A Son of the Sun

A LITTLE ACCOUNT
WITH SWITHIN HALL

(First published in The Saturday Evening Post, v. 184, September 2, 1911: 12-14, 40-41)

VII

A week passed, during which time the Uncle Toby was ready for sea, while Grief managed to allay any suspicion of him by the shore crowd. Even Gorman and Watson accepted him at his self-description. Throughout the week Grief begged and badgered them for the longitude of the island.

"You wouldn't have me leave here lost," he finally urged. "I can't get a line on my chronometer without your longitude."

Hall laughingly refused.

"You're too good a navigator, Mr. Anstey, not to fetch New Guinea or some other high land."

"And you're too good a navigator, Mr. Hall," Grief replied, "not to know that I can fetch your island any time by running down its latitude. "

On the last evening, ashore, as usual, to dinner, Grief got his first view of the pearls they had collected. Mrs. Hall, waxing enthusiastic, had asked her husband to bring forth the "pretties," and had spent half an hour showing them to Grief. His delight in them was genuine, as well as was his surprise that they had made so rich a haul.

"The lagoon is virgin," Hall explained. "You saw yourself that most of the shell is large and old. But it's funny that we got most of the valuable pearls in one small patch in the course of a week. It was a little treasure house. Every oyster seemed filled—seed pearls by the quart, of course, but the perfect ones, most of that bunch there, came out of the small patch."

Grief ran his eye over them and knew their value ranged from one hundred to a thousand dollars each, while the several selected large ones went far beyond.

"Oh, the pretties! the pretties!" Mrs. Hall cried, bending forward suddenly and kissing them.

A few minutes later she arose to say good-night.

"It's good-bye," Grief said, as he took her hand. "We sail at daylight."

"So suddenly!" she cried, while Grief could not help seeing the quick light of satisfaction in her husband's eyes.

"Yes," Grief continued. "All the repairs are finished. I can't get the longitude of your island out of your husband, though I'm still in hopes he'll relent."

Hall laughed and shook his head, and, as his wife left the room, proposed a last farewell nightcap. They sat over it, smoking and talking.

"What do you estimate they're worth?" Grief asked, indicating the spread of pearls on the table. "I mean what the pearl-buyers would give you in open market?"

"Oh, seventy-five or eighty thousand," Hall said carelessly.

"I'm afraid you're underestimating. I know pearls a bit. Take that biggest one. It's perfect. Not a cent less than five thousand dollars. Some multimillionaire will pay double that some day, when the dealers have taken their whack. And never minding the seed pearls, you've got quarts of baroques there. And baroques are coming into fashion. They're picking up and doubling on themselves every year."

Hall gave the trove of pearls a closer and longer scrutiny, estimating the different parcels and adding the sum aloud.

"You're right," he admitted. "They're worth a hundred thousand right now."

"And at what do you figure your working expenses?" Grief went on. "Your time, and your two men's, and the divers'?"

"Five thousand would cover it."

"Then they stand to net you ninety-five thousand?"

"Something like that. But why so curious?"

"Why, I was just trying—" Grief paused and drained his glass. "Just trying to reach some sort of an equitable arrangement. Suppose I should give you and your people a passage to Sydney and the five thousand dollars—or, better, seven thousand five hundred. You've worked hard."

Without commotion or muscular movement the other man became alert and tense. His round-faced geniality went out like the flame of a snuffed candle. No laughter clouded the surface of the eyes, and in their depths showed the hard, dangerous soul of the man. He spoke in a low, deliberate voice.

"Now just what in hell do you mean by that?"

Grief casually relighted his cigar.

"I don't know just how to begin," he said. "The situation is—er—is embarrassing—for you. You see, I'm trying to be fair. As I say, you've worked hard. I don't want to confiscate the pearls. I want to pay you for your time and trouble, and expense."

Conviction, instantaneous and absolute, froze on the other's face.

"And I thought you were in Europe," he muttered. Hope flickered for a moment. "Look here, you're joking me. How do I know you're Swithin Hall?"

Grief shrugged his shoulders. "Such a joke would be in poor taste, after your hospitality. And it is equally in poor taste to have two Swithin Halls on the island."

"Since you're Swithin Hall, then who the deuce am I? Do you know that, too?"

"No," Grief answered airily. "But I'd like to know."

"Well, it's none of your business."

"I grant it. Your identity is beside the point. Besides, I know your schooner, and I can find out who you are from that."

"What's her name?"

"The Emily L."

"Correct. I'm Captain Raffy, owner and master."

"The seal-poacher? I've heard of you. What under the sun brought you down here on my preserves?"

"Needed the money. The seal herds are about finished."

"And the out-of-the-way places of the world are better policed, eh?"

"Pretty close to it. And now about this present scrape, Mr. Hall. I can put up a nasty fight. What are you going to do about it?"

"What I said. Even better. What's the Emily L. worth?"

"She's seen her day. Not above ten thousand, which would be robbery. Every time she's in a rough sea I'm afraid she'll jump her ballast through her planking."

"She has jumped it, Captain Raffy. I sighted her bottom-up after the blow. Suppose we say she was worth seven thousand five hundred. I'll pay over to you fifteen thousand and give you a passage. Don't move your hands from your lap." Grief stood up, went over to him, and took his revolver. "Just a necessary precaution, Captain. Now you'll go on board with me. I'll break the news to Mrs. Raffy afterward, and fetch her out to join you."

"You're behaving handsomely, Mr. Hall, I must say," Captain Raffy volunteered, as the whaleboat came alongside the Uncle Toby. "But watch out for Gorman and Watson. They're ugly customers. And, by the way, I don't like to mention it, but you've seen my wife. I've given her four or five pearls. Watson and Gorman were willing."

"Say no more, Captain. Say no more. They shall remain hers. Is that you, Mr. Snow? Here's a friend I want you to take charge of—Captain Raffy. I'm going ashore for his wife."

Go Back To: A Little Account With Swithin Hall (VIII)
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