The Ghost of Papalagos
KALAMUCK came into Hogan’s bar on Degas and called for rum. While it was being brought he leaned back against the counter and stared at the men sitting at the little ring-marked tables.
He was a tall, fair chap with yellow hair of which he was vain. He plastered it straight back over his head. A woman in Shanghai had once told him that it resembled a shining helmet. He had remembered that, although he had forgotten the woman’s name and everything about her except that she had a satin skin. Waiting for his drink he stretched his arms above his head, bringing into play his shoulders and his mighty chest that showed where his blue shirt hung open at the neck.
Outside the lagoon lay his ship, the Mary Kay. She was a trim schooner, a real lady and as game as a cock in any storm. Kalamuck loved her, just as he loved the life of which she was the symbol; the free, roistering life of a man who owns his ship and goes where he will. He called no man master—and, what is wiser still, no woman mistress.
A friend hailed him as he emptied his glass.
“Hey, Kalamuck, when did you get in?’’
“This morning. And I’m not staying.”
“What’s doing then?”
“Just came in to get some boys and stores.”
“Boys, eh? Kanakas? Thought you was stacked up with boys?”
Kalamuck went and sat down by the man—a baldhead called Pete Thompson. Lowering his voice he said:
“It’s a queer thing, Pete. But I’ve had a run of bad luck with my boys. Two died on the way here from Kiapai. Three weeks ago another jumped overboard. What’s the matter with them? I’ve put in here to get three more. And blowed if two of the old ones didn't leg it this morning, saying they wouldn’t sail again.”
He paused, his bronzed face troubled. Pete looked grave. "How many do you carry? Seven or eight?”
“Seven. That’s counting Puahe, who’s been with me six years.”
“Is he a Degas boy?”
"No. Comes from some forsaken spot out past the Van Houtens—Papalagos, or some such name.”
“Maybe,” suggested Pete, “the others don’t hit it off with him.”
“Rot,” said Kalamuck angrily. “He’s the best boy I’ve ever struck. Looks after me like a mother. Why should the others run foul of him? There’s no vice in him.”
“Vice in all of ’em,” contradicted Pete, holding up his hand to Hogan. "Same again, Hogan. Listen, Kalamuck. There’s not one of these Kanakas you can trust with a pin. You think a lot of Puahe. Well, let me tell you. you think a lot too much. He’ll let you down badly one day. Folks have spoiled these devils. All this missionary brotherhood idea—all right in theory, but a nuisance in practice. Give me a heathen. You know where you are with ’em. You know they’re an evil lot. But a convert, or one of these mission brats—no ! We take away their gods and give ’em ours, and what’s the result? A sort of piebald, with our vices hatched on to theirs.”
“I’d trust Puahe with my life,” he said. “He’s the exception. Why, I’d have been dead before now if he hadn’t been at hand. Did I ever tell you—”
“Told me a score of times. A wave swept you overboard and he hauled you back. Ain’t that it? All right, all right, let it go. Where do you plan to go this trip?”
“I’m after pearls. Heard tell there was good prospects down Teiafu way.”
“Who told you?”
But Kalamuck winked pleasantly and refused to be drawn In truth, he was on the track of a good thing. Quite by chance, he had heard in Macassar that Charlie Haslitt was planning a trip to Teiafu. As all pearlers knew, Charlie had a nose like a ferret when it came to pearls. If he was planning a trip to Teiafu, you could bet your shirt the pearls
there were good. He had funny underhand ways of getting knowledge, had Charlie. He had raked thousands out of the buyers in Macassar for pearls that were the envy of the trade.
Kalamuck planned to beat him at Teiafu. Charlie was laid up with a touch of his old enemy, malaria.
He’d decided to wait a week before he started. That week, said Kalamuck, would be all the time needed to steal a march on Charlie.
He drank up now, and he and Pete went out to walk down to the beach, where Kalamuck’s boys were taking in stores. Puahe was there directing them, and Kalamuck called him over. The Kanaka came running lightly across the creamcolored sand.
HE WAS a medium-sized fellow, with a very dark skin, much darker than the Degas natives. His body was slim and supple, and glistened with the cocoanut oil which he rubbed daily into his muscles. About his loins he wore a pareu of scarlet cloth. His expression was open, honest and disarming. In his bush of black hair, teased out with a comb of twigs to enormous proportions, he wore a single hibiscus flower.
With hands outstretched he waited, standing before Kalamuck.
“Puahe,” said his master, “one bag and one bag and one bag flour?”
“Oh, Kalamuki, one bag and one bag and one bag. Can get rope all same good very cheap—Kalamuki buy?”
“I’ll come and see it,” Kalamuck promised. “When you ready, hey? Must go all same quick.”
“By and by ready,” promised Puahe. He leaped away, running back to the Mary Kay’s dinghy with the grace of a leopard.
Kalamuck turned to his friend.
“Come on and see about this rope at Pennyroyal’s store. Well, what’s wrong with Puahe now? Isn’t he quick and reliable? Fancy his thinking about that rope. I tell you he’s a boy in a thousand.”
They walked past a group of swaying palms toward the low white building that was Pennyroyal’s store. Their feet crunched on the sand. Pete put a handkerchief round his neck as the sun struck down hard and strong. There was a scent of spices in the air, a hot languorous scent that sent a man’s mind flying back to old joys. Kalamuck sighed, remembering how he had kissed old Jacopi asleep outside his hut, and the girl—
He came out of his dream. Pete had stopped. He had a startled look in his shrewd eyes. Kalamuck said blankly: “Well, what is it?”
“When he stretched his hands out, I saw he ain’t got no top to his little finger on the left hand.”
“What of it?”
“Nothin’. Only—where did he lose it?”
“Darned if I know.”
“It reminds me of something,” Pete grunted. “But I can’t think what. Maybe I shall, later on. Anyway, I see he’s a fine boy, but still I think you’re a fool to trust him the way you do. And can’t the fool count?”
Kalamuck was piqued.
“You know as well as I do that many Kanakas can’t count.”
“Count up to ten, most of ’em.”
“Well,” said Kalamuck stiffly, “I’m going in here about that rope.”
Pete shrugged and stayed outside. Presently, noting Kalamuck’s absorption in Pennyroyal’s crammed shelves
he walked away, still racking his brains to discover the connection between Puahe’s little finger and something— some—thing. . .
For the rest of the afternoon he worried over the matter. A trifle, no doubt. But to a man who has lived long in the South Seas trifles assume at times a sinister importance. He was haunted by the elusive significance of that missing top joint.
(And why had Kalamuck had so many deaths among his boys? How had the last two died? Yes—how?)
it was not until late that night, as he sat over a final whisky at Hogan’s, that his memory came suddenly upon a thing forgotten these many years until now. He sprang up, leaving his drink and rushed out. If Kalamuck hadn’t started, he must be stopped.
Breathless, Pete ran down to the beach. Two men passed him, and he stuttered out an enquiry. For answer they pointed to the lights of a ship far on the horizon.
“There she goes. Kalamuck went out at eleven.”
So he was too late. With a dragging step he returned to Hogan’s bar, to con again in his thoughts a tale of a Kanaka with a hand maimed like Puahe’s hand, and of a white man who vanished.
THE MARY KAY struck a fair wind and went dancing away southeast to Teiafu. Kalamuck sang at the wheel. The breeze tousled his thick pale hair before it slid aloft to sing in the shrouds. Over the blue waves went the ship, as graceful as a seagull. The white horses played about her, leaping playfully at her bows. The seven Kanakas grinned at their master’s good spirits. Their mellow voices were raised in a subdued echo of his gay song.
To starboard they sighted a chain of low-lying coral islands, inhabited only by seabirds. Flying on through the starlight the Mary Kay spoke a Dutchman. Kalamuck’s voice sounded through the megaphone in a long melancholy “Ahoy !” Shouts were exchanged as the ships passed within a hundred yards of each other. The Dutch skipper remembered, days after, that chance encounter with the Mary Kay as she hurried on toward Teiafu.
The days went by, and on the seventh morning Teiafu rose on the horizon. The look-out screamed ecstatically and every eye was strained toward the south. Yes, there she lay, a lovely, shapely island, with palms standing thick by the water’s edge. The wind had dropped. Like a place seen in a dream, the island implanted its image in the brain of the beholder. The Kanakas clustered together, chattering excitedly. Kalamuck tossed them some tobacco sticks, and laughed as they scrambled for the treat. He was to pay them a dollar a month, and a certain share of all pearl shell found. They were content, holding the terms good.
No trouble this voyage, he told himself contentedly. What had that fool Pete said about the boys not hitting it off with Puahe? If he could see them now!
As he watched, Kalamuck saw a thing that left him amused and slightly puzzled. A Degas boy, a newcomer, had seized the largest stick of tobacco. Puahe held out his hand for it, smiling pleasantly. The boy refused. Without changing his look Puahe said two words. The boy sprang up, obviously terrified. Without a word he flung down his prize and moved away.
Intrigued, Kalamuck called the Kanaka to him.
“Hey, Neperiti, w'hy you given tobacco belong you to Puahe?”
Neperiti grew confused. Presently he whispered:
“Him, Puahe, say word all same devil magic.”
“You afraid, Neperiti?”
The Kanaka threw out his chest.
“The Degas boy not afraid. Degas boy not afraid, not afraid. . .”
Kalamuck dismissed him with a nod. Not afraid, eh? Of what? Undoubtedly, then, there was something about Puahe which this Kanaka, and perhaps others, feared. Kalamuck shrugged. However long a man lived among the dark people, however much he prided himself on understanding them, there was a veil between the alien races which few ever penetrated.
His mind swung away from the matter. Every sense and every effort now concentrated on bringing the Mary Kay to a safe passage. Larger and larger loomed the island as the ship drew nearer. In the windless morning the chugchug of the auxiliary engine seemed the only sound in this enchanted sea, save the distant music of the waves against the broken reefs of Teiafu.
An hour before midday they droppd anchor in the lagoon. Entrance proved easy. As the chain ran out Kalamuck drew a deep breath of contentment. Jim Billy, one of the Degas boys, was searching the water with experienced eyes. He shouted “Good water!” and rubbed his hands. He and other Degas boys would dive for the pearls later on. These Degas boys are the best divers in the Islands. From babyhood, the water is as natural to them as the land. As boys and youths they seek to perfect themselves in the difficult art of diving without artificial aid. For this purpose they are bom and live out their short lives in an ecstasy of accomplishment. By thirty they are finished. Many of them go blind, and sixty per cent die before their fortieth year.
Staring down through the clear water, Kalamuck saw the lairy garden of the lagoon floor. Fish of a thousand hues darted away from the shadow of the schooner. On the sunken rocks, huge anemones spread their many-colored tentacles to catch a meal. In the warm shallows near the sand basked a school of flat red and blue fish with winglike fins and frilled tails. They looked fat and juicy, and Jim
Billy said they were good to eat. He and Neperiti took fishspears and went ashore.
Kalamuck called for the dinghy and followed the gleaming brown bodies that flashed through the sunlit lagoon. He wanted to find out where the fresh-water stream on Teiafu ran, or if, indeed, any ran at all. There was enough water in the casks to last a couple of weeks. That meant that their stay must be limited unless they could replenish their supply.
With Puahe at his heels, Kalamuck explored the silent fastness of Teiafu. The island was not more than three miles across, and measured less than four miles in length. Not a sound broke the stillness, not even the crash of a land crab as it made its clumsy way among the palms. It was so quiet it began to get uncanny. Kalamuck wiped his neck and said:
“Suppose no can find water, no can stop.”
Puahe nodded agreement. They were crossing a stretch of open ground. Behind them was the slope of a hill, and before them a thin grove of cccoanut palms. Without warning Puahe stopped suddenly, and said:
“Kalamuki, not go on.”
He was staring straight ahead. Kalamuck looked and saw what his Kanaka had seen. By every tree in the little grove stood a man.
THERE WAS something extraordinarily frightening about this. It was as if the trees had come alive. Kalamuck felt his heart stop, and then race on again. There they stood, these silent motionless figures, and he had come within twenty yards of the nearest without perceiving him. How like carven images they looked, each one naked, carrying a fine-pointed spear !
Kalamuck said to Puahe:
“You savvy lingo belong Teiafu? You tellem all same friend?”
Puahe stepped forward. He called a salutation. A broadshouldered fellow stepped forward and answered him. No one else moved.
Kalamuck waited. Puahe and the spokesman talked
earnestly. Several times Puahe waved his hand toward Kalamuck. The other followed his gaze with absorbed interest. Kalamuck grew impatient. What were the fools gassing about for so long? Lucky Puahe could make himself understood. But then Kalamuck remembered a chart of those parts, and in his mind’s eye saw the word “Van Houtens” marked, not 200 miles south of Teiafu. Puahe’s home, Papalagos, lay just beyond. Then no doubt Teiafu was in the same language group as Puahe’s island and the Van Houtens.
“Puahe,” he said, “all same friends? Can find water?”
“Say one fella pool all same good. He findem now. No fight, all good friend.” It was the oddest procession in which Kalamuck found himself. The native leader went first, then came Puahe, then himself, with a long tail of Kanakas in solemn Indian file. No one spoke, as they marched toward a deep pool among the palms. It was fed by a hidden spring, and showed cool and clear, reflecting the tree trunks on its surface.
Suddenly there swept over Kalamuck a sensation of awful fear. A premonition of disaster racked him until the sweat stood about his mouth. These silent men in the silent woods ! In a panic he spun round, besieged with eyes that gloated. Yes, gloated. Why? Why? By an effort he stood his ground. He told Puahe to promise that gifts should be sent to the headman. He turned to go, and instantly his way was barred by two crossed spears. Even as he struck at them he heard Puahe’s voice ring out in command. The spears fell.
So the fellow could lord it over these Kanakas in the same way as he lorded it over the boys on board the Mary Kay. Master and man set off together toward the lagoon. Behind them the men of Teiafu waited, motionless. Kalamuck dared not look over his shoulder. His knees shook as he walked. In vain he told himself not to be a fool. The feeling that he had temporarily escaped from danger persisted. Even when he felt the sand under his feet and stepped into the prosaic dinghy, he could not shake off his unease.
For the rest of that day he watched the island, fascinated yet repelled. His dreams were broken again and again. Was there a whispering in the room? What waited in the shadows by the door? Angrily he lit the hanging lamp and sat on his bunk, fighting down this terror of he knew not what. Before dawn he was on deck, hustling the boys, shouting at this one and that in a desperate effort to regain normality.
After a quick meal he took Jim Billy and Neperiti in the dinghy and set out to prospect lor pearls. The dinghy could be converted into an outrigger by means of triangular floats which were fixed to the sides. These afforded support for the divers, and on them they rested, supported by their hands, when coming up to breathe.
The wind held off still, and they set out on a sea of glass. When they were in sixty to seventy feet of water, Kalamuck stopped the boy who was rowing. Peering down through a glass-bottomed box, he saw that there was indeed a good harvest to be had for the gathering.
The Kanakas were preparing to descend. Each had a knife, and Jim Billy carried a small wooden scoop with which
Continued on page 40
Continued from page13
—Starts on page 12
he cleft the water as he shot downward. They leaned now on the floats, filling their lungs. Groans rent the air. The men contorted their faces with effort. A flash of brown arms and Neperiti had vanished, to be followed quickly by his friend. Kalamuck watched them eagerly as they loaded their baskets with the huge bivalves. Jim Billy stayed below seventy-three seconds, and Neperiti eighty seconds. After a few more descents they would attain to a hundred seconds, to two minutes, to a dangerous two and a half.
They rose now and lay like caught fish on the floats, gasping and coughing as the air fought with their lungs. Jim Billy’s nose and mouth bled slightly, and Neperiti’s eyes showed bloodshot and red. They rested till they could speak easily, then dived again.
Little by little the haul increased. At noon the dinghy was rowed back to the Mary Kay, and the pearl oysters dumped on board. The cook-boy had a mea waiting and Kalamuck swallowed it eagerly. When the dinghy put out again, two fresh divers relieved those of the morning.
DY NIGHTFALL Kalamuck was tired out. Nevertheless he began the task of opening the oysters. The lust for pearls was upon him. As the platelike shells were forced apart he searched almost frantically for the treasure hidden in the fleshy interiors. After an hour’s work, nine pearls of a fair size lay wrapped in a bit of black silk in an old tobacco tin. The deck was littered with shell, over which the boys were already disputing. Kalamuck sat cross-legged, with the scattered shell about him. The light of the lanterns standing about the deck cast eerie shadows across the planks. He shouted to Puahe to fetch his pipe, and no one answered. He said angrily:
“Where that fella Puahe? Jim Billy, you savvy? You, Haikai? You, Neperiti?”
They uttered a disclaimer that was too loud, too innocent. Kalamuck perceived its falsity. In a rage he seized Jim Billy by the throat and shook him.
“Where is he? Tell me. Tell me!”
He went on until he had the boy choking. Then he flung him on deck and waited, breathing heavily, his hands on his knees as he bent over the Kanaka. But Jim Billy did not speak. He raised himself feebly on one elbow and pointed to the island.
“Gone ashore?” asked Kalamuck. “What do you mean, you fool? What’s he doing there at this time of night?”
If they knew, they refused to say. He cursed them roundly and went to lean over the side, staring unhappily at the dark silence of the land. He could hear no voices, he could see no lights. As he stood there, puzzled and furious, Jim Billy came and stood beside him.
“Kalamucki, no beat?”
Kalamuck turned at the timid enquiry. “I’ll flay you if you play me up like this. You savvy why Puahe go on Teiafu. You say, then.”
“Kalamuki go away all same quick. Now, before Puahe come back. Puahe all same very bad man. Kalamuki go away now.” Kalamuck caught the boy’s wrist.
“Why Puahe bad man? Puahe all same good. Good, savvy?”
“No, no! All Kanaka afraid Puahe.”
His master said angrily:
“Puahe jump in sea one time to save me. He is very brave. Why are you fools afraid?”
Yes, because Puahe had saved his life he would think no evil of him. He remembered the terror of the moment when the sea swept him to what must have been certain death. The brown arms that dragged him from the greedy water were Puahe’s. But for the fellow’s strength and quickness he would have died.
And now Jim Billy said a disquieting thing.
“You savvy why Puahe save you?”
Kalamuck began to bluster out the obvious reason of a servant’s devotion to his master. Jim Billy said no more. But his incredulity made itself felt. Kalamuck went below. As he went slowly down the companionway he tried to dismiss the unease which hung about him like a cloud. Jim Billy seemed to hint that Puahe had saved his master’s life for some extraordinary reason of which Kalamuck knew nothing. Absurd ! Yet supposing it were true, what might that reason be?
He could not sleep. All night he tossed in his bunk, wondering, wondering. . .Puahe returned some time during the night, but whether early or late Kalamuck did not know. When the boy brought him his coffee he refrained from questioning at first. He’d only get more lies. But at last he burst out: “Suppose you go ashore any more all same last night, you get beating. Savvy?” Puahe didn’t explain. He didn’t even answer. But for an instant the real Puahe looked at Kalamuck, and Kalamuck drew back. To think the fellow could regard him so evilly! He stared, startled. Puahe had resumed his complacent and deferential air.
KALAMUCK waved him away and finished a scanty breakfast. With all possible dispatch he gave orders for the dinghy to be lowered. Pearling must start at once. Though he would not take Jim Billy’s advice and leave this haunted place, he desired to speed matters up.
His sudden feverish activity lasted for three days. During that time he made the divers work at top speed. The first day’s haul was poor. The two succeeding days surpassed his expectations. He praised the boys and counted his gains eagerly. The lust of the pearl seeker droveout all else. It even drove out the sense of waiting doom that had so obsessed him during the first two days. He thought, lived, and dreamed pearls. On the third evening he held up a peerless gem —a round, white, shining object of immeasurable beauty. It glowed richly as he held it against the light. Kalamuck judged it to weigh between twenty and twenty-five grains. He would take it to a French Jew that he knew in Macassar. Together with the rest of the pearls, he would show it nochalantly, watching the Jew’s expression carefully. For the whole haul he would ask $30,000. The Jew would offer ten. Between them they would at last arrive at the figure midway which would satisfy both.
What was that? He leaped to his feet, his hand on his gun. Over the side of the Mary Kay came scrambling dark figures, silent and swift. Kalamuck dropped five of them. It didn’t seem to make the slightest difference. As they fell, others stepped over their writhing bodies. Kalamuck struck out with all his might. His fist smashed into hard brown bodies that fell back with groans. But he couldn’t fight eleven men. They overpowered him, until he went down hard on the deck with a stinging pain behind his ear, and an elbow planted firmly in his stomach.
He roared imprecations at them, and they made no reply. Rapidly and firmly his arms were bound to his sides. The anchor chain was being drawn up. He shouted as he heard the sound. Where were they taking him?
By the light of the lantern his captors regarded him. He stared at the ring of dark faces, and foremost among them saw Puahe.
“Come here, you swine. What’s all this? What the devil do you think you’re doing? Who are all these blackguards?”
No one resented his remarks. They merely stood, rubbing the places where he had smashed into them. Puahe himself said nothing until Kalamuck felt the ship swing slowly out into the night sea. Then he said: “We takem Mary Kay to Papalagos. Puahe great man belong Papalagos. Kalamuki stay there.”
Stay there. Stay at Papalagos. At Papa-
Continued on page 42
Continued from page 40
lagos, where Puahe was a great man. Cold terror rose in Kalamuck’s heart. Who was Puahe? What was he? Had he bargained with these islanders? Or were these his own men, who had awaited him? Like the African negroes, the Kanakas have curious powers of sending messages from extraordinarily long distances. Kalamuck’s thoughts whirled. What did all that matter? The thing he must find out was—what they would do with him.
They kept him on deck all night, and all next day. He was well treated. They gave him food and whisky. His own boys were there, except Jim Billy. He remembered seeing that fellow slip over the side of the ship, pursued by two others.
On and on went the Mary Kay under the Kanaka’s navigation. Puahe himself took the wheel. A fresh breeze favored them, sweeping them over to the southeast. In his bonds, Kalamuck sat on the deck and watched the sails belly under the wind.
TUCKY CHARLIE HASLITT and his -l“» mate met a Dutch skipper on the jetty at Kikia. Charlie knew the Dutchman, and they went up to the store called Henry Lee’s Place to split a bottle of schnapps. Charlie, fat and wheezy, confided he was off to Teiafu. The Dutchman nodded.
“I bass near him,” he said in his slow, heavy way. “And one night I speak a ship. Id was der Mary Kay mid Kalamuck aboard.”
“What’s he doin’ on Teiafu?” said Charlie. “Or maybe he wasn’t makin’ for there?”
“Bud where else could he go? I haf heard besides from a friendt I meet in Degas dat he go dere. I come vrom north, he go to southeast.”
“He was in Macassar a while ago,” Charlie ruminated. “An artful devil he is, too. I wouldn’t put it past him to have scooped up them pearls by now.”
The more he thought about the matter the more certain it appeared to him that Kalamuck had beaten him to Teiafu. Wrathfully he decided to set out before another day had passed. He bullied his boys and had stores aboard in six hours. To Porteous, his mate, a small alert man with a face like a sick monkey, he mentioned the things he would do to Kalamuck when he caught him. Porteous listened dumbly. At the end of the tirade he said :
“Why dontcha just tell him you ain’t pleased?” which left Charlie bereft of words.
Charlie got top speed out of his old lugger, the Princess. She was heavy and reliable, but no flyer. Charlie nearly killed his crew trying to get an extra knot out of her. Porteous watched gravely as Charlie harangued his boys. Charlie saw the amusement in his eyes and swore at him in three tongues. But Porteous swore back in four and had the best of that battle.
When they saw Teiafu ahead, Charlie got out his gun and polished it up. His plump good-natured face was full of purpose.
“I’ll scare him out of the few wits he’s got under that yellow thatch,” he promised. “Saucy devil ! He thinks he can get away with it, does he?”
As they drew nearer he searched in vain for a sight of the Mary Kay. Not a sail, not a spar was to be seen. He grumbled about it to Porteous, who suggested mildly that perhaps he had misunderstood what the Dutchman said. During the explosion that followed, Porteous suddenly grabbed him by the arm.
“Look! There’s a Kanaka on the beach, wavin’ his arms. What’s he want?”
“Don’t you go puttin’ off no dinghy for no Kanaka wavin’ of his arms,” Charlie cautioned him with dignity. “If he’s got stuff to sell, I don’t want it. If he ain’t he’s cuckoo.”
But Porteous wasn’t satisfied. He got out his glass and studied the figure that was making such frantic signals. When the Princess dropped anchor three parts of a mile from shore, the Kanaka hesitated no longer. He plunged in, careless of lurking sharks, and swam out to the ship. Charlie watched him, and said to Porteous:
“Reckon he’s a Degas boy. Got that
funny hair, and swims like a Degas boy I once had. Got his foot caught by one o’ them great clams while we was pearlin’ out in the Paumotas, that boy did.”
“No. Hacked his foot off with his pearlin’ knife. Game fella, he was. Here, tell one of the boys to sling a rope over the side for that fella. He ain’t swimmin’ very quick.”
The swimmer caught the hanging rope and clambered on board. He shook the water out of his eyes and came and stood before Charlie.
“Me Jim Billy belong Kalamuki,” he told them, and went on in a hurried, excited way to tell them what had happened. By dint of questions they got all the story out of him, and then stared at each other in perplexity.
“What’ll they do with him?” Charlie demanded.
It was Jim Billy who supplied the answer. He drew one finger across his throat.
“But what for?” Porteous asked. “I thought this Puahe was his boy for six years and fond of him. What’s he goin’ to kill him for?”
“Portusi not know men belong Papalagos,” said Jim Billy. “Papalagos all same bad, Puahe all same bad witch. Must have all head belong enemy. Keepem head in smoke, bimeby very small.”
“A witch doctor, eh? I know what he means, Charlie. I’ve heard tell of that on Papalagos. Smoke-dried heads size of an orange. Lord knows how they get ’em that way, but they do.”
“Kalamuck’s been a good friend to Puahe,” objected Charlie. “Why, the boy liked him, too. Saved his life—”
“Kalamuki not enemy,” Jim Billy pointed out. “Puahe not kill for enemy. Kill for yellow hair.”
So that was it. Porteous and Charlie had the core of the matter now. To possess a trophy so desirable, Puahe had worked for years. In remote comers of the islands the practice of collecting smoke-dried human heads shrunk by special process to the size of an orange remained prevalent in spite of English, French and Dutch protests, expeditions and punishments. Papalagos was far out. No one bothered much about it. Indeed, it was doubtful to whom it belonged, ownership being still a matter of arbitration between French and Dutch. Meanwhile old customs flourished.
CHARLIE sent Jim Billy below, and he and Porteous strove to find a way to clear up the mess.
“Stands to reason he’s dead by now,” Charlie argued.
But Porteous took another view. Such a killing, he pointed out, would be an occasion for a special feast. When would that be most likely to take place? At the time of full moon.
“That’s the twenty-eighth,” said Charlie. “It’s the twenty-first today. Got a lot of time, ain’t we, to get to the perishin’ place and stop ’em? How do we do it, hey? Just walk up to a couple of hundred bloodthirsty Kanakas and tell them we’ve called for the boy-friend?”
With all the good will in the world, they could do nothing. Nor were they near enough to civilization to fetch help. By the time they could do that, full moon would have passed. It was obvious to both of them that Puahe had waited years for this opportunity. The question arose, why had none of the boys warned Kalamuck? Both traders knew. Puahe was a witch doctor. On account of his supposed supernatural powers he had absolute command over the crew. To the white man, the credulity of the Kanaka is inexplicable. It is, however, a thing which persists. Puahe had exploited it to the full.
At that very moment Jim Billy was relating to a silent crowd of Charlie’s Kanakas what had happened to three of Kalamuck’s boys.
“One of them,” he said, “leaped into the sea for fear of Puahe. To a second Puahe spoke, saying, ‘Speak of me to Kalamuki and I will kill you.’ In the morning the man said to Kalamuki, ‘It is well to fear Puahe,’ and in the evening he was dead. To a third
he said, T have power over you also. You will die in three days.’ And he—”
Charlie’s voice boomed across the ship. He sang out his orders, and the boys sprang to haul up the anchor. The Princess was set for Papalagos. In the chart room Porteous fingered a tom paper and swore under his breath. He had remonstrated in vain with Charlie.
“I ain’t goin’ to leave him die without tryin’ what I can do,” Charlie protested. “I like him. He don’t care for nothin’ nor nobody. He’s got guts. It’s a Weedin’ shame if we don’t do what we can. Maybe the sight of the Princess will put fear into these blackguards.”
Porteous abandoned efforts to turn Charlie from his purpose. He remarked instead that Charlie had better make a will and start to leam up a prayer suitable for use in last moments. Toward Jim Billy he maintained a fixed air of cold severity, accounting him the immediate cause of this insane expedition.
Charlie crowded on sail. The wind favored them, and they rolled down toward Papalagos for two nights and two days. Then, when the island lay half a day’s journey ahead, Porteous tackled Charlie again. “What you doin’ to do?”
It appeared that Charlie had grandiloquent ideas. He purposed landing and demanding the release of Kalamuck. Nothing Porteous could say moved him. In despair the mate left him and went to vent his anger on the Kanakas.
His abusive journey took him to the galley. Here he fell on Tuai, the cook-boy, and made a major crime of the state of the stove.
Tucked away among the stores was a tin of stove polish and he stood over Tuai while the boy found it. Suddenly Porteous stopped short in the middle of a tirade, and snatched the polish from the boy’s hand. Pushing out of the galley he made for Charlie, who was at the wheel.
“I’ve got it! Listen.”
“Don’t worry me, don’t worry me,” Charlie begged him. “I don’t know these parts, an’ there’s bad reefs hereabouts on the chart.”
He glanced at the tin in Porteous’s hand. “What’s that?”
Porteous dipped a fingertip in the contents of the tin, eyed it thoughtfully.
“If you was a Kanaka collectin’ your friends’ heads,” he said, “and if you’d set your mind on gettin’ a yellow one to add to the collection, you’d be mighty scared if that yellow hair turned black in the night, wouldn’t you?”
“If Jim Billy was to be shipped ashore with this,” w'ent on Porteous, “maybe he could get it to Kalamuck. No need for us to show up yet. Time enough for that when his new pals want to get rid of him.”
They sent for Jim Billy and told him what was in their heads. For a long time the three discussed the matter. The Princess would approach as near as she dared to Papalagos at night. The dinghy would be rowed within practicable swimming distance of the shore. It was highly unlikely that Jim Billy’s absence had been noticed amid the excitement. He could say, if questioned, that he had been driven by terror to a corner of the hold of the Mary Kay, from whence he would be supposed to have emerged.
Porteous found a little leather bag to hold the tin of stove polish. He tied it round Jim Billy’s waist and concealed it in the folds of the pareu.
“You take care of it,” he admonished the Kanaka. “And don’t get scared, whatever you do. Find out where Kalamuki kept, and givem tin. He savvy what to do.”
“Will he?” said Charlie doubtfully. “Sure. We ain’t all like you. Rum, ain’t it, to think maybe a tin of black lead will save a guy’s life?”
He eyed Jim Billy with a thoughtful air. “Maybe,” Porteous said again, “or maybe not.”
KALAMUCK lay on his back on the mud floor of a little hut. They had unbound his hands, and brought him water to
wash with and to drink. His body felt sore, but he was able to accept his position with stoicism. It was beyond all possibility that he should escape. He was guarded night and day. Beyond doubt he would be killed when the feast of the full moon was held.
He had indeed been so informed. The chief of the tribe of Papalagos sent for him. He was led into the longhouse, where amid exultant shouts Puahe modestly described the capture. It was made plain to Kalamuck what his fate would be. The chief smiled companionably at him, and congratulated him on the possession of his marvellous yellow hair. He was to be well treated, fed, waited on. Only—he must not put a foot outside his hut.
In the bay the Mary Kay rocked at anchor. The Papalagans would not risk allowing Kalamuck the thousandth part of a chance to reach her. They knew that white men are wizards at sea, however poorly they may show up on land. So Kalamuck might sit at the back of his tiny grass prison and gaze at his lovely ship with all his heart in his eyes.
Each night he watched the swelling moon. Already preparations for the feast were being made. There were weird sounds at night, snatches of rhythmic chants, long muffled rolls on the goatskin drums. Among the natives feverish excitement prevailed. They shrieked and chattered incessantly. Quarrels flamed high. Kalamuck watched almost with amusement. He had dined well on chicken stew. No need to die before you must, he said philosophically. A man’s last days might as well be as happy as circumstances allowed.
He had, say, three or four more days. With his hands under his head, he stretched himself out and began to whistle. Not such a bad end after all. It wouldn’t last long, though it might be very painful. Better than getting old though, old and poor and ill, dragging out his days in misery. He’d go out in his prime, and some might say he was lucky. True, it was sad to think he couldn’t have had a few more years. There were those pearls, for instance. And he had meant to go back to Ku some time, to see if old Jacopi and his girl still dreamed on the rotting pier. He gave a sigh for the women he’d never kiss again, the men he’d never see.
“I’ve had a good time,” he thought. “Done what I wanted and been where I pleased. I suppose I’m scared really. But I’m darned if these devils shall know it.”
He sang, then, a reckless ribald song of the harbor bars. His lusty voice rose to high heaven. Presently he became aware of dark faces peering in at the square space where the door should have been. They laughed and clapped, amused at the white man’s spirits.
The day wore on. Into a crimson sea went the sun. The cool offshore wind of evening began to blow. Beach fires were lighted. A delicate meal of roast pork and sago was brought to Kalamuck. Outside his hut he heard voices. His guards were relaxing a little in the evening air. They sat about on the ground beside the hut, chatting with their friends.
In the dim light Kalamuck heard a faint scratching sound to the right. Peering cautiously, he perceived a dark hand creep under the heavy grass mat.
He kept still and quiet. In less than three seconds the hand had gone but something remained. Indolently he strolled across the hut and lay down. Stretching out his arm, he felt around. His hand closed on a small round object.
Now what the devil could be in a tin like that, and who brought it anyway? Fearing a trap of some kind, he would not open it for a long time. Indeed, it was not until loud snores from his guards were heard that he ventured to remove the lid and sniff the contents.
With the tin in his hand he sat thinking. Presently he began to make methodical preparations. With enormous care he worked the stuff into his hair, rubbing it right into the scalp, in terror lest he miss a stray lock. The palms of his hands were like jet
when he had finished. With careful accuracy he proceeded to give himself a black nose and chin, enormous peaked eyebrows and black teeth. The last made him feel sick, but he choked down the nausea, and grinned as he thought of the appearance he presented. When the tin was enlpty, he scraped a hole in the softest part of the floor and buried it.
At dawn Kalamuck stood at the entrance of his hut, surrounded by sleeping guards. He coughed, and one of them awoke. Rolling a sleepy eye in the direction of the captive, he gave a startled yell that roused his fellows. Horrified, they gazed at the frightful apparition and clung to each other, almost numb with fear.
Kalamuck did not speak. Instead he groaned at them, uttering long, blood-freezing "moos” like a sick cow. Within five minutes the entire populace were dithering in a scared mass twenty yards away from him. He advanced toward them with the stride of the actor in a melodrama, longshort, long-short. They stood it for a few seconds, but when he menaced them with his black palms they broke and fled.
As the sun rose higher, panic reigned supreme on Papalagos. Someone—it may have been Jim Billy—whispered the word ghost. It spread like fire in a hayfield. Yes! There lay the explanation. The prisoner’s ghost, his familiar spirit, had come to his aid. How else was this ghastly transformation possible, in a hut surrounded by guards?
Kalamuck threw all his powers into this gamble. If he could get away with it, if he could only keep them sufficiently scared, he might get to his ship. He sweated at the thought that presently some man would rally the rest, that they would bear down on him and make an end. . .
* I 'HE PRINCESS sailed into the bay at
Papalagos just after midday. With elaborate unconcern, Charlie and Porteous ostentatiously placed water casks in the dinghy and had themselves rowed ashore.
They landed in view of the agitated populace, and Porteous advanced smiling, hands raised in greeting. The chief and Puahe regarded him closely. Puahe, who had seen him in Macassar, pronounced him harmless. Proud to display his knowledge of tongues, the Kanaka stepped forward.
"You fetchem water?”
"Yes. Can get?”
"Get plenty,” Puahe agreed hospitably, and called for hands to roll the casks to the stream.
Searching among the crowd of faces, Charlie saw Jim Billy. The boy rolled his eyes toward the grass hut. Cautiously Charlie lifted his eyes to where it stood on the slope of a knoll.
As he and Porteous stood there, an extraordinary figure emerged from the hut. A long "moo” rent the air. The more nervous Kanakas took to their heels. The others made a wide lane down which Kalamuck strode, still uttering mournful cries.
Porteous stared at Kalamuck and stared at the chief.
"Him ghost,” Puahe whispered, backing from the apparition’s path. "Him ghost Kalamuki come in seccoona (schooner).”
Now Porteous had put on two guns, one of them filled with blanks. His fertile mind had decided that a little fancy shooting might lend prestige to the party, especially if there were no casualties. As Kalamuck approached, Porteous drew his gun and announced with a flourish that he would put an end to Kalamuck’s ghost. He fired at him point-blank.
When the smoke cleared away the crowd perceived in horror that the ghost still lived. Their simple minds reeled with fear. If a bullet would not destroy this thing, what would their own arts accomplish? A loud wail went up. Kalamuck announced in stentorian tones that he was hungry. When food was hastily placed, he spurned it and
made plain his intention to wait until night. Puahe translated his words to the horde, who listened in anguished silence. It is well known among Kanakas that a ghost feeds on living men in the darkness.
Trembling, Puahe approached Porteous “Him ghost Kalamuki angry. Kanaka want yellow head in smoke-house. Ghost belong Kalamuki very angry, take away yellow head.”
Porteous shrugged. Already the men were returning with the water casks. He signed to Charlie and they began to make farewell gestures to the chief. That worthy and Puahe went into excited conference. This heaven-sent opportunity must not be missed. Was Kalamuki to live for everon Papalagos, pursuing his evil and bloody way? Clearly he could never die. The white men could perhaps be coaxed or bribed to take him away. With gleaming eyes, Puahe went up to Porteous.
"You takem Kalamuki away?”
Porteous affected to consult Charlie. "No,” he said presently. "No likem ghost. No takem.”
Kalamuck caught the spirit of the affair. He waved his arms, opened his black mouth, and shouted:
"I shall not go away! I shall stay here. I like Papalagos. Likem Papalagos, stay here all the time.”
The whole multitude threw themselves into the matter. Kalamuck was surrounded by a mass of brown faces, whose eyes, wide with terror, besought him to be gone. Voices shrieked in unison. Arms were flung high. The more resolutely Kalamuck shook his head, the more they implored him, working themselves into a frenzy at his repeated refusals.
Porteous said to Charlie.
"It’s okay. Watch me do r little fancy work now.”
He went up to Kalamuck, and waved his hand toward the Princess as if inviting him to go on board. Under cover of the tumult he said :
"Shake your head cocky. I’m goin’ to get you your own boat. Wait, now.”
Kalamuck got the idea. He stamped with rage, and reared over Porteous with a frightful grimace. Nothing daunted, Porteous, with a coaxing air, pointed out the Mary Kay. Kalamuck’s attention was apparently caught. He stared at his ship, while his heart beat fast.
"Maybe I’m going to live after all,” he thought.
Slowly, slowly, he went down to the beach, the crowd following. On the shore lay several catamarans. Without seeming to move his lips Porteous said:
“Don’t forget your boys.”
To Puahe he said:
"Must have Kanaka go along Kalamuki.” This frightful suggestion caused panic. Each man pushed his neighbor forward. Kalamuck spun round, and laid hold of Jim Billy and another of his boys who was well in front. Thus relieved of the peril of being made to accompany a ghost, the rest set up a cheer.
Dinghy and catamaran set off across the water. From the island rose a chorus of exultant farewell. None of the white men looked back. Presently the two ships began to move, their white sail gleaming in the sun.
On they went until Papalagos lay like a blur on the blue horizon. Then the Princess swerved to within speaking distance of the Mary Kay. The two men who had saved a comrade’s life, and the man who had been snatched from a horrible death, greeted each other across the waves.
“You okay?” shouted fat Charlie. "Okay,” Kalamuck roared back. "Lucky you came along.”
Suddenly the humor of it all struck them. They began to laugh, at first in chuckles, then in guffaws, then in a huge uncontrollable roar. To the sound of that Homeric laughter the ships drew apart.