I was now near twenty-one and Van Luck was three years my senior, we being all young men on board the “Endraght”; but I had led a hardy life, and my spell ashore had taken off superfluous flesh, and left me active and alert, with muscles like steel, an advantage not given to my older antagonist, who had, perforce, lived a monotonous existence for months past on shipboard. So I looked forward to the coming trial of strength and endurance with some degree of confidence, notwithstanding that Van Luck and his supporters promised me I would lose both my ears as forfeit, if not my life, in the encounter.
The discussion over the right at length became so keen that Hartog, fearing it might lead to further disputes, determined to get it over as soon as possible, and for this purpose he altered the ship’s course to an island he sighted on the horizon which we made during the same afternoon, when we came to anchor in a natural harbour formed by a coral reef and opposite to a hard sandy beach well suited to the matter in hand.
At daybreak the following morning we landed two boats’ crews on the beach, only the watch being left on board, who would nevertheless be able to see the fight from over the ship’s bulwarks. It was a fine summer’s morning, with little wind and no sea. The waves broke in crisp diamond sparkles upon the sand, and the feathery palms and coconut trees, with which the island abounded, imparted to the place a fairy-like aspect such as the hand of man could never design. The island appeared to be uninhabited and it seemed likely we would have the arena to ourselves, although our men were armed in order to repel attack.
When Hartog had taken up a position upon a spot he had selected as suitable for the contest, he explained the conditions under which the dispute was to be settled. The fight won to be to the death, or until either party confessed himself vanquished or was unable to continue, and in no case was malice to be shown after the event, whatever might be the result. Having then proclaimed strict silence he ordered us to make ready and begin. Both my opponent and I were now stripped to the waist, our singlets being used as bandages for the right arm to protect it from a chance wound from the dagger knives with which we were armed, we being allowed no other weapon. My adversary was stouter than I, but we were both of a height, and what I lacked in strength I made up for in agility.
And know we began to circle each other, waiting an opportunity to strike, which presently came to my opponent, who aimed a blow at me which I caught when his blade was within an inch of my heart. Putting forth my strength I strove to force his hand so that with his own blade he might kill or wound himself, but after a desperate struggle he broke away. Not a word was spoken by the onlookers, and no sound was heard save only the tread of our feet as we circled and waited for a chance to strike again.