THE HOUSE

It would be impossible to bring home to your mind, unless you had
experienced it, the vast change which the presence of the _Southern
Cross_ made in the picture of the lagoon. Not on the retinal picture,
but on the mental.

Her presence altered everything. The place became a harbor. Those spars
fretting the sky, that hull making green water beneath its copper
brought civilization up hand over fist from a thousand leagues down
under.

Loneliness had vanished, the crying of the gulls lost its melancholy,
and the sound of the surf on the reef, when one noticed it, no longer
spoke of desolation.

And, just as the schooner altered the lagoon, so did the presence of
her crew and the labor men alter the life on the island.

In a moment life had become all hurry and work.

Isbel reappeared regularly to help in the preparation of their food;
she would be on hand when wanted for any light job, but she never
sat by them now when they talked; she avoided saying a word unless
absolutely obliged to, and when she spoke she no longer looked Floyd in
the eyes.

“She is frightened to death of us and she loathes us,” he thought. “Me
just as much as him. I don’t wonder, either.”

Schumer said nothing on the matter; perhaps he was too busy to notice
the change in the girl. He certainly had his work cut out for him. On
the first day he had to deal with the labor men, showing them their
job. They knew nothing of pearls or the shell business, but they were
like otters in the water, and they picked up the small technicalities
of the labor at once.

Sru especially seemed to take to the work as though born to it, and
Schumer left them under his foremanship and returned to the schooner,
where he had work for the crew.

He wanted a house. He had already picked out the site for it in a
little clearing of the grove well protected by the trees from possible
storms. The wood was ready to his hand in the wreckage of the _Tonga_,
which the lagoon currents had driven into the shoal water of the
southern beach right opposite to the camping place.

Of course he could have cut down trees for his building material, but
every tree in the grove by the camping place was a valuable asset as
a shelter against the weather. To have used any of the timber from
the other groves of the island would have meant not only the labor of
felling and trimming trees, but of floating them off and towing across
the water.

He made Mountain Joe foreman of the new industry, explaining to him
carefully and minutely the whole business. All planking had to be
collected, made into small rafts, and towed across the lagoon. The
whaleboat was used for the purpose, and Schumer accompanied it himself
on the first trip to show exactly what he wanted.

It took two days’ hard work before sufficient planking had been got
together, and then began the business of securing and towing across
the heavy timbers to be used for posts and beams. The whole of this
business from the start of the time when the wood was lying on the sand
near the tent took over a week, during which time the fishery work was
progressing, though in a leisurely manner.

“There we have thirty chaps at work,” said Schumer on the night when
the last of the timber was salved, “and you’d have imagined that they
would have done fifteen times as much work as you and I per day. They
haven’t done more than three times as much. They play about in the
water; they are a bone-lazy lot–well, it doesn’t matter. If we had
half a dozen dependable overseers to superintend the business when it
comes to searching for the pearls it would be different, but there is
only you and me. So it’s no earthly use getting huge quantities of
shell of which we can’t oversee the working properly. Funny thing it
is, but a business has to slow down unless it is perfect in all parts.
Here we have the getters of the raw stuff, and I could speed them up
four times their present rate and we’d skin the lagoon four times as
quick if I had even three more men like you and me to supervise the
getting of the real stuff–which is pearls. Yet if I had those three
men they would want a partnership and so we’d lose in profits. It’s as
broad as it’s long.”

They were sitting by the fire, and Schumer as he talked was putting
finishing touches to a drawing he was making on a leaf of his
pocketbook.

It was the plan for the house.

He had made the sketch more as an exercise for his restless fingers
than anything else.

Nothing could be more simple or rudimentary in the way of a house plan.
The drawing provided for two rooms only, a big room and a little room.
The main door opened on to the big room.

“It won’t be much of a house,” said the architect, as he showed the
drawing, “but still it will be a house, and a house is a most important
thing for us. Shelter! I’d just as soon shelter in the tent; sooner,
but it’s not a question of shelter so much as prestige. It’s like
wearing a clean shirt. You see, if we live the same as our men they’ll
get to think of us as the same, whereas if we live in a house and keep
them under canvas, or in any old huts they are able to make, they think
of us accordingly. The house gets on their mind. It is the symbol of
authority and power. It becomes the government building. There’s a
whole lot in that–more than you would think. Then, besides, we want a
secure place for the pearls. It won’t do to keep them under canvas or
in a hole in the ground. I’m going to build as strong as I can and make
the door to match. We will have loopholes to fire through, in case of
eventualities, though I don’t think they’ll be needed.

“The man who has to depend on defending his position by resisting
attack in his own house is a pretty bad administrator.

“Still one never knows what may happen, and it is as well to be
prepared.”

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