The trading brig Airola, belonging to Sydney, dropped her anchor at noon in Papiete Harbour, at Tahiti, after a smart run up from Fakarava, in the Paumotu Group. The skipper had then immediately gone ashore to report, and owing to various causes—the principal of which was his careless and indiscriminate manner of mixing his drinks—had not yet returned, although the lights had begun to glimmer from the shore. The second mate and Allan, the half-caste boatswain, professing an ardent anxiety for their superior officer's welfare, had been allowed to go in search of him, with a parting warning from the mate that if they were found drunk in the streets after gunfire, the "Johnny darms" would run them in till the British Consul took them out again. And so, just before eight bells struck, Jack Collier, the first mate, and Denison, the supercargo, found themselves the only persons in the after part of the ship, the mulatto steward having gone for'ard to pursue his nightly pastime of swindling the copper-coloured Polynesian crew out of sundry pounds of tobacco by means of the cheerful game of poker. Then Collier, speaking in his usual quiet tones, said to Denison, as they sat down on the skylight to smoke—
"I am rather glad the captain isn't likely to turn up a while, as I'm expecting a visitor, and I want you to see him—he's likely to be my father-in-law. If all goes well, and the brig isn't collared by the Frenchmen for trading in the Paumotus without a license, or some other such charge, I mean to leave next voyage, and settle down in Vavitao, in the Austral Group. For'ard there! strike eight bells!"
* * * * *
The sound of the bell had scarce died away when the tweep, tweep! of a canoe paddle was heard, and then the little craft ran alongside, and an old man and two girls stepped quietly on deck.
Collier, from the gangway, greeted them in Tahitian, and then the three figures followed him below. As they came in under the full light of the cabin lamp, Denison saw that the man was a native, old, but erect and muscular, and with the keen, hawk-like features peculiar to many of the people of Eastern Polynesia. The girls were both young, with pure, olive-tinted skins, and big, dreamy eyes. The old man, straw hat in hand, motioned them to a lounge that ran along the transoms, where they seated themselves demurely, and then turning silently to Collier, almost sprang at him, and with a soft, pleased laugh, embraced him again and again. Then the girls greeted him in low, almost whispered tones.
* * * * *
But after their first shyness had worn off at the presence of a stranger, they too, came to the cabin table, and the five people all sat and laughed and made merry over the few bottles of wine that were the last shots in the brig's lockers, the girls sweetening theirs with sugar, and smiling at Denison's laboured attempts to follow them in their soft Tahitian tongue.
Melanie—so was Collier's flame called—was the older; and as Denison looked into her dark, melting eyes, glowing with excitement at her lover's return, he inwardly called his shipmate a lucky fellow, and thought this dark-faced daughter of the blue Pacific to be the most witching little creature he had ever seen in all his ocean wanderings.
* * * * *
They are all gone now, all but Denison. Gone is the tall, erect figure of old Marama, with the sinewy, muscular frame, and keen, eager face. Gone the honest smile and deep tones of Collier; and gone, too, the soft voice and dreamy, love-lit eyes of Melanie and her sister. And to all of them the end came suddenly, when—a year after that night they spent in the cabin of the old brig—Collier's schooner, the Leonie, turned turtle in a squall off Vavitao, and went to the bottom with every soul on board.
* * * * *
After the old man and girls had gone ashore again, Collier told his story to Denison, who then wondered no longer at the strong affection existing between the wandering, taciturn seaman and the old Aitutaki native, and why Collier had given his rough affection to his daughter, and intended to marry her, "straight, fair, and square in ship-shape fashion." And this was the story he told.
* * * * *
"Seven years ago I was dead broke in Sydney. I had come out second mate in one of Green's ships. We were over three months in port waiting to fill up with wool, and one day I got too much liquor aboard, and the skipper, a drunken, hasty-tempered bully, used words to me that sobered me in two minutes. The skippers of the Ascalon and Woolloomooloo, two ships lying near ours, were looking on, and I turned away to go below, when my captain called me a 'soldier.'
"Then, before I knew what I had done, I knocked out two of his...