Uncle Bob Hathaway was conversing with the King of Maurua, and the monotonous
drone of the two men's voices made Alice feel drowsy.
Through the open doorway of the bamboo house she could see the glittering water of the lagoon, and moored to the quay in front of the King's palace, Uncle Bob's schooner lying white and shining in the tropic sun. Palm trees hung motionless in the midday air. Alice would have liked to stretch out at full length on those soft woven mats and fall sound asleep. But that would never do. After all, you don't do that sort of thing in the presence of royalty.
The King of Maurua was named Umu-e-Amu, which means Roasted-and-Eaten; an indignity to which he had never been subjected since there he sat, quite regal in his brilliant pareu and crown of hibiscus. Roasted-and-Eaten was conversing in French, for in his youth he had been educated in Tahiti, a French island which everyone who has seen it calls the Paris of the Pacific.
Alice was glad that she had always been rather good at French herself, especially
since the year she had spent in France with Aunt Emily, Uncle Bob's wife. For now,
whenever the conversation became interesting, she could listen in on it! Usually
the King and her uncle talked about government conditions, which was a bore, or about
people she had never seen. But when it turned on the subject of business Alice became
all ears. Uncle Bob was a pearl buyer and spent eight months of every year sailing
his schooner through the islands of the South Seas, buying, trading and selling.
Ever since Alice could remember, Uncle Bob had promised her that on her fourteenth
birthday she should sail with him for a three-months' holiday through the islands.
And since that day, six weeks ago now, when she had kissed her mother good-by, and
standing at the rail of a great steamer, had sailed alone out through the Golden
Gate, life had become a glorious adventure.
When the mail steamer arrived in Papeete Uncle Bob was waiting for Alice, and she thought he looked as brown as a native against his spotless white ducks. Off the main street, with a line thrown out around an old cannon on shore, his schooner the Stormy Petrel lay at rest. Everything was ready for an immediate departure to those more remote and colorful islands where Uncle Bob's pearling called him.
For two weeks thereafter they had sailed through the Tuamotus, known to charts and mariners as the Dangerous Archipelago, where treacherous reefs lie half submerged and currents are variable and uncertain. Only the hardiest of captains will hazard his ship in these waters, but Bob Hathaway was a past master at the art of navigating. Under his watchful eye Alice stood her trick at the wheel and learned many things about ships that were to stand her in good stead one day. In the island of Anau she was even allowed to bring the ship into harbor through the reef passage, a feat that won her the admiration and respect of all the crew.
It was in this same island that Alice first heard of Red Monahan, one of the most notorious characters in the South Seas. Pearl-pirate, slaver, robber, he had put his schooner the Typhoon, in at Anau just a few days before the arrival of the Stormy Petrel. He had proceeded to loot the Chinese store of all its supplies, loaded his schooner with a thousand green drinking nuts, and then when the storekeeper refused to hand over his pearls and gold, Red Monahan had shot him in cold blood. The French Government had posted a reward of one hundred thousand francs for his capture, dead or alive.
"Why do they call him 'Red' Monahan?" Alice asked of her uncle. "Because he has red hair?"
"No!" came the unexpected reply. "But because, daredevil that he is, he has painted the hull of the Typhoon a brilliant red that can be seen as far as you can see anything at sea. The Typhoon is not only a marvel under sail, she is equipped as well with a powerful Diesel engine, and can show her heels to anything in this part of the Pacific, including the French gunboat that has frequently gone scouting for her."
"But how does the Typhoon get her water and supplies?"
By putting in at the smaller islands and terrorizing the natives, just as she did here in Anau," replied Uncle Bob. "I heard that she even put in at Tahiti a few weeks ago and was off again before the officials could wake up from their noonday siestas. Red Monahan may be a threehorned devil but he's a great navigator. He could sail that schooner of his through the teeth of a hurricane and not lose a spar!" There was a note of grudging admiration in the man's voice. "But I'd just like to catch up with him once and put him behind bars, where he belongs!" There was a hard light in Uncle Bob's blue eyes that boded ill for Red Monahan, should the two men ever meet. Alice was secretly glad that the Typhoon had left Anau before the Stormy Petrel arrived. She would like to see Red Monahan in jail where he belonged, but if anything should happen to Uncle Bob-- She shuddered.
During the eventful days that followed she forgot all about Red Monahan and the Typhoon. Those islands of the Dangerous Archipelago! Ridiculously small rings of coral they were, set with a crown of palm trees, remote and isolated in the loneliest ocean in the world. Here a few score natives lived out their lives from the cradle to the grave without ever knowing that there was a world beyond their narrow horizon. But what a colorful world to Alice who had never seen it before! These joyous people who seemed to spend all their days swimming and playing and their nights singing and dancing.
And now here she was, on the island of Maurua, seated on the matting floor of a bamboo palace, sipping delicious cool coconut milk out of a gourd, and conversing with a king whose ancestors had once been cannibals! What would the girls back at Miss Fitch's say to that? But such a splendid-looking old fellow was King Roasted-and-Eaten, with his white hair and his coppery skin and his air of great dignity, that Alice couldn't bring herself to believe that the people of Maurua had ever been cannibals. She consoled herself with the thought that perhaps they had only been head-hunters!
The King was speaking to Uncle Bob in that measured resonant voice of his: "And you heard no word in Tahiti, M'sieu Hathaway, of my servant Mapu?"
"None, 0 King," came Uncle Bob's answer. "I went to the school where he was studying and there I learned from the Fathers that he had been in excellent standing, a good boy and a smart one, and liked by everyone. They could only tell me that one night he had gone for a walk after his classes and had never been seen again. I went to the Governor, who investigated the case. Without result. Mapu had disappeared as completely as if he had been swallowed up by the sea."
The King shook his head sadly. "It is indeed strange. Very strange. The Varua Ino, the Evil Spirit of my people, must have a hand in it."
"May I ask, 0 King," put in Uncle Bob, "what was your purpose in sending Mapu, a youth of such tender years, away from his own island to acquire an education of which he would have little need here in Maurua? With you it is different," he hastened to add, "you must rule your people wisely and well, and perhaps sometimes you find a knowledge of white men's laws useful. But Mapu was a commoner and could never rule."
The King raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Surely you knew that I sent Mapu to school in Tahiti as a reward! It was the one thing he asked for."
"A reward? Oh, you mean for finding the secret of Hidden Harbor?"
"Ai!" assented the King. "What else?"
Uncle Bob lowered his voice. "And is the secret of Hidden Harbor still a secret?" he asked.
"Still," answered Roasted -and -Eaten.
Alice sat up, all ears. This promised to be interesting. "What secret, Uncle Bob?" she demanded.
The man laughed and replied in English: "The secret of Hidden Harbor."
"I know, I know. It sounds too thrilling! But what's it all about?" The girl leaned forward expectantly, her eyes shining.
Uncle Bob smiled at the King then turned indulgently toward his niece.
"There's nothing very thrilling about it, I'm afraid," he explained. "The King has given me a twenty-five year concession on the pearl beds of Hidden Harbor. Everyone knows that the finest shell in the world comes from Maurua, but only three people know that the finest of all lies on the floor of Hidden Harbor. It was discovered one day quite by accident by a servant of the King's, a boy named Mapu -- an adventurous youth who had paddled his canoe into Hidden Harbor to dive for cuttlefish. He brought back the largest shell I have ever seen, 'gold lip' shell, immensely valuable. As a reward the King sent him to Tahiti for an education."
Where is this marvelous harbor, Uncle Bob?"
Uncle Bob drew thoughtfully on his pipe and took a long sip of coconut juice before answering. "It lies on the opposite side of the island, a tiny hidden bay, landlocked except for a treacherous passage in the reef, too small and tricky for any but a skillful navigator to attempt with a schooner. The beds are full of beautiful shell. Some of those scientific fellows would be excited to know that it's the only place within a thousand-mile radius where you can find 'gold lip'! And what pearls there must be, down there on the bottom! A king's ransom -- and then some! See -- here are a few the King has given me!" He took a bottle from his pocket, and spreading a handkerchief on the mat he emptied its contents. Alice leaned forward and gasped in amazement at the sight that greeted her eyes. A hundred beautiful pearls lay glinting softly in the shadowy room. Some were snow-white, some yellow as a canary's wing, and some held a flame like the heart of a sunset. There were round ones and oval, each perfectly formed, and one enormous one was pearshaped and colored like the meat of a salmon.
"Oh," gasped the girl.
''What beauties! How lovely! Are these all from one place?'
"They are from Hidden Harbor. There must be countless more like these."
"But why, Uncle Bob," asked Alice, "did the King ever consent to give you a twenty-five year concession on the place?"
"Well, you see," answered Uncle Bob, carefully gathering up the pearls and putting them back in his bottle, "when I was at the Versailles Conference after the war I was able to do the King a favor with the French Government and he has never forgotten it. Next week my men are going to start working the lagoon as soon as their gear is shipshape."
King Roasted-and-Eaten interrupted. "I trust, M'sieu Hathaway, that you will impress upon your niece the great importance of secrecy in this matter. We have no radios or newspapers in Maurua, but news in the South Seas travels on the fleet wings of the gull."
Uncle Bob put one arm around Alice's shoulders and gave her a mighty hug. "I would trust her with anything in the world!" he assured the King, and Alice felt a warm glow at his words. "Ah--!" her uncle continued, "here comes the Princess Moana, the King's daughter. She's the girl I have been telling you about. I expect you two to have a great time together. Iorana oe, Princess!"
Alice looked up with interest. A slender, beautiful girl of her own age had entered the room to bow low before her royal father. The King motioned her to rise, then introduced her to his guests. Alice saw that the girl was dressed in the national pareu, a strip of gorgeous red-and-white cloth that covered the body from armpits to knees. Around her neck hung a lei of fragrant frangipani. Her black hair fell in shining waves to her waist and her warm amber skin held a flush in each cheek. Her eyes, black and shy as a startled deer's, lowered swiftly, and Alice thought that the Princess Moana was quite the loveliest girl she had ever seen.
During the long days that followed, Alice Williams and the Princess became great friends. The native girl knew a few words of French and Alice had already picked up a bit of the Mauruan dialect. With the aid of pantomime and the sign language they were able to carry on an animated conversation, to the delight and amusement of everyone who saw and heard their merry laughter.
Alice learned how to bind her feet together with a twist of coconut fibre and "jack-knife" up the slippery trunk of a coconut tree; and, perched like a fly in the topmost branches, to pull and twist at the green nuts until they fell with a thud to the sand below. Sometimes swimming far out in the lagoon, the two girls lay on their surf-boards waiting for the long green rollers that would pick them up like match sticks and carry them, standing upright, through the boiling waters, to throw them spent and exhausted on the sand. Some days they roamed the jungle with the other young people of the village, looking for oranges or bananas or bread fruit. Alice had astonished them all by knowing how to make fire after their own fashion with sticks -- a Girl Scout trick she had always been good at.
One day the Princess suggested a trip to the top of Pahia, the single high mountain that formed the backbone of Maurua. Moana wanted to gather lupe eggs to make a special kind of omelet of which the King was inordinately fond. Alice was delighted at the prospect. It was a long grilling climb up the steep slopes of the mountain side, through the dense undergrowth. Once a wild boar tore snorting through the bushes only a few feet from them. Alice saw the flecks of foam on his gleaming tusks.
Under the rocks they found countless nests of lupe eggs and set about filling their fibre basket. The eggs were small and it would take many to fill the mighty stomach of King Roasted-and-Eaten, so not until the basket had been filled to the brim did they stop for rest. Under the cool shadow of an overhanging rock, they sat and ate mangoes.
"Moana!" cried Alice, suddenly. "Can't we see Hidden Harbor from here?"
"Ai!" assented the Princess. "I will show you --" Her keen
native eyes began to search the distant shore intently. Then she gave a little exclamation
and sat bolt upright, clutching Alice by the arm. "E pahi! A ship!" she
exclaimed, pointing down to the distant water. Alice's eyes vainly tried to follow
the pointing finger. She had good eyesight, but it was not so keen as this girl's.
Moana, trembling, held her head in exact position, and she saw it then. just a tiny
speck in the harbor, that ship. But she leaped to her feet, for the sun, glinting
suddenly on the hull had thrown back a flash of red light. Red Monahan!
Moana clutched Alice excitedly. "We must return to the village and tell the King. He will send his men over the mountain pass to capture the schooner."
Alice hesitated. It would take three hours for her and the Princess to reach the village. Then three more hours for the men to get to Hidden Harbor. It was now mid-afternoon. Probably Red Monahan had entered the harbor at daybreak and had many hours of good work behind him. He might well be gone with his booty before Uncle Bob or the King's men could overtake him. No! Suddenly she was decided. They would not return to the village. They would go down there to Hidden Harbor themselves as fast as they could, and -- and -- What would they do when they got there? She didn't know. But they would have to do something, that was all. If Red Monahan got away with Uncle Bob's pearls just because she was afraid to do anything about it, she could never face her uncle or herself again!
Without attempting to explain any of this to Moana, she seized the girl by the arm and started at a breakneck pace down the side of the mountain toward Hidden Harbor. Thorns and bushes caught at them and tore their clothing. They found a wild pig path, ran down it as fast as they could, came out on the edge of the beach, not a hundred yards from the scarlet-hulled Typhoon. Here, under cover of the thick undergrowth, they paused to reconnoiter.
They discovered that there were three outrigger canoes with five men in each, floating on the lagoon half a mile from the schooner. Natives were diving and returning to the canoes with their plunder. The girls could see no one on the schooner. Alice thought that they would hardly leave a lookout on the ship when they could command a perfect view of the shore and the reef passage from the canoes. The girls held a conference, then set to work. If they hadn't been so busy the men in the canoes might have noticed two green bushes slowly wriggling across the sand into the water.
Red Monahan was sitting in the center canoe, a large knife in his hand, opening shells as fast as the divers could drop them at his feet. Since daybreak he had been occupied in this endeavor and his labor had already been richly rewarded. By nightfall he would be gone, with the hold full of valuable "gold lip", and hundreds of gorgeous pearls locked in the security of his cabin on the Typhoon.
"So," muttered Red Monahan half aloud. "That native didn't lie after all! This harbor has got the finest shell I've ever laid eyes on!" He laughed exultantly. "Guess this'll be a pretty good joke on Bob Hathaway! Thought he had this little place all sewed up and nobody else knew anything about it, didn't he? Ho! Ho! Well, Bob, this isn't the first lagoon I've looted and, by gorry, it won't be the last!"
In the shelter of a rock the two girls discarded their leafy camouflage. Then they breathed deeply, filling their lungs with air and exhaling slowly, just as the pearl divers did before diving. They would have to swim under water to the far side of the Typhoon. It was twenty-five yards or more. Could they make it? If they should be forced to come to the surface they would surely be seen by the men in the canoes. A strong offshore breeze was setting in, ruffling the calm waters of the lagoon. That would help a good bit. Moana took a final deep breath and dived. Alice followed suit. Together they swam side by side with long unhurried strokes under the hazy blue-green depths.
Fish darted hastily away in fright at their approach. Once a shadow slipped swiftly overhead and Alice shuddered. A shark! Her breath was almost gone. Where, where was the ship. She seemed to have lost all sense of direction. She knew that she couldn't swim much farther. Moana was a shoulder ahead of her, still swimming. Alice clamped her teeth into her lips against the flood of breath that seemed as if it must burst from her lungs. Dense black shadow ahead-the bull of the Typhoon! A great wave of relief surged through Alice. She could have wept. Moana had swerved sharply to the left and Alice followed. She found herself gripping a chain. The anchor chain. Cautiously, quietly, the two girls clung there, breathing deeply.
Then as quietly as possible they climbed up the anchor chain over the stern and crouched behind the binnacle. Peeking around the corner, not knowing what to expect, they saw the deck of the Typhoon piled high with shell. Then Moana clutched Alice's arm and pointed to the far side of the deck. A native lay in the full sunlight, bound hand and foot, his eyes wide open and dull. What happened next Alice could never have imagined in her wildest dreams. Moana, rising suddenly, called out a name in a fierce, subdued voice. "Mapu!" The head of the native jerked sidewise and his eyes brightened. "Moana!" he answered faintly. At a run the Princess sped across the deck and knelt beside the native. Alice saw that the girl was crying as she tugged at the knots. Picking up a pearl shell Alice ran to her friend's assistance and sawed at the tough strands of the rope with the sharp edge of the shell. In a moment the youth was free, rubbing his stiffened joints. He and Moana were conversing hurriedly in Mauruan.
"Quick, Mapu! We have no time to lose. There are no others on board?"
"None, Princess. They are all out in the canoes. They left me bound here so that I should not escape and give warning. When they were through with their work they meant to throw me to the sharks!"
They were interrupted by shouts and sounds of commotion coming from the canoes. The men had stopped their work and picked up their paddles.
"Quick, Mapu!" cried the Princess with a voice like a whip. "The anchor! Up with it! You, Alice, take the wheel!" The native girl, was taking command of the situation like a seasoned skipper. Her strong hands were pulling on the mainsail. Mapu had hauled the anchor aboard and joined Moana at the ropes. The men in the canoes were shouting furiously as their paddles dug at the water. Oh, oh, thought Alice, would the sail never fill! The breeze was strengthening but the canvas was still slack. Up, up the mainsail rose, to be made fast. Mapu sprang forward and hoisted the jib. The wind caught the Typhoon and canted her head round, slowly. Alice swung the wheel and pointed her nose for the pass in the reef.
The canoes were gaining on them. The girls could hear the excited voices of the men, and Red Monahan standing in the bow was hurling curses at them. Mapu had hurried below to see if he could start the engine. There came a faint put-put.The engine was protesting. It gasped and
died. Alice's heart sank. Looking back over her shoulder she could see Red Monahan standing in the bow of the nearest canoe, his hands outstretched to grasp the rail of the schooner and spring aboard. She shuddered.
Ahead lay the treacherous reef passage through which they must go in order to escape. Alice remembered what Uncle Bob had said that it was the most dangerous pass in all the islands. Could she hope to guide the Typhoon through that channel? Luck was with her. The tide was on the ebb and the water was pouring like a mill race out through the opening. If only she could keep clear of the rocks that yawned hungrily on both sides!
There was a sudden explosion from the exhaust as the engine came to life again. The Typhoon trembled, then sprang into sudden motion. Out of the corner of one eye, Alice saw a canoe draw alongside and saw Red Monahan lay one rough hand on the rail to pull himself aboard. But in that second Moana had seized an oar and struck with all her weight at the man's hand. With a howl of pain Red Monahan let go. The Typhoon, under sail and power now, leaped ahead straight toward the reef passage.
Alice swung the wheel slightly to starboard and hung on for grim death, uttering up a fervent prayer. The current caught the escaping schooner, and like a chip on a mill race the Typhoon tore through the treacherous passage, with water hissing and boiling all about, out into the open sea. The canoes fell back. They could not have lived in that tumultuous water.
Late that night a grand celebration was in progress. The entire population of Maurua had gathered, and in the place of honor beside the King and Uncle Bob, sat Alice and Moana and Mapu. Mapu had related how he had been kidnapped in Tahiti by Red Monahan's men, and how, under threat of torture and death, he had been compelled to reveal the secret of the Harbor. The King had dispatched his strongest warriors to the opposite side of the island, where they had little difficulty in rounding up Red Monahan and his men. All of Monahan's firearms were on the lost schooner and he was at the mercy of the warriors.
It wasn't until Uncle Bob and Alice were on their way back to the palace that they remembered the one hundred thousand franc reward.
"Looks to me as if you and Moana would have more money than you know what to do with," laughed her uncle. "Fifty thousand francs apiece is quite a nice little sum, to say nothing of a large quantity of pearls found in the cabin of the Typhoon which belong to you, too!"
But Alice only squeezed his arm affectionately. "The reward should be divided in thirds," she told him. "For without Mapu we could have done nothing. Oh, Uncle Bob! Just think! My vacation is almost over, and I'll have to go back to school and -- and -- Her voice faltered and she stopped, for she hated cry babies.
"Well, well," replied her uncle consolingly, "don't forget that there are other vacations to come. And that Maurua will always be here, and Moana and Mapu. And yes -- even Red Monahan. Perhaps he will have escaped by next year and the French Government will hire you to round him up all over again!"