PLANS

One evening, a fortnight later, Schumer, who had just come back from
the fishing camp, found Floyd seated on the sand near the house and
engaged in mending some tackle. He took his seat beside him, lit a
pipe, and gave him news of the day’s work.

“Everything is shipshape here now,” finished he, “and it’s time to
strike for Sydney.”

“When do you propose to start?”

“At once.”

“At once?”

“Why not? There are stores enough on the _Southern Cross_ for the trip,
and it’s only a question of getting the water on board; that will take
us a day. The weather promises well, and I’d propose to start the day
after to-morrow.”

Floyd said nothing for a moment. The projected expedition that would
leave him alone on the island had weighed on his mind for the last
few days. Whatever Schumer might be, he was a companion, the only
other white man in the place. To be left absolutely alone, with no
one to talk to, was a dreary prospect, but it was for the good of the
business, and he was not the man to grumble.

“Well,” he said, “if it has to be, there is no use talking. We can’t
both leave the place, and since you are the best man for the trade end
of the affair, I must stop, but it will be a pretty lonely business.”

“Oh, you’ll find lots to do,” said Schumer, laughing. “I only hope
you won’t find too much. I have drilled these fellows into pretty
fair discipline, and it’s for you to keep it up. I warn you if you
don’t you’ll have trouble. You mustn’t let them come any of the funny
business over you, and you must back your authority with your gun if
need be. Your only danger is the cache. We give these fellows tobacco
and so on, and the question hasn’t begun to enter their thick heads as
to where all the stores come from, but it may, and if they scent the
cache, there will be trouble. You just remember that knives and trade
goods are like minted gold to these chaps, and if they suspected a
whole Bank of England of them here under the trees, they’d ten to one
try to raid it. You mustn’t ever let them land here.”

“You bet I won’t,” said Floyd. “How long will you be gone?”

“Three weeks to get there and three to get back, makes six weeks, and
allowing for a fortnight there–let’s say nine weeks to give it a
margin. You may expect me back in the lagoon in nine weeks. If I’m not
back by then, you may begin to suspect I’m with the sharks.”

“You will take the money with you?”

“Of course; and I’ll take the best of the pearls, too, for several
reasons. First to show our samples, second because I’m leaving you the
lagoon. If I never come back, you’d have the lagoon, and if you bolted
with the lagoon, I’d have the pearls.

“I won’t take all the pearls, only a selection of the best.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” said Floyd. “I can trust you; and, even if I
couldn’t, you would not be such a fool as to leave a pearl lagoon for
the sake, of a six weeks’ take of pearls. Well, come on to supper;
there’s Isbel laying out the things; we can talk afterward.”

Though the house was now finished, with the door on, and the table in,
they always took their meals in the open. Isbel had laid the plates and
knives and forks on a cloth before the door, and in the center of the
cloth a kava bowl with some flowers in it.

Schumer was always very punctilious as to the service of meals, laying
the cloth himself if no one else were there to do it. He had salved
all the _Tonga_ linen, and he would doubtless have insisted on napkins
had the _Tonga_ carried them; unable to go as far as napkins, he had
contented himself with flowers. He believed in keeping up appearances,
even if there were no one to observe these appearances but their two
selves and Isbel, and he was right. Slackness is one of the rots of the
world, and the least bit of ceremonial is the finest tonic in life.

Isbel, who never ate with them now by any chance, and who had
voluntarily debased herself from the position of companion to the
condition of servant, went off and left them to their food. The sun
sank behind the reef, and in a sky of pansy blue the first vague sketch
of the constellation began to show itself to the darkening sea. Then
almost as though touched off by a taper, the stars blazed out, crusting
with light the whole dome from the sea line to the zenith. It was the
night before the new moon, and always on these nights when the whole
lighting of the world was left to the stars a deeper peace seemed to
pervade the island and the ocean and the sky. The voice of the reef
seemed to sink lower, and the night wind to blow warmer, and the lagoon
to hold in its depths a profounder calm.

The wind to-night brought faint odors of vanilla and frangipanni from
the trees of the grove, and across the lagoon a trace of song from
the camping place by the fishing ground. The natives were amusing
themselves, and the light of their camp fire showed like a red spark
across the starlit water.

The two men on the beach sat smoking and watching the schooner as she
rode to her anchor, with a single light showing. The Kanaka crew, whom
Schumer had always kept apart from the labor men, were on deck, and
their forms could be seen indistinctly in the starlight as they lounged
about, smoking and yarning. A fellow was fishing over the after rail,
and now and then one could see a splash in the water and a streak of
silver, as a groper was hauled up.

Faint and far away and coming, no doubt, from the fo’c’sle could be
heard the strains of a concertina playing a thready and wandering air,
while occasionally across the lagoon from the deep soundings came the
splash of a great fish jumping, while the ring of it spread in a circle
of silver on the water.

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