Книга Adventure. Содержание - CHAPTER XIX-THE LOST TOY

«You didn't say blowed,» Sparrowhawk corrected. «You said you'd be damned.»

«That's what I did, and I meant it, too.»

«'Nobody asked you to go ashore,' says she, quick as lightning,» Sparrowhawk grinned. «And she said more. She said, 'And if I catch you going ashore without orders there'll be trouble– understand, Captain Munster?'»

«Who in hell's telling this, you or me?» the skipper demanded wrathfully.

«Well, she did, didn't she?» insisted the mate.

«Yes, she did, if you want to make so sure of it. And while you're about it, you might as well repeat what she said to you when you said you wouldn't recruit on the Poonga-Poonga coast for twice your screw.»

Sparrowhawk's sun-reddened face flamed redder, though he tried to pass the situation off by divers laughings and chucklings and face– twistings.

«Go on, go on,» Sheldon urged; and Munster resumed the narrative.

«'What we need,' says she, 'is the strong hand. It's the only way to handle them; and we've got to take hold firm right at the beginning. I'm going ashore to-night to fetch Kina-Kina himself on board, and I'm not asking who's game to go for I've got every man's work arranged with me for him. I'm taking my sailors with me, and one white man.' 'Of course, I'm that white man,' I said; for by that time I was mad enough to go to hell and back again. 'Of course you're not,' says she. 'You'll have charge of the covering boat. Curtis stands by the landing boat. Fowler goes with me. Brahms takes charge of the Flibberty, and Sparrowhawk of the Emily. And we start at one o'clock.'

«My word, it was a tough job lying there in the covering boat. I never thought doing nothing could be such hard work. We stopped about fifty fathoms off, and watched the other boat go in. It was so dark under the mangroves we couldn't see a thing of it. D'ye know that little, monkey-looking nigger, Sheldon, on the Flibberty-

–the cook, I mean? Well, he was cabin-boy twenty years ago on the Scottish Chiefs, and after she was cut off he was a slave there at Poonga-Poonga. And Miss Lackland had discovered the fact. So he was the guide. She gave him half a case of tobacco for that night's work-«

«And scared him fit to die before she could get him to come along,» Sparrowhawk observed.

«Well, I never saw anything so black as the mangroves. I stared at them till my eyes were ready to burst. And then I'd look at the stars, and listen to the surf sighing along the reef. And there was a dog that barked. Remember that dog, Sparrowhawk? The brute nearly gave me heart-failure when he first began. After a while he stopped-wasn't barking at the landing party at all; and then the silence was harder than ever, and the mangroves grew blacker, and it was all I could do to keep from calling out to Curtis in there in the landing boat, just to make sure that I wasn't the only white man left alive.

«Of course there was a row. It had to come, and I knew it; but it startled me just the same. I never heard such screeching and yelling in my life. The niggers must have just dived for the bush without looking to see what was up, while her Tahitians let loose, shooting in the air and yelling to hurry 'em on. And then, just as sudden, came the silence again-all except for some small kiddie that had got dropped in the stampede and that kept crying in the bush for its mother.

«And then I heard them coming through the mangroves, and an oar strike on a gunwale, and Miss Lackland laugh, and I knew everything was all right. We pulled on board without a shot being fired. And, by God! she had made the books come true, for there was old Kina-Kina himself being hoisted over the rail, shivering and chattering like an ape. The rest was easy. Kina-Kina's word was law, and he was scared to death. And we kept him on board issuing proclamations all the time we were in Poonga-Poonga.

«It was a good move, too, in other ways. She made Kina-Kina order his people to return all the gear they'd stripped from the Martha. And back it came, day after day, steering compasses, blocks and tackles, sails, coils of rope, medicine chests, ensigns, signal flags-everything, in fact, except the trade goods and supplies which had already been kai-kai'd. Of course, she gave them a few sticks of tobacco to keep them in good humour.»

«Sure she did,» Sparrowhawk broke forth. «She gave the beggars five fathoms of calico for the big mainsail, two sticks of tobacco for the chronometer, and a sheath-knife worth elevenpence ha'penny for a hundred fathoms of brand new five-inch manila. She got old Kina-Kina with that strong hand on the go off, and she kept him going all the time. She-here she comes now.»

It was with a shock of surprise that Sheldon greeted her appearance. All the time, while the tale of happening at Poonga– Poonga had been going on, he had pictured her as the woman he had always known, clad roughly, skirt made out of window-curtain stuff, an undersized man's shirt for a blouse, straw sandals for foot covering, with the Stetson hat and the eternal revolver completing her costume. The ready-made clothes from Sydney had transformed her. A simple skirt and shirt-waist of some sort of wash-goods set off her trim figure with a hint of elegant womanhood that was new to him. Brown slippers peeped out as she crossed the compound, and he once caught a glimpse to the ankle of brown open-work stockings. Somehow, she had been made many times the woman by these mere extraneous trappings; and in his mind these wild Arabian Nights adventures of hers seemed thrice as wonderful.

As they went in to breakfast he became aware that Munster and Sparrowhawk had received a similar shock. All their air of camaraderie was dissipated, and they had become abruptly and immensely respectful.

«I've opened up a new field,» she said, as she began pouring the coffee. «Old Kina-Kina will never forget me, I'm sure, and I can recruit there whenever I want. I saw Morgan at Guvutu. He's willing to contract for a thousand boys at forty shillings per head. Did I tell you that I'd taken out a recruiting license for the Martha? I did, and the Martha can sign eighty boys every trip.

Sheldon smiled a trifle bitterly to himself. The wonderful woman who had tripped across the compound in her Sydney clothes was gone, and he was listening to the boy come back again.


«Well,» Joan said with a sigh, «I've shown you hustling American methods that succeed and get somewhere, and here you are beginning your muddling again.»

Five days had passed, and she and Sheldon were standing on the veranda watching the Martha, close-hauled on the wind, laying a tack off shore. During those five days Joan had never once broached the desire of her heart, though Sheldon, in this particular instance reading her like a book, had watched her lead up to the question a score of times in the hope that he would himself suggest her taking charge of the Martha. She had wanted him to say the word, and she had steeled herself not to say it herself. The matter of finding a skipper had been a hard one. She was jealous of the Martha, and no suggested man had satisfied her.

«Oleson?» she had demanded. «He does very well on the Flibberty, with me and my men to overhaul her whenever she's ready to fall to pieces through his slackness. But skipper of the Martha? Impossible!»

«Munster? Yes, he's the only man I know in the Solomons I'd care to see in charge. And yet, there's his record. He lost the Umbawa-one hundred and forty drowned. He was first officer on the bridge. Deliberate disobedience to instructions. No wonder they broke him.

«Christian Young has never had any experience with large boats. Besides, we can't afford to pay him what he's clearing on the Minerva. Sparrowhawk is a good man-to take orders. He has no initiative. He's an able sailor, but he can't command. I tell you I was nervous all the time he had charge of the Flibberty at Poonga-Poonga when I had to stay by the Martha.»

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