Two Bells by Harry C. Hervey, Jr.

Two Bells

by Harry C. Hervey, Jr.

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It all came back to him — the lamp-lit Australian water-front, the slinking shadows along the quay, the sickening emotions following the blow and the return to consciousness in the hold of the trading brig bound for eleven degrees south of the equator.


Table of Contents
  1. The Avenger
  2. Dead About An Hour
  3. The Thing
  4. Off The Course

Chapter 1

The Avenger

At two bells The Boy determined to commit murder.

It was no swift decision. On the night the Libertine lifted anchor at Melbourne—and Black Michael flogged him with a rawhide lash— the desire to slay had been impregnated in him, a terrible sore whose putrefying poison daily seeped into his blood and brain.

Quite suddenly, standing there in the shadow of the longboat, he perceived the death of his soul. Black Michael was responsible. He had inoculated him with a dreadful serum of evil that wiped out the germs of his strength; had proceeded, while he was in this weakened condition, to loot his being of all finer instincts. For that Black Michael must die.

The avenger. That was his role. Tonight he would become the champion of his slain self and write in crimson the final chapter of a bitter story.

As he stood there on the deck, swaying with the drunken pitch of the two-masted, square-rigged vessel, it all came back to him—came back for the millionth time, with a burning sharpness that made him visualize, as though etched with steel upon his brain, the lamp-lit Australian water-front, the slinking shadows along the quay; made him feel, as if experiencing again, the sickening emotions following the blow and the return to consciousness in the hold of the trading brig bound for eleven degrees south of the equator.

‘Til break you yet, boy—I’ll grind you under my feet—”

That was Black Michael’s threat when he sought to resist the big-fisted, rum-loving skipper. Then followed the first flogging, stripped and lashed to the beam. …

The recollection of it was gall in his mouth.

After that life for him consisted chiefly of two things: the lash and rum —the whip to break his body, the liquor to break his brain. These were linked by labors so offensive, so repellent that he welcomed the hours of drunken sleep when for a brief while his senses were drowned in oblivion.

In all this darkness there were two candles: the friendly attitude of the first mate and the queer companionship of the brig’s mascot, Kerachi, a Rajputana parrakeet.

Before the vessel reached the white coral walls of Papeite, Black Michael demonstrated that he could keep a threat; The Boy was broken; the slender thread between strength and weakness snapped … like the string of a fine instrument struck by brutal hands; and when the Libertine cast moorings in the blue lagoon of the Tahitian capital he was still aboard, with a bruised body and a bruised mind, knowing in his tortured heart that some day, when the courage was given him, he would kill the master of the brig.

From Tahiti the ship passed through the coral traps of Les Isles Dangereux, sailed around the low archipelago into the phosphorescent waters of the Marquesas … to Havana; and there, in Atuona Valley, he received the gift of courage—from The White Lotus.

Three days ago—the one time he had gone ashore—he had seen her clinging to the doorframe of a thatched bamboo dwelling. “Old Babache’s kid … a leper,” he heard someone say.

And she had smiled at him.

An hour after that, when the longboat was putting away from the beach, and the tawny maidens of Hiva-oa ran out waist-deep in the green bay to wave farewell, she was there, her gold hair falling like glinting fire about her pale, spray-dashed face.

“Ia ora na i te Atiia. …”

With the Marquesan girls she sang that farewell—this White Lotus that he had found dying in the mulch of the South Seas. …

The sight of her was to him a light that pierced his poisoned, vapor-clung brain. And because he had seen her, this pallid leper-child, he knew that the hour had arrived when the master of the Libertine must pay the penalty for having murdered his soul.

Yet what would she think if she knew? But she would never know. Hiva-oa, dreaming its eternal dreams beneath the brooding thunders of Temetiu, had already slipped into the past—and in its dreams she lay, a part of them.

He shuddered again. Yes, he would kill Black Michael. He was below in his bunk now—drunk, as usual. With the skipper gone, the first mate, Cardigan, would come into command—and then …

~ End of Sample ~