your story has got no farther than a thunderous beginning."

"It has gone no farther, as yet," said he, "and can go no farther until the half-caste savage of the Torres Straits learns of his monstrous heirship."

"So you travelled fifteen thousand miles in the crisis of war, when all men and women within reach of a newspaper thrilled with alternate hope and fear, just to look once at the Twenty-Eighth Baron Topsham and then to return. Months of hardship going out, and months more of hardship coming back. Just to look once without speaking. You are a remarkable man, Mr. Gatepath. I should, at least, have made his intimate acquaintance. He may be less of a savage Cannibal than he looks."

"I went to the hut of the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys," explained the lawyer. "It is, I am informed, a high-class hut, thatched on walls and roof with leaves of sago palm. No aristocrat of the South Seas had ever a finer or more luxurious residence. Yet it is a hut of one room in which the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys, her two daughters, and her son—known to the world of his little island as 'Willatopy'—live, eat, and sleep, the four of them indifferent to the most primitive dictates of[Pg 21] decency. At the back is constructed a cookhouse. Neither edifice boasts a chimney. The Family have resided for years in this loathsome hovel unattended by the humblest of menials. The Right Honourable Lord Topsham"—driven by his legal conscience, Gatepath never withheld from the Heir his lawful title—"The Right Honourable Lord Topsham has not even a black footboy."

Madame gurgled. "He has small occasion for a valet, I expect."

Gatepath groaned. "A bootlace about his middle, and a few feathers stuck in his frizzy hair, seemed to constitute his entire toilet."

"It is evident," observed Madame, "that the late beachcomber, the Hon. William Toppys, was a very thorough artist. Having determined upon the simple life, he never looked back. His wife remained a native, his son and daughters were brought up in exact accordance with native model. We can dismiss the one living and sleeping room and the absence of menials as in no sense derogatory to the dignity of Toppys. Have you no worse to tell of the Family than that?"

Gatepath wriggled uneasily. "His Lordship," muttered he, after a blushing pause—Madame was privileged to see a lawyer blush—"did me the honour to prod me with his spear, in the middle of my back."

"Wherefor this outrage?"

"I ventured to inform his honourable mother, who stood outside the hut, that the day was fine."

"And he misdoubted your intentions?" Madame let herself go for a moment and laughed, that rippling laugh which plays on the hearts of her[Pg 22] victims like flame on wax. "A widow, I have heard, is in little respect in the South Seas, and the Heir of Toppys drew cold iron in defence of his mother, so scandalously accosted by a forward stranger. Come, come, Mr. Gatepath, this incident suggests no savagery. It may indicate that the heart of the boy is white after all."

"He prodded me in the back, he pursued me to my boat, and would doubtless have killed and eaten my body had I not fled with incredible speed. I have never run so fast since I won the hundred yards sprint for Cambridge at the Queen's Club."

"You and the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys must have been deeply absorbed in the beauties of the weather when the Cannibal with his spear broke in upon the pretty conversation."

"On my honour I did but speak with her for a minute. She is light of colour and of a countenance not disagreeable. Her English is not fluent, yet she speaks it with intelligence and has the language of social courtesy. Her accent too is not unpleasant, she softens the hard English consonants, and gives full tone value to the rich English vowels."

"It seems to have been a very fine day, and taken a lot of talking about," said Madame drily.

"I wanted to discover why the Hon. William Toppys had married the woman, and why he made so certain of the proofs of his marriage."

"Quite so. And while engaged upon your researches, discovered that the Hon. William Toppys was not so very mad after all?"

"No," declared the lawyer stoutly. "He was a mad and wicked criminal to marry her. But I[Pg 23] could realise that some twenty years earlier, in the first bloom of her pale brown beauty, the Hon. Mrs. William Toppys was worth the sacrifice of any man's moral scruples. I could, as a youngster, have loved her myself. But then I should never have made the hideous, the ghastly blunder of marrying her—except in native fashion."

"We progress," said Madame, laughing again. "The mother of the Cannibal has found favour in your sight, and the Cannibal ran you down to the boat lest you should find favour in hers. And how long, pray, was this island idyll in the playing?"

"I was less than half-an-hour on the island."

"So you came, saw, and conquered all within half-an-hour. And then there broke in the heir of Toppys with his most intrusive spear. It was exceedingly tactless of him. A widow, especially a South Sea widow, would not have tarried long in the wooing. I can understand now that your feelings towards the heir must be tempestuous. A journey of fifteen thousand miles, a talk for less than half-an-hour with a pale brown widow of fascinating accent and aspect. Then the crushing arrival of the too jealous son, the rending asunder of scarce joined hearts, the flight to the boat without a moment of farewell, and—fifteen thousand weary miles of return. In your place, Mr. Gatepath, I should whole-heartedly loathe that doubly inconvenient son."

"You are pleased to be witty at my expense, Madame Gilbert," grumbled Gatepath. "And we wander sadly from the purpose of the interview with which you have honoured me this morning.[Pg 24] That was to talk about the Cannibal, and not about the Cannibal's mother."

"Proceed," said Madame, lying back in her chair, and lighting yet another cigarette. "I am dying to make his further acquaintance."

"You are an astute woman, Madame Gilbert, and will already have grasped that the Trustees of the settled estates of the Barony of Topsham—of whom I am the legal adviser—are in a position profoundly embarrassing. They don't know what the devil to do, and I don't know what the devil of advice to give. Our strictly legal duty is beyond doubt. We should notify the heir of his succession, and take the necessary steps to have him seised of his ancestral lands and revenues. They are not great although they represent a fair competence, even in these days of exorbitant estate duties. There are wealthy members of the Family of Toppys engaged in business pursuits, but they, though deeply interested, are not at present in the direct line of succession. Some eight months have passed since Lord Topsham died, and no steps have been taken to acquaint the Twenty-Eighth Baron of his—of his damnable ill-fortune. We ought to have moved long since, we must move soon, yet how, and in what direction, can we move? I went to the Torres Straits to spy out the land and to consider a course of action. I have returned baffled. The Trustees are baffled. The Family of Toppys is baffled. We cannot delay much longer. The Family of Toppys is of the highest distinction, the Barony of Topsham is a part of the National history. A failure on the part of the Trustees to produce an heir cannot pass unnoticed. There are in my [Pg 25]profession many unscrupulous practitioners, hedge lawyers, who would greedily wallow in the chance of hunting up an heir and securing his interest and business for themselves. The Trustees cannot permit this; Gatepaths cannot permit this. It were better that my firm should act for a cannibal lordship than that he should be the helpless prey of a legal pirate. And yet if Gatepaths did what is their undoubted duty—namely, notified the heir and represented him—they would infallibly lose the valuable, the very valuable, connections of all the other members of the family. We are in a horrid quandary. We cannot let slip from among our clients the Baron of Topsham, and we cannot let slip the other members, some of them very wealthy, of the House of Toppys. But how to keep both passes understanding. I have mentioned the risk, and it is no small risk, lest some hedge lawyer should get his nose upon the trail of His Cannibal Lordship of the Torres Straits. There is another risk which will become more insistent with every month of delay. The Twenty-Eighth Baron is nineteen years old, an age of full virile maturity in the South Sea. He may marry any day some native woman, and raise, with the utmost celerity, a crop of savage heirs to his body. If, at the instigation of his mother, he follows the detestable practice of his late father, the marriage will be legal by our law, and the spawn of it legitimate. Should this further disaster have time to mature—and nothing is more certain of consummation in a minimum of time—the coffee-coloured Cannibal line of Toppys will be impregnably entrenched. Nothing but a special Act of Parliament could bomb it out, and[Pg 26] in these days of revolutionary socialism, the House of Commons would never pass a Disabling Act. The ribald cynicism of many Members would lead them to enjoy the gross humiliation of the Upper Chamber. We can look for no help from Parliament; we must look to our own brains and hands. I have gone to the Torres Straits and failed. It does not follow that Madame Gilbert would also fail."

"Wait a bit," quoth Madame. "I must know a lot more and see a lot more before I take any hand in this business. I confess frankly that my sympathies lean towards the Cannibal. He, the undoubted heir of an ancient family, is without friends in a far island. He is the son of his father, and, despite his skin, must be half white in blood. He may be more than half white in heart and brain. What have you against him except the rich Melanesian infusion in his veins? Nothing except the exquisite simplicity of his dress—you said, I recall, that he wore a bootlace about his middle and adorned his frizzy hair with feathers. Your visit was on the edge of the Southern summer at a season when even you or I would gladly travel light in clothing. I feel that a feather headdress and a petticoat of stripped banana leaves would become me mightily. Our Mother Eve was red golden like me and must have shone gloriously in a fig-leaf apron. If the Twenty-Eighth Baron Topsham were really a savage cannibal, in fact as well as by birth, I might perhaps share your wrath and agitation. But at present I am frankly on his side. His appearance in the House of Lords would be startling, but the old dears would be the better[Pg 27] for a shock. So would London society. I confess that I look forward to his succession with intense amusement. It would be perfectly lovely, une bizarrerie superbe."

"You will excuse my inability to appreciate your levity," growled Gatepath.

"That is why you are baffled by this little domestic problem," said Madame. "If you and the portentous Family of Toppys had enough of humour to take yourselves less seriously, you would perceive that all the world will laugh when the disclosure comes. It is more agreeable to laugh with the world than to be laughed at by it. You think that your retainers, male and female, discreetly solemn in your presence, are desolated by the misfortunes of the family. Believe me when I tell you that they are howling with derision. Your men-servants and your maid-servants within your gates are roaring together over the Family humiliation. Your ox and your ass, and your old family coach-horse are gaping at you. Your chauffeur, educated maybe in a modern Radical school of motoring, is inclined by your misfortunes towards belief in a righteous Providence. Even your Rolls-Royce forgets its aristocratic ghostly calm and gurgles. Make up your ancient Toppys' minds, Mr. Gatepath, that no man or woman in this modern world cares a depreciated tuppence for the woes of an historic peerage. You and your Family of Toppys suffer from distorted vision. Laugh, man, laugh, and recover some sense of perspective. Put yourself outside this museum of mouldy antiquities, of which you are the hereditary legal adviser, and[Pg 28] regard them for a moment from a point of detachment. Have you got that? Now laugh."

But the gloom upon the countenance of Gatepath remained unbroken. It was less the embarrassments of Toppys that obsessed him than the predicament into which his firm had drifted. If he stood by the Heir he lost the business of Toppys; if he stood by the Family he resigned the Heir to some intrusive perspicuous supplanter. The firm would get left either way. It is not surprising that Roger Gatepath and humour had become strangers.

The conspirators sat speechless for the space of two minutes, which is a long, long time of silence between Western people. It was Madame, of course, who broke the pause of contemplation.

"Who will benefit?" asked she suddenly.

"I don't understand," muttered Gatepath.

"I am not good to play with," said Madame, rather sternly. "Not even Dawson, not even his great Chief, may play tricks with Madame Gilbert. And they know it. Come, Mr. Gatepath. You did not summon me here to tell a pleasing story of the embarrassments of the Toppys Family. At the back of your mind you had a plan. You purposed to ask me to pull chestnuts out of a fire which is too hot for the fingers of Trustees and Gatepaths. You are acting in the interests of someone who conceals himself. Who is it? Who will become the heir of Topsham should Madame Gilbert be persuaded to kidnap or assassinate the inconvenient Twenty-Eighth Baron? Who proposes to make himself the Twenty-Ninth in succession to that noble line?"

[Pg 29]

Gatepath shuddered at her plain speaking. But he had the sense to see that with Madame all cards must be placed upon the table. Already she knew enough to be dangerous. If she went forth in anger then there might be, there certainly would be, the very Devil to pay.

"The next heir," said he, shortly, "is Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan."

"And who is Sir John Toppys who has chosen so very unattractive a spot as the seat of his baronetcy?"

"He is first cousin of the late Lord. Their common grandfather was the Twenty-Fifth Baron. Sir John will infallibly succeed if the senior line fails. I agree that Wigan is as lacking in residential amenities as Dundee or Motherwell, but it has been a very mine of golden wealth to the junior branch of Toppys. Coal and iron, Madame, are more productive than diamonds. Sir John Toppys was rich before the war; now he has advanced to wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. His great services to the State have been plenteously rewarded in spite of the exactions of the disgraceful excess profits duty. At his works, guns have been made in thousands, and shells in millions. He and those like him have as surely won the war as have our heroic soldiers and sailors—who, it must be confessed, have received less adequate rewards. The wealth and position of Sir John Toppys are such that he could command a peerage from any British Government. But to him, a true Toppys of the ancient line—though of a junior branch—a newly gilt title would have no value. Is he not at this moment heir presumptive of the [Pg 30]Twenty-Eighth Baron—he of the Torres Straits—and can one feel surprise that he resents and detests the shameful marriage of the Hon. William Toppys, by means of which his branch of the Family has been supplanted? I am legal adviser to Sir John Toppys, and between these close walls, Madame, I may say that he would stick at nothing to secure—the removal—of the—obstruction."

"You and Sir John Toppys are a pretty pair," quoth Madame. "For sheer lawlessness, even in time of war, I have come upon nothing which can compare with you. You deliberately conspire to compass the—the removal—of the Heir of Topsham, and you do not apparently give heed to the risks which both of you are running. You think in your foolishness that if I were bribed by the gold of Wigan to carry through the enterprise, the pretty neck of Madame Gilbert would be alone imperilled. Permit me to scatter your illusions. Should Madame Gilbert hang for her mercenary zeal in the interests of a white succession Sir John Toppys and Roger Gatepath would stand beside her upon the drop. We should be an engaging party," murmured Madame, contemplating the vision with enjoyment. "Madame Gilbert in the centre by honour of her sex and her superior infamy, Roger to her left, John on her right. At the word 'Go'—or whatever is tastefully appropriate to the ceremony—the hangman would pull the lever, and the three culprits would disappear into what is termed prophetically The Pit. At the inquest—I always think that an inquest after a legal hanging is a superb touch of British humour—evidence would be given to prove that the triple[Pg 31] execution had been well and truly carried out, and that death was instantaneous. We should all three be buried in quicklime within the precincts of the jail." Madame smacked her lips. "No, Mr. Gatepath, not even for this gratifying conclusion to our joint enterprise am I going to place Sir John Toppys—for a brief interval before his execution—in the seat of Willatopy."

More than once during this horrible deliverance Roger Gatepath had essayed to stop her, but Madame refused to be interrupted. It pleased her to describe vividly the last act in the lawless drama, and she indulged her whim. Madame loves talk almost as much as she loves action. But there is this difference. In action she is swift, precise, and shattering. In speech she is diffuse and interminable. Yet there are many less agreeable occupations than to sit opposite to that royal beauty and to listen respectfully to her babble.

"You entirely misread our intentions," said Gatepath severely, when Madame at last allowed him to get a word in. "Do you suppose that Gatepaths, do you suppose that Sir John Toppys, Baronet of—er—Wigan, do you suppose that the Trustees of the settled estates of Topsham, would countenance the assassination of the lawful heir to an English peerage?"

"I do," said Madame calmly. "What is more, I am quite sure of it."

Gatepath collapsed. A great many people in their day have tried to humbug Madame Gilbert. All have failed and collapsed as did Roger Gatepath.

Then in her masterful fashion, at the moment[Pg 32] when vague talk must cease or anticipate vigorous action, Madame took charge of the destinies of Toppys.

"You went out to the Torres Straits, Mr. Gatepath, and not to waste time over polite verbiage, you made an ass of yourself. You philandered with the pretty pale-skinned Widow Toppys. She responded to your advances. It is of no use for you to shake your head. I know men, men of your susceptible age, and I know widows. I am one myself. Am I not always sweetly responsive to your fascinating middle-aged sex? You aroused the jealousy of Willatopy, and he, a wise and dutiful son—who also appears to understand, widows—put you to rout with his spear. Never again dare you appear on the Island of Willatopy. Your head would infallibly decorate his baronial residence, and your body would be served up in ceremonious cutlets. If Willatopy is a Cannibal—which I take leave at present to doubt—he will devour his enemies as part of a religious ritual; not for food. He would offer your head to his mistress as a gage d'amour, for no man is of any account in the South Seas as a lover until he has at least one bleeding head to show for his affection. The Island of Willatopy is closed to you; no more will you exchange sweet nothings about the weather with the fair and frail Widow Toppys. But to me all is open. If you and your accomplice the Wigan Baronet are willing to pay my expenses on a scale adequate to a profiteer in war material, I will set sail for the island home of the Twenty-Eighth Baronet. If he is half white in sentiment, and not altogether a woolly savage, I will mould him with these subtle[Pg 33] fingers. I will be his shelter from hedge lawyers bent upon thrusting him untimely into the dreary old House of Lords. If, as may happen, the Heir of Topsham is definitely and finally impossible I will do my best to move him—willing or unwilling—to some retreat where he may be less easy of discovery by your rival practitioners than in his present conspicuous residence. I gather that the missionary registers of Thursday Island blazon his address and telephone number. I will do nothing seriously unlawful, nothing, that is, which could be proved against me to my incarceration. A spice of adventurous illegality adds zest to an enterprise. But I won't go to the scaffold or the prison for all the mouldy Toppyses who were ever hatched through the centuries. And though I accept nothing but limited liability, I will make a much more fruitful job of my island voyage than you did of yours. The widow will have no attractions for me, and if the Baron of Topsham and Madame Gilbert should become—épris—so much the easier will my task be made. Many men," murmured Madame sadly, "have given me their honest (or dishonest) hearts, and most of them have paid heavily for my apparent acceptance of the gift. There, Mr. Gatepath, it is more than you or that bold bad Baronet of Wigan deserves; but I have made you a fair sporting offer. I will go to the Torres Straits, though how in the world I am to get a passage is for the moment beyond me. All steamers are packed; those voyagers only who have urgent business have a chance of a berth; an unemployed widow bound upon a delicate, undescribable mission would be a poor C 3 in the waiting list."

[Pg 34]

"Do not let that worry you," cried Gatepath. "I am beyond all things delighted by your offer. Sir John Toppys will be delighted. The Family of Toppys will be delighted. It is no small thing, Madame, to gain the regard and influence of the ancient and honourable House of Toppys. I accept your offer joyfully, and you need not calculate your expenses. The gold of Wigan will be poured into your lap. And as for the steamer passage, what care Gatepaths for passenger restrictions now that the Admiralty have released the Humming Top! She is refitting at this moment at Cowes. You shall sail at your ease in her."

"And what, please, is the Humming Top?" enquired Madame patiently.

"She is a turbine-engined yacht, built by Dennys of Dumbarton, and a perfect seaboat. A thousand tons, Madame, Thames measurement, and fitted like a summer palace. Not too small for comfort, and not too big for the coral reefs of Torres. She is a sea home worthy even of Madame Gilbert."

"That is the first really sensible speech that you have made to-day," said Madame.

[Pg 35]


"Why Humming Top?" asked Madame Gilbert.

It was early in March, and the devastation wrought by the Admiralty in the yacht's graceful interior had been obliterated by the skilled hands of White of Cowes. Her upper and main decks had been entirely refashioned, and nothing remained of her armament except a brass signal gun forward. At the main mast head waved in the breeze the burgee of the Royal Thames Yacht Club, and from the inclined jackstaff at her stern hung the Blue Ensign which it is the privilege of that Club to wear. The Humming Top lay in the Test above Southampton just where the magazines of Marchwood front the river. Madame Gilbert leaned upon the bridge rail, and beside her, as close beside her as Madame would permit, stood the Baronet of Wigan.

Sir John Toppys had been presented to Madame some weeks earlier, and between them a friendship had ripened. In due course, when the Humming Top, completed and ready for sea, had been towed to her moorings off Marchwood, Sir John had pressed Madame to honour the vessel with her presence. She, not unwilling to inspect the yacht in which she was to traverse the seas of the wide world, and not unwilling to double-lock her chains[Pg 36] upon the Baronet's proffered neck, had consented to travel in his company to Southampton on the visit of introduction. Together they had examined the sleeping quarters on the main deck allotted to Madame and her maid, and the lady had gratified her host by suggesting some small alterations. Notebook in hand he hung upon her lips.

"My room is splendid," said she, "and I am so glad that you have given me a proper spring bed instead of a snuffy bunk. If you will have a light fitted at the head of my bed, and a bell push so that I can switch off the light or summon my maid without moving more than my hand, the room will be just perfect."

"I will give orders at once," declared Sir John Toppys. "You are sure that there is no further way in which I may meet your wishes?"

"None at present," said Madame. "If I think of anything else, I will let you know. She is a lovely boat, but why do you call her the Humming Top?"

Sir John Toppys had not succumbed so far to the spells of Madame as to have wholly lost his earlier suspicion that the Toppys Family and fortunes were in her eyes objects of derision. She was so frank in her laughter at their ancestral pretensions, she proclaimed so openly that she embarked on her voyage to the South Seas as a glorious rag, that in time he had become disarmed. If she felt as she professed to feel, surely she would be less open in profession. Still now and then Madame would shoot out a question which did awaken in the baronet's mind a feeling that his leg was about to be pulled. Before, therefore, answering her [Pg 37]inquiry he reflected for a moment upon her possible motive.

Even to him the explanation was rather absurd. "The epithet 'humming' suggests the whirr of the turbines," muttered he. "There is no hammer, hammer, hammer, clank, clank, clank, about this yacht. She whirrs, hums, just like a top."

"Quite so," assented Madame drily. "Nevertheless, I do not think——"

"You are right," put in Toppys hastily—it was better to be frank in confession. "We should not have chosen this name had we not desired it to suggest a Family Possession."

"Toppys, pronounced Tops," whispered Madame wickedly. "Plural Tops, singular Top. Humming Top—the Top that Hums. What extraordinary worshippers of the Family gods you are. I fully expect to find that Willatopy is a faithful student of the Family Tree. He probably keeps it stuck up in his hut."

"God forbid!" cried the Baronet of Wigan.

He was not a Bad Baronet, and certainly not Bold in the presence of Madame. She, expecting to meet the typical fat-bellied profiteer of the popular cartoons, had at their first introduction been struck almost speechless with surprise. This the King of Coal and Iron, the Maker of Guns and Shells, the Wallower in unholy War Profits! She saw before her a small thin gentleman, whose careful dress and trimmed white moustache suggested a military club. When he spoke, Winchester and Oxford spoke. This a Baronet of Wigan! Madame rubbed her eyes. Further acquaintance revealed the explanation. John Toppys possessed the caste[Pg 38] marks of his long line; he had been educated as the Toppyses—though in extremest poverty—had always been educated. He, almost alone in the records of his House, had taken to common business and shone in it. He was no higgler, he could not have run a draper's shop, but when representing a big firm doing big things in a big way he found that doors would open to the pukka sahib John Toppys which would remain obstinately closed to plebeian rivals. John Toppys had built his fortune on the secure basis of the essential snobbishness of the English people. To his firm he had been invaluable—for he knew how to use the entrée which was his by right of blood—he had brought to them business of the best. And when later on he became the senior partner, and the chief partaker in the profits, the war cloud burst and wealth showered upon him. In his position it would have required extraordinarily perverse skill not to have made money in car loads. Successive Governments did their utmost to stuff him, and his like, full of wealth. Thus, Sir John Toppys became a War Profiteer—almost against his own will—but though a Profiteer on a superlative scale, he remained a pukka sahib. Madame liked him.

"Now that I have seen the Humming Top," said Madame, "I know that I am blessed among women. At no cost to myself—though at very much to you, Sir John Toppys—I am going to have the time of my life. From May to September in the Torres Straits the climate is divine. A day temperature between 75 and 85, no rain, a perpetual trade wind from the cool south-east, nights in which one may sleep comfortably and days in which one may revel[Pg 39] in the tropical winter. It must be like Khartoum without the dust and with the sea thrown in. I shall swim in the sun and devour bananas in the shade. I shall hunt dugong and turtle, and fish in the tumbled waters of the Great Barrier. You will observe from my local colour that I have been studying the subject. I have. For me this preposterous enterprise will be full of joy; for you it will be full of expense and will end in exasperation. Why not back out while there is yet time? Surely you are not like that thick-headed Roger Gatepath. You do not suppose that anything, except a pleasant holiday for Madame Gilbert, will spring from this cruise of mine?"

"The expense to me is nothing," said the Baronet. "I am smothered in ill-gotten wealth. And if some of my money can give you pleasure, it is well spent, Madame. I would do more than write cheques to give you pleasure. And as for your enterprise, is it destined to be empty of result? I think more highly of your resource than that. Dawson says that there is nothing which you dare not do if your interest be stimulated." He saw the angry flush spring out on Madame's forehead. "You mistake my meaning, Madame. It was not the stimulus of money that I had in mind. It was the overwhelming impulse of your artistic genius. When you confront a problem, however bleakly impossible it may be, you never fail of solution. Dawson says so. You have not concerned yourself with our family affairs because of any interest in our troubles. You laugh at them. It is because no man or woman alive, except Madame Gilbert, could resolve a skein so hopelessly entangled."

[Pg 40]

"I see no solution. Sir John. And though I sail at your expense, I am not on your side. I am free to help or to hinder, at my pleasure."

"We are all at Madame Gilbert's pleasure," said Toppys, smiling. "We know, you and I, that Roger Gatepath is two parts flunkey, one quarter fool, and the other quarter unscrupulous lawyer. He cares for nothing except for the connections and profits of his firm. He would lick the new Lord Topsham's tawny feet if he did not fear to lose some handfuls from my golden pile. I do not value the Barony at a rush for myself, but there is in my blood a centuries-old reverence for my Family. Rather than that coloured brat yonder should be recognised as the Head of my House, I would strangle him with my own hands. If you can save us from that horror, Madame, there is nothing which is in my power to grant that I would not lay at your feet."

"Absurd as it may seem, Sir John, I have a conscience. Madame Gilbert is not for sale."

"No. I should not value you if you were. And believe me I rate you very highly. You will go out in this yacht to the Torres Straits, and you will follow your conscience. Maybe you will bring back the Twenty-Eighth Baron in your train and set him yourself upon his seat. There is no contract between us; you are free to do even this. Be just to me, Madame. I have offered you nothing except a free passage; I have never sought to bribe you. In my heart I knew that it would be useless. Whatever may be the end, Madame, I shall always cherish these weeks of our friendship."

"As a Toppys you are not a little ridiculous,"[Pg 41] said Madame. "But as a man you are white all through."

She held out her hand to him there on the bridge of the Humming Top, and Toppys, stooping, kissed her fingers. "Thank you," said he, simply.

Although Madame had made a sketchy inspection of the yacht in the company of Sir John Toppys, she learned very little of its fascinating merits until she came aboard in act to sail. The crew were already at their quarters when Madame was ceremoniously received on board by Captain Ching the skipper, and the Chief Engineer, Ewing. She had already given orders—Sir John Toppys had assigned to her his full powers and prerogatives as owner—she had already given orders that the chief officers should mess with her in the pretty little saloon on the upper deck, aft of which was a snug "Owner's Room"—equipped with writing-table and bookcases—which she reserved for her own private occupation. Whenever their duties permitted of social relaxation, Madame had determined that the Captain and Chief Engineer should be her intimate companions. It was no new experience for Madame to be the one woman in a company of men—her maid did not count—and she who had the free outlook and high courage of a man, enjoyed the privileges of a double sex. In repose she was a woman; in action a man.

Toppys had chosen his officers with judgment. The skipper, R.N.R., a man of Devon, sprang from the salt stock which had roamed uncharted seas with Drake and Cook. The Chief Engineer, a man of Glasgow, was of that hybrid race of deep water mechanicians which had come into existence with[Pg 42] Bell and Wood's Comet, and for a hundred years had bent the powers of the land to the service of the sea. In the ancestry of sea craft engineers are of mushroom stock, and in comparison with the unbroken line of Plymouth Chings the Glasgow Ewing was little better than an upstart, an expert in tin-pot mysteries. Nevertheless the sailor Ching respected the engine-room accomplishments of Ewing, and Ewing, who could not have safely navigated a railway steamer from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier, freely acknowledged that in the above deck business Ching was his master. Each expert was supreme in his own department, and where in the world can one find better navigators than in Plymouth, or better marine engineers than in Glasgow City?

They cast off in the late afternoon of March 15th, and in the evening were running out towards the Needles, the rapid whirr of the geared turbines scarcely conveying a flicker of vibration to the long slender hull. The yacht, on bridge and down in the engine-room, was in charge of the junior ranks, and both Ching and Ewing sat at dinner with Madame in the bright saloon.

"Hark to yon turbines," said Ewing. "Did ye ever hear the like? Just a wee whisper down below and a bit quiver along the decks. Yet they are pushing the boat along at eleven good knots."

"Eleven point four," corrected Ching. "What could you hammer out, Ewing, in case of necessity?"

"We never hammer," replied the Chief with dignity. "We just spin a wee bit faster when more boilers are fired and the steam pressure is raised.[Pg 43] I could push her up to seventeen without a weep from the joints of the Babcock boilers. But it would be wicked war-r-k with fuel oil at 150 shillings the ton. At an easy eleven knots we are just burning money; at a forced seventeen it would be a ghastly conflagration."

"I don't understand machinery," said Madame, "though I can run a five-ton motor lorry with any man born. What is all this talk of oil? I thought that steam yachts burned coal and yet I haven't seen a sign of coal dust in the vessel. My sitting-room and my cabin, like this saloon here, are warmed by electric radiators, and when I was down below, one might have eaten off the spickspan decks. Are we a motor yacht and no steamer at all?"

"Coal," said Ewing, "belongs to the carboniferous epoch. This is the Twentieth Century and the Age of Oil. The Humming Top is an oil-fired steamship and years before her time. Didn't you know that she was built by Denny's of Dumbarr-r-ton regarr-r-dless of expense? Her original triple-expansion reciprocating engines, driving twin screws, were put on the scrap heap in 1913, the year before the war, and high-speed turbines put in. Their incredible speed of revolution is reduced down to the propeller shafts by helical spur gearing. There were vairy few destroyers in the King's service in 1913 which wouldn't have squirmed with jealousy at the sight of our engine-room. At the same time, Madame, our ancient Scotch boilers with their coal fire-boxes were ripped out, and water-tube boilers, oil fired, installed in place of them. We don't shovel heavy dirty coal, Madame; we simply squirt atomised oil upon the glowing fires. And when[Pg 44] we want to replenish our bunkers we don't run under the coal tips and smother our clean decks with filthy black dust; we just connect up with the tanks ashore, and press the switch of an electric pump. You could refill our bunkers yourself, Madame, without soiling your dainty fingers. And with our geared turbines and our oil fuel we have a radius of action which is scarce believable."

"This is most interesting," said Madame. "Though I don't understand machinery, I love it tremendously. And I am nothing if not up-to-date."

"You are up-to-date in the Humming Top; you couldn't be up-to-dater in the Hood. We are a small craft, only a thousand tons yacht measurement, but at this moment we have 155 tons of oil in our side bunkers, and a resairve of 75 tons more in our double bottom in case of emairgency. At this easy toddle of eleven knots we can run seven thousand miles, more than half-way over the big bulge of the world, without replenishment. Which is an advantage, Madame, that later on you will greatly appreciate. If we were coal fired we should need to go under those dirty wagon tips every two thousand miles or thereby. We can steam from here to Panama, or from Panama to Auckland without anxiety about our bunkers—always provided that Captain Ching doesn't get impatient and doesn't try to shove us along at more than eleven knots. If we steam fast there will be a terrible waste, and a great reduction in our radius."

"I shan't hurry," said the Skipper, "though Sir John told me to obey Madame's orders about speed. If he don't mind paying for forced draught, it is no business of mine to spare his pocket."

[Pg 45]

"Sir John may be rich as Pierpont Morgan," declared the Scot. "But I don't waste good Asiatic oil for anybody's wealth—not at 150 shillings the ton. Oil once burnt doesn't grow again, and posterity will starve for our lustful rapeedity. The cost of this trip is just awful. And for pleasure, too. I am a judeecious, reflective man. Here we are in an empty ship idling across the world when we could have stuffed the yacht full of high-priced cargo at any damn freights we chose to extort. Ching, my commercial conscience racks me like a raging blister. A cabin load each of drugs or dyestuffs would have made our fortunes in South America, yet here we are with half a dozen cabins empty. The wickedness of it scares me. The Humming Top will come to no good when owners fly like yon in the face of the bountiful freights of a kindly Providence. If I may say so without irreverence, we are sacrileegiously biffing the Providential eye."

Captain Ching laughed. He was willing to venture freight on private account when granted an opportunity. But this was a private yachting cruise and orders were orders. If Sir John chose to burn money to please Madame Gilbert—for that is how the long sea trip presented itself to his mind—well, he had plenty to burn, and Madame was well worth pleasing. He, as skipper, was handsomely paid for his job, and that was enough for him. So was Ewing very well paid. But the lost opportunities of plundering South American Dagoes which slid unregarded past the easy-going Devonian just exasperated the Scot from Glasgow.

"Please explain," put in Madame. "How can[Pg 46] we gratify the bountiful Providence who is displeased with the Humming Top? I am always careful, when I can, to range Providence on my side."

The Engineer explained. He pointed out that here was a yacht with half her cabins empty and stowage spaces unoccupied beneath their very feet. Here also was a world bereft of shipping and every scrap of space afloat worth almost as much as habitable houses ashore. It would do no one any harm, least of all Sir John Toppys, the Owner, if by judicious private trading Ching and Ewing could accumulate a pile of wealth. "Of course Sir John would get his share—and you too, Madame," explained Ewing, anxiously.

"Please leave me out," cried Madame, greatly to the relief of Ewing, to whom an Owner's idle share gave pain sufficient, "I stand in with Sir John. Is there any real reason, Captain Ching, why Mr. Ewing should not do what he proposes? Would Sir John object?" It had occurred to Madame that the Humming Top as a trader would be accepted in the South Seas without comment, whereas a private yacht, cruising at large upon an unexplained purpose, might excite curiosity the most unwelcome.

"Not at all, I think," said Ching. "My orders are to take you to the Torres Straits and to place myself and the yacht unreservedly at your disposal. Sir John was most positive. I have among the ship's papers written instructions directing me to obey any orders from you which are consistent with the laws of British shipping. Sir John has very complete confidence in your judgment, Madame."

"The more reason why I should not strain my temporary authority," said Madame. "Still in this[Pg 47] matter of private trading I do not hold that Sir John could reasonably take objection. We do no injury to him nor to the yacht, and you, his officers, will perhaps benefit. You have my permission to go ahead."

"Madame Gilbert," said Ewing solemnly, "you are the maist sensible wumman it has ever been my fortune to encounter. Not excepting Mrs. Ewing. I may add," he went on with enthusiasm, "that if I were not a man happily married to a gude Scots leddy I would throw my hairt into your bonnie lap."

"This is very sudden," said Madame. "For all you know I may be married myself."

"No matter," cried the Engineer. "If you, a foreign leddy, are so ripe with sense now what would you become with a gude Scotsman beside ye? You and I together would scrape the jewels off the airth. Meantime, with your permission, we will get busy. I take it that the yacht will call at Plymouth and maybe stay two three days whiles I communicate with my friends in Glasgow."

"If you are going to load the Humming Top with valuable stores, Mr. Ewing, you will need a lot of ready money."

Ewing grinned. "We Scots folk are cautious, vairy cautious. Especially when we deal with one another."

"Perhaps you need the more caution then," suggested Madame, smiling.

"Maybe aye, maybe no. We don't push in our fingers farther than we can draw the hand back. But in these days it is scarcely possible to make a mistake. If we load up with opium, cocaine, and[Pg 48] other immoral dopes for the Dagoes we can't go wrong. They will pay any money, and my friends in Glasgow will do the needful on credit. They will ask a percentage, I don't deny that, but there will be a margin. Ching, my son, are you game for dope smuggling round Valparaiso and Lima way?"

"We must have creditable stores for the manifest," said Ching, "but I don't suppose the Dago Customs will peer closely at a private yacht. And a few honest dollars will blind their eyes I reckon. The Law is not obtrusive on the West Coast, Ewing. But go easy with contraband. We mustn't get Madame here into trouble."

"Don't worry about me," said Madame cheerfully. "I already feel like a buccaneer. A bit of smuggling will give zest to a voyage which threatens to be tedious. So let us stop in Plymouth for so long as Mr. Ewing requires for his nefarious operations."

"I never thought to see the day," declared Ewing, beaming upon her, "when my gude wife in Paisley would seem to be a sore encumbrance. And after Plymouth could we not touch at Bordeaux? French wines are always good mairchandise on the West Coast, and the profits thereof would seduce old Pussyfoot himself."

"I clearly see," said Madame, smiling, "that when the Humming Top leaves Europe for her long trail to the Panama Canal she will be laden to her utmost capacity. We shall burn a power of oil to knock out even eleven knots then."

"It will be worth it," cried Ewing, smacking his lips. "Even with fuel oil at one hundred and fifty shillings the ton, there will still be a margin. If we[Pg 49] are loaded rail under with profitable stores I won't grudge a cask or two of Sir John Toppys' oil. We play fair, Madame. The Owner gets his share, a full honest share."

"For rank buccaneers and smugglers," observed Madame contemplatively, "we seem to be indifferently honest. Go ahead, my good but disreputable friends. And if you should require any cash I am in this thing with you up to my fair neck."

"Madame," declared Ewing gloomily, "you make the recollection of my gude wife fair burdensome to me, fair burdensome. We should ha' made a bonny pair of pirates, you and I."

[Pg 50]


If I had not set myself down to write the story of Madame Gilbert in relation to His Lordship the Cannibal I should entertain my readers with full details of the Humming Top's illicit enterprises. Abetted by Captain Ching and Madame Gilbert, the capable Scot, Ewing, let himself go. "It should never be said of me," he remarked, "that I encouraged the vices of the Dagoes by making them inexpensive. They shall find their sins a most costly luxury. In the eyes of the judeecious my operations convey a strictly moral lesson." To dopes and drinks he added chemicals and dyes of high commercial importance. "In brand they are Swiss, but in parentage suspiciously German; the Dagoes will pay the more for them on that account."

The stowage capacity of the Humming Top filled him with admiration.

"The design of this boat," pronounced Ewing, "is vairy creditable to my friend Ar-r-chie Denny of Dumbarton. He was not at the time she was constructed the Baronet that he grew into; just plain Ar-r-chie. He is a vairy far-sighted man, is Ar-r-chie Denny. When he designed that snug wee hold below the main deck, so modest, so unobtrusive, so shrinking from observation, yet so bountiful in capacity, he must have foreseen that his yacht[Pg 51] would find its way into gude judeecious Scots hands. He is a vairy releegious man, is Ar-r-chie Denny. I shall chairge the idolatrous Papists a price for the dopes and dyes which will gratify his Presbyterian conscience. The Scots, you will observe, Madame, are a grand God-fearing people."

"I am a Papist," whispered Madame. "It was not my fault, and I am not a very good one."

"The better for that; the better for that," said Ewing, encouragingly. "You need only a gude Scots Presbyterian husband and you would become a pairfect wumman."

Ching entered with zeal into the lawless projects of the Scots Engineer. His ancestors—and mine—had played the merry three-legged game a few hundred years earlier, and, like all of true Devon stock, he was unchangeable in temper. He was a smuggler by inheritance. Out of Plymouth to the Slave Coast with beads and trumpery—the first leg. From the Coast to the West Indies with a cargo of blackbirds—the second leg. From the West Indies to Plymouth with rum and molasses—the third leg. That was the merry three-legged game with hundreds per cent. profit at the end of each leg. And in those righteous days no excess profits duty. We of Devon played it, and the Pilgrim Fathers of Rhode Island played it—with geographical modifications—and we remained citizens of the highest repute. John Hawkins, who began it, became a Knight by the hand of Queen Elizabeth, and Treasurer of the Royal Navy of England. We have fallen upon soft times, but even now the Devon folk—and Scots like friend Ewing—revert to ancestral types and practices. "A far-sighted man[Pg 52] is Ar-r-chie Denny," murmured Ewing again, as he stuffed packages into the snug wee hold between the main deck and the ballast tanks. "He would just love to be here to see how we appreciate his cunning war-r-k."

Ewing speedily found that Plymouth was an unsympathetic base for his illicit operations. In the old days Cawsand at the western entrance of the Sound had been a famous smuggling centre, but its glory had departed. Plymouth itself was hedged about with unromantic restrictions. Ewing's Glasgow accomplices could pass down dyestuffs and chemicals in gratifying quantity, but dopes, the glowing fount of profits, declined to flow.

"The English," wailed Ewing, "give no encouragement to honest Scottish enterprises. Their jealousy is just parochial. There was a time when one could ship any damn thing out of Glasgow, but there is too much of the Royal British fossilised old Navy about Plymouth. Those Keyham blacksmiths did their wor-r-st to strip my turbines with their monkey tricks when the Humming Top was requisitioned, and the port authorities are every bit as feckless as the Navy, all forms and Customs regulations. Give me immoral belle France and worthy dishonest Spain."

He did better at Bordeaux, and best of all at Lisbon, to which easy-going jumping-off place his Glasgow friends ordered Switzerland to consign the soul-raising dopes which England had barred as immoral. There are few scruples about Switzerland and fewer still about Portugal.

"We Scots are proud of our national institutions," remarked Ewing, when Lisbon unfolded to[Pg 53] him its charms as an abetter of crime, "until we come to experience their rotten foolishness. We are too intolerant and logical; give me the broadminded and wholly unscrupulous Dagoes for business partners. We lack sympathy with human weakness, but the Dagoes coin dollars out of it all the time. If I were a wee bit younger I would turn Dago myself."

When at last the Humming Top cast off at Lisbon and stretched away at her leisurely eleven knots for Colon and the South Seas she was stuffed with stores of "prodeegious richness," all insured.

"But go careful, Ching, if you love me," implored Ewing. "I have covered the lot on board of us at Lloyd's, but a claim won't bear looking into. If we do get wrecked this side of Valparaiso, it has got to be a thorough casualty. A total loss. A sunk ship tells no tales."

"We are not going to be lost," promised the Skipper.

"Speak softly, man," whispered Ewing. "Speak soft. Rub wood. Ye carry Cæsar and his fortunes. There is sair peril in boastfulness at sea."

To Madame the flagrant abuse of Sir John Toppys' marine hospitality was a rich jest, packed with many a subtle stimulus to laughter. One remorseless Fate—in the person of the late Hon. William Toppys—had given a coloured Head to an ultra-respectable and unimaginative English Family. A second Fate—in the person of naughty Madame Gilbert—had corrupted the virtue of the Family Yacht, and set her rollicking across the seas as a flagrantly unchaste smuggler. The private list of her "soul-raising" stores, designed to[Pg 54] pander to the degenerate tastes of South American Dagoes, almost staggered Madame herself, and she turned for the solace of her seasoned conscience to the blameless manifest craftily prepared by Captain Ching for the edification of the Panama Canal Board.

"You are sure there will be no examination?" she asked the Skipper.

"Sure," he said confidently. "We are landing nothing in the Canal Zone, and the Board doesn't care two pins what we carry through."

"If that is so," murmured Madame; "if we get through without scandal, I will tell Sir John Toppys all about it. He is a white man, Captain Ching, who trusted me. One owes something," added Madame virtuously, "to a white man who really trusts one."

Confession after crime was to Madame—and I am afraid also to the "grandly releegious" Ewing—greatly to be preferred to weak repentance before hand.

"It is the golden rule of life," said Ewing, "not to repent too soon. There is a time and season for all things."

That very up-to-date yacht the Humming Top carried a wireless plant and a Marconi operator. Aerials hung between the slim masts, and their range of contact with the outside world extended for five hundred miles—by day. By night it was much wider. The operator, as they hummed along, picked up the news of the day for Madame's edification; it cannot be said that he was overworked.

I think Madame's state room—it really was worthy of that abused epithet—must have been [Pg 55]designed for the use of Sir John Toppys and his departed lady, in the days when space at sea was a new luxury. With its appurtenances—a dressing-room at one end and a bathroom at the other—it was thirty feet long, and it contained, as has been said, a spring bedstead hung hammock-wise. The bed gave discreetly to the roll of the ship. In the dressing-room which had a door of direct communication, was installed Madame's maid, a French girl who detested the sea and did not conceal her hatred. She became reconciled to the months of sea travel by the gratifying circumstance that she and Madame were two lone women in a man-infested ship. Marie could do with a large surplusage of Man.

The saloon on the upper deck was the Mess of Madame and the chief officers; to the two junior deck officers and the two assistant Engineers was assigned the Mess Room aft on the main deck out of which their cabins opened, and to them, at their own request, was added the society at meals of Marie.

"How many?" enquired Madame, when Ching diffidently communicated the invitation. "Four of them? Marie could keep a dozen busy. She will make four hop pretty briskly." In spite of bouts of sea-sickness I fancy that Marie enjoyed her voyage.

Between Madame Gilbert and her companions grew up a close friendship. She talked freely with them except upon the purpose of her travels. That was maintained for the present as a Family Secret. They, simple creatures, sometimes wondered why Sir John Toppys should spend so much money upon Madame's pleasures and refrain from sharing them with her. His absence was grateful in their sight[Pg 56]—for did they not between them monopolise a most gracious and entertaining lady?—but they often wondered at his lack of enterprise.

"Ching," said Ewing confidentially, "you are married as tightly as I am, and both of us are faithful—in reason—to our wedded wives. But if you had the chance of an unlawful holiday cruise with our beautiful Madame Gilbert, would you not jump at it?"

"Ewing," said Ching, as confidentially, "I am a sinful man. I should."

"Sir John Toppys must be a meeracle," declared Ewing, after a long pause.

"Perhaps it is Madame who is the miracle," observed the Skipper shrewdly.

The ripe flavour of Ewing's Scottish character was not appreciated by Madame Gilbert until a conversation took place off Valparaiso, for the contraband cargo had all been disposed of—at cash prices—and Ching and Ewing were counting up their gains in Madame's presence. Half the profits were set aside for the Owner of the Humming Top, and were safely locked up with the ship's gold in the Captain's safe.

"It's an awful sum of money to pay over to the idle rich," wailed Ewing.

The "Idle Rich," as Madame and Ching pointed out, had not only provided the vessel for their illicit trading operations, but had also paid handsome wages to the crew—including their noble selves. Incidentally his idle wealth purchased the tons of oil fuel—at steadily advancing prices—which they drew aboard at Colon and purposed to take in at Auckland. The "Idle Rich" supplied the Capital[Pg 57] and working expenses; Ching, Madame, and Ewing the unscrupulous Labour. Madame, it may be observed, received nothing: Ewing and Ching drew fifty per cent. between them.

"Was not that fair?" enquired Madame.

"As a matter of metapheesical exactitude," replied Ewing cautiously, "I would not deny that the Owner's half-profit is defensible. From the point of view, mar-r-k my wor-r-ds, of the Idle Capeetalist. But the Spirit of the Age, Madame, is not concairned solely with—with the boodle. The news which flickers in over our most efficient wireless apparatus indicates that the Wor-r-kers of the Wor-r-ld are all on the Grab. I am a wor-r-ker, Ching is a wor-r-ker, you, Madame, are a wor-r-ker. Sir John Toppys is not a wor-r-ker. I don't suppose that the little man has ever sweated in his life-except maybe at the gowf. To the wor-r-kers belong the profits. That means Ching and me."

"But I am also a wor-r-ker," put in Madame slyly.

Ewing shuffled uneasily. "I have said so, and I bide by what I have said. But you have waived your rights, Madame. Ching will bear witness."

Madame laughed. Then an idea struck her, and she gleefully cast it in Ewing's voracious teeth.

"I have waived my rights. But your officers and men have not waived theirs. They are wor-r-kers. They have navigated the ship which has sailed the seas and carried the goods which Ewing and Ching and Madame—and those friends of yours in Glasgow—have bought and sold. By comparison with the junior officers and the humble men, you and I are little better than idle rich ourselves. We just[Pg 58] give the orders; they do the hard uninteresting wor-r-k. We loll smoking here while they sweat. Surely they should have their share of the boodle."

Horror competed with exasperation on the harsh red face of the Chief Engineer. With difficulty he awaited the end of her speech and then burst out:

"Is it possible, Madame Gilbert, that you are a Socialist? I could not have believed it of you if I had not hair-r-d your terrible wur-r-ds with my own ears."

"I am more than a Socialist," said Madame proudly. "I am a Bolshevist where the humble poor are concerned."

Ewing shuddered. "I could not have believed it. It is just peetiful trash that you speak. And you in other respects a maist sensible wumman. What is ceevilisation?" Ewing flung out this large inquiry, and an answer not being offered, proceeded to supply one himself. "Ceevilisation is brains, Madame. Capital is not brains; it is gilded idleness levying toll on the honest wor-r-ker. Toilsome sweat is not brains; it just stupidly does what it is told by superior intelligences. Sir John Toppys is not ceevilisation. The men who obey our or-r-ders above deck and in the engine-room are not ceevilisation. WE are ceevilisation. Ching and I—and you, Madame, who have waived your claim to a share. And quite right, too. In strict economic justice, I, Alexander Ewing, should draw a lairger dividend from the boodle than Rober-r-t Ching. And for why? Because I have the mair brains. The oreeginal idea of this smuggling plant was mine. But I say nothing about that," he added generously. "Share and share alike. But if," he went on with[Pg 59] vicious emphasis, "any of my engine-room hands, or my Engineers, peer their noses into my private enterprises I will sor-r-t their fat car-r-cases with a coal shovel. Ceevilisation is brains, Madame. Don't for peety's sake tell you fearsome Socialism to me any more. I just canna bear it."

The plunder was all in fat United States dollars, a noble currency which towers like a mountain peak amidst the wreckage of European depreciated paper. Ewing saw to that. He dribbled out his highly demanded stores in quantities that rather added to than diminished the exuberant buoyancy of the market. He was a Scotsman who had made a Corner, next perhaps to a Scotsman on the Make the most noble Wor-r-k of God. Dagoes of varied hues, and of more than doubtful parentage, came and went; they were closeted with Ewing in the saloon, and departed stripped. They got their dyes and their chemicals and their naughty dopes, but what a hair-raising price they were compelled to pay!

"I am no profiteer," declared Ewing. "Just a plain, honest Scottish mairchant. I chairge no mair than the mar-r-ket will bear. And I have a suspeecion that there will be no excess profits duty paid on this deal. We are private persons engaged in honourable professions, not traders or registered partners. Besides we are out of the jurisdiction of the wucked English income tax. We are patriots, too, employed upon the noble wor-r-k of reconstructing the trade of the British Empire."

When one combines lofty patriotism with some five hundred per cent. profit, the result cannot fail to be profoundly gratifying.

[Pg 60]


They drew away from the South American Coast and headed for New Zealand and the Coral Sea beyond. And as Robert Ching pored over the chart of the Coral Sea it was borne in upon him that the navigation of those many spiked waters would, in the absence of a pilot, be as big a job as he wanted. The Humming Top drew no more than ten and a half feet of water, and was specially guarded under her keel by six inches of solid teak—Ching had demanded the false, protective keel before he would consent to take the yacht to the Torres Straits—but she was big enough to tear herself to pieces on those frightful coral teeth if permitted to swerve only by a little from the tortuous channels.

"I shall have to do without a pilot most of the time," said he. "There is a large regular trade and not enough pilots to supply wandering yachts. We must go back to the methods of Drake and Cook—keep the lead going by day and lie up at night. A sailor can smell his way along anywhere if he is not pressed for time."

Madame promised him all the time that there was—she was enjoying herself and in no hurry to get at grips with the problem of the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham. Every week which passed at[Pg 61] sea made the purpose of her voyage seem more bizarre and incredible. Yet she was constantly reminded of its reality. Though they knew it not, here were Ching and Ewing, together with some two dozen officers and men, at a cost which ran into hundreds of pounds a week, steaming to the ends of the earth solely for that bizarre and incredible purpose. Madame had made her own position luminously clear. She was going with no plan and under no promise. She was not going to smother Willatopy or tip him into the sea—which would have been of little use since he swam like a dolphin. She was not going to poison his food or even to kidnap him. She was simply going to see what this half-caste Baron looked like and to order her movements in accordance with her impressions. She talked with Ching and Ewing upon every subject in earth or heaven except this one. The Family Secret must remain secret until the day arrived when secrecy should avail nothing. When that day would dawn Madame had no idea. To anyone except Sir John Toppys—and curiously enough Roger Gatepath—the whole expedition would have seemed a ridiculous waste of money. But both of them were at their wits' end, and both of them had a childlike faith in Madame Gilbert's lively intelligence and resource. Something striking would result from the voyage, of that they felt convinced; though what it would be they had no conception. Neither had Madame. Yet she went. The Family Misfortune intrigued her, and she wanted to see it at close quarters, and to make it crawl to her feet and eat out of her hand.

When at last they warped up at Auckland Ewing[Pg 62] himself sounded the fuel tanks in the Humming Top's double bottom. He had sworn by his holy gods—the twin high-speed Parson-cum-Denny geared turbines—that the yacht would run from Panama to Auckland, via Lima and Valparaiso, on the 230 tons of fuel oil which she bore away from the Canal Zone. She had done it, and the Chief was curious to see by what small margin his judgment as Engineer had been saved from derision. The margin was just nine tons, say 270 miles of steaming at eleven knots.

"Thirty miles to the ton or thereby," murmured he, "and very good wor-r-k too. Yon's a useful figure to bear in one's heid."

At Auckland he filled up chock a block, side bunkers and ballast tanks, and felt confident that he could go up to Thursday Island, toddle about at low speed in the Straits so long as it pleased Madame to toddle, and then make his way back to the Auckland tanks while, so to speak, some shots remained unburnt in his locker. But the price of oil at the Antipodes struck horror to his thrifty heart. Suppose—it was an awful suppose—Sir John Toppys, obdurate to the wheedlings of Madame, who had promised to do her utmost to make the owner waive his share, should insist on debiting the cost of the voyage to that "owner's share" of the illicit profits. It was a dreadful supposition. Ewing thrust it from his consciousness; even the Idle Rich could not be so utterly soulless.

At Auckland in addition to the stores of oil fuel they shipped trading goods for the Islands, and stowed them carefully away in the empty cabins and in the snug wee hold which had already served[Pg 63] the adventurers so well. These saleable commodities were designed to give to the wandering yacht a commercial status, and might possibly, almost certainly, add some few dollars of profit to their bursting treasury.

"One can never make too much profit," explained Ewing, "especially when one doesn't pay any excess taxes to an extortionate English Government. Cash, in American dollars, tells no tales."

Ewing had already decided that the Humming Top should look in at an American port on the way home, and that the boodle should be deposited out of harm's way under the protection of the Stars and Stripes. A dread lest the tax gatherers of England might yet grab some of it possessed him. In his management of the Auckland stores his genius for finance rose to lofty heights.

"We will invest the alleged share of Sir John Toppys in this Island trade," declared he. "If we make a loss—and it is not a business which I vairy clearly comprehend—then the loss will fall upon the Owner of the yacht. Which is just. Idle and rich owners must take some risk; that is what they are for. If we realise a profit—and my friends here say that the Islands are stripped and will buy anything ravenously—if we realise a profit, of course it belongs to us who have airned it. To me and Ching," he added hastily, lest Madame should intrude with a claim. "Sir John's share will be put back, untouched; we are honest men."

When Madame hinted that righteous dealing had not quite been given a full rein, Ewing protested sorrowfully that as an operation of business what[Pg 64] he proposed was spotless, white as driven snow on the bonny hills of Scotland.

"Sir John is a capeetalist," said he. "He would not wish his funds to lie idle in yon safe. He would wish that they should be employed in the reconstruction of the British Empire. That's what we are going to do with them. Would you leave his money fruitless just because we are twelve thousand miles away and cannot ask his permission to employ it? Would you be baffled by a formality like yon? Capeetalists always love to tur-r-n their money over. We will tur-r-n Sir John's over for him. We will make it skip. It's going to belong to us anyway—you have promised to see to that, Madame—although for the moment we are holding it for him. Do you not reflect also, Madame, that a whole five per cent. of Sir John's share is going to the officers and crew and I have got to make good the grievous loss which your Socialism has brought upon me. I have to carry that feckless Ching on my back too. He would give the lot away like a pound of mouldy tea if I were not at his elbow to keep him heedful of the future. I am not what you could exactly call a man of business, but I have grasped the inherent principles of the job."

"You grasp the principles—and most other things," said Madame, smiling. Her joy in Ewing never failed, and between the pair had grown up a very close affection. She liked the simple, kindly, unselfish Ching, but as a study in humanity he could not compete in interest with the great Alexander.

Ching made no mystery of the sea craft in which he was a master. He took Madame and Ewing[Pg 65] wholly into his confidence, and earned their full confidence in return. The yacht was about to sail in waters where destruction awaited eagerly any slip by a careless navigator, and Ching was not taking any risks which could be avoided.

"I am not going to see more of the coral reefs than I'm obliged," said he, during the first dinner out of Auckland. "We shall get our bellyful of them in the Straits, especially if Madame here has a fancy for uncharted channels. I am taking the Humming Top by the outer passage, as far east of the Great Barrier as I can get, and then come down to Thursday Island by the Bligh Entrance. You've heard of Bounty Bligh, Madame; he was a masterful man, and always stirred up a mutiny wherever he commanded. There is a well-known inner passage between the Barrier and the Queensland Coast; it is sheltered and lighted like the Strand, but as it isn't much wider I'm not taking any of it. I couldn't look at the passage without a pilot, and there might not be one to the Humming Top. She's a vagrant yacht, not a real ship."

"She is an Island trader," corrected Ewing with dignity.

"Humph," replied Ching. "A ton or two of frippery doesn't turn a yacht into a ship. We are a rich man's toy, and don't count for much on the high seas. Our burgee and Blue Ensign look consequential at Auckland, but an ancient Island schooner would make more stir in the Straits."

"Wait till they see our engine-room," cried Ewing. "There's nothing like it outside the King's Navy."

"Humph," replied Ching again. "They wouldn't[Pg 66] look at our engine-room if there was a dirty craft alongside which would load up their copra and beche de mer. Trade must run both ways to be taken seriously. I take it that we are not going to carry copra to the English soap boilers or smoked sea slugs for the Chinese soup market. And if we don't do both the Island trade has no use for us and no interest in us."

"You make us feel humble," said Madame, smiling. "I had become proud of the Humming Top."

"She's a fine craft, but a yacht isn't a real ship, Madame."

"She was a real enough ship when you and I ran her in at seventeen knots under the guns at Zeebrugge to pick up the Navy boys in the watter," shouted Ewing.

"That was another Service," returned Ching stolidly. "She was a ship then. Now she's a yacht. I'm proud to command her now, as I was then; but I want to make you see that as a yacht she has no status on the seas. If pilots are scarce we shall have no call on one. We've got to run our own risks by ourselves and to make them as small as we know how. Is that clear?"

"As crystal," said Madame. "Also humiliating. And I thought I was rather a swell cruising about the world in a yacht which was practically my own."

"You always would be a swell anywhere," said Ching politely. "But on the high seas the mistress of a yacht doesn't count for a row of beans."

"Don't heed him, Madame," cried Ewing. "He's only a demobbed Commander R.N.R. Your friend Alexander Ewing will stick up for you. I was an[Pg 67] Engineer Lieutenant, and the engine-room ranks much higher than the bridge nowadays, though it may not sport so many rows of gold lace. It is my deliberate opeenion, arrived at by careful consideration of all the circumstances, and after giving full weight to the observations of my commanding officer, that we shall get on quite nicely without a pilot, thank you. I am not exactly what you could call an experienced navigator, but give me a well-found vessel of light draught, with six inches of teak fender to her hinder end, a diligent crew heaving the lead at discreet intervals, all the eyes on the bridge looking sprightly for promiscuous breakers, and I would con the Humming Top myself. The mair especially if I could be in two places at once and be in chairge of my bonny engines at the same time as I strolled majestically about the bridge. There is no real deeficulty about navigation, Madame. Yon's not like to the management of high-speed geared turbines. Yon's child's wor-r-k with Admiralty charts spread about ye. But since I cannot be, like the fabulous bir-r-d, in the two places at once, I will leave the bridge to our deefident friend Ching. Go ahead, dead slow, among the prickly reefs, and if you should just butt on the ground give the wor-r-d to me by the engine-room telegraph and I will whip her off on the revairse. That is the grand advantage of geared turbines, Madame. One has the full power on the revairse. What did you go for to put teak to the bottom of us, Ching, if you didna expect to find a use for it?"

"It was a precaution," said the Skipper, "like a fender. One doesn't bang the sides of a ship against a stone wharf because one has fenders. I[Pg 68] have seen a fender break through the plates before now when used without judgment."

"You are a careful man, and we trust you, Ching," said Ewing encouragingly. "Go ahead, pilot or no pilot. And if you should get into trouble deeper than your brains can penetrate, there is always the voice pipe handy. Take counsel of Alexander Ewing. He will stand by ye."

"I will," returned the Skipper, "I will ask you how to run my ship when you ask me how to manage your engine-room."

"Alexander," said Madame severely, when the Captain had left the saloon for his own duties, "if Captain Ching were not a sweet-blooded angel he would kick you hard. I should. Don't you see, you thick-headed Scotch mechanic, that the Captain is worried, and when a sailor like that is worried, the danger must be considerable. I am ashamed of you, Alexander."

"It was just pairsiflage, Madame," said Ewing. "A wee bit of vairy humorous pairsiflage. I know my place. Though I have mair gude Scots brains in my finger than all the soft West Country porridge stuff in Ching's head, I would never interfere with the bridge. A Chief Engineer is a man of science, not a rule of thumb navigator."

"You had better not," quoth Madame. "Ching is slow and quiet. He has no small talk, and, it must be confessed, is sometimes a bit heavy on hand. He is not a lively companion like our Alexander. But in a misspent life I have learned something of men, and I bank on Ching. Mar-r-k my wor-r-ds, Sandy. He will bring us through the reefs without scraping our false keel, and if you chaff[Pg 69] him at a moment when he is really anxious he will chuck you into the Ditch. The Scotch are a great people, but they are not conspicuous for tact."

It was well into May when, far up in the Gulf of Papua, Ching swung the Humming Top to the westward, and began the hazardous unaided penetration of the coral barriers which lay between him and Thursday Island. The weather was perfect and could be depended upon. It was the season of the regular south-east trade, the sunny rainless season of the Torres winter. The wind would gather strength every morning to a half gale at noon and then as evenly decline to a calm after sunset. The tides ran very strongly, between three and four knots, and gained in speed as the Straits narrowed, but to judge their tidal drift, and the variable leeway due to the rise and fall of the trade wind, was child's play to a seaman of Ching's quality. Upon his chart were marked all the islands—many of them loftily volcanic, others low coral atolls—and the sandbanks, known locally as cays. He could work by taking bearings of the more conspicuous island features, and by calculating his horizontal danger angles with a generous margin. He assumed that every island had an inner fringing reef and an outer barrier—though many of them had no barrier—and that every turf-swept cay shelved slowly into the depths. Time was not his master, and Ching was a cautious man. When one evening, just after sunset, he raised the beacon on the Bramble Cay, and found the position of the yacht very near to his dead reckoning, he patted himself on the back and went to dinner with a mind temporarily at ease. He dropped his anchor off the Black Rocks at the[Pg 70] exact point for which he had aimed—the Bligh Entrance to the North-East Channel.

"Now the fun is about to begin," said he, smiling. Madame plied him with broad flattery, and the Chief did his rather clumsy best to support her. Now that the yacht was actually in the Straits, Ewing had enough of good sense to attend to his own job, and to leave Ching unharried to attend to his. Both Madame and Ewing were well pleased to see the Captain smile.

Navigation on the following day would have been less hair-raising if the chart had been half as wise as it pretended. But since most of its features were based upon surveys of some half a century earlier, and the coral polyp is an industrious creature, there was a wide margin of conjecture left to the hardy sailor. The channels were deep enough—Ching sometimes had fourteen fathoms and usually not less than ten under his forefoot—but there were so many of them, and they were so liberally cut into by what in trench warfare were called traverses, that running a vessel through them was very like threading an imperfectly remembered maze. Still the Skipper's eye for water held true, he could generally tell by the look of the surface if the reefs were closing in upon him, and the lead which was freely kept going warned him off the sandbanks. He ran dead slow all through the day, except when the tide setting against him called for half speed. More than once he was obliged to stop and back out of a cul de sac, but, as I have said, there was usually plenty of water under foot, and a timely warning by eye or lead when obstructions were reaching up towards the broken surface. All[Pg 71] through the day the Humming Top never touched once, and Ching began to feel that he needed but a licence to rate himself a pilot of the Straits. But his self-satisfaction was not destined to last very long.

It was about five o'clock, and for an hour past the Skipper had noticed a fully decked yawl, sailed apparently single-handed, following on his own course about a mile to leeward. With the tide under her, and sailing on a beam wind, this thirty-foot yawl was moving rather faster than the big yacht which she was gradually overhauling. The yawl pulled in more and more to the south-west, and passing astern of the Humming Top, reached out towards a group of islands which Ching judged to be away from his own channel. He himself bore off almost due west, and the gap between the steam yacht and the yawl opened out rapidly. That was at about five o'clock. Ching was therefore surprised half an hour later to see the yawl come flying out of space with the wind behind her, and steering direct for his own port bow with apparently a complete disregard for the intricacies of the coral channels. He put up his glass. The yawl was, as he had judged, sailed single-handed. Her skipper, a small white figure with a bare black head, was sitting by the tiller, and, as Ching looked, he seemed to be waving one hand. There could be no doubt that the yawl was making for the yacht, so, with sailor courtesy, Ching ran off his engines and waited for the little craft to arrive.

She came with a rush and swirl which showed at least, high courage in her solitary navigator. She passed the bow of the Humming Top at about a[Pg 72] hundred yards distance, swung under the lee of the yacht, and skilfully used the flow of the tide as a brake upon her progress. The white figure sprang up, let the yawl swing with flapping sails into the wind, and then in thirty active seconds had lowered and roughly stowed mainsail, jib and foresail. He left the spanker standing set on the small mizzen aft. The whole manœuvre was so accurately timed that the yacht had lost her way when she arrived close beside the Humming Top's counter. In a moment more the visitor had caught a line which was deftly thrown to him from the yacht, reeved it through a ringbolt by his bowsprit, hauled his little vessel half round, and sprang, active as a monkey, up the seven feet of freeboard to the Humming Top's rail. His deserted yawl trailed away at the end of the line, and her late skipper and crew, now aboard the Humming Top, strolled forrard grinning capaciously. It could now be seen that though clad in the white Palm Beach trousers, and fine cotton shirt of an Englishman, he was a dark-skinned, frizzy-haired Melanesian. His feet were bare and his head was bare; the shirt and trousers seemed to comprise his entire wardrobe.

He moved forrard looking curiously and eagerly at the yacht's equipment. He mounted the steps of the shade deck on which were stowed four lifeboats, a small dinghy, and a twenty-foot motor launch. His eye ran closely over all of them; the motor boat seemed specially to please him. He passed the yellow funnel, and peered into the smoke-room, a pleasant structure in which Madame Gilbert spent much of her time on deck. She was within at the moment knitting her ninth jumper[Pg 73]—she caught a glimpse of a dark grinning face, and started slightly at the contrast between the brown of the face and the bright blue eyes which looked eagerly out of it. It was the face of a boy of some twenty years. Madame saw him for a brief instant, and wondering who he was, and how he had reached the yacht—she had not witnessed his masterly boarding operation—came out on the boat deck to see more. An unexpected incident is very welcome indeed on a long voyage unbroken except by smuggling operations and the knitting of jumpers. The boy reached the chart-room and wheel-house above which was built the bridge, with its engine and steering telegraphs. Ching from the bridge looked down upon the boy, and the boy looked up at Ching. The visitor waved a hand at the Captain.

"Cheerio, Skipper," cried he. "You are a bit off your course, aren't you?" His voice was not unpleasing and his English was surprisingly good for a coffee-coloured native—dark coffee, too.

"That depends on what the course is," replied Ching shortly. He was frowning, and his genial eye had gone cold.

What I have described did not occupy more than a very few minutes, during which time the yacht, with her engines stopped, was idly drifting under the influence of wind and tide.

"At present," said the boy, showing his fine white teeth as he grinned broadly, "you are bound for the Warrior Reefs. That was why I boarded you."

Ching spoke briefly to a sailor who was with him on the bridge, and then dropped down to the chart-room beneath. The boy mounted the bridge ladder, and took a comprehensive look round. What he[Pg 74] saw did not please him. His blue eyes hardened—they were bright steely blue, very unusual eyes even in an English face, and incredible in a native of the Torres Straits—and going straight to one of the engine-room telegraphs pulled the lever over to half speed astern. The bell clanged.

As a wounded tiger bursts open-mouthed and raging from its ravished retreat in the jungle so Ching furiously burst from the chart-room at the sound of that bell. And for my part I would sooner face a wounded tiger in the jungle than a mild-mannered Devonshire ship captain upon whose engine-room telegraph I had set my lawless hand. The Skipper sprang on the bridge pushed the boy away so roughly that he sprawled over the weather cloths, snapped the telegraph back to STOP, and roared:

"Chuck this nig—young feller into his boat and cut him adrift." It says much, very much, for the inherent kindliness of our Robert Ching that even under stress of an unparalleled trespass upon his prerogatives as commander, he bit back the offensive word "nigger."

The sailor sprang at the boy, who evaded the rush with lithe ease. He was quite calm, and still grinned cheerfully.

"Wait," cried he, in a tone so gleefully significant that the sailor stopped, and even Ching looked up curiously. "Wait," cried the boy, holding up his hand. They waited until one might count perhaps ten, and then that for which they waited befell:


The Humming Top took the hidden reef with a slow grinding crash which made her shiver, and[Pg 75] under pressure of wind and tide she bit deeper and deeper into the coral. It was well for her at that moment that between her steel plates and the reef there interposed the faithful baulks of previsionary teak.

The boy, with a heedless courage which to me seems almost sublime—after all a skipper is a skipper and a very great man on his own bridge—the boy pushed past the Captain of the yacht, laid his brown sacrilegious hand once more on the engine-room telegraph, and banged the lever over to FULL SPEED ASTERN.

"Go," he said sharply to the amazed sailorman. "Jump into my yawl, and fend her off as we go astern."

I am afraid that when that crash came the Chief Engineer laughed. He had seen nothing of the incidents on deck, but the sudden grounding of the yacht, after the strange vacillations of the telegraph, suggested that Ching had blundered badly. And Ewing, as a platonic rival with Ching for the favours of Madame Gilbert, was not disposed to cry over the Skipper's troubles. He gave full speed astern with a will and under the hefty pull of the twin screws the yacht was dragged off within a few seconds. The tide happily was flowing.

"Keep her so," ordered the boy, indicating the correct course with his hand, and the Skipper, to his own surprise, kept her so. There was an intimate local knowledge and a masterful confidence about this intrusive Melanesian which made him irresistible.

From that moment, extraordinary as it may seem to the reader, that strange boy took charge. He[Pg 76] set the backward course, and kept the Humming Top at full speed astern for more than three miles. Ching had overshot a hidden turning in the channel; he had run into a narrow byway in which there was no space for so long a vessel to turn round. She was 230 feet over all. The new pilot quite evidently needed no chart, and possibly would not have understood one had it been spread before him. Every reef and bank was as familiar to him from constant sailing by them as are the streets of one's native town. He conned the Humming Top by movements of his hand, for though he understood the uses of an engine-room telegraph, that other telegraph which controlled the wheel below was apparently strange to him. He gave his orders by signs and the rightful skipper humbly obeyed. It was a triumph of intensive local experience over professional training.

When he had backed the yacht a sufficient distance to satisfy his own judgment this boy sent her forward once more—not at poor Ching's cautious dead slow or half speed, but at a ramping eleven knots—following the windings of the deep waterways with consummate assurance. Now and then, when it seemed to the eye of Ching that he was running straight upon surf-broken dangers, a sailor would be ordered forward with the lead, but the result was always the same. The depth was never less than ten fathoms, and the broken water was an innocuous tide rip.

This went on for more than an hour, the evening drew on, and Ching, at last convinced that he was in the hands of a master of the Coral Sea, spoke. Hitherto he had obeyed the signs of the boy, obeyed[Pg 77] though savagely reluctant, yet had said nothing. Now he spoke.

"Are you a pilot, boy?"

"Oh, no. I am no pilot. I am very rich and do not work. I was sailing down to Thursday Island in my yawl—to see my banker and collect my money. I have much money. When I saw you running this nice ship on the Warrior Reefs I sailed across to show you the proper way. No pearl raking pilot can teach me anything. They are no good, no good at all."

"You seem to know the channels," assented Ching.

"All of them," said the boy. "Not these only for a big big ship, but the little ones too. I do not sail in and out as I am taking you now. I cut across wherever I please. There is always water to be found if one knows where to look for it."

"It is getting dark," said Ching, "and there is a short twilight in these latitudes. Can you see or shall we anchor now?"

"I can see. I can steer you all through the night if you please. But if you and the white lady, the beautiful white lady with the hair so red, would wish to anchor, I will take you to a safe place." His hand waved here and there; the growing darkness made no difference to him, and presently the Humming Top was riding quietly at her anchor in the lagoon of a low coral atoll. The boy had conned her through the barrier reef and laid her up in the smooth water within. Ching gasped as the yacht slipped in through a narrow gap in the reef little wider than her own 30 feet of beam. It was like[Pg 78] pushing a Rolls-Royce in between two threatening motor lorries.

"Boy," said Ching slowly, when the anchor had splashed into the warm quiet sea. "I meant to throw you overboard and you jolly well deserved it for monkeying with my telegraph. But I will say that you are a daisy of a pilot."

As they came down from the bridge they met Madame by the smoke-room.

"Who is that?" she enquired. "A native pilot?"

"No," replied the boy, before Ching could speak. "I am no pilot. I am very rich and do no work. I am going to Thursday Island to see my banker and get my money. I am Willatopy."

[Pg 79]


They were gathered in the smoke-room which was planted upon the boat deck abaft the chart-house. It was the snuggery held in common by Madame and Ching and Ewing; to them was now added another—Willatopy, Pilot. Madame, when she heard his name so unexpectedly had switched up the lights behind her and invited him to enter. She wanted to see him clearly, and to collect her thoughts. All through the long voyage she had pictured her meeting with a naked Cannibal in the appropriate setting of a tropical coral island. Yet here and now had come to her out of the seas a young man, passably English in dress except for his bare feet, passably English in speech, and a good deal superior to the English in his masterly knowledge of the variegated depths of his native seas. The blue eyes of this young man who called himself Willatopy had astonished her when first she came under their quick steely flash; now when they were bent upon her, quite plainly in admiration, she sensibly shrank before their bright intelligence. They were the Toppys eyes; she had admired them when set in Sir John's pale face; out of the dark, almost black countenance of young Willatopy they shone like beacons. They were beacons, the burning evidences of his Toppys blood.

[Pg 80]

It was their first night in the Straits—what Stevenson, pumped dry of tropical epithets, so often called "a wonderful night of stars." Yet Madame Gilbert had no eyes and no mind for the wonder of it. She could think of nothing but the Cannibal who for months had seemed to be so very remote and who was now so very near. Indeed exactly opposite to her, seated cross-legged like an Englishman upon a sofa bunk. His lips and nostrils were rather thick and broad, and his hair distinctly negroid—one should, I suppose, say Australoid—he was of the colour of strong coffee, yet he was not in the least like a Cannibal.

"Gatepath must be even a bigger fool than I thought," muttered Madame angrily to herself. Which was unjust. She had not, like Gatepath, been chased down to a boat by a naked furious Willatopy urged on to speed by the prod of a fish spear. But at that moment Madame was unwilling to be just, especially to Roger Gatepath.

"What makes your hair so red?" asked Willatopy suddenly.

"It grows that way," murmured Madame feebly.

"I have never seen hair red like that," observed Willatopy. "At Thursday Island the white women's hair is black or muddy. Not nice. Your hair is very nice. It shines like, like red copper. And your skin is whiter than any skin I have seen. Are you white like that all over under your clothes?"

"Young man," said Ewing, who had just entered and caught the last enquiry. "You are vairy indiscreet. Leddies do not possess what they do not please to show us."

[Pg 81]

"No?" Willatopy lifted his eyebrows. "But Madame"—he had caught the title from Ching—"has such beautiful skin. Her stockings shine, like rich bronze, and are very beautiful, but I think that her legs would be much nicer without all those stockings and petticoats."

Ewing grinned. Ching frowned. Madame for a moment almost blushed and then laughed in her old rippling fashion.

"Willatopy," said she, "if you don't mind we will change the subject. White men don't talk like that about white women, and you must try to behave like a white man. It was all your fault, Alexander," she went on severely. "If you had left the boy alone I would have dealt with him myself. How often must I tell you that Scotsmen have no tact?"

"The Scots are a vairy great people," proclaimed Ewing, unabashed. "We are too great for the snivelling hypocrisy which the English folk call tak. We say just what we think."

"And that is what makes you so exasperating to live with," rasped Madame.

"Scots!" cried Willatopy. "I know the Scots. There was one of them at Thursday Island. He was always drinking whisky and always drunk. He used to chant songs, long, miles long, and used to shout, as he rolled over hugging a bottle, 'From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs.'"

Willatopy's exact imitation of the old drunkard's accent, which was not widely different from Ewing's own accent, sent Madame and Ching into a roar of laughter.

"I will mind yon," growled the Chief.

"No, you won't," commanded Madame. "You[Pg 82] will treat Willatopy very kindly. He is the pilot, and our lives are in his hands. Yon have brought your troubles on your own silly head, Alexander, and I don't sympathise with you one little bit. Now, Willatopy, tell us about yourself, how you came to be here, where you live, and how it is that you speak English so well."

"I am not English," said Willatopy, rather unnecessarily. "My father was English, a very grand Chief in his own country, but he did not love the English. He always said to me when I was so, so high," he indicated a child of about the height of the bunk on which he was sitting. "He said to me, 'Willie, you belong to your mother's people. You are a Hula, of the tribe of fishers and swimmers and sailors of the sea. It is better to be a Hula than an Englishman.' I remember the words of my father, whose hair was long and yellow, and his eyes blue like mine. The girls say"—he spoke a sentence in native dialect and then translated—"they say that my eyes are blue as the sky before dawn. The brown girls love my eyes. Do you love my eyes, Madame? I love yours; they shine like the English violets which my father planted, like the violets shine before the sun has soaked up the morning dew."

"You should not say things like that, young man," reproved Ewing. "Madame will be very angry."

"Oh, shut up, Alexander," snapped Madame Gilbert. "I want to listen to the boy. He has paid me a pretty compliment. Thank you, Willatopy. I like your bright steely blue eyes. The girls on your island have good taste."

[Pg 83]

"Have you a husband, Madame?" enquired Willatopy eagerly.

"Yes," replied Madame with hardihood. "I have a fine big husband, and I love him very much."

"I am sorry," said Willatopy, simply. "I think that I should like to marry you myself. I am a grown man and very rich. I would have built a very fine hut for you on my island, and I would have taken one of my girls to be your maiden."

"You are not very old, Willatopy, and it will be better fun for you not to be married just yet. My own fine big husband would not wish me to take another one, not even you."

"No," assented Willatopy, true to the strictly monogamous code of the Straits. "One time, one husband. But it is a great pity. You are very beautiful, and I love you. The Skipper he called me a nigger, Madame, but you do not call me a nigger."

"I didn't," growled Ching, to whom the whole scene was highly offensive. "But if it wasn't for Madame here I would soon show you your proper place."

"Willatopy is half white," explained Madame. "He is not an ordinary native. And you said yourself he was a daisy of a pilot."

"So he is. As a pilot and down with the men in the foc's'le he would be in his proper place. But here, talking like this before you, he makes me sick. If you will excuse me, Madame, I will go to my chart-room." Ching stumped off with a sour face, but the more politic Ewing remained. He did not propose that the novel attractions of Willatopy should have the field entirely to themselves.

[Pg 84]

Willatopy, though half white in blood and quite passably well taught by his late father and in the mission schools on Murray Island, had all the inconsequence of a native. He would jump about from one subject to another, like a bee among flowers, sipping here and there, and then skipping on forgetful of where he had last been. He continued to stare at Madame in deep admiration—never in his small experience had he seen a woman with hair so richly red, eyes of so dazzling a violet, or a figure so graciously indicated by the clinging folds of a modern dress. His idea of woman had hitherto been of the crudest—black hair and eyes, and brown limbs fully revealed. But though he continued to be absorbed by the feminine mystery of Madame—there is no mystery about nakedness—he forgot all about his recent matrimonial suggestions.

"I sail everywhere in my yawl," said he. "When the tide is high I go straight over the reefs. They are nothing. But when the water falls I keep to the channels. Not the deep channels; the little ones which wander in and out among the islands. It was my father's yawl. He brought her out from England, from his own country. She was built—I forget where; perhaps I shall remember soon. It is no matter. In Baru, where I live with my mother and my sisters, my father bought miles and miles of shore and forest. It is all mine now, though my mother calls it hers. My father said to me, 'It will be all yours, Willie, when I die, though your mother must keep it while she lives.' My father was very rich, and I am now very rich. I do not work. There are fish, plenty fish, in the sea; we catch them with nets and in our hands. We are Hula fishers,[Pg 85] and the sea is our home as much as the land. We hunt turtle and dugong. Both are easy. If you will come with me to my island, Madame, I will show you how to fish on the Barrier Reef and how to hunt the dugong with spears, and to catch the silly turtle with suckers. My father said, 'When God plants bananas and papaw and chestnuts in the woods, and fills the sea with fish and dugong, and turtle, there is no need for man to waste his life in work.' My father loved Baru and the Hula more than he loved England and the English. My father was a beachcomber," added Willatopy, proudly.

"I have never sailed the southern part of these Straits," said Ewing. "But I know New Guinea. The Hula tribe belong to New Guinea."

"That is so," assented Willatopy. "My father took my mother from the Hula pile village at Bulaa, and brought her to Baru, which he bought. Not the whole island, but miles and miles of shore and forest. I am half English and half Hula, but I love Hula and hate English. Except you, Madame. When I go to Thursday Island in my yawl to see my banker and to get my money—it comes from England, my money does, in big bags—I see English, and Japanese, plenty Japanese, but I do not love them, not a bit. I shall never go to England. My father said when I was so, so high: 'Always stick to Hula, Willie, never go to England.' And I never will."

Madame reflected. She was called upon to make a decision of some moment. Now that Willatopy, risen from the sea, had taken possession of the Humming Top, it was plain that he must remain on[Pg 86] board until she let go her anchor at his island home. She would never arrive without him. Ching was an excellent deep-sea sailor, but Willatopy was immeasurably his superior as a pilot of the Straits. It was also obvious that the blood connection between Willatopy and the Family of Toppys must soon come out, though it would not necessarily be assumed that he was the legitimate heir of the family title. Half blood is much more common than legitimacy. Madame, of course, did not intend at any time to disclose the fact of her pre-knowledge. The revelation of Willatopy's parentage must be drawn from the artless boy himself. And since it seemed to Madame that a disclosure must come sooner or later, it were on the whole better that it should come sooner. Her task would thereby be made the more easy. So she led the boy gently, imperceptibly, to the point at which his identity would become manifest. From Gossip Ewing the toothsome scandal would spread over the ship as rapidly as if one shouted it from the bridge.

"I am very dark," observed Willatopy, flying off upon quite a new tack, "darker than my mother, who is pure Hula. Though I have the blue eyes of my father, my skin is very dark; it is like my face all over. When I go to Thursday Island I wear these white clothes, but at home in my island I wear nothing—almost nothing. When you come to my island, Madame, you shall dress Hula fashion like my sisters. My sisters are very pale skinned; my father said that they were the colour of fawns in England."

"You remember your father very well," said[Pg 87] Madame, ignoring the suggestion of a future costume for herself. "Has he been dead long?"

"Years and years. Before the war. I was so high when he died." Willatopy indicated the stature of a boy of about twelve. "But I remember him very well indeed. He and I used to sail together in the yawl, and I learned all the channels; every one. He always said to me, 'Be wise when you grow up, Willie. Stick to Tops Island. Never go to England. They are all ravening wolves in England where every man preys on his neighbour.' He meant, I think, that the English are cannibals. The Hula cut off the heads of their enemies—it is the custom—but they are not cannibals any longer. The English are cannibals. They devour one another."

Madame laughed, and thought of Roger Gatepath. This was a turning of the tables in rich earnest. "Your father meant that there are very many English crowded upon a small island, and that they try to get money from one another."

"They are just like that in Thursday Island," cried Willatopy eagerly, to show that he understood. "When I go there for my money, and carry it away in a bag, the English try to make me drink so that they may steal my money. But they never get it. I do not drink when I have my bag to guard."

"Good man," said Ewing, with approval. "Never mix up whisky and business."

"Never mix up whisky with anything," advised Madame sententiously.

"I never do," observed Ewing, grinning at her.

"Be quiet, Alexander. Willatopy has taken[Pg 88] warning by that horrible countryman of yours in Thursday Island, and means always to be a good boy. He won't drink even when he hasn't a bag to guard. And now, Willie, tell us. Do you remember what part of England your father sailed from?"

Willatopy puckered his forehead. He was not accustomed to search his memory. The personality of the father had made a deep ineradicable impression upon the boy, but he knew very little of his origin and sought not to enquire. The savage half of him took everything as it came without comment.

"It was by the sea, I am sure," said he at last, "for there was a big battle long ago which the English won. It was a battle at sea. It is all in the history books at Murray Island." He dismissed the subject, but Madame stuck to her questions.

"Whom did the English beat?" she asked.

"I don't know," indifferently. "Yes, I remember. Spaniards."

"Was it the Spanish Armada?"

"Yes, that was it. The Spanish Armada. My father's father fought the Spaniards." Willatopy's conception of time did not reach much beyond a single generation. Centuries and historical dates conveyed nothing to him.

"Yon place must have been Plymouth," observed Ewing. Madame, for one, blessed the gratuitously informative Scot.

"Thank you, Alexander. You are quick. So your father came from Devonshire?"

"Yes, Devonshire. He often spoke to me of that country. I had forgotten. The yawl was built there—at Tops Ham, the Home of the Toppys, my father's home. He sailed straight away from the[Pg 89] Home of the Toppys to Baru. It is Baru in the native speech," explained Willatopy. "But we often call it Tops Island."

The murder was out now. Madame stared at Ewing, opening her eyes very wide, and Ewing stared at her.

"What is all this?" exclaimed the puzzled Chief. "The Home of Toppys—Tops Island. I don't clearly comprehend. What is your name, boy?"


"I know. But what is your real name, your English name?"

"Willie Toppys."

"And who the blue blazes was your father?" roared Ewing, rising up in excitement. Madame did her best to affect an equally excited interest.

"My father," said Willatopy with dignity, "was the Honourable William Toppys. He was a Great Chief in England."

Ewing fell into his chair so suddenly that its revolution nearly pitched him out again.

"Christ!" shouted he. "He is a by-blow of Mr. William."

The Chief Engineer jumped up, rushed to the chart-room, where Ching was sulking in solitude, and returned dragging his commanding officer by the coat collar.

"Ching," he roared, pointing at Willatopy. "D'ye ken the bairn's ee' noo?"

"I don't ken the Moor's blasted eye," growled Ching. "Why should I?"

"D'ye ever see an ee' like to yon oot of a Toppys heid?"

Ching grudgingly admitted that the eyes of [Pg 90]Willatopy were by some impertinent freak of Nature not unlike those which distinguished the Family.

Madame broke in. The scene was becoming ridiculous, and Willatopy was getting cross. He felt that Ewing was making a show of him.

"Alexander," commanded Madame. "Sit down and keep quiet. Captain," she went on, "we have just discovered that Willatopy our pilot is a son of Mr. William Toppys, who went to the South Seas twenty years ago and died there."

"I expect that our Mr. William has left a lot of brown brats scattered up and down the Islands," grunted Ching. "The boy is a good and useful pilot, but half blood don't make him a Toppys."

"He is a Toppys, and we can't treat him as a stranger in a Toppys ship. Willie," went on Madame in her sweetest, most silvery tones. "By a wonderful coincidence you have come to the help of your own people. This yacht, the Humming Top, is owned by Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan. We are all employed by the Family of which you are a member. You have dropped quite by accident among your own people. Sir John Toppys must be a cousin of yours."

"Are you a cousin of mine, Madame?" asked Willatopy eagerly.

"No. I am a friend, that is all. But aren't you frightfully interested?"

Willatopy considered the situation. "It would have been very nice to have had you for a cousin, Madame. A sort of white sister. But I don't want the Skipper to be my cousin. I am a Hula, and I do not love the English. Also I am hungry, and I want my food."

[Pg 91]

As a subject for the exhibition of frightful excitement, Willatopy was a complete failure. He was bored. He had talked himself tired and hungry. He wanted food and afterwards sleep. He had no use, as the Americans say, for the cousinhood of Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan.

Ching turned his rude back upon the discovered scion of Toppys, but the kind-hearted Chief led him away, presented him to the greatly interested Officers' Mess—Marie declared that she was ravished at the discovery—and left him in their care.

Later that evening, when Madame had gone to her stateroom, the Captain and Chief Engineer drew together in their own quarters.

"I have been reckoning," observed Ewing, "how mysterious are the ways of Providence. There yonder in England is the great House of Toppys without an heir, unless it be old Sir John; and here in the South Seas there drops in one son of Mr. William, and maybe, as you say, lots more of them are round about. To him that hath shall be given more than he wants—or intends to keep—and to him that hath not shall be taken away the heirs in whom his heart rejoices. When Lord Topsham's son and nephews were all killed in the war the old man just withered away. His House is desolate. I am thinking that if this nigger here, whom they call Willatopy, had not been born the wrong side of the blanket he would now have been the long-lost heir of the Barony of Topsham."

"That's nowt," grunted Ching. "He and all like him are just spawn. There may, for all we know, be a brown Topy on every island in the Straits."

"Maybe aye, maybe no. It is like enough. The[Pg 92] Idle Rich are bestially immoral in their habits. Still, if by some chance Mr. William had married this nigger's mother the boy would have been the Lord of Topsham. Ching, I am a grandly circumspectious man. I am uneasy, powerful uneasy. Why did Sir John Toppys send out the Humming Top to these waters with that foreign Madame on board of her? She's not his mistress, I am sure of that. She is a great French lady. Why did he do it? Did he know, think you, that there was a Willatopy here?"

"He wouldn't have bothered his head about a Moor, anyway. The yacht was idle, and Madame wanted a voyage. That's reason enough for the likes of us."

"All coloured men are not Moors, you old Elizabethan seadog. This is a brown heathen Melanesian, not a Musulman Turk. Ching, I tell you that I am uneasy. My brain is buzzing with queer thoughts. It sticks in my mind that when that Willatopy told us the name of his father, our pretty Madame wasn't nearly so surprised as she sought to make me think she was. She seemed to my mind to be expecting it."

"You've got too much mind, Ewing. That is what's the matter with you. You keep to your engine-room and I will keep to my bridge. The ways of the gentry have nowt to do with us."

At about the same time Marie was brushing out the red gold mane which flowed in splendid waves over Madame's broad back. There was nothing grudged when Madame was designed and built. Beauty and power went hand in hand at her fashioning. She could have crumpled up Marie, the[Pg 93] sinuous French girl, in her strong hands, and stuffed her body through a port-hole. Their talk was carried on in vivid French; I will do my best to render its purport in pale English.

"Did you ever see such eyes?" sighed Marie. "They go through me like swords. And his feet and hands. Quite small, Madame. It is easy to see that his blood is of the brightest azure. Did you say his father was an English Lord?"

"Marie," said Madame, crossly. "You are disgustingly promiscuous. I have allowed you two deck officers and two engineers. All fine handsome white men. Yet you must now be googling at a coffee-coloured savage. I won't have it, Marie."

"He is not a savage; he is most intellectual. His English is perfect—much better than mine. And he knows a few words, they are certainly but a few, of our French tongue. He is aristocrat. Is he not a cousin of the rich Sir John Toppys?"

"It is a cousinship which the aristocracy do not usually recognise," observed Madame drily. "Willatopy is in my charge, and I won't have him played with. Especially by an old campaigner like you. Do what you please with the officers, I give them to you, but leave Willatopy alone. These half-castes are dangerous to meddle with. Remember, if I have any reason to suspect that you are up to your usual tricks, I will send you straight back to France."

Marie shuddered, and promised that she would be cold as an icicle. She shivered as if her blood had been physically chilled, for there were grave reasons, the very gravest of reasons, why Marie Lambert did not desire to be sent back to France.

[Pg 94]


Willatopy, standing in dignified solitude upon the Captain's bridge, conned the Humming Top through the deep water channels of bewildering intricacy which led from the Dungeness Reef to Thursday Island. Ching, too good a sailor not to recognise a master when he met one, had withdrawn to the chart-room, and left Willatopy to his unchallengeable eminence. The boy, quickly grasping the purpose and use of the steering telegraph, now transmitted his orders direct to the quartermaster beneath his feet in the wheel-house. He was a sailor by right of birth on both sides of the house. His ancestors of Devon had played a faithful, if not a very distinguished part, in the history of the Royal Navy; there has not often been a generation since Harry the Eighth without at least one Toppys in the books of the Navy Office. The Hulas of New Guinea, who to this day build their huts out to sea upon the butt ends of roughly driven piles—like our Neolithic ancestors of the Swiss Lake Dwellings—are a tribe of amphibians. Upon the maritime side of his being there was no collision between white and brown blood in the veins of Willatopy. He was salt all through; saturated with the sea lore which is the subconscious heritage from a naval ancestry; bitten to the bone by sea instincts derived[Pg 95] from countless generations of Hula fishers in the Coral waters.

"How in blazes do you remember like that?" asked Ching once as Willatopy drove at full speed with a five-knot tide under him into the hidden maze of coral.

"I don't remember," replied Willie easily, as he delicately manipulated the steering telegraph, and swung the big yacht this way and that, as surely as a racing motorist swings his car. "I don't remember; I know." He never looked at Ching's chart; he never appeared to take any bearings—although those bright, penetrative blue eyes, ranging out over the encircling islands, were all the while noting familiar land features and making their own quick unconscious calculations. He never hesitated for one instant. The Skipper down below, following Willatopy's course upon the chart, would sometimes tremble when he saw by how much the boy ignored the line a careful Admiralty had laid down. But he was too wise to interfere. If you take a pilot you must trust to him, and Willatopy, though he scorned the professional title, was a pilot beyond compare. He did not remember; he knew.

Madame Gilbert was on the boat deck when the yacht drew in towards Port Kennedy. She frowned viciously upon Thursday Island, that sorry western gate of the lovely tropic Straits. A treeless, desolate waste dotted with corrugated iron buildings. Cluster the iron buildings a little, drive wide dusty roads between clumps of them, and one has Port Kennedy, the seat of government. Impelled by greed of pearl and shell, and undeterred by the[Pg 96] stark hideousness of the Island, the sweepings of most nations have poured down upon that uncomely spot, and have greatly contributed to make it what it is, and to keep from reaching up towards better things.

"Poor Willatopy," murmured Madame as she gazed upon the polluted scene. "So this is his point of contact with white civilisation. Better Tops Island, a hundred times."

A mile away from the port, Willatopy handed over his charge to her lawful skipper. "Take her in. I go in my yawl." He dropped down the bridge ladder, and ran pattering along the deck. At a sign from Madame he stopped.

"I go in my yawl," cried he, pointing to where that little craft of his bobbed up and down in the yacht's wash at the end of her towing line.

"But, Willatopy," protested Madame, "I am going to your island, and we can't possibly find our way unless you come as our pilot."

"I come, Madame, after two, three days. You wait for me. I go to see my banker, and to get my money, in a bag. Then I go to one of my brown girls. She loves my eyes which are like the sky before dawn."

Willatopy raced away aft. He pulled the yawl in by her line, vaulted over the yacht's rail, and plumped down in the middle of her swaying deck. Up went mainsail, foresail, jib; she had no topsail. The driver had remained set. Willie cast off the line and a moment later his little vessel was leaning over to the trade wind and flying up the harbour. The boy had not even troubled to stop the yacht's engines to make more easy his [Pg 97]transhipment. And Ching did not love Willatopy enough to stop them for him. It was a flying transfer, but done so easily and surely that Madame hardly realised the simian skill of it. She stood by the rail watching the yawl pitch as the swell took her, and the white bare-headed figure which grew smaller and smaller every instant.

"So I have to wait at this horrible Thursday Island while Master Willie takes his pleasure with one of his brown girls. And it was only yesterday that he proposed himself to me as my husband! First it was Ching he put down; now it is Madame Gilbert. Presently it will be Alexander, and then it will be Marie. When you come to sit in the House of Lords, friend Willatopy, what a very, very masterful Baron of Topsham you will be."

*         *         *         *         *         *         *

The Humming Top tied up at the hulk which does duty for a wharf at Thursday Island. Ewing, armed with a manifest of stores, and with the joyous light of battle in his shrewd Scots eye, departed to open an offensive upon the local markets. The Skipper disappeared as skippers always disappear in harbour, and Madame was left alone. Port Kennedy was flagrantly uninviting, yet she felt impelled to go ashore. One always does. First she exchanged gracious compliments with the Administrator to whom she carried letters of introduction from the Colonial Office, and then, by a happy inspiration, wandered off to find Willatopy's banker. The boy fascinated her, and she wanted to talk about him. He was so entirely different from what Roger Gatepath had led her to expect that her mind was in a whirl. Perhaps this banker, who kept [Pg 98]Willatopy's money—in large bags—might prove to be an understanding and communicative friend. He proved to be both—though Robert Grant, like all managers of banks in the outer fringes of the Empire, was a Scot of Scots. Madame commanded confidences even from a Scot of Scots.

"Mr. Grant," said she, after her connection with the Family of Toppys had been discreetly explained. "This queer boy Willatopy swooped down upon us in his yawl out of the wide sea, saved the Family yacht from imminent destruction on the reefs in your most dangerous Straits, piloted us here as easily as if he were sailing his own little boat, and then vanished. I understand that he has been here to draw his money in a bag, and has skipped away in his own rapid decided fashion to lay tribute at the naked feet of one of his brown girls. As a scorcher this Willatopy of yours would give points to any young man whom I have ever met."

Grant smiled. "He is what the Americans call a live wire. But before I tell you what I know about him, may I be permitted to ask the purpose of your enquiries?"

Madame saw that she must put most of her cards on the table. The finer arts of feminine diplomacy would be wasted upon a creature so direct.

"That yacht yonder of mine," said she, "is owned by Sir John Toppys of Wigan, cousin and heir of the late Lord of Topsham. I have come out at his request to visit the irregular branch of the Family which is settled in the Torres Straits, and to do what I can to help them if they need or will accept my help."

"Sir John Toppys, cousin and heir," repeated[Pg 99] Grant curiously. "Has the direct line then failed?"

Madame explained how the casualties of war had left the House desolate.

"So Sir John Toppys, cousin of the late Lord, is the heir," mused Grant reflectively. His brow puckered, and he looked at Madame acutely and suspiciously. She bore the scrutiny in that bland impenetrable way which has so often baffled me.

"So you are interested," said he at last, "in the irregular branch?" The emphasis upon the adjective was unmistakable.

"Well," drawled Madame Gilbert, "you will agree that the colour is somewhat unusual."

Grant smiled again. He was thinking hard, and it was plain that he was familiar with the ramifications of the Family of Toppys, and with the lawful rights of the Twenty-Eighth Baron. Until that moment, however, he had not known that the direct white heirs had failed.

When he spoke it was with deliberate, anxiously deliberate, emphasis. "The kindest service which you can render, Madame, to the coloured branch of Toppys is to leave them alone—in happy ignorant security. I repeat, ignorant security."

Madame drew a deep breath. For reasons which she did not yet appreciate, but which she was soon to understand, Willatopy's banker was on her side, the side of Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan.

"I was an intimate friend of Will Toppys," went on Grant. "I loved him, and think that I, alone among his white friends, sympathised with his withdrawal from white civilisation. Money and honours meant nothing to his simple soul. The few[Pg 100] hundreds a year which he drew through me from his property in England, the small plantation which he bought upon Tops Island, sufficed. He was in his way wealthy, and also in his own way gloriously happy. His wife—you have not seen his wife—honoured him as a king of men. Willatopy, his only son, worshipped him as a god. You may perhaps have noticed how Willatopy, although but twelve years old when his father died, quotes his lightest saying as the last word in human or divine wisdom?"

Madame nodded.

"I was my friend's executor, and, in my humble way, have tried to be a guardian to Willatopy. I love the boy for his father's sake and his own sake. He is a good boy. His courage has the quality of tempered steel: he is honest and generous. He comes here about once a month, draws a pound or two in silver from me, buys gear for his yawl and a few delicacies for his family—they all have a queer passion for sardines and tinned tongue—picks up some beads for his brown girls, and then disappears. He does not drink; he has not, I believe, ever tasted alcohol. His relations with brown girls are those customary in the Straits. Here, Madame, boys and girls follow their inclinations, but they are free from the vices of the white races. The unmarried flit from flower to flower, but those who are married—though wedded by the sketchiest of native ceremonial—are faithful to one another with a rigidity unknown in Europe or America. All the vices and all the diseases in these islands are the gift of the white man. I have always feared for Willatopy, and now your coming fills me with dread[Pg 101] for him. White and brown blood form a bad mixture—an explosive mixture. A mixture unstable as nitro-glycerine. So long as Willie remains brown, and follows the precepts of his father, he will be safe and happy. But let him incline by ever so little towards the white side of him, let him once awaken to a taste for wine or whisky, and become conscious of the seductions of white women—and Willatopy will be a lost soul. Here in my desk lies the will of my friend Toppys and—other papers. I see the danger which threatens Willatopy, and I tremble. Take your yacht away, Madame Gilbert, and trouble the boy no more."

"I have no wish, we have no wish, that Willatopy should leave the Torres Straits, least of all that he should go to England. But he interests me extremely, and I would see more of him and of his home before we go away. It will be but for a few weeks, Mr. Grant, and all that while I will be his zealous guardian. Besides myself there is only one white woman in the yacht and she is my maid and at my strict orders. I can appreciate the danger of alcohol for him, but surely a boy like Willatopy—whose eyes are blue as the sky at dawn—has already experienced the seductions of sex?"

"No," emphatically declared Robert Grant. "Where there are no clothes there is no curiosity, and where there is no conscious shame, there is no viciousness. Willatopy in the hands of an unscrupulous white woman would become a devil. Drink and debased white women are the man-eating tigers in the path of his life; if they fall upon Willatopy they will devour him. Go back to your yacht,[Pg 102] Madame Gilbert, turn her head towards England, and trouble us no more."

"Bereft of our accomplished pilot we should be ashore within the hour," quoth Madame slyly.

"The boy's a wonder," mused Grant. "He arrives and conquers without an effort. He has bound you to him by his skill in pilotage, and now, I suppose, you will make him lead you to his island, happy no longer. The curses of the white man will descend upon it and upon him. Drink and Lust.... You will not have known the father of Willatopy; he was before your time. In the eyes of the world he was mad; in all eyes, perhaps, except my own. He gave up his home in England, he married a Hula girl out of New Guinea, and he settled upon Tops Island. All these evidences of rank insanity are known to you; to me alone is known an incident which would class Will Toppys among the doddering idiots. When I first heard of it from the man's own lips I was staggered. I am a Scot and a banker and a materialist. I should not have done what he did; I would have realised a quick fortune, and dashed home to bonny Scotland. I do not live on this filthy island for fun. You cannot conceive, Madame, how after thirty years of the tropics I ache for a bitter Scots haar. But Will Toppys was true to himself; he rejected the lure of the millions as he had rejected that of the thousands and the hundreds. During the wanderings of Will Toppys some twenty years ago, when first he went to New Guinea, he came across an old Australian gold hunter, one of the original gang who in the fifties had staked out claims and washed gravel for gold dust in the river beds beyond Balaarat. This old[Pg 103] fellow had found gold in a creek in New Guinea, and was washing for dust in the old, old patient fashion when Toppys discovered him. The old man was unhappy. He had, it is true, found gold in paying quantities, but mixed with the gold was some dark, heavy obtrusive substance which marred the serenity of his daily operations. The gold would not wash clear by itself. Always it was mixed with this miserable stuff which had to be painfully separated from it. The old man showed Toppys some of it; he had kept a little under his bunk, but had thrown the rest away. Neither Toppys nor the digger knew anything of the stuff except that it was a nuisance. But Toppys took a pinch or two away with him in an envelope. His curiosity was so far stimulated that he despatched the envelope to the Assay Office at Brisbane, and asked for particulars of identity. Years afterwards he showed me the reply which came to him from the Assay Office. The dark, obtrusive, heavy metal, which the old digger had been throwing away because it interfered with the purity of his gold dust, was one of the iridium family, of great commercial importance, and was valued at fifty pounds sterling an ounce. Fifty pounds an ounce! By comparison the gold dust was mere dross. You will inquire, as I did, what course William Toppys took. Many men, who pass for honest, would have persuaded the old man to sell his claim for some derisory pittance and have stolen the fruits of his discovery. Others would have offered to help the old man at his gold washing and have taken their payment in osmiridium. Others again would have slain the discoverer. Toppys did none of these things. He went to the[Pg 104] old digger's hut to acquaint him with the gift which God had sent, and found that, while he waited, God had vouchsafed another and a greater boon. The old man lay in his bunk dead. Toppys buried him there among the wealth of which he had never learned the value—and went away. The man was true to himself. He had come to the Torres Straits to live the simple native life, and he would not look back for all the riches of New Guinea at fifty pounds an ounce. And he never disclosed to anyone, even to me, the secret of the deposits. They were somewhere on the south coast, that was all that he would tell. His reason was like himself, sanely mad. God, who had hidden those treasures for millions of years, had disclosed them to two men—one who was dead, and the other who was as good as dead. Toppys accepted the revelation as a Divine test of his sincerity, and it would, in his eyes, have been sacrilege to have given away or sold the knowledge. I admit," concluded Grant rather savagely, "that if I could have won the secret from him, I would have scratted up the blessed stuff with my finger nails. Fifty pounds an ounce! More than a million pounds a ton. From his own point of view Will Toppys was right in rejecting the useless wealth, but I still think that he might have given me the tip."

"I must tell that story to Alexander," said Madame, "if only to enjoy his writhings. Fifty pounds the ounce. Poor Mr. Grant and poor Alexander. Though one does not need to be a Scot to jump at fifty pounds an ounce. I could do a bit of scratching at that price with my own lily hands."

"That was William Toppys, the father of [Pg 105]Willatopy. Though how that serene and unworldly soul came to inhabit the body of an ancient and commonplace Toppys passes my poor comprehension. Willatopy, who worshipped his father as a god, is not a bit like him in temperament. He reminds me sometimes curiously of an English public school boy. He has the typically English unintellectual love of life. There is nothing of the anchorite about him. He enjoys every minute of his life. His virility and extraordinary endurance are Melanesian. Do you know how William Toppys died when that boy of his was twelve years old? No? Let me tell you, and perhaps my story of the son will be as illuminating as my story of the father. Toppys loved his son, though he could have wished him to have been less dark. The sisters are almost white, not darker in skin than many southern Europeans. They wear nothing but the native petticoats, so that one has full opportunity of inspecting their colour. Willatopy is black beside them. Toppys and his son were always about in their yawl, which the father brought out from England. It is fully decked and a fine seaboat. They went everywhere in it, and cared nothing for the storms or the currents which make our navigation so difficult and dangerous. It was in March of 1912 that William Toppys was killed, accidentally killed, in the presence of Willatopy."

"Killed!" exclaimed Madame. "I did not know that."

"Yes, killed. I have the particulars here in my drawer with the—the other papers. Toppys and the boy were cruising to the north and one evening at sunset had let go their anchor in the lee of a wide[Pg 106] coral garden. It was the season of monsoon, when storms and rain sweep down from the north-west. The wind blows sometimes with hurricane velocity. We have a very brief twilight; at one rush comes the dark, or almost. The anchor had gone down in fifteen feet of water on the edge of the coral, and Toppys had gone forward to lower the sails. Somehow, I don't know how, his feet became entangled, and he pitched overboard. This was nothing in itself. The yawl has no more than two inches of rail, and both father and son frequently went overboard without intention. Willatopy swims like a seal, and Toppys was quite at home in the water. Willatopy, when he heard the splash, ran forward, cast off the halliard of the mainsail, and threw the bight over the rail. It was difficult to climb back without a line. He saw his father come to the surface, gasp, roll over, and sink again, leaving a trail of blood in the sea. As he fell, Toppys must have struck his head against a spur of coral, and when he gasped must have filled his lungs with water. He sank like a stone to the bottom. It was after sunset, and rapidly growing dark. Willatopy, the small boy of twelve, dived at once and sought for the heavy man of twelve stone on the floor fifteen feet below. It was already dark below, and quite a minute passed before Willatopy got his hand under his father's arm and struck up to the surface. Then he found himself six feet from the yawl, and drifting past her. There followed a furious struggle. The small boy, hopelessly overweighted, fought every inch of the distance, struggled across those interminable two yards, and just got his fingers on the counter as the current carried him away. If[Pg 107] he had missed his last grab at the rail, Willatopy could never have swum back bearing his father's body, and he would never have let go. He is Melanesian in muscle and skin, but his heart is that of an English bulldog. The boy's fingers gripped the rail, he hung at arm's length, and with the other arm he grappled to him the man whom he worshipped as a god. Picture to yourself the situation. The night had fallen, the wind was soughing overhead, and threatening a gale, the tide was swirling past the coral and dragging at Willatopy's burden—and the mainsail halliard, by which alone he could essay to regain the yawl, was more than fifteen feet distant toward the bows. And Willatopy was twelve years old, and his father weighed twelve stone. I want you to get all these details clear before you, Madame. An English boy could never have done what Willatopy did then, and afterwards. He would have possessed the heart but not the lithe enduring strength nor the profound sea knowledge. Willatopy pulled himself in towards the boat, and her side inclined slightly towards him. Then he gave the leap and kick of a dolphin, and shifted his grip from the counter to the side rail. By a succession of kicks and leaps he worked his way forward inch by inch, foot by foot. He does not know how long it took him to reach the halliard, which trailed in the water. He says it was hours, but Willatopy has vague ideas of time. At last he arrived. He seized the line and swung clear. Treading water he passed the line under his father's arms, and made sure that when his own support was withdrawn, the man's head would be clear of the water. All through that desperate, one-armed progress from[Pg 108] the stern to the midships of the yawl Willatopy had never once loosened his grip upon his father, nor allowed the dear drooping head to sink under water. Then when his father had been securely tied, Willatopy worked forward to the anchor chain and climbed on board by the bowsprit. He was up and hauling in an instant. The yawl inclined more and more as the heavy body came in over the rail, but the boy took a grip on the deck with his naked toes, and hauled more vigorously than ever. Now was the beloved body stretched at last upon the deck. The boy felt a long gash on his father's head, and could not distinguish a sign of life. There was no breath that he could perceive in the limp sodden body. The Hula fishers of New Guinea have their own methods of restoring the apparently drowned. Willatopy applied them. He also remembered his father's lessons and turned them to account, working the dead arms up and down to induce respiration. It was dark as a wolf's mouth; Willatopy had to work by touch and ear. The time passed, how long I do not know, and without pause for rest or food the boy worked on. He went on until the grey dawn found him still working. And then he knew that his father was dead. The blue Toppys eyes were cold and sightless. The body which Willatopy had rubbed and kneaded all though the night was becoming fixed in the rigor of death. Willatopy rose up and went below. He filled himself vigorously with food, thinking hard all the time of a method by which he might transfer his father from the exposed deck to the little bunk which had been his bed at sea. He felt very lonely. His white god had withdrawn its presence; no longer would[Pg 109] the two, father and son, sail the seas together. In the ordinary sense, I do not think that Willatopy grieved at all. He was too busy. After a vigorous attempt he was obliged to leave the body on the deck. His strength was not equal to the work of transfer to the cabin, but he did what he could. He lashed the body so that it could not be disturbed by the rough movements of the yawl, or by the washing of heavy seas. Then he set the sails, hauled up the anchor, and laid a course for home. The disaster had occurred some fifty miles to the north of Tops Island. But three days passed before a small boy, grey with exhaustion and the continual beating upon his naked body of salt sea foam, sailed a yawl, with the corpse of his father lashed to the deck, into the harbour of Murray Island thirty miles to the south.

"Of those three days Willatopy can tell little. He had been caught in a furious gale and blown out into the Gulf, driving before it with no sails set except the small jib. Soon after leaving the fatal anchorage, where Toppys had been killed, Willatopy's eye for weather had told him to strip the yawl of her canvas, and she had come down, as it were, from full dress to a loin cloth before the tempest burst. For twenty-four hours—as Willie put it, 'from sun to sun'—he had sat by the tiller without food or sleep. And the previous night had been sleepless, too. Then the wind fell, but the waves ran high under the eternal Pacific swell. By lashing the tiller for a few minutes at a time the boy was able to take food, but sleep was still denied to him. He came back in long reaches, steering by the sun, for he had been blown far from familiar waters. He[Pg 110] was a long way to the south of Tops Island, and east of the Great Barrier itself, so that when he sighted land after two whole days in the open, it was a great unknown, unfriendly reef within which the passages were narrow and tortuous. Still he worked his way through, and getting under shelter of a strange island, let go his anchor and slept. I do not think that he could have held out but for that God-given sleep. And so after yet another day he arrived in Murray Island. They took his father's body and would have buried it there, but Willatopy forbade. He was all right, he said, and going on home, but for the moment he was tired, and wanted to lie up among friends. So the good souls of Murray Island made a rough coffin, and laid Toppys upon that bunk in the little cabin where he had so often slept. Willatopy slept peacefully on the opposite bunk. He did not shrink from his father's body as an English boy would have done; he was happy in the thought that his god was still with him. And then, still alone, that boy of twelve sailed homewards with his father's corpse. He laughed when assistance was offered, and scorned companionship. 'Now that my father is dead I will sail his yawl,' said he. 'No one understands her except him and me.' Will Toppys is buried near the hut where he had lived with his wife and children. The family buried him themselves, and repeated over his body the prayers which the dead man had taught them. That is how William Toppys died, and that is how his son, a little boy of twelve years old, brought the father home."

Madame Gilbert's eyes were full of tears, and she did not speak for a few minutes.

[Pg 111]

"He comes of good stock," said she at last. "Blood always tells."

"Good stock," assented Grant, "on both sides of the house. If his father was a Toppys of Devon, his mother is a Hula of New Guinea. Willatopy is grit all though."

"I am very very much obliged to you," said Madame. "I understand now something of the father and more of the son. Believe me I wish Willatopy nothing that is not good."

"Then," said Grant very seriously, "if you mean him nothing except good you will sail away from the Torres Straits and trouble him no more."

[Pg 112]


Three days later at noon the Humming Top, with thick oily smoke pouring from her funnel, was getting up steam and awaiting her pilot. Alexander Ewing, a grim happy Ewing, was down in the engine-room. For days he had been stimulating the hunger of a market by exiguous sales at the most appalling of prices; when money failed he graciously accepted pearl—at his own valuation. Reflecting now upon his work, he saw that it had been very good. And since the financial risk had been laid to account of Sir John Toppys and all the profits were divisible between himself and Ching, no thought of dividends payable to the Idle Rich obtruded to mar his pure satisfaction. He had become, by exercise of his own brains, a profiteer and a capeetalist—and the world was a very pleasant place. But though conscious of well-doing, his great mind had been for a while slightly disturbed by two exasperating thoughts. In a moment of expansive generosity, while receiving the congratulations of Madame upon his commercial abilities, he had presented her with a large pearl. He did not grudge a present to one whom he loved—and in his queer fashion he really loved Madame Gilbert—but it had been an unnecessarily large pearl. A smaller one would have earned for him as sweet a[Pg 113] smile of thanks. Alexander hated an over-payment. And he never could forget that five per cent. for the officers and men which Madame had wrung from his grip. Even as he rejoiced in his gains, and counted them over in his recollection, that five per cent.—a whole shilling in every pound sterling—worried him dreadfully. It was as bad as an income tax. He wondered how Madame would take a proposal that some charge under the head of a "management expenses" should be debited against that five per cent. If a labourer were worthy of reward for his bodily toil, surely Alexander Ewing should be conceded some adequate remuneration for the wor-r-k of his br-r-ains.

And while he reflected upon the flies which always will defile the most perfect human ointment, an inspiration came to him. Only really great business minds are favoured in this way. He saw that he might make good the cost of Madame's excessively large pearl, and recover no small portion of that scandalous five per cent., by judicious wangling of the accounts. It was an operation which promised almost infinite possibilities, a simple operation seeing that no one except himself had any grasp of the true principles of finance. A grievous load lifted from his mind. God was in His Heaven—luckily a long way off—and all was right with the world. Human happiness is so rare that one loves to contemplate it unalloyed. I figure to myself Alexander Ewing, in his engine-room, grimly and perfectly happy.

It was at slack water, at the moment when the tide turning began to run eastwards through the Straits, that Willatopy's yawl hove in sight, and[Pg 114] he bore down in his usual impetuous style. He had not come before, he explained to the gloomy Skipper, because it was absurd to waste steam by forcing the yacht against a five or six knot current. An hour or two of delay had turned that current to one of equal velocity in the Humming Top's favour, and he was prepared forthwith to make up, and more than make up, for the apparent procrastination. Ching, who was sick of Thursday Island, and had wanted to get away at daybreak whatever might have been the state of the tide, was obliged to admit the force of so seamanlike an explanation, but he did not love the "Moor" any better for presenting it. In his view a coloured man's place was the stokehole, not the bridge, and most certainly not the cabin. He detested the favour which Willatopy had gained on board the Humming Top and scorned his pretensions to be a member of the House of Toppys. When the fathers have for generations played the merry three-legged game—Plymouth, Slave Coast, West Indies, Plymouth—a black skin remains a covering for merchandise in the eyes of the children, even in the Twentieth Century.

Fully a hundred miles interposed between Thursday Island and the "miles and miles of shore and forest" which were the home of Willatopy. Between lay a labyrinth of coral, for the most part uncharted, of which he alone in the yacht had the secret. Ching might call him a Moor and detest his presence on the sacred bridge, but Ching knew, better perhaps than anyone else, that the safety of yacht and of all who sailed therein rested in the brown hands of the half-caste boy. By unchallengeable right, Willatopy conned the ship while her [Pg 115]lawful commander glowered below in the chart-room. If he had not put the yacht aground away yonder on the fringes of the Warrior Reef, Ching would still have believed in his own capacity, somehow by rule of thumb and lead, to navigate his own vessel. Now he knew that he couldn't, and that Willatopy could, but he grudged the boy the skill which was denied to himself. It was very absurd, and I am really rather ashamed of my compatriot of Devon. No seaman can have precise local knowledge of all waters everywhere. Ching would have subordinated himself without a murmur to an authorised pilot in the Thames or the Scheldt. What irked him was to play second fiddle before Madame Gilbert to a wholly unauthorised Moor. It was no consolation to Ching to know, as did everyone else in the yacht, that Willatopy had swum in these Straits before he could walk, and had sailed them before he could talk. They were his own back yard, and there was nothing specially commendable in the precision of his acquaintance with them. He had, it is true, more than a mere accumulation of local knowledge; he had a sure sea instinct. But that came to him by inheritance on both sides of the house. Daily habit, inspired by instinct, had made him the ideal pilot whom Ching should have hugged to his bosom on the bridge instead of cursing under his feet in the chart-room. But it was all the same to Willatopy. He had never been in sole charge of a big steamer before, and he joyously played with the yacht as any boy would. He loved to drive her at full speed, to tickle her sensitive steam steering gear with his pretty little telegraph, and to watch the whole length of her sweep round corners where[Pg 116] a fractional misjudgment would have ripped the bilge keels off her frames.

Alexander Ewing highly approved of the methods of Willatopy. He hated what he called backing and filling. He liked his engines to be kept running at a sound steady speed, and not to be perpetually bothered with stopping and reversing and forcing the propellers to make good the deficiencies of the rudder. With Willatopy in command, the Humming Top drove along as if coral reefs did not exist, and as if the deep water channels had been never less than a mile wide. He never ran into difficulties, because for him there were no difficulties.

They lay up that night, and picking up the eastward current again early in the morning, ramped up to Tops Island at a speed to which the cautious Ching had not yet become reconciled. Madame was on the boat deck watching the thickly wooded island rise up with the sun out of the sea. It was no low coral atoll, but a fine volcanic lump of basalt towering six hundred feet out of the water, and clothed with green woods up to the summits of the hills. As the yacht approached the shores she saw a multitude of pretty little coves bounded by rocky headlands and fringed with white coral sand. Here and there groves of cocoa-nut palms delicately skirted the sea edge, while patches of the devouring mangrove ran right into the salt water, and won back to the land wide stretches which the sea had covered. Madame had seen many islands in the Straits, but this Island of Tops came most near to the realisation of her imaginative dreams of the South Seas. It was in truth an Island of Dreams, and Will Toppys, madman and saint, had chosen well when[Pg 117] he built his hut upon it, and pegged out his claim upon hundreds of acres of shore and woodland. To the north-east, as they slipped along the coast, appeared the entrance to a long narrow bay—described by Alexander as "just a wee Scots loch"—of which the whole line of shore to the left was owned by Willatopy.

I do not know the dimensions of the Estate of Toppys. Willatopy's ideas of space were as vague as his ideas of time—one was miles and miles, the other hours and hours—but from what Madame told me it must have run to a thousand acres at the least. There was more than a mile of shore to Willatopy's front garden, and the natural park at the back—called by Alexander the policies—extended up the hillside for another mile or so. I don't suppose that the Honourable William Toppys paid very much for it. Grant of Thursday Island, who has all his papers, would know. Madame, who is much more interested in people than in their possessions, never troubled to enquire about the property, and proved to be quite useless as an authority upon it. Alexander Ewing, with whom I had much intimate conversation before I ventured upon the details of this story, declared dogmatically at first that it was "about twa squar-r-e miles." On cross-examination he admitted that "the policies" had no ring fence, and that he had never explored their alleged boundaries. Though I love to be particular, and refused to describe the Humming Top until Denny's of Dumbarton had sent me a scale plan of her—which they very kindly and obligingly did—I have not troubled Mr. Robert Grant. For one thing he is too[Pg 118] far away, and for another—before I have done, the other reason will be clear to the discerning reader.

The narrow bay, the "wee Scots loch," bit deep into Tops Island, and across it had been piled up by the mountain streams a bar of mud and sand, a low wave-swept barrier. Though the yacht could not cross the bar, she could lie safely within the entrance to the bay, and under shelter from the prevailing trade wind—which at that season blew from the south-east, swelling up almost into a gale at midday and dying away to nothing shortly after sunset. The shore of the island was very steep, and Willatopy brought the yacht in to within a hundred yards of a thick clump of mangroves. He let go the bow anchor.

"The tide is now near the turn," said he, "and there is a rise of ten feet at high water. You had better run out another anchor seawards, and let her swing with the current."

"Thanks," growled Ching, rudely. "You can pilot me up the Straits, but you can't teach me anything about the mooring of a ship."

Willatopy turned away, and descended to the boat deck. He inspected the twenty-two-foot lifeboats with great care, and shook his head with emphasis. "No good, no damn good," said he.

"What is troubling you, Willie?" asked Madame.

"Those fool boats," grumbled he, "have rudders. They are no good for the surf. Look," he pointed to where half-a-mile from them the swell broke in huge curling rollers on the bar of Tops Island. "One can't hold a boat true in that surf with a bit of wood stuck on rudder pintles. If I took you in now when there is little water on the bar in a boat[Pg 119] like that she would broach and roll over and over. And the sharks are watching there for the meal that they would get. If you don't want to be food for sharks, Madame, you trust to Willatopy."

"For days past," said she, "our lives have been in your hands, Willie, and you have not failed us. Show us what we should do."

Willatopy beckoned to the second officer and explained that he wanted the rudder to be unshipped from one of the lifeboats and a strong eye of rope lashed to the top of the sternpost. It was to take a steering sweep, and to be very, very strong. "I take Madame in through the surf," he added.

"The devil you do," said the officer, gazing upon the huge foaming rollers, whose thunder as they broke upon the bar made conversation difficult. "Will it not be safer to wait till high water?"

"No," returned Madame calmly. "I go now—with Willatopy."

"If you go I shall go too. Though it seems to me just foolishness. At high water it would be easy."

"Yes," assented Willatopy. "Quite easy. There is a channel inshore which you could pass in the motor boat. It is only now at low water that the surf breaks heavily like that."

"No," repeated Madame firmly. "Where Willatopy leads, I follow. Make ready and be quick about it."

The second officer lashed on the eye of rope himself, and tested carefully the fitting of the longest sweep that he could find. He had pledged himself to share Madame's risks, but he was not going to take more chances than he could help. When he[Pg 120] had finished the job, Willatopy passed it as very good.

"I could steer you over the bar of the Fly River with that," said he, "and the surf up north is not like those little breakers."

The "little breakers" were rearing their heads fifteen or twenty feet above the sea level, and crashing down in a welter of foam which stretched as far into the bay as they could see. The little breakers were big enough for Madame and the second officer, though Willatopy made light of them.

The officer climbed into the boat, in which six sailors stood ready to swing out and lower. Madame was about to follow when Willie checked her. He looked with disapproval at her graceful white muslin dress and shook his frizzy head.

"It will be very wet," said he. "I go like this."

In a moment the shirt and trousers of civilisation dropped from him, and he stood up a bare, naked savage. When Roger Gatepath first met Willatopy he had feathers in his hair and a bootlace about his middle; now Madame beheld him without either the feathers or the bootlace.

"Whew!" whistled the second officer.

"I cannot quite follow your admirable example," said Madame, smiling, "but if you will wait a moment I will dress the part of surf bather."

She ran down to her cabin, whipped off her clothes, wriggled into a blue silk bathing dress, and above it buckled a light linen trench coat. In this garb she did not mind how much water came aboard. Indeed afterwards the bathing dress and[Pg 121] the trench coat became her standard wear while braving the surf of the Islands.

"Will this do, Willie?" asked Madame upon her return to the deck.

He surveyed her gravely. "My sisters would have thrown off their petticoats."

"But I am not your sister," answered Madame, climbing into the boat.

Willatopy followed, and was observed to tuck the discarded shirt and trousers carefully under the stern sheets. He had wrapped them up in a bit of sea cloth.

The boat was swung out and lowered, and the six sailors bent to their oars. Willatopy standing upright on a thwart firmly grasped the eighteen-foot sweep, and flicked the boat this way and that to test her response to his will. He appeared to be satisfied, for his lips opened in a grin of sheer boyish enjoyment.

"Give way," cried Willatopy.

Madame Gilbert, thorough in all that she undertook, had gone right forward, and, seated firmly, gripped a thwart with both hands. She was sure that Willatopy would hold the boat true in the surf, but she felt some small apprehension lest she might herself be pitched out into the mouths of those hungry waiting sharks. At about a hundred yards from the bar, Willatopy cried to the men to hold up the boat and await his orders. He was watching for the big roller which comes at fairly regular intervals, and which was the one to sweep them forward on the furious race through the surf.

"Now," he roared, and the lifeboat rushed upon the bar.

[Pg 122]

Madame felt her lift, lift, lift until the boat seemed to be poised upon a steep swiftly moving roof edge. She looked forward into the depths of an enormous hollow; she looked back to where Willatopy stood, naked as when he was born, his hands frozen upon the big sweep, the happy grin upon his joyful face. Time stood still. They were travelling at a full twenty knots, but it seemed ages before the lift of the boat ceased, and her bows fell to the level.

"Oars," cried Willatopy, and the men tossed them inboard.

The bows, with Madame clinging to her thwart, toppled steeply forward. The stern rose and rose until Willatopy, standing upright, and clutching the edge of the thwart with his bare, prehensile toes, towered over Madame's wet head. The surf all around boiled and roared and foamed over the gunwale. Madame low down got the worst of it, and wished that she had left that drenched linen coat in her cabin. The bathing dress was enough for decency, and was meant to be wetted. Down the hill of foaming water they raced faster, much faster, than they had climbed it, and always the line held true. Willatopy was always ready. He had played the game so often that his firmly planted swaying body met every jerk and strain of the struggling lifeboat, as if he knew exactly when to expect those desperate efforts to broach and roll over which are the obsession of boats in surf. At the foot of the hill of water Willatopy called again, and the men again obeyed promptly, falling to their oars, and driving the heavy boat down the bay. For half a mile they ran, still tossing through broken water,[Pg 123] and Madame, picking the strands of copper hair out of her eyes, looked out towards the sandy beach towards which Willatopy was steering. He drove the boat right up on the sand, splashed over the side, and ran shouting up the beach. Instantly a pale brown figure emerged from the woods, another followed, and Willie was in the arms of two girls, who, save for their banana leaf petticoats, were as bare-skinned as himself. With an arm about the waist of each he marched off towards his home amid the trees. Madame was again forgotten. She, that proud beautiful white woman, was becoming used to being forgotten.

But presently Willatopy came back, and with him walked his mother, the Hula woman of Bulaa whom the Hon. William Toppys had made his lawful wife. Madame advancing looked at her curiously. Although the half-blooded daughters wore nothing but the native petticoats, the mother was clad in a white European blouse and skirt of cotton. She may have put them on for the dignity of the Family, but Madame thinks that she always went clothed.

"This is my mother," said Willatopy proudly. Madame held out her hands, and the native woman came to her, shyly at first, and then eagerly as she drew courage from the sweet irresistible smile of welcome on the most beautiful face in the world. She took both Madame's hands and knelt at her feet.

"No," said Madame Gilbert. "Here," and lifting the poor shy, humble creature in her strong arms, she took her to the wet trench coat and kissed her on both cheeks.

And that is how Madame Gilbert came to Tops[Pg 124] Island. One may well ask what Sir John Toppys, Baronet of Wigan, the entirely neglected paymaster of Madame's most expensive expedition, would have thought of that pretty little scene.

[Pg 125]


Between the arrival of Madame Gilbert at Tops Island and the coming of the Hedge Lawyer there interposed three or four brief weeks of happiness. Not for years had Madame been so purely and childishly happy. She had sailed away from that man-destroying white civilisation which during four desperate years of savagery had torn her own world into rags; she had descended upon an island where the joy of life reigned as King, and death had no terrors. From a Europe worn out by passion, a Europe grown old and weary and corrupt, she had flown back, as it were, to the sparkling morning of free, joyous human life. And with quick sympathy she revelled in her new experiences.

The Humming Top was moored in shelter hard by the shore of Tops Island where the tide rose and fell ten feet, and the Pacific swell rolled continuously. And with it the yacht rolled, too, continuously in spite of her sturdy bilge keels. She was long and narrow and of light draught, she was built for speed in the open sea, not for threading the labyrinths of coral reefs or for lying up indefinitely in the lee of mangrove swamps. It took all the superb skill of a Willatopy to navigate her in safety through the channels of the Coral Sea, but not even the stomach of Willatopy, sound though it was by[Pg 126] practice and inheritance, would have relished the perpetual roll of the Humming Top at anchor. Madame cleared out of her most comfortable sea home, and took with her Marie, who had all the Frenchwoman's hatred of uneasy salt water. Sir John Toppys, at a hint from Madame months before, had purchased three large tents of the Thames pattern, oblong in shape, and with a wide air space between walls and roof. These tents were borne ashore and pitched in an agreeable clearing about a quarter of a mile from Willatopy's home. Madame desired privacy for herself, and had no wish to intrude upon that of the Family of Toppys. One tent was equipped for the use of Madame and Marie, a second contained the gear of a cook and steward, and the third was set aside for any of the officers or men who might be assigned to Madame as her shore escort. There were a score or more of native families on the island, and both Ching and Ewing set their faces against leaving Madame Gilbert unguarded in their midst. Ching hinted that head hunting, though a dying industry in the Straits, might be capable of revival under severe provocation. And Ewing, as he contemplated Madame's gorgeous copper mane shining in coils upon her bonny head, hinted that the provocation to secure so unique a specimen might prove irresistible. Madame laughed and flicked at them both the muzzle of her Webley automatic.

"I am a perfect shot," quoth she, "and if you will be reassured, I will promise to keep my gun ever beside my virtuous couch." But in spite of Madame's skill in shooting—of which she gave an impressive demonstration on the boat deck—they[Pg 127] insisted upon the necessity for an escort I suspect that neither Ching nor Ewing could endure a long separation from their Madame Gilbert, and that both senior and junior officers welcomed a few days of respite from the ever restless Humming Top. There was never any lack of volunteers for the duty of furnishing the escort and of beguiling the ample leisure of the capacious-hearted Marie Lambert.

"Profiteering has solid advantages," observed Madame to me, "for those who draw upon its unfathomable resources of ill-gotten wealth. That dear old John Toppys of Wigan said nothing to me at the time, but it appeared that he dredged London and Southampton for the latest and most luxurious of camp equipment. Our tents had floor boards covered with thick rubber, and strewn with extravagantly costly rugs. There were beds with the springiest of mattresses, adjustable rest chairs, dressing tables, and the dinkiest of toilet apparatus. Unbeknownst, as Ching expressed it—Sir John had laid down for my use a camp toilet service in solid silver—and with silver at famine prices!—and had stuck in a card requesting me to honour it with my gracious acceptance, for keeps. You see, I had told him that I was a forlorn widow! He had not overlooked equipment for my maid. Every conceivable device for cooking and serving food in camp had been thought of and provided, including Primus stoves, and the men's tent—though less like a bower of Venus than my own—was good enough for anyone below the exalted standing of a goddess. Even Ching and Ewing, who had managed to decide in their wise heads that I was not Sir John Toppys' wayward mistress, opened their eyes at his[Pg 128] lavish provision for my comfort. When he saw his own tent, Alexander became, if possible, more convinced a business man than ever. 'Wealth is power,' said he gravely, 'even in a desert island. I have done no so badly with the dopes and the legitimate trade, but I must do a power of robbery yet before I can count dollars with Sir John Toppys.' We camped out on Tops Island, but there was not much of roughing it about Sir John's notions of camp life."

Madame had won the heart of the Widow Toppys when as a beautiful white stranger she had clasped the little creature to the bosom of her wet trench coat, and she speedily gained also the hearts of the two "useless daughters," scorned by Roger Gatepath. They were twins, very light in colour, aged about sixteen. Their names, as locally rendered, were Joytopy and Crytopy. Queer names. Mrs. Toppys, who spoke an English of her own in the halting accent to which the middle-aged Roger Gatepath had lingered to listen, explained that one of the girls in her early infancy had been the most joyous, smiling angel that ever came down from Heaven. The other twin had howled unceasingly. The Hon. William Toppys had called one Joy and the other Cry, and had dug up real names which would suggest the infantile characteristics. The girls had been christened Joyce and Chrystal, but Joytopy and Crytopy they had always remained. When Madame met them there was much bubbling joy and little cry about either of them. They frisked about in their short voluminous petticoats of stripped banana leaf, wearing bright beads round their necks, and short-lived tropical flowers in their[Pg 129] dusky hair. The girls were not pretty by European standards, and the blue eyes of Toppys had passed them by. But there was a glow of splendid health on their pale brown skin, and the lithe grace of free tropical creatures about their fully developed figures.

These girls had never worn European clothes. Will Toppys, true to his theory that the mystery of woman, which has played so devastating a role in human history, is due to the seduction of clothes, always insisted that his daughters should wear the native petticoats. They were enough for decency, said he, but not enough to excite the smallest curiosity. Especially as the native girls, amphibious as their men folk, always stripped bare when plunging into the sea. But though Joy and Cry had never worn, never even seen, the contents of a European draper's shop, they showed the most fascinated interest in the toilet fripperies of Madame Gilbert. It was some little time before she could induce them to enter her tent. To them it suggested a trap of canvas of which one pulled the string and smothered the incautious entrant. But gradually she won their confidence. With instinctive courtesy they never would approach her dwelling unless by direct invitation, and when within moved about gravely and spoke seldom. Madame to them was a remote royal personage. The silver toilet service did not move them—thinking that silver was always money, they called the precious metal bright tin—and the Persian rugs were an encumbrance to the feet. They hinted also that the floor coverings and hangings would in time prove a happy hunting ground for insects and other vermin of the woods.[Pg 130] But when one day Madame opened a trunk and spread before their astonished eyes the glories of her underwear, they instantly fell down and worshipped. They had never seen such garments, they had not the slightest notion of how to put them on, yet the beautiful texture and soft feel of the feminine things bowled them over instantly. Perhaps it was the instinct of clothes in their white blood bursting forth; perhaps it was some deeper, more universal, instinct which makes women of all races kin. I don't know. But Madame assures me, and I believe her, that at the first sight and touch of her "things," Joy and Cry bowed their frizzy heads and did obeisance. They did more than that a few days later. Coming home late one afternoon after a turtle hunt with Willatopy, Madame found Joy and Cry in her tent posturing before the deeply interested eyes of her maid Marie. The banana petticoats lay neglected on the floor, where they had been tossed, and the girls were clad in French frillies with which Marie had invested them. Madame was angry, and the girls shrank away from her. In rapid, furious French, Madame scarified that thoughtless, warm-hearted maid of hers, and warned her to leave the girls alone as she had warned her to leave Willatopy alone. Robbed by Madame's stern orders of the fascinating frillies, the girls resumed their own petticoats and sadly withdrew. The incident worried Madame not a little, and she spoke very plainly and seriously to Marie about it. It showed by how frail a tie these half-white feminine creatures were held to the simple native habit of life which their white father had laid down for them. I had nearly written "native[Pg 131] life and customs," but checked when I remembered a discovery which Madame had made concerning these girls. Though they dressed like natives, and lived in all other respects the lives of natives, there was a subconscious force in their white blood which cut them off from familiar commerce with native boys. Girls and widows in the Torres Straits follow their inclinations, the girls of their hearts, the widows—one is told—more commonly of their mature avarice. Married women, by immemorial and most potent custom, are chaste as Junos. But from this most universal of social customs these two girls, Joy and Cry, tacitly yet resolutely stood apart. Their own mother was astonished; she could not comprehend an abstinence which consorted so queerly, to her mind, with their vigorous healthy natures. Yet it was so, as she almost tearfully assured Madame.

"But surely you should be glad," said Madame, puzzled and inclined towards laughter at the woeful visage of little Mrs. Toppys. "Their father, had he lived, would have honoured his daughters for this—exclusiveness."

"But how will they ever claim husbands?" wailed the Hula woman from New Guinea. "How ever can they ask a boy in marriage if already they are known to be so cold and unnatural?" It is the woman who proposes marriage in the Straits, and the man who, after full consideration, gives or withholds his assent.

Madame soothed the disconsolate widow, and went away smiling. Grant had declared that all the vices and diseases in the Torres Straits were the gift of the white man, but the instinctive aloofness[Pg 132] of Joy and Cry revealed to the uncomprehending world of Tops Island that some hidden virtue after all sprang from the white strain in their blood.

Madame, a hardy investigator and always frank in her dealings with mankind, tackled Willatopy, the brother of Joy and Cry, and the lover of numberless brown girls whom his blue eyes vanquished at sight.

"My brown girls, they are nothing," declared this easy-mannered Don Juan, "but Joy and Cry are the daughters of my father, the Great White Chief. They are not meat for the scum of Baru. The boys here, what are they but tillers of my garden when they work and whipping blocks for my stick when they don't? I am rich, I do not work. These others I make work for me, and pay in white silver from my banker. They are the dirt under my feet, and if one of them drew near to Joy or Cry, to speak to them without my leave, I would let out his blood upon the sand, and would smoke his head over the fire in my cookhouse."

There was nothing of the modern democrat about Willatopy.

As he imagined to himself, and declared to Madame, the fate of a native island suitor for the temporary favours of his sisters, he drew forth one of the deadly trench daggers which Alexander, a trader in hardware for the Islands, had given him in a moment of expansion. I beg the pardon of Alexander Ewing, man of business. He had sold two daggers to Willatopy at "trade prices," at a tremendous discount which had made them seem to him like gifts.

These two trench daggers, which had attracted[Pg 133] Willatopy as "just the things for sharks," bring me to the display before my patient readers of Willatopy the Sportsman. He was rich, he did no work. He paid reluctant impecunious native boys to cut his bananas and plant their rhizomes—even the bountiful banana needs some culture—to sow and reap vegetables in his garden, to feed his fowls and pigs, and to keep fresh and sweet the sago palm thatch of his hut. But though he did no work, Willatopy was an indefatigable sportsman. Incidentally, it is true, he supplied the family with fish and dugong and turtle, but in his code—which had a recognisable family likeness to the code of his father's country—fishing and hunting and shooting, whatever their yield in food, were not to be confounded with loathsome and derogatory Work. The labour which they exacted was Sport, and rich man that he was he could pour out his sweat over them and still remain proudly and unstainedly idle.

At Auckland, Alexander had fallen in with brother Scots, who seemed to be flourishing in exile, though they lamented, in the manner of their great race, the harsh fate which had separated them from a beloved country to which they had no intention whatever to return. These brother Scots of Alexander's had assured him that any kind of iron or steel junk would yield fabulous profits in the Islands, and he after cautiously testing the advice by taking counsel of mere English New Zealanders, had gone all out on hardware. Much that he bought at old iron prices was surplus war material, and included sword bayonets and trench daggers. Never had such lovely killing knives been seen in the Straits, and the traders of Thursday Island just[Pg 134] rose at them. Alexander sold out at a rate of profit which made even him gasp, and he was a business man who could stand a great deal of profit without turning a hair. Willatopy's trench daggers were sweet weapons. They slipped over the fingers, and were gripped in the fist, so that the six-inch blades stood out as deadly steel extensions of the forearm. With the ordinary dagger one stabs up or down with a blade held at right angles to the wrist, but with trench daggers one hits out as in boxing, and delivers a blow with the weight of the body behind it. When Willatopy first put the two daggers on his hands and hit out, right, left, Ewing bolted behind the smoke stack.

"They are just the thing for sharks," commented Willie with approval.

"Then take them off, boy, till you meet the sharks," implored our cautious Alexander.

Soon after Madame had been installed in her tents, after much going and coming at high tide through the "lubbers' hole" of the bar—she held that one hair-raising journey through the surf was enough for honour—Willatopy summoned his gracious lady to witness the first trial of the daggers.

"There are plenty of sharks in the bay," said he, "fine sharks, as big as a whaleboat."

"But what do you want with daggers?" inquired Madame, vaguely recalling pictures of shark fishing with ropes and hooks.

"To kill the sharks with," explained Willatopy. "One hits, so and so, under the side fins."

"But surely you don't mean to go into the water among the sharks?" gasped Madame, who had she been a loyal representative of the Baronet of Wigan[Pg 135] should have welcomed any hazard to the life of the Heir of Topsham.

"Of course," said Willatopy, grinning. "Sharks are just clumsy sheep. No good, Madame. One at a time is no sport at all, but if I can get two at once, one with each dagger, there should be fun. So and so." He hit out as he had done before Ewing, and Madame skipped like a she-goat. Willie with a dagger on each fist was a most alarming neighbour.

Madame became reconciled to the expedition with difficulty. To her it was a wanton trifling with death for Willatopy, however expert a swimmer, to venture with two bits of steel on his fists into the shark-infested bay. She had all the white woman's dread of the man-eating shark, and could not get contact with Willatopy's indifference. But when Mrs. Toppys had assured her that a shark, properly approached, is as harmless as a seal, and the two girls were not sufficiently interested to look on at the hunting, she consented to be present herself. But she made conditions. The yacht's dinghy in which she was going must be rowed by two sailors and a third must stand in the bows with a dugong spear ready to interpose should Willatopy seem to be in grievous peril. The Heir of Toppys grinned at these childish precautions. To him they were just a white woman's foolishness.

The dinghy was rowed out to a part of the bay which was known to Willatopy as good shark country, and the boy busied himself in tying scraps of cord to the grips of the daggers and to his own wrists. He wanted to make sure that the daggers would not get adrift when he opened his hands in swimming, and would be ready in place at the[Pg 136] moment when his fists closed. He was not excited in the least degree; his one feeling was a mild desire to test the efficiency of trench daggers as shark killers. When he had brought the lifeboat through the big rollers on the bar, he had been visibly exalted; now on the eve of shark killing he was no more than placidly interested in the efficacy of his twin daggers.

He slipped over the side of the dinghy, and the rowers lay on their oars. He had told them to give him room, at least a hundred yards, lest the sharks might be frightened away. I think that that direction eased Madame's mind more than all his previous protestations. Sharks must be far less terrible than she had supposed if they could be frightened away by a dinghy.

Madame, herself a good swimmer by European standards, watched Willie amazed. She had never supposed that a human being could swim with that perfect ease and swift smoothness. His brown body lay down in the water as if it loved it, and a bow wave rose and curled over the almost buried head. He swam on his side with a tremendous reach forward and thrust of his powerful right arm, and the drive of his legs was a revelation in the possibilities of marine propulsion. Madame could not see how he breathed, for his head was cuddled down on the left shoulder, though breathe he must have done somehow.

"I can't properly describe it," said Madame to me afterwards. "He was a human torpedo. He went forward in one continuous smooth rush with that clear bow wave curling over his head."

At a little distance, which to Madame looked[Pg 137] too far for safety—she still placed an emergency trust in the dugong spear—Willatopy's head rose up and he stopped. Balancing himself in the water by imperceptible movements of hands and legs, Willatopy was hanging out his body as a bait for timid sharks. It was not long before one swooped down upon so attractive a prey. Madame saw the feather of water flung up by a black moving fin, while Willatopy, peering far down into the clear waters of the bay, was on the alert against an attack more subtle.

"Silly beast," murmured he, and his fists tightened on the trench daggers. The black fin ran up and then disappeared as the shark rolled over to strike upwards with those triple rows of teeth which are set at some distance behind and below the snout. A shark must attack its prey belly upwards, and strike from below; if its mouth were in its snout like a crocodile's it would be a much more dangerous foe. The shark rolled over and struck upwards. Willatopy's head vanished, his brown body curled over lazily, and he dived exactly as a dolphin dives. A long swooping flash downwards. The shark broke the surface where Willie's head had been, and Willatopy reappeared where the black fin had been. Shark and boy had changed places, and, if Madame had been nearer, she might have seen the grin spread out on Willatopy's face. The shark twisted its long body about, again rolled over and again struck upwards. Grinning contemptuously, Willatopy slipped downwards under the rising shark, and appeared again behind its tail.

[Pg 138]

"Why doesn't he kill the brute?" muttered Madame.

"I don't rightly understand," replied the man with the fatuous spear.

"It looks 'orrible dangersome to me, ma'am. I can't 'ardly believe the nigger boy will come back alive."

Once or twice more the shark struck at Willie, and once or twice more the boy evaded the stroke, but made no attack himself. Then all saw for what he waited. Another black fin, with a curling feather rising before it, came sliding up to take part in the sport. Madame, frightened, was now on her feet. Had time permitted, she would, I think, have disobeyed Willatopy's instructions, and urged the boat forward to his assistance. But there was no time. The first shark was attacking again, and the second was rapidly approaching. Willatopy no longer delayed action. He evaded as before the upward stroke of shark number one, and then, before the beast could turn, twisted about under water and rose beneath the belly of shark number two. Right, left, both daggers went home under the fin. Turning without coming to the surface for breath—he could stay nearly two minutes under water—Willatopy swooped back at his first opponent, slipped under it as he had done with the other, and again shot out both fists—so and so. He came up between the two big fish in water reddened by their blood, and watched warily for further signs of activity. But both sharks were dead; he had struck very swiftly, but he had struck home truly.

Willatopy swam easily towards the boat. Shark hunting, especially with the very efficient trench[Pg 139] daggers, was a sport which rapidly palled, and he had done with it. But it had not quite done with him. When he was some twenty yards from the motionless boat, a third shark, more cunning than his two fellows, rose at Willie from the depths without giving him warning on the surface. But Willatopy was not caught yet. One swims with very clearly skinned eyes in shark-infested waters, and the boy saw the shark's shadow before its body was near enough to be dangerous. The shark rising belly upwards could not see the boy drop downwards like a stone, and when it did sight him, the stroke had failed, and Willatopy had dived under the boat. Madame leaning out over the side glared down into the clear, almost still, water. She saw what is rarely seen, an under-water fight between a man and a shark, and she saw, moreover, how fully Willatopy was justified in his self-confidence. The white body of the great fish shot by the dark form of the lithe, quickly manœuvring boy, who, as it went past, flashed out two blows, right and left, as if he were a boxer side-stepping and countering an opponent's rush. Madame could not see the daggers rip home, but she saw the blood spurt from the side of the shark and its huge body writhe and shudder. Then up came Willatopy's head not six feet from the boat, and he swung himself in over the stern. The dead shark, still quivering, rolled slowly up to the surface, and floated there beside its slayer. The body after allowing for the immersed portions, was a good deal longer than the sixteen foot dinghy.

"They are good knives," said Willatopy, pulling the trench knives off his fists, and unfastening the[Pg 140] retaining cords. "They are good knives, just the things for sharks. But sharks are silly sheep, Madame, hardly worth the trouble of killing." He pointed to the three big bodies, each floating in its own red pool, and laughed. "Two at once and then the third. One kills them just like the sheep that they are. There is no danger at all, not one little bit."

*         *         *         *         *         *         *

But though Joy and Cry would not trouble to come out of their hut to see Willatopy kill sharks in the bay, they skipped like schoolgirls at the promise of a dance, when offered a fishing trip to the Great Barrier. They were Hulas of New Guinea, whose savage ancestors had for countless ages fished the waters to leeward of the Barrier. It was the great kindly sea farm of the Hulas, it had grown with them through more thousands of years than mankind can count, and it will stand there, grand, massive and mysterious, long after the last Hula has vanished from the earth. The abrupt north end of the Barrier was some ten miles distant—Madame could hear in her tent the everlasting thunder of the surf against its outer wall—and thence it wound southwards, skirting the North Queensland coast though never touching it, for twelve hundred wave-swept miles. Inshore, from Brisbane to Cape York, there interpose deep navigable channels, starred with islands, and through the Barrier itself are cut gaps here and there by which the hardy navigator may pass in safety from the outside Pacific Ocean to the inner channels. By such a passage, Willatopy, the boy of twelve, had[Pg 141] steered his father's yawl with his father's corpse lashed to its deck.

The Barrier is a long, narrow, tortuous wall of which the outer face—where the coral polyps love to cling in the foaming surf of the Pacific—drops down almost sheer for hundreds of feet. On the inner side the water is more shallow and broken up by reefs. This wall, twelve hundred miles long, is not more than a quarter of a mile wide on its coping, and in some stretches is no more than a hundred feet. For hundreds of thousands of years the madrepores have been working upon it, each one living out his tiny life in the whirl of the surf, and then dying, to leave his skeleton of lime as one more brick in the gigantic masonry.

The coral polyp, species madrepore, of the Barrier is a patient, courageous little seaman. He is born and bred in the wide ocean. He cannot endure the boredom of life in the still, tame, waters below the hundred-foot level; he cannot exist above the low tidal mark, and his salt soul withers in the muddy freshness of river mouths. I love Darwin's romantic theory of the Barrier, though later authorities have cast doubts upon its sufficiency. Project your mind back, says Darwin, some few hundreds of thousands of years to the time when the Queensland coast was much higher out of the water than it is now in these degenerate days. Imagine the land slowly sinking, a few inches maybe in a century, and there you are! The Great Barrier, skirting the coast yet never touching it, is explained. The coral polyps, which cannot support life except between low water mark and twenty fathoms, can only build fringing reefs along the shore.[Pg 142] Wherever a river or stream comes down there is a gap, for the coral polyps cannot live away from their native salt. We have then a fringing reef, cut transversely with gaps, and this reef continually rises in height from the sea bottom as the land slowly sinks. Each foot of subsidence gives to the polyps an added foot of water in which to live and multiply. The æons pass, the land subsides, and presently a water-filled channel opens out between the original fringing reef and the shore. As the land sinks still further, the channel widens, and is ever widening. The fringing reef has become a barrier of which the base on the sea floor is always sinking, and the coping of the roof always rising, built up by madrepore skeletons. Against the edge of the new shore a new fringing reef is built up. And so on through the long centuries. That is Darwin's theory. There are others, less imaginative and more mechanical, but my instinct rejects them. I feel that Charles Darwin, though himself a very bad sailor, has alone done full and sympathetic justice to the splendid sea instincts of the bold madrepores. They scorn the ease of shelter and shallows. Theirs is the open coast on which the wild waves break; they make the long fringe of it one vast coral tomb, and when the land sinks they turn that ancient fringing tomb into a vast outer Barrier. The madrepore is a true sea architect, and no peddling theory of under-water detritus, slowly accumulating as a foundation for his masonry, would deceive him into building on the rubbish.

Willatopy took charge of the expedition to the Great Barrier. He was well equipped with gear, for being very rich and not consenting to do any[Pg 143] work, he bought his nets in Thursday Island. The one which he dragged out of store looked as if it would hold enough fish to feed the Island for twelve months. It was sixty feet long and about ten feet wide. One edge was weighted and the other buoyed, and draw ropes were arranged so that the whole net could be pulled into one long narrow bag. For the service of the fishing party he commandeered the motor launch and two whaleboats.

"We will go out with the ebb and come back on the flood," said he, "and the jolly little motor boat shall tow the whalers. When we arrive, the motor boat shall be anchored in safety while we fish from the whaleboats. We shall want"—he spoke as confidently as if the resources of the Humming Top were as unreservedly at his call as were those of Tops Island—"we shall want six strong sailors for each boat, and an engineer to look after the motor. I don't understand motors."

"May we have the boats and men?" asked Madame sweetly of Ching, who had come ashore to pay his regular morning visit. He was responsible for Madame's safety on the Island, and nothing would persuade him that her pretty head was not in grievous peril. The Skipper belonged to the dark adventurous past.

"You are the owner," growled he, "and if you choose to butt my boats on the reefs it is your responsibility, Madame Gilbert."

"Willatopy is a first-rate pilot," said she. "I will trust the boats with him."

The Skipper swore under his breath. "It is not my boats I think of, but of your foolishness, Madame. You will spoil that Moor until he gets [Pg 144]outside of himself, and then you will be sorry for the rest of your life. Once a savage always a savage. He is a grand pilot of the Straits, because he has lived in them and sailed them all his life. But in everything else he is a naked savage. Go away fishing if you please; you will be safe with my men."

Ching turned sulkily away. He grudged Willatopy that local knowledge of the Coral Sea which he would never have opportunity to accumulate for himself, and above all he grudged him Madame's undisguised favours. Madame landed a parting dig in the middle of the Skipper's back.

"Willatopy may be a Moor," said she, "whatever a Moor may be. But you can't look him in the eyes and protest that he isn't a Toppys." That was the worst of the poor Skipper's troubles. He had served the Family for twenty-five years, he had all the Devon man's respect for the landed gentry of his native county, and he was subjected almost nightly to the veiled hints of Alexander Ewing. Why had Madame Gilbert sailed for the Torres Straits, and did she and Sir John know that the Willatopy whom they had found was there waiting to be found? It was not only the naked savagery of Willatopy which made Captain Ching long to destroy him.

Madame, the girls, and Willatopy went forth to the yacht in the dinghy, passing the bar at nearly high water, and there joined the procession of boats which lay waiting for them. The second engineer took charge of the motor engine, Willatopy himself grasped the tiller, Joy and Cry bubbling with eagerness to travel in a "buzz boat," clambered into the bows, and the adventurers set forth for the[Pg 145] Great Barrier, which a page or two back I have ventured to describe. It was early morning. The sun shone as it shone every day throughout that gracious southern winter. Its rays had a shrewd bite in them which one never feels in the moist English summer, so that Madame never ventured to confront them at high noon without the protection of a helmet. The wind was blowing up from the south-east as it always did, freshening every moment, and urging on the tireless Pacific rollers. The string of boats rose and fell as Willatopy drove them across the swell, and every now and then a wave would break over the bows, and the warm salt spray lash across the faces of the passengers. Madame Gilbert, in her bathing dress and thin trench coat, was equipped to laugh at the lashing of salt water, and the skins of the half-castes glistened as it soaked into them. Willatopy at a hint from Madame—though he raised his eyebrows in surprise—had put on the holiday trousers of Thursday Island. But he warned her that when the serious business of fishing called for his professional attention, the absurd usages of civilisation would go scat.

"That is right," explained Madame, "in the water. But on land or in a boat you should be dressed—slightly. Your father was an English gentleman, Willatopy."

"My father said," quoted Willatopy, "without clothes there is no curiosity. Sin came into the world with clothes."

"Yes," drawled Madame. "But that was a long time ago. And sin having come we have got to put up with it. I prefer you in trousers, Willatopy."

"As my lady pleases," said he, and Madame[Pg 146] started. It was a strange sentence to come from so very dark a mouth, and she wondered where he had heard it. Then she remembered that it was Marie's English formula in acknowledgment of an instruction. Willatopy never came to her tent without invitation, and, so far as she knew, had never met Marie except in the officers' mess of the yacht. Where could he have heard her use just that phrase? Had Marie, in her clandestine French fashion, constituted herself the instructress of Willatopy in polite usages as she herself understood them? Violet lightning began to flash from Madame's eyes, and she determined to be very watchful of the movements of that maid of hers. Ever since her confidential talk with Grant of Thursday Island she had felt that the presence of Marie in the yacht and on the Island was a danger. Marie was a promiscuous little she-devil wholly devoid of moral scruples. If in defiance of Madame's warning she indulged her esoteric tastes for Willatopy's brown skin and bright blue eyes, grave mischief might be done before it could be stopped. "If she does," murmured Madame, through her gritting teeth, "I will send her back to France to be shot. And I will give myself the pleasure of attending her execution. There is no weak masculine softness about me."

The water had fallen below its full height when Madame caught her first glimpse of the famous Barrier, and the Pacific swell, urged against the outer face by the south-east trade wind, was meeting the tidal flow and tossing great spumes of spray high into the air. Over the whole width of the reef the water boiled and roared, and masses of coral [Pg 147]limestone, tons in weight, were flung about like small stones. Although the madrepores cannot live above the level of low water, the Barrier was several feet higher, and here comes in the mechanical theory of Chamisso and his followers to modify the beautiful simplicity of Darwin's hypothesis of subsidence. By force of the swell which beats perpetually on the outer wall, where the polyps flourish in surf, and where their millions of tiny skeletons are perpetually adding to the structure, lumps are being torn off and piled upon the coping of the wall. These lumps under the solvent action of sun and water become cemented into masses, so that the purity of the original madrepore design is partially lost. The Barrier has risen higher than the polyps unaided could have built it. The sea is no respecter of coral graveyards. In this way the interior of purely coral islands may have become heaped up by masses torn by the sea from the fringing reefs and flung high up the shore.

Though the Barrier broke the full force of the Pacific rollers, enough of water swirled over it to set the string of boats tossing and bucking in the tide rips of the sheltered western face. Willatopy ordered the whaleboats to be cast off, and the motor launch to be anchored some half a mile short of the reefs. The second engineer remained on board of her, but the Topy family and Madame Gilbert transferred their wet persons to one of the whaleboats. The long net was dragged out and stretched between the boats, which drifted slowly on parallel courses towards the Barrier. Between them ran the line of floats which marked the upper edge of the net. As the boats moved rather faster than the heavily[Pg 148] weighted net, it sagged between them, pulling out into a long wide-mouthed bag from the jaws of which the fish feeding in the shallows could not readily escape. The net was carried forward in this fashion until the boats which were controlling it had reached the inner shelving edge of the reef, and the depth of water had come down to about ten feet, which, it may be recalled, was the depth to which the weighted edge of the net descended. Then the fun began, for the drag-rope on the lower edge became entangled in the rough coral lumps on the sea floor, and the fish which had been herded between the net's capacious jaws began to skurry forth through the opening avenues of escape. To Madame this overflow, as it were, seemed to matter little, for, between the boats, the fish were leaping in hundreds, even thousands, and even if half of them won a way to freedom, there would be far more left than the Humming Top or Tops Island could possibly consume. But the family of Topy had other views. The moment had arrived for which these amphibians had waited and hoped; anyone, white or brown, could trap sea fish in a net; it was vouchsafed to them alone, hereditary fishers of Hula, to pursue escaping fish into their own depths, and to catch them directly by hand and teeth.

When the lower drag-rope caught and strained, Willatopy directed both boats to anchor, and cried out to his sisters in native dialect. What he said in words Madame did not know, but what he meant was instantly made plain. Up leapt the three Topys, away went trousers and banana-skin petticoats, and the three of them, bare as when they were born, and revelling in their supreme sea skill, streaked [Pg 149]overboard. The one dark body and the two light ones flashed over the gunwale, and took the water like seals. Down they went to where gaps opened between the net and the sea floor, and the fish were struggling to escape. The human fish swooped upon the sea natives, and grappled them with claws and teeth. These were no small feeble, defenceless fish; the least of them weighed a pound and a half, and the erectile spines near the tail fins made them in their own element opponents worthy even of the Hula Topys. Avoiding the spines, the Topys, boy and girls of equal skill and quickness, grabbed the elusive fish by the gills, and when both hands were full, buried their sharp white fangs in the backs of them.

"I shall never forget that sight," said Madame to me. "Down they would all flash for a few seconds, and then the three black heads shot up and fish in torrents poured into the boat. Blood ran from their mouths, and from the bitten backs of the captured fish. Often and often they shot up, all three of them, with a two-pounder in each hand, and another gripped in their jaws. We poor white folk are proud if we can by artifice tickle a trout in its lair and ravish it from a hole with our hands. These Hula Topys caught those fish in the free open sea. They never seemed to miss their swoop, for they stayed down a few seconds only at each dive, and never came up with empty hands. Their diving was a revelation. There was no effort in it, no clumsy heaving up of the loins and extravagant splashing. Their brown bodies rolled over and vanished with as little fuss as the diving of a seal. Perhaps that is the nearest word to describe what[Pg 150] I saw. The Topys were just seals. Their frizzy hair plastered down by the water gave them, too, something of the look of seals. All the while they never paused for breath. It was up and down, up and down, without ceasing, for fully a quarter of an hour, and the fish came aboard in a torrent. Our bottom boards were covered before the Topys ceased. And then it was the girls who stopped to rest, not that indefatigable Willatopy. Joy and Cry swung in over the high sharp bows and sat down panting on the forward thwart." Madame laughed a little to herself before she resumed the description. "I was interested to observe," she went on, "that the girls were tattooed in deep blue patterns down the centre line of the body and on the upper part of their thighs. And this interested me, for Willatopy had no tattoo marks at all. The pattern was identical on both girls, a series of light brown saltires on a blue ground resembling Alexander's Scottish St. Andrew's Cross. It was curious that the Hon. William Toppys should have permitted his daughters to submit to the Hula tribal markings while his son was excluded. But perhaps men are not tattooed in the tribe though most of the brown Melanesian boys on Tops Island had some face markings. What struck me most vividly was the effect of the tattooing in removing the appearance of bareness. If the Topy girls had been tattooed from breast to knee they would have appeared to the casual eye to have been wearing tight bathing dresses, woven in blue and brown checks. There is a lot to be said for tattooing. Though my dear men turned their bashful backs there was no suggestion at all of immodesty[Pg 151] about Joy and Cry. I loved their admirable, unconscious simplicity."

When the whaleboats had been loaded with fish to their utmost capacity, the unwanted remainder were allowed to go free, and the net was hauled in and coiled down. It was the hand and mouth fishing which the Toppys really loved, the savage sport, not the larder which absorbed their interests. The net was the means to an end—the penning up of fish so that Willie and his sisters might attack them in their native element. The party lunched by the Barrier while waiting for the tide to turn, and at slack water Willatopy suggested that Madame, already clad in her silk bathing gear, should go over the side with him. Madame was willing, but dreaded sharks. She was quite fearless when confronted by risks which she understood, but the thought of swimming with sharks smelling at her toes made the brave lady's blood run cold. For her daily swims off the Island she always kept to a small narrow creek warranted by Willatopy to be shark-proof.

"Sharks are nothing," remonstrated Willie. "They will not come where there are so many boats, and if they do I will drive them away."

"But you have no daggers here, Willie," objected Madame. "Even you cannot shoo away sharks with bare hands."

One of the sailors offered his sheath knife, but Willatopy put it aside. "If a silly shark comes by I will borrow it," said he. "There will be time enough."

Spurred by all this easy indifference—though she saw herself being gobbled up by a huge shark while[Pg 152] Willatopy was strolling off to borrow the sailor's knife—Madame flung aside the trench coat and her sun helmet and stood forth as a reluctant sacrifice for the honour of the white race. Though it may have really been a case of heroism without risk, in her terrified imagination the seas swarmed with black shark fins. Over she went, and following her went Willatopy and the girls.

"I can swim a bit," said Madame, "and rather fancied myself at home. But those brown seals made rings around me. While I lumbered noisily along they would frisk to and fro, now behind, now in front, now on either side. Whenever they pleased, they would join me in half a dozen swift vivid strokes. My progress was exactly like that of an elderly fat woman down a field with three terriers sporting about her. It was a humiliating spectacle. I did my best; I swam as fast as I could, and when I got back to the boat I was puffing like an asthmatic grampus. Willatopy was good enough to say that I had quite a useful leg drive and might learn to swim some day if I stuck at it. He regarded me much as a plus golfer does his thirty-six handicap grandmother. I knew better than to show those Topys that ungainly agitated sprawl which in Europe we call diving from the surface. But though the swimming was a humiliation I enjoyed sitting in the sun to dry."

They returned as they had come, the motor launch towing the whaleboats, and were sped homewards by the welling flood tide. Madame, though she knew it not, was nearing the end of her brief spell of irresponsible happiness. While they had been disporting themselves off the Barrier, Fate had[Pg 153] rung up the curtain for the Final Act in the drama of Willatopy. It was an Act which was long in the playing, but the end loomed inevitable almost from the opening bars of the overture. As the string of boats merrily buzzed into the narrow bay, they all saw that the Humming Top no longer lay there alone. Within the entrance moored to the opposite bank was a small schooner which had just come in, for the crew were even at that moment stowing her lowered sails upon the deck.

"What is that ship?" asked Madame, her brows gathering into an uneasy frown. The Island had seemed so much the private property of the Topys and of the Humming Top that the presence of a stranger schooner became an unmannerly intrusion. Especially so weather-beaten and dirty a schooner as that one over there.

"Trading schooners often shelter here for the night while on a round of the islands," explained Willatopy. "My yawl does all the Baru trade that there is."

But Madame Gilbert, in spite of this satisfying explanation of the schooner's presence in the bay, continued to look upon the vessel with disfavour. If one schooner dropped in thus unceremoniously, another might come, and another. Some day strangers might land, strangers from Thursday Island or from the big world beyond Thursday Island. The splendid steam yacht at its moorings and Madame's luxurious camp outfit in the woods were not common objects of the shore to be accepted in the Straits without explanation. And they would use up a lot of explanation, and still leave the curious unsatisfied. There was too much of Toppys[Pg 154] about the Island and the yacht for their conjunction to be wholly a matter of chance. Grant, Willatopy's banker, already knew much, and had guessed the rest. He was safe, for his own reasons. But others coming might carry away to Thursday Island, and thence to the big world beyond Thursday Island, a story of the Toppys yacht afloat, and of the Topy family ashore; and some might—some certainly would—connect the one with the other. From that discovery to a peering into local registers would be, for our inquisitive white race, a brief step. Too many people knew the Toppys secret already, and too many more must presently get some hint of it. It was not much of a secret after all. Madame frowned at the dirty schooner and shrugged her shoulders. It was not her secret anyway, though she had done her best to keep it.

[Pg 155]


The island schooner sailed at dawn. But three days later another came and went, and three days later yet another. It never rains but it pours. The Hedge Lawyer, spurred by a greater master of Fate than his employers in London City, came as a sick and draggled passenger in Schooner number Three. He did not land upon the evening of his arrival, so that Madame did not see him, or hear of him, until the early forenoon after his ship had gone and left him stranded as a trespasser on Tops Island. From this marooning of the Hedge Lawyer sprang many things which shall be told in their place. The first consequence was that the man, a Cockney of Cockneys, was without a home in an island which possessed few huts and no houses of rest for travellers. The feckless intruder had not even bethought him to bring along a tent. With his luggage, a small suit case, he was put ashore in the schooner's dinghy, and left, a black-footed, frock-coated figure of fun, upon the fair white sandy beach.

Madame Gilbert, returning from her morning dip in the shark-proof creek, heard shrieks of pain interspersed with the savage howls of Willatopy. She scurried towards the sounds as fast as her bare feet would carry her. A black-booted, frock-coated[Pg 156] stranger was flying shrieking towards the sea; behind him, keeping foot to foot with him so that the sharp fish spear which he carried might maintain its painful pressure upon the small of the man's back followed Willatopy, naked and extremely angry.

"Huh!" roared Willatopy, thrusting with the spear. The stranger, brought up short by the sea margin, rolled over screaming. He buried his miserable face in the sand so that he might not see the stroke of death which his terrors anticipated. Madame, rushing forward, stepped across the man's body, and held up a restraining hand.

"Stop," she cried. "Who is this man, Willatopy, that you should frighten him so?"

"He wants to eat me," roared Willatopy. "Stand aside, Madame, that I may cut off his ugly white head and smoke it in the fire of my cook-house."

The stranger howled, and wriggled between Madame's feet, as if, like an armadillo, he would burrow his way to safety through the fine sharp sand. It was not the flaked oatmeal of a coral beach, for the water of the bay, flushed by island streams, did not carry the madrepores' living ration of salt.

"Stand back, Willatopy," commanded Madame Gilbert sternly. She pushed the stranger contemptuously with her bare white foot. "Get up, you crawling thing there, and tell me who you are. This island is private property, and you have no business here."

The man cautiously got upon his feet, and stood so that Madame's strong body interposed between his terrified person and the savage spear of Willatopy. His absurd clothes were plastered thickly[Pg 157] with damp, clinging sand—his thin rat face was pinched and white, and his lank, mud-coloured hair and moustache drooped forlornly. He was not a proud specimen of the dominant white race. He gasped and stuttered behind the protective back of Madame, who still faced towards Willatopy, and held the savage half of him in subjection. Willatopy threw down his spear.

"As my lady pleases," said he sourly.

The trespasser upon the fair strand of Tops Island regained some little of the thin courage which had poured out of his black boots. He was no longer menaced with immediate death at the point of the barbarous fish spear; a beautiful white woman was present; had he not been an officer—God forgive our blear-eyed War Office—and was he not a gentleman? He perked up a little, tried to brush the sand from his sleeves and spoke.

"I am John Clifford, managing clerk to Chudleigh, Caves, Caves, and Chudleigh, solicitors, of St. Mary Axe."

"Another lawyer!" cried Madame, and broke into peal after peal of rippling laughter. "Another lawyer! And once again that wonderful perspicuous Willatopy has chased a lawyer to the sea with a fish spear. Willatopy, I forgive you. What a happy world it would be if all men had your instinct for vermin and had from the first adopted your methods of extermination."

"So that's all right," quoth Willatopy, possessing himself of the fallen fish spear.

The late officer and present gentleman shrieked and grovelled.

"You poor worm a British officer, even one the[Pg 158] most temporary!" Madame's lip curled in disgust. "And yet we won the war."

"The black boy has a spear and I am unarmed. If I had a bomb now...."

"You would throw it at him. And miss because your hand trembles so. Get behind me, British officer. I have no skirts for your protection; though, had I known of your coming, I would have stayed to put them on. Perhaps by then your head would have been fizzling in Willatopy's smoke, and I, for one, would not have felt regret."

The scorn of her bit deep. "If, lady, you will send for another spear, I will not shelter any more behind your—skirts."

"That is better," said Madame. "The worm has turned at last. Shall we send for another spear, Willatopy?"

Willatopy did not reply. Instead he threw away his own weapon, doubled round Madame, grabbed the stranger's arm; ducked his head under it, and with a great lift and heave of the buttock tossed Mr. John Clifford six feet out into the water. The shore fell steeply, and the lawyer soused under. When he struggled out his damaged clothes had become irreparable. Madame surveyed the dripping figure, more a figure of fun than ever.

"I hope," observed she politely, "that you have brought a change with you. Chills are as dangerous to health in the Tropics as fish spears. Now, Willatopy, while our uninvited and rudely handled guest steams elegantly in the morning sun, perhaps you will explain what stimulated into vigorous action those admirable instincts of yours for the [Pg 159]extermination of lawyers. What is all the row about?"

"He came ashore in a boat," said Willatopy, "and landed on my island, Tops Island. He walked up the beach, and I met him at the fringe of the woods. 'What do you here?' I said. 'This is my island. I am very rich, and my name is Willatopy.' 'You are the man I have come to see,' he said. 'You are a great English Lord, and I have come to take you to England, and to get you all your rights. You are kept out of them by villains,' said he. 'My father was a White Chief,' said I, 'but I am just Willatopy.' 'No,' said he, 'you are the Lord of Tops Ham, the Home of the Toppys. Your father is dead, and your uncle is dead. You are now the Lord. Come home to England with me, and I will get you all your rights.' Then I knew that the white rat lied, for why should a man come all the way from England to get his rights for a stranger? I remember what my father said that the English devoured one another. This English man wanted to draw me away from my Island that he might kill and eat me. The English are all Cannibals. So I caught up my fish spear, and thrust at him. He ran away howling, and I ran behind jabbing my spear in his back. He must be covered with my jabs under that black coat of his. He is like a missionary in his clothes, but really he is a cannibal."

"So now you know," observed Madame to John Clifford. "Willatopy is not to be taken in by fairy stories about English Lords and the rights in England. And Willatopy, as you have found out, is an awkward customer to humbug, I should advise you[Pg 160] to up stakes and begone, fair stranger. 'Twere better so," she sang. "Bid me good-bye and go." Madame held out a hand, and smiled winningly. "I have done you a service, and perhaps you will remember Madame Gilbert, when you are far away in England. The scars upon your back will always remind you of my friend Willatopy, that perspicuous exterminator of vermin. I am sorry that we cannot entertain you, even with a share in our breakfast. We are hospitable folk, but we draw the hard stiff line at lawyers. Farewell, officer and gentleman."

"But I have lost my suit case," wailed the damp, unhappy Clifford—he was drying quite nicely in the sunshine—"and the schooner which brought me here has sailed away. How can I go? You are a white woman, and should take pity on a fellow countryman. I am wet and hungry, and the chills are running all over me. I am sure the spear was poisoned, and that I shall die here like a dog and be damned."

"Name of a Dog!" swore Madame Gilbert. "Do you suppose I care how you die or where you go afterwards? You are not worth the price of good pit coal, so I take leave to doubt the damning. How did you expect to get away when you had your black carcase dumped upon our Island? By your own dirty law you are no better than a trespasser."

"I expected that Lord—that Mr. Willatopy would carry me away in his yawl when he had learned my news of his inheritance. It is all true that I spoke to him. They told me in Thursday Island that he had a yawl and was the boldest sailor in the Straits."

[Pg 161]

"Willatopy, leave us," said Madame. "I would be alone with the little stranger. If you should see his suit case on the sand you might pitch it down. He steams prettily, but would be the better for a dry change. If he dies before I have ragged him to the bones, I shall be for ever desolated. I am pleased with you, Willatopy. You are the worthy son of the Great White Chief, your father. If you could look in at my camp, and send the steward down with breakfast—with breakfast for two; he might die too soon if I don't feed him—I shall be infinitely obliged. Be quick, my dear, for I am powerful hungry. And ask Marie for my trench coat," she shouted after the departing Willie. "I came away to bathe in private, and did not expect strangers. Specially when they were not invited," added she pointedly.

"It is lucky for you, Mr. John Clifford, officer and gentleman, that I did not go swimming to-day in the fashion of Joy and Cry, just to see how it felt to be quite unhampered. I did think of trying. You would not then have had me run a step to your assistance. And now I am not going to speak another word until my hunger is appeased. You have my permission to be seated. What ever possessed you, man, to enter the Tropics in those funereal clothes? This is not St. Mary Axe. If your suit case is really lost there will be for you no wear except a loin cloth and a sun-stripped skin. You have no idea until you feel it in the buff how the sun bites. And this is our island winter. In the summer—we shall not take you off, my poor friend, and no schooner comes inside our bar—in the summer you will fry, and your miserable thin[Pg 162] white hide will frizzle off your wasted flesh. And now be silent, if you can, until I have eaten." The wretched victim had not spoken a word for the past five minutes, but that was nothing to Madame. I have already said that in action she was as swift and ruthless as she was babblesome in speech.

They had breakfast together seated on the sand, and the cabin steward of the yacht waited upon them. He showed no visible sign of surprise at the little stranger's appearance, though his soul must have been ravaged with curiosity. Even yacht stewards are human.

"Now," said Madame, when the steward had gone, and she had deeply inhaled her first beloved after-breakfast cigarette. "Now, if it is possible for a lawyer, tell me something of the bare unvarnished truth. Your story of Willatopy's Lordship is only one degree less probable than your own reputed status of officer and gentleman. You are John Clifford, managing clerk to some many-partnered firm in St. Mary Axe, London, E.C. So far, the Court is with you. Get on with the rest."

"I was an officer, for three months before the Armistice. A second lieutenant of Royal Artillery."

"Mon Dieu!" said Madame politely. "I knew the English Army was hard put to it, but was it as bad as all that? Did you see any service?"

"No. I got exemption during most of the war. I was indispensable at home."

"While gallant French and English boys were being killed," Madame's teeth snapped. "You lawyers look after yourselves. God, if I had lost a son of mine in the war I would take you out in[Pg 163] yonder dinghy and throw you to the sharks. That is what you are fit for. Shark's food."

"You are not very civil, Madame Gilbert," grumbled the managing indispensable clerk.

"My unshakeable urbanity under the most severe provocation," responded Madame, "fills me with wonder. Also with admiration. How I keep it up I cannot understand. Get on. I accept the story that you got yourself made a stay-at-home second lieutenant of Garrison Artillery because you were afraid of the open field. I accept that. Now, what about Willatopy?"

"It is true about him. His father and uncle are dead, and he is the heir of Topsham. We were almost sure of it in St. Mary Axe—we have a large Devonshire connection, and know the line of every family of note. We were nearly sure in London; since then I have inspected the registers in Thursday Island. That black boy is the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham."

"Humph!" said Madame. "It is no business of mine, though my yacht yonder is chartered from one member of the Toppys family. I expect there is a catch somewhere, which you will find out—in St. Mary Axe. But how comes it that your firm have intervened? Do they represent the interests of the Family?"

Madame must be highly favoured by the Immortal Gods. For the second time in this history she was privileged to see a lawyer blush. First it was Roger Gatepath, now it was that lesser luminary John Clifford.

"No," he stammered. "Not exactly. We have[Pg 164] a large Devonshire connection, and we wish to see justice done to the Heir of an ancient House."

"And incidentally to increase the large Devonshire connection." Madame's voice, when she pleased, could rasp like a file of high carbon steel. "To habitual knavery you add incidental poaching when it offers a profitable connection. What a trade! Man, look at this island. It is the most beautiful in the Straits, and until this morning shone as if blessed by Heaven. With your coming, the air grows chill and dark as though a curse had fallen. It is lucky I have eaten, or your ill-omened presence would banish my appetite. And yet in spite of the most overwhelming provocation I continue to comport myself towards you with the most suave politeness. Vive la politesse! But I won't indefinitely answer for my own restraint. If you provoke me further, I may forget myself and become abusive."

"I shall not stay here to be insulted. I am a demobilised British officer, and——"

"A temporary gentleman," put in Madame. "Sit down, British officer, or I will set Willatopy at you. Where will you go? This Island belongs to Willatopy, and if you pick a banana without his leave, we will hale you to Thursday Island, and consign you to the deepest dungeon. No, on second thoughts we will punish you ourselves. To us is entrusted the high justice, the middle, and the low. We are monarchs of all we survey. We can keel-haul you under the teak fenders of the Humming Top, toast you over a slow fire, or throw you to your brethren the sharks of the sea. We can do any violent thing we please with you. No one[Pg 165] will miss you; no one will inquire after you. We will say that you left the Island—the rest will be silence. Every man and boy in my yacht is my devoted servant; every man, woman, and child on this Island is a slave of Willatopy. Man, you did not know what perils you called up when you had yourself cast on this Island of Tops. Do not, I implore you, repeat in the hearing of my sailors this preposterous story of Willatopy's Heirship. For the moment they are my servants, but in blood and bone they are the feudal retainers of the Family of Toppys. The little fingers of my sailors are thicker than Willatopy's loins. You have felt the scorpion sting of his fish spear; you have yet to feel the searing shattering blast from the Humming Top's guns. My sailors would blow you into fragments from the foc's'le, and say grace afterwards with unction. We are smugglers and pirates every one of us. What to us is a lawyer more or less? You are homeless, and friendless, and in our power. We can put you to frizzle in the heat by day, and starve you with cold in the long nights. We can deny you food. Even the wayside streams belong to us. You cannot walk or lie down, or eat, or drink, save by our gracious permission. You are cut off from the world, an outcast. Draw comfort if you can from my words."

"You are pleased to chaff me, Madame Gilbert. The King's writ runs even in Tops Island."

"In the immortal words of a famous British statesman: wait and see, Mr. John Clifford, demobilised second lieutenant. And now for the moment I have done with you. Keep clear of my camp, and, for your life, flee from Willatopy. When you[Pg 166] are hungered lie on the beach and howl like a dog that is lost. Maybe someone will hear you; maybe, on the other hand, someone won't. It is still less likely that anyone will minister to your wants even if your cries are heard. But as a merciful sister I indicate this one thin chance of preserving from extinction the pale flame of your life. If you will now excuse me, Mr. John Clifford, I will withdraw to my tent and complete my interrupted toilet. Good-bye-e-e."

"A good morning's work," murmured Madame Gilbert as she strolled away leaving the disconsolate Hedge Lawyer to complete his drying alone. "And let us pray that yet another wandering island schooner may drop into our bay that we may urgently speed the parting guest—with a boathook if he won't get moving of his own volition. In these remote islands of the British Empire one should never omit that punctilious hospitality which is due even to the most noxious of strangers."

[Pg 167]


Madame Gilbert kept no diary of her adventures, and her memory for dates is precarious. But the log of the Humming Top—to which I have had access—confirms her impression that she arrived at Tops Island on the twentieth of May. It was in the fourth week of her stay that the island schooners began to arrive, of which the third carried the little unwelcome stranger, of whom Madame longed to be quit. But although three schooners came within a week, the much-desired fourth, for whose dirty sails Madame looked out so anxiously, tarried until the occasion for its employment vanished with the flying days. During this lamentable period of delay in speeding the parting guest, the opening rounds in the contest between Madame and the Hedge Lawyer had been fought and lost—lost by Madame Gilbert. No longer was it possible to eject him with a boathook; he had become the guest of Willatopy, and Willatopy, Lord of Topsham, was also Lord of Tops Island.

Looking back now over the series of incidents which I have to relate, I cannot but feel that there was some failure of adroitness in Madame's conduct of the campaign. It is true that she had no cards at all—except her own dominating [Pg 168]personality—and the Hedge Lawyer possessed the entire pack. But even so her failure to put a wide distance in material space between the Heir of Topsham and his self-appointed legal adviser is almost inexplicable. She must have failed through excess of confidence. She did not grasp the elusive inconsistency of Willatopy's undeveloped mind. She believed that the influence of his dead white father would remain ineradicable—she conceived that it was bitten into steel instead of into soft South Sea wax—and she was misled utterly by the violence of Willatopy's first onslaught upon the managing indispensable clerk. When seated at that breakfast on the shore, she had torn with her feminine claws the quivering flesh of the miserable Hedge Lawyer, she had judged him to be a cowardly fool who could be readily frightened away from his purpose. He was no coward, and a long way from being a fool. A man needs more than the average equipment of Cockney cunning to become, at thirty-two, the managing clerk of a firm of speculative lawyers. This fellow, John Clifford, possessed the quick shrewdness of the City's streets, and the indomitable persistence of a man whose professional advancement depended upon his own unscrupulous ability. His employers had promised, ere he set sail for the Torres Straits, that his return to London with Willatopy as a dazzling and valuable new client, would mark his own promotion to the status of junior partner. He had everything to gain by persistence, and nothing to lose except his life. He was sufficiently astute to realise that Madame's threats were vain persiflage; that she was helpless if he chose to remain on the Island,[Pg 169] and that the mind of a half-caste savage might, by adroit moulding, become receptive of strange and flattering impressions. He held all the cards—those which we know of, others which he played later. As he dried on the blazing beach, after Madame had left him, he determined to hang on at any risk from Willatopy's spear and the rude hands of Madame Gilbert's sailors, until he had won over to his side the wandering intelligence of the Lord of Topsham.

"After all," muttered Clifford to himself, "he is an English Lord, and it is a very great thing to be an English Lord." Madame he already hated—which is not surprising. She had not exactly cultivated his favour. He did not know that she had any interest in opposing his plans for the transfer of Willatopy to England, and he did not anticipate serious opposition from her when proof was offered of Willatopy's legal heirship. That proof—copies of the registers in Thursday Island—was in his lost suit case. Also the light flannel clothes which his damp blackness made urgently desirable. So the first step taken by John Clifford in his campaign was to hunt for that case which he had flung away in his flight from the terrible fish spear.

Had Madame realised at the beginning how rapidly the atmosphere would change, how quickly the wild ingenuous boy Willatopy would become interested in the adroit cunning man, John Clifford, she might have acted with her customary and ruthless illegality. On that first morning she could easily have persuaded Willatopy to convey the intruder out to the Humming Top, and could have held him there inactive until a convenient moment[Pg 170] arrived for carrying him back to Thursday Island. Adequately frightened, Clifford might have been prevailed upon to set sail for home, alone, but I doubt whether this temporarily drastic course would have availed for long. The firm of poachers in St. Mary Axe could not indefinitely have been denied access to their prey on Tops Island. After Madame and her yacht had gone, John Clifford, or another, would have returned. Willatopy, as the half-caste Heir of Topsham, was too attractive a bait for lawyers to have been left for many months in the security of his island solitude. Roger Gatepath, who understood his own profession, was convinced that the legal vultures of London would speedily discover and fasten upon the profitable pigeon of the Torres Straits.

Clifford found his suit case within the fringe of woodland where first he had encountered Willatopy. And as he stooped to pick it up, a heavy hand smote him upon the back. It was Willatopy again. The boy had been watching the breakfast party of two, and now that Clifford was alone interposed his dark powerful figure between the lawyer and the beach.

"This time," said he, smacking his lips, "there will be no Madame Gilbert."

"Why should you chase me again?" asked Clifford, who feared the boy less now that he had breakfasted. Besides, Willatopy no longer carried the fish spear. "Why should you chase me, my lord? I am your friend, and have come to make you a very rich and great lord in England."

Willie frowned. "I am very rich now. You English are cannibals. You want to get me away[Pg 171] that you may kill and eat me. My father said that the English devoured one another."

"That meant, my lord," said Clifford, "that the English try to take money from one another."

"As they try to do in Thursday Island," assented Willatopy. "The English try to make me drink so that they may steal my money. I keep it in a bag tied round my waist. Miles and miles of shore and forest are mine, my banker has piles and piles of my silver, all in bags. It comes from England. The brown girls love my bright blue eyes and the brown boys are my servants. I am already rich, and the lord of Tops Island. You are a liar."

"It is a small thing," said Clifford, "to be the lord of a little island in the Straits, and to be master of brown girls and boys. In England you would be a real Lord, the Lord of Topsham; you would have houses, big houses, and your servants would be white, not brown. White women, beautiful white women, would be at your pleasure, and white men would obey your commands."

"White women!" asked Willatopy, who began to be interested. "Would white women love my blue eyes which are like the sky at dawn?"

"They would, my lord. And if you wish to marry one of them she would feel honoured by your choice."

"I don't want to marry one, just yet," replied Willatopy indifferently. "If they loved my bright blue eyes, and were to me as are my brown girls, that would please me."

"You are a great Lord, and there would be no lack of beautiful white women to seek your favour,"[Pg 172] said Clifford, whose little close-set eyes began to twinkle. He was progressing.

"I have a very fine hut," observed Willie. "It is thatched with sago palm. There is not a finer hut in the islands."

"In England you would have big houses, not huts," said Clifford. "Big houses with many rooms."

"I do not like English houses," said Willatopy. "The walls are iron and roofs are iron. They are painted white and glare in the sun. I have seen them on Thursday Island."

"Those are not real houses, my lord. Your lordship's chief house in Devonshire has red stone walls and a roof of burnt clay tiles. It is a splendid house, hundreds of years old. Green ivy grows upon the walls. There are many servants in the house and in the gardens; white servants."

"I should like to have white men working in my garden as my servants. They are very proud. I should like to have the Skipper as my servant. I would lay my stick on his back and make him—skip. When I am an English Lord will the Skipper be my servant?"

"If you wish, my lord, all men will be your servants. In England the great lords are the masters of the people."

"Shall I be your master?"

Clifford hesitated. The boy with his childlike savage logic was moving too fast, but it would not do to hesitate. He decided to go the whole hog.

"Of course, my lord. I should be your most obedient humble servant."

"Good," said Willatopy. "Then since I am[Pg 173] already a great English lord you are now my servant. I should like to see a white man working in my garden under the hot sun and jumping when I lay my stick upon him. You shall work in my garden. Come."

"Certainly, my lord, with the utmost pleasure. But may I first change my clothes? I have some others in this suit case."

"Clothes?" cried Willatopy contemptuously. "It is always clothes with you foolish white people. When I go with Madame in a boat she makes me wear my trousers, though I throw them off when I plunge into the water. Madame will never swim like Joy and Cry if she always wears that tight blue bathing dress. Now that I am a great English Lord, all men and women shall be my servants, and shall do what I command. Put on your foolish trousers, white man, and come with me. I will make you labour in my garden, and presently when the sun grows hot at noon you will be glad to put them off for coolness. For now that you are my servant, I shall make you work very hard."

"I cannot work too hard in your service, my lord," replied Clifford obsequiously. He had been successful beyond all expectation, and was willing to sweat copiously in Willie's garden as a sacrifice to the High Gods.

Meanwhile, Madame Gilbert had changed into the white crepe de chine and muslin gear which was her toilet on land and in the yacht. She sat in the entrance of her big tent, smoking Russian cigarettes, and mildly wondering what had become of Clifford, the "sharks' food." She anticipated with some pleasure hearing the howls of a dog which[Pg 174] would announce the hollow emptiness of his stomach. She intended to feed him sparingly as evidence of her punctilious hospitality, though under her austere regimen there would be no margin for pride and fatness. And while she smoked there, ignorantly idle, Clifford had fought and won the first and most difficult battle in his campaign. He was already the victor, though for long hours he sweated outrageously in Willie's garden while that lordly task-master looked on, and now and then administered painful stimulus. John Clifford was, I am convinced, almost flattered by receiving upon his servile, middle-class back the haughtily administered blows of an undoubted Baron of ancient lineage.

It was not until late that afternoon that Madame Gilbert had an opportunity to perceive the changed relations between the Hedge Lawyer and his baronial client. There had been no starving yelps from the beach, and though she had despatched her steward to look for the little stranger, the man of food had returned with his supplies undevoured. None of the sailors had seen the black-coated intruder, and Madame began to hope that Willatopy, true to his instincts, had completed the despatch of John Clifford, and had consigned his remains to his brother sharks of the bay. Madame, I regret to say, has no respect for the lives of those whom she dislikes. When she acted as the lawyer's shield in the early morning, she had not yet made his professional acquaintance. Afterwards, Willatopy might have carved him into pieces if he chose.

In the late afternoon, Madame was roaming in search of some rare tropical flowers which grew[Pg 175] at the head of the bay when she came upon Willatopy, attended at a respectful distance by a bare-headed and bare-footed menial dressed in grey flannels.

"Hullo, Willie," cried Madame, not recognising Clifford in this new incarnation, "whom have you picked up?"

"This, Madame," replied Willatopy with hauteur, "is John, my white slave. He works much better than my brown boys, and I shall keep him on my island. He has hoed the weeds all day in my garden, and I have given him food in payment. Now I am taking him to my yawl that he may clean it properly inside and polish up the brass-work. John, can you clean my yawl properly, so that the brass shines?"

"Yes, my lord. Certainly, my lord," said John, cocking an eye at Madame, in which she detected some light of derisive humour.

"You had better," said Willie ominously. "I am a great English Lord, and most particular. If you do not work properly, I shall throw you overboard. The sharks will get you."

"As your lordship pleases," responded John Clifford.

Madame, frowning deeply, watched the two figures—the lord marching ahead with the villein humbly following—embark in Willatopy's collapsible boat, and row out to the yawl, which lay at anchor at the head of the bay. Willatopy would sail her in or out over the bar when the tide was high, though even he dared not push her through the rollers which broke on the bar when the water was at its lowest. Madame realised instantly that[Pg 176] Clifford, by cunning flattery, had turned her flank and captured the interest of Willatopy. It was a new experience for the brown youth to possess an obsequious white slave who sweated at his orders, and who addressed him as "lord" and "lordship" in every sentence. The Baron of Topsham was beginning to believe that he must be something out of the common way if a white stranger would come all the way from England to call him lord, to work in his garden, and to clean the brass of his yacht. He supposed that a Lord in England was a kind of headman in a village or the chief in a tribe. Only, as the English were very rich and very proud, a Lord in England must be much more exalted than any man in the Straits—except, of course, the Administrator in Thursday Island, or Grant, the banker. He marched with his head held high, ordered John to row the collapsible boat—which job from long practice on the Thames in summer he achieved tolerably—and, after the yawl had been boarded, directed John towards the objects of his labour, and surveyed his operations from a critical distance. Cleaning the yawl was the one job of work which the Rich and Idle Willatopy had hitherto undertaken with his own hands. He had cared for the yawl as a Sportsman cares for his gun or his horse, and as a golfer cares for his clubs. It was, however, much pleasanter to superintend the labours of John.

"You are clever," he said at last approvingly. "Not stupid like my brown boys. I shall not go to England. I will be a great Lord in my island, and you shall stay with me always as my slave. That[Pg 177] white girl, Marie, who looks at me sideways—so—with eyes that bite, I will ask Madame to give her to me. Now that I am an English Lord, and no longer a brown Hula of Bulaa, the girl Marie shall kiss my feet."

"You will never be really a great Lord unless you go to England where all the men and women are white slaves of the Lords who rule them," said John mendaciously. Having decided to go the whole hog, he did not spare decoration upon the beast. "Here you will be always Willatopy, the brown boy. There beyond the wide sea you will be the Right Honourable William Toppys, Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham."

"My father, the Honourable William Toppys, was a great Chief here on his island. I cannot be greater than my father."

"You can be, and you are," said John Clifford earnestly. "Your father was a younger son, never a great Lord. You are the Head of the House, Head of the ancient Family of Toppys. Even Sir John Toppys, who owns the Humming Top yonder, will be your servant."

"Huh!" cried Willatopy. "Is the yacht also mine? I will throw the Skipper, he who called me 'nigger,' and scorns me, I will throw him into the sea, and sail the Humming Top myself. It will be better even than my yawl."

"No," explained John, who had started Willatopy's mind working, and was alarmed where it would fetch up. "No. The yacht is not yours. It belongs to Sir John Toppys, not to you."

"But if I am the Lord of Topsham, it must be mine," roared Willie.

[Pg 178]

"No," repeated John, and tried to explain.

But Willatopy, with cries of "Liar, liar, liar," fell upon his white slave, and beat him severely. And so John Clifford discovered, very early in his campaign, that the man who would teach the English law of inheritance to a half-caste and fully logical heir, runs a grievous risk of being mangled by his pupil.

"There," said Willatopy, as he picked up the crumpled body of John Clifford by the slack of its breeches, and hammered it on the yawl's deck. "If the yacht is not mine, I cannot be the Lord of Topsham, and you are a liar and a cannibal. Die-cannibal."

"You can get another," shrieked Clifford. "A better one than the Humming Top."

"What is that?" cried Willatopy, and paused while yet some life remained unhammered out on the yawl's deck.

"When you are a very rich Lord," groaned Clifford, "you will be able to buy a much newer and finer yacht than the Humming Top."

"Where?" enquired Willatopy.

"In England. You will give your orders, and your slaves will build for you any yacht which you please. But you must go to England first."

"I shall never go to England," said Willatopy. Yet he desisted from the hammering of John Clifford, and his tone lacked its customary resolution.

It had been an arduous day for the Hedge Lawyer. Yet I think that he was well content. In a few hours, at the price of much sweat and many aching bones, he had powerfully stirred up the[Pg 179] soul of Willatopy so that it would never resettle in its old simple contented form. He had driven belief into the half-white, half-brown mind of the once happy boy that beyond the wide seas, over in that England whence his father had fled, he himself had become a man of consequence. His poor, childlike brain boiled and threw up visions in its steaming vapours. White women at his pleasure, white men as his slaves, splendid yachts at his orders, big stone houses with many, many rooms—the big houses left him cold, but to the other visions he could give something of warm concrete form. Marie who made eyes at him, John who slaved for him, the yacht better even than the splendid Humming Top—these would all be his, and they were but an earnest of greater delights to follow. The round world and all that was therein would lie beneath his brown feet if only he would go to England and become, in his own unchallengeable right, the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham. Already the impressions left by the father upon the small soft mind of the twelve-year-old boy were beginning to yield under the moulding hand of the white slave John. Already the white, restless strain in his blood, which throughout his life had reposed dormant, was beginning to bestir itself within him. He tossed John Clifford into the boat, and rowed ashore himself. He drove Clifford before him up into the woods, and left him there supperless and without shelter. Let him forage in the woods if he hungered, and seek for cover under the ample branches about him.

Then Willatopy, that gallant boy of mixed blood,[Pg 180] torn from his lifelong island roots by the exotic pressure of a cursed Heirship, ran as if devils pursued to the tent of Madame Gilbert, and bursting in, flung his naked body at her feet. Never before had he entered without leave. And Madame, seeing the tumult which raged in his soul, and already understanding something of the agony of his partial awakening, listened while the boy poured out the story much as I have told it here.

"Madame," he cried at the end. "What shall I do? What shall I do?"

"Send Clifford away," said she, "and never go to England."

"I cannot send him away," said Willatopy. "He is my white slave. And if he went I should still be an English Lord. But when a schooner calls he shall go. And I will never go to England. My father said: 'Always stick to Hula, Willie: Hula is better than England.' And I always will."

"That's right," said Madame. "You can't go wrong if you follow your father. And now, Willie dear, go back to your own hut, and be Hula once more. I love Willatopy, but I should hate an English Lord. He couldn't come to my tent like this—without even a bootlace about his middle. But my dear Willatopy may wear as little as he pleases. Be off; I don't want Marie to find you here."

The blue eyes, so strange in the almost black face, flashed with a new light.

"Marie," he said. "The white Marie. If I were an English Lord...."

Madame held up a warning hand.

"As my lady pleases," said the boy, smiling[Pg 181] almost happily, and turning about, ran from the tent.

Madame sat for a long while after Willatopy had gone. Before her stood the austere Scotch figure of Grant of Thursday Island, the banker Grant who had loved the father and now loved the son for his father's sake. His solemn words rang in her ears. "White and brown blood form a bad mixture, an explosive mixture. A mixture unstable as nitro-glycerine." Grant had declared that if drink and white women came into his life, Willatopy would be a lost soul.

"We have no drink on the island," murmured Madame Gilbert, "and the stores of the yacht are safe from him. Marie dreads me too gravely to be a danger any more. If that lump of sharks' food, Clifford, can be got away, we may pull through. But this inheritance of poor Willatopy's is the very devil. In England it seemed a comedy shot with streaks of utter farce; here in Tops Island it borders upon tragedy. In England it would be ... Mon Dieu! To save Willatopy from that horror I would go some lengths, some bitter, bitter lengths."

"Marie," said Madame Gilbert, as the French girl came in. "If you hear any gossip about young Willatopy, don't believe it. There is a story that he is the rightful Lord Topsham, but, of course, it isn't true. Should it come to your ears, you have my authority to deny it stoutly."

"Certainly, Madame," said Marie, the demure maid. But Marie did not say that Willatopy, flying from Madame's tent, had fallen in with her;[Pg 182] that he had told her the whole story, and that she had urged him to claim all the rights and privileges that were his. And as a foretaste in the privileges of a seigneur she had offered him her warm lips. No Marie said nothing of that to Madame Gilbert.

[Pg 183]


The days passed, no more island schooners put in for night shelter at the entrance to the bay, and the Hedge Lawyer gained with every passing day a tighter grip upon the vagrant mind of Willatopy. The Great Lord made the villein work for the pleasure of seeing a white man sweat in his service, but in the intervals of labour the two of them became host and guest rather than master and slave. And hour by hour the cunning hand of the lawyer, deftly kneading the soft wax of the native boy's intelligence, obliterated the impressions left by his father's teaching. Willatopy still declared at intervals that he would never go to England, but his tone had lost much of its old conviction. The once fixed resolution was degenerating into a verbal formula.

For awhile Clifford stuck to the first inducements of which he had demonstrated the effective potency. White women at Willatopy's seignorial pleasure, white men as his humble, willing slaves, yachts and buzz boats at his orders—Willatopy was salt to the bones. Then, as his grip became firmer, Clifford bethought him of a further engine of influence, and devised a means of bringing it into early operation. Immovably bent upon the one purpose of bearing Willatopy as a helpless fly into the[Pg 184] spider's web of St. Mary Axe—and of securing that junior partnership for himself—Clifford perceived that a corrupted, degenerate Willatopy would be a prey more profitable to the plunderers than the healthy, shrewd sportsman of Tops Island. Wholly unscrupulous, it was nothing to him that a brave human soul should be lost. Willatopy was in his eyes not a human soul, but a much-desired client. After having been won over and despoiled in the interests of St. Mary Axe, the Twenty-Eighth Lord of Topsham might go to the Devil as fast as he pleased. The more he could be prevailed upon to dip into the Toppys estates—no great property by modern standards—the larger would be the profits of Chudleigh, Caves, Caves, and Chudleigh, poachers and speculators in law. I am no effusive admirer of Roger Gatepath, the solicitor of peers and princes, but the dingy honesty of Gatepaths was as driven snow in comparison with the black foulness of Chudleighs.

One morning, while running to her shark-proof creek for the customary dip after her physical exercises—Madame never neglected P.T. under any pressure of engagements, and to this persistence in muscular well-doing attributed her exuberant health and appetite—one morning early, Madame perceived that the mooring station of the yawl was empty. Upon her return she was informed that Willatopy, accompanied as always by his white slave John, had sailed at dawn with the first of the ebb. Ching, who had spent the night in the escort tent, and had been early astir, had watched through his binoculars the pair go forth towards the bar. Madame concluded that Willie, tired of making[Pg 185] John sweat in his garden, had borne him off upon an island cruise for the pleasure of harrying the white man's stomach. John hated the heaving ocean, and had suffered horribly on his trip from Thursday Island in the schooner. John, in Madame's judgment, could not have gone willingly, and would soon prevail upon Willatopy to return. But in this view Madame was wrong. John Clifford, bad sailor though he was, had braved the swell and tide rips of the uneasy Straits that he might bring into operation that further engine of influence upon whose effectiveness he placed sure confidence.

A day and a night passed, and yet another day and night. The yawl did not return. Madame's apprehension swelled into panic. It was, of course, absurd to suppose that a navigator of Willatopy's competence had suffered a marine disaster in his own familiar Straits at the settled season of the south-east trade. Anxiety of that kind was absent from Madame's thoughts. Her fears took an altogether different line. She was obsessed by the dread lest Willatopy, under the rapidly growing influence of Clifford, had sailed for Thursday Island en route for England. Grant, the banker, held considerable sums at the boy's disposal—or, rather, since Willatopy was a minor, the banker and executor held considerable sums which he might be prevailed upon to hand over. Even if, as was not improbable, Grant proved obdurate, the lawyer, John Clifford, must have been provided with ample cash or credits for traveling expenses. Ching and Ewing were both ashore, and she commanded their attendance.

[Pg 186]

The Devonshire ship captain and the Glasgow engineer had been close friends during half their lives, and habit had made them inseparable. In temperament, as we have seen, they were far apart. Though sprung from kindred races—there is no great difference in blood between the Lowland Glasgow Scot and the West Country Englishman—they were typical representatives of distinct branches of the British stock. The soft and bountiful Devon produces sailors rather than engineers; the harsher and leaner North produces engineers rather than sailors. I cannot stop now to explain why. In association, Ching and Ewing were complementary, the one to the other. Both of them loved Madame Gilbert, but their affection, though sincere, was too platonic to excite serious rivalry. They would dine together in the big saloon of the yacht—at a table which had accommodation for twelve persons—and discuss over Sir John's port the merits of the gracious lady who had betaken herself to the shore. Later on they would carry the discussion to the smoke-room where the three had so often sat and applied their foot rules to the universe during the long voyage out from England. Every few days, moved by a common impulse which Ewing shamelessly avowed and Ching sought to conceal, they would disembark and cast up in Madame's camp. It was understood that both remained in the yacht at their unexacting care and maintenance duties, or both revelled in Madame's welcome smiles. They took their duties and their pleasures in company.

"My friends," said Madame, smiling and [Pg 187]affecting a levity which she just then did not feel, "lend me your ears.

"The time has come La Gilbert said,
To give you a surprise.
To tell of yachts and reefs and tents,
Of blackamoors and peers,
And why she's come to this far land,
And what it is she fears."

"As a piece of impromptu poetry," said Ewing, "yon is no so bad. If it is impromptu, about which I have my doubts. And since my home is in Paisley, where all the poets come from, my judgment is creetical."

Ching shot one penetrative glance at Madame, and perceptibly paled under his weather-beaten skin.

"Further," went on Ewing cautiously—he could babble as gleefully and interminably as Madame herself—"further, I question the judeecious use of the wor-r-d 'surprise.' In the leeterary sense its employment is bad, for it does not rhyme, and as a statement of fact it is erroneous. I will not say that I cannot be surprised by anybody in the wur-r-ld, though they that have tried to astonish me have been up against a sair obstacle. What I assert now is that Madame Gilbert has no surprise for me, and little enough for Ching."

"Wait," warned Madame, with assurance. "I have not yet spoken. The worst of talking to you, Alexander, is that one can never wedge a wur-r-d in."

"Go canny, lassie," proceeded Ewing. "Go canny. Be not over boastful. You have been a[Pg 188] bonny actress all these weeks past, but not so bonny that you can deceive Sandy Ewing. I had my suspeecions from the first when that Willatopy boy revealed to as the secret of his bairth. And since then I've been conning my eye over the bit registers in Thursday Island."

"'Tis a wash out," admitted Madame. "I have not seen those famous registers myself, but I understand that they would convince a brazen image."

"They are as tight as a drum and as adhesive as a pepper plaster. The joints of them are steam tight to any pressure. You could na shift them with T.N.T. My metaphors may be a wee bit mixed, there is nothing of confusion about those registers. If you would like to see fair copies, I have them now in my hip pocket. Three half-crowns they cost me—for the certeeficate of the registrar. It was a turrible expense."

"You are a great man, Sandy," said Madame.

"The Scots were ever a grand people, and Sandy Ewing is one of the grandest among them. Primus inter Pares. But a wumman of your perspicacity, though a foreigner and a Roman, will not have neglected to obsairve that we are of a modesty beyond belief. We, none of us, ever blow our own trumpets."

"Never," assented Madame. "You employ a steam syren."

"Then it be all true," groaned Ching, who had remained silent during this interchange. Except in the speech of his profession, his tongue was inflexible. The babble of his friends broke upon him as the sea foam on an immovable rock. "Then it be[Pg 189] all true. That Moor be the rightful Lord of Topsham."

"It is true," said Madame gently. "We must make the best of it, Captain." Much as Madame Gilbert admired and respected the solid merits of Robert Ching, she never relaxed towards him her form of address. He was always "Captain." The Chief Engineer had long since become the "Alexander" of reproof or the "Sandy" of familiar converse. One may respect, and in emergency cling to, an immovable rock. But one does not pat it familiarly.

"Whatzimever be us vur to do?" wailed Ching, reverting in distress to the peasant dialect of his youth.

"I do not hold," put in Ewing, "that it is for us to do anything. I am a Leeberal, a good Scots Leeberal. In Paisley, where my home is, and where the poets come from, we have always been steadfast, unshaken Leeberals. No argument can shift us. For ten years past we have done our Leeberal best to pull down the House of Lords, and Willatopy is a damn sight better than most of the scum of them. His skin is an accident of bairth. If his skin had come as white as his eyes are blue he would have been a vairy presentable Head for the House of Toppys. He has, it seems to me, all the instincts of the Idle Rich, and what more can you Tories want? He is a grand pilot and a very hardy sailor and sportsman. His eye for the gur-r-ls is worthy of the loftiest aristocrat. It is nothing but the brown epidermis which sets Ching here groaning like a gravid cow, and Madame bewailing the undoubted legitimacy of a Topy heir."

[Pg 190]

"Not quite," objected Madame, though she was impressed by the Scot's shrewd analysis. "I admit that if Willatopy had been born white, or as light-skinned as his sisters, his lawyers at home would long ago have summoned him to claim his peerage. His half blood would not then have made the Family a butt for ridicule. But to me his half blood and not his colour is an occasion for genuine distress. It is because Willatopy here in his own Tops Island is so artless and attractive a creature, that I dread the effect of his transfer to England and his succession to what still is, even in these democratic days, an eminence ringed about with peculiar and dangerous temptations. Let me give you the opinion of a man—one of your own countrymen, Sandy—who knew the father well, and feels the gravest apprehensions lest the son should come to utter wreck." Then Madame, in the frank fashion which draws men's hearts to her, repeated that conversation with Grant of Thursday Island, which I have recounted in a previous chapter. She kept back nothing. As she spoke of the neglected deposits of osmiridium—at fifty pounds an ounce—Ewing shrieked as a man tortured in the most tender nerve centres of his being. As she told of the death of William Toppys, and of the twelve-year-old son's desperate voyage with the father's corpse lashed to the yawl's deck, her hearers fell silent, and she could see that both men were deeply moved.

"Good lad," whispered Ching, who hated Willatopy.

"Good lad," whispered Ewing, who liked him. As Madame proceeded and painted in her forcible vivid English the twin demons which threatened[Pg 191] the half-caste boy, torn from his native island environment, the men followed her words with grave assent. Both of them in their wanderings over the wide world had seen men and women of the black and brown races wither and die at the touch of white vices.

The story drew to its end.

"He was a circumspectious man, yon Grant," said Ewing with approval. "A good Scot and vairy intelligent."

"He was right, Madame," agreed Ching. "It is not the brown skin but the unstable half-blood which is the peril. We must keep away drink and white women from—his young lordship."

It was a tremendous concession from a man like Ching. The "Moor" whom he detested had become the "young lordship" from whose stumbling footsteps must be withdrawn the perilous rocks of offence.

"But can we?" enquired Madame Gilbert anxiously. "He is a boy and very masterful. We cannot hold him in leading strings. Already my influence over him is waning. The seductions of John Clifford are more potent than the friendly, almost maternal, warnings of Madame Gilbert. I could, if I pleased, by working on his boyish virile passions, make him crawl at my feet and eat out of my hand. But to what end, and for how long? I should but hasten the process of corruption which the Hedge Lawyer has begun. From me, unassailable, he would flee to others less obdurate. And they are never far away even in the Straits of Torres. I cannot play with Willatopy. We must do what we can, but it is already borne in upon me that we seek[Pg 192] to achieve the impossible. Already, these two days since, Willatopy has gone in the yawl with Clifford. It was for that reason I summoned you, and announced the surprise which our Alexander had so completely anticipated. I have grave fears lest even now John Clifford has drawn Willatopy away to Thursday Island, thence to take ship for England."

"For my part," declared Ewing, "I doubt the accuracy of Madame Gilbert's prognostications. They do not carry conviction to my astute mind. The change over is too sudden. That he will ultimately be prevailed upon to depart for his English lordship I make no manner of doubt. But not yet. He is a good boy. He has a great respect and affection for you, Madame. He worships you, Madame, as a gracious white goddess. As we all do, we all do. We are weak men, but there is nothing sinful in our love for you. Ching here, says little though he thinks a lot; and I say, maybe, more even than I think. But, believe me, Madame, we both of us love you from your bonny red hair to your dainty feet—which twinkle so sweetly over the sand when you come from your bath—and we would lay down our lives to presairve you from har-r-m. Willatopy would not have gone away to England without asking for your leave and bidding you farewell."

Ching, of the inflexible tongue, murmured assent.

Madame Gilbert, to whom the hearts of men had so often been as toys, was moved.

"My dear friends," said she gently, "I believe you, and I thank you. I have never played with your honest hearts, and I am proud that you should have given them so freely to me." She stretched[Pg 193] forth a hand to each man, and first Ewing and then Ching touched with his lips her white fingers.

"And if not to Thursday Island whither then has Willatopy gone?" asked Madame.

"I do not say that he has not gone to Thursday Island," replied Ewing. "Port Kennedy, with its tin houses and bare dusty streets, is the one town in the Straits with any number of white folk. Clifford has played on the boy's white blood, and carried him off there to flaunt his lordship before the populace. As a preliminary canter, so to speak. If the brown Lord of Topsham meets with favour in the Island, I doubt he will aspire to wider fields of conquest."

"Very like," agreed Ching, and then flung forth a speech which astonished Madame with its sharp sailor wit. Hitherto she had rated the Skipper as a dull dog. "Willatopy will not have sailed for England because that would mean leaving his yawl at Thursday Island. Nothing would induce him to risk the safety of his yawl."

"You are right, Captain," cried she. "That is final. The sailor, and Willatopy is a sailor born and bred, will cast off his mistress, but never his ship. He will return to us with his yawl. If later on he sails for England he will leave the yawl here in safety at her moorings. Why didn't you think of that, my circumspectious man, Sandy?"

"I am an Engineer, not a sailor. It is engines I think of, not ships. They are nothing to me but the case for the bonny engines."

"Exactly," said Madame. "That is just the difference between an engineer and a sailor, between Devon and Glasgow. You are clever, Sandy, and[Pg 194] as a man of business, you soar far beyond our poor comprehension. But Captain Ching here is the wiser man."

It was not very subtle, perhaps, but in this fashion Madame Gilbert put down the talkative Ewing, and exalted the silent Ching, and bound the hearts of both men to her. More than ever she felt assured that if she needed help—and the fracture of the laws of God and man at her behests—Ching and Ewing would stand immovably with her.

"Madame," said Ching, and it was to be observed that when he spoke of the sea and his own craft, his tongue instantly loosened. "Can you tell me when you propose that the Humming Top should cast off and sail for England?"

"I had not considered leaving. There is no hurry, is there?"

"There is no immediate urgency. But it is my duty as Captain to make certain representations to my owner. We sailed in the middle of March, and we arrived here after a voyage of two months, most of it in warm weather. We have now lain for five weeks in a tropical tidal bay. The yacht is foul, very foul. The brown boys who dive under her for bits of silver thrown from the rail say that she trails weed four feet long. The teak sheathing which runs from bilge to bilge, and stretches from near the forefoot to the stern post, is uncoppered. It was attached rather hastily, and copper was still scarce after the war. The wood is proof against worm, but it collects weed. When we do sail—it is now near the end of June—we must make for Singapore, and go into dock for a clean. The Chief will tell you that though we do not lack for fuel,[Pg 195] the foul bottom will grievously increase our consumption."

"That is so," explained Ewing. "I have dived down myself, and seen the blooming garden which flourishes under our bottom. We are a tropical curiosity. We attract every kind of growth except coral. If we linger much longer we shall become fir-r-mly attached to the sea floor. We lie in six fathoms, but the weeds grow like bananas. At the consumption which brought us here steaming eleven knots, we should not now make eight. And if we get much more foul we shall not make six. Sir John's dollars will bur-r-n in grand volumes when we put out to sea. It goes against my conscience, Madame, to waste good oil on a foul ship."

Madame knitted her brows. "Both of you know now how I am placed. I am a woman and curious; I want to see the drama of Willatopy unfold itself before me."

"So do we," said Ching. "We do not ask you to depart until the need grows urgent. But remember. We must dock at Singapore, and thence home to England will occupy the best part of two months. The Humming Top is long and narrow, with a very low freeboard. The bulwarks of her monkey fo'c'sle are not more than twelve feet above the water, and her stern is no more than seven. She can live anywhere, but she was built for speed and fair weather cruising; if we ram her through the autumn gales in the northern hemisphere she will be a very wet and uncomfortable ship. The seas will be all over bridge and charthouse and smokeroom, and you will have to live battened down. You won't like that,[Pg 196] Madame, and your maid Marie will yield up her immortal soul."

"I am not worrying about Marie's soul—or her stomach," said Madame callously. "How long can you give me?"

"Four weeks," said Ching firmly. "If we sail towards the end of July we should be in English waters by the middle of October at latest."

"Make it so," said Madame. "I promise that you shall hoist the Blue Peter—is that right?—before the end of July. And perhaps sooner. For at the rate at which events are moving, Willatopy may soon determine to transport his person and fortunes to England. At the last, if all my persuasions that he should remain here fail—and I am afraid that they must fail—I shall offer him passage in the Humming Top. It is fitting that the Lord of Topsham should enter upon his inheritance on board a Toppys ship. Sir John Toppys will not be best pleased, but if Willatopy insists, the haughty Family must swallow their medicine, and pretend that they like it. Noblesse oblige! So long as the Humming Top is available, Lord Topsham must not travel in a hired steamer. Besides," added Madame with a smile, "I shall be able to keep my eye and perhaps my hand upon that detestable little cad, the indispensable managing clerk. And if the sea should be very rough, perhaps a kindly Neptune might whisk him overboard."

"If you give the word, Madame, he shall go overboard all right," said Ching, the descendant of Plymouth buccaneers.

"No. I will not allow crime where I command. I am not squeamish; in my time I have shot more[Pg 197] men than one or two, and when I shoot to kill, a soul is sped. But what I have done by way of duty, or in self-defence, has not been crime. Unless he provoked me beyond endurance, I would not slay even John Clifford."

"If I could do a wee bit murder on the swine under the rose, and stuff his corpse into a firebox, it would not distur-r-b my slumbers," observed Ewing. "But men talk, men talk. If the two of them sail with us in the Humming Top, and the weather comes on sweet and dirty, we must put up powerful petitions to an all-wise Providence. From the look of the beast, I should judge that he has a taste for whisky. Now, whisky, discreetly administered, might help the Divine wisdom to interpose with an effective boost, when Clifford reeled against a lee rail. We are all in the hands of God," concluded Alexander piously.

"We are a sweet crowd," observed Madame, with an air of detachment. "We borrow the yacht of a highly respectable baronet and profiteer. On the voyage out we convert her into a rollicking dope smuggler. We now contemplate petitions to the Almighty that He should boost a drunken Hedge Lawyer over our rail while on the voyage home. And withal, we are God-fearing members of some Christian Church. I, it must be confessed, am an indifferent Catholic. Alexander is a Scotch Presbyterian...."

"An Elder when at home in Paisley," interjected the Chief—"and Captain Ching is what—a Plymouth Brother?"

"Never," declared Ching in horror. "The[Pg 198] Church of England for me. I will have no truck with sectarians."

"It is a beautiful example of the essential unity of the Churches," went on Madame wickedly. "The Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian Elder and the zealous English Churchman are all agreed to advise their God to interpose for the confounding of a Hedge Lawyer. And if nothing happens, their belief in the efficacy of prayer will get a nasty jar. Our unanimity is at least some indication that in human judgment the little sweep were better dead. But, my friends, reflect that worms as noxious came through the war unscathed, while the best of Europe's manhood perished. Let us not bank on the discriminating taste of the Almighty, or on the alertness of the Providential ear."

Alexander Ewing was not unwilling to plunge into an active theological controversy, and Ching, with a lightening of the eye, showed that he too smelled battle. But Madame waved her hand, and forbade reply. If she were a Catholic, I am afraid, as she herself admitted, that she was not a very good one.

On the following evening Ching and Ewing returned to the yacht, and three more days went by without word of the yawl, Willatopy, or John Clifford. Then news came like the blare of a bugle summoning Madame to the fight.

She had just returned from her morning swim, and the bathing dress, which rapidly dried in the sun, was still upon her body. The motor boat had just buzzed in through the passage of the bar, and brought an officer with a message.

"The Captain's compliments," said he, "and I[Pg 199] was to tell you, Madame, that the brown boy, Willatopy, with the man called Clifford, are sitting in the smokeroom of the yacht drinking Sir John Toppys' port."

"Port!" cried she. "At this hour of the day!" Her eyes flashed, and she leapt for the tent. Upon her feet she slipped a pair of sand shoes, and about her person buckled the linen trench coat. Then going to her dressing case she picked out the Webley automatic which in her tent or in her cabin was never very far from her hand. She dropped the pistol into her right-hand pocket.

"Come," said she to the officer. "I am ready. Willatopy is Lord of the Island, but Madame Gilbert is Lady of the Yacht. I am going to give Mr. John Clifford, solicitor of St. Mary Axe, a lesson in the laws of property."

"Shall I stand by with a monkey wrench?" enquired the officer eagerly. He was a young engineer.

"It will not be needed," said Madame serenely.

[Pg 200]


The tide was at half ebb, and the trip out to the Humming Top much wetter than Madame had expected. The long Pacific rollers were already crashing upon the bar, and had the motor boat delayed its return by half an hour, even the passage inshore would have become too boisterous for safety. But Madame, anxious lest she should be cut off for more than six hours from the port-drinking intruders in the Humming Top's smoke-room, gave orders that the surf must be faced at all hazards. So the powerful little craft, driven by the full power of its eight-cylindered engine, gave back buffet for buffet, and got through, though the passenger and crew were soaked to the skin in the effort. Madame, in her bathing dress and linen trench coat, had been saturated so often since her first passage of the breakers with Willatopy, that she paid no heed to salt water. She had always loved the sea, and was becoming well salted.

Ching and the apologetic steward met her at the top of the accommodation ladder.

"With your permission, Captain," said she, "I will now take charge." And, turning to the steward, flung out the one word "Explain!"

"Mr. Willatopy and his friend," said the man, "arrived alongside in the yawl and came aboard.[Pg 201] Mr. Willatopy said that the surf was too bad for the yawl to go in, and that they would wait until high tide in the yacht. I knew that you, Madame, would wish me to treat the young gentleman with respect, so I asked him, and his friend, to enter the smoke-room. A few minutes later the bell rang, and Mr. Willatopy said that his friend wished for a drink. Would I get a bottle of port? I had no orders, and I was aware that Mr. Willatopy is said to be the new Lord Topsham, so I brought the wine in a decanter. Then I reported what I had done to the Captain. He was very angry, and at once sent off the motor boat to fetch you. He knew that you would risk the surf, and was angry that you should have been called upon to do it. I ought to have reported to the Captain before I carried out the young gentleman's order."

"On the whole, Captain," said Madame, thoughtfully, "I am not sorry that this incident has happened. We now know the line of Clifford's attack, and can take measures to meet it. I will counterattack at once."

She mounted the steps of the boat decks, and walked up to the smoke-room. She stood at the open door looking down upon the trespassers, who had already made free with nearly a whole bottle of Sir John's carefully selected wine. Willie had his back to her, so that the Hedge Lawyer saw her first. His mean, thin face went white, and he tried to push back his chair, forgetting that it was screwed to the deck. Willie turned, and seeing Madame, raised his glass.

"Have a drink, Madame?" cried he. "I hate whisky, but I like port, which John taught me to[Pg 202] drink in Thursday Island. I like tumblers better than these silly glasses, and the sweet, sticky stuff we got in Thursday Island has more taste than my cousin's soft thin wine. Here's to your health, Madame." He emptied the glass, and pointed to the decanter, which was nearly exhausted. "Ring the bell, John; Madame wants a drink."

But John Clifford, with those sombre, deadly eyes of Madame Gilbert upon him, shivered.

"Willie, dear," said Madame, softly, "will you please listen to me for a moment." When Madame speaks like that there lives not a man so insensible as to disregard her. Willatopy passed a hand in rather a bewildered way across his eyes, and turned his chair round towards her. Then, in a stiff, automatic fashion, he rose to his feet and murmured: "I beg your pardon, Madame Gilbert."

She entered the room, and sat down on the sofa.

"Be seated, Willie, I want to talk with you. No," she added sternly to John Clifford, who was sliding out by the farther door. "Stay where you are, lawyer. Sit." She snapped out the word as one gives an order to a dog, and Clifford sat.

"Willie," said Madame Gilbert, in that soft, compelling voice of hers, which none can resist. "On the island yonder in a tent I live with my servants. The land is yours. Any day, at any moment, you could tell me to go, and I should go. But while I live in that tent, pitched upon your land, I am your guest and under your protection. Would you, Willie, enter that tent in my absence, and give orders to my servants? Would you seat yourself, uninvited, at my table?"

Willatopy passed a hand again over his flushed[Pg 203] cheek and heavy eyes. "You are my guest on the Island, Madame, my honoured guest. I could not approach your tent without your permission. You know that, Madame."

"I know it, Willie. But think a little. This yacht is mine, lent to me by your cousin, Sir John Toppys. All the men on board are my servants. The yacht is as much my home as the tent ashore. An English gentleman, Willie, does not go into the house of his friend and order wine to be placed before him; he waits to be invited, Willie. Still less does he bring another, a stranger, with him. You cannot be an English Lord, Willie, unless you begin by becoming an English gentleman."

Willatopy looked intently at Madame all the while she was speaking, and his eyes lost their blurred look. As the fumes of the unaccustomed port cleared away, the native sense of courtesy in his brown and white blood revived. He sprang from his chair, dropped on the floor at her feet, and laid his black, frizzy head upon her knees.

"Forgive me, Madame," cried he. "I was—a perfect hog."

"Willie dear," said Madame, as she passed her hands gently over the long frizzled hair, and arranged the tresses neatly on her lap. "Now that you are an English Lord, you will really have to get your hair cut." In this fashion the two became reconciled.

Willatopy shed a vinous tear or two on Madame's trench coat, and then sprang violently up as a thought struck him.

"You, John," roared he. "You white slave! Why did you not tell me that it was a hoggish[Pg 204] thing to come on board Madame's yacht and order Madame's wine? I did not think. You are my white slave, and it is your job to think for me. Madame, have I your permission to kill John here in your yacht? I should like to begin at once."

"I will deal with him," said Madame. "Willie, have you half-a-crown?"

Willatopy, looking puzzled, thrust his hand into a trouser pocket, and produced a silver coin.

"It is a two-shilling piece," said he. "Will that do?"

"Quite well." Madame drew the automatic pistol from her side pocket. John Clifford cowered before her, screaming. "Worm and liar," snapped Madame. "I am convinced that you are a hedge lawyer—so scurvy a wretch could be none other—but I will never believe that even for three months you were ever an English officer. Come outside and and look upon your death." She drove him out on to the deck at her pistol muzzle. He crouched down by the rail, and covered his eyes with both hands.

"No," said Madame. "That will not do at all. I had not intended to slay you—just yet—but I am going to make you watch me shoot. As a warning. Take away those hands and look at me." Her voice snapped at him as it had done before, and Clifford obeyed—as a dog obeys its mistress. He sat up by the rail and looked at her.

"Willie," said Madame. "Stand over there with your back to the sea. I don't want anyone to be hurt, not even the brave lawyer. When I give the word, throw that coin into the air. I am going to show to Mr. John Clifford a little bit of trick [Pg 205]shooting which he may bear in his remembrance—as a warning. I shall not hit you, Willie."

"I am not afraid," said the boy with a touch of pride. He did as she commanded. With his back to the sea, and at the word from Madame, he spun the florin into the air.

She had stretched out her pistol arm, and with the muzzle followed the scrap of white metal which flew upwards sparkling in the sun. Madame declares that she never looks at her gun sights—that she shoots by instinct. Exactly at the instant when the coin stopped in act to fall, Madame's pistol cracked, and the two-shilling piece, hit fairly by the small .25 bullet, flashed over the rail into the sea.

"Teach me to do that," cried Willie.

Madame returned the pistol to her pocket, and contemplated Clifford.

"I am a woman," said she, "and very nervous. My terrors, when a stranger approaches my camp, even by day, are lamentable. I struggle against them, but it is no use. My one consolation is this pistol, which never leaves my side, and my skill in its use. My nerves are so uncontrollable that I am sure no stranger—not even one so innocent of offence as Mr. John Clifford—is safe within pistol shot of me. As a friend, who would be desolated should an accident befall him, I say to Mr. Clifford: 'keep clear of Madame Gilbert.' Captain," went on Madame, turning to Ching, who had not been far away during this scene, "Mr. John Clifford regrets that he must leave us. Would you please order out a boat, and put him ashore over there by the mangroves. He will have a pleasant walk through the woods of a couple of miles before reaching a human[Pg 206] habitation. Contemplation is good for the penitent soul. And should he approach the ladder of the yacht again—I doubt myself if he can be persuaded to pay us another call—will you please give orders that Madame Gilbert is not at home—neither is her port."

The dinghy was swung out and Clifford invited to enter. He turned to Willatopy.

"Are you coming too, my lord?" asked he, obsequiously.

"No," said Willie. "I hate walking. And your society does not amuse me. The brown girls on Thursday Island who would not touch you, when you sought their favours, were right. You are an unclean beast. Go and walk and sweat by yourself. I am tired, and would sleep, if Madame will permit."

He stretched himself upon the sofa bunk in the smoke-room, and instantly fell asleep. Madame sat watching the dark, quiet face, so very negroid now that the bright blue eyes were veiled, and presently Ching joined her.

"Captain," said she softly. "The white blood stirs, and with it the taste for white vice. Look at those lines under the eyes which stand out purple against his skin. Listen to that harsh note in his breath, and watch the uneasy twitch of his long, thin fingers. It was not in that restless fashion that he slept when Willatopy was our pilot and our guest. His Heirship lies heavily upon him already, and its burden has scarcely begun. Do you still hate Willatopy, Captain Ching?"

"No, Madame. Since you told us of the black boy's devotion to his white father, I have hated[Pg 207] him no more. I wish to help his young lordship if I can."

"He will need all our help," said Madame, sighing. "The evil that Grant prophesied is coming upon him. If it is port to-day, it will be brandy to-morrow. He hates whisky now, but for how long will his palate reject it? Clifford will steep him in foul liquors if he can. For the moment Willatopy is unspoiled. When I spoke in tones of reproof, he fell at my feet and kissed my coat. He implored my forgiveness. But for how long can I fight against the wiles of Clifford?"

"What strikes me the most forcibly may seem to you a little thing," said the Skipper. "Willatopy arrived here in his yawl at an hour when he could not pass the bar for the fury of the swell. He came aboard us, and said that he had forgotten the state of the tide. Think of that for a sailor and pilot like him. When he was conning the Humming Top, Madame, he knew the tide level to an inch, but now he forgets that at certain states his own yawl cannot sail over his own bar. I think that the pair of them must have been lying up and drinking most of the night, Madame."

"Captain, you are very wise. What you say frightens me."

Willatopy stirred upon the sofa and groaned.

"John," he murmured, "you said the wine was not strong, and did no harm. But my head burns, and I cannot see. My father said...."

His voice trailed away, and he slid into half-drunken unconsciousness.

"That Hedge Lawyer is a cunning devil," said Madame. "It looks as if he represented port as a[Pg 208] temperance drink, favoured by the strictest missionaries. I wondered a little why port was chosen for the first introduction to alcohol. Captain Ching, it sticks in my mind that my patience and courtesy towards that stranger will fail me, and that he will get hurt. When I saw him sitting opposite Willatopy in this room, making free with my yacht and my wine, my hand went to my gun. He saw death in my eyes, and wilted."

"It is a job for us, not for you," said Ching deliberately. "Shall we take him out into the Straits—and lose him? Not a man aboard of us would give away the secret. My conscience would not worry me. I would as soon drown that devil as a rat."

"We may come to it. One's views upon the sanctity of human life change with the circumstances. I do not hold it crime to slay Clifford if the killing of him would save Willatopy. But it would be a postponement, that is all. Other poachers would find him out and we should not then be at hand to interpose for his protection. There is an alternative which appeals to me more strongly. Clifford is away toiling through the woods yonder. Willatopy is here with us. Suppose, while he sleeps, that we send in for my camp gear, ship it on board, cast off our moorings, and sail immediately for England. Willie would then have been cut loose from the unscrupulous poachers of St. Mary Axe. I would hand him over to the Trustees of the Toppys estates, who must give his claims full recognition, and keep a constant watch upon him in England. Disaster, degeneracy, will fall upon him, I fear. They are the present perils of his explosive[Pg 209] half blood. But at least he would have been preserved from deliberate corruption. Will you please summon Alexander. He is shrewd and vairy circumspectious. Let us have his opinion."

Alexander considered the proposal with a grave, judicial countenance. He had been below tinkering with his adored engines—painting the lily of the high-speed turbines—and had seen nothing of the expulsion of John Clifford. When told how Madame had plugged a two-shilling piece with a .25 pistol bullet, he expanded with admiration.

"Yon Clifford will go in fear of his dirty life," said he with satisfaction. "He will scuttle for the woods when the shadow of our sweet Madame falls across his track. You are a bonny shooter, but don't puncture the vermin if you can keep your wee gun off him. I like fine your new plan. There is a flavour of lawless kidnapping about it which appeals, which appeals. Both Ching and me are with you up to the neck. Will you send ashore now for the gear?"

"You can't," interposed Ching shortly. "'Tis close on low water, and the bar is not passable."

"Oh!" groaned Madame. "Like Willie, I had forgotten the tide."

"It's a peety, a sore peety," observed Ewing. "But not an insuperable obstacle. The tents and the gear are worth much money; still they belong to Sir John Toppys and not to us. He would be the loser by their being left behind, not us. The Idle Rich can afford losses of gear. We can maroon the tents as we propose to maroon the law agent."

"But," objected Ching—to the best of plans there is always some intrusive objection—"what about[Pg 210] my six men in the escort tent, and Madame's maid, Marie? We can't leave them behind."

"I will willingly leave Marie—she can console John Clifford if she has the stomach for him. But I agree that we can't leave Ching's men. They are wanted to work the yacht. Besides, after my stores were exhausted they would have nothing to live on except bananas and the produce of Mrs. Toppy's fowls and garden. It would be a low down trick to play on the poor dears. We must confide Willie and his future to the hands of Fate. If he stays asleep until the tide rises, and we can evacuate my camp, we will accept the omen, up anchor, and sail to-night for home. Willie himself shall be our Pilot. But if not, not. I am a fatalist, and shall not grumble either way. Will you please get the boats ready, Captain, so that no time may be lost. We must do our bit to help the workings of Fate, but I shan't interfere to the extent of locking Willie up, and kidnapping him by force."

But Fate had already decided. Willatopy awoke at about one o'clock, announced that hunger devastated him, and for the first time lunched with Madame and her companions in the saloon. As Willatopy he had messed with the junior officers; as the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham he sat at Madame's right hand in the saloon. There was no pretence now that he was a byblow of Will. Toppys.

It was interesting to observe Willie at table. He had been brought up strictly as a native of the Straits, and in his father's hut had lived exactly like other brown boys. Now and then, during his visits to Thursday Island, he had sat at table in rough company. Once or twice, I believe, the[Pg 211] banker Grant had invited him to tea with his wife and family. In the usages of white society, with these small exceptions, Willie was wholly unversed. Yet no one watching him now, seated beside Madame, and talking freely with Ching and Ewing, would have suspected the slenderness of his social equipment. He never touched knife or fork or plate until by observation he had seen how the others used them. He watched his companions as narrowly as he watched the reefs by which, and over which, he sailed his yawl. His method was slow, but it was very sure. In the course of time he satisfied his hunger, and all through the meal he never committed one noticeable gaucherie.

"The boy is white and a gentleman," thought Madame. "What a pity it is that his skin did not come as pale as that of his sisters. But for that most unfortunate coffee-coloured epidermis, there might be a chance for him after all. The brown skin together with the explosive mixture in his blood are too overwhelming a handicap to carry." No wine was served by Madame's strict orders.

Afterwards in the smoke-room over coffee and cigarettes—Willie had never smoked before, but seemed to relish one of Madame's favourite Russians—Madame openly spoke to Willie of their intentions had he not awakened so inopportunely.

"It is not too late, Willie, to go now with us of your own free will. Lord Topsham—for you really and truly are Lord Topsham, a great English Lord—cannot for long remain on a little island in the Torres Straits. He will be sought out by his own Trustees, and by loathsome sharks of the Clifford breed. Now that you know the truth and your white[Pg 212] blood stirs in your veins, I become convinced that you must go to England. Before you had gone on that trip to Thursday Island, I thought it possible that you might stay in peace here. Now I am sure that sooner or later you must go. And if Fate wills, sail with us, your friends who love you, in a Toppys ship. We will take you home with us, and put you in your lawful place."

But Willie said No. The wine, dying out in his system, had left him full of terrors. The gallant lad, who had fought for three days to save his godlike father from the devils of the sea, who until now had never felt fear, trembled before the unknown.

"I will never leave Tops Island," muttered he. "This is my home. I am a Hula, and my father said, 'Always be Hula, Willie, never go to England.' I cannot disobey the words of the Great White Chief, my father. Clifford I hate. I am sorry, Madame, that I did not kill him when first he landed on my island. It was you who saved his miserable life from me. In Thursday Island he tried to give me whisky, and, when I refused it, told me the sweet sticky port was good and safe to drink. I liked it, Madame. He brought two, three cases away in the yawl, and some other stuff like port—he called it cherry brandy. That I like too. It is hot and sweet. And then there is...." In his artless fashion he was about to speak of the girl Marie, but the white blood stirred, for the first time in his relations with women he felt shame, and the sentence was left unfinished.

"It is as you will," said Madame gently. "We will remain here for a little while longer. Should you change your mind and wish to go, here is the[Pg 213] Humming Top at your service. We cannot sail without our Pilot. We should be cast away on the reefs for sure. You brought us to your island, Willie, and only you can take us away."

"I will be your pilot to Thursday Island whenever you wish, Madame. But no farther. I will return here in my yawl."

"And what about Clifford?"

"If he has not gone, I will cut off his head. It amuses me that he should be my white slave, but I grow weary of him. His head will smoke nicely over the fire in my cookhouse."

The afternoon drew on, and the tide rose to its height. Willie, looking out over the bar, decided that the moment for his departure had arrived. He went to the stern of the yacht where the yawl had been tied up.

"One moment," said Madame. "Those cases which Clifford bought? The port and the cherry brandy? Shall we throw them overboard, Willie?"

The boy's face worked uneasily. He had tasted of the juice of the Californian grape and found it very good. He had decided not to go to England to claim his lordship, but had not decided to cut himself loose from all white seductions. It was his intention to carry the cases to his island, and there to offer alcoholic hospitality to the girl Marie. Madame knew nothing of what passed through his opening mind.

"Shall we throw the cases into the sea?" she enquired anxiously. "It will be better so, Willie, my dear."

Willie did not refuse her in words. He stood hesitating, and then suddenly leaped over the rail.[Pg 214] Down he dropped true upon the yawl's deck, and steadied himself with one hand on the mainmast. In a moment he had cast off and run up the sails.

Madame Gilbert watched the yawl fly through the slack water towards the bar, and heave and pitch in the swell. Willie took her over as a skilful rider lifts a horse over a gate, and slid away into the distant recesses of the bay.

She turned to Ching, who stood silent at her side.

"There is something hidden," said she. "Something that we do not know. One does not all at once become so fond of drink. What is that something, Captain Ching?"

Ching shook his head. He did not know. If Alexander had been present, I do not think that he would have shaken his head. He might not have known more than was vouchsafed to Ching, but he would, at least, have put up a guess. Alexander, the circumspectious man, did not lightly confess to being baffled.

Willie moored the yawl at the head of the bay, and went ashore in the collapsible boat. On the edge of the beach he met Marie, who, in the absence of the terrible Madame Gilbert, had gained courage.

"My lord has been a long time gone," whispered she, regarding him sideways with the eyes that bit. "Marie has missed you very much."

"You will not miss me any more," said Willie. He kissed her—it was the salute of the seigneur to the beautiful white slave—and with his arm about her waist walked slowly towards the woods.

[Pg 215]


"When you go to England and become a great Lord," said she, "you will forget poor Marie."

"Yes," agreed Willie, as one stating the most unchallengeable of truths. Marie Lambert frowned. It was not the reply for which she had angled.

A few more days had passed. Every afternoon, when released from attendance upon Madame Gilbert, the French girl would climb up to an appointed place on the hillside above the camp and there meet Willatopy. They were, she judged, safe from observation. Madame, when not afloat on the sea, stuck to the sea shore, or read books in the shady entrance to her tent. Never gratuitously active on foot, Madame rarely ascended the hill which formed the backbone of Tops Island. She was enjoying a spell of real physical laziness after her unremitting labours in the war.

The bright blue eyes and dark brown skin of Willatopy seemed to the depraved taste of Marie to be the most fascinating masculine combination in colour that she had ever enjoyed; when to them was added the glamour of Willie's succession to an historic peerage, Marie felt that for once in her lurid career she really loved. Willie, she assured him,[Pg 216] occupied the whole of her capacious heart. There was no room, no room at all, for junior deck and engine-room officers. Marie knew her mistress. She was well aware that a threat from Madame was no vain play with words. She was convinced that the discovery of her intrigue with Willatopy would mean: first, confinement in the ever-rolling yacht at anchor—a nauseating prospect—and finally, her return to France with Madame as an accuser and relentless enemy. Yet she risked all to sport with Willatopy in the woods.

"That is unkind," said she. "You do not love Marie any more." Willatopy, who was lying at her feet, raised his face lazily. He permitted her, if she pleased, to bend over and kiss him. She did bend over, though conscious of some slight humiliation.

"What do you want?" asked Willatopy, rather crossly. "I have left my brown girls for you. When I was in Thursday Island, I would not look at them. I rejected one whom I used to love, and she wept bitterly. When I offered her a white man, John Clifford, she smacked his face. None of the brown girls would put up with John. All scorned him. He is a filthy little beast. For you, Marie, my white woman, I have turned my back on the brown girls. What more do you want?"

"I do not wish that you should go to England and leave me. If you go, Madame Gilbert will take me away."

"I have told you many times that I do not go to England."

"But you are a lord, the Lord of Topsham."

"I can be a Lord here on my Tops Island."

[Pg 217]

"I should like, Willie, to be the Lady of Tops Island."

"Well," said Willatopy, knitting his brows, "that is easy. When Madame and the yacht have sailed away, you shall stay here, and be my white Lady. My boys shall build you a fine hut thatched with sago palm."

"I don't think, Willie, that I care much for a hut. You are rich. You have the money of your father, and of your uncle, the late Lord. You can send for men, skilful men, and build a house on this island fit for a white woman and her—her—husband."

"I did not say anything about a husband," observed Willatopy drily.

"But Willie," urged Marie, "you are a grown man. Very soon you will want a home of your own and a wife who loves you. An English Lord must have a white wife, and here am I. You will never find a wife fonder or more beautiful than I would be."

"I do very well as I am," said Willie, philosophically.

Marie Lambert ground her teeth. She had thought to fascinate the brown Heir, and to twist him about her fingers. A marriage, at Murray or Thursday Island, would be as legal as a marriage at St. George's, Hanover Square. If she could prevail upon Willie to marry her now, before he learned the value of his peerage, she would become an English Lady, the Lady of Topsham. After that, there would be no more talk about a fine house on Tops Island. England, and English society, would be her new sphere of campaign.

[Pg 218]

She had not, I fancy, thought of this scheme at the beginning, or perhaps she would have been less complaisant. A discreet aloofness might have proved a more potent inducement to matrimony than the free love which she had offered. Marie, sitting there grinding her teeth, felt that she could hate Willatopy as savagely as a day or two ago she had loved him. If she had not also feared him, almost as much as she feared Madame Gilbert, she would have let loose her vixenish rage. It was perhaps a little late, but, as a new weapon, she affected a judicious propriety.

"I should not have met you—like this, Willie, if I had doubted your intention to marry me. White women, especially French women, are not like brown girls. They regard their—reputation. If you have been playing with me, I shall not meet you again—much though I love you."

Willatopy thoughtfully considered this new development. To him, her speech was just foolishness, but in his tolerant way he tried to understand it. In his own small world, wives were models of virtue, but girls—and widows—were not. Marie was making a fuss about something, though quite what it was he had no idea.

"One does not marry everybody," he said at last. He could think of no sentence more illuminating.

"I am not—everybody—or anybody," replied Marie with dignity. "I am a French lady, as good a lady as Madame Gilbert. When a man makes love, as you have done, to a French lady, she naturally thinks that he intends to marry her."

This was far over Willatopy's head. It is the woman who proposes marriage in the Straits, and[Pg 219] the man who, after fall consideration, gives or withholds his assent. An amour, such as this one of his with Marie, had nothing to do with marriage as he understood it. A man married so that his wife might work for him. He could not picture the white Marie, in her pretty French clothes, working for him or anyone else. She was altogether charming to sport with, but as a wife quite inconceivable. He tried to explain his simple code to Marie. It was not easy, for neither of them had a full command of the English language. Their vocabularies were sufficient for everyday speech, or for love-making, but were incapable of expressing the deeper mysteries of social philosophy.

Marie gathered that Willatopy would not marry her because she could not work in his hut or in his plantation, and that he had no use for a wife who couldn't. If that was all——

"That is nothing," exclaimed she brightly. "That only means that we must not live in Tops Island. After we are married we will go to England where you will be a great Lord and I shall be a great Lady. I shall be Lady Topsham, and I will make Madame Gilbert crever with jealousy."

"But I am not going to England," observed Willatopy, stolidly. He had fully made up his mind not to marry Marie, and was quite capable of continuing his refusal indefinitely. If she turned from him in consequence, he would be grieved, but marry her he would not.

Rather bluntly, perhaps, he conveyed this determination to the perceptions of Marie Lambert.

Furious, she sprang up. Willatopy rose with her. She was about to rate him in voluble French when[Pg 220] she remembered that he did not understand a dozen words of that beautiful language. And since she could not do justice to her emotions in English, she stood there gasping, tongue-tied.

Willie smiled, and took both her hands. She strained from him, but in his grip she was helpless. Slowly he drew her close, and bent his bright eyes upon hers. Thus he held her.

"Let me go," she muttered. "Your eyes shine. They make me faint."

"They shine like the sky at dawn," said Willatopy. "Go back to your tent, Marie, and meet me here to-morrow." He kissed her farewell, and, half dazed, she went without another word.

At the appointed hour next day she came again. Willie was late, and when at length, gracefully debonair, he strolled into the clearing, Marie raged furiously.

"I had not intended to come again," cried she, "and now I am sorry that I did."

"You could not keep away," replied the brown Sultan of Tops Island.

"Bête," roared Marie, and burst into a passion of French, which broke uncomprehended about Willie's ears. She then tried English, but the language would not flow. It is a terrible thing for an angry woman to possess no vehicle of speech. Willatopy, quite unmoved, drew out a packet of cigarettes and lighted one. Since his definite recognition by Madame and the Humming Top as the new Lord Topsham, he had adopted his white holiday clothes as a regular island wear. Clifford and Marie had convinced him that it was improper for a great white lord to go about looking[Pg 221] like a Hula savage. His suddenly acquired taste for cigarettes was satisfied by plundering the scanty store of the white slave John.

Marie Lambert plucked the cigarette from his mouth, and flung it down. His eyes lighted up, and he grappled her, crushing the thin white dress into her soft arms. Frightened, she struggled feebly. He kissed her, and she hung helpless in his arms.

"Don't be a fool, Marie," said Willatopy.

He put her down on the ground and lighted another cigarette. Marie, conquered, no longer attempted to suppress this mark of his indifference.

It was not until the time drew near when they must part that Marie returned to the topic of the previous day. Her tenure of Willatopy's affections was so insecure that no moment must be wasted if she were to rivet him to her by the bonds of matrimony.

"It shall be to-morrow," said she softly, patting the brown cheek, which was not far from her own.

"What will be to-morrow?" asked he lazily.

"We will start for Thursday Island in the yawl—and be married there."

"No," said he.

"Yes. Englishmen love French girls, and all of them will envy the Lord Topsham with his wife Marie."

"You could not work in my hut or in my garden. I am very rich, and do not work. But my wife must work very hard indeed."

Marie had been thinking over this aspect of Hula matrimony, and had her answer pat.

"You may take a brown girl as your working[Pg 222] wife, if you please. She shall labour for both of us, you the Lord and me the white Lady."

"One time, one wife," replied Willatopy stolidly. "I would not take a brown girl to wife until after I had put you away from me."

"She need not be a real wife," explained Marie eagerly. "Just one who worked. I should be the real wife, of course."

Willatopy considered this proposal gravely. It had certain advantages, for, in his careless savage fashion, he loved the white Marie and her novel attractions. He was exceedingly reluctant to part with her. All this matrimonial fuss worried him, for he had some glimmering of the truth that an English marriage in Thursday Island—the kind of marriage which had bound his parents, and had made him the legitimate heir of Topsham—was something much more serious than the simple native ceremony of the Islands. It might not be easy to put away a Marie wedded to him in Thursday Island.

"My boys will build a hut here," said he at last, "and we will hold a marriage feast. I will take you then. That will be better than the English way."

"No," declared Marie positively, "that would be no more than—this. You could cast me off and go to England, and I should be left here alone on this hateful island."

"My mother and my sisters would be with you," said Willatopy haughtily.

"No. I must marry William, Lord Topsham, in Thursday Island, or—we must part, Willie. I was weak to-day, but I shall not come any more if you will not marry me."

[Pg 223]

Willatopy gritted his teeth, and Marie was nearer to receiving a hearty whipping than she had been since her nursery days. Nothing protected her except the vague stirrings of Willie's English blood. He would chastise his white slave, John, with unction, but his hand unaccountably shrank from striking this white woman who irritated him so grievously.

He began to speak in a halting fashion, and revealed to the anxiously listening woman the strange new thoughts which were struggling for expression in his awakening mind.

"John says that I must go to England. He says that if I send him away, others will come later. He says that an English Lord cannot live on an Island in the Straits; it is against the law, the English Law, and the Government will come for me. If I try to stay here they will put me in prison. He says that the English Lords are sent for by the King to go to London and help him to rule, and they can't refuse, unless they want to go to prison as rebels. That would be to disobey the King. I love the King, and would not disobey him. If he sends for me, then I must go.... I love you, Marie, but love has nothing to do with making you my wife. I don't want a wife. When the King sends for me he will send for William, Lord Topsham, not for my wife. You and Madame Gilbert are the only white women I have known, close. I want to see other white women, lots of them, before I marry a wife. John says that they will all be my slaves in England, and that I can take my pick among them. I should like that. Of course I could not pick great ladies like[Pg 224] Madame Gilbert to be my slaves, at my pleasure, but there will be many others. Like you, Marie."

Marie raged, but that unlucky language difficulty hampered her freedom of speech.

"Madame Gilbert is not so very great," she got out at length. "She is my mistress, because she is rich, and because she saved me when I was in trouble in France. She is just an ordinary widow, not a real lady like I should be if you married me, Willie."

"What is that?" cried Willatopy, starting up. "Madame Gilbert a widow? She told me she had a big handsome husband who loved her very much. She told me so when I said that I would like to marry her. I was a boy then, and had not become Lord Topsham."

"Madame Gilbert is not truthful—like me. She says any old thing which suits her at the moment. Sometimes she tells men that she has a husband, sometimes that she is a widow. She is really a widow, I swear it to you. Her husband was killed in the war."

"How do you know?" asked Willatopy suspiciously. "I would believe Madame before you. She is a Queen, not a common thing like you. She cannot be a widow."

"She is," stated Marie positively, and left the assertion to sink into Willatopy's mind. She was horribly jealous of the boy's honest devotion to Madame Gilbert, and knew that widows were held in scant respect in the Torres Straits. Willie ranked his mother, once the wife of a white god, as altogether different from the ordinary run of brown widows, but she had been, so far, the one exception[Pg 225] permitted by his social code. The simple savage mind does not like exceptions.

"No," said he at last. "I am sure that Madame has a big, handsome husband as she declared to me."

"No," shouted Marie.

"Marie," growled Willatopy, "I don't want to smack you, but if you say anything against Madame, I shall, hard."

"You love Madame better than you do me," grumbled Marie.

Willie had never analysed the various mental and physical emotions which are vaguely called love, and reflected upon this charge.

"I expect that I do," said he, arriving at a judgment.

Marie sprang to her feet.

"Que tu es bête," she roared, "bête comme un sauvage. You are the—the—limit. I go." She dashed away through the woods in a fury. Willatopy grinned as he watched her disappear. His first rapture in the conquest of Marie Lambert was quickly wearing thin, and though he did not wish to part with his white mistress, a little of her society went a long way.

"I wonder," he murmured, "if the she-devil speaks truth, and that Madame is a widow. I will ask her."

*         *         *         *         *         *         *

Madame was lying in a rest chair at the entrance to her tent when Marie arrived. She calmly surveyed the girl who came to a halt before her and awaited orders. She allowed Marie a reasonable amount of time off every afternoon, but on this occasion the maid had outstayed her leave.

[Pg 226]

"Where have you been?" asked Madame.

"I met the Misses Toppys," explained Marie, "and they detained me. I thought that you would wish me to show the young ladies every respect. I did not like to leave them before they desired to return."

"Quite so," said Madame drily. "I hope that you also show Lord Topsham every—respect."

Marie started; never before had Madame used Willatopy's title when speaking of him to her.

"Certainly, Madame. Whenever I meet his lordship, which is but seldom."

"In the future, it will be even less seldom," serenely observed Madame Gilbert. "The motor boat is waiting for the water to deepen upon the bar. When she leaves for the yacht you will take passage in her. And after that, my dear, it will be la belle France. With what pleasure you will revisit France after so long an exile!"

Marie howled, and grovelled at Madame's feet. "Not France," screamed she. "Any punishment except France."

"Marie," said Madame, unmoved. "You should have learned in these years of our association that I am not wholly a fool. My arm is long, and my eyes can penetrate the thickets—of Tops Island, for example. Yesterday I learned of the clearing in the woods where you have been meeting Lord Topsham. To-day I had you watched—when going and returning. Before, I suspected. Last time in France it was a German officer in hiding. Now it is the brown heir to an English peerage. Your tastes are catholic. They must be restrained, my dear, or they will get you into trouble. When early[Pg 227] in the war I found you in Amiens with that German officer I had him haled forth and shot, but I concealed the identity of his associate. I believed your tearful story of innocence. You thought him a loyal Alsatian, didn't you? His accent, I remember, called for some little explanation. You have been a useful maid. I have given you every chance. I warned you, when first Lord Topsham—then the boy, Willatopy, our Pilot—came to us, what would happen if you played tricks with him. It is going to happen now. I shall accompany you to France and inform the civil authorities of the circumstances under which you were found by me four years ago at Amiens close to the fighting lines. The French are very hard upon those of their women who give shelter and comfort to enemy officers in hiding. The French are a susceptible race, yet much prettier women than you have been shot or hanged for smaller crimes than you committed. You will not find the Humming Top very comfortable. She rolls damnably at anchor. After two or three weeks of her you will become quite a hardened sailor. Then you will have leisure to reflect upon your sins and upon their punishment."

Marie sobbed out confessions and appeals at Madame's chair, but the heart of her mistress was harder than its oaken frame. Madame listened politely to the story of Marie's intrigue with Willatopy, and incredulously to her voluble promises of amendment.

"In any case," ended Marie, "I had done with him. He refuses to marry me."

"I thought that was the game," observed Madame. "It is ended, anyhow. And even if I had[Pg 228] not tumbled to your carryings on, you would have failed. You could not have been legally married here, and Captain Ching has my orders to blockade the bay. The yawl, with the happy bride and bridegroom, would have been stopped on the way to the wedding. I have not come to the ends of the earth to be foiled by a Marie Lambert. And now, if you will put up your things, the boat will convey you to the Humming Top. For the rest of my stay here I shall dispense with the services of my maid."

At the last Marie showed the courage of her race. She rose, packed up her clothes, and went forth in the motor boat without another word. France was a long way off, and much might happen before she was carried thither to her doom. But the yacht was a very present horror, and Marie needed all her courage to face confinement within its heaving frames. Still she went quietly without another word of wasted appeal. At the boat's side she turned and bowed deferentially to her mistress.

"Au revoir, Marie," said Madame.

"Au 'voir, Madame," said the maid.

Madame Gilbert watched the boat buzz away, and nodded approvingly.

"She has pluck," she murmured. "That is much. We will reconsider the second part of the programme. But for the present it shall hang like a sharp sword over Marie's head."

Marie watched Madame standing there on the shore, and smiled grimly.

"At least," thought she, "I have told Willie that his goddess is a widow. That will take a bit of the gilt and wings off her." From which it would appear that Marie, though subdued and humbled, was not in the least repentant.

[Pg 229]


Willatopy did not immediately discover that Marie had been forcibly embarked and definitely severed from his embraces. He did not attend the place of tryst next day, for he was otherwise engaged. One of his brown boys had caught a "sucker," which he pronounced to be in excellent condition for the chase; a sucker suggested turtle; and the claims, first of sport and secondly of turtle, cooked native fashion in its own juices, banished all thoughts of Marie from his mind. Much more civilised men than the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham have subordinated Love to Sport and the Table.

Madame was an early riser in the Island. At seven o'clock the following morning she was up, and was about to seek refreshment in a swim, when her steward approached.

"Lord Topsham's compliments," said the man, "and could Madame spare his lordship a moment before leaving for her bathe?"

Madame frowned slightly. She naturally expected that Willie had descended in wrath to demand the return of his ravished mistress, and she did not want to face a struggle, and possibly a quarrel, before breakfast.

[Pg 230]

"His lordship awaits your pleasure," added the steward, "outside the escort tent."

There was nothing to be done except to meet Willatopy at once. He might perhaps restrain his emotional expression in the public arena of the stirring men's camp.

Willatopy hailed Madame joyously. He had gone back at a bound to the gay light-hearted boy who had killed sharks with trench daggers and caught fish on the Barrier in his jaws.

"Are you Willie or Lord Topsham?" asked Madame. "I love Willie, but I don't think that I am going to approve of Lord Topsham."

"With you, dear Madame," cried the boy, "I am always Willie. Let us forget that I am a great English Lord. One of my boys has caught a beautiful sucker. He has tied a string to its tail and tethered it to a stone in the water down yonder. As soon as you have bathed and had breakfast, Madame, let us be off after turtle in the motor boat. If we are quick we can eat turtle in the evening, real turtle." He smacked his lips.

"What, please, is a sucker?" enquired Madame. She had already been out with Willie on a not very successful attempt to spear turtle in the open sea, but had never assisted at a chase a la sucker.

"A sucker," explained Willie, "is just a sucker. It sticks to the turtle."

Madame turned to the group of officers and men who stood at a respectful distance at the opening of their tent.

"Explain please," cried she. "What is a sucker?" Captain Ching detached himself and approached.

[Pg 231]

"A sucker," he explained lucidly, "is a remora."

"Thank you," said Madame sweetly. "That is excellent as far as it goes. But what, pray, is a remora?"

Ching struggled helplessly against such dense feminine ignorance. If, in the absence of the quadruped, one asked a farmer "What is a cow?" he might become as costive in speech as poor Ching.

The voluble Ewing, who was within earshot, offered his services.

"The remora, Madame, is the fabulous creature which used to cling to the ships of our forbears, and drag them backwards with all sails set. At the high school of Paisley they used to teach me that the remora, fastening its sucker upon the galley of Marcus Antoninus, prevented him from bringing succour to his Queen Cleopatra." The pun when first uttered was accidental, but Ewing, unhappily perceiving that he had achieved a play on words, repeated the offence deliberately, which was beyond pardon.

"Your will obsairve, Madame," remarked he, "that I am a man of wut."

"Alexander," said Madame, "if I have any more of your wut I shall send for my gun. From your description it would appear that the remora is rather a formidable pet."

"That is so. The galley of Marcus Antoninus was pulled by the remora against the efforts of a hundred rowers."

"Whew!" whistled Madame. "One might as well go a-fishing with a Kraken."

"But, Madame," broke in Ching. "A remora is[Pg 232] not often more than two feet long. It is a powerful beast for its size."

"So it would appear. My brain whirls. A fish two feet long which can pull a galley against a hundred rowers must be of considerable horsepower. And yet Willie's boy has tethered it to a stone. It is true that he has not revealed the size of the stone—it must be as big as yonder mountain."

"The beast is fabulous," observed Ewing.

"No," said Ching, "Echeneis Remora is a well-known fish."

"Willie," appealed Madame in despair. "Lead me to your captive. These experts will drive me frantic."

Willatopy led her about a hundred yards, and showed to her a fish, less than two feet long, wriggling about in a shallow pool. A string had been fastened near its forked tail, and the stone, which held it captive, weighed some five pounds. Willie pointed to the curious, palpitating organ, some five inches long, upon the shoulders of the fish by means of which it could adhere by suction to a turtle or to a boat. Hence the name "sucker."

"That is a remora," observed Ching.

"Is it?" said Ewing sourly. "That wee bit thing a remora? Then all I can say is that our ancestors and our historians are damned liars."

"Your criticism is not new, Sandy," observed Madame. "In the unkind light of positive evidence, tradition and history have a way of crumpling up. How do you use the beast, Willie?"

Willatopy explained that the sucker adhered to the plastron of a turtle, which could then be played[Pg 233] by means of a long thin line fastened to the sucker's tail. For greater security a hole was bored through the sucker's back, a bit of string run through, and attached to the main line.

"Hum!" remarked Madame. "Painful for the sucker, isn't it?"

With the customary assurance of the sportsman, Willie claimed that the sucker rather enjoyed than otherwise the use to which its services were put. By a similar contention a worm loves to be impaled upon a hook.

"If we are quick," said Willie, "there will be time to cook a turtle for supper. Have you ever tasted turtle, Madame, real turtle?"

"So I have been assured," replied Madame cautiously.

"I don't expect, Madame," put in Ching, "that you have ever eaten turtle cooked in its own shell, native fashion."

"Never. Is it good?"

"Good! Good!" Ching sighed deeply. "If they eat food in Heaven that is the sort of food that they eat."

"Will you come with us, Captain, and afterwards join me at supper?"

"I will, Madame. I would not be absent for a thousand pounds."

"And why should I be left out?" wailed Ewing. "I cannot offer a thousand pounds for my supper. I am a poor man. But if half-a-croon...."

"You shall come for nothing, Sandy," said Madame graciously.

The motor boat was ready shortly after breakfast. With her eight-cylinder forty-horse-power[Pg 234] engine she could drive through the surf on the bar between half-flood and half-ebb, and the big curved storm curtain in her bows kept her passengers moderately dry, except at the extreme ends of her tidal range. Willie took on board some sixty yards of thin cotton line wound upon a wooden check winch, which, long since, he had purchased in Thursday Island. The wealth of Willatopy enabled him to improve upon native fishing methods. He fitted the winch upon a piece of stick, and lashed this stick to a thwart of the boat. He explained that by keeping the motor boat broadside on to a sucker-attached turtle—a manœuvre which her dominating speed made easy—he could play the beast over the gunwale from his winch. To his hunting equipment he added four spears—similar to those which had become the terror of intrusive lawyers—and to the shafts of these spears were fastened coils of long stout cord. Turtle hunting a la sucker looked a complicated business, though, according to Willie, the principle was easy of comprehension. One despatched the sucker in quest of a turtle, just as our ancestors flew falcons after heron, played the turtle by way of the sucker's tail and soreback for so long as might be necessary to tire the animal, then at favourable opportunities the spears were thrown, and finally the quarry was brought to boat by means of the cords attached to the shafts of the spears. All this took time, for a turtle in these waters ran up to some four feet in length and two hundred and fifty pounds in weight.

"There is a powerful lot of eating in a turtle," remarked Ewing when these statistical details had been made clear.

[Pg 235]

"Wonderful eating, too," murmured Ching, and fell into deep contemplation of the divinely copious ambrosia which would reward success in their chase.

"Does the sucker get any reward for its services?" enquired Madame.

"If it is not too far gone," explained Willie, "my brown boys eat it."

"The lords of creation are ungrateful pigs," said Madame.

Willatopy took one of his boys to do the spearing part of the programme, a junior engineer relieved Ewing of all care for the engine, Ching steered, Madame sat in the bows under the storm curtain, and the expedition set forth. It was bound for the sheltered coves on the west coast of Tops Island, where turtle were to be found disporting themselves in five or six fathoms of water. The sucker, a most accommodating beast, was put over the side of the boat, and instantly grappled the wooden planking to its adhesive shoulders. It is this passion for free travel which has made the remora the slave of turtle-hunting man. He is a hoe-boe among fish; too lazy to swim, he makes others swim for him. Then man steps in and utilises his laziness.

In the sheltered waters to leeward of the Island turtle could be seen swimming far down; now and then one would rise, take a gulp of air, flop over and descend. They were very shy, and when the shadow of the motor boat fell upon them would flee instantly. Upon Madame's previous visit Willatopy never got within spear throw of the beasts, but now he was better equipped for the discomfiture of turtle. He bade Ching anchor, but haul short on[Pg 236] the cable, so that the launch might get away quickly upon emergency. The motor was declutched and kept running slowly so that power would instantly be at call. Then he watched intently the depths of the clear sea. For some time no turtle approached the hovering boat, but, after about half-an-hour, the great carapace and flappers of a fine specimen could be made out. Willie waited patiently until the turtle began to rise for breath, and then leaning well over he grabbed the remora, and skinned its sucker off the bottom of the launch. The direct retaining power of a sucker is enormous, but one may lever up an edge and peel it off without great difficulty. He rubbed the organ of suction vigorously with his hand—"to wake it up" said he—and then, as the turtle neared the surface some forty yards away, threw the remora far out towards it over the side of the boat. The turtle gulped and sank, and with it, adhering tightly to its plastron, went the remora. Denied free, joyous transport under a motor launch, it would put up with turtle. Its vigorously chafed sucker itched for adherence to something. The check on the winch whirred as the thin line ran out.

The turtle could not feel the suck of the remora which clung tightly to its shell, and, for a while was unconscious of the strain upon Willatopy's line. A pound or so of pull upon a beast weighing two hundred weight is not very noticeable. It wandered to and fro upon its lawful occasions, and all the while Willatopy kept the line tight by winding it in, or letting it run out against the mechanical check. He was subjecting the big turtle to less[Pg 237] pull than one puts upon a twenty-pound salmon, and the situation called for sublime patience.

Time passed, the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, the launch rolled lazily in the back wash of the Pacific swell, but Willatopy went on oblivious playing his turtle. He could not increase the strain lest the line be torn out of the remora's back. I cannot believe, in spite of Willie's assurances to Madame, that the remora itself really enjoyed the sport. A small fish with a string tied round its tail—and also rove through a hole in its back—and perpetually hauled upon by a heavy check winch, could not have been wholly comfortable.

The turtle wandered farther and farther away. Willie ordered the anchor to be hauled up, the propeller moved slowly, and the boat to be steered in a wide circle of which the turtle and the adhering remora formed the centre. For an hour or more this manœuvre was continued, until the turtle revealed plain signs of annoyance. Hitherto it had risen at intervals, showed maybe two inches of snout, while it took a mouthful of air, and then passed to the depths to feed. Now its head would come right out as it shook it savagely, and the upper flappers would beat the water in irritation. Willatopy did not hurry the chase. He wanted the turtle's attention to be so far diverted from the boat and concentrated upon its own troubles that he could approach within a spear's throw. But he steadily shortened his line, and directed Ching to make circles, or rather spirals, of ever-narrowing radius. Upon these sea expeditions Madame did not carry a watch, and was no accurate judge of time[Pg 238] without one. They had reached the fishing ground at about nine o'clock, and it was about noon when the second stage in the hunt began. Thus Willatopy had played his turtle for some two hours and a half. Once he could begin to get in work with his spears, the business would not take long in completion, though the natives, in their tiny canoes, hauled about by a speared turtle, will occupy some six hours in the killing. A powerful motor boat as a base of operation is very different from a bark canoe two feet wide, and with little more than an inch of free board.

The motor boat, steered by the deeply interested Ching, and guided by an occasional nod and word from Willatopy, closed in upon ever-narrowing spirals. The turtle, a huge beast, would now stay up a few seconds after each rise, shaking its big puzzled head, and churning the water into angry foam with aimless flappers. Willie signalled to his boy, who picked up a spear, and got upon his feet. He was a skilful boy, and it was a pretty bit of javelin work that he put in. The turtle was twenty yards distant at its last rise, yet the boy got it full under the flapper with his first cast.

"Now," roared Willie, as the turtle dashed down and away, leaving a trail of blood on the water, and the line fastened to the spear shaft spun out. Round came the motor boat and followed fast, yet not so fast that the cord was overrun. Willie wanted the turtle to pull against the barb of the spear, as it had pulled against the check of his winch. The end now approached. The brown boy, another spear in his hand, waited for a second chance, and got it. His spear, flung with the most[Pg 239] dazzling force and accuracy, caught the unhappy turtle under a lower flapper as it rolled over to dive, and it was now attached, fore and aft, by two cords to the boat. Still Willatopy did not hurry; a turtle's flesh is soft, and the barbs might be torn out, and the prey lost if haste followed too close upon the heels of desire. He went on playing the beast sideways, hauling in a little upon his cord, as it weakened from its wounds, until finally he could get within spear's thrust and reach a clean finish.

"Now," said he again, as the turtle, pulled in within six feet of the boat, wallowed on the surface, and his boy, leaning down, drove a third and last spear right home between shoulders and carapace. "It is finished," said Willie with satisfaction. "We will now go back at speed and start upon the cookery."

"I am rather sorry for the brave turtle," observed Madame.

"Not me," said Alexander, who throughout had done nothing, and done it with his customary efficiency. "I have yet to taste a supper which Ching values at a thousand pounds of our grievously depreciated currency. It must be a supper worth coming twelve thousand miles to eat."

"It is worth swimming twelve thousand miles to eat, if you couldn't get to it any other way," said Ching, for once really eloquent.

The turtle had been killed and hauled aboard at half-past twelve. Half an hour later the motor boat, driven at twenty knots, butted its humped shoulders through the surf, and sped down the bay to Madame's camping ground. A crowd of Willie's brown boys awaited the arrival of the hunters. How they[Pg 240] knew that a turtle had been caught I cannot explain. They did know, and wading into the water, they dragged it forth with enthusiasm.

Their knowledge, acquired so mysteriously, had already impelled them to light the fires for the cooking, and the stones had been getting hot long before the motor boat had passed the bar on her rush for home.

"Now watch, Madame," said Ching. "I have seen native turtle cooking in Queensland, and it is worth seeing. It may be Stone Age cookery, but we can't beat it with all our modern appliances. If the Lord Mayor knew what turtle really tasted like when properly cooked, he would let the Mansion House for what it would fetch, and live for ever in the South Seas."

"We want eight hours," pronounced Willie. "No more, and not a minute less. So jump lively. Madame by nine o'clock will be hungry, but she will be glad to have waited."

"I have a healthy appetite at all times," quoth Madame, "and am always eager for my meals. But if turtle is like what you suggest, I will wait for it till midnight."

"Eight hours," again said Willie. "No more, but not a minute less."

While they talked, the boys had cut off the head and the fore flappers of the turtle, and grubbed out its inside with knives. They hollowed out the beast as if it had been a pumpkin. Those inward parts which had been taken out were cleaned carefully, and replaced under the stern inspecting eye of Willatopy. His reputation was at stake, and he had determined that Madame should partake of a[Pg 241] supper worthy of the goddess that he still reckoned her to be. Then a hole was dug in the sand, and the turtle levered up till the tail and lower flappers had been buried deeply. The headless beast stood up rigidly, and the hole between carapace and plastron, where its neck had been, yawned capaciously. The boys went to the smaller of the two fires, and clearing away the red-hot ashes revealed a dozen flat stones, about the size of small saucers. These stones glowed red as the ashes amid which they had been heated. They were picked one up by one between sticks, and dropped down through the cavity of the neck into the interior of the waiting turtle. As they fell, they hissed savagely, and a thick oily steam poured forth.

"It smells good," murmured Madame.

"Wait," said Willie. He inserted a stout, clean strip of bamboo in the turtle's stomach, and stirred the stones thoroughly, so that they might make burning contact with all the interior juices.

In the meanwhile the brown boys had gone to the second and much larger fire, which was burning furiously. They cast on dry sticks and churned its heart so that the flames roared to Heaven. When its heat had been judged to be sufficient, they raked away the blazing wood from its bed, and Madame saw that the fire had been built upon stones laid together to make an oval saucer of about the same size and shape as the turtle's carapace. These stones under the fire had also become red hot. Under Willatopy's stern exacting eye the sand about the turtle was scraped away, and the beast, with the hot stones in its belly, eased down carefully so that not a drop of the precious juice was[Pg 242] spilled. Then four boys lifted it, carapace downwards, and deposited the body on the hot bed which had been prepared in readiness as its last resting-place. Instantly, so that none of the essential heat might be dissipated, all the boys fell to work piling green leaves upon the turtle, and then sand upon the leaves until a mound, four feet high, rose above the hot stone bed upon which the promised supper lay stewing slowly in its own rich juices. Above and below the carapace glowed the hot stones, and within white flesh and glutin fizzled together in silent preparation. It was, as the Skipper said, Stone Age cookery, yet all the modern appliances of civilisation have not come near to equalling its performances.

"I feel hungry already," wailed Madame, turning sorrowfully away from the sacred mound.

"Eight hours," said Willie sternly. "No more, but not a minute less. The Turtle Will Then Be Cooked."

Madame issued invitations to all the officers and men of her escort, and as night drew on, tripods were put up round the mound, under which the supper was cooking, and ships' lanterns hung upon them. Wood for a fire was also prepared and piled up hard by, for the air, after sunset, rapidly cooled as the heat radiated from the shores of the Island. Mrs. Toppys and her daughters, all of whom loved turtle cooked native fashion, were eager to take part in the feast; and since the turtle was so very large, Madame offered a reversion in the hot corpse to Willie's brown boys who had so cunningly provided the apparatus of cookery.

"They shall eat," said Willie, "but not until we[Pg 243] have finished." Willatopy, Lord of Tops Island, did not pretend to any truck with democracy.

I do not often describe meals in my books. They are usually functions of physical necessity rather than of intellectual interest. But I cannot refrain from indicating that turtle, cooked native fashion with hot stones, is a divine repast. A supper which, merely in anticipation, moved the silent Ching to eloquent enthusiasm, cannot be dismissed in a bald sentence. Yet how can one convey in words the supreme satisfaction with which our friends in Tops Island began and ended that memorable supper? European turtle soup, even that of the Mansion House banquets, is a pale, tasteless potage when placed in comparison alongside a carapace filled to the brim with the concentrated essence of turtle perfectly cooked in its own sacred juices.

At half-past nine that evening Willatopy, in tones of becoming gravity, announced that supper might be served. The company gathered about the mound in silence. The occasion was too solemn a one, and feelings were too deep, for smiles or speech. The ship's lanterns had been lighted, and rugs spread conveniently near to the adjacent fire. Willie raised his hand, and two brown boys stepping forward, cleared the sand and leaves from the turtle's shell. Then, with fingers carefully wrapped in wet leaves, they slowly prised off and lifted the plastron. Upon its stone bed lay the bountiful carapace, and within glowed in the light of lanterns a thick deep brown steaming turtle stew. Gallons of it! It is a poor wretched word, stew, but I am dredged empty of adequate terms in which to describe that [Pg 244]gorgeous compost. The smell of it rose up like a benediction, and smote all present in the most sensitive nerve centres of their beings. They gasped and remained speechless. Madame alone retained something of her self-possession. She beckoned to her steward, and whispered the one word "SPOONS!"

The man handed them round, and, first, Madame, and then the others, prepared to dip.

But Alexander Ewing, towering, forbidding in his pale emotion, raised a warning hand.

"Let us, my friends," said he solemnly, "first ask a blessing."

"Dinna be o'er lang, Sandy man," whispered Madame. She had been in act to dip her spoon, and the scent of concentrated turtle had come near to driving forth from her all the polite restraints of civilised feeding. "Cut the grace short if you love me."

Alexander asked a blessing, fervent in its agitated brevity. He did not keep them waiting long. He was himself too eager to begin.

Then they dipped their spoons, slowly sucked down the quintessence of turtle—and worshipped. Their thanks before meat may have been perfunctory; afterwards it was heartfelt. They all guzzled, every man and woman of them. Willatopy sought not to enquire why his Marie was not present in attendance upon her mistress. He was too busy with his spoon. Mrs. Toppys with Joy and Cry, though turtle was no new experience for them, fell to as eagerly as did the Europeans. In some respects it may be considered by the judicious to have been a horrid spectacle. But give me the most sour-faced and dyspeptic of social critics, let me place[Pg 245] him before a carapace well filled with real turtle, cooked native fashion for eight hours, and his high-browed criticism will go to blazes. He will guzzle with the rest.

They did not stop until exhaustion, following upon repletion, drove them to the rugs about the fire. There they lay and smoked Madame's cigarettes. They did not digest. One does not digest real turtle, cooked native fashion in its own juices. One absorbs it whole.

Then the brown boys came and fell upon the turtle. They lapped it up with balls of dried grass; they ate noisily and disgustingly; but those who had fed before them looked on with approving sympathy. No restraints, no civilised conventions, can be expected of those, white or brown, who sup late and hungry upon real turtle. Especially of those who have cooked it.

When all was finished, Madame suddenly remembered the humble hard-working sucker, to whose exertions they owed the feast which had been spread. She beckoned Willie to her side and whispered:

"What became of the dear sucker?"

"Oh!" replied he indifferently. "It was still attached to the turtle when we drew it in. It died in the boat, so I threw it away. It was no more good."

For a full minute Madame said nothing. Then: "Mankind," observed she sententiously to the stars which twinkled yet heeded not, "Mankind was never grateful to its true benefactors. And mankind never changes. But next time, Willie, please put the sucker back in the water before it is dead. It might come in useful another time."

[Pg 246]


That was the last of Madame Gilbert's happy days in Tops Island. Before twenty-four hours had gone by, the storm burst which whirled Willatopy as we have known him out of my story. In his place remained Lord Topsham. In the course of the last ten chapters I have tried to realise Willatopy and to paint his portrait for you. It has been a labour of love, for he was a gallant lad. But for the Lord Topsham, into whom by woeful mischance of birth he developed, I have neither respect nor affection. He seems to me to have displayed the worst qualities of the two races whose blood formed an unstable mixture in his veins. It is true that the boy never had a chance. The lawyer, John Clifford, and the girl Marie were the worse conceivable guides for his halting steps on the threshold of a new life. And just when Madame Gilbert's influence was most vitally needed by him it failed. She who had been raised to the throne of a goddess came tumbling down and lay prostrate—a mere human widow. Willatopy spurned both his gods—his dead father the wise madman of Tops Island, and the living Madame. He rejected the precepts of the father, and he bitterly resented the restraints which Madame Gilbert sought to impose upon him. His misguided, [Pg 247]masterful spirit then led him with terrible swiftness down the steep slope which ended in irretrievable disaster. I love the boy Willatopy, and I would that it had been my fate to tell this story differently.

When Willie found the place of assignation empty, on the afternoon which followed the turtle feast, he descended in great leaps to Madame's camp, and made enquiries of her escort. From a talkative sailor he learned that Marie had been embarked in the motor boat two days before, and had not returned to the camp. Willie scented a discovery of his amour, and, as a deeply resentful Peer of England, sought an explanation from Madame Gilbert.

"What have you done with Marie, Madame Gilbert?" demanded he.

"What has my maid Marie to do with Lord Topsham?" asked Madame. She saw the fury burning in the bright blue eyes, and faced him with a hauteur as fierce as his own.

"I have made her my white slave," growled he.

"That is very good of you," said Madame blandly. "But Marie Lambert happens to be my maid and otherwise engaged. By my orders she has been returned to the yacht, where she will remain. Please bear in mind, Willie, that your heirship to a Peerage gives you no rights whatever over my servants."

"John says...." began Willie, but Madame waved him into silence with a royal gesture.

"If you paid more attention to your father's memory and to my words, and less to that miserable wretch, John Clifford, you would understand better your position. An English Lord has no rights[Pg 248] which are not common to every English gentleman. John Clifford is deceiving you for his own ends, that he may take you to England and rob you. You think yourself rich, my poor boy. Wait till Clifford has had his will of you. There will not be a shilling left in your purse, and not an ounce of flesh upon your bones, when Clifford has done with the stripping of you."

"John came all the way from England to tell me that I was the heir of my uncle. You also came all the way from England, but you told me nothing. You must have known, for you came here in a Toppys yacht, the property of my cousin. Yet you told me nothing. John Clifford is a little mean white beast, but he has been more of a friend to me than you, Madame. Although you knew what I had become you told me nothing."

"Yes," said Madame calmly. "I knew. And yet I told you nothing."

"It was you who wished to rob me, you and Sir John Toppys. If John Clifford had not come I should still be Willatopy."

"It is my great regret that you have not remained the Willatopy whom I met and loved in the Torres Straits. You were happy then, you are unhappy now. Nothing except misery for you can come of this most lamentable succession of yours."

"John has often told me that you wished to rob me, you and Sir John Toppys. But I did not believe. I beat John for the words that he spoke against you. But now I begin to believe. You and your Humming Top would never have taken me to England if John had not come to search me out."

[Pg 249]

"You would not have wished to go to England if John Clifford had not come to spoil your life."

"Willatopy would not have gone to England. Why should he? But now that I am the lawful Lord of Topsham I shall certainly go. My father was wrong. I see now that my place is not here. I see it more clearly because you have tried to keep me in ignorance. You who were my friend, my false friend, have now become openly my enemy. You tried to steal my place in England from me, and now you have torn away my white girl, Marie."

"Willie," said Madame gently. "It is not very long since in the Humming Top I offered to raise the anchor and bear you homewards myself. Does this look as if I wished to steal your place from you? I offered to carry you home and protect you. It was you, Willie, who declined to go."

"I would not leave Marie."

"I suspected that Marie was the explanation. The publicity of a yacht does not offer much opportunity for assignations. You have behaved very badly towards me, Willie. You had no right to make appointments with my servant. Still less have you any right to resent my action in sending her back to the Humming Top. I am speaking to you exactly as I should to an English gentleman and a social equal. Lord Topsham has behaved badly, Willie. Lord Topsham, under the malign influence of that Clifford wretch, has got his head swelled. When you go to England you will have many miseries and many disappointments. You will discover that, in these modern days, English Lords count for nothing except for their worth as men. They have no rights and no powers beyond[Pg 250] those of common men. But, Willie, because of their rank and place they are expected to behave always as honourable gentlemen. It is no act of a gentleman to come ranting and raging at me because I stopped your intrigue with my servant Marie. An Englishman, even one without rank or station, would be ashamed to speak to me in reproof upon such a subject. He would have felt too much of shame for his conduct. You played me a low trick, Willie, and I am excessively angry with you."

"Why should I feel shame before you?" asked Willie haughtily. Never before had he used such a tone towards Madame Gilbert, and she looked searchingly at him. She had noticed and lamented the almost daily change observable in him, but though much of his old tender regard for her had been visibly slipping away, he had never yet used words of offence.

"Why should I feel shame before you?" he asked again.

Madame Gilbert shrugged her shoulders. It was a question difficult to answer. After all the boy was a Melanesian who had never been outside his own seas, and one could not expect him to comprehend the standards of social conduct in Europe.

"You were my friend, Willie, my dear friend. And Marie was my maid. Don't you see that your action was not quite worthy of one who calls himself Lord Topsham? You are now the head of a very ancient and honourable family."

"Honourable!" cried Willie scornfully. "You told me that you were the honourable wife of a big and handsome husband. Now I know that you are nothing but a widow."

[Pg 251]

"Who told you that?" asked Madame quietly.

"Is it true?"

"Yes, it is true. My big and handsome husband is dead. But what difference does that make? I put up my big and handsome husband because at our first meeting in the yacht, which seems now so long ago, your admiration was so very outspoken. You wanted, if I remember rightly, to marry me yourself."

"I did not then know that you were a widow. Men do not marry widows in the Torres Straits."

"So that is the trouble. I am a widow, and therefore disreputable. Willie, dear, when I think how much you have to learn about the ways of white men and women, my heart fails because of you. You will have a very, very, rotten time in England. Clifford is your white slave, and Marie is, or was, your white mistress. You have made a very bad beginning, and a beginning most unfortunate for you. You think, no doubt, that all white men will be your slaves and all white women will be at your pleasure. That is what Clifford tells you. He stuffs you up with this dreadful rubbish and stifles your sense—you have plenty of good sense about things that you understand—he stifles your sense with filthy liquors brought over from Thursday Island. You are a fly in the spider's web, Willie, and I, who have done my best to save you from him, am spurned as a mere widow. If you were a little older, my dear, you would remember that a Widow sat on the throne of England for more years than you or I are likely to live."

"Queens are different. My mother is a widow, but she also is different. Her husband was a white[Pg 252] god. You, Madame, are not different. You tried to rob me of my rank and place, and you have torn away Marie whom I loved. I will never forgive you, Madame. You thought that I was a helpless brown boy who could be played with and deceived. If you had been a queen with a big handsome king for husband I would have obeyed your wishes. I would have stayed here in Tops Island and forgotten Marie whom I should not love if she were not white. But I am not going to be ruled by a widow, even by one so beautiful as you. I am not Willatopy any more; I am William, Lord Topsham."

"I do not think," responded Madame coldly, "that I am greatly interested in William, Lord Topsham, or that I desire his further acquaintance. You have my permission to depart."

He stared, puzzled by the formula of dismissal. Then when Madame turned her broad back, his skin flushed into deep purple. He a great English Lord had been curtly sent away by a mere widow! Something must be wrong with the world which in ignorant imagination he had constructed. William, Lord Topsham, went to consult John Clifford, who advised that Madame, with her paraphernalia of tents and escort, should be summarily expelled from the Toppys property on the Island. But Willie in becoming an English Lord had not shed his native courtesy. So long as Madame wished to remain on Tops Island, she was free to stay. But for his part he would visit her no more.

Madame Gilbert summoned her friends into council, and described in detail the stormy interview with Willie.

"We were both very angry, very haughty, and[Pg 253] very ridiculous," said Madame. "I think that the late supper upon excessive quantities of rich turtle had something to do with our loss of temper. The high mightinesses of his brown lordship ought to have made me laugh. But there will emerge, I fancy, certain solid advantages. It is clear that Master Willie à la tête montée has flung away the precepts of his late father, and means to claim his English peerage. He will very soon find that the Madame Gilbert whom he is pleased to scorn holds the key to that project. We will begin at once to make ostentatious preparations for departure. You might, if you will, Captain, hire sundry brown boys to scrape weed off the Humming Top's teak fenders. Our preparations will instantly come to Willie's ears, and he will rapidly pass from curiosity to worry. Prompted by John Clifford it will dawn upon his infant mind that the Humming Top holds not only Marie, but the command of his passage to England."

"The boys will be delighted to scrape off the worst of our weed," said Ching, "and their labours will help us up to Singapore. But I don't quite grasp the rest of your scheme, Madame."

"It is quite simple," said she. "In these days of overcrowded shipping how is Willie to get away beyond Thursday Island unless as our guest in the Humming Top? He might hang about for months waiting for a ship to take him to Singapore, and might spend months more before he could get any farther. Grant, if I mistake not, will not unloose the money bags, and John Clifford, whatever may be his resources, will not spend a penny more than he can help. It will be the interest of both to come[Pg 254] hat in hand to me, and make peace. Then I shall command the situation and lay down my own terms."

"Madame is right," cried Ewing. "She always is. It will cost Clifford a small fortune to get Willie home by passenger steamers even if he can secure berths, which is not likely. When he is up against staying here or in Thursday Island at indefinite delay and expense for a passage, he will send his brown master to Madame to eat humble pie. I don't want to let either of them get out of my sight, and it will be a great pull for us if they come of their own accord."

"Besides," went on Madame serenely, "I have the bait of Marie locked up in the Humming Top, and Willie does not know that my hold over her is so terrifying that she will avoid him like the plague when he comes aboard. Let him find that out later for himself." Madame then explained the nature of her influence over Marie Lambert. "If she remains convinced that I shall certainly take her to France she may become reckless, but I shall hint judiciously that a rigid obedience to my orders may bring about a reprieve. I've got her tight, and Master Willie too. They may both be as savage as they please so long as they dance to my strings."

"The weak point of your scheme, Madame, if I may say so," observed Ching, "is the presence of that damned Jonah Clifford in my yacht. He will bring along enough ill luck to sink a battleship. My officers won't have him in their mess, and if I put him in the foc's'le there will be a mutiny among the men. The best of lawyers would make them restive, and this poisonous little blighter would bust up all[Pg 255] the restraints of discipline. Not a man in my ship would eat or drink with him. I would sooner give passage to a plague-stricken Chinky than to that Clifford beast."

"I feel for you," said Madame, smiling. "We will give him a cabin somewhere forrard, and let him take his food there. He shall learn what it feels like to be a pariah. The experience will do him good."

"I expect," observed Alexander thoughtfully, "that he will pick his bit of offal in the shaft tunnel. He won't be safe from man-handling anywhere else. My stokehold staff would love to put him in their fires."

"Still, however rightly unpopular he may be, we can't leave him here," declared Madame. "I cannot have that dear little Mrs. Topy and the jolly girls burdened with the swine hound. But we will dump him over the side at Singapore, and leave him to find his way home from there. We will carry him out of harm's way and then shunt him. I have quite decided to disappoint the poachers of St. Mary Axe. Once Willie, Lord Topsham, comes aboard my yacht, he doesn't leave it till I hand him over to his own Trustees. Sir John Toppys and Gatepath will be furious with me, but there is nothing else to be done. I won't have the boy plundered by those land sharks."

Madame's plans were at once put in train, and it quickly spread through the Island that good pay was to be won by diving down and cutting weed from the Humming Top's bottom. Willie's black boys deserted his plantation under the magnetic pull of the yacht's treasure chest. Boats full of[Pg 256] divers clustered about the vessel throughout all the hours of daylight, and every kind of scraper was furbished up and turned to account in the novel labour. It was given about that the Humming Top would sail as soon as her bottom had been made tolerably clean, and John Clifford, in dread of being marooned for months on Tops Island, was prepared to face even Madame's straight-shooting pistol rather than be left there by himself. He suspected that Willie would be welcome on board, but he cherished no illusions concerning his own popularity. He urged his lordly master to approach Madame with humility, and to seek passage for both. John Clifford, a human "sucker," had all the remora's love for free transport. His voyage out had occupied months and contained exasperations innumerable; whatever might be his sufferings in the detested Humming Top, they could not compare with the professional disaster of losing his hardly won client—spirited off in the yacht—and being left himself upon the loathed beach. He was insistent upon a free passage for both, the client and the lawyer. It cost him the surviving bottles in his liquor cases to win the assent of Lord Topsham, and he would not have won even with their fiery aid, had not recollections of the ravished Marie been present to Willie's mind. William, Lord Topsham, under the stimulus of hot, bad wine, became convinced that Madame had done him grievous wrong, and was savagely resentful. He had spurned her as a goddess. Now he came near to spurning her as a woman, and to accepting John's theory that Madame had swept Marie off into captivity because the mistress was jealous of his [Pg 257]lordship's attentions to the maid. The pair of them argued much as Madame had anticipated. Willie would regain his Marie under Madame's forbidding nose, and both would secure a passage to England in a luxurious private yacht. Neither appreciated the hidden disadvantages. Willie did not realise that Marie, given one last chance of reprieve from a shameful death in France, would flee from the smallest association with himself; and before Clifford's mind arose no picture of an outcast Hedge Lawyer, spurned as vermin by the humblest seaman, driven to pick his bit of offal in the shaft tunnel.

The preparations for departure went on, and for a week Madame Gilbert saw nothing of Willie or John Clifford. The lawyer she had not met since she had thrust him off the yacht's deck into the mangrove swamp. Mrs. Topy and the girls she encountered now and then. They looked at her sorrowfully, but said little. Some hint of Willie's intended abandonment of Tops Island had been conveyed to them, and they grieved. The mother, and perhaps the sisters also, realised that if he went they would never look upon his face again. He was an English Lord; they were Hulas of New Guinea. Lawful inheritance ran in the male line; to the women it brought nothing except loss. From the artless chatter of Joy and Cry, Madame gathered that Willie was working up an appetite for the humble pie. He was furious against her, she learned, and smiled. Madame had been fond of Willatopy, but she felt very little regard for William, Lord Topsham. She did not care how furious he grew so long as he fell in with her plans.

[Pg 258]

Willie took his meal as soon as the divers had all been paid off, and the work of cleaning completed—in so far as it could be completed out of dock. He approached the camp one evening, observed the ostentatious signs of packing up, and then plunged into a request that Madame would see him. She graciously assented, and he was shown into that tent whither not so long since he had fled, a frightened savage boy, and sobbed out his troubles at her feet. Then he had been Willatopy; now he was William, Lord Topsham. Just as Willie had changed so Madame had changed. She was no longer the half-maternal comforter who had nursed the frizzy head in her lap and playfully suggested that he should really get his hair cut in honour of his peerage. Now she received him with ceremony, bowed him towards a chair, and seated herself opposite. He who had been so gay and outspoken was now tongue-tied, his spirit frozen by the chilly atmosphere in which Madame had enwrapped herself. Even then had Madame relented, stretched out both her hands, and smiled upon him in the old fashion, I believe that the boy would have cast aside his absurd pretensions to dignity, and given back to her his heart. Madame could, I am convinced, have made him kiss the dust off her feet. But she was still sore and angry. A goddess does not take pleasure in being tumbled into ruin by a brown half-caste, and Madame, who had brought so many white men to her feet, scorned to win an easy conquest over Willie. Since he had elected to be William, Lord Topsham, he should be treated as he deserved.

"Well," said Madame, as the boy mumbled and[Pg 259] stammered before her. "You wish to speak to me?"

"They say that you are leaving my Island," muttered Willie.

"Yes," replied Madame. "There is nothing to keep me here now. I stayed as your friend. You have spurned me, and I go. My yacht is under orders to sail as soon as the camp gear has been transferred. I am obliged to you for your hospitality, Lord Topsham, and should have called to bid you farewell and thank you. Since you have come I thank you now." She was certainly not making his humble pie very appetising.

"We have been honoured by your presence, Madame," said he. It was quite a good beginning, and gave him courage. "And since I have been so fortunate as to be able to show you hospitality, I feel bold enough to request a return favour from you."

Madame stared. The speech did not sound a bit like the composition of Willie—certainly not of the old Willatopy—and had little flavour of the Hedge Lawyer. There were no books upon the Island from which Willie might have gleaned polite phrases. The change in him from brown to white, which was taking place before her eyes, was almost incredible in its speed. She remembered his faithful recollection of his father's words, and supposed that expressions which the father had used remained embedded in the son's mind.

"It will be a real pleasure, Lord Topsham," said she with gravity, "if I may be permitted to return your kind hospitality."

"You once offered me passage to England in the[Pg 260] Humming Top," said Willie. "I refused then but I shall no longer refuse if you repeat the offer."

"Consider it repeated, Lord Topsham," said Madame, and a smile flickered round her lips. "Since you have decided to go to England it is fitting that you should go in a Toppys ship."

"And my lawyer, Mr. John Clifford?" enquired he. A little while since since it had been "My white slave, John." Now it was "My lawyer, Mr. John Clifford."

"I will not pretend that I care for the society of your lawyer. But I will not be so unkind as to separate a client from his legal adviser." This was language above Willie's head, and it was his turn to stare. Madame translated: "John Clifford may come in the yacht, but please don't expect me to entertain him myself. You will be my guest, but Clifford must fend for himself with the men."

"Of course," said Willie, indifferently consigning the Hedge Lawyer to the shaft tunnel. "He is a noxious animal. But he is my lawyer, and I would not leave him here."

Madame smiled again, and thought of how the legal adviser would be shot off into desolate space at Singapore. She was willing that he should travel thus far in the yacht, and hoped, but without confidence, that his voyage would be pleasant.

"Thank you, Madame," said Willie, rising. "We will come aboard when you are ready to receive us. Have I your permission to go?" He was a quick lad, very quick to pick up English phrases.

Madame relaxed at the words, and her old friendly smile shone out. If Willie had then forgotten his ridiculous assumption of dignity and relaxed[Pg 261] too, the pair of them might have attained to happy reconciliation in one another's arms. But Fate had spoken, and the boy moved towards his destined end. "How could we sail," whispered she, "without our Pilot Willatopy?"

He frowned. "I will sail as your guest, Madame. But Lord Topsham is not, and will not be, your pilot."

"Well, well," muttered Madame as she watched him go, "I could not have believed that my boy Willatopy would so quickly turn into an insufferable fool. So he is too proud now even to pilot the Humming Top. Soon he will be too proud to sail his own yawl. His pride will come down with a pretty hard bump upon the unkindly soil of England. That is some comfort."

She sent for Ching, and told him the latest of Lord Topsham's incarnations. "He is now much too fine a gentleman to navigate a steam yacht. His Highness will presently seek the services of a valet when his wardrobe has had an opportunity of development. He pictures himself surrounded by white slaves among whom you and I have the honour of inclusion. Captain, can you manage to take the blessed yacht back to Thursday Island without butting her aground? That confounded Peer would sneer disgustingly at us if we couldn't get through the channels without his help. He wants to bring us to our knees imploring his assistance. I would sooner that the Humming Top were wrecked in the Straits and perished with all hands."

"I think that I can do it," said Ching cautiously. "His young lordship brought us up here so fast and[Pg 262] fearlessly that I took no soundings, but I have all the channels marked, and the bearings of every headland. It stuck in my mind that we might have to get back without a pilot, so my first officer or myself were on watch all the time in the chart-house following the course, charting the channels, and working out the bearings. We have had a lot of time on our hands here, and have filled some of it by constructing a chart of our own of the Torres Straits. I can't con the yacht with the ease and certainty of his lordship, but I can get through without bumping much on the ground. After we pass Thursday Island, it is just deep-sea work up to Sunda. I can manage, Madame, I think."

This assurance from the careful and competent Ching gave Madame Gilbert the utmost satisfaction. Now that William, Lord Topsham, though anxious to take passage in the yacht, had refused to work for his living, she would have perished rather than seek help from him. He should learn that there were others besides himself capable of navigating his own familiar seas. She blessed the cautious foresight of the complete seaman, Robert Ching, and was prepared to trust him to save the bottom of the Humming Top and the face of her owner. As for William, Lord Topsham, her resentment began to take root and grow with tropical rapidity. The boy Willatopy, whom she had loved, was in danger of being obliterated altogether. And yet until the Hedge Lawyer appeared to bring woe upon the happy Island, he had been a boy eminently lovable.

[Pg 263]


"I spent nearly two months on Tops Island," said Madame to me, when telling her story in Whitehall, "and I was exceedingly loath to depart. I had by accident picked out the very best season in the year. There was not a drop of rain, the big sun shone gloriously all day long, and the regular rise and fall of the south-east trade wind kept down the heat. In my tent, which was wide open by night and day, and had generous air spaces between the walls and roof, the temperature never rose above 85 nor sank below 65. We called that winter in the South, but it was just a perfect English summer, smiling upon the tropical growth of a Pacific island. Whenever I thought of a return to a desolate European autumn, I shuddered to my bones. If I were not an intensely modern woman," she went on reflectively, "I would spend three months of every year in Tops Island. But it takes such a devil of a long time to go and return. And perhaps my second stay would be so unlike my first—there would be no Willatopy and no Humming Top—that I should never go again. It is always a mistake to seek the repetition of a delightful experience. I don't suppose that I shall ever again see little Mrs. Toppys, the Hula wife of wise mad[Pg 264] William, or those dear girls in the banana-leaf petticoats. They had lost their shyness of me, and clung about my neck when the motor boat came to bear me off for the last time. I consoled them with bright chains for their brown necks, and gave to the Topy family two of Sir John's tents and quite a lot of his camp gear. I am afraid that all through my Southern adventure I made very free with the property of our good profiteer of Wigan. He never called me to account, the dear thing. The last I saw of my camping ground, as the boat sped off, was the three Topy women kneeling on the sand crying to me to come back. I wonder what they would think of me now if they knew all."

William, Lord Topsham, and his legal adviser had already gone off in a whaleboat, so that when Madame mounted the accommodation ladder all was ready for departure. The mooring hawsers had been cast off, and the bow anchor cable hauled short. The tide was flowing into the bay so that the Humming Top's cutwater pointed towards the Coral Sea outside. At a word from Ching, who stood alone on the bridge, the steam winches rattled, and the anchor was run up.

John Clifford had discreetly vanished below, but Willie stood not far from Madame Gilbert on the boat deck. Ching rang for half-speed astern, and the long narrow yacht backed into the bay to give herself room to make the entrance. At the sound of the engines Willie started and his eyes flashed. For a moment he became once more the sailor and the incomparable pilot. By instinct, rather than intention, he moved towards the bridge ladder and mounted the rungs. At the top Ching faced him.

[Pg 265]

"Do you wish to take charge, my lord?" asked the Skipper.

"No," mattered Willie, "I am not a pilot. I am Lord Topsham."

"Then," replied Ching, very firmly, "I must request Lord Topsham to leave my bridge. No passengers are allowed here."

Willie returned to the boat deck and seated himself gloomily by the rail. He could not keep his skilled eyes off the channel through which they had begun to pass, but he felt grievously the rebuff that Ching had dealt him. The loss of Madame's friendliness had taught him something; the Skipper's cold professional words had taught him more. He began to realise that an idle English Lord is of no account in a ship in comparison with a pilot. As Willatopy, the pilot, he had been, by sheer merit, Lord of the Bridge; now he was titular Lord only of Topsham, a far-off Devonshire hamlet. It was a bitter lesson in relative values.

Madame walked over to where he sat, and made her last effort towards a reconciliation between the new friendless Lord of Topsham and the real world of men and women.

"Willie," said she gently, "I heard Captain Ching. He means that though he won't have Lord Topsham on his bridge he will give the most kindly welcome to our pilot Willatopy."

But Willie remained stupidly sullen. "There isn't a Willatopy any more," said he.

"I am sorry," said Madame, and for the last time she turned her back upon him. She was never a patient woman, but I think sometimes that she might have commanded a little more patience had[Pg 266] she chosen. Willie was, after all, a boy, a boy of nineteen, puffed up and exalted by his new uncomprehended dignities. She, a woman of the world, a woman of nearly twice his age, might have dealt more gently with his boyish follies. I think that she would have acted differently had she ever borne a son of her own. She would not then have been so resentful of the snub of a silly youth.

Captain Ching, sensible that a far better pilot was watching every movement of the vessel, was taking no risks. In his cautious navigation there was nothing of the splendid free-hand verve of Willatopy. With the tide flowing under him he was content with eight knots of speed, and the Chief Engineer down below, watching the slow response of the foul-bottomed yacht to the revolutions of the propellers, gave thanks for his superior's moderation. They toddled along at a "vairy economical consumption," they kept rigidly to the deepest of channels, there was none of that spirited corner cutting so characteristic of the confident Willatopy, the performance was altogether lacking in flair, but it was safe and sound. Ching made no mistakes, and as Willie watched the course he learned yet another lesson—that no man in this world is indispensable. He had expected appeals for assistance, and might perhaps have consented to abate the dignity of his lordship, had Madame and Ching been reduced by necessity to a gratifying condition of grovelling humility. But of that there was no sign. The Skipper serenely conned the yacht from his own bridge, Madame had disappeared into the smoke-room, the sailors moved about upon their lawful occasions, the lordly passenger was wholly[Pg 267] neglected. And above all other evidences of indifference to his feelings, the Humming Top proceeded steadily upon her way, and never came near to a bump on the reefs.

Presently Willie got up and went sullenly below. He had been allotted a handsome stateroom with bath and dressing-room attached on the main deck—it was on the starboard side opposite Madame's quarters—and thither he went and sulked by himself. I am afraid that he was not happy, and perhaps began to grasp some little inkling of the great truth that no man is happy unless he fills the place and does the job for which he is fitted. On the bridge in charge of the yacht he would have grinned joyously—the round man in the round hole which he perfectly fitted; here in a modern luxurious cabin, the boy, who had spent his life in a palm-thatched hut, or in a 30-foot yawl, was ill-placed and miserable.

A light step tripped along the corridor outside. Willie opened his door and saw Marie vanishing into a room just opposite. He called, and she, turning, showed for an instant a frightened face. Then she vanished, and Willie heard the snap of a drawn bolt. So even Marie, his white mistress, had flown at the sight of him, and bolted her door against him. He knocked, but there was silence within. He waited for what seemed a long time. But the door that he watched remained closed. Weary of waiting he went back to his cabin, lay down on the bed, and fell asleep.

I do not know what had happened to John Clifford except that he had been given a room aft on the main deck, and kept resolutely to his own[Pg 268] quarters. His one great anxiety was to keep out of sight of that terrible straight-shooting Madame Gilbert.

When night drew on the yacht was brought to anchor under shelter of a large cay, and the Skipper drew a sigh of deep relief. He felt quite confident now that he could tackle the channels, and that his carefully constructed chart was to be depended upon. He received Madame's earnest congratulations with modesty, and the pair of them—closer friends now than at any period of their association—went down to the saloon for dinner. At the right of Captain Ching had been laid a place for William, Lord Topsham, and on his left sat Madame Gilbert. Beyond her the Chief Engineer had elected to deposit his ample person. When Willie came in, escorted by the now obsequious steward, the other three were waiting. The boy was bare-footed—he had never worn shoes in his life—and for the first time showed some sense of the inadequacy of his simple holiday dress of white shirt and Palm Beach trousers. He gazed with involuntary admiration upon our dazzling Madame—who, as always in the yacht, wore a dinner dress—and eyed the smart uniforms of the officers. He looked down at his own brown feet, and passed one hand nervously through the long frizzy tresses which stood out from his skull. The dark brown of his skin flushed into purple. Madame, who saw his embarrassment, at once spoke to him exactly as she would have done to an English guest. She drew him into the familiar chat of the group of old friends, and tried to make him forget for a moment the raw novelty of his inherited social status. Presently they were[Pg 269] all seated at table, and Willie felt more at ease now that his obtrusive feet were hidden. Just as daring that lunch in the saloon of a fortnight earlier, he watched how the others handled their dinner tools and committed no gaucheries. Unobtrusively, Madame observed and approved. The boy had many of the instincts of a gentleman; if only he could summon sense to his aid there might be hopes for him. But when she thought of that unstable mixed blood, unstable as nitro-glycerine, she sighed. More was needed than a smattering of carefully acquired table manners to turn a half-caste Hula into a civilised white man.

Willie observed that no wine was served at dinner, and that no liqueurs accompanied the after-dinner coffee. The Humming Top had become a "dry ship." By Madame's orders—accepted heartily by Ching, and no less heartily, though sorrowfully, by Alexander—the carefully selected cellar of Sir John Toppys had been locked up, and the key deposited in Ching's pocket. As with the saloon so also with the officers' mess and foc's'le. There were many groans and deep curses, but Madame was loved, and the senior officers respected. The need for the ordinance had been discreetly explained and accepted. His lordship was heartily consigned to the bottomless pit, but there was no mutiny.

It was in the smoke-room afterwards that Willie sprang upon our friends a request which showed how the white blood was beginning to stir in his veins. The Skipper had announced his intention not to stop at the unattractive Thursday Island, but to make without delay for the deep water beyond.

[Pg 270]

"I should like to have a word with Mr. Grant," observed Madame. She was anxious, if that were possible, to remove, by adroit explanations, the ill-opinion which she feared Willatopy's austere banker would form of her proceedings.

"Better go straight on," growled Ching stolidly.

"Very well," Madame sighed, for she hated that any man should think ill of her. Then Willie broke in. He was sitting with those conspicuous bare feet tucked under him, and with his eyes fixed on Madame's neat shoes and perfectly fitting silk stockings.

"I hope that you will stop," said he shyly. "I wish to go ashore."

"Is it urgent, Willie?" asked Madame. "Had we better not get on now that we have started for home?"

"I should like to see my banker. He was my father's friend, and has been very good to me. I should like to get some money."

"We have plenty here. Thanks to the business operations of the great Alexander, our treasure chest is bursting with wealth. We can supply all that you need."

"I want," murmured Willie, and his dark skin flushed again with that significant purple. "I want—to—get—some—clothes—and some shoes."

Madame looked away, and tried not to smile. "Certainly, if you wish. I quite understand. We will stop for a few hours, Captain."

The Skipper grunted, and reluctantly gave in. He could not say that he had elected to give Port Kennedy a miss in order that the dryness of the Humming Top might not be tempered by fiery[Pg 271] island liquors. He knew very well what would happen if Lord Topsham and his seducer, John Clifford, were let loose upon that outpost of white civilisation.

Down below, when later Willie descended, he again caught a glimpse of his Marie. But again she fled from him, skipped into an empty cabin, and fastened the door against him. Again he waited, and did not retire to his own room until he heard Madame's steps approach. Madame Gilbert had deliberately chosen that he should be housed where his doings could be kept under her close personal observation. Willie, in his cabin, heard the mistress and maid go to their own quarters, and devoured his nails in helpless rage. His boyish love for Madame had already gone; in its place was growing up a passion not far removed from hate. Was he, a great English Lord, to be cabined and spied on by a mere widow? She had cut him off from the wine which he was learning to love, and she had so terrified Marie that the girl was afraid even to look upon him. The goddess whom he had spurned he now cursed.

Marie, eager above all things to earn that reprieve of which Madame had hinted, told how she had escaped from Willie, and locked herself up at his approach. Her degenerate passions had been stirred by Willie's colour, and she had sought to advance herself by a marriage with an English Lord before the boy could recover from her novel fascinations. But of love for him, in the nobler sense, she had not a scrap. She would sacrifice half-a-dozen Lord Topshams, now that she had no prospect of marrying one of them, to be saved from a return to[Pg 272] that awful revengeful France. Eagerly, in rapid emphatic French, she spread before Madame the proofs of her abandonment of Lord Topsham, and again and again protested her resolution never, never to sport with him again. She would not speak with him if she could possibly help. If he touched her she would shriek for protection.

"But, Madame," she went on, "I am as frightened of him as I am of you. I have seen in his bright blue eyes that cold look for murder which sometimes glares out from yours. I feel sure that he will kill me. But I would sooner that he killed me—if he did it quickly—than that I should be tried and shot in France. The shooting I might face bravely—death many times came near me in Amiens and I smiled upon it—but the trial, the awful remorseless faces, the shame and the horror of my treachery, the cold, deliberate preparations for my death—I could not face them, Madame. I would far sooner kill myself now at your feet."

"Keep that shame and terror before you," said Madame harshly. "They shall be yours if you disobey me, even for one instant. For you then there shall be no escape by the easy way of suicide. I will have you locked up and watched day and night by my sailors."

From Tops Island to Port Kennedy is about one hundred miles, and the Humming Top, at the cautious speed set by Ching, did not arrive until the early afternoon of the second day out. She had come through all the channels without touching once, and the First Officer, who with Ching had prepared the home-made chart, shook hands with him in mutual congratulation.

[Pg 273]

"This," said the First, "is a great occasion wasted. What it really needs is a long drink."

"It does," lamented Ching. "I have always been strictly temperate in my habits, and will have no officer or man with me who cannot be trusted to keep down his elbow. But this terrible drought which has fallen upon the Humming Top makes me dream of bottles by night and think of them by day. The most beautiful music which I could hear would be the flop of a pulled-out cork."

"There is nothing to do now, sir," whispered the First. "Shall we hand over to the Second—he is a happy teetotaller—and go ashore—for a stroll?"

"I think that we might," replied the Skipper judicially. "I think that we might. For a stroll. After all those hours on the bridge my legs are powerful stiff."

The boat which took the Skipper and First Officer for their stroll also contained Willie and John Clifford. No one except the officers' steward had seen John Clifford since he came aboard. He lived in the seclusion of his cabin aft, to which retreat sustenance was borne by the not unkindly steward. Clifford during the voyage on a hostile ship desired nothing so much as forgetfulness of his presence—the steward always excepted.

An hour or so after the others had gone, Madame had herself put ashore in the motor launch, and went up to Grant's office. The banker received her at once, and she found him much agitated.

"Willatopy has been here, yet told me little," said he. "He made a larger demand upon me for money than he has done hitherto, and, though he is a minor, I felt unable to refuse. As trustee, I[Pg 274] have invested the Topy funds for years, and the family of Baru are much richer than they realise. I noticed a very marked change in Willatopy, a most lamentable change. Tell me everything, Madame Gilbert."

"He is not Willatopy any longer. He is William, Lord Topsham."

"So I suspected. Now I fear the worst. I warned you to sail away in your accursed yacht and trouble the boy no more."

Madame told all that she knew, all that I have told in this book. She described, with genuine emotion, her happy days on the Island of Tops, her friendship with the simple brown family, the shark hunt, and the wild fishing on the Barrier Reef. When she came to the casting up of the Hedge Lawyer on the peaceful strand of Baru, her listener groaned. "Wheresoever the carcass is there will the vultures be gathered together." She explained eagerly, anxiously—for she valued the good opinion of this honest Scotsman—how she had tried to win the confidence of Willatopy, and to set at naught the unscrupulous seductions of the legal poacher. She admitted failure. She showed how Willatopy had been led astray, first, by the visit in the yawl to Thursday Island, and the introduction to port and cherry brandy—("He never came near me then," ejaculated Grant)—and, secondly, by the wiles of the French girl Marie. She ended by declaring that Willie, godless—for he had spurned his gods—was on his way to England.

"He has come ashore," said she, "to buy clothes and shoes."

"And Clifford has come to buy drink," added[Pg 275] Grant. "Among you all you have ruined my poor boy. He was a brave honest lad, and you are making of him a devil. I could bring myself to curse you, Madame Gilbert."

"It was not my fault," pleaded Madame, in distress. "I am as grieved as you possibly can be. Even if I had followed my first righteous impulse, and thrown John Clifford to the sharks, another vulture would have followed after a ripe carcass. In my hands Willie was becoming white. It was the lawyer and Marie who corrupted him, not I."

"You carried the girl Marie to him."

"Mr. Grant. You are a just man who knows the world. If it had not been John Clifford it would have been some other hedge lawyer. If it had not been Marie, it would have been some other shameless white woman. I have at least done something to protect Willatopy from his lawyer, and I have stopped utterly the intrigue with Marie. In order that Willie may not in his ignorance be plundered, I shall take him now to England, and put him in the legal charge of his own Trustees of Topsham. The Hedge Lawyer shall be shot ashore at Singapore, and left there baffled and marooned. I can still save Willatopy from the worst disasters that threaten him."

"I have never doubted your good intentions, Madame. Hell is paved with good intentions. If you had intended to carry him off you should have done it at once. In the yacht you could have kept the boy and the girl apart. I gravely fear that your precautions are now too late. You may stop the intrigue, but you will conjure up new perils. Remember that Willatopy is of the blood of New[Pg 276] Guinea head hunters and ceremonial cannibals. He is by no more than two generations removed from untrammelled bloodthirsty man-eaters. Under the restraint which you now put upon his passions, he will turn towards revenge. I pray that murder may not be done in your beautiful yacht yonder. Believe me, you and that girl Marie, you no less than the girl, go in grievous peril. You should have foreseen, after my warning, the danger of bringing that intemperate maid of yours to Tops Island. You are deceiving yourself if you suppose that the evil train which she has led can be rendered harmless by any damping now."

"Surely you would not ..." began Madame in astonishment, but Grant cut in brusquely:

"No, of course not. Though it would now be the lesser peril. I have warned you once, and you disregarded my words. I will most gravely and solemnly warn you again. In that yacht you will live in daily, hourly peril of your life. You are a woman of high courage. It is written upon your face. But I implore you for once to live in fear—for yourself and your maid."

"I hesitate to believe you," said Madame, slowly and thoughtfully. "Willie has not changed so much as that would imply. His head is swollen with a sense of high lordship, but I am certain that he would not raise his hand against me. I allow that danger threatens Marie, and I will guard her against it. But for myself, no. The boy has worshipped me as a goddess; he has knelt at my feet and kissed my coat. He has flown to me in trouble, and I have comforted him. He has changed towards me, but not by so much as all that."

[Pg 277]

"For twelve years he worshipped his father as a live god. For seven more years, until almost yesterday, he worshipped his father's memory, and treasured all the little words of wisdom which fell from the lips of the god. Where is that father's godship now? The solid image of the father has been overthrown just as you—a newly erected idol—have been overthrown. I say to you again, Madame Gilbert: Live in Fear, in Hourly Deadly Fear."

When Madame rose to go, the Scotsman rose with her. He smiled kindly upon her and held out his hands. She took them both and pressed them with affection.

"Have you forgiven me?" whispered she.

"I cannot forgive you," said Grant, but though his words were stem his eyes smiled kindly. "I can never forgive you, but I acquit you wholly of evil intention. The evil that we do, however free from intention, lives after us, and sometimes it lives longer than we do. Take grave heed to my warning, for I wish you well."

Madame smiled almost gaily as she walked away. Grant, in words, had denied to her forgiveness, but his smile had been a benediction. She thought to dismiss his warning, but it marched with her, and would not be thrust aside. Almost against her own will she found herself examining the doors of her cabin, of Marie's adjoining room, and of the bath and dressing-room on the other side. All the rooms opened upon the corridor from which Willie's cabin also opened. Marie entered as Madame was testing the strong brass bolts with which the doors were fitted.

[Pg 278]

"Always be careful to bolt your door at night," commanded Madame. "You are within the width of a passage from two great dangers: the love and the hatred of Lord Topsham. I do not know which is the more deadly. Bolt your door firmly against both."

Marie promised, for she already walked in the Hourly Deadly Fear demanded by the banker Grant. When the maid had left her, Madame picked up her automatic, flicked open the magazine, and saw that five cartridges lay within. In her stormy life that pistol, always loaded, had never been far from her hand. She had neglected somewhat of habitual precaution in the yacht, but Grant's words, spoken with the most solemn energy, would not be thrust away. She selected a bit of ribbon, and tied it to the ring on the pistol butt. Then she adjusted a loop to her own wrist.

"It is quite like old times," murmured Madame, when she had adjusted the ribbon so that the pistol hung conveniently from her wrist with the butt against her quick fingers. "It is quite like old times when I never went to sleep without this brave little fellow at my right hand. And sometimes but for his comforting presence I might almost have been frightened."

[Pg 279]


Madame Gilbert, standing by the rail, watched the boat come alongside which bore Lord Topsham and his legal adviser from Port Kennedy. They appeared to have been shopping with energy, for the boat was laden with packages. Among the spoils of Thursday Island were three wooden cases around which the seamen clustered, like wasps about honey, when they had been hauled up and laid upon the deck. Ching, who was standing beside Madame, and looking the happier for his stroll ashore, frowned savagely.

"Shall I have them thrown overboard?" asked he.

Madame did not reply. She was speechless with the fury of one who has been outraged publicly. Picture to yourself the feelings of a hostess who invites guests to dinner, and watches them enter her drawing-room, each with a bottle under the arm. Though strong drink may not be looked for at her board, does she not regard this ostentatious liquid supplement to her hospitality as a public outrage? So Madame felt in her "dry ship" when Lord Topsham and his slave John brought their cases of alcoholic refreshment aboard. For a moment she was strongly inclined to let Ching have his will, but reflected that even if guests should bring their own[Pg 280] liquor to one's dinner, one should not retaliate by smashing the bottles on the carpet. The only adequate retort would be to write the cads' names off the list of one's acquaintance. That is exactly what Madame was most disposed to do. She seriously thought of instantly sending Willie and Clifford to the right about with their baggage, and leaving them to find some other means of transport than the Humming Top. Had Willie been educated in the ways of white men she would certainly have shot him forth. But she realised that the blame lay with the man Clifford, and that she could not dismiss the servant while retaining the master. It must be both or neither. And while she hung upon the edge of decision, Willie himself determined the issue by one of those small unconscious actions which so often determine human destinies. He looked up, saw Madame, forgot for a moment his resentment against her, and smiled as the Willatopy of old had been wont to smile.

"I had just made up my mind to send the pair of them packing off to Port Kennedy," said Madame to me, "when the boy looked up and smiled. There was an unholy fascination about the brown creature, and sometimes I almost came within sympathetic range of my wicked maid Marie. The bright blue eyes, which shone like the sky at dawn, had a potency which no woman could wholly resist. When he smiled at me then, I remembered the boy who had kissed my wet trench coat—and I let him be. The cases were taken down to Willie's cabin. I was beaten again, and as soon as I was set free from the charm of those eyes, suffered the agonies of defeat. But I was helpless. I could not ostracise[Pg 281] that wretch Clifford any more than he was already ostracised. One cannot exile an inhabitant of Coventry in his own city. If our relations had not suffered so great a change, had not a gulf of bitter resentment yawned between us, I would have reasoned with the boy Willie—who at heart was a natural born gentleman—and have shown him his error, as I had done when he ordered port to be served in my own smoke-room. If that Clifford ever turns up again, and approaches within pistol shot of me, even in Piccadilly Circus at noonday, I am sure that I shall plug a hole in his waistcoat." Our Madame is a very human woman; she can love and she can hate, and after years of friendship and intimate knowledge of her, I cannot tell which is the more dangerous—her love or her hate.

Wine in cases was not the only result of Willie's shopping expedition in the outpost of white resources. He had gone ashore to gather covering for his feet and person which would be in harmony with his exalted dignity. The boy, who had happily roamed almost naked about his own island, and had lived for nineteen years the simple, untrammelled life of a native, had now become obsessed with the vice of clothes.

Madame Gilbert was standing in the saloon, waiting for her fellow diners to collect, when the shuffle of strange feet behind fell upon her quick ears. She spun round and beheld a portent. Lord Topsham had entered, a Lord Topsham transfigured most abominably. Upon his shoulders hung an ill-fitting dinner jacket, pumps of incredible vastness covered his broad, naturally developed feet, and the edges of his black trousers—some three inches too long[Pg 282]—trailed upon the carpet. Upon what long-neglected peg in Thursday Island that villainous suit had hung, and for how long, Madame was never privileged to discover. Willie, in delighted zeal, had torn it down, and wrapped it about himself, and now stood forth the perfect European. Madame had been so completely absorbed in Willie's clothes that some few seconds passed before her eyes travelled upwards to his head. Then she had a further surprise—his long, frizzy hair had been cropped quite close to his skull.

The boy, in equipping himself as the Lord Topsham of his imagination, had lost for ever all the natural dignity of Willatopy. He had become the very image of an uncouth brown waiter in a Pacific Island hotel. It was pitiful, and Madame hung poised between laughter and tears.

"Am I all right, Madame?" asked Willie anxiously. "John fastened my tie. I could not do it myself."

"You are quite all right," said Madame kindly. "You were very lucky to find so splendid a dinner jacket in Thursday Island."

He glowed with pleasure, and stretched out a black, shining foot. "I am not ashamed now to sit at dinner with you, Madame."

At this moment Ching and Alexander entered, and, like the gentlemen that they were, paid no apparent attention to the transfigured Willie. But they were appalled at the change which had been wrought upon him by that dreadful apparel. Never before had they so vividly realised the power of clothes to make or mar the human form. Willie, at his first effort, had unhappily chosen the most[Pg 283] cruelly searching of all human vestments. He had aspired to the heights and fallen into the depths.

They were still lying off Port Kennedy, for the Skipper did not propose until morning dawned to guide the Humming Top through the narrow bottle-neck of the Straits. They dined in comfort on an even keel, and afterwards Willie disappeared to go to his cabin, and there, with his slave John, to supplement Madame's austere hospitality.

At about eleven o'clock there happened an incident which has some significance in this story. Willie, whose thoughts were never far away from the Marie whose charms had been denied to him, and was ever on the alert to encounter her, had come into the corridor outside his cabin, and seen Marie's white skirt passing through an open door. He sprang, and before she could slip within, had gripped her hand in his iron fist.

"Now I have you," he whispered. "At last."

He pulled her towards him, but the girl strained away. She looked fearfully up and down the corridor.

"Kiss me, Marie," murmured Willie. "You cannot escape me now."

Still she strained away from him in terror. Then suddenly she relaxed, and he got his arm about her waist. She no longer resisted him, seemed not to be looking at him, and he was puzzled by a placid indifference which he had never before experienced in her. He had his arm round her waist, and she was gazing intently over his shoulder.

Willie threw back his head, and followed the direction of the girl's eyes. Six feet distant Madame Gilbert was standing in the corridor gazing upon[Pg 284] the pair with that sombre deadly look which chilled the blood of Marie, and sobered even the ardent, wine-inspired Lord of Topsham.

He released the girl, who immediately vanished, and turned savagely upon Madame. She said nothing. He moved towards her, and seized both her elbows. He thrust her against the wall, and held her there motionless.

Madame is very strong, physically, but she tells me that she never puts forth the strength of her body against that of a man.

"Whenever a man seizes me in anger I never struggle," she has often said to me. "A physical broil between a man and a woman must always end to the discomfiture of the woman. To the greater power of a man I oppose exaggerated feminine weakness."

With muscles deliberately limp, she stood against the wall in Willie's grip, her breast rising and falling quietly, her cold, fearless eyes holding him immovably. He approached his face to hers until each could see the tiny reflection of self in the other's pupils. Willie's breath, charged with the fumes of bad and fiery port, beat upon Madame's senses. She suffered from a momentary nausea, but the steadiness of her gaze continued unabated.

He was trying to beat her down with the power of his eyes, but, just then, they had no charm for Madame Gilbert. They were no longer the eyes of Willatopy before whose radiance her heart had often melted; they were the drink-suffused eyes of Lord Topsham, an enemy. She put forth all her moral energy, and stared him into disquiet. And when his eyelids began to blink and flicker, she[Pg 285] knew that she had won. The savage light died out, and he released her elbows. He stepped back, and she was free. Still calm, she bowed slightly as one bidding farewell to a distant acquaintance, and walked slowly towards her own door. With the snap of her drawn bolt the spell broke, and Willie also moved away. He felt humiliated, as one who had suffered defeat. As he had stood there facing Madame, there had come upon him a savage lust to fasten his talons in the beautiful white throat, and to choke the cold light of scorn out of her lovely eyes. But he could not do it. He had spurned her, and felt that he hated her, but there still remained for him about her something of the aura of a goddess.

Madame was very thoughtful as Marie undressed her that evening. She said nothing to the girl, for she had perceived her attempts to repulse Lord Topsham. She had confidence in Marie's terrors if not in her virtue. But the brief contest of wills without had made a deep impression. She perceived that the struggle for mastery between the half-savage boy and herself had begun seriously. As the wise man Grant had predicted, the boy was growing into a peril. She had beaten him once in the tense silent battle of eyes, but could she always reckon upon time and opportunity within which to achieve another victory? Madame lay deep in thought upon her bed, and fingered delicately the butt of that faithful companion which now always slept beside her.

A couple of hours later, while she still lay sleepless, a loud noise of shouting and singing arose from the cabin opposite. Willie and John Clifford had[Pg 286] been broaching the cases of sweet fiery port, and had become drunkenly exuberant This was, I believe, the first time that Willie had passed over the alcoholic border into actual intoxication. Madame listened to the unseemly racket, which resounded now through the silent anchored ship, and again toyed with the automatic.

"Drink and Lust and explosive half-blood," murmured she. "The blood of Old Devon and of savage Melanesia. I wonder what the end of it all will be."

That end came with appalling suddenness, without warning or preparation. Madame alone in the ship was ready, for she who had for five years lived amid quick storms and unheralded perils was always ready. For three days the yacht had been steaming slowly up towards the Straits of Sunda. Willie in public had been surly and reserved; he had not again fallen upon the apprehensive Marie—too intently busied upon working out her reprieve to relax in favour towards him—and had shown no overt hostility to Madame. Every night he had drunk deeply with John Clifford, and the noise of their joint libations had disturbed Madame Gilbert's rest. The once healthy boy, splendid in his tireless virility, was degenerating fast. From day to day the decline could be seen in the greyness of his face, and in the tremor of his strong thin fingers. The shoes which he insisted upon wearing crippled his free movements. Once conspicuously elastic of tread—he had seemed to move on steel springs—he now slouched and shuffled. Madame never saw Clifford, but she heard his voice nightly in the cabin opposite, and I am sure that she ached to[Pg 287] slay him. She longed for Singapore, and for the final expulsion of the Hedge Lawyer, who was responsible for the woes of a once happy Toppys yacht, and of the once happy Tops Island. He was working fast for Willie's destruction, but he did not understand the explosive material with which he worked. In the end he lost—at the moment when it seemed to his narrow intelligence that the white slave had become the white master.

It was after midnight, Madame was abed, and for once the potations of the drinkers did not culminate in a noise which disturbed her sleep. For once Willie had dismissed Clifford at an early hour, and bent himself to carry out his own delayed yet cherished schemes. Something of the cunning of the white man had tempered the desires of the savage; he had deliberately ceased to pursue Marie, and thought to dim the bright polish of Madame's unfailing watchfulness.

Nothing was to be heard that night save the whirr of the high-speed turbines, and nothing to be felt except the quivering vibration of the yacht's frames. Although the cabin opposite was unwontedly quiet, Madame Gilbert did not sleep. The change from noise to silence oppressed her. She was more wakeful and watchful than she had been for some days; she had learned that the unexpected always happens and she was waiting, apprehensively, for the violently unexpected. She did not, as Grant had advised, pass her days and nights in deadly fear—it was no strange experience for her to watch and wait with that faithful companion within grip of her fingers—but both her days and nights were brimful of apprehension and sorrow. She had[Pg 288] faintly hoped that the old spirit of Willatopy would revive when the well-beloved seas girt him about, and his feet trod the decks of a ship. She had hoped that the salt of the sea would call irresistibly to the salt in his blood. But the strong, rich drinks of Thursday Island were more potent than any sea salt. Willatopy was gone for ever. There remained a visibly degenerating Lord Topsham.

Suddenly she heard the soft closing of a door. The sound was quite near. She sat up and listened. A faint light, reflected from the sea, came through her cabin scuttles; she could make out the closed doors of her room—the bathroom door behind her, Marie's door in front, and that other which led into the corridor at her right. Her rooms were on the port side of the main deck. But though the upper part of the cabin was faintly illuminated, the deck lay in the deepest shadow.

Madame heard nothing, but straight before her she saw the communicating door between her room and Marie's open half-way and then close. Someone had penetrated her room by way of the bathroom door, crawled past her bed along the deck, and slipped without sound into her maid's cabin.

A gust of fury shook her. She did not seek to enquire whether Marie were a victim or an accomplice. Just as when those cases of liquor had come aboard, she felt the humiliation of outrage. Her room had been made flagrant use of as a surreptitious passage to her maid's; her one passion at that moment was for instant vengeance.

She stretched forth her left hand, and snapped on the electric lights. In her other hand was gripped the loaded automatic.

[Pg 289]

The lights flashed on, and Marie's door opened wide. On the threshold stood Lord Topsham, clad only in a pair of pyjama trousers. The dark brown skin of his body glowed in the light. He himself paused, momentarily dazzled.

Behind him rang out a shriek followed instantly by a howl from Willie. White arms were wound about his neck. Marie had sprung upon his back, and clung to him shrieking.

Willie staggered into Madame's room, and some hard object, which had been in his hand, fell upon the deck. Madame heard the ring of steel upon wood. Then he raised both hands, and fastened his fingers into the soft upper arms of the girl who had sprung upon him. Those fingers, contracted with the full force of Willie's powerful muscles, bit into Marie's flesh, and she screamed with a pain which was even greater than her terror. The remorseless fingers ground and bit, and the grip of Marie's arms relaxed. Then Willie bent almost to the deck, and with a heave of his loins flung Marie, a whirl of white tangled draperies, against the cabin wall. She brought up with a sickening crunch against the hard steel-backed panelling, and lay insensible along the wainscot.

Willie stooped and picked up that which he had dropped. Madame sat upon her hammock-bed, motionless, scarcely breathing, every scrap of nervous energy concentrated in her eyes and skilled right hand. As one whose life hung by a thread, which she alone could preserve intact, she watched intently Willie's every movement.

He stooped and picked up the trench dagger which at Marie's onslaught he had dropped. The[Pg 290] light ran up and down the thin sharp blade. Madame watched Willie feel the point with his thumb, and settle his fingers comfortably about the grip. He did not hurry, and as he grasped the dagger firmly, and struck out gently once or twice to enjoy a sense of its handiness, the broad lips curled back from his white teeth.

Then he sprang straight at Madame. It was the launching of a human steel-tipped javelin.

He was ten feet away from her when he sprang, and six feet distant when her pistol cracked like a vicious whip lash. In the act of firing she threw herself backwards. The brown boy, carried irresistibly forward by the impetus of his leap, fell diagonally across Madame's body, the outstretched dagger-tipped arm passing close over her face. He fell across her, pinning her down, and the hammock bed creaked and swung with the shock. The stricken boy lay across Madame, his hands and feet tearing at the deck as the bed swung, his body heaving and writhing in convulsions. Under him she lay pinned down, and felt within her own living frame every quiver and pang of his dissolution.

The hammock bed slowed down in its swing, and the hands and feet of William, Lord Topsham, trailed helplessly. His brown half-naked body was quiet now. The sudden leap, the quick deadly shot, the last agonies, had not filled up sixty seconds, yet they left Madame aged by their rapid passage. In those seconds some of her old light-heartedness had gone from her. She felt little sorrow for the Lord Topsham who had sought to slay her, and whom she had killed in the act, but her heart wept bitterly for the Willatopy whom he once had been.

[Pg 291]

The bed and the body came to rest together, and all was still.

"Marie," called Madame. There was no response from the white heap which lay where it had been flung.

"Marie," Madame cried again, "es tu morte?"

It was the silliest of enquiries, yet it penetrated the dulled ear of the sorely bruised girl.

"Oui, Madame," groaned Marie. "Je suis morte, morte, absolument."

"So that's all right," cried Madame, much relieved. The maid had risen to a lofty eminence in the opinion of the mistress, when she, inspired by her brave French blood, had sprung upon the back of the murder-filled savage. She had staked her life, and come nigh to losing her stake, to gain time for the mistress whom she had no great reason to love.

"I am pinned down and cannot move," explained Madame. "Try to open the door and then scream as loudly as you can."

"Where is the terrible Lord?" muttered Marie, still not wholly conscious. "I woke with his face against mine. He pricked my breast with his sharp steel."

"Tell me later," cried Madame. "He is dead. Open the door and scream."

The heap moved slowly, and Marie somehow got the door open. Then she howled.

A steward ran up and thrust in his gaping head.

"Call the Captain," ordered Madame sharply.

Summoned by an urgent message, of which he could make no sense, Ching leaped down from his[Pg 292] bridge and a moment later stepped over Marie's body into Madame's cabin.

Madame, lying with Willie stretched across her, his feet and hands drooping to the deck on either side, raised her right hand, and beckoned to the Skipper with her pistol muzzle.

"See, I have killed him. It happened very quickly."

Before the slow-witted Skipper could take in this astonishing situation, Alexander Ewing burst through the ring of sailors which had clustered about the door. A rumour had flown through the ship that Madame Gilbert was dead. Alexander burst into her cabin, white and shaking, for he loved her.

The air still reeked with the acrid taste of burnt cordite, and for a moment Alexander could see no more of Madame than a glorious mass of copper tresses on the white pillow beyond Willie's shoulder. He groaned "Is she dead? Is our Madame really dead?"

"Not much," came the voice which he loved. "If you will lift off the body of this unhappy, foolish boy, you will find me very much alive, Sandy dear."

They raised with gentle hands the limp body of the Twenty-Eighth Baron of Topsham, who never now would enter upon his hereditary dignities; they lifted the body, and laid it on the floor. There was no sign about him of a weapon, and both men looked enquiringly at Madame. She pointed between her bed and the wall, and Ewing leaning over picked up the trench dagger.

"That explains all," said he as he threw it down[Pg 293] by the corpse. "It is sharp and deadly, Ching. Madame had no choice but to shoot."

"I was sure of that before I saw the dagger," said Ching coldly.

Madame swung herself out of bed, and wrapped a dressing-grown about her blue pyjamas. She stood beside Alexander Ewing, looking down upon the body of the boy whom she had shot. The blue eyes, half open, had lost their brightness. No longer were they like the sky at dawn. Death falling swiftly had wiped out their colour. A large scorched patch appeared on the broad chest of him who had been called Lord Topsham, and in the centre, over the heart, was the deep print of Madame's bullet. The small sharp bullet had passed right through him; they found it later embedded in the woodwork of Marie's door. Madame looked down at the scorched breast, and at the tiny hole through which a life had sped; her lips twitched painfully, and she held back a sob. She looked up pitifully at the two men, both her loving friends; at Ching, whose faith in her cool judgment had not asked for the proof of Willie's dagger; at Alexander, to whom the discovery of that weapon had brought a deep sense of relief. Ching stood erect, thinking deeply, but Alexander, with quicker sympathy, moved a step, and laid his arm about Madame's shoulders.

"Brave lass," he whispered, as she cuddled herself to him.

"I had to shoot, Sandy," she murmured. "It was a very close call, Sandy."

"Brave lass," said he again, and stooping down, kissed the twitching lips.

[Pg 294]

"Thank you, Sandy dear," said Madame. "I am only a woman thing, after all."

But though only a woman thing, Madame, an instant later, gave them an exhibition of her rapid relentless quality. Into the room penetrated a red-faced slobbering figure. Roused out of his drunken slumbers by a realisation of the total failure of his evil plans, John Clifford came for the last time into the silent presence of his human spoil.

He saw the body lying upon its back on the floor; he saw Madame standing by with the pistol still dangling from her wrist. The wide burnt mark made by the flaming cordite and the bullet hole told their tale. The base creature, who did not lack for courage, turned furiously upon Madame in the presence of her loyal friends.

"Murderess," he shrieked. "If there is a law in England you shall have justice done upon you."

Madame swung round, the automatic in, her hand.

"And you, John Clifford, robber and man destroyer, shall have justice here and now."

The pistol cracked, and the bullet, passing within an inch of his head, smacked up against the wall. He leaped for the door, both Ching and Ewing jumped out of the way, and the crowd beyond scattered down the corridor. Crack went the pistol again, and a second bullet banged with the impact of a hammer on the doorpost. Clifford reached the opening, and was through. They heard his feet pattering down the alley way.

"Steady, lass," warned Ewing. "Ye might have killed him."

"No," said Madame. "I shot to frighten, not to[Pg 295] kill. And I have done what I intended. We shall not hear much more of Clifford and his law. With all my heart I wish that he lay here now at my feet, and that poor Willatopy, safe and ignorantly happy, were still in Tops Island. Fate is very cruel, Sandy; it might have spared upon my hand the blood of Willatopy."

[Pg 296]


The Captain of a British ship is every kind of civil authority, from magistrate and chaplain to hangman. In his capacity as coroner, Robert Ching held an enquiry in the saloon on the morning which followed the death of Willatopy. He was supported by those of his officers who were not on duty above and below deck. Marie, sore and grievously bruised from shoulder to knee, was carried in and laid at length upon a sofa. Her bones were unbroken, and though she suffered much pain, she was a very happy Marie Lambert. Madame Gilbert had passed the sponge of forgiveness over the maid's disreputable past; her one act of self-forgetting courage had blotted out the treachery in France, and the fatal amour in Tops Island. Marie had won her final reprieve.

John Clifford, broken down by days of drunkenness and by the collapse of his professional ambition, attended the inquest as the legal adviser of the slain Baron of Topsham. His spirit of the night before had faded out of him with the alcohol which stimulated it. It was a very miserable and draggled Hedge Lawyer who met for the last time his fellow voyagers in the Humming Top.

I will not trouble the reader with the whole enquiry, which was long and tedious. Ching, [Pg 297]foreseeing scandal and legal complications when the tragic story came to be told in England, wrote down in his round, slow sailor's hand, every word that was spoken, and obtained the signatures of all present, even that of the reluctant John Clifford, to the evidence as given on oath.

No new facts were disclosed, except by Marie. She described how she had been awakened, and had felt Lord Topsham's face against hers and his dagger's point at her breast. She had tried to cry out, but his rude hand upon her mouth commanded silence. She had whispered urging him to go, and warning him that Madame, in the adjoining room, would hear.

"How did he get into your room?" asked Ching.

Marie said that he had come through Madame's cabin, crawling along the floor. He must have entered by the bathroom. The door of that room which gave upon the corridor was always bolted, had naturally always been kept bolted. Willie must have slipped in sometime when the rooms were empty, and unfastened that door. The slipping of the bolt had not been perceived. She had been afraid to cry out, even when Lord Topsham removed his hand from her mouth, for the dagger which he carried was very sharp. She had already felt its point. Yet she struggled, and whispered that Madame would hear, that Madame would interpose furiously, and that she would be a Marie Lambert doomed to a cruel death in France. Lord Topsham's breath smelled strongly of wine, and she was sure that he was half drunk. Had he been sober he would never have raised his hand against Madame Gilbert. But when Marie urged that her[Pg 298] life would pay the toll for any further indiscretions, Willie had ground his teeth in rage.

"'It is always Madame,' he growled. 'I am tired of Madame. She stands between me and you, and she threatens you with death. Wait, Marie,' he had said. 'I will kill this Madame nuisance, and then will come back to you. I am a great English Lord, and will kill anyone who interferes with me.'"

Marie went on to say that Lord Topsham had then let her go, and turned to enter Madame's room. He held the trench dagger in his right hand. Marie was terribly frightened, but she could not lie still and let Madame be murdered in her sleep. She did not know that Madame Gilbert was already awake and watching. So, as the half-drunken savage boy approached the door of communication with Madame's room, she slipped out of bed, and followed behind him. And when he opened the door she jumped upon his back and screamed.

"He couldn't kill me then," she explained simply, "until Madame had awakened and got ready to meet him. I knew that she slept with her pistol beside her. I jumped on Lord Topsham's back to save Madame's life."

A murmur of admiration ran round the table of the saloon.

"We all feel," said Ching gravely, "that your conduct was very brave and splendid. You risked your life for a mistress whom you had no cause to love and good reason to fear. I shall put this commendation in my report."

"Thank you, sir," said Marie. "Of course I knew that if I saved Madame she would forgive me everything."

[Pg 299]

The Court smiled at this ingenuous display of heroism combined with regard for the main chance. Marie was sprung from thrifty French peasant stock.

Madame followed, and told what we already know. She would not, she declared, have shot to kill if she could have stopped Willie by wounding him. John Clifford interposed with a question. Madame, he said, was a first-rate pistol shot. She could have hit her assailant in any part of his body that she pleased. Could she not have preserved her own life by disabling Lord Topsham's right arm or breaking his leg?

Madame, with a sad little smile, offered him her automatic pistol.

"It carried a .25 nickel-coated bullet," said she. "A tiny bullet with no stopping power. With a .45 revolver and a lump of soft lead, I could have knocked the poor boy over long before he reached me. I should have fired at him immediately after he flung off Marie. But with this little toy I had no choice. When he launched himself at me I shot him through the heart, and should, even then, have been pierced by his dagger had I not evaded the stroke by flinging myself instantly flat on my back. The dagger point just missed me. If I had done no more than wound him, had I merely punctured a hole in a leg or arm, he would have had plenty of time to kill me. You may not believe me, Mr. John Clifford, but I swear to you that I did not shoot willingly. I loved Willatopy very sincerely."

Clifford said no more, and when Ching asked for his signature to the evidence he gave it without another word.

[Pg 300]

"I find," declared Ching solemnly, "and so I shall write in my report to the English Board of Trade, that Madame Gilbert shot and killed William, Lord Topsham, in defence of her own life, and that she was fully justified in what she did."

After the enquiry had been closed, Madame went to her room, and rummaged among her trunks. She was looking for something which she vaguely remembered to have packed, and presently she found what she sought. Madame Gilbert, a Catholic by birth and upbringing, was infamously negligent of religious observances, yet she always, impelled by some inherited instinct, carried upon her travels a small ivory crucifix. It had been her mother's. Now Madame drew forth this emblem of her loosely fitting faith and bore it reverently to the cabin where the body of Willatopy lay awaiting sea burial. There she stood looking down upon the face of the boy whom she had killed. The bright blue eyes were closed for ever, but the quiet, almost smiling face was that of the Willatopy of Tops Island. She laid the crucifix upon the boy's breast that it might go into the depths with him. It was the last service that she could render, and, for some reason, it brought solace to her.

She had never kissed Willie in life, but now she stooped and pressed her lips upon the cold forehead.

"Willie," she murmured, "forgive the Madame who loved and killed you. I was the best friend that you ever had, Willie dear. It was better, far better, that you should die by my little bullet than that you should cease for always to be Willatopy."[Pg 301] And with that kiss of farewell, there departed from Madame Gilbert all sense of blood guilt. Her hand had been the Hand of Fate, and it had been a bountiful and kindly Fate.

Willatopy lies in the depths of the Straits of Sunda. The seas are all one, and he, a sailor on both sides of the house, went home to the Great Mother upon whose bosom he had been born and lived. Madame's crucifix was sewn up in his sailcloth shroud, and he lies with it for ever upon his breast. The yacht was stopped for the ceremony, and the whole ship's company with bared heads watched the Twenty-Eighth Lord of Topsham enter into his inheritance. For his true heritage was the Sea, which he knew and loved so well.

As Madame told the story to me, in that room of mine in Whitehall—so remote in distance and in atmosphere from Tops Island and the Torres Straits—she asked me anxiously, often with tears glittering in those violet eyes of hers, if there was anything which she could have done, or left undone, to thrust tragedy away from the bright young life of Willatopy. She had loved the boy, though his skin was of so very dark a brown, and his hair so definitely negroid. And I could do no better than shake my head and lament that which was inevitable. The Hedge Lawyer, that little London cad, quickened the movement towards destruction, and set at naught Madame's own kindly exertions, but sooner or later tragedy must have fallen, heavy footed, upon Willatopy's soul and body.

"You fought and lost," said I sadly, "but in the end you won. I am sure of this: that when Will[Pg 302] Toppys, the wise mad father, met beyond the stars the brave though erring son, the blessing of the father descended from Heaven upon the head and hand of Madame Gilbert. He knew, that beachcomber, from what a calamitous fate your shot had saved his Willatopy."

"Do you really, honestly think so?" she asked eagerly.

"I do, really and honestly," said I.

*         *         *         *         *         *         *

It fell to the lot of the silent, always dependable Ching to speed at Singapore the parting guest. The Humming Top had been warped into dock, and there was a bustle of preparation for her cleansing, when the Hedge Lawyer, bearing his suit case, appeared on the main deck and accosted the skipper.

"I am leaving you here," said he. "I shall not stay upon this blood-stained ship. I said little at your precious enquiry, for I knew that you were all in the interest of Sir John Toppys, your owner. I go now to England to make very sure that justice shall be done upon that murderess."

"I will help you on the road," replied Ching serenely, and gripping the wretch by collar and pants, he hove him over the rail into the dock. No one saw him climb forth, and yet, when the water had run away, there was no trace of him in the mud—except his half-buried suit case. Hove by Captain Ching, he disappeared over the rail, and, so far as I can discover, has never since been seen. Roger Gatepath, who has his own underground methods of enquiry, declares that John Clifford has[Pg 303] not returned to St. Mary Axe. The "Justice" which he demanded against Madame Gilbert has never been invoked. He is not in the dock at Singapore; he must have clambered out; so much we know—but the rest is silence.

[Pg 304]


"You have, if I may say so, done us the greatest service."

Madame and Sir John Toppys were together in the Owner's Room of the Humming Top, and all had been told.

"It was not intended," replied Madame Gilbert sadly. "I have been frank with you. All the interest and all the wealth of Toppys for their numberless generations would not have induced me to raise my hand against Willatopy. In some ways he was more worthy than the best of you. I was bringing him to England to put him in his place, and yet I am glad that Fate interposed. White blood drags down more than it uplifts. Willatopy in his own island, before the fatal knowledge of his succession reached him, was a simple, gallant, charming boy. Would to God that so he could have remained. But those very qualities, which made him so admirable as a savage youth, dragged him into the pit of degeneracy. He grabbed white vices with both hands, and sloughed off his native virtues. He was losing his soul very fast, lamentably fast. I killed him that I might save what was left."

"You speak as if you need not have fired—to kill," said Toppys slowly.

"At the end I had no choice," replied Madame.[Pg 305] "But I feel now, and have felt many times since the tragedy of the Humming Top, that he would never have leaped upon me had I spoken. My power over him was great. Until recently he had honoured me as a goddess. With my eyes upon his he could not have struck. And yet I waited for his attack to be delivered. I waited while he felt the point of the dagger, and tested the fittings on his hand. I might have spoken in the old friendly tone, which always moved him—and yet I did not. For it suddenly was revealed to me that here was the solution of his troubled destiny. Now that Willatopy, the dear boy of Tops Island, was no more, his successor, Lord Topsham, were better dead before far worse disasters than death, a clean, quick death, overtook him. So I waited for him to spring—it was a terrible moment, and I cannot speak of it now without a creeping of the flesh—I waited for him to spring that I might shoot. I am not a praying woman," added she, "but there was a prayer in my heart when I sped the bullet through his. I never loved the boy more honestly than in that instant when I deliberately slew him."

They turned to leave the room.

"I shall be sorry to give up my temporary ownership of the Humming Top," said Madame. "I agree with Alexander that she is a bonnie wee beastie."

"Will you not keep her?" asked Toppys calmly.

Madame shook her head. "A yacht, especially a steam yacht of a thousand tons, is too sharp-edged a gift for my poor hands to receive. She must cost twenty thousand a year to run, and I cannot spend a tithe of that amount upon my travels."

[Pg 306]

"I did not mean that you should maintain her," said Toppys.

Madame smiled wickedly. "Sir John Toppys, in my day I have been offered many gifts by the undiscerning. Jewellery, of course. Perfectly appointed flats and houses, of course. One refuses calmly from habit I have never yet had a fully maintained thousand-ton yacht laid at my feet, yet it costs me little to refuse. Madame Gilbert, Sir John Toppys, is not for sale, and she is slightly disappointed that one whom she thought her friend should have offered to purchase her."

"You misunderstand me again," said Sir John Toppys, "I suspect wilfully. I did not offer the Humming Top as your purchase price. I wished to hint, somewhat crudely I fear, that I am a widower, and that——"

He paused. Madame looked at him curiously. It was almost unbelievable, yet plain to see, that the Baronet of Wigan was tongue-tied with genuine emotion. She softened towards him, and her mantle of cynicism fell.

"Et puis?" she murmured with encouragement.

"My wife has long since been dead. My two sons have fought through the war, and happily are unhurt. My line is safe. One son is already married; the other hopes soon to be married. I have no daughter to be an embarrassment to a stepmother. There is no reason, therefore, in my domestic circumstances why Madame Gilbert should refuse to share my home—and my yacht."

"No reason," observed Madame reflectively. "No reason, and every inducement, except the will of Madame Gilbert."

[Pg 307]

"Is what I ask impossible?"

"Quite. Even if I personally desired to accept your offer, it would be impossible. You are what you are, because my hand opened the way. I cannot share in succession the hereditary honours of Willatopy."

"Is that your only reason?" he asked, his eyes brightening. They were the steel blue Toppys eyes, the eyes of Willatopy.

"No," said she, and told him of her vagabond life. Once she had loved and married, but for the future was resolved to remain free. She had played with the hearts of men too long to submit to mastery.

"I understand," said he, when her tale was told. "Not even the Humming Top, not even the overflowing disgusting wealth of a War Profiteer, can persuade you to take a husband in earnest. And yet when I look at you, especially now when you so obdurately dismiss me, I shall dearly love to pour my ill-gotten riches into your bonny lap."

"So would the Chief Engineer Ewing," quoth Madame, smiling.

She moved towards the door, but Toppys had not yet done with her. "Is there anything that I can do or offer which will shake your unhappy resolution?"

"Women," observed Madame contemplatively, "are selfish toads. Their one unchanging purpose from the cradle to the coffin is to grab as much as they can from men, and to give as little as they can in return. I have grabbed more than most because I am more agreeable to look upon than are most. We are vampires. I am true to the purpose[Pg 308] of my sex, Sir John Toppys. I have snatched at all I could get from you, and have refused to give anything in return. I have even asked you to forgo your share in Alexander's boodle, and you have consented. You are a better man than I am a woman. You are well rid of me, even as an associate."

"I shall not claim the Barony of Topsham," said he. "My son, when his day shall dawn, may succeed if he will—it is his lawful right. But I shall go to my grave as Sir John Toppys. Your hand has given me the Barony, but my hand, no less resolute than yours, refuses the gift."

"You are right," said she thoughtfully. "You with your yacht and I with my automatic have slain Willatopy, and we cannot either of us accept the price of blood. I am glad that you will never sit in the poor lad's place."

She held out both her hands to him, and Toppys—as he had done months before on the deck of the Humming Top—Toppys stooped down and kissed her fingers.

"There is blood upon them," she whispered.

"And yet I can kiss them," murmured he. "Were it not that your harsh will forbids, I would go on kissing them all my life."




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