South Sea Tales
The House Of Mapuhi
Despite the heavy clumsiness of her lines, the Aorai handled easily in the light breeze,
and her captain ran her well in before he hove to just outside the suck of the surf. The
atoll of Hikueru lay low on the water, a circle of pounded coral sand a hundred yards
wide, twenty miles in circumference, and from three to five feet above high-water mark.
On the bottom of the huge and glassy lagoon was much pearl shell, and from the deck of
the schooner, across the slender ring of the atoll, the divers could be seen at work. But the
lagoon had no entrance for even a trading schooner. With a favoring breeze cutters could
win in through the tortuous and shallow channel, but the schooners lay off and on outside
and sent in their small boats.
The Aorai swung out a boat smartly, into which sprang half a dozen brown-skinned
sailors clad only in scarlet loincloths. They took the oars, while in the stern sheets, at the
steering sweep, stood a young man garbed in the tropic white that marks the European.
The golden strain of Polynesia betrayed itself in the sun-gilt of his fair skin and cast up
golden sheens and lights through the glimmering blue of his eyes. Raoul he was,
Alexandre Raoul, youngest son of Marie Raoul, the wealthy quarter-caste, who owned
and managed half a dozen trading schooners similar to the Aorai. Across an eddy just
outside the entrance, and in and through and over a boiling tide-rip, the boat fought its
way to the mirrored calm of the lagoon. Young Raoul leaped out upon the white sand and
shook hands with a tall native. The man's chest and shoulders were magnificent, but the
stump of a right arm, beyond the flesh of which the age-whitened bone projected several
inches, attested the encounter with a shark that had put an end to his diving days and
made him a fawner and an intriguer for small favors.
"Have you heard, Alec?" were his first words. "Mapuhi has found a pearl--such a pearl.
Never was there one like it ever fished up in Hikueru, nor in all the Paumotus, nor in all
the world. Buy it from him. He has it now. And remember that I told you first. He is a
fool and you can get it cheap. Have you any tobacco?"
Straight up the beach to a shack under a pandanus tree Raoul headed. He was his mother's
supercargo, and his business was to comb all the Paumotus for the wealth of copra, shell,
and pearls that they yielded up.
He was a young supercargo, it was his second voyage in such capacity, and he suffered
much secret worry from his lack of experience in pricing pearls. But when Mapuhi
exposed the pearl to his sight he managed to suppress the startle it gave him, and to
maintain a careless, commercial expression on his face. For the pearl had struck him a
blow. It was large as a pigeon egg, a perfect sphere, of a whiteness that reflected
opalescent lights from all colors about it. It was alive. Never had he seen anything like it.
When Mapuhi dropped it into his hand he was surprised by the weight of it. That showed
that it was a good pearl. He examined it closely, through a pocket magnifying glass. It
was without flaw or blemish. The purity of it seemed almost to melt into the atmosphere