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Island of the Innocent
By Lynn Morris
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1998 Lynn Morris and Gilbert Morris
All rights reserved.
The House of the Sun
The House of the Sun loomed up, gigantic in the night, swallowing stars and sky and a timid last-quarter moon. At the blunt prow of the Petrel, Cheney Duvall considered the monolith, the dormant volcano Haleakala, the ruler of the east on the island of Maui.
It was midnight at the House of the Sun. At dawn, the sun would slowly rise from its house, floating over the craggy peaks of the three-mile-wide crater, flashing its young brilliance over dashing streams, thick jungle, crashing waterfalls, and long-dead lava that bejeweled the sides of the great mountain. But now, in the hours of darkness, the sun slept in its Hawaiian mansion.
As Cheney watched, considering the frailty and transience of man, thin streams of flame began shooting out from the sides of the sleeping volcano.
"What ... what is that?" she whispered to herself.
But no, she spoke not only to herself, but also to the young man who hovered behind her, respecting her silence and her reverie. He answered her question. "Papala spears."
Cheney started, turned, then smiled and extended her hand, an invitation for him to step closer and join her at the knighthead, peering over it like two children peeking at a sleeping giant. "Walker, why didn't you let me know you were there? Isn't it breathtaking, even in the night?"
The young doctor's eyes slid up, up, to the unknowable height and nodded. "That's why I didn't speak to you.... I was watching it. It's difficult to look away." Dr. Walker Baird was a young man, younger than Cheney, and he was shorter than Cheney. But his frame was trim, athletic, and he exuded boyish energy. His thick ash-blond hair had golden lights and a tendency to curl. With his open, friendly face, ready smile, and dark royal blue eyes, he was a most attractive man.
"But look! Those shafts of light, of flame—what did you say they were?" Cheney asked.
"Papala spears," he answered. "From the papala tree. The wood is light and very flammable. The ancient Hawaiians made fire-spears, both to honor the goddess Pele and to frighten their enemies. Now they use them sort of as fireworks. A greeting."
"To us? This humble little bark? I would hardly think the Petrel would rate such a welcome."
Baird smiled down at her. She was so vibrant, her features so animated, her eyes bright, always sparkling. No wonder men were attracted to her. Rousing himself as she watched him quizzically, he replied, "Captain Bell told me about the papala spears. They're for the Petrel, all right. Because it's a Winslow ship, and you're going into Winslow country, Dr. Duvall. Only the Winslow ships land at Hana, and because almost everyone at Hana works for the Winslows, they are generally careful to give their ships a royal greeting." He shrugged, then turned to lean against the knighthead and watch the showers of flaming spears plunge from high up on the slopes of the mountain, arching gracefully on the trade winds, lightly falling into the sea hundreds of feet below. "It's also a signal, you see. Helps the captain make certain of his course. Although the roadstead at Hana is very deep, there are some tricky reefs and atolls in the channel."
Cheney brooded on this but felt no sense of peril. The Petrel was a sturdy, businesslike barkentine. From her three masts virgin-white sails flew joyously, the decks gleamed, the brass fittings shone, the crew was seasoned and dignified. Behind Cheney and Walker, amidships, six men of the watch attended to the task of negotiating an anchorage with quiet words and occasional laughter. Captain Bell stood by the wheel, giving commands to the steersman in a relaxed monotone.
The great Pacific Ocean, tonight as well as during the entire two-week voyage, rocked the ship in a sleepy rhythm, unafflicted with the fits and tempers that seemingly ruled her smaller, fiercer brother, the Atlantic. The breeze seemed to be from a scented fan, gliding lightly over the skin, forming languorous waves in the sails that matched the lazy swells of the water. Cheney inhaled deeply. "That scent ..."
"Mmm," Walker agreeably hummed.
Her eyes on the signal fires and the slim darts of flame that still rained into the sea, she said softly, "Shiloh told me once that it's not the smell of the sea that people are always talking about ... it's the smell of the beach, actually. I noticed that when you're at sea, an empty sea, an eternity away from land, the only smell is the dull alkali smell of salt. It's the smell of the land, you see, that sailors actually love...."
"Yes?" he said alertly. "That's very interesting. Of course, it makes sense. That wet loamy smell is of earth, not the sea, of earth soaked with aeons of the fish catch and the brine and the salt rain...."
They fell silent in harmony and a restful compatibility. Cheney was thinking what a fine man Walker Baird was and how agreeable it was to have a friend—and now a self-appointed escort and protector—who had such a curious and active mind, who was interested in anything and everything. She recalled once, at St. Francis de Yerba Buena Hospital where they both worked, seeing Walker sitting by a patient's bedside at two o'clock in the morning. Walker was in full evening dress, having come from the theater, and the patient was elderly Mr. Dibley, the butler, who was recovering from pneumonia. The two were deeply engrossed in a conversation about the particulars of polishing silver, and Walker had been so interested in Mr. Dibley's secrets that he hadn't even looked up when Cheney passed. She smiled a little at the memory.
Walker Baird saw the smile and thought what a fascinating woman Dr. Cheney Duvall was. She was different from any woman he'd ever met—any person he'd ever met. Her persona was as unique and engrossing as her looks. She was, he supposed, what was called a "handsome" woman, since she was not classically beautiful. Her face was square, with a strong jaw and full, firm lips, a small nose that would have been pert on a more frivolous woman, heavy and glossy auburn hair, and great sparkling green eyes. The beauty mark beneath her left eye seemed to be imprinted there for the sole purpose of stressing her unusual looks. He had once thought he was falling in love with her. But though Walker Baird was young, he was not a complete fool, and after he'd known her for a while, he'd realized the difference between deep romantic love for someone and loving to be with someone. He loved to be with Cheney. He didn't want to be in love with her.
"I'm glad you came, Walker," Cheney said lightly, jarring him out of his very private thoughts. He blushed a bit and was glad she couldn't see in the purple-black tropical night. Turning back to watch the island spectacle of looming volcano and fire-spears, she said in a carefully neutral tone, "I wish we could just meet Shiloh, tell him to get on this ship, and sail on back to San Francisco. I wish it would be that easy. I wish ..." She sighed deeply, and Walker waited. Finally she finished, "I wish things were as they used to be."
He made no comment, for there was nothing to say.
In silence they sailed into the shadow of the House of the Sun.CHAPTER 2
A Matter of Honor
"It's certainly not difficult to see Shiloh," Cheney observed. Even at half past midnight, a crowd of people were at dockside to greet the Petrel. From the roadstead one hundred yards out, Cheney could make out individual outlines; most of the people—all men, she thought—were short, with dark hair. Two men were quite tall. One was an enormous man, dark-skinned and massively built, as solid as a column. Standing by him was Shiloh: blond hair shining like a beacon, taller than them all, wide shoulders tapering to a flat stomach and slim hips. He was holding a torch, and he waved it over his head in an enthusiastic greeting.
Six canoes were lined up at the small jetty. As soon as the Petrel came to a rolling rest, Shiloh jumped into one of them and paddled out to the ship. Behind him came two more canoes, each rowed by another of the men standing dockside. As they neared, Cheney could see that they were Chinamen.
A wooden ladder with a curved top was hooked onto the starboard side for the passengers to descend to the canoes. Searching around, she saw that Walker was giving instructions to one of the sailors about their luggage, and Nia was already at the ladder waiting for her.
"Miss Cheney, you go first ... no, what are you thinking? Hand me your reticule and fan ... you can't scamper down that thing with two hands full and another armload." Cheney's maid's bossiness was jarring when one considered her. Nia Clarkson was tiny, delicate, with great dark liquid eyes and a little girl's hands and voice. Though eighteen, she looked about five years younger. She was, however, fully capable of ruling Miss Cheney Duvall within the confines of her responsibilities. Meekly Cheney handed her things to Nia.
Darkly the maid went on, "Now just a minute, Miss Ma'am. What you think you're going to do with them flapping skirts and ... and ..." Nia looked around suspiciously at the men surrounding them and then whispered, "your other skirts?" Nia would never have uttered the word "petticoats" in public. With barely concealed triumph she knelt at Cheney's side and fiddled with her hem. "I just sewed these loops on here, so you can loop them around your thumb and hold them up. But you mind, Miss Cheney. Ain't no need in ever' man in Haw-aye seein' your ... your ..."
"Shoes?" Cheney suggested, stifling a giggle. "Never mind, Nia. I'll be circumspect." With very little trouble Cheney gathered up her skirts enough to free her ankles and nimbly descended the ladder.
"Hey, Doc," Shiloh said. He was holding the canoe steady against the ladder.
"Hello." Cheney studied him.
He looked back up and made a slight adjustment to the boat as it rocked slightly. Walker was descending the ladder. "I'm glad to see you, Doc. Are you glad to see me?"
"Well ... well ... of course," she stammered. "I ... you're ... I ..." She was trying to say: You're the reason I'm here. I had to come, to tell you in person about the Winslows. Then you should come back to San Francisco immediately with me and Walker.
But the sight of Shiloh Irons had wrecked both her composure and her determination.
He looked wonderful. Cheney had fully been expecting to see a melancholy, thin, hungry ghost of the man who had left San Francisco two months ago. Instead, he looked so vital, so healthy, so strong that he could have been a model for a statue of a Greek athlete. His thick straw-colored hair was sun bleached lighter than gold. His skin was darkened to a glowing bronze, which made his strong teeth seem to glow and his light blue eyes startling. Untanned, the V scar beneath his left eye was a defiant white slash. Through the thin white shirt he wore, his hardened muscles were clearly delineated from the light of the lantern behind him. Cheney stared at him in uncomfortable confusion that was quickly turning into embarrassment. Shiloh Irons radiated strength and vigor.
Cheney told herself with raking sarcasm, And here I am on a noble quest—to rescue you!
He looked at her, saw her flustered stare, and grinned. "If you fall in the drink," he said, "I'll have to rescue you."
* * *
Hana Guest House offered the only accommodations in the small port. A plain frame house with a miniature parlor, a generous dining room, and four spare bedrooms, it offered amenities without luxury, cleanliness without sterility, and careful service from the proprietor, a Chinese woman named Tang Lu.
She stood in the parlor, head bowed subserviently, her hands tucked into the sleeves of her plain gray tunic. Loose pantaloons, white stockings, and soft black slippers completed her humble costume. Perhaps thirty years old, Tang Lu had a work-weathered face and guarded dark eyes.
"I should like for my maid, Nia, to have a room next to mine, if possible, Tang Lu," Cheney said decisively. "Please have all of the luggage put into Nia's room. We'll sort it out later. And I should like something to drink—tea, perhaps? Nothing to eat, though. And take some tea up to Nia too."
Without a word, Tang Lu bowed and left the parlor, taking small hurried steps as Chinese women seemed wont to do.
"I wonder if she understood a word I said," Cheney murmured.
"Sure, Doc," Shiloh told her. "She speaks good English."
"I'm glad. I wasn't even certain she could speak, period." Tang Lu had not spoken to Cheney. The Chinese woman had merely acknowledged Shiloh's introduction with a bow.
"White ladies make them nervous. In fact, white people make them nervous. After all, the Winslows are the only ones here, except for Konrad Zeiss, their overseer."
Cheney looked around the room. It was a typical Victorian parlor, with heavy red draperies and an uncomfortable-looking dark velvet couch, two horsehair armchairs, a heavy round tea table with ball-and-claw feet, too many knickknacks on the sideboard, and two lamps burning some kind of oil that smoked and stank. A small but hot fire burned in the grate.
"It's crowded and stifling in here," she complained. "Could we open the windows?"
Walker hurried to the side window, which had drapes from ceiling to floor, and pulled them aside to reveal a ludicrously small window without glass or shutters. Mosquito netting was hung to one side, he saw gratefully, and he arranged it to cover the opening. The two windows that faced the front of the house, however, were a little larger, and as soon as Shiloh pulled aside the heavy draperies, a nice cross-breeze filled the room and made it seem much less oppressive. A gentle hint of spice floated in the thick breeze, and Cheney inhaled gratefully. Hawaiian ginger was planted in flower beds on the front and sides of the house. Seating herself in one of the armchairs, she fanned herself languidly. "That's much better, thank you."
Walker settled on the couch, while Shiloh crossed to the fire and threw in some chips he took from a small ivory box on the wooden mantel. A sultry incense smoke wafted through the room. Cheney sniffed appreciatively. "Mmm, sandalwood, my favorite scent."
"Keeps the bugs away too," Shiloh commented, settling into the armchair closest to the fire, next to Cheney. "How ya doin', Doc? Make the trip okay?"
Cheney replied, "Oh yes, it was a pleasant trip." But she saw that Shiloh was very intent, which meant that the question was serious, even though the words sounded merely polite. "Oh, I see what you mean. Was I seasick? Of course. But only for three days."
"Really?" His ice-blue eyes brightened.
Though Cheney couldn't understand the import of this conversation, she indulged him. Besides, it gave her a little more time to plan her speech. "Yes, and it didn't seem to be as severe as when I've traveled by ship before. Surprising, isn't it? I would have thought that sailing would be much more taxing on the system than traveling by steamer."
"I don't think so," Shiloh said with animation. "I think sailing is great. Somehow it seems like more of a natural rhythm than steaming, at least when the seas and wind are fine. Steaming, to me, was sorta like chopping wood. It was a rhythm, all right. Chukka—chukka—chukka—"
"Don't remind me!" Cheney interrupted with a grimace. "Just the very sound ... perhaps you're right, Shiloh. It did seem that the noise of the paddles invaded your brain until you were struggling to breathe with it, move with it, talk with it ... wishing your heartbeat matched it, and the blood rushing in your ears would keep up with it. Maybe that's what actually made me so ill. Being out of time with the paddles."
"But you liked sailing?" he persisted, his sharply sculptured features oddly boyish.
"Why, yes, I enjoyed it once I felt myself again. Of course, we had a very uneventful voyage. I suspect that if we'd been in a storm or something I might not be so courageous."
"Yes, you would," Shiloh said, then turned to Walker Baird. "I was kinda surprised to hear you'd be coming, Walker. But I'm glad you did. I think you'll like it here—or in Hawaii, at least. Are you going on to Honolulu or Lahaina for a vacation?"
Excerpted from Island of the Innocent by Lynn Morris. Copyright © 1998 Lynn Morris and Gilbert Morris. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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