Moran of the Lady Letty HTML version

VII. Beach-Combers
Wilbur returned aft and joined Moran on the quarterdeck. She was already studying the
stranger through the glass.
"That's a new build of boat to me," she muttered, giving Wilbur the glass. Wilbur looked
long and carefully. The newcomer was of the size and much the same shape as a
caravel of the fifteenth century--high as to bow and stern, and to all appearances as
seaworthy as a soup-tureen. Never but in the old prints had Wilbur seen such an
extraordinary boat. She carried a single mast, which listed forward; her lugsail was
stretched upon dozens of bamboo yards; she drew hardly any water. Two enormous red
eyes were painted upon either side of her high, blunt bow, while just abaft the waist
projected an enormous oar, or sweep, full forty feet in length--longer, in fact, than the
vessel herself. It acted partly as a propeller, partly as a rudder.
"They're heading for us," commented Wilbur as Moran took the glass again.
"Right," she answered; adding upon the moment: "Huh! more Chinamen; the thing is
alive with coolies; she's a junk."
"Oh!" exclaimed Wilbur, recollecting some talk of Charlie's he had overheard. "I know."
"You know?"
"Yes; these are real beach-combers. I've heard of them along this coast--heard our
Chinamen speak of them. They beach that junk every night and camp on shore. They're
scavengers, as you might say--pick up what they can find or plunder along shore--
abalones, shark-fins, pickings of wrecks, old brass and copper, seals perhaps, turtle
and shell. Between whiles they fish for shrimp, and I've heard Kitchell tell how they
make pearls by dropping bird-shot into oysters. They are Kai-gingh to a man, and,
according to Kitchell, the wickedest breed of cats that ever cut teeth."
The junk bore slowly down upon the schooner. In a few moments she had hove to
alongside. But for the enormous red eyes upon her bow she was innocent of paint. She
was grimed and shellacked with dirt and grease, and smelled abominably. Her crew
were Chinamen; but such Chinamen! The coolies of the "Bertha Millner" were
pampered and effete in comparison. The beach-combers, thirteen in number, were a
smaller class of men, their faces almost black with tan and dirt. Though they still wore
the queue, their heads were not shaven, and mats and mops of stiff black hair fell over
their eyes from under their broad, basket-shaped hats.
They were barefoot. None of them wore more than two garments--the jeans and the
blouse. They were the lowest type of men Wilbur had ever seen. The faces were those
of a higher order of anthropoid apes: the lower portion--jaws, lips, and teeth--salient; the