Beyond the Rim/Chapter 1

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CHAPTER I

THE PINK PEARL

CHALMERS did not go up to the Times office when the Kinau reached Honolulu. He was his own man for the time being and, being only in his middle twenties, vacations held for him too much of enjoyment to be spoiled by visiting the scene of his daily labors. The waterfront man of the afternoon paper met him with a grin.

“Come back for the shipwreck story?” the reporter asked. “It's a bunk. The only chap alive's a Solomon Islander who's half conscious and half pupule (crazy). Can't find out the ship's name or nationality, what she was or where she was bound. Tough luck to spoil your vacation.”

“I'll have to cover it anyway,” said Chalmers. “I'll take the rest of my holiday out yachting. Tell me, who's the Chinaman getting into the taxi with two others—the middle one. Tuan Yuck's his name, the purser told me. But what do you know about him? He's no ordinary Chink.”

“I should say not. Tuan Yuck! He used to be the whole thing in Chinatown, kingpin of the gambling and dope ring, but he got in wrong with his tong, got them mixed up in a wild-goose chase after some buried treasure and he lost out all down the line and ducked for the 'big island.' He must have fixed things up to come back. That was all before your time, Chalmers. Anything stirring on the trip?”

“Not a thing. I'll see you later. Where's the chap that's still living from the wreck?”

“Sailors' Home. If he isn't make (dead) by now. !The story's dead anyway.”

Chalmers determined to cover the story, such as it was, at first hand, to get all there was out of it for his mainland correspondence columns. A wireless message had brought him hurrying back from a holiday trip to the volcano and he wanted to use his own judgment of its news value. He crossed the waterfront, passed through the Fish Market, unheeding the brilliant array of strangely shaped and more strangely colored fish strewn on the stalls like tangible rainbows, and ran up the steps of the Sail ors' Home where the derelicts of the South Seas sunned themselves on the wide porch, and entered the superintendent's office.

The official nodded greetings.

“Thought you were on vacation, Chalmers. Have a good time?”

“So far, thanks. Have you got that chap picked up in the whaleboat by the Lehua. Can I see him?”

“Taroi? He's gone.”

“Gone?”

“It wouldn't have done you much good to see him. He was in bad shape and we couldn't get much out of him. Half stupid from exposure. They were in the boat seventeen days from what we made out of his talk. He was a Solomon Islander from Malayta way, same place Sayers's wahine (woman) came from. She translated for us. He's up at Sayers's place now. They took him away yesterday.”

Chalmers whistled under his breath. Sayers was a newspaper man of shady character who covered sports for the Times. He had lost all caste among his own people by marrying a native woman, one of the tribes alien to the islands that had been imported for labor in the early days of sugar planting. He was an Australian, clever at his work, not to be personally believed or trusted, suspected of too close acquaintanceship with native jockeys and turfmen of uneasy reputation. Chalmers knew him as a fellow-worker and had been in touch with him on yachting events, Chalmers's favorite recreation, and he knew that the list of Sayers's faults did not include an excess of hospitality.

The superintendent grinned understandingly.

“Chap's not expected to live,” he said. “Sayers has taken the funeral off our hands. Going to look him up?”

Chalmers nodded.

“Do you know where he lives?” he asked.

The superintendent grinned again.

“Just where you'd expect him to,” he said. “In Aloha Alley, back of Kawaiahao Church and opposite the brewery. Know it?”

“Yes. What about the wreck—on French Frigate Shoals. Any one gone out there for salvage?”

“No. She must have gone to pieces by this. There was a big kona blowing last week, you know. Nobody particularly interested, you see. There were no papers in the boat; only three dying Kanakas and one crazy one. Probably just a trading schooner. Might have been British or American or Dutch. None of the Consuls have bothered their heads over it. They might be doing the other chap's work. Not much of a story in it, I imagine.”

Chalmers left the place a little dispirited, though still bent on following up the story. It began to look as if there were nothing in it. Sayers's native wife might have taken the man in out of sympathy for a fellow tribesman, but Sayers was not the kind to encourage that sort of thing at his own expense. He decided there was something out of the ordinary back of the Australian's sudden generosity and as he determined to solve the problem his spirits rose again.

 

ALOHA ALLEY consisted of a double row of primitive bungalows, facing each other across a tangled garden strip of bananas and motley-leaved crotons that skirted a dozen vine-clad royal palms.

The scroll-saw architecture was covered with purple bougainvilleas and orange huapala vines in a riot of violent tropical color. Sayers's dwelling was the second on the right, exactly like the rest, a dozen steps leading to the porch that ran all round the house. The main room extended across the entire front. The windows, like the door, were blinded with green slats, close-shut for coolness.

The whole of Aloha Alley seemed asleep in an afternoon languor. As Chalmers paused outside the door he heard the sound of groans that seemed to be emitted with every breath, a steady plaint for succor that made him open the blinds and step into the darkened room.

Against the farther wall beside a door stood the bed, and beneath the dingy mosquito curtain something writhed and tossed and moaned. As his pupils became adjust ed to the dusk, Chalmers distinguished the figure of a native lying outside the sheets, clad only in a loin-cloth, throwing his head from side to side.

The man's naturally brown face was a grayish hue and twitched continually beneath a frizzly mop of hair, stiffened and dyed a rusty red by constant applications of lime. The place reeked of sickness.

Beyond the door Chalmers heard the loud murmur of two voices, one of which he recognized as Sayers's. The other, a woman's, he set down as his wife's. He was about to knock when his ear caught the monosyllable the fevered man repeated. Chalmers knew a few words of native and this was one universal through all the South Seas—wai (water).

There was a grimy pitcher on a chair beside the bed with a grimier glass beside it. The pitcher was half full of water with halved limes and a pebble of ice afloat in it.

Chalmers sat on the edge of the bed, poured some of the water into the glass, moistened his handkerchief with more, set aside the netting and slipped one arm about the shrunken shoulders of the man, raising him gently. The body was burning up with fever. As he dampened the flaked lips the native's eyes opened and rested on him with an expression half of dislike, half terror, that changed to animal gratitude as Chalmers wiped his lips and set the glass for him to drink. Chalmers mustered up his native, remembering the name he had heard.

“Aloha, Taroi,” he said.

“Tarofa oe,” the man responded huskily, as he made shift to gulp at the liquid. His figure relaxed and Chalmers let him down on the pillow he had reshaken.

It needed no medical expert to tell that the spark of life was at its faintest. A shudder ran through the gaunt figure, the jaw relaxed, then set again with an effort.

The sound of the voices beyond the door was suddenly raised, and a shadow of fear passed over Taroi's face. His claw-like fingers twisted upward to his mop of hair and burrowed in it gropingly. The right hand with something clutched in it reached out, found Chalmers and pressed something hard and round into the white man's palm.

Chalmers looked at it. Even in the dusk of the room he could tell the beauty and purity of the faintly iridescent globule, a pink pearl, perfectly round, the size of a marrow-fat pea. Even as he wondered, Taroi's eyes closed and his hands fell lax on the sheets.

“For Sayers?” asked Chalmers.

As the eyes opened he nodded toward the door. A look of protest widened the native's glance.

“Aore!” (no), he protested.

His right hand closed Chalmers's palm about the gem with feeble fingers of fire. The eyes rolled toward the door, the head shook in a final negation, then the body shuddered, the knees were drawn up, the hands clenched and the jaw fell.

Outside, the banana fronds tapped gently at the window. The voices in the inner room were quiet. A fly buzzed loudly.

Chalmers set down the pearl, straightened the limbs of the dead man, drew the sheet over him and replaced the mosquito netting. As he stood beside the bed, with the gem in the palm of his hand, the door opened, a shaft of sunshine pouring through the gap. Sayers stood on the threshold, his wife behind him, the two staring at Chalmers in an astonishment that held them spellbound.