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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THREE BLACK PEARLS

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As published in The Sydney Mail, Australia, 5 September 1923

Reprinted with minor changes as "The Christmas Pearl,"
Freeman's Journal, Sydney, Australia, 13 Dec 1916

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-19
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

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Illustration

ALL the morning little Wong Chat had been watching a pearl thief at work. From the tiny window of the schooner's galley he had observed the Malay diver's movements in and out of the water. The schooner rolled in the wash from the Kee Wi Bank, where the forty-feet tide-drop often turned the narrow channels into hell gates of galloping brine. In the far south sprawled the Great Barrier Reef, a sinuous snake-length of islands that festooned the glittering sea wastes for more than a thousand miles.

Marul, the Malay skin diver, had come out of the water feeling "seek." Feeling "seek" in a pearling schooner implies the need of a rest and stimulants. With leisure to go ashore and see a white doctor, maybe.

Marul was a giant in his class, a pocket bull weighing nearly two hundred pounds in his sun tan, with the appetite of a circus elephant. In eight days between tides Marul had collected five bags of shell. The other two boys from Manila had scraped together four bags between them. Marul was "seek" and had gone to his bunk below, leaving the two Manilamen at work and little Wong Chat combing his wits in the galley.

Little Wong Chat was steward, cook, and general providore of the twenty-ton pearling schooner Martha. The owner. Norry Dane, had gone ashore earlier in the morning to meet his buyers at Thursday Island, and to settle some accounts due for stores and gear.

Norry Dane had discovered the Kee Wi Bank after an eight weeks' survey of the little-known cluster of atolls that lie due north of the Sunday Group. Hitherto the shellers from Thursday Island and Broome had given the Kee Wi Bank plenty of surf room. The tide rip had scared them; the immature spat lying on the Bank hardly seemed worth the risk. But Norry in his twenty-fifth year had faced a bread line in New York, and it held more terrors for him than the slogging pinchgut waters of the Bank. He had come upon a shell-hatchery that promised big results.

Almost at once he discovered that he was exploiting virgin territory. The floor of the Bank was strewn with black lip and golden-edge shell. The markets of the world were shouting for both. It meant work and independence.

Seven hundred miles west, in the Lalanga Group, was Nina Chard. She had gone out with the mission staff a year before. Lalanga wanted teachers and nurses for the plague-ridden archipelago, and Miss Chard had promised that Norry would never be out of her thoughts during the two years' hard work she had planned for herself.


IN the meanwhile little Wong Chat was keeping an eye on the companion stairs that led to Marul's sleeping quarters. The sudden dipping of the sun into the flaring skyline brought the two Manilamen from their work, dripping and sore from contact with reef-fangs and coral spikes that strewed the Banks. Casting their baskets on the shell-heaps stacked abaft the swinging boom- sail, they passed the Chinaman in the galley and descended the companionway.

"Hi yah!" they called to the sulking Malay. "You bin like long vest. Where's boss?"

Marul, coiled in the top bunk, stared at the two small divers like a stalked tiger.

"Boss gone ashore to pay debts," he informed them. "Me long way fed up with that Chink man upstair. He watchum me alla day. Think um me catchee pearl. My word, I catchee his dam neck one time!"

Norry returned in the launch an hour later. A glance at the Chinaman peering from the lamplit galley touched his nerves like a blade.

"Hullo, Wong," he greeted thoughtfully. "If you can fish up a nice beefsteak, I'll swim round the ship for it after I get rid of those glad rags," he intimated, with a swift glance along the deck.

He strode the narrow length of the rolling vessel, with the little Chinaman wagging doglike in his shadow.

"That feller Marul, sah, him play about allee day on um Bank. He hide um shell one long time. Him slick plenty wool in his ears. Me savvy him takee pearl below. Bymby he wanted go ashore to see a doctah. Yah, him big wowser thief!"

Norry Dane paused to stare at the Chinaman's passion-lit face. During the whole cruise he had found the Celestial honest in all things. And there was no mistaking his earnestness of manner. Dane's anger blew white and red. Privation in the past had keened his wits. Everything had been staked on this pearling venture. He had borrowed from his friends and mortgaged his soul to fit out the Martha. His last dollar was in the piece of rope that lay coiled at his feel.

And... here was a big hidebound Malay he had discovered lying senseless outside an opium joint in Macassar prepared to filch and get away with the first heaven-sent bit of profit the sea had shown them!

Norry had come aboard tired and heat-fretted after his day ashore among squabbling agents and shell profiteers. He hated trouble, and Marul the sullen was as full of it as a cask of gelignite.

"Him go away in the dark," Wong predicted. "How you goin' to stop him?"

Norry Dane was too wise to answer the question. Upon the integrity of the two Manilamen he could not depend. He could not even honestly accuse the Malay of theft. And if it came to a fight little Wong could not defend the wing of roast chicken in his pantry.

He stepped forward and placed his right hand on the traplike door of the companion stairs.

"All hands on deck!" he shouted. "Lively, now; and one at a time, please." Dane waited with a face that was white, and tense.

There was no reply, except a furious shuffling of bare feet in the close-walled fo'c'sle below. The soft gutturals of the Malay were audible as the purrings of a tiger. Not a foot moved towards the stairs.

Dane measured the risk as he stepped below to investigate. The door at the foot of the stairs swung back at his touch. Inside the fo'c'sle it was almost dark. A smoky oil-lamp swung from an overhead beam. In the top bunk Marul reclined, naked to his loincloth, his reef-scarred arms flung back under his head. The two Manilamen were seated at a slide-up table shuffling a pack of cards. They did not stir as Dane entered.

Marul looked down at the white man, his coppery skin glowing strangely in the half-light. The long, sheathed muscles of his great arms bulged like tree roots. Some betel spray showed on his thick lips.

"I gave an order just now," Dane flung out. "We're going to see it through the jazz line or eat it!"

Marul leaned from the bunk, his eyes emitting the sulphur glow that is seen in the king snakes of the Malayan peninsula.

"Tuan, I rest. I am seek. I get stung one time, yessiday, under de Bank... De big stingray reach for me."

"Get up," Dane ordered quietly. "This is no place for a sick man. Lie in my cabin if you like. The air's sweeter. I'll bunk on deck under the awning. Let's see the sting."

The big Malay closed his eyes after the manner of a dozing tiger. The card-players laughed softly. There followed a silence that sometimes precedes a murder act. For the first time in his life Norry Dane slid an automatic into line with a man's face. He was more than angry now. Marul was not sick. He did not want to go on deck and be kept there while the fo'c'sle was searched.

"Up those stairs, Marul! Keep your hands up while you run!"

The Malay diver sat up yawning in his bunk, then very softly got out. His huge hulk filled the fo'c'sle. Dane noted the fact that his left hand was lightly clenched.

"Before you go on deck, Marul, I'd like to see you open your hands. I'm curious."

The Malay stood erect, lips parted in a malicious grin that expressed nothing. Then his body seemed to catapult past the white man, like a bull bursting from a pen. He gained the stairs and was up with a leap. A second later the trapdoor at the top closed with a bang. Dane heard the outside bolt shoot into the socket.

The two card-players rose quickly and faced the slow-breathing Norry. The saffron hue of their cheeks had changed to a sickly pallor.

"That feller shut us in, sah! He got um three black pearl. He promise share to us. Now he'll sink this ole schooner on the Bank!"

Norry gritted at the trap into which he had fallen. Marul was now in command of the vessel. He could fire it or run them on to the shoals, where the tide-race would pound them to matchwood!

And... those three black gems!

Dane ascended the dark companion, paused at the top to feel for the square trapdoor. Then he fired where the bolt and socket were fitted.

The tropic starlight showed through the splintered framework. He made a sign to the Manilamen below.

"Hand up that stool by the bunk, and watch out that Marul isn't waiting with another when I break through."

In delirious, panic-driven haste one of the Manilamen passed up the heavy oak stool to the waiting Norry. A couple of heavy thrusts split the panel in the trap door. Dane tore away the shattered woodwork, then with his automatic held low be charged through the opening and gained the deck.


A CURIOUS situation developed before Dane's bewildered eyes. Marul was standing near the galley door, his hands held up. On the port side of the schooner the blazing cabin lights of a police cutter were bounding towards them.

Marul's voice, soft and pliant as usual, brought the young pearling master to a sense of his position.

"Police boat come alongside, sah. Me see him long way off. You take pearls, sah. No good let them see 'em. You gimme share as promised long while back. Savvy?"

The big Malay dropped three stones into Dane's palm as the police cutler swung alongside, her binnacle lights revealing four armed officers of Territorian constabulary standing in the forepart. Their hooks gripped the Martha in three places. The voice of the chief officer boomed unpleasantly on Danes ears.

"Ahoy, there, Mr. Dane! We're coming aboard to inspect."

"Inspect what?" Norry flung back wrathfully. "I've my license."

"You've got no license to fish in these waters," the officer sent back. "They're closed and sealed, sir! We're entitled to treat you as a poacher. You'll come with us to Thursday Island and hear more about it from the commissioners. We'll give you a tow. Stand by, please!"

The intimation was final and beyond argument. If the Torres Straits Pearling Commissioners had declared the Kee Wi Bank closed, his operations must cease. Without ado he helped to make fast the towline cast over by one of the police. In less than a minute the schooner was ploughing and rolling in the wake of the fast-travelling cutter. Dane turned to the Malay standing beside him and spoke under his breath.

"You did the right thing, Marul. Let's forget the misunderstanding below. These fellows may give me trouble. They're probably shepherding the bank for some of their friends and pals. Until we surveyed and worked the place it was a roosting-ground for sea-hawks and sky-fowl. Same old story!"

By the light of his cabin lamp Dane was able to examine the three black pearls. Nestling on the white tablecloth they glowed darkly and iridescent as diamonds. Never before had he viewed true black gems at close quarters. Like blood-drops they showed in the lamp flare. Of their value he could only hazard a guess. Flawless in colour and shape, he readily conceived a six-figure offer being eagerly made for them in Amsterdam or New York.

Taking a notebook from his pocket, he tore out a leaf and wrote hurriedly in pencil:—


Dear Nina,

I am in trouble here over my pearling rights. The case may drag on or peter out in a few hours. In a small cardboard box I enclose three black pearls from the Kee Wi Bank. With the exception of half a ton of ordinary shell they represent all we possess in this life, as our schooner and outfit may be confiscated. Three divers and a Chinese cook share profits with us.

Norry.


OUTSIDE the cabin Dane addressed Marul and the others in an undertone. He told them what he was doing with the gems, and how unsafe it would be to hold them in view of the law's unfair attitude towards them. Nina Chard, at Lalanga Island, would return them when the present police proceedings had ended. Marul and the Manilamen agreed that the black pearls would be safer in the keeping of a trusty friend than in the possession of the police. The question was how to post the cardboard box if the police arrested them all at the landing stage.

The pigtail of little Wong Chat came suddenly into the discussion.

"I postum lille box, sah. I sign on to cook, not to catchee oyster. Police no bringee charge against cook for trespass. My brother Sam he keep lille shop at Thursday Island. Sam helpee me any time. You give um me pearl, sah; I give um you my word."

Dane threw an appraising glance at the little Chinaman. Up to date the white and brown men of his acquaintance had played their own game, with streaks of dishonesty colouring every transaction. At every pinch it was Wong Chat who survived the acid test.

"We're going to trust you, Wong," he said with a smile. "But if the police smell out black pearls they'll add other lines to that of poaching, and we'll all get pitched into a filthy gaol."


A SMALL crowd awaited the arrival of the police boat and schooner at Thursday Island. The news had gone abroad that Dane and his crew were raising immature shell from Government preserves.

Norry breasted his way through the horde of Asiatic trepang fishers and schooner captains, escorted by two officers of the law. Marul and the Manilamen followed, while a guard was placed on board the Martha pending a decision of the Fisheries Commission.

The brown horde of watchers seemed to engulf Wong Chat the moment the schooner touched the jetty. Like an oil drop he floated through and out of the fish-smelling, rum-drinking throng. In face and dress he resembled a score of other Chinese boys hurrying along the Parade. Scarcely a head was turned in his direction as he entered the shop of Sam Chat that overlooked the straits.

Sam Chat sold Chinese bric--brac, baroque gems, glassware, and occasionally a little opium to the nerve-racked shellers in from the distant channels and bays. He peered swiftly at little Wong in the doorway. He a faint grin of recognition creased his lemon-hued face.

"Son of my father!" he greeted. "What has happen to the yuen-lai, Dane?"

"The police, brother of my heart. I have been followed here. Take these for a little while and put them among the glass beads in the window."

He slid Dane's note and the three black pearls into his brother's hand almost at the moment a while-coated figure dashed into the shop and laid an angry fist on his shoulder.

"You skipped pretty lively from Dane's schooner, my son. I guess you'd better come back with me," he intimated with decision.

Wong Chat shrugged and nodded to his brother behind the counter.

"Put pearls in small box," he said in soft Cantonese. "Address them to Nina Chard, Lalanga Island. My word has been given to the yuen-lai. My honour."

Sam Chat lit a cigarette and palmed the three black pearls into a dish containing a hundred pink and white baroque stones.

"Your honour, son of my father, is mine."

"Stow the kybosh," the detective interjected, his eyes boring through and over Sam's small stock of oddments. With bent brows he look up the dish of baroque stones, his expert fingers sifting and grading with the spirit of a bargain hunter until the three black gems lay under his thumb.

"How much for these?" he inquired easily.

"Two-dollar fifty," Sam told him with scarcely a muscle twitching. "Two dollar to you," he retracted with Oriental sweetness of manner.

Mick Sheldon, pearl expert and thief-herder, returned the dish to the counter with a frown.

"Your shop is full of German punk, Sam," he declared. "Punk pearls and punk beads. There's nothing to eat in your stall."

He turned with a savage gesture to Wong. "Lift your feet, kid. There's a cool gaol sticking out of the sand heap over the way. Try a stroll."

The eyes of the two Chinamen met for one fleeting instant: the next saw little Wong trudging beside the red-necked sleuth in the direction of the Police Commissioner's desk.


ON a sultry afternoon in September a small cardboard box containing three black pearls was delivered, per postal schooner, to Nina Chard at Lalanga Island. The sight of the rare, dark gems almost frightened her. More than Norry she realised their value and also the danger of keeping them in her unprotected bungalow. Lalanga was the hunting-ground of pilfering coolies and spying native women. Within a year of her coming she had lost nearly every article of jewellery she possessed. The old padre at the Mission House had warned her against the light-fingered callers who ransacked the bungalow during her absence at the little school in the village.

The padre was also a sufferer. Eight months before native boys from the Nukarama Islands had entered the church and stolen the communion plate. His two dogs were his only guards, White Witch and Bruno. White Witch, a heavy-shouldered, soft-eyed animal, carried a strain of the bloodhound. Bruno pulled the scales at one hundred pounds, and was related to a prize-winning boarhound up north. Since their coming the thefts had ceased, for while the plantation Kanaka will club and rob a priest or sleeping trader he jibs at entering a palisade to meet the silent fangs of the papalagi's hounds.

Instinctively Nina felt that the gems would be safer in the padre's keeping. He accepted the trust reluctantly, telling her to keep the matter secret.


A WEEK later a rat-ridden copra schooner from Nukahiva brought an influenza patient to the island. Three days after his arrival Lalanga was in the throes of the scourge. The disease swept in from beach to mountain top with the celerity of a cyclone.

Nina closed the schoolhouse and placed her tiny charges in quarantine. Medical service there was none, except the few crude remedies contained in the padre's oak chest. The ascetic padre, whose daily diet consisted of cooked bananas and goats' milk, succumbed; at the first onslaught of the schooner-borne plague.

His death came like a thunderstroke to Nina, battling alone with her own batch of patients. His one remaining servant, Hona, broke the news.

"He die very quiet, Missey Chard. Very tired ole man. Wit' his las' breath he give me a message. It is in dis letter, Missey."

With eyes that scarcely saw the last scrawled message of the old priest she dimly made out its heart-flung meaning:—


Dear Little Sister Among the Dying and the Helpless,

I have not forgotten your trust. I would have sent for you if there had been time and a messenger at hand. Even a priest does not care to die alone. Yet... God's will be done! Almost at the last I put the three sea stones into a baby purse that belonged to Sister Teresa, fastened it to the collar of Red Witch. There was no other place of safety, Little One. Only with her life will she let it be taken. Pray for me!"


NINA'S blurred eyes sought Hona, the boy messenger. He was a nerve-shaken, scourge-gripped Line Islander. His loud coughing in the doorway seemed to shake the rafters of the bungalow. She measured him soul and eye as she thrust the padre's letter into her pocket. How much of the letter had he read and understood? she asked herself. She turned to him quietly.

"Hona, we must attend to the father's last wishes. Will you go back with me to the Mission House?"

Hona's quaking knees betrayed the result of the island epidemic. His dark eyes reflected the panic delirium begotten of sleepless nights.

"Hona die on the floor if he go back, Missey! Las night I slep out in the woods because I hear de debil-debil move in the padre's room. But... I can get one big feller from Sunda Island. He come wit copra ship tree days ago."

"Who is he?"

Hona leaned his shaking limbs against the verandah. "I tink 'is name is Marul. He come here to get work in the banyan field. If I tell him he will come here to help, Missey."

Nina drew a breath of relief. The thought of being left alone with the sick and the dead had stolen upon her like a nightmare.

"Find him, Hona," she almost begged. "Bring him here. Then you may rest in this place until you are well."


MARUL was squatting on the deserted jetty, a couple of well- rolled cigarettes behind each ear. All the morning his roving eyes had followed Ninas movements in and around the bungalow. He stood up slowly when Hona limped near, coughing and gesticulating. The Malay's soft eyes were aglow with health; his coppery skin radiated like hammered metal in the brilliant sunlight. Nodding, he followed the padre's boy to the verandah of Nina's bungalow.

Her eyes widened at sight of the Herculean Malay, the bull- neck, the elephantine torso. Never in her life had she gazed on so soft-footed a Goliath. He reminded her of a huge black squid she had once seen sliding over the floor of a lagoon. Like the squid, his flat, outspread hands seemed ready to touch and grip. Almost she guessed his calling—a blind groper on the sea banks, ready as the giant octopus to attack or retreat.

Marul grinned as Hona crawled away to the compound at the rear of the bungalow.

"You want me?" he said, and waited. Nina held herself with difficulty. The devil and the deep sea were her familiars. Between this softly odious Malay and herself depended the sick, the dying, and the unburied dead. She could not send him away; his strength was as precious as gold. Yet he loomed upon her like a monster driven in from the sea. But... there was the padre, and the children crying in the quarantine area.

A far-off baying in the woods told her that the two hounds were running loose, seeking water, no doubt, since Hona had not attended them for many hours.

He raised his head quickly at the sounds "Big dogs belonga padre?" he challenged softly. "Why for they runum lika dis?"

Nina blanched at so direct a question. What had the boy Hona told him?

"You know the padre is dead," she answered quickly. "Let us go in the Mission House and bury him quietly. I will see that you are well paid. Come along; never mind the dogs."

He followed her down the pandanus skirted path, his bare feet crunching in the soft limestone, a tattered red sarong drawn lightly about his waist.

A terrible stillness enveloped the Mission House. Not a living thing moved about the plantations or compound. Above, in the sapphire vault, the sun launched its fierce rays over the dry hills and parched fields.

The sacred task which Nina had set herself was easier of accomplishment than she had imagined. Like most missioners in the South Seas, the old padre had prepared his own funeral arrangements. The cedar coffin had always been in readiness. Within the little purao-sheltered cemetery were several newly-dug graves. Into one of these Marul lowered the coffin with scarcely an effort, while Nina in a steady voice intoned a prayer. The earth fell in showers on the coffin under Marul's terrific spadework. He was in a hurry. The baying of the dogs seemed to unsettle him.

"They bin come here?" he questioned, with a curious side- glance in her direction.

Nina reflected swiftly. Unless Red Witch and Bruno had gone mad through lack of water she did not fear their coming. Often she had caressed them in the padre's presence, although Red Witch always proved more difficult to handle than the more tractable Bruno.

"Go to my bungalow," she ordered fearlessly. "You will be out of the dogs' way there. I shall stay here awhile; there is work for me to do."

She was thinking of the three black gems in the purse attached to Red Witch's collar: she was thinking of Norry Dane toiling and fretting within the tide-scoured channels of the Kee Wi Banks.

Marul walked down the path, and then halted to look back at the house, at the white-faced girl standing beside the newly filled-in grave. Their glances met, and in the sharp impact of their exploring eyes she realised that he knew everything. When she looked up again he had disappeared in the pandanus scrub.


THE quick tropic darkness blotted out the beach and hills. Then came a big white stage moon to mock the parched hills and rainless gullies. The fierce bugling of the hounds in the distance keened her senses, put sinew into her melting brain. She half ran into the deserted Mission House and entered the kitchen. The small open window overlooked the guava plantation.

"Bruno! Bruno!" She leaned from the open window and called across the moonlit stretch of stunted bushes. Then, taking a wooden bucket, she filled it with water from the house cistern. Raising the bucket to the window-sill, she listened for the mad rush of the famished hounds.

"Bruno! Bruno!" A hoarse yelping, followed by a scrambling of heavy bodies through the pandanus scrub, was the instant reply. Neck-and-neck the two dogs raced across the clearing for the open window, the scent of the water beating into their parched throats.

The flopping ears and jowl of Bruno reached the bucket five yards in advance of Red Witch. Clawing the wall in its thirst agony, the big dog would have torn the bucket from her grasp. Dexterously she held the bucket so that Red Witch could drink near her hand. In the shift of an eye Nina saw the tiny baby purse dangling from the collar of the smaller hound!

"Good old doggie! Good old girl!" she whispered soothingly to the lapping head. With the point of a knife that stood ready to hand Nina nicked the strand of twine that held the purse to the collar.

"Good old Witchie!" The purse fell to the ground outside. She paused to pat both dogs gently; relieved of their fierce thirst, they fawned upon her hand. Opening the kitchen door, she allowed them to enter. In one of the cupboards she discovered some cold meat and biscuit left by one of the servants. Both dogs ate ravenously as she plied them with other scraps of food.

Leaving them for a few moments, she closed the kitchen floor and stepped outside. A tall coral tree flung deep shadows around the open kitchen window. Beyond these shadows the dazzling moonlight almost blinded.

Stooping in the darkness of the window was Marul. Fear whitened her: but behind this fear was the blazing wrath of finding him there. He straightened under the scorn of her eyes.

"I guess you're the meanest worm that ever crawled into this garden," she declared hotly. "Out of it, and drop what you've got!"

An amused grin lightened his big face; his left hand was closed over the little purse.

"You pretty clever, Missey, wit dat water bucket just now. You come bit closer," he added persuasively.

Nina drew back from his luminous eyes, the flat squid hands that seemed to reach for her body. He saw her terror and laughed; and again the squid-like hands moved in her direction, as they had often moved over the pearl banks and bays in search of gems. She waved him off with the frightened cry of a child beating away a bloated insect or fly. His swiftness of action was greater than hers. His long arms caught her in an octopus loop, his flat right palm closing over her mouth.

"Stop callin', Missey," he warned. "Stop—"

Something heavy and ungainly flopped out of the open kitchen window. Bruno, of the long stride, loped across the coral shadow, and in the bat of an eye had gripped the Malay below the knee.


Illustration

Bruno, in the bat of an eye, had gripped the Malay below the knee.


Marul flung Nina aside, his great hands closing over the hound's neck.

"Malepam! Hell dog!" he choked, and sought to pulp and batter the fighting mass of muscle that was attacking his tender knee. Bruno had fought boars in the Lalanga woods, and on a dozen occasions had settled domestic differences with in-straying headhunters from the north. But Marul of the Kee Wi Banks had been trained to ward off giant congers and eels that clutched like pythons. It was a question of a dozen blows on the neck and spine and Bruno would cease to trouble.

"Ah, chepan, I keel you like dis!" With his huge shoulders humped, his legs wide apart, he tore the dog loose from his grip and held him for an instant at arm's length. Sweat streamed from his coppery skin; the cords of his quivering arms stood out in leonine knots as Bruno wriggled and fought to close with him.

A fearful curiosity held Nina to the spot. Her numbed heart could only pity the dog that had come to her aid. She saw it raised like a doll in the air, the thug hands of the diver strangling the life energy from its body.

"Baticha! You theenk to break my knee an' hold me up? Alo! I break you on my shin instead."

Another shadow slipped from the open window, a red shadow with flaring eyes and feet that leaped. The big fawn head of Red Witch crashed under his upraised arms. It was like the blow of a hammer, and the diver reeled and staggered with Bruno breaking from his grasp. His naked heel twisted and slipped on a loose stone. He pitched backwards, with both hounds on top.

Nina ran towards the bungalow calling for help. A schooner's toplights blinked across the bay.

There came to her a sound of white men's voices—the voice of Norry Dane asking the way to her bungalow. A sick islander lying under some tarpaulin on the jetty pointed the way. It was growing late, but Norry felt that the passing minutes counted for years in his life.

He found Nina on the verandah of the bungalow, sobbing and distraught. He held her in his arms until speech came to them. The Fisheries Commission had quashed the charge against him, leaving him free to join her. Marul's presence on the island and the story of what had happened at the Mission House struck Norry with biting force.

Knowing that Nina would be safe in the bungalow, he crossed the plantation hurriedly and entered the Mission House grounds. In the tree shadow at the rear of the house he came upon a huddled figure that still moved and breathed with difficulty. The dogs had disappeared.

Marul was lying on his chest, his left hand tight clenched. He stirred at Norry's approach, and raised his eyes. His sarong, torn to shreds in the path, spoke of the fierce battle of fist and fang, of blows that missed and the jaws that held.

"I bin hurt, Tuan," he groaned. "Dam dogs take me for a buffalo."

"They mistook you for a hen thief," Norry informed him. "You are not as clever with dogs as you are with stingrays, Marul."

He raised the Malay into a sitting position. The Malay's left hand opened convulsively; a baby purse fell into Dane's palm. A spasm like a grin crossed the diver's face.

"Dem pearls have got a devil, Tuan," he confided hoarsely. "A devil ray was sittin' on de Bank where I found de shells wit de black pearls. I split him up wit my kris I when he smoder me wit black poison. Dat's how I come to lose my kris," he added sorrowfully.


NINA resigned her post at the mission school when medical aid arrived for the children in quarantine. Later on she joined Norry at Thursday Island. Little Wong Chat drew his dividend from the sale of the three gems in New York. Marul was lucky to return to Macassar with the Manilamen, with ten thousand dollars placed to their credit in a Chinese bank. Norry found the prettiest pearl of all in Nina Chard.

And despite Marul's sinister warning the devils in the black pearls never returned to trouble them.


THE END


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