TRENCHARD dined below with Forillon that evening. The skipper's head was still swollen and sore, but he needed no reminder. Across the table he met the steady, deep blue eyes of his prisoner, while the lamp swung overhead and the timbers creaked, and the schooner heeled a little to the thrust of the slight breeze.
“I'm in your debt, Forillon,” said Trenchard abruptly. “You saved my life today—no doubt about that. Why did you do it?”
Forillon considered this for a moment. Words did not come lightly to his lips.
“I am not an assassin, monsieur,” he replied.
The meal went forward in silence. When it was over, Trenchard filled his pipe, the Frenchman lighted a cigarette, and they went on deck. The schooner was standing down the coast, the night was clear, and by moonrise the breeze promised to fail. Forillon was no longer under guard, and the two white men walked up and down the deck. Trenchard was first to speak.
“I am not a man who forgets a debt,” he said, slowly bringing out the thing which lay in his mind, “any more than you are a man to neglect your duty.”
“That is true,” said Forillon, and looked toward the west, where the high mountains rose black against the star-strewn carpet of the sky, and the long thunderous roll of surf lifted from the reefs with monotonous insistence, falling and dying and swelling again, glimmering with phosphorescence.
“I regret,” said Trenchard stiffly, “that I cannot consider myself alone; in such case, I should set you ashore at once and take my chances. As it is, this is out of my power to do. You might promise to keep silence about what you have seen, but you would not keep the promise.”
Forillon sighed. “I shall not lie to you, Captain Trenchard. I could not even give such a promise.”
Trenchard was indeed in the grip of circumstance. If Forillon left the schooner alive, the men who trusted Trenchard with an absolute confidence would feel the heavy weight of punishment; in another two days, or sooner, Forillon would know how Ali el Khadar's mercantile establishment shipped forbidden gold out of the country, and that would be another mark down on the slate of reckoning.
That Forillon would spare the organization behind Trenchard was out of the question, for the authorities were determined to stamp out all concerned—if caught. “I would not even give such a promise,” Forillon had said, and the meaning was quite explicit. Forillon was no sneak, no craven. Knowing himself lost, he faced the issue squarely.
There was but one way out, as both men realized, but the realization came more bitterly to Trenchard than to the Frenchman. Now that he owed his life to Forillon, the bitterness was increased an hundredfold. Both these men were alike in that duty meant something more than any personal interest to each of them. Trenchard, leaning over the rail that night and watching the slowly heaving water around, grimaced at the ironical situation; Forillon owed a duty to constituted society; he himself owed a duty to the enemies of society—to the friends who trusted him. And his was the upper hand, the duty to be done.
With a different sort of man than Forillon, Trenchard would have cared little, but here destiny had involved him in a harsh net. If he spared Forillon, he would be pursued by the furies; the curses of those whom he abandoned to a merciless law would follow him; nor could he himself ever forgive the act. On the other hand, he must deliberately execute this man who had saved his life, and that act would damn him in his own eyes. Both ways lay damnation.
Hour after hour passed, while Trenchard walked the deck, pipe in mouth; the moon was up, striking the breaking reef-foam into snow, silvering the idle sails and deck and burnishing a long silver-gilt pathway down the sea; the breeze fell to nothing, and eight bells rang out low twelve from forward. Yusuf appeared to take the deck, eyed land and reefs and water, nodded perfect comprehension of their position; and Trenchard went below to snuggle into his blankets and dream over the problem facing him.
Morning came, with no solution. The schooner was leaving Coffin Island behind and standing out across the wide sweep of Koraraika Bay, with the land a dim blur against the eastern horizon. Barring calm, she would be at her destination before night. Satisfied of this, Trenchard went down to breakfast, and again faced Forillon across the table. Each man nodded, passed a good-morning, and went on with his meal. Forillon was acutely sensible of Trenchard's trouble, but showed no exultation over it; the two were enemies in a purely impersonal way, and had come to hold each other in deep respect.
BY the time noon rang out, Trenchard had resolutely cast the problem from him for the moment; he told himself that when the decision came, there was but one thing to be done. He must land Forillon, at low water, on some awash reef which would be covered at high tide; he must leave the Frenchman there with a pistol. He must do it; yet to do it would be a terrible thing. So he set the whole affair out of his mind for the present, though he cursed himself as a coward for temporizing. Besides, another matter came up which demanded more urgent attention.
Midway of the morning a dhow was sighted, bearing for Mozambique from New Maintorano and coming by the North Pass from the intricate shoals which here fringed the coast for miles. She broke out a signal from her jigger mast, and Trenchard recognized the private signal which was used for him by several Arab syndicates. Since his schooner changed her rig and appearance with the moon, the Arab skippers could never be quite sure when they were speaking him; but he made the answering signal promptly and bore down for the dhow. Presently the two craft were hove to side by side, with canvas flapping. The Arab rais came to the rail and hailed Trenchard in Swahili.
“Word for you, Rais Trenchard! That accursed Tonkin is at the Maroantali Island anchorage, taking soundings. She is also stopping and searching every dhow and schooner. Can I be of any service to you?”
To any coaster's ear, this information conveyed a great deal. There were only two anchorages in the Barren group which any vessel of size could approach. One was at Lava Island, for which Trenchard was bound; the other was ten miles north of it at Maroantali Island. At this latter spot was the Tonkin. Here posted, she had full control of the entire inner channels which all coasting vessels used; she could catch every vessel going up and down the west coast of the island. Evidently Brouillan was aboard her and was searching for Forillon; it might be that he had some information of a gold shipment, and was trying to nab it.
Trenchard turned and looked at Forillon. Here was his chance, and he was a fool not to take it. He could turn over Forillon to these Arabs, and could be absolutely certain that the spy would disappear forever. His own hands would be clear of the actual deed. Yusuf, who had appeared at Trenchard's side, gave him one eloquently savage look of expectation; and spurred by that look, Trenchard turned to give the order. His gaze fell on Forillon, who stood at the rail perfectly comprehending Swahili, Forillon was just tossing a cigarette into the water with a gesture of finality.
Something about that gesture checked the words on Trenchard's lips. He stood half hesitant. Had Forillon given him one pleading look, the result would have been different, but the spy stood gazing at the dhow as though registering in his mind every man aboard her, calmly unafraid, not flinching from his fate, himself to the end. Give a man such as this, a man so like himself in spirit, a white man, over to be murdered by Arabs! No, better to abandon cowardice and do the job himself. Trenchard swung about to the rail.
“No, nothing, rais,” he responded. “Allah further you!”
“And you,” came the response; then the big foresail of the dhow swung up, she pointed up almost into the wind's eye, and tore away. Trenchard looked at Yusuf, and under the bite of those gray eyes the Arab lost his scowl suddenly.
“Due southwest,” said Trenchard quietly, “past Albatross Shoal. Get outside Boursaint, then around past Lockwood Reef and strike Lava Island tonight from the south.”
THE canvas fluttered up; the schooner leaned over and picked up a bone in her teeth, then, close-hauled and with every inch of sail spread, darted toward the Mozambique Channel with her lee rail almost awash. Forillon, lighting another cigarette came up to Trenchard.
“A fine ship,” he said calmly. “And well handled! I can understand now why you stick to her; in this age of power and radio and long-distance guns, it is still possible for a sail-pirate to flourish.”
“In Madagascar waters,” amended Trenchard.
“Precisely. I presume that I may write some letters—which you may read before they are put in the post?”
“Certainly. —Hazo! Take M. Forillon to the saloon cabin aft and give him writing materials.”
As he said this, Trenchard made a slight gesture, which only the giant brown man understood. The latter went below with Forillon, and presently returned again to Trenchard.
“Go down in the cabin and watch that man. Pretend to sleep. When you see him about to throw a bottle from the cabin port, bring the bottle to me. Do not harm him.”
Trenchard added these last words almost with a sigh. Hazo vanished below. Two of the watch were at work getting up what seemed to be a stay running from fore- to main-mast and then down to the deck; but it was no stay. When it was finally adjusted, a hole in the deck by the foot of the mainmast was unstoppered—a small hole carefully fitted and insulated. Through this the false stay was passed, then Trenchard, after inspecting the course and watching the apparently open sea ahead, sent a man aloft to keep an eye out for coral patches, and himself went below to his own cabin—into which ran the end of that false stay. He did not appear again until just before noon, when he came on deck bringing his sextant, and ran into Yusuf.
“I've got the radio working,” he said. “The Tonkin is in communication with Majunga now—she's taking soundings along the Crescent Reef and has two launches working around Maroantali Island. She's safe to stay there for the day.”
“Allah upon her!” said Yusuf, and grinned. “And now—what is this?”
Hazo appeared, grinning, and handed Trenchard a bottle. Trenchard opened it and managed to draw out a paper, which he tore into fragments and threw down the wind. Forillon came up the companionway and met Trenchard's gaze calmly.
“So you have declared war!” asserted the skipper.
“I have never declared peace,” returned Forillon.
Trenchard was furious at thought of his own hesitations and delays, while this other man went about his duty, coolly taking advantage of every opportunity. Yet, when most furious, Trenchard was most in command of himself.
“You are confined to your cabin,” he said. “Hazo! See that this man does not leave his cabin. Cover his port from outside. Remove from the room all matches; if he wants to smoke, give him a light and watch him while he smokes, for he is capable of setting fire to the ship. Give him some books from my cabin, nothing else. Watch him as you would watch a mad bull.”
FORILLON, shrugging, turned and went below again, with Hazo after him. Trenchard glanced at his watch, inwardly conscious that he was fast coming to a crisis in the affair of his captive; then he raised his sextant, carefully adjusted the instrument, swung the arm and clamped it, screwed the vernier for more accuracy, got his observation. Eight bells clanged from the ship's bell—noon. Madagascar was rolling down under the horizon.
When he had worked out the position, Trenchard ate his noonday meal by himself, then smoked a pipe on deck; he paced up and down, hands behind his back, slender figure a little bowed. Then he went below and turned in—there would be work ahead that evening. The Tonkin was posted here, watching the middle passage; up north was the Sagittaire; down south were other craft; every coaster and dhow was being watched and searched; every arm of the law was reaching out with flexing muscles to locate Forillon, Trenchard and smuggled gold. The metal was more precious than ever these days, for it meant the life of nations; but to the men who used it, it meant the life of individual commerce. Governments meant little to them, but gold payments in Zanzibar and Mombasa and Mozambique meant everything.
“It must be done,” thought Trenchard as he stood by the helm that night and conned the schooner up past the wide coral beds of Lava Island to the anchorage a mile beyond the north tip of the little islet, whose bare half-mile of trees and sand lay black on the water. To north and east lay a horrible jungle of coral beneath the star-glinting wavelets; long banks and ridges of it for miles off the coast, here eleven miles distant; depths leaping abruptly from half a fathom to seven fathom, circles and pinnacles and wavy lengths all unseen, but showing on the chart as roughly following the outline of the wooded coast, following it out again and again far to sea.
“It must be done,” came the thought again into his mind, as the big wooden coral anchor splashed, and the hawser ran out; and ten miles to the northward he caught the sweep of a distant searchlight across the sky. Brouillan was there, searching.