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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Treasure of the 'San Philipo' » Chapter XII AT THE TREASURE ISLAND
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AFTER a three days' stay at Point de Galle, during which time we shipped more stores and water, and replenished our oil-tanks with paraffin, the "Fortuna" headed east once more.

During our stay in port we had "signed-on" a new member of the crew, a tall and not bad-looking Arab, named Yadillah, who, by some means or the other, had been left at Ceylon from one of the mail-boats. He was engaged as cook and steward, thereby relieving Johnston of a task which was, in the tropical climates, none too pleasant. Yadillah could speak English fairly well, and, although he required special berthing and messing arrangements, he got on with the rest of the crew, in a most satisfactory manner.

In crossing the Bay of Bengal we caught the southern limit of the S.W. monsoon, so that, without having to requisition the motor, we made rapid progress as far as Singapore.

Thence navigation, mainly on account of the imperfect charting of these waters, became difficult; and as we approached the coral islands of the Pacific a man had to be constantly stationed at the cross-trees by day to look out for shoal water, while at night the "Fortuna" had to be kept under reduced sail, so as to bring-to at the first sign of danger.

Seven months had now elapsed since the day when the "Fortuna" cleared out from Fowey, and we were within a few hours' sail of the island where we hoped to find the "San Philipo" treasure. Every member of the crew was in a state of anxious tension, while my father and his brother, though outwardly calm, were in a fever of excitement. In spite of our sanguine hopes, there occurred the thought that possibly our reading of the cipher might be wrong, or that some one else might have forestalled us.

"Wind's falling light, sir," remarked the bos'n, as my father, in his impatience, had taken the third observation that morning.

"Yes, but with luck we'll make the island well before nightfall. Tell them to get the motor running."

Two hours sufficed to bring the jagged peaks of the Truk Archipelago above the horizon, and shortly afterwards, in fulfilment of my parent's forecast, the island known to us as the "San Philipo" hove in sight.

By my uncle's suggestion we headed away to starboard so as to approach the island in the same direction as did the fugitive "San Philipo" and her pursuer the "Anne," and, on drawing nearer, we saw that the island bore a strong resemblance to the description given by my roving ancestor.

There was the hill to the south-east, with its cat's-head outlines, and the two rugged headlands on the western side, and by the aid of a glass we could make out the mouth of a large cave, while all around the island, as far as we could see, was a long line of white foam, denoting the presence of the coral reef.

"Mast-head, there! Can you make out the entrance?" hailed my father.

"Aye, aye, sir—a point on the port bow."

"Then let her go," remarked the pater to the quartermaster. "We must get inside the reef before dark. Mr. Wilkins," he added, addressing the bos'n, "have the anchors cleared away, and keep the lead going."

"No bottom at twenty fathoms," reported the bos'n, after a few casts had been made.

Presently we on deck could distinguish a dark break in the turmoil of foaming water; it was the channel into the lagoon.

"Now or never!" exclaimed the quartermaster, who had relieved the man at the wheel, and was now steering straight for the gap. There was not a breath of wind, and had the "Fortuna" depended solely upon her sails we would have had to bring up till the breeze came, and with it, possibly a heavier sea on the reef.

"If the motor plays us false we are done for," remarked Uncle Herbert, who was anxiously regarding the smother of foam on either bow.

"Never fear; it has served us faithfully up to the present," replied my father. "Another five minutes will settle it."

Straight for the gap the "Fortuna" sped under full power, not a sound being heard above the loud roar of the breakers and the quick pulsations of the engine. On the crest of a huge wave she appeared to hang, then, plunging into the trough, her propeller raced, and her head fell off towards the reef. The spokes flew through the quartermaster's hands, and the staunch little yacht recovered herself, with tons of water pouring from her fo'c'sle. The next moment her stern sank deeply in the waves, the propeller gripped, and with a terrific lurch the "Fortuna" passed between the coral reefs and gained the shelter of the quiet lagoon. The anchor was let go, and, with a rush and a roar, the chain tore through the hawse-pipe, and the yacht brought up in six fathoms.

We had arrived at "San Philipo" Island.

Directly everything was snugged down, darkness had fallen on the scene, so that nothing further could be done that night. For the first time armed watches were set, but, though the sounds of paddles around the vessel and shouting on shore were heard at intervals, there was no attempt on the part of the natives to molest us.

At daybreak next morning we were awake, and on going on deck we could appreciate the natural beauty of our surroundings. The "Fortuna" lay directly over her anchor, which could be clearly seen on the sandy bottom. Not a ripple disturbed the placid surface of the lagoon, save an occasional gentle swell from the breakers on the reef, where day and night the huge green rollers lashed themselves in fury upon the coral rocks, churning themselves into milk-white foam to the accompaniment of a dull, subdued roar like the distant rumbling of an express train on a still night.

From where we lay the south-easternmost, or cat's-head, mountain was within a quarter of a mile, but only one of the western headlands was visible, as it effectually shut out its fellow. The cave that Humphrey Trevena had emphasized proved to be a huge rent in the cliff, made apparently by. volcanic action. Immediately in the centre of the southern side of the island—that is, the shore off which we lay—was a broad expanse of white sand, backed by a gently rising ground on which was a dense mass of vegetable growth, scrub and coco-nut palms being indiscriminately mingled. On the beach were half a dozen canoes, some, judging by their lofty prows and decorated sides, being used for war purposes; the others, being lighter and provided with out-riggers, were of the usual type used by the Pacific Islanders for fishing.

Around the canoes, and lining the shore, were hundreds of natives, who regarded the "Fortuna" with undisguised curiosity. By the aid of my telescope I could make them out very clearly. They were middle-sized, slender, and well-proportioned, though a few were of a stature that would be considered great even in Cornwall; their colour was almost that of the natives of the Malay Archipelago. Their features were small, but high and well-formed, their cheek-bones projecting, while both men and women had an abundance of glossy black hair. The majority were entirely naked, save for a conical covering for the head made of plaited and bleached leaves. In the foreground many of the men wore a kind of cuirass of stiff plaited cocoa-fibre, which was continued like half a stove-pipe to a distance of six inches above their heads. Their arms consisted of formidable swords with a jagged edge of sharks' teeth, and fearful-looking spears, terminating in a triple barb. A few, whom we took to be chiefs, wore in addition a complete covering of porcupine skin for the head, only their eyes being visible.

"A cheerful-looking set, aren't they?" remarked the doctor, who was also engaged in examining the throng of natives. "Do you think we are likely to have trouble with them?"

"The greatest tact will have to be employed if we wish to avoid a row," replied my father, with his eyes still glued to his field-glasses. "See, some of them are putting off in their canoes."

Already they had launched two of their largest craft, while knots of natives were busily engaged in hauling down the rest.

"Serve out the small arms, Mr. Lord, please," said my father; "but take care that we give no sign likely to provoke a fight. Herbert, will you see to the quick-firer and the Maxim."

Quickly, yet quietly, our preparations for defence were made. The three-pounder was placed on its mounting amidships, which had not been removed since the gunnery practice in the Red Sea, and the Maxim, concealed behind a square of canvas, was mounted on its tripod so as to command the water between us and the shore, while each man placed his rifle, with charged magazine, on the deck within hand's reach.

Hardly was this done than the natives' flotilla came within hailing distance. The warriors, decked in their barbaric finery, were grouped in the prow of their war canoes. Many of them bore livid scars, the legacy of many a tribal fight, and in their panoply a more repulsive and savage crowd I never wish to see. In that moment of actual danger I felt a peculiar trembling of the limbs and dry sensation in my throat. From the canoes I turned my eyes towards my companions. The crew seemed perfectly cool and determined, a circumstance that somewhat reassured me. Dr. Conolly was evidently labouring under strong physical excitement, as if anxious to begin the fray, while my father, though in no doubt as to the issue, was evidently reluctant to give the order to open fire on the yelling crowd of savages, who, brandishing their swords and spears, had drawn up within fifty yards, the paddles of their canoes resting motionless on the water.

"Cannot we let rip at the vicious brutes?" asked the doctor. "They will be over the side in a minute if we don't."

"Not if it can possibly be helped," replied my father. "Where's Herbert?" he added hurriedly.

There was no sign of my uncle on deck, but, on being called, he replied, from below, "Wait half a second."

Standing on the rail, my father held up a piece of brilliantly dyed cloth and a string of gaudy glass beads as a peace-offering to the aggressive natives, but the only reply was a shower of stones, hurled from slings of cocoa-cloth, that whizzed over our heads. It was only by quick descent that my father missed the unwelcome present.

"Lie down, men!" he shouted, "and stand by with your arms!"

Another volley of stones came from the natives, some striking the ship's side, others humming through the rigging. As I lay flat on the deck I saw a huge copper helmet emerge from the companion hatchway, and Uncle Herbert, dressed in a diver's suit, without, of course, the air tubes and lead sinkers, came on deck.

Striding to the side, he faced the warlike mob, and instantly, to the accompaniment of a chorus of "Ohe! Owha!" the natives took up their paddles and made for the shore.

"That's done it," laughed Uncle Herbert, removing the copper head-dress, which was rendering its wearer most uncomfortably hot, even in the slanting rays of the early morning sun.

"Stop, you idiot!" exclaimed my father, laying a detaining hand on his brother's shoulders; but the warning was too late. Some of the natives in the hindermost canoe saw the helmet being removed, and, calling to their fellows, the whole of the boats turned and made for the yacht.

"We are in for it this time!" exclaimed Dr. Conolly. "See, they are making for both sides at once."

Such was the case. Two war canoes and five smaller ones (where they had come from I do not know) made for the starboard side, and the remaining war canoes, with three others, headed for the port side.

"Money," exclaimed my father to the man in charge of the quick-firer, indicating the largest craft that was making obliquely across our bows, "can you manage to put a shot through that fellow's bow?"

"Aye, aye, sir, I'll try."

Calmly, yet deliberately, the gun's crew opened the breech-block and thrust home the gleaming cylinder with its deadly head. Hardly had the breech-block been replaced than Money hung on the sights for a brief second. There was a flash and a roar, and the next moment the shot tore a gaping hole in the stem of the canoe, and, after a series of ricochets, struck the cliff with terrific force, bringing down large masses of rock. The stricken craft immediately became waterlogged, its occupants, all swimmers from their infancy, striking out vigorously for the shore, while the remainder of the boats turned tail in a panic.

"Lower away the whaler and pick up as many as you can," shouted my father, and, in obedience to the order, the men sprang to the falls. The boat had fortunately been already cleared away, so that it was the work of a few moments to lower it.

In spite of their frantic struggles, five of the natives were picked up, tied hand and foot, and brought back to the yacht, where, surrounded by the crew, they were placed on the deck.

"Now for a little moral persuasion," exclaimed my father, and, looking round, he noticed a small grove of coco-palms growing close to the water's edge at a distance of about a quarter of a mile.

"Show them a charge, Money," he continued; "then plank a shot right into the centre of those trees."

The gunner exhibited the projectile, a common shell, to the terrified savages; then, in full view, he placed the charge in the gun.

"Ready, sir!" he announced.

In obedience to an order, the natives were raised to their feet and made to look in the direction of the grove. Once more the quick-firer barked, and the highly charged projectile, bursting in the centre of the group of trees, levelled four of them in a shower of splinters and a dense cloud of smoke, while the savages, in their fright, sank to the deck and uttered shrill cries of terror.

"Cut that man loose," continued my father, indicating one of the captives, who, by reason of the loss of their fantastic war paint and finery, were by no means unintelligent in appearance.

Offers of presents were unavailing, the man refusing to look at the glittering baubles that were shown him. Some one suggested giving him a plug of tobacco, but, though the offer had a strong attraction, the native still remained in sullen isolation.

"Perhaps he thinks we are going to eat him," suggested the doctor.

"Let me 'ave a rub at him, sir," exclaimed Mills, one of the deck hands.

"Have a what?" asked Dr. Conolly.

"A rub at 'im. Rubbin' noses is what they does in these 'ere parts as a sign of affection like."

"By all means," replied the doctor, laughing; "I don't suppose Captain Trevena has any objection."

Without further ado, Mills took hold of the native's shoulders, and, thrusting his face forward, he applied his nasal organ to that of the savage, and, as if by magic, the latter's taciturn manner completely vanished. The remaining four prisoners were then cut loose and subjected to the same ceremony, and, on being given a ship's biscuit apiece, they squatted on the deck, stuffing the food down their throats, and chattering in a lively, yet absolutely indistinguishable, fashion.

At length, laden with the pieces of coloured cloth and glass beads which, in their fright, they had previously refused, the natives were taken ashore in the whaler, and, after exaggerated gestures of goodwill, they vanished into the woods.

"That's satisfactory so far," commented my parent on the return of the boat; "but we must be very careful to guard against treachery. Pipe all hands to breakfast, Mr. Wilkins, and then we'll set about to find the remains of the 'San Philipo.'"


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