They were up at dawn, and the fire was crackling and the coffee heating
before the sun had fully shown itself over the eastern reef line.
Schumer had been able to salve cooking utensils and some unbroken
crockery ware from the _Tonga_, to say nothing of knives and forks and
It seems a small matter, but a knife and a fork make all the difference
when one comes to food, even on an island of the Pacific–a plate, too.
Condemned to eat with one’s fingers and to share a knife in common, one
feeds, but one does not eat.
There was condensed milk for the coffee, ship’s bread and salt pork
fried over the fire. Isbel had collected some plantains; they went into
the frying pan to help the pork. She had also gathered some drupes from
a pandanus tree growing near the wreck, and served them on a big leaf.
“There’s a whole lot of seeds aboard somewhere,” said Schumer, as they
breakfasted; “onions and carrots and so on; I must hunt for them, and
when we have time I’ll see how they grow here. You can grow anything on
these islands. The soil’s the best in the world; maybe because of the
gull guano. We’ll want all the native-grown food we can get here, if
things turn out as I expect, for we’ll have to feed the labor we bring,
and natives aren’t happy without the stuff they are used to. Corned
beef and spuds are all very well in their way, but it’s breadfruit and
taro and plantains that are the stand-by. Fortunately there seems lots.
You see all that dark-green stuff growing over there straight across
the lagoon–that’s breadfruit; big trees, too, and the coconuts aren’t
“When we get the labor we’ll have a main camp over by the fishing
ground. I’ve been thinking it all out. There’s no natural water there,
but I noticed yesterday a big rain pond in the coral; it must have
been cut out by natives some time or another. The funny thing about
these ponds is that the water is saltish at high tides, but gets fresh
with the ebb. In some of the islands the natives stock them with fish,
salt-water fish swimming in fresh.
“Then we have the fishing to fall back on, and the lagoon is full. Yes,
we are not badly placed as things go.”
They placed the dredge on board the boat and some food for the midday
meal, and pushed off, leaving Isbel behind to look after the camp and
keep an eye out for ships. At the sight of a sail anywhere on the sea
she was to light the fire and make a smoke with green wood, and she
had a splendid lookout post, for the deck of the _Tonga_, onto which
she could easily climb, gave a complete view of the horizon from all
Then they rowed off, leaving her watching them, a solitary figure on
“Seems she’ll be a bit lonely,” said Floyd.
“Not she,” replied Schumer; “she’ll be happy enough alone, and she has
lots to do between washing up and keeping a lookout. Kanakas are never
lonely; it’s a disease of civilization.”
“You look upon these people as if they were animals,” said Floyd.
“Which they are,” replied Schumer–“animals dressed in human skin.”
Floyd said nothing. He was not a psychologist or a philosopher, but
a man of action; yet he gauged something of the strange make-up of
Schumer’s mind. Here was a man of keen intelligence, a quoter of
Scheffel, an appreciator of beauty, apparently a kindly individual,
but in some respects apparently hard beyond belief, and in others
Floyd had some knowledge of the Polynesian natives, he was gaining some
knowledge of Schumer, and he was to gain more knowledge of both–of the
civilized man and the savage and their respective worth.
They got to work in two-fathom water on the northern edge of the great
bed. They stripped for the business. Both men were good swimmers and
expert divers, and the dredge did its work fairly well. They agreed
to take the diving business in half-hour tricks, one remaining in the
boat with a view to possible sharks, though sharks were scarcely to be
feared in that part of the lagoon, and to keep the boat moving when the
dredge was in operation.
Floyd was the first to go down. At a depth of twelve feet it was as
bright almost as at the surface. The water seemed to hold light in
solution; glancing up, the white-painted boat floating like a balloon
above him showed a tinge of rose; passing scraps of focus were all
spangled and sparkled over as though powdered with jewel dust; his arm,
newly immersed, was diamonded by tiny beads of air. In this silent,
brilliant world of crystal and color one only wanted gills to find life
in perfection and fairyland in material form.
There were few fish here, but occasionally a colored phantom would
slow up, pause, and whisk off, fry would pass like a flight of silver
needles, and great jellyfish quartered like melons and absolutely
invisible till glimpsed by reflected light.
All these things he noticed in his first submersion; after that the
labor of the business prevented him from noticing anything much except
the work on hand, cruel and murderously hard work to the man unused
to it. The dredge was almost useless at first; it had to be taken up
and altered, then, as it was dragged along, he followed it, helping
it, picking up loose oysters and putting them in the bag. He could
only work for less than half a minute at a time, coming up for a two
minutes’ breathing spell, and as he worked he could feel now and then
what seemed a warm wind trying to blow him aside as the wind blows
thistledown. It was the swell of the incoming tide.
They had arranged to work in half-hour tricks, but they found this
absolutely impossible; before the end of the first twenty minutes Floyd
confessed himself beaten and Schumer took his place.
An hour before noon they knocked off. They had taken a large quantity
of oysters, despite the limited means at their disposal, enough to sink
the boat a strake or two and give them an hour’s work in unloading and
spreading their catch on the coral on the windward side of the reef.
Then they took three hours’ rest under the shade of the trees. At
sundown they had completed their day’s work, and they felt as though
they had been laboring for fifty years.
They had overdone it.
Though they had dived as little as possible during the second half of
the day’s work, using the dredge as much as they could, the work had
nearly broken them, owing to the sudden and tremendous strain put on
Schumer recognized the reason of their exhaustion.
“We should have broken ourselves to it by degrees,” said he–“done a
couple of hours’ work instead of a whole day’s. We are fools. We didn’t
want to strip the lagoon; we were only after a sample, and could have
taken a week over it. Well, we can take things easy to-morrow.”
They rowed back to the camp and found Isbel waiting for them, and
They had come back in low spirits, but after supper and a cup of coffee
the surprising thing happened–their spirits jumped up as though under
the influence of alcohol. Prolonged strain in diving produces these
results–the tissues that have been starved or partly starved of oxygen
reabsorb it with renewed vigor.
They lay on the sand and smoked and talked, and Floyd built castles and
furnished them with his prospective fortune.
“Suppose,” said he, “we strike it rich–very rich–what may we net out
“It all depends,” said Schumer, “if this is a real pearl lagoon;
anything up to a hundred thousand, and maybe more. Pearls are a
disease, and the disease is more prevalent in some waters than others.
I don’t know why, no one does. It may be the temperature or the stuff
the water holds in solution, it may be the breed of the oyster; but
there you have it. Every oyster under the sun is a pearl oyster, at
least may be capable of growing pearls. I found a pearl once in an
oyster which I was eating in a restaurant in Hamburg. It wasn’t a big
pearl, but it was a pearl. I sold it for thirty marks. But one thing
is sure, it’s only in tropical and subtropical waters that you find
pearls of any account or to any account. It’s only in the tropics and
subtropics you find color and stuff that’s rich and worth having. The
north–pah! What does it give us? Iron and tin, wood, copper. It’s the
south where the gold is, where the pearls are. Why, the very earth
in the south hides color and riches! Where are the diamond mines? In
Africa and Brazil. The ruby and emerald mines? In Burma and Brazil and
India. The gold? California and Africa. The silver? Peru. Look at the
birds; there’s not a colored bird in the north that hasn’t come from
the south; look at the shells and the corals, and the flowers and the
people; look at the sun. No, the south holds everything worth having
or seeing. You ask me what I would do if I were rich? Well, I would
not go north, or only for a while. I’d stay in the south, fix my home
somewhere not too close to the equator, take an island in these seas,
and have it for my own.”
“Can you buy islands?”
“You can buy land; one might buy a small island from some of the
governments, or rent it; but I’d sooner have the most land in a big
island than the whole of a little one. Once you have got your grip on
land you have power. Nothing else gives you so much power; funny,
that, isn’t it? Money, you would say, gives power. It only gives the
power to buy or to meddle in other people’s affairs through paid
agents. If you have got your grip on the earth, and the things that
come out of it, and the people who live on it, you have power; and
power is the only thing worth having in the world.”
“Good Lord!” said Floyd. “There’s a lot of things I’d sooner have.”
“And what things may those be?”
“Well, I want to have a good time and see other people having a good
time. I want to travel, not as the mate of an old hooker like the
_Cormorant_, but as a man with money in his pocket and time to look
around him. I want to be able to buy things. I want to dress decently
and to marry some time or another and settle down. I’m fond of horses,
though I’ve never had the chance to own one; and I’m fond of cricket,
though I’ve never touched a bat for years. I’m fond of a jolly good
dinner, and I’m fond of a good cigar. To get all those things one wants
“And all those things come to you if you have power,” said Schumer.
“It implies everything material, and much more. It’s the sense of it,
the feeling ‘I am the stronger man,’ that gives the mind freedom and
ease to enjoy what money can bring. You are entirely English; you want
enjoyment and luxury without foundation of strength.”
“Oh, good heavens!” said Floyd, “I think we have a pretty solid
foundation of strength; we own half the earth, and we hold it–why?
Simply because we live and let live. We don’t try to grind people down
with what you call power. We give them power, liberty, whatever you
like to call it. Now you are a man who has traveled, and so am I. Can
you tell me any spot on earth that a man may be really free in that’s
not under the Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes? Take the German
colonies, the Dutch; haven’t you always some pesky official shoving
his nose into your affairs? Take the very port officers and customs,
and it’s the same all through the country as well as on the coast.
You can’t breathe in these places the same as you can where there’s
a decent English or American administration. I’ve heard foreigners
wondering how it is we hold India–all those hundreds of millions of
natives under the rule of a few thousand white men. As a matter of
fact, we don’t hold it at all; it holds itself. A native in Bombay is
as free as a duke in Piccadilly; that’s our secret.”
“And at any moment,” said he, “those very free natives are ready to
rise in their hundreds of millions and cut your throats.”
“I don’t think so,” said Floyd. “Men don’t cut the throats of their
To argue with Schumer was like pressing against India rubber–the
pressure left no impression.
They talked for a while longer on indifferent subjects, and then turned
in under the shelter of the tent.
The night was almost windless, and the great southern stars stood
out like jewels crusting the whole dome of the sky from sea edge to
sea edge. The Milky Way, like a vast band of white smoke cut by the
terrific pit of a coal sack, Canopus, and the Cross, filled the world
with the mystery of starlight.
Away out on the weather side of the reef near the wreck, and clear in
the starlight against the coral, was seated a figure. It was Isbel.
She had not yet turned into whatever haunt she had in the bush, and
with her knees drawn up and clasped by her hands she was watching the
regular fall of the breakers.
The child seemed under the spell of the vast sea, an atom in face of