The Terrible Solomons



There is no gainsaying that the Solomons are a hard-bitten bunch of

islands. On the other hand, there are worse places in the world. But

to the new chum who has no constitutional understanding of men and life

in the rough, the Solomons may indeed prove terrible.



It is true that fever and dysentery are perpetually on the walk-about,

that loathsome skin diseases abound, that the air is saturated with a

poison that bites into every pore, cut, or abrasion and plants

malignant ulcers, and that many strong men who escape dying there

return as wrecks to their own countries. It is also true that the

natives of the Solomons are a wild lot, with a hearty appetite for

human flesh and a fad for collecting human heads. Their highest

instinct of sportsmanship is to catch a man with his back turned and to

smite him a cunning blow with a tomahawk that severs the spinal column

at the base of the brain. It is equally true that on some islands,

such as Malaita, the profit and loss account of social intercourse is

calculated in homicides. Heads are a medium of exchange, and white

heads are extremely valuable. Very often a dozen villages make a

jack-pot, which they fatten moon by moon, against the time when some

brave warrior presents a white man's head, fresh and gory, and claims

the pot.



All the foregoing, is quite true, and yet there are white men who have

lived in the Solomons a score of years and who feel homesick when they

go away from them. A man needs only to be careful--and lucky--to live

a long time in the Solomons; but he must also be of the right sort. He

must have the hall-mark of the inevitable white man stamped upon his

soul. He must be inevitable. He must have a certain grand

carelessness of odds, a certain colossal self-satisfaction, and a

racial egotism that convinces him that one white is better than a

thousand niggers every day in the week, and that on Sunday he is able

to clean out two thousand niggers. For such are the things that have

made the white man inevitable. Oh, and one other thing--the white man

who wishes to be inevitable, must not merely despise the lesser breeds

and think a lot of himself; he must also fail to be too long on

imagination. He must not understand too well the instincts, customs

and mental processes of the blacks, the yellows, and the browns; for it

is not in such fashion that the white race has tramped its royal road

around the world.



Bertie Arkwright was not inevitable. He was too sensitive, too finely

strung, and he possessed too much imagination. The world was too much

with him. He projected himself too quiveringly into his environment.

Therefore, the last place in the world for him to come was the

Solomons. He did not come, expecting to stay. A five-weeks' stop-over

between steamers, he decided, would satisfy the call of the primitive

he felt thrumming the strings of his being. At least, so he told the

lady tourists on the Makembo, though in different terms; and they

worshipped him as a hero, for they were lady tourists and they would

know only the safety of the steamer's deck as she threaded her way

through the Solomons.



There was another man on board, of whom the ladies took no notice. He

was a little shriveled wisp of a man, with a withered skin the color of

mahogany. His name on the passenger list does not matter, but his

other name, Captain Malu, was a name for niggers to conjure with, and

to scare naughty pickaninnies to righteousness, from New Hanover to the

New Hebrides. He had farmed savages and savagery, and from fever and

hardship, the crack of Sniders and the lash of the overseers, had

wrested five millions of money in the form of beche-de-mer, sandalwood,

pearl-shell and turtle-shell, ivory nuts and copra, grasslands, trading

stations, and plantations. Captain Malu's little finger, which was

broken, had more inevitableness in it than Bertie Arkwright's whole

carcass. But then, the lady tourists had nothing by which to judge

save appearances, and Bertie certainly was a fine-looking man.



Bertie talked with Captain Malu in the smoking-room, confiding to him

his intention of seeing life red and bleeding in the Solomons. Captain

Malu agreed that the intention was ambitious and honorable. It was not

until several days later that he became interested in Bertie, when that

young adventurer insisted on showing him an automatic 44-calibre

pistol. Bertie explained the mechanism and demonstrated by slipping a

loaded magazine up the hollow butt.



"It is so simple," he said. He shot the outer barrel back along the

inner one. "That loads it, and cocks it, you see. And then all I have

to do is pull the trigger, eight times, as fast as I can quiver my

finger. See that safety clutch. That's what I like about it. It is

safe. It is positively fool-proof." He slipped out the magazine.

"You see how safe it is."



As he held it in his hand, the muzzle came in line with Captain Malu's

stomach. Captain Malu's blue eyes looked at it unswervingly.



"Would you mind pointing it in some other direction?" he asked.



"It's perfectly safe," Bertie assured him. "I withdrew the magazine.

It's not loaded now, you know."



"A gun is always loaded."



"But this one isn't."



"Turn it away just the same."



Captain Malu's voice was flat and metallic and low, but his eyes never

left the muzzle until the line of it was drawn past him and away from

him.



"I'll bet a fiver it isn't loaded," Bertie proposed warmly.



The other shook his head.



"Then I'll show you."



Bertie started to put the muzzle to his own temple with the evident

intention of pulling the trigger.



"Just a second," Captain Malu said quietly, reaching out his hand.

"Let me look at it."



He pointed it seaward and pulled the trigger. A heavy explosion

followed, instantaneous with the sharp click of the mechanism that

flipped a hot and smoking cartridge sidewise along the deck. Bertie's

jaw dropped in amazement.



"I slipped the barrel back once, didn't I?" he explained. "It was

silly of me, I must say."



He giggled flabbily, and sat down in a steamer chair. The blood had

ebbed from his face, exposing dark circles under his eyes. His hands

were trembling and unable to guide the shaking cigarette to his lips.

The world was too much with him, and he saw himself with dripping

brains prone upon the deck.



"Really," he said, ". . . really."



"It's a pretty weapon," said Captain Malu, returning the automatic to

him.



The Commissioner was on board the _Makembo_, returning from Sydney, and

by his permission a stop was made at Ugi to land a missionary. And at

Ugi lay the ketch _Arla_, Captain Hansen, skipper. Now the _Arla_ was

one of many vessels owned by Captain Malu, and it was at his suggestion

and by his invitation that Bertie went aboard the _Arla_ as guest for a

four-days' recruiting cruise on the coast of Malaita. Thereafter the

_Arla_ would drop him at Reminge Plantation (also owned by Captain

Malu), where Bertie could remain for a week, and then be sent over to

Tulgal, the seat of government, where he would become the

Commissioner's guest. Captain Malu was responsible for two other

suggestions, which given, he disappears from this narrative. One was

to Captain Hansen, the other to Mr. Harriwell, manager of Reminge

Plantation. Both suggestions were similar in tenor, namely, to give

Mr. Bertram Arkwright an insight into the rawness and redness of life

in the Solomons. Also, it is whispered that Captain Malu mentioned

that a case of Scotch would be coincidental with any particularly

gorgeous insight Mr. Arkwright might receive.



* * * * * *



"Yes, Svartz always was too pig-headed. You see, he took four of his

boat's crew to Tulagi to be flogged--officially, you know--then started

back with them in the whale-boat. It was pretty squally, and the boat

capsized just outside. Swartz was the only one drowned. Of course it

was an accident."



"Was it? Really?" Bertie asked, only half-interested, staring hard at

the black man at the wheel.



Ugi had dropped astern, and the _Arla_ was sliding along through a

summer sea toward the wooded ranges of Malaita. The helmsman who so

attracted Bertie's eyes sported a tenpenny nail, stuck skewerwise

through his nose. About his neck was string of pants buttons. Thrust

through holes in his ears were a can-opener, the broken handle of a

tooth-brush, a clay pipe, the brass wheel of an alarm clock, and

several Winchester rifle cartridges. On his chest, suspended from

around his neck hung the half of a china plate. Some forty similarly

apparelled blacks lay about the deck, fifteen of which were boat's

crew, the remainder being fresh labor recruits.



"Of course it was an accident," spoke up the _Arla's_ mate, Jacobs, a

slender, dark-eyed man who looked more a professor than a sailor.

"Johnny Bedlip nearly had the same kind of accident. He was bringing

back several from a flogging, when they capsized him. But he knew how

to swim as well as they, and two of them were drowned. He used a

boat-stretcher and a revolver. Of course it was an accident."



"Quite common, them accidents," remarked the skipper. "You see that

man at the wheel, Mr. Arkwright? He's a man-eater. Six months ago, he

and the rest of the boat's crew drowned the then captain of the _Arla_.

They did it on deck, sir, right aft there by the mizzen-traveller."



"The deck was in a shocking state," said the mate.



"Do I understanad--?" Bertie began.



"Yes, just that," said Captain Hansen. "It was accidental drowning."



"But on deck--?"



"Just so. I don't mind telling you, in confidence, of course, that

they used an axe."



"This present crew of yours?"



Captain Hansen nodded.



"The other skipper always was too careless," explained the mate. "He

but just turned his back, when they let him have it."



"We haven't any show down here," was the skipper's complaint. "The

government protects a nigger against a white every time. You can't

shoot first. You've got to give the nigger first shot, or else the

government calls it murder and you go to Fiji. That's why there's so

many drowning accidents."



Dinner was called, and Bertie and the skipper went below, leaving the

mate to watch on deck.



"Keep an eye out for that black devil, Auiki," was the skipper's

parting caution. "I haven't liked his looks for several days."



"Right O," said the mate.



Dinner was part way along, and the skipper was in the middle of his

story of the cutting out of the _Scottish Chiefs_.



"Yes," he was saying, "she was the finest vessel on the coast. But

when she missed stays, and before ever she hit the reef, the canoes

started for her. There were five white men, a crew of twenty Santa

Cruz boys and Samoans, and only the super-cargo escaped. Besides,

there were sixty recruits. They were all kai-kai'd. Kaikai?--oh, I

beg your pardon. I mean they were eaten. Then there was the _James

Edwards_, a dandy-rigged--"



But at that moment there was a sharp oath from the mate on deck and a

chorus of savage cries. A revolver went off three times, and then was

heard a loud splash. Captain Hansen had sprung up the companionway on

the instant, and Bertie's eyes had been fascinated by a glimpse of him

drawing his revolver as he sprung. Bertie went up more circumspectly,

hesitating before he put his head above the companionway slide. But

nothing happened. The mate was shaking with excitement, his revolver

in his hand. Once he startled, and half-jumped around, as if danger

threatened his back.



"One of the natives fell overboard," he was saying, in a queer tense

voice. "He couldn't swim."



"Who was it?" the skipper demanded.



"Auiki," was the answer.



"But I say, you know, I heard shots," Bertie said, in trembling

eagerness, for he scented adventure, and adventure that was happily

over with.



The mate whirled upon him, snarling:



"It's a damned lie. There ain't been a shot fired. The nigger fell

overboard."



Captain Hansen regarded Bertie with unblinking, lack-lustre eyes.



"I--I thought--" Bertie was beginning.



"Shots? Did you hear any shots, Mr. Jacobs?"



"Not a shot," replied Mr. Jacobs.



The skipper looked at his guest triumphantly, and said:



"Evidently an accident. Let us go down, Mr. Arkwright, and finish

dinner."



Bertie slept that night in the captain's cabin, a tiny stateroom off

the main-cabin. The for'ard bulkhead was decorated with a stand of

rifles. Over the bunk were three more rifles. Under the bunk was a

big drawer, which when he pulled it out, he found filled with

ammunition dynamite, and several boxes of detonators. He elected to

take the settee on the opposite side. Lying conspicuously on the small

table, was the _Arla's_ log. Bertie did not know that it had been

especially prepared for the occasion by Captain Malu, and he read

therein how on September 21, two boat's crew had fallen overboard and

been drowned. Bertie read between the lines and knew better. He read

how the _Arla's_ whale-boat had been bushwacked at Sulu and had lost

three men; of how the skipper discovered the cook stewing human flesh

on the galley fire--flesh purchased by the boat's crew ashore in Fui;

of how an accidental discharge of dynamite, while signalling, had

killed another boat's crew; of night attacks; ports fled from between

the dawns; attacks by bushmen in mangrove swamps and by fleets of

salt-water men in the larger passages. One item that occurred with

monotonous frequency was death by dysentery. He noticed with alarm

that two white men had so died--guests, like himself on the _Arla_.



"I say, you know," Bertie said next day to Captain Hansen. "I've been

glancing through your log."



The skipper displayed quick vexation that the log had been left lying

about.



"And all that dysentery, you know, that's all rot, just like the

accidental drownings," Bertie continued. "What does dysentery really

stand for?"



The skipper openly admired his guest's acumen, stiffened himself to

make indignant denial, then gracefully surrendered.



"You see, it's like this, Mr. Arkwright. These islands have got a bad

enough name as it is. It's getting harder every day to sign on white

men. Suppose a man is killed. The company has to pay through the nose

for another man to take the job. But if the man merely dies of

sickness, it's all right. The new chums don't mind disease. What they

draw the line at is being murdered. I thought the skipper of the

_Arla_ had died of dysentery when I took his billet. Then it was too

late. I'd signed the contract."



"Besides," said Mr. Jacobs, "there's altogether too many accidental

drownings anyway. It don't look right. It's the fault of the

government. A white man hasn't a chance to defend himself from the

niggers."



"Yes, look at the _Princess_ and that Yankee mate," the skipper took up

the tale. "She carried five white men besides a government agent. The

captain, the agent, and the supercargo were ashore in the two boats.

They were killed to the last man. The mate and bosun, with about

fifteen of the crew--Samoans and Tongans--were on board. A crowd of

niggers came off from the shore. First thing the mate knew, the bosun

and the crew were killed in the first rush. The mate grabbed three

cartridge-belts and two Winchesters and skinned up to the cross-trees.

He was the sole survivor, and you can't blame him for being mad. He

pumped one rifle till it got so hot he couldn't hold it, then he pumped

the other. The deck was black with niggers. He cleaned them out. He

dropped them as they went over the rail, and he dropped them as fast as

they picked up their paddles. Then they jumped into the water and

started to swim for it, and, being mad, he got half a dozen more. And

what did he get for it?"



"Seven years in Fiji," snapped the mate.



"The government said he wasn't justified in shooting after they'd taken

to the water," the skipper explained.



"And that's why they die of dysentery nowadays," the mate added.



"Just fancy," said Bertie, as he felt a longing for the cruise to be

over.



Later on in the day he interviewed the black who had been pointed out

to him as a cannibal. This fellow's name was Sumasai. He had spent

three years on a Queensland plantation. He had been to Samoa, and

Fiji, and Sydney; and as a boat's crew had been on recruiting schooners

through New Britain, New Ireland, New Guinea, and the Admiralties.

Also, he was a wag, and he had taken a line on his skipper's conduct.

Yes, he had eaten many men. How many? He could not remember the

tally. Yes, white men, too; they were very good, unless they were

sick. He had once eaten a sick one.



"My word!" he cried, at the recollection. "Me sick plenty along him.

My belly walk about too much."



Bertie shuddered, and asked about heads. Yes, Sumasai had several

hidden ashore, in good condition, sun-dried, and smoke-cured. One was

of the captain of a schooner. It had long whiskers. He would sell it

for two quid. Black men's heads he would sell for one quid. He had

some pickaninny heads, in poor condition, that he would let go for ten

bob.



Five minutes afterward, Bertie found himself sitting on the

companionway-slide alongside a black with a horrible skin disease. He

sheered off, and on inquiry was told that it was leprosy. He hurried

below and washed himself with antiseptic soap. He took many antiseptic

washes in the course of the day, for every native on board was

afflicted with malignant ulcers of one sort or another.



As the _Arla_ drew in to an anchorage in the midst of mangrove swamps,

a double row of barbed wire was stretched around above her rail. That

looked like business and when Bertie saw the shore canoes alongside,

armed with spears, bows and arrows, and Sniders, he wished more

earnestly than ever that the cruise was over.



That evening the natives were slow in leaving the ship at sundown. A

number of them checked the mate when he ordered them ashore.



"Never mind, I'll fix them," said Captain Hansen, diving below.



When he came back, he showed Bertie a stick of dynamite attached to a

fish-hook. Now it happens that a paper-wrapped bottle of chlorodyne

with a piece of harmless fuse projecting can fool anybody. It fooled

Bertie, and it fooled the natives. When Captain Hansen lighted the

fuse and hooked the fish-hook into the tail-end of a native's

loin-cloth, that native was smitten with so ardent a desire for the

shore that he forgot to shed the loin-cloth. He started for'ard, the

fuse sizzling and spluttering at his rear, the natives in his path

taking headers over the barbed wire at every jump. Bertie was

horror-stricken. So was Captain Hansen. He had forgotten his

twenty-five recruits, on each of which he had paid thirty shillings

advance. They went over the side along with the shore-dwelling folk

and followed by him who trailed the sizzling chlorodyne bottle.



Bertie did not see the bottle go off; but the mate opportunely

discharging a stick of real dynamite aft where it would harm nobody,

Bertie would have sworn in any admiralty court to a nigger blown to

flinders.



The flight of the twenty-five recruits had actually cost the _Arla_

forty pounds, and, since they had taken to the bush, there was no hope

of recovering them. The skipper and his mate proceeded to drown their

sorrow in cold tea. The cold tea was in whiskey bottles, so Bertie did

not know it was cold tea they were mopping up. All he knew was that

the two men got very drunk and argued eloquently and at length as to

whether the exploded nigger should be reported as a case of dysentery

or as an accidental drowning. When they snored off to sleep, he was

the only white man left, and he kept a perilous watch till dawn, in

fear of an attack from shore and an uprising of the crew.



Three more days the _Arla_ spent on the coast, and three more nights

the skipper and the mate drank overfondly of cold tea, leaving Bertie

to keep watch. They knew he could be depended upon, while he was

equally certain that if he lived, he would report their drunken conduct

to Captain Malu. Then the _Arla_ dropped anchor at Reminge Plantation,

on Guadalcanar, and Bertie landed on the beach with a sigh of relief

and shook hands with the manager. Mr. Harriwell was ready for him.



"Now you mustn't be alarmed if some of our fellows seem downcast," Mr.

Harriwell said, having drawn him aside in confidence. "There's been

talk of an outbreak, and two or three suspicious signs I'm willing to

admit, but personally I think it's all poppycock."



"How--how many blacks have you on the plantation?" Bertie asked, with a

sinking heart.



"We're working four hundred just now," replied Mr. Harriwell,

cheerfully; "but the three of us, with you, of course, and the skipper

and mate of the _Arla_, can handle them all right."



Bertie turned to meet one McTavish, the storekeeper, who scarcely

acknowledged the introduction, such was his eagerness to present his

resignation.



"It being that I'm a married man, Mr. Harriwell, I can't very well

afford to remain on longer. Trouble is working up, as plain as the

nose on your face. The niggers are going to break out, and there'll be

another Hohono horror here."



"What's a Hohono horror?" Bertie asked, after the storekeeper had been

persuaded to remain until the end of the month.



"Oh, he means Hohono Plantation, on Ysabel," said the manager. "The

niggers killed the five white men ashore, captured the schooner, killed

the captain and mate, and escaped in a body to Malaita. But I always

said they were careless on Hohono. They won't catch us napping here.

Come along, Mr. Arkwright, and see our view from the veranda."



Bertie was too busy wondering how he could get away to Tulagi to the

Commissioner's house, to see much of the view. He was still wondering,

when a rifle exploded very near to him behind his back. At the same

moment his arm was nearly dislocated, so eagerly did Mr. Harriwell drag

him indoors.



"I say, old man, that was a close shave," said the manager, pawing him

over to see if he had been hit. "I can't tell you how sorry I am. But

it was broad daylight, and I never dreamed."



Bertie was beginning to turn pale.



"They got the other manager that way," McTavish vouchsafed. "And a

dashed fine chap he was. Blew his brains out all over the veranda.

You noticed that dark stain there between the steps and the door?"



Bertie was ripe for the cocktail which Mr. Harriwell pitched in and

compounded for him; but before he could drink it, a man in riding

trousers and puttees entered.



"What's the matter now?" the manager asked, after one look at the

newcomer's face. "Is the river up again?"



"River be blowed--it's the niggers. Stepped out of the cane-grass not

a dozen feet away, and whopped at me. It was a Snider, and he shot

from the hip. Now what I want to know is where'd he get the Snider?

Oh, I beg your pardon. Glad to know you, Mr. Arkwright."



"Mr. Brown is my assistant," explained Mr. Harriwell. "And now let's

have that drink."



"But where'd he get that Snider?" Mr. Brown insisted. "I always

objected to keeping those guns on the premises?"



"They're still there," Mr. Harriwell said, with a show of heat.



Mr. Brown smiled incredulously.



"Come along and see," said the manager.



Bertie joined the procession into the office, where Mr. Harriwell

pointed triumphantly at a big packing-case in a dusty corner.



"Well, then, where did the beggar get that Snider?" harped Mr. Brown.



But just then McTavish lifted the packing-case. The manager started

then tore off the lid. The case was empty. They gazed at one another

in horrified silence. Harriwell dropped wearily.



Then McVeigh cursed.



"What I contended all along--the house-boys are not to be trusted."



"It does look serious," Harriwell admitted, "but we'll come through it

all right. What the sanguinary niggers need is a shaking up. Will you

gentlemen please bring your rifles to dinner, and will you, Mr. Brown,

kindly prepare forty or fifty sticks of dynamite. Make the fuses good

and short. We'll give them a lesson. And now, gentlemen, dinner is

served."



One thing that Bertie detested was rice and curry, so it happened that

he alone partook of an inviting omelet. He had quite finished his

plate, when Harriwell helped himself to the omelet. One mouthful, he

tasted, then spat out vociferously.



"That's the second time," McTavish announced ominously.



Harriwell was still hawking and spitting.



"Second time, what?" Bertie quavered.



"Poison," was the answer. "That cook will be hanged yet."



"That's the way the bookkeeper went out at Cape Marsh," Brown spoke up.

"Died horribly. They said on the _Jessie_ that they heard him

screaming three miles away."



"I'll put the cook in irons," sputtered Harriwell. "Fortunately we

discovered it in time."



Bertie sat paralysed. There was no color in his face. He attempted to

speak, but only an inarticulate gurgle resulted. All eyed him

anxiously.



"Don't say it, don't say it," McTavish cried in a tense voice.



"Yes, I ate it, plenty of it, a whole plateful!" Bertie cried

explosively, like a diver suddenly regaining breath.



The awful silence continued half a minute longer, and he read his fate

in their eyes.



"Maybe it wasn't poison after all," said Harriwell, dismally.



"Call in the cook," said Brown.



In came the cook, a grinning black boy, nose-spiked and ear-plugged.



"Here, you, Wi-wi, what name that?" Harriwell bellowed, pointing

accusingly at the omelet.



Wi-wi was very naturally frightened and embarrassed.



"Him good fella kai-kai," he murmured apologetically.



"Make him eat it," suggested McTavish. "That's a proper test."



Harriwell filled a spoon with the stuff and jumped for the cook, who

fled in panic.



"That settles it," was Brown's solemn pronouncement. "He won't eat it."



"Mr. Brown, will you please go and put the irons on him?" Harriwell

turned cheerfully to Bertie. "It's all right, old man, the

Commissioner will deal with him, and if you die, depend upon it, he

will be hanged."



"Don't think the government'll do it," objected McTavish.



"But gentlemen, gentlemen," Bertie cried. "In the meantime think of

me."



Harriwell shrugged his shoulders pityingly.



"Sorry, old man, but it's a native poison, and there are no known

antidotes for native poisons. Try and compose yourself, and if----"



Two sharp reports of a rifle from without, interrupted the discourse,

and Brown, entering, reloaded his rifle and sat down to table.



"The cook's dead," he said. "Fever. A rather sudden attack."



"I was just telling Mr. Arkwright that there are no antidotes for

native poisons----"



"Except gin," said Brown.



Harriwell called himself an absent-minded idiot and rushed for the gin

bottle.



"Neat, man, neat," he warned Bertie, who gulped down a tumbler

two-thirds full of the raw spirits, and coughed and choked from the

angry bite of it till the tears ran down his cheeks.



Harriwell took his pulse and temperature, made a show of looking out

for him, and doubted that the omelet had been poisoned. Brown and

McTavish also doubted; but Bertie discerned an insincere ring in their

voices. His appetite had left him, and he took his own pulse

stealthily under the table. There was no question but what it was

increasing, but he failed to ascribe it to the gin he had taken.

McTavish, rifle in hand, went out on the veranda to reconnoitre.



"They're massing up at the cook-house," was his report. "And they've

no end of Sniders. My idea is to sneak around on the other side and

take them in flank. Strike the first blow, you know. Will you come

along, Brown?"



Harriwell ate on steadily, while Bertie discovered that his pulse had

leaped up five beats. Nevertheless, he could not help jumping when the

rifles began to go off. Above the scattering of Sniders could be heard

the pumping of Brown's and McTavish's Winchesters--all against a

background of demoniacal screeching and yelling.



"They've got them on the run," Harriwell remarked, as voices and

gunshots faded away in the distance.



Scarcely were Brown and McTavish back at the table when the latter

reconnoitred.



"They've got dynamite," he said.



"Then let's charge them with dynamite," Harriwell proposed.



Thrusting half a dozen sticks each into their pockets and equipping

themselves with lighted cigars, they started for the door. And just

then it happened. They blamed McTavish for it afterward, and he

admitted that the charge had been a trifle excessive. But at any rate

it went off under the house, which lifted up corner-wise and settled

back on its foundations. Half the china on the table was shattered,

while the eight-day clock stopped. Yelling for vengeance, the three

men rushed out into the night, and the bombardment began.



When they returned, there was no Bertie. He had dragged himself away

to the office, barricaded himself in, and sunk upon the floor in a

gin-soaked nightmare, wherein he died a thousand deaths while the

valorous fight went on around him. In the morning, sick and headachy

from the gin, he crawled out to find the sun still in the sky and God

presumably in heaven, for his hosts were alive and uninjured.



Harriwell pressed him to stay on longer, but Bertie insisted on sailing

immediately on the _Arla_ for Tulagi, where, until the following

steamer day, he stuck close by the Commissioner's house. There were

lady tourists on the outgoing steamer, and Bertie was again a hero,

while Captain Malu, as usual, passed unnoticed. But Captain Malu sent

back from Sydney two cases of the best Scotch whiskey on the market,

for he was not able to make up his mind as to whether it was Captain

Hansen or Mr. Harriwell who had given Bertie Arkwright the more

gorgeous insight into life in the Solomons.





;