S/SGT. TONY ROSETTI squatted on the sentry platform on the trail outside the former camp of the outlaws where the guerrillas were now bivouacked for a day to let their wounded rest.
His tour of duty was about completed, and he was waiting for his relief when he saw a figure approaching him along the trail. It was a slender, boyish figure; but even in the dim, cathedral light of the forest afternoon the sergeant realized that, notwithstanding the trousers, the rifle, the pistol, the parang, and the ammunition belt, it was no boy.
When the woman caught sight of Rosetti, she stopped. “Halt!” commanded Rosetti, bringing his rifle to the ready.
“I am already halted,” said the woman in good English.
“Who are you and where do you think you’re goin’ wit all dat armor?”
“You must be the cute little sergeant Corrie van der Meer told me about—the one who hates women and speaks funny English.”
“I don’t speak English. I speak Amerkan. And wot’s funny about it? And who are you?”
“I am Sarina. I am looking for Corrie van der Meer.”
“Advance,” said Rosetti. Then he dropped down off the platform into the trail. He stood there with a finger on the trigger of his rifle and the point of his bayonet belly high. The woman came and stopped a few feet from him.
“I wish that you would aim that thing some other way,” she said.
“Nuttin’ doin’, sister. You belong to dat outlaw gang. How do I know you ain’t just a front an’ de rest of dem is trailin’ behind you? If dey are, youse is goin’ to get shot, sister.”
“I’m alone,” said Sarina.
“Maybe you are, an’ maybe you ain’t. Drop dat gun an’ stick up your mitts. I’m goin’ to frisk you.”
“Speak English, if you can,” said Sarina. “I don’t understand American. What are mitts, and what is frisk?”
“Put up your hands, an’ I’ll show you what friskin’ is. An’ make it snappy, sister.” Sarina hesitated. “I ain’t goin’ to bite you,” said Rosetti; “but I ain’t goin’ to take no chances, neither. Wen you’ve sloughed dat arsenal, I’ll take you into camp as soon as my relief shows up.”
Sarina laid her rifle down and raised her hands. Shrimp made her face the other way; then, from behind, he took her pistol and parang. “Okay,” he said. “You can put ’em down now.” He put her weapons in a pile behind him. “Now you know wot frisk means,” he said.
Sarina sat down beside the trail. “You are a good soldier,” she said. “I like good soldiers. And you are cute.”
Rosetti grinned. “You ain’t so bad yourself, sister.” Even a misogynist may have an eye for beauty. “How come you’re wanderin’ around in de woods alone?—if you are alone.”
“I am alone. I quit those people. I want to be with Corrie van der Meer. She should have a woman with her. A woman gets very tired of seeing only men all the time. I shall look after her. She is here, isn’t she?”
“Yep, she’s in camp; but she don’t need no dame to look after her. She’s got four men dat have made a pretty good job of it so far.”
“I know,” said Sarina. “She has told me, but she will be glad to have a woman with her.” After a silence, she said, “Do you suppose that they will let me stay?”
“If Corrie says so, dey will. If you are really de dame dat broke her outta dat camp, we’ll all be strong for you.”
“American is a strange language, but I think I know what you were trying to say: If I am really the woman who helped Corrie escape from Hooft, you will like me. Is that it?”
“Ain’t dat wot I said?”
A man coming along the trail from the direction of the camp interrupted their conversation. He was a Dutchman coming to relieve Rosetti. He did not speak English. His expression showed his surprise when he saw Sarina, and he questioned Rosetti in Dutch.
“No soap, Dutchie,” said the American.
“He did not ask for soap,” explained Sarina. “He asked about me.”
“You savvy his lingo?” asked Shrimp.
Sarina shook her head. “Please try to speak English,” she said. “I cannot understand you. What is ‘savvy his lingo’?”
“Do you talk Dutch?”
“Den wot did he say?”
“He asked about me.”
“Well tell him, and also tell him to bring in your armor w’en he comes off. I can’t pack dat mess an’ guard a prisoner all at de same time.”
Sarina smiled and translated. The man answered her in Dutch and nodded to Rosetti. “Get goin’,” said the sergeant to Sarina. He followed her along the trail into camp, and took her to Jerry, who was lying on a litter beneath a tree.
“Sergeant Rosetti reportin’ wit a prisoner, sir,” he said.
Corrie, who was sitting beside Jerry, looked up; and when she recognized Sarina, she sprang to her feet. “Sarina!” she cried. “What in the world are you doing here?”
“I came to be with you. Tell them to let me stay.” She spoke in Dutch, and Corrie translated to Jerry.
“As far as I am concerned she can stay if you want her to,” said Jerry; “but I suppose that Capt. van Prins will have to decide. Take your prisoner and report to Capt. van Prins, sergeant.”
Rosetti, who recognized no higher authority than that of Jerry, showed his disgust; but he obeyed. “Come along, sister,” he said to Sarina.
“All right, brother,” she replied; “but you don’t have to keep that bayonet in my back all the time. I know you are a good soldier, but you don’t have to overdo it.” Corrie looked at her in surprise. This was the first intimation she had had that Sarina spoke English. And good English, too, she thought. She wondered where Sarina had learned it.
“Okay, sweetheart,” said Rosetti. “I guess you won’t try to make no break now.”
“I’ll come along,” said Corrie. “If I vouch for you, I am sure Capt. van Prins will let you remain with us.”
They found the captain, and he listened intently to all that Sarina and Corrie had to say. Then he asked, “Why did you choose to join that outlaw band and stay with it?”
“It was either them or the Japs,” said Sarina. “I have always intended to leave them and join a guerrilla company when I could find one. This is the first opportunity I have had.”
“If Miss van der Meer vouches for you and Capt. Lucas has no objection, you may remain.”
“Then that settles it,” said Corrie. “Thanks, Kervyn.”
Rosetti no longer had a prisoner, but he walked back with Corrie and Sarina to where Jerry lay. He pretended that he came to inquire about Jerry’s wound, but he sat down and remained after Jerry had assured him that he was all right.
At a little distance from them, Bubonovitch was cleaning his rifle. He thought that Rosetti would soon join him, and then he could ask about the woman Shrimp had brought in. But Shrimp did not join him. He remained with Jerry and the two women. It was most unlike Shrimp, to choose the society of ladies when he could avoid it. Bubonovitch was puzzled; so he went over and joined the party.
Sarina was telling about her encounter with Rosetti. “He told me to stick up my mitts, and said he was going to frisk me. American is a very funny language.”
Jerry was laughing. “Rosetti doesn’t speak American—just Chicagoese.”
“Where in the world did you learn to speak English, Sarina?” asked Corrie.
“In a Catholic missionary school in the Gilberts. My father always took my mother and me on all his cruises. Except for the two years I spent at the mission at Tarawa, I lived my entire life on board his schooner until I was twenty-nine. My mother died when I was still a little girl, but my father kept me with him. He was a very wicked man, but he was always kind to us. We cruised all over the South Seas, and about every two years we made the Gilberts, trading at different islands along the way, with piracy and murder as a side line.
“Father wanted me to have an education; so, when I was twelve, he left me at that mission school until his next trip two years later. I learned a great deal there. From my father, I learned Dutch. I think he was a well educated man. He had a library of very good books on his ship. He never told me anything about his past—not even his true name. Everybody called him Big Jon. He taught me navigation. From the time I was fourteen I was his first mate. It was not a nice job for a girl, as father’s crews were usually made up of the lowest types of criminals. No one else would sail with him. I got a smattering of Japanese and Chinese from various crew members. We shipped all nationalities. Oftentimes father Shanghaied them. When father was drunk, I captained the ship. It was a tough job, and I had to be tough. I carried on with the help of a couple of pistols. I was never without them.”
Rosetti never took his eyes from Sarina. He seemed hypnotized by her. Bubonovitch watched him with something akin to amazement. However, he had to admit that Sarina was not hard on the eyes.
“Where is your father now?” asked Jerry.
“Probably in Hell. One of his murders finally caught up with him, and he was hanged. It was after he was arrested that Mr. and Mrs. van der Meer were so kind to me.”
The gathering broke up a moment later, when the doctor came to check on Jerry. Corrie and Sarina went to the shelter occupied by the former, and Bubonovitch and Rosetti went and sat down in front of theirs.
“Wot a dame!” exclaimed Rosetti.
Shrimp shot a quick glance at Bubonovitch and caught the tail end of a fleeting smile. He guessed he was being ribbed.
“No;” he said. “I was referrin’ to Eleanor.”
“Did you by any chance notice that pistol packin’ mamma with Corrie?” asked Bubonovitch. “Now there is a cute little piece of femininity after my own heart. I sure fell for her.”
“You got a wife an’ a kid,” Shrimp reminded him.
“My affection is merely platonic. I shouldn’t care to have a lady pirate take me too seriously. I suppose that if any of her gentlemen friends annoyed her, she made them walk the plank.”
“Just think of dat little kid alone on a ship wit a lot of pirates an’ her ol’ man drunk!”
“I sort of got the impression that the little lady can take care of herself. Just take a slant at her background. You remember Corrie told us one of her grandfathers was a head hunter and the other was a cannibal, and now it develops that her father was a pirate and a murderer. And just to make the whole picture perfect Sarina was doing life in the clink for a little murder of her own.”
“Just the same she’s awful pretty,” said Rosetti.
“Migawd!” exclaimed Bubonovitch. “Et tu, Brute!”
“I don’t know wot you’re talkin’ about; but if you’re crackin’ wise about dat little dame—don’t.”
“I was not cracking wise. I wouldn’t think of offending your sensibilities for the world, Shrimp. I was merely recalling a statement you made quite recently. Let’s see—how did it go? ‘I wouldn’t have Dorothy Lamour if she got down on her knees and asked me!’”
“Well, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have none of ’em. But can’t a guy say a dame’s pretty widout you soundin’ off?”
“Shrimpy, I saw you looking at her—goggle-eyed. I know the symptoms. You’ve gone plain ga-ga.”