Moran of the Lady Letty HTML version
X. A Battle
Wilbur had imagined that the fight would be hardly more than a wild rush down the
slope of the beach, a dash over the beach- combers' breastworks of sand, and a brief
hand-to-hand scrimmage around the old cabin. In all accounts he had ever read of such
affairs, and in all ideas he had entertained on the subject, this had always been the
case. The two bodies had shocked together like a college rush, there had been five
minutes' play of knife and club and gun, a confused whirl of dust and smoke, and all
was over before one had time either to think or be afraid. But nothing of the kind
happened that morning.
The "Bertha Millner's" crew, in a long line, Moran at one end, Wilbur at the other, and
Charlie in the centre, came on toward the beach-combers, step by step. There was little
outcry. Each contestant singled out his enemy, and made slowly for him with eyes fixed
and weapon ready, regardless of the movements of his mates.
"See any rifles among them, Charlie?" shouted Moran, suddenly breaking the silence.
"No, I tink no hab got," answered Charlie.
Wilbur took another step forward and cocked his revolver. One of the beach-combers
shouted out something in angry vernacular, and Charlie instantly responded. All this
time the line had been slowly advancing upon the enemy, and Wilbur began to wonder
how long that heartbreaking suspense was to continue. This was not at all what he had
imagined. Already he was within twenty feet of his man, could see the evil glint of his
slant, small eye, and the shine of his yellow body, naked to the belt. Still foot by foot the
forward movement continued. The Chinese on either side had begun exchanging
insults; the still, hot air of the tropic dawn was vibrant with the Cantonese monosyllables
tossed back and forth like tennis-balls over the low sand rampart. The thing was
degenerating into a farce--the "Bertha's" Chinamen would not fight.
Back there, under the shelter of the schooner, it was all very well to talk, and they had
been very brave when they had all flung themselves upon Hoang. Here, face to face
with the enemy, the sun striking off heliograph flashes from their knives and spades, it
was a vastly different matter. The thing, to Wilbur's mind, should have been done
suddenly if it was to be done at all. The best course now was to return to camp and try
some other plan. Charlie shouted a direction to him in pigeon English that he did not
understand, but he answered all right, and moved forward another step so as to be in
line with the coolie at his left.
The liquor that he had drunk before starting began suddenly to affect him, yet he knew
that his head was yet clear. He could not bring himself to run away before them all, but
he would have given much to have discovered a good reason for postponing the fight--if
fight there was to be.