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Forty Years Between
by [?]

“What am I to enter in the log, sir?” asked Mr. Francis, the first lieutenant.

“There’s an old-fashioned word for it,” said Captain Hadow grimly.

“Had it been my brother it couldn’t have hurt me more,” said Mr. Francis.

“Everybody loved that boy.”

“It will break his father’s heart, sir.”

“A deserter, by God!”

“He had everything in the world,” said Francis, in the tone of a man who himself had fought hard for every step. “He had influence, money of his own, brains, a splendid professional future, everything!”

“All thrown away like that,” said Captain Hadow, with a gesture of his hand.

“And the handsomest fellow I believe I ever saw,” said Mr. Francis.

“The pick of the basket,” agreed Hadow.

“And to think,” continued Mr. Francis, “that I must sit down at my desk and write: ‘Past Midshipman John de Vigne Garrard, Deserter.'”

The pair were pacing the quarter-deck of H.M.S. Dauntless as she lay at anchor within the reef. It was at Borabora, one of the Society Islands, and the time forty years ago. The wonderful old rock, rising sheer naked and frowning from the bluest water in the world, seemed to those at its foot as though it were holding up the very sky itself. Precipice upon precipice dizzily scaled the basaltic heights, giving here and there, on little shelves and crannies, a foothold for a vivid vegetation. The peak itself, a landmark at sea for ninety miles around, was half-hidden in the gloom of squalls and scud, and sometimes, for a moment, it would be altogether lost to view in the fierce murkiness of driving rain. Below the mountain, on the flat shore of the lagoon, an uninterrupted belt of palms concealed the little villages of the islanders. Here, in idyllic peace, a population of extraordinary attractiveness, gentleness, and beauty led their life of secluded ease. Money was all but unknown; food could be had in abundance for the most trifling labor; clothes could be stripped from the bark of trees. Nature, giving with both hands, was repaid with an usury of poetry and song; and these happy people, children forever at heart, well mannered, gay, and instinct with an untamed nobility, bore themselves with the grace of those whom the gods loved.

“As like as not he is watching us now from somewhere up there,” said the captain, sweeping the summits with his glass.

“I doubt it, sir,” returned Mr. Francis. “It’s my conviction he isn’t a cable’s length behind the village.”

“Did you offer the reward?” asked the captain.

The first lieutenant looked embarrassed.

“I told you to offer fifty pounds,” said the captain tartly.

“I ventured to raise it to a hundred, sir,” said Mr. Francis. “We talked it over in the wardroom, and we thought we wouldn’t risk the boy for a matter of a few pounds between us.”

“I wonder if the mess would have done the same for me ?” observed the captain.

“We hardly look forward to your putting yourself in that position, sir,” said Mr. Francis.

“No, by God!” said the captain. “When I quit her Majesty’s service it will be neither for pique nor for love.”

“No, indeed, sir,” agreed the first lieutenant.

“I’ve had my follies, too, Mr. Francis,” said the captain. “Every man who is worth anything has some time or other made a fool of himself about a woman. I don’t pretend to be better than my neighbors. I can’t forget I was once young myself.”

“I’m afraid even a hundred pounds isn’t going to fetch him,” said Mr. Francis. “I could see it in the king’s eyes he meant to keep the boy.”

“The lady in the case is the king’s sister, I suppose–” said the captain, “that tall slip of a girl who was always making such sheep’s-eyes at Jack. Gad! I don’t wonder he preferred a bower in Eden with her to the steerage of a man-of-war and a pack of young devils incarnate! Who knows what might not have happened if she had made sheep’s-eyes at me, Mr. Francis!”