7[Idriess, Ion L., 1937, Forty Fathoms Deep, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Chapter 3]

Chapter III

The Pearl


Towards the close of the season a sail hove in sight. She anchored a mile away, and next day was fishing on a parallel course. Frowningly the master surveyed her. No captain likes an interloper to come cruising upon his own payable drift. The stranger fished for several days. Not a Broome vessel; apparently she hailed from south down the coast. Then one afternoon a dinghy came off from her and raced towards the lugger. A white man jumped on deck, feverishly excited. The pearler immediately knew - he held up a warning hand and took the man below. He had found a pearl, a beauty! He was a stranger from the south, new to the pearl cunning of Broome; he was eager to show this pearl; he could hardly contain himself. Toledo's master cordially congratulated the stranger. He examined the pearl with the love that pearlers lavish on these gems of the sea. He had never had the luck to win one like this himself. It was the most exquisite gem he had ever seen. Almost reverently he laid it upon its cotton-wool on the little cabin table. He sighed; this wondrous thing meant a fortune, for him who owned it. He weighed it under the fascinated eyes of the stranger.

"Sixty-five grains!" he murmured. "You are lucky, mate. This stone will take very little cleaning, judging by the eye.

There are several spots on it; a skin or two will remove them. Suppose it loses ten grains in the cleaning, its weight would be fifty-five grains-a beauty. I wish I had half your luck."

"What should it be worth?"; the man almost whispered. "Impossible to estimate until it is cleaned. Depends mostly on the depth and lustre. judging by looks, it will be rosae tint which is the most prized. Its shape is a perfect round. Should it clean as it promises, a big buyer would pay you anything from one hundred pounds per grain."

"Phew! Five thousand five hundred pounds."

"Yes, easily. Mind, if it was mine I would demand more. You could ask what you liked for a gem of this class." "Heavens! I wonder what the buyer will get for it?"

The pearler laughed. "He will sell it as a gem of all the seas," he sighed. "He can approach the rich men of the world as buyers. He will make a fortune out of it, far more than you will."


[p25: Castillo Toledo, a “Manila-man diver” steals the pearl and hides the pearl, but he is watched by fellow crewman Pablo Marquez...]

Anxiously he gazed around the deck seeking a hiding-place for the pearl. He must hide it. Knowing the vagaries of wind, and although the lugger had a few hours' start, it was still possible for the robbed one to reach Broome before him.

But he could neither see nor think of a safe hiding-place should the lugger be searched. Searchers had grown so devilishly cunning. For an hour he stood in growing anxiety, his nervous hand automatically steering the lugger.

Now, whites and coloured people are all inquisitive; "coloureds" particularly so, and, concerning another's business, perhaps craftier and more dangerous than either whites or Japanese.

No wonder then, that Pablo Marquez, invisible forrard, was stealthily watching Toledo. Pablo's body was down below the hatch, but the top of his head was pressed against the hatch combing. Below his swarthy forehead only the gleam of cunning eyes was visible had any one been capable of detecting them. An alert aboriginal could perhaps have done so-no other man. Certainly not Toledo, his mind filled with anxious uncertainty. Suddenly he smiled with joy. Lying by the starboard bow was a bulky coil of four-inch coir anchor rope, a rope thicker than a man's wrist. It was made as are all coir ropes, of big thick strands twisted round and round one another.

Toledo lashed the tiller so that the lugger would steer herself for the time being and tiptoed forrard. As he did so, Pablo crouched down in the hatch. Toledo knelt by the rope and, with hands and a steadying knee, twisted open a section until he could force a finger deep under a strand. As he felt for the pearl the eyes of Pablo came up on a level with the hatch. Pablo could not see what that bent back was doing, but the intuitive cunning of his hybrid race was aroused. Toledo gently but firmly poked the pearl deep in the crevice, then gazed around in frowning thought.

A thread of cotton from a ragged Malay sarong was between his very toes; he must have caught it up while walking across the deck. Smiling with intense delight, he took the thread and carefully poked it down towards the pearl. Then he unloosed his grip and the elastic strand immediately bit back into place with its fellow rope. Just the tiniest end of the thread was visible should a keen eye know where to look for it.