|Home :: Biography :: Ranch Album :: Writings :: Links|
|« View Series Index||Read Stories »|
Part XIX of a Series
by Dale L. Walker
IN a letter to Francis Churchill Williams, associate editor of the Saturday Evening Post, dated March 12, 1911, Jack London proposed a series of South Seas stories. "David Grief will be the hero of all the tales," London wrote, and added, "In this series. . .I am going to give a new South Seas, and it will be the real South Seas — a sailor's South Seas." Williams liked the idea and so, between May 27, 1911, and March 9, 1912, less than ten months, the eight David Grief stories appeared in the magazine. The Post was one of the finest fiction markets extant when London was at his peak of popularity, and one of the most generous in payment. At $750 each the author earned $6,000 for the eight stories — this in an era when a fair working man's salary might be $750 to $1,000 a year.
The Grief stories have no pretense. They do not have the literary impact of the South Sea Tales ("Mauki," "The Heathen," "The House of Mapuhi," and others). David Grief is the Smoke Bellew of the South Seas. These are masterfully plain tales of adventure, of a classic kind that has disappeared from modern fiction, replaced by dark, guilt- and angst-driven, hand-wringing, moralistic, omphalistic, introspective, deeply symbolic and frequently impenetrable works detested by students, ignored by a high percentage of intelligent readers, fawned upon by academicians, and clasped to the bosoms of editors of elite literary magazines.
Collected in book form as A Son of the Sun (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. May, 1912), the leading story, "A Son of the Sun" (Saturday Evening Post, May 27, 1911), introduces the hero.
He is least forty years old and looking thirty, we learn, has holdings and ventures from Samoa to New Guinea, pearling concessions in the Paumotus, trading stations, vessels. He owns atolls, remote and tiny; has salvage operations, owns rubber in the Louisiades, cacao in Bora-Bora, cocoa-nuts in Lallu-Ka, phosphate on Hikuhu. He has contract labor everywhere from Tonga to the Gilberts. His three floors of office is on Castlereagh Street in Sydney.
“the tonic wine of the trade-
The business at hand has the ketch Willi-Waw at anchor between reefs at Bombi Bight, Island of Anna, Solomon Islands. Two men lounge under the deck awning: Harrison J. Griffiths, the captain, and Jacobsen, mate, the latter a German of 25 years, "with the massive forehead of a scholar and the tumble-home chin of a degenerate," busy rolling a ball of cigarette paper containing powdered quinine and swallowing it.
Griffiths owes David Grief, the trader and a millionaire, 1,200 pounds sterling and Grief has come on the Wonder, anchored nearby, and now comes in a black canoe to collect it. Griffiths does not intend to pay and has Jacobsen to back him up.
Grief, heavy muscled, burned by the sun, with yellow moustache and clear blue eyes, hears Griffiths say he hasn't got the money but calls the captain's hand. "It does beat hell how men learn to lie in the Solomons," he says and tells Griffiths he knows the welcher has sold out and is pulling for the Hebrides. Griffiths allows that it is true but announces he is not going to pay whereupon Grief produces an admiralty warrant.
They go below and Griffiths pretends to get the money but holds a rifle on Grief and attempts to force him to sign a paper stating that Griffiths has paid the money to Grief.
Grief escapes and dives in the water.
Later Grief and the Wonder, Capt. Ward commanding, sails along the coast of Guadalcanar, hails a small ketch, the Kauri, and learns that Griffths and the Willi-Waw lay at Savo and are heading for Gabera in the Solomons.
Grief gets there first on the Wonder and with the help of six Santa Cruz boys puts lanterns in some trees. The Willi-Waw arrives and follows the lights, snagging up on the coral, mainmast down, and into the arms of David Grief, who collects his 1,200 pounds.
In "The Proud Goat of Aloysius Pankburn" (Saturday Evening Post, June 24, 1911) Grief is on the steamer Berthe for a run from Raiatea to Papeete, Tahiti, and runs into Aloysius Pankburn in the tiny bar between decks. Pankburn is age about thirty, "well-featured, well-dressed, and, evidently, in the world's catalog, a gentleman." But there is the faint hint of slovenliness about him, the shaking hand and nervous, vacillating eyes of the chronic alcoholic.
He is accompanied by a man and woman, a manager keeping an eye on his drinking and money, the woman a nurse. His mother thinks he is in the islands to "get cured of the booze habit." The two caretakers eventually leave together, a married couple, and abandon Aloysius to his vices.
At Papeete, Pankburn stays at Livina's boarding-house and makes a nuisance of himself, scandalizing the islanders. Grief, on the Kittiwake meantime, reads in the Papeete Avant-Coureur a notice: "To exchange a half interest in buried treasure, worth five million francs, for transportation for one to an unknown island in the Pacific and facilities for carrying away the loot. Ask for FOLLY, at Lavina's."
FOLLY, of course, is Pankburn and Grief goes to see him. Later Pankburn comes aboard the Kittiwake and tells his story.
His father was an American, an Annapolis man, a midshipman in the War of the Rebellion, and in 1866 a lieutenant of the Suwanee which coaled at an island in the Pacific. Ashore in a bar Midshipman Pankburn saw three copper spikes.
“. . .a million
"I have the island, the latitude and longitude of the beach where the three spikes were nailed in the trees," Pankburn says. "The spikes are up at Lavina's now. The latitude and longitude are in my head." The gold, he finally tells Grief, is on Francis Island, and Grief knows the obscure place: "Off there all by its lonely in the Little Coral Sea. . .between New Ireland and New Guinea." He looks in the South Pacific Directory and learns the Francis natives are Melanesian cannibals, war-like and treacherous, but agrees to sail there.
They make the long traverse from Papeete in the Society Islands to the Little Coral Sea, from 150 west longitude to 150 east longitude — equivalent to a voyage across the Atlantic. Grief stops along the way to mind his various business enterprises: to Tui Manua, Eastern Samoa, to the Gilberts, Ontong-Java Atoll, Ysabel, Malaita — "And all along this devious way he made a man of Aloysius Pankburn."
Pankburn did the dirty tasks, scraping masts, holystoning decks, working the alcohol poison out of his system. He devoured work, but went ashore at Apia, fell off the wagon and was found in front of the Tivoli where he had been thrown. Grief gets Aloysius aboard the Kittiwake and the next morning thrashes the man with his fists and refuses to let him off the boat.
Pankburn works ten hours a day removing rust from 150 fathoms — 900 feet — of rusted chain, chipping and sandpapering every link, painting every link with two coats of black lacquer. At the end of this work he says he is never taking another drop and some day is going to lick David Grief: "Grief, you've got my goat, you've got my proud goat, and you've got it permanently."
They reach Francis Island and Grief flushes the natives out of the bush with dynamite and gives the island chief Old One-Eye a bundle of tobacco.
Trading begins — the natives have dug up the money and sticks of tobacco (costing a penny each) for the gold coins. "Thus, a crafty-eyed cannibal would deposit on the table a thousand dollars in gold, and go back over the rail, hugely satisfied, with forty cents' worth of tobacco in his hand."
The Kittiwake has fifty cases of tobacco below decks and they estimate that three cases buys a hundred thousand dollars. Since a million was buried, thirty cases were all that was needed.
Finally the trading ends with Pankburn, Grief and the others taking $800,000 in gold, leaving behind $200,000 in silver coinage being hoarded by the islanders who believe it, and pennies, worth more than the gold.
One-Eye is given a part case of 600-700 sticks and the Kittiwake pulls anchor and sails for Sydney.
Pankburn vows to come back for the $200,000 in silver and as a sober man make certain he is not cheated our of his father's estate.
"The Devils of Fuatino" (first published as "The Goat Man of Fuatino," Saturday Evening Post, July 29, 1911) has David Grief on the Rattler, a yacht-like schooner of ninety tons, famous in the past for her opium-smuggling from San Diego to Puget Sound, raiding the seal rookeries of the Bering Sea, and running arms in the Far East.
They spy the island of Fuatino, Queen Mataara's island, and speak of Mataara's daughter Naumoo and her love affair with Motuaro, and of Pilsach, a German sailor who went ashore and fell in love with Notutu and never returned to his ship.
The Island is inhabited by a stock kindred to the Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian and Maori. Grief says "Fuatino is a love island" and the Rattler's skipper, Captain Glass, says "Fuatino's the island of romantic insanity. Everybody's in love with somebody. The live on love. It's in the milk of the cocoanuts, or the air, or the sea."
The "Goat Man," Mauriri, Grief's blood brother (they have exchanged names) comes aboard and reports that the queen weeps for Grief's coming, that Motuaro is dead, Naumoo is dying, Pilsach and many others are dead. Three weeks past a strange schooner arrived with eight white men aboard, speaking French, and some native women captors from Huahine in the Society Islands. Mauriri says the whites stole yams, taro and breadfruit, taking everything and killing those who resisted.
Capt. Glass has malarial fever and Grief takes the Rattler into the horseshoe-shaped Fuatino harbor and sees the schooner of the latter-day pirates -- the Valetta. Grief goes ashore to see Mataara, the old queen in her Big House. All is desolation and disarray.
Hare-Lip, so called because he has a hare-lip, cook on the Valetta, begs Grief to save him from the "devils" who have murdered Capt. Dupuy, made him poison half the crew, stole the girls from Huahine, robbed traders in the New Hebrides, killed the trader at Vanikori, and have now attacked Grief's schooner.
Grief and Mauriri and Hare-Lip go to Big Rock, an inaccessible place overlooking the bay where cases of dynamite are cached. Aboard the Valetta the pirates play hymns on the phonograph and attempt to leave the harbor, holding several of the people hostages. Grief warns them to desist then throws the dynamite sticks, sinking the schooner as those aboard it flee to Grief's Rattler.
Meantime, Grief and the others face thirst and starvation on Big Rock but devise ways to bring up calabashes of fresh water from 50 feet below on the peninsula side of the rock and eat frigate birds, seaweed, sea urchins, octopus and the like. Soon a pirate leader, Raoul Van Asveld, asks for a parley. He pretends he and his men have plenty to eat and drink and can hold out forever. Grief tells Van Asveld, "I would advise you to go back to the schooner and blow your brains out. It is the only way to escape what you've got coming to you."
Next day the Rattler appears to be making its way toward the passage with the captive Fuatino men in a towed whaleboat and on board, Queen Mataara and Capt. Glass. Van Asveld calls up to Grief, "You can't kill all your people I have on board" while Glass and Naumoo yell to him to throw the dynamite.
The helmsman on the Rattler is shot, Glass pulls the wheel over and the bow of the schooner heads in for the Rock. Grief tosses a bundle of dynamite and Naumoo, Van Asveld and Mauriri "forever disappeared" as the schooner sinks close to the base of the Rock.
Grief sees Mataara save Capt. Glass and Glass laments the "Poor old Rattler" but Grief says in a week she'll be raised, new timbers amidships, "and we'll be on our way."
"The Jokers of New Gibbon" (Saturday Evening Post, November 11, 1911), fourth of the series, finds Grief, on the Wonder, with Wallenstein, the German resident agent from Bougainville. The German compliments Grief on what he has accomplished on the "devil island" of New Gibbon and with its chief, old Koho, "a black Napoleon, a head-hunting, man-eating Tallyrand." Wallenstein remembers that Koho once hanged one of his wives by one arm out in the sun for two days and nights, and had three more women staked out up to their necks in running water, their bones broken and joints crushed — "The process was supposed to make them tender for the eating."
They speak of McTavish, the "Trouble-mender," whom Grief had assigned to pacify New Gibbon, the tough Scotchman at present in Malaita starting a plantation. McTavish imported bushmen from Malaita, burned villages, captured Koho's son and laid down the rate of head-exchange: for each head of his own people he promised to take ten of Koho's — and peace was made as Koho was getting old, limping about on a leg with a Lee-Enfield bullet in it.
New Gibbon, 150 miles long and half as broad, inhabited by a score of warring groups, belonged to the Solomon Group, politically in joint control of Britain and Germany, but under no actual control, passed by by traders and blackbirders, its German cocoanut plantation abandoned after several managers and contract laborers lost their heads to natives.
On the island, Worth, the manager of New Gibbon, pulled the tooth of a New Georgia boy, as Koho, carrying a Snider rifle, "indescribably filthy. . . .grinning like a shrewd little ape" comes up. He cannot shake hands since it is against his tambo as Grief introduces him to Wallenstein.
Soon after Koho leaves to cadge drinks from supercargo Denby on the Wonder. Denby performs his last practical joke on the native by putting essence of mustard in a bottle of rum, pretending to drink some, then turning his back knowing Koho will try it. He does, sneezeing and wheezing in a strangling cough. Then, "It dawned on him [Koho] that a trick had been played, and into his eyes came an expression of hatred and malignancy so primitive, so abysmal, that it sent chills up and down Denby's spine."
Wallenstein is next to play a joke on Koho, putting linament in a bottle of Scotch. He hears Koho splutter and cough and a few minutes later hears a rifle shot followed by the news that the boat-houses and barracks are on fire. Next, Grief finds the cook, a child and a young assistant manager, beheaded.
Next morning, with the bush alive with signal-smoke, a bedlam of conches and booming war-drums, Grief tells the others to stay close and wait for McTavish who Grief will send up on the Wanda with a bunch of Malaita bushmen.
Denby and Wallenstein claim responsibility for Koho's rising and remain behind "to help get things straight again."
Grief goes to Guadalcanar and three weeks later is at Guvutu harbor where he sees the Wanda at anchorage. McTavish has just returned from New Gibbon. "He was a cold flame of a man, small as Koho, and as dried up, with a mahogany complexion and small, expressionless blue eyes that were more like gimlet-points than the eyes of a Scotchman," and he has some things to tell David Grief.
"'Tis a thing to be condemned, a damned shame, this joking with heathen niggers," McTavish says, "Also, 'tis very expensive."
They go below to the cabin for a drink and McTavish explains there is no longer a plantation on New Gibbon. "All the years of our work have gone for naught. 'Tis back where we started, where the missionaries started, where the Germans started — and where they finished. Not a stone stands on another at the landing pier. The houses are black ashes. Every tree is hacked down, and the wild pigs are rooting out the yams and sweet potatoes. . . .Not one is left to tell the tale."
What of Denby, Wallenstein? Worth? Grief wants to know.
McTavish drags out a sack of rice matting and empties on the floor the heads of the three men. The Scot says he guesses they went into the bush after Koho, that he found the chief in the bush, drunk as a lord, and recovered the heads.
"I suppose they'll have regular funerals over them," he says, "and put them in the ground. But in my way of thinking they'd make excellent curios. Any respectable museum would pay a hundred quid apiece. Better have another drink. You're looking a bit pale . . . . Mr. Grief, I would say, set your face sternly against any joking with the niggers. It always makes trouble, and it is a very expensive divertissement."
Grief is on Uncle Toby, his "slowest, tubbiest, safest, and most fool-proof schooner" with a broken chronometer and the skipper down with fever at the opening of "A Little Account with Swithin Hall" (Saturday Evening Post, September 2, 1911). They find Leu-Leu Atoll while cruising in the Banks and Santa Cruz groups and see a hurricane coming, the barometer dropping and the sky looking "like petroleum mixed with castor oil. . . .The ocean was a stately procession of moving mountains."
They spot a sailing vessel belly up in the ocean, pick up one of its boats and make out the name Emily L. "A sealing schooner," Grief says. "But what a sealer's doing in these waters is beyond me." A young mate named Snow says, "Treasure-hunters, maybe? The Sophie Sutherland and the Herman were sealers, you remember, chartered out of San Francisco. . ."
(NOTE: It will be remembered that in 1893, at the age of 17, London signed on the Sophia Sutherland as a seaman. His seven months at sea produced his first literary work, the extraordinary "Story of a Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan" which appeared in the San Francisco Morning Call on November 12, 1893.)
They blunder upon an atoll, a perfect circle eight of nine miles across and Snow says "If there's a windmill on the island, it's Swithin Hall's island. But it can't be. Everybody's been looking for it for the last ten years." He explains that the reason he is working for Grief is that Hall "broke me flat. It was downright robbery. I bought the wreck of the Cascade, down in Sydney, out of a first installment of a legacy from home."
The Cascade had beached on Christmas Island, high and dry in the night, the passengers and mails saved and Snow bought a little island schooner with the rest of his money. Meantime, Swithin Hall, in Honolulu, made straightaway for Christmas Island and when Snow got there, hull and engines were all that was left of Cascade; her silk cargo had vanished and Snow learned later that Hall cleared something like $60,000 in the deal.
Snow pawned his watch and sextant, shovelled coal, worked in the Hebrides at eight pounds a month, went broke as an independent trader, and finally settled down on the Uncle Toby to work for David Grief.
The atoll has a windmill and Snow wants to find Hall and "take sixty thousand dollars' worth out of his hide."
They go ashore to Hall's mansion-like home, complete with a library and complete sets of Tolstoy, Turgenieff, Gorky, Cooper, Twain, Hugo, Zola, Sue, Flaubert, de Maupassant, Paul de Koch, Metchnikoff, Weininger, Schopenhauer, Ellis, Lydston, Krafft-Ebbing, Forel, and Woodruff's Expansion of Races.
In a bedroom a woman, "remarkably beautiful in a dark Spanish way," sleeps and a fat, round-faced man "with a laughing lip and laughter-wrinkles in the corners of his eyes" emerges with a long-barreled Colt revolver, welcomes them and says he is Swithin Hall and that they are the first visitors he has had.
Grief gives his name as Phil Anstey, "bound on the Uncle Toby from the Gilberts to New Guinea and trying to find my longitude."
Later on the schooner Grief says, employing Sherlock Holmesian deductions, "There's something doing on Swithin Hall's island. . . .That man ashore there never bought the books on the shelves. . . .He's got a surface flow of suavity, but he's rough as a hoof-rasp underneath." He is also wary of Hall's men, "tough as rusty wrought-iron nails and twice as dangerous." And the lady? "She knows a whole lot of South America and of China, too. I'm sure she's Spanish, though her English is natural. She's traveled. We talked bull-fights. She's seen them in Guayaquil, in Mexico, in Seville. . . .Another thing: she's quick and lively and he watches her whenever she talks. He's on pins and needles. . ."
Next day Grief strolls to the barracks, plays billiards with Hall and becomes convinced the man is an imposter, that the Emily L was their schooner, lost with all hands, and that they are marooned until the real Swithin Hall returns.
A week passes; Grief sees the atoll's pearls collected, their value ranging from a hundred to a thousand dollars each, some of them beyond that. He tells "Hall" that he will net something like $95,000. The imposter now is given to believe that Grief is the real Swithin Hall and confesses he is Captain Raffy, owner and master of the Emily L.
Grief offers him $15,000 in salary and expenses for collecting pearls and for passage on Grief's schooner, and Raffy quickly agrees. The two "ugly customers,"crewmen on the late Emily L, are shackled and Raffy made fast to the cabin table as Grief totes up the bill: Estimated to Swithin Hall for pearls taken from his lagoon, $100,000; to Herbert Snow, paid in full in pearls for salvage from the steamer Cascade, $60,000; to Raffy, $15,000; to Mrs. Raffy for five pearls, $1,100; for passage to Sydney for 4 persons, $480; to Swithin Hall for balance, in pearls, $23,411.
Grief adds at the bottom of the bill of particulars: "Still owing to Swithin Hall three books borrowed from library: Hudson's Law of Psychic Phenomena, Zola's Paris, and Mahan's Problem of Asia. These books, or full value, can be collected of said David Grief's Sydney office."
"A Goboto Night" (Saturday Evening Post, September 30, 1911) is an even better example of London's affinity for Sherlockian deduction.
Goboto is a quarter-mile in diameter island belted by coral reefs. It is a safe anchorage, has an admiralty coal-shed, a barrack for a few black laborers, a big store and warehouse, a bungalow inhabited by the manager and his two clerks. The island is hot, unhealthy and lurid and for its size it asserts in the distinction of more cases of acute alcoholism than any other spot in the world. "Guvutu, over in the Solomons, claims that it drinks between drinks. Goboto does not deny this. It merely states, in passing, that in the Goboton chronology no such interval of time is known." So rampant is alcoholism there that pay for the manager is twice that of other stations, The managers, it is said, last no more than a year "when the wreckage of them is shipped back to Australia. . ."
Johnny Bassett (probably not related to the no-first-name Bassett of "The Red One"), legendary hero of Goboto, broke all records. "He was a remittance man with a remarkable constitution and he lasted seven years before he was pickled in a cask of trade rum and shipped back to his people in England."
Now on Goboto, seven men sit at dinner: Jerry McMurtrey, the manager; Eddy Little and Jack Andrews, clerks; Captain Stapler of the recruiting ketch Merry; Darby Shryleton, planter from Tito-Ito; Peter Gee, half-caste Chinese pearl-buyer who ranges from Ceylon to the Paumotus; and Alfred Deacon, an Australian visitor off the last steamer, his father once Attorney-General of the Commonwealth.
As they drink their coffee an anchor-chain is heard rumbling through a hawse-pipe and Gee says, "It's David Grief," and Deacon calls the deduction "unadulterated poppycock."
"Peter Gee," we learn, "was that rare creature, a good as well as clever Eurasian. In fact, it was the stolid integrity of the Chinese blood that toned the recklessness and licentiousness of the English blood which had run in his father's veins. . . .And, finally, he was a gentle soul. Violence he deprecated, although he had killed men in his time."
Gee explains his deduction: A small craft, anchors close in. Grief is one of two trade captains to run the passage at night (the other was executed in Fiji). Grief is in these waters on the Gunga. Gee bets fifty pounds that Grief will in a few minutes enter and say, "In Guvutu they merely drink between drinks" — which is precisely what happens.
After Deacon loses big money gambling, Grief announces that the Gunga captain is sailing for Karo-Karo, a ring of sand island with 800 natives growing pandanus. Tom Butler, the manager there for a dozen years and the only white man, is old and wants to die there and needs a white man to take some of the work off his hands. The man would have to stay two years. Grief offers to play a hand of casino with Deacon, betting Deacon the 10,000 pounds he owes. If the Australian loses he takes the job at Karo-Karo and sails at daylight. If his work is satisfactory Grief will pay him 5,000 pounds a year for two years.
He gives Deacon some rules to remember and repeat aloud every morning of the 730 Karo-Karo mornings — "I must always remember that one man is as good as another, save and except when he thinks he is better; No matter how drunk I am I must not fail to be a gentleman. . .Note: It would be better not to get drunk; etc."
Deacon realizes he has been an ass, a cad and a bounder, plays the cards and loses. He announces he will prepare to join the Gunga at daybreak.
"The Pearls of Parlay" (Saturday Evening Post, October 14, 1911) is the sixth of the David Grief series and at least the sixth boat Grief is on at the opening of the story. Here it is the Malahini, originally a Gloucester fisherman, as he and his guest, the Englishman Gregory Mulhall are suffering in suffocating heat as the Malahini enters the lagoon entrance of an atoll, using its new engine to make the passage. The atoll is on admiralty charts as Hikihoho, discovered by Bougainville [Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1729-1811, French soldier and explorer, the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world] but called Parlay after old Parlay, a wizard with pearls who never parts with a pearl and stores hundreds of ton of shell.
Parlay has announced a pearl auction, "If he really sells, this will be the biggest year's output of pearls in the Paumotus," Grief says.
“mildly insane. . .”Parlay, a full-blooded Frenchman considered "mildly insane," arrived in the South Seas in the old days as a trader, married an island queen and when she died, inherited her estate. His daughter Armande was sent to a French convent, educated like the princess of Paumotus she was, and when she reached age eighteen, Parlay sent for her. But there was a hurricane and Parlay arrived in Papeete with a hatful of pearls three weeks too late. Armande was dead, a suicide after a failed love affair with a French officer.
Parlay had to be strait-jacketed after he pumped three bullets into the French lieutenant, flung a glass of wine in the Governor's face, fought a duel with the port doctor, beat his native servants, and wrecked the hospital. He escaped to his schooner, a gun in each hand, daring the gendarmes, and sailed away for Hikihoho.
All this occurred fifteen years past and he has never left the island since.
Eight schooners arrive in the Hikihoho lagoon for the auction presided over by the "long-legged Napoleon the Third," who tells Grief, "Goin' to have a blow," as they examine the pearls at auction.
The wind comes as Parlay predicted; barometer dropping in the growing darkness, wind blowing away one of Parlay's copra-sheds, waves buffeting the lagoon, taut-stretched halyards beating a tattoo against the masts of the schooners as they slid away in the boiling surf "and all the rigging, as if smote by some mighty hand, set up a wild thrumming. It was impossible to face the wind and breathe."
An islander who manages to climb aboard Grief's schooner reports that Narii Herring of the Nuhiva, "an English Jew half-caste. . . .the nerviest and most conscienceless scoundrel in the Paumotus," tried to steal Parlay's pearls and that Parlay is up in a tree, Herring in another.
Parlay is found, ribs smashed, saying "My brave gentlemen. . . .Don't forget. . .the auction . . .at ten o'clock. . .in hell." Then with a derisive cackle he apparently dies.
Meantime the engine of Grief's Malahini gives out and the schooner lays down on her side, lying close to the beach. All the other pearl-buyers are gone.
Grief sees a man walking casually on the beach toward them. It is Narii Herring and he says, "Hello, skipper! Can I come aboard and get some breakfast?"
NOTES: The description of the hurricane is reminiscent of the wind portrayed in "The Heathen" (London Magazine, September,1909). As Eugene Burdick wrote: "In the superb 'The Pearls of Parlay,' London writes of a typhoon [a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean], that most difficult of things of describe. Most writers skirt the subject if they can. A typhoon is one of the most awesome things known to man. All of the atomic bombs so far exploded do not equal the energy which a season's typhoons expend against atolls, high islands, reefs and ships. London's description is masterful, an exercise in economy and glancing insight: he makes the wind visible, gives it palpable character." (Introduction, The Best Short Stories, New York: Fawcett Books, 1962.)
London loved the language of seamanship, arcane words and phrases lost on most readers but lending an authenticity and flavoring to his South Sea stories:
". . .an eight-point haul! Boom-tackles across!"
"The helmsman ran the spokes over with no hint of gentling, and the Malahini darted prettily into the wind and about."
"Her for'ard bitts, foremast, and most of her bow was gone. . ."
"The Feathers of the Sun" (Saturday Evening Post, March 9, 1912) takes place on Fitu-Iva, the last independent Polynesian stronghold — Japan, France, Germany, Britain and the United States discovering its desirability simultaneously and cluttering the island's small harbor. Fitu-Iva is a happy island, feasting and frolicking. King Tulifau has ruled it for 58 years, his entire life. He is six and a half feet tall, weights 320 pounds, is a prodigious drinker. His queen, Sepeli, is six-foot-three, weighs 260.
Grief's schooner Cantani, Willie Smee, supercargo, Capt. Boig the skipper, is in the harbor and Grief learns from his trader Ieremia of a banknote reading "The First Royal Bank of Fitu-Iva will pay to bearer on demand one pound sterling," the note signed "Chancellor of the Exchequer" Fulualea — a Fijian name meaning "feathers of the sun."
Fulualea is a white man and a scoundrel who has made the king drunk and issued the false paper. He turns out to be the harbor master, Cornelius Deasy, who informs Grief he must pay import duties, a fine for entering the harbor after sunset without sidelights burning, and for a breach of quarantine. He fines Grief five pounds and five cases of quality Holland gin or have his vessel confiscated. He also charges Grief with breach of the peace, seditious and treasonable utterance, violent assault on the chief magistrate with intent to cut, wound, maim and bruise, breach of quarantine, violation of harbor regulations, and gross breakage of custom house rules.
Meantime his Cantani is seized to be sold at public auction in ten days and he, Grief, is considered a prisoner at large.
Grief decides the queen is the key to the problems and that Deasy has to be struck by a dead pig as a scoundrel and blackguard. He works out a plan with the queen's assistance. She gives her henpecked husband "a conjugal beating" and sees to it that omens begin to be reported: a plague of rats, bad crops, mangoes tasteless, plantains eaten by worms, tiger sharks appearing in the harbor and fish disappearing, poi in poi-pits turned bitter, a five-legged she-goat born — all due to the strange money of Fulualea.
Deasy says it is all a conspiracy of white traders but ends up being hit with a dead pig as a proven liar and thief and ends up on the rail of the Cantani saying he has heard Grief is making a run over to Yap and asks for passage.
And so ends the David Grief adventures.
"The Prodigal Father" (Woman's World, May, 1912) is one of the nine plots London purchased at $5 each from Sinclair Lewis on October 4, 1910. (See Franklin Walker's "Jack London's Use of Sinclair Lewis Plots, Together with a Printing of Three of the Plots," Huntington Library Quarterly, November, 1953, and Sinclair Lewis: An American Life by Mark Schorer; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961.)
Josiah Childs, proprietor of Oakland's Childs' Cash Store, a leading grocer "of a rushing Western metropolis of three hundred thousand," is an ordinary-appearing, prosperous business man in a $60 suit, tie, collar, cuffs and derby.
He came to Oakland twelve years ago with $14.43 in his pocket, got a job in a small grocery for $11 a week, and began sending a small monthly postal order to Agatha Childs of East Falls, Connecticut, the town where he spent the first 35 years of his life, the last fifteen of which he clerked in a humdrum general store.
He had studied the city of Oakland and opened a store as a square dealer who knew the value of advertising. He put up lost leaders to draw housewife customers. He opened another store with the profit of selling the first. He opened a delicatessen counter, sold Boston baked beans and New England apple cider. He opened a place on Broadway, catering to expensive trade, with horses and delivery wagons, paying high salaries to his drivers and bookkeepers. When the San Francisco fire drove 100,000 people across the Bay to Oakland, his business boomed.
He was starting on a vacation, a trip to East Falls, Connecticut. In the twelve years of his absence he had never received a letter from his wife Agatha, nor a photograph of his son. They had never got along; she was "masterful" and "had a tongue. . . .She was unlovely in her rectitude. Josiah never could quite make out how he had happened to marry her. She was two years his senior, and had long ranked as an old maid." He had too long withstood her hectoring and nagging and so "between a sunset and a rising, Josiah Childs disappeared from East Falls."
He wanted to see his son. "He would be the prodigal father, returning as penniless as when he left. . . .come back wondering if he could get his old job at the general store. Whatever followed would be Agatha's affair."
He takes a Pullman smoker east, lots of talk about the Asiatic trade, the Panama Canal, the Japanese coolie question; his clothing smelled of cigar smoke and Agatha did not tolerate tobacco.
At Agatha's house he hears a bucksaw noise from a woodshed and asks the boy there if his father is home. The boy says he's at sea. He asks the boy's name; it is Johnnie Childs and his father, he says, is Josiah Childs. The boy says his father is a good provider, does not smoke or drink. "Mom says he's the most considerate man she ever knew," he adds and admits he has never seen his father. "He's at sea all the time."
Then the kitchen door opens "to give vent to a woman's nagging, irritable voice" and Josiah feels himself shrinking and shriveling as she stepped out on the stoop and makes it clear he will get nothing to eat and that if he doesn't get off the property she will call the constable.
Josiah leaves, thinking that "If that boy had any of the old Childs spirit in him, sooner or later he'd run away." He goes back and tells the boy he is his father, that he ran away, and that they can just catch the train to California.
Hand in hand they flee across the yard, out the gate and down the street just as they hear the kitchen door open and Agatha saying, "Johnnie !— you! Why ain't you sawing? I'll attend to your case directly!"
“Nobody knew his history.”"The Mexican" (Saturday Evening Post, August 19, 1911) is Felipe Rivera, no more than eighteen years old, who announces that he wants to work for the Revolution.
"Nobody knew his history--they of the Junta least of all. . . .There was no smile on his lips, no geniality in his eyes." Paulino Vera at the Junta headquarters saw "something forbidding, terrible, inscrutable. There was something venomous and snakelike in the boy's black eyes."
He is given buckets and cloths to scrub the floors, spittoons and windows. "Is it for the Revolution?" he asks and is assured. He asks to sleep at the Junta but is denied. When offered a couple of dollars he will not take the money. He starves and toils and when rent is due on the Junta headquarters he comes up with $60 in gold; when they ran out of stamps to mail their literature, the scrubber for the Revolution comes up with 2,000 two-cent stamps.
He never talks, inquires or suggests; and they come to know him not as a spy but as a true patriot — maybe the greatest of them all. Paulino Vera says of him, "He is pitiless as steel, keen and cold as frost. . . .I am not afraid of Diaz and all his killers; but this boy, of him am I afraid. . . .He is the breath of death."
When the line of communication between Los Angeles and Lower California is broken and Juan Alvarado, the Federal commander, has five revolutionaries shot, Felipe Rivera is dispatched south. When he returns, communications are reopened and Alvarado is dead, found in bed with a knife hilt-deep in his breast.
The boy begins appearing with cut lips, blackened cheeks and swollen ears. There are unexplained absences, but when Felipe returns to Junta headquarters he has gold coins to lay on the desk.
The Revolution hangs in the balance and the Junta is hard-pressed; guns and ammunition are needed desperately. Rivera asks, "Will five thousand do it?" and when told yes says, "Order the guns. . . .The time is short. In three weeks I shall bring you five thousand."
Now Danny Ward, a fighter out of New York, has his opponent laid up, injured, and the fight three weeks away. Felipe Rivera visits Kelly, the promoter, and says "I can lick Ward." Roberts, serving as Rivera's manager, says Felipe is "Just a born fighter and tough beyond belief. He hasn't a heart. He's a piece of ice," and Danny Ward, a deliberate, cold-blooded businessman, says he'll nurse the Mexican along "for the dear public's sake" and wants 65% of the gate. Rivera says "Winner take all," Ward calls him "a dirty little greaser" and says he will beat the boy to death in a grudge fight, but agrees to winner takes all.
Rivera waits in the corner and reflects on his past in Rio Blanco where 6,000 peones and little children, seven and eight years old, worked for ten cents a day and were perambulating corpses. He thinks of jefes politicos, rurales, the strike, the lockout, hunger, General Rosalio Martinez, the soldiers of Porfirio Diaz and their death-spitting rifles, of flatcars of bodies consigned to Vera Cruz as shark-food, his father and mother among them.
The fight starts with Ward "a gyroscope of blows, a whirlwind of destruction," throwing an avalanche of punches, cutting Rivera's lip, bloodying his nose — "But what the audience did not notice was that his chest was not heaving and that his eyes were coldly burning as ever."
Rivera suddenly knocks Danny on his back with a right hook. The referee gives Ward a long count, shoves Rivera back. In rounds to follow Rivera's short-arm straight left does damage to Ward's mouth and nose. Ward uppercuts Rivera and drops him, and again in the seventh round, staggering the Mexican, then knocking him through the ropes. In the eighth Rivera knocks Ward down again, then three times in the tenth. Ward fights foully but is knocked down again in the 14th round.
Michael Kelly, Ward's manager, tells Roberts, Rivera's manager, that Ward has to win, that he has a "ton of money covered" and if the Mexican lasts the 15th round he will be bust. Roberts tells Rivera that he must throw the fight, lay down, and swears if Felipe does this he will help the boy to the championship.
In the 17th, backing off after seeing the eagerness of the ref to call his blows foul, Rivera sags under a heavy blow and Ward sees his chance to end the fight. But Rivera, feigning, lashes out a clean shot to the mouth and Ward goes down and when rising is hit a down-chop on the neck and jaw — three times — blows impossible to be called foul. Then, when Ward staggers to his feet Rivera strikes the final blow and Ward does not rise again.
Rivera tells the ref "Count!" and he does. "Who wins?" Rivera demands. "Reluctantly, the referee caught his gloved hand and held it aloft. . . . .The guns were his. The Revolution would go on."
"By the Turtles of Tasman" (San Francisco Call Monthly Magazine, November 19, 1911) is among the longest of London's stories (10,877 words), one of the best paying ($1,000), one of the most revealing of London's final years of life, yet one of the least studied.
Frederick Travers receives word from his older brother Tom that he is coming home, broke and asking for a stake. Tom's daughter Polly — Bronislawa Plaskoweitzkaia Travers (her mother "Russian, or Polish, or Spanish or something," an actress or singer Tom met and eloped with in Buenos Aires and who died in either China or Tasmania) — writes separately that her father is actually coming home to die and that she wants Frederick to telegraph some money.
Frederick is rich, conservative, somewhat Puritanical, abstemious (a glass of wine and three cigars a day at most), colorless, "seriously groomed." He hates ostentation, has servants, autos, a mansion on the sea, a daughter named Mary. He has made fortunes in railroading, newspapers, salmon-packing, an oyster monopoly, a lumber combine, and has dabbled in politics, been president of the chamber of commerce, mayor of the city, state senator, and is considered a prime candidate for governor. His marriage has been one of "policy."
The Pullman deposits Tom Travers — Panama hat, gray, shrunken, eagle-nosed, Viking moustache, blue eyes, "a volcanic face," and Polly — vivacious, shocking in her foreign cut linen dress, vagabond makeup, mercurial, given to extravagant moods, talking with her hands, poppies on a large straw hat. "She flashed and talked like her color. . . .Her wise artist-eyes had seen and sensed. . ."
Frederick's home becomes a restaurant and hotel, with long, late breakfasts and midnight suppers. Polly plays piano in "wild and undisciplined fancies" while Mary's playing reminds Frederick "of church."
Polly begins a rather too-obvious campaign of comparing rich and anal Frederick with her carefree, adventuresome father." Conflict between them was inevitable. He had disliked her from the first moment of meeting. She did not have to speak. Her mere presence made him uncomfortable."
“Did you ever once get drunk?”She says, "I wonder if you ever miss what you've missed. . . .Did you ever, once in your life, turn yourself loose and rip things up by the roots? Did you ever once get drunk? Or smoke yourself black in the face? Or dance a hoe-down on the ten commandments? Or stand up on your hind legs and wink like a good fellow at God?. . . .You seem to value life in terms of profit and loss. . . .I wonder if you have ever known love."
Some strange men come to see Tom, men "with the reminiscent roll of the sea in their gait," others "black-browed ruffians," others "fever-burnt and sallow." There were soldiers of fortune, adventurers, freelancers of the world, and they had names for Tom Travers — Black Tom, Blondine, Husky Travers, Malemute Tom, Swiftwater Tom — but mostly Captain Tom, and they talked of projects and propositions, a new guano island in South America, a nascent Latin American revolution, Siberian gold chases, prospecting the placer benches of the Upper Kuskokeem.
In their youth, when their father Isaac died, Tom said he did not want the estate; what he wanted was $10,000 and the family's old schooner (its bones were later left on the coast of Java), and signed a quitclaim deed to the rest of the estate.
Frederick saved packets on his brother's wanderings, some of them dating to the early 1880s — China, Rangoon, Australia, South Africa, the Gold Coast, Patagonia, Armenia, Alaska; officer in the Chinese Army, gun-runner to Cuba, coal running to Port Arthur in the Japanese-Russian War, salvaging a wreck at Midway Island, something about a Latin American revolution.
Polly and Frederick continue to talk, about his being a brick, taking care of others and himself, conserving his heart and arteries. She wonders, "Have you lived? What have you got to show for it? Stocks and bonds, and houses and servants — pouf! Heart and arteries and a steady hand — is that all?. . . .I'd rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet."
In the fall sourdoughs begin showing up at the Travers estate from the winter's furlough in Alaska, visiting Tom in his sick room and talking of outfitting for the exploration of the Upper Kuskokeem where Tom was said to be bound in the spring.
Frederick sat entranced at their stories and was aware of a "queer emptiness," thinking of the days when he himself dreamed of adventure in far places but instead traded it for dividends, knowing only work and duty. Or, as Polly puts it, "You saved your arteries and your money and kept your feet dry."
Tom dies in his chair, gazing at Polly at the last "with a great smile that slowly faded."
A stranger who comes to see him too late says, "By the turtles of Tasman, he was a man."
"The End of the Story" (Woman's World, November, 1911) begins with a game of whist in a small Yukon cabin with the temperature dropping toward -50. Inside are Bob Strothers, Grant "Doc" Linday, and a broad-shouldered Swede who comes looking for a doctor to care for a broken finger. Another man, Tom Daw, arrives, half-frozen, frost-bitten after a three-day journey, needing a doctor to attend a man who was attacked by a cougar up the Little Peco, a hundred miles away. The man's wife is with him and Daw insists the Doc accompany him.
The Yukon is breaking up and the dogs are swept downstream under the ice; they save the sled but cut the traces on the dogs. They stagger to the cabin three days later. Doc Linday talks to the injured man's wife. He is Rex Strang and the woman, Madge, formerly Linday's wife, ran off with Strang. She tells Linday that Strang "is my king, my lover. . .a painter, a bohemian, a vagabond."
Madge says she will give up her lover, divorce him, and return to Linday if Doc will save Strang's life.
Days and weeks pass and Strang recovers — Linday cutting and sewing "rewiring and connecting up the disrupted organism." Strang begins to walk and is grateful for the miracles Linday has performed. The doctor sends him on a final test, a hike up the Big Windry river, a three-day ordeal. Then he tells Madge to pack her stuff, that they'll be in Dawson in a week's time.
She writes a farewell letter to Strang but Linday leaves without her, "thrust the canoe out from the bank, dipped the paddle in the swift rush of the current, and entered the head of the riffle where the water poured glassily ere it burst into a white madness of foam.
|« View Series Index||
Copyright © 2008 by Dale L. Walker
|Jack London: The Stories|
|Home :: Biography :: Ranch Album :: Writings :: Links|