H. deVERE STACPOOLE
VI. “Pearls of Great Price"
MAMBAYA is a French island. Fancy a white French gun-boat in a blue, blue bay. surf creaming on a new moon, beach, and a colored town tufted with flame trees and gum trees and rocketing palms. Purple mountains in the dazzling azure and a perfume of cassi, red earth, and roses mixed with the perfume of the sea.
Paumotuan pearl getters haunt Mambaya, brownskinned men who had been diving half a year or have raptured in half a day the wherewithal for a spree, and on the beach when a ship comes in you will find the Chinese pearl buyers waiting for the pearl men, cigar colored girls with liquid brown eyes, the keeper of the roulette table in Mossena Street and Fouqui the seller of oranges, pines, bananas and custard fruit.
But Mambaya does not exist entirely on pearls. The island is rich in produce and it is a beauty spot. Great white yachts drop in and anchor, steamers bring tourists and on this same lovely beach where they used to boil local missionaries in the old days you can hear the band playing at night in the Place Canrobert where the two hotels are situated and where at marble topped tables the tourists are taking their coffee and liqueurs.
From the island of Laut away down south where the bad men live, came one day to the beach of Mambaya two men of the sea, ragged and tanned, with their pockets stuffed with gold and hungering for pleasure—Bud Davis and Billy Harman, no less.
A big Moonbeam copra boat had given them the lift for the sum of four pounds each paid in bright Australian sovereigns, but she could not supply them writh clothes. However, a Jew, who came on board as soon as the anchor was dropped, saved them the indignity of being fired off the beach by the French authorities, and, landing in spotless white ducks they strung for the nearest bar, swallowed two highballs, lit two cigars and came out wiping their mouths with the backs of their hands.
“By golly,” said Billy, “ain’t this prime, Bud? Look at the place, why it's half as big as ’Frisco, innocent lookin’ as Mary Ann and only sufferin’ to be scooped or painted
HEY were in the Place Canrobert where the flame trees grow, where the Kanaka children play naked in sun and the shops expose faked Island headresses and 'os. imitation jewellery' from Paris, canned salmon and is hats. The natives of Mambaya are well-to-do and id their money freely; they' are paid in dollars, not ie goods, and have a lively fancy and catholic taste.
If you're starting on the painting business,” said 1. “then give me notice and I’ll take myself off to the >ds till you're done, but I’ll warn you this is no place ers and decorators. It’s a French island and
lag with a month in the cells or road-
■ants is a tub and a pray'er book,” said the iis seat at a table in front of the café I calling for lime juice, io was talkin’ of jags, and can’t a chap use a figure ;ch without your jumpin’ down his throat? No, sir, n" is myidea. Here we are with our pockets full and eth sharp and if we don’t pull off a coup in this ’ town where the folks are only standin’ about waitbe took in, why .we’d better take to knittin’ for a
livin', that’s my opinion.”
A pretty native girl, all chocolate and foulard, passed, trailing her eyes over the pair at the table; she wore bangles on her arms and was catry'ng a basket of fruit.
‘‘There you are,” said Harman, “if the native ‘Jinnies’ can dress like that, what price the top folk. T tell you the plact is rotten with money only waitin’ to be took. Question is how?”
Davis did not answer for a moment, he was watching an opulent looking American tourist in white drill who had just left the Island headdress shop across the way. The tourist opened a white umbrella with a green inside and passed away towards the sea.
“Nohow,” said Davis, “unless you set to work and open a shop or something, you can’t skin a town like this same as a pearl lagoon. If you want money here, you’ll have to work blame hard for it buying and selling against chaps that are bred to the business better than you—that’s civilization.”
“Hang civilization,” said Harman.
“Unless,” continued Davis, “you can fake up some swindle or another—”
“Nothin’—•” said Harman, “I’m agin’ that sort of game as you ought to know, seein’ you know me No, sir, I don’t want no first class ticket to Noomea. Straight as a gun barrel is what I want to run, but I’ve no objections to putting a few slugs in the gun. It’s just crawlin’ into my head that a syndicate is what we want.”
“And what the devil do you want a syndicate for?” asked Davis, aggressively.
* » it’s this way,’’ said Billjfc. “A matter of ten years or so ago in the ’Frisco elections, I was in with Hafferman, Slungshot Hafferman, the chap that was tried for the killin’ of Duffy Stevens at San Leandro, which he did, but got off owin’ to an alibi. Well, I’m tellin’ you. My job was fillin’ the ’lectors with gin an’ gettin’ them to the polls before they’d lost the use of their pins and swearin’ false evidence and such on, which wasn’t what a chap would do only in ’lection times.
“Well, a month or so after, Hafferman, he got up a syndicate to run a guano island he’d got the location of and which wasn’t there, and I put fifty dollars into it and fifty other mugs did ditto and Haff pouched the coin and turned it over to his wife and went bankrupt or somethin’, anyhow he had the coin and we were left blowin’ our fingers. Now you listen to me. How about that pearl island Mandelbaum kicked us off? We’ve got the location. How about sellin’ it to a syndicate?”
“Where’s your syndicate?”
“I don’t know,” said Billy, “but it seems to me it’s to be found for lookin’ in a place like this where you see chaps like that guy with the white umbrella. I saw his Siamese twin on the beach when we landed with a diamond the size of a decanter stopper in his shirt front and that Jew chap that sold us the clothes told me there’s no end of Americans come here rotten with money, to say nothing of Britishers.”
“Well,” said Davis, “even supposing you get your syndicate, what about Mandelbaum? He’s got a lease of the island and would hoof you an your syndicate into the sea if you shewed a nose in the lagoon.”
“He said he had a lease,” replied Harman, “but he never showed a line of writin’ and I believe he was a liar, but I wasn’t proposin’ to go there, only to sell the location; if he hoofs the syndicate into the sea, why it’s their lookout. If they ain’t fools they’ll hoof him in first, lease or no lease, and collar the pearls he’s been takin’.”
“What I like about yoq is your consistency,” said Davis.
“What’s that?” asked Harman.
“The way you stick to your guns. You’re always preaching that it’s best to run straight and then you turn up an idea like that. Nice straight sort of business, isn’t it?”
“As straight as a gun barrel,” said Harman, enthusiastically. “You can’t be had nohow not by all the lawyers from here to Oskosh. Y’see if chaps are mugs enough to pay coin down for a location you're free to take their coin. That’s good United States law. I had it from Lawyer Burstall when we got stung over the Hafferman business, tie’s a tough’s lawyer, long thin chap, not enough fat on him to grease the hinges of a pair of
scissors, and cut? enough to skin Jim Satan if he got a fair grip of his tail.”
“Maybe,” said Davis, “anyhow before you start in on any of your games, we’ve got to get lodgings. I’m not going to fling my coin away on one of these hotel sharps, and we’ve got to get some dunnage to show up with. That Jew chap told me where we could get rooms cheap, last house end of town on right-hand side and with a big tree fern in the garden.”
LIVING is cheap in Mambaya, where people mostly J subsist on coconut milk and fried bananas, where you can get a hundred eggs for half a dollar and a chicken for a quarter; if you are an aesthete you can almost live on the scenery alone, on the sun, on the unutterably blue sky that roofs you between the rains. But Billy and his companion had little use for scenery, and after a week of lounging on the beach, wandering about the town and watching the natives surf bathing off Cape Huane, life began to pall on them.
They were not fools enough to drink, and if they had been, the bar of the Cafe Continental, white painted, cold, correct, served by a white-coated bar tender who could talk nothing but Beche-de-mer French, would have choked them off. There was not the ghost of a sign of a syndicate to be developed, nor of trade of any sort to be done.
They visited the roulette shop where the keeper of the table allowed them to win some forty dollars, which they promptly departed with never to return.
“We’ve skinned the cream off that,” said Davis next morning as they lay smoking and kicking their heels on the sand, “and there’s not another pan of milk about. You see we’re handicapped not talking French. Like cats in a larder with muzzles on—that’s about the size of it.” Harman assented. He took from his pocket the bag that held his money, over a hundred bright brass-yellow Australian sovereigns. They were on a secluded part of the beach with no one within eye-shot, and he amused himself by counting the coins and stacking them in ten little piles on the sand.
Then he swept the coins back into the bag and sat up as Davis pointed seaward to where, rounding Cape Huane, came a white painted steamer, the mail boat for Papeete and Honolulu and beyond.
The whoop of her siren lashed the sleepy air and brought echoes from the woods, and a quarter of a minute later a far-off whoop from the echoes in the hills, then down from the town and groves the beach began to stream with people. Kanaka children racing for the sea edge and fruit sellers with their baskets, girls fluttering foulard to the breeze and Kanaka bucks, naked but for a loin cloth; then came white folk, Aaronson the Jew, and the keeper of the Hotel Continental, officials and a stray Chinaman or two.
Neither Bud nor Billy stirred a limb till the rasp of the anchor chain came over he water, then getting
up, they strolled down to the water’s edge and stood, hands in pockets, watching the shore boats putting out, boats laden with fruit, and fellows holding cages containing bright colored birds, canoes with naked Kanaka children ready to dive for coppers.
Then the ship’s boat began to come ashore with mails and passengers.
“Ain’t much sign of a syndicate here, neither,” said Harman, as h? stood criticizing the latter, mostly male tourists of th ■ heavy globe trotting type and American women with blue wils and guide books. “It’s the old mail boat crowd that’s been savin’ up for a holiday for the last seven year an’s got so in the habit of savin’, it’s forgot how to spend, i know them. Been on a mail boat once; haven’t you ever been on a mail boat, Bud? Then you don’t know nothin about nothin’. Half the crew is stewards, and half the officers is dancin’ masters to judge by the side of them, and the blessed cargo is duds like them things landin’ now.”
He turned bn his heel and led the way back towards the town.
As they drew along towards it, one of the passengers, a young, smart and natty individual carrying an imitation crocodile skin handbag overtook them, and Harman, greatly exercised in his mind by the bag, struck up a conversation.
“Air you goin’ to reside in this town, stranger?” asked Mr. Harman.
“Eight hours,” replied the stranger, “boat starts at eight p.m. Smart’s my name, and smart’s my nature and not being Methuselah, I find time an object in life. What, may I ask, is the population of this town, air there any opportunities on this island and what’s the condition, in your experience, of the luxury trades—may I ask?”
“Dunno,” said Harman, “ain’t been here long enough to find out.”
“I got landed to prospect,” went on the other. “I’m trading—trading in pearls. O.K. pearls. Wiseman and Philips is our house and our turnover is a million dollars in a year. Yes, sir, one million dollars. From Athabaska to Mexico city the females of forty-two states and two territories cough up one million dollars a year for personal adornment, and Wiseman and Philips does the adorning. I’m travelling the islands now. Well, here’s a hotel—and good-day to you, gentlemen.”
He dived into the Continental and Harman and Davis walked on.
“Well,” said the ingenuous Harman, “it sorter makes one feel alive cornin’ in touch with chaps like that— notice the bag he was carryin’, looked as if the hide’d been taken off a cow that’d been skeered to death. I’ve seen them sort of bags before on passenger ships and they always belonged to nobs. That was a sure enough panama he was wearin’, and did you notice the di’mond ring on his finger?”
“He’s a bloomin’ fish scale jewellery drummer,” said
T>UT Harman was not listening, the million dollar turnover, the imitation crocodile skin bag and the sure enough panama had seized on his imagination.
It suddenly seemed to him that he had missed his chance, that here was the nucleus of the syndicate he wanted, a sharp sureenough American with a big
Davis, “out to sell dud pearls and save five dollars a week out of his travelling allowance; notice he never offered to stand drinks? The earth’s crawling with the likes of him, selling servant girls everything from dud watches to dummy gramophones.”
company behind him and lots of money to burn. He said so, and Davis laughed.
“Now get it into your head you won’t do more than waste your time with chaps like those,” said he. “Of course they’ve got the money, but even if you could get to their offices and deal with them instead of their two-cent drummer, where’d you be? Do you mean to say you’d have any chance with these sharps trying to sell a dud proposition to them? Why, when they’d took out your back teeth to see if there was any gold in them and stripped you to your pants, you wouldn’t have done with them, you’d be stuck for an atlas of the world, or maybe a piano organ on the instalment plan, givin’ them sixty per cent, on the takings and a mortgage on the monkey. You get me? Sometimes you’re sharp enough, but once your wits gets loose, it’s away with you. This chap isn’t any use—forget him.’’
But Harman scarcely heard.
If they had turned on their tracks they might have seen Smart, who after a drink at the bar of the hotel had started out to visit the shops, more especially those likely to push the sale of O.K. pearls and North Pole diamonds —a side line.
AT HALF past four that afternoon, Harman—Davis ■ having gone fishing—found himself in the Continental bar. The place was empty and Billy was in the act of paying and taking his departure when in came Smart.
“Hullo,” said Harman, “have a drink?”
They drank. Highballs first of all and then at the suggestion of Billy , who paid for drinks the whole of that afternoon, Hopscotches, which are compounded of Bourbon, crushed ice, lemon peel, parfait amour and a crystalized cherry.
At the second Hopscotch, the tongue of Smart was loosened and his words began to flow.
“Well, I reckon there’s not much to the town,” he said, “but it’s an oleograph for scenery and picto ores queness, with a pier for landing and a bathing beach where all that fishermen’s truck and those canoes are; it would beat a good many places on the islands that don’t think five cents of themselves. I’ve been pushing the name of Wiseman and Philips into the ears of all and sundry that has got ears to hear with, but all such places as these is only seeds by the way. Chicago is our main crop an’ Noo York, after that Pittsburg, and we’re feeling for London, England.
“We’ve agents in Paris and Madrid that aren’t asleep and Wiseman says before he dies, he’ll put a rope of pearls round Mother Earth, and a North Pole di’mond tiara on her old head. Yes, sir. (Third Hopscotch) That’s what Wiseman said in his office and my hearing, and Philips, he helps run the luxury and fake leather sundry department, he said he’d fit her out with 0 de Nile colored croc leather boots and a vapity bag of stamped lizard skin if the sales went on jumping as they were going, which was more like Klondike stuffed with the Arabian nights than any sales proposition he had ever heard, seen, dreamt or read of. Sales! (hic) as sure as there’s two cherries in this glass I’m holding, my orders booked in Chicago for pearls ending Christmas Day last was over one hundred thousand dollars. One hundred thousand dollars. But you haven’t seen our projuce.”
HE BENT, picked up his bag, fumbled in it and produced a box and from the box a gorgeous pearl necklace.
“Feel of those,” said Smart, “weigh them, look at ’em, look at the grading, look at the style, look at the lustre and brilliancy. Could Tiffany beat them for twenty thousand dollars? No, sir, he couldn’t; they leave him way behind.”
The dazzled Harman weighed the rope in his hand and returned it.
“Don’t be showin’ them sort of things in bars,” said he as the other closed the box with a hiccup and replaced it in the bag, “but now you’ve showed me yours, I’ll show you mine.”
“Pull ’em out,” said the other, picking up his hat which he had dropped in stooping.
“They ain’t here,” said Harman, “it’s only the knowledge of them I’ve got. Stranger, ’s sure as I’m lightin’ this cigar, I know a lagoon in an island down south where you can dredge up pearls same as them by the fist full.”
“It must be a dam funny lagoon,” said the other with a cynical laugh.
Harman agreed. It was the funniest place he’d ever struck. He told the story of it at length and at large and how Mandelbaum hsd kicked him and Davis off the atoll and how it only wanted a few bright chaps to hire a schooner and go down and do the same to Mandelbaum and take his pearls. He assured Smart that he—Harman —was his best friend and wrote the latitude and longitude of the pearl island dowrn on the back of a glossy business card of the drummer’s, but it dfd not much matter, as he wTote it all wrong.
Then, all of a sudden, he was out of the bar and walking -with Smart among palm trees. Then he was in the native
village which lies at the back of the town and they were drinking kava at the house of old Nadub, the kava seller, who was once a cannibal and boasted of the fact—kava after Hopscotches’ and Smart was seated with his arm round the waist of Maiala, Nadub’s daughter, and they were both smoking the same cigar alternately and laughing. Nadub and the whole world were laughing.
Then Mr. Harman found himself home trying to explain to Davis that he had sold the pearl location to Smart, who was going to marry Nadub's daughter, also the beauty of true love and the fact that he could Rot UfliilCt.* his bootá.
\NICE object you made of yourself last night.” said Davis next morning, standing by the mat bed where Harman was stretched, a jar of water beside him. “You and that two-cent drummer! What were you up to anyway?”
Harman took a pull at the jar, put his hand under his pillow and made sure that his money was safe, and then lay back.
“Up to where?” asked Harman feebly.
“Where? Why back in the native town. You left that chap there and the purser of the mail boat had to beat the place for him and get four roustabouts ashore to frog march him to the ship with him shouting all the time that he’d been robbed.”
“I dunno,” said Harman. “I got along with him in a bar and we sat havin’ drinks, them drinks they serve at the Continental—Lord, Bud, I never want to see another cherry again, nor sniff another drop of Bourbon. I’m on the water-wagon for good and all. It ain't worth it.
I'm feelin’ worse than a Methodis’ parson. I'm no boozer, but if I do strike the jag by accident, my proper feelin’s pay me out; it's not a headache, it’s the feelin’ as if a chapel minister was sittin’ on my chest and I’d never get him off.
Give’s my pants.”
He rose, dressed, and went out.
Down on the beach the sea breeze refreshed Mr. Harman, and life began to take a rosier colour. He sat on the sand and, taking the chamois leather bag from his pocket, counted
The fun of the day had cost him
Ten pounds—fifty doliais—for what? Three or four drinks, it did not seem more, and a tongue like an old brown shoe. He moralized on these matter? for a while, and then returning the coins to the bag and the bag to his pocket, he rose up and strolled back through the town, buying a drinking nut from the old woman at the corner of the Place Canrobert and refreshing himself with its contents, continued his walk.
Then he wandered in the groves near the native village ar.d two hours later Davis, seated under the trees of the Place Canrobert and reading a San Francisco paper, which the purser of the mail boat had left behind in the bar of the Continental, saw Harman approaching.
Harman had evidently got the chapel minister off his chest; his chin was up and his eyes bright. He sat down beside the other, laughed, slapped himself on the right knee and expectorated.
“What’s up?” said Davis.
“Nothin',” said Harman. “Nothin’ I can tell you about at the minute. Say. Bud. ain't you feelin’ it’s time we took the hook up and pushed; ain’t nothin’ more to be done here, seem3 to me, and I've got a plan.”
" What's your plan?” asked Davis.
"Wed, it’s more’n a plan. I’ve been thinkin’ quick and corne to the conclusion that we’ve got to get out of here pronto, get me? More’n that, we’ve got to make for Rarotambu; that's the German island between here and
“Why the deuce d'you want to go there?” asked Davis. "There's money waitin’ for us there,” replied Harman, and I don’t want to touch at no French island.”
TVUVIS put his paper behind him and filled a pipe. He knew that when Harman had one of his mysterious fits or., there was sure to be something behind it, some rotten scheme or another too precious to be disclosed till
ripe. But he was willing enough to leave Mambaya and made no objections.
"How are you going to get down to Rarotambu,” he asked, "s’posing we decide to go?”
"I've worked out that,” said llannan. “You know that copra schooner that’s been filling up in the bay? She’s off to ’Frisco touching at Papeete, leavin’ to-night. Wayze-
goose, he’s her skipper, I met him ten minutes ago when I was workin’ out my plans and he’ll turn aside for us and drop us at Rarotambu for two hundred dollars, passage money.”
“Not me,” said Davis. “Him and his old cockroach trap, why I’d get a passage on the mail boat for a hundred dollars.”
“Maybe,” said Harman, “but I don’t want no mail boats nor no Papeetes neither. What are you kickin’ at? I’ll pay.”
“Well, I’ll come along if you’re set on it,” said Bud, “but I’m banged if I see your drift. What’s the hurry, anyhow?”
“Never you mind that,” replied Harman, “there’s hurry enough if you knew. There’s a cable from here to Papeete, ain’t there?”
“Well, never you mind the hurry till we’re clear of this place, put your trust in your Uncle Billy, and he’ll pull you through You’ve laughed at me before for messin’ deals, said I’d no sort of head-piece to work a traverse by myself, didn’t you? Well, wait and you’ll see, and if it’s not ‘God bless you, Billy and give us a sharp of the luck’ when we get to Rarotambu, my name’s not Harman.”
“Maybe,” said Davis, “and maybe not. I’m not likely to forget that ambergris you fooled me out of with your plans, nor the dozen times you’ve let me down one way or another, but I tell you this, Billy Harman, it’s six cuts with
a rope’s end over your stern post I’ll hand you if you yank me out of this place on any dam wild goose chase.”
“I’ll take ’em,” chuckled Harman, “joyful, but there ain’t no geese in this proposition, nothin’ but good German money, and when you’re down on your knees thankin’ me you’ll remember your words.”
“Oh, get on,” said Davis, and taking the newspaper again, he began to read, Harman making over for the Continental and gin and bitters.
f I 'HE Manahangi was a schooner of two hundred tons, built in 1874 for the sandal wood trade and looking her age. Wayzegoose fitted his ship. His scarecrow figure appeared at the port rail as the boat containing Billy and Bud came alongside and he dropped the ladder himself for them.
They had scarcely touched the deck when the Kanakas clapped on to the winch, the anchor chain was hove short, the sails set and then, as the anchor came home, the Manahangi, in the gorgeous light of late afternoon, leaned over to the breeze, the blue water wided to the shore and the old schooner, age-worn but tight as a hickory nut, lifted to the swell of the Pacific.
Harman at the after rail gazed on the island scenery as it fell astern, heaved a sigh of relief and turned to Davis.
“Well, there ain’t no cables can catch us now,” said he. “We’re out and clear with money left - in our pockets and twenty thousand dollars to pick up right in front of us like corn before chickens.”
Wayzegoose, having got his ship out, went down below for a drink, leaving the deck to the Kanaka bo’sun and the fellow at the wheel, and Harman, finding Davis and himself practically alone, lifted up his voice and chortled.
“I’ll tell you now,” he said, “I’ll tell you, now we’re out—that chap ivas robbed by the Kanakas. You remember sayin’ he was shoutin’ he was robbed as they was frog-marchin’ him to the ship? He spoke the truth.
“Now I’ll tell you. Him and me was sittin’ drinkin’ at that bar most of the afternoon when out he pulls pearls out of that bag of his, pearls maybe worth thirty thousand dollars—”
“Where the blazes did he get them from?” asked Davis.
“Out of that bag, I’m tellin’ you, and right in front of the Kanaka bartender. ‘Put them things away,’ I says, ‘and don’t be showin’ them in bars,’ but not he, he was too full of Bourbon and buck to listen and then when I left him after, in the native town, they must have robbed him. For,” said Mr. Harman, “between you and me and the mizzen mast them pearls are in my pocket now. No, sir, I didn't pinch them, but that piece Maiala did, as sure as Moses wasn’t Aaron, for this morning I met her carryin' stuff for old Nadub to make his drinks with and there round her neck jvas the pearls. Stole.
“I follows her home and with sign langwidge and showin’ the dollars, I made them hand over them pearls; forty dollars I paid for twenty thousand dollars worth of stuff and what do you think of that?”
Mr. Harman put his hand in his pocket and produced a handkerchief carefully knotted, and from the handkerchief, a gorgeous pearl necklace.
Davis looked at it, took it in his hands and looked at it again.
“Why, you double dashed idiot,” cried Davis, "you mean to say you’ve yanked me off in this swill tub because you’ve give forty dollars for a dud necklace, and you’re afraid of the police? Smart—why that chap s pearls weren’t worth forty dollars the whole bag full. Ten dollars a hundredweight’s what the factories charge— I told you he was a dud and his stuff junk—and look at you, look at you!”
“You’ll be takin’ off your shirt next." said Harman, “you’re talkin’ through the hole in your hat. 1 hem pearls is genuine and if they ain’t, Fll eat them.”
But Davis, turning over the things, had come upon something that Harman had overlooked, a teeny-weeny
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docket near the hasp, on which could be made out some figures—
“Four dollars fifty,” said Davis, and Harman looked.
“And what was it you gave for them to that girl, thinking they’d been stolen?” asked Davis.
“Hang petticoats!” cried the other, taking in everything all at once.
“Six cuts of a rope’s end it was to be,” said Davis, “but a boat stretcher will do,” He put the trash in his pocket and seized a boat stretcher that was lying on the deck, and Wayzegoose coming on deck and wiping his mouth, saw Harman bent double and meekly receiving six strokes of the birch from Davis without a murmur.
He thought what he saw was an illusion due to gin, and held off from the bottle for the rest of the cruise.
So Billy did some good in his life for once in a way, even though he managed to do it by accident.