AS THE TIDE and wind carried the light craft out to sea, and the shore line sank beneath the horizon behind them, Waldo Emerson looked out upon the future as he did upon the tumbling waste of desolate water encircling them, with utter hopelessness.
Once before he had passed by a miracle through the many-sided menaces of the sea; but that he should be so fortunate again he could not hope. And now Nadara was with him. Before, only his suffering and death had been possible; now he must face the greater agony of witnessing Nadara's.
The wind, blowing a steady gale, was raising a considerable sea. The vast billows rolled, one upon the heels of another, with the regularity of infantry units doubling at review. The wind and the sea seemed to have bene made to order for the frail vessel that bore Thandar and Nadara. It rode the long, ponderous waves like a cork; its crude sail caught the wind and bellied bravely to it, driving the boat swiftly over the water.
And scarce had the shore behind them sunk forever from their sight than dead ahead another shore line showed. Thandar could scarce believe his eyes. He rubbed them and looked again. Then he asked Nadara to look.
"What is that ahead?" he asked.
The girl half rose with an exclamation of joy.
"Land!" she cried.
And land it was. The wind, driving them madly, carried them toward the north end of what appeared to be a large island. Angry breakers pounded a rocky coast line. To strike there would mean instant death to them both. But would they strike? As they neared the point of the island it became evident to Thandar that they would be borne past it. Could he hope to stem the speed of the little craft and turn it back into the sheltered water in the lee of the land? The chances were more than even that the canoe would capsize the instant he cut away the sail and attempted to paddle across the wind; as would be necessary to come about the end of the island.
But there seemed no other way. He handed his parang to Nadara, telling her to be ready to cut the rawhide strips that supported the sail the instant that he gave the word. With his paddle clutched tightly in his hands he knelt in the stern, watching the progress of the canoe past the rocky point.
At this extremity of the island a narrow tongue of land ran far out into the sea. It as past the outer point of this tongue that the canoe was racing. When they had passed Thandar realized the rashness of attempting to turn the canoe into the trough of the sea even for the little distance that would have been necessary to make the shelter of the point, where, almost within reach, he could see the peaceful bosom of unruffled water lying safely behind the island.
And yet as he looked ahead upon the limitless waste of ocean before them he knew that one risk was not greater than the other, and then an alternative plan occurred to him. He would run a short distance past the point and then turn almost directly back and attempt the paddle the canoe in the calm water running nearly into the face of the wind, thus avoiding the dangers of the trough.
There was but a single drawback to this plan--the question of his ability to drive the canoe against the gale. At least it was worth trying. He gave Nadara the word to cut down the sail, and at the same instant, the canoe being upon the crest of a wave, he bent to the paddle. As the panther skin tumbled at the foot of the rough mast the nose of the craft swung around in reply to Thandar's vigorous strokes.
So intent were both upon the life and death struggle that they were waging with the elements that neither saw the long, low-lying craft that shot from the mouth of a small harbor behind them as they came into view upon the lee side of the island.
For a moment the canoe hung broadside to the wind. Thandar struggled frantically to carry it about. Down they dropped into the trough of a great sea. Above them hung the overleaning tower of the wave's crest ready to topple upon them its tons of water. The canoe rose, still broadside, almost to the crest of the wave--then the thing broke upon them.
When Thandar came to the surface his first though was for Nadara. He looked about as he shook the water from his eyes. Almost at his side Nadara's head rose from the sea. As her eyes met his a smile touched her lips.
"This is better," she shouted. "Now we can reach the shore," and turning she struck out for land.
Just behind her swam Thandar. He knew that Nadara was like a fish in water, but he doubted her ability as he doubted his own to reach the shore in the face of both wind and tide. A wave carried them high in air, and from its crest both saw simultaneously a long craft in the hollow beneath them, and noted the fierce aspect of her crew.
Nadara, fearing all men but Thandar, would have attempted to elude the craft, but the glimpse that the man had of those aboard her convinced him that he had fallen by good fortune into the company of Tsao Ming and his crew.
"They are friends," he screamed to Nadara, and so they let the boat come alongside and pick them up; but no sooner had Thandar obtained a good look at the occupants that he discovered that never a face among them had he seen before.
They were men of the same type as Tsao Ming's motley horde, nor did Waldo Emerson need inquire their vocation--thief and murderer were writ upon every countenance. They jabbered questions at Nadara and Thandar in an assortment of dialects which neither could understand, and it was only after the craft had been anchored into the little bay and the party had waded to shore that Thandar tried speaking with them in pidgin English. Several among them understood him, and he was not long in making it plain to them that they would be paid well if they carried him and Nadara to a civilized port.
The leader, who seemed to be a full blooded negro, laughed at him, ridiculing the idea that an almost naked man could pay for his liberty. At the same time the fellow cast such greedy glances at Nadara that Thandar became convinced that the fellow, for reasons of his own, preferred not to believe that they could pay in money for their liberty.
It seemed that the party had been about to embark for another portion of the western coast of the island where the main body of the horde lay. They had but been waiting for three of their crew who had gone inland hunting, when they had seen the canoe and put out to capture its occupants. Now they returned to the little harbor to pick up their fellows and continue toward the main camp.
The black was for dispatching Thandar at once as their boat was already overcrowded, but there were others who counseled him against it, reminding him of the probably anger of their chief, who saw only in a dead prisoner the loss of a possible ransom.
At last the hunters returned and all embarked. Soon the boat had passed out of the bay and was making its way south along the west coast of the island. It was almost dark when her nose was turned toward shore and the long sweeps brought into play as the sail sagged to the foot of the mast.
Between two small, overlapping points that hid what lay behind, they passed into a landlocked harbor. As the boat breasted the end of the inner point, Thandar sprang to his feet with a cry of joy and amazement. Now a hundred yards away, riding quietly on the mirror-like surface of the water, lay the Priscilla.
The pirates looked at their prisoner in astonishment. The black rose with clenched fists as though prepared to strike him.
"Priscilla ahoy!" shrieked Waldo Emerson. "Help! Help!"
The negro grinned. There was no response from the white yacht. Then the men told Thandar that they had captured the vessel several weeks before, and were holding her crew prisoners upon land awaiting the return of the chief who had been unaccountably absent for a long time. When Waldo Emerson told them that the yacht belong to his father the black was glad that he had not killed him, for he should bring a fat ransom.
It as dark when they landed, and Thandar and Nadara were forced into the squalid huts that lay side by side with several others just above the beach. For a long time the man could not sleep. His mind was occupied with doubts as to the fate of his father and mother. Nadara had told him that both had been aboard the Priscilla. She had said nothing of the treatment accorded her by Mrs. Smith-Jones, but Waldo had guess near the truth, and he had seen that the sight of the Priscilla had awakened not enthusiasm or happiness in the girl.
After awhile he dozed only to be awakened by the sound of movement outside his hut. There was something sinister in the stealthiness of the sound. Silently Thandar rose and crept to the door. The pirates had made no attempt to secure their prisoners--there was no possibility of their escaping from the island.
Thandar put his head out into the lesser darkness of the night. He muttered a little growl of rage and fear, for what he saw was the huge, dark bulk of a man crawling into Nadara's hut. Instantly the American followed. At the door of the girl's shelter he paused to listen. Within he hear a sudden exclamation of right and the sound of a scuffle. Then he was within the darkness, and a moment later stumbled against a man. Thandar's fingers sought the throat. He made no sound. The other wheeled upon him with a knife. Thandar had expected it. His forearm warded the first blow, and running down the forearm of the other found the knife wrist. Then commenced the struggle within the Stygian blackness of the interior of the hut. Back and forth across the mud floor the two staggered and reeled--the one attempting to wrench free the hand that held the knife--the other seeking a hold upon the throat of his antagonist while he stroke to maintain his grip on the other's wrist. The heavy breathing of the two rose and fell upon the silence of the night--that and the scuffling of their feet were the only sounds of combat. Nadara could not assist Thandar--she knew that it was he who had come to her rescue though she could not see him.
At last, with superhuman effort, the night prowler broke away from Thandar. For a moment silence reigned in the hut. None of the three could see the other. From beneath his panther skin Thandar drew the long pistol that Tsao Ming had given him, but he dared not fire for fear of hitting Nadara, nor dared he ask her to speak that he might know her position, for them he would have divulged his own to his antagonist.
For minutes that seemed like hours the three stood in utter silence, endeavoring to stifle their breathing. Then Thandar heard a cautious movement upon the opposite side of the room. Was it his foe, or Nadara. He raised his pistol level with a man's breast, and then very cautiously he too moved to one side. At the sound of his movement there came a sudden flash and deafening roar from across the hut--the enemy had fired, and in the flash of his gun all within the interior was lighted for an instant, and to the man's left stood Nadara, safe from a shot from Thandar's pistol.
The black, not knowing that Thandar was armed, had not guessed that his chance shot was to prove his own death messenger. The instant that the flash of the other's gun revealed his whereabouts Thandar's pistol gave an answering roar, and simultaneously Thandar leaped to one side, running swiftly to grapple with the black from the other side; but when he came to him, instead of meeting with ferocious resistance as he had expected, he stumbled over his dead body.
But now the whole camp was awake. The pirates were running hither and thither shouting questions and order in their many tongues. Confusion reigned supreme, and in the midst of it Thandar grasped Nadara's hand and ran from the hut. Back of the other huts he ran until he had passed the end of the camp. Then he turned down toward the water. It was his intention to reach a boat and make his way to the Priscilla.
Behind them the confusion of the camp grew as the pirates searched the huts for an explanation of the two shots--there could have been no better opportunity for escape. Drawn up on the beach was one of the Priscilla's own boats. Together Thandar and Nadara pushed it off, and a moment later were rowing rapidly toward the yacht.
It was with a feeling of unbounded security and elation that Waldo Emerson clambered over the side and drew Nadara after him; but his elation was short lived for scarcely had he set foot upon the deck than he was seized from behind by half a dozen brawny villains who had been upon guard on board the Priscilla and had seen the two put off from shore, watched their flight toward the yacht and lain in wait for them as they clambered over the side.
The balance of the night they were kept prisoners upon the Priscilla; but early the next morning they were taken ashore. There they found all the pirates congregated outside one of the huts. Within were the passengers and crew of the Priscilla. As Thandar and Nadara approached they were seized and hustled toward the doorway--with an accompaniment of oriental oaths they were pushed into the interior.
Standing about in disconsolate and unhappy groups were the crew of the Priscilla. Captain Burlinghame and Mr. And Mrs. Smith-Jones. As his eyes fell upon the last, Waldo Emerson ran to her with outstretched arms.
With a horrified shriek Mrs. Smith-Jones dodged behind her husband and the captain. Waldo came to a sudden halt. The two men eyed him threateningly. He looked straight into his father's face.
"Don't you know me, Father?" he asked.
John Alden Smith-Jones' jaw dropped.
"Waldo Emerson," he cried. "It cannot be possible!"
Mrs. Smith-Jones emerged from retreat.
"Waldo Emerson!" she echoed. "It cannot be!"
"But it is, Mother," cried the young man.
"What awful apparel!" said Mrs. Smith-Jones after she had embraced her son. Then her eyes wandered to Nadara, who had been standing in demure silence just within the doorway.
"You?" she gasped. "You are not dead?"
Nadara shook her head, and Waldo Emerson hastened to recount her adventures since Stark's attack upon her on the deck of the Priscilla. Mrs. Smith-Jones approached the girl. She placed a hand upon her shoulder.
"I have been doing a great deal of thinking since last I saw you," she said, "and the result of it is that I am going to do something I have never done in my life--I am going to ask your pardon; I treated you shamefully. I do not need to ask if my son loves you--you have already told me that you love him--and his eyes have told me where his heart lies.
"For long nights I lay awake thinking of the horror of it, and almost praying that he might be dead rather than come back to find you waiting for him in Boston--that was before you went overboard. You had no birth or family, and that to me meant everything; but since I thought you were both dead I discovered that I recalled many things about you that were infinitely to be preferred over birth and breeding.
"I cannot tell you just what they are--only I cannot blame my son for loving you. Only you must discard that horrible garment for something presentable."
"Mother!" shouted Waldo Emerson, as he threw his arms about her. "I knew that you would love her, too, if you ever knew her."
Just then the door opened and one of the pirates entered.
"Come," he said.
They filed out past him. From those outside they learned that it had been decided to kill them all and after looting the Priscilla, sinker, as a man-of-war had been sighted cruising off the coast early in the morning. In their terror they had decided to wait no longer for the absent chief, and all thoughts of ransom were forgotten in the made desire to erase every vestige of their piracy.
The victims looked at one another in horror. They were entirely surrounded by the pirates, and one by one were securely bound that there might be no chance of any escaping. The plan was to lead them inland to the densest part of the jungle and there to cut their throats and leave their corpses for the vultures. The pirates seemed to derive much pleasure in recounting their plan to the prisoners.
At last all were bound and the death march commenced. The last of the long line of hope forsaken prisoners and brutal, gibing cutthroats had disappeared in the jungle when a rude craft made its way into the harbor. At sight of the Priscilla it hesitated and prepared to fly, but seeing no sign of life aboard it, approached, and finding the decks deserted, mounted. In the cabins the newcomers discovered two Malays asleep. These they woke with much laughter and rude jests.
The two guards leaped to their feet, feeling for their pistols; but when they saw who had surprised them they grinned broadly and jabbered volubly. They addressed all their remarks to a huge and villainous fellow whom they called chief. He it was whom the pirates had awaited, and whose prolonged absence had resulted in the determination to execute the prisoners of the Priscilla.
When the chief learned of what was going on in the jungle he cursed and bellowed in rage. He saw many thousand liang of sycee evaporating before his eyes. Shouting orders to his fellow to follow him he leaped into the craft hat had brought them to the Priscilla, and a moment later was pushing rapidly toward the shore. Without waiting to draw the boat upon the beach the chief plunged into the jungle, his men at his heels.
Far ahead of him trudged the weary and fear-stricken prisoners, lashed onward by sticks and the flats of murderous parangs. At last the pirates halted in a tangled mass of vegetation.
"Here," said one; but another thought they should proceed a little further. For a few minutes the two men argued, then the first drew his parang and advanced upon Thandar.
"Here!" he insisted and swung the blade about his head.
A sudden crashing of the underbrush and loud and angry shouts caused him to turn his eyes in the direction of the interruption. The prisoners, too, looked. What they saw was not particularly reassuring--only another very ferocious appearing and exceeding wrathful pirate followed by a half dozen other villains.
He rushed into the midst of the group, knocking men to right and left. The wicked looking fellows who had bullied and cowed the frightened prisoners but a few moments before now looked the picture of abject terror.
The chief came to a halt before the man with the bared parang. His face was livid, and working spasmodically with rage and excitement. He tried to speak, and then he turned his eyes upon Thandar, standing there bound ready for decapitation. As his gaze fell upon this prisoner his eyes went wide, and then he turned upon the would-be executioner, and with a mighty blow felled him.
That seemed to loose his tongue, and from his mouth flowed a torrent of the most awful abuse the prisoners had ever heard. It was directed toward the men who had dared contemplate this thing without his sanction, and principally against the cowering unfortunate who had not dared rise from where his chief's heavy fist had sprawled him.
"And you would have killed Thandar," he shrieked. "Thandar, who saved my life!"
And then he fell to kicking the prostrate man until Thandar himself was forced to intercede in the wretch's behalf.
With the coming of Tsao Ming the troubles of the prisoners evaporated in thin air, for when he found that the owner of the Priscilla was Thandar's father he restored the yacht and all the loot that his men had taken from it to their rightful owners. Nor would he have stopped there had they permitted him to have his way, which was no less than to behead half a dozen of his unfortunate lieutenants who had been over-zealous in the performance of their piratical duties.
Taso Min's picturesque villains replenished the water casks of the Priscilla and carried aboard a plentiful table to Honolulu, the port they had chosen as their first stop.
And when the preparations were completed a dozen piratical prahus escorted the white yacht a hundred miles upon her northward journey, firing a farewell salute with volley after volley from the little brass six-pounders in their bows.
As the tiny fleet diminished to mere specks astern, disappearing beneath the southern horizon, a white flanneled man with close cropped blonde hair, and a slender, black haired girl in simple shirt waist and duck suit watched them from the deck of the Priscilla.
And involuntary sigh escaped the lips of each and they turned and looked into one another's eyes.