The Trader by Louis Becke

I.

The evening fires were lighting up the darkness of the coming night, when Prout, the only white man on the island, left his house on the edge of the lagoon, and, with his little daughter running by his side, walked slowly through the village.

As they passed through the now deserted pathways that intersected the straggling collection of grey, thatched-roofed houses, and Prout's heavy step crunched into the broken coral, the natives, gathered together for their evening meal, looked forth, and the brown women called out a word or two of greeting to the child, and smiled and beckoned her to leave her father for an instant and take the fruit or piece of cooked breadfruit that they held out to her with their brown hands. But only a solemn shake of the little head, and then she and the taciturn, bronzed-faced man went by, the child's tiny fingers grasping his tanned and roughened hand as they walked across the narrow island towards the sound of the muffled thunder of the surf on the outer ocean beach.


Here, with the little one perched beside him and looking wonderingly into his grave, impassive face, the white man would sit for long hours staring moodily out upon the tumbling breakers as they reared and fell upon the black, grim shelves of the reef.

Sometimes, as he sat with his chin resting on his hand, and the red glow of his pipe sending now and again a fitful gleam of light across the rugged lines of his face, the girl would get quietly down from the moss-grown coral boulder on which she rested by his side, and stepping down to the short, steep beach, play with childish solemnity with such pebbles and light shells as lay within the reach of her little hands. Perhaps, if the tide was heavy and at its flood, and a breaker heavier than the rest breached shorewards in a white wall of seething foam, and crashed and rattled together the loose coral slabs that marked the line of high-water mark, the silent, dreaming man would spring to his feet with a loud warning call. And the little one, answering his deep tones with her soft, sweet treble, would spring back to her father's side, and nestling her tender form against his gaunt frame, lay her cheek against his, and say, in the soft Tokelau tongue, "'Twas a great wave, my father!"

"Aye," he would answer, as he placed an arm round the child and gazed at her for a moment, "'twas a great wave truly, taka taina,{*} and thou art so small, that if it but touched thy feet thou wouldst be swept away like as a leaf in a strong wind. So stay thee here beside me, sweet one," and again his face would turn seaward, and the silence of the night, save for the soughing of the wind and the cry of the surf, fall upon them again.

     *  "Little one of my heart."

Thus the first hours of the island night would pass, till a glare of light flashed upon the blackness of the sea beyond the snow-line of surf, as the canoes from Matakatea would round the point, each one with a flaming torch of dried palm-leaves held high by a brown, tattooed hand, to dazzle the flying fish that, with wings outspread, floated motionless upon the surface of the water.


Then, because the child had no playmates, and her little life was almost as joyless and as solitary as his own, he would wait with her till the long line of canoes passed by, so that she could see the bronzed, half-naked figures of the paddlers, and the bright gleam and shimmer of the fish as they were swept up by the deadly net, and hear the warning cry from the torch-bearers, as in the depths beneath they saw the black shadow of a prowling shark rushing to seize the net, or perchance the outrigger of the canoe, in his cruel, murderous jaws.

Slowly the canoes paddled by, and as they passed, the hum of voices and laughter and the cheery lilt of island melody died away, and the paddlers looked shoreward to the motionless figure of Prout, who, with the child by his side, seemed to heed naught but the wide sweep of ocean that lay before him.

But though the voices and laughter and snatches of song ceased, many of the kindly-hearted people would, ere they passed, call out a word or two of greeting to the white man and his child, and the latter would wave her hand and smile back, while her father, as if awakened from a dream, called out, in the island tongue, the customary "May your fishing to-night be lucky." And then, as the last canoe vanished, and the glare and the smoke of the torches with it, he, with the little Mercedes by his side, walked back to his house on the lagoon.


And so, night after night, save in the stormy season of the year, when the white rain-squalls gathered together on the windward sea-line, and swept quickly down upon the island and drenched the loose, sandy soil with pouring showers, the white man had sat with his face turned seaward to the cloudless horizon of the starlit ocean and his mind dwelling upon the ever-present memories of the past.

Such, for three years past, ever since he had first landed among the people of Nukutavau, had been the existence of Prout, the silent, solitary trader.






II.

Nine years before, Prout, then one of the "smartest" Englishmen in the Hawaiian Islands, had been manager of the Kalahua sugar plantation on Maui. Out of his very loneliness in the world—for except his mother, in a far-away Devonshire village, there was no one in the outside world that cared aught for him—there grew upon him that quiet, reserved temperament that led the other white men on the plantation to call him in kindly jest, "Prout, the Hermit."

But although he never mixed with the men on the Kalahua Estate in the wild revelries with which they too often sought to break the monotony of their existence and celebrate a good season, he was by no means a morose or unsociable man; and Chard, the merry-hearted Belgian sugar-boiler, often declared that it was Prout alone who kept the estate going and the native labourers from turning on the white men and cutting their throats, out of sheer revenge for the brutal treatment they received from Sherard, the savage, drunken owner of Kalahua.

Between Roden Sherard and Prout there had been always, from the first day almost of the latter entering upon his duties, a silent, bitter antagonism. And the reason of it was known only to the two men themselves.

In those times the native labour for the Hawaiian sugar plantations was recruited from the islands of the Mid-Pacific, and from the chains of sandy atolls lying between the Bonins and the Radack Archipelago of the Marshall Group. On Kalahua there were some three hundred natives, and within a month of Prout taking charge, he had changed their condition so much for the better, that not one of the wild-eyed, half-naked beings who toiled from sunrise to dark but would give him a grateful glance as he rode through the cane fields. And Sherard, who rode with him, would see this, and scowl and tell Prout that as soon as his engagement terminated, he, Sherard, would bring back Fletcher, the former manager, "a man who would thump a kanaka into a pulp if he dared to look sideways at him."

"If you are not satisfied with me you can bring him here to-morrow if you like," Prout had said coldly to him one day. "I've managed bigger places than this in Demerara, and on no one of them have I ever seen a nigger struck. But then, you see, in Demerara the planters are Englishmen, and Englishmen as a rule don't shine at nigger walloping."

Sherard, a black-visaged Marylander, snapped his teeth together and, smothering his rage, tried to laugh the matter off.

"Well, I suppose you're right, Prout. I know I have got a good man in you; but at the same time, God never intended these damned saucy niggers to be coddled and petted."

Prout laughed ironically as he repeated Sherard's words "coddled and petted!" And then long-suppressed wrath boiled out, and, swinging his horse's head round, he faced the owner of Kalahua.

"Look here, Sherard, give me the control of these three hundred natives for the next two seasons and I'll stake my life that they'll do more work for you than you have ever had done by that brute Fletcher when he had five hundred here. Do you think that these people knew what was in store for them when they came here?—that in place of an encouraging word they would get a threat or a blow? That those of them who have wives and daughters can forget what has befallen them? Do you think that I don't know that you speak of me to your friends with contempt as 'a nigger-loving Britisher'? And yet, Sherard, you know well that, were I to leave Kalahua tomorrow, every native on the estate would leave too—not for love of me, but to get away from you."

Sherard laughed coarsely.

"You've got more in you than I thought, Prout. What you say is true enough. Let us quit quarrelling. I know you can do more with them than Abe Fletcher could; and I guess I'm not going to interfere with you."

But, for all that, Prout did not trust Sherard, and he made up his mind to leave the estate when his two years' engagement came to an end.


"The Mana is in Honolulu with a cargo of Line Island boys, Prout," said Sherard to him about a month or two after this; "I wish you would get away down there, and try to obtain some more hands. You talk the language like a Line Islander, and will have no trouble in getting all the men we want."

But when Prout boarded the labour schooner Mana there was not a native left. The other planters on Oahu had been there before him, and the master—Captain Courtayne—called him down to have a drink in the cabin.

"You are the new manager on Kalahua, hey? Well, I'm sorry you've had your trip for nothing; but, at the same time, I'm real glad to see Sherard left out in the cold. He's a bad man, sir, and although you might think that because I'm in this trade I'm not particularly soft, I can tell you that I'd be thundering sorry to see any of the crowd I've brought up go to him."

"Your feelings do you honour, Captain; but I can assure you that the Kalahua boys are well treated now," said Prout, as he took the cigar the seaman handed him.

The quiet manner and truthful look in Prout's face made the master of the schooner regard him intently for a few moments, then he said abruptly:

"Do you know Honolulu well?"

Prout did not; his visits there had been few and far between.

"Do you know any decent people here who could take care of my daughter for me till I come back from my next trip?"

"No, Captain, I do not."

"Take another whisky, sir, and I'll tell you the fix I'm in. You see I'm new to this business. I had a trading station down on one of the Ellice Islands where I've lived for the last twenty years. This schooner came there about six months ago, and the captain died in my house. As the mate couldn't navigate, and I am an old shell-back, I sold out my trading station, took charge of her, brought my daughter aboard and filled the schooner with Line Island labourers."

"Her mother is dead, I suppose?"

Captain Courtayne coloured and shifted about in his seat. "Well, no, not as far as I know; but, you see, down there in the south-east a man has to change his wives occasionally. For instance, if you marry a Samoa girl you must live in Samoa; she won't leave there to go and live on Nanomea or Vaitupu, where the people have different ideas and customs. And, as we poor traders have to shift about from one island to another sometimes, we can't afford to study a woman's whims."

Prout grasped the situation at once. "I see; your daughter, then, is your child by a former wife?"

"Just so. Her mother was a Hervey Island half-caste whom I married when I was trading on Manhiki. We drifted apart somehow—perhaps it was my fault. I was a careless, hard-drinking man in those days. But, here I am telling you a lot of things that don't interest you, when I ought to tell you at once what it is I thought you might help me with. You see, Mr. Prout, my little Marie has lived with me all her life. Since she was five years old she has never left me for a day, and I've done my best to educate her. She's as good and true as gold, and this is what troubles me—I don't want to take her away again in the schooner if I can help it. Do you think—do you know—of any English or American family here that would take her to live with them till I return from this voyage? I'm willing to pay well for her keep."

Prout shook his head. "I should advise you to take her back with you, Captain. How old is she?"

The captain went to the companion-way and called out:

"Marie."

"Yes, father," answered a girl's soft voice.

"Come below a minute."

Prout heard some one getting out of a hammock that was slung over the skylight, and presently a small slippered foot touched the first step of the companion-way; and then a girl, about fifteen or sixteen, came into the cabin, and bowing to him, seated herself by the captain of the schooner. Then, as if ashamed of the formal manner of her greeting, she rose again, and a smile lit up her beautiful face, as she offered her hand to him.

Prout, one of those men whose inborn respect for women often makes them appear nervous, constrained, and awkward in their presence, flushed to the roots of his hair as she let her soft hand touch his.

"That is Marie, sir," and the skipper glanced somewhat proudly at the graceful, muslin-clad figure of his daughter. "Marie, this gentleman says he does not know any English or American ladies here."

The sweet red mouth smiled and the dark eyes danced.

"I'm very glad, father; I would rather go away with you to sea in the Mana than stay in a strange place."


But Marie Courtayne did not go away; for next morning her father, through Prout, learned that the French Sisters were willing to take her as a boarder till the schooner returned, and so to them she went, with her tender mouth twitching, and her eyes striving to keep back the tears that would come as she bade her father goodbye.

"You'll go and see my little Marie sometimes, I hope, Mr. Prout?" said Courtayne, as he bade farewell to the manager of Kalahua.

Prout murmured something in reply, and then the captain of the Mana and he parted.


Three months later the American cruiser Saranac brought the news that she had spoken the labour schooner Mana, Captain Courtayne, off the island of Marakei, in the Gilbert Group, "all well, and wished to be reported at Honolulu." After that she, her captain and crew, and the two hundred Kanaka labourers she had on board, were never heard of again.

For nearly a year Prout and Marie Courtayne waited and hoped for some tidings of the missing ship, but none came. And every now and then, when business took him to Honolulu, Prout would call at the Mission School and try to speak hopefully to her.

"He is dead," she would say apathetically, "and I wish I were dead, too. I think I shall die soon, if I have to live here."

Then Prout, who had grown to love her, one day plucked up courage to tell her so, and asked her to be his wife.

"Yes," she said simply, "I will be your wife. You are always kind to me," and for the first time she put her face up to his. He kissed her gravely, and then, being a straightforward, honourable man, he went to the Sisters and told them. A week afterward they were married.

When he returned to Kalahua with his wife, Sherard met them on the verandah of his house, and Prout wondered at the remarkable change in his manner, for even to women Sherard was coarse and tyrannical.

From the moment he first saw Marie's fresh young beauty Sherard determined to have a deadly revenge upon her husband. But he went about his plans cautiously. Only a few days previously he had made a fresh agreement with Prout to remain for another two years. Before those two years had expired he meant to put his plan into effect. There was on the plantation a ruffianly Chileno who, he knew, would dispose of Prout satisfactorily when asked to do so.


When Marie's child was born, Sherard acted the part of the imperatively good-natured employer, and told Prout that as soon as his wife was strong enough, he was to leave the house he then occupied and take up his quarters permanently in the big house.

"This place of yours will do me, Prout," he said, when his manager protested; "and your wife's only a delicate little thing. There's all kinds of fixings and comforts there that she'll appreciate, which you haven't got here. D———n my thick skull, I might have done this before."

"Thank you, Sherard," said Prout, with a genuine feeling of pleasure. "You are very good to us both. But I won't turn you out altogether; you must remain there too."

Sherard laughed. "Not I. You'll be far happier up there together by yourselves, like a pair of turtledoves. But I'll always be on hand in the smoking-room when you want me for a game of cards."

The change was soon made, and Moreno, the Chilian overseer, grinned when he saw the white-robed figure of the manager's wife lying on one of the verandah lounges, playing with her child.

"Bueno," he said to Sherard that night, as they drank together, "the plan works. Make the bird learn to love its pretty nest. Dios, when am I to feel my knife tickling Senor Prout's ribs?"

"At the end of the crushing season, I think," answered Sherard coolly; "the brat will be old enough to be taken from her by then."

It is a bad thing for a man to "thump" either a Chilian, or a Peruvian, or a Mexican. And Prout had "thumped" the evil-faced Chileno very badly one day for beating a native nearly to death. Had he been wiser he would have taken the little man's knife out of his belt and plunged it home between his ribs, for a Chileno never forgives a blow with a fist.






III.

"Are you going over to Halaliko to-night, Prout?" asked Sherard, walking up to where his manager and Marie sat enjoying the cool of the evening. He threw himself in a cane chair beside them and puffed away at his cheroot, playing the while with the little Mercedes.

"Yes, I might as well go to-night and see how the Burtons have got on," and Prout arose and went to the stables.

Sherard remained chatting with Marie till Prout returned, and then, raising his hat to her, bade them good-night."

"Don't let Burton entice you to Halaliko, Prout," he said with a laugh; "he knows that your time here is nearly up."

Prout laughed too. "I don't think that Marie would like me to give up Kalahua for Halaliko—would you, old girl?"

She shook her head and smiled. "No, indeed, Mr. Sherard. I am too happy here to ever wish to leave."


Whistling softly to himself, Prout rode along the palm-bordered winding track. It was not often he was away from Marie, but he meant to take his time this evening. It was nearly five miles to Burton's plantation at Halaliko, and half an hour would finish his business there. He knew that, as soon as he left, Marie would tell the native servant to go to her bed in the coolie lines, and then she would herself retire; and when he returned he would find her lying asleep with her baby beside her.


To the right the road wound round a great jagged shoulder of rocky cliff, and clung to it closely; for on the left there yawned a black space, the valley of Maunahoehoe, and, as he rode, Prout could see the glimmer of the natives' fires below—fires that, although they were but distant a few hundred feet, seemed miles and miles away.

A slight sound that seemed to come from the face of the cliff above him caused him to look upwards, and the next instant a heavy stone struck him slantingly on the side of his head. Without a sound he fell to the ground, staggered to his feet, and then, failing to recover himself, vanished over the sloping side of the cliff into the valley beneath.

A shadowy, supple figure clambered down from the inky blackness of cliff that overhung the road, and peered over the valley of Maunahoehoe. It was Moreno, the Chilian.

"Better than a knife after all; Holy Virgin, he's gone now, and I forgive him for all the blows he struck me."


Long before daylight, Prout, with his face and shoulders covered with gory stains, staggered into the native village at Maunahoehoe and asked the people to lend him a horse to take him back to Kalahua.

When within half a mile of Kalahua, almost fainting from loss of blood and exhaustion, he pulled up his horse at a hut on the borders of the estate and got off. There were some five or six natives inside, and they started up with quick expressions of sympathy when they saw his condition.

"Give me a weapon, O friends," he said. "Some man hath tried to kill me."

A short squat native smiled grimly, reached to the rafters of the dwelling, and took down a heavy carbine, which he loaded and then handed to the white man.

"'Tis Moreno who hath hurt thee," said the native; "at midnight he rode by here in hot haste."

With the native supporting him, Prout rode along the road to the Estate gates.

As he reeled through he heard a faint cry.

In another minute he was on the verandah and looking through the French lights into Marie's dimly-lighted bedroom. An inarticulate cry of anguish burst from him. Sherard and his wife were together.

Steadying himself against a post he took aim at the trembling figure of his wife, and fired. She threw up her arms and fell upon her face, and then Sherard, pistol in hand, dashed out and met him.

Ere he could draw the trigger, Prout swung the heavy weapon round, and the stock crashed into the traitor's brain.

"It is the death of a dog," said the native, spurning the body with his naked foot.

She was dying fast when Prout, with love and hate struggling for mastery in his frenzied brain, stood over her.

"He took my child away from me," she said.... "He said he would kill her before me,... and it was to save her. Only for that I would have died first. Oh, Ned, Ned——"

Then with a look of unutterable love from her fast-dimming eyes, she closed them in death.


That was why Prout, after two years of madness in a prison, had stepped on board Hetherington's schooner and asked the captain to take him away somewhere—he cared not where—so that he could be away from the ken of civilised and cruel mankind and try and forget the dreadful past.

IV.

They are a merry-hearted, laughter-loving race, the people of white-beached Nukutavau, with whom the trader lived. To them the grave-faced, taciturn man, who cared not to listen to their songs or to watch their wild dances on the moonlit beach—as had been the custom of those white men who had dwelt on the island before him—was but as one afflicted with some mental disease, and therefore to be both pitied and feared. At first, indeed, when he had landed, carrying his child in his arms, to bargain with Patiaro, the chief, that the people should build him a house, the women of the island had clustered around him as he stepped out of the boat, and with smiles upon their faces, extended their arms to him for the child. But no answering smile lit up the man's rugged features, though, to avoid the appearance of discourtesy (to which all island races are so keenly sensitive) he gave the infant into the keeping of old Malineta, the mother of the chief.

Patiaro, the chief, holding the stranger's right hand in both his own, looked searchingly into his calm, deep-set eyes with that dignified curiosity which, while forbidding a native to put a direct question to an utter stranger, yet asks it by the expression of his face. But Prout, whose anxious glance followed the movements of the grey-haired mother of the chief, as she pressed his child to her withered bosom, seemed to notice not his questioning look.

Following the stranger's gaze, the chief broke the silence:

"'Tis my mother, ariki papalagi.{*} who carries thy child—Malineta, the mother of Patiaro, the chief of Nukutavau, he who now speaks to thee. And I pray thee have no fear for the little one."

     * White gentleman.

The quiet, dignified courtesy with which the chief addressed him recalled the white man to himself, and a pleasant smile lit up the native's features when the stranger answered him in Tokelau—the lingua franca of the equatorial isles of the Pacific—north and south.

"Nay, I fear not for the child, Patiaro, chief of Nukutavau, but yet it may not be well for her to be taken to the village awhile; for with thee and thy people doth it rest whether the child and I remain here, or return to the ship and seek some other island whereon I may build my house and live in peace. And I will pay thee that which is fair and just for house and land."

But in those days, before too much civilisation had brought these simple people deadly disease, Christianity, and the knowledge of the great Pit of Fire, the brown men thought much of a white man; and so Patiaro, the chief, made haste to answer:

"Let the child go with my mother, and tell thou the men in the boat that everything thou desirest of me and my people to do shall be done. Five rainy seasons have come and gone since a white man has lived here; so I pray thee, stay."

The white man inclined his head; then he turned and walked to the boat, and spoke to the captain of the little vessel which, to bring him to the island, had dropped her anchor just outside the current-swept passage of the lagoon.

"I am remaining here, Captain Hetherington. Will you let your men put my gear out on the beach?"

Hetherington, the skipper, looked at his passenger curiously, and then answered:

"Cert'nly. But I'm real sorry you are leaving us, I don't want to pry inter any man's business, and you know these islands as well as I do; but I guess I wouldn't stay here if I war you. Why, it won't pay a man to stay and trade on a bit of a place like this," and he cast a deprecatory look around him.

The trader made him no answer, and the skipper of the schooner, ordering his crew to take out his passenger's goods and carry them to the village, stepped ashore, and held out his hand to the chief, whose fine, expressive features showed some signs of fear that the captain's remarks were intended to dissuade the stranger from remaining on the island.


Motioning to the white men to follow him, the stalwart young chief led the way to the fale kaupale, or council-house of the village, where food and young coconuts for drinking were brought in and placed before them by the young women.

Sitting directly in front of his guests, the chief served them with food with his own hands, in token of his desire for friendship and to do them honour, and then quietly withdrew to direct the natives who were carrying the trader's goods up from the boat to his own house, further back in the village.

"I would wish ter remark, mister," said the American skipper as he pulled out his pipe and commenced to fill it, "thet, ez a rule, I don't run any risk ev bustin' myself with enthoosiastic admiration fer Britishers in general—principally because they air the supporters of er low-down, degradin' system ev Government, which hez produced some bloody wars and sunk my schooner the Mattie Casey, with a cargo of phosphates valued et four thousand dollars."

"It was a heavy loss to you, Captain Hetherington, but you surely do not dislike all Englishmen because the Alabama sunk your vessel?" said the trader, with a melancholy smile, whilst his restless eye sought the village houses to discern the movements of the chief's mother with his child.

The American pulled his long, straggling beard meditatively. "Wal, I don't know, they're a darned mean crowd anyway." And then, with a sudden change of manner, "Say, look here, mister; hev yew finally made up your mind ter remain on this island among a lot ev outrageous, unclothed, ondelikit females, whar every prospeck pleases an' on'y man is vile; or air yew game ter come in pardners with me in the schooner an' run her in the sugar trade between 'Frisco and Honolulu?"

Prout grasped the old man's hand, but shook his head.

"You are a generous man, Captain Hetherington, but I cannot do it. I am no seaman, and, what is more to the point, I have no money to put into the venture."

"Thet's jest it," the American answered quickly, "but yew hev a long head—fer a Britisher, a darned long head—an' I reckon yew an' me will pull together bully; so jes' tell the chief here to get the traps back inter the boat again, an' yew an' me an' little Mercedy will get aboard agin——"

"No, no, no," and the trader rose to his feet and walked quickly to and fro—"no, Hetherington; I cannot do as you wish. Here, among these islands, it is my wish to live; and here, or on such another island as this, and among such wild, uncivilised beings, must I die."

"So?" and the hard-featured American raised his shaggy eyebrows interrogatively. "Waal, I reckon yew regulates your own affairs ter your own fancy; but look here, mister," and the kindly ring in the old skipper's voice appealed to the man before him—"what about little Mercedy? Yew ain't agoin' to let thet pore child grow up among naked, red-skinned savages, hey?"

A deep flush overspread the trader's face, and then it paled again, and he ceased his hurried, agitated walk.

"Hetherington!... do not, I implore you, say another word to me on the subject. It is better for me to remain here with my little Mercedes.... So, here, give me that honest hand of yours and leave me.... But, stop, I forgot," and he thrust his hand into a large canvas pouch that hung suspended from his shoulder, "I did indeed forget this, Captain; but forget the kindness that you have shown to me and my child during the four months I have been with you, I never can."

The Yankee skipper's face was visibly perturbed as he heard the jingle of money in the canvas pouch, and he worked his jaws violently, while his heavy, bushy brows met together as if he were in deep study, and uneasy mutterings escaped from his lips. Suddenly he rose and left his companion.

As he shambled away to the far end of the council-house, he caught sight of a number of native women and children advancing towards himself and his passenger. Foremost among them was the old woman Malineta, her lean and wrinkled face wreathed in smiles, for the white man's child, whom she still carried, had placed one arm around her neck. As she drew near the American, the little one smiled and made as if she wished to go to him, or to her father who stood near by.

Holding out his arms to the child, the skipper took her from the old woman, and then he turned to Prout.

"Say, I've jest been reckonin' up an' I make out yew hev been jest four months aboard o' my hooker thar, an' I reckon thet twenty dollars a month ain't more'n a fair an' square deal."

Again the red flush mantled to the trader's brow. "No, no, Hetherington. I am poor, but not so poor that I should insult you by such an insignificant sum as that. Two hundred and fifty dollars I can give you easily, and freely and willingly," and advancing to the captain he offered him a number of twenty-dollar gold pieces.

An angry "Pshaw!" burst from the captain. He thrust the proffered money aside, and then, with his leathern visage working in strange contortions, he walked quickly outside, and sitting down upon an old unused canoe, bent his grizzled head, and strained the child to his bosom. And presently Prout and the natives heard something very like the sound of a sob.

Then, as if ashamed of his emotion, he suddenly rose, and kissing the child tenderly, gave her back to the woman Malineta. Then he turned to Prout.

"Waal, I guess I'll be goin'.... Naow, jest yew put them air cursed dollars back again. It's jest like yew darned Britishers, ter want ter shove money inter a man's hand, jest like ez if he war a nigger, an' hadn't a red cent ter buy a slice of watermelon with," and then all his assumed roughness failed him, and his eyes grew misty as he grasped the Englishman's hand for the last time.

"Thet thar Mercedy.... Why, I hed sich a little mite once...." and he chewed fiercely at the fresh plug he had thrust into his cheek.

"Dead?" queried Prout, softly.

"Yes; diphthery. Yew see it came about th' way. When I got back ter Cohoes—thet's whar I belong—after that cussed pirut Semmes sunk my hooker, an' 'Riar sees me standin' in front ev her without givin' her any warnin' I was comin', she gets that skeered that she drops kerwallop on the floor, an' when she come to, an' heerd that the Mattie Casey was gone, waal, thet jest sorter finished her. Waal, she hung on ter life fur a year or so, kep' getting more powerful weak in the intelleck every day; an' when she died, my little Hope was on'y four years old. An' Hope died when I was away servin' in the Iroquois lookin' fur Semmes,... an' I ain't got no one else to keer fur me naow.... Waal, goodbye, Prout; I guess I'll beat up ter windward of this grewp, and then make a bee-line fur Honolulu."

In another minute he had shambled down to the boat, and as the sun sank below the line of coconuts on the lee side of Nukutavau, the schooner swept away into the darkness. Then Prout, taking the little girl in his arms, followed old Malineta to the house of Patiaro the chief, and again took up the thread of his lonely existence.

Four years had come and gone. In his quiet house, under the shadow of the ever-rustling palms, Prout lay upon his rough couch of coarse mats, and little Mercedes stood beside him with her tiny hand upon his death-dewed forehead.

The missionary ship had just anchored in the lagoon, and Patiaro and his men had paddled off to her, so that, save for the low murmur of voices of women and children in the houses near by, the village lay silent.

Weeping softly, the child placed her tender cheek against the rugged face of the dying man, and whispered:

"What is it, my father, that aileth thee?"

He drew her slender figure to him with his failing hands and kissed her with pallid lips, and then Prout the trader gave up the battle of life.