Michael, Brother of Jerry
“No wife or family, sir. But I got a nigger, a perfectly good nigger, that’s got to come along. He can sign on for ten dollars a month if he works for the ship all his time. But if he works for me all the time, I’ll let him sign on for two an’ a half a month.”
“Eighteen days in the longboat,” the Ancient Mariner shrilled, to Daughtry’s startlement. “Eighteen days in the longboat, eighteen days of scorching hell.”
“My word,” quoth Daughtry, “the old gentleman’d give one the jumps. There’ll sure have to be plenty of beer.”
“Sea stewards put on some style, I must say,” commented the wheat-farmer, oblivious to the Ancient Mariner, who still declaimed of the heat of the longboat.
“Suppose we don’t see our way to signing on a steward who travels in such style?” the Jew asked, mopping the inside of his collar-band with a coloured silk handkerchief.
“Then you’ll never know what a good steward you’ve missed, sir,” Daughtry responded airily.
“I guess there’s plenty more stewards on Sydney beach,” the captain said briskly. “And I guess I haven’t forgotten old days, when I hired them like so much dirt, yes, by Jinks, so much dirt, there were so many of them.”
“Thank you, Mr. Steward, for looking us up,” the Jew took up the idea with insulting oiliness. “We very much regret our inability to meet your wishes in the matter – ”
“And I saw it go under the sand, a fathom under the sand, on cross-bearings unnamable, where the mangroves fade away, and the coconuts grow, and the rise of land lifts from the beach to the Lion’s Head.”
“Hold your horses,” the wheat-farmer said, with a flare of irritation, directed, not at the Ancient Mariner, but at the captain and the Jew. “Who’s putting up for this expedition? Don’t I get no say so? Ain’t my opinion ever to be asked? I like this steward. Strikes me he’s the real goods. I notice he’s as polite as all get-out, and I can see he can take an order without arguing. And he ain’t no fool by a long shot.”
“That’s the very point, Grimshaw,” the Jew answered soothingly. “Considering the unusualness of our.. of the expedition, we’d be better served by a steward who is more of a fool. Another point, which I’d esteem a real favour from you, is not to forget that you haven’t put a red copper more into this trip than I have – ”
“And where’d either of you be, if it wasn’t for me with my knowledge of the sea?” the captain demanded aggrievedly. “To say nothing of the mortgage on my house and on the nicest little best paying flat building in San Francisco since the earthquake.”
“But who’s still putting up? – all of you, I ask you.” The wheat-farmer leaned forward, resting the heels of his hands on his knees so that the fingers hung down his long shins, in Daughtry’s appraisal, half-way to his feet. “You, Captain Doane, can’t raise another penny on your properties. My land still grows the wheat that brings the ready. You, Simon Nishikanta, won’t put up another penny – yet your loan-shark offices are doing business at the same old stands at God knows what per cent. to drunken sailors. And you hang the expedition up here in this hole-in-the-wall waiting for my agent to cable more wheat-money. Well, I guess we’ll just sign on this steward at sixty a month and all he asks, or I’ll just naturally quit you cold on the next fast steamer to San Francisco.”
He stood up abruptly, towering to such height that Daughtry looked to see the crown of his head collide with the deck above.
“I’m sick and tired of you all, yes, I am,” he continued. “Get busy! Well, let’s get busy. My money’s coming. It’ll be here by to-morrow. Let’s be ready to start by hiring a steward that is a steward. I don’t care if he brings two families along.”
“I guess you’re right, Grimshaw,” Simon Nishikanta said appeasingly. “The trip is beginning to get on all our nerves. Forget it if I fly off the handle. Of course we’ll take this steward if you want him. I thought he was too stylish for you.”
He turned to Daughtry.
“Naturally, the least said ashore about us the better.”
“That’s all right, sir. I can keep my mouth shut, though I might as well tell you there’s some pretty tales about you drifting around the beach right now.”
“The object of our expedition?” the Jew queried quickly.
“Is that why you want to come?” was demanded equally quickly.
Daughtry shook his head.
“As long as you give me my beer each day, sir, I ain’t goin’ to be interested in your treasure-huntin’. It ain’t no new tale to me. The South Seas is populous with treasure-hunters – ” Almost could Daughtry have sworn that he had seen a flash of anxiety break through the dream-films that bleared the Ancient Mariner’s eyes. “And I must say, sir,” he went on easily, though saying what he would not have said had it not been for what he was almost certain he sensed of the ancient’s anxiousness, “that the South Seas is just naturally lousy with buried treasure. There’s Keeling-Cocos, millions ’n’ millions of it, pounds sterling, I mean, waiting for the lucky one with the right steer.”
This time Daughtry could have sworn to having sensed a change toward relief in the Ancient Mariner, whose eyes were again filmy with dreams.
“But I ain’t interested in treasure, sir,” Daughtry concluded. “It’s beer I’m interested in. You can chase your treasure, an’ I don’t care how long, just as long as I’ve got six quarts to open each day. But I give you fair warning, sir, before I sign on: if the beer dries up, I’m goin’ to get interested in what you’re after. Fair play is my motto.”
“Do you expect us to pay for your beer in addition?” Simon Nishikanta demanded.
To Daughtry it was too good to be true. Here, with the Jew healing the breach with the wheat-farmer whose agents still cabled money, was the time to take advantage.
“Sure, it’s one of our agreements, sir. What time would it suit you, sir, to-morrow afternoon, for me to sign on at the shipping commissioner’s?”
“Casks and chests of it, casks and chests of it, oodles and oodles, a fathom under the sand,” chattered the Ancient Mariner.
“You’re all touched up under the roof,” Daughtry grinned. “Which ain’t got nothing to do with me as long as you furnish the beer, pay me due an’ proper what’s comin’ to me the first of each an’ every month, an’ pay me off final in San Francisco. As long as you keep up your end, I’ll sail with you to the Pit ’n’ back an’ watch you sweatin’ the casks ’n’ chests out of the sand. What I want is to sail with you if you want me to sail with you enough to satisfy me.”
Simon Nishikanta glanced about. Grimshaw and Captain Doane nodded.
“At three o’clock to-morrow afternoon, at the shipping commissioner’s,” the Jew agreed. “When will you report for duty?”
“When will you sail, sir?” Daughtry countered.
“Bright and early next morning.”
“Then I’ll be on board and on duty some time to-morrow night, sir.”
And as he went up the cabin companion, he could hear the Ancient Mariner maundering: “Eighteen days in the longboat, eighteen days of scorching hell.. ”
Michael left the Makambo as he had come on board, through a port-hole. Likewise, the affair occurred at night, and it was Kwaque’s hands that received him. It had been quick work, and daring, in the dark of early evening. From the boat-deck, with a bowline under Kwaque’s arms and a turn of the rope around a pin, Dag Daughtry had lowered his leprous servitor into the waiting launch.
On his way below, he encountered Captain Duncan, who saw fit to warn him:
“No shannigan with Killeny Boy, Steward. He must go back to Tulagi with us.”
“Yes, sir,” the steward agreed. “An’ I’m keepin’ him tight in my room to make safe. Want to see him, sir?”
The very frankness of the invitation made the captain suspicious, and the thought flashed through his mind that perhaps Killeny Boy was already hidden ashore somewhere by the dog-stealing steward.
“Yes, indeed I’d like to say how-do-you-do to him,” Captain Duncan answered.
And his was genuine surprise, on entering the steward’s room, to behold Michael just rousing from his curled-up sleep on the floor. But when he left, his surprise would have been shocking could he have seen through the closed door what immediately began to take place. Out through the open port-hole, in a steady stream, Daughtry was passing the contents of the room. Everything went that belonged to him, including the turtle-shell and the photographs and calendars on the wall. Michael, with the command of silence laid upon him, went last. Remained only a sea-chest and two suit-cases, themselves too large for the port-hole but bare of contents.
When Daughtry sauntered along the main deck a few minutes later and paused for a gossip with the customs officer and a quartermaster at the head of the gang-plank, Captain Duncan little dreamed that his casual glance was resting on his steward for the last time. He watched him go down the gang-plank empty-handed, with no dog at his heels, and stroll off along the wharf under the electric lights.
Ten minutes after Captain Duncan saw the last of his broad back, Daughtry, in the launch with his belongings and heading for Jackson Bay, was hunched over Michael and caressing him, while Kwaque, crooning with joy under his breath that he was with all that was precious to him in the world, felt once again in the side-pocket of his flimsy coat to make sure that his beloved jews’ harp had not been left behind.
Dag Daughtry was paying for Michael, and paying well. Among other things, he had not cared to arouse suspicion by drawing his wages from Burns Philp. The twenty pounds due him he had abandoned, and this was the very sum, that night on the beach at Tulagi, he had decided he could realize from the sale of Michael. He had stolen him to sell. He was paying for him the sales price that had tempted him.
For, as one has well said: the horse abases the base, ennobles the noble. Likewise the dog. The theft of a dog to sell for a price had been the abasement worked by Michael on Dag Daughtry. To pay the price out of sheer heart-love that could recognize no price too great to pay, had been the ennoblement of Dag Daughtry which Michael had worked. And as the launch chug-chugged across the quiet harbour under the southern stars, Dag Daughtry would have risked and tossed his life into the bargain in a battle to continue to have and to hold the dog he had originally conceived of as being interchangeable for so many dozens of beer.
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