Книга Adventure. Содержание - CHAPTER X-A MESSAGE FROM BOUCHER

«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 Miele 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.»

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