Here at least was the gage thrown down, and battle offered; he who should speak next would bring the matter to an issue there and then; all knew it to be so and hung back; and for many seconds by the cabin clock, the trio sat motionless and silent.
Then came an interruption, welcome as the flowers in May.
'Land ho!' sang out a voice on deck. 'Land a weatha bow!'
'Land!' cried Davis, springing to his feet. 'What's this? There ain't no land here.'
And as men may run from the chamber of a murdered corpse, the three ran forth out of the house and left their quarrel behind them, undecided.
The sky shaded down at the sea level to the white of opals; the sea itself, insolently, inkily blue, drew all about them the uncompromising wheel of the horizon. Search it as they pleased, not even the practisect eye of Captain Davis could descry the smallest interruption. A few filmy clouds were slowly melting overhead; and about the schooner, as around the only point of interest, a tropic bird, white as a snowflake, hung, and circled, and displayed, as it turned, the long vermilion feather of its tall. Save the sea and the heaven, that was all.
'Who sang out land?' asked Davis. 'If there's any boy playing funny dog with me, I'll teach him skylarking!'
But Uncle Ned contentedly pointed to a part of the horizon, where a greenish, filmy iridescence could be discerned floating like smoke on the pale heavens.
Davis applied his glass to it, and then looked at the Kanaka. 'Call that land?' said he. 'Well, it's more than I do.'
'One time long ago,' said Uncle Ned, 'I see Anaa all-e-same that, four five hours befo' we come up. Capena he say sun go down, sun go up again; he say lagoon all-e-same milla.'
'All-e-same WHAT?' asked Davis.
'Milla, sah,' said Uncle Ned.
'Oh, ah! mirror,' said Davis. 'I see; reflection from the lagoon. Well, you know, it is just possible, though it's strange I never heard of it. Here, let's look at the chart.'
They went back to the cabin, and found the position of the schooner well to windward of the archipelago in the midst of a white field of paper.
'There! you see for yourselves,' said Davis.
'And yet I don't know,' said Herrick, 'I somehow think there's something in it. I'll tell you one thing too, captain; that's all right about the reflection; I heard it in Papeete.'
'Fetch up that Findlay, then!' said Davis. 'I'll try it all ways. An island wouldn't come amiss, the way we're fixed.'
The bulky volume was handed up to him, broken-backed as is the way with Findlay; and he turned to the place and began to run over the text, muttering to himself and turning over the pages with a wetted finger.
'Hullo!' he exclaimed. 'How's this?' And he read aloud. 'New Island. According to M. Delille this island, which from private interests would remain unknown, lies, it is said, in lat. 12 degrees 49' 10" S. long. 113degrees 6' W. In addition to the position above given Commander Matthews, H.M.S. Scorpion, states that an island exists in lat. 12 degrees 0' S. long. 13 degrees 16' W. This must be the same, if such an island exists, which is very doubtful, and totally disbelieved in by South Sea traders.'
'Golly!' said Huish.
'It's rather in the conditional mood,' said Herrick.
'It's anything you please,' cried Davis, 'only there it is! That's our place, and don't you make any mistake.'
"'Which from private interests would remain unknown,"' read Herrick, over his shoulder. 'What may that mean?'
'It should mean pearls,' said Davis. 'A pearling island the government don't know about? That sounds like real estate. Or suppose it don't mean anything. Suppose it's just an island; I guess we could fill up with fish, and cocoanuts, and native stuff, and carry out the Samoa scheme hand over fist. How long did he say it was before they raised Anaa) Five hours, I think?'
'Four or five,' said Herrick.
Davis stepped to the door. 'What breeze had you that time you made Anaa, Uncle Ned?' said he.
'Six or seven knots,' was the reply.