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Chapter XVIII COMMITTED TO THE DEEP
"I'M afraid it's a case with poor Barnes," said Dr. Conolly, in a low tone, as the whaler came alongside the yacht and my father climbed over the side. "He's taken a turn for the worse, and I don't think he'll last till tomorrow.

"Poor fellow! Is there no hope?"

The doctor shook his head. "I was doubtful from the first. The spear was a poisoned one; though the poison was undoubtedly stale, and therefore slow in action, it was none the less sure."

"Can he be seen?"

"Yes, he's quite conscious."

I followed my father to the shelter-tent, under which the wounded seaman lay.

"Well, Barnes, how goes it—better?" he asked, with a forced cheerfulness.

"No, sir, though 'tain't no good making a fuss about it. My number's up."

"Nonsense, man! you'll soon be all right again, I hope."

"All right aloft, sir, please God. I'm real glad you've come to see me, Cap'n, for there'll be one or two little things I want squared up."

"I'll do anything I can."

"Well, sir, there's my medal for South Africa, with three clasps: would you mind accepting it as a kind o' keepsake from me? An' there's the good-conduct medal, too. That ain't of much account compared with t'other, but p'r'aps Mister Reginald would 'ave it."

"Thank you, Barnes; but have you no friends to give them to?"

"Never a relation in the world, sir. There's my pension papers in my ditty-box; it's a matter of three quarters due to me. Will you see that my chum, Joe Dirham, draws it? I've signed a paper about it."

"All right; I'll see to that."

"An' my identity-paper. It'll fetch a shilling at the 'Register's' at the first home-port we touch. Joe might just as well 'ave that; 'tain't no good throwin' good money away, and, besides, it will make all square and above-board up at the Admiralty."

"Do you feel much pain?"

"Precious little, Cap'n. As I said afore, it's no good makin' a fuss over it; a seaman with one leg ain't of no use to you, but"—here his voice trembled a little—"promise me, sir, that you'll bury me at sea, an' not on the island; it'll be a snug moorin' for me at the bottom of the lagoon. Now, Cap'n, read somethin' out of the Book, an' say a prayer for me—I, never wasn't much in that line myself."

Somehow I felt unable to remain longer, so, shaking the seaman's thin hand, I went aft, leaving my father with him.

The news of the state of poor Barnes cast a gloom over the ship, and any feeling of enthusiasm over the discovery of the treasure was smothered by the melancholy reflection that one of our comrades was on his deathbed.

Next morning I was awakened by the sound of voices on deck. The sun had risen in a thick haze, and, though not a zephyr disturbed the surface of the lagoon, the air was cool and pleasant. Wondering what the sounds meant, and whether poor Barnes had gone, I slipped on my clothes and went on deck.

Clustered round the tent were most of the crew, listening to the voice within, or whispering to each other in subdued tones. I went forward, and found my father, Dr. Conolly, and the bos'n standing by the side of the temporary bunk on which poor Barnes lay. The dying seaman was fighting his battles o'er again, shouting and talking in clear yet hurried tones. Now he was in the sweltering heat of a West African backwater, advancing with his shipmates to storm the stockade of a rebel chieftain; next he was serving a 4.7 gun with the Naval Brigade, his feeble hands clutching in grim pretence at the handspikes as the huge weapon on its unwieldy carriage was trained on the advancing Boers. Other episodes followed in quick succession, till the scene in the stockade where he received his fatal wound' seemed to exhaust his last flickering strength.

"Can't you see it's getting quite dark?" he exclaimed feebly. "What's wrong with the bos'n's mate? Why, hain't he piped the lamp-trimmers? ...Ah! that's better; the anchor-lamp's burnin' now, so we're brought up at last.... Turn it up a little, lads... That's it... Burning brightly now..."

The words died away in a long-drawn sigh. The doctor bent over the now motionless form' and placed a finger lightly on one eye. Then he shook his head. "Cover him over, poor fellow; he's made his last voyage and reached the port aloft."
* * * * *

Two hours later, the whaler pushed off from the side of the "Fortuna," with almost ever, man on board, and a still, shrouded form, covered with a union Jack, lying on a board athwartships, the grand and solemn words of the Burial Service for use at sea mingling with the soft splash of the oars as the men, keeping slow time, pulled the boat towards the deepest part of the lagoon.

"... Suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from Thee."

"Way enough; toss oars," ordered the bos'n in a low tone.

The men raised their oars to a vertical position, as a last tribute to their shipmate, and the boat gradually began to lose way.

"... We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the sea shall give up its dead...."

The bos'n gave the signal, and the board was tilted up, and with a slight splash, the shrouded form slid into the water, leaving the union Jack fluttering in the boat. Instinctively I looked over the side, and followed the course of the weighted canvas that enclosed the mortal remains of poor Barnes, till the grey shroud turned a greenish tinge, and at length was lost in the depth of the lagoon. With heavy hearts we rowed back to the yacht.
* * * * *

Needless to say there was no work done on the wreck for the rest of that day, but, to banish the feeling of depression, all hands were kept busily employed, some on the repairs to the gig, others making and repairing canvas gear, while the two divers made a successful descent and recovered the lost anchor and cable. On coming up they reported that the anchor was actually balanced on the edge of a deep chasm, it being only by the merest chance that the ground tackle had not been irrecoverably lost. So delicate, in fact, was the position of the anchor, that the divers hesitated to approach it for fear that it might make a sudden descent and carry them with it over the abyss.

Just before sunset a strong party went ashore to refill the barricoes. The doctor and I went with them, but no amount of persuasion could induce Yadillah to set foot upon the island again, and during our stay he kept firmly to his resolution. We noticed a curious fact in connection with the journey ashore. The water was tinged in colour, and had a strong, sulphurous smell, so that we argued there must have been a volcanic outlet somewhere in the neighbourhood, or, failing that, there was a tremendous natural agency still bottled up beneath the island, that before long must seek to escape by another violent upheaval.
* * * * *

Soon after daybreak on the following day the working-parties set out on their varied tasks, for, on account of the heat between the sea-soddened timbers of the wreck, it was decided to suspend work during the hottest part of the day.

The whaler's crew, under the orders of my uncle, devoted themselves to the unloading and transporting of the iron pigs from the hold of the "Fortuna," intending to replace them with bars of solid silver from the "San Philipo"; while a party of men, under my father and the bos'n, went away in the now serviceable gig to survey the reef.

I chose to go with the gig, which was certainly a more pleasant amusement than working inside a steaming wreck, for even at that early hour a thick vapour enveloped the "San Philipo."

For some distance the two boats kept company, the lighter boat towing a pair of sheers which were to be set up on the cliff to enable the pigs to be handled the more easily, while the whaler, in addition to being heavily laden with ballast from the yacht, carried a second pair of sheers to set up over the main hatchway of the wreck.

Opposite the landing-place on the reef we cast off our share of the gear and rowed slowly by the ledge of rocks, my father keeping a sharp eye on the formation of the reef to see if any of the gaping crevices actually led to the open sea beyond.

For nearly a mile and a half the rock rose sheer from the water's edge, and although the boat was backed into several winding gaps in the reef, in every case the attempt to find a channel proved fruitless. As we approached the spot where the reef joined the island, the rocks became lower, but the depth of water was so little, and the shoal extended so far from the reef, that it would have been impossible to bring the yacht up to the reef, even if a channel existed.

"Try the other end of the lagoon, sir," advised the bos'n. "We've let that part alone up to the present."

"There's no harm in trying, Mr. Wilkins," replied my father, "though, if I remember rightly, the original coral reef was very irregular at that part, and stretched seawards for a considerable distance."

When, after an hour's steady pulling, we arrived at the other end of the reef, we found that the rock was very similar to the rest, being pierced by many deep channels that, as usual, terminated in what the bos'n termed "blind alleys."

Three of these were explored without success, but the fourth, some twenty feet in width in its narrowest part, ran in a straight direction for nearly a hundred yards, the walls on either side gradually diminishing in height from twenty-five to less than ten feet. Its end terminated in a mass of broken stone, deposited as if by human agency, in a diagonal direction, affording great facilities for climbing.

"It strikes me, sir," remarked Mr. Wilkins, "that the sea is only a few feet beyond the rock. Listen! you can hear the waves bleating against the seaward side."

It certainly struck the bos'n, but in a totally different manner from that which he implied, for, without warning, a terrific blast of air, followed by a column of water, was forced through an orifice in the rock, Mr. Wilkins, who was standing upon one of the thwarts in order to make a more complete survey, being in the direct line of fire, received the full force of the discharge, and was knocked completely over the side of the boat, while the rest of us were drenched to the skin.

The unfortunate bos'n was quickly hauled on board, little the worse for his ducking, and the gig was backed off beyond the danger zone.

"Experience does it!" gasped the bos'n, spitting out a mouthful of water; "which is, I am told, the Latin for 'Experience makes fools wise.' Am I not right, Mr. Reginald?"

"Well, what has experience taught you?" asked my father, laughing.

"Only what I thought was the case before," replied the bos'n. "And that is, that there's a communication through this rock between the lagoon and the open sea."

"I don't see how that can help us," remarked my father.

"May be, may be not, sir," observed Mr. Wilkins oracularly. "But if you don't mind, sir, will you land here for a few minutes. We can manage it quite easily by the broken rocks at the side of the blowing-hole."

We gained the summit of the reef without much difficulty. Here, as the bos'n had expressed his opinion, a ledge, barely six feet in width, separated us from the open sea, while on either hand, at a distance of less than a hundred yards, a long reef ran at right angles to the main ledge, terminating in jagged points of disrupted coral nearly half a mile from where we stood.

By the deep-blue colour of the water it was evident that there was plenty of depth between these two natural groynes, which formed ample protection from the heavy rollers that at every other point along the reef broke with a ceaseless roar.

"You've got your revolver with you, I see, sir," said the bos'n. "I'm going to dive off and see what the rock looks like on the seaward side. There may be sharks about and there may not; but keep a bright look-out, and fire at one if it comes for me. Money," he added to the bowman of the gig, "unreeve the painter and sling it ashore, will you."

"There, sir," he continued, "I'll take a turn round the rock, and drop the free end of the rope in the water so that I can pull myself up; but keep a bright look-out, if you please."

Hastily divesting himself of his sodden garments, and placing them to dry on the hot stones, the bos'n took a magnificent "header," and cleft the water with hardly a splash. Quite two fathoms down he went before he turned and swam towards the rocky wall, keeping below the water at the same depth. Half a minute later he reappeared, and, shaking the water from his hair, he grasped the rope and came up hand over hand.

"That's all right, sir. Deep water both sides, and the rock full of holes."

"What do you mean?" asked my father, unable to grasp the meaning of the bos'n's words.

"Why, sir, the 'Fortuna' can float easily on either side of this little neck of rock."

"On one side, I'll grant."

"Aye, on both sides, once we make a way through."

"Oh, how do you propose to do it'? Remove each piece of rock bit by bit, when the weight of the smallest is two tons at the very least—eh?"

"No, sir," replied the bos'n.

"Then how are you going to set about it?"

"Blast it," said Mr. Wilkins emphatically.



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