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completely dropped by this time, and the sea was as smooth as glass.

When the vessel was scarcely more than two miles distant, Alie turned
to her chief officer, and said:

"I think she's close enough now. Tell her that we're going to send a
boat."

While she was speaking a string of flags had broken out upon the mail
boat.

Walworth read them through the glass he held in his hand.

"She wants to know our name."

"Reply, 'Yacht _Sagittarius_, owner Lord Melkard, from Rangoon to
Nagasaki.' He is one of the directors of the company, and that will
induce them to give us their immediate attention, or I shall be very
much surprised."

She was quite right, for no sooner had the message been deciphered
than another went up.

Again Walworth reported. This time it ran:

"Send your boat."

"Despatch the boat," said Alie.

Instantly Walworth and the tall man with the scar on his face, whose
name I have said was Patterson, went forrard, and within three minutes
Alie's own gig was manned and overboard. Walworth, I noticed, was in
command of her, so I took up the glass he had left upon the skylight,
and brought it to bear upon the mail boat, now less than a mile
distant. She presented a handsome picture as she lay there, her great
bulk riding upon the smooth water as securely as if it would be
possible for her to defy the elements, whatever storm might rage.

With the aid of the strong glass I was using I could plainly
distinguish her, and from the scarcity of passengers on her decks it
was evident that something unusual was occurring on board. Presently
our boat got alongside and the gangway was lowered. A consultation
seemed to be going on upon the bridge, and after a few moments a man
was seen to ascend and descend the steps leading to it. Five minutes
later two men passed down the gangway, and once more our boat put off
to us.

When she had overcome about half the distance I chanced to look
forrard. To my surprise the raffle, which a few moments before had
been disfiguring the side, was gone, and even the bulwark itself had
recovered its proper shape and comeliness. Moreover, the tarpaulin
which had hitherto covered the centre of the deck was being removed,
and by the time the boat had completed three parts of the distance
that separated us from the steamer, a funnel had been uncovered and
erected. The chief officer came aft.

"Is everything prepared, Mr. Patterson?" inquired Alie.

"Everything, madam," replied the officer, looking at the boat.

"Steam up?"

"It has been for the last five minutes."

"Very well then, pipe all hands to quarters, and stand by to receive
the boat when she comes alongside."

As she finished speaking the officer blew a whistle, and immediately
the crew, who had hitherto been ordered to remain below, appeared on
deck and placed themselves at their respective posts. Against the
foremast I noticed a curious mechanical contrivance, the use of which
at any other time I should have inquired. Now, however, there was a
look upon Alie's face that warned me not to be too inquisitive.

At last the boat came alongside, the gangway was lowered, and a moment
later Walworth, accompanied by a big, clumsily built man with a heavy
sensual face, small ferretty eyes, a curled moustache, and dark hair,
appeared up the side. He seemed to wonder what was required of him,
and it was evident that so far he had no idea into whose hands he had
fallen. I glanced at Alie, as he appeared on deck, to discover that
she was regarding him out of half-closed eyes, just as she had looked
at Kwong Fung before she had ordered him off to execution, and at
Ebbington in the cabin half an hour before.

"Will you let me say that I am more than pleased to see you, Mr.
Barkmansworth?" she said in her silkiest tone as he gained the deck.
"It was only last month I heard that you were coming to China to take
up your residence among us. It is my desire to offer you a warm
welcome to the East, hence this reception in mid-ocean. Mr. Walworth,
will you be good enough to bring Mr. Ebbington to me?"

Walworth went below, and presently returned with the prisoner.

"Mr. Ebbington," said Alie, as the man she addressed took his place
beside the newly erected funnel, "I have sent for you in order that
you may see for yourself how I show my appreciation of those whom the
world, to my thinking, does not properly reward. Mr. Barkmansworth, in
case you may not know in whose presence you now stand, let me inform
you that I am the woman you have so often expressed a desire to meet.
I am she whom you boasted in Sydney, a year ago, you would flog when
she fell into your hands, as you flogged those unfortunate South Sea
Islanders. In other words, Mr. Barkmansworth, I am the Beautiful White
Devil."

Though he must have realised his position long before she had finished
speaking, the unfortunate man now, for the first time, showed signs of
fear. Indeed, it is my opinion he would have fallen to the ground had
not Walworth upheld him on one side, the coxswain of the boat which
had brought him doing the same upon the other. Alie continued in the
same quiet voice:

"Tell me, you sir, have you anything to say why I should not treat you
as you deserve? So far you have craftily managed to escape punishment
from your own authorities, but you must see that cunning will not
avail you here. If you have anything to say, say it quickly, for I
cannot keep your boat waiting."

The wretched man took a step forward, and, the eyes of all on board
being upon him, tried to carry the matter off with a high hand.

"What business is it of yours what I do?" he asked.

"It is my business," Alie replied, "because you have threatened what
you would do to me when you caught me, and also because no one else
will see justice done to you."

"You dare not punish me," he cried. "You shall not! I warn you I am in
high authority, and I'll exterminate you as I would a rat, if you dare
to lay a hand upon me."

"So you try to bluster, do you?" said Alie quietly. "Very good. In
that case I need have no scruples at all in carrying out my plan. You
flogged those poor women in Yakilavi, and that man at Tuarani, to
death. I will be more merciful. But flogged you shall be. Men, do
your duty!"

The words were hardly out of her mouth before four of her crew, who
had evidently been instructed in the parts they were to play, sprang
forward, seized him by his arms and legs, and bore him swiftly from
the gangway to the object whose use I had been wondering. Once there
his feet were firmly secured, the upper part of his body was stripped
to the skin, while, at a signal, a powerful native stepped forward
from the crowd, carrying a cat-o'-nine-tails in his hand.

"Lay on twelve lashes," said Alie sternly.

The man had a broad white back, and the first cut raised its mark, the
second put another alongside it, and by the time the twelve strokes
had been administered the blood had begun to flow. After the first cut
the wretched culprit no longer attempted to comport himself like a
man; he struggled, whined, and finally bellowed outright. When the
number was completed, the native paused and looked at Alie. Her face
was turned away, but it was as hard as iron.

"You have so far had six lashes for each of the women you killed," she
said; "now you will have six more for the man you butchered, and six
more on top of them to teach you to respect myself and the name of
Woman. Go on!"

By this time the wretched man's pluck was entirely gone. He entreated
to be let off, offering large sums of money, to be faithfully paid
directly he got ashore, if she would only abate one lash. He might,
however, as well have appealed to a stone: the second twelve were duly
administered, and he was then cast loose. He fell in a heap on the
deck, and for some time refused to budge; but, on being promised an
additional half-dozen if he did not do as he was ordered, he soon
found his feet, and bolted down the gangway into the gig alongside,
which immediately set off for the mail steamer.

Half an hour later the boat returned, bringing with her the men whose
part it had been to ensure the stoppage of the vessel and the capture
of the passenger. Steam was up by this time, and within five minutes
of raising the boat to the davits we were under weigh. In an hour we
had lost sight of the mail boat, and were making as straight a course
as possible back to the settlement.

That evening I received an invitation from Alie to dine with her in
her cabin, and, as may be supposed, I accepted it. But as the lady
whom I had only known as Mrs. Beecher, and who had been confined to
her cabin by ill-health ever since our leaving Singapore, was present,
we only conversed on general topics during the progress of the meal.
When, however, we sought the deck afterwards alone, and came to our
favourite spot at the taffrail, Alie said:

"Up to the present you have seen a good many sides of my character,
have you not? I hope, among them, they will not make you think too
badly of me."

"Make me think badly of you, Alie?" I cried. "That would be
impossible. What _have_ I seen? Let me think. First, I have seen you
collecting about you and befriending many of the world's unfortunates;
second, I have seen you toiling day and night, without thought of
yourself, for the welfare of the lives you loved; and, last, I have
seen you always just and forbearing, a good ruler and a firm friend.
Is there anything in any of those circumstances to make me think badly
of you? No, no!"

"You are too generous to me, I fear. However, to-day you have seen me
in the character of Retribution; you have seen that I can bite as well
as bark. I should be sorry if I lost your good esteem. Now, with
regard to Mr. Ebbington, I want to consult with you as to the course I
should pursue with him."

"I hardly know," I answered. "I have been thinking it over this
afternoon. The man is already nearly mad with fear; that flogging this
morning was an awful lesson to him."

"I hope it was; but cannot you see the position I am placed in? After
all that has passed between us, I cannot let him go out into the world
again, and yet I do not want to keep him a perpetual prisoner at the
settlement. A man of that kind might do serious mischief even there."

I did not know what to advise, so saying I would think about it, we
dismissed the subject for the present. Alie was looking across the sea
astern.

"We're in for a spell of bad weather, I fear," she said. "Do you see
that bank of cloud away to the northeast? I hope it won't delay our
getting back to the settlement. I have been watching it coming up, and
I don't like the look of it at all."

We walked along together to the bridge, where she gave the officer of
the watch some instructions. This done she turned to me and held out
her hand.

"Good-night!" she said; "I am going below now to try and get some
sleep in case we are to have trouble later. I have left orders that I
am to be called if anything unusual transpires."

"Good-night!" I answered, when I had walked to the companion-ladder
with her.

As soon as she had left me I lit another cigar, and, seating myself on
the rail, fell to smoking and dreaming of the future. Every hour was
bringing the time closer for me to bid the woman I loved good-bye, and
to go back to England. After that, for a year, I told myself, I would
work hard at my profession, and at the end of the time stipulated, she
would arrive to be my wife. What my life was to be after that I could
not of course determine, but however it should turn out, I would be
prepared for it, and with Alie for my wife how could I fail to be
happy? As soon as my cigar was finished, I tossed the stump overboard
and retired to my cabin.

On entering it I thought I heard a noise, and as it turned out I was
not mistaken. To my surprise the occupant was none other than the
prisoner, Ebbington. He seemed a trifle disconcerted at my catching
him, and began to apologise profusely for his presence there.

"I came in here to consult you professionally, Dr. De Normanville," he
managed to get out at last. "But you were not in, so I thought I'd
wait. Can you do anything for me? I am not at all well."

"Sit down," I said, pointing to the locker, "and tell me how you
feel."

There was something in the poor wretch's face that, much as I detested
him, touched a chord of pity in my heart. Thus encouraged, he
delivered himself of his symptoms, and asked to be treated. Long
before he had finished his tale, however, I had convinced myself that
there was nothing, save fright, the matter with him. But I heard him
out, and then said:

"Now own up, Ebbington. What was the real reason of this visit? For
you know very well you're no more ill than I am."

He stared for a moment, and then seeing it would be useless arguing
with me, said:

"No, I'm not ill, but I want to ask you a question. What does this
woman intend doing with me? It's all very well for her to pretend she
abducted you; I know better. You were in her confidence at Singapore
and you're in it now. For Heaven's sake don't play with me - tell me
the truth. Is she going to flog me as she flogged that poor devil this
morning, or is she going to hang me, as I hear she did Kwong Fung the
pirate?"

"I know no more about what she intends doing with you than you do," I
answered; "and if I did, I'm certain I shouldn't tell you. Look here,
Mr. Ebbington, I don't want to hit a man when he's down, but I must
own, I think, whatever you do get won't be too much for you. You would
have betrayed her, if you could have managed it, without a second
thought. Now, if I had been in her place - well, I don't somehow think
I should have been as merciful as she has been."

His face instantly became black with fury.

"Wouldn't you! wouldn't you?" he hissed; "spy, traitor, coward!
wouldn't you? A fig for you and your thoughts."

I laughed; thereupon he walked up to me, and, with his features
convulsed with rage, deliberately spat in my face. I knocked him down,
and, having done so, picked him up and threw him outside into the
saloon. I then locked my cabin door and went to bed.

I don't suppose, however, I had been asleep more than an hour before I
was awakened by a loud hammering at my door. Thinking that the ship
must be in danger, I sprang from my bunk and unlocked it as quickly as
possible. On looking out I discovered Walworth and the officers'
steward standing before me.

"What on earth is the matter?" I asked, I'm afraid a trifle irritably.
"What on earth are you making all this row about?"

"Something's very much the matter," Walworth answered, taking my arm
and drawing me along the saloon. "Ebbington's taken poison."

"The deuce he has!" I cried. "Let me see him at once."

I was thereupon conducted to his cabin, which was on the port side of
the vessel, at the further end of the saloon. I found the patient
stretched on his back in his bunk, holding an empty laudanum bottle in
his hand.

One moment's examination showed me that life was extinct; he had been
dead nearly an hour. In this fashion had Alie's difficulty been solved
for her, and, perhaps, all things considered, though it seems rather a
cruel thing to say, in the best possible manner for all parties.

"Is there no chance at all of saving him?" asked Walworth, who had
been watching me intently during my examination.

"Not one!" I answered. "Ebbington's gone where even the Beautiful
White Devil's vengeance won't reach him. Poor devil! Fancy coming
into the world for such a fate as this!"

"Humph! Frightened out of his senses, I expect. Well, now, I suppose I
must go and tell her ladyship. I'm sorry, doctor, to have troubled you
in vain."

"Don't mention it. I'm only sorry nothing could be done. Good-night!"

"Good-night!"

I drew the blanket over the face, and then locking the door behind me,
went back to my own cabin to think it all out. One thing became
perfectly plain to me when I examined my medical chest - and that was,
Ebbington's reason for being in my berth.




CHAPTER XI.

A TYPHOON.


At five o'clock next morning, being unable to bear the closeness of my
cabin any longer, I dressed myself and went on deck. To my surprise
the schooner was stationary, and wrapped in as dense a fog as ever I
remember to have seen. So still was the air that every sail hung limp
and motionless, and so thick the fog that, when I emerged from the
companion hatch, I could hardly distinguish the bulwarks on either
side. It was the intense quiet, however, that was at once the most
mysterious and the impressive part of the scene. The steady drip of
the moisture on the deck, and now and again the faint lip-lap of a
wavelet against the side, the creaking of a block in the rigging above
my head, or the subdued tones of a man's voice coming from the forrard
of the foremast were all the sounds that I could hear. It was most
depressing; so, for the sake of companionship, I fumbled my way over
to the starboard bulwark, and, having found it, ran it along to the
bridge, where I almost fell into some person's arms. The fog here was
so thick that I could not see his face, so I inquired his name.

"Walworth," was the reply, "and from your voice you should be Dr. De
Normanville."

"Quite right," I answered. "But what a fog this is, to be sure! How
long have we been in it?"

"Very nearly three hours," he replied. "It's most unfortunate. By the
way, I want to ask a favour of you on her ladyship's account. We are
going to bury that poor beggar Ebbington in half an hour. Will you
conduct the service?"

"Did her ladyship tell you to ask me?"

He answered in the affirmative.

"Then if it is her desire of course I will do so," I replied, "though
I must own I do not very much look forward to the task."

He thanked me and went below to give the necessary instructions. I
waited about, and in half an hour the body was brought on deck, neatly
sewn up in a hammock, and covered with a plain white ensign by way of
a pall. Though we could hardly see each other, or the bier, we took
our place at the gangway, and I at once began to read the beautiful
service for the burial of the dead at sea. When I arrived at the place
where it is instructed that the body shall be cast into the deep, I
gave a signal, and the stretcher was tilted, so that the hammock and
its grim contents slid off it and fell with a sullen splash into the
water alongside. Just as it disappeared a curious thing happened.

The body could hardly have touched the water before the fog was
lifted, as though by some giant hand, and the sun shone brilliantly
forth. The transition from the obscurity of semi-darkness to bright
sunshine was quite dazzling, and set us all blinking like so many
owls. Then I saw every face turn suddenly in one direction, and as
they did so every mouth went down. Next moment the officer of the
watch had bounded to the engine-room telegraph, there was a confused
ringing of bells in the bowels of the ship, and before a minute could
have elapsed we were under weigh once more.

And what do you think was the reason of all this commotion? Why,
there, not half a mile distant from us, full steam up, and ensign
streaming in the breeze, lay an enormous English man-of-war. She was
evidently on our trail, and, by altering her course only half a point,
might have run us down in the fog. It was very evident she had only
just become aware that she was so close to her prey, or she would
surely have sent a boat and attempted to take us prisoner. As it was,
this sudden lifting of the fog must have caused them as much surprise
as it did us, for it was a good minute before we heard the shouting of
orders and blowing of bo'sun's pipes aboard her. As soon as I had
recovered from my astonishment, I fetched a glass from the rack and
brought it to bear on her, at the same time convincing myself that we
were in for a warm quarter of an hour.

True to our expectations, before we had been steaming a couple of
minutes there came a puff of smoke from her port bow, and an instant
later a shot flew in front of us and dropped into the water a mile or
so on our left side. It was evidently a signal to us to heave to
without any nonsense or further waste of time. But as the boom of the
gun died away, Alie made her appearance from the after-companion and
came over to where I stood.

"Good-morning, Dr. De Normanville!" she said, as calmly as if we were
greeting each other in Hyde Park. "You see how anxious your government
is to have me in its keeping. Mr. Patterson, full steam ahead!"

The chief officer touched his cap, gave the order, and then resumed
his promenade, stopping now and again to examine the man-of-war
through his glass.

"They're going to fire another gun, and then if we don't attend to
that they will chase us," said Alie, who was also closely scrutinising
her great opponent's movements.

She was correct in her prophecy, for as she finished speaking another
jet of flame issued from the cruiser's side, followed by a sullen
roar. This time the shot passed through our rigging, fortunately,
however, without doing any damage, and next moment we could see that
she was under weigh. It was going to be a stern chase and, if they
didn't hull us before we got out of range, we knew it would be a long
one.

Seeing that we did not intend to heave to, as she ordered, our
antagonist sent another shot after us, but this time it fell
altogether wide of the mark. Alie called the third officer to her
side.

"Inquire from the engine room what we're doing, Mr. Gammel!" she said.

The officer asked the necessary question, and the answer came back,
"Eighteen."

"Tell them to give her every ounce of steam she is capable of
carrying. We must not allow our friend yonder to get us within range
again, or one of those chance shots may hull us."

Then turning to me she continued, as if in explanation, "You see, Dr.
De Normanville, I have no desire to fall into their hands yet awhile."

I felt as though I would have given anything to have been allowed to
say something at this juncture, but I remembered my compact with her
and wisely held my tongue. If, however, the masculine reader wishes to
realise my feelings at all, let him imagine the woman of his heart in
such imminent danger as mine was then; let it be properly brought home
to him that the only thing he can do to save her is to look on and
speculate as to what the result may be, and I fancy he will not enjoy
it any more than I did. All my life long shall I retain the memory of
the quarter of an hour I spent by Alie's side, watching that sinister
vessel lumbering after us like a giant in chase of a dwarf. But
fortunately for his safety, our dwarf could run, and to such good
purpose that by breakfast time we had drawn completely out of range.

During our meal, of which I partook in the officer's mess, for I did
not breakfast with Alie every morning, I noticed a nervous, and, as I
thought, a hopelessly sad look upon the chief officer's face. Could it
be the presence of the man-of-war that occasioned it? I did not
question him, of course; but when he halted at the foot of the ladder,
glanced anxiously at the barometer, and returned to the deck, I asked
Walworth if anything were the matter.

"Look at the glass for yourself," he said. "Don't you see that it is
dropping in a most alarming fashion? And if you listen for a moment
you will hear how the wind and sea are rising."

And so they were! There could be no mistake about that. I picked up my
cap, and followed the chief's example.

What a different scene presented itself when I gained the deck! When I
had left it to go below to breakfast, the water had been as smooth as
a millpond; now it ran a comparatively high sea, and its anger was
momentarily increasing. The _Lone Star_ was still steaming through it
like a witch, though her pursuer could only just be discerned on the
southern horizon. From the heavy and confused water all round me I
turned my eyes aloft and examined the sky, across which a quantity of
curious-shaped clouds were flying, resembling well-combed horses'
manes more than anything else to which I could liken them. Even to my
inexperienced eyes they did not present a reassuring appearance, and
it was evident that the officer of the watch shared my anxiety, for he
was having everything made snug as swiftly as possible.

By ten o'clock the wind had risen to the strength of a more than
moderate gale, and the sea in proportion. It was most alarming, and I
must confess that, seeing the strength of the wind, I was a little


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Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 12 of 19)