CHAPTERI--SOMETHING TO BE DONE
He was avery sick white man. He rode pick-a-back on a woolly-headedblack-skinned savagethe lobes of whose ears had beenpiercedand stretched until one had torn outwhile the othercarried acircular block of carved wood three inches in diameter.The tornear had been pierced againbut this time not soambitiouslyfor the hole accommodated no more than a short claypipe. The man-horse was greasy and dirtyand naked save for anexceedinglynarrow and dirty loin-cloth; but the white man clung tohimclosely and desperately. At timesfrom weaknesshis headdroopedand rested on the woolly pate. At other times he liftedhis headand stared with swimming eyes at the cocoanut palms thatreeled andswung in the shimmering heat. He was clad in a thinundershirtand a strip of cotton cloththat wrapped about hiswaist anddescended to his knees. On his head was a batteredStetsonknown to the trade as a Baden-Powell. About his middlewasstrapped a beltwhich carried a large-calibred automaticpistol andseveral spare clipsloaded and ready for quick work.
The rearwas brought up by a black boy of fourteen or fifteenwhocarriedmedicine bottlesa pail of hot waterand various otherhospitalappurtenances. They passed out of the compound through asmallwicker gateand went on under the blazing sunwinding aboutamongnew-planted cocoanuts that threw no shade. There was not abreath ofwindand the superheatedstagnant air was heavy withpestilence. From the direction they were going arose a wildclamouras of lost souls wailing and of men in torment. A longlow shedshowed aheadgrass-walled and grass-thatchedand it wasfrom herethat the noise proceeded. There were shrieks andscreamssome unmistakably of griefothers unmistakably ofunendurablepain. As the white man drew closer he could hear a lowandcontinuous moaning and groaning. He shuddered at the thoughtofenteringand for a moment was quite certain that he was goingto faint. For that most dreaded of Solomon Island scourgesdysenteryhad struck Berande plantationand he was all alone tocope withit. Alsohe was afflicted himself.
Bystooping closestill on man-backhe managed to pass throughthe lowdoorway. He took a small bottle from his followerandsniffedstrong ammonia to clear his senses for the ordeal. Then heshouted"Shut up!" and the clamour stilled. A raised platformofforestslabssix feet widewith a slight pitchextended the fulllength ofthe shed. Alongside of it was a yard-wide run-way.Stretchedon the platformside by side and crowded closelay ascore ofblacks. That they were low in the order of human life wasapparentat a glance. They were man-eaters. Their faces wereasymmetricalbestial; their bodies were ugly and ape-like. Theyworenose-rings of clam-shell and turtle-shelland from the endsof theirnoses which were also piercedprojected horns of beadsstrung onstiff wire. Their ears were pierced and distended toaccommodatewooden plugs and stickspipesand all manner ofbarbaricornaments. Their faces and bodies were tattooed orscarred inhideous designs. In their sickness they wore noclothingnot even loin-clothsthough they retained their shellarmletstheir bead necklacesand their leather beltsbetweenwhich andthe skin were thrust naked knives. The bodies of manywerecovered with horrible sores. Swarms of flies rose andsettledor flew back and forth in clouds.
The whiteman went down the linedosing each man with medicine.To some hegave chlorodyne. He was forced to concentrate with allhis willin order to remember which of them could standipecacuanhaand which of them were constitutionally unable toretainthat powerful drug. One who lay dead he ordered to becarriedout. He spoke in the sharpperemptory manner of a man whowould takeno nonsenseand the well men who obeyed his ordersscowledmalignantly. One muttered deep in his chest as he took thecorpse bythe feet. The white man exploded in speech and action.It costhim a painful effortbut his arm shot outlanding a back-hand blowon the black's mouth.
"Whatname youAngara?" he shouted. "What for talk 'longyoueh?I knockseven bells out of youtoo muchquick!"
With theautomatic swiftness of a wild animal the black gatheredhimself tospring. The anger of a wild animal was in his eyes; buthe saw thewhite man's hand dropping to the pistol in his belt.The springwas never made. The tensed body relaxedand the blackstoopingover the corpsehelped carry it out. This time there wasnomuttering.
"Swine!"the white man gritted out through his teeth at the wholebreed ofSolomon Islanders.
He wasvery sickthis white manas sick as the black men who layhelplessabout himand whom he attended. He never kneweach timehe enteredthe festering shambleswhether or not he would be abletocomplete the round. But he did know in large degree ofcertaintythatif he ever fainted there in the midst of theblacksthose who were able would be at his throat like raveningwolves.
Part waydown the line a man was dying. He gave orders for hisremoval assoon as he had breathed his last. A black stuck hisheadinside the shed doorsaying-
"Fourfella sick too much."
Freshcasesstill able to walkthey clustered about thespokesman. The white man singled out the weakestand put him inthe placejust vacated by the corpse. Alsohe indicated the nextweakesttelling him to wait for a place until the next man died.Thenordering one of the well men to take a squad from the field-force andbuild a lean-to addition to the hospitalhe continuedalong therun-wayadministering medicine and cracking jokes inbeche-de-merEnglish to cheer the sufferers. Now and againfromthe farenda weird wail was raised. When he arrived there hefound thenoise was emitted by a boy who was not sick. The whiteman'swrath was immediate.
"Whatname you sing out alla time?" he demanded.
"Himfella my brother belong me" was the answer. "Himfella dietoo much."
"Yousing outhim fella brother belong you die too much" thewhite manwent on in threatening tones. "I cross too much alongyou. What name you sing outeh? You fat-head make um brotherbelong youdie dose up too much. You fella finish sing outsavvee? You fella no finish sing out I make finish damn quick."
Hethreatened the wailer with his fistand the black cowered downglaring athim with sullen eyes.
"Singout no good little bit" the white man went onmore gently."Youno sing out. You chase um fella fly. Too much strongfellafly. You catch waterwashee brother belong you; washee plenty toomuchbimebye brother belong you all right. Jump!" he shoutedfiercelyat the endhis will penetrating the low intelligence ofthe blackwith dynamic force that made him jump to the task ofbrushingthe loathsome swarms of flies away.
Again herode out into the reeking heat. He clutched the black'snecktightlyand drew a long breath; but the dead air seemed toshrivelhis lungsand he dropped his head and dozed till the housewasreached. Every effort of will was tortureyet he was calleduponcontinually to make efforts of will. He gave the black he hadridden anip of trade-gin. Viaburithe house-boybrought himcorrosivesublimate and waterand he took a thorough antisepticwash. He dosed himself with chlorodynetook his own pulsesmokedathermometerand lay back on the couch with a suppressed groan.It wasmid-afternoonand he had completed his third round thatday. He called the house-boy.
"Takeum big fella look along Jessie" he commanded.
The boycarried the long telescope out on the verandaand searchedthe sea.
"Onefella schooner long way little bit" he announced. "OnefellaJessie."
The whiteman gave a little gasp of delight.
"Youmake um Jessiefive sticks tobacco along you" he said.
There wassilence for a timeduring which he waited with eagerimpatience.
"MaybeJessiemaybe other fella schooner" came the falteringadmission.
The manwormed to the edge of the couchand slipped off to thefloor onhis knees. By means of a chair he drew himself to hisfeet. Still clinging to the chairsupporting most of his weighton itheshoved it to the door and out upon the veranda. Thesweat fromthe exertion streamed down his face and showed throughtheundershirt across his shoulders. He managed to get into thechairwhere he panted in a state of collapse. In a few minutes herousedhimself. The boy held the end of the telescope against oneof theveranda scantlingswhile the man gazed through it at thesea. At last he picked up the white sails of the schooner andstudiedthem.
"NoJessie" he said very quietly. "That's the Malakula."
He changedhis seat for a steamer reclining-chair. Three hundredfeet awaythe sea broke in a small surf upon the beach. To theleft hecould see the white line of breakers that marked the bar oftheBalesuna Riverandbeyondthe rugged outline of Savo Island.Directlybefore himacross the twelve-mile channellay FloridaIsland;andfarther to the rightdim in the distancehe couldmake outportions of Malaita--the savage islandthe abode ofmurderand robberyand man-eating--the place from which his owntwohundred plantation hands had been recruited. Between him andthe beachwas the cane-grass fence of the compound. The gate wasajarandhe sent the house-boy to close it. Within the fence grewa numberof lofty cocoanut palms. On either side the path that ledto thegate stood two tall flagstaffs. They were reared onartificialmounds of earth that were ten feet high. The base ofeach staffwas surrounded by short postspainted white andconnectedby heavy chains. The staffs themselves were like ships'mastswith topmasts spliced on in true nautical fashionwithshroudsratlinesgaffsand flag-halyards. From the gaff of onetwo gayflags hung limplyone a checkerboard of blue and whitesquaresthe other a white pennant centred with a red disc. It wastheinternational code signal of distress.
On the farcorner of the compound fence a hawk brooded. The manwatcheditand knew that it was sick. He wondered idly if it feltas bad ashe feltand was feebly amused at the thought of kinshipthatsomehow penetrated his fancy. He roused himself to order thegreat bellto be rung as a signal for the plantation hands to ceasework andgo to their barracks. Then he mounted his man-horse andmade thelast round of the day.
In thehospital were two new cases. To these he gave castor-oil.Hecongratulated himself. It had been an easy day. Onlythree haddied. He inspected the copra-drying that had been going onandwentthrough the barracks to see if there were any sick lyinghidden anddefying his rule of segregation. Returned to the househereceived the reports of the boss-boys and gave instructions fornext day'swork. The boat's crew boss also he had into giveassuranceas was the custom nightlythat the whale-boats werehauled upand padlocked. This was a most necessary precautionforthe blackswere in a funkand a whale-boat left lying on the beachin theevening meant a loss of twenty blacks by morning. Since theblackswere worth thirty dollars apieceor lessaccording to howmuch oftheir time had been worked outBerande plantation couldill affordthe loss. Besideswhale-boats were not cheap in theSolomons;andalsothe deaths were daily reducing the workingcapital. Seven blacks had fled into the bush the week beforeandfour haddragged themselves backhelpless from feverwith thereportthat two more had been killed and kai-kai'd by thehospitablebushmen. The seventh man was still at largeand wassaid to beworking along the coast on the lookout to steal a canoeand getaway to his own island.
Viaburibrought two lighted lanterns to the white man forinspection. He glanced at them and saw that they were burningbrightlywith clearbroad flamesand nodded his head. One washoisted upto the gaff of the flagstaffand the other was placedon thewide veranda. They were the leading lights to the Berandeanchorageand every night in the year they were so inspected andhung out.
He rolledback on his couch with a sigh of relief. The day's workwas done. A rifle lay on the couch beside him. His revolver waswithinreach of his hand. An hour passedduring which he did notmove. He lay in a state of half-slumberhalf-coma. He becamesuddenlyalert. A creak on the back veranda was the cause. Theroom wasL-shaped; the corner in which stood his couch was dimbutthehanging lamp in the main part of the roomover the billiardtable andjust around the cornerso that it did not shine on himwasburning brightly. Likewise the verandas were well lighted. Hewaitedwithout movement. The creaks were repeatedand he knewseveralmen lurked outside.
"Whatname?" he cried sharply.
The houseraised a dozen feet above the groundshook on its pilefoundationsto the rush of retreating footsteps.
"They'regetting bold" he muttered. "Something will have tobedone."
The fullmoon rose over Malaita and shone down on Berande. Nothingstirred inthe windless air. From the hospital still proceeded themoaning ofthe sick. In the grass-thatched barracks nearly twohundredwoolly-headed man-eaters slept off the weariness of theday'stoilthough several lifted their heads to listen to thecurses ofone who cursed the white man who never slept. On thefourverandas of the house the lanterns burned. Insidebetweenrifle andrevolverthe man himself moaned and tossed in intervalsoftroubled sleep.
CHAPTERII--SOMETHING IS DONE
In themorning David Sheldon decided that he was worse. That hewasappreciably weaker there was no doubtand there were othersymptomsthat were unfavourable. He began his rounds looking fortrouble. He wanted trouble. In full healththe strainedsituationwould have been serious enough; but as it washimselfgrowinghelplesssomething had to be done. The blacks weregettingmore sullen and defiantand the appearance of the men thepreviousnight on his veranda--one of the gravest of offences onBerande--wasominous. Sooner or later they would get himif hedid notget them firstif he did not once again sear on their darksouls theflaming mastery of the white man.
Hereturned to the house disappointed. No opportunity hadpresenteditself of making an example of insolence orinsubordination--suchas had occurred on every other day since thesicknesssmote Berande. The fact that none had offended was initselfsuspicious. They were growing crafty. He regretted thathehad notwaited the night before until the prowlers had entered.Then hemight have shot one or two and given the rest a new lessonwrit inredfor them to con. It was one man against two hundredand he washorribly afraid of his sickness overpowering him andleavinghim at their mercy. He saw visions of the blacks takingcharge ofthe plantationlooting the storeburning the buildingsandescaping to Malaita. Alsoone gruesome vision he caught ofhis ownheadsun-dried and smoke-curedornamenting the canoehouse of acannibal village. Either the Jessie would have toarriveorhe would have to do something.
The bellhad hardly rungsending the labourers into the fieldswhenSheldon had a visitor. He had had the couch taken out on theverandaand he was lying on it when the canoes paddled in andhauled outon the beach. Forty menarmed with spearsbows andarrowsand war-clubsgathered outside the gate of the compoundbut onlyone entered. They knew the law of Berandeas everynativeknew the law of every white man's compound in all thethousandmiles of the far-flung Solomons. The one man who came upthe pathSheldon recognized as Seeleethe chief of Balesunavillage. The savage did not mount the stepsbut stood beneath andtalked tothe white lord above.
Seelee wasmore intelligent than the average of his kindbut hisintelligenceonly emphasized the lowness of that kind. His eyesclosetogether and smalladvertised cruelty and craftiness. Agee-stringand a cartridge-belt were all the clothes he wore. Thecarvedpearl-shell ornament that hung from nose to chin and impededspeech waspurely ornamentalas were the holes in his ears mereutilitiesfor carrying pipe and tobacco. His broken-fanged teethwerestained black by betel-nutthe juice of which he spat upontheground.
As hetalked or listenedhe made grimaces like a monkey. He saidyes bydropping his eyelids and thrusting his chin forward. Hespoke withchildish arrogance strangely at variance with thesubservientposition he occupied beneath the veranda. Hewith hismanyfollowerswas lord and master of Balesuna village. But thewhite manwithout followerswas lord and master of Berande--ayand onoccasionsingle-handedhad made himself lord and master ofBalesunavillage as well. Seelee did not like to remember thatepisode. It had occurred in the course of learning the nature ofwhite menand of learning to abominate them. He had once beenguilty ofsheltering three runaways from Berande. They had givenhim allthey possessed in return for the shelter and for promisedaid ingetting away to Malaita. This had given him a glimpse of aprofitablefuturein which his village would serve as the onedepot onthe underground railway between Berande and Malaita.
Unfortunatelyhe was ignorant of the ways of white men. Thisparticularwhite man educated him by arriving at his grass house inthe grayof dawn. In the first moment he had felt amused. He wassoperfectly safe in the midst of his village. But the nextmomentand before he could cry outa pair of handcuffs on thewhiteman's knuckles had landed on his mouthknocking the cry ofalarm backdown his throat. Alsothe white man's other fist hadcaught himunder the ear and left him without further interest inwhat washappening. When he came tohe found himself in the whiteman'swhale-boat on the way to Berande. At Berande he had beentreated asone of no consequencewith handcuffs on hands and feetto saynothing of chains. When his tribe had returned the threerunawayshe was given his freedom. And finallythe terriblewhite manhad fined him and Balesuna village ten thousandcocoanuts. After that he had sheltered no more runaway Malaitamen. Insteadhe had gone into the business of catching them. Itwassafer. Besideshe was paid one case of tobacco per head. Butif he evergot a chance at that white manif he ever caught himsick orstood at his back when he stumbled and fell on a bush-trail--wellthere would be a head that would fetch a price inMalaita.
Sheldonwas pleased with what Seelee told him. The seventh man ofthe lastbatch of runaways had been caught and was even then at thegate. He was brought inheavy-featured and defianthis armsbound withcocoanut sennitthe dry blood still on his body fromthestruggle with his captors.
"Mesavvee you good fellaSeelee" Sheldon saidas the chiefgulpeddown a quarter-tumbler of raw trade-gin. "Fella boy belongme youcatch short time little bit. This fella boy strong fellatoo much. I give you fella one case tobacco--my wordone casetobacco. Thenyou good fella along meI give you three fathomcalicoone fella knife big fella too much."
Thetobacco and trade goods were brought from the store-room by twohouse-boysand turned over to the chief of Balesuna villagewhoacceptedthe additional reward with a non-committal grunt and wentaway downthe path to his canoes. Under Sheldon's directions thehouse-boyshandcuffed the prisonerby hands and feetaround oneof thepile supports of the house. At eleven o'clockwhen thelabourerscame in from the fieldSheldon had them assembled in thecompoundbefore the veranda. Every able man was thereincludingthose whowere helping about the hospital. Even the women and theseveralpickaninnies of the plantation were lined up with the resttwodeep--a horde of naked savages a trifle under two hundredstrong. In addition to their ornaments of bead and shell and bonetheirpierced ears and nostrils were burdened with safety-pinswirenailsmetal hair-pinsrusty iron handles of cookingutensilsand the patent keys for opening corned beef tins. Someworepenknives clasped on their kinky locks for safety. On thechest ofone a china door-knob was suspendedon the chest ofanotherthe brass wheel of an alarm clock.
Facingthemclinging to the railing of the veranda for supportstood thesick white man. Any one of them could have knocked himover withthe blow of a little finger. Despite his firearmsthegang couldhave rushed him and delivered that blowwhen his headand theplantation would have been theirs. Hatred and murder andlust forrevenge they possessed to overflowing. But one thing theylackedthe thing that he possessedthe flame of mastery thatwould notquenchthat burned fiercely as ever in the disease-wastedbodyand that was ever ready to flare forth and scorch andsinge themwith its ire.
"Narada! Billy!" Sheldon called sharply.
Two menslunk unwillingly forward and waited.
Sheldongave the keys of the handcuffs to a house-boywho wentunder thehouse and loosed the prisoner.
"Youfella Naradayou fella Billytake um this fella boy alongtree andmake fasthands high up" was Sheldon's command.
While thiswas being doneslowlyamidst mutterings andrestlessnesson the part of the onlookersone of the house-boysfetched aheavy-handledheavy-lashed whip. Sheldon began aspeech.
"Thisfella Arungame cross along him too much. I no steal thisfellaArunga. I no gammon. I say'All rightyou come along meBerandework three fella year.' He say'All rightme come alongyou workthree fella year.' He come. He catch plenty good fellakai-kaiplenty good fella money. What name he run away? Metoo muchcross along him. I knock what name outa him fella. I paySeeleebig fella master along Balesunaone case tobacco catchthat fellaArunga. All right. Arunga pay that fella case tobacco.Six poundsthat fella Arunga pay. Alle same one year more thatfellaArunga work Berande. All right. Now he catch ten fellawhipthreetimes. You fella Billy catch whipgive that fella Arungaten fellathree times. All fella boys look seeall fella Maryslook see;bime byethey like run away they think strong fellatoo muchno run away. Billystrong fella too much ten fellathreetimes."
Thehouse-boy extended the whip to himbut Billy did not take it.Sheldonwaited quietly. The eyes of all the cannibals were fixedupon himin doubt and fear and eagerness. It was the moment oftestwhereby the lone white man was to live or be lost.
"Tenfella three timesBilly" Sheldon said encouraginglythoughthere wasa certain metallic rasp in his voice.
Billyscowledlooked up and looked downbut did not move.
Sheldon'svoice exploded like a pistol shot. The savage startedphysically. Grins overspread the grotesque features of theaudienceand there was a sound of tittering.
"S'poseyou like too much lash that fella Arungayou take himfellaTulagi" Billy said. "One fella government agent makeplentylash. That um fella law. Me savvee um fella law."
It was thelawand Sheldon knew it. But he wanted to live thisday andthe next day and not to die waiting for the law to operatethe nextweek or the week after.
"Toomuch talk along you!" he cried angrily. "What nameeh? Whatname?"
"Mesavvee law" the savage repeated stubbornly.
Anotherman stepped forward in almost a sprightly way and glancedinsolentlyup. Sheldon was selecting the worst characters for thelesson.
"Youfella Astoayou fella Naradatie up that fella Billyalongsideother fella same fella way."
"Strongfella tie" he cautioned them.
"Youfella Astoa take that fella whip. Plenty strong big fella toomuch tenfella three times. Savvee!"
Sheldonpicked up the rifle that had leaned against the railandcocked it.
"Iknow youAstoa" he said calmly. "You work alongQueenslandsixyears."
"Mefella missionary" the black interrupted with deliberateinsolence.
"Queenslandyou stop jail one fella year. White fella master damnfool nohang you. You too much bad fella. Queensland you stopjail sixmonths two fella time. Two fella time you steal. Allrightyoumissionary. You savvee one fella prayer?"
"Yesme savvee prayer" was the reply.
"Allrightthen you pray nowshort time little bit. You say onefellaprayer damn quickthen me kill you."
Sheldonheld the rifle on him and waited. The black glanced aroundat hisfellowsbut none moved to aid him. They were intent uponthe comingspectaclestaring fascinated at the white man withdeath inhis hands who stood alone on the great veranda. Sheldonhas wonand he knew it. Astoa changed his weight irresolutelyfrom onefoot to the other. He looked at the white manand sawhis eyesgleaming level along the sights.
"Astoa"Sheldon saidseizing the psychological moment"I countthreefella time. Then I shoot you fella deadgood-byeallfinishyou."
AndSheldon knew that when he had counted three he would drop himin histracks. The black knew ittoo. That was why Sheldon didnot haveto do itfor when he had counted oneAstoa reached outhis handand took the whip. And right well Astoa laid on the whipangered athis fellows for not supporting him and venting his angerwith everystroke. From the veranda Sheldon egged him on to strikewithstrengthtill the two triced savages screamed and howledwhile theblood oozed down their backs. The lesson was being wellwritten inred.
When thelast of the gangincluding the two howling culpritshadpassed outthrough the compound gateSheldon sank down half-faintingon his couch.
"You'rea sick man" he groaned. "A sick man."
"Butyou can sleep at ease to-night" he addedhalf an hour later.
Two dayspassedand Sheldon felt that he could not grow any weakerand livemuch less make his four daily rounds of the hospital.The deathswere averaging four a dayand there were more new casesthanrecoveries. The blacks were in a funk. Each onewhentakensickseemed to make every effort to die. Once down on their backstheylacked the grit to make a struggle. They believed they weregoing todieand they did their best to vindicate that belief.Even thosethat were well were sure that it was only a mater ofdays whenthe sickness would catch them and carry them off. Andyetbelieving this with absolute convictionthey somehow lackedthe nerveto rush the frail wraith of a man with the white skin andescapefrom the charnel house by the whale-boats. They chose thelingeringdeath they were sure awaited themrather than theimmediatedeath they were very sure would pounce upon them if theywent upagainst the master. That he never sleptthey knew. Thathe couldnot be conjured to deaththey were equally sure--they hadtried it. And even the sickness that was sweeping them off couldnot killhim.
With thewhipping in the compounddiscipline had improved. Theycringedunder the iron hand of the white man. They gave theirscowls ormalignant looks with averted faces or when his back wasturned. They saved their mutterings for the barracks at nightwhere hecould not hear. And there were no more runaways and nomorenight-prowlers on the veranda.
Dawn ofthe third day after the whipping brought the Jessie's whitesails insight. Eight miles awayit was not till two in theafternoonthat the light air-fans enabled her to drop anchor aquarter ofa mile off the shore. The sight of her gave Sheldonfreshcourageand the tedious hours of waiting did not irk him.He gavehis orders to the boss-boys and made his regular trips tothehospital. Nothing mattered now. His troubles were at anend.He couldlie down and take care of himself and proceed to get well.The Jessiehad arrived. His partner was on boardvigorous andheartyfrom six weeks' recruiting on Malaita. He could take chargenowandall would be well with Berande.
Sheldonlay in the steamer-chair and watched the Jessie's whale-boat pullin for the beach. He wondered why only three sweeps werepullingand he wondered still more whenbeachedthere was somuch delayin getting out of the boat. Then he understood. Thethreeblacks who had been pulling started up the beach with astretcheron their shoulders. A white manwhom he recognized astheJessie's captainwalked in front and opened the gatethendroppedbehind to close it. Sheldon knew that it was HughieDrummondwho lay in the stretcherand a mist came before his eyes.He felt anoverwhelming desire to die. The disappointment was toogreat. In his own state of terrible weakness he felt that it wasimpossibleto go on with his task of holding Berande plantationtight-grippedin his fist. Then the will of him flamed up againand hedirected the blacks to lay the stretcher beside him on thefloor. Hughie Drummondwhom he had last seen in healthwas anemaciatedskeleton. His closed eyes were deep-sunken. Theshrivelledlips had fallen away from the teethand the cheek-bonesseemedbursting through the skin. Sheldon sent a house-boy for histhermometerand glanced questioningly at the captain.
"Black-waterfever" the captain said. "He's been like this forsix daysunconscious. And we've got dysentery on board. What'sthe matterwith you?"
"I'mburying four a day" Sheldon answeredas he bent over fromthesteamer-chair and inserted the thermometer under his partner'stongue.
CaptainOleson swore blasphemouslyand sent a house-boy to bringwhisky andsoda. Sheldon glanced at the thermometer.
"Onehundred and seven" he said. "Poor Hughie."
CaptainOleson offered him some whisky.
"Couldn'tthink of it--perforationyou know" Sheldon said.
He sentfor a boss-boy and ordered a grave to be dugalso some ofthepacking-cases to be knocked together into a coffin. The blacksdid notget coffins. They were buried as they diedbeing cartedon a sheetof galvanized ironin their nakednessfrom thehospitalto the hole in the ground. Having given the ordersSheldonlay back in his chair with closed eyes.
"It'sben fair hellsir" Captain Oleson beganthen broke off tohelphimself to more whisky. "It's ben fair hellMr. SheldonItell you. Contrary winds and calms. We've ben driftin' all aboutthe shopfor ten days. There's ten thousand sharks following usfor thetucker we've ben throwin' over to them. They was snappin'at theoars when we started to come ashore. I wisht to God anor'wester'dcome along an' blow the Solomons clean to hell."
"Wegot it from the water--water from Owga creek. Filled my caskswith it. How was we to know? I've filled there before an' it wasallright. We had sixty recruits-full up; and my crew of fifteen.We've benburyin' them day an' night. The beggars won't livedamnthem! They die out of spite. Only three of my crew left on itslegs. Five more down. Seven dead. Ohhell! What's thegood oftalkin'?"
"Howmany recruits left?" Sheldon asked.
"Losthalf. Thirty left. Twenty downand ten totteringaround."
"Thatmeans another addition to the hospital. We've got to getthemashore somehow.--Viaburi! HeyyouViaburiring big fellabellstrong fella too much."
The handscalled in from the fields at that unwonted hourweresplit intodetachments. Some were sent into the woods to cuttimber forhouse-beamsothers to cutting cane-grass for thatchingand fortyof them lifted a whale-boat above their heads and carriedit down tothe sea. Sheldon had gritted his teethpulled hiscollapsingsoul togetherand taken Berande plantation into hisfist oncemore.
"Haveyou seen the barometer?" Captain Oleson askedpausing at thebottom ofthe steps on his way to oversee the disembarkation of thesick.
"No"Sheldon answered. "Is it down?"
"Thenyou'd better sleep aboard to-night" was Sheldon's judgment."Nevermind the funeral. I'll see to poor Hughie."
"Anigger was kicking the bucket when I dropped anchor."
Thecaptain made the statement as a simple factbut obviouslywaited fora suggestion. The other felt a sudden wave ofirritationrush through him.
"Dumphim over" he cried. "Great Godman! don't you thinkI'vegot enoughgraves ashore?"
"Ijust wanted to knowthat was all" the captain answeredin nowiseoffended.
Sheldonregretted his childishness.
"OhCaptain Oleson" he called. "If you can see your wayto itcomeashore to-morrow and lend me a hand. If you can'tsend themate."
"RightO. I'll come myself. Mr. Johnson's deadsir. Iforgot totellyou--three days ago."
Sheldonwatched the Jessie's captain go down the pathwith wavingarms andloud curses calling upon God to sink the Solomons. NextSheldonnoted the Jessie rolling lazily on the glassy swellandbeyondinthe north-westhigh over Florida Islandan alpinechain ofdark-massed clouds. Then he turned to his partnercallingfor boys to carry him into the house. But Hughie Drummondhadreached the end. His breathing was imperceptible. By meretouchSheldon could ascertain that the dying man's temperature wasgoingdown. It must have been going down when the thermometerregisteredone hundred and seven. He had burned out. Sheldonkneltbeside himthe house-boys grouped aroundtheir whitesingletsand loin-cloths peculiarly at variance with their darkskins andsavage countenancestheir huge ear-plugs and carved andglisteningnose-rings. Sheldon tottered to his feet at lastandhalf-fellinto the steamer-chair. Oppressive as the heat had beenit was noweven more oppressive. It was difficult to breathe. Hepanted forair. The faces and naked arms of the house-boys werebeadedwith sweat.
"Marster"one of them ventured"big fella wind he comestrongfella toomuch."
Sheldonnodded his head but did not look. Much as he had lovedHughieDrummondhis deathand the funeral it entailedseemed anintolerableburden to add to what he was already sinking under. Hehad afeeling--nayit was a certitude--that all he had to do wasto shuthis eyes and let goand that he would diesink intoimmensityof rest. He knew it; it was very simple. All he had todo wasclose his eyes and let go; for he had reached the stagewhere helived by will alone. His weary body seemed torn by theoncomingpangs of dissolution. He was a fool to hang on. He haddied ascore of deaths alreadyand what was the use of prolongingit totwo-score deaths before he really died. Not only was he notafraid todiebut he desired to die. His weary flesh and wearyspiritdesired itand why should the flame of him not go utterlyout?
But hismind that could will life or deathstill pulsed on. Hesaw thetwo whale-boats land on the beachand the sickonstretchersor pick-a-backgroaning and wailinggo by inlugubriousprocession. He saw the wind making on the cloudedhorizonand thought of the sick in the hospital. Here wassomethingwaiting his hand to be doneand it was not in his natureto liedown and sleepor diewhen any task remained undone.
Theboss-boys were called and given their orders to rope down thehospitalwith its two additions. He remembered the spare anchor-chainnewand black-paintedthat hung under the house suspendedfrom thefloor-beamsand ordered it to be used on the hospital aswell. Other boys brought the coffina grotesque patchwork ofpacking-casesand under his directions they laid Hughie Drummondin it. Half a dozen boys carried it down the beachwhile he rodeon theback of anotherhis arms around the black's neckone handclutchinga prayer-book.
While heread the servicethe blacks gazed apprehensively at thedark lineon the waterabove which rolled and tumbled the racingclouds. The first breath of the windfaint and silkentonic withlifefanned through his dry-baked body as he finished reading.Then camethe second breath of the windan angry gustas theshovelsworked rapidlyfilling in the sand. So heavy was the gustthatSheldonstill on his feetseized hold of his man-horse toescapebeing blown away. The Jessie was blotted outand a strangeominoussound arose as multitudinous wavelets struck foaming on thebeach. It was like the bubbling of some colossal cauldron. Fromall aboutcould be heard the dull thudding of falling cocoanuts.The talldelicate-trunked trees twisted and snapped about likewhip-lashes. The air seemed filled with their flying leavesanyone ofwhichstem-on could brain a man. Then came the rainadelugeastraighthorizontal sheet that poured along like ariverdefying gravitation. The blackwith Sheldon mounted onhimplunged ahead into the thick of itstooping far forward andlow to theground to avoid being toppled over backward.
"'He'ssleeping out and far to-night'" Sheldon quotedas hethought ofthe dead man in the sand and the rainwater tricklingdown uponthe cold clay.
So theyfought their way back up the beach. The other blackscaughthold of the man-horse and pulled and tugged. There wereamong themthose whose fondest desire was to drag the rider in thesand andspring upon him and mash him into repulsive nothingness.But theautomatic pistol in his belt with its rattlingquick-dealingdeathand the automaticdeath-defying spirit in the manhimselfmade them refrain and buckle down to the task of haulinghim tosafety through the storm.
Wetthrough and exhaustedhe was nevertheless surprised at theease withwhich he got into a change of clothing. Though he wasfearfullyweakhe found himself actually feeling better. Thediseasehad spent itselfand the mend had begun.
"Nowif I don't get the fever" he said aloudand at the samemomentresolved to go to taking quinine as soon as he was strongenough todare.
He crawledout on the veranda. The rain had ceasedbut the windwhich haddwindled to a half-galewas increasing. A big sea hadsprung upand the mile-long breakerscurling up to the over-falltwohundred yards from shorewere crashing on the beach. TheJessie wasplunging madly to two anchorsand every second or thirdsea brokeclear over her bow. Two flags were stiffly undulatingfrom thehalyards like squares of flexible sheet-iron. One wasbluetheother red. He knew their meaning in the Berande privatecode--"Whatare your instructions? Shall I attempt to land boat?"Tacked onthe wallbetween the signal locker and the billiardruleswasthe code itselfby which he verified the signal beforemakinganswer. On the flagstaff gaff a boy hoisted a white flagover aredwhich stood for--"Run to Neal Island for shelter."
ThatCaptain Oleson had been expecting this signal was apparent bythecelerity with which the shackles were knocked out of bothanchor-chains. He slipped his anchorsleaving them buoyed to bepicked upin better weather. The Jessie swung off under her fullstaysailthen the foresaildouble-reefedwas run up. She wasaway likea racehorseclearing Balesuna Shoal with half a cable-length tospare. Just before she rounded the point she wasswallowedup in a terrific squall that far out-blew the first.
All thatnightwhile squall after squall smote Berandeuprootingtreesoverthrowing copra-shedsand rocking the house on its tallpilesSheldon slept. He was unaware of the commotion. He neverwakened. Nor did he change his position or dream. He awokea newman. Furthermorehe was hungry. It was over a week since foodhad passedhis lips. He drank a glass of condensed creamthinnedwithwaterand by ten o'clock he dared to take a cup of beef-tea.He wascheeredalsoby the situation in the hospital. Despitethe stormthere had been but one deathand there was only onefreshcasewhile half a dozen boys crawled weakly away to thebarracks. He wondered if it was the wind that was blowing thediseaseaway and cleansing the pestilential land.
By elevena messenger arrived from Balesuna villagedispatched bySeelee. The Jessie had gone ashore half-way between the villageand NealIsland. It was not till nightfall that two of the crewarrivedreporting the drowning of Captain Oleson and of the oneremainingboy. As for the Jessiefrom what they told him Sheldoncould notbut conclude that she was a total loss. Further toheartenhimhe was taken by a shivering fit. In half an hour hewasburning up. And he knew that at least another day must passbefore hecould undertake even the smallest dose of quinine. Hecrawledunder a heap of blanketsand a little later found himselflaughingaloud. He had surely reached the limit of disaster.Barringearthquake or tidal-wavethe worst had already befallenhim. The Flibberty-Gibbet was certainly safe in Mboli Pass. Sincenothingworse could happenthings simply had to mend. So it wasshiveringunder his blanketsthat he laugheduntil the house-boyswithheads togethermarvelled at the devils that were inhim.
By thesecond day of the northwesterSheldon was in collapse fromhisfever. It had taken an unfair advantage of his weak stateandthough itwas only ordinary malarial feverin forty-eight hours ithad runhim as low as ten days of fever would have done when he wasincondition. But the dysentery had been swept away from Berande.A score ofconvalescents lingered in the hospitalbut they wereimprovinghourly. There had been but one more death--that of theman whosebrother had wailed over him instead of brushing the fliesaway.
On themorning of the fourth day of his feverSheldon lay on theverandagazing dimly out over the raging ocean. The wind wasfallingbut a mighty sea was still thundering in on Berande beachthe flyingspray reaching in as far as the flagstaff moundsthefoamingwash creaming against the gate-posts. He had taken thirtygrains ofquinineand the drug was buzzing in his ears like a nestofhornetsmaking his hands and knees trembleand causing asickeningpalpitation of the stomach. Onceopening his eyeshesaw whathe took to be an hallucination. Not far outand comingin acrossthe Jessie's anchoragehe saw a whale-boat's nose thrustskyward ona smoky crest and disappear naturallyas an actualwhale-boat'snose should disappearas it slid down the back of thesea. He knew that no whale-boat should be out thereand he wasquitecertain no men in the Solomons were mad enough to be abroadin such astorm.
But thehallucination persisted. A minute laterchancing to openhis eyeshe saw the whale-boatfull lengthand saw right into itas it roseon the face of a wave. He saw six sweeps at workandin thesternclearly outlined against the overhanging wall ofwhiteaman who stood erectgiganticswaying with his weight onthesteering-sweep. This he sawand an eighth man who crouched inthe bowand gazed shoreward. But what startled Sheldon was thesight of awoman in the stern-sheetsbetween the stroke-oar andthesteersman. A woman she wasfor a braid of her hair wasflyingand she was just in the act of recapturing it and stowingit awaybeneath a hat that for all the world was like his own"Baden-Powell."
The boatdisappeared behind the waveand rose into view on theface ofthe following one. Again he looked into it. The men weredark-skinnedand larger than Solomon Islandersbut the womanhecouldplainly seewas white. Who she wasand what she was doingtherewere thoughts that drifted vaguely through hisconsciousness. He was too sick to be vitally interestedandbesideshe had a half feeling that it was all a dream; but henoted thatthe men were resting on their sweepswhile the womanand thesteersman were intently watching the run of seas behindthem.
"Goodboatmen" was Sheldon's verdictas he saw the boat leapforward onthe face of a huge breakerthe sweeps plying swiftly tokeep heron that front of the moving mountain of water that racedmadly forthe shore. It was well done. Part full of watertheboat wasflung upon the beachthe men springing out and draggingits noseto the gate-posts. Sheldon had called vainly to thehouse-boyswhoat the momentwere dosing the remaining patientsin thehospital. He knew he was unable to rise up and go down thepath tomeet the newcomersso he lay back in the steamer-chairandwatched for ages while they cared for the boat. The womanstood toone sideher hand resting on the gate. Occasionallysurges ofsea water washed over her feetwhich he could see wereencased inrubber sea-boots. She scrutinized the house sharplyand forsome time she gazed at him steadily. At lastspeaking totwo of themenwho turned and followed hershe started up thepath.
Sheldonattempted to risegot half up out of his chairand fellbackhelplessly. He was surprised at the size of the menwholoomedlike giants behind her. Both were six-footersand theywere heavyin proportion. He had never seen islanders like them.They werenot black like the Solomon Islandersbut light brown;and theirfeatures were largermore regularand even handsome.
Thewoman--or girlratherhe decided--walked along the verandatowardhim. The two men waited at the head of the stepswatchingcuriously. The girl was angry; he could see that. Her gray eyeswereflashingand her lips were quivering. That she had a temperwas histhought. But the eyes were striking. He decided that theywere notgray after allorat leastnot all gray. They werelarge andwide apartand they looked at him from under levelbrows. Her face was cameo-likeso clear cut was it. There wereotherstriking things about her--the cowboy Stetson hatthe heavybraids ofbrown hairand the long-barrelled 38 Colt's revolverthat hungin its holster on her hip.
"PrettyhospitalityI must say" was her greeting"lettingstrangerssink or swim in your front yard."
"I--Ibeg your pardon" he stammeredby a supreme effort dragginghimself tohis feet.
His legswobbled under himand with a suffocating sensation hebegansinking to the floor. He was aware of a feeble gratificationas he sawsolicitude leap into her eyes; then blackness smote himand at themoment of smiting him his thought was that at lastandfor thefirst time in his lifehe had fainted.
Theringing of the big bell aroused him. He opened his eyes andfound thathe was on the couch indoors. A glance at the clock toldhim thatit was sixand from the direction the sun's rays streamedinto theroom he knew that it was morning. At first he puzzledoversomething untoward he was sure had happened. Then on the wallhe saw aStetson hat hangingand beneath it a full cartridge-beltand along-barrelled 38 Colt's revolver. The slender girth of thebelt toldits feminine storyand he remembered the whale-boat ofthe daybefore and the gray eyes that flashed beneath the levelbrows. She it must have been who had just rung the bell. Thecares ofthe plantation rushed upon himand he sat up in bedclutchingat the wall for support as the mosquito screen lurcheddizzilyaround him. He was still sitting thereholding onwitheyesclosedstriving to master his giddinesswhen he heard hervoice.
"You'lllie right down againsir" she said.
It wassharply imperativea voice used to command. At the sametime onehand pressed him back toward the pillow while the othercaught himfrom behind and eased him down.
"You'vebeen unconscious for twenty-four hours now" she went on"andI have taken charge. When I say the word you'll get upandnot untilthen. Nowwhat medicine do you take?--quinine? Hereare tengrains. That's right. You'll make a good patient."
"Mydear madame" he began.
"Youmusn't speak" she interrupted"that isin protest.Otherwiseyou can talk."
"Adead man is of no use on a plantation. Don't you want to knowabout ME? My vanity is hurt. Here am Ijust through my firstshipwreck;and here are younot the least bit curioustalkingabout yourmiserable plantation. Can't you see that I am justburstingto tell somebodyanybodyabout my shipwreck?"
He smiled;it was the first time in weeks. And he smilednot somuch atwhat she saidas at the way she said it--the whimsicalexpressionof her facethe laughter in her eyesand the severaltiny linesof humour that drew in at the corners. He was curiouslywonderingas to what her age wasas he said aloud:
"ThatI will not--not now" she retortedwith a toss of the head."I'llfind somebody to tell my story to who does not have to beasked. AlsoI want information. I managed to find out what timeto ringthe bell to turn the hands toand that is about all. Idon'tunderstand the ridiculous speech of your people. What timedo theyknock off?"
"Ateleven--go on again at one."
"Thatwill dothank you. And nowwhere do you keep the key totheprovisions? I want to feed my men."
"Yourmen!" he gasped. "On tinned goods! Nono. Let them go outand eatwith my boys."
Her eyesflashed as on the day beforeand he saw again theimperativeexpression on her face.
"ThatI won't; my men are MEN. I've been out to your miserablebarracksand watched them eat. Faugh! Potatoes! Nothing butpotatoes! No salt! Nothing! Only potatoes! I may have beenmistakenbut I thought I understood them to say that that was allthey evergot to eat. Two meals a day and every day in the week?"
"Wellmy men wouldn't stand that for a single daymuch less awholeweek. Where is the key?"
"Hangingon that clothes-hook under the clock."
He gave iteasily enoughbut as she was reaching down the key sheheard himsay:
"Fancyniggers and tinned provisions."
This timeshe really was angry. The blood was in her cheeks as sheturned onhim.
"Mymen are not niggers. The sooner you understand that the betterfor ouracquaintance. As for the tinned goodsI'll pay for allthey eat. Please don't worry about that. Worry is not good foryou inyour condition. And I won't stay any longer than I have to--just longenough to get you on your feetand not go away with thefeeling ofhaving deserted a white man."
"You'reAmericanaren't you?" he asked quietly.
Thequestion disconcerted her for the moment.
"Yes"she vouchsafedwith a defiant look. "Why?"
"Nothing. I merely thought so."
He shookhis head.
"Ohnothing. I thought you might have something pleasant to say."
"Myname is SheldonDavid Sheldon" he saidwith directrelevanceholding out a thin hand.
Her handstarted out impulsivelythen checked. "My name isLacklandJoan Lackland." The hand went out. "And let usbefriends."
"Itcould not be otherwise--" he began lamely.
"AndI can feed my men all the tinned goods I want?" she rushed on.
"Tillthe cows come home" he answeredattempting her ownlightnessthen adding"that isto Berande. You see we don'thave anycows at Berande."
She fixedhim coldly with her eyes.
"Isthat a joke?" she demanded.
"Ireally don't know--I--I thought it wasbut thenyou seeI'msick."
"You'reEnglisharen't you?" was her next query.
"Nowthat's too mucheven for a sick man" he cried. "Youknowwellenough that I am."
"Oh"she said absently"then you are?"
Hefrownedtightened his lipsthen burst into laughterin whichshejoined.
"It'smy own fault" he confessed. "I shouldn't have baitedyou.I'll becareful in the future."
"Inthe meantime go on laughingand I'll see about breakfast. Isthereanything you would fancy?"
He shookhis head.
"Itwill do you good to eat something. Your fever has burned outand youare merely weak. Wait a moment."
Shehurried out of the room in the direction of the kitchentripped atthe door in a pair of sandals several sizes too largefor herfeetand disappeared in rosy confusion.
"ByJovethose are my sandals" he thought to himself. "Thegirlhasn't athing to wear except what she landed on the beach inandshecertainly landed in sea-boots."
CHAPTERV--SHE WOULD A PLANTER BE
Sheldonmended rapidly. The fever had burned outand there wasnothingfor him to do but gather strength. Joan had taken the cookin handand for the first timeas Sheldon remarkedthe chop atBerandewas white man's chop. With her own hands Joan prepared thesick man'sfoodand between that and the cheer she brought himhewas ableafter two daysto totter feebly out upon the veranda.Thesituation struck him as strangeand stranger still was thefact thatit did not seem strange to the girl at all. She hadsettleddown and taken charge of the household as a matter ofcourseasif he were her fatheror brotheror as if she were aman likehimself.
"Itis just too delightful for anything" she assured him. "Itislike apage out of some romance. Here I come along out of the seaand find asick man all alone with two hundred slaves--"
"Recruits"he corrected. "Contract labourers. They serve onlythreeyearsand they are free agents when they enter upon theircontracts."
"Yesyes" she hurried on. "--A sick man alone with twohundredrecruitson a cannibal island--they are cannibalsaren't they? Oris it alltalk?"
"Talk!"he saidwith a smile. "It's a trifle more than that.Most of myboys are from the bushand every bushman is acannibal."
"Butnot after they become recruits? Surelythe boys you haveherewouldn't be guilty."
"They'deat you if the chance afforded."
"Areyou just saying soon theoryor do you really know?" sheasked.
"Why? What makes you think so? Your own men here?"
"Yesmy own men herethe very house-boysthe cook that at thepresentmoment is making such delicious rollsthanks to you. Notmore thanthree months ago eleven of them sneaked a whale-boat andran forMalaita. Nine of them belonged to Malaita. Two werebushmenfrom San Cristoval. They were fools--the two from SanCristovalI mean; so would any two Malaita men be who trustedthemselvesin a boat with nine from San Cristoval."
"Yes?"she asked eagerly. "Then what happened?"
"Thenine Malaita men ate the two from San Cristovalall exceptthe headswhich are too valuable for mere eating. They stowedthem awayin the stern-locker till they landed. And those twoheads arenow in some bush village back of Langa Langa."
Sheclapped her hands and her eyes sparkled. "They are reallyandtrulycannibals! And just thinkthis is the twentieth century!And Ithought romance and adventure were fossilized!"
He lookedat her with mild amusement.
"Whatis the matter now?" she queried.
"Ohnothingonly I don't fancy being eaten by a lot of filthyniggers isthe least bit romantic."
"Noof course not" she admitted. "But to be among themcontrollingthemdirecting themtwo hundred of themand toescapebeing eaten by them--thatat leastif it isn't romanticiscertainly the quintessence of adventure. And adventure andromanceare alliedyou know."
"Bythe same tokento go into a nigger's stomach should be thequintessenceof adventure" he retorted.
"Idon't think you have any romance in you" she exclaimed."You'rejust dull and sombre and sordid like the business men athome. I don't know why you're here at all. You should be at homeplacidlyvegetating as a banker's clerk or--or--"
"Ashopkeeper's assistantthank you."
"Yesthat--anything. What under the sun are you doing here on theedge ofthings?"
"Earningmy bread and buttertrying to get on in the world."
"'Bythe bitter road the younger son must treadEre he win tohearth andsaddle of his own'" she quoted. "Whyif that isn'tromanticthen nothing is romantic. Think of all the younger sonsout overthe worldon a myriad of adventures winning to those samehearthsand saddles. And here you are in the thick of itdoingitandhere am I in the thick of itdoing it."
"I--Ibeg pardon" he drawled.
"WellI'm a younger daughterthen" she amended; "and I have nohearth norsaddle--I haven't anybody or anything--and I'm just asfar on theedge of things as you are."
"Inyour casethenI'll admit there is a bit of romance" heconfessed.
He couldnot help but think of the preceding nightsand of hersleepingin the hammock on the verandaunder mosquito curtainsherbodyguard of Tahitian sailors stretched out at the far cornerof theveranda within call. He had been too helpless to resistbut now heresolved she should have his couch inside while he wouldtake thehammock.
"YouseeI had read and dreamed about romance all my life" shewassaying"but I neverin my wildest fanciesthought that Ishouldlive it. It was all so unexpected. Two years ago Ithoughtthere wasnothing left to me but. . . ." She falteredand made amoue ofdistaste. "Wellthe only thing that remainedit seemedto mewasmarriage."
"Andyou preferred a cannibal isle and a cartridge-belt?" hesuggested.
"Ididn't think of the cannibal islebut the cartridge-belt wasblissful."
"Youwouldn't dare use the revolver if you were compelled to. Or"noting theglint in her eyes"if you did use itto--wellto hitanything."
Shestarted up suddenly to enter the house. He knew she was goingfor herrevolver.
"Nevermind" he said"here's mine. What can you do withit?"
"Shootthe block off your flag-halyards."
He smiledhis unbelief.
"Idon't know the gun" she said dubiously.
"It'sa light trigger and you don't have to hold down. Draw fine."
"Yesyes" she spoke impatiently. "I know automatics--theyjamwhen theyget hot--only I don't know yours." She looked at it amoment. "It's cocked. Is there a cartridge in the chamber?"
She firedand the block remained intact.
"It'sa long shot" he saidwith the intention of easing herchagrin.
But shebit her lip and fired again. The bullet emitted a sharpshriek asit ricochetted into space. The metal block rattled backandforth. Again and again she firedtill the clip was emptied ofits eightcartridges. Six of them were hits. The block stillswayed atthe gaff-endbut it was battered out of all usefulness.Sheldonwas astonished. It was better than he or even HughieDrummondcould have done. The women he had knownwhen theysporadicallyfired a rifle or revolverusually shriekedshuttheireyesand blazed away into space.
"That'sreally good shooting . . . for a woman" he said. "Youonlymissed it twiceand it was a strange weapon."
"ButI can't make out the two misses" she complained. "Thegunworkedbeautifullytoo. Give me another clip and I'll hit iteighttimes for anything you wish."
"Idon't doubt it. Now I'll have to get a new block. Viaburi!Here youfellacatch one fella block along store-room."
"I'llwager you can't do it eight out of eight . . . anything youwish"she challenged.
"Nofear of my taking it on" was his answer. "Who taughtyou toshoot?"
"Ohmy fatherat firstand then Vonand his cowboys. He was ashot--DadI meanthough Von was splendidtoo."
Sheldonwondered secretly who Von wasand he speculated as towhether itwas Von who two years previously had led her to believethatnothing remained for her but matrimony.
"Whatpart of the United States is your home?" he asked. "ChicagoorWyoming? or somewhere out there? You know you haven't told me athingabout yourself. All that I know is that you are Miss JoanLacklandfrom anywhere."
"You'dhave to go farther west to find my stamping grounds."
"Ahlet me see--Nevada?"
She shookher head.
"Itcan't beor else I've forgotten my geography."
"It'syour politics" she laughed. "Don't you remember'Annexation'?"
"ThePhilippines!" he cried triumphantly.
"NoHawaii. I was born there. It is a beautiful land. MyI'malmosthomesick for it already. Not that I haven't been away. Iwas in NewYork when the crash came. But I do think it is thesweetestspot on earth--HawaiiI mean."
"Thenwhat under the sun are you doing down here in this God-forsakenplace?" he asked. "Only fools come here" headdedbitterly.
"Nielsenwasn't a foolwas he?" she queried. "As Iunderstandhemade threemillions here."
"Onlytoo trueand that fact is responsible for my being here."
"Andfor metoo" she said. "Dad heard about him in theMarquesasand so we started. Only poor Dad didn't get here."
"He--yourfather--died?" he faltered.
Shenoddedand her eyes grew soft and moist.
"Imight as well begin at the beginning." She lifted her headwitha proudair of dismissing sadnessafterthe manner of a womanqualifiedto wear a Baden-Powell and a long-barrelled Colt's. "Iwas bornat Hilo. That's on the island of Hawaii--the biggest andbest inthe whole group. I was brought up the way most girls inHawaii arebrought up. They live in the openand they know how toride andswim before they know what six-times-six is. As for meIcan'tremember when I first got on a horse nor when I learned toswim. That came before my A B C's. Dad owned cattle ranches onHawaii andMaui--big onesfor the islands. Hokuna had two hundredthousandacres alone. It extended in between Mauna Koa and MaunaLoaandit was there I learned to shoot goats and wild cattle. OnMolokaithey have big spotted deer. Von was the manager of Hokuna.He had twodaughters about my own ageand I always spent the hotseasonthereandoncea whole year. The three of us were likeIndians. Not that we ran wildexactlybut that we were wild torun wild. There were always the governessesyou knowandlessonsand sewingand housekeeping; but I'm afraid we were toooftenbribed to our tasks with promises of horses or of cattledrives.
"Vonhad been in the armyand Dad was an old sea-dogand theywere bothstern disciplinarians; only the two girls had no motherandneither had Iand they were two men after all. They spoiledusterribly. You seethey didn't have any wivesand they madechums outof us--when our tasks were done. We had to learn to doeverythingabout the house twice as well as the native servants didit--thatwas so that we should know how to manage some day. And wealwaysmade the cocktailswhich was too holy a rite for anyservant. Thentoowe were never allowed anything we could nottake careof ourselves. Of course the cowboys always roped andsaddledour horsesbut we had to be able ourselves to go out inthepaddock and rope our horses--"
"Whatdo you mean by ROPE?" Sheldon asked.
"Tolariat themto lasso them. And Dad and Von timed us in thesaddlingand made a most rigid examination of the result. It wasthe sameway with our revolvers and rifles. The house-boys alwayscleanedthem and greased them; but we had to learn how in order tosee thatthey did it properly. More than onceat firstone orthe otherof us had our rifles taken away for a week just becauseof a tinyspeck of rust. We had to know how to build fires in thedrivingraintooout of wet woodwhen we camped outwhich wasthehardest thing of all--except grammarI do believe. We learnedmore fromDad and Von than from the governesses; Dad taught usFrench andVon German. We learned both languages passably welland welearned them wholly in the saddle or in camp.
"Inthe cool season the girls used to come down and visit me inHilowhere Dad had two housesone at the beachor the three ofus used togo down to our place in Punaand that meant canoes andboats andfishing and swimming. ThentooDad belonged to theRoyalHawaiian Yacht Cluband took us racing and cruising. Dadcouldnever get away from the seayou know. When I was fourteen Iwas Dad'sactual housekeeperwith entire power over the servantsand I amvery proud of that period of my life. And when I wassixteen wethree girls were all sent up to California to MillsSeminarywhich was quite fashionable and stifling. How we used tolong forhome! We didn't chum with the other girlswho called uslittlecannibalsjust because we came from the Sandwich Islandsand whomade invidious remarks about our ancestors banqueting onCaptainCook--which was historically untrueandbesidesourancestorshadn't lived in Hawaii.
"Iwas three years at Mills Seminarywith trips homeof courseand twoyears in New York; and then Dad went smash in a sugarplantationon Maui. The report of the engineers had not beenright. Then Dad had built a railroad that was called 'Lackland'sFolly'--itwill pay ultimatelythough. But it contributed to thesmash. The Pelaulau Ditch was the finishing blow. And nothingwould havehappened anywayif it hadn't been for that big moneypanic inWall Street. Dear good Dad! He never let me know. But Iread aboutthe crash in a newspaperand hurried home. It wasbeforethatthoughthat people had been dinging into my ears thatmarriagewas all any woman could get out of lifeand good-bye toromance. Instead of whichwith Dad's failureI fell right intoromance."
"Howlong ago was that?" Sheldon asked.
"Lastyear--the year of the panic."
"Letme see" Sheldon pondered with an air of gravity. "Sixteenplus fiveplus oneequals twenty-two. You were born in 1887?"
"Yes;but it is not nice of you."
"I amreally sorry" he said"but the problem was so obvious."
"Can'tyou ever say nice things? Or is it the way you Englishhave?" There was a snap in her gray eyesand her lips quiveredsuspiciouslyfor a moment. "I should recommendMr. Sheldonthatyou readGertrude Atherton's 'American Wives and EnglishHusbands.'"
"ThankyouI have. It's over there." He pointed at thegenerouslyfilled bookshelves. "But I am afraid it is ratherpartisan."
"Anythingun-English is bound to be" she retorted. "I neverhaveliked theEnglish anyway. The last one I knew was an overseer.Dad wascompelled to discharge him."
"Oneswallow doesn't make a summer."
"Butthat Englishman made lots of trouble--there! And now pleasedon't makeme any more absurd than I already am."
"I'mtrying not to."
"Ohfor that matter--" She tossed her headopened her mouthtocompletethe retortthen changed her mind. "I shall go on with myhistory. Dad had practically nothing leftand he decided toreturn tothe sea. He'd always loved itand I half believe thathe wasglad things had happened as they did. He was like a boyagainbusy with plans and preparations from morning till night.He used tosit up half the night talking things over with me. Thatwas afterI had shown him that I was really resolved to go along.
"Hehad made his startyou knowin the South Seas--pearls andpearlshell--and he was sure that more fortunesin trove of onesort andanotherwere to be picked up. Cocoanut-planting was hisparticularideawith tradingand maybe pearlingalong with otherthingsuntil the plantation should come into bearing. He tradedoff hisyacht for a schoonerthe Mieleand away we went. I tookcare ofhim and studied navigation. He was his own skipper. Wehad aDanish mateMr. Ericsonand a mixed crew of Japanese andHawaiians. We went up and down the Line Islandsfirstuntil Dadwasheartsick. Everything was changed. They had been annexedanddivided byone power or anotherwhile big companies had stepped inandgobbled landtrading rightsfishing rightseverything.
"Nextwe sailed for the Marquesas. They were beautifulbut thenativeswere nearly extinct. Dad was cut up when he learned thatthe Frenchcharged an export duty on copra--he called it medieval--but heliked the land. There was a valley of fifteen thousandacres onNuka-hivahalf inclosing a perfect anchoragewhich hefell inlove with and bought for twelve hundred Chili dollars. Butthe Frenchtaxation was outrageous (that was why the land was socheap)andworst of allwe could obtain no labour. What kanakasthere werewouldn't workand the officials seemed to sit up nightsthinkingout new obstacles to put in our way.
"Sixmonths was enough for Dad. The situation was hopeless.'We'll goto the Solomons' he said'and get a whiff of Englishrule. And if there are no openings there we'll go on to theBismarckArchipelago. I'll wager the Admiraltys are not yetcivilized.' All preparations were madethings packed on boardand a newcrew of Marquesans and Tahitians shipped. We were justready tostart to Tahitiwhere a lot of repairs and refitting forthe Mielewere necessarywhen poor Dad came down sick and died."
"Andyou were left all alone?"
"Verymuch alone. I had no brothers nor sistersand all Dad'speoplewere drowned in a Kansas cloud-burst. That happened when hewas alittle boy. Of courseI could go back to Von. There'salways ahome there waiting for me. But why should I go? Besidesthere wereDad's plansand I felt that it devolved upon me tocarry themout. It seemed a fine thing to do. AlsoI wanted tocarry themout. And . . . here I am.
"Takemy advice and never go to Tahiti. It is a lovely placeandso are thenatives. But the white people! Now Barabbas lived inTahiti. Thievesrobbersand lairs--that is what they are. Thehonest menwouldn't require the fingers of one hand to count. Thefact thatI was a woman only simplified matters with them. Theyrobbed meon every pretextand they lied without pretext or need.Poor Mr.Ericson was corrupted. He joined the robbersand O.K.'dall theirdemands even up to a thousand per cent. If they robbedme of tenfrancshis share was three. One bill of fifteen hundredfrancs Ipaidnetted him five hundred francs. All thisofcourseIlearned afterward. But the Miele was oldthe repairshad to bemadeand I was chargednot three pricesbut sevenprices.
"Inever shall know how much Ericson got out of it. He livedashore ina nicely furnished house. The shipwrights were giving itto himrent-free. Fruitvegetablesfishmeatand ice came tothis houseevery dayand he paid for none of it. It was part ofhis graftfrom the various merchants. And all the whilewithtears inhis eyeshe bemoaned the vile treatment I was receivingfrom thegang. NoI did not fall among thieves. I went toTahiti.
"Butwhen the robbers fell to cheating one anotherI got my firstclues tothe state of affairs. One of the robbed robbers came tome afterdarkwith factsfiguresand assertions. I knew I wasruined ifI went to law. The judges were corrupt like everythingelse. But I did do one thing. In the dead of night I went toEricson'shouse. I had the same revolver I've got nowand I madehim stayin bed while I overhauled things. Nineteen hundred andodd francswas what I carried away with me. He never complained tothepoliceand he never came back on board. As for the rest ofthe gangthey laughed and snapped their fingers at me. There weretwoAmericans in the placeand they warned me to leave the lawaloneunless I wanted to leave the Miele behind as well.
"ThenI sent to New Zealand and got a German mate. He had amaster'scertificateand was on the ship's papers as captainbutI was abetter navigator than heand I was really captain myself.I losthertoobut it's no reflection on my seamanship. We weredriftingfour days outside there in dead calms. Then thenor'westercaught us and drove us on the lee shore. We made sailand triedto clew offwhen the rotten work of the Tahitishipwrightsbecame manifest. Our jib-boom and all our head-stayscarriedaway. Our only chance was to turn and run through thepassagebetween Florida and Ysabel. And when we were safelythroughin the twilightwhere the chart shows fourteen fathoms astheshoalest waterwe smashed on a coral patch. The poor oldMielestruck only onceand then went clear; but it was too muchfor herand we just had time to clear away in the boat when shewentdown. The German mate was drowned. We lay all night to asea-dragand next morning sighted your place here."
"Isuppose you will go back to Vonnow?" Sheldon queried.
"Nothingof the sort. Dad planned to go to the Solomons. I shalllook aboutfor some land and start a small plantation. Do you knowany goodland around here? Cheap?"
"ByGeorgeyou Yankees are remarkablereally remarkable" saidSheldon. "I should never have dreamed of such a venture."
"Adventure"Joan corrected him.
"That'sright--adventure it is. And if you'd gone ashore onMalaitainstead of Guadalcanar you'd have been kai-kai'd long agoalong withyour noble Tahitian sailors."
"Totell the truth" she confessed"we were very much afraidtoland onGuadalcanar. I read in the 'Sailing Directions' that thenativeswere treacherous and hostile. Some day I should like to gotoMalaita. Are there any plantations there?"
"Notone. Not a white trader even."
"ThenI shall go over on a recruiting vessel some time."
"Impossible!"Sheldon cried. "It is no place for a woman."
"Ishall go just the same" she repeated.
"Butno self-respecting woman--"
"Becareful" she warned him. "I shall go some dayandthen youmay besorry for the names you have called me."
It was thefirst time Sheldon had been at close quarters with anAmericangirland he would have wondered if all American girlswere likeJoan Lackland had he not had wit enough to realize thatshe wasnot at all typical. Her quick mind and changing moodsbewilderedhimwhile her outlook on life was so different fromwhat heconceived a woman's outlook should bethat he was moreoften thannot at sixes and sevens with her. He could neveranticipatewhat she would say or do next. Of only one thing was hesureandthat was that whatever she said or did was bound to beunexpectedand unsuspected. There seemedtoosomething almosthystericalin her make-up. Her temper was quick and stormyandshe reliedtoo much on herself and too little on himwhich did notapproximateat all to his ideal of woman's conduct when a man wasaround. Her assumption of equality with him was disconcertingandat timeshe half-consciously resented the impudence and bizarrenessof herintrusion upon him--rising out of the sea in a howlingnor'westerfresh from poking her revolver under Ericson's noseprotectedby her gang of huge Polynesian sailorsand settling downin Berandelike any shipwrecked sailor. It was all on a par withherBaden-Powell and the long 38 Colt's.
At anyrateshe did not look the part. And that was what he couldnotforgive. Had she been short-hairedheavy-jawedlarge-muscledhard-bittenand utterly unlovely in every wayall wouldhave beenwell. Instead of which she was hopelessly anddeliciouslyfeminine. Her hair worried himit was so generouslybeautiful. And she was so slenderly and prettily the woman--thegirlrather--that it cut him like a knife to see herwith quickcomprehensiveeyes and sharply imperative voicesuperintend thelaunchingof the whale-boat through the surf. In imagination hecould seeher roping a horseand it always made him shudder.Thentooshe was so many-sided. Her knowledge of literature andartsurprised himwhile deep down was the feeling that a girl whoknew suchthings had no right to know how to rig tacklesheave upanchorsand sail schooners around the South Seas. Such things inher brainwere like so many oaths on her lips. While for such agirl toinsist that she was going on a recruiting cruise aroundMalaitawas positive self-sacrilege.
He alwaysperturbedly harked back to her feminineness. She couldplay thepiano far better than his sisters at homeand with farfinerappreciation--the piano that poor Hughie had so heroicallylabouredover to keep in condition. And when she strummed theguitar andsang liquidvelvety Hawaiian hulashe sat entranced.Then shewas all womanand the magic of sex kidnapped theirritationsof the day and made him forget the big revolvertheBaden-Powelland all the rest. But what rightthe next thoughtin hisbrain would whisperhad such a girl to swagger around likea man andexult that adventure was not dead? Woman that adventuredwereadventuressesand the connotation was not nice. Besideshewas notenamoured of adventure. Not since he was a boy had itappealedto him--though it would have driven him hard to explainwhat hadbrought him from England to the Solomons if it had notbeenadventure.
Sheldoncertainly was not happy. The unconventional state ofaffairswas too much for his conservative disposition and training.Berandeinhabited by one lone white manwas no place for JoanLackland. Yet he racked his brain for a way outand even talkedit overwith her. In the first placethe steamer from Australiawas notdue for three weeks.
"Onething is evident: you don't want me here" she said. "I'llman thewhale-boat to-morrow and go over to Tulagi."
"Butas I told you beforethat is impossible" he cried. "Thereis no onethere. The Resident Commissioner is away in Australia.Them isonly one white mana third assistant understrapper and ex-sailor--acommon sailor. He is in charge of the government of theSolomonsto say nothing of a hundred or so niggers--prisoners.Besideshe is such a fool that he would fine you five pounds fornot havingentered at Tulagiwhich is the port of entryyou know.He is nota nice manandI repeatit is impossible."
"Thereis Guvutu" she suggested.
He shookhis head.
"There'snothing there but fever and five white men who aredrinkingthemselves to death. I couldn't permit it."
"Ohthank you" she said quietly. "I guess I'll startto-day.--Viaburi! You go along Noa Noahspeak 'm come along me."
Noa Noahwas her head sailorwho had been boatswain of the Miele.
"Whereare you going?" Sheldon asked in surprise.--"Vlaburi! Youstop."
"ToGuvutu--immediately" was her reply.
"ButI won't permit it."
"Thatis why I am going. You said it once beforeand it issomethingI cannot brook."
"What?" He was bewildered by her sudden anger. "If I haveoffendedin any way--"
"Viaburiyou fetch 'm one fella Noa Noah along me" she commanded.
The blackboy started to obey.
"Viaburi! You no stop I break 'm head belong you. And nowMissLacklandI insist--you must explain. What have I said or done tomeritthis?"
"Youhave presumedyou have dared--"
She chokedand swallowedand could not go on.
Sheldonlooked the picture of despair.
"Iconfess my head is going around with it all" he said. "Ifyoucould onlybe explicit."
"Asexplicit as you were when you told me that you would not permitme to goto Guvutu?"
"Butwhat's wrong with that?"
"Butyou have no right--no man has the right--to tell me what hewillpermit or not permit. I'm too old to have a guardiannor didI sail allthe way to the Solomons to find one."
"Agentleman is every woman's guardian."
"WellI'm not every woman--that's all. Will you kindly allow meto sendyour boy for Noa Noah? I wish him to launch the whale-boat. Or shall I go myself for him?"
Both werenow on their feetshe with flushed cheeks and angryeyeshepuzzledvexedand alarmed. The black boy stood like astatue--aplum-black statue--taking no interest in the transactionsof theseincomprehensible whitesbut dreaming with calm eyes of acertainbush village high on the jungle slopes of Malaitawithblue smokecurling up from the grass houses against the graybackgroundof an oncoming mountain-squall.
"Butyou won't do anything so foolish--" he began.
"Thereyou go again" she cried.
"Ididn't mean it that wayand you know I didn't." He wasspeakingslowly and gravely. "And that other thingthat notpermitting--itis only a manner of speaking. Of course I am notyourguardian. You know you can go to Guvutu if you want to"--"orto thedevil" he was almost tempted to add. "OnlyI shoulddeeplyregret itthat is all. And I am very sorry that I shouldhave saidanything that hurt you. RememberI am an Englishman."
Joansmiled and sat down again.
"PerhapsI have been hasty" she admitted. "You seeI amintolerantof restraint. If you only knew how I have beencompelledto fight for my freedom. It is a sore point with methis beingtold what I am to do or not do by you self-constitutedlords ofcreation.-Viaburi I You stop along kitchen. No bring 'mNoaNoah.--And nowMr. Sheldonwhat am I to do? You don't wantme hereand there doesn't seem to be any place for me to go."
"Thatis unfair. Your being wrecked here has been a godsend to me.I was verylonely and very sick. I really am not certain whetheror not Ishould have pulled through had you not happened along.But thatis not the point. Personallypurely selfishlypersonallyI should be sorry to see you go. But I am notconsideringmyself. I am considering you. It--it is hardly theproperthingyou know. If I were married--if there were somewoman ofyour own race here--but as it is--"
She threwup her hands in mock despair.
"Icannot follow you" she said. "In one breath you tellme I mustgoand inthe next breath you tell me there is no place to go andthat youwill not permit me to go. What is a poor girl to do?"
"That'sthe trouble" he said helplessly.
"Andthe situation annoys you."
"Onlyfor your sake."
"Thenlet me save your feelings by telling you that it does notannoy meat all--except for the row you are making about it. Ineverallow what can't be changed to annoy me. There is no use infightingthe inevitable. Here is the situation. You are here. Iam here. I can't go elsewhereby your own account. You certainlycan't goelsewhere and leave me here alone with a whole plantationand twohundred woolly cannibals on my hands. Therefore you stayand Istay. It is very simple. Alsoit is adventure. Andfurthermoreyou needn't worry for yourself. I am notmatrimoniallyinclined. I came to the Solomons for a plantationnot ahusband."
Sheldonflushedbut remained silent.
"Iknow what you are thinking" she laughed gaily. "Thatif I werea manyou'd wring my neck for me. And I deserve ittoo. I'm sosorry. I ought not to keep on hurting your feelings."
"I'mafraid I rather invite it" he saidrelieved by the signs ofthetempest subsiding.
"Ihave it" she announced. "Lend me a gang of your boysfor to-day. I'll build a grass house for myself over in the far corner ofthecompound--on pilesof course. I can move in to-night. I'llbecomfortable and safe. The Tahitians can keep an anchor watchjust asaboard ship. And then I'll study cocoanut planting. InreturnI'll run the kitchen end of your household and give yousomedecent food to eat. And finallyI won't listen to any ofyourprotests. I know all that you are going to say and offer--yourgiving the bungalow up to me and building a grass house foryourself. And I won't have it. You may as well considereverythingsettled. On the other handif you don't agreeI willgo acrossthe riverbeyond your jurisdictionand build a villagefor myselfand my sailorswhom I shall send in the whale-boat toGuvutu forprovisions. And now I want you to teach me billiards."
CHAPTERVII--A HARD-BITTEN GANG
Joan tookhold of the household with no uncertain griprevolutionizingthings till Sheldon hardly recognized the place.For thefirst time the bungalow was clean and orderly. No longerthehouse-boys loafed and did as little as they could; while thecookcomplained that "head belong him walk about too much" fromthestrenuous course in cookery which she put him through. Nor didSheldonescape being roundly lectured for his laziness in eatingnothingbut tinned provisions. She called him a muddler and aslouchand other invidious namesfor his slackness and hisdisregardof healthful food.
She senther whale-boat down the coast twenty miles for limes andorangesand wanted to know scathingly why said fruits had not longsince beenplanted at Berandewhile he was beneath contemptbecausethere was no kitchen garden. Mummy appleswhich he hadregardedas weedsunder her guidance appeared as appetizingbreakfastfruitandat dinnerwere metamorphosed into puddingsthatelicited his unqualified admiration. Bananasforaged fromthe bushwere servedcooked and rawa dozen different wayseachone ofwhich he declared was better than any other. She or hersailorsdynamited fish dailywhile the Balesuna natives were paidtobaccofor bringing in oysters from the mangrove swamps. Herachievementswith cocoanuts were a revelation. She taught the cookhow tomake yeast from the milkthatin turnraised light andairybread. From the tip-top heart of the tree she concocted adelicioussalad. From the milk and the meat of the nut she madevarioussauces and dressingssweet and sourthat were servedaccordingto preparationwith dishes that ranged from fish topudding. She taught Sheldon the superiority of cocoanut cream overcondensedcreamfor use in coffee. From the old and sproutingnuts shetook the solidspongy centres and turned them intosalads. Her forte seemed to be saladsand she astonished him withthedeliciousness of a salad made from young bamboo shoots. Wildtomatoeswhich had gone to seed or been remorselessly hoed outfrom thebeginning of Berandewere foraged for saladssoupsandsauces. The chickenswhich had always gone into the bush andhiddentheir eggswere given laying-binsand Joan went outherself toshoot wild duck and wild pigeons for the table.
"Notthat I like to do this sort of work" she explainedinreferenceto the cookery; "but because I can't get away from Dad'straining."
Amongother thingsshe burned the pestilential hospitalquarrelledwith Sheldon over the deadandin angerset her ownmen towork building a newand what she called a decenthospital.She robbedthe windows of their lawn and muslin curtainsreplacingthem withgaudy calico from the trade-storeand made herselfseveralgowns. When she wrote out a list of goods and clothing forherselfto be sent down to Sydney by the first steamerSheldonwonderedhow long she had made up her mind to stay.
She wascertainly unlike any woman he had ever known or dreamed of.So far ashe was concerned she was not a woman at all. She neitherlanguishednor blandished. No feminine lures were wasted on him.He mighthave been her brotheror she his brotherfor all sex hadto do withthe strange situation. Any mere polite gallantry on hispart wasignored or snubbedand he had very early given upofferinghis hand to her in getting into a boat or climbing over alogandhe had to acknowledge to himself that she was eminentlyfitted totake care of herself. Despite his warnings aboutcrocodilesand sharksshe persisted in swimming in deep water offthe beach;nor could he persuade herwhen she was in the boattolet one ofthe sailors throw the dynamite when shooting fish. Shearguedthat she was at least a little bit more intelligent thantheyandthatthereforethere was less liability of an accidentif she didthe shooting. She was to him the most masculine and atthe sametime the most feminine woman he had ever met.
A sourceof continual trouble between them was the disagreementovermethods of handling the black boys. She ruled by sternkindnessrarely rewardingnever punishingand he had to confessthat herown sailors worshipped herwhile the house-boys were herslavesand did three times as much work for her as he had ever gotout ofthem. She quickly saw the unrest of the contract labourersand wasnot blind to the dangeralways imminentthat both she andSheldonran. Neither of them ever ventured out without a revolverand thesailors who stood the night watches by Joan's grass housewere armedwith rifles. But Joan insisted that this reign ofterror hadbeen caused by the reign of fear practised by the whitemen. She had been brought up with the gentle Hawaiianswho neverwereill-treated nor roughly handledand she generalized that theSolomonIslandersunder kind treatmentwould grow gentle.
Oneevening a terrific uproar arose in the barracksand Sheldonaided byJoan's sailorssucceeded in rescuing two women whom theblackswere beating to death. To save them from the vengeance oftheblacksthey were guarded in the cook-house for the night.They werethe two women who did the cooking for the labourersandtheiroffence had consisted of one of them taking a bath in the bigcauldronin which the potatoes were boiled. The blacks were notoutragedfrom the standpoint of cleanliness; they often took bathsin thecauldrons themselves. The trouble lay in that the batherhad been alowdegradedwretched female; for to the SolomonIslanderall females are lowdegradedand wretched.
NextmorningJoan and Sheldonat breakfastwere aroused by aswellingmurmur of angry voices. The first rule of Berande hadbeenbroken. The compound had been entered without permission orcommandand all the two hundred labourerswith the exception oftheboss-boyswere guilty of the offence. They crowded upthreateningand shoutingclose under the front veranda. Sheldonleanedover the veranda railinglooking down upon themwhile Joanstoodslightly back. When the uproar was stilledtwo brothersstoodforth. They were large mensplendidly muscledand withfacesunusually ferociouseven for Solomon Islanders. One wasCarin-Jamaotherwise The Silent; and the other was Bellin-JamaTheBoaster. Both had served on the Queensland plantations in theold daysand they were known as evil characters wherever white menmet andgammed.
"Wefella boy we want 'm them dam two black fella Mary" saidBellin-Jama.
"Whatyou do along black fella Mary?" Sheldon asked.
"Kill'm" said Bellin-Jama.
"Whatname you fella boy talk along me?" Sheldon demandedwith ashow ofrising anger. "Big bell he ring. You no belong alonghere. You belong along field. Bime bybig fella bell he ringyou stopalong kai-kaiyou come talk along me about two fellaMary. Now all you boy get along out of here."
The gangwaited to see what Bellin-Jama would doand Bellin-Jamastoodstill.
"Meno go" he said.
"Youwatch outBellin-Jama" Sheldon said sharply"or I sendyoualongTulagi one big fella lashing. My wordyou catch 'm strongfella."
Bellin-Jamaglared up belligerently.
"Youwant 'm fight" he saidputting up his fists in approvedreturned-Queenslanderstyle.
Nowinthe Solomonswhere whites are few and blacks are manyandwhere thewhites do the rulingsuch an offer to fight is thedeadliestinsult. Blacks are not supposed to dare so highly as tooffer tofight a white man. At the bestall they can look for isto bebeaten by the white man.
A murmurof admiration at Bellin-Jama's bravery went up from thelisteningblacks. But Bellin-Jama's voice was still ringing in theairandthe murmuring was just beginningwhen Sheldon cleared therailleaping straight downward. From the top of the railing tothe groundit was fifteen feetand Bellin-Jama was directlybeneath. Sheldon's flying body struck him and crushed him toearth. No blows were needed to be struck. The black had beenknockedhelpless. Joanstartled by the unexpected leapsawCarin-JamaThe Silentreach out and seize Sheldon by the throatas he washalf-way to his feetwhile the five-score blacks surgedforwardfor the killing. Her revolver was outand Carin-Jama letgo hisgripreeling backward with a bullet in his shoulder. Inthatfleeting instant of action she had thought to shoot him in thearmwhichat that short distancemight reasonably have beenachieved. But the wave of savages leaping forward had changed hershot tothe shoulder. It was a moment when not the slightestchancecould be taken.
Theinstant his throat was releasedSheldon struck out with hisfistandCarin-Jama joined his brother on the ground. The mutinywasquelledand five minutes more saw the brothers being carriedto thehospitaland the mutineersmarshalled by the gang-bosseson the wayto the fields.
WhenSheldon came up on the verandahe found Joan collapsed on thesteamer-chairand in tears. The sight unnerved him as the row justover couldnot possibly have done. A woman in tears was to him anembarrassingsituation; and when that woman was Joan Lacklandfromwhom hehad grown to expect anything unexpectedhe was reallyfrightened. He glanced down at her helplesslyand moistened hislips.
"Iwant to thank you" he began. "There isn't a doubtbut what yousaved mylifeand I must say--"
Sheabruptly removed her handsshowing a wrathful and tear-stainedface.
"Youbrute! You coward!" she cried. "You have mademe shoot amanand Inever shot a man in my life before."
"It'sonly a flesh-woundand he isn't going to die" Sheldonmanaged tointerpolate.
"Whatof that? I shot him just the same. There was no need foryou tojump down there that way. It was brutal and cowardly."
"Ohnow I say--" he began soothingly.
"Goaway. Don't you see I hate you! hate you! Ohwon't yougoaway!"
Sheldonwas white with anger.
"Thenwhy in the name of common sense did you shoot?" he demanded.
"Be-be-becauseyou were a white man" she sobbed. "And Dad wouldnever haveleft any white man in the lurch. But it was your fault.You had noright to get yourself in such a position. Besidesitwasn'tnecessary."
"I amafraid I don't understand" he said shortlyturning away."Wewill talk it over later on."
"Lookhow I get on with the boys" she saidwhile he paused in thedoorwaystiffly politeto listen. "There's those two sick boys Iamnursing. They will do anything for me when they get welland Iwon't haveto keep them in fear of their life all the time. It isnotnecessaryI tell youall this harshness and brutality. Whatif theyare cannibals? They are human beingsjust like you andmeandthey are amenable to reason. That is what distinguishesall of usfrom the lower animals."
He noddedand went out.
"Isuppose I've been unforgivably foolish" was her greetingwhenhereturned several hours later from a round of the plantation."I'vebeen to the hospitaland the man is getting along all right.It is nota serious hurt."
Sheldonfelt unaccountably pleased and happy at the changed aspectof hermood.
"Youseeyou don't understand the situation" he began. "Inthefirstplacethe blacks have to be ruled sternly. Kindness is allvery wellbut you can't rule them by kindness only. I accept allthat yousay about the Hawaiians and the Tahitians. You say thatthey canbe handled that wayand I believe you. I have had noexperiencewith them. But you have had no experience with theblacksand I ask you to believe me. They are different from yournatives. You are used to Polynesians. These boys are Melanesians.They'reblacks. They're niggers--look at their kinky hair. Andthey're awhole lot lower than the African niggers. Reallyyouknowthere is a vast difference."
"Theypossess no gratitudeno sympathyno kindliness. If you arekind tothemthey think you are a fool. If you are gentle withthem theythink you are afraid. And when they think you areafraidwatch outfor they will get you. Just to show youlet mestate theone invariable process in a black man's brain whenonhis nativeheathhe encounters a stranger. His first thought isone offear. Will the stranger kill him? His next thoughtseeingthat he isnot killedis: Can he kill the stranger? There wasPackardaColonial tradersome twelve miles down the coast. Heboastedthat he ruled by kindness and never struck a blow. Theresult wasthat he did not rule at all. He used to come down inhiswhale-boat to visit Hughie and me. When his boat's crewdecided togo homehe had to cut his visit short to accompanythem. I remember one Sunday afternoon when Packard had acceptedourinvitation to stop to dinner. The soup was just servedwhenHughie sawa nigger peering in through the door. He went out tohimforit was a violation of Berande custom. Any nigger has tosend inword by the house-boysand to keep outside the compound.This manwho was one of Packard's boat's-crewwas on the veranda.And heknew bettertoo. 'What name?' said Hughie. 'You tell 'mwhite manclose up we fella boat's-crew go along. He no come nowwe fellaboy no wait. We go.' And just then Hughie fetched him aclout thatknocked him clean down the stairs and off the veranda."
"Butit was needlessly cruel" Joan objected. "Youwouldn't treata whiteman that way."
"Andthat's just the point. He wasn't a white man. He was alowblackniggerand he was deliberately insultingnot alone his ownwhitemasterbut every white master in the Solomons. He insultedme. He insulted Hughie. He insulted Berande."
"Ofcourseaccording to your lightsto your formula of the ruleof thestrong--"
"Yes"Sheldon interrupted"but it was according to the formula ofthe ruleof the weak that Packard ruled. And what was the result?I am stillalive. Packard is dead. He was unswervingly kind andgentle tohis boysand his boys waited till one day he was downwithfever. His head is over on Malaita now. They carried awaytwowhale-boats as wellfilled with the loot of the store. Thenthere wasCaptain Mackenzie of the ketch Minota. He believed inkindness. He also contended that better confidence was establishedbycarrying no weapons. On his second trip to Malaitarecruitinghe raninto Binawhich is near Langa Langa. The rifles with whichtheboat's-crew should have been armedwere locked up in hiscabin. When the whale-boat went ashore after recruitshe paradedaround thedeck without even a revolver on him. He was tomahawked.His headremains in Malaita. It was suicide. So was Packard'sfinishsuicide."
"Igrant that precaution is necessary in dealing with them" Joanagreed;"but I believe that more satisfactory results can beobtainedby treating them with discreet kindness and gentleness."
"Andthere I agree with YOUbut you must understand one thing.Berandebar noneis by far the worst plantation in the Solomonsso far asthe labour is concerned. And how it came to be so provesyourpoint. The previous owners of Berande were not discreetlykind. They were a pair of unadulterated brutes. One was a down-eastYankeeas I believe they are calledand the other was aguzzlingGerman. They were slave-drivers. To begin withtheyboughttheir labour from Johnny Be-blowedthe most notoriousrecruiterin the Solomons. He is working out a ten years' sentencein Fijinowfor the wanton killing of a black boy. During hislast dayshere he had made himself so obnoxious that the natives onMalaitawould have nothing to do with him. The only way he couldgetrecruits was by hurrying to the spot whenever a murder orseries ofmurders occurred. The murderers were usually only toowilling tosign on and get away to escape vengeance. Down herethey callsuch escapes'pier-head jumps.' There is suddenly aroar fromthe beachand a nigger runs down to the water pursued byclouds ofspears and arrows. Of courseJohnny Be-blowed's whale-boat islying ready to pick him up. In his last days Johnny gotnothingbut pier-head jumps.
"Andthe first owners of Berande bought his recruits--a hard-bittengang ofmurderers. They were all five-year boys. You seetherecruiterhas the advantage over a boy when he makes a pier-headjump. He could sign him on for ten years did the law permit.Wellthat's the gang of murderers we've got on our hands now. Ofcoursesome are deadsome have been killedand there are othersservingsentences at Tulagi. Very little clearing did those firstowners doand less planting. It was war all the time. They hadonemanager killed. One of the partners had his shoulder slashednearly offby a cane-knife. The other was speared on two differentoccasions. Both were bullieswherefore there was a streak ofcowardicein themand in the end they had to give up. They werechasedaway--literally chased away--by their own niggers. Andalong camepoor Hughie and metwo new chumsto take hold of thathard-bittengang. We did not know the situationand we had boughtBerandeand there was nothing to do but hang on and muddle throughsomehow.
"Atfirst we made the mistake of indiscreet kindness. We tried torule bypersuasion and fair treatment. The niggers concluded thatwe wereafraid. I blush to think of what fools we were in thosefirstdays. We were imposed onand threatened and insulted; andwe put upwith ithoping our square-dealing would soon mendthings. Instead of which everything went from bad to worse. Thencame theday when Hughie reprimanded one of the boys and was nearlykilled bythe gang. The only thing that saved him was the numberon top ofhimwhich enabled me to reach the spot in time.
"Thenbegan the rule of the strong hand. It was either that orquitandwe had sunk about all our money into the ventureand wecould notquit. And besidesour pride was involved. We hadstartedout to do somethingand we were so made that we just hadto go onwith it. It has been a hard fightfor we wereand areto thisdayconsidered the worst plantation in the Solomons fromthestandpoint of labour. Do you knowwe have been unable to getwhite menin. We've offered the managership to half a dozen. Iwon't saythey were afraidfor they were not. But they did notconsiderit healthy--at least that is the way it was put by thelast onewho declined our offer. So Hughie and I did the managingourselves."
"Andwhen he died you were prepared to go on all alone!" Joancriedwith shining eyes.
"Ithought I'd muddle through. And nowMiss Lacklandplease becharitablewhen I seem harshand remember that the situation isunparalleleddown here. We've got a bad crowdand we're makingthemwork. You've been over the plantation and you ought to know.And Iassure you that there are no better three-and-four-years-oldtrees onany other plantation in the Solomons. We have workedsteadilyto change matters for the better. We've been slowlygetting innew labour. That is why we bought the Jessie. Wewanted toselect our own labour. In another year the time will beup formost of the original gang. You seethey were recruitedduring thefirst year of Berandeand their contracts expire ondifferentmonths. Naturallythey have contaminated the new boysto acertain extent; but that can soon be remediedand thenBerandewill be a respectable plantation."
Joannodded but remained silent. She was too occupied in glimpsingthe visionof the one lone white man as she had first seen himhelplessfrom fevera collapsed wraith in a steamer-chairwhoupto thelast heart-beatby some strange alchemy of racewaspledged tomastery.
"Itis a pity" she said. "But the white man has to ruleIsuppose."
"Idon't like it" Sheldon assured her. "To save my lifeI can'timaginehow I ever came here. But here I amand I can't runaway."
"Blinddestiny of race" she saidfaintly smiling. "Wewhiteshave beenland robbers and sea robbers from remotest time. It isin ourbloodI guessand we can't get away from it."
"Inever thought about it so abstractly" he confessed. "I'vebeentoo busypuzzling over why I came here."
At sunseta small ketch fanned in to anchorageand a little latertheskipper came ashore. He was a soft-spokengentle-voiced youngfellow oftwentybut he won Joan's admiration in advance whenSheldontold her that he ran the ketch all alone with a black crewfromMalaita. And Romance lured and beckoned before Joan's eyeswhen shelearned he was Christian Younga Norfolk Islanderbut adirectdescendant of John Youngone of the original Bountymutineers. The blended Tahitian and English blood showed in hissoft eyesand tawny skin; but the English hardness seemed to havedisappeared. Yet the hardness was thereand it was what enabledhim to runhis ketch single-handed and to wring a livelihood out ofthefighting Solomons.
Joan'sunexpected presence embarrassed himuntil she herself puthim at hisease by a frankcomradely manner that offendedSheldon'ssense of the fitness of things feminine. News from theworldYoung had notbut he was filled with news of the Solomons.Fifteenboys had stolen rifles and run away into the bush fromLungaplantationwhich was farther east on the Guadalcanar coast.And fromthe bush they had sent word that they were coming back towipe outthe three white men in chargewhile two of the threewhite menin turnwere hunting them through the bush. There wasa strongpossibilityYoung volunteeredthat if they were notcaughtthey might circle around and tap the coast at Berande inorder tosteal or capture a whale-boat.
"Iforgot to tell you that your trader at Ugi has been murdered"he said toSheldon. "Five big canoes came down from Port Adams.Theylanded in the night-timeand caught Oscar asleep. What theydidn'tsteal they burned. The Flibberty-Gibbet got the news atMboliPassand ran down to Ugi. I was at Mboli when the newscame."
"Ithink I'll have to abandon Ugi" Sheldon remarked.
"It'sthe second trader you've lost there in a year" Youngconcurred. "To make it safe there ought to be two white men atleast. Those Malaita canoes are always raiding down that wayandyou knowwhat that Port Adams lot is. I've got a dog for you.TommyJones sent it up from Neal Island. He said he'd promised itto you. It's a first-class nigger-chaser. Hadn't been on boardtwominutes when he had my whole boat's-crew in the rigging. Tommycalls himSatan."
"I'vewondered several times why you had no dogs here" Joan said.
"Thetrouble is to keep them. They're always eaten by thecrocodiles."
"JackHanley was killed at Marovo Lagoon two months ago" Youngannouncedin his mild voice. "The news just came down on theApostle."
"Whereis Marovo Lagoon?" Joan asked.
"NewGeorgiaa couple of hundred miles to the westward" Sheldonanswered. "Bougainville lies just beyond."
"Hisown house-boys did it" Young went on; "but they were putupto it bythe Marovo natives. His Santa Cruz boat's-crew escaped inthewhale-boat to Choiseuland Matherin the Lilysailed over toMarovo. He burned a villageand got Hanley's head back. He foundit in oneof the houseswhere the niggers had it drying. Andthat's allthe news I've gotexcept that there's a lot of new Lee-Enfieldsloose on the eastern end of Ysabel. Nobody knows how thenativesgot them. The government ought to investigate. And--ohyesa warvessel's in the groupthe Cambrian. She burned threevillagesat Bina--on account of the Minotayou know--and shelledthe bush. Then she went to Sio to straighten out things there."
Theconversation became generaland just before Young left to goon boardJoan asked-
"Howcan you manage all aloneMr. Young?"
His largealmost girlish eyes rested on her for a moment before herepliedand then it was in the softest and gentlest of voices.
"OhI get along pretty well with them. Of coursethere is a bitof troubleonce in a whilebut that must be expected. You mustnever letthem think you are afraid. I've been afraid plenty oftimesbutthey never knew it."
"Youwould think he wouldn't strike a mosquito that was bitinghim"Sheldon said when Young had gone on board. "All theNorfolkIslandersthat have descended from the Bounty crowd are that way.But lookat Young. Only three years agowhen he first got theMinervahe was lying in Suuon Malaita. There are a lot ofreturnedQueenslanders there--a rough crowd. They planned to gethis head. The son of their chiefold One-Eyed Billyhadrecruitedon Lunga and died of dysentery. That meant that a whiteman's headwas owing to Suu--any white manit didn't matter who solong asthey got the head. And Young was only a ladand they madesure toget his easily. They decoyed his whale-boat ashore with apromise ofrecruitsand killed all hands. At the same instantthe Suugang that was on board the Minerva jumped Young. He wasjustpreparing a dynamite stick for fishand he lighted it andtossed itin amongst them. One can't get him to talk about itbutthe fusewas shortthe survivors leaped overboardwhile heslippedhis anchor and got away. They've got one hundred fathomsof shellmoney on his head nowwhich is worth one hundred poundssterling. Yet he goes into Suu regularly. He was there a shorttime agoreturning thirty boys from Cape Marsh--that's the FulcrumBrothers'plantation."
"Atany ratehis news to-night has given me a better insight intothe lifedown here" Joan said. "And it is colourful lifetosaytheleast. The Solomons ought to be printed red on the charts--andyellowtoofor the diseases."
"TheSolomons are not always like this" Sheldon answered. "OfcourseBerande is the worst plantationand everything it gets istheworst. I doubt if ever there was a worse run of sickness thanwe werejust getting over when you arrived. Just as luck wouldhave itthe Jessie caught the contagion as well. Berande has beenveryunfortunate. All the old-timers shake their heads at it.They sayit has what you Americans call a hoodoo on it."
"Berandewill succeed" Joan said stoutly. "I like to laugh atsuperstition. You'll pull through and come out the big end of thehorn. The ill luck can't last for ever. I am afraidthoughtheSolomonsis not a white man's climate."
"Itwill bethough. Give us fifty yearsand when all the bush isclearedoff back to the mountainsfever will be stamped out;everythingwill be far healthier. There will be cities and townshereforthere's an immense amount of good land going to waste."
"Butit will never become a white man's climatein spite of allthat"Joan reiterated. "The white man will always be unable toperformthe manual labour."
"Itwill mean slavery" she dashed on.
"Yeslike all the tropics. The blackthe brownand the yellowwill haveto do the workmanaged by the white men. The blacklabour istoo wastefulhoweverand in time Chinese or Indiancoolieswill be imported. The planters are already considering thematter. Ifor oneam heartily sick of black labour."
"Thenthe blacks will die off?"
Sheldonshrugged his shouldersand retorted-
"Yeslike the North American Indianwho was a far nobler typethan theMelanesian. The world is only so largeyou knowand itis fillingup--"
"Andthe unfit must perish?"
"Preciselyso. The unfit must perish."
In themorning Joan was roused by a great row and hullabaloo. Herfirst actwas to reach for her revolverbut when she heard NoaNoahwhowas on guardlaughing outsideshe knew there was nodangerand went out to see the fun. Captain Young had landedSatan atthe moment when the bridge-building gang had started alongthebeach. Satan was big and blackshort-haired and muscularandweighedfully seventy pounds. He did not love the blacks. TommyJones hadtrained him welltying him up daily for several hoursandtelling off one or two black boys at a time to tease him. SoSatan hadit in for the whole black raceand the second after helanded onthe beach the bridge-building gang was stampeding overthecompound fence and swarming up the cocoanut palms.
"Goodmorning" Sheldon called from the veranda. "And whatdo youthink ofthe nigger-chaser?"
"I'mthinking we have a task before us to train him in to thehouse-boys"she called back.
"Andto your Tahitianstoo. Look outNoah! Run for it!"
Satanhaving satisfied himself that the tree-perches wereunassailablewas charging straight for the big Tahitian.
But Noahstood his groundthough somewhat irresolutelyand Satanto everyone's surprisedanced and frisked about him with laughingeyes andwagging tail.
"Nowthat is what I might call a proper dog" was Joan's comment."Heis at least wiser than youMr. Sheldon. He didn't require anyteachingto recognize the difference between a Tahitian and a blackboy. What do you thinkNoah? Why don't he bite you? He savveeyouTahitian eh?"
Noa Noahshook his head and grinned.
"Heno savvee me Tahitian" he explained. "He savvee mewear pantsall thesame white man."
"You'llhave to give him a course in 'Sartor Resartus'" Sheldonlaughedas he came down and began to make friends with Satan.
It chancedjust then that Adamu Adam and Matauaretwo of Joan'ssailorsentered the compound from the far side-gate. They hadbeen downto the Balesuna making an alligator trapandinstead oftrouserswere clad in lava-lavas that flapped gracefully abouttheirstalwart limbs. Satan saw themand advertised his find bybreakingaway from Sheldon's hands and charging.
"Nogot pants" Noah announced with a grin that broadened as AdamuAdam tookto flight.
He climbedup the platform that supported the galvanized iron tankswhich heldthe water collected from the roof. Foiled hereSatanturned andcharged back on Matauare.
"RunMatauare! Run!" Joan called.
But heheld his ground and waited the dog.
"Heis the Fearless One--that is what his name means" Joanexplainedto Sheldon.
TheTahitian watched Satan coollyand when that sanguine-mouthedcreaturelifted into the air in the final leapthe man's hand shotout. It was a fair grip on the lower jawand Satan described ahalfcircle and was flung to the rearturning over in the air andfallingheavily on his back. Three times he leapedand threetimes thatgrip on his jaw flung him to defeat. Then he contentedhimselfwith trotting at Matauare's heelseyeing him and sniffinghimsuspiciously.
"It'sall rightSatan; it's all right" Sheldon assured him."Thatgood fella belong along me."
But Satandogged the Tahitian's movements for a full hour before hemade uphis mind that the man was an appurtenance of the place.Then heturned his attention to the three house-boyscorneringOrnfiri inthe kitchen and rushing him against the hot stovestrippingthe lava-lava from Lalaperu when that excited youthclimbed averanda-postand following Viaburi on top the billiard-tablewhere the battle raged until Joan managed a rescue.
CHAPTERIX--AS BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN
It wasSatan's inexhaustible energy and good spirits that mostimpressedthem. His teeth seemed perpetually to ache with desireand inlieu of black legs he husked the cocoanuts that fell fromthe treesin the compoundkept the enclosure clear of intrudinghensandmade a hostile acquaintance with every boss-boy who cametoreport. He was unable to forget the torment of his puppyhoodwhereineverlasting hatred of the black had been woven into thefibres ofconsciousness; and such a terror did he make himself thatSheldonwas forced to shut him up in the living room whenfor anyreasonstrange natives were permitted in the compound. Thisalwayshurt Satan's feelings and fanned his wrathso that even thehouse-boyshad to watch out for him when he was first released.
ChristianYoung sailed away in the Minervacarrying an invitation(thatwould be delivered nobody knew when) to Tommy Jones to dropin atBerande the next time he was passing.
"Whatare your plans when you get to Sydney?" Sheldon askedthatnightatdinner.
"FirstI've heard that I'm going to Sydney" Joan retorted. "Isupposeyou've received informationby bush-telegraphthat thatthirdassistant understrapper and ex-sailorman at Tulagi is goingto deportme as an undesirable immigrant."
"Ohnonothing of the sortI assure you" Sheldon began withawkwardhastefearful of having offendedthough he knew not how."Iwas just wonderingthat was all. You seewith the loss of theschoonerand . . and all the rest . . . you understand . . I wasthinkingthat if--a--if--hang it alluntil you could communicatewith yourfriendsmy agents at Sydney could advance you a loantemporaryyou seewhy I'd be only too glad and all the restyouknow. The proper--"
But hisjaw dropped and he regarded her irritably and withapprehension.
"WhatIS the matter?" he demandedwith a show of heat. "WhatHAVEI donenow?"
Joan'seyes were bright with battlethe curve of her lips sharpwithmockery.
"Certainlynot the unexpected" she said quietly. "Merelyignoredme in yourordinaryevery-dayman-godsuperior fashion.Naturallyit counted for nothingmy telling you that I had no ideaof goingto Sydney. Go to Sydney I mustbecause youin yoursuperiorwisdomhave so decreed."
She pausedand looked at him curiouslyas though he were somestrangebreed of animal.
"Ofcourse I am grateful for your offer of assistance; but eventhat is nosalve to wounded pride. For that matterit is no morethan onewhite man should expect from another. Shipwreckedmarinersare always helped along their way. Only this particularmarinerdoesn't need any help. Furthermorethis mariner is notgoing toSydneythank you."
"Butwhat do you intend to do?"
"Findsome spot where I shall escape the indignity of beingpatronizedand bossed by the superior sex."
"Comenowthat is putting it a bit too strongly." Sheldonlaughedbut the strain in his voice destroyed the effect ofspontaneity. "You know yourself how impossible the situation is."
"Iknow nothing of the sortsir. And if it is impossiblewellhaven't Iachieved it?"
"Butit cannot continue. Really--"
"Ohyesit can. Having achieved itI can go on achieving it. Iintend toremain in the Solomonsbut not on Berande. To-morrow Iam goingto take the whale-boat over to Pari-Sulay. I was talkingwithCaptain Young about it. He says there are at least fourhundredacresand every foot of it good for planting. Being anislandhesays I won't have to bother about wild pigs destroyingthe youngtrees. All I'll have to do is to keep the weeds hoeduntil thetrees come into bearing. FirstI'll buy the island;nextgetforty or fifty recruits and start clearing and planting;and at thesame time I'll run up a bungalow; and then you'll berelievedof my embarrassing presence--now don't say that it isn't."
"Itis embarrassing" he said bluntly. "But you refuse tosee mypoint ofviewso there is no use in discussing it. Now pleaseforget allabout itand consider me at your service concerningthis . . .this project of yours. I know more about cocoanut-plantingthan you do. You speak like a capitalist. I don't knowhow muchmoney you havebut I don't fancy you are rolling inwealthasyou Americans say. But I do know what it costs to clearland. Suppose the government sells you Pari-Sulay at a pound anacre;clearing will cost you at least four pounds more; that isfivepounds for four hundred acresorsayten thousand dollars.Have youthat much?"
She waskeenly interestedand he could see that the previous clashbetweenthem was already forgotten. Her disappointment was plainas sheconfessed:
"No;I haven't quite eight thousand dollars."
"Thenhere's another way of looking at it. You'll needas yousaidatleast fifty boys. Not counting premiumstheir wages arethirtydollars a year."
"Ipay my Tahitians fifteen a month" she interpolated.
"Theywon't do on straight plantation work. But to return. Thewages offifty boys each year will come to three hundred pounds--that isfifteen hundred dollars. Very well. It will be sevenyearsbefore your trees begin to bear. Seven times fifteen hundredis tenthousand five hundred dollars--more than you possessandall eatenup by the boys' wageswith nothing to pay for bungalowbuildingtoolsquininetrips to Sydneyand so forth."
Sheldonshook his head gravely. "You'll have to abandon the idea."
"ButI won't go to Sydney" she cried. "I simply won't. I'll buyin to theextent of my money as a small partner in some otherplantation. Let me buy in in Berande!"
"Heavenforbid!" he cried in such genuine dismay that she brokeintohearty laughter.
"ThereI won't tease you. Reallyyou knowI'm not accustomed toforcing mypresence where it is not desired. Yesyes; I knowyou'rejust aching to point out that I've forced myself upon youever sinceI landedonly you are too polite to say so. Yet as yousaidyourselfit was impossible for me to go awayso I had tostay. You wouldn't let me go to Tulagi. You compelled me to forcemyselfupon you. But I won't buy in as partner with any one. I'llbuyPari-Sulaybut I'll put only ten boys on it and clear slowly.AlsoI'llinvest in some old ketch and take out a trading license.For thatmatterI'll go recruiting on Malaita."
She lookedfor protestand found it in Sheldon's clenched hand andin everyline of his clean-cut face.
"Goahead and say it" she challenged. "Please don't mindme.I'm--I'mgetting used to ityou know. Really I am."
"Iwish I were a woman so as to tell you how preposterously insaneandimpossible it is" he blurted out.
Shesurveyed him with deliberationand said:
"Betterthan thatyou are a man. So there is nothing to preventyourtelling mefor I demand to be considered as a man. I didn'tcome downhere to trail my woman's skirts over the Solomons.Pleaseforget that I am accidentally anything else than a man witha man'sliving to make."
InwardlySheldon fumed and fretted. Was she making game of him?Or didthere lurk in her the insidious unhealthfulness ofunwomanliness? Or was it merely a case of blankstaringsentimentalidiotic innocence?
"Ihave told you" he began stiffly"that recruiting onMalaita isimpossiblefor a womanand that is all I care to say--or dare."
"AndI tell youin turnthat it is nothing of the sort. I'vesailed theMiele heremasterif you pleaseall the way fromTahiti--evenif I did lose herwhich was the fault of yourAdmiraltycharts. I am a navigatorand that is more than yourSolomonscaptains are. Captain Young told me all about it. And Iam aseaman--a better seaman than youwhen it comes right down toitandyou know it. I can shoot. I am not a fool. I cantakecare ofmyself. And I shall most certainly buy a ketchrun hermyselfand go recruiting on Malaita."
Sheldonmade a hopeless gesture.
"That'sright" she rattled on. "Wash your hands of me. But asVon usedto say'You just watch my smoke!'"
"There'sno use in discussing it. Let us have some music."
He aroseand went over to the big phonograph; but before the discstartedand while he was winding the machinehe heard her saying:
"Isuppose you've been accustomed to Jane Eyres all your life.That's whyyou don't understand me. Come onSatan; let's leavehim to hisold music."
He watchedher morosely and without intention of speakingtill hesaw hertake a rifle from the standexamine the magazineandstart forthe door.
"Whereare you going?" he asked peremptorily.
"Asbetween man and woman" she answered"it would be tooterribly--er--indecentfor you to tell me why I shouldn't goalligatoring. Good-night. Sleep well."
He shutoff the phonograph with a snapstarted toward the doorafter herthen abruptly flung himself into a chair.
"You'rehoping a 'gator catches mearen't you?" she called fromtheverandaand as she went down the steps her rippling laughterdriftedtantalizingly back through the wide doorway.
CHAPTERX--A MESSAGE FROM BOUCHER
The nextday Sheldon was left all alone. Joan had gone exploringPari-Sulayand was not to be expected back until the lateafternoon. Sheldon was vaguely oppressed by his lonelinessandseveralheavy squalls during the afternoon brought him frequentlyon to theverandatelescope in handto scan the sea anxiously forthewhale-boat. Betweenwhiles he scowled over the plantationaccount-booksmade rough estimatesadded and balancedandscowledthe harder. The loss of the Jessie had hit Berandeseverely. Not alone was his capital depleted by the amount of hervaluebuther earnings were no longer to be reckoned onand itwas herearnings that largely paid the running expenses of theplantation.
"Poorold Hughie" he muttered aloudonce. "I'm glad youdidn'tlive tosee itold man. What a cropperwhat a cropper!"
Betweensqualls the Flibberty-Gibbet ran in to anchorageand herskipperPete Oleson (brother to the Oleson of the Jessie)ancientgrizzledwild-eyedemaciated by feverdragged his wearyframe upthe veranda steps and collapsed in a steamer-chair.Whisky andsoda kept him going while he made report and turned inhisaccounts.
"You'rerotten with fever" Sheldon said. "Why don't you rundownto Sydneyfor a blow of decent climate?"
The oldskipper shook his head.
"Ican't. I've ben in the islands too long. I'd die. The fevercomes outworse down there."
"Killor cure" Sheldon counselled.
"It'sstraight kill for me. I tried it three years ago. Thecoolweatherput me on my back before I landed. They carried me ashoreand intohospital. I was unconscious one stretch for two weeks.After thatthe doctors sent me back to the islands--said it was theonly thingthat would save me. WellI'm still alive; but I'm toosoakedwith fever. A month in Australia would finish me."
"Butwhat are you going to do?" Sheldon queried. "Youcan't stayhere untilyou die."
"That'sall that's left to me. I'd like to go back to the oldcountrybut I couldn't stand it. I'll last longer hereand hereI'll stayuntil I peg out; but I wish to God I'd never seen theSolomonsthat's all."
Hedeclined to sleep ashoretook his ordersand went back onboard thecutter. A lurid sunset was blotted out by the heaviestsquall ofthe dayand Sheldon watched the whale-boat arrive in thethick ofit. As the spritsail was taken in and the boat headed onto thebeachhe was aware of a distinct hurt at sight of Joan atthesteering-oarstanding erect and swaying her strength to it assheresisted the pressures that tended to throw the craft broadsidein thesurf. Her Tahitians leaped out and rushed the boat high upthe beachand she led her bizarre following through the gate ofthecompound.
The firstdrops of rain were driving like hail-stonesthe tallcocoanutpalms were bending and writhing in the grip of the windwhile thethick cloud-mass of the squall turned the brief tropictwilightabruptly to night.
Quiteunconsciously the brooding anxiety of the afternoon slippedfromSheldonand he felt strangely cheered at the sight of herrunning upthe steps laughingface flushedhair flyingherbreastheaving from the violence of her late exertions.
"Lovelyperfectly lovely--Pari-Sulay" she panted. "I shallbuyit. I'll write to the Commissioner to-night. And the site for thebungalow--I'veselected it already--is wonderful. You must comeover someday and advise me. You won't mind my staying here untilI can getsettled? Wasn't that squall beautiful? And I supposeI'm latefor dinner. I'll run and get cleanand be with you in aminute."
And in thebrief interval of her absence he found himself walkingabout thebig living-room and impatiently and with anticipationawaitingher coming.
"Doyou knowI'm never going to squabble with you again" heannouncedwhen they were seated.
"Squabble!"was the retort. "It's such a sordid word. It soundscheap andnasty. I think it's much nicer to quarrel."
"Callit what you pleasebut we won't do it any morewill we?"He clearedhis throat nervouslyfor her eyes advertised theimmediatebeginning of hostilities. "I beg your pardon" hehurriedon. "I should have spoken for myself. What I mean isthatI refuseto quarrel. You have the most horrible waywithoututtering awordof making me play the fool. WhyI began with thekindestintentionsand here I am now--"
"Makingnasty remarks" she completed for him.
"It'sthe way you have of catching me up" he complained.
"WhyI never said a word. I was merely sitting herebeingsweetlylured on by promises of peace on earth and all the rest ofitwhensuddenly you began to call me names."
"HardlythatI am sure."
"Wellyou said I was horribleor that I had a horrible way aboutmewhichis the same thing. I wish my bungalow were up. I'd moveto-morrow."
But hertwitching lips belied her wordsand the next moment theman wasmore uncomfortable than everbeing made so by herlaughter.
"Iwas only teasing you. Honest Injun. And if you don'tlaughI'llsuspect you of being in a temper with me. That's rightlaugh. But don't--" she added in alarm"don't if it hurts you.You lookas though you had a toothache. Therethere--don't sayit. You know you promised not to quarrelwhile I have theprivilegeof going on being as hateful as I please. And to beginwiththere's the Flibberty-Gibbet. I didn't know she was so largea cutter;but she's in disgraceful condition. Her rigging issomethingqueerand the next sharp squall will bring her head-gearall aboutthe shop. I watched Noa Noah's face as we sailed past.He didn'tsay anything. He just sneered. And I don't blame him."
"Herskipper's rotten bad with fever" Sheldon explained. "Andhehad todrop his mate off to take hold of things at Ugi--that'swhere Ilost Oscarmy trader. And you know what sort of sailorstheniggers are."
She noddedher head judiciallyand while she seemed to debate aweightyjudgment he asked for a second helping of tinned beef--notbecause hewas hungrybut because he wanted to watch her slimfirmfingersnaked of jewels and banded metalswhile his eyespleasuredin the swell of the forearmappearing from under thesleeve andlosing identity in the smoothround wrist undisfiguredby thenetted veins that come to youth when youth is gone. Thefingerswere brown with tan and looked exceedingly boyish. Thenandwithout effortthe concept came to him. Yesthat was it. Hehadstumbled upon the clue to her tantalizing personality. Herfingerssunburned and boyishtold the story. No wonder she hadexasperatedhim so frequently. He had tried to treat with her as awomanwhen she was not a woman. She was a mere girl--and a boyishgirl atthat--with sunburned fingers that delighted in doing whatboys'fingers did; with a body and muscles that liked swimming andviolentendeavour of all sorts; with a mind that was daringbutthat daredno farther than boys' adventuresand that delighted inrifles andrevolversStetson hatsand a sexless camaraderie withmen.
Somehowas he pondered and watched herit seemed as if he sat inchurch athome listening to the choir-boys chanting. She remindedhim ofthose boysor their voicesrather. The same sexlessqualitywas there. In the body of her she was woman; in the mindof her shehad not grown up. She had not been exposed to ripeninginfluencesof that sort. She had had no mother. Vonher fathernativeservantsand rough island life had constituted hertraining. Horses and rifles had been her toyscamp and trail hernursery. From what she had told himher seminary days had been anexiledevoted to study and to ceaseless longing for the wildriding andswimming of Hawaii. A boy's trainingand a boy's pointof view! That explained her chafe at petticoatsher revolt atwhat wasonly decently conventional. Some day she would grow upbut as yetshe was only in the process.
Wellthere was only one thing for him to do. He must meet her onher ownbasis of boyhoodand not make the mistake of treating heras awoman. He wondered if he could love the woman she would bewhen hernature awoke; and he wondered if he could love her just asshe wasand himself wake her up. After allwhatever it wasshehad cometo fill quite a large place in his lifeas he haddiscoveredthat afternoon while scanning the sea between thesqualls. Then he remembered the accounts of Berandeand thecropperthat was comingand scowled.
He becameaware that she was speaking.
"Ibeg pardon" he said. "What's that you were saying?"
"Youweren't listening to a word--I knew it" she chided. "Iwassayingthat the condition of the Flibberty-Gibbet was disgracefuland thatto-morrowwhen you've told the skipper and not hurt hisfeelingsI am going to take my men out and give her anoverhauling. We'll scrub her bottomtoo. Whythere's whiskerson hercopper four inches long. I saw it when she rolled. Don'tforgetI'm going cruising on the Flibberty some dayeven if Ihave torun away with her."
While attheir coffee on the verandaSatan raised a commotion inthecompound near the beach gateand Sheldon finally rescued amauled andfrightened black and dragged him on the porch forinterrogation.
"Whatfella marster you belong?" he demanded. "What nameyou comealong thisfella place sun he go down?"
"Meb'long Boucher. Too many boy belong along Port Adams stopalong myfella marster. Too much walk about."
The blackdrew a scrap of notepaper from under his belt and passedit over. Sheldon scanned it hurriedly.
"It'sfrom Boucher" he explained"the fellow who took Packard'splace. Packard was the one I told you about who was killed by hisboat's-crew. He says the Port Adams crowd is out--fifty of themin bigcanoes--and camping on his beach. They've killed half adozen ofhis pigs alreadyand seem to be looking for trouble. Andhe'safraid they may connect with the fifteen runaways from Lunga."
"Inwhich case?" she queried.
"Inwhich case Billy Pape will be compelled to send Boucher'ssuccessor. It's Pape's stationyou know. I wish I knew what todo. I don't like to leave you here alone."
"Takeme along then."
He smiledand shook his head.
"Thenyou'd better take my men along" she advised. "They'regoodshotsandthey're not afraid of anything--except Utamiand he'safraid ofghosts."
The bigbell was rungand fifty black boys carried the whale-boatdown tothe water. The regular boat's-crew manned herandMatauareand three other Tahitiansbelted with cartridges andarmed withriflessat in the stern-sheets where Sheldon stood atthesteering-oar.
"MyI wish I could go with you" Joan said wistfullyas the boatshovedoff.
Sheldonshook his head.
"I'mas good as a man" she urged.
"Youreally are needed here" he replied.
"There'sthat Lunga crowd; they might reach the coast right hereand withboth of us absent rush the plantation. Good-bye. We'llget backin the morning some time. It's only twelve miles."
When Joanstarted to return to the houseshe was compelled to passamong theboat-carrierswho lingered on the beach to chatter inqueerape-like fashion about the events of the night. They madeway forherbut there came to heras she was in the midst ofthemafeeling of her own helplessness. There were so many ofthem. What was to prevent them from dragging her down if they sowilled? Then she remembered that one cry of hers would fetch NoaNoah andher remaining sailorseach one of whom was worth a dozenblacks ina struggle. As she opened the gateone of the boysstepped upto her. In the darkness she could not make him out.
"Whatname?" she asked sharply. "What name belong you?"
"MeAroa" he said.
Sheremembered him as one of the two sick boys she had nursed atthehospital. The other one had died.
"Metake 'm plenty fella medicine too much" Aroa was saying.
"Welland you all right now" she answered.
"Mewant 'm tobaccoplenty fella tobacco; me want 'm calico; mewant 'mporpoise teeth; me want 'm one fella belt."
She lookedat him humorouslyexpecting to see a smileor at leasta grinonhis face. Insteadhis face was expressionless. Savefor anarrow breech-clouta pair of ear-plugsand about his kinkyhair achaplet of white cowrie-shellshe was naked. His body wasfresh-oiledand shinyand his eyes glistened in the starlight likesome wildanimal's. The rest of the boys had crowded up at hisback in asolid wall. Some one of them giggledbut the remainderregardedher in morose and intense silence.
"Well?"she said. "What for you want plenty fella things?"
"Metake 'm medicine" quoth Aroa. "You pay me."
And thiswas a sample of their gratitudeshe thought. It lookedas ifSheldon had been right after all. Aroa waited stolidly. Aleapingfish splashed far out on the water. A tiny waveletmurmuredsleepily on the beach. The shadow of a flying-fox driftedby invelvet silence overhead. A light air fanned coolly on hercheek; itwas the land-breeze beginning to blow.
"Yougo along quarters" she saidstarting to turn on her heel toenter thegate.
"Youpay me" said the boy.
"Aroayou all the same one big fool. I no pay you. Now you go."
But theblack was unmoved. She felt that he was regarding heralmostinsolently as he repeated:
"Itake 'm medicine. You pay me. You pay me now."
Then itwas that she lost her temper and cuffed his ears so soundlyas todrive him back among his fellows. But they did not break up.Anotherboy stepped forward.
"Youpay me" he said.
His eyeshad the queruloustroubled look such as she had noticedinmonkeys; but while he was patently uncomfortable under herscrutinyhis thick lips were drawn firmly in an effort at sullendetermination.
"Whatfor?" she asked.
"MeGogoomy" he said. "Bawo brother belong me."
Bawosherememberedwas the sick boy who had died.
"Goon" she commanded.
"Bawotake 'm medicine. Bawo finish. Bawo my brother. Youpayme. Father belong me one big fella chief along Port Adams. Youpay me."
"Gogoomyyou just the same as Aroaone big fool. My wordwhopay me formedicine?"
Shedismissed the matter by passing through the gate and closingit. But Gogoomy pressed up against it and said impudently:
"Fatherbelong me one big fella chief. You no bang 'm head belongme. My wordyou fright too much."
"Mefright?" she demandedwhile anger tingled all through her.
"Toomuch fright bang 'm head belong me" Gogoomy said proudly.
And thenshe reached for him across the gate and got him. It was asweepingbroad-handed slapso heavy that he staggered sidewaysand nearlyfell. He sprang for the gate as if to force it openwhile thecrowd surged forward against the fence. Joan thoughtrapidly. Her revolver was hanging on the wall of her grass house.Yet onecry would bring her sailorsand she knew she was safe. Soshe didnot cry for help. Insteadshe whistled for Satanat thesame timecalling him by name. She knew he was shut up in thelivingroombut the blacks did not wait to see. They fled withwild yellsthrough the darknessfollowed reluctantly by Gogoomy;while sheentered the bungalowlaughing at firstbut finallyvexed tothe verge of tears by what had taken place. She had satup a wholenight with the boy who had diedand yet his brotherdemandedto be paid for his life.
"Ugh!the ungrateful beast!" she mutteredwhile she debatedwhether ornot she would confess the incident to Sheldon.
CHAPTERXI--THE PORT ADAMS CROWD
"Andso it was all settled easily enough" Sheldon was saying. Hewas on theverandadrinking coffee. The whale-boat was beingcarriedinto its shed. "Boucher was a bit timid at first to carryoff thesituation with a strong handbut he did very well once wegotstarted. We made a play at holding a courtand Telepassetheoldscoundrelaccepted the findings. He's a Port Adams chiefafilthybeggar. We fined him ten times the value of the pigsandmade himmove on with his mob. Ohthey're a sweet lotI mustsayatleast sixty of themin five big canoesand out fortrouble. They've got a dozen Sniders that ought to beconfiscated."
"Whydidn't you?" Joan asked.
"Andhave a row on my hands with the Commissioner? He's terriblytouchyabout his black wardsas he calls them. Wellwe startedthem alongtheir waythough they went in on the beach to kai-kaiseveralmiles back. They ought to pass here some time to-day."
Two hourslater the canoes arrived. No one saw them come. Thehouse-boyswere busy in the kitchen at their own breakfast. Theplantationhands were similarly occupied in their quarters. Satanlay soundasleep on his back under the billiard tablein his sleepbrushingat the flies that pestered him. Joan was rummaging in thestore-roomand Sheldon was taking his siesta in a hammock on theveranda. He awoke gently. In some occultsubtle way a warningthat allwas not well had penetrated his sleep and aroused him.Withoutmovinghe glanced down and saw the ground beneath coveredwith armedsavages. They were the same ones he had parted withthatmorningthough he noted an accession in numbers. There weremen he hadnot seen before.
He slippedfrom the hammock and with deliberate slowness saunteredto therailingwhere he yawned sleepily and looked down on them.It came tohim curiously that it was his destiny ever to stand onthis highplacelooking down on unending hordes of black troublethatrequired controlbullyingand cajolery. But while heglancedcarelessly over themhe was keenly taking stock. The newmen wereall armed with modern rifles. Ahhe had thought so.There werefifteen of themundoubtedly the Lunga runaways. Inadditiona dozen old Sniders were in the hands of the originalcrowd. The rest were armed with spearsclubsbows and arrowsandlong-handled tomahawks. Beyonddrawn up on the beachhecould seethe big war-canoeswith high and fantastically carvedbows andsternsornamented with scrolls and bands of white cowrieshells. These were the men who had killed his traderOscaratUgi.
"Whatname you walk about this place?" he demanded.
At thesame time he stole a glance seaward to where the Flibberty-Gibbetreflected herself in the glassy calm of the sea. Not a soulwasvisible under her awningsand he saw the whale-boat wasmissingfrom alongside. The Tahitians had evidently gone shootingfish upthe Balesuna. He was all alone in his high place abovethistroublewhile his world slumbered peacefully under thebreathlesstropic noon.
Nobodyrepliedand he repeated his demandmore of mastery in hisvoice thistimeand a hint of growing anger. The blacks moveduneasilylike a herd of cattleat the sound of his voice. Butnot onespoke. All eyeshoweverwere staring at him in certitudeofexpectancy. Something was about to happenand they werewaitingfor itwaiting with the unanimousunstable mob-mind forthe one ofthem who would make the first action that wouldprecipitateall of them into a common action. Sheldon looked forthis onefor such was the one to fear. Directly beneath him hecaughtsight of the muzzle of a riflebarely projecting betweentwo blackbodiesthat was slowly elevating toward him. It washeld atthe hip by a man in the second row.
"Whatname you?" Sheldon suddenly shoutedpointing directly at theman whoheld the gunwho startled and lowered the muzzle.
Sheldonstill held the whip handand he intended to keep it.
"Clearoutall you fella boys" he ordered. "Clear out andwalkalong saltwater. Savvee!"
"Metalk" spoke up a fat and filthy savage whose hairy chest wascaked withthe unwashed dirt of years.
"Ohis that youTelepasse?" the white man queried genially. "Youtell 'mboys clear outand you stop and talk along me."
"Himgood fella boy" was the reply. "Him stop along."
"Wellwhat do you want?" Sheldon askedstriving to hide underassumedcarelessness the weakness of concession.
"Thatfella boy belong along me." The old chief pointed outGogoomywhom Sheldon recognized.
"WhiteMary belong you too much no good" Telepasse went on. "Bang'm headbelong Gogoomy. Gogoomy all the same chief. Bimeby mefinishGogoomy big fella chief. White Mary bang 'm head. Nogood. You pay me plenty tobaccoplenty powderplenty calico."
"Youold scoundrel" was Sheldon's comment. An hour beforehehadbeenchuckling over Joan's recital of the episodeand hereanhourlaterwas Telepasse himself come to collect damages.
"Gogoomy"Sheldon ordered"what name you walk about here? Youget alongquarters plenty quick."
"Mestop" was the defiant answer.
"WhiteMary b'long you bang 'm head" old Telepasse began again."Mywordplenty big fella trouble you no pay."
"Youtalk along boys" Sheldon saidwith increasing irritation."Youtell 'm get to hell along beach. Then I talk with you."
Sheldonfelt a slight vibration of the verandaand knew that Joanhad comeout and was standing by his side. But he did not dareglance ather. There were too many rifles down below thereandrifles hada way of going off from the hip.
Again theveranda vibrated with her moving weightand he knew thatJoan hadgone into the house. A minute later she was back besidehim. He had never seen her smokeand it struck him as peculiarthat sheshould be smoking now. Then he guessed the reason. Witha quickglancehe noted the hand at her sideand in it thefamiliarpaper-wrapped dynamite. He notedalsothe end of fusesplitproperlyinto which had been inserted the head of a waxmatch.
"Telepasseyou old reprobatetell 'm boys clear out along beach.My wordIno gammon along you."
"Meno gammon" said the chief. "Me want 'm pay whiteMary bang 'mheadb'long Gogoomy."
"I'llcome down there and bang 'm head b'long you" Sheldonrepliedleaning toward the railing as if about to leap over.
An angrymurmur aroseand the blacks surged restlessly. Themuzzles ofmany guns were rising from the hips. Joan was pressingthelighted end of the cigarette to the fuse. A Snider went offwith theroar of a bomb-gunand Sheldon heard a pane of window-glasscrash behind him. At the same moment Joan flung thedynamitethe fuse hissing and splutteringinto the thick of theblacks. They scattered back in too great haste to do any moreshooting. Satanaroused by the one shotwas snarling and pantingto be letout. Joan heardand ran to let him out; and thereat thetragedywas avertedand the comedy began.
Rifles andspears were dropped or flung aside in a wild scramblefor theprotection of the cocoanut palms. Satan multipliedhimself. Never had he been free to tear and rend such a quantityof blackflesh beforeand he bit and snapped and rushed the flyinglegs tillthe last pair were above his head. All were treed exceptTelepassewho was too old and fatand he lay prone and withoutmovementwhere he had fallen; while Satanwith too great a heartto worryan enemy that did not movedashed frantically from treeto treebarking and springing at those who clung on lowest down.
"Ifancy you need a lesson or two in inserting fuses" Sheldonremarkeddryly.
Joan'seyes were scornful.
"Therewas no detonator on it" she said. "Besidesthedetonatoris not yetmanufactured that will explode that charge. It's only abottle ofchlorodyne."
She puther fingers into her mouthand Sheldon winced as he sawher blowlike a boya sharpimperious whistle--the call shealwaysused for her sailorsand that always made him wince.
"They'regone up the Balesunashooting fish" he explained. "Buttherecomes Oleson with his boat's-crew. He's an old war-horsewhen hegets started. See him banging the boys. They don't pullfastenough for him."
"Andnow what's to be done?" she asked. "You've treed yourgamebut youcan't keep it treed."
"No;but I can teach them a lesson."
Sheldonwalked over to the big bell.
"Itis all right" he replied to her gesture of protest. "Myboysarepractically all bushmenwhile these chaps are salt-water menandthere's no love lost between them. You watch the fun."
He rang ageneral calland by the time the two hundred labourerstroopedinto the compound Satan was once more penned in the living-roomcomplaining to high heaven at his abominable treatment. Theplantationhands were dancing war-dances around the base of everytree andfilling the air with abuse and vituperation of theirhereditaryenemies. The skipper of the Flibberty-Gibbet arrived inthe thickof itin the first throes of oncoming feverstaggeringas hewalkedand shivering so severely that he could scarcely holdthe riflehe carried. His face was ghastly bluehis teeth clickedandchatteredand the violent sunshine through which he walkedcould notwarm him.
"I'lls-s-sit downand k-k-keep a guard on 'em" he chattered."D-d-dashit allI always g-get f-fever when there's anyexcitement. W-w-wh-what are you going to do?"
"Gatherup the guns first of all."
UnderSheldon's direction the house-boys and gang-bosses collectedthescattered arms and piled them in a heap on the veranda. Themodernriflesstolen from LungaSheldon set aside; the Sniders hesmashedinto fragments; the pile of spearsclubsand tomahawks hepresentedto Joan.
"Areally unique addition to your collection" he smiled; "pickedup righton the battlefield."
Down onthe beach he built a bonfire out of the contents of thecanoeshis blacks smashingbreakingand looting everything theylaid handson. The canoes themselvessplintered and brokenfilledwith sand and coral-boulderswere towed out to ten fathomsof waterand sunk.
"Tenfathoms will be deep enough for them to work in" Sheldonsaidasthey walked back to the compound.
Here aSaturnalia had broken loose. The war-songs and dances weremoreunrestrainedandfrom abusethe plantation blacks hadturned topelting their helpless foes with pieces of woodhandfulsofpebblesand chunks of coral-rock. And the seventy-five lustycannibalsclung stoically to their tree-perchesenduring the rainofmissiles and snarling down promises of vengeance.
"There'llbe wars for forty years on Malaita on account of this"Sheldonlaughed. "But I always fancy old Telepasse will neveragainattempt to rush a plantation."
"Ehyou old scoundrel" he addedturning to the old chiefwhosatgibbering in impotent rage at the foot of the steps. "Nowheadbelong youbang 'm too. Come onMiss Lacklandbang 'm just once.It will bethe crowning indignity."
"Ughhe's too dirty. I'd rather give him a bath. HereyouAdamuAdamgive this devil-devil a wash. Soap and water! Fillthatwash-tub. Ornfirirun and fetch 'm scrub-brush."
TheTahitiansback from their fishing and grinning at the bedlamof thecompoundentered into the joke.
"Tambo! Tambo!" shrieked the cannibals from the treesappalled atso awful adesecrationas they saw their chief tumbled into thetub andthe sacred dirt rubbed and soused from his body.
Joanwhohad gone into the bungalowtossed down a strip of whitecalicoinwhich old Telepasse was promptly wrappedand he stoodforthresplendent and purifiedwithal he still spat and strangledfrom thesoap-suds with which Noa Noah had gargled his throat.
Thehouse-boys were directed to fetch handcuffsandone by onethe Lungarunaways were haled down out of their trees and madefast. Sheldon ironed them in pairsand ran a steel chain throughthe linksof the irons. Gogoomy was given a lecture for hismutinousconduct and locked up for the afternoon. Then Sheldonrewardedthe plantation hands with an afternoon's holidayandwhen theyhad withdrawn from the compoundpermitted the Port Adamsmen todescend from the trees. And all afternoon he and Joanloafed inthe cool of the veranda and watched them diving down andemptyingtheir sunken canoes of the sand and rocks. It wastwilightwhen they embarked and paddled away with a few brokenpaddles. A breeze had sprung upand the Flibberty-Gibbet hadalreadysailed for Lunga to return the runaways.
CHAPTERXII--MR. MORGAN AND MR. RAFF
Sheldonwas back in the plantation superintending the building of abridgewhen the schooner Malakula ran in close and dropped anchor.Joanwatched the taking in of sail and the swinging out of the boatwith asailor's interestand herself met the two men who cameashore. While one of the house-boys ran to fetch Sheldonshe hadthevisitors served with whisky and sodaand sat and talked withthem.
Theyseemed awkward and constrained in her presenceand she caughtfirst oneand then the other looking at her with secret curiosity.She feltthat they were weighing herappraising herand for thefirst timethe anomalous position she occupied on Berande sanksharplyhome to her. On the other handthey puzzled her. Theywereneither traders nor sailors of any type she had known. Nordid theytalk like gentlemendespite the fact that there wasnothingoffensive in their bearing and that the veneer of ordinarysocialnicety was theirs. Undoubtedlythey were men of affairs--businessmen of a sort; but what affairs should they have in theSolomonsand what business on Berande? The elder oneMorganwasa hugemanbronzed and moustachedwith a deep bass voice and analmostguttural speechand the otherRaffwas slight andeffeminatewith nervous hands and waterywashed-out gray eyeswho spokewith a faint indefinable accent that was hauntinglyreminiscentof the Cockneyand that was yet not Cockney of anybrand shehad ever encountered. Whatever they werethey wereself-mademenshe concluded; and she felt the impulse to shudderat thoughtof falling into their hands in a business way. Therethey wouldbe merciless.
Shewatched Sheldon closely when he arrivedand divined that hewas notparticularly delighted to see them. But see them he mustand sopressing was the need thatafter a little perfunctorygeneralconversationhe led the two men into the stuffy office.Later inthe afternoonshe asked Lalaperu where they had gone.
"Myword" quoth Lalaperu; "plenty walk aboutplenty look 'm.Look 'mtree; look 'm ground belong tree; look 'm all fella bridge;look 'mcopra-house; look 'm grass-land; look 'm river; look 'mwhale-boat--mywordplenty big fella look 'm too much."
"Whatfella man them two fella?" she queried.
"Bigfella marster along white man" was the extent of hisdescription.
But Joandecided that they were men of importance in the Solomonsand thattheir examination of the plantation and of its accountswas ofsinister significance.
At dinnerno word was dropped that gave a hint of their errand.Theconversation was on general topics; but Joan could not helpnoticingthe troubledabsent expression that occasionally cameintoSheldon's eyes. After coffeeshe left them; and at midnightfromacross the compoundshe could hear the low murmur of theirvoices andsee glowing the fiery ends of their cigars. Up earlyherselfshe found they had already departed on another tramp overtheplantation.
"Whatyou think?" she asked Viaburi.
"Sheldonmarster he go along finish short time little bit" was theanswer.
"Whatyou think?" she asked Ornfiri.
"Sheldonmarster big fella walk about along Sydney. Yesme t'inkso. He finish along Berande."
All daythe examination of the plantation and the discussion wenton; andall day the skipper of the Malakula sent urgent messagesashore forthe two men to hasten. It was not until sunset thatthey wentdown to the boatand even then a final talk of nearly anhour tookplace on the beach. Sheldon was combating something--that shecould plainly see; and that his two visitors were notgiving inshe could also plainly see.
"Whatname?" she asked lightlywhen Sheldon sat down to dinner.
He lookedat her and smiledbut it was a very wan and wistfulsmile.
"Myword" she went on. "One big fella talk. Sun hego down--talk-talk;sun he come up--talk-talk; all the time talk-talk. Whatname thatfella talk-talk?
"Ohnothing much." He shrugged his shoulders. "Theywere tryingto buyBerandethat was all."
She lookedat him challengingly.
"Itmust have been more than that. It was you who wanted to sell."
"IndeednoMiss Lackland; I assure you that I am far fromdesiringto sell."
"Don'tlet us fence about it" she urged. "Let it bestraight talkbetweenus. You're in trouble. I'm not a fool. Tell me.BesidesImay be able to helpto--to suggest something."
In thepause that followedhe seemed to debatenot so muchwhether hewould tell heras how to begin to tell her.
"I'mAmericanyou see" she persisted"and our Americanheritageis a largeparcel of business sense. I don't like it myselfbut Iknow I'vegot it--at least more than you have. Let us talk it overand find away out. How much do you owe?"
"Athousand poundsand a few trifles over--small billsyou know.Thentoothirty of the boys finish their time next weekandtheirbalances will average ten pounds each. But what is the needofbothering your head with it? Reallyyou know--"
"Whatis Berande worth?--right now?"
"WhateverMorgan and Raff are willing to pay for it." A glance ather hurtexpression decided him. "Hughie and I have sunk eightthousandpounds in itand our time. It is a good propertyandworth morethan that. But it has three years to run before itsreturnsbegin to come in. That is why Hughie and I engaged intradingand recruiting. The Jessie and our stations came very nearto payingthe running expenses of Berande."
"AndMorgan and Raff offered you what?"
"Athousand pounds clearafter paying all bills."
"Thethieves!" she cried.
"Nothey're good business menthat is all. As they told meathing isworth no more than one is willing to pay or to receive."
"Andhow much do you need to carry on Berande for three years?"Joanhurried on.
"Twohundred boys at six pounds a year means thirty-six hundredpounds--that'sthe main item."
"Myhow cheap labour does mount up! Thirty-six hundred poundseighteenthousand dollarsjust for a lot of cannibals! Yet theplace isgood security. You could go down to Sydney and raise themoney."
He shookhis head.
"Youcan't get them to look at plantations down there. They'vebeen takenin too often. But I do hate to give the place up--moreforHughie's sakeI swearthan my own. He was bound up in it.You seehe was a persistent chapand hated to acknowledge defeat.It--itmakes me uncomfortable to think of it myself. We wererunningslowly behindbut with the Jessie we hoped to muddlethrough insome fashion."
"Youwere muddlersthe pair of youwithout doubt. But youneedn'tsell to Morgan and Raff. I shall go down to Sydney on thenextsteamerand I'll come back in a second-hand schooner. Ishould beable to buy one for five or six thousand dollars--"
He held uphis hand in protestbut she waved it aside.
"Imay manage to freight a cargo back as well. At any ratetheschoonerwill take over the Jessie's business. You can make yourarrangementsaccordinglyand have plenty of work for her when Iget back. I'm going to become a partner in Berande to the extentof my bagof sovereigns--I've got over fifteen hundred of themyouknow. We'll draw up an agreement right now--that iswith yourpermissionand I know you won't refuse it."
He lookedat her with good-natured amusement.
"Youknow I sailed here all the way from Tahiti in order to becomeaplanter" she insisted. "You know what my planswere. Now I'vechangedthemthat's all. I'd rather be a part owner of Berandeand get myreturns in three yearsthan break ground on Pari-Sulayand waitseven years."
"Andthis--er--this schooner. . . . " Sheldon changed his mindandstopped.
"Youwon't be angry?" he queried.
"Nono; this is business. Go on."
"You--er--youwould run her yourself?--be the captainin short?--and gorecruiting on Malaita?"
"Certainly. We would save the cost of a skipper. Under anagreementyou would be credited with a manager's salaryand I withacaptain's. It's quite simple. Besidesif you won't letme beyourpartnerI shall buy Pari-Sulayget a much smaller vesseland runher myself. So what is the difference?"
"Thedifference?--whyall the difference in the world. In thecase ofPari-Sulay you would be on an independent venture. Youcould turncannibal for all I could interfere in the matter. ButonBerandeyou would be my partnerand then I would beresponsible. And of course I couldn't permit youas my partnerto beskipper of a recruiter. I tell youthe thing is what Iwould notpermit any sister or wife of mine--"
"ButI'm not going to be your wifethank goodness--only yourpartner."
"Besidesit's all ridiculous" he held on steadily. "Think ofthesituation. A man and a womanboth youngpartners on an isolatedplantation. Whythe only practical way out would be that I'd haveto marryyou--"
"Minewas a business propositionnot a marriage proposal" sheinterruptedcoldly angry. "I wonder if somewhere in this worldthere isone man who could accept me for a comrade."
"Butyou are a woman just the same" he began"and there arecertainconventionscertain decencies--"
She sprangup and stamped her foot.
"Doyou know what I'd like to say?" she demanded.
"Yes"he smiled"you'd like to say'Damn petticoats!'"
She noddedher head ruefully.
"That'swhat I wanted to saybut it sounds different on your lips.It soundsas though you meant it yourselfand that you meant itbecause ofme."
"WellI am going to bed. But dopleasethink over mypropositionand let me know in the morning. There's no use in mydiscussingit now. You make me so angry. You are cowardlyyouknowandvery egotistic. You are afraid of what other fools willsay. No matter how honest your motivesif others criticized youractionsyour feelings would be hurt. And you think more about yourownwretched feelings than you do about mine. And thenbeing acoward--allmen are at heart cowards--you disguise your cowardiceby callingit chivalry. I thank heaven that I was not born a man.Good-night. Do think it over. And don't be foolish. What Berandeneeds isgood American hustle. You don't know what that is. Youare amuddler. Besidesyou are enervated. I'm fresh to theclimate. Let me be your partnerand you'll see me rattle the drybones ofthe Solomons. ConfessI've rattled yours already."
"Ishould say so" he answered. "Reallyyou knowyouhave. Ineverreceived such a dressing-down in my life. If any one hadever toldme that I'd be a party even to the present situation. . .. YesIconfessyou have rattled my dry bones prettyconsiderably."
"Butthat is nothing to the rattling they are going to get" sheassuredhimas he rose and took her hand. "Good-night. Anddodo give mea rational decision in the morning."
CHAPTERXIII--THE LOGIC OF YOUTH
"Iwish I knew whether you are merely headstrongor whether youreallyintend to be a Solomon planter" Sheldon said in themorningat breakfast.
"Iwish you were more adaptable" Joan retorted. "Youhave morepreconceivednotions than any man I ever met. Why in the name ofcommonsensein the name of . . . fair playcan't you get it intoyour headthat I am different from the women you have knownandtreat meaccordingly? You surely ought to know I am different. Isailed myown schooner here--skipperif you please. I came hereto make myliving. You know that; I've told you often enough. Itwas Dad'splanand I'm carrying it outjust as you are trying tocarry outyour Hughie's plan. Dad started to sail and sail untilhe couldfind the proper islands for planting. He diedand Isailed andsailed until I arrived here. Well"--she shrugged hershoulders--"theschooner is at the bottom of the sea. I can't sailanyfarthertherefore I remain here. And a planter I shallcertainlybe."
"Yousee--" he began.
"Ihaven't got to the point" she interrupted. "Lookingback on myconductfrom the moment I first set foot on your beachI can seeno falsepretence that I have made about myself or my intentions.I was mynatural self to you from the first. I told you my plans;and yetyou sit there and calmly tell me that you don't knowwhether Ireally intend to become a planteror whether it is allobstinacyand pretence. Now let me assure youfor the last timethat Ireally and truly shall become a planterthanks to youorin spiteof you. Do you want me for a partner?"
"Butdo you realize that I would be looked upon as the most foolishjackanapesin the South Seas if I took a young girl like you inwith mehere on Berande?" he asked.
"No;decidedly not. But there you are againworrying about whatidiots andthe generally evil-minded will think of you. I shouldhavethought you had learned self-reliance on Berandeinstead ofneeding tolean upon the moral support of every whisky-guzzlingworthlessSouth Sea vagabond."
He smiledand said-
"Yesthat is the worst of it. You are unanswerable. Yours isthelogic ofyouthand no man can answer that. The facts of life canbut theyhave no place in the logic of youth. Youth must try toliveaccording to its logic. That is the only way to learnbetter."
"Thereis no harm in trying?" she interjected.
"Butthere is. That is the very point. The facts always smashyouth'slogicand they usually smash youth's hearttoo. It'slikeplatonic friendships and . . . and all such things; they areall rightin theorybut they won't work in practice. I used tobelieve insuch things once. That is why I am here in the Solomonsatpresent."
Joan wasimpatient. He saw that she could not understand. Lifewas tooclearly simple to her. It was only the youth who wasarguingwith himthe youth with youth's pure-minded and invinciblereasoning. Hers was only the boy's soul in a woman's body. Helooked ather flushedeager faceat the great ropes of haircoiled onthe small headat the rounded lines of the figureshowingplainly through the home-made gownand at the eyes--boy'seyesunder coollevel brows--and he wondered why a being that wasso muchbeautiful woman should be no woman at all. Why in thedeuce wasshe not carroty-hairedor cross-eyedor hare-lipped?
"Supposewe do become partners on Berande" he saidat the sametimeexperiencing a feeling of fright at the prospect that wastangledwith a contradictory feeling of charm"either I'll fall inlove withyouor you with me. Propinquity is dangerousyou know.In factit is propinquity that usually gives the facer to thelogic ofyouth."
"Ifyou think I came to the Solomons to get married--" she beganwrathfully. "Wellthere are better men in Hawaiithat's all.Reallyyou knowthe way you harp on that one string would lead anunprejudicedlistener to conclude that you are prurient-minded--"
Shestoppedappalled. His face had gone red and white with suchabruptnessas to startle her. He was patently very angry. Shesipped thelast of her coffeeand arosesaying-
"I'llwait until you are in a better temper before taking up thediscussionagain. That is what's the matter with you. You getangry tooeasily. Will you come swimming? The tide is justright."
"Ifshe were a man I'd bundle her off the plantation root and cropwhale-boatTahitian sailorssovereignsand all" he muttered tohimselfafter she had left the room.
But thatwas the trouble. She was not a manand where would shegoandwhat would happen to her?
He got tohis feetlighted a cigaretteand her Stetson hathanging onthe wall over her revolver-beltcaught his eye. Thatwas thedevil of ittoo. He did not want her to go. After allshe hadnot grown up yet. That was why her logic hurt. It wasonly thelogic of youthbut it could hurt damnably at times. Atany ratehe would resolve upon one thing: never again would helose histemper with her. She was a child; he must remember that.He sighedheavily. But why in reasonableness had such a child beenincorporatedin such a woman's form?
And as hecontinued to stare at her hat and thinkthe hurt he hadreceivedpassed awayand he found himself cudgelling his brainsfor someway out of the muddle--for some method by which she couldremain onBerande. A chaperone! Why not? He could send toSydneyon thefirst steamer for one. He could -
Hertrilling laughter smote upon his reverieand he stepped to thescreen-doorthrough which he could see her running down the pathto thebeach. At her heels ran two of her sailorsPapehara andMahamemein scarlet lava-lavaswith naked sheath-knives gleamingin theirbelts. It was another sample of her wilfulness. Despiteentreatiesand commandsand warnings of the danger from sharksshepersisted in swimming at any and all timesand by specialpreferenceit seemed to himimmediately after eating.
He watchedher take the waterdiving cleanlylike a boyfrom theend of thelittle pier; and he watched her strike out with singleoverhandstrokeher henchmen swimming a dozen feet on either side.He did nothave much faith in their ability to beat off a hungryman-eaterthough he did believeimplicitlythat their liveswould gobravely before hers in case of an attack.
Straightout they swamtheir heads growing smaller and smaller.There wasa slightrestless heave to the seaand soon the threeheads weredisappearing behind it with greater frequency. Hestrainedhis eyes to keep them in sightand finally fetched thetelescopeon to the veranda. A squall was making over from thedirectionof Florida; but thenshe and her men laughed at squallsand thewhite choppy sea at such times. She certainly could swimhe hadlong since concluded. That came of her training in Hawaii.But sharkswere sharksand he had known of more than one goodswimmerdrowned in a tide-rip.
The squallblackened the skybeat the ocean white where he hadlast seenthe three headsand then blotted out sea and sky andeverythingwith its deluge of rain. It passed onand Berandeemerged inthe bright sunshine as the three swimmers emerged fromthe sea. Sheldon slipped inside with the telescopeand throughthescreen-door watched her run up the pathshaking down her hairas sheranto the fresh-water shower under the house.
On theveranda that afternoon he broached the proposition of achaperoneas delicately as he couldexplaining the necessity atBerandefor such a bodya housekeeper to run the boys and thestoreroomand perform divers other useful functions. When he hadfinishedhe waited anxiously for what Joan would say.
"Thenyou don't like the way I've been managing the house?" was herfirstobjection. And nextbrushing his attempted explanationsaside"One of two things would happen. Either I should cancelourpartnershipagreement and go awayleaving you to get anotherchaperoneto chaperone your chaperone; or else I'd take the old henout in thewhale-boat and drown her. Do you imagine for one momentthat Isailed my schooner down here to this raw edge of the earthin orderto put myself under a chaperone?"
"Butreally . . . er . . . you know a chaperone is a necessaryevil"he objected.
"We'vegot along very nicely so far without one. Did I have one ontheMiele? And yet I was the only woman on board. There areonlythreethings I am afraid of--bumble-beesscarlet feverandchaperones. Ugh! the cluckingevil-minded monstersfinding wrongineverythingseeing sin in the most innocent actionsandsuggestingsin--yescausing sin--by their diseased imaginings."
"Phew!"Sheldon leaned back from the table in mock fear.
"Youneedn't worry about your bread and butter" he ventured. "Ifyou failat plantingyou would be sure to succeed as a writer--novelswith a purposeyou know."
"Ididn't think there were persons in the Solomons who needed suchbooks"she retaliated. "But you are certainly one--you and yourcustodiansof virtue."
He wincedbut Joan rattled on with the platitudinous originalityof youth.
"Asif anything good were worth while when it has to be guarded andput inleg-irons and handcuffs in order to keep it good. Yourdesire fora chaperone as much as implies that I am that sort ofcreature. I prefer to be good because it is good to be goodratherthan because I can't be bad because some argus-eyed oldfrumpwon't let me have a chance to be bad."
"Butit--it is not that" he put in. "It is what otherswillthink."
"Letthem thinkthe nasty-minded wretches! It is because men likeyou areafraid of the nasty-minded that you allow their opinions torule you."
"I amafraid you are a female Shelley" he replied; "and as suchyou reallydrive me to become your partner in order to protectyou."
"Ifyou take me as a partner in order to protect me . . . I . . . Ishan't beyour partnerthat's all. You'll drive me into buyingPari-Sulayyet."
"Allthe more reason--" he attempted.
"Doyou know what I'll do?" she demanded. "I'll find someman intheSolomons who won't want to protect me."
Sheldoncould not conceal the shock her words gave him.
"Youdon't mean thatyou know" he pleaded.
"Ido; I really do. I am sick and tired of this protection dodge.Don'tforget for a moment that I am perfectly able to take care ofmyself. BesidesI have eight of the best protectors in the world--mysailors."
"Youshould have lived a thousand years ago" he laughed"or athousandyears hence. You are very primitiveand equally super-modern. The twentieth century is no place for you."
"Butthe Solomon Islands are. You were living like a savage when Icame alongand found you--eating nothing but tinned meat and sconesthat wouldhave ruined the digestion of a camel. AnywayI'veremediedthat; and since we are to be partnersit will stayremedied. You won't die of malnutritionbe sure of that."
"Ifwe enter into partnership" he announced"it must bethoroughlyunderstood that you are not allowed to run the schooner.You can godown to Sydney and buy herbut a skipper we must have--"
"Atso much additional expenseand most likely a whisky-drinkingirresponsibleand incapable man to boot. BesidesI'd have thebusinessmore at heart than any man we could hire. As forcapabilityI tell you I can sail all around the average brokencaptain orpromoted able seaman you find in the South Seas. Andyou know Iam a navigator."
"Butbeing my partner" he said coolly"makes you none the lessalady."
"Thankyou for telling me that my contemplated conduct isunladylike."
She arosetears of anger and mortification in her eyesand wentover tothe phonograph.
"Iwonder if all men are as ridiculous as you?" she said.
Heshrugged his shoulders and smiled. Discussion was useless--hehadlearned that; and he was resolved to keep his temper. Andbefore theday was out she capitulated. She was to go to Sydney onthe firststeamerpurchase the schoonerand sail back with anislandskipper on board. And then she inveigled Sheldon intoagreeingthat she could take occasional cruises in the islandsthough hewas adamant when it came to a recruiting trip on Malaita.That wasthe one thing barred.
And afterit was all overand a terse and business-like agreement(by herurging) drawn up and signedSheldon paced up and down fora fullhourmeditating upon how many different kinds of a fool hehad madeof himself. It was an impossible situationand yet nomoreimpossible than the previous oneand no more impossible thanthe onethat would have obtained had she gone off on her own andboughtPari-Sulay. He had never seen a more independent woman whostood morein need of a protector than this boy-minded girl who hadlanded onhis beach with eight picturesque savagesa long-barrelledrevolvera bag of goldand a gaudy merchandise ofimaginedromance and adventure.
He hadnever read of anything to compare with it. The fictionistsas usualwere exceeded by fact. The whole thing was toopreposterousto be true. He gnawed his moustache and smokedcigaretteafter cigarette. Satanback from a prowl around thecompoundran up to him and touched his hand with a colddampnose. Sheldon caressed the animal's earsthen threw himself intoa chairand laughed heartily. What would the Commissioner of theSolomonsthink? What would his people at home think? And in theone breathhe was glad that the partnership had been effected andsorry thatJoan Lackland had ever come to the Solomons. Then hewentinside and looked at himself in a hand-mirror. He studied thereflectionlong and thoughtfully and wonderingly.
They weredeep in a game of billiards the next morningafter theeleveno'clock breakfastwhen Viaburi entered and announced-
"Bigfella schooner close up."
Even as hespokethey heard the rumble of chain through hawse-pipeandfrom the veranda saw a big black-painted schoonerswingingto her just-caught anchor.
"It'sa Yankee" Joan cried. "See that bow! Look atthatellipticalstern! AhI thought so--" as the Stars and Stripesflutteredto the mast-head.
Noa Noahat Sheldon's directionran the Union Jack up the flag-staff.
"Nowwhat is an American vessel doing down here?" Joan asked."It'snot a yachtthough I'll wager she can sail. Look! Hername! What is it?"
"MarthaSan Francisco" Sheldon readlooking through thetelescope. "It's the first Yankee I ever heard of in the Solomons.They arecoming ashorewhoever they are. Andby Jovelook atthose menat the oars. It's an all-white crew. Now what reasonbringsthem here?"
"They'renot proper sailors" Joan commented. "I'd be ashamedof acrew ofblack-boys that pulled in such fashion. Look at thatfellow inthe bow--the one just jumping out; he'd be more at homeon acow-pony."
Theboat's-crew scattered up and down the beachranging about witheagercuriositywhile the two men who had sat in the stern-sheetsopened thegate and came up the path to the bungalow. One of thema tall andslender manwas clad in white ducks that fitted himlike asemi-military uniform. The other manin nondescriptgarmentsthat were both of the sea and shoreand that must havebeenuncomfortably hotslouched and shambled like an overgrownape. To complete the illusionhis face seemed to sprout in alldirectionswith a densebushy mass of red whiskerswhile his eyeswere smalland sharp and restless.
Sheldonwho had gone to the head of the stepsintroduced them toJoan. The bewhiskered individualwho looked like a ScotsmanhadtheTeutonic name of Von Blixand spoke with a strong Americanaccent. The tall man in the well-fitting duckswho gave theEnglishname of Tudor--John Tudor--talked purely-enunciated Englishsuch asany cultured American would talksave for the fact that itwas mostdelicately and subtly touched by a faint German accent.Joandecided that she had been helped to identify the accent by theshortGerman-looking moustache that did not conceal the mouth andits fullred lipswhich would have formed a Cupid's bow but forsomeharshness or severity of spirit that had moulded themmasculinely.
Von Blixwas rough and boorishbut Tudor was gracefully easy ineverythinghe didor lookedor said. His blue eyes sparkled andflashedhis clean-cut mobile features were an index to hisslightestshades of feeling and expression. He bubbled withenthusiasmsand his faintest smile or lightest laugh seemedspontaneousand genuine. But it was only occasionally at firstthat hespokefor Von Blix told their story and stated theirerrand.
They wereon a gold-hunting expedition. He was the leaderandTudor washis lieutenant. All hands--and there were twenty-eight--wereshareholdersin varying proportionsin the adventure.Severalwere sailorsbut the large majority were minersculledfrom allthe camps from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. It was the oldandever-untiring pursuit of goldand they had come to theSolomonsto get it. Part of themunder the leadership of Tudorwere to goup the Balesuna and penetrate the mountainous heart ofGuadalcanarwhile the Marthaunder Von Blixsailed away forMalaita toput through similar exploration.
"Andso" said Von Blix"for Mr. Tudor's expedition we musthavesomeblack-boys. Can we get them from you?"
"Ofcourse we will pay" Tudor broke in. "You have onlyto chargewhat youconsider them worth. You pay them six pounds a yeardon'tyou?"
"Inthe first place we can't spare them" Sheldon answered. "Weare shortof them on the plantation as it is."
"WE?"Tudor asked quickly. "Then you are a firm or apartnership?Iunderstood at Guvutu that you were alonethat you had lost yourpartner."
Sheldoninclined his head toward Joanand as he spoke she feltthat hehad become a trifle stiff.
"MissLackland has become interested in the plantation since then.But toreturn to the boys. We can't spare themand besidestheywould beof little use. You couldn't get them to accompany youbeyondBinuwhich is a short day's work with the boats from here.They areMalaita-menand they are afraid of being eaten. Theywoulddesert you at the first opportunity. You could get the Binumen toaccompany you another day's journeythrough the grass-landsbutat the first roll of the foothills look for them to turnback. They likewise are disinclined to being eaten."
"Isit as bad as that?" asked Von Blix.
"Theinterior of Guadalcanar has never been explored" Sheldonexplained. "The bushmen are as wild men as are to be foundanywherein the world to-day. I have never seen one. I have neverseen a manwho has seen one. They never come down to the coastthoughtheir scouting parties occasionally eat a coast native whohaswandered too far inland. Nobody knows anything about them.They don'teven use tobacco--have never learned its use. TheAustrianexpedition--scientistsyou know--got part way in beforeit was cutto pieces. The monument is up the beach there severalmiles. Only one man got back to the coast to tell the tale. Andnow youhave all I or any other man knows of the inside ofGuadalcanar."
"Butgold--have you heard of gold?" Tudor asked impatiently. "Doyou knowanything about gold?"
Sheldonsmiledwhile the two visitors hung eagerly upon his words.
"Youcan go two miles up the Balesuna and wash colours from thegravel. I've done it often. There is gold undoubtedly back in themountains."
Tudor andVon Blix looked triumphantly at each other.
"OldWheatsheaf's yarn was truethen" Tudor saidand Von Blixnodded. "And if Malaita turns out as well--"
Tudorbroke off and looked at Joan.
"Itwas the tale of this old beachcomber that brought us here" heexplained. "Von Blix befriended him and was told the secret." Heturned andaddressed Sheldon. "I think we shall prove that whitemen havebeen through the heart of Guadalcanar long before the timeof theAustrian expedition."
Sheldonshrugged his shoulders.
"Wehave never heard of it down here" he said simply. Then headdressedVon Blix. "As to the boysyou couldn't use them fartherthan Binuand I'll lend you as many as you want as far as that.How manyof your party are goingand how soon will you start?"
"Ten"said Tudor; "nine men and myself."
"Andyou should be able to start day after to-morrow" Von Blixsaid tohim. "The boats should practically be knocked togetherthisafternoon. To-morrow should see the outfit portioned andpacked. As for the MarthaMr. Sheldonwe'll rush the stuffashorethis afternoon and sail by sundown."
As the twomen returned down the path to their boatSheldonregardedJoan quizzically.
"There'sromance for you" he said"and adventure--gold-huntingamong thecannibals."
"Atitle for a book" she cried. "Orbetter yet'Gold-HuntingAmong theHead-Hunters.' My! wouldn't it sell!"
"Andnow aren't you sorry you became a cocoanut planter?" heteased. "Think of investing in such an adventure."
"If Idid" she retorted"Von Blix wouldn't be finicky about myjoining inthe cruise to Malaita."
"Idon't doubt but what he would jump at it."
"Whatdo you think of them?" she asked.
"Ohold Von Blix is all righta solid sort of chap in hisfashion;but Tudor is fly-away--too much on the surfaceyou know.If it cameto being wrecked on a desert islandI'd prefer VonBlix."
"Idon't quite understand" Joan objected. "What haveyou againstTudor?"
"Youremember Browning's 'Last Duchess'?"
"WellTudor reminds me of her--"
"Butshe was delightful."
"Soshe was. But she was a woman. One expects somethingdifferentfrom aman--more controlyou knowmore restraintmoredeliberation. A man must be more solidmore solid and steady-going andless effervescent. A man of Tudor's type gets on mynerves. One demands more repose from a man."
Joan feltthat she did not quite agree with his judgment; andsomehowSheldon caught her feeling and was disturbed. Herememberednoting how her eyes had brightened as she talked withthenewcomer--confound it allwas he getting jealous? he askedhimself. Why shouldn't her eyes brighten? What concern was it ofhis?
A secondboat had been loweredand the outfit of the shore partywas landedrapidly. A dozen of the crew put the knocked-down boatstogetheron the beach. There were five of these craft--lean andnarrowwith flaring sidesand remarkably long. Each was equippedwith threepaddles and several iron-shod poles.
"Youchaps certainly seem to know river-work" Sheldon told one ofthecarpenters.
The manspat a mouthful of tobacco-juice into the white sandandanswered-
"Weuse 'em in Alaska. They're modelled after the Yukon poling-boatsandyou can bet your life they're crackerjacks. Thiscreek'llbe a snap alongside some of them Northern streams. Fivehundredpounds in one of them boatsan' two men can snake it alongin a waythat'd surprise you."
At sunsetthe Martha broke out her anchor and got under waydippingher flag and saluting with a bomb gun. The Union Jack ranup anddown the staffand Sheldon replied with his brass signal-cannon. The miners pitched their tents in the compoundand cookedon thebeachwhile Tudor dined with Joan and Sheldon.
Theirguest seemed to have been everywhere and seen everything andmeteverybodyandencouraged by Joanhis talk was largely uponhis ownadventures. He was an adventurer of adventurersand byhis ownaccount had been born into adventure. Descended from oldNewEngland stockhis father a consul-generalhe had been born inGermanyin which country he had received his early education andhisaccent. Thenstill a boyhe had rejoined his father inTurkeyand accompanied him later to Persiahis father having beenappointedMinister to that country.
Tudor hadalways been a wandererand with facile wit and quickvividdescription he leaped from episode and place to episode andplacerelating his experiences seemingly not because they werehisbutfor the sake of their bizarreness and uniquenessfor theunusualincident or the laughable situation. He had gone throughSouthAmerican revolutionsbeen a Rough Rider in Cubaa scout inSouthAfricaa war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese war. Hehad musheddogs in the Klondikewashed gold from the sands ofNomeandedited a newspaper in San Francisco. The President ofthe UnitedStates was his friend. He was equally at home in theclubs ofLondon and the Continentthe Grand Hotel at Yokohamaandtheselector's shanties in the Never-Never country. He had shotbig gamein Siampearled in the Paumotusvisited TolstoyseenthePassion Playand crossed the Andes on mule-back; while he wasa livingdirectory of the fever holes of West Africa.
Sheldonleaned back in his chair on the verandasipping his coffeeandlistening. In spite of himself he felt touched by the charm ofthe manwho had led so varied a life. And yet Sheldon was notcomfortable. It seemed to him that the man addressed himselfparticularlyto Joan. His words and smiles were directedimpartiallytoward both of themyet Sheldon was certainhad thetwo men ofthem been alonethat the conversation would have beenalongdifferent lines. Tudor had seen the effect on Joan anddeliberatelycontinued the flow of reminiscencenetting her in theglamour ofromance. Sheldon watched her rapt attentionlistenedto herspontaneous laughterquick questionsand passingjudgmentsand felt grow within him the dawning consciousness thathe lovedher.
So he wasvery quiet and almost sadthough at times he was awareof adistinct irritation against his guestand he even speculatedas to whatpercentage of Tudor's tale was true and how any of itcould beproved or disproved. In this connectionas if the scenehad beenprepared by a clever playwrightUtami came upon theveranda toreport to Joan the capture of a crocodile in the trapthey hadmade for her.
Tudor'sfaceilluminated by the match with which he was lightinghiscigarettecaught Utami's eyeand Utami forgot to report tohismistress.
"HelloTudor" he saidwith a familiarity that startled Sheldon.
ThePolynesian's hand went outand Tudorshaking itwas staringinto hisface.
"Whois it? " he asked. "I can't see you."
"Andwho the dickens is Utami? Where did I ever meet youmy man?"
"Youno forget the Huahine?" Utami chided. "Last timeHuahinesail?"
Tudorgripped the Tahitian's hand a second time and shook it withgenuineheartiness.
"Therewas only one kanaka who came out of the Huahine that lastvoyageand that kanaka was Joe. The deuce take itmanI'm gladto seeyouthough I never heard your new name before."
"Yeseverybody speak me Joe along the Huahine. Utami my name allthe timejust the same."
"Butwhat are you doing here?" Tudor askedreleasing the sailor'shand andleaning eagerly forward.
"Mesail along Missie Lackalanna her schooner Miele. We go TahitiRaiateaTahaaBora-BoraManuaTutuilaApiaSavaiiand FijiIslands--plentyFiji Islands. Me stop along Missie Lackalanna inSolomons. Very soon she catch other schooner."
"Heand I were the two survivors of the wreck of the Huahine"Tudorexplained to the others. "Fifty-seven all told on boardwhenwe sailedfrom Huapaand Joe and I were the only two that ever setfoot onland again. Hurricaneyou knowin the Paumotus. Thatwas when Iwas after pearls."
"Andyou never told meUtamithat you'd been wrecked in ahurricane"Joan said reproachfully.
The bigTahitian shifted his weight and flashed his teeth in aconciliatingsmile.
"Meno t'ink nothing 't all" he said.
Hehalf-turnedas if to departby his manner indicating that heconsideredit time to go while yet he desired to remain.
"AllrightUtami" Tudor said. "I'll see you in themorning andhave ayarn."
"Hesaved my lifethe beggar" Tudor explainedas the Tahitianstrodeaway and with heavy softness of foot went down the steps."Swim! I never met a better swimmer."
Andthereatsolicited by JoanTudor narrated the wreck of theHuahine;while Sheldon smoked and ponderedand decided thatwhateverthe man's shortcomings werehe was at least not a liar.
CHAPTERXV--A DISCOURSE ON MANNERS
The dayspassedand Tudor seemed loath to leave the hospitality ofBerande. Everything was ready for the startbut he lingered onspendingmuch time in Joan's company and thereby increasing thedislikeSheldon had taken to him. He went swimming with herinpoint ofrashness exceeding her; and dynamited fish with herdivingamong the hungry ground-sharks and contesting with them forpossessionof the stunned preyuntil he earned the approval of thewholeTahitian crew. Arahu challenged him to tear a fish from ashark'sjawsleaving half to the shark and bringing the other halfhimself tothe surface; and Tudor performed the feata flip fromthesandpaper hide of the astonished shark scraping several inchesof skinfrom his shoulder. And Joan was delightedwhile Sheldonlookingonrealized that here was the hero of her adventure-dreamscomingtrue. She did not care for lovebut he felt that if evershe didlove it would be that sort of a man--"a man who exhibited"was hisway of putting it.
He felthimself handicapped in the presence of Tudorwho had thegift ofmaking a show of all his qualities. Sheldon knew himselffor abrave manwherefore he made no advertisement of the fact.He knewthat just as readily as the other would he dive amongground-sharksto save a lifebut in that fact he could find nosanctionfor the foolhardy act of diving among sharks for the halfof afish. The difference between them was that he kept thecurtain ofhis shop window down. Life pulsed steadily and deep inhimandit was not his nature needlessly to agitate the surface sothat theworld could see the splash he was making. And the effectof theother's amazing exhibitions was to make him retreat moredeeplywithin himself and wrap himself more thickly than ever inthenervelessstoical calm of his race.
"Youare so stupid the last few days" Joan complained to him."Onewould think you were sickor biliousor something. Youdon't seemto have an idea in your head above black labour andcocoanuts. What is the matter?"
Sheldonsmiled and beat a further retreat within himselflisteningthe whileto Joan and Tudor propounding the theory of the strongarm bywhich the white man ordered life among the lesser breeds.As helistened Sheldon realizedas by revelationthat that waspreciselywhat he was doing. While they philosophized about it hewas livingitplacing the strong hand of his race firmly on theshouldersof the lesser breeds that laboured on Berande or menacedit fromafar. But why talk about it? he asked himself. It wassufficientto do it and be done with it.
He said asmuchdryly and quietlyand found himself involved in adiscussionwith Joan and Tudor siding against himin which a moreastoundingcharge than ever he had dreamed of was made against theveryEnglish control and reserve of which he was secretly proud.
"TheYankees talk a lot about what they do and have done" Tudorsaid"andare looked down upon by the English as braggarts. Butthe Yankeeis only a child. He does not know effectually how tobrag. He talks about ityou see. But the Englishman goes him onebetter bynot talking about it. The Englishman's proverbial lackofbragging is a subtler form of brag after all. It is reallycleverasyou will agree."
"Inever thought of it before" Joan cried. "Of course. AnEnglishmanperforms some terrifically heroic exploitand is verymodest andreserved--refuses to talk about it at all--and theeffect isthat by his silence he as much as says'I do things likethis everyday. It is as easy as rolling off a log. You ought tosee thereally heroic things I could do if they ever came my way.But thislittle thingthis little episode--reallydon't you knowI fail tosee anything in it remarkable or unusual.' As for meifI went upin a powder explosionor saved a hundred livesI'd wantall myfriends to hear about itand their friends as well. I'd beprouderthan Lucifer over the affair. ConfessMr. Sheldondon'tyou feelproud down inside when you've done something daring orcourageous?"
"Then"she pressed home the point"isn't disguising that prideunder amask of careless indifference equivalent to telling a lie?"
"Yesit is" he admitted. "But we tell similar lies everyday.It is amatter of trainingand the English are better trainedthat isall. Your countrymen will be trained as well in time. AsMr. Tudorsaidthe Yankees are young."
"Thankgoodness we haven't begun to tell such lies yet!" was Joan'sejaculation.
"Ohbut you have" Sheldon said quickly. "You weretelling me alie ofthat order only the other day. You remember when you weregoing upthe lantern-halyards hand over hand? Your face was thepersonificationof duplicity."
"Itwas no such thing."
"Pardonme a moment" he went on. "Your face was as calm andpeacefulas though you were reclining in a steamer-chair. To lookat yourface one would have inferred that carrying the weight ofyour bodyup a rope hand over hand was a very commonplaceaccomplishment--aseasy as rolling off a log. And you needn't tellmeMissLacklandthat you didn't make faces the first time youtried toclimb a rope. Butlike any circus athleteyou trainedyourselfout of the face-making period. You trained your face tohide yourfeelingsto hide the exhausting effort your muscles weremaking. It wasto quote Mr. Tudora subtler exhibition ofphysicalprowess. And that is all our English reserve is--a merematter oftraining. Certainly we are proud inside of the things wedo andhave doneproud as Lucifer--yesand prouder. But we havegrown upand no longer talk about such things."
"Isurrender" Joan cried. "You are not so stupid afterall."
"Yesyou have us there" Tudor admitted. "But you wouldn'thavehad us ifyou hadn't broken your training rules."
"Howdo you mean?"
"Bytalking about it."
Joanclapped her hands in approval. Tudor lighted a freshcigarettewhile Sheldon sat onimperturbably silent.
"Hegot you there" Joan challenged. "Why don't you crushhim?"
"ReallyI can't think of anything to say" Sheldon said. "Iknowmyposition is soundand that is satisfactory enough."
"Youmight retort" she suggested"that when an adult is withkindergartenchildren he must descend to kindergarten idioms inorder tomake himself intelligible. That was why you broketrainingrules. It was the only way to make us childrenunderstand."
"You'vedeserted in the heat of the battleMiss Lacklandand goneover tothe enemy" Tudor said plaintively.
But shewas not listening. Insteadshe was looking intentlyacross thecompound and out to sea. They followed her gazeandsaw agreen light and the loom of a vessel's sails.
"Iwonder if it's the Martha come back" Tudor hazarded.
"Nothe sidelight is too low" Joan answered. "Besidesthey'vegot thesweeps out. Don't you hear them? They wouldn't besweeping abig vessel like the Martha."
"Besidesthe Martha has a gasoline engine--twenty-five horse-power"Tudor added.
"Justthe sort of a craft for us" Joan said wistfully to Sheldon."Ireally must see if I can't get a schooner with an engine. Imight geta second-hand engine put in."
"Thatwould mean the additional expense of an engineer's wages" heobjected.
"Butit would pay for itself by quicker passages" she argued; "andit wouldbe as good as insurance. I know. I've knocked aboutamongstreefs myself. Besidesif you weren't so mediaevalIcould beskipper and save more than the engineer's wages."
He did notreply to her thrustand she glanced at him. He waslookingout over the waterand in the lantern light she noted thelines ofhis face--strongsterndoggedthe mouth almost chastebut firmerand thinner-lipped than Tudor's. For the first time sherealizedthe quality of his strengththe calm and quiet of ititssimpleintegrity and reposeful determination. She glanced quicklyat Tudoron the other side of her. It was a handsomer faceonethat wasmore immediately pleasing. But she did not like themouth. It was made for kissingand she abhorred kisses. This wasnot adeliberately achieved concept; it came to her in the form ofa faintand vaguely intangible repulsion. For the moment she knewa fleetingdoubt of the man. Perhaps Sheldon was right in hisjudgmentof the other. She did not knowand it concerned herlittle;for boatsand the seaand the things and happenings ofthe seawere of far more vital interest to her than menand thenextmoment she was staring through the warm tropic darkness at theloom ofthe sails and the steady green of the moving sidelightandlisteningeagerly to the click of the sweeps in the rowlocks. Inher mind'seye she could see the straining naked forms of black menbendingrhythmically to the workand somewhere on that strangedeck sheknew was the inevitable master-manconning the vessel into itsanchoragepeering at the dim tree-line of the shorejudgingthe deceitful night-distancesfeeling on his cheek thefirst fansof the land breeze that was even then beginning to blowweighingthinkingmeasuringgauging the score or more of ever-shiftingforcesthrough whichby whichand in spite of which hedirectedthe steady equilibrium of his course. She knew it becauseshe loveditand she was alive to it as only a sailor could be.
Twice sheheard the splash of the leadand listened intently forthe crythat followed. Once a man's voice spokelowimperativeissuing anorderand she thrilled with the delight of it. It wasonly adirection to the man at the wheel to port his helm. Shewatchedthe slight altering of the courseand knew that it was forthepurpose of enabling the flat-hauled sails to catch those firstfans ofthe land breezeand she waited for the same low voice toutter theone word "Steady!" And again she thrilled when it didutter it. Once more the lead splashedand "Eleven fadom" was theresultingcry. "Let go!" the low voice came to her through thedarknessfollowed by the surging rumble of the anchor-chain. Theclickingof the sheaves in the blocks as the sails ran downhead-sailsfirstwas music to her; and she detected on the instant thejamming ofa jib-downhauland almost saw the impatient jerk withwhich thesailor must have cleared it. Nor did she take interestin the twomen beside her till both lightsred and greencameinto viewas the anchor checked the onward way.
Sheldonwas wondering as to the identity of the craftwhile Tudorpersistedin believing it might be the Martha.
"It'sthe Minerva" Joan said decidedly.
"Howdo you know?" Sheldon askedsceptical of her certitude.
"It'sa ketch to begin with. And besidesI could tell anywherethe rattleof her main peak-blocks--they're too large for thehalyard."
A darkfigure crossed the compound diagonally from the beach gatewherewhoever it was had been watching the vessel.
"Isthat youUtami?" Joan called.
"NoMissie; me Matapuu" was the answer.
"Whatvessel is it?"
Joanlooked triumphantly at Sheldonwho bowed.
"IfMatapuu says so it must be so" he murmured.
"Butwhen Joan Lackland says soyou doubt" she cried"just asyou doubther ability as a skipper. But never mindyou'll besorry someday for all your unkindness. There's the boat loweringnowandin five minutes we'll be shaking hands with ChristianYoung."
Lalaperubrought out the glasses and cigarettes and the eternalwhisky andsodaand before the five minutes were past the gateclickedand Christian Youngtawny and goldengentle of voice andlook andhandcame up the bungalow steps and joined them.
CHAPTERXVI--THE GIRL WHO HAD NOT GROWN UP
NewsasusualChristian Young brought--news of the drinking atGuvutuwhere the men boasted that they drank between drinks; newsof the newrifles adrift on Ysabelof the latest murders onMalaitaof Tom Butler's sickness on Santa Ana; and last and mostimportantnews that the Matambo had gone on a reef in theShortlandsand would be laid off one run for repairs.
"Thatmeans five weeks more before you can sail for Sydney"Sheldonsaid to Joan.
"Andthat we are losing precious time" she added ruefully.
"Ifyou want to go to Sydneythe Upolu sails from Tulagi to-morrowafternoon"Young said.
"ButI thought she was running recruits for the Germans in Samoa"sheobjected. "At any rateI could catch her to Samoaandchangeat Apia toone of the Weir Line freighters. It's a long wayaroundbut still it would save time."
"Thistime the Upolu is going straight to Sydney" Young explained."She'sgoing to dry-dockyou see; and you can catch her as late asfiveto-morrow afternoon--at leastso her first officer told me."
"ButI've got to go to Guvutu first." Joan looked at the menwithawhimsical expression. "I've some shopping to do. Ican't weartheseBerande curtains into Sydney. I must buy cloth at Guvutu andmakemyself a dress during the voyage down. I'll startimmediately--inan hour. Lalaperuyou bring 'm one fella AdamuAdam alongme. Tell 'm that fella Ornfiri make 'm kai-kai takealongwhale-boat." She rose to her feetlooking at Sheldon. "Andyoupleasehave the boys carry down the whale-boat--my boatyouknow. I'll be off in an hour."
BothSheldon and Tudor looked at their watches.
"It'san all-night row" Sheldon said. "You might wait tillmorning--"
"Andmiss my shopping? Nothank you. Besidesthe Upolu isnot aregularpassenger steamerand she is just as liable to sail aheadof time ason time. And from what I hear about those Guvutusybaritesthe best time to shop will be in the morning. And nowyou'llhave to excuse mefor I've got to pack."
"I'llgo over with you" Sheldon announced.
"Letme run you over in the Minerva" said Young.
She shookher head laughingly.
"I'mgoing in the whale-boat. One would thinkfrom all yoursolicitudethat I'd never been away from home before. YouMr.Sheldonas my partnerI cannot permit to desert Berande and yourwork outof a mistaken notion of courtesy. If you won't permit meto beskipperI won't permit your galivanting over the sea asprotectorof young women who don't need protection. And as foryouCaptain Youngyou know very well that you just left Guvututhismorningthat you are bound for Marauand that you saidyourselfthat in two hours you are getting under way again."
"Butmay I not see you safely across?" Tudor askeda pleading notein hisvoice that rasped on Sheldon's nerves.
"Nonoand again no" she cried. "You've all got yourwork todoand sohave I. I came to the Solomons to worknot to beescortedabout like a doll. For that matterhere's my escortandthere areseven more like him."
Adamu Adamstood beside hertowering above heras he toweredabove thethree white men. The clinging cotton undershirt he worecould nothide the bulge of his tremendous muscles.
"Lookat his fist" said Tudor. "I'd hate to receive apunch fromit."
"Idon't blame you." Joan laughed reminiscently. "Isaw him hitthecaptain of a Swedish bark on the beach at Levukain the Fijis.It was thecaptain's fault. I saw it all myselfand it wassplendid. Adamu only hit him onceand he broke the man's arm.YourememberAdamu?"
The bigTahitian smiled and noddedhis black eyessoft and deer-likeseeming to give the lie to so belligerent a nature.
"Westart in an hour in the whale-boat for Guvutubig brother"Joan saidto him. "Tell your brothersall of themso that theycan getready. We catch the Upolu for Sydney. You will all comealongandsail back to the Solomons in the new schooner. Takeyour extrashirts and dungarees along. Plenty cold weather downthere. Now run alongand tell them to hurry. Leave the gunsbehind. Turn them over to Mr. Sheldon. We won't need them."
"Ifyou are really bent upon going--" Sheldon began.
"That'ssettled long ago" she answered shortly. "I'm goingtopack now. But I'll tell you what you can do for me--issue sometobaccoand other stuff they want to my men."
An hourlater the three men had shaken hands with Joan down on thebeach. She gave the signaland the boat shoved offsix men atthe oarsthe seventh man for'ardand Adamu Adam at the steering-sweep. Joan was standing up in the stern-sheetsreiterating hergood-byes--aslim figure of a woman in the tight-fitting jacket shehad wornashore from the wreckthe long-barrelled Colt's revolverhangingfrom the loose belt around her waisther clear-cut facelike aboy's under the Stetson hat that failed to conceal the heavymasses ofhair beneath.
"You'dbetter get into shelter" she called to them. "There'sabig squallcoming. And I hope you've got plenty of chain outCaptainYoung. Good-bye! Good-byeeverybody!"
Her lastwords came out of the darknesswhich wrapped itselfsolidlyabout the boat. Yet they continued to stare into theblacknessin the direction in which the boat had disappearedlisteningto the steady click of the oars in the rowlocks until itfaded awayand ceased.
"Sheis only a girl" Christian Young said with slow solemnity.Thediscovery seemed to have been made on the spur of the moment."Sheis only a girl" he repeated with greater solemnity.
"Adashed pretty oneand a good traveller" Tudor laughed. "Shecertainlyhas spunkehSheldon?"
"Yesshe is brave" was the reluctant answer for Sheldon did notfeeldisposed to talk about her.
"That'sthe American of it" Tudor went on. "Pushand goandenergyand independence. What do you thinkskipper?"
"Ithink she is youngvery youngonly a girl" replied thecaptain ofthe Minervacontinuing to stare into the blackness thathid thesea.
Theblackness seemed suddenly to increase in densityand theystumbledup the beachfeeling their way to the gate.
"Watchout for nuts" Sheldon warnedas the first blast of thesquallshrieked through the palms. They joined hands and staggeredup thepathwith the ripe cocoanuts thudding in a monstrous rainall aroundthem. They gained the verandawhere they sat insilenceover their whiskyeach man staring straight out to seawhere thewildly swinging riding-light of the Minerva could be seenin thelulls of the driving rain.
Somewhereout thereSheldon reflectedwas Joan Lacklandthe girlwho hadnot grown upthe woman good to look uponwith only aboy's mindand a boy's desiresleaving Berande amid storm andconflictin much the same manner that she had first arrivedin thestern-sheetsof her whale-boatAdamu Adam steeringher savagecrewbending to the oars. And she was taking her Stetson hat withheralongwith the cartridge-belt and the long-barrelled revolver.Hesuddenly discovered an immense affection for those fripperies ofhers atwhich he had secretly laughed when first he saw them. Hebecameaware of the sentimental direction in which his fancy wasleadinghimand felt inclined to laugh. But he did not laugh.The nextmoment he was busy visioning the hatand beltandrevolver. Undoubtedly this was lovehe thoughtand he felt atiny glowof pride in him in that the Solomons had not succeeded inkillingall his sentiment.
An hourlaterChristian Young stood upknocked out his pipeandpreparedto go aboard and get under way.
"She'sall right" he saidapropos of nothing spokenand yetdistinctlyrelevant to what was in each of their minds. "She's gota goodboat's-crewand she's a sailor herself. Good-nightMr.Sheldon. Anything I can do for you down Marau-way?" He turned andpointed toa widening space of starry sky. "It's going to be afine nightafter all. With this favouring bit of breeze she hassail onalreadyand she'll make Guvutu by daylight. Good-night."
"Iguess I'll turn inold man" Tudor saidrising and placing hisglass onthe table. "I'll start the first thing in the morning.It's beendisgraceful the way I've been hanging on here. Good-night."
Sheldonsitting on alonewondered if the other man would havedecided topull out in the morning had Joan not sailed away. Wellthere wasone bit of consolation in it: Joan had certainlylingeredat Berande for no mannot even Tudor. "I start in anhour"--herwords rang in his brainand under his eyelids he couldsee her asshe stood up and uttered them. He smiled. The instantshe heardthe news she had made up her mind to go. It was not veryflatteringto manbut what could any man count in her eyes when aschoonerwaiting to be bought in Sydney was in the wind? What acreature! What a creature!
Berandewas a lonely place to Sheldon in the days that followed.In themorning after Joan's departurehe had seen Tudor'sexpeditionoff on its way up the Balesuna; in the late afternoonthroughhis telescopehe had seen the smoke of the Upolu that wasbearingJoan away to Sydney; and in the evening he sat down todinner insolitary statedevoting more of his time to looking ather emptychair than to his food. He never came out on the verandawithoutglancing first of all at her grass house in the corner ofthecompound; and one eveningidly knocking the balls about on thebilliardtablehe came to himself to find himself standing staringat thenail upon which from the first she had hung her Stetson hatand herrevolver-belt.
Why shouldhe care for her? he demanded of himself angrily. Shewascertainly the last woman in the world he would have thought ofchoosingfor himself. Never had he encountered one who had sothoroughlyirritated himrasped his feelingssmashed hisconventionsand violated nearly every attribute of what had beenhis idealof woman. Had he been too long away from the world? Hadheforgotten what the race of women was like? Was it merely a caseofpropinquity? And she wasn't really a woman. She was amasquerader. Under all her seeming of womanshe was a boyplaying aboy's pranksdiving for fish amongst sharkssporting arevolverlonging for adventureandwhat was moregoing out insearch ofit in her whale-boatalong with her savage islanders andher bag ofsovereigns. But he loved her--that was the point of itallandhe did not try to evade it. He was not sorry that it wasso. He loved her--that was the overwhelmingastounding fact.
Once againhe discovered a big enthusiasm for Berande. All thebubble-illusionsconcerning the life of the tropical planter hadbeenpricked by the stern facts of the Solomons. Following thedeath ofHughiehe had resolved to muddle along somehow with theplantation;but this resolve had not been based upon desire.Insteadit was based upon the inherent stubbornness of his natureand hisdislike to give over an attempted task.
But now itwas different. Berande meant everything. It mustsucceed--notmerely because Joan was a partner in itbut becausehe wantedto make that partnership permanently binding. Three moreyears andthe plantation would be a splendid-paying investment.They couldthen take yearly trips to Australiaand oftener; and anoccasionalrun home to England--or Hawaiiwould come as a matterof course.
He spenthis evenings poring over accountsor making endlesscalculationsbased on cheaper freights for copra and on thepossiblemaximum and minimum market prices for that staple ofcommerce. His days were spent out on the plantation. He undertookmoreclearing of bush; and clearing and planting went onunder hispersonalsupervisionat a faster pace than ever before. Heexperimentedwith premiums for extra work performed by the blackboysandyearned continually for more of them to put to work. Notuntil Joancould return on the schooner would this be possiblefortheprofessional recruiters were all under long contracts to theFulcrumBrothersMorgan and Raffand the FiresPhilp Company;while theFlibberty-Gibbet was wholly occupied in running aboutamong hiswidely scattered trading stationswhich extended fromthe coastof New Georgia in one direction to Ulava and Sikiana intheother. Blacks he must haveandif Joan were fortunate ingetting aschoonerthree months at least must elapse before thefirstrecruits could be landed on Berande.
A weekafter the Upolu's departurethe Malakula dropped anchor andherskipper came ashore for a game of billiards and to gossip untilthe landbreeze sprang up. Besidesas he told his super-cargohesimply hadto come ashorenot merely to deliver the large packageof seedswith full instructions for planting from Joanbut toshockSheldon with the little surprise born of information he wasbringingwith him.
CaptainAuckland played the billiards firstand it was not untilhe wascomfortably seated in a steamer-chairhis second whiskysecurelyin his handthat he let off his bomb.
"Agreat piecethat Miss Lackland of yours" he chuckled. "Claimsto be apart-owner of Berande. Says she's your partner. Is thatstraight?"
"Youdon't say? That is a surprise! Wellshe hasn't convincedGuvutu orTulagi of it. They're pretty used to irregular thingsovertherebut--ha! ha!- " he stopped to have his laugh out and tomop hisbald head with a trade handkerchief. "But that partnershipyarn ofhers was too big to swallowthough it gave them the excusefor a fewmore drinks."
"Thereis nothing irregular about it. It is an ordinary businesstransaction." Sheldon strove to act as though such transactionswere quitethe commonplace thing on plantations in the Solomons."Sheinvested something like fifteen hundred pounds in Berande--"
"Andshe has gone to Sydney on business for the plantation."
"Ibeg pardon?" Sheldon queried.
"Isaid she hasn'tthat's all."
"Butdidn't the Upolu sail? I could have sworn I saw her smokelastTuesday afternoonlateas she passed Savo."
"TheUpolu sailed all right." Captain Auckland sipped hiswhiskywithprovoking slowness. "Only Miss Lackland wasn't apassenger."
"Thenwhere is she?"
"AtGuvutulast I saw of her. She was going to Sydney to buy aschoonerwasn't she?"
"That'swhat she said. Wellshe's bought onethough I wouldn'tgive herten shillings for it if a nor'wester blows upand it'sabout timewe had one. This has been too long a spell of goodweather tolast."
"Ifyou came here to excite my curiosityold man" Sheldon said"you'vecertainly succeeded. Now go ahead and tell me in astraightforwardway what has happened. What schooner? Where isit? How did she happen to buy it?"
"Firstthe schooner Martha" the skipper answeredchecking hisrepliesoff on his fingers. "Secondthe Martha is on the outsidereef atPoonga-Poongalooted clean of everything portableandready togo to pieces with the first bit of lively sea. And thirdMissLackland bought her at auction. She was knocked down to herforfifty-five quid by the third-assistant-resident-commissioner.I ought toknow. I bid fifty myselffor Morgan and Raff. Mywordweren't they hot! I told them to go to the deviland thatit wastheir fault for limiting me to fifty quid when they thoughtthe chanceto salve the Martha was worth more. You seetheyweren'texpecting competition. Fulcrum Brothers had norepresentativepresentneither had FiresPhilp Companyand theonly manto be afraid of was Nielsen's agentSquiresand him theygot drunkand sound asleep over in Guvutu.
"'Twenty'says Ifor my bid. 'Twenty-five' says the littlegirl. 'Thirty' says I. 'Forty' says she. 'Fifty' says I.'Fifty-five'says she. And there I was stuck. 'Hold on' says I;'wait tillI see my owners.' 'Noyou don't' says she. 'It'scustomary'says I. 'Not anywhere in the world' says she. 'Thenit'scourtesy in the Solomons' says I.
"Andd'ye knowon my faith I think Burnett'd have done itonlyshe pipesupsweet and pert as you please: 'Mr. Auctioneerwillyou kindlyproceed with the sale in the customary manner? I'veotherbusiness to attend toand I can't afford to wait all nighton men whodon't know their own minds.' And then she smiles atBurnettas well--you knowone of those fetching smilesand dammeif Burnettdoesn't begin singing out: 'Goin'goin'goin'--lastbid--goin'goin' for fifty-five sovereigns--goin'goin'gone--toyouMiss--er--what nameplease?'
"'JoanLackland' says shewith a smile to me; and that's how shebought theMartha."
Sheldonexperienced a sudden thrill. The Martha!--a finer schoonerthan theMalakulaandfor that matterthe finest in theSolomons. She was just the thing for recruitsand she was righton thespot. Then he realized that for such a craft to sell atauctionfor fifty-five pounds meant that there was small chance forsavingher.
"Buthow did it happen?" he asked. "Weren't they ratherquick insellingthe Martha?"
"Hadto. You know the reef at Poonga-Poonga. She's not worthtuppenceon it if any kind of a sea kicks upand it's ripe for anor'westerany moment now. The crowd abandoned her completely.Didn'teven dream of auctioning her. Morgan and Raff persuadedthem toput her up. They're a co-operative crowdyou knowanorganizedbusiness corporationfore and aftall hands and thecook. They held a meeting and voted to sell."
"Butwhy didn't they stand by and try to save her?"
"Standby! You know Malaita. And you know Poonga-Poonga. That'swhere theycut off the Scottish Chiefs and killed all hands. Therewasnothing to do but take to the boats. The Martha missed staysgoing inand inside five minutes she was on the reef and inpossession. The niggers swarmed over herand they just threw thecrew intothe boats. I talked with some of the men. They swearthere weretwo hundred war canoes around her inside half an hourand fivethousand bushmen on the beach. Said you couldn't seeMalaitafor the smoke of the signal fires. Anywaythey clearedout forTulagi."
"Butwhy didn't they fight?" Sheldon asked.
"Itwas funny they didn'tbut they got separated. You seetwo-thirds ofthem were in the boatswithout weaponsrunning anchorsand neverdreaming the natives would attack. They found out theirmistaketoo late. The natives had charge. That's the trouble ofnew chumson the coast. It would never have happened with you orme or anyold-timer."
"Butwhat is Miss Lackland intending to do?" Captain Aucklandgrinned.
"She'sgoing to try to get the Martha offI should say. Or elsewhy didshe pay fifty-five quid for her? And if she failsshe'lltry to gether money back by saving the gear--sparsyou knowandpatentsteering-gearand winchesand such things. At leastthat'swhat I'd do if I was in her place. When I sailedthelittlegirl had chartered the Emily--'I'm going recruiting' saysMunster--he'sthe skipper and owner now. 'And how much will younet on thecruise?' asks she. 'Ohfifty quid' says he. 'Good'says she;'you bring your Emily along with me and you'll getseventy-five.' You know that big ship's anchor and chain piled upbehind thecoal-sheds? She was just buying that when I left.She'scertainly a hustlerthat little girl of yours."
"Sheis my partner" Sheldon corrected.
"Wellshe's a good onethat's alland a cool one. My word! awhitewoman on Malaitaand at Poonga-Poonga of all places! OhIforgot totell you--she palavered Burnett into lending her eightrifles forher menand three cases of dynamite. You'd laugh tosee theway she makes that Guvutu gang stand around. And to seethem beingpolite and trying to give advice! LordLordmanthatlittlegirl's a wondera marvela--a--a catastrophe. That's whatshe isacatastrophe. She's gone through Guvutu and Tulagi like ahurricane;every last swine of them in love with her--except Raff.He's soreover the auctionand he sprang his recruiting contractwithMunster on her. And what does she do but thank himand readit overand point out that while Munster was pledged to deliverallrecruits to Morgan and Raffthere was no clause in thedocumentforbidding him from chartering the Emily.
"'There'syour contract' says shepassing it back. 'And a verygoodcontract it is. The next time you draw one upinsert aclausethat will fit emergencies like the present one.' AndLordLordshehad himtoo.
"Butthere's the breezeand I'm off. Good-byeold man. Hopethelittlegirl succeeds. The Martha's a whacking fine boatand she'dtake theplace of the Jessie."
CHAPTERXVII--"YOUR" MISS LACKLAND
The nextmorning Sheldon came in from the plantation to breakfastto findthe mission ketchApostleat anchorher crew swimmingtwo maresand a filly ashore. Sheldon recognized the animals asbelongingto the Resident Commissionerand he immediately wonderedif Joanhad bought them. She was certainly living up to her threatofrattling the dry bones of the Solomonsand he was prepared foranything.
"MissLackland sent them" said Welshmerethe missionary doctorsteppingashore and shaking hands with him. "There's also a box ofsaddles onboard. And this letter from her. And the skipper oftheFlibberty-Gibbet."
The nextmomentand before he could greet himOleson stepped fromthe boatand began.
"She'sstolen the FlibbertyMr. Sheldon. Run clean away with her.She's awild one. She gave me the fever. Brought it on by shock.And got medrunkas well--rotten drunk."
Dr.Welshmere laughed heartily.
"Neverthelessshe is not an unmitigated evilyour Miss Lackland.She'ssworn three men off their drinkorto the same purposeshut offtheir whisky. You know them--BrahmsCurtisand Fowler.Sheshipped them on the Flibberty-Gibbet along with her."
"She'sthe skipper of the Flibberty now" Oleson broke in. "Andshe'llwreck her as sure as God didn't make the Solomons."
Dr.Welshmere tried to look shockedbut laughed again.
"Shehas quite a way with her" he said. "I tried to backout ofbringingthe horses over. Said I couldn't charge freightthat theApostlewas under a yacht licensethat I was going around by Savoand theupper end of Guadalcanar. But it was no use. 'Bother thecharge'said she. 'You take the horses like a good manand whenI floatthe Martha I'll return the service some day.'"
"And'bother your orders' said she to me" Oleson cried. "'I'myour bossnow' said she'and you take your orders from me.''Look atthat load of ivory nuts' I said. 'Bother them' saidshe; 'I'mplayin' for something bigger than ivory nuts. We'll dumpthemoverside as soon as we get under way.'"
Sheldonput his hands to his ears.
"Idon't know what has happenedand you are trying to tell me thetalebackwards. Come up to the house and get in the shade andbegin atthe beginning."
"WhatI want to know" Oleson beganwhen they were seated"isISshe yourpartner or ain't she? That's what I want to know."
"Sheis" Sheldon assured him.
"Wellwho'd have believed it!" Oleson glanced appealingly at Dr.Welshmereand back again at Sheldon. "I've seen a few unlikelythings inthese Solomons--rats two feet longbutterflies theCommissionerhunts with a shot-gunear-ornaments that would shamethe deviland head-hunting devils that make the devil look like anangel. I've seen them and got used to thembut this young womanofyours--"
"MissLackland is my partner and part-owner of Berande" Sheldoninterrupted.
"Soshe said" the irate skipper dashed on. "But she hadno papersto showfor it. How was I to know? And then there was that loadof ivorynuts-eight tons of them."
"Forheaven's sake begin at the--" Sheldon tried to interrupt.
"Andthen she's hired them drunken loafersthree of the worstscoundrelsthat ever disgraced the Solomons--fifteen quid a montheach--whatd'ye think of that? And sailed away with themtoo!Phew!--Youmight give me a drink. The missionary won't mind. I'vebeen onhis teetotal hooker four days nowand I'm perishing."
Dr.Welshmere nodded in reply to Sheldon's look of inquiryandViaburiwas dispatched for the whisky and siphons.
"Itis evidentCaptain Oleson" Sheldon remarked to that refreshedmariner"that Miss Lackland has run away with your boat. Nowpleasegive a plain statement of what occurred."
"RightO; here goes. I'd just come in on the Flibberty. She wason boardbefore I dropped the hook--in that whale-boat of hers withher gangof Tahiti heathens--that big Adamu Adam and the rest.'Don'tdrop the anchorCaptain Oleson' she sang out. 'I want youto getunder way for Poonga-Poonga.' I looked to see if she'd beendrinking. What was I to think? I was rounding up at the timealongsidethe shoal--a ticklish place--headsails running down andlosingwayso I says'Excuse meMiss Lackland' and yellsfor'ard'Let go!'
"'Youmight have listened to me and saved yourself trouble' sayssheclimbing over the rail and squinting along for'ard and seeingthe firstshackle flip out and stop. 'There's fifteen fathom'says she;'you may as well turn your men to and heave up.'
"Andthen we had it out. I didn't believe her. I didn't thinkyou'd takeher on as a partnerand I told her as much and wantedproof. She got high and mightyand I told her I was old enough tobe hergrandfather and that I wouldn't take gammon from a chit likeher. And then I ordered her off the Flibberty. 'Captain Oleson'she sayssweet as you please'I've a few minutes to spare on youand I'vegot some good whisky over on the Emily. Come on along.BesidesIwant your advice about this wrecking business.Everybodysays you're a crackerjack sailor-man'--that's what shesaid'crackerjack.' And I wentin her whale-boatAdamu Adamsteeringand looking as solemn as a funeral.
"Onthe way she told me about the Marthaand how she'd bought herand wasgoing to float her. She said she'd chartered the Emilyand wassailing as soon as I could get the Flibberty underway. Itstruck methat her gammon was reasonable enoughand I agreed topull outfor Berande right Oand get your orders to go along toPoonga-Poonga. But she said there wasn't a second to be lost byany suchfoolishnessand that I was to sail direct for Poonga-Poongaand that if I couldn't take her word that she was yourpartnershe'd get along without me and the Flibberty. And rightthere'swhere she fooled me.
"Downin the Emily's cabin was them three soaks--you know them--Fowler andCurtis and that Brahms chap. 'Have a drink' says she.I thoughtthey looked surprised when she unlocked the whisky lockerand sent anigger for the glasses and water-monkey. But she musthavetipped them off unbeknownst to meand they knew just what todo. 'Excuse me' she says'I'm going on deck a minute.' Now thatminute washalf an hour. I hadn't had a drink in ten days. I'm anold manand the fever has weakened me. Then I took it on an emptystomachtooand there was them three soaks setting me an exampletheyarguing for me to take the Flibberty to Poonga-Poongaan' mepointingout my duty to the contrary. The trouble wasall theargumentswere pointed with drinksand me not being a drinkingmanso tosayand weak from fever . . .
"Wellanywayat the end of the half-hour down she came again andtook agood squint at me. 'That'll do nicely' I remember hersaying;and with that she took the whisky bottles and hove themoversidethrough the companionway. 'That's the lastshe said tothe threesoaks'till the Martha floats and you're back in Guvutu.It'll be along time between drinks.' And then she laughed.
"Shelooked at me and said--not to memind youbut to the soaks:'It's timethis worthy man went ashore'--me! worthy man! 'Fowler'shesaid--you knowjust like a straight orderand she didn'tMISTERhim--it was plain Fowler--'Fowler' she said'just tellAdamu Adamto man the whale-boatand while he's taking CaptainOlesonashore have your boat put me on the Flibberty. The three ofyou sailwith meso pack your dunnage. And the one of you thatshows upbest will take the mate's billet. Captain Oleson doesn'tcarry amateyou know.'
"Idon't remember much after that. All hands got me over the sideand itseems to me I went to sleepsitting in the stern-sheets andwatchingthat Adamu steer. Then I saw the Flibberty's mainsailhoistingand heard the clank of her chain coming inand I wokeup. 'Hereput me on the Flibberty' I said to Adamu. 'I put youon thebeach' said he. 'Missie Lackalanna say beach plenty goodfor you.' WellI let out a yell and reached for the steering-sweep. I was doing my best by my ownersyou see. Only that Adamugives me ashove down on the bottom-boardsputs one foot on me tohold medownand goes on steering. And that's all. The shock ofthe wholething brought on fever. And now I've come to find outwhetherI'm skipper of the Flibbertyor that chit of yours withherpiratingheathen boat's-crew."
"Nevermindskipper. You can take a vacation on pay." Sheldonspoke withmore assurance than he felt. "If Miss Lacklandwho ismypartnerhas seen fit to take charge of the Flibberty-Gibbetwhyit isall right. As you will agreethere was no time to belost ifthe Martha was to be got off. It is a bad reefand anyconsiderablesea would knock her bottom out. You settle down hereskipperand rest up and get the fever out of your bones. When theFlibberty-Gibbetcomes backyou'll take charge againof course."
After Dr.Welshmere and the Apostle departed and Captain Oleson hadturned infor a sleep in a veranda hammockSheldon opened Joan'sletter.
DEAR MR.SHELDON--Please forgive me for stealing the Flibberty-Gibbet. I simply had to. The Martha means everything to us.Think ofitonly fifty-five pounds for hertwo hundred andseventy-fivedollars. If I don't save herI know I shall be ableto pay allexpenses out of her gearwhich the natives will nothavecarried off. And if I do save herit is the haul of a life-time. And if I don't save herI'll fill the Emily and theFlibberty-Gibbetwith recruits. Recruits are needed right now onBerandemore than anything else.
Andpleaseplease don't be angry with me. You said I shouldn't gorecruitingon the Flibbertyand I won't. I'll go on the Emily.
I boughttwo cows this afternoon. That trader at Nogi died offeverandI bought them from his partnerSam Willis his name iswho agreesto deliver them--most likely by the Minerva next timeshe isdown that way. Berande has been long enough on tinned milk.
And Dr.Welshmere has agreed to get me some orange and lime treesfrom themission station at Ulava. He will deliver them the nexttrip ofthe Apostle. If the Sydney steamer arrives before I getbackplant the sweet corn she will bring between the young treeson thehigh bank of the Balesuna. The current is eating in againstthat bankand you should do something to save it.
I haveordered some fig-trees and loquatstoofrom Sydney. Dr.Welshmerewill bring some mango-seeds. They are big trees andrequireplenty of room.
The Marthais registered 110 tons. She is the biggest schooner intheSolomonsand the best. I saw a little of her lines and guessthe rest. She will sail like a witch. If she hasn't filled withwaterherengine will be all right. The reason she went ashorewasbecause it was not working. The engineer had disconnected thefeed-pipesto clean out the rust. Poor businessunless at anchoror withplenty of sea room.
Plant allthe trees in the compoundeven if you have to clean outthe palmslater on.
And don'tplant the sweet corn all at once. Let a few days elapsebetweenplantings.
Hefingered the letterlingering over it and scrutinizing thewriting ina way that was not his wont. How characteristicwashisthoughtas he studied the boyish scrawl--clear to readpainfullyclearbut none the less boyish. The clearness of itremindedhim of her faceof her cleanly stencilled browsherstraightlychiselled nosethe very clearness of the gaze of hereyesthefirmly yet delicately moulded lipsand the throatneitherfragile nor robustbut--but just righthe concludedanadequateand beautiful pillar for so shapely a burden.
He lookedlong at the name. Joan Lackland--just an assemblage oflettersof commonplace lettersbut an assemblage that generated asubtle andheady magic. It crept into his brain and twined andtwistedhis mental processes until all that constituted him at thatmomentwent out in love to that scrawled signature. A fewcommonplaceletters--yet they caused him to know in himself a lackthatsweetly hurt and that expressed itself in vague spiritualoutpouringsand delicious yearnings. Joan Lackland! Each time helooked atit there arose visions of her in a myriad moods andguises--comingin out of the flying smother of the gale that hadwreckedher schooner; launching a whale-boat to go a-fishing;runningdripping from the seawith streaming hair and clinginggarmentsto the fresh-water shower; frightening four-scorecannibalswith an empty chlorodyne bottle; teaching Ornfiri how tomakebread; hanging her Stetson hat and revolver-belt on the hookin theliving-room; talking gravely about winning to hearth andsaddle ofher ownor juvenilely rattling on about romance andadventurebright-eyedher face flushed and eager with enthusiasm.JoanLackland! He mused over the cryptic wonder of it till thesecrets oflove were made clear and he felt a keen sympathy forlovers whocarved their names on trees or wrote them on the beach-sands ofthe sea.
Then hecame back to realityand his face hardened. Even then shewas on thewild coast of Malaitaand at Poonga-Poongaof allvillainousand dangerous portions the worstpeopled with a teemingpopulationof head-huntersrobbersand murderers. For theinstant heentertained the rash thought of calling his boat's-crewandstarting immediately in a whale-boat for Poonga-Poonga. Butthe nextinstant the idea was dismissed. What could he do if hedid go? Firstshe would resent it. Nextshe would laugh at himand callhim a silly; and after all he would count for only oneriflemoreand she had many rifles with her. Three things onlycould hedo if he went. He could command her to return; he couldtake theFlibberty-Gibbet away from her; he could dissolve theirpartnership;--anyand all of which he knew would be foolish andfutileand he could hear her explain in terse set terms that shewaslegally of age and that nobody could say come or go to her.Nohispride would never permit him to start for Poonga-Poongathough hisheart whispered that nothing could be more welcome thana messagefrom her asking him to come and lend a hand. Her verywords--"lenda hand"; and in his fancyhe could see and hear hersayingthem.
There wasmuch in her wilful conduct that caused him to wince inthe heartof him. He was appalled by the thought of her shouldertoshoulder with the drunken rabble of traders and beachcombers atGuvutu. It was bad enough for a cleanfastidious man; but for ayoungwomana girl at thatit was awful. The theft of theFlibberty-Gibbetwas merely amusingthough the means by which thetheft hadbeen effected gave him hurt. Yet he found consolation inthe factthat the task of making Oleson drunk had been turned overto thethree scoundrels. And nextand swiftlycame the vision ofheralonewith those same three scoundrelson the Emilysailingout to seafrom Guvutu in the twilight with darkness coming on.Then camevisions of Adamu Adam and Noa Noah and all her brawnyTahitianfollowingand his anxiety faded awaybeing replaced byirritationthat she should have been capable of such wildness ofconduct.
And theirritation was still on him as he got up and went inside tostare atthe hook on the wall and to wish that her Stetson hat andrevolver-beltwere hanging from it.
CHAPTERXVIII--MAKING THE BOOKS COME TRUE
Severalquiet weeks slipped by. Berandeafter such an unusual runofvisiting vesselsdrifted back into her old solitude. Sheldonwent onwith the daily roundclearing bushplanting cocoanutssmokingcoprabuilding bridgesand riding about his work on thehorsesJoan had bought. News of her he had none. Recruitingvessels onMalaita left the Poonga-Poonga coast severely alone; andtheClansmana Samoan recruiterdropping anchor one sunset forbilliardsand gossipreported rumours amongst the Sio natives thatthere hadbeen fighting at Poonga-Poonga. As this news would havehad totravel right across the big islandlittle dependence was tobe placedon it.
Thesteamer from Sydneythe Kammambobroke the quietude ofBerandefor an hourwhile landing mailsuppliesand the treesand seedsJoan had ordered. The Minervabound for Cape Marshbroughtthe two cows from Nogi. And the Apostlehurrying back toTulagi toconnect with the Sydney steamersent a boat ashore withthe orangeand lime trees from Ulava. And these several weeksmarked aperiod of perfect weather. There were days on end whensleekcalms ruled the breathless seaand days when vagrant wispsof airfanned for several hours from one direction or another. Theland-breezesat night alone proved regularand it was at nightthat theoccasional cutters and ketches slipped bytoo eager totakeadvantage of the light winds to drop anchor for an hour.
Then camethe long-expected nor'wester. For eight days it ragedlulling attimes to short durations of calmthen shifting a pointor two andraging with renewed violence. Sheldon kept aprecautionaryeye on the buildingswhile the Balesunain floodsosavagely attacked the high bank Joan had warned him aboutthathe toldoff all the gangs to battle with the river.
It was inthe good weather that followedthat he left the blacksat workone morningand with a shot-gun across his pommel rodeoff afterpigeons. Two hours laterone of the house-boysbreathlessand scratched ran him down with the news that theMarthathe Flibberty-Gibbetand the Emily were heading in for theanchorage.
Cominginto the compound from the rearSheldon could see nothinguntil herode around the corner of the bungalow. Then he saweverythingat once--firsta glimpse at the seawhere the Marthafloatedhuge alongside the cutter and the ketch which had rescuedher; andnextthe ground in front of the veranda stepswhere agreatcrowd of fresh-caught cannibals stood at attention. From thefact thateach was attired in a newsnow-white lava-lavaSheldonknew thatthey were recruits. Part way up the stepsone of themwas justbacking down into the crowdwhile anothercalled out bynamewascoming up. It was Joan's voice that had called himandSheldonreined in his horse and watched. She sat at the head ofthe stepsbehind a tablebetween Munster and his white matethethree ofthem checking long listsJoan asking the questions andwritingthe answers in the bigred-coveredBerande labour-journal.
"Whatname?" she demanded of the black man on the steps.
"Tagari"came the answeraccompanied by a grin and a rolling ofcuriouseyes; for it was the first white-man's house the black hadever seen.
"Whatplace b'long you?"
No one hadnoticed Sheldonand he continued to sit his horse andwatch. There was a discrepancy between the answer and the recordin therecruiting booksand a consequent discussionuntil Munstersolved thedifficulty.
"Bangoora?"he said. "That's the little beach at the head of thebay out ofLatta. He's down as a Latta-man--seethere it is'TagariLatta.'"
"Whatplace you go you finish along white marster?" Joan asked.
"Bangoora"the man replied; and Joan wrote it down.
The blackstepped downand another mounted to take his place. ButTagarijust before he reached the bottom stepcaught sight ofSheldon. It was the first horse the fellow had ever seenand helet out afrightened screech and dashed madly up the steps. At thesamemoment the great mass of blacks surged away panic-strickenfromSheldon's vicinity. The grinning house-boys shoutedencouragementand explanationand the stampede was checkedthenew-caughthead-hunters huddling closely together and staringdubiouslyat the fearful monster.
"Hello!"Joan called out. "What do you mean by frightening all myboys? Come on up."
"Whatdo you think of them?" she askedwhen they had shaken hands."Andwhat do you think of her?"--with a wave of the hand toward theMartha. "I thought you'd deserted the plantationand that I mightas well goahead and get the men into barracks. Aren't theybeauties? Do you see that one with the split nose? He's the onlyman whodoesn't hail from the Poonga-Poonga coast; and they saidthePoonga-Poonga natives wouldn't recruit. Just look at them andcongratulateme. There are no kiddies and half-grown youths amongthem. They're menevery last one of them. I have such a longstory Idon't know where to beginand I won't begin anyway tillwe'rethrough with this and until you have told me that you are notangry withme."
"Ogu--whatplace b'long you?" she went on with her catechism.
But Oguwas a bushmanlacking knowledge of the almost universalbeche-de-merEnglishand half a dozen of his fellows wrangled toexplain.
"Thereare only two or three more" Joan said to Sheldon"andthenwe'redone. But you haven't told me that you are not angry."
Sheldonlooked into her clear eyes as she favoured him with adirectuntroubled gaze that threatenedhe knew from experienceto turnteasingly defiant on an instant's notice. And as he lookedat her itcame to him that he had never half-anticipated thegladnessher return would bring to him.
"Iwas angry" he said deliberately. "I am still angryveryangry--"he noted the glint of defiance in her eyes and thrilled--"butI forgaveand I now forgive all over again. Though I stillinsist--"
"ThatI should have a guardian" she interrupted. "But thatdaywill nevercome. Thank goodness I'm of legal age and able totransactbusiness in my own right. And speaking of businesshowdo youlike my forceful American methods?"
"Mr.Rafffrom what I heardoesn't take kindly to them" hetemporized"and you've certainly set the dry bones rattling formany aday. But what I want to know is if other American women areassuccessful in business ventures?"
"Luck'most all luck" she disclaimed modestlythough her eyeslightedwith sudden pleasure; and he knew her boy's vanity had beentouched byhis trifle of tempered praise.
"Luckbe blowed!" broke out the long mateSparrowhawkhis faceshiningwith admiration. "It was hard workthat's what it was.We earnedour pay. She worked us till we dropped. And we weredown withfever half the time. So was shefor that matteronlyshewouldn't stay downand she wouldn't let us stay down. Mywordshe's a slave-driver--'Just one more heaveMr. Sparrowhawkand thenyou can go to bed for a week'--she to meand mestaggerin''round like a dead manwith bilious-green lightsflashinginside my headan' my head just bustin'. I was all inbut I gavethat heave right O--and then it was'Another heave nowMr.Sparrowhawkjust another heave.' An' the Lord lummethe wayshe madelove to old Kina-Kina!"
He shookhis head reproachfullywhile the laughter died down inhis throatto long-drawn chuckles.
"Hewas older than Telepasse and dirtier" she assured Sheldon"andI am sure much wickeder. But this isn't work. Let us getthroughwith these lists."
She turnedto the waiting black on the steps-
"Oguyou finish along big marster belong white manyou go Not-Not.--HereyouTangariyou speak 'm along that fella Ogu. Hefinish hewalk about Not-Not. Have you got thatMr. Munster?"
"Butyou've broken the recruiting laws" Sheldon saidwhen the newrecruitshad marched away to the barracks. "The licenses for theFlibbertyand the Emily don't allow for one hundred and fifty.What didBurnett say?"
"Hepassed themall of them" she answered. "CaptainMunster willtell youwhat he said--something about being blowedor words tothateffect. Now I must run and wash up. Did the Sydney ordersarrive?"
"Yoursare in your quarters" Sheldon said. "Hurryforbreakfastiswaiting. Let me have your hat and belt. Dopleaseallowme.There'sonly one hook for themand I know where it is."
She gavehim a quick scrutiny that was almost woman-likethensighedwith relief as she unbuckled the heavy belt and passed it tohim.
"Idoubt if I ever want to see another revolver" she complained."Thatone has worn a hole in meI'm sure. I never dreamed I couldget soweary of one."
Sheldonwatched her to the foot of the stepswhere she turned andcalledback-
"My! I can't tell you how good it is to be home again."
And as hisgaze continued to follow her across the compound to thetiny grasshousethe realization came to him crushingly thatBerandeand that little grass house was the only place in the worldshe couldcall "home."
"AndBurnett said'WellI'll be damned--I beg your pardonMissLacklandbut you have wantonly broken the recruiting laws and youknow it'"Captain Munster narratedas they sat over their whiskywaitingfor Joan to come back. "And says she to him'Mr. Burnettcan youshow me any law against taking the passengers off a vesselthat's ona reef?' 'That is not the point' says he. 'It's theverypreciseparticular point' says she and you bear it in mindand goahead and pass my recruits. You can report me to the LordHighCommissioner if you wantbut I have three vessels herewaiting onyour convenienceand if you delay them much longerthere'llbe another report go in to the Lord High Commissioner.'
"'I'llhold you responsibleCaptain Munster' says he to memadenough toeat scrap-iron. 'Noyou won't' says she; 'I'm thechartererof the Emilyand Captain Munster has acted under myorders.'
"Whatcould Burnett do? He passed the whole hundred and fiftythough theEmily was only licensed for fortyand the Flibberty-Gibbet forthirty-five."
"ButI don't understand" Sheldon said.
"Thisis the way she worked it. When the Martha was floatedwehad tobeach her right away at the head of the bayand whilstrepairswere going ona new rudder being madesails bentgearrecoveredfrom the niggersand so forthMiss Lackland borrowsSparrowhawkto run the Flibberty along with Curtislends me Brahmsto takeSparrowhawk's placeand starts both craft off recruiting.My wordthe niggers came easy. It was virgin ground. Since theScottishChiefsno recruiter had ever even tried to work thecoast; andwe'd already put the fear of God into the niggers'heartstill the whole coast was quiet as lambs. When we filled upwe cameback to see how the Martha was progressing."
"Andthinking we was going home with our recruits" Sparrowhawkslippedin. "Lord lummethat Miss Lackland ain't never satisfied.'I'll take'em on the Martha' says she'and you can go back andfill upagain.'"
"ButI told her it couldn't be done" Munster went on. "Itold herthe Marthahadn't a license for recruiting. 'Oh' she said'itcan't bedoneeh?' and she stood and thought a few minutes."
"AndI'd seen her think before" cried Sparrowhawk"and I knewatwunst thatthe thing was as good as done."
Munsterlighted his cigarette and resumed.
"'Yousee that spit' she says to me'with the little ripplebreakingaround it? There's a current sets right across it and onit. And you see them bafflin' little cat's-paws? It's goodweatherand a falling tide. You just start to beat outthe two ofyouandall you have to do is miss stays in the same baffling puffand thecurrent will set you nicely aground.'"
"'Thatlittle wash of sea won't more than start a sheet or two ofcopper'says shewhen Munster kicked" Sparrowhawk explained."Ohshe's no green unthat girl."
"'ThenI'll rescue your recruits and sail away--simpleain't it?'says she"Munster continued. "'You hang up one tide' says she;'the nextis the big high water. Then you kedge off and go aftermorerecruits. There's no law against recruiting when you'reempty.' 'But there is against starving 'em' I said; 'you knowyourselfthere ain't any kai-kai to speak of aboard of usandthereain't a crumb on the Martha.'"
"We'dall been pretty well on native kai-kaias it was" saidSparrowhawk.
"'Don'tlet the kai-kai worry youCaptain Munster' says she; 'ifI can findgrub for eighty-four mouths on the Marthathe two ofyou can doas much by your two vessels. Now go ahead and getagroundbefore a steady breeze comes up and spoils the manoeuvre.I'll sendmy boats the moment you strike. And nowgood-daygentlemen.'"
"Andwe went and did it" Sparrowhawk said solemnlyand thenemitted aseries of chuckling noises. "We laid overstarboardtackandI pinched the Emily against the spit. 'Go about'CaptainMunster yells at me; 'go aboutor you'll have me aground!'He yelledother thingsmuch worse. But I didn't mind. I missedstayspretty as you pleaseand the Flibberty drifted down on himand fouledhimand we went ashore together in as nice a mess asyou everwant to see. Miss Lackland transferred the recruitsandthe trickwas done."
"Butwhere was she during the nor'wester?" Sheldon asked.
"AtLanga-Langa. Ran up there as it was coming onand laid therethe wholeweek and traded for grub with the niggers. When we gotto Tulagithere she was waiting for us and scrapping with Burnett.I tellyouMr. Sheldonshe's a wonderthat girla perfectwonder."
Munsterrefilled his glassand while Sheldon glanced across atJoan'shouseanxious for her comingSparrowhawk took up the tale.
"Gritty! She's the grittiest thingman or womanthat ever blewinto theSolomons. You should have seen Poonga-Poonga the morningwearrived--Sniders popping on the beach and in the mangroveswar-drumsbooming in the bushand signal-smokes raising everywhere.'It's allup' says Captain Munster."
"Yesthat's what I said" declared that mariner.
"Ofcourse it was all up. You could see it with half an eye andhear itwith one ear."
"'Upyour granny' she says to him" Sparrowhawk went on. "'Whywe haven'tarrived yetmuch less got started. Wait till theanchor'sdown before you get afraid.'"
"That'swhat she said to me" Munster proclaimed. "And ofcourseit made memad so that I didn't care what happened. We tried tosend aboat ashore for a pow-wowbut it was fired upon. And everyonce and awhile some nigger'd take a long shot at us out of themangroves."
"Theywas only a quarter of a mile off" Sparrowhawk explained"andit was damned nasty. 'Don't shoot unless they try to board'was MissLackland's orders; but the dirty niggers wouldn't board.They justlay off in the bush and plugged away. That night we helda councilof war in the Flibberty's cabin. 'What we want' saysMissLackland'is a hostage.'"
"'That'swhat they do in books' I saidthinking to laugh her awayfrom herfolly" Munster interrupted. "'True' says she'andhaveyou neverseen the books come true?' I shook my head. 'Thenyou're nottoo old to learn' says she. 'I'll tell you one thingrightnow' says I'and that is I'll be blowed if you catch meashore inthe night-time stealing niggers in a place like this.'"
"Youdidn't say blowed" Sparrowhawk corrected. "You saidyou'd bedamned."
"That'swhat I didand I meant ittoo."
"'Nobodyasked you to go ashore' says shequick as lightning"Sparrowhawkgrinned. "And she said more. She said'And if Icatch yougoing ashore without orders there'll be trouble--understandCaptain Munster?'"
"Whoin hell's telling thisyou or me?" the skipper demandedwrathfully.
"Wellshe diddidn't she?" insisted the mate.
"Yesshe didif you want to make so sure of it. And while you'reabout ityou might as well repeat what she said to you when yousaid youwouldn't recruit on the Poonga-Poonga coast for twice yourscrew."
Sparrowhawk'ssun-reddened face flamed redderthough he tried topass thesituation off by divers laughings and chucklings and face-twistings.
"Goongo on" Sheldon urged; and Munster resumed the narrative.
"'Whatwe need' says she'is the strong hand. It's the only wayto handlethem; and we've got to take hold firm right at thebeginning. I'm going ashore to-night to fetch Kina-Kina himself onboardandI'm not asking who's game to go for I've got every man'sworkarranged with me for him. I'm taking my sailors with meandone whiteman.' 'Of courseI'm that white man' I said; for bythat timeI was mad enough to go to hell and back again. 'Ofcourseyou're not' says she. 'You'll have charge of the coveringboat. Curtis stands by the landing boat. Fowler goes with me.Brahmstakes charge of the Flibbertyand Sparrowhawk of the Emily.And westart at one o'clock.'
"Mywordit was a tough job lying there in the covering boat. Ineverthought doing nothing could be such hard work. We stoppedaboutfifty fathoms offand watched the other boat go in. It wasso darkunder the mangroves we couldn't see a thing of it. D'yeknow thatlittlemonkey-looking niggerSheldonon the Flibberty--the cookI mean? Wellhe was cabin-boy twenty years ago on theScottishChiefsand after she was cut off he was a slave there atPoonga-Poonga. And Miss Lackland had discovered the fact. So hewas theguide. She gave him half a case of tobacco for thatnight'swork--"
"Andscared him fit to die before she could get him to come along"Sparrowhawkobserved.
"WellI never saw anything so black as the mangroves. I stared atthem tillmy eyes were ready to burst. And then I'd look at thestarsandlisten to the surf sighing along the reef. And therewas a dogthat barked. Remember that dogSparrowhawk? The brutenearlygave me heart-failure when he first began. After a while hestopped--wasn'tbarking at the landing party at all; and then thesilencewas harder than everand the mangroves grew blackerandit was allI could do to keep from calling out to Curtis in therein thelanding boatjust to make sure that I wasn't the only whiteman leftalive.
"Ofcourse there was a row. It had to comeand I knew it; but itstartledme just the same. I never heard such screeching andyelling inmy life. The niggers must have just dived for the bushwithoutlooking to see what was upwhile her Tahitians let looseshootingin the air and yelling to hurry 'em on. And thenjust assuddencame the silence again--all except for some small kiddiethat hadgot dropped in the stampede and that kept crying in thebush forits mother.
"Andthen I heard them coming through the mangrovesand an oarstrike ona gunwaleand Miss Lackland laughand I knew everythingwas allright. We pulled on board without a shot being fired.AndbyGod! she had made the books come truefor there was oldKina-Kinahimself being hoisted over the railshivering andchatteringlike an ape. The rest was easy. Kina-Kina's word waslawandhe was scared to death. And we kept him on board issuingproclamationsall the time we were in Poonga-Poonga.
"Itwas a good movetooin other ways. She made Kina-Kina orderhis peopleto return all the gear they'd stripped from the Martha.And backit cameday after daysteering compassesblocks andtacklessailscoils of ropemedicine chestsensignssignalflags--everythingin factexcept the trade goods and supplieswhich hadalready been kai-kai'd. Of courseshe gave them a fewsticks oftobacco to keep them in good humour."
"Sureshe did" Sparrowhawk broke forth. "She gave thebeggarsfivefathoms of calico for the big mainsailtwo sticks of tobaccofor thechronometerand a sheath-knife worth elevenpence ha'pennyfor ahundred fathoms of brand new five-inch manila. She got oldKina-Kinawith that strong hand on the go offand she kept himgoing allthe time. She--here she comes now."
It waswith a shock of surprise that Sheldon greeted herappearance. All the timewhile the tale of happening at Poonga-Poonga hadbeen going onhe had pictured her as the woman he hadalwaysknownclad roughlyskirt made out of window-curtain stuffanundersized man's shirt for a blousestraw sandals for footcoveringwith the Stetson hat and the eternal revolver completinghercostume. The ready-made clothes from Sydney had transformedher. A simple skirt and shirt-waist of some sort of wash-goods setoff hertrim figure with a hint of elegant womanhood that was newto him. Brown slippers peeped out as she crossed the compoundandhe oncecaught a glimpse to the ankle of brown open-work stockings.Somehowshe had been made many times the woman by these mereextraneoustrappings; and in his mind these wild Arabian Nightsadventuresof hers seemed thrice as wonderful.
As theywent in to breakfast he became aware that Munster andSparrowhawkhad received a similar shock. All their air ofcamaraderiewas dissipatedand they had become abruptly andimmenselyrespectful.
"I'veopened up a new field" she saidas she began pouring thecoffee. "Old Kina-Kina will never forget meI'm sureand I canrecruitthere whenever I want. I saw Morgan at Guvutu. He'swilling tocontract for a thousand boys at forty shillings perhead. Did I tell you that I'd taken out a recruiting license fortheMartha? I didand the Martha can sign eighty boys every trip.
Sheldonsmiled a trifle bitterly to himself. The wonderful womanwho hadtripped across the compound in her Sydney clothes was goneand he waslistening to the boy come back again.
CHAPTERXIX--THE LOST TOY
"Well"Joan said with a sigh"I've shown you hustling Americanmethodsthat succeed and get somewhereand here you are beginningyourmuddling again."
Five dayshad passedand she and Sheldon were standing on theverandawatching the Marthaclose-hauled on the windlaying atack offshore. During those five days Joan had never oncebroachedthe desire of her heartthough Sheldonin thisparticularinstance reading her like a bookhad watched her leadup to thequestion a score of times in the hope that he wouldhimselfsuggest her taking charge of the Martha. She had wantedhim to saythe wordand she had steeled herself not to say itherself. The matter of finding a skipper had been a hard one. Shewasjealous of the Marthaand no suggested man had satisfied her.
"Oleson?"she had demanded. "He does very well on the Flibbertywith meand my men to overhaul her whenever she's ready to fall topiecesthrough his slackness. But skipper of the Martha?Impossible!"
"Munster? Yeshe's the only man I know in the Solomons I'd careto see incharge. And yetthere's his record. He lost theUmbawa--onehundred and forty drowned. He was first officer on thebridge. Deliberate disobedience to instructions. No wonder theybroke him.
"ChristianYoung has never had any experience with large boats.Besideswe can't afford to pay him what he's clearing on theMinerva. Sparrowhawk is a good man--to take orders. He has noinitiative. He's an able sailorbut he can't command. I tell youI wasnervous all the time he had charge of the Flibberty atPoonga-Poongawhen I had to stay by the Martha."
And so ithad gone. No name proposed was satisfactoryandmoreoverSheldon had been surprised by the accuracy of herjudgments. A dozen times she almost drove him to the statementthat fromthe showing she made of Solomon Islands sailorsshe wasthe onlyperson fitted to command the Martha. But each time herestrainedhimselfwhile her pride prevented her from making thesuggestion.
"Goodwhale-boat sailors do not necessarily make good schooner-handlers"she replied to one of his arguments. "Besidesthecaptain ofa boat like the Martha must have a large mindseethings ina large way; he must have capacity and enterprise."
"Butwith your Tahitians on board--" Sheldon had begun anotherargument.
"Therewon't be any Tahitians on board" she had returned promptly."Mymen stay with me. I never know when I may need them. WhenIsailtheysail; when I remain ashorethey remain ashore. I'llfindplenty for them to do right here on the plantation. You'veseen themclearing busheach of them worth half a dozen of yourcannibals."
So it wasthat Joan stood beside Sheldon and sighed as she watchedthe Marthabeating out to seaold Kinrossbrought over from Savoincommand.
"Kinrossis an old fossil" she saidwith a touch of bitterness inhervoice. "Ohhe'll never wreck her through rashnessrestassured ofthat; but he's timid to childishnessand timid skipperslose justas many vessels as rash ones. Some dayKinross willlose theMartha because there'll be only one chance and he'll beafraid totake it. I know his sort. Afraid to take advantage of aproperbreeze of wind that will fetch him in in twenty hourshe'llget caughtout in the calm that follows and spend a whole week ingettingin. The Martha will make money with himthere's no doubtof it; butshe won't make near the money that she would under acompetentmaster."
Shepausedand with heightened colour and sparkling eyes gazedseaward atthe schooner.
"My!but she is a witch! Look at her eating up the waterandthere's nowind to speak of. She's not got ordinary white metaleither. It's man-of-war copperevery inch of it. I had thempolish itwith cocoanut husks when she was careened at Poonga-Poonga. She was a seal-hunter before this gold expedition got her.Andseal-hunters had to sail. They've run away from second classRussiancruisers more than once up there off Siberia.
"Honestlyif I'd dreamed of the chance waiting for me at Guvutuwhen Ibought her for less than three hundred dollarsI'd neverhave gonepartners with you. And in that case I'd be sailing herright now.
Thejustice of her contention came abruptly home to Sheldon. Whatshe haddone she would have done just the same if she had not beenhispartner. And in the saving of the Martha he had played nopart. Single-handedunadvisedin the teeth of the laughter ofGuvutu andof the competition of men like Morgan and Raffshe hadgone intothe adventure and brought it through to success.
"Youmake me feel like a big man who has robbed a small child of alolly"he said with sudden contrition.
"Andthe small child is crying for it." She looked at himandhenoted thather lip was slightly trembling and that her eyes weremoist. It was the boy all overhe thought; the boy crying for thewee bitboat with which to play. And yet it was a womantoo.What amaze of contradiction she was! And he wonderedhad shebeen allwoman and no boyif he would have loved her in just thesame way. Then it rushed in upon his consciousness that he reallyloved herfor what she wasfor all the boy in her and all the restofher--for the total of her that would have been a different totalin directproportion to any differing of the parts of her.
"Butthe small child won't cry any more for it" she was saying."Thisis the last sob. Some dayif Kinross doesn't lose heryou'llturn her over to your partnerI know. And I won't nag youany more. Only I do hope you know how I feel. It isn't as if I'dmerelybought the Marthaor merely built her. I saved her. Itook heroff the reef. I saved her from the grave of the sea whenfifty-fivepounds was considered a big risk. She is minepeculiarlymine. Without me she wouldn't exist. That bignor'westerwould have finished her the first three hours it blew.And thenI've sailed hertoo; and she is a witcha perfect witch.Whydoyou knowshe'll steer by the wind with half a spokegiveand take. And going about! Wellyou don't have to baby herstartinghead-sheetsflattening mainsailand gentling her withthewheel. Put your wheel downand around she comeslike a coltwith thebit in its teeth. And you can back her like a steamer. Idid it atLanga-Langabetween that shoal patch and the shore-reef.It waswonderful.
"Butyou don't love boats like I doand I know you think I'mmaking afool of myself. But some day I'm going to sail the Marthaagain. I know it. I know it."
In replyand quite without premeditationhis hand went out toherscovering it as it lay on the railing. But he knewbeyondthe shadowof a doubtthat it was the boy that returned thepressurehe gavethe boy sorrowing over the lost toy. The thoughtchilledhim. Never had he been actually nearer to herand neverhad shebeen more convincingly remote. She was certainly notacutelyaware that his hand was touching hers. In her grief at thedepartureof the Martha it wasto heranybody's hand--at thebestafriend's hand.
Hewithdrew his hand and walked perturbedly away.
"Whyhasn't he got that big fisherman's staysail on her?" shedemandedirritably. "It would make the old girl just walk along inthisbreeze. I know the sort old Kinross is. He's the skipperthat liesthree days under double-reefed topsails waiting for agale thatdoesn't come. Safe? Ohyeshe's safe--dangerouslysafe."
Sheldonretraced his steps.
"Nevermind" he said. "You can go sailing on the Martha anytimeyouplease--recruiting on Malaita if you want to."
It was agreat concession he was makingand he felt that he did itagainsthis better judgment. Her reception of it was a surprise tohim.
"Withold Kinross in command?" she queried. "Nothankyou. He'ddrive meto suicide. I couldn't stand his handling of her. Itwould giveme nervous prostration. I'll never step on the Marthaagainunless it is to take charge of her. I'm a sailorlike myfatherand he could never bear to see a vessel mishandled. Didyou seethe way Kinross got under way? It was disgraceful. Andthe noisehe made about it! Old Noah did better with the Ark."
"Butwe manage to get somewhere just the same" he smiled.
"Thatwas the main thing."
She tookanother lingering look at the Marthathen turned toSheldon.
"Youare a slovenly lot down here when it comes to boats--most ofyou areany way. Christian Young is all right thoughMunster hasaslap-dash style about himand they do say old Nielsen was acrackerjack. But with the rest I've seenthere's no dashno gonoclevernessno real sailor's pride. It's all hum-drumandpodgyandslow-goingany going so long as you get there heavenknowswhen. But some day I'll show you how the Martha should behandled. I'll break out anchor and get under way in a speed andstyle thatwill make your head hum; and I'll bring her alongsidethe wharfat Guvutu without dropping anchor and running a line."
She cameto a breathless pauseand then broke into laughterdirectedhe could seeagainst herself.
"OldKinross is setting that fisherman's staysail" he remarkedquietly.
"No!"she cried incredulouslyswiftly lookingthen running forthetelescope.
Sheregarded the manoeuvre steadily through the glassand Sheldonwatchingher facecould see that the skipper was not making asuccess ofit.
Shefinally lowered the glass with a groan.
"He'smade a mess of it" she said"and now he's trying it overagain. And a man like that is put in charge of a fairy like theMartha! Wellit's a good argument against marriagethat's all.NoIwon't look any more. Come on in and play a steadyconservativegame of billiards with me. And after that I'm goingto saddleup and go after pigeons. Will you come along?"
An hourlaterjust as they were riding out of the compoundJoanturned inthe saddle for a last look at the Marthaa distant speckwell overtoward the Florida coast.
"Won'tTudor be surprised when he finds we own the Martha?" shelaughed. "Think of it! If he doesn't strike pay-dirt he'll haveto buy asteamer-passage to get away from the Solomons."
Stilllaughing gailyshe rode through the gate. But suddenly herlaughterbroke flatly and she reined in the mare. Sheldon glancedat hersharplyand noted her face mottlingeven as he lookedandturningorange and green.
"It'sthe fever" she said. "I'll have to turn back."
By thetime they were in the compound she was shivering andshakingand he had to help her from her horse.
"Funnyisn't it?" she said with chattering teeth. "Likeseasickness--notseriousbut horribly miserable while it lasts.I'm goingto bed. Send Noa Noah and Viaburi to me. Tell Ornfirito makehot water. I'll be out of my head in fifteen minutes. ButI'll beall right by evening. Short and sharp is the way it takesme. Too bad to lose the shooting. Thank youI'm all right."
Sheldonobeyed her instructionsrushed hot-water bottles along toherandthen sat on the veranda vainly trying to interest himselfin atwo-months-old file of Sydney newspapers. He kept glancing upand acrossthe compound to the grass house. Yeshe decidedthecontentionof every white man in the islands was right; theSolomonswas no place for a woman.
He clappedhis handsand Lalaperu came running.
"Hereyou!" he ordered; "go along barracksbring 'm black fellaMaryplenty too muchaltogether."
A fewminutes later the dozen black women of Berande were rangedbeforehim. He looked them over criticallyfinally selecting onethat wasyoungcomely as such creatures wentand whose body boreno signsof skin-disease.
"Whatnameyou?" he demanded. "Sangui?"
"MeMahua" was the answer.
"Allrightyou fella Mahua. You finish cook along boys. Youstopalongwhite Mary. All the time you stop along. You savvee?"
"Mesavvee" she gruntedand obeyed his gesture to go to the grasshouseimmediately.
"Whatname?" he asked Viaburiwho had just come out of the grasshouse.
"Bigfella sick" was the answer. "White fella Mary talk'm toomuch alleetime. Allee time talk 'm big fella schooner."
Sheldonnodded. He understood. It was the loss of the Martha thathadbrought on the fever. The fever would have come sooner orlaterheknew; but her disappointment had precipitated it. Helighted acigaretteand in the curling smoke of it caught visionsof hisEnglish motherand wondered if she would understand how herson couldlove a woman who cried because she could not be skipperof aschooner in the cannibal isles.
The mostpatient man in the world is prone to impatience in love--andSheldon was in love. He called himself an ass a score of timesa dayandstrove to contain himself by directing his mind in otherchannelsbut more than a score of times each day his thoughtsroved backand dwelt on Joan. It was a pretty problem shepresentedand he was continually debating with himself as to whatwas thebest way to approach her.
He was notan adept at love-making. He had had but one experiencein thegentle art (in which he had been more wooed than wooing)and theaffair had profited him little. This was another affairand heassured himself continually that it was a uniquely differentanddifficult affair. Not only was here a woman who was not benton findinga husbandbut it was a woman who wasn't a woman at all;who wasgenuinely appalled by the thought of a husband; who joyedin boys'gamesand sentimentalized over such things as adventure;who washealthy and normal and wholesomeand who was so immaturethat ahusband stood for nothing more than an encumbrance in hercherishedscheme of existence.
But how toapproach her? He divined the fanatical love of freedomin herthe deep-seated antipathy for restraint of any sort. Noman couldever put his arm around her and win her. She wouldflutteraway like a frightened bird. Approach by contact--thatherealizedwas the one thing he must never do. His hand-clasp mustbe what ithad always beenthe hand-clasp of hearty friendship andnothingmore. Never by action must he advertise his feeling forher. Remained speech. But what speech? Appeal to her love? Butshe didnot love him. Appeal to her brain? But it was apparentlya boy'sbrain. All the deliciousness and fineness of a finely bredwoman washers; butfor all he could discernher mental processesweresexless and boyish. And yet speech it must befor abeginninghad to be made somewheresome time; her mind must bemadeaccustomed to the ideaher thoughts turned upon the matter ofmarriage.
And so herode overseeing about the plantationwith tightly drawnandpuckered browspuzzling over the problemand steeling himselfto thefirst attempt. A dozen ways he planned an intricate leadingup to thefirst breaking of the iceand each time some link in thechainsnapped and the talk went off on unexpected and irrelevantlines. And then one morningquite fortuitouslythe opportunitycame.
"Mydearest wish is the success of Berande" Joan had just saidapropos ofa discussion about the cheapening of freights on coprato market.
"Doyou mind if I tell you the dearest wish of my heart?" hepromptlyreturned. "I long for it. I dream about it. Itis mydearestdesire."
He pausedand looked at her with intent significance; but it wasplain tohim that she thought there was nothing more at issue thanmutualconfidences about things in general.
"Yesgo ahead" she saida trifle impatient at his delay.
"Ilove to think of the success of Berande" he said; "butthat issecondary. It is subordinate to the dearest wishwhich is thatsome dayyou will share Berande with me in a completer way thanthat ofmere business partnership. It is for yousome daywhenyou arereadyto be my wife."
Shestarted back from him as if she had been stung. Her face wentwhite onthe instantnot from maidenly embarrassmentbut from theangerwhich he could see flaming in her eyes.
"Thistaking for granted!--this when I am ready!" she criedpassionately. Then her voice swiftly became cold and steadyandshe talkedin the way he imagined she must have talked businesswithMorgan and Raff at Guvutu. "Listen to meMr. Sheldon. Ilike youvery wellthough you are slow and a muddler; but I wantyou tounderstandonce and for allthat I did not come to theSolomonsto get married. That is an affliction I could haveaccumulatedat homewithout sailing ten thousand miles after it.I have myown way to make in the worldand I came to the Solomonsto do it. Getting married is not making MY way in the world. Itmay do forsome womenbut not for methank you. When I sit downto talkover the freight on copraI don't care to have proposalsofmarriage sandwiched in. Besides--besides--"
Her voicebroke for the momentand when she went on there was anote ofappeal in it that well-nigh convicted him to himself ofbeing abrute.
"Don'tyou see?--it spoils everything; it makes the whole situationimpossible. . . and . . . and I so loved our partnershipand wasproud ofit. Don't you see?--I can't go on being your partner ifyou makelove to me. And I was so happy."
Tears ofdisappointment were in her eyesand she caught a swiftsob in herthroat.
"Iwarned you" he said gravely. "Such unusualsituations betweenmen andwomen cannot endure. I told you so at the beginning."
"Ohyes; it is quite clear to me what you did." She was angryagainandthe feminine appeal had disappeared. "You were verydiscreetin your warning. You took good care to warn me againsteveryother man in the Solomons except yourself."
It was ablow in the face to Sheldon. He smarted with the truth ofitand atthe same time he smarted with what he was convinced wastheinjustice of it. A gleam of triumph that flickered in her eyebecause ofthe hit she had made decided him.
"Itis not so one-sided as you seem to think it is" he began. "Iwas doingvery nicely on Berande before you came. At least I wasnotsuffering indignitiessuch as being accused of cowardlyconductas you have just accused me. Remember--please rememberIdid notinvite you to Berande. Nor did I invite you to stay on atBerande. It was by staying that you brought about this--to you--unpleasantsituation. By staying you made yourself a temptationand nowyou would blame me for it. I did not want you to stay. Iwasn't inlove with you then. I wanted you to go to Sydney; to goback toHawaii. But you insisted on staying. You virtually--"
He pausedfor a softer word than the one that had risen to hislipsandshe took it away from him.
"Forcedmyself on you--that's what you meant to say" she criedthe flagsof battle painting her cheeks. "Go ahead. Don't mindmyfeelings."
"Allright; I won't" he said decisivelyrealizing that thediscussionwas in danger of becoming a vituperativeschoolboyargument. "You have insisted on being considered as a man.Consistencywould demand that you talk like a manand like a manlisten toman-talk. And listen you shall. It is not your faultthat thisunpleasantness has arisen. I do not blame you foranything;remember that. And for the same reason you should notblame mefor anything."
He noticedher bosom heaving as she sat with clenched handsand itwas all hecould do to conquer the desire to flash his arms out andaround herinstead of going on with his coolly planned campaign.As it washe nearly told her that she was a most adorable boy.But hechecked all such wayward fanciesand held himself rigidlydown tohis disquisition.
"Youcan't help being yourself. You can't help being a verydesirablecreature so far as I am concerned. You have made me wantyou. You didn't intend to; you didn't try to. You were so madethat isall. And I was so made that I was ripe to want you. But Ican't helpbeing myself. I can't by an effort of will cease fromwantingyouany more than you by an effort of will can makeyourselfundesirable to me."
"Ohthis desire! this want! want! want!" she broke inrebelliously. "I am not quite a fool. I understand some things.And thewhole thing is so foolish and absurd--and uncomfortable. Iwish Icould get away from it. I really think it would be a goodidea forme to marry Noa Noahor Adamu Adamor Lalaperu thereorany blackboy. Then I could give him ordersand keep him pennedaway fromme; and men like you would leave me aloneand not talkmarriageand 'I wantI want.'"
Sheldonlaughed in spite of himselfand far from any genuineimpulse tolaugh.
"Youare positively soulless" he said savagely.
"BecauseI've a soul that doesn't yearn for a man for master?" shetook upthe gage. "Very wellthen. I am soullessand whatareyou goingto do about it?"
"I amgoing to ask you why you look like a woman? Why have you theform of awoman? the lips of a woman? the wonderful hair of awoman? And I am going to answer: because you are a woman--thoughthe womanin you is asleep--and that some day the woman will wakeup."
"Heavenforbid!" she criedin such sudden and genuine dismay as tomake himlaughand to bring a smile to her own lips againstherself.
"I'vegot some more to say to you" Sheldon pursued. "I didtry toprotectyou from every other man in the Solomonsand from yourselfas well. As for meI didn't dream that danger lay in thatquarter. So I failed to protect you from myself. I failed toprotectyou at all. You went your own wilful wayjust as though Ididn'texist--wrecking schoonersrecruiting on Malaitaandsailingschooners; one loneunprotected girl in the company ofsome ofthe worst scoundrels in the Solomons. Fowler! and Brahms!andCurtis! And such is the perverseness of human nature--I amfrankyousee--I love you for that too. I love you for all ofyoujustas you are."
She made amoue of distaste and raised a hand protestingly.
"Don't"he said. "You have no right to recoil from the mention ofmy lovefor you. Remember this is a man-talk. From the point ofview ofthe talkyou are a man. The woman in you is onlyincidentalaccidentaland irrelevant. You've got to listen tothe baldstatement of factstrange though it isthat I love you."
"Andnow I won't bother you any more about love. We'll go on thesame asbefore. You are better off and safer on Berandein spiteof thefact that I love youthan anywhere else in the Solomons.But I wantyouas a final item of man-talkto rememberfrom timeto timethat I love youand that it will be the dearest day of mylife whenyou consent to marry me. I want you to think of itsometimes. You can't help but think of it sometimes. And now wewon't talkabout it any more. As between menthere's my hand."
He heldout his hand. She hesitatedthen gripped it heartilyandsmiledthrough her tears.
"Iwish--" she faltered"I wishinstead of that black Maryyou'dgiven mesomebody to swear for me."
And withthis enigmatic utterance she turned away.
Sheldondid not mention the subject againnor did his conductchangefrom what it had always been. There was nothing of thepininglovernor of the lover at allin his demeanour. Nor wasthere anyawkwardness between them. They were as frank andfriendlyin their relations as ever. He had wondered if hisbelligerentlove declaration might have aroused some womanly self-consciousnessin Joanbut he looked in vain for any sign of it.Sheappeared as unchanged as he; and while he knew that he hid hisrealfeelingshe was firm in his belief that she hid nothing. Andyet thegerm he had implanted must be at work; he was confident ofthatthough he was without confidence as to the result. There wasnoforecasting this strange girl's processes. She might awakenitwas true;and on the other handand with equal chancehe might bethe wrongman for herand his declaration of love might only morefirmly sether in her views on single blessedness.
While hedevoted more and more of his time to the plantationitselfshe took over the house and its multitudinous affairs; andshe tookhold firmlyin sailor fashionrevolutionizing the systemanddiscipline. The labour situation on Berande was improving.The Marthahad carried away fifty of the blacks whose time was upand theyhad been among the worst on the plantation--five-year menrecruitedby Billy Be-blowedmen who had gone through the old daysofterrorism when the original owners of Berande had been drivenaway. The new recruitsbeing broken in under the new regimegavebetterpromise. Joan had joined with Sheldon from the start in theprogrammethat they must be gripped with the strong handand atthe sametime be treated with absolute justiceif they were toescapebeing contaminated by the older boys that still remained.
"Ithink it would be a good idea to put all the gangs at work closeto thehouse this afternoon" she announced one day at breakfast."I'vecleaned up the houseand you ought to clean up the barracks.There istoo much stealing going on."
"Agood idea" Sheldon agreed. "Their boxes should besearched.I've justmissed a couple of shirtsand my best toothbrush isgone."
"Andtwo boxes of my cartridges" she added"to say nothing ofhandkerchiefstowelssheetsand my best pair of slippers. Butwhat theywant with your toothbrush is more than I can imagine.They'll bestealing the billiard balls next."
"Onedid disappear a few weeks before you came" Sheldon laughed."We'llsearch the boxes this afternoon."
And a busyafternoon it was. Joan and Sheldonboth armedwentthroughthe barrackshouse by housethe boss-boys assistingandhalf adozen messengersin relayshouting along the line thenames ofthe boys wanted. Each boy brought the key to hisparticularboxand was permitted to look on while the contentswereoverhauled by the boss-boys.
A wealthof loot was recovered. There were fully a dozen cane-knives--bighacking weapons with razor-edgescapable ofdecapitatinga man at a stroke. Towelssheetsshirtsandslippersalong with toothbrusheswisp-broomssoapthe missingbilliardballand all the lost and forgotten trifles of manymonthscame to light. But most astonishing was the quantity ofammunition-cartridgesfor Lee-Metfordsfor Winchesters andMarlinsfor revolvers from thirty-two calibre to forty-fiveshot-guncartridgesJoan's two boxes of thirty-eightcartridges ofprodigiousbore for the ancient Sniders of Malaitaflasks of blackpowdersticks of dynamiteyards of fuseand boxes of detonators.But thegreat find was in the house occupied by Gogoomy and fivePort Adamsrecruits. The fact that the boxes yielded nothingexcitedSheldon's suspicionsand he gave orders to dig up theearthenfloor. Wrapped in mattingwell oiledfree from rustandbrand newtwo Winchesters were first unearthed. Sheldon did notrecognizethem. They had not come from Berande; neither had thefortyflasks of black powder found under the corner-post of thehouse; andwhile he could not be surehe could remember no loss ofeightboxes of detonators. A big Colt's revolver he recognized asHughieDrummond's; while Joan identified a thirty-two Ivor andJohnson asa loss reported by Matapuu the first week he landed atBerande. The absence of any cartridges made Sheldon persist in thedigging upof the floorand a fifty-pound flour tin was hisreward. With glowering eyes Gogoomy looked on while Sheldon tookfrom thetin a hundred rounds each for the two Winchesters andfully asmany rounds more of nondescript cartridges of all sortsand makesand calibres.
Thecontraband and stolen property was piled in assorted heaps onthe backveranda of the bungalow. A few paces from the bottom ofthe stepswere grouped the forty-odd culpritswith behind theminsolidarraythe several hundred blacks of the plantation. At thehead ofthe steps Joan and Sheldon were seatedwhile on the stepsstood thegang-bosses. One by one the culprits were called up andexamined. Nothing definite could be extracted from them. Theyliedtransparentlybut persistentlyand when caught in one lieexplainedit away with half a dozen others. One boy complacentlyannouncedthat he had found eleven sticks of dynamite on the beach.Matapuu'srevolverfound in the box of one Kapuwas explainedaway bythat boy as having been given to him by Lervumie.Lervumiecalled forth to testifysaid he had got it from Noni;Noni hadgot it from Sulefatoi; Sulefatoi from Choka; Choka fromNgava; andNgava completed the circle by stating that it had beengiven tohim by Kapu. Kaputhus doubly damnedcalmly gave fulldetails ofhow it had been given to him by Lervumie; and Lervumiewith equalwealth of detailtold how he had received it from Noni;and fromNoni to Sulefatoi it went on around the circle again.
Diversarticles were traced indubitably to the house-boyseach ofwhomsteadfastly proclaimed his own innocence and cast doubts onhisfellows. The boy with the billiard ball said that he had neverseen it inhis life beforeand hazarded the suggestion that it hadgot intohis box through some mysterious and occultly evil agency.So far ashe was concerned it might have dropped down from heavenfor all heknew how it got there. To the cooks and boats'-crews ofeveryvessel that had dropped anchor off Berande in the pastseveralyears were ascribed the arrival of scores of the stolenarticlesand of the major portion of the ammunition. There was notracingthe truth in any of itthough it was without doubt thattheunidentified weapons and unfamiliar cartridges had come ashoreoffvisiting craft.
"Lookat it" Sheldon said to Joan. "We've been sleepingover avolcano. They ought to be whipped--"
"Nowhip me" Gogoomy cried out from below. "Fatherbelong me bigfellachief. Me whiptoo much trouble along youclose upmyword."
"Whatname you fella Gogoomy!" Sheldon shouted. "I knocksevenbells outof you. Hereyou Kwaqueput 'm irons along that fellaGogoomy."
Kwaqueastrapping gang-bossplucked Gogoomy from out of hisfollowingandhelped by the other gang-bosses; twisted his armsbehind himand snapped on the heavy handcuffs.
"Mefinish along youclose upyou die altogether" Gogoomywithwrath-distortedfacethreatened the boss-boy.
"Pleaseno whipping" Joan said in a low voice. "If whippingISnecessarysend them to Tulagi and let the Government do it. Givethem theirchoice between a fine or an official whipping."
Sheldonnodded and stood upfacing the blacks.
Manonmiestood forth and waited.
"Youfella boy bad fella too much" Sheldon charged. "Yousteal 'mplenty. You steal 'm one fella towelone fella cane-knifetwo-ten fellacartridge. My wordplenty bad fella steal 'm you. Mecrossalong you too much. S'pose you like 'mme take 'm one fellapoundalong you in big book. S'pose you no like 'm me take 'm onefellapoundthen me send you fella along Tulagi catch 'm onestrongfella government whipping. Plenty New Georgia boysplentyYsabelboys stop along jail along Tulagi. Them fella no likeMalaitaboys little bit. My wordthey give 'm you strong fellawhipping. What you say?"
"Youtake 'm one fella pound along me" was the answer.
AndManonmiepatently relievedstepped backwhile Sheldonenteredthe fine in the plantation labour journal.
Boy afterboyhe called the offenders out and gave them theirchoice;andboy by boyeach one elected to pay the fine imposed.Some fineswere as low as several shillings; while in the moreseriouscasessuch as thefts of guns and ammunitionthe fineswerecorrespondingly heavy.
Gogoomyand his five tribesmen were fined three pounds eachand atGogoomy'sguttural command they refused to pay.
"S'poseyou go along Tulagi" Sheldon warned him"you catch 'mstrongfella whipping and you stop along jail three fella year.Mr.Burnetthe look 'm along Winchesterlook 'm along cartridgelook 'malong revolverlook 'm along black powderlook 'm alongdynamite--mywordhe cross too muchhe give you three fella yearalongjail. S'pose you no like 'm pay three fella pound you stopalongjail. Savvee?"
"It'strue--that's what Burnett would give them" Sheldon said inan asideto Joan.
"Youtake 'm three fella pound along me" Gogoomy mutteredat thesame timescowling his hatred at Sheldonand transferring half thescowl toJoan and Kwaque. "Me finish along youyou catch 'm bigfellatroublemy word. Father belong me big fella chief alongPortAdams."
"Thatwill do" Sheldon warned him. "You shut mouth belongyou."
"Meno fright" the son of a chief retortedby his insolenceincreasinghis stature in the eyes of his fellows.
"Lockhim up for to-night" Sheldon said to Kwaque. "Sun hecomeup put 'mthat fella and five fella belong him along grass-cutting.Savvee?"
"Mesavvee" he said. "Cut 'm grassngari-ngaristop 'm alonggrass. My word!"
"Therewill be trouble with Gogoomy yet" Sheldon said to Joanastheboss-boys marshalled their gangs and led them away to theirwork. "Keep an eye on him. Be careful when you are riding aloneon theplantation. The loss of those Winchesters and all thatammunitionhas hit him harder than your cuffing did. He is dead-ripe formischief."
CHAPTERXXII--GOGOOMY FINISHES ALONG KWAQUE ALTOGETHER
"Iwonder what has become of Tudor. It's two months since hedisappearedinto the bushand not a word of him after he leftBinu."
JoanLackland was sitting astride her horse by the bank of theBalesunawhere the sweet corn had been plantedand Sheldonwhohad comeacross from the house on footwas leaning against herhorse'sshoulder.
"Yesit is along time for no news to have trickled down" heansweredwatching her keenly from under his hat-brim and wonderingas to themeasure of her anxiety for the adventurous gold-hunter;"butTudor will come out all right. He did a thing at the startthat Iwouldn't have given him or any other man credit for--persuadedBinu Charley to go along with him. I'll wager no otherBinunigger has ever gone so far into the bush unless to be kai-kai'd. As for Tudor--"
"Look! look!" Joan cried in a low voicepointing across thenarrowstream to a slack eddy where a huge crocodile drifted like alogawash. "My! I wish I had my rifle."
Thecrocodileleaving scarcely a ripple behindsank down anddisappeared.
"ABinu man was in early this morning--for medicine" Sheldonremarked. "It may have been that very brute that was responsible.A dozen ofthe Binu women were outand the foremost one steppedright on abig crocodile. It was by the edge of the waterand hetumbledher over and got her by the leg. All the other women gothold ofher and pulled. And in the tug of war she lost her legbelow thekneehe said. I gave him a stock of antiseptics.She'llpull throughI fancy."
"Ugh--thefilthy beasts" Joan gulped shudderingly. "I hatethem!I hatethem!"
"Andyet you go diving among sharks" Sheldon chided.
"They'reonly fish-sharks. And as long as there are plenty of fishthere isno danger. It is only when they're famished that they'reliable totake a bite."
Sheldonshuddered inwardly at the swift vision that arose of thedaintyflesh of her in a shark's many-toothed maw.
"Iwish you wouldn'tjust the same" he said slowly. "Youacknowledgethere is a risk."
"Butthat's half the fun of it" she cried.
A triteplatitude about his not caring to lose her was on his lipsbut herefrained from uttering it. Another conclusion he hadarrived atwas that she was not to be nagged. Continualor evenoccasionalreminders of his feeling for her would constitute atacticalerror of no mean dimensions.
"Somefor the book of versesome for the simple lifeand some fortheshark's belly" he laughed grimlythen added: "Justthe sameI wish Icould swim as well as you. Maybe it would begetconfidencesuch as you have."
"Doyou knowI think it would be nice to be married to a man suchas youseem to be becoming" she remarkedwith one of her abruptchangesthat always astounded him. "I should think you could betrainedinto a very good husband--you knownot one of thedomineeringkindbut one who considered his wife was just as muchanindividual as himself and just as much a free agent. Reallyyou knowI think you are improving."
Shelaughed and rode awayleaving him greatly cast down. If hehadthought there had been one bit of coyness in her wordsonefeminineflutterone womanly attempt at deliberate lure andencouragementhe would have been elated. But he knew absolutelythat itwas the boyand not the womanwho had so daringly spoken.
Joan rodeon among the avenues of young cocoanut-palmssaw ahornbillfollowed it in its erratic flights to the high forest onthe edgeof the plantationheard the cooing of wild pigeons andlocatedthem in the deeper woodsfollowed the fresh trail of awild pigfor a distancecircled backand took the narrow path forthebungalow that ran through twenty acres of uncleared cane. Thegrass waswaist-high and higherand as she rode along sherememberedthat Gogoomy was one of a gang of boys that had beendetailedto the grass-cutting. She came to where they had been atworkbutsaw no signs of them. Her unshod horse made no sound onthe softsandy footingand a little further on she heard voicesproceedingfrom out of the grass. She reined in and listened. ItwasGogoomy talkingand as she listened she gripped her bridle-reintightly and a wave of anger passed over her.
"Doghe stop 'm along housenight-time he walk about" Gogoomy wassayingperforce in beche-de-mer Englishbecause he was talking toothersbeside his own tribesmen. "You fella boy catch 'm onefellapigput'm kai-kai belong him along big fella fish-hook. S'posedog hewalk about catch 'm kai-kaiyou fella boy catch 'm dogallee sameone shark. Dog he finish close up. Big fella marstersleepalong big fella house. White Mary sleep along pickaninnyhouse. One fella Adamu he stop along outside pickaninny house.You fellaboy finish 'm dogfinish 'm Adamufinish 'm big fellamarsterfinish 'm White Maryfinish 'em altogether. Plentymusket hestopplenty powderplenty tomahawkplenty knife-feeplentyporpoise teethplenty tobaccoplenty calico--my wordtoomuchplenty everything we take 'm along whale-boatwasheelikehellsunhe come up we long way too much."
"Mecatch 'm pig sun he go down" spoke up one whose thin falsettovoice Joanrecognized as belonging to Cosseone of Gogoomy'stribesmen.
"Mecatch 'm dog" said another.
"Andme catch 'm white fella Mary" Gogoomy cried triumphantly."Mecatch 'm Kwaque he die along him damn quick."
This muchJoan heard of the plan to murderand then her risingwrathproved too much for her discretion. She spurred her horseinto thegrasscrying-
"Whatname you fella boyeh? What name?"
Theyarosescrambling and scatteringand to her surprise she sawthere werea dozen of them. As she looked in their glowering facesand notedthe heavytwo-foothacking cane-knives in their handsshe becamesuddenly aware of the rashness of her act. If only shehad hadher revolver or a rifleall would have been well. But shehadcarelessly ventured out unarmedand she followed the glance ofGogoomy toher waist and saw the pleased flash in his eyes as heperceivedthe absence of the dreadful man-killing revolver.
The firstarticle in the Solomon Islands code for white men wasnever toshow fear before a nativeand Joan tried to carry off thesituationin cavalier fashion.
"Toomuch talk along you fella boy" she said severely. "Toomuchtalktoolittle work. Savvee?"
Gogoomymade no replybutapparently shifting weighthe slid onefootforward. The other boysspread fan-wise about herwere alsoslidingforwardthe cruel cane-knives in their hands advertisingtheirintention.
"Youcut 'm grass!" she commanded imperatively.
ButGogoomy slid his other foot forward. She measured the distancewith hereye. It would be impossible to whirl her horse around andget away. She would be chopped down from behind.
And inthat tense moment the faces of all of them were imprinted onher mindin an unforgettable picture--one of theman old manwithtorn anddistended ear-lobes that fell to his chest; anotherwiththe broadflattened nose of Africaand with withered eyes soburiedunder frowning brows that nothing but the sicklyyellowish-lookingwhites could be seen; a thirdthick-lipped and beardedwith kinkywhiskers; and Gogoomy--she had never realized before howhandsomeGogoomy was in his mutinous and obstinate wild-animal way.There wasa primitive aristocraticness about him that his fellowslacked. The lines of his figure were more rounded than theirstheskinsmoothwell oiledand free from disease. On his chestsuspendedfrom a single string of porpoise-teeth around his throathung a bigcrescent carved out of opalescent pearl-shell. A row ofpure whitecowrie shells banded his brow. From his hair drooped alonglonefeather. Above the swelling calf of one leg he woreasa gartera single string of white beads. The effect was dandyishin theextreme. A narrow gee-string completed his costume.Anotherman she sawold and shrivelledwith puckered forehead anda puckeredface that trembled and worked with animal passion as inthe pastshe had noticed the faces of monkeys tremble and work.
"Gogoomy"she said sharply"you no cut 'm grassmy wordI bang'm headbelong you."
Hisexpression became a trifle more disdainfulbut he did notanswer. Insteadhe stole a glance to right and left to mark howhisfellows were closing about her. At the same moment he casuallyslippedhis foot forward through the grass for a matter of severalinches.
Joan waskeenly aware of the desperateness of the situation. Theonly wayout was through. She lifted her riding-whipthreateninglyand at the same moment drove in both spurs with herheelsrushing the startled horse straight at Gogoomy. It allhappenedin an instant. Every cane-knife was liftedand every boysaveGogoomy leaped for her. He swerved aside to avoid the horseat thesame time swinging his cane-knife in a slicing blow thatwould havecut her in twain. She leaned forward under the flyingsteelwhich cut through her riding-skirtthrough the edge of thesaddlethrough the saddle clothand even slightly into the horseitself. Her right handstill raisedcame downthe thin whipwhishingthrough the air. She saw the whitecooked mark of theweal clearacross the sullenhandsome faceand still what waspracticallyin the same instant she saw the man with the puckeredfaceoverriddengo down before herand she heard his snarlingandgrimacing chatter-for all the world like an angry monkey. Thenshe wasfree and awayheading the horse at top speed for thehouse.
Out of hersea-training she was able to appreciate Sheldon'sexecutivenesswhen she burst in on him with her news. Springingfrom thesteamer-chair in which he had been lounging while waitingforbreakfasthe clapped his hands for the house-boys; andwhilelisteningto herhe was buckling on his cartridge-belt and runningthemechanism of his automatic pistol.
"Ornfiri"he snapped out his orders"you fella ring big fellabellstrong fella plenty. You finish 'm bellyou put 'm saddle onhorse. Viaburiyou go quick house belong Seelee he stoptell 'mplentyblack fella run away--ten fella two fella black fella boy."Hescribbled a note and handed it to Lalaperu. "Lalaperuyougoquickhouse belong white fella Marster Boucher."
"Thatwill head them back from the coast on both sides" heexplainedto Joan. "And old Seelee will turn his whole villageloose ontheir track as well."
Inresponse to the summons of the big bellJoan's Tahitians werethe firstto arriveby their glistening bodies and panting chestsshowingthat they had run all the way. Some of the farthest-placedgangswould be nearly an hour in arriving.
Sheldonproceeded to arm Joan's sailors and deal out ammunition andhandcuffs. Adamu Adamwith loaded riflehe placed on guard overthewhale-boats. Noa Noahaided by Matapuuwere instructed totakecharge of the working-gangs as fast as they came into keepthemamusedand to guard against their being stampeded into makinga breakthemselves. The five other Tahitians were to follow JoanandSheldon on foot.
"I'mglad we unearthed that arsenal the other day" Sheldonremarkedas they rode out of the compound gate.
A hundredyards away they encountered one of the clearing gangscomingin. It was Kwaque's gangbut Sheldon looked in vain forhim.
"Whatname that fella Kwaque he no stop along you?" he demanded.
A babel ofexcited voices attempted an answer.
"Shut'm mouth belong you altogether" Sheldon commanded.
He spokeroughlyliving up to the role of the white man who mustalways bestrong and dominant.
"Hereyou fella Babataniyou talk 'm mouth belong you."
Babatanistepped forward in all the pride of one singled out fromamong hisfellows.
"Gogoomyhe finish along Kwaque altogether" was Babatani'sexplanation. "He take 'm head b'long him run like hell."
In briefwordsand with paucity of imaginationhe described themurderand Sheldon and Joan rode on. In the grasswhere Joan hadbeenattackedthey found the little shrivelled manstillchatteringand grimacingwhom Joan had ridden down. The mare hadplunged onhis anklecompletely crushing itand a hundred yards'crawl hadconvinced him of the futility of escape. To the lastclearing-gangfrom the farthest edge of the plantationwas giventhe taskof carrying him in to the house.
A milefarther onwhere the runaways' trail led straight towardthe bushthey encountered the body of Kwaque. The head had beenhacked offand was missingand Sheldon took it on faith that thebody wasKwaque's. He had evidently put up a fightfor a bloodytrail ledaway from the body.
Once theywere well into the thick bush the horses had to beabandoned. Papehara was left in charge of themwhile Joan andSheldonand the remaining Tahitians pushed ahead on foot. The wayled downthrough a swampy hollowwhich was overflowed by theBerandeRiver on occasionand where the red trail of the murdererswascrossed by a crocodile's trail. They had apparently caught thecreatureasleep in the sun and desisted long enough from theirflight tohack him to pieces. Here the wounded man had sat downand waiteduntil they were ready to go on.
An hourlaterfollowing along a wild-pig trailSheldon suddenlyhalted. The bloody tracks had ceased. The Tahitians cast out inthe bushon either sideand a cry from Utami apprised them of afind. Joan waited till Sheldon came back.
"It'sMauko" he said. "Kwaque did for himand he crawledinthere anddied. That's two accounted for. There are ten more.Don't youthink you've got enough of it?"
"Itisn't nice" she said. "I'll go back and wait for youwith thehorses."
"Butyou can't go alone. Take two of the men."
"ThenI'll go on" she said. "It would be foolish to weakenthepursuitand I am certainly not tired."
The trailbent to the right as though the runaways had changedtheir mindand headed for the Balesuna. But the trail stillcontinuedto bend to the right till it promised to make a loopandthe pointof intersection seemed to be the edge of the plantationwhere thehorses had been left. Crossing one of the quiet junglespaceswhere naught moved but a velvetytwelve-inch butterflythey heardthe sound of shots.
"Eight"Joan counted. "It was only one gun. It must bePapehara."
Theyhurried onbut when they reached the spot they were in doubt.The twohorses stood quietly tetheredand Papeharasquatted onhis hamswas having a peaceful smoke. Advancing toward himSheldontripped on a body that lay in the grassand as he savedhimselffrom falling his eyes lighted on a second. Joan recognizedthis one. It was Cosseone of Gogoomy's tribesmenthe one whohadpromised to catch at sunset the pig that was to have baited thehook forSatan.
"NoluckMissie" was Papehara's greetingaccompanied by adisconsolateshake of the head. "Catch only two boy. I have goodshot atGogoomyonly I miss."
"Butyou killed them" Joan chided. "You must catch themalive."
"How?"he queried. "I am have a smoke. I think aboutTahitiandbreadfruitand jolly good time at Bora Bora. Quickjust likethattenboy he run out of bush for me. Each boy have long knife.Gogoomyhave long knife one handand Kwaque's head in other hand.I no stopto catch 'm alive. I shoot like hell. How you catch 'malivetenboyten long knifeand Kwaque's head?"
Thescattered paths of the different boyswhere they broke backafter thedisastrous attempt to rush the Tahitiansoon ledtogether. They traced it to the Berandewhich the runaways hadcrossedwith the clear intention of burying themselves in the hugemangroveswamp that lay beyond.
"Thereis no use our going any farther" Sheldon said. "Seeleewill turnout his village and hunt them out of that. They'll neverget pasthim. All we can do is to guard the coast and keep themfrombreaking back on the plantation and running amuck. AhIthoughtso."
Againstthe jungle gloom of the farther shorecoming from downstreamasmall canoe glided. So silently did it move that it wasmore likean apparition. Three naked blacks dipped with noiselesspaddles. Long-haftedslenderbone-barbed throwing-spears layalong thegunwale of the canoewhile a quiverful of arrows hung oneach man'sback. The eyes of the man-hunters missed nothing. Theyhad seenSheldon and Joan firstbut they gave no sign. WhereGogoomyand his followers had emerged from the riverthe canoeabruptlystoppedthen turned and disappeared into the deepermangrovegloom. A second and a third canoe came around the bendfrombelowglided ghostlike to the crossing of the runawaysandvanishedin the mangroves.
"Ihope there won't be any more killing" Joan saidas they turnedtheirhorses homeward.
"Idon't think so" Sheldon assured her. "Myunderstanding withold Seeleeis that he is paid only for live boys; so he is verycareful."
CHAPTERXXIII--A MESSAGE FROM THE BUSH
Never hadrunaways from Berande been more zealously hunted. Thedeeds ofGogoomy and his fellows had been a bad example for the onehundredand fifty new recruits. Murder had been planneda gang-boss hadbeen killedand the murderers had broken their contractsby fleeingto the bush. Sheldon saw how imperative it was to teachhisnew-caught cannibals that bad examples were disastrous thingsto patternafterand he urged Seelee on night and daywhile withtheTahitians he practically lived in the bushleaving Joan incharge ofthe plantation. To the north Boucher did good worktwiceturning the fugitives back when they attempted to gain thecoast.
One by onethe boys were captured. In the first man-drive throughthemangrove swamp Seelee caught two. Circling around to thenorthathird was wounded in the thigh by Boucherand this onedraggingbehind in the chasewas later gathered in by Seelee'shunters. The three captivesheavily ironedwere exposed each dayin thecompoundas good examples of what happened to bad examplesall forthe edification of the seven score and ten half-wildPoonga-Poongamen. Then the Minervarunning past for Tulagiwassignalledto send a boatand the three prisoners were carried awayto prisonto await trial.
Five werestill at largebut escape was impossible. They couldnot getdown to the coastnor dared they venture too far inlandfor fearof the wild bushmen. Then one of the five came involuntarilyand gave himself upand Sheldon learned that Gogoomyand twoothers were all that were at large. There should have beena fourthbut according to the man who had given himself upthefourth manhad been killed and eaten. It had been fear of asimilarfate that had driven him in. He was a Malu manfromnorth-westernMalaitaas likewise had been the one that was eaten.Gogoomy'stwo other companions were from Port Adams. As forhimselfthe black declared his preference for government trial andpunishmentto being eaten by his companions in the bush.
"Closeup Gogoomy kai-kai me" he said. "My wordme no likeboykai-kaime."
Three dayslater Sheldon caught one of the boyshelpless fromswampfeverand unable to fight or run away. On the same daySeeleecaught the second boy in similar condition. Gogoomy aloneremainedat large; andas the pursuit closed in on himheconqueredhis fear of the bushmen and headed straight in for themountainousbackbone of the island. Sheldon with four Tahitiansand Seeleewith thirty of his huntersfollowed Gogoomy's trail adozenmiles into the open grass-landsand then Seelee and hispeoplelost heart. He confessed that neither he nor any of histribe hadever ventured so far inland beforeand he narratedforSheldon'sbenefitmost horrible tales of the horrible bushmen. Inthe olddayshe saidthey had crossed the grasslands and attackedthesalt-water natives; but since the coming of the white men tothe coastthey had remained in their interior fastnessesand nosalt-waternative had ever seen them again.
"Gogoomyhe finish along them fella bushmen" he assured Sheldon."Mywordhe finish close upkai-kai altogether."
So theexpedition turned back. Nothing could persuade the coastnatives toventure fartherand Sheldonwith his four Tahitiansknew thatit was madness to go on alone. So he stood waist-deep inthe grassand looked regretfully across the rolling savannah andthesoft-swelling foothills to the Lion's Heada massive peak ofrock thatupreared into the azure from the midmost centre ofGuadalcanara landmark used for bearings by every coastingmarineramountain as yet untrod by the foot of a white man.
Thatnightafter dinnerSheldon and Joan were playing billiardswhen Satanbarked in the compoundand Lalaperusent to seebroughtback a tired and travel-stained nativewho wanted to talkwith the"big fella white marster." It was only the man'sinsistencethat procured him admittance at such an hour. Sheldonwent outon the veranda to see himand at first glance at thegauntfeatures and wasted body of the man knew that his errand waslikely toprove important. NeverthelessSheldon demanded roughly-
"Whatname you come along house belong me sun he go down?"
"MeCharley" the man muttered apologetically and wearily. "Mestop alongBinu."
"AhBinu Charleyeh? Wellwhat name you talk along me? Whatplace bigfella marster along white man he stop?"
Joan andSheldon together listened to the tale Binu Charley hadbrought. He described Tudor's expedition up the Balesuna; thedraggingof the boats up the rapids; the passage up the river whereitthreaded the grass-lands; the innumerable washings of gravel bythe whitemen in search of gold; the first rolling foothills; theman-trapsof spear-staked pits in the jungle trails; the firstmeetingwith the bushmenwho had never seen tobaccoand knew notthevirtues of smoking; their friendliness; the deeper penetrationof theinterior around the flanks of the Lion's Head; the bush-sores andthe fevers of the white menand their madness intrustingthe bushmen.
"Alleetime I talk along white fella marster" he said. "Metalk'Thatfella bushman he look 'm eye belong him. He savvee too much.S'posemusket he stop along youthat fella bushman he too muchgoodfriend along you. Allee time he look sharp eye belong him.S'posemusket he no stop along youmy wordthat fella bushman hechop 'moff head belong you. He kai-kai you altogether.'"
But thepatience of the bushmen had exceeded that of the white men.The weekshad gone byand no overt acts had been attempted. Thebushmenswarmed in the camp in increasing numbersand they werealwaysmaking presents of yams and taroof pig and fowland ofwildfruits and vegetables. Whenever the gold-hunters moved theircampthebushmen volunteered to carry the luggage. And the whitemen waxedever more careless. They grew weary prospectingand atthe sametime carrying their rifles and the heavy cartridge-beltsand thepractice began of leaving their weapons behind them incamp.
"Itell 'm plenty fella white marster look sharp eye belong him.And plentyfella white marster make 'm big laugh along mesay BinuCharleyallee same pickaninny--my wordthey speak along me alleesamepickaninny."
Came themorning when Binu Charley noticed that the women andchildrenhad disappeared. Tudorat the timewas lying in astuporwith fever in a late camp five miles awaythe main camphavingmoved on those five miles in order to prospect an outcrop oflikelyquartz. Binu Charley was midway between the two camps whentheabsence of the women and children struck him as suspicious.
"Myword" he said"me t'ink like hell. Him black Maryhimpickaninnywalk about long way big bit. What name? Me savvee toomuchtrouble close up. Me fright like hell. Me run. Mywordmerun."
Tudorquite unconsciouswas slung across his shoulderandcarried amile down the trail. Herehiding new trailBinuCharleyhad carried him for a quarter of a mile into the heart ofthedeepest jungleand hidden him in a big banyan tree. Returningto try tosave the rifles and personal outfitBinu Charley hadseen aparty of bushmen trotting down the trailand had hidden inthe bush. Hereand from the direction of the main camphe hadheard tworifle shots. And that was all. He had never seen thewhite menagainnor had he ventured near their old camp. He hadgone backto Tudorand hidden with him for a weekliving on wildfruits andthe few pigeons and cockatoos he had been able to shootwith bowand arrow. Then he had journeyed down to Berande to bringthe news. Tudorhe saidwas very sicklying unconscious fordays at atimeandwhen in his right mindtoo weak to helphimself.
"Whatname you no kill 'm that big fella marster?" Joan demanded."Hehave 'm good fella musketplenty calicoplenty tobaccoplentyknife-feeand two fella pickaninny musket shoot quickbang-bang-bang--justlike that."
The blacksmiled cunningly.
"Mesavvee too much. S'pose me kill 'm big fella marsterbimebyplentywhite fella marster walk about Binu cross like hell. 'Whatname thisfellow musket?' those plenty fella white marster talk 'malong me. My wordBinu Charley finish altogether. S'pose me kill'm himnogood along me. Plenty white fella marster cross alongme. S'pose me no kill 'm himbimeby he give me plenty tobaccoplentycalicoplenty everything too much."
"Thereis only the one thing to do" Sheldon said to Joan.
Shedrummed with her hand and waitedwhile Binu Charley gazedwearily ather with unblinking eyes.
"I'llstart the first thing in the morning" Sheldon said.
"We'llstart" she corrected. "I can get twice as much outof myTahitiansas you canandbesidesone white should never be aloneunder suchcircumstances."
Heshrugged his shoulders in tokennot of consentbut ofsurrenderknowing the uselessness of attempting to argue thequestionwith herand consoling himself with the reflection thatheavenalone knew what adventures she was liable to engage in ifleft aloneon Berande for a week. He clapped his handsand forthe nextquarter of an hour the house-boys were kept busy carryingmessagesto the barracks. A man was sent to Balesuna village tocommandold Seelee's immediate presence. A boat's-crew was startedin awhale-boat with word for Boucher to come down. Ammunition wasissued tothe Tahitiansand the storeroom overhauled for a fewdays'tinned provisions. Viaburi turned yellow when told that hewas toaccompany the expeditionandto everybody's surpriseLalaperuvolunteered to take his place.
Seeleearrivedproud in his importance that the great master ofBerandeshould summon him in the night-time for counciland firmin hisrefusal to step one inch within the dread domain of thebushmen. As he saidif his opinion had been asked when the gold-huntersstartedhe would have foretold their disastrous end.There wasonly one thing that happened to any one who ventured intothebushmen's territoryand that was that he was eaten. And hewouldfurther saywithout being askedthat if Sheldon went upinto thebush he would be eaten too.
Sheldonsent for a gang-boss and told him to bring ten of thebiggestbestand strongest Poonga-Poonga men.
"Notsalt-water boys" Sheldon cautioned"but bush boys--legbelong himstrong fella leg. Boy no savvee musketno good. Youbring 'mboy shoot musket strong fella."
They wereten picked men that filed up on the veranda and stood inthe glareof the lanterns. Their heavymuscular legs advertisedthat theywere bushmen. Each claimed long experience in bush-fightingmost of them showed scars of bullet or spear-thrust inproofandall were wild for a chance to break the humdrum monotonyofplantation labour by going on a killing expedition. Killing wastheirnatural vocationnot wood-cutting; and while they would nothaveventured the Guadalcanar bush alonewith a white man likeSheldonbehind themand a white Mary such as they knew Joan to bethey couldexpect a safe and delightful time. Besidesthe greatmaster hadtold them that the eight gigantic Tahitians were goingalong.
ThePoonga-Poonga volunteers stood with glistening eyes andgrinningfacesnaked save for their loin-clothsand barbarouslyornamented. Each wore a flatturtle-shell ring suspended throughhis noseand each carried a clay pipe in an ear-hole or thrustinside abeaded biceps armlet. A pair of magnificent boar tusksgraced thechest of one. On the chest of another hung a huge discofpolished fossil clam-shell.
"Plentystrong fella fight" Sheldon warned them in conclusion.
Theygrinned and shifted delightedly.
"S'posebushmen kai-kai along you?" he queried.
"Nofear" answered their spokesmanone Koogooa strappingthick-lippedEthiopian-looking man. "S'pose Poonga-Poonga boy kai-kaibush-boy?"
Sheldonshook his headlaughingand dismissed themand went tooverhaulthe dunnage-room for a small shelter tent for Joan's use.
CHAPTERXXIV--IN THE BUSH
It wasquite a formidable expedition that departed from Berande atbreak ofday next morning in a fleet of canoes and dinghies. Therewere Joanand Sheldonwith Binu Charley and Lalaperuthe eightTahitiansand the ten Poonga-Poonga meneach proud in thepossessionof a bright and shining modern rifle. In additionthere weretwo of the plantation boat's-crews of six men each.Thesehoweverwere to go no farther than Carliwhere watertransportationceased and where they were to wait with the boats.Boucherremained behind in charge of Berande.
By elevenin the morning the expedition arrived at Binua clusterof twentyhouses on the river bank. And from here thirty odd Binumenaccompanied themarmed with spears and arrowschattering andgrimacingwith delight at the warlike array. The long quietstretchesof river gave way to swifter waterand progress wasslower andmore dogged. The Balesuna grew shallow as wellandoftenerwere the loaded boats bumped along and half-lifted over thebottom. In places timber-falls blocked the passage of the narrowstreamand the boats and canoes were portaged around. Nightbroughtthem to Carliand they had the satisfaction of knowingthat theyhad accomplished in one day what had required two daysforTudor's expedition.
Here atCarlinext morninghalf-way through the grass-landstheboat's-crewswere leftand with them the horde of Binu mentheboldest ofwhich held on for a bare mile and then ran scamperingback. Binu Charleyhoweverwas at the foreand led the wayonwardinto the rolling foot-hillsfollowing the trail made byTudor andhis men weeks before. That night they camped well intothe hillsand deep in the tropic jungle. The third day found themon therun-ways of the bushmen--narrow paths that compelled singlefile andthat turned and twisted with endless convolutions throughthe denseundergrowth. For the most part it was a silent forestlush anddankwhere only occasionally a wood-pigeon cooed or snow-whitecockatoos laughed harshly in laborious flight.
Hereinthe mid-morningthe first casualty occurred. BinuCharleyhad dropped behind for a timeand Koogoothe Poonga-Poonga manwho had boasted that he would eat the bushmenwas inthe lead. Joan and Sheldon heard the twanging thrum and saw Koogoothrow outhis armsat the same time dropping his riflestumbleforwardand sink down on his hands and knees. Between his nakedshoulderslow down and to the leftappeared the bone-barbed headof anarrow. He had been shot through and through. Cockedriflesswept thebush with nervous apprehension. But there was no rustlenomovement; nothing but the humid oppressive silence.
"Bushmenhe no stop" Binu Charley called outthe sound of hisvoicestartling more than one of them. "Allee same damn funnybusiness. That fella Koogoo no look 'm eye belong him. He nosavveelittle bit."
Koogoo'sarms had crumpled under himand he lay quivering where hehadfallen. Even as Binu Charley came to the front the strickenblack'sbreath passed from himand with a final convulsive stir helay still.
"Rightthrough the heart" Sheldon saidstraightening up from thestoopingexamination. "It must have been a trap of some sort."
He noticedJoan's whitetense faceand the wide eyes with whichshe staredat the wreck of what had been a man the minute before.
"Irecruited that boy myself" she said in a whisper. "Hecamedown outof the bush at Poonga-Poonga and right on board the Marthaandoffered himself. And I was proud. He was my very firstrecruit--"
"Myword! Look 'm that fella" Binu Charley interruptedbrushingaside theleafy wall of the run-way and exposing a bow so massivethat noone bushman could have bent it.
The Binuman traced out the mechanics of the trapand exposed thehiddenfibre in the tangled undergrowth that at contact withKoogoo'sfoot had released the taut bow.
They weredeep in the primeval forest. A dim twilight prevailedfor norandom shaft of sunlight broke through the thick roof ofleaves andcreepers overhead. The Tahitians were plainly awed bythesilence and gloom and mystery of the place and happeningbuttheyshowed themselves doggedly unafraidand were for pushing on.ThePoonga-Poonga menon the contrarywere not awed. They werebushmenthemselvesand they were used to this silent warfarethough thedevices were different from those employed by them intheir ownbush. Most awed of all were Joan and Sheldonbutbeingwhitesthey were not supposed to be subject to such commonplaceemotionsand their task was to carry the situation off withcarelessbravado as befitted "big fella marsters" of the dominantbreed.
BinuCharley took the lead as they pushed onand trap after trapyieldedits secret lurking-place to his keen scrutiny. The way wasbeset witha thousand annoyanceschiefest among which were thornscunninglyconcealedthat penetrated the bare feet of the invaders.Onceduring the afternoonBinu Charley barely missed beingimpaled ina staked pit that undermined the trail. There weretimes whenall stood still and waited for half an hour or morewhile BinuCharley prospected suspicious parts of the trail.Sometimeshe was compelled to leave the trail and creep and climbthroughthe jungle so as to approach the man-traps from behind; andon oneoccasionin spite of his precautiona spring-bow wasdischargedthe flying arrow barely clipping the shoulder of one ofthewaiting Poonga-Poonga boys.
Where aslight run-way entered the main oneSheldon paused andasked BinuCharley if he knew where it led.
"Plentybush fella garden he stop along there short way littlebit"was the answer. "All right you like 'm go look 'm along."
"'Walk'm easy" he cautioneda few minutes later. "Closeupthat fellagarden. S'pose some bush fella he stopwe catch 'm."
Creepingahead and peering into the clearing for a momentBinuCharleybeckoned Sheldon to come on cautiously. Joan crouchedbesidehimand together they peeped out. The cleared space wasfully halfan acre in extent and carefully fenced against the wildpigs. Paw-paw and banana-trees were just ripening their fruitwhilebeneath grew sweet potatoes and yams. On one edge of theclearingwas a small grass houseopen-sideda mere rain-shelter.In frontof itcrouched on his hams before a firewas a gaunt andbeardedbushman. The fire seemed to smoke excessivelyand in thethick ofthe smoke a round dark object hung suspended. The bushmanseemedabsorbed in contemplation of this object.
Warningthem not to shoot unless the man was successfully escapingSheldonbeckoned the Poonga-Poonga men forward. Joan smiledappreciativelyto Sheldon. It was head-hunters against head-hunters. The blacks trod noiselessly to their stationswhich werearrangedso that they could spring simultaneously into the open.Theirfaces were keen and serioustheir eyes eloquent with theecstasy ofliving that was upon them--for this was livingthisgame oflife and deathand to them it was the only game a manshouldplaywithal they played it in low and cowardly wayskillingfrom behind in the dim forest gloom and rarely coming outinto theopen.
Sheldonwhispered the wordand the ten runners leaped forward--forBinuCharley ran with them. The bushman's keen ears warned himand hesprang to his feetbow and arrow in handthe arrow fixedin thenotch and the bow bending as he sprang. The man he letdrive atdodged the arrowand before he could shoot another hisenemieswere upon him. He was rolled over and over and dragged tohis feetdisarmed and helpless.
"Whyhe's an ancient Babylonian!" Joan criedregarding him."He'san Assyriana Phoenician! Look at that straight nosethatnarrowfacethose high cheek-bones--and that slantingovalforeheadand the beardand the eyestoo."
"Andthe snaky locks" Sheldon laughed.
Thebushman was in mortal fearled by all his training to expectnothingless than death; yet he did not cower away from them.Insteadhe returned their looks with lean self-sufficiencyandfinallycentred his gaze upon Joanthe first white woman he hadever seen.
"Mywordbush fella kai-kai along that fella boy" Binu Charleyremarked.
So stolidwas his manner of utterance that Joan turned carelesslyto seewhat had attracted his attentionand found herself face toface withGogoomy. At leastit was the head of Gogoomy--the darkobjectthey had seen hanging in the smoke. It was fresh--thesmoke-curinghad just begun--andsave for the closed eyesall thesullenhandsomeness and animal virility of the boyas Joan hadknown itwas still to be seen in the monstrous thing that twistedanddangled in the eddying smoke.
Nor wasJoan's horror lessened by the conduct of the Poonga-Poongaboys. On the instant they recognized the headand on the instantrose theirwild hearty laughter as they explained to one another inshrillfalsetto voices. Gogoomy's end was a joke. He had beenfoiled inhis attempt to escape. He had played the game and lost.And whatgreater joke could there be than that the bushmen shouldhave eatenhim? It was the funniest incident that had come undertheirnotice in many a day. And to them there was certainlynothingunusual nor bizarre in the event. Gogoomy had completedthelife-cycle of the bushman. He had taken headsand now his ownhead hadbeen taken. He had eaten menand now he had been eatenby men.
ThePoonga-Poonga men's laughter died downand they regarded thespectaclewith glittering eyes and gluttonous expressions. TheTahitianson the other handwere shockedand Adamu Adam wasshakinghis head slowly and grunting forth his disgust. Joan wasangry. Her face was whitebut in each cheek was a vivid spray ofred. Disgust had been displaced by wrathand her mood was clearlyvengeful.
"It'snothing to be angry over" he said. "You mustn'tforget thathe hackedoff Kwaque's headand that he ate one of his owncomradesthat ran away with him. Besideshe was born to it. Hehas butbeen eaten out of the same trough from which he himself haseaten."
Joanlooked at him with lips that trembled on the verge of speech.
"Anddon't forget" Sheldon added"that he is the son of achiefand thatas sure as fate his Port Adams tribesmen will take a whiteman's headin payment."
"Itis all so ghastly ridiculous" Joan finally said.
"And--er--romantic"he suggested slyly.
She didnot answerand turned away; but Sheldon knew that theshaft hadgone home.
"Thatfella boy he sickbelly belong him walk about" Binu Charleysaidpointing to the Poonga-Poonga man whose shoulder had beenscratchedby the arrow an hour before.
The boywas sitting down and groaninghis arms clasping his bentkneeshishead drooped forward and rolling painfully back andforth. For fear of poisonSheldon had immediately scarified thewound andinjected permanganate of potash; but in spite of theprecautionthe shoulder was swelling rapidly.
"We'lltake him on to where Tudor is lying" Joan said. "Thewalkingwill help to keep up his circulation and scatter thepoison. Adamu Adamyou take hold that boy. Maybe he will want tosleep. Shake him up. If he sleep he die."
Theadvance was more rapid nowfor Binu Charley placed the captivebushman infront of him and made him clear the run-way of traps.Onceat asharp turn where a man's shoulder would unavoidablybrushagainst a screen of leavesthe bushman displayed greatcaution ashe spread the leaves aside and exposed the head of asharp-pointedspearso set that the casual passer-by would receiveat theleast a nasty scratch.
"Myword" said Binu Charley"that fella spear allee samedevil-devil."
He tookthe spear and was examining it when suddenly he made as ifto stickit into the bushman. It was a bit of simulatedplayfulnessbut the bushman sprang back in evident fright.Poisonedthe weapon was beyond any doubtand thereafter BinuCharleycarried it threateningly at the prisoner's back.
The sunsinking behind a lofty western peakbrought on an earlybutlingering twilightand the expedition plodded on through theevilforest--the place of mystery and fearof death swift andsilent andhorribleof brutish appetite and degraded instinctofhuman lifethat still wallowed in the primeval slimeof savagerydegenerateand abysmal. No slightest breezes blew in the gloomysilenceand the air was stale and humid and suffocating. Thesweatpoured unceasingly from their bodiesand in their nostrilswas theheavy smell of rotting vegetation and of black earth thatwasa-crawl with fecund life.
Theyturned aside from the run-way at a place indicated by BinuCharleyandsometimes crawling on hands and knees through thedamp blackmuckat other times creeping and climbing through thetangledundergrowth a dozen feet from the groundthey came to animmensebanyan treehalf an acre in extentthat made in theinnermostheart of the jungle a denser jungle of its own. From outof itsblack depths came the voice of a man singing in a crackedeerievoice.
"Mywordthat big fella marster he no die!"
Thesinging stoppedand the voicefaint and weakcalled out ahello. Joan answeredand then the voice explained.
"I'mnot wandering. I was just singing to keep my spirits up.Have yougot anything to eat?"
A fewminutes saw the rescued man lying among blanketswhile fireswerebuildingwater was being carriedJoan's tent was going upandLalaperu was overhauling the packs and opening tins ofprovisions. Tudorhaving pulled through the fever and started tomendwasstill frightfully weak and very much starved. So badlyswollenwas he from mosquito-bites that his face wasunrecognizableand the acceptance of his identity was largely amatter offaith. Joan had her own ointments alongand sheprefacedtheir application by fomenting his swollen features withhotcloths. Sheldonwith an eye to the camp and the preparationsfor thenightlooked on and felt the pangs of jealousy at everycontact ofher hands with Tudor's face and body. Somehowengagedin theirhealing ministrationsthey no longer seemed to him boy'shandsthehands of Joan who had gazed at Gogoomy's head with palecheekssprayed with angry flame. The hands were now a woman'shandsandSheldon grinned to himself as his fancy suggested thatsome nighthe must lie outside the mosquito-netting in order tohave Joanapply soothing fomentations in the morning.
Themorning's action had been settled the night before. Tudor wasto staybehind in his banyan refuge and gather strength while theexpeditionproceeded. On the far chance that they might rescueeven onesolitary survivor of Tudor's partyJoan was fixed in herdeterminationto push on; and neither Sheldon nor Tudor couldpersuadeher to remain quietly at the banyan tree while Sheldonwent onand searched. With TudorAdamu Adam and Arahu were tostop asguardsthe latter Tahitian being selected to remainbecause ofa bad foot which had been brought about by stepping onone of thethorns concealed by the bushmen. It was evidently aslowpoisonand not too strongthat the bushmen usedfor thewoundedPoonga-Poonga man was still aliveand though his swollenshoulderwas enormousthe inflammation had already begun to godown. Hetooremained with Tudor.
BinuCharley led the wayby proxyhoweverforby means of thepoisonedspearhe drove the captive bushman ahead. The run-waystill ranthrough the dank and rotten jungleand they knew novillageswould be encountered till rising ground was gained. Theyploddedonpanting and sweating in the humidstagnant air. Theywereimmersed in a sea of wantonprodigal vegetation. All aboutthem thehuge-rooted trees blocked their footingwhile coiled andknottedclimbersof the girth of a man's armwere thrown fromloftybranch to lofty branchor hung in tangled masses like somanymonstrous snakes. Lush-stalked plantslarger-leaved than thebody of amanexuded a sweaty moisture from all their surfaces.Here andtherebanyan treeslike rocky islandsshouldered asidethestreaming riot of vegetation between their crowded columnsshowingportals and passages wherein all daylight was lost and onlymidnightgloom remained. Tree-ferns and mosses and a myriad otherparasiticforms jostled with gay-coloured fungoid growths for roomto liveand the very atmosphere itself seemed to afford clingingspace toairy fairy creeperslight and delicate as gem-dusttremulouswith microscopic blooms. Pale-golden and vermilionorchidsflaunted their unhealthy blossoms in the goldendrippingsunshinethat filtered through the matted roof. It was themysteriousevil foresta charnel house of silencewherein naughtmoved savestrange tiny birds--the strangeness of them making themysterymore profoundfor they flitted on noiseless wingsemittingneither song nor chirpand they were mottled with morbidcolourshaving all the seeming of orchidsflying blossoms ofsicknessand decay.
He wascaught by surprisefifteen feet in the air above the pathin theforks of a many-branched tree. All saw him as he droppedlike ashadownaked as on his natal mornlanding springily on hisbentkneesand like a shadow leaping along the run-way. It washard forthem to realize that it was a manfor he seemed a weirdjunglespirita goblin of the forest. Only Binu Charley was notperturbed. He flung his poisoned spear over the head of thecaptive atthe flitting form. It was a mighty castwell intendedbut theshadowleapingreceived the spear harmlessly between thelegsandtripping upon itwas flung sprawling. Before he couldget awayBinu Charley was upon himclutching him by his snow-whitehair. He was only a young manand a dandy at thathis faceblackenedwith charcoalhis hair whitened with wood-asheswiththefreshly severed tail of a wild pig thrust through hisperforatednoseand two more thrust through his ears. His onlyotherornament was a necklace of human finger-bones. At sight oftheirother prisoner he chattered in a high querulous falsettowithpuckered brows and troubledwild-animal eyes. He wasdisposedof along the middle of the lineone of the Poonga-Poongamenleading him at the end of a length of bark-rope.
The trailbegan to rise out of the jungledipping at times intofesteringhollows of unwholesome vegetationbut rising more andmore overswellingunseen hill-slopes or climbing steep hog-backsand rockyhummocks where the forest thinned and blue patches of skyappearedoverhead.
"Closeup he stop" Binu Charley warned them in a whisper.
Even as hespokefrom high overhead came the deep resonant boom ofa villagedrum. But the beat was slowthere was no panic in thesound. They were directly beneath the villageand they could hearthecrowing of roosterstwo women's voices raised in briefdisputeandoncethe crying of a child. The run-way now becamea deeplyworn pathrising so steeply that several times the partypaused forbreath. The path never widenedand in places the feetand therains of generations had scoured it till it was sunkentwentyfeet beneath the surface.
"Oneman with a rifle could hold it against a thousand" Sheldonwhisperedto Joan. "And twenty men could hold it with spears andarrows."
They cameout on the villagesituated on a smallupland plateaugrass-coveredand with only occasional trees. There was a wildchorus ofwarning cries from the womenwho scurried out of thegrasshousesand like frightened quail dived over the oppositeedge ofthe clearinggathering up their babies and children asthey ran. At the same time spears and arrows began to fall amongtheinvaders. At Sheldon's commandthe Tahitians and Poonga-Poonga mengot into action with their rifles. The spears andarrowsceasedthe last bushman disappearedand the fight was overalmost assoon as it had begun. On their own side no one had beenhurtwhile half a dozen bushmen had been killed. These aloneremainedthe wounded having been carried off. The Tahitians andPoonga-Poongamen had warmed up and were for pursuitbut thisSheldonwould not permit. To his pleased surpriseJoan backed himup in thedecision; forglancing at her once during the firinghehad seenher white facelike a glittering sword in its fightingintensitythe nostrils dilatedthe eyes bright and steady andshining.
"Poorbrutes" she said. "They act only according to theirnatures. To eat their kind and take heads is good morality forthem."
"Butthey should be taught not to take white men's heads" Sheldonargued.
She noddedapprovaland said"If we find one head we'll burn thevillage. HeyyouCharley! What fella place head he stop?"
"S'posehe stop along devil-devil house" was the answer. "Thatbig fellahousehe devil-devil."
It was thelargest house in the villageambitiously ornamentedwithfancy-plaited mats and king-posts carved into obscene andmonstrousforms half-human and half-animal. Into it they wentintheobscure light stumbling across the sleeping-logs of the villagebachelorsand knocking their heads against strings of weird votive-offeringsdried and shrivelledthat hung from the roof-beams. Oneitherside were rude godssome grotesquely carvedothers no morethanshapeless logs swathed in rotten and indescribably filthymatting. The air was mouldy and heavy with decaywhile strings offish-tailsand of half-cleaned dog and crocodile skulls did not addto thewholesomeness of the place.
In thecentrecrouched before a slow-smoking firein the litteredashes of athousand fireswas an old man who blinked apatheticallyat theinvaders. He was extremely old--so old that his witheredskin hungabout him in loose folds and did not look like skin. Hishands werebony clawshis emaciated face a sheer death's-head.His taskit seemedwas to tend the fireand while he blinked atthem headded to it a handful of dead and mouldy wood. And hung inthe smokethey found the object of their search. Joan turned andstumbledout hastilydeathly sickreeling into the sunshine andclutchingat the air for support.
"Seeif all are there" she called back faintlyand totteredaimlesslyon for a few stepsbreathing the air in great draughtsand tryingto forget the sight she had seen.
UponSheldon fell the unpleasant task of tallying the heads. Theywere alltherenine of themwhite men's headsthe faces of whichhe hadbeen familiar with when their owners had camped in Berandecompoundand set up the poling-boats. Binu Charleyhugelyinterestedlent a handturning the heads around foridentificationnoting the hatchet-strokesand remarking thedistortedexpressions. The Poonga-Poonga men gloated as usualandas usualthe Tahitians were shocked and angryseveral of themcursingand muttering in undertones. So angry was Matapuuthat hestrodesuddenly over to the fire-tender and kicked him in the ribswhereuponthe old savage emitted an appalling squealpig-like initswild-animal fearand fell face downward in the ashes and layquiveringin momentary expectation of death.
Otherheadsthoroughly sun-dried and smoke-curedwere found inabundancebutwith two exceptionsthey were the heads of blacks.So thiswas the manner of hunting that went on in the dark and evilforestSheldon thoughtas he regarded them. The atmosphere ofthe placewas sickeningyet he could not forbear to pause beforeone ofBinu Charley's finds.
"Mesavvee black Maryme savvee white Mary" quoth Binu Charley."Meno savvee that fella Mary. What name belong him?"
Sheldonlooked. Ancient and witheredblackened by many years ofthe smokeof the devil-devil housenevertheless the shrunkenmummy-likeface was unmistakably Chinese. How it had come therewas themystery. It was a woman's headand he had never heard ofa Chinesewoman in the history of the Solomons. From the ears hungtwo-inch-longear-ringsand at Sheldon's direction the Binu manrubbedaway the accretions of smoke and dirtand from under hisfingersappeared the polished green of jadethe sheen of pearland thewarm red of Oriental gold. The other headequallyancientwas a white man'sas the heavy blond moustachetwistedand askewon the shrivelled upper lipgave sufficientadvertisement;and Sheldon wondered what forgotten beche-de-merfishermanor sandalwood trader had gone to furnish that ghastlytrophy.
TellingBinu Charley to remove the ear-ringsand directing thePoonga-Poongamen to carry out the old fire-tenderSheldon clearedthedevil-devil house and set fire to it. Soon every house wasblazingmerrilywhile the ancient fire-tender sat upright in thesunshineblinking at the destruction of his village. From theheightsabovewhere were evidently other villagescame thebooming ofdrums and a wild blowing of war-conchs; but Sheldon haddared allhe cared to with his small following. Besideshismissionwas accomplished. Every member of Tudor's expedition wasaccountedfor; and it was a longdark way out of the head-hunters'country. Releasing their two prisonerswho leaped away likestartleddeerthey plunged down the steep path into the steamingjungle.
Joanstill shocked by what she had seenwalked on in front ofSheldonsubdued and silent. At the end of half an hour she turnedto himwith a wan smile and said-
"Idon't think I care to visit the head-hunters any more. It'sadventureI know; but there is such a thing as having too much ofa goodthing. Riding around the plantation will henceforth be goodenough formeor perhaps salving another Martha; but the bushmenofGuadalcanar need never worry for fear that I shall visit themagain. I shall have nightmares for months to comeI know I shall.Ugh!--thehorrid beasts!"
That nightfound them back in camp with Tudorwhowhile improvedwouldstill have to be carried down on a stretcher. The swellingof thePoonga-Poonga man's shoulder was going down slowlybutArahustill limped on his thorn-poisoned foot.
Two dayslater they rejoined the boats at Carli; and at high noonof thethird daytravelling with the current and shooting therapidsthe expedition arrived at Berande. Joanwith a sighunbuckledher revolver-belt and hung it on the nail in the living-roomwhile Sheldonwho had been lurking about for the sheer joyof seeingher perform that particular home-coming actsighedtoowithsatisfaction. But the home-coming was not all joy to himforJoan setabout nursing Tudorand spent much time on the verandawhere helay in the hammock under the mosquito-netting.
The tendays of Tudor's convalescence that followed were peacefuldays onBerande. The work of the plantation went on like clock-work. With the crushing of the premature outbreak of Gogoomy andhisfollowingall insubordination seemed to have vanished. Twentymore ofthe old-time boystheir term of service upwere carriedaway bythe Marthaand the fresh stock of labourtreated fairlywasproving of excellent quality. As Sheldon rode about theplantationacknowledging to himself the comfort and convenience ofa horseand wondering why he had not thought of getting onehimselfhe pondered the various improvements for which Joan wasresponsible--thesplendid Poonga-Poonga recruits; the fruits andvegetables;the Martha herselfsnatched from the sea for a songandearning money hand over fist despite old Kinross's slow andsafemethod of running her; and Berandeonce more financiallysecureapproaching each day nearer the dividend-paying timeandgrowingeach day as the black toilers cleared the bushcut thecane-grassand planted more cocoanut palms.
In theseand a thousand ways Sheldon was made aware of how much hewasindebted for material prosperity to Joan--to the slenderlevel-browedgirl with romance shining out of her gray eyes andadventureshouting from the long-barrelled Colt's on her hipwhohad landedon the beach that piping galealong with her stalwartTahitiancrewand who had entered his bungalow to hang with boy'shands herrevolver-belt and Baden-Powell hat on the nail by thebilliardtable. He forgot all the early exasperationsrememberingonly hercharms and sweetnesses and glorying much in the traits heat firsthad disliked most--her boyishness and adventurousnessherdelight toswim and risk the sharksher desire to go recruitingher loveof the sea and shipsher sharp authoritative words whenshelaunched the whale-boat andwith firestick in one hand anddynamite-stickin the otherdeparted with her picturesque crew toshoot fishin the Balesuna; her super-innocent disdain for thecommonestconventionsher juvenile joy in argumentherflutteringwild-bird love of freedom and mad passion forindependence. All this he now lovedand he no longer desired totame andhold herthough the paradox was the winning of herwithoutthe taming and the holding.
There weretimes when he was dizzy with thought of her and love ofherwhenhe would stop his horse and with closed eyes picture heras he hadseen her that first dayin the stern-sheets of thewhale-boatdashing madly in to shore and marching belligerentlyalong hisveranda to remark that it was pretty hospitality thislettingstrangers sink or swim in his front yard. And as he openedhis eyesand urged his horse onwardhe would ponder for the tenthousandthtime how possibly he was ever to hold her when she wasso wildand bird-like that she was bound to flutter out and awayfrom underhis hand.
It waspatent to Sheldon that Tudor had become interested in Joan.Thatconvalescent visitor practically lived on the verandathoughwhilepreposterously weak and shaky in the legshe had for sometimeinsisted on coming in to join them at the table at meals. Thefirstwarning Sheldon had of the other's growing interest in thegirl waswhen Tudor eased down and finally ceased pricking him withhishabitual sharpness of quip and speech. This cessation ofverbalsparring was like the breaking off of diplomatic relationsbetweencountries at the beginning of warandonce Sheldon'ssuspicionswere arousedhe was not long in finding otherconfirmations. Tudor too obviously joyed in Joan's presencetooobviouslylaid himself out to amuse and fascinate her with his owngloriousand adventurous personality. Oftenafter his morningride overthe plantationor coming in from the store or frominspectionof the copra-dryingSheldon found the pair of themtogetheron the verandaJoan listeningintent and excitedandTudor deepin some recital of personal adventure at the ends of theearth.
Sheldonnoticedtoothe way Tudor looked at her and followed herabout withhis eyesand in those eyes he noted a certain hungrylookandon the face a certain wistful expression; and he wonderedif on hisown face he carried a similar involuntary advertisement.He wassure of several things: firstthat Tudor was not the rightman forJoan and could not possibly make her permanently happy;nextthatJoan was too sensible a girl really to fall in love witha man ofsuch superficial stamp; andfinallythat Tudor wouldblunderhis love-making somehow. And at the same timewith truelover'sanxietySheldon feared that the other might somehow failtoblunderand win the girl with purely fortuitous and successfulmeretriciousshow. But of the one thing Sheldon was sure: Tudorhad nointimate knowledge of her and was unaware of how vital inher washer wildness and love of independence. That was where hewouldblunder--in the catching and the holding of her. And thenin spiteof all his certitudeSheldon could not forbear wonderingif histheories of Joan might not be wrongand if Tudor was notgoing theright way about after all.
Thesituation was very unsatisfactory and perplexing. Sheldonplayed thedifficult part of waiting and looking onwhile hisrivaldevoted himself energetically to reaching out and grasping atthefluttering prize. ThenagainTudor had such an irritatingway abouthim. It had become quite elusive and intangiblenowthat hehad tacitly severed diplomatic relations; but Sheldonsensedwhat he deemed a growing antagonism and promptly magnifiedit throughthe jealous lenses of his own lover's eyes. The otherwas aninterloper. He did not belong to Berandeand now that hewas welland strong again it was time for him to go. Instead ofwhichanddespite the calling in of the mail steamer bound forSydneyTudor had settled himself down comfortablyresumedswimmingwent dynamiting fish with Joanspent hours with herhuntingpigeonstrapping crocodilesand at target practice withrifle andrevolver.
But therewere certain traditions of hospitality that preventedSheldonfrom breathing a hint that it was time for his guest totakehimself off. And in similar fashionfeeling that it was notplayingthe gamehe fought down the temptation to warn Joan. Hadhe knownanythingnot too seriousto Tudor's detrimenthe wouldhave beenunable to utter it; but the worst of it was that he knewnothing atall against the man. That was the confounded part ofitandsometimes he was so baffled and overwrought by his feelingsthat heassumed a super-judicial calm and assured himself that hisdislike ofTudor was a matter of unsubstantial prejudice andjealousy.
Outwardlyhe maintained a calm and smiling aspect. The work oftheplantation went on. The Martha and the Flibberty-Gibbet cameand wentas did all the miscellany of coasting craft that droppedin to waitfor a breeze and have a gossipa drink or twoand agame ofbilliards. Satan kept the compound free of niggers.Bouchercame down regularly in his whale-boat to pass Sunday.Twice adayat breakfast and dinnerJoan and Sheldon and Tudormetamicably at tableand the evenings were as amicably spent ontheveranda.
And thenit happened. Tudor made his blunder. Never diviningJoan'sfluttering wildnessher blind hatred of restraint andcompulsionher abhorrence of mastery by anotherand mistaking thewarmth andenthusiasm in her eyes (aroused by his latest tale) forsomethingtender and acquiescenthe drew her to himlaid aforcibledetaining arm about her waistand misapprehended herfranticrevolt for an exhibition of maidenly reluctance. Itoccurredon the verandaafter breakfastand Sheldonwithinponderinga Sydney wholesaler's catalogue and making up his ordersfor nextsteamer-dayheard the sharp exclamation of Joanfollowedby theequally sharp impact of an open hand against a cheek.Jerkingfree from the arm that was all distasteful compulsionJoanhadslapped Tudor's face resoundingly and with far more vim andweightthan when she had cuffed Gogoomy.
Sheldonhad half-started upthen controlled himself and sunk backin hischairso that by the time Joan entered the door hiscomposurewas recovered. Her right fore-arm was clutched tightlyin herleft handwhile the white cheekscentred with the spots offlamingredreminded him of the time he had first seen her angry.
"Hehurt my arm" she blurted outin reply to his look of inquiry.
He smiledinvoluntarily. It was so like herso like the boy shewastocome running to complain of the physical hurt which hadbeen doneher. She was certainly not a woman versed in the ways ofman and inthe ways of handling man. The resounding slap she hadgivenTudor seemed still echoing in Sheldon's earsand as helooked atthe girl before him crying out that her arm was hurthissmile grewbroader.
It was thesmile that did itconvicting Joan in her own eyes ofthesilliness of her cry and sending over her face the most amazingblush hehad ever seen. Throatcheeksand forehead flamed withthe rushof the shamed blood.
"He--he--"she attempted to vindicate her deeper indignationthenwhirledabruptly away and passed out the rear door and down thesteps.
Sheldonsat and mused. He was a trifle angryand the more hedwelt uponthe happening the angrier he grew. If it had been anywomanexcept Joan it would have been amusing. But Joan was thelast womanin the world to attempt to kiss forcibly. The thingsmacked ofthe back stairs anyway--a sordid little comedy perhapsbut tohave tried it on Joan was nothing less than sacrilege. Theman shouldhave had better sense. ThentooSheldon waspersonallyaggrieved. He had been filched of something that hefelt wasalmost hisand his lover's jealousy was rampant atthought ofthis forced familiarity.
It waswhile in this mood that the screen door banged loudly behindthe heelsof Tudorwho strode into the room and paused before him.Sheldonwas unpreparedthough it was very apparent that the otherwasfurious.
"Well?"Tudor demanded defiantly.
And on theinstant speech rushed to Sheldon's lips.
"Ihope you won't attempt anything like it againthat's all--exceptthat I shall be only too happy any time to extend to you thecourtesyof my whale-boat. It will land you in Tulagi in a fewhours."
"Asif that would settle it" was the retort.
"Idon't understand" Sheldon said simply.
"Thenit is because you don't wish to understand."
"StillI don't understand" Sheldon said in steadylevel tones."Allthat is clear to me is that you are exaggerating your ownblunderinto something serious."
Tudorgrinned maliciously and replied-
"Itwould seem that you are doing the exaggeratinginviting me toleave inyour whale-boat. It is telling me that Berande is not bigenough forthe pair of us. Now let me tell you that the SolomonIslands isnot big enough for the pair of us. This thing's got tobe settledbetween usand it may as well be settled right here andnow."
"Ican understand your fire-eating manners as being natural toyou"Sheldon went on wearily"but why you should try them on meis what Ican't comprehend. You surely don't want to quarrel withme."
"Butwhat in heaven's name for?"
Tudorsurveyed him with withering disgust.
"Youhaven't the soul of a louse. I suppose any man could makelove toyour wife--"
"ButI have no wife" Sheldon interrupted.
"Thenyou ought to have. The situation is outrageous. You mightat leastmarry heras I am honourably willing to do."
For thefirst time Sheldon's rising anger boiled over.
"You--"he began violentlythen abruptly caught control of himselfand wenton soothingly"you'd better take a drink and think itover. That's my advice to you. Of coursewhen you do get coolaftertalking to me in this fashion you won't want to stay on anylongersowhile you're getting that drink I'll call the boat's-crew andlaunch a boat. You'll be in Tulagi by eight thisevening."
He turnedtoward the dooras if to put his words into executionbut theother caught him by the shoulder and twirled him around.
"LookhereSheldonI told you the Solomons were too small for thepair ofusand I meant it."
"Isthat an offer to buy Berandelockstockand barrel?" Sheldonqueried.
"Noit isn't. It's an invitation to fight."
"Butwhat the devil do you want to fight with me for?" Sheldon'sirritationwas growing at the other's persistence. "I've noquarrelwith you. And what quarrel can you have with me? I haveneverinterfered with you. You were my guest. Miss Lackland ismypartner. If you saw fit to make love to herand somehow failed tosucceedwhy should you want to fight with me? This is thetwentiethcenturymy dear fellowand duelling went out of fashionbefore youand I were born."
"Youbegan the row" Tudor doggedly asserted. "You gave metounderstandthat it was time for me to go. You fired me out of yourhouseinshort. And then you have the cheek to want to know why Iamstarting the row. It won't doI tell you. You starteditandI am goingto see it through."
Sheldonsmiled tolerantly and proceeded to light a cigarette. ButTudor wasnot to be turned aside.
"Youstarted this row" he urged.
"Thereisn't any row. It takes two to make a rowand Ifor onerefuse tohave anything to do with such tomfoolery."
"Youstarted itI sayand I'll tell you why you started it."
"Ifancy you've been drinking" Sheldon interposed. "It'sthe onlyexplanationI can find for your unreasonableness."
"AndI'll tell you why you started it. It wasn't silliness on yourpart toexaggerate this little trifle of love-making into somethingserious. I was poaching on your preservesand you wanted to getrid ofme. It was all very nice and snug hereyou and the girluntil Icame along. And now you're jealous--that's itjealousy--and wantme out of it. But I won't go."
"Thenstay on by all means. I won't quarrel with you about it.Makeyourself comfortable. Stay for a yearif you wish."
"She'snot your wife" Tudor continuedas though the other had notspoken. "A fellow has the right to make love to her unless she'syour--wellperhaps it was an error after alldue to ignoranceperfectlyexcusableon my part. I might have seen it with half aneye if I'dlistened to the gossip on the beach. All Guvutu andTulagiwere laughing about it. I was a fooland I certainly madethemistake of taking the situation on its assumed innocent face-value."
So angrywas Sheldon becoming that the face and form of the otherseemed tovibrate and oscillate before his eyes. Yet outwardlySheldonwas calm and apparently weary of the discussion.
"Pleasekeep her out of the conversation" he said.
"Butwhy should I?" was the demand. "The pair of youtrapped meintomaking a fool of myself. How was I to know that everythingwas notall right? You and she acted as if everything were on thesquare. But my eyes are open now. Whyshe played the outragedwife toperfectionslapped the transgressor and fled to you.Prettygood proof of what all the beach has been saying. Partnerseh?--abusiness partnership? Gammon my eyethat's what it is."
Then itwas that Sheldon struck outcoolly and deliberatelywithall thestrength of his armand Tudorcaught on the jawfellsidewayscrumpling as he did so and crushing a chair to kindlingwoodbeneath the weight of his falling body. He pulled himselfslowly tohis feetbut did not offer to rush.
"Nowwill you fight?" Tudor said grimly.
Sheldonlaughedand for the first time with true spontaneity. Theintrinsicridiculousness of the situation was too much for hissense ofhumour. He made as if to repeat the blowbut Tudorwhite offacewith arms hanging resistlessly at his sidesofferednodefence.
"Idon't mean a fight with fists" he said slowly. "Imean to afinishtothe death. You're a good shot with revolver and rifle.So am I. That's the way we'll settle it."
"Youhave gone clean mad. You are a lunatic."
"NoI'm not" Tudor retorted. "I'm a man in love. And once againI ask youto go outside and settle itwith any weapons youchoose."
Sheldonregarded him for the first time with genuine seriousnesswonderingwhat strange maggots could be gnawing in his brain todrive himto such unusual conduct.
"Butmen don't act this way in real life" Sheldon remarked.
"You'llfind I'm pretty real before you're done with me. I'm goingto killyou to-day."
"Boshand nonsenseman." This time Sheldon had lost his temperover thesuperficial aspects of the situation. "Bosh and nonsensethat's allit is. Men don't fight duels in the twentieth century.It's--it'santediluvianI tell you."
"Pleasekeep her name out of it" Sheldon warned him.
"Iwillif you'll fight."
Sheldonthrew up his arms despairingly.
"Lookout" Sheldon warned again.
"Ohgo aheadknock me down. But that won't close my mouth. Youcan knockme down all daybut as fast as I get to my feet I'llspeak ofJoan again. Now will you fight?"
"Listento meTudor" Sheldon beganwith an effort atdecisiveness. "I am not used to taking from men a tithe of whatI'vealready taken from you."
"You'lltake a lot more before the day's out" was the answer. "Itell youyou simply must fight. I'll give you a fair chance tokill mebut I'll kill you before the day's out. This isn'tcivilization. It's the Solomon Islandsand a pretty primitivepropositionfor all that. King Edward and law and order arerepresentedby the Commissioner at Tulagi and an occasionalvisitinggunboat. And two men and one woman is an equallyprimitiveproposition. We'll settle it in the good old primitiveway."
As Sheldonlooked at him the thought came to his mind that afterall theremight be something in the other's wild adventures overtheearth. It required a man of that calibrea man capable ofobtrudinga duel into orderly twentieth century lifeto find suchwildadventures.
"There'sonly one way to stop me" Tudor went on. "I can'tinsultyoudirectlyI know. You are too easy-goingor cowardlyorbothforthat. But I can narrate for you the talk of the beach--ahthatgrinds youdoesn't it? I can tell you what the beach hasto sayabout you and this young girl running a plantation under abusinesspartnership."
"Stop!"Sheldon criedfor the other was beginning to vibrate andoscillatebefore his eyes. "You want a duel. I'll give it toyou." Then his common-sense and dislike for the ridiculousassertedthemselvesand he added"But it's absurdimpossible."
"Joanand David--partnerseh? Joan and David--partners" Tudorbegan toiterate and reiterate in a malicious and scornful chant.
"Forheaven's sake keep quietand I'll let you have your way"Sheldoncried. "I never saw a fool so bent on his folly. Whatkind of aduel shall it be? There are no seconds. What weaponsshall weuse?"
ImmediatelyTudor's monkey-like impishness left himand he wasonce morethe coolself-possessed man of the world.
"I'veoften thought that the ideal duel should be somewhatdifferentfrom the conventional one" he said. "I've foughtseveral ofthat sortyou know--"
"Frenchones" Sheldon interrupted.
"Callthem that. But speaking of this ideal duelhere it is. Nosecondsof courseand no onlookers. The two principals alone arenecessary. They may use any weapons they pleasefrom revolversand riflesto machine guns and pompoms. They start a mile apartandadvance on each othertaking advantage of coverretreatingcirclingfeinting--anything and everything permissible. In shorttheprincipals shall hunt each other--"
"Likea couple of wild Indians?"
"Precisely"cried Tudordelighted. "You've got the idea. AndBerande isjust the placeand this is just the right time. MissLacklandwill be taking her siestaand she'll think we are. We'vegot twohours for it before she wakes. So hurry up and come on.You startout from the Balesuna and I start from the Berande.Those tworivers are the boundaries of the plantationaren't they?Verywell. The field of the duel will be the plantation. Neitherprincipalmust go outside its boundaries. Are you satisfied?"
"Quite. But have you any objections if I leave some orders?"
"Notat all" Tudor acquiescedthe pink of courtesy now that hiswish hadbeen granted.
Sheldonclapped his handsand the running house-boy hurried awayto bringback Adamu Adam and Noa Noah.
"Listen"Sheldon said to them. "This man and mewe have one bigfightto-day. Maybe he die. Maybe I die. If he dieallright.If I dieyou two look after Missie Lackalanna. You take riflesand youlook after her daytime and night-time. If she want to talkwith Mr.Tudorall right. If she not want to talkyou make himkeepaway. Savvee?"
Theygrunted and nodded. They had had much to do with white menand hadlearned never to question the strange ways of the strangebreed. If these two saw fit to go out and kill each otherthatwas theirbusiness and not the business of the islanderswho tookordersfrom them. They stepped to the gun-rackand each picked arifle.
"Betterall Tahitian men have rifles" suggested Adamu Adam."Maybebig trouble come."
"Allrightyou take them" Sheldon answeredbusy with issuing theammunition.
They wentto the door and down the stepscarrying the eight riflesto theirquarters. Tudorwith cartridge-belts for rifle andpistolstrapped around himrifle in handstood impatientlywaiting.
"Comeonhurry up; we're burning daylight" he urgedas Sheldonsearchedafter extra clips for his automatic pistol.
Togetherthey passed down the steps and out of the compound to thebeachwhere they turned their backs to each otherand eachproceededtoward his destinationtheir rifles in the hollows oftheirarmsTudor walking toward the Berande and Sheldon toward theBalesuna.
Barely hadSheldon reached the Balesunawhen he heard the faintreport ofa distant rifle and knew it was the signal of Tudorgivingnotice that he had reached the Berandeturned aboutandwas comingback. Sheldon fired his rifle into the air in answerand inturn proceeded to advance. He moved as in a dreamabsent-mindedlykeeping to the open beach. The thing was so preposterousthat hehad to struggle to realize itand he reviewed in his mindtheconversation with Tudortrying to find some clue to thecommon-senseof what he was doing. He did not want to kill Tudor.Becausethat man had blundered in his love-making was no reasonthat heSheldonshould take his life. Then what was it allabout? Truethe fellow had insulted Joan by his subsequentremarksand been knocked down for itbut because he had knockedhim downwas no reason that he should now try to kill him.
In thisfashion he covered a quarter of the distance between thetworiverswhen it dawned upon him that Tudor was not on the beachat all. Of course not. He was advancingaccording to the termsof theagreementin the shelter of the cocoanut trees. Sheldonpromptlyswerved to the left to seek similar shelterwhen thefaintcrack of a rifle came to his earsand almost immediately thebulletstriking the hard sand a hundred feet beyond himricochettedand whined onward on a second flightconvincing himthatpreposterous and unreal as it wasit was nevertheless soberfact. It had been intended for him. Yet even then it was hard tobelieve. He glanced over the familiar landscape and at the seadimplingin the light but steady breeze. From the direction ofTulagi hecould see the white sails of a schooner laying a tackacrosstoward Berande. Down the beach a horse was grazingand heidlywondered where the others were. The smoke rising from thecopra-dryingcaught his eyeswhich roved on over the barracksthetool-housesthe boat- shedsand the bungalowand came to rest onJoan'slittle grass house in the corner of the compound.
Keepingnow to the shelter of the treeshe went forward anotherquarter ofa mile. If Tudor had advanced with equal speed theyshouldhave come together at that pointand Sheldon concluded thatthe otherwas circling. The difficulty was to locate him. Therows oftreesrunning at right anglesenabled him to see alongonly onenarrow avenue at a time. His enemy might be coming alongthe nextavenueor the nextto right or left. He might be ahundredfeet away or half a mile. Sheldon plodded onand decidedthat theold stereotyped duel was far simpler and easier than thisprotractedhide-and-seek affair. Hetootried circlingin thehope ofcutting the other's circle; butwithout catching a glimpseof himhefinally emerged upon a fresh clearing where the youngtreeswaist-highafforded little shelter and less hiding. Justas heemergedstepping out a pacea rifle cracked to his rightand thoughhe did not hear the bullet in passingthe thud of itcame tohis ears when it struck a palm-trunk farther on.
He sprangback into the protection of the larger trees. Twice hehadexposed himself and been fired atwhile he had failed to catcha singleglimpse of his antagonist. A slow anger began to burn inhim. It was deucedly unpleasanthe decidedthis being pepperedat; andnonsensical as it really wasit was none the less deadlyserious. There was no avoiding the issueno firing in the air andgettingover with it as in the old-fashioned duel. This mutualman-huntmust keep up until one got the other. And if oneneglecteda chance to get the otherthat increased the other'schance toget him. There could be no false sentiment about it.Tudor hadbeen a cunning devil when he proposed this sort of duelSheldonconcludedas he began to work along cautiously in thedirectionof the last shot.
When hearrived at the spotTudor was goneand only his foot-printsremainedpointing out the course he had taken into thedepths ofthe plantation. Onceten minutes laterhe caught aglimpse ofTudora hundred yards awaycrossing the same avenue ashimselfbut going in the opposite direction. His rifle half-leapedto hisshoulderbut the other was gone. More in whim than in hopeof resultgrinning to himself as he did soSheldon raised hisautomaticpistol and in two seconds sent eight shots scatteringthroughthe trees in the direction in which Tudor had disappeared.Wishing hehad a shot-gunSheldon dropped to the ground behind atreeslipped a fresh clip up the hollow butt of the pistolthrewacartridge into the chambershoved the safety catch into placeandreloaded the empty clip.
It was buta short time after that that Tudor tried the same trickon himthe bullets pattering about him like spiteful rainthuddinginto the palm trunksor glancing off in whiningricochets. The last bullet of allmaking a double ricochet fromtwodifferent trees and losing most of its momentumstruck Sheldona sharpblow on the forehead and dropped at his feet. He waspartlystunned for the momentbut on investigation found nogreaterharm than a nasty lump that soon rose to the size of apigeon'segg.
The huntwent on. Oncecoming to the edge of the grove near thebungalowhe saw the house-boys and the cookclustered on the backverandaand peering curiously among the treestalking and laughingwith oneanother in their queer falsetto voices. Another time hecame upona working-gang busy at hoeing weeds. They scarcelynoticedhim when he came upthough they knew thoroughly well whatwas goingon. It was no affair of theirs that the enigmaticalwhite menshould be out trying to kill each otherand whateverinterestin the proceedings might be theirs they were careful toconceal itfrom Sheldon. He ordered them to continue hoeing weedsin adistant and out-of-the-way cornerand went on with thepursuit ofTudor.
Tiring ofthe endless circlingSheldon tried once more to advancedirectlyon his foebut the latter was too craftytakingadvantageof his boldness to fire a couple of shots at himandslippingaway on some changed and continually changing course. Foran hourthey dodged and turned and twisted back and forth andaroundand hunted each other among the orderly palms. They caughtfleetingglimpses of each other and chanced flying shots which werewithoutresult. On a grassy shelter behind a treeSheldon cameupon whereTudor had rested and smoked a cigarette. The pressedgrassshowed where he had sat. To one side lay the cigarette stumpand thecharred match which had lighted it. In front lay ascatteringof bright metallic fragments. Sheldon recognized theirsignificance. Tudor was notching his steel-jacketed bulletsorcuttingthem bluntso that they would spread on striking--inshorthewas making them into the vicious dum-dum prohibited inmodernwarfare. Sheldon knew now what would happen to him if abulletstruck his body. It would leave a tiny hole where itenteredbut the hole where it emerged would be the size of asaucer.
He decidedto give up the pursuitand lay down in the grassprotectedright and left by the row of palmswith on either handthe longavenue extending. This he could watch. Tudor would haveto come tohim or else there would be no termination of the affair.He wipedthe sweat from his face and tied the handkerchief aroundhis neckto keep off the stinging gnats that lurked in the grass.Never hadhe felt so great a disgust for the thing called"adventure." Joan had been bad enoughwith her Baden-Powell andlong-barrelledColt's; but here was this newcomer also looking foradventureand finding it in no other way than by lugging a peace-lovingplanter into an absurd and preposterous bush-whacking duel.If everadventure was well damnedit was by Sheldonsweating inthewindless grass and fighting gnatsthe while he kept closewatch upand down the avenue.
Then Tudorcame. Sheldon happened to be looking in his directionat themoment he came into viewpeering quickly up and down theavenuebefore he stepped into the open. Midway he stoppedas ifdebatingwhat course to pursue. He made a splendid markfacinghisconcealed enemy at two hundred yards' distance. Sheldon aimedat thecentre of his chestthen deliberately shifted the aim tohis rightshoulderandwith the thought"That will put him outofbusiness" pulled the trigger. The bulletdriving withmomentumsufficient to perforate a man's body a mile distantstruckTudor with such force as to pivot himwhirling him halfaround bythe shock of its impact and knocking him down.
"'HopeI haven't killed the beggar" Sheldon muttered aloudspringingto his feet and running forward.
A hundredfeet away all anxiety on that score was relieved byTudorwhomade shift with his left handand from his automaticpistolhurled a rain of bullets all around Sheldon. The latterdodgedbehind a palm trunkcounting the shotsand when the eighthhad beenfired he rushed in on the wounded man. He kicked thepistol outof the other's handand then sat down on him in orderto keephim down.
"Bequiet" he said. "I've got youso there's no usestruggling."
Tudorstill attempted to struggle and to throw him off.
"KeepquietI tell you" Sheldon commanded. "I'm satisfiedwiththeoutcomeand you've got to be. So you might as well give inand callthis affair closed."
"Ratherfunnyisn't itthese modern duels?" Sheldon grinned downat him ashe removed his weight. "Not a bit dignified. Ifyou'dstruggleda moment longer I'd have rubbed your face in the earth.I've agood mind to do it anywayjust to teach you that duellinghas goneout of fashion. Now let us see to your injuries."
"Youonly got me that last" Tudor grunted sullenly"lying inambushlike--"
"Likea wild Indian. Precisely. You've caught the ideaoldman."Sheldonceased his mocking and stood up. "You lie there quietlyuntil Isend back some of the boys to carry you in. You're notseriouslyhurtand it's lucky for you I didn't follow yourexample. If you had been struck with one of your own bulletsacarriageand pair would have been none too large to drive throughthe holeit would have made. As it isyou're drilled clean--anicelittle perforation. All you need is antiseptic washing anddressingand you'll be around in a month. Now take it easyandI'll senda stretcher for you."
WhenSheldon emerged from among the trees he found Joan waiting atthecompound gateand he could not fail to see that she wasvisiblygladdened at the sight of him.
"Ican't tell you how glad I am to see you" was her greeting."What'sbecome of Tudor? That last flutter of the automatic wasn'tnice tolisten to. Was it you or Tudor?"
"Soyou know all about it" he answered coolly. "WellitwasTudorbuthe was doing it left-handed. He's down with a hole inhisshoulder." He looked at her keenly. "Disappointingisn'tit?"he drawled.
"Howdo you mean?"
"Whythat I didn't kill him."
"ButI didn't want him killed just because he kissed me" shecried.
"Ohhe did kiss you!" Sheldon retortedin evident surprise. "Ithoughtyou said he hurt your arm."
"Onecould call it a kissthough it was only on the end of thenose." She laughed at the recollection. "But I paid him back forthatmyself. I boxed his face for him. And he did hurt my arm.It's blackand blue. Look at it."
She pulledup the loose sleeve of her blouseand he saw thebruisedimprints of two fingers.
Just thena gang of blacks came out from among the trees carryingthewounded man on a rough stretcher.
"Romanticisn't it?" Sheldon sneeredfollowing Joan's startledgaze. "And now I'll have to play surgeon and doctor him up.Funnythis twentieth-century duelling. First you drill a hole ina manandnext you set about plugging the hole up."
They hadstepped aside to let the stretcher passand Tudorwhohad heardthe remarklifted himself up on the elbow of his soundarm andsaid with a defiant grin-
"Ifyou'd got one of mine you'd have had to plug with a dinner-plate."
"Ohyou wretch!" Joan cried. "You've been cutting yourbullets."
"Itwas according to agreement" Tudor answered. "Everythingwent.We couldhave used dynamite if we wanted to."
"He'sright" Sheldon assured heras they swung in behind. "Anyweapon waspermissible. I lay in the grass where he couldn't seemeandbushwhacked him in truly noble fashion. That's what comesof havingwomen on the plantation. And now it's antiseptics anddrainagetubesI suppose. It's a nasty messand I'll have toread up onit before I tackle the job."
"Idon't see that it's my fault" she began. "I couldn'thelp itbecause hekissed me. I never dreamed he would attempt it."
"Wedidn't fight for that reason. But there isn't time to explain.If you'llget dressings and bandages ready I'll look up 'gun-shotwounds'and see what's to be done."
"Ishe bleeding seriously?" she asked.
"No;the bullet seems to have missed the important arteries. Butthat wouldhave been a pickle."
"Thenthere's no need to bother about reading up" Joan said. "AndI'm justdying to hear what it was all about. The Apostle is lyingbecalmedinside the pointand her boats are out to wing. She'llbe atanchor in five minutesand Doctor Welshmere is sure to be onboard. So all we've got to do is to make Tudor comfortable. We'dbetter puthim in your room under the mosquito-nettingand send aboat offto tell Dr. Welshmere to bring his instruments."
An hourafterwardDr. Welshmere left the patient comfortable andattendedtoand went down to the beach to go on boardpromisingto comeback to dinner. Joan and Sheldonstanding on the verandawatchedhim depart.
"I'llnever have it in for the missionaries again since seeing themhere inthe Solomons" she saidseating herself in a steamer-chair.
She lookedat Sheldon and began to laugh.
"That'sright" he said. "It's the way I feelplaying thefooland tryingto murder a guest."
"Butyou haven't told me what it was all about."
"You"he answered shortly.
"Me? But you just said it wasn't."
"Ohit wasn't the kiss." He walked over to the railing andleanedagainstitfacing her. "But it was about you all the sameand Imay aswell tell you. You rememberI warned you long ago whatwouldhappen when you wanted to become a partner in Berande. Wellall thebeach is gossiping about it; and Tudor persisted inrepeatingthe gossip to me. So you see it won't do for you to stayon hereunder present conditions. It would be better if you wentaway."
"ButI don't want to go away" she objected with ruefulcountenance.
"Nonor a chaperone."
"Butyou surely don't expect me to go around shooting everyslandererin the Solomons that opens his mouth?" he demandedgloomily.
"Nonor that either" she answered with quick impulsiveness."I'lltell you what we'll do. We'll get married and put a stop toit all. There!"
He lookedat her in amazementand would have believed that she wasmaking funof him had it not been for the warm blood that suddenlysuffusedher cheeks.
"Doyou mean that?" he asked unsteadily. "Why?"
"Toput a stop to all the nasty gossip of the beach. That's aprettygood reasonisn't it?"
Thetemptation was strong enough and sudden enough to make himwaverbutall the disgust came back to him that was his when helay in thegrass fighting gnats and cursing adventureand heanswered-
"No;it is worse than no reason at all. I don't care to marry youas amatter of expedience--"
"Youare the most ridiculous creature!" she broke inwith a flashof herold-time anger. "You talk love and marriage to meverymuchagainst my wishand go mooning around over the plantationweek afterweek because you can't have meand look at me when youthink I'mnot noticing and when all the time I'm wondering when youhad yourlast square meal because of the hungry look in your eyesand makeeyes at my revolver-belt hanging on a nailand fightduelsabout meand all the rest--and--and nowwhen I say I'llmarry youyou do yourself the honour of refusing me."
"Youcan't make me any more ridiculous than I feel" he answeredrubbingthe lump on his forehead reflectively. "And if this is theacceptedromantic programme--a duel over a girland the girlrushinginto the arms of the winner--whyI shall not make a biggerass ofmyself by going in for it."
"Ithought you'd jump at it" she confessedwith a naivete hecould notbut questionfor he thought he saw a roguish gleam inher eyes.
"Myconception of love must differ from yours then" he said. "Ishouldwant a woman to marry me for love of meand not out ofromanticadmiration because I was lucky enough to drill a hole in aman'sshoulder with smokeless powder. I tell you I am disgustedwith thisadventure tom-foolery and rot. I don't like it. Tudoris asample of the adventure-kind--picking a quarrel with me andbehavinglike a monkeyinsisting on fighting with me--'to thedeath' hesaid. It was like a penny dreadful."
She wasbiting her lipand though her eyes were cool and level-looking aseverthe tell-tale angry red was in her cheeks.
"Ofcourseif you don't want to marry me--"
"ButI do" he hastily interposed.
"Butdon't you seelittle girlI want you to love me" he hurriedon. "Otherwiseit would be only half a marriage. I don't wantyou tomarry me simply because by so doing a stop is put to thebeachgossipnor do I want you to marry me out of some foolishromanticnotion. I shouldn't want you . . . that way."
"Ohin that case" she said with assumed deliberatenessand hecould havesworn to the roguish gleam"in that casesince you arewilling toconsider my offerlet me make a few remarks. In thefirstplaceyou needn't sneer at adventure when you are living ityourself;and you were certainly living it when I found you firstdown withfever on a lonely plantation with a couple of hundredwildcannibals thirsting for your life. Then I came along--"
"Andwhat with your arriving in a gale" he broke in"freshfromthe wreckof the schoonerlanding on the beach in a whale-boatfull ofpicturesque Tahitian sailorsand coming into the bungalowwith aBaden-Powell on your headsea-boots on your feetand awhackingbig Colt's dangling on your hip--whyI am only too readyto admitthat you were the quintessence of adventure."
"Verygood" she cried exultantly. "It's mere simplearithmetic--the addingof your adventure and my adventure together. So that'ssettledand you needn't jeer at adventure any more. NextI don'tthinkthere was anything romantic in Tudor's attempting to kiss menoranything like adventure in this absurd duel. But I do thinknowthatit was romantic for you to fall in love with me. Andfinallyand it is adding romance to romanceI think . . . I thinkI do loveyouDave--ohDave!"
The lastwas a sighing dove-cry as he caught her up in his arms andpressedher to him.
"ButI don't love you because you played the fool to-day" shewhisperedon his shoulder. "White men shouldn't go around killingeachother."
"Thenwhy do you love me?" he questionedenthralled after themanner ofall lovers in the everlasting query that for ever hasremainedunanswered.
"Idon't know--just because I doI guess. And that's all thesatisfactionyou gave me when we had that man-talk. But I havebeenloving you for weeks--during all the time you have been sodeliciouslyand unobtrusively jealous of Tudor."
"Yesyesgo on" he urged breathlesslywhen she paused.
"Iwondered when you'd break outand because you didn't I lovedyou allthe more. You were like Dadand Von. You could holdyourselfin check. You didn't make a fool of yourself."
"Notuntil to-day" he suggested.
"Yesand I loved you for thattoo. It was about time. I beganto thinkyou were never going to bring up the subject again. Andnow that Ihave offered myself you haven't even accepted."
With bothhands on her shoulders he held her at arm's-length fromhim andlooked long into her eyesno longer cool but seeminglypervadedwith a golden flush. The lids drooped and yet bravely didnot droopas she returned his gaze. Then he fondly and solemnlydrew herto him.
"Andhow about that hearth and saddle of your own?" he askedamomentlater.
"Iwell-nigh won to them. The grass house is my hearthand theMartha mysaddleand--and look at all the trees I've plantedtosaynothing of the sweet corn. And it's all your fault anyway. Imightnever have loved you if you hadn't put the idea into myhead."
"There'sthe Nongassla coming in around the point with her boatsout"Sheldon remarked irrelevantly. "And the Commissioner is onboard. He's going down to San Cristoval to investigate thatmissionarykilling. We're in luckI must say."
"Idon't see where the luck comes in" she said dolefully. "Weought tohave this evening all to ourselves just to talk thingsover. I've a thousand questions to ask you."
"Andit wouldn't have been a man-talk either" she added.
"Butmy plan is better than that." He debated with himself amoment. "You seethe Commissioner is the one official in theislandswho can give us a license. And--there's the luck of it--DoctorWelshmere is here to perform the ceremony. We'll getmarriedthis evening."
Joanrecoiled from him in panictearing herself from his arms andgoingbackward several steps. He could see that she was reallyfrightened.
"I .. . I thought . . ." she stammered.
Thenslowlythe change came over herand the blood flooded intoher facein the same amazing blush he had seen once before thatday. Her coollevel-looking eyes were no longer level-looking norcoolbutwarmly drooping and just unable to meet hisas she cametoward himand nestled in the circle of his armssaying softlyalmost ina whisper-
"I amready" Dave."