Daylight saw the Arangi under way, her sails drooping heavily in the dead air while the boat’s crew toiled at the oars of the whaleboat to tow her out through the narrow entrance. Once, when the ketch, swerved by some vagrant current, came close to the break of the shore-surf, the blacks on board drew toward one another in apprehension akin to that of startled sheep in a fold when a wild woods marauder howls outside. Nor was there any need for Van Horn’s shout to the whaleboat: “Washee-washee! Damn your hides!” The boat’s crew lifted themselves clear of the thwarts as they threw all their weight into each stroke. They knew what dire fate was certain if ever the sea-washed coral rock gripped the Arangi’s keel. And they knew fear precisely of the same sort as that of the fear-struck girl below in the lazarette. In the past more than one Langa-Langa and Somo boy had gone to make a Su’u feast day, just as Su’u boys, on occasion, had similarly served feasts at Langa-Langa and at Somo.
“My word,” Tambi, at the wheel, addressed Van Horn as the period of tension passed and the Arangi went clear. “Brother belong my father, long time before he come boat’s crew along this place. Big fella schooner brother belong my father he come along. All finish this place Su’u. Brother belong my father Su’u boys kai-kai along him altogether.”
Van Horn recollected the Fair Hathaway of fifteen years before, looted and burned by the people of Su’u after all hands had been killed. Truly, the Solomons at this beginning of the twentieth century were savage, and truly, of the Solomons, this great island of Malaita was savagest of all.
He cast his eyes speculatively up the slopes of the island to the seaman’s landmark, Mount Kolorat, green-forested to its cloud-capped summit four thousand feet in the air. Even as he looked, thin smoke-columns were rising along the slopes and lesser peaks, and more were beginning to rise.
“My word,” Tambi grinned. “Plenty boy stop ’m bush lookout along you eye belong him.”
Van Horn smiled understandingly. He knew, by the ancient telegraphy of smoke-signalling, the message was being conveyed from village to village and tribe to tribe that a labour-recruiter was on the leeward coast.
All morning, under a brisk beam wind which had sprung up with the rising of the sun, the Arangi flew north, her course continuously advertised by the increasing smoke-talk that gossiped along the green summits. At high noon, with Van Horn, ever-attended by Jerry, standing for’ard and conning, the Arangi headed into the wind to thread the passage between two palm-tufted islets. There was need for conning. Coral patches uprose everywhere from the turquoise depths, running the gamut of green from deepest jade to palest tourmaline, over which the sea filtered changing shades, creamed lazily, or burst into white fountains of sun-flashed spray.