Chapter 5




STRANDED


When a man insists too strenuously upon his rights, the imps of perversity invariably combine to thwart him. Percival was aware of their pursuing footsteps from the moment he went ashore and lost his umbrella, to the hour of his return to the dock, when he found himself face to face with a situation of baffling perplexity.

No sooner had he stepped from the launch that had started him on his double quest, which ostensibly had only the purser for its object, than he was surrounded by a noisy, gesticulating crowd. Insistent requests that he should buy a string of shells, adopt a chameleon, wear a wreath of carnations, and take a drive, were proffered in broken English, and he made his escape by jumping into a motor-car and slamming the door.

"Where to, sir?" asked the gratified chauffeur.

"Take me where everybody goes," directed Percival.

"The Pali? Waikiki? Punch-Bowl? Aquarium?"

"Yes, yes. Go on. You see, as a matter of fact, I'm looking for some one."

Percival's first impression of Honolulu was that of a futurist sketch, a streak of green standing for the palm-shaded streets, a streak of scarlet representing the royal Poinciana, and various impressionistic dots indicating native Hawaiians. The motor in which he found himself was very ancient, having evidently traveled from the center to the circumference of civilization by easy stages. Its age and asthmatic condition should have made it an object of veneration to the chauffeur, but such was not the case. Like a belated express, it was driven through the town and out into the open country. Luxurious villas, jungles of cacti, Chinese tea-houses, taro patches, banana plantations--all presented one mad panorama to Percival, who jolted from side to side on the back seat.

Presently there was a precipitous halt, and the chauffeur indicated that he was to get out.

"What for?" asked Percival, crossly.

"The Pali," said the chauffeur, impressively. "Eighteen hundred feet above the level of the sea, where the early inhabitants of Oahu made their last stand against the enemy."

"I'm quite sure she isn't here," said Percival. Then he caught himself, and went into a rather elaborate explanation to cover his confusion. "You see, I'm looking for the purser. The purser of the Saluria, you know. He's put a nasty Chinaman in my state-room, and I've got to find him before the ship sails."

"Everybody comes first to the Pali," said the man.

Percival glanced skeptically at the great granite cliff that seemed such an unpromising retreat for pursers, then he stepped out of the motor, and made his way around the sharp angle of stone wall. As he did so, a gale struck him that sent his hat careening over the precipice. He gazed after it in chagrin. The fact that one of the great panoramic views of the world lay at his feet was quite obliterated by the unhappy knowledge that an English Bowler had landed in the fork of a distant tree, defying recovery.

"Where next, sir?" asked the chauffeur, surprised at his quick return.

"Anywhere out of this damned wind!" said Percival between his teeth.

"Your friend might be at Waikiki Beach," suggested the chauffeur, amiably.

"He's not my friend. He's a purser, I tell you. Wants to put--"

But his words were lost in the whir of the engine. All the way back to Honolulu and through the town Percival was seeing this strange, tropical land through the blue eyes of a certain little untraveled Western savage. What a revelation it must be to one used to the barren alkali deserts of Wyoming, where, nothing grew but sage-bush and cacti! It wouldn't be half bad, he thought, to hear what she had to say about it all. But where was one to look for her?

"We might try the pool-rooms," suggested the chauffeur.

Percival looked at him blankly, then he remembered.

"Take me to a hat shop," he said peremptorily.

When they arrived at Waikiki Beach he got out of the motor with more alacrity than was habitual to him, and entered the cocoanut-grove. By Jove! he thought, it was not a bad sight to see the palms dangling over the beach like that, with the jolly breakers rolling in, and the bay full of changing colors. Coral reefs! That's what caused the color; he had read it in a book somewhere. Air was good, too, fruity and salty and not too hot. For the moment he forgot his cares; he even forgot that his new hat was one of those peculiar shapes which Englishmen often pore over in the advertising pages of American magazines for the sole purpose of enjoying a sense of superb and vast superiority.

As he scanned the beach his eye was caught by three ladies and three natives standing about a surf-boat in animated discussion. The youngest of the ladies, who wore a bathing-suit of conspicuous hue and did most of the talking, suddenly detached herself from the others and came flying across the sand toward him.

"Mr. Hascombe!" she demanded breathlessly, "you'll take me out in the surf-boat, won't you? The boys haven't come, and Mrs. Weston is afraid for me to go alone."

"But my dear young lady, it's quite impossible. I'm looking for the purser. They say he's going to put--"

"Bother the purser! We haven't a minute to lose. The steamer sails at five."

"But really, I can't. And I quite agree with Mrs. Weston that it would be most awfully improper for you to go alone."

"Well, if you don't take me, I will go alone!" she said defiantly; then she suddenly changed her tactics, and added with childish insistence: "But you are going to take me now, aren't you? Please?"

He could scarcely believe his senses when, a few minutes later, he found himself frantically struggling into a rented bathing-suit in a steaming little bath-house that gave evidence of recent use. But a glance into the mirror that hung on the door not only convinced him of his identity, but added the comforting assurance that he was not by any means looking his worst in his present garb. He paused long enough to flex a presentable bicep with pardonable pride.

"Hurry up!" called Bobby, joyfully, as he emerged. "There are three Kanakas and you and I. Can you swim?"

"Rather," said Percival.

They ran down to the beach to where the canoe, a long, narrow affair with curious outriders, awaited them.

"The last boat that went out capsized," cried Bobby, gleefully taking her place behind the second Kanaka. "The men were in the water five minutes, but the sharks didn't happen to notice them."

"Sharks!" exclaimed Percival in consternation.

The native in the front seat grinned and shook his head.

"No sharks this side of the reef," he said reassuringly.

As they paddled out over the blue water, Bobby's enthusiasm dashed like spray against the rock of Percival's seeming indifference.

"Isn't this the most heavenly place that ever happened!" she cried. "Look at the mountains back yonder against the sky, and the mists in the valleys, and all the color spilling out over the edge of the land into the sea!"

"Ye-es," said Percival; "but as a matter of fact I find the mosquitos peculiarly trying."

Now, if the truth must be told, it was not the mosquitos which were disturbing the Honorable Percival. It was not even his failure to find the purser. It was the disconcerting discovery that this persistent young woman from the States was making him do things he didn't in the least want to do. He glared gloomily at the back of her white neck, across which a dark lock floated tantalizingly.

As the space between them and the shore widened, the surf became stronger and higher, until by the time they reached the reef the canoe was dancing like a shell on the water.

"Afraid?" asked Bobby, teasingly, flashing a smile over her shoulder.

"I don't think," said Percival, and, immediately was chagrined at having indulged in such a vulgar expression.

"I love it!" cried Bobby. "It's more fun than a bucking bronco. Is this our wave? All right! Let her go!"

The Kanaka in the prow gave the signal, and the boat backed into the monster wave just as it was about to break. Simultaneously the paddles were plunged into the water, and a vigorous pull was made for the shore. There was a merry whiz of rushing waters, a breathless suspension in midair, then a gigantic upheaval as the boat plunged over the crest of the wave and shot like an arrow two miles in two minutes to the beach.

Percival, as has been stated, rather prided himself on having exhausted life's thrills. When one has made a reputation for luging at Caux and has raced on skis with the professionals at St. Moritz, not to boast of a daring flight in a French aŽroplane, one is apt to be rather superior to minor sports. But the present thrilling diversion, shared with a girl as irresistibly pretty and as utterly abandoned to the joy of the moment as Bobby Boynton, proved quite the most exhilarating pastime in which he had ever indulged.

Again and again the boat went out, and again and again Mrs. Weston beckoned frantically and imperatively from the pier. The last time she looked at her watch, she seemed to give up the hope of getting the delinquents back to shore. Gathering up scarfs and parasols, she and Elise hurried back to the steamer.

For the two young people in the boat the steamer had ceased to exist. Everything had ceased to exist except a narrow shell of wood, three brown-backed natives, and one towering wave after another that shot them through delicious realms of space and left them, with every nerve a-tingle, laughing into each other's eyes.

"Ripping, isn't it?" cried Percival on the third return. "Shall we have one more go?"

"I expect we ought to be going," said Bobby, shaking the salt spray out of her hair. "I don't see anything of Mrs. Weston and Elise."

"I don't want to see anything of them," cried Percival, recklessly. "Right ho! once more!"

She was nothing loath, and they went blithely forth to meet the next big wave.

"Mrs. Weston has gone!" said Bobby when they again touched shore. "Wouldn't it be a lark if we were left?"

No bullet ever brought a soaring bird to ground more promptly than this remark brought the Honorable Percival to his senses.

"Gad!" he cried, "but it's impossible! My luggage is all on board!"

He scrambled frantically out of the boat and rushed to his bath-house. The prospect of being stranded, on even a fairy island, with a dangerously beguiling maiden of the middle class was even more appalling than being divorced from his luggage. He struggled frantically into his clothes, losing three precious minutes over a broken shoe-lace. When he came out he found Bobby, very cool and collected, sipping an iced drink at the pavilion. Not waiting for her to finish, he rushed her into the waiting motor and implored the chauffeur to get them to the dock with all possible speed.

He was aghast at his own folly. It was incredible that he should have allowed himself to drift into such an awkward situation. They might not be missed until after the steamer sailed, in which case it was quite possible that the erratic captain would refuse to put back. The man might even make capital of the incident and claim that his daughter was compromised. What if he should demand satisfaction? What satisfaction would be due in the circumstances? Percival felt the hot blood rush to his head.

"Can't you speed her up a bit?" he urged, his elbows on the front seat and his eyes on the small watch encased in the leather strap about his wrist.

"Yes, do!" cried Bobby, excitedly. "I love to go fast!"

"Do you realize," asked Percival, assuming his sternest manner in order to impress her with the gravity of the situation, "that we stand a very good chance of being left?"

"I can't imagine a nicer place to be left in," said Bobby, adding between bounces, "besides, you needn't--look so cross--at me. It is all your--own fault."

The chauffeur at this point felt it incumbent upon him to avert a quarrel, so he offered the cheering assurance that it was only four forty-five, and he could get most anywhere in fifteen minutes. But even as he spoke there was an ominous report, followed by the unmistakable sound of escaping air.

"Oh, I say!" cried Percival in tones of horror, "not a puncture?"

"That's whut!" said the chauffeur, who had jammed on the brakes, and was now ruefully inspecting a back wheel.

"Can't stop for that!" cried Percival, impatiently. "Every second counts, my man. Doesn't matter how much we bounce so long as we get there."

"But I ain't goin' to ruin my tire."

"What the deuce do I care about your confounded old tire? I'll pay for it. I'll pay you anything you ask if you get me to the dock on time."

But after bumping furiously from cobblestone to cobblestone, the chauffeur rebelled and positively declined to go farther until the tire was changed.

"Then it's up to us to catch a streetcar!" cried Bobby, "What luck! Here comes one now. They only run once a week."

"Street-car? Oh, you mean a tram. To be sure! Hadn't thought of it. Shall we run for it?"

Thrusting a gold piece into the hand of the chauffeur, he made a fifty-yard dash for the corner that did credit to his early training. But the imperious signal with which he hailed the car was not heeded. Instead, a fat conductor leaned from the rear platform and obligingly volunteered the information that he was on the wrong corner.

"Intolerable insolence!" muttered Percival to Bobby, who had just come up. "What are you laughing at?"

"At your face when the car went by. Here comes a wagon. Quick! Ask the man if he can't take us the rest of the way."

"But we can't ride in a--"

"Yes, we can. We can ride on a broom-stick if we have to. Hurry!"

Percival plunged obediently into the street and made his request. He was meeting with little encouragement from the driver, who evidently thought he was mentally unsound, when Bobby came to his rescue. It was only by resorting to some of those feminine tricks of persuasion which the suffragists assure us are quite immoral that she succeeded in carrying her point.

Ten minutes later the curiosity of the main thoroughfare of Honolulu was raised to fever-heat by the singular spectacle of an austere and distinguished-looking Englishman and a pretty, if somewhat disheveled, young girl dangling their feet from the end of a dilapidated wagon that was being driven at a breakneck speed toward the wharf.

For once in his life Percival was indifferent to appearances. Everything else sank into insignificance beside the one supreme necessity of catching that steamer. There would not be another sailing for the Orient for ten days. The prospect of ten days in this lotus-land alone with a perilously pretty girl who had evidently taken an enormous fancy to him filled him with alarm. What possible explanation could he offer to Sister Cordelia, that august representative of the family waiting in Hong-Kong to minister to his broken and bleeding heart?

A violent lurch of the wagon caused him to grasp Bobby's arm to steady her, and as he did so she got a glimpse of his rueful countenance.

"Cheer up!" she cried. "There's no use looking like that even if we are left."

"Like what?"

"Like a trout on a hook."

He shot a glance at her. Was it possible that she had divined his state of mind? Woman's intuition was a thing of which he stood in deadly awe.

But they were arriving at the dock, and there was no time to indulge in subtleties. He sprang from the wagon before it came to a halt.

"The Saluria!" he demanded wildly of a man in uniform. "Has she sailed?"

"The Saluria?" repeated the man with maddening deliberation. "Let's see. Yellow funnels, ain't she? Yep, that's her a-going out of the harbor now."




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