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The schooner Julia is two weeks out of San Francisco and bound for Teviti, just off the tip off Sumatra, when the ship's doctor, Humphrey Long, begins his account of the voyage. Long describes the schooner's owner and captain, Roger Guy, as having a reputation for brutality. The rest of the small crew are an odd lot: Richards, the first mate; Texas, a sailor on his first sea voyage; Jeff Garland, an uncommunicative but good sailor; and Chips, a sly fellow. The captain's daughter Julie is also on board. The doctor is worried because the captain is sick and he cannot determine why. Richards meanwhile, discovers Tembo, a native stowaway, and starts to beat him, but Jeff stops him and a fight breaks out between Jeff and Richards. Later, when Jeff asks the doctor where the boat is headed and if they are looking for copra, the doctor tells him about the island of Teviti. The captain's illness worsens and he tells Richards that he once had two black pearls, which were taken from the eyes of a Shark God idol, but had to surrender them in order to save his life. Later, Tembo gives Jeff native medicine to make the captain better. As the doctor is in a drunken slumber, Jeff convinces Julie to let Tembo give her father the medicine and perform an incantation over him. The next day, the doctor tells Jeff that there is nothing physical ailing the captain and that he believes that somewhere he ran up against a native taboo and broke it. When Jeff asks Tembo why he was in San Francisco, Tembo tells him that a year previously the captain came to Teviti to trade with his people, the Omoo. Tembo's father Tari, chief of the Omoo, treated the captain like a friend, but the captain stole the eyes of the Shark God, causing suffering to Tembo's people through drought, bad crops and poor fishing. The pearls are still on the island, but only the captain knows where. Tembo explains that stealing the pearls broke a taboo and only by returning the pearls will the captain recover his health. Tari had sent Tembo to San Francisco to bring the captain back. Later, as the captain improves, Julie tells Jeff that when they land, Tembo is going to take her father to a native doctor to effect a complete cure. Jeff and Julie are attracted to each other but are interrupted by Richards. After the ship reaches Teviti, Jeff and Tembo go ahead to bring help for the still ailing captain. Jeff meets Tari and Tembo's sweetheart Tala, then they return to the ship with two stretcher bearers for the captain. After Julie pleads with Tari, who is also the doctor, he gives her father medicine to drink and performs another incantation. According to local custom, they have to wait three nights before replacing the eyes in the idol of the Shark God. Meanwhile, however, Richards and Chips conspire to take the pearls, but when the captain reveals that he intends to keep them for himself, Richards beats him up in an attempt to find the hiding place. Julie finds her father dying after the beating and he instructs her to go to the shrine of the Shark God, where she will find the pearls hidden under a loose stone under the idol's left foot. Julie then accuses Tari of killing her father with his medicine, but Tari denies it and asks her for the pearls. She refuses and thereby inherits her father's taboo, becoming very ill. Richards tells her that they can escape if she tells him where the pearls are. After pleading with Tari and Tembo to save Julie, Jeff informs her that she must return the pearls. Meanwhile, Chips, who has discovered the location of the shrine, returns and knocks Jeff out. Richards and Chips then take Julie to the shrine, where she locates the pearls, but refuses to hand them over. After Julie falls down some steps, knocking herself out, Richards takes the pearls and heads for the ship with Chips. Jeff recovers and has Doc bandage him, while Richards and Chips make their way through the jungle. Richards then double-crosses Chips and shoots and kills him. Alerted by the gunshots, Jeff, the doctor and several natives head for the shrine. There, Richards is chased and attacked by a tiger. Jeff shoots the animal but Richards shoots him in the shoulder, then runs out of bullets and tries to kill Jeff with a rock. However, Tembo throws a spear at Richards, killing him. Later, during a solemn ceremony, Julie replaces the pearls in the idol's eyes, thereby curing herself of the sickness, and then reunites with Jeff.