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22

PRIZE STORIES OF 1924

Yet ’tis no lie! I give ye but God’s truth and there’s an end on’t. We sailed from London—as good and strong a crew as e’en the queen, good Bess, God rest her soul, could e’er have wanted. Englishmen all—save one. And that one, a black-avised fellow—not blackamoor, you understand; yet hairy as an ape with a face so gnarled and strange ’twould frighten children. ’A was humped a little in the back and ’a swung in’s walk. And’a had arms so bulged with strength ’a could squeeze a man to death like a bear. Rings ’a wore in his ears, of gold, and a kerchief on’s head, red and yellow, gay as a fairing and a knife in’s belt as had a curving blade would carve a man’s guts out at one stroke. His name was some outlandishness we ne’er could twist our tongues to . . . so called we him Cal.”

“Those little twisty men be fearsome powerful in the wrestle,” Rafe declared.

“We sailed with fair weather and the fair weather sailed with us. The sea—’twas as smooth as—smooth as—smooth as the top of the mug when the foam’s settled. ’Twas a glad crew we were at first, too; full of japes and jests and the strange talk of land and sea all sailorfolk know. But one thing we lacked—drink. ’Twas a skipper that knew the sea and a brave trouncer of men, but a niggard of grog. The days crept by and still no grog. Came more days and still none. The men fretted and murmured. But the sun kept with us and there was no real crying out until we struck the islands——

“What islands, Stephen?” Rafe asked.

“The Bermoothes, man. Hast not heard what Sir Jarge Summers found? A group of little islets, some no bigger than your hand, some bigger than all London town, spread out on a sea, green and blue, like a peacock’s tail. We hove to there and rested. Sir Jarge and his fellows went ashore to see if there might perchance be treasure of gold or precious stones——

“And were there treasure?” Rafe cut in, eagerly.

“Not that I have heard. But once they’d gone, among us crew, the murmurs grew for grog. Grog we asked—grog! If not—plain beer or ale. But whene’er we asked—polite and civil though we were—plain no was all we got. So one night, late, this hairy man, this Cal, he steals him a firkin