THE MIRACLE

Timau made a good recovery. In a couple of days he was hobbling about
with the aid of a stick, and in a week, but for the bandage on his foot
and leg, he seemed a well man.

He was also a distinguished personage in a way; honored as a man
returned from the grave, yet, at the same time, avoided as much as
possible. In other words, he was feared, and he made the best of the
situation by doing no work and drawing full allowances in food and
tobacco.

He did not show the least outward gratitude toward Floyd for his rescue
and restoration, and Floyd, in his turn, found himself somewhat in the
same position as Timau.

Sru, while working just the same, showed considerable reserve in his
dealings with his manager. A man who could bring a corpse back to life
was not a person to be dealt with lightly, and the strange thing was,
that Floyd’s beneficent action did not seem to strike Sru in the light
of beneficence. It was quite plainly evident that it was looked upon
more as an act of evil than of good.

The other natives seemed of the same mind as Sru; they never laughed
and tom-fooled now when Floyd was present–they worked better.

Isbel seemed quite unmoved. He saw her now nearly every day when he
came to the fishing camp; she had quite settled down in her new home,
and seemed always busy, yet somehow to Floyd’s eyes she seemed changed.
It was toward the first week of Schumer’s absence that Floyd became
fully alive to this change in her. She was no longer a child. Just as
some tropical plants bloom in a night, so in the course of a few weeks
she had changed, at least to his eyes. It was as though a new person
had come upon the island.

But the miracle of the change in her had touched him, too.

The whole world seemed suddenly altered. Life, in a moment, had become
a different thing. Life, in a moment, had become worth living, the sky
and sea bluer, the sun more friendly, the island more beautiful.

Isbel had not changed the least in her manner toward him, but the
magic of life that had touched her had touched him through her. She
was always in his thoughts–when he returned at night to the house,
and when he returned in the morning to the fishing ground, when he lay
awake at night and when he worked with Sru by day.

He was in love, but he did not recognize the fact for a long time, and
even then he formed no plans and dreamed no dreams after the fashion of
lovers.

The idea of Isbel was enough, the sight of her, the memory of her.

Had she shown by the faintest sign that she was thinking of him, it
would have been different. The will to possess her would have at once
arisen. But she showed nothing, living and moving as remote from him
as the moon that silvered the reef and shone upon the water.

One morning Floyd, who ever since the departure of Schumer had
recorded the time by making a notch each morning on the doorpost,
completed the forty-ninth notch. It was exactly seven weeks since
Schumer’s departure. He had lost all record of the day of the week.
The _Cormorant_ had been lost on a Wednesday, and on landing he could
easily have reckoned the day by the time spent in the boat, but he had
not troubled. Schumer had also lost the day of the week, but the loss
affected them very little here, where even the hour of the day was of
small account.

“He ought to be back in a fortnight,” said Floyd to himself, as he sat
down in the shadow of the house to smoke a pipe before starting for the
fishing ground. “Wonder what luck he’s had.”

He sat smoking and reviewing the events that had happened since
Schumer’s departure and the take of pearls.

Since the capture of the pink pearl, luck had been very uneven. All
told, the take had amounted to a hundred and five, leaving out seeds
and worthless specimens. Of these only twenty were of any considerable
size or value. There were also twenty-five blistered shells, which
Floyd had put aside to be dealt with by Schumer.

The unevenness of the luck lay in the fact that during some weeks the
catch would be quite negligible, during others quite good; some days
would be blank, while on the other hand three of the best had been
taken on the same day.

To-day was to prove lucky, for when he approached the fishing ground,
Sru approached him with a large oyster in his hand.

The natives ate oysters sometimes, always cooking them first, a strange
thing, considering the fact that they would eat fish not only raw, but
living.

This was one of the oysters destined for food. It had been opened, and
when Sru reached Floyd, he lifted the upper shell, and, putting his
finger under the mantel, raised it, disclosing a loose pearl.

It was as big as the great pink pearl, but of a virginal white. Floyd
had experienced many sensations in life, but none so vividly pleasant
as now at the sight of this thing fresh from the lagoon, and in its
strange home.

The pink pearl had been fished out of a mess of putrescence, but here
was a gem handed to him as if by the dripping hand of the sea.

He took the oyster, carefully extracted the pearl, and held it in his
palm, while Sru looked on, evidently pleased with himself, and the
other hands stood around, glad of any opportunity to knock off work.

“Good,” said Floyd; “you shall have two sticks of tobacco for this, and
I will give the same to any one who finds another like it.”

He put it in the box, trying to assume as careless a manner as
possible, and then turned to the work of the day, ordering at the same
time the idlers to get back to the lagoon.

When the day’s work was over, Sru demanded his tobacco.

“To-morrow,” said Floyd. “I will fetch it over in the morning when I
come.”

But Sru, who was very much of a child, despite his size and strength,
was not to be put off till the morrow. He wanted his reward at once,
and Floyd, irritated, yet amused at his persistency, ordered him to
get into the dinghy and accompany him across the lagoon to the camping
place.

Here he left him by the boat, while he went off to the cache for the
tobacco.

He had to remove the tarpaulin to get at the case where it was; having
finished this business, he turned to come back and, doing so, caught a
glimpse of Sru.

Sru had left the boat and followed him unnoticed. He had been watching
him through the trees, and must have seen the cache and its contents,
the piles of boxes and bales of stuff, all half-glimpsed or hinted of
under the tarpaulin.

A chill went to Floyd’s heart. He remembered Schumer’s words and his
warning against letting any of the labor men land just here. Schumer
had been so strict that even the Kanaka crew of the _Southern Cross_,
who had helped to build the house, were never allowed to go beyond a
certain point. And now Sru had seen everything.

The man was walking back to the lagoon edge when Floyd overtook him
with the tobacco, and Floyd, furious though he was, could say nothing.
Sru had broken no orders in following him, and to show any anger now
would be the worst policy in the world.

He got into the dinghy, rowed over to the fishing camp, landed Sru, and
returned. It seemed to Floyd that the capture of a big pearl always
brought trouble. The finding of the pink pearl had been followed by the
going off of Isbel, and now this had happened.

He lit the fire for supper, and then set to prepare the meal. When it
was over, he sat smoking and watching the starlight on the water of
the lagoon. Dark ripples were flowing up from the incoming tide, round
points of light showed here and there, the result of eddies or the
splash of jumping fish; away, seemingly miles away, the camp fires of
the pearl fishers showed spark-like in the blue gloom of night.

The camp fires fascinated Floyd. Isbel was over there, and over there,
also, was Sru. Sru, with his yellow-tinged eyes, the scars of old
battles on his body, night in his heart, and the knowledge of the cache
in his head.

What a fool he had been to disregard Schumer’s advice; the wise
Schumer, who foresaw everything, had even seen his–Floyd’s–stupidity.

Well, there was no use in complaining; the thing now was to make
preparation for whatever might happen. The house door was strong and
the walls, without being loopholed, had convenient spaces–“ventilation
holes” Schumer had called them–through which a rifle might be fired.

He rose up and, going to the house, lit the lamp and began to overhaul
the arms and ammunition. This done, he retired to bed with a loaded
rifle by his side.

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