« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
gruesome, unspeakable thing was taking place in a silence like the grave. On hands and knees he crept softly to the door; peered around the jamb, down the shaft of light, into the after cabin. Under the swinging lamp, M'Guire and the Portuguese stood locked in the struggle of death. Manuel's upraised right arm held a narrow, gleaming knife, and the skipper's left clenched the wrist, his right deep in the dark one's throat. No sound came from either mouth, but great blue veins stood out on the big man's temple, and the mate's black eyes were starting from their sockets. Something snapped in Rick's head. He
raised the revolver steadily, aiming slowly into the cabin—pulled the trigger! A blinding flash and a roar that seemed to tear the brain. After that, the fragile splintering of dropping bits of glass. It was absolutely dark. But Rick staggered to his feet, screaming with horror—up the companion stairs— tripping—out on deck. The wheel of the schooner was deserted. A choking, stinging premonition of the truth sent the boy, tottering, past it to the rail. Leaning over, he stared in livid terror at the black water below. The skiff was gone!.
By ROBERT FORREST WILSON
Foreword:—“Uncle Sam,” as we call our Government in Washington, sends his men to many strange and far-off corners of the earth. There is no tropical jungle so dense, no mountain fastness so inaccessible, no island of the sea so remote, that Uncle Sam, in one or another branch of his family, is not interested in them. And he sends his agents out everywhere, ceaselessly—consuls on secret missions, explorers ranging the globe for new plants for cultivation in America, surgeons to carry health and sanitation everywhere, from tropics to poles, coastal surveyors to search for and chart hidden rocks dangerous to ships, coast-guard cutters to discover and destroy derelicts on the oceans. You may be sure that the men on these errands of usefulness meet with soul-stirring adventures. A “Venture for Dates” in this number begins a short series of what may be called the classic stories of these official expeditions—those you would be most likely to hear if you could start the gray-haired bureau chiefs talking about the exploits of their men. Although
these experiences are as thrilling as fiction, they are all true.—R. F. W.
TWO YOUNG AMERICANS’ VENTURE FOR DATES
CALIFORNIA wanted dates.
with the oldest paradise of all—
The newest of the paradises on earth, the irrigated valleys of the Far Southwest, aspired to compete
When such an expedition has for its purpose to wrest from the Orient a lucrative monopoly which it has enjoyed for ages, the peril is increased. Finally, this benighted region, once the fair
A DATE-BUYER OF BAGDAD
est on earth, is now the constant source of some of the most fatal epidemics that sweep over the world—cholera and the plague, both
of them, as well as the fevers of
ment of Agriculture, which is searching the
had dates when Paul and Wilson Popenoe set out for the Orient. In fact, the first English settlers in the Far Southwest found ancient date-palms growing there in the vicinity of the Spanish missions. The early Spanish padres had planted date seeds there as far back as the eighteenth century. But, like any fruit that is grown from seed, the quality of these dates was not high.
A SCENE NEAR MUSCAT, ARABIA
They could not compete with the best products of Algeria and Arabia. Some few trees, perhaps, were excellent; but for the most part, they were fit only for local consumption. The California of Ramona's time made no effort to establish standard varieties of dates. Yet these mission trees did demonstrate the possibilities of a successful date-culture in California, a demonstration that was convincing to our Department of Agriculture, which in the year 1901 imported young date-palms from the Near East and set them out in California. A curious and interesting fact in horticulture explains why, with this start given to California, date-culture did not speedily result in a wide-spread industry. When a Luther Burbank produces by selection and breeding a new plum or a new apple, the tree that bears the discovery can quickly be multiplied thousands of times by means of
the horticultural practices of grafting and budding. But a date-palm can be neither grafted nor budded. It has no twigs and branches for the grafting process, but is all trunk and leaves. The palm, however, each year sends up from its base a few suckers, or offshoots, as they are called. If these are transplanted, they will eventually produce dates identical with those of the parent tree. But at most, a date-palm will send up only three offshoots in a single year. When these are transplanted there is a wait of years before they in turn put forth their offshoots, so that the spread of desirable date-trees is exceedingly slow. By the year 1912, California and Arizona had some ten thousand date-palms growing from transplanted offshoots. In full bearing, these would produce something like a million pounds of dates each year—a respectable showing, but still not enough to cut any great figure in the American date market. The industry was spreading too slowly to satisfy the southwestern owners. It was then that the father of the Popenoe brothers, himself a famous California nurseryman, decided to finance an expedition that would bring back from the Orient fifteen thousand new palms, or offshoots of palms, and more than double the size of the American date industry in a single effort. His two sons, Paul and Wilson Popenoe, volunteered to make the journey. The senior Popenoe had not contemplated sending his boys into such danger, yet they were both trained horticulturists and the father finally consented. Then Washington heard of the proposed expedition and engaged the young men to gather date-palms for the Department of Agriculture as well. In the autumn of 1912, Paul and Wilson Popenoe set forth on their mission, the spirit of adventure glowing in their breasts. Not the least delightful phase of the journey was that they were starting to circumnavigate the globe. Their first stop was in Japan; and after that they visited the Philippines and the Straits Settlement, and finally India, studying and admiring the strange fruits which they had until then only read about in books. In the Far East they saw the mangoes and lychee fruits, both of which the Department of Agriculture is trying to domesticate in the United States. For the delicious Chinese lychees a great future is predicted when the trees are brought under American culture. On one memorable day they took the steamer from Bombay for Muscat, Arabia, where the first date-palms were to be gathered. But at the very outset of this work the difficulties began presenting themselves. Wilson Popenoe left India infected with
malaria. He was taken down with the illness on board ship; and when the anchor went down in the harbor of Muscat, Wilson was carried ashore on a stretcher and taken to the British hospital. The attack, while severe, was not regarded as serious by the doctors at the hospital; so, leaving his brother in the care of the kind nurses, Paul Popenoe arranged for a journey to the Samail Valley, about eighty miles in the interior of the province of Oman, back of Muscat. In this valley some of the finest dates in the world are grown. It is the only home of the famous Fardh date. With his credentials from the American Government and with the assistance of the American consul at Muscat, Paul Popenoe was able to gain an audience with the Sultan of Oman, the potentate who ruled, or attempted to rule, that entire region. The Sultan was immediately interested in the plan of the Americans to import Arabian date-palms. With Oriental hospitality he not only promised to furnish an armed guard for the expedition to escort it through the dangerous country lying between Muscat and the Samail Valley, but he also insisted upon lending to young Popenoe and his men his own camels, which, he said, were the easiest-riding camels in all Arabia. With camels, however, easy riding is merely a relative
term, because no camels are easy riding to one who has ridden on a smooth-gaited horse.
The consul accompanied Popenoe to the valley. Twelve Arabian soldiers were furnished by the Sultan of Oman. When the caravan started out on the desert it presented a picturesque appearance, with the white men in their cork helmets and duck clothing and the soldiers in their flowing white burnooses and head-dresses. Moreover, the guards were armed with long silver-mounted muskets and with murderous-looking pistols thrust into their belts, while curved swords swung from their camel-saddles.
The journey to Samail was made without exceptional incident. The explorers spent two days in the Samail date-groves arranging for the shipments of offshoots when the palms should put them forth a little later in the season. The owners of the plantations were sharp bargainers; and Popenoe, unused to the dickering that accompanies the sale of anything in the Near East, was forced to pay some high prices for palm offshoots from Samail.
Yet in spite of these difficulties, Paul Popenoe felt that, for several reasons, the excursion to the Samail Valley was a highly successful venture. In the first place, while there, he was able to secure some Fardh palms, the first ever obtained for transplanting in American soil. But more important still, Paul exulted in the discovery of a few Khalasa date-palms in one of the Samail groves.
The Khalasa is the most famous date in the world, and one of the rarest. Until the Popenoe boys went to Arabia, the Khalasa was supposed by horticulturists to grow only at Hasa in Arabia on the Persian Gulf, somewhat north of Muscat. Few Europeans have ever seen Hasa, and those who have visited that wild region took their lives into their hands when they went. The resolute Popenoe brothers had petitioned the Turkish authorities for permission to visit Hasa in spite of its reputation, so eager were they to obtain Khalasa offshoots, but the Ottoman governor forbade such an expedition, on the ground that he was unable to furnish sufficient protection to a caravan that might attempt to take Christians into fanatical Hasa. But here in Samail, Paul Popenoe unexpectedly found Khalasas, palms that had been transplanted from Hasa by some enterprising Arab date-grower. At a high price he was able to obtain six offshoots. He arranged with the Samail growers to ship these and the rest of the offshoots to Busra, at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, where the brothers planned to make their headquarters during their sojourn in Arabia and where they would prepare for shipment all the palms collected. And having made such arrangements, Paul gave the command for his caravan to return to Muscat. Thus far, Popenoe had not observed any dangerous hostility on the part of the natives, although the latter had not concealed their dislike and contempt for the “infidels” who had invaded their region. But until the second day of the return journey from Samail to Muscat, it had not seemed to the young scientist that this hatred would interfere with his plans. Then, without any warning, when the caravan was passing through a grove of palms, the riders were fired upon from ambush, the hostile Arabs hiding behind the trees as they shot. All of the bullets, fortunately, went wild. The sultan's soldiers, instead of returning the fire, beat their camels and hurried out of range. They explained to the Americans that in this hostile region it was better to avoid a conflict if they could, because their party was too small to cut its way out to the sea-coast in case of a general uprising. A half-mile farther on, there was another grove with a collection of mud huts, and, as the riders passed this place, they were again attacked by Arabs. This time the bullets
whistled unpleasantly close around the ears of the travelers. Seeing that they were running a gauntlet, the sultan's soldiers commanded the camels to kneel, and the men crouched in temporary safety behind them. Then one of the soldiers advanced toward the village with a white flag of truce. The village leaders came forth from the grove to meet him. “Why did you shoot?” asked the soldier, in Arabic. “We shot because we heard the other shooting,” was the reply. “We are friends from Muscat,” said the soldier, “traveling under the protection of the Sultan of Oman.” There was a long colloquy, at the end of which the natives agreed to let the caravan pass without molestation. There was no further trouble on the journey, but when Paul Popenoe, speaking through an interpreter, told the Sultan of Oman about the affray, that monarch flew into a towering rage, vowing by Allah and the beard of the prophet that he would never rest until he had wiped out what was, in effect, an insult to his own sacred person. There may have been something of duplicity in the sultan's rage and something of policy in it, because it was known that his state revenues were not what he thought they ought to be. At any rate, instead of ordering the summary execution of the offending villagers, he laid fines upon both villages, sending in soldiers to collect the fines, with orders to take the local sheiks, or village headmen, as hostages if the people refused to pay the money. When these soldiers reached the places of the ambush, they found the Arabs in no way disposed to part with any of their possessions. Thereupon they attempted to seize the two sheiks. One of the sheiks agreed to accompany the soldiers back to Muscat; the other, however, flatly refused to go and promised a fight if they attempted to remove him by force. That night the stubborn sheik was found dead in his tent. He had been poisoned mysteriously. Upon this discovery, the dead chieftain's followers arose and massacred the sultan's soldiers almost to a man. One or two escaped and crept back to Muscat to tell the news. The Sultan of Oman immediately sent new troops into the interior; but now the country was aroused, and the wild tribesmen, who at best were only feebly held under the author