Jack London


Part IV


The ten days of Tudor’s convalescence that followed were peaceful days on Berande. The work of the plantation went on like clock-work. With the crushing of the premature outbreak of Gogoomy and his following, all insubordination seemed to have vanished. Twenty more of the old-time boys, their term of service up, were carried away by the Martha, and the fresh stock of labour, treated fairly, was proving of excellent quality. As Sheldon rode about the plantation, acknowledging to himself the comfort and convenience of a horse and wondering why he had not thought of getting one himself, he pondered the various improvements for which Joan was responsible—the splendid Poonga-Poonga recruits; the fruits and vegetables; the Martha herself, snatched from the sea for a song and earning money hand over fist despite old Kinross’s slow and safe method of running her; and Berande, once more financially secure, approaching each day nearer the dividend-paying time, and growing each day as the black toilers cleared the bush, cut the cane-grass, and planted more cocoanut palms.

In these and a thousand ways Sheldon was made aware of how much he was indebted for material prosperity to Joan—to the slender, level-browed girl with romance shining out of her gray eyes and adventure shouting from the long-barrelled Colt’s on her hip, who had landed on the beach that piping gale, along with her stalwart Tahitian crew, and who had entered his bungalow to hang with boy’s hands her revolver-belt and Baden-Powell hat on the nail by the billiard table. He forgot all the early exasperations, remembering only her charms and sweetnesses and glorying much in the traits he at first had disliked most—her boyishness and adventurousness, her delight to swim and risk the sharks, her desire to go recruiting, her love of the sea and ships, her sharp authoritative words when she launched the whale-boat and, with firestick in one hand and dynamite-stick in the other, departed with her picturesque crew to shoot fish in the Balesuna; her super-innocent disdain for the commonest conventions, her juvenile joy in argument, her fluttering, wild-bird love of freedom and mad passion for independence. All this he now loved, and he no longer desired to tame and hold her, though the paradox was the winning of her without the taming and the holding.

There were times when he was dizzy with thought of her and love of her, when he would stop his horse and with closed eyes picture her as he had seen her that first day, in the stern-sheets of the whale-boat, dashing madly in to shore and marching belligerently along his veranda to remark that it was pretty hospitality this letting strangers sink or swim in his front yard. And as he opened his eyes and urged his horse onward, he would ponder for the ten thousandth time how possibly he was ever to hold her when she was so wild and bird-like that she was bound to flutter out and away from under his hand.

It was patent to Sheldon that Tudor had become interested in Joan. That convalescent visitor practically lived on the veranda, though, while preposterously weak and shaky in the legs, he had for some time insisted on coming in to join them at the table at meals. The first warning Sheldon had of the other’s growing interest in the girl was when Tudor eased down and finally ceased pricking him with his habitual sharpness of quip and speech. This cessation of verbal sparring was like the breaking off of diplomatic relations between countries at the beginning of war, and, once Sheldon’s suspicions were aroused, he was not long in finding other confirmations. Tudor too obviously joyed in Joan’s presence, too obviously laid himself out to amuse and fascinate her with his own glorious and adventurous personality. Often, after his morning ride over the plantation, or coming in from the store or from inspection of the copra-drying, Sheldon found the pair of them together on the veranda, Joan listening, intent and excited, and Tudor deep in some recital of personal adventure at the ends of the earth.

Sheldon noticed, too, the way Tudor looked at her and followed her about with his eyes, and in those eyes he noted a certain hungry look, and on the face a certain wistful expression; and he wondered if on his own face he carried a similar involuntary advertisement. He was sure of several things: first, that Tudor was not the right man for Joan and could not possibly make her permanently happy; next, that Joan was too sensible a girl really to fall in love with a man of such superficial stamp; and, finally, that Tudor would blunder his love-making somehow. And at the same time, with true lover’s anxiety, Sheldon feared that the other might somehow fail to blunder, and win the girl with purely fortuitous and successful meretricious show. But of the one thing Sheldon was sure: Tudor had no intimate knowledge of her and was unaware of how vital in her was her wildness and love of independence. That was where he would blunder—in the catching and the holding of her. And then, in spite of all his certitude, Sheldon could not forbear wondering if his theories of Joan might not be wrong, and if Tudor was not going the right way about after all.

The situation was very unsatisfactory and perplexing. Sheldon played the difficult part of waiting and looking on, while his rival devoted himself energetically to reaching out and grasping at the fluttering prize. Then, again, Tudor had such an irritating way about him. It had become quite elusive and intangible, now that he had tacitly severed diplomatic relations; but Sheldon sensed what he deemed a growing antagonism and promptly magnified it through the jealous lenses of his own lover’s eyes. The other was an interloper. He did not belong to Berande, and now that he was well and strong again it was time for him to go. Instead of which, and despite the calling in of the mail steamer bound for Sydney, Tudor had settled himself down comfortably, resumed swimming, went dynamiting fish with Joan, spent hours with her hunting pigeons, trapping crocodiles, and at target practice with rifle and revolver.

But there were certain traditions of hospitality that prevented Sheldon from breathing a hint that it was time for his guest to take himself off. And in similar fashion, feeling that it was not playing the game, he fought down the temptation to warn Joan. Had he known anything, not too serious, to Tudor’s detriment, he would have been unable to utter it; but the worst of it was that he knew nothing at all against the man. That was the confounded part of it, and sometimes he was so baffled and overwrought by his feelings that he assumed a super-judicial calm and assured himself that his dislike of Tudor was a matter of unsubstantial prejudice and jealousy.

Outwardly, he maintained a calm and smiling aspect. The work of the plantation went on. The Martha and the Flibberty-Gibbet came and went, as did all the miscellany of coasting craft that dropped in to wait for a breeze and have a gossip, a drink or two, and a game of billiards. Satan kept the compound free of niggers. Boucher came down regularly in his whale-boat to pass Sunday. Twice a day, at breakfast and dinner, Joan and Sheldon and Tudor met amicably at table, and the evenings were as amicably spent on the veranda.

And then it happened. Tudor made his blunder. Never divining Joan’s fluttering wildness, her blind hatred of restraint and compulsion, her abhorrence of mastery by another, and mistaking the warmth and enthusiasm in her eyes (aroused by his latest tale) for something tender and acquiescent, he drew her to him, laid a forcible detaining arm about her waist, and misapprehended her frantic revolt for an exhibition of maidenly reluctance. It occurred on the veranda, after breakfast, and Sheldon, within, pondering a Sydney wholesaler’s catalogue and making up his orders for next steamer-day, heard the sharp exclamation of Joan, followed by the equally sharp impact of an open hand against a cheek. Jerking free from the arm that was all distasteful compulsion, Joan had slapped Tudor’s face resoundingly and with far more vim and weight than when she had cuffed Gogoomy.

Sheldon had half-started up, then controlled himself and sunk back in his chair, so that by the time Joan entered the door his composure was recovered. Her right forearm was clutched tightly in her left hand, while the white cheeks, centred with the spots of flaming red, reminded him of the time he had first seen her angry.

“He hurt my arm,” she blurted out, in reply to his look of inquiry.

He smiled involuntarily. It was so like her, so like the boy she was, to come running to complain of the physical hurt which had been done her. She was certainly not a woman versed in the ways of man and in the ways of handling man. The resounding slap she had given Tudor seemed still echoing in Sheldon’s ears, and as he looked at the girl before him crying out that her arm was hurt, his smile grew broader.

It was the smile that did it, convicting Joan in her own eyes of the silliness of her cry and sending over her face the most amazing blush he had ever seen. Throat, cheeks, and forehead flamed with the rush of the shamed blood.

“He—he—” she attempted to vindicate her deeper indignation, then whirled abruptly away and passed out the rear door and down the steps.

Sheldon sat and mused. He was a trifle angry, and the more he dwelt upon the happening the angrier he grew. If it had been any woman except Joan it would have been amusing. But Joan was the last woman in the world to attempt to kiss forcibly. The thing smacked of the back stairs anyway—a sordid little comedy perhaps, but to have tried it on Joan was nothing less than sacrilege. The man should have had better sense. Then, too, Sheldon was personally aggrieved. He had been filched of something that he felt was almost his, and his lover’s jealousy was rampant at thought of this forced familiarity.

It was while in this mood that the screen door banged loudly behind the heels of Tudor, who strode into the room and paused before him. Sheldon was unprepared, though it was very apparent that the other was furious.

“Well?” Tudor demanded defiantly.

And on the instant speech rushed to Sheldon’s lips.

“I hope you won’t attempt anything like it again, that’s all—except that I shall be only too happy any time to extend to you the courtesy of my whale-boat. It will land you in Tulagi in a few hours. ”

“As if that would settle it,” was the retort.

“I don’t understand,” Sheldon said simply.

“Then it is because you don’t wish to understand. ”

“Still I don’t understand,” Sheldon said in steady, level tones. “All that is clear to me is that you are exaggerating your own blunder into something serious. ”

Tudor grinned maliciously and replied,—

“It would seem that you are doing the exaggerating, inviting me to leave in your whale-boat. It is telling me that Berande is not big enough for the pair of us. Now let me tell you that the Solomon Islands is not big enough for the pair of us. This thing’s got to be settled between us, and it may as well be settled right here and now. ”

“I can understand your fire-eating manners as being natural to you,” Sheldon went on wearily, “but why you should try them on me is what I can’t comprehend. You surely don’t want to quarrel with me. ”

“I certainly do. ”

“But what in heaven’s name for?”

Tudor surveyed him with withering disgust.

“You haven’t the soul of a louse. I suppose any man could make love to your wife—”

“But I have no wife,” Sheldon interrupted.

“Then you ought to have. The situation is outrageous. You might at least marry her, as I am honourably willing to do. ”

For the first time Sheldon’s rising anger boiled over.

“You—” he began violently, then abruptly caught control of himself and went on soothingly, “you’d better take a drink and think it over. That’s my advice to you. Of course, when you do get cool, after talking to me in this fashion you won’t want to stay on any longer, so while you’re getting that drink I’ll call the boat’s-crew and launch a boat. You’ll be in Tulagi by eight this evening. ”

He turned toward the door, as if to put his words into execution, but the other caught him by the shoulder and twirled him around.

“Look here, Sheldon, I told you the Solomons were too small for the pair of us, and I meant it. ”

“Is that an offer to buy Berande, lock, stock, and barrel?” Sheldon queried.

“No, it isn’t. It’s an invitation to fight. ”

“But what the devil do you want to fight with me for?”Sheldon’s irritation was growing at the other’s persistence. “I’ve no quarrel with you. And what quarrel can you have with me?I have never interfered with you. You were my guest. Miss Lackland is my partner. If you saw fit to make love to her, and somehow failed to succeed, why should you want to fight with me?This is the twentieth century, my dear fellow, and duelling went out of fashion before you and I were born. ”

“You began the row,” Tudor doggedly asserted. “You gave me to understand that it was time for me to go. You fired me out of your house, in short. And then you have the cheek to want to know why I am starting the row. It won’t do, I tell you. You started it, and I am going to see it through. ”

Sheldon smiled tolerantly and proceeded to light a cigarette. But Tudor was not to be turned aside.

“You started this row,” he urged.

“There isn’t any row. It takes two to make a row, and I, for one, refuse to have anything to do with such tomfoolery. ”

“You started it, I say, and I’ll tell you why you started it. ”

“I fancy you’ve been drinking,” Sheldon interposed. “It’s the only explanation I can find for your unreasonableness. ”

“And I’ll tell you why you started it. It wasn’t silliness on your part to exaggerate this little trifle of love-making into something serious. I was poaching on your preserves, and you wanted to get rid of me. It was all very nice and snug here, you and the girl, until I came along. And now you’re jealous—that’s it, jealousy—and want me out of it. But I won’t go. ”

“Then stay on by all means. I won’t quarrel with you about it. Make yourself comfortable. Stay for a year, if you wish. ”

“She’s not your wife,” Tudor continued, as though the other had not spoken. “A fellow has the right to make love to her unless she’s your—well, perhaps it was an error after all, due to ignorance, perfectly excusable, on my part. I might have seen it with half an eye if I’d listened to the gossip on the beach. All Guvutu and Tulagi were laughing about it. I was a fool, and I certainly made the mistake of taking the situation on its assumed innocent face-value. ”

So angry was Sheldon becoming that the face and form of the other seemed to vibrate and oscillate before his eyes. Yet outwardly Sheldon was calm and apparently weary of the discussion.

“Please keep her out of the conversation,” he said.

“But why should I?” was the demand. “The pair of you trapped me into making a fool of myself. How was I to know that everything was not all right?You and she acted as if everything were on the square. But my eyes are open now. Why, she played the outraged wife to perfection, slapped the transgressor and fled to you. Pretty good proof of what all the beach has been saying. Partners, eh?—a business partnership? Gammon my eye, that’s what it is. ”

Then it was that Sheldon struck out, coolly and deliberately, with all the strength of his arm, and Tudor, caught on the jaw, fell sideways, crumpling as he did so and crushing a chair to kindling wood beneath the weight of his falling body. He pulled himself slowly to his feet, but did not offer to rush.

“Now will you fight?” Tudor said grimly.

Sheldon laughed, and for the first time with true spontaneity. The intrinsic ridiculousness of the situation was too much for his sense of humour. He made as if to repeat the blow, but Tudor, white of face, with arms hanging resistlessly at his sides, offered no defence.

“I don’t mean a fight with fists,” he said slowly. “I mean to a finish, to the death. You’re a good shot with revolver and rifle. So am I. That’s the way we’ll settle it. ”

“You have gone clean mad. You are a lunatic. ”

“No, I’m not,” Tudor retorted. “I’m a man in love. And once again I ask you to go outside and settle it, with any weapons you choose. ”

Sheldon regarded him for the first time with genuine seriousness, wondering what strange maggots could be gnawing in his brain to drive him to such unusual conduct.

“But men don’t act this way in real life,” Sheldon remarked.

“You’ll find I’m pretty real before you’re done with me. I’m going to kill you to-day. ”

“Bosh and nonsense, man. ”This time Sheldon had lost his temper over the superficial aspects of the situation. “Bosh and nonsense, that’s all it is. Men don’t fight duels in the twentieth century. It’s—it’s antediluvian, I tell you. ”

“Speaking of Joan—”

“Please keep her name out of it,” Sheldon warned him.

“I will, if you’ll fight. ”

Sheldon threw up his arms despairingly.

“Speaking of Joan—”

“Look out,” Sheldon warned again.

“Oh, go ahead, knock me down. But that won’t close my mouth. You can knock me down all day, but as fast as I get to my feet I’ll speak of Joan again. Now will you fight?”

“Listen to me, Tudor,” Sheldon began, with an effort at decisiveness. “I am not used to taking from men a tithe of what I’ve already taken from you. ”

“You’ll take a lot more before the day’s out,” was the answer. “I tell you, you simply must fight. I’ll give you a fair chance to kill me, but I’ll kill you before the day’s out. This isn’t civilization. It’s the Solomon Islands, and a pretty primitive proposition for all that. King Edward and law and order are represented by the Commissioner at Tulagi and an occasional visiting gunboat. And two men and one woman is an equally primitive proposition. We’ll settle it in the good old primitive way. ”

As Sheldon looked at him the thought came to his mind that after all there might be something in the other’s wild adventures over the earth. It required a man of that calibre, a man capable of obtruding a duel into orderly twentieth century life, to find such wild adventures.

“There’s only one way to stop me,” Tudor went on. “I can’t insult you directly, I know. You are too easy-going, or cowardly, or both, for that. But I can narrate for you the talk of the beach—ah, that grinds you, doesn’t it?I can tell you what the beach has to say about you and this young girl running a plantation under a business partnership. ”

“Stop!” Sheldon cried, for the other was beginning to vibrate and oscillate before his eyes. “You want a duel. I’ll give it to you. ”Then his common-sense and dislike for the ridiculous asserted themselves, and he added, “But it’s absurd, impossible. ”

“Joan and David—partners, eh?Joan and David—partners,” Tudor began to iterate and reiterate in a malicious and scornful chant.

“For heaven’s sake keep quiet, and I’ll let you have your way,” Sheldon cried. “I never saw a fool so bent on his folly. What kind of a duel shall it be?There are no seconds. What weapons shall we use?”

Immediately Tudor’s monkey-like impishness left him, and he was once more the cool, self-possessed man of the world.

“I’ve often thought that the ideal duel should be somewhat different from the conventional one,” he said. “I’ve fought several of that sort, you know—”

“French ones,” Sheldon interrupted.

“Call them that. But speaking of this ideal duel, here it is. No seconds, of course, and no onlookers. The two principals alone are necessary. They may use any weapons they please, from revolvers and rifles to machine guns and pompoms. They start a mile apart, and advance on each other, taking advantage of cover, retreating, circling, feinting—anything and everything permissible. In short, the principals shall hunt each other—”

“Like a couple of wild Indians?”

“Precisely,” cried Tudor, delighted. “You’ve got the idea. And Berande is just the place, and this is just the right time. Miss Lackland will be taking her siesta, and she’ll think we are. We’ve got two hours for it before she wakes. So hurry up and come on. You start out from the Balesuna and I start from the Berande. Those two rivers are the boundaries of the plantation, aren’t they?Very well. The field of the duel will be the plantation. Neither principal must go outside its boundaries. Are you satisfied?”

“Quite. But have you any objections if I leave some orders?”

“Not at all,” Tudor acquiesced, the pink of courtesy now that his wish had been granted.

Sheldon clapped his hands, and the running house-boy hurried away to bring back Adamu Adam and Noa Noah.

“Listen,” Sheldon said to them. “This man and me, we have one big fight to-day. Maybe he die. Maybe I die. If he die, all right. If I die, you two look after Missie Lackalanna. You take rifles, and you look after her daytime and night-time. If she want to talk with Mr. Tudor, all right. If she not want to talk, you make him keep away. Savvee?”

They grunted and nodded. They had had much to do with white men, and had learned never to question the strange ways of the strange breed. If these two saw fit to go out and kill each other, that was their business and not the business of the islanders, who took orders from them. They stepped to the gun-rack, and each picked a rifle.

“Better all Tahitian men have rifles,” suggested Adamu Adam. “Maybe big trouble come. ”

“All right, you take them,” Sheldon answered, busy with issuing the ammunition.

They went to the door and down the steps, carrying the eight rifles to their quarters. Tudor, with cartridge-belts for rifle and pistol strapped around him, rifle in hand, stood impatiently waiting.

“Come on, hurry up; we’re burning daylight,” he urged, as Sheldon searched after extra clips for his automatic pistol.

Together they passed down the steps and out of the compound to the beach, where they turned their backs to each other, and each proceeded toward his destination, their rifles in the hollows of their arms, Tudor walking toward the Berande and Sheldon toward the Balesuna.


Barely had Sheldon reached the Balesuna, when he heard the faint report of a distant rifle and knew it was the signal of Tudor, giving notice that he had reached the Berande, turned about, and was coming back. Sheldon fired his rifle into the air in answer, and in turn proceeded to advance. He moved as in a dream, absent-mindedly keeping to the open beach. The thing was so preposterous that he had to struggle to realize it, and he reviewed in his mind the conversation with Tudor, trying to find some clue to the common-sense of what he was doing. He did not want to kill Tudor. Because that man had blundered in his love-making was no reason that he, Sheldon, should take his life. Then what was it all about?True, the fellow had insulted Joan by his subsequent remarks and been knocked down for it, but because he had knocked him down was no reason that he should now try to kill him.

In this fashion he covered a quarter of the distance between the two rivers, when it dawned upon him that Tudor was not on the beach at all. Of course not. He was advancing, according to the terms of the agreement, in the shelter of the cocoanut trees. Sheldon promptly swerved to the left to seek similar shelter, when the faint crack of a rifle came to his ears, and almost immediately the bullet, striking the hard sand a hundred feet beyond him, ricochetted and whined onward on a second flight, convincing him that, preposterous and unreal as it was, it was nevertheless sober fact. It had been intended for him. Yet even then it was hard to believe. He glanced over the familiar landscape and at the sea dimpling in the light but steady breeze. From the direction of Tulagi he could see the white sails of a schooner laying a tack across toward Berande. Down the beach a horse was grazing, and he idly wondered where the others were. The smoke rising from the copra-drying caught his eyes, which roved on over the barracks, the tool-houses, the boat-sheds, and the bungalow, and came to rest on Joan’s little grass house in the corner of the compound.

Keeping now to the shelter of the trees, he went forward another quarter of a mile. If Tudor had advanced with equal speed they should have come together at that point, and Sheldon concluded that the other was circling. The difficulty was to locate him. The rows of trees, running at right angles, enabled him to see along only one narrow avenue at a time. His enemy might be coming along the next avenue, or the next, to right or left. He might be a hundred feet away or half a mile. Sheldon plodded on, and decided that the old stereotyped duel was far simpler and easier than this protracted hide-and-seek affair. He, too, tried circling, in the hope of cutting the other’s circle; but, without catching a glimpse of him, he finally emerged upon a fresh clearing where the young trees, waist-high, afforded little shelter and less hiding. Just as he emerged, stepping out a pace, a rifle cracked to his right, and though he did not hear the bullet in passing, the thud of it came to his ears when it struck a palm-trunk farther on.

He sprang back into the protection of the larger trees. Twice he had exposed himself and been fired at, while he had failed to catch a single glimpse of his antagonist. A slow anger began to burn in him. It was deucedly unpleasant, he decided, this being peppered at; and nonsensical as it really was, it was none the less deadly serious. There was no avoiding the issue, no firing in the air and getting over with it as in the old-fashioned duel. This mutual man-hunt must keep up until one got the other. And if one neglected a chance to get the other, that increased the other’s chance to get him. There could be no false sentiment about it. Tudor had been a cunning devil when he proposed this sort of duel, Sheldon concluded, as he began to work along cautiously in the direction of the last shot.

When he arrived at the spot, Tudor was gone, and only his foot-prints remained, pointing out the course he had taken into the depths of the plantation. Once, ten minutes later, he caught a glimpse of Tudor, a hundred yards away, crossing the same avenue as himself but going in the opposite direction. His rifle half-leaped to his shoulder, but the other was gone. More in whim than in hope of result, grinning to himself as he did so, Sheldon raised his automatic pistol and in two seconds sent eight shots scattering through the trees in the direction in which Tudor had disappeared. Wishing he had a shot-gun, Sheldon dropped to the ground behind a tree, slipped a fresh clip up the hollow butt of the pistol, threw a cartridge into the chamber, shoved the safety catch into place, and reloaded the empty clip.

It was but a short time after that that Tudor tried the same trick on him, the bullets pattering about him like spiteful rain, thudding into the palm trunks, or glancing off in whining ricochets. The last bullet of all, making a double ricochet from two different trees and losing most of its momentum, struck Sheldon a sharp blow on the forehead and dropped at his feet. He was partly stunned for the moment, but on investigation found no greater harm than a nasty lump that soon rose to the size of a pigeon’s egg.

The hunt went on. Once, coming to the edge of the grove near the bungalow, he saw the house-boys and the cook, clustered on the back veranda and peering curiously among the trees, talking and laughing with one another in their queer falsetto voices. Another time he came upon a working-gang busy at hoeing weeds. They scarcely noticed him when he came up, though they knew thoroughly well what was going on. It was no affair of theirs that the enigmatical white men should be out trying to kill each other, and whatever interest in the proceedings might be theirs they were careful to conceal it from Sheldon. He ordered them to continue hoeing weeds in a distant and out-of-the-way corner, and went on with the pursuit of Tudor.

Tiring of the endless circling, Sheldon tried once more to advance directly on his foe, but the latter was too crafty, taking advantage of his boldness to fire a couple of shots at him, and slipping away on some changed and continually changing course. For an hour they dodged and turned and twisted back and forth and around, and hunted each other among the orderly palms. They caught fleeting glimpses of each other and chanced flying shots which were without result. On a grassy shelter behind a tree, Sheldon came upon where Tudor had rested and smoked a cigarette. The pressed grass showed where he had sat. To one side lay the cigarette stump and the charred match which had lighted it. In front lay a scattering of bright metallic fragments. Sheldon recognized their significance. Tudor was notching his steel-jacketed bullets, or cutting them blunt, so that they would spread on striking—in short, he was making them into the vicious dum-dum prohibited in modern warfare. Sheldon knew now what would happen to him if a bullet struck his body. It would leave a tiny hole where it entered, but the hole where it emerged would be the size of a saucer.

He decided to give up the pursuit, and lay down in the grass, protected right and left by the row of palms, with on either hand the long avenue extending. This he could watch. Tudor would have to come to him or else there would be no termination of the affair. He wiped the sweat from his face and tied the handkerchief around his neck to keep off the stinging gnats that lurked in the grass. Never had he felt so great a disgust for the thing called “adventure. ”Joan had been bad enough, with her Baden-Powell and long-barrelled Colt’s; but here was this newcomer also looking for adventure, and finding it in no other way than by lugging a peace-loving planter into an absurd and preposterous bush-whacking duel. If ever adventure was well damned, it was by Sheldon, sweating in the windless grass and fighting gnats, the while he kept close watch up and down the avenue.

Then Tudor came. Sheldon happened to be looking in his direction at the moment he came into view, peering quickly up and down the avenue before he stepped into the open. Midway he stopped, as if debating what course to pursue. He made a splendid mark, facing his concealed enemy at two hundred yards’ distance. Sheldon aimed at the centre of his chest, then deliberately shifted the aim to his right shoulder, and, with the thought, “That will put him out of business,” pulled the trigger. The bullet, driving with momentum sufficient to perforate a man’s body a mile distant, struck Tudor with such force as to pivot him, whirling him half around by the shock of its impact and knocking him down.

“’Hope I haven’t killed the beggar,” Sheldon muttered aloud, springing to his feet and running forward.

A hundred feet away all anxiety on that score was relieved by Tudor, who made shift with his left hand, and from his automatic pistol hurled a rain of bullets all around Sheldon. The latter dodged behind a palm trunk, counting the shots, and when the eighth had been fired he rushed in on the wounded man. He kicked the pistol out of the other’s hand, and then sat down on him in order to keep him down.

“Be quiet,” he said. “I’ve got you, so there’s no use struggling. ”

Tudor still attempted to struggle and to throw him off.

“Keep quiet, I tell you,” Sheldon commanded. “I’m satisfied with the outcome, and you’ve got to be. So you might as well give in and call this affair closed. ”

Tudor reluctantly relaxed.

“Rather funny, isn’t it, these modern duels?”Sheldon grinned down at him as he removed his weight. “Not a bit dignified. If you’d struggled a moment longer I’d have rubbed your face in the earth. I’ve a good mind to do it anyway, just to teach you that duelling has gone out of fashion. Now let us see to your injuries. ”

“You only got me that last,” Tudor grunted sullenly, “lying in ambush like—”

“Like a wild Indian. Precisely. You’ve caught the idea, old man. ”Sheldon ceased his mocking and stood up. “You lie there quietly until I send back some of the boys to carry you in. You’re not seriously hurt, and it’s lucky for you I didn’t follow your example. If you had been struck with one of your own bullets, a carriage and pair would have been none too large to drive through the hole it would have made. As it is, you’re drilled clean—a nice little perforation. All you need is antiseptic washing and dressing, and you’ll be around in a month. Now take it easy, and I’ll send a stretcher for you. ”


When Sheldon emerged from among the trees he found Joan waiting at the compound gate, and he could not fail to see that she was visibly gladdened at the sight of him.

“I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you,” was her greeting. “What’s become of Tudor?That last flutter of the automatic wasn’t nice to listen to. Was it you or Tudor?”

“So you know all about it,” he answered coolly. “Well, it was Tudor, but he was doing it left-handed. He’s down with a hole in his shoulder. ”He looked at her keenly. “Disappointing, isn’t it?” he drawled.

“How do you mean?”

“Why, that I didn’t kill him. ”

“But I didn’t want him killed just because he kissed me,” she cried.

“Oh, he did kiss you!” Sheldon retorted, in evident surprise. “I thought you said he hurt your arm. ”

“One could call it a kiss, though it was only on the end of the nose. ” She laughed at the recollection. “But I paid him back for that myself. I boxed his face for him. And he did hurt my arm. It’s black and blue. Look at it. ”

She pulled up the loose sleeve of her blouse, and he saw the bruised imprints of two fingers.

Just then a gang of blacks came out from among the trees carrying the wounded man on a rough stretcher.

“Romantic, isn’t it?” Sheldon sneered, following Joan’s startled gaze. “And now I’ll have to play surgeon and doctor him up. Funny, this twentieth-century duelling. First you drill a hole in a man, and next you set about plugging the hole up. ”

They had stepped aside to let the stretcher pass, and Tudor, who had heard the remark, lifted himself up on the elbow of his sound arm and said with a defiant grin,—

“If you’d got one of mine you’d have had to plug with a dinner-plate. ”

“Oh, you wretch!” Joan cried. “You’ve been cutting your bullets. ”

“It was according to agreement,” Tudor answered. “Everything went. We could have used dynamite if we wanted to. ”

“He’s right,” Sheldon assured her, as they swung in behind. “Any weapon was permissible. I lay in the grass where he couldn’t see me, and bushwhacked him in truly noble fashion. That’s what comes of having women on the plantation. And now it’s antiseptics and drainage tubes, I suppose. It’s a nasty mess, and I’ll have to read up on it before I tackle the job. ”

“I don’t see that it’s my fault,” she began. “I couldn’t help it because he kissed me. I never dreamed he would attempt it. ”

“We didn’t fight for that reason. But there isn’t time to explain. If you’ll get dressings and bandages ready I’ll look up ’gun-shot wounds’ and see what’s to be done. ”

“Is he bleeding seriously?” she asked.

“No; the bullet seems to have missed the important arteries. But that would have been a pickle. ”

“Then there’s no need to bother about reading up,” Joan said. “And I’m just dying to hear what it was all about. The Apostle is lying becalmed inside the point, and her boats are out to wing. She’ll be at anchor in five minutes, and Doctor Welshmere is sure to be on board. So all we’ve got to do is to make Tudor comfortable. We’d better put him in your room under the mosquito-netting, and send a boat off to tell Dr. Welshmere to bring his instruments. ”

An hour afterward, Dr. Welshmere left the patient comfortable and attended to, and went down to the beach to go on board, promising to come back to dinner. Joan and Sheldon, standing on the veranda, watched him depart.

“I’ll never have it in for the missionaries again since seeing them here in the Solomons,” she said, seating herself in a steamer-chair.

She looked at Sheldon and began to laugh.

“That’s right,” he said. “It’s the way I feel, playing the fool and trying to murder a guest. ”

“But you haven’t told me what it was all about. ”

“You,” he answered shortly.

“Me?But you just said it wasn’t. ”

“Oh, it wasn’t the kiss. ”He walked over to the railing and leaned against it, facing her. “But it was about you all the same, and I may as well tell you. You remember, I warned you long ago what would happen when you wanted to become a partner in Berande. Well, all the beach is gossiping about it; and Tudor persisted in repeating the gossip to me. So you see it won’t do for you to stay on here under present conditions. It would be better if you went away. ”

“But I don’t want to go away,” she objected with rueful countenance.

“A chaperone, then—”

“No, nor a chaperone. ”

“But you surely don’t expect me to go around shooting every slanderer in the Solomons that opens his mouth?” he demanded gloomily.

“No, nor that either,” she answered with quick impulsiveness. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll get married and put a stop to it all. There!”

He looked at her in amazement, and would have believed that she was making fun of him had it not been for the warm blood that suddenly suffused her cheeks.

“Do you mean that?” he asked unsteadily. “Why?”

“To put a stop to all the nasty gossip of the beach. That’s a pretty good reason, isn’t it?”

The temptation was strong enough and sudden enough to make him waver, but all the disgust came back to him that was his when he lay in the grass fighting gnats and cursing adventure, and he answered,—

“No; it is worse than no reason at all. I don’t care to marry you as a matter of expedience—”

“You are the most ridiculous creature!” she broke in, with a flash of her old-time anger. “You talk love and marriage to me, very much against my wish, and go mooning around over the plantation week after week because you can’t have me, and look at me when you think I’m not noticing and when all the time I’m wondering when you had your last square meal because of the hungry look in your eyes, and make eyes at my revolver-belt hanging on a nail, and fight duels about me, and all the rest—and—and now, when I say I’ll marry you, you do yourself the honour of refusing me. ”

“You can’t make me any more ridiculous than I feel,” he answered, rubbing the lump on his forehead reflectively. “And if this is the accepted romantic programme—a duel over a girl, and the girl rushing into the arms of the winner—why, I shall not make a bigger ass of myself by going in for it. ”

“I thought you’d jump at it,” she confessed, with a naïveté he could not but question, for he thought he saw a roguish gleam in her eyes.

“My conception of love must differ from yours then,” he said. “I should want a woman to marry me for love of me, and not out of romantic admiration because I was lucky enough to drill a hole in a man’s shoulder with smokeless powder. I tell you I am disgusted with this adventure tomfoolery and rot. I don’t like it. Tudor is a sample of the adventure-kind—picking a quarrel with me and behaving like a monkey, insisting on fighting with me—’to the death,’ he said. It was like a penny dreadful. ”

She was biting her lip, and though her eyes were cool and level-looking as ever, the tell-tale angry red was in her cheeks.

“Of course, if you don’t want to marry me—”

“But I do,” he hastily interposed.

“Oh, you do—”

“But don’t you see, little girl, I want you to love me,” he hurried on. “Otherwise, it would be only half a marriage. I don’t want you to marry me simply because by so doing a stop is put to the beach gossip, nor do I want you to marry me out of some foolish romantic notion. I shouldn’t want you . . . that way. ”

“Oh, in that case,” she said with assumed deliberateness, and he could have sworn to the roguish gleam, “in that case, since you are willing to consider my offer, let me make a few remarks. In the first place, you needn’t sneer at adventure when you are living it yourself; and you were certainly living it when I found you first, down with fever on a lonely plantation with a couple of hundred wild cannibals thirsting for your life. Then I came along—”

“And what with your arriving in a gale,” he broke in, “fresh from the wreck of the schooner, landing on the beach in a whale-boat full of picturesque Tahitian sailors, and coming into the bungalow with a Baden-Powell on your head, sea-boots on your feet, and a whacking big Colt’s dangling on your hip—why, I am only too ready to admit that you were the quintessence of adventure. ”

“Very good,” she cried exultantly. “It’s mere simple arithmetic—the adding of your adventure and my adventure together. So that’s settled, and you needn’t jeer at adventure any more. Next, I don’t think there was anything romantic in Tudor’s attempting to kiss me, nor anything like adventure in this absurd duel. But I do think, now, that it was romantic for you to fall in love with me. And finally, and it is adding romance to romance, I think . . . I think I do love you, Dave—oh, Dave!”

The last was a sighing dove-cry as he caught her up in his arms and pressed her to him.

“But I don’t love you because you played the fool to-day,” she whispered on his shoulder. “White men shouldn’t go around killing each other. ”

“Then why do you love me?” he questioned, enthralled after the manner of all lovers in the everlasting query that for ever has remained unanswered.

“I don’t know—just because I do, I guess. And that’s all the satisfaction you gave me when we had that man-talk. But I have been loving you for weeks—during all the time you have been so deliciously and unobtrusively jealous of Tudor. ”

“Yes, yes, go on,” he urged breathlessly, when she paused.

“I wondered when you’d break out, and because you didn’t I loved you all the more. You were like Dad, and Von. You could hold yourself in check. You didn’t make a fool of yourself. ”

“Not until to-day,” he suggested.

“Yes, and I loved you for that, too. It was about time. I began to think you were never going to bring up the subject again. And now that I have offered myself you haven’t even accepted. ”

With both hands on her shoulders he held her at arm’s-length from him and looked long into her eyes, no longer cool but seemingly pervaded with a golden flush. The lids drooped and yet bravely did not droop as she returned his gaze. Then he fondly and solemnly drew her to him.

“And how about that hearth and saddle of your own?” he asked, a moment later.

“I well-nigh won to them. The grass house is my hearth, and the Martha my saddle, and—and look at all the trees I’ve planted, to say nothing of the sweet corn. And it’s all your fault anyway. I might never have loved you if you hadn’t put the idea into my head. ”

“There’s the Nongassla coming in around the point with her boats out,” Sheldon remarked irrelevantly. “And the Commissioner is on board. He’s going down to San Cristoval to investigate that missionary killing. We’re in luck, I must say. ”

“I don’t see where the luck comes in,” she said dolefully. “We ought to have this evening all to ourselves just to talk things over. I’ve a thousand questions to ask you. ”

“And it wouldn’t have been a man-talk either,” she added.

“But my plan is better than that. ”He debated with himself a moment. “You see, the Commissioner is the one official in the islands who can give us a license. And—there’s the luck of it—Doctor Welshmere is here to perform the ceremony. We’ll get married this evening. ”

Joan recoiled from him in panic, tearing herself from his arms and going backward several steps. He could see that she was really frightened.

“I . . . I thought . . . ” she stammered.

Then, slowly, the change came over her, and the blood flooded into her face in the same amazing blush he had seen once before that day. Her cool, level-looking eyes were no longer level-looking nor cool, but warmly drooping and just unable to meet his, as she came toward him and nestled in the circle of his arms, saying softly, almost in a whisper,—

“I am ready, Dave. ”


{1} Eaten.

{2} Food.

{3} Mary—bêche-de-mer English for woman.

{4} Ngari-ngari—literally “scratch-scratch”—a vegetable skin-poisoning that, while not serious, is decidedly uncomfortable.

{5} Paddle