Joan took hold of the household with no uncertain grip, revolutionizing things till Sheldon hardly recognized the place. For the first time the bungalow was clean and orderly. No longer the house-boys loafed and did as little as they could; while the cook complained that “head belong him walk about too much,” from the strenuous course in cookery which she put him through. Nor did Sheldon escape being roundly lectured for his laziness in eating nothing but tinned provisions. She called him a muddler and a slouch, and other invidious names, for his slackness and his disregard of healthful food.
She sent her whale-boat down the coast twenty miles for limes and oranges, and wanted to know scathingly why said fruits had not long since been planted at Berande, while he was beneath contempt because there was no kitchen garden. Mummy apples, which he had regarded as weeds, under her guidance appeared as appetizing breakfast fruit, and, at dinner, were metamorphosed into puddings that elicited his unqualified admiration. Bananas, foraged from the bush, were served, cooked and raw, a dozen different ways, each one of which he declared was better than any other. She or her sailors dynamited fish daily, while the Balesuna natives were paid tobacco for bringing in oysters from the mangrove swamps. Her achievements with cocoanuts were a revelation. She taught the cook how to make yeast from the milk, that, in turn, raised light and airy bread. From the tip-top heart of the tree she concocted a delicious salad. From the milk and the meat of the nut she made various sauces and dressings, sweet and sour, that were served, according to preparation, with dishes that ranged from fish to pudding. She taught Sheldon the superiority of cocoanut cream over condensed cream, for use in coffee. From the old and sprouting nuts she took the solid, spongy centres and turned them into salads. Her forte seemed to be salads, and she astonished him with the deliciousness of a salad made from young bamboo shoots. Wild tomatoes, which had gone to seed or been remorselessly hoed out from the beginning of Berande, were foraged for salads, soups, and sauces. The chickens, which had always gone into the bush and hidden their eggs, were given laying-bins, and Joan went out herself to shoot wild duck and wild pigeons for the table.
“Not that I like to do this sort of work,” she explained, in reference to the cookery; “but because I can’t get away from Dad’s training. ”
Among other things, she burned the pestilential hospital, quarrelled with Sheldon over the dead, and, in anger, set her own men to work building a new, and what she called a decent, hospital. She robbed the windows of their lawn and muslin curtains, replacing them with gaudy calico from the trade-store, and made herself several gowns. When she wrote out a list of goods and clothing for herself, to be sent down to Sydney by the first steamer, Sheldon wondered how long she had made up her mind to stay.
She was certainly unlike any woman he had ever known or dreamed of. So far as he was concerned she was not a woman at all. She neither languished nor blandished. No feminine lures were wasted on him. He might have been her brother, or she his brother, for all sex had to do with the strange situation. Any mere polite gallantry on his part was ignored or snubbed, and he had very early given up offering his hand to her in getting into a boat or climbing over a log, and he had to acknowledge to himself that she was eminently fitted to take care of herself. Despite his warnings about crocodiles and sharks, she persisted in swimming in deep water off the beach; nor could he persuade her, when she was in the boat, to let one of the sailors throw the dynamite when shooting fish. She argued that she was at least a little bit more intelligent than they, and that, therefore, there was less liability of an accident if she did the shooting. She was to him the most masculine and at the same time the most feminine woman he had ever met.
A source of continual trouble between them was the disagreement over methods of handling the black boys. She ruled by stern kindness, rarely rewarding, never punishing, and he had to confess that her own sailors worshipped her, while the house-boys were her slaves, and did three times as much work for her as he had ever got out of them. She quickly saw the unrest of the contract labourers, and was not blind to the danger, always imminent, that both she and Sheldon ran. Neither of them ever ventured out without a revolver, and the sailors who stood the night watches by Joan’s grass house were armed with rifles. But Joan insisted that this reign of terror had been caused by the reign of fear practised by the white men. She had been brought up with the gentle Hawaiians, who never were ill-treated nor roughly handled, and she generalized that the Solomon Islanders, under kind treatment, would grow gentle.
One evening a terrific uproar arose in the barracks, and Sheldon, aided by Joan’s sailors, succeeded in rescuing two women whom the blacks were beating to death. To save them from the vengeance of the blacks, they were guarded in the cook-house for the night. They were the two women who did the cooking for the labourers, and their offence had consisted of one of them taking a bath in the big cauldron in which the potatoes were boiled. The blacks were not outraged from the standpoint of cleanliness; they often took baths in the cauldrons themselves. The trouble lay in that the bather had been a low, degraded, wretched female; for to the Solomon Islander all females are low, degraded, and wretched.
Next morning, Joan and Sheldon, at breakfast, were aroused by a swelling murmur of angry voices. The first rule of Berande had been broken. The compound had been entered without permission or command, and all the two hundred labourers, with the exception of the boss-boys, were guilty of the offence. They crowded up, threatening and shouting, close under the front veranda. Sheldon leaned over the veranda railing, looking down upon them, while Joan stood slightly back. When the uproar was stilled, two brothers stood forth. They were large men, splendidly muscled, and with faces unusually ferocious, even for Solomon Islanders. One was Carin-Jama, otherwise The Silent; and the other was Bellin-Jama, The Boaster. Both had served on the Queensland plantations in the old days, and they were known as evil characters wherever white men met and gammed.
“We fella boy we want ’m them dam two black fella Mary,” said Bellin-Jama.
“What you do along black fella Mary?” Sheldon asked.
“Kill ’m,” said Bellin-Jama.
“What name you fella boy talk along me?” Sheldon demanded, with a show of rising anger. “Big bell he ring. You no belong along here. You belong along field. Bime by, big fella bell he ring, you stop along kai-kai, you come talk along me about two fella Mary. Now all you boy get along out of here. ”
The gang waited to see what Bellin-Jama would do, and Bellin-Jama stood still.
“Me no go,” he said.
“You watch out, Bellin-Jama,” Sheldon said sharply, “or I send you along Tulagi one big fella lashing. My word, you catch ’m strong fella. ”
Bellin-Jama glared up belligerently.
“You want ’m fight,” he said, putting up his fists in approved, returned-Queenslander style.
Now, in the Solomons, where whites are few and blacks are many, and where the whites do the ruling, such an offer to fight is the deadliest insult. Blacks are not supposed to dare so highly as to offer to fight a white man. At the best, all they can look for is to be beaten by the white man.
A murmur of admiration at Bellin-Jama’s bravery went up from the listening blacks. But Bellin-Jama’s voice was still ringing in the air, and the murmuring was just beginning, when Sheldon cleared the rail, leaping straight downward. From the top of the railing to the ground it was fifteen feet, and Bellin-Jama was directly beneath. Sheldon’s flying body struck him and crushed him to earth. No blows were needed to be struck. The black had been knocked helpless. Joan, startled by the unexpected leap, saw Carin-Jama, The Silent, reach out and seize Sheldon by the throat as he was half-way to his feet, while the five-score blacks surged forward for the killing. Her revolver was out, and Carin-Jama let go his grip, reeling backward with a bullet in his shoulder. In that fleeting instant of action she had thought to shoot him in the arm, which, at that short distance, might reasonably have been achieved. But the wave of savages leaping forward had changed her shot to the shoulder. It was a moment when not the slightest chance could be taken.
The instant his throat was released, Sheldon struck out with his fist, and Carin-Jama joined his brother on the ground. The mutiny was quelled, and five minutes more saw the brothers being carried to the hospital, and the mutineers, marshalled by the gang-bosses, on the way to the fields.
When Sheldon came up on the veranda, he found Joan collapsed on the steamer-chair and in tears. The sight unnerved him as the row just over could not possibly have done. A woman in tears was to him an embarrassing situation; and when that woman was Joan Lackland, from whom he had grown to expect anything unexpected, he was really frightened. He glanced down at her helplessly, and moistened his lips.
“I want to thank you,” he began. “There isn’t a doubt but what you saved my life, and I must say—”
She abruptly removed her hands, showing a wrathful and tear-stained face.
“You brute!You coward!” she cried. “You have made me shoot a man, and I never shot a man in my life before. ”
“It’s only a flesh-wound, and he isn’t going to die,” Sheldon managed to interpolate.
“What of that?I shot him just the same. There was no need for you to jump down there that way. It was brutal and cowardly. ”
“Oh, now I say—” he began soothingly.
“Go away. Don’t you see I hate you! hate you!Oh, won’t you go away!”
Sheldon was white with anger.
“Then why in the name of common sense did you shoot?” he demanded.
“Be-be-because you were a white man,” she sobbed. “And Dad would never have left any white man in the lurch. But it was your fault. You had no right to get yourself in such a position. Besides, it wasn’t necessary. ”
“I am afraid I don’t understand,” he said shortly, turning away. “We will talk it over later on. ”
“Look how I get on with the boys,” she said, while he paused in the doorway, stiffly polite, to listen. “There’s those two sick boys I am nursing. They will do anything for me when they get well, and I won’t have to keep them in fear of their life all the time. It is not necessary, I tell you, all this harshness and brutality. What if they are cannibals?They are human beings, just like you and me, and they are amenable to reason. That is what distinguishes all of us from the lower animals. ”
He nodded and went out.
“I suppose I’ve been unforgivably foolish,” was her greeting, when he returned several hours later from a round of the plantation. “I’ve been to the hospital, and the man is getting along all right. It is not a serious hurt. ”
Sheldon felt unaccountably pleased and happy at the changed aspect of her mood.
“You see, you don’t understand the situation,” he began. “In the first place, the blacks have to be ruled sternly. Kindness is all very well, but you can’t rule them by kindness only. I accept all that you say about the Hawaiians and the Tahitians. You say that they can be handled that way, and I believe you. I have had no experience with them. But you have had no experience with the blacks, and I ask you to believe me. They are different from your natives. You are used to Polynesians. These boys are Melanesians. They’re blacks. They’re niggers—look at their kinky hair. And they’re a whole lot lower than the African niggers. Really, you know, there is a vast difference. ”
“They possess no gratitude, no sympathy, no kindliness. If you are kind to them, they think you are a fool. If you are gentle with them they think you are afraid. And when they think you are afraid, watch out, for they will get you. Just to show you, let me state the one invariable process in a black man’s brain when, on his native heath, he encounters a stranger. His first thought is one of fear. Will the stranger kill him?His next thought, seeing that he is not killed, is: Can he kill the stranger? There was Packard, a Colonial trader, some twelve miles down the coast. He boasted that he ruled by kindness and never struck a blow. The result was that he did not rule at all. He used to come down in his whale-boat to visit Hughie and me. When his boat’s crew decided to go home, he had to cut his visit short to accompany them. I remember one Sunday afternoon when Packard had accepted our invitation to stop to dinner. The soup was just served, when Hughie saw a nigger peering in through the door. He went out to him, for it was a violation of Berande custom. Any nigger has to send in word by the house-boys, and to keep outside the compound. This man, who was one of Packard’s boat’s-crew, was on the veranda. And he knew better, too. ’What name?’ said Hughie. ’You tell ’m white man close up we fella boat’s-crew go along. He no come now, we fella boy no wait. We go. ’And just then Hughie fetched him a clout that knocked him clean down the stairs and off the veranda. ”
“But it was needlessly cruel,” Joan objected. “You wouldn’t treat a white man that way. ”
“And that’s just the point. He wasn’t a white man. He was a low black nigger, and he was deliberately insulting, not alone his own white master, but every white master in the Solomons. He insulted me. He insulted Hughie. He insulted Berande. ”
“Of course, according to your lights, to your formula of the rule of the strong—”
“Yes,” Sheldon interrupted, “but it was according to the formula of the rule of the weak that Packard ruled. And what was the result?I am still alive. Packard is dead. He was unswervingly kind and gentle to his boys, and his boys waited till one day he was down with fever. His head is over on Malaita now. They carried away two whale-boats as well, filled with the loot of the store. Then there was Captain Mackenzie of the ketch Minota. He believed in kindness. He also contended that better confidence was established by carrying no weapons. On his second trip to Malaita, recruiting, he ran into Bina, which is near Langa Langa. The rifles with which the boat’s-crew should have been armed, were locked up in his cabin. When the whale-boat went ashore after recruits, he paraded around the deck without even a revolver on him. He was tomahawked. His head remains in Malaita. It was suicide. So was Packard’s finish suicide. ”
“I grant that precaution is necessary in dealing with them,” Joan agreed; “but I believe that more satisfactory results can be obtained by treating them with discreet kindness and gentleness. ”
“And there I agree with you, but you must understand one thing. Berande, bar none, is by far the worst plantation in the Solomons so far as the labour is concerned. And how it came to be so proves your point. The previous owners of Berande were not discreetly kind. They were a pair of unadulterated brutes. One was a down-east Yankee, as I believe they are called, and the other was a guzzling German. They were slave-drivers. To begin with, they bought their labour from Johnny Be-blowed, the most notorious recruiter in the Solomons. He is working out a ten years’ sentence in Fiji now, for the wanton killing of a black boy. During his last days here he had made himself so obnoxious that the natives on Malaita would have nothing to do with him. The only way he could get recruits was by hurrying to the spot whenever a murder or series of murders occurred. The murderers were usually only too willing to sign on and get away to escape vengeance. Down here they call such escapes, ’pier-head jumps. ’There is suddenly a roar from the beach, and a nigger runs down to the water pursued by clouds of spears and arrows. Of course, Johnny Be-blowed’s whale-boat is lying ready to pick him up. In his last days Johnny got nothing but pier-head jumps.
“And the first owners of Berande bought his recruits—a hard-bitten gang of murderers. They were all five-year boys. You see, the recruiter has the advantage over a boy when he makes a pier-head jump. He could sign him on for ten years did the law permit. Well, that’s the gang of murderers we’ve got on our hands now. Of course some are dead, some have been killed, and there are others serving sentences at Tulagi. Very little clearing did those first owners do, and less planting. It was war all the time. They had one manager killed. One of the partners had his shoulder slashed nearly off by a cane-knife. The other was speared on two different occasions. Both were bullies, wherefore there was a streak of cowardice in them, and in the end they had to give up. They were chased away—literally chased away—by their own niggers. And along came poor Hughie and me, two new chums, to take hold of that hard-bitten gang. We did not know the situation, and we had bought Berande, and there was nothing to do but hang on and muddle through somehow.
“At first we made the mistake of indiscreet kindness. We tried to rule by persuasion and fair treatment. The niggers concluded that we were afraid. I blush to think of what fools we were in those first days. We were imposed on, and threatened and insulted; and we put up with it, hoping our square-dealing would soon mend things. Instead of which everything went from bad to worse. Then came the day when Hughie reprimanded one of the boys and was nearly killed by the gang. The only thing that saved him was the number on top of him, which enabled me to reach the spot in time.
“Then began the rule of the strong hand. It was either that or quit, and we had sunk about all our money into the venture, and we could not quit. And besides, our pride was involved. We had started out to do something, and we were so made that we just had to go on with it. It has been a hard fight, for we were, and are to this day, considered the worst plantation in the Solomons from the standpoint of labour. Do you know, we have been unable to get white men in. We’ve offered the managership to half a dozen. I won’t say they were afraid, for they were not. But they did not consider it healthy—at least that is the way it was put by the last one who declined our offer. So Hughie and I did the managing ourselves. ”
“And when he died you were prepared to go on all alone!” Joan cried, with shining eyes.
“I thought I’d muddle through. And now, Miss Lackland, please be charitable when I seem harsh, and remember that the situation is unparalleled down here. We’ve got a bad crowd, and we’re making them work. You’ve been over the plantation and you ought to know. And I assure you that there are no better three-and-four-years-old trees on any other plantation in the Solomons. We have worked steadily to change matters for the better. We’ve been slowly getting in new labour. That is why we bought the Jessie. We wanted to select our own labour. In another year the time will be up for most of the original gang. You see, they were recruited during the first year of Berande, and their contracts expire on different months. Naturally, they have contaminated the new boys to a certain extent; but that can soon be remedied, and then Berande will be a respectable plantation. ”
Joan nodded but remained silent. She was too occupied in glimpsing the vision of the one lone white man as she had first seen him, helpless from fever, a collapsed wraith in a steamer-chair, who, up to the last heart-beat, by some strange alchemy of race, was pledged to mastery.
“It is a pity,” she said. “But the white man has to rule, I suppose. ”
“I don’t like it,” Sheldon assured her. “To save my life I can’t imagine how I ever came here. But here I am, and I can’t run away. ”
“Blind destiny of race,” she said, faintly smiling. “We whites have been land robbers and sea robbers from remotest time. It is in our blood, I guess, and we can’t get away from it. ”
“I never thought about it so abstractly,” he confessed. “I’ve been too busy puzzling over why I came here. ”
At sunset a small ketch fanned in to anchorage, and a little later the skipper came ashore. He was a soft-spoken, gentle-voiced young fellow of twenty, but he won Joan’s admiration in advance when Sheldon told her that he ran the ketch all alone with a black crew from Malaita. And Romance lured and beckoned before Joan’s eyes when she learned he was Christian Young, a Norfolk Islander, but a direct descendant of John Young, one of the original Bounty mutineers. The blended Tahitian and English blood showed in his soft eyes and tawny skin; but the English hardness seemed to have disappeared. Yet the hardness was there, and it was what enabled him to run his ketch single-handed and to wring a livelihood out of the fighting Solomons.
Joan’s unexpected presence embarrassed him, until she herself put him at his ease by a frank, comradely manner that offended Sheldon’s sense of the fitness of things feminine. News from the world Young had not, but he was filled with news of the Solomons. Fifteen boys had stolen rifles and run away into the bush from Lunga plantation, which was farther east on the Guadalcanar coast. And from the bush they had sent word that they were coming back to wipe out the three white men in charge, while two of the three white men, in turn, were hunting them through the bush. There was a strong possibility, Young volunteered, that if they were not caught they might circle around and tap the coast at Berande in order to steal or capture a whale-boat.
“I forgot to tell you that your trader at Ugi has been murdered,” he said to Sheldon. “Five big canoes came down from Port Adams. They landed in the night-time, and caught Oscar asleep. What they didn’t steal they burned. The Flibberty-Gibbet got the news at Mboli Pass, and ran down to Ugi. I was at Mboli when the news came. ”
“I think I’ll have to abandon Ugi,” Sheldon remarked.
“It’s the second trader you’ve lost there in a year,” Young concurred. “To make it safe there ought to be two white men at least. Those Malaita canoes are always raiding down that way, and you know what that Port Adams lot is. I’ve got a dog for you. Tommy Jones sent it up from Neal Island. He said he’d promised it to you. It’s a first-class nigger-chaser. Hadn’t been on board two minutes when he had my whole boat’s-crew in the rigging. Tommy calls him Satan. ”
“I’ve wondered several times why you had no dogs here,” Joan said.
“The trouble is to keep them. They’re always eaten by the crocodiles. ”
“Jack Hanley was killed at Marovo Lagoon two months ago,” Young announced in his mild voice. “The news just came down on the Apostle. ”
“Where is Marovo Lagoon?” Joan asked.
“New Georgia, a couple of hundred miles to the westward,” Sheldon answered. “Bougainville lies just beyond. ”
“His own house-boys did it,” Young went on; “but they were put up to it by the Marovo natives. His Santa Cruz boat’s-crew escaped in the whale-boat to Choiseul, and Mather, in the Lily, sailed over to Marovo. He burned a village, and got Hanley’s head back. He found it in one of the houses, where the niggers had it drying. And that’s all the news I’ve got, except that there’s a lot of new Lee-Enfields loose on the eastern end of Ysabel. Nobody knows how the natives got them. The government ought to investigate. And—oh yes, a war vessel’s in the group, the Cambrian. She burned three villages at Bina—on account of the Minota, you know—and shelled the bush. Then she went to Sio to straighten out things there. ”
The conversation became general, and just before Young left to go on board Joan asked,—
“How can you manage all alone, Mr. Young?”
His large, almost girlish eyes rested on her for a moment before he replied, and then it was in the softest and gentlest of voices.
“Oh, I get along pretty well with them. Of course, there is a bit of trouble once in a while, but that must be expected. You must never let them think you are afraid. I’ve been afraid plenty of times, but they never knew it. ”
“You would think he wouldn’t strike a mosquito that was biting him,” Sheldon said when Young had gone on board. “All the Norfolk Islanders that have descended from the Bounty crowd are that way. But look at Young. Only three years ago, when he first got the Minerva, he was lying in Suu, on Malaita. There are a lot of returned Queenslanders there—a rough crowd. They planned to get his head. The son of their chief, old One-Eyed Billy, had recruited on Lunga and died of dysentery. That meant that a white man’s head was owing to Suu—any white man, it didn’t matter who so long as they got the head. And Young was only a lad, and they made sure to get his easily. They decoyed his whale-boat ashore with a promise of recruits, and killed all hands. At the same instant, the Suu gang that was on board the Minerva jumped Young. He was just preparing a dynamite stick for fish, and he lighted it and tossed it in amongst them. One can’t get him to talk about it, but the fuse was short, the survivors leaped overboard, while he slipped his anchor and got away. They’ve got one hundred fathoms of shell money on his head now, which is worth one hundred pounds sterling. Yet he goes into Suu regularly. He was there a short time ago, returning thirty boys from Cape Marsh—that’s the Fulcrum Brothers’ plantation. ”
“At any rate, his news to-night has given me a better insight into the life down here,” Joan said. “And it is colourful life, to say the least. The Solomons ought to be printed red on the charts—and yellow, too, for the diseases. ”
“The Solomons are not always like this,” Sheldon answered. “Of course, Berande is the worst plantation, and everything it gets is the worst. I doubt if ever there was a worse run of sickness than we were just getting over when you arrived. Just as luck would have it, the Jessie caught the contagion as well. Berande has been very unfortunate. All the old-timers shake their heads at it. They say it has what you Americans call a hoodoo on it. ”
“Berande will succeed,” Joan said stoutly. “I like to laugh at superstition. You’ll pull through and come out the big end of the horn. The ill luck can’t last for ever. I am afraid, though, the Solomons is not a white man’s climate. ”
“It will be, though. Give us fifty years, and when all the bush is cleared off back to the mountains, fever will be stamped out; everything will be far healthier. There will be cities and towns here, for there’s an immense amount of good land going to waste. ”
“But it will never become a white man’s climate, in spite of all that,” Joan reiterated. “The white man will always be unable to perform the manual labour. ”
“That is true. ”
“It will mean slavery,” she dashed on.
“Yes, like all the tropics. The black, the brown, and the yellow will have to do the work, managed by the white men. The black labour is too wasteful, however, and in time Chinese or Indian coolies will be imported. The planters are already considering the matter. I, for one, am heartily sick of black labour. ”
“Then the blacks will die off?”
Sheldon shrugged his shoulders, and retorted,—
“Yes, like the North American Indian, who was a far nobler type than the Melanesian. The world is only so large, you know, and it is filling up—”
“And the unfit must perish?”
“Precisely so. The unfit must perish. ”
In the morning Joan was roused by a great row and hullabaloo. Her first act was to reach for her revolver, but when she heard Noa Noah, who was on guard, laughing outside, she knew there was no danger, and went out to see the fun. Captain Young had landed Satan at the moment when the bridge-building gang had started along the beach. Satan was big and black, short-haired and muscular, and weighed fully seventy pounds. He did not love the blacks. Tommy Jones had trained him well, tying him up daily for several hours and telling off one or two black boys at a time to tease him. So Satan had it in for the whole black race, and the second after he landed on the beach the bridge-building gang was stampeding over the compound fence and swarming up the cocoanut palms.
“Good morning,” Sheldon called from the veranda. “And what do you think of the nigger-chaser?”
“I’m thinking we have a task before us to train him in to the house-boys,” she called back.
“And to your Tahitians, too. Look out, Noah!Run for it!”
Satan, having satisfied himself that the tree-perches were unassailable, was charging straight for the big Tahitian.
But Noah stood his ground, though somewhat irresolutely, and Satan, to every one’s surprise, danced and frisked about him with laughing eyes and wagging tail.
“Now, that is what I might call a proper dog,” was Joan’s comment. “He is at least wiser than you, Mr. Sheldon. He didn’t require any teaching to recognize the difference between a Tahitian and a black boy. What do you think, Noah?Why don’t he bite you?He savvee you Tahitian eh?”
Noa Noah shook his head and grinned.
“He no savvee me Tahitian,” he explained. “He savvee me wear pants all the same white man. ”
“You’ll have to give him a course in ’Sartor Resartus,’” Sheldon laughed, as he came down and began to make friends with Satan.
It chanced just then that Adamu Adam and Matauare, two of Joan’s sailors, entered the compound from the far side-gate. They had been down to the Balesuna making an alligator trap, and, instead of trousers, were clad in lava-lavas that flapped gracefully about their stalwart limbs. Satan saw them, and advertised his find by breaking away from Sheldon’s hands and charging.
“No got pants,” Noah announced with a grin that broadened as Adamu Adam took to flight.
He climbed up the platform that supported the galvanized iron tanks which held the water collected from the roof. Foiled here, Satan turned and charged back on Matauare.
“Run, Matauare!Run!” Joan called.
But he held his ground and waited the dog.
“He is the Fearless One—that is what his name means,” Joan explained to Sheldon.
The Tahitian watched Satan coolly, and when that sanguine-mouthed creature lifted into the air in the final leap, the man’s hand shot out. It was a fair grip on the lower jaw, and Satan described a half circle and was flung to the rear, turning over in the air and falling heavily on his back. Three times he leaped, and three times that grip on his jaw flung him to defeat. Then he contented himself with trotting at Matauare’s heels, eyeing him and sniffing him suspiciously.
“It’s all right, Satan; it’s all right,” Sheldon assured him. “That good fella belong along me. ”
But Satan dogged the Tahitian’s movements for a full hour before he made up his mind that the man was an appurtenance of the place. Then he turned his attention to the three house-boys, cornering Ornfiri in the kitchen and rushing him against the hot stove, stripping the lava-lava from Lalaperu when that excited youth climbed a veranda-post, and following Viaburi on top the billiard-table, where the battle raged until Joan managed a rescue.
It was Satan’s inexhaustible energy and good spirits that most impressed them. His teeth seemed perpetually to ache with desire, and in lieu of black legs he husked the cocoanuts that fell from the trees in the compound, kept the enclosure clear of intruding hens, and made a hostile acquaintance with every boss-boy who came to report. He was unable to forget the torment of his puppyhood, wherein everlasting hatred of the black had been woven into the fibres of consciousness; and such a terror did he make himself that Sheldon was forced to shut him up in the living room when, for any reason, strange natives were permitted in the compound. This always hurt Satan’s feelings and fanned his wrath, so that even the house-boys had to watch out for him when he was first released.
Christian Young sailed away in the Minerva, carrying an invitation (that would be delivered nobody knew when) to Tommy Jones to drop in at Berande the next time he was passing.
“What are your plans when you get to Sydney?” Sheldon asked, that night, at dinner.
“First I’ve heard that I’m going to Sydney,” Joan retorted. “I suppose you’ve received information, by bush-telegraph, that that third assistant understrapper and ex-sailorman at Tulagi is going to deport me as an undesirable immigrant. ”
“Oh, no, nothing of the sort, I assure you,” Sheldon began with awkward haste, fearful of having offended, though he knew not how. “I was just wondering, that was all. You see, with the loss of the schooner and . . and all the rest . . . you understand . . I was thinking that if—a—if—hang it all, until you could communicate with your friends, my agents at Sydney could advance you a loan, temporary you see, why I’d be only too glad and all the rest, you know. The proper—”
But his jaw dropped and he regarded her irritably and with apprehension.
“What is the matter?” he demanded, with a show of heat. “What have I done now?”
Joan’s eyes were bright with battle, the curve of her lips sharp with mockery.
“Certainly not the unexpected,” she said quietly. “Merely ignored me in your ordinary, every-day, man-god, superior fashion. Naturally it counted for nothing, my telling you that I had no idea of going to Sydney. Go to Sydney I must, because you, in your superior wisdom, have so decreed. ”
She paused and looked at him curiously, as though he were some strange breed of animal.
“Of course I am grateful for your offer of assistance; but even that is no salve to wounded pride. For that matter, it is no more than one white man should expect from another. Shipwrecked mariners are always helped along their way. Only this particular mariner doesn’t need any help. Furthermore, this mariner is not going to Sydney, thank you. ”
“But what do you intend to do?”
“Find some spot where I shall escape the indignity of being patronized and bossed by the superior sex. ”
“Come now, that is putting it a bit too strongly. ”Sheldon laughed, but the strain in his voice destroyed the effect of spontaneity. “You know yourself how impossible the situation is. ”
“I know nothing of the sort, sir. And if it is impossible, well, haven’t I achieved it?”
“But it cannot continue. Really—”
“Oh, yes, it can. Having achieved it, I can go on achieving it. I intend to remain in the Solomons, but not on Berande. To-morrow I am going to take the whale-boat over to Pari-Sulay. I was talking with Captain Young about it. He says there are at least four hundred acres, and every foot of it good for planting. Being an island, he says I won’t have to bother about wild pigs destroying the young trees. All I’ll have to do is to keep the weeds hoed until the trees come into bearing. First, I’ll buy the island; next, get forty or fifty recruits and start clearing and planting; and at the same time I’ll run up a bungalow; and then you’ll be relieved of my embarrassing presence—now don’t say that it isn’t. ”
“It is embarrassing,” he said bluntly. “But you refuse to see my point of view, so there is no use in discussing it. Now please forget all about it, and consider me at your service concerning this . . . this project of yours. I know more about cocoanut-planting than you do. You speak like a capitalist. I don’t know how much money you have, but I don’t fancy you are rolling in wealth, as you Americans say. But I do know what it costs to clear land. Suppose the government sells you Pari-Sulay at a pound an acre; clearing will cost you at least four pounds more; that is, five pounds for four hundred acres, or, say, ten thousand dollars. Have you that much?”
She was keenly interested, and he could see that the previous clash between them was already forgotten. Her disappointment was plain as she confessed:
“No; I haven’t quite eight thousand dollars. ”
“Then here’s another way of looking at it. You’ll need, as you said, at least fifty boys. Not counting premiums, their wages are thirty dollars a year. ”
“I pay my Tahitians fifteen a month,” she interpolated.
“They won’t do on straight plantation work. But to return. The wages of fifty boys each year will come to three hundred pounds—that is, fifteen hundred dollars. Very well. It will be seven years before your trees begin to bear. Seven times fifteen hundred is ten thousand five hundred dollars—more than you possess, and all eaten up by the boys’ wages, with nothing to pay for bungalow, building, tools, quinine, trips to Sydney, and so forth. ”
Sheldon shook his head gravely. “You’ll have to abandon the idea. ”
“But I won’t go to Sydney,” she cried. “I simply won’t. I’ll buy in to the extent of my money as a small partner in some other plantation. Let me buy in in Berande!”
“Heaven forbid!” he cried in such genuine dismay that she broke into hearty laughter.
“There, I won’t tease you. Really, you know, I’m not accustomed to forcing my presence where it is not desired. Yes, yes; I know you’re just aching to point out that I’ve forced myself upon you ever since I landed, only you are too polite to say so. Yet as you said yourself, it was impossible for me to go away, so I had to stay. You wouldn’t let me go to Tulagi. You compelled me to force myself upon you. But I won’t buy in as partner with any one. I’ll buy Pari-Sulay, but I’ll put only ten boys on it and clear slowly. Also, I’ll invest in some old ketch and take out a trading license. For that matter, I’ll go recruiting on Malaita. ”
She looked for protest, and found it in Sheldon’s clenched hand and in every line of his clean-cut face.
“Go ahead and say it,” she challenged. “Please don’t mind me. I’m—I’m getting used to it, you know. Really I am. ”
“I wish I were a woman so as to tell you how preposterously insane and impossible it is,” he blurted out.
She surveyed him with deliberation, and said:
“Better than that, you are a man. So there is nothing to prevent your telling me, for I demand to be considered as a man. I didn’t come down here to trail my woman’s skirts over the Solomons. Please forget that I am accidentally anything else than a man with a man’s living to make. ”
Inwardly Sheldon fumed and fretted. Was she making game of him? Or did there lurk in her the insidious unhealthfulness of unwomanliness? Or was it merely a case of blank, staring, sentimental, idiotic innocence?
“I have told you,” he began stiffly, “that recruiting on Malaita is impossible for a woman, and that is all I care to say—or dare. ”
“And I tell you, in turn, that it is nothing of the sort. I’ve sailed the Miélé here, master, if you please, all the way from Tahiti—even if I did lose her, which was the fault of your Admiralty charts. I am a navigator, and that is more than your Solomons captains are. Captain Young told me all about it. And I am a seaman—a better seaman than you, when it comes right down to it, and you know it. I can shoot. I am not a fool. I can take care of myself. And I shall most certainly buy a ketch, run her myself, and go recruiting on Malaita. ”
Sheldon made a hopeless gesture.
“That’s right,” she rattled on. “Wash your hands of me. But as Von used to say, ’You just watch my smoke!’”
“There’s no use in discussing it. Let us have some music. ”
He arose and went over to the big phonograph; but before the disc started, and while he was winding the machine, he heard her saying:
“I suppose you’ve been accustomed to Jane Eyres all your life. That’s why you don’t understand me. Come on, Satan; let’s leave him to his old music. ”
He watched her morosely and without intention of speaking, till he saw her take a rifle from the stand, examine the magazine, and start for the door.
“Where are you going?” he asked peremptorily.
“As between man and woman,” she answered, “it would be too terribly—er—indecent for you to tell me why I shouldn’t go alligatoring. Good-night. Sleep well. ”
He shut off the phonograph with a snap, started toward the door after her, then abruptly flung himself into a chair.
“You’re hoping a ’gator catches me, aren’t you?” she called from the veranda, and as she went down the steps her rippling laughter drifted tantalizingly back through the wide doorway.
The next day Sheldon was left all alone. Joan had gone exploring Pari-Sulay, and was not to be expected back until the late afternoon. Sheldon was vaguely oppressed by his loneliness, and several heavy squalls during the afternoon brought him frequently on to the veranda, telescope in hand, to scan the sea anxiously for the whale-boat. Betweenwhiles he scowled over the plantation account-books, made rough estimates, added and balanced, and scowled the harder. The loss of the Jessie had hit Berande severely. Not alone was his capital depleted by the amount of her value, but her earnings were no longer to be reckoned on, and it was her earnings that largely paid the running expenses of the plantation.
“Poor old Hughie,” he muttered aloud, once. “I’m glad you didn’t live to see it, old man. What a cropper, what a cropper!”
Between squalls the Flibberty-Gibbet ran in to anchorage, and her skipper, Pete Oleson (brother to the Oleson of the Jessie), ancient, grizzled, wild-eyed, emaciated by fever, dragged his weary frame up the veranda steps and collapsed in a steamer-chair. Whisky and soda kept him going while he made report and turned in his accounts.
“You’re rotten with fever,” Sheldon said. “Why don’t you run down to Sydney for a blow of decent climate?”
The old skipper shook his head.
“I can’t. I’ve ben in the islands too long. I’d die. The fever comes out worse down there. ”
“Kill or cure,” Sheldon counselled.
“It’s straight kill for me. I tried it three years ago. The cool weather put me on my back before I landed. They carried me ashore and into hospital. I was unconscious one stretch for two weeks. After that the doctors sent me back to the islands—said it was the only thing that would save me. Well, I’m still alive; but I’m too soaked with fever. A month in Australia would finish me. ”
“But what are you going to do?” Sheldon queried. “You can’t stay here until you die. ”
“That’s all that’s left to me. I’d like to go back to the old country, but I couldn’t stand it. I’ll last longer here, and here I’ll stay until I peg out; but I wish to God I’d never seen the Solomons, that’s all. ”
He declined to sleep ashore, took his orders, and went back on board the cutter. A lurid sunset was blotted out by the heaviest squall of the day, and Sheldon watched the whale-boat arrive in the thick of it. As the spritsail was taken in and the boat headed on to the beach, he was aware of a distinct hurt at sight of Joan at the steering-oar, standing erect and swaying her strength to it as she resisted the pressures that tended to throw the craft broadside in the surf. Her Tahitians leaped out and rushed the boat high up the beach, and she led her bizarre following through the gate of the compound.
The first drops of rain were driving like hail-stones, the tall cocoanut palms were bending and writhing in the grip of the wind, while the thick cloud-mass of the squall turned the brief tropic twilight abruptly to night.
Quite unconsciously the brooding anxiety of the afternoon slipped from Sheldon, and he felt strangely cheered at the sight of her running up the steps laughing, face flushed, hair flying, her breast heaving from the violence of her late exertions.
“Lovely, perfectly lovely—Pari-Sulay,” she panted. “I shall buy it. I’ll write to the Commissioner to-night. And the site for the bungalow—I’ve selected it already—is wonderful. You must come over some day and advise me. You won’t mind my staying here until I can get settled?Wasn’t that squall beautiful?And I suppose I’m late for dinner. I’ll run and get clean, and be with you in a minute. ”
And in the brief interval of her absence he found himself walking about the big living-room and impatiently and with anticipation awaiting her coming.
“Do you know, I’m never going to squabble with you again,” he announced when they were seated.
“Squabble!” was the retort. “It’s such a sordid word. It sounds cheap and nasty. I think it’s much nicer to quarrel. ”
“Call it what you please, but we won’t do it any more, will we?”He cleared his throat nervously, for her eyes advertised the immediate beginning of hostilities. “I beg your pardon,” he hurried on. “I should have spoken for myself. What I mean is that I refuse to quarrel. You have the most horrible way, without uttering a word, of making me play the fool. Why, I began with the kindest intentions, and here I am now—”
“Making nasty remarks,” she completed for him.
“It’s the way you have of catching me up,” he complained.
“Why, I never said a word. I was merely sitting here, being sweetly lured on by promises of peace on earth and all the rest of it, when suddenly you began to call me names. ”
“Hardly that, I am sure. ”
“Well, you said I was horrible, or that I had a horrible way about me, which is the same thing. I wish my bungalow were up. I’d move to-morrow. ”
But her twitching lips belied her words, and the next moment the man was more uncomfortable than ever, being made so by her laughter.
“I was only teasing you. Honest Injun. And if you don’t laugh I’ll suspect you of being in a temper with me. That’s right, laugh. But don’t—” she added in alarm, “don’t if it hurts you. You look as though you had a toothache. There, there—don’t say it. You know you promised not to quarrel, while I have the privilege of going on being as hateful as I please. And to begin with, there’s the Flibberty-Gibbet. I didn’t know she was so large a cutter; but she’s in disgraceful condition. Her rigging is something queer, and the next sharp squall will bring her head-gear all about the shop. I watched Noa Noah’s face as we sailed past. He didn’t say anything. He just sneered. And I don’t blame him. ”
“Her skipper’s rotten bad with fever,” Sheldon explained. “And he had to drop his mate off to take hold of things at Ugi—that’s where I lost Oscar, my trader. And you know what sort of sailors the niggers are. ”
She nodded her head judicially, and while she seemed to debate a weighty judgment he asked for a second helping of tinned beef—not because he was hungry, but because he wanted to watch her slim, firm fingers, naked of jewels and banded metals, while his eyes pleasured in the swell of the forearm, appearing from under the sleeve and losing identity in the smooth, round wrist undisfigured by the netted veins that come to youth when youth is gone. The fingers were brown with tan and looked exceedingly boyish. Then, and without effort, the concept came to him. Yes, that was it. He had stumbled upon the clue to her tantalizing personality. Her fingers, sunburned and boyish, told the story. No wonder she had exasperated him so frequently. He had tried to treat with her as a woman, when she was not a woman. She was a mere girl—and a boyish girl at that—with sunburned fingers that delighted in doing what boys’ fingers did; with a body and muscles that liked swimming and violent endeavour of all sorts; with a mind that was daring, but that dared no farther than boys’ adventures, and that delighted in rifles and revolvers, Stetson hats, and a sexless camaraderie with men.
Somehow, as he pondered and watched her, it seemed as if he sat in church at home listening to the choir-boys chanting. She reminded him of those boys, or their voices, rather. The same sexless quality was there. In the body of her she was woman; in the mind of her she had not grown up. She had not been exposed to ripening influences of that sort. She had had no mother. Von, her father, native servants, and rough island life had constituted her training. Horses and rifles had been her toys, camp and trail her nursery. From what she had told him, her seminary days had been an exile, devoted to study and to ceaseless longing for the wild riding and swimming of Hawaii. A boy’s training, and a boy’s point of view! That explained her chafe at petticoats, her revolt at what was only decently conventional. Some day she would grow up, but as yet she was only in the process.
Well, there was only one thing for him to do. He must meet her on her own basis of boyhood, and not make the mistake of treating her as a woman. He wondered if he could love the woman she would be when her nature awoke; and he wondered if he could love her just as she was and himself wake her up. After all, whatever it was, she had come to fill quite a large place in his life, as he had discovered that afternoon while scanning the sea between the squalls. Then he remembered the accounts of Berande, and the cropper that was coming, and scowled.
He became aware that she was speaking.
“I beg pardon,” he said. “What’s that you were saying?”
“You weren’t listening to a word—I knew it,” she chided. “I was saying that the condition of the Flibberty-Gibbet was disgraceful, and that to-morrow, when you’ve told the skipper and not hurt his feelings, I am going to take my men out and give her an overhauling. We’ll scrub her bottom, too. Why, there’s whiskers on her copper four inches long. I saw it when she rolled. Don’t forget, I’m going cruising on the Flibberty some day, even if I have to run away with her. ”
While at their coffee on the veranda, Satan raised a commotion in the compound near the beach gate, and Sheldon finally rescued a mauled and frightened black and dragged him on the porch for interrogation.
“What fella marster you belong?” he demanded. “What name you come along this fella place sun he go down?”
“Me b’long Boucher. Too many boy belong along Port Adams stop along my fella marster. Too much walk about. ”
The black drew a scrap of notepaper from under his belt and passed it over. Sheldon scanned it hurriedly.
“It’s from Boucher,” he explained, “the fellow who took Packard’s place. Packard was the one I told you about who was killed by his boat’s-crew. He says the Port Adams crowd is out—fifty of them, in big canoes—and camping on his beach. They’ve killed half a dozen of his pigs already, and seem to be looking for trouble. And he’s afraid they may connect with the fifteen runaways from Lunga. ”
“In which case?” she queried.
“In which case Billy Pape will be compelled to send Boucher’s successor. It’s Pape’s station, you know. I wish I knew what to do. I don’t like to leave you here alone. ”
“Take me along then. ”
He smiled and shook his head.
“Then you’d better take my men along,” she advised. “They’re good shots, and they’re not afraid of anything—except Utami, and he’s afraid of ghosts. ”
The big bell was rung, and fifty black boys carried the whale-boat down to the water. The regular boat’s-crew manned her, and Matauare and three other Tahitians, belted with cartridges and armed with rifles, sat in the stern-sheets where Sheldon stood at the steering-oar.
“My, I wish I could go with you,” Joan said wistfully, as the boat shoved off.
Sheldon shook his head.
“I’m as good as a man,” she urged.
“You really are needed here,” he replied.
“There’s that Lunga crowd; they might reach the coast right here, and with both of us absent rush the plantation. Good-bye. We’ll get back in the morning some time. It’s only twelve miles. ”
When Joan started to return to the house, she was compelled to pass among the boat-carriers, who lingered on the beach to chatter in queer, ape-like fashion about the events of the night. They made way for her, but there came to her, as she was in the midst of them, a feeling of her own helplessness. There were so many of them. What was to prevent them from dragging her down if they so willed?Then she remembered that one cry of hers would fetch Noa Noah and her remaining sailors, each one of whom was worth a dozen blacks in a struggle. As she opened the gate, one of the boys stepped up to her. In the darkness she could not make him out.
“What name?” she asked sharply. “What name belong you?”
“Me Aroa,” he said.
She remembered him as one of the two sick boys she had nursed at the hospital. The other one had died.
“Me take ’m plenty fella medicine too much,” Aroa was saying.
“Well, and you all right now,” she answered.
“Me want ’m tobacco, plenty fella tobacco; me want ’m calico; me want ’m porpoise teeth; me want ’m one fella belt. ”
She looked at him humorously, expecting to see a smile, or at least a grin, on his face. Instead, his face was expressionless. Save for a narrow breech-clout, a pair of ear-plugs, and about his kinky hair a chaplet of white cowrie-shells, he was naked. His body was fresh-oiled and shiny, and his eyes glistened in the starlight like some wild animal’s. The rest of the boys had crowded up at his back in a solid wall. Some one of them giggled, but the remainder regarded her in morose and intense silence.
“Well?” she said. “What for you want plenty fella things?”
“Me take ’m medicine,” quoth Aroa. “You pay me. ”
And this was a sample of their gratitude, she thought. It looked as if Sheldon had been right after all. Aroa waited stolidly. A leaping fish splashed far out on the water. A tiny wavelet murmured sleepily on the beach. The shadow of a flying-fox drifted by in velvet silence overhead. A light air fanned coolly on her cheek; it was the land-breeze beginning to blow.
“You go along quarters,” she said, starting to turn on her heel to enter the gate.
“You pay me,” said the boy.
“Aroa, you all the same one big fool. I no pay you. Now you go. ”
But the black was unmoved. She felt that he was regarding her almost insolently as he repeated:
“I take ’m medicine. You pay me. You pay me now. ”
Then it was that she lost her temper and cuffed his ears so soundly as to drive him back among his fellows. But they did not break up. Another boy stepped forward.
“You pay me,” he said.
His eyes had the querulous, troubled look such as she had noticed in monkeys; but while he was patently uncomfortable under her scrutiny, his thick lips were drawn firmly in an effort at sullen determination.
“What for?” she asked.
“Me Gogoomy,” he said. “Bawo brother belong me. ”
Bawo, she remembered, was the sick boy who had died.
“Go on,” she commanded.
“Bawo take ’m medicine. Bawo finish. Bawo my brother. You pay me. Father belong me one big fella chief along Port Adams. You pay me. ”
“Gogoomy, you just the same as Aroa, one big fool. My word, who pay me for medicine?”
She dismissed the matter by passing through the gate and closing it. But Gogoomy pressed up against it and said impudently:
“Father belong me one big fella chief. You no bang ’m head belong me. My word, you fright too much. ”
“Me fright?” she demanded, while anger tingled all through her.
“Too much fright bang ’m head belong me,” Gogoomy said proudly.
And then she reached for him across the gate and got him. It was a sweeping, broad-handed slap, so heavy that he staggered sideways and nearly fell. He sprang for the gate as if to force it open, while the crowd surged forward against the fence. Joan thought rapidly. Her revolver was hanging on the wall of her grass house. Yet one cry would bring her sailors, and she knew she was safe. So she did not cry for help. Instead, she whistled for Satan, at the same time calling him by name. She knew he was shut up in the living room, but the blacks did not wait to see. They fled with wild yells through the darkness, followed reluctantly by Gogoomy; while she entered the bungalow, laughing at first, but finally vexed to the verge of tears by what had taken place. She had sat up a whole night with the boy who had died, and yet his brother demanded to be paid for his life.
“Ugh! the ungrateful beast!” she muttered, while she debated whether or not she would confess the incident to Sheldon.
“And so it was all settled easily enough,” Sheldon was saying. He was on the veranda, drinking coffee. The whale-boat was being carried into its shed. “Boucher was a bit timid at first to carry off the situation with a strong hand, but he did very well once we got started. We made a play at holding a court, and Telepasse, the old scoundrel, accepted the findings. He’s a Port Adams chief, a filthy beggar. We fined him ten times the value of the pigs, and made him move on with his mob. Oh, they’re a sweet lot, I must say, at least sixty of them, in five big canoes, and out for trouble. They’ve got a dozen Sniders that ought to be confiscated. ”
“Why didn’t you?” Joan asked.
“And have a row on my hands with the Commissioner?He’s terribly touchy about his black wards, as he calls them. Well, we started them along their way, though they went in on the beach to kai-kai several miles back. They ought to pass here some time to-day. ”
Two hours later the canoes arrived. No one saw them come. The house-boys were busy in the kitchen at their own breakfast. The plantation hands were similarly occupied in their quarters. Satan lay sound asleep on his back under the billiard table, in his sleep brushing at the flies that pestered him. Joan was rummaging in the storeroom, and Sheldon was taking his siesta in a hammock on the veranda. He awoke gently. In some occult, subtle way a warning that all was not well had penetrated his sleep and aroused him. Without moving, he glanced down and saw the ground beneath covered with armed savages. They were the same ones he had parted with that morning, though he noted an accession in numbers. There were men he had not seen before.
He slipped from the hammock and with deliberate slowness sauntered to the railing, where he yawned sleepily and looked down on them. It came to him curiously that it was his destiny ever to stand on this high place, looking down on unending hordes of black trouble that required control, bullying, and cajolery. But while he glanced carelessly over them, he was keenly taking stock. The new men were all armed with modern rifles. Ah, he had thought so. There were fifteen of them, undoubtedly the Lunga runaways. In addition, a dozen old Sniders were in the hands of the original crowd. The rest were armed with spears, clubs, bows and arrows, and long-handled tomahawks. Beyond, drawn up on the beach, he could see the big war-canoes, with high and fantastically carved bows and sterns, ornamented with scrolls and bands of white cowrie shells. These were the men who had killed his trader, Oscar, at Ugi.
“What name you walk about this place?” he demanded.
At the same time he stole a glance seaward to where the Flibberty-Gibbet reflected herself in the glassy calm of the sea. Not a soul was visible under her awnings, and he saw the whale-boat was missing from alongside. The Tahitians had evidently gone shooting fish up the Balesuna. He was all alone in his high place above this trouble, while his world slumbered peacefully under the breathless tropic noon.
Nobody replied, and he repeated his demand, more of mastery in his voice this time, and a hint of growing anger. The blacks moved uneasily, like a herd of cattle, at the sound of his voice. But not one spoke. All eyes, however, were staring at him in certitude of expectancy. Something was about to happen, and they were waiting for it, waiting with the unanimous, unstable mob-mind for the one of them who would make the first action that would precipitate all of them into a common action. Sheldon looked for this one, for such was the one to fear. Directly beneath him he caught sight of the muzzle of a rifle, barely projecting between two black bodies, that was slowly elevating toward him. It was held at the hip by a man in the second row.
“What name you?” Sheldon suddenly shouted, pointing directly at the man who held the gun, who startled and lowered the muzzle.
Sheldon still held the whip hand, and he intended to keep it.
“Clear out, all you fella boys,” he ordered. “Clear out and walk along salt water. Savvee!”
“Me talk,” spoke up a fat and filthy savage whose hairy chest was caked with the unwashed dirt of years.
“Oh, is that you, Telepasse?” the white man queried genially. “You tell ’m boys clear out, and you stop and talk along me. ”
“Him good fella boy,” was the reply. “Him stop along. ”
“Well, what do you want?” Sheldon asked, striving to hide under assumed carelessness the weakness of concession.
“That fella boy belong along me. ”The old chief pointed out Gogoomy, whom Sheldon recognized.
“White Mary belong you too much no good,” Telepasse went on. “Bang ’m head belong Gogoomy. Gogoomy all the same chief. Bimeby me finish, Gogoomy big fella chief. White Mary bang ’m head. No good. You pay me plenty tobacco, plenty powder, plenty calico. ”
“You old scoundrel,” was Sheldon’s comment. An hour before, he had been chuckling over Joan’s recital of the episode, and here, an hour later, was Telepasse himself come to collect damages.
“Gogoomy,” Sheldon ordered, “what name you walk about here?You get along quarters plenty quick. ”
“Me stop,” was the defiant answer.
“White Mary b’long you bang ’m head,” old Telepasse began again. “My word, plenty big fella trouble you no pay. ”
“You talk along boys,” Sheldon said, with increasing irritation. “You tell ’m get to hell along beach. Then I talk with you. ”
Sheldon felt a slight vibration of the veranda, and knew that Joan had come out and was standing by his side. But he did not dare glance at her. There were too many rifles down below there, and rifles had a way of going off from the hip.
Again the veranda vibrated with her moving weight, and he knew that Joan had gone into the house. A minute later she was back beside him. He had never seen her smoke, and it struck him as peculiar that she should be smoking now. Then he guessed the reason. With a quick glance, he noted the hand at her side, and in it the familiar, paper-wrapped dynamite. He noted, also, the end of fuse, split properly, into which had been inserted the head of a wax match.
“Telepasse, you old reprobate, tell ’m boys clear out along beach. My word, I no gammon along you. ”
“Me no gammon,” said the chief. “Me want ’m pay white Mary bang ’m head b’long Gogoomy. ”
“I’ll come down there and bang ’m head b’long you,” Sheldon replied, leaning toward the railing as if about to leap over.
An angry murmur arose, and the blacks surged restlessly. The muzzles of many guns were rising from the hips. Joan was pressing the lighted end of the cigarette to the fuse. A Snider went off with the roar of a bomb-gun, and Sheldon heard a pane of window-glass crash behind him. At the same moment Joan flung the dynamite, the fuse hissing and spluttering, into the thick of the blacks. They scattered back in too great haste to do any more shooting. Satan, aroused by the one shot, was snarling and panting to be let out. Joan heard, and ran to let him out; and thereat the tragedy was averted, and the comedy began.
Rifles and spears were dropped or flung aside in a wild scramble for the protection of the cocoanut palms. Satan multiplied himself. Never had he been free to tear and rend such a quantity of black flesh before, and he bit and snapped and rushed the flying legs till the last pair were above his head. All were treed except Telepasse, who was too old and fat, and he lay prone and without movement where he had fallen; while Satan, with too great a heart to worry an enemy that did not move, dashed frantically from tree to tree, barking and springing at those who clung on lowest down.
“I fancy you need a lesson or two in inserting fuses,” Sheldon remarked dryly.
Joan’s eyes were scornful.
“There was no detonator on it,” she said. “Besides, the detonator is not yet manufactured that will explode that charge. It’s only a bottle of chlorodyne. ”
She put her fingers into her mouth, and Sheldon winced as he saw her blow, like a boy, a sharp, imperious whistle—the call she always used for her sailors, and that always made him wince.
“They’re gone up the Balesuna, shooting fish,” he explained. “But there comes Oleson with his boat’s-crew. He’s an old war-horse when he gets started. See him banging the boys. They don’t pull fast enough for him. ”
“And now what’s to be done?” she asked. “You’ve treed your game, but you can’t keep it treed. ”
“No; but I can teach them a lesson. ”
Sheldon walked over to the big bell.
“It is all right,” he replied to her gesture of protest. “My boys are practically all bushmen, while these chaps are salt-water men, and there’s no love lost between them. You watch the fun. ”
He rang a general call, and by the time the two hundred labourers trooped into the compound Satan was once more penned in the living-room, complaining to high heaven at his abominable treatment. The plantation hands were dancing war-dances around the base of every tree and filling the air with abuse and vituperation of their hereditary enemies. The skipper of the Flibberty-Gibbet arrived in the thick of it, in the first throes of oncoming fever, staggering as he walked, and shivering so severely that he could scarcely hold the rifle he carried. His face was ghastly blue, his teeth clicked and chattered, and the violent sunshine through which he walked could not warm him.
“I’ll s-s-sit down, and k-k-keep a guard on ’em,” he chattered. “D-d-dash it all, I always g-get f-fever when there’s any excitement. W-w-wh-what are you going to do?”
“Gather up the guns first of all. ”
Under Sheldon’s direction the house-boys and gang-bosses collected the scattered arms and piled them in a heap on the veranda. The modern rifles, stolen from Lunga, Sheldon set aside; the Sniders he smashed into fragments; the pile of spears, clubs, and tomahawks he presented to Joan.
“A really unique addition to your collection,” he smiled; “picked up right on the battlefield. ”
Down on the beach he built a bonfire out of the contents of the canoes, his blacks smashing, breaking, and looting everything they laid hands on. The canoes themselves, splintered and broken, filled with sand and coral-boulders, were towed out to ten fathoms of water and sunk.
“Ten fathoms will be deep enough for them to work in,” Sheldon said, as they walked back to the compound.
Here a Saturnalia had broken loose. The war-songs and dances were more unrestrained, and, from abuse, the plantation blacks had turned to pelting their helpless foes with pieces of wood, handfuls of pebbles, and chunks of coral-rock. And the seventy-five lusty cannibals clung stoically to their tree-perches, enduring the rain of missiles and snarling down promises of vengeance.
“There’ll be wars for forty years on Malaita on account of this,” Sheldon laughed. “But I always fancy old Telepasse will never again attempt to rush a plantation. ”
“Eh, you old scoundrel,” he added, turning to the old chief, who sat gibbering in impotent rage at the foot of the steps. “Now head belong you bang ’m too. Come on, Miss Lackland, bang ’m just once. It will be the crowning indignity. ”
“Ugh, he’s too dirty. I’d rather give him a bath. Here, you, Adamu Adam, give this devil-devil a wash. Soap and water!Fill that wash-tub. Ornfiri, run and fetch ’m scrub-brush. ”
The Tahitians, back from their fishing and grinning at the bedlam of the compound, entered into the joke.
“Tambo!Tambo!” shrieked the cannibals from the trees, appalled at so awful a desecration, as they saw their chief tumbled into the tub and the sacred dirt rubbed and soused from his body.
Joan, who had gone into the bungalow, tossed down a strip of white calico, in which old Telepasse was promptly wrapped, and he stood forth, resplendent and purified, withal he still spat and strangled from the soap-suds with which Noa Noah had gargled his throat.
The house-boys were directed to fetch handcuffs, and, one by one, the Lunga runaways were haled down out of their trees and made fast. Sheldon ironed them in pairs, and ran a steel chain through the links of the irons. Gogoomy was given a lecture for his mutinous conduct and locked up for the afternoon. Then Sheldon rewarded the plantation hands with an afternoon’s holiday, and, when they had withdrawn from the compound, permitted the Port Adams men to descend from the trees. And all afternoon he and Joan loafed in the cool of the veranda and watched them diving down and emptying their sunken canoes of the sand and rocks. It was twilight when they embarked and paddled away with a few broken paddles. A breeze had sprung up, and the Flibberty-Gibbet had already sailed for Lunga to return the runaways.
Sheldon was back in the plantation superintending the building of a bridge, when the schooner Malakula ran in close and dropped anchor. Joan watched the taking in of sail and the swinging out of the boat with a sailor’s interest, and herself met the two men who came ashore. While one of the house-boys ran to fetch Sheldon, she had the visitors served with whisky and soda, and sat and talked with them.
They seemed awkward and constrained in her presence, and she caught first one and then the other looking at her with secret curiosity. She felt that they were weighing her, appraising her, and for the first time the anomalous position she occupied on Berande sank sharply home to her. On the other hand, they puzzled her. They were neither traders nor sailors of any type she had known. Nor did they talk like gentlemen, despite the fact that there was nothing offensive in their bearing and that the veneer of ordinary social nicety was theirs. Undoubtedly, they were men of affairs—business men of a sort; but what affairs should they have in the Solomons, and what business on Berande?The elder one, Morgan, was a huge man, bronzed and moustached, with a deep bass voice and an almost guttural speech, and the other, Raff, was slight and effeminate, with nervous hands and watery, washed-out gray eyes, who spoke with a faint indefinable accent that was hauntingly reminiscent of the Cockney, and that was yet not Cockney of any brand she had ever encountered. Whatever they were, they were self-made men, she concluded; and she felt the impulse to shudder at thought of falling into their hands in a business way. There, they would be merciless.
She watched Sheldon closely when he arrived, and divined that he was not particularly delighted to see them. But see them he must, and so pressing was the need that, after a little perfunctory general conversation, he led the two men into the stuffy office. Later in the afternoon, she asked Lalaperu where they had gone.
“My word,” quoth Lalaperu; “plenty walk about, plenty look ’m. Look ’m tree; look ’m ground belong tree; look ’m all fella bridge; look ’m copra-house; look ’m grass-land; look ’m river; look ’m whale-boat—my word, plenty big fella look ’m too much. ”
“What fella man them two fella?” she queried.
“Big fella marster along white man,” was the extent of his description.
But Joan decided that they were men of importance in the Solomons, and that their examination of the plantation and of its accounts was of sinister significance.
At dinner no word was dropped that gave a hint of their errand. The conversation was on general topics; but Joan could not help noticing the troubled, absent expression that occasionally came into Sheldon’s eyes. After coffee, she left them; and at midnight, from across the compound, she could hear the low murmur of their voices and see glowing the fiery ends of their cigars. Up early herself, she found they had already departed on another tramp over the plantation.
“What you think?” she asked Viaburi.
“Sheldon marster he go along finish short time little bit,” was the answer.
“What you think?” she asked Ornfiri.
“Sheldon marster big fella walk about along Sydney. Yes, me t’ink so. He finish along Berande. ”
All day the examination of the plantation and the discussion went on; and all day the skipper of the Malakula sent urgent messages ashore for the two men to hasten. It was not until sunset that they went down to the boat, and even then a final talk of nearly an hour took place on the beach. Sheldon was combating something—that she could plainly see; and that his two visitors were not giving in she could also plainly see.
“What name?” she asked lightly, when Sheldon sat down to dinner.
He looked at her and smiled, but it was a very wan and wistful smile.
“My word,” she went on. “One big fella talk. Sun he go down—talk-talk; sun he come up—talk-talk; all the time talk-talk. What name that fella talk-talk?
“Oh, nothing much. ”He shrugged his shoulders. “They were trying to buy Berande, that was all. ”
She looked at him challengingly.
“It must have been more than that. It was you who wanted to sell. ”
“Indeed, no, Miss Lackland; I assure you that I am far from desiring to sell. ”
“Don’t let us fence about it,” she urged. “Let it be straight talk between us. You’re in trouble. I’m not a fool. Tell me. Besides, I may be able to help, to—to suggest something. ”
In the pause that followed, he seemed to debate, not so much whether he would tell her, as how to begin to tell her.
“I’m American, you see,” she persisted, “and our American heritage is a large parcel of business sense. I don’t like it myself, but I know I’ve got it—at least more than you have. Let us talk it over and find a way out. How much do you owe?”
“A thousand pounds, and a few trifles over—small bills, you know. Then, too, thirty of the boys finish their time next week, and their balances will average ten pounds each. But what is the need of bothering your head with it?Really, you know—”
“What is Berande worth?—right now?”
“Whatever Morgan and Raff are willing to pay for it. ”A glance at her hurt expression decided him. “Hughie and I have sunk eight thousand pounds in it, and our time. It is a good property, and worth more than that. But it has three years to run before its returns begin to come in. That is why Hughie and I engaged in trading and recruiting. The Jessie and our stations came very near to paying the running expenses of Berande. ”
“And Morgan and Raff offered you what?”
“A thousand pounds clear, after paying all bills. ”
“The thieves!” she cried.
“No, they’re good business men, that is all. As they told me, a thing is worth no more than one is willing to pay or to receive. ”
“And how much do you need to carry on Berande for three years?” Joan hurried on.
“Two hundred boys at six pounds a year means thirty-six hundred pounds—that’s the main item. ”
“My, how cheap labour does mount up!Thirty-six hundred pounds, eighteen thousand dollars, just for a lot of cannibals!Yet the place is good security. You could go down to Sydney and raise the money. ”
He shook his head.
“You can’t get them to look at plantations down there. They’ve been taken in too often. But I do hate to give the place up—more for Hughie’s sake, I swear, than my own. He was bound up in it. You see, he was a persistent chap, and hated to acknowledge defeat. It—it makes me uncomfortable to think of it myself. We were running slowly behind, but with the Jessie we hoped to muddle through in some fashion. ”
“You were muddlers, the pair of you, without doubt. But you needn’t sell to Morgan and Raff. I shall go down to Sydney on the next steamer, and I’ll come back in a second-hand schooner. I should be able to buy one for five or six thousand dollars—”
He held up his hand in protest, but she waved it aside.
“I may manage to freight a cargo back as well. At any rate, the schooner will take over the Jessie’s business. You can make your arrangements accordingly, and have plenty of work for her when I get back. I’m going to become a partner in Berande to the extent of my bag of sovereigns—I’ve got over fifteen hundred of them, you know. We’ll draw up an agreement right now—that is, with your permission, and I know you won’t refuse it. ”
He looked at her with good-natured amusement.
“You know I sailed here all the way from Tahiti in order to become a planter,” she insisted. “You know what my plans were. Now I’ve changed them, that’s all. I’d rather be a part owner of Berande and get my returns in three years, than break ground on Pari-Sulay and wait seven years. ”
“And this—er—this schooner. . . . ”Sheldon changed his mind and stopped.
“Yes, go on. ”
“You won’t be angry?” he queried.
“No, no; this is business. Go on. ”
“You—er—you would run her yourself?—be the captain, in short?—and go recruiting on Malaita?”
“Certainly. We would save the cost of a skipper. Under an agreement you would be credited with a manager’s salary, and I with a captain’s. It’s quite simple. Besides, if you won’t let me be your partner, I shall buy Pari-Sulay, get a much smaller vessel, and run her myself. So what is the difference?”
“The difference?—why, all the difference in the world. In the case of Pari-Sulay you would be on an independent venture. You could turn cannibal for all I could interfere in the matter. But on Berande, you would be my partner, and then I would be responsible. And of course I couldn’t permit you, as my partner, to be skipper of a recruiter. I tell you, the thing is what I would not permit any sister or wife of mine—”
“But I’m not going to be your wife, thank goodness—only your partner. ”
“Besides, it’s all ridiculous,” he held on steadily. “Think of the situation. A man and a woman, both young, partners on an isolated plantation. Why, the only practical way out would be that I’d have to marry you—”
“Mine was a business proposition, not a marriage proposal,” she interrupted, coldly angry. “I wonder if somewhere in this world there is one man who could accept me for a comrade. ”
“But you are a woman just the same,” he began, “and there are certain conventions, certain decencies—”
She sprang up and stamped her foot.
“Do you know what I’d like to say?” she demanded.
“Yes,” he smiled, “you’d like to say, ’Damn petticoats!’”
She nodded her head ruefully.
“That’s what I wanted to say, but it sounds different on your lips. It sounds as though you meant it yourself, and that you meant it because of me. ”
“Well, I am going to bed. But do, please, think over my proposition, and let me know in the morning. There’s no use in my discussing it now. You make me so angry. You are cowardly, you know, and very egotistic. You are afraid of what other fools will say. No matter how honest your motives, if others criticized your actions your feelings would be hurt. And you think more about your own wretched feelings than you do about mine. And then, being a coward—all men are at heart cowards—you disguise your cowardice by calling it chivalry. I thank heaven that I was not born a man. Good-night. Do think it over. And don’t be foolish. What Berande needs is good American hustle. You don’t know what that is. You are a muddler. Besides, you are enervated. I’m fresh to the climate. Let me be your partner, and you’ll see me rattle the dry bones of the Solomons. Confess, I’ve rattled yours already. ”
“I should say so,” he answered. “Really, you know, you have. I never received such a dressing-down in my life. If any one had ever told me that I’d be a party even to the present situation. . . . Yes, I confess, you have rattled my dry bones pretty considerably. ”
“But that is nothing to the rattling they are going to get,” she assured him, as he rose and took her hand. “Good-night. And do, do give me a rational decision in the morning. ”
“I wish I knew whether you are merely headstrong, or whether you really intend to be a Solomon planter,” Sheldon said in the morning, at breakfast.
“I wish you were more adaptable,” Joan retorted. “You have more preconceived notions than any man I ever met. Why in the name of common sense, in the name of . . . fair play, can’t you get it into your head that I am different from the women you have known, and treat me accordingly?You surely ought to know I am different. I sailed my own schooner here—skipper, if you please. I came here to make my living. You know that; I’ve told you often enough. It was Dad’s plan, and I’m carrying it out, just as you are trying to carry out your Hughie’s plan. Dad started to sail and sail until he could find the proper islands for planting. He died, and I sailed and sailed until I arrived here. Well,”—she shrugged her shoulders—“the schooner is at the bottom of the sea. I can’t sail any farther, therefore I remain here. And a planter I shall certainly be. ”
“You see—” he began.
“I haven’t got to the point,” she interrupted. “Looking back on my conduct from the moment I first set foot on your beach, I can see no false pretence that I have made about myself or my intentions. I was my natural self to you from the first. I told you my plans; and yet you sit there and calmly tell me that you don’t know whether I really intend to become a planter, or whether it is all obstinacy and pretence. Now let me assure you, for the last time, that I really and truly shall become a planter, thanks to you, or in spite of you. Do you want me for a partner?”
“But do you realize that I would be looked upon as the most foolish jackanapes in the South Seas if I took a young girl like you in with me here on Berande?” he asked.
“No; decidedly not. But there you are again, worrying about what idiots and the generally evil-minded will think of you. I should have thought you had learned self-reliance on Berande, instead of needing to lean upon the moral support of every whisky-guzzling worthless South Sea vagabond. ”
He smiled, and said,—
“Yes, that is the worst of it. You are unanswerable. Yours is the logic of youth, and no man can answer that. The facts of life can, but they have no place in the logic of youth. Youth must try to live according to its logic. That is the only way to learn better. ”
“There is no harm in trying?” she interjected.
“But there is. That is the very point. The facts always smash youth’s logic, and they usually smash youth’s heart, too. It’s like platonic friendships and . . . and all such things; they are all right in theory, but they won’t work in practice. I used to believe in such things once. That is why I am here in the Solomons at present. ”
Joan was impatient. He saw that she could not understand. Life was too clearly simple to her. It was only the youth who was arguing with him, the youth with youth’s pure-minded and invincible reasoning. Hers was only the boy’s soul in a woman’s body. He looked at her flushed, eager face, at the great ropes of hair coiled on the small head, at the rounded lines of the figure showing plainly through the home-made gown, and at the eyes—boy’s eyes, under cool, level brows—and he wondered why a being that was so much beautiful woman should be no woman at all. Why in the deuce was she not carroty-haired, or cross-eyed, or hare-lipped?
“Suppose we do become partners on Berande,” he said, at the same time experiencing a feeling of fright at the prospect that was tangled with a contradictory feeling of charm, “either I’ll fall in love with you, or you with me. Propinquity is dangerous, you know. In fact, it is propinquity that usually gives the facer to the logic of youth. ”
“If you think I came to the Solomons to get married—” she began wrathfully. “Well, there are better men in Hawaii, that’s all. Really, you know, the way you harp on that one string would lead an unprejudiced listener to conclude that you are prurient-minded—”
She stopped, appalled. His face had gone red and white with such abruptness as to startle her. He was patently very angry. She sipped the last of her coffee, and arose, saying,—
“I’ll wait until you are in a better temper before taking up the discussion again. That is what’s the matter with you. You get angry too easily. Will you come swimming?The tide is just right. ”
“If she were a man I’d bundle her off the plantation root and crop, whale-boat, Tahitian sailors, sovereigns, and all,” he muttered to himself after she had left the room.
But that was the trouble. She was not a man, and where would she go, and what would happen to her?
He got to his feet, lighted a cigarette, and her Stetson hat, hanging on the wall over her revolver-belt, caught his eye. That was the devil of it, too. He did not want her to go. After all, she had not grown up yet. That was why her logic hurt. It was only the logic of youth, but it could hurt damnably at times. At any rate, he would resolve upon one thing: never again would he lose his temper with her. She was a child; he must remember that. He sighed heavily. But why in reasonableness had such a child been incorporated in such a woman’s form?
And as he continued to stare at her hat and think, the hurt he had received passed away, and he found himself cudgelling his brains for some way out of the muddle—for some method by which she could remain on Berande. A chaperone!Why not?He could send to Sydney on the first steamer for one. He could—
Her trilling laughter smote upon his reverie, and he stepped to the screen-door, through which he could see her running down the path to the beach. At her heels ran two of her sailors, Papehara and Mahameme, in scarlet lava-lavas, with naked sheath-knives gleaming in their belts. It was another sample of her wilfulness. Despite entreaties and commands, and warnings of the danger from sharks, she persisted in swimming at any and all times, and by special preference, it seemed to him, immediately after eating.
He watched her take the water, diving cleanly, like a boy, from the end of the little pier; and he watched her strike out with single overhand stroke, her henchmen swimming a dozen feet on either side. He did not have much faith in their ability to beat off a hungry man-eater, though he did believe, implicitly, that their lives would go bravely before hers in case of an attack.
Straight out they swam, their heads growing smaller and smaller. There was a slight, restless heave to the sea, and soon the three heads were disappearing behind it with greater frequency. He strained his eyes to keep them in sight, and finally fetched the telescope on to the veranda. A squall was making over from the direction of Florida; but then, she and her men laughed at squalls and the white choppy sea at such times. She certainly could swim, he had long since concluded. That came of her training in Hawaii. But sharks were sharks, and he had known of more than one good swimmer drowned in a tide-rip.
The squall blackened the sky, beat the ocean white where he had last seen the three heads, and then blotted out sea and sky and everything with its deluge of rain. It passed on, and Berande emerged in the bright sunshine as the three swimmers emerged from the sea. Sheldon slipped inside with the telescope, and through the screen-door watched her run up the path, shaking down her hair as she ran, to the fresh-water shower under the house.
On the veranda that afternoon he broached the proposition of a chaperone as delicately as he could, explaining the necessity at Berande for such a body, a housekeeper to run the boys and the storeroom, and perform divers other useful functions. When he had finished, he waited anxiously for what Joan would say.
“Then you don’t like the way I’ve been managing the house?” was her first objection. And next, brushing his attempted explanations aside, “One of two things would happen. Either I should cancel our partnership agreement and go away, leaving you to get another chaperone to chaperone your chaperone; or else I’d take the old hen out in the whale-boat and drown her. Do you imagine for one moment that I sailed my schooner down here to this raw edge of the earth in order to put myself under a chaperone?”
“But really . . . er . . . you know a chaperone is a necessary evil,” he objected.
“We’ve got along very nicely so far without one. Did I have one on the Miélé?And yet I was the only woman on board. There are only three things I am afraid of—bumble-bees, scarlet fever, and chaperones. Ugh! the clucking, evil-minded monsters, finding wrong in everything, seeing sin in the most innocent actions, and suggesting sin—yes, causing sin—by their diseased imaginings. ”
“Phew!” Sheldon leaned back from the table in mock fear.
“You needn’t worry about your bread and butter,” he ventured. “If you fail at planting, you would be sure to succeed as a writer—novels with a purpose, you know. ”
“I didn’t think there were persons in the Solomons who needed such books,” she retaliated. “But you are certainly one—you and your custodians of virtue. ”
He winced, but Joan rattled on with the platitudinous originality of youth.
“As if anything good were worth while when it has to be guarded and put in leg-irons and handcuffs in order to keep it good. Your desire for a chaperone as much as implies that I am that sort of creature. I prefer to be good because it is good to be good, rather than because I can’t be bad because some argus-eyed old frump won’t let me have a chance to be bad. ”
“But it—it is not that,” he put in. “It is what others will think. ”
“Let them think, the nasty-minded wretches!It is because men like you are afraid of the nasty-minded that you allow their opinions to rule you. ”
“I am afraid you are a female Shelley,” he replied; “and as such, you really drive me to become your partner in order to protect you. ”
“If you take me as a partner in order to protect me . . . I . . . I shan’t be your partner, that’s all. You’ll drive me into buying Pari-Sulay yet. ”
“All the more reason—” he attempted.
“Do you know what I’ll do?” she demanded. “I’ll find some man in the Solomons who won’t want to protect me. ”
Sheldon could not conceal the shock her words gave him.
“You don’t mean that, you know,” he pleaded.
“I do; I really do. I am sick and tired of this protection dodge. Don’t forget for a moment that I am perfectly able to take care of myself. Besides, I have eight of the best protectors in the world—my sailors. ”
“You should have lived a thousand years ago,” he laughed, “or a thousand years hence. You are very primitive, and equally super-modern. The twentieth century is no place for you. ”
“But the Solomon Islands are. You were living like a savage when I came along and found you—eating nothing but tinned meat and scones that would have ruined the digestion of a camel. Anyway, I’ve remedied that; and since we are to be partners, it will stay remedied. You won’t die of malnutrition, be sure of that. ”
“If we enter into partnership,” he announced, “it must be thoroughly understood that you are not allowed to run the schooner. You can go down to Sydney and buy her, but a skipper we must have—”
“At so much additional expense, and most likely a whisky-drinking, irresponsible, and incapable man to boot. Besides, I’d have the business more at heart than any man we could hire. As for capability, I tell you I can sail all around the average broken captain or promoted able seaman you find in the South Seas. And you know I am a navigator. ”
“But being my partner,” he said coolly, “makes you none the less a lady. ”
“Thank you for telling me that my contemplated conduct is unladylike. ”
She arose, tears of anger and mortification in her eyes, and went over to the phonograph.
“I wonder if all men are as ridiculous as you?” she said.
He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Discussion was useless—he had learned that; and he was resolved to keep his temper. And before the day was out she capitulated. She was to go to Sydney on the first steamer, purchase the schooner, and sail back with an island skipper on board. And then she inveigled Sheldon into agreeing that she could take occasional cruises in the islands, though he was adamant when it came to a recruiting trip on Malaita. That was the one thing barred.
And after it was all over, and a terse and business-like agreement (by her urging) drawn up and signed, Sheldon paced up and down for a full hour, meditating upon how many different kinds of a fool he had made of himself. It was an impossible situation, and yet no more impossible than the previous one, and no more impossible than the one that would have obtained had she gone off on her own and bought Pari-Sulay. He had never seen a more independent woman who stood more in need of a protector than this boy-minded girl who had landed on his beach with eight picturesque savages, a long-barrelled revolver, a bag of gold, and a gaudy merchandise of imagined romance and adventure.
He had never read of anything to compare with it. The fictionists, as usual, were exceeded by fact. The whole thing was too preposterous to be true. He gnawed his moustache and smoked cigarette after cigarette. Satan, back from a prowl around the compound, ran up to him and touched his hand with a cold, damp nose. Sheldon caressed the animal’s ears, then threw himself into a chair and laughed heartily. What would the Commissioner of the Solomons think?What would his people at home think?And in the one breath he was glad that the partnership had been effected and sorry that Joan Lackland had ever come to the Solomons. Then he went inside and looked at himself in a hand-mirror. He studied the reflection long and thoughtfully and wonderingly.
They were deep in a game of billiards the next morning, after the eleven o’clock breakfast, when Viaburi entered and announced,—
“Big fella schooner close up. ”
Even as he spoke, they heard the rumble of chain through hawse-pipe, and from the veranda saw a big black-painted schooner, swinging to her just-caught anchor.
“It’s a Yankee,” Joan cried. “See that bow!Look at that elliptical stern!Ah, I thought so—” as the Stars and Stripes fluttered to the mast-head.
Noa Noah, at Sheldon’s direction, ran the Union Jack up the flagstaff.
“Now what is an American vessel doing down here?” Joan asked. “It’s not a yacht, though I’ll wager she can sail. Look!Her name!What is it?”
“Martha, San Francisco,” Sheldon read, looking through the telescope. “It’s the first Yankee I ever heard of in the Solomons. They are coming ashore, whoever they are. And, by Jove, look at those men at the oars. It’s an all-white crew. Now what reason brings them here?”
“They’re not proper sailors,” Joan commented. “I’d be ashamed of a crew of black-boys that pulled in such fashion. Look at that fellow in the bow—the one just jumping out; he’d be more at home on a cow-pony. ”
The boat’s-crew scattered up and down the beach, ranging about with eager curiosity, while the two men who had sat in the stern-sheets opened the gate and came up the path to the bungalow. One of them, a tall and slender man, was clad in white ducks that fitted him like a semi-military uniform. The other man, in nondescript garments that were both of the sea and shore, and that must have been uncomfortably hot, slouched and shambled like an overgrown ape. To complete the illusion, his face seemed to sprout in all directions with a dense, bushy mass of red whiskers, while his eyes were small and sharp and restless.
Sheldon, who had gone to the head of the steps, introduced them to Joan. The bewhiskered individual, who looked like a Scotsman, had the Teutonic name of Von Blix, and spoke with a strong American accent. The tall man in the well-fitting ducks, who gave the English name of Tudor—John Tudor—talked purely-enunciated English such as any cultured American would talk, save for the fact that it was most delicately and subtly touched by a faint German accent. Joan decided that she had been helped to identify the accent by the short German-looking moustache that did not conceal the mouth and its full red lips, which would have formed a Cupid’s bow but for some harshness or severity of spirit that had moulded them masculinely.
Von Blix was rough and boorish, but Tudor was gracefully easy in everything he did, or looked, or said. His blue eyes sparkled and flashed, his clean-cut mobile features were an index to his slightest shades of feeling and expression. He bubbled with enthusiasms, and his faintest smile or lightest laugh seemed spontaneous and genuine. But it was only occasionally at first that he spoke, for Von Blix told their story and stated their errand.
They were on a gold-hunting expedition. He was the leader, and Tudor was his lieutenant. All hands—and there were twenty-eight—were shareholders, in varying proportions, in the adventure. Several were sailors, but the large majority were miners, culled from all the camps from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. It was the old and ever-untiring pursuit of gold, and they had come to the Solomons to get it. Part of them, under the leadership of Tudor, were to go up the Balesuna and penetrate the mountainous heart of Guadalcanar, while the Martha, under Von Blix, sailed away for Malaita to put through similar exploration.
“And so,” said Von Blix, “for Mr. Tudor’s expedition we must have some black-boys. Can we get them from you?”
“Of course we will pay,” Tudor broke in. “You have only to charge what you consider them worth. You pay them six pounds a year, don’t you?”
“In the first place we can’t spare them,” Sheldon answered. “We are short of them on the plantation as it is. ”
“We?” Tudor asked quickly. “Then you are a firm or a partnership?I understood at Guvutu that you were alone, that you had lost your partner. ”
Sheldon inclined his head toward Joan, and as he spoke she felt that he had become a trifle stiff.
“Miss Lackland has become interested in the plantation since then. But to return to the boys. We can’t spare them, and besides, they would be of little use. You couldn’t get them to accompany you beyond Binu, which is a short day’s work with the boats from here. They are Malaita-men, and they are afraid of being eaten. They would desert you at the first opportunity. You could get the Binu men to accompany you another day’s journey, through the grass-lands, but at the first roll of the foothills look for them to turn back. They likewise are disinclined to being eaten. ”
“Is it as bad as that?” asked Von Blix.
“The interior of Guadalcanar has never been explored,” Sheldon explained. “The bushmen are as wild men as are to be found anywhere in the world to-day. I have never seen one. I have never seen a man who has seen one. They never come down to the coast, though their scouting parties occasionally eat a coast native who has wandered too far inland. Nobody knows anything about them. They don’t even use tobacco—have never learned its use. The Austrian expedition—scientists, you know—got part way in before it was cut to pieces. The monument is up the beach there several miles. Only one man got back to the coast to tell the tale. And now you have all I or any other man knows of the inside of Guadalcanar. ”
“But gold—have you heard of gold?” Tudor asked impatiently. “Do you know anything about gold?”
Sheldon smiled, while the two visitors hung eagerly upon his words.
“You can go two miles up the Balesuna and wash colours from the gravel. I’ve done it often. There is gold undoubtedly back in the mountains. ”
Tudor and Von Blix looked triumphantly at each other.
“Old Wheatsheaf’s yarn was true, then,” Tudor said, and Von Blix nodded. “And if Malaita turns out as well—”
Tudor broke off and looked at Joan.
“It was the tale of this old beachcomber that brought us here,” he explained. “Von Blix befriended him and was told the secret. ”He turned and addressed Sheldon. “I think we shall prove that white men have been through the heart of Guadalcanar long before the time of the Austrian expedition. ”
Sheldon shrugged his shoulders.
“We have never heard of it down here,” he said simply. Then he addressed Von Blix. “As to the boys, you couldn’t use them farther than Binu, and I’ll lend you as many as you want as far as that. How many of your party are going, and how soon will you start?”
“Ten,” said Tudor; “nine men and myself. ”
“And you should be able to start day after to-morrow,” Von Blix said to him. “The boats should practically be knocked together this afternoon. To-morrow should see the outfit portioned and packed. As for the Martha, Mr. Sheldon, we’ll rush the stuff ashore this afternoon and sail by sundown. ”
As the two men returned down the path to their boat, Sheldon regarded Joan quizzically.
“There’s romance for you,” he said, “and adventure—gold-hunting among the cannibals. ”
“A title for a book,” she cried. “Or, better yet, ’Gold-Hunting Among the Head-Hunters. ’My! wouldn’t it sell!”
“And now aren’t you sorry you became a cocoanut planter?” he teased. “Think of investing in such an adventure. ”
“If I did,” she retorted, “Von Blix wouldn’t be finicky about my joining in the cruise to Malaita. ”
“I don’t doubt but what he would jump at it. ”
“What do you think of them?” she asked.
“Oh, old Von Blix is all right, a solid sort of chap in his fashion; but Tudor is fly-away—too much on the surface, you know. If it came to being wrecked on a desert island, I’d prefer Von Blix. ”
“I don’t quite understand,” Joan objected. “What have you against Tudor?”
“You remember Browning’s ’Last Duchess’?”
“Well, Tudor reminds me of her—”
“But she was delightful. ”
“So she was. But she was a woman. One expects something different from a man—more control, you know, more restraint, more deliberation. A man must be more solid, more solid and steady-going and less effervescent. A man of Tudor’s type gets on my nerves. One demands more repose from a man. ”
Joan felt that she did not quite agree with his judgment; and, somehow, Sheldon caught her feeling and was disturbed. He remembered noting how her eyes had brightened as she talked with the newcomer—confound it all, was he getting jealous? he asked himself. Why shouldn’t her eyes brighten? What concern was it of his?
A second boat had been lowered, and the outfit of the shore party was landed rapidly. A dozen of the crew put the knocked-down boats together on the beach. There were five of these craft—lean and narrow, with flaring sides, and remarkably long. Each was equipped with three paddles and several iron-shod poles.
“You chaps certainly seem to know river-work,” Sheldon told one of the carpenters.
The man spat a mouthful of tobacco-juice into the white sand, and answered,—
“We use ’em in Alaska. They’re modelled after the Yukon poling-boats, and you can bet your life they’re crackerjacks. This creek’ll be a snap alongside some of them Northern streams. Five hundred pounds in one of them boats, an’ two men can snake it along in a way that’d surprise you. ”
At sunset the Martha broke out her anchor and got under way, dipping her flag and saluting with a bomb gun. The Union Jack ran up and down the staff, and Sheldon replied with his brass signal-cannon. The miners pitched their tents in the compound, and cooked on the beach, while Tudor dined with Joan and Sheldon.
Their guest seemed to have been everywhere and seen everything and met everybody, and, encouraged by Joan, his talk was largely upon his own adventures. He was an adventurer of adventurers, and by his own account had been born into adventure. Descended from old New England stock, his father a consul-general, he had been born in Germany, in which country he had received his early education and his accent. Then, still a boy, he had rejoined his father in Turkey, and accompanied him later to Persia, his father having been appointed Minister to that country.
Tudor had always been a wanderer, and with facile wit and quick vivid description he leaped from episode and place to episode and place, relating his experiences seemingly not because they were his, but for the sake of their bizarreness and uniqueness, for the unusual incident or the laughable situation. He had gone through South American revolutions, been a Rough Rider in Cuba, a scout in South Africa, a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese war. He had mushed dogs in the Klondike, washed gold from the sands of Nome, and edited a newspaper in San Francisco. The President of the United States was his friend. He was equally at home in the clubs of London and the Continent, the Grand Hotel at Yokohama, and the selector’s shanties in the Never-Never country. He had shot big game in Siam, pearled in the Paumotus, visited Tolstoy, seen the Passion Play, and crossed the Andes on mule-back; while he was a living directory of the fever holes of West Africa.
Sheldon leaned back in his chair on the veranda, sipping his coffee and listening. In spite of himself he felt touched by the charm of the man who had led so varied a life. And yet Sheldon was not comfortable. It seemed to him that the man addressed himself particularly to Joan. His words and smiles were directed impartially toward both of them, yet Sheldon was certain, had the two men of them been alone, that the conversation would have been along different lines. Tudor had seen the effect on Joan and deliberately continued the flow of reminiscence, netting her in the glamour of romance. Sheldon watched her rapt attention, listened to her spontaneous laughter, quick questions, and passing judgments, and felt grow within him the dawning consciousness that he loved her.
So he was very quiet and almost sad, though at times he was aware of a distinct irritation against his guest, and he even speculated as to what percentage of Tudor’s tale was true and how any of it could be proved or disproved. In this connection, as if the scene had been prepared by a clever playwright, Utami came upon the veranda to report to Joan the capture of a crocodile in the trap they had made for her.
Tudor’s face, illuminated by the match with which he was lighting his cigarette, caught Utami’s eye, and Utami forgot to report to his mistress.
“Hello, Tudor,” he said, with a familiarity that startled Sheldon.
The Polynesian’s hand went out, and Tudor, shaking it, was staring into his face.
“Who is it?” he asked. “I can’t see you. ”
“And who the dickens is Utami?Where did I ever meet you, my man?”
“You no forget the Huahine?” Utami chided. “Last time Huahine sail?”
Tudor gripped the Tahitian’s hand a second time and shook it with genuine heartiness.
“There was only one kanaka who came out of the Huahine that last voyage, and that kanaka was Joe. The deuce take it, man, I’m glad to see you, though I never heard your new name before. ”
“Yes, everybody speak me Joe along the Huahine. Utami my name all the time, just the same. ”
“But what are you doing here?” Tudor asked, releasing the sailor’s hand and leaning eagerly forward.
“Me sail along Missie Lackalanna her schooner Miélé. We go Tahiti, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora-Bora, Manua, Tutuila, Apia, Savaii, and Fiji Islands—plenty Fiji Islands. Me stop along Missie Lackalanna in Solomons. Very soon she catch other schooner. ”
“He and I were the two survivors of the wreck of the Huahine,” Tudor explained to the others. “Fifty-seven all told on board when we sailed from Huapa, and Joe and I were the only two that ever set foot on land again. Hurricane, you know, in the Paumotus. That was when I was after pearls. ”
“And you never told me, Utami, that you’d been wrecked in a hurricane,” Joan said reproachfully.
The big Tahitian shifted his weight and flashed his teeth in a conciliating smile.
“Me no t’ink nothing ’t all,” he said.
He half-turned, as if to depart, by his manner indicating that he considered it time to go while yet he desired to remain.
“All right, Utami,” Tudor said. “I’ll see you in the morning and have a yarn. ”
“He saved my life, the beggar,” Tudor explained, as the Tahitian strode away and with heavy softness of foot went down the steps. “Swim!I never met a better swimmer. ”
And thereat, solicited by Joan, Tudor narrated the wreck of the Huahine; while Sheldon smoked and pondered, and decided that whatever the man’s shortcomings were, he was at least not a liar.
The days passed, and Tudor seemed loath to leave the hospitality of Berande. Everything was ready for the start, but he lingered on, spending much time in Joan’s company and thereby increasing the dislike Sheldon had taken to him. He went swimming with her, in point of rashness exceeding her; and dynamited fish with her, diving among the hungry ground-sharks and contesting with them for possession of the stunned prey, until he earned the approval of the whole Tahitian crew. Arahu challenged him to tear a fish from a shark’s jaws, leaving half to the shark and bringing the other half himself to the surface; and Tudor performed the feat, a flip from the sandpaper hide of the astonished shark scraping several inches of skin from his shoulder. And Joan was delighted, while Sheldon, looking on, realized that here was the hero of her adventure-dreams coming true. She did not care for love, but he felt that if ever she did love it would be that sort of a man—“a man who exhibited,” was his way of putting it.
He felt himself handicapped in the presence of Tudor, who had the gift of making a show of all his qualities. Sheldon knew himself for a brave man, wherefore he made no advertisement of the fact. He knew that just as readily as the other would he dive among ground-sharks to save a life, but in that fact he could find no sanction for the foolhardy act of diving among sharks for the half of a fish. The difference between them was that he kept the curtain of his shop window down. Life pulsed steadily and deep in him, and it was not his nature needlessly to agitate the surface so that the world could see the splash he was making. And the effect of the other’s amazing exhibitions was to make him retreat more deeply within himself and wrap himself more thickly than ever in the nerveless, stoical calm of his race.
“You are so stupid the last few days,” Joan complained to him. “One would think you were sick, or bilious, or something. You don’t seem to have an idea in your head above black labour and cocoanuts. What is the matter?”
Sheldon smiled and beat a further retreat within himself, listening the while to Joan and Tudor propounding the theory of the strong arm by which the white man ordered life among the lesser breeds. As he listened Sheldon realized, as by revelation, that that was precisely what he was doing. While they philosophized about it he was living it, placing the strong hand of his race firmly on the shoulders of the lesser breeds that laboured on Berande or menaced it from afar. But why talk about it? he asked himself. It was sufficient to do it and be done with it.
He said as much, dryly and quietly, and found himself involved in a discussion, with Joan and Tudor siding against him, in which a more astounding charge than ever he had dreamed of was made against the very English control and reserve of which he was secretly proud.
“The Yankees talk a lot about what they do and have done,” Tudor said, “and are looked down upon by the English as braggarts. But the Yankee is only a child. He does not know effectually how to brag. He talks about it, you see. But the Englishman goes him one better by not talking about it. The Englishman’s proverbial lack of bragging is a subtler form of brag after all. It is really clever, as you will agree. ”
“I never thought of it before,” Joan cried. “Of course. An Englishman performs some terrifically heroic exploit, and is very modest and reserved—refuses to talk about it at all—and the effect is that by his silence he as much as says, ’I do things like this every day. It is as easy as rolling off a log. You ought to see the really heroic things I could do if they ever came my way. But this little thing, this little episode—really, don’t you know, I fail to see anything in it remarkable or unusual. ’As for me, if I went up in a powder explosion, or saved a hundred lives, I’d want all my friends to hear about it, and their friends as well. I’d be prouder than Lucifer over the affair. Confess, Mr. Sheldon, don’t you feel proud down inside when you’ve done something daring or courageous?”
“Then,” she pressed home the point, “isn’t disguising that pride under a mask of careless indifference equivalent to telling a lie?”
“Yes, it is,” he admitted. “But we tell similar lies every day. It is a matter of training, and the English are better trained, that is all. Your countrymen will be trained as well in time. As Mr. Tudor said, the Yankees are young. ”
“Thank goodness we haven’t begun to tell such lies yet!” was Joan’s ejaculation.
“Oh, but you have,” Sheldon said quickly. “You were telling me a lie of that order only the other day. You remember when you were going up the lantern-halyards hand over hand?Your face was the personification of duplicity. ”
“It was no such thing. ”
“Pardon me a moment,” he went on. “Your face was as calm and peaceful as though you were reclining in a steamer-chair. To look at your face one would have inferred that carrying the weight of your body up a rope hand over hand was a very commonplace accomplishment—as easy as rolling off a log. And you needn’t tell me, Miss Lackland, that you didn’t make faces the first time you tried to climb a rope. But, like any circus athlete, you trained yourself out of the face-making period. You trained your face to hide your feelings, to hide the exhausting effort your muscles were making. It was, to quote Mr. Tudor, a subtler exhibition of physical prowess. And that is all our English reserve is—a mere matter of training. Certainly we are proud inside of the things we do and have done, proud as Lucifer—yes, and prouder. But we have grown up, and no longer talk about such things. ”
“I surrender,” Joan cried. “You are not so stupid after all. ”
“Yes, you have us there,” Tudor admitted. “But you wouldn’t have had us if you hadn’t broken your training rules. ”
“How do you mean?”
“By talking about it. ”
Joan clapped her hands in approval. Tudor lighted a fresh cigarette, while Sheldon sat on, imperturbably silent.
“He got you there,” Joan challenged. “Why don’t you crush him?”
“Really, I can’t think of anything to say,” Sheldon said. “I know my position is sound, and that is satisfactory enough. ”
“You might retort,” she suggested, “that when an adult is with kindergarten children he must descend to kindergarten idioms in order to make himself intelligible. That was why you broke training rules. It was the only way to make us children understand. ”
“You’ve deserted in the heat of the battle, Miss Lackland, and gone over to the enemy,” Tudor said plaintively.
But she was not listening. Instead, she was looking intently across the compound and out to sea. They followed her gaze, and saw a green light and the loom of a vessel’s sails.
“I wonder if it’s the Martha come back,” Tudor hazarded.
“No, the sidelight is too low,” Joan answered. “Besides, they’ve got the sweeps out. Don’t you hear them?They wouldn’t be sweeping a big vessel like the Martha. ”
“Besides, the Martha has a gasoline engine—twenty-five horse-power,” Tudor added.
“Just the sort of a craft for us,” Joan said wistfully to Sheldon. “I really must see if I can’t get a schooner with an engine. I might get a second-hand engine put in. ”
“That would mean the additional expense of an engineer’s wages,” he objected.
“But it would pay for itself by quicker passages,” she argued; “and it would be as good as insurance. I know. I’ve knocked about amongst reefs myself. Besides, if you weren’t so mediaeval, I could be skipper and save more than the engineer’s wages. ”
He did not reply to her thrust, and she glanced at him. He was looking out over the water, and in the lantern light she noted the lines of his face—strong, stern, dogged, the mouth almost chaste but firmer and thinner-lipped than Tudor’s. For the first time she realized the quality of his strength, the calm and quiet of it, its simple integrity and reposeful determination. She glanced quickly at Tudor on the other side of her. It was a handsomer face, one that was more immediately pleasing. But she did not like the mouth. It was made for kissing, and she abhorred kisses. This was not a deliberately achieved concept; it came to her in the form of a faint and vaguely intangible repulsion. For the moment she knew a fleeting doubt of the man. Perhaps Sheldon was right in his judgment of the other. She did not know, and it concerned her little; for boats, and the sea, and the things and happenings of the sea were of far more vital interest to her than men, and the next moment she was staring through the warm tropic darkness at the loom of the sails and the steady green of the moving sidelight, and listening eagerly to the click of the sweeps in the rowlocks. In her mind’s eye she could see the straining naked forms of black men bending rhythmically to the work, and somewhere on that strange deck she knew was the inevitable master-man, conning the vessel in to its anchorage, peering at the dim tree-line of the shore, judging the deceitful night-distances, feeling on his cheek the first fans of the land breeze that was even then beginning to blow, weighing, thinking, measuring, gauging the score or more of ever-shifting forces, through which, by which, and in spite of which he directed the steady equilibrium of his course. She knew it because she loved it, and she was alive to it as only a sailor could be.
Twice she heard the splash of the lead, and listened intently for the cry that followed. Once a man’s voice spoke, low, imperative, issuing an order, and she thrilled with the delight of it. It was only a direction to the man at the wheel to port his helm. She watched the slight altering of the course, and knew that it was for the purpose of enabling the flat-hauled sails to catch those first fans of the land breeze, and she waited for the same low voice to utter the one word “Steady!”And again she thrilled when it did utter it. Once more the lead splashed, and “Eleven fadom” was the resulting cry. “Let go!” the low voice came to her through the darkness, followed by the surging rumble of the anchor-chain. The clicking of the sheaves in the blocks as the sails ran down, head-sails first, was music to her; and she detected on the instant the jamming of a jib-downhaul, and almost saw the impatient jerk with which the sailor must have cleared it. Nor did she take interest in the two men beside her till both lights, red and green, came into view as the anchor checked the onward way.
Sheldon was wondering as to the identity of the craft, while Tudor persisted in believing it might be the Martha.
“It’s the Minerva,” Joan said decidedly.
“How do you know?” Sheldon asked, sceptical of her certitude.
“It’s a ketch to begin with. And besides, I could tell anywhere the rattle of her main peak-blocks—they’re too large for the halyard. ”
A dark figure crossed the compound diagonally from the beach gate, where whoever it was had been watching the vessel.
“Is that you, Utami?” Joan called.
“No, Missie; me Matapuu,” was the answer.
“What vessel is it?”
“Me t’ink Minerva. ”
Joan looked triumphantly at Sheldon, who bowed.
“If Matapuu says so it must be so,” he murmured.
“But when Joan Lackland says so, you doubt,” she cried, “just as you doubt her ability as a skipper. But never mind, you’ll be sorry some day for all your unkindness. There’s the boat lowering now, and in five minutes we’ll be shaking hands with Christian Young. ”
Lalaperu brought out the glasses and cigarettes and the eternal whisky and soda, and before the five minutes were past the gate clicked and Christian Young, tawny and golden, gentle of voice and look and hand, came up the bungalow steps and joined them.
News, as usual, Christian Young brought—news of the drinking at Guvutu, where the men boasted that they drank between drinks; news of the new rifles adrift on Ysabel, of the latest murders on Malaita, of Tom Butler’s sickness on Santa Ana; and last and most important, news that the Matambo had gone on a reef in the Shortlands and would be laid off one run for repairs.
“That means five weeks more before you can sail for Sydney,” Sheldon said to Joan.
“And that we are losing precious time,” she added ruefully.
“If you want to go to Sydney, the Upolu sails from Tulagi to-morrow afternoon,” Young said.
“But I thought she was running recruits for the Germans in Samoa,” she objected. “At any rate, I could catch her to Samoa, and change at Apia to one of the Weir Line freighters. It’s a long way around, but still it would save time. ”
“This time the Upolu is going straight to Sydney,” Young explained. “She’s going to dry-dock, you see; and you can catch her as late as five to-morrow afternoon—at least, so her first officer told me. ”
“But I’ve got to go to Guvutu first. ”Joan looked at the men with a whimsical expression. “I’ve some shopping to do. I can’t wear these Berande curtains into Sydney. I must buy cloth at Guvutu and make myself a dress during the voyage down. I’ll start immediately—in an hour. Lalaperu, you bring ’m one fella Adamu Adam along me. Tell ’m that fella Ornfiri make ’m kai-kai take along whale-boat. ”She rose to her feet, looking at Sheldon. “And you, please, have the boys carry down the whale-boat—my boat, you know. I’ll be off in an hour. ”
Both Sheldon and Tudor looked at their watches.
“It’s an all-night row,” Sheldon said. “You might wait till morning—”
“And miss my shopping?No, thank you. Besides, the Upolu is not a regular passenger steamer, and she is just as liable to sail ahead of time as on time. And from what I hear about those Guvutu sybarites, the best time to shop will be in the morning. And now you’ll have to excuse me, for I’ve got to pack. ”
“I’ll go over with you,” Sheldon announced.
“Let me run you over in the Minerva,” said Young.
She shook her head laughingly.
“I’m going in the whale-boat. One would think, from all your solicitude, that I’d never been away from home before. You, Mr. Sheldon, as my partner, I cannot permit to desert Berande and your work out of a mistaken notion of courtesy. If you won’t permit me to be skipper, I won’t permit your galivanting over the sea as protector of young women who don’t need protection. And as for you, Captain Young, you know very well that you just left Guvutu this morning, that you are bound for Marau, and that you said yourself that in two hours you are getting under way again. ”
“But may I not see you safely across?” Tudor asked, a pleading note in his voice that rasped on Sheldon’s nerves.
“No, no, and again no,” she cried. “You’ve all got your work to do, and so have I. I came to the Solomons to work, not to be escorted about like a doll. For that matter, here’s my escort, and there are seven more like him. ”
Adamu Adam stood beside her, towering above her, as he towered above the three white men. The clinging cotton undershirt he wore could not hide the bulge of his tremendous muscles.
“Look at his fist,” said Tudor. “I’d hate to receive a punch from it. ”
“I don’t blame you. ”Joan laughed reminiscently. “I saw him hit the captain of a Swedish bark on the beach at Levuka, in the Fijis. It was the captain’s fault. I saw it all myself, and it was splendid. Adamu only hit him once, and he broke the man’s arm. You remember, Adamu?”
The big Tahitian smiled and nodded, his black eyes, soft and deer-like, seeming to give the lie to so belligerent a nature.
“We start in an hour in the whale-boat for Guvutu, big brother,” Joan said to him. “Tell your brothers, all of them, so that they can get ready. We catch the Upolu for Sydney. You will all come along, and sail back to the Solomons in the new schooner. Take your extra shirts and dungarees along. Plenty cold weather down there. Now run along, and tell them to hurry. Leave the guns behind. Turn them over to Mr. Sheldon. We won’t need them. ”
“If you are really bent upon going—” Sheldon began.
“That’s settled long ago,” she answered shortly. “I’m going to pack now. But I’ll tell you what you can do for me—issue some tobacco and other stuff they want to my men. ”
An hour later the three men had shaken hands with Joan down on the beach. She gave the signal, and the boat shoved off, six men at the oars, the seventh man for’ard, and Adamu Adam at the steering-sweep. Joan was standing up in the stern-sheets, reiterating her good-byes—a slim figure of a woman in the tight-fitting jacket she had worn ashore from the wreck, the long-barrelled Colt’s revolver hanging from the loose belt around her waist, her clear-cut face like a boy’s under the Stetson hat that failed to conceal the heavy masses of hair beneath.
“You’d better get into shelter,” she called to them. “There’s a big squall coming. And I hope you’ve got plenty of chain out, Captain Young. Good-bye!Good-bye, everybody!”
Her last words came out of the darkness, which wrapped itself solidly about the boat. Yet they continued to stare into the blackness in the direction in which the boat had disappeared, listening to the steady click of the oars in the rowlocks until it faded away and ceased.
“She is only a girl,” Christian Young said with slow solemnity. The discovery seemed to have been made on the spur of the moment. “She is only a girl,” he repeated with greater solemnity.
“A dashed pretty one, and a good traveller,” Tudor laughed. “She certainly has spunk, eh, Sheldon?”
“Yes, she is brave,” was the reluctant answer for Sheldon did not feel disposed to talk about her.
“That’s the American of it,” Tudor went on. “Push, and go, and energy, and independence. What do you think, skipper?”
“I think she is young, very young, only a girl,” replied the captain of the Minerva, continuing to stare into the blackness that hid the sea.
The blackness seemed suddenly to increase in density, and they stumbled up the beach, feeling their way to the gate.
“Watch out for nuts,” Sheldon warned, as the first blast of the squall shrieked through the palms. They joined hands and staggered up the path, with the ripe cocoanuts thudding in a monstrous rain all around them. They gained the veranda, where they sat in silence over their whisky, each man staring straight out to sea, where the wildly swinging riding-light of the Minerva could be seen in the lulls of the driving rain.
Somewhere out there, Sheldon reflected, was Joan Lackland, the girl who had not grown up, the woman good to look upon, with only a boy’s mind and a boy’s desires, leaving Berande amid storm and conflict in much the same manner that she had first arrived, in the stern-sheets of her whale-boat, Adamu Adam steering, her savage crew bending to the oars. And she was taking her Stetson hat with her, along with the cartridge-belt and the long-barrelled revolver. He suddenly discovered an immense affection for those fripperies of hers at which he had secretly laughed when first he saw them. He became aware of the sentimental direction in which his fancy was leading him, and felt inclined to laugh. But he did not laugh. The next moment he was busy visioning the hat, and belt, and revolver. Undoubtedly this was love, he thought, and he felt a tiny glow of pride in him in that the Solomons had not succeeded in killing all his sentiment.
An hour later, Christian Young stood up, knocked out his pipe, and prepared to go aboard and get under way.
“She’s all right,” he said, apropos of nothing spoken, and yet distinctly relevant to what was in each of their minds. “She’s got a good boat’s-crew, and she’s a sailor herself. Good-night, Mr. Sheldon. Anything I can do for you down Marau-way?”He turned and pointed to a widening space of starry sky. “It’s going to be a fine night after all. With this favouring bit of breeze she has sail on already, and she’ll make Guvutu by daylight. Good-night. ”
“I guess I’ll turn in, old man,” Tudor said, rising and placing his glass on the table. “I’ll start the first thing in the morning. It’s been disgraceful the way I’ve been hanging on here. Good-night. ”
Sheldon, sitting on alone, wondered if the other man would have decided to pull out in the morning had Joan not sailed away. Well, there was one bit of consolation in it: Joan had certainly lingered at Berande for no man, not even Tudor. “I start in an hour”—her words rang in his brain, and under his eyelids he could see her as she stood up and uttered them. He smiled. The instant she heard the news she had made up her mind to go. It was not very flattering to man, but what could any man count in her eyes when a schooner waiting to be bought in Sydney was in the wind?What a creature!What a creature!
* * * * *
Berande was a lonely place to Sheldon in the days that followed. In the morning after Joan’s departure, he had seen Tudor’s expedition off on its way up the Balesuna; in the late afternoon, through his telescope, he had seen the smoke of the Upolu that was bearing Joan away to Sydney; and in the evening he sat down to dinner in solitary state, devoting more of his time to looking at her empty chair than to his food. He never came out on the veranda without glancing first of all at her grass house in the corner of the compound; and one evening, idly knocking the balls about on the billiard table, he came to himself to find himself standing staring at the nail upon which from the first she had hung her Stetson hat and her revolver-belt.
Why should he care for her? he demanded of himself angrily. She was certainly the last woman in the world he would have thought of choosing for himself. Never had he encountered one who had so thoroughly irritated him, rasped his feelings, smashed his conventions, and violated nearly every attribute of what had been his ideal of woman. Had he been too long away from the world?Had he forgotten what the race of women was like? Was it merely a case of propinquity?And she wasn’t really a woman. She was a masquerader. Under all her seeming of woman, she was a boy, playing a boy’s pranks, diving for fish amongst sharks, sporting a revolver, longing for adventure, and, what was more, going out in search of it in her whale-boat, along with her savage islanders and her bag of sovereigns. But he loved her—that was the point of it all, and he did not try to evade it. He was not sorry that it was so. He loved her—that was the overwhelming, astounding fact.
Once again he discovered a big enthusiasm for Berande. All the bubble-illusions concerning the life of the tropical planter had been pricked by the stern facts of the Solomons. Following the death of Hughie, he had resolved to muddle along somehow with the plantation; but this resolve had not been based upon desire. Instead, it was based upon the inherent stubbornness of his nature and his dislike to give over an attempted task.
But now it was different. Berande meant everything. It must succeed—not merely because Joan was a partner in it, but because he wanted to make that partnership permanently binding. Three more years and the plantation would be a splendid-paying investment. They could then take yearly trips to Australia, and oftener; and an occasional run home to England—or Hawaii, would come as a matter of course.
He spent his evenings poring over accounts, or making endless calculations based on cheaper freights for copra and on the possible maximum and minimum market prices for that staple of commerce. His days were spent out on the plantation. He undertook more clearing of bush; and clearing and planting went on, under his personal supervision, at a faster pace than ever before. He experimented with premiums for extra work performed by the black boys, and yearned continually for more of them to put to work. Not until Joan could return on the schooner would this be possible, for the professional recruiters were all under long contracts to the Fulcrum Brothers, Morgan and Raff, and the Fires, Philp Company; while the Flibberty-Gibbet was wholly occupied in running about among his widely scattered trading stations, which extended from the coast of New Georgia in one direction to Ulava and Sikiana in the other. Blacks he must have, and, if Joan were fortunate in getting a schooner, three months at least must elapse before the first recruits could be landed on Berande.
A week after the Upolu’s departure, the Malakula dropped anchor and her skipper came ashore for a game of billiards and to gossip until the land breeze sprang up. Besides, as he told his super-cargo, he simply had to come ashore, not merely to deliver the large package of seeds with full instructions for planting from Joan, but to shock Sheldon with the little surprise born of information he was bringing with him.
Captain Auckland played the billiards first, and it was not until he was comfortably seated in a steamer-chair, his second whisky securely in his hand, that he let off his bomb.
“A great piece, that Miss Lackland of yours,” he chuckled. “Claims to be a part-owner of Berande. Says she’s your partner. Is that straight?”
Sheldon nodded coldly.
“You don’t say?That is a surprise!Well, she hasn’t convinced Guvutu or Tulagi of it. They’re pretty used to irregular things over there, but—ha! ha!—” he stopped to have his laugh out and to mop his bald head with a trade handkerchief. “But that partnership yarn of hers was too big to swallow, though it gave them the excuse for a few more drinks. ”
“There is nothing irregular about it. It is an ordinary business transaction. ”Sheldon strove to act as though such transactions were quite the commonplace thing on plantations in the Solomons. “She invested something like fifteen hundred pounds in Berande—”
“So she said. ”
“And she has gone to Sydney on business for the plantation. ”
“Oh, no, she hasn’t. ”
“I beg pardon?” Sheldon queried.
“I said she hasn’t, that’s all. ”
“But didn’t the Upolu sail?I could have sworn I saw her smoke last Tuesday afternoon, late, as she passed Savo. ”
“The Upolu sailed all right. ”Captain Auckland sipped his whisky with provoking slowness. “Only Miss Lackland wasn’t a passenger. ”
“Then where is she?”
“At Guvutu, last I saw of her. She was going to Sydney to buy a schooner, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, yes. ”
“That’s what she said. Well, she’s bought one, though I wouldn’t give her ten shillings for it if a nor’wester blows up, and it’s about time we had one. This has been too long a spell of good weather to last. ”
“If you came here to excite my curiosity, old man,” Sheldon said, “you’ve certainly succeeded. Now go ahead and tell me in a straightforward way what has happened. What schooner?Where is it?How did she happen to buy it?”
“First, the schooner Martha,” the skipper answered, checking his replies off on his fingers. “Second, the Martha is on the outside reef at Poonga-Poonga, looted clean of everything portable, and ready to go to pieces with the first bit of lively sea. And third, Miss Lackland bought her at auction. She was knocked down to her for fifty-five quid by the third-assistant-resident-commissioner. I ought to know. I bid fifty myself, for Morgan and Raff. My word, weren’t they hot!I told them to go to the devil, and that it was their fault for limiting me to fifty quid when they thought the chance to salve the Martha was worth more. You see, they weren’t expecting competition. Fulcrum Brothers had no representative present, neither had Fires, Philp Company, and the only man to be afraid of was Nielsen’s agent, Squires, and him they got drunk and sound asleep over in Guvutu.
“’Twenty,’ says I, for my bid. ’Twenty-five,’ says the little girl. ’Thirty,’ says I. ’Forty,’ says she. ’Fifty,’ says I. ’Fifty-five,’ says she. And there I was stuck. ’Hold on,’ says I; ’wait till I see my owners. ’’No, you don’t,’ says she. ’It’s customary,’ says I. ’Not anywhere in the world,’ says she. ’Then it’s courtesy in the Solomons,’ says I.
“And d’ye know, on my faith I think Burnett’d have done it, only she pipes up, sweet and pert as you please: ’Mr. Auctioneer, will you kindly proceed with the sale in the customary manner?I’ve other business to attend to, and I can’t afford to wait all night on men who don’t know their own minds. ’And then she smiles at Burnett, as well—you know, one of those fetching smiles, and damme if Burnett doesn’t begin singing out: ’Goin’, goin’, goin’—last bid—goin’, goin’ for fifty-five sovereigns—goin’, goin’, gone—to you, Miss—er—what name, please?’
“’Joan Lackland,’ says she, with a smile to me; and that’s how she bought the Martha. ”
Sheldon experienced a sudden thrill. The Martha!—a finer schooner than the Malakula, and, for that matter, the finest in the Solomons. She was just the thing for recruits, and she was right on the spot. Then he realized that for such a craft to sell at auction for fifty-five pounds meant that there was small chance for saving her.
“But how did it happen?” he asked. “Weren’t they rather quick in selling the Martha?”
“Had to. You know the reef at Poonga-Poonga. She’s not worth tuppence on it if any kind of a sea kicks up, and it’s ripe for a nor’wester any moment now. The crowd abandoned her completely. Didn’t even dream of auctioning her. Morgan and Raff persuaded them to put her up. They’re a co-operative crowd, you know, an organized business corporation, fore and aft, all hands and the cook. They held a meeting and voted to sell. ”
“But why didn’t they stand by and try to save her?”
“Stand by!You know Malaita. And you know Poonga-Poonga. That’s where they cut off the Scottish Chiefs and killed all hands. There was nothing to do but take to the boats. The Martha missed stays going in, and inside five minutes she was on the reef and in possession. The niggers swarmed over her, and they just threw the crew into the boats. I talked with some of the men. They swear there were two hundred war canoes around her inside half an hour, and five thousand bushmen on the beach. Said you couldn’t see Malaita for the smoke of the signal fires. Anyway, they cleared out for Tulagi. ”
“But why didn’t they fight?” Sheldon asked.
“It was funny they didn’t, but they got separated. You see, two-thirds of them were in the boats, without weapons, running anchors and never dreaming the natives would attack. They found out their mistake too late. The natives had charge. That’s the trouble of new chums on the coast. It would never have happened with you or me or any old-timer. ”
“But what is Miss Lackland intending to do?” Captain Auckland grinned.
“She’s going to try to get the Martha off, I should say. Or else why did she pay fifty-five quid for her?And if she fails, she’ll try to get her money back by saving the gear—spars, you know, and patent steering-gear, and winches, and such things. At least that’s what I’d do if I was in her place. When I sailed, the little girl had chartered the Emily—’I’m going recruiting,’ says Munster—he’s the skipper and owner now. ’And how much will you net on the cruise?’ asks she. ’Oh, fifty quid,’ says he. ’Good,’ says she; ’you bring your Emily along with me and you’ll get seventy-five. ’You know that big ship’s anchor and chain piled up behind the coal-sheds?She was just buying that when I left. She’s certainly a hustler, that little girl of yours. ”
“She is my partner,” Sheldon corrected.
“Well, she’s a good one, that’s all, and a cool one. My word! a white woman on Malaita, and at Poonga-Poonga of all places!Oh, I forgot to tell you—she palavered Burnett into lending her eight rifles for her men, and three cases of dynamite. You’d laugh to see the way she makes that Guvutu gang stand around. And to see them being polite and trying to give advice!Lord, Lord, man, that little girl’s a wonder, a marvel, a—a—a catastrophe. That’s what she is, a catastrophe. She’s gone through Guvutu and Tulagi like a hurricane; every last swine of them in love with her—except Raff. He’s sore over the auction, and he sprang his recruiting contract with Munster on her. And what does she do but thank him, and read it over, and point out that while Munster was pledged to deliver all recruits to Morgan and Raff, there was no clause in the document forbidding him from chartering the Emily.
“’There’s your contract,’ says she, passing it back. ’And a very good contract it is. The next time you draw one up, insert a clause that will fit emergencies like the present one. ’And, Lord, Lord, she had him, too.
“But there’s the breeze, and I’m off. Good-bye, old man. Hope the little girl succeeds. The Martha’s a whacking fine boat, and she’d take the place of the Jessie. ”