THE BLACK PEARL

The next morning they started for the oyster ground. There had been
strong winds blowing for the last week and big seas tumbling along the
reef, the spray finding the oysters that they had put out on the coral,
otherwise they might not only have rotted, but dried up. As it was,
they were just in the prime of their horribleness.

“Good heavens!” said Floyd, as they set to work. “This is worse than
salving cargo–a jolly sight worse even than diving.”

“You’ll get used to it,” said Schumer, “and if it’s any comfort to you
to know it’s worse for me than you, for I have an olfactory sense more
acute than ordinary. Get more to windward of your work. You ought to
know that as a sailor.”

“Upon my word!” said Floyd, “these things must have half stunned me;
they are enough to make one forget one’s instincts, even. Go ahead, I
won’t complain.”

He got to windward, and the stiff breeze helped matters considerably.
Schumer had brought a piece of sailcloth, also a canvas bucket, which
they filled as required from a reef pool near by.

Every shell was searched and washed over the canvas, Schumer, with the
eye and hand of an expert, doing the manipulation while Floyd poured
the water in trickles as required.

Dozen by dozen the shells were explored, drained of their mushy
contents, and flung away. Not a pearl showed.

Floyd forgot everything in the excitement of the moment. He had no
longer a sense of smell, and then, as the heap of shells steadily grew
without sign or symptom of what they were in search of, his spirits
fell.

“Pour away,” said Schumer; “this is only the beginning of the business;
there’s no knowing what is to come. Ah, here’s something!”

He stood up, poured some water into the palm of his hand, examined what
was in his palm, and then held out his dripping hand to Floyd.

In the palm lay a small black stone about the size of a pea.

“What is it?” asked Floyd.

Schumer laughed.

“Only a black pearl, worth maybe a hundred dollars. But it’s fortune,
all the same. We have struck it! A hundred dollars for half an hour’s
work for two men. It’s good!”

He sat down on the coral, while Floyd, now deeply excited, took his
seat beside him. The gulls cried and wheeled overhead, and the sun
burned on the blue sea and the foam of the reef, and the wind blew the
spray in their faces as they sat handing their treasure from one to the
other, examining it and gloating over it.

Washed and dried now, its luster appeared. It was a perfect black
pearl, not large, but of splendid quality, globular and slightly
flattened on one side.

“It’s worth more even than I thought at first,” said Schumer. “It’s a
beauty. Well, we mustn’t chuckle too soon; it may be the only pearl in
the lagoon, though I don’t think so. And the shell is of fine quality;
all the indications are good.”

“I thought all pearls were white,” said Floyd. “Of course, I know
nothing about them, and the only ones I have seen were in shop windows.”

“And most likely false, at that,” said Schumer. “No. Pearls are not all
white. I don’t know what makes the color in them, but there it is. Some
are black like this, and a few are pink, and I’ve seen some gray–they
aren’t much good. Pink are the rarest, then come black, then white.
Well, I’ll put this fellow in my match box, and now let’s get to work
again.”

He put the pearl in the match box and the box in the pocket of his
coat, which he had taken off. Then, having placed a lump of coral on
the coat to prevent any chance of the wind blowing it about, they
returned to work.

They worked right through the whole take of shell, and the sun was
setting when they had finished. The result was triumphant.

Twelve pearls was the harvest, including the black. Four of these were
quite inconsiderable, but of good quality; four more, though larger,
were not of good shape or quality, but there were three white beauties.
The largest, Schumer estimated at a thousand dollars and over, the next
largest at less than a thousand, and the third at five hundred.

There were also some seed pearls, tiny things like nits’ eggs.

“If the whole lagoon pays up like that,” said Floyd, “we’ll be rich ten
times over.”

Schumer shook his head.

“We can’t tell. Nothing is more uncertain than pearling. We are sure
to find blank streaks, and it’s possible we may have just struck the
richest corner. In a lagoon like this a lot depends on the different
temperatures, the depth, and the rush of the currents. But we’ve done
well, and a lot better than I expected.”

They set off back across the lagoon to their camping place, and the
day’s take was placed in the box with the ship’s money.

Schumer had suggested to Floyd that the money of the _Cormorant_ should
be placed with that of the _Tonga_ in the same box, and Floyd had
agreed, seeing the wisdom of centralizing their treasure so that in
eventualities it might be more easily protected.

Together with the pearls the hoard made now a very respectable show,
though Floyd had pointed out that the _Cormorant_ money, being Coxon’s,
must not be counted in their mutual assets. Schumer had agreed, though
evidently with reservations. The money of the _Tonga_ was a different
matter; he seemed to look on it as his own. Never once did he refer
to it in other terms, nor had he told Floyd the name of the _Tonga’s_
skipper.

Floyd did not press the point–it was a matter entirely to do with
Schumer.

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