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ALBERT DORRINGTON

SALLY OF SUNDAY REEF

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As published in The Sydney Mail, 28 July 1926

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
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"WHAT kind or a little fish are you, anyway," Dick Jessop demanded of Sally,"to risk your neck among the tides and sting-rays of a ten-fathom bank? Get out of that diving dress!"

Sally was five feet three inches in her sun-browned feet as she cast aside the funny little tan-coloured diving jacket and helmet. For the fifth time Uncle Jessop caught her manipulating the newly-acquired diving gear.

He did not want Sally aboard the nine-ton lugger. There was the bungalow at Nadir Point where she might amuse herself diving the plates and dishes and scrubbing floors. Sally was a jewel in her way, but he didn't want her to jump in and out of the sea for a living.

She met his rebuke in the ordinary way.

"Why can't I pick up a bit of shell, Uncle Dick? Last month little Babas raised seven bags of silver-lip between tides. Shell's fetching more than copper in the markets. Yesterday, while you were building that old hen-house ashore, I popped down and collected a whole bagful of six-inch pearl. A pound's worth! I want shoosies, and stockingses, Uncle Dicky. I could scoop up two bags every tide if you'd only stick to the hen-house and let Babas work the old air-pump for me."

Uncle Jessop swore softly and stared round the distant sandhills for the missing boy, Babas, who conspired during his absence to feed the air-tube while Sally, in the light helmet and rubber outfit, groped in eighteen feet of water for silver-lip oyster shells.

On Nadir Island, not ten cables' length astern, a number of white posts marked the graves of certain Japanese shell divers who had gone deep in search of the black-lip, and golden-edge m.o.p.

Scenting trouble, Sally laid aside the jacket and helmet and scrambled for'ard to the galley, where a pan and a fire helped to a quick breakfast of ham and-eggs. Jessop, his brows buckled in thought, followed slowly to the galley door to add one more sting to his warnings.

"And don't forget the new shell-inspector the commissioners have sent to watch these banks" he told Kimmel, the storekeeper, "he'll dive you into gaol first time he catches you lifting spat from the banks. Poaching he calls it, seeing that the commissioners don't issue licenses to women."

Sally's derisive laughter was heard by the trepang fishers across the Sunday Channel. Jessop gave his niece a stern and searching glance, his eyes betraying nothing of the tenderness and concern that lay deep in the toughened fibres of his storm-bruised nature.

Ten years before he had taken Sally from the hut of her dissolute parent among the cattle camps of Southern Queensland. He had brought her to Nadir Island, where the mother of Babas, the Manila boy, had attended to the child's upbringing. Uncle Jessop had found the struggle for existence grow daily more keen. Fleets of Japanese luggers invaded the channels and bays, skinning the banks and drifts of immature shell, and running like gulls before the wind at sight of a police launch on the horizon.


THE coming of the young inspector Leighton promised to end the surreptitious lifting of shell from the banks. Uncle Jessop seized this fact as he munched his breakfast within the sunlit cabin of the Water Witch. Some day he would ask Leighton to treat her roughly the first time he caught her inside the diving dress.

But Sally had discovered a new world among the sponge beds and the fairy-like grottos of the coral strewn banks. The sensation of sinking to the sandy floor of the channel beneath the lugger's keel had stirred the flames of her imagination. When the tide was easy and Babas sent down plenty of air, the pressure of three fathoms of water was hardly felt inside the rubber-lined apparatus. Above her loomed the shadow of the lugger, its great breast cradling in the sapphire blue water. Looking up, she could make out the squat shape of little Babas bending over the pump. But everything was out of proportion. The glass of the helmet and the water magnified everything. The shells on the bank appeared to dilate and wobble to and fro as she reached for them with both hands.

After the third descent the sea became no more than a wide blue cradle that rocked and pressed about her young body with motherly tenderness. The big black and silver barracuda and the coral parrot fish flashed past at her approach.

The young bullhead sharks, cowards to the end, scooted back in swirls of white sea fire from the dully shining helmet and the shooting air bubbles that Sally aimed at them from her rubber wristband.

"Leighton will get you, sure as nuts," Uncle Jessop predicted, his mouth full of fried egg. "Don't tell me you aren't scared of going to gaol."

Sally blushed under her golden sun tan.

"When Leighton gets older he'll stop taking, Uncle. He's fresh on his new job. Firstly, he's got to catch me in four fathoms; secondly, he'll have to build a gaol to put me in!"

"And thirdly," she concluded, helping Jessop to another egg, "He's so ignorant he doesn't know whether an oyster walks upstairs or takes the lift. Arrest me? Wow!"

A little while before the monsoon Uncle Jessop went to bed with an attack of dengue fever. Leighton carried him in the Government launch to the bungalow hospital at Thursday Island.


"Lil black pearl at the bottom' of the sea!
Doo dah doo dah dee!"


Little Babas sang from the deck of the deserted lugger. The sea lay flat under the burning eye of the sun. Flocks of man-o'-war hawks drowsed in the still, hot air. The tide was running out over the coral hummocks of Sunday Passage, where a few spiky palms stood listening for the first crack of the big wind.

It had been a bad season for Jessop. The Malay proas and sampans had taken toll of the outlying channels. Next month the Sea Witch would tie up. Uncle Jessop would come home to a lot of unpaid bills and storekeeper's accounts. In the meanwhile the agents in Sydney were yelling for shell.


"Lil black pearl at the bottom' of the sea!


The song was enough for Sally.


THE Sea Witch was running short of tea and sugar and eggs. Uncle Jessop would be a mere bag of bones when the fever had done with him. Sally caught a question in Babas's eye. She decided quickly.

"Fetch out the googly-goo, Babas—the one with the little lead feet and the glass eyes. And please see that the little lead feet will kick away from the boot if I want to come up quick. Savvy, Babas?"

Babas savvied. Nothing hurt the little brown imp more than long spells of brooding inactivity. His old mammy in the hut on the beach had ceased her coon songs. She was worrying now over Jessop's illness and the bad men in the proas, who stole all the shell from the reefs and ran away with it to Lombok and Penang.

"I take turn at the work when you want um spell, Missey Sally," Babas said as he put the last twist in the screw of her headpiece. His voice did not reach Sally as she dropped from the steps into the glittering blue nest beneath the lugger's keel. Babas stood by the air pump and lines, humming softly, but keenly alive to every movement on the part of the venturesome Sally below.


ON the lugger's port side a figure was moving among the scrub-covered sandhills that sloped to the beach. He wore a pair of frayed dungaree pants, and his matted beard flowed like a red decoration over his bare chest.

The shelters on the schooner at Nadir Point, five miles to the south-west, had observed him an hour before. They had sent a messenger to Leighton's quarters saying, that a red ziff and dungarees had gone in the direction of Sunday Reef. Stingray was the only beachcomber, who wore two feet of hair on his face these days. Would someone get busy and pinch the wop before he stole somebody's dinghy?

Leighton had gone to Thursday Island with Jessop. There was no one at the little weatherboard depot to take the message. And the schooner hands were too busy scraping up the last of the shell on the banks to pay further attention to stray ziffs among the sand.


STINGRAY belonged to the beach. He fed with kanakas and trepang fishers, or wherever curry and rice was doled from the galley of a ship. It was Stingray's first visit to the little group of atolls near Sunday Reef. His bird-like glance took in the sloping shelf of reef where the Water Witch hovered above the shell-drift below. From the cover of a sand dune he noted little Babas's efforts at the pump, together with the fact that no other living soul was moving aboard the Sea Witch.

In the bat of an eye he had decided that the lugger was being worked by some lone hand Malay or Jap diver. A poacher, no doubt! Some of the slip-and-run crowd that could make a living where a dogfish would starve. Stingray was fifty, and had grown weary of the eternal scramble for mere food. He had been travelling since dawn through cactus and sword grass mostly, wading, swimming from shoals to islands, from islands to reefs, wherever the smoke of a galley fire promised food and entertainment. But his first approach to the gangway of a working schooner or lugger was the signal for a pan of hot ashes to fall in his direction. Failing the hot ashes, there was a never-ending supply of fish offal in the buckets beside the shell-openers.

Stingray's glance rested long and dreamfully on the beautiful lines of the Sea Witch. The bubbles that shot up like white blisters from below told him that a diver was at work—stealing Government shell.

The day was stiflingly hot, with swarms of voracious gulls planing over the lugger's rail. Babas at the air-pump was a diminutive figure, dreaming and crooning at his work. A mile away, beyond the white posts of the Japanese graveyard, was a store. From the heat-flattened skyline in the north to the white clutter of reefs in the south scarcely a living thing was visible.

"By the holy, it looks good!" Stingray commented aloud. "A chanct like this only comes onct in a lifer, just that yeller kid at the pump, an' the ole man slopping round after shell in three fathom. It's a gift with rum an' pickles in the pantry, and the man's Sunday suit in the cabin locker! Safe as cheese, too."


BABAS straightened his back from the air-pump and stared for an instant into the melting sapphire of bubbles under the sloping banks. Satisfied that Sally was keeping to the drift, and that the lines were running free, he bent again to the task of feeding air to the bobbing helmet among the sponge beds. As yet Sally had made no signal, a sign that she was on a good patch of shell. In another minute at most, she would come up for a breather.

Stingray took the water with no more sound than a seal. He allowed the current to bear him slowly but surely under the lugger's steps. A curious, unaccountable movement among the gulls overhead directed Babas's glance to the shaggy form floating within twenty feet of the rail. The boy's cheeks blanched.

"Hi, there!" he called out from the pump. "You keep outer dis water! Can't you see we got lines out? Git off you ole blubber bat! Git off de air line!"

Stingray, drifted nearer. He had made up his mind now. The breeze off-shore, would be stiffer once he got the lugger's foresheet out and moved her away from the hank. A couple of pulls would fetch the anchor aboard. But he would have to be smart, he told himself. Always someone with an odd pair of binoculars was scanning the coastline. This yellow kid at the pump wasn't going to stop him climbing, aboard, anyhow.

He reached the steps, and paused an instant over the tangle of lines and tube that trailed about the pump. Then his eye followed the blurred outline of the diving helmet moving slowly along the edge of the bank. Through the soft blue water he saw the hands of the diver plucking away the marine growths for the saucer-like shells that were dropped into a basket. For a fraction of time he remained in a stooping attitude, as though considering the diver's chances after the Sea Witch had been cut free from the unholy tangle of lines and tube. Divers knew their own business best. An experienced man could always get ashore, especially in shallow water on a sloping bank. His sheath knife came deftly from his belt. His huge hands gathered up the tangle of lines until they hung stiff and taut. Babas' scream of terror went across the deserted straits!

"Hi, stop that! Git off them steps, you big cowfish! Git!"

Stingray drew breath as he glared up at the panic-stricken boy above. The screaming of the gulls almost, drowned his voice.

"I'll dig out your tongue with my fingers, you yeller whelp!" he stated between breaths. "Just wait till I come up! Cowfish for you, sonny, in half a jiffy!"


SALLY looked up through the glass of her helmet at the big shadow of a man floating above her head. Seen under twelve feet of blue water, the shadow resembled a giant Christmas toy, a celluloid doll with washable whiskers. What was the fat fool doing in the water? she asked herself. Men didn't swim round pearling vessels for fun. Nearer and nearer he floated with the tide, a bloated patch on the softly swelling blue. An instant of cold terror seized her. Grasping the lifeline above her helmet she tugged it desperately.

"Ask that fat fish to swim away," she was saying aloud, but her voice carried no farther than the helmet. Paralysed with fright, she saw the bloated shadow settle on the steps of the lugger among the bunched-up diving lines. She saw Babas' small, clenched fists raised in angry protest, like a child thrusting back an invading Neptune from the deep.

Babas ran from the pump, pursued by the goblin shadow with the pantomime whiskers. The shadows seemed to fly round the narrow deck, Babas ducking and leaping to escape the hairy arms that sought to pulp his head against the rail.

The Water Witch swung round in the tide. Sally could hear nothing. The shadow of Babas had disappeared over the side in a smother of brine. It was all shadow work now. Shadows, shadows. She screamed softly as Stingray again gathered up the lines from the steps of the lugger, as a coachman gathers up the reins of a four-in-hand. His sheath knife sliced down at the air tube, and again at the signal cord.

In a flash she had closed the air chamber of the helmet at the moment water began squirting into the inlet valve. Fortunately she had been about to ascend, and had tightened her outlet to inflate the suit. Luckily the helmet possessed an adjustable inlet, and she was able, therefore, to quickly shut both valves. Sally's mind leaped at the sudden tension within the helmet. She jerked at the lifeline, but it drew slack in her hand. With a kick and a shuffle she had freed herself from the load weights that held her to the floor of the bank. In a moment she had come to the surface.


HERE a fresh peril awaited her. She was afraid to open the emergency valve lest the in-pressing water might drown her. Also the diving lines were trailing about her. A blinding, stifling mist pressed on her heart and lungs. The inflated diving suit rolled with her in the tideway, with not enough air in it to keep her alive more than a few minutes. She had heard of divers in similar predicaments, but somehow there had always been help at hand. Babas was gone!

And Sally was a prisoner within the tan-coloured, two-ply rubber suit. Even if she had kept her knife the first slash of the blade on the cloth would have filled it with water. And the helmet was screwed on tight and fitted into segmental neck rings. The strong brown hands of Babas had screwed hard down to catch at the back of the neck!

With her face pressed against the glass of the helmet she rolled in the tideway; the stark horror of the green flood below and above her. Vividly she recalled the experience of Kashimo Oyada, the pearl diver, picked up alive after floating fifteen minutes in his watertight dress.

The steamy glass of the helmet obscured her vision. Each moment the heat of the rubber garment became more intense. The wind over the bank seemed to strengthen and lift her into the long greasy swell of the turning tide...


SHELL COMMISSIONER LEIGHTON drove the Government launch through the in-racing tide in the direction of Sunday Reef. A mile to windward the Sea Witch was beating towards a cluster of wooded atolls in the south-east. From the reef ends of Nadir Island the diminutive shape of Babas was seen gesticulating frantically. The young shell commissioner was not concerned for the moment with the personal griefs of Babas or the fortunes of the fast disappearing Sea Witch. He was staring in fierce amaze at the inflated diving outfit, wallowing ludicrously in the trough of the gently driving seas.

With his native boy at the steering-wheel of the launch, Billy Leighton clambered into the forepart, a boathook in his hand, and waited for the next slope of water to slam the pantomime apparition across his bows. And the inflated rubber goblin was borne to him on a softly rising wall of green water. Leighton crouched for the wall to deliver its prey.

'Steady, and keep her head on!' he yelled to the boy. 'For your life, Toni!'

Toni held back the chattering fear in his young limbs as he clung to the wheel. Leighton threw aside the boathook, and with the skill of a Japanese wrestler grappled the unwieldy apparatus and brought it with a flying catch over the rail. Half a ton of water followed in its wake, deluging the whaleback bows of the launch and flooding the cabinway.

Toni eased her a couple of points, while Leighton staggered into the waist with his burden. The young shell commissioner found the catch at the back of the headpiece, and with some difficulty unscrewed it. His lips moved strangely as he released the still, straight drawn figure from the rubber suit. A pale blue skirt and smock clung to Sally's boyish figure. Her face was a death mask.

With the skill of a surgeon he set himself to revive the fainting heart, to bring back the breath of life to her stifled lungs. Instinctively Toni swung the launch in the track of the disappearing Water Witch.

"Bymby little gel come round, sah," he predicted eagerly. "Plenty Japanese boy go sick like missey here after line foul under pearlin' boat. She come' round, sah, you pull um arms back, twenty, thirty times."

Sally came round and her eyes stared cloudily into the clean-cut features of the young commissioner kneeling beside her. She moved wearily, as though pressing the shadow of the sea from her mind.

"A fat hunk of a beachcomber cut me loose," she confessed with an effort. "All whiskers and eyes. Gave me a bump when I looked up. Thought a whale had got astray on the banks at first. My! Some men have got a nerve!" she added, with a sudden sob of dismay. "And Uncle Dick down on his luck in hospital."

Leighton's jaw set as he whispered an order to Toni at the wheel.


DUSK was falling over the channels and bays. Twenty miles to the south an accusing finger of light from the Barren Head Shoals told of the swift-coming night.

"Uncle Dick will be well in a month," he assured her. "He's demanding fried eggs already!"

Sally sat up with a jerk. "Where are you taking me?" she asked, a sudden fear of the police at Thursday Island entering her. He smiled and patted her hand reassuringly.

"Old Stingray's borrowed your lugger. I can't put you ashore till I find him. Every minute counts now. He'll probably lie up in one of these dark inlets or bays. He aims to get away to the Queensland coast and sell the Water Witch for a couple of hundred pounds."


LEIGHTON was scarcely out of his twenties. Since his appointment within the pearling zone he had kept a sharp watch on Sunday Reef. Although Sally's attempts to raise shell had often exasperated him, he knew something of the curious water-delirium that seizes the children who have been reared on dry, dusty plains. Sally had been reared outback. The sight of a mile-long belt of smoking surf had often affected his own genial spirits. Moreover, these island bays did not often provide little auburn-haired mermaids of the Sally type. Leighton was thankful for small mercies. His work among the rum-runners and poachers was bitter enough at times. Let the kids alone was his motto. And Sally, in spile of her tomboy tricks, her flouting of authority, had only tried to win a livelihood from the sea.

Now she had started to cry at the knowledge of mischief done. The loss of the Water Witch would drag Uncle Jessop into poverty. He depended on every ounce of shell raised and sent to the markets. And this fat thief with saltbush in his whiskers had come like a sea-devil into her life.

"Go after him!" She came forward from the cabinway, her small hands clenched. "I can't face Uncle Jessop if anything happens to our little ship! It's all he's got between the hospital and starvation."

Billy Leighton took the wheel from his native assistant. The launch was now leaping from channel to channel, past sandy headlands and whitening shoals. The chase was on. There was a frosty gleam in Leighton's eye.

"I'll trail his cursed whiskers to the Equator," he said under his breath. "I'll put him where he'll smell stone walls for the rest of his life!"


IT was dark when the launch crept into a wooded inlet fifteen miles from Nadir Point. Leighton had sniffed afar the smoke of a galley fire. The smoke carried the undeniable message of fried bacon and eggs. Among the fleets of luggers working in and around Sunday Reef, the galley of the Sea Witch was famous for the quality of its bacon and eggs. Other luggers boasted tinned fish or Irish stew. And if luggers were to be judged by their smells, the one Leighton espied in the black shadow of the creek timber was Uncle Jessop's. The young shell commissioner switched off his light and peered through the darkness.

Fifty yards up the creek he made out the sharp lines of a lugger. A flare of light from the galley revealed the figure of Stingray, his whiskers, his mop of hair, and the big frying pan in his right hand. Leighton allowed the launch to drift silently into the shadows of the creek bank until it lay within a few feet of the Water Witch. Stingray was eating from the pan with his sheath knife. Between mouthfuls he managed to gurgle a refrain, known to every beachcomber south of the Line:—


"Oh, Lulu, Lulu, Lulu,
My warm Pacific pearl!
My lovely, lively Lulu —
My own Kanaka girl!"


UNDER cover of the big shouting voice Leighton slipped over the lugger's rail and stood like the lean shadow of Retribution between the steps and the galley door.

The Lulu song ceased instantly. The sheath-knife, the whiskers, and the frying pan bobbed suddenly from the door. "Who's that?" he bellowed softly, the light of the galley fire in his searching eyes. "Anyone come aboard?"

Leighton leaned against the lugger's rail, his automatic pistol slanting into line with the sunburnt brow of the beachcomber.

"Don't move, Stingray," he warned quietly. "I want you for a birthday present to the Chief Commissioner of Police."

The frying pan clattered to the deck as the lugger thief whirled from the galley. His startled eyes merely encountered the fistful of steel that seemed to follow each wriggle and movement.

"Don't try jumping overboard, you old beer fish," Leighton warned. "Don't you know that cutting people adrift from a pearler is just plain murder on the seas?"

Stingray's fists opened and shut spasmodically.

"Murder!" he almost shouted. "For slicing a line in a couple of fathoms. Why, all he had to do was walk up the bank and take the air." He laughed until his beard shook in the smoky glare of the galley fire. "Down at Broome or Goulbourne Island the fellers think nothin' of makin' the Japs walk up the banks. It's a Sunday mornin' lark. Now, if I'd dragged that Jap diver out to sea instead of cuttin' him loose, you'd have been all right about the murder, Mr. Policeman."

"It wasn't a Jap diver," Leighton told him. "It was one of—Dr—Dick Jessop's people. I'll pinch you, all the same."

A pair of handcuffs flashed from the young commissioner's pocket.

Stingray scratched his head doubtfully. A puzzled frown seemed to buckle his brow. "Dick's lugger?" he muttered, staring along the clean deck. "Nobody told me he was at Nadir."

"He's in hospital," Leighton informed him, conscious that this old battler was in some way connected with Jessop's past. "What's your real name?" he demanded sternly.

Stingray hunched his big shoulders, stared longingly at the dark waters of the creek for a moment. "My name's Stephen Marsh," he almost choked. "You satisfied?"

"Stephen Marsh, alias Ben Field, alias Tom Conlon, and a lot of other fancy frills. Between ourselves, Mr. Marsh, you're sizzled in the upper storey. You want a rest."

He slipped the handcuffs over the trembling wrists and thrust him down the cabin stairs. Stingray laughed strangely as the young commissioner found the key of the cabin door.

"I reckon most of the fellers on these banks are sizzled," he roared defiantly. "Fancy Dick Jessop starvin' and slavin' all the year for a few bags of shell on Sunday Reef, when the water in this creek covers miles an' miles of true golden-edge shell. Right here under your nose. Tell Dick," he declared, in a suddenly lowered voice, "that I spotted this drift on'y yesterday when I was hookin' up some black bream. Tell him I forgive him takin' my kid away an' sendin' her to school. Now I'll go to gaol, Mr. Policeman."

His voice was lost as Leighton snapped the door, locking him in the cabin. Peering over the rail, he saw that Sally was asleep on the seat in the launch's stern.

Toni signalled from the darkness. "She bin all better, now, sah," he whispered. "One good sleep make her plenty strong again."

Leighton nodded approvingly. Then in a low voice, "Toni, this old white man I'm taking to prison says he discovered a drift of rich shell along this creek. What do you think?"

By way of answer, Toni cast aside his canvas knickers and dropped feet first into the still, dark waters of the inlet. It seemed ages before anything happened. Then his dripping head shot up under the rail. In each hand he held two perfect specimens of seven-inch shell.

"Bank all covered with it, sah," he breathed. "Golly, someone get rich quick here."

Following Leighton's order, Toni clambered aboard the Water Witch carrying with him a light hammer. Ten minutes later the police launch was towing Jessop's lugger back to Sunday Reef.

Leighton had placed a cushion under Sally's head. Under that soft, indigo sky her features took on a strange gipsy loveliness he had often seen among the children of these island beaches. Heigh-ho, it was a tough proposition that now faced him. An older man would have handled it without mercy. The starshine revealed something of Leighton's mental conflicts.


A WARNING shout from Toni, standing at the wheel of the lugger, flung him round. A pair of handcuffs fell with a clink on the deck beside him as though flung from the for'ard rail of the Water Witch. The voice of Stingray reached him from the darkness.

"Good-bye, Mr. Policeman. Ye put the bracelets on me, but ye forgot to lock 'em. I'll take my chance with the sharks.... I'll get a job if I'm not trapped. Hooray!"

A heavy splash followed near the lugger's side: the head and whiskers of Stephen Marsh were visible swimming like an otter in the direction of a sheltered bay on their port side.

Sally tumbled to her feet. The voice of Stingray had torn the dream threads from her mind. She stared over the rail at his fast-disappearing shape in the water. Her eyes flashed indignantly as she turned to Leighton. "You—you let him go!" she accused. "Why didn't you snap the handcuffs properly?"


Illustration

"You—you let him go!" she accused.


Leighton shrugged. "There's evidently a second outlet in that old cabin of yours. I didn't build the Water Witch. Anyhow, he'll never trouble us again. Miss, Dr—?"

"Marsh," Sally told him. "That's my name. Uncle Jessop's on my mother's side. I don't remember dad. I think he was a bit of a wanderer," she confided with a sigh.

"So was my dad," the young commissioner confessed, stooping over the wheel to hide the lightning grin on his boyish face. "My old dad never came back from his incurable wanderings."

"But my dad wasn't a bad sort," Sally hastened to assure him. "He was terrible fond of the sea."

"You bet be was." Billy agreed.

A lantern moon was climbing out of the Pacific when Leighton dropped the Water Witch at her old moorings off Sunday Reef. Babas was waiting on the beach to take charge.

Sally did not speak when Billy walked with her to the bungalow. After her recent fright she was ready to laugh or cry on the slightest provocation.

"No more diving dresses, Miss Marsh," he said, holding out his hand in good-bye. "There are prettier dresses for little women. I saw one last month at a wedding in Surabaya, and—"

Sally was regarding him from the door of the bungalow, his clean, straight figure, his honesty, and frankness. Then her mouth closed like a bruised berry.

"Maybe I'll wear any dress that becomes me, Mr Leighton. Thanks for saving my life; but I never did fancy those white mosquito nets they wear at weddings in Surabaya. Good-night and thank you."

She closed the door of the bungalow and listened to his footsteps crunching on the path.


UNCLE JESSOP came home a month later and allowed Leighton to guide him to the creek entrance where the shell lay thick as gold in a bank vault. Of course, Sally responded to Billy's kindly impulses. She showed her gratitude by keeping out of the diving dress. There was always some other fool about who liked diving.

After the monsoon the orchards were filled with blossom—miles and miles of it. The sight stirred the old frenzy in Billy. But he was going to settle the matter with more tact this time. He had been too hasty with references to wedding dresses. Sally was a sensitive little bird. So Billy with an armful of orange blossom (part of a consignment sent to a local resident from a Sydney firm) walked deliberately up the bungalow path. He was going to use diplomacy this time.

Sally breathed the fragrance from afar. It filled her heart with tenderness.

"Alright, Billy." She opened the door. "Don't say any more—second Tuesday in September."


THE END


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