Trouble at Tuaviti
|"The Soviet officer looked annoyed for a minute, then put on an unconvincing smile. 'We come to ask for hospitality,' he said abruptly." Art from Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 45|
A number of other notable figures contributed fictional reports about the war and its history, including Edward R. Murrow, Hal Boyle, Walter Reuther, Marguerite Higgins, Walter Winchell, Kathryn Morgan-Ryan, Allan Nevins, Hanson W. Baldwin, Oksana Kasenkina, Lowell Thomas, Harry Schwartz, Margaret Chase Smith, Erwin Canham, and Arthur Koestler.
In this short story by John Savage, a Soviet submarine crew attempts a covert takeover of the fictional, British-controlled island of Tuaviti in the South Pacific.
From Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, pp. 44, 124-129:
TROUBLE at TUAVITIFar out in the South Pacific, one private islander, who knew how to distinguish strength from bluster, robbed the enemy of a base that might have been used in the destruction of the United StatesBy JOHN SAVAGE
A million men in swivel chairs have dreamed of Tuaviti, without even knowing its name. They've seen the white lace of foam that lies on the water over the reef. They've seen the pale-green lagoon, the lavender sand, the beautiful people, the coconut fronds stirring in the Trades. And they've said it was too good to be true. "Those South Sea Island paradises used to exist, sure, but then came Captain Cook, and then came the whalers, then civilized diseases, and then the second and third World Wars. It's all ruined now."
As a matter of fact, it's not. Not ruined—but not quite the fulfillment of the escapists' dream, either; not quite the perfect hiding place.
During the second World War, the atoll of Tuaviti was lucky. Its strategic importance was zero. Its harbor was worthless. It didn't have half enough level land for an airstrip.
But, in a sense, the third World War began at Tuaviti. In a sense, the Soviets lost the war at that pinpoint on the Pacific map, three days before the attempted assassination of Tito—the Soviets' greatest miscalculation, which touched off the terrible global conflict.
After the second World War, except for the attentions of a certain young American missionary, Tuaviti and its forty-odd people lived on undisturbed until the spring of 1952. Then something happened. It happened because strategic importance changes with changing weapons. It happened because good luck can't last forever.
The day of the Soviet intrusion began as peacefully as any other day. At six thirty, the Reverend Matthew Lincoln woke up, dressed himself in sneakers, shorts and a T-shirt, and—noting that his wife was still asleep—stepped quietly out onto the veranda. He squatted there in the cool sunshine and yawned contentedly. Being a sensible young man and a great believer in never racing his motor, he made no further move for several minutes.
Matthew Lincoln was a bronzed and bony American of thirty-one. His reddish-blond hair was cut very short (although he had never succeeded in getting his wife to cut it short enough to suit him), and his eyebrows were tufts of coppery red. The eyebrows made his face look craggy and faintly boyish at the same time. Usually he was smiling, but this morning he was not wide enough awake to look anything but amiably blank. He allowed five minutes for his blood to start moving. Then he stepped down from the veranda and started walking briskly along the curving beach.
A hundred yards from home he met the Kanaka whose name was John-Enoch. The tall brown man had already finished his morning's fishing and was draping his palm-fiber net over sticks thrust into the sand.
"Good morning, John-Enoch," Matthew said.
John-Enoch smiled and stood up. "Good morning. Shepherd," he said. Matthew was used to this title. He had thought it best to teach the islanders the English word "shepherd" instead of the Latin word "pastor."
The reef fish John-Enoch had caught were lying on a taro leaf on the sand. Matthew looked down at them and made the mistake of saying, "Nice fish."
The fish were beautiful, all right. They made a glistening bouquet of red, black, silver and blue. But Matthew realized he should have known better than to admire them aloud.
John-Enoch slipped both hands under the leaf, raised it, and offered it to him. "You take. I give," he said.
The silent explosion in Matthew's head was his version of what would have been profanity in a less godly young man. He had to accept the confounded fish now, and John-Enoch's family would have none. Unless he could pull a fast one . . .
Suddenly Matthew smiled. He accepted the fish, bowed slightly, took three steps away, and then came back. "Now you take, my brother. I give."
It wasn't exactly fair, and it was too much for John-Enoch. With a confused look, he took the fish and put them back on the sand. Then he nodded slowly, grinned, and seemed to dismiss the matter. "I wish you a happy walking, Shepherd," he said, and Matthew left him.
The pastor walked another two hundred yards along the beach and then took the trail that led up to the top of Tuaviti's only mountain. He reached the summit twenty minutes later and sat down on the worn stone that was his place of morning prayer. Beside him, in a wild orange tree, two myna birds were lazily scolding each other. It was a restful sound.
Matthew prayed aloud, in a low voice, asking for continued blessings on the forty-three inhabitants of the island. He asked also, as he often did, for perfect humility in himself. "After all, Heavenly Father, when a man walks around with people calling him 'Shepherd' all day, he runs a certain risk. Please help me keep it clear in their minds and my own that the only Shepherd who really counts is You. Amen."
He got up off the rock and looked around him. The little mountaintop afforded a perfect view of the rest of the island. Matthew was standing on one end of a green crescent half a mile long and three hundred yards wide at its widest point. The crescent was really part of a complete circle, but the rest of the circle was under water, even at low tide. Among the coconut trees below him, he could see the palm-thatched beehive roofs of the houses, each with a square of white canvas beside it to catch the rain water. He looked out along the reef and saw that there were three or four natives in their outrigger boats, still casting their nets.
Then he let his eyes move off idly toward the horizon. In all directions the sea was glassy smooth, deep blue, and friendly. The trade wind from southeast to northwest was only a delicate breeze at this hour of the morning, and nothing ruffled the indigo serenity of the water. His gaze moved carelessly back to the natives who were fishing.
And then he saw something.
At first he thought it was a white sea bird, skimming low over the water. A second later he realized that the thing itself was black; what had caught his eye was the white triangle of wake that followed it. He guessed he must be looking at the protruding fin of some very large fish. It was at least a mile away, and he couldn't see it clearly, but it seemed to be tall and slender—almost too tall for a fin. Could hardly be anything else, though.
He watched it as it moved silently along and began, in a slow curve, to circle the island. He could ask the fishermen about it when they came in, but probably they wouldn't have seen it, being so low in their boats and so busy with fishing.
Matthew shrugged, turned, and went down the path again. On the beach at the foot of the mountain, he stripped off all his clothes except sneakers and shorts and walked out into the water. Sneakers were unhandy for swimming, but if you didn't wear them the coral would cut your feet to pieces, unless you had superior feet, like the natives.
Matthew thought of the islanders as he swam, and particularly of John-Enoch. He chuckled, remembering his own victory in the matter of the fish.
After his swim, he trotted up and down the beach for a minute or two, to dry off, and then got dressed again and walked back to the house.
On the floor of the veranda, beside the front door, lay a fresh taro leaf with John-Enoch's fish on it. All of them.
Matthew sighed, picked up the leaf with both hands, and walked into the house. Janet was awake now, sitting on the edge of the bed, looking tousled and beautiful.
She smiled when she saw what he was carrying. "Hooked you again, I see,'' she said.
"You should have been a high-steeple preacher." She yawned. "In Seattle you wouldn't have had such problems."
Matthew grinned and kissed her good morning. "You know how I feel about this island." He stepped into the kitchen and put his fish in the screened cooler, with the three that were left from last time. No, sir, Tuaviti was where he belonged. Back home, Janet had had war jitters; she liked it here, in their own private, inviolable world. His whole duty lay here. If he had disturbing little doubts about that, once in a while, he'd better just forget them, in the interests of everybody.
"We have eggs for breakfast again?" he called.
"No. Hot cakes."
"Good." Matthew paused, listening. Somebody was playing the little pump organ in the chapel beside the house. Must be Tia. But the music was something he'd never heard before.
"Tia's getting good," Janet said. "I've taught her more music in three years than I could have taught anyone else in ten."
"What's that piece she's playing?" Matthew asked. The music had a sweet peacefulness to it that seemed exactly to fit Tuaviti.
"Schafe Können Sicher Weiden. It's from a Bach cantata. In English it's called Sheep May Safely Graze."
"Oh," Matthew said. "Well, I like it." He strolled over to his desk and glanced absently at his notes for tomorrow's sermon, but he was still listening to Sheep May Safely Graze. It seemed just about the most serene and noble melody he'd ever heard—even mixed up as it was with the wheeze of the organ's bellows. He was surprised that anybody could have composed such a piece of music without ever having seen Tuaviti and its gentle people. "I'll ask her to play it in church," he said, as he sat down to his hot cakes.
• • •
After breakfast, he and Janet strolled outside, past the row of plantains and croton bushes, to the beach. They could still hear Tia's music. She was repeating the Bach thing. Matthew noticed now that there was a little phrase in the treble that sounded like part of Yankee Doodle, of all things. For Matthew, as he gazed out over the lagoon and the sea, the whole piece had a most touching poignancy, even the Yankee Doodle part. Perhaps especially the Yankee Doodle part. Matthew was a long way from his own country.
Suddenly he gasped and shouted, "Look!"
The moving fin he had seen earlier in the morning had appeared again, just beyond the reef, but it was rising now. A gleaming cylinder pushed up under it out of the sea, and an immense knife of steel broke water thirty yards beyond. Swiftly the submarine brought her whole length to the surface, streaming water from her sides, and then lay silent and motionless in the deep blue water beyond the reef.
Janet grasped Matthew's arm. Somewhere down the beach a native shouted. Soon the islanders were running toward Matthew from all directions, pressing close to him, staring at the magical craft.
For a moment the submarine lay dead. Then Matthew saw a hatch open on the deck, and three men stepped out. They threw something shapeless and gray into the sea. It inflated and became a rubber boat. They stepped into the boat, and one of them began rowing it toward shore. Behind them, other men issued from the hatch and walked out along the wet deck of the submarine, stretching their legs, waving their arms, and punching one another playfully. Their voices carried clearly enough over the water, but Matthew couldn't understand the words. They seemed to be in a foreign language.
"I think you'd all better go inside your houses," he said to the islanders. "Take children. Go home. I'll talk to them."
The rubber boat was making directly for where he stood, and he could see now that one of the uniformed men in it held a pistol in his hand. By the time the boat hit the beach, Matthew and Janet stood alone to meet it. A large man stepped out and saluted them, then gave Janet a brief glance and removed his naval officer's cap. "Est-ce que vous parlez français, Monsieur?" His French was fast but guttural.
"I speak English," Matthew said.
The big officer looked annoyed for a moment, then ran his hand over big heavy jowls and put on an unconvincing smile. "It is good," he announced. "Let us speak English. I am Commander Ilya Trubetskoy." He stopped.
"Matthew Lincoln," the missionary said. "My wife."
The commander bowed. "We come to ask for hospitality," he said abruptly. He was careful to smile again.
• • •
Matthew glanced uneasily at the two men in the boat. Each of them was playing with a heavy automatic, as if examining something that had been offered for sale. "Tuaviti is British," Matthew said to Trubetskoy. "I'm afraid I can't deal with your request one way or the other. Perhaps if you applied to the authorities at Suva or at Ocean Island—"
"You are very kind, but it is impossible for us to do as you suggest. We have had a mechanical failure. We must remain."
"How long will your repairs take?"
The Russian gave Matthew a bland look. "It will not be possible to make repairs."
"You won't be permitted to stay," Matthew said stiffly, "The British—"
Trubetskoy held up his hand. "It will not be known that we are here."
Matthew was about to explain that the monthly mail boat was due in two days, but he caught himself in time. That little surprise might come in handy later on.
Trubetskoy turned to the men in the rubber boat and fired off a volley of orders in Russian. The two sailors pulled the boat up on the dry sand, left it, and crossed the beach to Matthew's house. Trubetskoy smiled at Matthew. "My men will search most politely. If they find no radio transmitter, they will disturb nothing."
Matthew watched the two strangers enter his house, and—although he was a slow man to anger—he could feel the blood rising to his cheeks. "What's your real business here?" he said.
"This is a case of mechanical breakdown," the Russian said imperturbably. "It is quite without other meanings. We will live with you in harmony for an indefinite time. That is all."
"I see." Matthew was pretty sure he knew how much of a "shipwreck" it was. But why were they doing it? What use could the Soviets have for this little lopsided ring of coral in the middle of nowhere? And how could they expect to hold it? Tuaviti was thousands of miles from any Red sphere of influence. The Great Powers had been on the edge of open conflict for months, but Matthew and Janet had heard a news broadcast on their own little battery-powered radio last night; the world was still at an uneasy peace. The Reds would have to keep their tiny conquest a secret, if they were to keep it at all.
That fact gave Matthew hope. He held one ace: he hadn't told them about the mail boat.
"Today," Trubetskoy said, "we will set up a tent on the top of your mountain, if you do not mind."
Fat lot of good it would do if I did mind, thought Matthew. He watched the two sailors return from their search and relaunch the rubber boat. All three Russians climbed in, but before they rowed away toward the submarine, the commander gently trumped Matthew's ace. "I will speak to you tomorrow, Mr. Lincoln," he called, "about what to do on Monday, when the mail boat comes."
By the middle of the afternoon, the rubber boat had made several trips from the submarine to the shore, bringing wooden packing cases of peculiar shapes and various sizes. Sailors carried all the boxes up the mountain to a tent they had set up on the summit. Matthew, feeling angry and helpless, watched the work from the veranda of his house. After all the crates had been landed, the boat made another trip, bringing two passengers who were not in uniform.
There were several odd things about these two. They were both middle-aged, and both wore glasses. One of them had on a very baggy and cheap-looking tweed suit. The other was in shiny blue serge. As the two men started up the beach toward the mountain, Matthew heard them talking, and got a surprise. The language they spoke was not Russian but German.
Matthew's curiosity about the whole thing grew as the afternoon passed. Apparently the Soviets needed a Pacific island, but why had they chosen Tuaviti? Was it because Tuaviti was surrounded by an immense area of empty, unpatrolled ocean? So were plenty of other islands. Why hadn't the Reds avoided trouble by choosing one that was uninhabited?
Matthew scratched his chin. Maybe they had purposely selected an island with people on it, so that things wouldn't go so badly if they got caught. The presence of unharmed witnesses would prove that the Russians had meant nothing wrong. It would make their excuse of mechanical trouble more plausible.
But still, why Tuaviti? There were plenty of other spots, far from shipping lanes and land. What did Tuaviti have that most small atolls didn't?
Matthew raised his eyes to the place where he had prayed a few hours ago. A mountain. Was that what they needed?
Early in the evening, he made a decision and started up the beach toward the mountain. He intended to climb to the top and find out what was going on. At the foot of the trail, he was stopped by a sailor armed with a carbine. The sentry apparently could speak no English, but his gestures with the carbine were eloquent enough. Matthew scowled at him and then turned around and went home.
"What did you find out?" Janet asked, looking worried.
"Nothing." He wished he could tell her more. He loved Janet so much that her anxiety was like a knife in his chest.
"What do you suppose they're here for?"
"I don't know. I—" Abruptly Matthew held up his hand and said, "Listen!" A land crab was clattering across the coral under their window, but the sound Matthew had heard was something else. Somewhere in the distance a gasoline engine had started, coughed, died, then started again and settled down to a steady drone.
"Airplane?" Janet asked uncertainly.
"No. It's something on the mountain. Might be a generator."
"What would that mean?"
"Maybe nothing." Matthew fought down his misgivings. "Maybe they just want electric lights to eat their supper by."
Janet stepped to the window and looked up at the mountaintop. "I don't see any lights," she said.
Matthew slept little that night. He kept wondering about those two Germans in civilian clothes. Hadn't he read somewhere that some of the Reds' work on rockets and guided missiles was being done by captured German scientists?
Matthew lay quietly and tried to decide what to do. Surely his first responsibility was for the safety of his own flock. But was the safety of Tuaviti all he ought to think about? Didn't he have some responsibility for the rest of the world? That question brought back the secret doubt that had been chewing at him ever since he came here. Had he been right to refuse the Seattle job and devote all his energy to this little handful of islanders? After all, these people were a small group, and so simple and isolated that they were scarcely a part of the great world at all.
Even before breakfast, Janet noticed his eyes. “Matt, you haven't slept!"
He smiled and said, "Not much, I guess. It doesn't matter."
• • •
After breakfast he felt much better. It was Sunday morning, the only time he ever got a chance to see all the islanders under one roof, and he always enjoyed it.
Tia was already in the chapel, seated at the midget organ, when he got there. She was a slim, golden-skinned girl of eighteen, in a lava-lava of red cotton. Matthew said, "When the others start coming in, I wish you'd play Sheep May Safely Graze."
"You like it too, then?" asked Tia.
"I like it very much," said Matthew. "And you play it like an angel."
Tia giggled. Giggling was an unfortunate habit of the islanders, and something you had to get used to, church or no church. Matthew believed it was a sign of a clear conscience and a whole heart, and therefore should not be discouraged, especially in God's house.
The people of the island began filing in. They sat down on the benches, their Sunday dignity interrupted by awed whispering about the intruders. A few of the men wore trousers and shirts, and a few of the women wore cotton dresses, but most of the members of both sexes were in native dress. Even the children wore something, because it was Sunday.
The tension among the people relaxed when Tia began to play. Matthew listened, marveling at how intensely the island girl brought out the meaning of the music. By the time she had finished playing, the chapel was full. After several hymns—sung badly, but lustily by everyone—Matthew told the story of Cain and Abel. The line, "Am I my brother's keeper?" was what particularly interested him this morning, because he'd thought so much the night before about his own responsibilities.
He was approaching the end of his sermon when he saw someone standing in the chapel doorway, behind the backs of the congregation. Trubetskoy. The Russian waited in silence until the sermon ended; then he walked up the aisle.
"I will say a few words, if you don't mind." Without waiting for permission, Trubetskoy turned toward the islanders.
"For your own good, I must tell you something," he said, shouting like a man who is unused to public speaking. "My people and I are guests of you. But this must not be known. You know it, but you must not tell it. Not when the mail boat comes. Not when other strangers come, if they should come. You must not tell it. You must live exactly as before." He paused. Then he said deliberately, "If one of you tells it, all will be killed."
Trubetskoy stopped. Matthew was thunderstruck at the baldness of the threat, or bluff, or whatever it was. He saw that the islanders were looking at him now, waiting for his words—all the islanders except one. The thoughtful eyes of John-Enoch had not left the Russian.
Matthew considered for a moment and then said, "That's right. Do not tell." . . .
When he got home, he found Janet feeling nervous and trying to hide the fact. "Do you think they mean to do anything to us?" she asked casually.
"That depends on who you mean by 'us.'" Matthew frowned, because he was nearing the core of his problem. "If 'us' means you and me and the people of this island, then the answer is no. The commander and his comrades want us to go right on as usual."
"Then maybe everything will be all right." Janet started setting the table for lunch.
Matthew nodded. "Maybe it will. But if 'us' includes your mother in Seattle and somebody's Uncle Oscar in Charleston—then I'm not so sure about how safe we are." He stepped to the window and looked up at the mountaintop. He could make out the figures of two men, working on a platform that was lashed to the crown of the highest coconut tree. They seemed to be setting up some kind of antenna—an odd rig that looked like a couple of shiny bicycle wheels, standing on edge, one above the other. "I'm not so sure," he said again.
He and Janet listened to their radio as they ate. The news of the world was as unsettling as ever. "And I thought we'd got away from all that," said Janet, wistfully, as the grim recital ended.
While they were having their coffee, they heard the Russians' generator start up again. Soon after that, something suddenly ruined their radio reception. A pulsating, crackling static was all they could hear. Then, gradually, the static died away. Matthew thought of the generator on the mountaintop. Something ominous was beginning, and he didn't like it.
Half an hour after lunch, there was a knock on the door. The visitor was Trubetskoy, and he was alone. He came in and stood opposite Janet and Matthew, his finger tips on the table. "You will wish to send letters on the mail boat," he said.
"Naturally," said Matthew.
"Very well. But I am afraid that I must be permitted to read them first."
Matthew swallowed his anger and tried to think clearly. If he was going to rebel, tomorrow would be the day for it—not today. "All right," he said. "We can have our letters ready for you by ten o'clock tomorrow morning. The mail boat usually gets here around noon."
"It happens to be about two hours behind schedule this time," Trubetskoy said with a smile. Then he answered Matthew's unspoken question. "The radio transmitter on the mail boat is quite talkative. The submarine listens."
Matthew said, "All right. Then twelve o'clock should be soon enough for you to see our letters."
"Very good," said Trubetskoy.
• • •
After the commander had gone, Matthew spent two hours writing letters. Harmless ones. When he had finished, he took a stroll outside. He walked alone, since Janet was busy in John-Enoch's house, teaching her class in English.
Thinking hard, Matthew wandered past the chapel and down the beach, away from the mountain. What a simple thing it would be, tomorrow, to tell Jim McBride the whole story! Jim was captain of the mail boat, and Matthew often paddled a proa out beyond the reef to talk to him for a few minutes while the mail boat stood outside Tuaviti's lagoon. It would be the easiest thing in the world to paddle out there tomorrow and tell Jim.
If one of you tells it, all will be killed. Trubetskoy had almost certainly been bluffing when he said those words. The murder of the islanders wouldn't help the Russians any, once the secret was out. And it would ruin their fiction about a mechanical breakdown.
Still, he couldn't be sure. If he told the secret, he'd be risking the lives of forty-three people who loved and trusted him. Not to mention risking his wife's life, and his own. The Reds might only be using Tuaviti as a radio outpost anyway.
Matthew had been walking slowly, approaching the western tip of the island. When the noise began, he stopped walking instantly, stopped thinking, stopped breathing. He stopped everything and listened to the screaming in the sky.
Something like an immense bullet had passed over him, high in the air, and was now disappearing toward the south, moving so fast he could scarcely get his eyes on it. It had made no sound as it approached, but now—although it was miles away—the air was heavy with its whistling shriek.
As he watched, it went into a long, sweeping turn. Within seconds, although its noise was dying out, the thing itself began growing larger again, coming toward him at fantastic speed. It flashed past the tip of the island at a distance that might have been a mile or two, and Matthew saw that it had wings, of a sort. They were small, almost like fins, and they were swept back sharply. As it passed him it began turning again, and only then did the terrible sound of its passing strike his ears.
A half-formed suspicion made him turn his head and look at the top of Tuaviti's mountain. The shiny loops of the antenna were turning! The screaming bullet was flying in a great curve around the island now, and the antenna turned lazily, constantly presenting the same side to the missile, carefully following its flight.
No, not following! Guiding!
The gleaming missile circled the island four times and then straightened out, going north, gaining altitude rapidly. It was still climbing when it disappeared in the distance. Its course was straight now, and the antenna on the mountaintop stood still.
Matthew made for John-Enoch's house. He hated the thought of what he had to do.
John-Enoch was at home, although the English class was over and everyone else had left. He was sitting in his doorway. He stood up as Matthew approached.
Matthew said, "I must tell you something very bad, John-Enoch."
"Speak, Shepherd." The fear of the strange flying missile he had just seen was still in the Kanaka's eyes.
"Sit down, John-Enoch, and I'll sit down too. I have a lot to say."
• • •
They sat facing each other, just inside Kanaka's doorway, and Matthew talked. He told of his own country and how he loved it, and how for some years now it had been in the shadow of a great war. He told of coming to Tuaviti with Janet, and of the house and chapel he had built. He told of the nursing and teaching Janet had done. He described, as well as he could, his love for the island and its people. He did his best to make John-Enoch see how he felt. Then he said, "I have come to say to you that tomorrow I must tell Jim McBride about the Reds."
The expression of the Kanaka's face showed that he hadn't forgotten Trubetskoy's threat. "We will then be killed. Truth?" he asked.
"I doubt it. But we must put our trust in God. My radio says my country is not at war with their country. Not yet."
"Let it be as you say. Shepherd. But what was the flying thing?"
Matthew explained what little he knew about the weapon they had just seen. He admitted that this flight had probably been only a test, and that the missile might never be used for killing, so long as there was no new war. But he told John-Enoch about the thousands of lives it would destroy, if it were used. "We can't permit Tuaviti to be the home of such things, even if we die. Do you see that?"
"I see it," John-Enoch said. "Let tomorrow be as you say."
Matthew went home. He hated to tell Janet his decision, but she had to know.
She listened very calmly, controlling her fear so well that he was filled with admiration. "That Red Navy commander is a bag of wind, and I know it," she said, "But I'm very proud of you, Matt."
Tia was playing the organ again in the chapel beside the house. Matthew smiled ruefully. Sheep May Safely Graze.
• • •
He got an ironic enjoyment, the next morning, out of seeing how much trouble the Soviets went to, in preparation for the coming of the mail boat. They removed their control antenna and its platform, and they even dismantled their tent, because the top of it would be visible from the sea. By eleven o'clock the mountaintop looked just as it always had, although all the equipment was still there, hidden among the trees. The submarine, lying off the reef, ready to submerge, was the only visible sign that Tuaviti was in Russian hands.
At twelve thirty, the Soviet commander presented himself at Matthew's house. "Are the letters ready for inspection?" he asked.
Matthew handed Trubetskoy the sheaf of unsealed mail—his own and Janet's.
The commander sat at the table and read carefully for almost an hour. When he had finished, he said, "Very well," and leaned back in his chair. It was at that moment that things began going wrong.
Matthew waited impatiently for the man to say good-by and go aboard the submarine, but Trubetskoy made no move to go. Instead he asked, "Which is the best of the natives?"
"Their leader is a man named John-Enoch," Matthew said, sealing the last of his envelopes.
"Will you call him, please?"
Matthew stepped out on the veranda, saw John-Enoch sitting in his doorway, and called to him.
As soon as the Kanaka got inside Matthew's house, Trubetskoy stood up and picked up the stack of mail. "You will remain here," he said to Matthew and Janet. Then he said, "Come," to John-Enoch and led him out to the beach.
A moment later, Matthew and Janet could hear the Russian's voice, shouting a long and menacing harangue at the Kanaka. After a few minutes, Trubetskoy returned, still red in the face from his oratory, but looking pleased. He sat down again. The time was one forty-five.
Janet stared at him. "Aren't—aren't you going to the submarine?"
"But of course not." Trubetskoy smiled, took his automatic from its holster, and put it on the table. "I shall wait here until the mail boat has gone. I must be certain that you make no communication with it."
Matthew looked out the window. The submarine had disappeared. He felt as if the ground had dropped away under his feet. "Then John-Enoch will be the one to meet the mail boat?" he asked.
"Yes." Trubetskoy smiled. "He is sufficiently frightened. I have described to him what I would do if he betrayed us."
Matthew sat down and put his head in his hands. How he despised the use of fear to rule men! And how ashamed he was at having been tricked by such a man!
Five minutes later, when the mail boat finally wallowed into view around the end of the island, sounding her siren, Matthew was watching from the window. He saw John-Enoch waiting in his proa. He saw Jim McBride throttle down, take the packet of letters from the Kanaka and hand him a packet in return. There was a space of a minute or so when the two men might have been talking. Then the mail boat moved on.
"Very good," said Trubetskoy, when the mail boat was half a mile away. He put his automatic in its holster and left the house. Janet put her hand on Matthew's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Matt," she said. "You did all you could."
Matthew shrugged. "Maybe it's better this way. At least they've lost their reason to kill anybody." He tried to smile, and made a dismal failure of it.
He and Janet walked out on the veranda. The submarine had surfaced and launched her rubber boat. Trubetskoy was waiting for it at the water's edge.
John-Enoch, looking very sober and full of dignity, came up from the beach and delivered the packet of letters without a word. He and Matthew and Janet watched as the two German civilians came ashore and walked up the mountain with the commander. The antenna was being hoisted back into place when John-Enoch spoke at last. "I told it," he said.
"I told it. To Jim McBride."
John-Enoch nodded. "Truth."
Matthew glanced at the submarine and saw that someone was standing on her deck, wigwagging frantically at the mountaintop. The submarine's radio must already have picked up Jim McBride's message to the authorities at Suva.
Matthew turned to John-Enoch. "You’d better go home. You may be safer there." Then he put his head on the Kanaka's shoulder. "You've done well, my brother—whatever happens."
For just one moment, brief and solemn, Matthew forgot all about the Reds and what they might do. The question that had been gnawing at him for three years had suddenly found its answer. As he watched John-Enoch turn and start for home, he knew beyond a doubt that these island people were a part of the great world, as much as anybody. Tuaviti was where Matt Lincoln belonged, and he could be proud of it—if he lived.
The Soviet commander came hurrying down the mountain to the beach. He was met there by an excited radioman from the submarine. Matthew, watching the two Russians yell at each other, felt a curious mixture of fear and exultation. Judging by the radioman's excitement, Jim McBride must have managed to couch his radio message very effectively. Perhaps he had hinted that the nearest warships were nearer than they really were.
As soon as Trubetskoy understood the situation, he shouted a long string of oaths, orders, or both, and then directed a long look at the missionary's house. Even at that distance Matthew could see the vengeful fury in his face. But apparently the Russian had no time to deal with Matthew and the islanders at the moment. He turned and hurried back up the mountain.
The Soviet sailors set to work feverishly. They carried all the equipment down from the mountaintop, without even bothering to crate it, and ferried it out to the submarine in three rubber boats.
As he was watching this frantic activity, Matthew heard Janet ask, "What will happen when Trubetskoy gets around to us?"
"I've been thinking about that." Matthew did his best to sound reassuring. "And I think there's a fair chance he won't do a thing. He knows there'll be British and American warships here before long. Unless the U.S.S.R. is ready for war, those hips had better find everybody in good health."
Janet was silent a moment. Then she said, "He looked awfully angry, a while ago—maybe too angry to care how much trouble he starts in the world."
"Maybe so," Matthew admitted. "But look at the trouble he'd be starting for himself. He already has plenty of music to face, back in the Soviet Union. Tuaviti can't be the place where the war starts." He paused. "Trubetskoy will have to tell the high command that he let himself get caught after only two days, just because he came up against a Kanaka he couldn't scare. He's probably been worried about something like that all along. I can't believe he'll stick his neck out any farther by ordering a massacre."
"You think he was bluffing when he made the threat?"
"I just don't know," Matthew said honestly. "But there's a chance."
• • •
Janet was silent for a long time. She and Matthew watched the Soviet sailors on the beach, loading a rubber boat. The load was very light this time; it must be the last one. Slowly and thoughtfully, Janet said, "Maybe John-Enoch knows."
Matthew looked at her in astonishment, and then he realized what she meant: not that John-Enoch would know anything about a Soviet officer's relation with the high command, but simply that he might have seen something that betrayed the bluff. It could be true. John-Enoch's mind was something like Tia's. It got at the essence of a problem, just as Tia's playing got at the essence of Bach.
Matthew said, "You may be right. I'm going over to talk to John-Enoch." But at that moment he saw Trubetskoy approaching from the beach. The Soviet commander strode angrily up the path to the house and stepped onto the veranda, his teeth clenched and his face red. He was obviously in a towering rage, and that was at least half the reason why the speech he proceeded to make was so extraordinary.
"Mr. Lincoln," he said, biting off the words furiously, one by one, "I am pleased to inform you that the mechanical difficulty with our submarine has now been repaired. I wish to thank you for your hospitality. I trust you will report no inconvenience from our involuntary visit. I assure you that I, personally, am to blame for any bad thing which may have been done. Good-by." He saluted, walked to the rubber boat, and climbed in. Two sailors rowed him toward the submarine.
"Good evening. Shepherd." It was John-Enoch again. "Are the Russians going away?"
"I think so," Matthew said. He wasn't quite sure yet; two sailors were standing by the submarine's deck gun. The gun, however, still had its waterproof jacket on.
Janet said, "We want to ask you a question, John-Enoch."
"Yes," said Matthew. "Why didn't you obey the Soviet commander when he told you to keep his secret? He went to a lot of trouble to scare you into it."
John-Enoch smiled and spoke, using gestures that were like a solemn dance. "He asked me fiercely, and I thought I would obey. He asked me fiercely, and I thought I would not obey. He asked me fiercely"—the brown man shrugged—"and I saw his heart in my hand."
The two sailors were leaving the deck gun now and following their commander in through the hatch. Matthew grinned, and put his arm around Janet's waist. "You saw his heart in your hand," he said, feeling much better, but still puzzled. "What does that mean, John-Enoch?"
The submarine had begun to move and to submerge. The Kanaka watched it until the only thing that showed above the water was what looked like the protruding fin of a very large fish, disappearing toward the north.
"I saw that he was afraid," said John-Enoch. — THE END