other in champagne; toast followed toast; it was proposed and carried
amid acclamation to change the name of the schooner (when she should
be bought) to the Currency Lass; and the Currency Lass Island Trading
Company was practically founded before dusk.
Three days later, Carthew stood before the lawyer, still in his jean
suit, received his hundred and fifty pounds, and proceeded rather
timidly to ask for more indulgence.
"I have a chance to get on in the world," he said. "By to-morrow evening
I expect to be part owner of a ship."
"Dangerous property, Mr. Carthew," said the lawyer.
"Not if the partners work her themselves and stand to go down along with
her," was the reply.
"I conceive it possible you might make something of it in that way,"
returned the other. "But are you a seaman? I thought you had been in the
"I am an old yachtsman," said Norris. "And I must do the best I can.
A fellow can't live in New South Wales upon diplomacy. But the point I
wish to prepare you for is this. It will be impossible I should present
myself here next quarter-day; we expect to make a six months' cruise of
it among the islands."
"Sorry, Mr. Carthew: I can't hear of that," replied the lawyer.
"I mean upon the same conditions as the last," said Carthew.
"The conditions are exactly opposite," said the lawyer. "Last time I
had reason to know you were in the colony; and even then I stretched a
point. This time, by your own confession, you are contemplating a breach
of the agreement; and I give you warning if you carry it out and I
receive proof of it (for I will agree to regard this conversation as
confidential) I shall have no choice but to do my duty. Be here on
quarter-day, or your allowance ceases."
"This is very hard and, I think, rather silly," returned Carthew.
"It is not of my doing. I have my instructions," said the lawyer.
"And you so read these instructions, that I am to be prohibited from
making an honest livelihood?" asked Carthew.
"Let us be frank," said the lawyer. "I find nothing in these
instructions about an honest livelihood. I have no reason to suppose
my clients care anything about that. I have reason to suppose only
one thing, - that they mean you shall stay in this colony, and to guess
another, Mr. Carthew. And to guess another."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Norris.
"I mean that I imagine, on very strong grounds, that your family desire
to see no more of you," said the lawyer. "O, they may be very wrong;
but that is the impression conveyed, that is what I suppose I am paid to
bring about, and I have no choice but to try and earn my hire."
"I would scorn to deceive you," said Norris, with a strong flush, "you
have guessed rightly. My family refuse to see me; but I am not going to
England, I am going to the islands. How does that affect the islands?"
"Ah, but I don't know that you are going to the islands," said the
lawyer, looking down, and spearing the blotting-paper with a pencil.
"I beg your pardon. I have the pleasure of informing you," said Norris.
"I am afraid, Mr. Carthew, that I cannot regard that communication as
official," was the slow reply.
"I am not accustomed to have my word doubted!" cried Norris.
"Hush! I allow no one to raise his voice in my office," said the
lawyer. "And for that matter - you seem to be a young gentleman of
sense - consider what I know of you. You are a discarded son; your family
pays money to be shut of you. What have you done? I don't know. But do
you not see how foolish I should be, if I exposed my business reputation
on the safeguard of the honour of a gentleman of whom I know just so
much and no more? This interview is very disagreeable. Why prolong it?
Write home, get my instructions changed, and I will change my behaviour.
"I am very fond of three hundred a year," said Norris, "but I cannot pay
the price required. I shall not have the pleasure of seeing you again."
"You must please yourself," said the lawyer. "Fail to be here next
quarter-day, and the thing stops. But I warn you, and I mean the warning
in a friendly spirit. Three months later you will be here begging, and I
shall have no choice but to show you in the street."
"I wish you a good-evening," said Norris.
"The same to you, Mr. Carthew," retorted the lawyer, and rang for his
So it befell that Norris during what remained to him of arduous days in
Sydney, saw not again the face of his legal adviser; and he was already
at sea, and land was out of sight, when Hadden brought him a Sydney
paper, over which he had been dozing in the shadow of the galley, and
showed him an advertisement.
"Mr. Norris Carthew is earnestly entreated to call without delay at the
office of Mr. - - , where important intelligence awaits him."
"It must manage to wait for me six months," said Norris, lightly enough,
but yet conscious of a pang of curiosity.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE BUDGET OF THE "CURRENCY LASS."
Before noon on the 26th November, there cleared from the port of Sydney
the schooner, Currency Lass. The owner, Norris Carthew, was on board in
the somewhat unusual position of mate; the master's name purported to
be William Kirkup; the cook was a Hawaiian boy, Joseph Amalu; and there
were two hands before the mast, Thomas Hadden and Richard Hemstead, the
latter chosen partly because of his humble character, partly because he
had an odd-job-man's handiness with tools. The Currency Lass was bound
for the South Sea Islands, and first of all for Butaritari in the
Gilberts, on a register; but it was understood about the harbour that
her cruise was more than half a pleasure trip. A friend of the late
Grant Sanderson (of Auchentroon and Kilclarty) might have recognised in
that tall-masted ship, the transformed and rechristened Dream; and
the Lloyd's surveyor, had the services of such a one been called in
requisition, must have found abundant subject of remark.
For time, during her three years' inaction, had eaten deep into the
Dream and her fittings; she had sold in consequence a shade above her
value as old junk; and the three adventurers had scarce been able to
afford even the most vital repairs. The rigging, indeed, had been partly
renewed, and the rest set up; all Grant Sanderson's old canvas had been
patched together into one decently serviceable suit of sails; Grant
Sanderson's masts still stood, and might have wondered at themselves.
"I haven't the heart to tap them," Captain Wicks used to observe, as he
squinted up their height or patted their rotundity; and "as rotten as
our foremast" was an accepted metaphor in the ship's company. The sequel
rather suggests it may have been sounder than was thought; but no one
knew for certain, just as no one except the captain appreciated the
dangers of the cruise. The captain, indeed, saw with clear eyes and
spoke his mind aloud; and though a man of an astonishing hot-blooded
courage, following life and taking its dangers in the spirit of a
hound upon the slot, he had made a point of a big whaleboat. "Take your
choice," he had said; "either new masts and rigging or that boat. I
simply ain't going to sea without the one or the other. Chicken coops
are good enough, no doubt, and so is a dinghy; but they ain't for Joe."
And his partners had been forced to consent, and saw six and thirty
pounds of their small capital vanish in the turn of a hand.
All four had toiled the best part of six weeks getting ready; and though
Captain Wicks was of course not seen or heard of, a fifth was there to
help them, a fellow in a bushy red beard, which he would sometimes lay
aside when he was below, and who strikingly resembled Captain Wicks in
voice and character. As for Captain Kirkup, he did not appear till the
last moment, when he proved to be a burly mariner, bearded like Abou
Ben Adhem. All the way down the harbour and through the Heads, his
milk-white whiskers blew in the wind and were conspicuous from shore;
but the Currency Lass had no sooner turned her back upon the lighthouse,
than he went below for the inside of five seconds and reappeared clean
shaven. So many doublings and devices were required to get to sea with
an unseaworthy ship and a captain that was "wanted." Nor might
even these have sufficed, but for the fact that Hadden was a public
character, and the whole cruise regarded with an eye of indulgence as
one of Tom's engaging eccentricities. The ship, besides, had been a
yacht before; and it came the more natural to allow her still some of
the dangerous liberties of her old employment.
A strange ship they had made of it, her lofty spars disfigured with
patched canvas, her panelled cabin fitted for a traderoom with rude
shelves. And the life they led in that anomalous schooner was no less
curious than herself. Amalu alone berthed forward; the rest occupied
staterooms, camped upon the satin divans, and sat down in Grant
Sanderson's parquetry smoking-room to meals of junk and potatoes, bad
of their kind and often scant in quantity. Hemstead grumbled; Tommy
had occasional moments of revolt and increased the ordinary by a
few haphazard tins or a bottle of his own brown sherry. But Hemstead
grumbled from habit, Tommy revolted only for the moment, and there
was underneath a real and general acquiescence in these hardships. For
besides onions and potatoes, the Currency Lass may be said to have
gone to sea without stores. She carried two thousand pounds' worth of
assorted trade, advanced on credit, their whole hope and fortune. It
was upon this that they subsisted - mice in their own granary. They dined
upon their future profits; and every scanty meal was so much in the
Republican as were their manners, there was no practical, at least no
dangerous, lack of discipline. Wicks was the only sailor on board,
there was none to criticise; and besides, he was so easy-going, and so
merry-minded, that none could bear to disappoint him. Carthew did his
best, partly for the love of doing it, partly for love of the captain;
Amalu was a willing drudge, and even Hemstead and Hadden turned to upon
occasion with a will. Tommy's department was the trade and traderoom; he
would work down in the hold or over the shelves of the cabin, till
the Sydney dandy was unrecognizable; come up at last, draw a bucket
of sea-water, bathe, change, and lie down on deck over a big sheaf of
Sydney _Heralds_ and _Dead Birds_, or perhaps with a volume of Buckle's
_History of Civilisation_, the standard work selected for that cruise.
In the latter case, a smile went round the ship, for Buckle almost
invariably laid his student out, and when Tom awoke again he was almost
always in the humour for brown sherry. The connection was so well
established that "a glass of Buckle" or "a bottle of civilisation"
became current pleasantries on board the Currency Lass.
Hemstead's province was that of the repairs, and he had his hands full.
Nothing on board but was decayed in a proportion; the lamps leaked; so
did the decks; door-knobs came off in the hand, mouldings parted company
with the panels, the pump declined to suck, and the defective bathroom
came near to swamp the ship. Wicks insisted that all the nails were long
ago consumed, and that she was only glued together by the rust. "You
shouldn't make me laugh so much, Tommy," he would say. "I'm afraid I'll
shake the sternpost out of her." And, as Hemstead went to and fro
with his tool basket on an endless round of tinkering, Wicks lost
no opportunity of chaffing him upon his duties. "If you'd turn to at
sailoring or washing paint or something useful, now," he would say,
"I could see the fun of it. But to be mending things that haven't no
insides to them appears to me the height of foolishness." And doubtless
these continual pleasantries helped to reassure the landsmen, who went
to and fro unmoved, under circumstances that might have daunted Nelson.
The weather was from the outset splendid, and the wind fair and steady.
The ship sailed like a witch. "This Currency Lass is a powerful old
girl, and has more complaints than I would care to put a name on," the
captain would say, as he pricked the chart; "but she could show her
blooming heels to anything of her size in the Western Pacific." To
wash decks, relieve the wheel, do the day's work after dinner on the
smoking-room table, and take in kites at night, - such was the easy
routine of their life. In the evening - above all, if Tommy had produced
some of his civilisation - yarns and music were the rule. Amalu had
a sweet Hawaiian voice; and Hemstead, a great hand upon the banjo,
accompanied his own quavering tenor with effect. There was a sense in
which the little man could sing. It was great to hear him deliver _My
Boy Tammie_ in Austrylian; and the words (some of the worst of the
ruffian Macneil's) were hailed in his version with inextinguishable
Where hye ye been a' dye?
he would ask, and answer himself: -
I've been by burn and flowery brye,
Meadow green an' mountain grye,
Courtin' o' this young thing,
Just come frye her mammie.
It was the accepted jest for all hands to greet the conclusion of this
song with the simultaneous cry: "My word!" thus winging the arrow of
ridicule with a feather from the singer's wing. But he had his
revenge with _Home, Sweet Home,_ and _Where is my Wandering Boy
To-night?_ - ditties into which he threw the most intolerable pathos. It
appeared he had no home, nor had ever had one, nor yet any vestige of
a family, except a truculent uncle, a baker in Newcastle, N.S.W. His
domestic sentiment was therefore wholly in the air, and expressed
an unrealised ideal. Or perhaps, of all his experiences, this of
the Currency Lass, with its kindly, playful, and tolerant society,
approached it the most nearly.
It is perhaps because I know the sequel, but I can never think upon this
voyage without a profound sense of pity and mystery; of the ship (once
the whim of a rich blackguard) faring with her battered fineries
and upon her homely errand, across the plains of ocean, and past
the gorgeous scenery of dawn and sunset; and the ship's company, so
strangely assembled, so Britishly chuckle-headed, filling their days
with chaff in place of conversation; no human book on board with them
except Hadden's Buckle, and not a creature fit either to read or to
understand it; and the one mark of any civilised interest, being when
Carthew filled in his spare hours with the pencil and the brush: the
whole unconscious crew of them posting in the meanwhile towards so
tragic a disaster.
Twenty-eight days out of Sydney, on Christmas eve, they fetched up to
the entrance of the lagoon, and plied all that night outside, keeping
their position by the lights of fishers on the reef and the outlines of
the palms against the cloudy sky. With the break of day, the schooner
was hove to, and the signal for a pilot shown. But it was plain her
lights must have been observed in the darkness by the native fishermen,
and word carried to the settlement, for a boat was already under weigh.
She came towards them across the lagoon under a great press of sail,
lying dangerously down, so that at times, in the heavier puffs, they
thought she would turn turtle; covered the distance in fine style,
luffed up smartly alongside, and emitted a haggard looking white man in
"Good-mornin', Cap'n," said he, when he had made good his entrance. "I
was taking you for a Fiji man-of-war, what with your flush decks and
them spars. Well, gen'lemen all, here's wishing you a Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year," he added, and lurched against a stay.
"Why, you're never the pilot?" exclaimed Wicks, studying him with a
profound disfavour. "You've never taken a ship in - don't tell me!"
"Well, I should guess I have," returned the pilot. "I'm Captain Dobbs,
I am; and when I take charge, the captain of that ship can go below and
"But, man alive! you're drunk, man!" cried the captain.
"Drunk!" repeated Dobbs. "You can't have seen much life if you call me
drunk. I'm only just beginning. Come night, I won't say; I guess I'll be
properly full by then. But now I'm the soberest man in all Big Muggin."
"It won't do," retorted Wicks. "Not for Joseph, sir. I can't have you
piling up my schooner."
"All right," said Dobbs, "lay and rot where you are, or take and go
in and pile her up for yourself like the captain of the Leslie. That's
business, I guess; grudged me twenty dollars' pilotage, and lost twenty
thousand in trade and a brand new schooner; ripped the keel right off of
her, and she went down in the inside of four minutes, and lies in twenty
fathom, trade and all."
"What's all this?" cried Wicks. "Trade? What vessel was this Leslie,
"Consigned to Cohen and Co., from 'Frisco," returned the pilot, "and
badly wanted. There's a barque inside filling up for Hamburg - you see
her spars over there; and there's two more ships due, all the way from
Germany, one in two months, they say, and one in three; Cohen and Co.'s
agent (that's Mr. Topelius) has taken and lain down with the jaundice on
the strength of it. I guess most people would, in his shoes; no trade,
no copra, and twenty hundred ton of shipping due. If you've any copra on
board, cap'n, here's your chance. Topelius will buy, gold down, and give
three cents. It's all found money to him, the way it is, whatever he
pays for it. And that's what come of going back on the pilot."
"Excuse me one moment, Captain Dobbs. I wish to speak with my mate,"
said the captain, whose face had begun to shine and his eyes to sparkle.
"Please yourself," replied the pilot. "You couldn't think of offering
a man a nip, could you? just to brace him up. This kind of thing looks
damned inhospitable, and gives a schooner a bad name."
"I'll talk about that after the anchor's down," returned Wicks, and he
drew Carthew forward. "I say," he whispered, "here's a fortune."
"How much do you call that?" asked Carthew.
"I can't put a figure on it yet - I daren't!" said the captain. "We might
cruise twenty years and not find the match of it. And suppose another
ship came in to-night? Everything's possible! And the difficulty is
this Dobbs. He's as drunk as a marine. How can we trust him? We ain't
insured - worse luck!"
"Suppose you took him aloft and got him to point out the channel?"
suggested Carthew. "If he tallied at all with the chart, and didn't fall
out of the rigging, perhaps we might risk it."
"Well, all's risk here," returned the captain. "Take the wheel yourself,
and stand by. Mind, if there's two orders, follow mine, not his. Set the
cook for'ard with the heads'ls, and the two others at the main sheet,
and see they don't sit on it." With that he called the pilot; they
swarmed aloft in the fore rigging, and presently after there was bawled
down the welcome order to ease sheets and fill away.
At a quarter before nine o'clock on Christmas morning the anchor was let
The first cruise of the Currency Lass had thus ended in a stroke of
fortune almost beyond hope. She had brought two thousand pounds' worth
of trade, straight as a homing pigeon, to the place where it was most
required. And Captain Wicks (or, rather, Captain Kirkup) showed himself
the man to make the best of his advantage. For hard upon two days he
walked a verandah with Topelius, for hard upon two days his partners
watched from the neighbouring public house the field of battle; and the
lamps were not yet lighted on the evening of the second before the enemy
surrendered. Wicks came across to the Sans Souci, as the saloon was
called, his face nigh black, his eyes almost closed and all bloodshot,
and yet bright as lighted matches.
"Come out here, boys," he said; and when they were some way off
among the palms, "I hold twenty-four," he added in a voice scarcely
recognizable, and doubtless referring to the venerable game of cribbage.
"What do you mean?" asked Tommy.
"I've sold the trade," answered Wicks; "or, rather, I've sold only
some of it, for I've kept back all the mess beef and half the flour and
biscuit; and, by God, we're still provisioned for four months! By God,
it's as good as stolen!"
"My word!" cried Hemstead.
"But what have you sold it for?" gasped Carthew, the captain's almost
insane excitement shaking his nerve.
"Let me tell it my own way," cried Wicks, loosening his neck. "Let me
get at it gradual, or I'll explode. I've not only sold it, boys, I've
wrung out a charter on my own terms to 'Frisco and back; on my own
terms. I made a point of it. I fooled him first by making believe I
wanted copra, which of course I knew he wouldn't hear of - couldn't, in
fact; and whenever he showed fight, I trotted out the copra, and that
man dived! I would take nothing but copra, you see; and so I've got the
blooming lot in specie - all but two short bills on 'Frisco. And the sum?
Well, this whole adventure, including two thousand pounds of credit,
cost us two thousand seven hundred and some odd. That's all paid back;
in thirty days' cruise we've paid for the schooner and the trade. Heard
ever any man the match of that? And it's not all! For besides that,"
said the captain, hammering his words, "we've got Thirteen Blooming
Hundred Pounds of profit to divide. I bled him in four Thou.!" he cried,
in a voice that broke like a schoolboy's.
For a moment the partners looked upon their chief with stupefaction,
incredulous surprise their only feeling. Tommy was the first to grasp
"Here," he said, in a hard, business tone. "Come back to that saloon.
I've got to get drunk."
"You must please excuse me, boys," said the captain, earnestly. "I
daren't taste nothing. If I was to drink one glass of beer, it's my
belief I'd have the apoplexy. The last scrimmage, and the blooming
triumph, pretty nigh hand done me."
"Well, then, three cheers for the captain," proposed Tommy.
But Wicks held up a shaking hand. "Not that either, boys," he pleaded.
"Think of the other buffer, and let him down easy. If I'm like this,
just fancy what Topelius is! If he heard us singing out, he'd have the
As a matter of fact, Topelius accepted his defeat with a good grace;
but the crew of the wrecked Leslie, who were in the same employment and
loyal to their firm, took the thing more bitterly. Rough words and ugly
looks were common. Once even they hooted Captain Wicks from the saloon
verandah; the Currency Lasses drew out on the other side; for some
minutes there had like to have been a battle in Butaritari; and though
the occasion passed off without blows, it left on either side an
increase of ill-feeling.
No such small matter could affect the happiness of the successful
traders. Five days more the ship lay in the lagoon, with little
employment for any one but Tommy and the captain, for Topelius's natives
discharged cargo and brought ballast; the time passed like a pleasant
dream; the adventurers sat up half the night debating and praising their
good fortune, or strayed by day in the narrow isle, gaping like Cockney
tourists; and on the first of the new year, the Currency Lass weighed
anchor for the second time and set sail for 'Frisco, attended by the
same fine weather and good luck. She crossed the doldrums with but
small delay; on a wind and in ballast of broken coral, she outdid
expectations; and, what added to the happiness of the ship's company,
the small amount of work that fell on them to do, was now lessened by
the presence of another hand. This was the boatswain of the Leslie; he
had been on bad terms with his own captain, had already spent his wages
in the saloons of Butaritari, had wearied of the place, and while all
his shipmates coldly refused to set foot on board the Currency Lass, he
had offered to work his passage to the coast. He was a north of Ireland
man, between Scotch and Irish, rough, loud, humorous, and emotional, not
without sterling qualities, and an expert and careful sailor. His frame
of mind was different indeed from that of his new shipmates; instead of
making an unexpected fortune, he had lost a berth; and he was besides
disgusted with the rations, and really appalled at the condition of the
schooner. A stateroom door had stuck, the first day at sea, and Mac (as
they called him) laid his strength to it and plucked it from the hinges.
"Glory!" said he, "this ship's rotten."
"I believe you, my boy," said Captain Wicks.
The next day the sailor was observed with his nose aloft.
"Don't you get looking at these sticks," the captain said, "or you'll
have a fit and fall overboard."
Mac turned towards the speaker with rather a wild eye. "Why, I see what