The tide was running up, but the wind still held from the northeast, and though moderated in force since the evening it was strong enough to take them slowly down toward the Good Intent. The sky was lightening, but a slight mist hung over the river. Desmond kept a close lookout ahead, and after about half an hour he caught sight of the hull of the Good Intent, looming before him out of the mist. Allowing the second boat to come alongside, he turned and spoke to the serang.
“Now, Hossain, there she is. Hail her.”
“Hai, hai!” shouted the man. “Do the sahibs want to buy any fresh fruit?”
An oath floated down from the stern. Captain Barker was there, peering intently through the mist up the river.
“Good melons, sahib, all fresh, and not too ripe. Cheap as ragi, sahib.”
The mate had joined the captain; the Dutch pilot stood by, smoking a pipe. The fruit boats had by this time come under the stern of the vessel, and Desmond heard the mate say:
“We came away in such a hurry, sir, that we hadn’t time to take in a supply of vegetables. Melons’ll keep, sir, if they en’t overripe.”
Barker growled, then bent over and called to the serang. “How much?”
“Very cheap, sahib, very cheap. I will come aboard.”
“Then be quick about it: we’re going to trip the anchor, melons or no melons. D’ye hear?”
Hossain ran down the sail and clambered up the chains; which the other boatmen made fast to a rope thrown from the deck. Desmond also lowered his sail, steering so as to approach the port quarter of the Good Intent, the serang’s boat being on the starboard. No rope was thrown to him, but he found that the tide was now only strong enough to neutralize the wind, and a stroke every now and again with the paddle at the stern kept his boat stationary.
Meanwhile there came from the deck the singsong of men heaving up the anchor. When the serang stepped on board the greater part of the crew of the Good Intent were forward. Little time was spent in haggling. A melon was thrown up as a sample, and the price asked was so extraordinarily low that Captain Barker evidently thought he had got a bargain.
“Heave ’em up,” he said, “and if they en’t all up to sample—”
He broke off, no doubt believing that his fierce scowl was sufficient to point his threat.
The serang hailed Desmond to come alongside. A few sweeps of the paddle brought the boat close underneath the Good Intent’s side, and a second rope enabled him to make fast.
He swarmed up the rope, followed by one of the boatmen. The other, on the boat, began to fill a basket with melons, as if preparing to send them on board. At the same time Karim joined Hossain from the other side, so that there were now four of the party on deck.
At a sign from Desmond, the two natives, carrying out instructions previously given, strolled toward the companionway. Hossain had started a conversation with the captain and mate, telling them about the British fleet he had passed as he came down the river. The Dutch pilot looked on, stolidly puffing his pipe.