Read CHAPTER NINE - SHOWS HOW THEY WERE TORMENTED BY AN OLD FAMILIAR FIEND of The Island Queen , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

HOW THEY KILLED HIM, AND WHAT BEFELL THE QUEEN AND OTTO WHILE IN THE PURSUIT OF LEGITIMATE PLEASURE.

When the widow Lynch told Pauline that “onaisy is the hid as wears a crown,” she stated a great truth which was borne in upon the poor queen at the very commencement of her reign.

Up to that time Malines had quietly kept possession of the key of the ship’s liquor-room, knowing full well what extreme danger lay in letting men have unrestrained command of strong drink.  But when the royal feast referred to in the last chapter was pending, he could not well refuse to issue an allowance of grog.  He did so, however, on the understanding that only a small quantity was to be taken for the occasion, and that he should himself open and lock the door for them.  He made this stipulation because he knew well enough the men who wanted to drink would break the door open if he refused to give up the key; and his fears were justified, for some of the more mutinous among the men, under the leadership of Jabez Jenkins and Morris, seized the key from the mate when he produced it, carried all the spirit and wine casks to the shore, ferried them over the lagoon to Big Island, and set them up ostentatiously and conspicuously in a row not far from the palace.  As this was understood by the people to be in connection with the coronation festivities, no particular notice was taken of it.

But the result soon began to be felt, for after the festivities were over, and most of the settlers had retired to rest, a group of kindred souls gathered round the spirit casks, and went in for what one of them termed a “regular spree.”  At first they drank and chatted with moderate noise, but as the fumes of the terrible fire-water mounted to their brains they began to shout and sing, then to quarrel and fight, and, finally, the wonted silence of the night was wildly disturbed by the oaths and fiendish yells and idiotic laughter of maniacs.

“This won’t do,” said Dominick, issuing from his room in the palace, and meeting the doctor.

“I had just come to the same conclusion,” said the latter, “and was about to consult you as to what we should do.”

“Collect some of our best men and put a stop to it,” returned Dominick; “but here comes the prime minister-roused, no doubt, as we have been.  What say you, Joe; shall we attempt to quell them?”

“Well, master, that depends.  There’s a braw lot on ’em, an’ if they beant far gone, d’ee see, they might gie us a deal o’ trouble.  If they be far gone I’d advise ye to let ’em alone; the drink’ll quell ’em soon enough.  Arter that we’ll know what to do.”

Just as he spoke a woman was seen rushing frantically towards them.  It was little Mrs Nobbs.  Poor thing!  All her wonted merriment had fled from her comely face, and been supplanted by a look of horror.

“O sirs!” she cried, clasping her hands, and gasping as she spoke, “come, come quick, my John has falled an’ broke his pledge, an’ he’s goin’ to murder some of ’em.  I know he’ll do it; he’s got hold o’ the fore-hammer.  Oh! come quick!”

They required no urging.  Running down to the scene of the orgies, they found that the blacksmith, who had hitherto been considered-and really was-one of the quietest men of the party, was now among the drunkards.  He stood in the midst of the rioters, his large frame swaying to and fro, while he held the ponderous fore-hammer threateningly in his hands, and insanity gleamed in his eyes as he glared fiercely at Jabez Jenkins.

On Jabez the liquor had a different effect, his temperament being totally different.  He was a rather phlegmatic man, and, having drunk enough to have driven two men like the blacksmith raving mad, he only stood before him with a dull heavy look of stupidity, mingled with an idiotic sneer of defiance.

“Fiend!” shouted Nobbs, gnashing his teeth, “you have got me to do it, and now I’ll smash in your thick skull-I’ll-”

He stopped abruptly for a moment.  Joe Binney came up behind and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Come, John, you ain’t agoin’ to do it.  You knows you’re not.”

The quiet tone, the gentle yet fearless look, and, above all, the sensible, kindly expression on his friend’s countenance, effectually subdued the blacksmith for a few seconds, but the fury soon returned, though the channel in which it flowed was changed, for Jabez was forgotten, having slunk away.

“Ha!” he shouted, grasping Joe by the hand and arm, “I’ve had it again!  You don’t know how it shoots through my veins.  I-I’ve tried to break with it, too-tried-tried!  D’ee know what it is to try, Joe, to try- try-try till your blood curdles, an’ your marrow boils, and your nerves tingle-but I gained the victory once-I-ha! ha! yes, I took the pledge an’ kep’ it, an’ I’ve bin all right-till to-night.  My Mary knows that.  She’ll tell you it’s true-for months, and months, and months, and-but I’ll keep it yet!”

He shouted his last words in a tone of fierce defiance, let go his friend, caught up the sledge-hammer, and, whirling it round his head as if it had been a mere toy, turned to rush towards the sea.

But Joe’s strong arm arrested him.  Well did he understand the nature of the awful fiend, with which the blacksmith was fighting.  The scene enacting was, with modifications, somewhat familiar to him, for he had dwelt near a great city where many a comrade had fallen in the same fight, never more to rise in this life.

Joe’s superior strength told for a moment, and he held the struggling madman fast, but before Dominick and the doctor could spring to his aid, Nobbs had burst from him.  The brief check, however, seemed to have changed his intentions.  Possibly he was affected by some hazy notion that it would be a quicker end to leap headlong from the neighbouring cliffs than to plunge into the sea.  At all events, he ran like a deer up towards the woods.  A bonfire, round which the revellers had made merry, lay in his path.  He went straight through it, scattering the firebrands right and left.  No one attempted, no one dared, to stop him, but God put a check in his way.  The course he had taken brought him straight up to the row of casks which stood on the other side of the fire, and again his wild mood was changed.  With a yell of triumph he brought the sledge-hammer down on one of the casks, drove in the head, and overturned it with the same blow, and the liquor gushing out flowed into the fire, where it went up in a magnificent roar of flame.

The effect on those of the rioters who were not too drunk to understand anything, was to draw forth a series of wild cheers, but high above these rang the triumphant shout of the blacksmith as he gazed at the destruction of his enemy.

By this time all the people in the settlement had turned out, and were looking on in excitement, alarm, or horror, according to temperament.  Among them, of course, was the widow Lynch, who was quick to note that events were taking a favourable turn.  Springing boldly to the side of the smith, and, in her wild dishevelment of hair and attire, seeming a not unfit companion, she cried-

“Don’t spare them, John! sure there’s another inimy close at yer back.”

Nobbs had sense enough left to observe something of the ludicrous in the woman and her advice.  He turned at once, uttered a wildly jovial laugh, and driving in the head of another cask, overturned it.  As before, the spirit rushed down the hill and was set ablaze, but the poor madman did not pause now to look at the result.  His great enemy was in his power; his spirit was roused.  Like one of the fabled heroes of old, he laid about him with his ponderous weapon right and left until every cask was smashed, and every drop of the accursed liquid was rushing down the hillside to the sea, or flaming out its fierce existence in the air.

The people looked on awe-stricken, and in silence, while the madman fought.  It was not with the senseless casks or the inanimate liquor that poor John Nobbs waged war that night; it was with a real fiend who, in days gone by, had many a time tripped him up and laid him low, who had nearly crushed the heart of his naturally cheerful little wife, who had ruined his business, broken up his home, alienated his friends, and, finally, driven him into exile-a fiend from whom, for many months, under the influence of “the pledge,” he had been free, and who, he had fondly hoped, was quite dead.

This sudden revival of the old foe, and this unexpected surprise and fall, had roused this strong man’s spirit to its utmost ferocity, and in mighty wrath he plied his hammer like a second Thor.  But the very strength and nervous power of the man constituted his weakness, when brought under the subtle influence of the old tempter, and it is probable that on his recovery, with nerves shaken, old cravings awakened, and self-respect gone, he would have fallen again and again if God had not made use of the paroxysm of rage to destroy the opportunity and the cause of evil.  Nobbs did not know at that time, though he learned it afterwards, that safety from the drink-sin-as from all other sin-lies not in strong-man resolutions, or Temperance pledges, though both are useful aids, but in Jesus, the Saviour from sin.

Some of those who witnessed the wholesale destruction of the liquor would fain have made an effort to prevent it; but, fortunately for the community, most of them were too drunk to care, and the others to interfere; while all were so taken by surprise that the deed was done and the grand conflagration ended before they had realised the full significance of the blacksmith’s act.

When the last head had been driven in, and the last gallon of spirit summarily dismissed by the fire, Nobbs threw up his arms, and, looking upward, gave vent to a cheer which ended in a prolonged cry.  For a moment he stood thus, then the hammer dropt from his grasp, and he fell back insensible.

Poor little Mrs Nobbs was by his side on her knees in a moment, parting the dark hair from his broad brow, kissing his swart cheeks, and chafing his strong hands.

“O John! darling John!” she cried, “come back-come back-don’t die.  You never was hard or cruel to me!  Even the drink could not do that.  Come back, John!”

Dr Marsh here gently restrained her.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said, as he undid the smith’s necktie; “he’ll be all right presently.  Stand back, don’t crowd round him; and you go fetch a cup of water, Mrs Nobbs.”

The reassuring tones and the necessity for action did much to calm the excited woman.  Before she had returned with the water her husband had partially recovered.  They carried him to his hut, and left him to sleep off the effects, while his poor little wife watched by his side.  When left quite alone, she went down on her knees beside him, and prayed for his deliverance with all her heart.  Then she rose and sat down with a calm, contented look, muttering, “Yes; He is the hearer and answerer of prayer.  He will answer me.”

She might have gone further and said, “He has answered me,” for was not the destruction of the liquor an answer to the petition before it was put up?  “Before they call I will answer.”

“Pina,” said Otto the following day, in a tone almost of reproach, during a private audience with the queen, “Pina, how came you to do such an insane thing as choose Joe Binney for your premier?  Why didn’t you choose Dom?  You know well enough that he’s fifty times cleverer than Joe, and even in the matter of strength, though he’s not so strong, I’m very sure that with his pugilistic powers he could keep order quite as well.  Besides, all the people had made up their minds, as a matter of course, that Dom was to be premier, and then-he’s a gentleman.”

“I’m thankful that you are not one of the Privy Council, Otto,” returned Pauline, with a laugh.  “You put several questions, and a string of commentary and suggestion in the same breath!  Let me answer you in detail, beginning with your last remark.  Joe is a gentleman in the highest sense of that word.  He is gentle as a lamb by nature, and a man every inch of him.  But, more than this, I have noticed that he is a peculiarly wise man, with a calm, pool head on all occasions, and not too ready to use his great physical power in the settlement of disputes.  I have observed, too, that when asked for his advice, he usually thinks well before he gives it, and when his advice is followed things almost always go well.  Still further, Joe has the thorough confidence of the people, and I am not so sure that Dom has.  Besides, if I had appointed Dom, some of the ungenerous among them might have said it was done from mere favouritism.  Then as to the people making up their minds that I would appoint Dom,” continued Pauline, “what have I to do with that?”

“Why, everything to do with it,” returned Otto, with a surprised look.  “Were you not made queen for the purpose of carrying out their wishes?”

“Certainly not,” answered Pauline; “I was made queen for the purpose of ruling.  They told me they had confidence in my judgment, not in my readiness to carry out their wishes.  If my judgment, coupled with that of my advisers, does not suit them, it is open to them to unmake me as they made me, and appoint a king or a president, but my judgment I cannot alter.”

Otto listened to these gravely stated opinions of the new queen with increasing astonishment.

“Then, you awful despot,” he said, “do you mean to tell me that you are going to have no regard for the will of the people?”

“No, I don’t mean to tell you that, you presumptuous little subject.  I intend always to have the utmost regard for the will of my people, and to weigh it well, and consult with my advisers about it; and when our united judgment says that their will is good, I will act in accordance with it; when we think it bad, I will reject it.  I have been made queen to rule, and I mean to rule!  That’s fair, isn’t it?  If they don’t like my ruling they can dethrone me.  That’s also fair, isn’t it?  You wouldn’t have me become a mere puppet-a jumping Jack or Jinnie-would you, for the people to pull the string of?”

“Well, I never!” exclaimed Otto, gazing with distended eyes at the soft fair face and at the pretty little innocent mouth that gave vent to these vigorous sentiments.  “And what may it be your majesty’s pleasure to do next?”

“It is my pleasure that you, sir, shall go down to the beach and prepare the dinghy for immediate service.  I have already directed the prime minister, in conjunction with Dom and our Court physician, to draw up a constitution and code of laws; while they are thus employed you and I will go a-fishing.”

“Very good; I suppose I’m bound to obey, but I thought your majesty preferred to go a-sketching.”

“We will do both.  Be off, sirrah!”

Otto was not long in launching and getting ready the little punt, or dinghy, belonging to the wreck, which, being too small for carrying goods to the island, had been made over to Pauline as a royal barge for her special amusement, and already had she and her little brother enjoyed several charming expeditions among the sheltered islets of the lagoon, when Otto devoted himself chiefly to rowing and fishing, while his sister sketched with pencil and water-colours.  Being expert with both, she took great pleasure therein.

“It is so pleasant and so very engrossing,” she murmured, busying herself with a sketch of Otto as he rowed gently towards one of the smaller islets.  “I can’t tell you how much I delight-turn your head a little more to the left-so-and do keep your nose quiet if you can.”

“Impossible,” said Otto.  “There’s a little fly that has made up its mind to go into my nose.  I can neither drive it away nor catch it while both hands are engaged with the oars, so there’s no resource left but to screw my nose about.  But what were you going to say you delighted in?”

“In-in drawing,” replied the queen very slowly, while her pretty little head went up and down as she glanced alternately at her sitter and the sketch-book on her knee; “it-it takes one’s mind-so-off-”

“The cares of state?” said Otto.  “Yes, I can easily understand what a-re-re-ha! hk-sh!” he gave way to a convulsive sneeze; “there, it went up at last, and that little fly’s doom is sealed!”

“I should think it was,” said Pauline laughingly.  “To be blown from a cannon’s mouth must be nothing to that.  Now, do keep still, just for one minute.”

For considerably more than a minute she went on sketching busily, while her brother pulled along very gently, as if unwilling to break the pleasant silence.  Everything around was calculated to foster a dreamy, languid, peaceful state of mind.  The weather was pleasantly cool-just cool enough to render the brilliant sunshine most enjoyable.  Not a zephyr disturbed the glassy surface of the sea outside or the lagoon within, or broke the perfect reflections of the islets among which they moved.  The silence would have been even oppressive had it not been for the soft, plaintive cries of wildfowl and the occasional whistling of wings as they hurried to and fro, and the solemn boom of the great breakers as they fell at slow regular intervals on the reef.  “Doesn’t it sound,” said Pauline, looking up from her sketch with a flush of delight, “like the deep soft voice of the ocean speaking peace to all mankind?”

“What, the breakers?” asked Otto.

“Yes, dropping with a soft deep roar as they do in the midst of the universal silence.”

“Well, it doesn’t quite strike me in that light, Pina.  My imagination isn’t so lively as yours.  Seems to me more like the snoring of a sleeping giant, whom it is best to let lie still like a sleeping dog, for he’s apt to do considerable damage when roused.”

The soft influences around soon reduced the pair to silence again.  After a time it was broken by Pauline.

“What are you thinking of, Otto?”

“I was thinking, your majesty, that it seems unfair, after making Joe prime minister, Dom a privy councillor, the doctor Court physician and general humbug, that you should give me no definite position in the royal household.”

“What would you say to being commander of the forces?” asked Pauline dreamily, as she put in a few finishing touches, “for then, you see, you might adopt the title which you have unfairly bestowed on the doctor- General Humbug.”

Otto shook his head.  “Wouldn’t do, my dear queen.  Not being a correct description, your bestowing it would compromise your majesty’s well-known character for truthfulness.  What d’you say to make me a page-page in waiting?”

“You’ll have to turn over a new leaf if I do, for a page is supposed to be quiet, respectful, polite, obedient, ready-”

“No use to go further, Pina.  I’m not cut out for a page.  Will you land on this islet?”

They were gliding softly past one of the most picturesque and verdant gems of the lagoon at the time.

“No, I’ve taken a fancy to make a sketch from that one nearer to the shore of Big Island.  You see, there is not only a very picturesque group of trees on it just at that place, but the background happens to be filled up by a distant view of the prettiest part of our settlement, where Joe Binney’s garden lies, close to Mrs Lynch’s garden, with its wonderfully shaped and curious hut, (no wonder, built by herself!) and a corner of the palace rising just behind the new schoolhouse.”

“Mind your eye, queen, else you go souse overboard when we strike,” said Otto, not without reason, for next moment the dinghy’s keel grated on the sand of the islet, and Pauline, having risen in her eagerness to go to work, almost fulfilled the boy’s prediction.

“But tell me, Pina, what do you mean to do with that schoolhouse when it is built?” asked Otto, as he walked beside his sister to the picturesque spot above referred to.

“To teach in it, of course.”

“What-yourself?”

“Well, yes, to some extent.  Of course I cannot do much in that way-”

“I understand-the affairs of state!” said Otto, “will not permit, etcetera.”

“Put it so if you please,” returned Pauline, laughing.  “Here, sit down; help me to arrange my things, and I’ll explain.  You cannot fail to have been impressed with the fact that the children of the settlers are dreadfully ignorant.”

“H’m!  I suppose you are right; but I have been more deeply impressed with the fact that they are dreadfully dirty, and desperately quarrelsome, and deplorably mischievous.”

“Just so,” resumed Pauline.  “Now, I intend to get your friend Redding, who was once a schoolmaster, to take these children in hand when the schoolroom is finished, and teach them what he can, superintended by Dr Marsh, who volunteered his services the moment I mentioned the school.  In the evenings I will take the mothers in hand, and teach them their duties to their children and the community-”

“Being yourself such an old and experienced mother,” said Otto.

“Silence, sir! you ought to remember that we have a dear, darling mother at home, whose character is engraven on my memory, and whom I can hold up as a model.”

“True, Pina!  The dear old mother!” returned Otto, a burst of home-feeling interfering for a moment with his levity.  “Just you paint her portrait fair and true, and if they come anything within a hundred miles o’ the mark yours will be a kingd –­queendom, I mean-of amazin’ mothers.  I sometimes fear,” continued the boy, becoming grave, “it may be a long time before we set eyes on mother again.”

“I used to fear the same,” said Pauline, “but I have become more hopeful on that point since Dr Marsh said he was determined to have a small schooner built out of the wreck, and attempt with a few sailors to reach England in her, and report our condition here.”

“Why, that would do you out of your kingdom, Pina!”

“It does not follow.  And what if it did?”

“It would be a pity.  Not pleasant you know, to be dethroned.  But to return to mother.  D’you think the old cat will have learned to speak by this time?”

To this Pauline replied that she feared not; that, although the cat might have mastered the consonants, it could never have managed the vowels.  “Dear mother,” she added, in a more earnest tone, “I am quite sure that though the cat may not speak to her, she will not have ceased to speak to the cat.  Now, go away, Otto, you’re beginning to make me talk nonsense.”

“But what about the schoolhouse?” persisted the boy, while the girl began to sketch the view.  “You have not finished that subject.”

“True-well, besides teaching the mothers I have great hopes of inducing Dom to set up a Sunday-school, in which those who feel inclined might be taught out of the Bible, and that might in time lead to our making a church of it on Sundays, and having regular services, for there are some earnest Christians among the men, who I feel quite sure would be ready to help in the work.  Then as to an army-”

“An army!” echoed Otto, “what do we want with an army? who have we to fight against?”

Little did Otto or Pauline think that at the very time they were conversing thus pleasantly on that beautiful islet, the presence of a friendly army was urgently required, for there in the bushes close behind them listening to every sentence, but understanding never a word, lay a group of tattooed and armed savages!

In the prosecution of evil designs, the nature of which was best known to themselves, these savages had arrived at Refuge Islands the night before.  Instantly they became aware of the presence of the white men, and took measures to observe them closely without being themselves observed.  Carrying their war-canoe over the reef in the dark, and launching it on the lagoon, they advanced as near to the settlement as possible, landed a small party on an islet, and then retired with the canoe.  It was this party which lay in ambush so near to our little hero and heroine.  They had been watching the settlers since daybreak, and were not a little surprised, as well as gratified, by the unexpected arrival of the little boat.

The savage who lay there grinning like a Cheshire cat, and peeping through the long grass not ten feet from where the brother and sister sat, was a huge man, tattooed all over, so that his face resembled carved mahogany, his most prominent feature being a great flat nose, with a blue spot on the point of it.

Suddenly Otto caught sight of the glitter of this man’s eyes and teeth.

Now, the power of self-restraint was a prominent feature in Otto’s character, at least in circumstances of danger, though in the matter of fun and mischief he was rather weak.  No sign did Otto give of his discovery, although his heart seemed to jump into his mouth.  He did not even check or alter the tone of his conversation, but he changed the subject with surprising abruptness.  He had brought up one of the dinghy’s oars on his shoulder as a sort of plaything or vaulting-pole.  Suddenly, asking Pauline if she had ever seen him balance an oar on his chin, he proceeded to perform the feat, much to her amusement.  In doing so he turned his back completely on the savage in ambush, whose cattish grin increased as the boy staggered about.

But there was purpose in Otto’s staggering.  He gradually lessened the distance between himself and the savage.  When near enough for his purpose, he grasped the oar with both hands, wheeled sharply round, and brought the heavy handle of it down with such a whack on the bridge of the savage’s blue-spotted nose that he suddenly ceased to grin, and dropped his proboscis in the dust!

At the same instant, to the horror and surprise of the brother and sister, up sprang half a dozen hideous natives, who seized them, placed their black hands on their mouths, and bore them swiftly away.  The war-canoe, putting off from its concealment, received the party along with the fallen leader, and made for the reef.

High on the cliffs of Big Island Dr John Marsh had been smilingly watching the proceedings of the queen and her brother in the dinghy.  When he witnessed the last act of the play, however, the smile vanished.  With a bound that would have done credit to a kangaroo, and a roar that would have shamed a lion, he sprang over the cliffs, ran towards the beach, and was followed-yelling-by all the men at hand-some armed, and some not.  They leaped into the largest boat on the shore, put out the ten oars, bent to them with a will, and skimmed over the lagoon in fierce pursuit.

Soon the savages gained the reef, carried their canoe swiftly over, and launched on the open sea, cutting through the great rollers like a rocket or a fish-torpedo.

Heavy timbers and stout planks could not be treated thus; nevertheless, the white men were so wild and strong, that when the boat finally gained the open sea it was not very far behind the canoe.