A son of the sun, p.1
A Son Of The Sun, p.1Jack London
Produced by David Widger
A SON OF THE SUN
BY JACK LONDON
I. A Son of the Sun
II. The Proud Goat of Aloysius Pankburn
III. The Devils of Fuatino
IV. The Jokers of New Gibbon
V. A Little Account With Swithin Hall
VI. A Goboto Night
VII. The Feathers of the Sun
VIII. The Peabls of Parlay
A SON OF THE SUN
Chapter One--A SON OF THE SUN
The _Willi-Waw_ lay in the passage between the shore-reef and theouter-reef. From the latter came the low murmur of a lazy surf, but thesheltered stretch of water, not more than a hundred yards across to thewhite beach of pounded coral sand, was of glass-like smoothness. Narrowas was the passage, and anchored as she was in the shoalest place thatgave room to swing, the _Willi-Waw's_ chain rode up-and-down a cleanhundred feet. Its course could be traced over the bottom of livingcoral. Like some monstrous snake, the rusty chain's slack wanderedover the ocean floor, crossing and recrossing itself several times andfetching up finally at the idle anchor. Big rock-cod, dun and mottled,played warily in and out of the coral. Other fish, grotesque of form andcolour, were brazenly indifferent, even when a big fish-shark driftedsluggishly along and sent the rock-cod scuttling for their favouritecrevices.
On deck, for'ard, a dozen blacks pottered clumsily at scraping the teakrail. They were as inexpert at their work as so many monkeys. In factthey looked very much like monkeys of some enlarged and prehistorictype. Their eyes had in them the querulous plaintiveness of the monkey,their faces were even less symmetrical than the monkey's, and, hairlessof body, they were far more ungarmented than any monkey, for clothesthey had none. Decorated they were as no monkey ever was. In holes intheir ears they carried short clay pipes, rings of turtle shell, hugeplugs of wood, rusty wire nails, and empty rifle cartridges. The calibreof a Winchester rifle was the smallest hole an ear bore; some of thelargest holes were inches in diameter, and any single ear averaged fromthree to half a dozen holes. Spikes and bodkins of polished bone orpetrified shell were thrust through their noses. On the chest of onehung a white doorknob, on the chest of another the handle of a chinacup, on the chest of a third the brass cogwheel of an alarm clock. Theychattered in queer, falsetto voices, and, combined, did no more workthan a single white sailor.
Aft, under an awning, were two white men. Each was clad in a six-pennyundershirt and wrapped about the loins with a strip of cloth. Beltedabout the middle of each was a revolver and tobacco pouch. The sweatstood out on their skin in myriads of globules. Here and there theglobules coalesced in tiny streams that dripped to the heated deck andalmost immediately evaporated. The lean, dark-eyed man wiped his fingerswet with a stinging stream from his forehead and flung it from him witha weary curse. Wearily, and without hope, he gazed seaward across theouter-reef, and at the tops of the palms along the beach.
"Eight o'clock, an' hell don't get hot till noon," he complained. "Wishtto God for a breeze. Ain't we never goin' to get away?"
The other man, a slender German of five and twenty, with the massiveforehead of a scholar and the tumble-home chin of a degenerate, did nottrouble to reply. He was busy emptying powdered quinine into a cigarettepaper. Rolling what was approximately fifty grains of the drug into atight wad, he tossed it into his mouth and gulped it down without theaid of water.
"Wisht I had some whiskey," the first man panted, after a fifteen-minuteinterval of silence.
Another equal period elapsed ere the German enounced, relevant ofnothing:
"I'm rotten with fever. I'm going to quit you, Griffiths, when we get toSydney. No more tropics for me. I ought to known better when I signed onwith you."
"You ain't been much of a mate," Griffiths replied, too hot himself tospeak heatedly. "When the beach at Guvutu heard I'd shipped you, theyall laughed. 'What? Jacobsen?' they said. 'You can't hide a squareface of trade gin or sulphuric acid that he won't smell out!' You'vecertainly lived up to your reputation. I ain't had a drink for afortnight, what of your snoopin' my supply."
"If the fever was as rotten in you as me, you'd understand," the matewhimpered.
"I ain't kickin'," Griffiths answered. "I only wisht God'd send me adrink, or a breeze of wind, or something. I'm ripe for my next chillto-morrow."
The mate proffered him the quinine. Rolling a fifty-grain dose, hepopped the wad into his mouth and swallowed it dry.
"God! God!" he moaned. "I dream of a land somewheres where they ain't noquinine. Damned stuff of hell! I've scoffed tons of it in my time."
Again he quested seaward for signs of wind. The usual trade-wind cloudswere absent, and the sun, still low in its climb to meridian, turned allthe sky to heated brass. One seemed to see as well as feel this heat,and Griffiths sought vain relief by gazing shoreward. The white beachwas a searing ache to his eyeballs. The palm trees, absolutely still,outlined flatly against the unrefreshing green of the packed jungle,seemed so much cardboard scenery. The little black boys, playingnaked in the dazzle of sand and sun, were an affront and a hurt to thesun-sick man. He felt a sort of relief when one, running, tripped andfell on all-fours in the tepid sea-water.
An exclamation from the blacks for'ard sent both men glancing seaward.Around the near point of land, a quarter of a mile away and skirting thereef, a long black canoe paddled into sight.
"Gooma boys from the next bight," was the mate's verdict.
One of the blacks came aft, treading the hot deck with the unconcern ofone whose bare feet felt no heat. This, too, was a hurt to Griffiths,and he closed his eyes. But the next moment they were open wide.
"White fella marster stop along Gooma boy," the black said.
Both men were on their feet and gazing at the canoe. Aft could be seenthe unmistakable sombrero of a white man. Quick alarm showed itself onthe face of the mate.
"It's Grief," he said.
Griffiths satisfied himself by a long look, then ripped out a wrathfuloath.
"What's he doing up here?" he demanded of the mate, of the aching seaand sky, of the merciless blaze of sun, and of the whole superheated andimplacable universe with which his fate was entangled.
The mate began to chuckle.
"I told you you couldn't get away with it," he said.
But Griffiths was not listening.
"With all his money, coming around like a rent collector," he chantedhis outrage, almost in an ecstasy of anger. "He's loaded with money,he's stuffed with money, he's busting with money. I know for a fact hesold his Yringa plantations for three hundred thousand pounds. Belltold me so himself last time we were drunk at Guvutu. Worth millions andmillions, and Shylocking me for what he wouldn't light his pipe with."He whirled on the mate. "Of course you told me so. Go on and say it, andkeep on saying it. Now just what was it you did tell me so?"
"I told you you didn't know him, if you thought you could clear theSolomons without paying him. That man Grief is a devil, but he'sstraight. I know. I told you he'd throw a thousand quid away for the funof it, and for sixpence fight like a shark for a rusty tin, I tell you Iknow. Didn't he give his _Balakula_ to the Queensland Mission when theylost their _Evening Star_ on San Cristobal?--and the _Balakula_ worththree thousand pounds if she was worth a penny? And didn't he beat upStrothers till he lay abed a fortnight, all because of a difference oftwo pound ten in the account, and because Strothers got fresh and triedto make the gouge go through?"
"God strike me blind!" Griffiths cried in im-potency of rage.
The mate went on with his exposition.
"I tell you only a straight man can buck a straight man like him, andthe man's never hit
But Griffiths gritted his teeth and drew his thin lips tightly acrossthem.
"I'll buck him," he muttered--more to himself and the brazen ball of sunthan to the mate. He turned and half started to go below, then turnedback again. "Look here, Jacob-sen. He won't be here for quarter of anhour. Are you with me? Will you stand by me?"
"Of course I'll stand by you. I've drunk all your whiskey, haven't I?What are you going to do?"
"I'm not going to kill him if I can help it. But I'm not going to pay.Take that flat."
Jacobsen shrugged his shoulders in calm acquiescence to fate, andGriffiths stepped to the companionway and went below.
Jacobsen watched the canoe across the low reef as it came abreast andpassed on to the entrance of the passage. Griffiths, with ink-marks onright thumb and forefinger, returned on deck Fifteen minutes later thecanoe came alongside. The man with the sombrero stood up.
"Hello, Griffiths!" he said. "Hello, Jacobsen!" With his hand on therail he turned to his dusky crew. "You fella boy stop along canoealtogether."
As he swung over the rail and stepped on deck a hint of catlikelitheness showed in the apparently heavy body. Like the other two, hewas scantily clad. The cheap undershirt and white loin-cloth did notserve to hide the well put up body. Heavy muscled he was, but he wasnot lumped and hummocked by muscles. They were softly rounded, and, whenthey did move, slid softly and silkily under the smooth, tanned skin.Ardent suns had likewise tanned his face till it was swarthy as aSpaniard's. The yellow mustache appeared incongruous in the midst ofsuch swarthiness, while the clear blue of the eyes produced a feeling ofshock on the beholder. It was difficult to realize that the skin of thisman had once been fair.
"Where did you blow in from?" Griffiths asked, as they shook hands. "Ithought you were over in the Santa Cruz."
"I was," the newcomer answered. "But we made a quick passage. The_Wonder's_ just around in the bight at Gooma, waiting for wind. Someof the bushmen reported a ketch here, and I just dropped around to see.Well, how goes it?"
"Nothing much. Copra sheds mostly empty, and not half a dozen tons ofivory nuts. The women all got rotten with fever and quit, and the mencan't chase them back into the swamps. They're a sick crowd. I'd ask youto have a drink, but the mate finished off my last bottle. I wisht toGod for a breeze of wind."
Grief, glancing with keen carelessness from one to the other, laughed.
"I'm glad the calm held," he said. "It enabled me to get around to seeyou. My supercargo dug up that little note of yours, and I brought italong."
The mate edged politely away, leaving his skipper to face his trouble.
"I'm sorry, Grief, damned sorry," Griffiths said, "but I ain't got it.You'll have to give me a little more time."
Grief leaned up against the companionway, surprise and pain depicted onhis face.
"It does beat hell," he communed, "how men learn to lie in the Solomons.The truth's not in them. Now take Captain Jensen. I'd sworn by histruthfulness. Why, he told me only five days ago--do you want to knowwhat he told me?"
Griffiths licked his lips.
"Why, he told me that you'd sold out--sold out everything, cleaned up,and was pulling out for the New Hebrides."
"He's a damned liar!" Griffiths cried hotly.
"I should say so. He even had the nerve to tell me that he'd bought twoof your stations from you--Mauri and Kahula. Said he paid you seventeenhundred gold sovereigns, lock, stock and barrel, good will, trade-goods,credit, and copra."
Griffiths's eyes narrowed and glinted. The action was involuntary, andGrief noted it with a lazy sweep of his eyes.
"And Parsons, your trader at Hickimavi, told me that the Fulcrum Companyhad bought that station from you. Now what did he want to lie for?"
Griffiths, overwrought by sun and sickness, exploded. All his bitternessof spirit rose up in his face and twisted his mouth into a snarl.
"Look here, Grief, what's the good of playing with me that way? Youknow, and I know you know. Let it go at that. I _have_ sold out, and I_am_ getting away. And what are you going to do about it?"
Grief shrugged his shoulders, and no hint of resolve shadowed itself inhis own face. His expression was as of one in a quandary.
"There's no law here," Griffiths pressed home his advantage. "Tulagi isa hundred and fifty miles away. I've got my clearance papers, and I'mon my own boat. There's nothing to stop me from sailing. You've got noright to stop me just because I owe you a little money. And by God! youcan't stop me. Put that in your pipe."
The look of pained surprise on Grief's face deepened.
"You mean you're going to cheat me out of that twelve hundred,Griffiths?"
"That's just about the size of it, old man. And calling hard names won'thelp any. There's the wind coming. You'd better get overside before Ipull out, or I'll tow your canoe under."
"Really, Griffiths, you sound almost right. I can't stop you." Grieffumbled in the pouch that hung on his revolver-belt and pulled out acrumpled official-looking paper. "But maybe this will stop you. And it'ssomething for _your_ pipe. Smoke up."
"What is it?"
"An admiralty warrant. Running to the New Hebrides won't save you. Itcan be served anywhere."
Griffiths hesitated and swallowed, when he had finished glancing at thedocument. With knit brows he pondered this new phase of the situation.Then, abruptly, as he looked up, his face relaxed into all frankness.
"You were cleverer than I thought, old man," he said. "You've got mehip and thigh. I ought to have known better than to try and beat you.Jacobsen told me I couldn't, and I wouldn't listen to him. But he wasright, and so are you. I've got the money below. Come on down and we'llsettle."
He started to go down, then stepped aside to let his visitor precedehim, at the same time glancing seaward to where the dark flaw of windwas quickening the water.
"Heave short," he told the mate. "Get up sail and stand ready to breakout."
As Grief sat down on the edge of the mate's bunk, close against andfacing the tiny table, he noticed the butt of a revolver just projectingfrom under the pillow. On the table, which hung on hinges from thefor'ard bulkhead, were pen and ink, also a battered log-book.
"Oh, I don't mind being caught in a dirty trick," Griffiths was sayingdefiantly. "I've been in the tropics too long. I'm a sick man, a damnsick man. And the whiskey, and the sun, and the fever have made me sickin morals, too. Nothing's too mean and low for me now, and I canunderstand why the niggers eat each other, and take heads, and suchthings. I could do it myself. So I call trying to do you out of thatsmall account a pretty mild trick. Wisht I could offer you a drink."
Grief made no reply, and the other busied himself in attempting tounlock a large and much-dented cash-box. From on deck came falsettocries and the creak and rattle of blocks as the black crew swung upmainsail and driver. Grief watched a large cockroach crawling over thegreasy paintwork. Griffiths, with an oath of irritation, carried thecash-box to the companion-steps for better light. Here, on his feet, andbending over the box, his back to his visitor, his hands shot out tothe rifle that stood beside the steps, and at the same moment he whirledabout.
"Now don't you move a muscle," he commanded.
Grief smiled, elevated his eyebrows quizzically, and obeyed. His lefthand rested on the bunk beside him; his right hand lay on the table.
His revolver hung on his right hip in plain sight. But in his mind wasrecollection of the other revolver under the pillow.
"Huh!" Griffiths sneered. "You've got everybody in the Solomonshypnotized, but let me tell you you ain't got me. Now I'm going to throwyou off my vessel, along with your admiralty warrant, but first you'vegot to do something. Lift up that log-book."
The other glanced curiously at the lo
"I tell you I'm a sick man, Grief; and I'd as soon shoot you as smash acockroach. Lift up that log-book, I say."
Sick he did look, his lean face working nervously with the rage thatpossessed him. Grief lifted the book and set it aside. Beneath lay awritten sheet of tablet paper.
"Read it," Griffiths commanded. "Read it aloud."
Grief obeyed; but while he read, the fingers of his left hand began aninfinitely slow and patient crawl toward the butt of the weapon underthe pillow.
"On board the ketch Willi-Waw, Bombi Bight, Island of Anna, SolomonIslands," he read. "Know all men by these presents that I do hereby signoff and release in full, for due value received, all debts whatsoeverowing to me by Harrison J. Griffiths, who has this day paid to me twelvehundred pounds sterling."
"With that receipt in my hands," Griffiths grinned, "your admiraltywarrant's not worth the paper it's written on. Sign it."
"It won't do any good, Griffiths," Grief said. "A document signed undercompulsion won't hold before the law."
"In that case, what objection have you to signing it then?"
"Oh, none at all, only that I might save you heaps of trouble by notsigning it."
Grief's fingers had gained the revolver, and, while he talked, with hisright hand he played with the pen and with his left began slowly andimperceptibly drawing the weapon to his side. As his hand finally closedupon it, second finger on trigger and forefinger laid past the cylinderand along the barrel, he wondered what luck he would have at left-handedsnap-shooting.
"Don't consider me," Griffiths gibed. "And just remember Jacobsen willtestify that he saw me pay the money over. Now sign, sign in full, atthe bottom, David Grief, and date it."
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