Roy Glashan's Library
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As published in The Sydney Mail, 23 February 1927

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LIKE a sick swimmer the boat shuddered down the green slope of water and collapsed in the heavy ground swell. It was Little Peter's fault. His steering oar was kicked from his grasp in the sudden backwash from the reefs. Hilda was caught in the scour and carried under the lee of the whaleback shoal.

Hilda was a swimmer of sorts. She ducked and stroked in the same instinctive way as she had often done at Manly when the tide was piling the surf waist high along the ocean front.

But here, off Lalango Island, the thunderbolts of surf fell on her young body with the impact of slamming gates. The green tides of the Malatonga Archipelago were skilled in the art of drowning small boats and dainty women. It was soon evident to the quick- brained Hilda that her Manly Beach training wasn't pulling any tricks in the belching chasms of brine and coral in which she now found herself. And just when she had decided that her past life had been a shallow mockery the fat hand of Little Peter closed on her neck and hauled her on to the bright, clean sands beyond the reefs.

'You're all right, dear,' Little Peter shouted, flopping back into the water after the boat. 'But, dust my eyes, you've no more kick than a wet kitten!' he added with tender reproach, hauling the boat clear of the pounding breakers.

'If you hadn't let go the steering oar,' Hilda began, and stopped as he took her gently in his arms and smoothed her sea- drenched hair.

Little Peter was a professional fat boy, a star member of Bandon's world-famed hippodrome. Judged by the scales, he was heavier than any three men in the circus. From his pink feet up, Little Peter was a human whale with the appetite of a very small child. He was in his 20th year, a lover of games, in spite of his elephantine proportions, and was never happy unless following a football across a field or punching one in the circus gymnasium.

Both were clad lightly, just as they had been when the City of Canton had struck the coral barrier 70 miles south-west of Mindano. The passengers were mostly Malay planters and coffee-growers bound for Fiji. A hurricane was piling the cross-tides over the ship's bows. And to his dying day Little Peter, from Bandon's Hippodrome, will never forget the wild and horrible scramble for the lifeboats. The Malays fought under the davits with kris and curses. It was the skipper himself who thrust Hilda into number four boat, shoved Little Peter in beside her, and spilled lead from his automatic into the black gang of cane-cutters who tried to swamp the boat.

FOR a day and a night they had drifted before the wind, Peter using the one steering oar to guide the storm-shaken little craft into the sheltered channels of Lalango Island.

They had been married a month before in Sydney, where the circus was playing to overflowing audiences. They were bound for Rangoon and Singapore. The circus management had decided to make Hilda their publicity agent. It had also been arranged that Little Peter should accompany his clever wife in her advance thrusts upon the circus-loving people of the Far East.

Little Peter dressed in a silk hat, frock coat, and white- spatted, patent-leather boots, was a big advertisement for the oncoming show. He was the fattest boy in the world. But, unlike many other human zeppelins, Little Peter had brains and energy of a big ship in action when the occasion demanded. The way he had dug Hilda out of the suffocating valleys of brine was proof that the big surf had no terrors for Peter.

Hilda sat against the upturned boat to recover her breath and adjust her sense of perspective to the bewildering mazes of inlets and jungle-covered headlands. Away over the reefs in the blue haze of the distant valley was a village; the smoke of a hundred cooking fires floated over the shimmering, green of the pandanus palms.

'Hurricanes and bananas!' Little Peter laughed. 'This place is down on the map as uncharted reefs; but I'll bet my last shilling that the village over there has more pigs and goats to the acre than Dan Moloney's holding on the Castlereagh.'

Herewith Peter executed a double shuffle in the sand as a kind of thanksgiving for their miraculous escape.

'Cheer up, kid!' he called out to the sad-eyed Hilda, nestling in the shade of the boat. 'When the news of our shipwreck gets abroad we'll be famous. Bandon will get you to cable the story of Little Peter on a cannibal island,' he suggested with amazing cheerfulness.

Hilda frowned. Always Peter was trailing off on some irrelevant theme. Their present position was one of extreme danger, she told herself. And, woman like Hilda hated to be torn from the mental pictures of starvation and death that thronged her overwrought mind. Moreover, her expensive wardrobe was lying in the forehold of the storm-beaten City of Canton. She didn't want to be cheerful.

Bandon, in Sydney, wouldn't thank them for getting wrecked, not if she wrote fifty stories about Little Peter's exploits among imaginary goats and cannibals. The only goat she was ever likely to see was capering right in front of her now.

'Sit down, Peter,' she commanded wearily. 'I've got a headache.'

AT that moment the shrivelled figure of an old man appeared from the fringe of scrub that screened them from the village. He was black, with a necklace of shark's teeth dangling from his wizened throat. He was the oldest man Hilda had ever seen, a mummified human, moving foot by foot towards them with ineffable weariness and languor.

'Funny old bird,' Peter laughed. 'Looks as if he'd stepped out of the old vulture house at the Zoo.'

Hilda sat up stiffly as the old man hobbled near. She spoke sharply to Peter, every nerve in her young body alive to a sense of coming trouble. Of course, the islanders hereabouts were friendly, she told herself. But the presence of a big fat boy like Peter might affect the minds of thrifty and needy natives. One could never tell.

'Prop yourself against the boat—squat down like a Buddha. You look like one, anyway. And, please, Peter, leave the talking to me,' she ordered quietly, all her show-woman's instincts aroused. The difference between Peter sitting still and Peter frisking about was as that of a human deity and a jack rabbit.

Little Peter propped his broad back against the lee side of the boat, controlled his cherubic smiles with an effort, and waited for things to happen.

IN the tropic sun glare the old man resembled an ancient waterfowl blown in from the distant reefs. He paused fifty yards from the boat and blinked at the Buddah-like figure of Peter after the manner of a crow scenting prey. Hilda made signs for him to approach, adding a whispered word of caution to the fat shadow under the lee of the boat.

'Opa la lefonga papalagi,' the old man greeted, his head bent low, his clawed hands fumbling at the shark's teeth dangling over his shrivelled breast.

Hilda nodded encouragingly; she even smiled into his stark, shifting eyes. 'Opa la lefonga,' she murmured softly.

The old man blinked and craned for a better view of the Buddah figure on the lee side of the boat, just as thousands of white people had done when they entered a room or tent where Peter was posing for effect.

'A little of the papalagi talk is known to me,' he began querulously. 'For many years I worked on the Company's boats at Mombare. My name is Sagon. In the villages beyond the hills where Gorai is king, men know me as the spirit doctor,' he proclaimed, his vulture neck still craning for a better view of the elephantine figure on the lee side of the boat.

'All right, Sagon,' Hilda answered brightly. 'I've got a little spirit doctor on the other side of that old boat who is in need of some cold chicken and bananas. Same applies to me, if it's no offence. Apart from shipwrecks and the absence of home comforts for nearly two days and nights, we're still putting on flesh.

The old witch-doctor preened his dank hair, combed his lime- washed wisp of beard with a taloned forefinger, in silent agitation. 'Listen, wife of the papalagi,' he said at last. 'I have told thee of my connection with the company at Mombare. Although I live with these Kara men, I am not of their people. Yet my name is great among them. My medicines bring life or death to the chiefs and their families.'

Again Hilda nodded and smiled, but her starved body craved nourishment. She had heard that these beach pow-wows often lasted for hours. 'Let's get to business, Sagon,' she implored with a wan smile 'I'm hungry and want to keep alive, allee same as that fat baby on the other side of the boat.'

The witch-doctor poised his beak-like nose after the manner of a blind eagle.

'I catch thy meaning, wife of the papalagi; but see that thou catchest mine,' he rasped. 'There is enough food in Kara to feed a thousand like thee. Yet before we talk of food and friendship I must see this great water-baby thou hast brought with thee. From the great waves I saw him haul thee to safety by the neck! Truly a child of the gods and a brother to the sun and the stars!' he added, with hands clasped over his shrunken breast.

Hilda eyed him sharply. This desolate beach had a hundred eyes, after all, she told herself. Not once had she detected a living presence along the jungle skirted channels or reefs. She called softly to Peter, without changing her position near the boat.

'A great medicine-man wishes to see thee, o son of the moon and stars. If thy spirit be willing we will allow him a glimpse of thy sacred face.'

Little Peter rubbed his eyes drowsily. Sleep had almost overcome him.

'Cheese it, Hilda,' he murmured, yawning. 'Has the old fish got any fried ham and eggs?'

Hilda pushed the old man towards the lee side of the boat.

'Behold the spirit of the simple life!' she exclaimed in her best circus voice. 'Look well upon him, Sagon. The gods have watched and protected him since the earth fell out of the great darkness!'

The witch-doctor gazed in wonderment at Little Peter, at the huge pink shoulders and baby face, the girth of waist and chest that made the figures of the Kara chiefs and headmen seem as children and starvelings. The knees of Sagon trembled violently at the spectacle, the magic of this baby-faced boy's appearance. He bent his head in token of his deep humility.

'There is no man in Kara greater than thou,' he sighed. 'Never, never have I beheld such a shape. My eyes go blind at the wonder of it!'

Little Peter gazed sternly at the bowing head of the old witch-doctor. Then he met Hilda's lightning glance. Her lips shaped words: 'Roast pork, kava, fruit—grub!'

Little Peter sighed acknowledgment to the bent head before him. He did not speak; his slight gesture of dismissal was enough.

The gods of the South Pacific never broke into speech. Peter knew that much. Sagon straightened his shoulders, covering his eyes with his hands in token of his humility.

Hilda, quick to take advantage of the impression created in the old man's mind, followed him across the beach as he moved towards his village. She almost hesitated to remind him that gods and humans needed occasional offerings of food. But it had to he done.

Sagon nodded in sympathy. 'Food thou shall have at once.' he promised. 'But hear me before I go,' he entreated hurriedly. 'The ruler of these islands, Gorai, is rich and prosperous since the big ship Caliph of Bagdad found a grave on these reefs five years ago. The riches plucked by his headmen and canoes from the ship's rooms and lockers hath caused him to neglect my teachings and to sneer at my charms and spells!'

'What lands of riches?' Hilda inquired with genuine curiosity.

Sagon shrugged as he moved on.

'The Caliph of Bagdad was a rich ship, for did she not carry the Sultan of Jaipore and his young bride the Princess Isko of Samarand? There was bullion and jewels for the Indian conference at Delhi, the native Durbar at Allahabad. Aei! She was a rich ship! But the seas that nearly swallowed thee, little one, broke her in half and scattered the red plunder of a thousand years across the shoals.'

'And the Princess Isko?' Hilda asked, her memory going back to the unforgettable story of the famous wreck, printed in all the Sydney papers.

Sagon counted the sharks' teeth on the string about his throat.

'The boats took away everyone,' he told her. 'It was left to Gorai and his villagers in scrape the reefs for the plunder. Te ano! They worked like devils in their canoes before the salvage men from Australia could get here. And now Gorai is rich and mocks my medicines,' he wailed. 'I think not of gold, but of power lost and the insults offered to my spirits!'

SAGON indicated a clump of palm scrub for her to wait his return with the food. With incredible speed for one so old he loped away into the dense pandanus woods, leaving her a prey to a hundred fears and anxieties. She was certain that the old man would seek to use Peter as a new spirit force to intimidate the backsliding Gorai. Sagon's job as witch-doctor was growing perilous; that much was plain to her. The old man was casting round for some potent instrument that would help bring the fuzzy- wuzzy Gorai and his headmen back to the old spirit fold.

Hilda glanced up from her brooding reverie and saw two native boys, accompanied by Sagon, hurrying towards her. They bore two woven baskets filled with fresh fruit and meat. Hilda sighed gratefully as she acknowledged the timely offering, for without food and nourishment they would soon sicken and die. She led the way back to the boat on the beach, followed by Sagon and the smiling native boys.

'Cheer up, Peter,' she called out loudly. 'I'm here with the bananas and the chicken pie.'

She half ran across the beach, holding in her hand a broad green palm leaf on which rested a couple of fat, roasted quail. She peered under the boat and along the desolate surf-swept barriers of coral. Little Peter had disappeared.

Hilda's amazement was tragic. A superstitious terror seized her fainting limbs. She turned up and down the naked beach with the speed of a woman bereft. Where, in these multitudes of reef and sky, could a boy like Peter hide himself? And why should the young fool seek to play on her feelings after the misery and travail of the last few hours?

She found herself staring into the shaking eyes of the witch- doctor. He seemed to be tearing the air with his hands.

'Gone!' he choked, dropping on his bony knees to the beach and examining the marks around the boat with the avidity of a black tracker. A dozen foot-marks had disturbed the smooth surface of the finely powdered coral. Sagon beat his breast with his claw- like hands as he scuttled round in the sand.

'See, thou hungry one, what has happened.' he raved, beckoning the distraught Hilda nearer. 'While I sought food for thee Gorai's canoes descended upon thy water-baby Peter, even as eagles descend! His warriors snatched up the pink cub and bore him away! Woe! We are undone!'

A ghastly fear ran through Hilda that Peter might be carried to Gorai's cooking stones. She sat huddled on the beach, hands clasped about her knees. Sagon seemed to understand her thoughts. His toothless mouth framed a mirthless grin.

'Gorai's men are not cannibals,' he told her. 'They have been watching thee and me. Woe to us! I would have set up thy pink man to rule here among the treasures. But the evil Gorai hath read into my dreams.'

Hilda looked up quickly, a sick, faint feeling gripping her heart.

'Are they going to kill my husband?' she asked with an effort. The witch-doctor batted his eyes, while the sun rode above the tawny cloud bars in the east. Myriads of sooty-winged terns screamed and circled over the in-driving breakers.

'They will not kill thy man. Worse will happen!' he croaked. 'They will make sport of him: they will make him a jibe and a laughing matter for the chiefs and villager's, so that no one may set him up as a god or a king in place of Gorai. They will put him on the big ball.'

'The big ball? What's that?' Sagon gestured wearily.

'Do not ask these questions. Stay here by the boat; until I return,' he advised. 'I will come back with news. I have many friends in the village.'

HILDA flung herself in the shadow of the boat to escape for a moment the blistering rays of the sun. The sea had gone down, and the incessant screaming of the gulls played on her pent-up nerves.

Here and there the long torpedo shadow of a cruising shark flitted along the shoal-edge. Generally the seahawks followed in the wake of these sabre-toothed monsters. There were always pickings to be had, and the hammerhead shark is a master sleuth when a dead pig or drowned goat floats out on the tide.

The grip of fate seemed to close on Hilda's heart. Always this overgrown boy husband was being made the butt of roisterers and people anxious to raise a horse-laugh. And his one thought was games, in which he more than held his own when the big pinch came. There was not a member of the Hippodrome who did not remember the night of the fire in Melbourne, when, the flames encircled the poor screaming horses in the canvas stalls.

Peter had gone in through the whirlwind of smoke and flames, had cleaved a passage between the burning wagons, and driven his beloved ponies and ring-horses to safety. No one ever forgot the night he stole the baby from the arms of a Coonamble woman in the audience, and ran with it across the ring. The big fool! Yet how the people had gone almost crazy with delight when the mother of the little one chased him round the circus! And the baby enjoyed the chase more than anyone—didn't want to be taken from Peter's silly fat arms.

Hilda sat up suddenly, with the sun almost level with her eyes. The surf was breaking with the sound of gun-wheels on the beach. Squalling like a huge toad almost beside her was the witch-doctor. He had returned without sound.

'The hour has come,' he droned. 'I could do nothing. Gorai is all for the wooden ball. The chiefs wanted thy pink baby man spared. They fear the spirits that are in his body. Yet Gorai would not listen. The ball now gets thy husband!'

A sudden irritation swept Hilda. She stood up, her eyes kindling, her small white hands shut tight. 'I'm going to the village,' she flung out. 'If I can't put Gorai off this stupid game of his I'll take what's coming to me. I won't sit here while Peter is—'

A crucified leer touched the lips of Sagon. 'What is coming to thee will not be long, little one,' he murmured. 'After Gorai has done with thy pink man the bamboo-head knives may trim thy pretty neck! Take care what thou does!' he warned.

Hilda choked back her tears. From the village came a long wailing murmur that soon rose to a passionate clamour, interspersed with the gleeful intonations of women and children.

'The ball will soon be on the water,' Sagon droned, crawling forward in the sand to where the long sea-grass offered shelter and a view of what was happening between the village and the inlet. 'Come and see the last of thy man,' he invited. 'No enemy warrior or chief has yet beaten Gorai's ball game. No player has ever found pity among the white-bellied sea-tigers who join the game.'

Hilda choked back the flaming wrath that rose in her as she followed Sagon to the shelter of the sea-grass. For a fleeting moment she found comfort in the thought that of all games Peter loved water-polo best. At regattas and picnics he always contrived to lake a leading part as Father Neptune.

Given a ghost of a chance, Little Peter would beat any sea game these savages could put up, she thought. But would the foe given a chance?

'No man with only hands and feet ever came back from a game with these white bellied sharks,' Sagon insisted under his breath. 'How can it be otherwise? I was too late.'

FROM where they crouched in the long grass they could view the tide-filled inlet and the brown swarms of villagers converging on the narrow tongue of reef that formed the southern extremity of the island. Hilda's eyes were rooted on a small, plume-decked figure surrounded by a bodyguard of chiefs.

'That is Gorai,' Sagon whispered. 'Gorai, who is turning our pink god into a mountebank. He hath the brain of a red fox. If I could have but placed thy Peter on a throne of teak the chiefs would have fallen on their ugly faces to worship. Aie, to nanoi! I was too late.'

SUDDENLY, from nowhere in particular, a huge black ball struck the water of the inlet, and floated buoyantly a few yards from the shore. A cry went up as the half-naked figure of Little Peter was thrust over the reefs by half-a-dozen armed natives. Peter stared at the shouting crowds, a puzzled look on his cherubic face. Then a chief from Gorai's bodyguard indicated the black, floating ball with a threatening forefinger. The surface of the floating object had been smeared with grease.

In the millionth fraction of time Little Peter had made up his mind for what was going to happen. He left the reef with a flying leap into the water and disappeared. In a moment he appeared within a few feet of the ball, his hands filled with grit from the coral floor of the inlet. Thunders of applause greeted the trick. Yet hardly had the chorus died away when a couple of dorsal fins flitted across the inlet's mouth with the precision of Prussian sentries.

The sharks of Lalango knew the game. In the fetch of a breath Little Peter saw his predicament. And just here a long stabbing spear whanged past his head and stuck fast on top of the greasy wooden ball.

A shout of dissent came from Gorai's bodyguard. No one had a right to cast spears during the play. Sagon chuckled under his breath.

'A woman threw it.' he told the cowering Hilda, 'for they do not want to see him die.'

For the moment the spear saved Little Peter. The two hammer- head sharks at the inlet's mouth slid nearer with the instinct of dingoes as Peter leaped upwards to the ball. Gripping the spear handle, he drew himself on the top of the swaying sphere and looked down.

The two grey-backed monsters lay almost motionless in the clear, sapphire depths, long-bodied, shovel-snouted scavengers that had doubtless played the ball game with many an unfortunate victim. Peter's left hand clutched the spear, stuck like a small flagpole on top of the ball. His slightest movement caused the big wooden dome to roll until the spear almost touched the water.

Peter's baby face hardened strangely. His breath was not so regular now. Every native child in the group was aware that these saw-toothed sharks were cunning enough to tear the steering oar from the hands of a canoeman. Driven by hunger they could, with a lift of their great dorsal fins, capsize a canoe, hurling its occupants into the water. Little Peter stared down at their steely, sloping backs, the flat heads and swinish eyes upturned to his own.

Slowly, gracefully almost, they cruised round the swaying ball. The very motion of their great bodies caused Peter and the spear to bob and roll down to the level of their bristling fins. Instinctively Peter braced himself: his soft mouth closed like a trap.

'Dust my eyes! They haven't given me a pup's chance!' he breathed.

Yet in his circus days Little Peter had performed many startling tricks in the ring, to the infinite amusement of indulgent audiences. He had walked on the big ball, played cards with Lizzie the elephant, and nursed the clown. But Little Peter had never played with the quick-shifting, man-eating sharks of the South Pacific. In a casual way he had heard of them; but like the flowers of spring, they had not obsessed his imagination.

'Not a pup's chance!' he gasped, as he returned the deadly, leaden stare that came from the swinish eyes in the water.

The game opened without the slightest warning. The larger of the two hammerheads, a twenty-footer with the girth of a motor- launch, dived beneath Peter's resting-place. The great back of the monster rose suddenly to the surface, and the ball, with Peter on top, shot three feet in the air. The big wooden sphere descended with a bang and splash that brought howls of applause from the dusky watchers on the reef-ends. The ball bounced over the waves, Peter clutching the spear haft and seeking to maintain his balance on the greasy globe beneath him. The water leaped and sucked beneath in the mill caused by the flashing fins and flukes.

Peter hugged the ball and spread sand from his pocket over the greasy sides. The twenty-footer backed away, but in a dead line with the bobbing, rolling dome of wood. In the fetch of a breath Peter knew what was coming. The shark dashed in with the force of a battering ram. Within five feet of the hall it swerved and swung over, its white belly and jaws glinting in the naked light.

The swerve caused the ball to pitch. Peter's head came over and down, in spite of his frantic efforts to keep an even keel. For one smothering, blinding instant Peter felt the blade of the twenty-footer's fin stab his cheek. Blood trickled over his chin. With his whole weight jolting backwards he righted the ball as the gaping tunnel of teeth missed his body.

The episode showed Peter that by lying flat on the ball he could avoid a repetition of the tip-over. Moreover, he felt that his desperate position needed a desperate remedy. Carefully he drew out the spear from the ball and held it over the water. He could not allow these sea-wolves to drag him piecemeal. Yet... if he stabbed and missed he would roll down to an unimpressive funeral.

Blood and salt wash scoured Peter's cheek. The mob of natives on the shoal-ends became a dull blur, a mere nightmare of yelling devils and pointing fingers.

For several moments the two sharks hung still as shadows below. He could almost reach them with the spear blade; yet one false thrust would send him amongst them with no more chance than a fat puppy in a house of tigers. A piece of coral thrown from the shoal stirred the brooding sharks. The twenty-footer dived to the floor in the inlet, rose with its great snout brushing the side of the ball.

Peter drew breath sharply, leaned with death in his eyes, and struck down at the swinish snout. The razor-edged point of the spear sank five inches into the soft pulp of the slat eye. With a lightning wrench Peter withdrew the spear and drove it home again into the wooden ball—and held on. And just in time.

The stabbed monster seemed to catapult from the water with the force of a lashed steer. The shock of its descent sent Peter and the wooden ball spinning across the inlet, with blood and brine slashing into his set face. A hurricane of shouts from the shore greeted his stroke. Chiefs and headmen roared their approval.

'Cho anna, pa ne! This pink man-whale is no sleeper, Gorai,' they vociferated. 'The tibawaka (shark) is tasting its own blood.'

The tibawaka was tasting its own blood, and the scent roused to fury the shoal of smaller sharks scouting under the reefs.

Peter hugged the dancing ball, filled his lungs with air, and waited for the second attack. Each moment the circus boy was learning to control the wobbling wooden sphere, as he had learned to control bucking bush horses and rebels. But he could not see the end of the game. From the shouts of the headmen, and women in particular, he judged himself a favourite in this shark and man act. Anyway, he would show them that a white man was able to put the jazz on their old tiger fish.

He wrenched away the spear at the moment the tibawaka doubled without warning beneath the ball. Peter balanced and waited for the shock of the slamming body. Then, with his temper on edge, he drove his spear-blade at the upturned throat. Behind the thrust was the whole bull weight of his chest and shoulders. A red gash the size of a hat opened in the throat of the swerving shark. Peter jagged his weapon fiercely and tore it free. In the turn of his wrist the spear was back in the ball.

In the flogging whirlwind of water and blood Peter held on to the spear and the ball. Up and down and round it gyrated, like a top driven by a dozen whips. Through the blinding spray and sand he saw the reefs of the opposite shore leap nearer. His straining eyes made out the upturned boat where he had been carried off by Gorai's men. He was also conscious that something was happening on the distant beach where the king's war canoes lay. A pillar of flame shot skyward.

A cry that the canoes were burning sent the vast crowd scampering in the direction of the smoke clouds. He heard Hilda's voice calling clearly.

'This way, Peter! Jump with that spear,' she commanded.

The wooden ball was ten feet from the reef. Peter dug the spear into the sand and leaped clear. He landed in a heap beside Hilda. A swift backward glance showed him that the shark shoal had followed to the edge of the beach.

The voice of the witch-doctor steadied him.

'Gorai's fighting ships are cinders, papalagi,' he announced. 'The people will know that my spirits are angry. Aie. I have friends in the village.'

In the village the men and women were calling out for the pink baby man. They wanted him to sit amongst them. Peter heard the cries as he munched one of the roast quail in the basket.

'Nothing doing,' he sighed. 'I'm busy.'

Two tall figures appeared in the long sea-grass. They wore long heron-plumes in their headdress, and carried themselves with the air of chiefs. Sagon beckoned them near.

'They have come to strike a bargain,' he whispered to Hilda. 'Say nothing, thou. I will speak.'

The two visitors halted within eight paces of the witch- doctor, their heads bent, the thumbs of their hands locked over their shoulders. Sagon nodded.

'What news, Chekor?' he called out to the elder of the two.

'Peace to thee!' Chekor pointed a black finger in the direction of the flames. 'A hand hath destroyed our fighting ships, Sagon. Already Gorai feels the wrath of the spirits thou hast set upon him. He says the two papalagi may leave the island now. But the young men of the village ask that the big pink papalagi stay with them. They cry out for him to sit in the house with their gods. They swear that his body is full of magic that wins wars. His spirits will bring us much oil and fruit to our plantations.'

'Nothing doing.' Little Peter kicked Sagon softly on the foot. Sagon spread a pinch of lime on a betel nut, wrapped it in a nipa leaf, and chewed reflectively. He spoke after awhile.

'The gods are angry with Gorai,' he pronounced gravely. 'If the big baby-faced papalagi stayeth on the island, then Gorai goes. The two cannot live here together.

'The king desireth the fat papalagi to depart in peace,' Chekor almost begged. 'There will be no delay.'

The witch-doctor shook his head and chewed in silence. Then he made a sign to the despondent Chekor. 'The fat papalagi will not leave this land of plenty until Gorai makes offering. A great indignity hath been put upon him. But for the magic of his great body see what would have happened!'

And Sagon indicated the reddened water, where the ravenous sharks still hung about the drifting wooden ball.

Chekor bent his plumed head to the level of his lean hips. A string of blood-red pearls from the distant lagoons fell from his hand into Hilda's lap. A sudden sneer crossed the lips of the witch-doctor as he followed Chekor's movements.

The foot of Little Peter again pressed against him. Sagon's eyelid fell in Little Peter's direction.

'We must make a real offering to the pink papalagi,' he said to Chekor. 'He must have worthy gifts, or his body that is full of magic will send a plague upon our crops.'

Again Chekor's hand stole to his finely woven girdle of grass. Without warning he spilled a little stream of sparkling gems at Hilda's feet, gems torn from their gold and platinum settings, ornaments salved from ships' safes and the wrecks of a hundred typhoons.

Sagon nodded approvingly. 'Gorai knoweth right from wrong!' he exclaimed.'

'Say now that the big papalagi will depart at once. But Gorai must build me a noble house for my gods,' he cautioned the two waiting chiefs.

Chekor put up his hand in assent, placed his thumbs to his brow, and departed silently. Sagon turned to Little Peter, a satisfied grin on his withered face.

'Thy boat is in good condition. Food will be put in her. Two of my canoemen shall take thee and thy wife to Palone, which is but a day's journey in the north. The wind is good, and in a little while thou wilt be sitting in the hotel where Van Estman will tell thee of a ship to take thee on thy way.'

TWO days later Hilda and Little Peter were seated at the breakfast-table overlooking Van Estman's well-kept lawns at Palone. Van Estman spoke in a hushed voice to his head waiter as he indicated the two travel-stained guests.

'A noble lady and her husband. They have survived a great shipwreck. Give them of our best. Never have I seen such jewels on a lady!' he added in a hushed voice, 'since the Princess Isko stayed here on her way in the Caliph of Bagdad to the Durbar at Allahabad. Never,' he concluded in sudden ecstasy, 'have I seen two great ladies wear emeralds and diamonds so alike in pattern!'

Hilda was inclined to the belief that a good shipwreck deserved a good breakfast. Van Estman saw that she got one.


Roy Glashan's Library
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